Distance: 32 miles
August 10th was a beautiful day for a race in Star Valley, WY, the home stomping grounds of Ty Draney. His race, El Vaquero Loco (The Crazy Cowboy) 50k has become my hands-down favorite 50k. Somewhere between the huckleberry soda and camping out under the star-soaked skies of western Wyoming the night before the race, there's something special. There aren't a ton of runners, and outside of Luke Nelson's annual butt-kicking performace you won't see many "heavy hitters" of the ultarunning world, but to miss the beauty and low-key, hometown feel of this race would be a sad thing indeed. I'll be sure to include plenty of pictures in this rendition.
This year was a little different. I got married to my sweetheart, Jenny, a couple of months ago, and she was able to sneak out of work for the weekend and come with me, which was a new thing and really enjoyable. We also gave Mike McKnight, a new addition to our Logan trail running "group" (previously consisting of Cody and myself) a lift. Cody had come up earlier in the day so he could bring his family and spend the day hanging out with them.
|A beautiful morning in the Salt River Mountains|
|Mike just about to descend "Balls"|
I settled in with Mike and a few other runners in a loosely formed pack and slogged up the mountain. I was breathing really hard, even though my legs weren't feeling tired. This worried me a little, but I slowed a bit and kept moving. Soon, my breathing calmed and I felt better. After what seemed like forever, we finally reached the first saddle after a grueling 4 miles and 2500' of climbing. I stopped to take a couple of quick snapshots at the top, and then dropped down the crazy descent known as "Balls" (I'll leave the nomenclature to your imagination). My plantaris issue was not noticeable at all, which I was thankful for.
At the bottom, our "pack" had thinned out a bit to myself, Mike, and another runner named Pete, whom I think I had met before. Soon we reached the first aid station, but I had plenty of water and fruit snacks, so I just blew past, enjoying every step of the course so far. It was an absolutely beautiful morning, and I was soaking it in. Before too long, and after probably a dozen more photo-ops, we reached the first of the lakes and the second aid station.
Since Balls, the course had been mainly downhill with a little bit of a climb coming into the lake, but just after the aid station we got socked in the mouth with the steepest climb of the race. It's almost hands-and-knees stuff. Mike didn't quite know what to think of that. Thankfully, it's pretty short, and before we knew it we were at the next saddle and descending to the second lake. After pausing for a couple of more pictures, we climbed out of that one too, and began the long descent to the turn around. Mike and I stayed together, through the aid station and all the way down to the turnaround. Unfortunately, he began to feel ill somewhere in the last three miles or so.
At the aid station I got to see Jenny and give her the camera so she could take photos of the finish. She was enjoying herself and was helping Cody's wife with her kids. I soaked my visor and shirt in the stream, restocked my fruit snacks, and wolfed down some food and soda. Mike looked like death warmed over, and I told him not to make the same mistake I did last year and to stay at the aid station until he could get his stomach right again. I didn't figure I'd see him again, and that there was a good likelihood that he would drop.
|Leaving the turnaround for the return trip|
Heading back out, I was lally-gagging a little bit, but still moving at a pretty good pace, when a couple of miles from the aid station I was very surprised to hear someone calling my name. I looked back and there was Mike! Talk about a resurrection of the dead! Soon he caught up with me and we continued on together. After the aid station, it was obvious that my inferior fitness was beginning to take its toll. I was wearing down, so near the top of the long climb just before the lakes I told Mike to go ahead because I was slowing him down. I could see him for a couple of minutes but after that, he was gone. I wasn't really in a bad place, but I just couldn't go much faster and the miles were wearing on me.
Unfortunately, as soon as I began the steep descent into the lakes, my plantaris seized up and became very painful. I had to really slow down to a crawl on any steep downhill. Uphill and relatively level ground were no problem, thankfully, but steep downhills killed. Other than that and just general tiredness, I was still feeling pretty good, however. Soon I made it past the lakes and was able to pick up the pace on the relatively level/slight uphill section heading into the final aid station.
About half a mile before the aid, I passed a female runner sitting in the shade and obviously overheated. I asked her if she had water and electrolytes, which she had, but it was obvious she was in a bad way with nausea. When I got to the aid, I notified the personnel that she wasn't far from the aid and could probably use a little help to cool off.
|The climb out of the first lake|
The next challenge was the brutal ascent up Balls. Coming down is a lot easier than going up. But despite my fatigue I made good time and passed a few people that had passed me on the downhills. At the top, I had to find a tree and earn a star. Now I just had a steep 4 miles of downhill ahead of me. With my plantaris acting up, I was reduced to hiking probably 75-80% of this. It was hot and not very fun to be passed by literally everyone. I lost count of how many times I got "chicked." But I wasn't too disappointed. I didn't feel that I was permanently injured, and I knew that this was going to be a slow time given my fitness.
After what seemed like an eternity, I finally reached the campground. I promised myself I'd at least look good on the finish, so I ran all the rest of the way, and it wasn't even painful! I crossed the finish line in 7 hours and 5 minutes, an hour slower than my previous best on this course, but I was happy to finish the race, and in relatively un-banged-up condition. My plantaris stopped hurting immediately, and didn't lock up after stopping, so I am counting that as "not injured." Goals met. My wife was there at the finish, along with Cody, Luke, Mike, and Ty. Cody had finished 3rd (2nd Non-Luke), and Mike had cruised to a 5th place finish! Not bad for a trail-running n00b! He's going to be a force to be reckoned with in the coming year or so. After the finish, I took a well earned soak in the lake and had a scrumptious burger and huckleberry soda. I'm pretty happy with the race. My plantaris issue recurrence means I won't be running the Bear this year, but I'm content to wait until next year. It is getting better, slowly but surely. It was just really nice to finish what I set out to do, and I'm looking forward to more.