Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Western Freakin' States, Baby

It's about time I got around to posting a report from Western States, especially now that the Vermont 100 is history.  Guess I'll have to get that post going as well.  Enjoy the read - Jim

Prerace - So way back in December I got lucky (or unlucky) enough to draw out in the Western States Lottery.  1600 people vying for about 275 slots….in June.  I decided then that since I got into WS, that this would be perhaps my only opportunity to attempt the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, four 100-mile races in 11 weeks.  Western States, Vermont, Leadville, and Wasatch.
For those not in the ultrarunning know, the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run is the oldest 100 mile race in the country (38 years).  It’s kind of the unofficial 100 mile championship since all of the really fast burners show up to race each other.  Figure it’s the Boston of 100 mile events.
So, Aric Manning, Alicia Kirkman and myself ventured out to Squaw Valley, CA the Thursday before the race.  We had the opportunity of staying in a house with the Pearl Izumi Ultrarunning Team.  These guys are fast, I’m not.  It was fun to get to know them, hear how they prep for a race, their strategy (mine was to finish in under 30 hours, theirs was to win).  When we got to the house, Nick Clark, one of the PI team, told me that I was picked for 4th or 5th place on the Irunfar website in a reader poll.
Needless to say, I was greatly amused.  Obviously whoever did those picks clearly does not know how fast I run, or don’t run.
Friday was pretty uneventful other than a short four mile run in the morning and the race check in hoopla.  I gave in to the WS hype and spent way too much money on shirts and other paraphernalia that I really don’t need.  I bought a couple of shirts for my crew and pacer as well.
I actually got a decent night’s sleep Friday night, roughly five hours worth.  Unusual for me prior to a big race like this.  I usually toss and turn all night.  Must have been the cool mountain air and the sound of the river rushing just outside our window.
Race day - Saturday 5am.  Race start at the Squaw Valley Ski Area base.  The first 3.5 miles were all uphill, mostly on a service road.  We hit snow at about three miles and had pretty much continuous snow for the next 10-12 miles.  A lot of the snowpack was anywhere from 5-10 feet deep.  It was interesting to follow the course markings.  Since there wasn't a "trail" we went from ribbon to ribbon, sometimes able to make a straighter line than the ribbons did.  It was kind of easy to miss ribbons too if you weren't paying attention.  We finally left the snow for the most part at the next aid station (15 miles).
The next several miles found us cruising a trail along French Meadows Reservoir, a completely new portion of the course since access to the higher country was blocked by snowpack.  I wasn’t a big fan of this section, too many rollers, couldn’t get a good rhythm going and I didn't feel quite right.  I couldn't put a finger on it, but just not my A game.  I finally got into Duncan Canyon and back on the original WS course.  Hopefully all would be right with the world now.  I was still running on a sub 24 hour pace, but I figured that wouldn’t hold unless I got really lucky.
So Duncan Canyon goes by, Mosquito Ridge, Robinson Flat, Miller’s Defeat, actually most of the day was pretty uneventful, I just cruised along, kept drinking, eating etc.  Just enjoying the run.  When I got to Last Chance I knew that the infamous canyons section was next.  We had a really steep decent to a river, cross the bridge and then went up over 1600’ in the next 1.25 miles.  Holy crap that was steep!  I arrived at the Devil’s Thumb aid station pretty well worn out.  That climb took a lot out of me.  But time to continue on.  Michigan Bluff at 55 miles was the first place that crew were allowed.  Alicia met me there and I changed packs, shoes, socks, sat for a couple minutes, said goodby and took off.  The next aid would be Forest Hill at 62 miles.  Forest Hill is the biggest, most major aid station on the course.  You run through the middle of town, everyone is out watching and cheering, plenty of parking for crew, generally a good vibe going on.  Alicia met me here again.  I managed to get to Forest Hill in 14:09.  A little slower than I wanted but oh well.  Still on pace for a sub-24 hour finish.  At Forest Hill I picked up my headlamp, a long sleeve t and left.  I wasn’t sure how cold it would get at night, but I figured a long sleeve t would be good enough.  Dardenelles, Peach Stone, Ford’s Bar.   Don’t remember too much about any of those except I was slow.  Down to a walk.  In every 100 mile race you have a slow patch, for whatever reason your energy is low no matter how much food or drink you’ve had.  You just have to push your way through it.  The next aid station I remember was the Rucky Chucky river crossing.  In  normal years you wade across the river.  When the water level is high, they put you in an inflatable and row you across.  I got there at around 10pm, and the area was lit up and reminded me of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland.  You could hear the rapids upstream but couldn’t see them.  I half way expected to hear some people singing “It’s a Pirates Life for Me”.  They had plenty of people helping you down the steep path to the water’s edge, put a life jacket on you and loaded you on the boat.  When I went across there was some young kid rowing and he had us across is about six strokes.  He pulled hard.  We made it to the other side, unloaded and started up the dirt road to the Green Gate aid station (80 miles).  This is where I met both Alicia and Aric.  Aric was going to pace me the rest of the way in.  At this point I was still in shuffle mode and had about six miles to go to the Auburn Lake Trails aid station.  We had heard that this was the party station, and it was somewhat noisy.  I sat down here and immediately got a little chilled.  The aid station was in a low spot and so was I.  I sat down and one of the medical staff treated me to a wonderful shoulder massage.  I downed some chicken noodle soup, some of the most horrid tasting coffee I have ever had (I mean it was really, really BAAAADDDD), and told Aric to wake me in 15 minutes and was promptly out.  14 minutes later I woke up and got up.  It must have been what I needed because I basically ran nonstop for the next four hours.  I felt pretty good.  That coffee must have been rocket fuel.  After that the next aid station I remember was the Highway 49 crossing.  Lot’s of good vibes there, especially since there was less than ten miles left.  No Hands bridge was beautiful.  An old railroad bridge over the American River.  Very cool.  One last climb up to the bluff where Auburn was and I hit the road for the last mile.  Now I was getting excited.  No sub 24 hour finish, but a finish nonetheless.  We turned the corner and could hear the announcer at the high school stadium that was the finish line.  Down one last path, and into the stadium and on to the track.  Then you hear your name being announced, people cheering and clapping.  It was pretty cool.  Alicia met me part way around the track and videoed me as I crossed the finish line.  It sure felt good to be done.
Aftermath – Immediately after you finish you can have your blood drawn and a urine specimen taken for research.  I opted for that and had the blood test results in a few hours.  What the result showed is that I was a little dehydrated (to be expected), but not bad, it showed that I fueled and hydrated just fine during the race.  My CPK, a measure of muscle cell death, was somewhat high (also to be expected). 
Shoes – I wore my La Sportiva Crosslite 2.0’s for the first half.  They were very grippy and perfect for the snow.  I almost felt like I was cheating.  People were slipping and sliding all around me and I just motored on by.  I did go down on the snow three times, but nothing serious.  I wore a pair of Hoka Mafate’s for the second half of the race.  Great on the downhills and rocky sections.  Saved my feet.
Fueling – Once again I did a primarily liquid diet.  Lots and lots of 1st Endurance EFS Liquid Shot, probably 5000 calories worth,  plenty of chicken noodle soup, probably 400 oz. of water with Hammer Fizz tablets thrown in.  A little bit of fruit such as melon and cantaloupe.  For electrolytes, I relied on the sodium and potassium in the Liquid Shot and the Fizz tablets.  Must have been ok, because I took very few Succeed! Tablets and never had any issues.  My weight stayed consistently two pounds below my check in weight.  This is a good thing.  The only downside to this kind of diet was that by the time I was at about mile 70, I was getting pretty sick of vanilla flavored gel.  It took some effort to keep downing the stuff every 30 minutes.  But it works.
Observations – Overall the race organization is outstanding.  They treat you like rock stars at every aid station.  You have your own handler every time you come in.  Their goal is to get you across the finish line.  The scenery was beautiful, but I’ve run other courses that were just as scenic, if not more so.  I did have a lot of fun.  I got to hang with some elite runners for a couple days.  I got to see other runners that I don’t see very often.  I met new friends, including some that are doing the Grand Slam as well.  I had a couple of friends that made the trip with me and helped me out, then drove home while I slept in the back seat.  All in all, very worthwhile.  Not sure I’ll get the chance to do it again, but who knows?  I would given the chance.
Here’s the stats –
Time – 27:59:27

Place – 222nd out of 310 finishers, roughly 350 starters, 34th age group (50-59) out of 59 finishers.  Not a particularly good finish, but a finish nonetheless.

Calories expended were roughly 12,500 and calories taken in were roughly 6,000.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Goats Can Swim

So this report isn't about how knarly some trail race was, how pretty the scenery was, how much vert, or any of that stuff.  This goat swam, biked and ran and managed to complete the Boise Half Ironman Triathlon.
Sally is a friend that I’ve been bugging for years to do an ultra. She’s always put me off saying that they’re too difficult. Meanwhile, she’s been doing lots of marathons and tris, and last year did her first full Ironman. Finally, last year she agreed to do an ultra, but the catch was that I had to do a tri. Hmmm, didn’t really see that coming, but I agreed. Then she asked what distance I wanted to do. Since I run ultras, it really didn’t seem right to do a short little sprint or Olympic distance tri, so I told her I’d do a half Ironman. I figured doing that would make me expend enough effort and require enough training to qualify for an ultra level effort.
Last November we decided to do the Boise Half Ironman as our tri. That meant that I had plenty of time to get back in the pool swimming laps and to at least figure out how to stay upright on a bike for 56 miles.
Training for this silly little race began back in December. The first time in the pool had me worried. No upper body strength at all. Technique from my swim team days was there though. Within a couple months, I knew the swim wouldn’t be an issue. Check that off the list. I started attending a spin class once a week and stationary biking on my own at about the same time. Finally bought my own road bike and started using that to ride into work once a week. Ok, check that off the list. I’ll survive 56 miles, but it won’t be pretty. The run? 13.1 miles? Big deal, I’m training for the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning this summer. Check that off with no worries.
I was intentionally going into this race cold, I did no other tri's prior to Boise.  I think I wanted to add the unknown factor and see what it would do to me
So, Friday my lovely wife and I drive to Boise. We manage to check into our hotel and find the race check in. I was expecting the water temp in Lucky Peak Reservoir to be in the low 60’s. Then I saw this posted at check in.
Holy crap! 53 degrees? That’s way colder than the average tap water. That’s way colder than I was expecting. Wow! I was not looking forward to the swim at all.  Here's a nifty little link on cold water survival.  http://www.ussartf.org/cold_water_survival.htm
We met Sally and John, her boyfriend at check in and she was even a little worried about the water temp.

T2 on Friday
Anyway, we did pizza and brews for dinner, went back to the hotel room to get my transition bags set up. That’s when I discovered that I had left my wetsuit, my tri shorts, and my goggles at home. Damn! Now what? There was no way to do the swim without a wetsuit. I looked online and found a dive shop that rented wetsuits and was open Saturday morning. So, Friday evening I head out to REI and bought tri shorts. Sally had an extra pair of goggles she let me borrow. And the next morning my wife and I camped in front of the dive shop until they opened. They just happened to have a tri wetsuit in my size. Thank goodness, the race is on. Now it was get back to the race HQ to catch the shuttle to the start, drop off transition bags, and generally start to get nervous about the whole thing. The nice thing about this race was the noon start. That meant I had time to go into a full on panic then figure out a solution and get another wetsuit, etc. It also meant that the day would warm up a little bit to help offset the cold water (dream on). John hauled our bikes to the T1 area for us. Lucky Peak is about 15 miles east of Boise and 1000’ higher, meaning the bike ride would be a net downhill. Nice.
The swim start was in waves rather than a mass start. This meant that my wave didn’t actually start until 12:09. So we had to stand there sweating in the sun in our black neoprene wetsuits until it was our turn to jump in the water. We all herded on to the dock by the boat ramp and jumped in. The water was refreshing for about 0.2 seconds, then it took a couple more seconds to catch my breath. The cold literally took your breath away. Every time my face got water on it, my chest would tighten and I had a hard time breathing. While I was treading water waiting for the start my thought was that this swim would not be a good thing. How was I going to survive for 40-45 minutes in this cold of water, let alone swim decently.
So the gun goes off and it’s a mad dash out into the lake.
My wave start, I'm somewhere in that thrashing mess
The course was triangular, with the first leg being about 850 meters. This looks like a long ways when you’re used to swimming in a 25 yard long pool. Nonetheless, I took off. For roughly the first 2/3 of the first leg, I was borderline panicked. Every time I put my face in the water to swim, my chest would constrict and I had a hard time breathing. I discovered that rolling over and doing backstroke really helped. Kept my face out of the water and I could make good progress. Finally, my face got used to the cold, my chest loosened up, I warmed up and I rolled back over and started really swimming. That’s when I found out that it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought. In fact, I started motoring past people at a pretty good clip, I felt good and had a good rhythm going. The remainder of the first leg and the last two legs went very smoothly and I actually finished the swim a little quicker than I was hoping. I wanted a time with a 4 in front of it and my swim time was 40:18. I was happy. When I stood up to exit the water though, I was so dizzy and disoriented I almost fell over twice. That was weird. I still had to make my way up the boat ramp, run a hundred yards to the T1 area and get ready for the bike. Needless to say, my T1 time was a very slow 8+ minutes.
Goat skin on and ready to go
The bike ride was actually the most boring part of the race. 56 miles, a little over 3 hours in a saddle and my ass was sore. We did have a screaming downhill start off the dam. I hit 30+ mph, but I still had people flying past me probably doing close to 50 mph, maybe more. Too scary for me. Sally went flying past me at about the 32 mile point. She started the swim 20 minutes after me, so she was that much further ahead of me. Sigh! Getting old sucks, can’t keep up with the kids. Ideally I wanted to go under 3 hours for the ride. Realistically I knew I wouldn’t. I did manage a 3:04 for the ride and was happy about that one.
My T2 time was a little quicker, about 3 minutes, but the same thing happened as I got off my bike and started walking. I was a little dizzy. I managed to get to my spot, rack my bike, put on my running shoes and head out on the run, but it didn’t feel good at all. I thought it would end up being a sufferfest. It took me about a mile to start to feel good about the run and then I discovered that I had some legs.  The other thing I noticed was how slow I seemed to be running after the speed of the bike.  The run was the best part of the day for me. 13.1 miles in two loops and I pulled a negative split by about a minute. It felt really good just cruising on that course. I think I made up around 100+ places during the run. I know I was passing all sorts of people. Some of them looked pretty rough. It’s like the run got rid of all the negative thoughts I had been having during the day, even thought it wasn’t trail, I was in my element. Sally had left T2 about 10 minutes before me and by the time I hit the second lap I had gained several minutes on her. She ended up crossing the finish line about a minute before me, but still kicked my butt because of her swim start time.
#999 Sally Shadle nearing the finish
Me nearing the finish, #270 is in my age group and I managed to outsprint him to the finish
So, how was my first experience with a tri? I actually had a good time. It was something out of my element, new and different. Would I do another one? Probably. This race forced me to expand my exercise options beyond running. I think the biking and swimming has definitely helped my running fitness.
It was fun to do the event with Sally and catch up. My wife and I have known her and her family since she was 14 but haven't seen her for several years.  She’s grown into a wonderful lady and an amazing athlete. But I’ll get her back. She has to do an ultra distance run now!
Sally and I the next day feeling much better
Stats-Since this was an official Ironman event, the competition is much stiffer than a more local half distance tri. Having said that, I think I did reasonably well.

James Skaggs

BIB     AGE             STATE/COUNTRY                                        PROFESSION
252        53           MARRIOTT SLATERVILLE   UT USA              Engineer

SWIM     BIKE       RUN        OVERALL       RANK       DIV.POS.
40:18      3:06:29    1:54:58           5:53:15             573                32

LEG                 DISTANCE                 PACE                         RANK      DIV.POS.

SWIM                1.2 mi. (40:18)            2:07/100m                     599             34
BIKE                 56 mi. (3:06:29)           18.02 mph                     750             48
RUN                13.1 mi. (1:54:58)          8:46/mile                       573             32

T2: BIKE-TO-RUN 3:12
There were 1420 athletes that finished. There were 74 in my age group.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Old Dominian 100

Old Dominion 100M run in VA. To say the important thing, it is the second oldest 100 miler in the country, in it's 33rd year of running. It came about as a follow-up of Western States 100 and has the same beginning as a horse race. The challenge the RD's put out was to not only finish a 100 mile trek, but to do it in one day, under 24 hrs. The organizers are not runners - it is a family in it's 3rd generation right now (well, 2nd, but the youngsters are already in it), and the aid stations, as well as most volunteers are not runners either - just local family who have houses on properties through which the run goes, and they set tables out (very often and very much appreciated, I must add) with water, coke and a few small items. I liked how simple it all was. I only ask for water and ice at the race anyway, because I go on gels, and only on Power Gels, so I never rely on AS for anything else. The price was absolutely right too - $135, I believe it is the cheapest 100 besides Cactus Rose and Rocky. Can't beat that. To stress one more point, as I said above, the run has to be completed sub-24 hrs, and while they extended the finish time to 28 hrs at some point (not sure when), the buckle goes only to those who make it in 1 day. And now I know even more - what a sweet buckle that is! It is a real silver buckle, just like WS provides to sub-24 finishers, and to my knowledge it's the only second 100 to do that. I might be wrong, please correct me (Tahoe?). All this said, there are a handful of things I also knew. The race fell off the Earth (a.k.a. competitive running) somewhere around 2001 due to 9/11, and the OD Memorial came to replace (and Vermont started a few years earlier too), and due to various reasons I have no clue about the participation was down to a dozen of finishers some years. Now that we have 100M races popping like blisters on our feet during a long haul, some do have shortage of runners. I kind of felt responsible to bring attention back to "old and true" (nothing wrong with new stuff). And, it fell well into my wounding-down the season. It listed about 14,000 feet of elevation gain (plus same for loss) and I think it is about 80% done on either rural country asphalt roads or gravel roads. The hills are nice, rolling, through beautiful area East Coast style, reminded me of my days living in NYC and hiking/backpacking Upstate NY (my true background to taking this trail ultrarunning thing), and it was lovely. The smells of blooming tress and flowers were overwhelmingly awesome. The hospitality of volunteers was unmatched - they learned your name and as they moved their help around (or simply you moved in circles around their AS's), you've been called up on very personally.
Now, because the event is put on by regular folks, names of runners are unknown to volunteers (besides "repeat offenders"). It was cute to be asked at the sing in if I ever run a trail, ever donw a night run, and have an idea what to eat when I do this thing. I just smiled. You also don't know who else is in the race until you show up - and get a print out of participants. Only 7 female were listed this year, but the total was the biggest in a decade, 70 runners. I came with a goal of 22 hrs and, obvioulsy, a belt buckle. I collect belt buckles you know:) I knew only a handful of folks - and I mean a handful: Keith Knippling, Greg Loomis, Dan Brendan, Bedford Boyce and Levy Rizk. Levy and I scouted the first/last 7 miles the day before the race and were glad we did.
Usually the weather plays a huge negative role at OD100, but we lucked out so much, I have no words. Some did complain on the heat, but for this newly-Texan, 80's and humidity way below 50% felt a paradise. The race starts at 4 am, but it goes through the town of Woodstock for 3 miles and then ventures on a road up, so lights are not necessary at all. Then the grey starts coming up. The field spread out some, but still kept close. After 7 mile AS you hit long steep-ish downhill and make a loop on half-trail and half-road for Boyer. Besides this little thing (about 2M on trails) first 32M are all road-run. I wore my old road shoes, to get rid of them was about time (2 years old?). Actually, come to think about it, the whole thing can be easily done in road shoes, in fact, trail shoes are contra-indicated. I was smack on time on my predicted splits, and despite running roads, was extremely happy. I felt awesome, I didn't breathe any hard at any point, I was hydrating and eating gels on cue, I ditched my old shirt (ran first marathon in it, 9 years ago) at AS and was running in a sportsbra for cooling effect (Texas teaching), and I was listening to my music. Talked to an "Alabama" guy (who happened to be Dink Taylor) just past mile 25, I think, told him how I always happen to have some serious thing happen to me in the last 20 miles or so (like, rolled both ankles at RR, broke tail bone at Cactus, explosive pooping at WS..). What an idiot, jinxed myself! Was passed a few minutes before 20M AS by a woman, and learned from volunteers we are 1-2. She pulled away. I could care less, besides, it was mile 20, for God's sake, who races that early! Had some stomach loose, visited woods couple of times, hit Immodium, was ok after.

Came to mile 32 spot on, changed into my Fireblades (trail shoes), re-supplied and took off, happy camper. Passed a few guys, was told Linda (that turned out to be woman's name) was 5 minutes on me, could care less. There was a long ATV climb, and when we got to a motor-biked in AS, water was sparse to offer. But I was peeing fine and did ok to manage one bottle per person request. Kind of got a bit tired of those ATV rocks, and also started feeling weird pain in my right lower shin, right above my ankle. Thought may be it's my shoes too tight. I never had my shoes tight before, but who knows, I had no other ideas. Kept plugging away and passing a guy here and there, was a nice ridge stretch, hot and open and with a bunch of flies, but nice smelling blooms. Finally came down some road, passed Levy and entered mile 48 AS (same as 32, it was a loop) while Linda was getting tended to by her spouse (or friend). Could care less. Got ice, re-supplied, took off on a 4.5M climb on a road.

Linda caught up with me in a mile, I was rocking my best music selection, hopefully she didn't think I am a nut case. Dancing, you know. Depending on music, either swaying hips (pop) or throwing fists in the air (rock, hip-hop). She didn't say much (I pointed to a sign to a house with wedding and proposed we should stop by there). I think she mentioned she doesn't do well in heat. I was just running my own race, and yes, I did think that I might come back to her if I still feel good, and if I don't catch her - it means she is a better runner, that's all. Besides the ridge before, that was the only open section. Everything else was in a shade, so I felt great in this regard. There was a line on the road saying "50M", and I was there at exactly 10 hrs - not even funny. And it was exactly when I thought I should be there. Got to the top of the hill at mile 51 - and suddenly that pain in the shin got unbearable. Had to step aside, loosen up laces (still thought it was the cause). Felt some relief (now I understand the swelling started, so yes, there was a relief). But shortly after, as the downhill started, I couldn't run from pain. My mood dampened. Took Ibuprofen. Not much help. Took Aleve. When course goes up, I am fine, strong and almost don't feel anything. As soon as we go down (and road at that) - I am in tears. Still think it's from shoe laces and simply an aggravation, like an anterior tibialis tendonitis. You don't stop for tendonitis. So I went on. By Elizabeth Furnace, mile 75, the pain is really, really bad, and I am loosing the ground on Linda (I was given updates). I weighed in (same exact number as at the start, good thing) and yelled out for a duct tape. The woman came in and asked "What's wrong, I am a doctor". I said "I am a doctor too, I need duct tape". The RD Ray was there and later at the finish said it sounded very funny. I don't know, I wasn't much smiling. I taped my leg and walked out. We entered a bitch of a climb, but it was only bad last mile (straight up). The whole 6M section was on an extremely rocky trail (worst Massanutten memories imaginable), but when going up, I was so full of energy and almost no pain. The other side was a completely different story. I left Elizabeth Furnace still on predicted split, but all hell got loose here, past the top of the climb. It was very steep and very rocky way down, and it just got dark a few minutes ago (just about 9pm, I put headlamp on), and I couldn't put any weight on my right leg without crying, screaming and remembering every mother of God (and many, many more choice of words I could come up with in English). I actually made a cane out of a stick and basically hopped down on one leg. At the bottom the un-manned AS ran out of water. Sucks for us. Another 2 miles up the road was a regular AS, but I was in pain and on a "get the F* done" mode. Just got water. Another trail section, up and over Veach Gap. Again, my climb was awesome, gave me hope, I was just so pleased of how strong I felt and how well I took care of myself. On the way down I repeated the crying and swearing - but no stick. It was a somewhat "milder" trail downhill with "fewer" rocks. We wandered more on roads after that, and I even tried to shuffle some mild mellow decline parts (besides flats), calculating and re-calculating what is possible to still come under 24 hrs. That was all I could focus on. Ran many parts with a guy Juan on his first 100 - when he finally left me at 93, he was done in 22:40. At mile 93 a nice volunteer enthusiastically told me the next 4M are almost all downhill. I knew that (repeat beginning course back) and I still almost killed him:) I tried to run, then gave up and hobbled. It was way too steep for my leg. Left ball of the foot developed a mother blister due to putting all that weight and pressure on only one leg, and walking downs. At this point I had no leg that could take any pressure (right or left). Took me 1:05 to make 4 miles downhill. At last AS (which didn't have water, and I kind of wanted it) I almost quit. I was positively sure I will not be able to make last 3 miles at all, in any time. And I couldn't scream (it does provide mental release when the anger gets out) - we were in town, and people are sleeping in their homes! So, I just walked and cried quietly. 50 minutes total. The last 3/4 mile is on a gravel horse track, a really cruel joke - you can see the finish line, but can't go straight to it. I was in so much pain, I knew even if another woman comes from behind with 2 feet to go, I will let her go. It didn't matter anymore. But - it was a guy who came up on me mid-way, and asked if I'd like to run in together. I looked up and said "Do I look like I am eager to run?". Sorry, I can be very moody like that. I walked through the finish line in 23:11:23, good for 29th overall and 2nd gal, a bit over an hour later than Linda (who ran a great, consistent and strong race). Would I have caught her? Nothing is a garantee in life, but everything is possible. All things considering, I am thrilled with physical aspect of this race.

Below is a synopsis from the VA Happy Trail runners:

The 33rd Old Dominion 100 was an epic year with great weather, a packed field, and fantastic volunteer support. Neal Gorman won in 16:16.47, Linda Gaudette was first woman in 22:03.22. Of 68 runners from 15 states, 54% were awarded the silver, sub-24 hour buckle. 72% finished under 28 hours. Neal, Eric Grossman, and Jeremy Pade lost 25 mins due to missing course markings heading into Elizabeth Furnace. Karsten Brown was second in 17:20, Eric third in 17:40, Jeremy fourth in 18:10, followed by David Ploskonka in 19:14 and Keith Knipling in 19:25. Sean Andrish finished near 22 hrs. Many other VHTRCers finished the challenging course. Bobby Gill photo credit.
The travel was really bad. The pain was getting worse, the swelling, hotness and redness on my leg, I couldn't walk a step...the airport people are the best, wheeled me around, put me up with no folks so I can elevate my leg, people giving me Ibuprofen, flight attendants giving me bags of ice, the first pilot announcing I am a "bad ass". I had to keep apologizing that not all 100's end up like that, it is really not a bad thing to do. I don't think they believed me much, I did a poor job explaining we are normal...well, kind of...
I hobbled to a doc for x-ray Monday morning - no serious fracture. Got to MRI - and yes, indeed, a hairline stress fracture about 2 cm on the anterial/medial side of lower part of tibia (about 1 cm above distal end). There is also some soft tissue trauma, hematoma and tendinitis. Seems that the soft tissue was giving more pain than bone crack itself.

Bottom line? As an event, it is awesomely organized, very pretty and really historically important - both for American history and for ultrarunning history. For me, personally, roads just don't do it. Nor super-rocky trails where running is imapred (at least somewhat). I like to glide mindlessly. I am still glad I checked this run off my list, and I still recommend it. You can run a great PR on the course, if you will take good care of yourself. I am thrilled to have done just that - take awesome care of myself, the whole day long, even as the pain become excruciating, I never lost sight of my hydration and fueling. Body-wise, I felt great. Like, better than many other 100's by a long shot. And that's with 45 mpw. Speaks volume of wisdom: patience, pacing, taking care of yourself, and experience, along with weight workouts (yes, those helped). My muscles are not sore. And while I was fitted for a boot to not have me walk around much, if you know me, I ain't wearing it. I will, though, keep my leg wrapped, elevated, iced and not run on. It's an off-season time. Lets the other challenges begin.

Monday, May 16, 2011

San Diego rocking mountains!

PCT 50M race. 100% single track. Mountains. Long climbs and long descents. Wild flowers. Thin dry air. Back flashes down memory line. Larry with me whole weekend. Lots of sun. Great people...It was a weekend to stand out for sure...The truth is, this was the most perfect weekend in every and any way you could possibly imagine, and I don't even know where to begin. Pardon my random rambling...

As I was hugging the RD John "El Cubano" Martinez at the finish line, grinning ear to ear, I kept repeating "South California always treats me nice". And it does. In 2005 I won and set a CR at SD100. In 2007 I came back to crew and pace my friend Adrien to a heck of a 100M finish. In 2008, while I DNF'ed at Angeles Crest 100 due to a hip stress fracture, I made a clear mind decision to move to TX to be with Larry. Then last year I had a perfect race at Leona Divie 50M. Later same year I was back to have a great time at SD100, and even though that particular race wasn't all that great, the day worth running at these mountains was awesome nevertheless.

I was rocking it. I was rocking this weekend from the moment the plan of it had started to emerge. Some time few months ago Larry and I figured it would be nice to pick a race out of TX we can go together to. I scouted, and pointed at SD 50. Don't ask me how, I just did. My nicest friend Eman agreed to watch after Stephen. I booked pretty cheap tickets and we got a motel practically next to the start, which was also next to a family diner (a-la 50's style) we had late lunch/dinner at and to the grocery store where we bought a pint of ice cream, which we ate the night before. We arrived early, we picked the car, we drove fast, we had crap load of time to go on the course and check it out - oh, my, it was beautiful!!!

A couple of weeks before Larry created a race profile. I taught him to have a race profile and a pace chart taped to his water bottles, ever since he first met me back at Jemez 50 - exactly 3 years ago...yes, lots of anniversaries on this weekend too, besides this, 1 year since our last trip for a race together (MMT100) and 10 years since my very first 5k race, which got me so hooked...but I digress. PCT50 didn't have a profile on the website, so Larry compiled his knowledge of maps and made one himself. And then figured his paces. The night before he asked me if I want to look and adjust mine - I was busy cooking dinner. So, I looked over the shoulder and threw some times to AS, fairly approximately. "How about on the way back?" he asked. "Whatever, same would work, add a couple of 5 minutes extra". As I told at the Hill Country runner's meeting that Tuesday, my plan was simple: 4:45 out, 5 hrs back. The family wage was on too! I was to finish no more than 45 minutes behind Larry. I actually had no clue what his time goal was:)

It is nice to fly West for a race. We gain 2 hrs of sleep, so by the time alarm went off at 4 am, we basically felt like we overslept. 1 drop bag at mile 22.5 (same as 27.5), the rest of the gels stuffed into skirt pockets and bottle pockets (24 total), 2 water bottles, 10 S! caps, 3 NUUN tablets, 6 Ibuprofen. What else does a woman need when running 50 miles? We went off exactly at 6 am and for the first time in a long time, my watch actually showed 6:00. That's weird:)
We climbed from the start. I jogged a mile, then went into powerwalking mode. Methodically, with short shuffles, letting people pass, rocking my music softly on a background. I don't listen to music very loud. They sing in English, I have also some Danish hits, and a few Russian songs. I've had same music for years, only this past week adding 2 more songs, and I hardly understand words of 80% of the songs (in any language), so it's a background, that's why it's never loud. Just tunes, whatever they sing:) It is already light out, but as we ascend, higher and higher with every step, we pop above the morning fog and the clouds - and it is WOW, really. We are running on a narrow single track carved on a side of a mountain, above the clouds, surrounded by smells and views of wild flowers blooming and by peaks of other mountains beyond the clouds. I let out a yelp. I laugh. I don't think I had been that high emotionally in a long time. Total complete utter happiness. Soon the sun rises and blinds me as we run East, and I have to drop my eyes down to be able to see at least a foot ahead. WOW. This is so worth the trip already...

I don't know anyone, and as I run, I don't care of my location in the field, but then again, I hardly ever do. Not in the first half anyway. I am having flashbacks into 2005 and SD100, which I did with my ever-best running partner and friend Gail and one crazy guy who agreed to help, David, and this 50 miler is run on the same course (the other two 100M races I had been to were on other variations of the trails). Funny, it's like body memory. Almost down to the step. We reach first AS, I look at my watch, and I am, like, to the second. 1:14, fill bottles, out to climb more, on the rockiest part of the trail.

I remember these rocks, I even remember how I described them to Ronda (who in a year of 2006 broke my CR at SD100, ha!), and I remember this relentless climb. I become a metronome. I powerhike. "I was born to powerhike" - is my mantra. Utilize, capitalize. These two weird words follow me through the whole race. I am capitalizing on my ability to hike without been winded or tired, never even take an extra breath. A handful of guys jog pass me, but at the same time I had out-walked a handful of others. May be some of them are early starters. I am happy, singing along with my tunes and rocking my surroundings. I am spot on a gel per 25 minutes, an S! cap an hour, and drinking. The only thing that remotely bothers me is my heel spur, which I never resolved after I treated the PF back in January, so I get "snarly" and wonder if this is a good time to learn how to run "forefoot striking". Kidding. I am in a camp which says whatever running gait you are born with - stay with it, don't change. The pain is rather bad, but I promise myself Ibuprofen 3 hrs in and put it out of my mind.
We get to the next AS, and I hit my 1:30 split like I was born to do so. I laugh.Next section is short, and it goes in a cover of trees. How did this knowledge suddenly popped into my mind? I don't know, but this is exactly how it is. A nice smooth single track under tall trees the whole time, gently rolling up and down. I stop to pee, spook a girl behind (I don't move far away for such a small task) and pick up the pace again ever so slightly. Is this happy feeling planning to end any time soon?

Dale's kitchen has a small spur down to AS, and I reach it in 45 min. I don't know what time it is, when I race I only look at the "minute" part of the watch, so I can be gel-ready and on a lookout for an AS. A volunteer asks me if I want ice in my bottles, and I say "only if fast". Seems that there was a line for ice, so I grab my stuff and get out. I am like that, if it takes more than a minute - it is not needed. A few guys yell out my name as they leave, and I "pick them up" on a next downhill. I apologize as I move by, and make sure to ask how we know each other. Steve readily recites: LD50 last 2 sections, SD100 first 2 sections, I was the guy taking care of my feet at an AS...I remember! Have fun! I was born to run downhill! Thus I have a new mantra. I can't help it. I am a downhiller. I don't speed up, and I don't put any effort. I glide over the trail. I leap. I let it flow. I am super-naturally happy.

We cross a small wooden bridge, and I remember how in 2005 I had stomach issues here, Gail met me just off the highway, I whined, and she told me to switch to ice and water only. The trick I use ever since - and tell everyone. It works. It is not an AS yet, it's about a mile and half of practically flat terrain, which I dislike strongly, but I run. I was not born to run, that's for sure, but it's a running race, so nobody gives me an excuse for that:) Graham Cooper runs towards me. Yowser! Is he that fast or am I that slow? Apparently, I had no clue which mile I am at. Really. Honest to God. I also realize I am out of gels and am very surprised. I had calculated meticulously - every 25 min on the way out, every 20 min on the way back, 2 gels from an AS table for a short out-n-back section to the turn-around. When I arrive at AS, fill my bottles and grab gels from them, and leave, they shove me a card (playing card). That was to be what each runner has to drop inside a box at the turn-around 2.5M down the trail, in the middle of nowhere. I am at Penny Pines? You mean I am at mile 22.5?? You just made my day! If you thought I was crazy happy before, realizing I am about 5 miles further than where I thought I was just sent me sky-rocketing. I am rocking it!

Someone says I am 2nd gal, someone else says I am 4th. I don't care but do look who comes back from the trail as I am heading out. After a few I lost count. The race had an early start. Everybody looks strong. How do I know? Why would I care? I only know I am running behind a girl wearing a scarf Russian style, and I am liking her, this tiny little woman. I see Larry coming back and scream "Hey, baby!" and stop for a kiss. He didn't look that good here, and I worry, but don't let it bother me. He is running his race, I am running mine. And I am rocking it.

As we approach turn-around, (just a chalk arrow and a box), exactly at 4:47 into the run, the "Russian scarf girl" stops and asks "Are you Olga?". While we chat I almost forget to drop my card - but I don't. She is Iris from Calgary, and is a friend of Leslie from Banff whom I know (virtually), so we are thrilled about this! As we talk, I slowly pull away without noticing, because I am so damn happy. I am dancing (imagine how it looks when you don't hear the music I have in my headphones), I am yelling insanities and as I pass guys on the hills ("Com'n, folks, stay with me!"), I can't wipe smile off my face. As I enter back Penny Pines, one of my newest additions, J Lo's On the floor, came up on tunes - and I turned the volume all the way up. I had never done it so loud! But I was rocking this song, my mood, the mountains, and the people. I got my drop bag, and as I drink my V8 juice, I keet dancing, then tell the girl getting my bottles filled (yelling over the loud music in my ears) "Isn't J Lo hot?". Hopefully the runner's crew friends didn't call mental institution. I stuffed the gels into pockets (which was a few too many, and my skirt kept riding down on me) and jumped out of the gates.
I need to ride this happiness, I decided. Not push up, not speed up, just cherish this feeling. I hit a small pocket of a "low", one and only in the whole day, and I shook it off. It was hot, low 70's, high and dry, completely open to the burning sun, I was drinking every drop, and I was running. Unbelievable. Back to Todd's cabin on the spur, I see a girl coming out of AS. I get down, wait for my bottles, and a runner say "Hey, Olga, I don't know if you are racing, but there was a girl just leaving...". I exclaim "I am now!" and everyone laughs. I get out, but pull a notch back in my effort and settle in. It is 18 miles to the end, too early to race somebody's race, and I bet the girl is going to make a mistake (she had that look) - she will decide to put a distance on me and will exert herself. If I do my own thing, I will be where I have to be...

I run and hike next section very mellow, just riding what the course dictates. I see the girl as we enter the AS. Another volunteer asks me questions if I am coming back to SD100, I am telling him about my plans for OD100 - and take off, passing the gal (and a handfull of guys) behind at the AS. Only one man gets by and dissapears. A few hikers come towards (there are lots of them all day long, every one of them nice and chatty and polite), and they are showing me 2 fingers and saying "go get it". Am I second? 2 more ahead? It sounded like there was a female close, and I strain my eyes to look on the hillside ahead - and don't see anyone. I tell myself to calm down one more time. Run your own race, honey.

There is a pretty substential climb here, and I suddenly feel at first a cramp coming, and then my right calf tightens and cramps, sending wave to my hamstring and to my butt. Left side joins. Ouch! It somehow doesn't scare me. More like - really, both sides, full leg cramp? For the most part it becomes dull, and only siezes when I eaither jump over a rock, or step off a ledge sharply, and I, for some reason, play my medical profession and picture muscles and tendons and "yo, here is the origin of a lateral head of bicep femoris, ai, here is soleus...". I drop my emergency NUUN tablet into one of the bottles and sip on both water and NUUN (latest studies proved that cramps develop more of dehydration than of salt depletion). Despite that whacko developing, I am still happy - and still running. My legs, muscles in them anyway, feel great. I surprise myself how much of that flat ridge is runnable - to me! - that late in a race! May be I was born to run after all? Then, a heaven, a downhill, long strong downhill. I was born to run down - I enter last AS, Fred Canyon.

A woman runs to me and asks "Are you Olga?" Well, yes, I am. "Your husband said you'd want ice and water and you'd want it fast and furious!". Well, yes, indeed, thank you. I laugh. This is so awesome. Can you freakin' believe it? They fill my bottles "per request" as I swallow my gel - I also caught another handfull of guys here, and I get out before they blink. And catch that man who passed me at the last AS. Aha, here is a lesson, buddy. Nobody passes me in the last thrid of the race without consequences:)

I am still cramping wildly the whole backs of my legs, and still running, not crazy fast, but steady. I make a (second for the race) pit stop, and hug the steep slope of a mountain, on a narrow trail, with a steep drop on my left, eyes glued to the single track. Suddenly a voice says something, and I flip - look ahead (nothing), look behind (nothing), the voice says something again, I make a head turn up over the shoulder - there is a dude hanging on a tree above the trail taking photos. Really? I almost fell off the cliff? I laugh and go on. I remember this section so well, from 2005, before the asphalt road, how I screamed in desperation here, and there are only 4 miles left after that...

There are not all down, those last 4, and I allow myself to walk some inclines, and even some parts of flats. I do simple math and think: 9:35, and I will be at even split. This is awesome! Can I smile even more? Here is a rock 1.5M from the finish line, Larry and I hiked up here yesterday, I am 9:15 in. Here I can see the highway I need to cross under. I push the button and find "Eye of the tiger" song. I never skip my music. I feel the need now. Can I beat 9:30? Under the highway. It's 9:27. May be not...Skip button. Find Eminem's "Not afraid" now, quickly! My other newest addition! I am rocking it, I see the finish line, I see Larry running frantically to take a picture of me, and I am running right past the dudes with the clock with my Longhorn fists up! And I keep dancing, music blaring. I am not afarid! I don't want it to stop, none of it! I bet folks thought I was obnoxious. I was simply thrilled. 9:29. 5 minutes negative splits. And I am still rocking it!

But wait! A man turns to me and says I am first woman. Really? You are joiking, right? He shakes head. I turn to Larry - is he serious? Yes, indeed. I am in utter disbelief. Really? Can this day get any better?

Larry ran an amazingly smart race. He took it easy, never played testosteron games, ate and hydrated, and chased a bunch of guys down in second half. Only in the last 15 miles did he face the demons with stomach distress, which prevented him to "capitalize" on the downhills, yet he never gave up and placed 9th overall. He finished in 9:06 - which means the family wage win is still mine! Just kidding. The sweetest thing was that stop for a bit at the last AS when he told volunteers I will need help very fast ("unlike me" were his words) and he also told them I will most likley be the first female. I guess my husband has more faight in me than I do:)

The great times didn't end, and the luck never stopped. We drove back to San Diego and got a room in downtomw Hilton - for $94, while still wearing race clothes, having salt all over my face, pigtails in my hair and dirty legs. A great treat! I promised to clean up nicely. We ate at Pei Wei and my fortune cookie read "This week your lucky day is Saturday. Enjoy the fun" No kidding, heh? We slept in - and had a huge breakfast at a diner at 6am. We slept some more. We ate more - like 20 lbs of food. We flew back with no hussle. Stephen was great. Life was beautiful. I am going to miss this weekend:)

About the course: it was marked immaculately, and hard to get lost when running PCT all the way. It suits all my strength. I haven't been to the mountains since last Tahoe race in July, and I missed it so dearly. I love mountains. the attitude and mood I had was a clear indication where I belong. I didn't need to force anything out of myself. The whole time I couldn't believe how far I was, it felt I just set out for a morning jog. By the time I was leaving last AS it was still not any close to what I experience when I run here. My legs are not sore, and while I am going to loose a few toenails (I always do, having to do with my "special" downhill running, and I don't care), and my foot has a pretty big bruise due to the heel spur, there are no blisters (thanks, Drymax!) and no foot issues (thanks, Crosslites!). I need to email Powergel company to get them sponsor me - love this gel, never an issue with a stomach! I wore Tejas Trail shirt - it was light, cute, had a pocket on the back for empty garbage, and I felt an urge to represent my home state. I sure hope I did:)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Grand (Canyon) Weekend

Sometimes running isn’t about the races or the training but about where you are and who you’re with when you go for a run.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to go to the Grand Canyon and do a rim-to-rim-to-rim run again. This would be my fourth time doing a double crossing. I also had the opportunity to go with a group of running friends from the Ogden area. I can’t think of too many other things I would have rather done than do a run in this spectacular place with a bunch of friends. We had a great time. Doesn’t get much better than that.


We began planning this adventure last year and all sorts of people said they were going. What I’ve found out is that when the date gets closer, most people end up dropping out and the group ends up being two or three people. This time we had ten total runners that did all or part of the journey. For several, this was their first visit to the Grand Canyon as well as their longest run ever, by a long ways. Since I had done this run a few times, I became the defacto tour guide.

On Friday afternoon, most of us were able to get in a view of the canyon with me pointing out where we were going. There were several “wows”, “what did I get myself into”, “this is kind of scary” comments, but everyone was still up for the run. We agreed to start at 4am so that we would hopefully avoid most of the heat of the day in the inner canyon.

The last supper


We ended up starting at 4:20am on Saturday morning. The air temperature was about 32 degrees but there wasn’t any breeze. Generally a pleasant morning and we were excited. Since it was dark, no one could see the trail from the rim, let alone the canyon. One of our party went down the trail a ways so she could get pictures of the headlamp train coming down.

After about an hour we came to Indian Gardens. This is about half way to the river and is a campground, water stop, etc. We took a short break to refill on water, eat a little something, take some pictures, marvel at the scenery.

According to this sign, we’re all going to die if we attempt to hike to the river and back in one day

After that we kept going down and down and down. Finally we saw the river and began the short run to the silver bridge. Along the way us guys had to stop and throw rocks into the river trying to hit a large boulder. It’s a guy thing. We trotted across the silver bridge and a few minutes later came to the Phantom Ranch. Here we stopped, filled up on water, ate some, took a break and let everyone catch up. Everyone agreed that this was an awesome place to go for a run.
The motley crew at the Phantom Ranch

We began the run up Bright Angel Canyon as the sun was just hitting the upper walls of the canyon. The run up was pretty uneventful, just going along, marveling at the scenery, enjoying every minute of it. Eventually we got to Cottonwood Campground. Last year I did this run the same weekend and the water was on. This year it wasn’t. A few people were concerned, but I mentioned that the caretaker house was just a mile or two up the trail and the water was always on there. Sure enough, when we got there, the water was on and we were all able to tank up. By now our group was starting to spread out and I went most of the way to the north rim with a fellow R2R2R runner from San Francisco. I got to the north rim by 12:30pm.
Speedgoat at the north rim

Felt great and took about a 30 minute break waiting for the others to show. A couple of the faster guys in our group had already headed back down. Eventually I decided to head back down because I wanted to get back to the Phantom Ranch before they closed at 4pm and buy some lemonade. So Jerome (the runner from SF) and I headed down. We had to push fairly hard to make it before closing and we managed to do just that. When I walked into the Ranch, I was the last customer. I put down a $20 and told them I wanted to buy as many lemonades as I could. I ended up with eight and as each runner in our group came in, I handed them one. That was some good stuff. I ended up spending two hours at the Ranch waiting for people to come through. Jerome and I finally took off for the south rim at 6pm with a few of the others following a few minutes later.

As we went up the Bright Angel trail and the skies got darker, the frogs really started to croak. Huge sounds echoing off the canyon walls, but coming from these tiny little frogs about two inches big. The bats started to come out as well and would fly extremely close to us snagging bugs. We made it to Indian Gardens a little after 7pm, took a short break and pressed on. I was still feeling very good other than getting hungry. I was out of food and worried about bonking. I’ve bonked before going up this trail and it’s not fun. Next was making it to the 3-mile resthouse. That took us 45 minutes and based on that I told Jerome that it would take us another 1.5 hours to get to the top. We must have picked up the pace because we made it to the 1.5-mile resthouse just 35 minutes later and 35 minutes after that we were coming out of the canyon. So, after some 17 hours in the depths of the Grand Canyon, I was finally out. I ended up waiting at the trailhead in my car until 12:45am when the last person finally made it up.


As friends finished, several swore they would never do that again, it was the hardest or worst thing they had ever done. However, by the next day, most were ready to go again. Some of us spent Sunday just hanging out enjoying the scenery, watching the California Condors and eating, rather than driving home. It was a nice way to relax and relive the experience.

For me, doing this run was a reward for the training that I do as well as a break after directing the Buffalo Run. Doing it with a bunch of friends just made it that much more special.

I was a little worried about how I would do given my seeming lack of running, but I think the biking and swimming I’ve been doing more than made up for it as I felt great the entire day. I wish I had taken one more 1st Endurance flask for the calories. Next time.

I wore my La Sportiva Crosslites and they worked perfectly, but I think they’re ready for retirement as the coolest lawn mowing shoes on the block. I know I’m ready to go again. Maybe try some different trails next time.