The Longest Day - Page 4
I catch back up on a downhill, and resist the urge to ask Scott if he led us all up the wrong fire road five minutes into the race this morning in order to protect his course record. We hit the Last Chance aid station, and Scott saves us the decision of whether to make the pass by pulling into the porta-john. We won't see this champion again today. Scott ends up dropping out of the race five miles farther along, saying only that he "went to the well, but the well was dry." Even the all-time greats have bad days.
The canyons proper begin a mile out of Last Chance, with one of my favorite descents anywhere, a section that I have run many times on training runs. On a good day, I run down this thing like water flowing over polished stone. Today, I feel more like a pebble rolling and bouncing down a staircase, skittering off of corners and glancing hard off of sharp angles. I make fantastic time, but it's not smooth like it should be.
When I hit the bottom and start the climb up Devil's Thumb, the heat and my hammered legs reduce me to a slog. There are reputedly around 40 switchbacks on this climb, but Leigh is out of sight after just four of them. The only thing to do in an ultra is to keep going—as hard as you can. So I grind it out. Near the top, Tim Twietmeyer, a 25-time finisher and multiple winner of this race (and current president of the WS board), tells me that I am climbing well, a compliment that boosts me up the last few switchbacks.
Once again I fire through the aid station quickly, munching on the best popsicle I've ever tasted, and move ahead of Leigh again. Even though my legs feel hammered, I pound the five-mile descent to El Dorado, winding down the steep canyon wall, enjoying the spectacular views across the canyon (marred only by the sight of the upcoming climb up to Michigan Bluff). Leigh is gone again as soon as we hit the grunt up to Michigan. I can't run much of the steep bottom half, but a third of the way up the grade eases and I force myself to run.
The higher I get, the more exposed and hotter it gets, but not enough to crack me. Near the top, the paparazzi are out in force again, and I get a boost from the cheering spectators. I cruise into Michigan Bluff, another major aid station, at mile 55.7, about nine hours into the race, feeling I've survived the worst of the heat, and even joking to my crew, "Hey, I thought this race was supposed to be hot!" Western States will make me pay dearly for this remark.
Next I drop into Volcano canyon, the third and usually by far the easiest of the canyons, and any remaining hope that my legs are going to be OK during the race ever again is removed. The trail is totally exposed, the soil is nearly white and perfectly reflective, and the temperature soars above 100 degrees. A half mile up from the bottom, it is so hot that I can't breathe. Claustrophobic, on the verge of a panic attack, I lurch up the trail.
The folks at the little Bath Road aid station have the nerve to tell me I look good. I run most of the paved climb up Bath Road to the small mountain town of Foresthill, feeling overheated and underpowered.
"That sucked more than anything has ever sucked before," I say to my crew. I do, however, look better than Dave Mackey, who's kind of stumbling out of the aid station with his pacer. Another terrific runner is having a tough day; Dave will eventually drop out at mile 78.