Saturday, October 26, 2013

Le Grizz in Big Sky Country

Big Sky Country
*I had this blog finished and ready to post on Monday.  I then found out that one of my dearest friends in the world had passed away on Sunday, and my life went a little sideways.  Steve had been very sick for quite a while so it was not completely unexpected, but shocking still.  He was one of the most generous people I have or will ever know.  Jewelia summed it up perfectly, “Damn, I thought the world felt smaller”.*

Le Grizz 50 Miler wasn’t part of my original 2013 plans.  I had purposely not planned anything beyond a Run Across Oregon, that sadly didn’t happen this year.  Once it became obvious that we would need to delay the cross state run I contemplate a fall marathon, but quickly decided that getting back into the Western States lottery was what I really wanted to do, and Le Grizz has been on my “must run” list for years.

There is some cliche that get’s carelessly tossed around about not focusing on the destination but enjoying the journey.  I’m not sure who is responsible for that saying but I’m finding that the older I get the more unsightly the journey becomes.  I’ve really battled through some hip issues this Summer.  It took numerous chiropractic and massage appointments to keep me going.  I even broke down and committed a cardinal sin for myself in getting xrays.  My usual saying is “amputation before xray”, but I just had this nagging feeling that I may be fighting something insurmountable like degenerative joint disease.  Alas, no, my hips are fine, just muscle imbalance which is remarkably unoriginal for distance runners.

I have a pretty good routine for the week before a race.  A little fartlek type speed workout on the Monday.  A 10 to 12 mile, very slow, run on the Tuesday.  Chiro and massage on the Wednesday.  Then light, easy 3 to 4 milers on the Thursday and Friday.  Monday, as I was walking around gathering up running clothes and shoes, my ankle twisted.  It hurt really bad at first, then seemed fine.  As soon as I started running on it, it was not fine.  I walked back to the house, semi freaking out.  I iced it, took some ibuprofen and decided to see how it felt on Tuesday.  I’ve made this mistake before.  There is an adage I’ve heard, better to race a little undertrained than a little injured.  I decided that nothing I would do in this last week was going to help more than running on a dinged up ankle would hurt, so I didn’t run all week.  I watched my weight slowly creep up, despite eating really soundly, and hoped everything would be ok by Saturday.

We left for Montana, Thursday afternoon, with hopes of making it Spokane that night.  We might have made it too, if my Bears weren’t on TV that night in the sports bar where we stopped to have dinner.  We made it as far as Ritzville, WA, which isn’t very ritzy, at all.  Friday morning I went for a three mile test run, my ankle was just fine.
Clark Fork River
I’m not sure I’ve been to a more beautiful place than the Clark Fork River through the Lolo National Forest in the Fall.  Jeanne kept having to tell me to watch the road, as it felt like my head was on a swivel looking all around.  We drove through some pretty desolate stretches of wide open spaces that reminded me of the Harry Chapin song Mail Order Annie.

“You know it's not no easy life you're entering.
The winter wind comes whistling through the cracks there in the sod.
You know you'll never have too many neighbors.
There's you Girl, and there's me, and there's God.

You know I'm just a dirt man from the North Dakota plains.
You're one girl from the city who's been thrown out on her own.
I'm standing here not sure of what to say to you
'Cepting Mail Order Annie, lets you and me go home.”

Friday night would have been fairly uneventful, check in to motel, make sure we knew how to get to the turnoff that leads up to the start and have a truly fantastic dinner at Three Forks Grille in Columbia Falls.  It would have been fairly uneventful were it not for the black bear that suddenly appeared in our headlights while traveling 40 mph on our way back from dinner!  So Friday night ended with a pretty big adrenaline rush.

I had practiced several long runs taking in liquid calories early in the run.  My plan was to keep on a very even intake of liquid calories for as long as I could, but most importantly, make sure I started with the very first hour.  I did really well on nutrition all day.  I never had stomach problems, the only thing I consumed other than my Infinit Nutrition drink was a granola bar around mile 25 and some coke around mile 34.
All that's between US and Canada
The course was more difficult than I had anticipated.  For the first 7 miles it was a mixture of paved roads and really nice smooth dirt roads and very flat.  As we passed by the short road from the start/finish and started heading toward the Canadian border we hit our first hill.  It was a little more than a mile long and runnable, but it was the first time I noticed that I was at a higher elevation than I’m used to.  I ran pretty well out to the turn around (mile 29) at the border.  I had hoped to stay on 10 min per mile pace to the turn around and was about 18 minutes behind that pace when I turned around.  Then the wheels really fell off.  Usually somewhere between mile 30 and 35 in any race, no matter the distance, I go through a really bad patch.  This was one of the worst.  I was sleepy, my hips hurt bad and I didn’t even feel like I could take advantage of the downhills.  The road, which was rocky dirt, was starting to catch my toes a lot and I almost took a header a few times.  I spent a few very slow miles contemplating taking some Ibuprofen for my hips.  Finally around mile 33 I gave in and took some.  A few miles later I drank some coke.  I’m not sure whether to give either or both the credit for my rebound but I did rebound really well.
Things in mirror are faster than they appear.
 My mile 29 to 33 split was around 14 minutes per mile as I suffered.  From that point in, my every 4 ish mile splits were 11:54, 11:45, 10:34 and 10:24 for the last five miles.  And that was it.  Goal time had been 9:30.  I spent about 4 miles trying to make my peace with finishing in over 10 hours, then caught some late magic and ended up finishing in 9:19.  With about 8 miles to go I heard wolves, which was crazy exciting and makes every hair on your body stand on end.  Jeanne and several others crews got to see a huge Grizzly run across a meadow.
My number fell off, but was found at the border.
I tried to eat some of the fried chicken they had provided, but it was being kept warm on a barbecue pit and it smelled and tasted like lighter fluid.  I talked for while with a guy from Spokane that had finished a few minutes in front of me, he had a huge group of people with him.  Once again, I had the greatest crew in the world.  Jeanne is still not recovered from her broken heel, but drove the entire course left footed and I know the road was much rougher on vehicles than it was runners, we could at least pick our way around the rocks.  She was perfectly understated in her encouragement, which is exactly what works for me, and never acknowledged my complaining, which is also exactly what works for me.  I’ll say it, over and over, she is way better at crewing these things than I am at running them.

We took a Pizza back to the room, watched my UCLA Bruins play the Cal Golden Bears, a matchup that seemed very appropriate.  I fell asleep at half time, but UCLA didn’t really need my help.

All that was left was the 13 hour drive home on Sunday, back through some of the most beautiful landscapes we have ever seen in our lifetimes.

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