09/20/2014 – Yellowstone-Tetons 50 mile Endurance Run – Mesa Falls to Driggs, Idaho
Starting at Mesa Falls, this point to point 50 mile road run begins with soft rollers, interrupted by a gentle middle 15 mile uphill section and eventually flattening out for the final 15 miles. It’s all road and exposed, but you knew that going in, so there’s no crying in ultra running.
For reference, here’s my version of the sourced and compiled 2014 Yellowstone-Tetons 50 mile Endurance Run race preview and the 2014 Yellowstone-Tetons 50 mile Endurance Run results – statistically in the upper part of the usual percentile range that I’m usually in.
If you’re looking for The Race Video Recap, scroll all the way down to the bottom.
Bonus Video: The race as seen through the eyes of Super-Crew Andrew Baber!
There was next to no training, unless you count the other 50 miler I did a month before and the 50 miler I did the month before that. Besides that though, I pretty much didn’t do any sort of specific training program to prepare for this race except for one back to back weekend and a week of easy running intensity, distance, and time.
14 hours is a long ways to drive the day before the race, but that’s what I did. Woke up and hit the road at 5am, rolling east along I-90 past the Columbia River, Spokane, and through Idaho by noon. After forgetting about the time zone change, I lost an hour, but quickly made up the time with the 80 mph speed limit of Montana. In between vast periods of no mobile phone service, I managed to text Andrew, my Super-crew for the weekend, and give him an ETA for our planned meet up. Turning south at Butte, it’s a quick hour south to Dillon, our meet up place, with Andrew coming from nearby Bozeman. A quick stop at the Patagonia outlet store and dinner at Sparky’s Garage and we were on our last 3 hour leg of the super long travel day.
Without campground reservations though, all first come, first serve spots in the Targhee National Forest already taken, and darkness already upon us, we contemplated contemplated our next move before finally settling on pitching our tents behind a gate on a packed dirt service road right at Upper Mesa Falls.
Last one in, first one up. And we literally had a 60 second drive to the start line. And free! Perfect.
The Packet Pick-up
Not making the pre-race briefing the day before, packet pick up for me was the morning of, about 30 minutes prior to the start. Jay Batchen was there, not at he Upper Mesa Falls parking lot, but literally on the shoulder of the Upper Mesa Falls Scenic Byway to check me in and give me my bib, number 546. No drop bags. Just a packet full of obligatory sponsor marketing material and some samples and some swag, 4 safety pins included. Easy.
It’s a road race which means the entire race is run on a road which was sometimes paved and sometimes gravel. I guess I knew that when I signed up for the race and probably should have remembered it going into the race, but still there was a shock when I realized I was going to be running the entire race on a road!
Andrew played the part of not only my crew for the day, but also videographer, photographer, and all around stand-up guy for everyone out on the course. Since the manned aid stations were approximately every 10 miles, our plan was for him to drive ahead and be a mid-aid station, meaning I would have access to extra water and food every 5 miles. Plans are just plans though and Andrew ended up meeting me closer to every 3 to 3.5 miles which was great because the course was so hot and exposed, I needed liquid and fuel pretty much constantly. I’m pretty sure without his help, I would not have finished as well as I did, if at all.
The real reason why I even signed up for this race was because my good friend, Jerod of The Wandering Beard, and I had decided the year before that we should meet up somewhere and run a race together and not just any race, but a race of significant distance that neither of us had ever run and in a place that we’d both like to travel to. Yellowstone-Tetons was one of the flatter races we found with the one of the most generous cut-off times in a beautiful locale, so why not. I actually didn’t hold up my end of the bargain running a few 50 milers before, but this was Jerod’s first 50 miler. He totally rocked it achieving his A goal – finishing the race.
The start line of the 50 mile run is literally an imaginary line drawn across the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway and just so happens to also be the 50 mile mark of the 100 mile run. We started at 9am which seemed late for a 50 mile race, but it was kind of nice to not have to get up before sunrise and stumble around in a pre-caffeine trance like normally happens before early morning races.
The only non-exposed portion of the run takes place when it’s still cool out and the sun is still low. Of course.
This first part of the run is also the hilliest, which isn’t really hilly at all compared to the other mountain races I’ve been running all year. My watch calculated a grand total of 2,169 vertical feet total for the entire 50 miles. For reference that’s a total of 43 vertical feet spread out over a mile if the run was entirely uphill constant for the entire distance, which of course it’s not. In reality it’s rolling downhill mostly net negative for the first 20 miles, uphill for the next 15 miles, then pancake flat for the last 15 miles.
Most of the run skirts vast stretches of farmland with old, abandoned homesteads strung between larger well kept farms and homes that have since overtaken these relics of times past.
All crew cars are required to have a sign on them saying, “Runner’s on Road” or something similar, flashing emergency lights must be on when parked, all four wheels must be off the road and fully on the road shoulder, and the car isn’t allowed to pace you as you run. Those are the basic official crew rules. With that said the rules are pretty lax. Or maybe they’re lax for those who are supporting runners who aren’t going to win. But with that said, everyone I saw followed the rules. Crews and cars had access to the entire run and anywhere they could pull off on the side of the road was an acceptable and race support legal place to roll out your red carpet aid station.
The basic rules for runners were, don’t cheat and make sure you run only on the left side of the road toward oncoming traffic. Since a decent portion of the race is run along the side of an interstate with cars, trucks, and 18 wheelers flying past at 60+ mph, the last thing you want to be doing is not seeing the vehicle barreling at you. At least if you see the car and if for whatever reason it starts to veer toward you, there’s a fleeting chance that you can jump out of the way of it or any sort of debris that is kicked up. I ended running about half of the race on the pavement between the white line and edge of the pavement and the other half actually on the gravel base just off the shoulder of the paved road not really because I was afraid of getting hit by cars (the road is so long and flat that you can see anything coming at you from miles away) but because the pavement chewed up my legs so badly that I needed to run on a surface more forgiving, even the course gravel road base.
The race doesn’t really ever run in or through Yellowstone or the Tetons. It’s actually a decent ways west of both destinations, but that also means you get to see the Tetons as you’re running ever so closer to it from almost the beginning of the 50 mile race and it dangles there for 9+ hours just close enough to be grand and tantalizingly beautiful, but far enough away that it almost makes it harder to run as the background never changes. It’s farm fields, a mountain range albeit an amazing mountain range, and a road for the entire 50 miles. Beautiful and kind of not all at once.
I’m a sweater, so I use Saltstick pills, taking one every 30 minutes and sometimes more often when I’m feeling like I need it. Whether it actually works and whether I actually need it, I’m not sure (and the jury is still out as to whether it makes a difference or not) but when I’m running an ultra long distance I’d rather take one for peace of mind than risk running a sodium deficit. The downside is when I sweat, there’s a lot of salt which isn’t that big of a deal on my hat or on my shirt or even on the outside of my shorts. It can though be a bit of a nuisance when it dries on the inside of my shorts as it’s sort of gritty and unless everything is all vaselined up, there’s bound to be some chafing. No one likes chafing. It’s made grown men cry before. No one likes seeing grown men crying.
I hit a rough patch around mile 35-40. I always seem to hit a low point around this point in the race. It didn’t help that this section was along a fairly busy stretch of interstate with vehicles flying by at 65 mph, completely exposed to the hot sun, I had been running for 7+ hours, my feet and legs hurt, I hadn’t seen or run with anyone in a few hours and it was flat as all flat which meant I had no excuse not to run except for all the excuses I just named. Thankfully (or not?) John, a runner from South Carolina, who I had run with from mile 4-10 many hours earlier caught up to me and encouraged me to run with him into the last aid station. I didn’t want to run and told him so, but part of me was happy just to have someone to run with, so I did.
Leaving the last aid station I was still in a funk and not feeling like I could run, so I “let” John go and walked for the next couple of miles trying to regroup. Finally turning off the interstate and onto a gravel road, I ran through a grove of trees with their leaves of beautiful yellows and lime greens and met up with Andrew and finally my mindset turned. Perhaps it was the fact that I knew I only had 10k left or perhaps because I was finally off that f’in road or perhaps it was because I was finally around some slim bit of trees or perhaps it was because Andrew was there to provide me more pickles. Who really knows, but regardless I had a my second (or was it my third?) (or fourth?) wind and was ready to go for a little run again. I ditched my vest with Andrew and took only a hand bottle, my phone, and my video camera for the final 4 miles.
Turning off the gravel road the final 2 miles are back on the busy Interstate 33, which is frustrating but only kind of because I knew I was only a hop, skip and a jump away from the finish line. Passing by the Welcome to Driggs sign, the traffic picks up and there’s finally sidewalks to run on! A mild convenience I never thought I would fully appreciate until I didn’t have one for the 9 previous hours! Driggs is a one stoplight town and the finish is just past that intersection. Downtown is so intimate that when any runner came down this last little homestretch someone would come out with a stop sign and hold it up and all cars would stop to let the runner through regardless of who had a green light.
The 50 mile race wasn’t big to begin with and I, however unlikely and without knowing how, had finished in a single digit place so there really wasn’t many people at the finish line, but honestly it really doesn’t matter. Jay Batchen was there to give me a high five a hearty smile and a congratulations. Andrew was there to whoop and holler me in, give me a congratulatory cold tasty beverage, and an even heartier smile and high five. And someone else was there to give me a finisher’s buckle. My third 50 mile finish under (on?) my belt.
After cleaning up and changing, Andrew and I jumped back in the car and went out to find Jerod to check up on him, make sure he was ok, and see if he needed anything. We found him around mile 46 dutifully, methodically plowing through the last portion of the race. After making sure he was good to go, we drove back to the finish line and cheered in runners and when Jerod came through we high fived, hooted, and cheered him into his first 50 mile finish.
After dinner at the pizza place just down the street, Tony’s Pizza and Pasta, Andrew and I camped out again this time just to the east of Driggs in Teton Canyon campground in the Targhee National Forest and woke up bright and early for our trek back to Dillon, Montana where he picked his car back up and I drove the last 11 hours back to Seattle.
Lessons (Re)-Learned. What went well? What could be better?
- Road races are hard. Hard on the feet. Hard on the legs. Hard on the knees. If there’s a chance to run on soil or even gravel, do it.
- Flat ‘runnable’ races don’t mean they’re easier races at least for me. There’s no excuse not to run. And yet I kept coming up with excuses.
- I keep hitting low spots around mile 35-40, but I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s my fueling strategy?
- Make sure none of your clothes are ripped before putting them on. Chances are if they’re ripped to start with, they’re not going to magically repair themselves mid run and could cause problems at some point in the run.
- If something bothers you, stop and fix it. What starts as a small nuisance or a small rub will eventually turn into some kind of much larger problem – blisters and chafing. Remember you’re running for half a day, a few minutes isn’t going to make or break your day (hopefully.)
- Running with people is a great tool to make the miles go by faster. Talking keeps the mind off the task at hand. And if you’re out of things to talk about, just running with/next/in front/behind someone is still great.
- Camping pre-race is really not that bad. You’re probably getting up early anyway and probably a bit nervous or anxious anyway to get a full restful sleep anyway. And it’s cheap compared to a hotel.
- Camping post-race is still not really all that bad either, but maybe slightly harder? I’m usually completely wiped out so falling asleep or sleeping soundly through the night isn’t hard. The hard part is you’re already sore and when you need to get up in the middle of the night, it isn’t fun.
- After a race I find I appreciate the little things so much more: sitting down to eat, brushing my teeth, taking a hot shower, re-living the day’s run with family and friends, and sleeping.
Final Race Goals Recap and What’s Next?
I had five main goals for this race…
1. Make it to the Start Line. It’s roughly a 12 hour drive to get there.
2. Have fun. I’ll be running with a friend who I haven’t seen in over a year.
3. Have a look around. It’s beautiful country.
4. Make it to the Finish Line. It’s my 3rd 50 miler in just over 2 months.
5. Thank every volunteer and crew. It’s their graciousness, time, and effort that they donate in order to help make sure everyone has the opportunity to finish.
Goal #1 – Completed, although it was more like 14 hours.
Goal #2 – Completed, although we only ran together for the first 2 miles. Ha. (Sorry Jerod.)
Goal #3 – Completed. It is beautiful country!
Goal #4 – Completed!
Goal #5 – Completed! Although I have to admit I thanked Andrew the most.
Next up is nothing! I think I might just take a well deserved little rest to recharge. I have a few plans for a race or two next year that are made up of three numbers and end in the letter K.
- Patagonia Forerunner short sleeve shirt
- Arm sleeves (from the Bryce Canyon 50k)
- The North Face Long Haul shorts
- Bandana (from an outfitters store in Portland)
- Visor (from an outfitters store in Zion National Park)
- XCCU Unisex Experia Multi-Activity micro mini crew with COOLMAX fiber
- Hoka One One Stinson Trail shoes with quicklaces
- Salomon Skin Pro 10+3 Set pack with 1L bladder
- Suunto Ambit 2S
- Garmin ANT+ Heartrate belt
- Sony HDR-AS15 Action Cam with waterproof housing
- Vaseline – 2 oz tube – lubricant for legs and armpits
- Athletic tape – two 1″ pieces – one for each nipple, one 3″ piece – center of chest underneath heart rate monitor, one 3″ piece – small of back where pack rubs.
- (Phone, insurance card, credit cards, and license in a zip lock bag – in case I get hurt, can’t talk and need to be identified)
Fuel used – (not consumed in parenthesis) Pre-race:
- Banana – two x 105 = 210 calories total
- Kroger brand Hazelnut Spread with Chocolate – 2 tbsp – 160 calories
- NUUN Active Hydration Tablets – 10 oz – ~5 calories
- VFuel Gel – single serving – two vanilla, one maple bacon, one fudge brownie, and one peach cobbler – 100 calories each – total 500 calories
- Huma Chia Energy Gel – single serving – Apples & Cinnamon, Blueberries, Strawberry – total 300 calories
- Honey Stinger Energy Waffle – 1 honey – 160 calories
- Hammer Nutrition Perpetuem Drink Mix – one single serving – 60 oz – 130 calories
- Hammer Nutrition HEED Drink Mix – one single serving mixed before and drank during race – 20 oz – 100 calories
- Skratch Lab Drink Mix – lemons and limes – 40 oz – four x 20 calories per serving = 80 calories total
- Gatorade – Fruit Punch and Lemon Lime – 160 oz – ~1060 calories
- SaltStick Plus Electrolyte Salt Capsules – consumed 34- 0 calories
- Banana – one medium x 100 = 100 calories total
- Potato – 1/2 medium – 80 calories
- Potato chips 2 handfulls ~300 calories
- Dill pickle – 2 spears ~10 calories
- Cold tasty beverage ~150 calories
- Calories burned ~4,312
- Calories consumed pre-race ~375
- Calories consumed during race ~2890
- Calories consumed post race ~150
- Average heartrate – 141
- Max heartrate – 168
- Time in heartrate zone 1 and 2 – 2:31
- Time in heartrate zone 3 – 3:51
- Time in heartrate zone 4 – 3:36
- Time in heartrate zone 5 – 0:00
The Race Video Recap
Bonus! Andrew Baber’s Race Video