Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Grand Slam Race 2 of 4 - Vermont 100

So just three weeks following the Western States 100-miler, it was time to take on the Vermont 100.  The Vermont 100 was my first 100 miler only 4 years ago and the race this year would be my 10th.  To see how the race went 4 years ago, read this  I can go on at how I just running one 100 mile race was crazy enough let alone doing 4 in the span of 11 weeks but since I knew someone (David Snipes) that had done even crazier things, it really was that I couldn't comprehend ME doing something like the Grand Slam.  There were a few things on my mind regarding this race.  First, how would I feel three weeks after a tough and really hot Western States?  Next, assuming I was recovered enough and I did feel fine that week leading up to the race, how fast could I run this race?  I had a variety of reasons for why when I first ran this race I clocked in at 25:18.  This time around, I considered myself more of a veteran, but still with plenty to learn and fine tune in these 100-mile races.  While my first time here I had a crew and picked up a pacer, this time I was running in the solo division, meaning no crew and no pacer. 

Going into the race, I admit I felt good but unsure.  My legs and body felt recovered from Western States and after taking 10 days off from running after Western States, I did about 25 miles in 4 consecutive days, took a day off and then ran 6.5 miles and then took the next 3 days off before Vermont.  So if you are counting, in the 20 days between the finish of Western States and the start of Vermont, I ran on 5 days, although I did a lot of walking generally.  While I felt good going into the race and I had ran and felt fine on those runs, I didn't know how I would feel 50 miles into Vermont.  I had a few possible goals for this race.  My "A" goal was 20-22 hours, hoping for closer to 20; "B" goal was sub-24, and "C" was to just finish to continue the Grand Slam.  I also wanted to change up my nutrition strategy for this race.  During my fastest 100 last year at the Tesla Hertz, I fueled on gels and shot blocks for about the first half of the race.  Since then, I kept to that strategy and generally, I feel like it hasn't worked because my stomach would be more unsettled after 5 or so hours.  After reading an article by nutritionist Sunny Blende in Ultrarunning Magazine about how it may be better for mid-pack and slower runners to fuel in the beginning with more real food as opposed to gels and chews and use those gels and chews as needed in the second half, I thought I should at least give that a shot. 

I drove up to Vermont Friday morning and arrived close to noon.  I parked a good 150 meters from the main tent.  I checked in which included getting weighed (145.2) and having my blood pressure taken (I believe it was 127/72 - not sure why the systolic number is above 120).  Then I went back to the minivan and unpacked my dropbags and made sure I had everything set up correctly.  I then dropped off my bags at the proper locations so they would be transported to the correct aid stations on race day.  I went to some of the sponsor tents and at the Hoka One One tent, I tried on the newest version of the shoe I was going to wear on race day (Stinson) and ran/walked the last 0.3 miles of the course and then back.  Then I basically walked back and forth from the van to the tent for various things.  I got a free copy of trail running magazine and read some articles in the van with the A/C on full blast.  Then I took an hour long nap. Eventually, it was 3:30PM and I went to the tent to grab a spot for the 4PM athlete briefing and then dinner to follow.  I met a bunch of other runners and crews/pacers and gave what advice I could to some runners I met that were attempting their 1st 100 or still trying to get their first 100-mile finish.  By the time dinner and lots of chatting was over at 6:30PM (I took a cup of rice pudding and pasta with me back to the van), it was time to prepare for the morning and then go to bed.  I probably got to sleep around 7:30 and my alarm was set for 2:45AM (race starts at 4AM).  I slept in the van for this race and it wasn't the most comfortable sleep.  I woke up fairly frequently and could tell how long I was asleep by the light outside; still some daylight meant I hadn't been sleeping much.  Then it was dark and it was about 10PM.  After that, I was hearing rain against the car around midnight.  It continued on and off sometimes heavy until my alarm went off.  I got prepped and changed in the van.  I put on my rain jacket and left around 3:00 to head to race morning check-in and grab a bagel for breakfast and then hopefully successfully use the bathroom (was not successful).  The rain seemed to be a slight drizzle at best so I took my jacket off and tied it around my waist to start the run.  With a few minutes before we lined up, I saw Luis Miguel Callao whom I met at Western States and we wished each other good luck.  Then the countdown begun and I was off. 

Since the first hour was in the dark but I placed my two headlamps in drop bags, i carried a small LED flashlight.  These first miles felt a little off.  I think it was the humidity but I wasn't quite feeling great.  I slowed my pace a little and was passed by a number of runners.  The course is very easy in the beginning with the longest stretches of running flat as far as I can tell.  Maybe it was just such a gradual incline followed by a gradual decline that it felt flat.  Regardless, these first 10 miles was a low point for me in this race.  My pace was fine though, averaging probably a 10:30-11 minute mile.

I was just sweating a ton and wanted to make sure I wasn't doing anything stupid this early part of the race.  Around mile 10 or earlier I felt like it was time to use the restroom but there was no good spot to go.  Mile 12, about 2:10 into the race I found a spot and did my business.  I felt much better.  Then I did what I should have done earlier and that was start up conversations with people.  The first person I chatted with was a runner who I met at Western States who was doing the Grand Slam.  She's a fireball of a lady (17 years older than me) from Kentucky.  We talk about Western States and some other things before she has to go to the bathroom.  The next person I run with is a guy by the name of Rich Riopel.  At first we talk about the usual things such as is this your first 100, what other races have you done, etc.  Then it comes out that he hasn't run since late April when he participated in the 24-hour World Championships representing USA and placed 8th overall (1st US) with nearly 160 miles!  When I heard this I became a little concerned that I was going out way too fast.  I asked what one of his other 100-mile race finish times were as he had ran Umstead (a very fast course in North Carolina) in under 16 hours.  So I said either he is going way to slow or I should slow down.  He was coming off some injuries he had prior to even putting up that crazy 160 mile performance in the World Championship in Itlay.  So he was just going to struggle and hope he can go sub-24.  I told him that he will likely feel amazing the last 25 miles and come in really fast.  So we ran together for about 5-6 miles during which time I recalled that we were a little ahead of where I was passed by the horses when I did the race in 2011 (this is the only race left in the country where the runners and riders to the race at the same time).  Lo and behold, we hear the clop clop of the horses coming up behind and this is a really cool thing in the race. 
At the first manned aid station to get some food, I pick up some fig newtons and PB&J sandwiches.  I eat those and go on while Rich had went on ahead earlier.  We passed a cool covered bridge with a nice little waterfall nearby.

Next I ran up behind a small group of runners who were having a conversation about diets and how some of them are ridiculous and I told them that I'm on a bacon only diet.  That brought up some laughter and then the conversation about how awesome bacon was during those last aid stations at Western States.  One of the runner here, a young women running her first 100-miler, Jordan Grande had paced a friend at Western States and remembered the bacon they had there.  She said there was supposed to be bacon at the first crew access / drop bag aid station at Vermont.  Eventually, we get to that aid station and I grab my drop bag and change into my tank top and take out my sunglasses.  Then I go to the snack table and grab some turkey and cheese sandwiches, some seedless watermelon and more fig newtons.  I catch up to Jordan who asks if I got any bacon but I said I didn't see any at the table so I must have been looking at the wrong spot.  Anyhow, I wasn't yet in the mood for that as it is a much bigger craving for fats and salts later in the race.  Jordan and I ran together for about 5-10 more miles before we separated at an aid station.  I think she took off ahead of me while I got my food down.  I eventually caught up to her and then passed her I think while chatting with some other runners.  After mile 30, we came up to what I call Sound of Music Hill but the views were not good because there was a lot of fog and overcast. Speaking of overcast, Most of those first 5 hours were spent telling each other that aside from some humidity, we were so far lucky with the weather as it was overcast.  But with the race starting at 4AM, 5-6 hours into the race is only 9-10AM and there
was still plenty of time for the sun to come out and toast us for a long time.

We hoped that the overcast weather would stick around as long as possible. We hit a trail section and the trees here had some things tied around them and I think it is how they get syrup.

On the descent from the Sound of Music Hill, a runner came up from behind and called me by name and reintroduced himself as Thomas Glenn.  I met Tom very briefly last year when Snipes finished TGNY 100.  Tom was his pacer.  Tom had a crushing story about his Old Dominion 100-mile run in 2014.  He was on pace to get sub-24 and the last 2 miles of the race requires you to remember what 4 streets you must make turns on.  He missed one of those turns and spent some time trying to figure out how to get back on course.  He got back on course and ran his heart out but finished the race in 24:00:27.  It's so hard to finish just over 24 hours as most people finish just before or closer to 25 hours (there's a lot of psychology as to why that happens).  It's something that ate away at him for a long time and still does.  If he saved those 28 seconds by not talking to someone at an aid station, by not taking that pee break, by not doing one thing or the other, he would have been sub-24.  He actually learned to pee while walking to save himself that time on his next races.  He came back to Old Dominion this year and got his sub-24.  So 6 weeks after his accomplishment at OD100, he was at Vermont to also try and get revenge on his own 2012 race where he finished in 26 hours.  He also ran the inaugural TARC 100 (as did I) which was a mudfest and suffered through that to a 29 hour finish.

We ran together for maybe the next 30 miles.  He was more efficient at the aid stations and had his own food such as Clif bars while I took my time to get what food I felt I needed at the aid stations.  The first few of them, he waited up for me but after that, I told him to just go on ahead and I would catch up to him.  Most of the time he would go on and walk or slowly jog ahead and I would catch him fairly quickly out of the aid station.  I remember coming out of one of those aid stations together, there was someone cheering on the runners and since it was just 3.5 miles to the next aid station, this guy says it's just 3 miles of easy down hill.  After a few hundred yards of easy rollers, we hit a trail section that just went up.  It wasn't towards the end of this 3 mile uphill section where Tom says,"that guy was such a liar".  I had completely forgotten about that guy and what he said and laughed about that but agreed.  Who does that?!  We hear some loud thunder and wonder when it is going to rain but it never rains on us.

We got into Camp 10-Bear which is the mile 47 aid station before we do a 23-mile loop that takes us back to that aid station at mile 70.  They weigh you at this aid station and I had lost 2 pounds.  I get my drop bag and since it remained overcast and I was not using my hydration pack bladder for water, I decided to drop off my hydration pack (and also my camera - so no more videos of the race) and carry two hand-held bottles instead along with a waist pack to keep toilet paper and A&D ointment because the weird chaffing on my backside hips felt like it was coming back.  I tell Tom to go on ahead and that I would catch up to him.  I grab some food at the aid station and this one has a lot of good food.  They had some bacon which I take along with some grilled turkey and cheese sandwiches.  They also had some pretty well cooked sausages that I took as well.  I went ahead walking on the ups and running the downs.  One runner had this awesome singlet that I remembered from the morning which was a big picture of a kitten and what looked like pizza.  He was walking and looking pretty out of it.  I told him his singlet was awesome and let him know that he'll surely be running well and passing me in the next 10 miles.  He looked like a good runner and had ran really fast passed me earlier in the race.  My initial hunch was that he ran too hard and then crashed and would continue this until he wouldn't get another strong surge again.  Not too far ahead I caught back up with Tom.  We ran for a bit and hit a trail section and then I was about to pass a woman that looked familiar but I couldn't recall from where.  I told her that she looked very familiar and she said so did I and asked if I ran the TARC 100 in 2013 and of course I did.  She went on to say that I saved her life that race by giving her a gel during the race.  I told her that Tom did it also and we reminisced about how terrible that day was.  We are going a little too fast for her so she drops back.  We hit some other aid station and Tom again goes on ahead but takes off a little faster.  I am not able to catch up to him and have no desire to do so.  If he is feeling great than he should take advantage of it if he thinks it is the right move to do.  Especially because he has problems when it gets late in a race and he needs to take sleep breaks.  As we are walking up a long hill that isn't very steep but was long, there was someone on the side cheering for people.  She sees me in my Team in Training singlet and thanks me for wearing it and fundraising.  She then continues to talk to me and I stop and listen as she tells me that her husband was on some special drugs that were made possible by funding from LLS and he lived 22 years through countless trials and surgeries because of the support from LLS.  He was initially not given long to live because he had a rare form of Leukemia.  It was just another reminder for myself to be thankful to be able to do everything I do, not just the running but life itself.  So I thanked her and continued walking up the hill.

I continue on and catch up to Rich from earlier and we run together.  I had recalled a very long hill from the 2011 race and then after that hill there was another long one after making a right turn.  We did have a long hill section but it seemed different.  Then we hit the Margaritaville aid station which was moved around from when I did the race.  At this aid station I grabbed some sliders and some fig newtons and watermelon.  I picked up my drop bag and took out my charger for my Garmin.  Then I went to the port-o-potty right as someone was coming out and the people on line knew I was running the race so let me go ahead.  I just wanted to grab some toilet paper to put in my ziplock bag since I didn't have much left after going around 50 miles earlier.  I go on ahead and catch up to Rich and then we head up that second big hill I remember.  Some time later the guy with the kitten singlet comes blazing on by us and we cheer him on.  I mention to Rich that we will probably pass him in the next 10 miles. At this point, about 3PM the sun had come out.  It was amazing that it had stayed overcast for so long and we were very thankful for that.  We continue running and notice that we are sweating a lot more and the sun has raised the temperatures.  We get to another aid station and they ask if I want anything and I notice what look like some amazing fresh picked blueberries and I ask if I can have some and they say of course.  I tell them they look and taste fresh and they tell me that there were bushes not far from there (not on the course though) that they picked them from.  That gave me a nice little boost.  Rich and I continue ahead and not too long after, we passed Tom at some point and he wasn't looking great, just a little tired.  He was feeling low on energy and I told him to take his time at the next aid stations and get in a lot of food and take it easy until he felt better.  Hopefully, he would catch his next wind and be running well soon enough.  A little while after that we passed the guy with the kitten singlet who was now walking.  He said his caffeine from an earlier aid station had worn off.  Rich commented after we passed him that I was dead on about us passing him soon.  At this point, we seem to be doing a lot more running.  This part of the course was mostly downhill and the hills were gentler so we were able to run most of them.  We get to the next aid station and I remember it as the "psychedelic" aid station from 2011 when I had some ramen noodle soup that helped me a lot but declined the "magic brownies".  Here, I didn't see the brownies but they had some homemade cookies so I eat about 4 of them and some PB&J and then go on again.  At this section it looked familiar and I realize that we did come up this way earlier to now we are nearing the end of the big 23 mile loop.  We pass the house that had a real Llama in the front so I know we are less than a mile from mile #70 and Camp 10-Bear 2.

We run into the aid station and I hear my name being called by someone.  It turned out to be Mike Halovatch who I met leading up to this race 4 years ago.  He's an awesome cyclist and runner and ran an 18:45 in Vermont last year.  He is up there volunteering and then pacing so we chat as I get weighed in (still down 2 pounds) and head to the bathroom.  There was no more toilet paper in it so I ask if there is anymore somewhere and they give me a roll of paper towels.  After taking care of business, I head back to my drop bag and pick up my good headlamp and put my charger away.  I decide against going back to the hydration pack.  Mike comes back with 3 cut up grilled turkey and cheese sandwiches as well as a cup filled with about 6 sausage links.  Mike walks with me out of the aid station and up into the trail section that heads uphill.  He stays with me for maybe 1/4 mile while we chat about things.  He tells me how awesome I'm doing (on pace for sub 21) and to keep it up and then heads back to the aid station to help out others before his runner comes in.  So I continue on eating the sausage links in the cup and walking up the long hill.  I have about two links left and feel like I can still eat them but worry that maybe I've had too much food.  However, I figure I can still use the fat/salt/calories so I eat them.  Shortly after I finish them it begins to rain.  I can hear it raining but I don't really feel any drops because the trees around me are blocking it from hitting me.  After about 10 minutes I'm starting to feel that maybe I shouldn't have eaten those sausages.  It's still light out and this section to get to mile 76 and the next aid station is taking a while.  Most of it has been uphill and the rest has been downhill on trails that are very muddy.  I guess I know where the rain was from the thunder we heard earlier.  This additional rain isn't helping.  Neither are the horses.  Occasionally, the horses are still catching up to me running.  But they have trouble descending these muddy sections and many times the riders had to get off of the horse to safely get them down.  However, these magnificent creatures also created more muddy, sloppy, craters on the trails.  So these trails sections basically became unrunable.  This wasn't the worst thing since my stomach felt a little off from too much food.  This brought me back to my Mega Donut mile challenge and how bad I felt.  I was so happy though that I didn't have to eat any donuts and I would be allowed to throw up if I had to do so.  And unlike the donut challenge where I couldn't continue until I finished eating the donuts, here all I had to do was keep moving forward which was what I wanted.

Eventually I got to the aid station and saw the race director for the TGNY 100, Phil McCarthy who I had seen at nearly all of the crewed aid stations and said hi to him again and spoke to him briefly.  He was crewing for Miguel Luis Callao.  I went to the bathroom to try and poop but I ended up not being able to go.  So I just grabbed some watermelon and continued on my way.  A couple times in the next section I felt the need to throw up but only a very small amount came out, better than nothing I guess.  At some point, my stomach felt better and I was moving along at a better pace.  I had to eventually turn on my headlamp and had about 23 miles to go in the race. The next section was still more trails that were very muddy and that just annoyed me because I couldn't move fast.  From the mile 76 aid station, it was 3 miles, to the next aid station (water only), 4 to the one after that, then another 5 until the next aid station with my drop bags.  These sections felt very long and I realized that I didn't pick up my 5-hour energy drink from my drop bag at the last aid station.  I was hopeful that I wouldn't need it because if I finished under 22 hours, it would be earlier than 2AM and I shouldn't be super tired and could let some adrenaline from being so close to finishing take me the rest of the way.  I was starting to feel the cumulative effect of the race wearing on me.  Also, I was having some major chafing issues near my groin but also that part on my back hips.  The A&D ointment did help.  I was also stopping to pee a lot during this race (although I did try many times successfully, Tom's pee while walking strategy).  I kept looking at my watch trying to figure out how close I was getting to each aid station and trying to get an idea on when I would finish.  It seemed that 21-22 was doable.  But these sections were taking a while and I was certain I was slowing down.  The atmosphere was still humid and it was very foggy, so the headlamp wasn't showing me much ahead and I had to just point it down to make sure I saw where I was stepping.  I feel like I was mostly passing people but other people were occasionally passing me.

I got to Bill's Barn aid station at mile 88 and it brought back some memories.  In 2011 I had accidentally had my pack filled up with Hammer Heed which ended up bringing me to my knees a mile later wondering if I would have to be carted back to the aid station and out of the race.  I also remember the carnage of the medical area in the barn.  There were people that were just passed out in all of the cots and I thought it was best to not stick around too long.  This year though, probably because I was here at least 2 hours earlier than I was in 2011, the cots were empty and they had just discharged someone who was taking a 30 minute nap to continue on with the race.  I got weighed in and had gained my two pounds back.  I grab about five slices of watermelon that they are just cutting up and a cup of ramen soup.  I get my drop bag and go through it and realize I don't need anything from it.  It's still warm enough to not have to change into a t-shirt, sleeves, or tights.  So I just put the bag back. Then I head out.  It's about 3.1 miles to the next aid station, then nearly 4 to the last manned aid station.  Maybe it was the fog but the next section didn't seem familiar.  I was expecting a big wide open field but don't remember seeing it.  There was a short flattish section where I decided to turn off my headlamp and look up at the stars.  There were no clouds and it was a beautiful view.  I saw the constellations that I was familiar with and marvelled at the sight.  Then I turned my headlamp on and continued.

I got to the next aid station much faster than I expected.  To me it seemed like it was just put earlier and I wondered if that meant the next aid station would be further out.  I quickly ate some sandwiches and left the aid station. I realize I haven't mentioned anything about electrolyte pills and tums.  I had taken them much earlier in the race when I was feeling low points or sweating a lot and feeling worn out.  But I don't remember taking any after mile 76.  I was still trying to walk only the uphill sections with my "run" still going around 10-11 minute miles to try and average 12 minute miles (5 mph) if I can.  I see some lights ahead and realize I'm close to the last fully stocked aid station at mile 95, Polly's.  I did not have a drop bag here so I just grab some fig newtons and I get a cup of ramen to go. I ask if there will be a garbage to throw this cup away at the last unmanned aid station at mile 97.5 and they say there should be.  I fill my water bottle with water and take off with two water bottles in one hand and my cup of soup in the other so I eat the soup as I walk on ahead and finish it all within a minute or two.  I have 5 miles to go and will easily break 24 hours.  The question is how hard can I go and do I want to go to come in faster.  I feel that sub 22 is possible.  Maybe even 21:30.  But I'm tired and don't want to run too hard for fear of being forced to walk the last mile or two. Plus how fast could I really run at mile 95?  So I stick with my plan of trying to average 12 minute miles or walking uphills and running when possible.

I get to the mile 97.5 aid station and now have only 2.5 to go.  I'm feeling good and excited and happy to be so closed to finished.  I assume I have no more than 45 minutes more of running.  I see headlamps ahead and decide to run hard.  A lot of the people I've passed the last 10 miles have been walking and those runners, though walking now, will finish the race and probably sub-24.  I'm feeling good and my legs aren't hurting like Western States so I run well down these hills now.  Eventually I get to the sign that says mile 99, 1 mile to go.  I recall last time that it seemed like this 1 mile section was at least 50% longer than advertised. I don't know how long or how far it was but I saw the mile 99.5 sign and then wanted to run everything, although there was one more walking uphill section ahead, but it was short.  I think this last 1/3 to 1/2 mile section had some awesome markings which were these gallon water jugs which had a chem-lite in them so they were big glowing balls.  It was a Halloween type vibe but is was also very cool.  There were so many of them lining the trail leading me to that finish line.  I think I recognize one of the spots I'm at now from my little run the day before (well, two days before since it is Sunday now) and hope the finish is coming up.  Then I see the finish line and run hard to the finish.  There are plenty of people in this finish line in the woods and they are all cheering.  The race director, Amy Rusiecki congratulates me and hands me my finishers hat and coffee travel mug, and a protein bar.  When the crowd calms down I ask if I was the winner of the race, with a big sarcastic smile on my face.  I get some laughs and one of the volunteers there says you just ran 100 miles so yes, you are a winner.  Amy tells me I can take a seat here or I can get some other food and have a cot at the medical area at the main tent.  I decide to head back towards the medical area but then I realize I feel fine so I slowly make my way back to my van.

I drop my things off in the van (I carried the key in one of my pockets which I was able to zip closed after I dropped off my hydration pack at mile 47), and take my ghetto shower which is standing in the grass parking lot and pouring water over myself from a gallon water jug.  I had soap so it wasn't just using water to clean myself.  Then I put on some dry clothes, took my contact lenses out, brushed my teeth and tried to sleep in the back of the van.  The sleep was far from comfortable but it was there.  I slept about 4 hours and then was too hungry to keep sleeping so I got out of the van and shuffled my way back to the start area and got some real food (leftover pasta and some fried eggs).  I picked up some of my drop bags that had been brought back to the start area and organized them in the van.  I originally planned on sticking around for the awards ceremony but since I finished early and had a decent sleep, I was now hoping I could leave to make a family BBQ on Long Island that afternoon. However, I had to wait from the mile 88 drop bag to be brought back.  Long story short, I had to wait until 9:30AM to get that bag back as they waited for the last aid station to close before taking them all back to the start.  I still picked up my buckle early from Amy and ate an amazing burger with mushrooms and onions and spoke with many of the runners who had finished after me (and some before me).  Once I got my drop bag though I headed out on the drive home.  I only had to make one stop for gas and food/coffee.

Post race:
My level of leg soreness was a fraction of what it was at Western States.  I believe the reason for that is that there is much less downhill (around 9,000 feet less) in Vermont and they weren't very steep hills and I also made certain to not take these downhills hard, especially early on in the race.  On Monday, I had no soreness.  In fact, the worst pain was the chafing but that went away by Monday as well thanks to the A&D ointment.  I did my normal routine of walking a lot but really felt like there should be no reason I can't run, except for the reason of not wanting to do anything stupid.  The last thing I need is to think I'm invincible and then go out for a run and find out a couple of days later that I'm injured.  On Wednesday, I went to the gym and did 15 minutes of the stair treadmill (85 floors) and then a lot of core work.  On Friday, I ran 3.1 miles to work.  Then I ran 3.1 miles home.  Then I ran 1.5 miles out on the East River path heading north and stopped to do 2 long sets of squats, lunges, and step-ups onto a bench and some decline push-ups.  On Saturday I ran 10 miles with Team in Training and then walked about 4-6 more miles around the Upper East side/Midtown East.  On Sunday I did 45 minutes on the stair treadmill (265 floors) and a few core exercises.  I feel great!  I'll take this more as good news rather than bad.  The important thing is to not overdo anything to set me up for failure at Leadville 5 weeks after Vermont.  Leadville is typically the race that will decimate the field of Grand Slam runners.  Having done it two years ago, I think I will be ok but you never know and being overconfident is an easy way to end up death marching or DNFing.  Still, it's in my mind that I may be able to go sub-24 or sub-25 at Leadville.  I plan on taking the race steady (maybe fast the first 3 miles so I'm not stuck for 10 miles behind crowds of people on the single track basically walking ) and easy until mile 75.  I head out to Colorado a week before the race to acclimate as much as I can to the altitude and do some awesome hiking.  So with one week down, I have 3 more weeks of recovery, training, and taper before I leave to Colorado.

I'm still more looking forward to the hiking and spending time with good people at the house we are renting in Twin Lakes, CO than doing the Leadville 100 again.  While it doesn't do me any good to think further ahead than Leadville and then Wasatch, there is one other 100-mile race I really want to do and that's Hardrock 100.  It scares the crap out of me but also gives me a feeling of wonder and seeing pictures of the course makes me want to have that experience.  I have a love/hate relationship with 100-mile races.  I love them more when I'm not running them.  I don't know if I will stop doing them in the future because the challenge of them and the fun of meeting so many great people on these races does make the down moments seem insignificant.  We'll see how this Grand Slam plays out and it doesn't matter what I think today, during my next race, or the week after I finish the Grand Slam.  All that matters is to do what I enjoy doing.  I do enjoy running trails and mountains. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

My 3rd DNF - The Mega Donut Mile

Warning, some graphic content.

I have so many mixed emotions about this race.  DNFing (Did Not Finish) an event is always tough initially looking back on them, but as time passes you realize it's just one small pretty much meaningless event in the grand scheme of things and taking the DNF was more than likely the best choice possible.  Sure, sometimes our minds beat our bodies and we could have struggled on to a slow and miserable feeling finish and maybe not have much physical consequence as a result, but a counterfactual case acn be made that struggling to the finish may create a physical problem that takes a very long time to recover from and these are the things that are weighed when someone drops out.  Having come back from the dead many times in ultras, I understand how hard it is to DNF because my own experience has taught me that unless you are flirting with time cut-offs and will be timed out of a race, as long as you can walk from aid station to aid station, you'll eventually finish and quite possibly feel better at some point.  Obviously this isn't always the case.  Imagine you are vomiting/diarrhea and/or dizzy upon getting to an aid station at mile 60 of a 100-miler.  Quitting may seem the correct choice.  But what if you have 20 hours to cover the last 40 miles and 6 hours before you are timed out from the aid station.  Surely it is better to take as much time as you need at the aid station to get yourself in a position where you can at least walk to the next aid station.  If you can't do that in the time required, then DNFing is fine.  Also, if you are going to do some serious physical damage to your body (stress fracture, multiple times peeing blood, etc.) then it is better not to continue but you can still take all that time at the aid station before you call it quits. 

My first DNF was an unofficial race called the "Balled Eagle".  For a description of that race, I refer you to Mark Leuner's blog post on it.  This also has the Skunk video at the bottom which was great footage.  My second DNF and only "official" race DNF was the Tesla Hertz 100-miler in 2013.  I know I could have finished that race but the goals I had set out for it were very early on not going to happen and I foresaw a long and miserable 20+ more hours so I called it quits as I had better things to do and coming up the following week.  It was the right decision looking back on it.  I came back the next year and won the race.  So this leads me to how I DNFed my last race. 

I don't know exactly how the idea came to be.  I think John Tan posted something about eating a lot of donuts (I like spelling doughnut, donut).  I think I may have suggested a challenge of a donut mile where you eat a donut and run 1/4 mile around a track, eat another donut and run another 1/4 mile and repeat until you finish a mile and 4 donuts.  He agreed to that but to me that seemed easy so let's step it up with a mega donut mile challenge (James Cunningham coined that term).  Eat 1 donut, run 1/4 mile.  Eat 2 donuts, run 1/4 mile.  Eat 3 donuts, run 1/4 mile.  Eat 4 Donuts, Run 1/4 mile.  10 donuts total.   Seemed doable to me.  So we agreed on it and set a date and there were three competitors (me, James Cunningham, and John Tan) and possibly more would join.  Discussions were had regarding competition rules such as the donut sponsor (dunkin, Krisy Kreme, Dough, etc) and then what type of donuts to eat.  Would we have to eat the same donuts in the same order?  Water permitted?  Everything was eventually sorted out and the date of July 11th was chosen. 


James (6'0", 178lbs)
- Fastest race timed mile: 5:15 @ Fifth Av Mile in 2013(?)
- 9:34 at IronMan Brasil 2015
- 4th in AG at 70.3 Mont-Tremblant - June 2015
- 9th overall amateur at NYC Olympic Tri 2014 with a time of 2:00
- 1:23 Half Marathon / 37 min 10k
- Former Varsity Decathlete (56s 400m PR - 2003)
- Formerly weighed 230lbs when playing US elite level rugby in 2009
- Now 178lbs, 6" tall, 11% body fat
- Resting Metabolic Rate (doing absolutely nothing all day i.e. just breathing) = 2200calories
- Successfully completed (on multiple occasions) the 'Phall Challenge' - world's hottest curry from Man vs. Food (
- Have fitted and eaten an entire BabyBel Maxi ( in my mouth as part of a bet (loser ended up running through a ski resort in her underwear as forfeit)

John Tan is also a well accomplished runner and a triathlete and poop machine. 
John (5'3"?, 153.8 lbs?)

  • 5:10 fastest mile, 2001
  • Known as “RunFatBoyRun” because he’s fat and likes to run.
  • Former track “star” (50s 400m PR, 22.3s 200m PR)
  • Qualified for IronMan 70.3 World Champs 2015
  • 1982 Pampers Poop-athon regional champion
  • Most likely to wear pink
  • Ethnically, he is 20% donut, 40% bacon, 100% marshmallow
  • Hates wearing pants
  • Poops more than most people
  • Profuse ball sweater
Going into the race, I figured James was going to be the  favorite from the athletic side and even on the competitive eating side.  John was like me except he had ran a beer mile so has a slight advantage in knowing how that feels. 

To be honest, I was very nervous about this race.  I wondered what would happen if I felt like I had to vomit (throwing up meant you had to eat a penalty donut and run another lap).  What would happen if I couldn't finish the donuts.  What would happen to me after consuming ~3,000 calories of basically pure sugar so quickly?  I was really nervous about this.  As I arrived at the track and saw the donuts, I was feeling a little better (and hungry).  We waited for one of James' friend to arrive (Craig) and we also had a random spectator (Kat) to cheer us on and watch in amusement/horror. 

Pre-race contestants and donuts.  Smiles disappeared sometime later.

There were 10 Krispy Kreme donuts for us all.  Each round required eating a glazed donut.  The other donuts we had to eat in any order we chose were: 2 marble frosted, 1 pink frosted, 1 chocolate frosted, 1 cake batter filled, 1 boston kreme.  So since we have to have 1 glazed each lap, we start the race off with the glazed donut. 

At 1PM, the sun was beating down on us and the donuts for a while before we began the race.  We picked up our glazed donut to get ready to start and could feel the sugar glaze melting off the donut.  The start is called and we begin to eat the donut.  James finishes first but I am just a couple seconds behind.  I catch up to him on the track and stay on his tail, the pace comfortable (1:21 lap).

The lap is finished and I pick up my next glazed donut and eat it and drink water to get it down.  I work on my second donut (marble frosted) and James is finished with his second and takes a bite accidentally of a 3rd!

James about to begin his round of 3 donuts

He takes off running and I finish mine when he is about 1/4 through his lap.  I start running but don't try to catch up.  My lap felt good.  I begin to eat my round of 3 donuts.  I start off with a pink frosted.  It takes a while to eat it.  Then I move to the glazed donut.  It's feeling rough.  I can't swallow it as quickly as the others.  I'm spending more time chewing slowly and trying to resist and urge to throw up.  John comes in and starts working on his 3 donuts.  I pick up the Boston Creme and wow, I'm struggling.  I manage to put it down and take off on my lap.  Again, the lap feels fine but my stomach is feeling full and I'm very concerned at how I am possibly going to eat 4 donuts on completion of this last lap.  I arrive back at my donuts and John is still working on his 3 donuts.  Meanwhile, James just finishes shortly after and takes off for his final lap. He is an absolute beast and finished around 9 minutes.

 Well, I have no chance at beating James but I have a lap advantage over John.  I eat a chocolate frosted donut.  I feel like I'm going to throw up and/or poop.  I drink a lot of water and try to do the Kobayashi (Former Nathan's Hot Dog eating Champ) dance to get the food down in my stomach. John takes off on his 3rd lap. I pick up the cake batter donut.  It's sooooo heavy.  I'm in trouble.  I'm struggling big time.  I need to sit down.  So I sit.  I have two donuts to finish but I can not stomach the smell of the donuts anymore.  I grab the marble frosted donut.  I go to take a bite and as soon as it hits my tongue I am sick.  I have to use the bathroom (for #2).  I ask where the bathrooms are and they are right outside the track.  John is still working on his 4 donuts.  I go to the bathroom and it felt like a quick pit stop.  I get back and John is just standing around because he finished his donuts and did his lap.  So I'm last place.  That's fine.  But can I even finish this event.  I pick up my half eaten marble frosted donut and attempt to take a bit but can't.  I feel horrid.  My stomach is a mess.  My head is a mess.  I feel like I can easily walk the lap but I can't do the lap without eating the 1.5 donuts.  I'm crushed.  Everyone there is trying their best to encourage me to eat those donuts and finish the race.

"Fuc$ everything" is what I had to say at this point. 

A few different times I try but can't manage to put that half donut of marble frosted mess past my lips.  I look at my watch and it now says 20 minutes has elapsed since the start.  After trying to will myself to do it and with every one's encouragement, I tell them it just isn't going to happen and I'm going to admit defeat and take the DNF.  I knew there was no way I could finish.  Even if I managed to down that half donut, I still had a final glazed to eat and I couldn't do it without doing some serious harm.  I had a train to catch in two hours to Long Island and I didn't want to be in the hospital instead.  So that was that. 

We packed up and walked to Union Square where I caught the train to Penn Station.  I felt terrible though.  I needed to sit down and drink some water and stay cool.  I felt as bad as I did after reaching the Devil's Thumb aid station.  I went to New York Sports Club and took a cold shower.  Then went back to Penn Station and sat against a wall while waiting for Aleks to arrive.  Then I went to the bathroom and came back to sit against that wall.  On the train, I leaned against the window and tried hard not to throw up but I was feeling sick.  I tried to throw up in the train bathroom but couldn't.  I pooped instead.  Then I passed out against the window until we arrived at our stop.  When I got to Long Island for the BBQ, I went into the cool basement and napped for about 15 minutes.  Mostly, I was just sitting and not doing anything.  About 5PM I ate a piece of corn (thanks John for that advice) and a little salad.  Around 7PM after drinking some tea, I finally started to feel better and was eating some fruit salad and some pieces of chicken. 

So it took my about 5-6 hours to not feel like garbage following this race.  It's amazing how this took as much out of me as a 100-mile race.  Did I learn anything from it?  I think so.  First, although I can eat a lot for my size, it's usually spread out.  I also don't know what technique I would need in order to be a true competitive eater because they take down a tremendous amount of food so obviously, I don't know what I'm doing.  That's ok.  After doing this event, that is not a sport I have a desire to get into.  Maybe I'm getting older but I generally don't eat as much as I used to and get so stuffed I can't move.  I have learned not to eat every one's food when we go out to eat and I'm ok throwing food away sometimes instead of forcing it down.  Maybe that change hurt me in this race.  A bigger question I had was will DNFing this "easy" run cause me to DNF a more important 100-miler, such as the Vermont 100-miler coming up this weekend?  Or what about Leadville in a month or Wasatch to finish off the Grand Slam in September.  I don't think this race will negatively impact me there.  For one, moving wasn't really a problem, it was the eating.  So as long as I can move forward I can finish the race.  I have no doubts there.  Even if I'm calorie deficient I'll still move forward as has happened many times before.  However, I have had some stomach issues at races lately and maybe this is something I have to work on or at least be mindful of going forward.  Maybe I don't have that iron stomach I used to have and now have to think more about it in races. 

I have a lot of respect for James and John who finished this race.  Especially for John because it takes a lot of will to be able to force those donuts down and he was struggling.  James is just a beast.  I know he could have finished at least another half dozen.  If there ever is a second annual mega donut mile, I'll be happy to be the ref or help with the event.  But I'm glad to make this one and done.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Western States 100-miler 2015

First, I want you to know the history of the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run if you are interested.  So here's a link for that.  To sum it up, Western States is known as the oldest trail 100-miler and getting a ticket to toe the starting line is one of the most sought after spots in Ultrarunning.  The elite field is also extremely competitive, bringing the best ultrarunners from around the world.  Second, Western States is a very difficult race to get into in any given year.  Unless you are an elite runner that can gain entry through winning certain races, the main way for the normal runners to gain entry is through a lottery, where every year you do not get selected, your odds improve for the next year as you get 2^(n-1) tickets where n is the number of times in a row you have applied.  So my odds this year of getting selected was 8% I think, because I had 8 tickets in the pool.  Now getting those tickets isn't always easy either.  You have to run a qualifying race (only certain 100-milers, or finishing specific shorter races within a certain time) each year to be eligible for the lottery for the following year's race.  So when I got selected, it was my 4th lottery attempt.  Lastly, by getting into this race, it opens up the possibility to take on a challenge called the "Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (TM)" which is running four of the oldest 100-mile mountain races in the U.S. in a period of about 11 weeks.  With the odds so low of getting into Western States again, I decided this year to go for the Grand Slam.

Like many 100-mile races, one of the main goals is to finish in under 24-hours.  Before heading out to the race, my A-goal was a sub-22 hour finish, B-goal was sub-24, and C goal would be to finish within the 30-hour cutoff.  However, the biggest weight would be on the C goal because a DNF (Did Not Finish) would disqualify me from the Grand Slam.

I flew out to Reno Thursday night and arrived at the Tahoe Inn at 12:30AM.  I got to bed around 1:30 but woke up shortly after 6AM.  I didn't have to check in for the race until 9AM at the earliest so I used that time to finish up packing my drop bags (bags runners can use at certain check-points during the race).  I had a little anxiety over these bags because this race did not have transportation for a finish line bag that you can drop off the morning of the race; you drop off the finish line bag only the day before the race with the other drop bags.  So I was worried about carrying my phone, car key, glasses, money/ID on me all race.  I figured I could shove it in a pocket in my hydration pack and leave it there. My guess for why they don't transport a race morning bag to the finish line is that probably 90% of the runners have pacers or crew to help them out.  I was flying solo this race and most likely will for all 4 races of the Grand Slam.  I leave the Inn and stop at a restaurant (Rosies) for some breakfast and then make my way to the Squaw Valley Olympic Village.  It only takes about 15 minutes to drive there from the Inn.  Great location!  I go through the check-in process where Stan Jensen (keeper of the website welcomes me and checks me into the race and gives me my wrist band that has the words "Grand Slam" written on it in marker so that everyone knows I'm one of the 42 (record) people attempting the Slam.  Then comes the check-in for the medical research project.

Dr. Marty Hoffman has been doing research on ultra-endurance events for a long time and uses Western States as a lab for testing the runners on various interesting topics.  This year, the test is an investigation of popular recovery techniques for Ultramarathon recovery post race.  The test subjects were to run two separate 400-meter timed sprints within the 3 weeks leading up to the race and answer a questionnaire regarding training .  At check-in, we were weighed and then had to answer some questions such as how sore do we feel and how much muscular fatigue we feel.  For those that finish the race, we are weighed again, a small sample of blood is drawn, we answer the same questions about soreness and fatigue, and then the runners are randomly assigned to one of three different types of recovery methods, Compression, Massage, or electric stimulation (I think).  After the 20-minute recovery stimulation, we are asked the questions again.  Finally, we are discouraged from using pain medication, compression garments, massage, electrical stimulation, or heat/ice for 7 days.  We are to document how sore and fatigued we feel each morning and answer a couple other questions and we are to repeat the 400-meter timed sprint on the Wednesday and Friday following the race.  For taking part in this study, the runners get a t-shirt at check-in and for those that can complete it, receive a jacket.  I like to think we help the scientific community as well and that's a plus in my book.

After the medical research part, it's time to collect the race schwag and boy do we get our money's worth.  We received a dri-fit shirt, arm-sleeves with a pocket, a visor, a trucker hat, Injinji socks, a Buff, a coozy, and a great backpack as well as a ton of food stuff to try.  For those finishing the race, you get a medal, water bottle, a custom engraved buckle, and a finishers jacket.  With all of these goodies and the amount of other support (food, drinks, nutrition, ice, and the post-race food) the $393 entry fee doesn't seem too bad at all given how big an event it is that they run.  Here are all the goodies not including the food and water bottle.

After collecting everything, I wandered around the small Western States store and browsed but didn't purchase.  Then I went outside and chatted with some of the people there.  I also eavesdropped on some conversations of the elite athletes and the legends such as Ann Trason who was hanging out at the UltraRunning Magazine tent.  Then I had some time to kill before I dropped off my bags so I went to Starbucks.  I struck up some conversations with some runners, one of which was running the series of races called "The Last Great Race", which has now been changed to O6HC (Original 6 Hundred Challenge) which is the same 4 races I'm doing but you add in the Old Dominion 100-miler (Virginia) the first weekend in June and then Angeles Crest 100 (Los Angeles) the first weekend in August.  I got myself a seat outside and then read the race guide again.  Then I took care of dropping off my drop bags.  I still had about an hour to kill so I went over to the start line and hung out on the grass ahead of the start line and just relaxed in the shade, taking in the nice scenery of the mountains to my left and the race start ahead of me.

Next came the Pre-race briefing at 1:30PM.  It was held in the Olympic Dining hall which hosted all of the athletes in 1960.  Nowadays, it wouldn't be able to hold just the American Olympic athletes.  We watched a short video and then heard some nice speeches ranging from trail conservation to runner conservation from the medics.  There was a moment of silence for a long-time aid station captain that passed away this year and also a long ovation for ultra-runner Dave Mackey who was probably watching the webcast from the hospital after he was severely injured running when a rock gave way and he fell a long way down about a month ago.  There was a course update and then an introduction to the elite female and then male runners.  After that was all done, I was hoping to meet up with the other Grand Slammers but there was some confusion about where to meet and I was just wandering around for 15 minutes before I found a small group of them outside where we were to get advice from one of last year's Grand Slammers and also a former Team in Training Coach for the LA chapter Jimmy Dean Freeman.

It was about 3PM and time to head back to the hotel.  I dropped off everything in the room and then went out for some dinner overlooking Lake Tahoe.  Again, very relaxing and scenic.  Following dinner, I went back to the Inn and packed everything else up so that I was ready to go in the morning.  I had my clothes laid out and the suitcase packed but open, ready for me to pack away the remaining things in the morning (clothing, plugs, toiletries, etc.).  Then I turned on the Women's World Cup and watched the US win.  After that, it was maybe 7:30 and I decided to try and sleep.  Surprisingly, I was able to fall asleep quickly.  I woke up numerous times at night and at one point, heard a loud click.  I thought it was something with the clock in the room but didn't bother investigating and went back to bed.  I woke up again at 2AM (alarm was set for 2:45) and was pretty much awake so I decided to get up.  I went to turn on the light but the light didn't turn on.  I tried a different light and still nothing.  Then I realized that the clock light was out too.  Maybe my room lost power?  I looked out the window and it was pitch black, so the lights outside the hotel were also off although I saw some lights on in the building across the street.  So either the Inn lost power, or the area lost power and just emergency lights were on and this Inn had no emergency lights.  This was not good but I had my work phone and my own phone and they both have a flashlight function so I used those to get ready.  It made the process take a bit longer so I was glad I woke up well before my alarm.  I'm also glad I didn't rely on the hotel clock for the alarm.  After I was all set up and completely packed and ready to go, I left the room, dropped my key through the key return slot since there was no front desk open at that time, then I drove to the parking lot at Squaw Valley for the start.

I was one of the first people to arrive at 3:15AM.  And I really had to go to the bathroom.   So I didn't take my hydration pack and just walked out looking for the bathroom and made my second deposit of the morning.  Oh yeah, I took some immodium after the first one because it wasn't how it should be if you know what I mean and I was a little worried.  My stomach was a little weird that morning too, but I wasn't feeling ill.  So I took care of business, went back to the car, got my stuff and then got on the breakfast line which was just me.  I ate a couple mini muffins and some peanut/almond bars and drank water.  Then I checked in, got my bib and relaxed in the lounge area.  I went to the bathroom again.  More and more people started to come in and before you know it, the place is bustling with runners and their support crew.  I spoke with a number of people and gazed at all of the "celebrities" I recognized.  I got back in the bathroom line at 4:40 to make hopefully my final pit-stop for a long time.  Then I sat in a chair near the door to exit to the starting area 100 feet away.  Some runners and crew (one of them, Shaeen Sattar was an elite runner) were talking about a Black Bear that was spotted at 3AM near the start line.  I told them that as long as you aren't the slowest runner, you have nothing to worry about.  Then there was 5 minutes until the start so we headed out and I lined up right near two other grand slammers.  One of them was Luis Miguel Callao from NY and it was nice to meet him, as he was one of only a few NYers to be part of the race.  We wished each other good luck and then the countdown began and finally, the shotgun to start us off.

The race starts off with a 4.5 mile, 2,550 foot climb to the top of Emigrant Pass at nearly 8,800 feet.  The terrain is smooth dirt for most of it (Fire Road type) as the climb uses the path that vehicles take to service the ski areas higher up on the mountain.  I should mention that even before the race, when I first stepped out of the car that morning, I was in a thin dri-fit t-shirt and shorts and I was very comfortable.  This is not a good sign of things to come for the race if it is in the 70s at 3AM at 6,500 feet.  The course here was lighted and the sun starts rising shortly after 5AM so there was no need for any headlamps or flashlights to start the race.  The lead runners take off and run this entire section.  I wonder if their race times would be even faster if they power-hiked this section instead of running it?  My plan, walk up the hill.  As we head higher, the views just get better and better of the surrounding area.  

At some points, especially near the top of this climb, the pitch gets very steep.

Once we hit the top, it's a nice downhill section on very narrow singletrack.  In a way, it is good that it was so narrow because it prevented me from bothering with passing anyone and I was able to keep my pace easier than I would have gone had there been no one ahead of me or if it was wide enough to easily pass slower runners ahead.

There were some spots though where the runner ahead could tell that a train of people was behind them and they would pull over to the side as soon as they had a chance and let runners pass.  A few times I was asked by the runner ahead if I want to pass but I declined. However, at some point they would always pull to the side to let me pass.  This downhill stretch was quite pleasant.  The flowers were pretty and the mountains to our left were a nice view.  This was the Granite Chief Wilderness Area and it was very peaceful.  Around mile 7 though, there was a large tree that had fallen down and was blocking the course.  It was easy enough to climb over it but somehow, I didn't lift my left leg up nearly enough to step on it and I banged my shin against it.  It hurt and got cut up but I knew it wasn't anything serious.  It was just annoying. 

At mile 9, I was 2:10 into the race and feeling good, sort of.  I wasn't feeling too hungry or that I felt like my stomach wanted to handle much food.  I knew I needed some so when I got to the aid station at mile 10, I grabbed a pack of Clif shot blocks and then as I was going to head out I saw some watermelon and grabbed a few pieces of that.

The next 6 miles went well with some rolling hills near 7,000 feet altitude.  It was 8:42AM when I arrived at the next aid station at mile 16 and I was hot.  At the Red Star Ridge aid station, the volunteers were fantastic.  A kid about 13 years old brought me my drop bag and filled my hydration pack with ice and water.  Meanwhile, I changed into a tank top and had a volunteer reapply sunblock everywhere.  Finally, another aid station volunteer filled my hat with ice and gave me her bandana and filled that with ice and wrapped that around my neck.  The next section was 7.8 miles and was mostly small rolling hills before heading downhill into the canyons.  The terrain got just a tiny bit technical at some points but still nothing like the East Coast.

Around mile 19, I felt some weird thing near mile heel/ankle in my shoe.  I was moving well and was tempted to just let it be but thought better of it and pulled to the side and took off my shoe and got whatever was in my shoe out.  However, when I put my shoe back on, it felt like something was crinkled in my sock and it didn't feel good.  So 2-3 more times I took my shoe off and put it back on and finally I said, forget it and laced up and started moving.  As soon as I took a few steps, the weird crinkle feeling was gone.  I'm glad I took the one minute of time to empty my shoe because leaving something small like that in your shoe for a race this long will become a huge problem.  By taking the minute to fix the problem, I saved myself an hour or more in the long run.

For so much of this race, one of the things that was so weird to me was the size of the pine cones on the trees here, or at least, the ones on the ground.  David Snipes had told me to look for them but how could you miss them?!  They were huge!  Imagine one of those falling on your head during the race?  I took a video of two kinds of these Dinosaur type pinecones.  One was very long, the other very fat.

I reached the next aid station which was mile 23.8, Duncan Canyon at 10:20AM, so 5:20 into the race.  I was hot.  As usual, I got wiped down with cold water and sponges, filled my hat and bandana around my next with ice.  I ate more cantaloupe and watermelon and had some shot blocks before reaching the aid station.

The next section from Duncan Canyon to Robinson Flat was about 6 miles and it sucked.  Due to a fire in 2008 (or some other time when this section was hit), there is almost no cover from the sun on this stretch.  At this time, the sun was beating down and it was so dry and hot and the surface was so dry and dusty as well.  All of this combined just sapped my strength.  about 2.5 miles into the run, we came upon an oasis.  At least that's what I call it.  It was a very small creek of cold water and it was incredible.  We sat in it and some even laid down in it to get completely cooled off.  I didn't want to leave it.  It was so refreshing and recharging and unbeknownst to me, it probably saved my race because the next 4 miles were tortuous.

 It went mostly uphill (literally) and there was hardly and shade so my energy and race were going downhill (figuratively).  Here's a video of the area and you can see the trees are no longer trees.

I was sucking down water and pouring water on my head, neck, shoulders, arms, legs.  I ran out of that water a mile before the aid station.  This part really sucked the life out of me.  I wasn't sweating or if I was, it was immediately evaporating.  I was taking the Enduralytes hoping that would help and it probably did.  When I got to the aid station, I had to take my time.  There wasn't much that was appetizing to me.  I ate some more cantaloupe and watermelon.  I tried a couple crackers.  I also took 2 small cups of gingerale to help ease my stomach and because I needed calories.  I spent nearly 20 minutes in that aid station.  Before leaving, I had volunteers completely cover me in ice cold water and hat a cap-full of ice and my bandana filled with ice too.

When I left this aid station, I was shivering but that didn't last too long.  This section was better though.  After an uphill section out of the aid station, the course goes downhill until the next one.  This section had a little breeze and some cover so it was much better.  It took about an hour and I was at the next aid station (Miller's Defeat) and I got some nice help from some young kids who took charge.

At this aid station, I tried something new which was a Clif product that was like baby food in a pouch.  I unfortunately chose a not so nice flavor of Apple, Ginger, Beet and the beet flavor was overpowering.  I took a small taste and knew it wasn't for me.  So I went for some more Gingerale, watermelon and cantaloup. The next 3.6 mile section was downhill and my pace picked up nicely.  It felt the same for a little bit of the next section.  At mile 41 I was hot and my mouth was dry.  I continued to take Endurolytes and watered myself down to stay cool.  However, looking at my time, I realized that it might be difficult for me to break 24 hours.  While I have heard that the second half of the race is much easier than the first, I was only at mile 41 and wouldn't get to the next aid station (mile 43.5 - Last Chance) until 3:15AM.  That would mean I had 6.5 miles to go before the half-way point and that still meant I had Devil's Thumb, a 1.8 mile climb that gains 1,500 feet with around 37 switchbacks.  I guess that I would be at the top of Devil's thumb close to 5PM which would mean I would have 12 hours to run 50-miles.  That's very doable, but ho easy would it be to do it for the last 50 miles of this race?  It wasn't out of the question, but it didn't make sense to think much about it and just continue to run aid station to aid station and worry about finishing times when I'm much closer to finishing.

After Last Chance, it's about 2.5 miles of switchbacks downhill where we descend 2,000 feet. We then cross a bridge over a very large creek and some people would descend lower to enter the creek and cool off, but then had to climb back up.  Snipes had told me to ignore that creek because there would be a small place to cool off after the bridge.  He was right!  There was a small area and I cooled off there for 5 minutes before heading up Devil's thumb.  It went from heaven to hell.

To be honest, most of the climb up Devil's Thumb went well.  I was moving up nicely and easily and thinking it was not going to be a big deal.  Especially, comparing it to the climbs at UTMB last year.  However, about 10 minutes before the top, I started to feel sick.  I didn't know if I had to throw up or head to the bathroom.  There was no place here to pull over to the side.  So I slowly staggered to the top.  When I got to the top, I asked for a chair as I needed to lower my heart rate and not curl up on the ground.  One of the volunteers at the medic area, Gary I believe, gave me a seat and started talking to me about how I felt.  I probably only peed once about 4 hours earlier and it wasn't much.  I had Gary check my pulse to see if my watch was still accurate and it had gone down to about 110 bpm.  Then I told him I'd like to try the bathroom.  He led me to wear the port-o-potty's were and there wasn't a line.  I tried to poop but couldn't.  However, I was able to pee and while it was dark in color and not a lot, it wasn't blood so that's a good sign!  After that, I sat down in a chair and Gary kept talking to me.  We talked about NYC and some other things while volunteers brought me some chicken broth with noodles and watermelon.  It took a while, but I finally decided it was time to get up and go.  I grabbed a citrus popsicle they had at the aid station (woohoo!) and had it in a cup so it wouldn't melt all over me.  Before I truly left, I went to the bathroom one more time and was able to poop (another Woohoo!).  I spent a lot of time in that aid station, maybe close to 25 minutes.  I walked for about 5 minutes out of the aid station still not feeling good.  I was cold from sitting for about 20 minutes.  After walking for a bit and eating the popsicle I felt good enough to start trotting.  What seemed like a mile later, were two people spectating.  One of them had a cello and started playing on it as I approached.  It was very awesome.  They also had a garbage bag there and I was able to get rid of the cup that had the popsicle in it.

I was probably at mile 49 and it was close to 5:20.  Knowing I had a little over 50 miles to run and had to do that in about 11:40 and knowing how I was feeling, I basically threw out the 24-hour goal.  I knew it was still possible, but highly unlikely.  My quads were beginning to feel a little pain so how likely was I going to be able to run fast for the next 50-miles?  I also had a long descent and then another long but not as steep climb coming.  So now I was just debating whether to take it easy or try to still finish as fast as possible so that I could be done as soon as possible.

The next 15 miles are something of a blur.  I would run (slowly) when I could but there were still some big uphill sections which I had to walk.  Even slightly runnable uphills I would walk.  This day was turning into a sufferfest and it was far from over.  I got to Michigan Bluff mile 56, and saw someone I knew, Emily Clay who was crewing for a runner.  I just whined about how tough a day it was.  At the same time, I was also finding it humorous that I might not get to the next aid station before sunset.  The prior two days when I was trying to figure out my drop bags, one of the questions was where I should put my headlamps.  Luckily, I have two headlamps.  If I had one, I would have put it at Foresthill.  I had two, so I put one at Foresthill (mile 62) and the other at Rucky Chucky (mile 78).  I was thinking that I would most likely get to Foresthill with plenty of daylight and if I was having a great day, I would possibly get to Rucky Chucky just before sunset.  Here I was now wondering if I would get to mile 62 in time and without a headlamp in case it got dark.  I was running most of this section with another runner, Tamara Day.  She had gone to the three day training camp of this race a month or two earlier and knew this part of the course.  Although she didn't tell me how long of a straightaway was on the road before the aid station.  I arrived at the aid station, refilled on water and wiped myself off with cold water again.  I saw Emily again before I left and told her with confidence that sub-24 was gone and she said if I averaged 12-minute miles I could still do it.  I laughed at that, given how I was moving around 15 minute miles at this point.

The next sections were rough.  My headlamp was turned on about 5 minutes after I left the aid station.  At 10PM I was feeling pretty tired.  That seemed too early for the sleep monster to rear its head.  I managed to shake it off but was still moving slowly.  The course still had plenty of ups and downs and so did I, though more downs.  I was seeing weird things in the shadows and random noises I would hear would always get me to turn my head.  What was that?!  It never turned out to be anything but those shadows from my headlamp really played tricks on me.  I knew I was getting closer to one of the aid stations when I saw some freaky things about a tenth of a mile before the aid station.  See the video for those surprises.

Around mile 70-75 was when I was really feeling tired.  The sleep monster got control of me and turned me into my friend Zombie Mark.  I would close my eyes for 10 seconds and just walk.  I'm sure I was swaying on the course and looked like one of the walkers/biters from The Walking Dead.  I felt like them too.  Eventually I woke up a little as I knew I was getting closer.  It was about 30 minutes before I reached the Rucky Chucky aid station and then river crossing when I saw something on the ground and had to turn around to make sure I wasn't seeing things.

It was indeed a Scorpion and I thought about putting my finger right next to it to show how small it was.  Then I thought how bad an idea that would be.  Especially since the smaller scorpions are supposed to be the most poisonous.  It was pretty cool to see it.  I got to the Rucky Chucky aid station and took some Coke and a little food and refilled my hydration pack and water bottle with ice and water.  Then I had to head down to the river crossing and had to don a life preserver and a glowstick necklace.  There were volunteers in the river standing next to a rope that crosses the river.  I'm to hold onto the rope as I cross the river which at this time wen as high on me as about my belly button.  The volunteers had flashlights/headlamps on them and told me to watch out for the big rocks right in the river, which by the way is just below a section of class 6 rapids.  So I'm holding onto the rope and I can feel the current pulling me a little.  I navigate around these big rocks.  I'm so happy to be in this cold river.  In years where there is a lot of rain or snowmelt and the river is very high, they have a boat take runners across.  Finally, I get to the other side.  I walk up a short hill to get to the aid station on the other side which just has drop bags.  The volunteers there help the runners with their bags.  I had a change of socks and shoes in my bag and I'm lucky I did because my current pair of shoes actually started to break a few miles back.  A piece of the bottom of my shoe had partially ripped off and was hanging off.  It probably happened because I was shuffling so much due to my tiredness.  So I changed shoes and socks.  The volunteers had towels and I was able to dry my feet but they were a little painful because the bottoms of my feet were somehow waterlogged and creased and there was a lot of dirt in those creases and it hurt.  I used the wet towel to get the dirt out and then dried my feet off and then put socks on and then the shoes.  Also in my bag was my second and better headlamps so I swapped that in. I also had an iPod shuffle and a little bottle of 5-hour energy.  Then I was ready to go.  As I got to the end of the aid station and other volunteers were there to check me out of the aid station, they asked if I had a pacer.  I told them I did not and they asked if I wanted one as someone was looking to pace runners.  I thought about it and then thought I was doing this race solo and was going to do at least two more of these races by myself so I might as well stay that way.  It's my own challenge.  Plus, I was feeling ok at this point and knew I would finish (someday. . .) and maybe someone else would need a pacer more than me.  So I declined and continued on.

Darkness remained the theme.  Some aid stations had some things that helped let us know we were close.  Similar to that alien themed one earlier.  Another one had a whole bunch of lights leading up to it.  Most had loud music playing so you could tell when you were close.  One thing that was starting to help a lot was the cooler temperatures (relatively speaking, since it was still quite warm) and also at one of the aid stations I found a new food.  Similar to that beet, ginger, apple thing was a new flavor, Banana, Mango, Coconut.  It was good!!  So I took some to go as well.

I got to Brown's Bar (mile 90 just after 5AM).  They said they had pancakes at this aid station so I asked for some but after a few minutes, it looked like they were still in the process of making them but they had some bacon and it was delicious!!  I saw Elite Ultrarunner Hal Koerner there as he was helping out and asked if he wanted to pace me for the last 10.  He said he wish he could.  I think he is still recovering from a knee injury earlier this year or late last year.  I grabbed some more of the Banana, Mango, Coconut mix and watermelon to go.  The sun was now coming up and a new day was starting.  It was after 5AM and I had 10 miles to go.

 I was fairly certain I would be done in under three hours but then the course had different ideas.  I didn't realize how many more uphills there were.  At first I was walking most of it.  Then I decided at one point to try and run.  It wasn't happening so I still walked the hills.  I started to run on the downhill into the next aid station, Highway 49 - mile 93.  They had Bacon at this aid station and again it was amazing!!!!!  They also had a smoothy and I had a cup of that.  I took more of the Banana, Mango, Coconut stuff and left feeling great.  I started walking the hill but then decided to try and run.  Amazingly, I was able to run, albeit slowly up the hills.  At one point, actually the second time that morning, I saw a deer pop out close to me.  It was too quick and I couldn't get a video of it.
Then we headed into this peaceful valley and I was wondering what animals might be there.  Next thing you know there is a whole flock of turkeys across the field.

There were some pretty cool views of things in this area.  One was of a bridge way up in the distance and I hoped this was not the bridge we had to cross.  Thankfully it wasn't.

When I did run down to the No Hands Bridge aid station near mile 97, I was feeling very good.  I filled up my water and didn't need anything to eat as I had some of the Banana, Mango, Coconut in my pocket.  The aid station volunteer told me to play a round of Darts before I left.  I didn't know what she meant but she then said just play one round, it is free and you can win a prize.  So I went up there and played a round.  The high score at the time (three throws) was 28.  So I gave it a shot.  I hit 19, 6, and then I missed the board!  Oops.  Well, I didn't even know if I could throw at all at this point.  I was in no hurry to beat 24 hours so I asked if I could try again.  I hit a 3x 2, an 8, and my last throw was a 25 point bullseye!  So my total of 39 was the new high score.  A few days later I found out that someone later on had thrown a 44 to take the high score.  Maybe I should have stuck around and played again.  I'm sure I could have hit a 3x 20.  I was feeling pretty good these last miles and running most uphills.  That was until we got to some major uphills the last 5 miles.  Are you serious?!
So I walked those.  Finally, I got to the last 1.5 miles on asphalt.  They had these awesome painted feet to mark the course here.

People were walking  on the street or outside their homes saying congratulations.  I wonder where the hell the school is for the finish line and finally I approach it.  I was so happy.

I finished the race in 26:52:52.  At least 3 hours slower than I was hoping for going into the race.  However, as I stated earlier, sub-24 was the B goal, but if that couldn't happen, make sure the C goal of finishing happens.  I can't complete the Grand Slam without finishing this race and there were plenty of times where I questioned if I would be able to finish if not this race, then certainly 3 more hundred mile races in the next 11 weeks.  Here's a screenshot of my aid station splits.  I moved up nicely in overall place throughout the race, as bad as I did feel.  Only one person passed me the last 10 miles and that was on the no-hands bridge as I was playing darts.  This guy was moving like a maniac and his pacer couldn't keep up.  I asked what drugs he was on and he said he had a lot of bacon the last aid station.  Makes sense!

After I finished, I was given a water bottle and then asked if I was taking part in the medical research.  I was so they brought me into the medical tent where I was weighted (same weight as from the Friday weigh-in).  They asked me some questions and then took about a tablespoon of blood.  Then they directed me to my random post-race recovery which happened to be compression.  Here's a look at the compression thing I was in.

After the compression I was asked the same questions about soreness and muscular fatigue.  Unsurprisingly, I was way more sore and tired after the compression than before, for the sole reason that I had been sitting, lying down for 30 minutes or so instead of just finishing my race, where I was still moving.  After the race, I hobbled my way (every finisher looked like they were from the walking dead) to get my finish line bag and then made my way to the showers.  It felt so great to shower.  Then I hobbled my way back to the track and plopped myself down.  Then I got up to get a lot of food, eggs, bacon, pancakes, sausage, home fries.  I watched more people finish the race for the next few couple of hours until the last runners which was absolutely amazing.  The final finisher was the oldest woman to finish the race, Gunhild Swanson at 70 years old finished the race in 29:59:54.  Just 6 seconds before the cutoff.  I was there filming it with my phone and it was awesome.

After she finished, it was just a little longer before the awards ceremony.  The ceremony was nice and I went up and received my buckle.

After the awards, I got a ride back to Squaw Valley from someone that volunteered at one of the aid stations and the race director of the Headlands 50K race on Mt. Shasta, Gerad Dean.  We chatted the entire way back to Squaw Valley and it was a quick ride back.  I went to Starbucks and hung out there for an hour.  With not much to do but still a lot of time before my 11:59PM flight, I decided to head back to the airport where I could hopefully nap or write this recap.  I was sleepy on the drive back so I pulled over onto a scenic view area and napped for 30 minutes.  When I got to the airport to check in, there was no agent at the counter and the kiosks wouldn't let me check in.  So I went to the airport bar/restaurant and got myself a very early dinner.  Then I went to the slot machines (it is Reno) and put in $20 and on my second roll, I won over $100!  Woohoo!  I decided to use those winnings to upgrade my seat to more leg room!

The flight home was not fun.  I was so uncomfortable in the seat, even with the extra leg room.  My legs were so tight and I couldn't sleep.  I maybe got a total of an hour sleep on the 5 hour flight.

Post race in the week that followed I have been very sore.   One of the reasons it has taken longer to recover is because part of my responsibility for the medical research is that I can't use ("try not to use") any pain medications, compression garments, massage, electrical stimulation, or heat/ice during the 7 days after the race.  Icing and rolling have helped me to feel better and I'm convinced of that now since I haven't been able to roll or ice in the last week.  I also had to run the test 400-meter sprint on Wednesday and on Friday.  My times were 89 seconds and 86 seconds.  Still a little slower than the 84 seconds the week before the race.

Of the 42 people that entered the Grand Slam, 17 people did not complete Western States.  Overall, the finishing rate was 68%, much lower than the average finishing rate for this race, mostly a result of the very above average temperatures.

I have the Vermont 100 miler coming up in two weeks (three weeks after Western States).  I am not looking forward to it right now.  Maybe I'll be recovered enough to have a good run there. I'm going to be dreading that day though if it is hot and humid.  So one 100-mile mountain race down, 3 to go.