Saturday, September 20, 2014

Run Rabbit Run 100 mile race

September 12th to 13th, 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 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!