Monday, July 30, 2012

Devil's Thumb Climb-Foresthill

Bottom of Devil's Thumb (46 miles)

My legs felt like bricks and my quads felt like they were going into an anaerobic state. I passed a medical/sweeper at the bottom as well as a gentleman who kept passing me while I was in the aid stations. I had to do something to stop thinking about my body. I knew it was just a down time for me but if I kept thinking about it I was going to drive myself nuts. I popped in the other ear bud and adjusted my iPod to the one set of music I knew would fire me up. I set it so the mix would end in 50 minutes and told myself to get up the climb before it ended. With duel ear buds in, my world was now focused. I tried to think about the notes I made when I came down to this climb on my birthday in April. There were 3 switchbacks I felt comfortable hard power hiking and the rest I figured I would just get up as best I could. I knew this was mostly a state of mind type climb, it's difficult, steep and slow. However I'd been up it enough times that I knew I am in control of how I will feel going up it. Stay positive, have a good time and it will pass quickly, fret and be negative and its going to take forever.

The set hit 1:08:12 about 4 minutes into the climb, and the magic happened. This has never happened on a run, and only a few times in the car with no one watching. Epic thoughts of awesomeness filled my head, my confidence increased as the elevation did and I started hand dancing while power hiking. Hand dancing is basically what happens when you are sitting down and the music moves you so much you lose control of your upper limbs. I'm sure I looked like quite the fool to anyone watching me, but I did not care. In my normal non running life I would never make such a spectacle of myself for fear of looking stupid. On this day though, I needed to give in to whatever was working and working this was......I was hauling ass up that hill. I caught one person, then another. I got a "damn you are strong on the hills" comment from a guy I passed. With each successive pass confidence grew. Half way up the hill I started running, I ran 3 switchbacks on Devil's Thumb! I still get goosebumps when I think about the moment I realized, "I can finish this race". Up to that point, in all my training I never actually felt I could. 47 miles into a 100 mile race and I was just starting to hit my stride. I made my way up the remaining 15 or so switchbacks like a man possessed. All told I passed 12 people going up that hill. I rounded the last turn still absent from reality and firmly entrenched in my  own world. I looked up to find two volunteers standing there with a worried look on their faces asking me if I was OK. I realized, a split second later, my hand antics probably looked to them, like I was convulsing from dehydration. I looked at them and tried to cover up my crazy ways by saying "I'm so happy to see you all, I do not think I'll ever have as easy a climb up that sucker again!"

Devil's Thumb (47.8 miles) 5:06 pm

The second I hit the aid station they had me on the scale and once again I hit my mark this time at 188. I was now up an hour and 18 minutes on my splits. I gained nearly 45 minutes in 4 miles and all of it was due to my climbing abilities on the day. I do not have splits for the actual climb but I am positive I did it 10 minutes faster than I ever have in training. I made my way through the line up of food and grabbed a couple of pb&j's then made my way over to the popsicle area. I'd heard about this part of the race, on hot days it's truly a treat to have a popsicle. I took a minute or two to pose with some of the aid workers for pictures as they were all really excited to see my hair. They commented that I was one of the more upbeat runners that they had seen in a while. With sandwich and popsicle in hand I left the aid station. Within a couple hundred feet I noticed off to the left another porta potty. I had not had any issues since my last stop but felt it would be wise to take another minute to clean out any of the dirt and grime I may have missed. Thankfully this was the last time I needed to worry about sitting down to go to the bathroom, however the damage had been done and I was bleeding from the skin that had been rubbed off the previous 48 miles.

I still felt fresh and knew that my strategy was working, once again I chose to run slow on the huge downhill to El Dorado canyon where we would cross the river once again. I was starting to feel that hot spot I had up at Robinson grow into a full on blister and knew I needed to tend to it. However, I felt I could make it the 8 or so miles to Michigan Bluff where I would see my crew again. I took out one ear bud and made my way down the slope. I really was shocked to be running so well at this point, I was already 8 miles farther than my furthest run of the entire year and I felt like things were just starting to get good. I was passed by a couple of runners but for the most part I held my ground. I was fairly positive the climb up to Michigan Bluff would mirror the Devil's Thumb climb. I hit the bottom of the canyon and the ball of my left foot was on fire and my right heel was not far behind it. I had 2.5 miles and 2500 feet to climb. I knew at that point I would need to have a medic check the foot as I am not proficient enough on large blisters to take care of it myself, nor anyone on my crew. The blister felt like it ran the entire width of my foot on the ball portion. Fortunately for me Michigan Bluff is a major aid station and they had a world renown foot guy there to help out.

Feeding off my climb up Devil's Thumb I popped the other ear bud back in and once again set the music to some tunes that would fire me up. Izak Engel would lead me all the way up from his decks. I left for the climb behind a small Asian lady and an older gentleman. The Asian lady took off up the climb and left the two of us in the dust. "She's light we will not see her again" the older gentleman shouted. I really did not care, I had a plan. It's steep to the first dry creek about a mile in, this is where I take it easy. Once we hit the creek-bed I put a little giddy up in my step for the next .6 miles to the next creek-bed. At that point we are only a mile (22 minutes) from the aid station and it's all about getting up it in decent shape.

Just before we hit the first creek, I passed the older gentleman. He wished me well and I did the same. I now had a goal, I was going to catch that Asian lady by the top. I set off running up the hill. In April I could not run a single step of the climb, today I ran the entire .6 miles to the next creek. I passed the Asian lady just before it and kept on going! I felt that good. The trail gets steeper as you near the top and I slowed to a power hike. I was 1/10th of a mile from the top when it happened. I took a step and felt a rip in my shoe. Instantly my foot was wet and I realized I just ripped that blister right off the foot. There was now nothing but open skin on the ball of my foot, and every step I took with that foot, the dirt in the shoe was penetrating the wound. I slowed to an elderly walk. I could not believe how close I'd made it to Michigan Bluff before it happened. It took a good 5 minutes for the foot to go numb so I could run on it again. I hoofed it into Michigan Bluff still an hour an 35 minutes up on my splits. Even with the blister issue I demolished my personal best time up that climb by 5 minutes....I set that personal best after having run 2.5 miles back in April. I finally realized I was in better shape fitness wise than I had ever been in my short running life. I got on the scale and shouted to my crew that I needed to see the medic. Weight 189.

Michigan Bluff (55.7 miles) 7:14 pm
Just to the right out of the picture is my Pacer from TRT.

If I had a down point mentally it was during the events of the next 30 minutes. I sat down on the chair for the medic to deal with my feet, looked over to the right of me and my heart sank to the deepest depths of my body.

Me, My TRT Pacer and Big D pre-race 3/4ths of the my training partners all year.
 My pacer from TRT, one of my best running friends and a guy who was capable of finishing this race in 18 hours was sitting in the chair next to me. I started to get emotional and had I taken my glasses off at that point, you could have seen the tears starting to form as I realized something had gone terribly wrong with his day. Our eyes locked and though we did not say anything to each other we both felt what the other was feeling. I asked him how he was doing and the answer he gave is typical of his outlook on life. Most would complain, give excuses or in some way eschew responsibility of their demise off themselves. He simply said "today is not my day Brandon". Of course, I knew he was hurt, he was a good 5-6 hours slower than he should have been. Upon seeing me though, he got up and got back in the race. He later confided in me that if I had passed him he might have quit. I knew it then...we had a race on our hands. The only time I'd ever be a threat to him in a race was now!

He of course knew how competitive I am, he also knew that no matter if you are female, young, old, injured or special needs, if you are in front of me, I'm going to do everything in my power to beat you. He used that as motivation and would still finish the race limping the whole way in 26 hours. He limped for 81 miles, I respect him so much for sticking it out. Many would quit knowing the result was no where near their potential. I know he did not get the race he wanted, but I also know he found out a lot about himself that day and how deep he could dig. He will be back, and he will show the rest of the world what a brilliant mountain runner he is, I am certain of that.

This guy saved my race!

The most pain I felt in the entire race was while the medic worked on my feet. He inserted the knife to cut the skin on 4 blisters on my left foot and 3 on my right.
Great shot at the perfect time by Queen Doom.
This took nearly 30 minutes, I shivered the whole time and could not eat or drink. Once complete, I tried to find the doc to thank him but he was busy with a bunch of others that needed help. The people of this race really are special. I headed for the food tables to grab what looked good but nothing did. I left the aid station and headed for my crew who had been patiently waiting for me. I was dejected and unmotivated to move fast. I worked so hard all day and like that I lost 30 minutes. It took me another 20 minutes to get out of there. Before I left I made the biggest mistake of the entire race. I was an absolute DICK to my crew. They forgot a very minor bag and I pretty much blew up at Queen Doom. I really wanted that bag but the reality was it was a luxury not an item that would help my performance. I will forever regret the way I acted, here they were helping me and I'm an ass to them. Unfortunately for me this would stay with me for the next hour and a half.
New shoes felt like the old ones at this point, but later I would really appreciate them.

New shoes and socks on but a pretty crappy mental attitude I would set off for Foresthill. My crew, plus another buddy would walk me out to the trail from the road. I tried for at least 10 minutes to run but my feet hurt so bad I could not. I was pissed, my race was unraveling and I had no control over it. Finally after 10-15 minutes my feet went numb again and I could jog. I decided right there I was going to make up all that lost time (52 minutes) on this next section. I ran hard, I ran fast. I blew by people at about an 8-9 minute clip. Screw this pacing crap I kept thinking I need to make up time. I got to the bottom of Volcano Canyon and jumped over the stream. I made my way up the hill to the Bath road aid station where I would find at least one of my crew with a radio. I made sure to tell them ahead of time to be there because I was picking up my pacer at Foresthill and she would not let me "hang" there. I needed the 10 minutes it would take to get to Foresthill from Bath road to figure out what I had to consume at the aid stop. They could quiz me and then radio the answers to the rest of the crew.

I entered the Bath road aid station with no lights and it was nearly dark. My crew was absent and once again I got pissed off. Though I did not know it at the time, they had a hard time getting back to Foresthill via the shuttle. They did not have enough time to get to Bath road, it was not their fault. Though at the time, that would not have comforted me either. I ran the hill up to the highway and once I hit the descent I started pushing hard. I was running sub 8 minute mile pace because I had no lights. All I wanted to do was get to my crew and lay into them. How could they forget me like this, I kept thinking.

Foresthill (62 miles) 9:19
I entered the Foresthill aid station and was greeted by my buddy, the same one who introduced me to Reno Running and Fitness. While at the time I did not realize it, that was truly such an honor to have met him there. That was where we first met and I'll always remember his help. I was confused, angry, and scared. It was dark and I knew I needed to be here in the light to ensure a finish. Everyone slows down from here. You do not hold the same pace as you had the first 62 miles and I thought that stupid blister session was the death of me. I also knew my pacer would be waiting for me and I was petrified by what she might say to me. I was late, behind and slow. All I wanted to do was sit down and gather myself. I got off the scale at perfect weight once again. Before I knew it there was Goldie my pacer. C'mon, lets go she yelled.
My Pacer Goldie... exiting the river 16 miles from where I picked her up.

We exited the aid station en route to my crew about a half mile down the road. I was still so confused I could not gather my thoughts or emotions. I did not know what I needed, no one was asking the right questions and now I had a team of people following me. Many of my friends were at this aid station and the excitement was too much for me. Everyone wanted to know how I was doing and all I could think about was how bad I felt. How my race was in the trash can and that I was going to let them all down by missing a cutoff later in the race. I just wanted to be alone. I'm always comfortable alone.....and in control. I had neither, and it was really messing with my psyche.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Robinson to Swinging Bridge

Robinson Flat (30 miles) 12:36 pm
Do I really lie to this guy? A stupid thought since my weight was written on the band around my wrist, but one I considered for a second. You can not imagine the ridiculous thoughts you have when running all day. I hung my head low, like my dog when he gets caught doing something naughty. "189.4" I said, hoping he would think I said 199.4. "A little heavy, but everyone is, we think it's the rain. You are good to go, just watch yourself" he said.

Instantly a rush of relief flowed through my veins, but at the same time, I really needed to figure out if it was the rain or if I’d been taking in more salt than needed. Perhaps it was the cocktail weenies from Red Star Ridge mixed with three S! Caps (electrolyte pills) I'd taken already. Perhaps all my gear was just waterlogged, either way I had about 12 miles to figure it out.

My crew from left to right: Queen Doom, Scotch Man, Half Iron Woman and the Doc.

I left the weigh station and practically sprinted the couple hundred yards to where my crew was. Talk about a boost of adrenaline! I looked at my crew and said, "I'm having a great time! I just ran through rain, snow, hail, huge winds and I feel great! I'm doing awesome!" My crew along with all the other crews and spectators within earshot just stood there silently looking at me. I later found out, most people that were coming in were having a tough day with the conditions on the course. I was doing great, although I did start to have a bit of a hot spot on my left foot. Hot spots are the precursor to a blister; you may or may not be able to stop it at that point. I get blisters when I run more than about 45 miles. At the TRT100 in 2011 I ended up with 7 rather large blisters that I had to run on from mile 62 to the finish. I hoped today I could curtail any blisters with preventative measures.

I sat down took my left shoe and sock off and found the foot of a 90 year old. Lovely pale white shriveled up skin, all wrinkly and waterlogged. I grabbed a gob of Bag Balm and coated my foot, threw the sock back on and then the shoe. I drank about 12oz of juice that I’d had my crew bring then got up out of the chair.  I put my jacket back on then my pack. Something felt wrong, and then I realized I made the same mistake again with the order of things. Today the pack needed to be under the jacket! I quickly regrouped and grabbed the 6 inch turkey, bacon and avocado Subway sandwich that I had my crew buy for me.

It was somewhere around this time that I saw Scotch Man! He along with Half Iron Woman, the Doc and my fiance Queen Doom were my crew. Up until 3 pm the day before the race I thought Scotch man was going to be AWOL. 48 hours before the race he was at work and a piece of wood exploded and a sliver went into his eye! He spent 9 hours in the emergency room then boarded a train from LA to meet the rest of my crew in Reno. That is some serious dedication and it really fired me up. I would use his pain as a motivator each time I started to feel sorry for myself.....if Scotch Man could hang with wood in his eye, I can certainly keep moving forward.

Unfortunately this news came with a drawback; I was so excited I forgot to do some things. I left with sandwich in hand and made my way out of the aid station. I waived to my crew turned around and took off. I got about a half mile up the road and totally freaked out. Quite a few swear words came flying out of my mouth as I realized what I'd forgotten to do. Go to the bathroom and....wait for it......get more toilet paper from my crew. Dunce move of the day right there folks. I would not see them for 25 more miles and the toughest, gnarliest part of the course was ahead of me. I also forgot lube! Once again I had to do some damage control, I did not need to go at that moment but if I did, I was plumb out of luck. We had descended to a point where only pine trees lived, no more perfect little plants like I had found before. I decided to be on the lookout and just make my way as best I could. Fortunately like I was able to do all day, I put it out of my mind.

I had roughly 12 miles of solid downhill in front of me and I made the decision to keep on with the laxed pace. I tried to run 10-12 minute miles and made sure to drink and eat as much as possible. After a mile or so I started catching people, I paid no attention to it until we reached the fire roads. At that point I saw tons of runners and I was passing them in bunches. I looked at my watch; nope I'm not going any faster, so they must be going slower.

Millers Defeat (34.4 miles) 1:51 pm

I hit the M.D. aid station up 56 minutes on my pace sheet, I only stopped long enough for two cups of electrolyte drink and a cup of soup. I passed 5 people in this aid station. It was at this time I started to realize I'd never felt this good after 35 miles before. Could I really be in that much better shape than last year? No, I thought, I must be pacing better. I decided if it was working and I was gaining on my splits don't try to fix what is not broken. I left the aid station ready to roll; I took the left hand turn to the single track and started really getting into a groove. I turned my iPod on for the first time and put one ear bud in.

I had a secret weapon, I had roughly 6 hours of music that I have a deep connection with. I have two friends who go to Burning Man with me that are DJ's (DJ Izak Engel and Liquid Neon). Listening to their music takes the pain away. I can not explain it, it just makes me happy and hours go by like it’s only a split second. I'm instantly transported to the Playa and thoughts of dancing, art, and dust fill my head.

Dusty Corners (38 miles) 2:39 pm

With the constant beat of electronic dance music in my ear I flew into the next aid station at Dusty Corners 50 minutes up. I stayed an extra minute or two there because they all were asking me if I was hot. I was so far out of it (thanks iPod), I had not realized it was now sunny and warm. I'd probably run for half an hour all bundled up. I thought it would be good to really hit the hydration given the circumstances.

I left the aid station going towards pucker point. This was ironic since the second I passed that vista, puckering would be all I was doing for the next 4 miles. Yep that costly TP mistake was now back to haunt me. I was not sure if the next aid station would have any supplies but hoped they might have a porta-potty. It's out in the middle of nowhere and I thought maybe the volunteers would need something to go in. I had to slow down on this section and I passed at least 2 other guys who were taking care of their business. It seemed odd and inappropriate to pull over and ask them for supplies during their private moment, so I just meandered on to the next aid station.

Last Chance (43.3 miles) 3:49 pm
The toughest section of the run, while you are not going to make your race here, you can end it in a hurry!

I entered Last Chance 43 minutes up on my splits. I had to really slow down given my issues and when I looked to the left of the aid station I saw a potty. YES! I exclaimed loudly as I ran past all the food. "WAIT!", I heard behind me, "you have to be weighed". Give me a second; this is an emergency I shouted. I threw my pack, jacket and long sleeve on the ground outside and jumped into the blue box of awesomeness. Never in my life have I been so excited to see a stinky hot mobile john. You would think from the way I reacted I just won the lottery. A couple minutes later all things were once again right with my world. I suspected the worst was now behind me (excuse the pun). I went over to the weigh station and like that 190.2. Back on track! It really was the rain.

One of the best things about Western States are the aid stations, the only thing better than the food they serve are the people serving you. I've been on that side of the race before and for a volunteer, hearing a runner thank you is something special. I tried at each aid station to bring a little joy into the day of whoever was helping me by thanking them. I grabbed what amounted to 2 full grilled cheese sandwiches for the road, expressed my deepest gratitude and got the hell out of there. I was now only about 30 minutes up on my splits due to my stop and I still had to deal with the toughest 12 miles of the entire race. I'd have to descend a couple thousand feet in 4 miles then make the huge climb up to Devils Thumb.

I knew this part of the course well; I'd spent many hours this year learning every turn, rock and stream crossing to cool down at. I knew my downhill legs were good, but my slow pace while descending was working so well for me, I once again chose not to push it. I figured there might be a chance that my climbing would still be above par and maybe I could make up some time on the hills. Even if I did not, I had a half hour in the bag. Any energy saved now would pay huge dividends around mile 80 when it gets flat and running is a must.

I set off to Devils Thumb feeling great, 45 miles into the race and I still felt like I'd only run 20. I finally hit the bottom of the canyon which is the start of the Devils Thumb climb. I started getting nervous; I've done this climb many times but never with 46 miles in my legs. As is customary with these races one mile you feel like a champ and the next like a chump. I hoped it would be a good climb, but from the start, my quads felt tight and my breathing was forced. I started to think the "easy times" were over and my fears of the long 9 hour slog from TRT started to penetrate my head. I was mentally sabotaging myself and I had no idea of how to stop it.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Squaw Valley to Robinson Flat

(The above video was shot by one of my training partners, this was my last run before the race, this is the first 30 miles of the Western States course. The same 30 talked about in this post.....I would get no sun on race day. All pictures were taken prior to race day) 

Dead Last! I'm not sure I've ever been dead last in a running race before. Back of the pack sure, but the very last runner? Don't think so. Determined to let that fact fall to the ground like the droplets of water that were forming on my jacket, I pressed my chin into my chest and made a climbing effort equal to what was needed to catch up. I had a plan and I was going to run my plan.

By the time we reached the mid point of the climb up Squaw I was neck and neck with the first person to ever complete the run in 1974, a guy named Gordy. I was roasting and took off my jacket. Huge mistake, within a minute I was cold, and being lazy I decided to put it on over my pack rather than deal with taking that off again. This turned out to be a good thing, once the jacket was zipped up I could position the water tube from my pack right next to my mouth and it would not move because of the jackets zipper. The tube poked my face as I ran and reminded me to drink. I need to come up with an invention for this on hot days. Hands free drinking!

Water fell from the sky in many forms at this point, hail, rain, and this snowy-hail like substance that pelted the skin. Winds had picked up to probably 20-50mph gusts and I knew from being on this mountain so much, that it would only get worse until we reached 2 miles off the back side. There would be trees at that point and they would give us some shelter. 

Escarpment (3 miles) Time unknown.
Just to the left of that ski lift is the Escarpment Aid Station, much lower on the hill than I expected.

I saw a sign that said Escarpment .2 miles. Wait, I am over a mile from the top, what is going on? I looked at my pacer sheet, then at my watch. I then realized I made the poor assumption of thinking this first aid station in the race was at the top of the mountain. It is not, it sits just above the old Nastar starting hut.  Once past the aid station we climb up a very steep (40% grade at least) but short climb to another service road that takes us up and over the mountain. I crested the top of Squaw at 6:13, a mere 2 minutes before my pace sheet said I should. This is great I now have banked 2 minutes to squat in the woods. Yep by this time, I was getting that grumble down under that only a stop in the woods can fix. Knowing the trail, I knew the perfect spot to take a private break was only 2 miles away. I could get there at this pace in about 24 minutes. I clamped my cheeks tighter than a bear trap and hoped nobody made me laugh and that I would not trip, as I knew either would result an unwanted consequence.
I felt so bad for the people in shorts and tank tops, they looked chilled to the bone. I did have to wonder if they went to the runners meeting the day before, they warned us it would be 34 degrees. Of course in that same vein, I knew the temps and still decided to bring so many gummy worms...know what happens at 34 degrees to gummy worms? Gummy bricks hard as ice. Now I'm stuck with only gels until things warm up. I was running next to a guy from South Carolina, he was in a tank top and looked frozen solid. All he could do was worry about going down the switchbacks we would face some 40 miles from our current position. I said "you are this cold and it's the switchbacks that are worrying you?" He said he never got a chance to train on downhills this year. I cringed when he said this and offered up the only advice I could. "Walk as much as you need, and start slowing down way before each turn on the switchbacks. Throwing the brakes on just before a turn to gain a couple extra seconds is what kills your quads". 

I made my way up the little stream we had to ascend and saw my rainy cold oasis in the woods. A perfect outcropping of three trees where I could do my business, be discrete and still keep track of the number of people who were passing me (there I go again thinking about placing). I made my way off course a couple hundred feet, took off my pack grabbed my toilet paper baggy, dug a hole with my heel and dropped my shorts. The worst scenario I could imagine would follow:

1. I had diarrhea...ooof not good.
2. I had been using the same zip lock for TP for a while and it had a hole in it. TP + water = giant mess in a bag. Over half the sheets I brought (more than enough for 2 stops) were ruined and the rest of them were not going to clean a whole bunch.
3. All that was around me were pine needles, bark, branches and this weird looking plant.

What to do? Then I remembered that my pacer Goldie had shown me on a training run just weeks earlier a plant that was good for this scenario. Damn It! Why did I not pay more attention, did it look like this one? What if this is some sort of man eating plant fueled by feces or a weird kind of poison ivy or oak that only grows in the alpine regions. DOH! I looked at my watch 5 minutes had gone by, time to make a decision. I decided the plant looked close enough so I used it then used salvageable parts of the TP I had brought. By the time I got back on the trail I'd lost some 20-30 places and almost 10 minutes. "Remember to get more TP from the crew in 23 miles" I thought to myself.

Back on the road and after a mile I realized the TP did more harm than good. However, there was nothing I could do about it, I'd address the issue at mile 30, the first time I knew there would be a real bathroom and my crew to give me the supplies I needed. Until then I would try to alleviate the problem by adding bag balm or whatever lube I could find as often as possible to keep the friction down. This is not an issue I told myself.

Lyon Ridge (10.5 miles) at 7:41am 
Lyon Ridge sits right here.
I got to Lyon ridge a mere 4 minutes ahead of schedule. Perfect! I'm 10 miles in and I avoided the mad dash that usually happens to me. I noticed ahead of me another brightly colored figure whose tattoos and vibrant personality are well known in the Ultra world. I always see her with pink on and today was no different; her hair was neon pink as well. I knew her previous times on this course so I decided I would stay just behind her and let her pace me...though she would not know it.

I made my way out of Lyon ridge and started in up the hill. It was now blowing hard and raining harder. I started thinking about my crew, they had no idea about the weather. I felt bad they would be standing around all day in the rain freezing because I told them it was going to be hot. Hopefully they brought clothes to be comfortable in.

Red Star Ridge (16 miles) 9:05 AM
Red Star Ridge-home of the best weenies....ever!
I followed the ultra vet for about 6 miles to the next aid station Red Star Ridge, I had gained 6 minutes from the last 5.5 miles and was now 10 minutes up on my pace chart. I entered the aid station and the excitement from all the workers was a real treat. I walked over to the table with food on it and decided on a PB&J 1/2 sandwich. I shoved it in my mouth and started to walk away when I saw the most delectable looking little weenies. I had one, oh the salty goodness. These must have come from heaven. At that moment I took my toothpick and stabbed 4 or 5 of those suckers and put them all in my mouth....oh holy heck they were hot. I started fanning my mouth and looked for some liquid to put in it. I grabbed the nearest cup and tossed it in....mmmmmm nothing like crock pot weenies and Gatorade! I bid the workers a farewell and thanked them for their awesomeness.

Back on the trail I hooked up with a guy from somewhere in California. He had run the race a couple of times and was commenting my pacing. He said I looked great and really had things dialed in. We talked for a bit about races, training and running in general. I decided I would follow him to the next aid station since I had passed the neon pink gal in the last aid station. I would later find out she had to drop from the race a couple miles after that. By this point a couple of other runners had joined us to create a train of 6. We would run together all the way to the next aid stop 7.8 miles away.

Duncan Canyon (23.8 miles) 10:56 AM
A mad house on race day, Duncan Canyon has some great views.
Duncan Canyon is a cool place you have to go down this short little hill and it pops you out into the middle of absolute madness, or so it seems from the first time runner perspective. I made my way into the aid station when all of the sudden I hear this voice from behind say "what's under the hat". I took my hat of and did a little spin in the middle of the aid station, by now enough people asked about the hair that I just kept saying it's a cougar with some cheetah spots thrown in for speed. I walked over to the aid stop and asked for some non caffeinated gels, they had none. This was another mistake I made. I had assumed, again wrongly, that they would have an assortment of Gu brand gels at each aid stop. I was surprised to learn they did not, most of these early stops only had one flavor and they were all caffeinated. I was trying to stay off caffeine for the first 62 miles. This was tough for me, any one who has spent some time with me knows I'm addicted to soda and the caffeine in it. Trying to hold off on caffeine for me is like asking a crack addict to stop talking to his dealer. Fortunately I carried enough gels with me to hold me over till Robinson Flat, the next aid stop where I would see my crew. However, the temptation was there, I took 2 caffeinated gels from the table just in case I needed a fix! I spent 6 minutes fueling at D.C. and then got out of there with 6 quarters of PB&J sandwiches.
Leaving Duncan Canyon is difficult. You are literally directed right back the way you just came from. You have to head north for a mile or two before you can continue moving west. I was worried about this section, 2 weeks prior I ran from Squaw to Robinson Flat and this section killed me. I had not been eating and the last 6 miles of the run knocked me out. I was worried the same would happen today. I held back from my normal balls to the wall downhill ways and followed the 6 person train down to the creek that we must pass through. 

I was puzzled by what I saw at the creek, we had been running now for almost 7 hours and no part of the body was dry. Yet, here I am watching 10-12 people tip toe on the rocks sticking out of the stream so they do not get their feet wet. I announced "coming through!" as I ran into the shin deep creek and passed each and every one of them. I knew I had dry shoes and socks in 3 miles and more water was not hurting anything at this point. 

I'm now about to embark on the first of 4 canyon climbs. This canyon is tricky, it just gets steeper as you go. I knew when we hit the switchbacks 1.5 miles from the aid station that things would fall apart for me. They always do on hills. I'm slow, especially when the incline is mild. I have not yet developed a running gear up hills and my hiking leaves a lot to be desired. On this day though, my legs felt great. I began slowly pulling away from the train of 12 I had passed and was now on my own. I would not run with another person for the next 10 hours. I'd see people, but I was passing them. With good legs beneath me, I started hiking hard up the hill. I caught a couple of people and I was realizing that either they were blowing up or I was in better climbing shape than I thought.

1/2 mile.....close but no cigar!
I made my way up the switchbacks and through a meadow to the sign that says Robinson Flat .5 miles. This sign is full of it! Its .8 miles, you may not think that .3 miles is much, after 29.7 miles that is one hell of an error! Fortunately I knew about this already so I adjusted my expectations of when I would see my crew.

Robinson Flat (30 Miles) 12:37 PM 

I entered the corral they had set up for runners to direct them into the weigh station 25 minutes ahead of schedule. In races like this they weigh you to make sure you are keeping up on the fluids. Weighing more or less than 7% of your body weight gets you time in a chair, and you have no choice but to wait until they feel you are ready to leave. I have worried about this to no end. Last year in my only other 100 mile race I started at 194 and would weigh at different times 188 all the way to 212. At that race they are much more lenient than this one with the numbers.

I started to figure out if I would be heavy or light 174 and 202 was the range I had to work with. Should I strip down or add some rocks to the pockets? My blow up at Zion a month earlier and a promise I made to my fiance made me decide to be honest with the scale, so I did nothing. I saw my crew member to the right of the line of runners walking into the aid station. Oh she was a sight for sore eyes, and she had a poncho and tu-tu on! Yes, I thought, they are all going to be fine I do not have to worry about them. I walked up to the scale handed my pack and jacket off and stood still. 203 the guy shouted, what's your start weight?

Damn that is over 7% do I tell him the truth?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Pre-Race to Last Place!

Pre Race 2:30am Saturday June 23

The dreaded buzz from my phone alarm awoke me from a dream about Burning Man. I quickly sat up out of bed and as the fog of sleep started to clear from my brain, I was now realizing why it was pitch dark out.  I would be running for the entire day, night and next morning. I’d be trying to run nearly half way across the state of California, over the Sierra mountain range just 2.5 hours from now. I needed to eat, drink, and prepare my weapons to attack the trail for the day. I also still had to make the short journey from my parent’s house to Squaw Valley. 381 other runners like me, would start the Western States 100 mile Endurance run at the base of the ski resort. Each of us hopeful to end our run in Auburn, California before 11:00 am Sunday morning. 301 runners would eventually reach Auburn in less than 30 hours after the gun went off.
My trail weapons
I made my way up the three flights of stairs to the garage where I had stashed my 2 bagels and creme cheese as well as a liter of orange juice. This would be the last meal I would have where I was not hurried. My dog Zeke had eaten the other 4 bagels the day before and there were some nice teeth marks on the two he left behind. I guess he wanted to carb load with me. I leaned against the refrigerator and thought about the adventure I would have today. I wondered if I had what it would take mentally and physically to run the 100.2 miles (18,000 feet of climbing and 23,000 feet of descending). I wondered if my foot would hold up to the abuse I was about to put on it. I wondered what my body would do after I hit the 43 mile mark. I'd not completed any runs this year farther than 42 miles. I had run 100 miles before in 2011, but that was on the smooth buffed out Tahoe Rim Trail. That run resulted in a massive 9 straight hours of walking between 2am and 11am. That 9 hours is the only regret I have from the race, these are running races I need to be able to run them. I knew if the same resulted today, I would be pulled from the course in the middle of the night. I would not make the segmented cutoffs that are there to ensure runners finish in a timely manner.

Today I was attempting a run on much more difficult, technical terrain. To make matters worse, as I peeked outside I muttered an explicative. It was damp, rainy, cloudy, windy and cold. This race is known for the heat, which I am not well suited for. For the last month I had spent nearly every run at the hottest part of the day in a long sleeve shirt. I spent every day of the commute to work (over an hour each way) in a long sleeve shirt and a towel covering my legs with my cars heater blasting me on high. I was attempting to train my body to be acclimated to the heat I would face on this day. This new set of circumstances was actually a blessing in disguise; I'm all good in the cold. However, I had not done a whole lot of running in the rain and wind since I was injured for most of the winter.

I had decided the week previous that I would make a concerted effort to find the good in the circumstances I was given on this journey rather than dwell on why it was not the perfect scenario. The good in this, I figured, was the lack of heat and the fact I am quite comfortable running in the cold. My days spent in a downhill suit (basically a Lycra suit with a tad bit of padding) skiing prepared me for any amount of cold, damp and uncomfortable this day would bring. I'll take freezing over hot any day. I quickly made my way to my packed bags and started rummaging for the zip lock bag that carried a long sleeve technical (wicking) shirt, my Salomon wind breaker and a pair of summer gloves. I would find out later, this would be the second coldest day in the history of the race.

Taking those items weighed on me a bit, literally but also figuratively. True, they are not heavy, but I had just spent the previous 24 hours taking every unnecessary item out of my race day item list. Generally I take everything except the kitchen sink on a run. I usually have a knife, cell phone, wallet, keys, assortment of sugars like gels, candy, and gummy bears, some solid food at least 75-100oz of water, toilet paper, extra buff and beanie etc…. I had finally decided, begrudgingly at the request of my pacer, actually I should say my savior, to only bring my light pack with 6 gels, 24 gummy worms (600 calories worth) and 75oz of water and toilet paper. I also feared I needed to shed every ounce of weight to make the 30 hour time limit. I made my peace with this decision and of course the minute I get accustomed to it, I’m thrown a curve ball with this rain. Now I’d have to be packed for the cold. So much for going ultra light!

Around 3am the rest of the people in the house started arriving upstairs all of them dressed in the crew shirts that I had made. I talked to my dad for a couple of minutes before I realized it was time to head off and get to Squaw to pick up my bib. It felt like old times being with my dad before the race. He was always there front and center for all my adventures when I was young. There was a moment in talking with him that I think I could see how proud he was of me in his eyes, we do not talk about such things, but the look said everything I needed to hear. I could tell he was amped for me and as is typical with this side of my family both he and my step mom were leaving shortly after the start to go win a sniper shooting match. My family to say the least, is active. The list of sporting success would boggle the mind, I just hoped, today, I could live up to those standards. I had wanted to have my mom out for this as well but things did not work out as I had planned. That's another story all together! I had talked to my mom the day before and told her I just overnight-ed a shirt to her. She wore it the entire time I was on the course. If there is a next time for this race, I'm going to make sure she is healthy enough to be there.

My fiancé and I hopped into the vehicle we have dubbed the Yeti. This would be my crews transportation vehicle as they made their way to me, deep in the hills of California. As is customary with this vehicle, and the big events she transports us too, it was all decked out with paint letting everyone on the road know we were on an epic journey.
I arrived at Squaw Valley at 3:50 am. I have been to this resort hundreds of times but never so early and never on a summer morning. Thoughts of my skiing days whirled through my head, there would be no chair lifts for me on this day. We parked and made our way to the lodge. This was so familiar, when I skied; we made the same trek to the same lodge. Heck I was even sitting at the same table I’d sat at half my life ago before ski races.

I’d been relatively even keel with my nerves up to this point. Once I checked in I got a little baggy with my bib and microchip that goes around my ankle, which is when my nerves and blood pressure went through the roof.
Bib on!
This was happening; I was on the precipice of finally starting the race. I had thought about this in secret for well over a decade, once I finally muttered out loud my intentions to run in it, my thoughts and actions have been dominated by it for the last 3 years. As I pinned that bib on my left leg I wondered if I would be the same person in 31 hours. I figured if successful I would finally feel proud of myself, but feared as has happened so many times in the past, that I might have placed too much emphasis on the final outcome. The old me would consider anything but a finish a colossal failure, I would not take into account the journey, the fact so few could even make it to the start, or even the circumstances that I had to face just to get here this year. I hoped that I would find maturity along the course where I could appreciate all the good that has come from this journey and not dwell on an unfortunate outcome, should that be the case.

Once I had my bib on I started to realize I may need to deal with a bathroom stop on the mountain. Even with careful planning I was starting to get the feeling that yesterdays food would not evacuate from my body before the start. I was prepared for this circumstance but I was not happy I’d have to deal with it. I had carefully planned every eating session for the last week, right down to the minute of the day I took in food. I should have needed to go by now, but instead I sat on the toilet twiddling my thumbs praying to the poop gods! They would answer me many times over; unfortunately those communications would come at mile 6, 38, 42, and 49.

I got up threw my shorts back on and hoped that this would be the only thing for the next 30 hours I was unsuccessful at. I made my way back to my parents and fiancĂ© with 10 minutes to the start. A friend of mine had made the trip up from Reno to surprise me. He showed up just as we were going to head out, I was shocked to see him. He was the one who first heard the words: “I want to run the Western States 100” come out of my mouth back in 2009. It was just the jolt I needed before the journey began.

Nearly 400 nervous runners stood on the deck of the lodge watching a clock countdown. I could see at the head of the pack just under the start line so many famous runners; it hit me at that point. I was running the same course as them, and in the same race! What the hell was I doing here; I was no where near the runner they were. I looked back toward the end of the line and pretty much thought the same thing about those runners. I had my first mental battle before the gun even went off. I saw my training partners lined up and thought they looked like they belong. I still did not think I deserved to be here. That was the only conclusion I could come to just minutes before the start, why else would I consider all 380 other runners as studs and me just some pitiful fool who lucked into this situation. Heck I had to be given my entry. I only trained less than three months for this, my training partners had to stop and wait for me so many times on long runs. I’m not prepared for this! These were foolish thoughts and I immediately had to step back and tell myself I did in fact deserve to be here and I would perform accordingly. I would revisit this insecurity many times over the next day.
Waiting for the gun
I typically have issues with going out fast at the start of the races and dying in the latter parts. I was determined today that I would not let that happen. My plan was to start at the back. I wanted to make sure that by the time we got to the single-track trail, 3.5 miles in,  I was in the back of the pack. This would ensure that I could not go out fast, because it was near impossible to pass anyone for about 3 miles once on the back side of the ski resort. My overall plan was to take it easy for the first 62 miles, get with my pacer and see where we were at. Make a plan to get to the river crossing (78 miles) and hammer the last 22 miles as best we could. It was important to not have significant walk breaks, I needed to keep moving swiftly at all times.

5AM Saturday June 23 mile 0.0 Squaw Valley

I lined up, still with my clan of 4 supporters, nearly last. The clock hit 10 seconds to go and the runners, crew members and crowd began the countdown from 10. The clock hit zero and a shotgun went off. We now had 30 hours to make our way to Auburn Ca.
And GO!
I had noticed something on a run 2 weeks earlier with my mentor. He would kiss his hand and slap it against rocks as we ran. I never talked to him about it, but I figured the race is so important to him and so close to his heart that he must do it as a form of appreciation. I figured I needed all the help I could get. If I could get some good mojo by making out with the course I was just the guy to do that. Be good to the course and it will be good to you type of thing. I walked up to the starting line kneeled down, kissed my hand and slapped it at the ground, then I did the same as I jumped up to touch the starting timer which already read 30 seconds.
And they are off!
I started walking with the urgency of a snail. Within a minute I was ahead of maybe 3 people and behind the rest of the field. Along the road they call the Mountain Run, I would see many familiar faces. I stopped walking to take time to hug each and every one of them. I was intent on enjoying every part of this adventure. Within a quarter of a mile I had hugged my last friend. I made it one more switchback and I took another 10-15 seconds to look at the valley beneath me, I could see a steady stream of red on the road from all the crews leaving the resort. What I did not see, shocked me a bit….RUNNERS!

I turned back around looked a couple hundred feet up the hill and thought, great, I’m less than .5% through the race and I’m already in last place. I had to once again remind myself (as was the case the entire day) that placing was not important, clock time was. I had roughly 45 minutes to get to the top of Squaw or I’d be off pace and that is all that mattered. If I held true to my pace chart I would finish the race in 29.5 hours.
My Pace sheet, just need to stay ahead of "Goal Time".