Thursday, October 11, 2012

Wasatch: Yes, the Race Report

This year I ran the Wasatch Front 100-mile Endurance Run 40 minutes faster than I ran it last year.  Even as well as I felt like I did I still had my challenges. The biggest thing I faced at Wasatch this year was repeatedly coming across sections of the course that I didn’t remember or at least didn’t remember as being nearly so hard or so long.  It was pretty unbelievable because I did remember Wasatch as being the hardest 100 I had done but the reality was it was even harder.  The section from the start to Bountiful B was fantastic and pretty much exactly as I remembered it.  I love the climb up Chinscraper with its huge views of Salt Lake City both in the dark and the morning light then culminating in a scramble to the crest where you can look down on the train of people below as they pick their way up the six mile climb.  Then comes the morning run across the ridgeline through Grobin’s Corner to Francis Peak with its awesome views on either side of the ridge, cool temps, easy trails and long downhill dirt road section.  Francis Peak arrived before I knew it but everything from Francis Peak to Big Mountain seemed elongated, similar to what I remembered from last year but longer.
Francis Peak to Bountiful B is a mellow run for the most part and I just kind of zoned out and enjoyed the day but it started dawning on me that I might not have a precise memory of the course.  Bountiful B to  Sessions was again pretty much what I expected it to be but Sessions to Swallow Rocks was interminable.  I wasn’t tired really it’s just that probably within a mile of departing Sessions I came across a section of trail that, to me, suggested that Swallow Rocks was just around the bend, which it was not and was not and was not and was not.  I seemed to have entered a series of repeated bends in the trail that I knew singled the imminent approach of Swallow Rocks and I was always wrong.  Early in this section I had begun to praise myself for getting to Swallow Rocks feeling so fresh when I had arrived there last year feeling like death warmed over and had to take a fairly long rest before trudging on down the trail.  By the time I got there I was not in significantly different shape.  I was already feeling a little beat up and dumbfounded at how long it seemed to have taken me to get there.  It didn’t help that this segment is almost entirely exposed and is where the day starts to heat up.  I took a bit of a rest and then headed out with a sense of foreboding at what else I may face given my obvious failure to recall the course as well as I thought I had.
Swallow Rocks to Big Mountain was a lot longer than I had remembered as well but it didn’t get to me as much because I kept expecting that whatever I thought I saw that would signal the approach to Big Mountain was a misremembering of the course, which it invariably was.  Finally I saw the reservoir far down the mountain and off in the distance and I knew I was getting near.
The Big Mountain aid station is where things really began to change.  The section from there to Alexander Springs, a section I got sick on last year, was considerably longer and harder than I remembered.  It actually is the longest stretch of the course without aid but somehow this didn’t register with me.  For some reason I had it in mind that after a short steep climb out of the Big Mountain aid station it was a gently undulating short hop to Alexander Springs.  It wasn’t.  Instead it was a pretty long series of climbs and descents that were all unwelcome, nothing severe just enough to keep you slow.  To make matters worse I was right on the verge of feeling sick much of that segment so even when I could run I was pretty quickly reminded to keep my pace down so as not to upset the stomach.  Before the race I had told someone that this section was really easy and gentle.  I spent a lot of time wondering how on earth I could have thought that.  Like I said, the section isn’t overwhelming and doesn’t have any of the huge, steep climbs but it wears you down bit by bit.
I did roll into Alexander Springs feeling pretty good though, far better than last year when I came in sick to my stomach and feeling completely beat up.  I took a bit of a respite to pile on some additional calories and I thanked the aid station volunteer from last year who had taught me the secret of sniffing an alcohol wipe to help stop nausea and then was on my way.  The segment from Alexander Springs to Lambs Canyon was pretty much as remembered, probably the gentlest portion of the entire course.  I walked a lot right out of Alexander Springs just because I had taken in so many calories and wanted to give it time to settle but in pretty short order I was power hiking again as opposed to the feeble slogging I had been doing since Big Mountain and then that broke into alternating some good running with some fast hiking.   Before the sun was down I made it in to Lambs, refueled, changed socks, shoes and pacers and was back out on my way to Mill Creek  before sunset, which was a major goal for me at this year’s race.  Last year it was completely dark before I had reached Lamb’s.
I really took a beating after leaving Lambs Canyon this year though.  Last year this section was a problem because I missed the turn off onto the single track trail and added 40 minutes and a little more than 2 miles to my race.  This year I made the turn just fine but the climb out of Lambs on that single track is a monster!  I remembered climbing last year and I actually climbed well and passed a lot of people but not this year.  This year I was feeling pretty good at the beginning but rapidly wound down and began slogging as people passed me like they were on an escalator.  Not only was that climb considerably steeper than I remembered but, of course, it was considerably longer I mean freakishly long.  I realize it is posted right on the website, it’s a three and a half mile climb that gains over 2000 feet but holy hell had my memory betrayed me.  One factor I think is that I was so much further back in the pack that relative to everyone else I was doing quite well because I actually should have been a lot further along. Another couple things might have been going on, I may not have taken in enough calories at Lambs Canyon.  I was pretty focused on getting in and out and my highest priority was to make sure I had my good night running lights and plenty of warm clothes to carry with me to avert the hypothermia I experienced last year.  The second problem is that I was starting to get sleepy, really sleepy.  At one point during the climb I started yawning repeatedly.  I was sure that I was about to just keel over on the trail and pull a Rip Van Winkle.  I finally sat down on a log and ate a couple gels and took a caffeine pill.  That helped quite a bit and by the time I finally reached the summit of the climb I was feeling ready to run down the other side and into Mill Creek.
Last year Mill Creek is where I was freezing my butt off and had to be stuck in a warming tent for an hour to get my body temp back up.  Not this year.  I did take a rest there and really spent some time eating and drinking as much as I could because I knew there was a long climb out of the aid station and I would have plenty of time to digest.  It was cold at Mill Creek though, I sat near a heater and wrapped myself in blankets after putting on my cold weather clothes and was still on the verge of being chilly and when I dropped the blankets and walked off into the night I was immediately shaking from the cold and it took a little time to get warm again but the climb out of Mill Creek was on top notch trail and was very mellow just as I had remembered it.
From Mill Creek you hit Desolation Lake, Scotts Peak and then Brighton Lodge.  All of this is done in the depth of the night and whatever the segment may look like in daylight, there is nothing at all to see at night.  For me the most remarkable thing about this section was that I was aware of it at all.  I remember the climb out of Mill Creek last year as I said but at some point during or just after the climb my brain must have started shutting down.  From last year I remember a couple flash memories of being in the woods on a rockier trail than the climb had presented, a slight dampness in the air and then my pacer suddenly saying “were at Desolation Lake” but for the life of me I don’t remember anything else and I sure don’t remember any Desolation Lake aid station.  This year I was pretty much aware the entire time and was able to get in a fair amount of running and enjoyed the fire and hospitality of the super remote Desolation Lake aid station.  Most of all this year I was aware of the big climb out of the depression that Desolation lake sits in and while that climb is pretty stiff it’s actually not all that bad, at least if you are feeling good as I was.
Maybe more surprising is that last year I did some really good running during the section between Desolation Lake and Brighton Lodge, I mean dropped my pacer a few times good, but I had absolutely no memory for the Scotts Peak aid station.  After the climb out of Desolation Lake there are some really runnable single track and dirt road sections and I was ready to run it on in to Brighton Lodge but since my brain was working what I couldn’t figure out is how Brighton Lodge could be so close when I knew there was a lot of distance between Desolation and Brighton.  My attention was diverted when I popped out onto an exposed ridgeline with a cold wind howling over it.  I rapidly became cold and struggled to hurry up and get warm clothes on while the wind was tearing at it.  Shortly after getting dressed I could see a faint light in the distance and knew it must be an aid station.  Even dressed I was cold and getting colder so I made for the light as fast as I could and soon found myself at Scotts Peak, a place I had absolutely no memory of whatsoever.
Scotts Peak is a small canopy with flimsy walls that sits on the exposed ridgeline and while I was there was constantly buffeted by a freezing wind.  However, it is equipped with a nice heater and they serve hot soup among other things.  I wasn’t tired and could have done a quick refuel and been on my way but I was really cold and I knew heading right back out could be a race ending mistake so I sat down near the heater and savored a few cups of hot soup.  When the warmth had finally reentered my body I ducked back out into the cold and windy night and started running for Brighton Lodge.
From Scotts it doesn’t take long before you start descending off the ridgeline and are out of the wind.  The segment between Scott’s and Brighton has a lot of good running if you are able but it is also very cold, every bit as cold as the Mill Creek sink hole.  I ran, and ran, and ran and Brighton never seemed to get any closer.  I finally hit the road section immediately before Brighton only to discover that while immediately before Brighton it is a long ass immediate.  My feet started to get really sore from the constant pounding and friction caused by running downhill on pavement.  In addition to the cold this is another section with a moisture in the air that causes the you bones to shiver.  Brighton Lodge is a welcome relief.
Brighton is often referred to as “the Morgue” because so many people that arrive are in such bad shape.  I definitely remember that from last year but this year everyone looked surprisingly good.  I felt good as well, which was a bit of a disappointment only because I wasn’t able to savor the hash brown and egg sandwiches quite as well as I had last year.  If fact that seemed to be another theme for my race this year.  I had spent the last 12 months obsessing over how spectacular the aid stations are at Wasatch, all the delectable foods, everything was so heavenly.  This year they had all the same stuff as last year and they were equally well organized and supplied but nothing was quite as magical.  It turns out they are just really well run aid stations after all.
Everything past Brighton is also where the course itself punishes you severely for having the temerity to have continued this far.  There are a few nice sections, the climb out of Brighton isn’t so bad, a small section just before you get to Pole Line Pass, another small couple sections before you hit Rock Springs and then the last maybe three miles of the race.  Everything else is comprised of sections called “The Grunt”, “The Dive” and “The Plunge” as well as other sections that are not named to my knowledge but should be.  Sections that should have names like “Steep Rocky Hell” and “Frying hot ass dirt road” or “Brutally steep and unreasonable climb number 164.”  These sections should have names like that but instead it is mostly just a long, harsh and lonely slog to the finish.  Sometimes you perk up a bit and do some jogging.  You may even slowly slog past a few other people but then next thing you know it you’re doubled over next to a tree either trying to catch your breath from that blazing 18 minute mile you just pulled off or you’re “making room” for some more aid station fare while seemingly thousands of other runners blow past you virtually humming with vim and vigor.
And then you are done, completely done as in you get to sit down in the grass by the finish line done.  In my case I was done 40 minutes earlier than last year but had the same utterly depleted feel.  I think I drank a little, maybe ate a little, but I mostly sat and stared nowhere at nothing.  I eventually got up and Misty and I headed to our hotel room, which was maybe three hundred yards away.  There I painfully crawled into the shower and pretty much turned the tub black before gingerly crawling into bed and started begging for food.
Wasatch is a fantastic race, still my favorite 100 though I don’t think I’ll be back next year.  Wasatch conflicts with another race, a 50K run through ancient Hopi villages on ancient Hopi trails, that I have been dying to do and so that’s what I think I’m going to do instead but I may yet come back to Wasatch, who knows.  I’m not really one to repeat races because there are just so many good races, so much to explore but Wasatch has powerful pull.  It really is a severe test of endurance in a beautiful and remote area.

Wasatch Front 100: Not a Race Report

September 7th I ran the Wasatch Front 100 mile endurance run for my 46th birthday.  Wasatch is quite possibly the second hardest 100 mile trail run in the U.S. next to Hardrock and though some may quibble about its relative difficulty all ultrarunners know it is a tough event.  Of course this year I was also running Wasatch as the final leg in the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, running the four oldest 100 mile trail runs in one summer.  This added a level of difficulty because of the cumulative fatigue that had been building all summer long.
In the days leading up to Wasatch I started thinking about what I was like at different 15 year increments of my life, what I would have thought about a 100-mile trail run and what is the likelihood I would have been able to accomplish such a feat.  Of course looking furthest back my chances of finishing Wasatch would have been very slim indeed since I was a baby in diapers though as life often does, I came full circle and by the end of the race I was pretty much a baby in diapers.
At the age of 16 I was young and strong and fit and it never would have occurred to me to run unless I was forced to do so by my football coach, track coach, I was a shot putter and discus thrower by the way, or if I was messing around with friends playing catch, basketball or an impromptu weekend touch football game.  At 16 I was living in Wichita Falls Texas and had at least heard of a 100 mile event though it was the now famous Hotter than Hell 100, which I believe is now the largest armature cycling event in the United States.  Back then it was just in its first years and when I heard about it I was completely dumbfounded to hear that people could actually ride a bicycle 100 miles.  They also had 50 and 25 mile events and I thought I might be able to pull off the 25 mile event.  The 50 mile event seemed unlikely and would most likely lead to considerable pain but the 100 mile ride…incomprehensible.  Interestingly though, when I was 16 Wasatch was in its first or second year so it would have actually been possible to attend the race unlike when I was a toddler and Western States was still eight years away from being run for the first time.
However, the question had posed to myself was at the age of 16 if I had heard of a 100 mile trail run and was inclined to give it a try would I have been able to finish?  Most likely not; I was deeply interested in playing football, lifting weights, meeting girls and as I recall very little else.  Let’s just assume that my parents would have paid the entry fee and travel and taken time off for such an event, there is no way I would have followed through with the necessary training plan.  I wouldn’t have even had the foggiest notion where I might get such a plan and I’m pretty certain the trip to my football coaches office wouldn’t have gotten me far with respect to an ultra distance running plan.  I probably would have made it to the top of Chinscraper and then been bored with the whole ordeal but pushed on until I thought I couldn’t go any further.  If I didn’t get pulled earlier I give myself to Big Mountain at best, 39 miles into the race.
At the age of 31 I was heading toward the end of my Ph.D. program and I was all about books and research.  I had been attempting to resurrect my old exercise habits in the form of going for walks but after years of dormancy I was incredibly out of shape and tipped the scales at about 260 pounds.  My college years were the years of massive weight fluctuation with a low of 210 and a high of 310 all probably within a span of five years and the weights I remember hitting repeatedly were in the 250s, 260s, and 270s. The high and the low are weights I came close to only once. I had still never heard of a 100 mile run before but it really doesn’t matter because I had no free time and had developed an actual hatred of running during the six years I was in the Marine Corps.  I left the Marine Corps about as opposed to exercise as a person can be.  The upside of detesting exercise is that I piled all my energy and exuberance into my studies and genuinely excelled in college unlike my lack-luster high school years.   The obvious downside is the tremendous weight changes noted above and the ultimate dramatic and negative effect on both my mood and sense of well-being. 
However, again the question had posed to myself was at the age of 31 if I had heard of a 100 mile trail run and was inclined to give it a try would I have been able to finish?  Not a chance in hell would be the only possible answer.  My chances were a hundred times better at the age of 16, probably better at the age of one.  I would have needed the discipline, determination and desire to train and plan and complete the race but all of that would have been completely absent, as would have been money.  Even if by some cruel joke of fate I had somehow found myself at the starting line I wouldn’t have even  made it the 3 miles leading to the long climb that eventually leads you to Chinscraper and if I had, well, I certainly wouldn’t have proceeded I mean, they don’t call it Chinscraper because it’s flat.
Forty six is a different story altogether.  While I am not the best of 100 mile runners I do know them and I know them well enough that I have a better than average chance of finishing whichever one I try.  Considering this state of affairs and looking back at myself through time me at the age of one would have probably been pretty happy about the belt buckle and then stuck it in my mouth.  Me at the age of 16 would have been totally stoked to think that at the exceedingly ancient age of 46 I would be a big enough stud to run 100 miles through the mountains.  At the age of 31 I most likely would have derided the accomplishment as a waste of time and as something done by someone that didn’t have the intellectual horsepower to produce real achievements like earning a Ph.D. but I would have secretly been both impressed and inspired because at that time I was beginning to feel the longings of getting back into sports.
At the age of 46 I not only ran Wasatch but I finished it with a 40 minute PR for the course and ran it as the last race in the Grand Slam, a rare achievement in and of itself.  In this whole reflection what I find most interesting, and most comforting, is that at the age of 46 in many ways I am far more like the person I was at 16 than the person  I was at 31 and that is a good thing.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Mother’s, Wife’s and Misfortunes: A Leadville 100 Race Report

I have really been taking it easy between races in the Grand Slam this year to include finishing up self-indulgent race reports but it has worked for me thus far so why break with tradition after Leadville?  The 2012 race came with a new trail segment that was added in just 4 days before the race.  This is something that most people knew was coming but nobody knew when.  I was astounded that the “when” was on race week.
The new segment is a new part of the Continental Divide trail and it begins a couple miles down from hope pass at the Sheep’s Gulch trail head, at least I’m pretty sure that’s what the location is called.  In any case, the new trail segment begins after you come down off Hope Pass but just before you would have normally hit the dirt road to Winfield.  People have been complaining about the road to Winfield for a long time saying that it was dusty and dangerous with all the car traffic.  Frankly I never saw an issue with it but then again I’ve only run Leadville once before.
The new trail segment “parallels” the road to Winfield and keeps runners mostly in the woods and mostly on single track trail.  As the trail was being built various people posted updates on the progress of the trail building and in the end their experiences in running the trail.  Based on those reports I was expecting that the new trail would add about 750 to 800 feet of climbing, add about two miles to the course, be pretty runnable and be nice and wide.  A friend of mine who has now run Leadville 9 times ran the new segment during a training run and told me that it would cut the finishing rate by 10% right off the top.
When I hit the new section of trail I was feeling pretty good.  I had just crossed Hope Pass so I wasn’t exactly spry but I was certainly in decent shape and a nice amble up the Winfield road would have seen me in to Winfield feeling ready to refuel and be on my way.  Instead, I arrived in Winfield feeling kind of grumpy, more tired than I would have liked and in need of rest and serious rehydration.
The beginning of the trail segment was indeed runnable and it was a well constructed trail for its entire length.  However, it wasn’t wide by any means when you consider that you have traffic going in both directions.  Still, it’s a wilderness trail so in that respect it was perfect.  I don’t recall just how much of the beginning of the new section is relatively flat but soon enough, almost imperceptibly, the trail starts to climb and shortly after that it is quite obviously climbing, nothing like Hope or Powerline but you know it’s there, you can see it and feel it.  At this point I was starting to get pissed off at Lifetime Fitness for pulling this crap on us at the last minute but then I had to admit that the trail was considerably more scenic than the Winfield road and, let’s be honest, Leadville is a trail race so…So I trundled along the new segment of Continental Divide trail alternately grumbling to myself and admitting that the new section was both appropriate for the race and nicer.
Personally, I think that new trail section may have added somewhere in the ballpark of 35 to 40 minutes to my race.  Just for reference I ran Leadville in 2010 in 27:35 and this year I finished in 29:14 but I had another couple issues this year that I didn’t have in 2010 so the extra time is not all due to the new trail segment.  I also saw an interview with Anton Krupica and he said he thought the new section may have added 25 minutes to his race so if you are planning on running Leadville this is definitely something to consider.  It looks like this is particularly true if you have only run Leadville at some point since the course was changed in response to the 2009 crash of a Black Hawk helicopter on Mt. Massive. 
According to all accounts I’ve heard the course was made both easier and slightly shorter after the 2009 Black Hawk crash.   The historical data bears that out since the average finish rate between 1993 and 2008 was 46.5% and then suddenly in 2009, 10 and 11 the finish rates were 55%, 56% and 56%, respectively, the highest finish rates in the history (since 1993) of the race.  In that case the new trail segment really just brings the Leadville course back up to the old standard.  The finish rate for this year was 45% (also bearing out my friend’s startlingly accurate prediction).  I have heard some speculate that this newest Leadville course might be fractionally more difficult and possibly longer, than any Leadville course in the race’s history though if you just look at finish rates that’s not what it looks like.  It looks more like I said earlier; the race has been brought back to the old standard.
All in all I think this is a positive step for the race.  It would be a real tragedy to see the race really devolve into a Rock-n-Roll marathon type event where the course is made so easy and with such heavy support that the challenge of a hard, 100 mile mountain race is removed.  There are already plenty of other grumblings that Lifetime Fitness is turning Leadville into the Rock-n-roll event of the ultra world with all their incessant self-promotion, unmitigated crowds and unabashed fawning over the Leadman series of events much like R-n-R does with their “Rock Stars” and “VIP” entry options.
One final note on the new trail segment that is really messed up; I have an acquaintance who is a good friend of several of my friends who was going for his 10th Leadville finish this year, his 1000 mile buckle.  This guy is not a young man and has been pursuing the 1000 mile buckle for a while.  At one point in his recent past he even came back from a heart attack to knock off a few more Leadville finishes though none as fast as in his youth.  Over the past three years he has been a consistent 29+ hour finisher but with the last minute course change me was pushed over that magical 30 hour edge and ended up dropping at Fish Hatchery inbound because he knew there was no way he could have made it to the finish line in time.  He missed his shot at the 1000 mile buckle and within a week after Leadville he was involved in a car accident and fractured three vertebras in his spine.  I haven’t received a status update on him as yet but suffice it to say it’s another blow to his ability to eventually get that 10th finish though I know he’ll be back.
As far as my own race goes I felt really good all the way to Twin Lakes inbound and then I made a critical error in nutrition decision making.  Because night was coming on I asked my wife to give me a mixture of coffee and cocoa to take with me for the road.  I’ve used it before but it’s been two years and after it made me sick I suddenly recalled how it had made me queasy in the past.  The thing that complicated matters even more is that I literally took no other calories at Twin Lakes, just that stupid bottle filled with a coffee cocoa mix.  I remember looking at the food available at the aid station and feeling mildly put off because, in typical Leadville style, it was the exact same food that had been offered at every aid station all day long and I thought to myself, “I have this coffee drink, there are plenty of calories in it” so I headed out with nothing, almost immediately started getting sick to my stomach (I think the drink is too heavy on caffeine and too chocolaty) and actually thought to turn around and head back to the aid station for aid but then decided against it because I didn’t want to waste time.
I ended up wasting a lot of time getting increasingly sick and increasingly drained.  In the section between Twin Lakes and Half Pipe my probable finish time plummeted from something in the late 26 to early 27 hour range to the over 30 hour zone.  People were passing me like they were riding an escalator.  My one advantage is my level of experience and this helped me fight off the negativity and self-criticism that would have only made things worse but still, physically, I was a real mess and by the time I finally rolled into Half Pipe I was desperate for calories.  Fortunately I didn’t try and force the calories issue en route so by the time I arrived my stomach was pretty much settled and I was able to consume quite a lot.
However, a significant toll had been taken on my energy reserves, which were soon to be taxed even more.  At Half Pipe it was time for me to change into my warmer running gear because the night was getting cold.  I had put together a large Ziploc bag with a spare long sleeve shirt, some light gloves and a running vest.  I figured this would be sufficient to carry me through at least until Treeline when I would meet my crew again.  It turns out that I didn’t adequately convey my intentions with respect to the Ziploc bag, which was to keep the clothes in the Ziploc and stuff the whole thing in my hydration pack so they would stay dry and therefore warm.  Instead, my crew removed the items from the bag and put them directly into my pack so they were damp with sweat when I retrieved them.
My wife and I have had the crewing responsibilities several times since she is always my crew captain when I have crew and while we both agree that a crew needs to be able to put aside their own needs in order to take care of the runner it is equally true that pretty much no matter what goes wrong in a race it is the runners fault because it is, after all, their race and their responsibility to develop a plan and communicate that plan clearly and effectively and if things don’t go as planned, well, then obviously it wasn’t communicated as needed.
In any case, I put on my gear and headed out to Treeline to meet my crew, or so I thought.  Treeline came and went and no crew.  I found out later that I had inadvertently agreed to meeting them next at Fish Hatchery when my wife said, “Well see you again at Fish Hatchery” and I off handedly said “Ok.”  Again, my fault.  It’s not like I was out of it.  I was feeling good just not paying a whole lot of attention.  So I passed through Treeline and slogged my way to Fish Hatchery and I was absolutely freezing my ass off.  The freezing part made it doubly hard to come back from the nutrition debacle but I was able to pick up the pace slightly.  By the time I rolled into Fish Hatchery inbound I was really beat, zapped of energy and freezing.
My wife and Joe my pacer for the Fish to May Queen segment immediately set about trying to put me back together so I could get back in the race but it was a tall order.  I couldn’t do anything for myself.  I was weak, my hands were numb, I could hardly think straight and I was pretty well spent.  Fortunately I still had the will to fight so I did do what I could to help make decisions that would keep me in the race.  This lead to me laying in a sleeping bag near a heater with blankets piled on me trying to get my core temperature back up.  I did this at Wasatch last year and it took almost an hour but when I left I was feeling pretty solid and ready to go but at Wasatch I had the luxury of time.  Right then and there at Leadville I did not have any such luxury.  I had burned all my spare time on the Colorado trail.  I think I had eight hours to complete then next 23 or so miles and that included a climb up and over Sugar Loaf.
Here is where, in retrospect, one of the major differences between wives and mothers were displayed.  My mom was at the race to watch her first 100 mile trail run.  When I came into Twin Lakes inbound she was there with my crew and I was feeling good.  As I was standing there I could tell by the look on her face that she was bothered by something and so I asked her, “You want to wipe off my face don’t you?” and she immediately started laughing aid said, “Yes, you’re so dirty!”  I had taken a header while running full tilt down Hope Pass and ended up absconding with a lot of the trail’s dirt.  I figured I looked like a mess.  No matter how old you are or what feats of strength and endurance you might perform you are always your mother’s boy and it just won’t do for you to be caught in public with a dirty face.
My wife, on the other hand, was all business.  She was my mate and had adopted my goal of finishing Leadville and the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning as completely as I had, made it her own goal in many ways.  When I was shaking and shivering at Fish Hatchery she was certainly concerned and would have much rather me have been in good shape but that wasn’t where we were at so she kept her eyes on the goal and the clock and made the decision to launch me from Fish Hatchery sooner than I would have liked and hope for the best.
She told me, “You have to get up, you have to go.  I’ll get you dressed and then you and Joe are going to take off.”  I sat up on the cot and she dressed me.  I was shaking so badly that it was hard for her to get gloves on my hands because they were moving all over the place.  I noticed out of the corner of my eye an aid station volunteer watching dubiously as my crew prepared me to run.  I imagined he was wondering if he should step in ad put a stop to this madness.  Joe, my pacer, just looked kind of stunned but he was ready to do whatever it took.  My wife got me to my feet and told Joe he had to get me to May Queen by 6:00 a.m. and had to get some calories in me and then she sent us back out into the cold of the night.
My mom would have been in tears and it would have pained her to see me in such a state and she may well have tried to prevent me from going back out on the trail and maybe that’s what a mom should do but as my partner in all things that’s not the role my wife played.  Fish Hatchery was a for better or worse, in sickness and in health moment and she stepped up to the plate and was with me 100% and got me going.
Despite my rough condition I departed and Joe fed me crackers one at a time as frequently as I could stomach them.  I eventually choked down a couple gels and increased my drinking and started to make a comeback but I never really recovered.  I arrived at May Queen almost 40 minutes ahead of the 6:00 a.m. target, ate some pancakes and then headed out on the final leg to the finish with my son as my pacer.  I maintained as quick a pace as I could until between the two of us we figured that I could go as slow as 35 minute miles for the last few miles and still finish just under the 30 hour cutoff.  That being the case I slowed to an easy amble so I could save whatever I had to save for the final race in the Slam, Wasatch.
I ended up finishing in 29:14 not feeling too bad considering my ordeal.  Probably more important is that I finished with a lot of motivation to move on to Wasatch after a bit of recovery so that’s what I’m doing now, this weekend, Wasatch.   I really love Wasatch though I’ve only done it once before and it is harder than Leadville.  However, Wasatch has a higher finishing rate than Leadville, 67% versus 48%, because of its generous 36 hour cutoff.  My goal is to run a sub-30 and get the cobalt blue buckle but of course I’ll be happy with a finish because that will still earn me my Grand Slam Eagle trophy.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Halfway through the Grand Slam and Still Slammin'

I thought I'd just write a quick note at the mid-point of my journey to complete the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning.  Sometime back in May before the Slam had started I e-mailed with a fellow New Mexican ultrarunner who had also completed the Grand Slam and he said the one thing he wished he had done is keep a better attitude during the Slam.  I think what he was alluding to is that he was starting to get burned out.  I have really kept that in mind and am glad to say that my attitude, my excitement for the next run, is as high as ever.  After Western States I spent 5 days in total recovery mode then went out for a six mile run the following Saturday and again on Sunday.  I put in a total of 26 miles the week after Western States and 35 miles the week after that then I tapered down to 15 miles the week of the race and ran Vermont.  That last week, the week of Vermont I was dying to run like I hadn't races in months.  Right now I'm just over a week out of Vermont and I ran two six milers this weekend, rested Monday and ran 6.2 this morning.  I'm still feeling really good and am super motivated for Leadville.

Leadville is like a big party because I have so many friends running and pacing and I'm hoping to better my time of 27:35 that I ran in 2010 but of course I'll be happy with the finish.  I'm also getting increasingly excited about Wasatch.  I love that race even though it serves up quite a beating.  It's a beautiful race.  I'm actually feeling so good that I'm thinking I'll run the Javelina Jundred in late October.  Misty was happy with her performance at the Vermont 100k and is hoping she can capitalize on that race and some long awaited training time so she can break her 100K PR at Javelina.  We also have a lot of friends going there so yet another party, of course Javelina is always a party no matter who is there.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Born to Run, Really! A Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run Race Report

Last weekend was the 24th running of the Vermont 100 mile endurance run.  One of the interesting things about this race is that an endurance ride takes place at the same time.  That’s right, at the same time as the 100 mile and 100k foot race is taking place there is a 100 mile, 75 mile and 50 mile endurance horse race taking place.  The 100 mile horses take off a half hour after the 100 mile runners do, the 75 mile horses take off a half hour after the 100K runners do and the 50 mile horses take off four and a half hours after the 100k runners. It is not meant to be a head-to-head competition between man and beast though the run and ride take place largely on the same course.

Running with the horses is really cool and I’m sure a lot more safe than something like riding with lions or tigers or bears, though I also “ran with” a bear briefly but more on that later.  The horses were magnificent animals and were inspiring to behold.  I was somewhere between mile12 and 15 when the lead horses passed me and I was immediately taken aback by their sheer athleticism; taught hides stretched over rippling muscle, their proud heads held high as they trotted along the country roads.  By the way, I looked it up and I believe trot is the technical term because it refers to a two beat gait that can actually be pretty fast and it is sometimes referred to as a jog, which fits with the ultra-distance game and when the horses came up behind you it sounded just like the cadence of a large runner, I immagined a lot like me.

The next thought that struck me was that I was racing in a 100 mile race too and that I have successfully completed eight (now 9) 100 mile runs and that must mean that I am somehow, in my human capacity, on par with these amazing creatures.  Of course me being me my third thought in the context of the rolling, green, mist covered hills of an early Vermont morning was “Hey, this must have been like in medieval England when the Lords and Ladies in their finery rode by all the peasants who were slogging their way through the muck to purchase their pork bellies and gruel at market“ and with that last thought I chuckled and continued to slog my way to the next aid station where I, perhaps, could get some pork bellies and gruel.

I should hasten to add that the riders were not at all snobby nor was anyone I met who was associated with them.  In fact, they reminded me a lot of ultrarunners.  The lead riders were focused and intent on racing while those in the middle of the pack were friendly and chatty and seemed more intent on enjoying a great day on the trails without dawdling too much.  In fact, one of the riders I spoke with said she used to ride competitively doing something I’ve never heard of.  Anyway, when she stopped riding competitively she started riding trails and loved it and just decided she wanted to spend more and more time out on the trails.  A woman after my own heart; that is the story of an ultrarunner.
The riders also had aid stations along the course and crews that followed them though I gathered that some riders did not have crews.  At at least some of the aid stations they had “Vet checks” where a veterinarian was located who would give the horse a good once over to make sure they were still fit to continue much like the docs in ultrarunning have weigh-ins at various aid stations and check runners to see if they are ok.  I jokingly asked one of the women directing riders into an aid station if I could enter and she said “sure, come on in” and I told her I was hoping to get a vet check to which she replied “Well, you’ll have to get an anal temperature taken” so I decided to pass and continued on down the course.

Apart from the horses there were apparently also bears on the course, black bears.  At about mile 32 just after the Stage Road aid station there is a section where you turn up a relatively steep trail and head into the woods.  As I turned up that hill a woman was standing still as I passed her and then I saw a baby bear running down the hill toward us.  I stopped too and as the bear ducked into the woods we both retreated a bit.  She told me that she had also seen the mother bear and that it was on the other side of the trail in the bushes.  I squinted into the woods to see if I could see where the mama bear was because of course all I could think about was “great, now I am going to get caught between a mother bear and her cub.

 A few other runners piled up behind us and a brief discussion ensured about getting mauled by a bear.  As that discussion was taking place I had the morbid thought, “You don’t have to be the fastest you just have to not be the slowest” and with that I forged up the trail trusting in the timidity of black bears and the hoped for validity of doggerel.
By mile 35 I was no longer being entertained by animals and I really started thinking about how much of the Vermont race can be run.  In fact, I thought it was relentlessly runnable.  I am more used to mountainous runs and technical trails and it seems that whenever I have run on flatter or smoother courses heat was a significant factor.  In either case you tend to spend more time either hiking or running at slower speeds coupled with walk breaks.  That wasn’t the case at Vermont.  The course is almost 100% non-technical.  In fact much of it is smooth dirt road with a little pavement thrown in and while there are some long grinding climbs there is still really nothing that can’t at least be hiked at a pretty brisk pace.

I started wishing for some really steep hills or gnarly trails but they didn’t come and I just ran and ran.  I actually had the thought, “This is crazy, who runs this much” and I actually started to get that sickening feeling you sometimes get while watching a horrific news story.  I did my best just to put it out of my mind and run on because the objective evidence was that I still could run, because I was running, and the terrain was, of course, very runnable.
At least at one point during that section I got a brief respite when I came across three youg girls, probably around 11 years old, who were sitting in lawn chairs on the street corner watching as runners went by.  As I passed one of them timidly called out, "Hey, do you like Justin Bieber?"  I immediatly turned around, jogged up to them, threw my hads in the air and exclaimed, "I LOVE Justin Bieber!"  This response seemed to please then as they giggled and I heard one say as I jogged away, "You're cool."  I'm actually only vaguely aware of who Justin Bieber is but I was pretty sure that he is someone young girls would like so I decided to provide them with the satisfying responce as opposed to the honest one.
By the time I hit the Camp 10 Bear aid station the first time through at mile 47 I was grateful to have an excuse to sit down and rest a bit.  I think all I did at that point was grab some extra food for the trail and I picked up my small pack to carry the extra supplies and a long sleeve shirt and headlamp just in case something happened to slow me down before I made it back to Camp 10 Bear again at mile 70.  The only thing that really happened between stops at Camp 10 Bear is that I discovered the hardest section of the Vermont trail 100.

I had read things about people being surprised by how steep some of the climbs were or how much harder the course was than they expected, well, that pretty much all happens between mile 47 and 70 though I suppose when you reach the latter third of the race when you are faced with tough road or trail you really no longer care.
I came running into Camp 10 Bear at mile 70 with the sun still high in the sky, I was feeling good and my pacer, whom I was picking up at that time, said I was a hour ahead of schedule.  Before heading out on the final leg of the run I changed shoes, socks and put on a new shirt.  I also noticed that my drop bag was clipped to Misty’s drop bag, a sure sign she had already been through.  The 100K runners start five hours after the 100 mile runners but they skip the first 38 miles of the course and run a six mile route from the same start to Lillian’s the manned aid station just before 10 Bear and then proceed along the rest of the same course as the 100 milers do.  I was really proud of her for making such good progress.  I didn’t know exactly when I would catch up with her but I figured it would occur at some point and the later it was the better I knew she was doing.
Leaving 10 Bear I started getting more acquainted with my pacer. It turns out he was a family physician who operates a practice in rural New Hampshire.  I’ve always thought it would be a good idea to have a physician as a pacer and he was a top notch pacer, friendly, interesting and also really interested in mental health and 100 milers, both of which I’m more than willing to talk about at length.  We ran and talked and before I knew it we were at the Spirit of 76 aid station and there was still just barely some daylight in the sky.  I had heard earlier that if you can make it to the Spirit of 76 at mile 77.4 while there is still daylight then you have a sub-24 hour buckle in the bag unless something really goes wrong.
Just after Sprit of 76 there is a wooded section of single track and the one thing that is surprising about Vermont is just how much darker it can be in the woods whether you are on trail or road.  There were even times before mile 70 when I was under dense tree cover and I thought for certain that the sun was just about to go down but then I’d hit a clearing and it would still be bright and sunny.  That, of course, did not happen after spirit of 76.  We descended into the darkness of the forest  and didn’t see the light of day until the following morning after my race was long over.
Shortly after emerging from the woods we hit another long section of nice runnable dirt road and I started wondering how I was going to ask my pacer to leave me and stay with Misty through the night.  For some reason this was an aspect of the race that neither Misty nor I really gave much thought.  We had talked about her running through the night and how best to accomplish that but the fact of me passing her in the dark leaving her alone out on the trail while I had the company of a pacer had not crossed our minds.  Well, the thought crossed my mind plenty at various points of the day and it was unbearable.

I had resolved to do one of two things.   I would leave my pacer with Misty and continue on my own or if he didn’t want to do that I would sacrifice my shot at a sub-24 and stay with her myself.  I really wanted a sub-24 finish and now that it looked like it was in the bag I wanted it even more but things like that are inconsequential in the face of my need to stand by my wife.
No sooner did I ask my question then we saw a runner immediately ahead and it was Misty.  This cut short my time to explain to him my feelings on the situation, apologize to him for my not thinking this through before enlisting his help and to let him know that he would help me directly and immeasurable by providing me with the peace of mind that my wife would not be alone in the dark.  Much to my relief Bob didn’t need any of that and simply said, “I agree.”  Maybe I'm over protective and maybe I should let it go but it's not something I was really prepared for and running through the woods at night whith hardly anyone around is a very different thing than being on a packed Ironman course at night even if you are one ot the latter finishers, there just isn't a comparison.  Even Javelina Jundred or Rocky Raccoon is very different because those are loops and even at the very back of the pack you are still around other people some of the time, at least until the next day.  In a point to point race you can be alone for hours.
Despite the late hour the nigt had one more odd experience awaiting me.  I have told this story to a few people and they tell me I must have been hallucinating from fatigue.  To the best of my knowledge I’ve only done this once before and that was at the end of the Lean Horse 100, my first 100, when I swear I saw a Native American man dressed in a war bonnet and traditional garb and beating a drum.  However, in that case there were several other people around to disconfirm my experience.  In this situation I was the only person there to see it and it sure as hell seemed real to me and mentally I felt pretty clear.
Somewhere around mile 90 I was running alone along a dirt road and there were a couple houses of on side and a field on the other.  The side with the houses had a steep embankment that dropped down to the road.  As I was running along suddenly two boys who appeared to be maybe 13 years old leapt out of the weeds yelling and waving toy light sabers.  Since they were essentially leaping down an embankment it was neither well-coordinated nor terrifying.  I simply stared at them as they stumbled around trying at the same time to look threatening and not to whack each other with the light sabers or trip and fall over each other.  I also saw a third boy crouched in the weeds but he remained completely still though I don’t know why exactly because he was completely illuminated by my head lamp.  As I continued on un-phased the two boys who had leapt out at me started yelling “penis, penis.”  It didn’t seem like they were yelling at me or calling me a penis it seemed more like they just had a desire to make noise and for some reason known only to them the only noun that came to mind was penis.

So yeah, Vermont was packed with memories, I mean really packed.  It reminded me of the book Born to Run in so many ways but mostly in the books portrayal of the ultrarunning community as being filled with off-beat characters, unusual experiences and unbeatable camaraderie.
I got my sub-24, I’ve completed the second 100 miler in the Grand Slam and I’ve never loved this sport more.  I may go back to Vermont one day but at least for now I have other fish to fry.  Next up in the Grand Slam is the fabled Race Across the Sky, Leadville.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Running through History: A Western States Race Report

Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night would keep me from completing Western States.  In many ways Western States was like many other races but then there is the history that is ever present.  I’ve read a lot about the history of Western States just because it is the history of ultra trail running and so when I came running into various aid stations, Red Star Ridge, Dusty Corners, Robinson Flats, Devils Thumb (actually this aid station is called Hell’s Kitchen, Devils Thumb is the terrain feature), Foresthill, No Hands Bridge etc…it was like, “Wow, I’m at such and such aid station, this is where Ann Trason started closing the gap to almost become the only woman to ever win Western States outright!”  or “This is the spot where Gordy Ashleigh stopped to help pull a horse out of the water” or “Here is where Geoff Roes came flying past Anton Krupicka to for the win in one of the most hotly contested Western States ever.”  It was a real trip and a real treat.

However, in many other ways it was a lot like most of the other big 100 mile races, lots of volunteers, very well organized, lots of energy and excitement, and great trails in remote places. In this respect I don’t think it was necessarily any better than Rocky Raccoon, Javelina Jundred, Bighorn, Rio del Lago, Lean Horse, Leadville or Wasatch; my seven other 100 mile finishes. 

From a racing perspective, I had a great time at Western States and feel like I ran close to a perfect race.  Just about the only thing I can really think of that could have improved my performance would be to have focused exclusively on mountain running in my early season but running the Boston and Lincoln marathons were very important to me and my big ultrarunning goal for this year is to finish the Grand Slam, which of course doesn’t require that you lay down great times for each of the races individually.  The other thing was that an old injury reared its head early in the race and caused me to have problems running steep, rocky downhill sections so I took those areas much more slowly than normal, which, all in all, may not have been a bad thing early in the race when it was slippery and wet.

My big fear coming into Western States was the heat.  Western States is famous for the heat in the canyons, which can reach into the low 100s and is commonly in the mid 90s.  I had a lot of heat training under my belt but still, I ran Boston this year during the third hottest year in its 116 year history.  I was ready for a break...and I got it.  This year the weather was a fantastic both day and night and into the next day.  I fact, it was the second coolest Western States on record.  The first 8 hours of the race was a bit harsh but the reality is the harsh spots were short lived and separated by long bouts of what amounted to fog.

At the 0500 start in Squaw Valley it was about 45 degrees and very nice.  However a cold front was moving in and by the time we climbed the 3500 feet in 4.5 miles to the ridgeline at the Escarpment aid station there were wind gusts of up to 60 mph, the temp was hovering around 37 degrees and there was driving sleet.  The sleet stung like hell because my skin was semi-numb from the cold and the sleet was being driven by the high winds.  I was wearing a short sleeve shirt and shorts because my major concern was overheating on that first big climb but it turned out to be ok because like I said, any of the bad conditions were short lived.

After Escarpment the trail ducks off the ridge and into the protection of the woods where it was a bit warmer and less windy and the sleet turned to a light drizzling rain.  For the first 8 hours we ran in a mixture of drizzle, fog, rain, sleet and high winds depending on the immediate terrain, elevation and exposure.  One funny incident occurred just before Robinson Flat.  I was about a quarter mile away from the aid station and a volunteer came jogging toward me and he said, “Don’t worry, the weather is about to break and it’s going to be nice and sunny.”  As soon as I came into Robinson Flat it started pouring rain, a cold rain that was harder than any we had see so far and it would be the hardest rain of the day.  When I weighed in at Robinson Flat I was so soaked that my weight was up eight pounds.

Once the weather cleared it was mild and sunny.  The trails were slightly damp so we didn’t have a lot of dust to breathe, which can become a serious issue.  Conditions were perfect for some good running.  By this point in the race I was free of the pain that had slowed my descents earlier in the race but I still took the steep ones slow because I didn’t want to bring it back.  My approach worked because for the rest of the race it never did come back and I was still able to run the easier downhill grades without a problem.

The mild temps also made the climb up Devil’s Thumb much more bearable.  There is pretty much nothing that is worse than doing a long, steep, hot climb in a wooded area where any hope of a breeze is completely blocked but that was not the case today, today it was simply a matter of being ready and able to climb.  I passed seven people climbing Devils Thumb and made it to the top in good shape.  Of course the climb to the top is followed by a fairly steep descent so about half the people I passed were able to pass me back on the way down.

When I got to Foresthill at mile 62 my lovely wife and my California pacer were waiting for me and had everything set up for a shoe and sock change, a fresh shirt and some night running clothes packed into my hydration pack.  I was still feeling good though my legs were getting stiff and sore and I was a bit wobbly when I got up to run again.  After the gear exchange me and my pacer were off for the last half of the race and into little known portions of the trail that includes little know aid stations such as Dardanelles, Peachstone and Ford’s Bar.

I can’t say I remember much of anything about this portion of the race but somewhere around mile 70 I developed a pain in my right big toe and thought that my sock was just on too tight like my foot was jammed forward and pressing hard against the cloth but I took off my shoe and sock and adjusted things but the pain didn’t go away so I just lived with it because I didn’t want to waste time messing around.  After the race when I was able to check out my feet in the light of day I discovered that a blister had developed under my toenail and was lifting the toenail up out of the nail bed.  I’m not quite sure how that happened, maybe I was favoring my left and that caused some jamming of my right foot, who knows.  In any case, I’ll probably lose it in the next couple weeks, hopefully before the Vermont 100.

Before the race I had hoped that the American River would be running shallow enough at the Rucky Chucky crossing so that I would wade across holding the rope they have stretched across the river.  Somehow that just seems like the way the river should be crossed, not on a raft like they do in high water years.  I got my wish and it was pretty cool, both literally and figuratively.  According to my splits I hit Rucky Chucky at 12 minutes after midnight and upon arrival I threatened to drop from the race because they were serving breakfast burritos.  I told them I was just going to hang out there and eat burritos until they kicked me out.  They kicked me out immediately, maybe because they knew I was from New Mexico and were afraid of my capacity for eating burritos.

 So, being cut off from the burritos I turned my attention to the river crossing and while the air temperatures were fine that water was a real eye opener, especially when I was in it up to mid hip and the chafing from my shorts was submerged.  Still, it was a lot of fun to cross and when we got to the other side my pacer and I just chugged on up the trail to Green Gate where we were met again by the GeekGrl and crew for a change of shoes and socks.

 The stretch between Green Gate and the Highway 49 crossing was my “deep into the night, zombie running” experience.  I had periods where I was definitely slogging along trying to stay focused and people were passing me by and other times where I was suddenly running again and passing people who looked as bad as I had just moments earlier.  I don’t remember specifically going through the Auburn Lake Trails or Brown’s Bar aid stations but I know I did because my splits are there and I also remember it taking a really long time to get to one of them.  I remember you could hear the aid station for a long time before you reached it and you could even catch occasional glimpses of light.  I think it may have been in a canyon or gully with several twists and turns between one side and the other though there wasn’t a lot of climbing or descending involved.  It was weird, it was cruel, like the aid station had the ability to manifest and then disappear like it was fluctuating back and forth between parallel planes of existence.

Time ceased to have any meaning and the distances were incalculable, at least by me.  Everything was at one and the same time both near and unbelievably far away.  I didn’t have any focus or lack of focus, I wasn’t struggling or doing particularly well.  I existed and that is all.  I had become an automaton capable of varying degrees of movement but nothing more.  This late into a 100 mile race this is actually a good state of being to find yourself in because nothing really matters.  You have one mile until the next aid station, fine, 8 miles, fine, steep climb, fine, flat wide trails, fine.  As Pink Floyd would say, you have become comfortably numb.

At some point the gray light of morning came and I started to regain my humanity.  I could see the world again and I felt like I was part of it again.  Shortly after the sun came up my pacer and I reached the Highway 49 crossing where they were serving bacon, potatoes and sausage and I made sure to sample it all before the long, mellow, glorious descent down to No Hands Bridge.

By the time I reached No Hands Bridge I knew my race was done, I had made it and the remainder of the course was just an epilogue to the adventure I had lived over the past 25 plus hours.  I jogged across No Hands Bridge and then began the climb up to Robie Point and the finish line at Placer high school.  Some people will tell you about that last climb but you will not be prepared for it because it sucks, period.  It sucks and it doesn’t end until the bitter end.  There is an aid station at Robie point but I just slogged on by without a second look.  I’m not even sure what they had there or if it is a full aid station.  For all I know they could have been dispensing gold bullion and diamonds but you are still mid climb and just want to be done and so who really cares.

When you finally reach the track at Placer high I doubt it matters how spent you are, how emotionally numb you have become, I can’t imagine treading that hallowed ground not igniting a fire within that brings joy to your movement no matter how slow, no matter how stiff no matter how sore.  I relished my three quarter lap around that track, I relished my finish.  It was the experience of a lifetime.

Physically I’m feeling good after taking five days off for recovery.  I started running again slowly, six miles at a crack the weekend after Western States and I’ll probably fit in another 50 or so miles before Vermont.  I toe the line at the Vermont 100 on July 21st and feel like I’ll have a strong run.  I’m praying for good weather there as well but am aware that heat waves have been sweeping the Midwest and eastern seaboard so I’m kind of planning on hot but my motivation is strong and my mind is ready for stage two of the Grand Slam.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Breaking News: A Segahunda Trail Marathon Race Report

This weekend the GeekGrl and I flew out to the East Coast to collect a couple states in our 50 state marathon bid.  She was going to pick up New York and Massachusetts and having run Boston earlier this year I was only going to be picking up New York.
The first race was the Segahunda trail marathon in Letchworth State Park.  The race is a point to point from the Mount Morris dam to the Civil War parade grounds near Portageville.  This is apparently a little known part of New York state, despite being called 'The Grand Canyon of the East' because most people we mentioned it to just kind of looked at us blankly and shrugged their shoulders, the one exception being a friend who works for the state Department of Transportation who also has family living near that area.

I've been to the Grand Canyon on more than one occasion and this bore no similarity.  By Western Standards it was little more than a gully, however, it was thick with trees so there may have been much that was obscured from a trail runners view.

The race course followed the Finger Lakes Trail except for the short sections that climbed up side trails to the roadside above where all the aid stations were located.  These side trails are billed as steep climbs to the road above but they were all pretty gradual and runnable though I chose to hike at least sections of most to save my strength for running the FLT, which was mostly mellow and rolling but it was punctuated with several descents and ascents in and out of stream beds and washes.

The race management said there were something like 120 such crossings.  I have no idea as to the exact number but suffice it to say I don't dispute their claim in the least.  At the beginning of the race I was a bit worried about all these crossings because I hadn't heard them described in any detail so I didn't know if the were large or small, steep of relatively flat, running with water or dry.  I usually like to have better information on a course, especially when it comes to the signature challenge of the race but at the starting line I was just left to find out for myself.

The answer to one of my questions was that the crossings were all pretty much dry and those that weren't were more moist than flowing.  This apparently wasn't the case last year when they had rain all week including race day and the course was full of running water and sloppy mud.  I'd say the majority of the gully crossings were pretty flat but there were plenty enough to make the course pretty difficult.

The other thing that made the course somewhat difficult were the rocks and roots.  It presented a surface that I'm not really used to running on.  In the southwest where I do most of my running a rocky course pretty much means you are running on a field of rocks, sometimes it's runnable at a slower pace and sometimes the surface is so irregular that you just have to walk it for a bit.  The rockiness on the FLT is more random.  There is plenty of goos, smooth trail but it is frequently interrupted by a random large rock or root with the occasional small patch of rocks and roots combined.  This creates a situation where you can run pretty fast but you really have to keep an eye out because the obstacles just pop up.  The conditions were also made more foreign to me because of the leaf litter obscuring some of the rocks and the low light conditions caused by all the trees.

The race starts off immediately on narrow single track in the woods so you really have to position yourself well in the parking lot at the Mt. Morris dam and when the starting gun goes off just commit yourself to plunging into the woods.  I decided to position myselfk somewhere near the back of what I figured was the front quarter of runners and this seemed to work out pretty well.  Once we disappeared into the forest we were a smooth moving line of men snaking along the trail in unison.  I love that experience!  I'm not sure what it is about forested runs but I always feel like I'm part of a prehistoric hunting party or a small band of tribal warriors moving to engage the enemy tribe.  I never get that same sense when I'm running races without the dense cover.

At Segahunda the women take off first, about 15 minutes ahead of the men.  I was a bit skeptical about this setup but it seemed to work out fine even on narrow trail.  We caught the last women at about mile three or four and it was pretty easy to get by though I wondered how annoying it might have been to be trying to run and suddenly have a huge long train of faster runners come plowing through.

During the early stages of the race I went back and fourth with a couple guys but pretty much by mile 4 I was in a pretty familiar group of people that I would mostly see on the out and back sections though while in the woods I was mostly running alone or just barely in sight of one or two other runners.

I was blowing through aid stations and I think this is where I passed a lot of people, however, it was kind of hard to tell because the race actually had more teams than solo runners so you would pull into an aid station and there would be all kinds of people lolly gagging on the sidelines.

As often happens I adopted the strategy of power hiking most of the steeper sections pretty much no matter how short the climbs but most everyone else I could see ran them until later in the race when they couldn't.  I'm not sure what it is with people who just seem to refuse to walk or hike in a race.  I think even if you are a very strong runner you still benefit from saving a bit of energy by hiking the uphills and you can run everything else much faster.  Maybe it's an ultra runner versus marathoner difference.  In any case as the race progressed I started reeling those folks in and passing them.

Somewhere around mile 13 I turned my right ankle pretty sharply but it seemed only to slow me down temporarily.  Then at mile 16 I kicked the hell out of an unseen rock and stubbed my left big toe pretty badly.  That was seriously painful, enough to take my breath away.  I continued to limp and hobble my way forward until the pain subsided enough that I could pretty much ignore it and run.  Despite these two mishaps I was able to continue gaining ground on the people in front of me and didn't lose any ground to the people behind me.

About the last couple miles leave the FLT and get onto an old carriage path, which is really nice because it is wide and easy to run and at this point in the race you are pretty whipped.  Within a quarter mile of the finish line there is a evil hill you have to climb when you turn onto a brief section of paved road.  This thing is steep and exposed and the day has become hot.  I leaned into it and kept running because I was so near the finish line.  Close to the top both my legs started to cramp pretty seriously and I thought I might pull a muscle but I made it to the top of the hill just in time even if a little stiff legged.  Once off the hill my legs relaxed and I was able to run into the finish line.  It felt good to be done though now since I was no longer racing the pain in my left toe came to the forefront of my mind, something I could have done without.

I hung out at the finish line waiting for the GeekGrl to finish where they had free beer and burgers, both of, which were great. I found out I got second place in my age group.  The guy who won my age group was nearly an hour ahead of me.  There were three guys who all ran about an hour faster that the other front runners, maybe they are local elite runners.

Once the GeekGrl finished and ate we hopped in the car for our long drive to Lenox, MA where we were scheduled to run the Memorial Day Marathon.  My toe was in bad shape and my ankle started hurting as well so given the fact that Western States was just around the corner I decided to bag the second marathon.  The next morning when we woke up to get the GeekGrl to the start line my toe was really swollen and black and blue.  I was completely freaked out and thought for certain I had broken it.   We had a double marathon weekend scheduled for the next weekend as well but I canceled it because I knew if it was a break I would be forced to rest the whole time between now and Western States.  Emotionally I was in bad shape but I just tried my best to keep it under wraps and enjoy our trip.

Next up, a trip to the doctor!

P.S. ok, the post is really late, got caught up with Western States.  Saw the doc, toe was not broken, I was amazed something could hurt, bruise and swell so much and not be broken.   Since it wasnt broken and I had canceled our South Dakota, Iowa double the GeekGrl and I signed up for the Taos marathon, which Im sure will appear in an even later race report.