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.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Worst Running Injury Ever

Cecal Volvulus is a new word in my vocabulary that will always make me cringe in pain.  It's not a common injury, thought it's occurrence has been higher in runners than non-runners and I've seen records going back to The New England Journal of Medicine in 1985.  There aren't any warning signs and nothing to check for to see if you've got it.  What it is, is a twisting of the cecal valve which joins the large and small intestine and prohibits the passage of any more material into the large intestine.  If it goes on long enough gangrene can set in and a rupture of the small intestine can occur, polluting the abdominal cavity.  It is, as you can imagine, excruciatingly painful.

The expedition of pain started for me the evening of Monday, February 18th.  Around 5 P.M. I was running home from work and had just a touch of indigestion.  Nothing unusual, just a little stomach upset.  Amy and I had a normal dinner and a drink and nothing seemed too out of the ordinary, though the indigestion was still there.  We were in bed around 10 and I slept soundly until 11, when I woke up with noticeably more discomfort.  At this point it felt like food poisoning, and I kept expecting the usual 'passing' of waste, but nothing was happening.  I was up and down from bed several times and was even browsing on my phone for symptoms of appendicitis, since what I had now seemed similar to what Amy suffered through with that several years ago.  By 2 A.M. I'd had enough and woke Amy.

She drove me down to what was an empty emergency room at Fairview Riverside.  It was an uncomfortable ride, but I was still in control of myself and managed to walk in and start getting checked out.  I was here for three hours with an IV in my arm and some mild pain medications that seemed to be doing the trick.  Over this time I had a CT scan and and ultrasound, neither of which showed my appendix nor the torsion in my intestine.  This coupled with the location of my pain, in the area just below my navel, and the fact that I had had bowel movements during the previous day led the doctors to feel that it was probably just a bad stomach virus and I was sent home with a bottle of hydrocodone, a pretty solid pain pill.  I was actually a little relived that it was just a bug, and I could get back to things in a few days.  Some home we went, me to the couch and Amy to bed, so she could get some rest and I could toss and turn.

I didn't get a lot of rest, and around 10 A.M. Wednesday morning, I was nauseous and having massive stomach cramps.  I soon started having massive heaves, throwing up everything I'd eaten in the last half a day, and hard enough that I had a bloody nose.  I was curled up on the floor moaning and crying out for Amy and eventually worked my way over to the other side of the house where she could hear me.  There was absolutely no question we'd be going back to the ER.  So, around 11AM we were back at Fairview Riverside.

I was soon changed and back on a table, this time on my left side, since it was the only position I was remotely comfortable, and with an IV back in giving me .4MG/hour of some kind of narcotic (I sure remember those numbers).  Around here I really lost track of time as the pain increased.  I'm not sure how long I was in the ER, but I had one long episode of throwing up while talking to the doctor.  While they double checked the CT scan and still didn't see anything they were concerned enough to want me to stay for a while.  So an ambulance transport was arranged for me to be moved over to University of Minnesota Medical Center on the East bank for observation.  I had it together enough to get off the bed and onto the gurney myself since it was only a few feet.  Amy was left to drive herself over.  I can only imagine what she was going through at this point.

As I was in my new room at UMMC I didn't look at anything other than the wall.  Occasionally someone would come in and want to palpate my stomach, often enough that I was getting pissed off.  Yes the pain was still there, no it hadn't moved, why don't you talk to the last person that did this.  One doctor even put me through that several times.  Part of the problem was that each time I rolled from my side to my back, then to my side again, it took many minutes for the pain to squelch enough that it was tolerable.  The plan, as I understood it, was to take blood from me again in the morning (since they already had for my second ER visit) and if there were still problems have a surgical consult somewhere around 6AM.

The only problem for me is the pain meds were no longer doing anything, and I was beginning to moan and groan non-stop, occasionally yelling, except for the times where I'd pass out for a few minutes.  They have a 0 to 10 pain scale you are supposed to rate your pain on and I repeatedly was saying 9, 9, 9.  I remember quite vividly regularly clawing at the air just trying to grasp at something and sometimes staring in terror into Amy's eyes and begging her to make it stop.  This went on for a long time, but I can't really say the exact time since it was basically a black pit for me.  Sometime during the evening nurse Andrew came on duty and started going to bat for me.  He gave me a some extra checks to see if it was simply bad constipation (if only) and got my pain meds bumped up to 1mg/hr.  Sadly even at that level it wasn't doing anything.

He eventually got the powers that be to get a surgical consult in immediately since the medication and other obvious checks weren't doing anything, and my pain kept increasing.  Clearly, he said, there is something really wrong with this guy.  Amy had been telling them that I handle pain really well, and if I'm screaming then it has to be really bad.

So it was, around 2AM, the anesthesiologist came up to my room to help get me prepped to move and I was soon being wheeled down to the OR.  I didn't really care what they did, I just wanted to be put under.  Amy and I waited outside the OR while she held my hand and I wailed on, the only relief being that I knew I'd soon be unconscious.  The plan was that they would do an exploratory laproscopic surgery (insert a camera and have a look around) then deal with whatever it was when they came to it.  I asked Amy to call my parents when I went in.  The surgeon, Dr. Harmon, came over and introduced himself putting a gentle hand on me, and I was soon wheeled off into the OR.

They had me roll onto my back, then transferred me from the cot to the operating table and strapped my arms down and put a mask on my face.  The last thing I said to them was that I had a really low resting pulse and I'd probably set off their alarms (as I had been all day).  Then I was out.

Some time later I groggily came to in a recovery room, with a nurse attending to me.  I pretty much had no idea what had happened, but she chatted to me and let me know where I was and that my parents and Amy were waiting for me.  After she made sure I was coming around OK, I was wheeled up to a recovery room, which is where I first saw Amy and my parents from inside my fog.  A few nurses moved me to my bed and got me hooked up to all kinds of devices, and we all sat and stared at each-other.  And like it had started, Amy holding my hand.

I later learned that I had cecal volvulus, which they found pretty quickly with the laproscopy.  Unfortunately the only way to deal with this was to open me up with a 10 inch incision starting about 1 inch above my navel and going downwards.  Then removing about 5cm of small intestine, the cecal valve, and the vertical section of my large intestine, for about a foot total.  That includes my appendix as well.  Full recovery, 6-8 weeks.  Right now, my stomach is tender and sore, but nowhere near the pain I had been feeling.
What it looked like before.  The purple blob is the choked off small intestine.  Courtesy of
The after, with the cecal valve and ascending lower intestine removed. Courtesy of