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.