Friday, July 10, 2015

WS100 - Things I missed in RR

Some other things I wanted to remember
o   shorts kept falling down after I loaded all the ice on my back.
After Robinson Flat I was loaded down with lots and lots of ice that continually melted and kept my shorts soaked - and cooled me as inteded.  But wat wasn't inteded was now the extra weight of the soaking and they kept wanting to fall down and I'd have to pull them up for several miles until I decided to take some stuff out of the shorts pockets to reduce the weight - which worked.

o   iPod/headset dropped after I transferred weight from my shorts to the vest but missed the pocket – turned around and hunted for it.
I got 3-4 GU and a ziplock back with my iPod and Headsets inside for when I wanted music - I tried to put all this in the big vest pocket over my shoulder without stopping but must have just stuck them between my vest and my shirt thinking that slot was a pocket.  After several 100 yards I realized my mistake and had to go back and forth on the trail a few times until a runner told me he'd seen the zip lock baggie way way back farther than I was looking - finally found them and could move on again.

o   Guy sitting on the side I went back to help with a bunch of my ice.
I think before Millers Aid Station there was a guy sitting on a rock on the side struggling - I asked how he was and he mentioned feeling dizzy - after taking a few steps further I turned back and offered him some of the ice load I was carrying - he took some but not near enough upon reflection - I wish I'd emptied a bunch of my ice cold waterbottle on his head to help him a little more.

o   Aquaphor is NOT for feet.
Recommended to me for chaffing - I bought some off Amazon and it arrived a few days before.  I put one in my pocket then before the race I used it instead of the Glide I've been useing lately for races.  As it had the appearance of Vasaline I incorrectly thought it was water repellent and used not only where chaffing might be of issue but also on my feet as I would have done with the Glide.  The stuff worked 100% for chaffing but for the feet it had exactly the opposite effect of what I wanted.  Marketting words describe "lets water in but doesn't let water back out" - that not what I wanted running through many streams and rivers and with continual ice melting on me dripping down to my feet.  At Devil's Thumb the medics pulled off one of my shoes and socks and found a water logged foot - like I'd been in a pool of water for the last 10 hours solid.  Nothing I could do about it at that point so I just ignored any further pains in the race and did not want to see what another 14 hours of running on a water logged foot would do to the feet - deal with it after the fact.  The aftermath was 6 toe-nails that will likely be lost after the race and a couple dozen blisters of various size all around that needed to be drained the next day to allow for walking without so much pain.  Next time - Trail Toes - comes with high recommendations.

o   “I Love You” at Last Chance when a girl dumps ice cold water on my head.
The words just rushed out of my mouth as the refreshment of ice cold water runs off my head down my shoulders and torso.  What a way to cool me off.  4-5 girls are attending to me at the cooling station - The odd question from one of the ladies I couldn't figure out at the time and just stared back in confusion "have you had brazilian" but a couple different ideas on what was meant came to me later.

o   Splashing around in the river before Devil’s Thumb.
Standard advise is a few minutes in the rivers is well spent to cool off.  I didn't go all the way in but got up to my shorts and splashed around to cool everything else off.  Then then feet hurt right after getting out of there - feet were getting blisters.

o   Sneak peaks at the gorgeous views along the ridge.
Sort of did a horseshoe path along a ridge from Watsons Monument at the top of the hill at Squaw Valley around to Cougar Rock (a Rock that looks like a Cougar) about I'm guessing 15-20 miles later and could see across a canyon all the way back to where Watsons Monument was many miles before - beautiful view.

o   Climbing from Duncan Canyon is the hardest (not).
First Canyon between the Duncan and Robinson Flat aid stations is up at 7000' elevation so a guy chatting behind me as we were towards the end of the climb suggested this was the hardest climb to be seed all day due to the elevation.  I was thinking no-way having climbed two others during training camp that seemed FAR harder.  Later as I fell apart sorta on those two climbs I remembered I recall thinking how that guy was so so so wrong.

Other topics to be filled in later:
o   Pit Crew at Robinson Flat.

o   No my Other Hat.

o   Aid Station Volunteers are Awesome!!!

o   Lost 8 lbs – “normal”

o   HR Data in the race

o   Flying Downhill, slogging uphill.

o   Garmin died at 80 – Wore John Loftus’ that died at 95.  Patched together first 80 on my watch + 15 from John’s watch that I was wearing then for the last 5 I patched Andy’s watch that Ryan was wearing to the finishline.

o   Garmin Data and reflections – Moving Time, Walking Time

o   Recovery

o   Good, Bad or Meh on gear selection

Western States Endurance Run - 2015

As most of the first words I see from other racers – I will start with a lot of thankyou’s.  The words won’t capture the gratitude I feel to so many people.  Most especially my wife who had to spend many lonely Saturday mornings as I trained this year and had the biggest cheer that always gave me a smile no matter how I was feeling at every sighting along the race and even gave me kisses at most aid stations which must have been incredibly gross from her perspective J.  Then my Dad who lives near the finish and has sat through 4 lottery readings – even two alone as I was watching on the computer from Texas.  Then pre-race as I’d visit on my way to training runs on the course he scouted out all the crew aid stations for providing support during the race.  My son Ryan who I gave the task of pacing the finishing leg and he took his role very seriously several times coming home late from work and asking to go for a run to get used to climbing up and down hills in the dark.  My brother Andy and friend John Loftus who traveled from Seattle and Laguna Beach to pace with me and keep me focused on the prize at the end.  The rest of my crew who also bussed around all day and night across the Sierra Nevada – sister Terri, niece Judy, sister Shirley.  Several enthusiastic sideline cheerers including Grandma Sue, members of Team Diablo who taught me so many things over the last few months on how to tackle this world famous grand daddy race of them all.  Many who were following along online – Kaylee my daughter whose flight out here from Dallas was cancelled but tracked my progress all through the day and night – reading texts she had with the crew my favorite was “Go Dad Go!”, Running Friends who had a facebook thread tracking my progress all day and night, Dennis Hoagland – a coworker/friend than has run this race a couple times when he was the same age as me and answered my many questions and provided a sounding board to my strategy ideas.  Bryan Lewis – another coworker/friend tracking along from Houston and keeping my Houston co-workers in the loop on how I did.  Kevin Sawchuk – who’s been a great running partner up and down Mt Diablo a few times and provided a nicely place shove out of his aid station at Michigan Bluff.  So many other well wishers on-line or who sent me text and emails of encouragement and congratulation.  Of course all the volunteers and race organizers who put on a professional race and made me feel very cared for at every aid station.  And other runners out there that helped provide encouragement.  There is so much gratitude I feel after this race to all that helped to make it happen unlike any other event I’ve ever done.

So backing up a little – June, 2008 – I was a couple years into my adult onset running (disorder?) phase of life – I’d run a few marathon and had some successes in road marathons and really enjoyed the runner lifestyle whether the health benefits, community of cool people, adventures of the running or the need for adrenaline boots to feed my adrenaline junky nature – it was all there and I loved it.  At the time I was still on the quest for speed – to get the fastest marathon time I could - but at some point I knew age would make speed harder to get and I’d need a new quest.  A common thing said among runners is when you can’t go faster – go farther and those words resonated for me.  So in this June, 2008 – there was a family reunion back at my Dad’s place in Auburn – his back deck looked up towards the mountains where the smoke of a forest fire far away could be seen.  There were articles in the local paper about a race that was supposed to go through where that smoke was getting cancelled and somehow I got a program for the race – I think my Dad gave it to me – and I read it and dreamed a little – one of my morning runs ran I chose to go down to no hands bridge and back where I read a sign pointing up the trail “97 miles – Squaw Valley”.  A couple years go by – I’m able to get itsy bitsy bits faster with lots and lots of effort but the plateau of improvement was there and the quest for knocking off such minor slivers of time wasn’t driving me so much anymore.  Somewhere along the way I looked up what it took to get into Western States and educated myself – built a little mathematics model to predict how long it would take me to get into this race and could project because of the race’s increasing popularity and limited participant size it was going to get harder and harder each year I waited so if I ever wanted to do this race – I better get this quest started – starting entry in 2011 I figured I had a better than 50/50 shot of getting in and running this race within 5 years as long as I could keep putting my name in the lottery.  So that’s what I did.  The lottery rules changed each of the 4 years I entered from 2011 through 2014 which appeared to try to restrict/reduce entrees into the lottery but it seemed to have the opposite effect.  First they cut the number of races that could be used as qualifiers for entering the lottery, and then they forced longer distance races cutting out shorter 50 miler qualifier races – but the more the restrictions it seemed the greater the general desire to get into Western States and the entries into the lottery kept growing and growing.  4th year December 2014 after running my first 100 miler to achieve the qualifying requirement I had earned 8 tickets in the lottery for entering it 4 years in a row under the latest new rule of doubling the ticket count for an entrĂ©e each consecutive year – my odds were still at an unlikely ~1/3 level – I got lucky and I’m in for 2015 Western States – woohoo!

The timing could not have been more perfect.  I ran a victory marathon the next day after the lottery win in Sacramento nearly at PR speed so my fitness was good.  I’d recently accepted a job transfer from Houston to the Bay Area and was moving in January which played well for training purposes to have trails and hills and mountains and even the Western States course just a few hour drive.  There was a lot of work to do and things to learn but 6 months between the lottery and the race seemed enough time to rise up to the challenge.  I needed to transform myself from basically a flat lander roady marathoner into a long distance trail runner proficient at steep climbs and descents with altitude and heat.  You might think from Houston I’d at least have the “heat” variable nailed but I’ve had mostly epic fails in hot races and in my mind heat was a major weakness for me.  My successes as a marathoner typically came with minimal adversity – perfect weather conditions on easy flat or downhill courses – I had good control over other variables like pace or fueling/hydrating and got to think of myself as good at running marathons – with increased adversity such as heat or hilly courses or headwinds or having to work though something unexpected my tendency has been to underperform – I’ve heard some runners say when adversity is greater they perform better – that ain’t me - I’m generally a fair weather runner.

Western States is no marathon – although I’ve done some ultramarathons and a couple ironman I never could seem to get races any longer than a marathon “right”.  Issue like hydrating, fueling, tripping and breaking my ankle once, chaffing, lack of hill adaptation caused one DNF, or in the one and only completed hundred miler a case of major discomfort the last 1/3rd of the race and weeks of recovery from monster hemroids (yeah TMI - sorry) – again I never seemed to get these ultra races right.  Also I never really tried all that hard as the ultramarathons I’d done were just the means to an end – get my name in the lottery for Western States – none I had done were major performance goals in and of themselves – just needed to finish them and get my name in the hat.

Western States is a goal race – a bucket list goal race – a one time shot not likely to every happen again.  Once in I had 6 months to get educated on how to do it and get trained to run this very different kind of running than I’d had experience to do.  December we sell the house in Houston – I run a swan-song marathon in my hometown for the last 1.5 decades on new years’ day – I score my first “check” off the bucket list for 2015 winning a marathon - and we load up all our stuff in a moving van to go into storage and load the pets and our temporary living stuff into a motorhome and head west to California.  The trails are my new running grounds most miles even for stops along the way – the hillier the better.  In California the first two months until mid-March we are in a hotel not far from Mt Diablo as we househunt.  First weekend in the hotel I find a trail to climb the thing and set out one Saturday morning early to charge up and down it – going down was a particular challenge – I had no idea how to do it – descending 3000’ on trails was something I’d never done before and I ended up making up a stutter step method to one foot or another that sorta worked but I had sore knees for the rest of the week.  I kept at it and got tips how to run downhill and in all climbed to the summit of that mountain 14 times before race day and by the end the knees didn’t hurt at all after.  I had some magnificent training all around the bay area plus a few 50k tune-up races I drove to in Marin County, Reno and one up and around my Mt Diablo.  I took one weekend to fly out and meet a friend (Dave LaTourette) to run across the Grand Canyon and back in ½ a day – what a total blast that was and my 2nd 2015 bucket list item to check-off.  That would be my longest training run pre-Western States at about 48’ish miles – (done on the month of my 48th birthdayJ).  I ran the last 70 miles of the Western States trail in the 3 day labor day weekend training camp with a lot of time hanging-out with Oleg Khryashchev who’s just starting his quest into Western States having just run his first qualifying race for next year’s lotter.  For some reason I was trying an exercise in futilely to keep up with Kaci Lickteig on the Foresthill to finish portions of the run the 2nd and 3rd day - I didn’t really know here except recognized her name from UltraRunnerPodcasts that I liked to listen to and knew she was a top 10ish contender – as she ended up even a podium finisher at 2nd place lady on raceday I feel a little better failing to keep up with her.  I got to run most of the rest of the course from Squaw Valley to Robinson Flat with Team Diablo a few weeks before the race.  Trail running is fun – at least living in the bay.  I had no appreciation of it living in the Houston area as trail pickings were pretty slim – but there seems no end to the sights to be seen in the bay.  My co worker Dennis I mentioned before got me plugged in with Team Diablo – lots of great runners with a plethora of Western States experienced that were more than happy to share their stories and experiences and advice to the newbie flat lander and I soaked it all in grasping for every nugget of wisdom I could gather from their words.  I joined up with a group that met on a track every Tuesday 6am to do speed workouts to get to know more of the local runners around.  Someone pointed me to an App called Strava that also proved a great way to connect with a few runners around and occasionally fed my competitive drive to knock down some course records in strava segments which was a fun distraction on some lonely morning runs.  Running community in the bay area rocks!

In all for the first ½ of the year training for and racing Western States I’ve climbed over 230k’ of elevation – much more in 6 months than all the prior 47.66 years of my life, also I logged ~1550 miles I’d guess 80% on trails in 262 hrs of running – that’s both the most mileage for 6 months for me ever and certainly the slowest average speed ever at 10+ mpm as trails and hills are just not as fast as flat roads.   Fitness wise I felt ready for the race.  But I knew fitness is really a secondary variable for running a good 100 mile Western States.  Many of the other variables that in some ways were more important I was very inexperienced with and knew a lot of things could and most likely would go wrong.  Fueling, hydrating, heat management, altitude, pacing – especially large descents and climbs for the canyons, and just putting up with the mental grind for so long were new territory for me.  Largely these were things I just couldn’t practice near to the extent that would be demanded on race-day so I had to rely for many of these things on strategies I picked up from others in dealing with these rather than personal experience.  I knew things would go wrong.  Even experienced 100 milers say there is rarely a race where things don’t go wrong so for an un-experienced newbie with so much untested guesswork in my raceplan – I just had to expect things to go south and hope I could figure a way around the challenges.  Unlike a marathon where I feel so much more in control and know what to expect even know rather predictably how I’m going to feel throughout the race – for this race with so much less control – it was nerve racking – but also very exciting.  I was both terrified and delighted staring up the mountain on race morning at what was to come.

Ok I’m sure any reading this is ready for some “race” in this race report but before I get to that I will first set up with the “plan” for the race.  Here are a few of the highlights of the plan:

CREW:  Support crew along the course – There were 7 – my wife and son (daughter was planned but as I mentioned her flight got cancelled and she didn’t make it), 3 siblings (two sisters and brother), my niece, and my Dad.  We had a crew meeting at my Dad’s house Sunday night after most everyone arrived travelling from afar and I laid out the plan on the powerpoint slides I’d devised for them to support and the things I wanted them to have available for me at each aid station.  It was really important to me that they all have a good time and not have the day all about me.  In the end after running through the plan and making a couple adjustments the final plan was a single vehicle for up to all 7 (my wife reluctantly put her 10 year babied Expedition up to the task) hitting Robinson Flat, Michigan Bluff, Foresthill, Rucky Chucky, 49 Crossing, No Hands Bridge and the finish.

PACERS:  John Loftus is on year 2 of his Western States entry journey having his first lottery drawing last year and has been a friend back to 2007 close to the start of both of our adult onset running journey – he’s provided many exciting moments as I’ve watched his journey with the most vivid for me from a computer screen as I’m home injured he nailed his first age group win at the Boston (fricken) Marathon.  He asked right after the drawing win to be a pacer and I was honored and excited to have him there.  I gave him the Cal Street leg which goes from Foresthill – the first place pacers are allowed – to the river crossing at Rucky Chucky with a little adder as I asked him to jog up to Bath Street to meet me at the trailhead before the aid station – so from mile 60 to 78 or 18 miles.

Andy – my big brother – he’s an athlete – swimmer, skier and a wanna-be ironman.  Hopefully his third attempt at Tahoe Ironman this year will be the charm after a DNS (too busy) and a DNS (race cancelled due to smoke) turned fatass (as he attempted the race anyway without race support) that went DNF with a midbike leg bike theft.  But he’s not really a runner – but running with my brother was too cool an opportunity so I took some risk he could figure it out.  I teased him a couple times that he better be able to keep up with me and made it know if I dropped him before the last aid station he’d be stuck as the rules don’t let pacers leave aid stations without their runners.  Secretly (don’t tell him) I’m still holding a little grudge for him wiping my ass in a little impromptu 1-1 race in the San Juan Islands back in my college days and dropping him on 80 miles of tired legs could finally be my payback J.  Andy pacing is from Rucky Chucky river crossing to 49 crossing - miles 78 to 93.5 or 15.5 miles.  I think he mentioned he’d run a 9 miler recently at 12 mpm and felt ready – this didn’t give me really high confidence.

Ryan – my son – also an athlete – but his focus is weight lifting with a little cardio sprinkled in here and there.  He did fine the last 20 miles of my qualifying 100 miler but I was walking/jogging all of that (with aforementioned discomfort).  I got him on some trails around the house and we even ran the 6.5 mile stretch he’d be pacing me on Father’s day the week before the race – but still he struggled on the run – it was a hot mid-day run vs the race would be in the night so he wasn’t worried by that struggling but I was a little - if I was running fast at the end of the race I really wasn’t sure he could hang and told him if I had to drop him he should be OK with that and he said he was.

FUELLING:  Target was 200-250 calories per hour.  Plan was 700 calories of Perpetuem mixed in a 20 oz bottle to get me started for a few hours then some Ensure at certain aid stations with more perpetuem either mixed from power in drop bags or by my crew to fill in the gaps.  Eventually I was told by the experienced I would be totally sick of that stuff so whenever that happen I was going to figure out what looked good at the aid stations and chow down whatever calories I could not take with perpetuem.  Also I had Caffe Latte Cliff Shots always handy as back-up which is always my go-to for marathons.

FLUID:  I was planning to drink on a schedule 20-24 oz/hr and up it to 26-28 oz/hr as it got hot but then listening to all the hyponatremia warnings especially at the runner meeting the day before I decided to listen to the advice of the race and switch to a “drink to your thirst” strategy although still kinda watching the volume/hr.  I started with a 20 oz bottle for water in one hand with the fuel in the 20 oz bottle in the other hand.  I knew this wasn’t going to be enough water to get to the first aid station which was the longest stretch between aid stations at 10 miles away with a big slow climb at the beginning but I couldn’t come up with an easy way to carry more volume so decided I would take a risk and drink from the streams when needed for that first section.

HEAT MANAGEMENT:  Race temperature projections went from hotter to average temperatures towards the last day or so – even average for Western States is still pretty hot.  With the high forecasts and my historical poor performance in the heat I did all I could think of to acclimate.  I ran the heat of the day as much as I could and learned to endure sitting in a Sauna – I’ve never really done that before – and even bought a space heater to heat up the room in my house with a treadmill and would run in sweats in the heated up room several time to get my body acclimated to the heat in the last few weeks.  The race was still hot but highs of 90s are better than highs of 100s and start temps in high 50s at sunrise is better than 60s.  My strategy for the heat was basically to avoid getting hot.  Up to Robinson Flat I planned to use every water crossing to splash myself with water and dip my hat and fill my hat with ice at the aid stations.  At Robinson Flat I had a bunch of cooling cloths to put on – shirt, arm coolers, bandana, hat with ears, a vest with bladder for my cold drinking water and extra space in the pocket I could fill with ice to melt onto me as I ran – an extra pre-frozen water bottle I’d use to keep everything wet and cool as it melted in my hand.  I’d heard all aids stations are stalked with lots of ice so the plan was to refill as it melted and keep cool through the hot part of the day which I figured would last through Foresthill then I’d dump all that stuff and switch back to the two bottle system again.

ELECTROLYTES:  The perpetuem have me about half the 400 mg/hr Sodium recommend dosage I’d read somewhere so I planned either S-Caps or NUUN to supplement the balance.  I know there’s a lot of individual variation on what’s needed but I didn’t really have a good basis on what was the right amount personalized for me so I was just going to target this recommended dosage.

PACING:  All anyone ever says on this is start slow – take it almost ridiculously easy until Foresthill where the good easy running trails start.  My plan was to cap my heartrate at 140 bpm (for marathons I run just under 160 bpm average) which should keep me in the fat-burning kinda realm and not too aerobic.  I had a laminated pace sheet with Early/Late projections at each aid station I’d devised for 20 hr or 24 hr finishing somewhat even-effort splits for the whole race and I was expecting to be close to the 20 hr splits at first and likely fall off in the back half where something would inevitably go wrong and hold on to the 24 hr mark for silver no matter what.

OTHER SUPPLIES:  I had a little medical supply with bandaids and tape and spare nipple bandaids if needed.  I also carried spare toiletries and an iPod/Bluetooth headset for tunes.  I threw in a few Advil in case I wanted some.  Also I had a jar of Tums to settle the stomach.  I wore Race-Ready shorts and in my pre-race spreadsheet had a plan for each and every one of the 7 pockets of storage plus the pockets in my hand-hold bottles.  I deliberated the shirt choice long and hard and wanted to incorporate a Team Diablo shirt but ended up falling back with starting with one of my two red shirts, switching to the cooling white shirt that I’d modified cutting off the sleeves at Robinson Flat then back to my other most favorite red shirt that can be seen in most all of any finishing picture you can find of me for races going back a long long time.

Ok – enough preamble – let’s get on with the race already.  But I’m tired of writing right now so I’ll have to come back and add the race later J.


5 am I line up staring up the first 2,500 foot climb.  There’s just a hint of light in the sky from the coming sunrise in about ½ hour in the air.  Temperatures are a comfortable high 50s.  The countdown is done and we’re off.  Some of my crew climbed up the hill a few hundred feet for a last cheer.  After a couple turns most everyone shifts to walking for the long climb ahead.  62 minutes later I reach the Watsons monument at the top and the trail shifts to single track and the running part of the race begins.  For several miles there is a lot of passing and being passed as people settle into their own speed.  The sun is up and a little warmth begins.  Initially I was worried there would be no streams to refill my bottle after I’d emptied as all snow appeared to be gone that was there a few weeks ago when I ran this and several places I remembered streams were gone – but after a couple miles there were streams and I dipped my had and splashed my shirt and refilled my bottle at the cleanest looking flowing stream.  I got pretty good at dipping my hat to catch some water and pouring it over my head with just a few seconds of stopping.  10 miles in for the first aid station:

10.5 miles; 101st Place, Lyon’s Ridge Aid Station – refill water bottle and go with no stopping.

Rolling hills along a ridge line until next aid station.  Beautiful views down the valley and back to Watson’s monument.

16 miles; 101st place, Red Star Ridge – drop bag get Ensure which I guzzle and arm coolers which I slipped on.  Loaded my hat with ice as it was getting warm and I’m off.  3 minutes at aid station.

Here there are more rolling hills along a ridge line.  I trip on something at one point and fall full body forward but fortunately no injuries at all as the path was soft smooth dirt where I landed.  Drop down about 1000’ before the next aid station.

23.8 miles; 91st place; Duncan Canyon.   Dan Burke is at the aid station and gives me a shout-out.  I get a good sponging down with cool water and again fill my hat with water – time for Canyon #1.  2 minutes at aid station.

A couple miles more and I’m at the bottom of Duncan Canyon where I jump in the water and get everything cool and wet then start the climb.  Then the climb out – most isn’t so bad but there’s a steep part in the middle of the climb that is a grind – a gut on the climb is saying this is the hardest canyon of them all because it’s at elevation – I’m not sure I believe him.

29.7 miles; 88th place; Robinson Flat.  The whole crew is here and I spend time changing my gear to handle cold water.  Ice everywhere – in bandana, vest, vest bladder with the water, bandana, hat – I leave the aid station kinda coldJ.  Crew did it all perfect – felt like nascar – and I got a nice good luck kiss from my wife in my send off.  7 minutes at aid station.

The next few aid stations through Last Chance are pretty much on plan.  The ice refilled at each aid station is keeping me cool despite temperatures up approaching 90s.  I stop to help one guy whose getting light headed and give him a bunch of my ice to cool him off.  I’m really not feeling much heat at all.  But all the water dripping down did give me shorts issues for a while as they kept wanting to fall down – shifting some weight out of the pockets into the vest seemed to fix that problem OK.  Here’s splits for next few aid stations:

34.4; 94th place; Miller's Defeat 12:17pm – 3 minutes at aid station

38; 96th place; Dusty Corner 12:57 pm – 4 minutes at aid station

43.3; 88th place; Last Chance 1:48 pm – 8 minutes at aid station (w/ the races one and only pit stop)

After the training run I identified the stretch from Last Chance to Foresthill to be the make or break for this race.  3 canyons with little break between – they killed me on the training run – I feared them more than a little – here’s where the race gets hard.

Drop off into Devil’s canyon isn’t too bad – and I run it trying to stay relaxed.  At the bottom I’m told its worth the break to get into the river so I spend a couple minutes getting wet in the river.  As soon as I start jogging out of the river I can feel a big blister on my left big toe and I’m worried I’m going to have to stop to deal with it.  The climb out of the canyon is brutally steep but “only” 1.5 miles long so I take it on.  At the top I’m pretty out of it and the volunteer tells me to talk to medical – I was planning to do that anyway with the feet but I’m wondering what he was seeing to suggest I needed to.

Mile 53.25 of Western States 100 – I’ve only climbed ½ mile out of the longest canyon on the course – there is still 2 miles and 1300’ to climb to get to Michigan Bluff where my family awaits.  I’m sitting by a tree – I tell each racer that runs by I’m just taking a rest – no I don’t need anything.  In a private moment I try taking an S-Cap for electrolytes which promptly stimulates a vomitus response.   Mostly the race has been per plan so far but things are going south – foot issues and stomach issues.  For the stomach - the thought of taking a drink of the fuel I mixed into my bottle makes me want to gage.  The very helpful lady at the last aid station back ½ mile at the bottom of this canyon suggests that sometime the body just wants some real food when I told her I didn’t want any of my pre-mixed fuel anymore so I eat a couple slices of watermelon, and I don’t remember what else – whatever it was it all sits a little downhill from me now in a wet pool.  Regarding the feet - I really feel bad for what the two medical people did for me at Devil’s Thumb.  At that aid station I asked for a blister to be drained off my right big toe which was bugging me since I stepped in the river to cool off at the swinging bridge back before climbing up to Devil’s Thumb.  Both medical aid station people were very professional as they removal of my gross mud covered gator which it took both of them to figure out how to unlatch, then the shoe with the double knot that wouldn’t easily release, then two pairs of gross sweaty socks I had on.  Reveled was a totally waterlogged foot – like it had been sitting soaking in water for the last 10 hours since the race started.  The lady looked at my sock and asked what kind of material was this sock anyway – I didn’t know – it’s injinji – the most popular sock choice of Western States 2014 according to the survey on the website – toe socks – then I added a second sock over that one – a thin asics sock.  Well something in this combination was just not right because my foot looked way too waterlogged.  She asks if I have any other socks to put on and I say no – not until Michigan Bluff so those gotta go back on – I do have her toss the asics sock and just stick with the injinji.  I’m informed as I leave Devil’s thumb that I am behind 24 hr pace and looking back indeed I was 2 minutes behind when I entered Devil’s thumb and 19 minutes behind when I left – a 17 minute aid station stop – not good.  Off I go – from Devil’s thumb there’s still 50 more miles to go.  I take a tums, sip on some chicken broth – try to get the stomach to calm down – and I walk a little out of there – then jog my way to the bottom of the next canyon pondering my feet situation – what would happen after 14 more hours of waterlogged feet with constant pounded on them?  What was wrong with my foot set-up that let this happen?  I lathered up the feet pre-race with something I’d not used before – Aquaphor – maybe that wasn’t the right stuff to use – I usually use Hydropel but I ran out and Amazon doesn’t sell it anymore.  The double sock injinji/asics had been my method many times before although it occurred to me somewhere along the way I switched from Ultrathin to Medium thickness injinji because they don’t wear out so fast – maybe the medium thickness wasn’t drying like the ultrathin?  I’ve never actually run a race where my feet get so wet running through stream crossings – maybe I was supposed to do something different for this kind of race?  Also I’ve had a constant flow of water off my back and head as ice melted to cool me off – was this creating the waterlogged feet?  Maybe I should have used the flat insert in the Hokas shoes instead of the cupped ones?  Maybe this is the way everyone’s foot looks in this kinda race and I’m just worrying about nothing?  Anyway – nothing I could do about it and with the bandage around my toe at least that spot felt decent again.  Here I am sitting by a tree pondering all this in my pitty party and finally a guy who passes by me sitting by the tree says a few good words – “how about you come walk with me” – just what I needed – a challenge to move – yeah – OK – I get moving.

I’m not able to keep up with him very long but I thank him a few times for getting me moving – he says he still smells silver no matter what the aid station signs say about being behind – I pretend I can still smell it too but I’m not sure how things can turn around – I’m only at the half way point.  I look him up after and he indeed gets silver by ½ hr or so.  I keep moving up the hill and finally 45 minutes later I get to the top.  There’s a little downhill to the aid station and a few of my crew are looking up this hill and watching me walk down it – I feel a little embarrassed to be putting on such a sorry looking show so I trot down the rest of the hill and Ryan my son is assigned to stay with me as the others run up the road after the aid station to get everything ready.  The aid station captain here is a friend of mine – Kevin Sawchuk – his wife spots me and calls Kevin over and he starts the bantering – I recall something like “this ain’t no easy 2:38 marathon – welcome to a real race” – after a few other good zingers he gets me smiling a little.  His wife gives me some chicken broth to sip on and Kevin asks a few questions of what’s going on.  I tell about emptying my stomach then as if on cue I step over to the trash can and demonstrate emptying my stomach again of the chicken broth – Dan Williams is also there and decides this is a good time to take a picture of me – yeah a nice Kodak moment – Kevin’s wife says she made that broth special for me and feels a little insulted I just threw it all up – later I came up with the right reply but the brain wasn’t working fast enough at the time “well it was so good I wanted to taste it again” – Dan and Kevin show off their hard earned belt buckles (Dan’s got a 2000 buckle for doing this race 20 times and Kevin’s got a 10 day buckle for doing this race 10 days under 24 hours) – and get me out of their aid stations.  A couple more things I recall Kevin saying that helped were – it gets better after the heat stops when the sun goes down and also after you get pacers – just get to foresthill.  He also reminded me of a story he’d told me a couple weeks ago on a run about his first Western States where he walked 20 miles from Foresthill to past the river then switched it on and still got silver.  There’s still time.

I get to my crew just past the aid station and they are so ready for a Nascar like quick aid station but I’m just not going that fast.  I’m offered the Vanilla Shake I special requested to be waiting for me at this aid station – and I can only say – Who’s crazy idea was it to have a Vanilla Shake here?  Which gets a good laugh – I change into a looser shirt and take almost nothing they had waiting for me and move along.  I’ve apparently forgotten my hat so my Niece Judy comes running to catch up and give me a hat filled with ice.  I’m a little irritable and give her some very unclear instructions about wanting the other hat – she runs back and the whole crew is ripping through everything trying to figure out what other hat I’m talking about and after I wait around a minute or so I decide to move along without the hat.  Total Aid Station Time for Michigan Bluff – 17 minutes and I check out of there – I’m now 43 minutes off 24 hour pace.

Less than a mile down the road and I’m totally wallowing in self pity – I’m looking for a place to sit and rest some more – but I want some privacy for my pity party this time so decide to get off the trail a little so no do-gooder will again challenge me to go for a walk again.  I find a tree behind a bush that blocks the trail and sit. 

Mile 59 – I’m sitting at the lowest point on the Western States 100 trail between Michigan Bluff and Foresthill at 7:30 pm Saturday afternoon.  All was good – all was great just 14 miles ago as I was executing my race plan flawlessly.  The only minor thing that had happen the first 46 miles of the race was I dropped my iPOD and had to run back for several minutes looking for it – no big deal.  Then from 46 to 59 I’ve burned through 5 hours on the clock.  Two long aid stations stops at mile 47.5 and another at 55.5 for 34 minutes lost between them – first was for a foot assessment for a blister that was bugging me since I got out of the river to cool off at mile 46 and the 2nd was get a pep talk from my crew and Team Diablo’s Kevin and Dan that things get better by nightfall and with pacers - as I threw up the soup Kevin’s wife gave me into the trashcan (They are WS veterans – they can handle it).  3 non-aid station stops – first to sit and rest and throw up a little climbing up to Michigan Bluff – a runner finally challenged me to “come walk with me” which got me going again there, 2nd to just sit down and wallow in pity off the trail a little hiding from any human eyesight – no one’s going to ask me to walk with them if they can’t find me hiding behind the bushes – I guess I should have noticed the ants swarming on the tree I sat against – after brushing the ants off and shaking them off my shirt I found a place to lie down – my vest made a nice pillow – but a minute of that and I look at my legs to see a dozen mosquitoes feasting away.  I didn’t invite all these bugs to my pity party – I guess I better get moving on.   Here I am at my 3rd non-aid station stop at the stream that runs at this low point between the aid stations.  I decide to try my go-to fuel for marathons – a Caffe Latte Cliff Gu – as I sit there taking some water from the stream and pouring it on my head I don’t feel like tossing my cookies again – just maybe this stuff is going to work.  In all I’ve lost another 26 minutes with those stops.  I get up and climb the ¾ miles from this river up to Bath Road where I find John Loftus – my friend and pacer for this next section.  He’s been waiting here a while as I’m very much later than the predicted time of arrival based on when I left the last aid station.  I share I’m in a bad place and his easy going encouraging nature lifts my spirits – also I’m feeling the effects of some carbs and caffeine kicking in and it doesn’t suck.  The walk up bath road is a bit more of a power hike then the shuffling walk I’ve been doing – turning the corner to run a slight downhill down Foresthill Rd towards family and the aid station and we charge down the hill at a more normal 10 mpm pace.

8:18 pm with 38 miles to go I’m out of the Foresthill aid station with two hand bottles – one filled with ginger ale which I thought might settle the stomach and the other with icewater.  Still feeling charged by the Gu and energized by family cheers and smiles and encouragement – and now on the best most runnable fun portion of the whole course with John there to keep me out of the pity parties and encourage me – I’m ready to roll!  But I’m 93 minutes off 24 hr pace and in 133rd place (hindsight – I didn’t know at the time – but I figured silver was OUT).

8:55 pm – to next aid station (Cal1) – that was sub 10 mpm for that 3.5 mile downhill stretch – I’m loving the downhills just letting gravity take me.  Dave LaTourette gives John a text telling me to “Own the night”.  At Cal1 I put on the headlight.  Still going with ginger ale and water for the bottles – I try eating but it’s just not working and most anything I take a bite of I spit out and discard the rest.  But I keep sipping on the Ginger ale.  I notice a sign at the aid station that indicates I was supposed to be here 1.5 hrs ago to be on 24 hr pace (actually it was 86 minutes).  No way no how I think.

9:59 pm – to Cal2 There was a ¼ mile climb near Cal1 with the rest rolling hills – overall around 13 mpm still is moving pretty good.  There’s a lot of people to catch that helps motivate – with headlights it’s easy to spot them in the distance and reel them in.  By Cal2 I was at 112th place

10:34 pm – to Cal3 More downhill and I tuned off all breaks down – for about 1.8 miles all downhill I’m down around 9 mpm – then a hill with the nickname 6 minute hill took me 7 minutes to climb (cursing every minute – I’m really hating climbing hills) – then another downhill into the aid station where I was rolling 7 mpm pace at one point.  Overall about 11 mpm between aid stations and now the time off 24 hr pace was trimmed to 70 minutes.

11:40 pm – to Rucky Chucky – mile 78 – river crossing – I’ve moved to 103rd place and run 13:50 mpm since the last aid station and John gives Andy the debrief for pacing me the next section.  Still just getting Ginger ale and water for the bottles and getting near no other food at the aid stations – I’m not sure how long I can last on so little calories but I can still go so I do.

12:16 am – to Green Gate – Mile 79.8 – The river crossing took about 10 minutes then I got my good flashlight gear from the drop bag I had for across the river and Andy and I power walked up the hill.  Although John was saying silver was still possible I didn’t really believe him.  Andy and I chatted our way up the hill – I made sure he had a couple basic pointers for running trails especially downhill and we started doing some math to project what was required to get silver.  My 80 mile tired mind wasn’t working so well but finally at Green Gate the math problem got easy – 280 minutes to go in the race and 20 miles to go – 14 mpm is what it would take – That didn’t seem so un-doable.  Taking stock – me feet hurt like hell – but surface stuff like blisters and toenails – nothing I couldn’t ignore – my calorie intake was minimal at pretty must just ½ a bottle of gingerale between aid stations – but at least that was something – we rock it on to the next aid station.  Per the 24 hr pace chart I am still 56 minutes off 24 hour pace at Green Gate – I’ve moved into top 100 at 98th place.

1:26 am – to Auburn Lake Trails – the roadkill are not near as plentiful to go after as the other side of the river – runners are spaced out pretty far – but we manage 13 mpm pace since Green Gate on a nice rolling hill section of trail.  I was using a really cool high contrast green flashlight that I’d read in someone’s race report and ordered off Amazon and I’m thinking animals maybe can’t see the green light as we came up on a huge jackrabbit (I swear it was 3 feet tall including ears – it could have been in Alice and Wonderland) and it didn’t seem to acknowledge our approach for way too long.  With the light of the aid station approaching I decide to take a piss and Andy joined apparently needed too as well which apparently the cheering people as we approached the aid station found entertaining.  The medical guy there said – well I was going to ask how things were flowing but I guess I can see the answer J.  He was a particularly interested medic and seemed to want to get the full recount of all my ailments which I knew would only earn me a trip to a chair – words I was thinking “well I’ve thrown up everything I try to eat for the last 30 miles and my feet were completely waterlogged at Devils Thumb and hurt like hell” were not going to help me keep 14 mpm pace to the finish so I just said I was find and ready to get this thing over with.  Andy was great to jump in and deflect further interrogation and I tried a few things off the aid station and we head for the exit – I proceed to throw up all that I consumed at the aid station as we exit – I was getting very proficient at doing this without even breaking stride – I choose NOT to look back at the medic and make eye contact - we take off.  I’m still 98th place but now I’m only 36 minutes off 24 hour pace – we’ve made up 20 minutes since Green gate with 15 miles to go.

2:32 am – to Brown Bar – We caught a couple people in this stretch then the third just would not be shaken and after passing him and his pacer he stuck on us for a mile or so.  It was actually very motivating to keep moving to have someone right there.  The ginger ale was starting to not go down so well and my other option of water was for some reason very unappealing and almost made me gage when I’d take a sip.  We manage 13:11 mpm to this aid station and the guy following us rolls in and out just ahead of me.  Same routine here – get some ginger ale – wish I could take some of the other yummy things around – but skip them and roll.  94th place and 27 minutes off 24 hr pace.

3:33 am – to 49 crossing – There’s a nice downhill at the start of this section and I take off down it passing the guy that came out of the aid station a little quicker and going like a bat outta hell opening a monster distance to him.  Unfortunately I didn’t provide as good a lighting system for Andy as I had and he couldn’t see quite as well and at some point took a spill on that downhill stretch.  After he wasn’t behind me for a while I turned around and asked if he was OK and he just shouted – keep going – so I did.  Eventually the downhill turns to an uphill and he catches back up as I’m walking the uphills.  He doesn’t mention anything and sluffs it all off but apparently got a minor ankle sprain out of that fall but was still able to run on it.  There’s a good long hill at the end of this stretch up to 49 crossing and we power walked up the hill.  The cool green flashlight battery was dying and I tried to change batteries as we walked but couldn’t get all the +/-‘s right – I handed to Andy to see if he could figure it out but in the end I had to dump that light at 49 crossing and rely only on the headlight to the end.  Andy had text ahead and Ryan was ready to go and finish this thing off.   That was a slow one with the climb at the end and I averaged 16:15/mile since the last aid station – 94th place and 23 minutes off 24 hr pace. – 6.7 miles to go.  Overall since we’d set the target of 14 mpm back at Green Gate to here we’d actually averaged including aid station stops 14:13 mpm – so needed faster the last 6.7 miles.

4:14 am – to no hands bridge – course goes up a little, flat then drops a bunch down to the bridge over north fork American River.  We attack everything up flat or down – although down had issues as the headlight was not near as good as the green light I had before and dust in the air clouded visibility – I traded lights with Ryan to get the slightly better light but still had to be a bit more reserve downhill than I wanted to be.  I accidently asked for gatoraid instead of ginger ale and didn’t like that in the bottle but since I wasn’t taking water anymore I asked the other bottle to be filled with coke – I love coke – it was so good and such a refreshing change from the ginger ale I’ve been mostly living off since foresthill.  I guzzled the whole bottle by no-hands and asked for more.  We made good time – 12 mpm down to no hands bridge.  My sister and niece were down there screaming “go go go” as the time left to climb the last hill to Auburn before 24 hours looked ambitious and maybe impossible based on the time posted at the aid station – I dropped anything I didn’t need for the finish with them and charged away.  3.25 miles to go with an 800’ climb and 46 minutes – off we go – I’m preparing to dig deep for whatever’s needed especially the last mile after the climb.

4:41 am – to Robie Point – the first part is a steady incline still runnable and we maintain 10 mpm up this section.  Then it gets over 10% grade and we power hike the rest up to Robie point – overall average 13 mpm to get there and at this point I’m actually only 1 minute behind 24 hr pace with 1.3 miles to go – no aid station stopping at all.

4:55 am – to the finish – we power walk up the hill – there’s the mile 99 sign with lights and a plasma TV set up to display what the clock says at the finishline – and at that moment I knew it was in the bag.  I was reving up to drop a 7 mpm run to the finish if required when we got to the top but there was loads of time to spare and so I started to savor the moment with a mile to go.  A guy comes by me with his pacer who turns out to be the guy who wouldn’t be shook way way back at Browns Bar – he must have had his cross hairs on me for the last 2-3 hours and I’m glad I could help him to get his silver too.  The last mile was run comfortably at 8:30 mpm pace and it felt like a victory lap on a road I’d run dozens of times over on runs from my Dad’s house over the last 4 years dreaming of that finishing mile I was experiencing right here and now.  Ryan wants me to catch that guy back and it would have taken so little more to do it I was so amped up – but I decide to let him have his finishline moment then I’ll have mine.  Down the last hill – onto the track where there was a lot of nail biting going on by all my crew.  Website prediction up to the last second were calling for 5:10-5:30 am finish so it seemed apparently pretty incredible that I run through the gate onto the track with time to spare.  A group of us run the far side track together – John Loftus, Andy, Shirley and I think Terri and Judy join up with Ryan and I cheering and excited then peel off as I make the final turn leaving Ryan and I to finish this baby off.

Wow – what a race – what a last 38 miles since forest hill. As it turns I was the only one leaving Foresthill as late as 8:18pm to make Silver this year (or last year, or the year before). It was an amazing rush to do it running on barely anything with the most painful feet I’ve ever run on. What a rewarding experience this was and now I get to put a big “check” on this biggest bucket list item of them all.



Sunday, December 14, 2014

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Hells Hills 50 Miler

I picked this race after other plans to get a Western States qualifier fell apart. I’m a two time looser in the Western States lottery. Keeping an entry in the lottery consecutive years gives me more names in the hat to improve the odds but it means every year I need a qualifier race to keep entering the lottery. My original plan to get the entry for and also knock out my first 100 miler was to get it at Rocky Raccoon 100 in February but a broken ankle in a 50k in December took that off the table. I signed up for another 100 miler (Tahoe Rim) and a got on the waitlist for yet another (Vermont 100) both on July 20th not really sure which race would work out but because of how fast these races sell out I wanted to have options. Plans developed and a family reunion with my Dad, brothers and sisters and families started coming together at the end of July in Maine so Vermont now makes great logistical sense then drive over to Maine for some earned R&R. I contact the Vermont Race director to check on my odds to get into with my placement on the waitlist and find my odds are pretty close to nil. There’s a 100k run at the same time (also a 100 mile horse race – that should make it interesting) so I figure maybe the 100k would work out – but the 100k is not a Western States qualifier race (too small I guess). The race director for the Vermont race offered that if I’m signed up for the 100k and there are fewer than 300 bibs picked up on Friday night before the race – she’d upgrade me to the 100 miler which is a qualifying race – but that was a longshot at best – I needed to find another race somewhere and get my qualifier. I searched the list of qualifying races and Hells Hills 50m seemed the best choice because it’s just a couple hours from home – only one problem – as I signed up for the race in January – I had yet to run anything since the 50k broken ankle – could I really ramp up from zero mileage in 2 months then run 50 miles…..hmmmm. I love a challenge.

See the bottom of the Texas Endurance Trail 50k for how training went leading up to this (or here's a graph if you like that kinda thing). Speed came back pretty quick – I could probably do a short race about the same now as I could have done in November. Endurance on the other hand was in short supply. One 20 mile run in training (with some walking) does not a 50 mile training plan make – but I got the peak volume for the last couple weeks up into the 70 miles per week range – I was hoping I could gut it out – I only needed to finish the thing in less than 11 hours – which really isn’t so fast.

Weather forecast was kinda a “B” – not perfect – not terrible – which is pretty good for this race – I think the typical for this race would be a “D/F” – hot and humid – so I’m grateful for this forecast – Start in the low 50s with high humidity with a high for the day around 80. 5am start in the dark means running by headlight for a couple hours with sunrise around 7am.

I invite my son to come with me for a tent out at the start-line. The course is at the Rocky Hill Ranch in Smithville, TX – a mountain biking park. The route runs along the biking trails – three loops around the park. The trails are generally filled with ankle twisters and somehow maximize the trail distance per acre ratio by twisting and turning its way through the forest. Check out the track from the garmin here: Link.  I think if you squint a little looking at the course you can see both the skinny and fat elvis.  Looking at the mountain biking course map the trails are divided much like skiing routes divided into the green, the blue and the black diamond trails and I note before the race the run course appears to hit every black diamond trail in the park. We pitch tent right next to the course about 100’ from the startline.
Since it’s a mountain biking park I bring one to scout out the course a little before it got dark the day before. I didn’t go too far trying to save my legs but my son scouted the trail out a bit farther and came back with a full inch of mud caked on the tires and breaks
– I’m imagining my shoes like that the next day – two pairs, 3 loops – I’m preparing Ryan to be cleaning my first pair of shoes while I run the second loop. A couple guys I know I see at packet pick-up (100’ from the tent) and they pitch tent next to ours. Robert King was the winner of this race the first year and I’ve known him for years running around the trails near my house, Sandy Corn I’ve known from an on-line running forum (went by Slowdown) and has run Western States a couple years back after 5 years of trying to get in (2 time loser then 2 time deferred auto-entry – first by a fire that canceled the race, second by the race splitting up the two time losers into two years) – I’ve read his race report years ago and loved that a flatlander like me can go conquer those mountains. Hanging out before bedtime we lamented how poor our training was coming into this race knowing it was likely to be a long race. Tent sleeping turned out to be not so restful – brain just wouldn’t turn off – normal pre-race jitters I guess.

Up about 45 minutes before race time (a 30 second commute to the startline is just sweet!) – get all my stuff organized – lots of gear decisions to make – what to wear, what to carry, what to have available on each loop.
Having the tent right on the course made the nice opportunity for a quick stop by the tent to grab whatever I needed on each loop rather than using the races drop area packed with a hundred other peoples bags. Head over with about 5 minutes to spare – find a portajohn – no line – amazing – then off to the startline.

The Race:

The 5am start had about 100 runners, another wave for the 50k started at 6 and another wave for a 25k at 7 and then a 10k too. Off we go into the dark headlights a shining. Everyone trots off pretty slow and I find myself following the leader before we get to the trailhead a hundred yards or so into the race. Last year’s 4th place winner Chris Robbins cautioned me to not start too slow and get stuck behind people too slow as passing is difficult on the single track trail so I don’t mind being towards the front of the pack. 1st place guy is running a little too hot so I ease off and have a pack of 3-4 bunched up behind me for the first mile or so. A glance at the heartrate up over 150 and I decide to cool it down a bit and eventually my headphones get caught on a branch making me pull over and let the bunch past me – I latch on the back of them and chill for a while – I’m finding either front or back or alone to be the preferred positions in running – so many ankle twisters to avoid on the trail I gotta have enough trail in front of me to spot them and plan my steps accordingly. On the Ipod I’ve got downloaded a bunch of podcasts from – these are fun to listen to interviews with an assortment of people in the Ultra community – racing stories or interesting topics – they’re a great way to pass the time. One of the podcasts was a nutritionist who’s husband (Paul Terranova) had just done what’s called the Grand Slam (4x100 milers) and added a Kona Ironman at the back-end just to add a little extra - the first ever Grand Kona Slam – as it happens that guy I come to find out later was in this little Hells Hills race – I’m pretty sure he was the guy who pulled away at the start – he won the race in 6:54 - impressive. Anyway I’m just plodding along maintaining pace and actually feeling pleasantly chilly in this low 50s pre-sunrise morning – but I could feel the humidity too as the sweat wasn’t doing much evaporating. I’m carrying two duct tape handled bottles and I’m focusing on getting my hydration and fueling with my watch beeping every 4 minutes to take a couple oz swig. The darkness seems to go on forever, the miles are clicking by slowly, occasionally someone new overtakes me from behind, finally there’s enough light I can take off the headlight that’s starting to give me a head-ache – felt so nice to be rid of that thing. In the final couple miles of the first lap there’s a little black diamond section of the course called the Grind followed by the Wall – steep down then ups that I know there is no way I could have navigated on a Mountain bike (I can black diamond ski – but I’m not ready for the mountain bike) – the Wall did that quick drop/climb three time in quick repeats – I was already dreading this for the third lap – quads were already complaining from just the first 15 miles of rollers. Anyway – keep jogging the last mile after that and do a quick stop by the tent to swap out/refill bottles – fortunately I didn’t have an inch of mud on my shoes as I’d feared so didn’t need a shoe change (and Ryan didn’t have to clean them). I’m at the back end of the range I told Ryan – 7:30-7:45ish – so he’s out expecting me and cheers me on for another lap – it was really nice to see him out there. Off I go for lap 2.

Lap 1 completed – 2:45ish.

Much of the same as I head off – I keep the trotting along through the rollers and twists and turns – this would really be a fun place to mountain bike – all these rocks and roots would be fun to bounce around on the bike – on foot it kept my eyes glued to the trails. Two main lessons learned from the 50k incident – 1) Eyewear – bifocal glasses are not proper trail running glasses as they leave blurry trail through the bottom half of the glasses – for this race I used contacts that fix the far away and no glasses – trail was perfectly clear – all of it – my arm was just a little too short to see my watch clearly :). 2) Eyes stay on the trail – certain pleasantries on the trail such as making eye contact with passersby with a little smile and a wave – or watching their cute little dogs – are dangerous things to do – better to be just a little less nice and keep looking at the ground in front of me. These corrections seemed to serve me well – although there was the occasional footfall with a slight slip left or right – not even once did one get to the point of even the slightest sprain’ish feeling – contrast with the 50k there were 3-4 sprain’ish kinda steps prior to the actual big one that snapped the fibula – a nice confidence boost to see I can in fact run trails without twisting my ankle. Anyway about ½ way through the second lap I cross the mental barrier to realize I gotta start accepting that I’m going to have occasional walking breaks in this race – I made it through my last 50M without any but I’m just not in as good a shape, this course is much harder and the weather is warmer than that race. The leg soreness and dehydration level was just starting to catch up to me – and I’m trying to find peace with the knowledge I’m only ½ way through this race. I make the best maintain much more jogging than walking especially on the less technical portions of the trails. I start grabbing a few extra snacks at the aid stations and filling my water bottle a little more than the first lap and gut it out. In the last couple months of training I did a lot of tracking before and after workout weights and I’m becoming more and more convinced my limiter in these longer races is not my fitness level or even my fueling ability – it’s all about water balance for me. I’m losing a pound every 2.5-3 miles of running and I can only drink about 1.5 pounds per hour so anything faster than 4.5 miles/hr on a cool day or 4 miles/hr on a warmer day – or maybe slower considering the extra energy burn on trails vs road - and I’m losing weight. Towards the end of the second loop I check my pee color and confirm I’m pretty dehydrated already. I’d estimate I drank ~7 lbs or nearly a gallon the first two laps but my weight was probably still down 6-7 pounds – about how I feel after a dozen miles in sweats. I really just can’t function well much lower than that. I finish the second lap around 10am again towards the back end of the estimate I’d given Ryan pre-race. I spend a little extra time before I set off for the third lap – decide to switch to the camelback instead of the two bottle system so I could maximize how much I drank so spend some time filling that up pouring in a few water bottle. My son’s asks – “do you have to finish?” – I think he’s pretty bored:). “Yes – I do – but expect it will be a while – say 3:30 ish” – I’m not going to walk away from today without my lottery qualifier sub11 hours – I could nearly walk all the of last lap and still get that so I just needed to stay hydrated and do what I could for the last lap.

Lap 2 completed – 3:25ish including the 8-9 minute break at the tent.

Ok so I’m watching the time now – 16 miles to go – 11:10 pm on my watch and I gotta be done by 4 pm to get my sub11 hrs – it’s not a good sign when you start figuring out how slow you can go – the whole competitive side of me was gone – this was just about getting it done. I start setting time goals – first was to knock down the first 4 miles before noon – that would leave 20 minutes per mile for the last 12 to be done in the remaining 4 hours. I jog the more run able portions of the trail and walk most of the uphills or highly technical portions of the trails – I don’t quite achieve my goal but rather I seem to be in a rhythm to get 14-15ish minutes/mile and knock down those first 4 a little before 12:10 pm. I try to maintain that tempo and after a couple more miles I cross over the point where I could truly walk the rest of the race at 20 minutes per mile and get my sub11. That seemed like a major milestone – but I know anything can still happen so I want to start banking some cushion and keep that ~15 mpm’ish tempo – as pathetically slow as that sounds – it sure seemed harder than it sounds at the time – continuing to walk the climbs and jog/trot along the flatter portions or low grade descents and drinking all I can with sweet snacks along the way. Even walking – that black diamond portion was still killer on the quads but I survived and plodded my way until all the miles were done. I come by the tent for the final time – toss by camel back and other stuff then head off to the finish – I motivate my son to beat me to the finishline by giving him the mission of taking a finishing photo – he runs MUCH faster than I and beats me by a bunch and executes his duty snapping a pic.

Lap 3 completed – 4:00ish
Total Time – 10:10ish. 21st place/17th Male.

Finishlines are magical things – to be able to stop and sit down – even go back to the tent and lay down knowing the long long long task of the day is done – love it. After lazing around for a bit I start watching for Robert and Sandy and they eventually come trotting along both before the clock flipped over to 11. We waddle around for a while lamenting the tortures of the day – results and training pretty well aligned for each of us. I make the comment at one point that I’d still take a day like this over most days doing much of anything else and they were quick to categorically disagree – I guess after you’ve done dozens and dozens of these things the sucky days just plain suck – I can relate to that in marathons but for Ultras I’m not quite there yet – there were enough silver linings for this race I could still on balance feel good about it.

My silver linings in priority order:
1) No injuries, sprains or broken bones
2) Western States qualifier for the next lottery in November completed – takes the pressure off having to get into Vermont 100M (I still might try)
3) No getting sick – I’m now 3 out of 6 ultra events (2xironman, 3x50 milers and 1x50k) not getting sick
4) I’m guessing I won’t see much of a fitness regret from this race – after Rocky Raccoon 50 which was the only 1 out of 6 I felt like I half way nailed – my fitness dropped and it took months to get back to where I was pre-race. Aside from normal post race waddles and difficulty with going down stairs – I’m expecting within a couple weeks I’ll be continuing the progression I was seeing through February/March.
5) I learned a bunch such as I in fact CAN run trails without getting hurt – and I’m better zeroing in on the water balancing constraints so I can learn to work within and set my expectations within that.

Well I think that’s enough for this Race Report – I’m sore still but kinda wanna go for a little run again – if only it didn’t hurt so much – maybe another day or two :).