Thursday, August 11, 2016

Tushars 93k 2016 Race Report

I’ve never been so nervous for a race as I have for Tushars. When the race director sends this to all the racers, it is bound to give a newbie like me jitters:
You will find these mountains to be difficult, relentless, and unforgiving. If you did not run with us last year, then you ARE underestimating the difficulty. However hard you are imagining this race is, it is harder than that. Please understand we are not trying to be cute, or be over the top in trying to scare anyone. We just don't want anyone to put themselves in a dangerous position. Last year we had a 43% drop rate in the 93k distance.
I didn’t run with them last year.

We showed up to Eagle Point Ski Resort where the race starts and where we were camping around 6:45 p.m. on Friday. After checking in, grabbing my bib, and dropping off my drop bags, I could see and hear a storm coming so I quickly set up our tent as fast as I could.  But the massive thunderstorm hit and got me, Eva, and the tent. Many expletives were said, mostly under my Eva couldn’t hear; she was an absolute champ throughout all of this by the way. The storm cleared out quickly and our tent mostly aired out by the time we settled in. I had no idea at the time that the elevation there is about 10,250’ which explained Lindy’s massive headache that persisted through the night and my lack of appetite and constricted throat. It felt like I was getting choked every time I swallowed. I could hardly shove any food down but I knew I had to in order to be ready for the race.

I woke up at 4:20 a.m. after having had 4.5 hours of sleep. My throat constricted but I shoved down half a bean and cheese burrito, half a Nutella and peanut butter wrap, and an Salmon onegiri (a Japanese rice ball). Did I mention that every swallow hurt?  Cause it did and it got me really worried. I got over to the race start and met up with Curt Bentley and Austin Baird, the guys who got me into this mess, and Lindy and Addie were there to see me off which was fantastic!

Every aid station had a cutoff time so if I didn't get there before the cutoff, I wouldn't be able to go on.  My goal was to increase my time ahead of every cutoff at the aid stations so I could have a lot more time in the end to finish.  

Tusher Ultras CutoffsCrew/ Drop Bags93K (Mileage)Cutoff Time
Start05:00 AM Saturday
Alunite RidgeNo/No7.757:30 AM Saturday
Mud LakeYes/Yes1610:15 AM Saturday
Bullion PastureYes/Yes23.512:45 PM Saturday
Copper Belt PeakNo/No26.51:45 PM Saturday
Copper Belt PeakNo/No333:45 PM Saturday
Bullion PastureYes/Yes364:45 PM Saturday
Miner's ParkYes/Yes436:30 PM Saturday
Alunite RidgeNo/No509:30 PM Saturday
Finish Line57.812:00 AM Sunday

The first seven miles had two major climbs and I began a third one before I got to the first aid station at 7:03 a.m just under 30 minutes before the cutoff.  So far so good.  My throat was still killing me the entire time but I still forced down some watermelon, and bacon, and downed my first two salt pills before moving on. 

A photo posted by SamYam (@samtheyam) on

After the Alunite aid station was the big climb to Mt. Delano. The sunrise and the surrounding landscape was breathtaking. I heard that this race was beautiful but words can never give justice to the real thing. After clearing the treeline it looked exactly like the Scottish Highlands. It was amazing. I had my iPhone with me to snap pictures but after years of use and abuse on that phone, most all my pics turned out blurry - a huge disappointment. It’s been a good run iPhone.

A video posted by SamYam (@samtheyam) on

The 2,000 foot climb to Delano wasn’t too bad, I was surprised how well I was doing amid the altitude, but I knew it was still early on in the race.. I had never summited a peak that high at 12,169’. The descent down Delano was great as all the 93k-ers were passing by the marathoners and half-marathoners on their way up. The encouragement all the runners were giving each other was such a mental boost. Seeing my high school friend Kristyan Frogley Williams and getting a big hug from her was a big boost and I finally met her friend, the Famous Jay, right after.

The rain persisted for some time and finally tapered off about 30 minutes later. The race was on ATV roads where we were being passed periodically by trucks and ATV’s, a slight annoyance, but no biggie. We passed by this beautiful emerald lake as we gradually ascended to the top of a ridge pass. I made it to the Bullion Pasture aid station (23.5 miles, 37 km) at 11:30, a whole hour and 15 minutes ahead of the cutoff, I was making great time and I felt great. There was a ton of food to be had, bacon, quesadillas with bacon, grilled cheese sandwiches, chips, Coke, watermelon, grapes, candy. It was well stocked; lunch was great!

From this point it was a long downward descent to the bottom of a valley to the next aid station and then up to summit Copperbelt Peak and then all the way back to this point - there and back. 23.5 miles in and I started feeling a little achy in the knees, especially on my way down to the valley. On the way down the leader passed us, he looked fantastic running uphill, not breaking a sweat, looking ready for a GQ magazine shoot. I couldn’t believe it.

I made it down the long descent to Copper Belt aid station at 12:08 almost an hour and 45 minutes ahead of the cutoff! Awesome! If you ever wonder if we have to go to the bathroom in races, we do, and this was my shining moment. The ascent up Copper Belt wasn’t going to be fun. The sun was out in full force but the air was still pretty cool. The switchbacks at the mountain base were monotonous. There’s something about switchbacks in races that I hate. More and more racers ahead of me were passing me by on their return, including Curt Bentley! I couldn’t believe how far ahead he was! I was proud of his pace! The view at the top of Copper Belt (11,358’, 27 miles, 43 km) was amazing and I passed Austin Baird shortly after summiting; he was very close behind. I made a bunch of friends up to this point, Jared Thorley, Danny Widerburg, Brad Slighting, and Andrew Jensen were great company on the trail and we all had close paces during this whole section.

A photo posted by Austin Baird (@asbaird) on

View from the top of Copper Belt

The ascent back up to Bullion Pasture (36 miles, 58 km) was a tough one for me.  Near the top I started slowing down. The heat and altitude was getting to me. I started feeling dizzy, a lack of appetite, and I was getting goosebumps, an early sign of heat exhaustion. I was forcing down tons of pickle juice and Jelly Bellies to try to recover but by the time I got to the aid station I was feeling weak. I got there at 3:39 p.m.; an hour and 6 minutes ahead of the cutoff.  At this point, I've never run this far in a single push before - everything after this would be unknown territory for me.  At the aid station the famous Jennilyn Eaton was super helpful. She gave me a quesadilla to eat and I had some watermelon, a Red Bull, some Coke, and grapes. They gave me ginger candy to chew and said I should feel better from the aid station since it’s a 4,000 ft descent down to the bottom of another valley.

I was weary but I pushed through. I instantly felt better since the elevation dropped quickly. I had a long descent and 7 miles to recover before going back up for the largest climb of the day. I made it to Miner’s Peak aid station (43 miles, 69 km) at 5:38 p.m., 52 minutes ahead of the cutoff. At this point I’d been running for 12 hours, 38 minutes. The people at the aid station were super encouraging. They said, “you’ve got this in the bag, unless you crash WHICH YOU WON’T DO!” It was a good mental boost to know the possibility that I might be finishing this. I downed another Red Bull, more salt pills, an onegiri, but my appetite was waning. Off I went, tired with a 4,000 ascent and the biggest climb ahead of me. The switchbacks up to Edna Peak seemed unending - back and forth and back and forth. The trail finally wrapped up and around above the tree line, onto a service road, then straight up. All of us were moving slow. The sun was getting low, it started to hail on us, it was getting cold, but the view was unbelievable again.  There was a fantastic rainbow behind me to my left and a sun drenched valley to my right.  

After finally sumitting Edna, I could see the next and last aid station below, but it was deceivingly far.  I had an added mental boost after seeing the aid station and was saying, "yes yes yes yes yes yes..." with every step.  That lasted about a mile until I realized how far in the opposite direction the course was taking me from that final aid station.  The descent wrapped down away from the destination in what would be almost a whole hour before arriving there at 9:04 p.m., 26 minutes before the cutoff.  

I was tired coming into the last aid station.  By this time, my headlamp was on and it was dark.  They had a nice warm bowl of stew that I ate as well as the usual watermelon and grapes that I gravitated toward.  I was here for a little over 10 minutes before I headed on, feeling pretty confident about my finish.

I had a race profile tattoo on my arm that I was looking at that told me what hills to expect.  Two more peaks left!  After the final descent from the last aid station was the second to last climb.  After getting to the top of that, it gradually went down and then back up.  I thought I had ascended up my final peak until I realized I had another huge climb.  It was hugely demoralizing.  Time was getting extremely close to the 12:00 a.m. cutoff.  I started pushing hard to the end and it was the biggest relief to see a ski lift.  Soon thereafter I started hearing people and lights.  I hobbled up the final climb until I heard the crowd at the finish cheering me on to the finish.  I saw Lindy and Addie before the finish line and got a hug and a kiss from them before crossing the finish - the most ecstatic feeling of my life.  Finish lines always get me emotional.  Having my family and friends there was so great.  My brother Josh surprised me by being there as well as Kristyan and Curt.

I made it in 18:44:34.  Of the 70 people who started, 42 completed.  I was happy to be the 27th of the 42.

This was a relentlessly brutal course.  The constant ups and downs seemed unending.  When you have relief of a downhill, you know you have to go straight up again.  Even the ending, the final half mile, ends going uphill.  I heard several reports from others who have run 100 milers that this course is harder - motivation for me to do a 100 miler.

I love running for the therapy it is for me.  It's a mind cleanse like nothing else and it's analogous application to life's ups and downs can't be bested any other way for me.  This past couple of years have brought me through the toughest spiritual journey, just like this race was physically; but having support, aid, and loved ones around made me finish and finish well.

Some self supplied food consumption stats:
Salt pills: 8
Red Bulls: 2
Cokes: 2
Jelly Belly Power Beans Packages: 4
Pickle juice: 500 ml
Salmon onegiri: 4
Cliff Bars: 2

Gear used:
Shoes: Saucony Peregrine 6
Socks: 3 pairs
Vest: Nathan Vapor Cloud
Gloves: Novara Arzo Bike Gloves
Shorts: Nike DriFit
T-Shirt: Men's Medium
Rainjacket: Marmot PreCip
Hat: Headsweats Race Hat
Poles: Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z
Headlamps: Petzl Tikka & Black Diamond Storm

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