2014 Western States 100
2013 San Diego 100
2012 PCT 50 Mile
2012 Mesquite 50k
2012 Tucson Marathon
2014 Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run Race Report
“I Will Finish”
The shot gun blast cut the cold pre-dawn air and the 363 runners were off. The first three miles climb straight up the Squaw Valley ski slopes right under the chair lift. In those three miles we would be climbing approximately 3,000 feet up and over the top of the Squaw Valley Ski Mountain. The crowd took off in a holler and a cloud of dust, but quickly formed a single file line going up the mountain. The fastest at the front actually ran while most of us did a power hike.
My legs were already burning climbing that steep slope and the lack of oxygen at barely 9,000 left my lungs screaming and my head dizzy. But soon I was approaching the final vertical were you ac.tually had to get on all fours and climb – in the snow! Luckily the California drought and a heat wave left little snow that year.
Once at the top I took a moment to turn around and take in the majestic beauty of the sun coming up over the Sierras and casting shadows on the foggy surface of Lake Tahoe, just stunning. But I couldn;t stay long. I had climbed the first mountain, but had 97 miles to go. It was June 27th, 2014, the day before my mother’s birthday, and I was running the legendary Western States 100 mile Endurance Run.
The Westerns States 100 is the oldest and most prestigious 100 mile trail run in the world. It started the sport of ultrarunning. Originally a horse race, one year (1974) one of the race horses showed up to the lame. So the owner, Gordy Ansleigh, decided to attempt the race on foot. And ultrarunning was born. The race attracts one of the strongest fields comprised of some of the top elite ultra-runners in the world. It is famous for the variety of terrain and climates. Starting at Squaw Valley and traversing mountains and canyons in the middle of the California summer. A total of 18,000 climb and 23,000 drop, from snow to 100+ degree canyons.
In 2012 I found myself at the WS100 to pace my friend Vishal. Sitting at that finish line and seeing everyone get their name called and go up to the podium and individually receive their famous belt buckle as the finisher’s trophy (it did start as a horse race). I had just completed my first 50 mile mountain trail race and felt proud of myself. That was nothing compared to what these athletes had just accomplished. Sitting there I thought to myself, “I got to get me one of those buckles!”
In order to toe that starting line in the mountains you first have to qualify by running a 50 or 100 miler in specific qualifying time. Only after that do you get to put your name in the lottery. My year there were over 6,000 qualifiers in the lottery for 300 spaces If you don’t get drawn you have to requalify the next year. Some people take 10 years or more in order to get selected to their dream race.
I miraculously was selected in my second year, with only a 6% chance, hey the race was on my mother’s birthday! After getting into this crazy sport and setting Western States as my final goal I figured it would take me six or seven years of nonstop hard ass training to get in. And here I was in year three.
My race preparation had gone smoothly (other than a patella dislocation 6 weeks prior to the race) until right after the race check in. My father had come with me to tahoe to crew and we were on our way to pickk up Vishal, who was going to pace me, in Reno. I was sitting in the passenger seat reading through the race materials. My heart stopped when I read the words “Drop bags collection closes at 4pm.” Double shit! In all my excitement about being at the race I had forgotten to drop my drop bags. They were still in the car. Drop bags are use to strategically position supplies and dry socks along the course and I had completely forgotten mine. Panic set in. Luckily had crew and a pacer, but I would have to adjust my entire race plan the night before!
The night before was nervous and frantic as I packed and repacked my drop bags and adjusted my schedule. Re-arranging my race plan and repack my support bags. And getting to bed early, luckily I was able to sleep. All that mattered at that point was getting to the starting line at 5 am.
The Escarpment – Lyons Ridge 10.3 miles
After the shotgun start and the charge up the mountain I had taken a moment to watch the sunrise over The Sierras and Lake Tahoe and feel gratitude for the experience. But only a moment cause I had 97 more damn miles to cover.
The back side of the mountain the snow had mostly melted with only little pockets reaming. That left frozen tundra and almost thawing puddles everywhere, quite an obstacle course when trying to keep the feet warm and dry early in the race. At this point the runners were starting to settle into their place in order, each according to their own pace. We passed through mountain meadows and hopped over tiny bubbling streams. Every once in awhile I would raise my eyes to take in the view but ost of the time was spent searching the ground for a dry place to land my next step.
This point in the race is a pretty steep down hill, but you want to hold back. With that altitude I still hadn’t caught my breath from the climb, the footing was slick, and mostly I tried to remember the number one rule of ultra-running: Start slow and taper!
I had longed for this aid station, as of course I long for all of them. But after the ascent and then the back of the mountain this is that seemed kinda normal, you know for a hundred mile race in the fucking Sierras. But at the first aid station I made a mistake. I got caught up in the energy of the early race and rushed through the aid station. I took my proper refuel and left. Less than a mile later I began to pay for it. I felt it, I somehow forgot to use the facililties.
Red Star Ridge – 15.8 miles
When running in the mountains one must not by shy! Even if only a half mile after an aid station. Seriously regretting not taking more time at the aid station I looked for some dense brush and pulled over. What a relief. Feeling fresh and energized I rejoined the race down the mountain.
We settled into a pace at this point, people doing about them same times, sometimes slowing sometimes speeding. I do admit at this ridge I did pullover, stop, just to look. Squaw seemed so far away…the valley so awakening with the sun just hitting the far side, the ridges runinng down down down, with which I would be following.
Devil’s Canyon – 24.4
For several miles the course traced the ridge line descending quickly from the peak. A vast valley ran along the right as the trail gently undulated from one mini peak to the next. This is where I began to get into a groove, reminding myself to take it easy.
I always train with an ipod, hell I don’t think I would have been able to train for a marathon without it. After 4 miles I would just get too damn bored. However, I never raced with one. For races I want to be completely present in the experience. For 100s though I do bring my ipod along in my back just in case for the long long dark night. At this point in the race it is sufficient to look around and take it all in and forget that what the hell we just passed marathon length! Only three more to go.
Devil’s Canyon aid station comes on you fast as you drop off the ridgeline. This is the first heavily populated stop and the speakers were blaring some classic rock. The energy was off the charts and the volunteers were swarming. One came up to me and took my camelback right off of my back, another wiped my face with and icy sponge as the sun was high and it was starting to get hot. I grabbed my normal fuel: Orange slices, bananas, and pb&j squares. With my pack refilled and my bandana iced I was back on my way. We were done with the ridge now came the first of the infamous steep as hell sections: Devil’s Canyon.
Robinsons Flatt – 30.3
I was feeling strong, even as the heat began picking up. After all I am an Arizona boy, born and bred in the desert. I cross the creek without getting my shoes wet. An important part of keeping that damn blister hell away. The blisters had been my nemesis at the San Diego 100 and I didn’t even have to cross any rivers during that race.
I spotted several runners ahead, doing that power hike up the canyon walls, but I was on fire I was pulling them in. And I did. One by one I passed them. All still looking strong, but this desert boy feeling stronger. One by one I passed them, hiking strong and running in the few very few almost flat portions. This was another big climb. I was getting that famous runners high at this point, a combination of endorphins and adrenaline pushing one faster and feeling high and elated. I was cruising past people climbing Devil’s Canyon at the Westerns States 100 damn it!
Then the blessed crest – this short one at least and back to all out running. Then my strength and confidence started to fade…had I expended too much energy on the climb? My head began to get light and I couldn’t focus on anything..other than keep going forward. At that point the only thing keeping m going was knowing I as only a mile away from Michigan bluff aid station and my first rendezvous with my crew, my father and Vishal. As I rounded that corner and saw the people cheering I felt elated. Mile 30! But then as I slowed into the aid station I stumbled side ways and all that exertion and exhaustion hit me. I got dizzy and had to be helped forward.
They asked if I was ok, and of course I said I was, but I knew something was wrong. As I stepped on the scale I saw, 174??? I had already lost 9 pounds in the first thirty miles. I quietly freaked out. If I didn’t get some back they would pull me from the race. There was no way on hell I was going to let that happen I had to finish!
I stumbled a few feet and spotted my crew. Immediately Vishal and my father started yammering on some gibberish about getting lost and almost missing me. Apparently, they had tried to go cross country in my Mustang and ran out of gas. Great, thanks crew! I’m trying to run a hundred miles here. Focus!
I knew I was dehydrated and had spent my reserve energy stores so I had to take a couple of extra minutes here to rehydrate and fuel. Soon I was back on my feet and heading up the gentle slope out of the stop.
Millers Defeat – 34.4
Coming out of Robinsons Flatt I was scared. Yes, I had seen my Dad and Vishal and I had taken a rest to rehydrate, but my weight loss and the reality of this race hit me square in the face. This was mile 30, there was 70 to go and it was just starting to get hot. This is where the race becomes all mental.
As I have mentioned the race was on my mother’s birthday, however she was not there to cheer me on as she had died almost exactly a year prior.
She of ear onset Alzheimers less then a year before and this day, this very day was her birthday. There was no way I could stop, there was no way I could quit, this was my mother’s birthday.
I wish I could tell you my thoughts on those turns, I wish I could explain my feelings on thoose swithbacks, all I can say is my mind was straight: there was no way in hell I was stopping, there was no ay in in the world they could take me of this course, better yet, there was no way I was not finishing this fucking race.
The heat was growing, I had just been as dehydrated as I had ever been, but I felt calm. This was mine. This was my moms. This is happening.
When it comes to 100s there is training and there is toughness, but what it really comes down to is will. When I was at my weakeast point, easing myself down that gentle burnt out down slope and thinking about my mother it wasnt a decision, it wasnt a choice, everything that she had put into me in my life was going to propel me to that finish line. I would will it to be so, she had already willed it to be so.
I was actually following one of the aid groups that run the course sweeping for runners in trouble. up that hill and I recognized Petra, the famous Petra from all the 100s. I would just take it easy, constantly hydrate and follow them. I crested that ridge and saw the vast valey below, not too step but many many many switch backs. It was then that I began to think of my mother.
This aid station was called Miller’s Defeat but I had decided there was no way I was going to be defeated on that day. “I will finish.”
Dusty Corners – 38
With the sun high overhead, I hit some gentle fire roads. This offered smooth sailing, but no protection from the blazing sun while the temperature shot up. After starting in the snow covered mountains running in direct sunlight and over 100 degree heat just zaps your strength. I had taken it easy through this stretch and was hydrating constantly so my head was beginning to clear.
At Dusty Corners aid station came the next scale. I was nervous but confident. Back up to 179! Only 4 pounds down. A wave of relief flowed over me. There was not even a hint of pulling me off the course now. All I had to do was keep hydrating, fueling, and run another 62 miles!
Back on the course my left foot began to burn. Not bad, just felt a little funny. Despite the powder, and liner, and toe socks I felt I was developing a hot spot. But after the pain of the San Diego 100 furnace I had learned the lesson of the blisters. Prevent them at all costs!
Last Chance – 43.3
So I sat down, and let them look at my foot. Nothing showing they said, but I feel a hot spot coming and in this heat I want to be careful. Blisters. The nemesis of all distance runners. When it comes too 100s, they are the number one enemy. We run on trails, in the mountains, through rivers, in snow and then in hundred degree heat. Its not a question of if blister, it’s a question of when blister.
During my previous 100 my blisters had gotten so bad that I could barely walk the last 10miles and running any more than 100 meters was completely out of the question. I knew with the heat and river crossings during Western States, blisters were starring me in the face. I took eveyr precaution I could think of. During my previous race I had regular running socks, this time I wore the injini toe socks with injini toe liner. And on top of that I used ample amounts of the anti-blister powder. I had five pairs of both socks and liners as well as a dry pair of shoes to switch into. But nevertheless forty miles in I could feel the hot spot coming. However, this time I was proactive and sat my ass down to have my feet looked at.
So, the wonderful volunteers at WS100 took the time to wrap my foot. What saints they all are too take a look at our funky flesh ravaged, peeling blistering oozing toes and feet. True angels.
I took the time to not worry about time. This is the Wesern States 100, this is not about time, this is about finishing. The volunteer also said that they had a podiatrist working at Forest Hill (mile 62). Never in my life had I been soo excited to meet a podiatrist.
Devils Thumb – 47.8
Just a gentle slope down followed until…….
When they say Last Chance, they aint joking. After having both of my knees reconstructed in high school due to patella dislocations playing basketball I can still do just about anything, but super steep descents kill my knees. And this fucking descent was a super steep with constant switch backs and double secret extra descent. I knew I had to go extremely slow to avoid race ending pain and I did, even walking down at some points. The urge to run those downhills was oh so strong as many runners raced past me. But I held back as the pain mounted.
This was by far the most painful part of the course, physically. I took it like an old lady going down the steps at a mall and it still made my knees scream. In an ultra you can never get into the I’m gonna beat you mind set, but it is natural to gage yourself against those you have seen coming and going over the last couple of hours. So it is disheartening when you see everyone that you have passed start passing you. You remind yourself why and try to stay focused on running your race, but this is just part of the mental highs and lows of an ultra – and there are many over the course of twenty four hours.
Finally, the river. I hobbled down the slope and gently stepped in Usually there was a bridge at this river crossing, but it had recently burned down during a forest fire. So, this year we got the pleasure of two crossings of the American River. America, Fuck Yeah! Crossing the river might be a huge slow down, but once that icy cold snow melt hit my burning legs it felt like heaven. Or well you know like the movie frozen where everything is ice but people still seem to like it. The ice cold water was perfect therapy for my aching knees after that terrible descent.
In order to cross the river there is a volunteer standing in the freezing cold snow melt holding a line to help everyone across. The balls on this man!
Once across I go to change my socks. Since blisters were a huge problem for me so I had extra prepared and had extra socks and liners in my pack specifically for this river crossing. Except when I take them out: two right toe socks. These aren’t just normal socks that are inter changeable, these are injinji toe socks, designed for each foot. Fcuk!!!!!!!
After the wonderful soothing of crossing the river I am left with just one dry left sock. So I decide to put the liner on, throw the wet sock over my shoulder and hope it dries. Then begin one of the steepest climbs of the race.
The swinging arm power climb? I still lift bro.
The climb is slow, but luckily I am right behind a woman with an amazingly beautiful behind, and we are going about the same pace. This was the perfect motivation for me to keep up! We chat for a few minutes and then I tell her my sock dilemma. She replies simply and without hesitation, “Why don’t you just turn it inside out.” Genius! I was staggered, it hadn’t even crossed my mind, not even a flicker.
Just turn the toe sock inside out. Really, could that work? So I stopped, sat on a rock and tried the method. Oh my god, it worked! To this day, thank you brilliant woman with a great ass and even better ideas!
After switching my sock around I made it to the top of Devils thumb in pretty good shape. I had the aides look at my feet for blisters after having to ford a river and where an inside out sock, but they said ok, so I said Ok. And on I went. On to another descent, this one may have seemed steep on paper, but after surviving Deadwood Canyon this one is not so bad.
Holy Crap! I just passed 50 miles and barely even noticed. You have to be some sort of masochistic psycho to run 50 miles without noticing. Oh well, ultra runners… They say you run the first 50 with your legs and the last 50 with your heart. Well I ran the first 50 with my heart so legs you better not fail me now!
The gentle down slope in this small canyon, still hot and even a it humid? My right foot is definitely starting to warm up now, I know I’m getting a hot spot. I hope I can get some treatment soon, this is way too damn early to blister up.
Michigan Bluff – 55.7
Topping that climb and rounding that corner going into Michigan Bluff I can only describe as sublime. You have made it through the canyons! There are people! There are people cheering! There are people to help you!
Getting blister treatment is a great excuse for to relax and rest for five minutes. As I was sitting my head was on a swivel looking for my crew. Where were they? Did they get lost again? After crossing the river and not having matching socks I really needed my drop bags! Finally they appeared as the aid was taping up my foot. A change of both fresh socks and shoes was so energizing at this point. Combined with the five minutes’ rest and my taped foot I was ready to go! I hoped up and pushed ahead. Forest hill was next.
Bath Road – 60.3
One steep climb before pulling up to the paved road. This segment is very motivating as you know once you power up this little climb your pacer will be waiting for you and then it is a flat start sprint into the crowds waiting at the little town of Forest Hill. And yes here he is everybody, my pacer Vishal!
Pacers are not required, but highly recommended, some races do require them. Yes pacers are there to help pace you, but mostly they are they to make sure you don’t die. When running through the middle of the night after 70 or 80 miles one can die pretty easily. You can become dehydrated. You can fall of a cliff or be eaten by a mountain lion. In case of a mountain lion, Vishal was here to be eaten so I can continue with my race.
Forest Hill – 62
Forest Hill is the party, if you count mile 63 as a party. As I was coming in, seeing the people energy flowed through my bones. Vishal meet me early to run with me that last little section before the school. And then in. I hit the weight station and was only 3 down! I had hydrated! But now I needed a bathroom. For some reason they directed me into the school. After 63 miles the last thing you want to do is navigate a school looking for the boys room. I took 4 wrong turns before I found it. Damn that sucked.
I came out and they had the podiatrist working on people, so even though the balls of my feet werent killing yet I knew this was a good time for pre-emptive therapy. He took the previous wrap, off treated it with some sort of magic balm and then re wrapped. It lasted the rest of the race.
I got up and looked fr my pack. It was nowhere to be found. I went up and down the line asking questions, nobody knew. No hydration pack, no light, no support crew, WTF? After about 5 minutes of frantic searching – now I cant even explain how long five minutes of searching during a race feels – I see Vishal calling my name.
He had grabbed my pack but not seen me apparently. Any hoooo. I get with my crew And change p my socks, I have new foot wraps, and now I have Vishal, the veteran as a pacer. Its on!!!!
Dardenelles – 65.7
Coming out of the crowds at Forest Hill you feel like it’s a different race now. This is the unofficial half way point. You have your pacer and only 35 miles to go, but it is starting to get dark.
Vishal is a much more experienced ultra-runner than me, but a much less experienced driver and navigator. He began to tell me the story of how he and my dad got lost on the way to the race and he blamed it all on Google Maps. Two lawyers driving in a Mustang in the Sierra Nevada mountains decide to go off roading and run out of gas, but yes I’m sure it’s all Google’s fault!!!
Having a pacer is such a comfort and motivator during those long dark night time hours. My first 100 I didn’t have one and it makes all the difference. Thank you Vishal.
Peachstone – 70.7
Ouch my knees! After 70 miles of pounding and the constant uphill-downhill course, and particularly those steep canyons my knees are shot. I can barely walk downhill.
Ford’s Bar – 73
I puked. I’m pretty sensitive to caffeine so I always save to Coca Cola till the late night for a little extra energy boost. I just take a little cup full for sugar and energy. And the I puked. Yes coke made me puke and Vishal made fun of me. Coincidentally enough he had puked at almost exactly the same place two years ago. Yea, puke brothers! I had never had coke or that bother me before, but while trying to figure it out you just keep going, and no more coke.
Rucky Chucky – 78 miles
Hey, are we at the God damn river crossing yet? Damn.
Say it with me: Rucky Chucky. Rucky Chucky. Isn’t it just fun to say?
Once you reach Rucky Chucy, the American River crossing you start thinking: I’m gonna Finnish. As with much in this race, I can barely describe the feeling you have when you reach Rucky Chucky. That damn river has been teasing you for many miles, just below, calling your name. Come to me. Stop running, bathe! When you reach the Rucky Chucky crossing you know you are in for both a soothing ice cold bath…but more, it is the last big mark on the trail.
By the time the American River hits the Rucky Chucky crossing it is a pretty strong fast flowing river. It is all snow melt coming off the same Sierras I have just traversed. Unlike the previous improvised crossing, this one has people, aid, and supplies on both sides. The water is deep and fast, you have to be sure to hold onto the steel line while crossing, but it feels oh so damn good. Your body is beaten and stretched and the cold cold water is the perfect tonic.
Once you bathe in the soothing waters of Rucky Chucky you are invigorated, not only do you feel you might finish, you feel you will finish strong. And on the other side of the river, waiting: my father.
Green Gate – 79.8
Getting to the Green Gate aid station is kinda of one off. I felt invigorated from my dip, I have new clean and dry socks and shoes and we climb a steep fire road while chatting.
After the river and green gate I am feeling refreshed, but still now this is a long dark stretch through the middle of the night. I can’t start thinking about the finish yet, but the thought begins to creep in as you now if you survive the night the morning light will bring the finish line. I will finish.
Auburn Lake – 85.2 – Brown’s Bar 90.7
Which one is this? Honestly, I don’t even remember this aid station. It was the middle of the night and I was probably delirious. Auburn Lake and Brown’s Bar have kind off merged in my mind. So lets ust say I was hallucinating at this point or it doesn’t exist. Conspiracy!
Highway 49 – 94
Leaving Browns Bar is a nice down slope back to the American River. We then make a little turn and hit a dirt road that follows the river. The morning sun is now getting stronger and the air is heating up. Following the river does seem to clam things down, but damn the gentle rolling hills on the road seems like each one is another fucking mountain at this point. And then I see the dreaded turn off.
The climb to the highway is steep and rocky. My legs are not happy, but hearing the cars on the road above pull me forward.
I cross the highway and enjoy a Strawberry smoothy.
No Hand Bridge -95.8
This might be the toughest stretch of the race mentally. My legs ache, each step shots pain through my feet, know the end is close but that just makes each painful minute seem to last that much longer.
Once I hit the canyon I desperately hope to see the bridge around every turn and with every turn more disappointment. But that makes the site of the bridge all the sweeter. A quick down hill to the bridge and this is the home stretch. My hearts skips, but the pain in each step reminds me that this is not over yet and this will nto end quickly.
I stop here for a short rest, water, and fuel. Several people pass me, but I am running my own race and right now I care only about finishing. So I am sure to get the proper fuel and then head across the bridge.
Robbie Point – 98.9
After the pain and stiff of the legs take hold while pushing along and following the river, I know the end is near but each step hurts so damn much. And then those bastards put in one last climb. This is definitely knee pushing time and I think my arms are doing more work pushing my knees up this hill than my legs. Once you hit the top you hit the town of Auburn and the cheering beings.
Only 1 mile to go and the adrenaline starts pumping, but even with that I can only run in short bursts before the pain is too much and I have to slow to a walk. A gentle downhill slop helps. But once you spot the school my emotions over power my thoughts and my legs seem to working on their own and then you hit the track.
Finish – 100.2 Miles!!!
As I crossed the finish line the emotion washed over me, relief, gratitude, disbelief, but mostly at that point I just wanted to sit down.
In 27 hours and 47 minutes I Finished The Western States 100…Happy Birthday Mom.
The San Diego 100 – 2013
Just Keep Moving. No matter how slow, no matter how painful. Whether in the hottest reaches of the blazing sun or the darkest cold of the night. Through every emotional upheaval, highest elation, and lowest stagnation. From mile 1 to mile 100. That was my mantra: Just Keep Moving.
The gun went off at 7 am. Wait, you’re telling me there was no gun, what? Well it did start, I know that for sure. All 200ish set off and quickly fit their individual pace into that single file crawl through the trees on the meadow trail. For me it was nice and easy, hold back, conserve energy.
Then suddenly from up ahead, “Which way?” and I look up from the trail and feet of the guy ahead of me who is wearing sparkly shorts to see 20 odd runners stopped cold, the front runner at an intersection with no orange marker. “Uh oh.” I turn around and see nobody behind me. “Oh, shit! I guess that is what that guy was yelling about back there.” The race director had warned us about playing follow the leader and not 5 miles into the course and I already took a wrong turn. Time to turn around and back track. Luckily it was only about a quarter of a mile back to the sharp left turn that we missed. Bonus miles!
Good thing that this happened in the beginning of the race and I was able to keep going and learn my lesson. At that point doing some bonus miles is not a big deal, but at mile 90 it could be completely defeating. When I get back to the trail I fit right back into the single file procession and even used this to my advantage as these runners were just a hair slower and helped me keep a relaxed pace and just keep moving. I was through the first aid station quickly and feeling quite optimistic about the whole enterprise, yet the absurd thought keep creeping back into my skull: you still have 93 miles to go!
Many people ask: why did I choose to run 100 miles? There are several reasons and some mostly adequate answers such as: I enjoy trail running more than roads, I like the views, I have a longing for adventure restless nature, and I value setting and pursuing lofty goals….these are all true, but truer still is this: Mainly I am dealing with this perpetual existential crises called life. I’m not fool enough to think there is an absolute answer, at least not a readily obtainable one, but this is one way to cope, to manage, to push oneself to the edge. Plus I like the views.
One important trick is to break the race up into segments, aid station to aid station and don’t start counting down miles until the very end. So, it was after about 23 miles and the Penny Pines aid station that we descended into the valley of death, or at least it felt like it. Somebody turned up the heat on the furnace in Noble Canyon. The descent is rather calm and a little shaded, but soon the trail becomes rocky and my foot pain really flares up. That’s what I get for attempting a 100 miler with even a mild case of plantar fasciitis.
To add to my fun I soon run out of water, but wait, just up ahead I see a stream! A beautiful icy stream, a real oasis in this dessert! Then boom! I am flat on my face. Ouch. “Are you OK?” calls out a runner stopped at the stream. I hop back to my feet and walk up to the stream. The ice cold water is a great relief as I dip my bandana, cool my head, and splash away some of the dirt. No blood gushing cuts, just a few scrapes.
After a few more hills and several more dry stream beds I begin to hear the oh so welcoming music that signals an upcoming aid station. “Show me something beautiful!” I recurring thought I have whenever I feel an aid station may be near. And behold girls in bikinis sponging down overheating runners, suddenly I don’t mind the heat soo much.
Finally, I reach the Aid station that came to be known as Carnage 1 and Carnage 2! It was here, on the hottest day of the year, the hottest day in the race’s history that runners began dropping like flies. The ever dreaded DNF. I was still feeling pretty good, I guess training in Arizona really helped deal with the sizzle. For me it was really just a decision that had already been made. There was no way I was dropping from this race. They would have had to knock me out and carry me down the mountain. All I had to do was Just Keep Moving.
Now I appreciate their zeal and we certainly could not pull of this feat without the aid station volunteers, but a camelback full of ice and no water? Well I know I wont die as I can always open up the bladder and suck on the ice, but C’mon man! Give me some freaking water.
This section of the race is a gentle loop around a small mountain, but it is all exposed and during the hottest part of the day. Temperatures were getting up to around 108. I pass several people including sparkly shorts guy, unfortunately I would never see him again. This begins to be a theme in this race as people are dropping like flies. You would get used to seeing people with a similar pace then you then all of the sudden, whoosh! They were gone. Just not prepared for this heat, but I’m an Arizona boy the heat wont phase me. Until it does…
Back at Carnage 2 and the bikinis, this time I plead with them, “less ice, less ice, more water.” Which the volunteers interpreted to mean more ice, more ice! Looking back the girl did comment that it was already full of ice. I guess my processor was not functioning at full capacity. But not all ice is bad at this point. The ice in my bandana wrapped around my neck is greatly appreciated, and helping get my core temperature to a tolerable level.
So up the mountain we go! On a paved road, straight up. The water soon runs out once again and if not for the “secret” aid station at the top of the paved section I would have been in a world of hurt. But thankfully there it was to top off my camelback with good old fashioned water (too add to the ice block I have in there). I grab a green popsicle and head back out and up the mountain. With a bladder full of water and a green popsicle in my hand I take it a little easy and enjoy a nice mountain stroll. Thank you for the green popsicle!
And now its 2pm and hot, damn hot. And I am climbing up an exposed mountain trail. I pass couple of guys who are just wrecked, sitting on the side of the trail I inquire as to their health and just keep moving, noting to inform the aid station of the situation out on the trail. The are all too aware of this. They had managed this race for over a dozen years and this was by far the hottest it has ever been. Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes you get heat stroke.
50 miles in just over 11 hours, even after that hellish climb I am making great time. I start making the inevitable pace calculations and the thought crosses my mind that even with the eventually slow down I could still make it in under 24 hours, but I remind my self “you have a long and painful night still to come.” Just keep moving.
“Show me something beautiful!” Nope not this time, just another hill. And while there may sometimes be an aid station, one thing you quickly acclimate your self to is the simple fact that whenever you crest one hill, there will always be another hill.
Finally I arrive at the Sunset Aid Station, a milestone at mile 51.5. I’m over half way! But I also know I have a 30 mile loop at nighttime ahead of me only to return to this very spot. Only then would it feel like a real milestone. I took a few extra minutes to have the medical staff care for a possible building blister. It was just a hot spot, but they kindly applied some protective mole skin to be safe. Then I head out on the 30 mile loop with several ups and downs and the last really big long climb to return to this station sometime in the early morning.
And it hits me. I’m back at nearly six thousand feet and my energy level just drops and I have over 48 miles to go. This will be an interesting 30 mile loop with another major climb at the end, but right now the main thing I have to contend with is this damn double vision.
After pushing up the mountain in the intense heat and totally exposed to the energy draining sun, all that exertion finally took its toll and something was wrong with my sight. That single projection we all know as the world around us had diverged into two separate, but overlapping pictures. To add insult, it was twilight and long shadows and fading light made the view that much more bewildering. This was supposed to be magic hour, damn it!
My mind scrambled over the issue trying to focus on what strategies to attempt to try to overcome or at least cope with this difficulty. It made negotiating rocky mountain trails extremely difficult. I could only dare run on the extremely flat well groomed portions of the trail. The sunlight was quickly fading and I had to turn on my headlamp and hand held and keep moving.
The vision problem was troubling, but I dare not mention it to anyone lest the force me to take a break or worse stop. But I was also a bit worried about how I would be able to continue in the dark and was was about to find out.
At the Paso Picacho aid station I hit the food table and took an as much as I could as well as adding a couple of cups of coca cola and m&ms. Night was coming! Thankfully the extra sugar, salt, and caffeine seemed to clear up my vision issue and the next segment was only 5 miles!
But what a damn vertical 5 miles they were! This was Stonewall Mountain and we were to summit the bastard. Ok, it might not be Everest, but at the time it seemed like it. Dizzying switchback after switchback and way too vertical to run. Yes, a 100 mile endurance running is not all running, but climbs like this tax your legs and lungs more than flat running. Once at the top I took a moment to flip off my lights and appreciate the starry night. Then down the mountain I went.
My father again met me at the next aid station and went to fetch my drop bag that included all of my cold weather gear as this was to be the freezing portion of the race. Except the drop bag wasn’t there! A volunteer joined in the search as I sat down and chomped on pb and j, demoralized. They did not find my bag with my wool hat, glooves, and windbreaker. Luckily, as I’ve come to know this uber-generous ultra community, one of the volunteers had come prepared for his own cold night and let me borrow a long sleeve tech shirt. Thank you Tony Sandoval!!!
With my legs exhausted from 64 miles, that never-ending mountain, and sitting in the cold, I set out on the trail in a slow walk. My legs felt dead and although I had the long sleeve shirt the whole ordeal with the drop bag had knocked me back. In the course of an extreme endurance event one goes through numerous highs and lows, this moment was my emotional nadar.
I began to worry about the long and painful night to come, to wonder about the numerous hours of slow misery, to dread the prospect of not being able to run, and even ponder that 32 hour time limit. I had to take evasive maneuvers and some drastic action. I reached into my pack and pulled out some caffeine beans and my secret weapon that I held been holding in reserve: my ipod.
I always train with an ipod, hell it is not just a coincidence that my being able to run more than 2 miles at a time coincided with my first ipod. However, I try no to use them during races. It is my desire to be present and appreciate my surroundings and the full experience during the race, but I knew this 100 miler would push my limits so I brought every weapon I could think of. I popped in the earbuds and found my special play-list and pressed play. All Pearl Jam all the time, every studio album in succession. By the time Eddie Vedder was belting “I’m Still Alive”, I was back baby! And running at a solid pace.
I was still able to run at this point, but my feet were starting to hurt more and more with each step. I had been hit with a mild case of plantar fasciitis on my very last long training run and now it was catching up to me. In addition, my whole foot and even ankle was experience extra trauma due, no doubt, to unconscious compensations I was making with each stride.
Fortunately, for my feet at least, after the next aid station I had come to the last long steep climb. This time it was 8 miles back up the mountain in the dark. The trail had become a dirt road at this point, but the orange trail markers were so space out that I was in constant fear of missing a turn off. To make matters worse the beam from my hand held flashlight was growing noticeable dimmer and I had neglected to bring back up AA batteries! At least my headlamp was bright and I had plenty of AAAs for that. Stupid, stupid. I kept switching my flashlight on to search the sides of the road for any sign of a marker or a trail, then right back off. It was about this time that I finally saw another runner approaching form behind, it had been over an hour since I had seen a soul or even a lamp. He was marching at a brisk pace so I decided to slide in behind him and this Englishman gracisouly lead and helped pace me up the mountain. I thanked him once at the Sunset 2 aid station back on top the mountain.
With the 30 mile loop complete, the possibility of a finishing began to grow more realistic. Plus, there was only one more section, one more aid station to go until my father would begin pacing at Pioneer Mail. I begin to get the feeling that I might make it – of course I never let the thought creep in that I wouldn’t make it. Whenever that fear struck I pushed it back with my mantra: Just keep moving! This is also when that other feeling began to scream to be noticed: the blisters are coming, the blisters are coming!
As the blue morning light began to creep across the sky I pushed my pace as fast as I could and ran on the gentle and sandy soft parts of the trail, but they were few and very far between. With each step my foot pain screamed and was amplified by those now bulging blisters. These last 18 miles were going to be a painful challenge.
In the middle of all these miles and all this agony I was again reminded of why I pursued this adventure. This was truly a life experience and just then the sun peaked out from behind a distant mountain. Another day had come and I was still going. This was the experience, the experience of being on the edge, an adventure, running along the eastern crest of the Laguna Mountains with the land dropping steeply to your left for a thousand feet as the sun rises over the Anzea Barrego Desert. And everyone goes “ahhhh.”
But now the blisters were really screaming as I shambled into Pioneer Mail. At the aid station I sit to rest my feet and take a look at the blister that is forming on the ball of my feet. Then I notice my toe, my god, my toe. Its hidden under this huge ball of puss and blister. “Its too late” the lady says of my blister. The only thing she offers is some spray all over my feet. I switch shoes and socks willing to try anything for a little relief and prepare to battle these last 12.5 miles.
Although it was too painful to run more than twenty steps at this point, I tried to maintain a brisk marching pace, keep the cadence up and just keep moving. It will all be over soon. I hope.
Having my father hiking behind me was a great help. While mountain trail running is generally a solitary and lonely pursuit, 100 milers aren’t quite so. While the racers get so spread out that in the later stage you can go a long time without seeing anyone, there is still an aid station every 7-8 miles and most people of a crew waiting at several of stations to help them out. In addition, many runners utilize a pacer for the last half. This is partially for runner safety, but also for motivation. And I was grateful to have my pacer for those last painful miles as I struggled to just keep moving.
As I crested a small hill I thought I could hear the faint echoes of music or a pa system. That music floating through the mountain air is always such a motivating relief pulling you in to that aid station just around the bend, and in the case that station was the end. The trees gave way to a large meadow that I instantly recognized and a warmth grew in my chest. Just across the meadow was the gates to the Al Bahr campground and though those gates on to the finish line! My march quickened as I began negotiating with myself the exact distance I would attmpt to run to the finish. I came to a reasonable number, but of course that flew out the window when I turned a corner and saw the finish line. I broke into an all out sprint, which at this point couldn’t have been more than a 12 minute mile pace, but I didn’t care and I couldn’t feel anything.
A small crowd had gathered and lined the last few meters. The crews of each runner and all the finished runners were there to cheer and push their comrades those last few steps. Then I crossed the finish line. Scott Mills, the race director was there to meet me with a high five and embrace (for support!) as I finally stopped moving. I was gassed and they could tell. “What do you need?” He inquired. “A chair.” Just like that I was finally sitting, for good. It was over. I had done it. 100 miles.
I sat in that chair dazed, consumed whatever was put in front of me and eventually moved a few feet to the medical tent where they cleaned and soaked my feet. It was great just to have those damn shoes off. I gave what energy I could to cheer on each new runner as they finished their race. But mostly I just sat there exhausted, starring out into oblivion. Damn, 100 miles.
The Pacific Crest Trail 50
I’m heading west. I’m heading towards California and the Laguna Mountains, just an hour drive east of San Diego for the Pacific Crest Trail 50 mile ultra-marathon. It will be my first 50 mile ultra-marathon.
Not only is it a trail race, but it also climbs a mountain, Mount Laguna. The first 12 miles climb 3000 feet up the mountain and the race is mostly run at altitude above 5000 feet. I plan on walking as much as I can! Here is the route: http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=5271311. At least it is an out and back so the final 12 miles will be downhill.
I’m excited and nervous, the trail is said to be one of the prettiest around and runs entirely along the Pacific Crest Trail – the west’s equivalent of the Appalachian Trail.
I’m also proud to be using this race to support the scholarship program of the Karen Elizabeth Huselid Foundation. The program provides college scholarships to talented students that have overcome challenges in achieving their goals. You can donate here: The Karen Elizabeth Huselid Foundation.
Lets Get It On!
Tucson Marathon 2012
Pain, anguish, blisters, and diarrhea are some of the things you prepare for when running a marathon. One thing you’d never expect is to be chased by herd of stampeding cattle. But this is exactly what happened to me at last week’s Tucson Marathon.
I had just past the ten mile mark of the marathon and made the left hand turn onto the out and back road that led to the Biosphere 2 dome. My pace was steady, maybe even a little too fast – I didn’t want to burn out at the end. The ache in my left hamstring had calmed down over the last few miles, but I expected it to scream back to life during this uphill section of the course. After making the turn the course crossed a cattle guard that had been covered by plywood and then made a slow ascent to the turn-around point.
Something moving through the brush on the left side of the road caught my eye. A small herd of cattle was running alongside the road not twenty feet away. Exhilarated and slightly frightened by this revelation I continued running and tried to point them out to fellow runners.
“Hey,” I called out. “We’re running with the bulls!” They couldn’t seem to hear me.
Just then the lead bull made a quick right turn and came stampeding directly towards me. In a panic I increased to a sprint. The herd hit the pavement just a moment after I was out of the crossing zone. Breathing a great sigh of relief I turned my head to watch the stampede cross the road. Fortunately the gap between me and the next runner was wide enough to let the cows through without killing anyone. In all the excitement one of the bulls slipped and went skidding across the road causing a massive cow pileup. Then just like that, they were gone into the undergrowth.
I managed to regain focus and finished the marathon with a new personal record. I had expected pain and delirium, but I never expected to find myself running with the bulls.