Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Sun Mountain 50 Mile Report

Mile 18. Dirt road. Starting to get hot. A runner in front of me smiles and stops to take a picture of a tree. The foliage in the valley is a sea of various shades of green, yet this tree stands out with its white flowers in full bloom. It's nothing special, quite hidden away, in fact. What makes it unique are the surroundings. It doesn't fit in, and I would have missed it if not for the runner in front of me deciding to capture the moment. I can quit now, go meet Mom, and cheer on Dad to his finish. 

The third aid station of the day, then trails collide. I fall into the single-track conga line of 25K and 50K runners that started at 10:00 a.m. I notice the runner in front of me is wearing the same shoes (Pearl Izumi Trail N2).

'Nice N2's, how do you like them?'

'Love them'

'Me too, just got them last week, I've only put 20 miles on them but I love them so much I had to wear them today.'

'You're Dave right?'


'I've read your blog'

Luke introduces himself and says how he's planning on doing White River 50 and he read my report from last year. He just did his first ultra at the Chuckanut 50K, and lets me know his thoughts on the race. From Vancouver, he's coming down to the states for some of our races for his 2013 year. I run with his group for awhile as the steady climb begins up to the next aid station. My pace quickens, but soon Luke and his group of 50K runners separate and I decide not to give chase, and rather just enjoy a comfortable pace. My race hasn't started yet, I can get going after mile 30, stay comfortable until then. While less scenic than the first 20 miles, this portion of the course is a steady and gradual climb that meanders through shaded forest and blooming arrowleaf basalmroot.

The knee is better. The jarring stiffness around mile 14 has subsided. For a moment, it was a pressing issue, and now, no longer. The stomach pains from mile eight are history. Maybe it was drinking some more water? Maybe the Imodium has finally kicked in? The dirt and blood from the the fall around mile 12 simply left some scratches, and some slight discombobulation that resulted in blindly following a group of runners that decided to put on an extra mile or so off course. I've wiped the dirt off now, the blood has dried. Remember, good or bad, feelings are temporary. You're good now, ride it out and keep moving forward. 

The aid station appears and I waste time. Some girls bring me my drop bag, I reach and grab sunscreen to cover my head with it. I then proceed to wander around, getting some water, slowly eating food, and going back and forth to my drop bag a couple or more times for no apparent reason.

Now its some forest road, a short and steep climb, and then plenty of winding downhill that is capped with a visit from Mom at a trail-head intersection. Give hug, say Hi, allow her to take a picture. I'm running with probably one other guy and four ladies. Mom hoots, hollers, and goes nuts. She makes sure everyone knows 'that's my son' and 'Go Dave!' and 'Woop Woop'. I realize I gave my mom an opportunity to embarrass her eldest son and she took full advantage, especially with fit and attractive women around. She knows exactly how annoying she's being, and she's loving every moment.

After some winding downhill through the forest, we separate from the 25K runners, and hit an aid station. Brian is riding my coattails. No matter what I do, he's staying with me. I need to make this next aid station quick. Get in, get out. I shove some warm oreos into my mouth, some PBJ's, and realize I need water. I use the water to break down the food, and pour it right into my mouth before chewing. It helps immensely. Then some winding trail through the woods that spits us out to the climb up Sun Mountain Lodge, with it's all too familiar hum of its industrial fan units. The woman who ends up winning the 50K gets behind us before a split off, and says the climb reminds her of a scene from Kill Bill. I'm hot and lacking tact. 'That's morbid'. She feels bad and says sorry, I try to recover from my comment, but really can't.

The climb is exposed, but there is a water stop at the top. I take off my shirt, tie it on my head, and pour my bottle's remnants on my head. It's not as refreshing as the Miwok ice bath, but its refreshing nonetheless. At the top we wrap back around and down on beautiful singletrack, followed by a dirt road to Patterson Mountain. A girl behind me (Laura?) comments on my pace and how its inspiring her, 'You're holding a great pace for the end of a 50'. Instant energy rush. I inspired someone, that's so awesome, I need to go faster now.

Expertly run final aid station with a volunteer that runs up to meet me. We decide on a half Coke/half water mixture for my bottle and he goes about filling it. They have ginger ale, and it's the first I've seen all race. I have two or three cups to accompany a salt tab and take off.

Ah, the power hike up Patterson, with running on the flat parts. I'm in my zone now, preparing for a nice downhill, and continuing a steady rate of passing other runners in the later parts of the race. I see some 50 milers I haven't seen since the start coming back down from the top, and then see Luke and he smiling and providing high-fives while speeding downhill. I hit the turnaround at the top and start downhill, while passing a couple more people and another 50 miler. A young guy that's running the 50K is behind me, and I tell him that I have legs left so I plan on 'rocking the downhill', and we let loose. We then hit road and he stays with me for a bit before I was able to separate. I feel strong. I run all the way to the finish, buoyed by the energy of the downhill and knowing a party is pending at the finish.


8:21:09. While a much 'faster course than the White River 50M, it was still a 107 minute PR, and good enough for 7th place.

I'm starting to figure out what works for me. Mentally, focus on what is going well. Water is the 'great equalizer' for about anything. Salt tabs work, I don't know why, but they do compared to using other electrolytes. Real food tends to agree with my stomach, even if occasionally tough to swallow. The verdict is still out on Imodium, and I need to incorporate it into training runs more often. Minimalist running is preferred, with ideally one water bottle, a gel flask of honey, and extra contacts stowed away.

I also find that the recovery from ultras is extremely depressing. My mind wanders in general, but following runs it happens all too often. I get depressed, legitimately. I've yet to find anything in life that compares to the range of emotions to pushing oneself beyond what you thought possible, from a training perspective and from a racing perspective. Combine this with my family being in town from the east coast and sharing this with them. It's the first time they have seen me 'compete' since my state swim meet in HS, as they weren't able to make any college meets. I was able to share the joy I find with this sport with both of them, run with friends and meet new people, enjoy gorgeous weather in a gorgeous area, and the cherry on top was having a PR on a day when I wasn't sure I would finish.

To me, many aspects of this race that stuck out had nothing to do with my own efforts. It had to do with my parents being there. To spending quality moments together for the first time in awhile. It was about my friend Ian enjoying dinner with us Saturday and then 'struggling' to a finish on Sunday and hanging out and drinking beers. It was to getting pushed by Brian the entire way. It was meeting Steve (I think, foggy on the name), who was prepared to drop at mile 18, and then I saw cruise across the finish line later on. It was to Luke for randomly recognizing me on the trail, bringing up that he read my blog, and providing a high five as he speedily descended Patterson Mountain. It was to the woman (Laura?) who got behind me at mile 42 and complemented me on how my pace at the end of the race was inspiring her in her own 50K. It was Rich, sitting at the end of the race openly discussing his issues with bowel movements. It was the countless other runners that gutted out finishes, and shared food and beer at the finish. Those moments, you don't forget. You can't recreate that.

I'll be back here next year, and the year after, and after. It's too good to miss.

So here's video, pictures below, and a link to Luke's blog where he describes (in much greater detail) his 50K....Luke, I applaud your ability to remember what you ate - to be quite honest I may have eaten dirt disguised as Oreo's at portions of the race, and not known the difference ;)

Pre-Race Reading: Walden, Thoreau
Pre-Race Music: Exodus, Bob Marley
Pre-Race Foods: Fries and a Brat for dinner (?) and a Bagel and almonds at 5 a.m.
Post-Race Food: Pizza and Beer

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Miwok 100K...wait...60K Race Report

7:00ish in the PM on Friday Night

Stinson beach welcomes us with the unmistakable fragrance of the ocean. Dinner is complete. The crew crowds the table. Mom, Aunt, Cuz, Tara. Eager to learn. Demanding tasks. Boisterous. Foul-mouthed.


Tasks and nicknames are assigned. Mom will clean sunglasses and take headlamp. Tara will exchange honey flasks. Aunt will monitor hydration and sun protection. Cuz will help with potential blister issues.

The sun sets. Shower. Shave. Bed beckons by nine.

4:00ish in AM on Saturday

Sunscreen applied, headlamp packed, the crew accompanies me out the door by 4:30. A five minute drive in the pitch black. Bob Marley flows through the car speakers. Calm, cool, collected.

Cuz and I exit the car to check in and get the race bib. Runners surround the community center. A sign on the door reads 'Race Delayed, start moved to 8 AM'

I'm okay with this, just a later start, no headlamp needed. I enter through the doors into the community center. A large whiteboard is filled with red lettering. Other runners enter as a man standing next to the board  speaks.

"The race has been cut down to a 60K due to a red flag fire warning...."

He continues to speak, but I've seen and heard enough. I'm momentarily disappointed. The crew won't be needed this year. Back to the car. Return to the beach house. Cuz brings me some Honey Nut Cheerios. Sleep resumes.

8:00ish in AM on Saturday

Daylight and community center is packed with runners. Various countries and states present, but most from CA. I'm half asleep still, not really knowing how to process the change in distance. This isn't the race I intended to run. Mental preparation is out the window. I'm prepared to enjoy some sun, some views, some company. I'm not really prepared to race.

I meet a couple of runners from the Seattle area, and in the midst of talking with them and my Mom and Aunt, the 350+ runners start moving without me. I speed up on the short stretch of road before everyone immediately bottlenecks onto the trail. (The run has been shorted to the portions of the race that are essentially south of Stinson beach, or the last 60K of the intended 100K. The trail is dry and runnable, and my road shoes - Saucony Kinvara 3 in wide - provide ample cushion, and I don't notice any difference in traction compared to some of the trail shoes I was considering.)

I get in with a pack of runners. A runner I met at White River 50. A runner who is also planning to do the Cascade Crest 100M, and only a handful of spots ahead of me on the wait list. A runner who gives some insight into the Pine to Palm 100. Normal chatter ensues and we run together as we approach the Muir Beach aid station at mile 13. At that point, I decide I need to push it, I need to wake up, I need to race this.

I zone out and start running everything. I slowly pick people off running the hills. The heat starts to get to me, and I feel my head burning. Pulling sunscreen my back pocket (Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts - with pockets, amazing), I slap it on my head and pass through the Tennessee Valley aid station. The climb out of this is made easier by staying with a runner from Seattle who owns his own shoe store. Upon driving over that morning at 4 a.m. and finding out he couldn't run the 100K, he decides to go out for a 2+ hour 'warm up' run, back in time for the start of the 60K. After we crest the climb, I separate a bit, to be greeted by the sounds of foghorns and views of the Golden Gate. I then roll into the most well run aid station I have ever encountered.

20-30 feet from the station a worker is already asking me if I want GU Brew or water, so they'll be prepared. The aid station is well stocked, and another worker asks what I want, and briefly describes the spread. As I ask for Coke, I've already had a full water bottle returned to me. Coke is provided, perfectly cooked potatoes dipped in salt, more water provided, PBJ sandwich grabbed, Payday bar consumed, M&M's down the hatch. On the way out, a volunteer stands next to a bucket filled with ice water and massive sponges. She asks if I want ice water on my head and I embrace it. Two massive sponges are squeezed over my head. Words don't do the feeling justice.

In the midst of another climb, I decide to apply more sunscreen while running. It's a mistake. I trip, and catch myself, but my left hamstring cramps hard. I stop and stretch it for a minute, a couple of runners pass me, and I'm frustrated. I slowly get back to running, and eventually catch the runners who passed me. I try to drink more and take some more salt, but once the cramps start, they seem to always be ready to pounce once again.

The views pass the time. I pass through Pirate Cove and get the typical 'Miwok' photo from Glenn Tachiyama, and head down to Muir Beach.
From Muir Beach, there is a mile or so of semi-flat running, and I'm able to move through well, passing a couple of runners who are walking. Then a strenuous, hot, exposed ascent of three or four miles. I can run this, I have energy, screw the cramps. The left medial side of my knee makes itself known. It's tight and doesn't want to fully bend. I'm reduced to a fairly efficient power-hike, passing other runners walking up the grade. The final aid station begins a 2.8 mile descent into Stinson. I drink some Coke, watch the Seattle runner I passed earlier zoom by (!!!), and take comfort that my knee does better going downhill compared to uphill. I pass the third place female. She's from snowy CO. We complain about the heat but know the finish is close.

The trail exits onto a brief portion of road. People cheer. Crew takes pics. Ultrarunners do ultrarunner things. Hugs exchanged. Beers shared. Food consumed. The end.

Took off the shirt in case babes were at the finish.

A great many things in life can't be changed or controlled. We can deny life and the circumstances surrounding us. We can give into anger, to frustration, to fear. Or, we can choose to adapt, to embrace, to enjoy. 

Miwok was a little test to what can't be changed, to what can't be controlled. I'd like to think I passed.

The beer is still good.

Beaches are neat.

Grateful to friends and family.

They deserved a drink.