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.