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.