Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Western States 100- 2015 Race Report. A tough day on a beautiful course...

Bullet Points for my 2015 Western States 100 Run

  • My goal was 18 hours 30 minutes
    • Objectives to reach my goal were:
      • Powerhike the big climbs, run the flats, and bomb down the descents.
      • Nutrition should be normal...eat a 100 cal. gel every 20 minutes.
      • Manage heat. This was a primary objective to reaching my goal.
        • Keep ice around my neck all day in a “Buff”.
        • Take electrolytes as needed, more than usual, (q 30 minutes)
        • stay hydrated and drink often, monitor pee color, etc

  • I failed to respect the elevation- although I started very slowly per my plan, it was still too fast. My heart rate soared up into the 150’s in the opening miles. As a result, this was the soonest my heart rate has ever dropped into the 120’s. (Bonking = Running out of glycogen.) Usually in a 100 miler this happens around mile 80, but at WSER it happened at mile 47. This was an early bonk for me and meant it would be a long night.
  • Once I realized I went out too quickly I quickly regained control and slowed my pace. I knew I had to stay steady and stay on pace. I made sure to hyper-focus on getting in flawless nutrition, eating every 20 minutes. This was a victory in managing a blow.
  • On the climb up Devil’s Thumb in the infamous canyons, I thought I might be taking in too many electrolytes so I backed off. (My vision was getting funky, I had a headache, and energy was waning.) This was a huge mistake. By the top of the climb my energy plummeted and just trying to stand upright at the aid station was nearly impossible. I didn’t allow myself to stop, I just soaked myself in ice and took several electrolyte capsules to catch back up. I walked for a bit until I felt better. I forced calories down and eventually re-entered the  land of the living. Walking was a herculean effort as I gained energy back.
  • I’ve worn the same model shoes for years with great success. This shoes I wore in the race were an updated model however. They changed the upper to be more voluminous. This created a chance for my foot to slide around. I got a giant deep blister on the bottom of my heel. I corrected this as soon as possible at mile 38 by changing into old shoes, but the damage was done. I tried to ignore the pain and just make sure to keep my footwear tight and snug and loose in the toe box. The blister didn’t get much worse but the descents were really painful. I’m glad I jumped on the situation as early as I could but my descents would have been better without a giant blister covering my heel.
  • My pacers did an awesome job. It’s amazing the experience they’ve accumulated over the year. Daniel and Maddy became my brain, forcing me to eat on schedule and manage my pace to make certain I didn’t blow up. They helped secure my sub 24 hour buckle.
  • I learned a lot from this race. I was dealt several big blows with the altitude and some physical setbacks, but I fought back. I was far from my time and placement goals but I didn’t let pride get in my way. I wanted to make sure I pushed myself 100% and I certainly left everything out on the course. That was my absolute best effort. It was nothing special on the outside, but I fought for it. The final 15 miles I had to increase my pace by several miles per hour to come in under 24 hours. This seemed impossible but I stayed glued on Maddy’s heels and we rolled in with 25 minutes to spare.

The gun went off at 5:00 a.m. Surrounded by the best athletes in the world in the most prestigious race in the world I began a journey I’d been waiting years to commence. I leaned forward and began my climb, sticking to my game plan. I let the lead pack out in front. This way my race. The fastest way to the finish line was by running an even, sustained, effort. The opening miles of an Ultramarathon are always tough. Most runners start too quickly. You must perform a  balancing act… If you start too quickly you’ll slow down drastically in the second half. If you start too slowly you risk letting the early leaders get too great a lead and you can’t reel them in. Also compounding the challenge is that in trail races, single-track trail means single file so if too many get in front of you early on then you’re stuck behind the train of runners.

The first 4 miles of the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run course are an ascent up to Emigrants Pass. The altitude is just shy of 9,000’.

I vowed that success was dependent on starting slowly at Western States and so I let the pack go out in front. I was going much slower than I wanted to, but clearly I was still going out way too hard; In an ideal situation my heart rate would be in the low 140’s during the opening miles, but the lack of oxygen meant that even though I was going much slower than I wanted to, I was still going way too fast. This would eventually lead to huge performance losses in the race. Climbing the escarpment my heart rate was in the high 150’s. The lower oxygen at high altitudes creates a dangerous situation. Lower oxygen levels in the air simulate running at a faster pace. The lack of oxygen forces you to burn more glycogen. This creates a scenario in which its easy to hit the dreaded “bonk”. I basically started my WSER run at Marathon intensity...oops. Good job, Coach.

As soon as I crested the escarpment at mile 4 I checked my watch. It took an hour and 3 minutes. I was pretty happy with the fact I thought I paced myself slowly and still made it over the hardest stretch in just over an hour. This was my main strategy...make sure to take the first climb easy. On the descent people moved to the side kindly and let me pace. I wasn’t pushing too hard, but my strength is strong descents and so I wanted to take advantage.

I was in high spirits to finally be on the Western States course racing in the “most prestigious ultra in the world”. The scenery was heavenly. Full exposure on ridge-lines with some tree cover occasionally. I smiled every time I saw a camera to document my good vibes...hahaha.

By mile 20 all the descents left my legs feeling fine but my left foot was not happy. It had been sliding around in my shoe and my entire heel was one large blister. I retied my shoe to help my foot stay in position but this new shoe still provided more volume than I needed. I tried to ignore it until I saw my crew and promptly requested a new pair of shoes. I usually don’t stop or sit in a hundred but this needed to be resolved. My old shoes came in a jiff and a few minutes later I scurried off.
Feet now tended to, I still had 75 miles to go. The blister was bad, but in a 100 mile run the most important variable is staying hydrated and fed and I was making sure that happened. As long as I had energy I'd be able to push through pain...been there, done that. Hundreds are tough. I began to pass people in the canyons as the heat crept in and I thought my race strategy was working perfectly.

Before I started the infamous climb up the hot Devil’s Thumb, I decided to skirt under the bridge and jump in the stream quickly. I thought it might take an extra minute but it would be worth it for the cool jolt right before climbing.I envisioned passing people wishing they'd have soaked too...

The quick dip didn’t work. My condition deteriorated rapidly as I climbed in the heat. I had a headache so I thought maybe I should quit taking salt tabs. This compounded my ill feelings. By the time I got to the summit of Devil’s Thumb I could barely stand. Everyone around looked pretty bad too but this was when I was supposed to start reeling in carnage...instead, I WAS the carnage. It was almost the halfway point.

It took every ounce of strength and willpower but I didn’t stop at the aid station. I took some ice and chugged some soda and grabbed a popsicle. I was really happy to see my friend Jon Allen pass by me. Earlier in the day we were cat and mousing and he mentioned his quad was hurting so that spurred me on a little when I saw he was feeling better. When we were chatting he mentioned former Western States winner Tim Olson had dropped out of the race he was running the night before in Italy. This put me in somewhat dark spirits as it got me thinking about overtraining and my past two years...I tried to stay positive and not doubt my fitness. I took off several months after the best two years ever and so I should be fresh going into Western...maybe it was just the heat leaving me feeling not so spritely...maybe it was the altitude. I race well in heat though...so chalk this to altitude. SHIT. Regardless, I needed to eat on schedule, take my electrolytes again on schedule and force 110% effort at all times. This was Western States!

Although I was running slowly, I was happy to be running at all considering I nearly collapsed dead at the halfway point. The knee I had sprained badly a month ago was protesting slightly but with all the downhill that's to be expected. It wasn't too bad. Coming into Bath Aid Station near mile 60 I was elated to see my crew. I knew that I had a chance to hang on and not completely die out there.

Seeing my crew picked up my spirits greatly and so I think I ran extra quick the first few miles with Maddox and Maddy, Maddox and I left Maddy with Stephanie at Forest Hill (mile 62) and I soon began to crash again. I balanced my expenditure as best as I could to maintain my strategy to walk the climbs and run the flats and downhills but I was pretty pathetic. My sprained knee from the previous month flared up and the blister, although it wasn’t worse since I changed shoes began to become more painful. Honestly though...the thing that was killing me was the energy system failure. I could handle any pain, but my main goal in this race was to be strong and powerful, but since I blew up at the halfway point I was pushing deep, everything I had, and the pace was pathetic. I tried to keep my B goal on the forefront of my mind. I could still get the coveted silver buckle for finishing in under 24 hours but I would have to balance my pace perfectly. I needed to maintain right where I was. The whole run was downhill to the American River and Maddox did an awesome job pacing me. He pushed me but allowed recovery when I would climb and get hot. It was so hot still and night was falling. At one point he asked, “Are you going slow because it hurts or because you’re being lazy?” I loved this question as the answer was neither! The pace I was running was my 100% and I was getting nauseous and burping even at that snails crawl!

By the time we hit the storied crossing of the American River it was time to see Stephanie and Maddy again. I collapsed into a chair. It is indescribable how long the last 5 miles took to get to Rucky Chucky at mile 78. Minutes turned into hours. Time had stopped and my misery was eternal, infinite, a purgatory of trying to run and suck down sports gels even though I was ready to puke and overheating on every climb.

I was basically slurring my speech and not ready to leave my spot in the chair but a few minutes had passed and my crew commanded me to get up. I chugged a red bull and stepped foot into the river.

The cold river made me instantly cry out and I gagged and dry heaved. There are volunteers standing in the river holding a large metal cable. There are glow sticks tied to boulders in the water and the waders tell you where to step. They kept telling me to put both my hands on the cable but I was very confused and I kept taking one off, to which they’d yell and I would confusedly ponder what they meant. This simple task was rocket science to me at that point. I was worried I’d lost it.

Maddy was brilliant on the climb up Green Gate. She forced me to eat extra chews even though It wasn’t time for food yet. She read the situation well because the climb up Green Gate to mile 80 I felt human again. Maddy and I reminisced our time together last year where the roles were reversed…”Remember when you fell there last year and started puking, laying in the dirt?” Yup..ultras are awesome. Why do we do this again?

Maddy chatted endlessly and her enthusiasm and passion for the task at hand made the time less miserable. I was grateful to have such awesome friends like Maddox, Stephanie, and her to help me in my endeavors. I managed to keep pace even though it was incredibly hard. I let Maddy in front of me and she began to pick up the pace and that’s when I stopped whining and started really digging deep.

With 15-20 miles left an Aid Station captain warned me that I was OVER 24 hour pace. I wasn’t going down without a fight. I quickly grabbed a popsicle stick covered in Vaseline from the aid station medical director and applied it straight to my thighs which were chaffed something awful. I ran out of that aid station and Maddy set a good pace.

I was picking up the pace greatly and had a good system going. Pacing a runner who is running well is a complete different beast than pacing a runner at his worst. This was me at my worst and barely hanging on. She knew when to crack the whip and when to allow recovery. Maddy and Maddox both did a great job with me at my worst…

We were finally back under 24 hour pace. I couldn’t believe the speed with which we were climbing again. I didn’t care if I blew up and collapsed. My logic was if I burned the candle and crashed I was no where in jeopardy of missing the 30 hour time cut. I had to leave my heart and soul out on the course to EARN that sub 24 hour buckle. If I crashed and required a 2 hour recovery I didn’t care. I had to try for that sub 24 buckle even though I felt deathly. So what if I wasn’t in the top 20 like my goal...so what if I was over 20 hours. There was no room for pride. I had to get that sub 24 buckle.

Coming in to the highway 49 road crossing I could switch pacers again and see my crew. Maddy asked me if I wanted Daniel (Maddox) to pick me up and start pacing again but I told Maddy that we had to stick with our system. In the past 10 miles we had drastically improved pace and position and we couldn’t break a system that was working that close to the finish. This would definitely work and get us in under 24 hours. I’m sure Maddox was more than capable as well, I just didn’t want to change what was working. Maddox would be able to pick us up at mile 98 and we could all run in together.

The last climb was hard but I poured out every ounce of energy I had left. We summited and I could NOT believe the pace improvement over the last 15 miles. Maddox and Maddy and I all ran in and Stephanie was waiting there inside the track. I was more relieved than elated to be honest. I was glad it was done and that I stuck it out and gave it everything. I’ve paced many runners on their worst days and to an extent it can be more inspiring than pacing a runner on a good day. I didn’t feel good about it though. I was proud of my run. I did the best I could. I was disappointed though. I’ve done so well in so many other races but this is the biggest ultra in the world. This is the one that matters. It left me inspired to come back. At that point and still today, I have a fire under my ass to try to come back and avenge this result. I know it might not be the best race report, but it’s honest. I’m pissed and I want revenge. If you do well at every other race and not Western...then….I don’t know. It seems like a cop out...like a farce. You have to do well at Western. I need a good run on Western soil. I need a run in which I meet my potential regardless of what that means.

I’m writing this race report from a cabin in the Smokies. I was supposed to be backpacking but I left the trail to come find a cabin with wi-fi to hopefully get this out. I’m allowing time to decompress and one thing that’s really hard is I don’t have an immediate goal. I raced monthly the last few years and most of those were really good runs. Now I have no direction...no goal. I know this sounds dumb to say out loud, but running keeps me grounded. It forces me to eat and recover and tackle all else in life so I can be strong for my races. I also know that my main goal is to be competitive well into my late 40’s and I’m only in my early 30’s. I need to give up a few months of rest to the gods of running so I don’t become overtrained. I want to be healthy overall and do this the right way...for life.

My next goal is going to be one of the hardest of my career. I want to run a sub-15 hour hundred to improve upon my 15:27 100 mile personal record. Tunnel Hill in November is the course for it. I was fatigued last year from too much racing leading up to it. This year I’ll be putting all my eggs in one basket hoping to go into Tunnel recovered. This past spring was a great season, with a 5:18 50 mile split and some other performances I’m really proud of. I allowed recovery before Western so I think I should be fresh for TH100.

Blame any typos in this report on a fine single-batch bourbon I’m cozying up to in this mountain cabin. I seem to left out various details like my right knee being twice the size of my left me upon finishing, it all sounds like more whining though and I'm done whining, Time to move on and recover.

A final note...this race sets the bar for organization and awesome volunteers. Don't let my whining fool you. Everyone needs to do this race.