The night before the 100K Vertical Challenge to benefit Two Top Adaptive Sports Foundation, another participant and I got talking about how all endurance events are pretty much the same. You start in a haze of excitement and adrenaline; lock into a pace and get into a groove in the middle; crash and burn and doubt yourself near the end of the middle; muscle through the beginning of the end; and then glide jubilantly to the finish.
What I realized at the time, but didn’t say: Most endurance events I’ve done in the past don’t require much finesse, only the will to muscle through the ugly end parts. Attempting to muscle through seven runs in icy, choppy conditions after skiing 100 runs throughout the day … well, this was going to be a bit different. Here’s how the day went down.
7 a.m. Wake up in Whitetail’s ski-patrol bunk room. Scarf down a Larabar and chug some coffee before heading outside.
7:30 a.m. Pre-race meeting at the bottom of Whitetail’s detach lift. The bibs, the boxes full of Clif bars and Gatorade bottles, the waivers signing away our lives—it all feels so familiar. We pose for a bunch of pictures and delight in the fact that we aren’t carrying armfuls of bamboo around, as we would be at the start of a patrol shift.
8 a.m. Board lift and head up to the top of the mountain for group photo. And then, we begin!
8:15 a.m. Whee! Skiing is fun and fast! My turns are pretty! My instructors would be so proud. My upper body is in the right place, I’m carving nice, finished turns and I’m taking full advantage of the beautiful hero snow beneath me. Whee!
8:30 a.m. Screw pretty turns. Everyone else is straight-lining down the mountain. I might as well alternate sliding turns with some occasional edging.
9:15 a.m. Whee! Skiing is fun and fast! I’m right on pace to finish 107 runs by the end of the day. Ten runs down!
9:16 a.m. Ten runs down means there are still 97 runs to go. Hmm.
10 a.m. The crowd has thinned out. I’m locked into a nice groove. Steve disappears into the woods to take care of some business, and I keep going. “I’ll catch up,” he says. Like hell he will, I think.
Noon: Thirty-five runs down. Still no sign of Steve, which suggests we are actually skiing at exactly the same pace. I’ve spent the past two hours riding the lift with other participants, mostly fellow ski patrollers and other Whitetail employees. I talked to a guy from Philly who heard about the event from a friend, and a 75-year-old dude whose goal was to ski about 50,000 vertical feet before stopping. I also got to watch Todd Love, a Marine who lost both his legs in Afghanistan, and other disabled athletes take to the snow on sit-skis, giving us all a huge dose of motivation, and reminding us why we were there.
2 p.m. I am, like Bon Jovi, halfway there. I spend a few lift rides alone, eating a sandwich I packed the night before (Contents of the sandwich: whole-wheat bread, red peppers, hummus, lettuce and sprouts. Other options: Hot dogs from the base lodge). Realize I’m still really, really hungry, and inhale my first of several bags of trail mix.
2:30 p.m. Debate how awful it would be to duck into the woods myself rather than hoofing it into Whitetail’s base lodge to use the restroom there. Decide it’s just fine to duck into the woods. I emerge from the woods just as the whole Park & Pipe crew (the guys who work on the terrain park) are getting off the lift. They look at me incredulously. I offer what I hope is a dignified nod as I click back into my skis.
2:35 p.m The snow is the softest it will be, and I’m starting to feel the effects of the previous 60 or so runs as I attempt to plow through it. The event’s organizer, a huge hulk of a dude whose radio call sign is “Heavy,” is cutting through it like a Mack truck. I feel like I’m stuck in a Miata.
5 p.m. Another stop in the woods, several bags of trail mix and a few hours later, I have fewer than 25 runs left. I have reunited with Steve. I’m not tired or sore, but my form is shot, and I imagine my instructors watching video footage of me skiing and saying: “I’m sorry, but I’ve never met this woman before.”
6 p.m. Free pizza. Is there anything better in the world than free pizza? Maybe eating free pizza on a chair-lift ride near the end of a beautiful day of skiing, with a view of a gorgeous sunset.
6:45: Run No. 100! Whee! The snow is setting up nicely as the temperature drops, and for the first time in my life, I’m loving the fact that it’s getting icy, giving me a boost of speed to catch up with the Mack trucks of the world. I realize that I can do something about my rapidly-degrading form, and find that reminding myself to stay out of the backseat, to drive forward with my knees and the big toe of my downhill ski, helps me stay in control in the slick conditions. Who would’ve thunk?
7:40 p.m. Run No. 107. We are positively slap-happy, and have taken to shouting the number of runs we have left at the top of the lift. We’ve met up with a patroller-friend also doing the challenge so we can tear through our last run together, cheering as we reach the bottom. We’re done! Done!
8 p.m. We click back into our skis to take last runs with a few other participants, to include 75-year-old Tom, who ended up shattering his expectation that he’d only ski 50,000 vertical feet by finishing the whole darn thing. Of the 25 people who signed up and the 22 people who started the challenge, 16 finished. Each of us wore the same expression on our faces upon finishing: “Oh, I guess I *can* do that.” Which is the reason we sign up for these endurance events in the first place, right?