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).

ac course mapac100 elevation profile

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.

 

Posted by: pointlenana | June 28, 2016

Devil’s Thumb Aid Station – Western States Part 11

I thought my 10 chapter Western States book was done after I finished last year, but Janet and I volunteered at the Devil’s Thumb aid station during the race last Saturday, and I have a few more chapters to add.  This chapter is on the experience of volunteering at the aid station.

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That rock (past the butterfly which very considerately flew by) is Devil’s Thumb.  Someone else at the aid station said that Thumb is not the anatomical part that came to mind.

Devil’s Thumb is 47.8 miles into the race, at the top of a very steep hot climb.  We asked to volunteer there because it was the crux of my run last year – I melted going up, got some great help at the aid station (from Bruce F, one of the co-captains of the aid station), and gradually recovered afterwards to finish and have a great experience.  Getting there as a volunteer meant driving 16 miles past Foresthill and then another 8 miles on a very very dusty somewhat-rough dirt road.  Everything in our trunk was covered in a layer of dust when we arrived. (I’m glad the rental car company doesn’t have a problem with filthy cars.)

We arrived early, ran down the nasty hill and then back up (for fun, yeah, right…), and when we got back people were arriving and setting up for the day.  People have been volunteering there for a long time – 19 years for the aid station captain, 10+ years for a few people, etc..  The result is a well-oiled machine, where there are practically X’s on the forest floor for the different tents, tables, supplies, etc..  Pretty quickly we had a fully-stocked aid station with a lot of people ready to help runners – that’s a reflection of how much work people do before the race and the years of experience.  At some point I volunteered to help check runners into the aid station, and ended up with another volunteer named Alan and the check-in captain Kelly .  The medical team was shorthanded and Janet is a doctor, so she ended up with them.

Based on the aid station flow/system, each runner had at least a dozen people observe and help them as they passed through Devil’s Thumb.  Near the top of the climb, the runner would reach a volunteer with a walkie talkie who would call their bib number up to Alan sitting next to me.  Alan would confirm the number, I’d write it on the tracking sheets, and Kelly would write it again on a backup scratch sheet.  Someone (usually me) would call the number back to the bag drop folks so they could find any drop bag the runner had sent ahead.  Kelly would look up the runner in the program and call their name down to the next runner “escort”.  By the time the runner appeared at the aid station, the escort knew the runner’s name and the drop bag was ready.  Kelly and I would confirm the bib number, and write down the time they arrived.  The escort would take the runner’s bottles and the runner’s wishes on how to fill them, and walk the runner up to the medical staff.  While the escort got the bottles filled (another volunteer or two on fluids helping with this), the medical staff would wash/ice down the runner, while using that time to quietly assess the person’s status.  If the runner seemed ok, the escort would hand back the bottles and take the runner to the food and chairs.  (“Ok” is a relative term here – plenty of ok runners showed up hot and with empty stomachs after barfing during the climb up.)  If the runner wasn’t ok, the medical staff would take the runner to a chair or cot and spend some time figuring things out.  Once a runner was ok and ended up at the food, a volunteer or two would collect food for them (not a typical race where runners plunge grimy hands into a shared food supply – this one had rubber gloves, people serving, and bowls/bags to put food in).  There were also a few floating volunteers around the (oh so comfortable) chairs to help people who had “gotten stuck”.  Eventually the runner would exit past two more volunteers who would track their out times on another set of tracking sheets.  Finally, the full in/out tracking sheets would be carried over to ham radio operators who would radio it in for live tracking.  Going through the whole chain, each runner had at least a dozen aid station volunteers focus on that runner alone for at least a few moments.  I hesitate to say that Western States aid stations are the best of any race anywhere (UTMB and San Diego are excellent also) but I will say that there are none better than Western States.

Runners generally arrived in one of 3 states – fine and looking fine, ok but looking like they were worried about having to go back to the hell they’d just escaped from, or in trouble.  There weren’t that many people who were really in trouble.  In fact, no one was pulled at Devil’s Thumb for medical reasons.  The fine/looking fine people (maybe a quarter of the runners) just passed through – they got all the observation/help I talked about above but didn’t need much help otherwise.  The middle group – I was one of those last year – generally sat in a chair for a bit and benefited from some coaching, problem-solving and encouragement.  Some of these folks were pale, some seemed anxious, some had “issues” (my kidneys hurt, I’m cramping, I can’t keep food down).  For the most part these people were hot and really tired from the brutal climb, and recovering/cooling/fueling for 5-10 minutes was enough for them.  But it seemed to help to encourage them and reassure them about what was to come (“5.1 miles to the next aid station, pretty flat for 2 miles then 3 miles downhill, and then you can lie down in a wonderful creek and cool off.  You’re doing great.  Here’s a bag of food, you are cooler now, just go slowly and it will stay down, time to get out of that chair and move on.  See you in Auburn!”)  Bruce F did this for me last year and I credit him for turning my day around when I was questioning life.  I only played Problem Solver to runners for a little while during my breaks from checking people in, but hopefully I did that for a couple people this year.  Amazingly – and this is a credit to both the runners and the aid station – there were no drops at Devil’s Thumb.  The only person who arrived at the aid station but didn’t continue in the race came in at the very end, gave up and let the cutoff pass.

It took some time for Kelly to get comfortable with Alan and me as her volunteers.  Last year someone made mistakes and at the end of the day they had “lost” a few runners – which meant spending a couple hours afterwards trying to figure out whether people had come in/exited/arrived at the next aid station.  She didn’t want to go through that again this year.  It turned out though that Alan and I were pretty competent and understood that we couldn’t make even one mistake.  We were both relieved at points by Alan’s wife Bev, who was equally competent.  Between the 4 of us, we caught all the likely problems – Kelly or I missing a number when a few people arrived at one time, or a number getting garbled in the walkie talkies.  At the end of the day, Kelly’s “In” team was perfect – we had accounted for every runner who arrived at the aid station.  The aid station did have 3 tracking issues – the Out count was two less than the In count (where did the 2 people go?  are they laying injured off a trail somewhere?) and according to the previous aid station (Last Chance) one more person left but hadn’t arrived at ours.  The Last Chance person turned out to be bogus – they didn’t ever leave the aid station.  One of the two missing from “Out” was sitting in the aid station when the cutoff happened.  The final person somehow got past Out without being recorded, was probably “found” at El Dorado Creek around the time we noticed she wasn’t on the out list, and eventually finished.

Runners arrived at the aid station over an 8-ish hour span.  Before the race, I expected a bell curve of arrivals – a trickle, a lot, and a trickle.  It was more like a two-humped camel (with its head down).  350-something runners started.  Only 6 of those arrived at Devil’s Thumb in the first 45 minutes (starting with the first runner to arrive).  Only ~35 people had come through in the first 2 hours.  At the 3 hour mark (about 2:40pm) about 70 people had come through, including most of the elite/fast people.  (This would be that camel head in my bad analogy.)  Because a bunch of people focus on finishing in less than 24 hours there was a clump (one camel lump) from about 3pm to 4:30pm, and by 4:30 about half of the starters (175 people) had arrived.  Then it slowed a little – people weren’t going to make 24 hours and were way ahead of the cutoffs, so there was no real reason to rush.  At 5:30pm (about 6 hours after the first runner arrived), ~230 people had arrived.  The last 100 people to make it to Devil’s Thumb (by the 7pm cutoff) came in between 5:30pm and 7pm – the second camel lump.

Sadly, 6 people arrived after the cutoff.  That last half hour was a little dramatic.  At 6:30 someone blew an airhorn over the cliff edge to the runners below.  I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a tired runner down there struggling up a very steep hill, hearing that horn.  The horn was blown again at 6:40 and again at 6:50.  At ~6:52 we told the walkie talkie guy down the hill to tell anyone who passes to move their butt (the cutoff is for leaving our aid station, not arriving).  Any time a runner showed up, they had about 10 of us helping by saying “you have 14 (10, 7, 3…) minutes to get out of here”.  The last 10 people to get out of Devil’s Thumb before the cutoff arrived at 6:43pm or later (of those 10, only 2 made it to the finish).  And then at 7pm the horn was blown one last time in camp.  By then a sweep/safety patrol person arrived up the hill, letting us know how many people were still out there below us – this year it was 6 people.  Each of those people had another sweep/safety patrol volunteer traveling with them to get them up the hill safely.  One by one they’d come in, we’d check them off, let them know the cutoff had passed, and take them over to a chair to eat and recover.  Eventually they drove out with a volunteer.  Shortly after the last runner arrived, 2 or 3 horses and riders came through as the final sweep – in a sense a tribute to Western States’ origin as a horse race (the Tevis Cup).

I really enjoyed the day (Janet had a good time too).  I’ve learned this over my past few races, but although these long races look like an individual sport, it’s much more of a team sport.  There’s some individual competition, especially at the front, but for the most part everyone out there – volunteers, crew, pacers, runners – are working to get all the runners to the finish.  I was lucky to get to run last year and I feel equally lucky to have been working on behalf of the runners this year.

Keeping the kudos in mind, if I were King Of The Aid Stations (and had unlimited resources), I’d make two changes.

  • match skills to jobs a little better.  My “In” teammates Alan and Bev are very accomplished ultra runners.  They were great checking people in, but would have been even better spending their whole time helping struggling runners.  The check-in job can be done just fine by a focused, detail-oriented non-runner.
  • look hard at the situations where the aid station is pushing a runner down the trail (“kicking the can down the road”, as Janet calls it).  I’ve done those long runs and don’t have a DNF experience so I only think about getting people to the finish. Janet’s a doctor and thinks about things from an outcome perspective.  Only 2 of the last 10 arrivals that we rushed out finished.  One other runner lay in the medical tent for more than an hour, got pushed out shortly before the cutoff, and dropped two aid stations later.  There’s a difference between helping someone to the finish, and putting someone who is not going to make it through more suffering (not to mention extra time for volunteers – sweeps and tracking people – to find and handle that person).  This is a research project but perhaps there are a couple questions we need to ask the people right on the edge, so we can separate the 2 who will finish from the 8 who won’t.  E.g. “Have you been getting stronger recently or struggling more?”  “You will be chasing cutoffs for hours before you might build a small time buffer.  If things go wrong – you get a blister – you won’t have time to deal with it and it will get worse.  Are you mentally prepared for that?”  As Janet says, these folks are very capable adults and given the right context will probably make good decisions.  We all want people to finish, but if the odds are very high that they won’t and/or they are not committed deeply to that, it’s probably better for everyone to have them drop vs. go on.  I heard that Gunhild Swanson – last year’s hero, she arrived at Devil’s Thumb 15 minutes before the cutoff this year – eventually chose to time out at Rucky Chuck (10 hours later) in part because she had blisters that had needed attention for hours and there was no time to do that.  She’s smart and had the experience to make that decision.  Some runners might not have that experience and maybe could benefit from more nuanced guidance than “get going!!!!”

Perhaps the very best thing about working at Devil’s Thumb was going to Auburn later that evening and the next morning, and recognizing a lot of people (who had been suffering 10-16 hours before) as they rounded the track and crossed the finish line at Western States.

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My Seattle friend John showed up at Devil’s Thumb looking like I felt last year – pale, with an empty stomach from the climb up in the heat.  The next morning he was on the track, 200 yards from the finish, smile on his face.  Very cool.

P.S. As we drove home in the evening, a bear crossed the road a little ways in front of the car.  My second bear-in-the-wild sighting.  Very cool also!

 

Posted by: pointlenana | June 7, 2016

San Diego 100 – June 3 2016

Well, I understand now why finish times at San Diego are about the same as at Western States, even though the San Diego course looks easier on paper.

First though, the event itself is of exceptional quality.  Pick any one aspect – volunteers, aid stations, trail marking, course design, live tracking, swag, you name it – it was great.  To have everything be great like that was pretty amazing.  Thank you to all the people who made the race possible.  The runners only finish these events because there is a very large cast of people supporting them from way before the start to way after the finish.

A lot happens during 100 103 miles.  Here’s what I still remember.

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I got new Dirty Girl gaiters for this race, trying to capture how I felt about the hot forecast.

Before the start:  I got up early, before my alarm went off, and arrived at the race at 4:30am just in time to get one of the last Solo Runner parking spots very near the start.  I got my bib, put it on, sat in the car for a little while, got restless, and got out.  I said hi to race director Scott Mills, who probably had had almost 0 sleep and yet was still perky and upbeat.  I talked to other people I knew who were running – Jess and Charlie from Seattle, and Bob who paced me at Western States last year.  Bob has had some stellar runs recently – e.g. he set an American age group record for 200k a few weeks ago – and told me that his body was pretty beat up so he might drop out early in the race if things weren’t great.  I milled around with other people doing the California Triple Crown (San Diego 100, Santa Barbara 100, Angeles Crest 100 – all in about 2 months) while we waited to get a Team CTC picture taken.  I listened to Scott Mills warn us about the forecast – “record heat”.  (Scott said after the race that the heat index hit 108 degrees at one point and was above 100 for most of the day.)  And at 6am we started our 100 mile journey.

Start (0 miles) to Sunrise (21 miles):  I spent the first few hours figuring things out. How hot is it really?  How fast should I go to keep my heart rate where I want it?  Does that effort feel easy or hard?  How is my clothing working?  Do my shoes feel ok or do I need to re-lace them?  The temperature felt comfortable for the first 15 minutes, but then it felt warm and within a couple hours it felt really warm.  Everything else seemed ok.

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This captures the first 20 miles or so.  We started to the right of the picture, wound around and up the tall peak (Stonewall), back around the trees in the middle distance on the right, along the grassy ridge in the middle of the picture, and then traversed along the ridge on the left.  No, there was not a lot of shade to be found.

My strategy for dealing with heat was acclimating as much as possible beforehand (sitting in a very hot sauna and running on warm sunny afternoons with way too much clothing on – including gloves), and then active cooling during the race.  Active cooling meant wearing a non-intuitive amount of clothing – tight sleeves on my arms and a bandana around my neck – and keeping those things wet.  I wore a compression shirt so that evaporation off the shirt would happen next to my body and cool me, vs. a loose-fitting shirt that wouldn’t cool as much.  (Some people swear by cotton for that situation, because it clings and cools.  It’s worked for me on short runs but I’ve been too skittish to try it in a big race.)  I also covered myself with as much ice as possible, under my hat, down my arm sleeves, in the back pocket of my runners vest, and inside of the special ice bandana on my neck which has holes so it can be filled.  I had not tried the arm sleeves before but they were awesome.  Filling them with ice was painful every time, for about 90 seconds, as my arms and hands would go almost numb.  But then I had 30-45 minutes of pleasantly cool arms and cool blood flowing back into my core.  Once the ice melted I’d spray the sleeves with my water bottle, and even if the water was warm, after a minute or so it would start evaporating and my arms felt cool.  It helped that there was some wind and almost no humidity.

The last part of active cooling was filling one water bottle only with ice – no water.  Ultra legend Pam Reed explained to me at Western States last year that leaving an aid station with ice water is dumb (like I felt as she explained this to me) because you still end up with warm water really quickly.  With only ice, you get less water volume, but you can drink the (cold) water off as the ice melts, cool off, and have truly cold water for quite a while.  I carried three bottles – one on my vest with ice, a second one on my vest filled with Tailwind (like Gatorade but much better), and a handheld with only water for keeping my sleeves and bandana wet.

My first aid station stop was a mess – I didn’t have the bottle system down yet and I was fiddling with the bandana as I arrived.  Instead of slowing down and getting it right, I sped through and ended up leaving with icy Tailwind which was too dilute to count as nutrition but too liquidy to stay cool, two bottles of water, no ice, and very little food in me.  Fortunately, it wasn’t really hot yet, and I carry gels in part for situations where something goes wrong.  I learned from that aid station, and got it right the next time and for the rest of the race.

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Climbing up the west side of Stonewall, enjoying the last shade I’d see for a while. (Thanks to PaksitPhotos)

Before the race began, Scott told us that 252 of us were starting.  Looking at UltraLive tracking afterwards, I was the 112th runner at first aid station, and 80th at the third.  Even as the day was getting really warm, my heart rate was great, my pace felt comfortable, and my heat management seemed to be working.

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Somewhere near the Sunrise aid station (again, PaksitPhotos).

 

Sunrise (21 miles) to Penny Pines 1 (43.8):  About 40 miles of SD100 are on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).  After leaving Sunrise, we got our first taste of the PCT, which traverses along the escarpment above Anza Borrego desert.  The trail runs essentially parallel to the Sunrise Highway – access for aid stations and crew – really close at times to an occasional car, but usually a ways away and feeling pretty remote.  The trail itself rolls up and down along the edge of the multi-thousand foot drop to the desert floor, and does an amazing amount of winding around as it follow the crest and the ridges dropping from the crest.  It’s a mix of smooth trail and rockier sections that are runnable (in daylight) but tricky.  I did those ~7 miles in the late morning and it was truly hot by then.  It was beautiful though, I felt good, and I was putting miles behind me at decent pace.

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Somewhere between Sunrise and Pioneer Mail.  The PCT runs along the edge of the plateau, just before those ridges drop to the desert below.

We turned off the PCT at the Pioneer Mail aid station.  Before the race I had studied the course a fair amount but still imagined a number of things completely wrong.  I had this sense that Pioneer Mail would be an old cabin in the woods. It turned out to be a road sign marking a small parking lot next to the Sunrise Highway, with access to the PCT.  The four pictures below were taken at a spot near Pioneer Mail, standing on the trail and scanning (clockwise) from north to east to south.  The trail was particularly wide here, I guess because it crosses the very end of a road/viewpoint.

After Pioneer Mail, we set off on 14 miles of almost-loop,  essentially dropping down one side of a ridge and coming back up on the other side of the ridge through Noble Canyon.  Scott had warned that Noble Canyon would be hard – during the hottest part of a very hot day, and the longest steepest climb of the course.  The descent towards Noble Canyon had a longish section of rocky trail – a combination of baseball-sized loose rocks to stumble on, and partially-buried rocks to trip over.  On paper before the race, that section looked fast but it wasn’t in real life – which was a preview of things to come.  On the other hand, going up Noble Canyon was easier/better than I expected – it wasn’t steep like the Western States canyons, it was the first section of the San Diego course that had some shade, and there was even a creek to dip my hat and sleeves in.

I came out of Noble Canyon feeling ok but maybe a little hot, a little dehydrated, and a little under-fueled.  I sat in a chair at the next aid station for a few minutes, ate, downed 3 Otter Pops, and left feeling a little better.   I also thought that since the next leg was shorter – only 5 flattish miles vs. the 7-8 uphill miles of previous section – I’d have a chance to cool down, digest, and generally let my body recover.  Between Sunrise and Penny Pines 1, I had moved all the way from 80th to 42th in the race.

Penny Pines 1 (mile 43.8) to Dale’s Kitchen (mile 56.3):

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The trails were occasionally wonderfully smooth.

So much for the idea of recovering.  I ran 3 “bonus” miles during the race, due to not one or even two, but three mistakes .  The first happened about a mile out of Penny Pines.  I came out of some trees, saw a beautiful meadow stretching way out ahead, and started to follow a runner down through trees along the left side of the beautiful meadow.  Unfortunately, I did not look about 60 degrees to my right and see the race markings headed towards the right side of the meadow.  (This page has a photo of the meadow and in the route picture I can even see where I missed the turn – at the top left I followed the red line down the meadow, instead of making a right turn.)  A while later I caught up to the runner ahead, noticed he wasn’t wearing a race bib, and then realized I hadn’t seen a trail marker for a while.  Like the typical optimist trail runner, I went a little further hoping that a marker would save my bacon, and then accepted reality.  I turned around and ran almost a mile back to the correct turn.  Shortly before I got there I encountered another SD100 runner coming towards me, making the same mistake.  I turned him around and we were back on course.  Although my detour cost me at least 20 minutes, it didn’t bother me that much – Magdalena Boulet and Gunhild Swanson both ran bonus miles at Western States last year, so it sometimes happens to the best even when the markings are great (as they were in San Diego).  You just have to keep going.  UltraLive says I dropped from 42nd to 57nd at the next aid station – even though I was running mostly on my own, the runners were still pretty tightly grouped, with 15 runners in those 2 extra miles I ran.

 

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The Land Of Missed Turns.  I was told there was some rain recently, which brought us a lot of wildflowers.

And then, after the next aid station, it happened again.  Another realization that I hadn’t seen a marker, running a little further, hoping, and turning around with a sigh.  Less than a quarter mile back to the correct turn, so only 1/2 mile and 5 to 10 more wasted minutes.  As mistakes go, this was pretty minor but it bothered me because it was the 2nd one in as many legs and the missed marking seemed pretty obvious when I got back to it.  I took it as a sign that I was more hot/dehydrated/under-fueled than I realized.  I vowed to catch-up for real at Red Tail Roost…

 

…Which turned out to be a water-only aid station. I had noticed this odd setup before the race – an aid station at Red Tail Roost and then another one 1.3 miles further at Dale’s Kitchen.  I probably missed this in the pre-race information, but I overheard a volunteer explain why at Red Tail Roost.  Dale’s Kitchen is the main aid station, used twice along the course, but is hard for crews to get to (down a very dusty slow dirt road).  Red Tail Roost is a great place for crews to meet their runners – large parking lot, picnic tables, bathrooms.  But with another aid station a short distance away for solo runners, there is no reason to put a fully-stocked aid station at a stop intended mostly for people with crews.  The reason made sense and by that point, with more practice than I really wanted, I was moving through the 5 stages of race grief from denial to acceptance in about 3 seconds. “So, ok, no food here, I need to go another 1.3 miles to get food.  Let’s go.”

Even though there was no food, I did stop to try to get a small rock out of my shoe or sock – I fumbled with the gaiter, (Volunteer after watching me for a bit: “Do you need some help with that?”), wrestled the shoe off, dumped a quarter pound of fine black dirt out of the shoe but didn’t see a small rock, pried the once-yellow-now-black sock off, dumped more dirt out of that, and then reversed it all.

I reset my focus on the fully-stocked aid station 1.3 miles down the road.  A quarter mile later I felt the same small rock again.  By moving my foot around, I was able to select between four positions for the rock – jabbing the side of my big toe, irritating the space between my big toe and next toe over, stabbing underneath the ball of my foot, or some mystery space where I couldn’t feel it.  I selected “mystery space” and continued on, but after the accumulation of setbacks small and tiny, I couldn’t muster more than a steady walk on the very runnable dirt road.  Eventually I arrived at Dale’s Kitchen/mile 56.3.  At this point I was in 56th place – holding pretty steady after my first big wrong turn.

Dale’s Kitchen (mile 56.3) to Cibbet’s Flat to Dale’s Kitchen (mile 71.7):  Dale’s Kitchen was The Critical Aid Station for me and most everyone.  From Dale’s Kitchen, you continue on the PCT down a long ridgeline, and eventually take a short detour down a fire road to the Cibbet’s Flat aid station.  Then you turn around and hike back up.  It’s comical how different my hopes for this section were from reality.  Even though I carried a cheat sheet showing it was almost 16 miles round trip, I was convinced it was about 14.  I figured the round trip would take about 3 hours – it took more than 5.  I had hoped to do most of the downhill portion in the daylight, so running would be easier – it got dark about 10 minutes after I started down.  I assumed it would be runnable (“It’s the big famous PCT, it’s downhill, it must be runnable”) but there were lots of stones to stumble and trip on and I walked huge portions in both directions.

Besides the misplaced optimism, I also made (at least) two mistakes when I passed through Dale’s Kitchen the first time.  For reasons that made sense for about 2 minutes while I was sitting in the aid station, I picked up my headlamp (which I knew I’d need soon) but decided I could pick up my handheld flashlight on the return trip.  I like to run with both a headlamp and a flashlight because the headlamp doesn’t bounce around and the flashlight is brighter and does a better job of highlighting things I can trip on.  But I chose not to get my flashlight yet.  Essentially my reasoning was “In order to have a couple ounces less in my hand and save a few seconds, I’ll give up vast chunks of time because I can’t see as well as I need to in order to run.”  If I ever give sage advice, please ignore me.

Mistake number 2 was taking off my Seven Hills cap and ice bandana and putting them in my drop bag instead of my pack.  I also left my handheld water bottle for body dowsing.  At that point I thought I’d still finish within an hour or two of sunrise, it was getting dark and cooling down and I was relieved to have survived the day’s heat.  “I’m done with this stuff!”  My mistake became clear about 7 hours later in the middle of the night, when I realized that I would be finishing the race in the next day’s sun and heat, with no sun hat and maybe not enough water.  Oh and in hindsight, mistake number 3 at Dale’s Kitchen was not collecting the hat and bottle again on the return trip when I knew I was going much slower than expected.  (But I did collect my flashlight!).

In spite of the mistakes, my first stop at Dale’s Kitchen was great.  I finally had a chance to catch-up/recover – eat, drink, cool down.  I poured in 3 cups of the world’s best tomato soup, sat for a few minutes, pondered the contents of my drop bag, and pulled myself together in prep for the last 44 miles.

During the out-and-back to Cibbet’s Flat, I saw every single runner left in the race.  I passed the leader (Nate Jaqua) about 5 minutes after I left the aid station, and I passed the last runners coming down shortly before I got back up to Dale’s Kitchen.  Michael Wardian was towards the front – he is a friendly, enthusiastic person but he did not look happy at that moment in time.  Possibly this is because it was almost dark, he didn’t have his headlamp, and he had at least a mile left up the hill.  Roger Levesque (he and Nate are former Seattle Sounders, Nate won the race, and Roger finished ninth in his first 100 mile race) told me he had the same headlamp problem.  Like me, he’d been overly-optimistic about how quickly he’d handle the out-and-back, he didn’t collect his headlamp before heading down, and darkness descended on him long before he got back to Dale’s Kitchen.  He said he spent about an hour picking his way in darkness, by feel, over the last couple miles of rocky trail up the hill.

Besides getting my one-and-only chance to see the fast people, it was also a chance to see how other friends were doing.  It was a little tricky – as I approached a runner coming the other way, we’d each look briefly (“do I know this person?”) and then avert our head/headlamp so we didn’t blind the other person.  It was usually just enough to spot people.  Charlie and Jess weren’t too far behind and seemed ok.  I didn’t see Bob anywhere – I figured at that point that he’d probably had to drop due to too much recent racing.

Going downhill took forever.  Once it got dark, I discovered that I was unable to run.  I’d try to run, stumble over things 2 or 3 times in 15 seconds, give up and settle back into a walk.  After that happened several times, I found I couldn’t run even when the trail was smooth.  I’d try and after 20 seconds my brain was so fatigued (“This is a BAD idea, we shouldn’t be doing this”) that it made my legs feel exhausted and I was back to walking.  For those who know of this, I think it was Noakes’ Central Governor idea in action where the brain protects itself by creating a sense of physical fatigue that you can’t overcome consciously.

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The PCT in all its gory, um, glory.  This is why I couldn’t run in the dark.  Tripping is a one foot thing, but falling is a two foot thing – one foot has a problem and if you can’t land the second foot somewhere stable you go down.  There’s nowhere stable here to land a second foot.  There were relatively smooth sections, occasionally even long ones, but in the dark you never know when you’ll suddenly find yourself in a stretch like this.  Thus, 30 miles of mostly-walking through the night.  Contrast this with Western States, where the last 38 miles – run in darkness by most of us – are like that smooth trail in the picture further above.

Going uphill back to Dale’s Kitchen took forever also, but only about 20 minutes more than the downhill portion. When I got back to Dale’s Kitchen, UltraLive tracking shows I had moved up a few spots to 53rd – even though I’d lost a couple more places on the downhill.

Dale’s Kitchen to Pioneer Mail 2 (mile 84.3):  I left Dale’s Kitchen for the second time feeling optimistic.  I had restocked on tomato soup.    The last big climb was behind me.  I had my flashlight now also, and would have enough visibility to run.  I had about 20 miles of PCT ahead of me, so no worrying about getting lost.

For a short distance, the optimism seemed appropriate.  The trail was a little uphill, I walked along at a good clip, and I seemed to be catching up to a weird green light ahead.  But then I hit a downhill stretch, tried running, tripped a lot, felt my exhausted quads again, and went back to a walk.  I caught the green light a short while later – it turned out to be an unusual light on the back of a runner’s pack.  We were told the next aid station was only 3 miles away (3.6 actually) and I was doubtful that I could pass the person and stay ahead of him without a high risk of landing on my face, so I hung back and we chatted a little for a mile or two until the next aid station.  We arrived there, I ate and refilled and set off alone moving a little faster again (still walking though, not running).

Time and miles passed, and then I realized I hadn’t seen a course marker in a while.  “Uh-oh.  Did I miss a turn?  Are there even other trails out there?  How often would the PCT have a marker?”  I continued on a for a bit, no marker. A bit further, no marker.  “&^%$!  I can’t believe I missed a turn for the 3rd time”.  I turned around dejected, walked back up the trail for a quarter mile, looked very careful high and low on both sides of the trail for a marker and saw none.  Just then, my green-lighted friend (aka Daniel according to UltraLive) showed up – he’d run the trail 2 weeks before, and was convinced that we were on the correct path.  So I turned around and followed him down.  Neither of us saw a marker in the section I had retraced, but shortly after that we did find a small red flag two inches off the ground on a small plant.  Another ~10 minutes lost due to route-finding, although objectively I did the right thing by turning back – keeping a small problem from becoming a big disaster.  And this never would have happened without my earlier errors lingering in the back of my mind.

Daniel mentioned that his light batteries were dying and his spares were at the next aid station, so I hung back with him.  A few people scooted past us and I was tempted to follow them, but after Daniel had helped me I didn’t want to leave him in a situation where he was navigating without light.  We continued on to Penny Pines 2, and UltraLive tells me that when we arrived I had worked my way backwards from 53rd at Dale’s Kitchen to 61st place at Penny Pines 2.  Daniel went to get his drop bag and batteries, I refilled my bottles and set off.  Time and miles passed, and I rolled into Pioneer Mail 2 at about 5am just as the sky was getting light.

Pioneer Mail 2 to Finish (mile 100.5): When I left Pioneer Mail 2, I had 16 miles to go, with about 3 hours of decent temperatures ahead.  I figured I was going about 3 1/2 miles per hour, which meant I was going to be in the heat again for an hour or two, with no sun hat.  This realization made me very unhappy. I had celebrated being done with the heat the night before, and had a pretty visceral reaction to the possibility of another unplanned hot morning.  As I trudged up the small hill from the aid station (the 4 Pioneer Mail pictures above show that hill), I did some pace math – if I could speed up to 4 mph/15 minute miles, I could be done around 9am – not great but a lot better than 10am.  That would be about 27 hours for the race.  Then I remembered that my best time for 100 miles was at Western States last year – I couldn’t remember exactly but it was something like 26:56.  So it was set – I would try to avoid most of the heat by aiming for a small 100 mile PR.  But that meant I had to run a little more than I had for the last 9 hours.

Two wonderful things happened as I topped out on the climb and rounded a bend.  First, the sun popped up over a mountain to the east, shining through a small cloud in the distance and casting everything in a pinkish-purple light.  Look at the SD100 photo at UltraSignup, and imagine the rocks a little more pinkish-purple – it was spectacular and I felt really lucky to be there.  Second, I found that being able to see meant being able to run.  Yes, my legs still felt tired, but my brain could cope and I could run for more than 15 seconds at a time.  The trail was rolling and there were still uphills to walk, but the downhills and flats went at a slow-but-steady run.  Even the slight uphills seemed runnable.

I rounded a bend and, for the first time in a long time, saw someone ahead of me.  I passed him a short while later, then saw two more and passed them.  Miles ticked away, and eventually I turned off the PCT, ran a couple hundred yards, and arrived at Sunrise 2 a little before 7am.

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The remains of the Sunrise Aid Station, a day after the race.  It was very well stocked.  E.g. note the two green guys at the corner of the trailer, used to warn drivers: “Slow people – with very bad judgment – crossing the road”.

Aside from eating a little and making sure my 2 bottles were full for the last 9 hot miles, my main goal at Sunrise was getting sunscreen.  I smeared it all over my face, neck, arms, and the large hairless spot on my head, and took off.  When I left, I had about 125 minutes to travel 9 miles to beat my PR.  That’s a bit faster than 4 miles hour/14 minute miles, and I hadn’t traveled that fast in about 60 miles.  But I felt good, and tried to run for several minutes at a time while keeping any walking to a minute or less.  The first mile took 11 minutes – I picked up some time.  The second mile also took 11 minutes – a little more time banked.  After each mile I’d recalculate – 103 minutes to go 7 miles, that’s just under 15 minute miles, etc..  Things looked good but I worried about a sudden epic collapse due to heat or something else, so I kept moving.  I passed more people, including one of the Triple Crown people I’d met – he said something like “You’ve gotta be kidding me” as I trotted by.

Shortly further on, I saw a commotion in the dirt road ahead of me – 6 people or so, moving funny, taking pictures, and doing something not at all recognizable to me from a distance.  As I neared them, someone ran very quickly for a short distance while screaming, and a guy turned to me and said “watch out, run on the right side, there’s a rattlesnake on the left”.  I was on a mission at that point and wasn’t going to let possible death interfere with getting out of the heat, so I motored on through (on the right side).  As I passed, I looked to the left and saw the largest rattlesnake I’ve ever seen – about two inches in diameter, several feet long – all coiled up and looking pretty lethal.  I saw one of the race people driving in shortly after, mentioned the snake, and thankfully didn’t hear of any DNF’s due to snakebite.

The fun thing about pace math is that if you are going faster than the goal pace, the math gets more and more favorable over time.  I went from needing to run 14 minute miles at the beginning, to something like 17 minute miles 4 miles out – walking pace – to being able to crawl the rest of the way and make it.  I was getting hot in the last mile or two, and after hours of my heart rate being really low, it was climbing again, so I walked a little bit extra to make sure I didn’t snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

The last mile or so of the race is a bit of a cruel joke – you see the finish close by but have to run way around a reedy marsh to get to it, and then there’s a short steep hill just before the finish.  It passed quickly though and then I was across the line.  Official time 26:38:04, 46th place, 4th guy in my old guys age group. 100 mile PR by about 16 minutes (turns out that my memory was off – it was 26:54 last June not the 26:56 I was thinking as I did pace math).  And the one thing I really cared about – I finished before it got really hot again.

Someone asked me if I ran the time I wanted to.  It turns out that’s a complicated question:  No, I didn’t go under 24 hours like I thought was possible when the forecast was cool.  Yes, I did hit the goal I set well into the race when I understood the terrain, heat, etc..  And finally, who cares – it was a challenging and ultimately successful (long) day spent outside in a beautiful place, with many many people taking care of all of us.  I was lucky to get to be there.

After I finished, race director Scott Mills got me a hat and dragged me out of the sun.  Some nice people (police or maybe fire department?) looked at a couple minor blisters on my feet and put band aids on.  I got my finisher swag.  I talked with Bob, who had in fact DNF’d to avoid serious damage to his tired body.  I sat with Roger and Nate – 9th and 1st place respectively – and we applauded as other people finished.  I watched time pass – 9:30, 10, 10:30 – and thought of Charlie and Jess and everyone still out there suffering through a second day of heat.  I listened as the race organizers repeatedly sent someone to purchase and deliver more ice for the impromptu aid station they set up in the middle of the last section.  I ate a little bit.  I eventually found my drop bag with my spare shoes -for some reason I did not think to leave after-race shoes at the finish, so I was dependent upon the drop bag reappearing unless I wanted to put my dirt-filled race shoes back on.  I happily watched Charlie (~11am) and then Jess (~noon) cross the line and get out of the heat.  I talked to them for a bit and we all congratulated each other for doing something pretty hard.  And then it was done – I headed back to my hotel, washed a thick coat of trail dust off my legs, and took a nap.

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This is what happens when you run on a dusty trail with ice constantly melting on your upper body – a black epoxy forms on your lower legs.

According to UltraLive, 252 people started, 137 finished, and 125 people dropped out during the race.  Scott Mills said the finish rate is typically around 72%.  With the heat this year, it was about 54%.  The course records are 15:48 (men) and 19:32 (woman) although the course changed significantly this year so comparisons are at best sketchy.  That said, this year the winning man’s (aka Nate’s) time was 19:15 and the woman’s time was 22:00 (run by someone who also won two years ago with a 20:08).  The heat was significant- and the race organizers and volunteers did an amazing job helping us deal with it.  Thank you.

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Just a portion of the race swag.  I know I’m forgetting stuff, but here’s a list.  Pre-race swag: The shoe bag at the top left, an OrangeMud water bottle, Injinji socks, nutritional samples.  Raffle swag I won (odds were pretty good of winning something):  High Desert Drop bag plus 2 more pairs of Injinji socks.  Finishers swag:  The gray hoody, the red/gray bag in the middle, the huge medal, a belt buckle, the mug, the hat.  Plus I bought a warm hat and a bottle opener before I knew how much stuff we’d get.  I had to pack a bunch of stuff into the new red/gray bag and check my wheelie on the flight home.  I need exactly 0 of this stuff and it’s not why I do these events, but now I’ll be a walking advertisement for the race.

California Triple Crown Update:  Of the 20 of us doing the CTC, 8 DNF’d at San Diego, leaving 12 of us with a chance to complete all three races (San Diego, Santa Barbara, Angeles Crest).  Before the race started I met Ray Sanchez, the CTC entrant with a stellar ultra resume – the person I guessed would “win” (although anyone who finishes all three wins in my opinion, or even finishes one of these hard races).  He’s a multiple-time Badwater finisher (~135 miles in Death Valley in July heat), has done enough races that I know only a catastrophe will prevent him from finishing, and he’s fast enough to win races occasionally. Leaving Ray for a moment – and this will make sense when we return to him – I recently saw an article about David Laney and UTMB, in which David Laney likens marathons to very hard math problems and ultras to boxing matches.  (“Just keep getting punched in the face and you’re ok”).  Back to Ray Sanchez – I was talking to him about heat acclimation and he said, “I used to be a boxer…”.

Ray is currently in first, the person I voted for (Ray was a last minute entrant and I had already voted) is in second, and after passing a handful of CTC entrants in the last 16 miles, I’m in 3rd.  That said, I am pretty sure I am the only person paying attention to standings.  Most of us are recovering, happy to finish or getting over the disappointment of not finishing, and trying not to remember that we get to do this again in a month.

Bonus cool thing totally unrelated to SD100: The San Diego RnR Marathon happened to be on Sunday, the morning before my flight home from SD100.  I was waiting in the airport buying tea, and the person next to me looked familiar.

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Olympic medalist Shalane Flanagan, who won the RnR Half-Marathon by running a 40 second PR, and who very graciously let the strange star-struck guy take a picture with her even though her hands were full.  This is the runner equivalent of running into Steph Curry or LeBron James if you are a basketball fan.

 

Posted by: pointlenana | June 1, 2016

Exercise Of The Month: June 2016 – Barbell Complex

There’s a lot going on right now, so I’m going to cheat this month and go with an exercise that there’s a great video for.

I used to spend a lot of time looking at the Mountain Athlete site, which I’d describe as 1) like CrossFit in terms of exercise variety 2) better than CrossFit because the workouts are programmed to make sense in a given day and over time 3) harder than CrossFit because the workouts last an hour or more vs. the ~15 minute workout I did when I went to CrossFit once.  Mountain Athlete has evolved (new name, related programs, and most importantly you pay to see the workouts now aside from some samples).  But there are still some good free videos out there of the exercises they do.

One full-body exercise I like (and my Marine son likes) is the Mountain Athlete Barbell Complex.  Get the right weight on a barbell, and do the following:

  • 6 deadlifts
  • 6 bent over rows
  • 6 hang power cleans
  • 6 front squats
  • 6 push presses
  • 6 back squats
  • drop the bar and do 6 pushups

This Mountain Athlete video shows the sequence. 

(The instep stretch at the end is a new addition since I did it – I’ve never done it that way.)

6 reps each of 7 exercises.  That’s one set.

Here’s a killer workout: 10 sets of the barbell complex in 20 minutes, starting each set on 2 minute intervals.  For each set, do the complex and then rest until 2 minutes comes around.  The key to making this a difficult-but-good workout is getting the right weight.  Too light and you end up with too much rest, too heavy and you can’t complete 10 rounds.  If the weight is right, each set will take 60-75 seconds, you’ll be hating life by the 6th or 7th round, but you’ll be able to finish.  It might take doing this workout 2 or 3 times to settle on a good weight.  I’m weak, so ~55 lbs is plenty challenging.   I think the guy in the video might have 95 lbs or more.

Have fun!

 

 

If you want just the facts:

If you want to read more:

Next Friday  I’ll start the San Diego 100 race.  This is the first race in the 3-part “California Triple Crown” (CTC) ultra stage race – San Diego 100 (early June), Santa Barbara 100 (early July), Angeles Crest 100 (early August).  Three 100 mile races in about 9 weeks.

Not to diminish it, but the CTC is in a way a marketing thing that the SB100 race director Jakob Herrmann came up with.  Angeles Crest is one of the first 100 mile races in the country.  San Diego is not quite as old but has a great reputation.  Santa Barbara is only a few years old, the entrants list is pretty small, and it’s a hard event (24,000 feet of climbing, in July heat).  CTC is enticement for anyone doing San Diego and Angeles Crest to throw in Santa Barbara also, although I imagine CTC will eventually be A Thing on its own.  Jakob’s idea appears to be working – last year there were 24 finishers in the SB100 and this year 71 people have signed up including 20 of us who are doing the CTC.  Nice job coming up with a clever approach that helps SB100 and creates this other thing.

In my case, I managed to get into AC100 during the 73 second signup window.  Then I signed up for SD100 because Janet and I met the race director Scott Mills at UTMB, he’s legendary in the ultra community, and SD100 seemed like great training for AC100.  Then I sat for a while, well aware that if I signed up for SB100 also I could be part of this CTC thing and get a special t-shirt.  I’ve said before that I’m a sucker for a special t-shirt, so after waiting a couple months to make sure my various injuries last fall were healed, I took the SB100/CTC plunge.

This is the elevation chart for the races

CTC profiles

Blue is AC100 – altitude, climbing, heat and distance.  Green is SD100 – heat, altitude, and distance.  Orange is SB100 – heat, climbing and distance.

Because I have this overall 3-race goal – and have no idea how well I’ll recover in the month between each race – I can’t really go crazy in any one race.  That said, I do have goals for CTC and SD100 (I’ll figure out the goals for SB100 and AC100 later on, when I need to and after I’ve seen how SD100 goes.)

My goals for CTC, in order of likelihood:

  1. Become the oldest finisher.  This is one and the same as finishing the three races, because I’m the oldest person signed up and the only person to complete it last year (the first year of CTC) was 37.
  2. Post an oldest finisher time that hangs around for more than one year – no idea what that will take but it would be nice to have an oldest time that’s decent vs. by default.
  3. Finish in the top 5.  There are only 20 of us entered in all 3 races, so it’s not a big pool.  Looking at the other entrants, I think I can be competitive for a top 5 spot.
  4. Finish in the top 3.  I’d be pretty happy about this.  There are about 8 other people who could easily go a little bit or a lot faster than me.  (There’s also 1 guy – Ray Sanchez – who has finished Badwater several times and has a very impressive running resume.  He’s the favorite to win CTC in my opinion but he has 0 votes on the CTC site because he signed up last minute and the ~50 people who cared – meaning the other racers and their families- had already voted.).

A lot can go wrong in a single long race, and there’s that whole recovery issue between races.  In a way, having any goal other than finishing one race, let alone three, is ambitious.

My goals for San Diego:

  1. Finish healthy, so I can continue CTC.
  2. Finish in under 24 hours.  This might be my best chance to complete a 100 mile trail race under 24 hours – there is about 13000 feet of climbing, less than my other 100’s.  That said, finish times at San Diego are usually similar to Western States, so the course is somehow harder than it looks on paper.  Heat perhaps.

EPSON MFP image

I’ll carry a laminated version of this – it shows the aid stations, where my drop bags are, what kind of climbing fun I have to look forward to, etc.. The numbers at the top are miles, the numbers at the bottom is my ETA/time of day. The red boxes are drop bags where I have to collect stuff (e.g. an extra water bottle if it’s hot, my lights for the night).

 

The forecast for Fri and Fri night is pretty warm – highs in the mid-80s and lows in the mid/high 60s.  I’ve been heat-training though and my big lesson at Western States was to take it easy during the 8-10 hours when it’s really hot so I can move along after that.  If I need to, I’ll let the race pull away from me some Friday afternoon in the hopes that I’ll be in good shape when it cools.  Finally, I’ll do all the active cooling stuff – ice in my backpack, under my hat, and in a bandana around my neck, plus an extra water bottle to dowse myself.  It’s tricky though – I thought I was ok at Western States but it went bad pretty quickly.  Hopefully I’m a little more aware and cautious this time.

Update: As of Wed afternoon, the forecasts are into the 90s and for “record heat”.  At this point I’m thinking “finish alive” is an excellent goal.

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