Category Archives: ultra marathon

2011 Western States 100 Endurance Run

At the crack of crack Saturday morning I was lined up with about 375 runners at the start line. We were reminded why the Sierra Nevada mountains are known as the Range of Light being treated to a beautiful sunrise as we crested the pass. This was a massive snow year and we had to suffer 10-11 miles of snow in the high country. We don’t get much snow travel here in Las Vegas and I was pretty miserable on this section. I fell probably 20 times and my legs got pretty tired managing the terrain.

Squaw Valley

By some miracle I finally made it through and was able to run again. My plan was to keep a good steady pace for the first half of the race and see how I felt from there. However, I started having some stomach issues pretty early. At about mile 25 I was almost an hour ahead of the 24 hour finishing pace which was my main goal for this race. But by mile 50 or so I lost that cushion and fell behind another 15 minutes.

Middle part of race

After pounding a whole can of Coke at the top of the big climb up Devil’s Thumb I unleashed a deep guttural belch that would have made Booger from Revenge of the Nerds proud. I immediately started to feel a bit better and a bit later I evacuated the last of the stagnant volume in my stomach.

It was a huge pick up when I came around the corner and saw Shane waiting for me. I was also glad to have largely overcome the stomach issues I was having and was running pretty well. Time and miles flew by. Maybe my favorite part of the race was the decent down to and then the few miles running along the American River. The river was flowing several times above normal flow this year so we were boated across the river this year.

Foresthill mile 62

I was started getting a bit tired and probably could have used some solid food, but I didn’t want to risk having more issues. From about mile 52 to the end of the race I subsisted almost exclusively on Coke, water, and salt pills. I don’t exactly recommend this but it was working for me and I was feeling pretty good.

With Shane’s help we made up a lot a time on my 24 hour goal. I knew we were making good time, but didn’t pay too much attention until the last few miles. We reached the No Hands Bridge aid station at about the 20 hour 28 minute mark with 3.2 miles and one big climb to go. At this point I was pretty out of it and didn’t really care about finishing times I just wanted it all to be over with. However, at the top of the climb from hell we saw the sign indicating 1 mile to go at 20 hours 50 minutes and some seconds. I said I didn’t think it was going to happen but what the hell. The flat terrain helped and we picked up to what felt like a pretty good pace. Reaching the Placer H.S. track was a pretty cool experience and we crossed in 20 hours 58 minutes 10 seconds.

This was a pretty enjoyable race for me. The Western States Trail is quite stunning visually and is incredibly diverse. Beating my previous 100 best time by over 7 hours was pretty cool and it was fun to have Shane along to share the experience with.

Advertisements

Leona Divide 50 mile 2011

The Leona Divide 50 mile trail race was a focus race leading up to the Western States 100 in late June. I wanted to do well as a litmus test of where my fitness was with two months to go. I caught a lift with Josh and Casey which turned an otherwise miserable drive pleasant as we bitched about The Man.

Taking place in the Angeles National Forest with almost 40 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, the LD 50 is a scenic and enjoyable course. With 8900 feet of elevation gain/loss, it wasn’t easy; however, the terrain made for easy footing making the entire course runnable. Not having to watch out for rocks or roots made a much larger difference than I expected as well. It was somewhat cold at the start and windy, but I found a way to keep warm, boom boom.

Pre-Race with Yoli

The first 11 miles or so were mostly uphill on fire roads. I felt pretty good and was shocked to reach the first aid station, mile 8.5, in about 1:07. This was ahead of schedule a bit, but I knew there was plenty of racing left. After hitting the single track of the PCT, Pacific Crest Trail, the grade leveled out and I enjoyed chatting a bit with some fellow runners. The aid stations averaged four to five miles apart and I felt I was able to keep a pretty accurate mental note of my pace throughout. I kept reaching them ahead of schedule and was building quite a buffer for my hopeful sub nine hour finish.

Typical PCT view in the middle part of course

I almost gasped when I reached the aid station at the approximate half way point 3 hours 43 minutes into the race. “What the hell is going on here?” and “Did I stop my watch on accident?” kept running through my head but I tried to just focus on keeping the pace and staying up on calorie and fluid intake.

I pushed a bit harder after reaching the top of a tough climb around mile 34. It was a bit tough on this narrow downhill section being an out and back course as we had to dodge runners coming from the other direction. Trail courtesy here is mutual but usually it is easier for people going uphill to lean to the side a bit. One lady was pretty lost in here music and I couldn’t slow down and I almost knocked her down the ravine. From then on I started calling out “heads up” and avoided any catastrophes.

I slowed down quite a bit going uphill out of the mile 42 aid station. The spring in my legs was fading to a noodle, but eventually I got to the apex and only had about 2 steep downhill miles to the finish. I saw the runner that had been right behind me since about mile 38 gaining some ground just before the finish. I didn’t really care that much if he passed me. All the same though I sprinted it in and crossed the line in 7 hours 28 minutes. I was pretty wrecked, but elated to have beat my previous best 50 mile time by 2 hours 15 minutes. I placed in the top 10 our of 232 finishers too. Amazing how much better the beers and pizza tasted after having such a good race.

It was also great to see a bunch of California running friends there at Leona as well as the Las Vegas SMUT runners that made it down.

Mesquite Canyon 50K

Holy crap it has been a while since I’ve posted anything. Hadn’t realized it had been so long. I’ve been keeping busy with work, school, and, of course, running. I have had itchy feet, figuratively speaking, recently and have been wanting to get out of town for a few weeks now. I had a few options but decided to head down to Phoenix for the Mesquite Canyon 50k. As a bonus, my friend and coach Ian Torrence was also going so at least I’d know a one person in addition to the several acquaintances I know from the Phoenix area that I figured would more than likely be running as well.

This was the second year for the race put on by Aravapai Running so I knew it would be managed well and at a good venue. As it turned out, this ended up being one of my favorite races I have done. The location was at White Tanks Regional Park just outside of Phoenix. This is the second regional park, in addition to Mcdowell Park and the Pemberton 50k, I have ran a race at in Maricopa County and I have to say they are pretty impressive. The diversity of trails and beautiful scenery provides Phoenix residents with every kind of training possible save altitude training. And that is available only a couple of hours away in Flagstaff.

About 90 runners started the 50k in addition to those running the other distances that started later in the day. My goal for this day was to just run a solid long run without killing myself as to not jeopardize training for upcoming goal races. Knowing the course was pretty hard and with zero taper coming in I didn’t even wear a watch and just tried to enjoy the day.

The first eight miles or so was pretty uneventful passing through mild climbs surrounded by desert sagebrush and giant saguaro cacti. We then descended a steep canyon that can aptly be referred to as gnarly. Soon after the ground leveled off I saw a runner going the wrong way. I then noticed he had a number on and I then realized I would soon be climbing back up that steep nasty little canyon. “That figures,” I said under my breath as he ran by.

The rest of the day went pretty well besides getting a bit dehydrated at one point. Another notable section of the course passed through a canyon that made the one earlier look like a piece of cake. This “trail” reminded me more of my canyoneering days than trail running. I kept my mood light though and laughed at how sinister it was for the race directors to put this section so late in the race. I finished strongly and crossed the line in 5:35. A pretty solid time for me given the effort and difficulty of the course.

I would definitely recommend this event to anybody wanting a challenging early season race. It had every kind of terrain from flat groomed trail to runnable climbs to technical, bordering on dangerous, descents. Additionally, the operation was first-rate with excellent aid stations and course markings. Finally, the good company, competition,  and many fine-looking women at the event was like icing on the cake.

Pine to Palm 100 2010

Last year I finished my first 100 mile race, Leadville 100, and was left conflicted on whether I enjoyed the distance or not. On one hand, I was proud to finish the race and had many fond memories of the event. While on the other, I didn’t like the extended recovery after the event or the amount of walking a mid-packer like me does. In the end, however, one feels some pressure to attempt a 100 miler if you do enough 50k and 50 mile races. For good or bad, 100 mile races are largely considered the ultimate in ultramarathon distances. 

Hope Pass Leadville 2009

Several factors contributed to me signing up for the Pine to Palm 100. First, I’ve become a much stronger runner working with Ian Torrence for the last 7 months. I was sure I could handle the distance better than last year. Second, I wanted to experience the trails that draw top ultrarunners to Southern Oregon like a siren’s call. Finally, and most importantly, I was pretty buzzed one night and got on ultrasignup.com and registered for the event.

My kit set out the night before

I felt pretty confident in my training leading up to the event. The 69 mile loop I did in the Evolution Valley of the Sierra Nevada last month was a huge confidence booster. My main goal was to finish the race despite how bad I felt or how crummy the weather got. Driving out to the start, however, Josh Brimhall gave me a little pep talk just in case I would have any thoughts of dropping. While I can’t quote him directly, the phrases “just think about going back and telling all the other SMUT (Saturday Morning Ultra Team) members you quit” and “I won’t even pick you up if you drop, you’ll have to wait hours in the rain so you may as well keep going” have a certain countenance to the tone. Because of the deep respect I have for Josh these words certainly stuck in my mind throughout the race.

Minutes before the start

 Suddenly, Hal Koerner (elite runner and race director) was yelling go at the Williams Grange and we were off. The field seemed to spread pretty quickly and, despite being towards the back, I felt I was keeping the right pace. We had about 6 miles of road before hitting the single track just after dusk. About 30 minutes into the race it started raining. The rain continued almost non-stop until the race cut off 34 hours later. Because of this I didn’t get to see many of the beautiful sweeping views the Siskiyous offer. Ian Torrence did a lot of trail work getting the course ready and took pictures which can be seen on his blog.

The Start Line-Williams Grange

The next 25 miles or so I just slid into a comfortable pace. I wasn’t feeling very strong, possibly due to not taking in enough calories early on. These hours passed by quickly due to the excellent company I shared along the way. We had some deep and personal conversations despite not even being formally introduced in some cases. The bonds that occur with total strangers sharing an undertaking such as running 100 miles is hard to explain yet a profound and intriguing aspect of ultras.  

 

At mile 31 aid station I had a drop bag and picked up an EFS gel flask, put a Starbucks Via in my bottle, and had some chips. I sipped on the flask for about 5 miles and felt a boost in energy. I decided to pick up the pace at mile 37 and was able to continue to suck down gels with impunity. At this point many of my contemporaries were walking almost all the uphills while I tried to run them all except when the grade made the exertion too taxing. In turn, I picked up several positions over the next 28 miles.

I still felt strong coming into the 65 mile aid station, Dutchman’s Peak. An aid station volunteer said a lot of people were dropping relatively few continued on. I sat by a propane heater for a minute to warm up and have some soup. At first I decided to forgo a heavier jacket in my drop bag until another runner sat down next to me. He had just come down from the peak and was visibly shaking and muttering “it’s so f..ing cold”. About .68 seconds later I was asking for my drop bag back to put on that jacket and some calf sleeves. The wind was howling along the ridge to the peak and the rain stung. The climb was short, however, and soon enough I was heading back down out of the worst of the weather.

Road to Dutchman’s Peak-Gives an idea of the conditions
Leaving the chaos of Dutchman I got another boost to my spirits when Hal called out some encouraging words as I passed the vehicle of broken down runners he was driving. Perhaps it was Josh’s speech, pride in continuing on where so many quit, or just that I was having a good time in the deprived ultrarunner way, but I didn’t really even consider getting into one of those vehicles at Dutchman.

About 2 am I was having a bit of a rough patch. I convinced myself that I missed a turn and started back uphill only to see some headlights coming the other way just when I reached the top. This cost me about 20 minutes, but at least I wasn’t lost. The course was extremely well marked and there weren’t that many crossing roads or trails to diverge on. 

About an hour later I was jogging down a forest road swerving side to side like a drunk. I was just so tired I was almost falling asleep running. At the next aid station I had a hard time communicating with the volunteers and finally muttered something like “I just want to sit here for and close my eyes”. Even in my stupor I could sense they were thinking that I was a goner. However, after about 5 minutes I pepped up, had some soup and a quesadilla and headed out. 

The next few hours are mostly a blur. As the sun started to come up the rain came down more relentless than ever. I was heading up the 4 mile out and back to Wagner Butte. Once at the top we had to climb some fairly precarious rocks to reach our flags. Normally this wouldn’t have been too challenging, but after 24 hours, 88 miles, and the weather this definitely got your attention. Getting the flag was a nice boost. From there it was 12 miles downhill to the finish. Not too say that it was easy though. We dropped over 5000′ in those 12 miles.

I took a bit of a detour after the mile 93 aid station which cost me about 20 minutes. Again the course was extremely well marked, I just totally geeked it. Maybe I was still distracted by the three beautiful ladies manning the aid station. Eventually, I found myself making the final turn to the finish coming in at 28:10.

Happy to be done

I am really happy with my performance at the P2P. It’s a challenging course but isn’t hard just to be hard like some courses. My recovery is already going much better than last year after Leadville. I had a better run 3 days after the race than I was having 3 weeks after Leadville. Although the rain was miserable during the event I have to admit it’s kind of cool that years from now I’ll be able to say I ran the P2P the “rain” year.

2009 Leadville 100 Trail Run

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog.  This is mostly due to laziness on my part.  Besides that, everything I have been doing this summer was in preparation for the Leadville 100 Mile Trail Run.  Instead of going back and doing individual writeups for each trip, I’ll briefly describe them here.

Lake below Bishop Pass-Sierra Nevada, CA

Lake below Bishop Pass-Sierra Nevada, CA

In July I went to the Sierras for some mountain running with my friend Shane.  On the way out there we stopped in Beatty as this dive Mexican restaurant where, amazingly, this knock out Romanian broad was working.  I managed, mostly-well not at all, to keep my tongue in my mouth.  We camped outside of Bishop and spent 3 days running from the major trailheads in the area; North Lake, South Lake, and Lake Sabrina.  I had a great time on this trip.  We didn’t do any huge mileage runs but we got a lot of time on our feet.  In addition to the runs, camping at 9500′ provided some great altitude training.  One day we visited the Manzanar Internment Camp.  This was one of the major Japanese internment camps during WWII and one of only two preserved.  I guess it’s not exactly proper to say I greatly enjoyed the experience but for lack of a better expression, I did.  One of the most moving stories in the exhibit is that of Sado Munemori.  He was posthumously, he jumped on a grenade to save his fellow soldiers, awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.  This medal was presented to his mother, in Manzanar.

View of Mt. Rainier along race

View of Mt. Rainier along White River 50

Next I went up to Washington for the White River 50 ultramarathon.  This was my first event outside of the Southwest.  I was also excited to run in the forest and in some cooler weather.  The race went well although they had some record temps for the event.  While it was cooler than Vegas by a long shot, the humidity got to me and I got sick about mile 44 (second race in a row I got sick at mile 44).  I couldn’t even keep water down after this but luckily I only had about 8 miles left.  These were pretty rough miles and I stopped several times to let my stomach settle.  I ended up finishing in 9hr 43min.  Which isn’t too bad for this tough race.

Mt. Langley on right. Cirque Peak on left, I think

Mt. Langley on right. Cirque Peak on left, I think

The next weekend I was already feeling pretty good and decided to make an impromptu trip back to the Sierras.  I drove up Friday afternoon and camped just outside of Lone Pine.  In the morning I packed up my camp and drove up to the Horseshoe Meadow trailhead.  I ascended Mt. Langley which is one of the California 14,000 ft peaks.  It took me about six hours and I felt pretty good in the altitude.  The next day I ran up and over Kearsarge Pass.  This is one of the main entry trails into the Sierras and I hadn’t been on it before.  It was very beautiful and perfect for running.  The pass was about 11,7o0 feet and I dropped on the other side for a few miles before turning back.  This ended up being a really fun trip and I was really happy not only how good I felt just a week after a 50 miler but how well I was doing at elevation.

Leadville

After a long summer of training and anticipation, the time for Leadville had finally come.  The Tuesday before the race I started driving up after work.  Around nine I found a sweet campground about 30 minutes north of Cedar City Utah.  I ran a few miles in the morning and headed East.  I had plenty of time to get to Leadville so I stopped at all those view points you see along the highway.  Eastern Utah is quite beautiful and none of them disappointed.  As I pulled up to one I there was this beautiful car.

San Raphael Swell

San Raphael Swell

I got to Leadville in the afternoon and found a campsite at Turquoise Lake.  I just hung out the next couple of days.  I read a lot and hung out in town.  Leadville is a really cool town.  In the late nineteenth century it was a wealthy boom town that rivaled Denver in importance.  A couple of days before the race a Black Hawk helicopter went down on Mt. Massive. Amazingly this is the second race I’ve done where a military helicopter crashed in the days before the race resulting in fatalities.  I’m not superstitious at all but this was kind of eerie.  Four soldiers died in this crash while doing routine exercises.

The night before the race I didn’t sleep much.  This was due in part for my excitement for the race, and partly due to the riff raft that came in on Friday and decided to blow it out.  I finally crashed around 11:30 and felt surprisingly refreshed at my 2:30 wake up time.  Before I knew it I was standing with over 500 other nut jobs at the starting line on 6th Street in Leadville.  Despite the 4am start time of the race the town was buzzing.  Several businesses were open and people were in their yards vigorously cheering us on as we passed.  This course was an out and back meaning once you hit 50 miles, you retraced your steps back.  The race went by fairly quickly early on.  The sun came up as we passed Turquoise Lake; unfortunately, I couldn’t enjoy the views much because we were fairly tight together and rocks kept me looking at the ground.  I entered the May Queen aid station (mile 13.5) about 2:20 into the race.  I grabbed some fruit and headed out.  The next section got a little more interesting with our first climb of the day.  It was fairly long but not too bad and soon enough I crested and steadily made my way downhill.  About 4:30 into race I arrived at the Fish Hatcher aid Station (mile 24.5).  I was happy with how things were going although I was concerned with my shin.  It started hurting a bit about mile 20.  I couldn’t do much but hope it didn’t get worse.  After a few miles of paved and dirt roads I started climbing again.  I was still feeling good but it was really starting to get warm out.  Warm, that is, for Leadville standards.  Last year’s race had sleet, snow, and many runners dropped from the severe cold.  The next aid station was at the top of this climb and I decided to leave

Near campsite at Turquoise Lake. Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert in background

my headlamp because I had another waiting for me at the next aid station (mile 40/60).  This decision almost proved to be an end to my race because my drop bag never arrived at the next aid station.

I still had plenty of strength and energy but my shin was slowly getting worse.  Moreover, the outside of my right knee started hurting.  One expects running 100 miles to hurt so I didn’t worry too much.  Again, there wasn’t much I could do but keep moving and see what happens.  Not much happened for the next couple of hours.  However, this was all about to change as I started up Hope Pass.  Hope Pass at 12,600 feet is not only the high point of the race, but it is by far the toughest climb of the day.  Moreover, because the race is an out and back, you have to cross it twice.  I hiked up at a brisk pace but kept in mind that I still had a long way to go.  For the third race in a row I got sick at mile 44.  This was pretty ridiculous and enjoyed the irony even as I sat along the trail next to a pile of cantaloupe and ham.  Once the retching stopped I continued up Hope Pass.  I caught up with a guy, LT, I had met at another race and kept in contact with.  We ended up staying with each other for the rest of the race.  Sometime around the end of time I finally reached the top of Hope Pass and I looked down at the 4000 ft decent I was about to take on.  Of course, soon enough I was going to have to come back up this stretch.  I was hurting pretty bad when we reached the bottom and walked 3 miles along this dirt road to the Winfield aid station (mile 50).  I was really starting to doubt if I could finish.  I actually wanted to quit pretty bad at this point.  I sat there and had some Coke and soup and eventually started to feel better reached the turnaround in 12 hours and had 18 hours to finish the race  under the cutoff.  As bad as I felt, I figured I could finish in this time.  Additionally, as other runners poured into the aid station, most of them looked worse than I felt.  LT had an extra headlamp so I couldn’t use that excuse to quit either.  After sitting for about 45 minutes we set out.

LT and I at the half way point

LT and I at the half way point

The climb back up Hope Pass was pretty brutal.  My legs actually felt pretty good and we got in line with a few other runners.  Finally, we reached the pass and entered the Hopeless aid station.  I had some soup and coffee before heading down.  Being that I had given up on all of my finishing goals, I spent quite a bit of time at the aid stations.  I’m afraid to look it up but I’m sure I spent around 2 hours in aid stations the second half of the race.  Spending so much time gave me some time to rest but also caused my legs to tighten up and I felt horrible leaving each one.  I knew wasting time in aid stations is an ultrarunning no no, but it felt pretty damn good so I broke with logic.  LT and I flew down the hill back to Twin Lakes.  It felt good to be running again after several hours of walking.  We may have over did it a little but I actually felt pretty fresh.  Having hardly eaten since 4am and this was about 6pm, the coffee felt a lot more potent and this probably contributed to my energy burst.  At the bottom of the hill we crossed a shallow river and darkness came as we entered the Twin Lakes aid station at mile 60.

Again we wasted way too much time here.  I was having some more soup and I looked over and LT had a beer in his hand.  After a double take I asked for some and we shared a beer in the middle of a 100 mile race.  While not advisable this was pretty damn awesome.  We finally got off our asses and started into the darkness.  Shortly I had to make a pit stop in the woods and LT moved on.  The soup didn’t sit right almost from the start and I dislodged it like the Exorcist once I stepped back on the trail.  Two guys passed by me without saying anything and I kind of laughed at how it must have looked.  I tried to power up the trail to catch LT but gave up after about a half hour.  I still had 35 miles to go and needed to save some energy.  By this time my shin wasn’t just an annoyance but downright excruciating.  I had the energy to jog still, even uphill, but every time I tried it just hurt too bad after a few steps.  So I was content to walk for now.

Cresting Hope Pass

Cresting Hope Pass

As I entered the next aid station (mile 70) I found LT chilling with some coffee.  I was glad to see him again because I wasn’t really looking forward to walking through the whole night alone.  We kept calculating how much time we had left and how many miles to go to make sure we were on schedule to beat the cutoff.  At this point in the race this wasn’t as simple as it sounded.  I don’t remember too much until we got to the Fish Hatchery.  I felt pretty bad but couldn’t think of a good enough reason to drop.  Even though we were about 75% done with the race we still had 25 miles to go.  We shuffled down the road until we got to the turnoff back on trails to the last big climb of the race.  Of course, somebody came through in the hours since we had descended this same track and at least tripled it’s length.  By some miracle we reached the top and finally started back downhill.  Unfortunately, going downhill hurt my shin a lot more than uphill but there really wasn’t any quitting at this point.

A couple hours later we reached the final aid station.  We still had 13.5 miles to go but it didn’t involve any huge climbs or descents.  The sun rose for the second time as we traveled along Turquoise Lake.  This time I made certain to enjoy the view.  This made for some very beautiful sights.  However, once we left the single track along the lake the race really started to drag once we were on the dirt and paved roads leading back into town.  At one point we were about 1 mile from the finish but the course veered in the opposite direction and we still had about 4 miles to go.  We had plenty of time to finish but I was hurting, tired, and really just wanted to be done.  LT’s back was killing him and we stopped a few times and I stuck my thumb into it…his sore spot….on his back.  At last I was on 6th Street heading along the final mile of the race.  I couldn’t keep up with LT’s walk so he “sped” ahead.  Even though the people along the street didn’t know me from shinola, they were cheered loudly as I crossed the finish line.  The race director put a medal around my neck and somebody led me to the medical check where I was weighed.  According to the scale I had only lost 5 pounds during the race but I don’t think this was accurate because I had lost 7 by the 50 mile mark.  Nevertheless this wasn’t a dangerous level of weight loss.  LT was laying down and he congratulated me on my first 100.

Finish

Finish

Even though it was killing, I couldn’t feel sorry for myself about my shin.  Other runners were in really bad shape.  After laying there for about 10 minutes one guys stood up, took a breath, and fell back down on the cot.  Another guy had obviously taken a bad spill sometime in the night and his leg was pretty jacked up.

I went back to my camp and sat in the lake for about 10 minutes to hopefully reduce some swelling.  I didn’t have time to sleep because there was an awards ceremony at noon.  After getting our finishers’ buckles, we went and got some food.  Despite having run 100 miles and being up for 34 hours I wasn’t all that tired yet.  After finally getting some real food I went back to camp and laid down in my tent where I promptly zonked out.  A few hours later I was waken by the rain hitting my tent.  After thinking about the situation I decided to break camp and get on the road.  I drove a few hours to Grand Junction, CO where I got a hotel.  My foot and ankle had swelled up like a balloon and I limped down the hall to get some ice.  This head start really helped the next day on the rest of the drive.

Under 30 hrs buckle

Under 30 hrs buckle

It’s been a few weeks since the race ended.  I’m just now got to this write up because I’ve been a lot busier now that school has started.  I was hurting for about a week and a half after the race but that has subsided.  I may not be 100% recovered but  I felt pretty good on a 22 mile run today.  I finished the race in 29:23.  While finishing was my ultimate goal, I wish I did better.  On the other hand, given my injuries I couldn’t have gone much faster.  I’m already looking for something to do next.  Probably another trip to Grand Canyon in October and maybe a 50 mile race in November if I can find one close.

2009 PCT 50

Pre-Race

I had been preparing for this race for quite some time.  Since the Pemberton 50K in February I really jacked up my weekly miles and continued to do speed work and running hills.  Everything was coming together rather well.  I had just finished this semester of school, work was fine, and I was feeling good.  I decided to make a bit of a vacation of it and took off Friday and planned on leaving Thursday evening and camping for a few days.

All systems were go until Wednesday when I got one of the strangest emails ever.  It was from the race director, John Martinez, stating that a military helicopter had gone down on the course and the race may be cancelled. (News report at: http://www.sandiego6.com/news/local/story/Military-helicopter-crashes-near-pine-valley/k5E7ArndaE23hvqpIdwfpg.cspx)  The next day I got another email that they had worked out moving the course to a new location and all systems were once again go.  

On Thursday evening I headed out with the tingling under the skin one has at the beginning of a journey. I pulled off Hwy 15 just south of Victorville, CA and found a really nice campground at Silverwood Lake which is a junction for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).  I hadn’t run in two days so I got up early Friday and jogged an easy 4 miles or so on the PCT.   Afterwards, I headed south to San Diego.  After reaching my campsite at Lake Morena I grilled some dogs, grabbed a beer, and a book.  Things couldn’t be better.  (Well, add hottie that didn’t speak any English could have improved the situation slightly I admit.)


 

 

Despite some yapping ass dogs I got a pretty good night sleep woke up at 4am feeling fresh.  I went about gearing up and got to the starting line just about 5am.  All the logistics were out of the way; all I had to do was run.  I didn’t know anybody there at the race but I was content just lazily making final preparations for the race; sunblock etc.  After a few instructions and a moment of silence for the two Marine pilots that died in the crash we were off.

I started out with an easy pace as the race pack slowly spread out.  Before long I had to take a pit stop, the squat varietal, off the trail.  Getting back on the trail I continued a moderate pace and took in the scenery.  The course was spread across the Cuyamaca Ranch State Park.  The endless canyons of the area are really pretty in the early morning haze.  Throughout the day we ran through a smorgasbord of changing scenery.  I reached the first aid station, 5.9 miles, at right about one hour.  My goal for the race was to finish under 10 hours so this was a good start.  In fact, this was much faster than my expected average but I wasn’t worried.  Leaving the aid station I was pleasantly surprised to see the PCT signs along the trail.  About a half hour later I once again had the “urge”.  A group of runners was pretty close behind me and the dense but low foliage offered no privacy, uh ho.  Right about when I reached code red, however, I was presented a gift of seclusion and once again did my business with efficiency.  We passed through several miles of canyons before entering a large and beautiful meadow.  Running in Las Vegas we don’t get to frolic in meadows too often so this was particularly nice for me.  As we left the meadow I looked up and saw the next aid station.  Looking down at my watch I was shocked to be right at two hours.  This last interval was 6.7 miles and I didn’t know what the hell was going on.  I didn’t worry and just decided to stick with my plan of eating an energy gel and a salt tab every half hour and an ibuprofen every hour or so.  

It was now about 8:30am and I could already tell it was going to be a schwitz that day.  All I could do was keep drinking fluids and taking in salt and hope for the best.  Although I didn’t feel I needed to I forced myself to walk some of the hills in the next section to save energy for the rest of the day.  This soon paid off  after reaching a 3 mile downhill that I ran pretty aggressively.  Never having run these trails I had no frame of reference of distances.  Turning on a dirt road I was once again shocked to see the next aid station, also the start/finish, right about the 3 hour mark having covered around 19 miles.  I asked the volunteers what mileage this was because I thought I took a wrong turn somehow.  This wasn’t the case so I just shrugged my shoulders and kept going.  I wasn’t tired in the least and had no noticeable soreness.  Things were going well and I was really enjoying myself.

The trail really narrowed during the next section and I enjoyed the great single track trails.  About 15 minutes after leaving the last aid station I came across a group of about 3 runners and greeted them as I passed.  Shortly thereafter I came across a couple more runners and then a few more.  Finally, just before the next aid station I passed one more runner, 8 in all for section, reaching the half way point in 4hrs 11 minutes.  I won’t deny I was pleased with how things were going but I also knew I had another 25 miles to go and things were getting hot in here, or there I guess is more accurate.  

After a bit of climbing the trail descended through a grassy section spotted with decent size trees.  I was cruising on a downhill section at a pretty good clip when I spotted a snake just a few feet in front of me.  Now realize that when running down a rocky trail you are pretty much watching your feet constantly.  The snake was red, black, and whitish.  As I lept up into the air I simultaneously yelled “shit”, tried to spot my landing, and had thoughts of Discovery Channel episodes of snakes looking like this one running in my head.  I knew it was either totally poisonous or benign depending on if it’s stripes were red-black-white or red-yellow-black, or something like that.  (Later my friend Dan reminded me it was a coral snake and the rhyme goes “Red on Black-Venom Lack, Red on Yellow-Kill a fellow)  Nobody was around me to share the experience with so I just kept going.  I’ve been hiking and running in the desert for a few years and had never come across a snake.  I thought, well there’s a first time for everything.  So I was even more astonished 30 minutes later I was jaunting down the trail and heard the unmistakable rattle.  I’d never seen or heard a Rattler Snake in the wild but there was no question when you hear one.  It was loud, violent, and it scared the shit out of me.  In fact I once again leapt in the air and yelled “shit”.  (At least I have the reaction down pat)  With that over I kept my head in the race and kept eating, drinking, and generally being merry. 

I came upon another runner just before the 30 mile mark and was shocked to see it was the beautiful Michelle Barton who is a top female ultrarunner.  She was struggling a bit at the time and I tried to give her a little encouragement.  This was a little ironic because she is known for being a cheerful spirit to everyone and I’m…well not.  I left the 30 mile aid station at 5hrs 14min.  Reality soon came back into focus because this next section surprised the hell out of me with a pretty relentless 4 mile climb.  It took about an hour and fourteen minutes to cover the six miles to the 36 mile mark, not bad.  While not close to being done, the light at the end of the tunnel began to appear.  I started doing the math and I had two and a half hours to do the final 14 miles to finish at 9 hours.  Once again I was feeling good but there was still a ways to go.  One of the aid workers who also marked the course asked how the markings were and I said it was impossible to get lost.  (May want to remember that statement)

Showing her true prowess Michelle come up from behind me.  I was walking uphill at the time and she said “Let’s go”.  How could I resist?  At the very least speeding up meant I would get a rear view for longer.  I was glad for the company because I had been running largely alone for the last 20 miles.  It never hurts when that company is of a hottie either.  Shortly thereafter a friend of Michelle’s, Pam who is rather a hottie herself, caught us.  We fed off of each other for several miles but they pulled away a little just before the final aid station. While they didn’t waste much time, I sat down for a minute and drank some extra water for the final 8 mile push.  

I knew I couldn’t hang with them so I just kept my head down and ran when I could and walked when I couldn’t.  My stomach really started bothering me and I vomited when I tried to finish my final gel.  No worry, I only had a few miles to go and this actually cleared my stomach.  Apparently, I kept my head down a little too much.  I blew by a turnoff that I never saw.  It took quite a while for me to realize my error.  I just kept plowing up this hill that never seemed to end and I was saying to myself how sinister it was to have such a brutal climb right at the end.  Eventually I stopped dead in my tracks and looked for a pink ribbon that marked the course, didn’t see one.  I went ahead a little more…didn’t see one, uh-oh.  After about 2 seconds of panic I weighed my options.  I saw a signpost for a camp about .5 miles ahead.  I could either see what was there or backtrack.  In retrospect I should have retraced my steps but I wasn’t too excited about the idea of it.  I hoped someone would be at the camp and I could get some water and maybe a lift out.   Reaching the camp my dreams were further crushed when I realized it was a rarely used trail outpost and not a soul in sight.  At this time I knew my race was over and it was survival time.  I had little water left and I was already dehydrated, tired, and deficient of calories.  A map showed a trail that headed back to the road.  It looked shorter than retracing my steps so I took it.  I really wasn’t worried about my safety.  I knew the trail would lead me out and hopefully I would come across somebody before then.  This pipe dream about being rescued by someone on a horse didn’t happen.  Instead I got to bushwhack through some dense foliage that covered me in yellow pollen.  

While I was able to keep the trail this took a lot longer than I expected.  I was out of water and it was approaching 2.5 hours since I left the last aid station.  The last thing I wanted was to cause an incident and to have people looking for me.  My friend Dan was waiting at the finish line plus the race organizers mark you entry and exit out of every aid station so I knew I wouldn’t be forgotten about at least.  The slow progress through this trail started to take a toll and I really wanted this ordeal to be over with.  Eventually I saw a dirt road ahead and some older folks walking along it.  I hollered at them and when I reached them they let me know the start/finish was just ahead about .5 miles.

I hobbled back into safety holding back a little emotion about my embarrassment of the situation.  I went to the race director and let him know what happened apologetically.  Someone marked me down and I said DNF for “did not finish”.  The race director took pity on me and said he’d count me official at that time since I’d covered an extra 4-5 miles (Plus at least another 1000′ of elevation).  He said it happens to just about everyone eventually which helped some but I was still ashamed.  The other disappointing thing was that I was running such a good race.  I would have finished at or around the 9 hour mark beating my 50 mile best time by over 2 hours.  Even with the extra miles and bushwhacking I still beat my time by 30 minutes.  

I saw Dan relaxing in a chair reading and I plopped down on the ground next to him.  I explained what happened and felt like I may cramp up into rigamortises.   After chilling for a minute I downed a couple sodas and rinsed off.  After a slice of pizza I started to feel pretty good again and we set off for our campsite.  Once there we grilled some dogs, had a few beers, and enjoyed our usual entertaining conversation.  Rowdy neighbors sort of ruined the evening playing loud music until about 11:30 when someone finally asked them to turn it off.  Once I finally got to sleep a bunch of dogs went crazy barking their asses off and I never got much sleep.  As an encore a phone in the truck next to me, with it’s windows open, started going off every 5 minutes beginning at 6am.  I gave up and packed my stuff and made some coffee.  Oddly, I enjoyed some quiet reading time before Dan got up and we walked down to the lake.  Considering everything I actually felt pretty good and suffered mostly from some hurting toes.  

Despite all that didn’t go well I am happy with the race and enjoyed my mini-vacation.  Two days later and I am surprised at the speed of my recovery.  My legs feel good and the only real pain is due to a couple of pretty messed up toe-nails. Having had a couple days to think things over I realize my ordeal was a lot more of a success than a failure.  A few veteran runners have assured me everyone gets lost which does help.  Not particularly caring about my official finishes I know I ran a 50 mile race in 9 hours.  A year ago my best time for 50 miles was 11h 9m and 7h 30m for 50k (31miles).  Even more the effects of my training seem to have paid off with the quick  recovery.  While I’m nothing near 100% I think I’ll go for a run now.  I’ll try not to get lost.

Grand Canyon part 3

Everything has been going reasonably well lately.  I’m doing well in all my classes and everything is going well with work.  My running training has been going particularly well.  So far this year I’ve knocked off over two and a half hours from my 50k best time.  More recently I’ve been doing longer runs on the weekends as well as speed work during the week.

Despite all this, I’ve felt a little down lately.  It’s not that anything bad has happened or that I’m really depressed.  I’d say malaise more accurately describes my attitude.  Stress about what to do with working out my schedule with work and school may have something to do with this sentiment; however, I think more than anything I have been craving adventure.  I’ve had the feeling of the world enclosing around me like the walls of that trash compactor  in the Death Star from Star Wars.  After my friend Bruce and I postponed a hike we had planned for Saturday, I called a local ultra runner, Casey, about coming along on his Grand Canyon rim-rim-rim run.  Since he was going alone he was glad for the company.  

Friday afternoon we drove over to Williams Arizona which is about an hour outside of the park.  When we arrived there was a fair amount of snow and it was freezing outside.  This was a little worrysome to say the least.  The South Rim was another 1000 feet higher in elevation and, therefore, about 5 degrees colder, Oi Vey.  Moreover, when we got to the North Rim the weather could be even worse.  We kept positive about the run but realized there was a chance we wouldn’t be able to do it.  

We woke up at 2:30 a.m. and were on the road by 3:00 a.m.  We saw three huge elk along the roadside and luckily they decided to not dart in front of us because Casey didn’t see them until I pointed and said “holy shit”.  The weather really started looking bad as we entered the park.  Later we both admitted we would have turned around and went home right there if either of us were alone.  The wind was whipping snow flurries across the road and we were shocked by the cold as we got out.  All our gear was ready so all we had to do was grab our packs and get going.  This was a good thing because I was freezing my but off and may have bailed if I had time to think about it.

With our headlamps and flashlights illuminating the trail in front of us we descended below the rim about 4:10 a.m.  Things started looking good for us almost immediately because we were protected from the wind below the canyon rim and we warmed quickly as we jogged.  The snow on the trail didn’t effect our footing at all.  However, we took it easy.  Hitting an icy spot and spilling over the edge would have ruined the day pretty quickly.  Before I knew it we were pulling into Indian Gardens 4.5 miles into the run.  We filled our bottles and set off again still in the dark.  I was in front and set a moderate pace taking advantage of smoother parts of the trail and slowed on more technical parts.  Casey said we were making good time.  Now I didn’t know Casey all that well.  I’ve met him a few times and we seemed to like each other well enough; however, I hadn’t exposed any of my idiosyncrasies to him.  I figured this was as good of a time as any and said we need to keep a good pace so Gollum (yes Gollum from Lord of the Rings) doesn’t get us.  I think he pretended not to hear me because there was dead silence after that.  

About thirty minutes after leaving Indian Gardens I turned off my headlamp.  Although the Sun wasn’t up I could see well enough to not trip and fall flat on my face.  We got to Phantom Ranch a little after 6:30.  The camp was lively as people  were lining up for breakfast.  We got our normal strange looks as we filled our bottles with water and powery substances and sucked on energy gels.  I guess my orange tie-dyed spandex gaiters didn’t help us either.  

The next couple of hours were pleasant.  We chatted, enjoyed the scenery, listened to the rush of Bright Angel Creek, and kept moving.  I was feeling great and knew I had plenty of fluid because I was urinating pretty often.  We filled up yet again at a water stop about 7 miles past Phantom Ranch and prepared ourselves for the death march up the North Rim.  We noticed the snow line was pretty low on the north side of the canyon and we were pretty sure we were going to encounter significant amounts of snow.  Indeed, we started seeing snow along and on the trail just after Roaring Springs which is still about 2500 feet below the North Rim.  We couldn’t really do anything else than keep going and turn around if things got too ridiculous.  The dusting of snow on the canyon walls was absolutely beautiful.  I decided last minute not to take my camera but I regretted this decision.  It would have been worth carrying the camera 48 miles just to get a few pictures up on the North Rim….sorry.

While we did encounter quite a bit of snow, it wasn’t nearly as bad as we feared.  I led the way and de-virginized the fresh snow on the trail.  (I’m pretty sure I heard it say daddy.)  The snow was about 8 inches deep in the worst areas but only a couple most everywhere.  This probably slowed us a bit and it seemed like forever before we finally reached the North Rim, our turn around point.  We didn’t stay long because we were getting cold not moving.  There was no water available anyway so there wasn’t much reason to linger.

As we descended the North Rim the footing was better than I had expected.  I picked up the pace a bit and my gangster theme music, that Eminem 8-mile song, played in my head.  Yes, I felt pretty tough.  As my gangsterosity passed, I only know a few lines of the song, we passed another group of crazy people marching up the North Rim on their own double traverse.  I stopped long enough to say hello and find out this group of six was from Tuscon.  Continuing on the snow was much slushier than it had been on the way up.  This made for some serious puddle stomping.  Pretty fun for a runner living in the Mohave Desert.  It got pretty slick in a few places and the drop off only a couple of feet away suddenly jumped to the forefront of my mind.

Soon enough the snow faded away.  I was feeling really good but Casey was having some foot problems.  This slowed him up a bit, but this was fine by me because it gave me an excuse to stop and enjoy the scenery.  The snow on the canyon walls was just so beautiful.  It was is the StayPuff Marshmellow Man exploded into a fine mist of marshmellow bliss all over the canyon walls.  Again I apologize for not having photos to share.  

Soon enough we were back at the water stop at the Pumphouse Residence.  Literally this is a little house once owned by a park worker and artist named by Bruce Aiken.  When he lived there his children would sometimes bring lemonaid to hikers passing by.  Growing up IN the Grand Canyon? unbelievable.  

By this time the ibuprofin Casey took was kicking in and our pace picked up significantly.  Amazingly, I had almost no soreness and was plenty well hydrated (By this time I had urinated about 11 times, pretty annoying).  The walls of the canyon gradually narrowed and we soon dropped below the Great Unconformity (distinct line where sandstone meets granite and metamorphic rock that represents 1.2 billion years missing from the geological record).  I pointed out my favorite rock.  It is at the end of one of the six foot bridges on the North Kaibab Trail.  It’s actually a slab of rock that rises about 30 feet and is 20 feet wide.  The verticle banding of this gniess (pronounced nice) rock is just amazing and we stopped briefly to admire it.  

We didn’t waste too much time back at Phantom Ranch.  I sort of wanted to stop in the store for a beer but I figured this probably wouldn’t have been the best idea since we still had 10 miles and a 5000 foot climb up the Bright Angel Trail.  Throughout the day I had been eating 1 gel pack about every 45 minutes.  This seemed to be working well because my energy was up and I felt good.  As we prepared to set out from Phantom Ranch I realized my calculations were incorrect.  More accurately I didn’t calculate the number of gels I needed I just grabbed a handful and threw them in my pack.  I wasn’t worried about it.  I planned on saving it for Indian Gardens and hoped my energy held up.

We jogged for a bit to the foot bridge over the Colorado River and on the trail parallel to it.  Once we started up the canyon, however, we sort of zoned out and powered up the trail.  We passed several hikers and reached Indian Gardens about 1h 40 min after leaving Phantom Ranch.  At this point we only had about 4.5 miles to go.  I downed my last gel I had been saving.  Casey offered me more but, of course, my pride wouldn’t allow it.  After 12 hours of eating nothing but powdered sports drink and gels I didn’t really feel like another one anyway.  Plus I still felt pretty good and knew I could suck it up for the final climb out.

I glanced my eyes off the trail long enough at the Three Mile Rest Stop to spot a mountain goat grazing.  This was pretty cool to see and the tourists freaked out when I pointed it out to them.  I don’t remember much of the rest of the trip.  My blood sugar level was probably pretty low.  Guess it could have had something to do with getting up at 2:30 am and running across Grand Canyon and back.  

A few yards below the end we ran (figuratively) across a guy who was planning on doing the double crossing the following day.  We relayed the water stops and where there was no water and assured him the snow wasn’t a problem.  We reached the trailhead 13 hours and 26 minutes after we started.  This was about an hour faster than my previous time.  It felt great ending in daylight and I was dumbfounded by how good I felt.  After my previous two double crossings I was pretty wrecked.  Guess all those extra miles and speed work lately are helping afterall.  We ate and got back to Vegas about 11pm.  I enjoyed one of my friend Shane’s homebrews when I got home which thouroughly put me to sleep.