The Thursday prior to the Leadville 100; way back on August 20th, the head Vasque PR person (awesome person) mentioned the possibility of me heading up to the Grand Teton Races(http://www.dreamchaserevents.com/gtr/) in Wyoming during the 1st weekend of September. My initial thought was: “Man, I just want to get through Leadville!”. But, about 3 days later, I made the decision to take the trip. I’m glad I did. I was feeling just a bit unsatisfied with my race at Leadville, and thought that a good hard 50-mile race was what I needed. I desired an effort in which my stomach and legs held up for the entire distance. On top of all that, I was presented with the opportunity of speaking at the main Vasque retailer in the area; Skinny Skis. I was fortunate enough to be able to meet some good people up there. Just fantastic.
My good buddy Jeff Allen volunteered to come with me to Jackson Hole to crew for me at the Grand Teton Race 50 miler (Annie, my wife could not get the additional time off of work). I was super excited to be able to race in Wyoming; in the shadow of the Teton Range. Just Beautiful!. In addition; I was excited to meet Jay and Lisa Batchen, who are the race directors for the GTR. They are phenomenal people who also happen to be legends in this sport. Jeff and I made it up there on the Thursday night prior to the event and found ourselves very comfortably housed at Dax Kelm’s place in downtown Jackson. Dax works the PR side for BOA lacing, who happens to be a great partner with Vasque. So; a tremendous thanks to Dax and his wife for their hospitality. We flew in just after sunset, and gawked at the incredible beauty around us; I was very impressed with the awe-inspiring Teton Range; just to the west of the airport. Once we got to Dax’s place, we talked and visited for a while and I then went out on a 30 min run around town. I felt absolutely amazing; not too sure why. My legs felt great; my energy felt great; and I was certain I was ready for the race on Saturday. I went to sleep that night in a very relaxed state, and awoke on Friday morning to find myself 1 day closer to another race.
In all my excitement about going to Jackson Hole, and doing another race; I had forgotten about those ‘day-before-race’ nerves. I felt a tinge of anxiety for the task ahead the next day. Jeff, Dax, and I went to breakfast at Jedediahs restaurant which was a solid choice. After eating, the guys dropped me off at ‘Skinny Skis’ ski/run/gear shop where I was speaking about “The Joys of Ultra-running.” Having the opportunity to speak with such a small group was tremendous; there were 7 people there; which enabled us to converse more intimately. I was fortunate enough to meet several people, and have tremendous conversations with Phil, Jeff, and Tom about running and nordic skiing (my other sport passion). I was very fortunate to meet with Vasque sales rep and legendary alpinist Jack Tackle and his wife as well. After visiting with these folks, I made my way to the National Elk Refuge just east of town where I had another super 1 hour run on the dirt road into the habitat. My legs felt good, and my mind was able to wander away from thoughts of the next day’s race, and instead focus on the gorgeous views of the Teton Range.
Friday afternoon, Jeff and I made the 1 hour drive from Jackson up and over to Grand Targhee Resort (where the GTR is held). Targhee is on the west side of the Teton Range; and also offered up many beautiful views! After making it to the pre-race meeting and being fortunate enough to meet Jay and Lisa and several others, Jeff and I checked into our lodging (100 feet from the next day’s start line), and then grabbed some dinner. We discussed the plan for the next day of crewing and logistics; and we felt very confident in the simplicity of the mission and the plan. The nerves were largely under control as I laid down for a good night’s rest in a very comfortable bed.
I awoke a few hours prior to the 7:00 am start time, and made my way to the free coffee and breakfast which were provided for the racers. I ate only a little bit; and felt very ‘at balance’ with regards to my digestive system and energy levels. I knew it would be a great day. After one more meeting with Jeff about split target times, I headed to the start line. The pace from the start was slow and manageable on the initial 2000′ climb. I was running side by side with Evan Honeyfield, and could tell he was a strong runner; when we started the descent at around mile 3, it was clear that we were about 5 minutes ahead of 3rd place. Evan and I started to move faster on the descent, and then we picked up the pace from there. The course is well designed with some fantastic single-track sections, as well as three large climbs, and I was impressed with how easy it was for crew to access each station. With 100 mile runners and 50 mile runners on course at the same time; the course was still not congested; ever. Evan and I kept up the fast pace, and around mile 11 I surged and tried to gap him on long 3 mile climb. Nope. He got right back on me, and then returned the favor with a fast surge of his own; gapping me by about 60 seconds coming into the mile 20 aid station. I knew he was a better runner than I was; he was stronger, and simply looked more efficient. I just hoped that my experience in ultras would help me. Our logistics plan was working out great; as Jeff had me absolutely dialed at every aid station. We kept the feeding/hydration/salting very simple and straight forward, and I never had to stop, as Jeff had everything I needed all the time! (Thanks man!)
As I came through the ‘lap’ at mile 25 in a quick 3:37 split, and began the first long and hard climb of lap #2, Evan had about 2 minutes on me, and I knew I would need to have a great climbing section to stand a chance of keeping up with him. I gracefully attacked the hill (slow and steady acceleration; not terribly quick). By the time we had reached the top, I had closed the gap to about 15 seconds; and on our way down (approximately mile 28) I noticed him stopping a few times to stretch out his cramping calves. He and I chatted briefly, and it was clear that maybe he had not taken enough salt so far. So, I gave him a salt tab and quickly got out of there. I figured at that moment that he would be ‘done’ and be a ‘non-factor’ for the rest of the race. I was wrong. Evan gamely hung in there as I forced the pace with fast miles on the downhill sections, and hard efforts on the uphill sections. For the next 10 miles (until about mile 38), he was never more than 3 minutes behind me, and I could occasionally see him in wide-open sections. All I could do was keep forcing the pace; and that is what I did.
When I rolled into the mile 40 aid-station and Jeff swapped out my hand bottle for me again, I actually had a small low point there. I was beginning to feel the pressure of being in the lead. I was thinking about how at mile 40 of most 50 milers, and mile 80 of most 100 milers, I tend to have stomach problems (especially 2 weeks prior at the Leadville 100). I was thinking negatively about previous races, and it showed in my ‘slumping’ energy. But; I began to take those thoughts captive, and I moved on with life. I moved on with the rest of the race, and threw in a huge surge between mile 41 and 44. I knew I was moving well; but I also knew that I was operating right on the edge. As I crested the final large climb of the race, I knew I had the race won; if I could just hold on over the last 5-6 miles. I came through the mile 45 aid station and Jeff relayed me information that I was growing my lead to over 10 minutes at that point (at that point it was actually a 20 minute lead), and I knew I would win. I covered the last rolling 5 miles running well on both the ups and the downs, and I hammered home in 7:33:28 and a new course record. It felt good to have a solid result, and I was ecstatic about setting a new course record. Evan came in to finish 2nd in 7:55 (also under the previous course record).
What a great race; facing negative mental thoughts and holding on to grow in strength; that is the reason why I do this stuff. ‘Great job’ to Evan Honeyfield for a tremendous 50 mile debut. He will be a force to be reckoned with in the future for sure. Congratulations to all finishers who raced well and persevered at the GTR; this is a hard course in beautiful country. A mega congratulations to Ty Draney for his impressive 100 mile victory in 19:19. That is a great time on this course. A gigantic thank you goes to Jay and Lisa Batchen for hosting a great race in incredible country! Thank you! This race needs to go on everyone’s calendar. An enormous thank you to Vasque for making this trip possible. Thank you. In addition to sponsoring athletes: Vasque also sponsors a select number of events. Take a look for more information on the beautiful Vasque website: http://www.vasque.com/ . The ‘Vasque Project’ is just one way in which Vasque is giving back.
As for now? I am training a small amount, and working a lot. The running is going fairly well, and I am looking forward to the GoldenLeaf 1/2 Marathon next week (September 26th), in Aspen, CO. Annie and I will both be racing this beautiful race. Also; I have the opportunity to speak at the Ute Mountaineer in downtown Aspen on Thursday night, September 24th, at 7:00 pm. If you are around, come on by to hear about running and training for ultra-distance events. I’d love to see you. Thanks for reading. Live well. Train well. DC