Friday, January 14, 2011

Cut-Off Confusion at the Cascade Crest 100 Mile (Pacific Northwest race #2)

Depending on how you count (here not counting timed races or that 150 mile ordeal), tomorrow's H.U.R.T. 100 will be my 18th 100-mile run.  If I finish (see previous short post-- I would normally assume I could), it will be only my third time finishing the distance over 24 hours.  Here was my second time missing the one-day cutoff.

Cascade Crest 100 mile, last weekend of August, 2009


This was my first race to which I flew myself for no other reason than to run the race. Felt a little guilty and ungreen. But I got over it. I got a view of Seattle and the Cascades to the east, where I would be running.


I drove my rental out to Easton and checked into the Silver Ridge Ranch, probably the closest lodging to the race start.

The guy who checked me in is the husband of the woman I had made the reservation with months ago. He had gone blind a few years ago, after a really fulminant, severe Staph infection, he explained to me when I asked. Orbital cellulitis, I figured, a relatively rare problem that I must rule out with every patient who comes to the emergency department complaining of pink eye or atraumatic eye pain (99.9% of the time it's not, but I can't miss it once.)

My room was called the Duke room. If I had never heard before that John Wayne was called the Duke, well it became obvious.

I finished the dinner I took out from Trader Joe's on the way. I started having the runs. Or rather, I continued having the runs, but they got pretty frequent. I sat on the toilet about seven times by the next morning. I had been having messed up bowel movements for the past few weeks, since getting sick at mile 76 of Headlands 100 three weeks earlier. It then occurred to me that maybe I picked up Giardia during the swim portion of Vineman the week before Headlands.

I hid this fact from Bay Area runner Sean Lang, here with his family. He had barely missed finishing under 24 hours the year before (in 2008). At Headlands he ran the 50 mile race with a heart rate monitor, while I got to the 50-mile mark before he did. He obviously was taking Cascade Crest more seriously, and I knew his times this year at many races was faster, so I felt he would do really well (and he did, finishing 5th overall).

Perhaps I had cleared everything out of my system, because my bowels didn't bother me during the entire race.

The 10 a.m. start works well for people who live in Seattle.  They can get up at a normal hour and drive out  to the race relaxedly. For people like me already staying nearby, it was just a painfully late start. But at least there was time to hang out, eat breakfast (freshly made pancakes), and even attend to my personal hygiene, which is so often neglected at these long events. Really wanted to start my race with clean teeth. Oral-B / Braun should sponsor me.


Map of the course, a big clockwise loop:

First half:

Race started up. Lots of guys darted ahead. I could tell quickly that I was still recovering from Headlands, because even holding back, I felt that lingering fatigue that normal mortals still feel three weeks after a 100-miler.

I met Trey Barnes, who had entered the race with a bunch of his ultrarunning buddies from North Carolina, although he had just moved to the South Bay (of San Francisco). Goat Rock (mile 3.7) came sooner than we expected; passing it was marked by Glenn Tachiyama shooting a picture of every runner. Here's me, with Trey right behind.

On the descent to the 2nd aid station, Cole Butte (mile 10.8), I managed to trip forward, scraping both my knees and muddying my hands and bottle, but fortunately no serious injury.  Hours later I would put duct tape over the right knee after repeatedly irritating it passing through stretches of tall grass.

At mile 16, the course was supposed to go onto the Pacific Crest Trail. I had stashed a copy of the course directions from the runner's manual available online for each section in all my drop bags. The directions said that we would get on the trail in one mile after the Blowout Mountain (mile 15) aid station.

So naturally, running alone, I was really nervous when after more than 1.5 miles, I still hadn't gotten to the described junction. It turned out that point is almost two miles after the aid station. This would not be the last time the directions confused or misled me.

During miles 20's and 30's, a pattern emerged. Runner caught up up with me, we talked for a variable amount of time, then the runner left me behind.

As an example, I chatted a few miles with James Varner, of Rainshadow Running, which holds several ultras in the Washington state.  He demonstrated to me that the ubiquitous plant on the trail that I initially thought might be poison oak (I saw very little of it during the race, in contrast the races in California)-- mulberries.  I wasn't as adept as he in picking the berries without breaking my stride.

James pre-race. He had to drop at 80 miles, but showed a great positive attitude post-race.

Another Glenn Tachiyama photo, me coming into Stampede Pass (mile 33)

At Stampede Pass there were lots of people, with a big cheer for each runner as s/he came in-- it felt like a big party. I stupidly had left needed batteries into my drop bag there, and didn't want to carry them almost 30 miles until I would need them later. Luckily, as I left the aid station I found Catra Corbett and Jessica Devine, crewing for Andy Kumeda, and they told me they could stash the batteries into my drop bag at Hyak (mile 53). Thanks!

Another runner to catch up with me, talk a while and then leave me behind, was 100-mile rookie Samantha Sigle from Boulder. She would maintain her lead in the women's race to win in 23:18, 18th overall).

photo maybe after she won Steamboat 50.
I talked to her briefly post-race, but was too disorganized and whacked out to take my own.

Unfortunately, the section from Olallie Meadows (mile 47) to Hyak (mile 53) involving ropes and the the long Snoqualmie Tunnel had to be rerouted this year.  No more tunnel-- I just missed it, my only view would be on my finisher's buckle.

RD Charlie Crissman replaced it with a climb to the top of a ski lift, followed by a harrowing, technical descent, a black diamond run ("most difficult" for those that don't ski or snowboard), largely along the lines of another lift. On the ascent I was talking with a guy who knew the founding race director well, but this was his first time doing the race himself. We must have been enough into our conversation, that we forgot to read some question left near the ski lift to verify we had done the route that we were supposed to report to a volunteer at the next aid station.

On the descent, several guys whizzed past me--I couldn't attack these very fast partly because I still felt beat up from Headlands, and partly because I'm not that good at steep descents. On the descent I turned on my headlamp for the first time.
Hitting the roads at the bottom, cheers from people living in some of the vacation houses, and several rounds of big and loud fireworks-- way cool!

Third quarter:

Ready to head out, I asked someone to show me which way to go-- and it turned out to be Charlie Crissman, the race director, who walks me out of the tents and points the direction. However, I was mildly out of it and didn't really hear or register what he said. Had I listened better, or simply read the printed directions I was carrying, I would have known that it was a straight shot with no turns, first flat and then up a long hill to the next aid station Keechelus Ridge (mile 60.5). But I didn't, so when I saw a ribboned gate at the entrance of a fireroad to the left, I took it. After going up almost a quarter mile, I came to a house. There were ribbons tied to a gate, so even though it looks like someone's house, I figured I must be on course. After fumbling around someone's property, I finally pulled out the directions and figured out that I screwed up.  Fortunately no one home with a shotgun.

After climbing, it was all downhill to Kachess Lake (mile 68). Then the 5.5 mile stretch nicknamed the "Trail From Hell" that goes along the lake.   On the elevation profile for the course, it appears like a welcome break (the flat part on the right).

After literally bushwhacking through a non-trail stretch of dense forest, I soon encountered a trail completely washed out in places, littered with roots and fallen logs, and quickly learned I had to be very careful if I wanted to prevent injury and finish the race. This didn't stop one guy, apparently familiar with the "trail", and quite coordinated and fearless, who flew by, commenting "God, I LOVE this trail!"

At a more runnable part, I got nervous due to lack of ribbons, and so turned around and went back a quarter to half a mile, until I saw a light approaching. It was Shawn McTaggart, from Renton, whom I had briefly talked to in my last lap or two of McNaughton 150 mile in April. We ended up running a while together for a while until she dropped off, and I had to slog through the trail alone. Luckily two guys came from behind, but weren't going so fast I couldn't keep up. Roch Horton and his pacer armed with this humongous, bright light. I do believe pacing often IS light-muling, but had no qualms about using their lights (ahead of me) to pick up the pace and probably save 10-15 minutes. In the end, it took me 2 hours and 20 minutes to move less than six miles!

It was great finally to get to Mineral Creek aid station (mile 73.9), where this guy, among others, helped me regain my bearings.

Ben Blessing, RD of the Wild Idaho ultras

Last quarter:

At No Name Ridge (mile 81.5), I laid down for several minutes. Just had to sleep. Though not a drop-bag station (the last was Mineral Creek), they said they would deliver anything I left by 1pm, so I left my pack, which was killing my shoulders and neck by making by trapezius muscles increasingly tight. Unfortunately, I decided to keep my jacket tied around my waist, scared it would get cold at the higher elevations, but which I never used. I also brought my headlamp, which I kept on maybe 10 minutes.  I ran a little with Trey Barnes, whom I hadn't seen in almost 65 miles. He had caught up with me while I laid down at No Name.

Trey soaking post-race

The penultimate decade (miles 80-90) included the Needles, these steep hills.  I think there were supposedly four of them, but I lost count. A deemphasis on switchbacks-- it felt like I was running straight up and down them. This late in a race, they were brutal. At some places, slipping could result in sliding down the side of a mountain.

This awesome couple hiked in (hiked up) to man the Thorpe Mountain aid station (mile 84). They told me I then had to go up and down a summit, remembering to grab some sort of ticket to give them as proof I went all the way up.

At first I wasn't too excited about this, but the views of Mount Rainier and other peaks, popping out of the clouds, like island in a white sea, as the sun came up, were stunning.

And Glenn Tachiyama was there, shooting amazing photos of all of us (including the two above and below). Well worth all the running we'd done.

Perhaps one of the only places on the course (a big non-repeating loop) where you could see runners going in opposite directions.

There were probably two more Needles to climb before the next aid station, French Cabin (mile 89) before a long, sustained 6.5 mile descent the last aid station. During this time, I was looking at my watch and noticed that I could finish under 24 hours, but should probably push the pace. It's always hard to tell how hard you need to push to make some time goal on these trail races you've never run before. I started hammering it and felt pretty good, coming into the last aid station with an hour to run less than five flat miles, which I enthusiastically told the volunteers there. Only after I leave did I switch my watch from the stopwatch mode to time of day, and noticed that it was past 9:35 a.m. giving me 25 minutes to run 5 miles.  Oops (those volunteers must have thought I was crazy).  Apparently I accidentally stopped my stopwatch for at least half an hour.

Having lost any hope of finishing under an hour, and figuring I was in 20-somethingth place, it then became difficult to try to sustain any sort of extra painful pace. It was even getting warm. I figured it was better to save what was left of my legs so I could get up and down the stairs when I returned home-- my kids' preschool was closed the week leading to Labor Day, and my parents were in town, so this was a real concern. A legitimate excuse to be a little lazy, relatively speaking.

I finished in 24th overall, 24:28:08.

Garmin Forerunner map of the last 20 miles of the race (minus the last mile or two after the batteries ran out)


My flight didn't leave until that evening, so plenty of time to socialize and eat. I even drove back to the river to soak a bit, got a massage, and tried to nap on a cot.

An Unexpected Race After the Race

Fellow Bay Area runner Chihping Fu finished shortly after 3pm and I start talking to him and Hao Liu. Soon, I figured I should go-- "guys I've gotta leave soon, and make it back to the airport." Hao tells me  "I hope you can make it back on time with the large traffic backup."

What?  Traffic backup?!  Bye, guys!  I bolted. As fast as possible. As it turned out there was a huge accident pile-up on I-90 about 8 miles to the west, so the highway was barely moving. It took me about an hour to get past the accident, which was being cleared by then, during which I told my very unhappy wife that I might not make my flight and be back home that night, and could you get the exact policy on Virgin Airlines for missed flight? Aided by my portable Garmin NĂ¼vi, which showed my estimated time of arrival at the Enterprise Rental Car, I drove an unspecified velocity faster than I legally should and would have, until I knew that not only could I make my flight, but avoid the car return late fee, and even, get this, fill up the gas tank to save even a few more hard-earned bucks.  So though I missed the 24 hour cutoff, I made all the rest, which was more important to maintain domestic tranquility.

Thanks, Hao, you saved me (barely)!

Next time I bug out earlier...

An epic race, that I'll have to retry with fresher legs.  I missed 2010, since Angeles Crest was held the same last weekend of August.  This is a maybe for 2011 depending on the results of at least one lottery.

Thanks to the RD and all the volunteers for helping to put on such an amazing experience!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

My First DNS? Or Second DNF? Ouch, That Would HURT!

Whatever has hit my kids over the past week seems to have spread to me. My wife had to return from work last Thursday and my plans to run all day Friday as my last long training run for H.U.R.T. 100 were cancelled by my son being too sick to go to preschool two days straight.  (I made the most of my forced running abstinence by finishing overdue blog reports all day.)  My younger son has had a "tummy ache" off and on for days, puking all over the seat at a lower-end sushi buffet 2 days ago, though he was able to keep two ice cream cones down right after while mortified mommy waited at the front with his brother.

Anyone who knows me know I eat a lot, constantly grazing, but today, I haven't had anything and the thought of food makes me want to throw up, on top of my constant nausea.  Last night I slept poorly due to uncontrollable acid reflux, along with shaking chills that started while finishing a call center shift that ended at midnight last night-- utter hell.  No energy.  I can't imagine even running 3 miles right now, much less 100 of brutally technical terrain in tropical heat for which I am completely unacclimatized.

I DID make it through my shift today however.  I would have called in sick, but that would mean an extra weekend shift in March, part of a new sick policy among our group that usually works in my favor (since historically, I get called in to cover much more often than I call in sick myself).

Can I recover in the next 40 hours enough to toe the line?  Or if I start, will I be recovered enough from this illness and resulting involuntary fasting (depleting my glycogen and already meager fat stores) to finish?

How I'm putting my chances right now:

chance of starting:  50%
chance of finishing if I make it to the start:  50%
chance of finishing under 30 hours if I finish:  50% (my original goal time was around 25 hours)

live webcast -- if I'm in it, I'm number 135 (but you can just type in "Tanaka")

I remain hopeful, but won't delude myself.  Writing this short blurb has wiped me out, and still gotta finish packing....

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

STORMY 100 Mile (Pacific Northwest race #1)

photo by Lucinda Iglesias

I had wanted to run Cascade Crest 100 Mile at the end of August of 2008, but figured I needed to get my parents to come out to help my wife with the kids while I was running.  The earlier days for STORMY (Squamish Test of Running Mettle, Yeah!) 100, August 9-10, worked better for them.  To sweeten the deal I told them I was willing to pay for all the lodging. 

I ran into Baldwyn Lee from BC before Miwok 100k in May.  He told me he was running STORMY, and so I asked him about the course, particularly if I needed trail shoes.  Back then I was less experienced interpreting total elevation changes, and thought that 10-12 thousand feet over 100 miles might allow road shoes.

Baldwyn, stolen from his blog.

"Road shoes, definitely," he told me.
I was surprised at his certainty.  "Really?"
"Totally.  Road shoes.  It's completely UNtechnical."
"Oh, okay, thanks."

The next month (June) I ran into Gary Robbins (who I met early on the course at Miwok) at Kettle Moraine 100 mile.  He was there to pace a friend.  I decided to get a second opinion about the shoes.

"Trail shoes," he told me, as firmly as Baldwyn gave his opposite answer a month earlier.
"Really?  Baldwyn Lee told me road shoes."
"Well, no offense to Baldwyn, who's a nice guy, but look where he finishes.  I guess if you run that slowly, you can run anything in road shoes."
"Good point.  Thanks!"

In any case, I got the one available comped entry via La Sportiva that year, so figured I should wear my Lynx. (This shoe has since been at last in the U.S. discontinued.  It was a great shoe, but I do like the newer Wildcat and Raptor better.)

The night before the race, we went to friends of my parents they knew through the city's symphony orchestra, who now lived in Vancouver.  The wife went all out with the hospitality, preparing this multi-course feast, while I was scared my kids would trash their really nicely decorated, un-childproofed house.

a small part of the spread

We got home late, so at the time I was relieved that the race wouldn't start until noon the next day.

Although I slept okay, I had a long-running sleep deficit from the previous couple of weeks, and wanted to sleep longer.  There were traffic delays on the road to Squamish due to improvements being made for the 2010 Winter Olympics, but we had plenty of time.

Race Director Wendy Montgomery gave the pre-race talk.

Out of gazillion of photos my then 3-year-old older son snapped while on his rampage, this was the probably the best.

These were more typical:

(Now almost twice the age we was back then, he's become much better at framing shots now.)

The race was a diverse mix of terrain, from a few stretches of pavement, such as at the start... single-track, some of it quite technical, though that pictured here was quite tame.

But it was all quite pretty.

link to course map if you want to see it bigger
(The course had apparently been modified a couple times since the 2008 race, but not by much.)

A good number of runners pushed the pace at the start, but Gary Robbins was playing it conservatively, being his first 100 miler.  He caught up to me around the Alice Lake and we ran together a few miles mostly paved.

Suddenly, the course veered into dense forest, and the twisty trail descended.  As I struggled with the roots and rocks, forced to walk clumsily down the slope, Gary bounded gracefully and aggressively ahead-- I was amazed.  I would end up not seeing him again, and he would win in 17:39:03, setting a course record that has survived the next two years.

Almost a year ago (as I am about to publish this), Gary won and set the new record of 20:12:00 for the super-technical HURT 100 mile race in Hawaii (which I am about to run in a few days.  Unfortunately, an injury has precluded Gary's racing this year.)  I feel privileged to have been one of the first to witness his superb cerebellar skills.

This and next several race and immediate post-race photos by super-volunteer Lucinda Iglesias

A short loop past Quest University, had us run up a fire road but down a single track (rather than the other way around, which would have been much easier and quicker).  I almost tripped several times on the technical descent.   In the late afternoon, though I had been only running a few hours, I could feel the heat wearing me down.  But I was able to make it back to the start/finish/50 mile mark shortly after it got dark.

Heading out on the second loop through the town of Squamish, I was tempted to run into and plunk myself down in a movie theater and call it a day.  Good thing I had no money on me!

The lack of sleep along with the double-edge sword of the noon start  really wore me down.   During the night, I was sleepy and exhausted-- the week leading up to the race I had a tough work schedule and had slept poorly.  Doing the same loop again without sunlight was psychologically tough.  I vaguely remember whining too much about lousy I was feeling.  The volunteers were nonetheless always, cheerful, helpful and great.  (You have no idea how guilty I have felt getting this report out to write that last sentence until now, 2 1/2 years later!)

The sun came up before the southern turnaround.  Nonetheless, the technical section during the end of the loop, killed my toes.  It was technically challenging enough the first lap, but the second time around, with the dark, drizzling rain and my fatigue, I stubbed them dozens of times and tripped a few.  During this time, I knew the #4 runner was in hot pursuit.  His girlfriend was nice enough to carry my drop bags back to the finish so I wouldn't have to wait for them.

Sukhi Muker finishing 4th overall with his pacer.

An emotional moment with his girlfriend and crew.

I finished 3rd overall in 21:12:22, much slower than I'd anticipated.  It's not just elevation gain that counts.

No age-group award for me, since Darren Froese finished 40 minutes ahea, din 20:33:32.

In addition to the standard tech tee-shirt and finisher's buckle, we all got a cool ski cap as hip as useful swag.  I have managed not to lose this cap yet, and love it.

My wife really loved Vancouver, and wants to check out Whistler so I hope to return to again run this race in the scenic and pretty town of Squamish caught between those two places.  This year's race will start at 10 a.m. (rather than the evil start time of noon) on Sunday, August 6, 2011, with the 50-mile race starting Sunday at 6 a.m.

2008 100 mile race results (18 finishers out of 30 starters)
lots (931) of great photos by amazing volunteer Lucinda Iglesias
official race website

Other blogged reports from 2008:

Gary Robbins (1st place and new and still current course record)


Two days later my family, parents, and I climbed up Grouse Mountain, which due to my tired legs and load (my son did hike up some of it), kicked my butt.

If you are a runner, the climb up Grouse Mountain is great.  You can pay them money and have an official time recorded.  Because of all the foot traffic, you are not supposed to run down, but pay for the tram ride down.  Apparently a few people ignore this daily. (I confess that if I lived in the Vancouver, I could see myself doing this especially on a weekday.)

For those with kids, the free shows at the top of the mountain are fun for the whole family.

The next week we drove back to Seattle and saw friends.  Mostly I took it easy, eating, doing only one easy hike, and hanging out of the beach to practice my juggling....

(okay, just a joke, that wasn't me-- too uncoordinated!)

Tiger Mountain.  Thanks again guys for letting us stay with you!

But when we went up north to our friend's dad's house on a lake, I was able to do some water skiing and wakeboarding.  No easy feat a few days after a 100-miler-- the seconds before my legs could take it no longer and I would finally wipe out were utter agony!