Saturday, August 15, 2015
Hundred mile endurance runs are different than other ultra-distance runs. They are a journey as much as a run. Marathons, 50K’s, 50-milers, and even 100K’s can be run as a straight-out race, but you will need a different mindset and unique strategies to get through the hundred. I’ve had five successful completions and four DNF’s at the 100-mile distance. Out of all the other races I’ve run I’ve had only one DNF—that includes 136 marathons.
Starting in the downtown metropolis of Fairplay, Colorado we ran dirt roads to Alma, which at 10,578 feet is the highest incorporated town in North America. From the unmanned water-only aide station we climbed steadily to the fully stocked Highland aide station. The sun wasn’t up yet, but the dawn’s early light suffused the landscape and Mt Silverheels dominated the scene. I left my hydro-pack at the aide station and filled up a collapsible handheld with water for the five-mile round trip to the Silverheels Mine, knowing that there was water available at the mine. The out and back is close to 12,000’ and rolling. It was easy enough to run the downs and most of the ups this early in the race. The scenery of the high country above treeline was glorious in the early morning. I counted the runners ahead of me as they came back towards and put myself at 12th place. So far, so good.
In order to raise my 100-mile completion rate I had to change my mindset from “racing” to finishing. My strategy now is to overcome adversity and to quit only for legitimate reasons—no excuses or because I’m tired of running. For instance, I know that I always suffer nausea about sixty miles into these things. Before changing my mindset I might have dropped out for that reason (excuse.) Now I’ll take a quick catnap, let myself settle down, and see if that works to overcome it. I’ve also found foods that I can take in without problems—clear vegetable broth with no spices and orange juice. I’ve gone for forty miles taking in only vegetable broth for calories. There is a fine balance between taking in just enough calories and too many calories. You don’t need a lot of calories to get through 100 miles. At least I don’t. You do need some though. It’s that fine balance that you have to achieve between maintaining the body and bonking. Tolstoy in his classic novel, Anna Karenina started it off with (paraphrasing): “All happy families are alike, all unhappy families are different,” or close to that. For me the Silverheels journey and indeed all of my 100-mile journeys are of the latter category—not necessarily “unhappy” but very unique in what I have to do to overcome adversity.
In the Silverheels run I would had to overcome three moments of adversity: a fall which produced a large goose egg on my forehead, an asthma attack while climbing the steepest and highest point of the race, and the old familiar nausea.
At 19 miles I met my crew, Rebekka for the first time at the Gold Pan aide station. Just before arrival I had plunged through a creek, so I got a fresh pair of socks and carried them back over the creek before putting them on. It was ten miles to the next aide station at Trout Creek, so I made sure I had water and gels.
Running on the old jeep road I heard a set of about six ATV’s behind me. They weren’t going much faster than I and it was annoying to hear them slowly creeping up on me. Finally they started passing me, one by one. The last ATV was driven by a woman with a toddler on her lap. She passed me then stopped because of a severe washout in the road. The driver ahead of her had gone up on the grass to the left of the road, but there was a difficult lip to traverse to get up there. While he was trying to advise her how to maneuver up there she started rolling backwards. I had my head down, pulling it up just in time to jump out of her way. I sped past them and it was some fifteen minutes before they passed me for the final time, the toddler now on the man’s lap. A set of orange ribbons marked where the course left the dirt road to embark on a single track trail. There was also a big orange “X” marked on the ground in that same direction, where I caught up to Lance Dockery puzzling over what to do. Meanwhile another runner backtracking from the single track told us that it was the right way. Lance and I weren’t sure to believe him--we thought the course might continue on the road and vandals might have moved the ribbons to confuse runners (it happens.) So, we decided to continue on the road for a quarter mile to see if there were more ribbons up there. No, there weren’t. We returned, adding half a mile to our day, followed the single track and seeing markings further up the trail we realized it probably was correct, so we went back to rub out the orange “X” so more runners wouldn’t be confused.
Lance and I ran steadily up through a meadow of high grass and wildflowers. After a while we slowed to a walk and I observed, “a good rule to follow early in these 100 milers is to ask yourself if you will be running this same grade ten hours from now or not. If not, then walk.” Indeed, fourteen hours into a 100-mile run I for one will be walking all ups and running only the downs. The single track trail crested, traversed east for a short stretch, then bent south for a long downhill. I pulled away from Lance and found myself running free and easy—down, down, down. Near the bottom of this long descent I was surprised when an older runner caught up to me. I let him go around me, but kept him in touch as we joined a dirt road. I watched him scoot under a gate, but I noticed there was a latch holding the gate so I unhooked it and stepped across. Mistake--I should have scooted underneath. I spent a good minute trying to force my weakened arms to close the gate. I caught up to and passed the older gentleman (I am three years older than him) a couple times before he pulled away.
Ten minutes before the Trout Creek aide station I plugged in my earphones and started a new audiobook on my iPhone. With the aide station in sight I caught a rock with my toe and suddenly launched—slow motion, frozen in flight, going down, no chance to avoid it, the crash is coming—Boom! Lying on the ground—where does it hurt? I reach for my forehead and feel a ping pong sized goose egg. I look at my fingers—blood streaming. Shoulder hurts, knee hurts. I rise and walk to the aide station. They had seen the fall. No bandaids, but hey! They have a nurse practitioner! I fill my bladder and press on. See you on the way back!
Five miles before the first of three visits to the Tarryall Aide Station at mile 35 where I’ll see Rebekka, my crew. First though we have a long climb that culminates in a steep climb through a meadow under the hot sun. Then down, down, down a single track trail, cross a creek, and up to the road and the long awaited chair. Decompress, change socks, shoes, fill bladder, take in calories, get up and go. Steep climb, then easy winding trail, running--mountain bikes like this trail. Next aide station, Gold Dust. Familiar faces greet me: Carolyn, Steve, Christian. Short stop before the major climb to above 12,000’. I had no idea how hard this would be, a difficulty compounded when I found myself struggling for air--Asthma attack! Can’t go. Walk three steps, stop and try for air—lungs can’t get oxygen. Climb a few steps. Stop. Other runners pass and express concern. I’m all right. More steps. Stop. Finally above tree line. Can’t be much further. A runner running down with trekking poles stops to ask me if I’m all right. Yes. Do I want to know where I’ll be going? Yes. He turns and indicates a snow field high on the slopes. I can just barely make out a few human forms way up there. Sherpa John is up there, he says. I can do this.
Climb on trails to Boreas Pass, where I had skied with Julian Smith several times over the last two years. We would skin up from the Breckenridge side and ski the very slopes above Boreas Pass that I now had to climb—only three-quarters of a mile climb--with full lung capacity now, I marched up with ease. This time I fully appreciated the expansive views that extended to Breckenridge and peaks beyond. I returned to Boreas Pass just as Rebekka pulled up in the Subaru. Sherpa John had run down to the Tarryall Aide Station to tell her to get up to Boreas Pass in case I needed anything. Every aide station for the rest of the course knew who I was, thanks to John, and closely monitored my well-being. I was back in form now though--running down the road from Boreas Pass I ran a ten minute mile pace for seven straight miles—not bad with over 50 miles on my legs.
At the bottom of Boreas Pass Road, the course turned right, following a rough jeep road that climbed back up to the Gold Dust Aide Station. I walked most of this section and in the waning sunlight felt my old nemesis nausea coming on. Soon everything I’d taken in from the last two aide stations came up. At Gold Dust I refused all sustenance, but did sit down for a bit to settle down, and returned the asthma breather, which I hadn’t used since leaving Gold Dust over two hours before. I ran and walked the easy two and a half miles down to Tarryall for the second time. Rebekka was there with fresh socks. In the waning daylight I pushed off for the ten-mile out-and-back to Camp Como. Rebekka was going to drive down to meet me there. My spot headlamp on button wouldn’t work and I was forced to trudge the last two miles in gathering darkness, fortunately making it before the lights went out totally. As I sat in a chair at the aide station with Rebekka asking what I needed I looked to my right. “Well, hello again.” I said to Lance Dockery. I had last seen him on the climb from hell as he bounded easily by me. Now he was suffering and said he planned to drop out after returning to Tarryall. We left together for the climb back, but he dropped back after about three miles.
When I got back to Tarryall for the third and final time I decided a nap was in order. I got in the car, leaned the seat back, put a bag over me and asked Rebekka to wake me in 55 minutes—after which I hoped to be able to take in food again. When I woke I was not quite refreshed, but I wasn’t nauseous and was able to take in some calories before heading out into the night with a good strong headlamp. Five miles to the next aide station--the second time to Trout Creek--but first I had to climb long and steeply. I could hear runners talking behind me—they would almost catch up to me, then they would fall back almost out of ear shot. When I got to Trout Creek and had settled in to a chair and had drunk the first of two cups of plain vegetable broth, they pulled into camp. They turned out to be Antonio and Enrique--we would travel the next ten miles together on the way to Gold Camp for the second time.
I left the aide station first, but soon became less than confident. I seemed to recall that the course should be going right climbing up slope. When there were no markers the doubt became greater, so I backtracked to wait for them to catch up. Antonio and Enrique said to continue on the road, and sure enough eventually we came on a marker. Indeed we continued for three miles before the course left this road to climb, first on jeep road and later into meadows. The climb from hell. It just would not quit. On and on we climbed. Another runner and his pacer caught us and passed us, but we would later catch them on the way down. Just interminable. Relentless. Into the early morning hours. Sleep mongers. Antonio and I agreed that we had to take a nap once we arrived at the Gold Camp aide station. When we finally arrived it was 5:30 AM. The sun was on the brink of rising, but it was still twilight. I quickly went to the Subaru and asked Rebekka to wake me after only 30 minutes this time. That was all I needed. Just a chance to get a bit of shuteye and rejuvenate. 30 minutes later, the sun was ascending, I felt like a new man, took in some recovery drink, and I was ready to go.
On the trails again I was completely recovered and running! I ran like it was the beginning of the race, passing competitors who were walking. I ran all the downs and most of the easy ups. Killing it! The climb to Highland Aide Station was very steep though and I had no choice but to walk that one. I left my pack there, filled a handheld with water (just like I did the first time through) and set off on the five-mile round trip to the Silverheels Mine. It was after 8 AM and the sun was heating things up. I ran the downs and most of the ups and reeled in more runners. After the turn around I noticed another runner who was running the downs. I made note of how far he was behind me (one third of a mile) and thought no more of it.
I stopped again at Highland, ate a couple orange slices, and met Fred Ecks for the first time. I knew of him and he knew of me, since we’ve competed in close age groups for years. Really nice guy. When he told me that I had only eight and three-quarter miles to go it gave me a real boost in spirit. I thought I had eleven miles to go. I told him that I could probably do that in about two hours if I kept on pace. Here goes nothing!
I did run a lot of the downs, but I also had to walk quite a bit. It was freaking hot! And while the course gradually dropped in elevation, there were a lot of ups in there. Finally I came to the long mostly flat road into Fairplay. With three miles to go Rebekka came out to run me in. What a sight for sore eyes! Together we made those last miles go by faster. I would say, “let’s run to that telephone pole on the left,” then “let’s run to the second orange flag,” and so on until we finally reached the pavement that meant we were almost there. With four blocks to go I told her that I was going to run it in and if she wanted to get a finish line photo she’d better head for the finish line. I ran it in and met Sherpa John at the finish line where he shook my hand. Done! 32 hours and 21 minutes. My sixth 100-mile finish.
Five minutes later someone said there was another finisher coming in. What? How could that be?? Someone had been catching me all this time? Turned out to be Enrique from the previous night's long night and the same guy who was only a third of a mile behind me at Silverheels Mine. Another strong finisher.
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Julian Smith, my teammate, and I reached the first summit about half an hour later, in the middle of the pack. We were slow on the transition of stripping skins and clipping in for the down ski off the other side, and we were even slower skiing down the icy run. I’m not sure if it was true or not, but I have a feeling we were in last place by the time we reached bottom and the long walk to Brush Creek.
Crested Butte had a low snow year this year and we had to carry our skis over bare ground no short of six times in the broad valley, with the final carry being the feared “Death Pass”, which is not a pass, rather it’s a skinny trail with a 100-foot drop off down to the creek that is terrifying to walk with skis and a heavy pack. Walking a bare trail with skis off is much easier.
After Death Pass the trail climbs steadily along Brush Creek for the next nine or ten miles. Julian and I are both strong climbers and ultra-runners and we steadily passed skiers all the way up to Star Pass about 16 miles into the race. Now we were “back in the game” following our unpropitious start. For the rest of the day we never had to worry about being in last place, though our finish nearly 16 hours later might bely that notion.
The first cut off to worry about was the “Refuge Checkpoint #1”, which we had to reach by 7 AM. We arrived at about 6:10 and after taking our allotted 16 ounces of warm snowmelt water we pressed on for Star Pass. The climb was steep, but we kept skins on until the final push. The pass loomed high above and we could see skiers booting up the steep slope with their skis on the back of their packs. Below the conga line of climbers streaming up the slope a larger group of skiers was removing skis and strapping them to their packs, giving us our near term objective.
Before the race I was frustrated in my efforts to purchase a simple rubber strap to hold my skis together in an a-frame position on my pack. I had visited REI and Mountain Chalet in Colorado Springs to no avail, then two more ski shops in Crested Butte only to find flimsy Velcro straps. As we neared the staging area where we would have to strap our skis on our packs for the final climb to Star Pass, Julian spotted a rubber strap in the snow and retrieved it for my use. Someone’s misfortune became my boon.
The climb was straight forward as previous skiers had kicked solid steps up the snow slope. I forced myself to take at least thirty steps at a time before stopping to catch a breather for a few seconds. At the top of the pass skiers were scattered about removing skis from packs and clipping in for the ski off the top of the pass. The sun just broke over the mountains to the east as we glided slowly over to a steep cornice. I looked at the ski tracks and knew what to do. I steeled myself with a bit of courage and slipped over the drop off, gliding over the edge dropping about five feet before catching the groove for a traverse across the upper slopes—tracks were all over the slopes and the snow was broken up and looked easy to ski, so we hit it. Easy skiing! Almost like skiing down a blue run on the ski slopes. We made it down lickety-split. Glancing at my watch I saw we had made 18 miles and it was 7:30 AM. We were easily ahead of the cutoffs by an hour and a half.
The trail narrowed as it turned into the woods and climbed gradually—meanwhile the day heated up. Seeing how other skiers had dressed at the start (two were in shorts!) I realized that I was probably overdressed. I did, however, fortunately make the decision not to wear long johns under my Gore-Tex pants! Now, as the sun rose in the sky I stripped off my Gore-Tex jacket, tied it to the back of my pack and put on mountaineering sunglasses. The rest of the day was spring skiing under bluebird skies!
A good medium length down ski followed, along which we could see the next up climb—Julian was in the lead but I tucked in for more momentum on the downslope and skittered past him before the next upslope where we had to put on skins again. Steep climb to an aide station of sorts—no water or food, but a set of six snowmobiles and some intent officials with queries. How are you feeling? While looking intently into your eyes. I’m doing fine. I’m in this for the duration. We’re doing this thing. Where is Taylor Pass? This is Taylor Pass! Why are those skiers climbing higher up there? That’s the ridge. Soon we would find that higher along that ridge was bare ground and we would take off our skis again. Julian used this break to take off his ski boot and repair a damaged, shredded foot.
Another good down ski followed by a long uphill trek brought us finally to the Barnard Hut aide station. Here we had a mandatory ten-minute break—much needed. Ramen soup, electrolyte drink, 16 ounces of water for the bladder. Not enough really, but it was appreciated. We pulled out of the aide station at 12:15 PM. The cutoff here was 2 PM, so we thought we had some cushion. Over the next miles I crashed. Bonked. It took us three hours and fifteen minutes to traverse seven miles. Dog slow.
We tried to do as much as possible without putting on skins, because often there would be a slight uphill followed by downhill and the transitions from skins to no skins was killing us. This worked most of the time, but then we encountered a long gradual uphill—finally we put on skins. The problem with transitioning from skins to no skins was the whole production of taking off the pack, putting the skins in the pack, putting the pack back on, putting the skis on, etc. Julian suggested stowing the skins in my shirt. Well, that didn’t work but I was able to stow them in my pants, for a while at least, before they slipped down awkwardly towards my ankles. Later, Julian exasperatedly said, “give me your skins!” I didn’t argue and handed them over.
Long slow climbing—hours went by—miles more slowly—finally a pie plate with 3 miles to Sundeck. Sundeck was the top of the Aspen ski slopes after which we would have three easy miles of blue square ski runs to Aspen. The time was about 2 PM. The finish line cutoff was 4 PM. We needed to make three miles to Sundeck and then the three-mile ski down in two hours. Sounded plausible. The next mile was a long uphill slog—a 45-minute mile!! Crap! We had an hour and fifteen now to finish. Next mile had a lot of uphill—27 minutes. It was 3:13 when we came on the pie plate of one mile to Sundeck, and there was a climb from there! Okay let’s climb. Fortunately the climb ended soon and then it was downhill all the way to Sundeck—a fifteen-minute mile.
We reached Sundeck at 3:31. Now we had only a 3-mile downhill ski to Aspen. Julian insisted that I take back my skins before we skied down. Okay. Stop, take off the pack, stow the skins, put on the pack. Let’s go! We ski down a run, I go right, Julian goes left. I yell down, “He said it finishes at the base of the Gondola, the Gondola goes right!” Julian said he remembered the name of the run going to the left from the race briefing. Okay. I deferred to his memory. Julian was right. We kept skiing down several runs, Aspen was getting nearer. I glanced at my watch: 3:50. We could do this. Focus. We crested a hill and the finish line was in sight. Julian was down first. I followed and we went through the finish line more or less together three minutes before the cutoff—the last official finishers—last asses over the pass as it were. Woohoo!! Let’s have a PBR!
Saturday, September 20, 2014
A 100 mile race in the mountains with over 20,000 feet in elevation gain and loss, hours upon hours of relentless up and down, all through the day and all through the night and well into the next day--sounds like a great way to spend a weekend! And as for my crew and life mate, Rebekka, what better thing does she have to do on a beautiful fall weekend then to drive from aide station to station and wait interminably for me? This is what we do for fun.
What was the theme for my experience this year at Run Rabbit Run 100? Overcoming adversity; problem solving; getting ‘er done. At 59 years young I still have some spunk, so when I found myself stuck in the middle behind walkers at the start, I scooted out into the long grass and scampered up to join the lead pack. I think I was in 10th or 12th place or in that region by the first aide station at the top of Mt Werner. Some have said that I started out too fast. My reply? It’s a 100-mile race. It really doesn’t matter how fast you go for the first 10 miles. I was running well within myself. After cresting out even higher than Mt Werner we dropped down to Long Lake in brilliant sun. I saw where I was place-wise in the short out-and-back half-mile stretch to the Long Lake aide station. I turned around at the aide station without stopping—I had enough water and sustenance in my pack.
At the intersection we turned right and headed for the Fish Creek Falls Trail. The easy single-track trail followed the creek with willows turned golden with fall colors before it turned down steeply in rocky treacherous switchbacks. My goal was to stay upright, so I let a few speedsters bounce by me. One of them took a spill in the rocks.
I met Rebekka for the first time since the start at the Fish Creek Falls Trailhead; she took my pack and gave me a hand-held water bottle for the four mile run on paved road to Olympian Hall, where she would meet me again after getting my pack ready and filling my bladder. Sure felt good to run the downhill four miles unencumbered. I ran a couple eight-minute miles, but reached busy Lincoln Avenue just as the light turned yellow. While waiting for the light to turn I made a fatal error of stretching. I suspect this ill-considered move came back to haunt me when in the last ten miles of the race severe tendonitis in my ankle and knee brought me to painful walking status.
Now back to the overcoming of adversity that I alluded to earlier. My primary nemesis is--in a word: nausea; and always at the 100-mile and often the 100K distance. I’ve never had a problem with 50-mile runs and below. After Olympian Hall we had a long 21-mile lollipop loop that started with a climb on a dusty road to a man-less water station, followed by a hugely steep climb on the aptly named “Lane of Pain” after which we entered the lollipop loop to Cow Creek Aide Station at about mile 31, where I would meet Rebekka again. This section was an easy gradual downhill single track trail. I fell into an easy rhythm, knocking out 8:30 miles to the aide station. At Cow Creek I plopped into the chair Rebekka had for me, changed socks, replenished and set off on what would be a longer than advertised return loop. They had said eight miles to the man-less water station, but I had eleven miles on my watch. It was long. Very long. I found myself slowing down in the afternoon sun and several runners went by, including Paul Doyle. Running down the “Lane of Pain” the “hares” were in full force coming up the trail, including Dan Vega, who later would drop.
When I finally reached Olympian Hall for the second time at mile 42 I was on the verge of nausea. This was a major crew aide station, and quite a few CRUD-mates were there, including Rick and Jill Hessek, Clark and Elise Sundahl, and others. They urged me to eat something, but I turned almost everything down because I felt it would just come up. Finally I took a cup of broth. The sun went down over the western ridge line and suddenly it felt chilly. I put on way too many clothes for the four mile stretch on paved road to the Fish Creek Falls Trailhead; a decision I soon regretted when in the sun again on the other side of the valley. Rebekka walked with me along the bike path to the river bridge before returning to the car so she could meet me at the trailhead.
Walking and running up the road (mostly walking), now in the sun, I started to overheat and removed my jacket, looking over my shoulder for Rebekka for when she drove by. I saw her and flagged her to stop just as I passed a man in a lawn chair with two young boys holding toy AK-47’s. One of them pointed his gun at me and said, “bang.” Handing over the coat to Rebekka was a bit of a problem with the constant traffic, so the man in the lawn chair offered to give it to her when traffic subsided and I continued my ramble up the road. After a few minutes, wondering why I didn’t see Rebekka drive by, I looked over my shoulder and the guy was still talking to her whilst a line of cars had queued up behind her. Rebekka told me later that she couldn’t get him to stop talking and finally just drove off.
At the Fish Creek Falls trailhead I suddenly felt woozy and commenced to emptying out the contents of my stomach upon the pavement. I plunked down in the chair, put on a new warm shirt, stocking cap, gloves, and headlamp before heading back up the steep trail to Long Lake for the second of three visits to that aide station. I hiked slowly up the steep six-mile long trail with 2400’ of elevation gain as the civil twilight turned into darkness. At the top of the rocky section the first “hares” who had started the race four hours after the “tortoises” passed by: Rob Krar, another runner, Nick Clark, who I said hi to: (the last I saw Nick was in Costa Rica in February for the Coastal Challenge stage race,) then a runner I didn’t recognize went by saying “Are you Steve Bremner? I’m Brendan Trimboli.” I recognized the name from Facebook. Brendan would later drop out, his first DNF out of five 100-mile starts. There is a picture of him just behind Rob Krar, the eventual winner, about 14 miles into the race.
Meanwhile, I was still not doing well with the nausea. I was feeling depleted, but afraid to try and eat anything. I struggled up the trail. When a runner passing me asked me if I was doing alright, I said that I was unable to hold in any calories. He dug into his pack and came up with a Zophran-like prescription nausea-fighting pill that his sister had left over from her chemo treatments. It was just a small pill and he said that after an hour to an hour and a half I’d be able to eat again. I thanked him and he went on his way. When I reached the Long Lake aide station 45 minutes later I was freezing. I pulled up a chair by the fire and asked for my drop bag and started changing from shorts to tights and putting on all the clothes I had available. It was just enough. The temperature would be dropping into the high teens at this elevation.
With mistaken confidence I drank a hot chocolate, a cup of broth, and followed it up with a bowl of ramen. Though it was under an hour since I’d taken the nausea pill I thought the time was “close enough.” Wrong. I catapulted from my comfy chair by the fire to the outer periphery and threw up everything I’d just taken in. When the resident EMT began quizzing me on when I’d eaten last I knew it was time to go. I wasn’t going to let someone else decide when I was going to quit the race.
Five and a half rolling dirt road miles and I arrived at the next aide station at Summit Lake. The three quarter moon hung low over the silhouetted forest line, the air was crisp but I had enough clothing. I wasn’t bonking yet. At Summit Lake I took a break beside the kerosene heater inside the tent. I guess I didn’t look too well, because another EMT started quizzing me--time to go.
Over the following 7.6 miles down to Dry Lake we lost about 2,000’ in elevation and though it was still in the early morning hours it was getting a lot warmer. Some of the faster tortoises passed going the other way up to Summit Lake, including Carson Rickey, who would go on to finish second tortoise. I had run with him in the first ten miles, an eternity ago. Paul Doyle passed with his pacer, Shannon Meredith about a mile before Dry Lake.
I still hadn’t been able to eat anything, so I’d come up with a plan. At Dry Lake I’d see Rebekka again for the first time since going through Steamboat Springs. I’d take an hour long nap in the car, after which I’d probably be settled down and able to take in food. It worked. I felt great! Once I’d had some calories I was ready to go. I ran all the way down to the Spring Creek trailhead, 4.5 miles of beautiful single track trail that crossed 15 solid Kevlar bridges. At the turn-around I didn’t linger—just checked in and out and started running back up on the return to Dry Lake. On the way down the trail I had passed a dozen runners including Gina Harcrow, who must have gone by while I was sleeping in the car. I began to feel knee ankle pain on the return trip, so I walked most of the ups. The round trip 9 miles took me just under two and a half hours, just what I’d predicted—and hour down and an hour and a half back. Not bad with some 60 or so miles on my legs. Succumbing to the sleep monster I took a 10-minute power nap in the car to take the edge off, drank some orange juice and a muscle milk and was ready to go again just as it began to get light—no need for a headlamp on the dirt road going back up to Summit Lake. Problem one was solved, namely nausea. Time for the next problem, asthma attack! Two miles into the 7.6 mile hike back up to Summit Lake I suddenly started having a hard time getting air. Normally I carry an albuterol breather for these contingencies, but I’d forgotten it this time. When you can’t get air in your lungs, climbing while at elevation becomes very difficult. I sat down on a rock at roadside gasping for air. When runners went by I asked it they perchance had an albuterol breather. No luck. Finally I asked a runner with a cell phone who was on his way down to Dry Lake to try and call Rebekka. He couldn’t get reception there, but promised to call her when he got reception again.
I didn’t want to retrace those two miles back to Dry Lake, so I started walking very slowly up the five + miles to Summit Lake. I would walk a few steps then double over trying to bring air into my lungs. Though asthma attacks are by nature “panic attacks” they are very real. You can’t get air into your lungs, so there’s a certain amount of panic that just acerbates the situation by preventing air flow. I tried to calm down and let the air flow resume; walked slowly; measured my breathing; kept going. Finally after three and half hours I’d covered the 7.6 miles up to Summit Lake, and they had an albuterol breather! A couple puffs and I was a new man. Now I was able to eat well, too so I rested and ate.
While I had been struggling up the road other runners had alerted the volunteers at the aide station that I was having problems and they’d sent their EMT down to find me. Well, he drove right on by and was all the way down at the Dry Lake Aide Station where they’d called Rebekka who had already gone back to the hotel. She returned to Dry Lake and then drove all the way up the rough dirt road to Summit Lake, arriving just as I was about to leave for the next aide station. She had brought my breather, which I put in my pack in case I needed it and off I went.
To get back to Long Lake for the third time we had to take a nearly nine mile long trail vice the 5.5 mile dirt road we had traveled the last night. I was moving pretty well--running most of the flats and downs and passing a lot of the runners who had gone by me while I had my breathing problems. I did notice the pains in the my left knee and ankle were getting more persistent. I hadn’t noticed that my bladder hose was leaking water when it was not closed and about halfway I realized I was completely out of water. I begged some water off another runner—actually it was someone’s pacer. Thank you!
This segment from Summit Lake to Long Lake was quite scenic, with many muskegs of swampy ponds filled with switch grass. The wet summer was evident in the overflow from the muskegs that made for muddy trails.
I stopped at Long Lake just long enough to fill up my bladder and eat half a grilled cheese sandwich. Half a mile after Long Lake I arrived at the intersection last seen about 24 hours prior and turned left this time to retrace my steps back to Steamboat Springs. I didn’t remember the next lengthy climb. There were several mountain bikers on the trail which was mildly annoying. One of them passed me, and then promptly stopped in the middle of the trail to look at his GPS. I passed him only to have him come behind me again a few minutes later. The pain in my ankle stopped all running, but I was hiking pretty quickly. I came up behind a runner who was weaving and going slowly—only about a mile and a half an hour. I told him that we had four hours to go and ten miles to cover. At his pace he wasn’t going to finish. He could walk it in, but it would have to be a brisk walk. My math was correct for the “hares” which it turned that he was, but for the tortoises we still had six hours to finish. Well, Bob from Boston, soon to receive the moniker Boston Bob from me, hearkened well to my message and fell in behind me for the ride to the final aide station at the summit of Mt Werner.
The volunteers at the Mt Werner Aide Station were enthusiastically shouting, “We’ll take care of you!” “Six downhill miles to go.” We didn’t even pause. Right down the road we went. I hung on to Boston Bob for just a couple switchbacks before he left me in the dust. For about three miles I was able to run and walk about half and half, mustering up 14 minute miles. It got very painful though and when I tried walking a full mile and the time it took was 18 minutes I decided to just walk it in. The sun overhead was relentless so I aimed for shade whenever possible. Finally, with under a mile to go Rebekka found me. She had wondered what was taking me so long and had started walking back up the course. She was able to see what time I had made it to the final aide station using the ultralive.net web site, and if I were even jogging slowly downhill I should have finished already.
Rebekka and I walked the final mile together. I had to ask her, where exactly is the finish line? Well, I had to walk down near the gondola start, and then walk up some stairs. Groan! Strolling along I made my leisurely way to the end. Lots of people cheered me on, including many friends from Colorado Springs, some of whom had finished earlier in the day or paced or crewed. Sitting down never felt so good!
Thursday, August 21, 2014
General Summary: I didn't have grand expectations going into this race, my eighth Pikes Peak Marathon (I've run three ascents and two doubles). I've only run to the top three times this year, twice from Elk Park and once from Devil's Playground. The last time I went up on the Elk Park Trail I struggled in the last three miles.
I started off slowly and managed my pace well, given my level of fitness and general dotage. I reached A-Frame in 2:35 and the summit in 3:47. Coming off the summit I ran very well, passing a dozen or so runners on the return to A-Frame. On the long traverse to the Bottomless Pit Sign I caught me toe once, but recovered, then I out and out fell. Got up dusted myself off with minimal damage, only to fall for real just past the Bottomless Pit Sign. Now that hurt! I bruised my ribs and my legs started cramping as I lay on the ground. Finally I got up and started to walk it out before starting a slow jog. Any step or drop in the trail brought pain to my side, but when the trail was smooth I managed a good pace, reaching eight minute miles on the lower trail. Somehow I held off three other age-group oldsters hot on my trail to sneak in there for 2nd place 55-59 year age group: the three clumped in within three minutes of me.
Things Done Right: Hydrated and fueled very well. I wore a pack with bladder (Cytomax), and carried two gels, a package of shotblocks, and ate about seven S-Caps. I also drank water at nearly all the aide stations. Didn't bonk!
Things Done Wrong: Got careless on the way down and fell too many times. Ouch!
Any Other Stuff: The race staff did an excellent job as usual and thanks to the volunteers! Also, a shout out to Friends of the Peak who had two work days in the week before the races to assuage the effects of the recent rains on the lower trail.
Tuesday, July 08, 2014
4:15 AM: it’s the hour before the dawn. I thought we were on our last peak, Mount Maxwell, and ready for a final descent along its east ridge to our vehicles parked at the end of the steep 4-wheel drive track. We had hiked all through the night, after starting at 5 AM the previous morning. I had tried to descend due east, but the way down was hellaciously steep, and then after a few feet it cliffed out. We tried a ramp that descended northerly, thinking it might bend eastwards. No dice. So, we hunkered down under a lip to the east, mostly out of the biting cold wind, and waited for the dawn.
Culebra Peak is on private land. It is the only one of Colorado’s 54 14,000’ peaks on private land. The “legal” way to climb it is to fork over $150 to the present owners of a massive Spanish Land Grant that once passed hands for a case of whiskey, but in recent history saw $22 million in state funds unable to bring into the public domain. The access point for the “Taylor Ranch” is from the west. I have climbed Culebra four times now, twice from the east and now twice from the north. Both east and west and north and south of the peak for miles and miles is taken up by Spanish Land Grants. I think they are an anachronism and should be either adjusted to allow public access or be roundly abolished.
Now we’re back on the morning of June 28th. We summited Mount Maxwell a few minutes ago; the sun has just risen over the eastern horizon. We are traversing in a southerly direction, towards the next thirteener in a line of nine to go before Culebra. I look down to the east and spot eight bighorn sheep in the basin far below. Chewy the dog makes a half-hearted attempt to run down there, but gives up easily. Surprisingly a solitary hiker joins us, the only other person we would see all day. His name is John and he’s aiming for an obscure unnamed thirteener that is not on our agenda for the day. He lacks about 30 peaks to complete ascents of the more than 700 13,000’ peaks in our fair state. He disappears shortly afterwards, avoiding the summit of Mariquita Peak by skirting around it to the west. He had already “bagged” it on a previous expedition.
We have many more peaks to climb before we can even turn around and head home. We pass Whiskey Pass and I miss it! Wasn’t paying attention, so I didn’t notice the plane wreck from 1999, when near Christmas day a solo flyer hit a down draft forcing a crash landing. He survived and was able to radio for help. Beaubien Peak, Francisco Peak, the mild summit of Lomo Liso Mountain, then a long mild flattish traverse where we drop to 12,500’. The crux of the climb was coming up: Miranda Peak, featuring loose, moving slabs of rock on a steep slope. Not fun for humans or canines. I could see that our party was not moving fast enough. If we didn’t pick up the pace we would certainly be forced to hike through the night. I offered John and Sheila the option to quit then and turn around. I had already climbed Culebra three times. I had nothing to prove. No. They wanted to continue. Okay then. Before Miranda Peak was over and done with we had to traverse a mini-knife edge. Just walk the crack and lean into the mountain. Chewy? Move briskly and don’t look down.
Three more unnamed thirteeners separated us from the summit of Culebra. The penultimate summit was 13,701’ and featured a steep 700’ foot ascent along a ridge. This was the final crux, and we neared the summit of Culebra. When we reached the summit just before 5 PM (remember: we started at 5 AM that morning, so if we did even splits that would mean finishing at 5 AM the next morning) I mistakenly thought that it was a false summit. Farther south on the ridge was another highpoint. John and Sheila were not happy when I said we had to keep going. “Do you want to have come this far and not climb the actual summit?” Well, I was wrong. We added half an hour to our day by continuing along the ridge. On the way back to the real summit I realized that Red Mountain was that red mountain to the southeast. Duh! Sorry guys.
Our next object was to get past Miranda Peak before the lights went out. We knew it would be hard enough in the daylight, but in the dark who knew what problems might ensue. We just succeeded. The sun went down near the summit of Miranda Peak, and I sped ahead to climb the next high point where Sheila had left her poles. After a quick ascent I came back down and met them as they came off Miranda and showed them a traverse that avoided the high point. John would not be so lucky retrieving his poles: he donated them to the next intrepid party to trek this course.
Other factors came into play however. The wind from the west had been persistent all day. As night fell the wind picked up and it was colder. We were all exhausted and the urge to stop and rest was strong. We found spots out of the wind over the ridge to the east (the wind was westerly), but while they were a respite from the biting wind they didn’t bring warmth. We had no choice but to keep moving in order to fend off hypothermia. We had no choice but to keep climbing through the night.
Remember when I said that I thought that we would be done before nightfall? I had a strong headlamp with extra batteries, but I left them in the car to “save weight.” All I had was a handheld flashlight with low batteries that rather quickly went dim. John and Sheila had headlamps but no extra batteries. We had to share. Since I was leading this expedition, John gracefully gave me his headlamp and Sheila and I tried our best to shine the light in John’s path so he could make his way along.
By 10 PM it was dark. Lights out dark. No moon. My Garmin Fenix 2 GPS watch showed low battery, so I turned off the GPS tracking in order to preserve battery for the compass function. We really needed that compass in the dark! By tracking northerly I kept us mostly on track, but occasionally we found ourselves peering over cliffs. “Are we lost?” asked Sheila at one point. Or John asked, “What happens if you can’t guide us back?” I had no response that didn’t stoop to sarcasm, so I mostly ignored the questions.
Up and over Lomo Liso, then Francisco Peak, then Beaubien Peak and the long familiar flat traverse across Whiskey Pass. I was confident that we were on track; by constant consultation with the map and compass we stayed on course. I’m confident that we next ascended DeAnza Peak and started up Mariquita.
The distance between DeAnza and Mariquita was lengthy. Along the way up Mariquita a single-track trail tracked around the west side. We followed it a ways and I vaguely remembered it from my 2010 trek along this same course. I succumbed to doubts however when I noticed the silhouette of what I now know must have been Mariquita to the east. I thought it was Maxwell and to John and Sheila’s chagrin and protests I said we were going the wrong way and that we were going to retrace our steps. John’s feet were killing him, but he pushed gamely on.
Now I could see a silhouette of a peak that I thought was Maxwell. We climbed steadily to its summit where an elaborate wind shelter constructed of stones lent credence to the idea that this was indeed the summit. I checked my bearings on my watch and set our course “due east.” There was a problem with that though! Going due east down the peak was very steep with cliffs! No way! I decided to wait for dawn in about an hour to assess.
When dawn came I was mightily confused because I couldn't identify any of the peaks (except Culebra in the far distance). I wrongly assumed I was north of Maxwell because we had covered a lot of ground. I think when I went off the single track and backtracked we somehow came back towards Whiskey Pass. The drainage we were above was Whiskey Creek and the peaks that we could see were not familiar.
Sheila had been cold all night and was borderline hypothermic. I presented the alternatives to them: 1) we backtrack and try and find out where we had made our error, or 2) we drop down below treeline and bushwhack and look for a road to make it to Highway 12, and either hike back to our vehicles or hitchhike.
With the wind blowing cold and the exhaustion of being out all night we made a consensus decision to drop down below treeline. We were hallucinating with the lack of sleep and I thought I saw domesticated animals down below. Once down though there was no sign of them. As we followed a creek in an easterly direction I thought I saw a fence and a house. Nope.
Suddenly Sheila said, "John said he saw a road." I said, "Where?" John pointed north and Sheila pointed south. I still thought I had seen a fence and a yard implying a house. I now know that it was a hallucination, as was the road that John thought he saw, induced by being up for over 24 hours. We all know about those hallucinations. For example, the giant horse that both John and I saw in the predawn hour that turned into a mundane rock formation. To avoid the house I proceeded down an elk path for a couple hundred feet before turning north to intercept the "road." Not finding a road to the north, I backtracked and crossed the creek and went south until it was obvious there was no road there either. I then went back to the spot where I had last seen John and Sheila, but they were nowhere to be found! I looked around in concentric circles, but I was reluctant to call out because I still thought there might be people around and I knew we were on private property. I then went back to the creek and started going down the creek side, periodically going north and south in search of a road. After nearly a mile I noticed stumps cut with a saw and knew there had to be a road. After a bit of searching I found the start of an old logging road. I followed the road, running and walking quickly when after a couple of miles, a truck drove up with ranch staff inside, a man and a woman. I could have dashed into the woods when I heard their vehicle and probably could have avoided them, but at that point I didn't care if they found me.
The man was very belligerent and threatened to prosecute me. I explained the circumstance and why I had dropped down to the ranch. Namely that Sheila was borderline hypothermic and the best option was to get her down to where she could get warm again. Finally he told me to just keep hiking out and get off the property. I walked in the hot sun for another hour or more when they came back and the man said that "Pat" the woman had a kind heart and they had decided to take me back to the start of the old logging road so I could go get John and Sheila.
After a couple of wrong turns, I finally succeeded in finding the old logging road and made it to the end. The man said he would honk the horn three times and that we should listen to see if we heard a reply. I knew that it was too far to hear anything and after several more honk sessions, the man said that he and I would hike up to where I had last seen them. Pat said she was going to call the ranch manager on their radio to explain that they "had a situation." The man (who never told me his name even when I asked him for it) objected saying he didn't need any more decision makers muddling things up, but the woman overruled him. They had a strange relationship: very tense.
The ranch manager said no, we couldn't go look for them, and that
Here is Sheila’s email to me with her version of what transpired following our separation: “When you asked where John had seen the road (I had no idea we pointed in different directions), I heard you say something, but didn't hear what you said. I was so confused as to why you weren't walking to the road. I told John that I was going to "run up to the road" and that he should chase you down and get you to follow. I think he yelled once (I might be wrong about that, though). There was no road--John said it must have turned into a trail, so we started to follow the water. I figured we'd come upon you soon, b/c you had been stopping to wait for us periodically. Then, we saw "a house." This was within a few minutes of being separated. I told John to follow the water and scream for you (as I bee-lined toward the 'house'), and he said that if we saw the house, certainly you did, too, and you were probably already there waiting. We went over to it, and of course, it was not a house. We followed the water for a ways and then it got pretty difficult, so we paralleled it in the forest.
“At that point, we figured you were long gone, but we were keeping our eyes open, hoping we'd see you. The forest really wasn't much better--it was dense, and downed trees were EVERYWHERE. I think each one took me 3-4 minutes to lift my legs over. Occasionally, we'd find a trail (sometimes just an animal trail, once or twice a trail that looked like it might go out to a TH). Always, the trail would end up just disappearing. We found what looked like old 4WD/ATV kind of 'roads' a few times, but they always became so overgrown you couldn't follow them. We did this for HOURS, and all we could see ahead was more forest. Throughout the day, we both were hallucinating like crazy. I cannot tell you how many times we thought we saw pavement that turned out to be a downed tree or a dirt road that was tree bark. I thought I heard someone whistle; John thought he heard voices; I thought I saw trucks a few times (once I even saw tires... that just turned out to be the ground underneath a downed tree); I also thought I saw two people sitting on a grassy knoll. Once, we both saw the same thing that looked like a house. After awhile, we were almost out of water, and we found a trail that headed steeply toward the river below, so we took that.
“We reached the river and saw a flat area between the other side of the water and the trees. Sure enough, it was a road. We had no idea we were on private property, and we had no idea how long the road was or where it led to, but we figured we'd walk on it while we still had daylight. John was checking to see if he had cell reception every 5-10 minutes, and FINALLY he had one bar and that was when we saw the texts from you and Julian and Rebekka.
“Thanks for showing us the route and for being so patient throughout the night. I don't think I have ever been so cold for so long--that was really rough, and when I saw John's feet (after we hit the pavement on Sunday) I felt terrible. His shoes had cut into the top of his foot, and the pads on the bottoms of his feet were really swollen. We both have the same sentiment--in a strange way, we're thankful for the experience--it is good to have to persevere through tough times; those kinds of experiences build character and confidence. That said, we're not exactly looking to repeat that kind of epic experience anytime soon (or ideally ever again). I don't think I will ever step foot on a mountain again without my down jacket. I hate being cold (that and being hungry are my two least favorite feelings in the world! I'd rather be roasting hot than even a little cold).
“We both were amazed at your speed and your stamina. Your efficient pace is incredibly fast, and you have good 'mountain legs' that don't change pace, regardless of terrain. Good for you for not wasting those strengths--you should be pursuing the craziest endurance feats out there. I hope you and Rebekka have a great time in Europe (and an awesome race)! Thanks, again, for a (mostly :)) fun weekend!”
Sunday, September 08, 2013
About five miles into the run--still dark at that point--I took a severe tumble with a knock on the noggin, bruise on the shoulder, scrapes on the elbow and right knee, and a terrific gouge on my right palm—with copious amounts of blood flowing. 15 miles later I finally got to an aide station to get it cleaned and bandaged up. Then a few miles after getting it fixed up, I fell again stabbing my hand on a root poking up--in the exact same place on my palm! Now I had a veritable fountain of blood spurting about. I took one of the extra gauze pads they had given me at the last aide station and applied pressure to staunch the blood flow, but it was another five miles before I could get it cleaned up again and re-bandaged--that bandage job was not very good though and I had to make another pit stop later to get it re-bandaged.
The run initially climbs nine miles from the desert floor near Kaysville, Utah, just north of Salt Lake City, up to a highpoint nicknamed “Chin-scraper” before leveling off along a ridge, then following utility roads to the Francis Peak aide station at mile 19. Despite my throbbing hand, I was doing well; staying hydrated, fueled, and running conservatively. By mile 39 and the Big Mountain Pass Aide Station the wound had to be re-wrapped because the bandage was slipping down—at the previous aide station rather than wrapping the bandage around the thumb and around, they had wrapped it straight across the palm. Coming in to the Big Mountain Pass aide station a volunteer asked me if I had a crew—no, I did not. She started yelling “runner without a crew!” and told me to have a seat. I thought someone would help with my hand. No one came though and after seeing the first aide guy tied up, I had to get up and continue down the trail, hoping to get it re-wrapped at the next aide station.
The stretch to Alexander Ridge, in the full heat of the day was draining. At one point I was so exhausted and over-heated I went off trail, found some shade and lay down for ten minutes. Not long after that, about 45 miles into the run, I became nauseated and lost all my water and fuel. A runner named Rodger came by and asked if I needed anything. “Rolaids or Tums” I answered. He dug some Tums out of his pack, and then asked if I needed any water? “Yes, if it’s pure water.” He pulled out a big bottle and told me to take a pull. I did and gave it back to him and he said take another one. Then another. That is pure runner’s spirit, helping out another runner when he’s down. I saw him again later that night on the course about 65 miles along and thanked him again for his assistance. Looking at the final results, I think it was Rodger Smith from Orem, Utah—he finished about an hour after me.
While getting fixed up at Alexander Ridge two friends from Colorado arrived, Wes Thurman and Bogie Dumitrescu. Wes looked like a salt factory and Bogie said he was feeling terrible. I wouldn’t see either one again. Leaving the aide station we had a long climb through a grassy meadow. I walked nearly every step as did the other runners around me—about halfway into the segment we had a long downhill run to the Lamb’s Canyon aide station and I got my running legs back on. Lamb’s Canyon is a major aide station with runner’s crews, lots of people, and it’s well-stocked and provisioned. When I stepped on the scale it read 147 pounds—a shocking loss of nine pounds since the prior day’s weigh-in—I’m 6’2” tall, and I don’t like to go below 156, so 147 is dangerously light. I still couldn’t eat though because of the nausea. Was I going back to the same syndrome that has caused me to drop out of my last two 100’s, Hardrock last year and Western States last June? Determined to finish, I asked a volunteer if I could lie down on a cot for half an hour to see if I could settle my stomach down. She thoughtfully put two blankets over me, and then went to her car to get her personal sleeping bag and put it over the blankets. I was warm and soon in a deep sleep.
She came to wake me up after half an hour as I’d requested, gave me a pasta concoction with potatoes and cheese and two cups of hot chocolate. I re-weighed and now up to 150 pounds felt like a million dollars. And I picked up a pacer! Andrew Hegewald, a local marathon runner wanted to experience the course and was looking for someone to pace. He turned out to be a perfect fit, keeping me going, reminding me to drink, and he knew the trails! He stayed with me for the next 22 miles all the way to Brighton Lodge. His knowledge of the trail system was fantastic, as he was able to point out Brighton Lodge across the valley some nine miles before we reached it, and once on an unmarked intersection (probably sabotaged) he knew the right turn to make.
At Brighton Lodge I took another 15-minute power nap and discovered the only fuel I could keep down—orange juice and orange slices were my sole source of calories from mile 75 to the finish. Coming out of Brighton at about 5 AM it was still dark and now I was alone again. After an hour I found myself staggering--a quick pull-off from the trail for a final 10-minute catnap and I was ready for the final push. Running all the downs and power hiking the ups I felt better and better and the finish line approached—finally on the last five miles of downhill into Midway Utah and the Soldier Hollow golf course I was accelerating, gaining nine positions and finishing the final segment 34 minutes faster than my predicted time from the online race calculator.
It wasn’t a great finishing time--32 hours 45 minutes--but it was a finish, and I accomplished my goal. Now all I had to do was get to the airport—a rather expensive proposition after inquiries found no one making the trip--I called a cab, setting me back $130.