Well, it has now been over a month since the Grand Teton 100 and I am finally getting around to putting up a post. I was honored to be a part of this tremendous race and will now have, for years to come, an epic story to recount about battling a legend in the sport: Andy Jones-Wilkins. (AJW). AJW has been running 100-milers since before it became ‘the cool thing to do.’ I believe he just completed his 12th season of ultra-running and he did so in grand fashion: winning the Grand Teton 100 and beating me soundly by over 25 minutes. One of many victories on his long list of 28 completed 100 milers. He also won the Vermont 100 earlier in the summer. Very inspiring AJW. Nicely done. I can’t wait to race you again. (Here is a good shot of AJW and I with our awards the next day).
All season long I had been planning on racing the Grand Teton 100. I was excited to go back to a ‘Jay and Lisa event’ in the beautiful Teton area. I was also keen to compete in a Vasque Project event as it is an awesome initiative by race organizers and by Vasque. Another motivation centered around the mystery of how my body would respond to three 100’s in one summer, and 2 within two weeks. I knew it would be a stout challenge and I was greatly looking forward to it. On August 21st, I had put out an all-out effort at Leadville and was a little nervous as to how I would feel only 14 days later (September 4th) toeing the line for another 100 miler… this one with more vertical than Leadville. The two weeks in between events, I felt pretty good during my daily physical activity but very tired and drained in the late afternoons and evenings. I knew my hormone levels were a bit whacky and I just needed to make sure I slept enough in between events. My legs actually felt pretty good after Leadville, with minimal soreness, pain, or hot-spots. I did not feel ‘peppy,’ but I did feel normal as I went about my short daily runs. I was also fortunate to receive massage and stretching sessions by several practitioners in the Gunnison Valley… and this helped tremendously. Thanks to Ingrid, Bill, and Jennifer for the help in this department.
Annie and I drove up on Thursday to Pinedale, WY where we camped for the night prior to finishing the drive on Friday morning. We rolled into Jackson on Friday morning and grabbed a bite to eat, did a bit of computer work at a coffee shop, and finished the drive over to Targhee where the race was happening. We quickly checked into our awesome accommodations and headed out for a shake-out jog of 40-minutes on the ‘Rick’s Basin Loop’ section of the race course. That evening I was scheduled to speak to many of the racers after the pre-race briefing and detail some training and racing strategies that I have had success with. I always love experiences like this; speaking about something I am passionate about. This was a very relaxed setting, and the 30-or-so folks who were in the room had great questions and ideas which led to a few fantastic conversations. I greatly enjoyed, as I always do, learning from these folks as well. After a small and tasty dinner, Annie and I called it a night and headed to bed. I was feeling a little ‘drained’ as I lay there and wrestled a bit nervously with the concept of running another 100 the next day. Wrapping my head around that eluded me until I woke up the next morning, feeling fairly rested, positive, and focused. Race mornings are always exciting… filled with anticipation and opportunity. All that’s left to do is run.
The temperature felt warm and I elected to go without the arm-sleeves and just stick with a t-shirt and shorts as we trotted off the line at 6:00am sharp. Energy was high and I settled in for the run/hike up Fred’s Mountain for the first time. (The Grand Teton 100 course is 4 x 25 mile laps). AJW, a couple other guys, and I chatted as we climbed into the sun-rise and the stellar view of THE Grand Teton itself. It was shaping up to be a warm and beautiful day for sure. At the top of the climb, we were grouped up as 4 or 5 runners as we headed down to the mile 6 aid station. This is a 2000′ descent and I felt my quads immediately. Despite the massage and stretching sessions, they were still tight and a bit ‘bungled-up’ from my previous race. I could sense AJW trying to get in my head a bit by continually bringing up the fact that I had literally just raced and that my quads ‘might not be up to the challenge.’ I asked him for a little advice and he ‘reassured’ me that things would ‘loosen up’, ‘maybe’. That last word had me a bit nervous as we were running pretty fast and I was not comfortable with it coming into the mile 6 aid station. I basically let AJW lead it as I held back ever so slightly, and by the bottom of the course at mile 12 or so, AJW and I were out and in front with him leading by maybe 1-minute. I felt confident in my fueling plan for the race, duplicating my winning formula from Leadville with consistent intake of Vespa, First Endurance, and Acli-Mate. In addition to these products I was also taking Salt Stick electrolyte pills and eating a good amount of ‘turkey, cheese, and avocado wraps’. These wraps are significant for me, as it is the first ‘real food’ I have been able to successfully eat during ultras. As usual, Annie was there to give me what I needed every time.
As the race moved on into mile 15 and mile 20, and eventually into mile 25, AJW and I ran together. We chatted off and on, but I could sense we were both ‘feeling out’ the situation and trying to assess the other’s strengths and weaknesses. At least this was what I was doing. At the completion of lap number one, he and I started out on the Fred’s Mountain climb together again, and this time we really relaxed. We hiked almost the entire 2.5 mile climb up to the top, talking the whole way about our jobs, families, and many running related topics. It seems like the thing we both remember from that conversation was our ever-so-brief dialogue about Tony’s sunscreen use. Sorry Tony… I guess when you are a rock star… people talk. I also took away a deep respect for what a guy like AJW does in life and running. As we approached the mile 30 aid station after the long descent, I made a decision that would alter the rest of the race. I knew AJW was stronger on the downhills, and I sensed that I was stronger on the uphills. I also knew that he and I were evenly matched for the most part and that we would essentially run this whole race together. I decided to move. I knew I needed to test him and see how strong he was or not. If he failed the test I assumed I would maintain a lead for the rest of the race and eventually win. If he passed the test, and did not ‘fold,’ then I assumed he would catch back up to me and we would run side-by-side for the bulk of the event. Basically I assessed the situation and determined that the reward was high and the risk minimal. I also figured that if I was going to test him, I might as well test him on his strength… downhill. I figured if I could break him on a downhill, then he would incorrectly assume that my legs were fine after-all and ready for another 100. I made what amounted to a shock attack and tried to push the pace for the next 6 miles of downhill. I opened up about a five minute gap while feeling very good doing it.
That would be as big as the lead would get. AJW was visible again at mile 40, and from there on, we would be in sight of each other all day. Truly exciting. I never felt pressure by being out in front, but I was ‘uncomfortable’ that I could not shake him. I came through the 50-mile mark and the end of the second lap in 8:27. This was fast, but I was confident that I could come back in 9:30 for the second 50 for a finishing time of 18:00 hours. AJW was right on my heels and it continued this way as I still felt pretty good. I did notice I was a bit hungrier than normal as my metabolism may still have been spiked from my previous race effort. I continued to eat well, hydrate well, and take in enough electrolytes as I moved on, still in the lead. I was ecstatic to pick up a pacer at mile 55. Evan Honeyfield was kind enough to jump in for the last 45-miles of this race with me. He helped immeasurably as I struggled a bit with my stomach during his stint with me. Evan and I had raced each other the previous year at this same venue in the Grand Teton 50-miler. I took the win, barely, and was then humbled to find out that it was his first ultra! Evan has a smooth stride that oozes efficiency as he floats along the trail. (Similar to Dylan Bowman). He was using this pacing with me as his last big run prior to the Bear 100 three weeks later. (He would go on to place a strong 2nd place in 19:05 for his 100-mile debut.) (Nice Job man!)
Evan and I ran well together with him leading the way, reminding me to fuel, and being great company as the day wore on. I was still in the lead coming into mile 70, but I was just beginning to deal with a bit of weakness and a hint of nausea. I took in quite a bit of fuel and food at this mile 70 aid station and was just leaving as AJW came in. He was now less than 2 minutes behind and closing in quickly. Evan and I moved along and I became increasingly ‘sick to my stomach’. I just did not feel good and I could feel the liquid sloshing around in there too. The heat of the day on the most exposed section of the course pushed me over the edge and just as I was reaching for another salt pill… I threw up. It was quite a bit of liquid and at mile 71, not what I was hoping for. Evan got me moving again and I puked a bit more as I was running from mile 71 to mile 72. I was beginning to feel better though and then I had a ‘sinking’ feeling in my stomach. AJW greeted me from behind with a hearty ‘How’s it going?’ He seemed strong, focused, and in a much better state than I was in. He quickly pulled off to the side of the trail though to take care of some business and I was in the lead still, but weakening ever so slightly per mile. As I came back to the mile 75 aid station, I knew I needed to sit down for ‘a couple of minutes’ and re-fuel and re-group. My body felt in a ‘hyper-stress’ state and I figured if I could rest up for no more than 5 minutes while re-fueling, then I might be able to rebound and run strong the rest of the way in. As I sat there eating and sipping, AJW came right in and ‘bounded’ right out of there. His body language told me he was not struggling, but rather, ‘just business as usual’ out there for him. He begin the climb at the start of the last lap as I watched from a chair.
Annie was taking good care of me as I pushed her to the side so I could puke one more time. That would be the last of the significant stomach issues. I moved out of there at the behest of race director Jay and back on to course. All told, I think I was in the aid station for 5 minutes. Evan and I trotted up the hill and I slowly weakened throughout the rest of the climb. At the top of the climb, mile 77.5, AJW had a 10-12 minute lead on me. I took another short break here at this aid station which would prove to be valuable. The crew at this Fred’s Mountain Aid Station took good care of me and sent me on my way. By about 1/2 way down the descent I could feel my stomach normalize and my energy heighten again. I felt positive and knew if I could hold it together I might be able to rebound and challenge AJW again.
It was not to be. I ran fairly strong for the last 20 miles on course, but AJW extended his lead to over 30 minutes. He ran so strong on that last lap, it was all I could do to try and minimize the loss. My stomach stayed pretty solid for the remainder of the race and Evan and I kept running well. He was great at yelling out when we were approaching a rough section of trail. This, coupled with the awesome power of my Black Diamond Sprinter Head-lamp, and the superior stability and agility of my Vasque Transistors, had me feeling very confident and comfortable with the night-time running on tired legs. We kept plugging along and came into the mile 95 aid station knowing that AJW was out of reach with a 33 minute lead and a pace that was going to produce an 18:30 finish time. Very cool. At this point, the goal became to finish under 19 hours and finish strongly. Evan had me running like a mad-man as we busted out that last 5 mile stretch in 8:45 pace to finish close to the goal in 19:03:58. AJW had finished about 30 minutes ahead in 18:35. We were both under the previous course record but there was no doubt about it; AJW, with his wisdom, emotional stability, and mental toughness, got the best of me by a large chunk of time. Very good race man. Very good.
At the finish line I was feeling decent and was able to stick around and talk with Evan and his wife, Jay, AJW and his family, and Annie. It was a great time and I will remember that ‘1/2 hour’ fondly for years to come. AJW and I traded a few stories from the trail and I did my best to absorb the moment and the feeling of accomplishment for what we had just done. This race was tremendous and I am thankful for the experience and the people involved. Congratulations to everyone who finished. Thank you to Jay and Lisa and all the fantastic volunteers and aid-station workers out there. What a great event! I would encourage everyone to put the Grand Teton Race Weekend on their calendars for the future.
Live well. DC