Friday, April 29, 2011

"Hurtin' Swamp Dawg"

April's almost over, and boy, has it sucked.  Training through Chuckanut without resting was tough; it sapped my legs and my energy, making me take a significant rest week in early April.

Then AR50 happened. 

After Chuckanut I had pretty severe right heel pain, but I determined it to be an ankle joint issue that quickly went away.  Good news, right?  Not quite.  The joint was irritated because my stride was off; I had simply dodged a bullet when it dissipated so quickly.

At AR I was not so lucky.

My knee hurt a lot during the race.  If my gut (and, at times, my spirit) hadn't been so prominently disturbed, perhaps I would've taken greater notice.  Post-race, my "legs" (e.g. muscles) felt fine; but I was hobbling because of the left knee and, once again, the right heel.  Walking about afterwards and that night, I hoped I'd dodge another bullet -- take a day off or two and be fine.  I was bummed about missing the Sunday WS recovery run, but that would soon become the least of my worries.

It hurt like hell, just sleeping, both Saturday and Sunday nights afterwards.  I couldn't keep it bent on the drive home.  Nevertheless, I was hopeful it would clear up; or, that it would simply be a "really tight muscle". 

It has not.

The week after AR50, I ran 16 miles over seven days -- two days off, an the rest in varying degrees of knee pain -- as I traveled home for a long weekend.  The following week -- April 18-24 -- I got to believing it's "just muscle" again, so I gave another go:  48 miles on 5 days running with varying degrees of pain -- from "It feels fine!" to "It's a little sore", to, "Am I gonna break something?".  However, I was encouraged by a terrific 62-mile cycle last Saturday where it barely hurt at all.

The last straw was the Sunday run: I was determined to get back to running long, so I drove with Olmstead out to the 'hills to run Hardesty and Eagle's Rest.  I was a mile from the top of Hardesty -- only four uphill miles in -- when I knew I was done.  I told Dan that I had to pull the plug, thus ruining his double.  We drove back to Eugene and dropped him off at his house, where he departed stiffly to finish his run.  I joked, "This is good practice for a 45-minute aid-station stop!"

Correction: that was the second to last straw.  Still in denial, I thought maybe if i just corrected my form, I'd be good.  On Monday I hopped on the treadmill and ran three pain-free miles, only to then step outside, onto "The Pain Train" once again.  However, it took yet another failed run -- this time on Tuesday -- to get it to sink in that I'm in trouble.

The final, final, final death knell was an unofficial (house-call) PT evaluation by my boss, who declared it a bonafide medial joint issue.  He knows my history.  He knows I also had this same pain back in 2009, and I consulted my online running logs to confirm this.  Damn.

That's the bad news.  But it's bad: because even cycling is now painful.  And here we are: 8 weeks out from, as "Fast Ed" calls it, "The Big Juan". 

The good news:  I finally, finally, finally! know why this is going on; and not only that, but how to fix it! 

In 2002, I had a significant right foot issue: first Achilles, then plantar foot pain.  Near as I can tell, ever since that time I've run with my foot rotated out.  On the rare occasions I would see it, I'd try to fix it, then forget about it.  And the rule of thumb with running mechanics for most is, "If it ain't broke (or causing pain), don't fix it".  So that was my attitude.

That was until last year, when I went on my running mechanics crusade.  Since that time, I've been nearly obsessive about my mechanics, going out of my way to find store front windows to assess my form.  My mission with mechanics has been to learn how to maximize speed and efficiency -- not only for me, but for my patients.  Also, I wanted to address several chronic issues I've had, including:

- Right referred leg pain -- both during running and with prolonged sitting
- Right heel pain -- not Achilles, but stiffness in the subtalar and talocrural joints
- A funky and extremely irritating "left lean".

Below is some evidence, with pictures going back to 2008:

Craters of the Moon NP - May 2008.  The earliest (and worst?) evidence I've got.  Severe left trunk with externally-rotated/whipped R foot.
Twin Cities Marathon - October 2010.  Mile 22.  Left trunk, "ER'd" right foot.

Finish of Twin Cities Marathon - October 2010.  Really?  This is a stride that can run 2:32?
Autumn Leaves 50M - October 2010.  ER'd right foot. OK trunk lean because I remember "trying to have upright form" for the photographer.

Chuckanut - March 2011.  Subtle, but note the zipper on my coat: bowed to the left.
 (Here is a video of my sprint mechanics.  Tough to see fully, but now that you're "looking for it", the ER'd right foot is obvious)

I've tried various things to improve it: the "Don't Do That Approach", of trying to "lean right".  This was very effective on the short term during Autumn Leaves, when I began to experience left-legged cramping.  However, it is always temporary; I worked with my boss to correct my arm swing (as my left arm swings out wide to compensate), but this, too, did not correct it.

It took until last week's treadmill run for me to realize: it's the damn right foot!

A straight-ahead foot, when you push/PULL with it, will result in an equal and opposite force: straight forward propulsive.  A right foot angled outward to the rigth, will do what?  PUSH YOU LEFT.


I've done three treadmill runs in the past week, working on "turning in" the foot.  It works.  Without surprise, my trunk "shift" vanishes, and I even caught myself drifting to the right, as I've for so long been used to overloading the left side. 

It's taken a maximal effort to "turn in" might right leg to make it normal, but even then, the foot still whips outwardly.  I showed it to Dan at the end of the run, and even when I was correcting it, he said, "It wiggles!"

While frustrated to no end about the injury, I'm relieved that I know the solution.  The "coolest" thing?  This gait fault explains all of my symptoms.  Everything"EV-ER-AH-THENG-UH!":

- The left knee pain, from sheer overloading.
- The right heel pain, from the outward-twisted right foot (resulting in poor motion at the ankle)
- The right thigh pain (from the SI joint not moving enough or normally.

Now, I'm hopeful that those chronic issues, as well as any future left leg pain, should be minimal.  But I'm double (fartedly) frustrated that I'm just now figuring this out

So, I am officially out, indefinitely -- or until I can do non-impact things (e.g. cycling and elliptical) without left knee pain.  I have no choice.  I have to get this healed before WS, even if it means running only 100 miles, or 10, or 1, between now and June 25.  This also means the coveted "Bichigan Muff Training Camp Week" is in jeopardy. 

As for my mental affect?  I'm doing well.  Deep Survival has taught me several things, several of which I mentioned in the AR50 report.  Most importantly: the notion of "Surrender without giving up.".  To survive is to grieve, and the most effective survivors blow through The Five Stages rapidly and progress to working on things they can control: in my case, to make healing the top priority, and to prepare for WS day in any other way that I can.

However, it's hard not to be bummed.  And to pretend it doesn't bother me, with potentially the biggest race of my life less than two months away, immediately brings this classic case of denial to mind.  Ha!  That's not me.  But I'm not freaking out.  But I may just have to let go of any notions of a competitive performance on 6-25 if my recovery drags far into May and beyond. 

All that being said, send positive healing vibes my way -- or "ask JoBu to come, to take fear from knee" -- so that I can give my mom a birthday present deserving of a trip to Auburn!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

American River 50M Race Report

I believe in Gordy Ansleign, the Father almightly
Creater of WS -- heaven (and hell) on Earth.
I believe in Twiet, LB and AJW -- his spiritual son and grandsons;
Joe, "The Purple Horseshoe", the Road Guy Orphan, running his 3rd Ultra at AR50
Suffered under Ian Sharman's pace, excessive fiber and salt
Was crucified, died, and was buried on the shores of Folsom Lake;
He descended to "Road Kill", and was "Chicked" times two, but
On the 33rd mile, he rose again;
He ascended Last Gasp into top 10 heaven, and
He is seated at the right hand of Scott Jaime at Auburn Ale house,
Where they judged the lagers and IPAs

I believe in the Ultra Spirit
The holy Single Track
The communion of race reports
The forgiveness of pacing and fueling sins,
The resurrection of the stride
And the race everlasting.
It was a weekend that typifies the ultra running motif: The Extremes.  Extreme fun, extreme misery, extreme mess-ups, extreme redemption. 

I was blessed to have company on this trip; with the cancellation of Sonoma 50, Mr Balls decided to try his first AR50.  As such, I was able to travel down to Auburn with both he and "his handler", Meghan Arbogast ("The Queen").

Pre-Race Friday
We departed EUG in the "Queen Mobile" on Thursday night; first stop: Ashland, OR -- the trail/ultra running hub of Southern Oregon.  Our first activity was attending a screening of The Hood to Coast Movie - a documentary about the epic relay - being shown at the Ashland Film Festival.  Terrific movie.  I have no desire to run such a brutal event, yet I found myself tearing up several times during the film.  Great stuff.  We stayed the right with a friend of LB's - Rob, the RD for SOB.  Very lovely accommodations; Rob even set up a nice cot for me.  Not sure if the karma was good or bad, but I made sure to tell Craig, "Remember The Cot!"

On Friday morning, I set out into the brisk morning air for a light shake-out run.  I'd really been struggling with leg-feel and burn-out issues over the past month+ , due to a six-week relentless ascent of mileage and 3-4 hour long runs, so I really took it easy this week, and the legs were finally coming around.  They felt good on this short shake-out.

Prior to departing, we stopped off at Rogue Valley Runners, Craig’s “all time favorite store”.  I got to meet a few other ultra demons, including store owner and multi-time WS champ, Hal Koerner.  After picking up some shoes (I tried on the Mizuno trail shoes, and the Rogue Racers, but didn’t bite), we were finally off to Auburn.

After a brief stop in Red Bluff to luncheon with Alan Abbs, we rolled into Auburn late afternoon, to our next crash pad.  Another ultra sympathizer – Matt Keyes – loaned us a room in his house, located less than a quarter mile from the WS Finish at Placer High.  The excitement for me was palpable, even with over two months to go.

We jogged from his house the 4/10ths of a mile to the AR50 finish area, at the top of a point.  I knew it finished uphill, but I made no efforts to discern which – it was ALL uphill to that point.  After looking around, LB led us down a narrow singletrack into the valley, and within minutes we were on the “WS Trail” – at first the horse trail, then – after dodging some mud, Poison Oak, and seeing some terrific views of the American River, we got on the WS course.  We ran perhaps a quarter mile of trail uphill to Robie Point gate.

I was surprised how damn uphill the road from Robie Point is from the gate to town.  Sheesh! 

Per Meghan: “If you’re with anyone, you’re running this!”
Craig:  “I think I’ve only been able to run this once!”

Steep and relatively long, especially for mile 98.5.  So much so that we actually power-hiked a bit of it on this shag-out run.

Once over the hill and into town, the course descended gradually ‘til it spit us out at the gate to the Placer HS track and The Finish.  I did a little stride in lane 6 and we cruised into the imaginary finish. 

Post-Run: a quick shower, then off to Auburn Ale House for some food and ale, then a grocery store stop before heading back to Matt’s.  Pre race prep included assembling gear and fuel, and for me, taping my feet.

Race Day
Meghan’s alarm went off at 3:30.  Sheesh.  We were up and out the door shortly after 4AM. 

In my previous post, I’d mentioned that my girlfriend Brittany had formulated and prepared her own energy bar, which I affectionately call “Britten Bytes”.  I’d had two preceding Chuckanut; they tasted good and were presumably good fuel.  Per her advice, I’d had two on Friday, two on Saturday – including right before bed – then one pre-race.

Meghan drove while I fumbled with my gear in back of the car; we arrived around 5:15 to total darkness and brisk temps in the high 30s.  I got the number, checked a drop bag for the finish, and even had time to introduce myself and chat with Ellie Greenwood.  She was only a few minutes back from me at Chuckanut and I knew that if I was off at all, she’d be right there.  She was very cheerful and friendly, even at that early hour.

Craig – with his schmoozing, elite-status – had procured access to a special “hospitality room” prior to the race, so I accompanied him with Meghan to a small office in a building adjacent the course

In there turned out to be many who’d likely finish up front that day, including Scott Jaime, Dave Mackey, and – the Legend himself – Andy Jones Wilkens, aka “AJW”.  He’s a great friend, and rival/competitor to LB; so much so that he’s achieved Legend status for me, simply through word-of-mouth and blog posts.  I was too nervous to introduce myself; rather, I went about my business, preparing my gear and gulping down my final Britten Byte.  I also did the tried-and-true Olive Oil Lube – learned from my best coach and mentor, Sean Hartnett, back in the UWEC cross country days.  With temps barely at 40F, it was prime “lubing conditions”, even if it did warm up later. 

After final prep, our trio jogged to the start line.  I did some light jogging and a couple strides in the dark, along the bike path that would be our course, then handed off my jacket to Meghan with only moments before the gun.  I was wearing an REI long-sleeve tech shirt, my Pearl-Izumi tight shorts, my skull cap + visor, and I packed my sunglasses in my waistband.  For fuel: two sleeves of Clif Blok salties (350mg per sleeve). 

I positioned in the second row as they counted down to zero.  And then, we were off -- down the bike path into the dark, chilly air.

A couple guys got out pretty fast, early.  I settled in comfortably behind The Two Brits - Ian Sharman and Nick Clark.  I chilled out behind them "whilst" they chatted, as we headed west down the path.  I was focusing on light, efficient strides, and deep, relaxed breathing. 

After about a mile, we descended the embankment upon which we ran, down a side path to a 180-turn that would take us the true direction - East to Auburn.  At the turn I said something stupid, like, "Halfway done!".  I somehow lost a bit of ground on Ian/Nick, but I just chilled behind them and kept things relaxed.

I began to pick up the half mile splits painted on the path: 3:05, 3:10ish.  Brisk but 100% comfortable.  Nick and Ian were 10m ahead, chatting away, while the two guys up front were hammering!  One guy seemed for real (and was), and the other...not so much (and wasn't).  The real deal was Jason Loutitt, who was setting a blistering pace early.  I was surprised to see Ian relaxing back as much as he was...and at that moment, he bolted from Nick and took off, presumably to catch Jason and get in control of the race. 

Within the next half mile I gradually reeled in Nick.  At the same time, the [non]real-deal was fading back and was trying to stick with Nick.  Then I saw some weaving and yelling ahead; thought there might be some fisticuffs ("Jack Johnson and Tom O'Leary!") but when I caught the fading "other guy" I saw he had headphones.  He stayed with me for a bit, the fell off again and that was it for him. 

Shortly before the first aid station, the sun began to rise.  I figured I'd be OK using my sunglasses, so I grabbed them from the waistband...only to find they were missing the right lens.  Rat farts!  They'd been broken in the frame for nearly a year, so I simply chucked them into the woods.  RIP, Smith Sequel II sunglasses! 

From about 5, onward, I ran with Nick.  Again, very, very relaxed, as we settled into comfortable 6:15 to 6:20 pace past Aid #1.  I flashed a smile to "LB's Handler" as we rolled though, also getting a quick fill on my bottle -- meaning I drank about 3/4th of my Nuun-filled supply in the first 5 miles! 

Between Aid one and two, it was quite relaxed and a beautiful morning -- with crisp, cool air and the sun beginning to peek over the east horizon.  While taking in views of the American River, both Nick and I made the effort to cut the tangents along the path -- meandering onto the crushed gravel at time -- in order to save a few meters. 

Shortly before Aid #2, at mile 8, the gut began to grumble.  And it kept grumbling.  By the time we reached the aid station, I had to go.  I stopped for a quick bottle top-off and a little snack while Nick blew through.  Some aid station guy yelled, "Wait for your friend!".  Ha.  Really?  Not quite how it works...  He kept rolling, while I found myself about 20m back.  However, rather than work to reel him in, I was contemplating a pit stop.  We crested an incline where I saw a small building that looked like a bathroom, but I chose not to investigate and instead press-on, hoping it'd subside.

While trying to get comfortable, I continued to lose ground on Nick, but I wasn't worried -- I just tried to keep relaxed and comfortable.  As we made our way out of town and into the countryside, the stride felt fine, but the gut-rot increased.  And what happens to me is: bad gut rot is like cryptonite to my legs -- they just wilt. 
The greater the scenery -- lush farm fields and a thick, fog-like mist shrouding it all -- the worse my gut rot developed. 

I slowed further, and shortly thereafter was passed by Dave Mackey.  A few minutes later, Scott Jaime crept up.  This surprised me a bit, since Scott's strength is the singletrack, not the pavement, yet there he was.  We exchanged brief pleasantries and he made a comment that I thought was really cool, regarding the conditions:

"It's very mystical!"

By the time Scott passed me, I decided that something needed to be done. I had to go.  So no more than a minute after he passed, I bailed into the grass along the trail and "popped a squat".  I tried to go fast, and wound up wiping with more dirt clump than the long grasses I was frantically pulling.  I was up and out in under a minute, back on the trail.  However, by then Scott was nearly out of sight.

I felt a TON better, but it didn't last.  This would be the theme.  For the next twenty miles: progressive gut rot, a potty stop, then brief, fleeting relief before starting all over again. 

By the time I got to aid #3 (~14.5), I was in rough shape, and the legs felt like garbage.  However, I was shocked to see I was still rolling 6:30s.  I tried to look "OK" to Meghan as I passed by.  From 10, onward, I began to feel some cramping in my left leg, so I kept up with the water and salt, believing I was low.  By the time I passed Aid , I was on my 3rd bottle of Nuun.  Within two miles, I saw a legit bathroom and stopped again.  More relief, but again short-lived. 

Miles 14, onward, was a gradual degradation -- of pace and leg feel.  Around 15 or 16 I was passed again (by Jacob Rydman, as it turned out) on the path shortly before we hit Nimbus Dam.  This represented the first real hill or running challenge of the course -- climbing up and across the dam, followed by our first excursion onto the single track -- and my legs or gut wanted nothing of it.  Once off the damn and along the river again, with Jacob out of sight and no one behind, I made my 3rd pitstop, scarcely off the trail.  Huge urge, little "reward". 

By then, I was in rough shape and just trying to keep it together.  Legs felt brutal.  But I knew it was early so I did everything I could to just "chill".  The single track was a nice change, but I only felt slower and weaker.  Into a stretch of deep woods, I felt someone come up on me: it was Ryan Burch, absolutely flying like I was standing still.  I simply sidestepped and got off the trail to let him pass, seeing him again shortly only because we both missed a trail detour.  Then he was quickly past.  Wow.  Smart pacing, and awesome trail running. 

The singletrack disappeared shortly before Negro Bar (yes, that's it's name, a similarly laughably-offensive name as this campground, which I passed on my drives to the clinic back in the MW in 2006).  I continued my mindless, haphazard fueling -- little bits of this and that, and another bottle fill, this time with the "house electrolyte" brew. 

The course descended onto a bike path and progressively into the town of Folsom to the Folsom Dam itself.  Inching along, I looked to my right and saw a complex enveloped with heavy security, razor-wired fencing.  Could it be?  It was.  As such, and apropo for my condition, I ran a couple miles with this song in my head - a brief comical respite to what was becoming a drag of a day. 

By this time, I was dying for another bathroom stop, but now I was essentially in "urban Folsom" with no relief in sight.  By then, I began seeing signage along the course in reference to the marathon.  Despite the dramatic slow down, I still passed under the balloon arch in roughly 2:57.  From there, it was a short shuffle to Beal's Point.  There, on an island point on the west end of the massive Folsom reservoir, was a substantial aid station.  I had folks directing me along the course, but I had to exclaim, "I need the bathroom", so I made a bee line to the toilet..and promptly drop my skull cap, which had been in my waist band, into the toilet.  Insult to intestinal injury.  After another "low reward", I was off again, grabbing a few nuggets of food and more house electrolye before rounding the point.  Shortly before leaving Beal's, I spied another runner behind me (Stephen Wassather); he slowly closed the gap as we rounded the point and onto the northern shores of Folsom.

By this time, a new issue had surfaced: left medial knee pain.  I'd felt come on gradually prior to the marathon, but it felt like typical medial quad soreness, so I ignored it.  Now it was quite bothersome, so at the end of the northern ridge of the damn, at the gate that commenced the true singletrack that would lead us to Auburn, I stopped to stretch for the first time.  It was then that Stephen passed.  I would pass him again on a short uphill, only to be re-passed when I took a wrong turn on the course.  

At that moment, the gut reared again terribly, almost reducing me to a walk -- I was in misery: the gut and now the knee.  This sucked.  I didn't feel self-pity, I was just pissed (an important distinction at that time).  I knew from previous experience that, when my stomach got this bad on training runs, the only relief was rest and trying the next day.

I soldiered on, away from civilization and onto a rolling double track dirt road on the far northwest reaches of the lake.  Dropping out did not even cross my mind; only to declare, "I will not drop out!".

I've done some reading this spring, in trying to become a better, more knowledgeable ultra runner.  I've completely immersed in a book called Deep Survival, a text by Laurence Gonzales about the psychology and physiology of survival situations -- ranging from shipwrecks, to being lost in the wilderness, to other disasters -- natural or man-made.  In it are many, many lessons, and I used many at AR. 

One is, "Surrender without giving up".  To say, "Yup, I'm F-ed, but you have to deal with it.".  And that's what I did. 
My thoughts were: I might be out here for eight hours, I might be rolled up shortly by LB and Meghan, but I will not give up.  Not because I'm bad-ass, but because I need this training run, and I need to learn to solve problems. 

So there I was, shuffling along the rolling ups and downs of the gravel doubletrack.  Then, out of nowhere, I see a guy shuffling even slower than me, just up ahead.  It was Jacob, in rough shape.  Before he could see me, I shouted, "Running sucks!"

"My quads are shot", he said.  Even in my rough condition, I knew that meant either he was awfully deficient on water/fuel/electrolytes, or his running form was off and he was bouncing.  I guessed the former, and offered him a couple pulls from my bottle, offered him salt and chatted a bit.  He was really shuffling, so after a few words of encouragement, I pushed ahead. 

This would be the first turningpoint of the race.  Not because of basking in a "road kill", but because of the realization that there were others, strong runners, struggling, too.    Moreover, Gonzales identifies that shared empathy is critical for survival -- that, to help another, you must also sustain yourself.  Though I may not have run with him (or even helped much, really), that encounter really helped me.  Any thoughts of misery or self-pity shifted fully to survival and sustainability. 

Within a mile we were off the rolling double track and briefly away from the lake, emerging into tight, wooded single track adjacent a parkway.  This was the dreaded spot of "The Missing Course Markings".  However, thankfully I had died enough such that it was just being corrected, with a marshall showing the way, just as I ran through.

Also, just in case I need "more time to scout the correct path", I had to stop again to "deuce".  While in the woods, both Jacob and what looked to be an "AJW-lookalike" (from afar) passed by (which turned out to be Eric Skaden).  Once I wrapped my business, I was off again, passing Jacob once more.  Feeling better, I got close enough to see Eric/"fake-AJW" in my sights but he once again disappeared.   

Shortly thereafter: THE CHICKS.  They came flying up: Ellie Greenwood, with Kami Semick hot on her heels. So, for the first time, officially, the dreaded 3-words: "I got chicked".  :)   Without even a thought, I stepped off the trail and bid them farewell.  Ellie was grinding, and it looked like Kami was in the meat-grinder. 

I was now moving OK again, and the gut-rot had receded once more, but for how long?  However, the left knee was very sore.  At Granite Bay Aid (31.6), I took an extended stop -- first, to try to massage and stretch my left knee, then to take stock: something needed to change.  Given a bit more time, I looked at the aid spread: Coke!  That sounded good, so I pounded two.  As for fluid?  I was sick of electrobrew.  I took 3/4ths water and a bit of brew for taste, a couple gels and I was on my way. 

During that aid stop, another runner passed me (Jean Pommier).  He was moving OK, but I busted out of the aid station while he was still in sight, maybe 100m ahead. 

From Granite, on, for the next ten miles, the trail became very technical -- more of a deep-cut, washout than a single track.  Yet, within only a mile or two I began to feel better and better.  Maybe it was the Coke?  Maybe. 

What it truly was: I had long jettisoned the fiber; now I was finally getting off the salt. 

It took me forever to realize it, but I had oversalted -- pre-race and through 31 miles.  Far too much pre-race salt and too much Nuun.  I should've known.  It happened briefly at Autumn Leaves and at other times, but I was fooled by the left leg cramping, then never got away from it. 

Despite the technical, rocky/muddy trail, I was picking up the pace dramatically and, for the first time in HOURS, was beginning to compete.  Around this time the trail left civilization and returned to the barren northeast shores of Folsom Lake, for what would become the most technical trail -- steep, narrow single track -- some 4' deep, with boulders, foliage and streams cutting through what little trail there was. 

I was intent on catching Pommier, and despite the conditions -- and my greenhorn trail running skills -- I was moving, or at least it felt that way.  Then, out of nowhere, the famed Buzzard Cove Aid Station (34.6) -- which supposedly was stocked by boat due to its inaccessibility.  There was my new friend Matt Keyes and his kid and friends.  Just as I entered the station, Jean was leaving -- I'd caught him.  But, feeling the benefits of last stop's fueling, I took enough time to pound 2 shots of Coke and get a water fill, and I was off. 

Around the bend I saw Jean ahead.  I was motoring, and when he turned to see me, he stopped and began to powerhike.  Seeking some more good-vibe empathy, I asked him, "How's it going?" but got no response as I passed, so I kept rolling, focusing on putting some distance between he and I.  The trail was tough, steep and narrow, requiring a couple brief power hiking (+ hands!) episodes before it opened up to more conventional single track.

By the time I hit "The Bars" -- the 3 aid stations of Horseshoe, Rattlesnake, and Manhattan Bar(s) -- it was getting legitimately warm.  When I rolled into Horseshoe, I got my first head douse of water.  Felt awesome.  So did my legs.  It was unreal!  What was happening?

I kept rolling, and kept my same aid strategy for the next several stations: bottle over the head, 2 shots of coke, a bottle of (now half and half) water and brew, then a food nugget and gel.  If this seems like a was.  But it was working, "so back off"!  My left knee kept bothering me, though, but not terribly.  As I focused on running faster, I focused on opening and lengthening my stride, which seemed to ease the pain. 

Shortly before rolling into Rattlesnake Bar, I heard some cheering: "fresh blood"!  I quickly did my aid station routine, but on my way out, dropped my potato (unsalted) nugget.  Oops!  I stopped and picked it up, declaring to the lookers-on, "Five second rule! Five second rule!", then popped it in my mouth. 

I knew someone had just left, and I was really pumped to get after them.  I was feeling truly excited for the first time since the start.  I needed some pep.  Since the start of my race, I'd had this song in my head -- a solid, rhythmic get-in-gear tune; but a tad depressing and to emblematic of my first 35 miles.  I needed something more hard core.  I needed some Rage.  I hit shuffle on the Brain iPod and this came out: solid.   

It was hot, there was ten miles left, but I was pushing it.  "Fear is your only guide".

I caught sight of Stephen (who'd passed me after Beal) near a small bit of park -- seemingly in the middle of nowhere -- around mile 42, right as we were on a wide gravel road along the canyon wall.  He was struggling a bit but we exchanged pleasantries and I continued.

It was warm, and around that time I felt my first "blip" since Granite Bay.  This time I was wiser; I had finally depleted my salt -- it only took 11 miles.  I mixed last Nuun tab and guzzled it down over the next mile or so and felt better. 

It was quick in and out at Manhattan Bar -- its description the farthest thing from its namesake; nothing but two guys at a table, on a sidehill in a small prairie opening.  Again, the usual, but I didn't pick up any salt.  It wasn't in the routine.

A mile later, I was blipping again; thankfully, I'd packed some S-Caps -- but knowing what they do to an OK stomach, I reluctantly dissolved them in water, which took a good 5 minutes of shaking to do so, then drank it down.  Relief.  Back on track.  This would be repeated two or three times more. 

I was close to The Climb.  I knew that, but I had no idea what to expect.  I saw the very finish -- on the ridge in Auburn city limits -- but beyond that, nothing.  I had imagined the single track would suddenly end and we'd be in town.  Not quite. 

The trail bottomed out to a gravel road and a steep uphill.  However, we still weren't at "Last Gasp".  More climbing? 

By then, I was damn hot, and fatigued, especially from the ups and downs from the day.  But I just didn't care.  So I ran.  And ran.  There was a hiker walking the road halfway up.  I ran to him, powerhiked 20 steps as a "reward", then crested and rounded the turn, where the hill continued but at a far less grade. Road paint read, "Start running!".  OK.

More notably, midway up this desolate road was, out of nowhere, a road sign that said "No Alcohol", with a martini glass with a slash through it.  On the ground nearby, more road paint.  I was hoping it'd say, "Not yet!"   But instead it called our attention to the view of the American quickly disappearing into the canyon below -- "Check out the view!".  It was gorgeous in the full sun of late morning.

It was just a few ticks before noon when I crested the last bit of gravel to Last Gasp.  Sheesh, a lot of climbing to just get to 2.5 to go.  Before arriving, one of two aid guys came sprinting down the hill to grab my bottle. 

They got me: the "Tony K lookalikes" were so spittin' image, I had to say, "Hey, are you Tony?".

One more "head bottle", one to drink, and two gels.  And, for the first time since, oh, 9:30AM, I was back on pavement, and onto the "Long Lonely Climb of Loneliness".

Except it wasn't.  In front of me, maybe 200m, was another runner.  One more?  I pushed, churning the legs at what seemed like 9 minute pace (instead of the "sustaining 10 minute pace) up the hill.  Chop-chop-chop-chop.  More street paint marked two and one miles ago, but I cared little about splits.  Instead, I was after one more place.  Doing math in my head, I knew this had to be around top 10 territory.  So I kept him, a shirtless dude with a huge trunk tatoo, in sight.  He began to walk, as I maintained my shuffle.  However, I blew everything I had to catch him, so when I did, I went into a powerhike ("20 steps!"), losing ground.  But I was done being a puss, so when we rounded the final bend, with civilization in sight on the ridge ahead, I pushed and pushed.  

The canyon road crested, the descended sharply to the right (more hilarity -- "Free Beer at the finish...NOT").  I barreled down the downhill respite and caught him, my brain trying to prepare itself for an epic battle, but it was not to be.  "I'm gonna puke", said Matt Chaney, the eventual 11th place finisher, as I passed him.  Bummer!  We crested our last bit of gravel and onto Pacific Avenue to the bannered home stretch.  I tried to make the form look good, and push any "second thoughts" out of Matt's mind, on that home stretch, finally crossing the line in 6:39:24, good for 10th overall.

It felt great to be done.  They tossed our SWAG haphazardly towards me just outside the shoot as I hobbled through: my legs were OK, but my left knee and right heel were painful.  Interestingly, the first person I talked to was Ian Sharman.  Maybe I was magnetically attracted to the Mirror Pond bottle in his hand (he could've been on his 6th by the time I got in), but we chatted a bit about our races before I passed through.  Really nice guy. 

Post race included a quick massage, which revealed what I had suspected:  1. that I'd been heavily overloading my left leg.  For 50 miles, and 2. that neither my left knee or right heel pain was tissue but joint.  Uh oh.

I pushed those thoughts out of mind and enjoyed the festivities, which included:

- A sweet battle between AJW and LB, just a few minutes behind me
- "Free beer" after all -- free Sierra Nevadas, courtesy of a "generous local"!  I even showed off my Wisconsin heritage my opening the (newly changed) pry-off bottle tops by hitting them against a metal post
- Great post-race camaraderie, with the likes of AJW, LB and Meghan, Jaime, Nick Clark, and Dave Mackey (the eventual winner), and Ryan Burch, among others.

The festivities lasted so long that I tired of waiting, so I walked back to Matt's House (about 0.4mi away).  There I scrubbed the hell out of my legs to fend off the poison oak (not 100% successful) and lied down and chilled for a bit. 


The rest of the crew -- now including AJW -- arrived back at the house.  Oh man, was AJW hilarious.  His rips on LB were classic, as he was basking in the glory of his 2 minute come-from-behind victory in that two-man battle.  Best line of many out of him, to LB, poring over the results again back at the house:

"Don't worry, Thornley, you're still 17th."

At 7PM we met up with a huge crew at Auburn Ale House.  At our large table included our group, along with "The Colorado Four" -- Jaime, Clark, Mackey, and Burch -- LB's parents, and John (and Mrs) Medinger, the publisher of Ultra Running magazine.  Had a great time talking and hanging out with those guys, and sampling the Ale House's finest with fellow connoisseur Scott Jaime (with whom I now have planned a "Beer Exchange" at WS).  

The coolest part -- nearly every runner at that table will be running WS, so when the night wrapped around 10ish, there were many, "See you in June!"s flying around.

Overall it was a great end to a terrific, if not dramatic day.


This time around, the grades are partitioned: pre-Granite Bay, and post-

Pacing: C/B+.  A C grade for what was likely too hot of a pace early.  Yes, I ate fiber.  Yes, I had a Dead Sea's worth of salt early.  But I can't discount the notion that I was in over my head.  In the second half, I was happy that I was able to push the pace, but not happy that I "showed weakness" (per AJW) on that final 2.5 mile climb. 

Mechanics: F-/D-.  No, really.  Terrible.  How could I miss this?  Left knee pain.  Right heel pain.  My body was telling me, early and often:

"HEY!  Quit leaning left and overloading the S### out of your left leg!"

My response, for all 50 miles: "What?  Huh?"

This cost me, during the race, and after.  And beyond.  In a major way.

Hydration/Fuel/Electrolytes: D/B-.  Absolutely laughable fueling.  Reading Nick Clark's report, my fueling was comical!  I must've had:

13 liquid bottles
6 Nuun tabs
6 gels ("only")
8 PB&J nuggets
2 sleeves salty Clif Shots
10 shots of Coke
Maybe 3-4 S-caps

And god know what else of random potatoes, bananas, etc.  Again, my body was saying, "Hey!  You're gonna give me a heart attack with all this salt!" and/or "Hey, keep this up if you wanna poop yourself!" 

Mental Toughness: B+/A-.  Good grades, simply for not giving up, or succumbing to self-pity.  A lone A-grade for being tough when I was both tired and in injury pain near the end.  


1. I need to run smarter.  When I ran 6:03 at Autumn Leaves, it was an easy course with perfect conditions, and I was extremely fit, tapered off a major marathon base.  I'm not that fit yet.  Not even close.  To run like I did early and fade -- no matter what the reason -- is disrespectful to my competition. 

2. I need to listen to my body.  Pooping = too much salt.  It's actually an awesome gift to have that warning sign, as opposed to "gaining ten pounds of body swelling". 

3. I need to listen to PAIN. Specific joint PAIN = I'm running incorrectly. I knew this at Autumn Leaves and changed, accordingly, on the fly.  How I ignored that at AR boggles my mind and frustrates me to no end.

4. I need to correct my form flaw.  NOW.  This is eternally frustrating.  It's April.  How is my form this messed up?  I think I have finally -- once and for all -- determined the source of the constant sideglide.   But now I'm still too injured to address it...

But on the bright side:

5. Anything is possible, but only if you gut it out.  Despite the struggles, the left knee pain (which would loom much larger in the days post-race), I hung in there and learned how to solve some problems, and not only survive but truly compete at the end.  That was awesome.  I would've loved to finish up by Scott or even higher, but the lessons learned at AR are far more valuable.  And struggling at AR is a good exchange for some better fortunes at WS. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Top Ten Reasons Why I Love Ultra Running

10. Best of All Worlds - It combines my three favorite things: Running, being in "The Woods", and Eating!

9. Nutrition, Hydration, Electrolytes - It's more than just running. You ultimately have to manage these things well in order to do your best.  But, if you can have this element "dialed in", on any given day you have the ability to beat The Best, when they don't.  I hate NASCAR, but I love that element. 

8. "Youth"! - In a sport where the average competitor is 40+, It's fun to be "the young guy" again!  :D

7. Resiliency (& Forgiveness) - The ability to run a hard 50M race, then be able to come back the next day and run an "easy 14" without consequence.

6. Race Reports - In what other sport does the individual competitor provide their blow-by-blow account?  It's a fascinating perspective into their race; even more so if you were right next to them for it!

5. Sustainability - of pace, of training, of The Body.  Success - both short and long-term - in ultra running depends on sustainability.  Of the stride, of fueling, of training.  To learn sustainability is to learn to love the feel of effortless running; sometime relearning, for some, learning for the first time. 

4. Race Dynamics - the marathon comes close, but only in ultra running can you be at death's door and be Resurrected.  The ability of both body and spirit to "turn the tide" makes the battle - of the competition, and of Self - so rewarding.  And it's a microcosm of life.

3. It's a "Pure Sport" - challenging oneself, and challenging your competitor by giving them your best.  Your best is achieved only through your competitor giving their best.

2. Mentorship & Stewardship - having guys like LB and AJW - who are not only mentors to us "young road guys", but models for stewardship - of the competition, and of the arena - and of the competitive spirit.  Seeing and hearing them battle at AR50 last week, then the bantor and camraderie afterwards, was one of the highlights of last weekend.  And lest we forget The Queen - who teaches all of us that you don't have to be 20 years old and a guy to be a fiery competitor!

1. The Camaraderie & Community - pre-race, post-race and in-between.  Top guys hanging at the finish to ask us middlers how it went; and the post-race festivities.  The true spirit of running, as a sport, is through community - of communal sacrifice, support, and celebration.