A typical day at work: getting others better. Except that, for the fifth day, I hobbled about with a single-point cane -- the ones we check out to our "disabled" patients -- in my left hand, unloading my right knee. I'd had knee pain since AR on April 9th. It got slightly better, then worse after I tried to run. Then, over the course of the next 6 weeks, despite next to no running, it seems to get worse instead of better -- to the point where I couldn't even ride a bike 30 seconds, and simply walking around caused pain. On May 17th, I broke down an emailed my crew and family: "It's highly probable I will NOT be able to run on June 25th". I feared joint damage, or a stress fracture. Thus the cane, which I put myself on the previous weekend.
At 10:55 AM, the news arrived, via email from my doctor: x-rays clean, MRI clean.
So there I was: a month to go from cane to century.
June 25, 2011 - 10:55 AM
Trudging along the snow reroute, between Mosquito Ridge and Miller's Defeat -- No cane required, but I could've used a couple of trekking poles!
The month preceding the 2011 Western States Endurance Run passed slowly -- good for me, as I was able to get in a prolific amount of training and prep of all sorts in a short amount of time. But it did finally arrive, with mixed feelings: elation, knowing that I would, indeed, toe the line and take part in this monumental event; panic and despair, still dealing with lingering pain in both knees, mostly from jamming >30K of descent in two weeks, including a 50M hike/run on the course just two weeks pre-race.
Britt and I bolted from town on Tuesday night; just being on the road -- moving forward -- was a relief. After a night in K-Falls we arrived in Truckee on Wednesday afternoon to temps in the mid-80s -- good enough for one last "heat run". She and I ran easy from the Inn to downtown. Left knee pain. Shit. We cleaned up and headed to Squaw Valley. The beauty of the valley and towering Sierra were clouded by my frustration with pain. Three days!
Seeing family helped: On Wednesday night nearly all my crew -- including all of my immediate family and several friends -- arrived in Squaw. We had a nice dinner together; it took only a sip of the Lagunitas IPA tap to feel some relief and relaxation. It'll be OK.
Thursday: Good sleep, but up early. Flag-Raising Ceremony: my affect was as schizophrenic as the weather: sunny but chilled, blustery winds. Ran with Dan, one of my best friends from PT school -- and a skilled ATC on my "med staff". More knee pain. Damn it!
Meetings. Pacers arrive. More meetings. Excitement and fun, constantly interrupted by tweaks: in the knee, or a in the brain: reminders of the knee soreness on a flat, easy 4-miler. How can I do 25 times that? In two days?
Friday: up early again. More meetings. Check-in. Test the gear. More stress: right low back pain with a spasmy right calf. Really? Can we pile on more. Dan massaged it out. That helped. What helped more: a through chiropractic work-over by Gordy Ainsleigh during the race meeting. It was very unlike me, but, "In Gordy I Trust". Post-meeting, "our meeting" -- getting together with the crew and "tagalongs" -- my non-crew spectators, we went over details. At meeting's end, I addressed the groups and said aloud to them what I'd been saying in my head for the past two weeks:
"Tomorrow is probably going to be a Clusterf___: For me, with my body, and all the aches and pains; for you guys, dealing with the stress of tomorrow and the excitement of race day. What I ask for both myself and you guys is that we make it a 'Clusterf___ of Awesomeness -- to take that stress and turn it into excitement and fun."I held back a few tears as I thanked them for coming -- all 12 of them, all but one from Minnesota or Wisconsin - "Back Home" - traveling on their own buck to support me. Me, the guy on the cane a month ago.
While the rest of the crew went to relax, or hike up to Escarpment; I took Finchy with me to the Pearl Izumi house in Alpine Meadows to make good on my "Beer Exchange" agreement with "FastEd" Scott Jaime. There we were able to meet and chat with Scott and Nick Clark and their pacers, including Jacob Rydman. We caught up a bit and chatted lightly about the race. All my tension and stress melted away spending time with those guys; it was a nice relief. I also looked at a scap of paper Nick had, which had his '10 splits: very conservative early, then a nice push from FH to the finish. What a great plan! Talking with Finch on the way back, I was convinced that with smart early pacing and good form, I could actually still run well! I felt infinitely better.
I had a very basic dinner and hit the sack early: around 9PM. Fitful sleeping, however. I woke hourly until about 2:30, then struggled to return to sleep. I was up before the 0345 alarm.
Race morning went quickly: tea, shower, taping, lubing -- body glide and "Olive Oil"! -- fuel. I suited up into my gear -- white sleeves, while leggings, white jersey, black comp shorts -- I looked like a super-hero! To top it off: Finch's famed "Skull & Crossbones" bandana, tied around my neck for ice later on.
Staying at the Squaw Lodge was incredible: it was a two minute walk through the crisp, moonlight mountain air to check-in: people everywhere, got the number, final weigh in (159.4). I huddled behind a bar in the Lodge, pinning my number. Bathroom! I jogged downstairs. 10 in line to deuce, including Roes. I walked back to the apt instead, went, ate a Clif, then hit the line. I ditched my jacket to Dan and said my final goodbyes to the crew (huggy-hugs) with under 3:00 to go.
I saw none of the EUG crew, which was fine - I didn't want to run fast with them, anyway. Two minutes. I said a quick prayer** to myself and readied myself.
(From "Deep Survival": "Whether or not you believe in a higher deity, prayer has been shown to improve your focus and resolve on the task at hand")
The countdown, then the shotgun blast. We were off. The event I'd thought about since 2004, and daily since last summer, had finally begun.
I was extremely conservative climbing that ski hill dirt road: I was out in maybe 150th place, mostly walking with only occasional spurts of jogging. I focused on deep breathing and staying cool, gradually moving up with power hiking. I chatted here and there with folks, and took some time to look back upon the valley shrinking below.
Escarpment came quickly: 35 minutes. No way that was 3.5 miles, c'mon. I filled all 3 bottles, preparing for no aid until Talbot. After reaching the plateau, we hit our first consistent snow. It was great! Uneven honey-combs, yet firm and fun to run across! I was having a blast. The sun was rising over the Sierra. Incredible.
I hit Watson in under an hour. Cool. Time for downhill. We had some dry singletrack for maybe a quarter mile, then total inundation with snow.
It was a riot: people slipping and sliding everywhere. I dunno if it was my shoes or my Midwest background but I did just fine, with only a bit of trouble on the steep sidehills where there was truly no path. The first - and best - laugh-er of the day came when a guy in front of me -- on this steep, expansive sidehill -- slipped and fell. He was fine, but he dropped a bottle. And it slid...and slid. And there it went, sliding and hopping down the hill, like a Plinko-chip on a never-ending board! I laughed loudly but apologetically; that bottle skittering down the slope; symbolic of our tenuous relationship with nature on this day: Just looking to survive.
I moved up several spaces during the snow run; but not too many; I wanted the snow to be effortless. At times, when it was soft and crumbly, it was not. And I said more prayers when I crossed delicate snow bridges over raging creeks hidden below. "Oh, so now you come around! He's not fooled..."
All felt pretty good except the insides of my feet. We'd taped them with duct tape, but the sidehills had the tape digging into my feet. Irritable. I wasn't sure if taking it off would make it worse. But finally, after a good hour of discomfort, I found a log and had a seat -- stripping the shoes, gators and socks and ditching the tape. Much better!
More snow running, it was nearly over as we descended to a double track. French Reservoir was ahead, which marked the snow course detour and eventual freedom from the slick stuff. Here I ran a bit with Sandi Nypaver, the youthful winner of the Ice Age 50 and fellow flatlander. I could tell she'd made the decision to slow up, so I went around and continued solo.
The approach to Talbot -- our first aid in 12 miles -- was punctuated by two awesome creek crossings: the first with a rope crossing across a rager with water up to my knees, the second just a little creek with a cute "snow staircase" shoveled out. Cool!
And with that, a taste of civilization: Talbot AS. The AS routine began here: Two waters (drop this tab in), some fruit, a brownie, and go! Thank you! And off I went, down a dirt road along the Reservoir.
This should've been quick running but it wasn't. I felt tired. I kept it easy, maybe 8-8:30 pace on a flat, downhill stretch. Easy, it's early. I still passed 2-3 people. I peed "on the go", maybe the 3rd or 4th time. Good boy.
The dirt road ceded to pavement, which persisted far longer than I wished. Is this the short cut to Foresthill? Chuckle. I felt flat and tired. Finally, after another pee, Poppy AS. Happy, Pappy? Yes. More aid, this time with a shot of Pepsi, and quick in and out.
The Poppy Trail along the French Reservoir was terrific: it reminded me of the Waldo Lake trail - nice rolling single track with consistent views of the water. The caffiene helped a ton: more energy and some zip back in the legs. Despite that, I kept it easy, even mixing in some bouts of powerhiking to keep the HR down. I passed two guys here, then began the ascent up to Duncan. The sun was out, warming slightly.
I almost "got emotional" several times on race day; the first was on that climb up to Duncan. Beautiful! Just F__IN beautiful! I thought of my dad. He'd think this was cool. I stopped myself. Put it away! I got a great reception at Duncan AS, lots of cheers. This time, 3 bottle fills, one for dousing. It was warming ever so slightly.
Out of Duncan I spotted a blue Fleet Feet jersey. I caught up with the fellow and we trudged along together down the double track "new trail". I was happy for company. We got to talking; his name was Eric Tosci from the Bay Area. A little more talking, and I come to find out we'd met Memorial Weekend up at the Deadwood pump. Cool! As the dirt road ceded to pavement, we continued on together, pounding downhill to the bottom of Mosquito Ridge. My quads are a bit cooked! We walked some brief ups, keeping cool, then got on a very rocky double track that eventually wound upward toward Mosquito. Lots of walking. Two guys passed, then yo-yo'd. This was a 7+ mile segment and getting warmer. WIthin a K of the AS, on a steep hike, was John Medinger and his wife. I knew he wouldn't remember me, so I just said, "Hello". More trudging, trying to avoid the direct sun. Finally, Mosquito AS. Another triple bottle, one for dousing. I also picked up a new gel bottle.
I had a consistent fuel strategy. Besides real food at AS', I set my repeat timer for 20:00. With each beep, I took a nip of gel (usually a third- to half-portion). It worked terrific to keep the stomach on and my fuel fairly "regular".
Leaving Mosquito I felt terrible. I don't know why. Heat? Gut? Both. I struggled to run, especially with 3x 24oz bottles. I doused heavily, knowing it was a 4M out and back to Miller's. I caught up to Eric again. We shuffled on together -- some walking mixed in on the ups, then a rough trail "descent" to a wide dirt road leading onto the "real" course.
I had the gut rot. I needed to deuce; I kept running, though; even pulling away from Eric, who I suspect was having a bad patch. I hoped for a porta at Miller's but no dice. "You can go back to Mosquito!". "Heh, no thanks. Got any paper towels?" I took 4, took off, and 50m down the trail, dropped the bottles in the road and hit the trail. Much better!
Lost maybe 3min there, then I was back on the rolling, semi-snow-covered trail leading from Millers, gradually downhill to Dusty Corners. Great trail, but it steepened. My quads were cooked! Shit! I had trouble on the steep descents and was passed by a woman, who then promptly pulled off the trail -- about two inches -- and popped a squat. "Sorry, I have to go!" "No worries". Really? Couldn't go first, then pass me? That's the runner's brain, 37 miles in.
Dusty Corners, mile 38. Felt pretty OK. Hot. I was surprised to find a familiar face at the AS: Sweet Lou Taylor. He was just leaving and getting a spray down, arms wide, tongue out. "IN THE FACE!", he yelled. He was struggling through a bad patch, but the humor was still dialed. We slogged together out of Dusty and talked a bit: got out quicker, wasn't feeling good. I gave him the "Team EUG" mantra, "Fix yourself, and I'll see you down the trail!".
The Dusty to Last Chance trail was terrific: mostly flat single track, shaded and winding along the ridgeline. Beautiful. I made good time, I thought. Yet I was still conservative, taking walk breaks every 5-10 minutes just to cool to heart rate. I passed the woman again, then re-caught Eric, who'd snuck by after my deuce stop. I passed him yet again and wouldn't see him for a long time.
I cruised along alone, in thought: My quads are cooked. BUT, I know I can run the flats. If I can simply run 11:00 miles and not blow up, I could actually run a great time! Johnny Cash helped me Get Rhythm: I said, you're a mighty little boy to be-a workin' that way / He said, I like it, with a big wide grin / Kept on a poppin' and he said again / Get rhythm, when you get the blues...
Most people dread The Canyons: hot, steep, punishing. I awaited them with child-like excitement: a familiar friend! That annoying friend who you can't stand after five minutes, but still a friend! Someone! I arrived at the mining ghost town of Last Chance (M43) feeling great and confident. A bit of excitement and fanfare from the AS workers, who were dressed in Hawaiian garb, yet played Christmas music. Hurdy Gurdy Girls? I thought about asking them, but I knew they wouldn't get it. A quick fuel and bandana ice and I was off. I was offered my drop bag - new shoes and socks - but refused them (that's the last I'd see of them, ever).
I did Last Chance to Swinging Bridge, and it's two dozen downhill switchbacks, in 27 minutes (about 3 off "par"), with Eric about 50m behind at first. I was sooo looking forward to the Devil's Thumb climb - again, another beast that crushes the most runners, and accounts for many of the 100 or so DNFs. For me, it was a chance to hike and rest the cooked quads! I loved it...but like that annoying friend, was sick of him halfway up. However, I made quick time, thanks to some New Johnny: Well if they freed me from this canyon, If that railroad train was mine / I bet I'd move it on a little farther down the line..
On the climb I gradually reeled in Amy Sproston, a great runner from the PDX area. I didn't know her beforehand, but we chatted a bit when I reeled her in about 3/4s the way up ("I didn't remember this climb on the trail profile", she said.). I hit the top -- and shared an enthusiastic fist pump with "The Devil" (Scott Dunlap, turns out) before checking in. Med check. About a pound down. Perfect. Quick fuel, ice and I was off again.
Running was tough up there. Get going, legs! Pull, lift. Passed a guy walking down to the clear-cut, then ran solo past the pump. Legs warmed up finally when I hit Deadwood Cemetary and into the El Dorado canyon. Passed a woman here, and I thought I was making good time until I got re-reeled by Amy. I let her pass. I normal Devil's to El D is 42 minutes. 52 today. Christ, is this long! Be done already. Clipped a couple rocks and nearly bit dirt. Finally, El D. Fuel and water for the hike to MB.
I passed Amy again on the ups to MB - I was hiking great but chose to run very little of this section. Prior to El D, I'd passed a guy walking the downhills, eating an avacado. Hmm, that's weird. Could that be The Fruititarian? Sure enough, 3/4s up to MB he caught me. After some chatter, I found it it was Michael Arnstein. We talked a bit and did some math with our cooked ultra brains: 11-minute miles equals 19 hours from here. Cool.
Only when we reached "city limits" of MB -- at about 3:00 -- did we run. My legs woke up quicker so I separated from Michael and enthusiastically descended into MB. Running past Carol's houses, I spied and heard my exitable crew awaiting me. I swung into MB, grabbed some nuggets, and kept hiking. Nate, Matt and Steve were crewing as we hiked. "I'm good. Don't need that. I'll see you at Foresthill!". I was out and en route at 3:15. Solid.
I wouldn't see Michael again.
I trudged along Gorman Road, trying to get the legs moving again after nearly an hour of hiking, then hiked most of the steep uphills leading to the singletrack. Passed another guy who was hurting, then hit the trail and slogged again. Legs were moving OK, and even the downhills were doable. The Mantra: the quads might be cooked, but I can still run the flats! Bring it! Passed another guy at Volcano Creek; he looked like he thought he could cross it dry. Whatever. No submersion, just a quad rinse.
I looked forward to Bath Road, running half that trail, feeling pretty good. Passed another guy hiking up to Bath, where I saw Britt and Dan. Great to see them and talk. I actually felt pretty good, but ran very little until the top, then again stuggled to get the legs going again. This would become a familiar theme: walking due to hills, then a true struggle to get the legs restarted on a runnable section.
Nevertheless, he we were, running into Foresthill! "HAAAA...HAAAA...WHAT A POPE! HAAAA...HAAA..." Some crucial Jim Gaffigan humor. It was a quick in and out at the AS (weight fine, no thanks on food or drink), then slightly downhill to the crew set-up. Finchy was there outside the AS, suited and ready to go. He was pumped. I, not so much.
I had some blisties. I wanted new shoes and a re-tape. We hoped for a 4-minute sit, but it became >10. I sat in my bag chair. I ate a pita. Did not taste good. Half an Ensure. Bandana's too cold and tight. Dan and Nate furiously taped and taped. No thanks, nothing else. Nope. No. Runners passed down FH road. Let's go! I was a little cranky but hopefully not rude.
Leaving the crew behind, I laid it out to Finch: "Here's the deal. My quads are fried, but I can still run the flats and maybe the ups. Keep me moving". I shuffled down the hill to Cal St, struggling mightily to once again restart the legs. My gut rotted. Too much salt. Did Britt salt the pita? Shoot. Should've used the porta. Finch and I rounded the turn, and descended onto Cal St. It was about 4:30.
The early parts of Cal Street were so-so: the quads were rough but the gut, rougher. I gotta deuce, Finch. Off a switchback, I popped a half squat. Ugh. That feels better. Too much salt. I wiped. We continued.
The legs came around very slowly to running after that stop: and that pattern persisted to the finish. I suspect this is the #1 problem of the middle-pack, fitness-deficient WS runners: you tire and are unable to run, so you walk. Once the terrain is runnable, your legs are not. By the time they restart, it's time to walk again. Repeat, ad nauseum.
I struggled to get the legs moving, and with overall energy and gut-feel. I was still high on salt. Finch, pre my pre-race request, tried to keep things light by providing some banter and some "old-school stories", including the classic, "Bert-Wakes-Up-At-Menards" tale. Though I rarely puke, I can't say I loved Finch's story about his first Nerblefest, and puking on the staircase at 513 (though I smile at it now).
What helped best was Finch's encouragement and mechanical feedback. Between Cal 1 and 2, my left calf began to cramp. I told Finch, "This usually happens when my trunk is over to the left". He confirmed it. Shit. Again. I shifted left, and worked the "Flick & Pull". But it was slow going.
Around 69 miles is the famed "Elevator Shaft" -- an extremely steep, rocky descent. My quads were hamburger. I walked a third of Elevator and was tender descending the lighter downs beyond it. But before long, my legs finally came around and we made a reasonable and relieving descent into the Cal 2 AS.
I roll into Cal 2 and see somebody wrapped in foil in a chair. LB. Goddamnit! I'd heard report from crew saying, "He wasn't looking too good". Well, he usually doesn't, no worries. But here he was, with his brother Chris, "licking nuts". I spoke with him briefly and spat The Mantra at him, as if he didn't already know. Turning back to Finch: "I gotta take some time here and fix myself". I wasn't feeling good and on the edge since Cal 1. At Cal 2: 3-4 pieces of fruits, 2 cokes, 1 Sprite, and a Pay Day and Oreo. We walked out of Cal 2; I told LB I'd see him later. I knew I would, but as we were leaving, he was transitioning from chair to The Cot. F.
Under normal circumstances, the trail from Cal 2 to 3 is a terrific series of fast-runnable downhill and fun switchbacks through "the jungle" of the canyon. We walked the first switch. Another surprise: a guy and his pacer were walking towards us, presumably back to Cal 2. As they passed, I turned and asked, "Ryan Burch?" He turned. I implored him to "solve problems" and continued on.
The hike turned into a slow jog. I felt better. Lift the heels. Get moving. Lean into it. Passed another walker: Shaun Pope (the other young Ice Age winner). Welcome to the canyons. Finch and I shuffled along. Relentless forward progress.
Finally, we emerged from the Jungle, the river in sight and earshot, to Six-Minute Hill. I saw a red jersey. No way. "Hola!" He turned: FastEd. "I told you I wasn't supposed to see you!". FastEd was having problems; he'd been struggling since the Canyons, but -- the great competitor that he is -- he was still gutting it out. Finch and I powerhiked past he and his pacer; I told him we'd share that beer at the finish.
Atop Six-Minute, we made a reasonable descent to an unmemorable Cal 3, then to the river bottoms ("It's just like the Kinni!") and finally to the rapids and the Rucky Chucky crossing. Over that last mile we reeled in another runner; then, we hopped into the raft to cross the AR and one other runner and pacer were already loaded: Eric Tosci! I hadn't seen him since before Last Chance. We all rode together. I slunked into the raft bottom while we floated across. This feels really good.
Out of the raft, we hiked to Rucky Far and arrived around 7:45. I was out of it. Some guy said something, and it took 30 seconds to realize it was John Ticer. I told him about Craig, then began to slog uphill. Sam was waiting, and we began up the hill; only that I forgot about Matt and my gear. I did remember my Dew. I got that, and kept moving, unloading my heavy belt on Sam.
We began our hike up to Green Gate; I was in no shape run, only hike. Sam asked about my headlamp. Shit, I forgot. Where's Matt? Both Matt and Finch were gathering the gear. I kept hiking, Sam ran down to get it. "I need my other gel bottle". Another trip, a yell to Finch. I was coming to. "I also need my new belt!" More scrambling. I focused on the uphill hike, and nursing the Dew. Here comes Finch, sprinting up the hill with a full pack of gear. Classic. We finally get gear squared away, and continue up the hill.
The hike up to Green Gate was probably the worst I felt all race. I was in rough shape. The guys tried to chat, but I was in no mood. What? I don't care. No. I don't know. Whatever.
We finally reached Green Gate. I had needed to deuce since Cal 3. There was a "gift porta-potty" on top. I stepped inside. I took care of business, then just sit there. Ten deep breaths, then go. And out I stepped. No aid, just go. Sam handed me my belts and bottles, and we were off.
Sam Jurek is an incredible guy. We met at La Crosse, but because he was never a consistent member of the cross country team, I never got to know him really well. But not only is he a terrific human being - easy-going but determined, enthusiastic but calming - he's also a Grade-A bad-ass, having cycled from Minnesota to Eugene two summers ago, and starting his foray into ultra running a year before I did; but at the ripe age of 24.
After spending Memorial weekend in The Canyons and Cal St with him, I knew I'd be in good hands. But the situation was thus: my quads were useless, my energy flagging, and my seemingly limitless ability to "run the flats" was in serious question.
The 5-mile segment from Green Gate to Auburn Lake Trails (ALT), on paper, looks perfectly runnable. But it's deceptively slow for all. For me, it was brutally so. We crawled along -- first on the gentle downhills as I tried to jump-start the legs, which hadn't run in 45 minutes, and then on the rocky, uneven terrain. Though only 8:30, the sun had long-left the canyon and shadows dominated.
Sam, as Finch had done before him, had tried to keep things light with some Story Tyme: one "girl story" in particular, of which I'd been curious about back during Training Camp, but told him to save. He unraveled the tale, bit by bit, over the course of nearly ten miles. We weren't halfway through the story before headlamps were on, and it was fully dark.
The trail was extremely quiet. I was eternally thankful for Sam; otherwise I would've been completely alone for hours. We saw only two pairs of runners - eventually passing both -- and a pair of trail-marking girls laying down glow sticks. No others.
Green Gate to Brown's Bar was the toughest bit of "running" or "racing" I'd ever done: the legs were dead, I had no energy, and I was getting negative. 11-minute miles were long-gone: This 5.5-mile stretch took 75 minutes -- a brisk hike pace. I wanted to walk, but I did the math: If you walk, it will take you five f-ing hours to finish. Screw that. Keep moving. I shuffled along.
Since Cal St I'd begun having trouble clearing rocks and roots. It only worsened in the last 20. I was lucky to have only fallen twice, but I had about two dozen near-misses. I told Sam to remind be to lift my feet. "Toes up!" was the closest thing to a Mantra those miles. But it wasn't good enough. Every 20 minutes I'd stub my foot on an obstacle. "GOD-FUCKING-DAMNIT!".
But I was not about to break-out a pity-party and neither was Sam about to let that happen. I can't do that anymore. I lifted my feet. I kept moving.
The new aid station routine: 2/3 bottle of Coke, 2/3 bottle of water. I didn't need the water, but I was still worried about hydration and possible salt, though I was high on both. The coke was my new fuel, and my only salt source. I kept up with fruit and the occasional starch.
Brown's Bar AS was interesting. Nestled into the jungle canyonside, it was a legit party. Music wasn't as loud as I'd been told, but plenty of partying. I saw an "aid staiton worker" with half-glass of beer. I thought of asking him what it was, but I thought that'd end up with me doing keg stands. No thanks. Keep moving.
The course out of Brown's sucked. Downhill. Lots of it. The only redeeming factor to it all was, it was do GD-dark that I couldn't see it. I just went, doing all I could do to keep moving.
Sam largely stopped talking by that point. And that helped. Maybe he sensed that. I went within myself. For hours I'd lost my mental patterns that had sustained me for the first 80 miles: the Brain iPod had shut off, and my mind had nothing to work with; only fatigue. I got back on track. Turn Johnny back on: It only costs a dime, just a nickel a shoe / Does a million dollars worth of good for you...
Miles 80 to 93 were completely foreign to me. I sensed now that we were on dirt road. "Is this the climb to 49?". "Yep". It began to climb. I began to count steps: 1-2-3-4-5...20-21-22....93-94-95". This was a strategy I used to run uphills: run a hundred strides (or 50, or 20), then walk. My brain attacked that pattern. It was consumed by it. I began to run and keep running; perhaps even running faster up these mild to intermediate climbs than I had on the flats for the past. Sam would begin to walk, only to see me continue to run. That's cool...
We ran nearly the entire dirt road climb up to the trail, then ran about a third to half the steep, rugged trail leading up to highway 49. I began to hear cars. Awesome. I was feeling better. I saw a headlamp above us, but it never got closer. We finally summited and jogged along; I was excited to see the crew at 49.
We descended. I recalled the scene as a specator at Highway 49 last year: anxiously waiting, watching for a pair of bobbing lights in the woods, romping down the hill and across the road. Sam and I put on a decent display down the hill into the clearing across from the AS. Big cheers. The crew is here!
I made quick work of my penultimate med check: weight down 4 pounds, but whatever. More coke, a little water. Fruit. There's the crew, I better wave to 'em. "I'll see you guys at the finish!".
Sam and I took off. "I'm doing really well on the uphills; let's try to run these". The trail out of 49 is slight uphill and we rolled along, until we hit the rutted-out section. So goddamned rocky and uneven. "Walking", I announced to Sam, for the umpteenth time. We hiked up the steep, rocky trail to The Savannah, then got going again. Another slow start.
Sam was excited. So was I, but I was damn tired. "You're too far ahead". Sam said something about "Cropduster". My brain attacked that, and loaded this track into "the Pod".
That didn't last long, because I was getting excited. The Barn was close. I was on familiar -- and terrific trail. It was time to move. My legs were beyond dead, beyond pain. Flick and pull. Lift the feet! Go! A new tune. I'm a one way motorway...
We cruised along, my brain working its best to put my foot down as far in front of the other as possible. The sounds of highway 49 neared. No Hands was close. The lights emerged. I studied my watch: approaching 12:15AM.
I descended clumsily to No Hands Bridge -- aglow with white Christmas lights and giant projection screen like it was "U2 Pop". "Let's blow through this aid station".
Running across the Bridge, I laid it out to Sam: "It's 12:15, and we have three-and-a-half miles to go. We can break 20 hours if we really hammer." Though exhausted, I was coherent enough to do the math: I'd need sub 15-minute miles over this last section. Easy, right? The problem was the next 2.5 were all uphill, including steep, technical climbs for at least mile.
We hammered. I was flicking and pulling as hard as I could; trying to keep the breathing in check. We motored along. I stopped to walk once, cooling the jets, then pushed onward. We slowed by occasional switchback canyon meanders, but continued. About nearly 15 minutes we reached the steep switchbacks. I did more fuzzy math. It's 1.7 from Robie to the track. I need to get there at 12:40 to have a chance. F###. There's no way. My family is waiting to run, too.
More hiking. I can tell Sam is champin' at the bit. I let loose: "Here's the deal: there's no way this is happening. I'd have to hammer to get to Robie in time, and then hammer to the track. I'm not gonna kill myself. I wanna run in with my family." Sam didn't argue. In retrospect, I wish he would've. So we hiked. We hiked the switchbacks and tech single track, then hiked the steep dirt road to Robie. Finch was waiting. Good to see him again. I didn't check my watch at Robie.
We hiked up the steep and long uphill paved road. We approached a party scene and a lot of chalk on the road: ONE MILE TO GO. I began to run. Very slow. Very painfully. Downhill into the city limits. Shit, I want to walk again. Keep moving. Run the entire last mile. I shuffled up the last climb, approaching The White Bridge, flanked by my two pacers. The crew and family were supposed to be at the bridge. We looked. A handful of purple on the right-hand side of the road, looking past us, not paying much mind to us shuffling along.
"Are you guys coming??"
They'd somehow missed me, but not that time. I was surrounded by purple as we "flew" down Finley Street to the gate of the track. This feels pretty good!
I heard "Tropical John" on the PA. Lots of bright lights. I felt fast. I hopped into Lane 1 - The Fast Lane - but I felt alone. I turned back and beckoned to my crew. They rejoined me for the last 200m, where John read my kudos: first to LB, then to mom. I turned it up a notch on the corner. I feel great! What was all the fuss about? I entered the final straight and heard something about "your lamp". Fearing my lamp my somehow disable the timing and lighting system (It's strong!), I tossed aside my lamp and visor and sprinted onward, fists pumping.
After a quick weigh-in, I sat for my BP. I beckoned for my family to come over. This isn't a road run, c'mon in! I exchanged huggy-hugs and thanks, then wished my mom a happy "belated" birthday. I reached into my disgusting back pocket of my P-I shorts and retrieved a soggy, folded envelope. "Happy Birthday, I hope you can still read it!"
Sweet Lou Taylor came in, no later than a minute past me. Awesome! I shook his hand and then: blood and pee samples (easy both). Questions. No, Marty, I don't care for tomato juice; I am the 'not-thirsty smiley face'. Finishing photograph. I wanted my whole crew in the photo, but not possible. I gave my best B.A. pose for the camera,
Post race, my plan was to hang out at the track. But I was worried about cleaning off the poison oak; also, my temperature was plummetting. We decided on a hotel shower, then return to watch LB come in. I was in good spirits on the ride back, but back at the hotel, I crashed out. Exhausted. Sick. It was all I could do to get the tape off my feet, hobble into the shower, and slather on Tecnu. By the time I got out, Dan called: LB had finished.
We headed back to our rental property in suburban Auburn. Game over. Good night.
I slept very little Saturday night/Sunday morning. I woke up very feverish. Pee was fine, but I was boiling and freezing at once. Tylenol helped. Awards were at the track, where I caught up with FastEd, and got a quick report from Nick Clark. His first words: "You couldn't fine a minute-52 out there?"
After the long ceremony, we hit up the Ale House, then it was back to the house in the country. More napping, then hanging by the pool. I had a fever until Monday morning, but was otherwise fine.
Recap and Questions: Some of what I've been asked in the past week.
What was it like to run a hundred miles?
Ask me next year*, when I'm fit enough to run 95% of the time. As for 100, it was never about the number. It was about moving and covering ground. I always considered it a "mountain trail tour" to Foresthill, then a race to Auburn. Making it about "a hundred" is too big to consume. It was about covering ground -- The Ski Hill, The Snow, The High Country, The Canyons, FH, Cal St, The River Trails. That's easier. It just took awhile.
(*or whenever I can run it next)
Did you ever want to stop or consider quitting?
Never. Seriously. Never, ever. It was never an option, and at this race, it never will be. I won't soon forget what John Ticer and AJW have said: that it's a privilege to compete, and less than one-in-five willing get to do so. It's more than a race. It's a gift. Quitting was never an option because it never seemed necessary. LB and the Eug Crew instilled in me how possible and probable 100.2 was. You keep moving, you fix problems. Simple stuff.
What were the highlights?
In chronological order:
- Seeing the start at Squaw Valley for the first time on Wednesday
- Thursday night's Expert Panel, and hearing AJW's inspiring words
- The Start and The Climb
- The Snow
- The times, early, when I was able to run alone and enjoy the nature, especially along the Poppy Trail
- Running with Eric Tosci - helping each other out through tough stretches
- The Canyons - I was resurrected there in May; they'll forever hold meaning for me
- Seeing the Crew at Michigan Bluff
- Seeing the Crew at Highway 49
- Running the uphills before 49; regaining The Rhythm and The Pattern
- Rounding the track - unforgettable
- Giving my mom her birthday card. Glad she could still read it!
What were the toughest parts?
- Pre-race, and all the stress - both physical and psychological. I'll be far more relaxed next time, and hopefully far more physically prepared
- FH to Cal 2. Tough stuff. Oversalted.
- Green Gate to nearly 49. I will run this until I have it memorized before next Run
- My mom, for deciding that this is the way she'd like to spend her 53rd birthday; her motivation to take in WS was what brought the rest of my family out for the day.
- My crew, namely Matt Mitchell, who blew a inguinal hernia running to his airplane on the way. He gutted it out like a champ all week, and all race day - including the hike down to Rucky Far and back
- My girlfriend Brittany, for putting up with my cranky-ass for the months preceding 6-25, and for helping me weather the storm of my injury and the stress it brought
- My pacers: Finch and Jurek. I owe you, and will repay you, in kind.
- LB and the EUG crew, for the ongoing mentorship, in both words, friendship and example
- The Queen, for demolishing the 50+ record, and demolishing me
- Dan Olmstead, for overcoming his demons of '09 and laying down a smoking time for "The Worst Place" (11th).
- AJW - the nicest, most fun-loving Bad-Ass I've ever met. Also the fastest, slow-looking guy I've ever seen.
- FastEd, Scott Jaime -- here's a guy who's an elite ultra runner, who, after falling off the lead and suffering badly, kept plugging. He lanquished with the "mid-packers" but hung in there, not letting the Big Juan get the best of him, to earn his first Silver Buckle. That's the mark of a true competitor. (Plus, he's still eligible for AJW's Christmas card list!)
Pacing: B+. I went out very easy and moved up all day. I lost places at FH due to my long-sit for shoes and blister care, but otherwise moved well. I slowed big-time from the River, in -- but with my lack of fitness, that was largely unavoidable.
Mechanics: B. Good: being able to propel on dead quads using the hips. Not good: the damn left trunk. But at least I recognized it and was able to self-correct. No significant mechanical pain, which was as shocking as it was awesome.
Hydration/Fuel/Electrolyes: A-. Yes, I overdid it, but I never had a true gut issue. I hauled way too much liquid, but it worked. I had to be perfect with fuel to make up for legs. I had no margin of error. I nailed it. The beeping watch every 20-minutes was prefect for consistent calories and water.
Mental Toughness: B+. Good: keeping the legs going, solving problems, staying coherent. Not good: giving up in the last 2 miles. Like Nick said, I could've found 1:52. I should've pushed the ups around Robie and I'd be a "Western States Teen-er" instead of a 20+ guy.