Thursday, May 28, 2015

2015 Zion 100 Race Report - The Long Road to 100 Miles

After a 12 hour drive, and a speeding ticket, we arrived in Virgin, UT where I was to run my first 100 mile run (and finish). We arrived when the evening sky was bleeding red onto the surrounding mesas and deserts. Gorgeous colors on the multicolored rock formations. Really an amazing sight that we never got tired of…even when I was running the race.


We drove directly to the packet pickup/checkin area in Virgin, UT, which seemed to be a park about a block down off of the main highway. Virgin is surrounded by mesas and desert. A harsh backdrop that was starting to get me a little nervous now that I was seeing it with my own eyes. The check-in itself was really laid-back but well organized. We were there around 4pm and my crew was not supposed to arrive until 6pm so we had some time to kill. I picked up my packet and we decided to take a short drive to do some race scouting. My crew arrived a little late but they were there for the briefing and we all went to dinner afterwards. We talked about the race and mostly outside subjects to help keep my mind off of what I was going to be doing the next day.

A little background…In December of 2013 my name got drawn in the lottery for the prestigious Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run which was to be run in June of 2014. I spent the next 7 months training in the canyons, hills, and dirt in and around Auburn, Lake Folsom, Lake Natomas and Lake Tahoe areas. I met great people and ran 100s of miles to prepare along with those others who were running and supporting the event. Two weeks before States I developed a virus that was leaving me run-down, chilled and I even broke out in a rash. When I visited my doctor, and a dermatologist, they both told me it was a Pitoriosis Rosea. This is a harmless rash/virus that I would get over in 5-6 weeks. There was no treatment and I just had to “let it run it’s course”. I still showed up at the starting line, anyway, and by mile 30 had lost 11 pounds. I was run down, light headed and dehydrated. After that I was chasing cutoffs all the way to Devil’s Thumb before I was pulled at the top for missing the cutoff by 15 minutes. Three months later I attempted the Pine to Palm 100, which was my backup 100 if I didn’t get into States in 2014, and after climbing the first 10.5 miles up 5000 feet I rolled my ankle going around a corner on the way down. At mile 15 I dropped from the race because it was getting worse with every step and I knew I couldn’t go 85 miles on it. 0 for 2! So “Third Time’s a Charm” became my mantra.

 Race morning was chilly the next day. I bundled up to brace against the desert air and Mary and I went to the starting line. My crew, Veronica, Roger and Barbara, met me at the starting area and we milled around waiting for the gun. The run starts in the dark so we were all under headlamp for the first hour or so. We ran 2 miles towards the first mesa of the day and the Flying Monkey Trail climb which is our first mesa of the day. This trail was a couple miles long and took us from about 3800 feet to around 5200 feet. The trail was narrow, rocky and crowded. If you are afraid of heights, and sheer drop-offs bother you, this is not the trail for you to be on. Luckily neither of these are a problem for me most of the time. I traipse up the trail in a semi-conga-line and make it to the top. We run a 6 mile loop through some rolling scrub-lined, sandy trails and return to the aid station which is perched at the top of the trail. By this time the field has spread out a bit so the descent is not backed up. While running/climbing down the trail there are several places where I need to use by hands to climb down, a couple of places where I have to slide down on my feet/butt and even a place with a rope to help you get down the trail. It’s strange how sometimes going up a trail is easier than going down…this was one of those instances.

 From the bottom of the trail we run 3 miles to the Dalton Wash Aid Station. We run across the desert, snaking our way and going up and down berms, cross a stream and go over a no-joke hill before running down the trail towards the sounds of people cheering at the station. This is the first place where I got to see my crew and the day is starting to warm up. My crew is happy to see me, and I feel pretty good at this point and I have a seat. This is mile 15. We have a really nice camping chair with a side table that we brought specifically for this. Easy-in easy-out and fairly comfortable. Basically I just need to get off my feet and legs every once in a while to keep things going. I grabbed a couple of pieces of light food and chatted with them a bit then got up and headed off to Guacamole.

 The trail from Dalton to Guacamole is dirt road that snakes it’s way up the wash to the base of the Guacamole Mesa. It’s an uphill run to the base of the mesa and the climb up Guacamole is fairly steep. I learn what real “steep” is later in the run, though. I get to the top of Guacamole pretty much on schedule. There is a lively aid station here and after a quick water check and couple of pieces of fruit I head out on the 7 mile loop that is Guacamole. This loop is on what is called “slick rock”. Mountain Bikers and 4x4 drivers love this stuff…not so much runners. It’s hard, rolling and hot. The footing is never flat and you are going up and down and sideways on this stuff in a way that makes it almost impossible to run on. And when I was done with the loop my legs and feet "felt like guacamole". By the time I got to the aid station, too, they were completely out of food. I topped off my water and tailwind and asked if they had ANYTHING? The aid station worker said she could give me a spoonful of peanut butter and she pulled some out of a jar and handed me the spoon. It was better than nothing. I thanked them and started the 4 mile descent back to Dalton Wash. Now it’s starting to get hot on the white dirt road. I’m starting to pass some people on this descent and find myself walking on the uphills already…trying to conserve energy. I really don’t know if I can do this distance since I have never run more than 50 miles, so throughout the run I am constantly trying to conserve.

I make my way to Dalton Wash and there is my wonderful crew waiting for me at the entrance to the AS. They walk me over to my chair and Mary is there with a big smile and words of encouragement. As I walk to the chair I notice that they’ve put it in the ditch at the side of the road and I ease my way down and climb on. I remember complaining about it a little as I exited…but I think I was just trying to advise for the next placement…I think it came out kinda’ negative. Amazing how things sound when they are laced with hot fatigue. Then I tried to eat one of my Hummus and Avocado Wraps here with some Pepsi. I have trained with the HAWs before but today it wasn’t hitting the spot. I ate it anyway as I headed out of the aid station pausing just long enough to thank my crew and kiss Mary (an aid station tradition as the event continued…I’m glad I never mixed those two up ;)).

 The day is really heating up now as we head across the highway to the desert and some more dirt road towards the Goosebump Mesa climb. 4 miles and some climbing later I make it to the base of the big climb. This is a zig-zag trail that I have looked at many times on maps, looked at the flyover and even saw it from Virgin...cut into the side of the mesa. It is intimidating to look at and I found out that it is worse than it looks. I am at mile 34 at the base of this mesa. It’s a steep climb covered in rocks, some large, as it twists and turns its way up about 1700 feet in a little over a mile. It goes from 3500 feet to about 5200. I start climbing up the trail and quickly realize how hard it is. About a quarter mile later I find that I am out of breath. I stop momentarily with my hands on my knees catching my breath and then I continue. 4 steps later I stop again to catch my breath. I don’t know if it is the altitude, an asthma attack (which I rarely get) brought on by all the dust or what…but I continue the 4-5 steps/stop catch my breath…the rest of the way up the hill. It was the hardest thing I’ve done in my 4 years of trail running and over 30 years of running in general. Now I know why those guys climbing Everest take a step and catch their breath and then take another step. I finally get to the top, my crew, and the Goosebump Aid Station feeling destroyed at mile 35.5. I no longer have the ability climb without having to catch my breath. I have a seat at the aid station and complain about the climb to my crew. At this point I am offered food and nothing sounds good. My stomach has pretty much shut down and my quads and feet are killing me. I have a few pieces of fruit and some Pepsi and am rushed out onto the trail before I can think too much. Next stop Gooseberry Point AS at mile 40.


 I am told that there comes a time in every 100 where average runners have to get past a dark place. Some  call it the pain cave, others just say it’s a sucky place where races go to DNF. I was there. It’s hot and every step I take hurts. Quads are shot. Feet are shot. My mind is burnt. I start saying negative things to myself. Maybe I’m not built to do 100 miles. Maybe I’ve found my limit. Every uphill step I take requires me to catch my breath. I’m speed walking in more slick rock now and the ups and downs are killing me. I start planning my exit. My pacers can run the 50k tomorrow. I can just relax the rest of the weekend. This is far enough. I probably "just can't run 100 miles". I finally get to the AS at mile 40 where you now have a 1 mile round trip to the point where you have to use a hole-punch on your bib to show you got there before you return to the aid station. I have a seat at the AS. I’m trying to get my head back online. I go to the table and get some fruit…stomach still not working. I decide before I drop I should go see the view at the point. So I head out there...gorgeous views of the surrounding mesa and valleys below in 3 directions. I punch my number and head back to the AS still intent on dropping. I get back and walk over to the table and they have something there that I have never had on a run before…fruit cups. I take one back to the chair have a seat and open it. I drink down the sweet liquid and it tastes great! I shake the peaches out of the cup into my mouth and chew them greedily. Now I notice a truck at the aid station and the owner rummaging around like he’s getting ready to leave. I ask him if he’s going to Goosebump AS and he says he is. I ask him if he can give me a ride and he says "sure". He says he’ll be ready to go in a couple of minutes. I send Mary a text message that says “I’m gonna drop…getting a ride from Gooseberry Point…can’t continue. Don’t have a light with me anyways and I won’t make it there before dark.” Now I see another runner there who has his pack off and looks like he’s going to go in the truck also. As he’s walking to the truck I ask him “Do you have a spare light I can borrow?” He pauses and then says yes he does and starts fishing it out of his pack. I get up off the chair, take the light from him, reassure him that I will mail it to them, and thank him, and head out of the AS towards Goosebump. Just like that…a small decision made a huge impact on my day. As I am traipsing my way back to Goosebump I get a text message back from Mary that says “No F’ing way you are dropping! Roger says just get up and get moving back here and you won’t need a light! No Dropping!!” About a quarter mile later I get a call from Mary (thank goodness, and AT&T, for the great coverage on the mesas!). She is frantic on the line and I assure her that I have borrowed a light and I am on my way. She is relieved to hear this and 10 minutes later I run into her on the trail coming to meet me.  She has a slice of pepperoni pizza that she says she was "ordered" to make sure I eat. My stomach still isn’t really working but she begins picking off fingers-full and feeding me like a bird on the trail back. These are the times when crew is invaluable. She talked through the next 3 miles back and totally got me off the “ledge”. She said all the right things and helped me get my mind back in the right place. Also…my legs returned and I wasn’t losing my breath any longer. I was back online. We got back to Goosebump shortly after I turned on the handheld flashlight Mary had brought to me. She never turned her light on…I’m sure to make a point…but I didn’t want to roll an ankle at this point in a hole or on a rock I couldn’t see.

Back at Goosebump for the second time now. I tried looking at things being brought to me by my crew to see if anything looks appetizing. I see someone with a fruit cup (yes like what was in your lunchbox as a kid) and I ask for one. It went down great with the sweetness of the syrup and the chunks of fruit. Also, I try some top ramen that looks good from the aid station. Both go down well and I didn’t know it then...but these became my staples for the remainder of the race. I wasn’t scheduled to get my first pacer until mile 53.5 but I’m told that Barbara will join me on the road between here (47) and there. I get my night gear put on, which includes a new shirt, headlamp, and my favorite beanie. The latter feels so comfortable and warm when I put it on that it brings a big dopey smile to my face that gets  a laugh out of my crew. It’s the little things that make a big difference in events like this...the small luxuries. I get up and we take off down the road. Mostly walking but we add in some jogging here and there. It’s a rolling dirt road, with cars travelling down it every couple of minutes kicking up dust. It wasn’t too bad, though, and the conversation definitely made the road go by faster. At one point Barbara tells me that someone has sent me a video and she hands me the phone. It’s Sunny, Nicole, KC and Cathleen in their car driving to Zion for their 50k run later the next day. I won’t transcribe the content here but suffice to say it basically was telling me that there is no dropping and not to be a “pussy”! Hah! I get a huge kick out of this and has me laughing on the trail, feeling a knot form in my throat. Such great friends and encouragement! Priceless. I got many texts and posts throughout the event that really helped keep me going!

We get to Grafton Mesa Aid Station next, mile 53.5. Here I change out Barbara for Veronica as pacer and get more top ramen and a fruit cup. I even tried a pancake before I took off and it actually tasted pretty good. My stomach could only handle a few bites of it but my stomach seemed to be turning around finally. Veronica and I head out on the road that quickly turned into single track towards the cemetery aid station at 57.5. There is what seemed like a long single track rolling trail to the top of the rocky trail that heads down to the ghost town of Grafton below. As we finally reach the top we can see lights from other runners down in the valley below. It looks like they stretch on forever and I’m wondering just how far it is. We head down the trail, which is about a mile, over rocks and through ruts until we make it to the bottom and eventually to the aid station. There is a nice fire going here, it’s about 39 degrees out, and I stand there a second to get warm. Then we sit down and I have a fruit cup and some top ramen. We don’t hang out long…it’s cold and there is a little breeze down here…and I long for the climb out so that I can get warm. So we take off. Going up the hill Veronica points out the people that we are passing. She later tells me that she was purposely pulling me along at a faster clip so we could pick some people off. It works as we pass several runners on the ascent. As we get to the top and start heading towards Grafton on the single track Veronica gets a text, announced as it was several times during the night by the “ding ding” alert. She stops behind me and yells “keep going”…hah like I was going to stop. She catches up with me and says “Mary says she wants you to start doing 17:30 miles as opposed to the 18:20s you’re doing now”. So I respond “you tell Mary this is all she’s gonna get right now”. I was trying to conserve and had a certain effort-level I was trying to keep. Run a little, walk a little. You have to admire the patience that crew shows in moments like this. There was no more discussion about pace.

We make it back to Grafton…more food…and quickly head out back on the road to Goosebump. More cars, more dust, more great conversation and constant movement.

We reach Goosebump aid station at mile 68.5 and I can hear Mary in the distance yelling “they’re here…they’re here”! We come into the aid station and I find Mary there  getting things ready. Then in comes a bleary-eyed Roger and Barbara. I think I caught them napping :). So glad they were able to get some rest…but I harassed them anyway ;). I get some food and a jacket here and Veronica and I strap our shoes tighter to prepare for the long decent down off the mesa. I had been dreading this descent ever since I ascended it several hours before. Roger and I had both been talking about it and by the time we reached it Veronica was nervous about it too. We start heading down. In the end it was not as bad as either of us thought it would be. I think we descended it in about 34 minutes. Considering the rockiness and pitch it was a really good effort and we were both surprised how quickly we reached the bottom. Way easier than going up.

The road between the base of Goosebump to the Virgin Desert AS is only about 8 miles but it felt a lot further. Veronica and I passed the time with more conversation and joking around as usual. Veronica was also pointing out other runners on the trail, identified by their headlamps, and then increasing the pace to catch and pass them. We made quite the game out of it and it kept us occupied. We must have passed 8 or 10 runners on that stretch. Our other goal was to reach the next aid station before the sun came up. So we moved quicker and quicker as we got closer. At this point we are jogging here and there but mostly walking a fast pace…or at least what felt fast. This part of the trail is rolling and is mostly soft road to run on. It was so much nicer than the slick rock and rocky terrain that the earlier part of the course was made of. On this stretch we hear our first wildlife…a coyote howling and then the answer mewling from his buddies. It’s an eerie sound to hear as we round a corner and see the moon peeking out from behind the mesa. A beautiful site and definitely a “moment” during the run.


We reach the Virgin Desert Aid Station at mile 76.5 just as the sun is coming over the horizon. Veronica and I end this stretch jogging down the long straight final half mile of trail pulling into the aid station just in time to see the sunrise. Another amazing moment out there. I was so glad to be able to share these moments with the wonderful people that made up my crew. Veronica had said that Roger was chomping at the bit to get started and she forecasted that we would see him there hopping up and down ready to get going on his stretch of pacing finally. I came into the aid station feeling pretty good and had a seat next to the fire where others are gathered. Some pacers and some runners. I see my pal Emily Yu sitting here, who is waiting to pace her friend when she arrives. Emily and I got pulled at  the same time during Western States in 2014 and shared a ride to Foresthill. We’ve seen each other at many races since then and have been Facebook friends.  I am sitting here quickly eating and taking off my night gear to get ready for the 3 laps in the desert, followed by the final stretch to the finish. Cathleen is here also, now, and has joined my crew. It was so nice to see her and she brings a whole new energy to the team.

Loop 1 is about 5 miles and Roger and I take off to cover the rolling desert course as quickly as possible before it gets too hot. The trail is a mountain biking trail, mainly, and so it is rutted and rolls up and down as if it is providing “jumps” for the bikes. Hard to get a rhythm here…but we keep moving. A few minutes into the loop Roger says back to me “Is there anything special you need me to do for you back here while we are running?” I say back to him “Well Barbara and Veronica both ‘flashed’ me as part of their pacing duties (not really) so you have a lot to live up to”. We both laugh…and he says that he may not be able to compete with that. The goofy things you say when you are on the trails. We finish the first loop and get back to the aid station and Mary walks up with a BIG bag of MacDonalds food and announces that she spent the most she has every spent for breakfast at a MacDonalds…she has $40 worth of food. I immediately rummage through the bags and find an egg mcmuffin and hashbrowns and sit down sand start woofing it down. Mary brings me an orange juice and it seems like a FEAST at this point in my adventure. I get two bites in on each and Mary says…”Okay…it’s time to go!” I say “geez I haven’t even been able to eat anything! (grumpy)” Mary says “eat as you walk” I say “I can’t carry all the food and orange juice and I need the orange juice to eat or it will be too dry” I know…what a primadonna right? Mary volunteers to carry my orange juice and out we go to loop 2.

Loop 2 is around 5.9 miles and is much like the last one…rolling mountain bike trails cutting through the desert. There are many mountain bikers out now and we pass many and have many pass us. Some slow and some don’t. A couple ask us what we are doing out there…how long the run is. When we tell them 100 miles it’s always the same reaction…”HOLY CRAP”! Others pass by and say “nice job” or “keep it up”…every little bit helps! It’s during this lap that I really start to feel that I might be able to finish this. Up until this point I was wondering if I could even complete such a crazy task. You try not to think about it but those doubts sneak in here and there. Loop 2 ends with a long, winding trail, where you can see the aid station way off in the distance as you make your way towards it. It seems to take forever to get there. We finally do and I tell Mary that that particular food really didn’t seem to give me much energy and that we need to try something different. I eat a breakfast burrito with a little more orange juice to see if that has different results.

The Final Loop is approximately 6.8 miles…the longest of them. This loop heads in the opposite direction of the others on the other side of the road. Still dirt and rolling but it heads up and down some larger hills. It makes its way towards the river and I come across Fast Cory and his pacer and we play leapfrog for a while on the trail. Eventually Roger and I get to the river and we run along the ridge for a couple of miles heading back up the hill towards the aid station. Now it is hot out here and each mile seems like 5. I start to play mind games with the miles. Every mile I tick off as another I don’t have to run! Eventually I say to Roger…”we are in single digits!!”…meaning we are under 10 miles to go. At this point we are painfully stepping off the trail often to let mountain bikers go by. I try not to let it get me riled-up…but its hard when you have over 90 miles on your legs. We roll our way up and over the last hill and I can see Veronica and Barbara yelling about a half mile away. Roger turns to me and says “well we can’t let them see us walking right”? So we take off running again, towards the yelling. We get to them and we all head down the final stretch to the aid station together. I get there and Cathleen and Mary are there waiting for me with some food and words of encouragement. I quickly eat and talk to them about the final stretch to the finish. Mary tells me it’s 6 miles and if I hold my current pace we will be comfortably below 32 hours. I repeat back to her “So if I just do the same pace back I will break 32 hours?” She says yes and this brings a smile to my face. I’m gonna do this thing! The race cutoff is 34 hours, my goal was under 30 hours…but under 32 would be just fine for my first 100.

I give all my crew hugs and thank them and give Mary one last kiss before the finish. Roger and I take off towards the finish line. At this point I turn on my music on my phone for the first time and pick up the pace running our way in. I am saying to myself that there is no reason to hold anything back any longer and I am going to finish this thing…so I don’t hold back and pick up the pace more. I can hear Roger behind me breathing hard as he catches up after texting an update to the crew. He say’s “what’s gotten into you?” I say “there’s no reason to hold back and I feel great right now!...let’s finish this bitch!” We both laugh and continue to push the pace. This stretch starts in the desert but eventually connects with an exposed dirt road that leads to the highway. We get to the dirt road intersection from the trail and Mary and crew are shocked to see me so quickly…they all start yelling encouragement and I start to get choked up. Another great moment in the run…still being able to surprise my crew after 96 miles with a faster-than-expected pace…somewhere around 10 min miles. It feels like I am sprinting and after all the slow plodding feels like sub 8 min pace ;)! It feels great to let loose. The dirt road seems to stretch on forever, though, and has a constant incline. I am determined not to walk again, though, and continue to push up the hill towards the highway. We make the hard right on the asphalt and it is stretched out in front of us. We have passed many other runners since the aid station and there are many out in front of us on the highway. We pick off one after another and in typical ultra fashion each runner I pass yells encouragement to me and I yell it back to them…we are almost there. I am looking ahead on the road trying to see the hard right turn down the last street to the finish but can’t see it. The highway is rolling as well and the small hills feel like mountains at this point…but we keep pushing. I say to Roger “I’m feeling it but I am just going to fall in behind you…pull me in Rog’!” So I fall in right behind him and watch his feet as I keep pushing. A couple minutes later Roger say “I can see the street where the finish is…can you see the cars?” I look up and about a quarter mile away there they are. The heat is radiating off of the highway and it almost looks like a mirage in the distance. Passing more runners we eventually get to the turn and we both turn right, together, down the street. I can hear the finish line now…the screaming and yelling and the announcer. This is one of the best things in ultra running…at least for me…the sound of the finish line. I run down the street and see and hear Mary yelling for me. I run towards the finish line and there is Cathleen, Nicole, Sunny and KC forming an arch with their arms, which we call a “power arch”, to run through as they are yelling for me. I run through and immediately am engulfed in a pile of arms and hugs…a great way to end a run. I look around for Mary and my crew and I finally see Mary and give her a big hug and kiss and thank her. She and the rest of the crew congratulate me as I find them and hug them all.

Two beers later, and some toasting and story reliving with my pacers/crew, and Mary reminds me that I need to get out of my comfy chair and select my belt buckle. I had totally forgotten about this…just happy to be done and alive at this point ;). I get up and Barbara and Mary follow me over where I pick out my buckle. An Orange-ish buckle that “spoke to me”. There seemed to be hundreds to choose from to my addled brain.  All of the buckles, of various colors, have some piece of the course incorporated into them. Mine had sand from the course in it and it looks really cool. I go back to my chair and continue to celebrate with my crew. Eventually the celebrating comes to an end and we all head out.

I want to thank Barbara, Veronica and Roger for making the long drive out to Utah to crew and pace me. I couldn’t have done it without the great support you provided throughout the long day, night and day. Thanks to all my family and friends that provided encouragement during training and during the race. The texts, videos and FaceTimes I received during the event really helped and reminded me of all the people who were rooting for me. And of course a special thanks to my wife, and crew chief, Mary who I definitely couldn’t have done this without. Your support during training and the race constantly inspired and assured me that I can accomplish crazy things like this. Your love and support makes every day better than the previous.


100 Miles completed in 31:41:22. Would have preferred sub-30…but you don’t know how hard to push until you’ve completed one. I’ll be ready to go sub-30 in the next one.
Note: Matt Gunn, who is the Race Director, does a really good job putting these events on. I encourage you to attend one of his beautiful races. My only wish is that they sold more swag to help commemorate your success. I would have loved to leave there with a Zion 100 sweatshirt or T-shirt or something that said Zion 100 in addition to my belt buckle.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Head Games - Mental Prep and Western States Walkthrough

Well here we are 16 days from, next to my marriage and kids’ births, is the most important day of my life. The other day I looked in the mirror and said…”well this is what ‘the best shape of my life’ looks like”. I wasn’t too impressed…but who ever likes what they see in the mirror? We are our worst critics. 

So as I look back on my training the questions start to creep in…Did I do enough?..Did I run enough hills?...Did I run enough miles?...Did I learn enough about hydration and nutrition to fuel myself through 100 miles? I have talked with many individuals who have told me that no matter how much you do you will always ask if you did enough. So I guess it-is-what-it-is and all I can do is taper now and make sure I get to the start healthy and rested. In May I took two weeks off, pretty much, because of a nagging knee injury that continued to get worse between March and May. There was a lot of tightness on the inside of my knees and eventually a lot of pain behind my left knee. I finally decide to have x-rays and an MRI done and they found nothing acute…which provided peace-of-mind at least that all I needed was rest. Low and behold…my pain is gone. I have run a couple of long runs since then, including the big Memorial Day training runs of 50 miles on Saturday, 5 on Sunday and 22 on Monday, followed by 22 mile night run on following Saturday and have no pain or tightness to show for them (knock on wood). That was two back-to-back 70 mile weeks which by far were the highest for me ever. I followed that up with another 30 mile run this last weekend over the top from Squaw to Robinsons…no pain. Taking that time off was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my 36 years of running. Encouragement from friends and family really helped…but skipping Miwok and Silver State still took a lot of mental fortitude. Funny huh…that NOT running the races took mental strength? Well it did. I’m glad I made those decisions though because now I am virtually pain-free (KOW again!). 

So now I look forward to staying healthy, getting my crew and pacers organized and ready, and ramping down the miles while I taper. If it is hot out…I will get some heat training in also…cuz ya just don’t know what race day will deal ya. I am betting on HOT! I will get out there in the dead heat of the day and get some time on my feet. Not too much…but enough to be exposed to it without wearing out my legs. Gotta be smart at this point. Also gotta keep the ankles healthy and keep from other flare-ups of any kind physically. 

The last major task is getting my head straight. How do you get your head around running for 28+ hours and over 100 miles? Like eating an elephant…one bite at a time… 

The Race Plan: 

My plan is to get myself to Robinson Flat (mile 30) at a slow and easy pace. Get myself into a groove and eat and drink often. Try and calm myself down as quickly as possible without going out too quick. A 4+ mile, 2500 foot, climb is a good speed bump to start with…so that should help. I just ran this section this last weekend, for only the second time, and had forgotten how rocky and technical it is. My goal will not only to be to hydrate and eat, but to also not let the little nagging technical areas get to me mentally. Also all the little climbs you encounter along the way… including Duncan Canyon…which is always longer than I remember. Get to Robinson Flat well under the cutoff feeling okay and fueled up for the canyons. That’s the goal. It’ll be the first place I see my crew…so that will definitely help too ;)! 

The next section is the canyons and probably the toughest part of the course. It’s the section that I have spent the most time in during my 5+ months of training. I have run in these canyons several times with some great people and learned a lot from my own experience and talking to others along the way. The goal in this section is to get through each canyon one at a time. Don’t kill the quads too much on the way down and slow and steady on the way up. I intend to enjoy the river crossing as the base of Devils Thumb and take a quick break at El Dorado Creek as well to cool off. Once through Michigan Bluff slow and steady to the Volcano Creek decent and take it easy on the way down. Break at the creek to cool off, then climb up to Bath Road. I’ve been going back and forth about running the Bath Road section or walking and in training I have done both. We’ll just have to see how I feel. Will have someone meet me there from my crew…possibly my son. Then run down Foresthill Road to the Aid Station. Guess what, though…the RACE AINT OVER HERE! 

Lots of people get to ForestHill and have this mental “whew” happen and then mentally let down and drop during the Cal Street decent to the river. I plan to be smart about this. I am hoping to get there by 8pm-ish. My plan is the take some time to drink in the atmosphere, refuel and possibly change some clothing, prepare for night running, and then pick up Roger (my pacer) and high-tail it out of there. 

I’ve run this next section several times also, including as the last part of 50 miles on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. It a deceptively difficult section in that it can mess with you mentally. First of all…if you get it in your head that it’s all downhill to the river…you will be sadly disappointed! There are several climbs including a really nasty one just before Ford’s Bar aid station and another on the dirt road about a mile from the crossing. These can really mess with your head if you aren’t ready for them. Also there are pounding downhills which will feel quite lovely on your pulverized quads…most notable are the decent out of Cal 2 and good ole “elevator shaft”! The other thing to keep in mind is “just because you hear the river doesn’t mean you’re almost there”! You’ll hear the river like it’s RIGHT THERE and still be over 6 miles out. Don’t trust your ears…trust the distance…it’s 16 miles! Roger will have to probably remind me of this several times ;)! 

The crossing at the river is one of the coolest things I’ve done during a run…even though I was only a pacer when I did it. We did it around midnight in 2012 and I expect to be doing it about the same time this year. That year it was cooler out and we were shivering as we got out on the other side. The water went up to mid-way between my belly and chest that year as we crossed on foot using the cable. Will probably the same this year. Maybe lower? It was cold when we got out on the other side. I will again get the soup at Rucky Far and drink it hiking up to Green Gate. That’s about a two mile climb up to my next crew stop and pacer swap. Also I plan on having more soup when I get there from my crew. Perhaps a wardrobe change to get out of the wet clothes. It will be 1-2amish at this point and it will be nice to see my bleary-eyed crew members at this point. This is also where I will say thank you to Roger and hello to Helen…my pacer and companion over the final stretch. 

My plan for this stretch is just to keep going! I’ve run this twice in the same week after memorial day and one of those was at night. This is the part of the trail I am most familiar with. The first Aid Station, ALT, is also where I just read somewhere that most people drop. Mainly because they underestimate this final 20 mile section. It is quite runnable, even in the dark, with only a few hills to walk when you have fresh legs. I won’t be fresh but I’ll try to keep moving on these as each mile ticks by. Helen will be cracking the whip! The last two times I’ve run this it has seemed shorter than previously to me…I doubt that will be the case on race day ;). I’ll wind and climb my way to ALT Aid Station, and then go through as quickly as possible. Then we will wind our way through the little canyons to that wonderful wooden bridge that means we are almost to Brown’s Bar. This stretch will just be about mentally focusing on keeping my legs running (shuffling)…relax and run! The decent down from Brown’s to Quarry Rd will feel wonderful on my legs by then (not really :() but it will be nice to hit Quarry Rd. Then it’s “keep the legs moving through the rollers” until the hard left turn that heads back up to the ridge. It’s a little over a mile and it is rocky and steep in places. Just gotta keep positive and keep moving at this point. Don’t let it get to me. Then it’s rollers to the 49 crossing where I will see my crew again! This will be a nice place to recharge a bit for the final push. Next jog past the short cut trail and then power hike up to the meadow. Then hopefully I have enough in my legs to toboggan run it down to No Hands! Then it’s 3 miles to the Finish! 

From there it is trail that I’ve run a hundred times! Heck Bruce, Tony, Joe, James, and I trained on this section every Wednesday earlier this year week after week. At this point I’ll just have to put my head down and keep moving. Don’t anticipate…just keep moving. Luckily I’ve done this finish all the way to the track a couple of time during the last couple of weeks too. I’ll know to not anticipate the finish after the Mile 99 sign…still lots of running. There should be lot’s of encouragement out there and my crew can pick me up at Robies all that should help. This will be exciting…a celebration at this point. 

Well that’s the plan. All you can do is plan and prepare for the inevitable unexpected events that make a 100 mile race so much fun! I will have a great crew out there along with awesome, experienced pacers. They will be invaluable as the day unfolds. It takes a “village”…right? I am a firm believer. I have been lucky enough to run with experienced people, who have run this several times, as well as wide-eyed rookies like me. I’ve learned valuable tips and mental prep from the veterans and I have learned that I am not alone in my doubts from the rookies. Now is the time to work on focus, work on attitude, plan and expect the unexpected. 

Most people think of your legs when you tell them you are running 100 miles…the physical part. I have learned over the past 5 months that it will truly take a well-trained mind to make it to the finish. One that can stay positive in the lows and stay in control in the highs. One that never believes that enough is enough or listens to the little voices telling you to stop. Am I over-dramatizing this? Maybe. But for an average guy like me…it’s going to take everything I’ve got both physically and mentally to get through this day…I never doubt that for a minute. The next 16 days will be spent finalizing plans and getting my head in the right place for this. Focus, fortitude, confidence and remembering my mantra for the day… 

Pain is Temporary but Regret is Forever! 

May Stats: 19 runs, 211 miles, and 21,184ft elev gain 
Year to date: 108 runs, 1,158 miles and 148,784 ft elev gain

Friday, May 9, 2014

Miwok...Me No Run

After months of preparation I decided to not run the Miwok 100k. Not because I wasn’t prepared both physically and mentally but because I have had a nagging knee injury that has been bothering me since just after the Way Too Cool 50k back in March. 

It started as just a tightness in the muscles above and below the inside of each knee that I would have during the day when I wasn’t running and would eventually go away as I ran and things loosened up. It was most pronounced on my left knee, and provided some dull pain during runs as well. It bothered me a bit during the last 10 miles of the AR50, and continued to bother me on each run after that. It was like an achy little knot just behind the inside of my left knee. I went to get a massage hoping to loosen things up a couple of weeks ago and then continued to run on it culminating in some runs in the bay area over a weekend where the pain got worse. The tightness was there too. It feels like I have a rubber band on the inside of each knee that is being pulled too tight…straining…all day long. 

As I found at the AR50, and later in the Mokelumne River 50K on 4/19, I am able to run through the achiness and pain. Not exceedingly sharp…just achy. The fact that it wasn’t getting worse or better had me perplexed and wondering what to do about it. I tried icing and ibuprofen but those didn’t seem to help through the weeks. And until the pain increased on the weekend of 4/26 I just thought it would go away. When it got worse after that weekend, when I really didn’t run that many miles (14 and 10), I started to really worry about my chances to run Miwok on 5/3. 

Running the Mekolumne River 50k

I have been lucky enough to get into Miwok, a race that is held in the Marin Headlands every year and is the top 100K race in the nation, for the last two years. Last year the course got shortened at the last minute to 60K due to “fire danger” and so I didn’t get to run the whole thing. This year I was excited to finally be able to run over 50 miles in a race. This was going to be my “test run” in my buildup to States in June. A systems check to make sure I was on track to run 100 miles. Then the “check engine light” came on. 

So I decided after the painful weekend to shut down for the week leading up to the race to see if I could heal up enough to run it. I walked every day from Monday to Thursday instead of running. About 1-4 miles each. By the time Thursday rolled around I could tell that the pain was still going to be there so I made the very difficult decision to DNS (Did Not Start). But now I have un-cancellable hotel plans, and Mary was going to be out of town anyway visiting our son at Oregon I decided to go anyway to help crew Cathleen, KC, Roger, Bruce and others that I knew who were running it. 
Nicole, KC, Cathleen and Kellie the night before

Roger, Nicole and Cathleen enjoying the view

Veronica taking in the fresh air

KC at the finish with her brother, and pacer, Larry

I struggled with this decision because of the depression I was feeling for not being able to run this myself. Would I want to be there watching others reaching their milestones and goals while I sat on the sidelines? How would I react? Could I take it without getting even more depressed, or angry? I decided to go anyway…for my friends and for the sheer joy of being around such an amazing event and the company of fellow ultra crazies. In the end it was a really good decision. Yes, at times it was difficult…but it was worth it. Seeing my friends from aid station to aid station and crossing the finish line was a great experience and was partially cathartic. It did help a little. Sure there were times during the day where depression snuck it’s way in…but overall being part of that event and part of their adventure and accomplishments almost made me feel like I was participating in it. In the run itself. I felt their pain, their doubts and ultimately their joy of being finished and knowing they accomplished something amazing. It was worth it, I found, just to be a contributor and to be able to help them…it felt great. 

Also getting to hang out with Nicole, Kellie, Veronica, and Jerry all day was a lot of fun. It was almost like being part of the Amazing Race as your runner leaves the aid station and you and the others quickly pile yourself and the supplies into your cars to chase after them to the next aid station. I thank goodness for GPS and maps otherwise those twisty mountain roads would have made it impossible to get from place to place. It was a maze of streets and the parking was always packed (we did get lucky at Tennessee Valley and got a last second front row spot right next to the aid station. Sweet!) Trying to find food, supplies, parking and trying to stay warm in the morning and cool in the afternoon were all fun challenges and made the day go by faster. I know..I know…the runners had it tougher than us…we were just “sitting around”…I know…but it felt like a challenge when we were doing it. Luckily we all got along great and had nothing but fun. No crankiness or bickering…rare for crews that spend 18 hours together after getting up at 3am. But the crew laughed often and stressed little. Perfect. 

So where am I today? Well I went for a slow run on both Tuesday and Wednesday…both flat…and their wasn’t much pain but the knot was still there. On Sunday I started using a roller on my legs…I know…why didn’t I start doing that earlier? I don’t know…you can’t think of everything! So now I am rolling my legs nightly and I have decided to take another week off. No Gold Rush 50k this weekend (5/10). I am going to walk the rest of the week and over the weekend. I will continue to roll and ice nightly, take my ibuprofen, and will do some light-weight strength training at the gym on my glutes, hamstrings, quads and calves. Very light. I have also decided to start using the hot tub at the gym to help keep things loose. We  continue to look for a good Yoga place (Yin style) and may eventually start doing that again or just do it at home for a few minutes every night. There are only so many hours in a day people! I have also had people suggest everything from Cryo-therapy to laser therapy to massage to Kinesio tape to rest. Many have suggested swimming or cycling. I tried cycling and that hurt my knee so I stopped. Many also have given me names of personal trainers, massage places, kinesio therapists, strength trainers, surgeons, x-ray techs, etc. Thank you all! Things are getting better but if this doesn't continue I will seek other help. 

Now I look towards Silver State 50k on 5/17. Hopefully all the walking, and other therapeutics, will have me feeling better. I would rather not have any more DNS’s before the big Memorial Day Weekend runs. I know that May is supposed to equal Miles…as the old WS100 training saying goes…but my May will have to be about getting healthy for the big dance on 6/28. That is my main goal and I will do what I have to do to be healthy as I toe that start line and the countdown begins at 5am in Squaw Valley. I feel good about my training up until now and that thought gives me some solace as the days tick by without running. Running is in my soul…good or bad…and denying myself that is teaching me more great lessons about toughness that will do nothing-but-good for me on those two days in June. No matter how bad I feel now, as Helen told me yesterday, when I get to the starting line in June I will be thankful that I took this time off in May. It’s not easy though…thanks to everyone for your support. 

March Stats: 22 runs, 245 miles (PR), and 32,081(PR) ft elev gain 
April Stats: 20 runs, 216 miles and 26,585 ft elev gain 
Year to date: 86 runs, 897 miles and 117,014 ft elev gain

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

2014 American River 50 Mile Race Report

Let’s start off by reviewing March and then we’ll get to the American River 50. March was the best month that I’ve had as a runner. I guess this would be expected considering what I am training for. It consisted of 22 runs, 246 miles and 32,081 feet of climbing. All PRs for me. But the best part of March, and what really made it a great month, was the fun I had running with all my family and friends. What a supportive group of wonderful people that I am lucky to have during this time in my life. So many people to run with, get advice from, go to Auburn Alehouse with and just generally hang out and be goofy with. It’s a great time. I also had my first WS100 Crew meeting this month. The crew and pacers are all set and it seems like everything, except for the outfits (skirt color is the current hot topic), are put in place and plans are coming together. Okay…onto the AR50. 

 So my philosophy and approach to this race was different this year than any other of the past 2 years that I ran it. This year it was a check-point…a training run…so to speak. I read somewhere that saying that a race is “a training run” is an “excuse to do poorly”…I wasn’t planning on letting that happen. This year there were a couple of things that made this race even more exciting. The first was the new course which started at Brown’s Bar (Folsom) instead of the usual start in Sacramento. This actually worked out okay for me because most of the first half of the course is now run around Lake Natomas which is my back yard…a course I run a lot. The second, and more exciting thing about this race was that my brother Jon and his buddy Adrian were running it for the first time. As a matter of fact it was their first Ultra distance event! These two had been training for months in the bay area and neither had run an event that was longer than a marathon before taking this one on. This was really setting up to be a special day on the trails. 

 To start off with…it was a little chilly at the starting line in the dark. Many of us were packed into the “big top” at the starting line trying to stay warm. I got to talk with my brother and one of his friends from his gym that he ran into as soon as we entered the tent…what are the odds? She’s been giving them advice and encouragement throughout the training and I’m sure it helped for him to see her for some final words of encouragement before the start. Also ended up standing right next to Paul from FTRs and we chatted about some of his upcoming plans including an epic trip to Comrades! 

In typical ultra fashion the start was quite uneventful…away we went. There was a countdown and I don’t remember a gun but there might have been one. As we are running down the initial road, not 100 yards from the start, I hear one of the other runners talking about how glad they were that they had a parking pass this year since it was needed here at Brown’s…MY PARKING PASS! I had completely forgot to put it up on my mirror. Luckily I had parked along the starting section and ran back about 30 yards to my car right along the course to put the pass up…whew…ticket averted! I’ve never had to do THAT before in a race. Always something new ;). 

 The first section is comprised of a short run down a road and then a hard right onto a fire road that quickly turns into a single track trail for about 2.5 miles total. A couple of conga lines but not too bad. The worst part of this is trying to avoid the poison oak in the dark. Then we headed across the one-mile-long Folsom Point Dam where we could quickly turn out headlights off as the sun came up. Now into Folsom Point and it’s clover-loops in the parking area…kind of a goofy thing to do in a race, but it’s all part of the charm. While on this section I see Nicole, Cathleen, Sunny and Kellie. I say hi and they quickly inform me that I’m not allowed to take Kellie from them. Kellie is training for the Pine to Palm 100 in Sept and I am one of her pacers. I laugh at their insistence as I go by...I leave Kellie to her girls this time ;). Now down Nimbus to Folsom crossing. 

As Jon, Adrian and I continue to run together down across the Folsom Dam Crossing I continue to glance at my watch and see sub-9 minute pace and keep trying to slow down. I found this very difficult to do on these downhills. I think I ended up with 3 or 4 miles of sub 9s which is too fast for my 50 mile pace. It’s just what felt comfortable…but I think and early fast pace caused me issues later. Typical dumb move…lately. But it is definitely teaching me to push through pain. So we continue down the crossing to the turn to start heading down the bike trail. The cycling traffic starts to pick up a bit here but thank goodness no one got clipped…like last year. Heading down the southside of the lake we pass through the Buffalo Chips aid station at Willow Creek and I get to see a bunch of people that I know and eat my first hummus/avocado wrap…mmmm. Feeling good at this point and just making my way through the miles chatting with Jon, Adrian and others we encounter. Nothing much happens through Hazel bridge, except for the lady offering red ropes and jolly ranchers at the beginning of the bridge, and we head up the first dirt hill on the other side of the bridge. We say hi to more peeps there, including Greg on the megaphone, and head back down to the bike trail. 

Fast forward to the Main Bar aid stations and we run into Tim Twietmeyer who is pacing his son Austin to his first 50 mile finish. At first we saw Tim and I was thinking…holy crap we are going WAY too fast! This is also the first place that we see Mary and Jon’s wife Therese. They are in good spirits as they saunter down the gravel road towards us in the beautiful weather the day has to offer. We offload some equipment and visit a bit, exchange kisses and move on. We run the bluffs with Tim running in front and behind us, back and forth checking on Austin. I wish I looked that relaxed out there ;)…It all seemed so effortless for him. We all roll into Negro Bar, and the FTR aid station, all together. This is always one of my favortite sections of the race since I get to see so many friends. Some great pictures were captured by friends there and we get a huge boost from all the great friendly support from Hassan, Barbara, Veronica, and all the others (sorry if you were there and not listed…my memory gets fogged in these are still appreciated ;)). I eat another wrap and start the push towards Beals. 

Beals Point Aid Station, mile 24, is the traditional halfway point of the race. I tell Jon and Adrian as we pull in that “now the real race begins…the first part was just a warm-up”. That’s just the way I view it. One marathon done (almost)…one to go. Again we see lots of great people here including Kamran and Nancy and our wives again. Time for a quick hat change and some food and out we go again. The crowds at Beals are always a huge boost in the middle of the run. As we head out it starts to warm up on the course with the blue skies and lack of any cloud cover…as in previous years. 

We separate a bit as we run through Cavitt and start moving towards Granite Bay AS. Adrian takes off ahead and Jon is slightly behind…so I start running alone a while. I come across the Twin Rocks course extension loop faster than I expect and start making my way through this rolling section. I glance at my watch and it seems to end up being around a 2 mile addition to the traditional course. I try to keep a good mental attitude about the additional mileage and continue to look around at the scenery and others on the trail. I also start to notice that the Poison Oak is starting to show up more on the trail and is harder to avoid. Previously you just had to keep an eye out for it and just not rub on any plant life on the side of the trails but now you’re starting to see it sticking out across the trail…harder to avoid. Lots of it! 

 I eventually get back on the course and catch up to Adrian. We start hike/running through the meat grinder, a section of the trail with lots of log steps, rocks and twists and turns where it’s hard to get a rhythm going. We grind through it, avoiding the poison oak, and twisting and turning through the little mini canyons. On this clear day the view of the lake and the river are really amazing. As we continue to run I start to hear some yelling ahead and it takes me a couple of minutes but I realize that it’s the Buzzards Cove aid station (mile 32ish). This is an aid station that where everything is hiked in and set up on the rocks just off the side of the trail. There I see Meghan Arbogast (elite women’s running legend) and Craig Thornley (Western States 100 Race Director) there among the other volunteers giving out water and cheering on the runners. It’s great to see how the ultra community comes together for these events. This aid station is an oasis to runners because the stretch all the way to Horseshoe Bar is a long one from Granite Bay. This station has ice cream too if you know to ask for it. I skip the icecream but do top off my water and refill my tailwind bottle with water and powder from one of my prefilled baggies. Adrian says he’s going to go ahead and takes off. I chat a little with Craig and then finally head out. 

 This next section that goes past Sterling Point is rolling and fairly shaded. I just keep running and do a quick mental status check…legs-ok, energy-ok, feet-ok, attitude-ok, hydration-ok. Good to go. I hook up with some other runners, some I pass and some I run with for a while, and this always seems to make the miles go by faster. Rolling hills, shaded trails, views of the river, and poison oak avoidance radar in full swing! It’s must look hilarious to others to see me running down a trail and then contorting my body left, then right, stopping, starting, to avoid hitting the poison oak. It’s down at your feet, it’s at knee level and sometimes coming right at your head! I’m glad I didn’t hurt my back or something with all the twisting and turning. 

 Now the other runners and I get to the short but steep hill that leads to the Horseshoe Bar aid station at the top. Yes…I walk the hill…what do you think? It’s about mile 37 now and I’m starting to feel a little tired and hot. At the aid station I open my hydration pack and ask for some ice. The young volunteer, bless his heart, gets a small Dixie cup and starts scooping ice out of an ice chest and dumping it into my hydration pack. Can’t be more than 3 or 4 small ice cubes at a time. I start thinking…maybe this is a ploy to make the ice last because people won’t just stand there and wait. So I do wait. I finally get enough, top off my water and take off towards Rattlesnake. I shuffle slowly down the hill from Horseshoe AS…it’s a little painful on the quads coming out of there with 37 miles on my legs. The legs loosen up again and I just get myself into a groove running the trails. The cold water in my pack tastes good and the sweet sound of ice sloshing in there is music to my ears. It’s the little things in life… I see the signs that say 2.8 miles to Rattlesnake and just keep on moving. During this section I start looking at my watch and start calculating out the miles left, the time remaining, and a new goal. Now I want to get to the base of the final 3.25 mile hill by 8hrs 30 mins. I start doing the calcs some more, start thinking through the miles, and I can feel a “push” coming over me. At this point I tell myself “STOP!”…it’s a training run…relax and run…just relax and run. I can feel my whole body relax after I do this and I can feel my stride become easier and smoother. Important stuff for me to learn for States. 

 As I make my way towards Rattlesnake I remember my first year running this race where I passed a couple people standing at a card table near the first parking lot handing out waters and telling Helen, who was pacing me, that I was disappointed that Mary wasn’t there at the aid station. Helen looked at me with bewilderment and said “uh…that wasn’t the aid station”. Only to run another half mile and find the huge aid station and crowds of the true aid station. I wasn’t going to be fooled this year…but it did make me smile running through this section. Eventually I get to the hard right turn that we usually take down to the aid station and first of all I can’t hear it and second of all there are no markers on it. The ribbons are on the trail ahead so I keep on going. This is where your tired mind starts to ask whether you missed something. A few hundred feet later I see people running up another trail, which is the one we used to exit the aid station in the past and the ribbons are taking us down this trail. Okay…problem solved. I see Adrian on my way down and he and I exchange “looking good”s and I make my way down the path against traffic to the Rattlesnake Aid Station. All I really wanted, besides seeing Mary, is to get some cold Pepsi from the cooler Mary had. I was thinking about it the last couple of miles…and that was going to taste great. When I got there I said hi to Therese on the way in, and by the aid station saw Veronica, Theresa L. and Mary. I said my greetings and I walked over to Mary and looked for my cooler which she didn’t have. She said she could run to the car and get me a Pepsi and in my grumpy hot attitude I said “I’ll be gone by the time you get back with it”. Then I made my way to the aid station to grab some coke. Mmmm…nice warm coke…actually no…wrong temp and wrong brand. I put some ice in it but it was not the same. I walked back to say my goodbyes and saw my wonderful wife running back from the car with my Pepsi. Icy-cold! Perfect. I drank about half…it’s amazing how wonderful something you take for granted in regular life tastes like magic at times like this. Veronica is now reminding me to get my ass moving and Theresa yells (at least it sounded like a yell) “Don’t be a Pussy!”. This especially snaps me out of the little funk I am in, as a smile comes across my face. I kiss Mary and say my goodbyes and leave the other half of my Pepsi for Mary. 10 more miles to go! 

 I always break this last section up into pieces. Get to Avery Pond (about 1 mile away) and cool off in the spring, get to Dowdin’s Post AS (about 6.25 miles from the finish), the bottom of the last hill climb (3.25 miles from the finish), Last Gasp AS (2.5 miles from the finish) and the final runnable climb from there to the finish. 

So I start out running, now in a little bit of heat, towards Avery Pond. I’m starting to get tired now and start guzzling the now replenished tailwind in my bottle to try and get my levels up a bit. I make it past Avery Pond and run down past the power plant to the creek…which is raging with water today. Pretty cooling to see. As I cross the bridge I think to myself…why isn’t there a way down to the creek to cool off!! I looked from the bridge…there isn’t. So I keep going. Now I’ve got the quest for a creek on my mind. As I continue running towards Dowdin’s I check my watch and start calculating again…can I still get to the base by 8:30? Is 9:00 more realistic? Stop…relax and just run…relax and just run. I can feel the relaxation poor over me again. Just keep running. I get to Dowdin’s Post AS and fill up my water and ask where Ken and Bob are since this is the SacFit run AS…Ken’s running and Bob’s busy doing something else. Bummer…always like to say hi to these guys. As I depart one of the volunteers yells after me…”10k to the finish!” This aid station was my first exposure to ultras…in 2011 I helped here all day by making soup with the SacFit group. I remember saying this same thing…and adding “you’re almost there” to some runners as they took off. One of them turned around and scolded me…”Don’t Say That! It’s not true.” I was surprised by this. Now Kellie is one of my running friends and we laugh about that day when we recall it. But today I am thinking “yeah…it’s not true” because not only are we still over an hour plus from the finish but the distance is actually closer to 6.8 from here according to my calcs…but what’s a few hundred yards in an ultra…right? So I leave and just keep on moving.

 As I’m making my way to my next mental checkpoint, which is the bottom of the hill, I stop at the top of a small rise and bend over with my hands on my knees to rest my back a little. Then I hear from the trail behind me “alright…let’s go!” It’s my running buddy Bruce. He really saved my bacon in last year’s shortened Miwok (60k) when I was ready to bail. He may have been expecting a repeat performance. I said “nah…I’m good…just resting my back” and took off behind him. He and I ran together for a while. He mentions that he still hopes to finish under 9:43 which would be a PR for him…I tell him that’s my PR too and would love to do that. So he says “well then…let’s make sure we get there with plenty of time to spare” and we keep moving. I now start peaking around the corners, up the river, to see if I can see the bottom of the hill next to the river. It gives my mind something to do…that and all the calculating I’m doing again…Relax and just Run! I clear my head and keep going. I’m hoping that the big dip in the trail ahead, before we run along the river to the hill base, will have water flowing for a quick cooloff. We get there and it’s dry. Oh well. I reach the bottom of the last big climb with Bruce. 

The final part or this run is a 3.25 mile climb up what is called The Dam Wall. It's not terribly steep but it's exposed , all road, and experienced at the wrong time of the race.  I’ve done this climb during the last month as the end of a 16 mile run and as hill repeats just last weekend. My best was 31 minutes to ADO from the river. I don’t think I’ll be hitting that today…but I decide to move as quickly as possible. I eat a GU packet and I start the climb at exactly 9 hrs. We walk up the first section together to the base of cardiac. Then I start jog/walking up to the stretch at the bottom of the levee and the 3 mile marker. Then I start running steadily to the base of the last climb to Last Gasp AS. I walk the last hill and skip stopping there…I have everything I need. I start running again from the AS and only stop one for one more quick walk, just before the wood piles, before the final push. I just keep grinding…slow and steady…just keep moving. Running at a snail’s pace but running all the same. Past the 2 mile sign I come to part of the climb that actually is a downhill section for a few hundred yards and it feels like floating. I get some renewed energy from this and it carries me past the 1 mile sign and to the last right turn that leads to the biggest insult of the run. You can hear people screaming, you can hear the announcer, you know the finish is right there on the right…you make that right turn and there staring you in the face is a steep climb. Those of us who’ve run this are well aware of it…but it still sucks! I tough it out though. I see Mary and Therese yelling for me at the top (please let that be the top!) and I make the last two right turns and sprint to the finish line. They hand me my jacket and it’s another AR50 in the books. Time: 9:44:29 (1 minute off of PR!) 

 I see Mary jogging into the finishing area and hug her after I receive my medal and cold bottle of water. I see Adrian there who has already finished (9:20:53). I congratulate him hardily and find the area where Mary has set up our stuff. I ask her how Jon is doing and she says that Therese received a message from him around mile 33 that he was hurting. So I eat and drink, including a beer of course, while we wait for Jon’s name to be called. We see Kellie come in on our way over, as well as Robert, Joe, and others. All doing great to finish. Kellie has come in an hour earlier than her previous PR. This bodes well for her continue training for the 2014 Pine to Palm 100. After a few minutes of waiting we see Jon come in. Thank goodness we all made it. He finishes with a time of 10:26:00 and had to fight off a major bonk in the 30s. A great job for his first ultra! 

 After some more social time, massages for some, and resting for me…we are ready to leave. We give a couple of runners (one from Portland and one from Texas) a ride back to the Lake Natomas Inn since that’s the way we are going anyway they both asked. Ultra runners are such awesome folk…it was fun chatting with them on the way and hearing all about the running scene in their area. They both mention how wonderful the running scene is here and how lucky we all are. We are definitely lucky to have such a great community here. I never stop appreciating it. Thanks to all who helped get me through yet another fun and dirty day! Special thanks, of course, to Mary who supports all the hours of running I am doing preparing for these things and being such a great crew and positive influence in my life! 

 What went well: 
 - As always…great friends, family and Mary’s the best crew ever! 
 - Running with my brother and his friend most of the first half of the race. Longest I’ve ever got to run with him and it made the day that much more special. Congrats again on your first 50! 
 - Getting myself to keep going by relaxing and stop looking at the watch. Just run… 
 - Equipment was really good. Feet didn’t hurt at all during the race so shoes are working. 

 What can I improve: 
 - Pacing earlier in the run. Way too much downhill at the beginning and got me in a speed mentality 
 - Continue work on nutrition. A little more Tailwind might have helped. Something more substantial during the run like pizza or a burrito or something 
- More regimented nutrition and hydration might have staved off the fatigue better at the end 
 - Need to look at better lubrication. Too much chaffage. Different shorts maybe 

Day-after Pain: 
 - Behind left knee. Felt this pain during last 10 miles of race and on-and-off during prev week 
 - Left plantar 

 - UltraRunning Hat switched for Fleet Feet Hat at Beals 
- 2012 TRT Race Shirt 
 - Nike Two-in-one short 
- Balega anti-blister trail sock 
 - CEP Calf Sleeves 
 - LaSportiva Wildcat Trail Shoes 
 - Nathon Zelos Hydration Pack 
 - AR50 2013 Houdini Jacket (shed at Main Bar) 
 - Arm Sleeves (shed at Main Bar) 
 - Gloves (shed at Main Bar) 

 - Water and some ice 
 - Tailwind (4x1 scoops with 18oz water over duration) 
 - 1 GU Packet at bottom of last hill 
 - 3 Hummus/Avocado Wraps 
 - 4 SCAPS 
 - 2 Powerbar Performance Energy Blend (blueberry/banana) 
 - Some cups of coke at aid stations towards end and half a pepsi at Rattlesnake 
 - ¼ PBJ at Horseshoe Bar 

 Next up: Miwok 100k on May 3rd, 2014

Monday, March 10, 2014

2014 Way Too Cool 50k Race Report

To begin with…I would like to note something I didn’t on my first post…Part of the intent of this blog, beyond what I already mentioned, is to describe ultra-running from a middle-of-the-pack-runner’s perspective. I will try and include my race strategies, mileage/training decisions, nutrition thoughts, etc. from a non-elite runner point-of-view. Not that there is anything wrong with getting advice from elite runners and coaches…but I have found that what has worked for me is to listen to all of that advice and then do the work to find out what works best for me in training. Don’t feel alone if you are one of those people who can’t find the time, energy or legs to run 80-150+ miles a week. I may peak around 80-90 miles for my States training schedule…but it is not the norm for me. My average will be somewhere between 50 and 70 miles I would think. Nor do I have sponsors supplying me or professionals coaching me. My results and knowledge are from spending time in the wonderful support network of local ultra runners. These are great people and time spent with them is invaluable. In the end…you have to talk to people, read, and then find what works for you through trial, error and try again! I just hope that someone out there reading this can learn something from my mistakes-made-public or my successes. Okay…enough of the soap-box…on to Way Too Cool 50k… 

So I started out the day at sunny Cool, CA with Mary as we tried to find parking…and quickly friends started to arrive. We saw Kellie while we were parking, since she parked just on the other side of the small road from us. Every year the WTC parking is crazy…and this year was no exception. We were a mile down the road from the Start/Finish and that’s arriving 1hr 15min before start time. The fun part though is that while you are walking up the road towards the starting line you get to see friends walking around and in their cars driving down the road to park…all the late birds. What gorgeous weather, though. It’s was going to be an awesome day! 

We spend some time before the race chatting up friends and taking pictures. Smiles all around…it’s a good way to get into a relaxed mental place before the race. In my marathon days I was never this relaxed before a race. It’s definitely a different feel at ultras…much more enjoyable. So I am in wave 1, of 3 I guess, and Mary and Kellie and a lot of FTRs all gather at the starting line. We are all chatting and joking and standing around towards the back of the start area. I see the clock getting towards 1 minute and I decide it’s time to sneak forward a little. You don’t want to get stuck in a conga-line on the single tracks of the Secret Trail later in the race. It can really slow things down. 

My goal, besides the normal ones of staying healthy and finishing strong, is to run the course in about 5hrs and 30mins. My PR for the course is from a couple of years ago and it’s 5hrs 45mins. I should be in better shape now and should be able to beat that…but it is not my top priority. My priority for this run is to run all the hills as much as possible. The plan is to walk goat hill and maybe a couple of the steeper ones, including part of the final climb up to the meadow from 49. We’ll just have to see. So there I am at around the 9minute pace sign when the race starts. In ultras sometimes it’s hard to know when the race starts cuz there really isn’t a gun, or horn, or anything like that. Someone at the starting line usually says go and everyone goes. When you are towards the back you only know because the crowd moves forward. So I cross the mat and click my Garmin start button…away we go. It really is like running in a chute at the beginning of this race because you have cars on both sides of the road we are running down for about a mile and a half. Of course, being an old guy, I have to stop and pee a mile down the road…off to the bushes. Crazilly enough that would be the only time the whole race. 

So much for starting out front. After rejoining the race I catch up to Mary and Kellie who are chatting as they go. I surprise Mary by pinching her as I go by. Then I am back to the race. I move up a bit in the group, as much as I can in the “chute”, and get to the dirt at about 1.5 miles feeling loose and in a good groove. I am in a group as we head down towards Knickerbocker Creek. As usual there is a line of people waiting to rock-hop across it and I go around them and barrel through the creek trying to pass some more people as I do. 

Splashing through the creeks is part of the fun! I jog up the hill and turn onto the Secret Trail. I hear Nicole, Sunny and Cathleen here and we all run together for some time snaking our way through the single track, getting frustrated when the conga-line slows on these small hills for people to walk. Audible growns are heard when this happens so early in the race on such small bumps. I find many opportunities to pass and make my way around as many as possible as the miles go on. 

Splashing through creeks, and picking my footing through the mud, I set a PR (according to my Garmin log later) for this section coming back through past the firehouse. 

I see Paul and Steve as I come racing through and drop some clothes with Steve (thanks buddy!). Now for the fast part! 

I make my way though the meadow and start heading down the Western States trail towards the first hwy 49 crossing. This is always a fast section and I just let my legs float me quickly down the hill. There are some really slippery and wet areas through here and I slip a couple of times but this is mostly a fun section. Now we cross hwy 49 and make our way down to the aid station on the start of Quarry Rd, which is really a dirt fire road/trail that goes for the next 5 miles along the Middle Fork American River. I have been running alone, mostly, for the past 2 miles and continue to most of the next 20 miles to the end. I pass many friends and see many at the aid stations but our paces just don’t seem to match up so I spend most of the time alone. 

I continue to run the hills down this section until the last hill before main bar. I walk this a little and get to the base of ballbearing feeling pretty good. I continue around towards poverty bar continuing to run a comfortable pace…plus a little push. I check my watch at 15 miles to see my halfway-point time to try and extrapolate my total time…2:27. Uh…that would put me in under 5 hrs! Yeah…not gonna happen. I know that the trail ahead has some nasty hills and it is just going to wear on me. But I like the fact that I am still running most of the hills at this point and moving forward comfortably. A later check of my Garmin file shows that I ran miles 5 to 15 all under 10 minute per mile pace and a couple under 9. So it will be easy to say that I went out too fast…but I ran my plan which was to run the hills and run comfortably. These were just comfortable paces. 

Finally I reach the upper ridge of the course which turns back towards Cool and the finish. It’s a 9 mile stretch to the finish which winds it’s way back and forth on the ridge and enters and exits many little mini-canyons. The trail is somewhat runnable and shaded through some rolling hills. For me it’s the most beautiful part of the course. I wind my way in and out…up and down...passing some people and getting passed by some. I’m starting to feel some fatigue at about mile 20 and decide to have my hummus/avocado wrap to get some food in me. I haven’t eaten anything at the aid stations so far, and have had a couple of GU packs and one Powerbar Performance Energy Blend (blueberry/banana), along with the Tailwind that I have been drinking since the start…and water (I’ll list a full inventory later). I stop to walk and eat the wrap and will tie my shoes a little tighter since they are wet and so are a little loose. Now I take off again and immediately start having some pain with every step on the top of my right foot. I stop to re-tie my shoes a little looser to get some pressure off from the laces, and it still hurts when I start running again. I stop two more times before I get the pressure right that I can continue to run. When running this ridge I almost always find myselft trying to guess which mini-canyon is the one with the small wood bridge that is right before the brown’s bar area. I almost always anticipate it incorrectly. Someday I’ll actually count them. This time, though, it sneaks up on me and I am crossing the bridge before I realized it was coming up. I think I was distracted by some groups that I was passing on the ridge which helped break up the miles a bit. I cross the bridge, and jog slowly up the hill and then make the left to go towards Goat Hill. At mile 26 I reach it. Goat Hill is a steep climb of about a half a mile and today it is a little slippery too. 

Yay we love Goat Hill!!

I hike up this agressively, okay to walk since my plan was to walk this all along. I hike it hard, though, and pass a couple of people on my way up. Then I hear Greg and Steve yelling encouragement from the top to people and others cheering up there too. Really helps you up the hill to hear all of that getting closer and closer. I make the crest and Steve has the nerve to say “I expect to see you again going the other way since you should be finishing, then turning around and running it again for a 62 mile training run!”. Funny guy. I think I said something like “wait for me…I’ll see you on the way back”…as I jog away. I also see Megan and others up there but can’t remember/list everyone. A nice and needed boost to see so many at that point in the race. 

Now I’m in “single hand digits”! For me that is under five miles…amount of fingers on one hand. A checkpoint for me and that gives me a bit of a boost…but I can feel I’m starting to get tired as the miles click by…no more speed in my legs…nothing left to “push it”. I have one last climb to do. I roll my way up and down all the way to the last hwy 49 crossing which is a little over a mile from the finish. I cross the street with the help of the traffic cop stopping traffic and go by the aid station there. I eat one last GU for added boost up the hill and start jogging. The first part of this hill towards the meadow is not that steep and I run all they way up to the Short Cut trail. As I run by that intersection it does get steep. I slow to a power hike and continue up picking my way through the water running down the trail and more mud. Finally it flattened out a bit and I see the person in front of me start running so I start running too, continuing up the last of the hill to the meadow. I get to the top, make the hard left turn and can smell the finish. Picking my line on the trail, trying to avoid too much slop, I can finally see the fence ahead which means I am close. I continue to run the last couple of small hills, turn right along side hwy 49 and head to the finish. 

As I round the last corner I hear a bunch of screams and yelling and look over and there are the FTRs cheering me on to the end. I see these wonderful friends and I get chills as I go by them and make my way across the finish line. This year they give us medals, like a marathon, and I think to myself that our friend Claudia, who is running her first ultra here today will love this. She loves her bling! I cross the finish line showing 5:27:25 on my watch. A really solid time for me and I am happy. 

I grab a water and start walking. I head over to the place where I saw the group and get lots of congrats pats on the back for a strong finish. Great to be part of such an awesome support system. Speaking of which, Matt’s cooler is there full of beer and Ice. 

I grab a beer, pop it open, and savor the taste. I guess the water will have to wait. Then I notice that there is a muscle-milk in there and decide that this is probably a better recovery choice so I quickly chug it (thanks again Matt). Then go back to sipping the beer. The next hour is spent getting a roller massage from Kelly, cheering other runners that I know in, and waiting patiently for Mary to arrive. 

It’s my wife’s first Way Too Cool and her second 50k. She is hoping to improve on her previous time by breaking 7 hours. I got a couple of texts from her saying that her stomach went south about mile 20 and then another note that she had 5 miles to go. After about an hour of waiting I ask my friend Helen, who is doing safety patrol, if she could go look for her. Helen returns a few minutes later with another runner and then heads out again to find Mary. A safety patroler’s work is never done! Then I decide to head out there too…wanting to walk her in if that’s what she’s doing. But after about a half mile I see Mary and Helen running their way in! 

We run in together and the cheers go up again from the group and others as Mary crosses the finish line. She destroys her last 50k time and is happy about her effort. I’m so proud of her for gutting out the last 10 miles! We walk around some, talk to more people and Mary even gets a roller massage from Kelly too! 

The next couple of hours are a lot of fun with friends, family and gorgeous weather! No better way to spend a spring Saturday. Thanks everyone for your encouragement and for being such great support. Good times! 

Special thanks to all my friends on the course who took pictures, many shown here. It’s really great having the support out there on the course and great to have so many pictures to remember the day with. 

One race down and 3 to go…including the “big dance”! 

What went well: 
- Relaxed and ran comfortable pace pretty much the whole way 
- Ran all moderate and below hills 
- Continued to run when feeling tired, including the hills 
- Didn’t doddle or graze at aid stations. Still trying to find right mix of nutrition though
- Completed under goal time. Pushed enough to keep good pace 
- Great Family, Friends, and weather! 

What can I improve: 
- Still need to dial in sweet spot on nutrition 
- Need to carry baggies of Tailwind to replenish my bottle as I go. I think this would have helped towards the end 
- Need to figure out what’s going on with my foot pain. May need larger shoes on race day. 
- Found myself looking at my watch, and remaining miles, too much. Need to stop this and just “run” 
- Need to get there earlier for better parking place. Got there at 6:45am…parked a mile away 
- Ran alone too much. The next couple of races should help since I won’t have an agressive time goal 

Day-After Pain: 
- Left foot achilles and plantar 
- Right foot top of foot bruising 

- Tahoe Rim Trail Run Hat 
- Gordy Ainsleigh InkNBurn Shirt 
- Nike two-in-one short 
- Balega Trail Sock 
- CEP Calf Sleeves 
- Montrail FluidBalance Trail Shoes 
- Nathan Zelos Hydration Pack 
- AR50 Houdini Jacket (to Steve after 8) 
- Arm Sleeves(to Steve after 8) 
- Gloves(to Steve after 8) 

- Water 
- Tailwind Energy Drink (not enough of it) 
- 4 GU packets 
- 1 Powerbar Performance Energy Blend (blueberry/banana) 
- 1 Hummus/Avocado Wrap 
- 4 SCaps (sodium pills)