Race Report - 2011 Desert RATS 148 Mile Race (Stage 4)

6/16/2011 11:59:00 PM

Days 4 & 5
These were definitely the most difficult 52 miles I've ever run. Since this was going to be the longest stage of the race, we had a 7:00am start and thank goodness for that. The staff had shuttled us to the start of the race so we could continue the race at the same location we completed yesterday's stage and I was in the first group that arrived at the starting line of stage 4. The sun was already cooking us and we had 52 miles of beautiful scenery and serious mountain trail ascents and descents ahead of us. Considering my blistered feet, I knew I was going to be in this for the long haul, with my target time closer to the official 20 hour cutoff rather than a PR.

Me at the start of stage 4, 52 miles of fun in the sun.
Richard and I went out easy and still managed to post a decent and unexpectedly fast 10 miles to the first aid station and check point, which was located at our camp site for yesterday's stage. Prior to reaching the first aid station, we did however catch a glimpse of the LaSalle Mountains. If you look really closely, you will notice the snowcapped mountain range in the back. Once you realize that we'd have to climb and cross this mountain range before the end of today's stage, the enormity of the challenge would become quite apparent.

The snowcapped LaSalle Mountains in the distance.
The first 10 mile section was mostly rolling hills, no real climbs or descents. That changed quickly after the first aid station and check point, which we reached after crossing Dewey Bridge (and the Colorado River) which was located near the campsite we had left just a couple of hours earlier. These check points were located and every full aid station.

Racers would be required to hand in their personal expedition journals to be checked in. We would also have to randomly show one of the mandatory gear items we were required to carry with us during the entire duration of the race. There was only one exception to this rule, The glow sticks only needed to be carried during the 52 mile expedition stage. Everything else had to be with the runner at all times. Failure to be able to present one of those requested items would lead to a time penalty at best, disqualification at worst. The only way to continue from a check point after failing to present a mandatory item would be to have another runner or someone else provide you with the missing item. No runner was allowed on the course with a missing item. One of my tent mates, Alex, almost fell victim to this rule. Thankfully, he was able to continue after receiving a severe time penalty.

After aid station 1, it was a continuous climb with a couple of downhills. Up and up we went. We wouldn't see another aid station or water drop for 12 miles, which required some good fluid, salt and electrolyte management in order to stay healthy, yet make it to the next water drop without running out.

I'm taking some time out during one of the climbs.
Fortunately, we made it to the drop without serious problems, although Richard had run out of water. I managed to keep my fluid and electrolytes somewhat balanced and never really ran out of water at any point of the race. Between the first aid station and the first water drop, we ran through the Cottonwood Canyons that offered everything a trail runner's heart desires and then some. We had some serious technical climbs and some serious descents to deal with. One of these canyons inspired me to jodel and thankfully, Richard was quick enough with his camera to capture any video footage of it. The echo was pretty cool, but thank god he didn't record it...it wasn't pretty.

When we reached the water drop at mile 22 or so, we refilled our hydration bladders and bottles with much needed water. We also noticed after refilling the water dispenser that there was hardly any water left for the remaining racers (about 10 or so following behind us). As a result, some of the other runners were not quite as fortunate, some due to no fault of their own (water drop did run out of water), others struggled to carry enough water to make it from aid station to water drop to aid station in the midday heat. Richard's body started to reject any type of electrolytes supplements. He couldn't swallow SCaps, Endurolytes or Hammer gels without all of it coming right back up. I started to really to really feel my blisters get worse whenever we descended into another canyon or valley. As a result, we needed to make some speed adjustment, speed hiking most technical sections and only running when we both felt comfortable, which didn't happen too often. Because we slowed down quite a bit, it gave me the opportunity to capture some of the local wildlife that accompanied us throughout the race (see images below of a typical lizard and a snake).

These little fellows were crossing our paths on every stage.

This one wasn't as scary as the rattler from two days earlier.
When we finally approached aid station 2 around mile 28 around 3 or so in the afternoon, I was ready to devour the two turkey and cheese sandwiches I had made the night before to be dropped off at this aid station for lunch. It was a late but very welcome lunch. If there is one thing I've noticed, it's that my appetite has never ever suffered during any ultra event and I hope it will stay that way. Throughout the course of this weeklong race, other runners would stare at me in disbelief at these aid stations as I was wolfing down my sandwiches in 95 degree heat with parched throats, causing others to stop chewing and almost choking on their sandwiches, unable to swallow anything due to the dry heat. Not me, I couldn't wait to eat my sandwiches during these long stages.

After we left aid station 2, we began to cross Onion Creek a few times. A local had informed us earlier to be aware of the Creek's tendency to rapidly flood without any warning and that it could cause us to be stuck in the middle of nowhere. While I would have loved to press on to avoid any flooding, we really didn't have the energy to push. Instead, we kept our fingers crossed that no flooding would occur...and we got lucky.

Around mile 40, we finally reached the top North Beaver Mesa, allowing us to get a much closer glimpse at the LaSalle Mountains, signaling the fact that we were indeed getting closer to the mountains and the much desired finish of stage 4. To reach this mesa, the climb seemed literally endless. Every time I dared to suggest that we had reached the top, we would realize that we would descend again before climbing right back up again. This went on for miles and miles...until we finally reach an elevation close to 8500 feet.

Richard after reaching the actual top of this section.
Shortly after peaking the top, we reached a water drop around mile 41 at a T-crossing in the trail. After getting some additional water, we turned right in pursuit of the final aid station about 4 or 5 miles down the trail. During this section, I had the opportunity for a nice long chat with RD Reid, who had caught up with us on his mountain bike while checking on some runners. During this conversation, I got the impression that a hot dinner would be served at the last aid station, so all Rich and I were thinking about after that conversation was to just make it to the next aid station to get some hot chili. When I finally reached the aid station (I had decided to push a little until the aid station and to wait for Rich there) and asked for my hot chili, all I got was blank stares. As it turns out, I had misunderstood Reid's comments about dinner. Dinner would be waiting for us at the finish line, instead. However, once more the amazing crew of volunteers came through in a big way, offering me their own bowl of chili and a hot dog that had been dropped off for their dinner. While I was hesitant initially, it didn't take much convincing for me to eat that hot dog. I had decided to leave the chili for Rich, who had been struggling with stomach issues all day. Turns out, he was more of a hot dog guy himself, complaining about the fact that I had the hot dog. Oh well, I shared the hot dog and we went on our way to finish out this stage before midnight. Shortly before we reached the last aid station, rain started to pour down on us and the temps became slightly lower as well due to the higher elevation. Thankfully, we had packed our windbreakers and they kept our body temp at a perfect level.

The final 8 miles consisted of another major 2 mile climb to the top, followed by a steep 6 mile descent on an asphalt road, all the way to the finish. My feet were shredded and the last 6 miles, well, let's just say they didn't feel good. We ran walked the final six miles, not really wanting to run, but wanting to complete this stage. We actually ended up running quite a good pace on the last 6 miles, but it wasn't pretty. When Reid informed us that we only had a quarter mile to go, we started to mobilize our last reserves.

As we turned the final corner heading to the campsite and finish line for stage 4, I could hear the screaming and yelling and singing at the finish line. We were still 300 yards or so out and all I could think was that they were already celebrating the finishers that came before us and that they had started giving out the awards for the day, because they didn't want to wait any longer for the remaining runners. Boy was I wrong. As we came closer to the finish, the yelling and screaming, howling, clapping and banging pots and pans became louder and louder and I quickly realized that all finishers were actually watching our headlamps bopping up and down in the darkness and cheering us on to finish. I am not one to get all touchy and feely, actually quite the opposite is true. But when I realized that they were cheering for us, that was the most special moment of my short ultra running career, sending chills down my spine and "almost" making me tear up...just a little...almost. When I finally sat down to rest and eat some hot food (3 grilled cheese sandwiches, a bowl of chili and two hot dogs) I was excited to have completed this stage.

I wasn't able to see the actual campsite until the next morning.
The course itself was absolutely amazing and even though we took plenty of pictures, the enormity of this landscape can't seem to be captured on a small digital camera. You'd just have to be here to understand. Beautiful trails, canyons, mountains and valleys. Most of the course just kind of blends together and I am just happy to be able to state that we made it to each aid station with plenty of time to spare against the cutoff clock, even though we had to walk a lot.

When we finally left the last aid station at mile 44 at 9pm, right before the final 2 mile climb and
The 6 mile asphalt descent to the finish, we were ready to get this done. We ended up "smoking" this final leg and ended with a negative split for the entire 52 miles, running the second half slightly faster than the first 27 miles.

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