Monday, September 30, 2013

Wisconsin Trail Therapy and Cory's Ultra Race of Champions Experience

Last week I journeyed home to visit family and enjoy Wisconsin during it's one good season of the year. The trip was filled with horrible airport experiences, nostalgia, two-a-day running dates, lots of cute babies, and an unhealthy amount of beer and cheese. Since the general population could care less about my visit to Wisconsin and would rather hear about UROC I'll make this brief. 1) The Ice Age Trail is amazing and people in my hometown, though seemingly unaware of it's existence, are so lucky to have an incredible section pass through it. 2) Oxygen, though also amazing, made me run faster than I should have and now my shin splints are acting up. 3) If you thinking about visiting Wisconsin, there are about 30 miles of great trails in Blue Mounds State Park that will kick your ass. 4) The John Muir Trails near Whitewater are my new favorite find. 5) Don't be a preschool teacher or you will get impetigo.

My time in Wisconsin went too fast, but I was eager to return to Colorado to help Cory prep for his first 100k, UROC. As we drove up into the sleet/snowstorm on Friday, Cory was working through the normal nervous thoughts. He wished he had gotten in some more long runs. He wished he was feeling more rested. He was unsure how the snow would affect his performance but he was glad it wasn't going to be a hot day. When we arrived in Vail, he helped out at packet pick-up and got to meet some of the elites. Patagonia athlete, Luke Nelson, pretty much made his day when he told Cory that he was sure Cory would beat some of the elite field the next day. Eventually we headed back to Breck for the night and ate some pasta while watching Unbreakable.

Enjoying the Aspens but not the sleet

We were conveniently staying three blocks from the race start and so Cory was as relaxed as possible as we walked to the starting line. For the past few days he had semi-jokingly talked about how cool it would be to meet Geoff Roes. And when we got to the race start, there he was. Cory lingered nearby for an opportunity to meet Geoff and when the moment came, Cory introduced himself and then promptly forgot how to talk. When a star-struck introvert meets his extremely introverted idol, a little conversational assistance is needed. Seeing as it was 6:30am I tried to have Cory's back, but I think that if Geoff remembers us at all he will only remember us as awkward and babbling. At least he is somewhat smiling in this picture with Cory.

Cory and the Geoff

Ready to run

Soon the runners were off and we headed to Frisco (mile 13) for the first crew access point.  After waiting in the freezing cold - about 20 degrees with wind chill - for what seemed like hours, the first runners came in a little bit behind the predicted time. To get to Frisco they had to trudge through a lot of fresh snow. Surprisingly Jason Wolfe came in first followed by a pack of Rob Krar, Dakota Jones, Killian Jornet, and Sage Canaday. Other runners trickled in including a shirtless guy who's sole item of clothing was a pair of very short shorts. Not sure how he did it, but he finished in 9th. Cory predicted that he would come in at 2:30 but with so many runners coming in late, we were unsure how he was doing. Three minutes ahead of schedule, he came in with a smile and good spirits.  We gave him his trekking poles and he was off to the Copper Mountain Aid Station at mile 27.

Jason Wolfe leading the pack into Frisco

Rob Krar, Killian Jornet, and Dakota Jones staying together

When we got to Copper, we realized that it was going to be a day of waiting longer than expected. The race had predicted that the leaders would come into Copper at 10:22 and they weren't in until 11:15. Rob and Dakota came in first looking strong and then hiked up the next climb to Vail Pass. Then rolled in Killian and Sage. Cam Clayton was a little ways back, strategically running his own race. As for the women, Stephanie Howe came in first looking good but frazzled. Then came in Emelie Forsberg, smiling but tired. I must say that team Salomon has its aid station transitions down to a science. Finally Cory came in an hour behind schedule, which was actually pretty good considering that the leaders had been over an hour behind schedule. This is where he picked me up for 6 miles of pacing (I'm not a slacker, I just have my own race next weekend).

Heading out of Copper... yes right up that hill.

Going into the race, we had discussed what he wanted from me as his main crew person, and it was my understanding that he wanted someone to push him and keep him strong. The six miles from Copper to Vail Pass were almost entirely uphill, but it was on a bike path and so I was trying to help him maximize his time. He was cranky but had no complaints other than just behind tired. He did not respond well to being pushed and I started to realize that he was getting a taste of what I always feel like when I run with him. Sometimes running with your spouse is hard; they are the one person that you want to prove your toughness to. I thought he was doing great, but after the race he said this was his low point because the road was so boring and he was only halfway done.

I was worried about his pace, but all the guys around him were running just as slow. We talked to this guy named Gavin who runs for Pearl Izumi and then I stopped worrying about Cory because I knew he was exactly where he was supposed to be. They were around 35th place at this point. As we came into the Vail Pass aid station at mile 33, Geoff Roes was there manning the aid station and it was exactly what Cory needed for a mental boost. Our friend Jonah took on the pacing responsibilities for the next 30 miles. I was a little worried that Cory was in a mental low, but his stomach was feeling good and I was confident that he was going to get a second wind. He is a smart and consistent runner.

Kristen and I headed to the Minturn aid station at mile 52 where we knew we had a lot of waiting. The leaders started rolling in over an hour and a half behind schedule.  First came Dakota with Rob on his heels and the Cam Clayton shook things up and came in ahead of a very tired Killian.  When fifth place came in, everyone was surprised... not many people knew who he was. It was a smiling Ryan Ghelfi giving the town of Minturn his best beauty pageant wave. Finally Sage Canaday came in after having battled stomach problems all day. As for the women, Emily Forsberg had taken a commanding lead and Stephanie Howe came in looking like she wanted to quit. I talked to Cassie Scallon a bit who said that she had seen Stephanie in tears throughout the day. Props to that bad-ass lady. Quitting must not be in her vocabulary.

Stephanie Howe coming into Minturn.

Mayla tried to beg Kristen for food but fell asleep.

This Minturn woman and her golden retriever serenaded the runners for hours.

Shortly after 5 pm I started getting pretty antsy about Cory. Only about 15-20 runners had come in and so surely we had a while to wait. I met Gavin's parents who were relieved to know that I had seen Gavin a ways back. I gave them a report and we used their iPhone to check the live athlete tracking. Unfortunately it hadn't updated since Vail Pass where I had handed Cory over to Jonah. The sun was going down and so few runners had been through. I kept pacing a mile up the road to warm-up and cheer people on. Near the trail road junction I met a girl who was waiting for her boyfriend. He was also running with us near Vail Pass so I gave her an update on how he had looked. We started seeing a few of the runners who had been shortly ahead of our men, and so we started getting more and more anxious. Finally around 7 pm I saw Cory heading down the trail.

When you are waiting around forever with other people's friends and family, a funny thing happens. You want their runners to do well, but you get jealous when they get to see their runner and you are still waiting for yours. I could feel their panic as Cory came in and their guys were nowhere to be seen. Cory hadn't seen Gavin since Vail and said that the other guy, Jay, had been having stomach problems and so his poor girlfriend started to freak out. Cory was tired but was feeling much better than he was back at Vail Pass. It took him awhile to get out of the aid station, but when he got on his way, he was determined to get this race over with as soon as possible. The last rays of sun were painting the sky and running in the dark is no fun.

Kristen and I headed to the Vail finish line to wait a few more hours. They had just finished up the awards ceremony even though only three women had come through. After the awards the place felt deserted. Nowhere comfortable to relax. The only warm place to sit with our pup was in a vestibule in the main building. A few minutes later Bryon Powell and Meghan Hicks of iRunFar came in and made it their last hub before calling it a night. It was fun to meet them and see them work.

Finally, 14 hours and 21 minutes after starting his journey Cory crossed the finish line in 33rd place overall and as the 28th man. In the final few miles he had passed 5 people including The North Face athlete, Helen Cospolich. Only 5 girls chicked him. Pretty impressive. And true to Luke Nelson's guess Cory beat a few of the "elites." Cory was one of the most smart and consistent runners I saw out there. Of the 142 starters, only 78 finished. That's a 55% finishing rate. Goes to show what a tough day it was.

Post-race breakfast of champions at the Arapahoe Cafe in Dillon.

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