Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Trudge: What Could Go Wrong? A Statistical Prediction Derived from Previous Research

The Twin Mountain Trudge is an 11-mile "classic" loop or 22-mile double loop footrace through the frozen alpine tundra of the Twin Mountain massif located toward the southern terminus of the Laramie Range within the eastern border of the Medicine Bow National Forest.  The geology of the area is characterized by the 1.4 billion year old Sherman granite outcrops that are common to the area, most notably the well-known "Vedauwoo" area centered around the Turtle Rock massif.

Winter weather in this area is typical of a sub-alpine climate though fierce winds, unlike any winds known anywhere else on earth, howl constantly and bitterly.  Snowfall varies from year-to-year, though averages ~42 inches per year.

So, given these conditions, why not run an unsupported footrace (no snowshoes or skis) in this remote, typically inaccessible area in January?

Thus, I shall begin a tale regarding my three years of trudge experience.  Let us begin with year one, 2009.

In the fall of 2008, I had heard tale of this crazy group of local runners called the Run W.A.R.T.S.  One of their leaders, a man by the name of Alec, circulated an email to a small selection of questionably insane people requesting their presence at a race known affectionately as the Trudge.  I intercepted this message on Facebook, decided it sounded crazy enough to try (plus free entry is always a plus for a broke graduate student) and I emailed Alec and signed up. 

It was then that I began to hear tales; horror stories really, about the cruel and epic Trudge in 2008.  The one when the second loop was canceled, the winner was on course for nearly three hours, and special t-shirts were made to commemorate the dastardly event.  Now, I had just pulled off the trifecta of the "Big 3" Laramie trail races in 2008, so I felt fairly confident in my abilities, but something about all that snow frightened me.

I showed up that morning to see a rag-tag crew of about 25 people all trying to stay warm.  We set off from the Blair Wallis Picnic Area and headed up the main Blair Wallis road.  Now, the road was clear and featured a nice hill after we turned up the Headquarters road.  I was clear of the pack, feeling good, a little shocked at the pedestrian pace.  I thought, "This ain't too bad."  About that time we were directed off the road and into the trees.  Smooth sailing, no mas!

At that juncture, we were down to a lead pack of four.  Of the other three runners, I vaguely knew one, Brian.  Brian was the previous year's victor, so I figured if I stayed with him, I'd be in business.  However, the other two runners, whom I did not know, had other plans.  They dropped the pace, and I decided to stay with them. 

Things were going well for a few miles after that; I even set the pace up the dreaded fence line climb (word to Alec, it CAN be run).  As we approached the infamous devil's loop, I was starting to realize that 11-miles in the snow is an entirely different ballgame from 11-miles on dry trail.  When we stopped to hole-punch our numbers at the start of Skeleton trail, I had to eat.  I stopped and munched a granola bar.  The other two runners continued.  It would be the last time I saw them.

Skeleton trail was rough.  I walked the last couple of climbs and ran to the finish.  I crossed the line "first" in 1:51 for the 11-mile loop.  I wondered, "did those other two guys head out for a second loop?"  Yes, yes they had.  They had finished the first loop 4 minutes ahead of me, then went out for a second (which they completed a minute faster than the first).  I was shocked, but also glad I had done so well against what turned out to be superior competition.  One of the runners was Nick Clark.  The other was Phil Kochik.  Wow. 

Me finishing the Trudge in 2009.  Yes, I rocked a Metallica shirt.  You know it!

Trudge 2010: Good 'Ol-Fashioned Butt Whuppin'

I will warn all comers: DO NOT RUN THIS RACE HUNGOVER!  I made that mistake, among many mistakes, last year.

Alec switched the start/finish up on us and had us begin on the Twin Mountain/FR 707 road.  Straight up a hill to start, then right into the snow.  The snow was a little heavier than in 2009, but someone on a snowmobile had been out on the course and packed down a track.  That happenstance fact saved my life.  I still struggled though.

After a year of grad school, poor eating, too much beer, and not enough running, I was woefully out of shape for the race.  And it showed.  I got my butt kicked from the get-go, was too tired to even knock back a shot of scotch at the aid station, and hobbled into the finish limping from an aggravated plantar fascia in 2:35.  I was disappointed.  A 44 minute gain in time was pretty horrible.  Thankfully, Patrick was there with Library brew to pick me up.  I used the elevator in the Anthropology building that Monday.  Stairs were not happening.

The uphill start of the 2010 Trudge. Unfortunately, that was the best I looked and felt all day.  Photo: Wyoming Tribune-Eagle.

Which brings us to the conclusion of our tale:

Trudge 2011: Why the %$#@ do I Keep Doing this Race?!

Third year, third starting line.  This time we began on the southern end of Blair Wallis road, conveniently located in one of the windiest areas in the entire mountain range (quite possibly the entire state of Wyoming).  I had again heard horror stories from Alec about the difficulty the course had in store for us this year, but his last pre-race email gave me the impression things weren't as bad as he had first feared; thus I left my big pack with the camelback, extra food and jacket, in the truck.  Alec is a dang liar!

We began downhill on the road for maybe a 1/4 mile.  This is where the fun began.  Into a wind-swept meadow we ran, only to come to a screeching halt in the knee-deep snow on the other side.  Less than half a mile in, I was immediately regretting my decision to participate.  On course with me I had my belt pack containing a 20-oz. water bottle, one black bean/sweet potato burrito, and one ipod furiously pounding out Cave In tunes.  Hindsight being 20/20, me and my lack of a jacket were under-prepared.

I spent the first half of the race trying in vain to develop a rhythm.  Impossible, thanks to the continuing knee-deep snow.  By the aid station at fence line, I was pretty frustrated.  I gladly accepted the shot of scotch and a handful of lemon cookies (the greatest things on earth!) and continued.  The irony of the whole day was the best I felt was on that stupid fence line climb.

Devil's Loop was a bitch, and Skeleton Trail nearly broke my spirits.  I was lamenting not having a knife with me, rendering me unable to slit my own wrists.  The last two climbs on Skeleton left me with nothing.  I could not take a step without punching through to knee-deep post holes and the sugary, sand-like snow under the crust made traction a bygone concept. 

Finally, I could see the finish, a fairly clear road, and little downhill.  I crested the top of skeleton ready to let FLY...only to be bitch-slapped in the face by the 40-50 mph winds gusting through the area.  That drained me of all hope and dignity and I finished the damn race out of sheer, stupid stubbornness.  I collapsed at the end, my back throbbing from the hours (yes HOURS) of being hunched over, trying to stay upright and moving forward.

The verdict?  11th place in 3:15, a 40 minute increase in time from 2010, and a 1:24 increase since 2009.  Which brings me to inquire; what the hell will happen if I choose to run this race again next year? 

I have run 40-45 minutes slower each year I've done this race.  With that probability in mind, next year's finishing time could be predicted to be in the neighborhood of 4 hours.  After that, I don't know, death maybe?