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".