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Sawtooth 100 Mile Trail Ultra – Recap September 23, 2010

Posted by whereschrisscotch in Races/Events - Recaps, Uncategorized.
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Now that I am ten days out from the completion of the Sawtooth 100, things have settled and started to sink in a bit.  Less than a year and a half ago I couldn’t finish a 2.8 mile loop around Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis, and yet last weekend I completed 103 miles of arguably one of the hardest 100 mile ultra races in the country.  This is not a testament to anything unique or special about me – rather an example that all of us are capable of more than we think.   As I have mentioned previously, the  Where’s Chris Scotch campaign is two-fold in purpose.  The first is to raise money and awareness for St. Jude Children’s Hospital on behalf of Katelyn Atwell.  The second was to challenge myself to live outside of my comfort zone and use running as the primary vehicle for the campaign.  Grab a seemingly outlandish idea, add few drop of pure, genuine inspiration and a framework of support and you can achieve beyond your current perception.  It might be a physical achievement but certainly does not have to be.  My outlandish idea was to run for charity; the pure and genuine motivation was supplied by Katelyn, whose story, laugh and energy for life moves me every time I think of her.  The framework of support was started by my family, strengthened by my current friends and broadened by new ones.

100 miles!  Well, 102.6 officially.  Then again, unofficially, rumors swirl that course is actually 103.4 miles. Whatever the number – BOOOOYAAAAAHH!!

First, I want to say thanks to  a lot of people:  to  Larry and Colleen for directing an amazing race that was impeccably organized and for creating an event with an atmosphere that can’t be beat.  Thanks to the loads of volunteers that prepped the race, marked the course, manned the aid stations and all the other aspects of the race that the runners probably don’t ever see or remember.  I can’t imagine how different this race would be without the wonderful people that enthusiastically and endlessly encourage the racers through the miles.  Doug and Maria’s bacon cheeseburgers and hot ham and cheese wraps get the credit for nutritionally sustaining me through the 20 miles of pouring rain in the middle of a dark foggy night.  I can’t tell you how great it feels to come into and aid station and having such wonderful people there thinking of everyone but themselves.  And all the other aid stations and volunteers were just as fantastic (but didn’t have bacon cheeseburgers! 🙂  )

Also, a big “Thank You” to Dark and Helen who supported me all weekend and also helped keep tabs on Cooper.

Resting in the comfort of my crew.

Dark came to the race to cheer and crew for me and it was really great have my dad there with me as I progressed through the miles.  To be able to share this experience with him means a lot to me.  His experience with his own races coupled with his paternal instincts (and knowing how to deal with me 🙂  ) were spot on at the aid stations during the night hours of the race.  While  my head teetered between thoughts racing a million miles an hour through my head and my mind being completely brain dead, he was calm and steady.  He seemed to know exactly what gear and words I needed at the right times and I looked forward to seeing him at each aid station.  The second half of my crew team was Helen.  How in the world I ended up having such an accomplished ultra runner in my corner of the ring I will never know, but I sure as heck will take it!   Helen crewed for me up to mile 50 at Finland, and her experience as the women’s course record holder for Sawtooth was invaluable.  She had bits of information about the next sections as I left each aid station, knew when, what and how much I needed to be eating and drinking,  as well as keeping an eye on my pace and effectively communicating to me to slow down or push it a little harder.   She worked with me on my pre-race plan and goal of 30 hours which turned out to be just about perfect.  Helen was also part of the volunteer crew that marked the course for the race and she also volunteered at the temperance aid station (mile 85) throughout the night, helping the lead runners as they came through.  Helen is a very accomplished ultra runner, but this pales in comparison to the wonderfully selfless  person she is to everyone she encounters, even people she doesn’t know.  When I arrived at Temperance river around 8:30 am on Saturday she paced me to the finish from mile 85.  When I got to that aid station I was struggling mentally and physically but she was having none of that from me.  She perfectly balanced the right amount of butt-kicking and comforting to get me through the last 18 miles as fast as possible.     I was lucky to have both Helen and Dark at the race, as was Cooper.

I can’t find the words for all the feelings I have about this race.  The week leading up to the race I had an unusual confidence – almost looking forward to the relentless struggle that would ensue.  I questioned myself repeatedly for this arguably insane confidence, knowing that there was no guarantee that I would finish the 100 miles – this distance, especially on this course, is never a given, no matter the training or preparation or condition of your body.  The night before the race I was borderline cranky due to the nerves.   The morning of the race I was feeling ecstatic and couldn’t wait to get started.  I could barely get dressed I was so excited – truly a kid on Christmas morning.  Periods of the next 30 hours found me experiencing everything from pure joy to self pity; Extreme confidence to dejection and loathing in the lack of my physical and mental abilities;  Satisfaction that the miles of training and racing I have done this year were paying off to second guessing my efforts at preparation.  You name it, I probably felt it, as I suspect so many of the racers do.  But while it may sound like all the emotions were a roller coaster with equal ups and downs, that was not the case at all.  99% of this race was nothing but pure awesomeness.  And the entire experience was 100% ultra-positive on the whole.  I knew my purpose in running this race for Katelyn would help carry me through the tough times.  I always believed I would find a way to finish (although the math in my head sometimes added up to me actually crossing the finish line sometime in the middle of the next week).    I knew my crew, the race volunteers and other racers on the trail would do all they could to ensure I would completed the course.   The ultra community that has taken me in over the past 2 months is just wired that way, to constantly support each other.   Short of my legs being removed from my body, I was going to cross the finish line on them.

In a strange contradiction, while this race was the most difficult event I have ever competed in, is was also, at times, seeming effortless.  I don’t mean to say running 100 miles is easy for me – not at all.   It was hard as hell.  Especially for someone who doesn’t consider themselves a runner.  I only mean that with the right preparation, mental approach and framework of support, we can accomplish things we never imagined.  When we are able to align these three prongs, preparation, mindset and the support of others, and combine them with the something we believe to be a worthy cause, in this case for me – Katelyn Atwell and St. Jude Children’s Hospital, the possibilities are only limited by what we can’t conceive.

The actual start of the race quite literally snuck up on me.  I was standing around stretching and nervously chatting with people when all of a sudden the crowd of runners started moving away from the Gooseberry Falls visitor center.  All of a sudden we were off to the races!

I was so pumped up and I ran most of the first 20 miles with the likes of Andy Holak, Adam Casseday and Nolan Ming.   Running with these three was furiously fast and fascinating while I tried to soak up everything  Andy was offering in the way of tips and advice while I kept pace.  As I posted  in my VoyagerQuest recap, Andy and his wife Kim organized and directed VoyageurQuest last month in its annual year.  I got the chance to get to know Andy a little bit and find out how willing he is to share a laugh and his vast running experience with anyone.  Getting to know him over the last month has been great, and his support to my running as well as the campaign for St. Jude is much appreciated.
These first 20 miles were pure running joy.  Floating over the endless rocks and piles of roots.  Running up the hills and screaming down the descents all the while soaking up nature and the companionship of great people on the trail.

Running Joy

Running Joy 2

If I were to keep the pace of these three experienced (and faster) runners, it would eventually burn me out.  I knew sooner or later I would need to drop back and slow down.  And I had a pretty good idea when I would be doing that.   It was when I, with a big sheepish grin on my face, bounded into the the mile 20 aid station at Beaver Bay and was quite directly asked by Helen,  “What are you doing”  and told I better slow down. 😀

"What are you doing? You better slow down!"

I knew this exchange was coming  miles before the aid station, but I felt good and was letting it rip.  But I also knew that Helen was right – I could not sustain that pace for another 80 miles and come out the other side to tell about it – no matter how big my smile was at mile 2o.

Beaver Bay Aid Station

I settled in to a more efficient pace and the next 30 miles were beautiful as I climbed and descended through Silver Bay, Tettegouche, County Road 6 and on to Finland.

I think my favorite viewpoint  is from the Twin Lakes (Bean and Bear lakes) as you climb up a spiral to the top of the trail and suddenly Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center glides into view.  I had to stop and admire the beauty for a few seconds.  Another memorable moment was food related, which for those of you that know me won’t surprise you.  I tried to set the record for the number of grilled cheese sandwiches, 6,  eaten at the County Road 6 aid station (mile 42.8) but an official judgement was unable to be provided.  (Which means Jason and I will have to have a grilled cheese-off sometime this winter).

My pre-race plan had me getting to Finland (mile 50.5) in 12 hours and before dark.  I arrived ahead of schedule at 7:30 and changed my socks, shoes, shorts and shirt. Grabbed my headlamp and headed off ready for nightfall and the infamous Crosby Manitou section, which was now only 12 miles away.  Val picked up her pacer, Igor at Finland and they caught up to me very soon out of the aid station there.  I followed them through the setting sun and into dark all the way to the Sonju Lake aid station (mile 58).

Leaving Sonju Lake

I spent less time than Val here and started out on my own, figuring that Val was running  faster pace at this point and they would catch me soon.  But before I left Dark grabbed my gore-tex shell for me and I donned that just as the rain was starting to pour from the sky, which it would do for the next 12 hours.  This decision turned out to be hugely important, as it must have rained 3 inches or more over night as sections of the trail become small rivers and lakes while other were washed out completely.   My upper half stayed dry, warm and comfortable through out the night and I trudged onward with a smile on my face.

Patrick made sure I got what I needed at the aid station and then found me after the race to congratulate me. What an awesome thing for someone I have never met to do. Thanks Patrick! (and nice hat!! Go Sox!)

I came into the Crosby Manitou aid station to Doug excitedly cheering for me, ushering me to a seat and proceeding to rattle items off the menu.  His enthusiasm, and dinner selections, were fantastic.  He and Maria totally rock!  I stayed at this aid station for far too long while I ate most everything they offered.  But the rain was coming down hard and I was physically and mentally prepping myself for one of the longest and arguably toughest sections of the course.

Crosby Manitou Aid Station - courtesy of Susan Donnelly

Val and Igor passed me while I sat and ate – the last time I would see Val until the finish line (great work Val!!).  Another reason for my longish stay at this aid station were my failed attempts to get Andy to get out of bed and come run with me.  He had started having stomach issues as he was trying to close in on Brian Peterson who was crushing the course and the field on his way to 1rst place.  Incidentally, I had the privilege of meeting Brian on a training run over a weekend  this summer and in addition to obviously being an awesome runner, he has been very supportive of my own running and the Where’s Chris Scotch campaign.  Thanks Brian!  I headed off into the rain and fog and the next hours are mostly just that – a foggy memory.  I hunkered down in my gore-tex shell and made steady progress.  The only runner  I saw  for many hours was the eventual women’s winner, Sheryl Wheeler, as she passed me around mile 70.  My nutrition was perfect, my body was warm and I was relishing the hellacious weather (there is something short circuited in my brain that prefers harsh weather over pleasant when I am competing).  I kept my focus on the trail and moving one leg in front of the other and making my way to the Temperance river aid station at mile 85 and Helen.

The sun had come up shortly before I arrived at the Temperance aid station – which made navigating the huge puddles of standing water and small rivers of gushing water down the trail only slightly easier to navigate.  At this point, though, dodging puddles wasn’t really doing any good, as it had rained for the past 10 hours.  I had spent the better part of the past 7 miles having a conversation in my head between Helen and myself.  I was sure I would be able to convince her I didn’t need her to pace me, thus save her the agony of running me with at what I was envisioning as a snail’s pace.  I figured I couldn’t get any slower, but that I could keep the pace through the finish line and there wasn’t any need for her to be out running in the rain and horrible trail conditions with someone so slow.  It was all perfect in my head – I had answers to every objection she would pose to my newly devised plan.  In reality, the conversation lasted about 2 seconds – Helen told me she was running with me,  and that was that.  I had spent the past 2 hours perfecting my argument and she dismissed it faster than I could slump to a chair for some food and hot soup.  Also in reality, I needed her to be running with me at that point.  I had started convincing myself that I wasn’t running a good enough race and was experiencing moments of frustration with myself and my body.  Helen understood what I was experiencing, and also knew me well enough to know how to snap me out of it.  We scrambled up Carleton Peak at a faster  pace than I had run in hours and bolted down the decent with smiles on our faces and into the Sawbill Aid Station (Mile 90).

Sawbill Aid Station

While Helen’s  memory of the next few hours might be a bit  different than mine as she had to listen to me struggle and urge me along the trail a number of times, I sit here now and look back on that section of the race and with fondness and will cherish the time we spent on the trail.

And at the end of the day, Helen can chalk one up in the category of a “Successful Pacing”. I think that moves her up to 2 for 5 in her pacing attempts! 🙂

Courtesy of Bryan Cochran

Courtesy of Bryan Cochran via Phillip Gary Smith and www snowshemag com

In addition to spreading Katelyn’s story and raising money for St. Jude, I have been lucky to have learned more about myself and my running with each race this year.  Sawtooth 100 was no different.  This was an amazing experience that I feel fortunate to have been a part of and share with Dark and everyone that was at the race.  Thanks again to everyone that helps make this a successful event.  I will take all the experience and learning into my next events as I continue on my campaign for St. Jude and Katelyn.


The Finish Line!

Finish Line Belt Buckle

The proud new owner of a "Red Jacket!"

All smiles in the end!