Posted by: pointlenana | February 21, 2017

Black Canyon 100k – Feb 18 2017

At The Finish/Mile 62: After I lay under the blankets shivering violently for 15 minutes, the medic took my temperature again.  The first time she tried, she couldn’t get a reading because my temp was too low.  Success this second time, in a way: 94.3 degrees.

Hidden Treasure/Mile 49:  Things are looking up.  Shuffling our way to the Bumblebee aid station at mile 42, I was definitely in a low spell.  My friend Steve was having occasional leg cramps, the slick red clay mud had reappeared, and the trail was just rocky enough to convince my wimpy brain that attempting to run was pointless.  A finish time of 14 hours or more seemed certain.  But a short way beyond Bumblebee, we tried running.  The mud disappeared.  We gradually got into a rhythm, and started ticking off consistent 11 minute miles.  We roll into Hidden Treasure at mile 49 feeling pretty good about things.  I do some mental math – finishing in 13 1/2 hours or even close to 13 seems possible.  Then reality asserts itself.

Wednesday before the Black Canyon 100k on Saturday:  While on vacation in Hawaii, I get email from the race organizers: “**Due to a forecast for heavy rain on race weekend and in consideration for the safety of every runner, volunteer, staff and crew, we have made the decision to implement the alternate course which will avoid the lower crossings of the Agua Fria River.**  Current forecasts are calling for upwards of an inch of rain over the weekend across the course. Low temperatures the morning of the race could be in the low 40’s and the high may peak at 60 degrees down near Black Canyon City (which is at a much lower elevation than Spring Valley). High temperatures at the finish line at Mayer High are expected to reach 50 degrees and again dip down into the low 40’s at night.”  I check the NOAA hourly forecast and see that winds of 20-30mph are also expected.  So much for thinking that Arizona heat might be a challenge.

Thur night:  I arrive home at 10pm and then spend an hour emptying my roller bag and refilling it with race stuff I set aside before our vacation, swapping a few heat-related things out and adding a couple warm things.  Except for the wind, it seems like I’ll be running the race in standard Seattle weather.  If I’m moving, I’ll be fine, and if I’m not moving, something has probably gone badly wrong and I’ll have to drop out of the race for other reasons.  Then I head to bed. My flight to Arizona leaves the next morning.

Friday night:  It’s been a long time since I haven’t been able to sleep before a race.  I go to bed at 9pm Arizona time – 6pm according to the time zone my body had adjusted to while on vacation.  I lie there awake for a few hours.  I decide that 2 days of sitting on airplanes wasn’t enough activity to make me sleepy.  Then I get anxious about not sleeping, which keeps me awake.  I read for a bit and then try again for at least a short nap.  No luck.  I had set my alarm for 3:45am but at 3am I swear one last time, toss the covers off, and start getting ready.

The Race:  The Black Canyon 100k takes place north of Phoenix, starting on the track at Mayer High School in Spring Valley.  Normally it is point-to-point and finishes just north of Phoenix, but due to the weather and the potentially dangerous river crossings in the second half, Aravaipa Running made the last-minute decision to turn it into an out-and-back.  We would run down the canyon from Mayer to Black Canyon City, and then run back up to Mayer.

As I drive up to Mayer, it’s fairly warm and mostly dry.  A few miles from Mayer (at 4000 feet), the temperature drops quickly to 45 degrees and the rain starts.  I arrive, mill around in the gym and eventually find each of the 3 other people I’ve met through the Runners World online forums.  I make a trip out to the portapotties – the rain has stopped while I’ve been inside, but it starts again while I’m standing in line.  10 minutes before the race we move to the track/start – it’s definitely raining now and the runners clump up under two tiny little tents set up for the timing folks.  While I’m standing there under a tent, I see my friend Steve go by.  I hadn’t wished him a good race yet so I leave the shelter to do that.  We decide to start together – he’s much faster than me on pavement, but this is his first trail ultra.

We set off.  The first 2-3 miles are on pavement, and then we turn off onto trail.  The 100+ runners ahead of us are chewing the trail up, and the mud is challenging.  Or so I think.  A couple miles further on we round a bend and suddenly find ourselves in an 8 foot wide swath of 6 inch deep churned mud and puddles.  With only ~58 miles left to go, my shoes and feet are completely soaked.  Everyone is sliding around so much that I almost can’t run because I’m laughing so hard.  My adductors and abducters are getting a tremendous workout trying to keep my legs under my body – have I done anything to train them for this?  Cacti appear next to the trail, making the consequences of a fall even worse than usual.  I try not to think about having to run back through this later in the day after more rain and a few hundred more runners passing through on their way out and back.  Eventually we arrive at the Antelope Mesa aid station at mile 7.3.

From there the trail turns into, well, trail.  It’s about 5 miles from Antelope Mesa to Hidden Treasure – mostly downhill, nice single track, wet but generally not slick.  We’re running down the side of the canyon now, curving in and out of gullies.  Sometimes the narrow trail turns sharply around a corner, cambering slightly down towards a non-trivial drop off.  If it were muddy it would be scary, but traction stays good.  I spot the aid station about a mile in the distance, and then discover that it’s really two miles of running because the trail winds around so much.

Miles and aid stations pass.  Steve and I are generally staying in contact, not running every inch together but generally finding each other when we get separated.  He has long legs and walks uphill faster than I do.  I run faster downhill than he does – more practice.  The trail is pretty good except for occasional sections of slick red clay mud, and the landscape and views are nice if a bit monotonous.  I realize once again how lucky I am to live and run in a place where there is so much variety.  Temps warm up so I take off my rain jacket and stuff it in my pack even though it’s still raining off-and-on.  Somehow, without trying, we’re staying exactly – to the minute – on the time projection I plotted out before the race.

Around mile 28 we reach the turn off the regular trail down the canyon, to the alternate route into the Black Canyon City turnaround.  I drop Steve on a steady 2 mile downhill on a fire road and keep pushing through rollers into town.  Steve catches me as we walk uphill towards the aid station.  The road/trail turns to crap again – churned up mud, short steep uphill and downhill sections that we skid through.  We reach the halfway point (about 5 minutes behind my projection which had me finishing in 13:40), eat and head back.  Alan, another online friend (also from Seattle) is pulling into the aid station as we leave.  Eileen, the 3rd online friend, appears shortly after we’ve fought our way through the mud, maybe 30 minutes behind us.  The nice thing about out-and-back races is that you see every other runner at least once during the race.  Alan catches us as we walk back up the long fire road.

After reaching the top, I briefly drop Alan and Steve on another downhill but then their long legs take over again as we work our way up a gradual hill.  They pass me and Alan eventually disappears ahead.  Steve moves ahead as well, but somehow I eventually catch him.  Alan is nowhere in sight when we arrive at the Gloriana aid station (mile 38) and we assume he’s long-gone ahead of us.  We eat, Steve does some shoe adjustment, and I make a desperately-needed pit stop.  We set off towards Bumblebee with just less than a marathon ahead.

I’m hating life now.  The short slick muddy sections don’t seem so short anymore.  I’m tired.  We have a long way to go.  Steve tells me he saw a forecast that said the rain was supposed to hit hard at 6pm, and at our slow pace we’re on track to finish around 9pm.  There’s that muddy section lurking at the end of the race.  I eat a gel, hoping that I just have a nutrition problem and that life will get better with food.  Alan reappears – from behind us!  Somehow we’d missed him in the previous aid station.  We’re walking uphill again and once again I’m drifting slowly backwards from both Steve and Alan.  After an eternity, we arrive at Bumblebee.  I’m pretty sure the next 7 mile segment is the crux – get that done and then there is a short 5 mile leg up a possibly-runnable hill, and finally fighting through the mud to the finish.  The mud will be ugly but with the finish near it will just be a matter of brute force.  Right?

Bumblebee (mile 42) to Hidden Treasure (mile 49) goes well – Steve and I are running again.  Somehow we drop Alan.  I notice my bib flapping in the wind and realize I’ve lost two safety pins somehow.  At the aid station I ask for safety pins – they don’t have them.  “Has anyone dropped – maybe there’s a bib here with safety pins?”  They point me at a guy who had just decided to drop.  “I’m sorry your day is ending – can I have two of your pins?”  It’s a bit after 5 o’clock – it’s going to get dark and cold and rainy soon so I wrestle my rain jacket on.  As I do, it starts pouring.  I know I’ll have to dig my flashlight out in about an hour, so I do not put on my hat and gloves just yet – “I’m plenty warm when we’re running and I’ll probably be too hot inside my jacket anyway” I say to myself.

We set off again, walking a bit to digest whatever we ate at the aid station.  The wind picks up and we’re getting cold, so we start running.  After a few minutes I glance back – Steve is nowhere in sight.  I slow down a bit, until I see him come around a bend behind me.  The trail turns upwards, and once again my short legs are no match for Steve’s.  Or Alan’s – he reappears behind Steve.  They both pass me.  I’m cold but I want to make the most of the last daylight so I keep going.  Steve and Alan both disappear ahead.

I realize I’m too cold so I try to find a spot that’s slightly sheltered from the wind, and dig out my hat, gloves and flashlight.  The hat goes on for warmth, then I stuff my baseball cap over it to keep the rain out of my eyes.  My hands are swollen and my flashlight is getting in the way, and the gloves don’t go on so easily.  I keep moving, but with rocks in the trail and the difficulty of getting the gloves on, I don’t move quickly.  Eventually the gloves are on and I move upwards as quickly as I can.  The wind hadn’t really started in the morning until we started down this hill, so I’m hoping the wind will let up once I reach the top.  Night comes, it gets foggy in spite of the wind, and there’s no sign of lights from Alan or Steve ahead.  I reach the top of the hill and the wind… doesn’t stop.  But at least the fog disappears.  I see some headlights ahead on the plateau.  Best case I’m 5 minutes behind Steve and/or Alan.  I’m cold but it’s fairly flat from here and there’s only 7 miles to the finish.

As I arrive at the last aid station, Steve is just about ready to leave.  I pour in a couple cups of warm broth and leave with him.  Only 7+ miles to go – it will be muddy and take forever, but then we’ll be done.  After a short bit of muddy trail, we are suddenly in what looks like the aftermath of a buffalo stampede.  Where the trail had been 8 feet of churned up mud in the morning, it is now 20 feet wide.  Puddles that had been 2 inches deep are now 6 inches deep.  It is impossible to find dry, solid sections, so we give up and wade through the muddy puddles (or puddly mud?).  Every step refills my shoe with 40 degree water.  Every step is an adventure – which way will my foot slide this time?   We are not moving fast at all, and the wind is strong and cold.  We start debating how long the mud will last, given that there was some road at the very beginning.  Steve thinks 4 miles because he’s an optimist.  I’ve done a lot of ultras, so I’m sure it’s at least 5 miles, probably 7, and possibly even 20 or 30.

We stumble on forever, and I finally look at my watch to see how far we’ve gone since the aid station.  Only 2 miles.  The mud continues.  We’re both really cold.  The wind is not letting up.  Neither is the rain.  I suddenly remember that we had a mile or two of muddy trail before we hit the stampede section in the morning.  Maybe we only have one more mile of hell to go?   We pick our way around puddles that are 12-feet wide and of unknown depth (thereby ensuring that the runners after us will have 13-foot wide puddles to get around).  Somehow we both stay upright.  I stop looking at the distance because it doesn’t matter anymore.  Nor does our finish time.  The mud froth abates a little, but the trail is still slick and rocky and we don’t move quickly.

Eventually – days later – we arrive at the road.  We can see the lights of Spring Valley and Mayer High in the distance.  With maybe 2 miles left, we break into a sprint which in this case looks like two zombies stumbling down the road at just-better-than-walking pace.  As we run, we weave a bit and nearly collide several times.  I’m not sure if this is Steve veering into me, me veering into him, or just my cold-addled and sleep-deprived brain hallucinating.  The road is easier to run on than the mud, but it lasts forever just like the mud.  As we near the town, my ability to spot trail markers fails.  Fortunately there are a few people around and they point us the right way.  We stumble up a short ramp, cross the finish line on the track, find some finishers stuff thrust into our hands, and immediately turn towards the gym to warm up.

In the gym, we find our bags of dry clothes and head to the locker room to change.  We open the door to the locker room and it’s cold inside.  Nope, I’m not changing there.  I find myself in the men’s room instead, desperately trying to get my cold wet clothes off.  Putting dry clothes on turns into a topology problem – what goes where?  I have no balance and have to hang onto things to stay upright.  I get most of my dry clothes on, including a pair of shorts, but have to go out and sit on a bench to get my tights on.  I talk to Steve and Alan briefly and then head off to find food and a warm drink.  The medic notices that I’m having trouble picking M&Ms up.  “Do you want to lie down under those blankets?”  “Um… Yes, I do.”

The Lessons: I’ve had cold and muddy races before.  This was my first race that added significant wind and over-the-top mud to the mix.  From what I’ve read, I was somewhere between mild and moderate hypothermia when I finished.  The next stage after moderate is the one where you might die.  I did some things right, e.g. I carried the emergency bivy sack I got for UTMB – a bivy sack would have been useful if one of us couldn’t continue somewhere between aid stations, or if we found another runner stopped on the trail.  But I was under-prepared for the conditions and lucky to finish, and I’m happy to come away alive.  These are the things I’ll do differently next time conditions might be like this.

Poles:  Just after leaving the turnaround, I saw a runner with poles, and saw a few more through the day.  “Why didn’t I think of poles???”  Because I don’t like them and don’t use them often.  Most of the time they aren’t that helpful and they are a pain to get on and off my pack.  In this mud though, poles would have helped me move more confidently and possibly quickly enough to keep myself warm.

Wool shirt:  Like poles, I don’t like most wool garments because I’m hyper-sensitive to the scratchiness.  But basically I haven’t tried wool in at least 20 years, it’s gotten a lot better since then, and it would have been at least a little warmer than my tech shirt.

Fluids/food:  I noticed that I didn’t drink much through the day – it wasn’t hot, and there was plenty of rain water flowing over my body.  Also, late in the race when I was cold, drinking cold water wasn’t even slightly appealing.  Maybe I got dehydrated, maybe I didn’t.  But this was also a problem because I was using drink mix (Tailwind) to get calories between aid stations.  I tried to compensate by eating a lot at aid stations, but that usually meant walking out of the aid station for a ways to digest – and cooling off as I walked.  I would do two things differently.  First, I’d carry more gels/ultra food to have the option of eating something between aid stations instead of drinking for calories.  Second, I might take a few mint teabags and make warm mint tea for my bottle (if there is enough hot water at aid stations).

Flip flops:  Spare shoes during the race would have been pointless – soaked immediately.  But I didn’t bring shoes to put on after the race, and I couldn’t imagine taking my cold wet shoes off and then having to put them back on to get out to my car.  So, while I was lying under the blankets shivering after the race, my cold wet shoes were keeping my feet (and body) nice and cold.  I usually bring dry shoes when I can drive from my house to the race, but space is limited when I have to travel and I only had one other pair to fly home in.  But I’m sure I had space for a cheap pair of flip flops, which would have been enough to get my feet out of the cold shoes and across the parking lot to my car.  Steve was smarter than I was – when I last saw him in the gym, he was walking around barefoot.

There are a bunch of other things I could do – rain pants, extra layers, drop bags, etc..  For a long race – 100 miles or more – I would do (and have done) those things.  I am trying to be realistic here about what I will actually do for a weathery 100k, given luggage constraints, willingness to carry extra stuff just in case, etc..  The four things above are pretty easy.

On the positive side, I had zero blisters in spite of the mud.  Zero blisters even though I had a weird insole failure like Eliud Kipchoge did at the Berlin Marathon the year I ran it – around mile 20 (and a few times after) I felt something weird, pulled my gaiter back, and saw my insole peeking out of the shoe by my ankle.  Zero blisters in spite of conditions that had me wondering how long it takes to get trenchfoot.  Thank you TrailToes!

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After the race.  Me, Steve, Alan.  Looking surprisingly ok.

Kudos: Alan finished very strong, about 50 minutes before us, in ~13:21.  Steve finished his first trail ultra, in 14:10.  According to the official/chip times, I finished 2 seconds behind Steve – finishing just 2 seconds behind Steve in a race has to be an all-time performance for me.  (It took us about 2 hours 20 minutes to do those last 7.3 miles – barely better than 20 minute miles in a section that is relatively flat).  Eileen finished about an hour after us (and seemed to be as cold as I was when I finished).  The winner finished in less than 8 hours (but had much less mud to deal with than most other runners.)  A woman named Emily finished shortly after us – I talked to her during the race, she’s from Chicago and trained for this rocky, muddy, hilly 100k race by running on the paved lakeshore path (but she said she also did a training 50k trail race … in Florida).  9 people finished in the last hour before the 20 hour cutoff – meaning they were still wading through that horrible mud at 1 or 2am, several hours after we finished.  Everyone who finished that race after it got dark is tough and/or insane.

I am really impressed with Aravaipa Running.  The race was well-marked, the aid stations were good, etc., but in particular they handled the last-minute course change really well.  Tons of information about the change conveyed in multiple ways (multiple emails, video on Facebook, content on their website).  It’s one of the best examples of change management I’ve ever seen.

https://www.strava.com/activities/873023059/embed/abe3165ae2b9270d094bccdbba52761230620d31

Steve’s race report (which is reassuringly similar to mine).

Posted by: pointlenana | December 6, 2016

CIM – December 4, 2016

Eight years ago I qualified for Boston with a ~3:28 marathon.  18 months after that I started Boston aiming for a 3:20 finish and limped in at 3:29.  Ever since then I’ve wanted to break 3:20.  For a few years I stumbled around training-wise and by 2011 I had worked my way up to a new PR of ~3:26 in a monsoon at the California International Marathon (CIM).  I finally figured out how to train properly and set reasonable goals in a marathon (with the help of some friends on Runners World Online) and in March of 2013 I got down to 3:21:23 at the Napa Marathon.  By then I had a bad case of trail ultritis and it got less and less appealing to focus on marathon training.  But the 3:20 goal was still there lurking, and I’d try occasionally.  I was in great shape for another attempt, at CIM in the fall of 2014 but injured myself by overtraining and DNS’d the race.  I think I was in shape for a ~3:18 at Boston this spring but race day was warm – I went for a 3:20 on a day when a lot of people missed their goals by 20-30 minutes and was happy with my 3:26+.

This past weekend I made my latest attempt.  It wasn’t the perfect setup.  After being in great marathon shape this spring, my focus had shifted to crazy-long “races” and I ran the Tahoe 200 in the middle of September.  In theory that left me about 11 weeks to recover, train, and taper for the race.  In reality I only ended up with about 6 weeks of real training – it took 3 weeks to feel good after Tahoe, I was really sick for a week, and I lost a week to taper/recovery by running an ill-advised-but-fun trail 100k three weeks ago (I managed to slice my face open in a fall during the race and – not for that reason – DNF’d at mile 47).  Looking at my heart rate and pacing during training runs, I could see that I wasn’t as fit as in the spring, but by squinting I could see that 3:20 might be possible if I ran a perfect race in perfect conditions.  The midpoint of my expectations was 3:24 – probably I’d aim for 3:20 and fall apart late in the race but not too badly.  Again, not the optimal setup but I don’t get many chances given my (more important!) ultra race schedule and the weather at CIM is often good, so it was worth a try.

I had one goal and 3 consolation prize backups:

  • Goal:  Break 3:20
  • Bittersweet backup goal A: New PR (under 3:21:23).  It’s hard to argue with a new PR, especially as I become ancient, but I knew that landing in the 83 second window between PR and sub-3:20 would eat at me.
  • Pointless trip/backup goal B: Under 3:26:14 – my second best marathon time, which I ran in that monsoon at CIM in 2011.  Certainly not bad, but not enough to justify the expense of the trip.  I could probably pull off a ~3:25 locally with a lot less hassle.
  • Rice-A-Roni (The San Francisco Treat) backup goal C:  3:35 or less – a safe Boston qualifier for my upcoming age group.  Hard to argue with a BQ – people work really hard for those – but aiming for 3:20 and fading to 3:35 would be the equivalent of being on a game show with the opportunity to win a lot of money and instead leaving with a case of Rice-A-Roni.

In addition to my training, I hit the sauna several times in the past 3 weeks.  I noticed that my heart rate was a little lower after my heat training for the hot races this past summer.  I didn’t expect to get a big benefit, but a even a tiny benefit (with almost no risk of injury) might make the difference if I was on the edge.

The typical pacing advice for marathons, and especially CIM, is to run conservatively in the beginning so you can hang on or maybe speed up at the end.  CIM is net downhill and has a few speedy downhills.  It’s easy to overdo it and either use too much energy going up and down or wear out quads and find they stop working late in the race.  Pacing conservatively makes sense for most people.  But I’ve done a lot of downhill running recently and felt my quads could hold up, so I decided to push a little on the downhills vs. recovering, at least in the early miles.  I also felt it was more likely that I could pick up a few seconds on downhills than I could speed up much at the end.  This wasn’t going to be a race where I’d have a positive fitness/time surprise – the surprise would be if I could hold the goal pace all the way to the end.

I didn’t really know how fit I was – no recent races to judge by – so I decided to run mostly by heart rate.  At Napa a few years ago I noticed that my heart rate increased from 133 in the opening mile to 159 at the end, basically increasing by one beat per minute per mile.  I’m older now, so I decided to aim for that pattern starting at 132bpm.  I’d also track my time by checking mile splits at each mile marker – aiming for 7:38 and tracking my cumulative delta as the race progressed (e.g. if I ran 7:41, 7:39, 7:32 then I’d be +3 then +4 then -2).  Again, that worked for me at Napa.  Both the heart rate reading and the marker-to-marker splits are pretty accurate and steady enough to be helpful, vs. instantaneous pace readings or even automatic GPS laps which are noisier.

With that long setup, on to race weekend.

Saturday morning I went to the Western States lottery.  I didn’t expect to get in, and didn’t, but an ultra-famous person came in late and sat down next to me.  I also saw a friend from Seattle (DaveL) who used a phrase I hadn’t heard before – “PR or ER” – which stuck in my head until the race started.

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Not the most awesome selfie, but somehow fitting for Gordy Ainsleigh, the original Western States runner.

Sunday morning, conditions were perfect – about 40 degrees, no wind.  Everything went smoothly – new food went in, old food came out, I met Runners World friends as planned for the bus ride, my bus did not get lost on the way to the start (like it did my two previous times at CIM).  With no wind blowing, it was comfortable waiting outside the buses and I hung out with my Tahoe pacer friend Scott.  At 6:40 I started taking off my many layers (finishing with an old white button-down that I thought I could start the race in if needed and then take off more easily than a sweatshirt).  At 7am we were off.

Here are my splits for the race – with more commentary (lots!) below.

Mile Time HR Actual HR Target Comment
1 7:48 133 bpm 132 Big downhill – but slow!
2 133
3 15:08 138 bpm 134 Forgot to press the lap button at the mile 2 marker – 7:34 average pace for the two miles
4 7:24 137 bpm 135 Downhill
5 7:39 138 bpm 136
6 7:39 138 bpm 137
7 7:34 139 bpm 138
8 7:43 139 bpm 139 A bit slow, but heart rate is finally right.
9 7:39 143 bpm 140
10 7:36 142 bpm 141
11 7:38 142 bpm 142
12 7:44 143 bpm 143
13 7:37 142 bpm 144
14 7:38 144 bpm 145 Estimated – pressed the lap button about 10 seconds late
15 7:35 146 bpm 146 Estimated
16 7:32 147 bpm 147
17 7:29 147 bpm 148 Last big downhill on the course
18 7:35 147 bpm 149
19 7:33 149 bpm 150
20 7:38 150 bpm 151
21 7:36 150 bpm 152
22 7:41 150 bpm 153
23 7:43 151 bpm 154
24 7:38 153 bpm 155
25 7:32 154 bpm 156 Thanks Robin!
26 7:38 156 bpm 157
26.2 1:37 158 bpm 158 7:15 pace for last .2 miles

I was very surprised to see the 7:48 split for the opening mile when I looked after the race.  I was running just behind the 3:03 pacer for part of that mile, and after about 3/4 of a mile my friend Jim (goal: 3:13) passed me.  So I was surprised to find out I went slower than my goal pace even if I was out in front with faster people.  I think what happened is I started on the left where there’s less congestion and the pacers (and Jim?) started on the right – it looked like I was going fast but in reality the pacers were going slowly.

I saw my friend Robin 3 times along the course – we exchanged high-fives at mile 4, waved to each other at mile 13 (I thought she’d be at 12, thought I had missed her, and was happy to see her a little further on), and she ran with me for a bit in mile 25 (as she said, I was in The Dark Place then, and I’m sure I wasn’t great company – more on that below).

At mile 8 I noticed a women spectating and as I passed I said “You’re Jenn Shelton!”  (Rebel trail runner.)  She smiled and nodded as I went past, and 10 seconds later I realized I was suddenly running way too fast.  It was odd to see a famous trail runner (not named Tim Twietmeyer) at a road marathon.

The middle miles were all pretty uneventful.  My splits seemed ok, my heart rate was basically on track, and the miles passed.  I didn’t know the exact time, but I appeared to go through the half about on 3:20 pace (actual time: 1:39:57 – 3 seconds ahead of schedule).  I mostly ignored the spectators, but I did try to thank volunteers at least a couple times at each water station.

Speaking of water, I purposely drank a little less than usual in this race.  It’s ok to get somewhat dehydrated and the people who win usually are the most dehydrated.  I drank a small bottle of Gatorade in the first 10k, so I started well-hydrated, and probably had 25oz of fluid through the whole race.  Almost all was water, although I did have one tiny cup of Nuun mid-race when my body felt a bit crampy.  I was hoping the taste of salt would convince my Central Governor that nothing needed to cramp.  Real or placebo, the twinges went away for a while after the taste of Nuun.

Around mile 15 I started worrying about whether my heart rate plan would hold up as I got close to my lactate threshold.  I knew I was not in my best-ever shape and if I went too anaerobic too early I might kill my race.  I decided to let it work up to 150bpm (during mile 19 according to my plan) and keep it there if possible until mile 23 or 24.

Normally I listen to random music (if I have music) but I made an ordered playlist this time hoping it would help.  I hit the jackpot around mile 20 (at the start of The 10k of Regret) when Break The Walls by Fitz and The Tantrums came on.  There’s a lyric I hadn’t heard before – “Let the beast out, what did you come for”.  The beast was either out already or too tired to make an appearance, but for the rest of the race, every time I started negotiating down (“You don’t need to break 3:20, a new PR would be fine”) I thought “what did you come for”.  Japandroids’ “Adrenaline Nightshift” was also great, as I went up and over the bridge around mile 22 – the last legit (but small) hill on the course.

I was pleasantly surprised to hold my heart rate around 150 for a few miles and still see mile splits roughly on my 7:38 target – the rolling hills were flattening out and it was a little less work to hold my pace.  The 7:41 split for mile 22 didn’t bother me – close enough and the mile had the final bridge/hill  – but 7:43 for (relatively flat) mile 23 woke me up.  Missing my target pace by just 5 seconds in each of the last miles might be the difference between success and just missing.  Plus, a little fade tends to turn into a bigger fade, which would definitely do me in.  Going into mile 24 I stopped thinking about pace or heart rate or much of anything and just tried to run as smoothly and quickly as I could, hoping the finish line came before my body gave up.  I had a moment of panic when I had a calf spasm – “NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!” – but I stayed relaxed and it went away.

The one song that didn’t work was The Dead’s “Not Fade Away/Going Down The Road Feeling Bad”.  Normally I love running to that song, and not fading away was fine, but going down the road at the mile 24 marker, I was definitely feeling bad.  Fortunately that was the moment when Robin jumped in to run with me.  Hearing her updates on runner friends helped distract me.  It was little overwhelming though – the fatigue, the spectator noise, trying to talk with her, and the now-too-loud music in my ears.  I was vaguely aware that there was probably a way to turn the music down or even off, but I couldn’t remember how and couldn’t imagine devoting any effort to doing that.  Eventually I blurted out “I don’t think I can talk now”.

Robin dropped off at the mile 25 marker – “1.2 miles to go – go get it!”  Glancing at my watch I was pretty sure I was going to run a PR unless disaster struck.    But… “what did you come for”.  So I focused on the false finish arch in the distance (about a third of a mile from the real finish, which is two turns beyond the arch) and tried to keep pushing.  I hit the 26 mile marker as Dick Dale and Stevie Ray Vaughn started their version of Pipeline, and I pushed a little more.  As I rounded the last bend, the official clock said 3:19:56 and I continued forward towards the finish as it ticked past 3:20.  I knew I had a margin between that official gun time and my chip time, but I had forgotten to note the delta at the start.  3:20:01…3:20:05…3:20:10… Finally I was across the line.  I looked at my watch – which wasn’t displaying seconds (too many data fields on the screen).  3:19:something.  I was pretty sure I had made it – but “what if it’s 59 seconds and I was a little off in pressing the buttons?”  About 10 minutes later I realized I could look at the history and know for sure.  3:19:46, which turned out to be my official time.  Success.

A few more things I like about that time.  First, I ran a small negative split – 1:39:57 for the first half and 1:39:49 for the second half.  I’m pretty sure that’s the first negative split I’ve run in an all-out marathon.  Second, I plugged that time into various age-grading calculators and (depending upon the calculator) it is equivalent to a 2:52-2:57 marathon for someone whose body doesn’t have as much experience as mine does.  Running an actual sub-3 doesn’t seem likely at this point, so I’ll go with running the equivalent of one at 54 years.  Finally, I can’t know with certainty that I had exactly the right plan for my race and executed it perfectly, but I’m going to roll with that theory.

Most of the people I know there had a great day.  Jim ran a 3:10. Cristina ran 3:11 about 8 weeks after running just a little faster at flat Chicago.  Pacer Scott from the Tahoe 200 ran a blazing fast 3:13 – a PR by 10 minutes.  Katie ran a 3:41 just 5 months after popping a kid out and with a rigorous 10-20 miles/week training schedule.  Ace Ewing – the CA Triple Crown guy who did everything he could to talk me out of dropping from SB100 – ran a jaw-dropping 3:02.

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Jim, 18 hours before he got his new PR 3:10+ at 61 years young-and-getting-faster.  Plus, he’s an official Jack Kelly Good Sport.

After the race I was waiting for friends in a restaurant, and Jenn Shelton and her friend walked in.  They were waiting for friends too, so we ended up talking for a while.  She hurt herself recently, I asked about that and we got into a conversation about rehabbing injuries.  I told her I’m the world’s most compliant PT patient, and that I might be her polar-opposite personality-wise.  After the obligatory fanboy picture, I gave them a couple beers I couldn’t bring home on the flight (sorry Scott – they were meant for  you).

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Jenn Shelton, pretending to be enjoying herself.

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I did eventually stop talking to Jenn Shelton, and find my Runners World friends.  (They were about to send out a search party for me.)  4 racers, 4 successful races.  Scott looks almost as happy as he did when he finished pacing me at Tahoe.  Meeting these folks would have made the trip worthwhile even if I had a bad race, but I’m glad I didn’t have to rationalize it that way…

Posted by: pointlenana | September 29, 2016

Tahoe 200 – Sept 9-12 2016

“Just because it happened to you, doesn’t mean it’s interesting” – Dennis Hopper

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The short version for Dennis Hopper fans:  After a lot of miles on dusty trails, and with not much sleep, I finished the 205 mile Tahoe 200 race in 77+ hours.  I ended up in a true (albeit slow-motion) race over the last ~27 miles.

The “Really long race deserves a really long race report because it happened to me” version:

Very uncertain about what I had gotten myself into, I went into the Tahoe 200 with four goals:

– Enjoy being on the only single-loop 200+ mile course in the US – I’d get to travel around Lake Tahoe on foot, mostly through the mountains.  Few people get to do this – maybe as a backpack, but not as a supported “race” in just a few days.

– Finish.  I knew I’d get far enough to see a lot of the Lake Tahoe area in all its splendor, but I knew I’d be frustrated if I ran, say, 155 miles and wasn’t able to finish the loop/race.

– Finish before it got dark again on Monday.  The race has a generous cutoff – 100 hours to do 205 miles, or barely faster than 2 miles per hour.  But taking the full 100 hours means fighting through 4 nights of sleep deprivation.  I’d done two nights at UTMB, and was worried enough about a third night.  4 nights seemed unthinkable (unless I had to do it to finish). Plus, the longer I was out, the more likely it was that less-than-perfect weather would roll in.

– Finish strong and ideally do well in my age group.  If everything lined up and I was feeling ok late in the race, I’d try to move along in the late miles and maybe pass some people.

 

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My mug shot, for UltraLive.  Photo: Scott Rokis

 

The other runners:  I usually look at who else is running, mostly to see if I know anyone.  It was a little scary looking at the list – a guy who set the FKT on the Colorado Trail, people who’ve finished Hardrock multiple times, people who’ve done very well at other hard races.  Even the “slow” people were intimidating – people who’ve finished Tahoe 200 twice before, or did Bigfoot 200 just 3 weeks before we were starting Tahoe 200.  I didn’t quite have the Imposter Syndrome feeling I had before my first ultra – I was relatively confident that I could finish – but everyone else seemed to have a lot of experience with races that beat you up.

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I started in my UTMB shirt – UTMB was the hardest race I’d done before this, so I figured it was a lucky shirt.

After days of feeling like I was waiting around for something big to happen, race day (Fri Sept 9) finally came.  It did not begin in a confidence-inspiring way:

–  On Thursday, as I was getting ready, I realized I hadn’t actually packed the shoes I planned to start the race in.  I was already waffling on shoes – I really wanted to wear my Altra Olympus shoes but I’ve had a heel blister in those in recent 100 mile races and wasn’t sure what kind of nightmare that would turn into over an extra 100 miles.  I decided to wear my Altra Lone Peaks for the first 60 miles, then switch to the Olympus and hope that any blister wouldn’t get too bad in 140 miles.  Except that I never actually packed the Lone Peaks.  So… on Thursday I decided the Olympus shoes would have to work.

– Also on Thursday, one of the many yellow jackets buzzing around landed on me.  They weren’t aggressive – this was hard to do, but if I ignored them they were fine.  But this one started crawling under the edge of my shorts leg – that wasn’t going to work for me so I swatted at it and it stung me above my knee.  By Friday morning that quad was swollen around the sting.

– During a short shakeout run with Janet on Thursday, I really felt the 6000 foot elevation.  I’ve read that acclimation mostly takes place within 2-5 days of getting to altitude – and you perform a little worse while you are adapting.  We had arrived Wed, the race started Fri, and the course was all between 6000 to 9000+ feet.  So basically I would be in “adapt” mode through the whole race, and the lowest point/elevation of the race already felt hard for me.

– On Friday before the race, as I put on my now-critical pair of Olympus shoes, I noticed that my right shoe was really frayed near the joint of my big toe, where these shoes tend to wear out.  I wondered if it would last through the race without opening up to the rocks and dirt.

Nothing really critical, and I expected some/many things to go wrong during the race, but it didn’t seem like a great way to start.

Start to Barker Pass

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Looking up at the first (and last) mile of the course.

Friday morning came, Janet and I arrived at the start, I got my bib and put it on, and set about waiting for 80+ hours of fun to begin.  After months of training and weeks of getting ready, I was eager to get to the doing part.

Before the race, there are plenty of things to freak out about.  For example, my big concern in the last few days was the timing of my mid-race rendezvous with first Janet (at Heavenly) and then my friend Scott (at Spooner).  Janet was up for running with me through the night from Heavenly, and Scott hadn’t seen the Tahoe Rim Trail from Spooner to Tunnel Creek and was willing to, as he said beforehand, “run unfamiliar trails with an older gentleman he’d only met on the internet”.  But the timing was a little delicate – if Janet was going to spend hours in darkness with me, I wanted her to see the sunrise, and I figured it would be crazy for Scott to meet me in the middle of the night.  Plus, Janet and Scott were somewhat dependent upon each other for transportation after their time running with me.  My time projections worked fine – I’d get to Heavenly before midnight on Saturday and meet Scott at Spooner a little after daybreak.  But if I was very early to Heavenly, our careful plan would fall apart.

This is a tiny race – about 100 people started – so we milled about and then moved a few feet to the space behind the start arch.  My friend Gwen from Seattle (Team Seven Hills!) pulled out her camera and asked someone (Amy, who I would meet later in the race) to take our picture.  After she took the picture, I looked over my shoulder and noticed the race had started.  Oh.  So we were off.

 

We all ran for the first 100 flat feet before the turn uphill and then ran for another 100 feet.  Then we all simultaneously realized we had 205.4 miles ahead of us and started walking.  Clouds of dust rose, giving us a literal taste of things to come.  After a quarter mile I realized I was working way too hard for the beginning of this crazy race, and slowed to a pace that seemed somewhat sane.

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It was a little dusty, but only between the start and the finish.  That’s my friend Gwen in the blue shirt and yellow hat in the middle.  I’m eating her dust, somewhere behind her. Photo: Scott Rokis.

The Tahoe 200 course is one huge ~191 mile loop around Lake Tahoe, with a 7 mile “lollipop handle” section at the start and end that gets us between Homewood on the Tahoe shore and the loop up in the mountains.  We climbed gradually – well, not that gradually – up through the ski area on service roads and eventually trails higher up.  Each difficult step up now would be a difficult downhill step we’d do 3 or 4 days later on beat-up legs and feet.  Eventually we worked our way up to views of Lake Tahoe and the ridgeline across the lake in Nevada we’d be running in a day or two.  The forest opened up and the terrain reminded me of some of the higher stuff near Mt. Baden Powell at Angeles Crest.

 

I was very conscious of the effect that altitude could have on me – I think it wore me out some at Western States last year, though I didn’t realize it at the time.  I had decided not to wear my heart rate monitor strap (another thing to chafe) and I missed that concrete feedback on effort, but tried hard to err on the side of extra-easy.  I was passed again and again on the way up, and at one point wondered if the entire field had passed and I was now DFL.  I didn’t really care though, and eventually I heard people somewhere behind me.

I started feeling a rock in my shoe under my heel.  I disconnected my gaiter, took the shoe off (and noticed that the worn spot on the side had already turned into a hole – great), shook the shoe, and didn’t see a rock fall out but figured it had to be gone.  I put it all back on and continued, and then felt it again.  Dang.  I took it off again, took out the insole, shook it hard a few times, didn’t see anything come out, but again figured it was gone.  Back on and back up the trail.  &^%#.  Still there.  One more time.  Nothing came out when I shook, and I didn’t see how anything could be in my sock already.  I poked around at the spot in the heel where I was getting jabbed, and felt something a little rough.  Ahh – there’s a small rock stuck there!  I scratched at it, trying to dislodge it but it didn’t move.  I turned my shoe over and noticed something sticking out slightly at that same spot.   What is this thing?  After using a rock to push it out from the inside (it was too sharp to use my finger on), I had my answer – a thorn or sharp stick had gone all the way through my sole, and when I landed on a rock just right the evil thing would push up into my insole and foot.  This seemed to fit with the bee sting and forgotten shoes – I hoped it was the 3rd and last of 3 bad things that come together.

 

After 4 miles heading up, we were near the top and started into rolling hills along the ridge towards the aid station at Barker Pass.  To the left we could see the Crystal Basin and Loon Lake (which we would reach in another 20 miles or so), and to the right we could see Lake Tahoe.

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Near Barker Pass – I filmed Scott while he took pictures of me.  Photo: Scott Rokis

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Photo: Scott Rokis

On those first downhills in the race, I discovered that my swollen bee-stung quad hurt.  I knew I wasn’t really injured, but I worried that swelling/pain on the downhills would cause some secondary problem – compensation elsewhere, internal friction due to the swelling – that might lead to a real injury over the course of 200 miles.  I got my poles out and used them when necessary to take a little of the impact off.  Fortunately as the day went on, I got enough blood into that area and the swelling and pain went away – after the first 6 hours or so, I never noticed it again.

As I came into the Barker Pass aid station, I noticed Howie Stern in blue shirt and shorts filling up his water bottles.  Howie is one of those hard hard runners I noticed in the entrants lists – he’s finished Hardrock 8 times (and Angeles Crest 8 times).  I ran briefly with him AC100 this year, and continued to cross paths with him for the first half of the Tahoe race.

 

Barker Pass to Rubicon Aid Station

The Barker Pass aid station had a lot of yellow jackets buzzing around.  It felt uncomfortable but they didn’t seem aggressive.  I noticed that the woman checking runners in looked familiar – it turned out to be my friend’s friend Holly who I had met at San Diego 100 in June.  I mentioned the bees and she said “yeah, I just got stung on my foot”.  That seemed like a prompt to get going so I thanked people and headed down the road.  As I left, I noticed Howie coming back up/returning to the aid station.  “Forgot my poles”.

After a short fast section on a gravel road, we turned onto the Pacific Crest/Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT).  Much of the course was on the TRT, but after a few nice wooded single-track miles early, the TRT continues into Desolation Wilderness.  Events aren’t allowed in the wilderness, so we turned off the TRT and headed deeper into the Crystal Basin on the Rubicon Trail.

 

The Rubicon Trail – that sounds great somehow, until you find out it’s one of the, if not THE, jeep trails known worldwide that you’ve got to drive in your souped-up jeep.  There are websites that tell you how to modify your jeep for this trail.  (I was unable to find a website that told me how to modify my body to run it.)  I saw a couple dozen jeeps over the ~6 miles that we “ran” – thankfully most were heading towards us and generally we runners were moving much faster than the jeeps.  This trail was DUSTY.  Big dusty boulders sitting among a 6 inch layer of dust.  It was interesting comparing what jeeps struggle with vs. what runners struggle with – we’d run right between two big boulders that a jeep would struggle to get past, and then we’d gimp along on a section of ankle-breakers that the jeeps would cruise over.  The other interesting thing in this section was the outhouses every quarter to half mile.  If driving your jeep there is a big thrill, then I imagine that people compete to be the person who gets to drive the jeep that brings in/out outhouses when necessary – that must take some real skill.

 

I didn’t catch any jeeps on my GoPro, but here’s a video of what the Rubicon Trail is like for jeeps: https://youtu.be/DcF294IUEQQ?t=312

I can’t say the Rubicon Trail was fun.  We were all glad when we got out of the dust-and-boulders section and onto the granite slabs near Buck Island Lake.  At the aid station there, the yellow jackets were even worse than at Barker Pass.  I reached into a bag of cheese watching 4 or 5 yellow jackets buzz around my arm and hand.  The aid station said (again) that they were not aggressive at all, but I felt a strong urge to get going and left pretty quickly.

Rubicon to Tell’s Creek Aid Station

I liked this section a lot – we worked our way over granite slabs and eventually over a rise down to Loon Lake which we had seen from the ridge hours previously.  This was classic Sierras – a huge granite basin, alpine lakes, a nice long trail along Loon Lake.  At some point in this section, I decided I was giving up on the GoPro for the rest of the run – getting it in and out of my pack was a little difficult, and a couple times I pulled it out only to find out it had been filming in the inside of my pack’s pocket.  If it was a little annoying at mile 25, I’d probably fling it off a cliff at mile 125.  (Thankfully, another runner had his system worked out and produced this nice 40 minute movie of the race:  Cesare’s movie)

 

Tell’s Creek to Wrights Lake

I don’t remember Tell’s Creek Aid Station very well – I recognize it in pictures – but I know I stopped there to get my lights.  It was about 5 in the evening and in planning drop bags I didn’t think I’d get all the way to Wright’s Lake before sunset.  (Good call – I didn’t get there until 90+ minutes after it got pitch black.) On my way to Wright’s, I had to hustle a little to climb up a small ridge before sunset so I’d get a small glimpse of the mountains (like Pyramid Peak) at the edge of Desolation Wilderness.  I have a sentimental attachment to Wright’s Lake because I started a couple of teenage backpacking trips into Desolation from Wright’s Lake.

 

I made it up to the ridge in time for my glimpse, put on my headlamp and continued on as darkness fell.  Dust in the air was thick.  Shortly after it got really dark, I rounded a corner and stumbled over a a big brown dusty rock sitting in six inches of brown loose dirt, obscured by a haze of brown dust in the air.  After getting up from my awkward fall, I got my poles out again and picked my way on down the road.  I suddenly remembered a brief mention of the Barrett Jeep Trail during the course briefing.  This was it.  If the Rubicon Jeep Trail was challenging in daylight, the Barrett Trail at night in the dust was much worse.  Poles saved me multiple times from awkward falls.  At some point Howie Stern rumbled past me, saying something like “They said this would be bad – it’s #$*&%^ terrible.”  The dust road eventually ended in a bridge.  We crossed some granite slabs that were wonderful after the dust, passed through a gate, and made our way on a paved road to Wright’s Lake aid station.  I remember it being a little crowded – UltraLive shows ~15 people arriving in the 20 minutes that I was there.

(More Jeep porn, showing the Barrett trail, the bridge we crossed in the darkness, and the Crystal Basin: http://wayalife.com/showthread.php?29554-Barrett-Lake-OHV-Jeep-Trail-1st-Run-Since-Re-Opening-Trip-Report)

Wright’s Lake to Sierra

Each segment was relatively manageable up to Wright’s Lake – 7, 11, 12.5, 13.5 miles.  As the race goes on, the segments get longer.  Wright’s Lake to Sierra At Tahoe was the longest yet – 19 miles.  But I knew we’d have at least a few miles of paved road, and there was a water-only stop about 12 miles in.

I left the aid station, wound my way on single track for a few miles in the darkness and then came to a turn with suspiciously crappy marking.  The Destination Trails team did a great job marking the course.  Most turns/intersections of significance were marked with flags (aka “dragons” – pink and yellow striped tape with a reflector on the clothespin) before the turn, a yellow sign pointing in the right direction, and often another sign clearly marking the Wrong Way.  In this case I came up a hill to a trail and then had a choice of going mostly straight/a bit to the left or making a sharp turn back to the right.  No markers to the left.  I looked to the right and up high there was a single dragon a few feet down the trail.  It didn’t feel right but it seemed to be a marker so I took the sharp right turn and set off down the trail.  I ran, looked in vain for more markers, I ran some more, looked in vain for markers, and ran a bit more before concluding I had somehow screwed up.  I carried a gps unit in my pack with the course map, but it was at this point where I remembered a) I didn’t really know how to use it b) I had planned to practice with it the day before the race started and c) I had forgotten to do that.  Faced with a choice between interrupting my trail run to learn new technology or heading back the way I came and either spotting the right trail or finding other runners, I headed back up the path.

I had run about 10 minutes down the trail and retraced maybe 5 minutes of that, when 3 runners came towards me.  I told them there were no flags.  Two of them got their gps/maps out and concluded we were on the right trail.  The four of us continued on in the direction I had started and ran for a mile without markers.  Finally, about 1 1/2 miles from the turn, we found a lone marker.  By this point we had concluded that someone had vandalized the markings, and I suspected the vandals had simply missed this one.  We continued on for another 2 uncomfortable miles (are we really on track?) before dumping out into a parking lot where the markers started again.  A couple people told me later that they found a pile of markers in the parking area, and one heroic participant (Davy Rowe) who lives in the area and knows the trails ran back up the course a while after we passed through, restoring some of the markers.

After making it to the parking lot, the four of us stuck together heading towards highway 50 and the crossing towards Sierra at Tahoe.  We introduced ourselves – Amy, Shaun, Julian, me.  After some more trail, we hit the paved Wright Lake road and headed downhill.  Ahhh, downhill pavement – no real tripping hazards, no dust, 4 sets of eyes looking for flags.  We stretched our legs and started clicking off 9-ish minute miles, hoping we wouldn’t regret that later.  After a few quick miles on the road we turned back off onto a trail and paralleled highway 50.  I found myself running with Amy, as Shaun pulled away ahead and Julian dropped off behind us.  After a few miles of winding in and out of small gulleys and crossing steams, we reached the water-only (unmanned) stop at the highway.  I think I crossed with Amy and/or Shaun, but felt the uphill and watched as they pulled away.  2:30am, I had almost 60 miles on my body, and I was alone again. The trail seemed very twisty – I knew I should be headed generally uphill to the east, and yet I often felt like I was heading downhill to the west.  It took some self-discipline but I continued to follow the trail markers even though they seemed wrong.  I finally hit a ski road and walked uphill to the aid station, arriving at 3:36am, a few minutes after Amy.

The aid station was inside the ski lodge – warmth, light, chairs to sit in, people offering me food and drink.  Basically heaven.  I sat down near Amy and her crew, to assess the state of my world.  Someone brought me my drop “bag” (a large plastic bin).  I dug through it, found my big portable charger, and immediately fed my electronics habit – charge one running watch that had died a couple hours earlier (I was now wearing a second one) and charge the headlamp battery that was almost done.  I took my GoPro out and abandoned it in the drop bag.  I took my gaiters, shoes and socks off to assess the feet damage – some sore spots but nothing disastrous.  Doc Todd came by, inquiring about fixing my feet – we agreed I’d take a nap and let my feet air dry for a bit, and then he’d look at them.  I ate food of some sort, and then left all my stuff where it was and wandered up to the sleeping area – another big dining area in the lodge that was dark and filled with air mattresses and heavy felt blankets.  I found an empty bed, set my phone alarm for an hour, and tried to sleep.  I fell asleep pretty quickly but – surprise! – I wasn’t the only one who had set a phone alarm, so I spent the next 45 minutes taking a series of very short naps and waking up to someone’s alarm.   I gave up early and headed back out to my stuff.  Doc Todd was busy – fixing Amy’s feet I think – so I ate some more and gathered my things.  I realized that daybreak was coming and didn’t mind stalling for a few minutes so I could head out into daylight.  My watch was fully charged.  My headlamp battery wasn’t so I attached it to a very small portable charger and threw them both in my pack.  Doc Todd looked at my feet and we decided on taping the heel where I’ve had blister problems, and the balls of both feet, using Leukotape.   That stuff is awesome – wipe a little of the dirt off, put the tape on, and it will stay in place for days.  Doc Todd told me that any incipient blisters would probably grow and pop, but the tape would keep the blistered/torn skin in place and minimize problems.  I put new socks and new gaiters on and looked a little anxiously at the hole in my shoe and the worn section now heading back towards my heel.  Do shoe tops ever tear completely off the sole?  I had no spare shoes to put on but knew I had an untested pair of Hokas in the back of the car I’d see at Heavenly – not a great option but at least it was an option.  I put on a warm shirt, restocked the pantry in my pack (gels, baby foods), and checked out at 6:08, about 15 minutes before it was light enough to run trails.

 

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Doc Todd, with me after the race.  Of the 80 finishers, Todd helped close to 80 with feet problems (and other stuff) during the race.  I saw him at every major aid station.

Sierra At Tahoe to Housewife Hill Aid Station:  Leaving the aid station just before daylight, I had 5-10 minutes of ski road ahead of me, so I walked down while greeting a few runners coming uphill on their way in.  I was pretty surprised at how much better I felt after 2+ hours of eating and getting horizontal.

 

Even after there was enough light to run, I mostly walked for the better part of 5 miles as daylight – and the morning sun on the boulder garden I was passing through – restored my energy.  My watch was showing paces in 16-20 minute/mile range.  Not counting aid station stops, 3 mph (20 minute miles) was fast enough for a 67 hour finish – way ahead of what I thought was possible – and I still had about 135 miles and 2 nights to get through.  Walking with purpose at sub 20 min/mile pace was ok – I could run the downhills and run more later if I had the energy.  Eventually I found myself on a quarter mile section on the shoulder of Highway 50 – I smiled as cars passed a very dirty person stumbling along the edge of the road – and then had a long downhill traverse to the Housewife Hill aid station.  That was fun – pretty runnable but also a dramatic trail with lots of exposure overlooking the valley below.  This was a short section, so I arrived at the aid station a little bit after 8am.  I was surprised to see Holly there again after seeing her at Barker Pass the day before.  I asked the obvious question – will I see you again – and found out she’d be doing at 43 hour shift at Tahoe City later in the race.  Amy, my friend from earlier, rolled in a few minutes after me.  I ate some kind of warm food – burrito with eggs maybe? – and eyed the jello shots on the table but thought better of it.  I filled my water bladder – it would be almost 18 miles to the next aid station, in the heat of the day, and I wouldn’t arrive until mid-afternoon.  At this point I was 50 minutes ahead of schedule – this seemed ok, I wasn’t in danger of arriving at Heavenly way early, and had some spare time for next the 35 miles to Heavenly.

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I’m guessing, but I think this is Saturday morning near Housewife Hill – no sun hat and long shadows.  Photo: Scott Rokis

Housewife Hill to Armstrong Aid Station

As much as I had studied the course before the race, I still didn’t have a good sense of the exact path for any given section.  In my mind, we would work our way up to Luther Pass where highway 89 crosses out of South Lake Tahoe and drops back into the Markleeville area where the Death Ride happens.  (I had ridden up to Luther Pass a few years ago in the Alta Alpina ride – basically Death Ride plus 3 more passes, supposedly the “world’s toughest double century”).  We did head uphill and got on the TRT, but then we dropped down into Big Meadow and crossed 89 just as it starts up to Luther Pass.  We passed through a nice parking area/trailhead with bathrooms, but no water.  Then we started the real climb up to Armstrong Pass with about 8 miles of the section done and 11 miles to go.

I left Housewife Hill carrying about 80 oz of water (and tanked up my stomach before I left).  At the parking lot/trailhead, I had about 60oz left.  But it was getting warm and the 11 mostly-uphill miles would take 4 or more hours.  I continued on, trying to move slowly enough to keep sweating to a minimum and doling out water bit by bit.  I passed a runner asleep on a perfect flat bed-shaped rock, and decided that looked nice and started looking for my own rock.  I never found a rock that good, but found an ok one and lay down for a couple minutes.  Then I got up and continued.  Eventually – about 3 hours later – I crossed the pass (2nd highest point on the course) and headed down.  I turned off the TRT onto a ~1 mile detour down to the dirt road with aid station.  As I descended, I passed a few runners heading back out –  we exchanged the standard “good job!”.   I rolled into the aid station at about 2:30, an hour or so ahead of schedule.

It was daytime again, which meant yellow jackets, but they weren’t as bad as they were in the southeast part of the course.  Armstrong Pass was also a sleep station – they had tents set up with sleep pads and blankets.  Since I was ahead of schedule, I went to lie down for 15 minutes after eating a really good veggie burrito.  Again, I was amazed at the impact of 15 minutes of being horizontal and napping briefly.  I got my stuff together and left 25 minutes ahead of schedule – perfect.  I’d probably be on time to Heavenly, maybe with a little extra time to sleep there.

Armstrong to Heavenly

As I left, I was dreading the mile hike uphill back to the TRT – it was technical and slow coming down and wouldn’t be any faster going up.  It went by faster than I expected though and soon enough I was back on the TRT for a long uphill traverse to the high point of the run (9700 feet).  Amy and her pacer Chris ambled by me – I tried to stick with them but it felt hard so I let them go on.  I caught them again at the high point/next pass – we admired the view across the valley to the backside of Heavenly Ski Resort and up to Freel Peak.  I felt ok and set off ahead – mostly downhill to Heavenly aid station.

In terms of my progress, things got kind of fuzzy at this point.  I had traveled 90 miles, I hadn’t slept much, and I had the typical ultrarunner’s hopeless optimism about the aid station being around the next corner.  In reality I had 10 miles left to go and should have been thinking 3+ hours left.  Instead I convinced myself that once I contoured around the valley and crossed the distant pass, the aid station would be right there.  My watch battery gave out suddenly during the traverse so I was semi-guessing about distance left.   After a long time, during which I remembered watching (on the gps tracker) my friend Tamara do this last year and being surprised at how long it took, I finally crossed the distant pass where I expected to find the aid station.

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During the long traverse, on the way to Heavenly.  Photo: Scott Rokis.

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The sun just starting to sink over the Heavenly ridge.  Photo: Scott Rokis.  This is a good time to mention that Scott (official race photographer) broke a few bones in his foot 5 weeks before the race in a mountain bike accident.  He thinks he covered 40+ miles on foot (with a walking boot) during the weekend, trying to capture our race.  Yet another example of how everyone involved with the race – crew, staff, photographer, volunteer – worked hard even though they weren’t running.

Instead of the aid station, I found myself on a fairly steep hillside looking down into Nevada.  During Alta Alpina, I rode up Kingsbury Grade – our aid station would be near the top of that – so I started looking for the road below me.  Nowhere to be found.  I continued traversing along the backside.  The trail was somewhat downhill but technical enough that I wasn’t moving fast.  I went on.  And on.  And on.  Still no sign of the Kingsbury Grade.  I rounded a corner and climbed a steep ski road under lift.  “I MUST be close” I thought.  I continued on for a couple miles, and went under another ski lift (“really, 2 miles between lifts???”).  It started to get dark so I put on my headlamp.  Another runner (Aaron – he’ll play a major role later) ran past me at high speed – “you’re doing great” I said, to which he replied “I’m running hard so I won’t fall asleep”.  In full darkness, I finally found the turn down to the aid station – similar to Armstrong Pass, we had a short out-and-back, thankfully only a half mile this time.

I rolled into the Heavenly aid station.  I didn’t immediately see Janet, but I figured she was trying to stay warm in the car and would show up soon.  I sat down in a chair and then realized why the aid station felt odd – there was almost no light.  Race director Candice Burt came by and asked what I needed.  I said something about the darkness and she said “The power went out, we have a generator on the way.”  I whined about wanting to charge my headlamp battery, but then I realized I had a flashlight and tried to put on my cheerful, take-things-as-they-come voice.  That said, it was – surprisingly – emotionally crushing to show up in an aid station after a 5 hour journey into nighttime and not have the aid station be a bright cheerful place.  People thrust pizza and ice cream thrust upon me and I fumbled around trying to do things with a flashlight in one hand and food in the other.  Janet appeared – awesome, she can hold the light.  I got my watch and headlamp battery charging again.  I enjoyed having my wife and multiple aid station people waiting on me.  I asked for hot chocolate and overheard a conversation between Candice and a volunteer – they really needed a hotpot to heat water because a small pot on a stove wasn’t making enough hot water.  Candice used her radio to ask one of her crew to get a hot pot.

(I was really impressed with Candice and the care she puts into the race – I saw her at the start, at least three aid stations, and the finish.  She had lots going on, problems to solve, and slept less than we did.  The entire time she was calm and always making decisions in best interests of the runners.  It reminded me of Scott Mills at San Diego 100.)

I sent Janet off to scout out the sleeping situation and whether I could walk there barefoot.  Yes.  But the beds were all filled.  I waited for a bit while someone (Aaron’s brother I think) found an extra mattress and crammed it into an almost-mattress-sized opening between two sleeping runners in a tent.  I took out my sleeping bag, set my alarm and crawled in.  I lay there for about 60-90 minutes mostly sleeping.  Towards the end 2 of the 3 other  people in the tent packed up their stuff and left.  Meanwhile, a girlfriendof the guy on the other side of me crawled in to share the mattress with the guy (I think she was doing the race also).  I was awake by then and it was getting close to when we should get ready so I packed up and went back to my chair and drop bag.  Janet showed up again (she’d gone back to her sleeping bag in the car) and stuffed my sleeping bag.  More food, more warm drinks.  I put on new socks, but couldn’t find new gaiters in my drop bag (a packing mistake? the plan?  I couldn’t tell the difference any more).  My shoes and feet didn’t seem to be degrading precipitously so I opted not to switch to the untested Hokas in the back of our car.  Our plan was to leave at 12:45 am but we left shortly after midnight, thinking we’d probably see the sunrise and if we were a little early to Spooner, Pacer Scott would figure it out when he awoke.

Heavenly to Spooner

Janet had never run at night by headlamp before.  I wanted her to experience one of my favorite things – seeing the sun come up after traveling many hours with only the cone of light from a headlamp.  It’s 20 miles to Spooner aid station, consisting of a gradual 2000 foot climb and then losing most of that back in the descent to Spooner Pass.  We set off shortly after midnight, worked up to the TRT, and travelled for about 4 miles to the crossing at Kingsbury Grade.  We saw a headlamp a little ways behind us and figured we’d get passed shortly.  At the road crossing, we looked up at loud party going on (1:30 am) in a house above.  Janet commented on not getting passed.  I explained “Everyone around me is going almost exactly the same speed I am – we may not get passed for a while”.  It wasn’t until 2 or 3 miles later that someone passed us – it was Julian, from way back on the Wright’s Lake road 60 miles previously.  We talked to him for a moment and he moved on ahead.  A little while later we heard a loud crunching sound ahead and an expletive-sounding voice, and hoped Julian was ok.  Shortly after that Janet (who was ahead of me for most of this leg, so she could set a pace that was comfortable for her), tripped over a nasty rock and said “oh, that’s what he did”.

Miles passed.  At some point I realized that “a pace that is comfortable for Janet” was too fast for me so I had to ask her to stop running away from me.  Around 3 in the morning I got really sleepy and downed a couple gels with caffeine.  Unfortunately, the caffeine doesn’t really work for an hour or so, so I stumbled on, trying not to fall asleep.  We found ourselves on a high ridge/plateau and could sort-of-see Lake Tahoe in the darkness to the our left.  The moon had set by then, but the stars were out in force – Orion, The Big and Small Dips, etc..  We passed a runner and his pacer sitting on a rock in the open with a cold wind blowing and a space blanket wrapped around them.  The runner asked “Got any caffeine?”  “Sure, here’s a caffeinated gel.”  “Yeah, I’ve tried that.  Anything else?”  I realized he was trying to make a drug deal – looking for caffeine pills, which we didn’t have.  We continued on, hoping they wouldn’t sit there and get hypothermic.

The sun started coming up during our descent to Spooner Pass.  With 4 miles of the segment left, it gradually got light enough to see around us and eventually the trail in front of us.  Once there was enough light, we started running.  Spurred on by another runner coming up behind us, we ran and pulled away.  We arrived at Spooner at 6:45am, 45 minutes ahead of schedule.  I told Scott we’d aim to leave around 8, but that it could be a little earlier or later.  I didn’t see him at the aid station as we arrived but figured he’d arrive shortly.  This aid station was one of the few places on the course where phones worked, so a quick text confirmed that Scott was on his way.  Janet got her warm things out my drop bag.  Scott showed up.  I tried to lie down but was too awake.  I got up, used the bathroom, got ready, and then Scott and I set off.

Spooner to Tunnel Creek

I only knew Scott from an online runners group – I hadn’t met him in person.  He’s not much of a trail runner (yet).  But he lives near Tahoe, he was up for the adventure, and willing to help me out during the race in any way possible.  I really didn’t want people to have to crew me – even Janet – because it seems like they’d have all the pain of an ultra (no sleep, weird hours, odd food) with none of the trail running fun.  I mostly declined his help, but in addition to running with me, Scott solved the problem of getting Janet back to her car at Heavenly after she ran with me.  Janet would run to Spooner, Scott would meet us there, Scott would run to Tunnel Creek with me, Janet would drive Scott’s truck to Tunnel Creek, and then he’d drive her back to Heavenly, and then go home to Reno.  From start to finish Scott spent at least 10 hours helping some random older gentleman he met on the internet, not to mention any prep/cleanup.  Super Scott.

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Somewhere near Snow Valley Peak, looking southwest.  The early part of the race happened beyond the horizon you can see in this picture.  Then we worked our way south out the left side of this picture, then east and north up to this point.  Photo: Pacer Scott/Super Scott

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Super Scott, displaying his artsy side with this panorama.

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Practicing my “20 feet ahead” stare.  It’s not like there was a view to see anyway.  Photo: Super Scott

Super Scott and I set off towards Tunnel Creek.  Scott entertained me with tales of his route-finding misadventures in the area (just what I wanted to hear – my pacer gets lost easily).  We ascended slowly up a 2000 foot climb towards Snow Valley Peak.  Along the way, Aaron (I mentioned him earlier, but it’s not yet time for his major role) slowly passed us.  Scott commented on Aaron’s not-100%-graceful speedwalker gait, trying to goad me into picking up my pace.  I explained that my approach – especially at elevation – is to not push the uphills, and try to run harder on the downhills when it doesn’t take much energy.  I predicted we’d pass the speedwalker guy on the downhill.  We crested the pass, and almost immediately passed the speedwalker guy (aka Aaron).  My watch died again shortly so we pulled over and I quickly swapped watches.  Then we set off.  We both saw a woman a short distance ahead, and ran after her, thinking we’d pass her soon.  We ran and ran and she was gone.  We decided she was either a shared hallucination (“Same taste in hallucinations about women” according to Scott), or she wasn’t a racer and had taken a different trail soon after we saw her.

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My memory is a bit fuzzy about when and where, but we were treated to some great views of Marlette Lake and Lake Tahoe.  Scott was hoping we’d pass a point where it looks like the two lakes connect – it looks like we did based on Scott’s photo above.  That picture is looking northwest – Tunnel Creek/Incline Village is behind the ridge on the other side of Marlette Lake.  And way over across Lake Tahoe, at the left side of the picture, is where I’ll be in just another 40 miles or so.  With only 35 miles or so left after that to finish.

Down and down we went.  I tried to run as much as I could – walking occasionally just to rest things for many miles left.  At some point I felt a blister pop under the ball of my left foot (the foot that had a shoe with no hole in the side – go figure).  It hurt a lot and I momentarily thought I’d have a super-painful 70 miles of walking to the finish.  I tried to ignore it and not compensate with weird running mechanics.  Thankfully, the pain went away after a few minutes and the Leukotape did its job of keeping things patched.

The final descent on a dirt road into Tunnel Creek is pretty steep.  The run turned into a stay-in-control shuffle down the hill.  When things flattened out, it was pretty warm and I felt slightly cooked, so we walked the last half mile or so into the aid station.  Janet was there, tending to people’s feet as an impromptu medical volunteer.  Candice Burt was there too, taking care of race stuff.  I ate, sat in a chair for a bit, and then wandered off to a sleep tent.   While I was lying down, another runner arrived and mentioned a bear – the guy was running down the trail and a mountain biker was riding up towards him, then the biker suddenly turned around and raced off downhill, yelling “bear!”.  The runner took off down the hill, looked over his shoulder, and saw a bear headed his way.  Somehow, even though you aren’t supposed to run away from bears, things turned out ok.

I lay in the tent for a few minutes but the popped blister on the sole of my foot kept sending out little stabbing pains, so I got back up and prepared to depart.  Aaron (the speedwalker) arrived about 40 minutes after me – my easy up, fast down plan had worked as expected.  I loaded up with water, kissed Janet, and thanked Super Scott for a most-excellent performance on his longest-ever trail run.

As I left, I mentioned that for the first time during the race, I could actually see getting to the finish – I hadn’t thought that far out before but it seemed possible now.  From Tunnel Creek, I had a 100k left – I’ve done 100ks.  From the next aid station – Brockway – I’d only have a 50M race left, I’ve done those too.  From Tahoe City it would just be a 50k – I’ve done a bunch of those.  And finally, from Stephen Jones, it was just a 15M medium-long run – I do those once or twice a week.  I set off down the road, feeling pretty good.

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Scott and I.  Scott is smiling because he’s done with his run.  I’m smiling because I’m sleep-deprived and don’t know any better.

Spooner to Brockway

About a quarter mile later, I found myself weeping.  I’m not sure exactly what prompted it – saying goodbye to my wife and friend, a song, having 65 miles left to go, the enormity of what I was in the middle of, the unknown of a 3rd night out, the pain in my feet, lack of sleep.  All of those things probably, but I was also scared of what lay just ahead.

After a short flat section in Incline Village, we had to climb the Incline Powerline – about 1500 feet of gain in about 1.5 miles.  I’ve done things like that plenty of times in training, but never with 140+ miles on my legs.  Also, it was pretty warm – pushing 80 degrees – and we’d be exposed to sun in the powerline clearing.  I knew that getting too hot about 5 miles into a 15 mile segment could mean disaster.  I couldn’t do much about the climb itself, but I could avoid starting it already-warm, so I let myself pass through Incline Village at a leisurely stroll.  Again, I was moving along at 3 mph or better so in the grand scheme of things I was doing fine, even if I was walking a long flat paved section.  The walk turned out to be longer than I expected – close to 4 miles before we turned uphill through a subdivision and worked our way up to the powerline.  As I approached the turn onto the dirt, I saw a hiker putting a pack on near a car and thought “oh, maybe people hike this”.  Yeah, right.  The hiker was another person in the race, and no sane person picks scrub under a powerline as an ideal hike spot.  I took out my poles, looked at the wall in front of me, and started up.

Someone had told me that it wasn’t possible to use poles at the powerline because it was so overgrown.  I quickly found that poles work fine if you are determined enough.  Lift my foot up to a patch of loose dirt that seems stable enough, plant my poles, push up with legs and arms.  Repeat on the other side.  I worked my way to the top of the first steep climb and looked over the lip.  A flattish reprieve, and then another climb similar to the first but maybe longer.  I could see runners ahead, and at least one behind.  I continued, and passed at least one person.  We were blessed with occasional cloud cover and some breeze, so the heat wasn’t the problem I expected.  Up, up, up the loose soil.  Finally, I cut off to the side and found myself at the top of the powerline… looking up at another climb just as steep and of similar length as the first two sections.  But at least the footing was better – the climb eventually passed, and soon we were headed down a dirt road.

I passed a sign that said “Just a couple miles on the road and then back to trails”, except that “couple” had been scratched out/written over with “few”.   3 maybe?  Actually it was more like 4.5 – dusty, uphill dirt roads.  I did a fine job kicking dust up on my own, but at some point I was passed by two guys and they added to the haze.  The terrain around me reminded me a lot of the Sun Mountain races – open woodlands, meadows filled with mule’s ear.  Just before the two guys passed me, as I was doing the “20 feet ahead” stare I practiced for much of the race, I looked up and saw a very large black bear walking at a 45 degree angle towards me but also uphill through the mule’s ear.  I stopped, told the guys behind me “hey, there’s a bear!  cool!”  The person behind me seemed concerned and told the 3rd person to move up closer.  The bear continued on to a lone tree in the mule’s ear, and disappeared behind it.  I waited for a moment and then inched on.  It looked like the bear was lying down (the advantage of not being seen, perhaps) so we moved on and left it behind us.  A couple lifetimes and way too much dust later, I watched the two guys turn off onto a trail and I followed.  A couple lifetimes after that – and probably a lot of running/walking through a typical Sierra wooded mountain area, but I don’t really remember – I found myself at the highway at Brockway Summit.

I was 100% convinced that the Brockway Summit Aid Station would be at the road at Brockway Summit – that’s where an aid station should be.  There was a parking lot across the road, so I headed down toward it convinced I was almost at the aid station.  I didn’t see the tents yet but they were there somewhere.  I crossed the road, I crossed the parking lot, and I followed the flags onto a trail.  After another quarter mile, I saw some cardboard signs advertising all the great stuff I could get at the aid station (e.g. homebrewed kombucha).  “Great – it’s just around the corner!”  I continued on.  And on.  The trail curved around and about a mile after leaving the parking lot, I finally got to the aid station – which was almost, but not quite, back at the parking lot.  “Whatever, at least I’m here now”.  They had the music cranked, and the placed was staffed with a bunch of enthusiastic trail runners from the Donner Party Mountain Runners.

I settled into a chair and the aid station people plied me with really good black bean burgers.  I got my batteries charging and considered removing my shoes to inspect the damage (“nah, only 50 miles to go, why bother”).  I mentioned that the trip from the highway to the aid station seemed rather long (and the guy next to me responded “yeah!!!”).  I watched a couple people leave and as they left the aid station people asked “what song do you want?  You get to pick the song when you leave.  What’ll it be?  Eye Of The Tiger?”.  I thought about the many possibilities – I Don’t Wanna Go, Trail of Tears, Going Down The Road Feeling Bad, I’m A Trainwreck, No Sign Of Water, Tell Me When It’s Over, In My Hour Of Darkness, etc., While I considered this important matter, the aid station people told me I was the 24th person to arrive, and offered me a beer.  “Yes please!”  I drank that – it was a really good IPA, the best.  I finally settled on Mr. Pop’s Lust For Life – it wouldn’t kill the mood and they might actually have it in their collection.  And then I started shivering from the beer.

I planned to nap there so I asked them to point me to the sleep tent.  They asked me when I wanted to be woken up (90 minutes) and pointed to a tent 5 miles (really, 0.1 mile) down a dirt road so I hobbled off slowly to the (empty – yay!) tent.  I lay down, wrapped myself in a thick blanket and shivered until I fell asleep.  90 minutes later a gentle voice woke me up (“Runner 54, you wanted to be woken up – it’s been 90 minutes.  You look great.  You just need to get up now and get it done.”)  I hobbled back up to a completely different aid station – it had gotten dark, the music was off for the sake of nearby campers, and I was the only runner there.  They told me I’d be the 32nd person to leave – at least 8 people had come in since I arrived and most of them had left pretty quickly.  Someone told me the next leg was on pretty flat, forgiving trail.  I packed up, turned my own music on, and left.

Brockway to Tahoe City

I knew this would be the crux.  A really long segment – 20 miles, all at night, during my 3rd night out, starting 155 miles into the race.  My friend Tamara (who ran it last year) said pacers weren’t really necessary because I’d end up traveling with someone else going about the same speed.  Uh-huh.  I didn’t even have the option of leaving Brockway with someone (unless I waited around getting cold and stiff until someone showed up).  And if I did catch someone on the trail, odds are that they would be struggling and moving slower than me.  But I knew that I only had 50 miles ahead of me – I’ve done several races of 50 miles or more, and that after I got to Tahoe City I’d be mostly running in daylight.  It also seemed likely I’d meet or beat my goal of finishing before the dreaded 4th night.  So I was daunted but not defeated headed into this section.

The trail was pretty flat, and for most of the flat and downhill sections, I maintained a steady running cadence assisted by my poles – plant with my left, take a couple steps, plant with my right, couple more steps.  I couldn’t see much outside of the cone of light just in front of me, but I spent a lot of time contouring just below small rises – unseen trees above me, gentle slope below me, runnable trail ahead.  At some point it felt like I had done the exact same contour 10 times already, and I briefly wondered if particularly devious vandals had moved the markers so they formed a circle.  I imagined them sitting just out of sight above me, watching and laughing silently as headlamps moved slowly round and round the same circle.

After a period of time – 3 or 4 hours – running by myself, I realized that 20 miles between aid stations was a really really long, unfair distance and really really wanted to get to the next aid station.  Matthew Caws must have been paying attention because he came onto my iPod singing: “You don’t have to run around the park, you don’t have to be some kind of hero, it’d be good to get out of the dark, and get yourself around some other people.”  My thoughts exactly.

I did eventually start catching people – a runner and his pacer moving slowly, two runners and one pacer, another runner.  One runner came with me briefly but then disappeared suddenly (pee break?).  Occasionally I could see a light in the distance – Tahoe City, something else? – but then I’d drop down a little and do yet another contour just beneath a rise.  Finally – about 19 miles into the segment – I came over a rise and saw a few lights from Tahoe City below me.  I had no idea where the aid station was, so I just followed the markers, dropped down into the town, ran past some stores, and turned right when I passed someone (crew?  hallucination?) who told me to turn right.  I followed the markers across a bridge towards the lake (I thought) and turned into the aid station.

Holly was waiting, part way through her 43 hour shift.  I plunked in a chair near a heater and some other runner ghosts and took stock.  I was at least a couple hours ahead of my 81 hour plan.  Lots of things hurt some, but nothing hurt a lot.  The sun would come up in a couple hours.  I had a 50k left to run – on rested legs that would take 5-7 hours, and even on exhausted legs I had a good 14-15 hours to do it before the sun went down again.  Things were looking good.  I ate, hobbled to the bathroom, came back and put my feet up on a chair.  I considered napping but I didn’t see anywhere flat to sleep and didn’t feel like doing the chair slump that others were doing.  For some reason my drop bag from Tell’s Creek hadn’t made it – Holly said none of those had shown up – but there wasn’t anything I really needed.  Holly marked a ziplock with my number, and I unloaded a bunch of unnecessary weight – extra batteries, a warm shirt, etc. – basically betting I’d be done before I needed it again.

Tahoe City to Stephen Jones Aid Station

While I was sitting there, I noticed Aaron the speedwalker sitting in another chair.  Huh.  I dropped him way back at Tunnel Creek and now he’s here with me?  He left a few minutes before me.  I got ready and followed him.  Holly pointed me out of the aid station and then I became totally disoriented about where I was.  I seemed to be heading straight out into the lake.  (In reality, the aid station was at the turn onto Highway 89 around the lake so I was heading south parallel to 89.)  I ignored my badly-flawed sense of direction and just followed the markers.  15 minutes later I came across Aaron, head down, sitting on a log.  I then did something cruel (for him) and stupid (by me) – “are you ok?”  That’s a good question to ask when it’s daytime and someone is stopped for no reason.  It’s a stupid question to ask of someone napping during their 3rd night out, when they seemed 100% fine 15 minutes earlier.  He started, and mumbled “yeah, I’m ok”.  I continued.  After a while I looked over my shoulder and noticed his headlamp pretty close behind me.  I didn’t quite know it at the time, but this was the start of my ~28 mile race after a 178 mile warmup.

I continued on, trying to move as quickly as I could.  The sun came out, I stopped to put my headlamp away, and I saw Aaron a short distance behind.  I set off again up the gradual hill, walking faster now, trying to open a gap. My goal was to finish, and a place or two difference wasn’t going to matter, but I wanted to pass not get passed.  I pushed up the 2nd-to-last climb, and caught one or two people on a big open slope where I could see up and down.  Aaron caught them too, and stayed about the same hundred yards behind me.  We went up and up, hit a false summit, and then went up some more to the ridge.  When I topped out and headed down, I took off as fast as my tired legs would allow.  I figured the downhill was my opportunity to open a big enough gap that I wouldn’t have to kill myself over the last 15 mile segment.  After running hard (probably really slowly, but hard at that point) for 15 minutes I stopped to pee.  When I was done I looked back briefly and saw Aaron coming around the corner, the same 100 yards behind.  I took off again and ran hard the last ~3 miles into the aid station.  Aaron showed up about 2 minutes after me – I said “you are doing great!  who are you???”, at which point I finally learned his name.  I gulped a couple things down and he sat in a chair to do something with his feet.  “I’m outta here!!!” I said and left, hoping to finally make that gap happen, even if it was due to a chair break.

Stephen Jones to Finish

As I turned to leave, Janet appeared.  This was an unexpected and very welcome surprise.  Except that I was pretty focused on making space between Aaron and me, so when she said “hang on, let me get my running shoes on”, I said “well, I’m going to start walking – you’ll catch me quickly enough”.  I did actually walk – I wasn’t deranged enough to run away from my wife who’d made the effort, although it was close – and she was beside me within a few minutes.  We walked along Lake Tahoe, and we told each other about our day since Tunnel Creek.  I’d look over my shoulder for Aaron, and she’d say “I don’t see him back there”.  “He’s back there, trust me.”  Eventually a person appeared and I said “see”, except that it wasn’t Aaron it was Jose from Portugal who speaks little English.  He passed us just as we turned off Highway 89 and started up the road to Barker Pass.  This last 15 mile section has four parts – 2-3 miles along Highway 89 and Lake Tahoe, a gradual uphill on a path/dirt road, a nasty not-gradual uphill that gains 2000 feet in about 3 miles, and then the final 2000 foot descent back to Homewood (retracing the first 4 miles of the race).

The gradual uphill towards Barker Pass was pretty nice, especially doing it with Janet.  At some point, we found some vandalized trail markings which briefly made the path ambiguous.  I continued the most likely way, while Janet followed the spur and confirmed it was bogus.  Then she fixed the markings and caught up to me.  After a while – way longer than she had planned, she said she’d see me at the finish and trotted back down the trail.  Soon afterwards, I started up the nasty hill.  The first part of the nasty hill is especially nasty because it’s a series of short flat sections each followed by short steep sections, all on a jeep trail.  If the grade were consistent, it would be steep but ok.  But it was basically a series of dusty bigger-than-human-sized steps.  I was thankful (again) to have poles to help push my way up with.  I started to catch Jose in front of me.  Then I looked over my shoulder and saw Aaron a short way back.  I was convinced it was Aaron, even though the shirt was different.  Early in the race, when I was running with a few other people and we introduced ourselves, someone commented that we’d have to repeat it down the road after we’d all changed our shirts.  So even though it was a different shirt, I knew it was Aaron, still stalking me.  We moved up, and Aaron gradually closed the gap.  And then – horrors! – he passed me.  I was hating life at this point – my feet hurt, I was tired, the uphill was endless and all I could think was “$#&^ it.  I don’t care.  I just want to finish.”  We continued up and I stayed a short ways behind Aaron and Jose.  I thought about it a bit – “I’m not hurting that bad, I’m almost done, I can dig a little deeper”.  We turned off the nasty jeep trail and continued up a gravel road we had run down more than 3 days earlier, towards Barker Pass.  I found the energy to run a little, and eased past Aaron and Jose.  We shared “nice jobs!” all around and I moved on ahead of them.

The second half of the nasty climb to Barker Pass is nasty because there are multiple false summits.  You climb up a steep hill to a gap and think “that must be it”.  Then you get there and look up to another climb.  There must be 5 or 6 of those false summits in the last 3 miles, including one big downhill that fools you into thinking you are really over the top.  I pushed on, and was dismayed to see Aaron in his usual spot, 50-100 yards back and closing.  At the top of the very last hill, I looked back, saw him again, and called back “wanna run in together?”  I did this not out of sportmanship, but out of a desire not to have to kill myself over the last 4 miles.  To my dismay he said “no, you’re strong on the downhills, go for it.”  Great.  Lovely.  Perfect.  So I went for it.  200 miles behind me, a 2000 foot 5 mile descent on fairly rocky trails/dirt roads in front of me, someone chasing just behind me.  What could go wrong?

I think I ran 95% of those last 5 miles, about as hard as one can run after 200 miles on foot.  There was one slight uphill where I walked to rest things for the final push.  I tripped and almost went down very hard a few times, saved by poles and some upper body strength.  Aaron was behind me, and I didn’t seem to be losing him, but he didn’t seem to be gaining.  We worked our way down the hill, into the ski area.  At some point I noticed an unusual amount of air under my right foot and realized that the hole in my shoe was much larger – I’d feel air go in and out with each step, like my foot/shoe was breathing.  I could also feel all the wear and tear on my legs and feet – particularly the tear(ing) which seemed to increase and get more permanent with every mile.

About a mile from the finish, I rounded a corner and found someone sitting in the road offering shots of tequila.  (This was not a hallucination – I heard someone talking about this later, after the race.)  As I sped by, I said “believe it or not, I’m racing someone right now.  That guy right behind me probably wants one though.  Or maybe two.”  We dropped over the lip and I could see the finish below me, several switchbacks away.  Down, around, down, around.  Pain.

Finally, with one straight downhill shot and a short flat turn to the finish, I looked over my shoulder and knew I’d avoid getting passed.  I stumbled on a rock and almost went down again, but stayed upright, turned the corner, crossed the line, and collapsed into Janet’s arms, teary and exhausted but really happy to be done.

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205.4 miles done, 0.1 to go.

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I think this is when a rock almost took me down.

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“Is that really the finish?  Or just a hallucination?  Hmmm…”

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That’s not dust – it’s smoke coming from the flames on the bottom of my feet.  My whole lower body was wrecked at this point, but I didn’t want to be passed.  Finishing up in proper style with a Seven Hills shirt.

I stayed there for a while and then turned to welcome Aaron across the line, about 40 seconds after me.  Except it wasn’t Aaron, it was (my new friend) Brian.  Who was in fact wearing a very different shirt than Aaron had been wearing, and who also didn’t have a beard like Aaron does. (This is a clue about how well my brain was functioning during that 4th day.)  We both collapsed into chairs people dragged over for us, and celebrated together – 205.5 miles, 40000 feet of climbing, done.  Beer and pizza (and yellow jackets) appeared.

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Doc Todd, looking into our eyes to see if our souls were about to leave.

We sat there watching people come in for a couple hours.  Jose limped in about 40 minutes after us – he was having knee trouble for the last part of the race.  My friend Gwen showed up and sat down with us – she finished 3 hours before me, 2nd woman.

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Gwen, Brian-Not-Aaron, and I trying to comprehend the previous 4 days.  Gwen finished 3 hours before and had time to shower.  You probably can’t tell, but Brian and I haven’t showered yet.

Gwen’s friend Kathy finished – 3rd woman.  Gradually the circle of finishers and chairs grew.

Aaron did eventually appear about two hours after I finished – he told me he had been fairly close behind me, but at the very top of the last climb, his brain balked at having to climb a little more, and convinced him to go off course so he wandered around up there for a while, ~5 miles from the finish.

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Aaron (the real one) and I the day after we finished.  This was Aaron’s 3rd finish at Tahoe 200.  He’s planning on coming back next year, and said he won’t get lost and will therefore catch me.

Later I spoke to someone else who had gotten lost up there – he knew something was wrong when he found himself picking his way through trees down a steep scree slope we hadn’t run up.  A lot of people said they ran bonus miles – I feel lucky I didn’t have more than the extra half mile due to the vandalized markers.  My favorite story is Tom R’s – he managed to turn the 15 mile segment from Armstrong Pass to Heavenly into a 35 mile epic adventure with three wrong turns.  The folks back at race headquarters watched all this on the gps tracker, and sent someone out to fetch Tom after two wrong turns.  After those two wrong turns, Tom finally found his way back to the TRT and (feeling good) ran off quickly down the trail.  Unfortunately, he was going in the wrong direction – backwards on the course –  at high speed.  As a result, the chaser behind him had to do 10k pace to run Tom down – the cutoff was long past, the sweeps had been through and removed all trail markers, and Tom was going to go a long way before he saw anyone else.

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The handmade belt buckles – each one is unique and contains some bit of local flora.

Janet took me home, I cleaned a large amount of Tahoe dirt off my body, we ate some non-gel food (pasta, I think, but my memory of that evening is fuzzy).  Then I slept like a log for 9 hours.  The next morning I drove back to the finish line and sat with the finishers for a while, applauding people as they arrived. Janet ran over later and joined me until the final cutoff.  All but one of the people we were following to the finish (via gps/spot trackers) made it in before the cutoff.

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Candice Burt, tracking the last runners into the finish.

Final results: out of about 100 starters 80 finished.  Roxanne Woodhouse was the first woman- 53 years old although she doesn’t look it – and finished in 69+ hours, 8+ hours ahead of me.  The overall winner was Jason Kinsella in 59+ hours (18 hours ahead of me) – Janet and I saw him after I finished and he looked so clean and uncrippled that we figured he’d dropped and stupidly didn’t congratulate him. The back of the pack was equally impressive – 10 people completed Tahoe just 3 weeks after the Bigfoot 200, one of the sweeps did the whole race and then pushed through the last section to finish before the cutoff, and in general anyone who finished had a story to tell.  These really long races are different than, say, a marathon.  Someone can walk their way through a marathon and still finish on the same day as the fast people up front – the experience is different but not way different.  In this race, the people who finished near the end spent 2 extra nights out and had to deal with some rain (and even snow, for the sweeps) that last night.  By the time they finished, the winner had already gotten two good nights of sleep after his race.

 

 

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Women’s podium: 1st – Roxanne Woodhouse, 2nd – Gwen Scott (Team Seven Hills from Seattle!), 3rd Kathy D’Onofrio

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Men’s Podium:  1st Jason Kinsella, 2nd (not present) Andres Villagran, 3rd Paul Romaro

 

I was 17th overall, in 77:26:32, and the first 50+ man to finish (Jose was the second, shortly after me).  I couldn’t be happier with how my race went – I finished, I didn’t have to stay out for a 4th night, the weather was great, Tahoe was beautiful, I finished early enough on Monday that I could hang out at the finish for a while in the afternoon sun, I saw a bear and didn’t get mauled, my “run with Janet and Scott” plan worked out perfectly, and my race position through the aid stations showed I ran a steady race from start to finish – continuing to move forward as others faded.  (Starting with Barker Pass, I was 69, 52, 51, 48, 44, 41, 38, 36, 33, 29, 24 -Brockway where I took a nap and others didn’t, 26, 20, and finally 17 at the finish).  And I was able to finish with a ~28 mile race against “Aaron”.  Not many people can say they did a 178 mile warmup and then a 28 mile race. Well, I guess not many people can say they’ve finished a 200+ mile foot race either.

Thank you’s – many many people:  Super Scott, Janet, the volunteers who gave up 4 or more days for us, Candice’s staff, people who cheered us on at the race or remotely, Bruk/Nancy/the folks at RealRehab who kept me somewhat healthy, other racers and Aaron and Brian in particular for causing me to go a little faster than I wanted to.  This is a team sport, even if it doesn’t look that way.

Lessons:

  • I was lucky and got away with being pretty sloppy about my shoes.  I used to manage my race shoes very carefully but over time I’ve gotten lazy.  I’ll be more careful in the future.
  • The electronics I carried are a mixed blessing – I had music, I have a complete gps track for my race, I potentially could recover from getting lost, I could text my pacers, etc..  But it took a lot of attention to keep everything charged and working.
  • 20 miles is a long way between aid stations.  At UTMB I think there was one section late in the race that took me 4-5 hours.  In this race, there were several of those 4-5 hour sections, and a few that took 6-7.  That’s a long time to be on your own, with a limited water supply.
  • A little sleeping/lying down/putting feet up makes a big difference.  I’ll be more willing to try a 5 minute nap in future long races – it might save me time in the end.
  • A 200 mile race is at least as hard on crew as it is runners – I still wouldn’t ask people to do it on my behalf.  Roxanne Woodhouse, who won the woman’s race, told me she wouldn’t do this distance again – it took too much of a toll on everyone, especially her crew.
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The hole in my shoe.  This is not a good look, but it worked surprisingly well in spite of the hole.  I had more blister problems on my other foot.

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A lot (but not all!) of the stuff I had with me over the weekend.  I didn’t use a lot of it but better safe than sorry.

 

Gear and stuff…

My pack/contents – Ultimate Direction Peter Bakwin v1 (weighed 9 to 14 lbs when full, depending upon water levels)

  • bladder and 2 bottles – I left aid stations with a max of 80 oz. of water, 40oz minimum (e.g. when I only filled the 2 bottles, like at night).  80 oz. was barely adequate for the long hot climb to Armstrong Pass, but good otherwise.  I did have the option of filling up at streams – would have been good on the way to Armstrong Pass – but opted not to.
  • warm hat
  • light rain jacket
  • arm sleeves
  • spare socks
  • gloves – I never used these
  • small dry bag for clothing
  • sun hat
  • 2 Garmin watches – I wore one until it died, then switched and charged the dead one when I could.
  • phone
  • poles – Black Diamond Z-poles
  • small bag of tp, just in case
  • food – gels, trailbutter, baby food, tailwind mix
  • charging cords for watch, headlamp battery
  • small portable charger
  • iPod
  • Fenix flashlight and spare batteries
  • headlamp and spare battery – Petzl Nao (I carried these from Tell’s Creek to finish)
  • warm shirt – mostly just at night.  I got a new one from a drop bag heading into the night, and left it in a drop bag in the morning.
  • laminated elevation profile with time projections and drop bag locations
  • tiny first aid kit – band-aids, antibacterial ointment, pin to pop blisters, pepto-bismol for stomach problems, hand-sanitizer to slightly sterilize things, 3 foot elastic bandage from UTMB to wrap around any big cutsgps device
  • GPS device with map of the course – I never used this, but I resisted the urge to leave it in a drop bag because I’d get lost for sure if I did that.
  • SPOT tracker – required by race for safety, and useful for entertainment purposes for anyone following us runners.
  • GoPro (until Sierra At Tahoe) – it was a pain to get it in and out of the pocket I’d set aside for it.  Based on Cesare’s video, it looks like a selfie stick (vs. head mount) is the way to go, so it’s a little easier to attach to the front of a shoulder strap.
  • rain pants – I planned to carry these but never did because the forecast was good and the nighttime temps were perfect (low-mid 40s) for someone from Seattle.  I put them in a drop bag halfway in case the forecast changed while I was out on the course.

I relied on 3 main drop bags (Sierra At Tahoe, Heavenly, Brockway).  I had a couple other drop bags but they were small and generally non-essential.  My big drop bags were pretty similar and mostly overkill relative to what I needed.  But better to be prepared than need something and not have it:

  • sleeping bag – the race was unable to guarantee that they’d have enough blankets at all times, and suggested we pack a sleeping bag or lots of warm clothes.  It was easier to track down three sleeping bags than enough down clothing for 3 separate sleep spots.
  • spare socks and gaiters
  • body glide, trail toes
  • band aids/first aid stuff
  • big multi-device portable charger
  • spare small charger – if I’d used the one I was carrying in my pack, I’d replace it with the charged/fresh one from my drop bag
  • long sleeve running shirt
  • extra warm shirt (usually a thick cycling jersey with some wind resistance) – in case it was really cold and the long sleeve shirt wasn’t enough
  • tights – never needed these, temps were great.
  • rain pants (at Heavenly, in case the forecast changed)
  • spare flashlights and headlamps – I probably had 6 extra lights in my drop bags, in case the two in my pack failed.  Almost every other piece of equipment can fail, but if  your lights don’t work it’s hard to make progress.
  • spare batteries
  • gels, tailwind, baby food, trail butter
  • baby wipes to clean off with
  • clean short sleeve shirt – I think I changed my shirt 3 times during the race.
  • new shorts – I never changed my shorts during the race.  I wasn’t having any chafing problems and was scared to change what was working fine.  I did soak my race shorts in detergent for a couple days after the race, before washing them.
  • shoe change (only at Brockway) – Next time I’d have a change of shoes in at least 3 locations on the course.
  • clean arm sleeves
  • discardable toothbrush thing – something we found in a pharmacy before the race, that doesn’t require water and gives you the illusion of moving the bacteria around in your mouth a little bit.  I did this a couple times during the race.
  • duct tape – of course.  I didn’t need this though.
  • spare water bottle – In case I fell and broke a bottle, or accidentally tossed one of the side of a cliff.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: pointlenana | September 5, 2016

Live Tracking for Tahoe 200

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I start the Tahoe 200 run this coming Friday, September 9, at 9am PDT.  I hope to finish during daylight on Monday Sept 12 but there is a huge amount of uncertainty around that goal – a lot can go wrong in 200 miles and I’ll be happy with any finish (the cutoff is Tuesday 1pm).  My real goal is to enjoy getting around Lake Tahoe (through the mountains) on foot.  I plan to sleep at 3 aid stations – Sierra at Tahoe, Heavenly, and Brockway – so if you are following me don’t be surprised if I appear to stall out forever there.  Janet and Brewing-Scott From Reno plan to run sections with me from Heavenly to Tunnel Creek.  My projected times are below, but those are a very rough guess.

My bib # is 54.  There are 2 good resources to follow the race.  You can also get to both of these from the 2016 Live page at the top of the Tahoe200.com web page.  (That main page has a short video showing what we get to run through.)

UltraLive: This will give you semi-realtime updates of my progress through aid stations.  My page: http://ultralive.net/tahoe200#tracking/runner/54.

TrackLeaders.com:  We are all required to wear SPOT trackers, so there is realtime tracking based on GPS location at http://trackleaders.com/tahoe200-15.  (If that link doesn’t work or is still the 2015 race, the 2016 link should be available on the Tahoe 200 site).  TrackLeaders has an interactive map of the course – you can see where the aid stations are and by moving around the map/elevation profile you can see where the hills are.  The runners will show up by bib number on the map (as you can see from the picture above).

When I’m out there in these events, I know that people are tracking my progress and it helps keep me moving along.  Thank you!  Look alive, see these bones…

Projected Times:

Mile Aid Station Time
0 Start 9:00am Fri
7 Barker Pass – Out 10:55am Fri
18 Rubicon – Out 1:35pm Fri
30.5 Tell’s Creek – Out 5:05pm Fri
44 Wright’s Lake – Out 9:45pm Fri
56.7 HWY 50
62.9 Sierra at Tahoe – In 3:55am Sat
62.9 Sierra at Tahoe – Out 7:15am Sat
70.5 Housewife Hill – Out 9:35am Sat
88.1 Armstrong Pass – Out 3:45pm Sat
103.1 Heavenly – In 8:45pm Sat
103.1 Heavenly-Out 12:45am Sun
123.5 Spooner Summit – Out 8:10am Sun
140.5 Tunnel Creek – Out 1:50pm Sun
155.5 Brockway Summit – In 7:20pm Sun
155.5 Brockway Summit – Out 11:20pm Sun
161.5 Watson Lake
175.5 Tahoe City – Out 7:05am Mon
190.6 Steven Jones – Out 12:55pm Mon
205.5 Finish – In 6:15pm Mon

 

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My laminated crib sheet for the run.

 

 

Posted by: pointlenana | August 18, 2016

Angeles Crest 100 – Aug 6 2016

Summary:

  • Beautiful from start to finish
  • Excellent aid stations and volunteers
  • Very hard and gets harder as the race goes on

The Long And Winding Version:

The Angeles Crest 100 race starts in Wrightwood, crosses the San Gabriel Mountains, and finishes in Pasadena (originally at the Rose Bowl, now at a park at the edge of the mountains).  There’s roughly 20000 feet of climbing and 24000 feet of descent – it’s similar to Western States in many ways – hot, lots of big hills – but harder based on typical finish times (roughly 90 minutes longer at AC100).

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Point-to-point races have logistical challenges, e.g. the start and finish are pretty far apart and there’s always stuff (e.g. a rental car) that you need to move between the start and finish while you are running.  I signed up for AC100 as a Solo Runner – no crew, no pacers – which meant I had no team with me to help with these logistics.  I lucked out though when I looked at the entrants – Paul Hooge, who I met before and after UTMB when we both ran it – was running too and might have the same issue.  In the end, we all stayed in Pasadena, I drove Paul and his wife Robin to the pre-race stuff on Friday, and they took me to the start early Saturday.  I left my car in Pasadena, Robin crewed Paul and drove their car back – everyone was happy.

 

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With my friend Paul at the start, the day before the race.  Paul crushed the first half of the course, and then the course crushed him back.  He dropped at Chilao after throwing up for a couple hours.

At pre-race check in Friday, we were given a big bib and a little bib – and told we only had to wear one.  (Why two?  Maybe in the past you had to wear both?)  Anyway, having two bibs proved useful.  As we were driving to the start Saturday at about 3:30am (race starts at 5am and “home” is 45 minutes behind us), Paul suddenly asked aloud “where’s my bib???”  Not on him, and not in the car.  I was wearing my big bib with my name on it, but I brought my extra little one just in case everyone showed up wearing two bibs .  After a solid hour of anxiety about his missing bib – I know exactly how that would feel – Paul finally got one of the RDs to say it would be ok for Paul to draw his own number on the back of my spare.  Problem solved.

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5am start.  That’s me futzing with my headlamp, about 3rd from the right.

The race started as expected – a bunch of people moving off slowly in the dark, up a road and eventually up a trail.  Like Western States, we started with a 2000 foot climb in the first 4 miles.  The sun gradually came up, we could see the desert behind us, and in about 45 minutes the headlamps went away.

The first 25 miles of the course were amazing.  After the initial climb, we turned north on the Pacific Crest Trail and ran/traveled about 20 miles along a high ridge with the Antelope Valley desert to our right/east, and the Los Angeles basin on the other side of the mountains to the left/west.  It was clear enough that I could see all the way to the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base where our son is doing field exercises now – I waved to him and hopefully he saw me from 100 miles away.  We ran past the occasional car camper on the ridge but mostly it was empty.  After passing through a couple aid stations, we started the grind up to (almost) the top of Mt. Baden Powell – climbing about 3000 feet in a few miles, at elevation.  At the top of the climb near the summit, we ran past 2000 year old Limber Pines.

One thing I’ve learned from the hot races I’ve done is that running too fast early when it is cool is a set up for disaster.  I did not want to go into the hot part of the day feeling warm already, so I kept my heart rate really low and went Full Ice at Vincent Gap/8am just before the climb to Mt. Baden Powell.

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Roughly 10 miles into the race.  The sun is up, and we’ve been working our way here from that ridge in the distance. Photo: Paksit Photos

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At an early aid station, looking at the food and oblivious to photographers.

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I took this the day before the race.  This is looking northwest to Mt. Baden Powell, the high point of the race at about 9200 feet.  We climb 3000 feet up from the saddle behind the trees in the foreground, roughly up that face straight ahead.

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Working my way up Mt. Baden Powell, in full heat wardrobe.  Photo: Ivan Buzik/Ken Hamada/AC100

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I think I’ve reached the high point and I’m starting the long traverse down the next ridge to Islip Saddle. Photo: Paksit Photos

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Still on the way down, with Andrew “Ace” Ewing.  Ace was one of the 9 California Triple Crown finishers. Photo: Paksit Photos

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Not sure which aid station this was – maybe Islip at Mile 25.  Still oblivious to photographers, and not looking quite so cheerful.

Due to some permitting challenges this year (described in Things To Know way below), after the Islip aid station we had about 8 miles of on-and-off-again road running on the Angeles Crest Highway 2.  The Highway name makes it sound bad, but there wasn’t much traffic (and a lot of it was race-related, e.g. crews for runners heading down the course). When we drove the road sections on Friday, I thought a lot was flat or downhill, but on foot it all seemed uphill.  I moved along keeping my heart rate down and the ice on my body up, and generally felt great.

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Another photo from the day before.  I think this is mid-race, looking back up the course.

After the road, we had passed through the Mt. Hillyer aid station and then had a new out-and-back on a long fire road up to Mt. Pacifico.  This section was added to replace some miles lost due to the permitting issues.  I liked this section for two reasons.  First it gave me a chance to see most of the other runners in the race (a few at the very front had already passed by and maybe I missed a few at the very back).  Second, I was feeling really good at this point so I was able to pass a few people going up and several more going back down.  But… I made the first of 4 race mistakes at the Mt. Pacifico aid station.

About a quarter mile down the hill after leaving the Pacifico aid station, I realized I’d had left my handheld dowsing bottle at the aid station.  Through the hot part of the day, I used three bottles – one filled with Tailwind/carb drink, one filled with ice only so I could have sips of ice water for most/all of the way between aid stations, and the handheld to wet my sleeves/bandana if/when the ice in them melted and they dried out.  When I realized the dowsing bottle was still at the aid station, I stopped and briefly considered what to do.  Option 1:  turn around, go back uphill, and run an extra half mile round trip.  Option 2:  Just leave it.  It was already about 3:45pm, I was heading downhill, I had lots of ice on me, and the next aid station (with more ice) was less than an hour away.  Option 2 it was!   In retrospect this was a mistake because I gave up some control in keeping myself cool.

Mistake 2 was running that downhill a little too fast.  My heart rate was pretty low but I moved along and passed some people.  But I should have backed off a little bit – I think.  I arrived back at the Mt. Hillyer aid station short one bottle, a little warmer than I needed to be, feeling good, and thinking everything was going great.

And then it turned out this was the only aid station that was running out of ice.  (It was the only aid station people passed through twice, most of pack had passed through once already, and a bunch of us had passed through twice).  Some of my Mt. Pacifico ice hadn’t melted, and I didn’t want to take more than my share of a scarce resource, so I continued on – no dowsing bottle, limited ice, 4:30pm on a hot afternoon, but still feeling good and thinking that things would cool a bit in the coming hours.

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I still have my handheld, so this must be on the way towards Mt. Hillyer.  This is as shady as it got. Photo: Paksit Photos

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Not sure where this is taken, but the combo of no handheld, heat clothes and the melted Body Glide on my shorts tells me it’s probably between miles 44 and 50.  I.e. near Chilao. Photo: Paksit Photos

The section from Mt. Hillyer to Chilao was really fun – lots of twisty trail through sandstone boulders.  I imagine that’s what running at Joshua Tree National Park would be like.  One of the great things about the AC100 course is the variety of trails – each section is different and I could probably divide the course up into 8 or 10 different kinds of runs.  It was never boring (which is not to say it did not suck at times – but that was me and my fatigue, not the course).

Still thinking things were going well – I was roughly on 24 hour pace, although I knew it got harder at the end and didn’t think the pace would last – I arrived in Chilao and got ready for the night.  It was only 5:15pm but my the next drop bag opportunity was at Newcomb Saddle and there was a decent chance it would be dark before I got there.  (And I did need my headlamp for about 15 minutes before getting to Newcomb Saddle.)  Mistake 3 was thinking things would start to cool, and removing some ice stuff.  E.g. the hat came off instead of staying on and getting filled with ice.  And after putting my headlamp in my pack, I didn’t think it would be good to fill the pack with ice.  I left Chilao and headed into heat that was only slightly cooler than the afternoon.

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In the Chilao aid station, with one of the many amazing volunteers.  This was a key aid station – pick up my headlamp, swap watches, gather some food.  I stopped most of my icing here, which was a mistake – it stayed warm for many more hours.

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Looking from Shortcut Saddle back up the course towards Chilao.  We worked our way down through the hills to the left, into a valley below, and back up to the road here.

Things still went pretty well.  Poison oak and Purple Poodle-Dog Bush started appearing, but the running was fun and I felt ok.  We climbed up to Shortcut Saddle, and I sat and cooled for a few minutes.  I had run with a woman – Jenny Welch – early in the day and came into the aid station with her and her pacer.  She left a couple minutes before me, and I heard one of the aid station people say “she’s only about 5 minutes behind the leader, and the leader is struggling”.  I left the aid station, dropped down the other side of the road, and started a long descent into the valley.

Mistake 4 was running that downhill too hard.  Again, it felt easy and I passed a few people (including Jenny Welch who was running smarter than I was – and she ended up winning the women’s race).  But losing 2500 feet in 5 miles is tiring, and when I reached the bottom and started the climb up to Newcomb Saddle, I had nothing left.  And… I started to feel slightly nauseous whenever I drank or ate.  So I stopped doing that with fairly predictable results – major bonk.

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Still at Shortcut Saddle, on the other side of the road, looking across the valley towards Newcomb Saddle.  I had a speedy descent into the valley, dropping about 2000 feet in 5 miles, and then climbing back up most of that to the ridge in the distance.  I probably ran too fast going down, and my belly stopped working going up.  Except for the powerlines and the occasional fire road, there wasn’t much out there but “primitive wilderness” (according to the AC website).  It got dark just as I reached Newcomb Saddle.

I arrived at Newcomb Saddle around 9pm, drank something that didn’t sit well, walked across the road, emptied my stomach, sat back down in a chair, and tried to recover a bit before heading to Chantry Flat.  I don’t really remember much of that section – long downhill in the dark, past some cabins or tents, not moving very well.  Sitting hadn’t solved my stomach problem, and I was starting to feel really sleepy.  (Waking up at 1:30am after 4 hours of hotel sleep isn’t a great way to start a long race).  When I got to Chantry Flats (mile 75), I asked to lie down somewhere – I was hoping that would fix my stomach and maybe I could close my eyes for a moment.  They found me a pad and a blanket and I lay down for about 15 minutes.  I never fell asleep but after I little while I could feel (or more accurately, hear) my gut working again, so I got up, scalded my tongue badly on a cup of hot tea, ate some, and headed off into the darkness again.

The climb from Chantry up towards Mt. Wilson is sort of the crux of AC100.  It’s steep, it’s long (about 2500 feet up) and it comes 75 miles into the race in the middle of the night for most of us.  (It’s a long segment too – it’s about 9 miles between Chantry and the next aid station.)  Although my stomach was working again, I hadn’t taken many calories in 4 hours, so I was moving really slowly and feeling very sleepy.  I sat on a log for a few minutes and managed to drop off for a few seconds.  I felt much better as I started back up but the progress was slow.  At mile 79 I reached Deadman’s Bench, where Larry Gassan had his camera set up as he always does.  Every 30-60 seconds his flash would go off and he’d capture us.  I sat there for a few minutes, then shuffled up the last 500 feet of climb, and set off down the Mt. Wilson dirt road.  “Dirt road” sounds kind of wide and easy to run on, but this had lots of rock all over it and it took focus to weave through the tripping hazards.  I rolled into Idlehour around 3am, with one large climb still ahead.  By now I was eating fine and slowly working out of my calorie backlog so I sat for a bit to prep mentally for the climb to Sam Merrill.

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Dead Man’s Bench, Mile 79 of the Angeles Crest 100. Manzanita Ridge, Mt Wilson, overlooking Pasadena and the larger Los Angeles metropolis. Photo: Larry Gassan

On paper, the climb to Sam Merrill looks easier than the climb from Chantry Flats.  But my legs were more tired and I was more sleepy, and it’s not that much easier – 2000 feet in about 5 miles.  My biggest issue during that climb was falling asleep while I was moving.  That sounds funny maybe, but the trail there is a series of switchbacks climbing up the side of a steep hillside.  It wouldn’t be hard to get rolling very quickly down the hill if you went off the trail – which my sleepy body tried to do occasionally.  I wanted to sit down for a short nap somewhere, but one side of the trail was a dropoff and the other was a steep hillside with no spot far enough from the dropoff to be safe enough for a short nap.  So I stumbled on.  At some point I had the brilliant idea of listening to music again – I’d taken it off several hours previously to hear the night sounds – and from the moment the music came on I had no problems staying awake.

Dawn came shortly before I arrived at Sam Merrill.  I sat down and saw another guy who’d been struggling with stomach problems also – he’d recovered too.  A few other people staggered in.  We sat there, thinking about the “easy” 11 miles ahead of us, descending 3000 feet to the finish.  I set off, feeling good, and really enjoying the next quarter mile of runnable single track trail.  “This is going to be great!”  I turned a corner and could see the entire Los Angeles Basin covered in fog/clouds way below.  And I started down.

So much for easy.  Of those 11 miles, about 10 are pretty technical, ranging from poorly-maintained fire roads, to very rocky and twisty single track, to 6 inch wide downsloping/eroding trail above large dropoffs.  I guess local runners often do their AC100 training simply by running the last 25 miles of the course – two big uphills followed by this technical descent.  I ran when I could and picked my way through.  Then I did it some more.  And then some more.  It felt like it took forever, and I thought I might go over a cliff at several points, but about 90 minutes later I came out of the woods and saw NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab on my right.  From there it was a short uphill, a little bit of road, and a short jog across the grass to the finish line.  27:32:04 minutes, good for 51st place out of 130 finishers.

I want to give some shoutouts:

  • the race volunteers were excellent and amazing.  Basically, the entire Los Angeles ultrarunning community comes out to support this race.  People knew what they were doing and were very helpful.  These volunteers were as good as any I’ve seen at any race.
  • Ruperto Romero – 5th overall, 10th finish (including some victories), 20:26:28.  And at 52 years, only 2 years younger than me.  Dang…
  • 9 people completed the California Triple Crown.  Kudos to Tyler Garawal, Timo Saltanen, Chris Jones, Ace Ewing (from that picture above), Michele Pauly Clode (first woman to do this), Chihping Fu (another weekend, another 100 mile race for him…), Greg Frye, Sean Nakamura, and Edward Wang (who ran off from me when the biting flies got bad on the way up to Cold Springs at Santa Barbara).
  • Tim Christoni (another CTC person who also DNF’d at SB100, like me) way exceeded his goal of running sub-24 hours.  I saw him coming down from Mt. Pacifico, towards the front of the pack.  Given the little I know about his running, I couldn’t see him maintaining that pace in the heat.  Wrong.  He came in just under 23 hours.

The one lesson/thing to work on from this race is figuring out how to get nutrition when my stomach goes off.  I tried to handle it in this race by staying cool and keeping my stomach working – and was successful while I stayed on top of the heat.  But it seems to be common for me and most racers, so maybe I should start assuming it will happen.  Gin Gins?  That seemed to help me this time.  Some other comfort food?  Packets of honey?

Here is some video footage from others:

Steven Labranche: Sunday morning, 90 miles in, looking down from near Sam Merrill at the fog over LA

Trailer for Masa Otani’s movie I’m looking forward to.

Nhut Tran’s movie showing the race as viewed by crew:  (It catches me briefly at 2:29 – green arm sleeves in aid station – and again at 3:25 with Ace Ewing just ahead of me.)

Things to Know (for a non-LA person considering this race):

There are some things non-local first-timers might want to be aware of going into the race.  You will probably learn these things yourself – I just want to mention them so they aren’t surprises.  These will have very little effect on your race day but they might create some anxiety and ambivalence beforehand (they did for me).  Having been through the whole experience now, I know that once you toe the start line these things are non-issues.

Things to go into with open eyes:

  • This race is run by people who have been involved with the race for a long time (and/or are local).  For many remote races I’ve done, there have been some common things – registration through UltraSignup, a pretty good overview of what to expect on the course and at aid stations, pre-reqs (volunteering and/or trailwork) that can be done locally to me, tracking (if any) through UltraLive, etc..  AC100 is different.  It has its own registration and tracking – easy enough to figure out and at times a bit better, but at times frustratingly different.  Race information has to be pieced together from the race book (which is incomplete and at times inaccurate), official Facebook posts, comments on Facebook posts, and a parallel unofficial Facebook community.  Questions from Outsiders are at times met more with attitude than information.  Trail work is set up in a way that racers anywhere near the course tend to end up working together on the AC trail.  For anyone who has done the race previously, none of this is an issue and in fact some of the things (like the trailwork parties) help build the local AC community.  For first-time runners from elsewhere, it won’t prevent you from having a great race.  But prior to the race it might feel like heading out into the Santa Cruz surf crowd as an outsider – you may not feel super welcome and you might even get beaten up a bit (at least on Facebook – in person everyone was great).
  • Major kudos to whoever designed the course over the first few years of the race.  It is spectacular – crossing a mountain range, wild, rugged, beautiful, lots of single track, very little pavement.  For good and bad, the course now has its challenges.  Issue 1: Part of the traditional course passes through wilderness areas where events are not allowed.  For several years the race was allowed in on an exception basis until it was resolved more officially, but after several years with no resolution the Powers That Be chose not to grant an exception this year.  This resulted in some single-track mileage being replaced with pavement and fire road miles.  The race is working towards a permanent exemption (like Western States) but until that happens I suspect this year’s change will stay in place.  Issue 2: A few miles of the PCT that AC100 used are closed (for all users) for habitat for an endangered mountain frog.  This results in a few more single track miles being replaced with paved road.  Issue 3: With climate change and the increase in wildfires, the course is threatened seemingly every year by fire.  A huge fire broke out 2 weeks before our race this year – it got within maybe 10 miles of the course before being controlled and then the Forest Service issued a massive closure for recreational use with the border of the closure landing just a couple miles to the west of the AC course.  The race was already moved forward into August (from October) after fires threatened/cancelled it in previous years.  Based on my one data point, it looks like fire will be an annual risk.  (Two weeks after this year’s race, as I write this, the town of Wrightwood – where the race starts – has been evacuated due to another fire.)  Also, in addition to the possibility of course closures, fires promote some noxious stuff for several years afterwards, in particular the Purple Poodle-Dog Bush – think poison oak but worse.  The Poodle-Dog was pretty mild this year and hopefully that consequence of the 2009 Station Fire (which cancelled the race that year) is over.  But if there is a fire on the course in the future, it may have impact even if it happens at a completely different time of year from the race.  Issue 4: I thought the course I ran was pretty amazing in an absolute sense – 100 miles of beauty, more than 90 miles of dirt, but people are pretty attached to the old course and there is a lot of negativity about the recent course changes.  It takes some effort to ignore this negativity and appreciate what still exists.  As an example of how people feel about the current course, I heard this exchange after the race:
    • Runner: “Even with the pavement, I thought the course was great”.
    • One of the Race Directors: “You’re probably the only one”.
  • This is the only race I know of where there is open hostility between some of the people with longtime race involvement.  Fundamentally I think they all love the race.  The breakdowns visible on Facebook probably come from different views on how to address the challenges above.  There are only a few people in the thick of this stuff and none of this will affect someone’s run, but it is a little surprising when you see it the first few times.

Do I think this race is worth doing?  Yes, I consider myself lucky and privileged to be able to do the race this year.  And most races have their quirks – AC100 is no different.

Posted by: pointlenana | August 3, 2016

Live Tracking for Angeles Crest 100

The basics:

This is my comeback run after screwing up in Santa Barbara.  I can’t do anything about the California Triple Crown at this point – just move on and cheer the 9 people who still have a chance to complete it.  So, my goal is simply to have a good AC100.

The weather forecast is promising – low of mid 50s during the night and a high of 75-80 during the day.  That’s way better than the 90-100+ in San Diego and Santa Barbara.  However, I learned a new term this week: “fuel temperature”.  That’s the temp that a dowel will reach when it’s stuck in the dirt in full sun, and it can be a lot higher than the forecast air temperature.  So the air temp forecast is good, but the fuel temp forecast is in the low 90s.  Still, it’s got to be better than San Diego’s heat index of 108.  Right?

I’m told that the AC100 course is about 1 1/2 hours slower than Western States.  Given my WS100 and SD100 times, that suggests a finish time of 28-29 hours.  I can think of a few reasons I could do better, but I’ve also run (most of) two 100 mile races in the past two months so I could also go way slower due to fatigue.  I’m trying to run this without expectations about time – run efficiently, finish when I finish, and hopefully feel like I had a good race afterwards.

ac course map

AC100 starts in Wrightwood, crosses the San Gabriel Mountains, and finishes at the edge of the Los Angeles Basin. The Sand Fire which just happened burned much of the area with the label “Angeles National Forest”.  There is a huge forest closure due to the fire, and the eastern edge of the closure landed only 2 miles west of that north/south part of the trail.  Having a trail run cancelled is nothing compared to losing homes.  But still, we runners got lucky.

ac100 elevation profile

In some ways this run is like Western States – it starts high and gradually descends, lots of climbing/descent, etc.. At Western States though all of the big climbs/descents happen in the first 62 miles.  The biggest, steepest climb at AC100 happens about 75 miles into the race – about 3000 feet in 6 miles.  Then you pound downhill (on tired quads), do another big climb, and pound 3500 feet down to the finish.

Posted by: pointlenana | July 12, 2016

Santa Barbara 100 DNF – July 2016

I’m ready to put this behind me – enough perseveration on not finishing SB100 or the 2016 California Triple Crown (CTC).  Time to tell the story and what I learned, and then move on.

Two important things before I get going:

  1. After I came out of my 4 day All Santa Barbara 100, All The Time vacation, I read about a lot of bad stuff that happened in the real world.  I might have some disappointment, but I’m very lucky to have the problems I have.
  2. Some of the stuff I will talk about could be taken as criticism of the race/event.  I don’t mean it that way – it’s a fairly new race, it takes a lot of effort and persistence to get the permits/volunteers/course marking/aid station supplies/etc., and it’s easy to focus on the few % that could be better vs. the 90+% that was great.  But it’s worth talking about the stuff in case it helps participants and/or the event in future years.  I do think the info on the website could be improved easily (and already sent in feedback).

I’m not sure whether to start with lessons learned or the race story, but I’ll go with the race first.  If you just want the lessons, look for Litany of Lessons below.

I signed up for Santa Barbara 100 because a) I managed to get into Angeles Crest 100 during the 62 seconds before it filled up b) I met the San Diego 100 race director at UTMB and it seemed like his race would be great and c) one of the Santa Barbara race directors had a great idea to create the California Triple Crown – Angeles Crest, San Diego and Santa Barbara done in one summer.  Since I was already signed up for 2 of the 3, I said what the heck and signed up for Santa Barbara.  A knowledgeable friend warned me that Santa Barbara is a fairly new race and maybe not organized quite as well yet as some other races, but I figured that was ok – it would be an adventure one way or another.

Santa Barbara 100 is (doh) 100 miles, run in the mountain range just north of Santa Barbara.  The mountains are interesting/unique in that they run east-to-west vs. the typical north/south orientation (Cascades, Rockies, Sierras, Appalachian, etc.).  There’s little precipitation so they are mostly covered in scrubby chaparral.  The race course is  50 miles out/50 miles back that starts in the valley north of Santa Barbara, runs up one side of the valley, back down, up the other side, back down, up the valley, over the ridge, down almost into Santa Barbara, back up the ridge and then way way up to the high point of the ridge.  Then you turn around and do it in reverse.  With about 24000 feet of climbing, this was the second hardest race I’ve attempted (after UTMB in Europe – with 30000 feet of climbing).

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The course – hopefully this matches my description above.

Besides all the climbing, this race is unusual in that it starts in the evening – 6pm.  I had done that at UTMB and it went ok, but the evening start has its challenges, e.g. more sleep-deprivation late in the race and the possibility of being out into a second night.  It didn’t seem as hard as UTMB though and it already felt like a long trip – Thursday to Sunday, so I booked a flight home Sunday afternoon thinking I’d be done well before the 36 hour/6am Sunday morning cutoff.

I flew down Thursday, settled into my Forest Service cabin not far from the race start, realized there was no cell service or wi-fi anywhere close to where I was, and drove back to Santa Barbara (6 miles as the crow flies, but 30+ minutes away by car) to eat.  Friday I woke up at my typical 6-ish time, and then tried to do nothing very diligently until it was 2-ish and time to get ready.  After waiting forever, and then some more, I drove down to the start and realized I knew basically no one – a few acquaintances but that was it.

At 4:30pm the race briefing started.  Usually the briefings are non-events, repeating stuff that I’ve read/researched or that you should know before signing up.  I’d been following the weather, and it seemed that we’d have heat during the day but fog during the night/morning.  The race director said we’d have a cool morning running/hiking to the high point – great!  I was a little surprised when he said that the hydration/drink mix would be two things I’ve never heard of (Succeed Amino and Clip 2), instead of the Gu stuff mentioned on the website.  That’s the kind of thing I really want to know before I arrived at the race, in part so I can try it and see if it works for me. (Full disclosure:  the website did mention the two other products, but seemingly in the context of pills/potions/supplements – which research says don’t help and could be bad – not hydration products.  I could have researched every word but didn’t.)  “Oh well, every race has its surprises.  I brought some Tailwind pouches and gels, I’ll be fine”.  Which I basically was.

We started at 6pm – about 80 of us, including the 12 remaining Triple Crown people.  The first 10 miles were wonderful – up a canyon, beautiful single track trail with the sun sinking toward the west, and then back down.  As we neared the top of the climb at 5 miles, someone looked back and whooped at the setting.  I felt lucky to be there.  We turned around a corner and headed down towards the first aid station.  “Great, a chance to eat and digest while I head down”.  Looking forward to the food, I rolled into the aid station and found… one bag of popcorn.  Plus water and the hydration option (Succeed Amino during the night time, because it supposedly helps with mental alertness).  Popcorn wasn’t going to do it for me so I filled my bottles and headed on.  The person I was running with commented on the slim pickins – I surmised that there was no food at all until someone asked and the volunteer pulled the popcorn out of the back of his car.  It was the first aid station and it’s reasonable not to have food – like the first aid station in White River 50.  But it would help to tell us in advance – like White River does on its website and pre-race briefing the night before and again just before the race starts.  I ate a gel and continued.

At 10 miles I arrived at the aid station with my first drop bag – most importantly lights for the night (brand new, untested Petzl Nao headlamp – what could go wrong? and a trusted Fenix flashlight – in case something went wrong).  I mixed up a bottle of Tailwind (I carried a few pouches), filled my other bottle, got my lights, and left.  2 minutes down the trail I realized I had eaten exactly nothing and considered going back.  Great, 0 for 2 in the food department.  But I was carrying gels and Tailwind so I figured I’d be ok.

The next segment – to mile 17 – was up another hill, pretty close to the cabin I was staying in, then back down to the road up the valley.  I had a great view towards the setting sun, it got dark, we descended seemingly forever.  I ate a couple of gels and drank my Tailwind and felt like I had gotten back on track with nutrition.  I still ate a fair amount when I arrived at Live/White Oak aid station.  Then it was 5 miles up a very runnable road in the dark to the next aid station/Red Gate.

Miles 22 to 27 were pretty bad.  My world narrowed down to the ~25 feet I could see in my lights.  Maybe one mile of nice runnable dirt road.  Then we hit Poison Oak Alley.  This was about 3-4 miles of overgrown trail.  In many places it was just tall grass hanging over the trail – I couldn’t see my feet and had to shuffle along hoping I wouldn’t hit a rock.  But, in a few sections we had to run 100 yards or more through poison oak hanging over the trail from both sides – it was impossible to avoid pushing against/through it.  I heard someone tell his friend, “the trail here is more of an idea than a trail”.  A couple miles in, I rounded a corner and put one foot straight into a 15 inch wide, 12 inch deep hole.  I fell hard – I’m surprised I didn’t break a leg and/or a wrist – but somehow survived.  (I talked to someone after the race who said “I saw that hole on the way back – I don’t know how I avoided it.”)  In other places I brushed up against bushes, expecting them to gently move out of the way like they do here in the Northwest.  But they were hard, sharp and unyielding – my hip or head or arm would suddenly get banged sideways.  I fell hard again, but somehow slowed myself by shoving my hands into the hard bushes beside the trail and getting some scrapes and puncture wounds in the process.  In some sections we traversed in very loose soil along steep slopes with 20-40 foot runouts underneath us ending either in sharp bushes or an even steeper dropoff.  The flatish loose-dirt trail (“idea”) in those spots was at most 8 inches wide and in a few cases it was quick “maintain forward momentum” steps across loose steep slope with no flat trail at all.  It’s an understatement when I say I was relieved to end that section and start one of the steep climbs up to Cold Springs Saddle before dropping down towards Santa Barbara.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the psych experiment.  I signed up for some research on how mental state affects people’s ability to finish these long races.  I got to wear a small recording device (basically a wristwatch) and had to answer 3 questions every 10 miles.  1) Describe what’s going on mentally. 2) How does that affect your ability to finish 3) What else is going on?  I’d love to listen to the sequence of my answers.  But at this point in the race – finished with Poison Oak Alley, heading up the climb, I was doing relatively well vs. my own time goals and the other racers.  And the night was about half done.  So I think my answers were fairly upbeat at that point.  I also jinxed myself by saying that mental and physical issues don’t affect my ability to finish because my mindset is I will finish – I’ll have problems but I will finish.

After reaching Cold Springs Saddle, I dropped down towards the lights of Santa Barbara.  It should have gotten foggy, but it wasn’t foggy where we were and I didn’t see fog below.  Instead it was just warm.  Not hot, but not cool enough (at 2am) to help me cool down.  I descended and then traversed to the Montecito aid station.  Another CTC participant rolled into the aid station and commented on his unexpected blisters (“I never get blisters.  Eewww.  That’s some gross stuff coming out.”)  Then it was a long long climb up to the ridge, the first half of a climb that is almost as big as some of the UTMB climbs.  About an hour before daybreak, my brand new headlamp (set in 12 hour battery life mode) died after 8 hours of use.  I was ok with that – my flashlight was working fine which was enough for moving slowly uphill.  As dawn approached, we could see down to a thin layer of fog hanging over Santa Barbara.  Meanwhile, it was still warm for us.   This was funny (ha ha) because I had worried about being on the ridge in the wind and getting cold.  No such luck.

At the ridge I stopped at the Romero Camuesa aid station, staffed in part by ultra legend Errol “Rocket” Jones.  I noticed that the fruit supply seemed a little scarce – I guessed that I was ~20th out of 80 runners at that point, so it didn’t make sense for anything to be scarce already but I had the sense that if I took too much of something, someone behind me would suffer.  I got my ice bandana and sleeves out, put ice in both (it’s 5:30am at this point and I’m trying to cool down) and set off toward the high point and turnaround.  Oh, I should mention that the sunrise was beautiful and I felt very lucky to be in that place at that moment – I remember talking about that to the psych experiment recorder.

From Romero Camuesa to the top/turnaround, it’s about 7 miles.  I rounded a corner and saw a road way high above me across a valley.  Thankfully the road I was on bent away in the opposite direction… except it bent back after 3 long miles uphill.  Eventually I was on that way-high road, and then it got gratuitously cruel.  I’d go up a steep climb, hit a plateau, think I was done with the climbing, then we’d go down steeply and climb again.  Rinse and repeat, for 2-3 miles.  You can’t do 24000 feet of climbing if you don’t have these “when will it end???” kinds of sections.

I reached the aid station/50 mile turnaround/high point at about 7:30 am – 13 1/2 hours into the race, and somewhat ahead of when I had expected.  Doubling that – a little optimistic, but the first half had more climbing – meant I had some chance at finishing before it got really dark again.  (Thinking about this good scenario set me up for a mental letdown several hours later – I always, always regret counting unhatched chickens during races.)  I ate some really good hash browns, drank some soda, iced up and listened to the volunteers.  “Romero Camuesa is out of fruit.”  (That’s the previous/next aid station where fruit seemed scarce.)   I asked how they got up to this high point – by the same gnarly cliff-side dirt road we ran up.  “We usually try to drive up in daylight -4WD, slowly – but there was a mix up with the gate key yesterday, and it ended up being nighttime.  It was kind of intense.”

I left after a bit, conveniently forgetting about the 2-3 miles of up/down I’d just been through, and thinking it might be a quick descent.  Hah.  After 45 minutes of having my soul crushed, the road finally headed down.  I moved along well, passed a few people, got passed by a motorcycle rider carrying a backpack of fruit down to the next aid station, and eventually arrived again at the freshly-refruited-and-now-hot Romero Camuesa (mile 57).  I ate one orange slice, lamented that I had put my dowsing water bottle in the drop bag 12 miles ahead at Cold Springs Saddle instead of this one, iced up/cooled off as much as I could, made some Tailwind and left.

A half mile out, I passed another runner who had just picked up his pacer, who was really cheerful.  “That would be really nice – company” I thought, and then put my head down.  10 minutes later, all my ice had melted and my wet cooling stuff was pretty dry.  Oh well.  I headed down the road, passed some more people, noted how well I was doing – maybe 15th out of 80 starters, way ahead of schedule.  At some point I dowsed myself with Tailwind to try to cool – clear Tailwind seemed like a better option than orange electrolyte drink.  About 1/10 of a mile before the Montecito aid station (mile 63), I caught a toe on a rock and went down hard for the 3rd time.  This was downhill at speed, so as I fell I twisted and managed to roll through the fall.  When the dust settled, I was on my back but basically ok.  I limped into “I never get blisters” aid station and plunked in a chair.  The very nice volunteer said “is it ok if I sponge you down?  It looks like something happened” – looking at all the dirt on my back from the fall.  This was the aid station stop where my drink options – usually a combination of Coke, Sprite, Ginger Ale, maybe a couple more – dwindled to one (I think Sprite).  Also the fruit was definitely sparse.  And the ice seemed limited.  And I’m only the ~15th person out of 80 to pass through on the way back.  Hmmm.  And my ice was being scooped by hand out of the drinks cooler.  “Oh well, I’m not going to die from a few germs.  I’m doing fine.”  But I was concerned about taking too much ice and left with a subset of my ideal anti-heat/icing setup .

Things started to go south in the next section, during the climb back up to Cold Springs Saddle (mile 70).  I ran into Edward (another CTC participant) around mile 66 – we’d run together earlier, he’d gotten lost/wasn’t sure he was on the right trail, and I think we were each happy to see a friendly face in the heat.  We started up the 2500 foot, 3.6 mile climb in the noon-ish heat.  I went at what seemed like an appropriate speed – dog slow – and after 30 seconds he seemed to be way ahead of me.  Then he disappeared.  All my wet stuff – arm sleeves, bandana, hat – dried up and started heating me so I pulled them off/away as much as I could and let the sunburn start.  There was no shade.  The trail got steeper.  Then the flies started swarming – I felt something on my arm, brushed a fly away, and saw a trickle of blood where it had bitten me.  I lurched upward, swatting flies away constantly, and then saw some people.  Except that when I got closer it was bushes/branches that looked like people.  Then it was cars – more bushes.  Then it was the kind of sign you’d see at the start of a trail – more bushes.  Then it was cows.  “Great, the hallucinations are starting already…”  After a very very long time, I walked into the next aid station (Cold Springs, mile 70), dragged a chair into the shade under the tent, asked for ice for my sleeves and hat, and sat down.  Within a few minutes I was surrounded by runners in the 100k event who had reached their turnaround point and were recovering in the tent.  Some excellent volunteers tended to us.  “Do you have Ginger Ale?  My stomach is off.”  “We’re out of that but we have Sprite.”  “What about Coke?”  “We only have Sprite.”  I listened to crew people give their runners bad advice.  (“You need to take sodium capsules”.)  I quietly told those runners to go by taste – if salty stuff tastes good, eat it, if not, don’t.  I sat and recovered and told myself I was done with all the big climbs.  The volunteers continued to ply me with food, drink, and ice.  I knew I had a hot afternoon ahead of me, but I was still ok timewise.  Earlier I had thought I might finish in daylight, and that seemed less likely which was depressing, but I was ok.  And I finally got into my drop bag and collected my (third) water bottle for keeping myself wet.

I set off down the hill, back towards Poison Oak Alley.  The heat was oppressive.  I walked down runnable sections, expecting to get passed by hordes of 100 mile and 100k runners.  I reached The Alley and pushed through the poison oak.  I was impressed at how far someone could fall down the loose steep sections.  I marveled at Break-A-Leg Hole.  I started drinking from my dowsing bottle because the others were dry.  I stumbled into Red Gate aid station at mile 77.  I eyed the cots.  I threw up.  I realized that it was touch-and-go whether I’d get to my next drop bag (mile 90) and lights before it got dark and lamented my decision not to put a drop bag with lights at the mile 83 aid station.  That decision seemed reasonable at the time – either I’d know at mile 70 (spare lights in a bag) that I was in trouble or I’d have plenty of time to make it to my lights at mile 90.  Wrong.

Heading down the  5 miles of dirt road back to Live/White Oak, I knew I had to run as much as possible to give myself time to get to my lights.  In spite of knowing this, I still ran for short sections and then walked for long sections.  Time slipped away.  I was seeing things.  I might have to draft behind someone with a headlamp for a little while when night fell.  I had stupidly booked my flight for 8 hours after the race cutoff.  Not only was I going to be running into night time, I was going to have to drive 2-3 hours to LAX after 2 nights with little or no sleep.

Amazingly, through those 13 miles of death march – from mile 70 to mile 83, I was passed only twice, by two 100k runners.  No one in the 100 mile race had passed me in 4 1/2 hours.  I arrived at Live/White Oak aid station at mile 83, in roughly 12th place, with 11 hours to go to 17 miles, walking just fine and even able to run some.  Seemingly everyone else was struggling as much as I was.

I sat in the aid station, contemplating my options and thinking about the tradeoffs of a 2am finish (or later).  A runner died about a year ago in a car crash driving home after a race, probably from falling asleep.  I was also concerned about getting to my lights – but someone kindly offered me a spare flashlight.  And I didn’t have any warm clothing in my drop bag – probably not a problem given that it probably wouldn’t cool off, but also one of those things that occasionally causes people to have to rescue a stupidly-unprepared person on the trails.

While I was sitting there, a few other 100 mile runners finally showed up.  One mentioned that the previous aid station/Red Gate had run out of both drinks and ice.  Another was a woman who seemed really determined.  One was Ace “I never get blisters” who offered me his flashlight and practically begged me to walk the last 17 miles with him (for my sake, not his).  It seemed unlikely I’d speed up, we seemed to be decimating the aid stations, it wasn’t cooling, and the middle-of-the-night finish seemed more and more likely.

After thinking about it for 30 minutes, I dropped out of the race and the California Triple Crown.  Missing a flight seemed like something that was solvable.  But it seemed like I could easily end up as a sleep-deprived runner stupidly driving a car – no cell service, no crew, 2 nights with no sleep, no place to stay (my campground was full and I had to check out of my cabin), 30 minutes driving to Santa Barbara after the race before I could start to figure out anything, with a less-than-functional brain.  I was very sick and roomless in Kenya once, and had 2 nights without sleep at UTMB.  I know how that goes.  It probably would have worked out, but it might not have.  Not to diminish others’ accomplishments, but SB100 and the CTC are just runs and the risk didn’t seem worth it then.  Or even now, when the DNF regret is at its worst.

Someone gave me a ride back to the start.  A couple miles down the road, I noticed the very determined woman running with her pacer back towards the aid station where I had just seen her.  I realized she had missed the turn uphill a couple hundred yards out of the aid station, and was in the process of completing 4-5 bonus miles.  When I got back to the start, I heard someone say “you need to re-mark the turn to …  there are no markers there now” and I wondered if I would have been aware enough to turn in the right place without a marker.

I went back to the cabin, washed off with Tecnu (mostly successfully, although surprisingly I have some poison oak rashes where my body was covered by my shorts), and slept.  The schedule on the website said finishers awards would be given out at 9am Sunday, so I drove back down around 8am to get my drop bags and say congrats/goodbye to a couple people.  When I arrived there were about 8 people still there and one race director was leaving for home.  I asked a runner about the awards ceremony and he said “everyone is tired and left”.  I told the other race director I had a 2pm flight and he told me I needed to hit the road right away because traffic would get bad soon.  So I left, and still struggled to stay awake while driving after a night of sleep.

As usual, I  learned more from “failure” than from my successes.  Here’s a litany of lessons:

Don’t book my flight home assuming I will finish well before the cutoff.  It’s not guaranteed I would have covered the last 17 miles, but my optimistic scheduling probably cost me the finish.  An evening flight would have given me time to sleep enough, but the next day would have been better.  All the other mistakes I made were a problem, but this one thing – not setting it up so I could easily take advantage of all the time if needed – was the critical mistake.

Evening start times create a lot of extra challenges.  It’s likely you will be out for at least part of a second night.  This means having multiple sets of lights and clothing in drop bags on the course, since it’s hard to predict when you will be where and what you will need.  I had 4 sets of lights on the course, but I didn’t have one where I really needed it.  Take advantage of all the options, just in case and especially if you don’t have a crew (see below).  The other approach is to carry everything you’ll need – as we were required to do at UTMB.  That’s hard on a hot day though, and interferes with cooling, so I think hot weather means lots of drop bags.

A side effect of needing all this stuff is that it’s easier to arrive by car than airplane – you can take everything you might need vs. having to fit it into luggage.  I know of someone who was about to punch his ticket to the Kona Ironman, except that the airline lost his luggage/gear on the way to the event.  To avoid that risk, I took everything in one carry-on.  But with weather variability and needing multiple sets of things, the carry-on was jammed and not really enough.  Next time I will pack absolute-must-haves into my carry-on and check nice-to-haves I might be able to replace in an emergency into checked luggage.  There’s still more room for things to go wrong when flying before the race than if I drove, but there’s always going to be some risk of stuff happening.

Another challenge with evening starts is that the sleep-deprivation problems start early in the race.  I knew this from UTMB and it wasn’t a surprise this time.  But it makes it likely I’ll slow more in the later miles than I might otherwise think.  Maybe it was the heat or the lack of sleep or both, but I slowed a lot (as everyone did).  It also makes it so you finish the race in worse shape.  It’s very different to run for a day and finish a little while after the sun comes up than to be up for a day, run all night and the next day and into the next night …  and then have to cope with logistics.

The evening start/hard course/36 hour time limit means that what appears to be a “one day” race really is a 5 day trip for someone flying in.  Flying in the morning of the race is risky, and you don’t want to arrive late the night before because you need sleep, so the trip in ends up happening ~36 hours before the race (I got this part right).  Then it’s a day after the cutoff before you can be sure of being functional enough to leave (oops).  A 5 day commitment for something like Western States seems totally reasonable.  4 days for Santa Barbara already seemed like a lot – I was traveling alone, I didn’t know anyone, the race activity is limited pretty much to two hours before the race through the race cutoff, I had no other reason to be there – but I should either have set aside 5 days or skipped it.

Unless you have reason to know otherwise, it’s good to plan to be more self-sufficient and less-dependent upon aid stations.  I did carry some Tailwind and gels, but not enough to make all of my own liquid nutrition.  If I had it to do over, I would have taken enough Tailwind to cover the whole race (meaning still more stuff for my luggage).  If I had run the race before, or had friends saying “the aid stations are very well stocked”, I’d go lighter.  But this is a newer race and it’s the kind of race that might run out of some things because it’s hard to get everything 100% perfect.  (I also think the race organizers were caught off guard by the relentless heat/lack of cooling fog, as we all were, so it got more grim than usual.)

One thing that would have made a huge difference with things above is having crew there for me.  With crew, I could have had all the ice I needed, headlamps when I needed them, cold drinks, moral/emotional support, and help with logistics when they became a problem.  I would have helped other runners by having my own stuff, vs. basically competing with them for things like ice and drinks.  I haven’t used crews much, and feel uneasy about causing people to traipse around after me just because I want to do a race.  I thought I didn’t have crew at UTMB – and no one followed me around – but as I sat at mile 83 contemplating dropping on Saturday, I realized Janet was there at the end of UTMB to take care of me when I was 50-hours-awake-incompetent.  I wasn’t going to have that at 2am for Santa Barbara.  I won’t do an evening start/hard/remote race without crew in the future.

I made the usual variety of mistakes during the race – forgetting to ice parts of me, not eating at an aid station, etc..  No disasters and probably comparable to my other races.  But collectively the mistakes probably cost some time and helped push me into being stressed about the after-race.  There’s always room for improvement with in-race execution of all the non-running stuff.  And some of the mistakes are probably due to the evening start/pre-planned exhaustion.

I didn’t try asking for help on the post-race logistics at the aid station.  It seems unlikely that a solution would have materialized – how do you get a sleeping person and their rental car 2+ hours down the road?  But I did mention my headlamp problem and a spare flashlight eventually appeared.  Maybe if I had spoken up about the LAX concern, something magic might have happened.  E.g. someone’s crew member drives me and my car to a drop-off in Santa Barbara, and then I pile in the crew car for a ride down the road.  It would have taken some luck and a less-exhausted person’s creativity, but as Wayne Gretzky said, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

Finally, I think I made a big mental mistake just before the race in terms of thinking about what “finishing” meant.  I talked to a friend about this after one of his races – he had two big goals in mind for a 24 hour race, one seemed to become unachievable during the race, he focused on the other and made it, and then basically quit.  Afterwards he realized the other goal was still achievable when he quit, and he couldn’t explain quitting.  My theory is that after focusing on one exhausting goal for a long time, it’s very hard achieve that and then move the finish line/set a new goal.  If you keep the two goals in mind from the start, then you can keep going after you finish one.  It might not seem that different, but I think it’s huge mentally.  “I’m done!!!  Well, I guess I’m not…” is different than “One milestone down, one more to go.”  Back to my situation, a couple weeks before the race I projected it would take me 29+/-4 hours to finish.  Traveling after a 29 hour race wasn’t going to be awesome but it would work.  25 hours would be great.  I didn’t want to think about the consequences of a 33 hour finish – so I didn’t.  Until I had to… about 24 hours into the race when 31-33 hours seemed likely (and possibly optimistic).  After focusing on one finish line (100 miles) for days/months, the finish “line” seemed to move out suddenly – finish the run and then somehow stay awake long enough to get to LAX safely and on my plane.  I could have made that mental shift prior to the race, and if I had done that I might have done some things (arrange back-up lodging, forewarn Janet I might be calling her in a stupor asking for help, possibly even change my flight) to make it seem less daunting.

As I said, I probably learned more from not finishing than I have from the most of the races I’ve finished.

Dang.

I give Santa Barbara 100 a conditional recommendation.  The race is challenging, it’s beautiful, it’s surprisingly remote for a race just a few miles from the city, the trail was well marked, the volunteers were great, and it’s reasonably well organized.  It’s a great option for people within driving distance – the logistics are easier and it’s easier to travel with the crew/support that would make a difference.  For someone like me, traveling farther, it’s a pretty significant investment of time and money – even more than I planned for, as explained above.  Given that, I’d want to weigh it against other remote races I’d like to do.   E.g. although I have unfinished business at Santa Barbara, I’m more likely to return to San Diego than Santa Barbara – no nighttime start, ample aid, no Poison Oak Alley – in other words just as much fun/challenge but easier logistics and less cost in terms of time and money before and after the race.  (I see from the interweb that my poison oak rashes should be gone in just 5-12 short days.  Yay…)  And there are plenty of great races closer to where I am, e.g. IMTUF and the Bear among others, that are even more wild and yet easier logistically.  If I were headed to Santa Barbara anyway at race time, I’d love to give it another shot.  And I might take Janet to run the first part of the trail sometime when we visit our son.

Congratulations to all who did finish, especially the CTC folks who did it 5 weeks after San Diego.  That was really tough.

On to Angeles Crest.  And the Purple Poodle Dog Bush.

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6 miles from downtown Santa Barbara.

 

 

 

 

Posted by: pointlenana | July 4, 2016

Exercise Of The Month – July 2016: Stretching

I never quite figured out stretching, and it’s possible/likely that different approaches work for different people.  My awesome PT Nancy at RealRehab gave me an approach that seems to work, doesn’t take a ridiculous amount of time, and isn’t too boring.

I’ve read in Anatomy for Runners – and heard from the people at RealRehab – that to actually stretch your tissues you have hold the stretches for a long time (3-5) minutes and do it daily for up to 3 months before it really has impact.  I did that for a while with my hip flexors and noticed real improvement.  But… it’s mindbogglingly boring.  The more typical “stretch something for 15-30 seconds” supposedly doesn’t do much.

When you are running (or doing most other activities), it’s rare that you activate a muscle through a single axis, evenly across the muscle.  For example, there’s a classic hamstring stretch where you put your foot up on a bench, keep that leg straight, and then bend forward until the hamstring is stretching (gently).  In the real world, there’s usually a lot more movement happening – forward/backwards, side to side, inward/outward rotation of your foot/leg.  The classic stretch really only addresses that forward/backwards movement.

Nancy’s approach is to put the muscle into a gentle stretch, and then move your body gently in another axis to help that muscle’s tissue move more smoothly past the muscles/fibers/tissue/goop around it and/or break up adhesions/stuck spots between tissue.  In the case of the hamstring, I get into the classic stretch pose and then rock my hips side-to-side gently 10-15 times in each direction.  As I reach the end of each swing, I feel a stretch on one side of the hamstring.  After I’ve done that 10-15 times, I rotate my foot (still in the hamstring stretch pose) inwardly and outwardly, again 10-15 times.  Each “rep” in these stretches only takes a second or two, so stretching one hamstring takes 45-60 seconds.  It’s important to do this all gently.  You aren’t aiming to stretch the muscle in any significant way.  You are trying to unstick anything that shouldn’t be stuck together.  Move until there’s a gentle stretch, then move back.

This approach can be used for just about anything that’s tight.  For example, when I hurt my shoulder a few months ago, Nancy had me stand at a wall with my hands up on the wall (in push-up position).  Then I slide the hand on the injured arm up until pain/stiffness stopped me.  Then I gently rocked my hips away from the wall (increased stretch) and back.  10-15 times with that movement, then rocking my hips side-to-side.  Then I moved my hips side to side several times.  That was a sudden acute injury, with lots of limitation, but this stretch (and a few other things) resolved everything very quickly.  For more chronic tightness, it may take a longer.  But the nice thing is that it’s pretty low risk, vs. more aggressive stretching where people sometimes make something snap.

Combined with foam-rolling, I view this bodywork as offsetting some of the abuse from running.  During peak-training and race season, I try to do this body work every other day.  When I’m not spending so much time training, I aim for 5-6 times a week.  (I probably have that backwards but there’s only so much time to do things.)

Below is my typical sequence (10-15 reps for each of the movements).  I’m linking to some videos for these but remember that the goal is to get into the stretch pose shown in the video and then do additional movement in another axis.

  • Foam roll quads, adductors, calves, glutes, feet (lacrosse ball), hamstrings (a massage ball about the size of a softball)
  • Hamstring stretch – side-to-side, rotate foot, as described above.
  • Hip flexor/ITB stretch – stand at a bench with one foot up on the bench/knee bent, back leg straight with foot away from the bench and rotated inwardly 45 degrees (this helps stretch the ITB better).  Rock in/forward towards the bench and back out.  With your hips in the forward/more stretch position, rock your hips side to side.  Then rotate your hips clockwise, and then counter-clockwise.
  • Hip flexor/quad stretch.  Kneel in front of a bench with your forward leg bent at 90 degrees, and your back foot up on the bench (knee bent and on a cushion on the ground).  Rock forward and backwards (the video shows this).  Move side to side.  Rotate in one direction and then another, combining the forward/backward and side-to-side movements.  This is similar to the standing hip flexor stretch but it stretches your quads too.  Plus most runners need extra attention for the hip flexors.
  • Adductor stretch.  Get down on the floor in frog pose with your toes pointing towards each other.  Rock your body forward (past your knees) until you feel a stretch, then rock backwards until your butt is almost at your feet.  Repeat several times.  Rotate your feet out so toes are pointing away from each other and rock forward/backwards again (the video shows this variation).  With toes pointing in again, rotate your trunk/hips left and right.  Repeat with toes pointing out.
  • Calf stretch – In the straight-leg runners stretch, rock your hips side to side.  Repeat in bent-leg runners stretch.

 

Posted by: pointlenana | June 30, 2016

Western States 2016 People – Western States Part 13

I probably should have included the stuff below in other posts but I’ll do it standalone.   There are so many stories at Western States.  Every person – runner, crew, pacer, volunteer – has some kind of story.  That’s the kind of people the event attracts.  By being there I got to see and in some cases talk with some of those people.  Ultimately this is going to be peanut gallery opinions about people who are much more knowledgeable than me, and/or fanboy ooh’ing.  But maybe there will be something interesting.  And mostly I write these down for my own sake anyway, to look back on later.  (Whew, this post got long – be warned…)

Racers:

Jim Walmsley:

His story is well-known now – blazingly fast for much of the race, made some mistakes late in the race, finished 20th.  Two great interviews with him on iRunFar before and after the race.  Before, he talked about winning and setting a course record.  He also talked about dropping his pacer near the end, only half-jokingly.  For a guy who hadn’t run a 100 before, the first two goals are pretty confident (but not unreasonable given his talent).  Being confident to the point of planning to drop a pacer seems… well… overconfident.  Matt Fitzgerald talks about this situation in his book “How Bad Do You Want It”, where someone really talented who should be successful undermines themselves by getting distracted from the main goal.  I can see this in his post-race interview – he was hanging back in the early miles but got worried about the course record splits so he took off.  He went from running his own “win the race” plan to a secondary goal (course record).

My sighting of Jim at Devil’s Thumb was very brief.  He arrived about 20 minutes before anyone thought he would, and we were actually in the middle of the volunteer briefing (well, almost done but still “meeting”).  Someone called “runner”, we scattered to our stations, and after I looked up from writing his # and time down, he was already headed out – at most 30 seconds in the aid station, after 48 miles and a brutal climb.  No major effort to cool himself.  He said in the interview afterwards that he felt fine throughout the race and heat wasn’t a problem.  But mental mistakes – missing turns, not making the connection that river current will sweep you away from the safety cable if you swim with two hands, dropping a pacer to save a very small amount of time (Update:  This excellent slide show explains that  he dropped his pacer because his pacer was sick  – yet another lesson on talking on things I don’t know ’bout, and he seems like an awesome person.)- are one consequence of overheating.  A pacer friend also heard that Jim was incoherent at an aid station shortly before he missed the turn.  “I felt fine” and being fine might be two different things.  I can’t take credit for this – I heard it from a friend – “Jim got too close to the sun”.  The Icarus analogy seems pretty good, both literally and figuratively.

All that said, it’s hard not to be a fan after watching Jim’s post-race interview, and I expect he has some amazing Killian-like performances/results ahead of him.

Sage Canaday:

I am a huge Sage Canaday fan, and in a way he’s responsible for me loving ultras/trail races.  I first saw him about 12 miles into my first trail race/ultra (White River – also effectively my first-ever trail run) as he came down past me while I was going up.  I was struggling up a rutted-out trail, he was flying, and as he passed he said “nice job!”  “Huh?  The leader is complimenting me?  These trail races are ok!”  I soon found out the mutual-encouragement was common, as a bunch of other fast people passed me.  But afterwards – after Sage had finished his course record race – I went over to him and he was friendly and encouraging in real-life too.

I was hoping for good things for Sage at Western States but when I watched his pre-race interview I was a little worried when he said “I’m pretty good at struggling through in the heat, and I like heat better than cold”.  There’s going to be a common theme here, but I don’t think it works to struggle through heat.  It’s not like having blister pain or achy quads – you can struggle through those.  Heat causes your body to stop working and bad things happen.  Janet says “Your body needs blood in four places – skin for cooling, legs for running, gut for nutrition/digestion, and your brain for a lot of reasons.  Something has to give.”  You have to focus on staying as cool as possible, and if you do get hot you either are smart and slow down (send less blood to the legs) or bad things happen.  I’ve found it very hard to recover when I overheat – slowing down a little doesn’t do anything.  It’s much better to avoid getting too hot in the first place.

Sage was 2nd through our aid station, and spent a couple minutes there.  He restocked the ice under his hat, got his bandana wet, made sure to drink, and generally took care of himself.  But he looked hot and didn’t have that much ice on his body.  As he was drinking I told him there’s a creek at the next aid station and it’s worth cooling off there, but I’m pretty sure he was focused on being 10 minutes behind Jim Walmsley and I suspect he didn’t want to spare the time.

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Sage at Devil’s Thumb.  No Rob Krar-style arm sleeves for ice, but taking time to cool some.  Three other people of note in this photo – Janet in the red shirt to his right, my savior from last year Bruce F in the first green shirt/red cap to the right of Janet, and Bev (see below) in the far-right green shirt with tape on her knees.

I heard that Sage’s stomach went south eventually (another heat effect – something’s going to give) and he spent 30 miles throwing up, eventually finishing 11th and just missing (by 4 minutes) one of the coveted top 10 spots that guarantees you entry into next year’s race.   Maybe he did lie in the creek, but if he didn’t, 5-10 minutes in there cooling down might have saved him the 10-15 minutes (or more) needed to sneak into the top 10.  (It’s really easy to sit here in my armchair and know EXACTLY what these elite folks should have done differently.)  I talked to him briefly after the race (yes, fanboy…).  He said at the time he felt great about how he had attacked the climb to Devil’s Thumb, but he probably pushed too hard.  He’s smart and I’m sure he’ll figure it all out – I’m looking forward to his video on the race.  It’s really hard to manage the race effort well given altitude, heat, and climbs.  To some degree, I think Jim Walmsley sucked Sage (and others) into running too hard – Jim’s race instead of their own.  But, Sage did finish his first 100, and pretty well given his struggles.

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Shortly after Sage finished, just getting up from a long sit even before the medical tent.  I didn’t see a lot of people having to sit down here.  That’s Byron Powell (from iRunFar) with the microphone on the right.

Andrew Miller:

Andrew was the 5th person to come through Devil’s Thumb.  He looked warm but good.  In his post-race interview he said he was aware that he was pretty far behind Jim Walmsley, but tried to focus on running his own race.  I guess it worked out ok for him.  Winning Western States at the age of 20 must be a cool feeling.  Janet watched him win Orcas 50k a year ago, so we were impressed but not completely surprised.

David Laney:

I’m bummed about his race (and I’m not even David Laney).  He did some of his training for the Olympic Trials here in Seattle last fall.  Janet and I saw him running at Greenlake a few times when we were out, and one day I flagged him down to ooh and aah over his amazing UTMB performance (yeah, fanboy…).  He was very nice – asking about our training, etc..  He won Chuckanut one year when I was there, he did great at UTMB, and he’d been living at Squaw and training on the course since April.  I thought he might win.

David rolled into Devil’s Thumb in 6th place, and it was clear it was not going to be his day.  The first 5 passed through quickly – 1-2 minutes.  David plunked down in a chair and stayed for at least 10 minutes.  It was clear he wasn’t happy – Janet said he was giving away his gels (“I don’t need these”).  I talked to him the next morning – he remembered us from Greenlake (or at least he is GREAT at giving that impression) – and he said he was feeling cold so he was avoiding any kind of cooling.  I guess feeling cold is a sign of severe heat stress, so it’s kind of a viscous spiral at that point.  He limped his way to 33rd.  I’m glad nothing really bad happened, and I hope he’s ok.    He’s probably another victim of the blistering early pace.  And just to cement the “very nice” impression:  When I talked with him at the end of the race (he’s limping around, he’s had a disappointing race the day before, he probably hasn’t slept, some fanboy is talking at him), he thanked us for volunteering at least twice.

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David Laney having a bad day.  That’s Joe Uhan in the red shirt and blue hat – he writes for UltraRunner and has finished in the top 10 at Western States.

As more people came in, it became harder to pay attention to any one runner for more than a few seconds.  But brief comments on other people:

Kaci Lickteig: First woman to Devil’s Thumb, and first woman to the finish.  She looked good and was out within a couple minutes.

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Kaci winning.  Sub 18, an hour faster than she ran last year.

Ben Bucklin: Janet and I saw him at Sun Mountain as he was on his way to winning the 50 mile race.  At Sun Mountain he was really cheerful and encouraging as he came past us a couple times.  He looked great Devil’s Thumb and lit up when Janet mentioned Sun Mountain.  He went on to 15th place.

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Ben Bucklin and Race Director Craig Thornley

Jodee Adams-Moore: A local Washington favorite – she has the Chuckanut course record, something like 10 minutes faster than Ellie Greenwood.  Jodee spent 15 minutes at Devil’s Thumb, and looked a little freaked-out at what she’d just been through.  I mentioned the creek to her also, and she actually seemed interested.  (I’d love to know my success rate for talking people into that – 0%?)  She was the 9th woman, and gets to return next year – if she wants to.  Kudos also to James Varner for pacing her.

Mark Richtman:  The Devil’s Thumb aid station is run by the Buffalo Chips Running group (Sacramento).  Mark is a “local” favorite/star, pointed out to me by Alan (also doing runner check-in).  Mark is 61 and was trying to set the 60-69 men’s record.  He looked good at Devil’s Thumb but he dropped at No Hands Bridge (4 miles from the finish) even though he was on pace to run about 22:30.  I wonder what happened.  That record is 20:30 and he was past that so maybe he said “enough”.

Kent Dozier:  Kent is responsible for my all-time favorite “aren’t ultras great!” video.  I knew he was entered, and I found him sitting in a chair looking a little beat, listing off his body’s issues.  I got all excited and mentioned that video, which I don’t think he needed to be reminded of right then.  He sat in the chair/aid station for about 20 minutes and then went on to finish in a bit less than 25 hours.

Dave Vanmiller: Another WA person.  He was having cramping issues, Janet introduced me, and I proceeded to be an incredibly awkward volunteer with him.  He wanted to put his feet up, so I dragged a chair over and lifted his leg.  He immediately cramped and I dropped the leg.  More cramping.  We gave up on the chair, and I started massaging one of his calves.  He said it was more his quads.  I worked on those for a moment and then suggested he get some food and get out.  While I was getting food, he started shivering – he’d sat there too long.  Another medical person felt his back, said “you’re not hot, you’re just getting cold, so get going”.  He went on to a sub-24 hour finish, even though he left Devil’s Thumb after the “official” time for someone on 24 hour pace.  Nice job!

Brian Morrison:  People know this story now.  He had a disastrous near-victory at Western States in 2006 – he collapsed on the track from hyponatremia, was helped to his feet and around the track by his pacer Scott Jurek (how do you leave someone you are helping just lying on the ground, especially when they are yards from winning?), was DQ’d after he finished due to the assistance, and nearly died in the hospital afterwards.  He owns a running store here in Seattle (the one that Scott Jurek, Hal Koerner, and some others worked in), and organizes one of the White River aid stations.  (I talked to him once during the race briefly about his WS experience – yet another gracious talented ultrarunner.) He hadn’t attempted another 100 until last year, when he ran Cascade Crest to qualify for Western States.

Brian spent about 12 minutes at the aid station, mostly in a chair, looking a little white.  He had his earbuds in but we talked a little, I got him some food, and he kind of recognized me.  I told him I was looking forward to seeing him finish – I was probably one of 1000 people telling him that.  And I did get to see him finish – he entered the track Sunday morning with his two small children and spent almost the whole last 300 yards looking at his kids.  Announcer John Medinger (Tropical John) told Brian’s story again, and the stadium cheered pretty loudly.

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Brian Morrison and one of his kids, about to get his first official Western States finish. BTW, there’s that Monsters of Massage banner in the back.  If you ever get a massage from those folks (after the Western States training runs for example), be ready for some pain.  Especially if you luck out and get VeLoyce.  My friend Tamara screamed obscenities through most of her massage last May.  And VeLoyce was looking for her this weekend.

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Brian taking a post-race call, probably from the President.

Matt Keyes:  I think Matt is known as The Luckiest Person at Western States because of his unreal luck in the lottery.  He’s not fast enough to race his way into Western States, and yet he’s run the race 10 times in the past 11 years.  I ran with Matt for several miles last year and he educated me (too late) on how to use split data from previous races to figure out a good sub-24 hour plan.  In particular he told me that looking at splits for the 23-24 hour finishers (exactly what I did) doesn’t work because that group is filled with people who were aiming for 20-22 hours and imploded.  Shortly after he explained this he pulled away from me, on his way to yet another sub-24 hour finish.  Shortly after he pulled away, I melted.  Matt finished in… 23:46 this year and got his 10 Year buckle.

Rob Bondurant:  Rob’s a friend from WA.  He’d been aiming for a sub-3 hour marathon for a while, and in his first big attempt at it he ran… 3:00:05.  He ran Eugene in May and finally got under 3 hours.  In other words, he’s faster than me.  Like many of us he wanted to go sub-24, and he pulled into Devil’s Thumb at about the right time to do it.  He looked pretty good, maybe a little warm, and I went to bed that night thinking he had a shot based on his progress.  He slowed somewhere and didn’t make it, but he did have a spectacular finish – he started running fast about a mile from the finish, hit the track at a very fast pace (his pacer was having trouble running with him), and probably ran the last 300 yards in 75 seconds. I wanted Janet to see him, and I had to sprint across the infield to get to her in time.

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Rob, a little winded from his 1 mile sprint.

John Maytum:  I mentioned him and used his picture before.  Another WA person, another sub-24 attempt, another 1st-time Western States racer surprised by the challenges.  Seeing him at Devil’s Thumb was like seeing myself a year ago.  When I’ve thanked Bruce F for helping me last year, he says “you were fine, you just needed to recover a little”.  When John thanked me for helping him, I felt the same way.

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This is worth a second look – John finishing 100 miles of challenges with a smile on his face.

Bruce LabelleI wrote about Bruce last year – he made all the difference in how my experience went.  Bruce has a 10 day buckle – 10 finishes all under 24 hours.  Last year he told me he want to run once in his 60s and once in his 70s.  This was the 60s year.  Not surprisingly, he looked fine at Devil’s Thumb.  He had the most beautiful finish I saw in terms of running form – big powerful strides around the track, like an elite marathoner.

Ian Burton:  Another WA person.  He came in late to Devil’s Thumb, with blister problems, but he was in great shape.  And he took time to get the blisters addressed even though there wasn’t much to spare.  While Janet and the medical folks were working on him, some old-timer wandered past me saying “we need to get that guy out of here – he’s doing great.”  Which he was – Ian finished with 8 1/2 minutes to spare, even though he had to stop again for blister care further in the race.

Wally Hesseltine: Heartbreak.  At 72 Wally was attempting to become the oldest finisher at Western States.  (I heard this, although I’m not 100% sure – I can’t find the oldest male finisher.)  He left Devil’s Thumb 27 minutes before the cutoff, which is pretty good.  He cleared Robie Point with 15 minutes left – 1.3 miles with at least 0.3 miles of nasty uphill.  Last year Magdalena Boulet took 15 minutes for that stretch and Gunhild Swanson took about 16.  So it seemed unlikely but we were all hopeful, especially after Gunhild last year.  Wally actually made it to the track but when he was still 200 yards from the finish Tropical John announced “I’m sorry Wally but time just expired”.  He finished anyway, and I learned that everyone who finishes – even after the cutoff – gets a medal.  No belt buckle though, and no official finish.  My friend Bob says you want to be there for Golden Hour (the last hour before the 30 hour cutoff) because something always happens at the end.

Gunhild Swanson:  More heartbreak.  Last year’s amazing DFL, she dropped/missed the cutoff at Rucky Chuck.  She arrived at Devil’s Thumb with 16 minutes to spare, but only stayed for 2 minutes because of the time pressure.  She looked good though, and I thought her experience would get her through.  A friend who crewed for her said she’d been chasing cutoffs all day (10 hours or so from Devil’s Thumb where we saw her and Rucky Chuck where she timed out) and had blister problems but never had time to take care of them.  My friend and the other crew member – one Ann Trason – tried to convince her she could finish, but at Rucky Chuck Gunhild decided enough was enough.

Other people – these folks weren’t racing but I crossed paths with them during the weekend.

Alan Abbs and Bev Anderson-Abbs:  They were part of the runner check-in team with me at Devil’s Thumb.  It was pretty clear from our random conversations that they were pretty capable ultra runners, e.g. they both ran San Diego with me a few weeks ago, Alan finished ahead of me, and Bev was the second woman.  They both had run Western States before too.  But they were nice and funny and not at all impressed with whatever running they’ve done.  Between our shift at Devil’s Thumb and his midnight-6am shift entering data for LiveTracking, Alan took his banjo down to No Hands Bridge and serenaded runners as they passed.  (One person said “Banjo music – that will motivate them to move along.”)

I looked them up on UltraSignup during our trip home.  Woah!  Alan has finished at least 3 Fun Runs at Barkley.  Bev has completed one Fun Run there – I’m told she’s in the Barkley movie, now I have to go watch that again.  Bev is also a 4-time podium finisher at Western States, 3rd place once and 2nd place three times.  Alan has finished 16th at Western States, if not higher.  And that’s just scratching the surface.  There they were, volunteering at an aid station, and doing whatever was needed to try to move runners along.  I did point out Devil’s Thumb to Bev – in all her times there she had never seen it.  Which is not surprising given that I did the training run last year, the race, the trip down to the canyon Saturday morning, and the trip back up Saturday morning without seeing it either.  Until Janet pointed out to me.  It’s hard to see anything when you are focused on your where your feet need to go, which I imagine someone on their way to 2nd place at Western States would be focused on.

Krissy Moehl:  Winner of UTMB several years ago and race director for Chuckanut.  You’ve probably seen her in Patagonia ads.  I was talking to an acquaintance and suddenly I was talking to Krissy also.  She was pretty interested in our volunteer experience and said to the mutual friend/acquaintance, “We’ve been here a dozen or more times – running, crewing, pacing.  We should volunteer at an aid station next year.”  People fall in love with this race and find reasons to be there even if they are not running.

Lauren Fleshman:  You’d think the odds of randomly running into Shalane Flanagan (Olympic athlete, among other things) and Lauren Fleshman (World Championships- quality runner, among other things) in 3 weeks would be close to 0. On our flight home, I noticed that the woman one row up and across the aisle looked a lot like Lauren Fleshman.  I know what she looks like because I was warming up for a small race one day and she ran by, doing a workout with the Oiselle team.  On her next lap around I blurted “are you Lauren Fleshman” and she said yes.  So, on the plane, I’m looking at this woman, trying to figure it out and Janet said “I don’t think that’s her.”  At the end of the flight I asked “are you Lauren Fleshman?”, and yes again (she was sitting with Sally Bergeson, Oiselle founder).  It turns out they were crewing for Devon Yanko (3rd place) at Western States.  Lauren was pretty interested in what she’d seen over the weekend – maybe we’ll see her in an ultra sometime.  And I asked her if I could send her my race schedule, because right after I saw her previously, I won the only race I’ve ever won – maybe she could attend a few more of my races.  She promised to try to fit it in.  So I’ll probably be winning a lot more races from now on.

Posted by: pointlenana | June 28, 2016

The Climb To Devil’s Thumb – Western States Part 12

This post is mostly an excuse to link to my GoPro movie of the climb up from Deadwood Canyon to the Devil’s Thumb aid station.  There’s a longer one on YouTube – 45 minutes long if you want a step-by-step view, with no sound.  Mine is about 5 minutes, featuring some heavy breathing (on the way down towards the climb!) and Music courtesy of the YouTube audio library (for people who don’t want to steal from musicians).  I filmed this Saturday morning before we volunteered.  Enjoy:  Climb To Devil’s Thumb

Some things about the climb, especially during the race:  1600 feet of climb in about 1.6 miles.  This happens 47 miles into the race, and there are three ways to experience the climb:

  1. Be an elite and hit the climb between 11:35am (this year – woah…) and about 2pm.  The climb will be pretty warm but the real problem you’ll have is that you’ve been running hard for 6-8 hours, you probably arrive hot and near-redlined from a very fast 16 mile downhill trip from Robinson Flat (thinking you are managing your race well), and then you hit this wall.  Because you are an elite and care about your place, you are going to push up the hill to create space or catch up.  Kaboom for all-too-many of these folks, although they often manage to struggle on for another 20 miles before disaster finally strikes.
  2. Be a mid-packer (like me).  You are in luck!  You get to climb this during the hottest part of the afternoon.  There is 0 air movement in the canyon, and the sun’s had a chance to work all day so the temps are going to be 10-15 degrees warmer than what the weather map shows nearby.  Think 95 during a cool year and 105-110 some years.  Fun!  Unless you’ve been through something like this before, you are in for a very new and unwelcome way of experiencing life.
  3. Be towards the back.  Good news – it will be slightly cooler as you climb.  Bad news – you are probably chasing cutoffs.  Oh, and the mosquitoes are out now.  I talked to one guy at the finish this year who said one year he was driven up the climb because every time he stopped to throw up, the mosquitoes would swarm him.

Pick your poison.

I think the people who do well in this race either live there and know the course really well, or have run it before.  Most people (myself included) underestimate how challenging it is to manage the first 60 miles in a way that doesn’t destroy you.  There’s a good article by Joe Uhan (one of the medical people Janet worked with on Saturday) about this: The Western States Killing Machine.  But I read that before my race and I still needed to experience it to understand it.

 

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