Monday, October 15, 2012

I can't fake a 50

I went into this race with very little training and a mindset that I’ve run 2 official 50 milers at 8:00 (Delano/flat and easy) and 9:30 (Masochist, mountainous and hard) so how hard could it be to jog an 11 hour run. Unfortunately, after I signed up I started hearing rumors about how hard the course was…

I drove down to Pine Mountain, GA leaving just before 1:00 and arriving at 6:00pm (lost an hour due to TZ).  Packet pickup ended at 6:30.  Sat through the pre-race briefing which was mainly running advice from North Face runners, Hal Koerner, Dean Karnazes and Nikki Kimball.  (2 current studs of the sport and 1 ultramarathon marketing machine).
Quick stop by Subway for dinner, back to check into hotel, try to lay everything out and go to sleep by 8:30.  No luck whatsoever.  Super tired but probably didn't really fall asleep until around 11.
Alarm at 3:15…  (yes, that’s 2:15 central).  Rush to parking area by 4:00, catch the bus to the start/finish and sit and wait.  Race starts at 5am.  It’s cool but not cold (probably 60).   Start in the 2nd wave, 3 mins behind the first.

Within 50 yards from the start you enter the Pine Mountain trail.  A single track twisty turny, rocky, hilly, sandy, root filled barrel of fun.  Especially when the first two hours are in the dark.
The trail is marked very heavily with ribbons however they are not visible in the dark.  For the dark hours there are a number of glow sticks but it is still difficult going and the different packs individually take a wrong turn here or there.  Never lost for long but definitely messes with your ability to run.   At one point the pack in front of me takes the wrong path and end up milling around in the dark trying to find the right path.  I see a small trail and take it in my frustration and end up taking the lead of the group.  Here’s where I notice how inadequate my headlamp is.  Trying to negotiate rocks, roots and switchbacks in the dark sends me more than once into the woods off trail.
Finally the sun comes up and I run fairly well for the first 20 miles.   My goal was to run the first 20 around 11 min miles or so and then fall back to 12 min.  Unfortunately, the trail is so difficult (and my fitness is so bad) that I can only manage 12 min miles but I believe this should be OK and will only help me later in the day.  The trail continues to be single track and difficult until the “half way” point at 27 miles.   I take my first serious break as I’m starting to suffer.  I did well with packing calories and salt up until 20 miles but then I start to really struggle with my stomach.
After the turnaround I continue running without knowledge of my pace but thinking I’m doing ok in the 12-13 min range. (I turned off my watch at mile 20 so as to conserve batter power for later in the race as I knew it would only last about 8 hours total)
Around mile 30 I start slowing down as the heat is affecting me.  My stomach continues to be an issue and I cannot even conceive eating a gu.  At one point I try only to spit out the little bit I taste and then decorate the trail with the remainder before I pack the wrapper.  Aid station food is my only option.  Coke seems to help a bit.
Around mile 35 we start to go through some sunny spots where tornado's have cleared the trees and the heat hits me.  Soon the death march starts as I bonk hard with 2 miles left until the next aid station.  Stopping to lean against trees on uphills is not uncommon.  I’m convinced I’m going to drop at the next aid station.
When I finally get to the 37 mile aid station, I sit and do whatever I can to pump calories.   I sit with a group that I have been running in front / behind all day, outspoken locals who are at least entertaining.   One of their group also hasn’t run since Aug 1 and only signed up the previous night on an impulse.  He knows it is only a 1.2 mile walk to the finish area and pulls his bib to quit.   I sit longer, probably 30-40 minutes total.  Unable to make myself DNF, I decide to march forward.
I am feeling better after about a ½ hour rest at the aid station but can still only really walk.  Everytime I try to run I start to feel bad again.  My feet are killing me now as the rocky trail has plenty of sand and grit that has gotten into my socks and is working like sandpaper between my toes and on the bottoms of my feet.   5 miles to the next aid station…
About halfway to the next aid station I start to think about dropping again only to realize that I am now walking away from the finish line.  When I get finally get there, again I just sit.  This time probably only for 20 mins, eating what I can.   There is a young girl there who has hit her head at some point and the DNR cops are a little concerned.  I consider catching a ride back with them but again, I can’t bring myself to do it.  Only 8 miles to go, I start back out, now completely committed to walking.  I try to power walk it and do fairly well, but it is disheartening as this is a repeat on the same stretch of trail where I originally bonked hard.  The next aid is 5.7 miles away and it is a struggle but I make it there.  From there I take a shorter break and head out to finish my walk.  

When I get near the clearing at the edge of the woods, I break into an all out run and sprint to the finish.  I suspect I'm running a blistering 16 min/mile pace.   I collapse on the ground and sleep for about 15 mins, hose myself off, quickly change my clothes, take the bus back to my car and drive home.

Definitely I am out of shape and I really struggled with nutrition.  I couldn’t seem to use any of my nutrition after about mile 25 and just ate what I could stomach at aid stations.  That’s a definite problem.  Time to hang my hat on any significant races for a while and just enjoy running.

Saw Hal on the course on my way out (he won in 7:45),  Saw Dean twice (he only ran the 50k), never saw Nikki.  I'll also note that there were 3 or 4 events going on at once with a 50 mile, 50k, marathon etc. all running the same trails.  Made the markings real confusing.  As mentioned, they did have lots of sentries and markings though... just made it real confusing with so many people on the trail going different directions etc.

12:36:19 - 80th - 210 starters - 136 finishers - 60 DNF's

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Planning to Fail

Well, as anticipated, things did not go well.   All in all, this was pretty much a miserable run. I am still suffering from the herniated disk in my neck that has been causing great pain in my right shoulder and arm.  As such, my head was in no shape to start and with the bad weather on top I had one of my worse outings ever.  I knew going in to this run that I would not succeed and in reality I'm not sure that is a good way to start a race for me.  I think I really need that drive, especially in a 100 mile run. Starting out, planning to "fail" really F's with your head. Anyway, here's how it went...  for what part of it went.

The Lead In...

I arrived at Squaw Valley at about 9pm PDT on Thursday night.  This was after leaving my house at 5:30am CDT that morning.  With numerous cancelled flights etc, let's just say it was a very long day. 
Getting to bed that night never really happened.  I tried to go right to bed but the neck/shoulder/arm was hurting pretty bad. Shooting sharp pains would run through my triceps every time I moved slightly. I had taken my pain relievers (loratab) and muscle relaxers but they did not seem to help at all.    As the pain shoots up my arm all I can do is cry in pain and pace around the room.  I had the same issue on Tuesday night earlier in the week and it was so bad (and strange) that I ended up going to the hospital.  My involuntary jerks in pain were scaring the heck out of the kids so I figured I better see what I could do to alleviate things.  This time I had the experience to know that they really couldn't do anything and that I just needed to try and relax somehow.   Not an easy task with these pains. So I tried to distract myself.  Watched Total Recall from 1:30 to 3 or 4 and more who knows what, garbage tv. I may have drifted off a bit from 4-5 but woke up in more pain.   Finally things settled down a bit where I could fall asleep until about 9:30 so maybe 3 hours of sleep total.  All in all a miserable experience, probably one of the worst in my life. 
Strangely enough though, after getting up and about on Friday I felt a bit better.  The downside though was that I had slept late, so I did not have much time to do anything that morning to get ready.  I rushed over to pick up my packet and do my medical check etc.  This actually got me a bit in to race mode and I was feeling half decent.  I had decided that as long as I did not have another murderous night, I would start the next day, but now I had to rush.  Drop bags were due by 11:00 and I had not prepared mine yet.   This just caused extra stress in my head and with my heart not in the race I initially decided to not make any.   After looking at what would be in them, I figured I could carry all of that in my waist pack anyway.   See, I had purchased a 2 bottle waist pack earlier in the week so that I would not have to have anything in my hands or on my shoulders during the run and it was a bit on the big side so I could carry plenty.  But... my parents got involved and pretty much insisted I make some bags and sometimes its just easier to do than to argue, so I ended up making 3 drop bags.  Figuring that would get me perhaps to Michigan Bluff and if I actually made it that far, they could crew me from the car the rest of the way.
So, after dropping off my bags, I headed to the required pre-race briefing.   Nice presentation, introduced the top runners etc. but to be honest, there was not one single thing mentioned in that meeting that was necessary.  Not that I'm really complaining but I did find it interesting that there was no real information in it.   Anyway,  all the prep was completed, now I just had to wait around and rest up for the start.   I suppose the only good thing about no sleep the night before was that when 8:30 came around, I actually was tired enough to fall asleep and got several hours before waking up.

Go Time

So at 4:30 I head to the start, do my pre-race check, get my bib # and chip and huddle in the crowd waiting for the start.   Chad Ayres joins me at the start as we are both far back in the crowd.  When the gun sounds we walk to the starting arch in the massive crowd.  I continue walking for a bit, losing Chad behind me somewhere, but about 50 feet past the start he says something as he jogs on past.   I notice he has left his jacket behind and is sleeveless as he plans on running a bit.  I on the other hand have about 4 layers on  (long sleeve, short sleeve, sleeves and light jacket) as I won't be moving very fast.
I start off with my plan of power walking.   I had hoped that I could power walk an average of about 18 min miles, knowing that I can usually walk about 15 min miles if I push it and 20 min miles if I take it casually.  Anyway, I push along with the slow folks.  I pass Cow Man early, and hang right behind the bald guy in the pink tutu.   The hill climb is pretty stout and will last for about 4 miles.  It's cold out and the wind is howling a bit but so far so good.   Then half way up the climb I see the first traces of rain drops on the ground.  This soon turns to sleet, or hail or some frozen nastiness that is whipping around in the wind.  I pull the brim of my hat down and press on.
The weather doesn't get much better and is really whipping around when I get to the first aid station.  From there comes my first minor challenge.  The trail goes straight up a bit of a hand climb for 50 yards or so.  I try to just lean into it and use my legs, trying to avoid reaching out my arm but start to lose my balance immediately and catch myself reaching for the rocks in front of my to stabilize.  This quick reach really hurts the arm and I'm reminded to take it easy.

The Trail

Well, once I got over the top and started heading down the other side, things started to look a bit nicer at least for the moment.  On the way up it was all amongst ski slopes so it was pretty barren, but over the top it turned into an alpine landscape across a scrub field or two and into some large pine trees.   The trail will remain essentially like this for the remainder of the portion I ran.  Sometimes in single track through the woods, sometimes on a fire road but always with the large pine trees and rolling landscape.   The change that comes however is the weather.   The rain/sleet/snow I thought I had left on the other side of the ridge soon returns and then comes and goes for the remainder of my run.   I find myself jogging down the downhills just to try and not be in other peoples way as it is single track and early in the race so even the slow folks I'm around want to keep moving.   I learn to jog with my right arm fairly immobilized and it doesn't seem to bother me too much.  Unfortunately, the hills and the weather does.   With my moving slow, I am continually moving to the side to let people pass and I just seem to be getting colder and colder as time goes on.   The trail itself is very soft, fine California dirt that kicks up when it is dry and turns into a loose nasty mud when it is wet.   Needless to say my feet are struggling a bit slopping through the mud and getting garbage in my shoes.   I curse myself for once again, not looking hard enough for a pair of gaiters for my feet.
Somewhere along the line I pass through Lyons Ridge aid station (10.5) but I really have no real recollection of it.  I believe it was shortly after a stretch where they actually had us narrow down to single file on a fire road for a "photograph station".   There were 2 guys there manning a camera on a tripod under a tarp next to a small chute to narrow us down.  I'm not sure if this was just to keep track of runners on the course or what but I just smiled and ran on through.   The next section to Red Star Ridge (16) was fairly exposed on the top of a ridge for quite a bit and it definitely got cold there.  Between the cold, fatigue and crap in my shoes, I was starting to really hate life at this point and on top of all that, the clouds in the sky were making it impossible to see more than about 50 ft or so into he woods so I wasn't even getting the beautiful views to lift my spirits.  I decided that I was not having fun, knew I would not finish the race so why was I suffering through this?  Unfortunately, my first spot to really drop with a crew was not until Duncan Canyon at mile 23.8 so onward I pressed.
One thing I started to note around this point was that I wasn't really fueling very well.  I had only had probably one serving of cliff blocks (3) at this point and half a bottle of water.   I try to put a bit more fuel in me but the mind easily decides that you don't need things when you're not on your game.  I figure I'm moving so slow I don't need much fuel and with the weather I don't need much fluid so I continue to under nourish myself.   When I get to the actual Red Star Ridge aid station, I am greeted with some nice warm broth to help me out.  I take couple cups of that, and graze over the food table but move on quickly, knowing that I must make it to the next aid station so I can drop out.   The next stretch is the longest between aid stations (7.8) of the whole course and I go in knowing this, just hoping I can survive through it.  I suppose this helps me cover the distance but I must admit, I don't remember much of that section.   I do remember at one point starting to run, and run fairly hard.  I figured that I knew I was going to drop at the next station, why not push it as I have no reason to save anything up for later and perhaps I'll warm up a bit.   Well, I can only run so hard with my shoulder as it is and it doesn't really help much but I suppose it breaks up the time.  Unfortunately, I eventually tire and my mind drifts to thinking, "why don't I just walk because I'm not going to finish and time doesn't matter" so I slow waaaay down.   Then I get real cold again. and then I feel a twig or something in my shoe that feels like it is poking deep into one of my toes on ever step.   I try to stop and pull my shoe off but my hands are so cold I can't work my fingers to get the laces untied.   I press on with kind of a limp, trying to wiggle my foot this way and that within the shoe and alleviate the pain.  I suspect this goes on for another 2 or 3 miles when I finally hear the next aid station.   I stumble into the station and take the workers hand.  She asks what I need, my first answer, "Is my crew here, because if they are I want to drop"  She points out my Mom and Dad, who immediately break the rules and come past the tape to my side.  I let them know I want to drop. They completely understand.
What happens next is very surreal to me.   I mean I get it, but I don't at the same time.
By chance, I talk to the aid station captain and ask who I need to speak to to drop out, she says it is her and she just needs my chip and my pull tab but to hang on to it a bit and let her know.   So I graze at the table for a bit.   Then, one by one, it seems all the "experienced" (aka, previous buckle achievers) crew people seem to be directed to me to discuss my decision.  Every last one of them, OK, there were only 4, but all of them individually insist that I should not drop even though I explain my herniated disk situation.   A couple of these were even medical crew but they just nodded when I explained my situation.  Then, another one takes the lead and starts barking orders for me to drink more broth,  force down this food or that, sit in a chair while they change my socks, shoves about 5 Roctane gu's in my jacket pocket and insists that I finish them all by the time I get to the next aid station.  It's only 5.5 miles and a good spot to feel better he insists.   Somehow I find myself going on to the next aid station.
Well, I must admit he was right.  And in hindsight, I'm sure I was under nourished. The next section is Duncan Canyon so you run down a couple miles to a creek, cross it, then hike back up about 3 miles.  I find myself jogging down the first section, just because it is there and I don't feel like walking.  About 1/2 way down I pass 3 people standing in the trail, stretching and talking but I want to keep moving so I push on by without a word.  When I get to the creek, I can hear them behind me, just out of sight.  They seem to stay there for at least another mile as I start my climb back out when all of a sudden they catch up and ask how I'm doing.   It is at this point that I realize they are the 2 medical guys from the last aid station and have been watching me from a far to make sure I was OK.   I learn that they are a physical therapist and an orthopedic surgeon so I shouldn't worry if my back goes out.   I do find it strange thought that both of them do seem to have any concern over me running with my condition.  Runners I suppose, we're all the same psycho driven people.   Anyway, on the climb back up from the river, I push my walking pace thinking I'll run a little experiment.   I actually am feeling much better at this point as the weather is a bit better down in the canyon and thoughts of finishing are actually in my head.   I figure if I can finish this section at a decent pace, perhaps I can keep up that 18 min / mile pace and get all the way to the finish line.   So I power hike up the trail dropping the medical guys and passing several other runners on the way.   I do recall one older guy hiking up with a lady who was grumbling about the climb.  As I cruise on past, in no great mood myself, I remind her that we paid to do this.  She laughs and I press on.
When I get to the top, I see my brother and his friend Jim waiting there with my Mom and Dad.  I continue in to the medical check, get weighed and then stop to think about the last section.   After a brief calculation I conclude that I finished the last section in exactly 18 min/mile pace.  While that is fine, there is no way I'll be able to keep that up consistently for the remainder of the race so my decision is made.  When I let the captain know, he is understanding.  Even the aid station worker from the last aid station who pushed me out accepts my decision (how did they all get here so fast!?)  although not without a departing "you'll regret it tomorrow" comment.  Finally the sound of 3 blasts on the horn to indicate 30 minutes to the cutoff humbles me to the point of pulling off my chip.  I hope I don't insult anyone but there's no way I could continue at that point in the pack... it's just not me. 
So there I sit at Robinson Flat in the freezing cold shutting down my race.   Was it the right decision?  It doesn't matter, the decision was made and it is what it is.  From there we hop in the car and head to Michigan Bluff to find Dink Taylor and watch some of the leaders come through while he waits on David Riddle.   The rest of the day is spent eating and watching the leaders pop through aid stations and into the finish.   I'm excited I got to be there as the record was broken by Tim Olsen (and Elle Greenwood) and I got to see David scream on past the runner in front of him on the track 200m from the finish.   Congratulations to David on a stellar performance and also to Chad Ayres who finished strong and got his silver buckle.  My only regret is that I did not get a chance to see Rucky Chucky.  But I'll be back.  I'm confidant of that.

Post Thoughts

So, did I really make the right decision?   Who knows, but in hindsight after 2 days of sore quads from only 30 miles I will say that, had I actually finished,  I would be in a world of hurt.   Not necessarily permanently etc. but after 100 miles every muscle in your body is tired and I know that the muscles in my back would have been worn out to the point where my neck would have had little to no support for at least a couple days.   I have no idea what that would do to things, but I know it would have hurt bad for at least those couple days.  So I'm glad that I quit.  I hate that my goal for the year was not accomplished but that's OK.  There's always a next time.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Pain in the neck

It's 12:30am on Monday morning 6/18/2012, just about 5 days before the start of the Western States 100 trail run that I've trained since Mountain Mist (5 months) for.  What am I doing up.  Well I'm in too much pain to sleep.  Seems a bit over a week ago, deep into my 3 week taper, I tripped and fell on a little 4 mile jog on the White Loop, fell hard and subsequently have acquired a Herniated Disk in my neck.  Disk C5-6 to be exact.  This has been a disaster of a week, running from Dr. to Dr. and therapist to therapist trying anything I can to get myself back in the game for my goal race.  Bottom line...  Take some heavy anti inflammatorys and wait.  See what happens.  Well, I'm over halfway through my prescription now and I'm not optimistic.  The pain is horrible tonight and even the narcotic pain killers I got on Friday are not helping.  Devastating...
My goals have all been adjusted, if I actually take the start, I'm now gunning for a 30 hour finish at best.  The risk of additional damage is just too scary to go run 100 miles, I'm going to see how far I can walk it.  Well, I may jog a bit here and there, but if this pain doesn't settle down I may just be standing in pain cheering on David Riddle and Chad Ayres the other two local runners going (well, David is no longer local but close enough).   Anyway, this will definitely be interesting.   At the rate of blog posts I write, you may never hear how it went (ha!) but I'll do my best to put something down.