Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Pine to Palm 100-Mile

The weather has been amazingly good, warm to hot, clear skies and no heavy fog in the evening. I read somewhere that we had the coldest summer since 1975 and I believe it. It also looked like we were not going to get our indian summer. I haven't run since the finish last Sunday but I've been walking around the city, popping into shops and even visited the museum briefly. Apparently indian summers are the norm in the southern Oregon towns of Williams, Medford and Ashland as well. Indeed when we woke up the Monday morning after the race we were greeted by warm temperatures and sunny skies. It was nice and beautiful except for the duration of the race - funny how that sometimes happens. We rolled into Williams under gray skies, in fact it started raining while we were there. David's iphone showed the system that was on top of us, nifty things these iphones but I didn't need to see that, I had already packed for rain anyway and was ready for the worst. I had brought an extra pair of shoes, three extra changes of drymax socks, Vaseline petroleum jelly that I painstakingly scooped up and packaged into tiny ziplock bags, my trusty Marmot shell tucked in my Nathan pack that I planned on picking up at mile 67 and the pocket in one of my water bottle holders held a needle and anti-biotic for - foot care, warm wear, anti-chafing paraphernalia and blister aid.

The bad weather would prove to be a major factor for this race. Ultra-marathoners being what we are we shrugged our shoulders and hoped for the best. We are an all terrain all weather kind of folk. We pray for conditions that is conducive for fast times, we can whine and complain with the best but we won't put off a start because of inclement weather. It's part of the game. The weather was enough however to make the difference between finishing or dropping for a lot of people. It's not just the rain and wind you understand it's also the footing and the condition of the trails. Wet, muddy trail is a bigger challenge. At least for me, I'm more tentative on slippery ground. I want to go fast but because I'm also being careful not to lose my balance I'm tense the whole time, not totally relaxed. As conditions go I've had worse. Kettle Moraine 2008 takes the cake; hot and humid at the start with lots of biting insects, two thunderstorms that filled the trails with running water and the constant bass of the tornado warnings in the air. Second worst would be Bighorn 2007. The storm came the week before but it left in it's wake an extremely muddy course, stream crossings and snow at the turnaround point. That is the only race where I broke 30 hours and finished in a state that is uncharacteristic of my happy-go-lucky self. It broke me and I just wanted to crawl into a dark hole until I felt better. So as bad as it got at Pine to Palm I didn't think it was terrible. I did get cold out there which is unusual for me since I am comfortable in cool, rainy, windy weather and in my last hour when the skies opened up one more time with the heaviest downpour of the race I complained to my pacer, "I am so tired of being wet!" Of the 26:27:11 hours that I was out there I was wet for 24 of them. Boohooo right? Yeah I'm with you, at least I finished.

I think I'm a pretty solid runner overall in terms of being able to push through and work around obstacles. I felt confident that while I wasn't going to get the time that I wanted I would be able to persevere to the finish. It was all pretty routine, just another day at the office kind of day until Kathleen and I hit the last manned aid station at 93.5 miles. I had started shutting down since mile 90, things were tightening up and the quads were feeling quite trashed. We caught up with friends at the aid station and chose to rest up a bit. I made the mistake of sitting down while I ate and all of a sudden I felt colder, nauseous and dizzy. Immediately I got up and told Kathleen we had to get out of there. As we walked out I passed by a cot with a warm blanket and it was all I could do not to turnaround. I got scared at that point that I wasn't going to finish, that I was going to pass out and deemed unable to continue. Fortunately I felt better as we kept moving and eventually I traced it down to being low on my electrolytes. The gels were making me ill and the sweetness of the energy drink was not helping. I made the switch to water but in the midst of all of this I had forgotten to take my salt and it had been five hours since I had taken my last salt cap. I made the correction and by the time we finished I was right as rain.

Miles 1-31
The race has road and lots of it; asphalt, asphalt covered with gravel and hard packed fire road. We started with 6-miles of asphalt. Lovers of single track won't enjoy this race as much, I on the other hand was okay with it, it made the single track sections much more precious and I was able to make up time that was lost on the big climbs. There were a number of good climbs, miles 6 to 14 was the biggest of them all and I'm glad we got that out of the way early, the big climbs were also followed by long downhills which I found quite hard on the quads especially if they were on road. The downhill from 15 to 30 was just such a downhill. It started with a steep single track downhill that gave way to a long section of road. Before we arrived at the 31 mile aid station of Seattle Bar/Applegate River, we crossed back briefly to California. It was here that Evan Hone caught up to me. He had gotten lost with several runners early in the race. He looked relaxed and upbeat, had an "it is what it is" attitude about the whole thing. I wished him luck which was all I could do since he was quickly on his way. I thought for the most part that the course was well marked. In the case of Evan and the several runners who got lost with him, there was supposed to be course monitors at the crucial intersection who were not in position when they came through. There was also some confusion on the marking ribbons. At the briefing we were specifically told the type of ribbons to look for because there was another event being run in the same area. We were told to look for pink and black striped ribbons and fluorescent green ones, anything else we should ignore. Well we also found orange ribbons which were also meant for our race. I knew this to be true because the orange ribbons would be the only markers on the course and just when I would be convinced I was following a different event's course I would run into a pink and black striped ribbon or a green one. If it was true that there were two separate events sharing the same trail the pink and black striped and green ribbons would have come in shorter intervals, like every quarter mile as they indicated.

Miles 32-53.5
30 to 37/38 was a long and steady climb. Just before the 36-mile aid station of Stein Butte, Joe Palubeski catches up to me. Like Evan, Joe was another runner who should have been way ahead but he was part of the group that got lost with Evan. Unlike Evan, Joe was content to run my pace, he had expended a lot of energy trying to make up for lost time and needed to regroup. His misfortune was my blessing. Joe was excellent company and it was our first time running together. We were both amazed at how long it was taking just to reach 50 miles, I think we hit in the vicinity of 11:30 hours or so - a long time for a 50-mile. It dawned on us then that sub-24 was probably out of the question but we were optimistic. No sense giving up the fight only halfway through the race. When we arrived at Hanley Gap at mile 52 Joe's stomach was in rebellion. Hanley gap featured one of the three down and back sections where we had to go out and grab a flag at the turnaround point and return back to the aid station. The top of Hanley Gap was supposed to feature a terrific view of the area, what we found of course was fog and wind. When we left Hanley Gap for the last and second time I had fresh shoes and socks on and a light. I also asked an aid station volunteer to count the number of flags they had already received - the number came out to about 30 and indeed I would finish 31st in the overall standings. As we made our way to Squaw Creek Gap and mile 60 I slowly pulled away from Joe as his stomach continued to rebel. I was reluctant to leave the support of his company but it was time to go and he had been pushing for me to do the same.

Miles 54-67
By the time I arrived at Squaw Creek it was already dark. I was running alone for the most part but since a lot of the course was on fire road I kept getting passed by race traffic, crew and race staff shuttling back and forth from the aid stations. I barely stopped at Squaw Creek as I was eager to start the 2,000+ foot climb to Dutchman Peak. RD Hal Koerner had been on parts of the course checking up on us and I'm assuming the aid stations as well. He was a half mile from the peak warning us about the weather at the top informing us that it gets a whole lot better the moment we drop back down to the lower elevations. The top of Dutchman is the highest point of the course at 7,000+ feet. Since I was on the shielded side and below the peak I made some cocky comment about how the weather was just fine. He gave me a high-five anyway. Dutchman at mile 65 was the shelter from the wind storm. You see the lights before you actually make the station and it was so nice in there. The whole station is shielded from the wind, there are chairs and blankets, hot fresh food and cots for the weary - it felt like the eye of a storm. Dutchman is the second of the three down and back sections. Like Squaw Lakes we had to go out and grab a flag and return to the aid station. Thankfully there wasn't much climbing since we were already at the peak but boy that run along the ridge was a windfest. Wisely I had accessed my Nathan pack before leaving and dug out my Marmot shell and headlamp. It was nice to shed the garbage bag but cursed myself for forgetting to pack extra shirts. Shell went right over the already soaked t-shirt and arm warmers, at least the arm warmers were fleece lined.

With the down and back section it was mile 67 by the time I left Dutchman for the last time. As I was making my way down the fire road I heard my name called. It was Kathleen Egan who had traveled from Seattle to pace Larissa Polischuk. Larissa had been battling ITB Syndrome for weeks. She was able to get in two good long runs in training and got clearance from her physical therapist to run but the course and it's wet muddy state was too much for the knee. Larissa dropped at 42 but told Kathleen to search for me as I was running without a pacer. Kathleen had just pulled in as I was leaving the station, it was meant to be. Like Joe, it was my first time running with Kathleen and like Joe I was totally blessed for the company and the help. Kathleen was great conversation but she also knew when not to talk and let the running and walking be the conversation. Her company was especially welcome between mile 83 and 93, the distance between two aid stations. A 10-mile distance between aid stations seems like an eternity at night, towards the end of a 100-miler when you're tired and when 7 miles of it is uphill. At mile 88 we turned into a single track for the last of three down and backs. For two miles we made our way to Wagner Butte and runners we encountered warned us of the slick rocks. I thought that was strange. I mean we are all trail runners here, how slick are these rocks? Well let me tell you. At the end of the trail there were indeed rocks and some shrubbery that obscured the view of the top from the trail. I assumed the flag was at the top so I told Kathleen to just wait where she was while I went and got the flag. Wow... I went up and was laughing and staring with disbelief at what they had us doing for this last flag. The boulder pile is about one and a halt stories high and at the top is railing from a lookout point. We had to climb up, get across the railing, grab the flag then head back down. Not a big deal in daylight, not even a big deal at night, but it was a bigger deal after 90 miles of travel plus rain. I called out to Kathleen to come back and see for herself. I thought it was unsafe but whatever, one could argue the running trails with a lot of bear scat is also unsafe - there were a few nice piles of bear poop during the day.

The last 10 miles were the longest. I had run out of gas at this point, my only consolation was that it was all downhill. Despite the downhills however it was all I could do to keep moving. There were no time goals at this point, finishing was the only goal. As I had mentioned, at mile 93.5 I had felt dizzy and cold. I made a prolonged stop because I had been so sick of energy gels and was looking for more soup and cheese quesadillas. I took advantage of the seat because I had been so tired and that's when everything seemed to go on slow motion and a dizzying spiral. I was really worried I was never leaving that station so I left while I still could. What's another 8 miles?! We left with two other sets of pacers and runners, all of us walking instead of running out of the aid station. Slowly but surely we all started running and painfully made our way back to town. I figured out it was an electrolyte imbalance and was able to down some caps which didn't make me feel better right away but I felt great at the finish. The last hour the skies darkened up again and whoosh a big ol' downpour came on top of us. I was so sick and tired of being wet but I started laughing because I was picturing someone climbing up that damned boulder pile in the heavy rain. At least they were doing it in daylight! When I got in David and Larissa were there. Brett was in the hotel sleeping as he had finished in 22+ hours and came in 5th overall. He too came to the race pacerless but I'm glad Kathleen paced me instead. Clearly I needed the support more. I've started calling Brett "TrailZilla" because he has come in the top 5 of his three 100s this year, all of them hilly, mountain type ultras (4th at HURT 100, 2nd at TRT100 and now a 5th at P2P100.

Closing Notes
In retrospect I started out too hard. My heart rate monitor was not working and without it to keep me in line I let myself go a little too hard too early. These days I only wear it while racing and failed to check if it was in working order. Second, this was my last 100 for the year but another sub-par performance at the distance. San Diego in June was also a bit of a disappointment time wise. It seems like my departure from triathlon has hurt rather than enhance my running. More miles has not made me faster and I think cross training or the lack of lies in the heart of all this. One great thing about triathlon training was all the biking and spin classes I was doing. Anyway something to think about as I wind down my season and look forward to 2011. I've got two short ultras and a ton of volunteering to finish off the year.

Kathleen and I at the finish, very, very wet. Notice how there is barely anyone around. Who wants to stand in the rain?

Bay Area ultra running veterans Steve Patt and Keith Bloom.

Female champion Amy Sproston (22:39:00) and overall champion and Ashland local Timothy Olson (18:38:50). Tim would be the only one to go sub-19, everyone else was at the 21+ hour range.

Brett Rivers for 5th at 22:24:51.

Brett's buckle.

Evan Hone for 13th at 24:38:31.

Brett and I with Auburn local, Matt Keyes, after the awards ceremony.

Brett, Larissa and David at Morning Glory Monday morning. Great, great place for breakfast in Ashland.

My taste buds were 100% Monday morning. Good thing because this was the best omelet I've ever had; steak, cheese, spinach with a stroganoff type sauce. Guilt free eating and 100% delicious.

Timothy Olson makes the local paper.

Brett makes the paper too!

Shasta welcomes us home.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I'm Still Here

In one piece, slightly the worse for wear but still here and with a shiny new buckle. It turned out to be quite the adventure, quite the adventure indeed and three days later I am already entertaining thoughts of returning. I finished it so I have the option of never returning and now I want to go back. With the most painful parts already forgotten I can honestly say that it was a grand time!

It was a tough 100-mile made even harder by the weather. Like San Francisco the weather in that part of Oregon is supposed to be sunny in September and it was, just not during the race. It rained Friday, Saturday and the first half of Sunday - pretty much the entire event. We were soaked and it got cold during the night with the wind, fog and rain. The peaks which were supposed to give us all these great views where the places where we got a double dose of the elements.

I finished 26:27:11 for 31st out of 72 finishers and I heard there were 130+ starters out of 160+ that signed up. It won't go down as a good performance but one I feel quite blessed to have survived. I was fine overall and I have no complaints. In retrospect I started out a bit fast and it came back to get me in the end. I fell apart the last 12 miles, more so than I should have. Still no complaints, just happy to have made it to the finish line. I feel like I can do better and would like to give this race another shot in the future.

I will have a more comprehensive race report later but before I go I would like to say that part of the reason it was such a great experience was because of the company. I carpooled and shared hotel expenses with Brett Rivers, Larissa Polischuk and David Wronski who were fun, great people. Kathleen Egan, who flew in from Seattle to pace Larissa, paced me when Larissa dropped and she made my night. Kathleen was way positive, extremely helpful and knew when to talk and when to run - she got that rhythm down. The volunteers were great as they usually are at these events and I felt that along with Hal Koerner and his staff they went the extra mile for us.

More great experiences from the grand, beautiful state of Oregon.

Look how nice the weather is at the awards ceremony. With Brett Rivers and Matt Keyes.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Hello Oregon and Pine to Palm 100

I love Oregon. I only have good memories from this state, from my first marathon to the Hood to Coast Relay. My mom lived in Portland for a year and it was great visiting here. Like all the greenery. We left early this morning, made the drive with Brett Rivers, Larissa Polischuk and David Wronski. David will be crewing for Brett and our designated driver. None of us plan on going home Sunday though. We plan on a good night sleep Monday, lots of eating and an easy relaxed drive home.

I'm quite excited for this race. I've already committed the elevation profile to memory - it's a big deal for sure. I hate uphill starts and this will be the biggest one yet for me. It will be a mother but at least a mere 14 miles into the race we would have already climbed over a quarter of the total elevation gain for the race which is estimated at 20,000 feet.

Well I would like to stay and keep talking but we are winding down and the gang looks like they are ready to hit the hay. See you guys on the other side of the inaugural Pine to Palm 100!

RD Hal Koerner. Matt Keyes behind me said something about his cool shirt and I quickly snapped his picture. I'm sneaky that way. He said being RD will be harder than running, I believe him. We have the easy and much more fun job, lucky us!

Brett Rivers, Larissa Polischuk and Jon Kroll at registraion.

The elevation profile. It opens up with what looks like a 6,000 ft. climb and from that point a nice big steep drop. The last 20 miles is a doozy too - 10 mile climb to beat you down further and 10 mile downhill to shred the quads if they are not already. Then of course there's all that stuff in the middle. It will be a grand adventure.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Running and Driving

Ah Thursdays, I'm always a little slower on Thursdays these days. Thursdays are when I get up early and join a group of friends for an early morning 12+ miler in the Marin Headlands. It's a great group and it has certainly made me stronger especially on the hills. I'm not a morning person though. I like being up late and getting up at 4 AM hurts me. I am good at functioning tired and there is always coffee but one thing I don't do well tired is driving.

I don't have a car but I will rent a vehicle for races. My first 100-mile back in 2004 I had to rush home after the awards ceremony because of an event I was a part of in my church. That first one took me over 27 hours and I was thoroughly beat afterwards. At the parking lot I fell asleep in the car for an hour before the awards ceremony. Halfway through the drive home I had to exit and do jumping jacks on the side of the road to wake myself up. Now there was a sight, myself, trying to do jumping jacks while blistered, sore and stiff. It did work and I was able to make it home without having to pull over again. Well I still find myself in situations where I am driving home from a race tired and exhausted. I'm smarter about taking breaks or not driving at all but it still happens. I'd like to share a post from a member of an email list that I belong to about this very topic. I liked his response and got permission to repost in the blog.

Wanted to chime in on this topic regarding DUI of Ultra's or what I refer to it as"driving while fatigued." Over the last 23 plus years I have investigated
hundreds (probably more than a thousand, I don't keep count) of motor vehicle accidents and the predominant factor continues to be operating a vehicle while
fatigued. Numerous times while interviewing the drivers, invariably someone admits that they have been up for close to 20 hours, and none of these people just got done running for 20-30 hours through the woods. If anyone jumps in their vehicle after completing a 100 mile race, you are literally putting your life at risk as well as those with you and around you.

I recently attended a school titled, "Investigating Fatigue Factors." Although this school was based on accident investigations involving commercial vehicles
and airplanes, the conclusion was the same for automobile accidents. Driving while fatigued led to extremely poor decision making; namely getting into the
vehicle and attempting to operate it in the first place. It was also concluded that the amount of time spent awake prior to driving increases the chance of
becoming involved in an accident. The amount of time used in the studies began at 10 hours, which can't hold a candle to 20 plus straight hours of running.
The level of impairment, yes impairment, increased dramatically as the hours of sleep deprivation increased. Again bad decision making, taking unnecessary
risks coupled with motor skills deteriorating. It was determined that operating a motor vehicle while fatigued was essentially the same as operating one under
the influence of liquor or drugs; the less sleep or more liquor or drugs, the more impaired you will become. Think stumblin and bumblin not to mention
hallucinating out on the trail at 2AM. Would you want to operate a vehicle in that state of mind?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration oversees and administers commercial vehicle rules and regulations. It was determined that commercial drivers can drive up to 11 consecutive hours but then they must have 8 hours of continuous rest. What do you think they would say about 20 plus hours of running (well for me 34 hours at MMT) and then driving a vehicle?

I will leave you with this, not to be overly dramatic but to give an example on how fleeting life is. Two weeks ago I assisted in an accident investigation
involving a fatigued driver. The young man, 20 years old, went to the casinos with two friends and was up in excess of 15 consecutive hours not to mention
that he had a couple of "beverages." This created a synergistic effect which exasperated the fatigue factor. On his way home he fell asleep and rolled his
vehicle. He survived but his two friends did not. He now faces 10 plus years in prison not to mention the unimaginable burden that this memory will leave.
Something to think about.

So friends, run hard, then sleep harder..................

AJ Johnson
Ocean View, NJ

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

New Trails in the Usual Places

Like finding money in your pants. I run trails like the way I live in the city. San Francisco is a vibrant place with many unique neighborhoods but I've gotten used to my "usual" places, visiting the same places and areas over and over again. It makes for a nice surprise when I venture out.

This past Saturday I caught a ride with Brett Rivers and Larissa Polischuk to Mt. Tam. After two weekends of running back and forth on the Dipsea trail by my lonesome I was eager for a change of venue and some company. We joined Jim Vernon and his Endurables for a few miles before splitting off to do our own workout. Larissa and I were hoping for something around the 26-28 range. Now I know most of the trails between the Golden Gate Bridge and Mt. Tam but North and East of the mountain I only know a few. I would say that about 60% of the trails that we ran that Saturday I had never set foot on or was unfamiliar with. Ken Brunt ended up joining us which was a great thing because he knew the area well. He even showed us the wreckage of a WWII era plane that crashed on the mountain. Only thing visible from the trail is the engine and what looks like part of a prop, interesting. I had no idea where I was for a majority of the run and we were on some pretty neat trails too. No excuse for it really now that I am willing to travel north before starting my run. In the past I would always start and finish my run in San Francisco. I could only go so far north before having to turn around and head back. Furthest I've gotten? The top of Mt. Tam. They were 10 hour 50-mile training runs which I no longer do. These days I prefer the double long runs on the weekend for shorter distances.

Sunday I headed out with Brett and Larissa again, this time in the Marin Headlands with Charles Lantz and Meredith Terranova who was visiting from Texas. Meredith's husband Paul had just finished the Transrockies multi-day stage race the week before, finishing fourth with his partner in the open men category and was in San Francisco to race the San Francisco Triathlon at Alcatraz. He placed fourth in his age group which I thought was phenomenal given he had just done Transrockies. Anyway what was that I said about knowing well the trails between the bridge and Mt. Tam? I'm wrong there too. At least I knew about this particular trail I just never took it. We went down this long downhill, past lots and lots of trees, it was like being on Mt. Tam trails but in the Headlands. Now I know what I've been missing this whole time. Thank God for friends, I now have a new favorite trail in the Headlands.

I'm not sure what this next weekend will bring but I am looking forward to my last long run before starting the taper. Time flies doesn't it? It moves faster than any runner I know.

Larissa, Charles, Meredith and Brett, posing with their Montrails.

They do love their Mountain Masochists, apt name for trail shoes.

Meredith and I post run, about 16 miles for the day.