Written by Traviss Willcox - http://www.traviss.co.uk
Yellowstone 100 done! 11th buckle earned... Fantastic even, very very scenic, running down the edge of Yellowstone National Park and then towards the Teton Mountains. Very pleased to finish in 24:26, my second best 100 mile time, a sub 24 would have been nice but the cold (was down to -13C and the water froze in my water bottle at one stage!) and the altitude (was almost all over 6000') didn't leave much air in the lungs for an awful long time towards the end when the light went out and the fun and games start.
Legs were utterly dead after Bear 100 and half expected to have a 1 mile DNF as my entire movement in the last week was about a 20 metre trot before running out of puff and giving up! Surprisingly though all was well at the start so sped off and rather surprised to find myself 3rd after a mile and nobody seemed to be catch me up as normal. Even more surprised after 10 miles and then 20 miles still to be third... it didn't last of course, but nice whilst it did.
As I had no idea really how my legs would be, I didn't really have a plan, so instead of measuring miles, I decided to run to the end of a mountain. Turned out to be a shade over 30 miles, so did 50k in a shade over 5 hours and then things started going wrong as things do at these. "Stomach" issues hit me in the 30s which slowed me right down, and then the legs basically died a horrible "Bear Death". Was no big deal through 50 miles but then as it got colder again I just could do anything up any kind of ascent on trashed quads, hamstrings, knees, ankles, feet, abductors, seriously every part of my legs were killing me. So just forced march to the finish really.
To be honest was quite impressed with myself, I'd wondered if I could do back to back 100s... turns out I can, and reasonably well, not great, but after a mile was never not going to finish.
HUGE THANK YOU to Rachel for crewing/pacing duties, made the job so much more straightforward. Dinner on me!
Yellowstone 100 was one of those events that the first time I saw it I thought, “yes, I want to do that one.” Some 100s have an instant appeal, some grow on you and happen to fit in to schedules and others you schedule around and this was one such. Prior to Berlin Wall 100 this had been an “A” target to get a sub 24:00 finish at a 100 but after Berlin that waned somewhat and then Bear 100 came back on the scene and Yellowstone 100 then became the opportunity to test out if it were possible to do 100 milers on back to back weekends.
The original plan had been to spend a couple of days in Yellowstone before the event but sadly the US Government shut down rather thwarted that as the park was closed which was rather a disappointment to say the least. On the plus side that did give me a couple of very easy days to rest up and recover from Bear but would much rather have been in the National Park!
The weather was another concern as the forecast was pretty grim with a snow storm on the horizon and the worst forecast had 10 inches of snow at the start! I had visions of the race being called off or having a 100 mile wade through snow but whilst the drive to West Yellowstone was a bit hairy in places overall the snow was just up at altitude and nowhere near as bad as forecast. Mind you where we just had been got a serious dumping, Deadwood had 48” of snow and had we been a day later in travel plans then don't think we'd have gotten anywhere!
We were staying in the hotel where the race briefing was so that was all easy and had a nice chat with a couple of chaps Rob and Tom doing their first 100s so that was nice and before I knew it, was toe taping time again! The feet were in remarkably good shape following Bear and had decided this was going to be a Hoka run… but with Rachel crewing me and having access basically at almost any point on the course would always be easy to change my mind if needs be.
Whilst the snow had mostly kept away, the cold was very evident, the race start temperature was about -11C/-12C which is COLD! And whilst I was standing at the start line and totally committed to the event, I did have at the back of my mind “would my legs work?” as I had run maybe 10 yards since Bear and half expected for them to be deader than dead things and simply be unable to run and quite possible to be having a 1 mile DNF! (Which was where the hotel was!)
Whilst only a small field for the 100 (there is a 50 and relay as well), 43 were entered, there were some serious runners, several winners of Badwater, Oswaldo Lopez (who won Graveyard 100 in a very quick time), Connie Gardner (149 miles in 24 hr former US record holder) etc.
0600 and we're off and I'm sharing the lead for the first couple of 100 yards and make puffing noises cunningly disguised as conversation with Oswaldo for a little while until even I realised that I couldn't live with his pace for long and settled into a kind of 8:45 pace which was what felt comfortable, well as comfortable as I am ever going to be at 7000' and it being -11C! The first couple of miles were around the streets of West Yellowstone (the route never actually goes in to the Park which on the one hand is unfortunate as would be a great place to run, on the other hand it meant there was a race!)… I didn't bother putting on my headtorch as was light enough with the street lighting and was rather surprised after about a mile when I glaced around to find there was nobody in sight! There were two ahead of me, growing distant so knew I was on the right track, was just slightly puzzled as to where everyone else was!
So anyway, music on, head down and off I trotted. The route goes down Highway 20 for about 37 miles before turning off on the Mesa Falls Scenic Highway. Having driven this the day before I knew it was a decent gradual downhill for maybe 6/7 miles before the only really serious climb on the route.
Sometimes you have those kind of epiphany moments. As the lights came on I could see the sun rise on a snow capped mountain off to the right and got one of those “this is what I want to be doing” feelings… and up until this point I really didn't have much of a pacing strategy as simply had no idea how my legs would be. So I simply decided to run to the end of the mountain. Had no idea how far away that was, looked about 2 miles, so reckoned it would be more like 20! (Turned out to be about 30ish). Had a look around in the far distance could see some head torches so had a decent “lead” in 3 rd place so off I went.
Wasn't until mile 10 that Connie Gardner caught me and we had a bit of a chat for a mile or two, saw Rachel for the first time (there are 8 aid stations, but with Rachel crewing was basically intending to be supplied by her) briefly (my aid station/crew stopping discipline was excellent throughout, I think aside from 30 second type pauses at aid stations and two stops to change clothes I was moving along) and then overtook Connie again as she stopped to chat to the RD Lisa (who was like a bit of a mobile aid station the first couple of hours or so) and off I pounded again down the hill after the climb (which I'd walked a fair bit of) and wasn't to see her again until mile 20 or so. AS1 at mile 15 was notable for having frozen drinks and in fact frozen everything!
Was lovely just running along, it started to warm up a bit (to maybe even 0C!), sun was out, blue skies, bit of fluffy white cloud, fantastic views of mountains, trees, big scenery… AS2 came and went. 50k came and went in about 5:05.
By about mile 33 I was beginning to feel pretty “stomachy” for want of a better phrase, and was hoping to hold on to AS3 (at 37) as hopeful of being a toilet, but things were getting worse and in typical style the trees had all ended and on a flat plain! But it wasn't going to wait but a bit of a ditch saved any embarrassment… that felt better but had rather knocked the stuffing out of me and the pace and energy levels had fallen off rather badly.
So anyway I pushed along and the traffic (which was incredibly considerate throughout) which had been building up all morning dropped off somewhat when we turned left on to the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway and turned towards the Tetons which was to be the backdrop for the rest of daylight.
So having run to the end of the mountain I had to have a new plan of something, so as luck would have it I'd noticed that 20 miles came in 3 hours ish, 40 miles in 7 hours ish. So if I could do the next 20 in 5 hours, that would be 12 hours for 60, which would give me another 12 hours for a sub 24, which I'd be delighted with. By other vague plan was 50 miles in under 10 hours, again then gives 14 hours to get home for a sub 24.
I met Rob about mile 47 or so and we went along to mile 50 and AS4 together having a nice chat (I'd seen his wife Amy who was crewing a few times, and in fact lots of crew folk offered help numerous times which was always welcome, was always good, but nice to know everyone looking out for everyone else). Got to mile 50 in about 9:30 so was pleased with that, though the legs were really beginning to struggle now, I'd had assorted grumbles and groans from them, but now they were seriously beginning to protest. On the plus side my feet felt reasonable but I tried to bend down at one point to just scratch an itch and was I stiff or what!! But the sun was out, the views were brilliant, what's not to like, ok, aside from being 50 miles from home.
The courses wasn't “quite” what I expected, the first 50 miles was all above 6000' and even the second half barely dipped below and looking at the course profile it kind of looked like a nice gradual downhill to 50 miles then a nice gradual uphill for the second 50. Was more up and down than I thought and on any kind of incline I was really struggling with breathing, and on any kind of decline, my quads were screaming at me. There were some lovely downhills that seemed utterly criminal to be walking down, but just physically could not run down them as every pace (even in Hokas) jolted a big bolt of expletives through my quads. So that apparently is what mashed quads feel like!
But I could jog a bit on the flats still and my discipline was good. I was always forced marching and I don't think at any point was a I just dawdling along and on many miles I would just try to move quickly enough to say get under a 15:00 minute mile as you don't need to run that much to do that.
I just missed the 60 mile pace point, 12:07, and was really rather beginning to struggle by now, AS 5/6/7/8 were basically at miles 60/70/80/90 so was an easy mental leap to just go AS to AS but 40 miles is still an awful long way when you're done in a bit. So off I plodded… the Tetons were a lovely sight as the lights went out, all shades of pastels blues and pinks and things, and the lights went out, the night gear went on, the temperature falls and the demons come out to play.
But my goal was just 20 miles in 6 hours, so nothing too much, you'd think. But it was a struggle, the miles went by slower and slower, by 70 I'd caught up with a chap called Ray after a long gravelly bit of road that seemed to go on forever and was hard going after the lovely tarmac, was probably only 5 miles or so, but was tough. I'd see Ray again a couple of times as we leapfrogged each other a bit for a while and he commented on how lonely it was and very true. I'd not seen other runners now for hours at a stretch, I'd hazard a guess that over the miles maybe a dozen had gone past me but was maybe 4 or 5 since I'd seen another soul!
Onwards and upwards (literally as was back over 6000'!) the miles drifted by, the poor chaps at AS7 (mile 80) looked rather frozen to say the least and probably was good for Ray that they had no heating as he was cold and fear had he sat down to warm up he may never have gotten going again… but he soon caught me up (I was maintaining the no messing about at Aid Station rule) and was gone as I went ever slower gazing up at the brilliantly bright stars that you find out in the middle of nowhere on clear night like this.
I think from about mile 80 I kind of lost my way a bit (mentally, no way you could get lost on this route, turns were very well marked indeed), its still a long way and its hard to relate to thinking, mmm… at this pace that's 7 hours, for 20 miles! Was getting tired, feet were getting really quite sore (though not blistered sore) legs were somewhere dreaming of sitting down. But along I went and this really is where having a helpful crew is really very helpful indeed! Rachel for the last 15 miles or so would park the car up two or three miles, and walk back to meet me, and then we'd walk along till we reached the car, she'd drive off, walk back, repeat.
This had several advantages as gave me some company, broke up the endless miles into little blocks and then also gave me a preview of what was coming up as Rachel knew. It is however amazing how far you can see at night up in the clear air. A junction that looks about 400 yards away ends up being more like 2500 yards away and so on… but eventually the final AS came along, and for a moment I stood in front of the heater. But was good… and went back out in to the cold!
It was this point that I knew I couldn't be bothered to suffer enough to get a sub 24. I certainly could have pushed myself harder, I just didn't want to enough. I am sure had there been a sub 24 hour buckle I would have done it. But 8 miles to go, and just didn't want to push… some more gravel type roads and Driggs (which I think could be seen from as far as 15 miles out) finally hoved into view properly. I could see a couple of folk ahead of me in the distance, and for no reason at all I decided I'd try and catch them up. Which took about 3 miles! Had a brief word with a girl called Breanna and her pacer, she was struggling and going pretty slowly and I was pleased to be able to even jog a bit again after giving up in the mid 80s.
Rachel found me rather sooner than she thought she might as I'd made good progress for a few miles whilst she parked at the finish, head for the traffic lights and then we were there! 24:28:30 – 15th place in end. Had a real nice chat with the RD Lisa Smith-Batchen (who I had no real idea who she was, and turns out she is a very well known American ultra runner, 10x Badwater Finisher (twice first girl home), first girl at MdS, run 50 milers in all 50 states, raised over $1m for charity etc etc).
Had a bit of a sit down and munch on some nibbles in her shop and had a chat to a few other folk, Ray was there and then shortly joined by Breanna. Job done!
Really was a great event, made by the scenery of course, and although it was all on roads, you were out in the wilds for 99% of the time and the “towns” you went through (aside from West Yellowstone) were tiny hamlets really until you reached Driggs. I was really very pleased with how it all went. Whilst I'd done two flat hundreds with a weekend's break in-between this was a whole step up to do another 100 which although on a decent surface and didn't have much in the way of hills (although my legs disagree with that statement!) was still at some reasonable altitude, and still 100 miles and there are no easy 100 milers. Feet were in a bashed state, sore but not blistered especially, legs are dead beyond belief, but recovery seems to be happening very quickly. I'm writing this 2 days afterwards and walking is certainly back to normal already, running however - now that might be a different thing!
Things I Learnt
- I could do a real decent run after a tough 100. Maybe another 100 was a stretch, but I got it done OK.
- Somewhere I changed measuring distances in miles and started measuring them in mountains
- Crew/pacers very, very helpful in the end game.
- 100 miles can be done in Hokas without having shredded feet.