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?