Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tall Trees. Tough Trails. Jerky Owls.

My nemesis!!! Or at least he looked a lot like this . . .

Most race reports begin with something regarding the crack of dawn. However, I knew nothing about dawn on race day because I was snoring away in my hotel room as the race mercifully didn't start until 10 AM. Finally around 8 AM I woke up, ate a bunch of bananas and fruit bars and made my way to Easton for the race start. After a quick 9 AM meeting, there was some general milling about, some pancake eating, a lot of water drinking, and some last minute sitting. The weather was going to be great, high's in the mid 60's with little chance for rain. At 9:55 we enjoyed the Canadian and US national anthems, the latter played on a baritone by a runner in a trucker hat and long colorful socks. Yes, this was going to be a different race.

The view at the start. Hello, Easton!

These are all the supplies that get hauled out to the various aid stations for the race. Tell me these RD's and volunteers aren't the best!

In addition to the above, they haul out all of these drop bags to the various locations.

Warming up for the national anthem? I hope he didn't run with that thing . . .

I particularly respected the fact that the Canadian flag was mounted on a hockey stick.

I don't exactly look ready for a race, do I? More like a saunter . . .

At 10 AM we were off, headed down a long gravel road. The beginning of the run was the usual nervous chatter as each runner found their place in the pack and a little bit of rhythm. After about 2 miles, the grind began as course tilted upwards. I found myself behind my buddy Mike, which told me I was way ahead of where I should be. We chatted a lot as we transitioned from rutted fire road to the single track of Goat Peak. The climb went by relatively quickly, and before I knew it, we had hit the top. I had been thinking about the climb for weeks, and with it under my belt, I realized I could have a pretty good day because it went by a lot faster than expected.
Get out of the way! Here I come . . .

After some rolling stuff, we hit our first real aid station and a cranking downhill where I hooked up with a fellow So Cal guy from Hunnington Beach who was a complete hardass having run just about every major race you can imagine. From somewhere behind me, Mike came blazing past and up the next climb of 1500 feet to the PCT, with a quick stop at the aid station at Blowout Mtn. on the way.

Looking back somewhere around mile 20 at Cole Butte, which was at mile 10 of the course. We ran down those switchbacks, then up a similar set to get to Blowout Mountain, which was the mile 15 aid station.

Almost every race report I read of Cascade Crest lauds the PCT section of the trail, which starts about mile 16 or so, and now I understand why. It is miles and miles of mostly runnable, cushioned trail, with some rocky sections thrown in during the clear cuts. The section from Blowout Mountain to Tacoma Pass was a ball, with lots and lots of fun downhill where you could just put it in cruise control. Somewhere in this section, I heard the sound of gravel falling, and down came the cliff came rolling a pica, which is like a little rabbit, coming to stop right on the trail in front of me upside down. He quickly righted himself and stared nervously at me. Don't worry little fella. I have other things to do than mess with you. Too funny to see an animal wipe out much like I was doing all over these trails. I ended up with 3 or 4 good falls before it was all said and done.

Typical section of trail in the trees . . .

If there were no clouds, you would see Mt. Ranier. You can just see the base above the ridgeline.

Somewhere in this section, I dropped in with John, who was going for his fifth finish, and David, who was going for his fourth. I sucked information from both those guys. The conversation was flowing lightly as we pushed through the forest. Both John and David were behind their normal pace, but I still felt like I was a little faster than I had any right to be. But everyone told me to push during the first afternoon because once darkness hit, it was going to be a long slow night, and by the second dawn, you were in a series of climbs which made it difficult to gain ground. So push I did.
Where is that guy? Volunteer and/or crew looking down the trail at incoming runners at Tacoma Pass aid station. Crews do a lot of waiting, wondering when their guy or gal is going to come bursting out of the woods demanding gels and body glide.

Hey, who's that guy? Took you long enough . . .

As we talked, I realized that David was the same guy who I finished Jemez with. Ha! When you are running these things, you rarely see anyone's face, just the back of their legs if they are in front of you or just the trail if they are behind you. Anyways, he and John and I worked as a team, the three of us pushing each other along for miles and miles. I was happy to pull into Tacoma Pass where Erica was waiting with my new ultra secret weapon - Spaghetti-o's. Yes, that childhood treat that everyone loved. I have a problem getting enough salt in these races because I can't take salt pills easily, so this was my solution - cold, right out of the can. And it worked great. Packed with sodium and easy to swallow, they went right down, and I ate a whole can during the climb out of the aid station. In fact, I probably ate too much, which is difficult to do during these races. And I can say throughout the race, I had no cramping problems, although I attribute the cold weather for some of that as well.
The breakfast of champions. Somehow, I don't think that this is what they are serving the Olympic marathoners this year . . .

My initial goal was to make Meadows Mountain at Mile 41 by darkness or a little after, and I got there about 15 minutes after busting out my light. Somewhere David got a head of the group, but as I busted out of the aid station, burgeoned again by Spaghetti'0's from Erica and some soup, I knew John was behind me somewhere. I also knew per our pattern in the last 15 miles that he would spend more time in the aid station and catch up to me somewhere on the trail. Sure enough, after about 15 minutes, he came barrelling past me, and I waved him on feeling I couldn't keep his pace as the thick dark of a northwestern mountain night took hold. But about 10 minutes down the trail, I passed him back as he adjusted his pack, and we fell in to a rhythm again, not really saying anything, but at least me taking comfort from another light in the darkness.

There was lots of stumbling on rocks and some nasty stubbed toes, but generally the night moved along. I was soon at Olalie Meadows where I wished a quick hello to Scott who is the RD for White River as well as the aid station captain. Not wishing to upset my cooperating stomach by experimenting with one of his famous pirogies, I kept going over what the race director had said would be the hardest section of the course, leaving John to enjoy the hospitality of the aid station. After a very rocky downhill on the PCT, it was up on a service road. And up. And up. The RD joked that he sent us up to the top of the ski hill so we could enjoy the view, even though when we got there, it would be pitch black. Let me tell you, that hill goes on forever. Its never super steep, but steady, and everytime you think you are close to the top, it goes up and around another bend.

Over the top, I enjoyed the view of, well, nothing but pitch black as I looked straight down a ski slope. Here we go. Jemez again . . . . I had heard last year's descent was an impossible slide down. This time they routed us down some of the ski slope which was literally baby step after baby step with a steep decline, lots of loose rocks, and no trail. But then we switched over to another slope which was more runnable. As I made my way down, here came another set of lights. It was John again! Taking some strength from the company, I made my way onto a mountain bike trail with lots of broken bridges and obstacles that looked like they could dump someone into the drink pretty fast. Finally, it was out onto some paved roads, John and I running step for step towards the aid station in the distance. We finally pulled in together around 12:45 AM at mile 53. And there were Scotty and Erica! YES! Time for the halfway recoup. I was a little nervous because I was pretty trashed and everyone had said the second part of the course was harder than the first.

My vest had broken, so I quickly changed into a new one and pulled a hat over my head. Somewhere I had misplaced my longsleeve, so it was going to be a chilly night. It was probably in the low 40's at the station, and probably mid 30's up on the ridge where I was heading. Oh well, just had to keep moving. I had my gloves and hat to keep me warm. I ate a grilled cheese and Scotty handed me some "soup" that ended up being hot chocolate. Oops. Oh well, I probably wasn't going to sweat much in these conditions, so as long as it was warm, it didn't need to be salty. You just can't get upset at these races about things like the long sleeve or not having the right soup or there's a hill you didn't expect or whatever or you will mentally break down. You have to be able to just go with the flow and make the best of what's around you. If you can stay positivie, you will likely finish. That's definitely my biggest attribute at these things. Its certainly not my running ability . . .

I had planned to walk out of that aid station, but there was a little bit of downhill and some lights ahead, so I put it in granny low and started to run. John had left the aid station ahead of me, so I knew there was no chance of catching him again, and I just found my own rhythm. As it was a paved road with a bright moon, I kept my light off and made my way the best I could, proud to be running most of the section, and I even passed a few people. In fact, from this point forward, I would pass 15 or so people and only get passed by 1 person that I could remember, which is a good sign that I paced correctly. Given that I ended up finishing about 10 from the end, I have to assume at least some of those people dropped . . .

As the paved road turned to gravel and I hit the 1800 foot climb to Kachelus Ridge, I suddenly felt my head being pounded and scraped up from behind and a buffeting of wings. I screamed and started throwing my arms around. Whirling about, I saw an owl hovering a foot away, talons at the ready. What the hell?! I watched it swoop away as I hurried up the hill. I put my hand up to the back of my head, and it came away bloody from the owl attack. As I wrote earlier - what the HELL?! As if 21,000 feet of climbing over tortorous rocky trails wasn't enough, they sicked the wildlife on you as well? I thought I had prepared myself for everything the course would have to offer, but I hadn't subjected myself to any avian assaults. My bad! I laughed as I climbed up, picturing the RD with a little remote control hiding behind the bushes . . .
My noggin bearing the results of the owl attack. The talons cut straight through my hat!

Heart pumping now, I moved up the hill as quickly as I could. I saw a few lights in the distance and used them as rabbits to keep me motivated. After a long climb, I pulled into the top of the ridge at mile 60. To my surprise, David was there, and so was John! Glad to see them again, David and I pulled out and headed down the hill. After a few miles, my knees were really killing me from all the agressive downhill on the hardpacked road, and it definitely cut my pace. But David and I generally talked and pushed each other down the hill, pulling into the aid station at mile 67. I took some extra time here to get metally prepared from the aptly named "Trail from Hell", which consists of a 1/2 mile or so bushwhack along a steep hillside over fallen trees followed by an undulating rooty and rocky challenge along the shore of the lake.

John and David beat me out of the aid station thinking I was ahead and they were going to catch up as usual. I headed out on my own and hit the "trail" which was just random footsteps along a 30 degree muddy slope. I was moving slow, trying to keep to the side of the hill, climbing over downed trees and following from glow stick to glow stick when suddenly the hill gave way on me. I slid about 30 feet down the side of the hill bounding off of a few trees on the way down. Ouch. I put my flashlight in my mouth and used all 4's to climb back to where I saw the next glow stick, literally moving 2 steps forward, sliding one step back. Once I made it back, I put my ipod on to listen to Jay Mohr doing the Jim Rome Show which I had taped a few months backed and saved just for this trail, knowing I would need something to keep the spirits up. Disappointed to have lost time, but not wanting another fall, I pushed it carefully over the next few hundred yards . . .

Once I hit the actual trail, darkness was starting to fade, and I have to say that I really liked this part, probably more than others did. I love short steep climbs and technical stuff, as it suits my build. Its also much easier, I'm sure, in the early gray of the morning, which is when I was there, where you can see the obstacles ahead of you and plan the best way to assault them, as opposed to the middle of the night where you need your light to illuminate every little step. Before long, I had caught David, and I would even occasionally see John in the distance around the lakeshore. We finally pulled into the aid at Mile 73, and I was ahead of schedule, having done the trail from hell in about 2 hours and 15 minutes, or about 15 minutes faster than I planned, even with that epic fall (or fail as the case may be!).

A quick trip to the trees to answer nature's call put me way behind John and David on the long grind out of Mineral Creek, and I wouldn't see them again until the end. What I've found at these races is that I always lose ground on the long gradual climbs, and this race wasn't any different as I trailed and ulitmately lost touch with a large group going up the 7 mile, 3,000 foot climb to No Name Ridge. At mile 75, Erica was waiting with spaghettio's, and she walked up part of the trail with me, taking my cold weather clothes and getting me set for a long day still. I knew now barring disaster that I would finish, but I could sniff a PR if I could keep it going, which would be something to set a PR on this course. Unlike most ultras that start early, because this one starts at 10, I still had an entire day of running instead of being done in the morning. With that in mind, I pushed as hard as I could on the road climb, which wasn't that bad at all, if a little long. There were some nice views along the way and soon I was at the station at Mile 80. I threw down a banana pancake and some ginger ale and another new favorite, apple sauce! Brilliant idea, No Name Ridgers! I had two of those as I pushed for the Needles.
On the long climb out of Mineral Creek at about Mile 75. The slope wasn't too bad; it was just a slog.

Runners up in the distance. I could not keep up with them and got dropped. Long climbs are on my "Needs Improvement" list.

The Needles are a series of steep short climbs, maybe 1/4 mile for the shortest to 1/2 mile for the longest which are as infamous and dreaded in Cascade Crest lore as the Trail from Hell. Definitely the steepest part of the course, but as I said about the trail from Hell, I tend to do well on short steep bits as they require brute strength, which, being a big guy, I have some of. My goal was to make it through all the needles without stopping to catch my breath, and I would make it. Small mission accomplished.
View of an Alpine lake from somewhere along the Needles.

The second needle was Thorpe Mountain - and out n' back - and I was told to head up the mountain and grab a ticket to show I was there and come back. It was a 1/2 mile steep switchbacking climb that I was glad to crest. As I reached the bottom, I realized I had forgotten to grab a ticket! Oh no! Wait a minute, what's this in my pocket? Thank God, I did get a ticket. I was starting to lose it. Time to get to the finish.

The section from Thorpe to French Cabin actually went pretty quick as I powered through the 2 needles there and hit the second to last section of the course. I have to say that the Needles weren't all that bad. Yes, they are steep, but they are manageable if you have any legs left. Just one foot after the other and you are through them pretty quick.

At the Cabin I tried some bacon and quickly coughed it back up. Oops. Time to get moving and get this thing over with. I knew, barring disaster, I had a finish and likely a PR. This proved to be the most difficult part of the race for me, because knowing this, I just wanted it to be done, but I still had 12 miles and several hours of running to cover to actually get there. It made the last part of the race seem to last forever.

From the Cabin to finish was downhill with one last needle to get over pretty much right out of the aid station. From there, it was a lot of rooty downhill that seemed to take forever. I thought I would be down a lot faster than I actually was. It was fun trail, but my legs were shot, so I was struggling just to get through, and mentally, I just wanted to be done. I passed a few folks in here, but was getting frustrated as I saw time slipping away. I was so close, I didn't want to give a PR up now. Plus, I had a shot at sub-31 hours which would be great. I tried to power along as best I could. I ran into a couple of guys with a map. How far to the trailhead? 1.9 miles, they said. Great. Then, 20 minutes later, I ran into a race volunteer. How far to the trailhead? 2.5 miles, she said. Not so great. I looked at where we had to get down to, and knew that the race volunteer was correct. Oh, man. I looked at my watch. Get moving!

A particluarly smooth section of the last trail . . .

Finally getting spit out the bottom, my legs were rubbery and my stomach was rumbling, which happenned a lot during the race. It was wild in that I was stripped so raw, my stomach would rumble, I would eat a gu, and I could literally feel my body resupplying. One more cup of spaghetti-o's . . .

I told Erica that I was going to walk it in from there. It was 3:30, I was mentally fried from that last section that never seemed to end, and I had 1.5 hours to cover the last 5 miles to get sub-31. Well after eating some and walking some bumpy gravelly stuff, I felt pretty good and didn't want to go out like a chump, so picked up the pace and started "running" again, which at this point was a distorted lurching motion, kind of like Frankenstein going out for a jog. But it was faster than walking, so off I would go, literally counting down in my head, making myself run for 5 minutes on, 1 minute off. 300, 299, 298, etc. until zero when I started the whole process again. Soon I was off trails and onto pavement, which meant I was a little over a mile away. I could see the overpass that was near the finish, but it seemed like it was so far! Oh well, keep it up. 300, 299, 298 . . .

I passed a deer who was grazing next to the road just before coming back into town, and then it was up onto a trail next to the railroad tracks. I could see the finish! There were a couple of guys yelling and waving. I yelled back and started pumping my fist to myself, listening to the Clash and pushing the last 1/4 mile or so to look good for the ladies at the finish! I recognized one of these guys as Scotty as I got closer. But they were still jumping up and down, and yelling, more than I thought was warranted, but OK. Thanks guys, I guess. Just then I sensed movement over my shoulder as a runner came around to pass me. (At least it wasn't the owl!)

I don't consider myself a very competitive guy, but something deep inside me tripped and I dug into my guts to try to hold this guy off. I mean, who really cares? But I guess I did. As I turned it up a notch, I glanced over my shoulder and he was still there. Damn it, that first burst should have snapped him! I went WAY deep and found one more gear. I still have no idea where that came from, but I was able to muster just enough to keep him off, finishing with a "leap" and a fist pump. I feel like a fool now, battling for 69th place against a guy who was at least 10 years my senior and undoubtedly a better runner, but nice that I could find a little something really deep when I felt like I had to. He was a great sport and was very gracious about my idiocy when I should have just crossed the line together with him which to my mind is more in the spirit with the sport. Oh well. lesson learned, and it makes for a funny memory. About 500 yards from the finish, head down, just trying to make it in. When suddenly . . .

Ah, crap! Where did he come from. C'mon now, dig for something!

Hey, it looks like I'm actually running as I try to hold him off! Or that I'm pulling an invisible tractor . . . Whew! That was tough! Better get out of the way there, camera guy!

So final results were 30:32, a PR on any 100 mile course for me by 40 minutes (and only 5 seconds faster than the guy behind me!). This is a brutal course, much harder than Grand Teton and San Diego, not as hard as Wasatch, but comparable. There were pleny of beautiful views, supportive volunteers, and fantastic runnable territory. As the shirt said, "Tall Trees. Tough Trails". Put it on your list for a beautiful, well-0rganized, well-supported challenge.
My belt buckle. Me: "I ran 100 miles for this?" Charlie: "Why yes, yes you did". Erica looks on proudly (?) in the background. She is the best crew EVER. I recommend her to any ultra runners looking for a crew person . . .

Thanks again to Charlie the race director, all of the volunteers who helped out, Erica for being the ace crew that she always is, and to all my fellow racers who make the sport what it is. Hopefully I'll be running again by the weekend and start thinking about what's next, but right now, its all about savoring the buckle for a little while. Thanks for reading . . .


Monday, August 16, 2010

Last training . . .

Trying to squeeze in a few quality runs before Cascade Crest. On Wednesday, I did a semi-double ascent of Cowles Mtn. It was getting dark and had to bail out of going all the way down for the second ascent. Had real heavy legs still, but made it to the top in 37 min. on the first climb, so only lost about 3 min. Felt strong the second time up as well, so that was a good sign.

Friday, did a modified training loop with Anders, who is a complete hardass. For any of you dear readers that think I am crazy, Anders is training for a double in which Saturday he is running Noble Canyon, a difficult 50k in the Laguna Mountains and Sunday he is swimming a 10 mile swim. That's right, not 10K. 10 miles. He is an ultimate hardass. And he does all this while being a partner at a major firm and raising 2 twin boys in Kindergarten. Everytime you think you are a hardass . . . .

Anyways, it was good to knock out the run, although we shorted the loop as we had plans for later that night. Good to hit the trails with him and good to hit the trails at night with a light again. I forget what a difference it makes. I'll need to do a couple more night runs to keep practicing. Its a totally different world.

Saturday was trailwork where I met Larry, some ultra hardass who has been racing and directing races since the 70's. Great guy with some great stories. Sunday I did the training loop, which I ran in 3:25, only 10 min slower than when I was peaking for New Mexico. While it was slightly worrisome, I definitely was not pushing it, figuring discretion was the better part of valor for this loop. Plus, with temps in the upper 80's, it was easy to take the slow way out. But legs felt fine at the end, and I have no residual soreness today, meaning I have more in there to call on - another good sign. And saw 2 great small horned toads, which I thought I had pics of, but it didn't come out. One had a lot of red on it. They were together on the trail, each a few inches long. Very cute.

Starting to get my head around the 100 miler. My goal is just to finish and run within myself. Really looking forward to running with Pete all day on Sunday. Assuming the body holds up, I think it will be a good run, as I don't have any pressure on myself for this one. Just want to show up and get a buckle and see some sights. Lots of football on the radio as well, which always makes the time go by.

Nothing much planned for the rest of this week. I'll head out Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday for sub-2 hour runs, including a couple of night runs. Just trying to maximize rest at this point.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Time to taper?

So not much to report. Just trying to shake the rust out of my legs just in time for another taper. Did a canyon run with Gator on Monday as a shakedown and felt OK. Followed it up with a double ascent of Cowles Mountain. While my time on the ascent was only a few minutes slower, definitely was still feeling tired. I will do 2 hours tomorrow and 4 hours on Sunday, then taper it back down for the race. Ready to end my season. One more big push . . .

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Back on the trails

So, I'm glad to be back on the trails. This week I went to a good friend's wedding in Minnesota, just north of Duluth. I had a great time, including a fun 18 mile kayak down the Bois Brule river. On Saturday, it was my first time back on the trails. The north shore of Lake Superior is traced by the Superior Hiking Trail, a 230 mile mostly single track that goes from Duluth to Canada. The Sawtooth Superior 100 is run on it every year.

Looking at the profile, one would think it wouldn't be that hard. But the trail is a relentless up and down, gaining and losing 200 feet at a time. As for the trail itself, it was like a 2.5 hour tire drill when one considered all the roots, rocks, holes, mud, and other obstacles. I took on a 13 or 14 mile section from north of Split Rock to Gooseberry Falls, and it was a tough grind for legs a week out from a 50 miler.

The run was entirely single track, but often you couldn't see the roots and rocks because they were overgrown with grass. I had a great time pushing up the hills as it all was entirely runnable, but it really took its toll as I tried to keep the pace as high as I could. There were several people out on the trail, and at least half of them asked me, "So, who's chasing you?" It was like some kind of cult.

Anyways, it was a little slower than I would have liked, but not too bad, and yesterday did the canyon run and felt pretty good. We'll see what I can get done today at Mission Trails. I'm building to a 4 hour run this Sunday, and then it will be tapering back to get ready for the 100 miler in 2 and a half weeks. We'll see how it goes. Its all about focusing again after my success . . . .

This was the widest section of trail I saw all day. Can you see the roots? I couldn't.

This is an old shelter where you can sit out a storm or sleep. These were scattered every few miles. The trail was excellently marked and gave great mileage posts.

This is the view of Lake Superior from one of the high vantage points. You could see some of the old lighthouses from on top.

Here's one of the waterfalls. I imagine they are much more impressive during the early Spring. As it was, it was very pretty.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

White River 50 Report

I have a distinct memory of the night before my first ultra, standing out of the balcony of the Crystal Mountain resort, looking nervously out into the forest that climbed the ski slopes over the ridge, wondering how I ever was going to get through 50 miles. Eventually I did it, but not without 12 hours and 40 minutes of extreme suffering and joyous views and a new respect for not only the runners who do this sport but myself as well. This was White River, and here I was again, 4 years later, ready to do my first repeat ultra. I had trained for this race all year with the goal of making White River my first sub-12 hour 50 mile race which had been one of my three goals every since I had started running. I knew if my training numbers held up, I should be in pretty good shape, but numbers on a training run often don't correlate to the race itself. So, here I was nervously milling about with 225 other runners waiting for the start. Erica and I had enjoyed a good dinner with Mike and Fran the night before, and it was good to catch up with them as I had enjoyed their company at Jemez. I had a good night of sleep, and I had filled up with 2 bottles of water, 2 bagels, and 2 bananas. I was ready.

Before the start. Ready for a day in the pain locker.

And GO! Everyone was off, heading down a dirt road next to an airstrip, some 10 or 12 people wide. After 2 miles, we funneled down to a single track and then shot out onto a loamy trail consisting mostly of mud and decaying trees. It was like running on a track made of the spongy material you find under a kids' swing set, only with a few roots and rocks thrown in to make it a little more fun. The trail, like most trails on the offing for the day, wove its way sinuously around massive trunks and parted carpets of ferns. Eventually we crossed the highway and then wound our way through even prime old growth forest where the struggling gray dawn barely registered. We roly-polied this trail for another 2 miles where the first aid station awaited.

The start. The shirtless Jesus guy in the middle of the picture is the guy who won the thing in under 6.5 hours. What a stud. Hats off, Anton!

Of course, I had assumed my spot WAAAAYYY at the back of the pack . . .

After a quick bottle exchange with Erica, it was another mile and a half and then the first climb started, which was about 3000 feet over 7 miles or so. It started steeply, including a staircase, but quickly mellowed into a long slog with bouts of running and power hiking mixed together. I had gotten stuck behind someone who had started probably too fast but was now clogging up the singletrack with no way around. Soon the conga line stretched out behind us some 25 runners long. Finally, I followed some other runners around the front and pushed up the hill. As the trail would lead you to the edge of the cliffs, you would be rewarded with expansive views of Mt. Ranier, and you could see the airstrip and people mingling 2,500 feet below at the start line. As I ran, I spoke with a few people, easing into what was going to be a long day. I especially enjoyed talking to Tom who used to live in San Diego and trained on many of the same trails and even knew some of the same people. Finally, I came into Ranger Creek aid station at mile 12 at 2.5 hours into the race, about 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

Typical section of early trail. Ooooh, very Lord of the Rings-esque. Where's Elrond?

In the conga line on the stairs. The guy who took this, who's name I don't know, was hovering in the bushes snapping shots. Thanks to whoever took this! Apparently, he was being devoured by mosquitoes at the time. And thanks to Mike for sending it along!

After a very brief stop of less than a minute, I was up and away up the final 400 feet of the climb. At least this was how it had been advertised, but in fact, some of the steepest pitches of the climb waited ahead, and it was at this point that I was passed by the first downhill runners, including Anton Krupica. What a joy to watch him run, even if it was only for 5 seconds as he came barrelling past. There were a few steep bits left to go, but mostly they were short, and I was making good time as everyone had finally sorted themselves out about to where they would be for most of the race, give or take 10 spots or so. Finally, I got to the ridge, and the fields were littered with wildflowers of every shape and color. I also was enjoying a Mt. Ranier eclipse as the monolith dominated the view, and I could see the sun dancing in the deep blue chutes of the glaciers. As this was an out and back section, I had to dart off the trail time to time to allow the faster runners to keep their momentum headed back. While this interrupted my rhythm, I enjoyed seeing all of the runners ahead of me, especially the strong ones, and everyone gave each other words of encouragement as we were all in this soup together. It was also great to see Mike running so well, and I had to nimbly execute a high five before he got past me.

Photo by Glenn Tachiyama, who, besides being an accomplished runner, lays like a sniper in the bushes and then takes absolutlely fabulous photos of you. For anyone who wants to see what an ultra is like or just loves great photos of the NW, I encourage you to go to his site which is http://www.pbase.com/gtach/root. Mt. Ranier, obviously in the background. This is "charging" down to the aid station about 17 miles in.

I came into Corral Pass, enjoyed a quick snack, and then pushed out. Unfortunately, it was about here that I began feeling some cramps in my calves which limited my ability to push on the uphills coming back to the ridgeline, although it was nice to have runners stepping out of my way as opposed to the other way around. I was able to push through some rough spots by taking salt and staying right on the edge of cramping and pushing the downhills, knowing a long downhill section awaited me. Once it started, I was off, and I blew through Ranger Creek the second time, pausing only to fill my bottle as they sent us down a different trail back to the start line which was roughly the halfway point. My only worry at this point was getting enough salt in me, as I was still a little crampy and had sweat through my shirt.

As I plunged down the five miles of switchbacks between Ranger Creek and the halfway point at Buck Creek, I realized that I should have stopped for some food at the aid, as I had to slow down on the switchbacks to get some energy gels and salt pills in my system, and what I gained by not taking a minute at the aid station I lost by having to refuel on the run, costing me valuable momentum and time. I did manage to pick off about 8 runners on the way down from the top of the climb before Ranger Creek, but I was only able to average about 10 minute miles, when I should have been able to go at least 2 minutes per mile faster. But I felt strong when I pulled into Buck Creek at about 5 hours and 50 minutes, which was about 1/2 hour ahead of 12 hour pace and almost exactly where I thought I would be when I did my pre-race calculations. I was hoping to see Scotty there, but he was nowhere to be found. I did have a great but quick chat with Erica, who was a perfect crew as always. She gave me some frozen bottles and gels for the road, a quick good word of encouragement, and I was off.

At the halfway aid station. I think I shoved the kid behind me out of the way because he was standing between me and Goldfish.

And I'm off like a herd of turtles for the second half of the course . . . .

My biggest worry in the next two miles was how to manage my cramping. I looked down and I was covered in salt from my dried sweat. I vowed to keep pushing salt down my throat and headed for the Suntop Climb. This was a long 8 mile climb, the first 2.7 of which gained 1,700 feet in 2.7 miles through exposed switchbacks. In training, I was knocking out these kinds of climbs with regularity. But this was a different animal today for some reason. I was struggling mightily, and people were passing me like I had thrown out an anchor. I would guess I was passed by 15 people, and while I had gone out extra aggressively anticipating that I would need time in the bank, so I knew I would be getting passed by people, I had not counted on getting passed by THAT many, especially that badly, as I simply could not get my legs to match any of their pace. I kept trying to catch onto the back of a train, and kept getting dropped within 20 to 30 seconds. Finally, I made it to the aid station at Fawn Ridge, but doing the math, I thought any chance at 12 hours was gone barring a miracle.
I knew I needed a minute to get the morale up, as I was going to finish this thing regardless, so I bolted a few cups of mountain dew and a few bananas, my old friends. I also had some salted potatoes and goldfish and then took off up the final section of this climb. The second section was in tree cover and much less steep, with finally some runnable flats and downs mixed in. My legs were coming back, and I was starting to pick off a few of the runners that had passed me before. But the cramping was getting worse. To combat it, I tried to take my 8th salt pill of the day, but promptly yaked it straight back out. Well, that was it for pills for the day. I’d have to do it on Nuun drink, which is an electrolyte drink you make by dropping an Alka-seltzer like pill into a bottle of water, and salty snacks. Hmmmm. As I went to swing my legs over a stump, I felt a tightening and a paralyzing pain up and down my right inner leg. As I looked down, my right foot was turned out at a 90 degree angle from my other leg as I suffered groin cramps the like I would wish on no other. I limped up the trail, begging the muscles in my leg to relax and let go, cajoling them, pleading for a little speed. I was thinking that I was just starting to feel good again, and now this! I quickly recalculated the time in my head and realized that I had made a stupid mistake on the Fawn Ridge climb. When calculating how much time I had left, I had been looking at clock time, not elapsed time, on the run, so my chance at 12 hours was intact! I did some quick math, and I was going to have to push to try to make it to Sun Top no later than 3:45 PM, but now I was done with all but the last mile of the climb, and then came the downhill, my specialty.
With renewed vigor, I hit the downhill from the false summit to the base of the last climb. This was a one mile steep up, but my legs were recovered, and I enjoy relatively short steep ups as I have good strength for shorter climbs as opposed to the longer ones where I’m too big to make great time. This rocky straight up SOB was right up my alley, almost Xeroxed from Mission Trails, so I powered up this last bit, knowing that the top was soon at hand. I was able to pass a few more of the people who had passed me earlier on this last bit and popped out on the top, with some threatening clouds in the distance and thunder rumbling around the valleys. Last time I had been here, I was so hungry I stuffed down two whole costco chocolate muffins. This time, I had just wretched up a salt pill and was in so-so shape. I took in what salt I could by eating salty boiled potatoes and chips and took off for the 6.6 mile downhill. I left at 3:40, which gave me 2 hours and 50 minute to hit my goal. Knowing that my cramps would not let me push the pace much on the last 6.5 flat miles, I knew I had to try to go for broke on the downhill, where my cramps didn't affect me.
Another Glenn sniper shot, this time from the top of the last climb. Ready for some downhill! What's really funny is that I have the same shot from my 2006 White River race, and I am making the exact same dumb pose. As Bugs would say, "What a Maroon!"
Mt. Ranier from Suntop. This was taken the day before when we were checking out the course. On raceday, there were threatening clouds and thunder, although, disappointingly, never any rain.

I bolted out of the aid station and onto the downhill fireroad. As I left, another guy who had passed me earlier headed out with me. I hit a hard pace, and he matched me stride for stride. If I faltered a little, he would pull ahead, and then I would pull up a little, and he would come up to me. Without saying a word, he and I pushed each other down the hill, cutting every corner, nearly stride for stride. We weren't necessarily competing against each other as much as teaming with each other to make sure the other wouldn't break and using our momentum to catch whoever was sitting in front of us as we flew past other runners, using them as rabbits to chase. What was really special is neither of us even so much as glanced at one another as we pushed it as hard as we could. We had an unspoken bond between us as runners and racers, and talking about it just would have spoiled it. While I now know his name from looking him up in results, I probably won't ever speak to him. He ended up finishing the race about 10 minutes behind me, and as he crossed the line, he went out of his way to walk up to me, give me a fist bump and a smile, letting me know that he had felt the same way, and melted into the post race crowd. I may never see him again, but I treasure those 50 minutes, as that is how long it took us to run miles 37 to 43.5, which doesn’t sound fast, but those are the fastest miles I’ve ever run in an ultra, not to mention one where I had already been running for 10 hours. Unfortunately, I left my partner behind on the very last portion of the section as I bombed into the last aid station where Erica was waiting with another bottle and a good word. I stopped briefly and then bolted out onto the trails.
Erica got this picture of a guy running the race in sandals. He is one of the ones who passed me on the bad climb to Suntop. I also saw 2 guys with vibrams, one of whom had taken them off and was running in bare feet. I think I lost to all 3 of them!

Last M&M's for 7 miles!

Off for one last push through Skookum Flats. 12 hours, here I come! At least, that's what I hoped . . .

This was Skookum Flats - 6.6 miles of eminently runnable, rooty, rocky, mossy, old growth fun. However, my legs were completly shot and starting to cramp again. I had 1 hour and 50 minutes to make the finish. Normally, of course, not a problem, but with cramps and fatigue, I thought it was going to be on the close side as I felt completely spent. My strategy for this whole section was to run until I cramped, then walk until it eased up, then repeat. At first I was able to go 6 or 7 minutes of slow running, but as I got farther and farther in, and as I tried to push harder and harder, the cramps came faster and faster to the point where it seemed like I was running 400 yards and walking 100 yards.
The Skookum Flats trail . . .

I got passed by a few people on this loop. Not knowing how long the section was, I asked them as they went by how much further did they estimate we had to go. I got varying numbers, none of which I trusted and all of which made me nervous. There were no mile markers, and I had no ability to discern what my pace was with all the starting and stopping and fast walking and slow running. Finally, I was passed by someone who turned out to be Van Phan, who has finished more races than I will ever start. She said that we had "about" 3 miles to go at the bridge. 2 minutes later, I crossed the bridge. It was 5:30, so I had an hour left to beat my goal, but it had taken me 50 minutes to cover 3.5 miles, and I had actually been able to run big sections of that, and now I was running only for 1 to 2 minute chunks at a time. The trail wound along the river's edge from time to time, and I would look out for the river, as I knew if I could see a bridge, I would be close to the finish as it was .4 miles from the road to the line. I pushed ahead, running when I could, finally even running with cramps on areas of open trail where there was nothing to trip on. I’m sure I looked like some mutant old growth penguin waddling stiff-legged through the forest. I looked at my watch. 20 minutes to go. A little panic started to creep in. I had NOT worked this hard and come this close to let it slip away.

A shot of the White River. It really is White! Now where is that damned bridge . . .

In the distance, I heard a voice that said "Up here!" Looking around, I saw a guy dressed in red about 400 yards ahead of me. He was standing at the end of the trail. "You made it!" he yelled. I looked at my watch. It was in the bag. I was so happy I screamed back at him, yelling in tongues. I still have no idea what I said. I had made it! As I dumped onto the road, I grabbed the guy by the shirt with both hands and told him I was going to marry him. If I had the energy, I would have kissed him, so lucky for us both I was too tired. I simply turned up the road and made my way towards the turn to the finish. Coming around the last corner with .2 miles to go, I let myself spend a moment thinking about all the hard work and training and sacrifice in the last 4 years and all the help and advice and good thoughts and words I had gotten from friends to push me along to this point. And now, it was coming to pass. For 30 seconds, as I trotted down the dirt road, I just let it wash over me, and I can’t remember ever feeling so completely and simply satisfied.

But the end and the glory awaited! As soon as I came out of the trees, I could see the finish! Everyone who was left started to cheer, as they did for every runner who finished. I heard Mike and Fran say congratulations as I was coming up the final bit, and as I bunny-hopped over the finish, there was Erica and Scotty! Fantastic! It was great to see Scotty, as my original White River has been his idea (although he hadn’t bothered to show up for it - ha!), and he was the one who got me into trail racing instead of just trail running. So it was nice serendipity to see him at the finish.
Whoa! I almost look like a real runner! Look at that concentration and focus!

Or not. Here I am giving Gator jaws to the crowd instead of just running the 200 yards to the finish. See previous caption about being a Maroon.

I literally made it 3 steps and collapsed into a chair. Mike and Fran came up, and I had a ball talking to them, hearing about Mike’s race (he crushed it), and talking the usual BS with Scotty and Deeser. My final time - 11:45:55, good for 147th place out of 194 finishers and 226 starters, or almost the exact same relative placing as Jemez. After a salty cheeseburger and fries on the way home, I was starting to feel myself. I hopped on a scale at Uncle’s house in Seattle. I weighed 210 when I left Seattle on Friday AM, and I weighed 192 less than 36 hours later. I lost 18 pounds!!! That, as they say in fancy doctor offices, is not good. I also will be losing 4 toenails, have a giant raw spot on my chest from where my bandana knot was rubbing, and have a hickey like bruise on my neck from my hydration pack. I'll just tell people its a hickey - it sounds much more macho. I also have a couple of other hickey/raw spots from the belt on my new running shorts, but those will remain safely tucked from view . . .
Mike says he runs for the chair. How true. I made it about 3 steps before collapsing into this one, very proud but very tired.

So, how does it feel having nailed a life goal of a sub-12 50 miler? Well, for one, I’m not changing the name of the blog. But it feels amazing. Of course now, 2 days later, I start to think about where I could have made up minutes, where I let some mental weakness slip in, and how I could have raced it better. It was a good racing day, but not my best, so the question is how much faster can I get? I’m definitely going to keep pushing, but it won’t take away the deep satisfaction of getting this finish in the books. Big thanks to Deeser for crewing, for Uncle and Aunt and the girls for putting us up in Seattle and feeding and taking care of me (and for the awesome footrub Aunt K!), for everyone who sent good thoughts my way as I’m a big believer in good karma, and to everyone who gave a crap because its fun for me to share my adventures on the trails. Next up - Cascade Crest 100! I’ve got a month to rest up . . .

Monday, August 2, 2010


Sorry to those who check the blog from time to time, but I've been a busy boy. Notably, I may need to rename the blog, as I finally made it sub-12! I finished White River 50 in 11:45 and change. More info and a full race report as soon as I get some pics to go with my boring words, but the short story is that I killed it the first half, died on the first half of the second climb, and then picked up the last quarter to come in with some time to spare. Feeling fairly good today and should be ready to do some hiking tomorrow and running again by the weekend. Just in time to taper for Cascade Crest!

More soon . . .