Sunday, July 28, 2013

Trifecta at the Mesa

Week Summary 7/28/2013

Ophir OB: 6.0 mi (+626 ft); 9:38 pace
North Loop: 3.8 mi (+366 ft); 9:57 pace
Grand Mesa 60K: 34.5 mi (+3,200 ft); 13:20 pace
Weekly Totals: 44.4 mi (+4,191 ft); 9:12:10 on trail

They did it! The Grand Mesa 60K is on the books. Thirteen hours and thirteen minutes after the 5:00 AM start, after cajoling from Footfeathers and encouragement from other runners and Aid Station volunteers, Dennis and Mary crossed the finish with great relief and that ultra-joy of success.

We started in the cool darkness at almost 11,000 feet on the Grand Mesa east of Grand Junction, Colorado, under perfect conditions for a day of trail running, though those in the 100-mile distance would deal with harsh monsoon conditions through coming night. I started up in the combined pack, all three races started together, looking for a good training run under race conditions, and D&M settled in with a bigger group further back with Tim as their guide and pacer for the day. Although Dad had worried about the technical conditions of this first 11-mile loop over Crags Crest, the trail was a joy to run. It was too early for the mosquitos to ruin things, and the trail through the forest made us pay attention but it was soon light enough to enjoy passing above the lakes before climbing to the crest. Mom did take a fall in the first section of single track -- getting it over with early in the day! -- and I joined a small line of runners for a short detour, but we made the crest at sunrise.

At first glance, the course would not seem that demanding. Not much climb, mostly single track, and a few roads. It isn't even a full 60K, actually totaling a little over 34 miles. But the single tracks are adventurous cross-country ghost-trails or newly developed, just-hacked out of the ground paths. It grows into a love-hate relationship very quickly after leaving the beautiful Crags Crest loop and heading west on a snowmobile path. The rocky meadows are picturesque spaces in the forest, but on this "trail" it is difficult to get any running rhythm going. I cruised through the Mesa Top aid station happy to get moving south on the Mesa Top single track. Elizabeth Gold, winner of the 50-mile, joined me early on trail south, but smartly, she had a race to run and soon left me to stumble my way toward Flowing Park. And stumble I did. For some reason I had little focus on this section and though parts of it were exhilarating running on expansive cliff edges, I felt awkward and lethargic most of the way. Once I was passed by the in-bound leaders of my event, the focus returned, or maybe the s-caps kicked in. Patrick was first and he was making good time high on his return. Michael was next just before the transition to the road. I was feeling better on the gravel road above Flowing Park when I saw Chris Wright coming smoothly up the road. He's a friend of ours from Grand Junction, and coming off a nice sub-24 finish at Western States. Joshua was a little behind him. That's it. Hmm, that means I'm in fifth when I hit Flowing Park. About the time I hit Flowing Park, D&M were leaving the cross-country trail and coming into Mesa Top.

I felt great on the return to Mesa Top; I even had some delusions of catching Joshua, but his mohawk never appeared. I met D&M as I passed through 29 miles; they were in their 17th mile. They were in good spirits and only a little rough for the wear. Tim was still laughing in the midst of one of the tougher pacing duties he'd volunteered for.

The snowless snowmobile trail made for an interesting finish as I tried to keep momentum up to the finish. Patrick and Joshua cheered kindly as I crossed the line at 7:39. Patrick had killed it a 6:04 and I hadn't made much time on Joshua. Chris had indeed caught Michael near the finish and got second place with a same-time finish for Michael at 6:45. I'm super happy with a top-5 on this course, but also realize it was a small field event. Still, good to be competitive and done.

Back on the course, D&M continued a relentless move toward the finish. Dad joined Mom and I in taking a good fall, and though bruising a rib or two, got moving again. Tim encouraged them forward, keeping them fueled and hydrated and encouraging constant movement. I saw them as I retrieved drop bags from Flowing Park. The looked tired but, as always, their spirits remained high and they kept moving. They were gone when I came back up the road -- back on the single-track heading toward Mesa Top.

In the meantime, I cruised to Grand Junction to get Tim's dog from his home-bound confinement. Pippit had been waiting since our 3:00 AM departure, 14 hours ago. I cheated and grabbed a shower too. I then figured I would meet them at Mesa Top and encourage them onward, secretly hoping that they wouldn't be too long in getting there or too discouraged once they got there, if they got there. I rolled into the aid station parking lot at about 5:40. As I walked up to the station, the volunteers excitedly told me, "they were here and gone at 4:42! That coach of yours was really pushing them." I jumped back in the car and dashed for the finish, they may already be there.

But the finish was quiet when I pulled up. I chatted with a 50-mile finisher and mentioned I was waiting for my parents. He said, "Oh, I just saw them, only a few minutes ago." With that, I saw Tim's hat in the forest, and soon he pulled aside, letting Dennis and Mary come down the last hill, crossing the finish line together. 13:13. They are ultra-runners now. Happy, tired, and wonderful.

Thirty-five miles of thanks to Tim for advice, constant encouragement, stubborn maintenance of task, and shared joy. Thanks, of course, to Phil Berghauser the Race Director. If you want a hard challenge in great scenery, a race you'll love and hate in equal parts, do his race. You won't forget it.

The Young Mountain Runners are a bit wobbly today, but today's talk is of success and amazing little details that these events of endurance burn into us. Now on to Leadville.

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