If all the stars are aligned
Krissy Moehl Sybrowsky
"With a name like that, no wonder you are running so smart". This came at me in the first three miles of what turned out to be a perfect day. Race day morning I put my run in the hands of the stars; little did I realize that my stars turned out to be the people closest to me all day long.
My husband, Brandon Sybrowsky – the reason my last name instantly gifts me Wasatch wisdom, joined me as we climbed our way out of Kaysville through the morning lit meadows and to the top of the infamous chin scraper.
"That wasn’t so bad" I said as we reached the top; I checked my Suunto X3HR to make sure my heart rate felt the same way.
"This is the best view of the morning honey" Brandon shared. It was a great view and a perfect way to start the day, topping out on chin scraper looking out over the waking city below, all with the man I’d met there only three years before. There is a lot of magic at Wasatch for us and we got to revel in it all day long.
Coming into Francis Peak aid station we were laughing at how happy both of our Moms would be at the fact that we were running together.
There was a large group waiting for the two of us. Our family had four runners on the course that day: Travis Sybrowsky, Brandon’s brother, Hiroki Ishikawa, our friend from Japan, Brandon and I. It was then I had my first taste of a 100 mile aid station. I imagine it is much like a pit crew for the Indy racers – you come in and in a whirl of questions, chugging liquids, grabbing food and a pack you are out of there again. It almost takes your breath away. Cruising along in the wonderful solitude and serenity of the mountains is in complete contrast with a 100 mile race aid station.
Leaving Francis is where Brandon put me to work.
"In order to break 24 hours you are going to have to run this" and "let’s push through this section" were common things I kept hearing and was thankfully able to respond to. Having seen this part of the course with Karl Meltzer about one month earlier really helped as we climbed to Bountiful B, traversed thru Sessions Lift Off and Swallow rocks and descended into Big Mountain. There was a photographer on this ridge that snapped a picture as I kissed Brandon on the cheek; thankful for this star that kept me laughing, running and enjoying the day.
Big Mountain marked our first weigh-in and time to see Roch Horton and Catherine Mataisz the two instrumental in moving me through the aid stations quickly. This time I was a little more prepared for the whirlwind crew stop and really enjoyed getting to see everyone. My Mom poured water over my head because
"Roch told me I had to do this".
"She’s eating like a pig" Roch said as I chugged a Balanced and an Arizona Green Tea. Brandon warned me about mixing weird things in my stomach, but it tasted great so I went for it. I checked to see how Brandon was doing and noticed my Pa filling my bladder with ice. Awesome! It was so amazing having my parents there so excited and helpful.
After a bit of sunscreen from Roch on my cheeks and arms and a helpful reminder to keep cool through this next section Brandon and I walked out of Big Mountain with my pacer Jenny Uehisa. Unfortunately the heat and altitude got to Jenny quickly and by the top of one of the early climbs her stomach revolted and up came lunch. Jenny made the call and told us to go on and ended up having a great run down into Lambs. Brandon and I cruised along and kept cool with lots of ice from the aid stations. At Alexander Springs we witnessed our first bit of carnage. Sean Andrish was on a cot under blankets; something must be wrong because under a blanket was the last place I could imagine being.
The grassy, rolling inferno equated to lots of walking for Brandon and I. His constant positive (and somewhat sarcastic) comments kept things light and we made it into Lambs as part of the limited few not dealing with stomach issues. Our nieces and nephew met us at the bottom of the dirt road climb and motored up the hill ahead of us. My Dad washed off my legs (I’d taken a dirty fall), Ma cooled me off with water again and I kept eating and drinking. Roch joined us for a bit hiking out of Lambs.
"Are your feet alright?"
"Yep, I’m going to do this whole thing in the same socks and shoes"
Roch filled us in on the day’s events before turning back and I was surprised to hear about all of the lost stomachs over that last section.
Climbing up to Bear Ass Pass Travis’s comment came back to me "I wish this was an oxygen tank instead of a hydration pack" and made me smile. On the Monday prior to the race Travis, Trudi, Wade (my in-laws) and I did this section of the course so the climb was fresh in my memory. Within ten minutes of being on the trail something came into focus that didn’t quite register. Fellow Northwest runner Uli Steidl was standing in the middle of the trail and Scott Jurek was sitting on a rock sucking down a Clif Shot. Not quite knowing what to do I told him to keep it together and kept moving up the trail.
As we reached the top I turned and gave Brandon a kiss as he told me that he would get me to Roch and then wanted to chill out a bit. Roch was slated to pace me from Upper Big Water to the finish. I was bummed as was really enjoying all of our time together, but understood that the minimal training that he was working on was starting to take its toll.
The longest 3.1 miles of the course were upon us and as we headed up the paved hill. It was nice to join up with runner Jared and his wife/pacer Joy, two people I’d met at Hardrock earlier this year. Craig Holloway and Jenny were waiting for us near the top and walked us right into the crew stop.
Roch was ready to go and I sucked down (once again) a lot of food. My Ma and Pa were there and the grins on their faces, as I changed my shirt and drank, filled me with some extra emotion. Warm soup and an arnica leg massage from my buddy John Pieper were very welcomed and got me back on the trail feeling a bit refreshed. This is probably the prettiest section of the course and it was nice to have the fresh legs and mind of Roch along as we climbed out of there.
"Imagine a magnet at the top of the hill. Now picture a piece of steel in your chest"
"Is it weightless?"
"Totally weightless. You can make this steel bigger by it by eating, drinking, thinking positive thoughts, breathing deeply, standing up tall and opening up your chest. It will get smaller if you hunch over, get down on yourself and stop taking care of your body"
This visualization and constant reminders of it throughout the night were a piece of the helpful energy that Roch bestowed upon me. In every instance Roch had a story, cue or anecdote for what I was feeling and what I could do to keep moving forward. Along the ridge we caught up to Todd Holmes and pacer Joe Kulak. We created a train and moved into Scott’s Pass listening to the serenades of both Roch and Joe.
Down the hill to Brighton Roch brought me in on what felt like a toe-rope: constant encouraging words. I was starting to feel the miles and even though I tried to perk up for my stars, the crew could tell I was a bit low. In spite of my lack of energy theirs was immeasurable. Craig fed me homemade chicken noodle soup, John rubbed my legs again, Catherine calmed me down and Ma and Pa looked on somewhat anxiously. Carolyn (mother-in-law) told me that Brandon was about 15 minutes back. I told her to let him know that I was going to try to go win him a golden skull. As I rallied to stand, Jenny put chapstick on my lips, what a great feeling.
The last quarter of this race passed in an almost dreamlike state. I tried to focus on moving forward and doing what Roch said, but my mind wandered to how Brandon was doing and paying for Roch and Catherine’s gas. Climbing out of Brighton was the trial of the day and Roch got me through with a story about his family, a few ginger chews and wiping off all of the demons that kept attacking. At the top I got a much needed hug and as we headed down the other side we brought out the bright lights and focused on the task at hand. As we went through the aid stations Roch did all of the talking and I did the eating which wasn’t as "piggy-like" as before but coke and noodles got me through. What really started to do the trick was Clif Shots about every 40 minutes. It was amazing to feel my body rollercoaster through the calories. Up and as I’d start to go back down I’d put down another shot and up I went again.
We got into Pot Bottom and by my watch we left with one hour and twenty-six minutes to get to the finish line in time to break the 24 hour mark. We opened my drop bag and discarded as much as possible and headed out of there on a mission. Roch knew my ultimate goal and was determined (more than I at that point) to help me achieve it. I’d said if the stars were aligned my dream was to finish sub-24. My stars were aligned. My family and friends had stuck by me all day, had energy for me, fed me and cleaned me.
We cleared the second to last hill in 25 minutes and as we made the downhill turn Roch looked at me and said
"We have one hour to run five and half miles. RUN like you stole something!" and took off down the hill yelling "come on Krissy". We ran down that last hill like a run away train. Heaven help anything that got in our way.
"The police are coming, you gotta move Krissy"
We kept flying and I kept grunting. As we made the turn to the last climb of the day we power hiked, sucked down a shot and kept checking our watches. Finally the beautiful trail through the maples and scrub oak was upon us and we flew through it. I sucked on to Roch and when I checked my watch that read 4:44am I asked
"When we hit the road, how far to the finish?"
Within seconds the trail opened up and the road was staring me in the face. One mile to go and something took over. My stride opened up, my lungs filled and my eyes welled. I was going to do it! Roch started to drop from beside me.
"I’m trashed," he said.
"You’ve brought me this far, you are not leaving me now."
Then I could see the lights, the beautiful white lights that lined the fence along the Homestead. Roch surged and lead me onto the field, Catherine was at the far end and hopped alongside us as we ran and I could hear the cheers of my stars. My arms went into the air, my own yells drowned out by the excitement of others and we coasted across the line. I dropped my light and my bottle and as RD John Grobben came to give me a hug my Ma interrupted
"No, Wait. I get the first hug."
I moved around the group feeling the warmth of everyone’s hugs and getting the scoop on the rest of the runners. Brandon had taken a nap at Brighton and would be there in a few hours. Hiroki was running strong and Travis was on his way into Brighton. Finally, it felt so good to sit on that grass next to Roch.
131 of 230 starters finished the race that day before the 36 hour cutoff. One of the lowest percentage finish rates in recent history. Our group however had a 100% finish rate, Brandon, Travis, Hiroki and I all claimed belt buckles at the awards ceremony. I was also excited to see Sean Andrish get out from under the blankets and finish 10th and Scott Jurek get it back together and finish the Grand Slam.
It has taken a few days for this all to set in, to reflect and absorb it all. My goal to be the 5th and youngest woman in 25 years of Wasatch history to break 24 hours has come true. To accomplish a goal set nine months before, and all of the focus and energy that I, my family and friends put into this one day proved to be the key ingredients to aligning the stars.