Saturday, November 23, 2013

Bellingham Trail Marathon Race Report

I didn't think I was going to race in 2013 since we had a baby in January.  But, I had this free entry and I hate to waste.  So I decided to do the Bellingham Trail Marathon in November.  I thought it was far enough out that I could get in decent enough shape for without getting in ultra shape.

There's times when you are looking to run a certain race but aren't sure about it or heard enough about it to be confident that it will deliver what you are looking for.  That's what this pick was for me.   A little uncertain and only doing it because I had a free entry.  Happy to say expectations were exceeded immensely.   I had a great time on these trails and I can't wait to do it again.  There needs to be more talk about this one, because it rocks!  They advertised this race to have 5'000ft of elevation gain/loss and said it was the toughest marathon in western Washington.  Yep, it was pretty tough.

The first 5 miles around Lake Padden are some fun twisty, up and down, muddy, rooted, fast quick downs with some short climbs.  I even let out a "woohoo" somewhere in there.  I was running this section in a group of about 5, and we jostled back and forth a bit over this part.  Everyone was very quiet until I broke it up with that "woohoo".  I think they all felt the same way judging by the giggles I heard.  A little chatter started up to make the miles go by a bit faster.

We left Lake Padden and headed on the road over to the Chuckanut trails going right by the first aid station.  No need to stop yet.  Temperatures were in the mid 40's and I hadn't drank much water.  But I was starting to feel my feet.  They were a little tender with every step.  ALREADY!  Is what I was thinking.  I was running in new shoes, I had about 50 miles on them.  I had taped my feet's hot spots but was noticing them with every step.  Not a good sign.

We reached aid station #2 at mile 8 and I scarfed some potato chips, grabbed a banana and took off.  "Shit! I can't believe I forgot to fill my water bottle!"  It was half full and seven miles to the next aid.  No biggie, I'll have a sip every 15-20 minutes or so.  The RD, Candice, even reminded everyone right before the start of the race to "make sure you get water at the second aid station."

We then got on the smooth crushed gravel of the interurban trail and were starting our climb up to the top of the Chuckanuts.  I was getting new hot spots on my feet so I stopped to check one foot out and all my tape was coming off.  This part kinda sucked.  I ripped the tape off and put a band aid on it.  I got back to running and power hiking my way up the trail and eventually caught back up with some of the crew I had been running with before.  Then I stopped again and did the same with the other foot.

All this attention to my feet was taking my focus away from these amazing trails.  So I re-focused and decided I was going to deal with my feet,  and assumed blisters, tonight when I got home.  I was really able to enjoy this part of the race from about mile 10.  I passed a few runners between here and along the Lost Lake Trail to aid station 3, mile 15.  There was a great view over looking he Puget Sound here.  You could see the islands and and all the surrounding water.  I made sure to chug a full water bottle and fill it up before I left.  Grabbed more chips, 2 banana pieces and was off and on my way up Chinsraper.  800' up in about 3/4 of a mile.  Steep, seemed like straight up for part of it.

This was my favorite part of the course.  Having a new born hasn't allowed me to get out of the city and put in proper trail miles.  But, what it has done is get my power hiking tuned in and sharp.  I've been hiking Tiger Mountain with my son on my back just about every week, sometimes twice a week, since September.  2,000' in 3 miles is runnable but it makes for a great power hike workout.  Just go as fast as you can the whole way.  Always trying to beat my previous time.  Hiking only, because I didn't want to shake him up to much.  If he didn't like it and let loose by wailing away, I wasn't going to be able to do this.  So I tried to make it as smooth as possible for him.

Baby backpack training paid off HUGE on Chinscraper.  I didn't even have to think about it, my body knew to just lean into the hill, hands on knees and power up it as fast as I could.  I passed so many people here.  I did realize some of them were from the 1/2 marathon, though.  But some were marathoners that I hadn't seen anytime during the race.  I was a little surprised at how strong I felt up to this point.

At the summit of Chinscraper we emptied on to a forest service road that gave us great views of the city of Bellingham.  Nice reward for that hike!  Now off to the famed Ridge Trail.  The technical section of the race.  Lots more roots, rocks, trees, boulders, drops and all kinds of more uneven footing.  Which reminded me that my feet still hurt.  I felt every uneven step.  My feet were so unhappy!

During this section I noticed someone coming up behind me.  It was a guy with one arm in a sling.  He passed me when I checked my foot the first time.  I passed him back only to have him pass me back when I stopped to work on my other foot.  I was able to pass him back shortly after that stop.  He wasn't moving too fast and I thought he was doing great for having one arm in a sling.  He was catching me on the ridge trail!  Just then there was this spot in the trail that had a huge boulder and drop off that you had to maneuver around to one side or the other with trees crowding you.  So You had to watch where you were stepping.  Right before this I had just passed a couple of ladies doing the 1/2 marathon and thought that there was no way he was getting around them and down that sketchy section to catch me!  I picked it up a little and made my way to the buffed out downhill trail where I knew he (or anybody else behind me) would catch me.

I cruised down these 2 miles pretty quick but noticed my hip flexors tightening up.  I had not done any downhill training.  While my mind and my quads knew how to bomb this section, my muscles were having other ideas.  Like "stop pounding on me, damn!"  Well, we didn't listen so then my left hamstring cramped up.  Perfect!  Oh, and my feet still hurt.  I think favoring the feet on the downhill made me tighten up and the hip flexors were the first to go.  I did find that a little coconut macaroon relieved the hamstring cramp.

Eventually made it down the hill to the 4th aid station at mile 21.  I was hoping to be in a little better shape at this point of the race but was still having a good time and mostly happy how I had run up to now.  However, the last 5 miles were pretty much a suffer fest.  Or maybe I just didn't want to run on the pavement yet.  I thought it would feel better on my feet, not having to be aware of every foot placement.  But, instead, I felt every step, flexors were not relaxing and the hamstring cramp would come and go.  At least I could stave those off for a little while using the macaroons.  At mile 23 the guy with his arm in a sling passed me as I was stretching out my hammy.  There was nothing I could do.  I had no fight in me, just finish.  Which is always my #1 goal.

Jogged right past the last aid at mile 24 knowing there was nothing that could help me run the last 2 miles any faster.  We were off the pavement and on the smooth interurban trail on the north end of Lake Padden.  I could see across the lake and knew we had to run all the way around to the south side to the finish .  That was tough to take.  My step somehow perked up a bit so I could at least enjoy the path next to the lake and think I even sped up the last mile!

I came across in 4hrs and 22 min.  17th overall.  Not too bad!  My second goal was to run 4:51.  Crushed that.  Also, I now have a marathon PR!  Yep, my first marathon.  Got a medal and a pint glass, ate some pizza, chili, tasty dessert and got to hear some good stories from other runners.  What a great day for a race!  I will definitely run this one again.  Hopefully, a little better conditioned.  Long uphill and downhill repeats.  Don't forget the power hiking.  Basically, train for an ultra.

Thanks to Candice Burt for race directing and to James Varner and all the great volunteers out there.  It was fun to chat with you even if it was brief.  Volunteers, if you're wondering what race to use your free entry for, do this one!

Time to put my new pint glass to use.

Lake Padden, the start/finish area.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

My Bucket List

I've never been one to write down goals about life or adventures or anything.  But I love to think about trips and races and planning for them in my head, especially while running.  Since we've had our son I haven't had much opportunity to plan any events, so I've been going a little insane in my membrane.  Thank goodness I'm still able to get out and run with my son in the stroller and do some power hiking with him in the backpack on our local trails.  This list has been fun for me to dream and teleport myself to beautiful places that I'm confident about getting to.  Now that ultra races have replaced skiing as my go to hobby/addiction, I thought I would give this list a go.

I have to limit this list to races that I want to run that are realistic to where I'm at right now in my life.  Luckily for me, living in Seattle is a good home base for so many great races.  This is my ultra marathon bucket list.  The criteria for this list is that the event has to be within a days(ish) drive of Seattle so I can camp out, or if I have to fly it has to be where I have friends to crash with.  And of course, somewhere in the mountains.  It must be on trails, more single track the better, it must have opportunities for incredible views of more mountains, oceans, lakes or rivers.  The more remote the better.  From 50k's to 100k's.  I have not done a 100 miler and don't plan on it until my kids are older.  So there will be no Western States 100 or any other 100's on this list.

So in no particular order, with the time of year the event takes place as well as my own prediction of when I may possibly be able to do each event,  here is my wish list:

    The Rut 50k     Big Sky, MT      takes place mid September, possible dates for me to do, 2017-20
      12 hour drive and camping as close to the start line as possible.  8,200ft of  vertical.  You climb Lone peak to reach an elevation of 11,200ft.  I've skied here and got lucky with a week of powder and was very impressed with the mountains in this area just north of Yellowstone.  Have always wanted to go back.  Check out this video Video

    Run Rabbit Run 50 mile      Steamboat Springs, CO      mid September, 2016-19  
      Fly to either Steamboat or Denver, get a ride and stay with friends.  About 9,000ft of vertical.  This race would be a sort of homecoming.  I spent 7 years here living for the winters.  After I moved away they started this event that goes from the ski area to Rabbit Ears pass.  A trail I always intended to do on mountain bike but just never got around to doing it.  Now I have the chance to run it!  Even better!  I am not a fan of out and back style courses, so you know this place is special.

   Sun Mountain 50 mile      Winthrop, WA      mid May, 2014 or 15

      4 hour drive over the cascades and camp.  7,000ft of vertical.  This one got high marks for it's beauty and post race party.  Also, it's put on by Rainshadow running which has a great reputation here in the PNW.  Here's the video that sold me on it.  Since most of the other races on this list are late summer and this one being in May, it has a shot to become an annual event for me and my family.  This one has a 50k option but the RD told me the 50 mile loop has better views, so I pick that one.

   Meet Your Maker 50 mile      Whistler, BC      early September, 2015-18

      4 1/2 hour drive to whistler in the summer should provide better views than winter, since that's the only time I've been there.  Possible stay in a condo should make it easier on the family.  12,257ft of vertical!  Giddy-up!  90% single track is what sold me.  Another added bonus on this course is you have to take the Peak-to-Peak gondola, which will give me about 4 miles of rest.  I'll need it with that kind of vert.

   Volcanic 50k      Mt. St. Helens, WA      early September, 2015 or 16

      4 hour drive to the Marble Mountain Sno Park on the south side and camping in the parking lot.  6,700ft of vertical.  This one is a repeat.  I did this in it's inaugural year last year just by luck (read previous posts).  So far, my favorite ultra.  I had stomach issues and would love to get a second chance to lower my time.  Even if I would have had a great run last time, this would still be on the list.  Seriously, you get to run around an active volcano!  Single track, rock fields, forests, wide open sections and you get to see what an eruption can do to the land around it.  Make sure you check out the videos on the website.

      Waldo 100k   Willamette Pass Ski Area, OR   mid August, 2016-20

      5 1/2 hour drive and camp as close as possible to the start line.  62.5 miles and over 11,000ft of vertical.  I visited this area 3 years ago with my family and parents for my dads class reunion in Oak Ridge, OR.  My dad told us stories of how much fun he had in this area and how his dad, my grandfather, was a truck driver and helped build a damn there.  I hope I can get the parents out here when I do this one.  It's also known for great single track. 

      Squamish 50 mile   Squamish, BC  early August, 2014

      4 hour drive and camp, maybe check into a hotel for the night of the race.  This one scares me!  Over 12,000ft of climbing.  Like Meet Your Maker this one has huge vert, without the gondola ride.  In fact this one has about 9 relatively flat miles.  Which means the 12,000' of vert comes at you in 41 miles!  I volunteered at this event this year to get a free entry fee (yup, I'm cheap), but it gave me an excuse to go up there and check out the scene.  Well, there will be a lot of walking.  The climbs are long.  The second half is harder than the first.  Note to self; start slowwwww........  My early prediction is that this will be the hardest one of the bunch. 

      Angels Staircase 60k  Carlton, WA  mid August, 2015-17

      About a 4 hour drive and camp.  I love it when the phrase "this can't be your first rodeo" is right below the title on the website!  It advertises itself  "as remote as it gets."  Sounds perfect to me!  Oh, and it also says "high alpine experience."  I can't do this one soon enough.  If  I were to make this list in order of preference, it would be #1.  In 2015 I will probably be doing Volcanic 50.  But if that falls through then I'll be heading to Carlton.  More realistically I'll get to do this in 2016 or 17.  Something to look forward to.

      TNF EC San Francisco  Marin Headlands just north of San Fran  early December,  2018-20

      The North Face Endurance Challenge isn't top priority for me.  But I do have some really great friends to stay with down there and it would give us a chance to see them.  Of course, while I'm down there, why not run an epic hard ass 50 miler?  Over 10,000 ft of climbing with amazing views of the Pacific Ocean and the city.  I've run on some trails near there and the climbs are STEEP!  Not super long but you are constantly climbing or bombing downhill.  It starts at sea level and the highest point is only 1,858', so you can imagine how many hills there are.  Check out the course profile (scroll down to page 8).  It doesn't sound like there's much single track, mostly forest service dirt roads with expansive views.  Bonus, it attracts some of the best ultra runners in the world.

      Speedgoat 50k  Snowbird Ski Resort, UT  late July,  2018-20

      This one's a stretch, being over a 12 hour drive and then camping near the resort.  What a great road trip it would be!  So in 2018 my son will be 5 and maybe we can attempt a trip like that.  We'll see. covers this race every year so I feel like I've gotten to know it a little.  Put on by the man who has won more 100 mile races than anyone, Karl Meltzer.  11,000' of vertical is going to hurt! There will be a lot of hiking.


There is one problem with this list, 7 of the 10 are in either August or September.  Now I'm not one to go and do back-to-back hard races within a months time so it will take me at least 7 years to get to all of them.  I figure in the mean time I will need some "filler races", and I don't want to take anything away from the following races but I had to stop somewhere or this list would go on forever. So I have an honorable mention list: Cougar Mountain 50k (already did this one), White River 50 mile (would be on the bucket list but I already did this one), Chuckanut 50k (also did this one), Orcas Island 50k, Beacon Rock 50k, Yakima Skyline 50k, Capitol Peak 50 mile and maybe a trail marathon thrown in.  Like the Bellingham Trail Marathon, which I will be doing this November. 

So there's my official bucket list.  I'm sure there are many other great races out there that I don't know about so this list could be altered at any time.  I look forward to adding more to this list.






Sunday, May 12, 2013

So We Had A Baby

Wow!  A lot of shit has happened since I ran around that volcano.  Like........We had a friggin baby!  Kirtan Bear is his name and he is a smiley guy!  He is very happy and loves to just watch us and our little dog and his big sister, who is AWESOME, play.  He loves to be held or be put on the floor to make sounds or blow bubbles or roll onto his belly.  Right now he kicks his leg constantly like he can't wait to start running!  He is awesome as well.

It was a scary start to his life, he wasn't breathing and he was blue.  So the stress level was high.  He pulled through with the help of some great midwives and great care at Seattle Children's Hospital.  After 4 days in the NICU and 9 more in the hospital we were able to take him home. 

Now that everyone is settling into our new lives we are starting to figure out what our new normal is.  Because it isn't what it used to be.  Two kids is not twice the work as having just one, it's like 4 times the work.  You forget how hard it is in the beginning.  Plus the 5 year old is really pissed off most of the time.  Can't blame her though, she spent over 5 years training us to cater to her every need and now has to share our attention, especially mom's since she's nursing, with this little thing  that can't play, talk or move.  Boring!  All she sees is this crying, crapping, nipple sucking thing soaking up all her hard earned attention.

Luckily for us, Willow is one amazing, loving being and would do everything she could for her little brother.  He's a lucky guy to have her as a sister.  She is coming around to accept him more and more and I don't think she could live without him.  All three of us are in agreement on that.

I've taken three months off, well, I did run about three times.  Every time I did though I would be exhausted for the rest of the day.  I needed to rest more than trying to fit in a run three times a week.  It's truly amazing how adaptive your body is.  I mean look at running ultras, you put your body through more than you can imagine and can't wait to do it again.  Before we had kids my wife and I were rarely up before 9.  The only exceptions for me were if it was a powder day or if I was going surfing.  Since I've never had a "real" job, there's never been a reason to be up early.  Now I can't sleep past 7, and that's on a good day!  It's usually 6:30.  We do have a jogging stroller and I am now running about three times a week.  A couple of those with Kir.  If he's sleepy he'll sleep right through my run, if he's not, I'm better off waiting.  SCREAM!

Kids will beat your body up from all the carrying at awkward angles you have to do to make sure they go to sleep and stay asleep.  They will fight with you to find your limits (and they will find your limits), and all that stress will make you finally feel your age.  My wife says she found some gray hairs on the back of my head!  Those weren't there six years ago.  It's all their fault!  It's all their fault that I can't wait to see them in the morning.  It's all their fault that I love Halloween again.  It's all their fault that I never thought I could just sit and watch kids play at a playground and not be bored out of my mind!  It's all their fault that they have to eat vegetables because I want them to be as healthy as possible.  It's all their fault that I dance.  It's all their fault that I will make silly faces and baby sounds.  It's all their fault that I wouldn't change my life for anything.

Now it's time to go get some miles in so I don't lose my mind!  I think everybody around me will benefit from a more level headed Drew.  Or at least put up with me a little while longer.



Thursday, October 11, 2012

Volcanic 50k

Marne, Willow, our friend Amy and I pulled into the parking lot around 7 p.m. on the Friday night before the race and set the tents up just in the nick of time as a thunderstorm rolled through.  (It was Amy's first time camping, WTF!  Well, she is from Texas.)  It poured for about twenty minutes as we waited it out in the car.  This did not help my nerves as I was beginning to wonder if this was a good idea.  I thought maybe I bit off a little more than I could chew with this one and now I have my family down here camping in the RAIN!

I started to get nervous during the drive to Marble Mountain Sno Park on the south side of Mt. St. Helens where we would be camping for the next two nights.  Was I really ready for this kind of race?  I started doubting my training and my lack of knowledge of the course.  I had gone over the Cle Elum (see previous post) course maps many times and thought I knew what to expect. But I didn't have a chance to study the course at Mt. St. Helens.  It would be the most remote race I had ever run and I've had only one day to prepare.  O.K., I told myself, this is still only 50k, I'm trained for this distance.  And so my mantra would be; enjoy the journey, and appreciate every single step, you know it's going to be a challenge so enjoy this one because you don't know when your next will be."

So for those who don't know, my wife, Marne, is pregnant and due on December 23rd! We are having a baby boy! That means we are going to be knee high in baby shit for about nine months, maybe more.  Which means I will be taking a break from racing for a while.  But how awesome is that!  We are having another kid!  Our five year old baby girl, Willow, is going to be a big sister!  We are all super excited.  Also, I just found out that Willow could start cross country in 5th grade.  I can't wait to watch her race! (If she wants too, of course).  With Cle Elum being canceled, and then getting into this race last minute, my emotions were running pretty high.  Knowing my next ultra is likely more than a year away I wanted to enjoy this one to the fullest.  I thought about my family a lot during this race. Wondered what they were doing and that hopefully my kids will find that they love to run sooner than I  did.

I always ran but it was to get in shape for an upcoming season of whatever sport I was participating in at the time.  But trail running is it's own beast and it's own reason to get in shape.  It gets you out there where anything can happen, so the more experience you have trail running and the better shape you're in, the better chance you'll be able to enjoy it.  Especially when things aren't going your way.   You have to count on yourself to get you through.  It's one of those, "had to see it too believe it" experiences.  In this case, you just have to get out there to know what I'm talking about.

Back to the race, "50k is doable, it's what you've trained for," I had to keep telling myself that.  My new strategy would be to take it easy, keep moving and make up for loss time on the downhills.  But don't push the downs in the early miles. The Volcanic 50k  circumnavigates Mt. St. Helens on 100% single track with only two aid stations.  It is partially self supported, which means you are mostly on your own.  There is a creek at 20 miles that you can get water from.  There are two boulder fields that are about one to two miles in distance on both the west side and then again on the east side that you have to spend the time rock-hopping and deal with, so I guess it's not 100% single track, there's no trail through the boulders.  Oh, and on the north side, where the volcano blew and wiped out everything in its path for miles, you are completely exposed and running on what seems like Mars.  Everything else is butter.  But it's only 50k, right?

The race started as I was still getting my pack and water belt on running across the parking lot to join the other runners.  It was a nice start, though, as I packed everything the day before so all I had to do was throw it on, tighten it up and run.  I was soon talking to other runners on the way up the hill.  I ran with Eric Quarnstrom and Jay Walker, who we ended up camping next to the night before, for awhile on the first uphill.  No more thunderstorms or clouds since last night.  Beautiful star filled night and a gorgeous sunny day for running.

first view, from the south
The first five miles are uphill, and you get your first view of Mt. St. Helens around mile two.  At that point I just kept following the people in front of me as we just kept climbing on what seemed like a trail, but turned out not to be.  Before the race started, Trevor, the race director, told us that there would be orange flags or cones about every 1/4 mile.  So if we'd been going for a while without seeing orange, we were going the wrong way.  After about 15 minutes of climbing through rocks on what seemed like a half ass trail, I said to another runner (who I think was Lynn Longon), "where are the markers?" Just then we heard some people yelling from below that we were going the wrong way! Shit!  I looked across the valley to see if we could cut across and jump over the river but the banks were solid rock and to sketchy to attempt a jump.  Found out later that one runner did and said it was a very sketchy crossing.  So we had to back track down to the trail where it was safe to cross.  In all, there were at least a dozen runners that went the wrong way. Apparently, this was a common thread for many runners at different points on this course.  I looked at my watch when we started to head down and saw that it took me 5 minutes to get down to the trail, so I estimated that it took me 15 minutes to get up, for 20 minutes round trip out of the way.  Bummer, the first time I took a wrong turn in an ultra. That's trail racing, so the say.

the creek we should have crossed in the first place
Back on the trail I crossed the creek and headed up the other side of the hill.  Found Jay, who had also taken a wrong turn, and ran with him through the first boulder field.  He was taking a nice straight line so all I had to do was follow his path.  The tricky thing about boulder fields is that you have to look down for every step and that makes you lose your line to the next orange cone.  You have to stop running to look up to spot the next cone then look back down to make sure you're stepping where you should. Thanks Jay, you made it easy on me on the west side of the mountain.  I didn't realize how easy until I got to the east side where I had to navigate the other boulder field on my own. I followed Jay until we caught back up with Eric and then I continued on at a faster pace.
view from the west side

another west side view
There were a number of small, sandy, scree filled gullies that we had to cross on the west side that were steep enough that you could just slide down some of them (and then your shoes would fill up with sand and small pebbles).  You then had to scramble out of them as well.  Some people wore gaiters, wish I had.  I ended up emptying my shoes out twice. We then reached a forested part where I thought I took another wrong turn.  I was by myself and hadn't seen any orange ribbons for awhile.  I turned around and began running back until I ran into somebody, (I think it was Seth Wolpin) and asked if we were going the right way, he thought we were so I turned and ran and soon found another orange flag.  I was starting to become a huge fan of the color orange.

one of the many gullies we would be crossing during the day
So far the race was mostly going uphill and I would occasionally notice small cramping feelings in weird spots in my legs where I had never felt before.  Like in my medial quads and new spots in my calves.  I just focused on my breath and technique and the spots would dissipate.  It made me become aware that these might be areas of concern later in the race.  I  figured I would deal with them the best I could if they resurfaced.  Stay hydrated and don't forget to eat.  But for now they were not an issue.  Around mile 11 there's a downhill that drops 1,600' in about a mile or so.  I was rollin'.   I really had to hold myself back because I knew I could blast down this section, but it was still early and the trail was actually a little overgrown here so it was hard to see your footing and what was coming up around each turn.  Plus the early cramping in the legs made me a little nervous.  They showed me a side that I had not seen from them lately in my training so I was going to make sure I took it easy on them.  I also knew that if I hurt myself here I would be limping out for at least ten miles.  Didn't sound fun.

I reached the first aid station at mile 12, Toutle River, in 2 hours and 49 minutes.  8th place.  I had no idea I was that far up.  These aid station workers were awesome!  They had to hike in 4 hours carrying food and water for all 50 runners and themselves.  (I told you it was remote)  Thank You!  I filled my camelback and water bottles and was on my way.  We had to slide down another sandy scree gully, cross the Toutle River on huge boulders and then look for a rope on the other side.  That rope was the only way we were going to be able to pull ourselves out of the Toutle River gully as the embankment was to steep and sandy to just hike out of.  Then there was about 1,000' of climbing in 2 miles on mostly a sandy trail that crossed a huge scree field. I used to run in the sand quite a bit when I lived in Hermosa Beach, CA and I knew this sand would tear my calves up if I ran so I just power hiked it.  Each switch back seemed like a mile long.  By now I was by myself and searching for orange cones all the time.  I could see a runner up ahead about 1 1/2 miles and occasionally see one or two behind me about a mile.

Toutle River, see the rope?
the sandy hill out of the Toutle River valley
northwest side
northwest side
Once I got out of that big valley we were on the northwest side of the mountain and running on a packed sandy trail through short grassy bluff like areas.  You could see forever on this section of the trail.  There were some beautiful deep canyons coming off the volcano that looked like they were carved out by glaciers. Steep and deep.  I was tired on this section, around miles 14 through 18 and would run a little, walk a little. Started to notice a little belly issue coming on.  Took some sodium caps and that seemed to work for the time being. On the north side it was like we were transported to another planet.  It was just black, grey and brown everywhere, little to no grass.  Mostly sand and lava rocks with a path marked through them. Creepy, desolate, isolated and there you could see the north side of the volcano that blew out during the eruption in 1980 and the effects it had on the land we were running over.  It wiped out everything.  What used to be an old growth forest was now, basically, a desert.  They are trying to let it grow back naturally and only let about 100 people a day on the mountain to keep the human impact to a minimum. Nature is very impressive.  I felt very small and insignificant on this part of the trail.  Click to see some before and after pics and fun facts about Mt. St. Helens.  I even wondered what I would do if it blew while I was running around it.  You think about crazy stuff while you're out there.  I kept hearing helicopters and knew that they were doing tours and taking people up to see inside the crater.  But in my mind, they were there following the race so everyone could watch the action as it unfolded.  This might have been where I started to lose it.


I finally reached a river at mile 20, it was an oasis in the middle of this barren land.  I filled my camel back, splashed my face in the water and soaked my hat.  I was closing in on the guy in front of me.  I think it was David Chilson.  But I was not feeling strong.  My belly had been bothering me for the last few miles and was making me work a lot harder than I wanted to.  I caught David a couple miles after the river but had to let him go as I had to stop to get some gels out of my pack and fill my hand helds from my camel back with electrolytes.  Marta Fisher caught me soon after that and asked how I was doing.  I told her I was fine but I was not feeling great right there.  Legs were tired but still able to run on them.  The belly was getting worse. I spent a lot of time thinking about my family on this stretch, about what they were doing and hoping they weren't too bored.  I hoped they were having fun.

The second aid station, Ape Canyon, is at 24.3 miles and could not have come soon enough.  It was a very welcome site.  David and Marta were still there when I arrived. Marta was looking strong.  While we were there another guy came in, I think it was Kevin Downs.  The volunteers were pleasant and up beat with words of encouragement.  They were so good that they actually tricked my mind into telling my body it was feeling better than it actually was.  Well done.  They told us we were all around 12th overall.  This was the first time I had any idea what place I was in.  It was hard to believe I was up that far as crappy as I was feeling.

From here it was mostly downhill to the finish but it didn't really matter.  I left shortly after David and Marta and within 10 minutes my body was telling my mind that "no, you actually feel pretty shitty right now."  I stopped to empty my shoes and had to be very careful when I bent over to tie them back up because my hip flexors would cramp right up.  It took a few tries, but was eventually able to get them back on and start moving.  We came to another creek and as I bent over to soak my hat Kevin passed me.  I was in no condition to give chase.

We were moving across the northeast side to the east side.  Up and down, in and out of canyons. Mostly downhill in this section.  I had to walk the uphills and most of the downhills.  Every time I would try to run it would upset my belly.  Any jostling was getting more painful by the minute, especially going downhill.  I thought about throwing-up but was worried about getting dehydrated.  Ever since I left the second aid station I couldn't eat or drink anything.  I tried to at least keep taking small sips of water.  At this point I just wanted to finish but knew if my belly could sort itself out I might be able to finish this one with some fight.  I had been walking a lot the last 7 miles and strangely felt like my legs still had some life in them.

Peter Courogen caught me as we reached a wooded section.  We finally made it around to the the southwest side.  It was nice to finally run in some shade.  I forgot to ask him for a sodium cap.  I was hoping that would help.  Soon after Peter was out of sight and right before I reached the second boulder field Julie Leasure caught me.  I asked her and she just happened to have one to spare.  I remember telling her about my stomach, and that I felt like I still had some downhill legs left if I could just get over this stomach hurdle.  I should've just thrown up.  Next time.  I followed behind her about twenty feet through the boulders and at one point I came around a big one and didn't see her.  Where did she go?  How did I miss her?  I thought maybe she hid behind a rock to pee.  Then I wondered if she took a wrong turn.  So I yelled out "Hey!" Then saw her coming up from behind me and it turns out she did go the wrong way.  I'm sure she was happy to be back on the trail...... errrr the boulders.  At this point, any time I took a mis step or landed on a rock that wobbled even a little, it felt like every muscle in my legs wanted to cramp up.  I'm pretty sure Julie felt the same way as I heard her let out a little screech at one point, I turned around and she had just stepped on a loose rock and mentioned that her legs felt like they were going to cramp up.

Soon after that we were back on single track moving through the woods. My stomach started to feel a little better as I tried running and was able to.  Julie and I passed each other back and forth for the next mile until my stomach allowed me to pick up the pace and was able to create a little distance between us until we came to an intersection and I wasn't sure which way to go.  They had taken down all the orange markers.  Luckily there were some guys above us on the trail telling us to head down the trail.  Thank goodness because I would've went back up that damn hill!  (Found out later that some did.)  This part of the trail was the first 2 miles and the last 2 miles of the race.  Ahhhhhh, the last downhill.  I had been waiting for this.  I started to cruise down but slowed up due to the fact that I didn't see any markers.  Julie caught up with me and said it was the right way and that she remembered running past this one stump.  I thought it was funny that she remembered a stump from eight hours ago.  I said O.K. and started cruisin down the hill.  My stomach had released it's death grip on my bowels by now and allowed me to start running.  I was picking up speed with every step.  I couldn't believe it!  I was finally flyin down the hill.  The downhill training paid off.  I did the last 2 miles in under 15 minutes.  I didn't want this downhill to end.  I heard a car and knew I was close so I floored it to the finish line.  8:16:53 for 13th place.  It was only the 4th time I had run for over 8 hours.

It's like a great ending to an average movie can make that movie great.  That's the kind of race this was for me.  Even though I had a hard time in the middle, being able to end like I did, made the whole race for me.  The course itself was phenomenal!  The winning time by Jason Leman of 6:03:54 would be considered a respectable middle of the pack time for most 50k's.  But not this one, due to the boulders and all the sand it was more like 40 miles than 32 miles.  When I start training again I will definitely try to get back into this race.  I'll be going for 7:16.

Thanks to all the volunteers, you were great.  Thanks to Trevor, the RD, for letting me in at the last minute.  Thanks to Amy for coming on your first camping trip with us and keeping Marne and Willow company during the day, you're an awesome Texan.  And of course, thank you to Marne and Willow for putting up with me in general and especially during this training period.  I met some great people before, during and after this race and was reminded of how great the ultra community is and am glad to be a part of it.  It was fun hanging out at the finish line eating the BBQ drinking a nice IPA from Rogue brewing, and listening to other runners stories.  With all that happened in the 2 days leading up to this race it's pretty amazing how everything turned out so great. 

Now I have to figure out what went wrong with my stomach?  I don't think it was too much water, I never had that water jostling feeling.  I don't think it was from drinking out of the river, I treated my water and know that many others drank straight from it.  I'm sure I drank enough electrolytes.  Never got higher than 4,800' in elevation.  There's only two things that I can think of;  I ate too many gels early on that contained caffeine, or;  I had some lemon lime electrolytes that I hadn't trained with in the past.  But citrus has never bothered my stomach before.  After we moved to Seattle and had Willow, I had a mocha a day  for a week straight (we lived 1/2 block from Top Pot) and started getting headaches.  I never get headaches.  So I think that's what it was.  I've trained with caffeine on long runs but would spread them out and alternate between them and gels that didn't contain caffeine.  So unless someone has a better idea, I'm going with that. 

I wanted to take it all in, and I feel like I did.  I took some pictures to have as reminders.   It was also a good distraction when I was still able to think about something other than the pain.  Here's the rest of the pics.

southwest side
northwest side

north northwest side

Mt. Rainier, and there's a runner on that trail up ahead

northeast side
east side

losing it on the north side

Thursday, September 20, 2012

You never know what's going to happen

Last April I went with my wife and her parents to Connor Byrne for open night mic where my wife, Marne, played a few songs.  She sang great, as always, and also inspired me to start training again for another ultra.  After my race at Chuckanut I was very discouraged about running.  I'm sure many runners have had similar feelings when injuries keep popping up.  I knew I would start training again but was not motivated until that night.  To see her, and all the other musicians, get up in front of everyone and play their songs was very moving.  Something about live music that is so inspiring, maybe because I don't have a lick of artistic talent that makes me in awe of those who have the ability to create.

I decided to do the White River 50 miler again.  That plan was changed due to some more injuries (read previous posts).  Not only IT band issues but I had been running in minimalist  shoes for about 8 months without proper technique and was doing hills everyday.  Well, that put a lot of strain on my calves and achilles tendon.  I would wake up in the morning with super stiff calves.  It never went down to the bottom of my foot so plantar fasciitis was never an issue.  I could not figure out what was wrong with my lower legs.  I thought I had a bone spur or maybe even a partially torn tendon.  So White River was out of the question.  There was no way I was going to be ready for two 4,000 ' climbs and 50 miles.  I needed my calves to get healthy.  I stopped doing hills, I read Chi Running by Danny Dreyer, I stretched the shit out of my calves and I changed my shoes.  I still wear my minimalist for work.  They work great when I'm not running.

I must add that I do not promote running while injured, however, you must know your own body.  When to push it and when to rest.  I was still able to run without making things worse or creating  new problems.  Things improved, slowly.

Cle Elum 50k has been on my bucket list ever since I heard about it two years ago.  It's in September, which would be enough time to get properly trained for a 50k.  I could still run as long as I stayed away from hills and stretched and stretched and stretched.  I had a 30 minute stretch routine after every run.  It's great to have some yoga background.  By the last week in June I started to add hills into my training, about 3 times a week.  Most times I would do a walk/run up the hills.  It was a slow progression.  I could still run downhill.  By changing my technique, I was becoming a much better downhill runner than ever before.  I used to always get this pain across the top of my ankle late into a long run.  I figured out that it was from toe slapping.  Hitting heel to toe when I would land.  That would get worse when running down a hill.  Also, having super tight calves was part of the problem.  Once I finally figured out how to point my toes and land mid foot I was able to charge the downhills.  They have always been my weak spot, in fact, climbing was always my strength.  I would take it easy on the way down to save myself for the uphill.  Funny how things have turned around.

Cle Elum  has about 7,000' of climbing in the first 17 miles and then it's almost all downhill for the last 14.  My strategy, since my climbing was coming along so slowly, was that I would end up walking most of the hills, then charge the downhill until my legs came off.  As long as I could continue to build up those downhill quads I could still have a really great experience and maybe even be pleased with my time.

Training was going along smoothly, I was back to doing hills everyday.  Had some great training runs in the hills outside of Seattle, Desolation Peak and some nice hilly runs around town.  Even went to Marin County in California for Sean and Lindsey's wedding and had a great trail run there.  My calves were loosening up, YES!  It was paying off.  I was putting in 50 to 65 miles a week, all with hills.  Then those damn calves tightened back up.

In the middle of August I did some traveling with the family and didn't keep up with my stretching.  They didn't get too bad, it was manageable and I was still able to keep up my normal training routine.  But they were tight and the rest of my body was feeling the effects.  Then two and half weeks before the race during my last speed workout I was doing some leap frogs.  My legs were toast, no power left in them at all.  I think I completely exhausted them.  During my leap frogs I could feel that I was starting to take the impact in my back and then on about the second to last one OUCH!  It felt like my sacrum went up and my spine went down.  I fell to the floor and pulled my knees in trying to stretch it out.  Got up and tried to run.  Nope, my run was over.  I walked/hobbled the mile home from Green Lake and made an appointment to see my chiropractor.  Dictor Doc,  that's what Willow called him when she was about two and half and so it has stuck.  His real name is DR. Dick Shepard and he does spinal networking.  Not your ordinary chiro.  He kicks ass!  And not in a painful way.  Well, two visits to him and the back thing was gone.  Thank goodness because the race was in 5 days.

The race was on Saturday September 15th.  On Thursday September 13th I got an e-mail form the race director Candice Burt, who has a great blog called Wild, (check it out at the "blogs that I follow" over to the right).  In the e-mail Candice said that there were reports of wild fires all over the eastern side of the cascades and that she was driving over the pass to see how bad it was and too hopefully mark the trail but noted that there was so much smoke in North Bend (on the western side of the cascades) that they couldn't even see the mountains.  Not the news you want to receive 2 days before your race.

About a month before, an ultra friend told me about this race she was doing that circumnavigates Mt. St. Helens and that it was on the same day and already filled up.  Well, I put that on the top of my bucket list.  Figured I could do that one in the next couple years.  It looked incredible! 100% single track and you get to run around a frickin VOLCANO!

On my way to work in the afternoon I received another e-mail from Candice.  Bad news, race was cancelled.  The Monday before the race there was a storm that reported over 1,000 lighting strikes and they started over 100 wild fires.  Many of the fires were within a few miles of portions of the course.  She had no choice but to cancel.  I just hope everyone near the fires are o.k.

So after I got the news from Candice, I e-mailed Trevor Hostetler, the race director for the Volcanic 50k.  I pleaded my case and told him about the fires in Cle Elum and hoped for a positive response.  I went to work and an hour later I received and e-mail back from Trevor saying "you're in luck, we had a cancellation last night and you are in."  WOOOOHOOO!  Holy shit!  What a turn of events.  Thank you Nichole for mentioning this race.  It was hard to believe.  I was going to get to race after all and on the course I most wanted to.  So I packed up the family and headed south for Mt. St. Helens.

Next post:  Volcanic 50k race report 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Running with bears

One week left until Cle Elum 50k!  OOOOOH, I can't wait to race.  I feel like I have  finally overcome some big obstacles as far as aches and pains go and feel like this two week taper will re-energize my legs. Like I was telling a client today "your are going to have so much fun running on fresh legs".  I've been running on sore and tired legs since..........., well, before Chuckanut in March.  I'm still a little sore and banged up and need to concentrate on stretching and loosening up this week, but am hoping to feel fresh by Wednesday or Thursday.  Epsom salt baths should surely help.

My last "long run" was on Friday, it was supposed to be about 9 miles at Squak/Cougar mountain.  I was planning on doing up and down Squak twice (2 miles up with about 1,650' of climbing one way).  About 1/2 mile down on my first lap I was coming around a corner and thought I saw something on the trail, I had to do a double take before I realized I was about to run right into a black bear.

When I started up Squak I found some bear shit right in the middle of the trail no more than a 1/4 mile up from the trail head at SR 900 (the road).  So I thought, "maybe I'll see a bear today"?  I figured it would be off the trail in the woods foraging on berries.  Not this bear.  She was right in the middle of  the trail.  I noticed there was a cub behind her.  She was not moving.  When I've come across black bears in the past, once they noticed me, they scurried off.  When I finally realized I was running up on a bear, I stopped in my tracks and started making some noise.  I was probably 50 feet from her.  She stood her ground and checked me out and then looked back at her cub, still not moving, just waiting.  I backed up  grabbed a bigggggggg stick and waited.  It took her about 5 minutes before she finally nudged her cub up into the hill off the trail and disappeared into the woods.  I ran with that stick for about 1/2 mile down the trail until I thought it was safe.  Then ditched the stick and proceeded nice and fast to the bottom of the mountain.  Then I drove across the road and did my second lap up Cougar mountain's wilderness peak trail.  I thought about going back up Squak, but thought I better leave the bears alone.

I was pretty startled by the fact that I didn't see a bear on the way up (when I was expecting to see one) but then to come around a corner and be stopped so abruptly with my options being to either go back up and around and add more miles than I wanted to on that day, or was prepared for, or wait and hope she didn't charge me.  She didn't act aggressively but took her time clearing out.  She was so beautiful, such a thick, dark shiny black coat with a brown muzzle.  Her cub was no bigger than a Lab and looked just as healthy as could be.  I feel so lucky to have shared that trail with her and her cub that day.  And of course, thankful she didn't want to eat me.  I think she's probably seen a lot of humans in those hills and was more used to us than we are to her.  I will never forget my last "long" run the week before Cle Elum 50k.

So 8 miles on Monday, 7 on Tuesday, rest on Wednesday, 6 on Thursday and then drive up to the campsite at the start/finish line at Tanneum Junction on Friday so my family and I can make a camping trip out of this race as well.

Next report, Cle Elum 50k race report.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Desolation Peak

A few weeks ago I went on a camping trip with some friends from work, Ashley, Alicia, Pine, Tim and Adam to Ross Lake in the North Cascades National Park.  After the 2 1/2 hour drive we had to hike 1 1/2 miles down from the road with all our gear, get a boat taxi ride across the bay to the resort and rent a canoe to then paddle 12.5 miles to our campsite.  It was a beautiful day and the water was smooth for the first 8 miles or so.  Then the wind picked up and made the last few miles a struggle.  It took 6 hours to get to the dock of our campsite.  We made it, set up camp, had a delicious dehydrated REI  dinner and slept under a star filled sky.

The next morning I started out on the run up Desolation Peak at 8 am.  It was 6.8 miles and 4,400' of vertical to bring you to 6,102'.  I planned on doing it twice.  This trip was planned back in May so I regarded it as a focus training run, like you would your focus race. Because it was 5 weeks before my focus race this was a run I was looking forward to almost as much as I was to the race itself.

The first 2 miles were relatively flat with some gradual incline hugging a steep mountain side next to the lake.  Then the climbing started.  It was relentless over the next 4 miles.  Countless switchbacks with very few flat spots to do some actual running.  The first 2.5  miles or so are through the forest and then the sun starts to poke through.  Along the way I thought I kept hearing voices so I would stop to listen but could never make them out for sure.  Then at about mile 4 there is a meadow and you actually get a short downhill right before the last section of uphill for about a half mile to the summit.  That's where you  find the fire lookout that Jack Kerouac spent a summer at and wrote a few books about.  As I came around the hut there was somebody sitting there eating there lunch before heading down.  She asked if I heard her singing.  Funny.  That's what I heard, I wasn't going crazy.  She does that to let the bears know she's coming.  I like that, I just say "hey bear, hey bear."  We did not see any bears.  But,  I did talk to two different campers that said they saw a mountain lion right on the trail the night before.  So I ran with a big stick.

I took about ten minutes at the top to take some pictures and check out the cabin, it was locked, but you could see in as there were windows all the way around it.  A 360 degree view, not a bad sight first thing in the morning for those fortunate souls that get to spend the night up there.

Then back on the trail for the descent.  I've been working the downhills hard lately in preparing for this race and planned on running as hard as I could but keeping in mind that I had to come back up and down this mountain again.  So a fast paced descent was fun to maintain.  I ran into my friends about 2/3's of the way down as they didn't get started until about 10 a.m.  It was good to see them and let them know what they were in for.  I knew I would see them in a few hours and I looked forward to being on the mountain at the same time.

The downhill was great and the last flat 2 miles back to camp was fun and runnable.  When I was on the summit telling the singing hiker about the mountain lion that the other campers saw I remembered that I left all my food in my tent instead of putting it in the bear box.  Then I started thinking that if that cougar got into my tent while everyone was away from the camp that I would be out of food for the next lap up.  And no food for that night.  And probably a ripped up tent.  So I pushed the downhill faster than I wanted to.  The cougar did not find my food.

I filled my water, my pockets with gels and food, put my other food in the bear box and headed back up.  About 15 minutes out of camp I started to bonk.  I had been feeling really good the whole day so far and had not needed a lot of calories or water on the first lap.  Now I did.  I drank one of my 20oz water bottles in the first 2 miles of flat and proceeded to drink regularly on the way up.  Second lap was going to be much harder and I was going through water fast.  It was harder to run the spots that I did on the first lap so I just settled into a fast hike and tried to conserve water.  But it was going fast and I thought about turning around because I knew I would need some for the descent.  So I decided to go up to the 3.8 mile post where there is a fork to a small campsite up there and wait for my friends.  I got there, sat down and waited. I could hear voices so I thought they would be down soon.  The voices were not getting louder so I walked up the trail about 5 minutes and saw two people hanging out up on a flat rock.  It was Ashley and Pine!  "Hey! Do you have extra water?"   Pine did, and so she was my hero.  I was able to fill my two 20oz bottles but not my camelback  as I wanted to make sure they had enough to get down.  I figured 40oz should be enough  to get me back to camp.  The other 3, Tim, Alicia and Adam were at the summit and I didn't want to risk going up to meet them to find out they didn't have any water to spare.  So I headed down with Pine and Ashley and soon started running and told them I would see them back at camp.  The run down was fun and fast.  It was much warmer now and I needed to keep drinking.  I went through all but about 5oz by the time I got down to the flat section and knew the last 2 miles were going to be hard without any water. My legs were feeling the affects and did not appreciate the trail the same this time around as they did the last time.  My water was gone soon and you would think you don't need much for the last 1.5 miles of a run, but with the heat and fatigued legs I was thirsty as hell all the way to camp.

When I reached camp I grabbed the water purifier and sat right down in the lake so my legs were submerged.  I then proceeded to fill my water bottle and drink it repeatedly until I felt somewhat normal.  After I downed about 80-100oz and got some electrolytes in me I went for a swim.  Ahhhhhh!  What a trip.  I estimated it to be about 8,400' of climbing and descending in 25 miles in a little over 5 hours.  Slightly short of my goal, but a good lesson and a great adventure.  I highly recommend this trip but would advise you to rent a kayak instead of a canoe.  It would have been much faster to and from the campsite.

on top of Desolation Peak with Hozeman Peak behind
there's the cabin
Ruby Mountain, south of Ross Lake, taken from the summit of Desolation
there's Ross lake looking north into Canada
campsite at sundown