Posts Tagged With: ultrarunning

Mount St Helens Training Run

Me and a few running friends decided to run around Mt St Helens as a training run for White River on Saturday, June 30, 2018. Here are a few photos from our 33 mile counter-clockwise circumnavigation on the Loowit Trail around Helens. My group took 12 and a half hours. (Others finished faster.)

Our first view of the mountain/volcano

 

Crossing our first boulder field

 

The crew stopping at the first junction: Brook, Sean, Eileen, Elizabeth, Danny, and Nicola. What a cool looking crew, I might add!

 

Bear grass

 

Time to fill our water bottles and grab some food

 

Running along one of many many ridges

 

Me and Sean in front of Loowit falls

 

Nicola and I on the Plains of Abraham

 

Climbing out of the plains. The soil was very unstable

 

Me and my shadow

 

Sean and Brook

 

Brook, Sean, and I in front of the crater

 

The crater

 

Spirit Lake

 

Climbing up a rope

 

Lots of ups and downs (Spirit Lake in the background)

 

Checking out the stream crossing

 

There were so many different microclimates on our route

 

More boulders

 

 

Towards the end the boulders seemed to go on forever

 

A glacier

It was beautiful!

 

 

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Mendocino Coast 50K

After a good night’s sleep, I awoke feeling okay. I ate my bagel with peanut butter, took a hot bath, and got dressed. We then headed off to the start which was less than 5 minutes by car. The weather was a little cool but it was expected to warm up a bit so I ran in shorts and a long-sleeve tech t-shirt. The race started at 7:30 and we were off.

Photo of start/finishMendocino Coast 50K Course Map

The fact that I started pain-free was a small miracle of itself. Three days before the race, I awoke to a nasty ache in the lower left side of my back. Great, I thought: we have to drive about 830 miles over the next two days and I have a bad back. Suffice it to say, Wednesday was quite painful in the car, even though I only drove for an hour or two. (Thank you, Suzanna, for doing the bulk of the driving.) Nothing made the pain go away and quite almost everything I did made it feel worse.

We got to the hotel in Ashland in the late afternoon and I finally found something that took the pain away: a hot bath. Unfortunately, the bath had to end and the bed was a bit too soft. I tossed and turned most of the night. In the morning, after another hot bath, and a quick breakfast and coffee, we took off again. The back was a better for sure but still pretty painful. Again, Suzanna did the bulk of driving, but I was able to contribute more since my back was feeling better.

Once we got to our destination and checked into our B&B, I again took a hot bath and experienced relief while I worried what was in store for me on Saturday. Thursday night’s sleep was definitely better and I awoke with a more positive outlook on Friday.

That morning, I emailed my coach, David Roche, and David suggested that I not race if I was in pain. I agreed and told him I would check in again after a 3-mile shakeout run. Packet pickup was only about a mile away from our B&B at the Stanford Inn, so I suited up and headed out the door uncertain how it would feel. While not quite perfect, I held up pretty well. (Great swag, by the way.) The run back along the beach was fun and I was starting to think that I might make it to the starting line after all.

Photo of the race swag

Race swag, including a tech shirt, mug, hat, racing cup, string bag, and a headlamp. Oh, and a very cool race number too!

Friday night we had a fabulous pre-race dinner at the Stanford Inn’s Ravens restaurant and I did my usual pre-race ritual (lots of gathering way too much gear and food and assembling it before ditching half of it) and then I took another hot bath.

Big River Trail

Sometimes things just work their way out. And man was I pleased Saturday morning to make it to the starting line with only the slightest niggle of back pain. For the first 10 miles we headed due east on the very flat and soft Big River Trail, which winded alongside the, you guessed it, Big River. The plan was to go out nice and easy and I executed that pretty well. After about a mile, I met another runner, Nicolette, who seemed to be running at the same pace and we struck up a conversation for a number of miles. Anytime you can run with someone else, even if it’s for a few miles, is a bonus in an ultra because, for me anyway, unless I am struggling to keep up with the other runner, it helps you to relax and take your mind off the long trail ahead. And that’s exactly what happened, the miles ticked by effortlessly as we chatted about our jobs, loved ones, and recent races.

A little after mile 10, and a brief hug from Suzanna at aid station 2 (who I was pleasantly surprised to see), we turned away from the river onto the Big Tree Trail, and climbed we did for the next two miles. About half way up this climb, I looked back and Nicolette had dropped back behind another group and I never saw her again. I continued up the climb, walking the steeper parts, and made it to the top at about mile 12. The wooded trail leveled off for about a half mile before it dropped most of the elevation we had just climbed. I ran the downhill moderately fast, passing a number of other runners who were more timid on their approach.

The Stream

At mile 14 we bottomed out and came upon a stream. Not thinking much about it — I guess I assumed we would soon come to a bridge upon which we would cross the stream — I suddenly saw a pair of runners ahead wading across. So after a quick survey of my options (there was only one), I waded on in. And after a few strides I reached the other side with some very wet shoes and socks.

The stream at mile 14

The stream at mile 14

At this point, I realized that my shoes were too loose on my feet, which exacerbated the sloshy feeling, but I decided I would wait until the next aid station at the top of the next hill before adjusting things. At the top the hill, I reached the aid station just shy of mile 17. I sat down in a chair, took off my shoes, removed the debris from them, secured the laces, and I put them back on. As I looked up from the chair, I realized that my drop bag was right in front of me. Nice coincidence. I grabbed the bottle of premixed Tailwinds, and emptied it into my hydration bladder, neglecting to bleed the air out (which I regretted for the remaining miles as I kept thinking the noise from the bladder was someone right behind me). I grabbed a few food items from my drop bag (most which I never ate), adjusted my pack, drank some aid station water and ate some aid station chips, and headed back out.

After another relatively flat mile, I came to a “rogue” aid station run by Healdsburg Running Company where the guy manning it, told me to take a hard left (which was good because the aid station was blocking the straight-ahead option), and head down for 5 miles. The next five miles was indeed all down, and during that stretch I never saw another soul. During one long portion of the down that went for miles, there were drainage dips in the trail every 50 feet or so, sometimes filled with rocks, which made the running difficult since there would be a steep down followed quickly by a steep up, which unfortunately aggravated an old abdominal strain I had on my left side.

Course elevation/gain profile

Course elevation/gain profile

I bottomed out at mile 23, had to jump across a few small streams and then head up the steepest of the three climbs, ascending about 600 feet over about a mile. While I did encounter a volunteer at the bottom, making sure I was headed the right way, still no other runners. At the top, just before aid station 4, I was happy to encounter a volunteer who was yelling “runner coming; number 100.” Even better, Suzanna was at the aid station asking me what I needed. I just grabbed some water, and we started walking while I finished my cup. I said goodbye with a kiss and headed off down the gravel path a couple of hundred feet before I turned right onto the trail and started down a two-mile descent.

Russian Gulch Waterfall

Russian Gulch Waterfall

The next stretch of trail was part of the Pacific Coast Trail. As I descended, I finally encountered and passed a few runners as the trail became the Waterfall Trail, which passed by the Russian Gulch waterfall.

As I got lower, I also encountered numerous hikers. The miles continued to tick off: mile 26, 27, 28. This race was coming together and I was in the moment. The dirt trail morphed into an asphalt and dirt trail and soon I was at the beginning of a parking lot, where I again encountered my sweet wife who informed me that the aid station was just ahead at the end of the parking lot. There was no stopping now, as I continued to cruise along at a good clip.

4.4 Miles to Go?!

Mile 29 ticked off on my watch as I arrived at the last aid station. Only 2 miles to go! Woo-hoo!

But wait, the sign hanging from the aid station table boldly stated 4.4 miles to the finish. Incredulous, I asked the aid station volunteer if that was correct – my watch said I only had 2 miles to go. He confirmed the bad news and intimated that others had complained too and that he suspected that the course was a couple of miles long.

I have to admit that the realization that I had an additional 4+ miles, was like a gut punch and really broke my spirit. Still, I gathered myself up and forged ahead. After the aid station, I had to scramble up a brief but steep and muddy incline before heading under the road onto the coastal trail. Pretty soon, some spectacular views of the coast started to open up.Spectacular views of the Mendocino coast

The miles started to crawl along and I finally came to the infamous rope-assisted descent. Volunteers were there to guide me, as I repelled down some slick rocks for about 40 feet. Around a turn and then I repelled down another section of rope. That was kind of fun but at the bottom, I had to scamper up another steep incline and head up alongside Highway 1. Amazingly, Suzanna was there yet again, having just pulled over to see if she could spot me one more time before the finish. For the second time, Suzanna offered to grab my hydration pack so I wouldn’t have to haul if for the last couple of miles. This time I said yes, and suddenly I was a little lighter and, incidentally, now without a phone.

In a little bit, I turned off Highway 1 onto Lansing Street as we headed into Mendocino and up a slight incline. I walked a stretch on Lansing Street. After another half mile, or perhaps a bit more, I turned into Mendocino Headlands State Park as a runner caught up to me. The path was narrow, no more than 1.5 to 2 feet wide in many places, and the wind picked up. After a couple of minutes, I let the runner pass me and then promptly started to walk as I silently whined to myself about the never-ending race and the wind whined by my ears.

We had walked in this same park on Friday, so I more or less knew what to expect here and for the remainder of the race, but even with that information, the trail through the park seemed to go on forever. At this point I did a lot of walking, intermixed with a little running. Another couple of runners passed me, and I tried to console myself with the fabulous views but they were mostly wasted on me. After what seemed a short eternity, we turned and came to a set of stairs that led down to the beach.

The beach sand was soft and my shoes quickly filled with sand as I proceeded to walk (again). We crossed under Highway 1 and another 2 or 3 runners passed me. Soon we came to an asphalt parking lot and I could now see the finish line. I started to run again, quickly picking up my pace as I passed Suzanna and headed hard into the finish.

Last few feet of the race

Last few feet of the race

The race director shook my hand as I crossed the finish line. Another 50K was completed. My time: 6:49:37. A 50K, as you know, is supposed to be 31 miles long, but my watch said I had run 33.3 miles (and incidentally, never went off course). Now I understand that GPS watches can be wrong, and perhaps mine was wrong, but man, that race seemed long and my finish time, even with a mile or so of walking in that last few miles, seems high for a 31 mile race.

But it was a good race. In fact, most of the race went flawlessly. Yes, I shall declare it was a good race.

Lessons Learned

Hopefully, every race is a learning experience as much as a racing experience. And Mendocino taught me a few things:

  1. The Mendocino Coast 50K is a beautiful and moderately easy course as far as 50Ks go (except for the fact that it might be a couple of miles long).
  2. Going out slow is the key for me to having a good race and not bonking. If we ignore, for now, the last 4 miles, I nailed this race!
  3. I became too caught up in the miles left as told to me by my Garmin Fenix 5x watch. This was a critical end-of-race mistake and when reality came crashing through at the last aid station, I let it get to me and let myself get “psyched out”.
  4. Stop looking at your watch! and stay conservative on all “miles to go” estimates!
  5. Don’t get ahead of yourself and don’t get cocky! Mile 28 (or was it mile 26?) was way too fast. My Garmin says it was 7:32. Even if the split is off by a minute, that mile was way too fast with 4 miles to go. I got ahead of myself and the race, and this combined with the aid station reckoning led to a somewhat less-than-satisfying finish.
  6. My wife, Suzanna, is awesome.

 

Categories: Fitness, Running, Sports, ultrarunning, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Trail del Moscato 54K

IMG_8445I like the idea of destination races: you get to do a race that is unique plus you get to travel! Sounds like a great deal to me, especially when combined with some vacation time before and after the race. Having run the Prague Marathon three years ago, it was time for another destination race in Europe, this time a small and relatively unknown trail race in northern Italy on September 25th.

Suzanna and I registered for Trail del Moscato, a set of small races running through the terraced vineyards of the Piedmont region of Italy. Suzanna signed up for the 21K Nordic walk and I for the 54K run, serving up 9,186 feet (2,800 meters) of elevation gain over 54 kilometers. The previous 50Ks I ran had 4-5,000 feet of gain, so I knew this was a bit of a jump in elevation, but somehow I didn’t realize the true significance of the difference. Maybe in retrospect that was a good thing because if I had, I likely wouldn’t have signed up for this crazy-tough Italian trail race.

TdM_profile

Ultrarunning magazine categorizes races on a pair of 1-5 scales: one for elevation profile and one for surface, with 5 being the highest category for each. Trail del Moscato scores a 5 on the elevation profile based on the fact that’s there’s over 250 feet of climb per mile! So it wasn’t just me – it was extremely difficult! Trail del Moscato is a loop course that starts and ends in the tiny town of Santo Stefano Belbo.

The start was set for 7:30 am, following a 10 minute pre-racing briefing in Italian. I didn’t understand a word of the briefing. Nor was I able to communicate with any of the race officials or other runners since unlike in the big cities like Rome or Florence, very few people in Santo Stefano Belbo spoke much English. Still I wasn’t too concerned since I had studied the race website which included English versions of the key pages.

About 50 of us lined up at the starting line. The gun went off and we ran a few hundred feet across cobblestones and concrete before cutting right into a dirt trail that went up for a few miles.

 

Mile 1 Surprise

IMG_8429Around a third away up the first hill, just before my watch alerted me to mile one, the race suddenly became more of a challenge as I heard a buzz in my ears as a swarm of bees, undoubtedly disturbed by earlier runners, attacked me from behind managing to sting me around 8 times in my right thigh, left buttock, and, worst of all, in the base of my skull. The pain was pretty jarring and lasted for most of the race. Worst of all it gave me a pretty nasty headache. A few seconds after my unfortunate encounter with the bees I heard another runner scream so I know at least one other runner was stung.

With the pain of the bee stings unrelenting and fearing, with that many bee stings, I might suffer an allergic reaction, I took a Benadryl pill that I had in the pill pocket of my hydration pack. Worrying more and more about the bee stings, I downed a second Benadryl tablet a few minutes later.

IMG_8440About 75% of the race is on trails up, down, and through the terraced vineyards and spectacular views of the valleys below with grapes surrounding almost every step of your way. Another 20% or so of the race was through forested areas with the remaining 5% through a handful of small towns. The uphills were steep and relentless, with my trekking poles coming in mighty handy. The downhills were sometimes so steep you were pretty much doing a controlled slide. The flats were few and far in between. It was almost constantly up and down.

As you can imagine, with only 50 runners over 54K, I ran the majority of the race alone. Still, I managed to hook up with some other trail runners for a few good stretches. The aid stations were pretty basic, supplying water, an electrolyte drink, and a few food items. I carried plenty of food so I didn’t need any and refilled my hydration bladder about half way to which I added an extra package of Tailwinds Nutrition powder. And every so often I picked a few grapes.

Descending into Despair

Between miles 16 and 17, about four and a half hours into the race, I reached the top of a very steep downhill section and started running down. I reached the bottom of the hill after running and sliding for about a quarter-mile, though the steepness of the hill made it seem much further. But there had not been any race flags for a while. When I got to the bottom, I soon realized that I must have missed a turn. Many sighs and a few curses to myself later, I reluctantly turned around and struggled back up about 7/8 of the hill until I located the missed turn. Fortunately, I had my running poles; without them, I am not sure what I would have done. This, mistake took a lot out of me, both physically and probably more important, psychologically.

I achieved another low point a few miles later as I reached what I thought was the 4th of 5 aid stations, I took my race map out of my pack, pointed to aid station 4 on the map, and grunted something that I am sure was indecipherable to the volunteer working the aid station, so that they could confirm that I had reached 42 K or 26 miles (marathon distance). The volunteer pointed instead to the third aid station at only 34 K (mile 21). A difference of only 5 miles, give or take a few kilometers, but it seemed a world further and I immediately descended into a funk. At this point, I was having trouble keeping it together, suffering from the bee stings, GI distress, the hot sun, and of course, the relentless uphills.

IMG_8449Somewhere between aid station 3 and 4, I slowed down quite a bit. When I finally got to the aid station that I thought I had arrived at earlier, I tried to communicate to the volunteer that I was done, spurting out some badly broken Italian while using the international sign for the end (moving the palm of my hand across my throat). I think he understood me but could offer no help in getting back to the start. It was at this moment, that another runner who had just arrived at the aid station, Massimo, spoke to me in English, much to my relief. He told me he we only had around 12 kilometers to go. Massimo too was hurting, finding the downhill running especially difficult and suggested that we stick together. He also mentioned that there was another runner just ahead of us and if we caught up to him we could all run, or practice something resembling running, together. I remember at this point that Massimo and I discussed the 10-hour cutoff in the race and the fact that we might not make the cut.

 

Downhill it goes

Finally having someone to run with and someone who spoke my language – literally – was a huge relief. At the same time, 12 K seemed like an infinite distance away. We caught up to the other runner and the three of us worked together. After a bit we caught up to a woman, so now there were four of us running, more or less, together. And while the others seemed to suffer caution on the downhill sections, I drew energy from the downhills. And it turns out we soon came upon a long downhill section of the course about 2 miles long, so I ran ahead of the group. In fact, at this point, I thought that I would finish in under 10 hours, especially if the downhills continued to the finish.

IMG_4483

If I had been a little less delirious, however, and stopped to consult the map, I would have realized that there were three significant hills left in the race. About half way up the second hill, I was out of fluid and pretty much out of energy, having perhaps expended too much energy during that downhill stretch. So I sat down on the side of the trail and rested for about 5 or 10 minutes. While I rested, one of the runners I had been running with earlier passed me. I got up and continued to climb the second hill, but after a brief downhill section the course flattened out for a bit and the last hill came into my view, which climbed a steep 600 feet over about 3/4 of a mile. At this point, the site of that hill broke any shred of confidence that remained in my mind and I again descended into a very dark place. I’m sure it didn’t help that I had taken two Benadryl earlier in the race; I was so exhausted; so tired and craved sleep. At the same time, my Garmin watch gave out and went blank. What a metaphor for how I felt at that moment.

So I laid down on the side of the trail and took a nap. I’m not sure how long I slept there on the trail but I woke up as one of the remaining two runners, the woman, passed me. I started to get up but laid back down and feel back asleep. Finally, Massimo caught up to me and urged me to rise and finish the race with him. He asked me if I had any water left, and realizing that I was out, he gave me the few ounces that remained in his bottle. I took half and returned the bottle to him, very appreciative of his incredible act of kindness.

A short while later, the race sweeper – a guy on a bicycle who I had seen once or twice previously – caught up to the two of us and asked how I was doing (in Italian). Massimo told him that we were going to finish together and that we were out of water. The sweeper took off on his bike and returned 10 minutes later with water for our bottles as we crawled slowly up that last hill.

At the top of the hill at 52 K (32 miles), a number of race volunteers cheered for us and offered us water. There was a chair there and I recall sitting down as Massimo chatted with the volunteers. After resting for a few minutes, we refilled our water bottles, and walked down the hill together towards the finish line. I managed to reenergize a bit on the downhill and could have run most of that last 2K but decided to stick with my new friend who was struggling on the downhills.

IMG_4576Once we reached the town of Santo Stefano Belbo and spotted the spire of the Sacred Heart of Jesus church, we both got pretty excited and started running. Our excitement was tempered a bit when we realized that the course didn’t go directly to the finish line but instead looped annoyingly through the town. But we kept running, perhaps a little slower, when we realized there was more to run than we had first thought but soon enough we neared the finish.

The site of the finish line (and the yell of Suzanna’s “Here they come” when she spotted us) brought pure joy to my heart. As we IMG_4580approached the finish line, I reached out to Massimo and we locked hands as we crossed the line together. The elapsed time was 10:28, doing a quick check of the clock time on my phone since my watch was dead. The official clock had been turned off and technically, we were DNFs, having finished more than 10 hours after the start. (A day later when the official times were posted, Massimo and I were credited with a time of 10:11:30. I’m guessing that was the time the clock had been stopped.)

Massimo and I finished 51st and 52nd of 52 finishers (i.e., dead last), but I am still very happy to have competed in and completed Trail del Moscato. It was a brutal but beautiful race and stretched me to the edge of my being, but I survived and am better for it. As Scott Jurek would say, it’s all about digging deep inside of yourself to find what you didn’t know was there. And having a friend there to urge you on, doesn’t hurt either.

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