Monday, November 29, 2010

Right shoulder surgery...

Pre-op action

On Wednesday, November 17th, Allison and I made the hour-long drive up to Taos so I could have my right torn rotator cuff repaired by Dr. Guttmann of Taos Ortho. It's now 12 days later and I wanted to write about my experience so I don't forget details about my recovery. And perhaps this information will help others going through a similar procedure get a better idea of what to expect.

The surgery itself took about three hours and went smoothly. Guttmann cleaned up a bone spur on my humerus, cleaned up some roughage on my labrum (apparently I may have dislocated my shoulder at some point but I don't ever recall doing so), repaired the tear in my subscapularis and ended up doing a biceps tenodesis (cut the normal attachment of the biceps tendon on the shoulder socket and reattached the tendon to the bone of the humerus taking the pressure off the labrum and ultimately making the shoulder stronger.) Guttmann found that I am missing a tendon in my shoulder that most everyone has. This helps explain why both my shoulders are injured (I have a SLAP tear, incurred in spring 2009, in my left shoulder that I haven't had repaired, yet...)

As you might expect, this operation was pretty painful. Allison drove me home that afternoon as I was in a stupor with a completely numb right shoulder and arm--I had received a nerve-block shot prior to surgery which lasted until 1:30am the next day. For the first 3 nights post-op I took the prescribed amount of percocet throughout the day and night along with an Ambien sleep aid at night. But these drugs, especially the percocet, made me feel odd as well as made me urinate A LOT. So I stopped taking them as soon as possible. By Saturday, I was done with them.

The first few nights of sleeping were not very good. I had to sleep in the shoulder sling they sent me home in. That involved sleeping propped up a bit and meant I had to stay on my back all night. I'm more of a back-sleeper anyway, so that part didn't bother me but not being able to roll to my side was tough. I wore the shoulder sling all night, every night, for a week after the surgery. After that, I started sleeping with it off but with a bank of pillows to my right so I wouldn't be tempted to roll over on to it. So far, that has been working great.

It was suggested I wear the sling as much as possible during waking hours for six weeks. But after six days, I felt confident in my arm's range of motion, the very little strength that had returned and my ability to protect it well and I pretty much stopped wearing the sling. I still wore a bit here and there for a couple more days but I've found I'm pretty cognizant of my arm's ability and whereabouts and I can keep it relaxed and reasonably safe sans sling.

The day after surgery I began doing the self-PT that was prescribed by Guttmann. That meant taking the arm out of the sling, straightening my arm while it was supported by my other arm, lifting the arm to 90 degrees (perpendicular to my chest) and holding it there for 20 seconds. I was quite surprised at how soon after the surgery I regained that range of motion. The arm was completely weak and couldn't support itself but with the assistance of my other arm I could hold my arm at 90 degrees for 40+ seconds at time. Roughly a week out of surgery I was able to lift it to ~120 degrees and now, at 12 days post-op, I'm able to lift it to ~150 degrees and hold for a minute. It's a bit uncomfortable, especially during the first lift of a set, but I don't feel like I'm straining it much. I've also been doing no-weight, but unassisted, bicep curls with no pain. My bicep muscle feels like it's been punched really hard by some big, tough guy, but doesn't have shooting pain. In a couple days I got to my first real physical therapy session so I hope to get a feel for where I'm at in my bigger scheme of things.

Other random indicators of return of range of movement. I was able to type with both hands about three days after the surgery. 10 days post-op I was able to wipe my ass and brush my teeth using my right arm. That's a good thing because neither orifice was getting as clean as it should have been getting. 11 days post-op I could hoist my arm up the steering wheel of my car and drive for a while with my arm outstretched. I still haven't operated the column shifter of my automatic Honda CR-V with my right arm yet, but feel I'm close.

And now, some photos...

Passive arm-lifts 12 days post-op

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

2010 Cascade Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run Report

Cascade Crest 100 Mile Race 2010
Snoqualmie Pass, WA
45th overall (~125 starters)
~22,000 feet elevation gain/~22,000 feet elevation descent

The top seven reasons you need to run the CC100:
#7. The loop course. I strongly dislike courses that run multiple loops on the same short loop. Out-and-backs are also not desirable because you're seeing the same terrain twice. Point-to-points are OK but require some additional logistics. A course like the CC100 that is one big loop is great. You finish where you started and see 100 miles of new terrain.
#6. The relatively low elevation. OK, maybe it's not relatively low for many runners but for me, living at 7,500', knowing the course highpoint is ~5,800' is really nice. My lungs never hurt and I never found myself gasping for oxygen.
#5. The 10:00am start time. The 10am start time makes awesome sense. Why make runners wake up by an alarm at 3:30am to cram down breakfast at an unusual hour when they're going to be up all night anyway? The extra sleep, and less worrying about the alarm going off, makes for better rested runner and a more energetic night of running on race day.
#4. The PCT. 30 miles of beautiful, soft singletrack running along the Pacific Crest Trail early in the race is amazing. Just don't hammer too hard here if you haven't been training really hard. It's tempting!
#3. The crew-friendly aid stations. If you have crew, they'll love the ease of accessing the crew-accessible aid stations. It's recommended that crews do not go to aid stations after Lake Kachess so they'll even manage to get in some decent sleep before you finish.
#2. The huckleberries. Huckleberries abound in many places along the course. Yum! Just don't spend too much time stopping to pick them up.
#1. The super fantastic race staff. The RD, Charlie Crissman, is a genuinely nice guy with a solid ultrarunning background. He knows how to run this race and will even present finishers with an ice cold beer at the end. The volunteers at all of the aid stations are extremely helpful, friendly and experienced. There was bacon at at least once aid station! The race has maintained the feel of an old-school, genuine ultra despite the growth of ultrarunning.

Photo: Descending Thorpe Mountain at mile 84. Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.

I considered it a destiny of sorts when I accidentally got signed up for the Cascade Crest 100 2010. How does one accidentally get signed up for a tough 100 mile trail race? My good friend and frequent outdoor partner Bill really wanted to run the CC100 race again after having to drop out at mile 88 in 2008 due to a knee issue. But Bill was out of the country in February when the mail-in registration opened and needed someone to mail in his registration and I was happy to do that for him. I filled out an application with his name and then wrote a check with his name on the memo line. A week later when the list of entrants was posted on the CC100 website, both our names were on the entrants list. This posed a bit of dilemma for me. I was tentatively in a race that looked very appealing to me but one that I considered very difficult. I hadn't finished a 100 miler in three years. I wasn't sure if I could run another 100 miler. But then again, Bill had nothing but high praise for this race and he would already be going so I'd have some company for at least part of it. My sister lives in the Seattle area so I'd likely get a chance to see her and her family. After deliberating for over a month about what to do, I finally decided it was destiny for me to run this race. I emailed the race director, explained the situation and offered to send a check for my registration if he'd take me. He did and it was set.
So why did I deliberate for so long and consider this a destiny of sorts? Well...

Exactly a year ago, after a serious rappeling accident, I was limping around with a severely sprained left ankle and torn medial meniscus in my left knee and I was in so much pain I couldn't imagine ever running a trail race, especially a 100 mile trail race, again. I honestly thought my days of trail ultrarunning were over. But thanks to some great physical therapy from my PT Carl Dickson, a well-done menisectomy by Dr. Lubowitz and the amazing healing powers of the human body and mind, I was able to run a trail 50k, the Palo Duro Canyon race, two months after my accident. With my success at Palo Duro I knew I could still run trails of moderate distance and was encouraged by that thought. But I wondered just how far my healed knee and ankle could go. Then in the first half of 2010 I was able to run the Orcas Island 50k, the Jemez Mountain Trail Races 50k and the San Juan Solstice 50 miler. I was very pleased. But could I run 100 miles again as I had in Leadville in 2005 and 2007 and Hardrock in 2006 and 2007? I wanted to find out.

Bill and I stayed at the Aster Inn in Cle Elum and met up with my friend and soon-to-be pacer, Jon, on Friday night for dinner in Cle Elum. After a restful and full night of sleep that night, we leisurely readied ourselves for the race and headed to the start line at the firehouse in Easton, WA. The race staff supplied a decent breakfast of pancakes, fruit, sausage and coffee. We ate there and got checked-in. My brother Dylan had flown up to Seattle a couple days earlier to visit my sister, Leigh Ann, and her family and then crew Bill and I for the race. We went over any last minute and details and got ready to run. The weather was great with a forecast for a clear sky and cool overnight temperatures to match the unseasonably cool daytime temperatures. Perfect for running.

At 9:55 am, the Canadian anthem was played while a girl held up a Canadian flag affixed to a hockey stick. After the Canadian anthem, a runner played the American national anthem on a brass instrument (I don't know instruments). We all lined up and headed out at 10:00am. The run starts out on a dirt road heading south out of Easton before heading up the long and steep climb up Goat Peak. It's notorious for being hot here but with the cool temperature this year it wasn't bad at all. And apparently the trail is frequented by motorcyclists but we only came across one during the entire climb. Near the top of the climb we were treated to an awesome view of the Cascades and, eventually, the lower glaciers of Mount Rainier (the upper portion was obscured by clouds). I was really enjoying running an ultra with Bill again and having his company for a while. I wasn't expecting it to last too long on account of my poor training, though.

Bill and I ran together and eventually settled into a nice pace with some other runners after the descent from Cole Butte aid station. Because the terrain was very runnable, Bill and I were both consciously holding back on our pace so we'd have the necessary “go juice” later in the race. We got on the PCT and really enjoyed the running on this section of the course. Soft dirt and smooth tral in some very dense tree sections with a gently downhill grade made for effortless and enjoyable cruising on into the Tacoma Pass aid station at mile 23 where we first got to see Dylan, there to crew us. Both of us were feeling good here. However, due to a severely bruised heel about a month ago, my left heel was starting to feel a bit touchy. I took the opportunity to change shoes here into some new Saucony Trail Guide 2 shoes—my favorites. I figured the newer shoes would have better cushion and I noticed the extra cushion immediately.

Bill left the aid station a couple minutes ahead of me on account of my shoes change. After leaving Tacoma Pass I was alone for a while and really fell into a zen-like state for a bit as I enjoyed smooth, in-the-trees running with a breeze in the distance filling the air with a relaxing rustling noise. I was really thankful and glad to be right there, right then. I passed a few runners on the short climbs and eventually caught up to Bill to enjoy his company again. However, once we reached more sustained downhill running, Bill cruised on ahead as I took it easy on my left heel and descended slower. I would be behind Bill by a few minutes until around the Meadown Mountain aid station at mile 40.

Bill and I reached the Stampede Pass aid station at mile 33 with him in front of me by a few minutes. It was great to see Dylan and Jon here. I had originally planned on switching from my hand bottles to a hydration pack here but the evening was warm and I'd clearly make it to the Meadow Mt. aid station (mile 40) where I'd see Dylan and Jon again before dark so I switched to my Nathan waist belt instead. This allowed me to run with just one hand bottle while still carrying ~20oz of fluid on the belt along with a headlamp. Bill left the aid station here about five minutes ahead of me and that was the last I would see of him until the finish. He just simply rocked it the rest of the way.

The running to Meadow Mt was enjoyable and nice, again. At Meadow I made the short walk down the hill to the aid station to grab some boiled potatoes and ended up chatting a short bit with a PCT thru-hiker that just happened to be there that night. I grabbed my beanie and gloves here expecting cooler temperatures going into the Olallie Meadows aid station and I'm glad I did—it did get chilly by the time I reached Olallie. I got into Olallie about 20 minutes after sunset requiring the use of my headlamp for about 3/4s of a mile before the aid station. By now I had noticed the onset of some ass-cheek chaffing and hoped the folks at the Olallie aid station would have some vaseline on hand. After eating some super delicious pirogies at Olallie, I asked one of the volunteers if they happened to have some vaseline. She looked in the first aid kit and came up empty but asked one of the other volunteers, Scott, if he knew of any. He said, “lemme check in my truck, I think I have some under the seat”. He came back with a big container of vaseline stating, “only an ultrarunner would have some vaseline under the seat of the truck.” Excellent.

I left Olallie after about 10 minutes of enjoying the station. It was nearly completely dark by now but once I hit the service road that would take us to the top of the Hyak ski area, I was able to turn off my headlamp and enjoy the ambient light. Until the top of the climb up the ski area, I had been feeling great. My legs were strong, my stomach had been easy all day and my IT band was not bugging me at all. For fueling, I had been drinking a 50/50 mix of water and First Endurance EFS “gel”. It was working miracles—keeping me fueled while keeping my stomach smooth. But as I reached the top of the ski area climb and looked straight down the ski run we'd descend into Hyak, I knew my quads were done. And I was right. It was a slow and tough descent down the ski run and into the Hyak aid station at mile 53. I was a bit diappointed by this fact because the ski run itself looked very much like the ski run I run hill repeats on at Pajarito ski area at home for training. But with the darkness and the condition of my legs, it was a tedious descent.

I was psyched to get into the Hyak aid station around 10:30pm. Knowing this would be the start of a long night, I took my time at Hyak and ate a few cups of soup, downed some boiled potato chunks and drank a cup of coffee. I got my hydration pack here so I'd have a rain jacket and extra light along as well as be able to give my hands a break from carrying bottles. I left the aid station around 10:50pm bidding the staff a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year (they had a Christmas theme going on). The next 2.5 miles were on flat pavement paralleling the I-90 interstate and, for once, I actually looked forward to pavement running. My quads felt like they had very little left so it was nice just cruise pavement for a while. Eventually the road turned to dirt before the long ascent up to the Keechelus Ridge aid station. By now the bright, waning moon had come up so I switched off my headlamp and enjoyed the light of the moon for the ascent. I think I startled the Keechelus aid station folks when I stumbled in in the dark, unannounced around 12:45am. I ate some more soup, some potato chunks and a rice krispy treat before heading out.

The descent from Keechelaus down to Kachess Lake went OK. It was very runnable along a dirt road and I did my best to run as much as I could but was still getting passed by a good number of runners. The wheels were coming off the axles, so to speak, but I knew I'd soon have the company of my pacer, Jon, for the rest of the night.

I got into the Kachess Lake aid station at mile 68 around 2:30am, I think. It was dark and cold, I know that for sure. Apparently there was a chocolate fondue inside the Hawaii-themed aid station tent but I hardly noticed any of this and certainly didn't feel up to making the extra ten steps to the tent to see this fondue for myself. I sat in a chair next to a propane heater and ate as much soup as was handed to me. I stayed in this aid station for about 20 minutes, I'm guessing.

Jon and I left the aid station anxious to see the famed “trail from hell” that takes runners along Kachess Lake. The trail is aptly named for sure. The first part, just getting to near the lake, doesn't resemble a trail really. Lots of log hopping and one big tree that had “hug me” painted on it where hugging the tree was actually the best way to get over it. Beyond that, more log hopping, sketchy side-hilling above precarious slabs and a high log crossing over a side stream stick out the most in my mind. In a few spots a fall would result in about 60 feet of bouncing followed by an abrupt finish into the lake. On the bright side, the trail was so mentally engaging that I did not fall asleep on my feet as I've been known to do on occasion in other 100s. Jon told some great stories about climbing and skiing with the likes of Henry Barber, Lynn Hill and Alex Lowe along this section and hearing his stories was a great distraction for the sleep deprivation and pain in quads and feet.. For his first time pacing in a 100, he did an awesome job. A natural.

We rolled into the Mineral Creek aid station at mile 73 just as the sky was starting to get light around 5:30am. Then came the climb from Mineral Creek to No Name Ridge. A long, seemingly never-ending dirt road ascent that had me wondering if we'd strayed off-course somewhere. A climb couldn't be this long, could it? Yes, it was. Maybe it wasn't really that bad but at this stage in the race with legs that didn't want to work anymore, it felt interminable. But, as with all things, the end came and we were there, at the No Name aid station at mile 80. And, as a bonus, my friend James was there working the aid station. It was good to see him again and enjoy some of his homemade chocolate chip pancakes before we headed into the “needles” section to Thorp Mountain.

It's funny how, at mile 80 with 20 miles to go, I think, “OK, almost done with this.” Not quite really. And on this course, not even close. Jon and I enjoyed the start of the ridge trail heading to Thorp Mountain but steep climb after steep climb, I started to wear down mentally now. Until now, I had just been worn down physically but I was still positive and strong mentally. But the steep climbs, including a ½ mile total out-and-back up Thorpe Mountain were really taking a toll on my mind. I found myself apologizing to Jon a few times for my colorful language as I cursed the trail and each successive climb that seemed totally unnecessary. But nothing else to do but carry on so carry on we did until we reached the French Cabin aid station at mile 88. Upon nearing the aid station, a volunteer yelled the magic word, “Bacon! We got bacon!”. Bacon. I was a hurting unit but found temporary relief from my physical and mental anguish as I savored a handful of tasty, warm strips of bacon. The volunteers at French Cabin were very friendly with a great sense of humor which helped to perk me up. As I left the station, one of the women said, “OK, see you next year?” I looked back with her with a wink and a laugh which I'm sure she understood to mean, “hell no.” But in a nice way.

You see, the master plan of which I hadn't shared with many people, was to run and finish the Cascade Crest 100 as my final 100. I've really enjoyed the experiences of all the 100 milers I've run. I've learned a lot about myself and have a deeper appreciation for the human body and mind as a result of my experiences in 100 mile runs. But I've never been very good at 100 milers. And after having surgeries in each knee, I don't want to over do things now so I can enjoy running for many years to come.

So I was in no way being disrespectful to the aid station personnel or the Cascade Crest 100 race director when I gave my non-verbal reply to her question about seeing me here again next year. I had a brutal 12 miles ahead of me and that would be that for me and 100s despite just how awesome the Cascade Crest 100 race is.

Motivated by this thought, we left French Cabin and made the last real climb of the course up to a saddle before encountering some very runnable trail along a scenic canyon and stream towards the last aid station, Silver Creek, at mile 96. This section, while very runnable, felt endless. I cursed the trail on many occasions and stopped a few times to take off my shoes and rub my aching feet and quads. I was shot. But I was close. As the saying goes, I could smell the barn. Jon could sense my deteriorating mental fortitude and dug into his joke bag and came up with some good ones that got me laughing. Again, he was making my tough situation more bearable. I knew I signed up for this and this was to be expected, I just needed to be reminded about that fact every now and then.

We then passed a couple of hikers heading up the trail and asked how far. I was sure we were at most a half mile from the aid station so when the woman replied, “we’ve been hiking for 35 minutes to this point” I was floored. Really? That meant at least another mile and half to the aid station. So I grinned and grunted and kept on moving. I’d try to run, or, rather, shuffle, a bit here and there but mostly just walked. Big drops in the trail posed the biggest difficulties requiring me to turn sideways and steady myself with a hand on the ground or nearby tree to step down. Yep, the quads were goners.

And then, finally, we could see the aid station at mile 96 down one final short hill. I refilled my water bladder with some Gu2o drink and ate a full Heath bar and half a Payday bar. Chocolate, toffee and nuts always taste great. The volunteers had to be able to see how spent I was and were very positive and encouraging. That helped a lot. I didn’t sit down nor did I linger. Four miles and change to go and I wanted nothing more than to take off my shoes and sit down. We left the aid station after about five minutes and I had to make one last bathroom stop in the trees. I also took the opportunity to sit on a log, take of my shoes one last time and massage my feet. It felt so good I didn’t want to put my shoes back on! But I did and we got going.

We followed a new pipeline that felt and looked like motorcycle track whoops. We then got onto a dusty dirt road for a bit before making a hard left turn and getting on a light use trail paralleling the frontage road along I-90 towards Easton. Once we hit the overpass over I-90 I stopped once more to take off my shoes and rub my feet. Jon had sent a text message to my brother letting him know we were in the final mile or two. It was flat paved road but I couldn’t really muster any running so we walked. Finally, we entered the town of Easton and rounded a corner between two buildings and the finish line was in sight!

Here, another runner came from behind me to pass by while giving me the encouraging words, “there it is, we’ve done it!” Indeed we had. It had been a long, tough one for sure but we had done it. Bill, Dylan, Jon and I had done it. I saw Dylan and he trotted up to meet Jon and I. I thanked Jon and then Dylan for their work in helping me reach this point and finish this amazing race. I then saw my sister, Leigh Ann, along with her husband and three kids near the finish line and nearly cried. They were all here to support and cheer me on for the finish of this crazy, selfish-yet-transcendent experience. And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw another runner sprinting up fast. We had just run 100 miles and while I was going to finish in 45th place in a race with no glory at all, my competitive instinct kicked in and I broke into a sprint. I wasn’t going to be passed by anyone in the final 50 yards of race if I could help it. I was really sprinting and caught myself wondering just where in the hell did this come from? Ten minutes ago I felt like I barely had the energy to walk. And from this I learned that even when we think we’re totally depleted and running on empty, there’s always something more there if we want it bad enough.

I sprinted across the finish line and immediately got hugs from all of my family. It felt great and I was elated to be surrounded by so many people I love. It was special. Very special. I found that even with minimal training (~25 miles per week) and an unplanned five week taper, I still have what it takes to finish a 100. And with that, I finish 100s. Bittersweet.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

San Juan Solstice 50 2010 Race Report

This is what hurtin' looks like at Slumgullion at mile 40.

San Juan Solstice 50 mile race
Lake City, CO
June 19, 2010
26th overall
SJS50 2010 official results
My SportTracks GPS data

It had been a tumultuous previous 9 months in terms of running for me. In September 2009 I had knee surgery on my left knee (menisectomy) and in February 2010, during the Orcas Island 50k, I ended up with some severe-feeling IT band pain that lasted throughout the spring. Needless to say going in the SJS50, my confidence was low. I hadn't run a 50 miler since my knee surgery and my IT band hadn't been tested at the distance since I began rehabbing it after the Orcas Island run. I'm extremely pleased to report I had no knee pain or IT band pain during the SJS50 this year. But my stomach did cause me distress...

Weather conditions for this year's race were ideal for a fast run. Clear sky, low water in the stream in Alpine Gulch, very little snow on the divide and a tailwind along the divide helped serve up some speedy times for the front-runners. Unfortunately I'd been running only 25 to 30 miles per week so I couldn't take better advantage of the stellar conditions. And then there was the stomach issue too.

Running from the start to the first aid station, Williams, at mile ~16, I consciously kept myself in check and didn't bomb down the beautiful singletrack into Williams like I normally do. During the descent down towards Williams I passed by a familiar-looking face and asked him if he was Brandon. Yes he was. Nice to meet you, briefly, Brandon.

My primary goal this year was to feel good going from the Slumgullion aid station at mile 40 through Vickers Ranch to the finish. In my previous four years in a row on this course, I'd always felt like crap on this section. So when I arrived into Williams at 8:15am, my legs were feeling good and I felt like I had done a good job of keeping myself in check. I had run the final few miles into Williams with Mike Priddy and enjoyed his company.

Also, since I wasn't well-trained for this race this year, I decided to experiment with food a bit and opted to eat a peanut butter and jam sandwich at Williams and Carson. As tasty as they were (and I had eaten some on recent training runs), I think they resulted in my stomach trouble all day. I ate one as I left Williams en route to Carson and think I ran/hiked well up to Carson by 9:45am. At Carson I was still with a few of the other Los Alamos runners in the race—David Coblentz, Brian Crone and Blake Wood. Leaving Carson, I munched on another peanut butter and jam sandwich as I hiked out of Carson with my two hand bottles of water, a full gel flask, two gel packets and some electrolyte tablets. No jacket necessary this year, thankfully. Blake ran by me running strong up the hills and I'd only see him again once more leaving the Divide aid station. David and I were together until the descent off of the course highpoint, Coney Peak (13,330'), when David just plain took off. Somewhere around here I realized I could not stomach the idea of any gels and each time I drank some water I felt like I had to burp repeatedly before I could really run. I soon realized there was no way I'd be eating any gels so I dumped out some gel from my gel flask to save weight. I ran when I could but mostly power hiked all along the divide eventually reaching the Divide aid station at mile ~31 around 12:15pm. The only thing that sounded even remotely good to eat was watermelon so I sat down at the aid station and ate three pieces of watermelon and refilled my two hand bottles with water. Also, I dumped the remaining gel from my flask into the garbage bag.

I was tempted to hang out longer at the aid station but it that would just prolong the inevitable so I got up and started walking out of the aid station. From the divide aid station it's a bit of climbing before the real descent into Slumgullion begins so I just walked it. About ½ mile out of the aid station I found a stump in the trees and sat down for five minutes. I was feeling pretty awful and just wanted to rest for a bit. I knew I was getting a bit dehydrated, too, so I drank about half a bottle of water while I sat before getting up and moving again. As I hiked over the last bit of uphill before the descent, a runner named Rhonda (she finished third female overall in the end) ran past me. Rhonda running by me helped inspire me to run again so I thank her for that. I followed her down the descent running as much as I could and eventually passed by her as we ran into Rambouillet Park before it goes uphill for a short bit. At the top of the climb Rhonda passed by me again saying that she'd see me on the descent again. I stopped to empty out my shoes which probably wasn't really necessary but it was a fine excuse to sit down again.

The final descent down the often steep and technical dirt road to Slumgullion normally beats me into submission but today my legs were feeling good despite my stomach trouble. So I ran rather well downhill into Slumgullion passing Rhonda once again before reaching the Slumgullion aid station right about 2:00pm. At this point I knew I would not be able to run a sub-11 race since it takes me a solid 2+ hours to run the final 10 miles of the race.

Allison was waiting for me at Slumgullion with a chair and all the things I had written down that I'd want. It turned out all I really wanted was the chair. No way could I eat another peanut butter and jam sandwich, I couldn't stomach the idea of gels, I was feeling pretty beat. Then I saw Tom Stockton who had dropped out earlier and that, for a moment, tempted me to follow his lead. But I was only 10 miles from the finish and I couldn't really consider dropping out. So I just sat. And that's when I noticed a kid with a popsicle. It turns out the aid station personnel had just brought in some popsicles! Tom and Allison got me a banana popsicle and it went down real easy. So easy, in fact, I asked for a second one and ate that too. At least I could eat something.

As I sat eating my popsicles, Tom, David and Blake's wives all helped encourage me to get going again. Again, was just prolonging the inevitable so after downing a half quart of water to wash down the popsicles, I grabbed my two hand bottles , and headed out about 2:10pm.

My two hand bottles had a gel in each bottle sling in case I started feeling good enough to eat them but I never did. It turned out for the final 30 miles of the race I ate only five pieces of watermelon and two popsicles. I did, however, swallow my fourth and final electrolyte tablet of the day just before climbing up to Vickers. The heat was a bit stifling, as usual, in the aspen groves going up Vickers so I stopped to take off my shirt for the final segment. Also, I had been wearing my iPod so I cranked up some hard, fast screamy music (A Day to Remember), and started the climb. Ironically, I actually did feel pretty good and had my best “Vickers section” run ever. I power hiked pretty strongly up the climb and even noticed that I was slowly reeling in some runners ahead of me. Once I topped out on the climb and began running through the four meadows up on top, I began passing runners. I passed one runner just before the Vickers aid station and another one while in the aid station. I still couldn't stomach the idea of food but ate two pieces of watermelon at the aid station before heading out.

It was now 3:28pm and there were roughly four miles to go to the finish. I did the math in my head and thought for a while that I could still finish by 4:00pm. I was never very good at math and I presume you can see that from this miscalculation. Nonetheless, it inspired me to run fast and while my energy level wasn't very high, my legs still felt very good and I began to run hard (for me) down the hill. At times I was running under 8 min/mile pace and eventually caught back up to Rhonda. I passed her with some encouraging words and soon thereafter passed another couple of runners. I'd never felt this good on this descent so despite a pretty miserable day to that point, I was stoked to be feeling so good at mile ~47. I normally end up getting passed in the last few miles of this race so it was quite encouraging to be passing by others instead.

At 4:00pm I had just entered the streets of Lake City so my hopes of finishing under 11 hours were dashed. Still, I ran when I could and eventually crossed the main street through Lake City, Gunnison Avenue. I looked back over my shoulder to see the last runner I had passed on the descent coming up strong. I was again motivated and picked up my pace to turn the final corner before the straight-away to the finish line. The clapping, cheering and whistling further motivated me and I ran across the finish line at 4:12pm. I pretty much just collapsed into the shady grass and laid there for 15 minutes before mustering the energy to move and go drink my typical post-race recovery drink—a quart of chocolate milk.

Happy to be at the finish line

SJS50 is a tough course for sure but it was particularly rough for me this year with my lack of mileage before the race and my unusual stomach trouble during the race. But at least two very big positives came out of the race for me. First, I finally felt good for the final 10 miles of the race through Vickers and second, my IT band did not pain me in anyway. Also, my left knee surgery doesn't seem to have negatively impacted my running. I still ran a pretty respectable time and it was a gorgeous summer day in the mountains. I'm lucky to have the means and opportunity to run race like this in such spectacular locations. I have no complaints. Thanks for reading.

Postscript: My five SJS50 times and finishes...

2006 - 11:47:47 (26th)
2007 - 10:35:44 (11th)
2008 - 10:57:51 (18th)
2009 - 10:56:12 (13th)
2010 - 11:12:40 (26th)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Orcas Island 50k 2010 Trail Race Report

Orcas Island 50k Trail Race 2010 Race Report
February 6th, 2010
SportTracks Activity Report/Splits/Map
Finish time: 5:38:16
20th place overall (Official results)

From Orcas Island 50k and Seattle, 2010-02-06

I can’t remember if I had formally met James Varner, the race director for the Orcas Island race, before but it didn’t matter. I had a good vibe about James and when he was looking for some running company in the Los Alamos area in November 2009, I was glad to respond to his solicitation email and glad to offer him a place to stay as well. Certainly I knew of James from his time spent at the Hardrock 100 with one of my strongest memories of him being at the 2007 Hardrock when he wore a shirt to the pre-race meeting that said “Run Bush Out” and he just barely got into the race the day before because he had been fairly deep on the wait list.
But all of that isn’t really relevant. What is relevant is that James stayed with Allison and I in November 2009 while mapping trails in the Jemez area for a mapping company called “Dharma Maps.” Not only was James a great house guest, cooking great meals and leaving no trace of his visit, but he also suggested a fine race that he directs, the Orcas Island 50k in February. We chatted only briefly about it but that was enough to convince me I should check it out. And with my sister and her family living in the Bremerton, WA area, it was a done deal.
It was the first time either Allison or I would visit the island and it turned out the logistics for getting to the island from Bremerton were a bit more convoluted than I had expected. Nonetheless, after driving a couple hours with two ferry boat rides thrown in, we arrived on the island on Friday night around 4:00pm. After massages at the Orcas Island Spa and dinner at Lu Lu's, we checked into our room at the Cascade Harbor Inn around 9:00pm with no daylight left to enjoy the fine view the room’s deck had to offer.
We woke up at 5:30am for a hasty breakfast and coffee in our room and out the door to the Moran State Park’s Camp Moran by 7:00am. Camp Moran served as the start/finish area for the both the 20k and 50k races. The bunks at the camp had been procured by James for exclusive use by the race participants. A nice touch for sure and I’d come to understand James goes to great lengths to make his races both socially fun and environmentally friendly. As a race director he’s setting the bar high in terms of environmental responsibility for races. He organized carpooling and shuttles for racers to get to and from the starting line. The race participants’ shirts were purchased from local thrift stores and then imprinted with the race logo. The pre and post race foods were organic and were served using reusable cups, bowls and flatware. There were only two aid stations and users were strongly encouraged to use their own bottles for fluids and where cups were supplied they were reusable cups. And I’d venture to guess any awards that were given were also recycled or recyclable but I didn’t run fast enough to find out.
It was a competitive race for sure.
We all lined up at the start line, 380’ elevation, at 8:20am—ten minutes before the race start. The race started on a two-track dirt road and there was quite a crowd as this year’s race crowd was the biggest in the race’s five years of existence. A smattering of fast-looking, scantily-clad runners took the front spots while I settled in about 25 people behind the start line. For the past couple of years I had been lining up front (although I still wore more clothes than most of the runners towing the front line) but times are different now. It was February and I hadn’t been training like I should to be competitive. Some of that is winter laziness for sure but a larger part of it is a result of the rappelling accident, and subsequent injuries and knee surgery, I had in September 2009. A badly sprained left ankle and surgery for a torn medial meniscus in my left knee has left me with poor confidence in my leg’s strength and ability as well as some discomfort in my left knee while running. With this in mind, my goal for this race was really just to finish as close to five hours as possible. I knew I wouldn’t be competitive but that was actually a relief in that I could enjoy the scenery and conversation with other runners a bit more.
When James yelled “Go!” the front runner started off fast on the slight uphill start. I settled in with the other runners around me and only kept the front runners in sight until we turned right onto some single track about a half mile into the race. Our pace for the first mile was 9:00/mi. and it felt tough. Since I live at 7,500’ and this course’s highpoint was 2,409’, I expected to feel much stronger than I was feeling. But at least it was a gorgeous day.
The weather was beautiful. Leading up to the race, I had heard stories of snow and cold from previous years but that was definitely not the case this year. The El Nino season had left the Northwest drier and warmer than usual and there wasn’t a drop of snow on the course this year. The sun was out and, as I would later find out, the views to the east were clear enough to yield the beautiful sights of Mount Baker and Mount Rainier.

From Orcas Island 50k and Seattle, 2010-02-06

I started the race in a short-sleeved shirt, shorts, light gloves, a visor and my Saucony Guide TR shoes. This was perfect attire for the nearly 40 degree weather with no wind. I also carried a single hand bottle and a 5oz gel bottle. The first 5.5 miles head west at first and then north while winding up towards the summit of Mount Pickett at nearly 1,800’ feet elevation before winding down back towards the start/finish area for the first aid station at mile 9.9. I reached the first aid station in almost exactly an hour and a half—a pace of roughly 9:15/mile.
Allison was waiting at the aid station with a fresh hand bottle full of HEED and a new 5oz. bottle of gels and a couple packets of gel. I grabbed the goods, briefly chatted with Allison about her morning thus far and then headed back out. At this point I was guessing I was close to 15th place but it was hard to tell with a smattering of 25k runners interspersed with the 50k runners as well as some early-start 50k runners in the mix. I was feeling good but realized I had been favoring my right leg quite a bit in order to avoid too much hammering on my left knee, the knee I had undergone a partial medial meniscectomy on in September 2009.
As I began to run uphill towards the powerline climb, I began chatting with a local runner who had run the Hardrock 100 in 2007, I believe. He cautioned me about the upcoming steep, difficult climb between us trading short stories of Hardrock. When we hit the big powerline climb, I relished it. Because I had been favoring my right leg, my right IT band had become irritated and painful on the downhills so I looked forward to the climbs where I could push hard in the oxygen-rich air and give my right knee a break from the pounding. I felt quite strong on the climbs and made up a couple of positions until we turned left at the top of the powerline climb onto some beautiful singletrack at the northern end of the course. The singletrack trail running for the next three miles was easily some of the best trail I’ve ever run. Seriously. The trail had a perfect slight-downhill grade composed of non-technical soft dirt in a gorgeous lush green setting. While I enjoyed this section I would have really enjoyed it if my right IT band irritation hadn’t been so bad. Still, I held a decent pace of about 9:00/miles to the left turn at the northern end of Mountain Lake. This intersection was poorly marked with only a small log laid across the main trail to indicate we should not go that way. Thankfully I could hear a couple of runners ahead of me off to the left which confirmed my suspicion to turn left. I later learned the markers at this intersection had been nefariously removed by some hikers or some other non-race-related party and that a couple of the front-runners had missed this critical turn resulting in many extra miles run by them.
At first the distance to go along the lake shore looked daunting but as I ran along Mountain Lake’s east side, the dam at the southern end of the lake came up quickly and I found myself at the water-only aid station at mile 19 at 3 hours, 10 minutes into the race. From here the course climbed steeply towards the summit of Mount Constitution, the course’s highpoint, 2,409’, at mile ~22. During this climb I met a runner named Des from Victoria, BC who was running this 50k as his first ultra. He had a 50 mile planned for this spring and this was a good training gauge for him. We were holding a decent pace up the climb and while I felt I could push it a bit faster, I was enjoying the conversation and wasn’t in a competitive position anyway so I kept with him until near the top of the climb.
As I contoured up around the east side of Mount Constitution towards the summit I was blown away by the views of Mount Rainier, Mount Baker and eventually, Vancouver. I slowed down to a slow walk to take in the view for a bit just before coming around a corner to see a photographer sitting next to the trail. I quickly faked a few running strides for the camera before settling back into a walk to savor the view for a few more steps. The sun was shining and the snowy mountains across the bay beckoned my spirit. (I’ve climbed Mount Rainier twice but never Mount Baker so I resolved to head up there soon to try to climb it.)

From Orcas Island 50k and Seattle, 2010-02-06

I reached the summit of Mount Constitution almost exactly four hours into the race. My super small drop bag consisted of a packet of HEED, two gels and a packet of shot blocks. I took it all and filled up my hand bottle with water to mix up the HEED. I also ate a few boiled potato pieces dipped in salt before continuing on, downhill for a mile and a half. The steep downhill was brutal on my lightly-trained quads and irritated right knee and I took over 16 minutes to go downhill one mile. I couldn’t wait for the downhill to end! And finally it did. I was back on that beautiful section of runnable trail I had encountered between miles 13 to 15 and ate up the slight uphill running holding a pace of 12 minute miles for the next few miles gaining a lead on a couple of runners that had caught up to me on the steep downhill section.
But of course, all good things must end and at mile 26 it was time to head downhill again where I again experienced a good amount of pain in my right IT band. However, I managed to adjust my stride enough to make it more bearable and stave off any would-be passer-bys down to Cascade Lake at mile 28.5. Here we turned right to go around the northeastern end of Cascade Lake in a counter-clockwise direction to the finish.
I felt pretty spent after the downhill of the previous two miles but choked down my package of shot blocks and the last bit of my HEED. I was thankfully mostly flat, gentle rolling terrain of the final few miles and slowly ramped up to a decent pace of about 9:25/mile along the lake’s shore. Soon I could hear the cowbells and clapping that marked the finish line and felt a surge of energy to keep running at my steady pace to the finish.
I hit the short bit of pavement in the parking lot and then back onto the final dirt road hill to the finish and kept running that final bit of climbing. I then made the left turn to the slight downhill to the field at Camp Moran to the finish and really strided it out not feeling my IT band at amongst the surge of adrenaline. I crossed the finish line 5 hours, 38 minutes and 16 seconds after starting to the smile of James Varner. I thanked for a truly beautiful, challenging and laid-back race before hobbling with Allison to the car. We had mis-read the ferry schedule and thought that if we left immediately we could make the ferry at 2:40pm so against my better judgment I folded my wasted legs into the car immediately and we drove 25 minutes to the ferry only to find the 2:40pm ferry was a no-cars, foot-passengers only ferry. Well damn. The next ferry wouldn’t be until 6pm so we drove back to Camp Moran where I could walk around a bit and enjoy some of the super tasty organic vegetarian stew and a couple cups of IPA from the beer keg. So not catching an earlier ferry was not all bad.