Thursday, October 04, 2007

An Uphill Downhill Adventure Story

My car told me it was 13C when I jumped in. Far too warm to snow, but as I drove north on I-80 and I-84, I watched the temperature slowly drop. 12, 9, 7C.

I think I may have been watching the temperature drop a little to closely, because I failed to notice one of Weber County's finest lying in wait for me on the side of the road.

Once again, I was going too fast.

"Where are you headed?"

"umm... Snowbasin"

"...and what are you going there for?"

"a race"

"what kind of race?"

"ah ... errr ... a running race"

"License and Registration please"

Inquisition over, I accepted my ticket and continued on to Snowbasin to take part in the 8th annual Uphill/Downhill.

I'd been in town for several weeks straight - without any weekend quests to the desert or mountains and I was itching to get out on an adventure - where ever it might be. Unfortunately, all of my mates flaked out and prospective trips to both Moab and the Uinta Mountains never materialized.

I had learned of this race when I was flipping through the paper on Friday afternoon, searching for alternatives to my foiled plans.

After watching Lipstick Film's latest telemark movie on Friday night, I was still hedging whether I would run. In fact I told myself, I'd either go out post-film drinking on Main Street with the other kids, or do the race. I was feeling a bit too tired and off-color for boozing, so I went to bed early and half-heartedly set my alarm.

Back to the dropping temperature. By the time I arrived at Snowbasin, the temperature gauge in my car showed 3C, and yes, it started snowing a few minutes after I arrived. To be honest, I was a bit excited. A race in the snow would definitely be more interesting.

I like skiing Snowbasin. The main reason I like it is for the steeps. Unfortunately steep downhill pistes translate into steep ascents if you are running straight up them. And that's what the course of the Uphill/Downhill did. Straight up the piste from the base of the resort to the top of the Needles Gondola Express - via City Hill, Porky Face, Waterfall, Needles Run, Porcupine Traverse, and finally Sweet Revenge. Not up any smooth switchbacking trails, but straight up the piste.

Despite the conditions, a reasonable group of runners gathered at the start. Some runners decked-out in racing tights, and some like me in a full tracksuit with gloves and beanies. Standing around, shivering in the snow was uncomfortable. We were all relieved when the hooter sounded for the start and we could get our frozen muscles moving to warm up.

A few youngsters sprinted out of the start gate but the going soon got tough, and they quickly dropped back into the pack. It soon got so steep that it became difficult to continue running, and a hike/climb became the most efficient means of ascent. I was reticent to relinquish my running stride, as it felt like a cop-out, but with long walking strides I was catching a runner ahead, so I think I had the right idea.

The snow continued. Heavy, wet flakes came down harder and harder. It was becoming difficult to navigate the route of the race, which had been marked with blue flags. I was wearing Smith Threshold glasses with the clear lenses in, but they soon fogged-up and had to be taken off for any visibility.

Up the mountain, there was no trail to follow. I had to pick my own way through the long grass, and loose rock and gravel. At times I looked up from my dragging feet to see the leaders up ahead, which gave me some idea of which way the course turned next, but often when I looked up, all I could see was swirling snow and cloud. All the way to the lodge at the top where the snow had started to settle.

If the "run" up was more like climbing ... then the descent was like the Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling, but with 5km of it. The increasing snow, made the already treacherous task of negotiating the loose rock increasingly tricky. The more stable rocks were now being covered in snow making them slick land-mines. I slipped a couple of times, but thankfully didn't injure myself or roll an ankle. I fact, I took the route down pretty conservatively. That is, until I heard one of the ascending back markers cheer someone on just behind me. There was no way I wanted to be passed, so I told myself to concentrate and picked up my level of risk, and the pace.

The lower section of the course didn't have so much snow, but longer grass made identifying the hidden treasures lurking underneath much more difficult. Of course all the runners had the same difficulties, and I was able to increase my lead on the runner behind me. Unfortunately though, I couldn't quite catch the two leaders in the end, settling for third.

I ran this race in Pearl Izumi Syncro Float 2's. I've had these shoes for a few months now. I found them ideal for this race. They were lightweight enough for the uphill section, and stiff enough to provide protection on rough terrain downhill, particularly for my toes.

The Snowbasin Uphill/Downhill, despite its difficulty, is a fun 10km race to finish off the season. Now that I know what I am in for, I hope to come back next year and give it a real shake. I am sure my aching quads will have healed by then...

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