Thursday, March 1, 2012
Another report from the Mount Cheaha 50K trail run. But this year in a different capacity for me and Clan Kennedy! After the reverse double stunt last year, I decided that there was little else I wanted to accomplish on the course. Love running the trails, just not much up for grinding through this tough, rocky 50K these days. So instead, we volunteered this year. Matthew, Andrew, and I were in charge of the Hubbard Creek aid station at Mile 18 of the course, the remote site not located on a paved road. Along with the help of Ken Weatherman and his son, we had a swell time in fine, sunny weather. We even made a weekend trip out of it, staying overnight in the Bald Rock Lodge at Cheaha State Park. I must give a shout-out to race directors Todd and Jamie Henderson for putting on such a great event. They do such a wonderful job of turning a tough 50k race into a whole event: from arranging the amenities of Bald Rock Lodge at Cheaha State Park, the transpo necessary for a point-to-point course, great aid stations, plus post-race chili party on Sat evening. Not enough good things I can say about this pair: good, good peoples.
We left the house just after 6am on Saturday. The XTerra was full of aid station equipment borrowed from Dink Taylor (of Fleet Feet Huntsville and the Huntsville Track Club), including tables, coolers, chairs, a tent, etc. After a stop for coffee and snacks at Starbucks in Oxford, AL along Interstate-20, we drove up to Cheaha State Park. Made a quick stop at the park store to fill up the water coolers around 8:30am, then met up with Ken and headed for the aid station site to be set up by 9am.
Since the race started about 45min late, we had plenty of time. So got the tables, coolers and food arranged, then was playing catching with the boys. Chilly this morning, but plenty of sunshine that promises to make a pleasant afternoon. Our ham radio operators arrived around 0930 and we had a plenty-good BS session going.
The first runners arrived just before 1100, with trickle of folks through noon. Then it got quite busy for the next 90min as the major volume of mid-packers rolled through. Most were quite gracious and moving well, just needed some water and/or HEED before pressing on the Lake Chinnabee 3.6mi away. It started to wind down about 1330 and the last 50 runners struggled to keep steady running as the afternoon appeared. I would say the back-half of the pack needed the aid station far more than the first half, the relatively short 3.5mi legs could take upwards of an hour for the slower folks.
Matthew was a champ through the crush time, slicing up oranges, making PB&J sandwiches, opening cans of soda to start de-fizzing them, etc. Glad to have him there. Andrew was less interested in helping, but did call out every runner as they emerged from the woods: "Look, it's another runner! It's number [fill in the bib #]!" Which continued to be cute even after almost 200 runners. We finally got just about everyone through about 1400 and began packing up the aid station. Left a little water and food for co-Race Director Jamie Henderson, she arrived about 1430 and called it a day. Bless her heart, still had a smile on and enjoying the day. I crammed the boys in the back seat, let Jamie sit in the front, and headed up to Mt Cheaha and Bald Rock Lodge.
We dropped Jamie off, found a place to park, then wandered inside with the boys. They immediately grabbed a slice of pizza and some junk food. I mingled in the crowd some and jawboned. Then I took the boys for a walk down the boardwalk to Bald Rock Point and let them get a look of the valley below. They saw all the rocks up there, so went jumping around on those. I stationed myself at the end of the boardwalk overlooking the Bald Rock precipice and just prayed no one fell off….
Ventured over to the observation tower and let the boys take in the scenic view from the Top of Alabama. Gorgeous day, 50 miles of visibility. Of course, the boys looked at it for 30 seconds and then climbed back down, shouting at each other and fighting the whole way! Oh well, I appreciated the view. Managed to get them to stand still for a photo at the tower. We went back to the lodge near sunset, I let the boys grab some toys from the truck and head inside. They had earned some vegging out upstairs after a full day outside. I chatted with Will and Emily Ansick, bunch from GUTS folks, Dana Overton, and others while we watched the final runners get to the finish line. We also gave Dana a ride back to her truck down at Adams Gap before she headed home.
Todd graciously handed over the keys to one of the lodge rooms that had been left vacant by one of the runners heading home, so I stuck the boys in there for the night. I took the boys in the kitchen to show the food offerings: chicken noodle soup, pizza, and pasta dish. But Andrew opted for a plate of Doritos as his dinner, and Matthew made a big PB&J for his. Why not? It's the weekend with Dad, gotta flex a little! Matthew spent some time getting the fire in the lobby going, then helped Jeff Bryan with the dining room fireplace. After sunset and last light, I took the boys down the boardwalk in the dark, let their night vision adapt, and walked out to the overlook and valley below. By now it was about 7:30 and fully dark, but great visibility, so we could see lights all the way to Talladega and Birmingham. They really enjoyed that.
Got the boys cleaned up back at the lodge and into PJs. They wandered around the lobby and main dining room for a bit, Andy cute as hell in his pajamas. But then he sat down on the couch with me and it took all of about five minutes in front of the fireplace for him to fall asleep. Long day for that kid! I put the boys to bed and headed back into the main room. BS'ing with Todd Henderson and a group of GUTS folks. It is a pleasure to see the easy social atmosphere of that team, always a good time hanging out with the Atlanta ultrarunners. Marty Coleman shared a fine craft IPA brew with me, talked some shop with Sally Brookings and Todd Henderson about details of putting on ultra and trail races. Todd had another abandoned room available downstairs in the lodge, so I called it a night about 2200, cleaned up and went to bed.
I woke at 0600 the next day, pulled on my clothes then went upstairs to check on the boys. Both were still sleeping, so I went into the dining room and began helping with the clean-up process in there for an hour. Matthew woke around 0645 and got dressed, Andrew up around 0700. We sat by the fire in the lobby enjoying the early morning and conversation with some of the stalwarts who were also awake already. We helped pack up the trailers with race gear, talked with Todd and Jamie some more, and headed out about 0830 for Oxford. Took the boys for a good breakfast at Cracker Barrel, whereupon a hungry Andrew destroyed two big pancakes and one of my biscuits, while Matthew took down 3 pancakes, eggs, sausage, and OJ. $36 lighter in the wallet, we headed up US-431 on the drive home. A good weekend for me and the boys.
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
I got the opportunity last month to attend the CrossFit Level 1 Trainers Course at CrossFit Atlanta. Thought I would share my experience online for those who wish to read. I had been looking forward to attending the 2-day course for about a year now, but I thought it best I get past the WS100 first before going off on some other damn fool venture! So the report here will summarize the flow of the 2-day course, my thoughts, even a couple of WOD PRs!
The certification course was held at the home base of CF in metro Atlanta area, CF Atlanta. Our trainers included Chuck Carswell, Mike G, Chris (active duty Navy), Christmas (yes, that's her name, phenomenally fit athlete), and Andy Hendel (the old veteran athlete and coach of the group). We kicked off at 0900 sharp on Saturday morning. Opening lecture covered the definition and philosophy of CrossFit. This is the remainder of the agenda for Saturday:
- General Physical Preparedness, 10 definitions of physical fitness skills, Power, Work Capacity
- Squat series demo then hands on, practical exercise training (including picture-perfect air squat, the front squat, and overhead squat)
- Press series (Shoulder Press, Push Press, Push Jerk) demo then hands on training
- Deadlift series (deadlift, sumo deadlift high-pull, and med ball cleans) demo then hands on training
Met a lot of good folks, talked a lot about CrossFit (obviously) and their home boxes. I was surprised to understand that well over 2/3 of the attendees were fitness professionals and this certification course was a really big deal for many. Several owned gyms or are personal trainers. Others were opening their own CF boxes inside of a month, so the course and the test were no-joke for these folks. I was one of the few in attendance that was just there for kicks and grins. Many folks were talking shop about the economics of their box (or their personal training business), so when several folks asked if I owned CF Huntsville (uhhmm, no; but was wearing a CFHSV shirt) and I admitted that I did not, they weren't much interested in talking with me anymore! I never offered my own professional pedigree, but when 2-3 folks actually asked my occupation (aerospace engineer), the non-plussed look from them was slightly funny! I can imagine the same folks with wild stares if they asked Larry Lowe about his day job (Ph.D. in EE). Oh well, did meet some reforming ultrarunners and we shared mountain running war stories.
Saturday evening was pretty chill for me. I was blasted from working all week, and needed to study for the next day's test, so I stayed in that night. No wild partying in Atlanta, I must be getting middle-aged. Sunday's agenda included:
- Lecture on Technique vs. Intensity
- Hands-on review of the Push-Jerk and Med-Ball Clean (two of the more complex movements)
- Lecture of CF's nutrition prescription. Meats/eggs/proteins, veggies, nuts/seeds, some fruit, little starch, no sugar. If possible, do it in Zone-proportions per Dr. Barry Sears' recommendations. 3-5g per day of fish oil (EPA and DHA)
- Demo on proper way to perform, and more important, how to teach, the kipping pull-ups. Then hands on exercises for the kipping pull-ups. The trainers did not cover butterfly pull-ups for the group, though offered to do so for those interested after class time.
- 10min AMRAP WOD in teams: KB swing, 200m run, squat jumps. Pretty nice little routine: one person did KB swings while the other completed a 200m run. But when the trainer blew a whistle, all athletes stopped and did 5 squat jumps. Score was total KB swings by a team in 10 minutes.
- Lunch for an hour. We were treated to the trainers doing a variant of Fight Gone Bad for the WOD: 75# squat snatch, box jumps, pull-ups, 75# thrusters, and something else I can't remember.
- Afternoon started with a lecture on the GHD and associated exercises: back extension, hip extension, hip-back extension, and GHD situps. No hands-on work with 60 people in the room and only 4 GHDs.
- Snatch demo and hands on practice
- Muscle-up demo and hands-on. Got my first MU! Then came back and did 2 linked!
- Lecture on CF Programming lecture and short review of test materials
- And because CF Level 1 is now accredited by ANSI under its certificate accreditation program, we got to take a test! 50 multiple choice questions, and it was no joke! I had to pay attention, for sure.
- Flowmaster Chuck Carswell finished the day around 5:30pm with some closing remarks. I chatted with Chris for a while talking Navy stuff and how he is managing his moonlighting job as a CF trainers. Then I wandered over to the rings to try the MU again, make sure they weren't a fluke. Performed 3 strict, linked!
Friday, February 10, 2012
I woke up 0600, pulled on my gear, kissed my lovely wife and pulled the covers up tight to her, then headed up to Monte Sano by 0635. Spent some time jawboning, talking TeamRWB photos with David Riddle, Marty & Carol Eaton, Suzanne Erickson, and others; enjoying the brisk morning, casual chatter and catching up with some folks I hadn't seen in a while. Took a photo with the TeamRWB athletes in the race before the start; none of us would see David Riddle until much later in the day!
|From Mtn Mist 50k - 2012|
The race started 0730, I was in mid-pack, just stayed steady and chatting with a few folks. Overcast but only a bit chilly at the start, I had nothing but a short-sleeve tech-shirt and a set of gloves (shucked those by the first aid station). The normal conga line ensued when we hit the trail, I took it easy down the Cold Springs section, then onto the Mtn Mist. Had to pee 3-4 times in the first half of the race! Steady pace, slower than norm (obviously) thru the aid station at O’Shaughnessy Point.
|From Mtn Mist 50k - 2012|
|From Mtn Mist 50k - 2012|
Ran into Perry Sebastian (GUTS) and jawboned for a bit on the early part of Warpath Ridge. Then got on the stick and descended it faster, it is a home-court advantage. Muddy as hell, pretty treacherous. Lost a shoe at one point, got stuck in the mud. Must have been a funny sight with me hopping around on one foot back to the stuck-in-the-mud shoe, then sticking my foot back in the shoe and breaking it free of the mud suction! Passed some more folks on the Red Lizard portion before breaking out onto the Power lines. Took some time to swallow calories and electrolytes, then braved the sticky mud around the PowerLines trail. Decent running as we re-entered the trees and finally began the climb up K2. Ran fairly steady; most folks at the pack were power-hiking.
Ground down the Goat Trail, hips and sciatic are beginning to feel stiff from the morning's efforts. Mentally I was OK but not great. Made A/S #2 w/o incident, re-filled my water bottle and kept rolling. Talked with Janice Anderson for a few hundred meters, then into the line of runners again. Pretty sloppy going around the backside, including the climb back up towards Stone Cuts. The Cuts were fun as usual, but my hips were not cooperating very well and I was grumbling and grunting a bit. Had some low points in through the Sinks Trail, legs not cooperating much. Finally found a good place to pull-over on Mtn Mist Trail, took a 5+min break there to relieve myself. Climb up thru Cold Springs was OK, steady. Made Fearn Dr in about 3:27, so right on my target of 3.5hr (aiming for a 7hr finish today).
|From Mtn Mist 50k - 2012|
|From Mtn Mist 50k - 2012|
The first parts of the Land Trust were not fun. Mud along the High Trail was pretty nasty. Lost a shoe again at one point. I enjoyed weather and the muddy trail, but my hips and sciatic were grumbling at me, tough to run hard through that. Pushed steady down the Bluffline, but needed a 10min walk break once I reached the intersection at the bottom of it. Trail over to the Land Trust a/s was sloppy as well, but I arrived faster than I anticipated.
Old Railroad Bed wasn’t bad, though several folks passed me in there as I took some walk breaks. Finally re-gained a good rhythm on the last mile of Alms House, had another lady right behind me and caught a good groove over the rocks; this is always a tough portion of the course, even on a dry day. Passed 6 people right at 3 Caves, then found another gear to start climbing the Waterline. Passed about 20 people total between these aid stations, ranked #107 for the segment (vs 163d place), I always like to make a strong showing here. Got the top with a steady effort and then headed for the Trough Springs parking lot.
I stripped off the singlet underneath my TeamRWB shirt at the road crossing, Suzanne Taylor graciously took it back to the lodge for me. Re-filled the bottle and headed out. Hips really don’t like me now, and this is the toughest section of the course, especially on muddy days. Crossing SOB Ditch fun as always, but the rest of the trail gets worse every year from constant erosion. I wonder if there is a possible long-term plan that we can put together to stabilize some of the Natural Well Trail, from the old 4WD road to the section pas the well. It is really treacherous in the mud.
Let myself down the trail into McKay Hollow (vs running down it hard), slipped once and fell on my ass on a rock. That hurt! Ground out the climb back into the bottom of the Death Trail. Then entered the Slush Mile, and today it earned its namesake! My shoes were soaked before, now they were obliterated in the mud. Worst I have ever seen it, fun and challenging if you put the right mental filter on it! Got thru the Slush Mile, made another silent prayer and thanked Him for keeping me safe and smiling this far into the race. Took a walk break up to Kathy’s Bench, then reached for the reserves and ran (barely) the climb to Rest Shelter. A point of pride to be able to climb at that point, but it is a gorgeous early afternoon, and this is the last Mountain Mist, and what other way would I want to finish it off?
Caught up with John Nevels and Lonnie Vogan up at Rest Shelter. Grady offered by a beer, but politely turned that down for another hour! The last 1.8mi were the most pleasant, linked up with John and finished off the race. We chatted amiably along the way, and the final 15-20min went by fast (at least emotionally). But I was ready to be done. I urged John to get ahead of me at the last bridge crossing to get his own finish line photo, so he bolted up front (got some legs left), finished 3-4 sec ahead of me. Then I made an uncharacteristic leap as well, just to put the finishing touches on the race. The fifth, and final, Mountain Mist 50k for me.
|From Mtn Mist 50k - 2012|
|From Mtn Mist 50k - 2012|
Spent some quality time jawboning around the finish area with Paul Dubey, Jeff Bryan (newly minted 10x finisher) and others. Stripped my shoes off, wandered inside, sucked down some Recoverite. Back outside into the gorgeous sunshine and talked with some more folks, thoroughly enjoying the crowd, the view to the south, and the afternoon. Content inside, emotionally. Grabbed some pizza and soda back inside, talked with Suzanne Erickson a bit, called Kirsten to let her know I was done and OK. Wandered in-out a few more times. Finally took up the offer of a Yuengling from Paul Dubey, sat there sipping it and talking with Rob Youngren and Eric Fritz. The big bags under Rob’s eyes became the tell-tale signs of an all-night run, the crazy dude did a reverse double stunt again! Finally put our backs up against the fireplace wall outside and drew heat from that. Saw Matthew walk by with the scout troop and waved to him. Around 1700, as the lodge was clearing out, limped out the truck in my bare feet. Went over to the camping around to check on the scout troop for a while, then went and found a shower, some dinner, and a bed!
AFTERMATH and REFLECTION
But yes, this is the fifth and final Mountain Mist 50k. For several years I had planned to become a 10x finisher. I love running up on Monte Sano, and thoroughly enjoy the Mist course and the runners out there with me. I was actually entered in the HURT 100 in Hawaii, among the toughest and gnarliest 100s on the planet, ran each mid-January just outside Honolulu. I had taken a long break after Western States, running scant few miles in July-August. The only serious running I did was a stunt with TeamRWB on 10-11 Sept, going about 60 miles overnight from the West Point cemetery, right down 9W to Ground Zero and Liberty State Park with seven other ultrarunning nuts. After that I was wiped out for the better part of a month. I had little desire for running beyond some easy miles now and again; I was enjoying some Fall mountain biking and spending time with my CrossFit brothers and sisters at CF Huntsville. I was actually entered in the HURT 100 in Hawaii, among the toughest and gnarliest 100s on the planet, ran each January just outside Honolulu. If I was going to pull it off without seriously hurting myself, I needed to start training around early October.
But by mid-October, I took a good long look in the mirror and looked at my motivation for the race, and in particular the training necessary. And you know what? It simply wasn’t there. I had no appetite for it, and I knew it. In contrast, when I began the 6-month road to Western States just before Christmas 2010, I was dead-set on the path ahead, the miles to come, the long grinding trail runs, the deadly WODs at CrossFit, the crushing sessions in the squat rack, the excruciate massage sessions that I would submit myself to, and basically whatever it took to be prepared. But for HURT? Nothing. I just couldn’t see myself grinding down all the miles, there was no motivation nor deep longing for it.
During the past few months I have enjoyed a period of contentment and satisfaction with ultrarunning. Over the Fall and early Winter I simply never developed the deep desire to put in the training miles to do well at the Mist, never felt that strong pull and the call of the trail. Ever since completing Western States, there hasn’t been a strong desire to put down big ultra performances. Western was really what I got into ultrarunning for, and having the sterling silver belt buckle on my mantle at home what was I really going after. And now that I have it, I don’t feel burned-out, but rather fulfilled and contented; the burning desire in the gut has been satisfied, “the stuff in the basement”. After 25 years of chasing, I did what I had set out to do. Sometimes these clips from Rocky Balboa express the deep desire I felt, and the knowledge I could do it. And now the "stuff in the basement" has been qualled.
I had enjoyed some longer trail runs, especially a day exploring Desoto State Park over on Lookout Mountain. But getting ready for the Mist felt more obligatory rather than with a strong drive for serious running performance like it did a year ago. It was fun and enjoyable, the runs I pulled in January before the Mist become long runs that went past enjoyment of the trails to more simply grinding it down. I did not enjoy the ache in my legs, nor the stiffness in my hips; not during the run and sure as heck not the next morning! I wanted to run decently at the Mist, to make a good showing and have it be enjoyable, but I also knew it was be a tough day just to keep a steady effort and finish with grace and satisfaction.
So I pulled that final pitch up the Waterline, that slippery, treacherous descent into McKay Hollow, the muddy crossing of the Slush Mile, the grinding climb past Kathy’s bench and up to the Rest Shelter aid station (where I will take over next year as aid station captain), and finally the pleasant last miles with John Nevels heading back to the Monte Sano Lodge and the finish line. I took a matter of satisfaction and pleasure that this was the final trip across the Mountain Mist course. I looked down into McKay Hollow, towards the sun in the western sky on a gorgeous afternoon, taking in the view. I smiled gently and took pleasure in the running conversation with John, a very good young runner and budding professional engineer in his own right. I took satisfaction and contentment in those final moments of the course, and watched the sun set over this chapter in my athletic life. And the next chapter is just beginning….
|From Mtn Mist 50k - 2012|
Friday, July 8, 2011
So this version of my 2011 WS100 race report will be more of a play-by-play, blow-by-blow, mile-my-mile account that captures my experiences, thoughts, commentary, etc. I’ve got another report outlined where I hope to capture my analysis of the race, lessons learned, etc. Bottom line result is that I finished 92d place in 23hr, 09min, 37sec, earning me the famous sterling silver WS belt buckle.
For those that might happen to read this, suffice it to say to Western States has dominated my little running career for the past decade; it was a huge, personal, emotional event for me. Saw my first WS on local KCRA-TV (Sacramento, CA) when I was 14 yrs old. Saw that silver buckle, and for whatever strange, deluded reason, it stuck in my head that I was going to do "that" someday. Then around 1998, after nailing the sub-3hr marathon at Rocket City (1995) and going to Boston (100th Running in 1996), I started thinking about WS again, and got to planning my first ultra (Pine Mtn, GA). It took until 2002 to actually get to Western the first time. I had a huge meltdown just before the river, and I limped to a 29 hour finish; it was a humbling experience. I knew I would be back to have another go. By then my first child was 18mos old and Kirsten pregnant with our second; I transitioned from active duty to civilian world, and finally got settled down some. In 2006 I started tackling more ultras and building experience and long-term base when I moved to Huntsville. Tried my hand at the Arkansas Traveller in 2007, suffered a DNF at 68 miles. Went to the Pinhoti 100 in my backyard and did well (27:20) but not great. Then went back Arkansas and had my breakthrough (21:45). I knew I was ready to try WS again. Directly or indirectly, I recognize for the past 10 years that every running step, every rep in the weight room, every excruciating session on the massage table, every WOD with my CrossFit brothers and sisters, all of it has been pointed at this 24-hour space of time. So not to spin the tale too much, but 25 years after I saw that belt buckle, having that longing fester in the back of my head for so long, it is done. It is my swan song. I slew the beast. I may well go to other 100s and other ultras just because the locations sound fun (Colorado, Hawaii, Florida, Maryland, and more), but I am done "racing" them, that I do recognize down in the gut.
My crew for this year (and past two 100s) is the most excellent Allan Besselink of the SmartLife Institute. Based out of Austin, TX, I first met Allan a decade ago after moving to San Antonio and beginning the build-up for my first 100 (WS). Allan is a superb physical therapist (he might call it physiotherapist), USATF- and USAT-certified coach, and an Ironman-Lake Placid finisher himself. Most importantly, a great friend that I trust absolutely with my well-being during these crazy races.
Allan and I flew into Sacramento on Wednesday for the race, staying with my Dad near my hometown of Marysville, CA. We had planned to make the informal clinic at Squaw Valley that afternoon, but wisely opted to skip it in order to have some downtime at my Dad’s place. Good opportunity to mix up all my race fuel (Hammer Nutrition’s Perpetuem), take a short run at nearby Hammon Grove Park on the Yuba River (100deg temps, last-minute heat training), and get a relaxing meal.
On Thursday we headed up to Squaw Valley, then took the tram ride to High Camp (8200’) to watch the flag-raising ceremony near Emigrant Pass. Not quite able to make the monument due to snow, we nonetheless were treated to a great little ceremony up there from Toni Rossmann and Mo Livermore, two the race’s founders. Allan captures the essence of the ceremony much better over on his site. The afternoon held clinics for foot care, crewing instructions, briefings on ultrarunning medical research, and WS veterans panel in the evening (not to mention a lunch break in the Olympic Village, a cool place to explore on its own).
Friday morning was race check-in, and gathering of the monumental amount of WS race swag! Backpack, very nice jackets, book bag from Udo’s Oil, race tech shirt, and Moeben tossed in arm sleeves, calf sleeves and a neck gaiter, all with the WS logo screened. Great haul! Of course, we bought more stuff in the WS gift store (it all goes to a non-profit, right?) Had some lunch then took in the pre-race briefing in the afternoon. Once back in the hotel in Truckee, I forced myself to stop last-minute preps around 7:30pm, turning on the TV and vegging on a movie until going to sleep around 9pm.
Race morning we woke 0315, left hotel 0400, and were at Squaw 0420. Got race # (bib), went to bathroom, drank some Perpetuem, then headed outside. Good gracious was I nervous at the starting line. Had enough wits about me to turn around, thank Allan profusely, then walk into the crowded starting area. This is it! 9 years I waited to get another chance. How would it go in the next 12+ hours of daylight? What unknown variables would play “Murphy” today? How would all the training work today? So many thoughts in my head, had to clear them out and just focus on the countdown to the start, calm myself just a bit. BANG! Gun goes off and we are away!
The High Country, the Snow, and the Near-Panic
The old joke is that we sprint like mad for 50m then start walking. That is a lie. We actually make it about 200m before the long climb up towards Squaw Peak begins and the long power-hiking strides from most runners kicks in. So grind away we go, climbing up, up, and up towards Squaw’s High Camp at 8200’ (vs. 6200’ at the start). I’ve got a bottle in each hand plus a third stowed on my back in the pouch of the Nathan racing vest I am wearing; one bottle has water, the other two are empty. I just concentrated on powerful yet relaxed power-hike and let the climb flow by.
The Escarpment aid station, normally located right at 8700’ before we head over the ridge, is actually below High Camp this time, just can’t get a vehicle any higher in the slick, icy snow. So got all three bottles filled up here, figured about 12-13mi to the next aid station on the far side at Talbot Campground. And so the runners started into the snow, while climbing for the Escarpment itself at 8700’ and about 4mi into the race. Managed to take a few seconds to turn around, face east and catch the sunrise and wonderful view back towards Lake Tahoe and the southern stretch of the High Sierras. Crested the ridge and dropped into a bowl on the back side of Squaw, thus beginning the long, cruel, snowy descent towards Talbot and French Meadows Reservoir.
The first 1/2mi of the descent is good single track with mercifully little snow, but that is short-lived as our challenge [adventure? ;-)] was about to begin in earnest. The course ran up onto the snow bank and we hung on for the ride! Not too bad at first; footing is fairly solid and no suncups yet to make ankles work. Following the yellow flagging on the trees and staked into the snow, the line of runners gingerly strided their way over the trail and it would down and around. At some places we would come across old, abandoned ski runs, so the course would stretch 200-300m across a diagonal snow face, covered with a thin coat of ice and still in the shadow of Squaw Peak behind us. There we had to be very careful, trying to move with purpose across the face but not go sliding off down the slope! We slipped, we fell, our water bottles in the hand often providing the cushion necessary to pop back up and keep rolling line drunken fools across the snow.
Needless to say, it was challenging to keep a purposeful pace on the course and actually stay on the course! As we got past 5-6mi mark, the runners started to spread out, sometimes in small packs but sometimes you were solo. The flagging could take sharp turns to the left or right, had to pay attention to them and your footing simultaneously. I got off-course once or twice, fortunately had other runners give me a shout and keep me in line; fortunately I was able to return the favor a few other times during the race. The “sun cups” (examples from the web here and here) started in earnest in the faces that caught sunlight, making footing almost funny. The big toe on my left foot is starting to hurt a bit, probably never quite healed properly from the fracture at the Ouachita 50M. Instead of just being mostly along for the ride, it has been flexing and gripping down in the shoes trying to help me get purchase the snow. In addition, I can feel some inflammation in the left hip flexor area (Psoas? pectineus? Sartorius? Who knows). And there are some hot spots forming around the heels of both feet. Good gracious!
Down around 8mi the snow depth started to decrease and get soft and slushy in places, causing running feet to sink down and get shoes and feet good and wet. Hard to describe the conditions, fortunately Gary Wang of realendurance.com was on doing duty as safety patrol this year, and shot some great video around 8-9mi mark and posted to YouTube, look for me about 7:00 mark of the first video. In addition, Gary posted a whole slew of photos on FaceBook (here and here).
So I took 5min to make a pitstop around 18mi. During the squat I took some deep breaths, stared deeply across the reservoir, calmed myself, and repeated the mantra I have mentioned to others often enough: every ultra will have low points, you just gotta wait, keep running, and it’ll come back to you. So I pulled my shorts back up (literally and figuratively), then got back on the course. It’ll come back, just manage your feet, your hip, your hydration, your calories, your electrolytes, etc. and it’ll come back.
After 30-40min of running out of Talbot, made a right turn onto a paved road and made the 1.25mi gentle climb towards the Poppy A/S at Mile 20. At Poppy I had a drop bag waiting for me with Perpetuem flasks and a fresh pair of socks. Tape job on my feet was totally soaking and came up when the socks came off, so probably spent upwards of 10min in the chair drying off my feet, checking the hot spots, applying new layers of tape to the heels, etc. then pulling on fresh Injinji socks. Fortunately, my shoes were mostly dried out by now, so pulling them back on did not immediately soak my socks and feet again. Had run all the way from Escarpment on two bottles (third one full of water was just extra weight on my back), so left a bottle here (that turned out to be a minor mistake) and headed out. The course picks up the new Poppy Trail, winding along the northern shore of French Meadows for 3-4mi. Near the western end, we leave the main trail and climb up to Duncan A/S at 23.5mi. So while this year’s snow course brought us down a snowy descent to the reservoir, it all meant climbing up to Duncan; effectively, another intermediate-level canyon to tackle vs being up on the ridges.
At Duncan, I slugged down a 4-5 cups of GU Brew (a pattern I would repeat at every aid station through the race, sometimes taking 1-2 S-caps as well). As you can see from the photo, the sun is out now, starting to warm up a bit but not bad. I watered up pretty good, both bottles, spent little time there, heading out on the 7.5mi stretch to the Mosquito A/S (replaced Robinson Flat this year). The course wound it’s way over some old jeep road and freshly-cut trail, emerging onto Mosquito Ridge Rd for a mile descent, crossing Duncan Creek on the road (vs normal years on the trail, it is running way too fast to go through on foot safely). A steady climb out of Duncan Canyon on the road for a bit, then split onto some seldom-used trails, winding back and forth. I had no idea where I was, had never been in this area. About a mile down the trail, I see Tim Twietmeyer running back the opposite direction, roll of flagging hanging out of his pocket. He just smiles to us, says “no problem, just re-marking some turns” and keeps going. ‘The Man’ right there, out taking care of business all day long. The trail is fairly exposed, so after an hour I had drunk both my bottles dry (thus, probably should have hung onto the third bottle). The approach to Mosquito is an 800’ climb over about 2mi, and I covered that piece dry. Did not try to run it hard, settled into a good power-hike and ran small pieces here and there; saving the climbing legs for late afternoon and the night. About a ½ mile out there stood Tropical John greeting the runners, always that wry smile “love ya, support ya, gotta be an idiot for running this race” look on his face! Got to the aid station and immediately started sucking down fluids, my slight dehydration now compounding the heel hot-spots and inflamed hip tendon. This was the first medical check, and the scale said 172lbs, down from 179lbs on the wrist band and 181lbs pre-race this morning. The medical folks let me go, but I knew I needed to catch up on fluids.
At Mosquito I opted to make a shoe and sock change from the drop bag. My previous tape job from Poppy was holding well, but took some time to add a layer of tape over both heels, get on a fresh pair of new featherweight Injinji socks, and a dry pair of Inov-8 Flyroc 310 shoes (I ran in another pair of the same model from start to here). Interesting note on the socks: they say never do a race with something untested, but I had a brand-new pair of those Injinji socks, had never worn the newer featherweight version, and it worked out great all day. Best darn socks I ever ran in, esp. for hot weather. Slipped on another pair at Foresthill that carried me all the way to the finish line).
Out of Mosquito we went basically backwards up the course towards Robinson Flat, supposed to cover two miles along newly-cut trail before dropping down the regular course and returning to Miller’s Defeat. On the way out you passed right by that aid station, so rather cruel to be directed outbound by the a/s captain while watching folks run into the station coming down the road. The RD has promised us some more snow up now that we were back up on the ridges. But while there were big patches of it all through that section, it was really not a factor. I had been a touch concerned of slipping on fresh shoes only to get them soaked again in the snow, had even considered delaying the shoe change until Last Chance (43mi and definitely well out of the snow), but no need for unease. About a 1/2mi out of the aid station I got off course for a few seconds and two folks blindly followed this idiot, but something didn’t smell right. So I stopped, panned right, and sure enough saw the flagging. Crashed through the underbrush 50m and got back on the trail. We eventually came onto an old jeep road with a gentle climb, so power-hiked much of that, all exposed up on the ridgeline. The course made a hard left turn, right nasty little descent to the regular course along N-44, and left turn again with a slight descent towards Millers Defeat. Ran that piece with chatting with two fine gents from the safety patrol, who were in turn trying to chat with a spoiled little rich-girl, trust-fund baby living in Marin (must be nice).
Downhill Running, the Canyons, and the Comeback
Watered up good in Miller’s Defeat and immediately headed out. Now we are coming out of the high country with a vengeance, as it is steady descent for the new 10mi. Starting here, I began passing people regularly through the remainder of the race; the only time I was passed again was on the climb past Hwy 49 in the dark by the gentlemen who eventually finished right ahead of me in 91st place. Now the Aleve is starting to work on my hip, the tape job on my heals is holding fine and hot spots are calming down, and the big toe can just be along for the ride and not grip into the snow. Now I can muster these legs for the descents to come, where my strongest running will occur. Uneventful stretch down to Dusty Corners, but Glenn Tachiyama was taking photos and posted a keeper of me:
After the Dusty Corners a/s we took a hard right onto the Pucker Point section of the trail. This stretch was first used in the 2002 race (my first trip to WS). Great section of trail, offers tremendous views way down into forks feeding the American River, can hear the roar of the water from over 2000’ above it. Actually need to be mindful and pay attention to the trail and not too much on the scenery! Wound through the section for 3+ miles, enjoying every step of it, because now I DO have my legs back under me. The occasional Aleve is doing its job, the hot spots are covered with tape that is holding and thus are dealt with, and the legs are working, even in a fairly flat section like this one. I am starting to chew up the miles like my training has prepped me for.
Came out of Pucker Point area, turned right and headed down to the Last Chance settlement. Stepped onto the scale and saw 177lbs. Whew! Weight back up to where it should be, pounding all these fluids helped get me back. Downed several cups of GUBrew, filled both bottles (one in the hand, one on the back), grabbed some extra Perp from the drop bag, and blew out of there. Because for me, the race is now starting. I won’t say I am the best downhill runner in the world, or the best climber. But by God, I’ve got the skills, strength, and cajones to make these canyons work for me!
Tightened down the racing vest, making it good and snug for the big descent to Swinging Bridge. Made a smooth run out of Last Chance, then hit the trail with earnest. (The sign warning folks of “Precipitous” trail always make me chuckle). I immediately cruised by a half-dozen runners, earning some “go for it!” kudos along with one sourpuss muttering “someone is in a hurry” [no, that dude did NOT ever catch me]. During the Memorial Day training runs, I ran this descent at about 95% effort right behind Matt Keyes the whole way; only my wits kept me from going full-tilt 100% that day, because a crash could prove fatal! Today I ran the descent to the bridge hard, I figure about 80% effort. Smooth and steady, chewing up the clock but saving some reserves for the Calif St section; still a long way to go. Love running down this thing, so let it flow and smiled broadly, because now I was beginning to feel “the zone”. Faster than expected came Swinging Bridge, so I downed my bottle and swapped real quick while making the climb to Devil’s Thumb. Took about 35min, so a real good split there. Temps probably around 85deg, no more than 90deg. I supposed all the heat runs and sauna sessions the past month might be considered overkill, for I had absolutely no problems climbing out of there. Hard and steady power-hike, never ran a step. Kept my inner-monologue going: focus, climb, focus, climb, water, climb, calories, climb, do not stop, steady breathing, do not stop, keep the pressure on, and find the top!
Crested the final rise, saw the Thumb, and rolled into the a/s. Another quick step onto the scale, 177lbs, no problem. Opened up my drop bag to discover that my “cold bags” with two Perp flasks were no longer cold; had gotten rather cooked instead! The ice they started into was not hot water, so just left the flasks there and relied on the tubes of Perp Solids I had with me as backups. Steve Harrold was there to greet me, good man. Asked about my fluids, about my calories, and if I was peeing. Then gave a wry smile and in a low voice said “you are on pace to do it!” And right he was, I had to smile in agreement. By now I am totally focused, the low points of the morning are long past, have nailed the first canyon and know in my gut that I’ll do fine through the next two. Filled my bottles again, filled my cap with ice, grabbed a traditional Devil’s Thumb popsicle (only sugar I ate the whole race, which tasted lovely), and headed out.
Walked a bit to eat the popsicle and let the fluids in my stomach settle. Then picked up the run and began the gentle descent past the Deadwood pump and the cemetery. Re-tightened the vest and dropped over the edge past the cemetery for the long, winding descent to El Dorado Creek. By now it is 50mi into the race (though emotionally I consider Foresthill to be the halfway point). Lovely afternoon sun starting to come down to the west as we descend into the canyon. Passed several more folks on the way down, made a pee stop just past the pine meadow the marks halfway between Deadwood and the creek (thank goodness for that, had not peed in a while). Kept it about 80% effort down the trail, enjoying it immensely and letting the details sink in.
Crossed over El Dorado creek, downed 4-5 cups of fluids and a pair of S-caps, took as much ice as they could spare into my cap, and began the long climb to Michigan Bluff. An hour is the target based on training weekend, think I did it in 65min (splits out of El Dorado were not recorded except for about first 20-25 folks through there). Again, heat was never a factor. Just ground that sucker down, step by step, barely did any running at all. Finally crested out and picked up a good jog into the aid station, I think Allan captured a video of it somewhere? So yes, finally saw my crew for the first time. Good site, glad to know someone is looking out for me today!
Only stopped for fluids and some S-caps. Met another gent that I had run with at the training weekend. He walked out of MB with me for a bit, talking leaders and the snow up high. But had to politely cut him off: “Dude, I really do not want to talk about or even think about the snow, OK?” He nodded and smiled knowingly, gave me a slap on the ass and hearty ‘GO’ as I picked up the jog and headed out of MB. Moved steadily through this stretch, mostly old dirt roads. It was only a day later that I realized I didn’t even stop to enjoy the bikini girls that always work the MB aid station! A gentle climb up into the ridgeline again, stayed at a power-hike and saved my legs. Then the hard left turn off the dirt roads and began the descent into Volcano Canyon. Lots of short switchbacks down into here, a relatively technical section by WS standards (benign compared to trails back home). Crossed over the creek at the bottom, no rope to aid the crossing (kind of odd, was one there for the training weekend). Creek went up to my knees before I slipped on a rock and went in up to my waist! Oh well, splashed out of there and began the power-hike climb towards Bath Rd. Came to the sign from the Auburn Running Co saying “Aid Station ¼ mile ahead”. That’s typical ultra bullshit, it was ½ mile! OK by me, I just kept up the hike, check my watch and knew I was in great shape. Emerged onto Bath Rd, emptied my bottles, downed a few cups of GUBrew. Then, almost entirely for emotional reasons, I ran the whole climb up to Foresthill Rd. I wanted to do it as a ‘gut check’ to prove to myself, right then and there, I had all the emotional and physical readiness necessary to come out of FH standing erect and ready to roll down Calif St. So up I went, step by step, slowly but steadily running up that road for nearly a mile before seeing that heavenly green street sign that says “Foresthill Road”.
Full smile going now, a left turn and gentle descent to the school. Looked at my watch, not watch 7pm. I almost can’t believe it, feeling solid and cruising into FH over an hour ahead of my 2002 split. About halfway down the road I see a young kids, mid-20s, who asks “Josh?” and there is pacer, David Walker. We linked up over the WS100 website on Thurs and here he is, ready-to-roll. We cruise into FH, he splits off to link up with Allan and get my chair on the far end. I am pretty fired up now. Aid station announcer calls out my name and number, says I am the lone runner from Alabama this year. I respond with a full-throated, Forrest Gump-style “Al-a-BAMA!” before rolling to the scale. Medical check is good, 177lbs and obviously lucid. Immediately leave the aid station and pop a squat in the chair Allan has prepped for me. David starts ripping off my shoes and socks. We opt to dry off and re-tape both heels, slide on a fresh pair of the Injinji featherweight socks, swap shoes to the Sportiva Crossblades. Lose the ice hat and Oakleys I have been with all day. Pick up headlamps, prescription night glasses (green-shaded lenses, works wonders under low light conditions), and spare headlamps. Take a deep breath, take account of all the necessary gear, and note that it is 7:15pm. Make a goal of Green Gate by midnight (Allan says sounds like a country-western song), then head out. Perhaps 10min total in Foresthill.
California St, the RaceTrack, and Trying Not to do Anything Stupid
Steady cruise down the road, turn onto Calif St then off the pavement and over the edge onto the trail again. I’m working out the fine details with Dave on the run here. I’ll take the lead and set the pace, he swings in back and pushes me from behind; I’ve got legs to go so want to go fairly strong on the descents to come. Tell him I won’t necessarily do a lot of talking, that he can chat me up as much or as little as he likes, though I may not exactly hold up my end of the conversation. And away we go towards Cal-1.
About 40min to Cal-1, some good steady running through there. Legs are feeling very good for this stage of a 100, no complaints. I have almost completely forgotten about the morning’s episodes, wholly focused on the miles ahead of me. Topped off my one hand-bottle, purposefully left the second empty to save on weight, and blew right out of there. Dave is just awesome, a bang-up job pacing all night. About 100m out he scoops the bottle out of my hand, sprints ahead, gets it filled, takes care of himself, makes sure I’m good, then escorts me out the a/s ricky-tick. I was pushing as it was, he made me go out of there on turbo mode.
Lots more good running out of Cal-1. Walked the climbs, didn’t even try to run those, but worked the descents tenaciously. Ran dry on fluids about 15min out; a risk I took, but no sweat, temps are cooling down and it won’t be a factor tonight. Judging the remaining daylight close now, want to make Cal-2 on the twilight. Sure enough, got there in about 70min. I am smiling again, can’t believe I just made this a/s without lights. Last time I was fading by this point but trying to save the race; now I am plenty of good running left in me, almost jumping out of my skin with excitement. At Cal-2 we pull on the headlamps, do a quick systems check with those and spare flashlights, then head out. Dave has never seen the Calif St section, and I am familiar with it, so I stay in the lead and just roll out of there. This new headlamp (Fenix 10 that I bought from ZombieRunner) is amazing! I had quickly tested it out a few days ago, but dang this sucker is bright! And only on the high setting; got a whole other level to go if needed. Lots of short switchbacks here, quickly winding down to the American River, that glorious sound now right below. It is a great feeling, because the sound of that river is the last one you have to cross! We reached the river, emerged from the single-track onto a jeep road, then began that right nasty little climb up towards Cal-3 (Fords Bar). While I ran that in training, tonight I am content to power-hike and conserve the legs for now. We finally crested that sucker and made a gentle descent towards the aid station. Drank some fluids, topped off one bottle (other is still empty), and headed for the river crossing.
About 3mi of single-track along the river, then emerged out onto a jeep road. Dave pulls up alongside and we run side-by-side now. I am feeling talkative now. This is the site of my 2002 melt-down, just shy of the river crossing. About to bonk badly and far beyond my experience, in hindsight I probably wasn’t emotionally ready to handle that kind of low point back then. I related to Dave my previous experience, then could just smile and yell out “BUT NOT TONIGHT!” as I put more pressure on the pace and rolled steady. Rounded a bend of the river and a mile out is the crossing, all lit up and looking beautiful. I am gonna reach it before 11pm, I can’t believe it! Everything is just going so well now, the “flow” is one and I am feeling it. Saw three other runners ahead of us approaching the river, kicked in the burners and blew by them so as not to wait in line for the crossing boats. Med check went fine, 177lbs and looking good. Swallowed a gut full of fluids anticipating a few minutes in the boats and a few minutes on the far side changing shoes, then stepped down to the boats.
Rolled my right ankle stepping down the rocky steps, ouch! The river was running hard from the snow melt; I can say pretty unequivocally that NO ONE was walking across this year, at Ruck-a-Chuck or probably anywhere else. I can also say without hesitation that the volunteers running the boats were absolutely awesome! From the time I stepped off the scale, put on the life-vest, got on the boat, crossed over with my pacer, and stepped off, it was 2min elapsed time. And never got my feet wet. Hopped out on the far end, looked around in a bit of disbelief at how easy that went. (Facchino Photography has a number of shots of me at the crossing, just the proofs). The aid station volunteers handed me my drop bag, where I had planned a change of shoes and socks. But just handed it back to them, grabbed David and we got the heck out of there in a hurry!
Now I am fighting the excitement. I just crossed over the river and have a full head of steam of to go, can’t believe it! We power-walked the steep pitch out of the river for about 200-300m until the dirt road shallows out a bit. Then out of emotional, gut-check needs, I picked up the run and started grinding away that climb to Green Gate. David pulled up alongside, chatted at me a bit, but mostly head was down and concentrating on the road. I needed to run that climb to show myself that I could do this, that I had the necessary power remaining to reach out and take that silver buckle. And so up we went, passing 2-3 other folks, seeing pacers/crew coming down to the river crossing and rooting us on. After a bit, we hear the generators and see the lights of Green Gate. And holy smokes, it’s only 11pm (a full hour ahead of my split goal). Allan is there, so I grabbed some Caffe Late Perpetuem, pull on a fresh shirt for the last 20mi (Team Red, White, & Blue shirt), and roll right out of there. David took a break at this point, planning to rejoin me at Hwy49 crossing, so I was solo again.
The American River Canyon, Running Solo in the Night, and Forcing the Pace
The 5mi stretch between GG and Auburn Lake Trails was uneventful. The leg generally descends over the first two miles, then goes back up a few hundred feet, but hugging the canyon wall above the American River the whole time. I mostly talked to myself (out loud) through here, checking on status of my body, putting down fluids, sucking in some calories, checking my mental states, making small prayers to God for clarity of mind and safety. It was in this leg and the leg to Browns Bar in 2002 I was at the lowest of points. Reduced to a mere power-walk, bonking badly, each step sending painful shocks through my shot-up quads. But not this year; this go-round I was running smoothly and gently. Mindful of the surroundings and the sounds, keeping myself focused and keeping steady pressure on the pace.
Came to ALT in about 75min, took some ice-water but no food and kept rolling. Saw the bobbing lights of other runners and pacers. Then I stepped in a small hole on the trail, rolled my ankle, and went crashing down, wham! What the heck just happened? Quickly popped up, checked myself and my gear. And this is what’s great about ultrarunning, even big-ticket events like Western: two dudes on the other side the small ravine stopped, called out “You OK?”. They waited a few seconds, then called again, where I finally acknowledged, told them I was good, urged them to keep going. How cool is that? Think many Ironman competitor on the bike or run would have stopped for me? I was up and rolling down the trail within 30 seconds.
The trail opens comes out of the trees in several places above the river, hugging a contour line and winding in-out of the canyons’s feeder creeks, fingers, and draws. In those open spots you can see the stars and the lights above Auburn, feeling the miles glide by under your feet. The relentless rhythm of the running stride, inexorable and powerful, taking me towards the finish and my hopes and goals. It was through here in 2002 I felt most alone; realizing later that I was never alone, not then and certainly not tonight, feeling His calming presence on me, keeping me safe and steady.
Got to Browns Bar (90mi) in about 65min, pace sped up significantly from prior leg to ALT. This station is run by local Hashers, but I just smiled at the beer offering and kept on trucking. The next leg has a ½ mile descent right down to the river on a rugged, technical piece of trail. By now, a small hint of fatigue is creeping into the legs, for I simply couldn’t go rolling down that piece as balls-out as earlier; too technical and couldn’t quite muster the zap in my legs to go hopping down it in a hurry. It was my first indication that I would have to carefully meter out my energy in final two hours of the race, budgeting to blow it all right after Robie Pt. But made up some ground on the dirt road down at the river, running steadily if not with a little speed. Then came the nasty single-track ascent up to Hwy 49. I flat-out attacked this sucker, mentally willing myself to run as much as possible, grinding up, up, up through the rocks and tree roots. As with Bath Rd and climb to GG, I needed to push this hard, an emotional gut-check on myself. Just kept telling myself to focus, climb, focus, climb. Do not let up the pressure, do not step to get a deep breath, just go up this sucker and find the highway.
And sure enough, the highway crossing came. Med check went fine at 178lbs. Allan handed me one last caffeinated gel to keep mental alertness up; David there to pace me right to the track. 21hr20min elapsed, meaning 2hr40min to go 6.5mi and make the dream happen. It is so close now, but also several hard-hitting stretches of trail to go yet, so must stay focused, focused. Allan grabs me, says something about mental game, but I know I am only half-listening now; the inexorable pull of the trail is just to the left, where I need to be going, getting on the run. And so David and I went, power-hiking up that cruel little climb, then blessedly emerging on the meadow called Pointed Rocks. Picked up a smooth run again, bore to the right, and take a few moments to mentally prep myself for the last descent, a winding and (typically) fun decline following a creek bed back down towards the American River. We are mixed in with about 7-8 other folks now, runners and pacers, headlamps bobbing all over the place. Did some passing, but we mostly just tried to spread out, else the competing light beams can screw you up a bit.
Out pops the trail onto the historical No Hands Bridge, lit up like Christmas Tree for us. As I turned away from the aid station table, I weaved across the bridge just a touch before catching myself and commanding new mental focus. I urge David to be mindful of the moment, crossing No Hands in the dark is an event to remember! I can’t believe I am crossing this thing in the dark! Heck, I could walk it in from here and make it! But no, I am not going out that way. In the midst of the race, when I got to FH it was becoming apparent I could do it (sub24). I had been gently accelerating the pace thru the canyons, and really started to push down Calif St. By the river and GG I was calculating (internally) a possible 22:45-23:00 finish assuming current accelerated pace, and realized I could ‘walk it in’ if I chose to. But I kept the hammer down past GG and ALT; this was to be the last 100mi ‘race’ and I wanted no doubts that I could no faster on this course. I had shaved every possible aid station break, and pushed solid (not all out, but close) through the canyons, ran every step out of Bath Rd, every step out of the river to GG, and ran all the way out of Robie Pt. I sat down 3 times the whole race (4 if you include the boat), and took literally no break on the far side of the river, deciding to forgo the shoe change and keep trucking. I had gotten past “can I break 24?” question and proceeded to “leave no pocket of energy reserves unexpended”. When I got to the track and for the rest of my days, I wanted no thoughts in the back of my mind about coulda-woulda-shoulda as to the ultimate finishing time. Perhaps I might have taken 5min or even 10min off this year’s time, but I was determined to push and shove and keep the pressure on right until the very end. I wanted to walk away from Western knowing that it was my best possible effort. (Of course, combined with that shiny silver buckle, is a good thing to know).
So we get running again, making a steady shuffle in the dark, trading “good job” with several other folks along the way. Still running just fine, but when we began the final climb up to Robie Pt I began to feel the some of last remnants of juice in my legs, along the sharp inflammation in the left hip flexor as the Aleve can’t control it much longer. But up we go, keeping that pressure on, telling myself to climb, climb, climb. Do not stop, do not take it easy, squeeze out every possible second and minute you can get from here. We get some cheers from a few folks standing what turns out to be well-below Robie; kinda of a cruel joke, because you think that final aid station and the pavement is near, but it’s really another 500-600m up the damn trail! But finally we emerge, David gives out a “Alabama in the house!” as we turn right and look up the street. Given the cruel nature of this course, you emerge in the city of Auburn, on a paved road, only to have a righteous ½ mi climb up that street! But heck yeah, we are running that sucker. And up comes the climbing jog, grinding that sucker down, stride by stride, inexorably looking for the top of it. Waving to the locals who are outside at 4am cheering on damn-fool runners in the wee hours. Making sure we know where we are going because neither of us is exactly familiar with the neighborhoods of Auburn! But the climb ends and the climbing shuffle turns into a genuine run. And good Lord I can hear Tropical John on the mike in the stadium, so up comes the pace. And there is the left turn over the bridge and see the light poles over the track, and up comes the pace again. Another left turn towards the finish, and now we are no-shit running; full-on, blow every remnant of the quads and energy stores. Holy shit, I can’t believe this is happening! David is already preparing to peel off and let me have the track, holding out his hands for my gear. Allan is at the bottom of the street, I strip off my racing vest, headlamp and other gear and hand it all over, Just keep the glasses on so I can see all the details, drink it all in. One more left turn and there is the entrance to the track, shoot the gap between the barricades and off to the races; strong, powerful stride, I can’t contain it anymore. Down the backstretch of the track, slightly teary now. So much effort, so long in prepping and waiting for this moment. And now it is here, off the turn, finish line dead ahead.
Saturday, June 11, 2011
In preparation for my shot at the infamous Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, my lovely wife allowed me a long-weekend trip to California to run in the training camp. It was also a great chance to see my Dad; since he lives a mere hour’s drive Auburn, I stayed at his place through the weekend, driving to-from the daily training runs out of Foresthill/Auburn.
I just managed to make a late afternoon flight on Southwest out of Birmingham on Thursday, took nearly 3 hours to get there in storms and major traffic jams. We left BHM a ½ hour late on the long initial leg to Las Vegas. But bless Southwest, they held mine and several others’ connections there so we wouldn’t be stranded for the night. I walked right to the next plane (no bathroom, no get-a-snack, no nothing) and they blasted out for Sacramento. Got into SMF around 2130, only 25min behind schedule. Picked up my rental care and headed to Dad’s place in Browns Valley, finally getting to sleep just past midnight.
On Friday, the sun woke me about 0530, but managed to doze until 0615. After a light breakfast, went down to Marysville and did a WOD with CrossFit Feather River. Turned out to be a great day to make an affiliate visit, owner Debbi Goode treated the 0900 class to the Filthy Fifty of all things! Did it in 25:34 (PR). Good crowd, always fun to see how Marysville has changed in the past 30+ years. CFFR is located on D St and 5 St downtown, I can recall at least five different businesses in there over the years. I hope Debbi is able to keep it going; she gave me the visit for free after I made the obligatory t-shirt purchase. Had some local Mexican food at Tortilleria Florez with Dad, then working from his house on my laptop rest of the afternoon.
Training Camp Day 1 (Sat)
Normally on Day 1 of the camp, we get bussed from Foresthill (FH) Elementary School up to Robinson Flat (about Mile 30 on the course) and run back to FH. However, due to snow and road conditions higher up in the mountains, race management announced an alteration on Wed before I left home that would have us bussing down to Driver Flat near Auburn and running backward on the course past FH to Michigan Bluff and back to FH. I did not like that option very much. After all, the prime reason for flying out from Alabama is to run in the dreaded canyons! After posting on the Ws100 Yahoo groups page, fortunately for me several local WS veterans contacted me offline and extended an invitation to alternate training runs outside the camp. So that morning I had the good fortune to meet up with Bob Crowley and Steve Harrold, among others, at FH. From there we charted a route backwards on the course through Volcano Canyon, MB, into El Dorado Creek, up to Devil’s Thumb and finally across Swinging Bridge up to Last Chance. There must have been 75+ or more folks with similar notions that day, all on ‘unofficial’ training runs in the canyons.
I stayed with Bob and Steve all morning, making a leisurely start form FH about 0615. Made our way down Bath Rd, took a pitstop, then into Volcano Canyon. Fog bank rolling in, actually rather chilly this morning, set of gloves would have been handy. Creek coming thru Volcano Canyon was full, so we were feet-wet within 20min. Long power-hike climb out of that intermediate canyon, linked up with several other locals up top, and made our way to Michigan Bluff. Steve showed me where Carl Anderson/Ann Trason live, and where Scott Jurek buried his dog (stuff only locals would know). They were the most gracious tour guides all morning.
Took a quick stop in MB (1hr27min elapsed), chatted with some others, then dropped down into El Dorado Creek. Long, steady descent with Bob; not trying to kill it, but rather holding back and keeping it under control, lots of running to go today. Bob was playing tour guide most of the way, showed me a spring that marked 1/3 to go (on the climb) back to MB, very cool. Once over the bridge, took another long power-hike up to Deadwood Cemetery. Bob showed me the pine grove that is halfway point between Deadwood and ElDorado. Once past the cemetery, climbed up to the equestrian pump near Devil’s Thumb. That is new from my last time here, a very welcome addition. Many folks up here today on training runs, eschewing the official runs down on Calif St. At the pump we met Matt Keyes from Auburn, heck of a nice guy. Short run from the pump to the Thumb, then made a steady descent (not fast) down to Swinging Bridge at the bottom of the canyon. Chatting with Steve most of the way, very nice fellow. Found out later he is a senior prosecutor from the Sacto County DA’s office, my Dad knows who he is. Got a feeling he is an ass-kicker in and out of the courthouse!
At Swinging Bridge I took my leave from Bob and linked up with Matt. A quad of us (including new acquaintances Ted and Jeff) made a strong ascent out of there and headed up towards Last Chance. Quick stop as the trail emerged onto old mining road to gather everyone up, then made our way to Last Chance. I took a few minutes to identify the spring there for future use. Turned around at about 5hr5min elapsed and headed back to Foresthill!
About 29min to make the descent to Swinging Bridge (all of these are the longest I have made in 9 years!), Matt and I really pushing the pace down the trail and grinding our legs down; that was some fun running. Bob had related his favorite mental imagery of being a frictionless pinball in the race, making the smoothest, faster possible descent down the winding trail I found that very apropos. After the bridge came the 36 switchbacks to Devil’s Thumb (about 39min to make that climb, but cool weather today). We gathered the four of us up on the top and made our way to the pump where I topped off my camelbak (carried far too much water today, knowingly, but oh well). We had been getting short drizzle early in the afternoon, but now we got a hail burst for 10min that turned into light rain for the next 2 hours.
Another fast descent into El Dorado Creek, Matt and I just cranking it down the trail. At the bridge I stopped for a pee, but Matt just rocked on, instantly scraping me off! Oh well, dude is a great runner, glad to have his company for a bit. The climb back up to Michigan Bluff took nearly an hour, just power-hiked it at good pace (but not all out). The aid station for the official training was still set up, so I treated myself to some cookies and soda (hey, I did pay for it). I was starting to get cold in the rain now, temp hovering around 50deg, arms and hands not working real well. So little choice but to pick up a steady run on the forest road and get warmed up again.
Near the Anderson-Trason place, I saw perhaps the biggest darn jackrabbit ever; ears must have been at least 6” tall! Darn thing was huge. It took off running and bounding, made a pleasant sight in the middle of miserable rain. Anyhow, I ground out the climbs, some running and some walking, and then finally dropped back onto single-track into Volcano Canyon. Made a strong descent (not as fast as before, but passed 4-5 folks easily) before crossing through the stream and feet totally soaked again. Long, grinding climb up the rocky trail. Finally emerged onto Bath Rd, picked up the shuffle and ground ran the mile-long climb up to Foresthill Rd, then had a strong pace back to the elementary school. For a while, I had seriously toyed with the idea of continuing down down Cal St after Matt Keyes to aim for 50mi that day. But at FH recognized that I was soaked and cold from the rain, lacking the right gear to keep pushing today (Matt was there in a fresh running jacket) (which I certainly did not have). So called it with about 40mi under my belt, darn fine training day overall.
Took some time to rub ice on my legs, dry off, then helped myself to grilled ham-cheese sandwich. Talked with talked Matt and his lovely wife (Kim) and Tim Twietmeyer some. But started to get cold again, so jumped into car and warmed up. Stopped at JambaJuice in Auburn, back at Dad’s place around 1730.
WS100 Training Camp – Day 2
Got to FH about 0745, checked in and actually got my number this time! Run scheduled to start 0830, but I was ready to go early, so why wait around for it? Just gonna be a conga line if I go with the crowd. So pulled out of FH on a very pleasant morning and headed down the Cal St section of the Western States trail. Took it easy the first 10-15min, jawboning with some others that started early as well. Then cranked up the speed and got going.
Blew thru Cal-1 in about 36min (alas, dumbshit here deleted his split before I wrote them down, so all times today from memory). About 55min to Cal-2. Very fun descent to the river, multiple switchbacks with banked turns. Borrowed Bob Crowley’s imagery again and just imagined myself as a pinball rolling down the race and flowed down them. Reached the river, trail went flat for a bit before a right nasty little climb on the way to Cal-3, worse than I remember, but ground it out. Blew past Ca-3, did not see it, oh well. Came to Ruck-a-Chuck around 2hr45min (15.5mi)
Walked down to the crossing, made a pitstop in the loo there, came back up to aid station and jawboned with Ken Crouse for a while. Ken is another fine gentleman who reached out to me via email to offer options for yesterday’s re-routed training run. Jawboned with him for 10-15 min, great fellow. Found out later he was a US Marine at the Fall of Saigon!
After about 30min screwing around down there, picked up my pack and made the climb out to White Oak Flat. Long switching ascent on the dirt road and some single track. Official finish line up top, about 19mi mark for the mornings. Ate a pair of hot dogs and drank a coke (usually couldn’t stomach something like that, but tasted great today!) Talked with some other folks and chilled for a few minutes. Decided to run back to FH instead of waiting on the bus. After chatting with some local vets, found the historic WS trail, popped out onto some housing, then onto Todd Creek Trail. Had to pull my phone out and check location on the map (that cost me some time), but eventually made my way to Todd Valley Rd and then Foresthill Rd. Climb up to Foresthill (about 3mi) took a bit, but kept it flowing smooth as I could in the rolling fog and intermittent hail storms. Elapsed time at FH about 6 hours, figure 27mi for the day.
WS100 Training Camp – Day 3
Woke 0600, actually had a light breakfast this morning (scrambled eggs, apple) since run won’t start until ~0915. Left house 0645, at Placer HS and checked in around 0800. Run brief 0815, loaded onto the buses and away we go down CA-49, CA-193, then up Sliger Mine Rd to the cemetery. We unloaded and got to running!
Just past the cemetery (~1/3mi) the road goes from paved to rough dirt, and downhill about 2mi to Green Gate (GG). There we typically take a hard left onto the course, and there were two gentlemen out there guiding us that way. But I wanted to go backwards on the course down to the river crossing. So I tried to surreptitiously slip past (unsuccessfully, it turns out) and headed down there. About 2mi descent on dirt road, I had the option of turning left or right near the bottom. Foolishly chose left (wrong way) and down to the river; made a pitstop there. Didn’t seem like the right place, so climbed back up and took the right turn instead. Now I was in the right place, found the aid station location I remember and river crossing location. Made the return climb to GG in 23:06, good pull.
I went past GG and got back onto today’s scheduled/official training route. Turned on the juice and got moving at a solid pace. Had to make guesses at some trail intersections, but got to Auburn Lake Trails around an hour past GG. Farted around there a few minutes making sure I had the right course (the sweeps, now ahead of me, were pulling the course flagging). Finally left here at 1hr7min split.
Once past ALT, I moved strongly along canyon’s edge. Caught the sweeps after about 25min, running hard to get to them and make sure I was going in the right direction (felt right, but just no real confirmation w/o the course marking). They were not happy to see me, evidently discussion about pulling my ribbon/bracelet since I deviated from the official route. I understand their position, but oh well, it is a free country and I’m here to rack up training miles.
Got to Browns Bar aid station location in 29:58. Pushed down the rutty trail to the Quarry Rd along the river, tried to keep a steady pace on the flats, though can tell the training is starting to do it work: can running solid on the flats but not fast! Ground up a short climb to the aid station about 12mi into the official route, then began the climb up to Hwy 49. Rutty, rocky trail but ground it out with 2-3 short (10sec) walk breaks. Got to Hwy 49 with split of 43:31, cruised over the road and got going up the next section (can’t remember the name of it)
Medium climb up and over the meadow overlooking the river and Hwy 49, then hammered the heck out of the last descent into No Hands Bridge. Talked with Jay Freeman briefly on the way down, a gentlemen I met at the Grasslands event and last saw at WS in 2002! Felt fairly good over the bridge all things considered, spent a few minutes in the aid station there getting water refill and drinking some fluids (34:26 split).
Got going on the last section, still shuffling well and able to climb. Came across a 4’ rattlesnake (let it go by), then had to make a pitstop. Made the climb up to Robie Pt, that sucker is a right nasty little spell. Got onto the road and just kept pressing up the steep road into Auburn, dang I had forgotten how bad that section was! Big ass deer (buck) just nonchalantly wandered across the street, kinda surreal. Finally topped out and began slow downhill on the home stretch. Course markings a little scant through the streets, but a nice lady driving by pointed me in the right direction, bless her. Adrenaline flowing now and kicked it good and hard to the track (44:25 split). About 27mi for the day as best I can figure.
Will log 94mi for the training weekend, not too shabby. With the right gear on Day 1, could have pushed that number even higher (oh well). I was fortunate to be contacted by several locals, they got me to thinking that I didn’t necessarily need to follow the masses on the established routes. Having gotten past that herd mindset, it freed me up to rack some miles and push myself more than I would have otherwise. We will see the results on 25-26 June!
Got back to Dad’s place around 1700. Took a while to get cleaned up and gear somewhat packed. Great dinner of lamb/pork meatballs, garlic bread, green beans. Spent some time chatting with Dad, then we were watching Secondhand Lions on DVD late into the evening (among his favorite movies). Caught the 0600 flight out of Sacramento the next morning.