Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Bear Mt. 50-miler: Nor'Easter but still course PR.

On my last blog update I noted how thus far, my lifestyle change with diet and exercise led to better race results, even with less training and the challenge of a now 10-month old at home.  One thing in the back of my mind though was if the success would continue to a mountain race.  The reason for having some doubt was because my normal training routine of running 8.7 miles 2-3 times a week to work and once or if lucky twice a week running home from work is on road and relatively flat.  Sure, there are a couple inclines here and there but nothing "mountainous".   My weekend runs if lucky would be one day in Forest Park on the easy trails there for about an hour.  My next major test would be my sixth time running the North Face Endurance Challenge 50-miler at Bear Mountain on May 13th.  I was lucky enough to get one day this year to train at Bear Mt. for 3 hours and challenged myself to a brutal course and didn't run it at a low heart rate.  I felt my climbing legs were under trained but my overall fitness was ok.  That was only for a 3-hour run and I covered 13 miles.  This 50-mile race would also be the longest run since the Tesla Hertz 100K in October which is a flat course.  In fact, the only hilly and mountain type of run I had done of more than 13 miles was the Bear Mountain race in May 2016!  I set a PR by 1 minute in that race of 9:39.

I was looking forward to a beautiful day for the race as it had been the last five years but the weather forecast 7 days out remained the same until race day.  Lot of rain, heavy at times.  Some news called it a Nor'Easter the day before.  You can't change the weather, you can only prepare for it.  Luckily, I had done some runs in the rain and was only a little worried about what a muddy and wet day and course would be at Bear Mt. with the rocks and descents.

As opposed to last year, where I stayed in a hotel before the race, I went back to my prior roots of sleeping in my parent's mini-van in the parking lot the night before the race to make it not so comfortable to wake up and get ready and also to spare me from the commute (and cost) of a hotel. Unsurprisingly, my sleep was pretty good or as good if not better than the sleep I get at home with Jake!  It was already raining when I awoke thanks to a volunteer's dog in the parking lot at 3:15AM, 45 minutes earlier than my alarm.  I tried to go back to sleep but never got back and at 3:55 decided to just get up and on with it.  I got dressed and all set up in the van and at 4:25, left the van to walk to the venue and give in my drop bags.  I was wearing my NYC Marathon Poncho (those who have run the race post-2013 know what that is) and didn't really feel much rain but when looking at the floodlights, it looked like a lot of rain was coming down.  It was just a easy, misty rain.

I didn't see anyone I knew as I walked around the start/finish area.  I chatted with some random people, one of which was from California and not sure what to expect with this east coast course.  Another runner chimed in and told us he was pacing a completely blind runner.  I find that incredible given the technical nature of this course.  Before I knew it, there was 5 minutes to the start so I handed in my start/finish bag and went up to the start line.  It's fairly low-key, wave 1 runners (as I was) walk up to the start and listen to Dean Karnazes say some motivational things and then we are off.

As usual, I run out at a fast enough pace but let the real speedsters go.  I slowly jog up the initial climb but start to hike about halfway up.  Then I fly down the rocky and wet descent.  I am the lone guy there with no headlamp.  I know the sun will be up by 5:30 so I just use my small sniper scope (gift from David Snipes 7 years ago which is a small LED flashlight with some bungee cord that goes around my water bottle).  Unfortunately, the batter was low on that so it didn't provide me enough light but everyone else's headlamps did enough for me and before you know it, the sun provides the light I need.  Lots of people pass me as I walk more uphills.  I know I will pass them later on in the race.  Even if I don't, I run my race and am not concerned about keeping up with other people.

This year, as opposed to 2016, I remembered that miles 12-20 were tough miles.  I was mentally ready for it and expected a down moment.  It thankfully never came.  Sure, things got a little tough at some points but I knew they were temporary and just went with them.  In fact for the entire race, I don't recall any real down moments like I've had before where I had to walk a good stretch before feeling better.  I believe there were 2 or 3 reasons for this.

1) Different weather.  Sure, it was colder (50s) and constant rain but that prevented me from overheating.  I was wearing my new investment, the North Face Hyper Air GTX rain jacket and it worked great by keeping the rain from getting me super soaked and allowing excess heat to go through the jacket as opposed to the less breathable jackets that just stifle you.  In prior years, the temperatures would get into the 70s if not warmer and that seemed to sap me at some points.  There is a long road section from mile 23-25 I think and a long up hill road around mile 33 I think that I would always walk parts of because of its sun exposure but this year I ran both of those sections in their entirety.  Of course, the non-stop rain made footing in certain parts, especially once we merged back with the 50K/Marathon race more treacherous.

2) Nutritional - Last year they had Tailwind on the course.  That is my go to nutrition drink.  This year, they never announced what they would have and unfortunately, it wasn't Tailwind.  Still, I fried up and packed bacon in my 2 drop bags and those treats were awesome (even though I "lost" my first bag of it somewhere in my rain jacket - I ended up finding it on Sunday and eating it!).  That, along with banana pieces, a few Honey Stinger gels from the aid stations and Skratch Labs gummy chews was all I needed and I never felt the bonk.  I also attribute that to my Primal lifestyle where I eat mostly fats and less carbs and am able to go a long period of time whether exercising or not without nutrition.

3) Baby motivation - I was surprised to find how motivating it was to think of Jake and his silly happy smiley face and laughs.  That pure joy kept me going and lifted me up when I was on the cusp of feeling down.  Even thinking about how big a jerk he is by not sleeping well at nights made me laugh because I figured it's good training.

I'm not going to go through excruciating details of the race. Instead, I'll mention the memorable moments.
1) Strap on water bottle - The comfy strap around my handheld water bottle was always coming undone by the Velcro on the bottom.  This was so annoying because I didn't have a backup water bottle and it is very annoying "holding" the actual bottle.  But I spent so much time trying to fix it that in the end, it was a big distraction.  Finally, at the mile 45 aid station, I had the volunteer Duct tape the strap to the bottle so it wouldn't fall off.

2) Shorts falling down - I've been wearing the same blue shorts for races for about 5 years now.  The elastic has worn out a bit and I didn't tie the strings well before the race. Around mile 5, my shorts started to feel like they were falling down thanks to a couple things in the pockets and the weight of the wetness from the rain.  Since I was wearing gloves for warmth and rain protection, I couldn't tie the strings so I would just pull my short up and the strings tight and hope that lasts a while.  IT would work as a quick fix but every so often would start falling down again.  At the mile 18 aid station, I asked a volunteer if they could tie it for me and he did.  However, about 7 miles later, it came undone.  At around the 30 mile aid station, I asked another volunteer to tie it and they tied it well.  This leads into memorable moment 3

3) It's around mile 40 and I still haven't taken a bathroom break to pee.  Finally, I get that urge but with my shorts tied and not wanting to deal with untying and retying, I decide to give peeing while running a try.  Yes, peeing my pants while running.  It was a little difficult to start at first but then it was nice and warm.  With the rain and mud and puddles, any hint of it was washed away with in minutes.  I don't think I would do something like that on a warm day; or a cold day for that matter.  A rainy cool day is the perfect time to do that.  

4) The thing that sort of bothers me about this race is the number of likely first time ultra and trail runners but not that it is their first trail race, but the facts that either they haven't trained and had no idea what to expect from this course or are just so uptight that they do everything in their power not to get any dirt on theme at all.  Are you kidding me?!  My race was going well and the course was not a complete mud fest like the 2013 TARC-100.  However, once we merged back onto the course where the 50K and Marathon runners came through earlier it became much more slippery mud and a worn out trail.  The slower 50K runners were still out there on the course.  These are the runners that I'm complaining about.  Now don't get me wrong, this is nitpicking and I'm not trying to sound elitist.  The thing is, these runners, many of whom have resorted to walking a large portion of the course from that point on (roughly 12 miles or so left in both our races) are doing their utmost to avoid getting their feet wet and/or muddy.  There were more giant mud and streams that required crossing than I can count due to the heavy rains.  Yet every time I came from behind on a runner at these sections, they were looking for ways around the mud/stream or very carefully trying to balance on some rocks or trees to cross it, and taking a real risk of slipping on that wet rock or tree.  So as I approached many of these runners I just shouted that I'm coming from behind and then offered the advice to just go through the puddle and mud since you're already wet and dirty.  I get it though.  By that point in the race if you are walking, you are having a bad day.  It doesn't feel any better having to continuously walk through streams and mud.  That's the reality of it though.  Change your mindset and just embrace the suck.  Hopefully these runners will learn from the experience or won't ever bother repeating it (one and done).  But good on them for giving it the effort and not dropping out.  

So the fun thing about this race for me was as I mentioned earlier it was my first mountain type race since the prior year's edition.  I didn't know how my training for this would hold up versus my better road running results.  When the race began, I started my watch and the only time I looked at it was just when it vibrated and I looked down and it said "Mile 10: 10:05" meaning I just finished mile 10 and that mile was run at a 10:05 pace.  From that point on, I didn't look at my watch again.  Mostly because it was under my rain jacket.  I figured I was feeling pretty good most of the race.  I knew I was moving well but unsure of how the wet and muddy course was slowing me down.  When I got to the aid station before Timp pass, roughly mile 45, I looked at my watch to see what my time was and if I was going to have a shot at a PR or sub 10 hour finish.  My watch was no longer in tracking mode, it was back on regular watch mode.  D'oh!  I don't know how the watch stopped and restarted to that screen but that was that.  Later that week I saw that it stopped around mile 21.  Anyway, I looked at the time and it said something like 1:35PM and since we began at 5AM that meant I was 8 hours and 35 minutes into the race and had no more than 5 miles to go.  Sure I had the biggest steep climb and a minor steep climb coming up but that was ok.  I realized I had a solid chance at setting a PR and if lucky, sub 9:30.  So I started hustling but hiking those uphills that still made sense to hike.  After hiking up Timp pass without any issue I ran down the rocky backside portion recklessly but still in control and then opened up my stride on the more runnable sections that followed.  The last 1-2 miles we have the added benefit of having the marathon relay runners on our course.  They run roughly 3 miles out and then back for their relay course.  I find it funny to "compete" with those runners on the course seeing as how the 50-milers are at mile 48+.  I saw two marathon relay runners sort of pushing each other to go and I tailed them.  But when I felt like I could move faster, I passed them on an uphill and then the final downhill section back towards the parking lot before the final 200 meters.  That's when they decide to sprint it in and I'm not dumb enough to hurt myself by sprinting the last 200 meters of a 50-mile race for no reason.  I ran fast but comfortable and slowed down to walk the last 5 feet through the finish line.  My official finish time was 9:27:59.  I managed sub-9:30 in the Nor'Easter condition and was 5th in my age group and 27th overall (25th male).  

So my confidence now is unfortunately quite high heading into this last month before Bighorn.  I plan to take Bighorn like this race.  Just run within my ability and mentally stay focused and smart.  Once again, following the Primal nutrition and exercise program has given me my 5th PR in less than a year since I started it.   Tesla Hertz 100K result was a PR (though I hadn't run an easy 100K before so it would have been a PR regardless - but I took 1st palce). The Knickerbocker 60K was a big PR.  The Caumsett 50K was a PR for my marathon as well as 50K.  And now Bear Mt. 50-miler.  Bighorn will be a course PR regardless, but it's all going to be about having as great day and see how it evolves.  If I can avoid sleepwalking are death marching and have a decent time (let's say sub 26 hours) that will be a great success. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Caumsett 50K and Primal Endurance Produces Results

As I mentioned in my last blog post, in July (right after Jake was born) I began following the Maffetone and Primal Endurance methods of training and nutrition (or diet, or lifestyle, whatever you prefer to call it).  I had a positive result though a little slower than my goal at the Tesla Hertz 100K in October.  The next month (Nov. 19th), I ran the Knickerbocker 60K going for a goal of sub-5 hours.  This was something I was not certain if I could do as it had eluded me the last time I went for it.  Since my training was also mostly at a much slower pace than 8 minute miles and much shorter distance than 37.2 miles (I think my longest run was 18 miles), I was venturing into the unknown but hopeful I could achieve the goal.  I was lucky enough to have a few running friends come out and do a few of the 9 loops with me and I was holding onto my pace well.  It definitely felt more difficult the last 3-4 loops, especially because the volunteers at the main aid station with our drop bags couldn't find my bag with my Tailwind nutrition for the final two loops but Coca Cola at the aid stations did the trick.  I finished in 4:59:13.  That certainly made me realize that the nutrition and training were indeed working.  But could it continue to work and when will I plateau?

Fast forward to this past weekend (March 5th), and the Caumsett 50K.  I ran the race in 2013 and had an epic blow-up, finishing in 4:18:59 (yay sub:4:19?!).  I was hoping for sub-4 (7:44 pace) but ended at an 8:20 after logging some 10 minute miles I think.  So this time around, I signed up hoping to go sub-4.  But then something else entered my mind.  A couple of years ago, they added a timing mat that coincided with 26.2 miles (marathon distance) which would enable someone to officially qualify for the Boston Marathon as long as they also finished the 50K distance.  While I really prefer to focus on trails and ultras, the Boston Marathon and my marathon PR in 2009 of 3:10:29 (which did qualify me back then and I ran the Boston Marathon in 2010) was something I wanted to go for again, and at some point, I would love a sub-3 hour marathon.  At my age, I need a sub 3:10 to qualify, but a couple minutes faster likely to actually get accepted into the race because the field is limited so the take the fastest qualifying times first.  Mind you, my fastest road marathon time post-2009 was a 3:19 I think.  Reasons for that are plentiful, but the main reason (or excuse) I made for not bettering my road marathon time was that I focused on ultras and trail running.  It's true.  I didn't plan road marathons to get my fastest time.  I ran them as a pacer for friends or a few weeks after running a 50-miler or 100-miler or a day or two after going for a multiple hour trail run.  However, when I look back at that 2009 qualifying run at the NYC Marathon, I was struggling and giving everything I had to hold on and qualify and I barely did it.  Now that this interesting thought crept into my head, I thought to myself that I could see how a pace around 7:15 felt (3:10 marathon pace) and if after a few of the 5K loops I felt like I was struggling, I would slow down and try to maintain a pace needed for a sub-4 hour 50K and scrap a BQ (Boston Qualifying) attempt.  So that was the plan and I was nervous about it because it really sucks to go out hard and blow up early and struggle through an hour or more of running (or shuffling) where everything hurts.

Before I get into the start of the race, I have to give a huge shout-out to the following people:
I'm very thankful that my friend Rebecca Odessey (who's gains as a runner have been incredible and will likely qualify for Boston 2019 if not 2018) came to the race to run the 25K and was very supportive before the race and on the course at the times I saw her while she was running and then she crewed me for my last couple loops after she finished.

Paul Kentor ran with me for 3-1/3 loops and it's always good to have good company running.

Devon Yanko. If you don't know who that is, just check this out
This elite woman was testing the waters in her first race in 5 months following an injury.  It was awesome just chatting with her as if she was not one of the greatest runners on the planet the last few years, and a normal human like the rest of us (as opposed to the super-human than she is).  It's what I love about ultra-runners.  The elite athletes are always down to Earth great people and you would never know that they are some of the most incredible athletes in the world by just running and or talking with them.  They are really just like us, just much, much faster when they want to or have to be.

Back to the race.  Well, pre-race to be exact.

The good thing about being a "Primal Aligned" athlete is that I don't worry about carb-loading or nutrition frequently.  The ability to fuel myself even at a marathon pace with mostly my own fat makes the race that much easier because I don't have to worry about carrying this gel or chew along with sports drinks.  I use Tailwind Nutrition but I never feel "starving" for carbs or calories.  My breakfast about 90-120 minutes before the race was 2 bananas and a large coffee with cream.  I did not start to take my Tailwind until the 4th loop (75 minutes into the race) and was mostly sipping on it using it for the hydration, not as much for the nutrition but it is that as well. But I digress.

The race started at about 18 degrees F.  This made me question if I should cancel that BQ goal.  But then I figured, if it's cold out, I should run faster so I get done sooner and not be out in the cold for a long time.  So I kept on with my goal.  The race began and I started running at what I felt was a comfortable pace.  I was not wearing a heart rate monitor.  After maybe 250 meters, I hear Paul behind me talking with someone.  I look back quickly and notice it is Devon Yanko.  I slow down so they catch up and I run and chat with them.  A few times I look at my watch to get an idea of pace and it fluctuates between 6:45 minute mile and 7:10.  Great. . . I'm going out way too fast.  I decided to just go with it since the pace really felt slower and thought maybe my watch wasn't accurate.  We finished the first 5K in a 7:02 minute/mile pace, so the watch was indeed accurate.  I felt good though and decided to maintain the pace and relatively good effort.  No guts, no glory.  The pace stayed surprisingly consistent and I focused on my form a few times and tried to assess how I felt and I kept coming back with surprisingly good but cautious, knowing that at any moment, things could fall apart and fall apart big.  Once I was no longer running with Devon, who passed us on loop 3 after she took a bathroom break and Paul took a bathroom break on loop 4, I had to focus more now since I was on my own (asides from all the other runners on the course who we always exchange "good jobs" with) and not give in to any negative thoughts.  I was scared that I had gone out too quickly and it would come back any minute now and make me slow down.  Each time that happened, I just decide to see what the clock says and timed myself between mile markers (not my watch GPS mile split).  Sometimes I would forget my time and had to start over at the marker.  It gave me something to focus on and also gave me the truth about my pace.  Each time I did it, I was still within my BQ mile split pace.

Laps 5 and 6 were probably the hardest because I knew there were so many more laps to go and so much time for me to implode.  My tricks kept working and once I crossed the start/finish to begin my 8th lap, I had to get to that near half-way mat which would tell me how much time I needed for the final 5K before the marathon finish.  When I got there, I needed something like 25 minutes (give or take a minute now on my memory) to get my BQ.  So now it was just give it almost everything I had for the next 5K.  I say almost everything because I still had to finish the 50K in order to qualify.  And since I was a few minutes ahead of the 3:10 I needed, I held on to my effort and made sure I wasn't going slower than I needed to qualify.  I hit the start of the 9th loop and the clock read 2:58 I think so I knew I had 12 minutes to run 1.4 miles.  I knew I was gong to qualify but it ain't over until it's over.  Also, due to the popularity of the Boston Marathon, even if you run a qualifying time, you may not be accepted because they accept runners based on fastest time first.  For example, in 2016, you had to run 2 minutes and 28 seconds faster than the qualifying standard for your age group in order to be accepted.  For the 2017 race, you had to run 2:09 faster.  This is why I didn't just jog it in.  As I ran down that hill and then up the next towards that marathon finish, I put all my effort there and got it at about 3:06:58, a 3 minute 30 second marathon PR!  At that point, my mind relaxed and my body started to ache.  However, it was now time for my victory lap and I coasted nice and easy (also took a port-o-potty poop break on the final loop) to finish the 50K at 3:52:32.  So I got my 50K PR by 25 minutes and hit my sub-4 goal.  All in all, another successful race.

This brings me back to the title of this blog post.  I am well aware of the "n=1" logic behind training and nutrition (diet) plans.  What works for me will not necessarily work for you.  That said, unless you are an elite sponsored athlete, I really believe going Primal will improve your results especially if you have had some bad races and training periods or think you may have plateaued.  I think it's much easier for someone with a stronger mindset that doesn't have a lot of social pressure on them.  Like me for example.  After Jake was born eight months ago now, my days of going out for a drink, or dinner, or to watch "the game" or to hang out are pretty much over for the time being.  So I have been able to more easily avoid the temptation of the foods that I should not be eating (processed foods, refined sugars, grains, alcohol, etc.).  Once you go 21 days or more without those and you encounter and win the test of will when these no-no foods/drinks are presented to you, it is much easier to forgo them in the future.  That's not to say I was 100% compliant over the last eight months.  My work holiday party, X-Mas/Chanuka, Thanksgiving, and a work trip to Amsterdam were a few of the times I know I ate some foods that would not be on a Primal menu for certain.  But that's ok.  It's bound to happen and just like a bad race or training day, you accept it and move on.  Most days (weeks if not months actually) I would say I am 100% compliant.  I feel much healthier (could be placebo but I think its real), I lost at least 5 lbs and I'm not a big guy to begin with (which definitely helps me run faster), and I definitely notice I'm leaner with more muscle mass (I can now do 13-15 pull ups where when I began, I could only do 3-4) so I lost fat, not muscle. My lab test results from a check-up in the fall show I've improved all of my stats over the last few years and my resting heart rate at one Dr. visit was 45 beats per minute.  Can't wait to see what the results are later this year.  All of this with less training compared to the last 8 years (or 12 years if you go back to my triathlon days).  It takes a little effort though as does most of the important things in life.  It's very easy to just order a sandwich, eat cereal, have that supposed "healthy" protein or other bar that is loaded with things we don't have to have for optimal nutrition.  So you can't be lazy.  If you've read this far, you're probably not lazy or maybe you want a change in your life.

I highly recommend checking out Primal Endurance ( or Mark's Daily apple and even asking me for more details about it.  I'm heavily into the science of it and enjoy the subject.

My next race I'm signed up for is Bear Mt. in May.  I may do a race in April but that will be decided on closer to race day.

The adventures continue.

FYI - Coconut is a top-notch Primal food and apparently, hilarious

Monday, October 10, 2016

Tesla Hertz Run (100K) - Different Distance, Same Result

Jake at almost 2 months old

I want to start off by saying once again that I 100% realize my placing at this race, like in 2014, is only a result of faster people not running this race.  At some point in the future, faster people will run it and demolish all the records and I would have no shot at a podium spot.  

Pre-race goals and thoughts:
Since my last race, the FANS 24-hour event on June 4th in which I missed my goals but was still OK with the result (4th place male, 5th overall with 109 miles), my life and training changed.  We brought Jake into the world on July 6th (well, I didn't really have much to do with this process aside from 38 weeks earlier) and my training was going to be a distant 3rd, 4th, or 5th behind everything else now (family, work, life, etc.).  So with that in mind, I know I had to get smarter with my training.  I recalled in a few Podcasts (Ultra Running Podcast, and Talk Ultra) they mentioned the Maffetone training method and I decided to read up on it.  It's a combination of training and nutrition.  In some ways a total change.  A very good description could more or less be found on the websites of  and   A quick summary is you do all of your training for at least the first 3 months if not much longer at a very low heart rate.  For me it was 144 or lower.  Along with this, your diet has to change to reduce carbohydrate intake, nearly all through eliminating grains and rice and white potato products and not consuming refined sugar (honey in very small quantity is OK).  Fruit is fine. It just can’t be a large percent of the calories.  Most of it should come from healthy fats from oils (coconuts, avocado, etc.) and (unless you’re vegetarian) grass-fed/organic meats and wild fish.  The training was tough because I was really moving at a snail’s pace (for me) and was forced to walk every hill, no matter how small.  Slowly I got faster at that heart rate and I had fun with the challenge of the diet.  Amazingly, I lost about 5 pounds while not starving myself and having less time training.  My time spent training decreased by at least 1-2 hours per week if I include walking Jake in his stroller for an hour or so twice a week at least and 3+ hours per week if you exclude that from training.  Again, all that training except for maybe two days was done exclusively at a low heart rate.  I did one hard effort run of 9 miles home from work two weeks before the race and I felt good.  

My goal for the race in hindsight was aggressive.  Knowing my splits for the 100-miler I won in 2014 and knowing I finished the JFK-50 last year in 7:57 and was about 8 hours to the 50-mile mark during the 24-hour event three month ago, I figured I could go sub-10 hours.  To get the suspense out of the way, that goal did not happen.  I believe the lack of speedwork and possibly the overall lack of training and/or longer runs just made it so I couldn't hold the pace I needed to achieve that goal.  But I see a lot of progress in this Maffetone method and new nutritional lifestyle.  

The race:
The good thing about all the experience I've had in ultrarunning over the last 6 years and in doing this course for the 3rd time is that I had absolutely no nervousness going into the race.  I should have at least respected that even a 10 hour day is a somewhat long day because I felt like the race was only going to take 5 hours instead of 10.  It was a weird feeling but I knew I would suffer at some point and would get over it.  My plan was to run at or below a 145 heart rate the first two loops (each loop is 10.4 miles).  I stuck to that plan for the first 7 miles before my heart rate drifted up towards 150.  I decided to just go with it since this is a race and my heart rate should be higher.  I probably should have stuck with the plan.  I ran the first loop with two other runners, Max Frumes and Anthony Vlachos.  Max is a seasoned ultra-runner while this was Anthony's first 50-miler (50-milers start at the same time as the 100K runners).  The first loop was finished in 1:40 and I just ran right through the start finish area as I needed no water or food.  I was on exactly 10 hour pace.  

The next loop was similar except I did start to feel my legs get a little heavy.  My heart rate drifted up towards 155 and stayed around 145-155 until mile 15 when it moved up to 160 or higher.  Loops 2 was finished in 1:40 as well, still 10-hour pace.  Loops 3 I ran the first half with Max but then I had to step into the port-o-potty for 1 minute at the half-way aid station. When I left, I didn't see him so I figured I had to catch up to him.  My legs were starting to feel a little tight now.  Not the best sign when I still had 30+ miles to go and wanting a 10-hour finish I needed to be slightly faster than my first 2 loops pace.  I finished loop 3 in 1:42.  I took off my heart rate monitor because it was of no use to me now.  My heart rate was high and was going to stay that way unless my legs were hurting so much that I couldn't move fast enough.  The 2nd half of loop 3 and most of loop 4 was not a good time for me.  

Doing loop 3 in 1:42 meant my pace had slowed (even with the bathroom break) and I could feel it in my legs as well.  All of a sudden negative thoughts went through my head.  I though that my pace would continue to slow and the rate of decline would increase as well.  I tried to estimate how much it may slow and somehow calculated a 12-hour finish time.  That got me thinking that I brought the Sniper scope (mini flashlight) and not my headlamp and was a little nervous about when it may get dark.  My legs felt much tighter and heavier and I looked at my watch and saw I was really slowing down.  I contemplating dropping out so that I could go home and be with Jake because my goal of 10 hours was not going to happen.  Then I thought about a few things to get me out of this funk by the end of the lap.  First, I wanted to be strong and not quit because even though he'll never know it on this day, I wanted to teach Jake to not give up and to always work hard.  Second, I thought about some of my friends who were running other races that Sunday and wanted to be an example to them and if I quit, that might enter their minds when it gets tough in their races.  Third, I knew I had under 21 miles to go and that my legs will hold up and yes, I won't get sub-10 but sub-11 is still fine.  I'll finish in daylight and still be home at a decent hour.  Fourth, there is a quarter-mile section of the race that is an out-and-back and you can see who is behind (or in front if they have lapped you) in the race.  As I was on the back part, I saw Max on this section which meant I had at least 5 minutes on him and I was in first place.  That's always some motivation.  Loop 4 was finished in 1:52:30.  That was a big slowdown.  I took my hat off since it felt like a weight at that point and headed out on loop 5.  

I forgot to take my iPod with me though and then thought it was fine because I could use that to crush the last loop.  I felt ok on loop 5.  The tricks I mentioned above were working.  My legs were still tight and hurting a little but I pushed the pain aside and moved at a faster pace at times.  When I got to that out and back section, I looked at my watch so I can get an idea of my lead if I saw Max on the way back.  from the out and the back was about 10 minutes and I didn't see him so I figured I had at least that time on him for first place.  The back half of loop 5 was tough at some points so I made some games to help me out with the final loop.  One was trying to figure out how long before certain sections in this course would appear.  The one negative thing I can say about this race is that as nice as these trails are to run on.  After a while, it all appears the same and very monotonous.  I just kept wondering when I would reach a certain landmark and it seemed forever.  So I played this game to just get the mileage correct and not worry about on this loop.  I ended up being able to move well towards the end of this loop and was ready to take on the last 10.4 miles.  Loop 5 took 1:48.  Still slow but 4 minutes faster than loop 4 so an improvement.  

At the aid station, I grabbed some gummy bears (my first real food?) and then looked to my right and I saw some bacon!!!  I squealed with delight and grabbed a bunch and shoved it in my mouth for an immediate boost.  Then I got to my bag and took out some ginger chews and my iPod and started walking while eating and putting on my music.  Unfortunately, the iPod dude in the headphones said "battery low" as soon as I turned it on but hoped it would have enough juice to last me at least an hour.  After finishing the bacon, taking some enduralytes, and putting a ginger chew in my mouth, I started to run again.  Within 5 minutes, I was feeling great. Yes, I could feel my legs but I could say to hell with it and move. I put in a sub-10 minute mile before reality set in a little and some of the smaller hills forced me to slow it down just a bit but in each of these miles, I was able to up the pace for parts of it.  The music was working perfectly. Some amazing motivating songs (for me) came up.  Unbound - by Avenged Sevenfold is the greatest for running ultras and that came on.  Nothing Else Matters by Metallica.  I Stand Alone by Godsmack.  Music sure does work when you need it to and when you don't use it normally during training.  I got to the half-way aid station and filled up my Tailwind drink and grabbed some root beer flavored twizzlers, thanked the RD's father who worked the aid station for being out there and got out there to finish the race off.  This was the final stretch and I killed it!  My watch had me running some parts at sub 8-minute miles and I had two miles in a row of 9:05.  I just wanted the race to be over and the faster I finish the better!  With about 2 miles to go, my iPod died but I had all the music I needed in my head now.  I kept running hard and finished the race in first place in a time of 10:30:56, just four minutes shy of the course record!   
1st Place prize was a cool rock
Obviously, I was not over the top thrilled with my finish because I missed my goal time of sub-10.  In fact, I ran a faster 100K split during my win in the 100-mile distance in 2014! However, based on my training, the way my body held up given the pace I was going, not dropping out when I felt like it, and taking home the win, I am satisfied with the results!  Also, I am going to stick with the Maffetone / Primal lifestyle because I do believe it is helping.  I ran the first 20 miles of the race before taking in any nutrition (3 hours 20 minutes into the race).  Did this harm my performance for miles 21-35?  I don't think so.  Once I start to incorporate more strength and speed sessions which will be a part of my limited training (thanks Jake. . . :-)   ), I expect to see positive results.  Finally, Vinny and Nichole (congratulations on your third kid!) of Happily Running always put on a great low-key event here.  I highly recommend this race to someone going for a new mileage goal with an ultra.  Since I missed my goal and the course record, I may come back next year to race depending on my schedule.  Or maybe I'll come out to volunteer/crew if I am not running and a friend wants to make this their first 50M,100K, or 100M.  

I believe this has been my fastest race recap publication ever!  Up next is the lottery for Hardrock.  The plan is to run Hardrock if I am selected.  If not, I will go to Bighorn 100 to get another 2 years of qualifying for the lottery and maybe run this cool Icland Ultra and make it a family vacation. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Quick FANS 24-Hour Recap

My first 24-hour event was a glass half-full / glass half-empty type of result.  Per my last blog post, my goals for the race were: 1) Hit 100 miles in 16-17 hours.  2) A-goal of 140 miles.  B-goal of 130 miles.  C-goal of just surviving after 100 miles.  I can say that I hit my C-goal, but the problem with that is I didn't hit 100 miles until 20 hours into the race. How did the race evolve?  Let's first start with some details of the race itself.

The race starts at 8AM with a 0.78 mile out and back and then turning around again at the start finish to begin a long day of 2.14 mile loops.  The out and back makes it possible to count lap 46 as the 100th mile.  In the final hour, runners have the option to run a short course of 1/8th mile out and 1/8th mile back as many times because if you go out on another 2.14 mile loop and do not finish it before time is up, that last loop won't count.  There is an aid station with fluids at about 1.2 miles into the loop and then the main aid station at the start finish. The course is about 50% asphalt and 50% easy trail with only a few tiny hills.  Most of the course is shaded but when it isn't, the sun and heat can be powerful if it's one of those days.  For the 2016 race, the air was humid and it felt pretty hot in the direct sun.  Part of the course is directly in the path of planes landing at the nearby airport.  It's cool but also deafening when a plane about 200 feet above you flies overhead.  As you cross the start/finish line each loop, there is a large event tent set up with about 8 people sitting in it with binders and they take down the time when you cross each lap.  It's all manual, no chip times so you have to make sure they see you and get you as you cross.  It's not difficult or annoying, in fact, it was quite nice because someone would read off numbers of the runners and the runner can yell over to the specific person responsible for that runner and let them know.  For example, Leslie was responsible for taking down my laps the first 6 hours.  Next was Joe, then Heidi.  After that, I was too delirious to remember now who was taking my laps.  I wore my purple tutu for the race and that was a very big help in making sure they got me because it's impossible to miss me crossing.  All the volunteers were fantastic as is the case in all ultras I've done.

I have to give an incredible huge shout-out and thanks to Mary Harvey who introduced me to her crew of local Minnesotans Willie, Grace and Grace and let me use their amazing tent and helped me with whatever I needed and provided support throughout the race.  Mary was going for 100 miles in under 24 hours and also a little more than 100 just for proving she can.

I wrote the stuff above a week after the race and then proceeded to not write anymore.  It's now late August and I want to finish the recap so I won't provide as much detail.

I ran the first couple of laps with Mary.  The pace we were going was definitely too fast.  9s and mid-8 minute miles.  I was greedy and wanting to bank some time and really blow away my A-goal.   I feel like my nutrition was spot on.  I was drinking water and Tailwind Nutrition.  After roughly 30 laps, I finally looked at the leader board and saw I was in 1st place by 2 laps (lap 28 I think since there was a delay when they post the paper).  I knew at that moment I was screwed because I jinxed myself.  Literally, one lap later, I start to feel pain in my hip.  This forces me to slow down and walk a little.  Unfortunately, it persisted so I took some Tylenol hoping that would help.  It did for a short time but ten my other hip started hurting.  The blow that really killed me was looking at the leader board again and seeing how I was now in 3rd place somehow.  I believe I was on lap 33 and the leader was lap 35 or 36.   This just sunk me.  When was I passed?  And how was I lapped?!  I knew things weren't going to get easier.  My body was falling apart and my mind had let me down.  I tried to pull things together but mentally, I wasn't as strong as I would have been had maybe I still been in the lead or if I wasn't in pain this early or if I just didn't have stupid thoughts.  For example, I hit the 50-mile mark in a little over 8 hours. I should have been happy but I felt like I was too tired at this point and thought about how I ran the JFK 50-miler in 7:57, so I should be feeling great at 8 hours in this flat course.  So knowing some of my goals would likely not be reached, I started to fade and didn't care.  At night, I was really tired.  My lap splits continued to slow.  I was stumbling along the trail at 20-minute miles at some points late at night and did not allow myself any Coke or 5-hour energy because my goals were missed and now I just wanted to get to 100-miles, take a nap and then see how I felt.  I eventually got to 100 miles in about 20 hours.  This was even slower than my Tesla Hertz 104.5 mile race that I finished in 19:20 or something like that.  I was really disappointed in myself.

After I hit the 100-mile mark, I crawled into the tent and tried to nap.  It was f'n freezing though so 30 minutes later, I stumbled over to my car (Mary's crew later told me I looked like death), turned on the heat and passed out there.  I woke up close to the 22 hour mark and felt good.  I decided to see how much I can easily do and maybe support Mary to get her to 100 miles because I heard she was struggling.  I went out and ran and felt damn good!  I was able to rock out some 9-10 minute miles, probably could have gone faster but I stopped and walked a little with Mary or other people occasionally.  In the end, I finished with 109 mile which was good enough for 4th place male and 5th overall.  Yeah, I'm happy with that result but this race was a personal test for myself that I believe I failed.  I failed it because I didn't pace properly.  Lesson learned the hard way.  Mary got her 100 miles and I believe did 101 total.  She also took 4th place female and more importantly, her crew and tent won an award!

I must give a big thanks to Bob Higashi, the photographer at the race.  This guy was walking around the track in the other direction taking photos for about 16 hours out of the 24.  He was amazing and every time I saw him I had to fake it and smile and do something silly.

I did enjoy the atmosphere and everything about this race.  A 24-hour race around a 2ish mile course was something.  I definitely want to give my goals another go and more importantly pace well to accomplish that task.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Thoughts Before FANS 24-hour

Every time I say I'm going to be better at updating this blog, I end up not doing it so this time I'm going to say I won't update this often and hopefully I'll have a recap of my next race up within a week!

So what has happened since the Grand Slam accomplishment last year?  A few weeks after the last race I ran an easy trail half marathon called Paine to Pain up in New Rochelle.  It was so much fun to push hard on a short race!  The entire time I kept saying, it will all be over soon so no walking hills and keep pushing the pace.  I was happy with my finish time of 1:38:50 and more importantly, went to the race with friends and saw a ton of other friends there and had a lot of fun not having to run for a whole day.

After Paine to Pain, I was feeling good and talked into joining a small group of Team in Training friends to run the JFK 50-miler in Boonsboro, MD.  There were 7 of us that went down and we called ourselves the 7 Dwarfs.  I was chosen as "Doc".  Prior to the race, I guessed what all of our finishing times were.  The guess for my time was 7:57.  I was hoping I could run this under 8 hours.  The course is hilly and trails (Appalachian trail) for about the first 18 miles.  Then it is a marathon on the easy C&O canal toe path.  Then it is 7 miles on rolling road.  I was pushing on the trail section and once we got off that onto the C&O canal I was trying to hold an 8 minute mile pace.  That didn't work out as planned and I noticed my splits slowing and then I was in the pain cave at mile 34.  I tried to use the bathroom but couldn't go.  About 3 miles later at an aid station I grabbed some food and ate and walked after it when I heard some cheering coming from about 100 feet away in a parking lot where some friends that came down to cheer for us were stationed.  They taunted me with "why are you walking?" and I decided I might as well jog a little at least until I'm out of sight and once I was, I decided I didn't feel as bad and kept the jog going and then slowly picked up the pace.  Finally, I got to the road section, looked at my watch and realized if I could run at sub-9 minute miles to the finish then I could come in under 8 hours.  So I pushed myself to maintain that pace on the rolling hills.  At the aid stations I filled up on Coke in my bottle (rocket fuel) and kept moving quickly.  Finally, I got to the finish line and the announcer called my name and said I was also the first placed Tutu runner (I wore the tut again for this race) and I came in at 7:56:50, 10 seconds faster than my predicted time!   That was pretty amazing!  Even better, all of the Dwarfs finished and I was pretty close on my estimates of their finish times too!

Next on the agenda came Rocky Raccoon 100-miler in Huntsville, TX.  It is a relatively flat trail run that comprises of 5x 20-mile loops.  I went down there with two friends and we had hoped to run much of the race together.  The course was hillier than I expected but on very easy (though rooty) terrain.  I ran very easy for the first 40-miles until Snipes told me to just go out and run my own race.  So I took off running hard.  I felt good and everything was ok until I started having the Corneal edema problems that I had in Leadville.  My right eye fogged up and then my left eye was fogged up too (but not as bad as my right eye which was completely useless).  Combine that with my headlamp batteries dying out quickly and that made the night section a slow slog as I couldn't see where I was going and stepping.  Still I managed to finish under 23 hours and given my slow first 40 and my slow last 20, I'm ok with that.

1 week after Rocky Raccoon, I lead my Bear Mt. Team in Training group on a trail run in the Palisades Park and about 6 miles into a 12 mile run, I started to feel pain in my knee.  Since it was an out and back course, I couldn't just stop.  It was a familiar Patella Femoral Syndrome (Runners Knee) so I tried to do what I could to heal it but it came back again the next weekend during a group run I lead on the Staten Island Greenbelt.  Because the pain got worse and I needed to get it under control, I went to physical therapy and stopped running for 3 weeks. Thankfully that is all that was needed and I was back running well and the mild winter, especially compared to last year's nightmare had us hitting the trails nearly every weekend and we went up to Bear Mt. to train at least 5 times before the Bear Mt. races on April 30th/May 1st.  I ran the 50-miler for the 5th year in a row and beat my best time by about 90 seconds.  I had hoped to run faster but had a pretty rough stretch from mile 14-20. I was still happy with that finish time as it showed I was in good shape.

A week following Bear Mt. I ran the Long Island Greenbelt 50K and was very happy to come in 9th place with a time of 5:11.  The race was tougher than I expected although I did expect my time to be around 5:10.  I just didn't understand why it would take that long on Long Island trails until I got to the section that was just very hilly that explained why times were so slow on this course.

So my training had been going well.  I wasn't running very long runs on my own and my longest runs were the two races on back to back weekends.  I was putting in mileage each week by running to work most days of the week and then running home and then sometimes running more after that.  

So what am I expecting out of this 24-hour race around a 2.14 mile lake in Minnesota?  For starters, I am not sure.  I have set goals for myself and we'll see how well I do in hitting them.  I want to run 100-miles in 16-17 hours.  So my intermediate goals are to basically run 25 miles in 4 hours and repeat that 4 times.  That's at its fastest a 9:36 minute/mile pace for 16 hours including any bathroom breaks and stopping to refill my bottles and fuel up.  Hopefully I can hit that goal and then my "A" goal after that is to run over 140 miles.  I do not know what the odds of me doing that is.  But if it is a great day for me, maybe I can.  "B" goal would be 130 miles and "C" goal is just survive and keep moving after I hit my 100-mile goal.  If my 100-mile goal takes me longer, in the 18-hour range then the same concept will apply.  Just keep moving and see how many miles I can get in the remaining time.  It's a new type of race for me compared to mountain running.  I don't know how I will come to like this type of event but that's why I am trying it.

I do not have anything on the calendar after this race and likely will not do another 100-miler this year.  Hopefully I get into Hardrock next year and if not, I'll probably sign up for Bighorn to get another two years of qualifying towards Hardrock.  But the real ultra is now in the cards and that is birth of my first child due on July 18th.  So if you've read this far, that's what it really on my calendar. So that's an update of what's been going on and if I'm lucky, I'll be able to update this blog shortly after the FANS 24-hour event.  

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Thoughts on the Grand Slam of UltraRunning and on Running 100-milers

Buckles from each race and the Grand Slam trophy

This post has been long in the making.  I began writing it about two weeks after finishing the Grand Slam but never pulled the trigger to publish it and kept changing and adding to what I was writing.  So without further ado, here's my report on the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning.

It is now just under 4 weeks since finishing the Wasatch Front 100 and adding my name to the list of 281 other finishers of the Grand Slam of UltraRunning since they began tracking this race series in 1986.  I don't think they could have had many others because Vermont began in 1989 and replaced Old Dominion and there have been other races like the Arkansas Traveler that have replaced some of the four I completed due to fires, cancellations, etc.  As a refresher, The Grand Slam of UltraRunning is a challenge of finishing four of the oldest 100 milers in the United States in the same year.  Western States 100 (California), Vermont 100, Leadville 100 (Colorado), Wasatch 100 (Utah).  The way the races are spaced out usually makes it 11 weeks from the start of the first race to the start of the last race.  So it isn't like doing one 100 mile race in January, April, August, December.  You start at the end of June (27th for me) and finish the first half of September (finished on September 12th, but started on the 11th).  The races are all mountain races, meaning there is a good amount of vertical ascent and descent throughout the race and it takes place in and around the mountains of that area.  The NYC Marathon, a "hilly" and tough road race to PR gains 885 feet over its 26.2 miles.  Divide 100 by 26.2 and multiply that by 885 and you would get 3,338 feet of gain by doing the NYC marathon equivalent 100-miler.  Western States has 17,949/22,905 (ascent/descent), Vermont has 14,160/14,160, Leadville has 18,168/18,168, and Wasatch has 26,882/26,131.  The elevation profile for all but Leadville I took from Stan Jensen's amazing website while using Leadville's official Athlete Guide for that elevation data.  To me, Vermont doesn't have the same mountain feel as the other three do.  High altitude is a factor in all but Vermont.  The average altitude at the four races based on my simple calculations are as follows:

Western States: 4,000 feet although the first 31 miles average 7,000 feet elevation.
Vermont: 1,400 feet
Leadville: 10,150 feet
Wasatch: 7,800 feet

Those are averages for the entire race.  I truly believe the altitude issue puts sea level runners like myself at a disadvantage.  However, we know what we are getting into when we sign up for the races so while it is a valid reason for performing slower than you would on similar terrain and elevation change at a sea level race (like Vermont or Old Dominion) you still have to suck it up and finish the race.  It just means that you have to adjust your expectations of your finishing times and add at least 100 minutes from what you would expect normally.  Again, this is from the point of view of a mid pack or slower runner in my opinion.

Weather is always a factor in 100 mile races.  Very rarely are conditions ideal for the entire race.  It may be cool in the morning but then gets hot during the day only to feel very cold at night or some other combination.  Sometimes you are exposed to heavy rain and wind, or snow and stretches of sticky or slippery mud on the course.  In the case of two of the races this year, temperatures were near record highs, while one was somewhat warmer than normal and the other was on the whole nice temperatures (below average) compared to normal.

Advice for someone taking on the Grand Slam:

The day before Western States, a few of the Grand Slam hopefuls met up with Jimmy Dean Freeman, a Grand Slam finisher and a very good runner and also a former TNT coach in California.  His advice for us was solid in my opinion and this is what it was.  Take each race as if that is the only race you are doing that year.  In other words, take on that race and plan the race strategy as if there are no other 100-milers you have to run.  So don't feel like you have to go slower each race in order to make it through all of them.  Just look at what Ian Sharman and Nick Clark did in 2013.  These elite runners went all out.  In fact, Ian and Nick's placing in the 4 races were: Ian - 4th, 4th, 1st, 2nd   Nick - 6th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st.  So to say you have to run each race conservatively is just false.  However, I would say that you have to have a smart race strategy and if something goes wrong, you must then give up on the goal times and just tough it and and survive to finish that race and continue on with the Grand Slam.

The most important thing aside from the race itself is what to do in between races.  Here, recovery is the most important thing and not trying to get any "training" in.  If you've made it to the sstart line of Western States, there is no more training you can possibly do to get more fit without risking overtraining or being more tired than you should be for the next races.  That doesn't mean you should sit on a couch for the time in between races.  Active recovery, so long as you aren't experiencing any pain is key.  Walking, hiking, easy spinning, etc. will help you recover faster.  Lots of running (including slow long runs), speedwork, hill repeats, etc. are things you should avoid or at the least, not feel compelled to do in between races of the Grand Slam.  Take that first week after the race off from running, but go walking.  Then go out for a short (30-60 minutes) run and see how you feel.  Then you are basically back in the taper period.  Don't worry at all about your fitness.  If you finished Western States, you are fit!

Below are my summaries of each race for me.  If you want to read the full detailed description of the race, click on the full blog post link in the summary.

Summary of my thoughts of how each race went:
Western States:
Full blog post:  The course was much harder than I expected going in.  This was my fault because I took the elite finishing times and listened to so many comments about the course being "runnable".  I think that because of the intense heat this year, my opinion of the race may overstate how hard it was compared to a day of milder temperatures, although who knows how I would have felt with a snow year.   Still, I was very surprised by the amount of climbing that went on in the race.  I expected flat to downhill after the first 50K and especially after Devil's thumb at 48.5, with some very small or short uphills after mile 62 or even mile 70.  That was not the case.  I think I would love to try this race out again to see if I can luck out with the weather and if not, to instead just run it smarter now that I know how the course goes.  Western States is a beautiful course for the first 35 miles and still scenic after that, just not big mountain views.  It is managed incredibly well with fantastic aid stations and volunteers catering to your every need.  The volunteers saved me a tremendous amount of suffering.  I believe it should be a race that all 100-mile runners should attempt once, similar to running the NYC marathon and Boston for marathon road runners.

Regarding my race; looking back on it now, I am disappointed with my finish time of 26:52.  I know I am capable of running that race faster and going sub-24 hours.  I don't know if I could do it in a year with similar hot weather but I would like another crack at this race.  The heat just destroyed me and I tried to make that up on the downhills on the switchback descent before Devil's Thumb and that ended up trashing my legs for later.  The way I felt that day, I just knew I could not do sub-24 this attempt. So maybe I'll put in for the lottery again some other time.

Full blog post:
This race is what runable means.  The course is not technical and I easily wore my hybrid road/trail type shoes (Hoka One One - Stinson ATR) on the course.  The scenery this year was not so nice because of the overcast and foggy weather, but that also kept the temperatures down.  Compared with the other three races, this one is not as pretty in my opinion.  It may be a different type of pretty for some people that like running alongside farmland and seeing vast hills of green.  This race is great because of their aid station placement.  They have food and/or water aid stations just about every 3-5 miles and I was able to run a lot of the race with just two handheld bottles and a waist pack for other supplies.  It is still a very well run race and has a homey feel to it.  The new race director, Amy Rusiecki has done a brilliant job taking on the duties.Vermont for me this year is like the way I would want and even expect Western States to go if I run it again.  It was my second crack at Vermont, having ran it in 2011 as my first 100-miler.  Back then, I ran 25:20ish. This time, I was hoping for a sub-24 finish but also thought I could run 20-22 hours depending on weather conditions.  I wasn't sure though how well I could really do because it was so soon after Western States.  The weather was kept cool until about 3PM thanks to overcast conditions.  We got lucky.  I didn't feel great the first 10 miles but then things started to come together as I chatted with other runners.  I had a rough patch around mile 72-80 and just pushed onward after that to a 21:38 finish.    I was very proud of my finish time at Vermont this year, especially because it was just 3 weeks after my poor performance at Western States.  Vermont got me thinking I've got some potential and the good races I've had in the past were not flukes.

Full blog post:
Leadville sucks for runners that are not acclimated to high altitude.  Some people from sea level still manage amazing times but I have no idea how they do that. Whether it is because they sleep or train in a Hypoxic tent, or are just freaks of nature, there is no doubt about it, the altitude issue at Leadville is a major factor in this race.  There are two very tough climbs back-to-back and some other good ones in the race but the entirety of the race feels so much harder because it is over 10,000 feet in altitude and in many cases 11,000 (and 2 cases 12,000) feet.  The race is very crowded and aid stations are spaced apart 9-11 miles in most cases.  These make the race tough.  There is some very beautiful scenery along parts of the course though.  Weather usually ranges wildly in the mountains of Colorado.  It can get hot during the day and freezing at night.  Storms can also roll through.

Regarding my race, I went into it with high expectations because of my Vermont performance and I had experience at Leadville two years prior.  I don't know if it was the heat or something else but I just was feeling down and depressed for the first 60 miles with a few ups here and there but I honestly was debating dropping out of the race at just about every aid station until mile 60.  My eyes fogged up which made me slow down when my body felt like it could have gone faster the last 15 miles didn't help my overall time.  I finished about an hour faster than 2013 but I was hoping to finish 90-120 minutes faster if possible.  It just was not in the cards that day and I may just need everything to go right to get a sub 25-hour finish there.  So another race that I was somewhat disappointed with my finishing time.  I did meet an awesome runner in Regis Shivers who paced me the last 40 miles so that I finished faster than I would have if I was on my own and felt much better the last part of that race.

Full blog post:
Wasatch is the beast of the series but it is Beauty and the Beast, or as their motto goes, "100 Miles of Heaven and Hell".  This course is so tough but they give you plenty of time to finish, 36 hours compared to 30 for the other 3 races in the Slam.  All the while you are surrounded by incredible scenery.  I can't help but remember all of the times I just marveled at my surroundings and felt so privileged to be able to run this race.  The climbs in this race are constant.  If you ask why there are so many hills or why are we climbing again the answer is always, "This is Wasatch! What did you expect?!".  Like the other real big mountain races, weather can vary tremendously.  We were unlucky to have a very hot year. I think one of the 2 or 3 hottest on record.  That didn't stop it from being cold at night on some parts of the course.  The race is organized very well and the volunteers there are great and the entire atmosphere makes it a race you would want to come back to year after year.

My race there, like two of the prior races in the Grand Slam didn't go as planned.  The race was tough but I struggled more than I ever have in other races.  This was the first race that I forced myself to take a nap break.  I actually took two. One for 5 minutes and another for 15 minutes.  Maybe it was because I knew this was the last race to do and I wanted to make sure I could finish and time wasn't important after realizing my day wasn't going well.  The risk of doing something stupid by not taking that nap break may have been too large if the nap was what I needed to finish the race. Yet I know that if I could have broken 30 hours, I would have been so much happier.  I think I can break 30 hours there and maybe I'll come back another year to give that a shot.  It was such a beautiful course. . .

Summary thoughts on the Grand Slam:
The Grand Slam is a unique challenge.  It's not an arbitrary set of 100-mile races.  The history of it certainly has its appeal.  Given that 42 people this year attempted this challenge and only 17 finished makes the feeling of completing this challenge even more special.  That is not a knock on those that didn't make it through all four.  Quite the opposite.  It made me realize just how difficult each one of the races are individually; that really good runners can fail to finish one for so many different reasons.  Taking on the Grand Slam is an expensive adventure.  Especially from the East coast.  There are ways to make it less expensive but obviously, it is something to consider if you want to attempt it.  With getting into Western States so difficult now, I would guess that the amount of people going for the Grand Slam will continue to be large.  There are always people doing crazy races and adventures that will top what the Grand Slam is.  There were 3 runners who were going for the Original Six Hundred Challenge (one threw Badwater into the mix as well) and someone (Ed Ettinghousen) did 42, 100 mile races in 2014 so there will almost always be a level of crazy that surpasses what you think is crazy and what you do. That doesn't diminish what you are doing.  Any time you challenge yourself to do something difficult, it's worth doing because that is how we grow stronger.  I would strongly encourage people that are considering the challenge to go for it.  The main reason is that you never know what life circumstances may come up that prevents you from ever being able to take on the challenge again. So if it is something you aren't sure about doing and you can work around the financial aspect of it, you should definitely give it a shot.

Thoughts on 100-mile races:
It is Wednesday, October 7th and 3 weeks and 5 days since I started the last race of the Grand Slam and up until about 2 days ago, I had no desire to do another 100-miler next year.  I was going to enter the Hardrock 100 lottery but because my sister is getting married the weekend before it, I probably can't do the race because I would not have time to acclimate well enough to so I don't get sick with the very high altitude for that race.  On Sunday, 3 weeks and 1 day from finishing Wasatch, I ran an easy trail half marathon and had so much fun with the shorter distance race.  This brings up the question of why on Earth would I subject myself to 18-36 (or more) hours of torture when I can just run for 1:30-2 hours or maybe longer depending on how hard the course is?  Oddly enough, on my walk home from work on Monday October 5th, I thought about doing a mountain 200-miler.  Why not take a week off from work and spend 3-4 days of that running?  Then I thought how terrible I will feel at mile 130 and decided to hold off on that brilliant thought of planning a 200-mile race.  I thought about running a 48-hour event or even a 24-hour race but those types of events haven't worn on me yet.  I did however, feel like I could do another mountain 100 miler.  The Bighorn 100 (Wyoming) came into the picture and while I'm not yet sold on the 100-mile distance there, things are moving in that direction (note, it's been nearly two months since I began writing this and I will run Rocky Raccoon 100 in Texas this February).  I'm still trying to figure it all out.  How can I go from never wanting to do another 100-miler again to thinking it may be fun to do another tough mountain 100-miler, and then probably signing up for one?  Part of it is that dimmer switch in our brain that slowly lowers that remembrance of how painful and tough the race was and replaces it with the amazing views and happy feelings from when we finished the race.  The pure joy of NOT having to run anymore somehow makes its way into the mind and confuses it into being a joy to run the race and be at mile 68 and sleep-walking along the trail and still being 12 hours from finishing!  Maybe it is that same idea that suckered me into it in the first place; it would be a fun adventure so why not give it a go?  Well, I've given it a go 12 times (14 if you count my two DNFs - 1 was a fat-ass run, the other I bailed early because I signed up the day of the race and mentally wasn't ready for it).  Doing a race in a new beautiful location (Bighorn Mountains or the San Juans) is the excuse for even considering it right now.  However, I have also begun to debate putting my name in the lottery to do Western States again (update - I did not put my name into this lottery for 2016), just to  have a better performance than this year and I would consider doing Wasatch again because it was so amazingly scenic.  The latter thought though brings me back to the counter-argument of why do I have to do a 100 mile race to see beautiful scenery?!  Can't I just take a trip out to those mountain ranges and do some day hikes?  Why worry about cut-off times and drop bag contents when I can just go out with a backpack for 6-10 hours and enjoy the short and very easy day?

I used to do Ironman triathlons but gave them up after 2008 because I didn't really enjoy the bike training as much and despised the swim training (I came out of retirement in 2012 to run the NYC Ironman since it was in my backyard and I wanted to see if I could do it without doing any bike or swim training).   So I had a reason for giving up that sport.  I wasn't happy overall with it and it was also expensive to participate in them.  I'm very happy running though.  So maybe I will stop doing these races when running longer doesn't make me feel as happy anymore.  I find that hard to see with so many friends now getting into ultra distance events and meeting so many great people at these races all of the time.  Unlike swimming and cycling, you chat with the other runners during the race and while training and it is a much more social sport than the other two disciplines of a triathlon.  Therefore, it must come down to enjoyment.  Do I enjoy these races and training for these races?  The answer may not be a straightforward "yes" but I think the weight of the "yes" is higher than the "no", with the main reason being that I do enjoy running.  It usually calms my mind and releases stress and just feels good to me.  This isn't the case for everyone so it won't apply to everyone.  Going for a 45-100 minute run is something I don't usually think of as a chore.  Even when I'm not training for a specific race, I would still want to go out and run.  The question still remains though, why must I run 100 miles?

These are the questions that I can't give better answers for than simply in a masochistic way, I love that challenge and for now, that outweighs the other reasons for not doing the race. I also feel privileged to be able to run these races.  I'm lucky enough to be able to do this as a passion.  I know of people who can't do this because of illness, injury, or other reasons and they would love to be able to do something.  So I run for those that can't.   For example, at one of Team in Training's practices, we had two mission moment speakers which were sad stories.  It got me to think that I'm just lucky to be able to run and enjoy this sport.  So in essence, I do these races because I can run, because at some point in my life I will not be able to do it any longer.  I'm not forced to run, but running is a force on me and my life.

On the psychology of running, I was recently interviewed by a former TNT alumni for an article in the New Yorker.  He also interviewed some incredible stellar long distance athletes. Here's a link to that article.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Grand Slam part 4: Wasatch Front 100

To read the race recaps for parts 1-3 of the Grand Slam, click on the links below.
Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:

There was a bit of drama leading up to the last race in the Grand Slam. On Monday, someone posted on Facebook about a forest fire near the finish of the race and said it wasn't looking good. By Tuesday evening, news outlets were reporting the fire had spread to 750 acres and was only 5% contained. Without hearing anything else, I thought there would be a chance the race may be cancelled or there would be an alternate route planned which would likely use more roads. While waiting for my flight on Wednesday, word came from the race director that the race will proceed as scheduled on the original course. The first problem was averted.

I flew into Salt Lake City Wednesday evening and used Uber (first time) to get me to my hotel (Motel 6) close to midnight. Here is where problem number two began. First, as the car pulls into the parking lot, there are two police cars there and I overheard one of the officers telling someone who asked that there was something about a guy pulling a knife on someone. Coming from NYC, I ignore all temptation to nose around and find out what's going on and head inside to check in. I get my room key and proceed to my room. As soon as I open the door and take one step into the room, I'm hit with a full blast of stale cigarette stench. It's overpowering. I look on one of the counters and there is an empty ash tray. The ash tray and the intense smoke smell had me wondering how this was a non-smoking room. Then I saw a second concern. There were a number of mosquitoes on the walls/ceiling. I killed about 6 fairly quickly. With the cigarette smoke and the mosquitoes a big concern, I went back to the front desk and asked for a room change and wanted to know why I was given a smoking room when I requested on my reservation a non-smoking room. The clerk, said since I arrived very late, they give the rooms away on a first come first serve basis (this makes no sense to me if I have a non-smoking room, I should get a non-smoking room whenever I arrive) and the hotel was fully booked so I couldn't change rooms. So I was stuck that night killing a few more mosquitoes and then making sure my suitcase stayed closed to avoid getting all of my race clothing smelling like smoke. After waking up the next morning, I asked the new front desk clerk if I could change rooms because it was not the room I reserved. At first she said no, because the hotel was supposed to be full again that night. Then I told her that the clerk last night said rooms are given on a first come first serve basis so why can't you give me the room of someone that hasn't checked in yet because obviously, people will check out sometime today. This logic worked and she was able to find a room (and somehow it was ready to be check into- weird since they were supposedly fully booked the night before. Maybe the night clerk though I only wanted a queen bed when in fact, I only wanted a non-smoking room), and I feel a little bad for a non-smoke that may get stuck in my old room. The old room was a complete piece of trash. There wasn't even the circular thing that hold the toilet paper in place. The new room was a normal room and what I expected to get from the beginning.

Following that room change in the morning, I prepared my drop bags for the race and then got my laptop and went to Starbucks to waste some time before I had to head to number pick up and the athlete briefing. I was still pissed off about the room situation (although much less than before) and decided to look up the reviews for the hotel and was horrified by the responses. There were comments like drug addicts and meth heads congregate there and knock on guests doors and windows and beg for money or try to break in. There are tons of shady characters hanging around at night and one review said the guests were told to stay in their rooms and all non-guests had to leave immediately as the hotel was now ordered under curfew for some reason. Now I was starting to worry about the things I would leave in the hotel room from Friday morning until Saturday evening when I would get back from the race. I decided to pack all my important things (including my laptop) in my backpack that I can drop off at the start line and would be transported to the finish. Then it was time to go to the number pickup and give in my drop bags for the race.

I used Uber again to take me to that location as it was too far to walk and public transportation would take 90 minutes (instead of a 10 minute drive) and that would be assuming I wouldn't mess up because I would have to take 2 or 3 buses. I got there right about when it began at noon and the briefing was at 4PM so I used the time to chat away with people. Someone was selling homemade gaiters (they prevent rocks, dirt, etc. from getting into your shoes) made in Brooklyn. I spoke with her (Adrienne) a couple minutes before she introduced me to her fiance, Thomas Wong who was also running Wasatch. Thomas is crazier than me! He attempted a 200-miler last year called the Tahoe 200 but did not finish (along with a lot of other people) but he didn't let that bother him and he signed up for and finished the inaugural Bigfoot 200-mile race that take part in the Cascade mountains. I then met a guy named Max who also finished Bigfoot and was running the Wasatch 100 for the 19th time. Luis Miguel Callao showed up and we all spoke for a while as more and more runners filtered in to check in.  David Snipes texted me a picture of a runner, Shannon Scott that was running and for me to say hi to her for him if I see her, which I did.  Closer to 4PM, the place was now really packed. I saw Steven Pack who was pacing Emmanuel Odebunmi, then Makato Kitamura once again at one of these races, and then Mary Arnold. It was great seeing all of these NYers here! Then I saw Zsuzsanna Carlson who had a great run at the Grand Slam last year but cut off at Leadville and is hoping to get a shot at the slam again. Then she said that Tom Green was here. Tom Green is the original Grand Slammer back in 1986. He attempted to finish it again last year and made it all the way to Wasatch but couldn't finish the race. Earlier this Spring, Tom was cutting down some trees around his home when a terrible accident occurred. The tree fell but then catapulted back up, hitting Tom and causing massive damage to him. He was in the hospital for about a month I think and has been going all out with physical therapy to get back to doing what he loves to do, be outside walking, hiking, and hopefully running. Given the amount of damage that was done to him, it was amazing to see him at Wasatch, walking slowly around with trekking poles to help with his balance. I would imagine if it wasn't for his sheer determination as an ultrarunner, he would be like tons of people still in a wheelchair after an accident of that magnitude. I went up and said hi to him and let him know how inspired I was to see him there and that I was running the Grand Slam.  He gave me some great words of encouragement, noting that luck plays a huge role in the Slam and semi-jokingly, in life as well.  His life took a quite unlucky turn with the way the tree bounced, but he was also lucky to be alive and on the road to recovery. 

After the race briefing I said goodbye to everyone and was given a ride back to the Motel 6.  I went to a local Italian place for dinner and afterwards, got everything set up for the next morning.  I decided to pack my laptop in my bag that I would bring to the start line that gets transported to the finish.  I did not want to leave any valuables in my room for 40+ hours given the reputation of this Motel 6 and my experience from staying in it just one night.  I asked the front desk to cancel any house keeping for my room for Friday and Saturday (spoiler alert, housekeeping still came in and made my bed and gave new towels).  I put on my course elevation and aid station profile tattoo that was given out to us at packet pickup.  Just a note about this tattoo.  It was really annoying because there are parts that look like nothing but downhill, yet we had some steep uphill sections in reality.   It did have the aid station mileage numbers and was probably better than nothing but having those uphills out of nowhere when looking at this map was annoying.  People I met during the race said, "what did you expect, this is Wasatch!  You go up!".

My alarm was set for 2:40AM and I went to bed at 8:15PM.  I slept about as well as I could have expected, which meant waking up frequently either because of nerves or because of noise outside the room.  Finally, my alarm went off and is was time to get ready.  I pooped, which is always a plus.  I wore pretty much the same clothing I had for Leadville with the exception of starting off with short sleeve shirt today since the weather wasn't as cold in the morning (glad I forgot to pack my $2.14 throwaway jacket I purchased in Leadville!).  After making sure I had absolutely everything I needed and packed everything I would need for the finish line (including valuables), I left the room to first head to the gas station across the street to get some breakfast.  I picked up a muffin and some breakfast bar but only ended up eating the muffin.  Then I walked about 3 blocks to where the buses were stationed that would take runners to the start line and boarded it.  The buses departed on time at 4AM and I slept a good 15 minutes on the bus while it took about 30 minutes to get about 1/4 mile from the start line where we were dropped off.

This race is the toughest of the 4 in the Grand Slam.  The elevation gain/loss according to the great website is 26,882/26,131.  That's nearly double Vermont.  Here's the elevation profile:

The starting area was very crowded with runners and their friends/family/crews.  The 6 Port-o-Pottys plus the real Park bathroom had an insanely long line but luckily I didn't have to go.  I just really hung around and waited for the race to begin, staring up at the very starry sky.  Soon enough the countdown was on and we went right onto the trail to start the race.

The start was very slow to say the least.  Compared to nearly every other race I've done when you normally get at least half of a mile of wide road or trail to sort yourself out and get into a position more suited to your speed.  Here, we all go straight onto single track.  Something I wondered before the race but figured out the answer to quite quickly is why some runners were wearing surgical masks?  This part of the course was so dusty/sandy it was amazing.  I wonder how much breathing in all of this dry dirt impacts you for the rest of the race.  It was pretty bad and went on for a few miles.  The course widened a little but it was sporadically double track and I finally found myself in a group going at a pace that was comfortable.   I could have run faster but there was no reason to do so this early.

Before we know it, we're basically at a dead stop.  At some point, the course takes a short steep turn higher and creates a huge logjam.  It was very strange because it was a very short steep part and it was just perplexing why the line backed up so much.

After a little more running, we had a nice view of the city lit up below us., but we still had a clear star filled sky.  From here, the course started its long trek upwards. 

I latched on with some people and listened to their conversations.  I felt like I had to pee but there were no good spots to stop so I just held it.  After about 5 miles, the morning sun gave a different view of the city below us. 

As we continued on up, the grass around us got bigger and really was very overgrown on the trail.  This was a theme of the run in many places.  I had a lot of scrapes from running through so much dry and overgrown shrubbery.  After making a hard right turn, we continued to climb and we then got a nice view of the Great Salt Lake.  The more we continued to climb and go in this direction, the better the view became.

A short time later we are able to see the steep climb barely come into view.  Around mile 9-10 is a climb they call "Chinscraper".  The description the race gives of this part is as follows: "The trail heads through the brush southwards climbing through some tall fir trees into the steep "bowl" below the ridge. This is Chinscraper and is the correct way. Once entering the base of the bowl observe carefully the yellow and red flagging. There are many ways up the bowl to the top but the safest and most used route stays to the right (west) side. PLEASE BE CAREFUL NOT TO DISLODGE ROCKS AND SEND THEM TUMBLING BELOW ONTO THE OTHER RUNNERS."  We still had a mile or two before we reached it.  So a the description said, we continued on through the brush.  We reached what they call "Aid Station 0" because it is not technically an aid station listed but someone hikes up there with supplies.  There was fresh water coming from a tube sticking out of the mountain and the awesome volunteer brought cookies, and crackers, etc.  I saw oreos and grabbed about 4 of them.  They were delicious and a good supplement to the trail mix snack of honey roasted almonds and crispy M&Ms that I was eating up until that point.  After that, I still felt the need to pee and finally saw a nice area to take that break.  Shortly after that, we were very close to Chinscraper and could hear some crazy spectators cheering from the top.  Climbing it was a lot of fun.  I wanted to get a video of it, but since it requires you to use both hands to climb up, and I had trekking poles, I made a quick decision and put the Go-Pro in my mouth.  Hopefully you can get an idea of how steep it was to climb this even though the video may not really show it that well.

The view from the top was fantastic.  After clearing it, I ran along the ridge a very short while before I needed to stop and take another video of the fantastic view of Salt Lake City and the lake. 
Nothing looks remotely good for views on the Go-Pro as it does in real life. 

After I took the video, I continued running and caught up to Mary Arnold.  She was stopped at this point to take some pictures because really, that's what you do at this point and during so much of this race during the day.  The views are so amazing.  The race is basically climbing up to the top of a mountain and then running along the ridges to the next pass and then down into a valley before heading back up and running along another ridge.  As I'm running with a small group, one of the girls ahead of me shouts and falls right into some bushes on the mountain side (not the cliff side).  She gets up and says she's ok but feels it a little in her knees.  She continued on.  I really was feeling quite good at this point.  It was about mile 10-11 and I was moving nice and slow as I expected to be for the first 10-11 miles.  I was averaging roughly a 3 mph or slower.  I thought about this and wondered if my sub-30 hour goal would be possible given I was under that pace this early in the race.  I figured this first 11 miles is mostly uphill and there is a lot of the race left to go that had downhills or relatively flat sections along with other uphill tough parts.  So maybe averaged out, it would be possible to go sub-30.   Around mile 12, I don't know what happened but I tripped over something and flew forward.  I threw the pole in my right hand about 5 feet ahead of me and a little to the right and I landed hard on the ground but very quickly recovered,  Luckily, my pole didn't fly off the mountain and was in a bush right near the trail.  The bottom of my right hand got cut in a perfect circle about a 1/4 inch diameter.  It was bleeding and also full of dirt.  Perfect.  Let's come down with some infection during this race.  I take my water bottle and wash it off as best I can and continue running.  A little over a mile later we get to the next fake aid station which is the race director's truck pulled up where the trail meets a jeep service road.  I filled up my water bottles here and kept it a short stop.  Only 5 more miles until the first real aid station.  I'll keep repeating this but the course was so nice, with single track and fantastic scenery.  Notice the sun though.  It is big and bright in the cloudless sky.  Things were going to heat up. 

We then hit a jeep road that takes us to the first official aid station.  I am given my drop bag while at the aid station table.  I'm not that hungry but force some food down.  I change into my TNT purple singlet, refill my water and then ask if they have any sunblock.  They only have what someone left there so I use whatever was left which wasn't enough since the spray ran out but I hoped it would be ok until the next aid station.   I debated putting my headlamp in my drop bag but thought I should keep it in my hydration pack in case of emergency later on or to use as a waist lamp.  The next 5+ mile section was some short flat running and then some ups and a medium downhill followed by a long uphill into the aid station. 

A lot of it was exposed but here I believe is where I also had my first smell of what seemed to be weed.  I remember walking with a few runners during the race later on and then after the race and asked them if they remembered smelling that and they all laughed and said yes.  One person said it could have been sage while others said some people may have gone up to these spots and planted it there to harvest later.  Either way, it just proved to me at least how hot things were that those plants were giving off such a strong odor.  When I post these blogs, people ask me how I remember things so well from the long race.  One answer is that certain things are just stamped into my mind.  Such as I vividly remember feeling good or bad at mile x before or after an aid station.  When I have my phone or camera on me, I take some videos of how I'm feeling and where I am in the race so I can put it in writing later.  At mile 22.7 according to my watch, I took a video as I'm going through some brush that it was really starting to get hot and things were only going to get worse.  A mile later I arrived at the next aid station.  They had sunblock and I applied it everywhere.  They also had ice and I filled up my pack and bottles with water and ice.  I overheard a woman runner next to me calling her husband and telling him that she's been nauseous most of the race and asked him to get something out of the cabinet in the kitchen (some kind of anti-nausea medicine?) and get it to her at the next crew aid station.  The heat was really hurting people.  I ate some sandwiches and they had fruit salad. This wasn't just ordinary fruit salad.  It was frozen fruit salad!  They had ziplock bags which allowed us to pack some food to go so I packed a bag full of the fruit salad and got going.  Eating the frozen fruit salad on the go was great!  It was refreshing, had the sugar I needed, and raised my spirits.  However, it didn't last that long because this next section was rolling hills but most of them were a lot longer on the way up.  I continued to eat and drink from my bottles.  Eventually, we get to the aid station.  More sunblock applied and more water bottles filled up.  I didn't refill my hydration pack though.  That would end up being a mistake. 

Shortly after the aid station, we head upwards through beautiful Aspen and Pine trees.  It is a relentless uphill.  As you can hear in the video below, it is mile 28.5 and 8 hours into the race.  I'm now on pace for sub-30 assuming I stay at this pace.  I wondered if I would be able to do so given the general slowdown in pace that occurs at night, not to mention the slowing down that normally takes place between miles 80-100. 

The heat is really relentless here.  We pass by some cold water streams and I stop at each one to splash water on my face, legs, arms, and neck.  I take out my bandanna from my pack and dip it in the water and then tie it around my neck.  I take my hat and submerge it into the stream and then put it on backwards on my head so the water can drip onto the back of my neck.  We climb out of the forest and run along the side of the mountains.  The course is amazing.  I say this in my videos over and over again.

I can see what is possibly the aid station ahead. I'm happy we will get there soon because my bottles and hydration pack are almost out of water from drinking and from spraying myself down.  Unfortunately, the trail winds around the sides of these mountains for a while and I don't reach the aid station for at least 45-60 minutes from when I first spotted it.  I ran out of water and was feeling the cumulative effects of the heat all day.  I take a video saying how this section of the course was so beautiful but so exposed to the heat and that I really needed ice and water at the next aid station.
I finally arrive at the Swallows Rock mile 34.6 aid station close to 3PM. I've spent the good part of the last the last 2 hours since the prior aid station in the heat of the sun, not to mention the previous 8 hours of running before that.  I was ready to load up on ice and water and was thoroughly disappointed when I arrived at this aid station.  They were very low on ice and were only able to spare a few pieces to each runner. They were also low on water.  I was only able to refill my hydration pack with the few pieces of ice but did refill on water.  However, not having water in my bottles to cool myself down was a big negative.  I hoped I would find some streams along the way.  They did have popsicles at this aid station though.  That was a wonderful treat.

The next section has a few small uphills but is mostly downhill.  I thought this would be a good thing because I could get to the next aid station faster.  Generally, this was the case but it didn't feel like I was moving as fast as I wanted to go.  My legs felt heavy and I was starting to feel more like it was mile 77 than mile 37. In this section, I saw more and more people taking breaks along the trail in the shade when there was some.  I saw people vomiting and trying to just get themselves back into it to get themselves to the next aid station where we were promised plenty of ice and water.  Similar to the last lead up to the aid station, here I was able to see and also hear what looked like the aid station.  The course had other things in mind though and took us winding down and around before getting into the Big Mountain Pass aid station and mile 39.  About 0.5 miles before reaching the aid station there were signs of the American flag and I knew I was getting close.  I needed to refuel and cool down in a major way at this aid station and was happy to finally get into it. 

This aid station was a major one at the Big Mountain Pass.  There were tons of pacers, crews, spectators, and music.  This is where runners can first pick up pacers for their race.  I was feeling wiped out and needed to regroup.  I get into the aid station and I fill my bottles and hydration pack with ice and water.  Then I eat some turkey and cheese sandwiches and some seedless watermelon.  They also had sliced peaches in ziplock bags so I grabbed 3 of these bags and put them in my pocket to eat later.  I would need more calories before leaving and calories on the go because this stretch to the next aid station was nearly 8 miles.  I put on more sunblock and got another popsicle and then thought I had everything I needed and was about to leave before remembering ice.  I went back and put ice in my bandanna and tried to wrap it around my neck but it probably took me two minutes to finally tie it around.  Then I put ice in my hat and left the aid station. 

Now I didn't know this at the time, but I made a big mistake at this aid station.  Now I could blame others for it but it always comes down to individual responsibility.  I would say that at this aid station, in my opinion, I didn't receive much help from volunteers as I did at others.  I didn't have people asking to refill my bottles and pack or asking if I needed anything.  Anything I wanted I got myself.  I could have easily asked someone for help though and they would have helped me.  This was a very busy aid station and people were all over the place.  My big mistake was that this was a drop bag aid station and no one asked me if I had a drop bag as I arrived so I just assumed it was not a drop bag aid station.  I should have known better and that is completely my fault for not knowing.  In this drop bag I had another ziplock bag of my almond/M&M trail mix and my good headlamp.  I knew there was a chance I wouldn't make it to mile 53 before it gets dark so I purposefully put the headlamp in this drop bag to pick up early and keep in my pack in case I needed it.  Without asking for my dropbag at this aid station, I left without my good headlamp.  This would cause me some mental anguish later in the race.  If I had a crew or pacer, they probably would have asked if I had a drop bag here.  I didn't have that luxury and should have done a much better job familiarizing myself with the course. 

The next section starts with a short 1+ mile climb right out of the gate.  Then it goes down through some forests and brush for a mile before doing another 1 mile climb up.  Then we are running along the top of the mountain down and up over some rolling terrain before heading mostly downhill with some short ups in the way.  Here's the view around mile 42 with the sun still beating us down. 

After about 4 miles into this section, I met up with Jeff Stowell. I ran with him for about a mile at Western States and found out he was also running the Grand Slam and he knew a Jim Breuning, a friend of mine from NYC who he had run Wasatch with in 2012.  He had run Wasatch twice, finishing once and DNFing the other. He gave all the slammers some info on the course via Facebook earlier in the week. I read that info a few times over and by the time the race began, had completely forgotten what he said. I told him this and we laughed about it. He knew it was a lot to take in.  At this point, he said we were on the same pace that he was at when he finished in 2012 but he noted that he had to walk in the last 30 miles of the race.  He finished in around 34:30 in 2012.  Coming up to mile 44, he told me a great story about how he will never forget how the course goes at this point.  He said it was about 10-15 years ago where he and a friend went mountain biking up here.  On the way back, they missed the right turn that we take and he was supposed to take. Here is what the course directions say about this part, " Turn right here, and do not continue on a trail straight ahead. DO NOT CONTINUE STRAIGHT AHEAD! If you are looking at your feet at this point, you will get lost for a long time".  I chuckled when I first read these instruction but after hearing Jeff's story, it is 100% correct.  He said he and a friend (I believe on July 4th) missed that turn and continued to bike on the trail.  They went on for at least an hour and then it started to get dark.  His friend said he didn't have the energy to backtrack and find the way back before sunset so they had to sleep overnight on the trail.  He said even in July it must have gone down into the 30s at night and it was terrible sleeping out in the open.  Yes, they had to cuddle for warmth. It doesn't matter what you may say you will or won't do in those situations but all that goes out the door and you do what you have to do in order to stay warm.  The next morning, they were able to backtrack and find their way onto the proper trail and home.  He said that path really leads to nothing.  It was just a path created many years ago as a way to get emergency vehicle up or down the mountain.  Although that doesn't explain why it leads to nowhere unless it's for the vehicles to get to nowhere in order to rescue people or put out fires.  Shortly thereafter, Jeff had to take a restroom break so we parted ways.  I got some nice video of my shadow running and then of the course before descending downwards.

This section was just long.  It took 2.5 hours to do those 8 miles, even though a lot of it was downhill.  I got to the aid station and ate watermelon and other food.  I filled up my bottles again and left quickly, knowing I wanted to get to the next aid station before dark so I could get my good headlamp. 

The section had some long up and down rollers through a grassy section where it seemed like I had to constantly change from running on the left side of the trail to the right side and then onto the middle and then switching every minute because where there was trail would then be 5 foot high grass growing.  There were many signs warning of crude pipelines in the area.  There was no oil smell though which was good.  I can imagine how muddy and messy this section would be if it was raining or it rained heavy leading up to the race.  This section was 5.5 miles long and it took me 90 minutes. That's not too shabby given that there was a 1-2 mile section of heavy brush uphill once we left that crude oil grassy field.  I was hoping it wouldn't take that long though because it began to get dark.  Before the darkness settled in and we were headed back down, I was able to see the aid station. However, like the aid stations before this one, we see it well before we head towards it.  It snaked around a forested area where there were many deep holes to fall in and some wooden boards were put up over some parts to cross.  The sun was setting over the mountains and getting dark.  I knew I must be close to the aid station and wanted to go as long as I could before taking out my headlamp.  It got very dark but as that happened slowly, my eyes were better able to adjust.  Right as I was thinking it may be safer to take out my headlamp a runner comes from the opposite direction (someones pacer) saying the aid station is about a 1/4 mile away.  I got to the Lamb's Canyon aid station at mile 52.5 pretty worn out and knowing I was just 52.5% done with the race.  I knew this would be an aid station I needed a little extra time to regroup at but I would be ok once I picked up my drop bag and got my charger for my Garmin and looked for my good headlamp.  As I mentioned earlier, I was in shock when I couldn't find both my headlamp, or my bag of trail mix in my drop bag.

I spent at least 5 minutes rummaging through my bag looking for my headlamp.  I couldn't figure out where it went because I knew it would be dark leaving this aid station and at best it would be light for an hour.  I thought I made a stupid packing mistake and put it in the drop bag at the next aid station 8.5 miles away. I was really frustrated at this.  Also, everyone had their pacers and crews and I was alone and no volunteers were offering my help (and I was too stubborn to ask) while I was sitting in a chair going through my bag.  I was at least not completely worried because I was lucky enough to decide not to put my other headlamp away in my first drop bag and kept it in my hydration pack.  If I had no headlamp at this point, I would have been screwed, unless someone that dropped out agreed to give me their headlamp.  I didn't have to worry about that though.  So I finally get up and go around the corner of the tent to get food and refill my pack with water, one water bottle with water, and now that it was dark, I filled the other water bottle with Coke.  The only problem is they only had 1/2 a can of Coke left so I filled the remainder with Dr. Pepper, not that bad a combination actually!  I got two cups of Ramen Noodle soup at this aid station and had some pickles and potatoes.  Then I left after spending nearly 20 minutes there. 

The path goes under an overpass for the freeway (Highway 80 I think) before continuing uphill on road until reaching the trail head for Lamb's.  This section is quite tough.  There is a roughly 2,100 feet of climbing in a 4 mile stretch with 1,500 in 2.1 miles.  Then the course drops 1,500 feet in 2 miles.  Finally, there is a little more climbing to do before the next aid station.  This section started the beginning of my long miserable night period.  The road section leading up to the trail was felt annoying because I wasn't running it.  I was busy digesting my food and being annoyed at not having my good headlamp.  There were occasionally cars coming towards us on the road and I wondered how long before we got to the trail.  Once we got there, the long climb began.  During this climb I started to get sleepy.  I recalled from UTMB last year how I felt good on the climbs and wondered why I was sucking so much here.  I used my knowledge knowing that I made it through UTMB to help me here.  I needed some motivation to stop me from sleeping so I took out my iPod and put on some music.  This did help for a short period of time but I wasn't moving well on the descent.  Part of it was I still felt it too early to open up my stride and hammer the downhills, because I knew there were some big downhills to come after mile 75 and I wanted to make sure I had legs for that. The other reason was still just feeling exhausted and sleepy.  I was taking some solace in the sleepiness was thinking things would be better at the next aid station when I get my good headlamp and a 5-hour energy.  Just look at how relaxing and peaceful it is at night and the sounds of the forest lull you into a Walking Dead slumber. 

A couple notable things happened along this section.  While on the climb, there was someone I passed not looking too good.  I asked how he was doing and he said extremely sleepy.  I told him to turn on some music if he has any because that helped me a little.  The next moment was on the long descent, there was a runner coming back up asking if we had seen runner #301.  Apparently, this was #301s pacer and the pacer stopped to pee and then took off fast down the mountain to catch up to his runner.  He kept running and running but didn't catch up to him and thought he should have by then so he started hiking back up the mountain to find him.  I told him that he probably should not hike back up and instead, should wait for 15 minutes and if he doesn't appear, then just go to the next aid station to find out where he is and wait there.  This pacer was worried that his runner was laying on the side of the trail.  The pacer decided to continue to hike back up. About 30 minutes later, that same pacer comes flying back down the mountain, still looking for his runner but having no luck.   Finally, the trail ends and we are back on a road.  This road though heads uphill.  Only this race would have you head uphill to enter the trail and then uphill after leaving the trail.  This long uphill road section sucked. I was very tired and getting a little cold.  I was sleep walking on the road a lot, but being woken by cars coming from one direction or the other.  Looks like some crew would head to where the trail section on this side starts and wait for their runners here, then meet them up at the aid station.  I hoped the aid station was close, but it was actually 3 miles away.  I didn't know that or couldn't do the math at the time and the sleepwalking pace of 20+ minutes per mile didn't get me to the aid station any faster.  I was trying to motivate myself out of this funk by thinking of two people.  One was Dave Mackey, an elite ultra runner who got into a serious injury while training in Boulder.  A rock he stepped on a million times in prior training gave way and he fell many feet down and was pinned there and broke a lot of things on the way.  He was lucky it wasn't worse but who knows when he will be back running.  He was supposed to run Western States.  A prior Grand Slam finisher and also a former TNT coach out in LA advised all of us in the Grand Slam to think of Mackey when we are feeling low and like we want to quit.  As bad as we feel Dave Mackey would love to feel that terrible instead of being in a hospital bed of now in daily physical therapy trying to walk properly.  The other person I thought of was a fellow Grand Slammer this year, Craig Norquist.  He read my race recap on Leadville and saw that I was fundraising for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society with Team in Training.  He messaged me and thanked me for that because he was diagnosed with Lymphoma two years ago.  If he could take on this race and the Slam, then so could I and I should just suck it up and suffer a little now.  The situation was the same though, it was getting cold and I was very happy to finally see the aid station after this 3-hour section.

Upper Big Water aid station was a weird place.  They had a fire going which I stayed away from.  It was very cold at this place as we gained a decent amount of altitude and we are in a certain part of the canyon where the airflow is cold.  I take a seat and am helped by some wonderful volunteers.  They bring me some noodle soup and some Coke and my drop bag.  When I look through my drop bag, my confidence just sunk.  No headlamp, and just a long sleeved running shirt.  I had arm warmers in my hydration pack but I thought my singlet would still be too cold.  So I changed into the long sleeve and then had to tackle my next problem, not having my good headlamp.  Since I used my other headlamp for 1-2 hours in the morning and then 3 hours so far in the night section, I needed spare batteries which I did not prepare for because I expected to have my good headlamp with me. Luckily, the aid station had some spare AAA batteries and I decided to change them out now and keep the used ones in my pack as the emergency.  I ate another cup of Ramen and cup of Coke and was still cold so I took out my lightweight jacket from my pack as well as my new windproof gloves (since I lost my old pair at Leadville).  Then I was ready to go.  I profusely thanked the volunteers at this aid station for all of their help.  Now to get done with this next 5-mile section

I don't remember much about the section leading to the Desolation Lake aid station.  Most of it was uphill and shortly after I left, I had warmed up and took off my jacket.  At the beginning I was just hiking up.  Then there is a 1 mile downhill which I felt better on.  In fact, I ended up passing someone that looked familiar who was having a lot of trouble on this downhill.  It happened to be the pacer for runner #301.  It turns out that his runner was indeed ahead of him the entire time.  He ran down that earlier section hard, then hiked back up, then ran down hard again to the aid station to try and find his runner.  His runner was actually at that aid station and apparently running very well!  With the pacer putting in such a hard effort for that many miles, he actually ended up trashing his legs and he couldn't run downhill anymore.  So all that effort he put in to find his runner because he was worried he lost him and though the runner needed his help and he felt terrible for leaving him alone, now it turns out that his runner will still continue to be without a pacer because the pacer's legs were dead.  I've seen this happen before but not this quickly.  What really sucked for the pacer is that the next aid station is a no dropping aid station.  They actually hike the supplies in from a few miles away.  It took me 2 hours to do this 5 mile section mostly on uphill which was good.  I reached Desolation Lake aid station, mile 66.  I ate some soup and some Swedish Fish.  I continued my process of filling up one bottle with water and the other with Coke.  Once I finished the soup, I filled up a ziplock bag with Swedish Fish for the next sections.  There wasn't much for me at this aid station and as soon as I filled up the Swedish Fish bag and thought about eating more I had an urgent need to find a bathroom.  There were no Port-o-Pottys here so I decided to check out of the aid station and found a nice spot in the woods about 50 feet down the trail. 

The next section was terrible.  I thought everything would be ok, having just gone to the bathroom.  The trail starts out climbing up to 9,900 feet to the ridge of the Wasatch range.  Then it basically rolls along the ridge for another 2 miles before going onto a smoother dirt surface for another mile.  I was fading fast here though.  I was staggering and sleepy again.  Out of nowhere, a runner comes up and asks how I'm doing and I let him know.  Then he realizes who I am and tells me who he is (Steve, pacer for Emmanuel) and tells me to hang in there and latch on to them.  They were going to fast for me to keep up though and within a few minutes were out of sight.  I continually looked up at the night sky and saw so many amazing stars.  I was able to recognize the big and small dippers and Orion.  I wish I knew the other ones because I'm sure I could have seen them on this clear night.  With 2 miles to go to the aid station, another runner comes up from behind and asks how I am doing and I say the same.  He says not to worry and lets me know that he was the runner I told to put music on.  This was Josh Holmes who was also in the Grand Slam.  He stuck with me and we talked and kept each other going (although he helped me more than I helped him).  We got to the aid station and the food was served inside a warm tent.  I went in and the only seat left was on a cot.  I sat on the cot, ate some food and was just so out of it.  I was so tired and I needed to do something to battle it.  So I decided for the first time in my career to nap during a race.  I woke up and most of the people that were sitting in there (along with Josh) had left.  I asked how long I was out and they said about 5 minutes.  I had another cup of soup and then left.  As soon as I checked out of the aid station, I had to go to the bathroom again.  They said there was a real bathroom provided by the forest service about two miles away but I couldn't hold it that long so I found another good spot on the side of the trail, turned off my headlamp and did my business again. 

I was surprised at how that nap helped me.  Although it was also a combination of spending 20 minutes at that aid station.  I was moving well enough down this trail and then it turns into a road.  We first head up the road and then down for a while.  The entire way, there were buses heading in my direction.  Saturday morning was the day of the Brighton Marathon/ half-marathon and they were
busing in the runners to the start.  My initial energy boost from my quick nap slowly faded and I was back to stumbling around this section which was a little dangerous because of the traffic on the road.  There were also a few spots where I would have missed the turns had there not been people there for me to see where to go.  It took 80 minutes for me to do this 4.5 mile section. When I got into Brighten, it was around 5:30AM and I was in bad shape. The aid station is in a ski lodge and was very warm and comfortable.  I knew what I needed to do and that was to take another nap.  Since I already took one nap, I might as well give in and take another.  I got my drop bag and went all the way to the back room where other runners were napping on some Yoga mats set up or cots.  There were no chairs for me to sit on so I sat on the mat next to a wall and told the people there I'm going to take a quick nap.  I sent a quick text to Snipes letting him know I was going to take a nap at Brighton.  I took the 5-hour energy out of my drop bag and gulped it down and then lay down for my nap.  I recall during this nap that I overheard a lot of conversations going on.  People checked up on me occasionally and finally, after about 15-20 minutes I woke up.  I thought about napping a little more but saw a response from Snipes saying, hang in there but don't get too comfortable in there.  To me that meant no more napping.  Anyway, I was starving and the volunteer there got me some eggs and a hash brown.  I talked to the people there including a doctor who was making sure all runners were ok.  They said that 110 people had already dropped out of the race which was a lot except for years when it was this hot.  Then I changed into a short sleeved shirt and a volunteer told me I should put some sunblock on now because the sun will come up in an hour.  She got me the sunblock and I put it on and then thanked everyone in there.  Before I left to get some more food, the doctor asked if I wanted a pacer.  I thought about it for 5 seconds and decided to take one because why not?!  I asked who was going to pace me and he points to a woman sitting in a chair.  At first glance, I wasn't sure if she would be able to keep up with me.  I was feeling very refreshed and ready to go and had a feeling once the sun came up I would be moving fast.  She asked how fast I would go and I told her I had no idea but to come along anyway and if you can't keep up, no big deal.  She needed to get a few things so I went to get more food and packed some watermelon to go.  We were ready to go and headed out the door to take on the last big climb up to the highest part of the course at 10,500 feet. 

My pacer Tara, explained that she was a runner in the race and dropped out at the first aid station.  I can't remember what her reason was for dropping out.  Possibly something to do with the heat and dust and problems breathing?  She lives in Utah and had run this part of the race in one of the practice runs.  It was helpful because there were some parts of the course here that I wasn't certain on the direction to go but she pointed me in the correct direction.  I was moving ahead of her and sensed that she was struggling to keep up.  I had told her when we started that if she didn't feel like she could keep up, it would be ok for her to turn back and find someone else to pace later on.  After maybe 15-20 minutes, she was breathing quite heavy and told me that she was going to turn back and she apologized.  I thanked her very much for giving it a go and pointing me in the right direction and hoped she would find someone else to pace the rest of the way.  I was a little passed mile 76 and the sun was coming up.  Time for more scenic views once again.  I got a video of the sunrise over the mountains.

I've noticed since putting these videos up on the blog that I appear to be breathing heavy in a lot of them.  Most of that is probably because I took the videos after a climb and maybe the altitude was affecting me more than I thought it was.  Anyway, up and up I climbed and it got steeper until we finally appeared to level off but still go up slightly.  I was with a small group of runners/pacers as we approached the highest point on the course at Catherine's Pass and one of them said the tradition is to kiss the sign at the top.

Then we decline about 1,500 feet quickly and over some rocky terrain before heading into an aid station at mile 79.  I was hoping to get in and out of this aid station quickly but I needed to eat and make sure I was good for the last stretch.  It took me less than two hours to do that last section which is pretty good considering the climb.  I spent a little over 12 minutes at this aid station because the food was great.  They were cooking pancakes and sausage so I asked for sausage wrapped in my pancake.  I devoured the first one along with a cup of ginger ale.  Then I ate a second one and had a second cup.  I filled my pack with water and had my normal combo of water in one and Coke in the other bottle.  I thanked the volunteers who put up a great aid station (they said they had this set up at Burning man a week or two earlier). 

The next section before the final drop bag aid station is only a little over 3 miles but but starts out with a tough climb called "the Grunt".  It did feel like the name and there was a lot of grunting getting up this part.  Once over, it was more running on the ridge line and before heading just a little lower into the aid station.  I did take one pee break on this part before reaching the aid station. 

It's mile 82 and 9:15AM.  I have 8 hours to go 18 miles.  I know I'm going to finish, it's just a question of how fast (or really, how slow).  I know that I will be running during the heat of the day and it wasn't looking good as it was already hot at 9:15AM.  I pick up my drop bag and get down to business on what I need to survive this.  First, I change out of my short sleeve into another purple TNT singlet.  Then I change my socks and put on some lighter shoes (switching from Hoka Mafates to Hoka Stinson Lite).  I take out all the things from my hydration pack that I will no longer need; all the warmer things like gloves, arm warmers, jacket, headlamp, batteries and so on.  I fold up my trekking poles and put them in the bag.  This was a tough decision for me because there is a lot ofo downhill coming up and the poles can help with stability.  However, I felt that my arms were tired of using them and my legs felt ok and that I have great balance on the downhills to be able to go without the poles.  Basically, I thought the poles would tire me out more than help me, especially in the heat.  Then I went to put sunblock everywhere.  After that, I ate some food at the aid station and packed away two bags of seedless watermelon.  Before I left, I put ice in my hat and instead of using the bandanna, I took out my Buff and dipped it in ice cold water and put it around my neck and stuck it into my shirt, pack so it was tight against my body.  Then it was time to get out of there. 

The next section was 5 miles long and had some fast technical downhill parts which I bombed down.  I was feeling awesome.  Everyone saw I was feeling great and marveled how I was moving down these parts at this point of the race.  I cross a stream and wet down my body/hat/Buff and continue running.  We then got to an uphill section for about 1.3 miles where I felt it was better to walk.  When it flattened out I ran what I could and that brought me to an aid station in the middle of this dusty dirt road.  It took me 1:16 to do this 5 mile section which included some uphills.   I passed a ton of people.  Compare that to the 2+ hours other 5 mile sections took and it's obvious I found my second wind.  All I needed here was more Coke and water and sunblock and a dousing of cold water.  I was in and out of this aid station in 2 minutes.  The next section was 6.5 miles long and had some easy rolling hills before heading mostly downhill.  The problem with this section was that it was completely exposed there was no relief from the sun.  I started this section close to 11AM.  The mistake I made at the last aid station was filling one water bottle with ice and Coke.  This section got so hot out that my only relief that let me run was spraying myself down with water from my bottle.  Cold water on the back of my knees, my shoulders, neck, and wrists.  Every time I did that I was able to run for a short while.  The water seemed to evaporate in less than a minute and I would feel like I was burning up.  My arms looked pink to me and I wondered if the sunblock had completely worn off.  I continued to push on ahead and ignore that sun but it was tough.  I took a lot more walk breaks than I would have liked but I didn't want to risk getting heat stroke so close to the end of the race. 

With two miles to go before the aid station, some runners' crew set were waiting before a short climb.  I asked if they had sunblock and someone had some which I took because I felt my skin was so hot.  I thought about asking for water but this wasn't an aid station and felt bad taking other people's water.  Had they offered I would have taken.  The last 2 miles of this section went through someones private land.  Apparently they owned cows because there were a ridiculous amount of piles of cow droppings all over this part.  There were also some very weird fences with signs asking runners to close the fences after opening them (they basically were wire fencing with wooden poles and you had to take some of the wire that was made into a hook and hook it over some other part.  Although the first gate looked like you had to stick barbed wire into a piece of the wood.  After 1 minute of trying to figure out how to close it, I gave up.  Other runners were going to come through anyway.  I had run out of water in my water bottle and the Coke bottle for the last mile but had water in my hydration pack.   I was walking down the hot and steamy unshaded grassy hills and trying to avoid stepping in cow poo.  I had hoped to do this section faster but the heat was relentless.  A couple runners passed me here and my only guess was they were able to get water from those people in the cars a couple of miles back.  It took 1:50 to do this 6.5 mile section.  All in all, not bad, but I was hoping for closer to 1:30. 

I finally make it to the last aid station.  As much as I wanted to rush in and out of this one, I needed to cool down.  I sat in a chair in the shade and applied some more sunblock and ate about 6 Oreo cookies while drinking Coke.  I filled up both water bottles with ice and water and then filled my hydration pack with ice and water.  I ate some watermelon and took two ziplock bags of it to go.  I finished up with putting ice in my hat and in my calf sleeves and then I was off.  I was running and walking but tried to do more running.  In this video you can hear the ice moving around in my bottles and see there is still no shade and a relentless sun overhead. It was nearly 1PM as I left the last aid station.

I just continued to run and to take walk breaks as needed which were plentiful, especially as there were still some uphills to go.  We run a long way on this dirt and grassy trail.  Then we make a left and run above and alongside some rail tracks which is right next to this gorgeous lake which is actually the Deer Creek Reservoir.  People are Jet skiing in there and boating and just having a grand old time in the water that looks unbelievably refreshing, but it so far away!  I'm still run/walking and constantly spraying myself down with my water bottles in order to do the running part.  I feel like I'm moving fast and I guess I am if you consider 14-15 minutes per mile fast.  The course continues to wind around constantly and I have no idea when it is going to end.  I look ahead and see people fairly far ahead and I don't think I can catch them.  So I put my attention to the people behind me that I just passed.  I don't want them to catch me to I try to put some distance on them.  It's not that I care what place I finish in, it's just that I don't want to be out on the course any longer than I need to be at this point so whatever motivates me to finish faster, the sooner I'll be finished and the better I will feel.  There is another runner behind me most of this last 2 miles.  I try my best to shake him and it's not until the last mile that I'm able to do so.  Finally, I feel like I'm approaching the finish but it is a false finish.  We run by a small lot and another area and there are people cheering the runners.  Then there is a girl cheering and I say thanks and she says, "wait, I think ran with you early in the race!"  It was the girl who had fallen a couple miles right before I took my fall. I told her about my fall and she laughed and congratulated me on my near finish.  I guess she dropped out of the race because I didn't remember her passing me and she looked extremely refreshed and cleaned up.  I was hoping the finish was right around the corner but the course takes a left turn onto a road and seems to go on ahead for a while.   I run for a little bit but then decide to walk.  I'm all out of water from my water bottles at this point but I can make out the finish line area.  I run/walk a little more before taking a final run without stopping until I finish.

Finally, 33 hours and 19 minutes later I was finished with the race.  I did the last nearly 3 miles under an 11 minute mile pace which felt like sprinting in that heat.  It's actually a pretty good pace considering the walking I was also doing.  I finished and shook hands with the race director as well as Steve Baugh (former RD of Wasatch) who was compiling the results of the race and is also in charge of the Grand Slam.  Steve realized I was a Grand Slam finisher and congratulated me on that and told me to stick around during the awards ceremony to collect my Grand Slam award and take a group picture. 

I then went over to the big tents to get some shade and something to eat or drink.  They had a cooler filled with 1/2 pints of chocolate milk.  I drank two of those.  Then I gathered my start/finish drop bag and went inside the bathroom to get in line for the two showers they had there.  Cleaning up felt so great.  I looked in the mirror and had a couple weird sunburns but nothing bad and not close to what I feared for my arms which were just tan and not pink/red.  I brushed my teeth and got changed and then went back out for two more 1/2 pints of chocolate milk and then waited in line in a chair near the massage tent.  After the massage, I was able to walk around like I did NOT just run 100 miles over the last 33+ hours in the Wasatch Mountains in crazy heat.  I was wide awake and feeling so happy to be done with the race and the Grand Slam.  I had heard that three Grand Slammers had dropped out of the race.  One twisted her ankle, the other two were just nauseous and couldn't avoid the cutoffs.  Not all of them finished though and 1 came in with less than  45 minutes to spare.  All in all, out of 42 people to start the challenge of the Grand Slam this year, only 13 people finished it.  That is the 3rd lowest finishing rate in the 17 year history and the most DNFs by far since it was the biggest starting class. 

I found some of my NY buddies and we sat and chatted about our race.  Thomas finished in 34:16 which is incredible so soon after Bigfoot 200.  Luis Miguel had to drop early on due to asthma complications from all of the dust.  Doctors didn't let him continue after he used up his inhaler.  Emmanuel had a great race finishing just over 31 hours!  Mak and Mary unfortunately both suffered with the heat and altitude and ended up dropping at 53 and 75 respectively.  After the race was over at 5PM they opened up the dinner line and I enjoyed eating now that I was starving.  Then they did the awards.  The winner finished in 20:41, which is fast, but the slowest winning time in 13 years.  About halfway through they announce the Grand Slam finishers.  We all went up to collect our awards (trophy, polo shirt, visor) and then we took a group photo and congratulated each other. 

After the picture, they continued on with the normal award ceremony for all the finishers.  I received my buckle and plaque (with a sticker to come via mail for the plaque with my finishing time and name due to a car accident with the printer on the way to the award ceremony).   I spoke with Zsuzsanna Carlson and wished her luck in getting back into the Slam and being the first person from NJ to finish it.  Then they announced the rides back to Salt Lake and we took the scenic route home and the driver explained to all of us all the parts of the course we were now able to see from the car. 

When I got back, I went to a BBQ place for dinner and called Aleks and Snipes.  Then I packed up and went to bed to get some well needed rest for my 7AM flight.  Not surprisingly, there was a lot of yelling and door slamming and who knows what else taking place outside my room on this Saturday night at the Motel 6.  I just hoped that no one would start banging on my door or window.  Eventually, around 3AM it all subsided and I slept until my alarm went off at 5AM.  One of the best parts about this last race of the Grand Slam was the anticipation of my flight home.  I signed up for an American Airlines credit card in December last year to get 50,000 free miles that I could hopefully use on flights this year.  It turns out that American/US Air (they merged) have terrible flight selections out of NYC.  This last race was the only flight that worked for my schedule and it turned out that all they had available was coach on the way to Salt Lake (1 hour layover at Charlotte) for 20,000 miles but then 1st class for 25,000 miles (1 hour layover in Dallas) for the flight back.  I was so happy to be able to get extra leg room and a comfortable seat and free food and drinks for after the race.  1st class also allowed me to check extra bags for free so I took advantage of that by packing all my drop bags into one backpack and then checking that backpack.  My suitcase was rather full from the Grand Slam trophy and the Wasatch finisher's plaque.  I Uber'd once again for a car to the airport. There was a very long line for the flight check-in but 1st class has a separate priority line and there was no wait.  I boarded the flight and wanted a Mimosa as a drink but they unfortunately did not have any Champagne (booooo).  So I got orange juice instead.  I was very disappointed though with plane as there was no on-board entertainment on the flight out and now also even in first class on the way back.  However, I spoke with the gentleman next to me the entire flight about a variety of things and he was so intrigued about the 100-mile race.  He didn't want his 1st class breakfast so I asked if I could have his and the flight attendants were perplexed by that (he was about twice my size).  I scarfed down my meal and then his meal right after.  On the next flight, I ordered a Sam Adams and then just had one dinner.  There was a small tv that came down for the first class passengers on each side of the plane and they played one movie.  Again, no complimentary personal entertainment.  On American/US Air, 1st class is better than coach, but no way would I ever personally pay up for it.  You really don't get much for the usual cost of an extra $400+.  

So what did I think of Wasatch overall?  The race sure is tough.  I think a lot of it had to do with the heat this year, making a tough course even tougher.  This was my 3rd slowest 100-miler.  UTMB was my slowest, at 35:20ish.  That race though started in the evening and therefore took me through two night sessions.  See recap here   The course was also brutal, with around 33,000 feet of climbing and also descent.  My next slowest race before Wasatch took that position was Virgil Crest.  That had 22,000 feet of vertical and rained and was cold in the night section and I had hurt my leg during the race.  Se recap here.   That race took me 30:30.  So with Wasatch taking me 33:20, while I was hoping to do sub-30, I want to know if I could do better.  I think the answer to that is yes.  However, there could be a year that it rains and is cold, making the course harder in a different way.  In these kinds of races, you can't expect ideal race conditions the entire time.  The course is absolutely stunning though.  There is nothing better than running on the top of a mountain range or the ridge line of the mountains that show you spectacular views and when you are in the valleys you get other views of the mountains around you.  The foliage was pretty and the different types of flora and the environments we went through all made this race special.  Now do I have to go for 33 hours to enjoy this or can't I just do a nice day hike to get these same views?  Sure, there is always an easy way to do something.  But if it was so easy, there wouldn't be a reason to do it!  I highly recommend this race to someone who wants an immense challenge.  It's certainly a better choice than Leadville.  It will push you more than Leadville while giving you the opportunity (36-hour cutoff) to finish. 

As for completing the Grand Slam, I will write up a separate blog post on my thoughts about the entire Grand Slam.  It really has yet to fully sink in. I'm feeling a great sense of accomplishment but have other thoughts about it that I would like to put down on paper.  For now, here are some parting pictures of the rewards from the Slam.  Congratulations to the 13 of us survivors that were able to do it. 

And don't forget to donate!  No amount is too small (or big!)