Posted by: pointlenana | June 2, 2017

Issy Alps 100M – May 20 and 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upon Further Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stuff I used:

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

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

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

What I’d change:

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

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

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

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

Documentation:

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

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

Van’s video of me finishing

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

Posted by: pointlenana | May 19, 2017

Issy Alps 100M Attempt

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The Quick Version

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

If you want more:

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

George tracks finishes in different styles:

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

I am going to do this unsupported and solo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by: pointlenana | May 2, 2017

Canyons 100k – April 29, 2017

My friend Jeff and I made a quick trip to the Sierra foothills this weekend to run the Canyons 100k – about 31 miles of the Western States course covered as two out-and-backs from Foresthill.  We started by running up the course through Volcano Canyon, Eldorado Canyon, and then into Deadwood Canyon.  Just before Swinging Bridge we turned around, ran ~16 miles back down to Foresthill and continued on towards Rucky Chucky (where Western States runners have to wade the American River).  Then we turned around and ran back to the finish at Foresthill. There’s a total of about 15000 feet of climbing during the day so it’s a fairly challenging 100k.

Capture

It was fun showing Jeff around before the race.  We picked up our bibs at Auburn Running Company, which has a lot of Western States history on its walls.  We stopped by the Placer High track, where Western States runners finish their 100 mile journey.  We drove out to Robie Point, where runners exit the Western States trail to run the last 1+ mile of pavement to the finish.  As we were leaving Robie Point and heading back to town, I said “I think Ann Trason lives somewhere around here”.  Just then a car came towards us – I had to pull to the side because the road was narrow.  We looked at the driver of the car as it passed and I said “oh, that’s Ann Trason right there.”

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Jeff at the Placer High track, looking forward to his future finish.

One great thing about doing this race was leaving the crummy Seattle weather for a couple days.  The weather for race day was great – sunny, low 40’s in the morning, highs maybe in the upper 70s.  I was a little worried about sunburn since I remembered the course being pretty exposed, especially towards Rucky Chucky, but there was more tree cover than I remembered and the coat of sunscreen I put on in the morning lasted all day.

I didn’t wear a headlamp at the beginning.  We started at 5:30am, just before it got light, but we ran north on paved road for about 1 1/2 miles and by the time we hit trails I could see well enough.  As we dropped into Volcano Canyon, we hit some wet patches in the trail.  I had read that there was lots of water on the course and our feet would be wet for 63 miles.  Postponing the inevitable, I steered around mud and puddles, and was really glad I did when I watched a guy plant his foot in mud only to have his leg disappear up to his knee in the mud.  He climbed out and said “I’m glad it didn’t suck my shoe off – that would have been a disaster.”  He was unlucky – there really wasn’t much mud after that.

There were plenty of creek crossings though – big ones at the bottom of the canyons and smaller ones along the way, especially on the trail from Foresthill to Rucky Chucky.  The creek in Volcano Canyon was moving along pretty well, so the organizers had strung up a couple safety lines that we clung to as we crossed at mile 3 or so – the water was at knee height and my feet were in fact wet for the 60 miles after that.

I started the race worried about inadequate pre-race bathrooming, and my fears were confirmed as I climbed out of Volcano Canyon towards Michigan Bluff.  I tried to put the discomfort out of mind – presumably there would be portapotties at Michigan Bluff – and tried to pick up time on the downhill fireroads where I could.  Thankfully the single portapotty at Michigan Bluff was empty when I arrived and I left soon after feeling much better.

The ~10 mile run from Michigan Bluff out to the turnaround in Deadwood Canyon all went smoothly.  3 miles downhill to Eldorado Creek – where my friend Charlie took my favorite ultra “running” picture of me during Western States – then a long uphill to the plateau before Devil’s Thumb, and then the steep descent into Deadwood Canyon.  The faster runners started coming back shortly before I started the descent into Deadwood Canyon.  That’s one of the good things about out-and-backs – you see all the other runners.  I counted only 15 runners ahead of Jeff – he was almost out of the canyon as I started to drop in.  Although I remembered the trail having lots of rocks and roots, it seemed pretty smooth and the descent went quickly.  I counted about 85 people ahead of me when I reached the turnaround.  I grabbed my wristband – confirmation I didn’t turn around early – and started back up.

The climb to Devil’s Thumb didn’t seem that bad in the training runs, but it was wretched during Western States.  100+ degrees (not joking), I had already run 48 miles, and it’s very steep – something like 1700 feet of climbing in 1.4 miles.  It wasn’t hot this time though and I wasn’t very tired, so it passed quickly.  Similarly, I remembered the drop into Eldorado Canyon as being tough during Western States – I was still hot from the Devil’s Thumb climb, the rocks and roots seemed really bad, and it took forever for the creek to arrive.  Again, this time it went smoothly and quickly.  That’s kind of how the whole day went – my memory of the trail was that it was hard, and reality generally was easier than I remembered.

When I got back to the Volcano Creek crossing, the day had warmed up and I felt a little hot so I crossed and then plunked my butt in the creek and lay backwards.  That was the first of about 20 creek dunkings for me.  People would see me do that and smile, and some would dunk their hat but for the most part they wouldn’t get themselves really wet.

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Charlie’s picture of me in Eldorado Creek during Western States.

I made it back to Foresthill after about 7 hours, and 31 miles of running – ahead of schedule relative to an estimate I made before the race.  After a quick stop at the aid station – I usually filled my bottle with the Gu Roctane drink, had some oranges, and then left with pb&j or stroopwaffles in my hand – I set off down the road towards “Cal Street”.  We actually ran on California Street for a block as we left the little town of Foresthill, but that whole ~16 mile section of Western States trail from Foresthill to Rucky Chuck is known as Cal Street.  That’s the fastest part of the Western States course – mostly flat/slightly downhill with a few bigger downhills and a few short steep uphills, all on very runnable trails.  (Here’s a video Sage Canaday did of that section – with lots of Pixie Ninja sightings.)

I moved along pretty well, ticking off miles and being diligent about taking 20 seconds at every creek to cool off.  One creek was deep enough that I was able to wade in, squat down and get my shoulders in the water.  There was also a great spot just before Rucky Chucky – a semi-paved wash with 8 inches of water running across it – where I was able to convince another runner to do full immersion after she mentioned dunking herself in a creek.

I only carried one handheld bottle.  I knew that I’d be fine in the morning when it wasn’t hot.  There were two 7+ mile legs during the hot part of the day – to and from Rucky Chuck – but I figured I could tank up my belly in the aid stations and then ration the bottle.  I never actually arrived at an aid station with a dry bottle – close but always a couple sips left.  The only problem with this plan was a) I was counting on calories from the Roctane drink mix and b) the Roctane mix had caffeine in it.  I probably drank 15 bottles of Roctane through the day, and (assuming they mixed the Roctane as directed) that meant I had something like 500 mg of caffeine.  That’s a lot of caffeine, along the lines of Rory Bosio’s UTMB race where she drank enough caffeine “to kill a horse”.  It didn’t surprise me that I had trouble sleeping the night after the race – hotel bed, post-race soreness, and a horse-killing load of caffeine in me.

When I saw Jeff again on his way to the finish, he had moved up a couple slots.  He told me I was in 23rd place.  “Not possible” I thought to myself, and yes by the time I got to Rucky Chuck I had counted 50-something people ahead of me.  (“Just messing with you”, Jeff explained later.  Thanks!)  I turned around and headed back towards Foresthill.

I still felt pretty good – tired of course, and with some tightness in one hamstring – but not hot, no stomach issues, and able to run most of the time even on the gradual uphills.  I wasn’t gaining time relative to my estimate anymore, but I wasn’t losing time either and I wasn’t worried about finishing in darkness.  I caught up to a runner who turned out to be Karl Hoagland – publisher of UltraRunning magazine – and had a nice chat with him.

I was mostly running by myself but occasionally I’d catch a glimpse of someone ahead and then gradually work my way up to and then past them.  At this point I was thinking “pass, don’t get passed” and I was a little surprised to have two people come into the final aid station just behind me.  “Where did they come from?  I haven’t passed anyone for a little while”.  I left pretty quickly – one guy followed me out so I tried running faster and was happy to find out that my hamstring didn’t seem so tight anymore.  The guy stayed with me on the flat but after a mile we hit the final climb (1000 feet in about 2.5 miles) and after powerhiking for a bit I had dropped him.

Near the end of the climb, just before we arrived at Foresthill, I saw another runner ahead.  I was wondering about my age group placing at this point – I had to be doing ok but some of those young-looking people ahead of me probably were in my 50-59 age group.  I worked hard for a mile trying to close the gap – making some progress but not like I had with other racers.  As we got off the trail and onto the pavement, I realized the person ahead was a woman (“not in my age group!”).  I debated whether to be That Guy and pass her in the home stretch.  Someone ran with her for a couple blocks and then dropped off – as I passed him I asked “do you see anyone behind me?”  When he said no I decided to just maintain the gap.  I followed her across the line and congratulated her on a strong finish.

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The finish area was fun – it was a nice evening and with a dry shirt and hat I felt comfortable hanging out.   Jeff was there – he had a GREAT race, finishing in 12:34, 14th out of 326 starters.  Bruce Labelle was there – it was great talking to him again and he told me that when he finished Western States again last summer he had issues and ran the last 70 miles without eating anything (!) by being smart about running slowly enough and burning fat.  Jeff and I talked some more to Karl Hoagland and his wife Erika (who finished in the top 10 at Western States the past couple years).

My official time was 14:09:46, roughly the midpoint of my most optimistic and most conservative projections.  50th out of 326 starters and 5th out of 52 guys in my age group.  I’m pretty happy with this race – no really bad moments, steady progress (pace through the first half: 13:15, pace for the whole race: 13:21), enjoying the creeks, and running all the flats/downhills/gradual uphills.   The event was also great – well organized, great volunteers, well marked, trails that had recently been cleared of downed trees, the safety lines at Volcano Creek, etc..  It’s not surprising given that it’s Western States-world, but it still takes a huge amount of effort and care from a lot of people so thank you.

There were some very strong women out there, e.g. Suzanna Bon (who won Tahoe 200 a couple years ago) is 52 and Jackie Clark (59) both finished more than an hour ahead of me, not to mention the women’s winner Cat Bradley who beat Jeff by more than an hour.

One final note:  Later that evening, I learned that shoes and socks that have been wet with creek water for 16 hours smell really really foul.

Posted by: pointlenana | April 19, 2017

Boston Marathon – 4/17/17

We just returned from the annual pilgrimage to Running Mecca, where I made my annual attempt to have a great Boston Marathon race.  0 for 8 now (although some of those years I approached it as a fun run and wasn’t racing).  I’ve already spewed a gazillion bytes (blog posts and videos) about this race so I’ll just focus on what worked and what didn’t.  Before I start though, most or all of the reason I didn’t have a great race this year is that the day was too warm to run a good marathon for the vast majority of the people running.

Things That Worked (to varying degrees):

  • My orange shorts.  My friend Nick (who is from Tennessee) says there is research showing that wearing the color orange in a race speeds you up by several seconds per mile.  For good measure, my socks were also orange.
  • My speed holes.  These were Jim Walmsley-style speed holes, not Galen Rupp-style holes.  The Walmsley ones work standalone (I hope), but (I suspect) the Rupp ones need to be activated by the medical professionals at the Nike Oregon Project to be really effective.  The idea is to get more airflow under the shirt so you stay cooler.  I thought I would finish the day with a polka dot sunburn, but Janet was right – the angle of the sun and the fluttering shirt worked together and no sunburn.
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    Modeling both the orange shorts (with BAA unicorn logo!) and speed holes.

     

  • My cotton singlet:  Pam Smith won a very hot Western States in part by wearing a cotton shirt and keeping it wet.  I cut a t-shirt down into singlet (and then lightened it further for speed holes).  It kind of worked – whenever I got it really wet I felt good for a bit, but it was hard to keep wet enough.  I also haven’t figured out whether more material is better than less.  E.g. would a wet long sleeve feel cooler than a holey no sleeve?  I don’t think I’m enough of a scientist and/or masochist to do the experimentation on that, so I’ll probably still go with no sleeves in the future.  (Now, if there were a way to get ice reliably while running at marathon pace…)
  • Cold water: I felt hot at mile 5, and someone handed me a bottle of refrigerated water.  I poured all of it on me – wet shirt, wet shorts, and soaked feet that felt cold seconds later.  I felt great for about 10 minutes.  Same for the couple times when I ran through sprayer hoses for more than .25 seconds – getting really wet worked.
  • Trail Toes:  26.2 miles of wet feet can end badly, but as usual, no problems.  Thanks Trail Toes!
  • Running somewhat by feel and heart rate: I had a pacing plan that I mostly stuck to through the half, but I also paid attention to heart rate and how I felt.  I knew I was a little hot in the early miles but then things seemed to even out.  If I had actually run by feel I would have slowed down a little.  This is a convoluted way of saying I could probably trust feel more than I do.

Things that did not work:

  • The Official Weather Provider To The Boston Marathon:  Those folks have really botched it these past two years – warm/hot on race day and perfect running weather the day afterwards.  I hope their contract is up soon and the BAA chooses to get weather from someone else.
  • The weather forecasters:  Even on the morning of the race, I saw forecasts saying it would by mid-high 60s.  NOAA (as usual) was closest to reality with a high temp forecast of ~72, although their forecast discussion on race morning said “temps will easily get into the 70s” which should have been a warning.  Not only were they all wrong at the last minute, but they treated us like boiling frogs in the week before the race.  Decent forecast about a week out, and then each day the forecast temps would rise slightly.  Supposedly it hit 79 in Natick – much higher than the high 60s to low 70s we all were thinking as we rode out to Hopkinton on race morning.  Even in Hopkinton there was a breeze and I was hopeful.  If we all knew “high 70s” we would have adjusted our goals.  But for a week we’d been thinking “might be decent” and then SLAM.  Like last year, most people missed their goals and many by a lot.
  • My second experiment trying to do enough to stay cool and run fast in spite of warm weather.  The weather was similar last year – I tried and failed then too.  This year I did still more stuff (e.g. the speed holes, and getting cold almost to the point of shivering before the race in Athlete’s Village) and it wasn’t enough to make a difference.  In the future, I’m going to add 5 minutes (maybe more) to my goal time for every 10 degrees of temps above 60.  3:25 seemed a lot less interesting to me than 3:20, after running ~3:20 in December.  But maybe I could have made 3:25 if I aimed at that from the start, and it would have been a personal course record at Boston.  It’s just not worth it to try to force an ambitious goal in heat – it’s not going to happen unless you are the 1 in 500 who gets lucky.  Better to cruise a bit and enjoy things.  I feel ok about doing the experiment the second time – one time could be an anecdote – but now I have a huge data set (two races) and can draw statistically-valid conclusions.
  • That woman who clipped my heels:  Coming off of Heartbreak, I grabbed a cup of water at an aid station.  As I tossed it in, someone clipped my heels.  Ok, that happens sometimes in races.  Then it happened again a second later.  I turned and gave my nastiest look to a woman behind me who was maybe drinking out of a bottle .  She said sorry and finally separated.  Unfortunately, she separated forward from me and probably finished way ahead of me.  I am secretly hoping that at some point further down the course she drank from the bottle again and disappeared forever down a storm drain she didn’t bother to look for.
  • Scheduling another hard race right after this one:  At mile 23 or so, when I was tired and clearly going to miss the only goal I really cared about, a voice started shouting in my head, “YOU HAVE A TOUGH 100K IN 12 DAYS!!!  NOW THAT YOUR GOAL IS NOT ACHIEVABLE IT WOULD BE REALLY SMART TO WALK THE REST OF THE WAY”.  I walked a little bit.  I mostly finished with some dignity but the voice was actually right.  I knew a good race here would affect the next one and I was ok with that, but I hadn’t prepped myself for the likelihood that I’d have to keep going in this one when it was hopeless.

My splits:

Miles 1-5 (Garmin/Strava auto-splits): 7:35, 25, 27, 26, 37.  These look fast (my goal was 7:37) but this is downhill and adjusted based on grade, these were fine.  Also, I was copying my successful CIM plan of trying to pick up a few seconds on the downhills.

Miles 6-10: 7:35, 33, 43, 39, 37.  Settled into goal pace.  Heart rate about what I wanted even with the heat.

Miles 11-15: 7:37, 40, 32, 37, 45.  Right on pace through the half.

Miles 16-20: 7:35, 55, 52, 48, 59.  Most of the Newton Hills, where I knew I’d lose time.  I was starting to feel things at this point and it felt like I was losing more time than I wanted to.  But I hadn’t given up, and hoped for a miracle, e.g. a cool breeze, after I finished the hills.

Miles 21-26.2: 8:23, 8:02, 8:22, 8:39, 9:39, 9:11, 8:08.  The 8:23 on Heartbreak worried me, but I knew it was downhill from there.  Unfortunately, even on the downhill I only got an 8:02 so I knew the sub-3:20 goal was done.  From there it degraded and I ended up taking 3 walk breaks for a total of 2-3 minutes.  “Hey, another race in two weeks – the SMART THING is to take it easy now…”

One thing hidden in the split info above is that I was losing at least 5 seconds in every aid station (one every mile) trying to get two cups of water – at least one to wear and some to drink.  Everyone else was doing that too so it was a mess with lots of slowing and near collisions.  So, to stay largely on pace I was actually running too fast in between aid stations.  I didn’t figure that out until after the race.  This is partly why it’s probably pointless to stick to an ambitious goal in a hot big race – if you do the work to stay cool you lose time, and if you don’t you lose time.

Numbers: Official time: 3:28:59, 6774th out of 26000+ finishers, and 189th out of 1537 in my old man’s age group.  Strava

Even though it wasn’t a great race, it was still fairly fun (Boston always is) and the weekend was great as usual – seeing lots of friends and seeing the city turn out for the race.  Already looking forward to the next one.

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My Runners World friends, after our brunch.  I had forgotten this, but while I was running around Lake Tahoe for 78 hours last October, someone decided they should get a foam roller and all sign it.  They surprised me with that at brunch.

Posted by: pointlenana | March 20, 2017

Chuckanut Japandroids 3/18/17

Yesterday started at 4:20am and finished around 12:30am Sunday morning.

I got up early, got ready and headed up to Bellingham for the 25th anniversary of the Chuckanut 50k.  I didn’t really have expectations or high hopes for my race, but that was true last year also and I ended up finishing (last year) in 5:24 which was good for 3rd place in my age group.  This year however, the forecast was for lots of rain in the day before the race and during the race so I knew it would be sloppy and my main goal was staying upright.

The elite competition was strong this year – Sage Canaday, Hayden Hawks, David Laney, Max King (course record holder) and a bunch of near-elite runners showed up on the men’s side, and the women’s race included YiOu Wang and Camille Herron, among others.

I’ve written about Chuckanut several already times, so I’ll just hit the highlights:

  • Max King broke his own course record, finishing in 3:33:11 in sloppy conditions, beating Hayden “The New Jim Walmsley” Hawks by just 31 seconds (3:33:42).  Someone at the finish line told me Hayden was closing quickly but just ran out of real estate.  Must have been fun to watch them fly across the finish line.  Sage took 3rd.  A local unknown (to me at least) Ladia Alberston-Junkins took first in the women’s race (in her first 50k), YiOu Wang took second, another relative unknown from Spokane – Rachel Jaten – took 3rd (and 1st masters) also in her first 50k.
  • Some friends had fantastic days.  My friend Jeff K – who had never had a good race at Chuckanut – ran 4:41 and took 3rd in his age group while beating some very good runners.  Masazumi took 1st masters on a recently-sprained ankle.  Dave L won our age group (as usual).  Roger L placed 22nd overall.
  • It wasn’t the worst day ever for me, but it wasn’t the best either.  I finished in 5:53:10, about 30 minutes slower than last year – 7th in my AG.  I had some regrets looking at the results – 6 minutes faster would have moved me to 4th, and 15 minutes faster would have gotten me 2nd.  But I stayed upright and got a good workout for Boston and Canyons 100k next month.
  • I’m not sure exactly where the time went for me, but I think it breaks down something like this:
    • ~5 minutes for gear issues.  I’ve always run Chuckanut with just a handheld bottle and no extra clothes.  With the weather though, and my recent experience getting really cold at Black Canyon, I decided to err on the side of caution and wore an ultra vest to carry a raincoat, warm hat and gloves.  With hindsight, I would have been better skipping the vest, starting the race in gloves and putting the warm hat in a small SpiBelt.  As it was, the vest caused my iPod shuffle to come off my shorts and in trying to get it back on I managed to drop it in the mud.  I had to work upstream through runners to pick it up.  Once I did, the iPod didn’t work great anymore and I lost another minute or two fiddling with it as I ran before finally taking it off and sticking it in the vest.  I also waited too long to put on my gloves, and by the time I did my hands didn’t work very well so I again had to pull aside and work the gloves on.  I never wore the hat or the rain coat – once I got the gloves on my arm warmers, wool shirt and baseball cap were enough.
    • 5-10 minutes because it looks like the course was a little longer this year.  After running a slightly different course the past few years, they reverted to the original course this year for the anniversary.  This didn’t stop Max King from running it faster, but other people took a little longer and my Garmin track is 1.2 miles longer than last year.
    • That leaves ~15 minutes for a combo of mud, getting old, and giving up.  I had to pull aside 3 or 4 times in the first 15 miles to deal with stuff, and each time I did, lots of runners passed me.  I thought it would even out – if I had a good day in me I’d pass them back later in the race.  But I didn’t realize that each one of those people would chew up the trail a little more in front of me.  It looks like I lost most of my time in the more technical, muddy sections.  So in a sense, the slower I went, the slower I got because the trail degraded a little more.  Part of the problem is that it was rainy, foggy, and kind of dark, and my old man eyes don’t see quite as well in those conditions – wanting to stay upright I went a little more cautiously than I might have.  At some point, it was clear I wouldn’t be close to last year’s time and I didn’t seem to be having a great day, so I reset my goal to finishing under six hours which seemed possible but not a sure thing.
  • On the plus side, I did go pretty fast for the last 10 miles down Fragrance Lake Road and on flat final 10k.  Probably not quite as fast as at the Lost Lake 50k or Chuckanut last year, but definitely not in give-up mode, and I passed most of the other racers I encountered.  My watching was showing ~7 minute pace over the last mile or so.
  • The best part by far was seeing lots of friends at least briefly throughout the day.  Counting racers, volunteers, and spectators, I probably saw 30 people from around the NW that I tend to only see at races.  Thanks to all the people who volunteered.
  • I got a kiss from my friend Yvonne at the Kissing Booth at the Chuckanut Ridge aid station.  Yvonne just ran 131 miles in 24 hours, qualifying for the Irish National 24 hour team – and will represent the home team at the World Championships in Belfast in July.
  • There were also plenty of elite sightings, e.g. Ellie Greenwood was out cheering for us, David Laney recognized me from seeing each other at Greenlake, Sage was walking around with his mom at the finish, and Max King was next to me as we dropped off our finish line bags.
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Yvonne at the Kissing Booth.

Laney

Just a couple of guys who run around Greenlake.

I left fairly quickly after the race, drove home, cleaned up, ate, and took a short nap.  Right around the time that I’d normally think about bed, Janet and I dragged ourselves out of the house to see Japandroids at the Neptune.  (If you live west of the Rockies, you might have heard the show.) We’d never heard of the opening act (The Uptown Controllers?) but feared that we’d go to sleep if we waited so we were there in time for the start of the show.  The crowd had the usual northwest mix of college students, lumbersexuals, and people older than 30.  It’s possible we weren’t the oldest people there.

It turned out the opener was Craig Finn (of The Hold Steady) and his solo band (The Uptown Controllers) – that was fun.  After he played, we pushed our way towards the stage, trying to avoid the usual situation where very tall people push right in front of our formerly-awesome spots on the floor.  We ended up 3 feet from the stage, about where the Japandroids drummer plays, with no tall people in front of us and a clear view.

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The calm before the storm.

Japandroids opened up with Near To The Wild Heart Of Life.  About 20 seconds into the song, someone in the audience crawled onto the stage and then fell backwards onto the people to the left of us.  “Huh – haven’t been to a show like this for a while”.  A moment later I was almost knocked over as a mosh pit broke out just to the left of us.  Janet eased away and I pushed to the stage to brace myself.  A few minutes later – maybe during Adrenaline Nightshift – another guy near me pushed onto the stage, somehow using his face for leverage.  He stood there for a moment and then suddenly flew his 200+ pound body into the crowd at high speed and a flat angle.  There was a commotion where he landed – I guess everyone ducked – and security helped him off the floor.  After that, the drummer said something like “It look liked that was self-inflicted, but take care of each other out there.”

Things settled down a tiny bit after that, but we watched the rest of the show with half an eye on the chaos to our left.  Japandroids played for at least a couple hours, all at Fire’s Highway energy level.  It was their last show in the US before they return home to Vancouver, and they liked the crowd energy.  A lot of sound from just two people – it felt like my body throbbed for about an hour after the show from the Continuous Thunder.

Posted by: pointlenana | February 21, 2017

Black Canyon 100k – Feb 18 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by: pointlenana | December 6, 2016

CIM – December 4, 2016

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

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

I had one goal and 3 consolation prize backups:

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

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

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

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

With that long setup, on to race weekend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jenn Shelton, pretending to be enjoying herself.

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

Posted by: pointlenana | September 29, 2016

Tahoe 200 – Sept 9-12 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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My mug shot, for UltraLive.  Photo: Scott Rokis

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start to Barker Pass

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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Photo: Scott Rokis

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

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

 

Barker Pass to Rubicon Aid Station

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

Rubicon to Tell’s Creek Aid Station

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

 

Tell’s Creek to Wrights Lake

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

 

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

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

Wright’s Lake to Sierra

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Housewife Hill to Armstrong Aid Station

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

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

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

Armstrong to Heavenly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heavenly to Spooner

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

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

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

Spooner to Tunnel Creek

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

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

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Super Scott, displaying his artsy side with this panorama.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spooner to Brockway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brockway to Tahoe City

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

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

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

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

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

Tahoe City to Stephen Jones Aid Station

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

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

Stephen Jones to Finish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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205.4 miles done, 0.1 to go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Candice Burt, tracking the last runners into the finish.

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

Lessons:

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

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

 

Gear and stuff…

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: pointlenana | September 5, 2016

Live Tracking for Tahoe 200

Capture

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

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

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

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

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

Projected Times:

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

 

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My laminated crib sheet for the run.

 

 

Posted by: pointlenana | August 18, 2016

Angeles Crest 100 – Aug 6 2016

Summary:

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

The Long And Winding Version:

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

ac course mapac100 elevation profile

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I want to give some shoutouts:

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

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

Here is some video footage from others:

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

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

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

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

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

Things to go into with open eyes:

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

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

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