(This post references some items that I had on my blog when I used a different web host. I couldn’t transfer them to this one so please excuse the confusion)
For the last several months many of you know I’ve been preparing for a 50 mile ultra-marathon. I trained really hard for it and I was discipline about sticking to my training schedule averaging 40 miles per week plus cross training with rock climbing. Back in January when I really started to train I had some doubts about my chances. Sure I had done the 50k distance (32 miles) at this event the year before and the rim-rim-rim of the Grand Canyon but I was toast after the 50 event. The Grand Canyon trip was 42 miles but it took 14 hrs to complete which is the time limit for the 50 mile race. Despite having less elevation gain I had to cover 8 more miles in at least the same time frame. Although I wasn’t sure then if I could run 50 miles, I was certain I had the drive to transform myself into someone that could.
I know most gurus would recommend banishing doubt from your mind but this is one thing that helped motivate me. Images of being on the course and not being able to continue or not making a cut off time flashed in my head when I would struggle on training runs in Red Rock Canyon. These images scared me into pushing on despite tiredness, pain, and nausea on these runs. As my endurance and strength improved, my workouts became much more enjoyable. The progress I could see in myself was amazing. By March I had to run loops twice just to get a decent workout that before wore me out in one loop. I shocked myself when I felt refreshed after a 24 mile run one day and went on a full day climb the next. In April I ran a 50k as a primer of sorts to see if I was ready. I finished the race on an unseasonable hot day in okay time but I was wasted afterwards. By this time I had set a goal of 12 hours for the 50 mile race. This meant I would have to run 18 more miles in about 4.5 hours. Certainly reasonable under normal circumstances but after already running 32, that was going to be tough. However, even if I didn’t make this 12 hr time limit I was certain I’d find a way to beat the 14 hr cut off time the BHS50 has.
As I got my shoes on at my car I was happy to feel quite
relaxed. I knew I was well prepared and had prepared
myself as well as I could. The other participants were much
the same. Everyone was chatting and joking around. There
were a few people that seemed a bit anxious but certainly
nobody was psyching themselves out like one might expect
before such an undertaking. On the other hand this makes
sense because ultra-running is more about pacing yourself
at a pace you can sustain for hours and hours instead of
an all out dash. As we lined up for the starting line I chuckled because I was having trouble keeping myself from yawning and everyone else seemed almost oblivious to the race director
telling everyone to line up. I strapped on my hand held
water bottles as I heard the count-down and we were off.
The course is generally broken up into three sections.
First, there is a 17 mile uphill gradual climb of 3800 ft
then 18 miles of up and down in totaling 4000 ft gain
and loss reaching the high point of 9300 ft above sea
level, finally a 15 mile downhill to the end.
The first few miles of the race I kept looking up into the hills and enjoyed the beautiful morning scenery. Although it is only a few miles from Bishop, Mt. Tom towers 10,000 ft above Owens
Valley and sits like a gargoyle at the entrance of the central Sierra
Nevada warning those entering to be wary. It’s massive east ridge
dominates the skyline to the east of town.
The first 10 miles or so were pretty uneventful. I felt great and set an
easy but steady pace. I talked with another runner, who was a local
climber, asking about Sierra Peaks. I just enjoyed the scenery and
enjoyed the moment while I could. I reached the 10 mile aid station in
just under 2 hours which was about 10 minutes faster than the year before. The next 4 miles were actually a bit frustrating. It doesn’t look that steep but it slowed be down quite a bit from a slow trot all the way down to walking (aka a slog). I felt really good though and passed several people over the next four miles to the next aid station. The road eventually leveled off and I picked up the pace. One steep hill after the 13.5 mile aid station and I was on my way to finishing the first leg of my journey. Despite having been running for three hours covering 15 miles I actually started to get stronger at this point. I came flying down the hill to the Edison Loop aid station, mile 17 3h40 minutes.
This aid station is special because I would pass it three times plus I had a cooler there waiting for me that the volunteers brought up from the starting line. I was really excited to get here. Not just because I felt great after completing the first third of the race (last year at this point my legs were shot and my stomach was killing me) but also because I had a few bottles of the nectar of the gods (Mountain Dew) waiting for me. It went down great. I ate some sea salt chips I had packed and set off again.
The next 3 miles involved a pretty steep climb of 1350 ft to the high point of the race at 9300 ft above sea level. I power walked most of it and only
ran a few yards at a time where the road leveled a
bit. I had ample time to admire one of the jewels of
the central Sierra Nevada. The hulking Mt. Humphreys.
Mt. Humphreys is a classic yet evasive peak for
mountaineers in the Sierra. It turned away many early
explorer until it was finally summited. It has special
meaning to me because my friend Bruce and I got
spanked last year before we even got to the
base of the technical climbing. So as beautiful as it
was to look at, Mt. Humphreys taunted me all day
saying “who’s your daddy”. Out of nowhere a snow
field appeared covering the road. It was easy to tra-
verse however and was only about 200 feet long. At
the aid station I sat down and dumped sand out of my
shoes in preparation for the 3 miles downhill back to
Edison Loop. I downed some food and set back down at a fast pace. I was happy my stomach was still feeling pretty good at this point. My stomach gave me problems at the races I had done
before. I read something a few days before the race about staying away from sweets. I tried it and I was able to eat for a good portion of the race. I covered the 3 miles back to Edison Loop in a blistering (for me) 24 minutes, which included a pit stop in the bushes. At this point, even though we were at higher elevation, I could feel it really starting to warm up. I downed some more Mountain Dew and a Red Bull from my cooler and set out to for a 12 mile out and back to Bishop Lodge.
With the heat rising and the miles racking up I started to tire. There was a lot of up and down over this section and I couldn’t get into a good rhythm. At some point I passed the half way point but didn’t think much of it. I still had a long way to go and I tried to focus on small goals so as to not get caught up in how far I had to go. As the race progressed these goals diminished from getting to the next aid station to just getting to a point a couple hundred yards away then finally nearly every step was a challenge. Around noon I got to
the Bishop Lodge which marked the point where I
started heading back to Edison Loop and the
final 15 miles of the race. I knew barring a
catastrophe I had the race in the bag. However,
my body and mind seemed to be deteriorating
fast. The sun was blazing. This day was the
hottest in the 15 year history of the race reaching
100 degrees in Bishop. The main focus at this
point was to stay hydrated. One may think you’d
just be thirsty as heck and down water like a fish.
The constant jostling of your innards while
running 28 miles turns your stomach into a knot
and water is even hard to get down let alone
solid food. Moreover, your blood is diverted from your stomach to your
legs severely slowing digestion of the foods you do eat so it just sits in your
stomach. Lastly along with water your lose massive amounts of salt when
you sweat which is necessary for water to
be absorbed into your body. This salt is difficult to replace when you
don’t want to eat.
The best way I can explain how I felt at this point is to is a hang over that
gets progressively worse. Oh yeah and you’re baking in 95 degree heat.
I didn’t feel any sympathy for myself however. If fact I was quite happy
and still trying to revel in the undertaking. Although I was hurting I tried to keep my circumstance in perspective. First of all it was my choice to be doing what I was doing and I was
happy doing it. Secondly, although I was hurting, I thought about how my condition paled in comparison to what people who were truly suffering in the world were feeling at that very moment. I thought about people suffering in Myanmar because staying in power is more important to the bastard Junta than the lives of tens of thousands of people. I also thought about Americans who had suffered and gave their lives that we could live so free and decadent that we could try and run 50 miles if we wished. This made me feel lucky to be doing what I was doing because the majority of the world spends much of their time trying to survive instead of on lofty ambition.
I was still running though albeit it at a significantly reduced paced. I’d run for a while then walk a bit and run some more. At this point it was taking more and more concentration just to avoid tripping. Over the last couple of days I debated whether I should write about my state of mind over the last half of the race. After some consideration I decided to include it because anyone that knows me knows I’m a bit strange anyway and this won’t sound all that odd if one keeps in perspective who it’s coming from. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I started hallucinating, but my thoughts danced about in an increasingly surreal way. I remember turning a corner and briefly looking up at Mt. Humphreys. I imagined the mountain as Grom (Conan the Barbarian’s god) and he was taunting me apparently thinking I wasn’t going to make it. I looked up and said with all the humble defiance of Peter O’ Toole as Lawrence of Arabia “nothing is written” and I marched on. As I approached my final pass of Edison Loop and the last leg of the race I prepared myself for the brutal 15 miles of scorching downhill dusty road to pay dirt.
I had already planned on giving it all I had on the final stretch. I knew I would be hurting and tired but I wanted to leave nothing behind. Mentally I wanted to screams of my body to stop or slow down, at the same time I didn’t want to push too hard because I still had 15 miles to go. I started thinking of visualization techniques to detach my mind from my body. At first I was going to imagine my mind was the driver of a beat up Ford Probe rented from a guy with a Zebra stripe painted donkey in Tijuana. That was too obtuse to concentrate on. Next I thought of replacing my body with the body of someone I hate. I decided I didn’t hate anybody enough to put them through the punishment I wanted to place upon myself. Finally it hit me. I would just replace my body with the body of that of a truly elite runner.
The decision on who was obvious, Dean
Karnazes. I know few people reading this know
who Dean Karnazes is so I’ll explain briefly.
He is simply a freak and possibly the fittest man
on the planet. Some of his notable accomp-
lishments are running 350 miles straight and
running 50 marathons one in each state in 50
consecutive days. His book “Ultramarathon
Man” helped lift the veil of what I had
previously thought possible. I figured if he could run a 299 mile 12 person relay race
without the other 11 runners on his team, maybe I could run 50 miles. So as I downed
another Mountain Dew and some home made ice cream the volunteers made right at the aid
station I zipped out of my own body and into Dean’s.
I left the Edison Loop for the final leg of the race. I had been moving non-stop for 8 hours and had covered 35 miles gained 7800 ft elevation and descended 4000ft. I only had 15 to go and it was all downhill for 3800 ft. Although downhill is faster it is not necessarily easier. The body takes quite a bit more pounding while going down and your guts bounce making it difficult to replace much needed calories. However, I now had Dean’s body. To reach my goal I had 4 hours to
finish. This was almost a sure thing barring a severe injury. I tried not to think about though, I
had to focus on breaking the rest of the race into a series of small goals. The first one Mcgee Creek about 3.5 miles away. After a short but steep climb I told Dean’s body to start running. I was shocked how well he responded, my mind-trickery seemed to be working. We were cruising along pretty well despite him saying his right foot was hurting. I just said “sorry we have to keep going
my friend”. I even pushed auto pilot here and there to bask
in the moment and look up at Mt. Humphreys one last time.
He was no longer laughing at me. In fact, I think there was a
twinkle of pride in the gaze of the monolith.
I recognized a steep hill that had the Mcgee Creek aid
station right at the bottom of it. After this I’d only have
about 11.5 miles left. Just about 200 feet from the bottom
Dean started screaming about his left foot and I couldn’t
force him faster than a shuffling hobble. Something was up.
I knew Dean could get us to the finish but were we going to hobble the rest of the way and miss my goal. Limping into the aid station I told the volunteer I had a bad blister. Something that I didn’t mention before is that the BHS50 raises money for Inyo County Hospital and many are the volunteers for the race are nurses and staff of the hospital. Luckily there was one here. They were so kind and helpful to me. They immediately set a chair in the shade and got the first aid kit while I took off my shoe. The problem was apparent immediately. Dirt got into my shoe and found its way between my toes. The friction of the
dirt along with heat and moisture created a
huge blister that covered nearly my entire
second toe. It had burst andthis was the
pain I (Dean) was feeling. There wasn’t
much they could do for me but tape
my toe to provide some cushion.It was
actually kind of nice sitting there petting
their dog while they taped me up but I
started to get anxious as I saw runners
pass me by. I wanted to get moving again
after hearing Mickey (Rocky Balboa’s trainer)
say “get up you bumb, I ain’t heard no bell
yet”. About 5 minutes later I was on the move again forcing Dean to jog and drink water. Next aid station 3.7 miles.
I caught back up with some of the runners that had passed me while I was getting taped up right before the aid station. Except for the elite runners and those trying not to come in last ultra-marathons aren’t competitive in nature. You are only trying to finish in the best time you can. And everyone is extremely supportive of each other. I got dozens of “looking goods” and “great jobs” from people I didn’t know and said the same back whenever I passed someone, or at least a wave when I wasn’t able to speak from breathing hard. Having said that, it was motivating to keep up with runners around me. I fed off them when I wasn’t feeling good and tried to keep up. Then they would slow up and I’d pass them and I think they fed off that too because I would always hear them start running again as I passed.
I doused myself with a sponge as the volunteers filled my bottles. I felt sorry for some of the runners there, they looked pretty bad. I wondered how I looked to them. Ahh too deep for the present time. Food was out of the question so I grabbed some salt tablets and headed out, 7.8 miles to go. I remember fromthe previous year this next 3.8 miles to the
next aid station being the toughest part of the race. It was not only the hottest part of the day the temperature rose as I descended by about 4 degrees every thousand feet elevation. Although it was almost all downhill, all I could manage was to jog for 100-500 yards then walk before I convinced Dean to run again. I pushed Dean as hard as I could without him throwing up in my mouth which, unfortunately, he did a couple of times. I shadowed this lady that was really toughing it out despite the obvious pain she was in for much of this section. About an hour later I knew I was close to the aid station when this guy came up and passed us. This made me quit feeling sorry for Dean and told him to get his ass moving. We agreed to give it our all and we only had 4 miles left to do so. At the second to last aid station I doused myself again trying to cool off but this only offered a few seconds of relief. They filled my bottles with ice water which felt good to my hand but I knew I didn’t feel like drinking. Even the thought of water made my stomach cringe. As I left the aid station, 3.5 miles to go, I got a lump in my throat in pride of what I was about to accomplish. I decided it was too early for that and shuffled along. My new friend and I swapped leads over the next two miles to the final aid station only 1.5 miles from home. I wasn’t able to drink the water I had so I just passed by thanking the volunteers there as I had at every aid station. My partner stopped for a drink and I set out alone.
A couple hundred yards from the aid station the trail got really rocky. This reminded me of Lord of the Rings (yes I know this proves my dorkyosity) at the end of The Return of the King when Aragon and friends are at the gates of Mordor. They are surrounded by Sauron’s army, Frodo is losing
the battle with himself and Gollum, and basically all is lost. In all defiance to their inevitable doom Aragon looks to his friends and says “for Frodo” and they charge the army in an apparent suicide mission to afford Frodo a few more precious minutes to save Middle Earth. With this scene in mind, looking back to make sure nobody was around me, I yelled to Dean “FOR FRODO” and took off with all the haste I could muster. This rush lasted about half the way to the end before I had to walk a bit. The trail got really loose and sandy and running was just too hard. As I neared the end I thought about the couple weeks leading up to the BHS50 and I told more casual acquaintances about what I was about to try. It was pretty funny seeing peoples’ reactions when I explained the race was running 50 miles, not biking or skiing, or even driving as one person thought. Inevitably they would ask “why” with a puzzled look on there face. Oddly enough I was stumped at first because it’s a question I really hadn’t considered much. For me it was a question of “if” not “why”. I talked quite a bit about the race with my friend Brad (who has done some pretty incredible feats of elevation gain in a day, pun intended) and the conversation always centered around pushing your own limits and how alive you feel when you do things you once thought were impossible. I couldn’t find the words to make people who didn’t regularly push themselves understand so I just started saying I was doing it to see if I could. As I was only minutes from answering this question, the following words of JFK rushed into my thoughts: (click play on box above, I couldn’t move it down).
This speech was in 1962 at Rice University where Kennedy was garnering support for a mission to the moon. Many people thought it was a crackpot idea, or wasn’t worth the investment, or was simply impossible. Despite severe costs overruns, challenges, and even lives lost; we did go to the moon and many technological advancements came of it. Additionally, there was immense national pride in beating the evil commies to the moon.
As I crossed the finished line and my ceramic medal was placed around my head I sat on a log and nearly was overcome with emotion as the pride of accomplishing something I once thought was impossible swelled in my chest. I sat there clapping for the first woman finisher who had flown by me earlier in the race; and I passed, sadly, just before the end. She was barely walking and I was humbled by her grit. In the end I finished in 22nd place out of 110 starters in 11hr 8min. Well below my goal despite the horrid conditions. I sat in the grass talking to other runners over a few beers cheering for people as they finished. I thanked my “friend” for motivating to push myself. I talked to this great guy LT who is an experienced runner and this other guy who had just run his fifth ultra in six weeks, WOW. This group from Orange County included a couple that dropped down to the 50k distance and finished in 12 hours. It was funny they were as amazed at me for finishing ahead of them by an hour covering 18 more miles, as I was at the winner that finished over 3.5 hours ahead of me (about 18 miles for him). I left about 8:35pm as the last people were crossing the finish line. Food was still hard to manage but I was able to have some fries with my ketchup at dinner. This was a special treat for me because I love ketchup, but I rarely get to eat it because I “almost” gave up fried foods. I was sore on Sunday as I drove home but not too badly. I thought about what to do next. I have some canyoneering to do in the next month or so. Then off the the High Sierra for some peak bagging. I also want to do the Grand Canyon rim-rim-rim again this fall. As for other runs I don’t have too much planned. I love it and I want to stick with it though. I’m looking at a possible multi-day backcountry ultra-run that has been in the back of my mind for some time. Well that’s it for my 50 mile trip thanks for reading.