Sep 6, 2008

Race report: Grand Teton 50-mile Ultra

Mile 30


I DNF'd at mile 36..

I really don't feel like writing this report. I definitely have contradicting emotions, a week later. One one hand.. 36 miles is my longest run ever. and holy crap, I climbed over 7000 feet. That is nothing to spit at. At the same time, I'm very disappointed that I didn't finish.

The reason I didn't finish? Pure exhaustion. Sure, I was blistered and in pain.. but I could have kept going despite that. The main issue for me is that I was just too pooped to continue.. I was at the bottom of a hill, looking at a very difficult climb, it was after 9pm, and I wasn't sure that I could have made it. And as the light faded, my enthusiasm to try faded with it. I just didn't want to make that risky step into a dark forest when I wasn't sure I could come out at top.

In other words, my motivation was completely sapped. And I really honestly felt like I had pushed myself to the limits of my ability.. I still feel that way. So of course I'm disappointed in not finishing, but not pissed at myself..

It is the first time in my life that I can honestly say I saw the limits of what I am capable of. I now know what it feels like, and I can confidently state that there are very few people in this world who have honestly done that. Literally pushed themselves to the actual limit of their physical endurance.

But then again, 36 miles w/7000 feet of climbing is what I am capable of at my current weight and level of fitness. Had I trained more OR lost more weight, I would have finished this sucker. So what bothers me in retrospect isn't what I did on that mountain in Wyoming, it's that I didn't properly prepare myself while I was here in New York.

So I can go into a diatribe about how that's going to change and how things will be different next year when I go back (yes I'll be back), but I'll spare you.

Race Report

Once again, I used the micro-blogging service twitter to send out short updates of my status from the trail, as the race was going on. The archive of those updates seem to be better than any race report I can write.. so I'll post them here, and add my comments when they seem appropriate. Timestamps provided are in eastern rather than mountain time zone, so if you're interested, you can subtract two hours from each:

07:33 AM August 30, 2008 - awake, getting getting ready. 50 mile run in wyoming today, fun. watch this feed for updates from the trail..

08:10 AM August 30, 2008 - The 100 mile runners just started. They'll finish early tomorrow morning, or as late as 6pm.

09:51 AM August 30, 2008 5 minutes into my 50 mile. Steep hill.

The race consists of two 25-mile laps, the first 2.8 miles of which is a climb up Fred's mountain, from the base of Grand Targhee Ski Area to the summit. It has about 1800' of elevation gain.

09:56 AM August 30, 2008 Top is in sight. Damn, the air is thin up here at 10000 feet.

10:36 AM August 30, 2008 Just slipped and fell running down the steep dusty hill ouch

Mountains here in the east tend to be very rocky. This mountain was dusty. I am not used to dust. The low impact nature of it was very welcomed.. the slickness on this hill wasn't - and on an unfortunate step, I fell on my ass. Another factor was that the dust was very fine and got into my shoes, making things kind of abrasive down there. I had some problems coming down the hill and when I came into the aid station at the bottom, I wanted to take my shoes off and shake out dust, but as soon as I mentioned that I was having some shoe troubles, to my surprise, Lisa Smith-Batchen race director and accomplished ultrarunner, sprang into action. She actually wouldn't let me remove my own shoes.. she did it for me, noticed that I was bleeding, taped it up, and took care of me - all the while I was feeling very weird. I definitely did not feel worthy of this kind of treatment from anyone, much less someone like her. Suffice it to say, I had a few more interactions with her as the day went on and I honestly have never been more impressed by a person in my life. No BS. Lisa is an amazing person. I'll leave it at that.

11:17 AM August 30, 2008 Pam reed, ultrarunner extraordinaire, just ran by. So cool

I was a little star-struck. (: I've read her book, and it was just neat to be running in the same race as her.

11:51 AM August 30, 2008 At 6000' time to head back uphill. Mile 11, 39 to go.

I was still feeling strong & confident at this point.

02:36 PM August 30, 2008 Holy crap these hills are hard.

Mill Creek, the unexpected hard part of the race. This is where I crashed. From here on out, the race had turned into a slog.

03:23 PM August 30, 2008 Mile 21 really slowing down on the uphill

05:11 PM August 30, 2008 Fred's mountain again.. Reascending to two miles in elevation. This is gonna suck.

Starting the second lap here

07:25 PM August 30, 2008 Halfway up freds and I'm really hurtin. Passed the marathon point already.

Based on conversations I had, and reports I read, most runners, when they're tired, take 1hr to about 1:15 to get to the top of Fred's. I took 2 hours on my second lap. It was really painful, and I was looking forward to getting to the top, believing promises of "your whole outlook is going to change when you get up there."

07:26 PM August 30, 2008 On my way down fred's. I'm in serious pain

Unfortunately, my outlook didn't change.

07:59 PM August 30, 2008 After 30.6 miles and 7000' of climbing, I officially feel like I'm going to die.

I was sure I was going to drop from the race at this point. I was about to come into the aid station and was finished. I remember thinking that it would take a miracle-worker to get me back out on that trail.. which leads me to:

09:04 PM August 30, 2008 I don't know how she did it but lisa smith batchen got me out of that aid station when I was sure I was going to quit

10:48 PM August 30, 2008 Mile 36, down at 6000 feet. This next climb is really intimidating to me.

All I could think about on my way down the hill was "how am I going to get back up this thing?" For the last 20 miles, I was thinking non-stop about how badly I crashed on the last lap when coming up this hill.

11:17 PM August 30, 2008 This aid station has a cot.. OMg it feels good

I would still be in that cot if I didn't feel like I was going to freeze my ass off. It got cold.

01:11 AM August 31, 2008 DNF. Went 36 miles and climbed over 7000 feet. More importantly, I honestly gave this everything I had. Nothing to be ashamed of.

10:30 AM August 31, 2008 Steve's normal resting heart rate: 53. This morning: 85.

Thanks to all the wonderful people I met, including Olga, Meredith, and Lora among many others. And - the volunteers - you were AMAZING!! Of all the races I've ever done, you were the best I've ever seen. Seriously. Thanks!!

Anyway, in a year I'll be back to finish this sucker. I have a whole year to think about how unfit I was and how much that affected me on a difficult course like this, and I refuse to let it happen again. It should be fun. Too bad it's a whole year away.

Motionbased log
I wore my forerunner for the first lap, and you can see details about the course here:

Official results

Click here: and select bib#515.


  1. Steven: You did AWESOME! I'm glad you got to experience ultra running in an amazing location. You have a wonderful family and it was great you got to share your experience with them last weekend. That is very special. Take care and I hope your recovery is coming along well. -Larry

  2. That race is a BEAR. You did awesome and were in good company with the DNF crowd :) The 50 miler at the Tetons is probably as hard as the 100 at Rocky Raccoon. You will do awesome there, it is a fabulous first 100.

    Hope to see you soon!