Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Trio del Lago -- an exercise in ambulatory diagnostics

From the day we figured out my wife was pregnant at the end of last year, I was fairly skeptical that I would even get to run this year's Rio del Lago 100 mile run for the 3rd straight year. Due date: September 11th by last menstrual period, revised to the 10th with the first ultrasound. The race scheduled a mere 11 days later. Neither of our parents living locally. I signed up the last day possible for early registration using my PAUSATF discount, well aware that I might have to no-show, end my only 100-mile streak, and make a non-tax-deductible contribution to Norm Klein and his Sierra Nevada Endurance Events.

So, I would deem miraculous my appearance at Cavitt Junior High School for the pre-race briefing this last Friday, except that my pulling off running this race was eclipsed by recent prior events surrounding the birth of my second child, that were, well, as crazy as they were significant in my life. (So much so that maybe I'll blog it separately.)

My number for this year's race, as if a tribute to our 2nd child (but probably just because I came in 2nd last year)--#2.

Shortly after midnight, Sunday the 23rd, I crossed the finish line, 2nd place overall, only to Jon Olsen, who has won 3 years in a row. My time, 18:22:40, a new PR by about 6 minutes less than last year.

You'd think I was exuberant--but no. Happy yes at just starting, relieved as always at finishing, and coming in 2nd is nice. However, once it was clear that the weather was cooperating, I had a loose time goal of cutting my time by at least an hour that I very much failed to meet. Among others, the following runners were able to take advantage of the weather and improve their times significantly:

  • Jon Olsen, winner, 3rd year in a row setting a new course record, this year by 59 minutes.
  • Thomas Riley, 5th place, improved his time by more than 2 1/2 hours.
  • Benjamin Muradyan, 12th place, improved his time by more than 3 hours.
  • Nancy Warren, 4th woman, improved her time by more than 2 hours.

Therefore, I conclude that an improvement of 6 minutes really sucks, 2nd place notwithstanding.

And EZ & I know who's to blame.

However, in my job, I am trained not to jump on what seems to be the most likely cause, without at least considering other options (e.g., at least consider that maybe this woman with a probable stomach flu might actually be having a heart attack.)

In keeping with the grossness of my last post, maybe I should use the example of gastrointestinal issues as a place to start:

QUESTION: Were my bowels to blame?

ANSWER: I had to do the squat 3 times in the first 1/3 of the race. The 1st time was before
Rattlesnake Bar, when I was running with Jon Olsen, who I think actually thought I might have a chance at beating him. I was feeling pretty good, not feeling pushed beyond my capacities, when I had to do the dirty. But without trying I caught up with Jon within a few miles. Apparently, nature called him too. The 2nd time I had to go, though, I lost him. I had been telling Jon, with the cool weather, that he should go for it, and try to beat his record again. He took off shortly after the Power Plant water-only unmanned station , and then I never saw him again until he was headed in the opposite direction after the Mountain Lion Knoll turnaround at mile 83. The third of my trio came at the beginning of the Olmstead Loop at Cool (mile 30's). From all that squatting and squirting, my butt started to chafe. But I was inhibited from lubing my ass, something I've never done, neither in a race, nor a training run. Finally, I would ask the volunteers at an aid station to turn away, as I stuck a gob of Vaseline up my crack, followed by a large squirt of hand sanitizer on my hand. And, it worked! It was so nice, I repeated it later, in front of another winning set of volunteers.

Wow, a new fun thing to do on my runs!

So, NO, not my bowels.

Q: Was it winner Jon Olsen?

A: If I had actually been racing him, trying to chase him even when he accelerated, and then crashed as a result of overextending myself, then I would say yes, even though it would be all my fault. But I wasn't chasing him. The only reason I had ran with him at all was that he got lost early in the race, since he didn't have Mark Lantz doing the 53-mile run to navigate for him. Jon ran a phenomenonal race, independent of my mediocre one. So NO, no Jon!

Q: Was it the Pringles I snarfed at an early aid station?

A: So, I had grabbed a huge stack and bit into it, and then almost inhaled all these crumbs, so coughed. Coughed really hard, causing left rib pain. Pringles, by the way, are also now one of the favorite race foods of Andy Jones-Wilkins, having a great year, with at least 3 wins. But I was able to run through the pain until it resolved. So NO not PringlesNewFangledPotatoChips, even though I am STILL waiting for them to sponsor me.

Q: Was it my left calf?

A: Those familiar with my last blog entry will know that my left calf literally brought me down at my last race. Although I was able to do a 150 minute training run 6 days after Headlands 50k without any trouble, I felt my left calf start to tighten sometime after Rattlesnake Bar (mile 11). I resolved that whenever I felt even the slightest discomfort, I would STOP, and stretch it out. I had already cut 10 minutes off my splits from last year, so figured even if I spent 10 minutes stretching it 20-30 times over 100 miles, I would avert disaster. After the first half of the race, it conceded defeat and stopped bugging me. So, NO, not my left calf.

Q: Was it my right shoulder?

A: I don't know why this started hurting, but it sure did, and carrying the extra handheld bottle between Rattlesnake and Maidu (more than 9 miles without manned aid) didn't help. Maybe it was tight from 2 weeks without enjoying my Performaire mattress I won last year, instead sleeping on the floor of my toddler's room, to prevent him from waking up and demanding to come into mommy and baby brother's room (which apparently DID happen the weekend of the race, incurring domestic political fallout--thanks honey, I LOVE YOU). So, NO, not my right shoulder.

Q: Was it our new baby?

A: As I just mentioned, I've been sleeping in my toddler's room, and my wife is exclusively breast feeding, so the baby doesn't wake me up as much as my older son. How can you EVEN INSINUATE my baby is to blame? Can it not be unfair to say, he is SO-O-O DA CUTEST BABY? And he loves his Daddy!

Q: Was it the call I made to my wife on my cell phone back at Cavitt (mile 67) (i.e., the wifey call)?

A: So, RD Norm Klein has really squeezed this on for all it's worth. So I was really hoping he'd be there again, so I could call my wife and tell her how much I loved her in front of him. To my disappointment, he wasn't there.

To my even greater dismay, no one picked up the home phone. So I had to call her cell phone. Still no answer. An hour lost? Not even close. But who knows, maybe if my honey had answered, and said something original and inspiring, like "good luck, I love you. But you DO know this is your LAST 100-mile race..." then maybe I would've been able to maintain my relative pace and come under 17 hours.

But probably not.

Q: Was it the original trail-runner blogger celebrity and all-around nice guy himself Scott Dunlap? (Here in what I am guessing is a police-booking photo, used without anyone's permission)?

A: I ran with Scott, who came 1st in the 60-mile race, twice. First at the beginning. After I slowly let Jon Olsen slip away out of sight, I was hoping that someone would catch up with me from behind, so I didn't have to navigate the confusing transition to the single-track about half-way to the first aid station. Finally Julie Fingar and Scott come up and fortunately Julie, who lives in the area, knew what she was doing. Had it just been Scott, it would've been the blind leading the blind, and my responsibility since I've been on the course more times than he.

The 2nd time I caught up with him I think at Horseshoe Bar. I was surprised, since I figured he was winning his race. As it turns out (as most of your reading this already know), he was misdirected at No Hands Bridge up K-2 to Cool. Ugh, I felt his pain, although he was sporting a very good attitude. Was I so empathic that I just had to slow down myself? Probably not. I wanted him to keep up with me, but I lost him after a couple of miles. My deceleration hadn't really started yet. So, NO not Scott.

Q: Was it this woman?

A: I caught up with 53-milerFlora Krivak-Tetley as she was asking which way to go at the confusing and poorly marked transition from the single track to the fireroad maybe 2 miles from Cavitt. We ran together almost all the way in, encouraging each other, as I heard a little about the interesting developements of her life, before she sped ahead of me to the finish. I kept track of the time and calculated she would be able to come under 11 hours, and if there was something I did WELL that day, it was pacing her for this arbitrary cut-off--she finished in 10:58:35, a major PR from her 1st shot 2 years ago. Great job, Flora! It wasn't you!

Q: Was it this animal?

A: So, I was going through the flat area close to Hazel Avenue bridge (about mile 88 or 89) leading back to Nimbus Overlook, when my light shone on one of these guys, tail held high in the air. I froze. Tom Riley was coming the other way with his pacer, probably saw it earlier. But it would've been me who got sprayed. That would've literally stunk, to have to run the last 10 miles in fragrance. Plus I was sharing a suite with Joe Swenson and his wife. So, NO, thank God, not the skunk!

Q: Was it this man (photo rudely snapped without asking)?

A: As Norm pointed out before the race, if it weren't for this man, none of us would be here today. Go Gordy Ainsleigh, thank you for pioneering this fun, addictive insanity, and congratulations on a new 60-69 age-group record (26:16:32, beating the old record by almost 2 1/2 hours)! So, NO, not Gordy.

Q: Are you just making up an excuse? Okay, I'm tired of this. Just tell us.

A: Okay, sorry. This will be anticlimactic. It was my right knee. It was occasionally bothering me the last few weeks, maybe because I had to run down the last hill at Headlands 50k with bad form due to my strained calves. I first felt a mild discomfort in the first 10 miles, but there were all these other pains and distractions more prominent. The pain kept increasing, mainly on the downhills, and I noticed that I was slowing down (and not taking advantage of gravity) gradually after leaving Cavitt (mile 67) and pushing the pace to the Dam aid station, but increasingly more so with each mile. After the Mountain Lion Knoll turnaround (mile 83). I realized that my suitemate Joe Swenson was the 3rd place runner and was starting to gain on me (they said I had an hour lead at Cavitt), but I still had a 50 minute gap.

After Hazel Bluff (mile 90), I realized any downsloping was exacerbating the pain, which was anterior and right below the kneecap (patella). I kept going, as the number of runners going the other way increased. For some reason, lots of them recognized me, but I can't see faces past the headlamps, so had to ask who everyone was. My calculations showed that I'd lost the 17:30 goal a while back, but 18 hours still seemed reasonable. I lost several minutes thinking I'd missed the turn off the bike path after Negro Bar to the single-trackl, then thinking I hadn't then thinking I had, going back and forth up this slope. Finally I saw lights coming the other way. I got to the last aid station (Folsom Dam) at 11:35pm (17 hours 35 minutes) and realized 18 hours wouldn't happen. I told myself there was no award for coming under 18 hours, and just concentrated on finishing. Unfortunately, my enjoyment of the experience (I usually get a little emotional, try to let the weight of what I'm about to finish set it, enjoy the dark, really try to let soak up the whole finishing experience) was hampered by the pain. After running the first of 2 levees, I decided that preserving my knee and minimizing the damage superceded any arbitrary number, and even if I didn't PR, who cares? I started walking. I did, however, keep looking back to see if Joe Swenson's headlights would show up, in which case I would sacrifice my knee and just bolt. To save face, I jogged it into the finish chute.

Not 10 minutes later, Joe comes in, the closest gap I've had over him since the first race we both ran (Miwok 100k, 2005) and in fact ran the middle third together until I got lost. Whoa, that was close. Great run Joe! If we age-grade adjust, you slaughtered me. Twelve years older, more than 40-50 pounds heavier, less than ten minutes behind.

Well, as irritated I was at being injured, at least I got to run, managed to keep my status as bridesmaid to Olsen (click for AJW's blog posting explaining this allusion), and brought home more trophy animal statuettes to the chagrin of my wife, since she thinks we don't have space for them in our small house. (If and when I get a chance, I may add some photos of the awards and lunch here.) I would end up icing my right knee the next 4 days, watching the first 4 episodes of "The War" on PBS, realizing that in the scheme of things, having my knee screwed up, or finishing 60-90 minutes later than I should've, are, really, trivial matters; and there are a lot of things more difficult that running 100 aided miles. It is even 5 days later unclear what will happen when I resume training, or how much I will be able to recover before Firetrails 50 on October 13th.

I arrived home on Sunday shortly before the rest of my family gets back from dim sam in Frisco. My 2-year-old gets out of the car, "Were you running Daddy?" If he's angry I left him for two straight nights, he doesn't show it.
"Yes I did."
"Yay! Go Daddy!" I lift him laughing, above my head, part of my real prize.

Michael Kanning, 15, after finishing his first 100 mile run and setting a new age-group record. Link for his excellent race report on his Ultra for a Cure blog.

Women's winner Julie Fingar with Bear Trophy (sorry, out of focus, she's so fast).

Chihping Fu, before heroically (insanely) finishing his 5th 100 miler(after Tahoe, Burning River, Cascade Crest, and Wasatch) in 2 months.

Eldrith Gosney, serving lunch after pacing all morning after running herself. Eldrith gave me her hotel room Saturday night last year (I was going to sleep on the gym floor, but she said she wasn't going to use it anyways). Thanks, Eldrith! Thanks all the volunteers out there on the course for hours and hours!

photos from the run, by Alan Geraldi


willgotthardt said...

OK this is easily the most entertaining trail running blog around.

Congrats on another great finish Mark.

Yeah, super cute new kid.

Will G.

Dave said...


I agree with Will. That was a very entertaining and novel approach to a race report.

Chihping Fu 傅治平 (超馬阿爸) said...

Agree with Will.

I love your wonderful report (still don't like the puke girl picture). When I saw you on your way back to the school in dark, I could feel you push pretty hard. Congrats to your another great finish!

Also congrats to your new born baby. I guess we are in similar domestic political situation, but I think you're now free to do races and have Peter proud of you!

See you at Firetrail!


rick said...

I'll have to come back and finish this entertaining post, have to jet out of here for that bike ride. But before I go I wanted to say congratulations on the new born. Future crew!

Addy said...

Congratulations on all the twos in your life :) What a amazingly and wonderfully cute new child you have, and from that ending conversation, it sounds like the first one is wonderful as well :)

Quite the entertaining post, especially by giving it such a unique format! Much more interesting than just the run of the mill report :D Thanks so much for sharing this!

And congrats on the 2nd place. Seems quite befitting With all the other 2's going on

Michael Kanning said...

Go Mark! Congrats on the 2nd place finish! I enjoyed the race report a lot and copied the picture of you on the cellphone for an "inside joke" on my blog. Hope you don't mind...but if you do, take solace in knowing that you kicked my butt and half the field's butt by over 9 hours (despite the left calf, Jon Olsen, Scott Dunlap, the skunk, the pringles, Gordie Ainsliegh, the cute new baby, and the right knee...okay, just the right knee) Anyways, good work out there. I look forward to our next meeting at another crazy ultra!

Donald said...

Mark - Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting. Funny enough, I just stumbled upon your blog a few days back, linked from Scott Dunlap's if I remember right.

Congrats on this 100-mile finish, and on the new kid, and on your recent successes in the world of trail running. I train with an ER doc, so I can't imagine how you find the time to get the miles in. Your life must be crazy.

Will you be at Firetrails? I'll try to say hi.

Audris said...


What an awesome blog! And the baby is so so so cute -- esp since they're so ugly first. just kidding! Lots of love from us fatties in Chicago.


olga said...

Despite all number 1-n reasons, that was some great run! And the baby is adorable, if anything, having him around helped, right? :) Next year he'll come over to crew.

kate said...

great post :)

Anonymous said...

Great post, Mark! You are even more entertaining to sit and have a chat with in person! Congrats on the addition to the family (first and foremost) and congrats on learning to "lube up" your rump, and HUGE congrats on finishing up another 100 miler race! You are NO bridesmaid, btw.....damn knee! Amy Jo

Jean Pommier said...

What a heroic year, Mark... Indeed your blog is very entertaining, shows this sport is really a tough one.

And such a strategic decision to stay with the 30-39 guys in the Grand Prix. ;-)

Congrats to you and your wife for the baby and take care while juggling with the family, ER and ultra lives.

Jean (with "only" shin splints to blame...)

Farther Faster

hao said...

hi mark,

your blog had me laughing my head off. apparently you write as well as you run. great race and even better report. thanks for the entertainment. see you on the trails



Scott Dunlap said...

Still an awesome finish. I love the layout of this blog entry - very fun!

Thanks for sharing your adventure, and it was great to see you out there.


Scott Dunlap said...

BTW, just posted an interview with Jon Olsen and he had great things to say about your support during the race.


mtnrunR said...

great job mark. it was great seeing you... me miles behind of course. great report. all i can say is "stay away from the skunk." glad nothing came of that.

you had a great year and i am sure next year will be even better.
tom riley