Wednesday, June 24, 2009

(Mid) Western States, Part 1: My Two-Night Slog Through the Mud of the McNaughton Park 150 Mile Trail Run



Before starting the run, I had months to ponder it, but life as filled as it is, McNaughton was pushed to the back, at times to my subconscious to emerge in some randomly frenetic running anxiety dream. Whenever I found myself short of sleep, feeling particularly muddleheaded, drained of energy, and crappy, typically at the end of a long, hard shift in the E.D., McNaughton would loom-- if you think you feel like crap now, you will be far more sleep deprived and tired, there will be no bed awaiting you. During every training run during which I didn't feel my best, I tried to imagine lengthening it ten or fifteen times over, my condition deteriorating further. At time I was nervous, if not downright scared-- this was an unknown I had signed myself up for. For the first time in years, since I first started running ultras, I really wasn't sure if I would finish. Sure, Barkley is harder, but no one, especially no virgin, travels to Tennessee's Frozen Head Park really expecting to finish. I have a decent amount of speed, eight 100-milers under my belt, so people expect me to finish. I know I should be able to finish. But as any ultrarunner knows, the longer you go, the more things that can go wrong. Or maybe I would finish, but so mess up my body that I'd be crippled for months with one or two or more overuse injuries. Although I would be okay with failure after a sincere effort, I knew that if I didn't make it, the 150 mile distance would haunt me and taunt me until I did, the same way Mount Diablo, visible from so much of the Bay Area, smirked at me for more than 18 months after being pulled at the summit from the first Diablo 50 mile and eventually sent via ambulance to a local emergency department until I finished (easily) the same race in April of 2005.

The moment I finished the run, there was no fanfare, no cathartic release of emotion, no elation. I surely was not close to tears. I was just done. And spent. But like many things ultra, gratification is often deferred. It has taken weeks for this to sink in, and perhaps I still don't fully appreciate what I've accomplished. But the race landscape looks different now. Events I hadn't seriously considered before I know are within my reach. I have an idea of how to go about races involving two overnights. I know that having your feet wet for 41 hours is not pleasant, but won't kill me, or even give me more than minor trench foot. Being forced to power walk due to injury does not necessarily end the run. I know I can survive worse.

On to my awful, terrible, wonderful run!

getting there

Friday, April 10, 2009: I had set my alarm for 7:30 a.m., but am up before 6. My family doesn't get up for the longest time-- I want to kiss and hug them goodbye before I go off to battle. They get up after 7:30, I leave a few minutes later with a few slices of bread, a banana, an old peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and 3 bags of stuff (including 4 different models of Sportiva shoes) in my sister-in-law's Corolla.

The drive from my in-laws' in a western suburb of Chicago to Pekin, Illinois, mostly southwest on Highway 55, is dreadfully flat and boring, it doesn't help that I'm not fully awake. But I drink no caffeine since I figure I will probably consume a lot eventually. I am saved first by an alternative radio station, then a classic rock station, and a rest area. Halfway there, the rain starts. While no rain was expected in Chicago, it definitely was in the center of the state. Which meant the course would be muddy and the streams above our ankles. "If it rains, nobody stays dry" wrote the RD about the stream crossings on the website.

I arrive around 10:30, a few parking spaces left. I was hoping to set up my tent for occasional naps and to sleep in after the race, but the rain is cold and steady, so I lose my motivation. I get my number, make a few chilly trips back and forth from the car to the start area, sometimes carrying an umbrella. Once I try to move my car to a closer spot, but the front wheels are stuck in slime, and I just splatter mud as the engine revs-- perhaps a foreshadowing of the type of running to come. There is a teepee with a fire under it providing a haven of warmth, but the smoke makes me cough and my eyes water, so I wait for the pre-race talk to come near.


assistant RD guy, name forgotten, talking under the teepee

The two registered Bay Area guys I knew decided not to start, so there is no one I know, but no time for chatting anyways-- gotta do business.....except that the Port-a-Lets haven't arrived yet. I'm a little uncomfortable, but figure I can manage.

loop 1 (noon to 1:45 pm)

The race starts none too soon, as I'm cold despite three layers (tech shirts and sleeves, tech turtleneck in which I ran Diablo Trail 50k 20 days earlier, Sportiva team jacket on top). First is a hill going down. It's slick and muddy. Little do I realize how tame this wide stretch of mud is compared to other parts of the course.


photo by Paige Troelstrup

Then we turn left for a big clockwise mile loop around a big field. A woman has darted to the front. I take it easy, going much slower than I'd start a 100-miler, but still find myself ahead of all but a few. A very friendly Will Taggart from Nashville introduces himself to me, later unsuccessfully tries to introduce himself to Ryan Dexter, and we chat for a while. (When I lap Will several loops later, his name eludes me, demonstrating how early I get confused.)



Will Taggart at the finish on left

After the loop, we climb back up a muddy slope to an open slightly uphill grassy field near the start.


runners crossing the field later at night, after circling the big field, photo by Brian Gaines


Then we turn left into meandering forested single track, crossing small streams several times. Then up a hill for a short flat stretch where I catch up with the woman, Charlotte Vasarhelyi, women's course record holder, and we chat a little before I leave her, then more up and downs and bridge crossings. I find myself impressed with how technical some of the stream crossings and steep ascents and descents are-- in the slippery mud, I need to hold on to trees to keep from slipping.

Finally we arrive at first aid station, Totem Pole, at about mile 2.5. I still have water in my bottle, so just grab a few pretzels and shove them in my mouth.

The stretch to the next aid station is the longest in the course, and in retropect, the numbered course description from the website actually summarizes it pretty well, so I've excerpted it here, with some commentary.

6
“Blue Bird” section is a rolling grassland, open and friendly. There are several bluebird houses in the area.

(--Again, it's raining my first two loops. Not aware of the houses, I never see them.)

7
Heading south the trail will become mostly sand so we call this stretch “The Beach”.

(--One of the few areas that will drain well and improve after the rain stops.)
8
Lick Creek crossing number 1. You can look for an easy way to cross but, trust me, head straight through for a refreshing cooling of the feet. It should be no deeper than mid calf — unless the water is brown which would mean recent rain has made a torrent!




photo by Paige Troelstrup

(--So, it's above mid-calf and in fact right before reaching the other side, one part is above mid thigh, and you can't see the bottom because the water is mud brown. It would take me several loops to get used to my entry, as the bank was a feet feet above the water. Once I slipped trying to ease myself in, and landed on my ass and hands, almost spraining my shoulders, so eventually I just jump in.)
9
Follow the yellow ribbons closely on the other side, as there are several trail options. After a couple of hills, you will have a short, flat, easy run.

(--With your feet weighing a few pounds more from the cold water-- refreshing my ass!-- and maybe new grit that would make it past my gaiters and force me to stop and take off my shoes and socks to shake the pebbles out.)
10
That easy run ends at “Golf Hill”. We have a rope for your use. Enjoy the great view from the top as you will be heading back down soon. Listen for someone yelling “Fore!”

(--The rope and the hill take me by surprise. It's sort of fun using the rope. Each time I climb this hill, my gloves get muddy since the rope is lying in mud, adding an extra element to my diet.)
11
Continue south through rolling hills (we call the last one “Heartbreak Hill”) until you get to “Brick Corner”. There is a stack of bricks on the other side of a fence and you can clearly see a private residence.

(--Nice piece of real estate-- looks like a mansion from the deep South.)
12
This turn puts you on a part of the Red Trail called “The Sheridan”. Veterans will remember a creek crossing here, but now you have the comfort of "Indian Creek" bridge.

(--I'm guessing this is the bridge where the trail approaches it almost at a 90 degree angle. RD Andy said the bridges were slick, but none of them until this point gave me any problems. I slip and land forward on my left knee and both hands. Fortunately the impact leaves me no lasting pain but I make a mental note "The bridges are slick-- slow down!")
13
“The Sheridan” exits at the “Hairpin” turn — named for the nearby road. This turns you toward the north (or left for directionally challenged folks), across a wooden bridge and up the hill.

(--I actually jog up the first part of this road the first few loops. I later amusedly reminisce about being able to jog it earlier.)
14
At the top of the hill is another open field in the process of being converted back to forest (unsuccessfully!) You turn right and loop around what we call “Cemetery Loop” — the Meyers Cemetery is along the way. Run on the grassway around the field.

(--I would eventually realize that it was slightly uphill, but it still remains runnable until I develop a shin splint after mile 120.)
15
You’ll be turning right into “Heaven’s Gate”, which is about half way around the “Cemetery Loop” and is a fun mile loop. An aid station is at the Gate so you get to stop there twice.


The volunteers are still setting up at the aid station at Heaven's Gate when I arrive the first time. I leave my bottle and ask them to fill it with water instead of Heed to give my teeth and gums a break, as well as relieve my arms of a bottle for a mile. After descending to the river, the loop is indeed mostly flat and fast and fun, except before the ascent the end. The open field is wickedly muddy with standing puddles. My shoe almost comes off several times. Most people would figure out that cutting right a little bit slightly mitigates the mud, but I don't figure this out until much later, and it continues to suck (literally) the rest of the 3-day race.

Back at Heaven's Gate, I ask if they have any food. I wasn't running this slowly to short myself on calories this early! They apologize and get out a peanut butter sandwich. (Ironically, I wasn't really running all that slowly-- this was to be my fastest loop.)

16
Finish the “Cemetery Loop” and run along another grassway to the “Hooter Hill” loop. After you drop down to the valley floor, enjoy beautiful, shady, flat, stretch before climbing abruptly up to more rolling hills.
17
“Hooter Hill” exits to the picnic oak, a large grass meadow with a large oak tree and evidence of a few picnics. Head downhill and along another open field the 3rd Lick Creek crossing. If the creek is low, you might be able to cross dry on the left but will lose several seconds and be subject to a muddy shore.



photo courtesy of Paige Troelstrup

(--Easier to enter the river than the other crossing, but like the first, no dry option here since it starts almost to our knees, and regardless, the shore on the other side is very muddy, sullying our newly washed feet every time.)
18
Watch the yellow ribbons closely again as there are several cross paths on the other side of the creek. This last loop is called the “Foundation” loop and when you see the old concrete foundation, you are nearing the end.

(--As with all the other loop and section names, I am not aware of this. There are several very muddy sections that prompt me to try to go around them. Everyone would agree that this section of the course is the worst for slop and traction and continues to deteriorate each loop.)
19
As you exit the “Foundation” loop, you will...turn right across the dam of the lake, up the hill and to the Start/Finish line. You will be running through the Frisbee golf course and these people take their sport seriously so watch for flying discs.

(--The entrance to the golf course was particularly muddy. No frisbees in the rain, but some flying the next day. A few tricky areas where the reflective ribbons were far apart-- once at night I had to turn around and get directions from another runner.

A smiley face on the ground marks the home stretch, with tents set up on both sides of the open field.)

link to the Motion Based recording from my Garmin Forerunner of my first loop

loop 2 (1:45 to 3:41 p.m.)

During this loop the rain lessens to a drizzle. However, the trail seems slicker, perhaps due to the stomping and sliding of 47 ultrarunners. Certain areas definitely don't drain. I think about a quote from the website, "While the trail can be very slick during rain, it tends to pack down and dry out quickly once the rain stops" and suspect that this is a bunch of well-meaning gibberish. I try to pay attention to the course-- not just so I stay upright, but also to memorize it before it gets dark in a few more loops.

I had read the course description and looked at the course map several times before the race, but given the winding, convoluted nature of the route, I never form a mental map of the entire park, and where one section of the race is in respects to other parts. Only by examining the Google maps based on my Garmin recorded laps post-race, would I get a sense of this.

The rain stops. It never gets sunny or warm, but it's a big relief. I feel like the trail has gotten worse, perhaps partly because the rain is still draining from the higher elevations. Also, I have been feeling sleepy the entire race, and this seems to get a little worse.


muddy Crosslites

loop 3 (3:41 to 5:45 p.m.)

The sun is out at times, other times cloudy, but we are all just glad that it's not longer raining. Well, at least I am. We're all spread out so I've been running alone for a while. Again, I try to memorize landmarks for the coming night. I also try to remember the names and faces of the volunteers, but soon I realize they keep rotating. Other than feeling sleepy, I feel pretty good.

loop 4 (5:45 to 7:51 pm)

It's 5:45 pm at the start/finish. The problem about races that begin at noon-- nightfall sure comes fast! I find RD Andy Weinberg and ask him when it gets dark. He says I should take a light, but he confirms if I'm back by 7:45 pm, I'm okay. The thought of carrying a light on my head for 2 hours and maybe not even need it doesn't appeal to me, so I go out without a light. I push the pace a bit, figuring this will balance my natural deceleration. I get a little nervous at the end, but it becomes clear that I'll make it-- barely.

Near the end of this loop, Ryan Dexter passes me with a pacer. We briefly exchange a few words-- he is after the inaugural 2007 race's winner, Paul Stofko, in first place. I suspect he is fully crewed as well as paced. I know he has finished well both previous races-- I'm not about to chase him especially this early; little do I know, but he has been focused on winning this race for almost a year. (Click for his blogged statements of intent from August and December of 2008.)

loop 5 (7:51 to 10:20 pm)

I spend 2 1/2 minutes at the start/finish aid station, to put on my Petzl Myo RXP headlamp and another layer.

Lapping a runner on the first stretch, she tells me to look back, and an eerily beautiful orange moon sits above the horizon. Too cool. The moon is bright enough that in the open fields I can turn off my light. During the night I enjoy different animals sounds: the Hoo hoo-hoo Hoooo of owls, croaking of frogs, buzzing of insects.

Not sure how finishing 50 miles makes me feel. If my plan is to finish 50 feeling fresh and then just do my 100, well, it past my bedtime and I don't feel very fresh.

loop 6 (10:20 pm Friday to 1:05 am Saturday)

Shortly after setting out, my Petzl Myo RXP lamp flashes 3 times. I suspect this has something to do with the batteries being low. I had put in rechargeables that supposedly hold their charge the same as regular alkaline batteries, but apparently not. A cool feature of the lamp is there is a battery charge indicator light,now yellow. After the stream crossings, this turns red. I start turning off my light, using the moonlight when I can.

At Totem Pole aid station, they fortunately have fresh batteries, brightening my light. It gives more light on the lowest of 3 settings, than it had on the middle setting with my rechargeables. The rest of the run, I'm okay with the lowest setting, perhaps aided by my slowing pace. What a great headlamp! Despite being somewhat of an eco-fascist, I am convinced using disposable rather than rechargeable batteries for my overnight races.

By this time, specific trees and small turns on the course have become very familiar, although I'm fuzzy about where many of them are on the course. During this loop plus or minus 1 or 2 loops, I have conversations running a few miles with a Michael Matteson from Carbondale, IL (click for article) and later a Robert from Long Island, NY, who is doing a shorter race, but whose name I can't find on the registered runners list.

Loop 7 (1:05 to 4:18 am)

My measured times spent at the start/finish aid stations are lengthening, ranging from 3 1/2 to 7 1/2 for the next 6 loops. I also spend more time fueling up at the Totem Pole and Heaven's Gate aid stations.

I put on a 4th layer, a fleece vest under my jacket, and switch my Ultrarunning cap for a knit cap I got at STORMY 100 miler last August. (By the way, that report will appear here eventually.) After setting out, the sleepies hit. I'm convinced it's from chronic lack of sleep over the last week. Although I was always getting at least 5 hours of sleep a night, the cumulative effect wears on me. I start closing my eyes with each breath and several times have to stop to lean against trees.
I make it to Totem Pole, spot a chair and plop myself into it. A volunteer offers me a hot chocolate, which I drink, then tell her to wake me up in 10 minutes. I never fully fall asleep, but immediately upon closing my eyes, I half dream vivid images-- very trippy.

After a few minutes, I get up, and feel somewhat refreshed. But cold. I finish the loop. During the short 1-mile loop from Heavens Gate, I catch up with an Asian woman, whom I later confirm is the eventual women's winner Van Pham, from Washington, (click for Scott Dunlap interview 2 years ago) who has reluctantly adopted someone's VERY friendly dog. The dog is having a GREAT time, darting ahead and behind, splashing in the puddles. It's fun to watch the playful pooch, but I have to watch my step when it runs right in front of me. I lose doggie back at Heaven's Gate.


Van Pham and some other guy later on (about to start their 14th loop)

checkpoint standings at mile 70

Loop 8 (4:18 to 7:45 am)

I put my Garmin Forerunner back on to record the exact middle loop. It turns out to be the toughest yet. The sleepiness comes back with a vengeance, I sit down at Totem Pole. I get up a few minutes later is that I'm cold, almost shivering--the temperature has further dropped to the low 30's and once I stop moving, the cold surrounds and permeates my thin frame, demonstrating that being skinny is not always desireable in ultrarunning. I do the same at Heaven's Gate, which always seems colder than Totem Pole. I am also feeling pain in my right ankle. Volunteer Brian, who seems to be there most consistently, tapes up my ankle, and then gives me 1000 mg of acetaminophen. I lie down on a board where the volunteers stand. I start drinking caffeine, which I had tried to avoid prior.

The short 1 mile loop isn't so short. When I get back I have to lie down again. (Post-race I know that I spend 15 + 8 + 13 = 36 total minutes at the 3 intermediate aid stations this 8th loop.)

It starts to become light. While I'm seated a guy runs by asking if "the Japanese guy" has come through yet, and the volunteers point to me. I'm over feeling anxious or upset at getting passed-- I have to do what I have to do, and at this point, I'm not worried about place so much-- just getting through this sleepiness and finishing.

By the time I reach the start/finish, I'm feeling better. Perhaps partly because of the increasing daylight.

checkpoint standings at mile 80

loop 9 (7:45 to 10:07 am)

I take 2 layers off. My ankle is hurting less too.

I catch up with the guy who passed me at Heaven's Gate last loop, and we talk briefly. It's Canadian Logan Beaulieu, whom I recognize from the cover photo, article and interview in Ultrarunning a few years ago (December 2005), my first issue. (I recommend reading the article from December 2005, a reprint of an article by the Vancouver Sun on him, which I would do post-race on returning home--he had made an amazing recovery from a near-lethal injury as a teenager.)

He apologizes for referring to me as "the Japanese guy" earlier; of course I hadn't taken offense, being a guy, and of Japanese descent. After a short chat I pass him easily and without deliberately pushing it, then put a fair amount of distance on him during the trails leading to Totem Pole.


Logan on the cover of my first issue of Ultrarunning

I see him again as I finish the 1 mile loop returning to Heaven's Gate-- he's just coming from the long stretch, so I've effectively put 15 minutes on him in about an hour.

As I head out to the flat field, I hear in his distinctly Canadian accent him coming up behind me-- "Hey, Buddy, you're actually running pretty good..."

I ask him "Uh, aren't you supposed to do the short loop on the other side?"

"Oh yeah." He turns to run back the couple hundred yards to the aid station.

It would've really liked to chat more, but I wasn't about to throw away my 15 minute lead I'd gained by having him inadvertently cut the course!

Speaking of course cutting, I find it strange that there was no number checking at that aid station-- it's not that hard for a fatigued runner who has essentially been running in a big convoluted circle all day and night (and day and night) to get confused and cut the course. Since it seems the volunteers had their hands full enough taking care of the runners (whose numbers would soon increase several-fold as the 50 and 100 mile racers entered), and we all had timing chips, I think it would've been appropriate to have another mat at the start of the small 1-mile loop, to make sure we all did it and preserve the integrity of the results. Just a suggestion, but a clear case in point.


loop 10 (10:07 am to 12:38 pm)

For the first time, I strip down to one layer, as it's a gorgeous sunny day. Some parts of the course are draining well, but others continue to get worse, I figure due to rain from the previous night and day coming from the ground.

I believe it is early this loop that leader Ryan Dexter passes me again with his pacer. I'm surprised because I thought he had already lapped me last loop, but he says he spent a lot of time at the start/finish. I tell him he is looking great.

No mishaps, except that in the flat part before climbing the rope, I hear several angry dogs barking. A runner in a shorter race ahead of me has stopped as he is surrounded by 2-3 snarling dogs, asking the nonchalant family to get them leashed. "They don't bite" one fat, trashy woman says. I'm wary as I approach-- these aren't like the friendly dog who was romping around me last night. "Obviously you haven't been bit--they're you're dogs," I add. They laugh contemptuously. I am pro-dog, but some owners are idiots.

It feels weird and great to approach the end of loop 10-- mile 100. Although I know that "only 50 miles left" is a loaded concept, and that the last 50 were going to more difficult than the first or the second 50. But I have still run 100 miles and was not about to drop dead. Every mile will be new territory, and it is these last 50 miles that was will make this whole experience special, the bang for my extra bucks. It is essentially why I came here.

loop 11 (12:38 to 3:12 pm)

I realize it's sunny now and slather sunscreen on my face and head and neck before setting out. It's pleasant, but not too warm. Some exposed parts of the trail are much improved, but unfortunately the lower muddy parts are just as muddy, if not worse. The faster 50-mile runners pass me on their final lap. We exchange mutual words of encouragement, always a mutually beneficial, good thing.

Having run the course 10 times, it's become very familiar to me. I start anticipating sections, only to find a different stretch intervening. Hey, didn't I just run this part? For a brief moment, I wonder if I have run off course, but then realize, on the contrary, it's just that I've never left the course. I ran that section the last lap, and the loop before that, and the loop before that..... it's all becoming a big blur. As I become more fatigued, these moments only increase.

At the end of this loop, I take a first look at the standings board, though what's posted is delayed by a lap or two. Apparently Ryan Dexter is steadily increasing his lead, and I'm about an hour behind Paul Stofko. I'm still feeling pretty good, having cranked out 3 straight sub-2:35 loops, so thinking maybe I can catch #2 if Stofko tanks. Something besides finishing to keep me motivated.

loop 12 (3:12 to 6:08 pm)

Before I heading out, I tell Brian Gaines, who dropped the 100 mile race after a bad encounter with a tree near the start of the final stretch from Heaven's Gate, that actually, there was something he could do for me (he had asked the previous time around)-- could I borrow his cell phone? I leave my wife a message-- that I've finished 110 miles and hope to finish by midnight, get some sleep and drive home in the morning, and of course that I miss and love her and the kids.

Sorry, I just had to make the wifey call.

Maybe at this point I switch from my Crosslites to my brand new Wildcats. Initially I was averse to muddying my almost brand new shoes, but then figure that survival is never aided by prissiness, and I was thinking that the traction on the new shoes was better than my race-worn Crosslites (that I started racing in last summer.)


muddy Wildcats

Crossing the small streams on the way to Totem Pole, I get prissy about getting my shoes too muddy and at the really muddy stretch, lose my balance, and ram the front of my left shin into a branch sticking out of the slimy water. 2 inch long gash with blood.

Again, in case I don't understand, prissiness offers no benefit in gnarly endurance events.

Nearing Heaven's Gate, I start to get sleepy. At about mile 115, for the 2nd time I run into Dominic Guinta, a Facebook friend. He's doing the 50-miler as a training run and on his last loop, so doesn't seem to mind hanging back with me, and we talk. I'm feeling mildly incoherent, but enjoy the company and pacing. We go through Heaven's Gate aid station together and the small loop. Setting out, he's pushing the pace a bit. I tell him, training run or not, he should push the pace to the end, and he leaves me as we exit the open field into the trees. He hammers it to a sub-12 hour finish. Way to go, Dominic, and thanks for the company.



Dominic with prize finisher's swag at finish

Despite the pleasant afternoon conditions and some caffeine, I can't shake the sandman. I want to sleep, but it seems inefficient to sleep while it's bright out, especially with nightfall approaching. I lie down on a tarp I pull out of a truck, but there's too much chatter, so I give up after a few minutes. I chug lukewarm black coffee and set out.

Approaching the loop finish, I repeat a mantra in my head of things to remember to do: light, jacket, pants, change shoes.

At this point, I get a lot of photos taken of me, perhaps because the weather is nice and many 50 mile runners are finishing and preparing to go home. Might as well stick them here:


photo by Brian Gaines


I am soon about to lose the ability to jog like this. photo by Brian Gaines



photo by Ian Stevens


photo by Dominic Guinta

I've been decelerating, and increasingly convinced that I'll drop from 3rd to 4th or lower. Little do I realize I've overtaken Paul Stofko for 2nd place, since the loop 12 splits are not posted yet.

loop 13 (6:08 to 9:38 pm)

Before I set out, Brian Gaines helps me again under the tent, but not just by lending me his cell phone. I am feeling completely disorganized and not thinking clearly. Due to the nature of my job, I should be better able to multitask than the average person, but now I'm completely overwhelmed with the many little things to be done. Brian keeps me focused, maybe changes my shoes for me, gets me stuff, saves my ass, and thankfully I wasn't so out of it that I asked him to wipe it. I'm never crewed, so this is a treat. Thanks, Brian!

Brian Gaines

I was feeling some tightness in the front of my right ankle for most of the race, and the last loop it was getting worse. This loop I find that I can longer run the flats. There aren't lots of flats, but I counted on being able to jog them at a 10 minute pace. I can still power up the hills and jog down gentle downgrades. Because of this, I start really pushing the uphills, and concentrate on walking fast. If the world's best speed walkers can walk a marathon faster than I can run one, then there is obvious room for improvement.

In the woods, an older runner doing the 100-mile, Donald Clark from Minnesota, catches up with me as my my right ankle goes into some mild spasming and I try to stretch it out. He graciously takes his time to show me how to apply pressure on the tendon from the side to stretch and relax it, which helps a lot. We talk some before I eventually leave him. At Totem Pole I ask if they have Ensure, which they had the last loop and a Stick to work on my anterior tendon. Negative on the Ensure (was part of someone's donated stash), but a female volunteer gets out the stick and rolls it on my ankle. Don catches up with me, and cracks a smart-ass remark. We set out together and talk some more about running, kids, life. At the stream crossing, he tweaks his back, so tells me to go ahead, but not without pulling out a lucky feather for me to carry, which he stashes in the outside mesh pocket of my pack which I brought to hold my headlamp and fleece vest. Thanks Don, it was great getting to know you!

Despite stopping a few seconds every quarter mile or so to passively stretch my anterior ankle, it's getting worse. After a few sharp pains, I decide I've also lost the ability to run the downhills. Ugh. Then I notice my left Achilles' tendon is hurting. So I have two spots I must periodically stop and stretch.

Not being able to run with more than a marathon left is indeed frustrating-- I feel like I could crank out 11-12 minute miles on the easier sections otherwise. But I'm still in the game. At least I'm not worried about making cutoffs. No time to feel sorry for myself. This is how the race is unfolding. This is what has happened to my body. Accept it. Keep moving.

I am unaware that Paul Stofko has overtaken me by a few minutes.  I had thought I was in 3rd place the whole time and that he is still way ahead of me. We must have seen each other out on the course, but I never meet him, and never knows what he looks like until I google him days later. I'm thinking less who's ahead than who's behind. Between the shin splint and my sleepiness, I'm convinced Logan or some other runner is going to catch up.

loop 14 (9:38 pm Saturday to 1:10 am Sunday)

Without my asking him, another volunteer, John (Taylor?) helps me out at the start/finish tent. I change my shoes to my Sportiva Ultranord GTX. I would've used these the whole course, but I figured that the advantage of Gore Tex and thick gaiters would be neutralized by the two stream crossings above the ankles. However, I'm sick of pebbles working their way into my shoes past my thinner Dirty Girl gaiters I got as swag from another race.  They work great for a drier race, but the streams were moving fast and stirring up a lot of sediment. It would make its way into my socks, especially my toe socks I started with, since they have little holes in them.  I also put on a third layer with a fleece vest.


my muddy Sportiva Nordic GTX-- given how many times I had to stop to get rocks out of my shoes and socks, I probably should've swtiched into these earlier

I finally put on my iPod Nano. I had saved it for the end. I don't mind running without music, but I needed motivation. Also, I had suffered enough from various ear worms this race, including Taylor Swift's "Love Story" which my 10-year old niece, nephews and my older son were singing and dancing to over and over on Thursday, along with the 70's classic "Kung-Fu Fighting." So it was good to have tunes and not fight one song playing over and over in my head. Especially Taylor Swift.

Okay, I guess she's pretty, so much she was driving me fricking crazy.... we'll use this until I get busted for copyright infringement

As soon as I leave, I regret not having taken a picture of John to stick in my blog report, since he has just saved my ass like Brian did the last lap.

My Nordic GTX shoes are great-- for the first time since the first 2 miles of the race, my feet are dry. I splash through the small streams before Totem Pole without any dampness. I know this dryness will end soon, but I enjoy it while I can.

After Totem Pole, a runner catches up with me and we start talking. I notice that my earbuds I bought on line through Costco really cancel outside noise, so I have to pull out the ear buds to hear him talk. Since he's not listening to music himself and we're at about the same pace, I decide to turn off the tunes and we talk for most of the 4 mile stretch to Heaven's Gate. His name is Ben, from near Pittsburgh, doing the 100 miler.

My dry feet are soaked with the first stream crossing at mile 144. Oh well, it was comfortable while it lasted.

At Heaven's Gate Ben has to sit down, so I leave ahead on the short loop and turn the music back on.

Before the 2nd stream crossing, I pass some 50-milers, impressed with my power walk, which is faster than some runners' jog. I'm really pumped up to get to the finish, since then I will only have one more loop, and then every step will be my last over that particular piece of ground. This pissed-off, pumped-up emotional high lasts maybe a hour, barely enough to finish the lap. The problem with these really long races...

Despite being unable to run at all, I extend my lead over Stofko by 40 minutes. For the first time, I become aware of this, tipped off by some volunteer in the know. I also find out that he is under 40-- for some reason I though he was around my age-- I was first Masters the whole time-- not that I even know what the 1st place masters award is. I'm also told Logan Beaulieu is more than an hour behind me.

Not that I really care.  But even the slightest motivator helps.

loop 15 (1:10 to 4:57 am)

Another volunteer, whose name I don't even remember helps me some, but I don't spend as much time, since I'm eager to get going and though tired, no confused. I switch the fleece vest for a long-sleeved vest since I remember from last night how cold it kept getting until 6 am and I'm not exactly flying. This get-up would feel rather constrictive and tight.

Motion Based record of my last loop (click player to see me move)

Some nostalgia as I said goodbye to all the muddy puddles, rocks, and tricky stream crossings.

Shortly after leaving Heaven's Gate for the last time, my headlamp gives 3 blinks. Crap! I'd noticed the light was yellow earlier, and forgot to switch out the batteries. Do I trot back a quarter mile to the aid station to change them?

Instead I test my dexterity:

ARE YOU COORDINATED? -- dexterity test to try your own.

Materials needed:
1. Petzl Myo RXP headlamp or similar
2. three AA batteries stashed in pocketed running shorts
3. tech fabric gloves, moistened and muddy

Directions:
Stay up for 46 hours, running the last 40 of them. Slip hundreds of time on mud, fall about 10 times. On a cold night dipping to the lower 30's (you do get to pick a night with a full moon), go out to a muddy field, and without dropping any of the batteries (which you won't be able to see even in the light of the moon) or your gloves, replace all 3 batteries in your headlamp and to be environmentally correct, stash the old batteries in your pockets. If you are as skinny as Tanaka, you may find yourself shivering at the end of this. Now don't you feel coordinated? Now get your ass moving and run for another hour plus.

As I do my final slopping through the thick mud into the frisbee golf course, I note a surprising lack of emotion. I had thought that my eyes might get a little moist as I approach the finish, which sometimes happens near the end of my 100-milers. No euphoria. I trot towards the finish, my timing token sets off the beeping one last time.

okay, now what?

Some volunteers congratulate me, but I feel drained, almost empty. I note this with an almost detached, 3rd person objectivity. Of course I'm glad to be done, but I'm not thinking "I just ran 150 miles, whoa!"  I'm not feeling it.

Prior to the race, I had watched a video of David Goggins finishing Badwater in 2007.  Shortly after crossing the line, he's asked how he feels.  He says "Nothing left."  He wanted to leave everything he had out on that course, and he did that.  I now understand this better.  Nothing left.

A volunteer hands me the finisher's buckle, still, it doesn't sink in, I'm not elated. I do think of getting a photo, so we walk over to the chute. (Later, I learn you can finish the 50 miler and get almost the same buckle, but with a "1" in front of the "50"-- go figure.)


Ryan Dexter finished more than 6 hours earlier. I feel a little guilty for not having put at least a little pressure on him, but given my specific ankle problems I'm just glad to have finished, and happy with 2nd.

Despite conditions being better than last year or the year before (apparently it rained longer), David Goggin's course record from last year still stands. Now that I know what this course involves, I would comment that his run, along with Karl Meltzer's 100 mile course record, were two underrecognized performances of 2008.

My drop boxes and bags are in complete disarray. My immediate goal is to get out of my wet and muddy shoes and socks. If I had thought I might walk to the car, retrieve, carry back, set up and sleep in my tent, I was deluded.


There are several people (mostly 100-mile runners who had dropped) under the teepee, which is the only warm place. I talk some, but don't feel terribly chatty, and go back and forth my bags.



I keep inquiring about John (Taylor?), the volunteer who helped me a lot at mile 130, but he still asleep.

The RD, Andy Weinberg, finally comes back as the sky starts to lighten, and so I get my extra award for being the first middle-aged guy finisher, and the photo with him.


Since the winner is way under 40, I get this nifty plaque in addition to the belt buckle. Plus I get to say that I'm the new masters course record holder to anyone who will listen. In fact, since this apparently is the only 150 mile trail run anywhere on the planet, I get to say I am the world masters trail 150 mile run record holder, and will soon quit my job when the endorsement offers start coming in.  Any day now...  (Actually, don't you think it's sort of ironic that despite being a multiple of 50, the 150 mile distance gets ignored as much as, say a 43 mile race would.)

I still think the RD is sick and twisted for holding the only 150 mile run in the country, on no easy course. And I was stupid enough to think I wanted to do it. It would take at least a few hours to process what I just did and realize that this was an especially cool, significant and memorable life experience. Thanks, Andy! And even more-- thanks all the volunteers-- you were great! And thanks Alexis for letting me drive your car!



In theory I would love to hang out and watch people finish, but this could be hours and I'm freezing my ass off. Also, I feel like I need to get back to my in-laws for some sort of Easter related family event. Since I've checked out of all the weekend family excitement, I feel I should take advantage of my ability to finish slogging through 150 miles of mud in 41 hours instead of having to use the full 52 by getting my butt back to Chicagoland.


Oof, who put the egg up here and when did you start to weigh so much? Easter egg hunt at my sister-in-law's later on Sunday, which I would NOT have made had I still been running! photo by my wife, who should be the one lifting our son up-- no mercy!


my swollen feet Sunday night (trust me on this-- normally they are really skinny)


My footwear, 3 days post-race, right before getting the hose-down (wanted to do this earlier, but Monday it rained and Tuesday was cloudy. Fortunately it got nice Wednesday, so they dried out before I had to pack. Interestingly, my lips remained super-chapped for 3 days also.

final results (only lists finishers however; 12 finisher out of 47 starters, just over 25% finishing rate)
my official chip-recorded splits (the mat recording the splits was at the entrance to the start/finish aid station)
alphabetical list of runners showing up at the start

Other blogged reports:

150-mile
Ryan Dexter (winner and I guess lead punisher)
Ed Kirk (got to 100)
Sherpa John LaCroix (got to 100)

100-mile
Travis Liles (4th place)
Julie Berg (got to 70)

50-mile
Paige Troelstrup (her 1st 50-miler)

Photos:
Ian Stevens (volunteer)

1st published, Thursday, June 25, 2009 at 12:13 a.m. Eastern Daylight Savings Time.  Sorry it took so long-- had actually written most of it a weeks ago, but, hey, things take sometimes take time!

9 comments:

Chihping said...

Wonderful report. I'm impressed with your superman will to finish the run and the report. I felt like staying along with you for the 150 miles.

Looping course does not appeal to me too much, but this 15x10miles seems to have arouse my desire after reading your report.

Chihping

Peter Lubbers said...

Wow, a 150-page report! (and that's just part 1?) Way to gut it out overthere, Mark. I had no doubt that you would do well there.

Paige said...

What a great report, Mark! Obviously, an incredible accomplishment. You've gotta be tough as nails to even THINK about running that loop 15 times. I thought I was batty for running it 5 times! What an experience, that's all I've got to say! Congratulations, and I hope your recovery was fast and that you're doing great!

brian said...

WAY TO GO!! What a tough runner, physically and mentally! To go round-and-round-and-round 15 times at 10 miles a pop is an amazing feat.

It was truly great meeting you in person out there. Our paths will cross again, no doubt about it.

Bong said...

Your race report is more than a narration of events that happened during your 150 mile run, it is an epic story of courage, survival and triumph over insurmountable odds. I am surprised even that 12 of you were able to finish. I bow to all starters, more so to you and the 11 other finishers. Can't wait to read the next of your great posts.

anil said...

Congrats mark, thats just mind boggling.

Baldwyn said...

What a race, run, and read! The sense of not feeling elated/emotional at the finish was very familiar. Man, did that course ever look messy, and unpleasant. Congrats on holding the world record!

Travis Liles said...

Good to see this one come out. I really enjoyed meeting you out there and talking for a bit on your last loop. From the 150 milers I encountered I think you won the "Most Coherency" award. Add that to your World Record resume too! Best of luck and hopefully we will cross paths again.

RyanDexter said...

Mark - Great report and great memory to be able to pull this together 3 months later!

All the Best -

Ryan Dexter