Mt. Disappointment 50M (?) – 2007

August 11, 2007

Today is my big test for being able to do the 50 miler and marathon on back-to-back days.  Mt. Disappointment should prove to be WAY harder than the course I am doing in December (10-15 times the elevation change)… but I need to remember what it is to run 50 miles.

At the start, the conditions are not ideal… it’s already about 75 degrees out… and the race is not starting on time.  The RD says that he will give us some extra time at the end, but the problem is that we won’t get much in the way of cool temperatures to get ourselves going.

For the first section, which is the descent off Wilson, plus the crest over Mt. Disappointment itself, I take at a mild pace and feel OK.

On the second section, from Redbox to the bottom of Josephine, again, I am pacing conservatively and feel decent when I get to the base.  Of course, much of this section is shaded, so I am not yet feeling the “heat,” so to speak.

Once I start heading up Josephine, the temperature is in the mid-80s.  I remember how bad it had been 3 weeks earlier, so I decided that I would walk the entire hill and walk like it wasn’t important to get to the top – it was… but I was trying to keep cool and stay relaxed.  Unfortunately, I still felt overheated at the top of the hill and hurried into the shade for some protection.

The next part of this section is Strawberry Saddle.  It starts about 2 miles descent from the top of Josephine.  I felt OK on this transition section but really struggled up Strawberry.  It’s a red surface and it reflected a lot of heat back onto me.  I finally had to sit down, take off my hat and try to get myself back to a normal heart-rate and not feel like I was about to pass out.

A number of people I know passed by me and didn’t realize it was me.  Hwa-Ja said, “I have never seen the top of your head.”  A few people gave me Blox and Sharkees (?) and said they would let the Redbox aid station know that I was struggling and coming soon.  Once someone poured some water over my head, I felt a lot better and continued down to Redbox.

When I got there, they tagged me as “the guy who is going to drop out.”  I said, “What?  No.”  I just needed a break.  ‘Don’t feel bad about dropping,’ they said.  I said, “I don’t feel bad, because I am not dropping.  I am still pretty far ahead of the cutoff – 2 hours – and I am going to sit here and relax for a bit, drink a bunch of water and continue.”

They mentioned, as I left, that I could always opt for the 50K distance when I got to Westfork Station.  I said I would consider it, if I was falling behind the cutoff times… but when I got to Westfork, I was STILL 2 hours ahead of the cutoff, so I decided to forge ahead on the 50M course.

Just ahead of me was another 50 miler competitor.  I slowly caught up to her and we continued together for a bit.  Her name was Summer Wesson, and she had recently been in a car accident and was occasionally blacking out during her runs (I remembered some of the earlier single track and worried about her safety.).  Both of us vowed that we were going to finish this freaking race, ‘no matter what.’  (Basically they would have to drag our lifeless corpses from the course to stop us.  Dramatic, I know.)

The section out of Westfork is mostly shaded and a lot of uphill.  I just took it easy and reached the next aid station about 90 minutes ahead of cutoff.  There is a small out-and-back section here of about 1.5 miles (and you mark your bib with the pen at the turnaround to prove you were there).  On my way back, I suffered really severe cramps… and my shoe inserts had turned around inside my shoes.  Yow.

When I got back to the aid station, the cramps were gone, but I still needed my shoes adjusted.  I worried that if I sat down and tried to do it myself, I would cramp, so I asked the volunteer if he would assist me in sorting out my shoes… but the minute he touched my foot, I cramped up from the tips of my toes, to my waist.

I ended up spending around 45 minutes at the aid station, with a VERY nice volunteer cleaning, then massaging my feet (and I drank a lot of water and consumed a lot of salt to help with the cramping).  Then they said that I’d better get going because the cutoffs were going to be a whole lot closer.

The next section, to Shortcut, is 9 miles long.  Three miles downhill (with about 1000′ loss), and then six miles uphill (and 2000′ gain).  The downhill section is extremely technical, rocky as all get out.. and I worried about cramping if I stumbled too much… but I had to basically run down the hill to bank time for the uphill climb.

The uphill section was unbelievably difficult… not as technical, but there was no shade of any kind and by now, the temperature was close to 110 degrees.  I could not cool off at all.  And I was continuing to cramp.

Around this time, the sweeps caught up with me.  They were removing the ribbons and picking up any trash or planted water bottles.  They (Lonnie and Andrea (an Italian guy)) stayed with me and encouraged me to keep going.  I entertained them (when I could) by singing Italian folk songs that I knew.

The going was extremely slow and I feared I would not make the cutoff.  According to what I could remember, we had 11 hours and 30 minutes to get to Mile 41.  I estimated that I reached Mile 38 in 12-1/2 hours.  So… no good.

DNF (did not finish)-ing is one of the more devastating results in race.  I think there are people that are satisfied with making the attempt, and a DNF is an option always.  Then there are those of us who will finish at any cost (maybe even messing up one’s body by using a muscle, limb or body part that needs to recover) or find that umpteenth gear to push through and get there… but no amount of pleading was going to get me out of this one.

I had to accept it.   Summer had to accept it.  And the gal who collapsed on the trail (who Summer had stopped to help) unconsciously accepted it.  (I think that Summer would still have DNFed, even without helping the troubled runner.)

I got back to the start/finish and waited for my friend Ben Gaetos (to conserve parking spots, I had carpooled up with him from the 210 freeway) to finish, and also looked at the results of Laura, Chuck and Todd Fanady.

** Laura… well, her health was bad that day… and she didn’t start (so her result was equivalent to mine).

** Chuck finished 7:25.  That’s reasonable… but not great coming from a guy who had done a tough trail marathon in under 4 hours.

** Todd Fanady finished in 9:25.  My time in 2006 was 8:55 and Todd is a MUCH better runner than I am.

Ben came finished under the time limit.  Today… that was all that mattered.  However, he felt horrible – maybe worse than I felt because he had done the additional 12 miles.  He was fading in and out of consciousness… which was bad news for a hairpin turn-filled mountain drive… so I drove down, but my lanky legs kept hitting the nightlamps and plunging us into darkness… on the hairpin turns… as my legs were cramping.

There are lessons to be learned from this race.  I know that one is that I have to figure out how to deal with the cramping.  Eating a lot of Clif Shot or salt doesn’t totally do the trick, but I don’t know what does.

This leaves me more than a little concerned about my December adventure.  I am hoping that the weather is cooler and that I don’t cramp as much… but now I am less confident that I can even finish a 50-miler… much less a 50-miler AND a marathon in consecutive days.

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