Monday, August 30, 2010

Deep Thoughts by GSisler

3 down, 1 to go…

Holy crap, that’s nuts. “All” that I have to do is run 100 miles 14 days from now (who’s counting) and I’m going to be done with the Grand Slam. I can’t tell you how excited I’m going to be if I’m able to finish the Wasatch 100, and I also can’t tell you how nervous I am about running the Wasatch. Why they decided that it would be a good idea to end the Grand Slam with a race that climbs 26,882ft. is a mystery to me, but they thought it was a good idea. Western State, VT and Leadville all have 30 hour cut-off times; Wasatch has a 36 hour cut-off. The record holder at Western States, Geoff Roes, ran it in 15:07:04, his record setting time at Wasatch, 18:30:55, or nearly 3.5 hours slower. So, using the same logic, I should be able to finish the Wasatch in 27:30, which would make me ecstatic! OK, on to the Leadville report, writing about Wasatch is scaring me.

I have never been as nervous about a race as I was heading into Leadville. To say that my recovery and training between VT and Leadville was poor would be an understatement. When I finished VT, I couldn’t walk, and it was more than just the normal my legs are sore inability to walk, I had strained a muscle in the back of my knee and it hurt to straighten the leg. I spent a ton of time in my PT’s office (Dr. Alex Callister 415-395-9955, he’s a magic man if you live in the city) stretching, massaging and trying to loosen up not only the knee, but also my calf. After a couple of weeks, I was hoping that I could run and start to stretch things out, when “trail work” bit me in the ass.

For three of the 100 milers, you have to do 8 hours of “volunteer” work on the trail. I put “volunteer” in quotes because it’s not really “volunteer” work if you have to do it. Plus, I like using quotation marks. The trail work that I was doing was clearing out trees so that people who were hiking could have a pretty view (what?!?). I don’t really think that this counts as trail work, since the trees were healthy, but this is what the forest ranger wanted us to do. Anyway, I managed to get some bad; bad poison oak, as did 6 out of the 8 people who were working on the trail. It was so bad that I went to go see my Dr. for the first time EVER (I don’t like Doctors, sorry Geno). He’s a friendly guy and when I left I had some steroids (not the good kind), some cream, and some pills to help me sleep at night. Needless to say, I lost another week of training as I focused on not scratching my skin off. When I finally got out to Colorado it had been 4 weeks since I had taken a running step, and one week later, I was going to try and run 100 miles on a knee/calf combo that I did not have a lot of faith in.

I got out to Colorado a week early as the Leadville 100 has a LOW elevation of 9,200 feet and climbs up to Hope Pass at 12,620ft. Plus, I got to hang out in Colorado with Cary, Mark, Bob and Amy for a week which is a lot of fun, so why wouldn’t I go out there early? It’s not the hilliest 100 miler as it climbs 15,600 ft over the full 100 miles and the majority of that is in 4 big climbs, but I’m used to being at 0ft, not 10,000 ft. Since the race-course is an out and back, I’d have to climb over Hope Pass at 12,620 ft. 2x and Sugarloaf Pass 2x as well. Just a few days before the race, I put my Heart Rate monitor on, and it was 20 beats higher than where it is if I’m at sea level. I was hoping that the week up at altitude would help me some, but I definitely would not be acclimatized after a week. If you are curious what it feels like, go and walk up a flight of stairs, but breathe through a straw, good time.

On to the race, as I’ve wasted a page of peoples time!

Leadville has its own unique challenges, beyond the fact that it’s at altitude. Probably the biggest issue for me was that there were only 11 aid stations for the entire race AND that going over Hope Pass, the weather can be a big, big issue. Vermont had nearly 30 aid stations and Western States has over 20 so it was going to take me a long time (up to 13.5 miles) between the aid stations. I decided to use my normal 2-20oz water bottles and I was hoping that it would be enough to get me through. Mark and Cary were going to be my crew/pacer and it was AWESOME to have them out there. Cary has run Leadville 2x and Mark has run it once so they both knew what I was in for.

The race started at 4am with a blast from a shot-gun, who does that? Scared the crap out of me, shot my heart rate to 200, and now I had to run 100 miles with crap in my pants. (Just kidding about the crap, but why use a shot-gun? It’s 4am?!? How about just saying go, or something not as loud as a shot gun?) I had worked my way near the front of the field as I knew that after about 5 miles, you get onto single-track and I didn’t want to be stuck behind everyone since the starting field was 647 people, but I still was going to use my Heart Rate as a base and not let it go above 150. Sure enough, about a half mile into the run, I was above 150 and was the ONLY person walking. 647 people and when I looked around (I could look because I was walking) I was the only one. A nice lady came over to me and said that I was smart to be walking, that it would pay off for me in the long term. Of course, she said this as she went running by me, so my thought was if it’s so smart, why aren’t you walking with me? The first 13.5 miles took me 2:33 minutes as I struggled, even on the flat/downhill to keep my Heart Rate below 150. Out of the 647 starters, I was in 486th place, so once again, I’d be running from the back of the field. I grabbed some more Gu’s and Clif Products from Cary and headed out for the next 10 mile section to the Fish Hatchery.

This is the section that I got mad at Charlie, Jon and Shawna. Now, they weren’t actually there in person, they were there in my head (scary place) and kept popping up on my shoulder, telling me to slow down. At one point, I took a swing at Charlie as he reminded me (much like he did at Silver State) that the goal was to finish, and no one ever wins a race in the first 25 miles, but a lot of people lose them. When he wasn’t yelling at me to listen to my Heart Rate, Jon or Shawna would pop up and remind me. It was good to have them along, but they were annoying. The 10 mile section was my first time up and over Sugarloaf Pass and what I noticed was that while I was moving slowly, I wasn’t getting passed by many people when I was walking. I took this as a good sign, because I can always descend, it’s just the climbing and flat stuff that I suck at. This 10 mile run to the Fish Hatchery took me 2:15, so despite the fact that I thought I was moving slowly, I had covered the first 23.5 miles in 4:49, so I was moving better than I would have guessed. I saw Cary again at the Fish Hatchery and then knew I wouldn’t see her until Twin Lakes, or about 40 miles into the race. She asked me about my legs and I was happy to report, that so far so good. Pre-race I was really, really scared that I was going to run for the first 30 miles and then have to walk the last 70, but up to this point, it was all good.

Fish Hatchery to Half Moon is around 7 miles and predominantly downhill from the Fish Hatchery Aid station which was really nice. I was able to stretch out the legs and run at a decent clip. By now, the weather had started to warm up, and the scenery running in Colorado is just beautiful. The legs were feeling good, and as I hit the Half-moon aid station and continued on to Twin Lakes, everything was going better than I would have ever hoped. Not having run/recovered as I would have liked to since the Vermont 100, if you had told me I would have hit the 40 mile mark in 8:14, I would have been ecstatic. I saw Cary again who once again fueled me up and gave me a jacket to wear up and over Hope Pass, just in case the weather turned bad.

The section from Twin lakes, mile 39.5 to Winfield, mile 50 is brutal. As you leave Twin Lakes, you hit the low point of the race at 9,200 ft. but then, by mile 45 you are at 12,620 ft. Needless to say, it’s steep, really, really steep. This part of the race profile looks like an EKG monitor. When I first came out to Colorado, we had hiked this section, so I would know what was coming for the race, but hiking it for “fun” and hiking it in the race are two different things. I think that this is the steepest, most prolonged climb that I have ever done in an ultra. It was also while climbing up Hope Pass that I saw the race leader, Anton Krupicka, who was just absolutely CRUSHING the race. I’ve never seen anyone with a bigger lead in an ultra than him. Unfortunately, he didn’t finish, but if you want to read a good race report from someone who appears to be very humble while being a great, great runner:

It was a long, slow climb up to the Hope Pass aid station, and I was very happy to get there. Mainly because it meant I was almost half way done, but also because they have lamas. They use Lamas to get all of the supplies up to the top of the mountain, and lamas are big, friendly furry horses (not like mean horses that scare me). One of them was shaved, like you would do to a poodle and made me laugh, so that was fun. On the way back, I’d tried to get Mark to take a photo of the lamas, but he would only yell at me and threaten to have a lama spit on me if I didn’t get going (more on that later). It’s also BEAUTFIUL at the top of Hope Pass, and that’s part of the reason that I do these runs. I get to see some really, really cool scenery and even though I was in the middle of a race, I paused to look around and take it in.

Once I finally hit Hope Pass, it was time for the descent and I was happy. I probably passed 20-30 people in the 5 mile descent. I have no idea why, but the descents are my friend. Over and over people warn me to slow down, that I’ll burn out my thighs, etc. but I just can’t run downhill slowly. I arrived at Winfield Aid station, half way done in 11:36:28 where I met up with Mark for the first time. The Leadville race is the only race that I have done where the pacers are allowed to carry stuff for you, which is AWESOME. I basically had my own lamas, so if the weather went bad, I was covered. I had made a decision on the way up Hope Pass the first time that I was going to use trekking poles and a backpack on the way back the second time to hopefully help my legs with the climb (this was an awful idea as my triceps haven’t been used since high-school and about 2 miles up the mountain, my arms gave out and I had to give the poles back to Mark). So I had my water-bottles and my cold weather gear in Mark’s pack and off we went, to climb Hope Pass for the second time.

Running with Mark is a lot of fun. He’s similar to me that he likes to make fun of other people and isn’t very good at filtering his thoughts, he’s kind of like British Mark. Once it hits his mind, it then comes out his mouth, which I appreciate, but I’m sure people around us didn’t find us nearly as funny as we thought we were.

Example A: Climbing up Hope Pass for the second time and I’m not feeling very good. My stomach has started to turn (too much sugar from all the Powerade) but I know that I have to keep on eating with 50 miles still left to run. Mark runs through a variety of different Gels that he is carrying for me, and a fellow runner comments that Mark gets an A+ for pacing because of the variety of Gels. Marks reply, was that if he was really a good pacer, he’d have a variety of beers to offer me, which I think is funny because I like beer and now instead of thinking about how much pain I’m in, I’m thinking about yummy beer. Apparently, our running buddy didn’t find it funny because he gave Mark a look that said, why would you have beer with you on a run? Now, most people would realize that this guy doesn’t have a great sense of humor and we should move on, but not Mark, or me, which then prompted the next sequence of events while discussing the Vibram 5 fingers that Mark is running in. No… I’m not making this up, I wish I was, but this is exactly what was said after Mark told him that he liked running in the Vibram 5 fingers.

Random Runner: "They pinch my little guy"

Mark: "did you say 'it pinches your little guy?'"

Me “you aren't supposed to put them on your penis"

Random Runner: "I'll show you how big my little guy is" and he went storming off up the mountain.

Apparently, he didn’t find us funny, which was good because it gave Mark and me something to laugh about for the next hour and even today while writing this I cracked up. Yes, I still have the mentality of a 6 year old, but that’s a good thing when running 100 miles. I mean, who says “they pinch my little guy???” Was he talking about his pinky toe?

We make it up to the top of Hope Pass and now we get to head back down the mountain towards Twin Lakes. This point to me was the crux of the race because the largest and hardest part is now behind me. It’s also when I realize that Mark is going to make sure that I finish the race in less than 25 hours. Whenever I’d slow down, he’d yell “Giddy up!” and I was afraid that he’d beat me with a trekking pole (he never did, but he might have). At one point I asked if I could start running at the next tree, to which he then put the trekking pole in front of me (like a racing gate) and said ready, GO! And then “opened” the gate to signify that no, I had to start running then. I’m not sure why, but for some reason, my legs would always just start running, like a well trained monkey. I came back to Twin Lakes in a time of 3:21:37, which was amazing when I look back at it because the same part going the other way took me 3:21:36. Yeah… that’s consistent.

At Twin Lakes Mark and Cary switch and now I get to run with Cary. I also switch from the Inov8 X-Talon 212’s and into the Inov8 RocLite 295. It’s kind of like going from a Ferrari, to a Cadillac. The first one is a lot faster, but the second one if comfy, safe and in a collision, it would win. That was exactly my thinking as I wasn’t lifting my feet quite high enough and I was kicking a lot of rocks. As I’d kick them, I’d think Cadillac; and also was thankful that having lost most of my nails, it didn’t really matter what I kicked. So with a new dry shirt, a new pair of socks and shoes, I was off and ready to go.

Cary and I have run, walked, stumbled, etc a lot together as we were on the same adventure racing team and she knows how to pace me. She just kind of runs next to me, or ahead of me, and if I slow down too much, asks me if I think it’s a good idea to run. While Mark likes to use a stick, Cary likes to use a carrot and rewards we with walking breaks, but only if I run to a certain point. As we are returning along the same route that I have already run, I know what’s coming up. I also realize that if I can just keep going at 4mph for the rest of the way, I might be able to pull out a 25 hour run. These thoughts are HORRIBLE to have at this point in the race and yet, I’m thinking about them. I quickly try to get it out of my mine because even though I’ve run for 15 hours, I still have 10 hours to go and a lot can happen! I hit Half-moon Aid station in 1:51 or 10 minutes slower than the trip out.

Aid stations are a weird and wonderful place in ultras. I love them. You know that you are going the right direction and you know that your crew is going to be there. Seeing Mark/Cary at the aid stations is such a lift each time, and then you get more food, water, and just the energy from the people is great. Plus, Cary has this great, HUGE smile no matter what is going on, so that always cheers me up. So while I’m happy because I know I’m going the right direction and I get to see my friends, you see your fellow runners and some of them looked bad, really bad, at this point. It’s like a Mash unit out there with people sleeping on cots, vomiting, limping, etc. You’re all excited to be there, but then you see the walking dead and it reminds you that a lot can go wrong in a very short time. Luckily, and probably because I started out so slowly, I’m running nearly identical splits to my times on the way out. After leaving Half-moon I get to Fish Hatchery only 2 minutes slower than my trip out, and for the first time, I start to think that sub 25 can happen (before I thought about sub 25, but now I’m thinking that it can happen. It’s small, but there is a difference). I’m 76.5 miles into the race after 18:35 of running and this is always the point in a race, well, mile 74 is that I remind myself that if Oprah can run a marathon in under 6 hours, so can I, no matter how tired I am.

Mark picks me up at Fish Hatchery and is going to run me back to the Tabor Boat ramp, which is half-way between May Queen and the finish. The problem is that I have to climb up and over Sugar-Loaf again, and after 80 miles or running, my legs don’t really want to do that. Plus, my mind is starting to play tricks on me and I keep thinking that the moon is a headlamp wanting to pass me. The good news is that it’s a beautiful moon; the bad news is that I think it’s a headlamp, apparently on the head of the world’s largest man. I also see a polar bear run across the trail, to which Mark replies, Global Warming. I stumble my way up to the top of Sugar Loaf and as we crest the top, I get a Giddy-up! from Mark and we’re off and running. It’s really a lot of fun running at night (minus the hallucinations) as the weather is cooler and you’re running… well at night. As is the case in most ultras, once I get over the top and can start to run downhill everything is better. I get into May Queen in 2:49 (35 min slower than on the way out) and I now have 13.5 miles to the finish and 3:36 to achieve my goals.

The last 13.5 miles was great, and sucked all at the same time. The first 6.5 was with Mark and by the time he passed me off to Cary for the last 7 miles, I knew that I had sub 25 in the bag. Mark had poked and prodded me just enough to make sure that assuming that I didn’t trip, go off course or just do something dumb (which I could definitely do) I was going to make sub 25. With this knowledge in mind, Cary and I walked, we walked a lot. We actually walked the final 3 miles which was great to do. A couple of local runners were with us and when they told me that I only had 3 miles to go (with and hour left) and I knew that no matter what happened, I would make it. I didn’t care what place I came in, my feet and legs hurt and I just didn’t want to run anymore. Knowing that I could just walk the rest of the way and still finish in less than 25 hours was a very, very nice. Yes, 6-8 people passed me, but I didn’t care, plus I could just tell myself that they didn’t have another 100 miler in a few weeks. I did what I wanted to do, AND since they had all passed me, when I crossed the finish line, I was all alone for the photo, 24:39:53 J