Tuesday, August 4, 2009

White River Report

Feeling a little bit downtrodden after another disappointing attempt at Western States, I thought that helping a first-timer through White River would be the perfect remedy to add a little fun back into running. My uncle, Bill Ames, has been contemplating running 50 miles for some time now, but he's had a great deal of trepidation about the distance. I proposed to him, that if he would sign up to run White River, I'd run the race at his pace to help him through.

Needless to say, he signed up, and I was committed to helping him through it. Uncle Bill kept assuring me that I could back out on our deal and run my own race. However, I was dead set on running with him. In all honesty, it was for both non-selfish and very selfish reasons. Obviously sacrificing my own race, to get him through his, was a selfless decision. On the flip side, I was really relieved to have a good reason not to have to go out and race. Feeling so drained after another Western States debacle, I just really needed to go out and run with no pressure.

And run with no pressure I did.

At 6:30 am the race got underway. It was strange not to be lined up at the front of the pack, but it didn't take long for me to start really enjoying a more casual pace. I couldn't believe how many more people are on the trail when you're in the middle to back of the pack. For the first 3 miles it was like a conga line of runners. However, as the grade steepened, people started to spread out a bit more. Bill was really moving well up the unrelenting climb. In fact, I was a little taken aback by the clip that he maintained.

Uncle Bll arrived at Corral Pass looking very strong and in seemingly good spirits. We were 17 miles in and everything was going quite smoothly. We seemed to make good time on the out and back, and it wasn't long until we were filling up at Ranger Creek and preparing for the 6 mile descnt to the midway point of the course. The section from Ranger Creek back to Buck Creek is a quad-burning downhill. Bill looked very strong initially, but as we neared the bottom, I could tell things weren't going well.

Our pace had slowed a bit, although we were still passing people. When I asked how he was doing, his responses became a bit more curt. I wasn't too concerned at that point. More people than not are pretty wiped by the bottom of that windy plunge down the creek drainage. We were very close to the Buck Creek aid station, and I figured a little change of terrain and some food would change things in a hurry.

Buck Creek provided an incredible reprieve from the monotony of the previous six miles. The aid station was bustling with people. We were greeted by many familiar faces, and I heard from numerous people that I appeared to be having a lot of fun. Unfortunately Uncle Bill was not having quite so much fun. His legs were pretty hammered, and he took a moment to sit down in a chair while he ate. I was a little concerned about his race, but having run this distance before, I knew that things can turn around quickly.

With food in our bellies, we struck out on the trail again. I explained to Bill that I always enjoy the second half more than the first. It was true, but mostly I was trying to remain upbeat, because it was becoming more and more clear to me that he was mentally and physically waning.

About a half mile up the second climb, Uncle Bill sat down on a log and told me that his day was probably over. "No, this can't be," I thought. UB has climbed El Cap, traversed the Bailey Range solo, run 17 5ok's, and survived numberous other harrowing climbing adventures. He couldn't possibly be derailed by 50 miles. I saddled up next to him on the log and tried to get a picture of what was going on. He explained to me that his legs were just shot and that even hiking was feeling like too much work. I convinced him to eat a couple of gels, and to his credit, he stood up and pressed onward.

Ultimately though, he stopped again, this time for good. He decided that it just wasn't his day. Again, I tried to keep him going, but I also respected his decision. It's not as though I've never dropped out of a race, obviously. So with UB out of the picture, what was I to do? I thought about just walking back to the start with him, but I didn't need another DNF. I was then reminded of my two friends Dan and Eric. They were somewhere in front of me, by how much I didn't know. Maybe, just maybe, I could catch them.

Having taken it pretty easy through the first half, I had some legs, so I began to run hard up the climb. As I rolled into the next aid station at Fawn Ridge I was disheartened to learn that Dan and Eric had arrived 25 minutes earlier. I had hoped to catch them by the Sun Top aid station, but that was seeming pretty far fetched with only 5 miles to go. Nonetheless I put my head down and continued to hammer upward.

Just before the summit aid station, there were two women taking numbers. I asked when Dan and Eric had come through. I was ecstatic to learn that just 3 minutes earlier they had checked in. I was going to catch them. To my surprise, as I crested the hill and the aid station came into view, I saw Dan and Eric. I filled them in on Bill's race and asked how they were doing. Both of them were in great spirits and we all set off down the road together.

Dan had run 50 miles once before, at the San Juan Solstice this past June, but Eric was running his first 50 miler. In fact, Eric had never even run a 50k, so he was in uncharted territory. Both of them seemed to be moving well as we chatted our way down the Sun Top road. By the bottom of the road though, Eric showed that he was indeed human. His IT band had tightened up on him. Not being in any hurry, I was content just to stick with Eric and Dan and do whatever I could to keep Eric upbeat and moving forward.

We hiked most of the final six miles, but I enjoyed every minute of it. I was so impressed with Eric's determination. Clearly he was in discomfort, yet he remained so seemingly upbeat. We crossed the finish line in 10:30 or so. It was about 3 hours longer than I would have been out if I was racing, but it was really enjoyable. Of course, I was disappointed that I wasn't able to finish with Uncle Bill, but I was glad to play at least a small role in Eric's first 50 mile finish.


Aubrey said...

Billdozer!! Billdozer!!

Will Thomas said...

I was wondering what was going on when you passed me coming down Sun Top. That's something that is supposed to take place 40 miles earlier in the race.

That's cool that you were able to just enjoy the day and help so many people.

Eric said...

Glad you caught up with us! That was a really awesome way to finish the race. Couldn't have asked for a better way to run my first 50.