Friday, January 24, 2014

Wilson Creek Frozen 50K 2014

Photo credit: Tempus Photo
The Wilson Creek Frozen 50K lived up to its name again this year (which I was thrilled with)!  It is no secret that I do well in the cold and the fact that it was barely below freezing was a huge bonus because it kept the trails from getting soft and muddy.

Michelle and I arrived about an hour early to get checked in and have a chance to say hello to a number of friends who were doing the 50K and 20M distance which started at the same time.  It seemed like time flew by and in no time we were off an running.  The first two miles are gentle terrain and the pace was practically 5K PACE for many of us.  I normally gauge my effort with a heart rate monitor but it wasn't working so I just followed the crowd.  I knew that was way too fast for me so I pulled into the Stinson aid station at mile 2.5 to refill my 10 ounce water bottle and catch my breath.

Arriving at Stinson AS mile 2.5 Photo credit: Tempus Photo
I decided against carrying a pack and just had two 10 ounce Nathan bottles on my waist and one 10 ounce bottle in my hand.  I felt like that should be plenty.  The longest stretch without aid is between Stinson aid station and Mud Pit aid station (about 11 miles).  Those 11 miles have a majority of the gain and loss on the course though.

The small group I was with came to a more reasonable pace as we began the long grind up to Wilson Peak.  We were going in reverse direction from last year when nearly the entire route was covered in snow and ice.  I kept thinking to myself as we slowly climbed this insanely steep section, 'How on earth did I run race pace DOWN this section when it was covered in snow?'.

Sunrise above the fog Photo credit: Jeff Black
We slowly broke out of the low hanging fog and were greeted by the sun just as it was cresting the horizon.  This was a big mental boost since it has been so gray and dreary in town for a long time.  Once we were above the fog the temperature went up a bit too.  I unzipped my jacket, hung my hat around my waist belt, and carried my gloves for last half of the climb.  Throughout the day it was nice to have these extra items though to put on and take off as needed to adjust my body temperature.

I arrived at the base of the small out and back to Wilson Peak and was excited to see who was ahead and by how much.  It was hard to tell in the initial fog but I wasn't surprised with anyone who came down ahead of me.  It was fun to cheer people flying by knowing that our chance to fly would be coming soon.  Last year Jeff Black beat me and Tony Huff to the summit and got a great picture of us coming up.  This year we were just ahead of Jeff and he got a good picture of us coming down.  I told Jeff I would smile but I didn't want to trip in the minefield of loose rocks through this section!  The cruise down was great to have a chance to say hello to friends passing by too.  I saw more people during this short out and back than I did the rest of the race.

Coming down from the peak Photo credit: Jeff Black
The sun was warm but still low in the sky and we quickly disappeared into the shadows for a few miles before popping out onto Wilson Creek Road.  Tony had taken off on the downhill chasing Derek but I could see both of them right ahead of me until mile 15 or so.  The stretch from the peak to Mud Pit aid station is mostly runnable.  There were a few spots where it goes gently uphill but most of us maintained a steady running pace up the short climbs.  I rolled into Mud Pit having rationed the water just about right.  Nellie and her family did a wonderful job of getting us restocked and on our way. We were supposed to turn in a plastic army guy we retrieved from the peak to prove we did the out and back. I lost mine on the way down somehow and had to explain my predicament to Nellie's daughter....who looked like she might just send me back to the top. Thanks believing me!

There is one last significant climb from that aid station to a saddle about 1.5 miles up the trail. The trail is narrow and on the shady side of the gully for the first half.  Frozen footprints and horse tracks dotted the trail through here which made it a little tricky.  In one spot I jumped to the left to avoid the rough trail and got jousted by a sagebrush branch that nearly sent me tumbling down the steep side of the hill to the right.  (I was telling Derek about this after the race and he said he did exactly the same thing in this spot but was knocked off the trail!)  I was 4 minutes behind Derek and Tony which is about where I ended up finishing 16 miles later which was crazy considering this was the last time I saw either of them.

From the top it is a gentle descent back into the grey fog abyss.  The miles clicked by fairly fast through here.  There was one sketchy fork in the trail after the hairpin turn before heading back toward the finish line.  I took the left fork (which turned out to be the wrong way) and ended up having to run up the bottom of the gully covered in ice to reconnect with the trail.  The fog was so thick that it wasn't a matter of bad trail markers, just the fact that we couldn't see the next one through the fog.  On a clear day it would not have even been an issue.

I arrived at the fork in the trail where the 10 milers were merging with the 20 milers feeling great.  I assumed that the 10 milers were near the back of the pack and they seemed shocked to see the 20 milers looking so strong after so many miles with 10 to go.  I had been chasing someone along here and finally caught up to them about a mile from the start/finish line.  I realized it was Jay Morgan and we chatted as we cruised into the end of the 20 mile loop and beginning of the 10 mile loop.

I had exactly what I needed for fuel and replenishment in my drop bag and ran straight to it (nearly killing myself slipping on the tarp the bags were set on).  Thankfully, Mark Wheeler was there volunteering and helped get me get everything all swapped out and put back in my bag after I left.  I chased Jay out of the aid station and was content to let him pull me along through the canyon.  He was running in sections where I wanted to be walking so I felt like it was helping me.  We rolled into the mile 25 Stinson aid station and I took a cup of coke and a handful of chips.  I was in and out quickly and didn't see Jay after that.

Leaving the canyon Photo credit: Tempus Photo
When I started the 10 miler I told myself I would run as much as I could to Stinson and then walk the 2 mile climb from there to Rocky Road aid station that has about 900 feet of elevation gain.  Once I started up the hill I thought, 'What am I conserving my energy for?  The race will be over in 6 miles.'  So I ran uphill until I got out of breath and walked until I was recovered.  I did this back and forth until I popped out of the fog into the Rocky Road aid station still feeling pretty good.  I have a tendency to run 100 mile pace during 50K races for some reason so I needed the practice pushing myself.

I had a cup of soup and some chips and quickly headed down the trail after saying hello to Michael Gilstrap and Wayne Ebenroth who were volunteering.  The last 4 miles are mostly downhill and I wanted to hammer them as hard as I could.  I took a Tylenol just as I was leaving and it really seemed to help me relax and get into a good groove.

I ran as hard as my legs would allow me to those four miles.  Along the way, I was reminded of Dennis Ahern's pre-race words that we were running 'Miles for Meg'.  Meg Menzies was a runner who was struck and killed by a drunk driver earlier in the week.  I was also inspired to run hard for local runner and fellow Pearl iZumi teammate Jenny Carroll who is battling cancer right now.  As the thoughts of these two bounced around in my head I found myself running faster and feeling better than I ever have at this stage of a race.

Photo credit: Shanda Doughman
I merged in with the 20 mile loop and pushed the short uphill, running hard every step.  I caught up to Frank Aldana and we charged into the finish line pushing each other to finish strong.  My finish time was 5:23 and I came in 10th place.  I was stoked that I placed 2nd in my age group behind Derek and got one of the coveted Wilson Creek wooden blocks!  It was a wonderful day all around.

The race organization by Emily and her team at Pickledfeet Ultras was superb. Every volunteer was amazing and had a smile out there supporting our craziness.  The weather fully cooperated for the first time in three years and I felt great from start to finish.


  1. You had a great day Ryan! Congrats and nice report. I hope to tag along closer next time.

    1. You should get 10 minutes deducted from your time for taking such awesome pictures Jeff!!


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