(Note...The following is an IMTUF 100 race report written by my great friend Matty Tock. He finished his first 100 miler out there and I am happy to post his story. I'm not even going to read it before I post it. He's a solid, hard-working guy with a heart of gold. Enjoy.)
Ultra Shuffling Down Memory Lane
A Race Report by Matty Tock
Leading up to the IMTUF 100, a coworker of mine questioned me about the seemingly senseless desire to race a hundred miles. It's a line I know all of us have entertained ad nauseum since we have embraced our participation in this sport. In time, I'm sure that you all have developed your own reasons for rationalizing to others why we do what we do. Perhaps, these reasons have even been forged in the times when you seek to quell the questioning of your own mind in the midst of that very endeavor. For me, I have begun to take the more metaphysical route to explaining why I choose to run. And once again, as if any answer could really do justice, I looked over and answered it the best that I knew how, "In my mind, it's like living an entire lifetime in the course of just one day (or just a bit more, as I would come to realize)."
For me, this summer has been an experiment in managing the laboring man's conditions in unholy temperatures and then topping each day off with a quality training effort. So, when I arrived at Burgdorf the evening before the race having taking the previous two days off to prepare, it was the most rested I had felt in months. The anticipation that had been building was released as I viewed the steam of the hot pool wafting through the evergreens and above the decaying, but still inviting cabins. It gave way to feelings of calm and relaxation as I sat and talked to the likes of the Boise running contingent while signing in. In that moment I was privy to some of the wisdom of Dennis Ahern to surviving and thriving at these races along with the various methods to treating a yeast infection, should you be left stranded on a mountain with only a cup of yogurt. They were words that I would draw upon shortly thereafter, at least those concerning running.
In the morning, obscure orders from a madman on the other end of a megaphone were heard being shouted at 5:15, hours before the sun would begin to shed light on the course that was set before us. The calls were less alarming, having risen an hour earlier, because I knew from previous experience to set aside time for two or three pre-race bowl movements among the other tasks that needed tending to. As the handful of racers who would begin this race began to gather around the only visible lights for miles in any direction, I experienced the smiling faces and exuberance of Tony Huff, Christine Kollar, Derrick Call, and others whom I have come to expect at the starting line of any local race. There we were, in far less clothing that was appropriate for the temperature and with more sugar than should be consumed in any calendar year, waiting for the moment to take the first step of so, so many required to cover the distance of one hundred miles. As the order was given to release this pack, I gathered in a final few ounces of strength witnessing the tears of a race director overcome with pride at seeing others who were willing to give themselves to share in a place that was painted with his own blood, sweat, and tears.
Overall, this was a veteran group that went out eager to tackle the challenges that the next hours would present but with the wits to know that they were to be undertaken patiently and without unnecessary haste. We climbed hard up Bear Pete Mountain without breaking into a running cadence and descended swiftly without taxing precious quad muscles that would be called upon for strength later on. Our reward for this approach was the sense to experience the warm colors of a rising sun that flooded the granite walls reigning above the tree line and the short, cautious bugle of a bull elk perhaps anticipating the percussion of hunters' footsteps as the season commenced. Both the miles and the minutes were taken away with the upslope winds that blew up from the basin of Upper Payette Lake below.
The first setback of the race came as a group of us were busy basking in the relative ease that this course, designed to bring out the “TUF” within us, was inspiring. It is always within these clouds of security that adversity seems to be hidden. Was it a red, supped up Ford F-150 with an unsuspecting cell phone caller that blocked our turn, dripping with pink flagging, and caused us to veer off course? Or was it the steady turnover of our own footsteps, their cadence being repeated rhythmically upon the open road that distracted us from noticing the turn? It is a question that will be belabored again in the coming years when this racer forgoes yet another change of direction on a course that he is only far too familiar with. Only this time, instead of plowing through moon dust in the middle of the night with only the company and good graces of a pacer, to a vacant parking lot over a thousand feet below, a substantial portion of the rest of the field had followed along. As we turned back from Warren Wagon Road and its paved path that tempted us into bee-lining it to the next aid station just a short distance below us, the first notes of urgency began to play into my mind. Had I so soon given away my best chance of keeping pace with those stronger competitors ahead of us?
Instead of bringing the devastation that I feared this mistake would, it was at this point that I unexpectedly gained the companionship of the man to whom I owe all of the success that I would later find in this race. I cannot express my appreciation to Wayne Rancourt enough, he who has been tried and tested by so many of these races himself, as he encouraged me in my pursuit of finishing my first. Eager to make up for lost time and ground Wayne and I began to pace each other in our efforts to make our way back. While I struggled with the disappointment of wasting precious energy so early, Wayne refocused my mind towards the patience that we must use to mark our course back into the competition. In minutes Wayne had calculated a pace and the effort that we should use to climb our way back to the point that we had been. Following his lead, we limboed the blow downs littering the trail down to Upper Payette Lake, plodded along the sandy banks of the Payette River, navigated the veiled pitfalls of the Terrible Terrance Memorial Trail, and climbed the rocky and sustained pitches of the Pearl Creek Road. And, by the time we had reached the northern trailhead of the Crestline, we had already found our way back to within striking distance of some of the leaders of the race.
Despite donning a long sleeve in the morning for the first time since early spring, mid-day temperatures were already being raised to simmering levels. Two thoughts comforted me then as we began pick our way across the exposed environment of the Crestline trail; one of the consistently oppressive heat that we Boise inhabitants had been forced to train in this summer and the other of the oozing handfuls of sunscreen that Mike Blessing had smeared on me during our visit at the North Crestline aid station. Both of these things made the unremitting glare of the sun less of an issue than it otherwise may have been. The challenge that we could not avoid, however, would prove to be the hydration deficiency that we would incur over this lightly aided stretch. I'll be the first to admit to, but never preach, the practice of dipping out of creeks and streams in the high country or, well, any country for that matter. My time studying the wisdom of Ray Jardine gave me the courage to initially begin the practice and my own dumb luck since has emboldened me with it. Wayne, on the other hand, was more reluctant than I was to submit, but he too was finding the looming perils of dehydration harder to bear. In the end, the only bit of help that I was able to reciprocate to Wayne in light of all the sage advice that he gave me over the course of the race had the potential to give us explosive diarrhea twenty-four hours later.
And so, as we continued to click off mile after mile with empty bottles, I longed for the first bit of running water to wet our whistles. Our first moment of reprieve came at the sight of Box Creek. Yes, this is the sport where our fearless race director had humped in two seven gallon water jugs to and spent the painstaking time hand pumping them full of pure, filtered water. Urgency and depravity do strange things to a brain, including blocking out the sight of streams of bright orange caution flagging overhanging massive blue jugs of water. Wayne and I filled our bottles and blissfully drank straight from the cold waters of that creek. We repeated the practice just a few miles later, our bottles again empty, when those same survival instincts covered up the signs that hundreds of sheep had been grazing, drinking, bathing, and performing other functions that need no further explanation, in the depths of Blackwell Lake. Explosive diarrhea and liver flutes. You're welcome, Wayne.
As the day trailed on with a steady climb up and off of the Crestline Trail, a dive down the dicey Falls Creek trail, and a spirited tempo run into the Lick Creek drainage, we found our times yo-yoing with the frontrunners of the field. Softer sunlight and cooler temperatures had followed us into the valley bottom and with them came my most spirited effort of the entire race. Rolling into the Lake Fork aid station, it was a boon to see our crew, friends, and the fantastic group of volunteers. Nearing the halfway point, there was no hint of tightness or spasms in the lower body, no queasiness in the midsection, and no doubt in my mind that I was marching towards my first one hundred mile finish. At that moment, I was feeling so rewarded for the hours of training that I had put over the past year. Confidence was taking hold and filling me with the determination, the kind that makes your limbs shake and brings near tears to your eyes, to begin reeling in those ahead of us. As evening was approaching fast, we resupplied with headlamps, warmer clothes, and more calories in preparation for the night ahead. Feeling bold, I even scarfed down some leftover cheese pizza from the briefing the night before. Foreshadowing the challenges that loomed ahead, what I didn’t know then was that it would be the last bit of substantial food that I would put down for the remainder of the race.
As I was becoming indoctrinated into the sport of ultra running, a good friend and mentor of many sorts offered some sage advice for combating the lows that we are sure to endure with the expenditure of so much over so long. "Choose races," he said, "that mean something to you. Those special places will lift you up when you lack the will to do it for yourself." Living, running, teaching, and experiencing the areas that became our IMTUF playground has gathered so many meaningful memories of these places that they became a virtual string that effectively pulled me along throughout that race. A great deal of those moments deep within the wildest places of these mountains, were served with a bow in my hand. I apologize to those who may not agree with the practices of hunting especially if that includes you, Wayne, because you endured so many of those stories. But, like running, I was shown how much richer time in the mountains becomes when your eye is trained to observe another element of it. Each time we entered into some dark stringer of timber or crested some high lookout point, I recalled times when I was awed by being in the midst of such power and cunning of an animal like a bull elk. The idea that we share the same places, experiencing the same hardships that the terrain provides and the serenity that the mountain air can bring, imbues me with such feelings of thanks and responsibility to them. It was in this way that I was led through the troughs of fatigue at the Snowslide saddle and the traverse of Twenty Mile trail when our spirits were dimmed by the cover of darkness.
Hope and strength can be redeemed by those that we love and the simple comfort that the sight of them can provide. Such was the case as we rolled down and out of the Twenty Mile Valley and were spit out onto the sure-footed path into the Upper Payette Lake aid station. The artificial yellow glow of the spot lights and the buzz of their generators at the aid station set a strange scene in the middle of the night after such a long time wondering through such utter darkness and quiet. But, for Wayne and I, nothing could temper the emotion of seeing our loved ones ardently waiting there. Even though my body language was unable to say it then, my mind was full of appreciation and relief as Katie greeted me. I am thankful to have someone that stands by me in support even when the signs of the abuse that we choose to endure ourselves are so plain to see in moments like these.
After leaving Lake Fork with such vigor, our pace had certainly slowed in the time since. This was despite the constant reassurance that the crux of the race was behind us and smooth, runable terrain was left to quicken our steps. As it stands, the reality of less challenging sections on the IMTUF course exist only in relativity and, I believe, can only be served as "comfort" to us runners on our way. The still grueling nature of the final quarter of the course made the effort of the runners in front of us even more incredible. Reports kept coming in that Adam Wilcox was now hours ahead of us and moving along effortlessly. Kelly Lance and Jayk Reynolds were each battling with issues of their own, exhaustion and sickness, but were so tough that they continued to put time on us as well. In the meantime, all of the climbing and descending that we had experienced during the day were beginning to take their toll. Approaching the final climb up Victor Mountain, I had entered into walk/run mode whereby I would hold a jogging pace for as long as I could before finding some relief from the mounting soreness in my quads with a walking cadence. Ironically, the commencement of the long, steady climb up Victor was welcomed at this point as the power hiking gear seemed to remain somewhat intact when the others had not. Wayne surged uphill at this point; a testament to his honed endurance and provided me with the means to continue pushing my effort. While my heart was sinking knowing that he was sacrificing his own effort to continue pulling me along, I was thankful to be absorbing his lesson of resolve.
With some twenty five miles remaining in the race this was the mode in which we would make our way towards the finish. All of the energy that had me riding so high only hours before had since fizzled and faded. Only the dogged determination to survive and experience the completeness of my effort kept me going for those final miles through the Loon Loop and Ruby Meadows back to Burgdorf. I thought of nothing more than the satisfaction I would feel moving down the homestretch towards the sight of all those I knew were waiting for us. I would cross that line, sit down to take the shoes off of my swollen and aching feet, and join that crowd as a hundred mile finisher. As I reflect upon these memories and the others that I have collected during my short time in this sport I have come to embrace these events as a celebration of the natural world through running, one of the simplest and purest ways imaginable. For me, this is the most sustainable way that I know to ensure that I will still be enjoying this process for many years to come. That being said, I still like to toe that starting line with hopes of being in the hunt until the bitter end. On this day, the realization that this race had escaped me set in sometime soon after the survival shuffle had commenced. Instead, the goal finally became what I knew it had been all along; to live through one hundred miles in just one day (give or take a few hours).
In the end, what a treasure of shared experiences my IMTUF 100 truly was and I only mean to say thank you to everyone for being a part of it. I especially want to take the chance to recognize the caliber of people who volunteered to make this experience possible for us runners. A special thanks to Emily Berriochoa, Paul Lind, and Andy and Monique Testa, all of whom so heartily welcomed us into aid stations and then so determinedly kicked our butts out the door again. To Wayne, who had the patience and good will to see me through so many miles to my first finish, it was a run I will never forget. Next time I’m sure you’ll think twice before following me down a cruiser dirt road. To Jeremy, who I’ve shared so much with in those mountains, no race could ever mean more. To Katie, who endures and supports while her other half has to be running, thank you and I love you. And to all of my other friends that I have met and have inspired me on these courses, you have made those moments so much richer and fuller than I ever could have imagined. Happy trails to all until next year.