Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Black Hills 100 Race Report

Well... I finished! One hundred miles. (Technically I think the course was even more like 106 or 107 miles, but hey, who's counting?) The good news is that I am still alive and in possession of my first 100 mile finishers "belt buckle". Woo hoo. Yo Adrian, I did it.

Here's a link the official results. I finished 10th overall, 3rd in my age group, with a time of 29:17:46. I triumphantly shuffled across the finish line side-by-side with another runner, Randy Kottke who I hooked up with for the last 6 miles or so. I'm not sure I would have made it to the finish without the company and support of Randy and his pacer Miles. Thanks so much guys!

I'm so thankful to have finally achieved my goal of running 100 miles (even if technically I hiked almost as much as I ran). Wow, it feels great. But it definitely wasn't easy. In fact it was easily the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. There were several times, particularly during the night, alone on a dark mountain, where I questioned whether I was a complete idiot -- and whether I would ever make it to the finish line at  the Woodle field track in Sturgis.

As I stumbled along, alone on the dark mountain at 3:30 in the morning, I had quite a few interesting conversations with myself (and my various body parts). It went something like this:

Me: "John, you can do it. Just keep moving. Don't stop."
Feet: "Oh hey, a nice big, flat rock. It looks so soft and comfortable. Let's lay down and rest."
Me: "What hell are you guys doing? Get up! You can't sleep on a rock. Get up you fools!"

Legs: "We're tired. We're cramping up. We can't possibly go 30 more miles. We will never make it."
Me: "Everyone else is hurting just as bad. Nobody has passed you in hours. You're still in the top 10. You're doing great. Just keep moving."

Stomach: "Um... hey idiot, you forgot to feed me. I'm starving. Blood sugar, plummeting. Muscle glycogen, depleted. Liver glycogen, depleted. All systems shutting down."
Me: "No, no. Switch to emergency reserves! Start burning body fat. Hang in there, there's another aid station only an hour away."

Keith Straw in his Sunday finest
Image credit: Action Sports Images
Somehow, despite my exhausted, condition, I managed to win the conversation and convince my feet, legs, and stomach to all keep chugging along. I might be exhausted, but I wasn't delirious. At least my brain was still working. After all, it wasn't like I was hallucinating seeing imaginary forest creatures (elves, trolls, fairies, or goblins) bounding along the trail. And then it happened...

I heard a noise and looked behind me expecting to see a bird or a squirrel, or some other standard woodland creature. But no, there it was. A large pink fairy floating along the trail. Clearly I had been out running in the woods too long. Or maybe I shouldn't have eaten those tasty looking mushrooms that I found growing alongside the trail. Luckily, as it turned out I wasn't hallucinating or having a toxic reaction to poisonous mushrooms. It was just veteran ultra-runner Keith Straw passing along, dressed in his Sunday finest.

I had passed Keith earlier in the evening, around 9:00 pm, just around the time a few of us runners had got caught in a fierce lightening storm on top of the mountain, followed by an even fiercer hail storm on the way down the mountain. I was glad to see that he had survived the onslaught of hail and lightening on top of the mountain.

At the time of the storm, I had debated taking shelter under some trees and trying to wait out the storm. But that strategy quickly lost its appeal after about thirty seconds of sitting around in just a cold, wet tee shirt. Clearly I had to keep moving if I wanted to avoid an unwelcome visit from my old acquaintance, hypothermia. Instead I had opted to turn on the jets and throw in some 7 minute miles, racing down the mountain trying to stay a few steps ahead of the lightening strikes and grape-sized missiles of icy hail falling from the sky.

Hail on the track at the finish line
Image credit: Action Sports Images
While I like to think that I managed to outrun the storm down the mountain, I think in reality it simply blew past me on it's own. But in any case, I made it down off the mountain alive, thankful to see the poncho-clad crew huddled underneath the canopy at the next aid station. They refilled my bottles, gave me some warm chicken noodle soup, and refused to let me leave until I had stuffed my pockets with enough food (gels, bananas, and sandwiches) to carry me through the next 8 miles.

Normally I am a pretty self-sufficient runner and can get by in a 50 mile or 50K race with just a couple of drop bags. But there is no doubt in my mind that I wouldn't have finished without the help of all the wonderful aid station volunteers. They were just amazing. Each time we arrived at an aid station an aid station volunteer would already be standing there with our drop bag in their hand waiting for us. I never had to refill my own water bottles. And when I got to the point where I could no longer bare the thought of chocking down another energy gel packet they made me some delicious grilled cheese sandwiches that really hit the spot.

Aside from the lightening storm and the hail storm on the mountain, the rest of the race was pretty uneventful. It was just a matter of keeping the legs moving and slogging it out. The last 14 miles seemed like an eternity as I was basically reduced to a slow shuffle, hobbling along on my blistered feet. And then, at about 10 miles to go I felt one of the blisters pop, followed by a squishing sound, followed by burning pain. I immediately sat down on a rock, took my shoes off and went to work trying to salvage what was left of my water-logged, blistered feet.

Just then another runner, Randy Kottke and his pacer Miles caught up to me. They asked if I was OK and offered me some duct tape (to tape up my feet). I thanked them and told them to go on ahead. After a few minutes of resting on the rock and tending to my feet I felt good enough to start walking again. Occasionally I could hear Randy and Miles talking, and once and a while I would catch sight of them working their way down the switchbacks. It was a nice feeling to know that I wasn't completely alone out there. I was definitely feeling better and did my best to try and catch up to those guys.

I finally caught up with Randy and Miles just before the last aid station with 6 miles to go. We agreed to stick together and work as a team to try and see if we could cover the last 6 miles in under two hours. I'm not sure if we did make it back in less than 2 hours or not, but to be honest I didn't care. I was just happy to have some company. Honestly, I think that without those guys, I might have just sat down on a rock somewhere and taken a nap for a couple of hours. Anyway, there were definitely a couple of tears in my eyes when the finish line finally came into sight!

Randy and I did our best to ignore the pain and "run" the final victory lap around the Woodle field track. I'm sure it was probably the slowest 400 meters ever recorded in the history of the world, but I was savoring every second of it. Each painful step brought a smile to my face. This was what I came for! I definitely savored the moment. The only the only thing better would have been if my wife, family, and friends could have enoyed the moment it with me (because they're all been a big part of my running and I'm thankful for them).
My feet have seen better days
Image credit: Action Sports Images

Seconds after finishing we were sitting on the grass next to the track having a cold beer. It was all so surreal. Here we had been running for over 29 hours straight, and now it was suddenly over. Mission accomplished. I had never been so happy to take my shoes and socks off. Though I have to admit, my feet were definitely not a pretty sight. They looked like the feet of a zombie, or as my cousin Julie later remarked, a bit like a 3D topographical relief map.

I'd like to say that I'll come back to the Black Hills and do the race again sometime. But right now the thought of running another hundred miler makes me want to hide my head under a pillow and cry. Let's see how I'm feeling (and how my feet are looking) three weeks from now when I'm scheduled to run my second 100 miler up in Lake Tahoe at the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Mile endurance run.

Monday, June 20, 2011

100 Miles?

On Friday I will fly to the Black Hills of South Dakota where I plan to run in the inaugural Black Hills 100 endurance race on Saturday, June 25.

No pacer. No crew. No drama. Just me. The voices in my head. The spirit of Crazy Horse at my back and beneath my feet. And 100 miles of remote, rugged mountain trail.

I'm not going in cocky, but I'm not going in scared either. I fully plan to respect the distance and the effort required to finish. But I know that I've done the work and put in the training. Now I'm ready to run.

Things are going to get tough. At some point I will undoubtedly find myself sitting on the ridge of a mountain in the middle of the night, cold and wet, during a lightening storm wondering what the hell I am doing out here?

And that's when I will pull out my pocket mirror, look myself in the face and repeat the manta that seven-time Western States winner Scott Jurek made famous, "This is what you came for."


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

San Lorenzo River 50K Race Report

Running among the redwoods
Those of you who read my blog regularly (all 5 of you) know that on Friday I almost had to go to the hospital ER with severe leg pain. I thought it might be an embolism, a pinched spinal nerve, or perhaps some kind of alien death ray weapon. As it turns out, my chiropractor, Dr. Kristina Irvin, was able to get me straightened out. While she performed a variety of treatments including chiropractic adjustment, massage, electrical stimulation, and ultrasound, she basically diagnosed me with cramps due to an electrolyte imbalance and recommended that I take some supplemental calcium. Sure enough, a couple hours after taking some calcium-magnesium-zinc pills the pain gradually eased and then completely subsided.

I took Saturday off completely just to make sure everything was OK and to give myself a rest day before the Coastal Train Runs - San Lorenzo River 50K that I was already signed up to run on Sunday morning. I was planning to play it by ear depending on how my legs felt during the day and evening on Saturday. Everything seemed fine, so on Sunday morning I woke up, slipped into my running gear and drove up over the mountain from San Jose to Santa Cruz.

Crossing the River
The race starts in Santa Cruz at Harvey West Park and takes you through a beautiful redwood forest alongside (and through) the San Lorenzo River. You actually cross the river midstream four times during the 50K course. The water is only about waist high (perhaps shoulder high if you are on the shorter side) and it's not moving too fast, but it's still a challenge -- especially towards the end of the race when you already have 28 miles under your legs. Luckily the race director was kind enough to string a rope across to provide some assistance. Though in the interest of full disclosure, I still managed to find myself completely submerged under water during each crossing (and not all of them by my own choice).

I didn't really have any personal aspirations for this particular race other than to finish without killing myself or pushing too hard. With my 100 miler coming up in just two weeks, I basically just wanted to get in one last long(ish) training run before the big day. Considering my recent cramping problems, and having just raced 50 miles the previous weekend at Rancho Cañada del Oro and Calero Park, I just wanted to run smart and easy today.

Although I had planned to go out slow and conservatively, I somehow found myself tucked in between Quicksilver Ultra Racing teammate Adam Blum and Über-triathlete Lauren Swigart (both of whom were doing the shorter 30K event). Adam and I stayed together for much of the first half of the race, taking turns doing the work. Running as a team we managed to successfully follow the course markings while many of the other front runners apparently took a wrong turn and ended up running part of the course backward.

Anyway, somewhere around mile 13 I started to pull away from Adam a bit and found myself running alone. I knew there were still a few runners ahead of me, but I wasn't sure how many of them were doing the shorter distances (1/2 marathon, 30K and marathon) and how many (if any) were doing the 50K. So I was pleasantly surprised when aid station volunteers informed me that I was the first 50k runner to come through the aid station. Sweet!

Now the pressure was on. I had the lead, but could I keep it? And if I could hold on for the win, would I also be able to better the course record of 5:07:21 set by Mark Dowds in 2010? Suddenly my plans to run conservatively evaporated. I found myself ratcheting up the pace ever so slightly and running some hills that I would have probably otherwise walked. I wasn't sure how much of a lead I had, but based on my rudimentary calculations (OK, based on my trusty Garmin Forerunner 310XT ; I suck at trying to do math while running) I was pretty sure I would take at least 10 minutes off the existing course record if I held my pace.

Woo hoo!
Luckily it was all smooth sailing to the finish line. Well, aside from getting stung twice on the neck twice by bees and almost nearly drowning myself in a mere four feet of water during the final river crossing. But luckily I survived to tell the tale and took home the win and a new course record, finishing in first place with a time of 4:48:41.

Congrats to second place finisher Jason Serda came in shortly afterwards in 4:57:41. And congratulations also to 64 year-old Quicksilver Ultra Racing teammate Jim Magil who finished strong in the middle of the field -- running on a torn miniscus! Man, you're a stud Jim.

Here's a link to the official results, and here are my Garmin stats.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Things That Hurt Like Heck

I'm making a list of things that hurt. Or more specifically I'm making a list of painful things I've experienced at some point in my life, along with the corresponding degree of pain on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being mildly annoying and 10 being so-painful-you-pass-out-or-die.
  • Sat through dozens of hours of being tattooed -- mildly irritating (1.5 on a scale of 1 - 10)
  • Broke my big toe after dropping 50 pound steel desk on foot in 5th grade -- slight achy pain for a few weeks (3 on a scale of 1 - 10)
  • Hyper-extended my elbow incurred during Judo tournament in college -- hurt like heck for weeks (6 on a scale of 1 - 10)
  • Broke my pointer finger and got kicked in the balls (simultaneously) during an impromptu drunken kickboxing sparring match in the hallway of my apartment in college -- steady throbbing intense pain for several months (7.5 on a scale of 1 - 10)
  • Severe inner thigh cramps -- holy !@# that hurts, make it stop, make it stop, (12 on a scale of 1 - 10)
I've never experienced childbirth, though I hear it's quite painful. However, I've heard from women who have delivered children without pain-killer drugs, and who have also experienced severe inner thigh cramps, and they agree that the thigh cramps are far worse than childbirth. It's true, Google it!

So, why do I mention this and what does it have to do with running? Well, late Thursday night I was woken up out of my sleep several times by the worst God-awful pain you can imagine. Each time I thought I was possibly going to die. I was fairly certain that someone had broken into the house and stabbed me in the leg with a rusty ice pick. It hurt! Then the pain would suddenly disappear and would I fell back asleep. When I woke up in the morning my leg actually felt fine, so I hoped that perhaps it had all just been a bad dream.

But no, somewhere around lunchtime the shocking, tear-inducing cramps returned. I fell to the floor, clutched my thigh, cursed like an angry pirate, and cried for my mommy. Each burst of shooting, searing, pulsing pain would last for about 5 seconds. But what it lacked in duration, it made up for in intensity. I seriously considered going to the emergency room! But instead I did the next best thing and called my ER Doctor running buddy Joe who was at the hospital. He assured me that I wasn't dying of a blood clot, and that it probably wasn't even a hernia -- just some leg cramps.

So, feeling fairly confident that I wasn't going to die, I was still worried that it might be some kind of pinched nerve or compressed spinal disks. So I texted my chiropractor, Dr. Kristina Irvin, a fellow ultra-marathoner who has finished dozens (hundreds?) or hundred mile runs. If anyone could fix me and get me running again, it would be her. She told me to come in. She did some "stim" treatment on my legs with electrodes and what looked like a car battery. She performed some ultrasound on my lower back (good news, I'm not pregnant). And she adjusted my back and gave me a little massage. I stood up from the table feeling like a new man.

Seconds later the cramps struck again and grabbed a door jam to keep from crumbling to the floor. Not good! However, Dr. Irvin did mention that I might have an electrolyte imbalance (I'd gotten really dehydrated on a run two days prior) and suggested I take some supplemental calcium and magnesium. So I went home and popped a couple of Hammer Nutrition Enduralyte pills and drank some Coconut water. And the cramps mysteriously eased up.

So, now the question is, are they really gone or are they just lurking, waiting to strike in a moment of weakness? Would I be able to run the Lorenzo River 50K on Saturday as I was planning as a last tune-up race before my 100 miler on June 25?

To be continued....

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Rancho Cañada del Oro and Calero Park 50 Mile

Saturday, June 4th I ran the Rancho Cañada del Oro and Calero Park 50 Mile, an inaugural event put on by Troy's California Trail Runs. Rancho Cañada and Calero are actually two of my favorite places to run in the Bay Area. These two adjoining parks are real hidden gems, at least among trail runners (the parks are both quite well known to equestrians).

I had really been looking forward to this event for weeks, ever since early May wheny  I wimped out and dropped out of the Quicksilver 50M race at the 50K mark due to some stomach issues. Rancho/Calero was going to be my chance to prove to myself that Quicksilver was just a fluke bad day, and that I was indeed capable of easily running a 50 miler. And with my 100 miler fast approaching at the end of June, I desparately needed to know that I could knock out a 50 miler with no problem if I was to have any shot a finishing a full 100. Yikes.

So when I woke up at 4:30 am Saturday morning and saw pouring rain outside, I didn't allow myself to flinch. Wimping out and going back to bed was not an option. I needed to go out there and do a full day's work; I needed to take care of business.

You can imagine my surprise and panic when I arrived at the park in the morning and there were only a handful of cars and no race registration tent or banner. I wondered if perhaps the race had been cancelled? But no, it turns out there were only a handful of people crazy enough to come out and run all day in the rain and mud. Despite the horrible weather the race director Troy did a great job of getting things started nearly on time (we had to wait a few minutes for some last minute race-day registrants who showed up just as the gun was about to go off).

Among the 7 or so runners loitering around the parking lot I saw my Quicksilver teammate (and team coach) Greg Lanctot. Greg had come out to run the 32 Mile  race, hoping for an age group win (or perhaps an overall win) depending on who else was crazy enough to show up for a small, out-of-the-way, local race in miserable rainy conditions. Unfortunately for Greg, three-time Tevis Cup horse racing winner Jeremy Reynolds showed up, and even without this horse he was able to runaway with the win in the 32 Mile race. However, Greg did manage to hold off third-place finisher Tim Koska, bringing home a 2nd place overall finish (and the age group win).

The 50 Mile was slightly less competitive with only two crazy runners toughing out the miserable conditions to complete the full 50 miles. I crossed the finish line first in a time of 9:30:22, while 61 year old Dan Maguire crushed the rest of the field to finsih in second with a time of 12:57:00. Technically I am now the "course record holder" since this was the first year this event was run, and hence my time is (at least for a year) the fastest time on record. Ha. Though technically I probably should have been disqualified since I missed one turn where the mud had washed away the course markings and ended up cutting the course short by 1/2 mile or so.

Anyway... it was long morning of rain, mud, and hills. At one point the sun came out briefly, just long enough to give me a quick sunburn on my forehead. And then it was back to more rain and more mud (the hills never left). The highlight of the day was probably when my wife met me at mile 40 to cheer me on. She even sucked it up and ran a couple of miles in the mud with me, including one river crossing.

The other "highlight" of the day was when I literally almost ran into a couple of skunks as I was flying down a steep hill. I came screeching to a halt just fast enough to avoid getting sprayed in the face with skunk juice. And then, much to my surprise, the mother skunk actually started chasing me back up the hill. WTF? Luckily she wasn't much of an ultra runner and gave up after a few feet. And I come home still smelling like roses! Well, I probably smelled bad enough after 9 hours of sweat, but at least I didn't get spritzed with Aud De Parfum O' Skunk.

Here's a link to the official results and there are my Garmin stats.