2007 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

 

   
 
Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
 
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  THE GRAND TETON 100-MILE TRAIL RUN:
RACE INFORMATION & PRE-RACE ACTIVITIES  

FRIDAY, AUGUST 31

 
"We will do everything possible to help you finish your race.
- Lisa Smith-Batchen, one of the three race directors
 

 

Not many people have run the Grand Teton Races (GTR) to date. This is only the third year for the marathon, 50-miler, and 100-miler, but they will continue to grow because of the beautiful venue and the dedicated race directors and volunteers. Lisa Smith-Batchen, Jay Batchen, and Zach Barnett have a Very Good Thing going here and the word is slowly spreading.

I'm totally impressed with the management of this race and very disappointed my injured knee precluded me from running one of the races this year. I definitely want to return some time to run the 50-miler or marathon. I don't think I'll ever be strong or fast enough for the 100-miler -- with 40,000 feet of elevation gain and loss, even the 36-hour time limit would be hard for me to beat.

We didn't know much about the GTR until ten days ago when Jim decided to run the 100-mile race. I remembered its debut in late September or early October of 2005 was difficult because of nasty wintry weather that forced a course change to eliminate the climb to Fred's Mountain. The race date was moved up to the Labor Day weekend in 2006 and nicer weather made for more successful finishes in all three races. I vaguely remembered reading Rick Sandison's excellent report to the ultra running list serve about last year's race (in the archives on September 6), and it was very helpful to read and re-read it several times again this year in preparation for the race. Jim and I both had a lot to learn about the race, and quickly.

Since so few people have run it so far, I hope these journal entries and photos will give potential race entrants a better idea of the course and race "culture." It's tough but I think it's a "keeper" and will continue to attract an increasing number of runners.

Since I'm writing this entry several days after the race, some of these photos to illustrate various parts of the course are ones we took before the race and some are during it.

RACE MANAGEMENT & PHILOSOPHY

Although we've read previously about Lisa Smith-Batchen's successful double Badwater finishes and some of her other ultra running performances Jim and I weren't aware of her extensive list of running, triathlon, and adventure race achievements nor her coaching services. You can read all about her and her husband Jay's athletic accomplishments on their website, www.dreamchasherevents.com. We are totally impressed that Lisa and a female friend are planning a transcontinental run across the USA next summer from May to July, averaging about 50 miles a day. I talked with Lisa about that off and on during the race and her plans and level of confidence are truly inspiring.

Lisa and Jay are assisted by Zach Barnett in directing the three Teton races. The 100-miler starts at the Grand Targhee ski resort's Dreamcatcher's chairlift (shown below) at 6 AM on Saturday, followed an hour later by the 50-milers. The marathon starts Sunday morning. This means 100-milers have some company out on the trails during most of their race.

It became obvious to Jim and me very quickly that Lisa, Jay, and Zach care a lot about the runners and want as many to finish as possible -- not just because they said so at the runners' briefing, but because of the way the races are set up and managed.

  • The course is marked better than many races, which is a very good thing considering its configuration.

  • The aid station volunteers are experienced and knowledgeable.

  • Food and supplies at the aid stations are plentiful and varied.

  • There are medical folks (MDs, chiropractors, physical therapists, massage therapists, etc.) at the major aid stations and runners are encouraged to use their services to prevent race-ending problems.

  • Cut-offs are generous.

  • And the encouragement of race personnel before and during the races couldn't be better. Lisa coaches about 25 of the runners in this year's races, but she's as enthusiastic a cheerleader for the other runners as her "own."

You can learn more about the races at www.tetonraces.com.

Dreamchasers. These folks have their own big dreams and they want others to achieve their personal dreams as well.

THE COURSE

All three races share the same 25-mile "loop" consisting of three legs labeled A, B, and C, otherwise known as Fred's Mountain, Mill Creek Trail, and Rick's Basin.

Each section begins and ends at the Dreamcatcher chairlift, which makes for a busy aid station for most of the 36 hours the course is open! It's not as confusing to runners or crews as it sounds, however. Metal and plastic chutes were judiciously placed so runners entered and left in the proper directions each time they came through this aid station, which is to as the "main," "base," or "Targhee Base" aid station.

 

The 100-milers do the "loop" four times. The 50-milers do it twice. Marathoners do it once, plus an additional 1.2 miles at the end. Each loop has about 5,000 feet of gain and 5,000 feet of loss per loop, which is pretty significant. For the math-challenged, that's nearly 40,000 feet of elevation change in the 100-miler, more than most mountainous hundreds in the United States. Hence, the 36-hour time limit.

SECTION A: FRED'S MOUNTAIN (5.6 miles roundtrip)

The steepest and most difficult part of the course is the 2.8-mile section from the main AS at about 8,140 feet elevation to (almost) the top of Fred's Mountain at 10,000 feet, a gain of about 1,840 feet (the aid station is twenty feet below the summit).

Runners follow a winding dirt and gravel service road through a scenic valley (below) to the aid station under the chairlift at the summit, then turn around and run back down to the main aid station.

 

This entire stretch has two-way runner traffic (and bikes, hikers, and occasional race-related ATVs to take volunteers and supplies to the aid station).

 

The aid station is about twenty feet below the actual summit, so if you want to see the Tetons from the top you have to go off-course a bit or ride up the chairlift in the days before the race.

 

The views up through the valley on the southwest side of Fred's Mountain are beautiful, increasing in distance and magnificence as the runners ascend to the summit. I showed the 360-degree panorama in yesterday's entry. Here's another view of the Teton peaks from Fred's:

SECTION B: MILL CREEK TRAIL (14.4 miles)

After returning down the mountain to the base, runners follow another dirt service road to the west of the main aid station about a mile to the Sacagawea chairlift, up to Lightning Ridge, and down the Mill Creek Trail into the Teton Canyon. The photos below, taken from the chairlift, show some of the ridges in this section and the Teton Canyon in the middle distance (this side of the bluish-gray mountain):

 

At 7.5 miles into this loop runners reach an unmanned water-only aid station at the Cat Ski Platform. The Mill Creek Trail ends at the gravel Teton Canyon Road, shown below, which runners follow for 7/10ths of a mile to the Ski Hill Road Lower aid station. Our campsite is two miles the other direction, which was fairly handy during the race. This view looks toward the Tetons; the runners go the other direction (west):

Jim took the next five photos of the Mill Creek trail during his first loop in the race. I love the soft early morning colors:

 

 

 

 

The lower Ski Hill Road aid station is the only one other than Targhee base where runners can put drop bags. Jim had one here to use on all four loops in case I wasn't able to crew at this location each loop. Figuring out his drop bags for this course was entirely different than the point-to-point, out-and-back, and one-loop courses he's previously done.

This aid station (shown above on race day) is located at the lowest -- and hottest -- elevation on the course, about 6,600 feet. Runners now face 3.2 miles uphill on paved Ski Hill Road to the Cold Springs aid station. Although the speed limit is 35 MPH most vehicles travel faster than that. There are great views of the Tetons on the way up, but runners have to focus on safety and not getting fried on the exposed sections.

Jim took this picture of the road section on his first loop during the race:

At the Cold Springs aid station (below) runners get onto another trail for 2.3 miles that leads them back to the Mill Creek Trail. Crews can go to this aid station because it is on a paved road but runners cannot have drop bags here. I was originally going to crew for Jim only at the Targhee base, but when we decided to camp in Teton Canyon it was clear that I could meet him at both the aid stations on Ski Hill Road each loop between trips to the camper to check on the dogs -- very convenient for all concerned!

Meanwhile, runners loop back to the Mill Creek Trail, Cat Ski Platform water station, Lightning Ridge, and return to the main aid station on a two-way trail.

Twenty miles of the twenty-five in one complete loop are now done.

SECTION C: RICK'S BASIN (5 miles)

This is the easiest part of the course but can be the most frustrating because it is so runnable -- and you can feel guilty for not feeling like running it! Only the first and last 2/10ths of a mile has two-way traffic; the rest is a clock-wise loop of trails and dirt roads that sometimes wind so close together that runners see other runners going what looks like the opposite direction and think they are going the wrong direction.

The next views of the Rick's Basin area are from the top of Fred's Mountain and coming down on the chairlift:

 

I took the next three photos of this loop when Jim and I walked part of it on Wednesday evening. Jim didn't take the camera on this loop on race day.

 

 

There is another water-only aid station located 3.7 miles into this loop. Crews cannot go there. When runners get back to the main aid station, they have completed an entire twenty-five mile loop -- and get to go back up to Fred's next!

PRE-RACE ACTIVITIES

On Thursday and Friday Jim was busy with his drop bags but since he could place them in only two locations, the job was much simpler than for Leadville, Bighorn, and most other 100-milers he's done.

Since we always have at least a Plan A and Plan B for crewing and drop bags, Jim made sure all the essentials were in his bags for the aid stations in case the truck died again or for some other reason I couldn't be at all the aid stations every time he came in. I did make it to all of them, but almost missed him once when he came in earlier than I expected. He knew where his chair and boxes were, and went to them right away.

Runners in the marathon and 50-miler can pick up their packets in Jackson Hole, WY on Wednesday or Driggs, ID on Thursday. Hundred-milers must wait until Friday afternoon because they also have a cursory medical check (weight and questions about their health) when they pick up their packets at the Grand Targhee Resort before or after the race briefing.

Jim's packet pick-up and medical check went smoothly in a conference room at the resort. The Batchens also had lots of items for sale -- race clothing, hydration packs, bottles, gels and energy drinks, etc.

The olive green long-sleeved machine washable Merino wool SmartWool shirts for the ultras are very nice -- soft, lightweight, with a subtle design (less bright blue than appears in the photo below) on the front and back. We have never, ever received a wool shirt in a race! I'm impressed. No wonder they were priced at $50 if someone wanted an extra one!

The runners' plastic bags were filled with more goodies than even Leadville gave out: a pair of Injinji socks (which I'll get because Jim doesn't like toe socks), a water bottle, Engo blister patches, a coupon for free Patagonia socks and a good price on three types of Vasque trail shoes (which we can't use because it's for a store in Jackson and we won't be going back there), Hammergel and Recoverite, Clif Bar, Sharkies energy chews, Elete electrolytes, Salt Stick caps, UP Time energy supplement, Stop Pain spray, and sunscreen.

Again, we're impressed. Race management appears to have generous sponsors, including Montrail, Hammer Nutrition, Nuun, Nathan, Patagonia, SmartWool, and a local realty company that is the major sponsor (the female realtor is one of their most loyal volunteers, too). There were so many items given away after the awards ceremony on Sunday that even family and friends were invited up to receive them after all the runners who were present got something!


L to R, above: Zach Barnett, Susi Seidel, Monica Scholtz, Hans-Dieter Weisshaar, Philip McColl

We had fun seeing folks we knew while waiting for the race briefing to begin: Hans Dieter-Weisshaar and his lovely wife Susi Seidel; Pam Reed and Olga Varlamova, both injured and not running the race but helping out; Kevin O'Neall and his wife Ellen and daughter Erin; Eric and Elizabeth Hodges; Pat DeVita; Monica Scholtz and her friend Philip McColl; George Velasco; and Mike Evans. We also talked with Nattu, who is pacing Bob Becker in the 100-miler.


Jim, Pat DeVita, Hans, Elicabeth Hodges, Rick Hodges (green shirt)

The race briefing for the ultras was pretty short but long enough for Lisa, Jay, and Zach to give some last-minute course information and answer everyone's questions. They emphasized that the course was well-marked but may need some tweaking if runners have trouble anywhere. (I saw them add flagging to one spot near the main AS after Andy Jones-Wilkins, the first one running up and down Fred's at the start, did a little bonus distance an hour into the race.)


L to R, facing audience: Jay Batchen, Zach Barnett, Lisa Smith-Batchen

They also encouraged runners to use the services of all the medical people at the aid stations, especially the main one. They passionately spoke of their desire for everyone to finish the race and promised to do everything in their power to get runners to the finish line.

Gee, I can think of another race director who verbalizes his desire for everyone to "do more than you think you can do" but doesn't allow reasonable time limits for half or more of the entrants to do it! At the Teton races, they DO give you reasonable time to reach your goal. Thanks, folks.

We skipped the pre-race dinner because it was too expensive for us ($23 each for late entrants and guests) and had supper back at the camper. We finished getting all our clothing and gear ready to go in the morning and hit the sack at 8:30 PM. The alarms were set for 4:10 AM. Thank you to all the RDs who start their 100-milers at 6 AM and not 4 AM!!

Next entry: scenes from the first day of the race.

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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