Updated: Aug 7, 2019
Grizzly 50 Finisher -2018
Race Day. Time to get Grizzly.
This was the inaugural year for the PUTS series, and as soon as I laid my eyes on this race, I knew I wanted it. In ultra running, I have never yet had a course beat me. Last year I ran my first 50 miler at Antelope Island my hardest ever mountain race, 60K at Standhope. Keeping with my progression toward the looney bin, I signed up for the PUTS. I figured it would be my 2nd 50 miler and one with about 8000-9000 feet more climbing than the first....
After getting my stuff ready (dressing, bathroom, getting lubed up, bathroom, repacking my pack, studying my map and charts, bathroom…) I toed the start line under a full moon. The Race Director Drew started the countdown. “Ten! Nine! Eight! Seven!” All of a sudden he accelerated rapidly. “FiveFourThreeTwoOne GOOOOOOOOO!” He must have been behind. Anyway, we were off!
We headed out of the campground and immediately started climbing. Holy ----. It was probably 3 times as steep as our average trail in the foothills. My buddy Garrick (another 50 miler) and I trained for this though. We kicked our asses all year on our own terms to be ready for this. Thank god for the hiking poles, though.
As we climbed, it was easy to stay focused and not go out too fast. I was just focusing with my headlamp and stepping in exactly the best step that the person in front of me was leaving. Not over-striding and using the poles to take the strain off my back. A long line of headlamped runners in the wee hours of the morning…what must the animals be thinking? I wish I could say I was going slow because of the conga line, but it was the vert. The first 2 miles took me 47 minutes! I remember thinking “everyone behind me without sticks (trekking poles) is so ------.” When we hit the ridge and I did let myself look up from the ground, I was treated to a big full moon with Mars right below it! Were the planets aligning for my race?
I made my way up to the saddle of an M shaped elevation profile and got a good helping of rocks and scree, but it wasn’t too bad. In the rock field, it was very hard to find the trail because there was no rutted trail. I actually got hollered at by some folks behind me…”you’re going the wrong way!” Thanks goodness they caught me. From what I heard later, about 16 people took the same turn as me and wound up on a road down below. I couldn’t imagine running all the way down and having to hike back up.
We made it over the next hump of the M shaped first climb/double climb and then descended down to the aid station around mile 9.5, Indian Creek. What a fantastic spread of food! Having eaten only pureed baby food for the first 2.5 hours, the hot and fresh food hit the spot. Watermelon and oranges and mashed potato filled pierogies for me. I dumped trash, grabbed a Clif bar and some Huma gels, and started on the Paradise Loop.
We had morning light at this time, and as I climbed higher and higher through the wildflower and greenery filled alpine meadows, the beauty intensified. There were sheer cliffs in the distance with tall waterfalls, and every time I turned around the view behind me was better than the last time I turned around. I stayed consistent and kept my pace and eventually thrust my body up and over the high point of the course. On the other side was a beautiful alpine lake and a descent to the Paradise Loop Aid Station (mile 20). This was a minimalist aid station with its remoteness so I just grabbed a couple bars, refilled my bottles, and got going.
Heading back down Paradise Loop, honestly I don’t remember it a lot. I wasn’t pounding any downhills today, but kept telling myself to “float down” and keep my legs strong for later. I was also really being careful with my poles, using them to help me slow down because my quads were barely going to make it as it is. I was super relieved to see the Indian Creek Aid Station again (mile 30ish). Real food! I ate some more pierogies, and this time they also had cheese quesadillas and my manna from heaven, pickles. I probably had 10 gherkins. Again, I dumped trash, grabbed watermelon for the road, filled my bottles and got going.
It was at this point of the race when things got HOT and me and a handful of runners took turns leapfrogging each other back and forth. I ran with Marty Cooke from Pocatello a bit but he had to go relieve himself in the trees so I left him behind. Another guy kept passing me and then would stop in the shade and stretch his piriformis. I spent a lot of time with a gal from British Columbia who just carried a single walking stick that she found. I told her “Can you imagine how good you’d be if you had 2 sticks like me?”
We made it through the overgrown trail and up to the saddle of the M again. After a short downhill, we hit the hit the rocks, and it was miserably hot and exposed. However the climb OUT of the M was worse. I had Standhope flashbacks of being totally drained. 3 or 5 strides up a steep steep hill, then stop and lean over the poles for a while. 7 or 10 steps…step under the shade of a tree and lean over the sticks some more. Over and over and over. At this time, people stared passing me because I was weak. I felt like I was dropping like a stone in the standings…a testament to just how strong these other runners were.
Where the ---- is the lake? I kept thinking of the first hours of the race, rising up under the moon and Mars and looking to my right and seeing Palisades Lake below. I wanted to see that lake again to know the end was in sight. Eventually there it was!
On the downside of the M, that might be the steepest terrain I’ve ever descended. Remember how steep the race started? The 1800 feet in 2 miles that took me 47 minutes! I must not have remembered though how could I forget? It didn’t help that I kicked my left foot super hard into a root or rock during the descent, bruising a couple of my toes. When your toes are throbbing and bruised, what’s the last thing you want to do? Answer: Downhills with your toes smashed into the front of your shoes. Pain is only temporary. I began thinking of Dad and finishing for him.
When the ground flattened out and I got close to the YMCA campground (mile 39ish), I smelled blood in the water. Just a flat out and back section left (WRONG). Let’s go! I came up to the last aid station by the start/finish and saw Garrick’s wife Rachel. “Can I take your poles?” “Over my dead body” I thought. My quads were blown. They felt permanently locked. Like a cramping quad except they weren’t cramped. Rachel told me Garrick wanted to quit at this point, but after sitting a little bit and eating bacon, she got him to keep going. It was a tough day for everyone! I pounded about 2 full bottles of water, filled bottles, ate a little bit, and set out to complete what I started.
This section was easy, I thought. I mean I thought that before. It was NOT easy, though relatively I guess it was after what I’d been through. On the elevation profile this stretch looked like nothing. A breeze! As I got started, it was anything but. Rocks were all over the trail, so it took a ton of focus. The trail climbed more than I figured. I guess when the map shows 4000 foot climbs, 700 foot climbs will look like nothing. But it was sure something!
It lasted FOREVER! a 5.5 mile out and back, but when I was heading out I had no idea how long it would be. I had the last aid station pegged at 38.94 by my watch, so if the map said the race was 51.8 miles, how long should I expect? 6 out? 6.5? As this was an out and back section, people kept passing me going the opposite direction. Eventually one of them was Garrick, who gave me a huge hug and showed me his swollen knee. “A little less than 2 miles to the turn”, he said. What a relief! My brain had been playing tricks on me. Would anybody even know if I just turned around early? “Cheat!”, said the little devil on my shoulder. Of course they would check that I went all the way, I figured. Plus this is for Dad. That “a little less than 2 miles” ended up being 1.6, going up and over a rocky granite shelf. Finally I made it to the aid station and made the turn. About 5.5 miles left. But also a couple hours! Just keep moving.
I linked up with a man named Paul when my bib number fell off and he shouted at me from behind. That was nice of him! We rode the pain train back together, keeping each other company. With a couple miles left, he told me he had to pee and pulled off to the side. At that time, I considered stopping with him, but selfishly just pushed on and accelerated. I was ready to be done and I could smell the barn. Sorry Paul!
With a mile left, I saw Brian Forney and was so proud of him for getting there! He had hours left and more work to do, but honestly, I thought he and all of the runners from Boise besides Garrick and I wouldn’t finish because of how hard the race was, so I was really happy to see him. I finally dumped out off the trail and had about 200 meters left. I threw both poles in one hand (the only time all day) and ran. I crossed over the bridge and Garrick and Rachel’s kids were there. “Go Brady!!”, Jackson yelled, and I high fived all of them and turned the corner uphill toward the steps to the finish. Steps! Weird, awkwardly wide steps. Though I thought earlier I’d have to finish by walking up them, I ran all the way to the top, slapped the bell, and gave the RD Drew a big sweaty hug. I did it! My watch measured 49.86 miles. I thought about running to get to 50 even. Nope.