Monday, August 22, 2011

Stage Two Recap: the Wounded Warrior

Today's crossing of the Continental Divide was magnificent. The elevation map of the route was fairly straightforward, looking much like the bell curve. Based on dinnertime and pre-start conversations, I was not the only only one intimidated by the climb/descent of Stage Two; even Max King, who was not pleased about his second place finish yesterday, was concerned about his ability to retake first on this particular stage. We would be climbing over 3,000 ft up a singletrack to Hope Pass, which lies at an elevation of around 12,700 ft, and navigating our way back down a steep, rocky trail on the other side. Once the tedious descent was behind us, we had another 6 or so miles of rolling trail though the forest and alongside Twin Lakes to the finish.

Three things worried me: The rapid elevation gain could lead to altitude sickness, Paul's ability to manage the technical descent with a sprained ankle, and, of course, my ability to stay upright.

Paul reported to the medical tent for an ankle taping in the early morning, and came out with a wrap so substantial that it would have kept a linebacker standing tall. The problem, however, is that he couldn't run with this 'cast' on, and the squeezing became unbearable just shortly after the start. So we stepped aside and removed tape until he felt some relief.

We had some ground to make up but the uphill singletrack kept people in a line, snaking up the mountain. So we just stayed steady, focusing on solid foot- placement, looking up at the jaw-dropping scenery whenever we dared to take our eyes off the trail.

When we summited, we took a couple of quick pictures and immediately began our descent. Paul was clearly uncomfortable, but we were cautious and controlled. Racers streamed past us, and Paul remained focused on getting down without incident, instead of letting his competitive spirit take over. As for me, I just stayed a safe distance behind him studied the backs of his shoes.

We didn't exchange words but I know we were both relieved to be down. The remainder of the run was a rolling, root-studded single track, so we weren't quite out of the woods yet (so to speak). It is typically when fatigue sets in or when electrolytes are low that people stumble, so I had been drinking and eating gels on a very regular basis. Since there were only two aid stations on this stage, I ran out of both food and liquid with about six miles to go. Not great. Thankfully, Paul's pack was still relatively full, so we shared water to the finish. Paul ran strongly after our descent, focusing his mind away from his discomfort, and onto the impending relief of the finish. He was an unbelievable warrior today.

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