Posted by: pointlenana | October 16, 2018

Euchre Bar Massacre – 10/13/18

I had a blast at this event – probably the most fun I’ve had in a race ever, and I didn’t even finish.  Maybe that’s why it was fun…  Anyway, it felt like I was a kid, running around in the hills where I grew up, just having fun and not worried about any of the hazards of being out there (ticks, rattlesnakes, poison oak, falling off cliffs, bears, getting seriously lost, cougars, miners’ pit bulls, hunters/hunting season, broken bones, being impaled by a branch, life-threatening chafing – just some of the actual hazards at this race).

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This was in our hotel room when we stayed at Lake Tahoe before the race.  I took it as a good omen.

The Euchre Bar Massacre is in a tiny world of crazy adventure races that appeal only to a very few people who are unusually sane.  The most famous of these races – at least in the past few years – is the Barkley Marathons in Tennessee.  Euchre Bar Massacre takes place in California, just north of the Western States course in the very steep, seldom-traveled canyon of the North Fork of the American River.  Like the Barkley, there is a lot of off-trail “running”, very steep climbs and descents, and checkpoints where you find a book in the woods and tear the page out that matches your race number.  Race director Sean Ranney created this event a few years ago – it’s clear that he loves the area and found a very unique way to share the difficult terrain and weird mining history with people lucky enough to stumble across the event and discerning enough to attempt it.  Most people don’t finish.  There are 25 mile and 50 mile options – the few who finish the 25 mile race typically take 12-16 hours (less than 2 miles per hour) and this year was the first time anyone finished the 50 mile race in less than 24 hours.  To put this in perspective, the course record for the Western States 100 is 14+ hours – twice as far in about half the time.

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You have to drop 3000 feet and then climb back up to get to that ridge over there.

Navigation and route-finding is a big part of the challenge (and the fun!).  We are not provided with a convenient/exact gpx track, participants are asked not to share course info from previous races, the course changes at least a little bit every year, and we don’t receive course info until a few days before the race.  I studied the map and course directions as much as I could before I arrived, but having on-the-ground knowledge of the area will help a huge amount if/when I head back.  Subtracting out a little time at the end when I had already missed the cutoff and was walking it in, I missed the lone cutoff (for the 25 mile race) by about 30 minutes and I spent 75-90 minutes being off course and/or looking for books that were close by but hiding from me.  Hopefully next time – if I am allowed to do this again by my wonderful wonderful perfect wife – I can eliminate a few of those mistakes (and maybe make new ones?) and arrive at the drop bags/cutoff point at least 30 minutes earlier.

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Once I understood what I had gotten myself into…

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The bridge at Euchre Bar.

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The north fork of the American River.

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Pretty much the only course marker in the entire race.  Just follow the blade…

Although route-finding is challenging, the thing that makes Euchre Bar Massacre exceptionally hard (and fun!) is the very steep off-trail climbs and descents between the canyon rim and the river bed.  The rim is about 3000 feet above the river, and the 25 mile race makes 4 round trips between the rim and river.  (The 50 mile runners get to do it 8 times).  ~11000 feet of climbing is a huge amount for a 25 mile race, but the problem is that there are some flat-ish sections, which means the climbs get compressed into even fewer miles.  E.g. one climb had something like 2500 feet of gain in less than a mile (and then several hundred feet more at a lesser grade).  Throw in loose soil underfoot and/or undergrowth to fight through, and the event was like nothing else I’ve ever done.  Going steeply uphill, I spent a lot of time on all fours and/or grabbing vegetation above to help me move forward.  On more mild terrain, I often had to guess at which section of shrubbery would allow me to pass.  (In some ways, this was like a Monty Python sketch.)  I was on the wait list for this race for a while, and I understand Sean’s email better now: “Mark, I’m sorry to do this to you but someone dropped out so I moved you to the entrants list.”

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Part of the course.

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Another part of the course.  Some of that is probably poison oak.

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Climb up to that sunlit ridge.  Come down.  Repeat.  Repeat.  And climb up one more time.

Another great aspect of this race is the weird and colorful stuff.  Some of it is historical – the canyon is filled with pieces of mining equipment of various shapes and sizes, and one of our checkpoint books was located at a grave hidden in the woods near the river.  Some of it is race-related – sections of the course are named:  Ebeneezer’s Byway, the Italian Nose, Idiot’s Gambit, the Nun’s Finger.  Some is river-related – “bars” are deposits in a river and Euchre Bar is one such spot on the North Fork.  And some is just odd – at one spot where we crossed the river, there was an actual miner working his claim, doing something (dredging the river?) with his swamp-boat-looking thingy and looking for gold.

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One of the book locations – a grave.  The book was hidden under a rock, and I turned over all but one rock looking for it.  It was under that other one.

My favorite part was dropping down a trail-free creek/drainage – winding my way down rocks and bushes for about 2000 feet, deciding over and over again whether it would be easier to go left or right and not knowing what lay ahead.  I also got to do one of the steep climbs with crazy-race legend (at least in my mind) Eric Robinson, who has finished the 25 mile race 3 times and who was attempting the 50 this time.  Besides giving me some company as I was swimming uphill through the loose soil and brush, Eric helped me avoid getting bogged down in some manzanita thickets towards the top.  We talked briefly in a flat section by the river, but going uphill like that there’s not a lot of breath/oxygen left over for chit-chat.  Oh, the other thing Eric helped me with – on a very steep section next to the river, I grabbed some vines for safety:  “by the way, those are poison oak vines”.

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Following Eric Robinson uphill.  Some sections didn’t have that nice clear path on the left – just the baby manzanita on the right.

My worst navigation problem involved making an assumption and some unfortunate luck.  The directions said to cross the river at one point, go up into a clearing, find a mine and a book.  I crossed, found a clearing, did not find a mine or book, thrashed around in the woods with several other runners who caught up to me, and wasted 30-45 minutes going in circles until we figured out our mistake.

The race is self-supported – we re-supply mid-race from our drop bags which Sean drives out onto the course from the start.  The 25 mile race only has one cutoff – you have to leave the drop bags heading toward the final climb by 4pm.  By noon, I knew I was right on the edge timewise.  Then, just as I was ready to find a book instantaneously, Eric (remember – he has finished the race multiple times…), a couple others, and I all spent a bunch of time and energy flailing around looking for a big water tank that is essentially invisible unless you are standing next to it.  Undaunted but even further behind schedule, I pushed up the climb, arrived at the drop bags (we stop there twice – once earlier in the race, and then a second time when there’s a cutoff), quickly did what I needed to do, and set off with about 2 hours and 45 minutes to cover 3+ hours of race.  I ran down the trail (actual trail – not bushwhacking) as fast as my tired legs would take me, and suddenly noticed that I wasn’t on a trail anymore.  Somehow I had taken a side trail, and had to bushwhack my way back to the real trail.  Even further behind schedule…

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Arriving at the drop bags the first time.  Orange shirt in honor of hunting season.  Photo:  Sean Ranney (thank you!)

A couple thousand feet down and an hour later, I found the next book and headed up – 1 hour 45 minutes to do a climb that would probably take 2 hours, plus a traverse through brush at the top to get to the drop bags.   I crossed my fingers and pushed on up a steep climb.  Towards the top, the open woods gave way to manzanita and other brush.  At some point I found myself hanging in midair – branches stuck in my shorts pockets, one foot on some kind of blowdown/debris, the other foot dangling, thorns grabbing at my shirt and legs, completely unable to generate enough forward momentum to break free.  I thrashed around, eased downhill, got loose, and headed back up.  The cutoff came and went.  Eventually I wandered into the spot where Sean and the drop bags were waiting, and… I was super-happy to see Janet waiting too.  She’d managed to figure things out even though my tracker didn’t work for her and my lone “please pick me up” text didn’t make it to her until hours later.

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Nearing the top of my last climb.  There is a very tiny orange dot in the middle of the picture.  That’s a person.  I hadn’t reached the thicket yet.

This was a really fun day.  I’m kind of glad I didn’t have to wreck this one by stumbling around in the dark trying to find the finish.  Hopefully I’ll get to wreck it that way next time.

Thank you to Sean for creating this, thank you to people who set books out in recent weeks, and thank you to whoever I noticed signing up for this event I’d never heard of (I blame the Abbs but that may not be fair…).

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Gratuitous Lake Tahoe picture – it’s nice there!

Posted by: pointlenana | October 11, 2018

One-day Enchantments With Janet

I had a meeting in Oregon in late September.  A few days beforehand, Janet told me she’d like to run through the Enchantments on the way to the meeting.  We’d talked about doing that for a while, and the weather looked decent so we found a place in Leavenworth (The Loge Cabins – recommended) and arranged a shuttle so we could park our car at Snow Lakes Trailhead (the end) and get driven up to the start (Stuart Lake Trailhead).  We found ourselves at the trailhead at 7am, ran into our super-badass friend Vivian, and set off for a 20-ish mile adventure.  The hike basically has three pieces: 1) a long uphill climb past Colchuck Lake and up Aasgard Pass, topping out at 7800 feet 2) a gorgeous gradual descent through the Enchantment Lakes basin – beautiful lakes and yellow larches the day we did it 3) an endless descent down past Snow Lakes to our car.  I’m not going to describe it any more than that – this post is just an excuse to show a bunch of pictures.

 

 

Posted by: pointlenana | September 22, 2018

IMTUF DNF – 9/15/18

I’m not so tuf.  This past weekend I traveled ~82 of IMTUF’s 103 miles, good enough for a Did Not Finish.  Although I’ve DNF’d a couple times before, I chose DNF’s in those cases due to time constraints relating to something after the race.  This is the first running race that was tuffer than me, or at least the me that showed up at the start line.

I’m going to give a short version of the story and lessons here at the beginning, and then go into every last detail at the bottom.

Why A DNF:

  1. We’ve camped before for White River – bare-bones, but it worked well – so we chose to camp at the start/Burgdorf Hot Springs for IMTUF.  This backfired – I had a cold, sleepless night prior to starting, and probably started hungry.
  2. Probably due to the bad night, I made aid stations mistakes starting early in the race and spent most of the race bonking or recovering from bonking.
  3. Between bonking and all the other issues I had before and during the race, I didn’t have enough margin left at the end to cover the remaining miles in the time I had.  At mile 80 I was doing 2 miles per hour, had 23 miles and 8 hours left, and the math didn’t work for me.  “Never give up”, but I did give up even though I was still 20 minutes ahead of the cutoff when I officially dropped.

Lessons For Me:

  1. Study the aid station layout closely.  Sometimes it is sparser than it looks.  If that’s the case, come in with a plan that takes advantage of the aid stations that are likely to be good.
  2. Put out some just-in-case drop bags, even if they are just zip-locs with one or two cans of Ensure.  I try to keep drop bags simple so that I don’t spend a lot of time fiddling with drop bags, and so I don’t have stuff scattered all over the course.  That didn’t work for me at IMTUF.
  3. Right now I can go into races with high confidence that I can/will finish.  In not-too-many years, that will change – I will start races knowing I will chase cutoffs and the finish will be in doubt from the beginning.  Although that’s mostly depressing, the silver lining is that it’s an opportunity for me to up my game – plan better, look for small advantages where I can find them, etc..  Now is a good time to start that, and maybe it will help me do a little better in races now.

IMTUF Lessons:

  1. Unless you are very good at camping and/or fast enough that you can have major issues in a race and still finish easily, don’t stay at Burgdorf before the race.  Burgdorf is “rustic” and does offer a really nice hot spring pool, but “rustic” implies a look and feel to me, not a lack of services..  The camping at Burgdorf is bare-bones – no running water, an uneven grassy field that requires a very thick pad for comfort, basically no food, etc..  It was kind of fun to be there with the other runners before and after the race, and it’s a good 45-60 minutes to the closest non-camping options.  But I’m sure I would have started the race in a much better state and more rested if we’d stayed in McCall and gotten up extra early to get to the race.
  2. Based on a cursory look – exactly what I did – the aid stations at IMTUF look ample.  Upon closer inspection, there are some very sparse sections.  For example, there are only 2 full aid stations between the start and the third full aid station at mile 43.  Two full aid stations to get you through the first 43 miles – that’s less aid than in sections of Candice’s 200 mile races.  Yes, the chart shows 3 more aid stations in those 43 miles but one is water-only (right next to a stream where it was easier just to fill up my BeFree), and 2 are “light”.  Light turned out to be water, electrolytes, and things like bags of M&Ms.  I’m not complaining about a lack of aid – the course is remote and the race goes to great effort to get everything/anything out there.  I’m grateful for the aid that was there.  My point is that if you depend upon significant calories from aid stations then at this race you have to identify the few opportunities to get those and really take advantage when you are in those aid stations.  I should have sat down and eaten a bunch in the two full aid stations but I hurried through.
  3. This is a guess, but it may work better for mid/back-of-the-pack runners to do IMTUF in odd years when the course runs counter-clockwise.  We did clockwise, and the course gets progressively harder in that direction.  The first 25 miles were very smooth and runnable, and mostly flat.  Then it gets more hilly and the trails get more technical.  Then the steeper hills come and the trail gets gnarly.  (From the IMTUF website: “The footing is rough overall and downright brutal at times.”)  I didn’t see the end but the biggest climb happens at the end and I suspect the trail stays gnarly.  I had issues early but I thought I was ok with tons of margin – as I got worse the course stepped up its difficulty.  A clockwise finish would definitely be satisfying but a counter-clockwise run might make it possible to have problems and still survive through the end of the course.

That’s it for the short version.

The Long Version:

IMTUF is a 103 mile race in Idaho, about 1 hour north of McCall and Payette Lake.  It has about 20,000+/- feet of climbing and is pretty remote.  I’ve wanted to run this race ever since it was my backup to my first 100 mile race, when I was on the waiting list for Cascade Crest and got in at the last moment.  IMTUF is a Hardrock qualifier, which says something about the difficulty, remoteness, and mountain nature of the course.

As I mentioned up above, I went into the race with issues:

Physical fatigue: I ran Ouray in late July, Squamish in mid-August, did 2 big loops at Rainier with Janet in August, snuck in an actual running workout 9 days before IMTUF, and did one last 7 hour outing at Rainier 8 days before.  I was not exactly fresh going into this.  But summer is short here, Janet wanted to do the Rainier things, and I wanted to do them with her more than I cared about arriving at IMTUF in perfect race condition.  I knew it might bite me, and I was ok with that.  Life is short.

Injury:  I finally got over my hamstring tendinopathy before Ouray and felt good going into Squamish, but I tripped at Squamish and messed up that hip again.  The tendon seems ok, and I’m essentially healthy, but something isn’t 100% and the hip gets cranky over long distances, for example hard 100 mile races.

Sleep deprivation:  The Sunday before IMTUF I got stung on the calf by a yellow-jacket.  The pain was more or less gone in a few hours but my calf swelled and was itchy for the next 3 days, enough that it kept me awake a lot at night.  Sunday and Monday nights were pretty bad.  Tuesday night I slept.  Wed night I lay awake a lot of the night remembering things I had to do before we drove to Idaho in the morning.  Thursday night I slept ok.  Friday night (just before the race) I didn’t sleep much at all, because…

Hypothermia: … I was COLD most of the night.  IMTUF starts at Burgdorf Hot Springs, about an hour up a dirt road from McCall Idaho, at about 6000 feet.  Burgdorf is “rustic” aka self-supported tent-camping.  Outhouses, no running water, etc..  We opted to camp there – it’s worked before for us at White River – but our sleep setup was not adequate for the conditions.  Janet was cold as soon as she lay down.  I felt warm for an hour and then spent the rest of the night feeling the heat fall out of me into the ground below.  We were sleeping on big comfy air mattresses, which we needed because the ground was so uneven, but the mattresses apparently provide no insulation because we never got warm and never really slept.  When we got up in the morning we heard one of the race volunteers say that the temp was 27 degrees.  We put on all our clothes and stood by a portable heater, but I was still cold when the race started.  It would have been nice to have had something hot to drink but we couldn’t do that because…

Under-fed: … We decided to keep things simple by not bringing a stove.  We don’t really camp.  We’re fine with running/hiking way too long, but the idea of carrying a bunch of extra weight so we can stop and get cold and eaten by mosquitoes isn’t appealing.  Instead of coming prepared to make warm food Friday night and Saturday morning, we planned on eating a big lunch on Friday and having snacks in the evening and morning.  My lunch Friday wasn’t particularly big.  Although I can’t say I felt really hungry Saturday morning, it wasn’t a good nutrition plan to go into a race with one adequate meal in the previous 24 hours.

Under-educated:  For most races I study a lot beforehand.  Where does the course go, where are the aid stations, what are the trails like, etc..  I did some of that this time, but it was a 70% effort, not my typical effort.  Partly this was due to time – a lot has happened in the past couple months – but I think partly it was because I’ve been…

Blah: About a lot of things lately, including this race.  I’m fine when I do stuff with/for other people, but I kind of go pffft for personal stuff.  Usually I’m excited about races.  I went into this one thinking “I’m not anxious about it” instead of “this will be a fun adventure”.

I wasn’t oblivious to all the challenges.  It wasn’t going to be an amazing day for me, I just hoped to move along well enough to enjoy the experience and finish.  Being cold and not sleeping the night before was probably the last straw but I didn’t figure that out until much later.

The Race:

My race unfolded in 5 acts.

Act 1:  Cold, Runnable, and Plain-Like.

As I said somewhere above, the first 25 miles are pretty flat, smooth, and runnable.  We moved along in the freezing air, and I settled into a pace that seemed sustainable.  Even before the first aid station, something went wrong in my gut and I got really bloated to the point where there was some abdominal pain when I ran normally.  I’ve had that before and I tend to trip over nothing when it happens, so I eased up and focused on lifting my feet/legs up in spite of the discomfort.  This continued until I was eventually able to go to the bathroom.  Meanwhile, the environment around me reminded me a lot of sections of the Plain 100 – fire-scarred sections of thin dead trees, some regrowth, occasional views of open mountainsides.  At one point I thought “Why the big trip here?  I could have just run Plain again.”

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Early in the race.  This could have been taken at Plain – almost.

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With runners, for a sense of scale.

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Early on, we did a short out-and-back to Loon Lake.  Later the same day, we ran on the far side of the ridgeline peeking through the notch.

We worked our way into a long traverse along the banks of the Secesh River for miles ~12-16, and I had my first round of bonking/fading where it was hard to keep up a run.  I ate some trail food and continued.  When I arrived at the Chinook aid station, there was a lot going on – I quickly ate a pancake and continued.  I bonked again pretty soon afterwards and realized I needed to eat more, so at the “light” aid station at mile ~20 I added vfuel mix to my hydration bladder.  As I left that aid station, I had to work to suck the drink mix from my hydration bladder because the bite valve was frozen – 8:20 in the morning, the sun had been up for at least 60 minutes, and it was still freezing out.

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In the Secesh River valley.

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Heading towards Victor Creek, temps still freezing, bite valve frozen.

We worked our way up the Victor Creek drainage – still Plain-like: a mixture of woods, fire scars, and regrowing clear-cuts.  I kept my eyes peeled for the supposedly-abundant wildlife in the area (bears, cougars, wolves, elk, moose, etc.) and saw nothing.  At the head of the valley, we worked our way up towards a pass and got to the mile 27 water stop – jugs of water that had been filtered from the adjacent stream.  I skipped the jugs and just filled my BeFree from the stream.  We topped out in a saddle on Diamond Ridge and then began a descent towards Upper Payette Lake (UPL).  The trail got more rocky and people started passing me.  I felt like I was bonking again, so I ate more and tried not to care as I got passed over and over.   Eventually we transitioned into a flattish road section which I could run, and arrived at the UPL aid station at mile 32.  I had a drop bag there so although I ate some, I was a little distracted by the drop bag and managed to leave again without eating enough.

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The trail up Victor Creek.  This is typical of a lot of the early trails – a mix of stick trees from a previous fire and the beginnings of regrowth.  Not the prettiest forest I’ve ever been in, but at least we were outside.

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Nearing Diamond Ridge, looking back down Victor Creek.

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Still nearing Diamond Ridge but looking ahead towards the ridgeline.  I stopped taking photos once it got dark, and didn’t bother to get the camera out again the next day, but the Crestline area was a mix of meadows and rock like this.

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Just starting the descent from Diamond Ridge towards Upper Payette Lake.  This photo shows one thing I haven’t mentioned – the copious amounts of dust we breathed in the first morning.  I’m sure it could have been worse.  But I coughed a lot right after the race, and I’m still coughing a little 5 days later.

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Midway down the descent to Upper Payette Lake.  Maybe that’s a healthy, unburnt forest down there.

Act 2: Cold, Wet, And Cold.

Through UPL, the day had been cloudy but dry.  A couple miles out of UPL, I felt a few drops of rain and the afternoon gradually deteriorated.  It wasn’t that bad for a while so I didn’t bother putting on more clothing but after a couple hours of on-and-off drizzle, the rain and wind picked up and I went from a bit uncomfortable to cold, so I put on my raincoat.  Even with gloves on, my hands were cold from hanging onto my poles.  I kept my eyes peeled for wildlife and still saw nothing but a couple chipmunks.  I did see mountain bikes, motorcycles and a few hikers on the trail.  Runners were few and far between, and I knew I was pretty far back in the pack.  When I did the math though I seemed on schedule and way ahead of any cutoff problem.  Given how cold I felt late in the afternoon, I worried about what would happen if it kept raining into the night.  Just as I arrived at the Duck Lake aid station, the rain stopped.  It was still cold.

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Past the Duck Lake aid station, looking north towards the Twentymile Creek valley we’ve just come through.

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Again, just past the Duck Lake aid station, this time looking down at the aid station (tiny blue dot in the middle of the photo).  Aid stations feel like a big busy place when you are in them, but are tiny compared to the environment around them.

At Duck Lake I ran into my friend Ather from Seattle.  He’s faster than I am and I was surprised to see him – he was having hip problems so he planned to drop.  I talked to him for a bit and then felt like I had spent a lot of time in the aid station so I grabbed a little food and set off.  The next four miles are on a dirt road – up one mile and down three – so I hiked up the hill and then ran most of the way down the hill towards the Snowslide aid station.  I passed a couple people along the way.  Toward the bottom of the hill I was very surprised to have Ather suddenly catch me – he’d decided to push on and see what happened.  He and I arrived at the Snowslide aid station (mile 47) and – literally for the first time in the race – I ate a bunch of quesadilla and other food as I got my night stuff out of my drop bag.  As I was packing things up, Janet magically appeared – she’d decided to stay in McCall for the night to be warm and dry, and drove up to see how I was doing.  She got me more food, I ate, we talked for a bit, and I set off again trying to catch up to Ather.  I felt great.

Act 3: Dark And Happy.  The climb out of Snowslide is steep and long but I enjoyed ascending as the sun went down and occasionally seeing headlamps above and below me.  It’s a long way from Snowslide to the next real aid station at Lake Fork, something like 11 miles.  There’s an “aid station” in between but it’s water only – jugs next to a creek.  I felt pretty good for this section and ended up running with a woman named Paula (who finished) and another guy (who was a bit behind me when I dropped).  This was pretty fun – talking a little, dry, not cold, feeling decent.  By the time I got to Lake Fork I was ready for more food.  At the aid station I sat down in the chairs next to a heater – far from the food.  I noticed Ather sitting across from me.  He was about to drop again but was getting a pep talk from someone.  “Just get out of here, go slow, you’ll warm up, you’ll be fine.”  I told Ather that if he needed to go slow, I was the perfect companion.  He’d been there for a while and was getting cold, so he needed to get going.  I grabbed a little food and we set off up an endless dirt road section to where the real climbing started.  Over and over we wondered if we’d missed the turn, but my Inreach said we were ok and eventually we turned onto trail.  We were ok for a while.

Act 4: Cold, Dark, And Unhappy.

Ather and I both started to struggle going up the hill.  It was kind of cold, and we both got really sleepy.  I had two caffeine gels left so we split them and struggled on as best as we could.  We hit the high point of the climb and looked for the “white tent aid station just over the top” that the Lake Fork volunteer had told us about.  Nowhere to be seen.  I was a little worried about my race at this point but I hoped that I’d be ok if I sat down in the South Crestline aid station and got a bunch of food in me, including some caffeinated soda like Coke aka “Nectar Of The Ultra Gods” (TM).  3 miles and an hour or more later we finally reached the aid station.  At this point I really needed an aid station miracle – and got anything but an aid station miracle.

We entered the tent and all the chairs were filled.  One chair seemed to be filled with a comatose (or dead) runner but the rest were filled with aid station volunteers.  Thankfully I had the presence of mind to realize that it was almost 4am and the volunteers had been up for a long time too – I kept my mouth shut.  Since I couldn’t sit, I started working on food.  There was a bottle of Ginger Ale on the table and the kind of food I’d seen at the “light” aid stations.  “Do you have any Coke?”  No, just that bottle of GingerAle.  Okay.  “Warm food?”  “We have tortillas and shredded cheese, but no way to heat that up.”  Okaaayyyy.  At some point a volunteer got up and I politely asked if I could take her seat.  Sitting down I struggled to see how it would all work out.  While I was contemplating my fate, someone asked about the cutoff for the aid station.  One volunteer said 4.  I looked at my watch – 3:58.  “Wait, the cutoff is in 2 minutes?!?”  There was some discussion between the guy and someone else about the cutoff – it was determined that there was no “hard” cutoff at the aid station because it was basically impossible to drop there.  I wasn’t sure what “hard” meant – the cutoff was at 4 but they wouldn’t enforce it?  Something else?  Someone put out some PB&J pieces and I ate a couple of those.  As Ather and I left, someone told us the next aid station was water-only (it was actually a “light” aid station).  Not my best aid station experience ever.  This aid station is packed in by horses, and the race grew substantially in the past year, so I’m wondering if the race size out-stripped the aid station capacity.  If so, I’m sure they’ll fix it in the future.  I grumbled about it though for a good day or two – “worst aid station in the world…”

We set off wondering how long it would take to cover the 13 miles to the next real aid station.  It was about 4:10 in the morning.  We did math – 36 miles left, 14 hours left for me, 3mph pace?  It might still work for me.  Ather’s problem was that he had a flight to catch and had 12 hours or less.  As it turned out, 3mph was optimistic.  We were up high in rocky alpine terrain, the trail was very rocky/technical, and our pace was closer to 2 mph than 3 mph.  Meanwhile, my stomach started balking at the trail food I’d been feeding it for 24 hours – I gagged on a fig bar, and I had to sip gels very very slowly to avoid gagging.  I thought about struggling for 11-12 hours more and what it would be like to finish close to 6pm in remote Burgdorf, and at some point gave up.

Act 5: Quitters Trail.  It took us 6 hours – 6 hours!!! – to cover the 13 miles between South and North Crestline.  The sun came up, the day stayed cold, I gave up trying to eat, I sipped drink mix occasionally, I started getting sunburned, and I tried to move forward without thinking too much about how much farther I had to go before I could drop.  Ather and I both thought of Plain, e.g. “You know it’s Plain when you decide to drop at mile 67 but you have to go to mile 93 before you find anyone who cares.”  Ather was actually moving great and I worried that I was holding him back – we talked about ways he could miss his flight and finish but he had 0 flexibility on getting home.  We arrived at North Crestline about 10 minutes after 10am – 20 minutes before the cutoff.  Ather dropped immediately.  I thought about it for a couple minutes and dropped too.  No one tried to talk me out of it.  I was able to text and call Janet and she volunteered to come get us.  It wasn’t clear whether our car would make it up the rough road to the aid station, so Ather and I walked another two miles of the course down the road.  The road sucked – covered in golf ball-sized rocks that made walking difficult.  I don’t think I could have maintained 3mph on that even though it was a road and downhill.  The wind was blowing and we were both still cold at 11am on a sunny day.  Eventually we connected with Janet and made our way back to Burgdorf and the hot springs.  Getting into the hot springs pool, I felt warm for the first time in a couple days.

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Burgdorf Hot Springs, looking rustic.  Ather and I are talking to another runner and his partner on the middle left.

I covered some of this in the lessons above, but again:

  • I was hurting before I even started this race.
  • Over and over, I got into an aid station and did everything but eat enough.
  • It’s good to have a backup in case an aid station is “worn-out” like South Crestline was for me – in my case this might mean carrying a can of Ensure.  Liquid nutrition seems to work for me even when things go downhill.
  • I think I was a little unlucky in terms of not having a lot of upbeat/happy moments.  E.g. I never saw or even heard wildlife, even though this was peak elk mating season.  The best moment in the race was when Janet surprised me at Snowslide.  Usually there are several things that make me appreciate being out there.  By the time the sun came up on Sunday – which typically helps me – I was pretty much cooked.

Oh well.  I went to IMTUF expecting to get about 30 hours of an adventure outside.  I got that almost exactly.  And unlike some other recent events, Janet traveled with me so we got to spend several days together without the usual distractions of home.

On to the next thing…

Posted by: pointlenana | August 22, 2018

Squamish 50/50 – August 2018

Running the Squamish 50/50 (a 50 mile race and a 50k race on back-to-back days) just 3 weeks after running the Ouray 100 wasn’t my best idea ever.

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Most of the Squamish 50 course (my watch died about 15 minutes from the finish).  The 50k cuts out the section before Alice Lake Provincial Park and the lollipop just south of the park.

Squamish is a small town in BC, halfway between Vancouver and Whistler, about 4 hours driving from Seattle (more like 5 once you account for traffic and the border crossing).  Though it’s a small town, it hosts a Very Big Weekend of races thanks to the efforts of race director Gary Robbins (yes, that Gary Robbins) and an ever-growing horde of volunteers (more than 300 this year).  I forget the exact numbers but I think Gary told us before the race starts that there were runners from 22 different countries and the races (23k, 50k, 50 miles) had all sold out in less than 8 hours this year.  This is a destination race for a lot of people and I heard way more different accents at this race then I do at most races.

As if running 50 miles in one day isn’t hard enough, I’ve been kind of intrigued by the 50/50 sub-event – run the 50 mile race on Saturday, freshen up/recover for a good long while that night, and then run the 50k on Sunday.  Signup for this year occurred last November, before I knew anything about the Hardrock/Western States lotteries – knowing it would sell out quickly I signed up for the 50/50 as soon as it was open.  Then – as expected – I didn’t get into Hardrock, so I signed up for my backup Colorado race (Ouray) and… I had backed myself into a not-awesome plan.  I was really excited about Ouray, and didn’t want to waste a hard-to-get Squamish spot.  So I found myself driving up to Squamish last Friday, 3 weeks after Ouray, hoping my body was recovered enough and that the trails were less technical than advertised.

Hah!  Hope is not a good thing.  I was not fully recovered nor were the trails unexpectedly easy.  Of the two issues, it was really the trails that made the weekend difficult.  Squamish has trails because some years ago foresighted mountain bikers with initiative collaborated with everyone they needed to and created a big network of mountain biking trails.  Those biking trails are what we ran on.  It turns out that trails that are fun for mountain bikes – roots, rocks, dropoffs, etc. – are, um, difficult to run on.  And these are not just standard biking trails.  I asked a biking friend if he’s ridden up there and whether the trails are typical – he’s a very good rider here in the US of A but some of the trails up there terrify him and his money quote was “they’re crazy up there.”

I’m not sure we ran on any of the truly crazy trails but we ran on lots of rough boardwalks and crossed plenty of very narrow rough plank bridges with drop-offs, and although the uphills were not super-technical, the downhills were relentlessly rocky, rooty, and often looseLoose dirt on a downsloping slab of rock, or simply steep loose dirt.  There were plenty of times when I went much slower downhill route-finding through a 20 foot section than I ever went going uphill.  I tripped and nearly fell many times, but the most awkward moment came when I was on both feet looking down for my next step and one foot started sliding.  It kept sliding as I pivoted past the other foot, and eventually I found myself looking uphill with my legs in a split position that was very difficult to get out of.  That’s how both days went – many many hours of adventure trying to get down the hills while staying upright.

At the start of the 50 mile race, I felt pretty good.  That lasted for about 8 miles until I tripped and fell in a flat-ish place with great visibility and nothing to trip over.  This was one of those stumbling falls with a big effort to regain my balance and stay upright, but at some point I gave up and slammed my airbag/water bottle in the ground to take most of the impact.  That largely worked and a couple runners gave me kudos for my fall-and-roll technique, but when I got up I realized I had bruised my right hip and re-strained my sometimes-gimpy left hamstring.  “Cool – strained hamstring, only 42 miles left today and then another race tomorrow.  This will be fun!”

In spite of some discomfort, I did have fun for a bit longer.  As I was running along, a couple people behind me started talking about Courtney Dauwalter, how fast she’d finish the 50 mile race (she broke the course record by 15 minutes), and whether she’s human.  I mentioned a video I’ve seen of her coming down the last descent at Moab 240, where she actually looks like she’s hurting, and said it reassured me to know that she is in fact human.  At that point a voice piped up from a little further back – “I’m married to her – after she came down, she ran 6:15/mile to the finish and dropped me”.  It was her husband Kevin, who’d I’d met at Moab and seen again in a coffee shop in Silverton a few weeks ago.  He recognized me and we ran together for 20 minutes or so, talking about races and travel plans.  Then he dropped me.  And then I made a mistake.

The first 4 legs of Squamish 50 have some climbing, but the longest climb of the day (Galactic) comes in the 5th leg and it’s also one of longer segments in the race – something like 2500 feet up and down in about 7 miles.  Not the biggest climb ever, and nothing like Ouray, but long enough.  During the first 4 legs I was pretty good about nutrition but I needed to pick up some gels at the aid station before the Galactic climb… and I didn’t.  By the time I realized this the aid station was too far behind me, I had maybe 100 calories worth of Hammer Heed in my water bottle, no other food, and a 2+ hour segment ahead of me.  I slowed down a little just to keep the bonk manageable, but still passed people on the way up the hill.  Eventually – after the 3rd or 7th or 14th false summit came and went – I turned downhill and discovered how technical the descents would be.  By the time I rolled into the next aid station my fuel tank was completely empty.  I stood at the aid  station, somewhat dazed, eating for several minutes until my stomach was full, and then walked downhill for another 15-20 minutes waiting to feel better.  Three miles later, I rolled into the aid station at Quest University feeling alive again and cheered by the biggest gathering of spectators and crew I’d seen in hours.  I laid down on the ground with my feet in a chair for a couple minutes to make sure my recovery would stick, then ate and left with a bunch of ice under my hat – it had gotten warm.

The rest of the day was kind of endless.  Climb a big hill.  Descend down a tricky trail with roots, rocks, bridges/”ladders”/ramps/whatever they are called, expect an aid station to show up soon, be a little disappointed when it doesn’t, repeat.  My legs felt more tired than usual from mile 25 onward – could’ve been the bonk, could have been leftover Ouray fatigue, it wasn’t great whatever it was.  There were some good moments though:

  • a couple miles out of the Quest aid station, Nester’s Market (the main sponsor) had a tent and a freezer and were handing out Mr. Freezes (what I would call an Otter Pop, but Canadian… so better).  I took two and that made the next mile pretty good.
  • Even though most of the trail was up and slow or technical down and slow, we occasionally hit short sections of road that were pretty runnable and it was always a relief to find one of those.
  • It’s pretty fun to have Nikki Kimball cheering you on at mile 43 of a race, as she did for me just before the last aid station.
  • At the last aid station, the volunteers had strung up a bunch of license plates just like at Barkley and Gary’s Barkley-West.
  • Getting a hug from Gary himself when I finished both races.
  • Crossing that finish line at the end and knowing that I didn’t have to run another step… for a few hours.

And that right there is probably the most challenging thing about the Squamish 50/50, at least for those of us who are not speedy and/or don’t have crew helping us.  I finished the 50 mile race at roughly 8:15pm Saturday evening (14 hours, 36 minutes+).  I needed to be on the bus to the start of the 50k Sunday morning around 4:45am, leaving me 8 1/2 hours to do a bunch of stuff: settle my stomach enough to eat/refuel, reclaim my drop bag for the day and the headlamp I started with, try to eat at the finish line (failure), find the shuttle from the finish back to my car, drive 15 minutes back to the hotel, check in with Janet so she knows I wasn’t a meal for bears, remove a lot of wet/filthy clothes from the day, shower, rush to the hotel restaurant which has just stopped cooking food and talk them into serving me a dessert, eat some yogurt I had in the fridge, drink lots of Gatorade, prep my clothes gear for the following day, do some self-pt on my injured leg, climb into bed at 11pm, lie there with my legs up on pillows while totally not thermo-regulating well (hot then cold then hot then cold), lie there some more aching, lie there some more, finally sleep for a solid 2 hours or so, get up to my 3:15 alarm, eat a liquid breakfast, dress, wait for the all-important bathroom trip, gather my stuff, drive back into Squamish, and get on the bus.

I should mention that when I finished on Saturday, my injured leg felt really injured and a bunch of muscles were exhausted from compensating – my adductor on that side felt shot.  I was not at all sure I’d be able to get out of bed, let alone run in the morning.  When I got in the shuttle (minivan) back to my car, I had to roll myself into the van and then hoist myself up on the seat using my arms.  It was not pretty.  The self-PT helped a little and for better or worse I took an Aleve before I went to bed – I don’t like doing that for injuries and there wasn’t enough time for it to wear off before I started the 50k, but I needed sleep and I wasn’t going to sleep if I was aching.

Somehow, the next morning my leg felt ok enough to at least start, and then running felt surprisingly ok.  I did manage to fall again just a few miles in, and someone said it was a spectacular fall, but it was different than the first one – instead of stumbling along and yanking everything, I popped up in the air and landed on my butt.  It didn’t feel good but it didn’t make things worse.

This is a slight simplification, but the 50k course is mostly the last (and hardest) 50k of the 50 mile course.  So there’s not that much to say about my 50k race – same long uphills, same technical descents, I expected to have a very long day, and I did have a very long day.  No Mr. Freezes and no Nikki Kimball.  But at some point I knew I’d finish the beast and that helped.  Somehow, a few of us had decided that the race cutoff was 10 1/2 hours – which is really really long for a 50k race – and I was managing my effort to make 10 1/2 hours by a little bit.  For a while I was in good shape, but when I rolled into the last aid station I had 2 hours 25 minutes left, the last leg had taken me 2 hours the previous day, and I could tell I was moving a little more slowly.  Fortunately, as I arrived someone told me that the cutoff was 11 1/2 hours (for a 50k – !!!) and I was able to relax the rest of the way.  My stomach did go – well, I realized I couldn’t put anything else in – so I was reduced to swishing and spitting the diluted Coke in my bottle for the last 90 minutes.  50k finish time for me was about 10:17.

There are some awesome things about this race:

  • the volunteers are all the seriously bad-ass trail runners from Vancouver and they knew exactly what they were doing.  This is the only trail race I’ve ever been to where most aid stations had someone stirring Coke in a pitcher so it would go flat.
  • if you love hard technical downhills, this is a great race for you.  This course is relentless on that front.
  • on a clear day, Squamish is a beautiful place.
  • Gary Robbins is clearly a super-competent, upbeat person and it was pretty cool to get not one but two finish line hugs from him.  Plus the coveted 50/50 finisher trucker’s hat.
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This makes it all worthwhile.  Right?  Right???

If I could change one thing that is realistic, I’d have more varied food at the aid stations – it was pretty monotonous towards the end of day 1, and then day 2 was pretty much the same stuff again.  For a single short race, the food was ample and perfect.  For back-to-back races for an old slow guy, I needed something different.  E.g. I was super-happy to find some miso soup at the last 2 aid stations but I think that was it in terms of variety.  Although most people were wearing a vest, I went very light – just a handheld bottle with a pouch for a gels.  It might have been better to carry a vest and a few different food items – but I didn’t know that beforehand.

If I could change one thing, for me personally, that isn’t realistic, I’d run the course in the other direction.  Hiking up the technical trails would be a little slow but not a lot slower than normal uphills.  The trails we did go up were relatively non-technical and I could run down those much better.  I mentioned this to Gary and he said something about wishing this also – which makes me think that it’s due to sharing the trails with bikes.  Presumably the bikes all go up the easy trails we went up and down the hard ones we went down, and I’m guessing there are a lot fewer “up” trails than down trails.  If we were running down the “up” trails, there probably would have been a lot more bike/runner encounters.  As it was, although I did see some bikers over the weekend, it was a lot less frequently than I would have guessed.

This would be a great race to have crew at, particularly if you are doing the 50/50.  Even though I approached it as a 100 mile race with a long nap in the middle, it felt more challenging in some ways than that.  It’s not just a nap in the middle, it’s a lot of logistics.

Finally, although Squamish is beautiful on a clear day, we’re in smoke season now – someone told me there are 600 wildfires in BC right now.  It wasn’t so bad the first day but it was worse on the second day – lots of haze and runners with asthma were offered the option of deferring to next year.  Also the trails don’t have a lot of view points so even if the air had been clear, I don’t think we would have seen a lot – I guess bikers who are trying not to kill themselves don’t spend a lot of time looking around.

I’m glad that’s done.  2 days later I still feel spent, more so than for most of my long races.  Maybe it was the races, maybe it’s aftermath from the smoke during the 50k, maybe it’s lack of sleep (unbelievably, the clock alarm in my room went off at midnight Sunday night after the second race – that was fun…), or maybe it’s the crappy air that we’re still having in Seattle now.  My leg isn’t perfect but it will be ok in a few days and I needed to start on my rehab exercises again anyway.

One more thing: those Canadians have their act together.  The race volunteers and organizers.  Mr. Freezes. The bar/restaurant at my hotel is named after two dogs, and the one special award in the Squamish 50 race is in honor of Gary’s dog.  Most tellingly, from limited tv viewing while I ate, the coaches in the Canadian Football League all wear shirts that say “Diversity Is Strength”.

Strava for 50 mile

Strava for 50k

 

 

Posted by: pointlenana | August 15, 2018

Guest Post: Janet’s Big UPWC Owyhigh Lakes Adventure

Owyhigh Lakes Loop:  Summerland, Ohanapecosh Park, Grove of the Patriarchs, to Owyhigh Lakes

August 6, 2018, 07:11-19:55 (elapsed time 12:44)

Janet Vogelzang (and Mark Cliggett)

On Sunday, August 5th, Mark suggested we hike the Owyhigh Lakes Loop – a UPWC route https://ultrasignup.com/register.aspx?did=54933 – sometime very soon as he had races scheduled and time was wasting.  Plus, we just buried our best furry friend of 13.5 years and desperately needed distraction.  Plus, I’m not in great shape right now and shouldn’t be given time to overthink anything.  We agreed on Tuesday, the 7th.  Then I suggested “tomorrow”.

Off we went.

I’ve done little hiking at Rainier.  We climbed to the summit many years ago on the Emmons Glacier; but since then, I’ve only done a few easy walks out of Sunrise with less ambitious hikers and the Northern Loop (last year) with my much speedier husband, Mark.  Never been to Summerland.

There’s a great children’s book by Michael Chabon called “Summerland” about some slightly misfit folks who travel in an old Saab named Skidbladnir and play baseball as a team (ALWAYS losing their games).  Nearly every character from mythology and American folk tales appears in the story, including Chiron, Paul Bunyan, and Sasquatch.  It’s a wonderful, wacky story to have in mind to start a long day-hike in August.

The other thing that made for a nice way to start the day was how mild the weather seemed.  We’d expected HEAT, but the sky was hazy (with smoke) and slightly cooler than we’d anticipated.  A beautiful trail through some nice woods led to easy climbing and more open views.  We greeted a few folks out for a slower stroll and steadily climbed into high meadows, crossing small streams and meeting the first of many backpackers (roughly 33) we’d see that day on the Wonderland Trail.  The flowers grew more colorful and copious as we climbed.  We listened for birds, and Mark hoped to see a bear.

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Summerland came upon us in full flower.  All the meadows we walked through gave us gifts of discovery.  Asters and lilies, paintbrush and lupine, spirea and monkeyflower, lousewort and false hellebore, columbine and heather.  Our favorite evoked Dr. Seuss characters:  the pasqueflower seedhead.  We gloried in the various colors and shapes – each meadow seemed to have a unique mix of species that made it special.  But Summerland was the first of these, and we paused and took it in with more awe than the rest.

As we walked up the trail out of Summerland, we spied a large hoary marmot crossing the trail ahead.  She cruised behind a boulder, came around the other side nearer us, then climbed atop to flop down on her furry belly.  She lay facing the trail, calmly allowing us to walk right up and past with barely a bat of her eyelashes.  We took photos without seeming to disturb her in the slightest.  She seemed to be enjoying her morning, so we left her alone to soak up the hazy rays.

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We walked on, only occasionally breaking into a short trot when the trail was level and non-technical – so, not much running at all.  Fine by me.  This beautiful trail on a beautiful day (peak flowers?) deserved all the time we felt we could give it.

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We climbed up and walked down.  Up and then down.  And again. Repeat.  We passed glacial run-off streams cascading down the cliffs, crossed rushing creeks bordered by profusions of pink monkeyflowers.  We exchanged “Have a good day”’s with hikers.  We saw a little wildlife – the marmot, orange-gold butterflies, grey-blue butterflies, a vole on a wooden bridge, no bears (phew), and no dogs (as expected in the National Park).

At around 2pm, thirsty and weary from the long downhill on the Cowlitz Divide Trail (on this section we saw only a family of 5 who were camped at Ohanapecosh Campground), down across the road, and looping back up to the Grove of the Patriarchs, we were happy to take a brief break to fill our water bladders, get our hats wet, dig out some trail food, and take a moment to dry out a stream-dipped phone.  (No more of those distracting calls, thank goodness! 😉)

Slowly building a little momentum after getting some calories on-board, we began the long afternoon along the Eastside Trail.  Here we only saw another 5 folks – one group of 3 plus another couple – none with backpacks.  The couple warned us of a bear they’d seen a mile back (a mile ahead for us) crossing under a bridge they were on and following the stream downhill to the river.  We proceeded watchfully, but we never saw any sign of this bear.  Another disappointment for Mark and relief for me.

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This section of the loop makes multiple creek crossings and helped give us a mental/emotional lift with every bridge over yet another amazing deeply carved granite channel with loud, white water flowing below our feet.  We longingly passed some glorious little pools of clear, quiet water that would’ve been heaven to our hot, tired toes.  But time was passing, and we weren’t moving along at the pace we’d hoped to maintain.  We had our headlamps; but I knew that once the light faded, I’d have to slow down even more just to keep from tripping and falling.  So we shuffled along.

The last climb through a forest and then up into yet another gorgeous, flowery meadow (still no bear sightings) nearly led to despair at the odious biting flies.  And then the mosquitoes came out.  [Sorry – can’t stop to pee, gotta’ keep moving to a breezier spot where the bugs are slightly diminished!]

Finally passing Owyhigh Lakes in the late afternoon/early evening light, enjoying pretty reflections of the craggy ridge behind while moving at a pace designed to avoid the majority of mosquitoes and flies, we continued with renewed resolve toward the car somewhere some miles ahead.

The last few easy downhill miles went slowly.  Slowly because we were ready to be done and everything seems slow in that mind-frame, slowly because the inspiring scenery was behind us, and slowly especially because I was determined to stay upright in spite of stiff, tired legs and feet.  I felt sorry for Mark — I know we COULD have moved a lot faster, but it wasn’t happening that day.  Yep, slow but steady. One foot, then the other. Step by step. Down down down.

Back at the car just before 8 pm!  Still daylight! We fist-bumped and quickly changed into dry clothes, hopped into the car, and turned down the hill toward home.

Great day.  Great route.  Great way to start to process grief. Great thanks to UPWC for throwing down the gauntlet. Great appreciation to Mark for solid love and companionship and for gladly sharing the chips and chocolate milk.

–Janet V.

https://www.strava.com/activities/1755920656

Posted by: pointlenana | August 14, 2018

Ouray 100 – July 2018

December 3 2017, Elevation: 200 feet, Seattle 6:50pm :  After not getting picked in the Hardrock lottery again, I sign up for the Ouray 100 mile race in July.  The Ouray course is this weird spider-looking thing with lots of out-and-backs vs. Hardrock’s elegant loop but Ouray is similar to Hardrock in terms of challenges – 100 miles, lots of climbing, altitude, and weather.  Most importantly it offers one thing that Hardrock does not – I can get into the race simply by signing up.  No lottery where I’m vying with 1900 other people to get one of 45 spots.  Maybe I won’t enjoy running in Colorado anyway and I’ll be able to skip future rounds of the Hardrock lottery…

ouray course

The Ouray 100 course – ok, maybe it doesn’t look spider-ish.  Maybe it’s more like a praying mantis with a ragged leash.

May 5 2018, Elevation: 800 feet, Stinson Beach CA 5:20am:  I’m 2 miles into the Miwok 100k race.  I’m not sure I should be here – I’ve been struggling with a bad hamstring/tendon problem for 6 weeks and even had to skip the Boston Marathon 3 weeks previously.  But with Ouray looming at the end of July, I’d like to find out if it’s realistic to train or if I’m kidding myself.  I don’t expect to have a great day – I haven’t run much in 6 weeks – but I hope that my leg will be solid enough to hold up through 62 miles.  If I can finish, I can probably train for Ouray.  Heading up the Dipsea trail in the darkness 2 miles from the start, I trip over a rock and yank my tendon. It hurts for the next 15 miles and then I trip again.  Somehow I finish the race and feel relatively ok within a couple days.  I decide I can train for and run Ouray.  Oh goodie.

May 28, 200 feet, Seattle 2:30pm: Since Ouray is coming in a couple months I figure I should start studying all the course/race info.  Wait – 42000 feet of climbing!?! What’s Hardrock?  33,000 feet.  And Hardrock is known as a HARD race, maybe the hardest non-Barkley 100 mile race in the US.  Shit.  SHIT!   I read the detailed course description and see phrases like “the trail has some exposure”, “extended section with poor footing”, “ball bearing rocks that roll right out from under you”, and “an area of high exposure where runners need to use extreme caution”.  I wonder about navigating those conditions after not sleeping for 30 or 40 hours, on exhausted muscles.  Panicking, I vow to avoid flat miles in all of my training runs and seek out hills.  Most of June is spent doing mindless laps up and down the steepest hills I can find within running distance of my house and/or driving to the steepest mountains within 30-60 minutes of my house.  My weekly climbing totals are things like 15,000 feet and 22,000 feet.  That’s a lot but it’s not 42,000 feet.  Shit again.

ouray description

An excerpt from the comprehensive course description.

June 25, 800 feet, North Bend WA, 8pm:  I’ve just completed 5 laps up and down Mailbox Peak.  From my turnaround point at the bottom, to the summit, it’s about 2.5 miles and a bit less than 4000 feet of climbing.  In 14 hours I’ve climbed 19,000 feet and travelled 26 miles.  Doubling that still leaves me 50 miles and 4000 feet short of Ouray’s totals, but it also leaves me with 24 hours to get that extra stuff done and still beat the 52 hour race cutoff.  Even with fatigue, aid station breaks, and some weather delays (e.g. waiting for storms to pass so I don’t get incinerated by lightning on an exposed ridge), I think 24 hours is enough.  I feel good after 5 laps and could keep going.  Better yet, my legs feel fine a day or two later – none of the typical quad pain I get when my legs aren’t ready for downhills.  For the first time in several weeks, I don’t feel as much panic.  With a month left until the race, I declare my training complete and scale things back so I maintain, rest and don’t injure myself.

July 17, 7800 feet, Ouray CO, 2pm:  After 1200 miles, 19 hours of driving, and 32 hours of elapsed time, I arrive in Ouray and almost immediately set off on a hike up the 2nd-to-last climb of the race – up to Chief Ouray Mine.  I feel surprisingly good in the thin air, and although the trail exposure matches the written description, it’s not nearly as scary in person as it seemed on paper.  I’ve been on trails and climbs that are much sketchier.

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Looking up at Chief Ouray Mine from the streets of Ouray.  The mine is plainly visible in the upper middle of the picture.

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Ok, if that wasn’t so plain – here’s a closeup.  There’s a shiny rectangular thing in the center of the picture.  That’s the mine.

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Chief Ouray Mine.

July 18, 12300 feet, Ouray, 9:45am:  I’m standing on the Bridge of Heaven, at the top of the last climb I will do in the race.  I know it will be harder at the end of the race but the 4500 foot climb has been surprisingly fun on fresh legs – a steep climb up to a ridge, and then a lower grade trail up through trees along the ridge.  The upper part has been surprisingly runnable and I can see basically all of the Ouray 100 course in front of me to the southwest.  I can also see the La Sal Mountains in the distance – 150 miles away? – where I ran last October during Moab 240.  The views go on forever.  Ouray is a cool town.

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Looking west from Bridge of Heaven.  The La Sal Mountains are barely visible on the left horizon.

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Looking south from Bridge Of Heaven.  A lot of the Ouray course is in this picture.  Red Mountain/the Ironton loops is fairly obvious in the upper left.  Crystal Lake is barely visible at the bottom below/right of Red Mountain.  Ironton is just past Crystal Lake, also in the clearing.  Hayden Mountain is in the middle and the high traverse takes place on the big green alpine slopes below the ridgeline.  Camp Bird Road goes up the valley to the right of Hayden Mountain.  Ft. Peabody/Imogene Pass is probably on the distant sunlit ridge line on the right.

July 19, 12700 feet, Silverton CO, 9:45am:  I arrived in Silverton the previous afternoon, to volunteer at Hardrock and check out the Hardrock scene.  After staring at Kendall Peak and the avalanche gully below it all that afternoon, I decided to try out the first segment of James Varner’s John Cappis 50k Fat Ass course – a steep ascent up the avalanche gully to the summit above and then a ridge run over the other Kendall Mountain and back towards Silverton.  At 9:45am the next morning, I am on all fours, moving slower than a slow loris, trying to ease my body weight across a bulge of loose scree without crushing body parts under rocks and/or sending rock downhill, especially towards the guy below me.  I’d started up the “run” by myself but caught up to 4 guys near the top as they got stalled out by loose and progressively steeper rock.  They occasionally send a rock tumbling down towards me – I don’t like this – so I hurry to get up even with them.  As I arrive, one guy kind of gets himself stuck and isn’t sure where to go.  His way seems treacherous, and it looks like things will mellow out a bit if I can get over the bulge and onto slightly less steep terrain.  After 5 minutes and a long sequence of very small weight shifts, all the while trying not to consider the possibility that the entire mountain is about to slide out from under me, I get to solid(er) ground, breath a sigh of relief and coach the other guy over to me.  At the top the 5 of us celebrate being alive and uninjured.  (I talked with James Varner the next morning just before he started Hardrock – he said he’s going to change that part of the course.  In years past there’s been a snowfield there and it was ok, but without snow it is – in James’ words – “scary as shit”.  Yup.)  The rest of the run was incredible – by myself on a high ridge looking at all of Colorado.  I could feel the altitude and it slowed me but not to a crawl – a good sign for my race a week later.

 

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The John Cappis Kendall Mountain climb – straight up the avalanche gully, take the right fork, continue up the talus to the top.

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Halfway up the Kendall Mountain climb, looking down towards Silverton.

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Nearing the top.  My four new friends are visible towards the upper left – note that a couple of them are already using their hands and it hasn’t gotten steep yet.

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Looking back down at the crux.  One of the guys is visible in the middle, easing himself over the Bulge.

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At the summit of Kendall Peak, thrilled to be alive.  Silverton is 3000+ feet below.

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Looking south, from one Kendall Peak to the other.  I’ll run along the ridge in the middle and then down the ridge on the left.

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One person described this as “the lame way to the top”.

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Gratuitous flower picture, near the second Kendall summit.

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Looking down at Silverton from the second summit.

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While I was on the summit, a raven landed nearby…

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… and then took off.

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Looking back up at the summit from the ridge “trail” down.  The trails are different in Colorado – not the soft forgiving trails of the western slopes of the Cascades.

July 22, 11400 feet, Ironton CO, 11am:  I’m scouting the Ironton/Richmond Pass part of the Ouray course.  The clouds have rolled in, a friend has predicted bad thunderstorms in the afternoon, and after seeing Richmond Pass and a bit of the road down towards Richmond – a gnarly looking jeep road that won’t be fun to run/walk on – I’m hustling back down towards Ironton.  The clouds are rolling in and I don’t want to get fried by lightning, at least not before my race starts.  I come across a mom and dad and two kids coming up.  This is a steep trail and I’m impressed that they’ve come up this far so I say something like “You kids are strong – nice job” as I pass.  I wonder about the parents – either they know what they are doing weather-wise or they have seriously bad judgment.  (It turns out both are true, at least in the case of the mom – I’ll come back to this in a bit.)  A bit later, just as I reach my car, the rain starts and a short time later the thunder and lightning starts too.

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Climbing through the aspens, towards Richmond Pass.

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Nearing Richmond Pass, looking towards Red Mountain.  During the race, we do two loops around the left Red Mountain, first counterclockwise then clockwise.

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In the off-trail section of Richmond Pass, looking towards Richmond.  Imogene Pass is out of the picture to the left, and Ouray is down and around a valley to the right.

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Looking down towards Ironton.  The Ironton aid station will be in the small parking lot barely visible to the left of the big field.

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Flowers in Richmond Pass

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The top of the jeep road to Richmond Pass.  I will go up and down this in a few days.  It won’t be fun.

July 25 7800 feet, Ouray CO, 8pm:  I’m sobbing on the phone with Janet.  Before I left Seattle, our 13 ½ year old golden retriever Moani started limping and had some swelling in her shoulder.  Janet took her to the vet a few days after I left, they did a needle biopsy and we breathed a sigh of relief because there were no signs of anything really bad, but the vet wanted to do a surgical biopsy just to make sure.  A week later – the morning of July 25 – the other biopsy happens and the vet sees “disordered tissue”.  The official test results won’t come back until after I start the race but this is not good news – tumors make disordered tissue.

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The day before I left for Colorado.

July 26, 7800 feet, Ouray, 8pm:  My race starts in 12 hours.  Janet is at the emergency vet place, checking Moani in for the night.  Moani didn’t really come out of the anesthesia fog from the biopsy the previous day, hasn’t recovered today after visiting the usual vet for a few hours, and needs care Janet can’t provide at home.  Janet tells me to just do my race but I’m pretty sure I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time.

July 27, 7800 feet, Fellin Park/Ouray 7:45am:  I’m standing at the start, focusing on the ~48 hours ahead and trying not to dwell on what’s happening at home.  I talk a little bit to the few people I’ve met.  Howie Stern is there to photograph the race.  I’ve crossed paths with him a few times in the past couple years – running together at Angeles Crest and Tahoe, having my picture taken by him at Moab, at Hardrock a week ago – but I don’t know him well.  15 minutes before my race, he gives me the best advice I’ve gotten on deciding when lightning is about to get “real” – look for wisps under the clouds, hail is usually a bad sign, count the seconds between the flash and the sound and start worrying if it’s getting shorter.  We set off 15 minutes later at the usual lethargic 100 mile pace (for most of us) or possibly even more slowly – it’s going to be a difficult couple days.

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Waiting for the start.  Photo:  Howie Stern

July 27, 11500 feet Silver Basin, 10:30am, 8 miles into the race:  I’m standing on hardpack next to some water that is apparently a lake, looking at a small stake/sign in the ground that tells me to punch my bib and turn around.  I feel like I’m standing on one of those pieces of property you might find at the edge of a rural town – not developed yet, but heavily used for many years.  This is a mining and/or jeep area so even though the ridges around me look rugged and wild, people have been driving up and poking holes in them for a long time.  This is the top of the first of ~14 climbs on the route – an out-and-back from the Camp Bird aid station.  Rather than park a person up there to watch us on these climbing out-and-backs, they have us punch our bib with a “distinctive punch”.  The Associate Race Director In Charge Of Ouray 100 String Cutting Operations (ARDICOOOHSCO) hasn’t been super-generous with the string that attaches the hole punch to the sign, so I have to squat down to make the punch reach my bib.  There are 6 more of these punch locations on the course – mostly towards the end of the race – so as I punch my bib, I contemplate how my ability to squat will evolve over the next 94 miles and quietly hope that the ARDICOOOHSCO will get more generous with string.  I’m feeling ok and have been pretty disciplined about keeping the effort easy.  As I’ve climbed up, I’ve counted runners coming down ahead of me – I’m something like 40th, solidly in the middle of the 80-90 person pack.

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Hiking up Camp Bird Road.  Only 98 miles left to go!

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Above Camp Bird, on the way to Silver Basin.

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Nearing Silver Basin.  Photo:  Howie Stern

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At the Silver Basin turnaround/hole punch.

July 27 10100 feet, 11am, 11 miles:  Nearing the Camp Bird aid station, I run with Luke for a couple minutes.  Luke is running his first 100 mile race.  He’s pretty small even for an ultra runner, but it’s ok because he still has a few years of growth ahead of him – Luke is 14 years old.  At the aid station, when I hear the volunteers ask “what can I get you” and Luke answers “I don’t need anything, thanks”, my Inner Parent takes over and before I can zip my lips I hear myself say “you know you need to eat throughout this race, right?”  I also notice that my nostrils are fully flared.  Fortunately, I manage to clamp my mouth closed before a full lecture on race nutrition comes out.  I slowly retract my nostrils, take care of my own needs, and set off uphill towards Richmond.  I see that Camp Bird is not some pristine old campground, but a working mine with heavy machinery doing something – maybe not mining but certainly churning dirt around.  Luke won’t finish this race, but he had the courage to start it.

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Camp Bird, during business hours.

July 27, 11500 feet, 12:15pm, 15 miles:  Vale Hirt and I are discussing the relative electrical conductive properties of our trekking poles.  Mine are carbon fiber and hers seem to be aluminum.  We’ve run together for a few minutes, long enough for me to find out that this is Vale’s 4th attempt at finishing a Ouray race.  She’s DNF’d the 50 mile race twice and the 100 once – she lives in Ouray so I’m thinking it’s fun for her to smash her head against bricks every year and she’s back for another round because it’s so easy to get to.  It will turn out that most of the people in Ouray know Vale and they are all out volunteering in the race or cheering at aid stations.  For the rest of the weekend I constantly run into people who ask me “Do you know Vale?  Do you know where she is and how she’s doing?”

Vale and I are talking about poles because the weather has gotten real just as we’re heading up the exposed climb to the Chicago Mine Tunnel.  Thunder is happening all around us, and we’ve just been pelted by big chunks of hail.  When the hail stops, Vale shows me the red welts on her legs and asks why I don’t have welts.  I explain that I’m slightly more evolved and point to the thick coat of protective fur on my legs which not only helps with hail but gives me early warning when biting flies land.  Vale vows to stop shaving her legs, then wonders if she should ditch her poles until she comes back down.  I suggest that her poles might conduct better than mine, so it might be good for me if she hangs on to her poles.  (She claimed later that I snickered as I said this, but I don’t remember that.)  She ditches the poles and we continue on up into the rain and wind and thunder sound – we figure that worst case we can hide in the mine tunnel if things get really bad.

As we climb, I tell Vale about my scouting on parts of the course, and at some point she asks “did we see you Sunday near Richmond Pass?”  It turns out she was the mom I met who was leading her kids up into the maw of a terrible lightning storm.  As I suspected, she knew what she was doing – they didn’t get fried – but by signing up for Ouray, not just once but four times, she also proved she has poor judgment.  We reach the top of the climb and then walk out to the exposed edge of the tailings pile to the hole punch.  (I don’t remember for sure but I think there was a huge sign out there next to the small hole punch sign, that said something like “Don’t Be An Idiot – You Don’t Want To Be Here In Thunder And Lightning”).  We punch our bibs and flee downhill.  Vale collects her poles even before I remind her.

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Looking up towards the Chicago Mine Tunnel, somewhere in the middle of the picture.  Not a lot of places to hide from lightning up there.

July 27, 13300 feet, 2:10pm, 19 miles:  I’m standing next to Ft. Peabody, the high point of the entire Ouray course.  It’s been a bit of slog up the road to Imogene Pass plus an extra scramble up talus near the top, but I feel ok and for the rest of the race I’ll have more oxygen available than I do right now.  I did part of the climb with Vale but she’s acclimated to altitude and I’m not so she pulls away – I meet her coming down while I’m still going up.  At the top, I can see forever and even though it’s raining a little, it doesn’t feel like I’m about to be smote down from above by lightning so I stop and take a couple pictures.  I forget to take one of Ft. Peabody though – it’s a small wooden shack barely bigger than an outhouse, with a small rock wall around it.  It doesn’t seem like much, but between great visibility, holding the high ground, and the oxygen challenge for anyone trying to get up there from below, it was probably more secure when it counted than it looks.

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Looking down the Imogene Pass road towards Richmond and Camp Bird in the valley beyond.

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Looking up towards Imogene Pass on the ridgeline and Ft. Peabody on the small summit above the ridge.

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The final climb to Ft. Peabody.

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Looking west from Ft. Peabody.

July 27, 12300 feet, 3:45 pm, 24 miles:  As I hike up The Hellish Jeep Road From Hell towards Richmond Pass, I run into Howie Stern hiking down.  He’s gone up there to take photos but it’s pouring, his camera equipment will get wrecked if he pulls it out to use it, and he says “it feels too exposed up there”.  He gives me the obligatory “you’re looking good” and then watches as I head upwards exactly towards the place he says is too exposed.   The Hellish Jeep Road From Hell claims to be a road but it’s really just a big talus slope of sharp bowling ball-sized rocks that’s been slightly flattened to look like a road.  I work hard to not roll an ankle, while trying to ignore the pain that happens whenever one foot catches a rock and pulls it up into the back of the other foot/ankle.

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The off-trail section of Richmond Pass.  Clouds, rain, and a couple of other runners barely visible in the center of the picture.

July 27 9800 feet, 5:05pm, 27 miles:  I arrive at the Ironton aid station.  After 5 straight hours of rain, at times heavy, the rain suddenly stops and the sun comes out.  I’m 90 minutes ahead of schedule and won’t need my headlamp/night stuff during the first Ironton loop.  Vale is just leaving the aid station, so I down some food quickly and chase out after her.  I catch her and we hike together for a bit.  She says she really likes this part of the course – Corkscrew Gulch – because it has great views.  I realize that I’m working too hard so I “let” her go ahead of me.

July 27, 11100 feet, 6:05 pm 30 miles:  I’m hating Corkscrew Gulch.  It’s a jeep road with a series of short flat sections broken up by steep uphills.  The jeeps are still out so I also have them to contend with.  The top part of the climb turns into a sustained uphill.  I feel tired.  And the coup de grace – something doesn’t feel right in my shoe, so I pull it off and find my insole crawling out of the shoe past my heel.  This happens rarely, always when my shoes are really wet from weather.  Not sure how to fix it, I shove the insole back in to the correct position and grumble my way on up the road.  I don’t consider the possibility that my other shoe might have the same problem.  It does, but I won’t find that out until very late in the race, once the insole has worn a hole in the side of my heel.

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Looking up at Red Mountain from Corkscrew Gulch.

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High on Red Mountain, just a few switchbacks to go.

July 27, 10800 feet, 9pm, 37 miles:  I’m doing the second Ironton loop, this time in a clockwise direction, and loving this part of the course.  The exact same course is infinitely better in this direction than counterclockwise.  It starts with an uphill single track – hard to run down but fun to hike up.  The clouds clear and a big full moon comes out from behind them as I top out on the climb and cross the ridge back towards Corkscrew Gulch.  The jeeps are done for the day.  The alternating flat/steep sections that were hard to hike up are fun to run down, and I run non-stop down to the aid station.

July 27, 10000 feet, just before midnight, 45 miles:  I made two mistakes at Ouray, a big one and a small one.  As I climb back up towards Richmond Pass, I suffer the consequences of the small mistake.  When I packed for the trip I packed 3 iPod shuffles for music during the race, but forgot to pack any of the USB-headphone jack charging cables.  Leaving the Ironton aid station, I turn on the iPod and my fears are confirmed – after sitting in a box for 2-3 weeks, the battery is low.  I consider rationing my use and saving the music for emergency needs but decide it is too much to think about.  The music is mostly for enjoyment and distraction, and I’m in a gorgeous place.  The one real need is that sometimes when I’m really sleepy it wakes me up when nothing else will.  Oh well, hopefully that isn’t a problem.  I cross the off-trail portion of Richmond Pass under a full moon – with light reflecting off the rain-soaked landscape, it’s almost bright enough to run without my headlamp.  (Sensing an opportunity, my Inner 8-track Tape Player quietly slides in Kate Wolf’s “Telluride” – and plays it non-stop for the rest of the race.  It’s a pretty song, and geographically-appropriate, but it’s mournful and not something you want to listen to for 30 hours during a hard race.)

 

July 28, 9500 feet, 3am, 51 miles:  I’m running down the Camp Bird road, trying to separate myself from that headlamp somewhere behind me.  After surviving The Hellish Jeep Road From Hell again, I pull into the Richmond Aid station with plenty of water.  At this point it’s supposedly a water-only aid station but I have to ask because I’m craving – “Do you have any orange slices?”.  A few other runners are there doing something.  No orange slices so I leave after 10 seconds in the aid station.  As I leave, one or two of the other runners pull out behind me.  I trot along for a while and notice they are keeping pace with me.  This bugs me for some reason, so I try to open a gap and start playing games.  I speed up.  I take walk breaks and then break into a run the moment I’m out of sight around a bend in the road.  Some people get disoriented or paranoid in the middle of the night – in this case I get weirdly competitive.  I can smugly say though that I made it to the next aid station without being caught – much better than slowing down for a few seconds in the middle of a 52 hour race and meeting another runner.

July 28, 10700 feet, 4:45am, 56 miles:  I’m nearing the top of the Weehawken/Alpine Mine Climb.  The course description says that the hole punch will be at the very top, at an overlook where we can see the town of Ouray thousands of feet below.  I come across another runner above me who is convinced that the hole punch is at that turn below/behind me.  I tell him it’s at the top at an overlook – RD Charles would never leave any part of a climb on the table in this race – but the runner basically makes me go back and confirm the hole punch isn’t there at the turn.  We climb on up while he mutters about the RD, and I remember that another thing that sometimes comes with lack of sleep is paranoia (been there and done that, see my third night out at Tahoe 200).  At the hole punch/overlook, we look down and see the lights of Ouray 3000 feet below.  On the way down I meet Vale and her pacer coming up.  She was in a great mood and ahead of me at the start of this climb, but she stopped to fiddle with something and now she’s clearly struggling.  We say hi to each other and she sounds really tired.

July 28, 10000 feet, 7am, 61 miles:  Woah – where did this section come from!?!  I’m climbing over Hayden Mountain.  I had hoped to scout this “ball bearings” part of the course but ran out of time – so many trails so little time.  Based on the detailed elevation profile it didn’t seem especially notable compared to any of the things I’d done in training, except for the one sketchy section where apparently it’s easy to go flying off the trail and down the hill.   But it’s a 3500 foot climb at the 100k mark, quite steep in the sketchy section, and long – there’s a lengthy exposed (to weather) traverse at top before you descend steeply to the Crystal Lake aid station.  Then you turn around and immediately do it all in reverse.  I think I’d love this section on fresh legs, but I’d underestimated it and instead of enjoying it on race day, I whined to myself most of the way to the Crystal Lake aid station.  As I leave the aid station to head back up towards Ouray a woman asks me, “Do you know Vale?  Do you know where she is and how she’s doing?”

July 28, 11800 feet, 11:15 am, 68 miles:  I’m hustling.  I’m high up on the Hayden traverse, the clouds have rolled in, and I want to get off the traverse before the weather starts.  The rain starts as I hit treeline on the descent towards Camp Bird Road, and I hear thunder back in the area where I passed all those people still heading towards Crystal Lake.  I fly down the hill as fast as I can, trying to get through the ball bearing section before it’s both loose AND wet/slippery.  I reach that section and stop briefly to talk to a couple runners still coming uphill.  While I talk to them I move my left foot very slightly and suddenly find myself sitting on the trail with my left leg dangling into space off the hill.  I pull myself back up and continue on, to the musical accompaniment of thunder.  As I reach the bottom, the skies open up and hail falls.  I hide under a tree and pull my raincoat on.  5 minutes later, the hail stops, the sun comes out, and the temperature rises 20 degrees.  I pull my raincoat off and head back towards the start/finish/Fellin Park.  I have 3 climbs left, although there’s also that little blip up from Silvershield.  That can’t be anything.  Right?

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The traverse on Hayden Mountain.  The storm’s a brewin’.

Howie Stern’s Hayden Pass Photos Here and Here

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Descending the north side of Hayden Mountain.  The ball bearing section is just below, and Camp Bird Road is just visible down in the valley.

July 28, 10000 feet, 3:30pm, 76 miles:  I’m on the steep climb up to Twin Peaks, I’m tired, and although I’m moving forward I’m not doing it quickly.   Nearing the top, I see a few runners coming back down with their pacers and they seem to be moving a lot faster.  The clouds and thunder have come back and I’m wondering how to handle the top.  There’s a steep exposed section just below the top – I scouted this section before the race – and it will take me a good 10 minutes to get up that.  If lightning is a problem I’ll either have to wait below that and hope for at least a 15 minute window to get up and down, or climb past that and wait in trees very near the summit.  I reach the exposed section, get lucky with weather, punch my bib and head down towards Silvershield.  (I talked to one of the “Matts From Canada” after the race – both Matts From Canada finished in the top 6.  This Matt was up on Twin Peaks during the weather I experienced on Hayden Mountain, and he had to wait in the trees at the top, covering his ears and watching lightning hit the rock summit too-few yards away.)  As I head towards Silvershield I realize I’m bonking.

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The start of the Old Twin Peaks trail.

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Looking up at Twin Peaks from Ouray.  The trail goes up the gash in shadow in the middle.  Silvershield is down the ridge/valley to the right.

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Looking down from Twin Peaks at Ouray, on the day I scouted this part.  The trail comes up the gully in the middle left of the picture.

July 28, 8500 feet, 7:10pm, 82 miles:  I’m headed down on the steep Old Twin Peaks trail, hurrying because once again I’m trying to avoid weather.  The skies have opened up, it’s pouring, and I don’t want to be in this steep narrow creek bed with tons of water coming down next to me.  The climb up from Silvershield was anything but a blip – sure, 1500 feet isn’t much compared to the rest of the course but it’s 1500 feet.  But I ate a lot at the aid station and feel decent again.  I consider putting on my raincoat but it’s still warm and I’m working hard, so I decide to just let the rain fall on me.  Maybe it will wash away some stink, and anyway I have dry shirts waiting for me at Fellin Park.  As I drop into the town of Ouray, the dirt roads are covered with 1-3 inches of flowing brown water.  I slosh my way back to Fellin Park and get ready for the last two climbs.  Only 12-ish hours left!  (Meanwhile, high up on Bridge Of Heaven, the other Matt From Canada is completely exposed and running downhill as fast as possible as lightning hits the ground all around him.)  In the aid station at Fellin Park, I make my big mistake – I don’t take off my shoes and socks to air dry my feet for a few minutes, nor do I put on dry socks/shoes.  It seems pointless – it’s pouring and everything will be wet instantly anyway.  After the race I talk to Medical Director And Savior Todd Nardi, who saved my feet at both Tahoe 200 and Moab 240, and he tells me that 5 minutes of air-drying might have helped a lot.  As it is, I don’t do anything for my wet feet and I finish the last 15 miles of the race with mascerated feet – pasty white thick skin that folds over on itself, causing pain and blistering in spots that don’t normally blister.

July 28, 8000 feet, 8:30pm, 86 miles:  It’s been pouring for almost 2 hours.  Approaching Lower Cascade Falls at the edge of Ouray, on the way up to Chief Ouray Mine, I see that the falls have changed since I was there 10 days previously.  When I scouted this section, the creek was a little trickle and there was a pretty rainbow in the spray at the falls.  Now it’s a huge torrent of brown water falling off the mountains above.  I’m glad I noticed a bridge crossing the creek when I scouted, because the creek is now a boiling mass of water that I’d be scared to ford through.  I think ahead to the crossing at Upper Falls above.  Same creek, 1500 feet up the hillside, a waterfall above on one side, 10 feet of flat creek/trail to cross through, and a sheer dropoff on the other towards where I’m standing now.  Might get a little sporty up there with a lot of water flowing.

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Lower Cascade Falls, on a day with no rain.

July 28, 10000 feet, 10pm, 88 miles:  The moment of truth is near – I’m almost at Upper Falls.  Several people have come down as I’ve climbed up so clearly the creek is passable but a couple people have said  things like “You have to ford it – the water was up to my knees”.  “Sounds sporty” I think.  I get there, hop on a few rocks, keep my feet dry, cross the creek, and finish the last few yards to the metal shack of Chief Ouray Mine.  A few minutes later, crossing the creek again on the way down, my foot slips off a rock and the current yanks my foot towards the precipice, but by then my other foot lands on dry ground and I shuffle on.

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Upper Cascade Falls, also on a day when there’s no rain.  If you go over the edge, you go a long way down.

July 28, 7800 feet, just before midnight, 91 miles:  I’m back in Fellin Park, ready to get Bridge of Heaven and the entire race done.  I’m in and out of the aid station quickly – I have plenty of food and water in my pack and I have a stomachache anyway, so there’s no reason to hang around.  There’s a good quarter mile of flat road between Fellin Park and the trailhead and I should run it.  But I don’t.  My mascerated feet hurt too much.

July 29, 10300 feet, 2:15am, 94 miles:  I’m so tired.  I’ve been sleepwalking my way up the mountain, forever.  My survival instinct is strong and I’ve avoided pitching myself off the edge of a trail that is literally cantilevered off the side of the mountain.  But my brain is in dreamland – I have a running commentary going about the trail design.  Basically, I’ve concluded that someone designed the trail on a computer somewhere, and then the mountain was constructed to support the trail.  “They put too much scree right here.”  “This is the 3rd patch of thick vegetation – 2 patches would have been plenty.”  “These connections where we turn off trail onto a fire road and then back onto trail are stupid – they should have made it continuous trail.”  I’m also incredibly focused on finding places to lie down and nap.  “If I could just drop off for a moment…”  I try several times but never manage to fall asleep.  One time I lie down in the mouth of a cave with a strong big animal scent – what could go wrong? – but it isn’t very comfortable so I get up and move on.  At 2:15am I’ve finished the steep part of the climb and reached the ridge that was so fun when I scouted it.  The trail goes right, up the ridge, but I turn left, walk a few feet, lie down with my feet on my pack, slide the headlamp off my head so the batteries in the back stop making that painful sensation on my skull, and close my eyes.  The almost-full moon shines down on me, there’s no wind, I’m not cold.  A runner comes down the hill towards the turn, spots me and asks “are you ok”.  “Yep, just trying to take a quick nap.”  “That’s a great place for a nap.”  After a few minutes I give up again, and head up the trail.  I reach up to turn on my headlamp – oh right, I took it off.  I turn around, walk back to about my nap spot and feel around on the ground in the dark for a black-on-black headlamp.  My heart lurches briefly when I can’t find the headlamp, but I take my backup light out of my pack, turn it on, and see my headlamp 5 feet away.

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The trail up to Bridge Of Heaven.  That log is held in place by metal stakes driven sideways into the hillside.  Then scree was piled on top to create a trail.  This picture is in the dictionary under the definition of “cantilever”.

July 29, 12300 feet, 3:50am, 97 miles:  Somehow I’ve reached the top.  I shuffle over to the hole punch, punch my bib, and start down without looking even once at the view.  I’m so sleepy.  I shuffle down the hill with a runnish-stride but when I look at my watch it tells me I’m doing 22 minute miles – much slower than I walk even when I’m tired, and I’m going downhill.  I speed up a little and the pace drops under 22 minutes – barely.  I can’t believe it and it’s depressing that I’m moving that slowly but it is what it is.  I descend.  I think briefly about what’s going on at home and hope it’s better than I fear.   The lead 50 mile racers pass me with legs that look fresh and strong, while I shuffle at my 22 minute mile pace. (Two days later I realize that my watch was on lap screen and 22 minutes is my average pace for that segment including the climb.  Just another brain-was-fried indicator.)  “Telluride” has gotten old by now – well, it got old a long time ago, but now it’s really old – so I wrestle with my Inner 8-track Tape Player for a bit, trying to swap Kate Wolf for some weather-appropriate Japandroids.  It won’t yield though, so in desperation I pull the tape player’s power cord.  There’s apparently an Inner Uninterrupted Power Supply, and “Telluride” plays on as if the tape player is expressing its independence from the hot mess it’s stuck inside of.  “We grew up in the usual fashion, never wanting to grow up at all…”

July 29, 7800 feet, 6:04 am, 102 miles:  The sun comes up as I shuffle through the exposed/sketchy/cantilevered section – the survival instinct is still strong – and I eventually reach the road.  ¼ mile left.  I walk, slightly quickly, almost into the Hot Springs/Fellin Park parking lot, until I’m 100% sure I can run the rest of the way to the finish line.  I run, and then have to decide whether to go into the park through the left or right gate.  I choose right, run between some picnic tables and then look around for a finish line.  I finally spot two orange cones behind a tent set up in the field, so I wind around the tent and go between the cones.  At 6:04 am, after 46 hours of more or less constant movement, I’m done.  I’m fine for a moment but then dust or something gets in both eyes so I wander off for a couple minutes until that clears up.

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Near Fellin Park.  I don’t think I broke the speed limit during my race.  They do things differently in Ouray.

July 29, 7800 feet, 8:46am:  Vale Hirt crosses the Ouray finish line for the first time and earns a 100 mile buckle after running more than 200 Ouray miles.  Half of the town of Ouray is apparently there to welcome her in.  I miss this though because I’ve wandered off looking for a cup of tea.  As I pay for the tea, the person serving me looks at me, decides I’m more likely to be One Of Those Runners than a genuine homeless person, and asks “Do you know Vale?  Do you know how she’s doing?”

July 29, 7800 feet, 11:59am:  I’m sitting at the finish line with one of the Matts From Canada – this is Slow Matt From Canada, who finished 6th, behind Fast Matt From Canada who finished 4th.  Tina Ure (multiple Hardrock finishes) came in around 11:00am and based on the livetracker we think she will be the last 100 mile runner to finish before the cutoff.  I don’t have a watch/phone and I’m only semi-conscious.  A bit later another runner appears – we assume that it’s a 50 mile runner but then look at the bib and realize it’s a 100 mile runner.  Slow Matt glances at his watch/phone and starts screaming Go Go Go!  The runner appears a little dazed and has the same trouble finding the finish cones that I did.  Matt screams Go, the runner winds around, goes through the cones, and falls on the ground.  Matt holds up his phone with the finish time – 51:59:59.  One second before the cutoff.  And this runner has been hustling to make the cutoff.  It took me something like 6 hours to do this last leg and this guy – Jake Richter – has done it in something like 4 ½ hours.

July 29, 7800 feet, 2pm:  As I ask the woman at the counter at the Ouray Inn if I can get in my room early – I’m kind of tired and would like to shower – she mentions that a friend ran the race too.  I don’t even ask, but just say “yeah, Vale did great!”  The woman smiles and nods.  I call Janet – Moani is still with us but not doing well, Janet is really sad while working really hard to care for an incapacitated dog.  I’m too tired to start home immediately but will try to get going first thing in the morning.

July 30, 8am:  After a pretty good night of sleep, with a body that feels relatively intact, I climb in the car to drive 1200 miles home.  Moani hasn’t improved but she’s still with us.

July 31, 2pm:  I arrive home.  Moani hasn’t improved but she’s still with us.  She doesn’t wag her tail when I sit down next to her, but I hope that she can smell me.  The next 36 hours are hard.

August 2, 8:45am:  I’m on the phone to the vet, begging for an “emergency” appointment – Moani hasn’t improved, isn’t going to improve, and seems to be suffering.  During the 30 seconds it takes the vet to figure out how to fit us in, Moani stops breathing and passes away.  We bury her later that day up in the San Juan Islands, with her mom and sister on property where she spent most of her first weeks of life.

August 3, morning:  I’m very tired and very sad, but I can finally relax.  It’s been a long 2 1/2 weeks.

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The race numbers:

 

Posted by: pointlenana | July 25, 2018

Ouray 100 Tracking

(Update 7/26 – The race director sent out mail saying our trackers may not go live until a few hours after the race starts, due to a glitch with the tracking service.  If it’s not working immediately, check back later in the day.)

My Ouray 100 mile race starts Friday morning July 27 at 8am Colorado time (7am Seattle time).  While not as elegant as the Hardrock loop course (Ouray basically has a spine with a lot of out-and-back sections off the spine), it’s plenty tough – 52 hour cutoff, 102 miles, 42000 feet of climbing, average altitude of 10300 feet.  That’s about 800 feet up for every uphill mile, and 800 feet down for every downhill mile.  Just for comparison, Hardrock has a 48 hour cutoff and “only” 33000 feet of climbing in its 100 miles (although the average altitude is a little higher).

We will all be wearing GPS/SPOT trackers, and you can follow our progress at http://www.ouray100.com/tracking

This is going to be a very hard race for someone from sea level, and my one-and-only goal is to finish.  Below is a link to a detailed spreadsheet with info about each segment of the race and my guess as to when I might arrive at aid stations.  After being here scouting for a week, I’m most worried about hitting the first cutoff (leaving Ironton the first time by 7:30).  I should make it but I don’t expect to beat it by a lot.  IF I make that, and IF I don’t fatigue a lot more than I expect from the constant up and down, I should be ok after that and finish before the cutoff Sunday at noon.  Unless there are thunderstorms… Not much you can do in that situation but hunker down below tree line, wait for the storm to pass, and hope you don’t get too wet and cold in the meantime.    On the bright side, it looks like there will be a full moon Friday night and the moon will be in the sky for most of nighttime both nights.

Ouray Planning Spreadsheet

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Looking down from near Richmond Pass, towards Camp Bird.  There are a lot of chossy trails and jeep roads in Colorado – these are not the soft firm trails of the Pacific Northwest.

Posted by: pointlenana | March 16, 2018

Black Canyon 100k – 2/17/18

Posting this for completeness.  I accomplished my goal – getting my Western States qualifier done for 2018 – but otherwise this year’s Black Canyon 100k was a pretty uneventful race.  Certainly nothing like last year’s brush with hypothermia.  Before I started this year, I figured my likely finish time would be somewhere between 12 hours (if I had a great day) and the 14+ hours I (barely) finished in last year.  Wrong.

Huge thanks to Nikki and her brother Jon, who conspired to provide me with free lodging at Jon’s home in Phoenix.  Jon ran the race as well – his first 100k and maybe 3rd ultra – so it made logistics really easy for me.  Get up when he gets up, get in the car with him, etc..  Thank you!

Unlike last year, when atypical storms forced a last-minute course change, this year we had perfect weather – supposedly the best weather they’ve ever had for the race.  It was cool at the start – high 30’s I think – but after 40 minutes I was shedding arm sleeves and gloves.  My plan was to start really easy, and see if a smart start (for a change) would pay off in the ability to run faster in the second half of the race.  Wrong.

Last year my favorite part of the race was the descent ~7 miles into the race where you drop off the plateau near Spring Valley, down into Black Canyon.  When I hear “Canyon” I think canyon, but the Black Canyon is more of a big valley between ridgelines – scrub, sand, cactii, but not really a canyon.  I enjoyed the descent again this year, but held back going downhill hoping to save myself.  We exited off the downhill onto the flat mile into the Hidden Treasure aid station.  In a place where there was nothing to trip on, I tripped, flew horizontally for a few feet, positioned my handheld water bottle to take most of the impact, and went down.  My hands got fairly chewed up but none of the running parts of my body seemed injured so I carried on into the aid station.  Washing the blood off my hands in the aid station, I tried not to look at the flaps of skin hanging off.

Things warmed up over the next hour or so.  Rolling into the BumbleBee aid station at 10:30, I was hot and realized that 45 degrees and cloudy hadn’t trained me for nice Arizona weather.  The aid station was in a bar-like area in a resort of some kind, and I contemplated just plunking down for the day.  Instead I put ice under my hat and set off slowly.

For the next 7 hours or so, I got warmer and warmer, and went slower and slower, and it felt like most of the race passed me.  By Gloriana Mine (mile 23, 11:30am) I had ice in my arm sleeves also.  I decided I did not want to spend the day red-lining and puking, so I kept the pace nice and easy and tried to stay warm instead of hot.  At Soap Creek (mile 31, halfway) I sort of wanted a portapotty so of course that was one of the few aid stations without one.  From Soap Creek on, it was all new terrain.  Last year river flooding forced the organizers to make the race an out-and-back, from Mayer to Soap Creek back to Mayer.  This year we continued on from Soap Creek to the northern outskirts of Phoenix.  I had heard this second half was much more beautiful and interesting, which is partly why I chose to return.

Rolling into Black Canyon City (37 miles) at about 3pm, after still more people had trundled past me in the past few hours, I was really happy to see my friend Steve.  He’d been signed up also but had to DNS due to an injury and came out, somewhat unexpectedly, to watch and help (me, if not others).  He kindly put ice on various parts of my body, pushed gross sweaty things into my pack, and basically cheered me up by being there.  I was way behind schedule at this point – my choice was to go “fast” and be slow due to puking and feeling rotten, or go slow and be slow but feel ok.  Not a hard decision.

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Leaving Black Canyon City – that’s ice in my sleeves, not ripped biceps and forearms.

The longest segment of the course is between Black Canyon City and Cottonwood Gulch – close to 9 miles in the hottest part of the day.  We crossed a “river” a few times, but it’s been a dry winter so it was just a creek with a few inches of water.  I carried my BeFree water filter so I was able to restock on water – that was a good call because otherwise I would have run out of water miles from the aid station (or carried more bottles).  This section also has the biggest climb.  I think it’s only 600-700 feet, but I was moving slowly and it felt endless.  We climbed higher and higher, and way down I could see tiny runner dots crossing the river below us.

This was the section where I decided I am done with the Black Canyon 100k.  I really should rave about this race.  It’s an elegant line running down the valley from Mayer to Phoenix.  The race is very well organized by Aravaipa, with great support.  It’s a Western States qualifier.  The weather is great, coming from Seattle.  It’s cool desert scenery.  But… it’s kind of boring – about 60 miles of weaving around in the desert.  There are no really dramatic views.  You don’t move through different climate/plant zones.  If you like that stuff, it’s heaven.  If you are having a slow, bit-too-warm kind of day and you need a change of scenery mid-race to perk you up, you are out of luck.

I kept things interesting on the way into Table Mesa by purposefully not pulling my headlamp out as it was getting dark.  I kept looking at the last of the daylight and estimating the distance left to the aid station, and kept thinking I’d just make it.  Yep, by about 4 minutes.  It started cooling off as the sun set, I started feeling better, and I passed a couple people.  Steve was waiting for me again at Table Mesa, and again touched gross wet things that non-runners shouldn’t have to touch.

My favorite part of this year’s race was the evening part in the darkness.  I didn’t have to look at the same-same scenery anymore.  I cooled off and felt like I could move faster without risking heat problems.  Best of all, I started passing people who were suffering from getting too warm earlier.  Not a lot, but at least I wasn’t moving backwards anymore.

Shortly after I left Table Mesa, I passed a woman standing, facing uphill, vomiting at her feet.  Channeling the most gracious, helpful version of myself, I suggested that if she faced downhill she would splash her shoes less.  (I probably did offer some more useful suggestions about how to take care of herself, e.g. try to get some calories in even if was only taking tiny sips of gel.)

I continued on, chasing headlamps ahead of me.  The trail was very winding, so headlamps that seemed just ahead would take many minutes to catch, but mostly I caught them.  A rare heel blister exploded about a mile from the last aid station and 4 miles from the finish, and I was very unhappy for a few minutes.  I spent about 20 seconds in the last aid station, and then trundled on.  I heard someone just behind me using me as a pacer – I figured they’d pass me but somehow I stayed ahead so I tried to open up space on whatever terrain I was better on.  The finish eventually arrived.  My finish time was about 14 hours 40 minutes – 30 minutes slower than last year when I could barely stay upright finishing.  Mr. Drafter finished 13 seconds behind me.

Steve was there again at the finish, and again went above and beyond helping me – getting food, making warm drinks, keeping Jon’s dog semi-under control, searching for my drop bags, finding me a chair.  The list goes on.  Thank you Steve.

Jon didn’t have exactly the race he wanted, but he did pretty well in his first 100k – less than 12 hours, 51st overall out of 352 finishers.  And he was kind enough to wait 3 hours (!) for me to finish so I could ride back with him.

One thing that really surprised me when I looked at my splits afterwards is that even though it felt like most of the 450 person race passed me during the warm part of the day, I actually held my own.  When I saw the splits below (place is at the end, marked as degrees), I realized that most of those people passing me were running the 60k – which started an hour after we did.  As I was shuffling along in the hottest part of the day with about a marathon left to go, they were smelling the barn and heading to their finish – surprisingly disheartening because I didn’t realize they were running a shorter race.  Moving from 205th midday to 168 at the finish is not the best ever but at least I moved up.  It was a little better race than I understood while I was running it.  This was sort of confirmed when I spoke to other people who ran slower this year than last year.  I also spoke to a couple runners who’d spent part of the day puking due to heat, so I was ok with not pushing my own pace.

Antelope Mesa (7.3M) 01:17:38 Saturday 08:17:38 203°
Bumble Bee (19.2M) 03:20:53 Saturday 10:20:53 205° 2
Gloriana Mine (23.7) 04:25:15 Saturday 11:25:15 205°
Black Canyon City (37.4M) 07:54:20 Saturday 14:54:20 176° 29
Table Mesa (50.9M) 11:37:00 Saturday 18:37:00 185° 9
Finish 14:39:33 Saturday 21:39:32 168° 17

And as I said above, that’s probably it for the Black Canyon 100k.  I like getting the Western States qualifier done early in the year but I’m not sure I can take 60 miles of that terrain again.  Well, I can probably take it – as ultra challenges go, it’s a pretty mild one.  I would prefer something else though.

Thank you again to Jon, Steve, the organizers, and all the volunteers who made the race possible.

Capture

Posted by: pointlenana | December 27, 2017

Donald Cliggett – 1925-2017

This will get published somewhere official in the near future, but saving my sister’s beautiful obituary for my dad so I can always find it.

LEXINGTON- Donald P. Cliggett, Ph.D, 92, husband of the late Kathleen Haug Cliggett, passed away peacefully on Wednesday, December 13, 2017. He was born in Brooklyn, New York on November 8, 1925 to the late Birger and Marit (Anderson) Glittenberg (both of Norway). At age three Don lost his birth parents and brother Eugene. He was subsequently adopted by Patrick Henry and Sarah Clemens Cliggett, who also adopted another boy, George. His two older natal brothers, Helmer and Clemet Glittenberg, were raised in the Norwegian Children’s Home, Brooklyn. Luckily, his adoptive parents invited Helmer and Clem to the Cliggett home for Sunday meals throughout Don’s childhood, ensuring the boys remained in contact during their youth.

Don’s childhood in Brooklyn was filled with mischief, adventure and fun – themes that ran throughout his life.  As a boy, Don explored far and wide across Brooklyn by bike, played stickball in the streets, took great pleasure in detaching the power connectors on streetcars and jumping the turnstiles for the local trains. When his adoptive father died and his mother began working nights as a nurse, Don, age 13, snuck out bedroom windows and down gutters for nighttime adventures. It was also at this time that his mother learned to drive and took her sons on summer trips to visit relatives in Ohio, Chicago and New Mexico. According to family lore, his mother had run off to join the circus when she was younger – impressing her family with her snake handling and horse riding skills. Her zest for life was certainly the foundation of Don’s approach to the world.

Upon graduation from high school in 1943, Don enlisted in the Army Air Core. It was during basic training in North Carolina when he found himself standing in line with his brother Clem, and reconnected with his Glittenberg brothers – a connection that remained until their deaths in 2005.

When WWII ended, Don used the GI Bill to attend the University of New Mexico – chosen because of his fond memories of summers riding horses with his mother’s relatives.  He completed his PhD in psychology at NYU in 1957, having spent three years at the Menninger Foundation for Psychoanalytic training, in Topeka Kansas.  It was in Topeka where Don and Kathleen – a nurse in training – met, and married in 1954. The newlyweds moved back to New York City so that Don could finish his degree, while Kathleen worked as a nurse.  They had two children – Mark (born 1962) and Lisa (born 1965), and soon after the second birth, undertook another family adventure: moving to the San Francisco area where Don joined the dynamic psychoanalytic professional community at Mt. Zion Hospital. The Cliggetts called Marin County, CA home from 1965 until Don’s retirement in 1998. During those 33 years, Don brought a joy of life and optimism to his family, colleagues, and friends, seemingly unbounded by any notions of limits or expectations. He believed in pursuing passions and curiosity, giving and service, and at his core, in the social foundations and meaningful connections of our lives.

Don loved travel, learning, the New York Times and New Yorker, and being active. Even in his later years, Don resisted boundaries of age. He rode bikes around Marin’s hilly landscape and played tennis into his late 60s. At age 73 he moved with Kathleen to Seattle to be close to their grandsons.  After the loss of Kathleen in 2000, Don turned to his innate curiosity of the world for comfort, and became a student at the University of Washington as an “Osher Life Long Learner,” taking courses in anthropology, history, politics and religion, and making new friends. Much later, as signs of dementia began to emerge, Don remained full of life and optimism, assuring his family that he was happy and going to be fine, and persisting in seizing each moment of joy he could. In 2016 Don moved from Seattle to Lexington KY to be closer to his daughter, and to benefit from the “Best Friend’s Approach” to dementia care – a move that allowed him to remain active and socially engaged in his final years.

He is preceded in death by natal brothers Helmer Glittenberg (Fairfax, VA) and Clemet Glittenberg (Dyer, Indiana), and adoptive brother George Cliggett (Sante Fe, New Mexico). He is survived by his daughter, Lisa (Charles Hite) Cliggett, Lexington; his son, Mark (Janet Vogelzang) Cliggett, Seattle WA and his grandsons, Will and Wyatt.    Private services will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Alzheimer’s Association.

 

Posted by: pointlenana | December 2, 2017

Conquer The Castle Then Take The Crooked Road

A few months ago…

HQ: “Hi, this is the fraud department at Race Registration headquarters.”

Me: “Uh, oookaaay…”

HQ: “We’re calling because we detected suspicious activity on your account.”

Me: “That doesn’t sound good.”

HQ: “We’ll get it sorted out.  Our records show that you recently signed up for the Conquer The Castle 100k – is that correct?”

Me: “Yes”

HQ: “Ok, the reason we’re calling is that someone just signed up in your name for the Crooked Road 24 Hour race.  That starts less than a week after Conquer The Castle.  No one in their right mind would sign up to do a 24 hour race that soon after a 100k.”

Me: “Yes, that’s true.”

HQ: “Oh good!  I’m glad we called.  So that wasn’t you who signed up for Crooked Road?”

Me: “Well… yeah, that was me who signed up.”

HQ: (silence)

Me: “You must talk to Sean Nakamura just about every week.”

HQ: “Yeah, we’ve become quite close – he invited us over for Thanksgiving.”

Me: “Van Phan?”

HQ: “She’s on speed dial.”

These were meant to be fun runs.  I started Conquer The Castle a year ago at the beginning of a trip to see family, but it was harder than I expected and the trip schedule was tight so I DNF’d at 75k to avoid screwing up the family part by showing up after not sleeping all night.  This year, I scheduled the same family trip with another CtC attempt at the beginning, but I gave myself more time to finish and recover after the race before travel from the race (in Cleveland) to family in KY.  Then I realized that I could stay back east for a couple extra days after the family visit and do another race – pick up another state in the world’s least ambitious 50-state attempt, run a cool trail somewhere, and/or try something new.  There weren’t many options actually – I think I found 5 within reasonable distance of my family.  I settled on the Crooked Road 24 Hour race in Virginia, mostly because I’d never done a 24 hour event and it seemed interesting after watching various friends do amazing things (American AG record – Bob Hearn, running for a national team at Worlds – Yvonne Naughton, etc.) in 24 hour races.  I was contemplating signing up for a 24 hour next year (since cancelled) near Janet’s family in CA and I figured CR24 would give me a chance to try it out in a no goals/no risk situation and see if I enjoyed running hamster wheel loops.

Conquer The Castle

This is one of those really creative big runs located in a fairly small park – a really twisty loop repeated 4 times.  Although it’s advertised as a 100k, Jim Van Orman (the winner this year and last year) just measured the loop with a wheel and the loop was closer to 27k than 25k.  So it’s more like a 108k/67 mile race than 100k/62 miles.

CtC Route

Just follow the twisty Yellow Brick Road, except it is much more likely to be six inches of dried yellow leaves hiding roots that like to grab feet.  The North Chagrin Reservation (just east of Cleveland) is not much bigger than 2 miles by 1 miles, but each lap is 16+ miles. 

Last year I ran the first loop ahead of Jim Van Orman – not a very smart approach since I knew he was a lot faster than me.  But the race starts at noon and I knew it would get dark towards the end of the second loop so I wanted to cover some ground.  It went fine and I eventually eased back.  There were lots of leaves on the course and I went down hard a few times during the second lap when my feet collided with hidden roots.

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My friend Beth took some pictures of the course after last year’s race.  Really well-marked, and (but?) the race director Eddie does his best to maximize the number of the leaves on the trail to give us the the best experience.  He did a better job with leaves last year than this year though – this year the trail was bare in spots.

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Here, the trail is obvious – who needs flagging when you’ve got disturbed leaves to mark the way?

After that it was fine until the third lap when I tripped over a grain of sand on a downhill behind Squires Castle – I went down hard again but this time kept going down until the friction of my face sliding against rocks slowed me.  When I got up it was clear I was bleeding, and when I got a band aid at the next aid station they told me “you might want someone to look at that – you might need stitches”.  I continued and planned to finish but as I finished the 3rd lap I realized I was on track to finish early in the morning and might have to go to the ER after that – dropping and being awake for family made more more sense than continuing.  I think I was in 4th place when I dropped.  Luckily the doctor friend I was staying with was still awake when I arrived back at their house – she consulted with Janet, we collectively decided stitches might be more trouble than benefit, and my friend patched me up well enough so I didn’t end up with a scar.  (Thanks Beth and Dan!)

 

That was last year.  This year, I just wanted to finish – I suspected I was still tired from Moab 240 a month before, and I had the really-poor-judgment 24 hour race to do a week later.

I did start with Jim Van Orman – I introduced myself and we talked a little about the Santa Barbara 100 we had both signed up for last year.  But I let him go after about 5 minutes and settled into a steady pace.

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That’s me in the red/gray hat, smart enough this year to start (just) behind Jim Van Orman in blue with the black hat.  Photo: Stu Siegfried (thanks!)

There’s not a ton to say about the race.  There were fewer leaves in spots than last year, so it was easier to stay upright.  I didn’t push on the downhill behind Squires Castle, so I finished without an ugly cut under my eye.  The volunteers were as amazing this year as they were last year – I had mistakenly assumed that non-west-coast people would somehow not be awesome ultra community, but they are at least as awesome as west coast people.  I managed the cold better – last year I was pretty cold but this year tights and a sweater layer kept me comfortable during the last 2 laps.  I had fun running for a while with a guy named Tyler who was doing his first run longer than 50k.  During the 3rd or 4th lap it snowed very lightly for a little while – that was really pretty in the light of my headlamp.

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Tyler and me.  Photo: Stu Siegfried.

I did learn something – in the really rooty sections it’s much less trippy to run lifting feet up high than to walk carefully, since I tripped hard and often when I was walking but generally was fine when I ran.  It’s so hard to do though, knowing that a running trip is more likely to end in a fall, and as legs get tired.

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Carefully noting the roots ahead.  Photo: Stu Siegfried.

I finished just before 3am, in about 15 hours, 8th out of 20. (And second 40+ male finisher, behind Jim Van Orman who won overall.)  I hung out at the finish for a few hours, mostly to avoid waking my friends up in the middle of the night.

I did get a Sir Runsalot finishers medal for my efforts.  This is probably my favorite race medal – it’s handmade by the race director.  All finishers get one, so you can get one for as little as 25k/16 miles.  Between last year and this year, I had to run 175+k to get mine.

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Sir Runsalot

Crooked Road 24 Hour

This was supposed to be a no-risk fun run.  I always need to set a goal for any run I do though – I’m just wired that way.  For Crooked Road the obvious goal was running 100 miles in less than 24 hours – I’d never done that before.  I got myself in trouble though by looking at past results for the race – the winning distance for the past few years has been slightly more than 100 miles.  If it was reasonable for me to run 100 miles in 24 hours, it was almost as reasonable to think I could win the race.  There are not many races where I have a non-0% chance of winning, and at the age of 55 it’s not likely this is going to change for the better.  Over the space of a few days my goal went from “fun race” to win the race – it seemed a shame to pass the opportunity by, even though I would probably still be recovering from Moab and would definitely be fatigued from a 100k a week before.  That took away some of the lightheartedness.

I looked at the entrants list in UltraSignup to assess the competition.  A few former race winners, a handful of people who had the experience to do well, and some faster (and often younger) people who hadn’t run farther than 50k/50 miles.  Looking at past results for the race, the 3 best distances were 139 miles (several years ago), 122 miles and 110 miles.  After considering a few possible distance goals, I finally settled on pacing for 125 miles.  All the data I had indicated that would likely be enough to win.  125 might or might not be realistic, but probably would get me far enough into the race that I could adjust or give up as needed.

My friend Bob Hearn (who has set the American men’s 50-54 age group record twice in the past couple years) uses an even pacing strategy – figure out how many miles you want to run, start at that pace, and try to finish at the pace.  I had a chance to talk to Courtney Dewaulter after Moab – she holds the American women’s 24 hour record – and she also said even pacing is the way to go.  The laps at Crooked Road are a bit less than 1.2 miles – I did some math and decided I’d aim for 13 minute laps, which would get me about 125 miles depending upon things like bathroom breaks.  Bob was kind enough to look over my plan, and told me that if I was running too fast in the beginning to compensate by walking more.

After Conquer The Castle, I traveled on to Kentucky, had a nice visit with family, then drove through West Virginia to Rocky Mount in Virginia where Crooked Road is held.

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Gratuitous picture of West Virginia because the state is pretty.  I went into a Starbucks there wearing a bright yellow Asics rainjacket.  All the guys I saw had camo jackets on.  Which one of these is not like the other?

I had assumed the path was basically flat.  It is basically flat relative to mountain trails, but when I walked the path the day before the race I noticed some ups and downs.  Not a lot – maybe 50 feet of climbing per loop, but multiplied by ~100 loops it’s a lot more climbing than a 24 hour track event.  I decided it was a good thing though – a little more variety for my muscles.  As if I had a choice.

The race eventually started (just like this blog post eventually gets around to talking about the race), and had 3 phases:

Phase 1:  Everyone Runs Away From Me

I started at my 13 minutes/lap pace, which was meant to be running at 10:30/mile with 1 minute of walking per lap.  Except that I quickly found out I couldn’t run slow enough.  Instead of 10:30 it was high 9’s or on a really good lap maybe 10:05.  I was also walking faster than I had estimated – maybe 15 minutes/mile instead of 18.  As a result, all my early laps were more like 12:20 than 13:00.  I made my walk breaks longer, and gradually settled on splitting the walking into three sections – up the one notable hill early in the loop, again on the back stretch, and just after the aid station.  I tried to slow down the running.  Still, it wasn’t until my 24th lap (close to 30 miles into the race) that I finally completed a lap slower than 13:00 (13:02).

In the meantime, the entire race passed me, lapped me, and in some cases lapped me several times.  There were a couple young guys up front flying along – I figured that either they were planning on finishing early or would eventually implode.  One that had me worried was Davy Crockett – he won last year, has an impressive race resume, and was several laps ahead of me after a few hours.  I knew some of the other people ahead had won the race before too.

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Working my way backwards – I’m in the green jacket/white cap towards the back.  Photo: Matt Ross (thanks!)

(My Davy Crockett story:  When I ran my first 100 – Cascade Crest – a few years back, I was about 25 miles into the race and wanting to get to the next aid station.  I heard very faint music ahead and decided it must be the aid station.  I ran for a while, and I could still barely hear the music.  The aid station didn’t come.  More running, more faint music, and no aid station.  I traveled 3 or 4 miles – how is it possible to hear music that far ahead in the mountains? – and finally arrived at the aid station, where there was noise and music.  I left the aid station, and soon after started hearing the music again, louder this time.  Shortly after, I caught up to a runner – who was singing.  I looked at the splits afterwards to figure out who had led me on: Davy Crockett.)

It was unsettling to want to win and yet move backwards in the pack that quickly and consistently for hours on end.  I had to tell myself repeatedly that the others were running too fast (probably) and would eventually come back to me.  The timekeepers at the start/finish had a big screen tv displaying interim results.  Mostly it just showed people’s lap times as they came through.  One time a few hours into the race it had a leaderboard with the top ~30 people – I glanced at it but realized I wasn’t anywhere close to those people.   I decided not to look at the screen for a long time – no useful information for me so it would just be wasted time.

One disadvantage to my start slow/stay slow/finish slow plan was that it made me somewhat antisocial.  Normally, after a few miles in a race I end up with people roughly my speed and there’s a chance to talk. This time, the people who were ahead would move by fairly quickly when they lapped me.  The ones who were on my pace were mostly in no hurry and would stop for a while at the aid station or take longer walking breaks.   Everyone seemed quite friendly (it’s an ultra after all) and I did talk to a few people.  One guy had run a half-marathon race in the morning and was trying to get in at least a marathon at Crooked Road.  Another fast guy who lapped me several times in the early going had some kind of Marines shirt on – I notice those things with our son Wyatt in the Marines.  I happened to sync up on a walking break with the Marine-shirt guy – named John – he’d never run more than 50k (I think) before and was trying to see how far he could get, hopefully 100 miles.  I crossed paths a lot with a friendly blond woman but she was with friends and we never actually traveled together for any length of time.  At some point I met Alan Doss, who was on my short list of possible competitors for the win.  He’d noticed me in the UltraSignup list and remembered that I had done Moab.  We chatted for a bit but then he took off running way faster than I wanted to go.  Mostly I listened to music and let the time pass.

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The race happens around a big lacrosse field in woods, kind of in the middle of nowhere.  Photo: Matt Ross

My plan to start slow no matter what began to make sense about 30 miles in when my legs started feeling way more tired than they should 1/4 of the way into the race.  I figured it was residual fatigue from other races – and expected that – but it reminded me that I needed to be able to keep going at a decent pace for 24 hours, not accumulate a bunch of miles in the early going and then fall apart.  Slow and steady, slow and steady.  I did try to keep going though – very brief slowdowns at the aid station or to get stuff from my drop bag, but otherwise moving forward.

Phase 2 – The Transition

Bob Hearn told me I wanted to be midpack halfway through the race.  I was definitely there, if not further back, about 6 hours in.  As expected, or at least hoped for, things started shifting.  People stopped lapping me so quickly, and after a while stopped lapping at all.  Then I started catching people who had lapped me earlier and even lapped some of them.  The younger guy way out in the front at the beginning seemed to be walking a lot.  I continued on – running in the 10s and walking for 30 seconds/20 seconds/20 seconds in the usual spots around the loop.

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Space Needle/Seven Hills Running Shop shirt – representing our great local running store that specializes in trail running.  Photo: Matt Ross

I never figured out my nutrition before the race, partly because I’m lazy and partly because I didn’t have a clear sense for what would be available at the race nor would I have crew supporting me with special concoctions.  I brought a huge pile of Gu and had them out at my drop bag (the RD had brought me a chair I could set my stuff in since I was traveling and wouldn’t have crew).  I used Gu for a couple hours but then started grabbing pb&j’s at the aid station.  In addition to the usual sodas (plus 5 different flavors of Gatorade!), they also had sweet tea so I started drinking that for the calories and caffeine.  This all worked great for a while, but sometime during the afternoon my stomach went a bit off.  I’m told it was the warmest-ever Crooked Road – it wasn’t really warm but it was probably warm enough to cook myself just a little bit.  I started in on the Ginger Ale, hoping it would settle the stomach.  It stayed a little unhappy until well into the night but mostly cooperated.  At some point I grabbed my handheld and filled it with sweet tea, figuring that frequent tiny sips might work better than one or two cups of fluid every 1-2 laps.  I continued to slip some solid calories in – a bite of doughnut, pb&j, oreos, an occasional gel, soup of various flavors (that potato soup was really good!).

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The Gatorade selection.

Early in the evening, about 12 hours in, I stopped to look at the leaderboard.  In addition to the screen with recent lap times, they had started writing the leaders by hand on a whiteboard.  The first time I looked, it said I was in 7th place (sorry Bob – not midpack at the halfway point).  The next time – 5th, with the leader just 2 or 3 laps ahead.

I got really sleepy early in the evening.  After shuffling slowly for a lap or two, I finally gave in, dumped my stuff out of the chair, and lay on the ground with my feet/legs up in the chair hoping to doze off for a couple minutes.  I figured a small reset wouldn’t put me much further behind, and might help a lot later.  I lay there for about 10 minutes, maybe dozing for a minute, until I felt cold, and then continued on.  After that I didn’t have a problem with sleepiness.

Around 10pm (14 hours race time), I saw that I was in 3rd, and the hunt was on.  First was a guy named Rick Gray – he hadn’t been on my short list before the race because although he seemed plenty fast and has a long impressive running resume, he had done two long races in the preceding two weeks.  (We will conveniently ignore my CtC 100k at this point in the race report.)  I was pretty sure 2nd was the guy who had run really fast for a long time and then did one lap walking barefoot and then much slower laps after that.  Rick was in a yellow shirt and I started looking for him on the course.  The course is a small loop and big loop, connected by a bridge that we’d run over at the beginning and end of the big loop.  I’d see the yellow shirt come out of the bridge on one lap, and then see if I had gained or lost ground after the next lap.  It looked like I was gaining.

Unfortunately, my stomach suddenly rebelled – I scrambled off to the side and did a quick emptying.  (Maybe it was that baby dill pickle I ate a half mile before?  “Hmmm – I’ll try that.  What could go wrong?”) The next time through the aid station I decided to lie down briefly hoping to complete the reset.  The rain had started by then so I ducked up by the bathrooms and lay on the concrete under the roof for a couple minutes.  That seemed to settle things and I didn’t really have problems after that – probably because it had cooled off.

For someone from Seattle, the rain and cool night wasn’t a problem.  I ran in shorts, a smartwool top, gloves, and arm sleeves.  When I got a little cold, I pulled the sleeves up.  When I got warm I pushed them down.  It was kind of windy but it never rained really hard, and I was pretty comfortable most of the night.  I was still running a fair amount, whereas others were slowing and having to don clothing.

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Plugging ahead.  I like how the Seven Hills logo lights up – nice job Phil!

Roughly 16 hours into the race I pulled by Rick Gray in the darkness and took over first place.

Phase 3: Prevent Defense

After Crooked Road, I read a really nice post from Laz Lake (Barkley RD) in a Facebook group called Running Against Time, where he explained how to run a 24 hour race (e.g. “Plan to run for 24 hours.”).

Up until I took the lead, I had executed decently for a 24 hour race.  Keep moving, minimize stops, steady pace.  It wasn’t perfect – stomach issues, stopping for a dirt nap, pacing a little erratic, etc. – but I knew going in that tired legs wouldn’t lead to a huge distance total.  Once I was in the lead though, I abandoned any thought of seeing how far I could go in 24 hours.  I just had to stay ahead of people behind me.  Actually, it was worse than that – I started having fantasies about getting far enough ahead that I could walk the rest of the way or even stop early.  Definitely not channeling Laz Lake.

I moved ahead, roughly on plan.  But I added a little bit to my walking breaks – 4 breaks of 20 seconds each, then 30 seconds each, walk this running section here, and maybe that one too, etc. – and didn’t move quite as quickly through the aid station.  The priority was avoiding any major issue, not maximizing my distance.  The leaderboard was only updated occasionally so most of the time I didn’t have a clear picture of where I was.  I didn’t seem to pass people like Rick – I was definitely looking and hoping to lap them but it wasn’t happening.  But somehow I did lap them (I think they must have stopped somewhere, or dropped out entirely – e.g. Davy Crockett disappeared long before the race was done) and I eventually had a 2 lap (~2.4 mile) lead.

With 4 hours left in the race, I was feeling pretty confident.  I had a long walk break talking with Alan Doss – he said I was running as much as anyone and it looked like I had the win sewn up.  While we were talking and walking, someone in an orange windbreaker trotted by.

With 3 hours left, the orange windbreaker went by again – I watched the person pull away for a bit, and then went “S&^%!  Who is that?”  I ran after the person, skipping walk breaks for close to a mile and running a little faster than I wanted to, just so I could pass the start/finish at the same time as the other person and find out our relative positions.  Good thing.  The people at the start said “Kerry – 85 laps!  Mark – 87 laps!”  Ok, so I was still ahead but this guy Kerry seemed to be pretty strong and not too far back.  I caught him, and we traveled together for a bit and talked.  He said I was too far ahead to catch, and I told him 3 hours was a long time so I was worried.  Somehow my walk break ended before his and I pulled ahead, knowing that I couldn’t be a complete slacker for the rest of the race like I had hoped.

Two more hours passed – one hour to go – and I started feeling confident again.  I could probably walk for the hour and do ~3.6 miles.  Someone would have to run at least 6 miles in that hour to catch me.  Not impossible, but unlikely.  I stopped for a moment at my drop bag and put on my custom Dauwalter/Walmsley shorts, in silent appreciation of two people who’ve inspired me (and because Courtney Dauwalter basically dared me to wear them after I posted a picture on Facebook.)

Taken with Lumia Selfie

The sweet-looking Dauwalter/Walmsley shorts.  I decided not to wear them for the whole race because I was afraid my leg hairs would snag in the holes and tear a big chunk of flesh out of my leg.

I walked along chatting with two people who were talking about their friend Kerry who was having a great race.  “No kidding – he’s had me running scared for the past two hours!”  As we were talking, someone flew past and they said “way to go Kerry!”.  Uh-oh.  I bolted again and caught Kerry.  We had a really nice lap together, talking (among other things) about old age and dementia – my visit to KY was in part to see my dad who might have recognized me this time.  I suggested to Kerry that we might be far enough ahead that we could walk a final victory lap together, stop 30 minutes early, and still finish 1 and 2.  We checked carefully at the start/finish, seemed to have enough of a lead, and walked around the course one last time.  At about 23:35 we declared ourselves done.  114+ miles for me, 112- miles for Kerry.

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Kerry and me, during our victory lap.  Photo: Matt Ross

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Are we done?  (Note the Dauwalter/Walmsley shorts…) Photo: Matt Ross

 

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Kerry and I checking very carefully to see if we could finally stop.  Photo: Matt Ross

This is probably the only race where I’ve had had official duties during the awards ceremony.  Because the Crooked Road is a country music scenic route in the area, the winners’ trophies are a small banjo (the second time you win you get a fiddle).  I finally met the friendly blond woman – Cindy Barbour who won the woman’s race, set a VA state AG record for 24 hours, and finished 5th overall.  I was somewhat relieved to hear that Cindy had stopped a little early too because her lead was big enough and she was past 100 miles.  I thanked RD Ricky Scott and every volunteer I could find for a really-well run race.  By the time I packed up my stuff and was ready to leave, the place was empty except for the last few volunteers loading stuff in trucks.

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Cindy and I modeling with our bling.  Photo: Matt Ross

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The 10 100+ mile finishers, including one who wasn’t quite ready to get vertical again.  Photo: Matt Ross

I’m really happy with the win, but Most Impressive Race definitely goes to Kerry Alexander.  He’d never run more than 50 miles before, has a really busy life and probably can’t train like I do, and probably didn’t have American AG record holders advising him.  He ran a really smart race, and until I talked him into quitting early, was on track to finish just as his fuel tank was reaching empty.  Well done!

Kudos to everyone who was out there.  Ricky Scott sent this out recently: “Some interesting items to note, not only did we have 10 folks go over 100 miles, but we had 48 do at least 100k, 76 do at least 50 miles and 117 go beyond the marathon distance. That’s over 90% of those that started!”

And thank you to Ricky, the timing folks at Kilted Timing, and all the volunteers – you were all awesome!  As I’ve said before, this is actually a team sport and all the non-runners play a huge role in getting people to the finish.

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Ricky and his team put on a really nice event.  Photo: Matt Ross

Some other thanks:

  • Beth and Dan, for hosting me again in Cleveland.
  • my sister Lisa and Charles for a nice stay (and successful recovery) in Kentucky
  • Bob Hearn for the advice and confidence (after the race I saw a post in Running Against Time where Bob predicted before the race that I’d win)
  • Janet for being there as always, and for letting me go visit my dad just a few days after the memorial service for her dad.

This isn’t race-related, but my streak of unlikely celebrity runner sightings after races continues…  I’ve run into Lauren Fleshman on a plane after Janet and I volunteered at Western States, Shalane Flanagan at the airport after San Diego 100, and Jenn Shelton during/after CIM last year.  This time I was walking through Seatac after arriving back from Virginia, looked at someone in the terminal, and had to ask: “Are you Seth Swanson?”  (2nd at Western States when I ran it, 4th at UTMB that same year).  Yep.

Taken with Lumia Selfie

As a friend says, photos or it didn’t happen.  Seth Swanson is, of course, a really nice guy. 

 

 

 

 

 

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