Coach Ian’s Bootlegger 50k fit well into my race schedule, and although Las Vegas proper is about my least favorite place, I know the surrounding desert offers some natural, wild terrain, rich with history of Native American life, as well as mining days and Hoover dam building stories. The race was located in Boulder City – the only town in Nevada that does not allow gambling or prostitution – going back to the dam building days – there would be NO distractions to the dam builders, who worked one of 3 daily shifts that meant work was done around the clock. All this to say that Boulder City seems like a pretty normal place to an Oregonian.
Now, I am used to trees. Or at least shrubs that are taller than I am. This course had neither, yet it held it’s own beauty. It was a 25k loop run twice. Ian and I ran the most serious (for my “talent”) section on Thursday – a climb of about 3 miles and 1000 ft, much of it on loose, sandy, rocky trail, with the final portion being a series of switchbacks leading to a saddle where Ian stopped and pointed to many of the aspects of the race – “over there on the other side of that second drainage, see that trail? You won’t be on that, but just one over, that’s where you’ll be. See those ridges? That black one? So, you’ll come out from behind that black one and on your way to Mother aid station. And if you look over there, that’s the way to POW, the 3rd aid station.” “Uh-huh”. That’s about all I could say as I looked across the rugged desert terrain, feeling comfortable that I couldn’t get lost since there would be runners scattered all over the place within eyesight, cuz there were no frikkin’ trees!
We lit off again onto some sweet, yet very technical rocky trail. I love the focus that it takes to navigate such trickery, and we finished our little 6 mile loop with a few more stops and pointing to sections that I felt confident I would have no recollection of on race day – I pretty much look only at the 3 feet of trail in front of me at any given time during a race, since I like to stay upright.
Friday night I was lucky to meet some Flagstaff runners that would be racing – Eric Bohn, Jason Wolfe, Anthony Culpepper, James Bonnet, Brian Tinder, Shane Peterson – I’m always excited to meet the sub-culture pods out there – the little families we seem to become through our crazy sport.
I slept fitfully the night before the race. I was well rested, just worried about missing the alarm, but it worked, and I was up at 5:00. I ate white rice with banana, and drank some coffee. It was light at 6:00 when I left for the race, and quite chilly. Sam and Chad Ricklefs were there – Chad running his first trail race in years, and Sam, the ever supportive runner’s wife was there to crew him. I re-connected with the folks from the night before, and made friendly eye-contact with the defending female champion Paulette Zillmer – a very fit and engaging young woman, with a bright red shirt and pink shorts – she would be easy to keep track of, as would I, in my bright red Waldo skirt and yellow Sunsweet shirt.
At 7:00 am, Ian got us started after instructing us that the course was marked with orange ribbons and pin flags. The first mile was a perfect pitch downhill, that with even holding back, resulted in a 6:40 mile (humble brag). Paulette and another woman were in front of me, but heck, it was mile one. I didn’t need to get worried about anyone but me at this point. We turned onto the single track and began the long climb I had experienced two days before. It was extremely helpful to know what the climb was so I was able to pace myself. Paulette, in her bright red looked beautiful and graceful on the switchbacks above me, as she overtook the other woman. By the time I reached the saddle, she was out of sight, but I soon caught the other woman who stepped aside on the technical section. I flew along, very attentive and confident and having “inner” fun (on that kind of terrain, any exuberance may turn into disaster). As I flew into the first aid station (mile 4), I could see Paulette well on her way out. I grabbed a gel, drank some water, and lit off, not too fast, but honest. This back section was the most runnable – relatively flat, not horribly technical, and at times I could see Paulette ahead of me. The field was getting more spread out, and eventually I was following a man in an orange singlet, which in my mind became one orange flag to follow. Another runner came within passing range behind me, but decided to stay where he was. So, in relative silence we wound about the dry desert sand, creosote, drainages, and the occasional glance where I could see Las Vegas, and was glad I was where I was.
We ran up more climbs, and every now and then I would spot Paulette’s bright red shirt. Then she would disappear. We made our way to the 2nd aid station, down in a gully. I was informed that I was only a couple minutes back from the leader, which is what I was told said at aid station one, so at least she wasn’t growing her lead. I grabbed gel, drank some coke and enduralytes, then booked it out of there. The next section was more technical – ups and downs, ins and outs, then a section of trail that ran along the contour of the hills, with pretty short sections – run fast for 10 meters, then hairpin turn, another 10-15 meters, another turn, and then some steep switchbacks. It took a fair amount of mental and physical energy to navigate, but again, super fun! Finally, the dog leg section to the third aid station – I had already been outrun by the front men, but saw a few, and then Paulette – we exchanged encouraging words – and now I was just a mile and a half from the finish of the first loop. I grabbed gel again, and headed back up the trail. Near the out and back turn, James Bonnet came blasting out from seemingly nowhere, running the 25k that started 30 minutes after the 50k. Damn! I was hoping he wouldn’t catch me! With just a bit over a mile left in lap one, I looked up and saw that the last bit of the loop was a bit of a climb. Yikes. I needed to stop looking up. Finally summiting the last climb, I cruised down and to the finish of lap one. Ian was there, shooting film, asking me how I was feeling. I was actually feeling great! And Paulette was only one minute ahead now. My split for loop one was 2:23 – Ian had predicted I could run a 4:40-4:50 – so it appeared that it would be a bit difficult to hit 4:50, but sub-5:00 seemed reasonable, which would be good for a course record.
I stopped to drink a bit, then took off on the down hill beginning section. I started running hard, with a “game on” attitude. I passed a couple of men, and followed Paulette’s pink shorts, as she had shed the red shirt. Off to the left I noticed some orange flags on the other side of the road, so looked for the trail to take us there, but didn’t see it. Finally Paulette stopped as well as another man. I stopped. “Did we miss the turn?” I was pretty sure we had, and looking back could see runners turning. I lit back up the road, hoping that Paulette would catch me, as I didn’t want to take the lead this way. Within one minute I was back on course. I threw a glance back every now and then, but no Paulette. I didn’t know her, but hoped she hadn’t become super discouraged and quit. Finally on the switch back section of the long climb, I could see her. I was relieved, and ready to put it all out there now. The second time up the climb wasn’t much slower than the first, and I got after it on the technical section, all the way into the aid station. “You’re first girl, and 12th overall! You go, girl!” I thanked the crew there, drank some coke, grabbed a gel for the road, and vamoosed.
Now I was pretty isolated. I didn’t see anyone ahead, and when I turned back, no one behind. Every now and I then I slightly panicked, that perhaps I had missed a trail, and with no one to follow, I apparently was mistaken about “always being able to see someone”, but an orange ribbon would show up on the creosote, and all was good. Occasionally I would throw a glance back, looking for Paulette, but saw no one. If I was going to win, I wanted it to be by more than the minute we went off course, or I wouldn’t feel completely legit about it.
My Garmin kept clicking off the miles, and when I reached 23, I considered the “fast finish”. One of my key workouts, is the LRFF “Long Run Fast Finish”. They are great for creating a mental image for me. Just last Saturday I ran such a workout – 12 miles followed by about 7 at marathon effort on a hilly loop. So, I toyed with when to start the fast finish. Now seemed a possibility, but with the aid station coming up, I decided to wait, then mile 24 clicked and I thought about it again, but, rather easily talked myself into waiting for the aid station. I finally got there, drank coke, grabbed a gel, and THEN went after it. As awesome as that sounds, I didn’t really run faster, but I was more intent on keeping the pace, and throwing in some surges. I went back to that run from last weekend, and convinced myself that could push it more, putting myself onto the run from a week ago.
Eric showed up in my view, and I felt bad, knowing such an occurrence meant he was not having a good day. He held me off for a good mile on the contouring section, but finally relented, rather dejected, and I kept pushing myself, although the bounce in my step was substantially diminished from the first loop. I hit the out and back section and willed myself to run faster. Once at the aid station, the crew was super excited and supportive, getting me in and out quickly. Running back up, I finally met Paulette, who was now a good six minutes back, but looking good. We again encouraged each other, but even a six minute lead can disappear, so I stayed focused, and grunted and clawed my way to the top of the last climb. I was extremely happy with my effort – if I’m gasping and making animal noises at the end of a race, I count that as a success. And if I didn’t fall on this course, that was also a small victory. It looked like a 4:50 wasn’t in the cards, but sub-5:00 most certainly. A downhill finish is nice, as we can all look better than we feel and run pretty to the finish, and that is what I did, in a final time of 4:53 – good for the win plus a course record.
Paulette came in about seven minutes later, and was a gracious finisher. The Arizona group over all did well. Co-RD Josh Brimhall flitted about handing out meal tickets for burgers out of a burger truck. There was beer on tap to fill our finisher beer glasses. Ian was wandering between congratulating runners, handing out $100 bills (I received three for the win!), and trying to randomly prize someone with a Suunto watch. It was a fun atmosphere, but the cold wind finally sent me back to the hotel for some warmth.
I recommend this run. Las Vegas is reasonably priced for flying to and habituating in for a few days. The Hoover Dam is interesting, and one could throw in a trip to the Grand Canyon, or Red Rock Canyon right outside of Vegas. The run supports Miles for the Wild, rather than the pockets of the RDs. It is only in it’s second year, but from my experience, it ran seamlessly.
Thanks, as always, to Team Sunsweet Ultrarunning, Injinji Socks, Scott Shoes, Garmin, all the volunteers at the race, race management Casey Harney, Shad Mickelberry, Josh Brimhall, and especially coach/RD Ian Torrence for keeping me in the game.