Archive for May, 2009

Big Basin 50K… Make that 25K

May 17, 2009

I signed up for today’s Big Basin 50K only a few days prior, and I already knew it was forecast to be hot. But by early this morning, the forecast high for nearby Boulder Creek was 92°F! If you don’t know Boulder Creek, well my brother has called it Colder Bleak. Heat is not normal there. [Update: The official high was 94°F.]

So I knew going in that it was going to be very hot. And knowing that I struggle in the heat, I also knew I was going to take at least 7 1/2 hours, and maybe more than 8. But I didn’t really consider the possibility that I couldn’t finish it in the allotted 9 hours.

The structure of the event is four loops: 15K, 10K, and then both of those again. The 15K loop worked pretty well, though the steep stairs at Berry Creek Falls made me nervous, because I was expecting to have to go up them a second time when it was hotter. I took electrolyte capsules about every 45 minutes since it was still relatively cool, and I finished the whole 64oz of water in my hydration pack. I think my time for this loop was about 2:15.

On the 10K loop, it got hotter. I increased the electrolyte capsule frequency to every 30 minutes. And I got slower, first on the uphills. The top of the second (and final) significant climb of the loop comes not long after the one exposed (read: extra hot) section of the course. I think I started feeling a little spacey during that section, though I didn’t really recognize it at the time.

And then on the downhill I started getting dizzy. I was almost out of water, and I wasn’t sure if I could keep up the electrolyte capsule schedule all the way back to the aid station, since you need liquid to swallow them. But I also knew that electrolytes were the most likely fix for the dizziness.

And then the dizziness got way worse. I found the nearest log to sit down on. Things were spinning, and I couldn’t imagine standing up, much less walking or running. I was sure my 50K was over.

After I was there for maybe 5 or 10 minutes, two women doing the 25K came by. They didn’t think I looked very well. They said I looked white, so they decided to wait with me to see if I got better. After a few minutes I could imagine standing, and eventually I did, and managed to start walking. One of the women was still watching me carefully. The really weird part was that even when the dizziness was mostly gone, my arms felt like they were vibrating, though that subsided after a while. And I could run, though only slowly and with some walking breaks.

Around this time I started to wonder if there was still a chance of me finishing the 50K, which another part of me knew was crazy. Then I got dizzy again, though not too badly. And later it happened a third time, worse than the second time. At that point I decided I was not going to try to go beyond the 25K point. It wasn’t safe: I might stumble or even pass out.

This was a different from Diablo, four weeks ago. This time my legs were fine, but my basic systems were not doing well at all. After Miwok I thought I could complete anything. Not today. Oh, for the rain and cold again!

One more thing: I donated blood on the 4th, right after Miwok, and this was less than two weeks after that. It certainly couldn’t have helped (except whoever got the blood—it helped them a lot, and I have no regrets).

So this was my second incomplete event out of the last three. It was the right decision, and it points out that I need to learn how to handle the heat much better. But of course I’m also disappointed.

My next event is a running camp in June with Lisa Smith-Batchen and Lisa Bliss, in Idaho. Both have won the women’s division at Badwater, an insanely hot 135 mile race through Death Valley, and Lisa Bliss is also a doctor. I’m guessing I’ll learn something about running in the heat when I’m there in a couple of weeks.

Lastly, I would like to thank Sue from Ventura County, for sticking with me when I didn’t know which way was up. Thanks, Sue!

Update: I heard from my current local coaches, who after reading this blog post speculate that I had “heat-related illness.” I’m guessing there is no chance it was heat stroke, so that probably means heat exhaustion.

Also: The results were posted, and I was given credit for the 25K in 4:24:45. Only 15 people finished the 50K out of 29 signed up (and only 5 out of 12 in my age group).

Miwok 100K

May 7, 2009

[This post is really long. Sorry about that. Feel free to skim it.]

100K is about 62 miles, which is over 10 miles further than my longest run prior to this one. The Miwok 100K is possibly the best known 100K trail run, so when I heard late last year that they had gone to a lottery system rather than sell out in a few minutes (as they had done in recent years), I entered my name. Finding out I got in was both exciting and a little scary.

Fast forward a few months. I made the arguably crazy decision to also enter the Diablo 50 mile event, only 13 days prior. I end up only completing 37 miles of it, but I was okay with that so long as I didn’t also fail to finish Miwok.

Friday Connie and I drove up the Marin county to spend the night, since this race has a very early start: 5:40am. I woke up at 3:15 for final preparation before being picked up by fellow Coastside Running Club (CRC) member Franz Dill (also running) and his wife Jennifer (volunteering at the aid station sponsored by CRC). At that time the weather was dry and not all that cold. But I found that my hydration pack was wet, perhaps from not being 100% securely closed and then making the trip to the race horizontally in the Dills’ trunk. I dried it a bit under a hand dryer in the bathroom.

Not long before the start, the race director (Tia Bodington) led us over onto the beach for the start. Luckily running on the sand only lasted for maybe a quarter of a mile, and then we headed up into some hills just south of the start. The weather remained relatively dry but foggy.

I aimed to keep my heart rate under better control than at Diablo, targeting around 140bpm at this point in the race. I was reasonably successful, walking when necessary to keep from going too high, though occasionally seeing rates as high as the lower 150’s. When I got to the first aid station (6.2 miles), I was about 15 minutes ahead of my rough schedule. It was still cool and now light, or as light as you could expect before 7am on a foggy day. I still had plenty of liquid left in my hydration pack, even though it was so wet that I thought it was still leaking, so I didn’t stop.

At the second stop, at Tennessee Valley (11.9 miles), I did refill, and I had picked up about 5 more minutes on my plan. By the following stop at Muir Beach (16.0 miles), it had started to rain lightly and I had my arm warmers back on after only recently having removed them. And the hydration pack continued to feel like it was leaking, so I abandoned my energy drink powders and just used water for the rest of the day. I would much rather have water leaking down my back than lemon-lime Accelerade. Eeww.

At Pan Toll, the following aid station (21.7 miles), I was about 40 minutes ahead of my schedule. I stashed the flashlight I had carried for the first few dark miles of the race in my drop bag there, and kept moving. It was still raining lightly but pretty much continuously, despite the weather forecast of just showers.

The trail started getting wetter through the next section, which at last year’s Headlands 50 miler had been my least favorite section due to heat and exposure. This time the temperature was so much better, to me anyway, that it was an improvement despite the growing number of puddles to dodge. At 11:30am the leader of the race passed me heading back to Pan Toll, meaning he was over 15 miles ahead of me. All I could say was, “wow!”

The next aid station was Bolinas Ridge (28.4 miles), which I got to about 10 minutes before noon. It was staffed by the Coastside Running Club, which I am theoretically a member of (I was wearing a CRC shirt and I’m on their e-mail list, but I have still never been to one of their weekly Saturday runs). They had a number of signs over the last few tenths of a mile leading into the aid station, which I thought was a great touch, and several of the aid station workers were wearing plastic leis. Many many thanks to the volunteers, who had to find a way to stay warm without running, and who were very cheerful nonetheless.

This is where I was expecting to see Connie for the first time. Unfortunately since traffic was worse than expected for her and I was still 40 minutes ahead of my schedule, she hadn’t made it yet. I killed a few minutes, but eventually told George Miller (from CRC) and Wendell Doman (from Pacific Coast Trail Runs, who seemed to be everywhere I went in these early miles) to keep an eye out for Connie. I continued on. This felt very similar to Headlands since I was again in a position where my GPS was in danger of running out of battery power if I didn’t connect with Connie (who had my second GPS) by the next aid station, which was rumored to have very few parking spots.

The puddles and mud started becoming epic during the section from Bolinas to the turnaround at the Randall Trail aid station (35.6 miles). The puddles often extended the entire width of the fire road, and it was impossible to keep your feet dry. Some runners coming back the other way just ran through the middle of them. Where there were not puddles, the ground was sometimes far more saturated than it looked, so I had to get used to my foot sometimes sinking 4″ into the mud and water.

I made it to the Randall aid station, though I had lost some of my time cushion since the mud was not compatible with the kind of pace that would be normal for the downhill terrain. And Connie was there! I was so happy to see her that I probably spent longer there than I should have, and Chuck Wilson (who was volunteering at Randall) eventually encouraged me to get going again, now with a fresh GPS.

The mud hadn’t improved any on the way back since it was still raining, and now I was going primarily uphill. But I found a few people to talk to, and my conservative estimate of my uphill pace meant I was actually doing well on time. I saw a few people still heading down to Randall who I suspected might not make it there by the 2:20pm cutoff, which would probably be both good and bad news to them. Unfortunately I took a wrong turn at one point and added about 0.8 miles and 15 minutes to my day. Eventually I got back to the Bolinas Ridge aid station (42.8 miles, not counting my extra distance) for some more encouraging words from the CRC crew and Connie, and it was time to head back to Pan Toll.

This section might have been the muddiest of the day, though with less actual water than the previous segment. The trail surface sometimes was just a mess of deep muddy pockmarks left by hundreds of now totally muddy running shoes, which made me think that I really should volunteer to do some trail work soon. I never felt like my shoes were going to get pulled off my feet, but it might have been close a few times. I ran into Emmett, from Long Beach, and we walked together pretty slowly for some time. He had a short sleeve shirt and no arm warmers or jacket, but said he wasn’t cold. His glasses were also fogged up from, well, the fog, so he was having trouble seeing the best places to step. I guess I needed the rest of the slower pace, but once I decided to move on I jogged pretty comfortably for maybe a couple of miles. Then I ran out of juice and slowed down again before I finally arrived at the Pan Toll aid station (49.5 miles). This might have been my lowest energy part of the race. Connie commented that my eyes didn’t look like I was all there, though still better than when I did the Death Ride in 1997.

The aid station unexpectedly had some Oreo cookies, and I ended up eating three of them. I worried that they might not sit well on my stomach, but they were fine and really hit the spot. The mud had been reminding me of melted chocolate for the last several miles, so maybe I was primed. In any case I’m pretty lucky to have never gotten nauseated during any of my runs, since that can be the undoing of many people in this sport.

Leaving the Pan Toll aid station I took my two flashlights, because no crew (meaning Connie) was allowed at the following aid station, and I wasn’t sure if I would make it to the one after that before dark. During this segment I spent some time running with Flora Krivak-Tetley, whom I had seen volunteering at many Pacific Coast Trail Runs events, often handing out shirts at the end. The conversation helped keep me moving faster than I likely would have on my own, and I found out later that she had sore feet and the conversation helped her as well, but eventually she sped up and/or I slowed down a bit. A couple of miles later I made it to the Highway 1 aid station (54.7 miles), now officially making this my longest event ever. Cool! From there it was a relatively short distance to the final aid station at Tennessee Valley (58.4 miles), though this section had somewhat more climbing than I had expected. It was getting darker, and I heard some coyotes howling, but there was still enough light to see the trail (and the coyotes, but they kept hidden).

I had been looking forward to the soup that was promised at Tennessee Valley for a while, and it did really hit the spot. I also had at least three aid station workers ask me if I had a working flashlight, so they were definitely making sure no over-tired runners did anything too stupid. I gave my hat to Connie, putting on an ear warmer in its place, with a headlamp over that, and the aid station workers shooed me on my way before I lingered for too long.

I should mention that by now the rain had pretty much completely stopped, and in fact had been less significant since maybe Pan Toll. Though of course with the sun going down it wasn’t getting any warmer.

The last segment is mostly uphill followed by mostly downhill to the finish. Glow sticks had been placed on the trail at the junctions, but between those all you had was the usual ribbons, which were harder to spot with a flashlight than when the sun is out. I actually found it pretty easy to stay on track on narrower trails and the section of paved road in this segment (the latter was made easier by a white line to follow), but on wider dirt fire roads I sometimes found myself coming to the edge of the trail, perpendicular to it, and then needing to scan around to re-orient myself. By this point I had gotten out my second flashlight, which was a small handheld one, and it helped.

I was really pleased to still be moving well. I’m not saying that I was as fast as I had been in the first 20 miles by any means, but I passed 4 or 5 people between Tennessee Valley and the finish, depending on whether or not you count the one guy who was lying down shortly after the aid station, waiting for his stomach to settle down. The only scary part was when I almost fell coming down some stairs—if there hadn’t been a hand rail next to the hand that was not carrying the flashlight, it might have been ugly. By then I could see the lights in the finish area, and hear the people there, so I knew I was close.

And then there I was, crossing the finish line and getting the finishers medal. Wow. I made it. My official time was 15:43:46, which is 20 minutes faster than my plan. Now it was time for a burger, some potatoes, a couple of cookies, and probably a few other things. It all tasted good, but I wasn’t starving.

I collected my goodie bag and shirt, and while I was sitting and eating, an older man named Bill asked us if we were going anywhere near Mountain View. We told him we could take him most of the way, and he eventually agreed when he couldn’t find a better offer and did reach his daughter to pick him up at an appropriate spot. I wish I had gotten his last name, because we learned on the drive down that he is a very accomplished runner, especially for his age group (he is currently 74). Besides various ultras, he says he finished the Boston Marathon in under 3 hours when he was 60 years old. Wow. If anyone knows who he is (one more clue: he lived in New Mexico until recently), let me know.

I didn’t take any pictures, and Connie didn’t either (though she does have a movie of me finishing, which mostly looks like two lights bouncing down a trail, with a brief moment where you can see my face). But here are a couple of links to pictures that others took:

Also, here is a race report by Jean Pommier. It sounds like he had a way tougher day than I did. His carpool partner Scott Dunlap had an easier time, despite setting a 50K PR and also running two marathons (Boston and Big Sur) within the prior two weeks.

A few other small points. My heart rate averaged 127bpm (138bpm through the Randall Trail aid station, and 117bpm for the remainder). I wasn’t very disciplined about electrolyte tablets, taking about 11 of them, because frankly it was a pain to get them out in the rain without letting others get wet, but I didn’t have any cramping problems. I didn’t take any pain relievers until we were on the drive home. And given the wet conditions, I was very happy when I took my shoes off and verified that I had no blisters.

At this point I’m mostly not going to worry too much about May, though I’ll definitely do some running (maybe even a 10K this coming Saturday). In early June I’m doing a running camp in the Tetons with Dreamchasers (put on by Lisa Smith-Batchen and others). Then I’ll be ramping up for my first 100 mile event in early August, the Headlands Hundred. I haven’t quite signed up for that as of this writing, but I expect to very soon. It’s only another 38 miles, right?