Saturday, August 23, 2008

El Patron's Perspective

The following is a race report from Luke Nelson. "El Patron" or big boss and course record holder in his first attempt at 50k.

It is imperative that I begin this guest post by thanking Ty for putting on one of the most amazing races I have done to date. El Vaquero Loco that I competed in last Saturday was my first attempt at an ultrarunning distance and I could not have selected a better event. The race itself started at first light from Cottonwood Lake. As we gathered at the starting line I was nervous, but there were plenty of veterans of the Vaquero who offered words of encouragement. The start was delayed for a few moments as we waited for last years winner Leland Barker to jog to the line, this turned out to be an advantage because every second brought more and more light to the early morning. There was barely enough light to see the trail, it was pretty chilly (note for next year- bring warmer clothes for camping and the start) and it seemed that from the start I was going to have a great race. The pace from the start was brisk as Eric, Christian, Leland, and myself surged to the front. After a few short seconds we started up the trail out of the campground and started climbing what for me, would be one of the most difficult climbs of the race. The first few miles of the race are all uphill and ascended quickly into the alpine, at the top of that climb the first of many breathtaking views opened before me. The trail then quickly descended into the basin below where I ran across the friendly volunteers of the first aid station as the hurried to there post. They weren't expecting runners that early and hadn't quite gotten to their site yet, none the less they were very friendly an willing to provide me with any thing that I might have needed. The next 4 miles of the race was awesome and extremely beautiful. The high mountain terrain, the early crisp air and the early morning light added together to create an amazing experience. Rounding the corner to the second aid station brought a perfect picturesque scene of a absolutely still mountain lake perfectly reflecting the mountains that surrounded it. Awesome!!! The climb out of the lake and the one that followed it were steep and difficult , but the views continued to impress. The next section of the race was a long and mostly continuos downhill that I quickly developed a love/hate relationship with: I loved being able to pick up the pace on a much appreciated downhill, but hated the fact that every step down would be a step back up on the second half of the race. Throughout the descent the views continued to amaze and inspire. Adding to the fun of the course were the several stream crossings that helped me get my "feet wet" in ultrarunning. I new that the half way point was quickly approaching when I ran in to Wray Landon heading the opposite direction who was leading the 25k that had started moments before. A few moments later the traffic on the trail made me feel like a fish swimming upstream as the rest of the 25k'ers hurried on behind Wray. I think I caught the race volunteers a little off guard when I hit the mid point aid station, but I was in a hurry to grab some of the fresh runners to help me maintain a solid pace for the rest of the race. Ty and the others quickly filled my bottles, I shoved half of a banana in my mouth left my long sleeve shirt behind and took off as quick as I could. A little to my dismay it was barely over a minute back up the trail when I ran into Eric, this led to a large amount of internal paranoia that would stick with me throughout the rest of climb. To my surprise the climb came to an end quicker than expected and the short descent back to the lake felt great on my heavy legs. The volunteers at the aid station at the lake were awesome, everything was very well laid out and the mouthful of m&m's I grabbed was a life saver, nearly as much as being able to fill up my two nearly empty water bottles that I had drained on the long climb. For me personally the next part of the race went very well because of the amazing scenery that I had been introduced to earlier in the race. The final aid station was much closer than when I caught them off gaurd in the morning and the pretzles they had were a wonderful treat. Shortly after the aid station came the last climb of the race which slowed me to a walk and took me right into the pain cave. It was difficult but short and upon cresting the climb I knew that it was all downhill to the finish. At this point I tried to push the pace because I was still running scared from having seen Eric so close behind me at the turnaround. I had been alone for quite a while but I kept hearing "steps" which I thought was someone chasing me down. About 1/2 of a mile before the finish I realized that the footsteps were the two uneaten hammer gels in the pocket of my shorts making just enough noise to keep my pushing the pace. The campground near the finish was a very welcome site and rounding the corner to the finish brought this great race to an emotional finish. The applause and cheering brought a smile to my face and relief to my weary legs. I have to add that having the cold lake to soak tired legs and the hot off the grill hamburgers coupled with the huckleberry sodas was a most outstanding treat. The Vaquero Loco was an amazing event and one not to be missed, see you there next year!!

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