Archive for the ‘Running’ Category

2016 Tahoe Rim Trail 100

November 2, 2016

Background

The Tahoe Rim Trail 100 is run entirely on trails on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe, and consists of two 50-mile loops. They actually aren’t really loop-shaped, since there are several segments that you cover in both directions, and even one aid station (Tunnel Creek) that you see three times per loop. The elevation ranges from about 6800’ to just under 9000’.

I tried to run this race in 2012, which was a year of several 100 mile DNFs (Did Not Finish) for me. That year the cutoffs were tighter, and I was the last one who made it through the mile 80 aid station. But I had given what I could to even do that, and thoroughly missed the cutoff at mile 85. My primary motivation this time was to avenge that DNF.

This year there were roughly 236 people registered, of whom 6 did not start.

Preparation

On the whole I was well prepared for this race. I had gotten good mileage in, with a heavy emphasis on vertical. I had prepared for the altitude using a device called AltoLab, plus four weeks before this race I ran the Broken Arrow Skyrace, and about 1.5 weeks before this race I was in Idaho and Wyoming for a few days at altitudes between 6000’ and just under 10,000’. I ran a 10K there on July 4th, finishing over 2 minutes faster than I had at the same race last year.

On the negative side, my core training started late, on June 28th, which (spoiler alert!) turns out to have been a mistake. I took a risk by not doing any heat training, both because it was logistically difficult and because I really hate it, but that didn’t end up being a significant problem.

Weather

The weather worked out well for me. The high temperatures were probably no more than 80°F, and there were almost always good breezes. Actually at times the winds were quite strong on the ridges, which made it hard for some people to stay warm (or keep their hats on), but I tend to thrive at relatively cold temperatures, never putting on my windbreaker after the first few miles of the race. The dry conditions caused a lot of dust, especially in the early miles where the trails were more crowded. But on the whole it’s pretty hard to complain about the weather.

First 50 Miles

The first 50 mile loop went pretty close to my plan, which had me finishing in 32:21 total vs. a 35-hour time limit. The very first seven mile segment to the Hobart aid station was substantially faster than my plan (by about 12 minutes), and then after that I was generally between 12 to 20 minutes ahead of plan at each point along the way to 50 miles. I stayed well focused, pushing neither too hard nor letting up completely. I kept seeing people who are usually well ahead of me, some of whom said they were trying to get used to the altitude—in contrast it hardly seemed noticeable to me.

The one place I saw Connie (my wife and crew) during the loop was at Diamond Peak, which was the 30 mile point. It was warm enough then for me to break out the ice bandana, which helped since the climb out of there is the toughest of the loop, and it was probably also the hottest I saw it all day. On my way back to the halfway point of the race I had a few ounces of beer at the Hobart aid station (mile 40), and the Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA that they had (on tap!) hit the spot.

At the halfway aid station (mile 50), both Connie and my pacer were there and ready for me. I got my good headlamp and handheld flashlight (it was roughly 6:30pm so it seemed a bit early for that, but we wouldn’t see Connie for another 30 miles), switched to GPS #2, took my daily pills, and got some calories in. This took longer than planned, partly because the aid station limited me to one person (Connie or my pacer) inside the aid station at a time. And also because I wanted to make sure I had everything I needed for the night.

A word about my pacer: Brian Robinson was serious overkill for this task. He ran this race and finished fourth in its inaugural running 10 years prior. He has finished the Barkley Marathons (which only 14 distinct people have ever done). Brian was also coincidentally in my high school graduating class, and while we barely knew each other then, we have had more contact since I started running ultramarathons. When I put out the word on Facebook that I was looking for a pacer, Brian agreed.

Second Half

The second half of a 100-miler is always more interesting than the first half…

The next 21.5 miles

Things kept going well, and improved to some extent thanks to Brian. One lesson that I’ll remember is that running, even for a little while, also helps speed up your walking pace. Otherwise you tend to get into a “slog” mentality.

We got to Hobart well ahead of plan, since as on the first loop this segment was easier than I expected. I had another few ounces of beer (motivation!), and we continued to Tunnel Creek. I should mention that my pacer from HURT, Noé Castañón, worked at the Tunnel Creek aid station for the entire time it was open, and this was the fourth of six times I would see him there.

Next was the Red House loop. At the aid station in the middle of the loop, which actually seemed relatively warm (for the mountains in the middle of the night anyway), a friend named Gary said he was having trouble staying warm. Since Gary is usually hours ahead of me (he finished this race in under 26 hours the prior year), this sounded surprisingly ominous.

We made it back to Tunnel Creek (mile 68.5), talking at least part of the time about Brian’s experiences at Barkley, and getting there about an hour ahead of my plan. Cool! The only possible downside was that unless Connie was tracking me in the middle of the night, she might not make it to our planned meeting at mile 80, but I wasn’t very well going to slow down for that reason.

The next section, to Bull Wheel (mile 71.5), was uneventful, or at least I don’t remember anything interesting from it. I think we passed some people, especially on the uphills where we were walking faster than others (those running the uphills were long gone).

Descent to Diamond Peak

This is the longest section (8.5 miles) between aid stations on the course. We were moving well, at least early in the section. And Brian was showing that 1) he knew better than I did how the course arced around, and 2) he intuitively knew how the position of the moon told us where we were in that arc.

But as the section wore on, Brian pointed out that I was leaning to my right. Oh, no! My hardest 100 miler was hard specifically because of this problem (leaning that leads to increasing back pain, making running and even walking increasingly difficult). Since then I have always done core work when preparing for 100 mile races, but I had started that late for this race. He made a series of suggestions for reducing the effect, some of which helped, but I did slow down. It seemed like the aid station would never arrive, but eventually, of course, it did.

We got there (mile 80) just before 4 AM, which was about 90 minutes ahead of my plan and well over three hours faster than I had gotten there in 2012. But despite that Connie was there!

There were also medical people there, so I spent a fair amount of time talking to them and actually lying down on a cot for a little while (I think this was the first time I have ever done that during a race). Thankfully the medical people didn’t seem at all inclined to pull me from the race, and frankly their suggestions were less useful than the ones I had already gotten from Brian.

A friend and sometimes coach, Franz, was on another cot, and he was sleeping. He is usually far ahead of me, but had been having a tough race (he might have been sick). His wife was there, though, so he was in good hands.

I switched to GPS #3 and put on sunscreen for day two. And while I did jettison a few things for weight at Brian’s suggestion, I did decide to take my hiking poles, both for the steep climb out and to help stabilize my leaning. In all I was at Diamond Peak for over 30 minutes, which is eternity, especially since my plan had called for only seven minutes.

Diamond Peak to Tunnel Creek

The climb out of Diamond Peak is where I fell behind the cutoffs in 2012, but this time I was way ahead of where I was then. Plus that also meant it was still dark and cool, which helped a great deal. This brutally steep climb straight up a ski slope was not part of the inaugural course that Brian ran in 2006, so I was curious what he would think of it in comparison to the notorious climbs in the Barkley (verdict: in the same ballpark of steepness).

Fairly early in the climb, though, I had a new issue to deal with, namely a strong need for a bathroom (I’ll try to be fairly delicate and avoid the details). Walking slowly uphill didn’t involve much jostling (which meant it wasn’t too bad), and I hoped there was a portable toilet at Bull Wheel.

But there wasn’t. And the three miles from there to the last of six Tunnel Creek aid station stops had a fair amount of downhill. As a result the jostling made things worse, overshadowing the leaning problem, and I had to walk more than I otherwise would have. Needless to say when we got to Tunnel Creek I went directly to one of the portable toilets there. What a sight for sore eyes!

By this point, at mile 85, I had definitely lost some of the cushion on my plan, but we were still about 50 minutes ahead of it when we left Tunnel Creek just before 7 AM.

Tunnel Creek to Snow Valley Peak

Okay, the bathroom problem was handled, but during the five-mile stretch to my last stop at the Hobart aid station a new issue was added. Specifically, I started wheezing when I was breathing harder. At the time we thought maybe the altitude had finally caught up with me, but in retrospect I wonder if the dusty conditions might have been a factor. By this point the leaning made my back hurt when I tried to jog downhill, and combined with the impaired breathing uphill meant it was almost all walking, and not all that fast either.

After my last beer at Hobart, we continued on the three mostly uphill miles to the last full aid station of the race at Snow Valley Peak (mile 93). I was slow enough that passing even casual hikers who were on the trail wasn’t easy or always even possible.

But the aid station had sherbert! The flavor I first asked for had just run out, but my backup flavor still hit the spot since it was now a little after 10 AM and it was getting warm. One amazing thing is that a much faster friend named Mark arrived there after I did, and was still there when we left. And amazingly we were still about 50 minutes ahead of my (obviously fairly conservative) plan at that point.

The rest

The last seven miles were mostly downhill, but the leaning with its associated back pain, and to a lesser degree the heat, were really kicking in and substantially slowing me down. A number of people passed me, including that much faster friend Mark. I was in total slog mode now, though still totally committed to finishing. Somewhere in there I figured out that walking faster only hurt a little more than walking slowly, and getting this done sooner was worth it.

There was one limited aid station in this section, which was good since the heat had increased my fluid consumption significantly. One of the people at that aid station said that she has seen the leaning problem at Badwater, and she believed the issue was electrolytes. I took some, and for a few minutes the placebo effect had me actually thinking she was right, but in the end, at least for me, that made little if any difference.

Cutting to the chase, I did finally get to the finish. I usually save a bit so that I can run the last short stretch to the finish line, even if I have been walking it in, but this time that just seemed wrong for some reason so I walked across the line. My official time was 32:08:37. I had lost about 37 minutes on my plan just in the last seven miles, but that still means I was 13 minutes under. And I was done! DNF avenged!

I went immediately to the medical tent, where they checked me out and asked a bunch of questions. I don’t remember the details, but I do remember feeling coherent and calm because while this had been painful, I had been sure I was going to finish. Later Connie got me an appointment with the Monsters of Massage, who had a tent with two massage tables near the finish line. They temporarily added to the pain since they specialize in “extreme deep tissue sports massage,” but that was well worth it since I left them closer to vertical than I had arrived.

Thoughts and Lessons

On the whole I was well prepared for this race. I was lucky on weather and getting such a great pacer. The main thing to do better is more core work to avoid the leaning problem, with a secondary lesson of remembering to use the bathroom when it’s available.

I feel really proud about how I did compared to some normally much faster people I knew in this race. Gary, who was cold around mile 65, DNFed at mile 80. Franz, who was asleep at mile 80, finished just after me. And Mark, who was just behind me at mile 93, only passed me in the last few miles. And one other runner I know who is normally somewhat faster DNFed pretty early due to altitude problems. In all I think about 75 people who started did not finish, and this time I was not among them.

My other 100-mile DNFs that still need avenging are the HURT 100 and Western States. Both have lotteries and unfortunately I already know I won’t be running HURT in January, but when I do get the chance to run them again I will make the most of it. As I approach 60 years old, the clock is ticking.

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A Low-carb Experiment

September 4, 2016

I’ve been considering trying a low-carbohydrate diet for a while now, mostly from hearing about ultrarunners being very successful with it, on podcasts like Endurance Planet. From a long-distance running perspective, the main goal is to train my body to be better at burning fat, since in long races it has to do that in the later miles, so it might as well be better at it. I also thought there might be a chance of reducing my midsection fat, since from a health perspective that is the worst place to carry fat, and lose a few pounds in general. Some people also lower their blood pressure, and getting off that prescription would be cool.

Someone who often appears on Endurance Planet is Dr. Phil Maffetone, and he has talked about his two-week test several times. It’s pretty extreme, with almost zero carbs, but for two weeks I thought I could do it, despite the total prohibition on beer (and diet soda, which is my normal source of caffeine). I picked a time with no races on the immediate horizon, and started the test on August 22nd. That makes today the final day.

So how has it gone? I would say pretty well. The cravings have been pretty minor, and the inconveniences (primary not being able to just buy lunch at the work cafeteria or pick up a meal when out and about) have not been as bad as I feared. Since I hate coffee and don’t like tea much better, I took a caffeine pill on the first day and then waited for the withdrawal headaches to come, but they never did, so I am now on day 13 of being caffeine-free. I went on a couple of long (3-4 hour) trail runs with zero calories, which felt very risky, but I was fine and only a little slower than usual. I lost a couple of pounds, which is less to carry up the hills.

Am I going to continue this? Yes, at least for a while and possibly forever. I will absolutely reintroduce beer to my diet, though probably at a lower level than before, and a few other things in small quantities. I should probably find a book or two to figure out some of the possible pitfalls of low-carb living, so I can avoid them.

Some things that were constants in my diet for decades that I’m surprised to not be missing much at all include Diet Coke, breakfast cereal, and rice. I can imagine never having them again (except maybe rice as part of sushi, every once in a while). Things that I have given up for the two-week test that I cannot imagine giving up forever include the aforementioned beer, and also chocolate (maybe even darker than my previous 71%), ice cream (only a few times a year, but some), popcorn (when we host a movie night, meaning rarely), and the ability to eat out sometimes.

Of course I haven’t tried running any ultramarathons yet, though I have a trail 50K on the schedule in just under three weeks. I will probably take in a few carbs during such races, and figure out what works in this new world order.

The experiment continues.

2016 HURT 100

April 2, 2016

This post is about my 2016 attempt at the HURT 100. I’ve started it four times, and this year I got further than ever before, but I still haven’t finished it. And I think I know why.

This is long. My apologies, but it is a 100-mile race.

About the HURT 100

This trail race through the mountains above Honolulu is unlike any other race I have done. You have to hike, not run, a lot of the trail, thanks to the rocks, roots, and mud, plus a hefty amount (over 24,000′ total) of climbing. Given the difficulty of the terrain, the 36-hour total time limit is actually short, and finishing rates are consistently under 50%. The name is certainly appropriate, though it is actually an acronym for Hawaii Ultra Running Team, the organization that puts on the race.

The course consists of five identical 20-mile loops, each made up of three legs. The first leg starts at the Nature Center, runs up to Pauoa Flats, and down to the Paradise Park aid station (roughly mile 7). The second leg runs back up to Pauoa Flats and down to the Nu’uanu aid station (mile 13). The third leg runs back up to Pauoa Flats and down to the Nature Center aid station (mile 20). Pauoa Flats is the high point of each of the three legs, and actually is pretty flat, but is also covered with ankle-threatening banyan roots and at least some mud.

Besides the final 36-hour cutoff, there are also cutoffs at 29 hours (80 miles), 31:30 (87 miles), and 33:30 (93 miles).

If you don’t finish, they also define a “fun run” of about 67 miles, meaning three full loops plus the first leg of the fourth loop, ending at the Paradise Park aid station. They used to call this the 100K.

Making things a bit easier, and much more pleasant, is that the volunteers are great, with a genuine feeling of family (“ohana”). The race is always held on Martin Luther King weekend in January, with a wonderful banquet and awards ceremony the Monday evening after the race ends (more 100-mile races should have parties!).

My History With HURT

I first ran the HURT 100 in 2011, and ran it again in 2012 and 2013, not finishing it any of those times. In 2014 and 2015 I was injured or recovering and did not start the race, though I volunteered. Add in the fact that the oldest finishers are generally only a few years older than I am now, and the urgency was clear.

For the record, these are my results:

  • 2011: 67 miles in just over 29 hours
  • 2012: 67 miles in 28:16
  • 2013: 67 miles in 29:40, and then continued on to 73 miles in 32:43 total

Preparing for this Year

For pretty much all of 2015, this race was the focus of my training. Despite distractions and the holidays, I got down to my target weight, which was about 20 pounds less than I was for at least one other 100 miler. My 2015 race results reflected both that and my more rigorous training, with Personal Records (PRs) at 50 miles (twice!), 100K, and even a paved half marathon. In early November I ran my first complete 100 miler in three years, mostly to re-wrap my head around the 100-mile distance, but I also came within a couple of minutes of my 100-mile PR. So I was better prepared this year than ever before, but also older.

Here are a few other things I did to prepare:

  • I experimented with electrolytes. After listening to Dr. Timothy Noakes, I tried using few or no electrolyte capsules in some races up to 50 miles. For HURT I eventually decided to stick to a more traditional plan, in deference to Hawaii’s much higher heat and humidity.
  • I tried a weight vest. It was adjustable up to 20 pounds, and I did a few hikes wearing it. I got it too late to do as much as I would have liked, but given how steep HURT is, and how much of it I would be hiking, it was a good addition.
  • I did core work. As usual before 100-mile races, I worked on my core muscles, trying to avoid the issues I had in the Grand Teton 100. Core work is way less fun to me than trail running.
  • I did heat training. This is basically spending time in a sauna during the last few weeks before a warm race. I hate heat training even more than core work, but I know it helps.
  • I previewed the course. As usual, we got to Honolulu a full week in advance, and I spent some time on the course the prior weekend. It was muddier than I had ever seen it before, and it turns out that the muddiest part (on the Judd Trail, near the Nu’uanu aid station) was one of the few sections I did not get to preview.
  • I recruited a dedicated pacer. I had never had one before at HURT. Noé is great, and very experienced.

This was going to be my best chance yet at finishing the race, but the nervousness built as the race approached. My plan was based mostly on the splits of a runner from the prior year, and it called for me to get to the 100K point well over five hours faster than I ever had before. Put another way, that’s almost five minutes per mile faster. Yikes!

The Race

Race morning I got up with my alarm at 3:40 am and got ready (sunscreen, lubricant, some calories, etc.). Connie drove me to the start around 5 am, where the was a minor hiccup: a van backed into the front of our rental car as I finished getting my stuff out. The volunteer who was directing parking told me to go run my race, which was good advice. The race started on time at 6 am.

Loop 1 (miles 1-20)

This loop was close to perfect. I was only a minute off my plan at the first aid station, lost a bit of time on the second leg due to the mud pits on the Nu’uanu side, but was back to a minute off by the end of the loop. I did feel like I was having to push a bit harder than I hoped, as gauged by a higher than planned heart rate, but I was still feeling good. I was also ahead of some runners I know are normally better than me, which meant that I was having a good day, they were having bad days, or I was pushing too hard.

Loop 2 (miles 21-40)

The second loop was similar in that I stuck very close to the plan. I did roll my right ankle at one point, and it hurt badly for a few minutes, but worked itself out quickly. Other pains, like a few toes and the bottom of one foot, were also transitory. This isn’t to say that I was pain free through 40 miles, but everything was within a tolerable limit.

Loop 3 (miles 41-60)

At this point, 40 miles into the race, I got my pacer, Noé. Pacers always give me a mental boost, both in spirits and in that they are more alert due to being better rested. He led at first, looking back periodically to wait for me to catch up. The first climb up what the locals call Hogsback seemed slower than I hoped, since sometimes the energy of a pacer can boost your own energy. I ran when I could, mostly, but things were definitely slowing down. I had expected that, but feared this was a bigger dropoff than planned.

Here’s an important point, though I totally missed it at the time: I stopped tracking where we were relative to the plan. Before I got my pacer I checked the plan at least once per leg and was totally on task. Now I had unconsciously ceded responsibility to Noé, only neither of us realized that. And not being consciously on task is likely a big part of why I didn’t finish. I also stopped using Vespa as regularly as I had been (on a three-hour schedule), and I took longer than usual in the aid stations. As I recall Noé did mention that we were getting a bit behind, but I either blew that off or got discouraged, so I was not nearly as present as I had been previously. He and others we saw on the trail or in aid stations remained sure that we could finish, but over time my doubt grew. I didn’t think I could speed up, and I would need to at least a little bit, to make the cutoffs.

As an aside, ceding control and not being present is a pattern in multiple areas of my life and does not serve me well. It won’t be easy to change after being alive for 55 years, but any progress would be good in many ways beyond ultramarathons.

At about mile 53, the climb out of Nu’uanu is interesting in this regard. Noé experimented with having me lead, and he thought I was a bit faster that way, which is consistent with the ownership theory. But as it turns out, I actually fell behind my plan by an additional 16 minutes on that leg, so it’s hard to say if this really helped or hurt.

So by the time we finished loop 3 (mile 60), I was 40 minutes behind schedule and my hopes of finishing were evaporating since that meant I had to start gaining on my plan, to the tune of 31 minutes in 40 miles, or about 45 seconds per mile, which is a lot.

Loop 4 (miles 61-80)

A woman who started that loop about when I did said something about needing two 7.5 hour loops, which seemed impossible to me. When she powered up Hogsback much faster than us, my fear that finishing was beyond my abilities was seemingly confirmed. (I believe that she did not quite finish, making it to 93 miles just after the cutoff there.) The descent to Paradise Park at the end of that leg was especially leisurely and unfocused, being more about the conversation and less about the race. I remember wondering what Noé was thinking, but I never asked, frankly glad to have a break. Looking back at the data, this was by far my worst leg, losing 49 minutes compared to my plan (the next worst leg lost 24 minutes). Despite that we made it to the 100K point before it got light Sunday morning, which was better than my fastest previous time by just under four hours.

The climb out seemed equally casual, and the descent to Nu’uanu was also slow, though in that case it was more about the treacherousness of the slick trail. The final leg to the 80-mile cutoff seemed more focused due to “smelling the barn,” though it was the hottest leg of the race and I ran out of water. In the end we missed the 80-mile cutoff by 1:06:55, and my plan by over two hours.

Loop 5 (miles 81-100)

This is what I did not get to do because I missed the cutoff.

Lessons

As they say (or I do, anyway), this was “yet another f-ing growth opportunity.”  Here are a few things in particular, some reiterating what I said before:

  • Stay focused and retain ownership of getting to the finish line. This is critical.
  • Expect and even embrace the pain. Other runners were hobbling around the party the next day, and I could walk almost normally, so I probably wasn’t trying as hard as most of them were.
  • Train for stepping down from high drop-offs. That hurt a lot in the later miles.
  • Stay ahead of any chafing issues. This was most problematic in some sensitive areas starting in loop 4, though in contrast my feet were blister-free.
  • Practice with poles. I had some, but hardly practiced with them at all leading up to the race. So while Noé and I considered having me use them on loop 4, I opted not to.
  • Get a waist- or chest-level light. Headlamps are very close to your eyes, so they cast shadows that are directly behind obstacles, making the obstacles hard to see. My normal solution is a handheld flashlight, but that precludes using poles.
  • Buy enough good flashlights so I can have one in each drop bag. It’s not worth trying to predict where I might need one, or to risk using a bad flashlight in an important race. (And yes, a $50 flashlight is much better than a $5 or $10 one.)
  • Have the capacity to carry more water. Running out of water on the last leg I completed is not good.

I can finish this race, even at my advanced age! Ernie Floyd, who is six years older than me, ran the race again this year after being 0-for-4 in the past. He finished, and had well over 90 minutes to spare. Coincidentally, my next attempt will be my 5th try.

Lastly, since getting from where I was this year to where I need to be is more about the mental game than the physical one (though both definitely help!), I bought a book called The Ultra Mindset, by Travis Macy. I knew about the book already, but as it turns out Travis ran HURT for his first time this year. He not only finished, but he tied for 5th. I’m only a little way into the book so far, but I think it’s helping.

If I work hard on all of those things, plus everything I already did for this attempt, I will be able to finish this race!

Rio del Lago 100, November 7-8, 2015

November 18, 2015

Background and Pre-race

Rio del Lago is a 100 mile footrace in the Sierra foothills. It’s been about 5 years since I’ve written up a race report, but it seems like one is in order this time.

This was not my real target race, which feels kind of snotty to say. My real target race is the one I have started three times but never finished, which is the HURT (Hawaii Ultra Running Team) 100 miler, coming up in mid-January 2016. But as it has been three years since I last finished any 100 mile race (Javelina in 2012) due to a stress fracture in 2013, it seemed foolish to go into HURT without a recent successful 100 mile finish. Or as I told some people, I needed to re-wrap my head around the 100 mile distance. That this wasn’t my target also explains why I ran a hilly 50K race just two weeks before this race.

Rio del Lago is a trail race, but it is on the easier side of the spectrum of trail 100 milers, primarily due to having less than 10,000′ of climbing. There I go, sounding snotty again. 100 miles on foot is never easy. Even trail 50K’s are never completely easy. But that combined with having a pretty good 12 months (with personal records at Quad Dipsea, 50 miles, 100K, and even the road half marathon), I was hoping to have a relatively fast time. My plan was for 27 hours, with a previous personal record (PR) of 26:11:53. The overall time limit was 30 hours.

I hadn’t arranged a pacer until fairly close to the race, but Norm agreed to help. He had run this race as his first 100 miler the prior year, though on a somewhat harder course than the one we had this time. The plan was for him to join me when I first got to the aid station at the Cool fire station, at the 52 mile mark. My wife Connie agreed to be my crew, at least during normal waking hours, and even more importantly to drive me home afterwards.

I got a ride to the start with another runner that I ran into on my way to the hotel elevator, which allowed Connie to sleep in. I got to the race in plenty of time before the start, and noticed that it was a little colder than I expected.

First Half

The race started on time at 5:00 am with roughly 327 runners. The early parts of the course were the easiest, including a lot of paved paths and only a few hills. At 19.2 miles we came back through where we started. I left my flashlight in my drop bag and kept moving, a bit over 30 minutes ahead of my plan. The next aid station, 5.1 miles later, is where I first expected to see Connie. But I got there at 9:33 am vs. a plan of 10:26 am, so I missed her. Besides not seeing her, that also meant that I couldn’t get the Vespa (a product that purports to enhance fat burning, which reduces the need to take in quite so many carbohydrates) I was planning to take at 11 am. Oh well, it wasn’t a showstopper, and in retrospect I should have put it in my drop bag just in case this happened. Forgetting that the next segment was 8.7 miles and not refilling my hydration pack was a bigger mistake, but also not fatal.

I got the the Rattlesnake Bar aid station (mile 35.8) at around 12:22 pm, which was just over an hour ahead of my plan. This time Connie was there. Yay!  I resupplied, with George and Kristin of Coastside Running Club (there to crew another club member) helping refill my pack. I also grabbed a flashlight, since my plan didn’t have me reaching another point where I could do that (mile 52) until after dark. I was enough ahead of schedule that that shouldn’t be necessary, but better safe than sorry.

The segments from Rattlesnake Bar to the aid station at the Cool fire station included a couple of big climbs, which I had accounted for in my planned paces for those segments. It also included going across the famous No Hands Bridge, which is an iconic part of the Western States course. I generally kept on track or gained on my plan, arriving in Cool (mile 52) at 4:39 pm vs. my plan of 6:05 pm. Given Norm’s schedule I was pretty sure I was going to get there before him and have to run one 8 mile loop without him, but since Connie dropped him off before finding parking, he was there and ready to go. He talked me into getting my headlamp (in addition to the handheld light I had carried from Rattlesnake Bar). The parking was insane, but luckily the course followed the road that the cars were parking along, so we did see Connie walking from the car before we turned off the road onto the trail.

Second Half

Despite being so far ahead of my plan, I had been moderating my effort all day, so I still had something left for the second half. Norm got me running a bit more than I had been, and we talked while the sun went down. And when it went down it did get colder, and I started to wonder if the arm warmers I had in my pack would be sufficiently warm for the middle of the night. My windbreaker was in Connie’s car, but given how far that was parked from the aid station, I thought it might not be an option.

But while we were running that loop, Connie was able to repark substantially closer to the aid station, though still several minutes away. In the spirit of “better safe than sorry,” and considering that we didn’t expect to see Connie again until the finish line, we did hang around longer so that I would have the windbreaker. As it turns out I never did wear it, but I would probably still make that decision if I had it to do again.

This was definitely the longest aid station stop of the race, with the combination of the wait for the windbreaker, taking in plenty of calories (around then might have been when I first tried the egg and cheese burritos, which worked great for me), and making sure I had everything else I needed from Connie or my drop bag. But eventually we headed out for the same 8 mile loop, though this time in the opposite direction. We made reasonable time (we didn’t memorize the splits, but Norm is pretty sure the second loop was faster than the first), getting back to the Cool  aid station (mile 68 this time) at 9:13 pm vs. my plan of 10:32 pm.

Next was back down to No Hands Bridge, and then up to the Camp Flint Gate aid station (mile 75.3). This was the last big climb of the race, but definitely not the last climb. By then my first GPS finally started saying it was running low on battery, so I swapped to the second one, which I had been carrying since mile 60.

A couple more segments got us back to the Rattlesnake Bar aid station (mile 84.2) at 2:00 am vs. my plan of 3:15 am. Next was the Horseshoe Bar aid station (mile 87) a bit before 3:18 am (that is when I texted Connie that we had just left) vs. my plan of 4:03 am, so that segment was slower than planned. In that text I estimated finishing between 6:30 and 7:30 am.

Around this time Norm told me that if I needed to drop him and go on ahead, I should feel free to do so. This segment to the last aid station was a long one (8.7 miles), and we stuck together for a while, but eventually I did pull ahead and didn’t see him again until the finish. This was also a section with a lot of rocks, affectionately called the “meat grinder.” I had hardly noticed the rocks in the other direction, but they did get my attention now. But given my larger goal of finishing the very rocky (and rooty, and often muddy) HURT course, I pushed myself a bit harder than I would have normally. I reminded myself that accepting some pain, and even seeking it out to a small degree, was good mental preparation. Even so this segment took me about 25 minutes longer than planned, arriving at 6:02 am vs. my plan of 6:25 am. Part of that was caused by a twisty section that had me thinking I was going in circles and repeating the same trails. A later review of the GPS data indicates that I was not actually lost, but I know that that uncertainty contributed to my slowness.

A bit later I called Connie to tell her that even a 7:30 am finish might have been optimistic. She was already at the finish, though, so this didn’t help her get any more sleep. Oh, well, might as well keep pushing and see what happens.

The last section was listed on the web site as 5.7 miles. I should have noticed that the same section on the way out was only listed as 5.1 miles, and the shorter actual distance, combined with the much easier terrain than the prior segment, made a difference. As I got within sight of the finish I started to wonder if a PR might actually still be in reach. Based on what I could tell, it probably was, if I kept running. What I hadn’t counted on was that the course made a big loop around the parking lot before we actually finished, so I missed my PR by less than two minutes. My finishing time was 26:13:23.

Thoughts

All in all I was very happy with how things turned out. I finished. I held back enough in the first half to run well in the second half, moving up about 40 places from mile 52 to the finish. I pushed into enough pain to remind myself what that is like, but not so much that it required much downtime from training—I was running again three days later. I also didn’t fall.

On the “could do it better” front, I didn’t plan well for warm clothes, I took too long at several aid stations, I need to train better for the steep climbs at HURT, and I got a couple of blisters.

Bottom line: I’m back!

 

Grand Teton Races 100, September 4-5 2010

August 28, 2011

[I wrote an initial draft of this post shortly after the race, but I’m just now getting around to posting it.]

Since I took the Dreamchasers running camp last summer, I have thought about doing this race, but I had expected to do it at a later time. Then a variety of circumstances led me to sign up to do it this year. And then it was announced that this would be the last year for the 100-mile option (they’ll still have the shorter races), so I was really glad I would be able to do it.

The race takes place in Alta, WY, about 20 minutes from where my father grew up in Driggs, ID. He and his SO have a townhouse there, which was a great place to stay. They and my wife Connie graciously agreed to be my crew for the race, trading off until late morning on Sunday, when they were all there for me.

The scary part of this race to me, besides the usual respect that 100 miles is due, was the altitude. I live at about 2200′ and work essentially at sea level, so this course’s 6700′ to 9800′ altitude was a concern. Since I didn’t have enough vacation time to arrive much more than three days before the race, I ended up buying a device called AltoLab, a breathing apparatus that simulates lower oxygen levels. I did the initial 15-day cycle at home, breathing with it one hour per day, ending on the Monday (8/30) before the race. I had worked up a pessimistic prediction for the race that called for an average speed of about 3 mph, based on the actual splits from a 2009 runner (Lynne Hewett), whom I have never met but whose times seemed like they might fit me reasonably well. A normal brisk walking pace is 4 mph, but remember that this was a lot longer and hillier.

The first morning I was in the area was Wednesday (9/1), and Wednesday is my traditional day for the last short run before a Saturday ultra. The one part of the course I had zero experience with was the Rick’s Basin portion, which conveniently was exactly as long (5 miles) as I was looking to cover that day. Also conveniently the course was mostly flagged already, so I only covered about 1/2 a mile further than intended after one wrong turn. The weather was drizzly, and it was clearly snowing up at the top of Fred’s Mountain, where the race would be going. But the forecast was for warming through Saturday, so I was more concerned with possible heat than with snow.

Race director and ultra legend Lisa Smith-Batchen promised me that she would find a pacer for me, and she really came through with Amy, who had finished her first 100-miler at Leadville (at high altitudes in Colorado) two weeks prior to this race. Despite Amy’s relatively young age, her enthusiasm and extensive outdoor experience were perfect. We met her for the first time at dinner the Thursday night before the race, in her current Jackson, WY, hometown.

I got to bed fairly early Friday night, and got up when the 3:30 am alarm went off. I got ready (sunscreen, Body Glide, etc.), and my father drove me to the start. As it got close to the 6:00 am Saturday start time, Jay Batchen (co-race director with his wife Lisa) made sure the 16 of us got any last-minute questions answered, and started us right on time. There were 17 signed up, so one apparently did not start (DNS).

The course consists of four laps of a 25-mile course. Each lap has three sections, all of which come back to the start/finish at the Grand Targhee resort:

  • Section A is the most brutal, with a 2.8-mile 1800′ climb up Fred’s Mountain to the top of the main chairlift (where there is a full aid station), and back the same way.
  • Section B is a total of 14.4 miles in the Mill Creek area: 5.7 miles to the lower Ski Hill Road aid station (mostly down), 3.3 miles up Ski Hill Road itself to the Cold Springs aid station, and 5.4 miles back to the start/finish (more up than down). The 5.7 and 5.4 mile segments also had intermediate unattended water-only aid stations.
  • Section C is 5.0 miles around Rick’s Basin (the mellowest section of the course), with an intermediate unattended water-only aid station.

The race started. The first trip up Fred’s was pretty fun. I was fresh, the sun was coming up (we needed flashlights for 20 minutes or so), and there were people to talk to (mostly Al, from New York, and Katy, from Wyoming, both of whom I stayed pretty close to for about the first 11 miles). I counted ten people ahead of us (coming back while we were still going up). My first round-trip up Fred’s took about 1:18, which was about eight minutes faster than my plan.

The Mill Creek section didn’t seem too bad, though at one point I had to stop quickly since there was a moose standing directly on the trail. I knew Al and Katy were close behind, so I waited for them so that we had safety in numbers to shoo her (no antlers) off the trail. You don’t get moose in California, at least where I live!

Rick’s Basin was pretty easy too. One of the other runners from the running camp I did last year (Becky) was doing the 50-miler, and she passed me during this section at around 11:00 am on Saturday. Since they started at 7:00 am, she covered in 4 hours what took me 5 (she went on to be the women’s winner of the 50, and fourth place overall of 46 starters). Congratulations, Becky!

I got to the 25 mile point at 11:53 am Saturday, which was 23 minutes ahead of plan. At this point I actually thought this course might be easier—or at least not much harder—than the other 100-milers that I’ve done.

My second trip up Fred’s Mountain quickly put any thoughts of this being an easy course to rest, with the warmer temperatures adding to the challenge (though the day never got as hot as I expected it to from the forecasts). It felt much slower, though my plan was conservative enough that I actually picked up a little more time. After that, this second lap began to run pretty close to plan.

Race nutrition is important, and can be interesting. While boiled potatoes are my normal go-to food during the first 50 miles, they stopped looking good. I found I craved more protein, primarily the turkey and cheese wraps that most of the aid stations had. But the wraps were missing something. Just the evening before, Duncan Callahan (winner of the Leadville 100-miler that my pacer had just run) had waxed poetic about turkey, cheese, and avocado wraps during his pre-race presentation. It became hard to think about anything other than avocado, so at the Ski Hill Road aid station I asked Connie if she could get some. Before I even got to the next aid station she had found some. And it was good! [Connie’s interjection: I went to the Grand Targhee restaurant between hours, found a wait person, and said “My husband is running the hundred mile race and he’d like to get an avocado. Can I buy one? It’s really good nutrition for runners.” And, yay! They came through.]

During the segment from Cold Springs to Grand Targhee (miles 39.6 to 45.0) in the late afternoon on Saturday, it occurred to me that 1) my stated priorities were that enjoying the experience was more important than my actual time, 2) I was very likely to finish under the 36-hour cutoff (6:00 pm Sunday), and in any case a few minutes would be very unlikely to be the difference in that outcome, and 3) it was Connie’s and my 11th wedding anniversary that day. So I hatched a slightly crazy plan. When I got back to Grand Targhee I told Connie that I was going to take a few minutes, and I flagged down a waiter at the restaurant adjacent to the aid station. My hope was that for the $15 I had on me I could buy a glass of Champagne, a glass of something similar but non-alcoholic, and we could toast our anniversary before continuing the race. This turned out not to be easy, since they didn’t have Champagne by the glass. But the wine list indicated they had a half bottle for $12, so I still had hope. But after two different waiters looked for it, a third confirmed that they definitely did not have it. I ended up settling for soda water in two plastic cups. Oh, well, it’s the thought that counts, right? And Connie and I linked elbows and toasted eleven years. Sweet!

In the last section of the second lap (miles 45.0 to 50.0), the leaders (Duncan Callahan and Andy Jones-Wilkins) lapped me, meaning they were 25 miles ahead of me after about 13 hours.

I arrived at the 50.0 mile point at 7:33 pm, only 11 minutes ahead of plan, feeling generally good but knowing that the steeper uphills were continuing to get harder. Amy (my pacer) was ready to go, so it was time for my third trek up Fred’s. My plan was really pessimistic, so again I picked up time despite moving really slowly. The Fred’s aid station was really cold, as the sun had just gone down, but the people volunteering there were in good spirits, even when the space heater lit the insulated pants of one of them on fire (it was quickly put out, with no injuries except to the pants, which were patched with camouflage-colored duct tape).

I got to the 64.6 mile point (Cold Springs aid station) at 12:51 am Sunday, 43 minutes ahead of my plan, which was probably the best yet. In the next segment (miles 64.6 to 70.0) we were told that some people had seen a moose, and sure enough we did see one (another cow, based on the lack of antlers), maybe 20 yards off the trail. It was probably wondering why there were strange people running through in the dark, since it was probably close to 2:00 am. I wonder what other wildlife was there that we didn’t see? This is one reason why having a pacer is good at night, especially one with as much wildlife experience as Amy has (in the past she has seen a mountain lion at very short range, a wolverine, etc.).

It was probably also in this section that I first started to lean to my right. By the end of the third lap (mile 75.0 at 5:01 am Sunday, 26 minutes ahead of plan and 23 hours into the race), the lean was obvious to me and even more obvious to anyone who looked at me. Having heard a similar story from another coach, my theory was that my core muscles had reached their limit, and just couldn’t keep me upright any more.

It was time for my fourth trip up Fred’s, but thankfully the last. The leaning was making my back hurt, so maybe two-thirds of the way up I took my first pain relievers of the race (acetaminophen). The sun rose during the segment (in fact both sunrises and the one sunset all happened during the Fred’s segment—weird). I lost time, despite my plan calling for doing this climb and descent at an average of 29:30/mile pace, about two mph.

At the Grand Targhee aid station (mile 80.6 at 8:00 am Sunday—still 15 minutes ahead of plan), a doctor offered to take a look at my back, so I sat down for the first time during the race. She asked questions and poked around a bit. Nowhere she poked hurt due to the poking, and she agreed with my self-diagnosis: That this would not be a long-term injury (my number one priority—the only one more important than finishing), and that the worst case scenario was back spasms which could be temporarily debilitating.

The section down to the Ski Hill Road aid station (mile 86.3) was where I first started to wonder if I would finish or not. The pain increased, I could rarely run even downhill, and I didn’t seem to be able to even walk continuously. I needed to stop frequently and bend over forward to stretch out my lower back. Many people doing the marathon (which started at 7:00 am Sunday) told me I was an inspiration or their hero as they passed, which made no sense to me at the time. In retrospect, if I was really leaning something like 45° to the right as I have since been told, then I can understand it a little better.

When I finally got to the Ski Hill Road aid station (mile 86.3 at 10:48 am Sunday), I used the word “intolerable” when describing the pain to Connie. She thought I was getting ready to quit, but what I really meant is that the pain was too strong to ignore or run through. At this point I realized that I had 13.7 miles to go with a maximum remaining time of just over seven hours, and the required 30:00/mile pace would not be a slam dunk in my current condition. I needed to keep moving as best as I could.

Amy was a little sleepy and needed a nap, so she asked if Connie could walk the next 3.3 miles up Ski Hill Road with me. Since the even surface of the pavement caused somewhat less lower back pain than trails did (less stabilization was required from my non-existent core muscles), I pushed this segment a little, to try to get a little cushion for the final two segments.

Connie wants to say something here:

Mike’s being modest. The 3.3 miles I went with him up Ski Hill Road were agonizing. Mike stopped every hundred or two hundred yards and bent over to stretch his back and make painful throat noises. We kept thinking the aid station was around the next bend or the next or the next and being disappointed. I found myself trying to figure out how much longer he’d have to endure this, and wondering how best to support him. I decided that, since it didn’t look like physical damage, and there were only a dozen miles left (half a marathon, but a pittance for ultra runners), it was up to him. But I did encourage him to swear, since the Mythbusters say it really does help when you’re in pain.

At the Cold Springs aid station (mile 89.6 at 12:11 pm) I sat for a few minutes since sitting at the previous two stops seemed to help my back. When I was ready to go, I actually took off fairly quickly for maybe 100 yards or so, when I found myself getting out of breath more than I would expect even at this stage of a 100-miler. I wheezed a bit on many exhales, and the back pain became just one of two issues to worry about, especially since this segment was second only to Fred’s in the amount and steepness of climbing. Thanks so much to Amy for her patience, especially in this excruciatingly slow segment (roughly three hours to cover 5.4 miles).

At the final aid station stop (mile 95.0 at 3:22 pm), Connie looked me in the eye and could see that I wasn’t fully present. So she got my attention and said “You need to pull yourself together. You have 2.5 hours to finish the last five miles.” I had been sitting for eight minutes, so my back felt better, and I got up and started moving again.

These miles had less climbing than the previous segment, and I also hoped that “smelling the barn” would get me moving slightly faster. It was decided that my father would pace this final segment, which was cool since he started running marathons in his mid-40’s and thus was one of my inspirations to do the same. All the way through I was watching the distance covered (now on my third GPS of the race) vs. the time remaining, and managed to stay ahead of where I needed to be. Cutting a few minutes off my finishing time was not worth pushing through any more pain, though, so when I was passed by Katy (from early in the race), it was not a big deal. Any finish before the 6:00 pm deadline would be a victory.

Eventually I did get to the final short descent to the finish. Unlike the short sprints I finished my previous two 100-milers with, this was an ugly Quasimodo-like jog/shuffle. Whatever. I was done in 35:50:01, I sat down, someone put a blanket over my legs, and someone found me a beer. I got my medal and my belt buckle (buckles are traditional for 100-milers, but my other two 100-milers did not give them out, so the buckle was a big incentive in my mind for most of the afternoon).

Connie says:

I want to give you the flavor for this: My guy is nearing the finish line, covered with dust and dried sweat, leaning at about 1:30 and he still ran at the end. Then he gets his medal, belt buckle, and a hug from Lisa, and he sits, covered in a blanket, wearing his dorky-sunblocking hat, drinking a beer, still leaning to the side, surrounded by a swirl of support people and other racers, looking really spent but just about glowing with the achievement of it all. And he beat the cutoff time and got his belt buckle. OK, there might have been a few tears.

This was definitely the hardest physical thing I’ve ever done. I expected my first 100-miler to be, but I concluded afterwords that The Death Ride (a very hard bicycle ride, in 1997) was harder. My second 100-miler was easier than the first.

This one was a whole different experience after the first 25 miles, and especially for the last 30. I had a chance to find out what I would do under serious adversity. Of course the bulk of that adversity was of my own making, since I have known for some time that I need to do core work more than once or twice a week. I will definitely step that up before the H.U.R.T 100 in January.

These are the lap times for the four 25-mile loops:

  • 5:52:50
  • 7:40:40
  • 9:27:41
  • 12:48:50

Lastly, my huge thanks to all of my crew (Connie, my father, and Margie), my pacer (Amy), the race directors/coaches (Lisa Smith-Batchen and Jay Batchen), and all of the volunteers. I couldn’t have done it without you.

My Kingdom for a Left Turn

November 12, 2009

Last month, on October 24th, I started going around and around Crissy Field in San Francisco. Over 60 other people and I kept this up for 24 hours, both walking and running. Why? I’m an ultra marathoner. This run was organized by Pacific Coast Trail Runs (PCTR). They offered both a 12- and 24-hour version, and I was signed up for the latter. I had done the 12 hour last year, and also, this was the last race in PCTR’s Grand Prix series, giving me a chance to move up a bit in the points for my age group. And I was hoping to go further than I had ever gone before: 100 miles.

The night before, my wife Connie and I checked into a room up in the City, which, combined with the relatively late 9:00am start time, meant that I was able to sleep in. This is important when you want to stay awake for 24 hours. I got to the start around 8:00am, got a spot for my stuff next to the course, got checked in, and waited for the start. The weather was cool, which is the way I like it. But my left leg (possibly hamstring) had been a little sore for several weeks. I thought it might be OK, since I did reasonably well at the Skyline Ridge 50K three weeks earlier. Still, it was on my mind.

Crissy Field is a flat course. The first straightaway is asphalt, and the rest is sandy. It’s 1.061 miles around and has four right turns. It also has lots of visitors and dog walkers. We started right on time at 9:00am, and I ran the first couple of loops (eight right turns). After that I started walking the paved section, which was about 0.4 miles of the loop. I was walking it fast (12 to 14 minutes per mile according to my GPS), and running the rest of the loop. Over time I increased the percentage of the loop that I walked, but continued to make good time. In the afternoon it got slightly warm for a bit, especially on the downwind side of the loop, but in general the weather was great, and the hours and right turns slipped by.

I don’t remember exactly when I started to realize that my left foot and ankle were hurting, but I know it was well before it got dark, so it must have been sometime in the afternoon (maybe after around 34 miles and 128 right turns). Thinking back on it, my walking stride might have been a little too long. And of course the fact that it showed up on my left side is likely related to the left leg issue I had beforehand. Strangely, it actually felt slightly better during the brief times when I managed to run, and that made me think it was OK to keep going.

It got dark a bit before 7:00pm. I got a second wind and ran a bit more of the time over the next two or three hours. At the 12-hour point I had completed 51 laps (54.1 miles and 204 right turns), which was 3 laps more than my total from the previous year, when I did the 12-hour run. This despite knowing I was only half done and also despite the pain. I was happy about that and still thought I had a shot at 100 miles. That lasted until around midnight, when I realized that the pain was slowly getting worse. I invoked my priorities: having fun was more important than my results. So I slowed down. Instead of around 15 or 16 minutes per loop, it became closer to 20.

During the night I also branched out a bit in my eating. Instead of limiting myself almost entirely to the boiled potatoes, I had small slices of cheese pizza on three occasions. Actually, before that I also ate some avocado, which tasted really good. It doesn’t seem like something that’s mostly fat (good fat, but not much carbohydrate) would work for fuel, but it sure didn’t seem to hurt.

My other source of calories was sports drink, though I alternated between that and straight water, with one handheld water bottle dedicated to each (but only carrying one or the other). That worked much better than trying to completely finish the sports drink at the end of a loop so that I could use one bottle for both. It also let me use my crew to refill it, saving me a little time.

My crew was Connie, who arrived in the late morning Saturday and was there most of the time during the day and again the next morning, and John Nadler (from my men’s team, which is part of the South Bay Nation of Men) for the night. A race like this, with an aid station and access to your own stuff every mile, can be done without a crew, but it can save a little time at each stop, and multiplied by 80+ times, that’s big. It’s also motivating to have someone who’s out there for you. When I briefly mentioned the possibility of quitting to Connie, I was happy that she immediately asked about the reasons rather than just accepting the idea—I’ve heard that it’s natural for crew members, especially family, to let runners give up rather than encouraging them to keep going through pain. John also walked a few individual loops with me during the night, which distracted me when I needed it.

That reminds me that I did listen to my iPod for several hours on Saturday, during the day. I never use it on trail runs, but for events like this it is helpful. Specifically I caught up on podcasts, both running and non-running related. One of the more surreal points came when I paused the Running Stupid podcast to talk to Coach Ken, who was also doing the 24-hour event. He hosts that podcast. One moment I was listening to him recorded, and the next moment in real life.

Back to the race. During the night I noticed that many people were taking breaks, and I wondered if that would help. I didn’t want to take a long one, so when I sat down for the first time in over 18 hours (78.5 miles and 296 right turns) at around 3:30am, I kept track of the time. About seven minutes later I stood up and started hobbling around the loop again. While I was back up to my previous slow speed fairly soon, the break made my muscles stiffen up and had clearly not been worth the time. Live and learn.

My speed continued to decrease a bit, so I was mostly taking over 20 minutes per loop. In my head I was thinking it was only two loops per hour, though even the loop that included the break wasn’t quite that slow. But as it started to get light again Sunday morning I estimated (using that two-loops-per-hour figure) that I could finish 87 loops, and kept moving to make that happen.

Connie showed up again a bit before 8:00am thinking she’d be there for my last three loops. Instead, she was just in time to walk that final 87th loop with me. When we finished I saw that I had plenty of time for another loop. But no. Since I had planned on that being my last one, it looked like my age group finish ranking was safe, and my ankle really hurt, my motivation evaporated and I stopped and sat down. After 92.3 miles. And 348 right turns.

I took off my left shoe and John got a bag of ice to put on my ankle. After a while my body temperature crashed, so my crew covered me with a blanket and got me some chicken soup. That would have been much uglier if I hadn’t had a crew. Thanks!

Connie drove us home, and of course I kept falling asleep on the way. Once home I finally took off my right shoe and both socks. As I took off the right sock I saw a good sized blister on the bottom of the heel, which is where I got one at the 12 hour last year. But then I suddenly noticed that I had a big, juicy blood blister on one toe. And that was my good foot! Needless to say, I didn’t know which side to limp on and didn’t walk very well for a few days. My ankle is still slightly swollen as I write this, 18 days later. But it was worth it.

The result? It wasn’t quite what I had hoped for, but I did manage 20th overall out of 63, and well enough in my age group (6th out of 11 in perhaps the toughest group) to move up in the Grand Prix points. I also went my second longest distance on foot, ever.

I’m clearly not one of the faster people (the winner covered 140.1 miles, with second place going to a 45-year-old woman at 134.7 miles). But this event reminds me that I do have some advantages for long events:

  • I walk fast. More than once I walked past people who were running more slowly than I was walking.
  • My stomach is pretty bulletproof. Many people have trouble taking in calories during an event like this, but other than slowing down while actually eating pizza, I was fine.
  • I don’t need too much sleep. I got slightly more tired this time than I did at the 100 miler in August, which was almost 28 hours, but I wasn’t even slightly tempted to take a nap, and I didn’t use any caffeine except for a couple of Diet Cokes that Connie picked up for me. I don’t know how I will do at even longer events, but 24 to 30 hours seems easy sleepwise. Seeing some others sleeping in the middle of the night made it clear that being able to keep moving all night is a big plus.
  • I can push through some pain if I want to.

With my injured ankle, it’s going to be a while longer before I’m running again. My next scheduled race (the Muir Beach 50K on November 14th) has become an opportunity to try volunteering at aid stations. But this race was my primary one for the Fall, and I’m happy with the outcome.

You can see a few pictures here. Be warned that they include a couple of photos of the blood blister.

For the record, here are all of my lap times:

Lap Lap Time End Time Lap Lap Time End Time
0 N/A 09:00:01 44 14:21 19:09:37
1 10:15 09:10:16 45 13:55 19:23:32
2 10:15 09:20:31 46 14:33 19:38:06
3 11:31 09:32:03 47 15:03 19:53:09
4 11:34 09:43:37 48 15:16 20:08:25
5 11:52 09:55:29 49 15:02 20:23:27
6 11:53 10:07:22 50 14:36 20:38:02
7 11:27 10:18:49 51 14:56 20:52:58
8 11:52 10:30:41 52 15:26 21:08:24
9 12:07 10:42:48 53 14:42 21:23:06
10 11:58 10:54:46 54 14:51 21:37:57
11 11:57 11:06:43 55 16:28 21:54:25
12 11:45 11:18:28 56 15:56 22:10:21
13 12:31 11:31:00 57 17:16 22:27:37
14 12:46 11:43:46 58 15:21 22:42:58
15 12:57 11:56:43 59 15:53 22:58:51
16 14:24 12:11:07 60 16:39 23:15:30
17 13:24 12:24:31 61 15:15 23:30:45
18 13:36 12:38:08 62 16:36 23:47:21
19 13:55 12:52:02 63 17:19 00:04:40
20 14:35 13:06:37 64 17:29 00:22:09
21 14:50 13:21:27 65 18:38 00:40:47
22 14:33 13:36:00 66 18:58 00:59:46
23 15:01 13:51:01 67 18:12 01:17:58
24 15:10 14:06:11 68 19:03 01:37:01
25 15:06 14:21:16 69 17:41 01:54:42
26 15:02 14:36:18 70 18:04 02:12:45
27 14:50 14:51:08 71 18:31 02:31:16
28 14:58 15:06:06 72 17:34 02:48:51
29 14:43 15:20:49 73 18:27 03:07:18
30 14:48 15:35:37 74 19:54 03:27:12
31 14:49 15:50:26 75 27:11 03:54:23
32 14:38 16:05:04 76 19:36 04:13:59
33 15:38 16:20:42 77 22:31 04:36:30
34 16:20 16:37:02 78 24:22 05:00:53
35 14:47 16:51:48 79 25:15 05:26:08
36 15:11 17:07:00 80 23:31 05:49:39
37 15:26 17:22:26 81 23:19 06:12:57
38 15:18 17:37:44 82 22:13 06:35:10
39 15:48 17:53:32 83 20:46 06:55:57
40 15:36 18:09:08 84 20:42 07:16:39
41 15:27 18:24:35 85 19:22 07:36:01
42 16:55 18:41:30 86 23:30 07:59:31
43 13:46 18:55:16 87 21:51 08:21:21

And yes, I was really, really tired of right turns by the end.

Headlands Hundred

August 20, 2009

[This is really long. Sorry about that, but so was the run.]

The original and most prestigious event in the ultrarunning world is Western States, which is 100 miles. Other 100 mile runs inherit some of that aura. And, at least for me, 100 miles has seemed to be the ultimate goal. The easy choice was the Headlands Hundred in the Marin Headlands, since it’s put on by Pacific Coast Trail Runs, which does most of my trail runs, and it is relatively nearby.

The Headlands Hundred also offers a 50 mile distance, and last year the same event was my first 50 mile trail run. But the route was different this year because state budget issues meant that the course could no longer go into Mt. Tamalpais State Park. Now the course is four 25 mile loops, reversing direction each time like a washing machine. Each loop has about 5000′ of climbing—this is a hilly area.

After extensive months of training and what seemed like endless planning, Connie and I drove up Friday so I could get as much sleep as possible before the 7:00am start on Saturday, August 8th. I got up at 4:15am to put on sunscreen, etc., and then caught a cab to the start, leaving Connie with the car to catch up with me later.

In the starting area I met Ken Michal, who does the Running Stupid podcast. He was also there to attempt his first 100 miler, only two weeks after running the White River 50 miler. I also saw Franz Dill and Eric Vaughan from the Coastside Running Club, both of whom were doing the 50 miler (Franz in preparation for his first 100 miler later in August). And my local coaches, Marissa Walker (crewing for someone else) and Brian Wyatt (running the 100 miler).

The weather forecast was warmer than I had hoped for: 80°F Saturday and 82°F Sunday. But it seemed substantially cooler than I expected, and the Moeben sleeves that they gave to those doing the 100 miler were welcome for the first segment or two. In fact, the actual high for the day turned out to be only 74°F, and seemed even cooler than that. So I got very lucky there (heat has been the primary factor in the only two races I have failed to complete).

Next I’ll be talking about the route. There’s a map here. It isn’t required, but it can help you understand the sequence. There’s also a cool animated flyover on this page.

We milled around the start at Rodeo Beach. The start finally arrived, and we all launched immediately into a steep climb. Based on advice from my coaches I pushed a bit, taking advantage of the cool weather and feeling fresh. I was still walking up hills, but I allowed my heart rate to climb up to 145 or 150bpm. I got to the first aid station at Tennessee Valley about 9 minutes ahead of my plan (which had me finishing in 29:58). I skipped getting water since I had plenty, grabbing a couple of pieces of potato and moving on.

Next we went to Muir Beach, going down the infamous Pirates Cove stairs. And then back, via a more inland route, to Tennessee Valley, where I met up with Connie for the first time. By now I was 24 minutes ahead of my plan, about 12 miles into the event. I should mention that I tend to make my plans slightly on the pessimistic side of realistic, because I would rather be ahead of plan than behind.

The next section started up a dirt road called Marincello, which some people really dislike but which has never really bothered me. It’s long and uphill, but it’s also a shallow enough grade to walk up quickly. In any case, the Rodeo Valley aid station (not to be confused with Rodeo Beach) came along quickly, as did the Conzelman aid station, by which time I was about 35 minutes ahead of my plan. I felt good and everything was going smoothly, though I was still expecting the weather to heat up.

The last section back to the start/finish at Rodeo Beach is the longest segment of the course, at 5.2 miles. It includes a convoluted paved section where at times I wondered if I was going the right way, and also a section across the beach, which is both slow and unpleasant. The first loop was done at around 12:38pm, about 41 minutes ahead of my plan. 25 miles down, and only 75 miles to go! A couple of years ago, that would have been crazy talk.

The second loop wasn’t quite as good. Since each loop reverses course, it started out across the sand again. By the time I was past the Rodeo Valley aid station (33.7 miles total), it felt like I was struggling a bit, and I found myself being passed more often than I was passing others. At the Tennessee Valley aid station (38.3 miles total) I was 52 minutes ahead of my plan, though, so I wasn’t complaining too much. At least not as much as Paul from Cool, CA, who was doing the 50 miler and kept saying that no course should have this much uphill. But he only picked up running again in March, after being away from it for 15 years.

During the next two segments I started to wonder if I was going to lose all of my 52 minutes and more. I had a mild cramp in my side, which made running downhill painful, so I took more walking breaks downhill. I thought about taking some pain reliever, but didn’t. At Muir Beach (42.2 miles total) I commented to Connie that I seemed more out of breath than my under 120bpm heart rate should warrant. Plus I had lost time on my plan for the first time in the race, so now I was only 46 minutes ahead. This was definitely a low point.

Next up was the hardest segment of the course, going back to Tennessee Valley via the Pirates Cove steps (plus another 1/4 mile of steep uphill right after the steps). But I pretty much kept moving forward, and only lost a couple more minutes on my plan. And then the last segment back to the start/finish seemed easier. It was getting cooler again (not that it was ever hot on Saturday), but more importantly I knew my pacer would join me there.

I have never run with a pacer before, and I knew it would be good to have one this time. I considered a few people, but I was really lucky to get Tom Harry. I actually met him for the first time on the last segment of the 50 miler at the same event last year, and he helped motivate me to finish strong. Plus he has a couple of 100 milers under his belt (both at the very difficult Angeles Crest race), so his experience would be a big advantage.

Also waiting for me at Rodeo Beach was my night crew, Mike Ehlers and Butch Dority. They are both on the same men’s team I’m on (part of the South Bay Nation of Men), and they agreed to crew during the night so that Connie could get some sleep.

I reached Rodeo Beach at 7:40pm, 44 minutes ahead of my plan, the same as the previous aid station. That’s over 30 minutes faster than I did the 50 mile event last year, but I felt pretty good. I had planned to change clothes at this point, but instead I decided to take advantage of the fact that it was still light, so Tom and I hit the trail.

Over the previous few segments I had a trouble pushing hard enough to reach a heart rate of even 120bpm, but somehow on the first climb with Tom I found myself at over 130bpm and only slightly out of breath. And when the downhill came I was able to run fairly well.

Of the things I learned at the Dreamchasers running camp in June, perhaps the one that helped me the most during this event was a relaxed downhill running form. I have a tendency to tense my shoulders, so I have to consciously relax them, keep my arms moving so my thumbs go next to my hips, straighten up, and lean slightly forward from the heels (similar to Chi Running). Since I pretty much only ran on downhill sections, making the most of that time without beating myself up really made a big difference. Moving relatively fast when walking also did, but I pretty much do that naturally.

By the time we reached the Tennessee Valley aid station it had gotten dark and we had our flashlights out. Headlamps are nice, but they don’t help you see obstacles very well since the shadows are directly behind the objects casting them (so the shadows are effectively invisible), because the light source is near your eyes. So the most common approach is to use a headlamp and a handheld light, which is what we were both doing. This also gives you a backup in case one light breaks.

So we continued to move through the night, walking the uphills and flats, and running (perhaps more accurately jogging) the downhills. Our second section saw us lose some time on the plan, bringing us to only 40 minutes ahead. But by the fourth section we started to gain again, and continued to gain more as the night went on.

Running at night is very cool, though from a couple training runs in the dark on trails, I can say that doing it by yourself is a little spooky. With someone else, though, it really is the best. We saw San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge in the fog, and that’s practically worth the price of admission right there. I had caffeine pills available in case I got tired, but I never did, though I did drink a couple small cups of Coke.

The other cool thing about running at night is that the aid stations break out some more real (compared with things like boiled potatoes, M&Ms, and gummy bears, anyway) food, like soup, pizza, and more. That made the aid station stops get a little longer (maybe 4 minutes vs. 2 minutes during the first 50 miles), but it really helped keep me going. All of those aid station minutes add up since the clock never stops running, but having enough energy to keep moving matters too.

Speaking of aid station stops, under Tom’s direction I stopped refilling my own hydration pack, letting him or my crew do that. And speaking of crew, they were great, proactively offering me electrolyte capsules, clothes, etc. They also recalculated where I would likely take Vespa, since I was getting further ahead of my plan (I take Vespa every 4 hours in long events).

Eventually we got back to Rodeo Beach. It was about 3:08am, and we were almost an hour ahead of my plan. I took a little extra time to apply some more Body Glide, and we headed out on the last loop, going back across the sand we had just crossed. Thankfully this was the last time through the sand!

We made good time, gaining 20 minutes on the plan in the next two segments back to Rodeo Valley (79 minutes ahead). By then it was 5:41am, and it seemed like there was starting to be a tiny bit of morning light. In the next segment back to Tennessee Valley the sun definitely came up, and we saw many rabbits (small ones and jackrabbits), and I saw a bobcat (who was probably more interested in the rabbits than I was). And we gained another 20 minutes on the plan just in that segment, arriving at 7:00am (99 minutes ahead, and exactly 24 hours after the start). I took my longest aid station stop of the race (8 minutes), changing my shorts, reapplying Body Glide, and changing to my third GPS (which I had forgotten I needed to do, but my crew was on top of it). I elected not to change my shirt since that would have required moving my race number as well, and I didn’t want to take the time. I also didn’t change my shoes or socks because I didn’t want to mess with something that was working well.

All that was left was about 12 miles, which includes the two hardest segments and then the final segment. It was starting to get a bit warm, and the previous day’s fog was limited to the area very close to the coast. Sunday ended up with a high of 84°F, which was 2°F warmer than the last forecast before the race, and 10°F warmer than Saturday.

At Muir Beach, I reapplied sunscreen to my arms, face, and neck. My legs were too dirty, so I left them alone. I was 109 minutes ahead of my plan, but the hardest segment was next.

The counterclockwise loop route from Muir Beach to Tennessee Valley has a long, fairly steep initial climb, a rolling descent into Pirate’s Cove, and then the infamous steps plus the additional 1/4 mile of steep climb that I mentioned before. The one piece of good news was that what little fog there was helped out. It also created some gorgeous spider webs, highlighted with water drops.

At the last of eight aid station stops at Tennessee Valley, we were 116 minutes ahead of schedule. It was 9:41am, and we had until 4:00pm to cover 4 miles. Nothing could stop me now! Plus I realized that I had a real shot at being under 28 hours.

It continued to get warmer, and the final climb, while easier than the previous two segments, is no cake walk. I was pushing, although after 96 miles that meant a heart rate of maybe 125bpm (which was my average for the whole event, by the way). I didn’t talk much (nothing personal, Tom), and I was focused. The climb continued around one more corner than I thought it would, but we made it to the final descent. And then it was time to run. Well, except for going down some steps that I almost fell coming down at Miwok. And one brief walking rest to make sure I had something left for the actual finish.

Ah, the actual finish. When I reached the dirt parking lot, with maybe 50 yards to go, I picked it way up. Maybe not quite a sprint, but definitely the fastest that I ran on the flat for the whole race (update: under 8:00/mile for the last 0.05 miles). It felt great to go for it, and then it felt great to stop. Wow! I did it!

There were 76 people signed up for the 100 miler. 75 of those started, 48 finished at least 75 miles, and 45 finished the whole thing. My official 25 mile splits looked like this:

  • 5:37:54 (48th place)
  • 12:40:53 (7:02:59 for the loop, 42nd place)
  • 20:08:22 (7:27:29 for the loop, 25th place)
  • 27:52:23 (7:44:01 for the loop, 26th place)

Loops 2 through 4 are substantially closer in duration than I expected. Wow. Since loop 3 was almost entirely in the dark and loop 4 included some heat, I’m really proud of that. Maybe Connie is right that 100 miles could be my distance. Scary thought.

In my instructions to my crew I spelled out my four goals, in decreasing priority order:

  1. Sustain no long-term injuries
  2. Finish
  3. Have all of us enjoy the experience
  4. Finish in as little time as I can without sacrificing the above goals

I managed to succeed at all four. And I realized along the way how much of a team effort it was. That started with my coaches, Lisa Smith-Batchen (and her husband Jay, co-owners of Dreamchasers), Marissa, and Brian. And continued with my crew, Connie, Butch, and Mike. And last but definitely not least my pacer, Tom. I might have been able to finish without them, but goals 3 and 4 would have been seriously impacted.

It was truly a magical 28 hours. I honestly don’t know if I will be able to equal it, but I do know that I’ll try. And I’m now qualified for Western States!

Pictures:

  • Butch took some pictures on his iPhone and posted them here (a few are tagged with a location inside Golden Gate Park, which is wrong)
  • Tom also took some pictures, which I posted to my flickr account here

Next up: A 24 hour fixed-time event in late October, then the Goofy Challenge (half marathon Saturday and full marathon Sunday) at Disney World in January, and various 50Ks.

Dreamchasers Running Camp

June 24, 2009

I’m trying to remember when I found out about the Dreamchasers running camps. My father, who grew up in the area where the camps happen and now has a townhouse there, has sent me articles about local athletes, and I may have first heard about Lisa Smith-Batchen that way. If not, then I certainly heard about her on the Endurance Planet podcast, where I also learned about the camps. I contacted her last year just after she finished the running part of her 810 mile odyssey (Las Vegas to Death Valley to the summit of Mount Whitney), and once the dates and focuses for this year’s camps were set, I picked the one at the start of June.

The camp takes place in Teton Valley, along the Idaho/Wyoming border, near the towns of Driggs, ID and Alta, WY. That’s about 45 minutes by car from Jackson, WY. As a child my family usually visited the area in July for the best weather, and we still often saw hail. It turns out that at the start of June the weather is wa-a-ay colder than in most of the country. Check out the Teton Cam for an idea what it looks like. I got there almost a month ago and, as of this writing, there’s still snow there.

Since the base elevation in the area is above 6000′, Connie and I drove out a few days early to adjust, arriving late on Friday, May 29th. Since we drove, I was able to bring a lot of gear. I did a short run on the roads the next morning, and it wasn’t too bad, so I tried to do the Wind Cave hike as a trail run the next day (Sunday), hoping it was low enough to avoid excessive snow. At 0.4 miles I was almost turned around by a rushing stream, but I found a small (but not too small) fallen tree to bridge the stream and continued on. But as I climbed up the canyon, the snow covered more and more of the ground, and by 2.2 miles from the start I had lost the trail. And if I had been able to continue, it didn’t look like I could have gotten into the cave without crampons and an ice axe.

While the camp didn’t officially start until Tuesday evening, on Monday and Tuesday morning Lisa invited me to attend her core/cardio class. On Tuesday she also sent me on a trail run, along with her husband Jay, and Becky, who was one of the other campers. We covered part of the course they laid out for their 26.2/50/100-mile Grand Teton races.

Speaking of other campers, the economy has made it difficult to fill the camps, and in fact due to some last-minute cancellations, this became an informal private camp. There ended up being only two other campers—Becky and Chandler—and they stayed at Lisa and Jay’s house, while I stayed with my father. There were also a couple of other part-time campers on a couple of the days.

Lisa and Jay’s house turned out to be under a mile from where my father grew up, and on the same road. It is definitely a small world.

Tuesday evening, June 2

Lisa and Jay had us over to their house for dinner to kick off the camp. They also generously invited Connie, my father, and his friend Margie to join us. Lisa is a good cook, their house is gorgeous, and we met their two adorable daughters.

Wednesday, June 3

The camp started in earnest with speed work at 7am with Barb Lindquist (a former Olympic triathlete, ranked #1 in the world a few years ago—needless to say, I was way out of my depth). At 9am was another core/cardio class, followed by going to a high school track to get videotaped, do some work on cadence, walking, exercises like running backwards, etc. Oh, and some stuff on the bleacher steps too. After lunch we learned more about running form and saw the videotape we took in the morning. The day ended with some uphill and downhill work on Lisa and Jay’s driveway and a very short trail run. One takeaway from this day was that, while I’m a slow runner, I’m a strong walker, which should serve me well in longer events.

Thursday, June 4

I got a reprieve from the core/cardio class since I was the only camper to have already done it three times. The main event for the day was a long trail run near Swan Valley, along the Snake River. The plan was for it to be four to five hours, and with no aid stations that meant taking a lot of water. In my case I took my 96-ounce hydration bladder and two 20-ounce handheld bottles. That turned out to be a good plan since the first 3/4 of the time brought the warmest temperatures we saw for the whole camp. I was one of the few to not run out of water.

Jay ran in front with Chandler and Becky, who are substantially faster (and younger) than me, and Joe, who tends to go out too fast. Colleen, who works for Dreamchasers, ran in the back with Steve, a camp regular who was running only a few weeks after shoulder surgery. Lisa ran with me in the middle. It was a good run, with a lot of good input on my form (relax your shoulders! short steps up hills!). Lisa mildly twisted an ankle and ended up sending me ahead for the last four miles on the return, and I felt pretty strong, though the way Becky flew by on her return was very impressive.

I had some pain on my right heel during the run, and it felt like a small rock, but I couldn’t find anything there so I ignored it. It turned out that it was the fancy new La Sportiva shoes I had bought. I had never previously run more than seven miles at once in them, and they didn’t work for me at the longer distance. When I took my socks off I discovered that I had a pretty nasty blister. I am lucky enough to not get many blisters (I think this is my fourth one ever from running), so I can’t complain, but it was a small distraction for the rest of the camp.

Friday, June 5

This day brought my final core/cardio class, and then we drove to Jackson. Becky and Chandler had a short swimming session with Barb Lindquist, while Lisa looked more closely at my blister and my shoes, suggesting that I stick with what works (Brooks Adrenaline ASRs).

We had thought of climbing Teton Village, but opted for Snow King instead since it is shorter (but still a bit over 1500′ of climbing) and therefore far less snowy. Chandler, Becky, and I went up and down two times. After the first time Lisa told us all to do it faster the second time, and somehow we all succeeded at that. In my case I dropped about five minutes, from 1:03 to 0:58, though a substantial part of the improvement was not stopping to take pictures. Meanwhile Colleen and Steve went up and down once. I was half expecting Lisa to tell us to try it a third time, and the climb was a blast so I would have given it a shot if she had. But the weather was deteriorating, so I didn’t volunteer.

Saturday, June 6

The original plan was for Chandler and Becky to do a bike ride over the pass to Jackson, and for Lisa and me to run part of it, but the early word was that there was snow on the pass. The new plan seemed particularly sadistic: We ran from the Batchen’s house to the Dreamchasers office (a bit over 4 miles), taking 10-minute shifts dragging a tire attached to a padded waist belt. I used my advanced age as an excuse to take the last shift, which did mean that Becky and Chandler each ran 20 minutes with the tire while I only did about 14 minutes. After we arrived at the office we did 7-minute shifts on three exercise machines: a rower, a spin bike, and a VersaClimber, repeating each twice, for a total of 42 minutes. I felt the VersaClimber effort in my legs for the remainder of the camp, which probably means I should try to find one to use regularly.

Becky had to leave town a little early, so she had the honor of finishing her camp by running by herself back to the house dragging the tire. She did it substantially faster than the three of us did it in shifts. She’s fast.

In the afternoon there was a trail run in the Big Hole Mountains, which are on the west side of the valley. Jay stuck with me and gave me some more input (breathe deeper! stand taller!), while Chandler went ahead with some fast local runners (Jay is fast too, but someone needed to lag back with me). And then finally after dark there was a short trail run on the Aspen Trail, in the rain, for me to get more experience running on trails in the dark and to try out my new flashlights; they seemed to work well. Speaking of flashlights, Jay had a new one that put out so much light we wondered if it was nuclear-powered.

Sunday, June 7

We had the final run of the camp in the morning. We considered several trails, but due to the weather we decided to stay as low as we could, so we ran on the Aspen Trail again, this time from the Darby Canyon end. We started in the rain, but soon we were in snow (which was sticking to the plants) and a couple of times there was even hail. It was a fitting end to the camp. Jay told me later that at one point when he was behind me and I was walking, he had to briefly break into a jog to keep up. Of course he was perfectly capable of running that section, but it was cool to hear that my walking can be that strong.

Summary

It was a great camp, and a huge part of that was the people. Lisa, Jay, and Colleen are great people, willing to open their homes, their lives, and their love and knowledge of running to runners of all levels. They went out of their way to include my family in events; in fact, they all attended some of the core/cardio classes during the week with Lisa’s enthusiastic encouragement. I learned many things, and I was tired at the end of each day. Not quite enough to go face down in my soup, as Lisa threatened might happen, but there was no question I had worked hard.

Before I went, I figured this was probably a one-time thing, but I have to say I won’t be at all surprised if I’m back for another camp in a couple of years. If this sounds at all appealing, I would highly recommend that you find a way to attend one of their camps.

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?