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October 11th, 2003 – Le Grizz 50 Miler

June 5, 2009

LeGrizz 2003 Running Report
 
Ahh, back from Montana yet again – and with another fifty mile finish.  I survived and lived to tell the tale – and here’s the tale I tell:
 
October 8th saw me leaving on a jet plane which, in deference to Peter Paul and Mary, I actually knew (through careful planning and strategery) when I was coming back.  I was headed to Missoula, Montana, with a quick plane change and dash in Denver.  The whole US was clouded over, so I buried myself in Barbarians at the Gate and made it to Missoula a little after 10:00 PM, grabbing a car and checking into a hotel in Hamilton, MT, a little after 11:00.  The hour’s drive south from Missoula was nice – a very bright night under a clear Montana sky boasting a full moon to rule over the emptiness. On the eastern skyline, I could make out the gentle high arcs of the Sapphire Mountains, and on my right, the impressive Bitterroot Range stretched along all the way to Hamilton.  Shortly before Hamilton, I was able to see – by moonlight – the massive canyon that I would hike the next day – Blodgett Canyon, a sharp and sudden V cutting through the Bitterroots; with 4,000 feet of vertical relief between canyon floor and rim, and many interesting rock features, it’s astounding – I checked my watch, which showed about five minutes to midnight, central time.  Normally I’d just be getting to sleep…
 
I rise early the next morning to go for a small hike up the canyon, gazing upwards at massive granite fixtures that are well chronicled in Falconguide’s Rock Climbing Montana.  I ran into one other trail runner, who was training for her first ultra and had oodles of questions.  I spend the rest of the day after the ten mile hike just driving around southern Montana and central Idaho, driving through the Big Hole Drain and the town of Wisdom, Montana:

“I only dreamed that high cliff we were on
overlooking Wisdom and the Big Hole drain.
I dreamed us high enough to not see men,
dreamed old land behind us better left
and we were vagabond.” – Richard Hugo

Friday sees me driving up through Kalispell, past the Mission Mountains (my favorite range on earth still), the Flatheads, and up into Glacier Park, where I find a fair blizzard up at Logan Pass.  I grab some foodstuffs in Hungry Horse Montana (Ensure, Cheetos, etc), set my clothes out, grab dinner in Columbia Falls, and settle in for the night.  I get to bed at about 8:30 or so, wondering if the Cubs would hold on to beat the Marlins (they did, in eleven innings).
 
Saturday morning dawns early, and I’m up by 5 to throw on my clothes, get my feet all jellied up (Bagger’s Balm! I swear by it), and hop on a shuttle the hotel provided to the start of the run.  There are about a dozen of us in the car, and we are all in great spirits as we head down to the start, fifty some miles away on a very muddy fire road.  The outside temperature is about 35, much warmer than last year, but inside, the van gets muggy from all of us ultrarunners. I find I’m sitting next to Gerald “Jack” Batchen, whose wife, Lisa, had been the only woman to finish the Grand Slam of ultrarunning this year.  Jack hasn’t had a chance to run many ultras this year, as he’s been too busy pacing his wife on hundred milers, so he’s excited to be running this one.  I find out they’re also the american coordinators for the Marathon de Sables – a six day, 151 mile run across, umm, well, the Sahara in Morocco.  So, everyone had better hope I get into Western States next year!
 
The starting line is filled with the same casual energy that all ultras seem to have… it’s very different from marathons or 5ks, because everyone seems pretty relaxed.  Pat Caffrey gets us all lined up and spends a good fifteen minutes explaining the rules of the day.
 
As many of you know, Montana had another bad fire season, and this time, the northwest corner was hit pretty hard – a very large part of Glacier is toast (about 16%, I heard), and about 20% of the course along Hungry Horse Reservoir is also burned, with all sorts of menacing looking snags.  Most of the race directions were basically Pat saying, “Hey, those snags are dangerous. Don’t park there.”  Pat also mentioned not to dilly dally, but that the forest service probably would not yell at you if you stopped to throw up or something.
 
So, the race starts with the traditional firing of a shotgun (welcome to Montana).  Of course, the shotgun doesn’t fire, so Pat just yells, “Ahh, get moving.”  Pat gets the shotgun to fire about two minutes after we start – so we all get an extra surge of adrenaline. We are off into the green and aspen-yellow flaring pageant of sky courting the counsel of mountains.
 
There are only about 70 or so of us this year, down from 84 last year (highest number of starters ever, and all finished). Virtually everyone is from the Northwest USA or Western Canadian provinces; outside of this huge contingent, there’s me, a guy from Pennsylvania celebrating his 50th birthday, two from Georgia, two guys from Florida, and like one person each from California and Arizona.  It’s around freezing or so at the start, and that was fine with me – after three ultras this year where the heat has gotten to me (Arkansas in the 80s, Tahoe in the 90s and even Mt. Diablo where it only topped in the mid 70s), it was nice to have heat removed as a consideration. I still sweat a lot, and am amused at the various ice crystals forming on my fleece vest over the first couple of miles.
 
The course is fairly flat, with maybe 2500 feet of elevation gain and loss, which seems to occur mostly in the second half of the race – nothing is even remotely steep, just some long ascents and descents as you curve into drainages that drop into Hungry Horse Reservoir.  I find myself making good time, and I feel I’m hydrating and replenishing fairly well.  I run the first couple of hours with Skookumtumtum “Steve” Heaps, who has ran this race all 22 years.  Last year he passed me about a mile from the finish (I walked the last eight miles on a twisted ankle), and I thanked him for his encouragement and gentle nature for last year. He eventually takes off ahead, and then hits a bad spell and I pass him for awhile, but he passes me for good this year with four miles to go.  Oh well.
 
I make about 6.3 miles or so the first hour and 6.2 the second hour; I ease somewhat as the hills become a little steeper, passing the marathon mark in 4:10 and 50K (31 miles) in 5:15.  I’m feeling OK but tired at mile 36 when I make a mistake which cost me my desired 9:00 finish – the aid station at mile 36 (6:30) has beef jerky, and it sounds very good and a lot easier than digging an Ensure out of my camelbak, so I grab some along with some coke and a Red Bull – and within three miles I start to feel really nauseous.  
 
The problem with being nauseous during an ultra is that it keeps you from your best source of speedy finishes – downhill running.  When your stomach gets upset and starts to slosh, running downhill – which is jarring to begin with – becomes a game of chicken between your will to move fast and your desire to vomit.  I’m not sure if my stomach is revolting at the jerky, or just shutting down, so I hold off on vomiting (fearing some dehydration and a dnf) and will myself to run, albeit slowly, as well as I can.  This takes me all the way to mile 47 with an obvious slowdown (9:05 – 11 miles in 2 and a half hours, and I should’ve been able to complete it).  At mile 47, the aid station offers me a pemmican bar – which is more than I can stand. I get light headed, and head quickly down the road.
 
Now, for the first 47 miles of the race you get to follow along Hungry Horse Reservoir (southwest of glacier park) – at mile 47, you get to cross Hungry Horse Dam, which at 564 feet tall, is pretty impressive.  And, I thought, you know, I’ve never thrown up over anything that high before… so, right down the road from the aid station is Hungry Horse Dam. Woohoo! After clearing my stomach, Skookumtumtum’s wife drives by me and mouths “DON’T DROP!” – but with less than three miles to go now, that’s not even an option.  I feel quite a bit better and cover the last couple of miles feeling much better, though I don’t push it too much, still not wanting to hurt myself.  I cross the line in 9:48, about 8 minutes slower than last year, but still a finish.  I skip the awards ceremony as I’m still pretty nauseous, AND I have a Cubs game to watch.  After getting my stomach settled (mmm, chicken soup), I start into a six pack of MOOSE DROOL and watch the Cubs drop the Marlins AND watch my Mizzou Tigers trounce Nebraska at home. Ahhh.  Sweet.  I’m also ecstatic that I have no injuries, and only one small blister.  
 
Next run is November 2nd at Starved Rock Park in Illinois (50K), followed by the first annual Ozark Mountain Ultramarathon the Sunday before thanksgiving, also just a 50K; I may finish the year up in Indiana (of all places) at the Huff 50K.  
 
Next year is way up in the air, mostly depending on if I make the Western States Lottery or not (held December 6th). Cheers! – J
 
“Mad land opens where you run.” – Richard Hugo

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