Psycho WyCo Run Toto Run Race Report

Well, this was certainly one of the more interesting races I've ever been a part of. I started training for the 50k 26 weeks ago and it went amazingly well. I got thinner, I got faster, I got stronger. I really felt quite strongly that as long as conditions were good I'd be able to set a new 50k PR. Conditions were not so good. About a week before the race we got a big sleet storm that left everything icy, but runnable because it was not smooth ice. Then, just 4 days before the race, we had the first big snow storm of the year. At first I thought it'd be a good thing. The course is hilly and rocky, so I thought a good, packed down layer of snow would help make sure the rocky hills weren't too slick. Not so much how it worked out. It turned out to be about a 12-14 inch deep, light, powdery dry snow. There's no packing down that kind of snow. It was going to be an interesting race indeed. Leading in, I had high hopes and a great plan. I was going to run the race with my friend and fellow Trail Nerd/Mud Babe Emily Royal. She is an amazing runner, so I knew running with her would be a huge help. My goal was a new PR, which meant beating 7:00:29, but my stretch goal was 6:30-6:45.

It was a cold morning, but practically warm compared to many of our training long runs. It was about 22* with a forecasted high of 31*; not bad at all. Cold enough for my Husky, Katya, who was running the race with me, but warm enough to be tolerable for me. My awesome wife Kristy was volunteering at the main aid station, so we got up to the race pretty early; about 6:30 with an 8:00 race start. We pulled up to park right next to one of my biggest encouragers, Sherrie Klover (amazing ultrarunner). She gave me a nice pep talk while I was getting Katya's harness on and before she headed over to volunteer. It was great to see her and get some encouraging words. I am so grateful for all of the amazing runner friends I have.

We got over to the start area and friends started to roll in. One of the best things about running Trail Nerd races is having so many friends there. We all congregated and chatted while we waited for the race start. Everyone was quite positive about the race, but also a little anxious with the snow. Would the snow pack down and be runnable? Or would it stay loose and make it much tougher? Hard to guess; I'd never run in this kind of snow or this deep of snow before. Oh well, nothing I can do about conditions, I'd just stick to my plan until/unless conditions decided otherwise. We were just all ready to get started; we were all loosing feeling in our toes waiting!!

Eventually race director Ben Holmes called for us to go to the start line and Katya, Emily and I found a spot. At the start of this race, you go through a long field, up a small road, then turn onto the trail. Normally the field spreads out through the field, then bottlenecks as it enters the single track trail, but in the deep snow it was single file from the start. It made things interesting. If you needed to get around someone, you had to go through a foot+ of snow to do it. I was in a decent position, passing a few, but mostly I seemed to have started in a pretty good spot. Despite the snow, the first section of the trail seemed quite easily runnable, other than when we were passing, so we were carrying a decent pace and feeling good.

I had decided that I would start my Garmin watch at the beginning, then ignore it and run by feel. I wasn't sure what my pace was, but I felt like we were moving well and I was at a relatively low effort level, so I stuck with it. This section of the trail is generally pretty fast with only a few quick uphills that I walk when doing multiple loops. It was fun getting lots of compliments for Katya as the field was bunched together. I was really struggling to find a decent stride in the snow. Even with all the runners in front of me, it just wasn't packing down. It was staying soft and fluffy, which means slick. It seemed with every single step you slid at least a little. Even the screws in my shoes weren't helping.

After a few miles, we came to the Triangle aid station. The Triangle is an interesting section, but in my opinion, the most fun part of this course, no matter what the conditions are. It is about a 3/4 of a mile off-shoot from the main trail. Basically, you take a right, run 3/4 of a mile, then come back out on the main trail about 50 feet from where you turned off. You run that far to get 50 feet further on the main trail! But it's a tremendously fun section. Lots of good, fast downhills, just a few short, tough uphills, lots of quick switchbacks, and tree trunks to jump over. It's a fast fun section. Anyway, in the short section between the entrance to the Triangle and the exit is an aid station, so you get to it twice as you start, then finish the section. This station was being manned by my friends Deb, Heather, Amber, Darin, and a few others. On our training runs we've been stopping after the Triangle for water and food, so we would do the same for the race. As I passed the station, Heather asked if I needed anything and I told her we'd catch her on the other side. Even with all of the snow, the Triangle held true to form. Fast and fun. Katya and I both were having fun taking this section fast and jumping trunks and sprinting downhills. We both really enjoy bombing the downhills without regard for safety. It just seems to come naturally for us both and it sure is fun.

As we exited the section, Deb and Heather were there to ask what we needed. They are great friends and outstanding volunteers. At this station I gave Katya some special dog food. It is somewhere between canned food and solid food; think summer sausage-type consistency. After I gave that to her, Heather gave her some water while I grabbed a cup of water and a few peanut M&Ms for myself. I thanked them for the aid station workers for their help, then got back on my way. Emily was right with me as I left the station, so I commented that I wasn't sure since I hadn't checked my watch, but felt like I was on a good pace. She said were going pretty fast, so I thought about slowing down a little, but I really felt comfortable, so I just stuck with what felt good and kept going.

As we continued on, conditions remained the same. I was so disappointed that the runners going over the snow wasn't packing it down and making it easier to run. I was still slipping with most every step, and passing remained difficult because you had to go through the deep snow. The next little bit of the trail is again fairly non-nondescript until you get close to Fall Down Hill. There is a short, steep, fast down hill, then a bit of a steep uphill, then the infamous Fall Down Hill. It is well named. It is a pretty steep drop down from the top of the hill down to the bottom of the dam. It's fast running in good conditions, with lots of quick switchbacks to watch for. In good conditions, I like to say this hill makes me feel like a little kid. If you are confident in your ability to make the quick turns, it is a blast flying down this hill. Even in the snow, it was a fairly fast hill and Katya and I both had fun with it. I took a quick glace at my watch at the bottom of the hill and it read 1:01, which would have me on pace for about a 2 hour loop. Not bad in these conditions.

After Fall Down Hill, you come out on the bottom of the dam, run across to the other side, then trudge up the steep dam hill to the road where the mid-course aid station is located. This station is sponsored by Ultramax Sports (a running store) and assisted by my friends Erica and Carol. At this station I gave Katya what I have come to know as her power boost food. It is a GU-type gel food that is designed for athlete dogs and given via a little syringe-type dispenser. She loves it. The aid station had a bowl out for dogs and we gave her some water and I grabbed some M&Ms, water, and a Coke for myself, and as we left I grabbed a few Pringles. The next section of the course is a half-to-3/4 of a mile hilly road. We walk the uphill parts and run the downhill. As we walked the first part I ate some of the Pringles and gave a couple to Katya. Finally we got to the end of the road section and turned back onto the trail for Speed Demon Ridge. As the name indicates, this is normally another fast, fun section, but in the snow it wasn't nearly as fast. It's also where things turned bad for me. Not long after we got on the trail, before we could even get to the fast part, I turned my left ankle funny. It hurt. About 50 feet later I turned the same ankle. This would become a trend throughout Speed Demon Ridge and Fester's Wander. Turning my left ankle over and over.

Immediately after Speed Demon Ridge, before you start Fester's Wander, is Broken Leg Turn. There is a very long, steep, straight, rocky downhill that goes slightly toward the right, then right at the bottom there is a very sharp left turn. This hill is one I like to take fast, although you have to be careful with the turn when you do that. The turn was named after my friend Chris Nicely took the hill fast and caught his foot funny on the turn and broke his leg. Luckily even with the snow the hill was fast and had decent footing, so I was able to take it fast and make the turn. At that point I'd only turned my ankle a couple times, so it wasn't hurting too bad. Then we were on to Fester's Wander. This section has a couple huge uphills so steep you need ropes to get up if the trail isn't dry, but also has lots of fast flats and downhills. In good conditions, this is another fast, fun section for me, but in anything less than good conditions it is slow and a bit torturous. In this section I turned that left ankle several more times and started having to take more walk breaks to stretch it out and try to keep it loose. With every bad step it hurt a little worse.

After Fester's, there is a pretty decently runnable section of trail that helped settle my ankle down some before getting to the last aid station on the course at Shelter 10. This station was being manned by my evil twin Bryan, Corey, Shane, and a few others. This was a GREAT aid station. They were having lots of fun. I gave Katya more of the summer sausage-like food, water, water for myself and some chips for us both before we got back on our way. I think I stopped for a fraction too long, though, because as I left the station my ankle was quite sore.

From that station, you have the satisfaction of knowing you are only a few miles from finishing the loop, but the terror of knowing the 3 Bitches are coming up. These are three very steep hills, two of which are not runnable for me even in the best of conditions, but all three are torture when icy or snowy. With my ankle starting to hurt and the snow, I knew these three hills would live up to their name. They did. Every step seemed to make my ankle hurt a little more and wear me down a little mentally. Katya was doing well here, though. Normally she struggles up these hills, but she was trucking at a pretty decent forward pace through them which really helped me. Shortly after these hills you come to the finish line and the main aid station before starting the next loop. I'd finished the first loop in 2:19:37. Much slower than I needed for my goal, but with the conditions any my hurting ankle, I'd given up my PR goal anyway. At this point I had decided to just try to finish.

Working the main aid station were my awesome wife and good friend Wael. Wael saw me coming in and going to the drop bags, so he came over to offer his assistance. I told him I was good for the moment and he offered some encouragement. I gave Katya some more of her super-powered gel food, Kristy got her some water and I grabbed my handheld water bottle to take with me for the next loop and asked Wael to fill it for me, which he gladly did. I thought Katya would drink better out of that than she had been cups on the first loop. I told Kristy that I wasn't doing great and had given up my PR goal and just wanted to finish, but I didn't mention my hurting ankle. I'd hoped that by not mentioning it maybe it'd go away. I grabbed some Nutella wraps and kind of wasted some time standing around not wanting to get back in the terrible conditions. Finally, Emily and I started back out. I was hoping the flat, smooth field would offer a moment of relief for my ankle, but it was so slick through there that every step was a slide, which only made it hurt worse. Finally, I told Emily that it was really starting to hurt pretty bad and she encouraged me to hike as much as I needed to, but to hike "with a purpose"; meaning keep your arm moving and hike at a quick pace. I did just that, and we ran some as well.

Unfortunately, I continued to roll that same ankle. Maybe I was thinking about it too much, because normally rolling ankles isn't a problem for me on trails. By the time we got back to the Triangle, I was really hurting pretty badly. Deb, Heather, and Amber greeted me at the station and I told them what was going on and they offered lots of encouragement and support. Nothing beats my Trail Nerd friends when it comes to aid station support. I gave my handheld to Heather and asked her to fill it and I'd get it from her after we finished the Triangle section, then a moment of joy came in the midst of my misery. I noticed a box of Mike & Ikes laying on the table! I LOVE Mike & Ikes!!! They are my favorite, so seeing them at that moment was great! I didn't even ask if they were for us, I grabbed the box and dumped a bunch of them in my hand. I made a joke to Deb as we were heading back onto the trail that it'd probably take me an hour to do that short 3/4 of a mile Triangle section. Of course, Emily was having none of that. She got on the trail ahead of me and told me to try to run whenever she ran. I said okay and followed her lead while tossing Mike & Ikes in my mouth. They were near-frozen, so they were tough to chew, but they still made me tremendously happy. It's the little things that brighten your mood when you are struggling with pain in a tough race!

Emily led us through the Triangle slower than I had gone the first time through, but it still felt like we were moving pretty decently. We ran more than we walked. We came out of the Triangle and were back at the aid station welcomed again by Darin, Heather, and Deb. I started giving Katya her summer sausage-like food. Deb said, "well, it didn't take you an hour like you thought. That was only about 45 minutes." Now, normally I would have been quite aware she was not serious, but when you are tired and in pain, knowing you are struggling, you will believe almost anything. I responded, "Son of a bitch!! Are you serious??" She laughed and said that she was, of course, not serious. I shot her a nasty look, had it been anyone else I would have been pissed, but Deb is one of my best friends, so I smiled and laughed a little. I think there was a bit of a moment of tension for everyone between my look and my laugh. I'm not sure if they knew whether I was mad or not. Luckily it was Deb because I did need a moment of humor. It is really so great to have friends at a race. I got my haldheld back, grabbed some food for myself, said thanks and told them I probably would see them again. I was pretty sure at that point my ankle wasn't going to hold up for a third loop. They shouted some encouragement and we got back on our way.

I continued running when I felt like I could and walking when I thought it was hurting my ankle too much. It actually started to hurt a little less through this section through Fall Down Hill. Even with twisting it a few times again climbing the dam, overall it was hurting slightly less. We got to the aid station, I gave Katya her gel food and we started up the road and back onto the trail. I started thinking that maybe I'd be able to do a third loop after all; my ankle was hurting slightly less. Then I twisted it a couple times again and that crazy idea was gone. I was only doing two loops.

At some point, I don't remember exactly where, Emily's husband Matt caught up with us. He had been running the 20 mile with our friend Janee'. It would've been her longest run to date, but like most of us the conditions forced her to drop at 10 miles. Matt continued on without her, and when he got to the Triangle they told him I was struggling, so he sped up to catch up with us. I really hated hearing that Janee' hadn't made it, but it was nice to have Matt with us. Fester's was a tough section with the jacked up ankle, but we got through it. I did my best to run whenever Emily ran, so really, considering my ankle and the conditions we were keeping a relatively decent pace.

We got to the Shelter 10 aid station and I was quite pleased. I needed a break and I knew they had some beer at their station. Okay, if you've never run an ultra or a Trail Nerd race, you may think beer at an aid station is odd, but it's not here. My buddy Dave had joined them working the station after he ran the 10 miler, and he offered some encouragement and poured me some Boulevard Single Wide IPA. I bitched a little about my ankle hurting, gave Katya some summer sausage food and finally we got back moving. At this point, all I could think about was climbing the 3 Bitches again.

Well, we got there and it sucked. It seemed like every step on my left foot slipped. That didn't feel good. My ankle was absolutely killing me at this point. Honestly, I am happy with how I did in the conditions, but as we got closer to the finish, the disappointment of not finishing the 50k, much less setting my PR goal, was setting in and I was a little pissed. Finally we came over the last hill and I semi-limped over the finish line. Ben gave me a 20 mile finisher's medal, gave one to Katya, gave me a 20 mile finisher sticker, and gave me a word of encouragement. As I walked past him, I saw my good friend Matty. This is the moment where my disappointment got the best of me. I guess I just needed to let it out for a moment. Matty put his hand up to give me a high-five and said, "congrats, man, way to go!" I gave him a nasty look, didn't return his high-five, and said, "congrats for what?" Then I walked right past him. It wasn't until later that I realized what an ass I'd been in that moment and apologized. Anyone that runs races has been there, so he understood, but I still felt like an ass. As I walked down to the aid station, I slipped, twisted my ankle AGAIN, and fell. SERIOUSLY??? I got pissed again and threw my water bottle and may have yelled some profanity. Oops! That got everyone's attention. My wife, and my friend Megan were coming over and tried to help me up, another guy working the station tried to help me up, Ben started to come see if I was okay and the race medic Gay was making a beeline over to see if I was okay. Finally I got up and started limping over to the benches.

I told Gay what was going on with my ankle and she asked if I wanted her to look at it. I told her that would be great and sat down. She asked how long it had been since I first twisted it and I told her 15 miles. She gave me a confused look and said, "You did the 20 miles, so... 3/4 of the race ago?" I said yes, and realized how well I'd done given the conditions. I finished the 20 miles in 5:32:57, so my second loop was 3:13:19. Not terrible given the type and depth of snow along with an ankle injury for most of it.

After than I tried to warm up, had some chili and beer and talk/joked with my friends that were already there and as they came through the finish themselves. It was crazy how many people were dropping distances. After a while, Kristy and I headed home. So, here's how I look back on this race. I did the smart thing. Stopping when I did, my ankle felt much better later that evening and fine the next day, so I had avoided the damage I might have done with a third loop. That's something worth being proud of. Also, I had completed 20 miles on the toughest course I've ever run in the toughest conditions I've ever run in race or not. Together that is well worth being proud of. My training for this race was the most productive and successful training in my entire time as a runner. I lost a lot of weight, got a lot faster and stronger, gained a ton of confidence, and and had managed to follow a schedule for 6 months without any real aches or pains or major setbacks. That is, without a doubt, something to be proud of. I cannot let the weather; which is completely out of my control, ruin my pride in the accomplishments I made over the last 6 months. I've never been more proud of not meeting a goal. I'm excited about my plans moving forward, but that's a topic for another post. Runs like this are why I am glad I have this blog. As I've said before, I mostly do this blog for myself because I like to look back and read my old reports and remember the details about these crazy events. This is a prime example. I didn't hit my goal or even finish my distance, but this run was so epic I will be telling the story for many years to come.

HUGE thanks to everyone that supported me out there. Special thanks to Emily for sticking with me and keeping me moving during that last loop when I mostly just wanted to curl up and quit.

Here is an album of photos from training and the race. And here is my Garmin data for the race.

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