Monday, January 9, 2012

Frozen Sasquatch

First and foremost I must point out how thankful and blessed I am to have spent the better part of Saturday morning chasing Michael Owen on single track trails, up West Virginia ridges, and across fire roads filled with breath taking views of an uncivilized, ancient world.
The Frozen Sasquatch was my first ultra and this is also my first attempt at recording my experience of running an ultra. I find it hard to capture the highs and lows on papers; it is better experienced in solidarity with one another in the forest. However, I will give this a shot.
I was able to acquire a rather inexpensive hotel room in Charleston. This was rather nice, I was able to sprawl out in a huge bed and also enjoy some local pizza. I heat my house with a wood burning stove; I enjoy the simplicity of my stove and the fact that it is one step closer to getting me off the grid. However, at times it can lead to me becoming rather dehydrated. The hotel room was a nice break from the dryness that is my home.
I woke up pretty early and tried to find some gels/chomps around Charleston, this was a pointless adventure. Thankfully Mike Owen shared his with me and the race director loaded the aid stations down with some great stuff!
Mike and I headed out for a quick 1 mile warm up. I noted on the warm-up that my legs were a little tired and my feet were aching from my Plantar Fasciitis, but I was honestly unfazed. I was just really excited to get the race started as this was my first Ultra and the surrounding forest looked beautiful.
Before I knew it we all convened around the make shift starting line and we were off. I decided previously to tuck into the back of the first pack and not lead. The front pack was made up of a few guys and we were all heading up the first climb. Adam Cassadey led up this; he did a great job climbing. I made a mental note to remember Adam as a major contender in the race. The climb was rather long and technical, filled with some neat rock formations. It was not long until we were on the fire road sections and we settled into a nice pace, everyone was in good spirits and talking about training/goals for the 2012 year. I kept to myself for the most part and stayed relaxed.
Michael and another guy (Alex-who looked great but would later inform me that he was forced to drop out because of a high temperature) sort of picked it up once we hit the trail and the race sort of began. We hit the first aid station and Alex stopped for water, at this point it really became a two man race between Michael and I. We picked it up and quickly separated from everyone on the single track. This section of the course was beautiful, very mossy and soft. I was not really focusing on the climbs this section, just on maintaining my form and staying hydrated.
At some point we hit a road section and started to press the pace a bit. I noted as did Mike that this would be a good section to make up time if we were off course record pace. The record was 4:30 I think, we planned on coming through the 25k in 2:15 and negative splitting the race. We came upon an aid station, I refilled the water and grabbed some Gels( The aid stations were great!). We hit a really good climb which was located right out of the aid station, it seemed like we were climbing a river bed, lots of rocks, etc. My stomach started to hurt; my body always has a hard time digesting Gels.
It was not long until we hit a fire road and continued to press the pace. Before I knew it Mike said we were at what he thought to be the 12 mile marker. In the back of my mind, I thought that we were way farther then this. I stopped to water the foliage and Mike disappeared down a technical down hill. It turns out we were really close to the 25k mark. I came down the hill and noticed my time was around 2:03 for the 25k, under Mike’s 25k record of like 2:07.
It stared to rain a good bit, so I put my jacket back on and my wife gave me my hat. I gave chase and caught back up to Mike, we were both pretty excited about the pace and we really started to hammer it up the climbs and the fire roads. I did not remember the fire roads being this hilly.
I took the lead on the up coming trail section and this is where I experienced my first low point of the race. I had a hard time controlling my body temperature all day and had to stop and take off my coat; I became very dizzy and could not see straight. The most obnoxious aspect of this low point was that it took place at the bottom of the biggest climb. I ran/hiked, crawled up this hill and focused on simply getting to the road section with the hope of making up some ground on Mike.  I got to the aid station and filled up my bottle and started to pound gels and by the time I hit the fire roads I had come out of the low point and surprisingly felt really good.
I started to really press the pace in a last ditch effort to make a race out of it with Michael. I was running 5:40 or under per mile I think. I just kept repeating to myself, “one foot in front of the other”, this seemed to work for me as I caught back up to Mike. I knew the last down hill was coming and that he would smoke me down it if I did not gap him, as he was crushing downhill’s all day! In made a conscious decision to try to fly past Michael once I caught him with the hope that this would break him! I was wrong!
Once I caught up to Michael he just took off and we raced hard for the next couple miles. This section was awesome and very intense. We raced hard in the next few sections and just as I figured he ran completely insane down the downhill, putting 40 seconds on me! I finished hard in a last ditch effort to close the gap! Mike was waiting for me, super fired up for both of us! We both beat the course record by 25 minutes! I ran 4:05:43, running my second half faster then the first, even in spite of my bonking.
It was a great time! I am already feeling recovered, I took yesterday off but ran this morning with Keegan Rathkamp. I plan on just running a bunch of easy miles this week and finding out a race schedule for the rest of the year!


  1. Way to go on an unbelievably good run. Hats off to you and Michael. Also, I really enjoyed your race report. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks Garrett, it was a bunch of fun!

  3. John,

    A VERY impressive first ultra. You are one tough dude and I can't wait to see what you can do as you become more accustomed to ultras. Nice meeting you and hope to see you at another race or two this year.

    - Adam