Sunday, September 30, 2012

For the fun of it...

Week Summary (9/30/12)


Carson River Flats: 5.1 mi (+12 ft); 8:49 pace
Ophir Grade OB: 6.0 mi (+669 ft); 9:48 pace

Weekly Totals:  11.2 mi (+680 ft); 11:44:15 on trail

Just an easy week with some fun spins on a couple trail favorites. Feeling great and ready to move into the fall training regime. Upcoming week in Denver for work, so it won't be a running week much at all. I can only say I'll be jonesing to go, mind and machine.

Dennis and Mary hitting the road next weekend at the St. George Marathon, their first at that distance. Your targets are good, keep to the plan, and don't think about the distance. Just keep going, smooth and steady; the beautiful rewards are all your own. Do good...

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Taking it Easy

Week Summary (9/23/12)


Emma Quarry OB: 5.7 mi (+485 ft); 9:31 pace

Weekly Totals:  5.7 mi (+485 ft); 0:53:51 on trail

First run after getting some recovery time after Pine to Palm. Felt great to be in motion and, given the conditions of last weekend, the first run of Autumn felt appropriately cool and breezy.

I've been looking back on the DNQ sharing insights with other participants, especially Rick, who was pulled at the same time I was. We can learn from the setback, regardless of our opinions surrounding the call and Dutchman, and move forward. Over the next few weeks I will continue with some easy runs, getting the mind and machine ready for the training ahead. The Buffalo 100 on Antelope Island next March is the focus.  IWWD.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Don't tell me what I can't do...

Pine to Palm 100 Race Report
Pine to Palm IS fun (Mile 20)

Occasionally, walking around during the week, sitting at my desk, and/or re-telling the adventure, I get really pissed off. I passes quickly enough, though I'd like to bottle it for future motivation. You see, I got pulled from the Pine to Palm 100 at the Dutchman Peak Aid Station (Mile 65) at 2 AM, 20 hours into the race. The events leading up to the DNF can be easily summarized -- a slow rough patch between Mile 29 and 36, water worries, and aggressive cut-off times. Nevertheless, it was a DNQ not DNF; I did not quit. But let's go back a day.

Darren, Tim Long, and I arrived on Friday with my wonderful crew (Desna and Jim Carter) in Grants Pass, Oregon, in the mid-afternoon. Squinting at the temperature, 95+, we jogged for a short shakeout to overcome the inertia of the drive from Reno. The heat was almost unbearable as we navigated the streets near our hotel. Our constant motion then continued as we drove towards the little town of Williams for the pre-race meeting and dinner. It was cool to meet Hal Koerner, Scott Jurek, Erik Skaggs, and several of the participants as we hung around the Pacifica Gardens building.

I picked up my bib number (143) and swag bag and was weighed in. While we ate, Hal, the Race Director, gave a brief run-down of the course and expectations. There were lots of warnings about the heat and water use; little did I know. We clarified things for the crew and headed out into the growing dark. A quick drive up to Williams and toward North Fork road provided a glimpse of the start area for the next morning.

That 4 AM Saturday morning came early is obviously redundant, but I'd slept well and yet I felt a little run-down from yesterday's heat. With everything ready we headed into the dark morning to find the start line. Once at North Fork Road we parked and hiked up to the start tent to check-in. Following ritual use of the blue-room we strolled back toward the start-line only to hear the 5-second countdown end as we were still 100 yards or so away.  We tossed the jackets to Des and made our way through the on-lookers, not losing any real time and maybe better for not having to stand around in anticipation. Though it was still dark, the pre-dawn was enough that I didn't need my headlamp as I wished Darren good luck and we strolled up the steep road. The journey had begun.

And the road continued upward and upward. I jogged a little, power-hiked a lot. It was hard to get a rhythm, but little groups formed and split as we made our way up the pavement to the trailhead. I almost missed the trailhead barely catching a glimpse of the flagging on the trail post. A few failed to buy-in that this was indeed the trail, but I yelled back once a couple more flags confirmed we were indeed correctly navigating our first of much great single-track.

Grayback Summit
It's oh so nice to start with a 5,000-foot climb! It was lots of hiking mixed in with a little bit of sprinting as a bee-swarm pursued a few of us. The summit was fantastic with excellent views toward the hills and canyons of the coming day. We dropped quickly, probably too quickly in my case, and on some of the steepest downhill section I've yet to experience in an event. I hit the O'Brien AS (Mile 18) about 15 minutes behind my target (though now I think I was a bit too aggressive here). One of the great volunteers grabbed my pack and soon informed me that I hadn't consumed nearly enough water for 18 miles. I didn't think much of it, but he was certainly correct.

I regained time on the steady downhill to Steamboat Ranch where Jurek and friends had a station waiting for us. I felt great though I could really feel the heat building. I was exactly on my splits and spent little time in the station. I shifted to dad's methodology of running periods broken by walks, keeping close to my targets but trying to rest what I felt where growing echoes of the steep downhill that morning. The fenceline trail around the Applegate area surprised me and I tired a bit more than I expected as a worked my way above the Seattle Bar Aid Station (Mile 28). We crossed into California for a few minutes and then back downstream to the station. Des and Jim were there to meet me. It was 12:28, the beginning of the end.

Knowing that my legs were feeling the morning, I grabbed my poles before heading out. This was a climb to be reckoned with. Different than the drawn-out gains of other areas of the course, at times, the climb to Stein Butte seemed almost vertical. It was a combination of the growing heat and lack of the forest cover; there was little shade on the rocky trail. Under other circumstances I would have loved this setting, and it wasn't terrible, I simply could not get going. Soon my water was gone, I'd consumed 70 ounces in a couple hours and was still well short of the Stein Butte aid. I passed a few and was passed by several others.

Things got worse at the oasis that wasn't. Stein Butte was basically out of water. The volunteers looked nervous and, soon, I did too. Empty blue containers surrounded us, but the volunteer held only a half-gallon jug partially filled with water, the last drops in the desert.  There were more "runners" behind me but little promise of getting more water to the station very soon. I took what he would give and left. Their food offering looked great, but my new worries (for myself and those behind) made me march on. A little ways down the road I ran into a struggling comrade who was totally dry. We rather harshly discussed our predicament and scorned the information we'd received about the "all downhill" or "just follow the road" to water at Squaw Lakes. That's 6 miles in mid-90 degree temperatures after having done 30 miles and losing confidence in our situation. I knew it wasn't "all road, all downhill." I didn't want to miss the turn toward the Squaw Lake single-track. I split my remaining water with the dry guy, as he simply sat down in the road refusing to move. (He'd finish in under 31 hours, so I guess it rejuvenated him eventually). Because of my concerns, I walked. Of course my legs hurt but my hesitancy mostly surrounded my lack of water.

But then the cavalry arrived. Hal came tearing up the hill and performed what I believe is the fastest water fill I've ever seen. I held my complaints as he promised to extend the cut-off times to allow us to re-hydrate. Soon I was turning onto the single track and headed down to Squaw Lake, but I couldn't overcome the lethargy of the afternoon so it took me awhile to get to the lake.

The cut-off had indeed been extended and Jim encouraged me to get going on my lap around Squaw Lake. Darren was two and a half hours ahead of me. By the time I returned to the station the cut-off time had barely passed. I checked-in and inquired whether I could continue. Foolish, don't ask, don't tell. But the super-helpful volunteer simply looked at me and said, "Don't let me see you standing here." Can I change my shoes? "Don't let me see you standing here." Des grabbed me. Oh, I get it. A change of socks and some clean feet and I was back at it. Probably in dead last place now given the cut-off and empty aid station. It was 6:08 PM.

I climbed toward the Little Grayback Trailhead and actually passed someone. Soon I heard voices in the trees as I climbed on a beautiful wooded two-track road. The water-only aid station was close so I kept the re-hydration going. When I turned the bend at the trail I was met with three empty water coolers. You gotta be kidding me. I've put myself in this bad spot due to my slower-than-expected pace all afternoon, but the map says water, and there ought to be some water. I'm probably ok because the day is cooling and it's only five miles to the next full service station, but maybe I'm late enough that that station is now gone. That's what I started thinking.

However, I felt pretty good all-in-all. I gained on the voice and eventually caught a small group of four. The water guy and some others. It was steady climbing but I was able to keep it under 20-minute miles and soon I was at Hanley Gap though now it was dark. I got to the flag in relatively good time and after a brief rest to tape my IT-band, I was heading up the road to Squaw Creek Gap. My pace improved again, though this section had less climbing that the previous segment. The Squaw Creek station was out of soup or other hot foods but that's fine, at least I had water. Again, I felt pretty good and thought I was moving ok.

I continued the climb toward Dutchman Peak were I again met Rick Rochelle, a veteran of 12 100-milers and Director for NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) Professional Training where he trains astronauts and others for teamwork and expedition experience. I'd run away from him earlier as he was recovering from cramps but he kept moving steadily onward. He'd passed me in the aid station so now we jogged together. As we pulled up the last climb into Dutchman Peak we were moving pretty good. But Craig Thornley (Western States Director) pulled us aside to inform us that we had missed the 2 AM cut-off and that "race management" said we could not continue. It was 2:01, but we still had the out-and-back to Dutchman Peak (easier than the flag back at Hanley) to meet that actual cut-off. Thornley's reputation had led me to understand that he believed in letting runners continue and even encouraged them to do so, wanting folks to push themselves and succeed. But here he was cutting-off two guys ready to continue, and we'd actually jogged up to him. Come on. We've got 14 hours for 35 miles and much of that is down (though the climb to Wagner Butte loomed ahead). No dice, rules are rules. My race was over.

As I climbed into the truck with my crew, Darren was just beginning his climb to Wagner, he'd been slowed by growing IT pain. It was so bad, in fact, that he'd grabbed tree limbs to act as trekking poles. They'd accompany him until they were ceremonially tossed away at the finish line. We'd wait in Ashland, hoping with each new runner that he'd emerge from the hills. And he finally did. Looking like a man who'd just wandered 100 miles in the forest, well, way worse. He backed down the steep, grassy hill to the finish. Tossing the sticks aside, he passed under the arch in 27:58:03. Intrepid to the end, never giving up, the essence of the Young Mountain Runners. Awesome.

Of course, I would have caught him. OK, it's laughingly certain that that was unlikely. And yet, I'm confident I would have reached Ashland within the cut-off time. My splits were improving and my confidence had returned. In my previous 100 at San Diego, the dawn had brought some good form as I climbed the final ascents (similar in most regards) late in that event. When I was cut-off, a group of runners I was familiar with continued, having captured the Butte's flag prior to the cut-off (probably 40 minutes ahead of me), I could see them leaving the station. These folks finished between the 30- and 31-hour point, with almost 3 hours to spare before the final cut-off. I'd of been there.

"Wilderness" ultra-running requires being prepared for the unexpected. Being at the back of the pack means dealing with the dregs at aid stations. I accept that and would want it no other way. The challenge is the reason I'm here, testing, solving, moving forward...  But water stops are vital elements, even in the remotest outback. I plan routes with water at the fore-front. If my map shows a canyon with a spring, I pick that one over the one without. The water station (aid or otherwise) is a point on the map and I've planned accordingly. I understand if I wander into the aid station and it's missing a lot of things because I'm the last in line. However, water should not be a variable in an organized event. I love the attitude and personality of Pine to Palm and give kudos to Hal and everyone for the challenging course and the ultra experience. But if you give me a map of water points, give me the water. And give me a chance to finish when the other variables of the day have conspired against me; I mean, don't tell me what I can't do.

Thanks so much to Desna and Jim for their all-day, all-night, all-roads excursion. You are the reason I recovered and could push forward (I'm the cut-off was as much an insult to you as it was to me; I'm sorry for that). Thanks to Darren for showing that we are indeed mountain runners. I'm also indebted to Tim for his training guidance and his confidence in my ability. After giving it his all with the leaders, the demons of the day brought him down. It wasn't his day, but it's cool to run and learn from one of the best.

It may be that I'm not suited to courses like P2P and that if I didn't make the cut-off times I should accept it. I wouldn't agree. However, the setback provides the motivation to look ahead and seek out strategies that resolve all worry of intermediate cut-offs. I'm very likely to return to Pine to Palm, but for now I have other mountains to climb.

Week Summary (9/16/12)


Carson River Flats: 5.2 mi (+40 ft); 10:32 pace
P2P Shakeout (Grants Pass, OR): 3.3 mi (+142 ft); 10:00 pace
Pine to Palm 100: 65.0 mi (18,500 ft); 18:45 pace

Weekly Totals: 73.5 mi (+18,642 ft); 21:28:02 on trail

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Waiting Game

Week Summary (9/9/12)


Carson River Flats: 6.0 mi (+57 ft); 10:15 pace
Carson River Flats: 5.8 mi (+44 ft); 10:11 pace
Ophir + Bullion Canyon: 9.3 mi (1,535 ft); 11:51 pace

Weekly Totals: 21.1 mi (+1,616 ft); 3:50:46 on trail

In the midst of the resting taper prior to Palm to Palm, it's a few easy runs split by some walks and generally taking it easy. I kept it flat for the first of the week just doing some cruises on the nice trails along the Carson River. Then Tim and Darren came up for a Saturday outing. Reno was in the midst of breaking a high temperature record of 96 so the crew came up here to escape the heat and get a break from their well-worn trails. But escaping the heat wasn't in the cards even above 6,000 feet.

I followed the guys up Ophir Grade but I think we all felt kind of lethargic. Tim pulled away working some kinks out of sore legs and led us away from the Ophir-Jumbo Pass toward Sun Mountain. He waited for me and we compared the hill to the steep parts of Palm to Palm and talked about fast hiking strategies. Since we were headed toward Sun Mountain I thought I'd give them a tour down the pleasant descent of Bullion Canyon. Tim thought the talus and the canyon-mouth would make a sadistic race finish, and indeed it was sadistic finish to what was supposed to be an easy taper jog for 10 miles. I love that route and always gain confidence navigating the non-existent trail.

The heat soon took its toll and we wandered back to the house. Hoping this at least prepared us for the forecast of 90+ temperatures in Ashland!

On Sunday, Desna and I planned the aid station routine and packed our gear. A little more efficiency in aid stations should gain me some time. Overall the course is more difficult that San Diego, so running efficiency and preparation may be key to improvement.

With a very uninformed eye, I have looked over the entrants list and unless some first-time 100-miler runs a very special rookie event, I think Tim has a very good shot at the podium. There are any number of variables at play, but if Tim runs even close to top-form I bet he does very well, and I mean very well indeed. If Darren stays patient and curious about each new bend in the trail, I think he'll surprise himself, but not the rest of us. I'll follow along, taking the turns and the ups-and-downs, reaching as deep as I can. My goal is 27 hours, but I'll let it roll and see what Sunday morning brings. Let's do this... 

Monday, September 3, 2012

My Virtual Pine to Palm 100 Preview

Week Summary (9/2/12)


Goni Quarries Loop: 7.0 mi (+1,682 ft); 11:33 pace
Emma Quarry OB: 6.0 mi (+611); 10:17 pace
Hobart Road OB: 7.1 mi (+1,844 ft); 11:56 pace
Geiger + Cougar Flat OB: 11.0 mi (1,851 ft); 11:11 pace
Emma Quarry OB: 5.6 mi (+492 ft); 9:49 pace

Weekly Totals: 36.7 mi (+6,480 ft); 6:45:25 on trail

August Totals: 176.5 mi (+26,192 ft); 35:50:05 on trail

In August I set a PR for elevation gain, beating out August 2011 by a few hundred feet. Not a surprise really as I was focused on getting some good climbs in, and ended the month and a push to Pine to Palm 100 with a series of 90-minute (up-and-down) hill efforts. I am particularly happy because the downhills are improving with the endurance gains of the uphills. Also, very few echoes remain in the quads or tendons after these efforts; of course, I can feel them but they aren't the kind the bring concerns. Now begins the general taper to our 100-mile effort from Williams to Ashland, Oregon; we'll see how the hills of August match up with the mountains of one day in September.

The focus on P2P began in earnest when I traced the route in Google Earth while plotting aid station locations and crew access points. This exercise provided a virtual feel for the pattern of climbs and descents, roads and trails, and aid station spacing along the course. Most of all, it got me in the mind-set to approach the challenge, if only to aid the delusion of setting a 25-hour goal.

Pine to Palm 100 - Aid Stations with Mileage (Red pins are crew access points); Click on photo for larger image.
My interpretation of the route maps comes to a little more than 93 miles, but I wasn't strict about every switchback and route squiggle and may have missed some curves hidden in the occasional forest canopy. Still Googleland shows +23,000 feet in gain! And it's a good way to check things out.

The day starts with a good climb to a saddle of Grayback Mountain at about 7,000 feet; that should be about 4,500 to 5,000 feet of gain in the first 11 miles or so. Then it's a long drop in some deep canyons to the Applegate River and its reservoir (and back to the 2,000-foot elevation!). We should meet our crew (Desna, Jim Carter, and Henri?) here for the first time, hopefully for an early lunch. Unwound from the first climb, the race begins in earnest here. After Applegate we begin the "rollercoaster," the long ridge of Stein Butte, up-and-down over false-summits as we parallel the California state line. We've heard this can be a bit frustrating, runnable but it takes its toll. Finally, we'll drop in the Squaw Lake where the crew can see us again. Just for fun, we'll do a lap around the lake and visit the crew again. Then we climb through French Gulch to Squaw Peak, another crew stop, and then a ridge run. I'm hoping I like these ridges, the views of Shasta and beyond should be inspiring as evening approaches.

Some ups and downs preview the climb back to 7,500 feet or so at Dutchman Peak; it'll be good and dark now. After practicing at Squaw Peak, we again play capture the flag, as we perform a quick (ha!) out-and-back to the summit. In past years, runners picked up a flag at three summits (Squaw Peak, Dutchman Peak, and Wagner Butte) and returned it to the aid station. Only at Wagner Butte do you have to hold on to the little (I hope) flag for several miles; I have already fretted over losing that precious pennant prior to reach the next aid! Don't do that.

After the Dutchman, it's a long rolling drop to the Wagner Butte Trailhead. Our crew will have their work cut out for them in the sleepy after-midnight hours patiently waiting for our final rendezvous at Long John Saddle. Much of this will be on the Pacific Crest Trail.  In fact, the recent route change incorporating more of the PCT (Long John Saddle to Wagner Butte) removes a descent and climb, but still looks to be a significant challenge because we will be hitting that section in the dark of very early Sunday morning. Wagner Butte looks to be a formidable test. The summit trail passes through pitch-black primeval forests and ends in a rocky summit castle. These may actually be small boulders on a normally pleasant hill, but at Mile 85 it'll be ridiculous 5.11 free-climbing while being chased by trolls. Darren, you go first.

It's all downhill from there, east-facing with a rising sun or, if extremely lucky, maybe just a predawn sky. Or maybe Footfeathers can describe the predawn to us later. Or, both Darren and Footfeathers can tell me about it. Whatever, we're almost done and into Lithia Park in Ashland -- It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves (WS).

So we pre-lived a little of the event here. And my post-virtual run to Emma Quarry on Sunday afternoon was filled with new energy now that portions of the course are planted in my internal compass. Next week I'll throw out a little personal strategy, crew-planning, and a few predictions. Let's rest well.