Friday, July 4, 2014

A lofty tome--Western States 100

Miles 0 to 29.7 (Robinson Flat)--The Decline

The day started as everyone tells me hundreds should--frustratingly mellow. I spend the first mile searching for someone I knew (of) to settle in with for the first four mile climb.  I was hoping for a lead woman, figuring they know well what they're doing here.  Initially I foolishly picked Emily Harrison, a mistake that immediately remedied itself as she sauntered up ahead weaving her way through the crowd. At this same time I noticed Stephanie Howe vanish somewhere behind me. With no other women nearby, I heard the bellowing of Andy Jones-Wilkins a bit up the hill and ran up to meet him. I followed him and Scott Wolfe up toward the pass and the three of us, along with a varying group of 8-15 others, made our way all the way to Duncan Canyon (mile 23.8), the first crew point.  I felt fine through here, albeit sleepier than I would have expected. I still hadn't woken up, but I did not want to start taking caffeine for at least fourteen more miles so I could keep it better balanced late in the race. I saw Rudy/Wyatt/Darren, dropped my bottle and picked up my pack. I headed out and regained my general forward momentum, but didn't really feel right.  I felt a refined combination of sluggishness and forced restraint--I did feel as if I was holding back but at the same time that I couldn't really speed up any if I had wanted.  Then, not even two minutes from Robinson Flat, my right hamstring cramped, bringing me swiftly to a halt.  Fuck. I took two salt tabs before even getting into the aid station, where I was 4 lbs down before the heat of the day.  I topped off my pack, downed some light soda (7UP I believe) and was on my way.

Miles 29.7 to 55.7 (Michigan Bluff)--Ebb and Flow

I left the aid station in dichotomous spirits.  I wanted to pick things up and try to make some ground before my hamstring got any worse.  I wanted to take it easy in hopes of the hamstring turning around.  I chose the latter.  The miles into Dusty Corners (Mile 38) were unfocused but uneventful. I meandered through the woods, moving well but still with forced restraint.  Another salt tab here kept the cramps at bay, but I had freaked myself out enough by the cramp and weight loss at Robinson Flat that I drank nearly 70 oz during these eight miles and ended up behind on calories, regardless of the soda I pounded at both aid stations. I shifted the equilibrium enough that I was nearing the end of my  day's gel use already.  At Dusty Corners I took time to fill my pack with ice and water (in that order), reapply bodyglide, and douse myself with cold sponge water.

As an aside, I also had my biggest frustrations out of this aid station. A crotchety old man in a volunteer shirt (who was not actually doing anything productive) yelled at my crew to move while they were helping me with my pack well within crew limits and immediately before the sign designating those limits, which we showed him.  Then he growled something at me about sunscreen after I was already 30 feet out of the aid station.  The whole thing left a bad taste in everyone's mouths.

I left Dusty Corners with a plan of simply surviving the Canyons. The heat never presented its notorious self, but I did not rebound until mile 50, well out of the supposedly hot sections.  I grunted along, fighting the downhills rather than working them as I had planned.  My quads weren't blown, but my energy was low enough that I didn't have it in me to to get real turnover going.  MY body finally gave up on gels about five minutes up the climb to Devil's Thumb--stellar timing to not get any food in my system. I fumbled my way up that hellacious climb (I actually don't think it would be that bad with any energy).  I sat in that aid station for a minute to put down four cups of ginger ale, again fill my pack with ice and water, apply sunscreen, fill a bag with potatoes and pretzels, and again douse myself with water.  Half a mile later, knowing the real heat to be done and recently watering some trees, I finally took two ibuprofen. In retrospect I should have kept with my standard schedule regardless of any heat worries; 48 miles is longest I had run without ibuprofen in maybe two years, and I never take very much. At about this same time, I met up with another youngster, James Bonnett at a poorly marked intersection and ran a mile or two with him until my ibu kicked in.  Then I had the best stretch all day. I finally RAN a descent--not just trotting but an actually higher cadence downhill gait.  Feeling so rejuvenated, I stayed the El Dorado aid station only long enough to get more salt tabs, pretzel/potato goodness, and another dousing. I worked my way up the climb to Michigan Bluff, the first time all day at which I had energy enough to work up a climb rather than simply survive.  I did have a number more hamstring cramps and a couple calf cramps through this section, but a salt tab after each instance seemed to keep them from getting worse.  From working my way up the climb to Michigan Bluff, I developed a light strain in my big toes from excess work on toe-off. John Vonhoff was working this aid station, so I could not turn down the suggestion of having him work on my feet.  He filed and taped some calluses, and the PT working with him re-taped my inflamed left anterior tib. New socks and shoes on and having spent the better part of ten minutes chowing down while getting pampered, I left here hungry.

Miles 55.7 to 79.8
Heading to Foresthill was uneventful. I was rejuvenated and felt like making some progress; I at least feel as if I ran well here; meeting Wyatt (Earp) at Bath Road 60 miles in. At Foresthill, the staff weighed my yet again, which had held steady for the fourth straight weight check.  This aid station was, however, overwhelmingly busy even though there were only a couple other runners around me.  The sheer number of staff members far overpowered and hindered their abilities, and not letting my crew go with me to the food tables (what?) severely limited what we could do here.  After pitter-pattering around for a minute, Darren snuck in, grabbed food for me and they all kicked us out.  I truly stretched my legs out on the next couple miles of road and buffed trail.  However, somewhere around Cal 1 (I honestly do not remember if it came before or after the aid), I hopped aboard the barf train, which I would ride for quite some time.  Usually I look forward to puking--puking means a fresh start, and usually it means being able to wolf down copious amounts of food and liquid and run hard for a little while. That didn't happen.  This puke meant the end of coherence. I dove head first into a several mile decline into full zombie mode. The immediate effects came as very tender quads and radiant pain from my tweaked ankle. At Cal 2 I just took what Earp gave me, sat for a minute to force down what I could, and then we stumbled our way to the river.  People talk about Michigan Bluff or Foresthill being a time-suck, but I'd wager that the river-Green Gate strip tops it with its three aid stations in under two miles. I stopped at each of them. Weight check held us up on the near side, then so did drying off on the far side as the water felt rather cold late at night.  At Green Gate I succumbed to a ten minute nap, giving a final attempt at turning my race around.  I couldn't even fall asleep.

Miles 79.8 to 100.2
At Greengate, after my poor nap attempt, Darren stepped up during his first ever 100 mile crew/pace gig.  He took off my wet shoes/socks, wiped off my feet with his T-shirt, and then gave me his socks. That is going above and beyond. After some light snacking, off we went into the abyss. This is where I just shut down and did everything I could to put one foot in front of the other.  As we left the aid station, I put my headphones in and shut out everything aside from Darren's feet; feet that I would follow unconditionally for the next fourteen miles.  Occasionally I would have to stop hunched over and heave either from my ankle or from my stomach.  Darren and I actually made really good work the first six or seven miles out from Green Gate, passing a number of people and running most of the section. I was not by any means coherent though--I may as well have been black out drunk frankly. Apparently Hal Koerner was working Brown's Bar (mile 90) and helped me at the aid station for a couple minutes.  I had and still have no recollection of this whatsoever.  These last few aid stations following Green Gate went as follows: Hunch over table, groan in pain, stare at food, grunt at aid station workers, pick up pretzels and soda, stumble out to looks of real concern on everyone's faces.

At Highway 49 I switched Darren for Rudy, fresh off his hundred debut eight days prior. I nearly broke down when, as I tried to sit in a chair to take weight off my ankle while I ate, Rudy forced me out of there.  Given how close I ended up being to 24-hours, I am glad he did.  I have a distinct feeling the aid station crew did not want me to leave.  We stumbled along, working very hard to go very slow, and after half a life time ended up at no hands bridge. I finally started smelling the barn here and even jogged a little of the climb up to Robie Point.  I was so elated to hit Robie Point that I started shutting down a little early.  Hitting the pavement rippled emotions through my body as well as new waves of pain from my ankle. I groaned and grunted and hobbled my way through Auburn; Rudy, Wyatt, and Darren in tow mirroring just how slowly I was moving at this point. Aside from a few steps here and there, I did not truly run until I hit the track, at which point I ran every step to the finish line.

After finishing I really did shut down.  I felt, and apparently looked, like I was going through withdrawals after my swift collapse onto a cot in the med tent.  However, a 90 minute nap later and I didn't feel nearly as awful. I needed help to walk all morning, unable to put pressure on my ankle, but I ate three breakfasts and slept whenever I pleased.  That morning was nice.

What worked:
-Simple Bottle dedicated for pouring water over my head
-Hot Weather Drymax Socks--not a single blister into Michigan Bluff (where i then switched socks)
-Pack--I filled it with ice and then water, and this kept me cool inside and out.
-Salt Pills--I rarely need them in races, and as such I didn't even think about taking any until it was too late.  I had planned to start them as I headed into the canyons; I should have been taking them all day.

What didn't work:
-Crew set-up at aid stations--My crew was world class, but they were hindered far too much from doing their jobs.
-Starting slow*
-Not wearing sunglasses--I never like them while running, but the dust had me wishing for eye protection.
-Shoe order--I should have worn my trail shoes for the high country and then switched into my cushioned road shoes for the second half.

*Western States is a deceptively straightforward and easy course (for mountain races).  Thinking about this going in, I intentionally restrained myself from the start rather than simply running.  Next time, I won't let the ease of the course trick me and I'll just go.


I think my biggest take-away from Western States is to have faith that I can go the distance in one piece.  Having only completed three now, I still get overwhelmed, however subconsciously, by the distance and that in itself holds me way back from performing how I know I can at the distance and also actually hurts me.  I am now a week out from possibly running Hardrock; and if I do get in, I plan to just go.

I realized in some post-writing speculation that this may come off as a negative review.  On the contrary, I simply had a bad day on a gorgeous course.  Even the volunteers were phenomenal overall, with only the few hiccups mentioned above.

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