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I am a 45 year old long distance runner who is on a journey to regain the joy for running and life.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Pine to Palms 100-- September 18-19, 2010

The big race for this year is now over and as usual it went nothing like I imagined and I learned things you can only learn by taking the journey.  It all started on early Saturday morning when the alarm went off at 3am sharp.  I immediately looked outside to see if the rain that was predicted for the entire weekend was here.  It was cloudy, but not raining.  Not bad.  I drank my coffee, got all my equipment ready, and was out the door by 4:30 to meet Russ in the parking lot of the hotel.  We arrived at the start about 5:10 and all was well.  It was quite warm and humid because of the clouds, but still no rain.  We started at 6am sharp.

The first 6 miles of the course was road and climbed about 1500 ft in the last 3 miles.  Kate, Russ, and I took it easy and chatted most of the way to the first aid station where the course turned into the woods onto nice singletrack trail.  At this point Russ and I got split up and about 2 miles later we lost contact.  Over the next 7 miles the course goes up another 3500 ft to over 6500 ft.  That was a tough climb, but I felt really good.  I managed to run a lot of the climb.  It started raining pretty good on the climb and didn't stop at all for many hours which I just decided to accept.  My right heel had been bothering me for the last month and was a little sore, but thankfully didn't get any worse the whole day.  I made it to the next aid station at mile 17 in about 4 hours 30 minutes, which was quite slow, but that was the plan.

The next 7 miles was still mostly singletrack trail and it descended about 1600 feet.  It was really wet at this point but the downhill felt good.  A couple of miles aprox. before the aid station  we turned onto a nice, mostly flat, gravel road.  Boy did that feel good.  I came into the aid station at mile 24 at aprox. 11:45 am, which was 5 hours and 45 minutes into the race.  To anyone who has not run steep uphills and downhills on trail, these times might seem slow.  It is hard to describe how much harder it is to run uphill on a trail than it is to run on a flat road.  I can run a 26 mile marathon in under 3 hours, which is about 6:45 per mile.  On some of these steep climbs I might only be able to manage a 18 or 20 minute mile.  Unbelievable, but true.

31 mile aid station
The next 7 miles were mostly on this road with only the last 2 miles or so on trail.  So I was able to run this 7 mile stretch in about 1 hour and 5 minutes.  There is a 5 mile stretch from mile 60 to 65 that took me over 2 hours.  So anyways, I made it to the aid station at mile 31 in about 7 hours flat.  This was the first time I got to see my crew which was very uplifting.  I had a "hot spot" on my left foot which Karen so beautifully patched up for me, I changed my socks and shoes, got fresh water, changed my shirt and jacket, and was off.  The stop was quite long, probably 15 minutes, but I think it was worth it.  I felt refreshed and dry leaving the aid station. Total elevation loss was about 300 feet, but it was rolling terrain.  

So I took off across an open field and onto a nice single track trail, but straight uphill again.  On the course profile this section is not the longest hill but it is probably the steepest.  It is a bear.  Oh, and speaking of bears, the runner right behind me saw a bear in this section and we saw many fresh bear droppings along this trail.  Kind of scary.  The next 4 miles saw an elevation gain of 2300 feet!  Let me say that again.  The next 4 miles saw an elevation gain of 2300 feet!  Beautiful, but hard.  To put this in perspective there is a major hill in the Boston Marathon called heartbreak hill has about an 88 foot elevation gain over about a half a mile and that is considered extreme. A nice little one mile drop from that point took me into the Stein butte aid station at mile 36 where it was still pouring down rain.  This aid station is very hard to get to by vehicle and it was awesome.  Those volunteers were great.  They had hot chicken soup and hot quesadillas.  I had some soup and some coke and was off into the pouring rain.  Still feeling pretty good.

Me at Squaw Lake
Boy was it pouring rain at this point.  Enough to really start to be annoying.  I felt like throwing some F bombs at mother nature but I realized that mother nature is not a person.  Maybe later in the race I may not be able to make that distinction, but at this point it was clear.  So it's about 7 miles to the next aid station at Squaw Lake. I was at about 4000 feet at this point.  This section of the course was around 7 miles and had a net elevation loss of 1000 feet.  But that doesn't mean it was easy.  The first 4 miles was rolling and went up to 5000 feet, which means I actually climbed more than 1000 feet to get there.  So after reaching this high point I plunged down a very muddy single track trail that dropped about 2000 feet in 3 miles.  That was extremely difficult to say the least. This section would have been very challenging in dry conditions because it was so steep.  Add mud and all I could do was laugh.  I had a thought while running this section that I bet very few humans on this earth could run this section at all.  Period.  Just to not fall down was a major achievement.  I managed to not fall once, although I did slip and slide.  And for anyone who thinks downhill is easy, it is actually really hard on your quad muscles.  Finally after about 30 minutes of this "fun" I saw a couple of people who told me it was only 1/4 mile to the aid station.  Coming into the aid station at Squaw Lake the road turns flat and that really felt good.  I came into this aid station at around 4:30 where I saw Terry, Daniel, Nick, and Ann.   I immediately sat down and changed shoes, socks, and got fresh water and gels.  I found out that Russ was doing well and was about 45 minutes behind me.  I took off around the lake and ran the 2 miles in about 20 minutes.  The flat sure felt good.  I zipped by my crew on the way out of the Lake aid station and was on my way.  It was still raining pretty good but I had dry shoes and was feeling pretty strong. 

So this next 5 mile stretch is on old dirt road and starts with a gradual downhill, which was nice.  I went down about 600 feet in 2 miles and then started a climb that didn't really end for 20 miles.  At the start of this climb I met a nice guy named Todd from Wyoming.  We power hiked this hill until we reached the aid station at mile 47.  There were some really nice volunteers here from the local cross country team.  I had some flat coke, which hit the spot.  Then Todd and I entered a single track trail where the sign read "Grayback Mountain."

It was still light here, at around 6:30pm.  I decided I would  run most of the flats in this section so I went ahead of Todd.  I also decided to get my headlamp out and put it on to be ready for the dark.  I felt pretty good through this section in part because it wasn't raining.  On a nice day on this course the views would be stunning.  So I made it to the aid station at Hanley Gap (squaw peak), mile 52, at somewhere around 7:30pm.  Then I started a 3/4 mile climb, so they said, up to the top of Squaw Peak at about 5000 feet.  I am sure this was not 3/4 of a mile.  I think it was about 1 1/2 miles up and 1 1/2 miles back.  Anyway, it was a climb of about 700 feet in that distance, which by any calculation is very steep.  I reached the top just before I really needed my headlamp, around 8:30pm.  The descent back down was very hard on the quads because of the steepness.  No switchbacks here.  By the time I made it back down it was dark and misty/foggy.  I headed off into the darkness, alone.

This whole section is on old dirt/gravel road.  I was really starting to feel very tired at this point and it was hard to run.  I did a lot of walking, especially on the steep climbs.  The road goes up 1000 feet in the first 2 miles and then is very rolling.  The thing that is so hard about these roads is that they are pretty darn steep while they roll.  So it is all hard.  I trudged my way into the 60 mile aid station at about 9:40pm and was happy to see Hal.  He greeted me and told me to keep moving and that I had plenty of time to make the 1 am cutoff.  When I saw him the first thing that came out of my mouth was something like, " what the hell are trying to do to us?  Kill us?  Could you make the course any harder?"  He laughed and told me I only live 4 hours away and I could have come down and trained on it.  I told him he was right.  Then I took off with some renewed spirit knowing I was doing ok.
Nick-  My Pacer

Ok.  This next section goes from 5000 feet to 7400 feet in about 5 miles.  And there is no forgiveness at all.  It is just straight up.  About 1 mile into this hill I knew I was feeling bad.  Everything started to hurt and walking fast was very difficult.  I knew I was moving slow, and this is the first time that I remember runners passing me.  I quickly started thinking I couldn't go on and I was definitely thinking negatively. About 3 miles into this 5 mile hill my crew, Daniel and Terry, passed me in the car.  They stopped and asked me how I was doing and I told them I didn't think I could go on.  They said just get to the next aid station, and they kept going.  Back in the dark I trudged ahead.  Finally I saw what looked like lights and it was the aid station.  When I got up to the aid station tent it was about 11:30.  It took me about 2 hours to go those 5 miles.  Wow.  When I got there I saw Hal again and he told me it was a good push to get up here.  I asked him how "you guys" run these things in 16 hours?  I don't know how they do it.  The winners of these races and the elite ultra racers are truly amazing athletes.  So, I got into the shelter of the aid station and I asked if I could sit down. I was pretty sure I couldn't continue.  The wind was howling and gusting and it was starting to rain again.  We were at 7400 feet and the next step was to run beyond the aid station for 3/4 mile to retrieve a flag at the top of Dutchman Peak.  I sat in the chair and drank some soup for about 10 minutes waiting to see my crew and Nick, my pacer.  But they had somehow not seen me enter the aid station and were still down the mountain about 1/4 mile waiting.  So I decided to go out and get the flag.  It was quite scary and it ended up being a bad decision.  I was wet and was only wearing a running hat, a short sleeve shirt and a shell and my shorts were wet as well.  It took me about 25 minutes to get the flag and when I got back I needed to sit down again.  I was hoping I would feel better, but the wind had chilled me and I was starting to shiver.  The awesome volunteers helped me sit down in the chair by the heater and I tried to warm up.  I kept thinking that Terry, Daniel, and Nick would be there any time, but I sat there for over an hour and they still weren't there.  Finally one of the volunteers found them and they appeared.  I had not warmed up and it was now past 1 am.  The aid station was about to close down and I had to make a decision.  The medical volunteers asked me one last time how I was feeling and I said I was cold and shaky.  They said they didn't like the way I looked and recommended I withdraw from the race.  I was more than happy to agree with them I asked them to cut my wrist.  Not really my wrist, just the wristband that all runners wear while they are in the race.  So they proceeded to cut my wristband off, which meant I was officially out of the race.  I didn't feel bad at all mentally at that point, just glad I didn't have to go back out into the wind and rain.  Well we did have to get back to the car which was 1/4 mile down the road.  Terry and Daniel helped me get there while I shivered and hobbled and moaned like a baby.  I got into the car and just cranked the heat and still was shivering for about another 20 minutes.  But, it was over.  No more running.

When I signed up for this race I knew it would be hard, but I surely didn't envision rain.  The difficulty of the climbs I could have never imagined as this was by far the hardest day of running I have ever experienced.  I have finished two other 100 mile races and neither one was as hard as this 67 mile run.  Now I have that experience to draw on in the future.  Oh and boy did I learn some valuable lessons.

31 mile aid station
As I write this last paragraph it is  6 weeks since the race and that time has given me a chance to really understand what happened.  When I arrived at the mile 65 aid station I was at a low point both physically and mentally just like my other 100 mile races.  I ended up finishing the other two races though, so what was the difference?  First, it was very cold and windy and I allowed myself to get cold.  I should never have attempted going out to the peak past the aid station until I got dry clothes on.  Secondly, the weather had a cumulative affect on my mental state.  I can truly say I have never been so low in a race.  Thirdly, the fact that I couldn't find my crew or pacer here was the dagger that sealed my fate.  If I would have seen them right away, got dry clothes on, got a mental lift from seeing them, I might have been able to continue.  But that brings me to the real lesson here.  I am responsible for my actions and mentally I was not strong enough.  I made the mental mistake of going out in the wind with wet clothes on and once hypothermia set in I was physically unable to continue.  It's just amazing how every single decision is vital to success when you are teetering on the edge.  This race was surely a mental and physical challenge like no other I have ever encountered.  The experience will surely make me stronger the next time I am in a similar situation.  Can't wait until the next one!!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Ashland Trip April 2010

Hal being interviewed by Russ

The view from Hal's Deck-  Beautiful Ashland
I have never been to Ashland Oregon and I had a great reason to go. Russ McGarry is doing an audio piece on two special participants in the Western States 100 Endurance Run, which is the "super bowl" of ultra running. One of the participants he is following is Hal Koerner, the two time defending champion of the race. He lives in Ashland. So we went down there to interview him. And we got more than we expected!!

Russ McGary


Russ and Hal-  On a 5 mile run with the 2 time Western States Champion--Wow!!!
We arrived on Tuesday afternoon and called Hal to let him know we were there. We soon arrived at his home and met him and his fiance, Carly Varner. Ashland is a beautiful city and they have a beautiful home with a phenomenal view of the Siskiyou mountains. Russ interviewed Hal and Carly for a couple of hours and I got to listen. Unbelievable. I enjoyed it all, listening to the Michal Jordan of ultra running talk about his experiences, training, and the Western States race itself. When Russ was finished with the interview we all decided we would go out to dinner.

So we walked about 1/2 a mile to beautiful downtown Ashland to eat a nice little pasta restaurant. So for the next 2 hours we talked more with Hal and Carly about ultra running and life in Ashland. Boy was that exciting and fun!! Hal and Carly were so warm and welcoming to Russ and I even though they had never met us before that day. Inviting us into their home even though they had never met us before was amazing. Great people.

Ashland trails

Rogue Valley Runners-  Hal's running store
Then it gets even better. The next morning Russ and I met Hal at his running store, called Rogue Valley Runners. Hal is the owner of the store and many of his employees are great ultra runners too. Currently Jen Shelton and Erik Skaggs are two of the great runners who work there. This is a really great running store on a beautiful main street and is located about a mile from Hal's house. What a setting. If you look around at the views the mountains are spectacular. Russ did a little more interviewing for his piece and had Hal sell me a pair of shoes to get some audio of him doing his job. That was fun. And then we decided to go for a run. Just me, Russ, and Hal. Wow! Again this would be analogous to some golfers hanging out with Tiger Woods and then playing some golf with him. Incredible! So we went on an hour long run with Hal Koerner on the beautiful and hilly trails that start a few blocks from the store. Hal showed us where the Pine to Palms 100 (a race he has created and is directing and Russ and I are running in this September) will finish and pointed out some of the course high up in the mountains. We talked more about running and the upcoming season and finally ended up back at the store. We thanked him for being so gracious and said goodbye. What and experience!!

Russ and I will be going down to the Western States 100 in June to follow the race and hopefully watch Hal win his third one in a row. Can't wait!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Shamrock Run

Ok. This is a little late. On March 14th I ran the Shamrock Run in downtown Portland. There are 3 distances offered which include a 15k, 8k, and a 5k. I chose to run the 8k. It was a beautiful morning, unlike last year when it rained and was very cold. I was just using this run as a nice speed session and not as a peak race. I didn't taper for this race at all.

I ran the first mile in 6:22, which felt solid, but not too fast. Second mile was 6:35 and third mile was 6:32. Both these miles are gradual uphill, going from north of Burnside all the way up Broadway through downtown Portland. I felt strong and knew I was running pretty well because right next to me was a lady named Nicki Raffie who always runs about my same time.

Shortly after mile 3 the course turns back to the north this time going down front avenue all the way to the finish. I ran mile 4 in 5:58 which felt good. The last mile is gradual downhill turning to flat at the very end finishing near the Morrison bridge on Front avenue. I ran the last mile (actually .97 of a mile) in 5:32. That felt strong and fast and that gave me a finish time of 31:04. Not too bad for an ultra runner just trying to get in a good speed workout.

It was a fun day. Penny went with me and she had a strong race too. Then after the race we got to go eat bagels and drink coffee. My favorite things to do after racing.

Results and pictures are at www.shamrockrunportland.com. Check it out!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Hagg Lake - Feb 20, 2010

The start!  I am in the white shirt
At the start
at the start-  Me in the white shirt ready to run!
The first race of the season is now complete. The Hagg Lake 50k was held on saturday February 20th and it was a fine event. I went into the race with somewhat unknown expectations as far as a predicted time, but with a minimum goal to break 5 hours. I thought I might even be able to break 4 1/2 hours as my two other 50k finishes have been 4:06 at the Autumn Leaves 50 k a few years ago on a very easy and flat road course, and 4:50 in the Forest Park 50k last year on a course with about 3000 feet of climbing. Hagg Lake on paper seems like it would be easier than Forest Park, and harder than Autumn Leaves since it has about 700 feet of climbing. But in my estimation it is slightly harder than Forest Park because of the mud.


I started out pretty fast running the first 3.1 mile out and back section on the road in about 24 minutes. This section was difficult going out because of a steep climb for about 3/4 of a mile. I was feeling good and tried to run by feel. When we hit the trail at 3.1 miles I thought it was going to be a really good day. I ran in a group until about mile 10. At that point my legs started feeling a little tired which is a very bad sign at mile 10 of 31. I let a few runners pass me and tried to assess the situation. My pace was a little too fast and the mud caused a lot of slipping and sliding and thus tensing of the leg muscles which I have not trained for enough. From mile 10 on I knew it would be a tough day.

Starting lap 2
Penny- My great crew!
I finished the first loop (of two) of the lake at 2 hours 38 minutes. That is at the 17 mile mark. That is about 9:18 per mile pace. My great crew member, Penny, was there to see me. I told her my legs were shot. I changed hats, got new food and water bottles, and started out on my second and final loop of the lake.

My plan was to try to hold the same pace and just accept that it was going to hurt a little. I quickly passed a few people and realized maybe I was not as bad off as I thought. I continued on passing at least 5 or 6 more runners by the time we hit the "dam aid station" at mile 21.6 into the race. After a quick water bottle refill and a few endurolytes I was off. I immediately caught another runner who was running about my pace. His name is Ben Baxter. He asked me if I wanted to pass but I told him it was all I could do to keep up with him. We chatted for a few miles and then I could not keep up with him. I was going pretty much as fast as I could. I saw him slowly increase the gap between us. Then the next aid station appeared.

This final aid station is called the "Tanner Creek aid station" and it is 4.3 miles from the finish. I looked at my watch and the running time was 4 hours 18 minutes. That means I had just run the last 9.7 miles from the start/finish area in 100 minutes. That is about 10:18 per mile pace. I knew I had 42 minutes to run the last 4.3 miles if I wanted to break the 5 hour mark. I knew it was possible but it was gonna take everything I had. By this point it in the race it was pretty warm and I was drinking a lot of water so my stomach was cramping very slightly. Normally when that happens I just walk for a few minutes, but I knew if I wanted to break 5 hours I couldn't walk at all. I had to average 9:45 per mile pace, and the worst mud sections of the course were ahead. I don't know why it so important for me to break that 5 hour mark, but 4 hours something just sounds way faster than 5 hours something. So I bolted out of the aid station like I was running for Olympic gold. Crazy.

Normally 9:45 per mile is not hard, but at the end of a 50k and with the difficulty of this section it's tough. I am sure Hagg Lake veterans have little difficulty with the mud, but the mud on this section is something I have never run through. If I had been out on training run and encountered this mud I would have laughed and just tip toed through it. But with my vast mud experience gained on lap one about 2 hours earlier, and watching other runners just plow through it, I just plowed through it. I just knew I had to keep running very hard to break 5 hours. I passed a couple more runners in this section and took one major fall into the mud. That was a shock, but I got up quickly and just kept on going.

Beautiful Hagg Lake
The Big Finish!

Finally out of the last mud section I hit the one mile to go sign and my watch said 4:50:30. That means the last mile had to be run in under 9:30. I ran all out and finally hit the finish in a time of 4hours 59 minutes and 44 seconds. So I ran the last mile in 9:14. Wow. I think that might be some kind of world record. Or maybe not. It sure felt hard. Glad to be finished!!!

Thanks to Penny for supporting me at the race. I had some leg cramps afterward that required some assistance. Thank you so much.

And nice to chat with your Ben Baxter. I hope we see each other again at another race. And good luck at the Tahoe Rim 100 this year.

And thank you very much to the race directors and all the volunteers who make the event possible. It was an awesome day!!!

Monday, February 1, 2010

The year ahead

Well it's been four months since the Hundred in the Hood and I haven't raced since. I have been running strong and training hard for the upcoming season. Training is going very well and has been especially enjoyable having a training partner-Russ- for all my long runs this winter. We have logged a couple of 20's, a 23, a 26 and a 30 miler in the last couple of months on our regular Monday long runs. That 26 miler we did on Jan. 18th was especially memorable.

We started at 1 pm on Wildwood Trail in Forest Park. We did two out and backs starting at the Germantown rd. trail head at the end of Leif Erickson rd. The first 13 miles was fine, but a little harder and slower than we anticipated because the trail was extremely wet and sloppy. When we headed out for out and back number two, we knew it would get dark so we took flashlights. The trail this time was the worst I have ever seen it as we were running in one continuous mud puddle it seemed. It got dark as we headed back still with a 10k to run. Running on very sloppy single track trail in the dark is difficult. That six miles was as difficult a six miles as I have ever run. We made it back to the trail head for a nice 5 hour marathon. A lot slower than we anticipated, but with another experience to put in the bank for those difficult moments late in a race.

My mileage for the last 4 weeks has been: 50,55,60, and 64 with some speed work once per week on the track. I have a mileage goal for 2010 of 3000. I did 2700 last year, which was my most ever. My race schedule looks like this for 2010.

Feb 20----- Hagg Lake 50 k
April 11---- Race for the Roses 1/2 marathon
May 15---- Watershed Preserve 12 hour race
June 26-27-Western States 100--pacing/media/spectating
July24------Pctu 50 mile
Sept 18-19--Pine to Palms 100 mile

And maybe one or two others.

It should be fun!!!