Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Post WS Funk

I'm looking at my marathon training plan right now and I'm feeling a little inadequate.

The plan is to pace 4 marathons this fall.  Omaha (4:15), Denver (4:10), Kansas City (4:20) and St. Louis (4:00).  So, to hit those times my training plan involves "loose some weight, stupid", "run some hills, stupid", and "find a track, stupid".

I've been doing the "run some hills" part, which is a step in the right direction.

Everything else?  Blah.

I'm just not motivated to train like I need to right now.

I do this after really long races.  I kind of put myself into recovery mode for several months.  School also just started again, which is kinda stressful and time-consuming.

So, I need a goal.  In the winter this year, to kick-off my WS training I did 10-10's, or ten days of ten mile runs (uh, I did 15 one day and 5 another, but you get the point).  That worked pretty well, so I'll try it again.  This time I'm just going to shoot for 100 miles in ten days.  So, by next Thursday, the 11th, I should have covered 100 miles on foot.

Just like that, the funk is gone.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Western States 2011, Part Three

Thanks to everyone who has stuck with me through the first two parts.  I didn’t expect to divide the report up this much nor did I expect to be as wordy as I’ve been.  The goal is to get you into the race as much as possible, hence the length.  I think you will find this to be the most interesting part of the series as it is, in true trilogy form, the darkest and most trying for our heroes (namely Coleen and me).  There’s some of George Carlin’s favorite words in this one, so if you’re allergic to that kind of thing, well, deal with it.  I hope you’ve enjoyed reading as much as I have enjoyed writing.

You can find part one here and part two here.

Back to the race…

Leaving Foresthill you cover approx ½ mile of road, along which crews park their cars and setup shop while waiting for their runners.  Passing each group of people elicits cheers of “good job” and “you’re amazing” – none of which got old at any point.  Brian was with me and was clearly excited to be out there.  It was fun to watch him – he was like a star-struck kid at a baseball game; taking in the surroundings, the runners, the course and the task.  It was great.

We walked the entire paved part of the course.  My food needed to settle and my legs were recovering from the sit-down I had just done.  It’s amazing how 5 minutes of sitting can give your muscles enough time to clock out for the evening.  It takes a bit to break the work strike they enter after such a short rest.

The course from Foresthill to the Rucky Chucky river crossing is net downhill and all quite runnable.  The problem with downhill, for me, was that it hurt more than anything.  I had popped an ibuprofen at Foresthill which hadn’t kicked in yet, so we took the beginning of the trail pretty easy.  My strategy was therefore to kind of move sideways down hills in an attempt to transfer the pain to other parts of my body.

Early on we tried to figure out what my pace should be for the last 38 miles.  I made a big mistake here by over-motivating myself, this would eventually put me into a pretty bad funk later in the race.  See, I considered the whole 38 miles as a single race.  I shouldn’t have done this.  I really should have divided it in half: miles 60-80 and miles 80-100.  I know I go downhill pretty significantly around mile 80 and I should have planned for this.

What we were so excited about was that it seemed nearly in the bag that I would hit 26:30.  I had to move at a sub 4 mi/hr pace for the remainder of the race to do this, a reasonable assumption.  If I hit the 26:30 I would win my bet with Graham – he’d have to shave his beard.  This got me excited and motivated to move quickly. 

We covered the 3.7 miles to Dardanelles in fairly good time.  There is one significant uphill in this section and I bitched about it a lot but got through it at a very good pace.  I remember the three aid stations between Foresthill and Rucky Chucky quite well and was looking forward to all of them.  Brian was great about keeping me eating and drinking.  He’d ask every so often if I ate, offer me something good, like gu chomps, and remind me to drink. 

After eating a bit at Dardanelles we got going.  I felt good and told Brian to err on the side of running more than walking.  We ran in some fairly long segments which even included some gradual uphills.  Headlamps started appearing in front of us and soon enough we’d pass the person, an amazing feeling that late in the race.  I was really getting a good high from the distance we were covering and the pace that we were doing it at.

Peachstone was our next aid station, 5 miles exactly from Dardanelles.  There was one or two significant climbs but nothing that even compared to Devil’s Thumb or Michigan Bluff.  We kept moving, running the majority of the course.

Someday I’d love to hit this section in the daylight, as I can only imagine that it is breathtaking.  The American River is flowing in the valley below you and you’re running along a precariously perched trail along the side of the mountains.  I found myself turning my light uphill or downhill constantly to get a feel for where we were on the mountain.  I’d always lose my balance a bit in doing this, and constantly imagined myself cartwheeling over the side or something equally dramatic.  It was worth it.

We came into Peachstone after passing more folks.  I believe this was uneventful as we simply quickly ate and left.  I noticed that people were beginning to spend more time in the aid stations now that it was later at night.  The number of folks sitting down wrapped in a blanked had increased quite dramatically with each passing station.  Most of these folks were just taking a temporary break from the action, and would return to the course in due time.

Moving on I began to recall the next section quite vividily from the previous year with Greg.  Leaving Peachstone you encounter a series of significant downhill switchbacks taking you closer to the river.  I remember this because last year as we were descending we heard some of the most classic puking I’ve ever heard, it was great!  It really brought me back to Greg’s race.

I also remembered the part of the course I absolutely hated from pacing – the absolutely pointless dirt roads between Peachstone and Ford’s Bar.  This was a long-ass Jeep road that I saw no point to.  You basically got to Ford’s Bar, but before walking in turned right and climbed for ½ a mile on some super-steep road then descended right back to where you started.  Pointless, absolutely pointless. 

We hit the road and I was still in good shape physically and mentally.  I wasn’t tired yet, but I could tell I was getting there.  We started working on it, just focusing on keeping moving and taking small steps that would preserve my leg strength (whatever I had left at that point).  It definitely went quicker than I remember last year, not sure why.  We hit the summit in short order and started the seemingly-longer descent into Ford’s Bar. 

This was another top-notch aid station (hell, they all are at Western).  It was mile 73, so I had just north of a marathon left to complete.  That’s one of those real mental motivators for me in an ultra – when I pass a marathon and when I only have a marathon left.  I’ve run enough marathons that I have a good feel for the distance and know I can cover it under almost any circumstances.

I ate as much as I could here, including soup, a staple during an ultra at night.  I was excited to get moving as I knew the next aid was Rucky Chucky, the river crossing.  This would be a great mental pick-me-up and a nice visit with the crew on the far side of the river.

It’s a solid 5 miles from Ford’s Bar to the river and we covered it easily.  No major uphills or downhills to over-dramatize here, just smart running and walking.  I figure at this point I was able to run for about 5 minutes, then had to walk for a bit, take in water, then do it all over again.  Brian was great about keeping me eating and drinking. 

The time flew.  We hit the road leading to the near side before I knew it and we quickly found ourselves coming into the aid station.  The near side was another medical check.  210, right on – I knew I was hydrating and eating properly.

My goal here was to eat on the near side then take the boat over and fly right through the far side and up to Green Gate.  Greg spent a lot of time on the far side last year (including a stint in a reclining lawn chair), which I think is easy for people to do (and I saw it again this year).  So, Brian and I ate and got packs re-filled on the near side and headed for the boat.

There must have been 20 volunteers leading us down the rocks to the boat.  It was fabulous.  It was like crowd-surfing.  Everyone was so helpful and nice.  Anyone willing to touch me after 20 or so hours of running is either a saint or someone in a hazmat suit.

We got to the shore and waited a couple of minutes for the boat to come back across the river.  I was a little disturbed to find there was no rope across the river this year.  Last year there was, and we used it to partially save ourselves from floating away when the volunteers on the far side lost their grip on our boat.  It was really quite a sight.

If you want to imagine the boat it’s simply a whitewater rafting raft.  There’s a poor soul whose only job it is to row you across the river.  I remember thinking, man, if I were doing this I’d make some joke about the river Styx while wearing a grim reaper outfit.  I’m pretty sure the runners would get a hoot out of that.

It was very serene; just the oars and the water rushing by.  Hard to believe we were at a race.

The boat docked uneventfully this year.  I expected to see Greg or Erin on the other side as I did last year, but they weren’t there.  We hiked quickly up the shore and to the aid station.  I think I grabbed a grilled cheese or something and stuck to my promise to keep moving.  I turned around to start up the hill when I saw Erin.  I think her and Greg had literally just gotten to the aid station as we came up.  She had put some stuff down and I told her I’d walk slowly up the hill and for her to catch up.

Brian hung back with Erin and Greg took off with me.  I felt like a real jerk that whole hike up.  I kept trying to get Greg to let me stop and wait for Erin and Brian.  He wouldn’t have it. 

It’s 1.7 miles from Rucky Chucky Far to Green Gate.  Every inch is uphill.  I moved well and still felt like I had more running in me (I was soon to be proven wrong on this point).  I also probably turned around 20 times looking for Erin and Brian.  Greg had to slap me a little bit to keep me moving, telling me that they’d catch up at some point.

Greg and I chatted about the race.  I asked him what the course was like the last 20 miles, implying and secretly hoping that there were no more climbs or descents.  I just wanted a nice rose-petal lined trail (I would have also taken pine needle-lined, I wasn’t picky) the rest of the way to Auburn.

In retrospect, this is where I lost it mentally.  I didn’t admit it to myself, or realize it, but I was 100% done with the ascents and descents.  I was just so sick of them.  My attitude went from Positive Polly to Negative Nelly somewhere on that road.  Sorry Greg.

We got to Green Gate, which is a fabulous aid station, in good time – maybe 25-30 minutes.  I covered the distance from Foresthill to Rucky Chucky in about 5 hours, getting to Green Gate in 5.5 was better than I expected.  I still had that 26:30 finish in my mind, along with Graham’s beard (creepy, I know).

Right when we got to the aid station we saw Brian and Erin coming up behind us.  They made it!  I was so relieved.  I don’t know who would have won in the argument that Greg and I would have had about waiting for them.  I’m guessing Greg, because I was kind of a pushover at that point, but I’m glad we didn’t have to wait.

We took a couple of minutes to get everything together.  I grabbed the body glide and stuck it in the front of my pack. 

Question: how do you know someone’s having problems with chafing? 
Answer: when they replace their gels in the front of their pack with body glide.

Yeah, it hurt.  What was weird was that it didn’t hurt until we stopped at Green Gate.  I don’t recall any burning going up the hill, or anywhere else before the river.  Suddenly my armpits burned, my back burned where my pack was sitting, my crotch burned, other parts that aren’t appropriate for certain audiences burned.  EVERYTHING FUCKING BURNED!

I don’t even remember saying bye to Erin and Brian, I just started walking.  I couldn’t wait to apply copious amounts of body glide to every surface of my body.

Greg and I made it about ¼ of a mile before I told him I had to stop and take care of the chafing.  I moved off to the side of the trail, waited for some runners to pass, and I proceeded to apply body glide to everything that hurt.  It was a new stick and I wasn’t sure I had enough.

Within minutes I felt like a new person.  I could move without the sensation of having 220-grit sandpaper in every crevice of my arms and crotch.  But how well could I move?  Not very, is the answer.

5.4 miles stood between me and Auburn Lake Trails.  An aid station I hardly remember now.  I was 80 miles in and I was ready to be done…20 to go.  I knew I had to take it a mile at a time.  Actually, I turned it into a quarter of a mile at a time.  I immediately told myself it was just 20 loops around the track to the next aid station.  Easy, I can do that.

There was crew access at Auburn Lake Trails but we weren’t planning on meeting Erin and Brian there.  I just wanted to get there and get going.

If I had been in any sort of decent shape this would have been a very runnable section.  The hills were gentle, rolling and not-so-rocky.  I was essentially at 100% walk now, so people were passing me constantly.  It really started to take a toll on me.  I was getting pissed at them. 

Speaking of getting pissed, I also started pissing, a lot.  I bet I had to stop 2-4 times during that 5-mile stretch just to relieve myself.  They weren’t little pees either, I was starting new creeks.

I have to jump to the section from Auburn Lake Trails to Brown’s Bar now, since I can’t tell you anything about the aid station there.  We must have gone through it.  Oh!  Wait, I remember now.  It was a couple of tents setup in kind of a large gravel area.  It was really strange.  I remember I was in the mood for NOTHING there.  I’m sure Greg made me eat and I think I got weighed and we got going as quick as we could.

I was looking forward to Brown’s Bar, even with my shitty mood.  First off, it was a real, honest-to-goodness bar in the middle of f-ing nowhere.  Apparently they had keg beer on tap last year and Greg was eager to get there and have one.  I suspect it was because a few beers would make my bitching and moaning much easier for him to handle.  I doubt he’ll ever admit to that.

I recall the 4.7 miles to Brown’s Bar being much like the section to Auburn Lake, gentle, rolling hills.  I couldn’t enjoy any of it.  I was too busy hating myself.

It was dark, and I tend not to do well during a race from 2-6am.  Daylight seems far away and I start to wonder why the hell I do this to myself.  I start to wonder what the point really is.  It’s dumb, I know, but that’s what I always think.

Greg did a great job of trying to keep me distracted, asking me questions, telling me stories and chatting the whole time.  I kept telling him, jokingly, of course, that it was payback for Leadville.  It really wasn’t.  He was way more fun at Leadville than I was being (and was about to become) at Western.

The sun started to come up before we got to Brown’s Bar.  The course was still dark but the mountains above us were starting to show their outlines against the sky.  I’d look up every once in a while, enjoy the beauty of it, start to walk off course, curse, and then stick my head back down and focus on walking in a relatively straight line.

Once I did this and when I put my head back down I saw a bunch of dowels lining the trail, all about a foot high.  You know those half inch or so wide dowels that you can buy in really long segments?  Yeah, there were hundreds of them, lining the trail in front of me.  As I’d walk by them they’d bow, kind of like they were doing a reverse wave for me or something.  I’d look to the side behind me and they’d straighten back up.  It was so fucking weird.  Now, I’ve hallucinated before but this one really took the cake.  They were so real.   It was more real than the tiki torch party I saw at Rocky with James.

I kind of shook it off after awhile of feeling like royalty.  Things were normal for a bit until I started getting some colored streaks running across in front of me.  Greg was in front of me and they would fly in from the side, kinda circle him, then fly off.  They were like heatmaps that keep changing as they move.

Ok, I admit, I was enjoying it.

As it got a little lighter (I’m still walking and I still feel like shit, don’t forget that) the woods started to light up and the green of the woods became apparent.  As I’d turn my head I’d see waves moving across whatever I was looking at, kind of like if you had a picture under some water and you dropped a pebble in the water.  The wave would radiate out and distort the image a bit.  It was awesome.

Now I wanted more.  I wondered what else my brain could come up with.

Unfortunately, that was it.  As it got brighter my brain clocked back in.  This was good and bad.  Good in the sense that I had my wits about me again.  Bad in the sense that my rational self woke up and said “woah, why are we still doing this?”  It just got me more focused on hating myself.

Sometime between my tripping sessions and Brown’s Bar Greg pointed out that the bar was really a transvestite bar.  What?  Apparently there were transvestites working the aid station last year (which may explain Greg’s slow time!).  I didn’t buy it.  Who’d put a transvestite bar out in the middle of nowh--  Oh, right.

We came into Brown’s Bar in the morning light.  You can hear it from about half a mile away, which is really annoying when all you want to do is finish.  It’s a giant tease.

I was really out of it, I went straight for the food and started eating.  I also got some potato soup and chicken noodle soup and I sat my ass down in a chair.

Bad idea.

Greg headed for the bar – I do remember him leaving me and thinking “at least he’ll find someone to buy him a drink” without ever thinking about why I thought that.  I just kinda zonked out.  I probably looked catatonic.  I don’t even know how long I sat there.  I tried to down the soup but it wasn’t appetizing.  I forced myself to.  I had to.  I moved as little as possible.

Greg found me much as he left me.  In a chair, looking like a sorry pile of something-or-other.  “Let’s go.”  Dammit.  I made him help me get up.  He pulled me up, I wavered a bit, tried to take a step, and decided I really couldn’t.  I couldn’t walk anymore.  WTF?

It took me about a minute of standing there to get going again.  Get going is relative here, there was no pep in my step.  Garfield would have been annoyed with my pace.

I lumbered along and asked Greg what mile the aid station was, because I had no clue anymore.  “89.9” he told me.  We walked for a little bit, with the aid station still in sight, and I said “so, we’ve done 90 now?”  “Yeah”, he said.  As he said that I looked to my right and there was a mannequin, dressed in women’s clothing, with a beard and other “manly features”.  It was looking at me.  This didn’t seem strange to me.

So, when you’re running Western States and you pass the transvestite, you’ve gone 90 miles.  Duh.

Leaving Brown’s Bar you know you’re home-free…essentially.  You’ve got Highway 49 ahead of you, then No Hands Bridge and then the finish.  Easy.

Oh, don’t forget to study the course map and look at the climbs.  If you don’t, you might do something stupid like expect the last 10 miles to be flat.  Not that I’d ever do something that amateur…never.

Recall that I hate downhills.  The next mile was all downhill.  FML.  Thankfully I don’t really remember it.  I walked, Greg kept me moving, etc.

I do remember the uphill.  Oh God.

It’s about 3.5 miles to Highway 49 from the mannequin.  One of those miles was downhill and a little more than half was kinda flat.  Want to guess what the rest were?  Yeah, uphill.  But wait!  Before we get to that I want to mention the diaper.  Greg was about 50 or so feet in front of me for a lot of this section, probably to avoid the smell, and as I’m walking along I see an adult-sized diaper sitting in the middle of the trail.  I swear that’s what it was.  I was so out of it I didn’t holler up to him to ask him to look at it, I just assumed he saw it, stepped over it, and kept going.  I was totally dumbfounded.  Why was there a diaper here?  Is there an elderly person on the trail?  Did someone melt away into the trail leaving only their clothes?  Do the fast folks wear diapers to minimize the bathroom breaks?  The possibilities were endless.

So, back to my misery.  Let’s call the remaining section to Highway 49 a 2 mile uphill.  Because of my own ignorance I didn’t realize this.

Here comes my meltdown.

We started climbing.  It was getting hot and I was still tired (did I mention I was tired yet?).  Things burned, etc.  Greg was right in front of me and I kept asking him if we were close to the top yet.  He said that yeah, we’re almost there.  I’d think ok, look up to the next turn and expect the top of the climb to be there.  Now, I didn’t expect the aid station yet, I just wanted the climb to end.

So, we climbed a bit and I didn’t see the top.  So I asked again.  “Greg, almost there?”  “Yeup”, he’d respond, “you’re close”.  I’d think to myself that we were almost there a few minutes ago.

Kept climbing.

A group of folks caught up to us and started to pass us.  As they’re passing I ask Greg again, in the whiniest I-want-it-and-I-want-it-now voice I could muster: “we almost to the top?”  “Yeup”, he said.

My first clue should have been the look the other runners gave me.

Still climbing.

It all started to come to a head.  People were passing me.  I was walking.  I’d been walking the last 10 miles and I still had another 10 or so to go.  It was hot.  I wasn’t going to finish under 26:30.  My quads were killing me.  My armpits burned from the chafing.  My back burned from where my pack was.  My crotch was, well, I’ll let you guess.  I had blisters, my feet hurt.  My joints hurt – they never hurt.  They hurt now.

I just wanted to stop climbing.

More rocks, big steps, it was still hot.

“Greg, are we almost to the top?”  “Yeah, I can see it” was his response.

Whew, I figured it was just around the next turn.  Then that turn came, no top.  Ok, maybe the next one.

No top.  Still climbing.

“Greg, where the fuck is the top!?”  “We’re getting there.”

I started yelling in my head: we’re getting there?  WE’RE GETTING THERE?  We’ve been GETTING THERE since the beginning of the Obama administration.  There’s no way this hill is this long.  The course is flat after Green Gate.  THIS STUPID CLMB FEELS LIKE MOSQUITO RIDGE!  It’s hot.  I’m not happy.  This is so STUPID!  Why am I doing this?  Why is my pacer doing this to me?

I was so angry.  I started to cry.

If I would have had any energy I would have tackled Greg.  But I didn’t.  I had nothing left.  Those tears were the last thing I had.  I couldn’t laugh anymore.  Could barely think.  I was so angry because it was the only emotion that worked at that point.

God, I was pissed.

Still climbing.

We got to Highway 49 eventually, but I don’t really recall.  There was a nice person standing near the aid station that told me good job.  I’m surprised I didn’t tell them to “fuck off”.  I may have and I just don’t remember.

I knew Erin and Brian would be at Highway 49 and I expected Deb, Debbie and Raven there as well.  I looked forward to seeing everyone.  I really wanted to see Erin, that whole climb up I looked forward to that.  I figured she could fix me, I don’t know how, but I just figured she could.

I ate something.  As I was walking up to the table I muttered something like “this fucking sucks” under my breath, but loud enough to be heard.  I turned to my right and there was a camera in my face.  My despair, recorded for all of history.

I went and saw Erin and Brian.  I think I hugged Debbie, I don’t remember.  I tried to not stay long.  If I did I would have broken down crying.  I couldn’t really talk.  I found out Coleen was close by, I considered waiting but thought I’d hold her up if I did.  Plus, Greg would kill me if I even floated that idea.

Then we left.  I think I just started walking out without Greg.  I was still really pissed at him.  I knew he was there to help me and what he was doing was in my best interests, but that didn’t fully register at the time.

Here’s a guy who’s been up all night, walking, just to help me get to the end of my race.  What more could you ask from a friend?  I knew this and I was still pissed.

I also knew it would pass.  Race emotions are fickle things.  They’re transient.  I’m not mad at Greg at all.  I’m sure you all love him since you probably got a good chuckle out of my meltdown.  He did the right thing; he pushed me when I needed to be pushed. 

Don’t worry, I still had some bitching left in me.

From Highway 49 to No Hands Bridge is 3.3 miles.  It’s a brief uphill followed by a long downhill.  I didn’t care anymore.  I couldn’t be sad or hurt or mad, I just didn’t have anything in me.  I just walked.  That was really all I could do.

We crested the top and began the descent.  Descending did hurt more than climbing, be sure of that.  I just moved.  No good stories.  No heroic effort or witty conversation to be had.  It was just one foot in front of the other.  Nothing going on inside me, nothing left.

No Hands Bridge, the lowest point of the course, came up quickly.  I thought getting there would perk me up.  It did for a bit.  We ate a bit at the aid station, but at that point, you just want to go.  You’re 3.4 miles from the finish.  A 5k.  You can smell it.

Problem is, to get there, it’s uphill.

I really want you, as a reader, to take this last uphill as I did.  No emotion, no challenge, no nothing.

We walked across the bridge, the rushing river below.  I’m sure it was beautiful; I didn’t appreciate it at all.  I just moved.

As soon as we were on the other side of the American River it got hot.  We were on an exposed dirt trail, no shade, nothing.  The trail ran up the East side of the mountain and it was early in the morning with the sun beating right on us.  I didn’t have my hat or my sunglasses.  Whatever.  I didn’t care.  I just moved.

It was flat, then it was uphill, then it was downhill, then up, more up, and more up.  It was hot.

Robie Point is an informal-ish aid station at mile 98.9.  The story is that the neighborhood holds an all-night party there the weekend of the race.  They cook, drink, and cheer the runners on as they come through.

But I wasn’t there yet.  I was still climbing up.

At some point the former RD, Tim Twedmeyer, came bounding down the trail in front of us.  He told us good job and that we were close.  Easy for a guy who’s finished the race 25 times under 24 hours and won it 5 times.  He could kiss my ass at that point.  (Sorry Tim!)

But we were close.

After a few more minutes I did perk up.  We hit concrete and I knew we were really close.  I perked up even more.

Soon after, some kid comes running down the hill and asks me if I want water?

Ahh, Robie Point.

Of course I did.  He handed me a cup and took my bottle.  He then sprinted up the hill to get my bottle filled while I walked.

We passed the aid station and saw the party up ahead.  There were chairs around and crew aplenty.  I spotted Raven and Debbie first, Erin and Brian shortly after that.  Some folks took my picture but I don’t think I ever really stopped walking.  Folks cheered me on from all sides.  It was amazing.

I still had more bitching left in me.

The four of us proceeded on.  This was what it took to get one person from point A to point B, 100 miles in between.  Erin, Brian and Greg encouraged me, told me what a great job I was doing, etc.  I was still grumpy.

Random folks along the way, sitting on their porch, enjoying the day would tell me good job.  I couldn’t muster much more than a “thanks” because I knew if I talked I’d start crying again.

Hell, I did cry randomly that whole last mile.  I couldn’t believe it was over.  It was surreal.  I never thought it’d end.  I never thought I’d experience the finish.  It seemed so far away the whole time and I was so close.

More hills tho.  I asked them if this was the last one.  “Two more uphills” was the reply.  “So one downhill”, I asked.  “Nope”, they said.  “Don’t fucking lie to me” was my pleasant response.

They weren’t lying.

I turned some corners and saw the high school.  Geoff Roes was standing near the entrance, he stepped out and shook my hand and told me good job.   I couldn’t look him in the eye.  I was too busy trying not to lose it.  I hope I told him thanks.  He’d dropped at Michigan Bluff.  What an amazing sport this is.

I’m choked up just thinking about the finish.

We hit the track and I was still walking.  There were tons of people sitting in the grass lining the track.  The announcer called out my name; I couldn’t hear what he said over the cheering.

I was still hot, I was amazed I was there.  I’m not sure I wanted it to end.

Ok, my eyes are watery now, thanks.

The four of us were still walking together.  I never would have made it there without them or with the help I got from Deb, Debbie and Raven.  Coleen got me there also, sticking with me the first 55 miles.

Greg made some smart-ass comment about me coming in at 28:40.  He’d predicted 28:30 long, long ago.  I made some smart-ass comment back and we got a good laugh out of it.  I had some wit back.  Things were improving.

I ran the last 100 yards.  You have to, right?

My parents were in the bleachers to my right.  I didn’t look for them; I was trying not to trip.  I saw Brad to my left.  I still didn’t want to trip.

Then time slowed way down.  The last 20 meters still feel like a whole minute.  I guess I hallucinated again.  The cheering was amplified and it seemed like flashbulbs were going off, just like in a movie.  I felt a breeze and it was cool, I had good form and no pain.  I felt strong.  There were no flashbulbs.  That was all in my head.  None of it was true, my form was shit, I saw the video.  There was no breeze.  Eggs were cooking on the track.

I was done.

Someone shook my hand and put a medal around my neck.  Lots of good jobs and such.

I was moved over to a scale and then a chair for BP - 150/something.  High, but I’d just run for 28 hours and 40 minutes.

Erin or Brian or Greg found me and took my pack.  I sat for a bit more before getting up.  I needed help, but I could move.

I went to the medical tent to give blood and pee for whatever research they were doing this year.  They’d do a BMP and measure CK.  I watched the phlebotomist stick me, Erin was there and she said seeing the needle go in almost made her pass out.  I got my pee cup and took care of that.

I put the cup on the table and saw a nice collection of cups lined up.  The first one looked like it had red wine in it.  The second was a little lighter.  The third was a little lighter than the previous.  Hmm.  “Whose is that?” I asked.  The lady pointed at some guy lying on a cot.  Glad I wasn’t him.

Everyone was gathered on the track near a little wall.  I hugged my mom and dad – I was happy to see them.  I hugged Greg, Brian, Deb, Raven, Debbie, everyone.  I probably hugged random people.  I hugged Erin too.  I don’t know why she puts up with this crap, the running.  It was her finish as much as it was mine. 

I wanted my shoes off.  That unfortunate job fell to Erin – the one you love the most gets the worst jobs, right?  Just watch the video.

Some guys with a camera came over and asked if they could talk to me.  Apparently I looked like an interesting story.  According to Erin and Brian, I was.

They asked me questions about the race, which I answered.  Then they asked me if I’d ever do it again.  I don’t remember my answer.  I’m told it could be summed up as “Not no, but hell no”.  I think I cried some more.  Such a baby.  They took a lot of pictures of my feet, which weren’t that bad.

Shortly after that I heard Coleen’s name called out.  She finished so close to me I’m surprised she didn’t catch me.

I didn’t feel like moving but I did want to see her.  I lumbered over to the finish and found her.  Didn’t really say anything, just hugged her and cried again.  We both cried, thank you very much, so don’t judge me.

After that I was ready for a shower.  I was not pleasant.  We headed to my parents hotel room so I could shower.  I talked the guy into letting us keep the room 30 minutes longer by threatening to hug him, or something like that.  Actually, he was aware of the race and thought it was awesome I finished.

The shower was painful, let’s leave it at that.

I got out of the shower and laid on the bed and proceeded to hack up a lung or two and then wine and moan about how much my whole body hurt.  Erin watched with some pity, but not much as she gently reminded me I did it to myself.  I know, I liked the pain, but it was still pain.

We had to hurry to make it back for the awards ceremony.  Mostly because we needed a spot under the tent for my parents.  We managed to find one, because Coleen and them saved it for us.

I didn’t really care about the awards ceremony.  I translated some stuff for my parents but mostly sat there and wanted to leave.  I also started to fall asleep, hardcore.  Like my head would fall over and that’d wake me up.  It was hot.  Ugh.

Brian fell asleep for a bit there, as did Brad and Coleen.  I don’t recall Erin falling asleep there. 

After what seemed like forever they started giving out the buckles.  They went in reverse finishing order.  29 hour folks first, 28 hour folks second.  Glad I fell in the 28 hour category – it got us out quicker.

We went to the car.  Brian drove.  We had to run by a Target then head to our hotel in Sacramento.  I don’t remember the drive although I apparently gave directions – correct directions at that!

I vaguely remember checking in and sending Erin, Brian and my parents to lunch.   I went upstairs and passed out.  Next thing I know they’re both coming into the room and I’m asking them why they hadn’t left for lunch yet.  They had, I’d been asleep for a couple of hours.  To me it felt like seconds.

We had dinner that night at a burger joint I can’t remember right now (Erin is going to kill me for that – it was super good).  I was probably asleep by 9.  Because I’m a genius we had a 5:50 flight to catch.  That meant waking up at 3:30.  Whatever, I had just finished Western, I could do anything.

My recovery has been good.  I tried to run the Wednesday after the race, at my weekly run.  It was more of an occasional trot.  I only covered 2.5 miles, the rest of the group did the 4.5 mile loop.  I was fine with that.

I waited until the weekend to try to run again.  An easy 5-miler in the neighborhood.  The first 2 or so went fine, then after that my legs got real brick-y quickly.

I was wearing my Western States shirt and walking back.  Some lady jogged by me and gave me a dirty look for walking.  I was like “look at the shirt lady!”  Well, I may have replaced “lady” with another word in my head.

I know you’ll ask.  Would I do it again?

For the first day or so after the race absolutely no way.  Today?  Well, you know, it wasn’t that bad.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Western States 2011, Part Two

The limit to your abilities is where you place it – from a fortune cookie I got a long time ago.

Before we start part two I’d like you to take a second and imagine yourself at the bottom of a valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains with trees lightly sprinkled throughout.  The biggest mountain stands in front of you, it’s mostly bald with ski-lifts running like veins up an arm and a cable car is strung to the steepest point, its destination somewhere in the peaks beyond where you can see.  You’re surrounded by friends and family.  People are laughing and hugging.  There are smiles all around, pictures are being taken.  You half expect a pretty girl in a grass skirt to come by and hand you a mojito and flash you a wink and a smile.  It’s still dark out, a gentle crescent moon hangs in the West, the peaks you view it over distort your perception of it – it’s larger than it should be.  The temperature is nice, a bit cold in the mid 40’s with a slight breeze but you’re comfortable in your shorts and a t-shirt. 

Relaxing, huh?

Then some guy starts counting down from 60.  59…58…57…56…55…54…53…

Did I mention there’s a clock in front of you?  It’s counting down to zero.

That minute goes by way too fast.

…7…6…5…4…3…2…1…the girl in the grass skirt is gone.

If there was a zero you didn’t hear it, you just started moving forward with the rest of the crowd.  That beautiful mountain in front of you - you get to run up it, all 2,500 feet of it.

“Run” is relative here.  At WS the fast folks run the hills, all of them.  Normal people walk them.  We get more course for our money, is how I like to think about it.

The first part of the race is a 3.5 mile uphill from the bottom of Squaw Valley to the top of whatever mountain lies at the end of it.  I had zero intention of running any of that first climb.  I saw no point.  I wanted to start slow and steady, save the legs for the later parts of the race.  I knew the climb from last year; I did it the day before Greg ran.  I was not looking forward to it.

Coleen and I planned to stick together for as long as possible.  I was quite intent on keeping it slow on this first climb.  She was a little more aggressive and I found myself getting pulled along while pulling her back.  It was probably a really nice balance.

It’s hard to under-describe the climb.  It’s what you think it is.  There’s maybe 100 yards of flat surface the entire 3.5 miles to the top.  Most of it is a wide gravel road that must be some kind of ski slope when the weather is right. 

I was amazed at how quiet it was.  Very few people talked.  It was like a meeting of the overly-serious people support group.  Everyone there was focused on one task and they felt like chatting would ruin that.  Coleen and I jabbered the whole way up – people probably thought we were wasting energy or something lame like that.

I looked at my watch and we were in the 16-17 min range.  I was hoping for 20 min/mile.  I convinced Coleen to shoot for 18/mile.  To do this we weren’t allowed to pass anyone else on the climb.  It worked, we slowed down.  I wasn’t breathing hard and my legs felt good, but there’s no reason to push.  Plenty of time to be tired later.

Course from the start to Foresthill

We hit the first aid station, Escarpment, about 2.5 miles into the climb.  They don’t put this puppy at the summit – too hard to get the supplies up there.  They put it at the start of the snow.  I filled up my handheld with some water (did I mention I was carrying my Ultimate Direction pack?) and we moved on pretty quickly.

The first part of the snow wasn’t bad at all.  It had been torn up pretty well before we got to it, so we just found a nice path and followed it.  The last 1/3 of a mile is where it gets fun on this climb.  There are two serious climbs to the summit.  Both are about 100 yards long.  The first was fairly manageable with a scramble-like hike.  Not much snow, lots of rocks and dirt, it was ok.  The second was in-freaking-sane.  It was like a scene from a movie: a line of people slowly moving up a solid sheet of snow.  It must have been sitting at a 25 degree angle – it looked too steep to be safe.

There were little indentions in the hill where people had kicked the snow in a bit – that was the path you wanted to follow.  If you didn’t you ran the risk of sliding down the slope, back to where you came from, or worse.  A couple of people took the wrong tack up – they paid for it by getting stuck and struggling to stay attached to the hill.  Various hands and such went out to help them.

Ice axes would have been totally appropriate.

We summited the mountain after that climb.  I didn’t pay attention to the time.  Maybe an hour and thirty or so – it didn’t matter.  Coleen called to me to look back before we headed down the other side: “this is the famous picture” she said.  And so it was.  The view was amazing.  The sun was just up over the mountains to the East that surround Lake Tahoe.  The lake was glistening with the light and the snow extended to the horizon.

I could have spent all day up there, but that would probably have pissed my crew off, so I kept going.  We started our descent into the longest unsupported part of the course – 12 miles with no aid.  This is why I took my Ultimate Direction pack.  It can hold 96oz of water, important to a water buffalo such as me.  (Note: I once drank 96 oz on a 4 mile loop at SM Park when it was hotter than Hades.)  The nice thing about the next stretch was that it was all downhill.  Should be quick, right?  Hahahahah…nope.

The first quarter mile or so was dirt, it was runnable and run we did.  Then we hit the snow again.  This snow was a little different.  First off, it had twinges of red to it.  Odd, right?  Yeah, I thought so.  Upon further inspection I realized the red splots we were passing were blood.  Most likely from people and probably not because someone tried to tango with a furry mammal.  See, folks were slipping and falling all over the place.  The snow wasn’t “fluffly” or “powdery” as some of the ski-bumbs like it.  It was frozen-solid snow.  Falling hurt.  Falling drew blood.

There was also lots of yellow snow, as you can imagine.  I stopped to pee and Coleen did shortly afterwards.  I waited for her off to the side of the trail/path that was least dangerous.  While I waited some guy, who apparently needed an audience, ran up by me, didn’t even bother to find a tree, and dropped trou well within acoustic range.  He clearly had Mexican the night before by the sound of it.  He wasn’t shy.  I am glad to report that he did pack his used toilet paper in a little plastic bag and shove it into his pack for later disposal or analysis.  I’m also glad to report that his rear blended in nicely with the snow, he apparently doesn’t tan in the nude.

Coleen got done and thankfully didn’t notice the exhibitionist pooper.  We got moving again but running here was a dangerous idea.  You’d get moving a bit, put a foot down, find that foot to the side of you, then try to gather yourself in such a way that when you landed the 20 people behind you didn’t go “oooohhh, ouch” in unison.  So, we walked most of it.  We were in the 18-20 min/mile range, and so was everyone else around us.

Coleen and I in the snow.
Photo by Gary Wang
It got frustrating after a while, I’d put a foot down only to post-hole and find myself buried in a foot of snow with a cold foot.  Boo.  But, it was fun also.  I’ve never heard so much laughing before during a race.  As we got the hang of moving through the frozen tundra we’d slip and slide and catch ourselves before falling which inevitably led to a hoot and a holler followed by a bout of giggling from you and those around you.

After a while of feeling like a kid again we came to our first water crossing.  It was a creek that looked like a river that felt like a rapid with a rope tied to a couple of precariously perched trees.  You had one choice really: get wet.  We went in, I was immediately in freezing cold water up to my knees.  Coleen’s a little shorter so she must have had it up to her thighs.  Man, it was cold.  I’m thinking it was about 50 feet across.

The water crossing.
Photo by Gary Wang
Getting out of it was like getting slapped in the face, it was a total wake-up.  That mountain breeze hit my recently-baptized legs and just bit in.  The only option was to run to get warm.

After a few minutes we warmed up and I figured I’d survive with at least 90% of my toes.  Just then, another water crossing.  Sheesh.  But, this one had a volunteer standing on the other side.  I was confused.  Volunteers mean aid stations.  Aid stations means we’ve covered 12 miles.  12 miles means we’ve covered 15 total.  My head was spinning.  I bolted across the creek in blind excitement nearly knocking some lady over who was trying to tip-toe across the wet and slippery rocks while the volunteer yelled at her to just jump in and watch out for the crazy dude.

Before I knew it I had my pack off and handed to someone to fill while I quickly deteriorated into eating trough-style at the food table.  Coleen was slightly more picky as she’s vegan and tries to avoid processed foods.  Which, during a race, is amazing.  This was the Talbot aid station.  Approx 15 miles in.
We got going pretty quickly and found ourselves on a fire road with occasional snow piled to the side.  This meant it was time for some running.  We settled into a trot with my pace being a little slower than Coleen’s.  I kept having to either speed up to catch her or just let her run a few feet in front of me.  I was in a gear I felt comfortable with.

I am sorry to report that I don’t have many good stories from this section.  It was everyone’s first chance to really run so that’s kind of what everyone did.  I did pee again, which was very unusual for me.  Typically I’m a one-and-done kind of guy (with peeing…get your mind out of the gutter) during an ultra.

This section was all road, mostly dirt but some paved at the end.  Maybe a mile or so of paved into the Poppy aid station.  I got my pack refilled here, got my bottle filled with some GU2O, ate some food and left.  We walked a bit out to let the food settle but Coleen was itchin to get movin.  At least, that’s how I remember it.

Let me take a second to point out that everything I say here probably isn’t 100% true.  Anyone who tells you they remember everything they did exactly after nearly 30 hours of running needs to be taken to the medical tent immediately.  This all is how I best remember it…probably erring to the side of embellishing to make myself (and Coleen, of course) look even more awesome than we already are.  You, as a reader, accept that, of course.  So, when I throw in a detail like “Coleen was itchin to get movin”, that’s how I honestly remember it.

Anyways, back to the trail.  The section from Poppy to Duncan Canyon, miles 20 to 23.5 was beautiful.  It was along the French Meadows Reservoir, had minimal climbing and was peppered with gorgeous giant trees.  The trail was littered with pine cones larger than my, ahem, forearm.  The whole trail was a soft bed of pine needles that gave nicely with each step.  It was like running on a cloud.  I could have slept on them.  Ahh, it was amazing.

Coleen pushed me here.  She was moving better than I was at this point and I had to reel her in to a walk from time to time.  I felt bad, if she was moving well I should have let her go, but we did decide to run most of the race together, and I figured saving a little energy here would payoff later.  So, slow her down I did.
We crossed various creeks and managed to stay dry.  I spent most of my time staring at the lake or the scenery and still managed to not kick or trip over anything.  We spent a little time talking about bears and wondering if we’d see one.  I was in front of Coleen and we were coming around a rock while talking about this.  It hadn’t been two seconds since we said a word when “HOLY SHIT!!!!!” - I saw a large object move out from behind the rock we were walking around.  I must have jumped a foot back into Coleen (I really wish she woulda caught me cartoon-style).  Some guy decided to take a piss behind this rock then walk out just as we were talking about surprising a bear.  Sheesh.  I’m really surprised I didn’t poo myself from that.

We had a good laugh with the bear-turned innocent runner about it and as my HR came down from 180 we came into a recently burned-out section of forest.  There were very few trees standing, none which provided shade.  This sucked because it was getting hot.  I had my hat that came with the neck cover and I was glad for it.  We also started a relentless climb up to the Duncan Canyon aid station.  It’s amazing how quickly we went from running on clouds to cursing every step in the hot dirt with the sun beating down on us while walking uphill.

We stumbled into Duncan Canyon worse-for-wear.  I’d say that this is where I started to show signs of fatigue.  That last little climb in really started to chip away at me.  This would have sucked if the aid station wasn’t so freaking awesome.  It was a little oasis.  As soon as I walked in a volunteer grabbed my pack and asked me what I needed.  See, you get your own personal attendant at each aid station at WS, it’s fantastic.  They filled my pack and bottle while I grazed at the table.  I made a point to eat well here as I knew it was almost 8 miles to the next aid station, Mosquito Ridge.

As we were leaving there were some volunteers directing us across a road.  One of the guys was dressed up like Mr. T and he kept telling us to take it easy on the climb to Mosquito Ridge.  He quickly followed this with a “I pitty the fool who doesn’t listen!”  It was hilarious!  The other thing that sticks out is a sign they put up on the way out, a quote from Back to the Future: “Roads?  Where we’re going we don’t need roads.”  I kind of figured this meant we’d be on trail all the way to Mosquito Ridge…notsomuch.  Oh well.

If I recall this part right, and I may not since I tried to block it all from my memory, we left the aid station and started a gradual downhill on dirt trails, which appeared recently cut, onto a dirt road for a bit which dumped us out to a paved road.  From there we started a climb on the same paved road up to another dirt road.  We basically went down one side of a mountain then started back up the other.  This may have been a couple of miles.  Then we took a very gradual downhill dirt road which we ran most of.  Coleen was the leader on this.  She really kept me moving at this point.

After a while we started a climb.  Well, climb just makes it sound too innocent.  It was really more of a torture.  I did not realize how long it was going to be, and I don’t think anyone else did.  It just kept going and going and going.  I think it’s safe to say we had a 3 mile constant climb into Mosquito Ridge.  It wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies either.  It was shitty rocky footing on something that resembled a dirt road built during the Great Depression by a guy who was half into a bottle of Wild Turkey when he was picking the route.  It sucked, it was hot, it was no fun.

Coleen and I did manage a pretty good climbing pace.  We were passing folks, which was encouraging.  What wasn’t encouraging was the fact the climb never f-ing stopped.  I was getting so sick of it.  I’m from Kansas, a hill greater than ¼ mile is a little ridiculous to me.

Near the top we passed our first wasted runner.  He didn’t look so great.  As we went by he stood in the middle of the trail and I asked him if he was ok.  He muttered a “no” but kind of ignored me with a bit of a blank stare but with body language that told me to get away, so I did.

One of the fantastic volunteers at Mosquito Ridge.
Photo by Gary Wang
We got to the end, finally, and encountered our first medical check.  I took my pack off and got on the scale, 203.  I was down about 7 pounds.  Not bad considering the heat and the fact I had run, er, moved 31 miles.  The doctor there gave me the once over and told me I was fine.  I knew I was, just a little tired, but happy to be at the top.

I had a drop bag here and the scampry little volunteer who took my pack also grabbed my drop bag without asking.  She put it in my hand while I made a mess at the dinner table shoving various things into my mouth.  Coleen got her bag and got her pack refilled and waited for me at the exit.  I saw her so I just kinda walked out, tossing my drop bag into the return pile without really thinking.  We left the aid station when she asked me if I had gotten anything out of it.  “Out of what” I asked. “Out of your drop bag” she said.  “Oh shit”, I totally forgot about it.  I didn’t even pay attention; I just kind of carried it through then tossed it.  Crap.  I didn’t need the shoes but I did want some of the gels I had in there.  I also had a charger for my Garmin in there that I really wanted.  Oops.  So much for all of that.

The next section was a totally new loop for us due to the snow course changes.  Instead of heading to Robinson Flat we had to do this 4-mile loop from Mosquito Ridge to Miller’s Defeat.  Tell you what, it sucked.  It was the worst part of the course.  It was basically a lame dirt road that was half up, then half down.  It was no fun.  Oh, one thing to note, it was the only part of the course where you could see people coming back in, for about 20 yards.  Basically you passed the Miller’s Defeat aid station outbound then came back to it.

This is basically what the course looked like
from Duncan Canyon to Dusty Corners.
Photo by Gary Wang
I actually fell really far behind Coleen through here.  I stopped to pee once and she kept walking.  I didn’t feel like running to catch her, so I didn’t.  When I did finally catch her I was slowing her down a bit.  I wasn’t worried about my pace, I was just moving slower than her.  Then, once we got to the downhill part, she ran most of it and moved ahead of me again.  I ran, but at a much slower pace.

Beyond that, there’s nothing to say about this section, it was booooring and hot.

We got to Miller’s Defeat and I had no plans on spending any time there.  One, for the name, and two, because Dusty Corners was a short 2 or so miles away.  Call it lame superstition, I guess.  I think I had a strawberry - one strawberry.

Last year, crewing for Greg, Dusty Corners was the first place I got to see him.  So, I was excited to get to this part of the course.  It was mostly downhill and we ran it at an ok pace.  Coleen stayed with me more here, which I was happy for.  It was very hot and very dusty.  Not a lot of fun at that point.

I should note that at this point, leaving Miller’s Defeat, we were back on the usual course.

I also am having a hard time remembering the course before Dusty Corners and the area right before the climb up to Devil’s Thumb.  I know we descended essentially the whole way to the climb and went through Last Chance, but I can’t tell you what happened between Dusty Corners and Last Chance and then between Last Chance and the start of the climb.

I do know we slowed down a bit.  Coleen’s stomach started to turn a bit on her and I was fatigued.  We moved well but not as quickly as we could have given the flat to descending course.

Last Chance was a medical check and I do know I clocked another 203 there.  So, that’s where I’ll pick it up again, right after Last Chance at mile 43.3.

The aid station means what it says.  It’s your last chance before you climb up to Devil’s Thumb.  If you want to imagine the course between Last Chance and the Devil’s Thumb aid station just picture a V.  That’s all it is: straight down, then straight up.  The downhill is so vicious that it’s really not runnable for most people.  The uphill is just as punishing.  We made the downhill slowly and crossed a bridge to get us started on the uphill. 

It was rough.  We moved slowly.  Coleen’s stomach was really getting her.  She almost puked a few times going up and we spent some time standing to catch our breath and let her stomach settle.  She kept trying to get me to go on but there was zero chance that was going to happen.  First, she’s a friend and I wasn’t going to leave her there and second I was tired also, going ahead may have given me 5 minutes on her, nothing in the course of the entire race.  I was more than happy to take it at her pace.  It kept me in good shape for later on.

There were some sections where I told her just not to look up.  The trail was extremely steep, uncomfortable to even stand on and demoralizing to look at.  We moved up it, slowly and deliberately.  We did get passed by a few folks and we passed a few.  I was ok with our progress.

As we got towards the top the Devil’s Thumb rock came into view.  It is what it sounds like, a rock on the side of a hill.  It’s cool but I wasn’t overly impressed with it.  About this time a couple of the safety patrol folks caught up with us, asked us if we were ok, gave Coleen some ginger to eat and told us we were real close.

Turns out, they weren’t lying.  A switchback or two later we were greeted with a massive aid station, which I was more than happy to see.  It was another medical check; I was up to 207, go figure.  Coleen took some time to eat here, which was good, I also ate a lot.  Downed a bunch of fruit, chicken noodle soup, grilled cheese and a popsicle.  The popsicle was fantastic.

We moved out cautiously after ingesting so much food.  We had a good walk going and we knew running was not in order.  We chatted a lot at this point, knowing Devil’s Thumb climb was behind us I felt confident in our ability to finish the race.  We were a couple of hours ahead of the cutoff and were moving well.  We were jabbering so much we missed one of the yellow flags marking a turnoff to the course.  As we continued down a road another runner yelled at us to come back up and get on course.  Thankfully he saw us, otherwise we both would have just kept on going, oblivious to where we were.

It is a long downhill to El Dorado Creek (mile 52.9).  I think this is where the course really gets you, on the downhills.  We ran slowly through a lot of this but had to walk a lot when it got too steep to run.  Through here we met up with two or three other folks, a local and some out-of-towners who stuck with us all the way down to the creek.  It was nice to have folks to run with.  We chatted which helped pass the time.
Compared to all the other aid stations El Dorado Creek is the least well stocked and smallest.  I can’t imagine it’s easy to get supplies to, so I don’t blame anyone and I’m not complaining.  I’m just pointing out that it’s pretty simple.  I think they got a lot of the supplies down on a dirt-bike or ATV, which tells you where we were.

We moved quickly through here onto our next major climb: the trek up to Michigan Bluff.  I looked forward to this: we got to see crew at Michigan Bluff.  I was excited to see Erin, Greg and Raven.  Coleen told her crew to stay at Foresthill.  She didn’t think they’d go to Michigan Bluff.  I figured there was no way Deb and Debbie were going to listen to her.  I knew they’d be there waiting for her and have time to get back to Foresthill.

We met more folks on this climb.  It was another slow and steady slog up unreasonably steep trails.  We also did some more stopping and relaxing during the climb.

Now, I’m in a bind here.  I don’t know what else to tell you about this climb that you didn’t hear about Devil’s Thumb but I don’t want to discount the toll it took on us.  So, let’s make a deal: I’ll take us to the top and you agree that it was an insanely difficult climb, the likes of which would surely send mere mortals to their graves and that Coleen and I dominated it with cool and calculated efficiency.  Deal?  Good.

Michigan Bluff is really a small city on top of the mountain.  It was really nice to run into, it’s a easy downhill to the aid station and the crowd of cheering crew.  It was great.  It brought me up so much.  Seeing new faces was great and seeing my crew was even better.  The first person I noticed was Greg, because he was hard to miss.  He was jumping around and flailing his arms like a little girl at a Beiber concert.  Coleen saw this and was like “uhh, well there’s Greg”.  (This is how I remember it, and I’m stickin to my story here.)  Raven was next to him and I saw Erin as soon as I entered the chute into the aid station.

This was a medical check and I weighed in at 207 again.  Nice and steady.  I felt good, grabbed some food and gave my bottle to a volunteer who proceeded to lose it.  She claimed to not know where it was and then walked off like she didn’t care, which kind of pissed me off.  We quickly found it on the table, which means she filled it then put it down.  Whatever.

I sat for a bit here, the first time sitting all day.  Coleen plopped down next to me and our crews swarmed us like doctors in the trauma room.  I drank an Ensure, ate some food, and just kinda relaxed for a minute.  Greg noted that he was watching the time and wasn’t going to let me rest much.  This is what good crew does.  They let you rest but keep you mindful of what you’re really out there for.

Coleen told me to leave without her.  She told me it in a way that you can’t really argue with.  So, I took off without her.  Leaving Michigan Bluff is basically a continuation of your climb.  It’s about another mile or so of mixed uphill/downhill, mostly uphill, followed by a long descent into a canyon.  I walked the first half mile or so, letting food digest and such.  I had the pleasure of coming across a guy who was puking.  He stopped as soon as I passed and he flashed me a smile and said “wow, I feel better now”.  Only in an ultra is this considered normal and totally acceptable.

After a bit more walking I started jogging slowly, even covering the uphills while jogging.  I felt good and wanted to keep moving.  The gradual uphill quickly turned into a torrential downhill.  I kept running it ignoring the pain in my feet, knees and hips.  In retrospect, this was probably a mistake.  This is where I trashed my quads.  It may have been more advisable to walk this section but I was without a flashlight and night was approaching.  I wanted to get to Bath Road quickly.

As with any descent you’ve gotta climb your way out at some point.  I hit a creek, scrambled across, and started the climb into Bath Road.  This was another no-fun climb (seeing a pattern here?).  After a bit it leveled out into a nice flat and runnable trail, which I took advantage of.  At this point I started passing pacers running back to their runners.  See, starting at 8pm you can have a pacer from Michigan Bluff.  So, folks take off at 7:30 or whatever from Bath Road to meet their runner halfway.  A nice little boost.

I hit the last few climbs into Bath Road optimistic.  My quads were hurting but I was in one piece, for the most part. 

Bath Road is great for several reasons.  It’s a nice little aid station and it’s somewhere that you can meet your crew early and walk/run with them the entire way to Foresthill.  It’s a strenuous uphill and the company makes it better.

So, I came out of the woods expecting to see Brian or Greg standing there, which I didn’t.  Hmm, odd.  I started the trek up and not ten seconds later saw them coming down the hill.  So, they turned around and started the 1.9 mile walk up with me.

Foresthill aid station.
Photo by Debbie Lanz-Webster
It went quickly.  The conversation helped pass the time.  I told them marginally true stories about the race so far and asked them how various people were doing so far.

We got to the top of the climb and turned left onto Foresthill road.  This is a nice flat to downhill section that leads you right into the aid station.  So, I told them what I needed at the car and Greg took off that direction while Brian went into the aid station with me.  I got weighed again, 209, and ate a bunch of food.  Brian handled the water and everything, which was great.

We left quickly to a lot of cheering and “good jobs”, which is always nice to hear from strangers.

From there my mom met us and jogged/shuffled with us to the car where the entire crew was waiting.  It was such a good feeling to see everyone.  I sat down while everyone tended to me.  I got my shirt changed and decided to change my socks, an unpleasant task which Erin and Greg quickly attended to.  My mom tried to help a little, which was more hands than were needed, but hey, that’s what mothers try to do.

Apparently the stench from my feet was enough to warrant some kind of EPA report so I felt it was best to get moving before finding myself buried in environmental hazard paperwork.  I said my goodbyes and thank-yous to everybody and Brian and I took off for the last 38 miles.  I was excited, I had some running in me and we were going to cover part of the trail that I got to do last year with Greg.

As the food settled I was getting excited for the final 38 miles.

My parents waiting at Foresthill.
Photo by Debbie Lanz-Webster

Raven, Greg and Deb at Foresthill.
Photo by Debbie Lanz-Webster