Category Archives: 100M

DRTE 100M (DNF) – 2013

June 14-15, 2013

Despite a not great couple of weeks, I am still going to attempt the DRTE 100 mile race.  Since I have been given a free entry, I have nothing to lose (but my sanity).  Also, there is a 42 hour time limit, so I can afford to go at a fairly pedestrian pace and still finish.

Most of the course will be super familiar, because they had to move the start back to Rancho Oso due to a HUGE fire in the area last week.  The first 25 miles are just about identical to the Blue Canyon Trail Race 50M I ran in 2009.  (Man, come to think of it, this is going to be tough.)

Robert (the RD), in his wisdom, has decided that everyone needs to suffer, and therefore, the race is starting at 6PM on Friday night.  This way, the elite runners get to run through the night as well.

It is about 80 degrees out in the afternoon, so I am having trouble taking a nap in my car for a few hours before the start of the race.  I am decked out in my usual finery, plus my Sunmart Tyvek jacket, with gloves and cough drops in the pockets (for my cough and for when it gets cold at night).

It is difficult to get actual sleep, for several reasons, such as, the heat, the proximity of the parking lot to the pool area, the fact that it is afternoon (I put a pillow over my head to block out the light), and I can’t really stretch out anywhere in the car.  However, it’s best to get whatever rest I can.

The race does not start promptly at 6pm (close), which is fine, because we will still get 36 hours to finish, and the shorter the period that I am in the heat, the better.  On the other hand, how will I fare when it gets dark?

If you have read my 2009, 2010, and 2011 posts about Blue Canyon Trail Race, you know a few details about the course, running through the Rancho Oso Campground, continuing uphill on a narrowing fire trail that gets steeper and steeper, and eventually pops back out on another fire road (which keeps going uphill).

The entire group of people starts out running, but I don’t, so immediately find myself towards the back.  As long as the course is well-marked, that isn’t a problem for me.  I will either catch up to people, or I won’t.  I will run my own race, such as that is.

In the middle of the steep hill up to the fire road, I am passed a second time by a guy with red hair… I guess he either missed a turn or made an early pit stop.  Weird.

Once I get up to the main fire road, the going is a little easier (Not as steep), but I am still walking.  When I get up to the paved road section (Camino Cielo, I think), I run into a gal who is heading down to the next aid station to volunteer, Nichol des Jardins Clark.  Having been out of contact with everyone for over an hour, it is really nice to have a short conversation.  It is about a mile hike (down) to the first aid station, which I reach a little after 8pm.  Yes, it took me 2 hours and 12 minutes to cover 6 miles!

From this first aid station is my “favorite” section of trail.  I have good-slash-bad memories of this section.  I know how difficult it will be, but am thankful that it is getting dusky and hopefully, cooler.  On the other hand, I am concerned how difficult it will be to proceed in the dark.

The first part of this trail is “rolling hills.” Normally, that would mean that the fire trail road is undulating gently.  In this case, it means I am descending down some steep hills and then climbing back out on the other side.  While the trail is not technical (read: rocky), it is awkward, the darker it gets.  I hope that I might meet up with someone as two heads usually prevail when ‘out of it.’

The second part of this trail is “THE climb.”  This is 4 miles of mostly unrelenting uphill, and the average grade is 18%!!!  I have done this trail both in 110 degree heat (up or down hill, that is pretty horrible) and in moderate weather but when the trail was not maintained (machete would be helpful). This is mostly new territory, as the brush is not too dense and it is pretty dark out.

The hardest part in the dark is the fact that I have to be super vigilant for the reflective ribbons in the dark.  Once I spot a mark, it isn’t so bad, well, except for the fact that I can see the mark, but not necessarily the path that leads to that mark.  It is slow going, but about a mile from the top, I do encounter another person.  It’s Ralph Keith (52), from the Sacramento area.  He is really struggling.  We stay together briefly, but his knee is really bugging him, and despite my pedestrian pace, it is a little too slow for me.  I tell him we will probably connect at the top, which shouldn’t be too far away (a tough measurement in the dark, though).

The end of the trail connects with a fire road and the aid station.

Unlike many other ultras, I have not consumed a lot of my water, nor do I need very much energy to continue (just top off my water bottles and keep going).  I let them know that Ralph is behind me (but it may be a while).  There is another runner at the aid station with me  – Ashly Miller, one of the few gals in this race.  (Also, she ran as a legacy runner (the RD’s word for Charity.)

Before I can leave the aid station, I have to weigh-in.  I didn’t mention this earlier, but at the check-in, we had to weigh in, and along the way, we have to make sure that we don’t drop too much weight.  At this particular juncture, because the scale is sitting on the ground (and not level, because we are on a hill), it shows I have GAINED 12 pounds.  Yes, that’s right.  I have gained 12 pounds in the past 4 hours by drinking 32 ounces of water!  Fortunately, they let me continue since I seem sane.

I limit my time at this aid station and leave  BEFORE the gal who got there before me.

I am mostly familiar with the next section of trail, especially with the surface, but of course, I have never run it at night.  The good news here is that it is downhill, and NOT rocky.  I am doing my best to run down the hill, but it is mostly a gallop, in order to prevent tripping in the sections where there is a slight upslope.

When I have run this trail (both up and down) in the light, I am able to tell where I am and how far I have left to go, but in the dark, I can only focus a few dozen feet in front of my face.  My only indication of where I am on the particular section is when I am not running downhill anymore.

Once I am at the bottom, then the trail turns to the right and becomes more rocky and has a slight uphill section.  Even in the light, I have a hard time remembering how long this section continues.  In the dark, it is worse.  There are no landmarks or relativism.  I do remember a long, steep, rocky downhill section, but feel that when the downhill ends, I should be at the aid station.  Either I have remembered that incorrectly, or I missed a turn.

I should probably also mention that since there are not a lot of options for side trails, the trail is very sparsely marked here.  Instead of ribbons every 25 yards, there are ribbons probably every quarter mile.  In the dark, the lack of course markers is alarming.  For those that have never been on this course, they don’t know that there is a left-hand turn to some other trail that runs by some houses.  I am worried I have missed a turn, and therefore, screwed.

I convince myself to keep going, but out loud I am murmuring to myself whether I should backtrack (uphill) to my last mark… or try and wait for the gal behind me.  I decide to continue down the hill to what I think is the back porch light of the houses in here.  I can ask them how far it is to get back to the correct route.

When I am about 100 yards away, I realize it is the aid station, and that I was never off course.  I am so relieved to see the people.  I do another weigh-in, and I am back to my original weight.  (Theoretically, this means, I lost 12 pounds in the last hour.  Not really.)

Again, out of this aid station, I am familiar with the trail, though it has been over 4 years since I covered this section.  The fire road continues, but narrows more and more until it is somewhat of a single-track trail (though I feel like I am just wandering through the bushes).  As long as I don’t wander into the reservoir to my left, I am good.  Just watch your step!

The highlight of this section was seeing a bunch of markings… well, because I had to climb through the branches of a tree that were blocking my forward progress on the trail.

Further along, I came upon a section of trail which I struggled with in 2009.  Three closely connected sections where the trail stopped and opened up onto an angled “field” of loose sand.  This is hard to describe, but if you can imagine what it would be like to climb up a large sand dune where the sand is not clumped together.  Now imagine that you are traversing the sand dune in the middle of the hill… in the dark… after run/walking for 6 hours… and you are not exactly sure the height at which the trail on the other side picks up.

There were three 50 yards+ sections within the space of a mile-and-a-half and not all of them continued at an elevation equal to where I came into the ‘sand pit.’

Once I cleared that section, I knew the next part would be an easy descent to a creek, with an awkward ascent out the other side. Awkward in the sense that I would be stepping on solid parts of rock within the creek and rising up a hill.  Extra awkward in the sense that it was dark and I could not tell what was actually solid and what gave way… until I stepped on it.  So a couple of times I did submerge my foot into the creek.

To make things worse, I was looking at my watch and realizing despite having a generous time limit, I was rapidly falling off the minimum pace needed to finish the race, and maybe even approaching some of the time cutoffs (which had not been intimated to us as mandatory or suggested).

It was probably around 3am and it had not gotten cold.  I still had my jacket around my waist, and my cough drops and gloves in the pocket were swinging around and banging against my legs.  Annoying.

When I got to the top of the hill, I knew I had a harrowing descent (technical) down to the “valley floor.”  But, once I got to the bottom, I knew I was near to the next aid station.  However, the location was at a different part than originally stated (or remembered), but the guy from the aid station was looking out for us and even hiked out a bit to find me.  I mentioned that I was up against the time, but he was encouraging and sent me on my way.

Looking at my watch, I had about 2-1/2 hours for the next section.  By my estimation, I needed to reach mile 29.8 by 6:45am (a little over 12 hours for a little less than 50K, albeit in the dark).  From the aid station, I descended to a single-track that had a slight descent.  I vaguely remembered this trail from 4 years ago, because where I was headed was the turnaround on the 50 miler.  Of course, once I reached this point, then everything would be brand new… then again, all this running in the dark made EVERYTHING brand-new.

After about an hour, my watch alarm (from the day before) went off at 5:20am.  I shone my headlamp to see the time I was at (should be around 11.5 hours) and all I saw was “00:00:00.”  Crap.

I had been noticing for weeks that my watch did not light up that well at night.  Now I realize that the battery was running low… and now it had reset.  So I didn’t know what time it was or how long I had been out there (other than relatively from when the alarm went off).

I tried to reset my timer, but the best I could do was look at the time and calculate time from the new “midnight” hour.

Not long after this happened, dawn was all but upon me.  The trail opened out into a great grassy field and I was headed for a copse (the 50-miler turnaround).  In the copse was Hector Aleman, and a little frustrated and addled because he could not find the outbound trail.  Seeing as that I had never gone beyond this point, I had little answer for him, but said we could work together to figure out what to do.

There were essentially three paths leading out of here… one was not really a path, though we did hike along a creek bed for a few hundred yards before deciding it was not realistic for it to be a trail.

Next, I decided that since we were headed to Romero Camuesa aid station, that we should follow the arrow that was pointing toward Romero Camuesa ROAD.  We followed this trail for 15 minutes, but after failing to see as much one ribbon, I decided we should backtrack and try to take a closer look where we came in, to see where we might have missed a turn.

I began backtracking on the trail I had come in on, and then reversed my course, heading for the copse. Just before I got to the entrance, I saw on the ground a little plastic reflective flag.  It should have been sticking out of the grass, but it looked like its plastic stake affixing it to the ground had somewhat melted in the heat of the sun, so it was lying in/under the grass.  In the dark, I would have probably seen it, but in the light of day, it was a challenge.  The trail did not go into the copse at all, but circumvented it and continued in the direction we had not tackled yet.

Hector seemed skeptical that I had picked the correct direction.  He tried to tell me that that was the direction we came in from, but it was not, and I said, “Do what you want, but I am certain now that this is correct.”

He eventually followed me, but we did not run together after that (meaning he never caught up).

It was starting to get warmer and I knew that I had a bit of a hill to climb before arriving at the next aid station.  Since I had no idea of my time, I knew I needed to stay consistent and get up there as soon as possible (not running, though).

It was extremely frustrating (other than not knowing how far or what time) because every time that I thought I had reached the fire road at the top, I would crest another INTERMEDIATE hill.  Even when I did get to the top, it was still a LONG 1/2 mile to the aid station.

I told myself that if I am not within 20 minutes of 6:45am, that it would be best to stop.  The volunteer told me it was 8am!!  So, I quit.

Once I stopped, the volunteers told me to scour my body for ticks.  I found and removed 4 or 5.  Since this aid station was a double-whammy (meaning runners came through here again after an 18-mile loop), I informed runners as they came through to look for ticks.  No one believed me, but nearly everyone found some.  Yuck.

Hector came in about 30 minutes after I did and quit as well.  The volunteers kept trying to encourage us to continue, but I know how little I accelerate mid-race and it just didn’t seem worth it to suffer through another 18-20 miles of hell (I had pretty severe foot blisters, too.) just to quit 7 or 8 hours later.

The girl, Ashly, who I passed preceding the downhill section really struggled and she parked herself about a half-mile out (the top of the hill) trying to secure enough energy to get to the aid station and quit.

Both Hector and I napped in the back of a U-Haul on cots (because it was cooler and dark in there) while waiting for a ride back to the start.

Eventually, the RD’s wife showed up with some supplies and we got a ride back to the start.  Probably the funniest moment on that ride back was picking up a runner who was off course (I think he had decided to quit, but didn’t want to slog through the trails and moved off to the paved road, which is where we found him.).

Once I got back to the start, I found a few folks I had run with (half the field ended up dropping).  Ralph had gotten to the aid station at mile 12 and dropped.  Another runner, Aaron Sorensen (apparently of Long Beach, too), had a stomach issue and had stopped at the same location.

I watched some of the shorter distance race finishes – 30K and 50K – and then waited for the top 2 finishers, who came in 22:55 and 23:30. Just as comparison for how tough this race was (besides the listed 52,000 feet of climbing and descent), the winner at Rocky Raccoon 100M did 12:47, 10 hours faster!  I later learned that my friend, Jakob Hermann, had nearly quit, but stuck it out to finish in 38 hours or so.

I drove back to Santa Barbara and spent the rest of the weekend with my cousin Daniel and his partner Henri.

If there’s something I take away from these DNFs, it’s not discouragement.  I take each race separately and I realize that conditions and my health dictate whether I have a chance to finish or not.  When I finish, it’s about the adventure.  I usually don’t finish in first and have finished at the back.  If I don’t finish, I strive to do better next time… or realize that I have limitations – I’m not a 20-something average height kid who has endless energy and can bounce back quickly; I’m 6’6″ and in my 40s, but I still love a good challenge.

Santa Barbara Endurance Race – 2012

April 13, 2012

This was to be the epitome of my Santa Barbara ultra racing career.  Particularly with Endurancesmith Racing, because I had previously completed the 50K (2010), 50M (2009), and 100K (2011).  Now I was going to finish the 100-miler.

However, RD Robert Gilcrest called me on Tuesday, asking what I thought should happen, since torrential rains were forecast for the entire weekend.  Probably this should have been decided long before Tuesday night, since people flying out for the race probably may have already arrived or could no longer cancel their hotel reservations.  I told him that he should NOT cancel this race at this point, but come up with a viable alternative course if the original course was impossible to run.  Although it would not be what he wanted, I suggested to find some kind of 5 mile loop course on a mostly paved surface that would not be affected by torrential rains.  Robert did come up with a plan “B,” but it was far from ideal and nothing like what I had suggested.

On Thursday night, Robert bought us all dinner and we went over the revised course.  The major difference in the course were certain sections that were all but certain to wash away in any kind of rain.  For the most part, the course was intact.  The other change was that we were starting an hour later than proposed, hoping that most of the worst rain would have already passed.  Who knows if this would make any difference?

So at 5:45am on Friday the 13th, I headed out from my cousin’s house in Santa Barbara and headed for the Los Padres National Forest and the Sage Campground race start.  It was raining a little bit, and it seemed as if everything would be OK.  Our instructions at the start mostly related to what the ribbons looked like and also that there was one section that was mostly unmarked but that when we got to the bottom of the hill, we would turn right, cross the small creek and then take the paved road for a few miles until we reached Red Rock and the start of the uphill.

A little after 7am, we set out.  There were only about 20 of us, including Jakob Hermann and Rafael Covarrubias (the latter who I had roped into last year (but was unable to participate) and then at a deeply discounted rate this year (since he missed last year).  We ran through the campground (paved) to the start of the dirt trail.  It was still raining lightly.

The trail portion was actually a nature trail that extended for about 3/4 of a mile before hooking into the upward slant of the local trail.  About as soon as this started, the rain became more intense and the trail was getting muddier and muddier.

Soon, I began hearing thunder and counted the seconds from the lightning to the thunder.  On my right side, it was 5-7 seconds delay, but on my left, it was nearly simultaneous.  That alarmed me (but not those around me) as I was the tallest structure on this hill.  I did not really want to be struck by lightning!

At the top of the hill I was with Jakob and Rafael.  I am not great with downhill and particularly not with muddy downhill.  I was looking for sufficient footing, and finding none, I was looking for the least steep “ski” route down.  Jakob shot a video with his camera, where basically Rafael says, “It’s not so bad, as he goes careening down the trail out of control.”

My slow, deliberate pace put me quite a bit behind these two and soon they were completely out of my view.  The trail was single-track and completely underwater (if you can be underwater heading downhill on a mountain).  Each and every time I put my hand down for balance, my hand and arm would emerge muddy to the elbow.  It was quite a challenge.

When I got to the bottom of the hill, I could not recall whether I was supposed to go to the right or the left (or whether this was the trail intersection) as there were no marks of any kind (as previously stated).  I called out to anyone around me, but there wasn’t anyone around me.  I finally decided that I would go right.  It was then that I spotted a cone and a raging river crossing (the dry creek, apparently).  I didn’t think that was right, so I figured out a way around the crossing and got onto the paved road.

I started to go to the left onto the OHV, but remembered from my webwork on this event that we would not be on the OHV (something like Off Highway Vehicle) until after Mile 50, so I kept on the paved path.  I spotted another runner behind me and he followed (whether he knew which way to go or was following me because I picked a direction, well, who knows?).  I continued not to see anyone, but I worried less because I was on a paved road.  After another 20 minutes, I started seeing people heading back towards me.  They all said that the race had been called, for now, because the roads were impassable and no one would be able to assist us if we got into any bit of trouble.

Robert drove by in his truck with a trailer attached and said to run back to the start (but not the way we came) and we would discuss options (the same options that should have been set out on Tuesday).

The rain was still sheeting down and the road had to cross the Santa Ynez River twice to get back to the campground.  When I say that the road was crossing the river, I am not talking about a bridge, but rather the road went THROUGH the river.  For most of the year, this was a minor issue – either 1-2 inches to as much as 8 inches deep.  Today, well, it was really deep.  We started to see why the rangers didn’t think it was safe or doable for the race to continue.

Stream crossing

Stream crossing

The water was knee deep in some sections (knee deep on ME!).

When we got back to the campground, we estimated that we had run about 7.4 miles.  Robert came up with a suggestion that the race would be on hold until 7 tomorrow morning; however, if we wanted to (on the trust system) run more of the distance somewhere around Santa Barbara today (since most of us had planned on running all day and all night), we could run with one of the other distance races tomorrow (since we would only have 24 hours to finish a difficult 100-mile course otherwise) – 100K, 50M, 50K, 30K or 10K (though if you only spared 10K to go… might as well just keep going).

I thought about driving into Santa Barbara and running along the beach road… but felt a little nervous about driving my car over the river crossing (not the one in the picture, but the 6″ one we had driven to get to the campground in the first place).  Also, our only female runner had suggested that we run one complete loop of the campground path and see if we could do loops of THAT.  Andi Ramer and I ran up through the far end of one parking lot, down around to another section of the campground, down to the edge of the river and then back to our camp space.  Her GPS said 1.05 miles.  Andi sent her husband, Don, into town to pick up supplies and away we went, doing basically one mile loops in the cold, wet rain.

For the first 20-odd miles, including the initial 7.4 miles of mud and river road, I averaged about 13:20/mile, and then it bumped up to about 14:00/mile for the next 10 miles, and kept slowing the longer I stayed on the pavement, because quite simply, my feet hurt.

After about 2 hours of doing loops, a runner formerly in the race came to see what we were doing.  He had been staying at Rancho Oso and had gone and taken a shower.  He decided to go back and get his running shoes and join us.

After about 4 hours, about 5 guys showed up out of the blue.  They had taken the left hand turn onto the OHV road and slogged for hours, without seeing a single mark (THAT would drive me crazy, since I freak out after only a few hundred yards of not seeing anything).  They had probably covered 50K, and decided NOT to join us.

Rafael and Jakob made an early decision not to do loops.

Basically, it was Andi, me, and Drake Tollenaar (who was “celebrating” his 43rd birthday), plus Jim Harrison (who had joined us late).  It was nice on the smallish loop, because occasionally, I would get into sync with one or more of them, and we would have a brief conversation… and then they would surge ahead.

After about 33 miles (for me, at least), the rain had mostly stopped and the nature trail was usable.  It was about a half-mile of soft dirt/sand and was a welcome change from the hard paved road.  Most of us started doing an extended loop of running a half-mile out and then a half-mile back to each loop.  My pace was at 16:00 miles now.

Around 6:00pm, Robert showed up to let us know that the race was not going to continue.  We told him of our plan and he said, “Fine.”  He had to get back and try and contact all of the other racers to tell them not to show up.

Andi’s pacer showed up and began running with her, and Jim’s wife ran a few laps with Jim.  After 42 miles, my feet were really starting to hurt and I decided that I was going to call it quits after 50 miles, seeing as that I was running the Miwok 100K in 3 weeks time and didn’t want to ruin my chances of finishing.

Besides, in the dark, I was not making much forward progress.  My last 8.1 miles I averaged about 19 minutes per mile – slow going.

When I stopped at just over 50 miles, I estimated my time at somewhere between 13 and 14 hours (13:11 of what I recorded, but I had stopped my watch from the stop point to the walk back to the start).  Since it was totally dark out, I decided that I would sleep in my car, because I was too nervous to drive across the narrow river crossing in the dark.

This was a huge mistake because, A) I had no dry clothes (having run with my jacket on); and B) people were continuing to run and make noise and shine their light into my car.

After an hour of shivering, I scampered into the front seat, started my engine and ran the heat at full blast for about 10 minutes, and turned off the car and tried to sleep in the dissipating heat for an hour or so (and then repeated until it was light enough to leave).

At about 3:30 (I think), Drake finished, with Andi finishing a little before I left to drive back to Santa Barbara.  Jim, who had started several hours back and was also not as fast as either Andi or Drake, finished several hours later.

The aftermath of the race was that the volunteers who had been able to drive in to support us, never really saw any runners.  There was one 100K runner who showed up in the evening and Robert gave him a map and the location of the aid stations so that he could run the race and be somewhat supported.  Some of the volunteers were “rescued” out of their area and the vehicles were rescued a week later when the ground absorbed the rest of the water.

Next year’s race is going to be in June.  It could possibly still rain, or it could be seasonably hot.  No matter what, it’s going to be an adventure!

Rocky Raccoon 100M – 2011

February 3, 2011

Tomorrow I leave to attempt my 100 miler.  For a while, I was really nervous about doing this event, due to all of the issues I have had leading up to the race (sore-ish throat, tweaked back, popping knees, banging my knee into a drawer, etc.).  All of that stressing about that race went out of the window, when I started getting weather updates from my family and from friends who were coming from elsewhere to run this event.

One of my original plans was to fly into Dallas and then maybe have a family member drive down with me to the race.  That was a bad idea given that the Superbowl was being held in Dallas on the same weekend.  The cost was prohibitively more expensive than just flying to Houston.

The weather reports for the week and also for the weekend was a freak winter storm.  My sister, Marisa, was working on Bridgestone’s The NFL Experience at the Superbowl, and they were unable to get many workers there because of icy roads.  Many friends heading to Houston were saying that their airports might be closed and that Houston Airport also might be closed.

To top it off, my flight was connecting through Salt Lake City.  I thought what is probably going to happen is that either I won’t be able to fly into SLC, or my flight will be delayed or cancelled (since there are always issues in Utah in the winter).

I dutifully checked weather.com and really didn’t agonize about the race because I was certain that I would not even get the chance to get there.  If I did make it, then I’d cross that bridge when it appeared.

The additional reports of weather were from my friend Jerry Hollingsworth (who I had met at the Sunmart 50M in 2008).  My plan was to sleep on his hotel couch on Friday night.  He was driving down from Abilene with another guy, Gary Garson (who was doing the 50M “fun run”), but the roads into Dallas were so bad, that they had to take a 3-hour detour.  But… they did get there.  Reports were looking slightly better from my point-of-view… Houston Intercontinental wasn’t closed… yet, and none of my other flights were cancelled.

February 4, 2011

Took my minimal run bag and whatever gear I needed and took public transportation to the Long Beach Airport.  When I arrived, the flight was still on, and the report in the morning was that SLC Airport had clear skies and no snow, so at least that leg was still on.  I figured I would probably be stranded there for the weekend, but I had committed to the weekend, so there was no use to freak out about it.

When we arrived in Salt Lake City, I went over to the other terminal to transfer flights.  They did not indicate any delays, and I asked if the conditions were OK.  They said that the weather had warmed a little bit and that the runways were in good condition.  I guess this is a go…

When I arrived in Houston, it was REALLY cold out.  I had made arrangements to rent a car and the rental agent was somewhat aghast that I was decked out in shorts (minimal travel).  I told her all about my upcoming adventure and fortunately, I had gotten my car through Hotwire, so I wasn’t relying on driving a subcompact and messing up my legs from the get-go.  She did warn me that the roads could be icy (and Houstonians are not known for driving in wintry conditions (because it NEVER snows in Houston)).  I am not great with driving in icy conditions, either.

I drove cautiously up the interstate to Huntsville (about an hour without traffic) and found the hotel without too much trouble.  The flight was slightly late, though the odds of being able to check-in for the race on Friday would have been difficult to impossible even if the flight was on time.  I would have to do it in the morning.

I found my friend’s room, and he showed me the pullout couch (not big enough, but free) and then said that they were getting ready to go to bed.  That had to be my option, too.  But I should mention here that it was probably about 8pm Central time… which is 6pm Pacific Time.  I wasn’t really tired or ready to go to bed.  I set my stuff out and I tried to sleep in the darkness.  Knowing that I had to get up at 4am (2am Pacific) didn’t help me fall asleep any faster.

February 5, 2011

I awoke with enough time to get ready, and without disturbing my roommates too much (they had already gotten their race bibs and stuff, so they were on a less pressing schedule).

Because it was pretty cold out, I dressed much warmer than usual.  My typical ultramarathon fare is my running shorts with bicycle short liner, technical t-shirt, Moeben sleeves, Buff around my neck, gloves, gaiters on my shoes, and hat with removable sun guard.

Today, I added:  long-sleeved Nike tech shirt with built-in hoodie, my 2008 Sunmart finisher’s jacket (with pockets and hood), and Nike long “track” pants.

Inside, I felt warm.  Outside, I couldn’t get warm enough.

I went to the rental car and the windshield and back glass were iced over.  Hmm… How do I get through this?  Ahh… In my wallet, was my Ralphs Rewards Card.  It served as an acceptable ice scraper.  It took a while, though, and I still had to get my race bib.

Fortunately, the park was just one exit down the freeway, so I got on and off the freeway, and then drove the 5-odd miles into the Huntsville State Park.  As I got closer to Race Headquarters, there were volunteers directing us where to park.  I wanted a spot that would not be too far from the start/finish, but took whatever they gave me (which was 200 yards from the start/finish).  Now I just needed to get my bib and giveaways.

But… no one seemed to know where to send me… or if they did know, then they said stuff like, “You know, the old cabin over there.”  I don’t see a cabin…

I wandered around quite a bit; I didn’t want to wander around quite a bit, as I will be “wandering” for hours.  Finally, I spotted the cabin, and there were actually people still registering for the race.  There weren’t a lot of volunteers in this check-in location, and I was a little antsy, because I did not want to still be inside when the race started.

I pinned my number on my shirt (under my jacket and overshirt), locked my run bag, pants, and race tech shirt in the car, grabbed my water bottles, and stashed my drop bag in the designated area just outside the start/finish area.

I looked around for Gary and Jerry and tried to stay warm; in 15 minutes, I would embark on a 100-mile adventure…

In running this event, I didn’t have any particular plan… except to try and finish.  The one nice thing about this race is that the first cutoff wasn’t until 80 miles, which you had 24 hours to complete.  (Usually, there are interim cutoff points to strive for, somewhat so you don’t get through most of the distance and then have to stop.)  After that, you had to complete each 3 mile section in an hour (basically each aid station closed after that point).  The final cutoff was 30 hours for the entire race.

In case it hasn’t been clear in my other posts about ultramarathons, other than some brief stops at aid stations to refuel or regain one’s composure, there is no stopping and restarting.  When they say “30 hours,” they mean you have 30 hours from the start of the race until the end.  If you are fast, then maybe you could take a 3-hour nap in the middle.  If you are just trying to finish, then you may need just about all of the time.

There were 316 starters in the 100 miler (and around 200 in the 50-mile, which started an hour later).  They had expected about 700 total runners, but a lot of people simply couldn’t get to the starting line because of the inclement weather.  I placed myself firmly at the back of the pack because I didn’t want to push the pace one bit.

It was still pretty dark out when the race began, but I had my trusty headlamp.  Most of the other people didn’t wear their headlamps, either relying on others’ lights or just following the pack.

An interesting aspect of this race is that it is 5 – 20 mile loops.  Previously, I have run about 5 or 6 LONG races that involved doing loops.  In particular, several of the Charlie Alewine events are marathons which are 6.55 mile loops.  Strangely enough, it isn’t that boring.  I mean, it’s 6-1/2 miles.  It’s not as if I’m running laps around a track (or even the Sun Dagger 12-hour race I did which was 5K loops around the Rosebowl.  If the surroundings start to look familiar, then I can either use that to my advantage (knowing where I excel or struggle) OR strike up a conversation with someone I’ve never met before.  This loop, however, is TWENTY miles.  That’s almost like running 5 marathons in a row on the same course… I’m sure I won’t really remember what transpired 4 or 5 hours before or what exactly the course looked like.

On the other hand, I do have some familiarity with the course, having run 2 – 50 mile races here in 2007 and 2008.  I’m sure some of the course will be familiar, though it is certainly not the same course.

As soon as the gun goes off, I start shuffling off behind the many others.  It is COLD!!!  I have my Buff (in case you don’t know what that is, it’s a circular technical scarf around my neck (if you watch Survivor, it is a smaller version of what they wear to identify tribes) pulled up over the top of my head AND also pulled up over my nose (only my glasses are showing, though I would prefer to cover that area, too).  Over that, is my hooded shirt, and over that, is my hooded jacket, cinched tight… and I’m STILL cold!

Proof that I wore long pants

Proof that I wore long pants

The start of the race is very familiar to me, because it was the same section that I followed many times in the 50-mile (12.5 mile loop) course.  It is basically a two-lane-highway-wide pathway, with telephone poles going through the middle of it… and has somewhat patchy grass along it as well.  There are some tents and chairs set up along the entire section (about 200 – 300 yards long), which I assume is for spectators.

From here, the trail parallels the main park road on a double-track dirt trail with lots of little ups and downs, with a lot of root “staircases.”  I keep mindful of my footing, as one fall on these ‘stairs,’ and I may be done for.

In the Sunmart 50 miler, the course crosses the main park road and continues off in another direction (I will be there later.).  The 100-mile course veers left and begins to parallel the lake.  This is also familiar to me, because it was towards the end of the 12.5 mile loop.  It also stands out, because this is where the number of wooden bridge crossings start.  In parks such as these, where the ground may be marshy, they put in wooden “bridge” sections.  A bridge usually consists of a 3 – 10 plank incline, 10+ planks across, and then a 3 – 10 plank descent.  What I am calling a plank is maybe a board that is 3 feet long and a foot wide.

In some of these sections, it isn’t really necessary to use the bridge, though I note that if you run on the dirt part of the trail, you do need to watch out for roots.

As we leave the lakeside, we make an almost hairpin turn and head out into the woods.  There is another bridge here, and there seems to be a bit of a hubbub here, where people are standing around.  There is an actual water crossing and the incline and decline over the bridge is at a steep angle than any of the other bridges we’ve previously seen (or for that matter, steeper than any I’ve seen throughout this park).  Some of the folks are unable to get up the incline… not because it is too steep (because it is only about 4 feet above the trail) but because there was a bit of moisture last night and this morning it created a thin layer of ice all over the bridge.

On the other side of the bridge is a woman lying on the ground and a couple of people around and attending to her.  She made up the bridge, but when she tried to run/slide down the other side, she tripped and fell.  (I later learned she broke her ankle – not even 3 miles into the race.)

Those of us behind her looked for another option.  We ended up rolling some wood logs into the water (which wasn’t really deep, but COLD) and stepping onto them while holding onto the bridge.

Just past this section was another LONG bridge, but only elevated about a foot off the ground.  It was completely roped off.  I’m not certain if this had to do with the iciness or if they hadn’t completed work on it yet.  The alternative path was alongside the bridge, which was not really a path at all, but trudging through crunchy fallen pine and fir branches.  This was kind of like a 1/4-single track, and we all had to go single-file and no passing.

By the time I got to the first aid station (Nature Center – 3.1 miles), it was light out enough that I could tuck my light back into my pocket.  I would have an opportunity later to leave it in my drop bag, but in my experience, I don’t leave anything in my drop bag that I would like back… so I am not planning on putting my light in my drop bag, but carrying it with me all day (until it gets dark) instead.  I reach the first aid station in 44:17, which is a 14:17 mile.  If I can maintain this pace for the entire distance, I will be good.

From the Nature Center aid station, we turn onto more familiar trail.  This is basically Miles 4 to 7 of the Sunmart race.  It is a lot of switchbacks (though not really hills – each loop only has about 1000 total feet of elevation change) through the forest, and mostly on single- and double-track, as well as a few bridges (both crossing water and crossing (supposedly) marshy areas.

This trail pops out on the back trail which surrounds the entire park border – Triple C.  In the Sunmart race, we did a couple mile out-and-back to the left here, but today, I am going to the right.  We stay on the road for maybe a quarter-mile and then head back into the single-track which is between the Triple C Trail Road and the lake.  When we get back onto the Triple C trail, it is about a half-mile and I’ve reached the second aid station (Dam Road – 6.1 miles).  This is a BIG aid station, because on each loop, runners go here twice.

The people who run this aid station like to refer to it as “Dam-Nation.”  I’m not feeling damned yet, but I’ve covered this 3 mile section in 44:22 (slight slower than the first 3.1), refill my water bottles, grab a few snacks and continue on.  Since I am now over an hour, I am taking my Succeed S!Caps to keep my electrolytes balanced.

Now comes the longest section between aid stations, and the most difficult, most boring part of the loop.  I continue to walk/run along Triple C Trail.  I make note of a couple sections which could be difficult later.  Just past the 50-mile turnoff (they do a 16.67 mile loop, and just after Dam-Nation, they make a smaller loop and begin heading back), there are sections in the road where in the center, it craters downward.  It is definitely something that you cannot spot in the dark when you have no depth perception.  I make a note that I will just need to stay to the sides where the drop is less severe.

This road stays absolutely straight for a couple of miles, and then turns right and heads down another hill (but not craters, just subtle downhill).  The road disappears and I find myself on a single-track.  About 5 minutes later, I hear a buzzing noise.  It’s unnatural-sounding, and then another 5 minutes later, I run across a carpet and hear a beep.  Ah.  The timing mat.  This makes sure that we go to the far end of the trail and complete the entire distance.

Soon again, I recognize the trail.  There is a bit of a hill (maybe 15 feet of gain) and I am on top of the dam.  It’s basically a raised double-track trail which is now above the lake.  I am also noticing that it is not as chilly as it was this morning.  I wonder if by the time I finish this loop that I won’t need all of my layers anymore.

At the end of the dam, we drop back down and circle around some more on these single-track trails.  As the lake bends to the right, we turn to the left, and find ourselves back on the Triple C Trail, heading back to Dam-Nation.  I am starting to feel a little discomfort in my right foot.  I don’t know if it’s rubbing the wrong way, or what is going on, but I don’t really have any rocks in my shoes, so I just keep on going.  I get back to Dam Road aid (12.1 miles) in 90 minutes (15:00/mile).  Still good.  Not remotely approaching the 19:00/mile average needed to finish.  I’m still under 15:00/mile net.

This next section involves a bunch of back-tracking.  I head the 1/2 mile back on the Triple C Road to the single-track section… back to the other side of Triple C.  But when I get back to the original spot where I hit Triple C, now I continue up the fire road in the direction I am familiar with (the Sunmart course).  This section is mostly loose sandy dirt and rolling hills.  Some of it is worn down where runners tend to congregate (not deeply, but you can tell).  They have done some good work to try and clip through the roots that stick up on the trail (because it’s easy to shuffle through one and do a header (much like I did at Rocky Road Preview 50K last month)).

I can remember from 2008 that we went probably a mile on this trail and then turned around, but the course continues past that point and even through a gate and down a bit of a hill to the Park Road aid station (Mile 15.6).  It takes me about 48:30 (right at 15:00/mile), and now I am on the “homestretch” and will be finishing my first 20-mile loop.

The aid station is on the main park road, so we cross over it and head to the Triple C Trail head on the other side.  We follow this for a few miles, and then we are suddenly backtracking along the edge of the blocked off bridge, the mini-bridges along the lakeside, the rooty “staircases” paralleling the road and then, finally, the green-ish couple of football fields through spectators just starting to cheer for runners.

The Start/Finish is a big tent, and as you come inside, someone makes note of your number, directs you to a chair, and another volunteer brings you your drop bag.  (Really really nice.)

Also, as you get inside, then you are crossing the mat and recording your time.  My must-have total time needs to be under 6 hours, because that’s what I need to average in order to finish under the time limit.  Of course, I don’t want to be at six hours, because I’m not going to be going faster at night on the single-track, bridges and roots.  My time is 4:47:53.  So I have an hour in the bank.

I do sit down and take off my shoes, and oh, my god… have I got a blister!  For some reason, I can’t think what to do with it.  I ask if they have a needle or bandages or something, but they don’t.  I remember that someone said to wrap your foot with duct tape and that should take care of the issue and prevent you from getting more… so I take my shoe and sock off completely and wrap my right foot in duct tape.

I also take some time to remove outer layers of clothing.  It’s almost 11am, and the temperature is above 60, so I don’t need a jacket AND a long-sleeved shirt.  I do keep the buff (protects my neck from sun) and the gloves, because I can deal with wearing them in average weather.  In total, I am at the aid station about 6 minutes dealing with my foot and clothing.

Just after finishing 20 miles.

Just after finishing 20 miles.

So… now I set off on another 20-mile loop.  This is where it is supposedly going to get “boring,” but the first section doesn’t seem that familiar.  Maybe it is because it is not dark out.  Or maybe it is because before I was skiing across bridges, now I am just walking across them (the ice having melted).  The course DOES look different in the light.  It’s kind of a different look.  I am also not looking through a very narrow viewpoint of all of my head coverings.

Another change is that although the course has thinned out somewhat from people being in different positions, there are a lot more people on the course, and especially on the out-and-back sections, there are a number of people coming AT me now.  At this point, most are the 50-milers, who are probably moving at the same pace as I am (they did 3.3 fewer miles but started an hour later).  Haven’t seen any of the 100-mile front-runners (though that would be demoralizing to be lapped already).

I get to the Nature Center aid station in 45:14 (about a minute slower than the first time around – great), which means I am still maintaining my pace.

Now I’m on the single-track section heading to Dam-Nation.  In the distance, I hear a beeping noise.  Well, not a constant beeping, but a couple of times every minute.  I strike up a brief conversation with a runner who is using the Galloway Method, albeit she is running for 40 seconds and walking for 20 seconds.  That would drive me nuts.  We can’t have much of a conversation because she keeps running off and I just maintain my pace and catch up and continue the conversation.

I also encounter a guy that is running barefoot.  Yech.  Too many rocks, roots and pounding.

I get back to Dam-Nation (Mile 26.1 (3.0M)) in 43:27 (a minute FASTER than before!).  This is the aid station that has stuff cooking, and so I feel like it is time to have a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich quarter.  Mmm.

Now I set off on the 6 mile, far end of the course timing mat loop.  In my head, I am now thinking about what I should do when I get back to the end of the second loop.  Should I put on more clothing, or will it be still warm enough when I finish my third loop?  If I continue at around 5 hours per loop, it will be 9pm.  I can’t imagine that the temperature will drop so precipitously by that point.  Well, if I come in around 5 hours, then I guess I will have to take that under consideration.

On this section, I also spend some time talking with a nice couple from California and Colorado, Beiyi and Daniel.  They are running together.  It is nice to run with people who are doing the same pace (well, I did catch up with them, and eventually pass (… or they let me pass when I was too verbose)).

I get back to Dam-Nation (Mile 32.1) in 90:21 (3 seconds faster – wow, I’m pretty consistent).  It’s about 70 degrees out.  Pleasant, and actually a bit on the warm side.  I’m thinking that maybe it won’t get cold tonight and this will be one of those weird Texas weather shifts.

Now I am heading out to the Park Road aid station (mostly on the large fire road).  I encounter the barefoot runner again – this time, he is nursing a sore foot.  I also encounter the race leaders – yes, I am being lapped.  And yes, they are 20 miles ahead of me.

I reach the Park Road aid station (Mile 35.6) in 51:48 (I lost FOUR minutes).  I still feel pretty good, though I am not certain that the duct tape is working on the blisters.

I continue on back to the start/finish to complete another lap.  I am debating about the jacket and also about doing something else about the blisters.  It still hasn’t occurred to me the best way to treat  them.  I finish the 40 miles in 9:48:49, but spend just over 11 minutes sitting down and keeping off my feet.  (Just for the record… I have now stopped and rested 16 minutes for a 40-mile run.)  My net time (I like to state the time when I LEAVE the station) is 10:00:10.  I decide not to take the jacket or hooded shirt.  It’s still pretty warm out.

Now the course is getting to be old hat.  This first section is very recognizable, now that I have done it twice in daylight (though it will certainly be night on the way back).  Just at the tail end of the initial out-and-back section, I encounter Jerry on his way in to finish his second lap.  He is doing great, and will finish his 40 miles in under 11 hours (so, he still has an hour in the bank).

My foot feels OK, and I get to Nature Center (43.1M) in 52:02 (7 minutes slower).  I am definitely starting to lose time off my original pace, but my net pace is still just over 15:00/mile.

I continue along to Dam-Nation (part 1 – 46.1M) in 48:01 (another 4 minutes off).  It is here when I am lapped for the second time by the eventual winner, Ian Sharman.  The best part was that he wasn’t some jerk sporting headphones or earbuds and storming on by, he was shouting encouragement to every runner he passed.  In the end, he ended up breaking the 15-year course record by 20+ minutes, 12:44, which averages out to under 8:00 minutes per mile… for 100 miles… on a trail!  Amazing.

On the next 6 mile section, it is starting to get a bit dusky.  I do manage to get by the crater trail section before it gets really dark, but unfortunately, it gets REALLY REALLY cold out.  Maybe like 30 degrees.  While I do have gloves and sleeves on, it really isn’t enough.  My teeth start chattering and the best I can do to stay warm is to clench my arms against my waist, because it consolidates the heat. Brrr!

I get back to Dam Road station (52.1M) in 1:50:12 (20 minutes slower).  This is where I am definitely going to lose a lot of time and also where I am glad to have a couple of spare hours in the bank.  My average overall pace goes from 15:08/mile to 15:48/mile on this section!  I stay a little while (because they do have heating lamps, and hot soup to warm me up slightly).  Another runner offers me use of his jacket, but I don’t think there are any extra large runners out here with spare jackets.

The single-track and fire-road section is really dark.  I have my light, but there is no light from the moon – a new moon, I think.  I also don’t have the best light, but whenever someone passes, I take advantage of using their light for that time period.  I get the chance to run with Beiyi and Daniel again, and this time, they pass me.  I get to Park Road aid station (55.6M) in 60 minutes (another 9 minutes down) and I am really suffering from the cold.  I just keep telling myself that in 3.5 miles I will be back at the start/finish and can get my shirt and jacket and also warm up a bit in that tent.

That ends up being a good motivator, but it is slow going with my arms akimbo, trying to produce extra warmth where there isn’t really any.  I finally make my way back to the start/finish (60.0M) in 15:45.

I am sitting relaxing for about 10 minutes and I encounter two people I know in the tent.  First, I run into Jerry.  Huh?  Jerry was behind me and never passed me.

Well, Jerry was moving well, and had just left Dam Road aid station heading out on the 6 mile loop.  About a half mile out, he encountered a collapsed runner.  Passed out, fell over, who knows?  So Jerry goes back to the aid station and alerts a volunteer, and then heads back out to continue… only later realizing that he left the aid station in the wrong direction.  By the time he figured out his mistake, he was resigned to stopping and walked back to the start.

The other person I see is Mark Hirsh, a guy that I ran with for probably 4-5 hours at Mt. Disappointment 50M.  I ran into him at the hotel, but didn’t recognize him (it had been a few years – and I am more recognizable to everyone than he is to me).  I had seen him a few times on the course and he was well ahead of me.

Mark had mentioned that this was his best chance to finish a 100-mile race – he had made two prior attempts but not finished.  (That tends to be a trend for 100-milers.)  So, given that he had been so far ahead of me (like an hour after the second loop), I was surprised to see him STILL in the aid station.  He said that he had been there an hour and was waiting for his coach to give him some advice (maybe to pace him, I don’t know).  I said I thought he should keep going, because that was what I was about to do.  (He ended up going out an hour later and then coming back and quitting.)

So, now I am heading out on my 4th loop.  I had a bunch of milestones coming up, in terms of time in 1 race, time in a weekend of racing, distance in one race, and distance in a weekend of racing.  All would come in the 4th loop.

I reached my first milestone 2.3 miles after starting out on my 4th loop.  That would be 62.3 miles… which would be the longest distance I have ever covered in a single race (when I did the Sunmart/White Rock double, I did 76.6 miles in a weekend… that’s coming up later).

My next milestone (officially at Nature Center aid station at 63.1M, because I didn’t look down at my watch that much) was time in one race.  My maximum time in a race had been 16 hours and 14 minutes.  By my watch, I was now at 17 hours and 1 minute (and covered the last 3.1 miles in 65:54 – SLOOOOW).

Longest run ever!

Longest run ever!

My actual longest time racing in a weekend was a minute or so later, because in 2007, I did 11 hours and 51 minutes for the 50 miler and 5 hours and 14 minutes for the marathon (17:04).

I continued moving as fast as I could, but it was hard to get going in the dark, because you wanted to make sure to stay on the trail, and also on the out-and-backs, whenever you encountered other runners, they would forget to nod their heads down and you would be blinded… repeatedly.  Frustrating.

I was also still pretty cold, even though I had added the shirt and jacket.  It just took some doing to get my body back to where it was.

It was really weird in the dark, because the most ordinary things looked extraordinary in the dark, or even menacing.  For example, someone dropped their glove and it was propped up with the four fingers pointing down and the thumb out.  In the distance, with my light, I saw a wild animal, with jaws clenching.  The different angle of the light changed its size and demeanor.  Of course, when I got close enough and my heart was racing, it was a stupid glove!

By the time I got to Dam-Nation, I was getting hungry.  (66.1M)  Another 66 minutes for 3 miles and it was after midnight.  They proffered me a quarter of a hamburger, but they had no bread, and no paper towels (I think a supply was coming.).  I deftly grabbed two quarter PB&J sandwiches, neatly tucked them around the hamburger and then I had an unusual hamburger sandwich.  (They thought it was gross; I thought it tasted great… but I may have been really hungry.)

Now I headed out into the worst section of the entire race (because it was so long, so dark, and so lonely).  I was mindful of the crater drops and didn’t have trouble with that.  I remembered in the day light that the trail was long and straight and that the generator hum and mat should be a few minutes after the right-hand turn.

Well, I had no trouble with the crater drops, but where was that freakin’ turn?  It was taking for-ev-er!  Then, once I made the turn, the only sound I could hear were wolves or coyotes baying at the moon.  I hoped that they weren’t close… or even in the park.

Finally, I heard the generator, and then a LOOONG time afterwards, I felt the map and the beep.  I began thinking, ‘I hope that I am going to make the cutoffs!’

February 6, 2011

I thought I would put in the date heading to emphasize that it is now a new day.  Well, it WAS a new day when I got to the last aid station, but I have now been in a race for two different days!

I got back to Dam-Nation (it’s starting to feel like Damnation) (72.1M) in 2 hours and 12 minutes (22 minutes/mile), and head out towards the Park Road aid station.  I would like to say at this point about how great all of the aid station volunteers were.  I don’t know what kind of shifts they worked, but to have this awesome attitude at midnight, 1am, 2am, whatever, it’s really helpful.

So, I make through the awful single-track connector back to the main fire road (Triple C, in case you forgot), and I have a strange revelation… or I don’t really know WHAT is going on.  It is either SO dark that I cannot see at all (even with my light)… OR… I am sleepwalking.  It is entirely possible that I have been shuffling along on this trail with my eyes closed, but there is a long period where I don’t really remember looking at anything, and then I focus again.  Weird.

About 1.5 miles out from the aid station, I have some extreme discomfort from my foot.  When you have a blister forming, it often feels like something hot is bursting at that spot.  I have also had blisters POP on a run, and it is much the same feeling.  I have had the blister discomfort (‘hot spot’) feeling for some time, and I have been doing things like walking on the edge of my foot or my heel or on my toes (OW!) to alleviate the discomfort.

Suddenly, it feels like my entire right foot (from the toe pads to the heel are on fire.  I think it is probably the big blister that I duct taped 53 miles ago is bursting.  It is excruciating!  I decide that I am going to try and ask for help at the next aid station.  I have finally figured out that I can use the pins from my race number to drain any bad blisters.  I just hope that they have some first aid that can assist me.

So, I limp in to Mile 75.6 (3.5 miles in 88 minutes – 25:11/mile) and ask if one of the volunteers could help me with my feet.  One says she really isn’t supposed to do anything (or maybe it’s that they aren’t properly equipped for the treatment), but I NEED it at this point.  She says that she doesn’t have a properly cleansed lancet, and I say, “Please use my safety pin.  I won’t blame or sue for anything.”

She says my feet look pretty bad, but that she drained the major blister (it didn’t pop, but it was a huge blister forming) and that I had 3-4 completely raw spots on and under my foot.  The duct tape that I put on early had actually rubbed off part of my skin entirely.  I thanked her profusely, but said I needed to get going, because I wasn’t about to do 75.6 miles and then quit.

Now time was beginning to become a factor.  I covered part of the distance with a gal from Georgia, Janette Maas.  We were discussing the cutoffs and what kind of leeway we would need to have in order to continue.  If we came in OVER the cutoff, then the decision would be made for us, because we would have to quit.  I told Jan (and myself) that if I didn’t have at least 30 minutes extra, then I would quit.  My mind was asking for two different things:

1.  No matter what time I come in, I am going to continue, because I am not going to quit.2.  Please, please, please, come in over the cutoff or over 23:30, so I CAN quit.

I didn’t want to quit, but I was HOPING to quit.  That seems odd, but my foot did hurt quite a bit and I thought one more 20 mile loop would be AWFUL.

Jan had the same sort of goal, but at a certain point, I said I really need to get going to make sure I make that cutoff… even though I kind of don’t want to make the cutoff.  She said, “I understand,” and I pursued the 80 mile cutoff at the start/finish.

Right before I arrived, my watch started beeping like crazy.  I couldn’t figure out what was going on, and then I realized what it was… my wake-up call… from the day before!  I had been awake for over 24 hours!

When I crossed the mat at Mile 80, the display read 23:18.  Damn!  I was definitely going to continue.  I tried not to stay too long because every second counted.  I managed to get out of there by 23:24, keeping my jacket and shirt, because it was still dark out and I didn’t know what to expect.  Jan came in about 3 minutes behind me, but opted to drop out.

Now the real race was beginning.  I basically had to maintain 20 minute miles (which I had not been doing for the past 7-8 hours) and make each of the cutoffs at the aid stations.  Since it was still dark and cold, it was slow going.  I was cheered on by a number of 50-milers coming in to finish, though most were like, “Heading out for another lap?  How brave of you!”  Not exactly encouraging, but I took it in the best way possible.

As it started to get lighter, I felt the pressure of possible missing cutoffs (now that I had decided to do another 20 miles on the blister foot), and once I could see better, I started to rush a little more.  I got to Nature Center (83.1M) for the final time in 24:33:25.  Oh, wow!  I am over 24 hours running.

24 hours on my feet!

24 hours on my feet!

The volunteers at the aid station encouraged me not to stay very long because they wanted me to finish, too.  They said, you better get going.  While the time cutoff at this aid station was 25 hours, in the last 3 miles, I had dropped 9 minutes of my 36 minute safety cushion.  I hoped that in daylight, I could pick up some more time and not have to run in to the end (because “by God, I did NOT want to run!”).

I tried a little jog-walking, almost bouncing on my feet (in a non-irritate the blisters kind of way) throughout the single-track and fire-road section.  I would rather have extra time to walk in IF I am able to jog a little bit now.

I got to Dam Road aid station (86.1M) ahead of the cutoff again (yay?) in 25:26:16.  I picked up 7 minutes and increased my pace from 22 minutes per mile to 17:37 per mile.  At this point, I was starting to see some other 100-mile runners who were returning from the 6 mile loop and heading into the finish.  They were a little more encouraging than the 50-mile finishers and other people I encountered earlier (probably because they knew that I was slightly ahead of the cutoff and could use the encouragement).

There was this little bit of downhill section ahead (the craters and the section towards the timing mat), so I jogged a little bit more here, also.  On the other hand, it was this same unpleasant, long section that I suffered through earlier this morning.  I hoped it wouldn’t take as long (2 hours and 12 minutes), but I did have as much as 2 hours and 34 minutes (if I wanted to “sprint” in to the finish!).

By the time I was in this section, it was moving towards mid-morning, and the temperature perked right up.  I didn’t need my jacket, and I didn’t need my shirt.  I tied both around my waist.  It kept me cooler, but it was kind of uncomfortable with the long sleeves swinging.  It was really pretty along the dam this time (I had seen it around the same time yesterday, midday, in the dusk, and not at all previously.).  I couldn’t really enjoy it, since I was in a hurry.

Finally, I got back to Dam-Nation for the 10th and final time.  About a minute out from the station, a volunteer ran up to me, grabbed my water bottles and refilled them by the time I got to the aid station.  They knew what I needed to do, and assisted me as such to make sure that I reached my goal.  So awesome!  Now I was through 86.1 miles, and completed the last section in 1:53:37, for a net time of 27:19:53 – now a full 40 minutes ahead of the cutoff (picked up another 7 minutes!).

I had to go through that single-track section connecting Triple C to itself one final time, but once I was on the fire-road again, I cruised on the downhills and pace walked the straights and slight uphills.  I got back to Park Road aid station and thanked my savior once again.  She was happy to see that I had made it back (and mostly thanks to her).  I was hoping to have an average of 22 minutes/mile for the final section so that I wouldn’t have to run to make the final cutoff.  I came in at 28:20:52 (I’m not sure what my time margin was because this section was a little longer – 3.5 miles – but as compared to my time on the 4th leg, I was 34 minutes FASTER!).  I now had 1 hour 39 minutes to do 4.4 miles – I had my 22 minutes per mile.

All the same, I still felt like I was pressed for time.  Since I was familiar with the course, I gave myself certain checkpoints and said, “If I don’t get to roped-off bridge by x-time, then I’m going to have to run, and I don’t want to have to run!”  Each checkpoint found me ahead of where I thought I would have to be.  In fact, I passed 4 or 5 people in this last section, including Beiyi and Dan, Misty and Josh (seeing that I passed two ‘couples’ running together from the results, but didn’t talk to the latter two).

When I got to the path paralleling the lake, I was fairly confident that I could make it, because I felt that there was only about a mile and a half left, mostly flat, and about 45 minutes to do it in.  I was able to push the foot pain aside and just keep maintaining a steady walking pace.

Finally, I was paralleling the park road and starting to get emotional.  I was really going to finish.  I started doing my usual of singing patriotic songs out loud, like Star-Spangled Banner and Battle Hymn of the Republic.  When I finally turned onto the grassy final stretch to the finish, there were not a lot of cheering supporters – I was at the tail-end of the race… the last few finishers.  They were already dismantling the tent.

I crossed the finish line in 29:42:01.  I made it by just under 18 minutes.  I got my coveted Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile Finisher belt buckle.   As we told my nephews (3 and 5 at the time), ‘your Uncle Emmett did a race that started when you woke up Saturday morning to watch cartoons and ended on Sunday when you got home from church.”   They thought that was crazy!

The end.

The end.

As I looked around for someone to help me with getting my drop bag and dealing with my foot, I remembered to stop my watch.  I said, “Someone really needs to help me with my feet, because they hurt a lot!”  So, I sat down and someone helped me take off my shoes and gaiters and socks.  They propped my feet up and some spectators snapped a photo of my feet, exclaiming, “Come look at his feet; they will totally make you puke!”  They looked really bad, and you can totally understand why this was so painful – blisters on both foot pads, heels, big toes, etc.

My feet post-race

My feet post-race

They were out of proper supplies (or had already packed them away), so they cleaned my feet with eye wash, and wrapped them in gauze the best they could.

Post-race, my original plan had been to sleep in the car in the park or somewhere and then either stay with Marisa’s friends who lived somewhat nearby or… I hadn’t really figured it all out.  Marisa spent some of her hotel points and got me a room at a hotel about halfway between Huntsville and Houston.  I thought I might nap before going, but ultimately decided that I would drive there, shower and then rest.  Besides, it was noon (aka 10am).

As I gingerly drove to the hotel, I thought I might stop and get something to eat, but I never found a drive-through (and didn’t want to drive around a lot looking for one in an adjoining town), so figured I would eat something out of my drop bag.

I was able to park pretty close to the hotel entrance, but my feet were so sore, that it literally took me 20 minutes to limp the 200 yards with my run bag and drop bag.  I leaned against the check-in desk, and they either gave me a room close to the elevator, or felt bad enough to give me a different room!

I then limped to the elevator, limped to the room, struggled to get undressed and get in the shower.  I couldn’t stand, so I tubbed a shower.  Then… I couldn’t get out of the tub… stood quickly, stumbled out, put a towel on the bed, and just lay on the bed (I was also chafed, so I wasn’t in a rush to put on my shorts.).

I reached for my drop bag, and I had two packets of Clif Blox.  Yum.  That’s just what I have been craving.  (Not really, but I couldn’t move to get anything else.)  The Superbowl was on the TV, but I was too sore to roll over, so I just “watched” over my shoulder or listened with my eyes closed.  I slept for a good long while.

February 7, 2011

I drove to Houston Intercontinental Airport and dropped off the car.  The same lady was there and amazed that I had finished.  I had given myself plenty of time to get to the gate, because I knew I would be moving slowly!!

Fortunately, I didn’t have to move much from the car rental place and it was a short (but excruciating) walk from the bus drop off to the check-in counter.  They noted my distress and put that I needed assistance throughout my travel and ordered a cart to take me to my gate).

Of course, I still had to go through security… and take off my shoes… and walk through the metal detector.  That was awful.  I could hardly get my shoes back on.

At the gate were several people from the race, including, I think, the 2nd place finisher, Anton Krupicka.  Most of them were lying on the ground with their feet elevated on the chairs.  They said it was to remove the swelling from their feet.  (Good to know.)

I was able to board the plane early and get “comfortable” for my flight to Salt Lake City.

When I arrived, my flight was in another terminal, and the assistance SLC offered was a wheelchair-like device… which I didn’t fit into… so I grabbed my bag (a duffel with both my drop and run bag), hooked it over my shoulder and slowly walked two terminals over.  It took about 30 minutes (but I had 2 hours to make my flight).

The flight back to Long Beach was in the puddlejumper area.  I finally got something decent to eat when I had a Quizno’s sandwich (though expensive).  The gate agent called my name and said that they would give me some extra time, but that it was quite a haul.  Boy, was it!

They gave me about 15 minutes extra time, but it was a good half-mile walk to the gate.  I actually didn’t get to the gate before the regular passengers!

Once I got back to Long Beach, the flight attendant mentioned that there would be a wheelchair available for me at the bottom of the jetway.  I said, “I don’t think I need it,” but when I got to the bottom of the jetway, I turned to the wheelchair guy, and said, “That’s for me!”  I really needed it.

Chuck met me at the curb and gave me a ride home, where I immediately took my shoes off.  My feet were so swollen (and I did sleep with them elevated) that I was not able to put my shoes back on for a week; they were even spilling out of my Tevas.

Raw skin on top

Raw skin on top and swollen

It was another two weeks before the blisters started to come off.

Two weeks afterwards

Two weeks afterwards

Just as an afterward, I was immensely grateful to the awesome volunteers that assisted me (and others) through the late night and the early early morning.  I decided to give back and volunteer at a local 100-mile race in Coto de Caza… and that I would take the 10:30pm to 7:30am shift, because that was the most-inspirational, most wonderful crowd in my experience.

I was paired with a new marathon runner, Kimberly Manfred, and we supported and (quietly) cheered on competitors for 9 hours while they attempted their own 100-miler.

From start to finish, this was a challenge.  I had said at age 25, that by 30 I would do a marathon (and I did) and by 40 I would do an Ironman Triathlon, but modified that to “finishing a 100 miler,” and I made it with about a month to spare.

Running 100 miles is a real test of endurance, but more than anything, it is a mental test.  Your body will tell you to stop (in a non-life-threatening way), but you need to convince your mind to continue.  I summited that mountain.  Will I try 100 miles again?   Only time will tell.