I have done a number of runs in the Orem/Lindon foothills on the side of the mouth of Provo Canyon, but not much on the south side of the canyon mouth. I remedied that this last week with 2 runs.
Starting at the Indian Hills trailhead I headed up the first mile climb and then another couple miles along the BST that travers up-canyon. The was ice in a few spots, but not bad. It felt great to be out. Once I turned around, my right IT Band flared up pretty quick and didn’t let up – getting especially bad on the last mile descent. More time on I the foam roller, I guess. Lots of tread mill. No hills.
On Saturday I planned to try out my new snowshoes for the first time up at Aspen Grove, if the snow was deep enough. Unfortunately, the anyone road was closed. About 10-15 minutes earlier, a oil tanker overturned, spilling 1,000 gallons of crude oil into the Provo a River. Very sad. Nobody was hurt. I’m glad I wasn’t a few minutes earlier or I could have been in the middle of it.
I wasn’t planning to run because of my knee, but decided to give it a try. I ran up the Sq*** Peak Road a bit, then dropped onto the Cactus Hill Connector and then to the top of Cactus Hill. The trail was untouched by human feet until the top of the hill. Just animal tracks on about 2 inches of fresh snow. So perfect. Down the west side of the hill there were a bunch of tracks from earlier in the morning, but once I headed back up canyon on the Smith Ditch a then BST I had taken on Monday, it was fresh tracked again. So beautiful. I bombed back down the road to my car. The knee felt *ok and it was so fun to be out on the fresh snow. But, for the next bit I need to keep it flat. Treadmill, I assume.
I thought that I went out fairly conservative, knowing there were a lot of miles ahead. As it would turn out, I clocked PRs on all of the strava segments down to Split Rock Bay. Oops. I guess the excitement of race day got the best of me. As usual, my legs felt a bit stiff for the first few miles, but once I dropped down onto the bone road and climbed up lone tree hill to the Elephant Head aid station, I was feeling loose and good.
There, I made the mistake of asking the volunteers how many miles it was to the next aid station. I should have just memorized the miles they were all at, or written it on my arm with a sharpie. In any case, they said it was 4.5 mile. I had another hours worth of Perpetuem in my bottle, so I didn’t mix a new one. As it turns out, it was 9 miles. Oh well. It wasn’t too hot and I had some Clif ShotBloks, so I survived.
After Elephant Head, there is a nice 1+ mile downhill to Split Rock Bay. I didn’t want to blast my quads too bad, but knew that the downhills are where I could pad my time and augment my generally slow pace along the flats. I made it to the bottom, and continued to feel good as I worked my way south, and up the switchbacks to the saddle where we cross into the southwest side of Antelope Island.
Up to this point, it was all trail I had done before, but before I turned north here to return along the spring Buffalo Run 25k course to Elephant Head and White Rock Bay. I had never traversed the saddle to drop into this section of the island. It was gorgeous. However, right as I started to descend back towards the shoreline, an all too familiar pain in BOTH KNEES came out of nowhere. IT (Iliotibial) Bands. NOOO! I hadn’t had IT band problems for over 0 months (last January)! I was sitting at about mile 8 with 23 more to go. I couldn’t believe it. I hoped that with careful posture, some breaks for stretching, etc… I would be able to manage it. I picked my way down the hill and it was just excruciating.
So much for making good time on the downhills! Once down at the shoreline, the doubletrack degraded a bit into loose rock, sand, etc… for a couple miles until pushing up a 1,000+ ft. climb to the Sentry Peak aid station.
On the climb, the pain went away and I made good progress, passing a number of people. I ate a bit, stretched, mixed another bottle of Perpetuem and got some more water. Then, I headed south towards the shark fin looking peaks. The pain immediately returned on my knees and I knew I was in for trouble. Still 17 miles to go. Quickly, the trail cut east and descended over the ridge and down to the east side of the island. I could see the “ranch” down below and hadn’t realized how high we had climbed. The dirt road down was in good shape, and normally, this would have been my strongest section of the course. It was a 3 mile downhill, dropping about 1,000 feet total. Not too steep to be unrunnable, but steep enough to make really good time. IT Band pain, however, is at its worst on downhills, and wow, it was bad. I limped my way down a lot of it, wincing when the pitch went especially steep. At the bottom, I came up on a runner from Wyoming and we shared a mile or so together going into the Ranch.
The flat hurt my knees, but was bearable. At this point, I knew that there were any more major long downhill sections. The remainder of our course was the Mountain View 1/2 marathon course that had started an hour after our 50k. So. I had a 1/2 marathon ahead of me of flat-ish trail, lots of soft up and down rolling miles. I wasn’t feeling good, but thought I could make it. I alternated between running slowly (9-12 min/mile pace) and speed-walking (13-14 min/mile pace). I would run for 60 seconds until the pain was too much, then speed-walk aggressively to give my knees a break. That’s the dumb thing about IT Band pain. It can be unbearable at even a slow running pace, but the moment you switch to a walking gait – the pain disappears. In any case, the walking saved me. For the last 13 miles, I average about a 13 min/mile pace. I am not fast on flat miles, but this is much slower than I had hoped to go. With the exception of the slow descent from Sentry, I had been clocking faster splits than I had hoped for. And, had I continued for the last 13 at my previous pace, I would have finished close to the 6 hour mark – WAY faster than I had planned or hoped. But, it didn’t pan out that way and I had to swallow my pride as a lot of people passed me over the next 13 miles. Often, they would pass as I walked and then I would catch back up to them as I ran, and so on. In a way, this made it even harder to swallow. I knew that if my knees would allow, I would be running at a pace faster than most of them – doing the passing rather than being passed. I have no pretensions about being a good runner and was out there to simply beat myself, not them, but feeling strong and moving up in the pack feels good. I knew that I should have been, but just couldn’t oh well.
At about mile 20.5 I hit the wonderful 9 Mile aid station where I had a drop bag. I switched my long sleeve shirt for a tank top and swapped my buff for a fresh bandana. I remixed a Perpetuem bottle, ate a tiny bit, and was off. In all, I think I was there about 7-8 minutes, my longest aid station stop by far. But, my legs felt so fresh on my way out. Wow. What a difference that made. I soldiered on to the Lower Frary aid station where my good friend Matt Van Horn (MVH!) was waiting. He pushed me along for about 5.5 miles, literally running circles around me. He would run ahead, then run back to me and go way behind, then turn around and pass me and run ahead again. I hated him for goading me on, but was also so grateful. It was wonderful to have a smiling face. I’m sure he got sick of my perma-scowl as I tried to wince through the pain.
After hitting the fence-line and climbing up and over to the east side of the island at mile 28-ish, I told Matt to continue on to the finish and tell my family I was on my way. To make the course a full 50k, the RD looped our route north of the finish on the paved road a bit, then west down to the the dirt road along the lower campsites, then back south to the fence and up to the finish. The pavement hurt, especially on the downhill. But, with the finish line literally in sight, I tried to push. My family was waiting, lots of cheers, and my 5 year old boy even joined me to cross the finish line.
I finished in 6:45. That was 32 minutes faster than my Bryce 50k time. However, this was a much easier course. UltraSignup gives your performance a % ranking of how well you did against the top finisher. My 7:17 finish at Bryce put me at 61%, placing 30th out of 90 runners. My 6:45 at Antelope Island put me at 53%, placing 119th out of 199 runners. In the back of my head, I had sub-7 hours as a goal, so I am very glad to have done that. I can’t help but feel regret that my knees didn’t cooperate with the rest of my body. My legs were trashed by the end, but I feel that I could have gone another 30-45 minutes faster if the IT bands hadn’t been a problem. That would have put me in 80-90th place, with a 6:00-6:15 time. Well…I guess there’s always next year!
In the end, I am frustrated but grateful that I was able to push through and finish.
A couple weeks ago I was in Portland for a conference and found myself having the same conversation over and over again with professional colleagues and friends.
Them: “Whoa man – every time I log in to facebook I see you running crazy miles. And those pictures – wow man!”
Me: “Thanks, but really, I don’t run that much. And, deep down, I kind of hate running. I just like getting up in the mountains to explore.”
Them: Eye-rolls thinking I’m being annoyingly self-deprecating and/or fishing for compliments.
Me: “No, seriously. Among my trail-running friends I am a complete amateur. Not impressive. But among my non-trailrunning friends (be it you guys or family, etc…) I’m some kind of super-star because I put in a couple 5-10 miles trail-runs most weeks and occasionally do something in the 10-20 mile range. But really, I’m a horrible runner.”
And that is how the conversation went, over and over again. It goes similarly when I am catching up with old friends or with family I haven’t seen in a while. Seriously – I’m not trying to be annoyingly self-deprecating and/or fish for compliments. I really don’t consider myself much of a runner.
Ok – get your eye rolls over with…..I’m waiting……ok. Now, let me explain.
I started “running” about 3 years ago, working my way up to a 5k and a 5 mile race back in Kearney, Nebraska in 2012. It was all pavement and it hurt. After a lifetime of hating running, however, it was exciting to actually do a race. Fast-forward to Summer 2013 when I moved to Utah and discovered there was this thing called “trail-running.” Having grown up hiking a lot, this was a revelation to me and I quickly dove in. However, I’m lazy and not very smart. Much of that first year of “running” was me getting over-use injuries from not knowing what I was doing. I kept at it though because I loved exploring trails, ridges, canyons, mountains, and beautiful places. Slowly, I also got hooked on the sense of accomplishment and physical exhilaration of doing hard things.
Along the way, however, I found myself in an uncomfortable place (and still do, to some extent). The trail-running friends and community I was interacting with seemed to be largely made up of people who ran ultra-marathons. 50k, 50 mile, 100k, 100 mile, and even 200 mile trail races! I was trying to be a “trail-runner” but unable to engage in the “So, what race is up next for you” conversation that usually accompanied interacting with them. It was awkward and I felt a bit sheepish. I freely admit that. I loved what I was doing, but wished I could do more. I really admired these people. What they did was amazing.
Slowly, as my strength grew, I felt like I actually could and wanted to try out a race myself. Not because I felt inadequate compared to my friends or out of any sense of competition. I just felt the desire to do it for myself. I did an ultra distance in December 2014 as a solo adventure run and then signed up for the Bryce 50k on June 6, 2015. It was an amazing experience. However, it didn’t fundamentally change how I felt about myself as a “runner.”
I was still slow, still under-trained, still a total noob amateur. And, I still am.
Increasingly, I am coming to the realization that I’m ok with that. I’m ok being a slowpoke, as long as I can keep on getting out there and seeing beautiful things. I love exploring. I love to be outside. I love the satisfaction and thrill of doing hard things. Official ultramarathon races are an exciting way to fulfill all of those motives for running.
This next Saturday, I will run my second 50k – the Antelope Island Fall Classic 50k. The weather is scheduled to be in the low-50s. Absolutely perfect. I don’t feel all that prepared but can’t wait to get out there. A friend said that doing 1 means you have run an ultramarathon. But doing 2 makes you an “ultramarathoner” as it means you’ve established a pattern of repeating the activity. I’m not sure about that…but I’m excited to see if I can beat my previous time. I’m excited to share the trail with others. I look forward to seeing friends, engaging in vigorous high-5s, and crossing the finish line.
Do I aspire to longer distances? Maybe some day. But I’m not in a hurry. Hopefully I have a lot of years ahead to get there.
A million thanks to new running friends that have entertained my efforts, and family that has put up with my new hobby.