Posted by: pointlenana | November 8, 2017

Moab 240

Knock me down, tear me up, I would bear it all broken just to fill my cup – The Decemberists

Rule #2 (According to Janet, Rule #1 is that you can walk whenever you feel like it.    Rule #1 is already taken, so I’ll have to go with Rule #2):  If you have a huge multi-day race, don’t rack up a lot of “I’ll do that right after my huge race” commitments.  It gets in the way of writing the really long race report.

Moab 240 short version:  238+ miles, 30000 feet of climbing, highs in the 80s, lows in the teens (or lower for some racers), elevations ranging from 3000 feet to 10500 feet, and 90.5 hours of learning a lot about myself.

Longer version:  There are two stories here.  One is the typical race thing – I crossed a start line, stuff happened, I crossed a finish line.  The other is a more interesting vision-quest type of thing (not that I’m an expert) – days spent in nature, sleep deprivation, temperature extremes, fasting physical exertion and personal discovery.  This mostly covers the first story and hints at the second.  If you really want the second story, you might consider running a 200+ mile race.

Pre-race:

I drove from Seattle to Moab over 3 days, just to avoid really long days in the car which might wreck my aging body.  Eastern Oregon, Idaho, and northwest Utah – all places I’d never been – are all really empty.  Make sure you fill your gas tank when you can.  I got lost on Yale Road in Idaho, which is an inside joke.  The Wasatch Front (Salt Lake City and the apparently-600 mile stretch of suburbia around it) are not my favorite, although the Wasatch mountains looked pretty awesome with oaks turning red on the hillsides (kudos to Janet for knowing what might be red).  About an hour east of the Wasatch Front I finally found myself in the Moab version of Utah I expected when I left Seattle.

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Yale Road, Idaho.

I camped at the start/finish for a couple nights before the race.  It was quite the setting – in a beautiful valley along the Colorado river between sandstone cliffs, just south of Moab.  When I arrived, I met Randy and his wife Laurie (who looks really familiar) from Vancouver camping next to me.  I went to the Moab Brewery for dinner and the person next to me – Dan From Cincinnati – was also running the race.   The day before the race I ran a short distance up (actually down, according to the river flow) the valley and was astonished at the steep red cliffs around me.  I checked in, had a nice brief chat with the AMD (Amazing Medical Director – Todd Nardi, who we met at Tahoe last year), talked to a few other runners, and had some kind of minimal dinner.

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An official pre-race picture, before the wear and tear.  Photo: Scott Rokis/Howie Stern

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I took this photo about 50 feet from the tent I camped in before the start.

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Drop bags: 130 runners x 240 miles = a *&^ton of stuff.

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This was the best drop bag I saw.  Priorities.  Proper ultra nutrition in a handy carrying case.

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A small portion of race headquarters.  They also had folks in town where there was reliable cell service/internet.  The ham radio operators who were working at the start/finish set up a local wifi hot spot – how cool is that?  It was solar powered though so it died every evening.

Race morning was cold.  At the start, I found myself next to someone named Courtney Dauwalter – she set an American record at a 24 hour race my friend Bob ran earlier this year, and that’s a very small world – and introduced myself.  Then, realizing I was way too far forward, I moved well back in the pack to be with my equally-speed-challenged peeps.  I shivered for 10 minutes until someone said we could go.

Day 1:  I knew the first half mile was on relatively flat road, so I ran a little harder than I wanted just to warm up.  Easy tradeoff – use the energy to shiver or use it to cover some ground.  We turned off the road, and headed towards 50 or so miles of very remote running just east of Canyonlands National Park.

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Looking north-ish back towards the start.  The scenery was decent. Photo: Scott Rokis/Howie Stern

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Photo: Scott Rokis/Howie Stern

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We wound down the canyon, with a mesa above on the left and the Colorado river below us on the right.  I stepped off the path a lot in the early miles to let people I should never have been in front of pass me.  After 4 or 5 miles I found a reasonable spot in the pack and chatted with people I would see on and off for the next 230+ miles/4 days.  At mile 7 or so we dropped down the one truly notable feature of the course, Jackson’s Ladder.  Van Phan posted a picture of it with the caption “Suicidal Descent”.  It wasn’t quite that bad but it was definitely steep and with a little effort it would have been possible to descend fatally quickly.  After that we settled into, oh, 40 miles of running on a jeep trail in the middle of nowhere, working towards the final, oh, 190 miles of the race.

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Starting down Jackson’s Ladder.  Photo: Scott Rokis/Howie Stern

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Looking down Jackson’s Ladder.  There are runners in the shadow just past the sun.

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Near the bottom of Jackson’s Ladder.  That road in the valley is pretty typical of the rest of the day – mesa to the left, jeep road, and sun-baked.

The scenery was gorgeous – some combination of old Western movies and The Martian.  We ran along plateaus with mesas to the east and canyons and the Colorado on our right, with an occasional descent or climb up a wash to keep things interesting.

After the cold start, the day gradually warmed up, and then warmed up some more.  I knew it would be warm but somewhere in the second leg (maybe 20 miles into the race?) I realized my brain was a little off and I was getting too hot.  “Danger Will Robinson!  You can’t get hot.”  The emergency brakes fired and I slowed a little.  Or maybe a lot.  This probably saved me.  By the second aid station, 6 people (out of about 130 starters) had already dropped, probably due to heat.  Another friend from Seattle wrecked his race here – he didn’t drop until many hours later but he got hot during the day and his race unwound.  I made a couple small mistakes at the first two aid stations – not filling a fourth water bottle at the first and not topping off a bottle at the second, and ended up rationing water a little bit between aid stations – I carried 110 oz of water in the hottest sections and intended to carry about 130 oz.  I ran out of water a mile or so before the aid stations but was close enough.  Other people simply ran out of water and suffered on for 2, 4, 6 miles in the heat until an aid station materialized.

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The first aid station at Hurrah Pass.  Note how it’s hidden away in a not-so-dark hollow.  I’ll come back to that later.

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Looking north along the Colorado.

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The Colorado River is barely visible in the middle.  Canyonlands lies beyond.

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Here’s a good view on how the first day went:  We’re headed for the right side of the picture, which is a mile or two away.  To get there, around the canyon/wash, we run about 8 miles up to the left and around the valley before we arrive back at the right side of the picture.  Repeat that about 10 times, throw in some heat, relentless sun exposure, tired legs and fear over the remaining 200 miles, and you start to get the idea.

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I sat at the Breaking Bad aid station for a little while, trying to recover and reset after getting hot.  As usual, I didn’t recover for quite long enough – instead of aiming to feel better, I should aim to feel better and then get to the point of being bored.  Instead I continued too quickly and about a mile out of the aid station my stomach told me not to put any more food in it.  I had 18 or so miles left until the next aid station, so I told my stomach “ok” and proceeded to walk for about 6 hours until it got dark and the aid station finally appeared.  I probably had two gels during that time, sipping them very very slowly to avoid a stomach rebellion.  This stretch was pretty flat but also very sandy (1-3 inches deep in the jeep road) and windy.  Thankfully the wind wasn’t strong enough to carry the sand up to my eyes but I did get a scour from the waist down.

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I think Breaking Bad is actually in New Mexico.  I took this photo at the spot where they originally planned to put the Breaking Bad aid station.  I wonder where the name came from?  The course description mentioned a “rough looking trailer”.  If Candice Burt offers you something that is “rough looking”, you might want to be extra careful.

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Trying to move forward in spite of not eating.  Photo: Scott Rokis/Howie Stern

Hamburger Rock aid station was probably the busiest aid station I’ve ever seen in ultra racing.  (Ok, a couple of the early stops at UTMB – with 2300 runners, vs. the 130 runners at Moab – might have been busier.)  At 10pm on Day 1, Hamburger Rock was packed.  All the sleep spots were taken.  People were passed out in chairs near the fire.  I arrived later than I wanted and needed to reset after many hours of not eating and dealing with heat, but there was no space.  It was also too early for me to sleep.  So I ate, talked with Van Phan about the crowded aid station, fiddled with all the stuff in my drop bag, and left.

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I think this is Hamburger Rock and I guess I got my foot worked on there – I don’t remember that.  I’m sitting just past the yellow volunteer shirt, talking with Dan From Cincinnati.  Look at all the people waiting on the runners.  The volunteers were awesome.  Photo: Scott Rokis/Howie Stern

The first few miles out of Hamburger Rock were on a nice dirt road and then a paved road.  I was starting to feel better, so I scooted along in the darkness, chatting with and passing a few people along the way.  We turned off the road, and then turned into the first of a couple river/stream transits.  I worked my way up the narrow stream, crossing back and forth over it about 1743 times while trying to keep my feet dry, and tried to open a small gap between me and the occasionally-distracting headlamps behind me.  Eventually the other headlamps disappeared, and after some unknown amount of time The Island aid station appeared.

I plunked in a chair, and focused on the most important to-do at every aid station I slept at – feeding all my electronics so they’d stay alive through the race.  I got my portable charger out of the drop bag and plugged in my headlamp battery and my watch and my Inreach gps and maybe one other thing.  Once I’d gotten those going, I ate and told an awesome medical volunteer I’d need some taping after I slept.  Stupidly, I wandered off towards the sleep tents without a headlamp and managed to walk through some pokey bushes along the way.  Oh yeah, I might have detoured into one of the luxury port-a-loos – picture a small teepee tent over an orange Home Depot bucket with a garbage bag inside the bucket and a toilet seat perched on top.  Luxury.  Thankfully it was airy.  Anyhoo…  I made it to the sleep tent, found an empty berth, and crawled in under a blanket next to my friend Randy from the campground before the race.  I lay there, noticing that the blanket wasn’t warm enough, and also noticing that with every gust of wind, the tent side would bend in, raising the tent corner, which would raise the vinyl pillow, which would bang into my head and neck.  It turns out it’s very hard to sleep when your pillow is banging you in the head every 10 to 15 seconds.  After a restful-but-sleepless 30-45 minutes, I sighed, and made my way back to the food/drop bags.  The medical volunteer  taped up my hot spot nicely.  I retrieved my electronics, ate some more, and set off into the 4am darkness.

It’s amazing how beneficial lying flat and not sleeping can be.  When I left the aid station, I felt 1000 times better than I had during the hot first day.  I passed a handful of people in the next several miles, and gradually the sun came up.

Day 2:

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One of the best things in the world is seeing the sun come up after a night traveling in the dark.  Somewhere near the Bridger Jack aid station.

I don’t think I have my nutrition worked out enough.  Over and over again – until I got a tip later in the race – I would run (or at least travel) well for the first 2/3 of the very long legs (15-21 miles between aid stations) and then fade.  Running from The Island to Bridger Jack, I noticed this for the first time.  I felt great and could move, then I faded, and then I started hating life.  I rolled into the Bridger Jack aid station and plunked in a chair.  My other foot was going by this point so I needed more taping.  I knew the steepest climb was coming up, and (DON’T DO IT!!!) did the math – I’d run about 80 miles and only had… holy shit, wtf… 160 miles left.  A wonderful aid station volunteer – we’ll call him Dave – started giving me shit.  “Runner #2 – I need you to know that you’ve been sitting here for 20 minutes and the cutoff is only 12 hours away.  You probably need to get going.”  And then Wonderful Dave told the medical volunteer that I wasn’t in a hurry so I got skipped over for taping (grrrr…).  I waited for the medical person to come back and ate some more, and Dave said he couldn’t tell if I was tired or annoyed by his yammering or something else.  Mostly tired…

While I was sitting there waiting for the medical volunteer to finish with a runner that apparently had 170 hot spots on his feet, another runner came in and sat down next to me.  Her crew converged.  I looked at the person in front of me.  “Are you Jason Koop?”  Yep.  I chatted with him for a couple minutes until I noticed his runner giving me a dirty look because I was distracting her crew.   Ooops.  Nice guy though.  Another runner came in and cadged some Ibuprofen off a volunteer – they don’t stock Ibuprofen in the aid stations because runners do stupid things (like take 400 tablets in 6 hours), but this guy (Brandon) had rolled his ankle and wanted to keep the swelling down.

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Jason Koop (coach to some amazing runners) and some bad-smelling dude.

Eventually I got my foot taped and trundled down the road towards the Shay Mountain climb.  After a nice downhill, I ended up in an endless, sandy, endless riverbed.  I could see a runner ahead and for hours (forever?) we followed the sand through the riverbends.  It was warm again, my feet hurt, I had six zillion miles ahead of me, and the riverbed wouldn’t end.  But it did eventually, and we crossed one of the few freshwater sources on the course (this was all grazing land, so “fresh” is generous here – I’m glad I had my BeFree water filter).  I filled up, and started up the Shay Mountain climb.

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The horrid riverbed we followed on the approach to Shay Mountain.

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Before things got hard.  Photo: Scott Rokis/Howie Stern

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I don’t know where this was taken, but it captures my Shay Mountain mood.  Photo:  Sean Mulvaney

Everyone passed me in the next few miles, at least that’s what it felt like.  The other runners moved steadily up the hill in the heat, while I wilted and seemed to move backwards.  I only had 155 miles left – shit, wtf.  I considered texting Janet (no cell service but I had my Inreach which can text via satellite) and telling her that I wasn’t having any fun and would drop.  People kept passing.  At some point I found myself with sprained-ankle Brandon and somehow managed to keep up with him or at least keep him in sight.  I forgot about dropping, caught Brandon, and talked with him about the likelihood of having to ascend the jeep road ridiculously high above us on the hillside across the way.  Yep.  We trudged up.  Brandon got to the next aid station a little ahead of me, but I was efficient and ready to leave around the same time he left.  Except that I found the world’s best outhouse on my way out.

After a day in the heat, we expected it to cool off and get really cold.  It started to do that just as we left the aid station – cool enough for more clothes and a little breezy.  I need to take care of business though so I detoured into the campground outhouse.  It was one of those big airy outhouses with a cement floor, and it had been warming in the sun all day.  No breeze, it was warm, and I could sit down.  I might still be there today but for some inexplicable drive to continue and finish.

I headed down the paved road, running pretty quickly and passing a couple people who had passed me going up Shay Mountain.  I caught Brandon and two others just after we turned off the paved road – all three of them were peeing in the bushes and they told me that peeing in that spot was mandatory.  I ignored them and continued down the road in the fading sunlight, hoping to get most of the way to the next aid station while I could still see.  Clearly my brain was not functioning in that moment – it was hours away.

It got dark and then cold.  The road wound around and around.  I thought it was supposed to get straight and flat but it wound and went up and down.  It got really cold.  I was semi-running with Brandon at this point, but we were both cold and I don’t remember if I was with him or behind him or ahead of him.   The temps dropped further – up high, for the faster runners, it supposedly got down to 9 degrees.  For us slower runners in the lowlands, it might have been high 20s.  I put on all the clothes I had – barely enough – and hoped I’d get to the aid station and my drop bag with more clothes before I turned into an ice cube.  After hours of running in dark cold – like 5 hours? – we stumbled into the Dry Valley aid station.  Brandon was sure it was a sleep station.  I wasn’t so sure but I talked myself into think it was.  It wasn’t.  But it did have a heated tent with room for about 15 people, a couple cots and a few chairs.  We looked at the volunteers standing outside in the wind wearing down coats and wrapped in 3 blankets, and dived into the tent.  We asked a volunteer to find a couple pads so we could lie down.  “This isn’t a sleep station”.  “Ok, we won’t sleep – would you find those pads now?”  Maybe we said “please”, but I don’t think so.  2 pads appeared – Brandon took one and another runner closer to the volunteer took mine.  WTF?  Fortunately, Jeff Wright from Seattle (who nabbed my “Oldest Issy Alps 100 solo/unsupported finisher” title one week after I nabbed it) returned from the dead on one of the cots right then, and I took his spot.  The cot was farther away from the propane heater though, so I shivered under a blanket for a while and finally gave up on sleeping (which wasn’t allowed anyway…).  The tent was getting crowded at that point and Brandon got up right then, so we dressed and steeled ourselves for a few more hours of dark cold.  I put on everything I had, and we forced ourselves out of the tent just as a volunteer said “This isn’t a sleep station, anyone who has been here two hours needs to move on to make room for others”.

Thankfully, the next leg was ~11 miles of pretty flat smooth dirt road, and eventually 2 miles of paved road – mostly easy running with some walk breaks.  I was really really cold for about 10 minutes and then got amazingly warm and comfortable.  I stripped down to just my wool shirt, arm sleeves, buff, hat, and a thermal sweater (with tights over my shorts) and had a very enjoyable run with Brandon in the dark.  Brandon is some kind of super-human because he stayed in shorts.  The bite valve on my hydration pack started freezing every couple minutes, so I either drank frequently or blew the water up the tube back into the pack.  Time passed.  We looked for headlamps ahead of us.  When we saw one, we tried to do more running than walking.  We caught a couple people, and as we caught them we’d walk and talk with them for a couple minutes before moving on.  We traveled on while trying to figure out where we were, and looked for the aid station.  We got to the paved road, and started up a really long gradual hill.  Brandon was ready to run the hill, and I tried, but I was doing the “start strong and then fade” thing again, so Brandon hung back with me and we walked more than we ran.  We marveled at how well the race had concealed the aid stations – it was dark and we should’ve been able to see the lights at a distance.   After several turns and a drop into a dark hollow that could only be seen from 50 feet away (joking but it felt that way), we arrived at Wind Whistle.  We ate, I got my sleeping bag out of my drop bag, we crawled into sleep spots, and slept.  Again, I was a little cold in my damp clothing but the sleeping bag mostly kept me warm.  Brandon woke up around the same time I did – maybe an hour later?  We ate, and set off just as the sun was rising.

Day 3:  In some ways, day 3 was the crux.  We knew we had a long climb ahead and would end up doing the high section in the La Sal Mountains when it got dark and very cold again.

The first part of the day though was easy.  Easy is a relative term here – we’d covered 135 miles and had been awake for most of two days.  But we were on a fairly smooth dirt road and except for a down/up to get through Hatch Wash it was pretty flat.  Brandon and I ran a fair amount with occasional walk breaks, and looked for runners ahead to catch (and behind, to stay ahead of).  I generally stuck to my walk break plan, and when we’d see a runner ahead Brandon would continue running to catch up.  Then he’d walk and talk while I gradually worked my way up to them.

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This might be my favorite picture from the race.  I spent 2-3 days with Brandon.  Photo: Sean Mulvaney (thanks Sean!)

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This is the other Mark/Brandon picture.  Someone is fading a bit.  Sandstone mound in the distance.  Photo: Scott Rokis/Howie Stern

There were cool sandstone mounds in the desert – a bit like Joshua Tree but larger and sparsely located on the plain.  As we approached a very large one with some kind of alcove, I saw what looked like a loading dock/distribution center built into mountain in the alcove.  I wondered if I was hallucinating so I asked Brandon if he saw anything.  He looked for a bit and and then said “there are houses over there – it’s some kind of settlement.”  We passed a road leading to the village, and Brandon read a small sign:  “Rockland Ranch – Modern Caveman Living”.  (After the race I asked Courtney Dauwalter if she’d seen the Modern Caveman place – she had, and someone told her it was some kind of polygamist community.  I found this article, with some good pictures.)

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That’s me in the bottom right.  Almost certainly.  Photo: Scott Rokis/Howie Stern

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Looking Glass Rock.

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A peek through the looking glass.

We arrived at the Road 46 aid station in good spirits, ate and got ready to go.  Brandon wanted some foot taping, so I walked ahead down the road knowing he’d run until he caught me.  He did, shortly before we turned off the road to start the long 4500 foot climb to the high point of the race in the La Sals.  Right after the turn, we saw a couple trailer-camping in the middle of nowhere – they were cheering us on with cowbells.  I said something like “since you’re cheering, this must be the finish, right?”  It turned out it was race director Candice’s mom.  They offered a noon glass of wine to fortify us – we declined but thanked them for being out to support us.

We wound our way up a jeep trail and then turned up a really gnarly wash – basically a talus slope.  Fortunately, it didn’t last long and were back on a jeep trail on a high plateau sloping up towards the mountains.  It reminded me of being up high on the shield volcanoes in Hawaii, with a little more southwest scrub and a lot less lava.  We walked and ran, looking for runners ahead to catch and runners behind catching us.  As we turned up the steeper road in the midday heat, I started my “every segment fade” again – people started catching me and Brandon gradually pulled away ahead.  Time passed and we kept going up.  Eventually the road leveled out and we started working our way around the backside of the La Sals.  I crossed paths with Van Phan at some point.  I was still hot in the late afternoon heat but I passed a gully coming down from above and really cold air blew past me.  Shortly before the sun disappeared behind the mountains, we arrived at the Pole Canyon aid station.

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Brandon with the La Sal Mountains behind him.  We’re headed up there.

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Looking south, I think towards Shay Mountain which was about 24 hours and 60 miles ago.

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It’s not quite Mauna Loa, but it’s more like Mauna Loa than a lot of things.

8 or 10 of us sat there, including Van and Brandon.  In the 5 minutes after the sun disappeared, the temperature seemed to drop from 75 to 35.  We ate, pulled out our warm clothing and headlamps, and contemplated traveling the next 17 miles at 9000+ feet of elevation in freezing temperatures.  Brandon and I talked about how it would go for him in shorts – his pack was pretty small and he had no tights – and just then someone volunteered that they had spare tights if anyone needed them.  Brandon quickly squeezed himself into the compression tights and we set off.

We climbed up the trail through the woods as the last of the daylight disappeared.  I’m sure this section was beautiful – I’m told this by people who passed through in daylight, and from below as we climbed during the day we could see patches of yellow aspen on the hillsides.  For us it was a very very long, very very cold process of climbing up to some saddle in darkness, dropping into a valley, climbing to another saddle, etc..  The trail was pretty narrow, often with a steep slope going up on one side and falling away sharply on the other.  At some point, Brandon literally started falling away – he’d hit some loose soil at the edge with his foot, slip off the trail, and then basically catch the trail in his hands as he started downhill.  I reached down and hauled him up a couple times.  Then he went a little further down and caught himself as he tumbled past some small trees.  I looked down the hillside past him with my headlamp and couldn’t see anything but steep slope below, so I told him to stop throwing himself off the trail.  And he did.

We caught up to another runner who hadn’t seen trail markings for a while.  We had, so we told him he was on course and continued.  We ran into another runner who was heading up the trail towards us – he’d gotten turned around and was headed in the wrong direction.  (Ironically it was the person who explained to everyone before the race how to use the Gaia app on their phones for navigation).  Van Phan caught us – she said she was really cold and was considering putting on all her clothes and lying down in her bivvy sack for a while until she warmed up.  The three of us traveled on, hoping we were close to the aid station.  After the aid station didn’t appear and didn’t appear, someone wondered how far we were.  I pulled out my Inreach, put it in navigation mode, and said that the Inreach claimed we were 5.7 miles from the aid station – two or more hours at the pace we were traveling.  Brandon and Van almost took my head off.

 

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Looking past Moab towards Canyonlands.  Photo:  Scott Rokis/Howie Stern

 

During the last three hours of that leg, my brain switched off and I learned some things about myself.  I was conscious and remember a fair amount about the trail, but I stopped thinking.  Every part of me just focused on taking the next step.  All the mental energy that I normally use getting from point A to point B – whether it’s on a trail or some personal goal in life – thinking about where I am, how far the goal is, how long it will take, why am I not there already, etc. went into taking the next step, and then the next one, towards my goal.  And that was much better.

Brandon, Van and I stayed loosely together most of the way but towards the end they disappeared behind me.  I waited for a bit until I could see a headlamp behind me, and continued on.  The headlamp disappeared again, but I figured the Oowah Lake aid station was very close so I continued and finally arrived.  Brandon showed up, followed shortly by Van, and he told me his headlamp gave out and he had to stop to change batteries – I felt a bit guilty about not being there to give him some light to work with.

The Pole Canyon to Oowah Lake segment took us about 8 hours.  Temps were probably in the mid-teens, and someone said we did 5600 feet of climbing in the 17 miles.  As I sat in the chair with a blanket around me, trying to warm up near the heater, I felt wrecked but knew that the hardest part was behind us.  We still had 55 miles to go but it was mostly downhill from Oowah Lake to the finish and the sun would be back to warm us.

We disappeared pretty quickly into the sleeping tents.  I had my one genuinely-good sleep there – I finally had the brains to change into a dry shirt before crawling into my sleeping bag.  It wasn’t long – maybe an hour – but I woke up feeling good and ready to go.  I wasn’t sure where Brandon had ended up – I thought I had heard him heading into another tent.  I didn’t really want to leave without him but I also thought he might need the sleep.  My goal before the race was to finish before it got dark for a fourth night, and although it seemed unlikely I thought there was a slight chance that with a downhill (for sure) and decent trails/roads (hopefully), I might still make it.  Also, if my “start strong and then fade” pattern continued, there was a good chance Brandon would catch up anyway, so I got ready to leave.

10 seconds before I was going to leave, Brandon appeared and wondered why I hadn’t woken him – apparently he was lying on the pad next to mine.  We talked about how long it would take for him to get ready and I decided to wait.  I did it begrudgingly at first but then decided that it was stupid to focus on saving a few minutes vs. continuing on with a great companion.  I waited and then Brandon said I should go ahead because he’d probably catch me.  Also, his phone had disappeared somewhere and he wanted to find it.  I looked in the sleeping tent for his phone and couldn’t find it, and he told me again to take off.  I gave him a spare headlamp out of my drop bag – like me he hoped/expected to finish before the fourth night and was out of spare batteries.  I set off, thinking that if I moved along he might not catch me until we were at a point where I could talk him into running with me to the finish even when I faded.

Day 4

It was just getting light as I started – a short trot down a dirt road and then a 1000 foot climb up a trail through the aspens to the dirt road that would take me all the way to the Porcupine Rim aid station.  I looked out past Moab towards Canyonlands and all the terrain we’d covered over the past 3 days.  I spotted Hatch Rock/Modern Caveman Living and saw the Shay Mountain area where I’d suffered, way the heck in the distance.  The next dirt road was in great shape, it was downhill, my legs felt decent, and I was headed towards the finish.  I covered 5 or 6 downhill miles in about an hour.  Life was good.

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Looking up at the La Sals, where we’d traveled through the night.  Yes, that is snow.

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Canyonlands in the distance.

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Have I mentioned that I like sunrises after a night in the dark?

The road leveled out/turned up a little and it was getting warm again, so I went back to running some and walking – a lot.  A few houses appeared – probably the first I’d seen in a couple days (except at Rockland Ranch).  I suddenly got really sleepy and settled down next to a metal gate hoping to nod off for a moment.  After a few minutes I gave up on a nap and continued.  A bit further on I lay down in the road and tried again.  Nope.  Time and miles passed, and I wondered when Brandon would appear.  The road wound around towards Porcupine Rim and Castle Valley, and eventually deposited me at the Porcupine Rim aid station.

I announced that I would love to lie down on a cot and take a nap.  They fed me and then took me over to a cot near the radio station/truck where they report runner progress back to race headquarters.  As I settled in, I heard Brandon arrive and called over to him.  I lay there trying to nap and then I heard the radio say “would you tell runner 136 (aka Brandon) that they found his phone at Oowah Lake – someone is driving it down and will probably arrive before he does”.  Hmmm – Brandon was there but I hadn’t heard any phone delivery.  I called over and told him his phone had been found.  I lay there some more and still couldn’t sleep – it was late morning, I had a bit more than 50k to the finish, there were 7-8 hours of daylight left, and it was mostly downhill.  I might not make it to the finish in daylight, but could I get there soon after?  After maybe 30 minutes of laying there I gave up and went back over to eat some more.  I filled my soft flask with Coke – Brandon had told me that he does that and the calories and caffeine seem to buy him an hour or more of good times.  When I was ready to go, Brandon was still eating and in theory his phone was about to show up.  We agreed again that I should move on and he would catch me.

The section from Porcupine Rim to Arches aid station is pretty spectacular.  (‘ve used that word a lot but the race was like that.)  You start up high right along the cliff down to Castle Valley.  Janet and I stayed for a night in Castle Valley a long time ago after a mountain bike trip in Canyonlands, and I had already been aware of it from some pioneering climbs Layton Kor did back in the early 60s.  That part of the view alone was amazing, but when you turn around you see Arches National Park to the west and Canyonlands to the south.

 

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Looking out over Castle Valley.  Castleton Tower is the spire on the right.  Layton Kor did the first ascent in 1961.  Sandstone is not the most reliable rock to climb.  I’ve seen it described as climbing on quicksand.  Photo: Scott Rokis/Howie Stern

 

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Looking up Castle Valley towards the La Sals.

Although mountain biking is huge in Moab, I hadn’t really seen many bikes until now.   About a mile out of the aid station, they appeared in force.  People stopped along the rim looking down into Castle Valley, people working their way up the hill, and many more working their way downhill in the direction I was going.  I probably saw 300 bikes in 15 miles of downhill trail.  A couple asked “is this some kind of marathon?” and I’m not sure they believed me when I explained what Moab 240 meant.  A few others knew exactly what I was doing and cheered me on.

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Arches National Park

The trail was rougher than I hoped – lots of rocks and drop-offs – and it was getting hot again so I didn’t exactly speed along.  I was also tired for some reason. Go figure.  Late in the descent there was one last spectacular spot where you traverse high along the edge of a mesa with the Colorado River about 500 feet straight down and then the high red cliffs of Arches just beyond.  After that it was rocky descent down to the river and road, and I thought I was close to the aid station – just over a mile maybe.  The Coke in my soft flask had done the trick – I wasn’t fading like I had before.

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Working my way down towards the Colorado River and Moab.  We stayed high and traversed just above the cliffs.

This video shows the trail better than my photo.  I wasn’t moving as quickly as the bikers do, and I wonder how often someone goes over the edge.

The Colorado bends a lot as it works its way into Moab, so I looked at the bend ahead and decided the aid station was just past that bend.  I walked along (and ran a little), ready to eat and rest a bit.  The bend ended and there was another one beyond.  “The aid station must be over there”.  Nope – another bend.  By now I was in a bit of a mood and gave up trying to run at all.  I was walking along at a decent pace, I clearly was going to do most of the final section in darkness whether I did this part quickly or slowly, I was in a pretty spot and there didn’t seem to be any point in pushing.  Maybe Brandon would finally catch me.  By the time I reached the aid station, my watch said that the 1+ mile was more like 3 (although I think the canyon walls may have messed up the gps some).  I walked in feeling a little defeated and with sore feet but I told myself I just had one more 18 mile section.

Arches aid station was awesome.  I actually went back there the day after I finished to thank people.  (I wish I could have done that for all the aid stations, and thankfully some of those other folks were at Arches again or showed up at the finish.)  Anyway, I sat down, they cooked up the world’s best quesadilla for me, and volunteer after volunteer came by to make me feel like the most awesome person in the world.  Dave – the guy who was playfully harassing me at Bridger Jack – tried it again and this time I responded with enough humor that he said “wow, you are doing great – if your mood is that good you’ll have no problems from here.”  Given that I was going to finish at midnight or later, I wanted to try to nap again, so they shepherded me over to the tent (Dave’s Love Tent it was called – not sure I want to know more about that…), I asked them to get me up in 30 minutes, and I lay down.  This time I think I nodded off.  I heard one runner arrive and leave soon after, but I didn’t hear Van Phan who came through and left quickly.  They woke me up a little later, and I had another quesadilla.  Brandon arrived as I was getting ready to leave – his phone hadn’t arrived at Porcupine Rim and the heat had gotten to him on the way down – and then he disappeared into the Love Tent to recover.  I filled my soft flask with Coke again and bumbled my way out.  I had trouble finding the route right out of the aid station – brain trouble, just not looking for the markers I’d been looking at for days – so I went back and John Brew (Jeff Wright’s pacer) kindly walked me a short way down the trail before turning around to wait for Jeff.

Arches aid had worked wonders on me – my feet didn’t hurt any more and I felt good, so I ran most of the 5 miles through Moab at a decent clip.  It was dark now.  I got to Kane Springs Road – the finish was just 3 miles away to the right, but I turned left to follow the long-way-’round course.  After a while I found the turn off the road up onto the trail traversing the base of the ridge just south of Moab, and then immediately missed a marker and turned on to an obvious-but-wrong path in the direction I knew I should go.  I ended up in some kind of drainage ditch and realized I hadn’t seen a marker.  I turned around and headed back a ways, then pulled out my Inreach and eventually bushwhacked a short way through the scrub to the real trail (aka Pipe Dream, as it is known to bikers).

When I was looking at the ridge line before the race, all I saw was how high the ridge was – I knew we’d be climbing it late in the race.  What I didn’t notice was all the aretes/projections/ridges running straight down from the top to the bottom.  Now, all I noticed was those ridges.  Out around a ridge line, then back into the gully beyond, then out around a ridge line, then into a gully.  Over and over.  At times there was kind of a dropoff to my left – maybe not fatal if I went over but not a good thing.  “Oh well, it’s not like I’m tired or foggy.”  One more insult was that I’d advance southeast down the trail for a ways, climbing slightly as I went, and then over and over there would be a switchback taking me downhill back to the northwest and giving up any elevation I’d gained.

More mountain biking video, this time of Pipe Dream:

In spite of the terrain and the wear and tear of 225 miles, I was in a great mood.  I felt good, I was moving quickly all things considered, and the finish was a few hours away.  I wondered if I would catch someone and kept looking for lights ahead.  Moab slowly passed by me on the left, and as I reached the end of town I assumed (mistakenly as always) that the turn up Hidden Valley was just ahead.   The only light I saw came towards me – a runner on yet another switchback maybe?  It turned out to be a biker out for an evening ride on a rough thin trail with a non-trivial dropoff.  He congratulated me and told me there were two people ahead of me.  I continued on well past where I thought the turn should be, but kept seeing markers and knew I was just overly-optimistic.  Finally I saw some water jugs by the trail – the last unmanned, water-only aid station.  9 miles to go.

As I turned up the Hidden Valley trail, I briefly saw a headlamp high up above me.  I pushed up the hill as quickly as I could, thinking maybe I’d have company for the last few miles.  After winding around and around, I arrived at what I thought was the headlamp spot about 25 minutes later.  “Probably not going to make up that gap.”  I ran and walked up through what I assumed was a big cow pasture (I’m told it was a beautiful meadow with cliffs on one side that have petroglyphs.)  Then I hit the slickrock mounds/cliffs that I had seen along the river before the race started.  It’s hard to place markers there, but there were white dashes of paint (for bikers) and just enough markers that I never doubted the path.  Some of the climbs were very steep, up feature-less rock like very small versions of the hiker route up Half Dome – but traction was good and thankfully the climbs were short.   I topped out, made a few turns, and finally started down towards the road and the finish.  As I thought about how huge the past few days had been I got teary – this seems to be common, someone told me he called his wife from there and suddenly started bawling into the phone.

That descent was gnarly.  On the elevation profile, it shows a drop of maybe 1000 feet in one mile and it was a rough, very rocky trail.  My legs and feet decided they were done, and I minced my way slowly down the trail.  A couple cars went by through the darkness on the road below – probably runners’ crew heading to the finish.  I picked my way down carefully and eventually exited into the trailhead parking lot and the paved road.  (There’s a Facebook video below of race winner Courtney Dauwalter coming out of that trail – it’s somewhat reassuring to see her looking a little rough and moving slowly on the technical trail.  Apparently even phenomenal runners take a beating over that distance.)

As usual, I underestimated the distance left.  I took off running, thinking I was a mile or less away.  I looked for lights of the finish line ahead – probably around the next bend, or the next one, or maybe this one, or for sure that one?  Remembering my experience of fainting after running hard to the UTMB finish, after a mile of running on the road with no finish lights in sight, I walked for a bit.  Eventually I saw lights, and I ran and crossed the finish with the 10 or so people awake at 1:30 am cheering me in. Then I asked Candice if I could cross the line again since once didn’t seem enough for 238 miles.

I stood there for a bit, talking and trying to comprehend what had just happened.  My main feeling at that moment was gratitude – for the help of so many people to get us through the race, for the family and friends in my life, for a body that was able to take me that far, for the opportunity to spend that long outside in a beautiful place.  Howie Stern took pictures of me and I picked out a belt buckle (not the first thing on my mind, but someone took me over there anyway).  I think I sat by the fire for a little while with a couple other runner zombies and ate something.

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The first time I crossed the finish line.  Not a lot of people out at 1:30am.  Photo: Scott Rokis/Howie Stern

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Howie took about 1000 pictures of me right after I finished.  My Facebook profile picture is from Angeles Crest, near the top of a brutal climb at a place called Dead Man’s Bench.  There’s a sign on the right of the bench that says “Reserved For Howie” – same Howie, he was running Angeles Crest that day also.  Photo: Scott Rokis/Howie Stern

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It’s ok to do the math now – I’ve gone 238+ miles, and that leaves … Oh.  Good!  Photo: Scott Rokis/Howie Stern

It was a little rough for the next few hours.  I drove down to the campground shower – the shower room is unheated and the door was wide open.  It was probably 35 degrees in there.  I staggered out of my foul clothing and stood under warm water for 20 minutes until I stopped shivering.  I cleaned as best as I could – somehow my legs still supported me enough to balance on one leg to wash each foot.  Once I was sort of clean and sort of warm, I scrambled to get all my clothes on before the shivers started again.  I drove back to the campground and thrashed around with the car seats trying to get them out of the way so I could sleep in the back.  One seat was very reluctant to fold down – after accidentally knocking bags out of the door and breaking a couple of my Moab 240 pint glasses, I finally noticed a seat belt thingy in the way and solved the problem.  I crawled into my sleeping bag and lay there as the last of my body heat gradually seeped out of me to warm up the car and all my personal possessions.  I slept, cold yet again, for maybe 5 hours until the sun came over the cliffs and warmed everything up including me.

The day after the race was great.  I hung out at the finish for most of the day, watching runners finish, talking to other semi-dazed finishers like me, and going back to the finish line buffet ever hour or so to get another big plate of food.  I also got an awesome massage from Scott Pauker, who was there because a friend was running and to help us runners recover.  Scott recently bikepacked over 3 years from the Arctic Circle to the tip of South America, so he’s no stranger to odd endurance events.

I drove back to Seattle over the next two days, stopping in Boise to sleep in an actual bed for the first time in a while.  Then I started in on the list of “I’ll do that right after Moab”, which took most of the past two-three weeks.

My stats:

  • finish time: 90:27:54
  • 33rd out of 98 official finishers (I finished just after Van Phan, but didn’t know that until Janet told me the next day – Janet thought we might have been running together at the end based on tracking but we were ~30 minutes apart.)
  • sleep: probably 2 somewhat-solid hours, and another 3-4 hours trying/resting
  • post-race body carnage:  Very little – yay!  No falls, no overuse injuries and only minor blisters on my feet.

Kudos to others:

  • the volunteers!  They were outstanding – I don’t think I’ve ever felt as cared for as I do at the aid stations in Destination Trails races.  Many of the volunteers work at aid stations for all 4+ days of the race, standing around in the cold and the heat and probably not getting a lot more sleep than we do.  The runners get fame and fortune for finishing, and the volunteers get a t-shirt.  And our love.
  • the race organizers –  Destination Trails does everything it can to make the runner experience great.
  • Brandon, who somehow traveled 200+ miles on a sprained ankle without whining about it once.  He finished a couple hours after me.  It was fun traveling together, and I’m sorry that we didn’t quite sync up on the last day.  Brandon also finished the Javalina 100 two weeks after Moab, even though his foot was still tender a few days beforehand.
  • Courtney Dauwalter who won and beat second place by 10 hours.  10 hours??? When does that ever happen in a race?
  • Sean Nakamura – the second place finisher and male winner – who might have been able to keep the gap smaller if only he hadn’t also won the Tahoe 200 4 weeks before Moab.  Another Javalina finisher, and he ran a sub 24 there even though he started the race 5 hours late after major flight issues.
  • Mike Koppy, who at the age of 67 finished the race 8 hours faster than me.
  • Pam Reed, the second woman, who is a year older and (in this case) 16 hours faster than I am.
  • The Triple Crown finishers who somehow did three 200+ mile races in about 2 months.  Woah…
  • All the finishers – 238 miles, that’s ridiculous.  Who would do that?
  • All the starters even if they didn’t finish – no one shows up at that race without some serious fitness and even more mental toughness.  And some seriously poor judgment.
  • Holly Thompson, who I’m told had never run anything longer than a half marathon.  She made it to mile 229 before it was clear she’d miss the official finish cutoff and would be running by herself for several hours if she continued.  She was out there about 20 hours longer than I was.
  • Scott Pauker – that massage had me feeling good the next day and it was great talking.  Thanks for showing up at the race.

 

Posted by: pointlenana | October 9, 2017

Moab 240 Tracking

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I start the Moab 240 Friday morning (Oct 13) at 7am Utah time.  Here’s all the info for those of you who enjoy watching paint dry:

  • My main goal is simply to finish and enjoy the area (near/in Bears Ears National Monument) before it gets strip-mined or turned into a private resort for cabinet members.
  • My extra-credit/quality-of-life goal is to finish before it gets dark for a 4th night – 84 hours or less.
  • Here is a link to live tracking for the race.  Every runner in the race will be carrying a GPS tracker and will show up on the map.  I’ll be wearing bib #2.
  • Ultrasignup will also have (somewhat-delayed) aid station splits at: https://ultrasignup.com/live/live.htm?dtid=24431
  • I will also be carrying my Garmin tracker – no real reason to look at it but sometimes it’s more accurate than the SPOT trackers we’ll be using.  https://share.garmin.com/MarkCliggett
  • None of those things is likely to be 100% accurate on its own, but collectively they should give a good idea where I am at any given time.

Here’s a short video of the course/area – the music makes me think I’ll probably run into the High Plains Drifter and/or Sergio Leone.

Thank you and kudos to Gene Dykes who created this document with “pictures” of the course generated in Google Earth: MoabGoogleEarth.

Here is some information about each leg of the race – estimated time of arrival and departure at aid stations (I will eat everywhere and hopefully sleep in a few spots), distance between aid stations, and how much up and down there is.  The time estimates are not much better than a guess, and the farther into the race I get the more likely they are to be way off.  This schedule gets me done before the 4th night sets in, but when I’m out there I focus on being efficient with my energy and time vs. trying to stick to some plan.

Thanks for looking at my little dot moving around the big circle!

In Day Target In Out Day Target Out Total Distance To Next Up Down
Start Fri 7:00 AM 0 15 2155 2108
Hurrah Pass Fri 10:40 AM Fri 11:10 AM 15 18.7 2025 1705
Breaking Bad Fri 3:40 PM Fri 4:10 PM 33.7 22.2 1727 1307
Hamburger Rock Fri 9:40 PM Fri 10:25 PM 55.9 12.8 737 273
The Island Sat 1:30 AM Sat 4:15 AM 68.7 15.5 2239 715
Bridger Jack Sat 8:00 AM Sat 8:30 AM 84.2 19 4228 2389
Shay Mountain Sat 2:30 PM Sat 3:15 PM 103.2 18.5 618 2866
Dry Valley Sat 8:15 PM Sat 9:00 PM 121.7 13.6 559 884
Wind Whistle Sun 12:30 AM Sun 3:15 AM 135.3 13.6 879 931
Rd 46 Sun 6:45 AM Sun 7:30 AM 148.9 17.6 3446 679
Pole Canyon Sun 1:30 PM Sun 2:30 PM 166.5 17.3 5895 5568
Oowah Lake Sun 8:50 PM Sun 11:35 PM 183.8 20.4 1248 3754
Porcupine Rim Mon 5:45 AM Mon 6:45 AM 204.2 16.3 876 3653
Arches Aid Mon 11:45 AM Mon 12:30 PM 220.5 9.3 1234 582
Hidden Valley Mon 3:15 PM Mon 4:00 PM 229.8 8.5 1601 2053
Finish Mon 6:30 PM 238.3

 

 

Posted by: pointlenana | September 21, 2017

Plain 100 DFL! 9-16-2017

I finished Dead Last at Plain 100 this past weekend.  I reached the finish about 2 hours before the 36 hour cutoff, and within 30 minutes of my arrival pretty much everyone – other runners and race organizers – had packed up and left.  For me, that’s somehow indicative of how small and intimate this very hard, very wild race is.

In my tracking post, I described the race a little and included lots of video footage of the trail.  To summarize again – ~107 miles, 23000 feet of climbing, 36 hour cutoff, small field of runners (I think 34 people started the 100 mile race with another ~7 people running the first 100k/62 miles with us), no course markings, and a single aid station/drop bag at the 62 mile mark.  For the rest of the course you carry your own food, use directions to make your own way through trail intersections, find your own water, take care of yourself, and for large sections of the course run by yourself.  In the early history of the race, few people finished.  With time, the finish rate has grown to 50% +/-.

I’ll mostly describe my race here, but at the end – for someone who is considering/planning to run this race – I’ll get specific about how I handled some of the challenges in case it helps.

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Rob Rives’ Strava activity pretty much captures the experience.

The pre-race briefing started at 4pm Friday before the race in the Lake Wenatchee Rec Club – a small meeting room/kitchen at the edge of a grass airstrip.  I was one of the first to arrive and met a few other early arrivals – Rob Rives who had flown in from Vermont, race directors Tim Stroh and Tim Denhoff, Van Phan who has had a stellar summer race-wise, Yitka Winn who I knew only through her writing and Issy Alps adventures, George Orozco who created the Issy Alps routes, and others.  (I met/talked with several more after the briefing – Phil Ullrich who knew me from Strava, Steve and Gina Slaby who won bronze and gold respectively on their US 24 hour teams at Worlds in July, plus several old friends.)

The briefing lasted about 1 hour and 20 minutes.  That seems like an incredibly long time compared to the briefing for a typical marathon (no briefing).  But at some point Tim Stroh asked for a show of hands – how many have run the race before, how many have finished, how many have spent time on the course, how many are brand new – and it looked like a majority of the runners were brand new.  So people were intensely interested in a few topics – where is the water on course, which turns are tricky, which parts of the route are hard and which are runnable, etc.. We also had to practice our Search and Rescue checkpoint technique during the briefing.  Although there are no aid stations, there are handful of spots where S&R people drive out (usually on very long rough dirt roads) and track us as we pass through.  Each year they create a different passphrase that we have to give at the checkpoints – this year they read a poem about the importance of having heart to get through hard things, and our passphrase (said with hand over heart) was “This is my heart.”  I’m pretty sure this is a clever way for the S&R people to assess our mental state – if we show up at a checkpoint and can’t remember the passphrase, it’s probably a bad idea for us to continue.  After the briefing there was a really good dinner organized by race volunteers and then people mostly bolted to get ready and get some sleep before the 5am start.

I woke up at 3am, got dressed, went back into the lodge (I slept in my car in the parking lot), ate a pancake and oatmeal breakfast the volunteers had organized, and then finished getting ready.  By 4:30am I was parked at the start and starting to take off warm things and put on race stuff.  Shortly before 5 we all lined up behind a piece of tape in the darkness.  Someone said “ok, we’re going to start in about… 3 seconds.  Go.”

I probably ran too hard during the first 9 miles.  It was all dirt road, about half of it flat, I felt good, and at some point I found myself running with Yitka.  We talked about her writing and our various running misadventures, and the climb up to Maverick Saddle went more quickly than I had planned.  We got separated dropping down to the Mad River and I continued on.

Although this was a focus race for me, I didn’t really have a time goal.  In fact, after I ran the Tunnel Marathon a few weeks ago, I felt relieved that I was done with races where I cared about my finish time.  My one goal at Plain was to finish.  Nevertheless, just so I’d have a sense for how I was doing, I made a little projection where I estimated my progress along the route based on a finish time of 32 hours.  I came through Maverick Saddle well ahead of 32 hour pace.  Good at the time, maybe not so good in the grand scheme of things.

About 11 miles into the race I was passed very quickly by a guy who told me that he’d already run 3 bonus miles due to a wrong turn early in the race.  Two questions immediately popped to mind – how do you make a wrong turn that early in the race, and how do you pick up 3 miles on someone (me) in just 11 miles?  He continued on and was quickly out of sight.  Shortly after that another person passed me – apparently he was still driving to the start as we headed past the starting tape at 5am, and he was trying not to wear himself out in this race so he hadn’t run much yet.  At this point I felt entirely mediocre – I was working hard but getting passed by people who were making major mistakes and/or coasting.  I plugged away, and got passed some more – Yitka, George, a couple other people went by, all well before we got to Klone Peak.

My scouting in July paid off big time – I had no problem going through junctions and heading out on the right trails.   I pulled out my Inreach a couple times just to confirm that I wasn’t being stupidly overconfident, but I was always on course.  When I reached the turn to Klone Peak I was well ahead of my scouting pace, but I attributed a lot of that to 1) not making wrong turns and backtracking like I had in July and 2) not slowing to film the trail like I had in July.  On the half mile out-and-back up to Klone, I saw 8 people coming down ahead of me, and coming down I saw two more just behind me.  So ~22 miles into the race, there were about a dozen of us (out of 40+ starters) within a couple miles of each other.  Some fast people were ahead and a few slower people were behind.

I continued on through the rolling ridges past Klone.  In July I hit a few miles with a lot of blowdowns but some trail/motorcycle angels had cleared those in the interim and the trail was straightforward.  As I started the very long descent to the Entiat River, I caught up with Dave Braza who I ran with for a short time in the Redmond Watershed Marathon about 5 years ago.  He’s one of the first people I ever met in trail running – just for those few minutes.  Somehow I remembered his name and he also recognized me.  We ran a good 6 or 7 miles together down to the river.  At some point I felt like the downhill was hard – it never felt that way during the scouting – but because I was running with Dave I didn’t want to stop or walk.  We filled up every available container with water in Tommy Creek just before the big climb to Tyee Ridge – I had about 110 oz/7 pounds of water as I left the creek.  Then I bonked hard and Dave dropped me.

The bonk is still a bit of a mystery to me.  I ate pretty regularly starting 40 minutes into the race and while I may have gotten behind in fueling I don’t think I was way off.  I suspect it was a combo of things – some slight undernourishment, running a little too fast in the beginning, and some lingering fatigue from too many (or the right amount of!) fun adventures this summer.  In any case, after struggling uphill for 15 or 20 minutes I realized what was going on and started eating – a lot.  Gels, waffles, bars.  They all went in, every 15-30 minutes.  What finally fixed me – somewhere near the top of the very hard 4000-feet-in-4-miles climb – was (literally) a PB&J “Bonkbreaker” bar that packs 260 calories.  It’s like eating a big pb&j sandwich that has been compressed into a 2 inch by 1 inch by 1/4 inch bar.  Once I got that down, life seemed to get better.  And even with the bonk I was still somewhat ahead of my scouting pace and my 32 hour projection.

I continued on through the high, cruel traverse near Signal Peak.  On the topo maps, it looks like a traverse but it’s a steady uphill for several miles.  After the very hard climb to the ridge, the last thing you want is more uphill but you just do it because that’s where the trail goes and there’s no choice if you want to finish.  By this point I was on a high open ridge and could see ahead and back – there didn’t seem to be anyone ahead or behind me.  After anticipating it prematurely for a good 30 minutes, I finally reached the turn onto the Billy Creek trail and headed downhill.

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Oh, hi Ross!

The downhill mostly went by in a blur.  I picked my way down a rocky uneven trail, wound around in some woods, and came across Ross Comer taking photographs of runners.  Seeing a photographer on a course like this is always a good sign – it means you are close to an aid station.  Except in this race, there are no aid stations, just S&R checkpoints.  I passed through the S&R checkpoint (“Runner 163 and This is my heart”), and pushed my way into the overgrown bushy section I encountered in July.  Tim Stroh explained at the race briefing that the overgrowth happens in ~8 year cycles – the bushes grow up for several years until they knock a few riders off their motorcycles, and then they get pruned back and the trails are clear for a while.  I made it through the brush and the steep rocky downhill all the way to the Mad River while it was still light out, and it didn’t get dark until I was almost to the Mad River crossing and heading up to Maverick Saddle.

Someone caught me on the way to Maverick Saddle and a few more passed as I headed towards the 100k aid station at the start/finish.  Most were 100k runners smelling the barn.  At some point I tried to run but things hurt and I felt really tired so I just shuffled along.  I realized I was in trouble – normally I can run those downhills but it wasn’t happening this time and there was a lot of distance left.  Not good.  Van and a friend ran past me a couple miles out from the aid station – I think she was a little surprised to see me walking and unable to pick it up and run with her.  I shuffled into the aid station and plunked in a chair.

For a race where you mostly self-support, they had an outstanding aid station.  My drop bag showed up at my feet.  Bowls of soup kept reappearing in my lap.  Another chair showed up next to me so I could organize my stuff while I ate.  A blanket wrapped itself around me.  Tim Stroh told me how well I was doing.  I ate and went through the checklist I had put in the drop bag – get my headlamp, gather my warm/night clothes, restock with food, decide if I need a charger for my electronics, grab my poles, etc..  By this point I knew water was plentiful on the course, so I decided to rely on my BeFree flask/filter and a small emergency flask – I pulled out my hydration bladder to save a little weight.  After about 30 minutes in the aid station – eating enough to put a permanent end to any bonk, and getting ready for a long solo night – I left, just a couple minutes after Van and her friend left.   It was shortly before the 18 hour mark in the race, around 11pm.

It was already pretty cold out.  I’m not sure, but it may have gotten down into the high 30s during the night, especially at the higher elevations.  I left the aid station wearing all my clothes – arm sleeves, warm sweater, rain jacket, warm hat, gloves and buff around my neck.  I decided against putting on tights because my legs are always fine until it gets to freezing or lower.  After a couple miles, most of the warm things came off and I spent most of the night in a short sleeve shirt, arm sleeves, buff, warm hat and gloves (plus my shorts, in case you were wondering).

My plan was to walk through most or all of the night.  My night running is barely faster than walking and a lot can go wrong when I try to run (e.g. tripping over rocks/roots).  The section right out of the aid station is also one of the worst in terms of mogul-y up-and-down motorcycle ruts.  After landing very awkwardly in troughs a couple times when I was trying to go faster than walking, I gave up on any running.  And around then, my left knee started hurting consistently, to the point where walking hurt and running was out of the question.  Like the bonk, the knee pain is a little mysterious.  Sometime just before or after the aid station I reached down to shake a rock out of my left shoe and a lot of muscles in my left leg almost seized.  I survived that, but between the near-cramps, the awkward landings in the trail, and the pounding from downhills in the first 60 miles, my knee was very cranky.  I continued on hoping it would get happier, but if anything it felt worse after a couple more miles.  At that point I had about 17 hours to travel maybe 42 miles to finish on an unhappy knee. I thought of Ellie Greenwood’s quote at the end of her Comrades race report – Never ever give up.

Even though I was approximately on the 32 hour plan and ahead of my scouting pace, I realized that finishing at all with my cranky knee would be an accomplishment.  I had to travel about 3 mph or slightly slower – that seemed doable but from scouting I knew there was a lot of hard uphill and rocky treacherous downhill ahead where I would go slower than 3mph.  I stopped thinking about moving quickly – too risky – and focused on moving steadily.  A couple hours passed and slowly I got through the flattish Chiwawa Trail section and into the uphill.  My knee stayed cranky but after experimenting a bit I figured out that I could make the pain go away for a few minutes by stretching my quad.  From that point – maybe 66 miles into a 107 mile race – I stopped and stretched every 5 to 10 minutes for about 15 hours.

Most of the second loop/section of the Plain course is deceptively brutal.  It looks like a long gradual uphill, but the scale of the climb hides a lot of nasty short uphills and downhills.  For example, it looks like the Chikamin Ridge trail does a long flat traverse towards Chikamin Tie, but that trail is constantly ascending and descending 50-75 feet in short distances as you round a corner or drop down towards a creek.  The night passed and I eventually worked my way to the Chikamin Tie checkpoint just before sunrise.  “1 6 3, and This is my heart.”  I had about 27 miles left (barely more than a marathon!  almost done!) and 11 hours to finish, but I was just reaching the steep part of the climb.  Up through steep trails in the woods, past some small talus slopes, traversing up through a huge talus slope, turning onto the Pond Camp trail, and finally the last endless cruelly-uphill climbs to what I assume is the Pond Where People Camp.  When I finally reached the top, I had about 8 hours to go 20 miles.  Doable but I certainly wasn’t increasing my buffer.  I was also puzzled why people weren’t passing me – surely someone behind me had managed their race better than me and would fly by soon.

And then the trail still doesn’t go down reliably.  It goes down, then it’s flat, then it goes up for a bit, then down, then up, then down, then up and down, for a good 5 more miles before turning downhill for real towards the Chiwawa River trail.  I had time to finish, but the unknown was whether my cranky knee would hold up on the 4000 foot descent.  Near the high point, a motorcycle passed me on the trail – the only non-Plain-100-runner I saw out on the trails in 30 hours of July scouting plus 34 hours of racing this weekend.

Unlike previous portions of the trail, where my race experience was easier/better than my scouting experience (e.g. blowdowns went away), it turns out this section had gotten much longer in the 2 months since scouting.  You are supposed to hit a short road section about 5 miles from the Alder Ridge trail junction.  5 miles came and went, and I travelled for another mile or two through some magically-inserted trail before the road finally appeared.  Another dirt road section that passed in a few minutes last time seemed to take hours this time.

At the very bottom of the dirt road, just before I headed back onto the last 8 miles of trails, I came across 3 motorcycle riders who were about to head up the trail I had just run down.  One asked me “Are there a lot of runners behind you?  Is there a marathon or something going on?”  I thought about it for a moment.  “At most there are a few.  Actually, I could be the last one.  It’s a 100 mile race.  We’re almost done.”  He gave me a blank stare and said “huh” and then headed uphill.

I shuffled down to the Chiwawa River Trail, refilled my bottle at the creek, and greeted the S&R people – “1 6 3, and this is my heart.  Do you know how many people are behind me?”  “I think you’re it.  We just got out here to wait for you.”  I thanked them, looked around, got a bit confused with the various tracks in the woods, took out my Inreach, and headed south towards the finish.  7.1 miles left, just less 32 hours in, 4 hours to finish.  At 3 mph it would take a bit more than 2 hours.   I needed to not get lost and keep my knee on the balky-but-ok side of dysfunctional, but I would finish.

My watch started playing tricks on me in this section.  During some parts of the race it was highly accurate – a segment that was 5.4 miles on the map was 5.45 miles on my watch.  In others – this Chiwawa River section – it seemed to miss stuff.  Lots of time passed and yet the miles didn’t tick off very quickly on my watch.  I crossed some roads but didn’t remember where they were with respect to the finish.  I wondered if I could possibly take more than 4 hours to go 7.1 miles.  After traveling 3.5 miles according to my watch, I arrived at the “treacherous” Goose Creek Camp trailhead where people manage to get lost and wreck their races every year.  I realized I had actually traveled about 5 miles down the trail and only had about 2 miles left.  I had a chance to finish just under 34 hours.

I ran most of the last 2 miles – my knee was a little cranky but not too bad and I knew I’d be done soon.  Incredibly, the trail had a few more genuine uphills waiting for me and I hiked up those as quickly as I could.  I wasn’t fast on the downhills or flats but I moved along.  As the 34 hour mark approached and the hills and windy trail continued, I didn’t think I’d make it but I thought of Ellie Greenwood again – never ever give up.

My watch read 33:59 as I started down the last bit of trail.  Someone below at the finish caught sight of me – they’d been waiting for the last runner for a while – and said “there he is”.  I heard cheers and cowbells.  I popped out on the road and saw about a dozen runners and volunteers waiting, then waved hi to Dave Braza who had dropped me 16 hours ago, and finally crossed an ambiguous finish line where Tim Stroh was waiting to congratulate me.  And I forgot to stop my watch.  My official time is 34:00 – I may or may not have made it under 34 hours but I was close.  After confirming that I was DFL, I pondered the fact that there were still 2 hours left in the race and yet everyone else had given up long ago.

A chair appeared under me, a beer appeared in my hand (I could only handle a couple sips), and I got quick race summaries from Yitka, Van, George, and Rob who had waited around for me (or simply couldn’t get their tired bodies out of chairs).  My race friend Joachim stopped by briefly to say that he had DNF’d because – wait for it – he’d gotten lost at the Goose Creek Camp trail junction starting the second loop even though he’d finished the race last year.  I’d spent the last 8 or 9 hours running dead last mostly without knowing it.  We chatted for a bit and then within a few minutes the race packed up and we all disappeared.

When I scouted the course in July, I decided this is my favorite race.  The trail is hard, you have to be self-sufficient, there are lots of ways to screw up, you travel in an empty wild place that is unremarkable in some ways but beautiful in many, and there are not a lot of frills.  (Before you start, you get a rock that has “Plain” painted on it.  If you finish, you can exchange it for a rock that says “Plain 100”.  No shirts, no medals, just a rock that is like the 10000’s of similar rocks that you pass by during the race.)   What I found out from running the race is that the race organization – the meals, the S&R, the lone aid station, etc. are every bit as excellent as the other parts.  There are very hard races that are difficult to get into, e.g. Hardrock and Barkley.  For someone who wants a big challenge like that, Plain is an awesome choice and you can actually get into the race.  This wasn’t my best race ever, but it’s definitely the finish I’m most proud of.

Thank you to both Tims and all the other people who make the race happen.  And thank you to the other runners for sharing that time out there even if I didn’t meet all of you.  Some went fast, some didn’t, and some didn’t finish, but it was inspiring to be around people willing to set off on this completely ridiculous adventure.  And the amazing thing to me is that we all – runners and volunteers – fit in that lodge Friday evening.  It was kind of like a family reunion for the Tribe Of People With Very Poor Judgment.

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Who wouldn’t do a 107 mile race to get one of these artisinal finisher trophies?

Plain Advice

That’s it for the race report.  Here’s my advice for someone doing this for the first time.

Scout the course beforehand.  You can study maps and put the course on your gps but reality doesn’t quite match what you see on the maps.  Some details are just wrong, e.g. the turn onto the North Tommy Trail comes 1/4 mile past where my original gps track said it should.  Some details are just too small.  E.g. people get lost at Goose Creek Camp because they follow the very obvious trail straight ahead instead of turning right onto the road-like thing that is actually the trail.  Going out beforehand gives you a chance to stumble around when it doesn’t matter (and in daylight when you can see what is going on).  If you use a gps, scouting also gives you an accurate gps track that you can use later during the race.  If you can’t scout beforehand, it’s worth it to slow down slightly to travel with someone who knows the course – better to lose a few minutes (which you may gain back during a strong finish) than big chunks of time wondering whether you are in the right place.

Water is surprisingly available.  We’ve had a dry summer with no rain in a while (it started raining about 20 minutes after I finished – the first rain in 2-3 months).  Somehow most or all the creeks that were running for me in July, just as the last snow up high was disappearing, were still running after months of dry weather.   Where does the water come from?  Pika pee?  You need to carry a lot of water through the 14 mile section from Tommy Creek to Tyee Ridge to Cougar Creek, but otherwise a single BeFree filter/flask should be enough.  Lots of people don’t bother to filter to save time, but the BeFree gave me both speed and plenty of filtered water.

Create some variety in your food, especially for the 2nd loop.  I have an iron gut and can be ox-like when it comes to doing something hard/endless/stupid but towards the end I was really tired of the bars/gels/waffles I was carrying.  In a typical 100 mile race, you can get some variety at the aid stations (like the excellent soup I had passing through the mile 62 aid station at Plain).  Here you have to plan for your own variety.  It would have been great to have something savory, e.g. jerky or things like that.  I did carry one baby food pouch – that was awesome at mile 85 and worth it even if it’s bulky relative to the calories.

Be ready to be alone for a very long time.  I left the 100k aid station around 11pm Saturday evening.  I saw 2 or 3 people very briefly at the Chikamin Tie checkpoint around 6am.  At 1pm I saw a few more at the Alder Ridge Trailhead checkpoint.  At 3pm I finished and returned to civilization.  The rest of the time I plugged away by myself in the middle of nowhere.  I trained for this over the past several months, and I’m glad I did.

Focus on finishing.  Sure, if you are Gina Slaby you can go out and set a course record in your first attempt.  (Congratulations!  and note that she ran with Steve Slaby who ran/won it last year…) But of the 18 finishers this year, only 6 people finished under 30 hours.  The rest of us finished in a 3+ hour window between 30:48 (Rob Rives – and he’s fast) and my DFL time of 34 hours.  If you aim to be towards the fast end of that narrow window, you might instead end up with a rock that could easily be read as “Pain”, vs. one that says “Plain 100”.

 

 

 

Posted by: pointlenana | September 15, 2017

Plain 100 Tracking

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Plain 100 is a different kind of ultra – no course markings, no crew or pacers, and one aid station/drop bag about 60 miles into the race.  Here is tracking info for me this weekend:

  • The race starts at 5am PDT this Saturday (Sep 16).
  • Live tracking for the race (demo this year, with a subset of runners hopefully including me.  As of this moment there’s a small glitch in the tracking course – we actually start at the 3-way intersection just above the flag, do an out-and-back to the flag, and then finish much later at the 3-way intersection.  I’m not sure how this will appear during tracking, but we have an extra 1 1/2 mile to run at the beginning, and will finish 1 1/2 miles early relative to the tracker.  Perhaps this will get fixed before we start.  But if not, for the 1000’s of you who will be up before dawn to watch us start, we’re not actually running in the wrong direction at the beginning.  At least, I hope not.)
  • Link for my personal tracking device (in case I don’t manage to get myself into the demo)
  • ~105 miles, 20000 feet of climbing, 36 hour time limit, 30 runners signed up
  • Guesstimated finish time: 33 hours +/- 3 hours
  • Videos of the course below.

Lots more info:

I was intimidated when I signed up many months ago, and I’ve “studied” harder for this race than any other ultra I’ve done – running the Issy Alps 100 solo this spring, 3 days scouting the Plain course in July, 40 miles solo and unsupported down at Rainier a couple weeks ago, and various other misadventures in the mountains this summer.  I even found myself mentally walking through all the trail junctions/turns yesterday to see if I had them memorized.  All that “studying” has paid off though – I expect it to be a challenging 100 mile race but the minimal support doesn’t seem so daunting now.

As I mentioned above, they are experimenting with live tracking this year for people who have their own gps trackers.  I submitted mine but as of now there are only 4 of us in the list.  Still, the page shows the course and corresponding spot in the elevation profile so even if there aren’t a lot of us you can figure out where I am, where I am heading, and how likely it is that I am suffering right at the moment.

Conditions look to be decent – relatively cool but not cold, some chance of smoke in the air but no fires really close by, and little to no rain during the race.  It will be dusty though – the race director included this comment in a note a couple weeks ago:  “I feel this year will be an awesome year for Plain dust! We’ve had several years of late where we actually had rain ahead of race day and, unfortunately, that really knocks down the dust. I don’t think there is a threat of that this year!”  Aside from dust in the air at the beginning when the massive mob of 30 runners starts out, the main challenge from the dust will be keeping our feet somewhat intact despite grit in our shoes.

I’m guessing I’ll finish in 33 hours or so.  It’s hard to read too much into results, but last year the finishing times ranged from 29:22 to 35:36.  That is an unusually narrow spread for a 100 mile race – and the winner was on this year’s US 24 hour team at the World Championships so he’s not slow over long distances.  After running much of the course, I think the narrow spread reflects that there are a bunch of sections where you are limited by the trail conditions not fitness.  E.g. it doesn’t really matter how fast you are if you are pushing through bushes, picking your way through a very rocky section of trail, or climbing over blowdowns.  We’ll see though – the top 10 performances in the 20 years of the race include times ranging from ~23 to 26 hours.  Maybe the trail has gotten harder as trees have fallen and bushes have grown, or maybe last year was slow for a specific 2016-only reason.

I scouted ~98 miles of the course over 3 days in July.  In about 30 hours on the course, I did not see another person on the trails.  No hikers, no runners, no off-road motorcycles.  Just me and a lot of open space.  Ironically, I did run into someone at the trailhead/race start/finish – it turned out to be a guy named Scott Weber who has finished Badwater 13 times and was the first person to do a “Triple Badwater” (going back and forth on the course 3 times – close to 500 miles – continuously in Death Valley in the heat of summer.  Sounds fun!).  So, lots of open space, one seriously badass/deranged person, and me. While I was out there, I took some video.  The course is basically two big loops/lollipops – I did the first loop one day, part of the connector/sticks of the lollipops the second day, and the second loop the third day.

Here’s the video tour…  Sorry about the breathing – rather than add music, I figured I’d show how quiet it is out there.

Day 1/Loop 1:  The first 9 or so miles are on a dirt road, gradually climbing up to Maverick Saddle.  I parked about 6 miles into the course, and left the car at 6:20am.  I couldn’t see anything for a while, but eventually Lake Wenatchee and Fish Lake and distant mountains came into view.

From Maverick Saddle, I dropped down to the Mad River and got on the trail proper.  It was about 13 miles of singletrack up to the summit of Klone Peak, rolling a little bit but gradually gaining 2500 feet up to the high point of the course.  The trails are apparently maintained more by an off-road motorcycle club than anyone else, and in some places were reinforced with concrete lattice I’ve never seen before.  The downside of the maintenance/motorcycle use is that the trail had small “moguls” in spots – 1-2 foot rises and dips that made running a little funky.  Route-finding was mostly straightforward – it was mostly following the directions and signs.  A couple of the turns were a little more tricky than they had seemed from the directions and/or the online maps/gps and I had to pull out the paper map at least once to figure out what was going on.  That was the point of scouting though, to figure out where the turns were when I wasn’t worried about cutoffs.  It was quiet – a few birds, running water when I was near some, a little wind, my footsteps and breathing, and not much else.

Great views all day, whether it was the wildflowers up close or the mountains in the distance.  I don’t know that area well though so except for a few big landmarks (Glacier Peak, Mt. Stuart) it was all nameless to me.

A few miles on from Klone Peak, I ran through an area that had burned in recent years, and there were lots of blowdowns to contend with.

After rolling for a bit, the trail finally headed downhill, losing about 3500 feet in 10 miles.  Some nice single track with turns carved by motorcycles, 3 miles of pavement which was kind of nice after the blowdowns, and a final drop along Tommy Creek almost to the Entiat River.  The crux climb lay just ahead so I filled my bladder (70 ounces of water) and two flasks (another 30-40 ounces) at Tommy Creek before heading up.  That’s about 7 pounds of water.

The next 6 miles from Tommy Creek are hard.  There’s a quote on the Plain website:
“The Signal Peak climb is possibly the hardest single climb in ultra running that nobody knows about.”

4000 feet of climbing in 4 miles to a false summit, a short downhill reprieve, and then another 750 feet almost to the top of Signal Peak.  This climb is also at the start of a 14 mile section with no water.  And, as will happen for me in the race, the climb happened during the warmest part of the day.  A heavy, hot, slow grind for 4 miles and then it somehow manages to keep going up for a few miles more.  As I started the climb (around 2:30), with somewhere around 20 miles left to go, I texted Janet (using my InReach – no cell service for my phone) that I’d probably arrive at our friend’s house in Plain for dinner at 8:30.

After the climb, just as I turned downhill, I updated my ETA to 9:15 although I still hoped the downhill would go quickly and I’d arrive earlier.  It was not to be.  The downhill was slow due to rocky trails, brush overgrowth, and a couple really steep open sections where it would have been bad to trip (the GoPro shows one section but doesn’t do justice to the steep hillside).  My water held out though – hopefully race day won’t be any warmer.  On the other hand, the “short section” along the Mad River turned out to be 3-4 miles of overgrown trails, ending with the wettest water crossing I did all day just as the sun was going down.  Arriving back at Maverick Saddle I pulled out my flashlight – glad that I carried it for the first ~50 miles of daylight – and trotted the last few miles to my car.  I unlocked the car from a distance and tried to open the door/climb in/close the door quickly, but still had to spend a couple minutes hunting mosquitoes that entered with me.  And instead of arriving early, I rolled up to our friend’s house at 10:30pm.  My watch died near the end, but the day was roughly 53 miles in a bit less than 16 hours.

Day 2: Connector from Start/Finish to Loop 2

The second loop/lollipop of the race starts with a 7 mile “stick” – run out to get to the 2nd loop and then back afterwards to get to the finish.  After my long first day and an upcoming long-ish 3rd day on the 2nd loop, I wanted to keep the day short so I decided to do the trail connection between the start and 2nd loop.  I had envisioned this being a flat dusty dirt trail 15 feet away from the Upper Chiwawa road, but in reality it was rarely close to the road and rolled up and down for most of the 7 miles from the start up to the beginning of the 2nd loop.  It was dusty though, and there were more motorcycle moguls in the trail here than on most of the other trails.  Oddly, people tend to get lost in this section due to the many trails and roads that cross the route.  I didn’t understand this before running it, but after passing through a couple intersections where you could follow a trail straight ahead but should instead turn more sharply to the right or left, I can see how a tired runner at night could make mistakes.  Another benefit of scouting this route in advance is that now I’ve been on the correct trails and should be able to create a more accurate route for me to follow on my Inreach.

Day 3: Loop 2

On the third day I parked at the Alder Ridge trailhead to do the 2nd loop.  The trail continues on the Lower Chiwawa trail for a few miles, climbs up a bit on the Chikamin Trail before doing a long relatively-flat traverse to Chikamin Tie.

From the Chikamin Tie junction, the trail goes up 3000 more feet on the way to Marble Meadow.  In fact, from the start/finish/~62 mile aid station the race travels mostly uphill for about 30 miles before the sustained downhill back to the finish.  Some of it is pretty gradual, but still – a 30 mile uphill?  I had to pull out some deet spray in a hurry in this section – picaridin worked fine the first two days but this 3rd day it wasn’t nearly enough.

After the long hill, the route travels along fairly flat trails among high meadows, climbs one last hill to a great view out over the Chiwawa valley, and drops back down to the trailhead where I parked.

The second loop took me about 10 hours, and somehow I stole a Strava segment record from James Varner while I was out there (which of course has been taken away from me since then – I’m not someone who sets Strava records).

Depending upon smoke from fires this weekend, I may have to go back to these videos to remind myself what I ran through.  Oh, that reminds me.  There was an interesting discussion recently in the Plain Facebook group about the best respirators to wear while running a 100 mile race in smoke.  As a friend once said, “everything about that sentence is wrong”.  Or maybe it captures ultrarunning accurately.

Posted by: pointlenana | September 13, 2017

Running The Lopez Island Walkabout – 9/9/17

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Approximate Walkabout route

Gotta have a movie…

Janet and I have spent a fair amount of time up on Lopez Island over the years.  In February some friends mentioned an event where people walk from one end of the island to the other, partly on public roads/trails but also on private lands with permission of the owners.  “That sounds like fun – I wonder if we could run that?”  Fast forward to this past Saturday – Janet and I set off at 7am as the pioneer/guinea pig runners at this year’s Walkabout.  Because we are lazy and couldn’t be bothered to arrange a ride back down the island, we decided to run from the south end to the northern tip and then back down – about 38 miles round trip.

The Walkabout is organized each year by the Lopez Community Trails Network, a group of people on Lopez who are working to create and promote a network of trails on the island.  This year’s Walkabout had 4 groups – one starting at the south end and walking to the northern tip/ferry landing in a day, two starting at either end and walking halfway on Saturday and then the rest of the way on Sunday, and the running group.  The walking groups all had leaders that knew the route.  The running group – just Janet and me – had no leader, and this was probably the biggest challenge beforehand in making our attempt workable.  Normally they do a little course marking but not like a typical trail race, and for our benefit they had to put out more markings (including some running shoes dangling from trees).  A few other people had asked about running this year – none were able to follow through – and since we were willing, they wanted to try it out to see if it made sense to offer in the future.

After 3 (or maybe 53) straight months of sunny, dry, warm weather, we woke to cloudy skies on Saturday and a forecast of chance of a small amount of rain.  15 minutes into our journey, it started spitting, and not much later it turned into a steady, mostly-light rain that lasted until 15 minutes before we finished.  The rain itself wasn’t so bad, but we traveled through some wet grassy fields/paths that soaked our shoes.  There was also that thrash through wet salal – but I’ll get to that in a bit.

The route starts at our friends’ property at the south end (one of the most beautiful runs in the northwest, in my humble opinion), heads north past MacKaye Harbor, winds through private property, roads and powerline easements to the trails on Lopez Hill, and then back on private and public roads to the school in the center of the island.  (The school is the start/end point for people traveling halfway each day.)  Beyond the school, the route goes back onto private property and small roads most of the way to Lopez Village, back onto the main roads for a bit, then on private property up to trails in Odlin South and Odlin Park at the north end.  From there it’s a short bit on roads and then onto the trail in the Land Bank property (next to the ferry) to the tip of the island.   Although we were never very far from places I had been/driven, we spent a lot of time on the other side of barns, hedges, woods, etc., that I’d seen from roads.  Between the new places, the distance, and the weather, it definitely felt like we were out on an adventure.

The route marking wasn’t classic trail race marking but they did a good job – between the marking and the map/gps combo on my Inreach we mostly stayed on course.  We missed turns a few times and corrected quickly without incident, all but one time.  The one time – in the middle of the island a bit north of the school – we ran pretty close past a house (“that’s odd – we haven’t gone that close to houses before”), realized we were off course, and then instead of backtracking decided to push forward because the Inreach showed the trail being about 100 feet ahead of us on the other side of some salal.  A little bushwhacking seemed more responsible than running through someone’s yard again.  We spent the next 30 minutes traveling probably 400 feet total in head-high, wet salal mixed with spider webs, briars and some viney plant that would occasionally lasso us.  I quickly realized the limitations of the Inreach – I was aiming for a “trail” that I had drawn by hand on a map, the gps is only so accurate, and we were close to a jog in the trail and could fairly easily miss both the east-west section and the section heading north from the turn.  After an enjoyable time getting wet and scratched up, we came across a very small path – not much larger than a game trail – and set off first the wrong way and then the correct way.  We were happy to run across a trail marker a bit further on.

In addition to the quality salal time, other highlights included:

  • the trails on Lopez Hill.  They were surprisingly long (especially on the way back when we were tired – go figure) and it seems like a great place to go running.  Like other parts of the route, we’ve been by but never in.
  • the section just north of the salal – a nice single track trail for a while, a great view out over Fish Bay to the other islands west of Lopez, and then a nice long (private?) road/driveway past a huge set of prayer flags.  That was fun after the salal, but it was even fun on the way back when we weren’t recovering from the salal.
  • the trails in South Odlin and Odlin Park.  Before this adventure I thought of Odlin as a parking lot with picnic tables.  It turns out there are really nice trails there.  I’m told that South Odlin is closed for part of the year during raptor breeding season.
  • the cookies from Holly B’s bakery.  Janet bought 3 cookies the day before, and along with a little fake food (gels, bars, etc.) the cookies provided a lot of our fuel for the day (and they were much better than the fake food).
  • we survived our encounter with a very evil Walkabout walking participant who repeatedly offered us a ride back south when we crossed paths about 28 miles into our trip.

We were slightly time constrained – our old dog was waiting back at the house and we wanted to attend the 5pm Walkabout potluck.  We reached the northern tip of Lopez about 5 3/4 hours after we started.  Subtracting some time out for salal, a surprising number of bathroom stops, and doing a small part of the southbound portion at the beginning before we reached the southern end and started north, it was going to be a bit tight getting back in time.  There were a few sections heading north that were essentially very rough mowed fields that were not-so-easy to travel through, so to save some time on the way back we decided to stick roads in those areas and take a couple small shortcuts.  The return trip took a bit less than 4 hours – our dog was happy to see us, and we were only a little late to the potluck.

About 9 hours 40 minutes door to door, almost 38 miles.  The entire running group returned safely and in good moods.

We want to thank a bunch of people – Kirm Taylor for entertaining the idea of runners at the Walkabout and ultimately making it work, the people who marked the course (basically just for us, since everyone else had leaders who knew the course), Lopez Community Trails Network, our friends who hosted the potluck afterwards, the property owners who allowed us all to pass through over the weekend, the friendly Lopezians we encountered who seemed to know what we were doing, and those people in the house near the salal who must have wondered what we were doing (sorry!).  Thanks also to Janet – for someone who “isn’t in shape” and hasn’t run more than 13 miles in a while, she had no trouble keeping up and keeping me company.

Posted by: pointlenana | September 4, 2017

UPWC – Owyhigh Lakes 9/1/17

“The fifth annual UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge is a multi-faceted multi-media adventure blogging contest open to Trailrunners, Fastpackers, Backpackers, and bipeds of all stripes. Entrants may attempt any or all routes on offer. There are no aid stations, no course markings, no start/finish, no lemming lines, no cut offs, no set date; in fact, it’s all up to you.” – from the UPWC website.

I’ve been looking at the UPWC routes for a couple years, but between races, significant travel to a few of the routes, and general intimidation about doing things self/un-supported, I just never committed.  There’s no time limit with UPWC – you can do it as a backpack, like I used to do.  But at some point I decided that I don’t really enjoy trying to sleep on the ground, i.e. it’s easier and more pleasant to run through the night than to camp.  In my humble opinion.

After committing to Plain (100 miles, largely unsupported) and then doing the Issy Alps 100 (solo and unsupported), the UPWC routes didn’t seem quite as daunting.  I still am doing too many races this summer, but I saw a little window last Friday where I could fit one last training run in for Plain, and headed down to Mt. Rainier to do the Owyhigh Lakes Loop.

Capture

On the east flank of the mountain, the loop covers about 40 miles, maybe 1/3 in high alpine basins, 1/3 down low in the valley along rivers, and a 1/3 climbing/descending between the two.

I’ve been going to Mt. Rainier on and off for more than 30 years, and it still surprises me every time I go.  It’s huge!  Everything about it – the glaciated summit, the high basins/meadows, the epic elevation changes as you descend or climb, the creeks and rivers and waterfalls.  You could do any 8 mile section of this route and think “wow, that was really amazing!”  Doing 40 miles over 12 hours was like going to Disneyland, except without the Disneyland part and better.

Like most/all of the people who’ve done it previously, I did the route counter-clockwise – head south down the Wonderland trail, fall down into the valley on the Cowlitz Divide Trail, head north on the Eastside Trail, and then return via the Owyhigh Lakes Trail.

I was certain I was going to see a bear while I was out – my friend Charlie sees them every time he goes, other people on Facebook have seen lots of bears there recently, someone who did the route the day after me saw a bear.  So of course I didn’t see any.

Bear

This is not an actual bear, but a furry someone had a nap here not too long ago.

Bear 2

This is not a bear either, but a furry someone has been eating purple berries.  And golden beargrass.  This was the technicolor… um, reverse yawn?

The alpine basins were definitely the best part.  The spectacular river/creek crossings were definitely the best part.  Seeing maybe 10 people the whole time I was out (except for the small city at Grove Of The Patriarchs – the tourists who see the park by walking 1/4 mile from the road) was definitely the best part.  Seeing exactly 1 person in the last 19 miles was definitely the best part.  Visiting Summerland – one of my favorite books ever, especially when someone does the voices as Janet did when we (meaning she) read this to our boys – was definitely the best part.  Immersing myself almost completely in one of the many creeks during the warm part of the afternoon was definitely the best part.  Crossing the White River shortly after sunrise and again shortly before sunset was definitely the best part.  Skipping the long wait at the Grove Of The Patriarchs bridge and simply marching through the river was definitely the best part.  Crossing Panhandle Gap, from one epic alpine basin to another huge alpine basin, was definitely the best part.  I might be forgetting 20 or 30 other things.

Other memorable things:

  • shortly before Panhandle Gap, I met a hiker on the trail who was on his own and worried about the snow travel ahead.  He was waiting for a guinea pig to come along and see how it went.  And along I came – I did my best Cavia Porcellus imitation (wildlife sighting!) and had zero problems with the ~5 minutes of snow travel.  It did get a bit steep with some non-trivial runout into rocks, but I didn’t need to pull my poles out and previous hikers had ground a nice highway into the snow so it wasn’t scary at all.
  • running along the Eastside Trail, I noticed something ahead of me – perhaps an insect.  About 4 milliseconds before impact I realized I was about to run through a spider web, with the spider directly in front of my nose (wildlife sighting!).  As I was clawing the web and spider off my face, I tripped over a rock – trying to stay upright bought me some time and I eventually pitched myself into the soft vegetation by the trail.  I came up unscathed, but it definitely disrupted my rhythm and I didn’t run as enthusiastically after that.
  • I had to go back and read Arya’s report of his Owyhigh Lakes trip to confirm this, but I spent some time marveling that he did this loop on ONE SINGLE BOTTLE OF WATER.  I drank about 15 flasks worth of water during my outing.  Although UPWC isn’t really competitive, you get bonus points for things like wildlife sightings, going quickly, and style.  (Along with $5, you can redeem those bonus points for a coffee at Denny’s.)  Forget bonus points – he should just rename his blog to The Ascetic Trail Runner.
  • The conventional wisdom is that the wildflowers are done, but I still saw a few including one awesome lupine field where all I could hear was bees buzzing (wildlife sighting!).

This was a spectacular, incredible day.  About 40 miles, 8000-10000 feet of climbing depending upon which thing I believe, a bit less than 12 hours for me.

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/1163710696

Some photos and videos…

 

Summerland

Summerland

 

Ohanapecosh

Looking down Ohanapecosh

 

 

Owyhigh Lakes

Owyhigh Lakes

 

Posted by: pointlenana | August 22, 2017

Tunnel Vision Marathon – 8/20/17

I guess I have to write about this one.  There are four main features to this course:

  • A 2 1/2 mile train tunnel shortly after the start.  You enter, curve slightly and then, if no one is in front of you, you see a very small dot of light way in the distance.  Then you run for 15-20 minutes before the spot of light gets any larger.  (If you are running this race these days when it’s popular, then you only see the headlamps/flashlights of people in front of you.)
  • After you exit the tunnel, around mile 3, the course drops 2000 feet gradually over the remaining 23 miles.  This about a 2% grade, which is significant enough to make the running a bit easier, but not significant enough to feel steep or challenging.  As a result, this course is somewhat famous/infamous as a place people go to run a qualifier for the Boston Marathon.  And where there used to be one race on the course each year about 7 years ago, now there are 8 different races each year on the course because everyone wants their Boston qualifier.
  • Capture

    Red is heart rate, blue is pace, gray is elevation.  All those ups/downs in elevation are bogus – there is a 15 foot uphill at mile 8 but otherwise it is downhill or flat.

  • Most of the course is a rail-trail – packed dirt/gravel in the woods among big mountains and the Snoqualmie River.  The race director saw a bear on the course the day before the race, a mile from the finish.  Another friend saw a cougar on the trail within a few miles from the finish.  There are worse places to run, and people who come from elsewhere usually mention the beauty.
  • Capture

    From the race website – the race goes on the obvious path, and the tunnel is in the mountain on the left.  The race starts near a lake that you can just barely see in the top left.

  • The only real negative (for me) is that the route is pretty close to I-90 for about 13 miles – you don’t see it much but you definitely hear it.  This is one race where I have no qualms about listening to music while I’m running, since it drowns out the traffic noise.

The course is deceptive – people think that running fast here is a given.  It is a favorable course if you have trained your legs to handle a very long downhill and you’ve run enough on uneven surfaces that the slightly-irregular rail trail surface isn’t a problem.  I’ve done plenty of both this year so I hoped to run fast and possibly approach or beat my Personal Record (a pr of 3:19:46 at CIM last December).   That said, I went into the race not really sure why I had signed up – some kind of kneejerk reaction after Boston was hot this year and I didn’t have a real chance to run a good fast race.  When I signed up, I was already signed up for the White River 50 (two weeks ago).  And after White River, I did a few days of hard physical labor fixing a deck.  The race/deckwork combo left me sore, physically fatigued, and very sleepy until about 3 days before this marathon.  You are supposed to take it easy going into a race – totally nailed that this time!

Race day came and I drove up with my friends Ken, Laura, and Tracy.  The weather forecast was very good (for an August race here) – ~49 degrees at the start, 50 in the tunnel (it’s always 50 in the tunnel), and low-mid 60s at the finish depending upon goal time.  (The actual weather might have been even better – some cloud cover for part of the race and a slight cooling breeze near the end where it usually gets warmer.)  We got our bibs, stood around, got a little shivery, did a very small amount of warmup, and set off.

The race did not start well for me.  There is a very short out-and-back at the beginning to add in a needed 0.2 miles – you run east away from the tunnel, do a 180 degree turn around an orange cone and head west to the tunnel.  Based on looking at June results, I lined up about 75 people back from the start line.  The leaders ran straight up the “-and-back” section of dirt road, instead of staying left in the “out” part.  Suddenly the leaders were running straight back at us, and we had to swerve left to avoid them, and then even more left to get around the cone.  I walked around the cone – too much traffic to run – and headed west into the crowd (maybe 400 runners total?).  Since they were taking up all the flatter road, I stayed to the left and ended up in the rough – in those baseball-sized rocks you see along railroad tracks.  People in front of me slowed due to the terrain, so I headed deeper into the rough to get around them.  As we approached the tunnel, my heart rate was much higher than I wanted it to be (goal – 131 beats per minute, actual – ~143).

Pacing in this race is hard.  There is no gps signal in the tunnel.  Once you exit the tunnel, the grade runs down a valley between two high mountain ridges and the gps signal is flaky.  You can never completely trust what running watches say about pace, but in this race the gps watches are usually way off.  In many races, you can also use mile markers to validate/assess pace.  In this race though, the mile markers are not dependable due to the same gps problems and the fact that the trail runs for miles and miles with very few significant landmarks.  I think someone must ride a bike down the course and put the mile markers roughly where they should go.  I knew going in that I couldn’t trust my watch or the markers, and decided to run based on heart rate, using my “131 beats per minute + 1bpm/mile run” formula that worked at CIM and Napa before that.  E.g. 131 bpm at the start, 141bpm after 10 miles, etc..

So, with a goal of entering the tunnel with my heart rate around 131, I entered around 143.  Ok, not good, but no need to panic because we’d only gone half a mile.  I turned my flashlight on, went into the darkness, and focused on finding a pace that felt right.  Gradually my heart rate dropped to something reasonable – mid 130s, maybe a little high but close enough.

To beat my old pr, I had to run each mile in about 7:37 or better.  When I ran past the first mile marker in the tunnel, my watch said the race had been going for more than 10 minutes.  I panicked for about half a second, and then reminded myself that the markers weren’t accurate.  The second mile marker came about 19 minutes into the race – 9:30 pace or something like a 4:15 marathon.  “Yep, that one’s not accurate either.  Just keep running.”

As we neared the tunnel exit, I turned off the flashlight and put it in the plastic “drop bag” they’d given us.  Running past the aid station, I tossed the bag towards the drop bag drop cloth, and was pleased when I saw that my very solid metal flashlight did not hit a volunteer in the forehead.

The tunnel is pretty flat.  After dealing with the flashlights/headlamps when you exit the tunnel, you get to look ahead at the course and you see this wonderful gentle downhill grade stretching out in front of you.  The trail winds around and you can never see more than about 1/2 mile ahead on the course, but you leave the tunnel and you know it’s mostly downhill like that until you finish.  You still feel good at this point, and after being in the dark for 20+ minutes, suddenly you see big mountains all around.  It’s pretty nice.

Not long after the tunnel – more than 27 minutes into the race according to my watch – we passed the marker for mile 3.  9 minutes per mile, about a 4 hour marathon.  Heading in the right direction at least, but not confidence-inspiring.  I had to remind myself that my plan was to run by heart rate, my heart rate was ok, and I felt ok.  If that was all true and I was really going that slowly, then it wasn’t my day and there was nothing I could do.  Otherwise, ignore the mile markers and stick to my plan.

At the second aid station (mile 5 or 6), I got a momentary burst of energy from my decision to carry a handheld water bottle (20oz) instead of drinking at the aid stations.  They had warned us they were a bit light on volunteers, so I guessed that aid stations would be cups of water/gatorade sitting on tables (vs. Boston-style “lotsa people holding cups out so you don’t have to slow much”).  I watched the guy in front of me slow and then stop to pick up a cup, and as he did that I flew by at full speed.  I thanked the volunteers for being out there at most or all of the aid stations, but I don’t think I ever got anything from an aid station.  To be fair, I did see at least a couple aid stations with ~4 volunteers where they were holding cups out for us.  But over and over, not slowing even slightly at aid stations made me feel like things were going really well.

From mile 3 – just after the tunnel – to mile 21, very little happens.  You run straight ahead, the trail winds around, you pass trees and see mountains above you on either side, you pass an aid station every 2-3 miles, you see crowds (20 people!) two or three times when the trail crosses a dirt road.  Time passes.  I ran, listened to music, watched my footing, and tried to ease back/go a little harder as needed to keep my heart rate about right.

Around mile 10 my legs felt tired but otherwise I felt pretty good and my heart rate was running a little below what I expected.  I figured it was a combo of being well-trained but with some residual fatigue from my recent race.  It wasn’t great to feel tired legs already, but I decided that tired legs was much better than elevated heart rate from working too hard. If I was working too hard then I’d probably fall apart and slow a lot later in the race (been there, done that several times and at least once on the Tunnel course).  With tired legs I’d have a mental challenge – “my legs hurt but I’m going to ignore it” – and I thought I could handle that.  I did accelerate 4 or 5 times after that, every few miles for about 30 seconds, trying to wake up some fast twitch muscle fibers that maybe weren’t so tired.

According to the mile markers, I hit the halfway point (13.1 miles) right around 1:40 – which is 3:20 pace and just slightly off my PR pace.  Again, I didn’t know what my real progress was but I still felt decent and now the mile markers weren’t nearly so pessimistic.  Shortly after passing the mile 16 marker, I realized I was at the turnaround point of an out-and-back 20 mile training run Janet and I had done a couple years ago ago when she and I did the race.  (Park at the finish, run 10 miles up the course, turn around, run 10 miles back down.)  Mile 16 marker, run for 1-2 minutes, I know I have 10 miles left to go – “I actually know where I am right now!!!”.  Mental math time.  “Exactly 2 hours elapsed, 10 miles to go.  At 7:30/mile that’s about 75 minutes.  Maybe I fade, maybe it’s more than 10 miles, maybe I’m running a bit slower than 7:30/mile – ok, maybe 80 minutes at the high end.  That puts me at the finish between 3:15 and 3:20, so if I keep going I have a good chance at a PR.  Keep going.”

The only legit turns on the course are around mile 21 – you turn off the rail trail onto another trail, wind through a few quick turns, pass Rattlesnake Lake, and then follow a trail through southeast North Bend (a few houses, but still mostly trees).  My hips went “yikes!” on the turns after running straight head for 21 miles, and I briefly wondered if my body would crack and break.  I passed a few runners by running aggressively in the turns and on a couple short steeper downhills.  And then we were back on the flat, straightahead trail.

The last 5 miles are hard because they alternate between slightly downhill and flat sections.  You have to slow a little on the flat sections to avoid working too hard, and those sections feel slow and hard after the long downhill.  Then, if you don’t pay attention, you don’t speed up on the downhill parts after slowing slightly on the flats.  I ran on.  Miles passed.  At some point I realized I would almost certain set a new PR, as long as I avoided a disaster (cramping and/or lightheadedness I’ve felt once or twice when I pushed too hard).  My heart rate was a little low and I wondered if I should push harder, but my legs felt beat and a couple times I had pre-cramp spasms in my calves.  So I held off on trying to speed up and hoped that I was either on pace or not slowing too badly.

At mile 25 I saw the 3:15 pacer about a minute ahead of me.  I might have seen his orange banner a couple times before, but several people wore orange hats and I was never sure.  But at mile 25 I could tell it was the pacer, and it was great to be a minute back from someone who was aiming to finish around 3:15 (assuming he had paced well).  I crossed the bridge over the Snoqualmie River, ran through the underpass under I-90, looked at the finish line 0.2 miles ahead, and tried to speed up.  The clock said 3:15:2x as I crossed the line.  I did not feel good just as I finished, and was a little worried about fainting if I stopped, so I slowly walked out of the finish area, through all the recovery food/drinks, past the drop bags and past the last of the people hanging around.  Then I turned around and walked back.

By the time I returned I felt ok and started drinking – a lot.  I probably had a least a half gallon of fluids in the first 30 minutes after the race.  I ate too, but I was much more interested in liquids than food.  Gatorade, chocolate milk, water, gatorade, coke (aka Nectar Of The Race Gods), more gatorade, grape juice, another chocolate milk, more coke, more gatorade.  Yum!  I’m lucky there wasn’t an explosive chemical reaction in my gut.

I kept walking back towards the finish to look for Tracy, Laura, and Ken, but every time I went to look for someone I’d find them in the finish area, already done – they all had great days.  I’ll call out Ken in particular for running a 4:01+ at the age of 71, winning his old guys age group, and beating 2nd place by … 58 minutes.  That’s a sub-3 on an age-graded basis.  I saw a few other friends and they all had a great day.

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I did see this woman finish.  Her legs gave out maybe 30 yards from the finish line.  She struggled to get up but couldn’t, so she started crawling.  It’s deep gravel there though so it must have hurt a lot (her knees and elbows were bloodied afterwards) and finally she just rolled herself the last 20 yards.  She qualified for Boston by 58 seconds – let’s hope there’s no cutoff this year.

If the race was light on volunteers, I couldn’t tell.  The finish was really well stocked with food, drinks, and volunteers.  The aid stations looked great.  The fire department even came by as we were leaving and built a big ice bath.  Thank you to the organizers and the volunteers!

My official time was 3:15:22 (7:27/mile), good for 4th out of 37 in the mens 50-59 age group and 66th out of 343 overall.  That’s a PR by about 4 1/2 minutes.  And as I’ve said before, every year that I get older and don’t slow down is a good year.

 

 

 

 

Posted by: pointlenana | August 6, 2017

White River 50 – August 5, 2017

I ran White River for the 5th time yesterday, and this is the 3rd or 4th time I’ve written about it.  So I’ll cut to the chase.

This was a B race for me – mostly train through it on the way to a couple A races this fall, but still try for a good day.  My best time there is 9:27:42 from 2014.  I’m in pretty good shape right now and up until recently thought I might get close to that again.  The weather was supposed to be warm (80s-90s) until a day or two before and then cool, but at the last minute it seemed to change and be warm on race day still.  Also, there are fires burning up in BC and the wind patterns are bringing the smoke down here.  Between the weather, the smoke, and some residual fatigue from a lot of mountain runs recently, I decided I’d be happy with anything under 10 hours but that I’d try to start out on course PR pace and see what happens.  (When has anything bad ever happened from starting too fast?  The worst that could happen is I would fall apart, hate the race, have a tantrum, swear off running forever, and question the choices I’ve made in life.  Could be worse.)  I also wanted to test out a recent theory that you can run flats and uphills at marathon effort in an ultra, because you get to recover on the downhills – or at least I do because I’m not capable of going really fast on anything the least bit technical.

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The night before the race.  The moon and the mountains in the distance on the right are hazy due to smoke in the air.

For the first half of the race I was clocking splits that were just a bit slower than my PR day.  In fact, I ran the first ~4 mile leg in about 30 minutes vs. 32 minutes on my PR day.  After that I seemed to lose 1-4 minutes on each of the uphill legs, and pick up a little on the downhills.  I left the aid station at mile 27 at 5:02 elapsed, only a couple minutes past my PR split, mostly because I didn’t have to stop in the portapotty like every other time I’ve run this race.

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Looking north from the start at the first climb.  The high point on that ridge in the picture is about 1/3 of the way up the 4000 foot climb.

And from there, my race gradually degraded.  There’s an exposed section on the next leg up to Fawn Ridge but it didn’t seem that hot in the sun around 11:30am.  I still lost ~5 minutes on the way up and had to spend a little time at the aid station drinking ice water.  On the way from Fawn Ridge to Sun Top, the running gods turned on a convection oven and I got really hot.  My stomach started threatening me with mild nausea – “put anything else in here and you’ll regret it”.  At the Sun Top aid station (15 minutes behind “schedule” now) I cooled off again and then headed down the road.  I ran hard down the 3000 foot 6 mile descent and passed a few people, and got myself nice and hot again.  I knew that a 10 hour finish was at risk and I hoped to create a little buffer for my Skookum Flats slog by doing the fast recovery downhill.  When I pulled into the Skookum Flats aid station, Adam Hewey looked at me and asked “a little hot out there maybe?”

The ~6.5 mile Skookum Flats leg lived up (down?) to my expectation – not flat, lots of tripping hazards, and endless.  But there were a couple good things along the way.  For most of the second half of the race, I leapfrogged with a woman who ended up being the masters winner.  I had passed her coming down the road, but she left the last aid station just ahead of me.  I was not motivated but I challenged myself to follow her.  It was a beautiful thing to see – she didn’t look tired, she ran cleanly over the trippy roots, and she didn’t stop to walk at all.  I was able to hang with her for a mile or two and then suddenly my body balked at jumping past roots and rocks.  (I talked to her afterwards and she said the same thing happened to her eventually – she tripped a couple times and then suddenly couldn’t run aggressively anymore.)

After miles of shuffling, trying to convince myself to run the obviously-runnable sections, and moving slowly, I started giving up on a 10 hour finish.  “10:05 is pretty close to 10.  It doesn’t matter anyway.  Who cares about finish time?”  Just then Ben G came up behind me.  I was surprised to pass him early in the day coming down from Corral Pass – he’s faster than me – but we chatted briefly and he told me his stomach had gone off.  When he reappeared behind me in Skookum Flats about 30 miles later, his stomach had returned and he was hating the race and wanted to be done.  I mentioned my dwindling chances at my goal.  He did some quick math, decided 10 hours was still achievable, and basically told me to run with him.  Which I did for maybe 10 minutes until I suddenly felt very gross.  At that point it felt like we were close to the final 1/4 mile dirt road and either I had a couple minutes buffer or I had no chance.  I walked for a minute or so to settle myself and then focused on the now receding BenG in the distance in front of me.  The dirt road appeared a little later, I ran steadily to the finish, and then sat in the medical tent for a bit while they poured ice water on my head and rubbed it to cool me.  Finish time was 9:58:06.  Given the heat, the smoke (stuff is coming out of my lungs this morning) and the dust on the Sun Top road from a few cars (blinding dust clouds whenever they’d pass) I’m pleased with that.  46th out of 210 overall, 6th out of 27 in my age group.  It’s a tough age group, with a really fast guy who just turned 50, another guy my age who pretty much wins the age group in every race, and a former White River winner.

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Thanks Ben, for helping me find a little motivation at the end.

Highlights:

  • The best thing about White River is that “everybody” shows up.  I hung around for a while after the race and got to meet some people in person that I know from Facebook, say hi to good friends, talk to acquaintances I see at races, etc..  That was really fun.
  • My friend JeffK had a great day – finishing somewhere around 8:41, 14th overall, and 3rd in his age group.  It’s really cool to see how much he’s improved in the past year or so.  And not to take anything away from Jeff, but that also says good things about his coach Matt U.

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    Jeff showing off some of his hardware.  Except for a short while at the beginning of the race, this was the only time we saw Mt. Rainier during the day.  The smoke obscured it after that.

  • I got to meet my online friend Margaret in person at packet pickup.  According to another online friend (that I’ve also met at a race) online friends are one step up from imaginary friends.

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    Margaret isn’t so imaginary anymore.

  • As for my marathon effort theory, I think there’s some truth to it.  I definitely felt like I was running too hard in the beginning and reached Corral Pass wondering how badly I’d fall apart.  But even though I did the next descent at a decent pace I felt myself recovering.  The fast start is probably partly responsible for my fade, but I think the smoke and heat account for most of that.
  • I talked a bit with David Horton, an ultra legend.  To pick just a few highlights from a very long list, he was one of the first 100 mile finishers at Barkley and has set speed records on both the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail.  Before my first-ever ultra (White River 2012) when I was in a portapotty the morning of the race, very nervous and struggling to take care of business, he was outside not helping anything by harassing all of us.  “You are taking too long.  There’s a long line.  The race will start soon.  You have 20 seconds before I come over and start shaking the cans.”  I mentioned that, and 5 years later he’s remorseless about totally freaking out a newbie.

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    David Horton and I being photobombed by the woman (Stephanie?) who was working the finish line with David.

  • By far, the best part of yesterday was watching my friend Cassie finish her first ultra on that course and in those conditions.  One of the things I really like about ultra running is that people appreciate the effort everyone puts in.  Yes, we ooh and aah about some of the fast people, but we also know that the people finishing late in the race are out there for a LOT longer than the winners and very likely suffer more.  Kudos to Cassie for getting it done.  (And when Cassie and another woman finished shortly before the 14 hour cutoff, David Horton called over “You ladies cut it pretty close” – she can be proud of being personally harassed by an ultra legend.)

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    Cassie, shortly after she finally got to stop running.  Jodee Adams-Moore, who won the race one year, made those finishers medals.  And I have a nice “tan line” where my gaiters stopped and the dirt begins.

 

 

Posted by: pointlenana | June 2, 2017

Issy Alps 100M – May 20 and 21, 2017

The short version:  Janet dropped me off early at the Mailbox Peak trailhead one morning.  Then I ran (at times) and walked and moved forward and eventually ended up at High Point 100+ miles and 38 1/2 hours later.  Van Phan gave me a mango smoothie and then Janet drove me home again.  There’s a link to the world’s least-exciting movie at the bottom of this post.

The long version:  Before I did the Issy Alps 100M, it felt like a really big thing – 100 miles, just me, carrying everything on my back, cougars.  Afterwards, to be honest, it’s not a lot more interesting than the short version – there were no spectacular near-disasters and I spent a lot of the time moving forward fairly steadily.  But here are the details anyway for the masochists (aka other ultra runners).

I already posted about what the Issy Alps 100 is.  I didn’t really explain how I got onto this path though.  It all started with signing up for Plain 100 this coming September – 100 miles, no course markings, no aid stations, no pacers, one drop bag about 62 miles through the race.  I signed up and figured I should practice being self-sufficient.  I looked at the UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenges and at some point became aware of the Issy Alps runs.  I’d seen those before but it was back when I was still sane, and at the time thought “only crazy people do that”.  Anyway, to cut to the chase, I figured the best way to practice for something intimidating was to try something even bigger and more intimidating – out of the frying pan and into the fire.

The decision process was a very steep slope for me – I’m sure I didn’t pay much attention to the Issy Alps until after Canyons 100k (April 29) and I was already pretty serious about it by Lost Lake 50k (May 13).  During that time I decided to scout every piece of the route, practice all the self-sufficiency stuff (filtering water, carrying lots of food in my pack, fighting off cougars with a pen knife, etc.), and recover from 3 races in a month (Boston on April 17, Canyons April 29, Lost Lake May 13).  I figured I’d make my attempt in early to mid June while there probably would still be a fair number of creeks running, so I could carry less water.  Janet and I scouted Mt. Teneriffe before Lost Lake.  The day after Lost Lake I did my first “run” up Mailbox Peak and up the trails to the CCC road.  The day after that (Monday) I scouted the connector between Rattlesnake Ridge and Tiger Mountain.  When I got home I noticed a good weather forecast for the coming weekend and pondered making an attempt earlier than expected.  Sure, I had filtered water exactly once to make sure the filter worked, I hadn’t run with a stuffed pack, I didn’t know all the route, and I hadn’t recovered from my previous races.  Otherwise everything was lining up perfectly – yeah, that’s it.

It also felt (and still feels) that this route is somewhat fragile.  Richard Kresser found out mid-attempt a few weeks ago that a trailhead was closed due to construction.  Rattlesnake Ridge was logged sometime in the past 18 months and a section of nice trail turned into a logging road through a clearcut.  Timber sale signs have been posted at Tiger Mountain and somewhere else late in the route (Cougar Mountain?).  Waiting might improve some aspects but make other things worse.

So I told Janet what I was thinking.  “That would be great!!!!”, she said, being sick of me talking about Issy Alps non-stop for the previous week.  So it was decided.  I gathered my things between Tuesday and Friday, for an early start Saturday.  My one lingering concern was a slightly messed-up toenail on my right foot – it probably got dirty in the previous week, didn’t get cleaned well enough, stayed wet and dirty through 3 straight days of Lost Lake and scouting runs, and got a little infected.  I soaked the foot in epsom salts 2-3 times each day through Friday and ran the toe under hot water – by Friday I was pretty sure the toe would hold up at least until the second day, when everything else would be hurting anyway.

After sleeping 2-3 hours Friday night, I got up, mixed up Tailwind in my hydration bladder, and weighed my pack for the first time (~13 pounds with the bladder half-full).  Because the forecast was benign, I was able to leave out some things I would/should have carried – rain pants, an extra warm shirt.  Janet had me at the Mailbox Peak trailhead by 4:05am, with twilight still ~40 minutes away.  I fished out my flashlight, turned my tracker on, started my watch, and set off past the gate.  After Janet and the car headlights were gone, it was pretty dark.  I figured it would be light enough soon, but with the deep forest, steep hillside, rooty trail, and western slope, it was a good hour before I could see well enough to travel without the light.

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The climb to Mailbox (in daylight, when I was scouting).  It’s actually steeper than it looks.

Mailbox is steep – about 4000 feet of climbing in about 2.7 miles.  By the time it was light I was about halfway up, and soon afterwards I hit the turn onto the new trail.  The last mile or so is a rocky trail above tree line but, just like my recon the week before, I couldn’t see much more than the clouds swirling around.  I reached the top about 1 hour 48 minutes (1:48) into the journey, took a quick video and headed down.

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Up high on Mailbox – the week before when I was scouting.

The heavier pack didn’t seem to affect me going up but something – the heavy pack or my poles – slowed me a bit heading down.  Also, my foot slipped off a dangling root at one point and I sat down hard.  My pack hit the root and saved my rear end, but my upper arm slammed down hard on another root – I had a very large knot there after a few minutes and felt a bit lucky that the fulcrum of the impact was closer to my elbow than my armpit so nothing broke.  The rest of trip down was uneventful.  By 6:45am on a Sunday morning, lots of training climbers – big boots, heavy packs – were already headed up.  I filtered water near the bottom, made a detour to the outhouse in the parking lot, and headed up the road towards the Granite Creek trail around 3:10 (elapsed time, not time of day).

To get to the Teneriffe trailhead from Mailbox, we take a long detour up one side of the Middle Fork (Snoqualmie River) valley, across the valley via two unofficial trails, and then back down the valley on a lightly-travelled dirt road.  I had scouted all but the dirt road the previous week.  This time it went smoothly – up the Granite Creek trail for 2.5 miles, 1+ miles down the (not-yet-opened) connector trail to the road, through the parking lot construction that had stymied Richard Kresser a couple weeks before (surveyors were out when I scouted, it was empty this time), across the river on the road, and then a sharp turn onto the Sitka Spruce trail.

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Crossing the Middle Fork, just before turning onto Sitka Spruce.  Mailbox Peak is up to the right I think.

There’s a half mile of swampy trail at the beginning of Sitka Spruce that crosses a few creeks before finally turning up onto drier trail.  My feet got pretty wet and muddy during scouting but somehow I hit everything right this time and I got up to the dirt road with just one somewhat-wet foot.  I was pleased to discover the road was empty, pretty runnable, and mostly downhill.  I arrived at the base of Teneriffe at about 5:30 into the run, almost 30 minutes ahead of my guesstimate.

Teneriffe packs a similar bang to Mailbox Peak – 4000 feet to the top in about 4 miles but the first 1.5 miles are relatively flat, the next 1.5 are steep, and the last mile climbs 2000 feet (close to a 40% grade).  It was prime hiking time at this point (10am on a Saturday morning) so I passed a lot of people hiking to the Teneriffe/Kamikaze Falls.  These falls are amazing – dropping 200-300 feet straight down far above the trail.  Once I got to the falls I turned off the main trail and headed up – basically straight up – to the narrow ridge looking over the Middle Fork/Snoqualmie Valley and heading up towards the summit.  I started hitting snow somewhere around 4000 feet (the summit is at ~4800 feet) but it was fairly consolidated and there were usually tracks to follow.

The snow did cause my second weird accident of the journey – my foot slipped backwards and I leaned forward to plant my poles.  As I did, my armpit landed right on top of a sharp stick pointing straight out of the snow.  It kind of hurt so I pushed hard on the pole to take pressure off but with the tiny basket the pole just postholed deeper.  The harder I pushed the deeper the pole went and the deeper the point of the stick pushed into my armpit.  This process took about 3 seconds, long enough for me to wonder if I’d see the stick suddenly poke out through the top of my shoulder.  Thankfully, I was able to pick myself up before that happened.  I didn’t even want to look at the hole in my armpit – it hurt a fair amount but I didn’t see blood gushing down the arm so I decided to ignore it.  Between the fall on the root (same arm) and the near-impalement, it hurt to lift my arm above my shoulder for the rest of the journey but fortunately 100 mile runs don’t require much of that.

Shortly after that accident, I was at the top, again in clouds.  There was a hiker up there waiting for the clouds to clear – I talked to him for a bit and he was one of the few people who looked at my running shoes and stuffed pack and figured out that something unusual was up.  He wondered why I didn’t throw Green Mountain (NE of Teneriffe) into the mix while I was at it.

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Janet at the top of Teneriffe, from a hike a couple weeks before.  The dark pyramid on the left is Mailbox Peak.

After I couple minutes I said farewell and dropped down to find the trail over towards Mt. Si.  It was pretty easy to find by looking for the footprints in the snow that headed west instead of down.  Although the snow was compact, it was still tiring sliding around and occasionally having to look for footprints again when I confused tree drip spots with footprints.  That’s pretty much how this snow section went, even once I found the road heading down – pretty straightforward but slow and more tiring than I wanted.  With a snowstorm a few days previously, the snowline was further down than when Janet and I had done this 10 days before.  Eventually I hit my first dirt, then more snow, and finally done with snow for good (I thought).  Yay.  Down down down the Teneriffe road.  Eventually I found the connector to the Talus loop trail on Si..

As I refilled my water in the little stream I lamented how tired I already felt just one quarter of the way into the run – 10000 feet of climbing so far, leftover fatigue from races, something else?  Not much I could do about it though.

I should talk briefly about how I handled water.  I carried a 70oz hydration bladder in my pack.  Depending upon how sure I was about finding creeks, I usually only filled it partway.  Most of the time I’d pour 3-5 scoops of Tailwind (premeasured into small plastic bags) into the bladder before filling it so that I’d get a little nutrition with the water.  I used a Sawyer filter (full size) and got the adapter so I could swap my mouthpiece off the bladder tube and attach the filter.  I thought this would help me go faster – instead of sitting by the creek squeezing water into the top of the bladder, I could fill the filter bag and squeeze it into the bladder through the tube while I walked.  This worked as planned (I never tested this before I started – there’d be no adventure if I wasn’t trying new things during my 100 mile unsupported solo run).  I’m not sure it really saved me much time – it was a little awkward and at times I had to walk when I could have run with no bag in my hand.  Also, holding the bag in front of me and squeezing with both hands got tiring, so I ended up holding/squeezing the bag against my head with one hand.  It looked totally dorky I’m sure, but it worked and I don’t remember passing anyone when I was in mid-filter.

It’d been a couple years since Janet, Wyatt, Moani and I went up Mt. Si.  The trail passed quickly enough and then I was out with the Saturday crowds at the landing before the Haystack (scramble, not part of the Issy Alps route) at the top of Mt. Si.  I pulled out my Garmin Inreach to decide if I’d gone far enough – it would suck to do 99.9% of the route but miss a few feet of “summit” when it was ambiguous.  I seemed to be ok, so after looking around for a minute I headed down.  The Inreach/nav device was invaluable in finding the turnoff to the old Si trail – an unmarked turn to the right a couple hundred feet down the hill, probably obvious if you know it but easy to miss if you’re like me and haven’t used it before.  I picked my way downhill, finally got to the Boulder Garden trail (which I loved) and ended up with the crowds on the Little Si trail.  I was fairly dispirited at this point – moving slowly, doing a long fishhook out-and-back past the climbers, families and hikers wandering around on the Little Si trail, me not moving much faster than little kids.  Hours later – it felt like – I’d worked my around to the summit and then back down to the Little Si trailhead.  About 13 hours in at this point.  In my dreams I had hoped for 12, in part so I’d get to the Rattlesnake/Tiger connector in daylight and in part because Yitka Winn had made it here in 12 1/2 hours – after taking some breaks.  I had taken no breaks, was running behind her time and felt tired.  Oh well, lots of “race” left ahead of me and finishing at all was really my goal.  I took 5-10 minutes to regroup at the trailhead – consolidating food trash in a bag, unpacking the “second 1/3” foodbag into more convenient pockets, and thinking about the path ahead of me.

I managed to run most of the ~2 miles from the trailhead up the Snoqualmie Valley trail to the river.  I then semi-wasted 5-10 minutes trying to filter water (it turns out my filter bag fills up best if there’s a rivulet I can direct into the opening, not so well in a broad river that puts as much pressure on the bag as it does on the opening).  I also taped a hot spot on the bottom of my left foot, using some of the Leukotape I’d wrapped on a lipbalm container and the tiny Leatherman knife Janet gave me for the run (cougar protection, since I refused to carry the bear spray she got me).  Then it was up the last ~4 miles of Tunnel Marathon course to Rattlesnake Lake.  I ran off and on, and at some point trod slowly past a guy who was walking his dog up the hill.  He noticed my pack and said “It looks like you’ve been out for a while – how far have you run?”  “Maybe 40 miles at this point.”  “That’s awesome!” “Or maybe dumb…”  “No, you’re awesome!”

I certainly didn’t feel awesome.  I was gradually accepting that I’d have to find my way through the Rattlesnake/Tiger connector in the dark.  Around this time I realized I’d meant to charge my watch on the rail-to-trail grade, so I got my portable charger and watch cord out, clipped the cord to the watch, and (running with the charger in my hand and the cord flapping around my arm) was happy to see the watch battery climb slowly from 45% back up to 80+%.

Rattlesnake Lake came and went, and I climbed up towards Rattlesnake Ledge as many many people were coming down at 8 in the evening.  After the Ledge, I stopped seeing people.  Just me, the trail, and eventually some more snow on the trail – not tons, but enough to make me pay attention and slide around some more.  Then I hit a mess on the trail – downed trees that I had to climb over and under.  “Ah, the reroute!”, as a result of logging.  I got up on a downed tree and looked around – it wasn’t clear where to go but the clearcut seemed to be to my left, so I scrambled through logging mess for 30-40 feet and found myself on a logging road.  I looked around and saw “Reroute” signs.  Again, it wasn’t 100% clear where to go, but I headed down the logging road for a mile or two and was happy to see another sign directing me back through the mess onto the trail.  I might have turned too early because it was difficult for another 5-10 minutes, but eventually the mess cleared and I continued on nice trail.

The light was fading, so I stopped at an overlook, got my headlamp out and taped another hot spot, this time on my right foot.  With some sadness I watched the daylight disappear and then the world shrunk to the small space I could see in the cone of my headlamp.  After a few more miles and several gates/stiles (to keep mountain bikes out?), I got to the powerline which connects Rattlesnake to Tiger.

I’d scouted this a few days previously, and when I showed a picture and described it to someone, they said “what, is this like the Barkley?”  No, but there is some routefinding in this section and it really helps to scout first.  From the trail, you hit the clearing and turn left down the powerline.  A game trail gets helps you get through the scrub quickly, and then you turn left down a service road.  There’s nothing tricky about the road – except that this felt like a place where I could run into bears and cougars, so I moved to the other side of the road when I heard noise in the woods ahead of me.  I trotted along, occasionally looking over my shoulder to see if there was a herd of cougars following me in the darkness.  After a mile or so, the powerline bends left and shortly after there’s a tricky switchback off the road to the right that leads you onto a path into the woods – I hit that but then went in circles for a bit finding the path to the exit further down the powerline.  After a few tries, I finally found it and exited just past a steep slope.  As I came back out into the scrub I called out “hi bears, just passing through.  I’m friendly, nothing to worry about.”  Then it was a steep descent down the rutted service road (all in darkness, by headlamp) and out onto the flats on the way towards the Raging River.

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The Rattlesnake/Tiger crossing (in daylight).  You can see the end where it bends in the distance.  It looks straightforward, and parts are, but there are lots of opportunities to get into trouble here.

I could hear cars on the road (on the bridge above the Raging River) somewhere ahead.  You can’t see the road (in my case, the headlights of the cars on the road) until the very last moment when you come over a rise – the bridge is ahead and the Raging River is somewhere in the darkness underneath it.  The service road got swampy, then turned into a stream, and then narrowed into a little creek/path with blackberry brambles grabbing at me.  I worked my way down and found the final stream to the river.  Needless to say, my feet were soaking at this point – no matter though because I was about to be in water up to at least my thighs.

When I’d scouted the Raging River a few days previously, I’d had to cross it with one pole (I’d dropped the other somewhere, and didn’t find it until about 3 hours after I’d dropped it, on my way back – which tells you how few people go there).  The water was crotch deep and moving along pretty well, and the rocks on the river floor were round and slippery.  The crux wasn’t more than 8 feet wide but it was still a bit hairy with just one pole.  This time, with two poles and knowing what was coming, it didn’t seem bad even in the dark.   I crossed, filtered water, and headed towards Deep Creek.

Deep Creek isn’t that deep, but the banks on either side are 12-15 feet sheer drops and unless you hit the right spot it’s very difficult to get down to the creek or up the other side.  I’d spent 20-30 minutes hunting for the right spot during my recon, and after I found it I spent a few more minutes “practicing” getting to the right spot.  That paid off during this run – as soon as the trail got swampy and started dropping towards the creek, I took the right turn onto the little path, and then dropped over the edge into bushes part way down, picked my way through more bushes, and found myself at the creek exactly where the green ribbon was hanging (George Orozco aka Mr. Issy Alps put this up).  I crossed, worked my way up through the stream/swamp/path and eventually reached the service road taking me to Tiger.

Excited to put on dry socks at last, I stopped and reached into my pack.  I pulled the socks out and noticed they were… wet.  “That’s odd – I haven’t fallen into any creeks.  Oh.  Doh.  18 hours of sweat soaking into my pack.”  For a moment I considered putting them on anyway (“I was going to change socks.  It would be good to change socks even if they are wet.  Right???”) and then pushed them back in my pack and continued.

I really liked the service road/NW Timber Trail segment.  I’m not sure why – I think it was new, I was past the dreaded connector and probably halfway, and the NW Timber trail just felt fun to move on in the middle of the night.  I felt really alone but basically safe and the trail passed quickly.  Then I turned up the East Tiger road and… fell asleep.  I kept moving forward but every minute or so I’d find myself lurching to one side or the other, as if I’d dropped off and caught myself just before faceplanting.  The 4 miles to the top seemed to take forever.  Sitting down/napping didn’t seem like a great idea with all the cougars waiting to pounce on me, so I continued.  I passed a road on the right and decided that would be the road I’d take after coming down from the summit.  Eternity (ok, maybe 0.7 miles) passed and I found myself at picnic tables on what seemed to be the summit looking down at town lights below.  I looked around – fenced service areas, communications towers – and decided I could lie down without being eaten.  I lay on the picnic bench for about 2 minutes, closing my eyes and getting cold in the breeze.

When I opened my eyes I was awake again.  I ran easily down the hill back to the road I’d seen.  “This must be the Preston grade.”  I started along the road and checked the nav device to make sure.  “Huh?”  My brain still wasn’t working great but after a while I realized it was NOT the right road, and I’d run down past the right path several minutes before.  I looked at the nav device again, and it seemed to be telling me that I hadn’t actually made it to the summit either.  “Crap.  Oh well.”  I turned around and hiked with purpose back up the hill, past the trail I would take once I’d really summited, and back up to the picnic tables.  When I got there, I looked around for something higher, didn’t see anything, and pulled out the nav device again.  At this point I realized what had happened – the device thought I was further back on the trail and hadn’t done the summit portion yet and told me to go up there.  So, all told, moving and making decisions while I was asleep cost me a good 1.5 miles/30+ minutes.  At least I was awake again.

I dropped back down – only partway this time – poked around, and eventually found the correct path.  I scuffled along, sort of running, sort of walking, mostly interested in staying upright with daylight 1-2 hours away.  I don’t really remember when the sun came up – I think I was close to the Bootleg trail connection but this was all new to me and I just remember traveling what seemed like a very long distance to get from the East Tiger summit down to High Point.  I knew I’d have to pass through the homeless Tent City at High Point – I didn’t know what to expect – but at 6 am on a Sunday morning it turns out that the 40 tents lined up are pretty quiet.  At ~26 hours in, I’d reached the 100k mark.  “2/3 done.”  (Yeah, about that.  100k is about 62 miles.  2/3 of ~103 miles is about 68 miles.  I don’t know the real distance to High Point but if it’s actually 62 miles, I was about 6 miles short of 2/3 done, which is 1 1/2 to 2 extra hours at ultra pace – a non-trivial difference.)

From High Point I had ~4 pretty good hours.  I know West Tiger really well, and the hike to the summits of West Tiger 3/2/1 went quickly.  There were already weekend hikers out and a few passed me as I unpacked my “last 1/3” foodbag into my pockets.  I called Janet near the #1 summit and gave her a quick update.  I told her I was going to try to do this last segment in about 10 hours.  As I was saying goodbye, I reached a fork in the trail and managed to make a wrong turn while I was talking to her.  5 minutes later, I figured it out and got myself back on track.  I also thought about my 10 hour math, and realized I’d done it wrong – I’d forgotten the 3 miles at the end.  10 hours wasn’t completely impossible but very optimistic.

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Looking south from the Hiker’s Hut near the top of West Tiger #1, from an earlier trip.

I flew down the back side of Tiger – I think I covered 5 miles (of the ~32 remaining) in about an hour.  I felt great, and thought that if I could do the downhills at that pace, 36 hours to finish wasn’t completely crazy.  I reached the Issaquah High School, crossed the road, and then started on the Squak/Cougar/Squak section that was all new to me.  Then the climb up the east side of Squak crushed my soul.

I’m not sure what happened – not eating enough (I was pretty tired of all the food I was carrying by this point), running too fast down Tiger, the relentless steep climb, the fact that the “level” East Side trail was slightly uphill the whole way?  Probably all of those things.  But after feeling great coming down the previous hill, I hated life going up this one.  My right foot was also really starting to hurt on the bottom – maybe a blister or maybe maceration from being wet, but something wasn’t right.  I didn’t think I could do much for it, and I was “almost done”, so I ignored it as much as I could and continued.  Miles crawled by.  I filled my bladder and managed to spill a bunch of Tailwind on the ground in the process.  I looked at it, puzzled, and did nothing to clean up the pile of white powder – I just continued on. (I did realized this though a bit later, and cleaned it up as much as I could on my return trip several hours later).  I got a little lost at the jog from the East Side trail to the West Side trail.  And then finally the West Side trail headed down – genuinely down – to the road.

Crossing the road wasn’t fun.  How far do I travel down the road?  Why is the shoulder so uneven?  Why are those cars going so fast past me?  Am I even headed in the correct direction?  Eventually I found the Squak/Cougar connector trail and turn up that.  It went up and up and up some more.  Then the Wilderness Creek trail – more up.  Then winding around on the Deceiver and Shy Bear trails, where I’d run a half mile just to make 0.1 mile of forward progress towards the west side of the park.  “People run at Cougar all the time and I’ve never been here before.  Stupid.”  I was relieved to turn onto the Indian Trail – straight, wide, not trippy.  I called Janet and told her “10 hours was delusional.  I think I’ll be down about 3 hours after I start back up Squak.  Maybe 6:15pm/38 hours.  But figure 3 hours from the start of Squak.”  I hiked up the Quarry Trail, then Shy Bear, and then made a detour up to Wilderness Peak after missing a turn due to 6 people standing in the intersection where I was supposed to turn.  (Wilderness Peak is about 25 feet above and 0.1 miles from the correct path – so not a big deal.)  Back down to the correct turn, then an endless descent down the Wilderness Cliffs trail and down the connector.  I collected water for the last time and headed down towards the road, filter bag pressed to my head.

Back up Squak – the climb from the west side was much easier than the east side climb.  The East Side trail really had been all uphill because it was slighly downhill most of the way in this direction.  My foot hurt a lot walking or landing on roots, but it gradually dulled whenever I ran for a bit.  I had my favorite hallucination during this point – a red “No vehicle traffic beyond this point” sign nailed to a tree in the middle of nowhere turned into some weird contraption with two guys dangling from it in climbing harnesses.  When I got closer the two guys turned out to be moss dangling in the breeze.  Down the East Ridge trail, back on the pavement, across to the High School, about one hour left.  Looking at about 38 1/2 hours to finish.

It was hot down there at ~5:30pm.  It was a warm day and whenever I was lower down I felt it.  Thankfully, up high it was cooler and there was usually a nice breeze to keep me comfortable.

I ran the flat path past the high school, managed not to get shot by people shooting what sounded like shoulder cannons at the rifle range, and then got a little confused on the short hill up to the Tiger trails.  I had scouted this a couple weeks before because it seemed to confuse people, and I still didn’t remember exactly where to turn.  After a couple more wasted minutes, I was on the Tradition plateau and turning onto the Brinks trail.  I had no interest in running this – my foot hurt, I didn’t want to land on or trip over the roots, and I’d be done soon enough.  I shuffled along as quickly as I could, passed through the powerline sections, hit the boardwalks on the Swamp Trail, and reached the road from the High Point upper parking lot to the lower lot.  I didn’t really know where the end was but I knew I had about 1/2 mile left.  I ran down one hill, walked up a slight grade (saving myself so I could finish running for all the fans – meaning Janet – waiting at the finish) and trotted the last bit.  In the distance I could see a couple people waving.  “Are they waving for me?  That doesn’t make sense.”  As I got to the gate I saw Janet – I hadn’t recognized her – and Van Phan (first Issy 100 finisher and ultra legend – “what’s she doing here?”) and my friend Sam from out of town who had just landed about 2 hours before.  As I passed the gate, I asked Van “Where’s the end?” “Right here.”  Oh, good, I’m done.  Whoopee.  Pffft.  I spent a minute or two understanding why there were so many people waiting for me, and then Van reminded me to stop my watch.  38 hours 26 minutes.  Van offered me a lot of food – most didn’t sound good but the mango smoothie hit the spot.  I got dizzy – like I did when I fainted after UTMB – so I sat down.  Eventually I got in the car with Janet and our friend Sam, and we drove home.  The end…

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Crossing the finish line, from Van Phan”s video.

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No, I didn’t really travel 122 miles.  Strava claims it was 106 miles.

Upon Further Review

This went pretty well.  On some level I had no business doing 100 miles unsupported and solo – there were just too many new things (trails, water filter, food choices, nav device, cougars, etc.).  But I had enough pieces in place that it didn’t seem stupid to try, and I knew I had exit points along the way if things went south.  I’m pretty happy with how it went given how many things could have gone wrong.  And Plain is not as intimidating now.

On a good day, I can see finishing maybe a couple hours faster (I don’t like to think about this because it would only happen if I ran it again, and I’m not ready to think about that):

  • routefinding – I’m sure I lost 45-60 minutes due to wrong turns and bonus miles.  I had few problems on the trails I knew already.
  • running on fresh legs – doing this right after my races wasn’t my best-ever idea (but far from my worst also).
  • food choices – I got really sick of the food I had after about 24 hours and should have put some new/different stuff in the 3rd bag for the last 1/3 of the course.
  • foot problems – This is ironic, but I think the epsom salts soaks in the days before my journey did in my right foot (the painful one).  When I took my (foul-smelling) shoe and sock off, I had a big blister on the sole of my foot, two on my heel, and another on my toe.  I don’t usually get blisters and certainly not to that extent.  I’ve had wet feet for a long time before without blisters, and my left foot was blister-free this time in the same conditions.  The one thing different about the right foot this time was all the epsom salts soaks in the preceding days for the toenail problem.

Kudos to George Orozco for figuring this route out.  It’s long, it’s hard (about 30000 feet of climbing along the way, like climbing Mt. Everest from sealevel), and even though it’s close to Seattle it feels pretty wild and empty.

And kudos to Jeff Wright, who finished his unsupported solo run this past weekend, stealing away my “oldest finisher” title after I’d held it for just a week.

Gear (huge thanks to Yitka Winn and Van Phan for documenting the stuff they took on their unsupported attempts – I basically copied their lists and then tweaked them a bit):

Stuff I used:

  • Altra Olympus shoes
  • Feetures elite socks
  • A thick coat of TrailToes on both feet (works great if you don’t soften feet with epsom salts first)
  • Dirty Girl gaiters (the Hyponatremia pattern – you wanted to know, right?)
  • Nike dry fit compression shorts (I don’t like Nike but these shorts don’t chafe)
  • Merino wool short sleeve shirt
  • Band-Aid brand “nip guards” (aka bandaids to prevent bloody spots on my chest)
  • Body glide on every possible chafing spot
  • Seven Hills hat
  • Ultimate Directions PB v3 pack
  • Black Diamond Z-poles
  • Platypus 70oz bladder
  • Sawyer water filter, 64 oz bag, and hydration tube attachment
  • Petzl Nao headlamp
  • Fenix flashlight and spare batteries
  • Arm sleeves
  • Running gloves
  • Phone with photos of all the maps + charging cord
  • Garmin Inreach nav/tracking device + charging cord
  • Suunto Ambit Peak watch + charging cord
  • Ankor 3500mah portable charger
  • Warm hat
  • Small Leatherman knife
  • North Face light raincoat
  • GoPro camera

Spares/Just In Case – carried but mostly didn’t use:

  • Ultimate Direction body bottle
  • Mini first aid (pepto bismol, that long bandage I had to carry for UTMB, money, large and small bandages, Squirrels Nut Butter sample, hand sanitizer, a couple tiny toothbrush things, Leukotape wrapped on lipbalm, and that piece of paper with my name and phone number that Janet wrote for me in the car on the way to the trailhead when she asked if I had id and I said “no”, tp, sunscreen)
  • That SOL emergency bivy sack I had to carry for UTMB
  • That wet pair of spare socks

What I’d change:

  • Put things I want to keep dry inside of a waterproof bag – doh.

Food (carried ~8500 calories, ate about 7000):

  • ~25 servings of Tailwind (some with caffeine for the night) – 2500 calories
  • 3 Rxbars – 600 cals
  • 12 gels (some with caffeine) – 1200 cals
  • 6 Gu and HoneyStinger waffles – 900 cals
  • 3 bags of TrailButter – 2400 cals
  • Crushed potato chips (Thank you Yitka Winn!  Great idea.) – 450 cals
  • Trader Joes pretzel slims (good but too dry) – 450 cals

I should have carried one less TrailButter (unappealing after 24 hours), less Tailwind (I like getting the nutrition with the water but at times I just needed plain water) and one or two fun/yummy things for the end (baby food pouches, dried fruit, different bars?).

Documentation:

Movescount: http://www.movescount.com/moves/move157690894

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/1000315452

Van’s video of me finishing

My GoPro footage (you’ll notice that I took less and less as the run went on – I wonder why?)

Posted by: pointlenana | May 19, 2017

Issy Alps 100M Attempt

Capture

The Quick Version

  • 100 mile point-to-point (mostly) run from Mailbox Peak near North Bend to High Point/Tiger Mountain
  • Unsupported solo – carry everything from start to finish, refill water from streams, no one with me
  • Starting Saturday May 20 around 4am Seattle time, live tracking here
  • Goals: 1) Finish 2) Finish in daylight the second day 3) Fast time

If you want more:

Local ultra runner George Orozco figured out the Issy Alps 100 course a few years back and tracks finishers for 50k, 100k, and 100 mile versions.  Since this became A Thing, 8 different people have completed the 100 mile course. (There are more than 8 finishes, since some people – and in particular Van Phan – have done it more than once).

George tracks finishes in different styles:

  • Supported – friends meet you along the way with supplies and/or run portions of the course with you.  This means lighter packs and help with stuff like route-finding when your brain tires after being awake for too long.
  • Self-supported – no company but you can stash supplies along the course so you don’t have to carry as much in your pack.
  • Unsupported – no company and you carry everything from start to finish except for water, which you get out of streams.  Van Phan and John Barrickman ran together but each supported themselves, so there are also Solo and Team variations on unsupported.

I am going to do this unsupported and solo.

As of now, only 2 people have officially finished Unsupported Solo – one is the only person to have crossed the Grand Canyon 6 times in a continuous push, and the other has climbed Mt. Everest.  Another person, Yitka Winn, made it 99 miles but her attempt ended abruptly at 3am, one mile from the finish, due to a couple creepy encounters.  A 4th person, Richard Kresser, recently did the route backwards but had to skip a hill near the end due to some construction – it’s not clear if that will get counted.  (Richard – who won the Bigfoot 200 mile race in 2016 – does hold the Fastest Known Time for Supported  from an earlier finish.)  The guy finishers intimidate me, but Yitka’s near-finish is the most impressive to me – I’m a little skittish about being out there alone in Twin Peaks land and I’m a guy, presumably with fewer things to worry about.  Yitka is also the one that makes me think this is reasonable for me to try – she and I ran similar times at UTMB which might be comparable.

I will start with a heavier pack with lots of food, and it will gradually get lighter as I eat the contents.  Janet will drop me off at Mailbox Peak early Saturday morning, she’ll pick me up sometime later at High Point, and I’ll be on my own in-between.  It will be the weekend, so I’ll see a fair number of hikers along the way but, for example, it will probably be me alone in the woods Saturday night.

My main goal is to finish.  Beyond that, here are some interesting times (full results here) to know about:

  • 53 hours 26 minutes – the current official Fastest Known Time (FKT) for Unsupported Solo, run by Seth Wolpin last fall.
  • ~42 hours – when it gets dark my second day out.  I’d really rather not be out there a second night.
  • ~40 hours – estimated finish time for Yitka, if she’d been able to run that last mile.
  • 35 hours 41 minutes – the time it took Richard Kresser recently to do most of the course backwards, unsupported and solo.
  • 31 hours 17 minutes – Richard’s Supported FKT.

At some point, someone very fast will do this – Gary Robbins lives up the road – but at the moment there are no insanely fast times.  (Well, maybe I’ll change my mind on that after I’ve tried this.)

36-40 hours seems reasonable for me based on other things I’ve done, but there are lots of unknowns.  How much time will a heavier pack cost me?  Will the two big climbs right at the beginning wreck me for later?  How much time will I spend filtering water?  Can I stay on course, especially in the trickier section coming off of Rattlesnake Ridge?  Will Yitka Winn’s “friends” visit me also?  Will I experience life-threatening crotch chafing?  Etc., etc., etc..

I’ll be carrying a Garmin Inreach partly for my own safety (it has satellite SOS and texting capabilities) but also because it enables people to track me.  Starting Saturday morning, go to my page on the Garmin site and you’ll be able to see my progress.

This is happening faster than I expected.  I got interested about 3 weeks ago – mostly in the context of training for Plain 100 later this summer.  I figured I’d do a lot of recon and pack experiments, and do this in June sometime.  But there’s a recent trailhead closure on the route that makes weekends better, our weekend schedule is complicated for a while, and the weather (after being pretty horrible for many months) looks promising for this weekend.  I think I’ve done adequate recon and prep so I’m going take advantage of the weather.  Snow up high will slow me down a little bit, but that seems better than waiting an unknown time for things to line up again.  I do want to thank Janet for being patient about “all Issy Alps, all the time” the past week or two – getting this done earlier will be good for her too.

One last thing – as near as I can tell, the oldest finisher in any style so far was 47 years old.  I’m 55.  I may lack youth and natural speed but I’m trying to make up for that through bad judgment.  And I’ll be inspired by some other “wise” people I’ve been fortunate to cross paths with in the running world – Bob H, Scott M, Ken T, Gunhild S, Bev A, George S, Roxanne W, Jim E, and Bruce L to name a few.

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