Monday, August 26, 2013

TransRockies Race Report

After descending the steep rocky section down Hope Pass the trail levels out into a grassy meadow.   The narrow trail is partially hidden by the tall grass waving in the mid morning breeze.  The Garmin chirped the 6 mile mark and I began predicting my final stage time.  Just over seven downhill miles to go and stage 2 will be in the books.  I should finish in about 3 hours.  Not bad for the slow climb over Hope Pass.  FUDGE (in my best Ralphie from Christmas Story impression).  A sharp pain shoots through my right ankle as it rolls over a rock buried in the trail.  It immediately swells, and my ankle looks like someone surgically implanted a tennis ball.  Any pressure on my right foot is excruciating, I know finishing the race much less the stage doesn’t look good.

Day 0

The check-in process at Buena Vista was seamless.  After receiving my gigantic duffle bag I signed up for an hour massage each day. Off to Eddylines Brewery for pizza and a beer, pre-race meal of champions.  After lunch I get dropped off at the hotel and move my gear from my suitcase to the duffle bag.  Several items won’t fit and I have to make the decision on what to take and what goes directly to the finish line.  Shorty thereafter I begin the half mile walk towards the town square for the pre-race briefing and enjoy meeting my fellow racers along the way. 

Day 1 – Buena Vista to Arrowhead Campground

After a mind racing night with little sleep I get out of bed to get ready for stage 1. The race director gives a warning about going out to fast and “Highway to Hell” begins playing during the final countdown.  The start gun goes off and the journey that is TransRockies begins.  The race begins with a neutral start being lead by a local police car.  We hit the trailhead and it’s game on.  The pre-race nerves are gone as now it’s simply a run through the woods.  The next mile is fairly steep and regardless of what you want to do everyone walks this section as the trail is single track and there will be someone walking in front of you with no room to pass.  The next 3 miles or so the gradient lowers to something manageable.  It’s fairly easy to run this section with a few places steep enough to need to walk.  From mile 5 to mile 7.5 the gradient again increases as we go over the mountain peak of the day and into the first aid station. Even though I didn’t train in power walking I seem to gain on my competitors when we’re in walking sections.  I take that as a pretty good sign.  The altitude doesn’t seem to be affecting me, only the gradient does.  Heat training and getting into Denver 4 days early was a great decision.  Down the mountain and I can let the legs rip.  At mile 10.5 my troubles begin as I get a quick hamstring cramp in my right leg, followed by calf cramp.  While I had no cramping issues in the Captain Karl’s series I’m worried.  After 2 smaller peaks to climb I ease into aid station 2 around mile 15.  I’m feeling good and passing teams at regular intervals even though the quick cramps are still happening every once in awhile.  There are enough uphill sections that need walking to prevent full blown leg cramps.  After the final aid station the mainly downhill section finishes and it’s a false flat to the finish.  While the road appears flat it’s actually a 3 or 4% grade.  This is where my troubles start.  My right calve begins to cramp more frequently and I’m forced into a run/walk strategy.  Run for as long as I can, usually a quarter to half a mile, then walk about the same amount.  With the long straight road ahead I can see several teams and solo’s fighting the same battle I am.  Many are on the side of the road stretching.  As I noticed earlier I seem to be gaining on them with my power walk and maintaining the separation during the run phase.  I notice a Scooby Snack up head and make it my goal to gobble him up.  He must have had the same strategy as I had and right when I began my final push to close the half mile or so gap he begins to run again too, beating me to the finish by a minute or two.  Even with the cramping I feel good about the day.  Later that night I found out I finished in 6th place overall which really surprised me.  After the stage several of us head down to the Arkansas River for a natural ice bath.  After a minute or so the legs, and toes, go numb and after a 20 or 30 minutes we get out and take the shuttle ride to Arrowhead camp grounds for massages, dinner, and recovery for tomorrows big push up Hope Pass.

Starting Day 1

Chasing down some Scooby Snacks

Day 2 – Vicksburg to Twin Lakes Dam

After another sleepless night the general consensus is to get up around 5 am, get ready, pack up camp, and head to breakfast for the rickety bus ride to Vicksburg.  The tension is high as we have to climb the infamous Hope Pass, roughly 3200 feet of elevation gain in two and a quarter miles to an elevation of 12600 feet.  If there’s not enough oxygen for trees to grow, there’s probably not enough for us to run either. 

While the course map shows the first 2 miles are relatively flat, they are anything but.  I think the gradient (my guess is 6ish%) was a shock to many of us.  Knowing I would be walking the steep climb up to Hope Pass I push a decent pace to the climb.  The climb up Hope Pass is simply something you have to experience.  The steepness of the climb, nearly 40% grade in parts, is every bit of brutal that others describe it to be.  My original plan was to walk half mile segments and take thirty second stop breaks.  That quickly changed to hoping I could make it a quarter mile before I needed a break and there were several places I pushed hard to make it 0.05 miles (that’s not a typo) before I was forced to stop.  Once above tree line the straight up climbing of the single track changes into a series of switchbacks lowering the gradient to what was a nice 10-15% grade.  From here to the top is was quite hikeable, without the tree cover the wind picked up and the temperature dropped.  Along with many others I was forced to put on my running jacket and beanie for the final trek to the peak.  There are very few achievements in running which give me a sense of pride and accomplishment.  Making it up Hopes Pass is easily up there with my first marathon and my first 50 miler, and every bit of difficult as described.  At the top we all take turns taking pictures for one another from the summit.  Everyone is feeling the elation of making it to the top.  Now the race begins as it literally is all downhill from here.  The next 4 miles are the very steep, and we get flying.  I seem to be pretty good at navigating the downhills, passing many people, and making pretty good time down the rocky downhill section.  After descending the steep rocky section down Hope Pass the trail levels out into a grassy meadow.   The narrow trail is partially hidden by the tall grass waving in the mid-morning breeze.  The Garmin chirped the 6 mile mark and I began predicting my final stage time.  Just over seven downhill miles to go and stage 2 will be in the books.  I should finish in about 3 hours.  Not bad for the slow climb over Hope Pass.  FUDGE (in my best Ralphie from Christmas Story impression).  A sharp pain shoots through my right ankle as it rolls over a rock buried in the trail.  It immediately swells, and my ankle looks like someone surgically implanted a tennis ball.  Any pressure on my right foot is excruciating, I know finishing the race much less the stage doesn’t look good.  My immediate thought is that I surely broke my ankle.  For the next half mile I limp along knowing there is no way for medical to come get me.  At this point everything from my calf down is numb so I decide it’s time to run/walk as best I can.  For the next 4 miles I make surprisingly good time considering my condition.  With around 2 miles until the finish the pain is unbearable and I’m forced to walk the remainder of the stage.  As people pass from behind everyone is encouraging, yet they all can tell my ankle is messed up without me even saying anything.  Coming out of the trees around the second lake we finish on a dirt road for the final third of a mile.  Nothing makes me feel more worthless than walking a finish.  A team passes me giving some encouraging words and I decide my ankle is messed up already I might as well run it in.  Crossing the finish line in 14th place I head directly to the medical tent.  The doctor tests it out and determines I probably didn’t break anything, and “more than likely you didn’t rupture a tendon”.  He orders me to see the doctors back at camp after I shower.

Back at camp the Leadville doctor assess me and confirms my race is over.  He tells me they won’t physically prevent me from starting the next day but to know if they have to medevac me out they’ll charge me since they don’t think I should run.  The next morning the mind wants to run, yet I could barely walk or put any weight on my right foot.  Twenty-four miles of uneven terrrain isn’t a good idea.  I phone home and get a ride back to Denver, ending what was an awesome experience and getting my first ever DNF.

At the end of Stage 2
Three days latter still swollen

Tent City

Trying to pretend running doesn't hurt

I learned a lot in the two days of running I did do.
  • Next year focus more on hill training and less on total miles.  
  • Practice power walking at various high inclines.
  • A support crew would be invaluable for before/after each stage.
  • Pack much lighter.
  • Getting a very public massage in just your underwear isn't as awkward as you'd think.
  • I'm pretty sure I was one of the heaviest guys in the race.
  • Looking at the finishing times I think a top 10, and maybe top 5, finish next year is possible.
  • As time passes the decision to drop from the race is harder to swallow.
Somethings just need perspective.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Captain Karl’s: Colorado Bend 30K Race Report

I’ve been using the Captain Karl’s series as a testing ground for TransRockies and this race was no different.  Tried new trail shoes with a total of 10 miles on them before the race, new socks, new shorts, and straight out of the Amazon box my new Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest.  With the TransRockies starting in 10 days the goal was to finish injury free and keep the ego in check when people started passing me toward the end.  I'm supposed to be tapering.

The basic strategy was to run as much of the course as I could in the daylight and once it became dark walk anywhere I thought I could trip and fall.  Carrying two water bottles and a two liter CamelBak I planned on skipping every other aid stations to minimize time wasted.  Hopefully finishing near my Pedernales Falls time of around 3 hours.  Like most race plans once you start, the plan goes out the window.  This race would prove to as varied mentally as the terrain of the course.

The car after the drive in

As Joe ushered us off the plan was to take it easy to the first aid station, running at whatever pace felt comfortable.  It seemed much cooler than the previous two Captain Karl's races, yet a mile and a half in and I was seriously considered walking back to the start and calling it a day.  Deep breaths felt like I had a respiratory infection or something.  It hurt to breath deep and I kept checking that the race vest wasn't too tight.  This has happened a few times to me in the last couple months and just mysteriously disappears during the run.  Seeing a tiny baby snake cross the path was the highlight of this section.  The first aid station is roughly three miles in so I didn’t need much.  I grabbed gel and headed back out.

There must be magic in Hammer Gel, because maybe a half mile out of the aid station I’m feeling great and running very well.  The course is pretty technical yet quite runnable in the daylight.  At this point I'm quite annoyed with the course.  There are runnable section but only for what seems like a hundred yards at a time.  The second aid station comes up quicker than I expected.  I hadn't realize how overheated I was until I emptied an entire water bottle over my head coming into the aid station.   At the aid station I refill everything with as much ice as they could hold, and put on my headlamp.  

It is truly amazing how an ice filled CamelBak feels when you are overheating.  Equally amazing is how fast everything melted and was back to “room” temperature.  Luckily the third aid station was less than 3 miles away.  Now that it is totally dark the near falls are happening more frequently and I’m forced to walk many of the rocky uphill and downhill sections.With not much of a moon the stars were amazing.  It was hard to not just stare upwards.  Pulling into the third aid station I’m back on the downward slope mentally.  Physically things are as good as can be expected, it is a race after all so the muscle tiredness is starting.  At this point I’m just really tired of being overheated.  I stick with my plan of skipping every other aid station and simply grab a gel and move on.  In retrospect I should have done more for my heat management.  

Running in the dark is quite interesting.  During the day I always feel the course is over marked.  Then the darkness comes and everything either looks like the right way to go or nowhere looks like the right way to go.  I'm standing at a course marking and can't find the next one.  Everywhere appears to be a dead end.  Luckily a woman comes from behind and points out that the branch just about head level isn't blocking the path like I thought.  We play leap frog for the next several miles and take the skunk crossing our path as a good omen.  Eventually we catch a group of five or so runners running just slightly slower than the pace we wanted to run.  There was not enough room to pass them most of the time and when there was room it was always on a section I didn't feel comfortable running in the dark.  So I waited until the aid station refiling only one of my water bottles and getting out in front of the group.

The last three miles is the reverse of the first three miles.  A few minutes outside the aid station I wipe out. I really didn't want to get behind the group again and I also didn't want to risk injuring myself so close to the TransRockies race.  I made the decision to power walk the rest of the course.  At one point the 5th or 6th placed women in the 60K passed me.  She is walking the technical sections and running where she can.  My power walking pace is just faster than her walking pace and we keep getting close enough to talk then far enough away that I'm back on my own.  We yo yo back and forth like this for a bit when finally the course flattens out enough that I'm confident in my ability to run with her.  We're chatting along when I need to jump over an enormous black snake that comes out of nowhere with a matching expletive.  I turn around and realize either I was hallucinating the snake or it was a shadow of some sort because there's nothing there but dirt trail.  I finish right at 4 hours ( a solid hour longer than Pedernales Falls) good enough for 26th place overall.  According to the big screen at the end of the race I was 15th in my division, looking at the results I'm not sure I believe that. 

  • One of these days I'll learn to not go out drinking with my coworkers the night before these night races.
  • If it wasn’t for the CamelBak filled with ice I’m pretty sure I would have red lined.
  • I noticed I didn’t drink as often as I usually do with the CamelBak.
  • Skipping aid stations probably didn't save any actual time as I was forced to walk much more of this course than the previous two.
  • Another 3+ hour race with no leg cramping issues.  Have I finally moved past them or the fact I walked at least 50% of the last 5 miles prevent them?
  • Gear seems to be dialed in for TransRockies.  Now the big race nerves are in full effect.
  • While I'm signed up for Reveille Ranch it's the weekend I get back from TransRockies, so I'm not sure if I really am going to run it.  Although I do want to be able to say I completed the Captain Karl's series.
  • Freebirds waiting in the car is heaven after the race.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Captain Karl’s: Muleshoe Bend 30K Race Report

When I stepped out of my car just before race time my phone says the temperature is 101.  I was afraid to check out the heat index.  You always read “never try something new on race day”, but who am I to follow conventional wisdom.  For me just about everything was a first time, some potentially a bigger deal than others.  First time running with a hat, new Ultimate Direction handheld running bottle, first real trail run in my New Balance Minimus trail shoes (had done 10ish around Rice in them), new headlamp, and Hammer Gel at every aid station. 

We line up after the 60K crazies come through the out and back at the start.  A couple guys around me are discussing their Pedernales Falls race and their goals for this race.  It seems we’re all shooting for around the same pace.  I do not run trail races with a watch so I make a mental note to stick with them.  Joe yells start and we’re off, or I should say those guys were off.  Holy crap!  Either they went out way faster than the pace they said or I’m going way slower.  I don’t even try to hang with them.  In contrast to Pedernales Falls, this start is wide open so you can easily jockey for position and settle into your pace before the trail narrows.  About half way to the first aid station I start passing 60Kers and a few 30Kers who went out too fast.  With an extra handheld it’s nice to have water to squirt on my head/neck to cool down.  Pulling into the first aid station I empty my bottles over my head, refill, take a Hammer Gel and head out, which sounds quicker than it actually happened.  Just outside the aid station I realize my hat is still next to the Gatorade jugs and have to turn back to get it.  Part way to the next aid station I pass the guys from the beginning of the race.  Other than it being hot I’m feeling great and hitting the trails at a pretty good clip, really opening it up on the dirt sections and powering through the rocky sections.  A bit later I pass a woman who immediately asks me what distance I’m running.  She’s clearly miffed I passed her.  We run somewhat together into the second aid station.  She has great aid station turn around and is out before the lids to my water bottles are even off.  Same routine as the first aid station and out I go to try and catch her.  About a half mile out a big grin sweeps my face for no real reason and I realize this is really fun.  All troubles are left out on the trail to wander the woods forever.  It takes me about a mile to finally catch her.  We pass people pretty often and head into the end of the first loop.  I have to go to my drop bag and get my headlamps.  I make the decision to run with a headlamp and a backup one in my hand.  Also, I had my shoes from the last race just in case the Minumus weren’t cutting it, but opt not to change them out.  Back out on the trail I go for loop 2, once again off to chase down Anne (I think that was her name). 

Again it takes about a mile to catch her and I can tell she’s not happy to see me again. She went off course a bit and had to come back, I doubt I would have caught her if this had not been the case. At this point I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to keep this pace up the entire second loop but figure I’ll see how long I can last.  Halfway to the fist aid station I wipeout hard.  I hit the ground and both handhelds go flying.  The headlamp that was in my hand is in pieces, but oddly still functional.  My right hand hurts like hell.  In the glow of a headlamp I notice 3 cuts in my hand.  One cut is bleeding pretty good, which I think may need stitches.  Turns out it was more like a razor blade cut, not very bad, but a lot of blood for such small scratch. My confidence in running hard on the rocky sections is lost.  I slowly run/walk the rocky parts into the first aid station where I notice a hunk of wood splinter in another cut.  You could whittle a small pipe with the hunk I pulled out.  This is also the point when I start regretting my decision to not switch out shoes.  The lack of any padding and the rocks is starting to take its toll on my feet.  With each misplaced step a new profanity is created, kind of like that scene from A Christmas Story.  This can't be over soon enough.  About halfway to the second aid station I semi-seriously consider cutting the course, jumping the switchbacks, and taking a DNF.  Fortunately I can’t tell if the people on the other track are ahead of me or behind me so I don’t risk taking a DNF and running extra.  About this time I start regaining a bit of my confidence on the rocky sections.  Telling myself they must be just behind me and picking up my pace as to not get caught.   Increasing my pace a little I'm still playing it safe into the second aid station. At the aid station I dump my water bottles over my head when a volunteer tells me he can do better and proceeds to pour an entire pitcher of ice water slowly over my head and back.  It was amazing!  A couple cups of Coke and another Hammer gel and off I go for the final 2.5ish miles.  This section is quite runnable and I gave what little I had left, finishing 25th overall and 18th in my division despite being 24 minutes slower than Pedernales.

Muleshoe Bend was the polar opposite of Pedernales in every way.  This race was run pretty much entirely by myself, which in retrospect was exactly what I needed after the proceeding week.  The first loop was all fun and games but the second loop tore me up.  If this was a 10 mile race this report would have been pure bliss.  If it wasn’t for the post race massages I’m not sure I would have been able to make it to the food table or drive back to the hotel.  Thanks again David for putting my legs back together.  After Pedernales I had no soreness, and running the next day gave me great confidence for TransRockies.  Muleshoe Bend is the opposite.  I can’t remember the last time I was this sore.  My confidence is waning.  Guess I’ll have to see how Colorado Bend goes in a couple weeks.

  • There’s a special place in Hell for whoever designed the Ultimate Direction water bottle drinking nipple.  Great handheld, shitty drinking design.
  • In the dark, shadows and logs look like all kind of crazy things that shouldn't be in a Texas forest.  I can only imagine what my mind would come up with during a 100 miler.
  • Nice to know I can go 30K in the Minimus without blisters or any foot issues (provided I wear socks).
  • I had a gel at every aid station with no stomach issues.  Three miles apart may be a bit too frequently though as the thought of the last one wasn’t very appealing.
  • The closeness of the aid stations was nice, probably could have skipped a few.
  • Apple Cinnamon Hammer Gel didn’t do it for me.  The smell (and taste) of the cinnamon wasn’t pleasant during a run.  Ironically written as I eat cinnamon apple sauce.
  • It was nice to have the extra fluid with two handhelds.  Next time I’ll try a Camelbak and a handheld as I didn’t like not having a free hand.
  • Despite how bad the fall felt like at the time after I cleaned everything up it was only a couple minor scrapes and no bruising.  I was really lucky as I was going at full speed trying to keep up.
  • Sorry Joe for leaving pieces of my headlamp on the trail.  I really did try to pick up after myself.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Capt'n Karl's : Pedernales Falls 30K Race Report

I pull into Pedernales Falls State Park around 5:30, park in the open field and step out into the furnace that is a Texas summer.  Temperature is 98 degrees with a heat index of 112.  Yet somehow it seems sane to be about to embark on 30K run after a night of drinking, little sleep, and eating a gas station pulled pork sandwich on the drive up.  The goal was only to get the trail miles in and start dialing in gear and nutrition.  At this point all roads lead to the TransRockies race.

The race started promptly at 7:15 and we’re off like a herd of turtles with me in the back of the pack.  I usually run after work so I’m somewhat used to the heat at this time.  I go out at what I think is an easy pace, passing several people early on, usually on the “uphills”.  This course is surprisingly flat and my goal was to run the whole thing.  The Colorado flat sections will more than likely be steeper than the hilly sections of this course.  The first section is very open so you are running in full sun and I’m starting to feel the effects of the heat.  “Fence” aid station is at the 5 mile mark and I already can’t drink water fast enough.  I say hi to Olga King as she fills my water bottle with ice and head back out. 

Coming into the Fence Aid Station
At some point I can hear a couple behind me having a conversation.  They are close enough I can clearly hear what they are saying yet far enough away I can’t really engage in the conversation.  At some point they pass me and a latch on behind them.  We pull into “Windmill” aid station and refill our bottles.  I take a little longer at this aid station and they take off.  Now I have a decision to make, try and catch them, or continue at my easy pace by myself.  It’s starting to get dark and everyone is beginning to turn on their headlamps.  Feeling good I decide to try to catch them.  Plus if I get lost in the woods I’d rather be with a couple other people.  This turned out to be a pretty good decision.  I catch Chet and Hannah, who as luck would have it, live about 2 miles from me and are undergrads at Rice University.  We’re chatting away passing runners at a pretty good clip.  I think we all could have run faster had it been daylight.  Around the same time we all noticed we’ve passed quite a few women.  It’s hard to tell which runners are running the 60K and which are running the 30K.  It’s a pretty good bet Hanna can place.  We pass a woman trying to find the trail and Rene joins our ragtag bunch.  Turns out she is also from Houston and runs with Brian O’Neil’s in Rice Village.  Had the “unmanned” aid station not been manned with two great volunteers we would have gone off course as the wrong way / caution tape was down.  With just about 2.4 miles left we all seem to be doing pretty well and pick up the pace to what the terrain will allow.  At some point we pass another group of 3 or 4 runners and Rene drops back with them.   Since she has another group to run with we don’t feel too guilty for dropping her.  The ending was mentally tricky as you can hear the post race celebration and it feels like you are running away from it.  Definitely makes you wonder if you didn’t get off course somehow.  We round the final bend and finish in 3:18.  Hanna takes 3rd place in the female division and Rene finishes a minute or two behind us taking 4th place.    I finish in 27th place in the male division (38th overall). 

The Houston contingency finishing up

I had plenty left in the tank and felt great afterwards.  Although it did take about 45 minutes before any food looked good. 

Lessons Leaned
  •  Forget the sunglasses.  Even though they were nice to have the first hour, it was annoying to keep up with them the second two hours.
  • Need to carry a second water bottle.  I felt I was rationing my water the entire race. 
  • No more going out the night before a race. 
  • Hammer Gel seems to be the perfect race gel for me.  I’ll have to buy a couple boxes.
  • Don’t think you’re going to run a night race, sleep a couple hours in your car and then head home.  Get a hotel or bring the tent.
  • If you ever lose faith in humanity come to trail race or ultra event.  It clearly attracts the nicest people on earth.