John Muir Trail

John Muir Trail

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Ray Miller 100k

Hooooo boy! My legs hurt and I currently walk like a stick man.

I recently took on the Ray Miller 100k 2 weeks after running 100 self-supported miles in Yosemite because I wanted to see the course and experience the race that everyone who had raced the 50-mile version 3 years back had praised endlessly.  I was in for a treat!


I had no expectations, and was hoping that my legs and stability would hold together to allow me to finish.  For some reason, however, people kept telling me that I was going to win: my friends, the assistant RD (who I had never met), other runners...not sure why, since I'm not all that fast to begin with, let alone 2 weeks after the hardest and longest effort of my life, but I appreciated the faith in my abilities.

What having no expectations did mean, is that I could run as hard as I wanted and not worry about blowing my race, since I wasn't too concerned about it anyway.

The rad course zig-zags and loops and out-and-backs its way through the North-West end of the Santa Monica Mountains, starting and finishing at the Ray Miller Trailhead.  The Ray Miller Trail, famous for its ocean views and runnable, butter-smooth single track, climbs out of La Jolla Canyon to the rest of the course, and subsequently deposits the runners back into the canyon at the finish.


Starting Line with my puffy on.
The 22 starters lined up at 5 minutes to 5am and took off into the darkness following leadout pacer Jesse Haynes to the trailhead from the starting area.  My buddy Greg went out hard and I started out in a close 2nd, running the climb.  Almost immediately my friend Megan called me out from behind and we chatted while we ran the first climb.

I was worried about my body's stability giving out, so at about mile 4 I pulled back a bit and let her go on with 1 other dude to chase Greg in the lead.  That put me in 4th.  My heart rate was skyrocketing and I didn't know why, so I ignored it because I felt fine and kept running sustainably (?) hard.
Dawn over the tri-peaks ridge.
Sunrise from the La Jolla Canyon trail, rounding Mugu Peak.
Looking out at the Channel Islands (I think?) from the side of Mugu Peak...we then ran all the way down to that parking lot.

The 100k was going to be a bit short, so we took a slight detour down a huge, steep hill around mile 8, tagged a parking lot trailhead at ocean-level and climbed back to rejoin the 50 mile course up near Mugu Peak.  Those 50-mile jerks didn't have to do that climb! The wind howled and I leaned into it to make my way through the Mugu Peak Saddle, after which the wind died down and I continued through La Jolla Valley.
La Jolla Valley with Tri-Peaks ridge in the background.

I came into the mile 13-ish aid station still in 4th, but I noticed a guy in  a red sleeveless jersey coming up the hill as I was leaving the aid station.  My hamstrings were already tight, and my legs were stiff, but otherwise I felt good, so I started the next loop section, which would come back to this aid station, at a run.  Not much later, however, I saw a shadow creep up next to me and the guy came up and passed me.  I cheered him on and continued at my own pace, trying to keep a solid cadence down the hill into Wood Canyon.  This descent is mild and fun, but my legs were tight and it was tough to make good time...oof, I was starting to suffer already and it was affecting my confidence!  Could I last the whole race at this pace? Was I blown? This didn't feel blown, but why was I going so slowly?

Either way, I kept the red shirt dude in sight and ran as hard as my stiff legs would allow up to Hell Hill and hiked into the aid station.  The aid station was a mess of runners in other distances coming through, but I managed to find my way in, get my Tailwind mixed up and take off for the Wood Canyon Vista/Backbone descent into Sycamore Canyon.  I could still see the red shirt dude about 2 minutes up, and my friend Megan about 8 minutes up.

The next loop up the Coyote Trail, past Hidden Pond and down Sin Nombre into Danielson Horse Camp was rough.  So stiff.  Climbing difficult. I was lucky that my buddy Bill (running in 2nd in the 50-miler at the time) came up on me and we started conversing about running and racing, shoes, etc.  It took my mind off the legs and I was able to push through the pain and feel rejuvenated!  Thanks for the miles dude!  I was also glad that he informed me that the dude who had just blown by me was leading the 50.  I thought I had gone out way too hard and that the 100k-ers behind me were going to start blowing me up from here on out!

At Danielson, I packed up some Tailwind, got my reservoir filled (or so I thought) and headed up the biggest climb of the race: Blue Canyon to Chamberlain Trail, about 2300 vertical feet.  More importantly, however, is that just outside the aid station, there was a fresh-cut stump on the side of the trail, and I decided to stretch out my piriformis on it, followed by hip flexors and hamstrings.  All of a sudden, my hips released and I felt like I could move again!  I charged on up the hill, sure not to overdo it with my newfound enthusiasm, and headed for the summit at a run/hike.  About 5 miles out from the aid station, I was disappointed to discover, however, that my reservoir was only half full and I ended up running out of water on this long, hot, section.  It wasn't a super bad situation, but it was a little worrisome since I wanted to keep my hydration topped off after guessing that my hydration at Wasatch Front is what caused some stomach issues.
Unknown valley between Split Rock and Mishe Mokwa Trailhead Aid Station.

Either way, I kept a solid pace all the way into the Mishe-Mokwa aid station where I saw some friends, filled up an ice bandana, and headed off for the 100k-only out-and-back to the Grotto.  Howard, Mike, Manly, Chamoun, Pedro and some workers that I didn't know all worked to get me hooked up at both my trips through this aid station.  I headed out for 1400 ft. down, and then a 180 degree turn to right back up!  The downhill hurt a bit and I could feel my stability was suffering...aching in my glute and some nerve pain in my left quad were mild but present.  I was making some groaning noises and dealing with some nausea, but nothing too bad...just beat up a bit.

I saw my girlfriend Crista who was staffing a road crossing on the way down, and then an hour or so later on the way back up.  Unfortunately, Greg got lost down in the canyon near the turnaround because someone had vandalized the 'Turn Around' sign, which was marked 'Right Turn' on the back, so he wandered around for a while before figuring it out, but he had lost the lead to unnamed dude and Megan, who was in 2nd trailing by only a minute or two climbing back out of the canyon.  I was about an hour behind the lead at this point.  Woof!  Greg and red shirt dude had fixed the sign and warned me about it just in case when I saw them climbing out together.  Thanks dudes!
Makes sense.  My buddy Marshall marked the turnaround.

When I arrived back to Mishe-Mokwa for the 2nd time, I refilled ice and took off on the home stretch...less than 20 miles to go!  I was stoked because my legs felt good enough to slow jog or run the uphills, however, I was getting beaten up on the downhills and flats because everything ached so much!  I stretched every few miles and tried to move well.  I knew I had a couple miles on the guys behind me, so at least I could hold 5th if not make up some time to catch 4th overall.  I hoped that the twinges in my back were just twinges from being fatigued and wouldn't develop into a full on back-spasm that I have seen other runners endure.

I made it down Chamberlain Trail, took a quick break to pass through Chamberlain Rock to 'shed my sins', as is tradition, and turned down Serrano Trail, still very tight but managing to keep a 12:30-ish pace into the Serrano Canyon/Sycamore Canyon Junction Aid.  I refilled bottles, and was told I only had 5 miles to go! Woohoo!  I was pretty ready to be done running, both with the race, and the season.  Time for some R&R!

I ran the Fireline Trail climb and hiked the steeper top section well, ran the Overlook Trail, and cruised the Ray Miller descent in front of a brilliant sunset over the water.  I held sub 10 minute/mile pace as the sun dipped below the horizon and in no time I came through the finish in 12:25.


When I crossed the finish, I found out that Megan had won!  Nice! Last I saw she had 20+ miles to go and was only trailing by a minute or two! Stellar job Megan!!  I sat down and drank a Cream Soda and tried to feel normal, but everything hurt!  Ouch.  It was uncomfortable and my stomach had been churning for miles!  I finally made it through a couple Subway sandwich pieces and drank some water, after which I held on to consciousness until my last friend, Erin, finished before I hobbled off to sleep in my tent.  I was lucky that my girlfriend was volunteering because we were allowed to camp at the start/finish area.  It was amazing because I was in no shape to drive an hour home!  I couldn't even crack open my finish-line Sculpin!

So what did I learn from this whole ordeal?  Well, first off, don't race a 100k hard 2 weeks after running a hard 100 and going deep into the cave.  I was beat up and felt it all race long.  2nd...I can run hills better than I thought!  I was consistently able to chug up hills that I normally don't...maybe it's because I spend enough time running in the San Gabriel Mountains that I wasn't used to my own capability at sea level over ultradistance, but it felt reassuring that even in my beaten down state that I could still push the climbs a bit.  Maybe I just hadn't ever attacked a race like I did this time because I was too conservative and worried about blowing up...time will tell if I can put in that type of effort in another race to yeild a positive outcome.

Keira's race delivered in spades and I am totally happy that I put up with the suffering to make a finish happen. 

Now it's time for a month of recovery and then getting ready for next year!


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Silence & Mountains - The Yosemite Snake Pit 100 - Part II

I just got back from Yosemite and running 105-ish miles through the backcountry.  It was wild and and intense experience, but also quite rewarding when all was said and done.  I had a shot at running a similar course in May with my buddy Andy.  Long story short, back in May it snowed before we ran, we spent a long miserable 6-hours from 11pm to 5am postholing and route-finding through the snow-covered, ice-water soaked John Muir Trail, and we ended up bailing out due to time constraints and wrecked bodies after only 72 miles (26 hours of running).  I meant for the route to be the same this time but after the first go around it was clear that the planned run would have been over 110 miles long! So I modified it and cross-referenced with Tom Harrison Maps to validate a couple changes to the route that would end closer to 100 miles.

Since this run was/is my brain child, I wanted to go back and get it done.  I picked a weekend after my summer 100-mile goal race (Wasatch Front) that would leave me enough time to recover and be ready for an adventure. As it approached, however, it became clear that Andy was hurt and not recovering quickly enough to join on the run.  I asked him if he wanted me to wait, but he said that I should have a go at the run by myself.  So I rolled solo.

Now that I'm done, I have some thoughts about the whole thing:

Running in the Mountains

The view from North Pines Campground, Site 520
Fuck man.  I should have eaten more.  I should have run faster.  I should have hiked less and run more.  Ugh.  The thoughts that run through my mind after a big run always focus on the negative.  What should I have done differently? How could I have executed better?  I started out without a time goal and didn't run to push the pace...I'm running a self-supported 100 miler by myself on a lot of trail that I've never why am I disappointed that it took me so long?  I guess I feel like I can do better, but when I think about going back for another go, I'm immediately visted by all the memories of blown quads, drowsy eyes, cold and silent darkness and endless switchbacks.  I don't want to go back, yet (Yet? always that caveat, eh?), so I guess I'll need to be satisfied with what I've got: a hard fought finish of my original goal of 'running' the Yosemite Snake Pit 100: a somewhat ridiculously-named 105 mile trek through Yosemite National Park.  I covered the distance is 35 hours and 29 minutes.

8500 Calories of Clif Bar Products.  Thanks guys!
I actually only planned enough food for 30 hours of running at my ideal-ish consumption rate, but when my stomach started hating me only 30 miles in, trying to take down the amount of calories that I intended became quite difficult.  Good thing for body fat reserves!  In 35 and a half hours, I consumed 5500 calories.  Based on Garmin's FirstBeat algorithm, which is apparently within about 10% of true caloric burn, I burned over 12000 calories, so I guess it makes sense that I lost 2 lb. in 35 hours.  I don't know if it takes into account BMR, or just the exercise-induced caloric burn, but either way I was at a pretty big deficit.  The silver lining here is that my hydration was great for about 95% of the time.  Only 1 hiccup where I ran out of water between Eagle Peak and Yosemite Village in the early miles of the race affected my hydration, but within a few hours I had recovered and maintained my hydrated status for the remainder of the run.  So nutrition was a minor disaster, but could have been worse.  I'm stoked to have been able to switch it up between Clif Shots and Clif Mojo bars to help my stomach not hate me, but maybe next time I'll bring some Bloks too.  Probably easier not to gag on tasty gummy bloks when trying to force food down in the middle of the night.  Sometimes squeezing a bolus of gel into the mouth (have a field day with that, Mr. Trail Safety) isn't the most pleasant experience when combined with pre-existing nausea.

Ready to go.
Running while nauseous sucks.  It also sucks to run on blown legs.  I don't know what my deal was...maybe it was the altitude, or maybe I ran too hard during the preceeding week and weekend, but either way, I ended up run/hiking a lot to keep my heart rate down and feeling absolutely gassed on the climbs.  I didn't think that I'd lost that much fitness since Wasatch, so the cause of the legs feeling a bit wonky had to be something else.

Rockslide Trail
2 miles up Rockslide trail and my legs felt OK, but I couldn't get my heart rate down.  Another 2 miles up and I had my poles out, slow stepping the climb to keep my heart rate down.  My legs were OK, but something was off.  Easily optimistic at the beginning of a big run, I actually really enjoyed the section from Rockslides over El Cap and Eagle Peak, back over to Yosemite Falls.  The easy grade of the previously-asphalt Rockslide trail traverses up the valley side and deposits the runner at the picturesque Oak Flat Trail.  This trail reverses direction, like one big switchback, and winds up the shoulder of the valley and onto the summit of El Capitan, where it continues to meander through loamy dirt and white granite to tag Eagle Peak before heading off down towards Yosemite Falls.  This sub-20 mile first loop provides climb, descent, views and forests.  Highly recommended.  The end of the loop descends down the rocky and technical Yosemite Falls trail to the valley.  I attempted to run/hike this to try and save my legs, but at the bottom I did not feel too happy.
The always-spectacular view from Eagle Peak
I bought a Coke at the Yosemite Village Market and sat out front on a bench, drinking and stretching.  I texted with my friends coordinate a meetup in the wee hours of the morning where they would ostensibly cross paths with me to verify that I had not yet died of exposure.  "I'm feeling a little wrecked, and not super happy. See you guys in 10-12 hours."  I was pretty down.  I had spent the first 20 miles thinking about my life and some issues that I was going through, and despite the moments of awe that Yosemite vistas inspire, a negative mental state lingered.  However, I came to Yosemite to run, and so I did.

Half Dome from Tenaya Canyon
About 6 hours in, including stoppage and everything else, I took off for Tenaya Canyon.  Not bad for 20 miles in I thought.  I passed the dry Mirror Lake underneath Half Dome, enjoyed some horse-poop-laden trail, and made it to the Snow Creek Climb.  The tall pines shaded golden yellow leafy trees that showed off their fall colors.  The vibrant and beautiful trees contrasted with the remainder of the normally green and white Yosemite flora and almost distracted me from the upcoming climb.  The Snow Creek Climb sucks.  I pulled my hiking poles off my pack and started the steep, exposed climb.  So slow.  So very slow.  My heart rate was itching to rise and I continually reigned my speed in to attempted to remain at a sustainable effort level.  Snow creek contains little shade after the initial switchbacks and it was warm and uncomfortable in the late afternoon sun.  I thought I had prepared for this heat but I was wrong.  I suffered a bit on this climb and worried that I was in for a rough day.

Running solo, unsupported, in the backcountry comes with a handful of fun and unique idiosyncracies that aren't quite like running a 100-mile race on one end of the spectrum or ultralight and fast backpacking on the other.  For example, ultralight backpackers carry a sleep system of some sort...usually a sleeping bag, maybe a pad and some other items that are weather dependent.  Hike for hours, sleep for a few, repeat.  A 100-mile racer carries no sleep system and sleeps in an aid station if at all.  I carried an emergency mylar bivy sack, some lint, matches and lighter as my backup plan if shit went bad, and didn't plan to sleep a wink.  This put me in the shitty middle ground of having no sleep system for sleeping outdoors, and no aid station to sleep in with just my running gear.

Moonrise over Clouds Rest
Luckily, even though I felt like shit climbing up from the valley, the top of the climb gives way to rolling/climbing/descending single track of loamy dirt and pine needles with plenty of available water to be found at stream and river crossings.  Last time I was up there, there was no snow, and we climbed on into the twilight and eventually darkness.  We got lost around Olmstead Point.  We navigated ice-water swamp marshes and ended up bailing onto the road when the Tenaya Lake outflow consisted of an impassable 40 feet wide and 2 feet deep channel of snow melt runoff.  I figured that it couldn't get worse than that.  The trail obliged to agree!  Not only was there no snow at the climb out of Snow Creek, but there was an amazingly gorgeous orange, red and purple sunset, I did stay on-trail at Olmstead Point, the park had placed a bridge over the much-subdued Tenaya Lake outflow, and the ice-swamp-trail-death-hate-my-life section was actually smooth, runnable, rolling singletrack!  I stretched my legs and ran as much as I could, enjoying the darkness and lack of trench foot.

Poles out.  Hiking hard.
Somewhere in the midst of this section, however, I realized that I was not on track to meet my friends as planned.  I needed to text them before they lost service, but I didn't have service.  I'm in the mountains, in a canyon, approaching another valley.  If I didn't warn them, they would run in from mile 90 in the middle of the night and try to sleep and freeze to death (or so I thought)! I was anxious about it, though I knew that they are all capable backcountry travelers.  They could handle themselves.  Still, I worried.  I continued to push on up the trail, but my tired legs and anxious mind started to wear on me.  Frustration set in.  How long until the JMT turnoff?  Is it at mile 41 or 44?  Why do all of the Yosemite mileage signs seem to have different mileages on them??  Impatient, I climbed on, hearing, and sometimes seeing cars on highway 120 on my left, hoping that this meant that I was close to the turnoff.  The trail rolled and dipped and curled, tricking me into thinking the junction would arrive soon.  It did not arrive soon, but finally, it did arrive.

It was 10:30pm or so, and I was about 30 minutes ahead of my status at this point with Andy in May, but the JMT was not covered in snow this time.  I started to hike.  My legs were immediately gassed.  8500 ft. up, I guess I was struggling with the altitude.  Gel sat poorly.  Trail mix bars sat poorly.  Sleepiness crept in.  I wasn't even half way yet!! I knew that I had to wake up.  No sleeping on the trail!  I cracked out the first of my packet of caffeine tablets.  200mg down the hatch and I continued on.  An hour later I felt OK, and 1.5 hours later I felt pretty solid.

Up towards Cathedral Pass, I filled water and started to figure out pretty quickly that I had about a 10 minute window of no movement before I would start to get really cold.  So I would bundle all the way up, filter water, and then run on to warm up.  This was a disconcerting reminder that my layering system, and survival, relied on my own constant motion towards the finish.  Once I would get warm after moving again, I would de-bundle and run on.  I continued to worry about my friends in the dark and cold.  The moon hung in the sky, almost full, and caused me to see apparitions in my peripheral vision.  Was that a light? Nope, rock and moonlight.  Was that a light again!?? Nope, rock and moonlight, again.  You win this round, moon.  I checked my phone on the way down from Cathedral Pass: 1 bar!! I quickly tried to text, but the bar disappeared. Damn.  Probably too late anyway.  It's after midnight.  I moved silently through Long Meadow towards Sunrise High Sierra Camp where I would turn off and climb towards Clouds Rest.  Again, blown legs on the climb and I was in unfamiliar territory to boot.  I tried to wait 4 hours before popping another caffeine tablet, but my consciousness faded faster than expected so at 2:15am, 3 hours and 45 minutes after the first tablet, I took another.  Hope it works!

At this point, the trail seemed to have 1 modus opperandum: descend before every climb.  Going to climb Cloud's Rest?  Great! You're at 9200 ft, so you've only got 750 feet to go!  NOT! We're going to descend 600 ft. first so you can fully appreciate a 1000+ ft. climb to get up to the peak! Yeah!  This is not how my quads wanted things to be progressing.  I checked my Garmin: 50 miles, 16,000+ ft. of total ascent.  Oof.

USGS Marker on Clouds Rest
Whatever.  I made it to the top of Clouds Rest, where I did have service, and texted my buddies.  They wouldn't get it, because it was 3:30am.  They were just waking up on the side of Glacier Point Road @ the McGurk Meadows Trailhead and getting ready to run out into Yosemite's southern end to meet me.  Clouds Rest is badass.  It's this ridge of rock slabs that crest at almost 10000 ft. elevation.  In the now-orange moonset, I saw the entire high country to the east, and could see all the way to Fresno in the west! I took this in while I sat down on a rock slab and tried not to wake up the dude who was cowboy camping up against another rock slab, a mere 20 feet from the USGS marker that denotes the peak of the feature.  The steep descent beat down my legs and at times I would run and then just walk because my quads were aching.  The food situation wasn't going so well, and even though 2 hours had passed since the last caffeine tablet, I again began to fade.  This time, however, armed with the knowledge that I could rest for ~10 minutes without major health consequences (see: freezing to death), and confident that it was also warmer now that I had descended 2000 ft., I opted to take a nap in the dirt.  I set my alarm for 5 minutes and immediately passed out.  Waking to some light music in the silent back country and opening my eyes to an immense starscape-through-trees was surreal.  The one thought in my mind said, "Shit.  You're still in this." I clicked snooze for 5 minutes and was back out.  When I woke again, I hopped up, felt less groggy and continued on.

I'm not even 60 miles in.  Shit. It would take me 20 fucking hours to 'run' 100k.  What a disaster.

Over the course of this last 10 or so miles was the only time that I considered dropping out at Nevada Falls.  I actually felt OK, other than my slow speed, but I was ready to be done running.  Maybe I should just hike out to the valley.  No one would blame you for dropping.  It's been a hard day.  Do you really want to go for another 40 miles after Nevada Falls?  Your friends didn't find you and left.  They think you bailed.  Just call it.


Right before I started, I put a pic on Facebook that I took in the valley.  My friend Marshall commented on it, simply saying, "really cool thing you're doing!" Yeah.  Yeah! Yeah it is, Marshall! And not completing it is NOT COOL.  My buddy Jimmy Dean said to me before my first 100 miler, "At some point out there, you're going to want to be done running.  That's when you decide what type of 100-miler you'll be."  Fuck yeah.  I don't drop because it's uncomfortable!  That's not who I am and not how I roll!  I drop if I'm going to fucking die.  I knew my friends would say, "It's cool man, you can go back and get it.  It wasn't your day." Fuck that too.  It may not be my day to run sub 30, but I'll be damned if I'm coming back because I dropped because I was a little tired.  And even though all these thoughts sound couragous and glorious and shit, I still wanted to drop.  So when I hit Nevada Falls, I didn't even slow down.  I ran straight through and started the climb into the vast southern end of the park and the last 40 miles.  Fuck dropping, even if I have to death march to the finish.

Speaking of death marching...I looked at my watch and was averaging something like 18:30 miles, including stoppage/water fills/etc.  Some quick math (yeah, I could still do math...good sign!) told me that I had 10-14 hours to go at my pace, depending on how fast I could continue and if my condition deteriorated further. "Fuuuuuuuck," is literally what went through my head.  It was gonna be a long day.

Legs blown on the switchbacks up from Nevada Falls, again.  Still dark, but the sky is finally lightening!  Awesome,  with sunrise comes new life, and I needed it.  The exhaustion wore on me.

First look into the southern portion of the park.
The first couple miles after the turnoff of the Panorama Trail were just like other Yosemite miles: loamy winding single track.  Granite.  Trees. Shrubs.  But a couple miles in, the trees disappeared and gave way to an expansive, rolling golden grass hills framed by a giant granite ridge in the background.  The trail snaked down through the valley to a creek and climbed the other side to disappear over the crest of a glowing hill.  I had never seen this Yosemite before, it was cool.

The sun arrives!
I crossed a beautiful river and hit a sign indicating that I had 9 miles to go until Buena Vista Lake (and in my case, Buena Vista Pass).  This is the last high point, so all I had to do was climb the 2900 ft. from where I was to the pass in 9 miles.  Rad.  Well, 9 miles on toasted legs on trail that is, at times, just a bit too steep for the aforementioned blown legs to run on, takes some time.  I started charging my watch again, and when I stopped charging it, FUCK, I had only gone like 4 miles.  Ahhhh this is taking forever.

Old man in a golf hat?
Fucked up dog face?
I kept hearing people's voices, only to realize that no one was there.  I kept seeing things like cars and tents and gates, but they would be trees and rocks and shrubs.  Later I would play the game "What's the object?" that consisted of me trying to figure out what my mildly-hallucinated objects actually would be when I got closer.  I see a kitten! It's black with a white spot.  So what is it actually? Hmmm...thinking that it's probably a log with some bark and maybe a piece of white granite.  Yep! That it is! Have a pat on the back, self, you're really enjoying toying with yourself.  At mile 73, I hadn't figured out the game yet, however, so I just saw shit and then thought, 'Damn.  That was totally not what it looked like.'

Beautiful meadow on the way to Buena Vista Pass.
I heard some voices again, and then again.  These had to be real!  Maybe.  Definitely.  I thought it sounded like my friend Katie, and I looked ahead to where the voices were coming from.  I saw 3 runners and knew immediately that it was my buddies Andy, Dom and Katie.  I let out a huge 'KOOKOOIEEEEEEEEE!!!' and heard them call back.  I was very thankful to see my friends.

The gang's all here! Photo: Dominic Grossman
I sat on a log and we talked about their night and my night and how they did indeed think that I had dropped from the run.  I felt refreshed.  They made plans to see me again at McGurk Meadow after they finished a 35 miler themselves and after about 30 min of hanging out and talking, I left to try to seal the deal on the remaining 4 miles to Buena Vista Pass and then the next 13 miles to McGurk Meadow and 12 miles to the Valley floor.

Looking out into the south country nearing Buena Vista Pass.
Again, when I was within 400 feet of the ridgeline, the trail dropped into a valley to make me earn my way up to Buena Vista Pass.  My legs were again, super blown, and I hobbled up the climb.  It was here that I started to feel some pain in my quad.  IN my quad.  I think it was some nerve pain from wrecked hips and muscles pulling my IT band and back and anything else into awkward positions that pressure the nerves.  I continued on, adjusting my gait to relieve that pain and be able to run as much as possible, but it was tough.  My slow speed and inability to consistently run frustrated me.

Toast.  Mile 83-ish.
13 painful miles later I arrived at Bridalveil Creek Campground, closed for the winter.  Out of water, I twisted the tap only to find that it had been turned off when the campground closed.  Damn.  No water.  I also realized that my sunglasses had fallen off the top of my head.  Double damn.  I liked those Oakleys.

A mile later I hit Glacier Point Road at McGurk Meadows Trailhead.  My PMR breatheren had just pulled up in the car and we chatted and walked down to the field.  Sweet, 12 miles to go!  They gave me some intel on water sourcing on the trail and then sent me off.  I ran for about 100 yards before my leg hurt enough that I reduced my pace to a hike.  I cracked out my hiking poles and prepared to fast-hike it in as best as I could.

Caffeine Tablet. Water. Gel.  My eyes looked dead and vacant, and my vision twisted patterns on tree trunks into moving mosaics of color.  OOOooooOOOO. Weird.  I had never been at this point of exhaustion before.

I had music in now, actually since Buena Vista Pass, and the world took a surreal turn in the twilight.  Music, patterns, footsteps...the whole section blurred into one collage of images in my memory.  Snippets of scenes that I hiked through, deposited into a hazy scrapbook in my mind.  The earphones drowned out the sounds of nature and all that remained was my thoughts and the tunes.
Fitting that I started on the west side of El Cap as the sun was rising over the valley.  Finishing on the east side of El Cap as the sun sets, 1.5 days later.
When I hit Glacier Point, I thought that maybe I had enough time to make it down and finish in under 35 hours.  Another meaningless time goal.  I started cranking up my downhill hiking pace, but it was no use.  I was too far gone and my first mile split down the trail showed it.  I dialed back my pace and trudged down the endless asphalt switchbacks of the 4-mile trail.  That trail sucks.  Every time that I though I was close to the end, my watch would remind me that multiple miles extended between my position and the finish line.  As in all ultramarathons, however, the miles did tick away and I rounded the final corner into the flatish runout from the trail to the road.  I wooped into the night and heard my friends wooping back which gave me the energy to push through the leg pain and jog the last 200 yards into the finish where they had deemed that touching the 4-mile trail sign would signify a finish.  Done.
Finally get to sit down!! Finish line. Photo: Dominic Grossman


What a fucking experience.  I've never tripped out and seen moving patterns in trees and rocks, nor had such strong runner's delirium.   During the 1st run out there, I was really only tired close to 5am and then everything was good, so when I got tired at 10:30pm, I was pretty caught off guard.  I don't know if it was a nutrition or hydration issue or what.  Maybe it was that I was running solo at the time and needed some conversation, or maybe I hadn't slept enough that week, or ran too hard early on...I don't know.

The solitude of running alone in the wilderness contributed in a huge way to the experience.  The need to be self-reliant and keep the wheels on drove a lot of my actions throughout the run.  A tired body can't just rest in the aid station with warm food and fresh minds to push new life back into it.  I had to pull myself out of every low spot, monitor nutrition and hydration, maintain temperature and keep my body moving.  Otherwise it was bivy out in the cold and suffer the drop later, which is not ideal.

Being out there for so long was rough.  It reminds me of when I first started ultramarathon and ran rim to rim to rim solo as my first ultra.  The sheer scale of the mileage was daunting to a new ultramarathoner (I'm 30 miles in and I still have 20 to go???).  This time, I was used to the mileage, but the time on feet was brutal!  It took everything I had to keep myself motivated and moving, clicking off steps and trying, sometimes successfully, sometimes unsuccessfully, to find the beauty in the situation, to help me accept why I was out there and make the best of it instead of dwelling on the aches and pains and impending hours left to go.

So yeah, like I said when I started, I wish I had gone faster.  It would have meant that I handled everything just a bit better, but that's how the cookie crumbles.  It was a really tough run, and I think I handled the difficulties of blown legs, nausea, and fatigue as well as I could have at the time.  I've become pretty good at accepting my performances, even though I would have liked to done better. I learned a ton and had a heck of a journey.  I'll come at runs like this with a few new tricks in my book next time and hopefully come out a little less worse for the wear.

Strava Data


Tom Harrison Map

Technical Shit

Meadow approaching El Capitan.
I learned a lot on the first go at running through the night in Yosemite and I've listed a few tidbits below:

1. Don't go when 20 inches of snow has just been deposited on the ground.
2. Handwarmers are clutch for keeping fingers warm through the night.
3. Bring spare socks if it's gonna be wet.  Trench-foot is a thing.
4. Homemade rice cakes are too damn heavy.
5. Even when it's cold, I'm too hot.
6. Tailwind is not good for self-supported runs in the cold because my calories are then tied to my hydration, which should not be the case in widely varying temperatures that can approach 30 deg. F.

I put all this info into my gear choices and came up with what I hoped would be a lighter loadout.

Fall Color in Tenaya Canyon.
Layering System:
Lowers: Saucony Running Tights/Patagonia Houdini Wind Pants
Uppers: New Balance Running Shirt/Arc'teryx Nuklei Hooded Jacket/North Face Verto Hooded Wind Shell
Extras: Outdoor Research Hot Pursuit Gloves/PCT Buff/PMR Trucker Hat

The layering system enabled me to run through the day at elevation in tights and a running shirt, keeping me cool and moving well.  At night, I could layer up and the tights with the wind pants combo would be lighter/lower volume than shorts/thermal tights/pants or tights/thermal tights/pants combo and be almost as warm.  Similarly, I switched out a fleece (what I used in May) for the Nuklei Jacket.  Far warmer, lighter, and has an insulated hood.  Pair this with the wind shell and I was hoping to be OK at 10000 ft. in the middle of the night.  The synthetic insulation made sure that even if I sweat out the jacket that I wouldn't freeze to death.  I ended up having a lot of too hot/too cold moments where I'd be switching the hood and pulling up/down sleeves a lot.  Worth it for the weight/volume savings, but that's about it.

Working Towards El Cap.
45 Clif Shots (15/15/15 Vanilla/Strawberry/Mocha)
10 Clif Mojo Bars (Mountain Mix)
10 Clif Trail Mix Bars (Chocolate Almond Sea Salt)
Salt Stick Tablets
Caffeine Pills

The nutrition was meant to enable me to eat gel and supplement with bars, hopefully providing enough variety to deal with a sour stomach if it occurred.  Last time I carred 3000 cal of Tailwind, 3000 cal of gel and 3000 cal of rice bars (home cooked).  The rice bars were good but fucking heavy, the tailwind required water, which isn't plentiful on a backcountry adventure, and required tying my nutrition to my hydration, which is a bad move in the backcountry as well.  So this time, I simplified.  I think a sweet spot would have been some real food mixed in with the Clif Product.  The thought is that for a minimal weight/volume penalty, it would have helped to settle my stomach and keep me feeling good for the whole run.  Next time.

Other Gear:
Pack: CamelBak Ultra 10
Bottles: 2x CamelBak Podium 24oz.
Poles: Black Diamond Z-Pole Cork
Shoes: New Balance 1210 Leadville
Socks: Injinji Crew 2.0
Filter: Sawyer Mini
Headlamp: Petzl Nao 2 w/ Extra Battery

Finish Line.  Photo: Dominic Grossman

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Wasatch Sasquatch: The Ogre Runs Wasatch Front 100

"Whoa.  What a day."  That's all I could text to my running buddies back home when I got my phone out after finishing the Wasatch Front 100 this past weekend.  It had been one hell of a day where I worked harder, for longer, than I ever had in any race.

The Wasatch Front 100 was my 'A' race for the year, so here's some description of what went down this past weekend, as well as some of what happened in preceding year that got me to the starting line.


The buildup for this race really started after the Kodiak 100 in 2014.  I saw some folks post on Facebook about registering for the Sean O'Brien (SOB) 100k and thought that it was gonna sell out soon, so I signed up.  After I recovered from Kodiak, I began to build up for SOB, throwing in Red Rock 50 in November because it's a tough and fun race.  The training for this race set the stage for the next 8 months until Wasatch Front.  I had trained hard in new ways, logged more miles than I had previously, and had a great early year race.  It also happened that I was selected in the Wasatch Front 100 lottery on the day of SOB in February.  Boom.  My calendar for February 7th-September 12th just filled up.

With a few running items, including some down time, on my list of things to do in the spring, I decided that a 14 week buildup from June to Mid-September was reasonable to prepare for Wasatch.  I mapped out a plan that consisted of mesocycles of 2 build weeks followed by a recovery week and topped out at 120 miles in the peak week.

Well, the best laid plans...

Real life contorted my neat stair-step pattern of buildup, and when real life wasn't enough, the miles and climbing were, so my actual mileage was a little more erratic.  The good news, however, was that despite the lack of picture perfect regularity in my buildup pattern, I ran a lot of miles, an acceptable amount of climbing, and was injury-free throughout the summer.

I spent a lot of time on weekends training in the San Gabriel Mountains on the AC100 course with friends who were training for that race.  That turned out to be ideal because the AC100 course and associated trails provided a ton of heat training, climbing, and tough conditions: Questionable water availability? Check. Dehydration practice? Check.  Running on blown legs through mountains, canyons and road? Triple Check.

Additionally, something new that I tried this time around were a hill repeat block and a tempo block in my training schedule.  The hill repeat block consisted of hill repeats, 3 times a week, for 3 weeks.  The repeats were 2-min, 3-min, and 4-min intervals on day 1, 2 and 3, respectively.  Each week the number of repeats increased.  Similarly, the tempo block consisted of tempo runs, 2 times per week, of increasing duration.  Real life prevented me from hitting every one of these workouts, but I got most of them in.  What that amount of quality work also highlighted was the need for recovery.  It quickly became apparent that there was no room for nutritional mistakes or missed hours of sleep, as I suffered through some pretty bad runs attempting to recover from weeks of big workouts and long runs back to back.  As my buddy Dom said to me more than once this summer, "Mondays are for resting."  So I modified my plan and started resting on Mondays instead of running an easy 5 or 6 miles.  It helped.

What all that resulted in was not hitting my goal of 120 miles per week during the peak week of training, and I was totally OK with it.  I had to modify weeks regularly because my legs were not ready for the mileage that I thought they might be.  A combination of quality workouts, long runs, and lots of climbing resulted in tired legs and body.  Tons of fatigue at work and a couple really bad runs confirmed that I needed to dial it back, and instead of sacrificing the quality of my workouts or the vertical gain of my long runs, I decided to sacrifice total mileage.

The last piece of the buildup puzzle in my training was the prerun weekend.  I decided that I wanted to get a feel for the course, so about 2 months out from race day, I used some Southwest points to fly out to Utah, stay with my friend Erin and go run the whole course over 3 days.  Erin and I successfully completed the entire course in 3 days, and come race day I was very thankful for the experience.  I knew the climbs, memorized the course, and didn't struggle at all with navigation.

When taper arrived, I was pumped because not only did I feel good about my training, but I was not completely smoked.  In other races, I've skidded into taper, burnt out with smoke billowing from my engine and needed the 3 weeks just to recover and race, but this time around, I arrived ready to execute a smart last 11 days of training (21 days out to 10 days out), which culminated with a big workout 10 days out from the race, followed by 10 days of maintenance and preparation for the race (10 days out to race day).  I also did a 1-cup-of-coffee-per-day detox from caffeine to increase the effectiveness of caffeine during the race.  That was a shitty 2 weeks of no afternoon coffee at work.

The Race

The race starts on Friday at 5am, with a runners' meeting the previous day at 4pm.  I flew out with my girlfriend/crew chief Crista on Thursday morning, purchased all the additional food that I would need (red bull, breakfast before the race, COFFEE!!), and headed to the pre-race venue.

At packet pickup, I finished packing my drop bags, with some last minute packing advice from my friend Jimmy who had run the race the previous year, and dropped them off at the site.  The pre-race meeting was all of 10 minutes, and we were out of there.

Drop bags ready to go.
After a delicious Chipotle dinner and beer, I was in bed by 8:30pm (Utah 7:30pm on my internal clock) to be ready for the 2:30am wake-up to eat, drink coffee, get ready and drive to the start.  I was pretty nervous about how things would go the next day, but luckily the beer worked wonders at putting me to a crazy-dream-filled sleep.
Breakfast with John Lennon.

I woke up at 2:30am and grubbed down on toasted baguette with Nutella, and a banana with Nutella while drinking a couple cups of coffee. I filled my water bottles with Tailwind, and we headed out the door.

Now's probably a good time to talk about my race plan and nutrition plan:

Nutrition Plan:

1 bottle of Tailwind + 1 Clif Shot per hour for a total of 300 cal/hr.
Snack at the aid stations.
Repeat for 100 miles.

Drink protein drink at miles 39 and 74.

Have a backup plan if that fails: trail mix bars (Clif Mojo Bars and Dark Chocolate Trail Mix Bars), Clif Organic Energy Food (Banana Beet Ginger), any other aid station grub that works.

I mixed mostly Vanilla Clif Shots (taste like frosting!!) that have no caffeine with about 20% Strawberry Clif Shots, that have 25mg of caffeine.  I figured this moderate/low amount of caffeine would keep me going without getting crazy.  Then at mile 75 I could switch to Mocha Clif Shots (50mg caffeine) and Raspberry Buzz Tailwind (also with caffeine) which would power me through the night.  Top this off with Red Bull at mile 75 and a drop bag filled with coffee drinks at mile 83 and I'd be set.

Race Plan:

Crista, ready to crew at the start
I wasn't sure if I had 24 hour pace in my legs, so I decided to feel things out by effort first: I would go out at a sustainable effort and check my split at the first aid station (Francis Peak Aid, mile 18ish) and assess if 24 hours is feasible.  If it was, continue and shoot for 24 hours.  If way off, continue and just race well.

The Actual Race

So the race started, and we took off on a super dusty single/double track.  I was 30 or 40 people back and was choking down dust like a madman, so I pulled my buff over my face to try and get some relief...not much, but better than nothing.  I noted that several veterans actually brought dust masks for this moment.  I was struggling to keep my heart rate down, but my legs felt good, so I let the BPM ride a bit higher than I'd like, at least until the 4500 ft. climb at mile 3.5 or so.  Once the climb starts, it was a long hike to the top with a few sections of running thrown in.
The first climb.
I fell in with a few runners going at my desired pace and finally made it to Cool Springs, where some guys had set up 'Aid Station 0', which is an unofficial water aid station.  I had planned this spring into my race plan (thanks to the pre-run intel) but the fact that the guys had filled up pitchers made it even easier to fill!  I was 2.5 hours in and had killed 2 bottles of Tailwind and 2 gels, so I refilled Tailwind and headed for Chinscraper and the top of the climb.  While I was filling, my pack of runners had moved on and spread out, so when I left, I was mostly running alone, which was nice.  I could see a large conga line maybe a quarter or half mile up and it looked like no fun.  Chinscraper is a steep section of climb up to a rocky nose of a ridge. 
The view while hiking up Chinscraper.
I hiked it up and was pumped by the NWA that was blasting from a boombox at the top...oops! I may have climbed that section a bit too hard while jamming out to the beats!  Luckily, it's followed by some really fun, rolling single track and then double track up to Grobben's corner where RD John Grobben hangs out with friends and pours water for runners.  I came through here doing fine on water and started the fire road descent to Francis Peak Aid.  Here I linked up with the eventual #2 Female, Leslie Howlett.  She seemed pretty experienced on the course and I enjoyed talking to her and running down into the aid station at a good, but manageable clip (save the quads!).
Climbing to Grobben's Corner.

Headed down to the climb to Bountiful B.
A friend of mine hypothesizes that one of the reasons that Rob Krar won Western States this year is that he managed the heat better than the other runners and that one of the ways he did this was by starting heat management early in the race, before most other runners had their heat gear on.  You can see in pictures that he already had a cooling bandana around his neck before Robinson Flat.  I decided to pull a page from that book, seeing as it was supposed to be quite hot during the race, and put an ice bandana in my first drop bag.  Leslie took off on her own while I was icing up, so I left the aid station solo, feeling ready to take on the heat as it came.  More Tailwind, more Clif Shots in the pockets, a couple potato chips.  Ready to go.  I left at 9:10, only 10 minutes off the recommended 24-hour pace.  This meant that it was time to go for the Crimson Cheetah belt buckle that's awarded to all sub-24-hour finishers! Game on.

I took off up the next fire road section and began to cruise.  The weather was still cool and the terrain was mild.  I knew I had a solid climb up to Bountiful B Aid coming up, so I took advantage of the grading to get my pace up.  Again, my heart rate was riding higher than I wanted it to be, even though I was running at an effort level that I judged was proper.  I chalked it up to the altitude and decided to split the difference between what I wanted and what my body was allowing.  In reality, I pretty much just ran how I felt while slowing down every now and then when I'd glance at my watch and worry about my pacing.

The climb into Bountiful B is a beautiful winding single track in the trees and meadows, and I enjoyed it tremendously. 
The climb to Bountiful B.  Gorgeous!
I was feeling good and hoping that my pacing was good too.  I was in and out of the aid station quickly with a handful of ice into the bandana, full bottles, and on to more fire road into Sessions Aid, the Pirate Themed Aid Station.  Not much to say about this section other than I kept rolling.

The run from Swallow Rocks to Big
Mountain Pass, as seen during the July
At Sessions, I got another handful of ice in the bandana, filled bottles again and took off for Swallow Rocks.  I knew that I was going to run out of water before the aid station, but I didn't want to take out my reservoir and fill it.  I should have gulped down some more water at Sessions, but I didn't...oh well.  A quick descent and then started the pair of ~400 ft. climbs that are separated by a 400 ft. descent.  The first climb is smooth and nice, the 2nd climb is pretty steep at first and then levels off into the rolling single track along the ridge.  My legs felt a little sluggish on this climb, but I was glad that the heat of the day hadn't hit, and hoped I could pull myself out of this minor slump.  The rolling single track is fun, and the views were absolutely incredible!  Rolling green mountainsides, golden meadows, and rocky peaks in the distance.  More elevated heart rate miles.  This single track dumps into a few switchback descent, which was completely overgrown in July and now was just kind of brushy.  Glad that I wore gaiters (unlike in July) to keep the crap out of my shoes.  This descent deposits the runners onto a saddle where the last climb before Swallow Rocks Aid begins.  I was more than halfway done with my fluids at this point, and killed the rest of the Tailwind at the top of the saddle climb before 1 last ridge climb.  I remember the ridge climb being a bit easier during the pre-run, but it was a small climb nonetheless, so the top arrived in no time and I knew I could roll my way over the next couple of miles into the aid station.  I had been rationing my water for a couple miles, and I ended up killed my water pretty close to the aid station so I came in ready to fill Tailwind, chug some water, and keep going.  My legs had started to feel really good, especially considering the low spot on the previous climb, so I started to move really well and clicked off miles consistently into the Big Mountain Pass Aid Station at mile 39. 

Soaked ice water hat goes on at Big Mountain Pass Aid Station.  Photo: Crista Scott

I could hear the aid station before I could see it, though there were flamingos and flamingo themed decorations on the trail leading into the aid station letting the runners know they were close.  This bolstered my spirits and I continued running quickly into the aid station.  My crew was ready, and I could tell that they were ancy for me to get in because they were like a pit crew ready to rock!  Vest #1 off, Vest #2 on, ice bandana on, shirt change to the lightest and best hot weather shirt that I own, a quick sunscreen, finish the bottle of protein shake and I was ready.  Even though I hadn't requested a reservoir of water ahead of time, I knew I needed one after running dangerously low on water coming into Swallow Rocks, so I asked them to get one and fill it, which happened fast an efficiently.  Crista and Erin killed it!

I took off out of there on my way to Alexander Ridge and Lamb's Canyon.  Immediately, my legs felt like garbage.  Sluggish, tired, and non-responsive to climbing requests.  I shortened my hiking stride to stay efficient and began to mow down calories to try and bring them back to life.  I was feeling pretty worried that I had burned all my matches in the first 40 miles.  It was getting hot out, but luckily there was a strong breeze coming from the West that cooled me off well.   Good thing too, because somewhere around the 42 or 43 mile mark, I could feel my legs start to come back to life!  I started to run the descents well and climb at a good clip again, coming into Alexander Ridge Aid feeling great!  I had been running for over 11 hours at a heart rate that I would consider a 50-mile race heart rate.  This felt exhausting, but at the same time I was amped that my legs were still performing well. I was out of Tailwind and had cashed out my reservoir, but still had water, which I cashed out at the aid station entrance.  I had them fill me up with ice water, grabbed some aid station gels (Gu Rocktane) to get me the next 5 miles to Lamb's Canyon, and took off.  I still haven't figured out what I was thinking with my drop bag planning and not having more Tailwind available to fill in bottles here...maybe it was in my backpack and I didn't know it? I can't remember, but I knew I needed more gel to get to the next aid station.
Ridgeway climb leading to Alexander Ridge as seen during the July Pre-Run
There were some pretty beat up runners in this next section, but I was confident with my ice and heat training that I would be fine.  Plus I was back down at 6000 ft. were I could breathe again and my heart rate had dropped!  I picked off a few runners climbing the powerline trail and hustled down into the Lamb's Canyon Aid Station.  The Rocktane gels were not sitting well, and I really wanted to sit down and recoup a bit: my legs were hurting a bit and I was starting to get a dehydration headache.

Ice bandana goes on at Lamb's Canyon Aid Station.  This was a key portion of my heat mitigation strategy. Photo: Crista Scott

When I got into the aid station at mile 53, instead of Crista and Erin, I saw Crista and Kara!  Kara??!  What are you doing here?  She's one of my running friends of So Cal.  She told me that she flew out just to crew for me!  I'd later learn that she was there to run the Revel Big Cottonwood Marathon and was having some fun at my expense, but I totally believed her at the time, haha.  I downed a delicious, ice cold Hansen's Root Beer, some water, and got ready to get out of there.  I was still within striking distance of my 24-hour goal and that's all that mattered.  I left at 5:00pm on the dot, 12 hours in and exactly on the race supplied 24-hour pace table.

I checked out of the aid station and headed up Lamb's Canyon Road to the Lamb's Canyon Trailhead, which, all together are about a 2300 ft. climb (from the creek in Lamb's Canyon before the aid station) over about 4 miles.  Halfway up the road, I started to feel not-so-great.  I was in the shade, but I was feeling nauseous and it was really hard to force more food into me.  I had hoped that water and root beer in the aid station would have calmed my stomach, but the Tailwind didn't sit well, gel didn't sit well and I was starting to worry.  My legs were still hiking OK on the road, but I needed to be running this section to hit the 2 hour split into Upper Big Water Aid Station.  A runner earlier told me his strategy for running 100-milers, 'eat until you puke', which kept playing through my mind in this section, because I did not want to puke and lose all my nutrition, but I did want to eat until I almost puked, so I kept forcing tailwind and gel into me.  Yuck, it felt awful.  On the road, I got passed by a runner who I had passed coming into Lamb's Canyon Aid Station.  He was run/hiking with his pacer and seemed to be beat up but making a recovery. I kept hiking hard, but was disheartened as they started to pull away on the single track climb.  I was charging my GPS watch via battery and cable, so I couldn't see my heart rate.  I felt like I was working through the roof but had no way of knowing if my heart rate agreed with that feeling.  Hike hike hike, harder and harder as fast as I could move my rapidly tiring legs.  Oof.  I wanted that buckle.

I topped out on the climb, stretched and began the 1500 ft. descent into Mill Creek Canyon.  I was trying to move well but my legs were hurting and pushing hard, eating, and drinking was proving to be difficult.  Still, I knew I was close to hitting the split (hiking legs not so bad after all!) so I kept pushing and popped out onto the Mill Creek Canyon road at 6:22pm (I still remember looking at this time on my watch...funny how some memories stick), 38 minutes to go 3-4 miles if I wanted to arrive at the 24-hour split.  Maybe if I had a quick aid I wouldn't lose much time?  It's bummer I felt so bad on this descent because it's a really fun one with great views.  Winding single track descending through canyons with creeks...awesome.  Either way, I was feeling toasted and trying to eat more/drink more Tailwind and my stomach was making me miserable.  My legs weren't getting the nutrition that they needed and were starting to falter.  I was running and hiking the road as fast as I could, but it's still 3.5-4 miles with 1200 ft. of climbing to get to the aid station.

I finally made it into Upper Big Water Aid Station at about 10 minutes after 7pm, which was all I could ask for at the moment.  It was getting cold and I was soaked.  Big thanks to Jimmy Dean Freeman for the tip on putting a fresh shirt in my drop bag because it felt great to be dry in the cold...I might have frozen on the next section without this dry shirt!  I put on arm warmers, light gloves and my hat and took off for Dog Lake and Desolation Lake with a bag of Ruffles in-hand.

At this point, obviously Tailwind and gel weren't working and I was out of chips, so I decided to try trail mix bar.  This went down OK, but still not great.  At least I got the whole thing down in an hour...200 cal/hr isn't so bad.  My legs were failing me from lack of food over the previous miles.  At least it was a hikable section...though towards the top my hiking wasn't doing great either.  I tried a Clif Organic Energy Food (Banana Beet Ginger) and this didn't sit well either.  I was at my wits' end.  Nothing was working so I just kept pushing and tried to do my best, though I was disheartened by getting passed by a couple of runners who I had passed on the road into Upper Big Water Aid.  I hit the small descent from Dog Lake to Blunder Fork, made it down without feeling too bad, and then turned up towards Desolation Lake, not really looking forward to the climb. 

The view from above Desolation Lake, as seen during the July Pre-Run.  I came through here at night during the race.
Fortunately, my legs were feeling mildly better on this climb and I think I was able to run the flats and easy uphill and hike the steeper stuff.  I had some broth, ginger ale and coke in the Desolation Lake aid, filled water and took off again.  Just a bit more climbing before some rolling into Scott's Tower aid.  I paused a couple times on this climb.  My legs were really hurting and I put my hands on my knees to gather myself.  It sucked.  I could feel 24 hours slipping away.  To compound the issue, I was starting to feel sleepy, probably from lack of calories or something.  Maybe I ran too hard earlier in the heat?  I needed to keep my eyes open.  I rolled into Scott's Tower aid and sat down to gather myself again.  I gave myself 10 seconds in the chair before I got water.  While I filled water and poured Tailwind powder, I talked to the guys about the Utah/Utah State game which they were listening to and then headed down the trail with Matt Connor, a veritable Wasatch badass (this was his 8th race) on the long descent to Brighton Lodge Aid.

He almost immediately left me in the dust, so I ran as much of the next downhill as I could, but my legs were constantly screaming to walk it in.  That was unacceptable, so I pushed myself hard to run, but some walk breaks happened, especially on the road to Brighton where my legs were getting pounded, so I pretty much run/walked it to the bottom of the descent.  I climbed the last 150 ft. climb into the aid station, barely awake (at 11:10pm...hmmmm) and immediately told my crew that I wanted to lie down.  They found me a spot and I lied down.  I told Crista to get me up in 15 minutes and no longer.  Some medic kept asking me if I needed anything, so when the 15 minutes were up and I hadn't slept a wink, I asked for another 5.  I got woken up by the medic again, but I think I got some actual sleep for a couple minutes, so I got up, got my warm clothes on to run through the night, drank water and ate grilled cheese, and got ready to go.  Before I left, I cracked out my secret weapon: Red Bull and Tylenol.  The Tylenol was to help get rid of the headache and maybe help with any muscle pain (though I've heard that Tylenol doesn't really do much for this).  The Red Bull was to get me pumped up and open up my blood vessels.  It was just before midnight when I left the hut with Erin pacing me.  I had been there for 47 minutes.  Ouch.  I wasn't feeling great, but I also wasn't feeling like dying like I did 30 minutes before, so I was content with my recovery.

All hopes of 24 hours out the window, I was ready to just run well and have a good last 25 miles.  There was only 1 big climb and 2 small climbs left.  This section of the course is gorgeous in the daylight, so it was unfortunate to be doing it in the dark for that reason, but nice because it meant that I would finish in the cool early morning and not the brual mid-day heat in Midway like we had on the prerun in July.
Ready to go at Brighton Aid Station.  Photo: Crista Scott

I think Erin was a little worried that I was a total shitshow wreck at this point and not sure what to expect from me, but she was positive as we hiked up the face of Brighton, past Lake Mary, and over the pass at ~10,500 ft. elevation, the high-point of the course.  The top of the climb was a turning point.  I was feeling pretty solid.  Not great, but solid.  I started to run the descent and move pretty well!  I wasn't (as) nauseous anymore! Woohoo!  The trails back in this section are a lot of rutty, loose, motorcycle trails, so the descent was a wild ride.  Luckily no falling, and I came into Ant Knolls Aid Station feeling solid.  This aid station was a 15 foot tall geodesic dome covered in lights and a parachute for shade during the day.  It was pretty magical to stand inside and grub down.  I was back on Tailwind and gel and I downed a couple of quesadilla wedges in the station before taking off for 'The Grunt', a ~0.5 mile, steep climb up to the ridge.  I was still pretty beat up on the climbs, so I was hiking slowly, but I managed to pass a guy and his pacer, the guy who was undoubtedly feeling less good than I, which says a lot, because I didn't feel too good.  This course is brutal.

The at the top of the Grunt, the runners turn right along the ridge and start wrapping around and then down into Pole Line Pass aid station at mile 82.3.  This is where last drop bag was located.  I had loaded it up with Tailwind, Gel, and 4 coffee drinks!  Erin and I each downed 1 coffee drink and took the other two with us for later.  This aid station was awesome as well.  Well stocked and I grubbed down a grilled cheese before I took off.  Maybe the greasy/buttery food was working out because of the fat? I don't know but the bread/tortilla and cheese combo was doing wonders for my nutrition.

From the top of the Grunt it's about a 2000 ft. descent to the next (and last!) climb.  Pole Line Pass is about 500 ft. down, so I had about 1500 ft. to go.  Erin and I took off onto the sandy moto trail and began the long descent down to the canyon.  This trail is rocky and 1 big rut, but was in surprisingly better condition than it was when we ran it in July, so we cruised down it to the fire road and began the last climb, a 600 footer in about 1 mile.  It was easy enough to hike this and at the top, I drank my coffee drink and was ready to run it into Staton North, Decker Canyon, and the Finish.  This is where the course gets kind of shitty.  It's just a wide open fire trail that descends for 10 miles and 2500 ft. with only a few uphills.  It's non-descript, rocky in places, and not the best running that anyone has done.  But it is pretty quick moving, so we worked our way down at an OK pace.  Not bad.  Staton North, water, continue up a small climb, descend.  The trail finally puts the runners onto a steep, short climb to what we called 'a trail that's not a trail'.  It's a trail, but it's covered in weeds and whatnot.  It was tough for me to run well on this, but I tried my best and kept taking in Tailwind and water to get me down to Decker Canyon.  It felt like the 1.5 or 2 miles of this section took forever, but I'm sure it was actually not too long.  Decker Canyon Aid showed up and I got some water and chips and headed out.

There's a slight rise out of the aid station and then the canyon descends to the Deer Creek Reservoir where a bike path and road takes the runners to the finish.  I checked my watch and saw that it was 6:04am.  There were about 6 miles left from the aid station, so I figured that if I ran sub 10 minute miles to the finish that I could finish in under 26 hours.  I started running faster and put a bit of a gap on Erin, who was having trouble seeing the cattle field trail because her headlamp was dying, so when I opened the first cattle gate and waited a bit, I told her my plan.  She replied that I should get it done, but that she couldn't see well and would see me later.  My headlamp was on the low setting because it was getting close to dying as well, so I was running half by feel, and half by my low headlamp light.  I made it to the bike path at a sub 10 minute clip and turned onto the rolling path and started hammering.  My watch showed a 8:43 mile, but I thought it showed 9:43 and I started to worry that I wouldn't make it, so I picked it up.  I clicked off a 9:17 and felt a little better, but kept pushing, hitting 9:03 for the next mile.  Then I clicked off a 7:53.  Whoa!  Better keep moving, it's past 6:30am!  I hit the next mile at 7:09, flying down off the bike trail onto the street towards the finish.  6:45am, how long is this last road section?? I can't remember!  I kept running hard up the road, blowing by a dude and his pacer who were walking it in.  At this point I knew I had it in the bag, but I didn't want to slow down and jog it in, so I just hammered all the way home for a finishing time of 25:52.  John Grobben was there to shake my hand, but other than him, Chris (Erin's fiancee), Crista, and a few other people, the place was pretty deserted.  I was just pumped to sit down. Whoa.  What a day.

Crossing the finish line and shaking RD John Grobben's hand. Photo: Crista Scott
That's a good sight! Photo: Crista Scott

The Aftermath

Recounting the mayhem of the last 6 miles to Chris. Photo: Crista Scott

 After the race finished, I waited for my pacer to come in and gave her a big hug!  Erin was awesome and kept me on track and positive the whole time. I fell asleep on the car ride home, then slept for 3 hours (after a shower), then went and got lunch, followed by another nap, followed by driving back out to the finish to cheer in the final runners and go through the buckle ceremony.

Buckle up! The dark blue 24-30 hour buckle.  Photo: Crista Scott
I was pretty stoked on the finish.  I think I have 24 hour capability in my legs on a course of this difficulty, but I needed to execute through the tough middle section better.  In hindsight, I think I needed to be drinking a ton more water and my stomach would have been better.  I had a dehydration headache for 20 miles...there's no way my stomach was performing as it should have been if I was exhibiting those signs.  My urine was pretty dark yellow too (but I've seen it worse!).  Oh well.  Seeing as it was only my 2nd 100 miler, I will chalk it up to inexperience and hope that I can get the job done on the next one!

I am also stoked to that I my training showed through and I was able to run hard.  As ultramarathon runners go, I am relatively inexperienced, so I was stoked that I was able to run hard for as long as I did.  I'm hoping that if I sort out the hydration issues that I'll skip the stomach issues and be able to continue running hard for 100 miles straight on the next one.

It's been a heck of a summer.  Between work and running, I didn't do much else other than eat and sleep.  I spent a lot of quality time with my running friends, but didn't see many non-running friends.  I still now think back about some of the runs that I went on and am stoked by how far I've come as a runner.  I see runners like Andy, Guillaume, Dom, Katie who have tons of experience and run super fast times and wonder if I'll ever get close to that level.  I read a race report from another Wasatch Front 100 runner, Gabe Joyes, and though he's way faster than I am, it seems like he had some similar thoughts going through his head (congrats on running hard dude!) that his run at Wasatch helped to dispel.  In the same way, my run this past weekend helped answer some of my own questions about my ability, and I'm hoping that it's just a matter of putting in the miles for more years to get closer to the fast guys at the front.  Until then, my run at the Wasatch Front 100 this past weekend is a pretty great validation to myself that all the training miles are paying off and that I've got good things to look forward to.  Life is good!

The next day, porch sitting with beer and burger.  Photo: Crista Scott

Crista made this cool video of the race from her perspective:

Gear List:

  • Shoes: New Balance Leadville 1210v1 (1 pair the whole time)
  • Socks: Injinji Crew 2.0 (1 pair the whole time)
  • Gaiters: Mountain Hardwear Running Gaiters
  • Shorts: North Face Better Than Naked Long Haul
  • Shirts: Assorted shirts from races, but the hot weather one was a North Face Better Than Naked shirt
  • Gloves: Early - Salomon S-Lab.  Late - Outdoor Research Hot Pursuit
  • Shell: North Face Verto Hooded
  • Long Sleeve: North Face of some sort
  • Buff: Dirtbag Runners buff and Buff USA Coolmax Full Length
  • Glasses: Oakley Radarlock
  • Hat: Outdoor Reasearch $12 White Running Hat
  • Pack: 2X CamelBak Circuit w/ 50 oz. reservoir and 2 CamelBak Podium Bottles
  • Watch: Garmin 310XT
  • Headlamp: Petzl Nao 2
  • Sun Sleeves: Pearl Izumi Sun Sleeves

 Strava Data