Mythical Pursuits- Bigfoot 100k race report

“What I meant is that however much they appeared to hate the experience, and despite being under no pressure to repeat it—”

“Other than pressure from their equally cretinous peers.”

“—they nevertheless chose to, because however awful it might have seemed at the time, they feel that they gained something positive from it.”

“Oh? And what would that be? That they lived through it despite their stupidity in undertaking this totally unnecessary traumatic experience in the first place? What one should gain from an unpleasant experience should be the determination not to repeat it. Or at least the inclination.”

“They feel they have tested themselves—”.

“And found themselves to be mad. Does that count as a positive result?”

—-Look to Windward, Iain Banks

And so it was, I found myself on a school bus at 5:00 AM, heading in the wrong direction towards the start of one of the hardest races I’ve run. This was the second running of the Bigfoot 100k (they also do a 200 mile and 120 mile version, neither of which tempt me at this point) and I and about 120 other runners were about to attempt a 68.8 mile traverse of the Cascades, partially circumnavigating Mt. Saint Helens.

To say it was wet would be an understatement.

To say it was windy would be incomplete.

To say it was difficult would be reductive.

To say it was beautiful and wonderful would be therefore puzzling, but it was.

I had trained more for this race than I had in the past few years and I still nearly stopped after 30 miles. It was the most beautiful 30 miles I had ever run. The forests, the ash fields, the lakes: all unbelievable. The exposed heights, the wind and the rain, in addition to the 15-20% downhill grades that seemed to never end, however, started to get in my head.

img_1599Start to Norway Pass (Miles 0-11, Elevation Gain/Loss: 2,287/2,691) 

The rain gave way to fog in places, making the trees, both alive and dead, stand out surreally in the early morning light. I was overdressed, so sweating a bit, but not overly uncomfortable, and the occasional wind gusts kept me from shedding too much. The plan was to keep my HR down in the 130’s, eat and drink according to hunger and thirst, and finish the section with an average 15 min mile or so. The trees were magnificent and the hills, while steep, were manageable. There were a few occasions where the drop to one side or other of the trail was a bit harrowing, and I started to question how I was going to navigate in the dark without falling off a cliff. Finished the 11 miles in 2:55, so closer to 16 than 15 min miles, but close enough.

Norway Pass to Coldwater Lake (Miles 12-29, Elevation Gain/Loss: 3,682/4,834) 

I didn’t spend too much time in the aid station, as I had enough calories and had my filter in case I ran out of water. I also knew there were some hills coming… In fact, the first mile out of the aid station, we climbed 712 ft (avg 14% grade), then 374, then 556, then 500, then an average of 400 ft per mile for the next 3 miles. I made sure I took time to appreciate the surroundings, enjoyed the beautiful views of the lakes and mountains and was feeling pretty good. Then came the downhill. Trying to run as much as possible, I planted wrong and wrenched my knee around mile 17. I hobbled for a bit, adjusted my stride and got going again. Then came the ankles, first one then the other. I was not having fun on this section of the race. I was falling behind my initial hoped-for pace and starting to think “I can’t do this for another 40+ miles”. The demons started to creep into my head…

Coldwater Lake to Johnson Ridge (Miles 29-35.6, Elevation Gain/Loss: 2,287/612) 

At the Coldwater Lake Aid station, as planned, my beautiful wife was waiting for me. I had come up with all the reasons why I was going to drop, but it took just a few words of encouragement (she may have said “man up”), and the magical talisman that is a McDonald’s cheeseburger to get me going. We agreed that I would do this next leg and then make a call. Shortly after starting I ran into two runners from Montana, Jesse and Sarah, and we agreed to stick together and finish the race. A fairly benign section of the race, the fog started to roll in and it was full dark by the time we hit Johnson ridge. The wind was up as well, and we got a bit warmer, ate a bit and then headed out into the whiteout.

Johnson Ridge to Windy Pass (Miles 35.6-42.8, Elevation Gain/Loss: 1,189/1,244) 

Windy Pass earned its name. During this entire section, although there wasn’t a lot of up and down, relatively speaking, we dealt with blinding fog, 40 mph winds and constant downpour. We had to ford several swollen streams, jumping where we could, sucking it up and wading knee deep where we couldn’t. We picked up and dropped other groups during this slog, and finally made the aid station. Tired, cold and exhausted, we were about 13 ½ hours in, but this was not the place to drop out of the race. Windy Pass required a two and a half mile hike just to get from the aid station to any kind of vehicle. The volunteers there had braved wind and rain to be out there for us and we gratefully accepted soup and a short rest of the legs. We strapped back up and headed out once more into the night.

Windy Pass to Blue Lake (Miles 42.8-56.8, Elevation Gain/Loss: 2,818/3,732) 

On a ranking of difficult sections, this was either first or second. 14 miles took us over 5 hours to complete. Sounding like a broken record- wind, rain, fog, swollen rivers, and climbing and descending on what felt like 1-2 foot wide paths with drops into oblivion on one side. We scrambled over ash dunes, down gullies and up what felt like knife-thin ridges. We each tried to buoy the other’s spirits with the occasional joke or comment, and somehow made it to blue lake. The price had been paid, however, and despite resting at Blue Lake for over an hour, Sarah was in no shape to continue. Jesse called it too, and I headed out with two others to finish the final 12. It was sad to leave them because I knew I wouldn’t have made it that far without them.

Blue Lake to Finish (Miles 56.8 to 68.8, Elevation Gain/Loss: 2,614/3,172) 

Last 12 miles, piece of cake, right? Yes, except for the boulder fields at miles 62 and 63, oh and before that, you know the 2,614 feet of climbing? Yes, you’ll be doing most of that immediately… As the sky lightened, we climbed. After the climb, more bone-jarring descent and then we were amidst the boulder fields. Jumping from rain slicked rock to rain slicked rock for a half to three quarters of a mile is a challenge even when you’re not tired. The fear of breaking an ankle or my leg, however, served to keep me awake and alert and although the going was slow, Peggy and Riley (who had marked parts of the course earlier in the week and knew the boulder fields well), showed me routes that got us across. A bit more up, a bit more down, and then we were flat sailing for the last 2 or so miles to the finish.

26.5 hours. The longest I’ve run a race since Badwater four years ago. Arguably the hardest race I’ve run since then as well. Beautiful, demanding, exhilarating, and frustrating all at once. Great race, great volunteers, great people out there. I would not have made it without Sandra virtually kicking my butt and reminding me that I had trained for this (thanks Nick at lucky13coaching) and I needed to just keep going. I was tested, and the result was positive. (meaning, yes, I am mad)

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FKT(P)- Badwater Cape Fear Race Report

12873640_10154082024639165_2031030979_o copyIt’s a few days before the race, and I’m sitting at home nervous. 51 miles on the beach? What was I thinking? It started off as a good idea between two friends. David Kalal and I were going to run 50k in what looked like a really interesting race- Badwater Cape Fear. My ego had pushed me into the 51 miler, and I’d somehow convinced David and another friend, Fraser Koroluk to jump up to 51 miles as well. I was now seriously questioning why the heck I had done that.

David and I had just finished running the Fed Apple 50 K about a month previous. We had both been using a coach to train using heart rate to determine pace. On an icy hilly course the result for me was less than spectacular. My time was OK, but I expected to do better. It didn’t help that David did crush it beating me by over an hour. I was determined not to get bitten by an hour, but I didn’t know what to expect, running on sand. There was no way I could train on the sand even looked into building a sandbox to run in but that was impractical. On top of that, I was having doubts about being able to run a large portion of the race in my Luna sandals like I had planned. As I read through the course description, and rethought my race plans for the 17th time, A new thought entered my head: why are you taking this so seriously? This is supposed to be fun! So let’s have some fun: Who doesn’t want to be a pirate? (Apart from Jerry Seinfeld)

IMG_0649 Gathered with other (non pirate) runners for a late(ish) 7:45 start, we gathered around old baldy. Swatting away biting flies, we waited for the start. The first 12 miles would be on the roads of the island, with a mile long trek on a trail near the end. The breeze was up, so despite the warming air, it was a pleasant run. I maintained a pace that kept my HR below 140, occasionally waving at spectators and having conversations with my fellow runners.

At mile 12, right before the beach, I changed out of my shoes and into my sandals. David and I had essentially run together and Fraser was ahead of us, heading out as we were heading in. I restocked my tailwind, filled my bottle and was out and onto the sand for the first 20 mile out and back. The tide was low, so we were running on mostly packed sand. There were slight rises where the tide had carved out hills and gullies, but it was essentially flat. There was also a slight incline, so your seaward side was slightly lower- noticeable, but not uncomfortable. Yet.

The challenge of running on the beach for 10 miles in one direction is twofold: 1- you’re running on the beach, and 2- it’s 10 miles. The sand is unpredictable, and so somewhat like on a trail, you have to be aware where you’re putting your feet. After a while you can begin to “read” the sand and see where the runners that came before you (and there were quite a few) made good and bad stride decisions. The distance is also a challenge because you can see for a long way, but you really can’t see that well. You have a vague sense that what’s in the distance is getting closer, but aid station mirages seemed to appear and disappear with frustrating regularity.

17812_10154130599419165_7525645772931193135_n copyChallenges aside, we were making pretty good time and so far, my heart rate had stayed down. It was warming up, though, and for some reason my pirate costume was responding. While David was feeling the heat, I felt ok. That’s not to say that I didn’t have issues. For one, my flowing locks were a pain in the ass when I was running downwind. The breeze was up, so for 10 miles on the way back, I was constantly spitting “hair” out of my mouth. It was a distraction, but not a pleasant one…

We hit the 50k mark in pretty good time. If I had stopped, it would have been my second fastest 50k and I would have come in 5th. David succumbed to the heat and so I was left to chase Fraser and the elusive FKTP. I also made a decision to change back into my shoes. My reasoning was that the tide was coming in and although I wasn’t having issues with rubbing (due in large part to my sweet sock and sandal fashion statement), the sandals in deep sand would act like mini shovels as I ran. Buried treasure was the furthest thing from my mind and I don’t generally like to up the difficulty level if I can help it. I put the earphones in, tuned to my Sea Shanties playlist, and headed out.

The last 20 miles: this was the race. There were a few people in front of me and I started to focus on catching as many as I could. One of my mental strategies in the last 20 miles is that if I pass someone, they stay passed. I got out of the aid station at mile 31 with 44 people ahead of me. I caught 11 of them.

Don’t get me wrong. I was not blazing. It still took me 5 ½ hours to go 20 miles, but the tide was coming in and we ran the last 15 miles in a combination of deep sand and knee high surf. The wind had changed direction, so now the 10 miles out was with a tailwind. Fine, except for that “hair-in-the-mouth” thing, which was getting pretty old.

“Ran” may even be a generous term. On the way back, my stomach had started to act up: food had no appeal. My strategy was down to a run/walk pattern: run 100-200 steps and then walk until I felt better. The pattern of running and resting lent some normalcy to the end of the run. That and the fact that someone I had passed much earlier in the race was gaining on me. I really didn’t want to get passed.

As I rounded the final point at Cape Fear, with less than a mile to go, I felt the presence of that final runner gaining on me. Head down, I stepped on the gas and managed a lightning quick 12:46 pace for the final mile. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to hold him off (The runner, Jeff Gleason, later said he thought he was going to catch me until he saw me “take off”, so I guess it’s all relative).

As I came across the finish, the enormity of the accomplishment started to settle on me….FKT(P)….Fastest Known Time (by a Pirate) is not a record I achieved on my own. I have to thank David and Fraser for their inspiration, my coach, Nick Holland for his instruction and motivation, and Johnny Brock’s in St. Louis for the pirate costume. It really does take a team to surmount the obstacles required to post a fastest known time. I’m honored and proud to hold the record (at least until some other idiot decides to wear a pirate costume)

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Summiting Buford Mountain

The forecast called for ridiculous cold and high winds.  Luckily, that didn’t happen until after I got off the mountain.  I went down to Bismark, MO in preparation for Caballo Blanco Ultra in Mexico. It’s about 1 1/2 hours out of St. Louis and, hey, it’s a mountain and the 3rd highest peak in Missouri, so, why not?

First, the details: The Buford Mountain Conservation Area is a 3,824 acre piece of land that, according to legend: “was purchased by the Missouri Department of Conservation from the Nature Conservancy in 1979. The area was named after its settlement in 1812 by William Buford, who acquired the land through a Spanish Land Grant.” So, history abounds!  The trail is a 10.5 mile lollipop that has another trail that branches off it about halfway around the loop. I didn’t take it, but will probably explore next time I get down there.

GPS was little help finding the actual entrance (taking me down a dirt road that ended in a fence), but it got me in the general area.

They haven't built a pink gate that can hold me! :)

They haven’t built a pink gate that can hold me!🙂

The gates were closed, but I was able to park, run up the road about a 1/4 of a mile, and then onto the trails.  Beautiful start to the day, temperature-wise, and once on the trail, I really enjoyed it.

Up we go!

Up we go!

The trail basically goes straight up to the peak of Buford at 1740 feet! (not meters) to start, gaining 350 feet in the first mile and a half, up Screaming Calves Hill.

Eyes down, calves tight!

Eyes down, calves tight!

Nearing the second summit

Nearing the second summit

From there, you come down the other side, dodging rocks and mud, but with the occasional runnable sections, then back up to Bald Knob, for a great view!

I can see for miles...

I can see for miles…

After Bald Knob, you hit the start of the loop.  I decided to go clockwise and it became a bit more runnable as you head down the other side of BK. Then your into the flats, making the loop, a little bit of up and down.  Re”summit” BK and Buford on your way back, and then it’s 1 1/2 miles to home.

Don't follow the tunnel trail straight!

Don’t follow the tunnel trail straight!

"Mountains" looming in the distance...

“Mountains” looming in the distance…

Like the scene of a long forgotten battle...

Like the scene of a long forgotten battle…

Total elevation gain was just about 2100 ft for the 10.5 miles.  It was about 2.5 to the loop, about 5.5 around the loop and then 2.5 back.  The trail was “eyes down” technical in a lot of places (at least for me)

Behold my leisurely pace…

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/697493320#.VN_RdXm3aag.link

And of course, a visit to Buford Mountain without eating at Lady Queene is a missed opportunity!

You're not just my Queene, you're my Lady

You’re not just my Queene, you’re my Lady

And, don’t forget the mines!

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All in all, a good day out.  I’ll come back to explore the “tunnel” trail and do the loop counterclockwise (which might be a tad bit more runnable in that direction).

Next stop- Urique and the Copper Canyons of Mexico to run with the Tarahumara on March 1st!

The idiot

Putting Together 2015 Race Plans? Consider Ultra Adventure Races!

For all my runner friends, this looks like a lot of fun!

activeharmony

It’s that time of year again. The one where many of us are either resting up or winding down and already have thoughts toward our 2015 race schedule.

For me, my race calendar changed dramatically when I was selected to participate in Ultra Adventures ambassador program! What drew me to the Ultra Adventure races (aside from already being registered for Zion), was the location of their events.

The races take place in (or around) the Grand Circle – one of the most scenic areas of the United States. The Grand Circle also boasts the highest concentration of National Parks in the country, with many UA races traversing through them. For someone who loves some scenery when I run, this was the perfect fit.

UA currently has seven races on the books, with a few more to be announced at a later date. For now, there’s:

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Make Tracks for the Zoo Race Report

The most impressive 1/4 mile you’ll ever hear about… Ok, so I’m a bit biased.  My three year old son just ran his first race today and he did an incredible job!

SONY DSCWe arrived at the start a bit early so Joseph could go through his pre-race rituals (climbing trees and talking with other racers).  SONY DSCIt was hot, but he had hydrated on the way over and he felt good.  At a little before 9, we got the notice to line up and we shuffled forward with the other racers.  I was pacing Joseph and it was evident that, in the 6 and under category, more than a few runners had pacers as well.

Our plan was to run to the turnaround point and run back. I’ve found simple plans usually work best.

The horn went off and we got moving.  It was a little congested at first, and Joseph wasn’t really able to hit his stride until we had gone about 50 feet or so.  Then it opened up and he started to feel out a sustainable pace.  We kept on for the next few hundred feet when potential disaster struck.  A collision with another runner sent Joseph to the pavement. He was distraught and had a small contusion on his knee, but after a brief inspection and kiss, he was ready to go again.  As we neared the halfway point, however two more obstacles lay in our path.

The first was the Children’s Hospital mascot.  He was unfortunately extremely lovable, so we had to give him a hug.  This may have cost us some time, but Joseph felt energized after the hug- for about 20 seconds.  Then, obstacle two- the Missouri State University Bear, Boomer, was lying in wait around the corner.  He also required a hug and then with a very polite, “thank you” and “good bye”, we were off again.

SONY DSCIt was hot, and my son soon demonstrated a passion for trail running as we left the road and ran in the grass for a little while.  SONY DSCWe soon saw mommy, and then it was back on the street and a sprint to her.  With only a few feet to go, we picked up the pace and crossed the finish line, receiving a ribbon SONY DSCand a well deserved drink from the volunteers.

SONY DSCThen it was off to run through the fire hydrant spray for about 1/2 an hour.  SONY DSCIf I need a lift on my next run, all I have to do is remember this picture!🙂SONY DSC

Here we go!

Ok, posting from the road today. Just completed two days of 5-6 mile runs as I start to get ready for the next challenge- 50 miles at the DWD Green Swamp race in March. Yesterday was on some nice farm roads in rural Texas and today was nearly 7 miles with my lovely wife on a technical, but fun trail.

My goal is to do 20-40 miles per week, with one long weekend (back to back 20s) a month. I’m also going to incorporate strength training based on something called CrossFit Endurance. Never tried, but I’ll see how it goes, and let you know my progress. The race is going to be flat, so my hill work would be minimal. However, you know I’m not stopping at one race in March, so, if I’m lucky, I’ll be running the Double Chubb (50k) a month later. That means, strength training, hill training, all fun and games. I’ll be testing out some equipment along the way, so I’ll intersperse training with reviews. So, there’s the “idiot” part.

For the inspired part, I was sent this story back in August, and was remiss in not posting it. It’s a great story about a cyclist named George Swain who had a serious accident in 2010 and has recovered and is back full force. The story is here. Enjoy!

The idiot

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Recap of the Run- Day 2

July 3, 12:00 AM local time. We’re 21 hours into the run, having covered almost 58 miles, I’m wiped out.  I haven’t been able to keep anything down and if it wasn’t for the kids my crew, their motivation and pacing, I wouldn’t even be here at the top of Townes Pass- 4956 feet.  Right now, they’re discussing my options, which have dwindled down to two.  I either keep something down and move forward, or we come off the course.

In my mind, it’s only one, I cannot stop at this point and won’t let my stupidity (pushing too fast and too hard in the heat and during the climb) end this.  After a fitful rest, I’m feeling a little better and decide to press on.  It’s now 1:30 in the morning.  I should have been able to sleep more, but couldn’t.  We decide that, to get my 300 calories, my 500-800 mg of sodium and my water, we’d try using just Perpetuem.  A strawberry-vanilla sports drink that sounds disgusting, but is weirdly something I can keep down.  We start down Townes Pass.  The rest has given me some relief and we cover the next 14 miles in 3 hours, 15 minutes.  It’s downhill, so we’re moving pretty quickly, and at the bottom of the Father Crowley climb, the lack of nutrition catches up with me again.  It’s now 3:30 in the morning, sun not yet up, and I need something more substantial than liquid nutrition if I’m going to cover the next 74 miles.  A memory surfaces from my 24 hour race and I discuss it with my coach- what if we tried solid food?  It’s against 25 years of coaching experience to eat solids in this type of race- the body has to work doubly hard to break down and digest the food, and water absorbs into the body more slowly as the food soaks it up.  It did, however work for me in my 24 hour race, so he’s willing to try it.  It’s either that, or we try to go back to the gels, something that turns my stomach just thinking about it. We decide to take another break and wait for the small restaurant at Panamint to open.

I have eggs, sausage and some breakfast potatoes, and I feel the normalcy return.  We get going again at 8:00, and start up Father Crowley.  An 8 mile, 2500 feet climb that officially takes us to higher altitude for the rest of the run.  We get to the top at 11am (now 80 miles into the run), rest for a few minutes, change clothes and start a section that is rolling hills, but will take me first to my furthest distance (92 miles), then my first 100 miles.  But before that, we need a nutrition plan.  We can’t keep going back to Panamint, and we don’t have much in the way of regular food.  Again the memory speaks to me: McDonald’s Cheeseburgers.  Each one is 300 calories, and 700 mg of sodium (think about that next time you get a craving!).  We are now only about 30 miles from Lone Pine, the big town at the base of Mt. Whitney and officially the 120 mile mark.  We take another break, at the Darwin Road at 3 pm, mark the spot where we stopped (the rules say if you come off the course, you need to come back to exactly where you came off and restart) and head into town.  I eat two cheeseburgers and we decide that the crew will make turkey wraps (one tortilla, four pieces of turkey and one piece of swiss cheese) which I’ll eat once an hour.  We’ll also break my salt pills into my water just in case the pill dumping it all at once into my system was part of the cause of my nausea.  We get back to the spot after about two hours and I’m ready to roll!  Once again McDonald’s saves the day!

From there, it’s on to the 100 mile mark and darkness…

We hit the 100 mile mark at about 7:35 pm, just as the sun is going down.  A little celebration, a few pictures, and then it’s off again.  We’re met soon afterwards by Marcia Rasmussen.  She’s the unofficial record keeper of solo events like ours, and after finding out about my run, she and her husband drove 6 hours to see us!  Not only that, she agrees to pace me for a bit, which turns into the next 14 miles!

As the darkness descends, we get to one of the easier, yet more monotonous parts of the course.  20 miles of nothingness to Lone Pine.  My feet are really starting to hurt, so I stop to lance some blisters, then re-bandage and tape the toes.  I also end up cutting two holes in my shoes to keep the toes from rubbing.  Because my feet have swollen, they’re pressing on the shoes, making it almost unbearable to walk.  Lucky for me, Marcia has a number of stories from past Badwater experience and she keeps me focused, moving forward and out of traffic.  This is where, due to lack of sleep and overall exhaustion, many runners experience hallucinations.  However, there are no Hamburglars coming out of the desert tonight, and we stumble into Lone Pine at 2:15 AM, a little over 47 hours into the run.  Little did I know, but the GPS tracker had stopped working.  On a positive note, the other GPS tracker had found us and reported our position.

There was a (very) short discussion on whether or not I should press on and climb to the Whitney Portals, and it was decided that rest was a better option.  I had no desire to stumble around at 8000 feet in the darkness, my feet were killing me, there weren’t any records I was trying to break, and we were already way ahead of the 60 hour goal we had set.  I had about 15 miles to go to the portals, then another rest until the 5th because we couldn’t go the last 11 miles to the summit without the July 5th permit.

So, 120 miles, dropping into a bed at 2:30am, I get my first and only hallucination.  It’s hard to describe, but essentially I was trying to pull the sheets up, but kept missing the edge.  My brain said I caught the sheet edge, so the sheet “disappeared” on me three or four times before I actually caught it.  3.5 hours of sleep took me to a total of about 6 hours since we left Badwater.  I woke up ready to tackle the first part of the mountain.