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Friday, December 30, 2011

Thank You - 2011 Year in Review

Filled with it's share of excitement, ups and downs, and above all, fun -- 2011, my first full year of ultra running, has been a pretty damn good year.  A review of highlights, actually dating back to mid-2010:
*****
May 2010
A patient, a veteran ultra runner, jump-starts my long-time fascination with Western States.  In doing so, she informs me of the need for pacers.  I go onlnie and find a "needy runner". 

June 26, 2010
I crew and pace runner John Tidd at the epic 2010 Western States.  I get to see "The Big Four" come through Robinson Flat and Foresthill, then get my first tour of Cal St, and watch John cross the finish line at Placer HS for his silver buckle.  I'm hooked.  I decide to apply for the 2011 WS, without having ever run an ultra race

October 30, 2010
I complete the Autumn Leaves 50M in Champoeg SP, running 6:03, setting a CR, and getting my WS qualifier with a week to spare.  I'm hooked.

December 4, 2010
While riding the spin bike at work, hobbled by a tweaked left Achilles, I watch the WS Lotto online.  I turn it off after pick 180 and watch "The Office" instead".  I log back for one last check, to find my name amongst the chosen ones.  "Oh s$$t!"  A substantial crew and support group, friends and family from back east, quickly forms. 

February 13, 2011
At the Truffle Shuffle 4M in Eugene, I finally meet "The Eugene Crew", nearly all of them:  Lord Balls and The Queen, pre-race; I finish just in front of Lewis Taylor; afterward, we do a long cool-down to Dorris Ranch, where we run into Dan-O.  After that, I begin to attend the "Tuesday Night Hunt" from LB's. 

March 19, 2011
Chuckanut 50k: my first-ever trail ultra in Bellingham, WA, where I am schooled and humbled by some of the best trail runners in the world.  Britt does a stellar job crewing, managing to give me vital fuel without ditching my car on the dirt roads or getting lost (though she had to get directions from Geoff Roes when she wanders down the course at ~35K).  At the base of "Li'l Chinscraper", I meet Scott Jaime for the first time:

Me:  "Are you Scott  JAY-ME?"
Scott:  "Scott Jaime."

April 1, 2011
The Queen's 50th Birthday Bash at Whiskey River Ranch.  I get to see LB's and Queen's silver buckles for the first time.  My pants, on the other hand, sag helplessly.  I eat the "Cardiac Stack" -- a half-pound burger, fried egg, ham slice, sandwiched in a "bun" of two large grilled cheese sandwich.  I finish it.  What ensued was my second-most miserable evening of the year. 

April 7-10, 2011
American River 50 trip with LB and Queen.  We spent Thursday night in Ashland, meeting some great folks.  Friday in Auburn, I run the tail-end of the WS course for the first time, finishing at Placer HS.  Saturday: I get to run with Nick, Ian, Scott and Dave - albeit briefly, before 20 miles of gut-rot sets in.  Along the northwestern shores of Folsom Lake, I come across a guy hurting worse than me.  "Running SUCKS!", I say.  I ask his name.  It was Jake.  I offer him water and salt, then shuffle along.  An hour, 10K, and a lot of water and coke later, I resurrect and have a shockingly strong finish.  I learn an important lesson: never give up.  Post-race: have a terrific time hanging with the fellas.  I meet AJW for the first time.  We drain two cases of Sierra Nevada Pale. Revelry continues at the Auburn Ale House; I talk beer and running with Scott, Nick and Dave; "Tropical John" shows tremendous generosity and picks up the tab.  I now have two subscriptions to UltraRunning!

April-May 2011
As a result of poor mechanics during AR, I sustain a left knee injury.  I cannot train for the remainder of April and most of May.  With each passing day, more despair.  Britt is with me - on my futile, grumpy "fitness walks" along the Willamette in the rain - keeping my spirits alive.

May 18, 2011
I send an update to my crew: "It is highly probable that I will NOT be able to run on June 25th.  Period. ".  That act of surrender - without giving up - finally sets me free to go about getting better.

May 25, 2011
After a series of tests, no serious pathology is found in the left knee.  "Get busy livin', or get busy dyin'".

May 27-30, 2011
Michigan Bluff Training Camp with the Eugene Crew.  Britt and I drive down with Hannah.  We pick up Sam in Sacramento.  I bring my bike along, uncertain of what I can do.  On Friday, we walk/jog from MB to Volcano Canyon and back, 35 minutes total.  Saturday, Sam and I hike from MB to a mile past Last Chance, then run nearly the entire way back, save the climb up to MB.  Sunday, we go from MB to Foresthill and the entire length of Cal St, running nearly the whole thing.  The knee feels better every day.

June 10, 2011
I drive to Placer County to run from MB to Last Chance, and back, all the way to Cal St and Drivers Flat.  I meet Jake and he gives me a ride, running to El Dorado.  I cover fifty miles.  I see no humans and three "black" bears.  The next day, I walk from Robie to Highway 49 and back, too trashed to run a step. 

June 25, 2011
An amazing weekend.  Nothing more can be said that hasn't already been uttered, except for what I told the folks at the December "Reunion":  That day was awesome, not because of what I did, but because of who I got to share that with.

July 13, 2011
Eugene Beer Mile Champion!  6:15 worth of quick drinking and hard running. 

August 2011
Trail work for Waldo 100K, including a day spent filling a hole, and another clearing trail.  After years of taking, it feels good to start giving back.  "Hardesty Wednesday" is born. 

August 20, 2011
Waldo 100k.  It pains me not to run, but I wasn't ready.  I pace Rob Hendrickson to his first 100k finish.  I learn that being stubborn dick is both fun and rewarding as a pacer! 

September 10, 2011
McKenzie 50k.  My first win in a year.  Fun course, solid running, great post-race atmosphere.  A true "family event".

September 23-25, 2011
I attend a Gait Course in Seattle, put on by the Institute of Physical Art.  Incredibly helpful and insightful course.  I finally learn how to run correctly! 

October 2011
"Tuesday Night Hunt" resumes in full force in the fall, as LB trains for and races Grindstone.  I extemporaneously bring four cans of Li'l Yellow Pils for post-run, and a new tradition is born.  Dan-O begins churning out epic beer-tasting reviews (with such gems as "...it tingles the top of my roof" and "...it gets in my mouth real easy...") sparking a possible second career!

October 1, 2011
Three Sisters Circumnavigation, solo.  A tough but rewarding 50 miles.  GI troubles make this miserable.  Cold, foggy, misty conditions make it a little scary. 

October 21-23, 2011
WS trail running with Jake.  Friday night we run K2 + Olmstead and the last four of the trail at sunset, perhaps a bit too overzealously.  That next morning, Squaw Valley to MB, unsupported.  Tough, at times miserable, running.  DOA at Robinson Flat, but an amazing resurrection by Last Chance.  Seinfeld Trivia is born!  More lessons learned.  Post-run Sierra Pale at the Foresthill Sportsman's Club.     

October 29, 2011
Autumn Leaves 50k. Returning to where it all began, for the short course.  Hard, strong running, but more fueling experimentation with comical results.  Just miss the CR.

December 2-4, 2011
The North Face 50 in San Fran with Jake.  Great weekend.  Awesome event with great people.  Thematic of my experiences in 2011, it would've sucked to do this alone, but because I was with Jake and his family, it was a terrific weekend.  Played fetch with his dad's cat, which was bad-ass. 

*****
Overall, it's been an incredible year for running.  I've run in some amazing places and storied events.  More importantly, I've met and become friends with more great folks in the past year of Ultra running that I had in the previous decade-plus of roads. 

Thank you to those new friends, for providing mentorship and fun, and for making the ultra training and racing more of an adventure (or party) than training or work.

I also think it's helped bring me a bit closer with my long-time friends and family.  Thank you for being there for me, at tremendous cost to you, and for embracing and supporting something so important and special to me. And best of all, thank you for making the effort to truly become a part of the experience, thus adding unspeakable value and dimension to everyone's day, weekend, or year. 

Best of all, I got to share in most of it with Brittany (aka "Britten", or "m'Bestie"), who was there for the best and worst of times, providing support, encouragement, and criticism exactly when each were needed.  And she put up with a lot of this!  For that and many things, I love her. 

And while a year of ultra running has aged my face five years, it has aged my soul minus-five.  Thanks to those friends and family who made it such a great experience, and here's to a tremendous 2012!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Switch

It's the Sunday after TNF; a warm, sunny, quiet morning in Berkeley.  The streets so quiet and relaxed that the loudest sound is the chirping of the crosswalk signals.  Many hours removed from the pain of Saturday's effort in Marin, as well as the post-race euphoria.  While lingering over crepes and Americanos, the real post-mortem begins: breaking down the race, assessing the performance of others in a race rich with young and up-and-coming talent. 

While strolling around campus, the conversation turned to the inevitable question:

Are we "any good"?

On a day billed as the most competitive in Ultra Running history, Jake and I both placed...as I've been calling it, "Better than people thought we would, but not as good as we could have done".  We discussed our position relative to the competition out there - a ton of talent, indeed.  Besting some immense talent and placing top twenty is solid; "losing" by nearly an hour, not.  On a day where we both hoped would reveal some answers, only more questions.

Am I "good"?
  • Do you win races?  Some; but no big ones.
  • Are you an awesome mountain or technical runner?  No.
  • Are you an awesome road guy with a speed background?  No.
  • Are you consistently mechanically proficient across all challenges in an ultra?  Working on it...

Why is being "good" important?  Being good is fun.  Competing with others at the highest level is fun.  Being good ensures more fun: it earns you spots into the Big Juans, and for many, it provides some financial assistance that allows you do have more fun, in more, far-off places

Admittedly, I don't have much reason for "getting up in the morning": In high school I never went to state...except for marching band (State Champs 1992, 1994! Go Cats!).  In college, I never competed or scored in a DIII conference meet.  I'm a 2:3x.xx marathoner.  I have run 4:04 1500m more than once...but it's been a while.

So what do I have?  What do I possibly have to be able to compete, here and now, in "The New Competitive Era" of Ultra Running, where we might only be at the very tip of the competitive iceberg?  Where the sport is now drawing Division-I level post-collegiates and other high-level road-running converts?  Where soon, everyone will know how to trail run, how to fuel, and how to compete?

Here's the one thing I have:  "The Switch".

There's something that happens, deep into a long event - it could an ultra, or a long bike tour, or even a long game of ultimate frisbee - where "a switch" goes, and I can push and push and push.  It's difficult to explain. This is close:


"...When The Switch goes on, I feel like another person.  I feel...like a truck. A machine"

And when it comes on, it's powerful: in our Beartooth cycle trip, it was grinding non-stop up a 5000' climb to the 11,000' summit with a steel-frame bike and 50 lbs of gear; it's pushing sub-7 miles with Jake, 40+ miles into an unsupported WS tour - only an hour removed from being pronounced "DOA" at Robinson Flat.  And it's running 20:01:52 on no training at the Big Juan.

That's all I have.  That, and a love for what I do: getting to run around in the woods, putting in an honest day's work.  That's something...  And in a sport that rewards both intelligence and guts, where those two things can routinely best talent, I'll take it.  :)

Monday, December 5, 2011

The North Face Endurance Challenge - San Fransisco - Race Report

Pre-Race

I've had a solid block of training since August -- nothing spectacular, bot solid: averaging 75 miles per week steady since then, including 3-4 "zero days" per month, and another 3-4 "half days off" (running <5 miles, total).  Interspersed were some key long runs, including several 3-4hr runs, six to eight Hardesty ascents, the stroll around The Sisters, a strong trail 50K, a fast "road" 50K, and most notable: the epic, unsupported Squaw to MB with Jake.  I've also learned a lot more about gait mechanics and vastly improved mine - both on the flats and hills. 

However, two issues - right pelvic pain and a last-minute left achilles tweak - were a blow to both my physical and mental prep in the fortnight+ going into The North Face (TNF) 50.  Over the three weeks preceding, I was unable to do any hill training; and then just when the pelvis came around, I tweaked my left achilles just days before the race.  My experience at WS limited the emotional panic to a dull roar, and some skilled work by Mr Woodke helped greatly, but it was more than a bit "disconcerting" to have heel pain just walking around the airport on Friday morning.

I got into SFO mid-afternoon. Jake picked me up, and we went to TNF store downtown to check in, then crossed the Golden Gate into the Marin Headlands to do a short run and a tiny course survey.  We jogged easy, and the left heel felt pretty good. We even did some strides and drills - also fine.  That put my mind and body at ease.    After checking into the hotel, we went to an Italian restaurant for dinner - I had the lasagna, which turned out to be served in a bowl of molten cheese.  Not a great decision, given how little dairy I eat, but I was starving.  We nursed two beers, including one with The Queen, settled down to some Seinfeld ("High Five!") back at the hotel, then lights out by 9:30.

Start to Tennessee Valley AS (8.7)

3AM comes early.  We donned our gear, then crossed the street for a quick bite and some bad coffee, then boarded a bus to the start line.  It was cold and very windy at Ft Barry; Jake and I huddled in an aid tent, bundled in most of our finish bag clothes, trying to keep warm, then stripped down with five minutes to go and hit the chilly, breezy, pitch-dark start line.  Seeing all "The Names" toeing the line, only then did the "enormity" of the event sink in.  But I wasn't nervous; I was too tired and cold!

The first 2K+ is paved road away from Ft Barry - the pace was rational and the packs were big and tight.  I worked on getting rhythm and paid little mind to positioning.  From there it was onto our first "rabbit ear" dirt road loop, which ascended roughty 800' over a couple miles before descending and looping back.  That first climb was a rude awakening, like a bucket of cold water to the face, or worse.  I did not feel good at all.  Dead legs, uncomfortable effort -- despite the "easy" pace in the mid to high 7:xxs.  Jake floated away, and that would be the last I'd see of him for a long time. 

I kept my own company, which meant no break from the powerful wind gusts blowing over the Headlands.  On the descent I tried to open things up and regain some ground, but I felt mechanically poor - overusing quad, unable to "glut brake" like I did on our epic MB run.  Back on the flat, the race was now well-strung out, and I was left to run with only a handful of guys in the darkness.

Another climb, more gut-churning and hard breathing.  I was near and around both Ian and Hal; mutual suffering was an appreciated consolation.  Atop that climb, we got off the road and on a wide single track path.  The course was flat, but the gut still churned -- this time, from the "molten cheese".  I pulled off the trail and "went".  A few people passed.  "Business" was quick, then back onto the path and the descent to Tennessee Valley AS (8.7).  I split 1:06 for that first 8.7 - only five in the top 40 ran as slowly or slower than I did.  I stopped quickly for some water and soda, and a random handful of Skittles (yuck), then off down the road. 

Tennessee Valley to Cardiac #1 (18.0)

I made the most of the slight downhill, but it felt like my quads were already trashed.  I caught up with Hal and Ian and a couple others, and before long it was time for more uphill, steeper yet.  Ahead I saw Ian do some powerhiking; I thought that was smart and I did so, in kind - hoping to keep the heart rate down.  The road ceded to The Coastal Trail and, though still dark, provided our first glimpses of The Pacific.  

Now a fifth of the way in, I was still feeling rough.  I had one thought - Patience - knowing that there's still a ton of race out there.  The Brain iPod grabbed ahold of that, and I loped along the ridge with the soothing chords of Axel and Slash:
I've been [runnin'] these [trails] at night
Just tryin' to get it right
It's hard to see with so many around
You know I don't like bein' stuck in a crowd
And the [trails] don't change but maybe the name
I ain't got time for the game...
The climb topped out with terrific views of Muir Beach ahead, and it was time to descend.  The descent down from the peak of Coastal Trail was ridiculously slow: steep, rugged railroad tie stairs and rocks.  Hal, Ian and Co. (or anyone that didn't stink at descending) flew down, while I gingerly picked my way down the hill.  Descending halfway, the trail climbed briefly once more before rejoining the road for a steep but runnable descent to Muir Beach (12.7).  By then I felt a little bonky, so I took more fluid and calories before heading north. 

Leaving Muir, we ran along sea-level dirt- and paved roads before hopping onto more single track, which wound us around to the base of the biggest climb of the course.  But before then, more gut-rot.  I held it in check, but before heading up the climb I spotted a decrepit porta-potty adjacent the course and grabbed some TP and shoved it into my pack.

Across a grass field, there began The Big Climb.  Switchback after switchback, up we went.  While unrelenting, the grades were light and the tread superb, so the running here was solid.  Moreover, I decided it was time to take an S-Cap.  I'd taken a single E-Cap earlier, but no more, given the fussy gut.  But logic told me, at nearly 15 miles in, I was low.  Since I can't gut them without disaster, I put it between cheek and gum like snus and took it slowly.  It tasted good, which meant I needed it.  I nursed it as I ascended, and within minutes felt as strong as I'd felt all day.  Hal was only a bit behind me but I put some space on him on the climbs and before long I had begun to reel in another five or six runners, including the leading female, Lizzy Hawker.

Lizzy and I - among others - yo-yo'd quite a bit during the first half, but she never looked comfortable.  To her credit - or determinent - she was really pushing it from the gun: up the first climb, and again on the relentless ascent to Cardiac.  About three-fourths of the way up, she tripped and fell right in front of another guy and myself.  She was fine, but she laid there for a bit as we passed along. 

Finally to CardiacAS (18.0) - the summit of the ridgeline upon which held the game-changing mid-section of the run.  I took an extended stop at the Cardiac AS to refill my "jet pack", which I pawned off to AS helpers as I pounded fluids and grabbed some spare gels.  Ms Hawker and a couple others shot in front of me before I could suit up, but I filed right in behind them out of the AS.

Cardiac #1 to Stinson (28.2)

From Cardiac the course ran northward, high up along a mostly-exposed ridge.  The singletrack was tight but both the tread and grade where very runnable.  Some early hills hurt, but I picked my way along.  But before long, more gut rot. Another pit stop.  This allowed some other runners to catch up, including the crafty veteran, Speedgoat Karl.  I felt better after the pit-stop, but not much - low energy, general malaise, and winded.  Signage indicated the turnaround was ahead, and not long after that, the leaders came back upon me -- a cluster of a half dozen to eight guys, then a long line of guys strung out behind.  Given the narrow single track, one literally had to step off course to allow their passage, which was fine, but momentum-killing. Maybe a half mile from the turnaround I ran into Jake, who looked "good, not great".  Finally reaching the AS, while grabbing water and gels, I asked the AS workers, "Is this the turnaround or is it farther?" - a legit question, given there was no chip mat at the turnaround - a pivotal part of the course.  They laughed and affirmed.  I was off again, heading south.

The next 2.5 miles were better running, thanks to fluid and gels, but again abrupt, given the growing head-on traffic.  Most people were accommodating, but others less-so.  No collisions occurred, but the surging Anna Frost -- at least ten minutes behind me - got my inadvertent left elbow to her shoulder as she passed, barely side-stepping the trail as we passed.  I was somewhat miffed, given that I was in front and therefore had right-of-way.  But that would quickly change.

The trail turned west and downhill, thus ending the traffic headache and beginning a long and fairly technical descent of 1500' to Stinson.  I was feeling OK but in no shape to push this descent, knowing we were scarcely halfway.  I picked along the switchbacks as we lowered into forest, the trail interspersed with railroad-tie stairs of varying size, shape and angle.  Not a third the way down, I heard pounded steps and saw the flash of white and red Salomon; it was Anna, who'd made up a mile+ gap in the last 10K to catch me.  I readily let her pass and watched her quickly disappear down the hill.  Just as she passed, I caught my foot on a step, stumbled, then went headlong into the brush.  Sheesh.

Looking back, this section -- between Cardiac #1 and Stinson Beach - was the turningpoint for nearly all the front runners.  Those who ran a strong but measured ascent were able to push this rolling-yet-flat single track session; those who did not -- by either pushing the ups or pounding the downs to Stinson -- crashed and burned, receding to mid-pack or dropping, altogether. 

More switchbacks, stairs and bridges before finally descending the full quarter mile to the Sinson AS (28.2).  Once on the flat and having to run with my own steam, I felt flat and bonky.  The aid station was busy with spectators, runners and pacers - now allowed to run along to the finish.  While scouting for fluids I saw Meghan. She was set to pace Kami Semick to the finish.  I was hoping I'd be running strong when I saw her.

Meghan:  "You holding it together, Joe?" 

Me: "Ugh".

I pounded some soda and water, grabbed some Gu Chops, and I bid her adieu.  As I struggled out of the AS, I wondered when, not if, I'd see her and Kami. 

Stinson to Cardiac #2 (32.9)

The climbs out of  Stinson were brutal -- at first, wide double track dirt road/trail with nice views...of the impending climbs.  Despite having just left the AS, I was bonking hard.  I walked, taking another gel nip from my flask, then an entire pack of Chomps plus water.  Hiking along, I look back - there's Ellie"Shoot.  I gotta go."  I get a shuffle stride going and crawl up the grade, into the woods, hoping to stay in front of Ms Greenwood as long as possible, knowing a whole slew of runners would be in her wake. 

In the woods the course segues with the famed Dipsea Trail, meaning climbing and stairs-galore.  I reeled in another fellow and tried to keep in front of him by power-hiking quickly and powerfully, as I'd seen Ian do earlier, even with hands-on-quads for added boost.  It worked.  Before long I had a good rhythm going.  I began to take stock:  things are not going well; they haven't all day.  I would drop only if the achilles hurt, but it was fine.  Know when to hold 'em...know when to fold 'em.  Kenny appeared and The Brain iPod had a new tune.

First it was this rendition (and Michael's over-the-top harmony). That made me smile.  Then it was the real deal.  That got my legs and my spirit moving. I chipped away at the climb...

Cardiac #2 to "Old Milwaukee" [Inn] (38.9)

I climbed 100% of the way to Cardiac 2, which was now a scarcely controlled chaos with the merging of both the 50K race (now at mid-pack) and the 50-mile, who would hence forth run together.  I was nearly out of water, so as I ran in, I doffed my jet pack and began to open it.  Stuck.  There are folks that use a Camelbak bladder in a Nathan pack for a reason -- the Nathan bladder is impossible to seal and remove easily.  A befuddled AS worker watched me struggle for a bit before I asked him for help; while he struggled with it, I ran to the table to pound more fluid and grab some potato nuggets and gels.  In the chaos, the following happened:  1. Neither he nor I could get the bladder open.  2. I lost my gel flask, 3. I was able to find an empty 12-oz Gatorade bottle to fill with water that slid into the front of my pack. 

During that chaos, several people passed me, including Hal and Ellie, among others.  I finally got on my way down the hill, into the imposing Muir Woods.  Not an eigth-mile down the trail did I make it before the gut went again.  F.  I wasn't messing around: I stepped off trail right in front of the 50Kers I just passed, and went for the third time.  Then it was back on trail.

This descent was less steep, less switchy, and less technical, so I made fairly quick work.  Despite the need to go, my stomach was now fine and my legs had retained some of their pop.  At the bottom, time for more climbing.  Despite the narrow and sometimes treacherous canyon trail in the gorgeous Muir Woods NM, it was nice to have the 50K runners in there -- they were targets to pick off.  I powerhiked most of the steps but ran everything else, reeling in tons of bodies.  Before long there the trees began to open to steeper trail and more switchbacks. 

I looked up to see a familiar beard: it was Jake!  He was only a few yards above me, but a good hundred meters; I picked and plucked my way up the trail, trying not to go anaerobic to reach him. 

It was awesome to see him, even if we both weren't doing great.  We briefly exchanged status reports as we floated along a high, steep, exposed ridgeline atop Redwood Canyon, occasionally passing fellow 50Kers, who by this time gladly stepped off course for us.  I explained my water situation, as my 12er bottle was now near-empty, and asked to pass in order to take advantage of a strong stride and blast into the AS in front of him.  He let me by, but before long was right in tow as we descended more steep steps and trail that spit us onto Muir Woods Road, on which we ran downhill for a good 600m.  It felt good to be with a friend and have a strong stride, so I let 'er rip down the road, then back onto trail, down a steep staircase, more trail, and into Old Inn AS.

"Old Milwaukee" [Inn] to Muir Beach #2 (42.6)

I stopped at "Ol Milwaukee" for more fluid (no beer) and more food, along with salt, of which I was running low.  Jake was nice enough to wait a bit and we were off.  Earlier he'd asked, "You have any time estimates?".  I did not, because I had no clue where we were.  Now at mile 38.5, it was 10:20 AM.  Both Jake's and my "secret goal" was to finish at or before noon, for a sub-7-hour performance.  That left 1h40 to do 11.5 miles.  Very doable, given how good we were now rolling. 

We cruised down the hill out of Old Inn before a steep uphill cut our steam. I had good energy and stride, but as I plucked my way up the steps...."blip-blip!"...both inner quads started to pre-cramp.  F.  I hiked, popped an S-Cap into my cheek and sucked it.  Tasted good. The cramps laid off a bit so I ran some more, as we passed one or two 50-miler guys before a nice double-track descent to a wonderful, mercifully flat valley trail.

I put a bit of distance on Jake on the descent, but no sooner did I hit the flats did the calves start blipping!  F! More walking. Another S-cap, a pack of Gu Chomps.  Jake pulls up and we go again.

Honing the form - emphasizing the forward lean and pelvic/trunk action to save the legs - we cruised along.  I felt great again but the effort was measured.  The calves would "blip" here and there.  More water.  An E-Cap swallowed.  We passed a couple more guys who looked like 50-milers.  We had to be cruising in the 7:xxs.

Back on the road, nearing Muir #2, the bonks returned.  Another gel.  Almost out of water, but close to the AS.  I was slowing down.  Jake and I rolled into Muir 2 together.  I didn't know what I needed: salt? Water Calories?  All?  I tried to get all.  "Got any S-Cap?".  "Nope!".  All they had were Nuun Tabs.  I took 3 and hit the road, but by then Jake was in front by ten seconds as we rounded the corner and began the beastly climb we'd descended four hours previously. 

Muir to the Finish (51.2 miles...?)

Leaving Muir we ran into more traffic, this time the marathoners were coming down, but there was plenty of room on the dirt road.  Ahead of me was Jake, but also Hal and another 50M guy.  Jake floated past them and I followed in-kind; however, I could run no more than 20 - 30 seconds before "blip-blip-blip!" of the quads and calves.  F!  My energy was now back, but the cramps were rampant.  I took a Nuun, broke it in two and put half in my cheek.  It burned but still tasted good.  I sucked and chewed it slowly like a candy, washing down with water.  This would be the pattern for the remainder of the race.

The climb out of Muir was simply unreal.  Indescribable: a rolling dirt-road over a...treeless, barren grassy mountain directly teetering over the Pacific -- such is The Headlands.  The road would climb at 15% grade+, then level out for a 2% downgrade, then up again.  I ran as much as the "blips" and grades would allow, powerhiking the rest.  I watched Jake ahead and tried to run when he ran, but he slowly pulled away.  The "Nuun Candy" worked, as the blips became somewhat less infrequent, and before long, I began to reel in Jake -- paying scarcely any attention to the surroundings -- the surreality of this climb, which now resembled something like a daylight "Rainbow Road": my abs and arms like "power sliding", the gels, chomps and Nuuns like miniature mushroom boosts. 

The climb finally leveled for a downhill into Tennesee Valley; I ran strong but measured yet again, so worried was I about my quad and calves.  Jake pulled way ahead, such that when we rolled into Tennessee Valley AS,  he had thirty seconds+ on me. 

At Tennessee, more bonks, more food, more water.  "More everything!"  I hiked my way out, but even when hiking, the quad were blipping crazy.  Then the hamstrings kicked in.  Sheesh.  As I hiked along, I saw Jake pull out of sight.  But there'd be no pity-party: more Nuun, more water, more gels.  I'd run ten seconds - "blip-blip-blip!" - then walk. But I knew we were close -- only about four miles from the finish and a bulk of that being downhill.  I just needed to get to the top!

Despite the rough going, I passed a couple folks before finally, mercifully, the hill crested into a nice downhill.  But we were still far from the final descent.  It looked like we had one more climb.

I fought the blips constantly, as if tip-toeing across a mine field - one false move and it was a death of tetany, and at best a painful limp to the finish.  At worst?  A DNF. 

Strategizing, I realized I needed total relaxation.  Moreover, I had to smile.  So I did.  A huge, ridiculous grin, almost non-stop, was pinned on my face as I floated along down the road and onto the final climbs, onto the last "rabbit ear" that lead to the home stretch.  I had to soften it as to not look insane as I passed a Park Ranger in his squad, then a random aberration of "The Gentle Giant" running downhill past me.  "Hey Dave!", I said, the smile slightly less ridiculous. 

But it worked; moreover, it forced me to reflect on the day -- a beautiful run on an exceptional course with incredible competition.  And, despite the struggles, I was once again able to flip "The Switch" and go from death to all-out hammering!.  And, cramps notwithstanding, I was finishing hard and strong!  A truly great day to be alive and smiling!

After passing Dave I saw a tall guy in white and blue in front of me.  No way.  Had to be someone else.  I ran, got closer, had to hike.  Ran, got closer.  It was him: Mike Wardian.  He was clearly hurting, but so was I.  It was on...sort of.

With no bravado except my ridiculous cramp-stopping smile (which seemed to work), I shuffled past.  However, not 30m past, "blip-blip-blip!".  More walking. He crept back up and passed.  I ran again, ignoring a few blips because we were finally at the tops.  Amongst palm fronds and eucalpytus trees, the course leveled out  to the final AS, which begot final descent.

I got into the AS looking for anything to stave off cramps - fluid, salty potatoes - but as I was snacking, Mike flew through, not breaking stride.  F.  Gotta go.  Wardian got a good 50m on me on the rocky double track downhill, but he wasn't hammering.  "F-it, let's roll.".  I cut it loose, a controlled fall down the trail, weaving through washouts and 50Kers before catching Mike about midway down.  I shot past without hesitation and built a slight lead, focusing on using the gluts as best I could to preserve the quads and calves.  My lead was short-lived: he gathered himself and made a decisive push past me.  I found gear, but it wasn't enough; he began to pull away as the hill gave way to the grassy valley.  A veteran move, indeed.  He was hammering.  I couldn't - or wouldn't - hold it. 

But then we'd made it to the cutoff that would take us to the course.  I lost sight of him, but kept moving: abs and gluts, forward progress.  The road ascent to Fort Barry was surprisingly quick and easy, and before long I could hear the cheers of the finish.  'Round the corner, a hard right, and down the grass hill to the finishing mat.  I crossed, stopped, and stood still [Tetany? Anyone? Anyone].  Then smiled.

Post-Race 

Just outside the finish area was Wardian, who'd finished a good minute in front of him.  I shook his hand.  "Congrats!".  "I had to run 5:30s to beat you!", said Mike.  That was cool.  I just battled the three-time USATF Ultrarunner of the Year and #2 in the World 100K, and made him work hard!  Cool.  I made my way around the finishing area, looking for Jake.  He was in the med tent, getting patched from a couple early falls.  Nice road rash!  Post-race beer ("Big Daddy IPA" from Speakeasy in SF - smuggled into my drop bag!), and great rehashing with The Community, including most of the folks in front of me and several notables behind.  It was so enjoyable at the finish - especially with some IPA in my squeeze bottle - that I nearly got a sunburn.  Jake and I lingered with his family, taking in the scene, before finally shoving off, and putting a close onto a great morning. 

My official time and place was 7:11:25, good for 19th place.  Jake was 15th in 7:05:55, in what was billed by iRunfar as "The most competitive ultra marathon ever assembled".

Summary

The remainder of the day and into Sunday (over "Crepes A-Go-Go"), Jake and I rehashed the day, then waxed philosophic about the race and the sport.  We both agreed that we learned a lot: of being smart early, of fueling properly, and of the beauty and wonder of "The Switch", which we were able to experience together from 38 to the finish.  And, once again, just being a part of the cameraderie of the finish line made the 50 miles and 7+ hours of effort worthwhile. 

Pragmatically: the things I need to do for next time:

1. Eat more, often.  Two gels an hour.  End of story.
2. Don't get injured within two weeks of a race!
3. Prep for 5AM races by training then
4. Get a proper warm-up - at least fifteen minutes worth before the gun, unless I'm hiking the first 4.5 miles...

I'll leave this drawn-out tale with one more, and a prelude to my next post.  Jake and I were contemplating our place in a fast-growing sport.  Are we actually "good", or simply on the very front-end, tip-of-the-iceberg of the "Competition Era"?  Did we just get lucky, placing top twenty when we were lucky to get mention, pre-race?  Maybe, maybe not.  But no matter what you do, there will always be a place for smart guys with some guts:

Every gambler knows that the secret to survivin'
Is knowin' what to throw away and knowing what to keep
'Cause every hand's a winner and every hand's a loser
And the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep
The Grades

Pacing: A.  I squeezed blood from a stone: I could honestly say I could not have gone faster, given the circumstances of dead legs early and cramping late.  Taking what the body would give early was crucial in feeling strong late; I can only hope better preparation (across many lines) will allow a faster start next time.

Mechanics: B+. Good, not great.  I was able to hone in the power-stride during The Surge from 38, on; however, I felt messy and out of control on the early descents.  As such, my quads are now quite sore and my gluts only mildly so -- nothing close to the "blissful descents" I rocked during our Michigan Bluff run in October. 

A great measure of mechanics is the degree of pain and soreness post-race.  I had next to none!  Toes were fine, knees fine, and overall the soreness symmetrical.  Some pictures revealed a bit of left trunk, but I was lucky to be upright, for Pete's sake! 

Hydration/Fuel/Electrolyes: C+.  Worst grade yet.  Bummer.  I'm still finding my groove, and today solidified it.  Post-race, I found my gel flask (either the AS worker or I put it in my main pouch): it was over half-full.  So, for 33 miles, I'd "nipped" less than three gels.  The cramps were due to lack of calories, as I'd only taken whole gels and potatoes inconsistently early.  As such, I'd get only a short bump of cramp-relief from water and salt.  Like The Queen said, I needed 200 kcal/hour; I got maybe half that. 

My stomach was sucky early from eating the cheesy lasagna the night before. "Would an IDIOT do that?" 

Mental Toughness: A-.  It was a bit of a sufferfest early, but the late stage toughtness - and pity-party avoidance - was awesome.  My "battle" with Mike Wardian was my first end-of-race competition since the end of AR and only the second time I raced anyone to the finish in the last three miles of an ultra.  Awesome fun!  I need to grab that and store it in a jar for 2012. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Autumn Leaves 50K

Background
A year ago, in my search for a last-minute Western States qualifier, I found this race.  Located at a state park outside Portland, it was a convenient location for my first ultra run.  And the course and race organization made it a terrific experience in 2010. 

At summer's end, I registered, with the idea to return and run the 50K option (five x 10K laps, instead of eight) as a workout for a possible late-fall marathon. While those marathon dreams (at least for 2011) have dissipated, I was looking forward to doing an "honest effort" on a flat, fast, yet "honest course".

Going in, my condition wasn't optimal.  It's been a busy month: a 50M run around the Sisters, and 56+M on the WS trail just one week ago.  I wasn't all too concerned about dead legs; however, my left achilles was irritable all week preceding race day.

Pre-Race
Britt and I drove up, leaving just before 5AM for the 7AM start.  It was a long week for lus both, so the wake-up was tough.  But I was happy to have her come, not just to spectate, but also to race the 10K that would commence at 10AM.  We arrived around 6:30 (cutting it a bit close for my liking), but with just enough time for me to check-in, suit-up, and get in a quick stretch.  I chose to run in a new pair of Mizuno Ronins; however, I slipped in a heel lift into each shoes for the achilles'.

It was dark, foggy, yet surprisingly warm as we assembled at the chip mat.

For fueling, I decided to take a minor risk and go without any hydration device - no "sandwich-carrying jet pack", not even hand-helds.  Instead, I decided I'd try fueling with disposable bottles filled with Coke: I filled four bottles and kept them by the start/finish AS, with the idea I'd drink one after the first four laps.  I've done well with Coke -- and I've been doing better with "less" recently: it has water, sugar and salt.  With that as a base, I'd then augment with anything else I might need from the two AS'.

First Lap
Without any significantly speedy competition, it was me out front at the 7AM start.  Very dark, quite foggy.  I made my way down the "start/finish grade" and onto the paved path for the start of the first of five-10K loops, donning my Sprinter headlamp to cut the fog.

Just the day before, I connected with Mike Baum at Oregon Neurosport Physical Therapy, to work on some mechanical issues.  Mike is one of the pre-eminent purveyors of Functional Manual Therapy and PNF techniques.  He did significant work on my right lower quarter, then gave me some exercises and areas of focus going into the race -- primarily designed to get my right leg doing its share, and overall, to get me to engage my lower abdominals more effectively for propulsion.  We also worked on breathing.

As such, my primary areas of focus were: 1. Deep breathing (which functioned as pace control), and 2. lower abdominal engagement (plus right leg push-off). 

I felt very relaxed, so I was a bit surprised to hit 5:50s for the first mile.  I eased off slightly, passing the 2nd AS and heading on the path along the Willamette.  The 2nd mile split was at least 100m short, as I  passed it in around 11:40, despite slowing.  Mile 3, into the woods and gentle, speed-bump rollers, was more accurate (~18:10).  The turnaround was at the end of a fairly significant (by "road" standards) upgrade of about 150m, then right back down the hill, back-tracking on the course until AS 2, before forking right to the trail segment to the finish grade.

It was quite dark until the trail; the oncoming headlamps at the turnaround were almost disconcerting, reminding me of running against traffic in the dark.  I was happy to have usable daylight when I emerged from the woods to complete the first lap.  I ran up the grade and handed-off my headlamp to Britt.  The wooded segment is a bit slow; as such, my 10K split slowed to 39:05.

Second Lap
This loop course, while comforting in its routine, can be monotonous.  As such, the little issues I would encounter over the rest of the day made me think of "Fred", the nerdy guy from Seinfeld who, by ignoring and forgetting about Elaine, attracts her:

Jerry: "...my  foot's falling asleep..."
Fred:  "At least you have something to do!"

After clocking in, I rolled down the grade into lap two, grabbing my first bottle of Coke.  Drinking out of a non-squeeze bottle at 10mph was more challenging than I remembered, but I choked it down within the first mile, then got back to work.

About midway through the 2nd lap, I began to get a significant "pre-cramp" in my right upper abdomen.  Away from the AS and without any fluid, I focused on breathing deeply and managed to keep it settled through 8K before grabbing a half-glass of HEED at AS 2 on my way back in.  Legs felt great, but because of the cramp, I slowed a bit: 39:16.

Third Lap
Same routine for the third lap: another bottle of Coke.  It wasn't tasting particularlty good, and by mid-lap I began to feel some significant gut-rot.  Uh-oh.  I had a "fussy tummy" the night before, as well, which likely didn't help.  I made it to the wooded section before making an impromptu "pop-squat" in the woods.  Thankfully there were these damp, mega-huge maple leaves that made for easy clean-up.  I lost maybe 20 seconds from the deuce -- and probably several more from the general malaise -- and was back on my way, feeling much better.  At the check-in, I got my visor from Britt, and ready for the "toughest lap": 40:14.

Fourth Lap
Despite the set-up: a long month, the 56M last Saturday, and the cranky heel, I was still gunning for the CR.  Matt Lonergan clocked at ~3:18 here a couple years ago, and my thoughts were on that time and what I need -- 39ish 10Ks -- all morning.  Going into #4 my legs felt great and energy solid; however my stomach was still iffy.

Then, I had something else to think about: cramps!  Mid-third lap I began to feel some soreness in my right calf.  This was a nice change; I've been overloading my left leg for over a year, so to have any loading-issue on the right was a nice change.  But, again, I found myself pastt AS 2 with mounting pre-cramp sensations in my right (then left) calf.  And, without fluid, I had to "think them away".  I managed a respectable pace to the 5K turnaround, but then the gut-rot came back again!  Shit!  So, without wanting to deal with it, I stepped right off the trail and squatted quickly, got going again, and made it back to AS 2. 

I wasn't sure what I needed, but I knew I'd had no real salt all day, so once there, I pounded water and asked for some S-Caps...but they couldn't find them -- they weren't out!  So I took three fingers and shoveled table salt from a paper plate, pounded some water, and was off.  The last mile went fine, and the calf better.  But I knew I was still low.  So at the penultimate start/finish I obtained water and two S-caps.  40:16, with a clock time of about 2:38 for 40K.

Fifth Lap
Despite the issues, my energy and overall leg-feel was awesome.  I was excited, because I hadn't been breathing hard all day, and I knew that if I threw down even an "OK" last 10K, I'd sneak under the record.  So, I relatively hammered the first mile, splitting a 5:55 and feeling great going past AS 2.  I grabbed a single water (and no salt, having just taken my third S-cap); I got some cheers from LB, working AS 2, as well as Meghan, who helped pace Pam Smith in the 50K. 

As I cruised NE along the Willamette, I used a lot of positive self-talk: "Running strong!  I feel great!".  Then...not so much.  Out of nowhere, the right abdominals went into a near-full cramp, reducing me to a half-hunched shuffle.  F!  Not again! 

Back in 2010, I got into big trouble with cramps in-between AS' and had to beg water from fellow runners.  As I shuffled along, I scanned for runners in- and out-bound for fluild.  A half-mile later I came across two women and asked if they could spare; I took a good three pulls of a random concoction and shuffled up to the last turnaround.  The turnaround officials had a Nalgene bottle, but I didn't ask for any, unsure if it was "illegal" to take aid outside the AS. 

On the in-bound section, I was doing slightly better but was still 3K from the AS, so when I came across another woman, I also begged some Gatorade from her before finally rebounding.  I pushed fairly hard to the AS, where I pounded two HEEDs and took a water from LB before taking off for the last 2K on the trail.

I pushed about as hard as I ever have at the end of an ultra, knowing I needed at least a <40min 10K for the CR.  Runners yielded the singletrack when I came by, and I pushed as hard as I could on the trail before it spit me out on the road for the last 400m to the finishing grade. 

I crossed the chip mat at 3:18:45, happy with the effort but immediately disappointed, knowing I'd just missed the CR of 3:17:59.  My last 10K was 39:55 - respectible for being even-paced, but stymied by the cramps.  Bummer! 

The Grades:
Pacing: B+.  I paced well, but I could and should have run a faster last 10K.
Mechanics: B+.  Pretty good: I felt like I got more out of my right leg, and I was able to "use the abs" to keep the legs going near the end. Not cramping on the left was nice.  But I still had some negative feedback, postrace:
  • A sore back - I finally realized, with Mike's help, how poorly I engage my abs, and how often I go into lumbar extension. 
  • While improved, I'm still landing on the outsides of my feet too much.
  • Left quad is more sore than the right, so still overloading left, a bit. 
  • Right medial knee soreness: still some knee valgus with the poopy push-off on the right
Hydration/Fuel/Electrolyes: B-.  Not great.  I like how I was able to go minimal (three bottles of coke, forgoing the last due to stomach rot; two gels, maybe 12oz of HEED and gatorade), but I was clearly short on water and salt.  Who knows how much faster I could've run if I "nailed it"?
Mental Toughness: B+. Fine. This course plays into my strengths.  I can't say I did anything amazing, but I was happy with my last lap push.
*****
Post-race, I hung out with Meghan, who gave me my winners swag, and shmoozed with RD Bret and stood by the fire (nice touch!) and stayed warm while the 10K runners rolled through.  I timed it well to be off the main course just as the 10Kers got on.  Britt came through in 49min and won her age group.  We cleaned up a bit, hung out and chatted more, then took off.
Overall, I was really happy with the effort - to be able to run relatively fast without having hard-core marathon training.  My rough marathon split was about a 2:45, which is pretty solid!  But the recurring thought I have is, "If someone held a gun to my head and made me run three more laps, what could I have done for 50M?"
 
I was on 5:20 pace for 50M. While it would've taken a monumental effort to maintain that pace for three more laps, I do feel that (if the cramps were resolved) I could cut back to 43s and still run 5:30, which would be, as they say, "a stout time".  :)
Thanks to friends and family for all the well-wishes, and to Bret and Co for another great Autumn race.  Congrats to Pam Smith on breaking her own CR.  We both agreed that Autumn Leaves makes for a great "fall marathon-plus"!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Squaw to Michigan Buff - The Hard Way

There's a story out there, loosely titled "A Man in the Hole", that is a parable of friendship and solidarity in difficult times:
"This guy's walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can't get out. A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, 'Hey you. Can you help me out?' The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.  Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, 'Father, I'm down in this hole can you help me out?' The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on.  Then a friend walks by, 'Hey, Joe, it's me can you help me out?' And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, 'Are you stupid? Now we're both down here.' The friend says, 'Yeah, but I've been down here before and I know the way out.'"
Last week it shone true during a brutal but awesome 56+ miles in the mountains and canyons of the Sierra Nevada.
*****

I've had this run on my schedule since July: to head back to California and run the "original" (non-snow route) Western States course, from its start at Squaw Valley to Michigan Bluff.  I was pumped to have Jacob Rydman along for this ride, as he is equally passionate and enthuasiastic about ultra running and this event as I.

On Friday morning, I made the drive from Eugene (>7.5 hours) to Auburn, where I met Jake.  We thought it'd be fun to get in a "short run", so we met at Placer High and drove to Robie Point.  Departing just before 6PM, we ran down to No Hands and across, then up the fabled "K2" hill that Jake likes to work.  Midway up we encountered a guy and two dogs, who spotted a bear in area.  We cautiously proceeded with lots of loud talking and saw nothing. 

The prairie atop K2 on the "Olmstead Loop" was incredible at twilight, in the warm central California air.  Felt great to be back.  We chattered quite a bit, and I filled in every possible gap with a reminsce about my race. 

By the time we finished, it was nearly dark.  But our night wasn't over: we drove to Michigan Bluff to drop off Jake's truck for our post-run ride.  Back in town, we ate, had a couple beers, then returned to his place.  By then it was already well past 10PM, so it was quickly to bed for the early rise.

4:45AM came quickly.  We assembled our gear and hopped in Jake's dad-in-law Mike's truck for the ride up to Squaw.  I caught some valuable shut-eye in back on the dark ride up, and when I awoke it was nearly dawn in Truckee, and chilly - mid-30s at best. 

Mike dropped us off at the Lodge, snapped our "starting pic", then watched us ascend the big mountain for the start of our run.  Start time: 0715.

We ran-hiked the dirt roads up Escarpment.  The idea, I told Jake, was "to not feel like we're working hard" until the end, or the two big canyon climbs.  As such, I tried to keep the effort subdued.  However, we were both feeling fatigued, even with the conservative walk-jog.  Nonetheless, it was a crisp, beautifiul ascent up to Escarpment - albeit slightly longer since we took a circuitous route upward.  We hit Watson Monument about an hour in 0815.  A couple pics, then descending into Granite Chief, looking forward to a long, smooth descent. 


Watson Monument - 95% covered in snow on June 25th

 This section was completely covered in snow last year, and within that first mile I was saying, "This was easier covered in snow!" -- rutted, washed-out tread, rocks, roots, foliage.  Lots.  Our descent was slow and measured.  Over those ensuing miles we embraced the few times the track opened to runnable, otherwise we were back on the reigns.

Jake reported the mountain got 12-18" of snow approximately two weeks ago; however, the only traces that remained were the creeks that ran fairly heavy with snow melt, inundating the trail in a couple places.  We side-stepped them and kept on our way.

In no time, we were out of the Chief and were dumped onto a 4x4 road.  It seemed too soon to be out of the wilderness, but a check of the map confirmed it.  Thankfully, there was still flagging up from the Tevis race (October 8th), so we followed that cautiously into a maze of 4x4 roads.  Some of it looked familiar, but it was much different without a snowy blanket.  On a couple ocassions we had to pause and scope out the direction, before spotting more flagging.  Once we ran the wrong direction for a quarter mile, then got back on track.  Then, with little fanfare, we reached the start of Lyon Ridge.  It was mid-morning, by then, and warming.  We had a quick snack, took some pics, and lost some layers, then pressed on.


Lyon Ridge

Neither of us were feeling - or moving - that great at this point.  But we were hopeful that sustained running on consistent trail would turn the legs around. 

The Ridges - Lyon, then Red Star - were beautiful, with my first-ever views of both ends of the Foresthill Divide on this clear, warming morning.  But the running was rough and tough -- rock- and scree-filled tread and far more climbing than I ever imagined for what seemed like a flat area on the profile.  The running was slow, and Jake and I alternated with periods of energy and fatigue.  Fairly well-hydrated with my 70-oz Nathan pack, I was feeling fairly strong, picking my way through the rocks and making decent time on the flat sections, working the "pelvic mechanics" fairly well. 


Before long we came to what looked Red Star AS -- an intersection with a dirt road; however, the flagging simply took us up the road, so we followed it.  We ran for at least a kilo before we had second thoughts: a re-check of the map revealed that the course did not follow a road, so we had to back track before finding a thin ribbon that first paralleled the road before descending.  Two hunters confirmed that we were on the Red Star trail, and within another quarter mile we arrived at the real trail / road crossing of Red Star across the road to Robinson. 
Red Star was more hot, more steep, and more rough than Lyon.  Climb, climb, climb!  Silent thoughts became vocalizations: "This is much harder than the snow course!" - scores of eighth- to quarter-mile climbs on stone-filled tread with increasing heat.  Jake picked his way up the climbs and I did my best to follow; I felt like my ascending speed was faster than his, but more fatiguing. 
Red Star
As the ridge dragged on, it occurred to me that we were going to run out of water.  Our idea was our personal stashes - Jake with 32 oz and me with a stout 70 - could last to Robinson (30 miles).  In fact, on Sunday I ran over four hours with just 30 oz of water; at worst I though we'd run low at Duncan and get water there. 

By Lyon we were already conserving; by Red Star, we were low, then out completely.  By the time we'd finally summitted the high-point of Red Star and began to descent, we were both bone-dry.  On the descent, I was running mouth closed, trying to conserve vapor.  And by the time we made the turn to the Duncan trail it was a full-on suffer-fest for me: legs were dead, the stomach was starting to go, and even the flats were tough to run.

Miserable!  My gosh!  Looking at my watch, it's nearly 1PM - it's taken us nearly six hours to get to this point.  It's times like these that I begin to question my true abilities in this sport -- how can I expect to be any good if I can't even run 25 miles without crumbling into a heap?  After an eigth-mile of walking, I pulled it together and got a stride going on a downhill toward Duncan.

About a half-mile from the bottom, we hit a small creek and, unlike the creeks in Granite Chief, we did not pass this one by.  I whipped out the Steripen and got to work treating several bottles-worth of water, making sure that both Jake and I drank at least a whole bottle.  I pounded a bottle, then half-filled my pack, knowing we were only a bit from Duncan Creek and eventually the pump at Robinson.

We took more water at the Duncan crossing - a legitimately wide creek - but did not treat it, too tired and irritated with the fickle Steripen.  I guzzled a whole bottle of Jake's, refilled it and handed it back.  Then, across the creek it was uphill to Robinson.
Duncan Creek

While I had water, I still felt like garbage.  Jake pressed on, chipping up the trail, and I began to go about "fixing myself".

I'd been absolutely minimalist with intake: in six hours, I'd taken a Clif Bar, maybe two gels, and no salt.  I knew I needed salt and calories but I've learned my lesson: none of either 'til I had enough water.  Now with a full stomach and a half-full pack in balance, I took my first S-cap, carefully pouring on my tongue first.  It tasted good!  (New rule: "If pure salt in your mouth tastes good, you need it!").  Then water.  Then a whole gel.  More water. 

I tried to run the climb up to Robinson, but nothing doing.  Exhaustion.  I'd run, then be so spent, the resulting hike would be a slow stagger.  So I just hiked.  I'd run every few minutes, short bursts.  Miserable.

I was spent. Worst of all: it was past 2PM.  It'd taken us nearly seven hours to go less than 30 miles, and at the top we'd have 26 miles to go!  The leaders usually only split 4.5 hours from Robinson to Michigan Bluff, and we'd have only about 4 hours of daylight.

I was so done, and on that climb up was so ready to flag a car down at the usually-busy Robinson Flat camping/hiking area and get a ride back to the truck.  Or just to MB road.  Or...just walk down the road to MB.  I didn't care. 

Up ahead I saw Jake waiting for me, and I began to run a bit more.  He fell in behind me.  We were at Little Robinson Valley - a false-summit with another kilo of uphill running before the mercy of Robinson Flat.  There we found a populated campground filled with RVs and tents.  I shuffled past two gentlemen in lawnchairs asking how we were doing, and if we'd seen any deer.  Finally, the pump.
The pump at Robinson Flat

We filled, drank, and filled again.  I laid down, stretching my back.  We talked numbers: it's 2:45, and we've got 26 miles to go.  I felt terrible, Jake was tired but OK. I asked him what he wanted to do.  His replied that it was an "easy 17 miles downhill, and our legs should feel better".  In my year of ultra running, I still didn't believe there was such a thing as an "easy 17 miles".  As we discussed this, I peered across the meadow to the parking lot, where a family of Menonites were tying down a load of [poached?] timber in a trailer.  Had I possessed the legs or the lungs to get their attention, I might've wound up in the back of their truck headed downhill, but before the neurons could fire, the truck was pulling away.

2:50.  Time to get moving.  I moved stiffly from my prone position beside the pump and mounted up, readying for Sufferfest II.  We hiked up the road, along some newer campsites, then onto N43.  In order to save time -- and in my mind, save any possibility of losing the trail, again -- we stuck to the road, intending to take it straight down to Miller's Defeat.  The road climbed for a good kilo.  Another truck passed - a man and woman, heading the easy way.  The cab looked inviting.  Two yellows labs in back - I could hang out with them.  It passed.  We pressed on.

The road crested, and Jake began to jog.  So did I.  We jogged, then the road descended.  I got to work on my stride - recognizing that the most efficient mechanics equals fastest and least pain, so before long we'd descended from 8:00s to mid-7s.  Jake joked about taking our mile splits, so I hit my watch at the 5 and got to work.

The surface was light gravel and firm dirt - a welcome relief from the hardscrabble rock and wash-out.  I worked the deficiencies of my stride:  feel the abs drive the left pelvis up, nice push with the right leg, left heel up and over, bend the knee.  It didn't feel good, but it didn't feel bad.  Indifferent.  More downhill but perfect grade.  Rolling along silently for a while, Jake added, "This is a great workout: run 31 miles, then cut seven-minute miles...". 

Over the course of N43, even as the road leveled off and climbed a bit, our pace quickened: from 7:40s, all the way to a 6:45 last mile, before jumping onto the WS course right before Miller's Defeat.  In that 30 minutes we covered a "stout" 4+ miles, but more importantly, I no longer felt like death.  Not good, just OK. 

On the descent to Dusty Corner's, another treat: loggers had wetted and tamped the road within the last week, turning a dusty sandbox into a firm double track.  As we rolled along, I continued to patch things up: more water and S-Caps, again titrating the dosage by taking 1/4-caps -- literally separating the capsule in two, dumping a portion on my tongue ("Still taste good?  Yup!"), then re-sealing and back in the pouch. 

"OK" turned into "pretty OK", and as I continued to work on the turnover, the pace improved.  Jake began to fall back, but since Red Star we'd developed and understanding: "If you feel good, go -- just wait up every once in a while.".  So I went for it, maintaining a quick but aerobic pace on the descent through logged-out forest until the steep descent.  Jake caught back up and we hammered down to Dusy Corners (38M) together. 

I was happy with my stride, and -- like it was on race-day -- the closer I got to Last Chance, and the familiar sights of The Canyons -- better and more comfortable I became.  Moreover, we were now making incredible time: after 30 miles in 7+ hours, we'd just covered close to eight in under an hour - screaming pace for us.  However, we were still under the gun for sunlight and overtly cautious about physical survival, so we bypassed the wonderful Pucker Point trail in favor of continuing on the road straight to Last Chance. 

My body was now feeling its best all day and the turnover was tremendous.  As we cruised down the road toward LC, I kept finding myself pulling away from Jake.  Finally, I just stopped.  I could tell he wasn't quite "workin' the pelvis", so I said, "Try this."  I showed him the upward and forward elevation of the pelvis that we'd first talked about (seemingly days ago) on the climb to Escarpment: use the abs to propel the pelvis and leg.  Jake was a quick study, and he immediately kept a quick 7:00s pace along the road, his stride perking with the minor cue. 

By the time we rolling into Last Chance, I was feeling awesome - as if we'd just received a table dance from the fabled "Hurdy Gurdy Girls".  We'd covered Robinson to Last Chance in just over 1:30, which included several stops - a screaming pace (albiet on roads). 

We climbed out of Last Chance, and into the descent to Pacific Slab and the start of Deadwood Canyon.  There's something about this stretch I just love: maybe it's the familiarity, and the "smelling" of civilization at Michigan Bluff, and the leaving behind the formidable mountain wilderness; or maybe it's because it was at this spot last May, where I went from seven weeks of no running, to a straight run of twelve miles - a resurrection or sorts. 

Today was another resurrection, and I felt legitimate joy and excitement as we made our way to the Slab.  Jake made a pit stop, and I continued to fuel: more water, half an S-Cap, a gel pull.  Then it was time to descend.

The second - and equally exciting - mechanical lesson I've recently picked up was put to the test on this descent:   the notion that by using the same trunk and pelvic mechanics (e.g. abs elevate one side, the opposite side is stabilized downward), you can use your pelvis and trunk to brake instead of your quad.

It. Was. Awesome!  As I plugged downhill along the rough, recently washed-out trail down to Swinging Bridge, I lifting the pelvis on my swing leg, resulting a strong, firm, stabilzing action on my plant leg.  The end result: improved stability, faster turnover, less tripping (upward pelvis = "toes up!"), and...no quad soreness!  The proof was eventually come days later - when I literally had no "dead quad" whatsoever. 

We both made quick work down to Swinging Bridge, then crossed and ran to the spring on the other side.  I still had a bit of water left from my Robinson fill, but I drank it all, then refilled completely (another 70 oz), also filling a bottle for Jake before starting the ascent.

We power-hiked together.  This trail was also washed out; I surmised the snow storm three weeks ago resulted in hard precipitation that washed through rapidly (either rain, or melting snow).  As such, it made a normally rough trail even rougher.  We hiked on; I, using the same "abs lift" techniques in the hike.  Jake tried some running, first among the steep, rugged sections, then again midway up when it leveled off.  I was fine power-hiking; though feeling much better, I didn't want to risk a hard run here, then not be able to run the gentle downs to El Dorado, and if anything, I'd love to run up to Michigan Bluff.  Besides, I still made excellent time with the power-hike.

Jake pulled away and I entertained myself with some of Johnny Cash's "Deadwood Canyon Blues".  Near the top I did a bit of running and pulled within about a minute of Jake.  I did the DT climb in 35 minutes; a pretty stout time. 
Climbing up to Devil's Thumbs

At the top we did some repairs: Jake was a little "cooked" - low on everything.  I gave him the rest of my sandwich and an S-Cap.  I took another half, more water, and we were on our way.  We ran nearly all the way to the Pump; my legs again feeling terrific.  We got in one last fill before our descent and final climb.  It was there, after nearly 150 oz of water, that I finally peed somewhat-clear.  I left the Deadwood pump with about 30 oz of water and we hit the trail.

Again, awesome legs and great energy.  "The Barn" was close.  It was an amazing day: death at Robinson, and resurrection at Last Chance.  Jake and I talked about what a "Good day" split from Devil's Thumb to MB is: we agreed 1:30 is solid.  I felt confident that I could've busted that: I was descending terrific with my new "pelvic power" and I had the energy to run more of MB that I ever did. 

We rolled out of the pump, passing a camper with a horsetrailer parked along the road, two guys in recliner lawn chairs, half-full Coors Lights rising and lowering on their near-full bellies.  "I'd like to be reclined with a Coors Light!"

Pressing on, we hiked up a slight grade, letting the last pulls of water and Clif bar settle before descending toward Deadwood Cemetary as the sun disappeared over the western hills.  I let 'er open up again -- ...left abs, lift the heel, right leg push... -- and got a nice pace going.  But Jake was still feeling haggard, so I held up and we descended El Dorado along with the last remaining rays of sun.

Knowing we were truly smelling the barn, I felt a great sense of relief and excitement.  I felt great about the day -- of struggling, of being helped along when I was ready to give up, and of having the privilege of spending an entire daylight on the trail with a great guy like Jake.  So rather than hammer this final 10K, we settled back and -- perhaps for the first time all day -- relaxed, chatted and enjoyed ourselves. 

To pass the time, I decided we'd play "Random Seinfeld Trivia".  The rules are simple: you think of a question about an episode -- the more multi-faceted the better -- and the other guy answers, then thinks of his question based on yours.  An example:


"How did Elaine get her job with Mr Pitt?  And how did she lose it?"*, or
"How did George's fiance Susan die, and how did that karma come back at him later on?"**

(*Interviewing for Jackie Onassis's's's job at The New Yorker; *Mr Pitt thinks she and Jerry are trying to kill him.)
(**Licking toxic wedding envelopes; slipping on Jerry's girlfriend's party envelopes and hurting himself)
 
We also chatted about life in general, our significant others, and other areas as we floated down to the river. 

By the time we fully descend, it was near total-darkness.  I was thankful to have my Black Diamond Sprinter, as it illuminated enough of the trail for the both of us.

I was hoping to do a bit of running up MB, but Jake was in bonk mode; but once he killed the rest of his water, he was feeling better and we were power-hiking, then running, the last kilo up and over into Michigan Bluff.

Long day: 12h30m for a "measley" 56+ miles.  We changed at his truck, in the darkness and cold, then made our way into Foresthill.

Post-run:

In Foresthill, we stopped at "The Sportsman's Club" for a cold Sierra Nevada.  We felt a bit off entering in tights and running clothes, but I assured him that, if any small town in America is "OK" with having ultra runners infiltrate, it's Foresthill.  Before we even entered, we were treated by the sights and sounds of two locals grinding one another on the "dance floor" to some Tupac hits.  We enjoyed the ambiance and the hops, celebrating the completion of a long day.

The "local talent" at Foresthill Sportsman's Club
After that beer, it was back to Auburn for some In N Out before heading back to Jake's in Rocklin. 

 


Post-Run Assessment:

The Good:
  • It was a great (and humbling) learning experience to get on the ridges and into Robinson.  I will, no doubt, run those sections conservitavely in the future and continue to work on my sustained climbing gears.
  • As Jake said, running "hard" (sub 8s, sub 7s) after 50K of trail was excellent training.
  • Nutritional minimalism:  I took very little on this run:
    • 6 gels
    • 1.75 Clif bars
    • 1/4th sandwich
    • 3 S-caps (taken in bits and pieces)
  • Mechanics: I was able to focus on pelvic mobility/stability for flat, ups and downs with tremendous success: it made me get the most out of runnable flats, opening the stride; it propelled me uphill, and most awesomely: I was able to actually brake using my trunk and gluts with very little quad soreness post-run!  This, indeed, may be the "Holy Grail" of run mechanics! 

 The Bad:

We were brutally slow from SV to Robinson.  I don't know for sure why.  Some theories:
  • Lack of rest leading into the run: I did a 6-mile tempo on Monday, and repeat 400s on Thursday.  We did a pretty aggressive trail run on K2 late Friday night.  Jake ran and coached earlier on Friday. We were tired going in, no doubt.
  • Some route-finding, especially from Escarpment to Red Star
  • Poor tread conditions - washout, tons of rocks and very slow running.  But I'm not sure this isn't the actual race-day condition.  I truly felt the snow was much, much faster on the same trail
  • The heat and water shortage.  While it wasn't oppressively hot, it was warm enough to make my poison-oak-preventing black pants fairly uncomfortable.  We were also significantly low on water; once I got low, it took hours to right the ship.
  • Hydration: I needed a TON of water.  After my 70 oz went dry from 0-25, it took 70 oz from Duncan, then another 30+ oz at Robinson and onward to begin to feel OK.  And then another 70 oz at the spring at Devil's Thumb to finally pee clear-ish!  That's a TON of fluid for a run in fair conditions. 
  • Mechanics: I'm still overloading the L leg a bit - the L quad and calf were more sore this week since the run, but this disparity has improved immensely.
However, like all things ultra running in the past year, the best part of it all was sharing it with others.  Not only was it fun to spend the day with Jake and get to know each other, but it went beyond that: in our low points, we helped each other through them -- and that made it more than just "a run" for me.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Three Sisters Circumnavigation

The full album of pictures can be found HERE

The Three Sisters Circumnavigation has been on my to-do list for at least a year, when I first found out it was possible.  It helped that LB did it a few weeks prior, so I was able to pick his brain beforehand about some logistics and route-finding.

On Friday night Britt and I drove up to Lava Camp Lake, just off OR 242, and only meters from the PCT and the start of the loop.  The plan was to run at day-break, and for Britt to come pick me up when finished.  When, exactly, was less math and more luck.  LB had guessed (and T-Bag and "Jesus" confirmed via GPS) that this loop was in fact 50 miles, and a slow 50.  LB did it in 15 hours, albeit quite leisurely.  Since I'd done 50 on the WS trail through the canyons, walking all the ups, in <11 hours, I figured on 9 to 11 hours for this loop without any huge climbers.

Camp, Friday night
Woke up on Saturday to clouds and the lightest mist.  Not great, but thoughts were that it'd burn off by sun-up.  Had tea, ate a bunch, and was on the trail at 0705.  I brought with me a lot of stuff for this 99.9% wilderness, 100% unsupported 50-miler:

- Nathan hydration pack with 70 oz capacity, filled
- Backcountry first aid pack (small, maybe 3/4lb)
- 1 Half sandwich
- 8-12oz mixed nuts
- 8oz dried fruit (apricots, cranberries)
- 1 Clif Bar
- 2 GU packs
- 1 gel flask w/5 GU packs therein
- 4 Nuun tabs
- 8-10 E-caps
- 8-10 S-caps
- Three Sisters Wilderness map
- Compass
- Lighter
- Black Diamond Sprinter headlamp
- Steripen Adventurer water treatment wand
- Camelbak Delaney Plus belt + empty bottle (for filtering water and other carriage)

A lot of stuff, indeed, but all necessary for an enjoyable and safe wilderness outing.  And all, surprisingly, quite comfortable split between the Nathan pack and the waist pack.  I also had along a jacket and a skull cap that I wore in the AM, intending to doff when it warmed up.  It never did.

I slowly ascended the ridge to the Mathieu Lakes, feeling pretty good.  It was about three miles' worth of "lollipop stick" to the actual loop, which I'd run clockwise (E -> S -> W -> N).  I had some new gait techniques to work on, so I focused on those while chipping away at the uphill.  I was thankful that it was cool, but hopeful the fog would burn-off.  The typical views from Scott Pass were shrouded in fog, which was slightly disappointing, but perhaps a "different kind of beauty". 

A normally awesome view of North Sister
 Hit the junction with Scott Pass trail and descended, seeing the "climber" trail LB took by accident.  I also reminisced about taking "the kids" here back in 2005 and taking Scott Pass trail instead of PCT, and the "Jimmy" that was scarcely averted! 


Scott Camp trail to the left, the climber to the right...
 Nice downhill along Scott Pass, but roughed up a bit by horses.  Passed the false trail junction, through burned forest, finally to the junction of Green Lakes trail, on which I'd run all the way to its name-sake.

The first half of Green Lakes was deceptively tough: terrain alternating between loose volcanic sands or rough rock, and a relentless 2-3% uphill grade.  That, plus >6,000' elevation made for some sluggish miles.  Mid-way through this section I came across a dried creek bed resembling Alder Creek.  It were here that LB pointed out as his location of his "Solo / Fast" that he and Dan-O were undertaking at that very moment: 36 hours of....sitting in the woods, not doing anything.  Including eating.  I didn't yelp or going searching along the creek bed, but in a show of solidarity, I did leave a marking.


Fueling: I set my watch for 25 minutes to beep for gels, which has seemed to work well.  I also took water then, but not much.  I didn't feel the need to drink, given how cold it was.  But a couple hours in, I was feeling sluggish.  I took an E-cap and felt better. 

Finally the climbs ended momentarily and we got some of our first consistent views of North Sister.  Cool.  Then the first of several creek crossings.  All of them were bridged with logs, so the feet stayed dry.  On the second creek, I stopped, intending to treat some water, just in case I needed it. Moreover, I was in the mood for non-Nuun liquid.

Mistake #1: I got out my Steripen and turned it on.  It came on for 3 seconds, then switched off, never to turn on again.  F.  No filtration.  I'd have to wing it.  There were several mountain springs on this loop -- pure, nature-filtered water that comes literally from the base of the Sisters -- all of which you can tap directly at the source.  However, the two I knew of were on the other side of the loop 30 miles away.  My 40 oz of nuun was not going to last that long.  So I filled the bottle and carried it, to drink just in case.


Unfiltered water source, #1 - probably the most suspect, if any.
 I rolled along, but now beginning to conserve water.  Bad move.  I began to feel a little worse.  Now three hours in, I took my first S-cap, dissolving in my mouth first.  It didn't taste good, which is a sign that I wasn't very low on salt.  Uh-oh.  Mistake #2.

My legs felt a little better, but soon I was approaching Park Meadows and the climb up to the ridge over Green Lakes, one of two high points topping 7,000' on the route.  I felt very tired and sluggish, walking for the first time all day.  Walk-jogging, I finally crested to a plain that, presumably, was the pass.  The sun teased me a bit with a couple appearances here, but quickly was lost in a wave of clouds and strengthening south winds.  Saw the first of several hikers here before beginning the descent to Green Lakes. 

Park Meadow, approaching the climb up to Green Lakes
Saw the Green Lakes just before 1100.  Before making it to water level, I stopped at a volcanic creek feeding the lakes.  It was small, frigid, and looked awesome.  I drank here, then completely filled my pack - there's no way I'm making it to Obsidian on 20 oz of water.  My body temp dropped during this refuel; does not look like it's gonna warm up.  I hope it doesn't rain...

A feeder stream to the Green Lakes. More unfiltered water.
I descended to Green Lakes and kept rolling, still feeling sluggish in the legs and increasingly so in the gut.  Not good.  By the time I traversed the gorgeous plateau with dotted lakes, it was time to fertilize the pumice.  Relieved, I began the descent down Fall Creek trail, feeling hardly better than before the pit-stop. 

Saw several more hikers -- including a pair with a rifle (apparently hunting is legal in this wilderness area) -- and then came across a trio of horsemen, who asked about my run.  It pained me to tell them, because it forced me to vocally admit what was in front of me:  "I'm running the whole loop, about 50 miles, and I'm not quite half-done".  I was not feeling good. At all.

By the time I got to the junction with Moraine Lake Trail, which would take me West to the PCT, I was nearly dizzy.  There, while walking and eating my sandwich, I make a fateful decision: another S-cap.  Mistake #3

I walked a ton of Moraine Lake Trail, which climbed back up the ridge to its namesake lake.  I shuffled the flats and walked nearly all ups, even the slightest ones.  I drank water, but at this point my pack was its usual light-Nuun mix.  More walking, more misery.  Really, this bad, only 20-some miles in?  Guess I'm really not fit. 
Moraine Lake
After crossing the South Sister climber, the trail bombs down to Wickiup Plain - a desert-like pumice field at "7 o'clock" on the map.  The gut got much worse.  Another pit stop, but little relief.  I was struggling.  The weather remained cloudy and cool, and the south wind persisted.  My only solace was knowing I'd have a tailwind coming in just a few miles. 

Wickiup Plain
The PCT cut-off trail connected the remains of Moraine Lake trail and the PCT.  Through the Plain, it was a double-track of pumice dust and more wooded descent before spitting out finally onto the PCT.  "The home stretch!".  It was 1300.  I told Britt I'd be back between 4 and 6.  I had no idea how much mileage to go, but I knew: A.) the mileage was off, anyway, and B.) I was sick of getting out my map.  So off I went, battling debilitating gut-rot and shuffling along as best I could  Miserable. 
PCT at Wickiup Plain, "the home stretch"
The trail in this section, all PCT, was, in retrospect, pretty incredible: periods of wooded rollers with many short to medium meadow crossings - some grassy, but others rocky and pumice.  It made for terrific running -- if you had a fresh gut and legs -- but for me, they were unappreciated.  For me, it was all about getting to Obsidian area, a very popular hiking area -- for its beauty and relative ease of entry (only 5 miles one way from OR 242).  It was here that there'd be fresh spring water, and familiar turf - I'd run this stretch of PCT several times in the past decade, including my first-ever "real" trail run.

Contemplating my situation, it finally occurred to me what happened: I mistook dehydration for salt shortage.  I'd over-salted, like I did at AR.  So now I was stuck on a long stretch from Wickiup to Obsidian with nasty gut rot, without a reliable water source, and with my only fluid being, essentially, saline.  Without a salt-washout, I'd be doomed to 15 minute mile pace (or slower!) for those last 20+ miles. Moreover, the weather was not good: maybe 50F and windy.  I was cold, having never doffed my jacket or hat.  If I slowed, I would only get colder.  Much colder.

So, on the second creek I came across, I hiked up trail  - away from any horse evidence - and filled my gut and my bottle with water.  The gut still hurt, but I pressed on.  An hour later, I came across another creek, almost passing it before taking out my map.  I had a long way to go, and, still behind, needed more water.  Another fill. 

Those next miles were the toughest.  Officially, this run became my second-hardest run of all time.  I was praying to get to Obsidian.  I thought about how T-Bag got to Obsidian, and bailed down the Obsidian Trail - a smooth 5-mile descent to the highway, rather than finish the final ten miles.  This plan crossed my mind many times over as I inched my way north.
Linton Meadow: beautiful, but unappreciated
I passed several more beautiful but unappreciated meadows before finally, finally hitting Obsidian!  Yes!  I snapped a single pic of the falls, resisted the strong physical urge to fertilize yet again, and made my way to the source of the spring to dump the saline for fresh Oregon spring water. 
The falls!
From here: ten miles back to a warm tent, a warmer truck, and beer.  I plotted:  "OK, it's a nice downhill to Glacier Trail, then a tough hiker-uphill in the woods, then lava up to Opie Diddock, then a bunch of downhill again, then a half-uphill to Yapoah, down again, a slight up to Scott Pass, then all downhill!  Just three climbs!"  It was that easy.  I left Obsidian buoyed with pure water and the hope of familiarity and a plan.

I quickly descended to Glacier Way, which is a direct hiker trail to North Sister, ascended more to the base of Opie Diddock, then began that "Long, Lonely Climb of Lonelieness".  It was actually pretty surreal because of the thick, fast-moving fog that enveloped the pass.  This section is nothing more than some lava rock slightly leveled into something resembling..."not a pile".  I power hiked the rocky switchbacks with a nice wall of "tail-fog" pushing me upward.  I could feel the gut rot and salt-overload finally ebbing; the powerhike climb felt good, and I was anxiously awaiting the runnable flats.  I ran as best I could on this stretch, which was essentially a trail made of volcanic ball-bearings of various sizes, with just enough friction to not freely spin beneath your feet.  I only stumbled once, though, and kept my feet, before descending once more. 
The Climb up the lava-tastic Opie
Yes, there's a trail in there. Maybe six switchbacks up this saddle.
To compare to ideal conditions, check out LB's second-to-last picture
From there, a terrific descent through woods and gentler terrain -- I was finally feeling OK, so I really opened it up, approaching Minnie Scott Spring.  No stops, just flying, over very brief ups and many steeper downs until bottoming out at the fog-filled Scott Meadow.  I was about 5 miles away, but...I couldn't hold it, so I had to fertilize again.  I lucked out this time: to wipe, I had "alpine wild flowers" (already deceased), but by then, my backside was far too raw to appreciate the delicate leaves. 
Scott Pass trail junction, in Scott Meadow
After Scott, one last significant climb, up and over the side of Yapoah, then some legitimately fun snaking through lava to Scott Pass and the home stretch!  It was 1700 with 3ish miles to go. 


In a bizarre move, I found myself with full bars on my camera phone, so I texted Britt to say I was almost home.  Another view of South Mathieu then a long descent to Lava Camp, where I opened it up as best I could to the finish.

I got to the Lava Camp TH at 1725.  Total time: 10h20m. 
Whew.
Tough, tough run: second-hardest of all-time.  You could say I messed up my gut with too much salt.  And I did.  But it was a more nuanced one: mistaking dehydration for salt depletion.  And, arguably, I "ruined" this run by having such a terrible stomach for the bulk of it.  I could've trimmed an hour simply by cutting out two S-Caps.  But it was a terrific experience: 50 miles, unsupported, in the wilderness, with a little spice of adversity. 

The full album of pictures can be found HERE.