Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Wilson Creek Frozen 50K Recap

Pre-race prediction from my post on Thursday...

"No expectations other than being smart when it comes to effort, fueling, and hydration.  If I can get those three things together the rest will take care of itself."

My goal for this year is to be SMART while I am out there on race day.  By smart, I mean #1 not running someone else's race, #2 dialing in nutrition in training beforehand, and #3 figuring out hydration to prevent problems so that I can RUN at the end and more importantly FEEL GOOD at the end.  I learned my lesson at Wasatch last September.  First half time doesn't mean a thing when you are walking nearly the entire second half because you screwed up on 'smart factors' 1, 2, and 3.

Saturday before
Derek Call and I had gone out to Wilson Creek the previous Saturday to run the 20 mile loop while Michelle did the 10 mile loop.  The conditions that day were almost exactly like race day as far as the temperature goes.  There was some new snow that morning which had drifted around and made it slow going in places but where the snow had been packed by ATVs and snowmobiles the running conditions were beyond perfect.  During the last week there hadn't been any new snow and plenty of time for vehicles to flatten the snow in the slow sections.
Saturday before

After slogging through the snowdrifts and virgin powder halfway to our knees I told Derek, if anything this was great mental preparation for the conditions.  Our time that day was pretty slow but we knew where the icy spots would be on race day.  It also gave us some time to start working on our positive attitudes if the conditions were just as cold and miserable on race day!

Race morning came early for me and Michelle.  We were delivering some equipment to the starting line for Emily so we were up at 4AM and at the starting line at 6AM.  It's worth noting that the starting line was already bustling with activity, RD's running around, and volunteers getting directions when we got there 'early'. The car said 4 degrees below zero so we stayed in the check-in tent with the wood stove as long as possible.  

In typical ultra fashion, we were all herded down to the road for some pre-race instructions from Emily and Davina.  It lasted 5 or 10 minutes but standing around that long felt like an eternity at those temperatures.  The national anthem Ben played on the trombone was quite a feat given the conditions too. One nice touch was the REAL shotgun start provided by Davina's husband Jeremy.

It was good to be off and get the blood flowing. At the start I like to be somewhere near the front to avoid getting stuck in traffic and I seemed to fall right into my natural group.  The 'I am not going to try and keep up with the front runner fast guys' group, but faster than the 'why are those guys running this early in the race, don't they know it's 31 miles' group.  Which seemed to mean I was by myself for some reason.  In the first couple of miles I don't recall much passing by anyone.  

The first person I recall coming upon was Derek.  Somehow he said he had gotten in the 'why is that guy in front of Joelle Vaught' group and decided to drop back to his normal pace.  We run a lot together so it was no surprise that we ended up settling in at the same pace.

The first few up and downs were great for getting the body heat up and getting the muscles loose.  In the section before the first aid station I just couldn't help but think back to last year when the conditions were so horrible with the mud.  Although it was bitterly cold and there was snow on the ground the conditions were 100% better than the torture of 2012!

I chose to take two 10 ounce Nathan bottles on a waist belt with a third smaller one in my pocket for hydration.  I normally use hand held water bottles but they suck the heat out of my hands on a day like this and slowly turn to sno-cones with every arm swing.  With the belt I could cover the bottles with my jacket to keep them from freezing and also use the back pocket to carry gels and food items if needed.  The bottles did ice up a couple of times but not so bad I couldn't drink out of them.

Leaving the first aid station Photo Jeff Black
Just before the first aid station there is a long downhill section that I was looking forward to.  It is just steep enough that you can bomb down but not so steep you feel out of control.  I was with Brian Flansburg as we came blasting through that section and I got a nice frosty sweat going.  Once we entered the aid station I took off my headlamp and gave it to Bertha Sandoval for safekeeping.  My neck warmer had been up around my ears and chin before the aid station and it came down while I was getting my water refilled.  I think I took some pretzels and coffee and hit the road.  I was stopped just over a minute and my neck warmer was frozen stiff.  It had turned into and ice collar so I wore it the rest of the day bouncing around my neck.  Luckily, Jeff was there to get a good picture of it. 

Almost to Wilson Peak with Tony Huff Photo Jeff Black
The climb up to the summit of Wilson Creek was wonderful.  Partly because of the SUNSHINE and partly because getting up that high meant the temperatures were warmer (relatively).  Upon reaching the summit we had to get an item out of a bag to prove we were there.  It was a bag of green army guys and several large airplanes. My first grab came up with a B2 bomber that was cool but seemingly huge compared to my lack of pockets so I put it back and grabbed a small guy.  Tony liked the B2 bomber so he took that one I believe.

Most of the hard work is in the bag at this point of the race.  There are other climbs after this one but the majority of the gain is done.  Tony and I set off bombing down the hill with the chance to say hello to the other runners who were on their way up.  Tony is a gazelle on the downhills but somehow we stayed together for awhile.  The long downhills were better to run this year since they were covered in snow.  The snow seemed to mask many of the small ankle biter rocks that litter the trail from Wilson Peak to Stinson aid station.  After a couple of miles Tony found high gear and that was the last 50k runner I saw all day.  The finish times suggested we must have all been pretty close though.

I skirted the really icy sections by running through the sagebrush.  I kicked out some big jackrabbits along the way that weren't too happy about my trespassing.  Just before getting into the aid station I was passing some 10 mile runners who were going in the opposite direction.  They were concerned they were going the wrong direction until I told them I was doing the 50k and they were going the right way.  I saw that look of...

When did they start? 
How cold is it? 
What mile is it for him? 
How many have I gone? 
Damn it's cold! 
(Head shaking) Just keep moving....

I didn't really need to stop at the aid station but did anyway to get something hot to drink.  Randy Thorn, Mike Blessing, and Tim Birch got me set up with something hot while I munched from the table.  I commented to Randy that the marbles they were serving were delicious!  Peanut M&Ms in zero degree weather sounded more like chewing ice than eating candy.  It put a smile on my face and I was off.

The stretch from there to the end of the 20 mile loop was fairly uneventful, which was nice!  It is comparatively easy terrain after what we had just done but every time I have gotten to this point it feels like a place where I should relax and take it easy.  This time I had a reminder in my pocket to keep me moving.  Before the race I came across a post on my blog called Persistence.  The quote says, "I am nobody special, I just never give up when it gets hard."  I wrote it on a card and carried it with me to remind myself to give it my all from start to finish.

I cruised into the 20 mile aid station at 10:45 and was treated to a Hawaiian themed aid station put on by The Pulse. They had grass skirts and aprons with cutouts of people in swim shorts and coconut bras.  It was a nice diversion from the miles and the cold.  Last year I spent probably 15 minutes at this aid station dinking around so one of my goals was to get in and get out.  I spent just over 2 minutes this year.

The first mile of the 10 mile loop is the same trail as the start of the 20 miler. I recall feeling much different the first time around.  No trying to get in the right spot.  No wondering who is ahead.  No wondering who is behind. Just KEEP MOVING!!  I was trying to find a pace that I could trot the uphills and push the downhills while maintaining an even effort.

I was thankful for the 10 mile runners who came before me through this section.  The snow was still rather light which made footing difficult even after they had all been through.  Several places were similar to the conditions Derek and I saw the previous Saturday.  Just as I started heading up the hill towards Rocky Road aid station Mark Hutchinson came cruising up from behind.  He was the 10 mile sweep and running hard to catch up.  This was the exact same spot Mark passed me when we both ran the 50k last year.  Just like last year...we crested the hill and he was never seen again!

The aid station workers were amazing.  They gave me a tissue which was nice since I was sweating like a beast and trying to keep my face from freezing solid from the dripping sweat.  I think I had a couple of Oreos, a handful of pretzels, and a coke slushy.  I finally remembered to thank everyone after I got 50 yards down the trail.  It is normally my custom at all aid stations in every race I do.  It's one thing to come out and freeze your butt off in a race, but to come out and volunteer in the same conditions to support crazy people like me deserves the highest level of respect and appreciation.

Who wants a hug?
The downhill to Stinson is a couple of miles and it was fast and smooth which was a nice change.  While I was standing there getting some soup Mariah Crump came in and they asked her what they could get her.  She had that, oh my goodness I DON'T KNOW look on her face.  I suggested 'a hug'?  Hugs at aid stations when your brain is getting foggy can be a big boost!  We introduced ourselves since we have only chatted through Facebook before this.

After a quick stop I headed up the icy road toward the canyon entrance.  It was nice to finally see some other runners passing the other direction.  They were 20 milers and 50k runners heading into the Stinson aid station at the end of the 20 mile loop.  I quickly dropped into the canyon and promised myself that I would run the whole thing.  Last year Derek and I slogged this whole section.  Actually, what we did last year would be an insult to sloggers.  It was a mix of bad attitudes sprinkled with grumbling about the crappy conditions and occasional fast walking while our arms were swinging!

Halfway through the canyon I toed a rock and nearly went down.  It was one of those really bad rocks that reach out and grab you because of its massive size.  It was sticking out of the ground about 1inch wide and 1/2 an inch high!  My tired legs couldn't clear it but I did have a nice save and avoided hitting the ground.  All together I toed one rock, never slipped on the snow and ice, and never fell once.  
Photo Amy King
I must have kicked the rock while I was taking in the beauty of the canyon.  If you have never been out there it would be worth the trip just for this short section.  The walls of the canyon are so high that it makes you feel like a small insignificant piece of the puzzle at the bottom.  Parallel to the trail is the creek which is normally fairly loud.  This year it was nearly frozen solid which made it very serene and quiet.

I popped out of the canyon and walked the last little hill while I worked on chiseling the ice out of my bottle.  I drank what water I could and was left with ice cubes bouncing around inside an empty bottle which got real annoying real fast.  I took off the cap and tried to shake it out but the ice was bigger than the cap!  I fiddled with it while I was running and it finally came out about the time I reached Pigeon Road.

I crossed over the road and onto the trail and came up behind Michelle as she was finishing the 10 mile loop.  She was having a good time and turned back to see me just as I got up to her.  She said the 50k runners ahead of me had been coming bombing by and wanted to make sure she was off the trail.  We chatted for just a minute and she said, YOU'RE in 5th place GO!
This is the longest 2 miles and it was the second time I got to do it!  I put my head down and decided I would just keep plugging along until I reached the crest of the hill near the overflow parking.  From there I would try and wring out what energy I had left to finish strong.  I was actually thinking I should be getting passed by someone.  I usually do really well in the beginning and then fade at the end (lack of smart factor #1).  But today it wasn't meant to be I guess.  Jeff would have beaten me if he hadn't stopped to get the great pictures I included here (Thanks Jeff).  The final home stretch felt smooth and fast again which was a great feeling.

Before the race I set a goal for myself to beat my Foothills Frenzy time 5:45 with a secondary goal of breaking 6 hours.  This course has a bit more elevation and weather conditions were a bit different than the middle of October so I knew it was a stretch.  I finished in 5:55:05, 5th place male, and won my age group for the first time ever which was cool.  

I think I did fairly well on all three of the 'smart factors' too.  I learned that I don't need as much food as I normally have at aid stations.  With everything being so cold nothing sounded good so I ate very little at the aid stations with a couple of gels in between.  That combination seemed just right.  

Shortly after I came in Michelle finished with a big smile on her face too.  We hung out at he finish line and congratulated the other runners as they finished up.  We left about 4PM and the car said it had skyrocketed to 11 degrees.  The Wilson Creek Frozen 50k lived up to its name this year.  
Finish line Photo Jeff Black
I never saw one grouchy face out there all day.  That is a testament to a) the wonderful efforts of the race directors and volunteers to help keep everyone smiling and b) the character of ultra runners who put themselves through this because it is FUN!

Special thanks to Tony Salazar of Tempus Photo & Design, Jeff Black, and Amy King for the pictures!


  1. You have said to me in the past, "I'll never win one of these things. I just want to enjoy myself. " I never argued with you buy have always believed you capable of great things!!! Top 5 is pretty impressive for a guy just having fun!! Just keep doing what you're doing. It's working AND you're still smiling!! Loved the Jump video. I expect you to do that kick the next time you wear those crazy tights when you run with me!!!!

    1. If you do something you love it is always fun! The only way I'll ever do THAT kick is pre-race. Post-race a heel click is pushing it!!

  2. Nice job Ryan. You're keeping me honest out there, as I can't slack too much! Glad the pictures worked out.

    1. Thanks Jeff. We need to get out on a training run together before our races in March!


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