Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Big Dance - Western States 2014

This year I was privileged to once more run Western States.  I last ran it in 2010, when Tony Kocanda and I were the only Minnesotans to attend.  This year young gun Jordan Hanlon, Joseph Altendahl, and Scott Hoberg would be joining the fun.  I'd get the play the role of grizzled veteran at 41.  Four years ago this was my first 100-mile race.  There wasn't much different for me this year, other than the now 9 100-mile races and slew of others under my belt.  OK, a boatload of more experience coming into it this time.  Gone were the questions of could I make it, now it was just how fast could I bang it out.  (yeah you don't bang out a hundred, maybe grind it out is more accurate).

I had good buddies Bill 'Pom Pom' Pomerenke and 'Mountain Man' Paul Bjork along to crew and pace.  Bill has a lot of experience running, pacing and crewing, having helped me to victory in the Black Hills 100 in 2011.  We wouldn't have to worry about a victory this time.  Paul has one run ultra, and was a rookie to the whole crewing and pacing gig.  But with Bill's experience and the fact that they are both over half a century old, I figured they'd work out well together.  I think our troupe of three had a combined age of 150.  I'm sure Jordan's group of 5 couldn't match that.

We all flew out to Sacramento on the Thursday before the race, dined at In 'n Out, because, well, In 'n Out.  It was good.  Then we motored on up to Squaw Valley to make a couple of the presentations, and get settled in.  Mostly Paul slept.  He did a lot of that.  I guess having a 15 month old kid is a little wearying.  For him staying up all night taking care of a bitchy runner with digestive issues probably seemed pretty easy.

Friday was runner check in and pre-race meetings.  The check-in took a while, with getting weighed, collecting a boatload of swag, and getting lined up with the medical test I volunteered for.  I had opted to help a group of British doctors on a heart study so I got a full 12-lead ECG and an echo cardiogram.  They were looking to prove that what was currently considered an abnormality is perfectly normal in endurance athletes of a certain age (me).  And, yep, I had the abnormality.  I'd also volunteered to wear a heart-rate monitor the whole race for them, though it fell of around 30 miles in.  Jordan and I booked off to the pre-race meeting, where I bumped in to 'Fun Size' Denise Bourassa, whom I first met at HURT, then Ice Age, then Speedgoat all in one year.

Most of the day was pretty laid back for me, just relaxing, while Paul slept and Bill buzzed around in and ADD high like a kid in a candy store.  That evening we enjoyed dinner with Karl Meltzer, his wife Cheryl, and a friend they had along.  Then back for some crewing instructions and bed.  The alarm was set for 3AM and it felt like it was coming quick.


I'd slept pretty well, and already had everything organized, so I had plenty of time.  Breakfast, then down to get my bib, weigh in, and get the HRM for the medical study.  My elders opted to stay in the room and have oatmeal instead of coming down the the check-in.  I quickly got all set up, went to the bathroom again and again and again, then managed to hook up with Jordan, Ed and friends.  Eventually Joseph found us, then Bill.  There was a ton of energy and it wasn't long before Jordan and I shed layers and headed for the queue.  It was in the 40's and pretty windy out, but it didn't really feel all that bad.  Gordy said a few words as the last minute ticked off, then BAM when the shotgun and we started up to the Escarpment.

Jordan and I mostly did the bottom of the climb together, then he pulled on ahead.  I sidled into a steady pace, eventually matching up with Meghan Arbogast and chatting with her a bit.  The Escarpment was really windy and chilly, to the point my fingers were tingling.  But once we popped the top and started down the single track on the backside, I warmed up quick.  I ran in a train with Meghan for a while trying to dodge past folks where the trail permitted.  The miles were dropping pretty quickly and I was feeling great, and knew I wasn't going out too hard.

It wasn't long before Jordan and I hooked up again, and the trail brought us to Lyon's ridge and Red Star ridge, new turf for me, since last time was a snow course.  I also picked up Denise again, and ran for several hours with her, on and off, up to Devil's Thumb.  Lyon's and Redstar were beautiful with big mountain views of peaks way off in the distance along with wonderful technical trail.  The weather was great and there was a bunch of chatter with various runners all talking about the day and our time hopes.

The aid stations kept coming up quick, and it wasn't long before Robinson Flats came up, and our first crew point.  I hit it in 5:31, a little slower than my hoped for 20-hour pace.  This is a crazy aid station, it's big, and all the crew's are here cheering like crazy.  I came in, got weighed, then boogied out of the AS to where Bill and Paul were.  Quick, sunscreen, gels, s-caps, then motor out for the big climb, and approach to the canyons.  I got out ahead of Jordan here as he changed shoes, and didn't see him for a long time.

Getting in a Groove


Once out of Robinson, it's another 25 miles until crew shows up again, and between there and here are three canyons and the infamous Devil's Thumb climb.  Denise was right behind me as we climbed out of Robinson, hit the peak then started the long decent on fire roads to Miller's Defeat.  Once through there and on a long section of dirt fire-road she dropped me like a rented mule, passing another gal who was up ahead.  It took me another 5 miles to pass the same lady.  My legs were feeling a little tired in here given how much running there is, and pretty much no hills to walk up.  And it felt like it took a lot longer than it did.  Eventually though, there was the Last Chance Aid AS.  I loaded up on ice, then began the approach to Deadwood Canyon.  It was a quick 20 minute drop to the bottom, where I got to wade through the river and cool off before beginning the monstrous 1800 foot climb.

I felt like I was climbing like a boss, and caught Denise on this ascent, and it wasn't much longer before I saw the Devil's Thumb and the AS appeared.  You pretty much just pop over the top of the climb and there it is.  I loaded up again on ice and some gels, while chatting with ex-Minnesotan Joe Uhan.  Just before leaving two volunteers squeezed icy sponges over my head and my legs buckled from the cold shock.  Fortunately it was just a second, and I got a Popsicle and ran downhill.  Denise and I did most of this together with one other guy, chatting a bit on the way down, then she fell off on the climb after the bottom, and I wouldn't see her again until the finish.

I busted out the climb from el Dorado Canyon and made it to the top and Michigan Bluff feeling pretty good in 10:31, 15 minutes off my goal, so not too bad.  Another weigh in to lots of cheering here, grab some stuff from Bill and Paul, then through the last canyon, Volcano, and onto Forest Hill.  This is a pretty uneventful section, and I used it as recovery from the bigger canyons.  As I had the last 20-miles, I kept splashing myself at every trickle of water I came across.  Then, boom, just like that, Bath Road, where Paul was waiting to run me up to Forest Hill.  We chatted on the way up, ran most of it, got weighed in, had a confused pit stop with Bill, then beat it down to Cal Street.


Just Roll With It


Paul and I had a good time cruising down through Cal 1 and 2, picking up a few runners on the way and just rolling along, without pushing it.  I knew this was a 'sucker' section with lots of awesome downsloping, non-technical trail.  A lot of people run it really fast then blow up the last 20 miles.  I ran it fastish, but never at a point where I felt like I was crushing it.  Down here too, I started having stomach issues, with some cramping and nausea, so I got to do the dance of trying to balance s-caps, water, and not throw up.  Other than a couple pit stops, I made it work (perfect no puke record).  Around Cal 3, Paul started fading and eventually fell off (he had a good time recovering at Rucky Chucky with pretty ladies bringing him food on the cot).  With a couple miles to go to the river, Jordan and pacer Steve Moore blew by me and quickly disappeared.  He put up to 18-minutes on me in about 10 miles.

I got to the river with plenty of daylight (one of my pre-race hopes) and crossed it alone, with all the other runners several minutes ahead or behind.  It was a pretty cool experience as the only runner in the water, a lot of crews on the other side cheering, and all the helpful rope handlers standing in the river.  It was cold, but I could feel my temperature dropping and life coming back to me.

Once out of the water I did a quick shoe and sock change, which was well worth it.  And I rigged for night running, my favorite time of these big races.

Stop, Hammer time!


Suffice to say, as night descended, and I had cooled off from the river, I put the hammer down.  I felt good.  My head wasn't screwed up, I had energy, and the stomach was squared away.  It wasn't long before I caught and passed Kaci Lickteig for good (I almost got her at Cal 3).  In barely an hour out from Green Gate we were at Auburn Lakes and quickly on the way to Brown's bar.  Bill and I chatted a bit, but I think I was pretty quiet for a lot of it, just focusing on running well.  In another hour we were at Brown's Bar, run by stud Hal Koerner.  I said a quick hey to him, then we started up the infinite climb to Highway 49, where Paul would be.

This is the second to last climb, and it's no fun.  It is pretty rocky, and a lot of it is just too steep for me to run.  You aren't, but it feels like you lose a lot of time on it.  The reality, Bill and I did the 3.6 miles in 51 minutes.  And this was the first point of the day I got under 20-hour pace.  Paul was waiting up at the AS and got me set.  We would have been out quick, but Pom Pom, had panic attack about his headlamp and decided to change his batteries.  I was addled enough I waited around for him, when I should have gone out and had him catch up.  Our one time on Ultralive TV too, and it was changing batteries.  Alas.  Only 6.7 miles to the finish, and I was feeling pretty darn good.

After 49 was some easy meadows for a mile or so followed by the long downhill into No Hands Bridge.  Bill was talking about stopping and fixing his lamp, but I was focused on running through, with about an hour of running I wasn't stopping for anything.  Busting down the long downhill was super dusty from a runner in front of me, and it was like running in fog, with the headlamp beams reflecting back off of the dust.  That made me want to go faster and pass so I could see.  We didn't stop at No Hands, which had the big screen and loud music going, but just blew on through across the bridge.  Only 5K left.

With just about half a mile of flat we turned up and began a lot of steep climbing up to Robie Point.  There was a runner behind us, but we pulled away and soon had the trail to ourselves.  It felt like the climb wasn't going to end, but just like that we popped out near the gate, and Robie Point.  There was cheers and offers of aid, but with 1.3 miles left I just wanted to finish.

I could see a couple of groups ahead of us, and I tried to run as much as possible, but ended up walking a good chunk.  Between power walking and some jogging I passed one guy from Croatia and was closing on another group.  That's when I recognized the familiar green tank top of Jordan.  Holy cow, I thought he'd have been done by now given the gap he had.  That's when I had the less than stellar idea to race to the finish.  I dropped my pack and headlamp for Bill and Paul, who had just showed up, and shouted to Jordan something to the effect of 'let's do this'.  I gapped him a bit, but he and his crew were in hot pursuit.  He shouted back 'We're on the roads now!"  He'd kill me in a road race.  It wasn't long before my side started aching, and I though this is stupid, but machismo made me keep pressing.  A few turns and I could see the gate to the track.  Tropical John announced me and said a few things, and I ran around alone.  It wasn't until the turn that I looked and saw Jordan just entering the track.

I felt like I was floating around the turn and the final stretch, knowing I'd had a heck of a day.  I crossed the line in 19:44:25, a PR by over two hours, and bettered my first 100 here by over four.   It wasn't a flawless race, but I'd put together a good one, evenly paced and well executed.  It was a joy to have my tenth 100-miler right where I had my first successful 100-miler.  And all four of us Minnesotans finished, with three silver buckles and bronze by Joseph, who probably shouldn't even have been running.

Hell of a day.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Ice Age 2014

I came into this race feeling pretty lethargic, Boston Marathon three weeks ago had taken quite a bit out of me and I really wasn't bouncing back quickly.  My last two short runs in the taper had felt leaden and a sad predictor on what was to come.  By all accounts I ran a decent race compared to the field, but not what my current fitness would have allowed me to run had I been fully rested.  I ended up running a 7:24:39, which was a 5 minute PR, nothing really to complain about, but I sure feel like I could have run closer to 7 hours.

Chris Rubesch and I drove down on Friday, picking up his main squeeze Andrea from Eau Claire.  She was super kind and drove everything from then on so Chris and I could nap.  It was a pretty easy trip and we ended up camping in Horseriders Camp ground, sharing a site with a couple of ladies that were racing their horses the next day.  We got lucky they offered us a site, since this campground is only for people who have horses.

An early rising at 4:30 got us to the start shortly after 5, and gave us plenty of time to ready our kits and enjoy catching up with some friends before the national anthem.  Andrea was going to drive around and cheer on Chris, then meet us at the finish.  Jeff Mallach gave a quick pre-race rundown which was followed by the national anthem.  Immediately where was a quick 10 second countdown while Chris and raced to get into the queue, just off the front.  Then, boom, we were off.

It was a quick start around the Nordic Loop with a lot of people really cranking it out right away.  I did a pretty good job of holding back, but probably still ran faster than I should have.  As it was I popped my headphones, turned on the tunes, and let the engine do it's thing.  Running nice an steady the entire loop, finally coming through the starting area again with throngs of people cheering, then out onto the main course.

The leg out to Rice Lake went pretty well, and I was moving nicely, though I was starting to get strong hints that this was not going to be the best day.  I wasn't sore, but the legs just didn't have the pop that they should have.  I cruised through most of the aid-stations, just stopping for water or to ditch garbage.  In fact, this race I probably did my best A.S. transitions, spending no time other than what was absolutely necessary.

Right behind me at Rice Lake was Kaci, and I ran with her for a few miles back towards confusion corner.  She was running a very steady pace, though, while I was very steadily declining.  By then, over 20 miles into it, there was no question I was going to run even close to 7 hours.  My initial plan to run an 8 min/mile average to 30 miles, then accept a pretty decent slowdown.  I think I was already behind that plan at 20.

So I ground it out the last 30 miles  I maybe spent 5 minutes in that 'I can quit and be just fine with it' zone before telling myself to suck it up.  Heading back to Confusion Corner then onto Horse Riders, it started getting pretty hot (this year had one of the lowest finishing rates).  I felt I managed it pretty well, just drinking more, and pouring water on myself once in a while.  I don't think I passed anyone the entire way to the turnaround at Emma Carlin, though I did get dropped by the second and third place women.

I remember, just like two years ago, that once turning around at Emma Carlin, it was a huge relief.  Only 9 miles to go, and none of it really hard.  Plus, now, I'd get to see everyone else coming back and have some company.  So I forged on, and once I hit Margaritaville, I filled up my bottle one last time, then kicked it as hard as I could for the finish.  I actually didn't feel too bad once done, just tired.  My stomach was in good shape, and I was able to eat right away.  Chris' dad was awesome, grabbing me food and water and just generally being a good guy.

So, I'm satisfied to get a PR out of this, but it was a lot of work for 5 minutes.  Basically, it just came down to the fact that I wasn't recovered from Boston.  And Boston was an 'A' race for me, while Ice Age wasn't, so there you go.

Jeff Mallach puts on a good race, and there are loads of great volunteers out on the course.  It's pretty much impossible to get lost, and the post race BBQ and drinks are some of the best in the ultra world.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

2013 Wild Duluth 100k

I went into the 2013 edition of the 100k, the fifth, with few expectations for a good day.  I was in the process of moving from Minneapolis to Duluth and had weeks of stress and sleepless nights leading up to race day.  I’d had a pretty good year of running so I wasn’t concerned about knocking out another solid race, but just run casually and enjoy a day on the trail.

The 6AM start was dark, early, and cold.  Rousting myself at 4 and heading down to the start wasn’t making me particularly happy, but once I connected with friends at the pre-race briefing everything was good.  After Andy gave us the low down on the course, we all headed out into the cold and dark to toe the line and start the real fun.  I landed in the first row with Chris, Ethan, Christi and a few others.  After just a few minutes we were off.  It was a big pack of lights circling Bayfront before heading up the ramp over the highway, crossing Superior Street and onto the single-track of the Superior Hiking Trail.

We are really lucky to be able to run on 30 miles of trail, in the woods, in the middle of an urban environment.  And run we did.  We quickly had things sorted out with Chris Rubesch and two others charging off the front followed by a group of myself, Christi, Ethan, Bob Gerenz and a couple others.  We cruised up the hill to Enger Tower, a good 1.5 miles of uphill, and rang the peace bell as we went by.  We were all chatting it up, and Ethan and I had largely the same plan of running easy and seeing where it took us.  Now the thing with Ethan and I is that prior to this race, we’d run three other races together and our combined time difference was less than 10 minutes.  So we can run together pretty well.

So up over Enger, and through the Piedmont aid station I went without stopping.  It was cool and kind of humid and somewhere past Piedmont it started raining a bit, with some snow mixed in.  Not exactly the prime conditions I was hoping for, and if the rain kept up there was going to be a lot of carnage.  There was nothing to do but run, since I didn’t even put a spare pair of socks in my drop bags.   Fortunately it only spat for a couple hours then stayed dry the rest of the day.  It wasn’t long before Ethan and I separated and moved into 4th and 5th with the others out of sight ahead of us.  So we ran with each other, pushing trail under our feet while the hours ticked away.  We did play touch and go with Artur from Canada for a while, but he was huffing and puffing whenever he went by us.

Still in our same places we came into the Munger A.S. to see the third place guy leaving.  Mmmm, rabbit!  Ethan and I turned it around quickly (thanks UMTR volunteers) and set to chase.  After a mile or so we roped the young lad in while going up a hill.  He said he came to run for a podium spot.  I don’t think it worked out real well.  I was still feeling really good, though Ethan was unfortunately feeling the love.  On the way to E. Palkie A.S. I lost contact with him behind me.  I kept expecting him to show up, but it wouldn’t happen.  In this same section I saw Sean, the number 2 guy and spent a couple of miles slowly roping him in, passing him for good right before the aid station and the 7 miles of road it ushered in.  I grabbed a snack quick, and started on the flat hard stuff and making time to the turnaround.

Banging out some fast miles I finally saw Chris headed back, a full 22 minutes ahead of me.  I wouldn’t worry about that, remember, I was just here for a fun day on the trail.  After that I didn’t see anyone until I hit the turnaround and headed back.  I bumped into Marcus on the trail, pointing me to the cutoff and the turnaround aid.  I hit it at 5:35 into my day.  Not too, shabby, and I was feeling great!  Now, I told myself, I could race if I wanted to.  I grabbed my gels from my drop bag, then turned and burned.  Time to get home.

I had a lot of fun the first 10 miles running back, since I got to see everyone else in the race.  First up were Sean, Ethan, then Christi, Artur, and Bob McGrath.  Periodically was the other 40 or so runners.  Most looked pretty good and like they were going to make it, but there were a few moving awful slowly and probably in danger of missing the 50k cutoff.  In a change from my usual experience, I was smiling and happy the whole way back, not like it wasn’t work, but I never got into a funk.

I felt like I had the hammer down pretty good, even down the muddy hills and stairs leading back to Munger Trail and Ely’s Peak.  By the time I got close to Munger, all the other runners were behind me, and I wouldn’t see anyone for a long time.  I made short work again of all the aid stations, spending just a few seconds at each.  Hit it and quit it is the way to do it.   I do most of my training alone, so running alone on the way back wasn’t a problem.  I just cranked up the iPod and pushed as hard as I could.  I also spent a bit of time looking over my shoulder.

It felt good to broach the top of Ely’s, which was the hardest climb remaining.  Todd Rowe was up there snapping photos and gave a shout.  And so it was back through Magney, Spirit and Highland/Getchell.  No crashes, no bonks, just steady running in the sunshine.  By the time I got to Highland, though I was ready for it to be over.   Chris was far enough ahead, I didn’t have to even think about catching him, but I had no idea how close third place was.   In here I started picking up more rabbits, 50k runners!  I caught the venerable Rick Bothwell and ice cream loving Wayne Nelson, along with a couple of others.

I knew exactly how far I had to go once I hit Lincoln Park and the climb to Piedmont.  I ditched my coat with my parents, who had come to watch the finish, and punched it.  I really like this last 5k and try to save energy for it, particularly to have the legs to crush the downhills.  Back past Twin Ponds and up to Enger again, then bombing the long downhill back to Bayfront.  Coming across the bridge again, my folks were there and I was giving it my all, nailing the last mile in about 6:30 and crossing the finish line 11:35:31 for second place and first masters.  Not too bad for a day for which I had no expectations.

Chris Rubesch took first with 11:01:43 and Bob McGrath was third in 12:12:26 (I hope I run like him when I’m 50).  Christi Nowak walked with the women’s win in 12:17:03, followed by Julie Librizzi in 15:05:32, and Annie Beherend in 15:39:36.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Wasatch Front 100 Miler

The what, where?

In the ultrarunning community we simply call this race 'Wasatch'.  We know what it is, it's legendary.  One of the four oldest 100-mile races in the country and one of the hardest.  It is run in the Wasatch Front Range outside of Salt Lake City, and most of the race takes place above 8,000 feet, going above 10,000 feet at the highest.  Not counting the last 25 miles, it's not super technical, but those last 25 have been called some of the most difficult running in the sport.  It has nearly 26,500 feet of climbing and 27,000 feet of decent.  It has hills that are named, and people don't name hills because they have unicorns dancing on them.  They name them because they are hard.  There's Chinscraper, The Dive, The Plunge, and Irv's Torture Chamber.  Most people would say Wasatch sounds like it sucks, but there's enough of us that seek this kind of challenge that there is a lottery to get in.

After two years of trying, I was offered a spot.


In which we arrive in Utah

After a couple of painless flights to get here from Minneapolis, we step off the plane.  What's that I feel? Oh, the record heat that is settling in for the next couple days.  This was going to be the second hottest Wasatch ever.  At least it's a dry heat.  Amy and I spent the Wednesday we got there checking out the city and getting settled into our hotel in Layton, near the start.  We just had this evening alone before my parents and pacer (stud Ben Willis) showed up on Thursday.  So we found a great place to eat at The Copper Onion (best cheesecake I've ever had) and just relaxed.  I knew I wouldn't sleep much Thursday night.

Friday morning we connected with my parents (Vicky and Dennis) at the hotel then went into the airport to get Ben, and all went out to lunch before the prerace check-in.  The check-in was much lower key than I expected with areas to set my three drop bags, a quick weigh-in, and grab my swag bag.  The bag just had my bib and a t-shirt, and no extra paraphernalia.  Simple and straight to it.  The meeting was just the same, a 15-minute long instruction on not getting lost and what to do if you do stray from the course.  Then we were freed up, and back to the hotel and the last AC I'd feel for the next 2 days.

I spent that evening taping up my toes and getting gear ready for the morning, so all I'd have to do is get up and get in the car.  The race started at 5AM on Friday, and it's hard enough getting up at 3 without having to do anything complicated.  We all got going though, and my dad chauffeured us to the start.


In which I try to stay calm and start a long day.

Ben, Vicky, me, and Amy

The starting area was pretty calm when we got there at about 4:15.  It was warm enough out that shorts and a t-shirt were plenty comfortable.  I hooked up with Karl Meltzer here for some last minute advice, then spent a bunch of time sitting on the road edge watching people trickle in.  Ben mentioned to me that the general fitness of the runners here was considerably higher than what we see at races at home.  I had to agree, almost everyone here looked pretty stacked.
Duplicating our Leadville shot from several years ago.

As happens often at these, the time just disappeared, and all the runners were called to line up.  Queue anxiety peak.  We packed in like cord-wood, and I wormed up to near the front. Ten second countdown and we were off.

The first bit of trail is nice rolling single track for a couple of miles before the first and biggest climb of the day, Chinscraper.  This was really nice running, and went along pretty well, with minimal conga line shenanigans.  It was also much quieter than I'm used to, with almost no chatter among the runners as everyone focused on the trail lit only by our headlamps.  By the time we hit the climbing things were nicely spread out, and I tucked into a line for as long as my patience held out, occasionally popping ahead as the trail and energy allowed.  Eventually we got above the trees and onto a really steep section that I climbed with my hands and feet and into the pass above 9000 feet.  What a view from up here.

I settled into a nice easy pace on some beautiful ridge line running.  It was a stunning morning to be in the mountains as we all made our way to the first real AS and drop bags at Francis Peak.  I had my bag quickly as the volunteers were super efficient and had my ice bandana and fuel to get me to my crew at Big Mountain, 21 miles from here.  I was out of Francis at 8:51AM and on to Bountiful B.

Bountiful B had moist towels and popsicles.   It was like arriving to find your manservant waiting for you.  Just a quick stop here to reload water and back on the trail.  Sessions Liftoff came up soon and I did what I was instructed and tanked up on water here, as well as put some ice in my bandanna.  The hot part of the day was coming, and these next several stretches had very little shade.  It was hump to Swallow Rocks, but then I could hear the cheers and horns of Big Mountain.  I was anxious to see my crew.
Quick weigh in at Big Mountain


In which the heat gets turned up.

My crew was waiting for me along with Karl Meltzer helping them out.  It was a little confusing as I got weighed and they all started doing a bunch of things at once.  Apparently everyone had jitters.  In due course I had ice in my bandana, under my hat, and down the back of my shirt.  Waters were filled and I was back on the trail to face the hottest part of the day.  The first AS on this way was Alexander and it was really hot as I worked my way there, mostly alone.  I did hook up with another guy and his pacer for the last mile or so and she graciously dumped water on my head.  At Alexander, though, I drank some more water and soaked myself under one of their barrels.  I reloaded on ice and headed out.  The next stretch to Lambs was easy trail, but brutally hot, and I paid for it.  About two miles before actually getting to Lambs you can see it as you run long switchbacks working downhill towards it.  Starting about a mile out I was doubled over several times with stomach cramps which stopped me in my tracks.
Coming into Lambs
Recovering from cramps.
Eventually I got down to some shady area and made the final turn up to the AS.  Amy was down on the trail snapping photos, but I was in a sour mood from the cramps and couldn't work up a smile for her.  At the weigh in I was 6 pounds down from just the last 3 and half hours.  I spent about 10 minutes here cooling off and drinking.  Eventually, after hearing a guy next to me talk about peeing blood, I figured I needed to get out of here.  I too a third water bottle and headed out under I-80.  Karl ran over to see how I was doing, and he and Amy and Ben walked me up to the road and I started the long section to Brighton Lodge.


In which I cool off and start to grind.

The climb up to the pass on the way to Millcreek cooled me off, and I went up pretty slowly, diligently working on my water.  It was pretty uneventful as I climbed up and up, finally hitting the top in the sun and beginning the long decent.  I felt an inkling of cramping, but nothing happened, and that was the last of those for the race.  I could tell I'd paid for the running in the heat and getting behind, and perhaps for the long effort at altitude, my legs just weren't there for the climbing.  Once at the bottom of the pass it was a long road slog, which I mostly did with Sarah McCloskey (womens winner), and we chatted our way up.  We pulled into Millcreek, where I grabbed my lamps and put on a long sleeve shirt for the night.

Sarah had taken off before me, but I was soon back on the trail and climbed up to here, where we walked in silence for quite a while, dodging mountain-bikers careening down the mountain.  This was another long climb with a short decent into Desolation Lake.  It was starting to get dark and cool, but I was able to see the lake still, and it was a beautiful site for the AS, and they'd probably have a great time camping up there and tending the runners.  I was pretty knackered when I came through, but I always have trouble over 9000 feet, though I really didn't know what altitude I was at at the time.  I just got some more water and moved on.

I was slow and wonky heading up to Scotts.  It took me over an hour to do the four miles up there.  And shortly before getting there Sarah passed me and asked how I was doing.  I told her I couldn't focus on the trail, to which she said 'that's rough' and moved on.  I was still walking so no real need to worry.  As I made into Scotts I had little motivation to move.  I wish I had remembered how high I was up there and I would have just meandered on down the trail.  But I ended up sitting for 16 minutes, sipping broth and liquids.  They offered me the cot, but thankfully I had it in my head to turn that down.  Finally after seeing several people come through and move on, I got up and started downhill to Brighton.

Again, over an hour to go less than 5 miles downhill, with just a short climb to the lodge.  I knew that my hopes of a 24 hour finish were shot, but I'd probably finish more where I actually expected to, somewhere between 24 and 30.  Anyway, as I walked the last little bit up to the lodge, my crew was out there cheering, and I walked right by them, asking where to go.  My mom came over and pointed up to the lodge building, and only then did she recognize me exclaiming 'Oh, it's you!' and the rest of them came over.  My shirt change and use of only one lamp instead of two, totally threw them off.

I got another weigh in and my weight was good.  The got me saddled up, and again Karl was here with some last advice for the 'toughest 25 miles in ultrarunning'.  Ben was all set to do it with me and after getting fueled up with broth and my rig all set we headed out the door and up to the course high point.


In which what goes up must come down.

Ben and I started the hike up to 10,500 feet and down to Ant Nolls.  The climb felt pretty good, not fast, but it was nice having company and the sky was beautiful.  In about an hour we broached the top and headed down to Ant Knolls and were in and out pretty quickly.  The rest of the night quickly devolved into a hideous repetition of slow climbing and slow jogging on flats and downs.  I could still run at least, but the climbing was killing me.  I was happy to make it past the landmarks of the Dive and the Plunge figuring I was making decent progress.  I wasn't really ready for Irv's Torture Chamber, however.

This was a section of a lot of climbing and descending over and over again without seeming to end.  There was whining.  Lots of it.  Ben is a patient man.  After getting through all of this treacherous terrain there was a fair bit of easier running on the way down to Pot Bottom.  I was once again experiencing that lack of focus on the trail, sometimes stumbling off the trail as I fell asleep on my feet.  Ben was afraid I was going to have to take a nap out on the trail.  I managed through, though, and experienced hallucinations for the first time, seeing a cork message board in one spot then a little later a box of pop-tarts on the side of the trail.  Ben kept telling me Pot Bottom was coming up soon, for the better part of an hour.

We got there, though, and I sat for a few minutes drinking Coke and eating some soup.  This finally provided the kick I needed, that, and being only 8 miles from the finish.  We started our jog down the road, no more trail, and only had to putz around at one poorly marked intersection.  The running was easy though and we duly hit the Station Cut-Off where Amy was waiting for us and joined the party for the last five miles.  Her and Ben had a good time while I spent the next hour kicking rocks and swearing up a storm.  Fortunately the last bit is all down hill and we made good time, eventually coming out on the paved road.  It was confusing figuring out where to go as it was very poorly marked, with markers randomly on either side of the road.  We hit it right, though, and Amy provided me constant reassurance that we were going the right way, since she'd already been to the finish line (where my parents were waiting).

The sky was just lightening up as we approached Soldier Hollow, and Amy and Ben split off to take a shortcut to the finish line as I did the last little u-turn to bring it home.  I was so happy hitting the final straightaway and crossing the line in 25:38:50.  All in all, in better shape than I usually am at the end of a hundred, no shakes and my mind was (fairly) straight.
 I was really happy with this run, particularly given the hot weather, I hadn't seen any of the course, and I live at 600' and didn't acclimatize.  I'd really only change a couple of things next time, mainly bring a third bottle from Big Mountain to Lambs and trekking poles out of Brighton for sure and maybe Lambs.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

University of Okoboji Marathon

Who's racing this thing?

I had to find a marathon that fit two criteria.  It had to work with my running and vacation schedule and it had to be a Boston Marathon qualifier.  I needed a BQ because I missed Boston this year, and I was happy to miss it, but not happy why I missed it (see 'The Worst Running Injury Ever').  And the only time that worked for me was mid-July, definitely not the nicest time of year for a fast race.  So I found the University of Okoboji marathon in central Iowa.

This was an odd race run in conjunction with a triathlon, half marathon and 10k.  The marathon being the first event to start, at 6AM, though they did have an early 5AM start that wasn't publicized.  I would gladly have taken that, except that I'd eaten too late and had no idea what the course markings were going to be.  Did I mention that there were only 85 people signed up for the race?  Given those stats I wouldn't be able to follow anyone during the race either.  Just before the start I asked the RD what the course markings were, since it was an open course, and he just said follow the map on the back of my bib.


My bib is pinned to my shorts and the map was so small to be essentially useless.  Thanks dude.  Fortunately, the course was very well marked with white arrows through all the turns and guiding you through intersections you ran right through.  Of course I found all this out after the run started.

Anyway, it was pretty warm at the start, but overcast, and the 80 of us that didn't start early lined up and the gun went off.   I was running in just a hat, shorts with 3 gels, and my new Pearl Izumi emotions.  The overcast weather was a huge boon, and while it was warm, it never got uncomfortable.  Right off the start a couple of guys took off really fast, and I found myself running behind a, um, chubby dude.  Now I'm not the fastest marathoner, but I was looking at the guy and thinking: 'really?'  Fortunately for my self esteem, he dropped back and I found myself in 3rd, where I'd remain for most of the race.

I lost track of the two leaders and never saw the #1 guy again, other than on his way back after turning around 3 miles in.  So I ran the entire race alone, without headphones, which I really missed.  Now, my plan was to run straight 7 minute miles so I could have the -10 minute early registration for Boston, but my gps was dead at the start and I didn't have time to get my other watch from the car.  This was good and bad.  Every mile was clearly marked, so it would have been easy to get on a pace, but running this hard by feel was a different story.

Out to the turnaround at three miles, then back and all the way around the lake.  It was surprisingly built up, and there was very little wild land to run through.  There were aid stations every couple of miles with water and energy drink, usually staffed by a couple of helpful volunteers.  Since I wasn't running with anyone, I kind of made it my mission to pick off all the early starters, and I got the first one about 5 miles in.  I'd say his prospects for a finish were dim.  Since there were only 5 or so they were pretty easy to spot.  Ultimately I picked off the last one somewhere around the halfway point.

I cruised around having no idea what my time was, until finally around mile 23 a fan said I was only a couple minutes back from 2nd place.  I caught up to him a little while later and we chatted for a minute and he said he went out way too hard.  I got ahead of him for about half a mile, but when we hit the 25 mile marker he took off, and I couldn't even try to match him since my legs felt like lead.

Ultimately I made the final turn to the finish and saw the clock hit 2:59:50, with 100 yards to go.  Crap, or yeah?  There's no way I could slip in under 3 hours, but a 3 minute PR, at 3:00:12.  If my GPS had been working I would have run too slow to get this low, but I think if I had economized better I would have gone under easily.  But, I walked with 3rd place and 1st masters.  Not bad for a marathon.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Bighorn 100

I was really looking forward to running Bighorn for a couple of reasons.  It had been nine months since my last 100 at Sawtooth and I'd be heading out there with my friend Jeff, and it's been a while since we've road-tripped.  He'd be running the 50-mile and his buddy Denny was also coming along to help crew.  We started our drive on Wednesday after work and headed out to Chamberlain, SD to camp for the night, then did the rest of the drive to Sheridan on Thursday.  We set up camp quick, then headed in to packet pickup for me where I got weighed and walked off with a ton of swag.  Seriously, this was about the most gear I've gotten at a race before.  Afterwards we just bummed around Sheridan and I watched these guys drink while I had Arnie Palmers.  My HURT 100 pal Ben met up with us for a few minutes as well, and we made plans to start out together and see where it went.

Getting the jump on Kaburaki


Jeff and Denny drove Ben, Tim Parr, and another of their friends and I to the start.  We'd had a quick prerace meeting at 9AM, then followed the caravan 4 miles up the Tongue River Canyon to the start.  We got to hang out here for about an hour in the hot sun before being prompted to queue up.  I like to start a couple rows back from the start, but for some reason, Ben and I found ourselves at the very front, ahead of eventual winner Tsuyoshi Kaburaki.  He also used to be the masters record holder at Western States.  Yeah...we were letting him go by.  After the national anthem the 160 or so starters were sent on our way for a full day and night in the mountains.

I settled in with Ben for the mile of road before we hit the single-track.  The field spread out nicely and I got into a nice steady rhythm.  I liked it when the lead pack finally got out of sight so I didn't feel that pressure to keep up.  It didn't take much running before we were at Lower Sheep Camp, which we breezed through after I dumped out their freshly cut pineapple on the ground.  Then the real climbing started.  Nearly four miles of steady upward ascent with precious little running to be had.  It was beautiful though, huge vistas of alpine meadow and runners winding off into the distance both ahead and behind.  Ben was climbing pretty strong and I just hung on.  I could feel the altitude and was worried about the toll it was going to take on me.  Here I was only 5 miles into it and my legs felt heavy.  That feeling never really progressed much, but I was to feel down nearly the whole way up to Jaws.

Eventually cresting the top of this big climb there was a steep downhill into Upper Sheep Camp, then a fair amount of traversing the hillside to the road which lead to the first big aid station, Dry Fork.  I was just behind Ben, the lead gal, and another guy as we pulled in.  Jeff and Denny were here with all my stuff layed out for me.  Jeff filled my water bottles while Denny got my gels squared away with me, and I was off down the road.  They helped Ben out and he was soon off behind me.  The road to Cow Camp was runnable the whole way, and as Ben slowly caught up I chatted with a guy from Missouri.  Cow Camp, we had been told, had packed in 40 lbs of Bacon, and I could smell it from a mile out.  Getting there I quickly filled water and walked out with a couple of pieces of that smoked goodness.

Here we had a beautiful 7 miles to Bear Camp.  Much of this section was running through big fields of Wild Flowers which were simply stunning.  Mostly yellow, but also with brilliant patches of blue lupine.  I'm really glad I got to see this, since it was dark coming back.  Ben and I cruised this section and rolled into Bear which was a horse packed in Aid Station in a beautiful setting.  From here it was just 3.5 miles to the next big AS, Foot Bridge, but also 2600 feet of decent.  We'd take the down hill pretty easy, running, but not bombing, as we had been the others.  I could run them a lot faster, but was being careful to save the quads for the trip back, particularly for that final downhill to the road which was a good 5 miles long.  In any case, this was a fast decent and we were crossing the bridge to cheers.  The AS crew here were on the spot and had our drop bags to us quickly.  It was still early, but we'd need headlamps, just in case (our next bags were 18 miles away), and jackets.  After a quick weigh in we were off on what was essentially a 4200' 18 mile long climb.

Ascent to Jaws


The next 18 miles were pretty much a persistent uphill.  Most of it was a gentle grade and just runnable enough to make you question whether or not you should be walking.  A lot of this I was really hating life.  It was beautiful out, clear skies, nice scenery, warm enough, but I just felt gassed and struggling.  There were times here where I was questioning whether I had the mental strength to do the whole thing.  It really helped having Ben near (he was going through his own issues).  We spent a lot of quiet time for the hours it took to climb, sometimes me in the lead with him struggling along behind and other times flipped around.  Hitting Elk Camp, the last AS before Jaws was kind of a turn around point.  It got really muddy, unavoidably so, and the mental challenge of getting through it took my mind off my discomfort with the altitude.  Upward we pushed until finally we got onto some level ground in time to see the leader charging back towards us, then 10 minutes later Kaburaki following.

Finally after 10:10 on the go...Jaws.  The tent was heated and I was ushered inside and presented with my drop bag by eager volunteers from the local cross country team.  These kids were amped and really fun to have there.  One girl asked me how it felt to be halfway done...I told her half way was closer to 70 miles.  I had three different medical people ask me if I'd gone to the bathroom recently and all were concerned that it had been a couple hours, but I assured them this wasn't my first time at the rodeo and I was solid.  Lights and jacket on and I was out the door.

Going down down down down


Now was an awesome 18 mile downhill back to Foot Bridge.  This was fun in part because it was easy, no more sucking wind, and a very pleasant grade, but I got to see a lot of people coming up the hill.  Ben and I picked up the pace and started cruising down the hill making good time.  Everyone coming up was awesome and stepped out of the trail to let us through.  There were plenty of 'good jobs' for everyone going up and for us too.  I was really surprised at the number of folks without headlamps since it got dark shortly after we left Jaws.  That was going to seriously slow down those folks, but a good learning experience I suppose.  Otherwise this long decent was pretty uneventful, other than Ben's headlamp not working (2 for 2 on that now with running with him, I'll bring a third for him next time).

We rocked into Foot Bridge and spent about 10 minutes cleaning our feet and changing shoes.  It was about 2 AM and we definitely took too much time poking around here in our middle of the night lethargy.  There was some carnage here too, I saw four people in chairs, wrapped in blankets and catatonic.  I didn't want to be near that.  So after getting suited up again, I was getting cold fast, we crossed the bridge and hit the wall.  OK not literally, the wall is what the locals call the upcoming 2600 foot climb in about 2.5 miles, with another mile of level ground to Bear Camp.  Just before starting the climb Ben jammed his toe and sat down to deal with it.  We were both a little punchy and he told me to go on and run my race and I just left.  Fortunately he caught up to me a ways up the climb and we were able to go on together.  On the way up the climb, still by myself, I caught the lead woman who looked really bad, and should probably have turned around.

Well, after Ben caught up we went through bear camp, in about 1:15 from Foot Bridge, and through those awesome, but now dark meadows.  I kept talking to him about going under 24 and we just had to keep under 15 minute miles, but Ben was having nothing to do with it.  Too much climbing left, he said, too far.  But we had the same race plan, run everything flat and downhill, no matter how much it sucks.  Hell, we were still able to run gentle uphills.  We got close to Cow Camp (bacon central) and could see the lights of Dry Fork way off in the distance.  Now, too, the East sky was not quite so dark.  Clearing Cow Camp we were on jeep road and ran nearly everything on it, for the 7 miles, except the steeper uphills, including the last one leading to Dry Fork, which was a big long hill.  It was really cold out, below freezing (all the plants were frosted up) with a wind right in our faces.

Hitting Dry Fork I was frozen and really tired.  We stood still for a five minutes swapping gear, and I'm glad the AS guys didn't see how woozy I was.  I felt punch drunk leaving.  Ben was starting to smell the barn (17.5 miles away) but was now thinking about that sub 24 which was looking really good.  We marched up the road, with a few folks closing behind us, and got into some traversing ground and started banging out 10 minute miles on the way to upper sheep.  There were only two more climbs and they were both steep, but not really long.  Having a fire lit under us we cruised through upper sheep, just refilling water crossed a small bridge and did the last climb.  Bam, just like that we had miles and miles of downhilling.

It seemed like for everyone we passed we got passed by someone else.  Some of these guys we climbed faster than, but they nikked us on the downs.  But we hammered it out, running for time (besides, they were all younger than us, and no AG threat).  It seemed like forever, but we hit Lower Sheep and pretty much ran right through it, with them telling us 2.2 to the road and 5 more to the end.  Yee-haw.  Now we ran everything no matter how sucky it was.  After about 20 minutes we popped out on the road, through the last AS and started beating it out.  Right as we left, Denny came up on his bike and rode in with us.  That was awesome, having him there.

We all chatted the whole way in, which seemed forever.  I thought the road would have some down on it, but it was dead flat or uphill, and even at 8:30 AM was pretty warm.  I can't imagine what it was going to be like in a few hours.  Ben's feet were hurting, so I just chatted up a storm and we kept running.  At long last we saw the turn onto the highway, which meant about a 1/4 mile to go.  So Denny road on ahead to the finish and Ben and I amped it up cruising through the park and finally across the line.  22:23:50 after starting it off together we finished with the same time, tied for 9th and 2nd in the Masters division.  Yes it was:
Ok, we didn't sing and dance.  I think there was more sitting on the ground and letting my legs and stomach get their hate on for a while.

Bighorn is a great race, very well organized and avid volunteers.  There was a post race barbeque with free food and live music, which I unfortunately missed a lot of, and the awards pancake breakfast in Sheridan was simply awesome.  If the Hardrock and Western lottos don't pan out for me next year, I will definitely go back.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Miwok - The shortened version

The shortened version applies both the the race, which was cut from 60 miles to 38, and the length of this posting because the race happened over a month ago.

This was to be a big race for me.  Normally it would have simply been a nice season opener, but this year it was less than three months after having a foot of intestine removed and recovering for 6 weeks with no running.  Going into this I only had one month of training on the legs.  I was excited to finally get back to running a big event and nervous that I was ready for the distance.  Miwok would be a gut check race, literally and figuratively.

I met up with young pups Christi Nowak and Ethan Richards at the airport.  We were flying out and staying together before the race, then they were continuing on with a week of vacation afterwards, while I rushed home to get back to work.  It was a pretty uneventful trip out to warm sunny San Franscisco and we chatted much of the way out, everyone excited about the trip.  Once we landed and picked up the car we headed out over the Golden Gate Bridge into the Marin Headlands and our hotel.  By the time we got settled in it was getting kind of late, so we hit the grocery store right near the hotel and picked up a bunch of food from the deli, along with the first of two 1lb bags of M&Ms we'd dominate.

We pretty much spent the next few hours squaring away our drop bags and clothes for the next morning, since we'd have to get up at 3AM to do the half hour drive to checking, and ready ourselves for the 5AM start.  The weather was looking good, if a little warm, but hey, that's part of why we came down here.

After doing my best to sleep, I was still up before the alarm with pre-race jitters.  Fortunately I had some entertainment listening to Christi talk in her sleep.  Slowly, though Ethan and Christi both woke up and we were all on hour phones checking the weather out.  The hotel was packed with other runners and we could here them milling about and heading out to their cars.  We got our stuff in order and had what breakfast goodies were to be had and headed out to hit the road.  Finding the race start was pretty easy since the only other folks on the road were runners also headed down to Destin Beach.

After we had parked down at the beach we joined the train of people headed up to the check-in, only to find out that due to fire danger (no actual fires) that the start parks had all closed and were permitting no visitors.  The race was being cut down to 38 miles and the start time pushed back 3 hours (as well as check-in).  At first it felt like I'd just blown a lot of money to fly down here for a non-race.  There were a lot of disappointed people milling about.  Being too much driving to go back to the hotel and rest, we just headed back down to the car to sit and try to grab another hour or two of sleep.  After making it about an hour (Ethan was long gone, ADD child that he is), Christi and I headed up to the the starting area where we found Ethan and all hung out chatting with others while slowly more and more runners started showing up.  I even got to see Susan Donnelly (I think she races every race every year), Clifton, and speedster John Maas sister.

Finally, after all the hoopla we were all ushered outside (it was chilly!) and up to the starting line.  The start was a quick down hill for about 50 yards then nothing but climbing for the next several miles.  Ethan took off ahead and Christi and I settled in and climbed together.  Slowly, but surely, we made it to the top, ascending through moss covered red woods and up into the rolling prairies of the headlands.  Before long I was by myself and working my way up and down up and down.  The aid stations were well stocked and manned by experienced volunteers.  They helped get me in and out very quickly.

The day quickly warmed up and became a cooker, at least for those of us from the north where spring was refusing to show up.  Eventually I made it to BridgeView with it's great view of the Golden Gate, and the farthest point out on the course, and headed for home.  There was still some of the biggest climbing to come, at least the longest, but then three miles of downhill to the finish.  Finally making it to the last big climb, about 1500 feet in three miles, I was really feeling the distance and heat.  It was at just a grade that it was hard to decide whether to run or walk.  Hitting the last aid station I took off down the hill for the last few miles to the finish.  Looking over my shoulder I saw Christi come in to the AS just a minute behind me.  Fortunately I had the legs left to fully bomb the hill, and about half way down I came upon Ethan pulling himself up off the ground.  I gave him a hand up and some water since he was out and cramping up.  Not needing any further help I went on and finished a few minutes later in 6:08:25 for 24th guy and only Darcy Africa ahead of me for the gals.  Ethan showed up 4 minutes later with Christi just 3 minutes after that to claim second for the women.

This was a very fun run, and I'd love to go back for the full 100k.  It felt good to make it through with no issues from my surgery and still be able to get a pretty reasonable time.