Sunday, September 08, 2013

Wasatch Front 100-mile Endurance Run, Sep 6-7, 2013

What a long strange trip it’s been! Back from Utah and the annual running of the Wasatch Front 100-mile Endurance Run. My only goal was to finish. With no 100-mile finishes since 2011,I needed another current finish if I want to try for Hard Rock or the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc in 2014. With no support (race crew or pacers) besides the aide stations I had to plan for all contingencies—that called for a drop bag for every station that allowed them--dry socks in each bag, ample food, gels, powder, even a couple asthma albuterol breathers, Hydropel for waterproofing the feet, jacket, extra clothes, headlamp, sunscreen, and so on.
Out on the course I was in defensive mode—that meant no getting exuberant and pushing the pace early on as I am wont to do. It meant changing socks often and monitoring the feet, applying sunscreen, and most importantly staying hydrated, fueled, and taking salt caps.

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.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Boston Marathon

In the last 22 years I’ve run 127 marathons. I’ve run the Boston Marathon three times, the last time on April 15th, 2013, when a celebration of life and community turned into a horrible nightmare. I had finished a little less than an hour before the bombs went off, and was walking across the Boston Commons towards my rental car, having just connected by cell phone with my friend Jose Aponte who finished a little after me. We had traveled together. Though he now lives in California, we had synched flights and shared a rental car and hotel, and now we were trying to link up in order to go to the airport, go home, and go to work the next day. While we were talking Jose exclaimed that two large explosions had gone off and he could see white smoke rising from near the finish line. He said they sounded like ordinance from Camp Pendleton. I waited for him to join me on the Boston Commons and we continued to the rental car, while we picked up conversations, watched every ambulance and fire truck and police car in Boston drive to the scene, all the while my cell phone filled up with text messages and voice mails from concerned friends, family, and colleagues.
I didn’t go to run Boston this year for a PR or even to run a fast marathon.  Indeed my time that day was my slowest road marathon ever. I wanted to run Boston this year for the Boston experience. That experience includes the spectacle of the expo, one of the largest and most exciting of any marathon. I bought a Boston Marathon jacket for $100 even though I surely don’t need any more jackets. As I waited for the race to start in the school grounds in Hopkinton I looked at the thousands of fellow runners and I thought “this is my tribe.” I had a pretty good seed, based on my qualifying time, so I started with the first wave. I knew though that I would not be running very fast because of some health problems that have affected my training, so I settled in to enjoy the day.
Everybody knows about Heartbreak Hill. Well, there are actually a series of three hills with the finale being Heartbreak Hill. Having run Boston twice before I knew what to expect and being from Colorado the hills were not an issue. It’s the five miles after Heartbreak that always kicks my ass. Muscles cramping, quads screaming, all while running downhill and the flats to the finish line, but every step of the way you’re running with your tribe, your friends. And spectators and supporters line every street and sidewalk to the finish at Copley Square.
There are more than 25,000 runners running Boston, and everyone has to qualify with a pretty decent time to run the event. In the 55-59 year age group I had run 3:17 at the Aspen Valley Marathon in order to qualify--the only road marathon I could squeeze into my schedule for a Boston qualifier was sandwiched between the Leadville Trail Marathon the preceding weekend and both the Hardrock 100 and Leadville 50 in the next weekend. But there are five times as many supporters, volunteers, cheerers; the entire race course is a festival. The Boston Marathon has been crafted by the citizens of Boston over 117 years. It is a uniquely Boston event and the entire city comes alive to celebrate life and community.
Why was this happy, joyful event attacked so brutally? We know who the perpetrators are, but we don’t know the answer to that question. Even if we were to get an answer, it wouldn’t help.
To overcome this kind of trauma takes time, time during which we need to look ahead positively. Revenge and scape-goating won’t lead to any real solution. We will remember the pain, and we will continue in our lives, accumulating the miles and the distance from that day as it recedes on the time horizon.  It will take time, but time is our ally.

We’ll remember those who lost limbs and life on Boylston Street by running.  The Boston Marathon will recover from its wounds, and soon those twenty-six miles will again be beautiful, natural, and joyous.