Friday, July 3, 2009

2009 Western States Race Report

At the start of the climb up to the Escarpment, I was surprised how fast the top guys took off. I knew they would run up, but they were running up fast. I followed the lead group the wrong way for about 50 yards before I started hearing “wrong way!” coming from below. I wished Hal good luck as the top guys passed by to reclaim the lead. I felt nauseous from the start. I was guessing it was from the altitude but didn’t really know—maybe the cheesy lasagna from the night before? I was a little worried because puking at mile 5 would be a tough way to start out. At the Escarpment aid station I stopped for a handful of Tums, which seem to do the trick. Several times on the way up I looked back to see the gravel road full of runners and rising sun. I walked and jogged my way up in 48 min to the top. Matt, who would be pacing me from Green Gate, said he had done it in 51 the day before, so I was either feeling great or going too fast. As the trail crested and headed down the other side it felt as if the race was really starting and we were at last heading off the edge of our great adventure. After my extended training taper, it felt so great to be running again and everything seemed to be working fine. Things were fairly uneventful through Lyon Ridge (10.5) and Red Star (16). I was running around 20th -22nd place and was loving the world. Someplace in there was a “machined” section of 2-3 inches of soft dirt. This was mostly nice, but I turned my left ankle enough to hear a crunching sound on something hiding under the top layer. I walked a bit and my ankle seemed to still be working so I was back on track. Starting around Red Star, I felt the twinges of cramping. It was way too early to start taking S! caps so I put it off and increased my fluid. Soon, though, it was clear I was quite low on sodium and needed to catch up. Low sodium probably contributed to my nausea at the start as well. I had drunk too much water the day before the race I guess. Duncan Canyon seemed long and spread out, nothing to worry about and not nearly as intense as the ones to come. The air started to warm up so I dunked my shirt in a few of the stream crossings prior to Robinson Flat. I think about half of the time I got my shirt back on backwards or inside out. Rolling into Robinson Flat (29.7) I was really excited to see Courtney and Matt for the first time. After I weighed in—my weight was up—I heard Ticer and Ed’s booming voice telling me where to meet my crew. We had a good transition: I ate ½ a turkey- avocado sandwich and Matt ran part way up the next hill with me. From Robinson Flat through Miller’s Defeat (34.4), Dusty Corners (38), I was still struggling with my sodium / hydration. Scott Wolf caught me around Miller’s Defeat and looked good. When I started taking salt for the cramps my weight started to go up, so I needed to try and drink enough so that my body didn’t think I was dehydrated. Eventually my cramps had mostly gone away, but until I started letting go of the fluid I wasn’t on track. At last I was able to pee just outside Miller’s Defeat. I felt like the owner of a new puppy who just peed outside instead of on the rug: “Oh, good boy! Good peeing!” With no cramping and a new understanding of how much fluid I needed—a third bottle would have been a good idea—I was feeling good and ready to roll. I ran into Last Chance (43.8) in 19th place and was trading places with Lon Freeman, who is well-respected in the world of ultras. Exiting Last Chance, I saw the sign I had my folks make for me: “Dan, the quads are evil and must be punished! – Mom and Dad”. Funny at the time, but in reality, the quads should only be considered evil in training, not in the middle of a 100-mile race! Lon and I ran together down to Swinging Bridge and back up Devil’s Thumb. Near the top he asked how the front runners were doing and a woman told us that last she saw Scott Jurek, he was sitting in a chair at the top. At Devils Thumb (47.8) I filled, drank, ate, wet down and hit the trail. The descent down to El Dorado Canyon was a little longer than I wanted and my quads were starting to complain. A thermometer at the aid station said 96° F. That’s hot, but I was feeling okay, and eager for the climb back out to Michigan Bluff (55.7). I felt like I had a great climb and dropped Lon along the way. Near the top I caught back up to Scott Wolf who said he was having stomach problems. Michigan Bluff was probably the high point of my competitive race. I hadn’t run any downhill for around 45 minutes, I had moved up to 16th place, it was hot but I was dealing with it well, I had successfully solved problems, and folks were starting to drop, I knew the trails very well, and I got to see Courtney and Matt again. I downed a bottle and traded my visor for a hat with ice in it and picked up my ice-filled bandana. I wasn’t looking forward to the downhill, but I figured it was normal considering I was at mile 56 on a downhill course. Volcano Canyon was by far the hottest section I thought, and much more exposed. The downhill to the bottom hurt, but I had a good climb out. Matt and my new pacer John met me part way up Bath road, and I was able to run about half. When I arrived in Forest Hill, I was feeling like I had run 62 miles—which I had, of course—but I was in 14th place and moving up. Spirits were high, but I realized I was really dreading the down hills of the Cal Street Section. John was a great pacer, easy to talk to and kept me on track. I realized my quads were in real trouble and getting down to Cal 1 killed my hopes of moving up. From this point on, the race became about just getting the job done any way I could. My heart was racing and I was breathing very hard, it was becoming a huge effort to run the downhills. These sections were more like a marathon race effort even though we were only moving at an average pace. Between Cal 1 and Cal 2 and then again after Cal 2 to Cal 3 I started to see blood in my urine. Not a good sign. I tried to back off some more and spent more time hydrating at the aid stations.
(Here I am at Cal 2 looking a more than a little out of it)
Once we hit the bottom I felt a little better and was able to get rolling a little again. Ford’s Bar to Rucky Chucky went by faster than I expected and before I knew it, I was at the river crossing. The river was great and all the volunteers were extremely helpful. I think after seeing me they made a point of reminding me to hold on “with both hands!” Matt met us on the other side and the three of us walked up to Green Gate with some feeble attempts at running. I collected myself at Green Gate (79.8), and remember telling Courtney that this was “by far the hardest thing I had ever done,” and that “this hurts so much.” You know—what every loved one wants to hear from you almost 80 miles in. Courtney and Matt got me loaded up and traded my hat for a head lamp. Matt kept me focused and moving and before I knew it, we were off. At Green Gate I was still in about 16th place but was quickly caught by three other runners including Bev. Matt had me focus on trying to stay with them, and after a bit, amazingly I was able to hang on all the way to ALT (85.2). The trail was mercifully flat and I was starting to think maybe I could actually finish this thing at some point. I really hadn’t cared about my finish time since Cal 1. It took me a long time to get out of ALT and even longer to get up to a shuffle again. We decided Brown’s Bar would need to be a quicker transition. I lost contact with the runners ahead of me as I had a few painful creek crossings. When I reached Browns Bar (89.9) I was dizzy, overwhelmed and felt like hell. Everyone was wearing red dresses. I got some soup, some fluid and we were out. When you leave Brown’s Bar you go down a long technical downhill until you reach the Quarry Road. It was now 10:30 pm and I hadn’t had to run any real downhill since 6:30 pm, back on the Cal street section. Just out of the aid station, I tried to run a step and knew that was not going to work… in fact, walking was proving to be very difficult. My quads were shooting with pain and each step was taking a tremendous amount of energy. I eventually made it down to the bottom on Quarry Road. As I walked slowly down on the flat part of Quarry Road, Lewis and Craig passed us and both looked great. Craig told me to take it easy on the decent down to No Hands Bridge. The only way I could take it easier would be if I sat down a scooted down on my butt—not an exaggeration. On the assent up to the Hwy 49 crossing, I was staggering, trying to sit down, peeing dark brown, and only barely moving forward. Matt kept me taking calories, kept me from falling, and declared he wouldn’t let me pass out in the woods, though I tried several times. He made sure I made it to the Highway crossing. According to the race splits, it took me about 3 hours to go the 3.6 miles from Brown’s Bar to the Highway crossing (93.5). At the aid station, I weighed in and told the physician I was having brown urine. She said she wouldn’t let me go till I was peeing clear again. Ultimately, that wouldn’t come until the next day and after six IV’s. I sat in a chair and drank 3 bottles of water, some soup, some Coke and was able to give her a sample. She then recommended an ambulance trip to the hospital, and started an IV. In the 45 minutes I was waiting at the station, I saw all the rest of my Eugene friends pass through. At the hospital, a blood test revealed I had a CPK of 95,940, and normal is between 20-200. I checked in, and in weighing in, was close to 20 pounds over my normal weight. We stayed in the Auburn hospital for two days, and I was released the Monday following the race with a CKP of close to 45,000. About two months ago, the Atlantic Monthly cover story highlighted a 70-year study on what makes us happy. It was mostly a boring eight pages of the means and methods of the comprehensive study, but the conclusion of the study was that friends, family and good health are what keep us happy—your financial or professional status, fame, or education don’t matter. Having never done a 100 before, I thought this race would be a sort of personal journey, emotional and spiritual, and maybe even and transformative in some way as I reached my lowest of lows and pushed through to the end. What I came away with was a beautiful display of selfless love, support and community from the spectators, volunteers, friends, family and my wife. I’m disappointed I wasn’t able to finish the last 6.7 miles, but when I finally did get emotional on the drive home—in a car left behind for us by a friend—it was from happiness. I took a flying leap off the Western States stage and from the start all the way to the drive home I’ve been crowd surfing the kindness and friendship of all those involved. Thank you everyone, that was awesome.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Pre States Thoughts

Well it looks like I’m going to make it to the starting line. I should be healthy (I think) and fit, (for the most part). Since the American River 50 mile, I had a down week, 3 weeks at 100 miles, couple of weeks around 60-70 due to an injury, and 3 more weeks around 100 miles. I was planning on a gradual taper starting 3 weeks out, but it’s been a steeper drop off than I wanted due to another injury. But I’m here now. I’ve had some painful runs that I probably should have skipped and many wonderful ones that reminded me how much I love this sport. My extra long runs have been 39, 50, 32, & a 46 solo. They have all gone well with no real major issues. I’ve been hitting the sauna and have done a few overdressed runs to hopefully help my body deal with the heat. This is the time to second guess your training. Did I start my taper to early? Should I have done at least one more run over 50 miles? Did I do enough downhill?? I know I should have hit the Rooster Rock at least one more time. In the end I’m sure we all could have trained just a little smarter and that keeps us coming back I guess. This training period has really been a balance of finding my limits. Not so much doing amazing workouts and high volume, but more knowing when to back off just long enough to stay healthy. Seems I have had just about everything pop up this season. My left knee thing has been with me the entire time, but I can keep it in check by not doing to many miles and keeping up my physical therapy exercises. I had a good scare by hurting my Tibialis anterior in early May by running downhill fast with no warm up. It was difficult to walk let alone run after that one. I started getting pain on my right heel in the mornings (tends to go away within a ½ hour) and recently I pulled something in my left calf running to fast on the track. The calf thing is what I’m worried about quite a bit right now, but I’m hoping that if I don’t run all that much these last few days it should be good enough. I like to pretend that this constant push / pull in training will help me problem solve and deal with issues during the race, at least that’s how I’m going to spin it. The race starts well before June 27th and many of us beat ourselves before we even make it to the start line. As our most famous enemy of the state, Dick Cheney, said, “you go to war with the army you have not the one you wish you had”. I think the rest of his quote is “…the important thing however is going to war”. What are my goals for my first Western States run? I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently. Having come face to face with the mortality of my running career last year I’d say my number one goal is to start and finish. I also hope to find out a little bit more about myself. Not to misrepresent myself, I plan to place as well as I can but I’m trying to keep the competition element in perspective. I’m really looking forward to sharing what I think will be an incredibly difficult, soul searching journey with hundreds of other folks like me. Final thought: I should have done Rooster one more time.

Monday, June 1, 2009

American River 50 mile Race Report

Matt Lonergan and I went out in a very comfortable 6:20 pace, knowing that we should know better. However there was another group up front running faster, so that made me feel like I was being smart. Things were still smooth around the first hill at about 19. I had a friend (Steve Brusig) handing me full bottles so my aid stations were going fast. I was trying out the First Endurance gel bottles, and had the super smart idea of just having Steve hand it to me then downing it (4 gels worth) and giving it back to him so I didn't have to carry the flask. I only tried that twice, obviously not a great idea. I came through the marathon at 2:50, probably in 6th or 7th. The trail section from maybe 30-40 was much more technical than I expected and I think it took a lot out of me. Steve joined me for the last 10 miles which was really helpful. Mile 40 to around 47 was much easier running, and I tried to get back into it with limited success. I also had some stomach issues and was feeling bloated. As a result, I wasn't taking any GU's and took more water instead of GU2O. I had a VERY slow climb the last few miles I was passed by one runner. My weight was up some at the end and I think I took a total of about 15 S! caps. The weather was amazing and the course was surprisingly scenic, especially towards the end. I defiantly learned some lessons (don’t take a ton of gel all at once). It would have been nice to finish better, but overall I was happy with it. My folks met me at the end and we all received a nice finisher’s jacket. Much like Cool, the race course was changed some from its historic route so it was hard to tell how my time compared to previous runs.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Way 2 Cool Race Report

First of all, I was really glad to be racing because, 1, See knee story below; and 2, I hadn’t signed up for the race that typically fills in a manner of minutes. After some minor begging, the race director, Julie Fingar, let me in 3. I got to sport my new Sunsweet gear. Looking over the start list I didn’t recognize many names but that really doesn’t mean a whole lot since I’m terrible with names, and am somewhat new to the sport. I thought Kochik, Skaden, and Grossman would be guys to look for. It can help to know who some of the real players are so you don’t get overly excited and get sucked into the “out-fast-and-die” folks. The first two miles were on a gentle down grade with one slight rise, so they were very fast: 5:45’s. Aside from the shirtless, tattooed guy, all the folks I was with seemed like the real deal. We were running fairly hard and mixing it up most of the way back to the highway crossing. As we crossed the highway it looked like it was Grossman, Pantilat, another guy, me, Kochik, and Berkontiz. I topped off my bottle and grabbed an extra Gu. As we headed out on the trails, I think that Pantilat had started to really establish himself as the one to beat but Grossman, Berkonitz and I were all right there. I remember thinking around mile 20 that this was more than I bargained for. I was hoping places would have been established for the most part and I could just dial in and run my race. Instead it seemed there was constantly someone who you thought you could pass or who was trying to pass you back. At Ball Bearing Hill, on the way up to the ALT aid station at mile 26, I could see Pantilat up there and either Berkonitz or Grossman behind me. That was the last I saw of anyone. On the way back I was able to spend a little more time looking around-- there are some really beautiful and easy running sections in there. The out-bound runners were all very nice and quickly gave me room to pass. I made an effort to give a quick “thank you” to everyone. It gets a little old after a while, but I kept thinking how nice it was of everyone to pause their race so that I could make mine a tiny bit faster. Folks kept saying things like “He’s got 30 seconds on you.” Then it was: “He’s got 1 minute on you,” or “1.5 minutes.” It was clear Pantilat was pulling away and looking at the splits it looks like he was going maybe 10 seconds/mile faster. I finished 2nd in 3:42:58. Taking the average pace and subtracting the 1.6 miles that was added in 2009 I would have finished in 3:31:30 on the old course a good 2 minutes faster than last year so I was happy about that. I did a few things differently from last year. I was in better shape and I took more Gu’s and S-Caps, probably 8-10 S-caps in all. BTW the oldest finisher was Bill Dodson age 74, he wins.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

My Knee Injury

Last June, two days after Western States was cancelled, I went out on a 56-mile consolation run by myself on the McKenzie River trail. The trail is always beautiful, but I had a terrible run; I ran out of water and salt, and ultimately, injured my knee. It was a good thing I hadn’t raced at Western States. After some time off for healing, I still had a fair amount of pain on the inside of my left knee. Finally, in October, I’d had enough. I made an appointment with a well known running/sports doctor in Eugene. He had some ideas, but wanted to do an MRI to be sure. The MRI was somewhat inconclusive, but he thought the meniscus had torn. This brings me to the real subject of this post. I’ve been running and racing since age eleven. I run because I love to, because I have to. It is good for my mental and physical health, and probably feeds a good chunk of my self esteem. However, I always told myself if I ever got to a point where my running was causing long-term damage or was in some other way bad for me, I would be strong enough to shift my energy and focus. I would view it as an opportunity to challenge myself in different ways, and try activities I’d never attempted or had time to do, wrapped up as I was with running. “Well, it looks like you might have a torn meniscus,” the doctor said. “Every runner has 30 years or so of good running in them, so you’ve had a great go at it.” He continued: “You might want to consider transitioning to lower mileage—you’d be surprised how well you can still race on 30 miles a week!” So this, it seemed, was it. Surgery might be an option, but did I really want to consider that option if ultimately I might be damaging my body more by continuing to run? A whole world of physical activity exists—I wanted to be walking around in the woods at age 90, and I wasn’t willing to sacrifice that in order to feed my addiction at age 37. Right? OK! Time to get out on the bike, swim laps at the pool, get out to go rock-climbing… I would be having so much fun I wouldn’t even notice when the running reaper came snooping around. The problem with Ultrarunning magazine is that after you pay your subscription, it shows up at your door whether or not you are running. At first I read it from cover to cover, finding joy in the amazing races, and peoples’ stories, even if I wasn’t joining them. But, a few months into my new no-running lifestyle, it just made me depressed and I recycled it shortly after it arrived. Other aspects of my new training life were harder to ignore: the smell of fall leaves, the rich reds and browns of the Amazon trail in November, the rain clouds slipping over and around Spencer’s Butte, the sound of alder branches moving against each other in an autumn breeze, and, of course, the endorphins. Biking didn’t do it, swimming didn’t come close, and I’m not a gym rat. And then there was the unknown—the unfinished question of Western States. I’d reached a point where I wanted to be on the starting line of that race more than just about anything. After 6 months or so, lots of time lifting weights and stretching, a different doctor, a very slow build up, and a new physical therapist, I’m back. Turns out it wasn’t a torn meniscus and hopefully I’m not doing long term damage to my body. I can almost take things for granted again. I still like to think I can let go of competitive running someday if I had to, but I certainly learned a lot about myself this past year. I’m a long distance runner and it’s what I should be doing. When I scan ultra race results now I look for the oldest finishers. It’s one thing to place near the top; it’s another to still be doing what you love when you are 70 or older.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Team Sunsweet

LB has graciously taken upon himself to talk to the folks with Sunsweet and they have offered me a spot on the team. The Ultrarunning Sunsweet Team is sponsored by Sunsweet Growers Inc. of Yuba City and SportHill of Eugene. The team has high quality runners but is fairly low pressure and is driven more by a shared love of the sport. Most importantly, from time to time I hear there will be free fruit.

Friday, February 20, 2009

New Blog

Well it seems that to be a real ultra-runner you need to have a blog, as if we don’t give enough time the sport already. At least for now this will primarily be a running blog. Like most running blogs I have seen, if I'm posting a lot then I'm running well, and if I'm not then I'm not. Oh and just to see if LB can find this I'm going to use the words "Western States 100"