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.

Evolution Valley Loop

The Evolution Valley 100k is not well known outside the running community of the Owens Valley. I first heard of it when I did the Bishop High Sierra 50k, my first race, a few years ago. 55 miles self supported through some of the most beautiful areas of the Sierras sounded right up my alley, although well out of my league at the time. This summer I felt I had the experience and endurance to complete it. Usually this route is done in a horseshoe, but I decided to make it a true loop leaving and ending from my campsite. This ended up adding about 14 miles to the round trip totaling a convenient 69 miles. I left with the following items in my small pack:

arms sleeves, windbreaker, long sleeved shirt, gloves, warm hat, visor, 14 gels, salt pills, iodine and neutralizer, Nuun, a couple packs of Starbucks Via, a large cookie, and 3 cheesy rolls.

I left my campsite at 4am August Friday the 13th. Returned at about 4:30 Saturday the 14th. I was on the traditional route for about 20.5 hours with 4 miserable hours along the roads linking the trails. This was a great adventure and I tried to take my time and enjoyed it very much. Most hikers I ran into couldn’t believe how I got so far out there with so little. Many were doing to the same loop, but in 5-7 days. On the final decent just after midnight from Bishop Pass I ran into a group of people just starting the same loop but in the opposite direction. Amazingly I knew one of them, the ever lovely Catra Corbett who in addition to her sexy punk look, is a hard core ultrarunner/thru hiker. It was pretty funny seeing them close to the end of my adventure and the beginning of theirs.

I took quite a few photos and there are too many to insert so here is a link to album.

http://picasaweb.google.com/tradshad/EvolutionLoop?authkey=Gv1sRgCNzLupuajNbWWw&feat=directlink

Map of trail

Map of Loop

DEVA April 3rd, 2010

Last night I decided to take a day trip over to Death Valley for a little trail running and some sightseeing. I’ve been through DEVA a few times and hiked Telescope Peak once, but not much besides that. I figured this would be a nice getaway without spending much money and better than sticking around home all day. Upon entering the park I pulled into Zabriskie Point. I grabbed the camera and did a short 3 mile loop.

This strange contraption ended up being for a music video shoot

Typical view to the south of Zabriskie Point

View across Badwater to the Panamint Mtns. Telescope and Wildrose Peaks in Background

Salt deposits embedded in mudstone.

After Zabriskie Point I went to the Furnace Creek Visitors Center and walked around a little bit before heading North to Titus Canyon. I was unsure of travelling the 3 mile gravel road leading up to the mouth of the canyon so I just ran it. I decided against running up the slot canyon because it is a popular 4×4 road. There was a hiking path headed along the escarpment so I took that instead and found some pretty flowers and rock formations.

Mouth of Titus Canyon

I couldn’t believe this dead ass looking plant was still blooming

Small but pretty purple flowers growing out of the gravel

Cool Caves

Natural Throne

I just liked this rock and plant

Lizard

I thought this plant growing right out of the crack was pretty cool too.

After travelling a little over a mile my stomach started to growl so I ran the 4+ miles back to the car and headed up to Beatty. There is a pretty good Mexican joint in Beatty and I was craving their fajitas. Additionally, there is this wicked hot Romanian girl that was working there last summer so I was hoping she would be there as an extra treat. On the way out of DEVA I passed a bunch of bicyclists on both sides of the road. Apparently there was a 100 mile bike race, Hell’s Gate Hundred, going on today. There were a lot of…well relatively large for spandex cyclists riding the race. There were quite of few people on those low rider recliner bikes too. Just before getting to Beatty I saw one of those eliptical bikes with no other than Dean Karnazes riding it. I have to say I was actually embarrassed for Dean. I’m all for someone whoring a product to make money, but it was sad to see. Luckily the hot Romanian was working that day so the fajitas tasted all the better. After packing down enough shrimp, chicken, and steak for two I had an ice cream just so I could look at her a little longer. All in all, not a bad day.

2010 Update

Things have been going pretty well lately. I haven’t updated this site in quite some time because, frankly, I was bored with it. I have preferred to microblog on Twitter and Facebook which is quicker and easier. Having said that, microblogging has its limitations. In particular, one can’t really say much in 140 characters and this doesn’t go very far in describing an experience. So I’m going to try to do a better job at keeping this site up to date.

So here is a quick update on what’s been going on lately. In the beginning of January I ran the Red Rock Fat Ass 50k. This year only six people entered the RRFA although all finished the race. Unfortunately, this is quite different from years passed when turn out was high and the race attracted elite runners like Josh Brimhall and Ian Torrence. Fortunately for me, no elite runners showed up so I ended up winning the race. More importantly, I bested my time from last year by 20 minutes.

In February I ran the Pemberton 50k for the second consecutive year. I ran faster than last year; however, I was a bit dissapointed in this performance. At the time I was still dealing with some plantar fasciitis issues which slowed me down, but I couldn’t help be feel a bit unsatisfied. A couple weeks before this race I started working with Ian Torrence as a running coach. Not coming from a running background I didn’t really feel I had a good training plan and usually decided on my daily run about 10 minutes before I started.  Ian has run over 150 ultramarathons, 49 wins, and is extremely well regarded in the community. So far this has been going great. It’s nice to have a plan in place and the varying workouts have been paying off.

Last week I ran a local 50k in Bootleg Canyon which is about 15 minutes outside of Las Vegas. I was a bit apprehensive about paying to run where I run every weekend, but it was also difficult to pass up a race where I didn’t have to travel. At least I didn’t have to worry about getting lost. This race ended up being my first DNF, did not finish. Everything was going pretty well. I had completed two 12.5 mile loops and only had another 6 mile loop to go. I was actually feeling pretty good and was making decent time, 4h 25min for 25 miles, but I just didn’t feel like running any more that day. I didn’t see any moral victory in covering the same ground for the third time that day and I was bored. For me, this race was more of a training run in getting ready for a 50 mile race, Zane Grey, later this month so it wasn’t any big loss anyway.

Besides that there isn’t too much to report. I think I’ll be taking a day trip to either Zion or Death Valley pretty soon so I’m going to force myself to keep my promise to updating more regularly.

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.