Friday, June 12, 2009

Camp KP/AC 100 Training

Day 1 - Angeles Crest National Forest

This past weekend I had the opportunity and the privilege to go to a friend’s small training camp in California for my continuing efforts of preparing for the AC100. The objective for this camp was a “gut check” of sorts for the 3 participants, Pat, Vic, and myself. All 3 of us are running a 100 miler this summer season. KP is the Zen master that got Pat and Vic into this ultra stuff when they all worked together. Then through Vic changing jobs and coming to work where I do, I got pulled over to the dark side of ultra running.

Vic and I flew out to LAX on Friday afternoon getting to the airport gate when the last 20 or so people are boarding. Due to work and meetings, we got a later start than we wanted to and then the lovely ATL traffic jam to the airport didn’t help either. I knew right then that I had to relax and just be cool because it was what it was and I knew that the following 2 days would probably be some of the hardest training I have done so far. No sense in stressing myself out and getting into a negative mindset from the start of the trip. Before I know it, we are at KP’s house greeting everyone and discussing plans for the next day.

I was really looking forward to Day 1 due to the fact that the guys had been nice enough to plan for us to run the first 35+ miles of the AC100. Last year Vic and Pat both completed the AC100 and I was able run about 35 miles of the back end of the course as their pacer. I was pretty anxious about the front end due to the fact that you get to the highest point of the race around mile 17. 9300 feet above sea-level at nearly the top of Mt Baden-Powell. I don’t know if I have ever been that high above sea level and know that I had never tried to run at that height.

We started off from the same parking lot I will be starting from for the AC100 which is in Wrightwood, CA. We head up a couple streets till we finally hit this fire road. Pat and I are ahead of Vic and I guess are so focused on getting up the road that we totally miss the Acorn trail marker to the left that we are suppose to take! We continue up this road for not sure how far before it just ends. We look around for a bit trying to figure out what happen. End up walking back down to the start of the fire road. We then started back up the road looking to our left instead of right and found the Acorn Trail marker. We had lost 45 minutes! I promise you I will not forget where that Acorn marker is at the race!

We start climbing on the Acorn Trail and at the top of this 2100+ feet of climbing, it puts us onto the PCT (Pacific Coastal Trail). At that point it has some beautiful ridge running being able to see for miles around. At two different points we pass by the top of ski lifts for the Mountain High ski area. Pat and I get to the first meeting point for the run and so the tongue lashing begins from KP and Vic on how in the world could we have gotten lost! If you can’t verbally assault your ultra friends, who can you then! We took our lumps and headed on.

We ran another 4 miles and meet KP again at Vincent’s Gap at 6500 feet. This is where the party was about to start, at least for me. The trail up Mt. Baden-Powell climbs 2,800 feet in 3.6 miles over 41 switchbacks to a saddle 100 feet below the peak. KP was nice enough to fix us a sandwich. I grab mine and started walking listening to KP direction that I needed to learn how to eat and walk. I started eating and trying to down the sandwich as best I could, but due to the fact that I am going up hill and already over a mile high I can barely keep the food in my mouth due to try to breathing! I did learn quickly to take small bites, but still I sound like a freight train. I was able to eat ¾ of the sandwich but got into a negative attitude and ended up throwing the last part away. It seemed like it would never end, then I finally saw this beautiful sign and realized that I had actually made it to the highest point in the race and I was ok! I haven’t passed out or gotten sick due to the thin air. Funny thing is when I saw this sign, I didn’t pay close enough attention to it and continued on the trail to the top of Baden-Powell. I got about a 50 feet away from the sign and thought to myself, “Wait a minute. If that is the highest point, why am I still climbing up!!??” Yes, I had gotten off the course AGAIN, but it was my fault for the fact that I was by myself. I get back down to that sign and realize that it was pointing to a trail that started downhill. One new experience for me at this point was hearing my heart beat in my head! First couple times I heard it I turned around to see if someone was behind me!

Another crazy thing that happened this particular weekend was that it was colder than we had anticipated. We actually thought that it might be warm up there. WRONG! After getting to the highest part and making my way to Islip Saddle the wind kicked up. It had to be in the low 40’s and I was not totally ready for that. Fortunately I had brought a long sleeve shirt, but not a coat. I had to live by a saying that I heard a few years ago, “If you going to be stupid, you got to be tough!” I think the cooler weather helped me in the way that I was so cold that I was going about as hard as I could to get to KP’s truck! I get to Islip Saddle and KP was smart enough to bring the camp stove and cooked me up some chicken soup. It was some of the best I have tasted due to the situation.

We start discussing the plans and how the day is going and decide that I am going to go with Pat back over the section of Mt Baden-Powell again for more altitude training. We get back over 8000+ feet and Pat starts to get altitude sick. This is something that I was concerned for myself. It doesn’t matter how good of an athlete you are, if your body has an issue with altitude you either have to deal with it or take a number of weeks trying to acclimatize yourself. For the next 6 or so miles Pat would run some, have the sick feeling, throw up, start to feel better and start running again. That cycle happened 4 different times! I share this not to embarrass Pat in anyway, but to give everyone insight into what happens sometimes with ultra runs and also to share my true amazement that the man kept going and would not stop! That is what I am learning ultra running is all about. Sure it is about covering a set distance, but what happens when you get sick or develop a blister, or any number of issues that can happen. Do you give up or do you solider on?

Here is a link to video that Pat shot of the recap of Day 1:

Day 2 – Cleveland National Forrest

Today we were running in the Cleveland National Forrest that can be seen from KP’s back yard. I was a little concerned on how I would do today. I have never run 38 miles one day and then plan to run 30+ the next. I was obviously sore, but had no major pains and was very grateful for that. The guys had warned me that starting off that morning I would have some pains and if I would just keep going that my body would loosen up and things would be better. That prove to be dead on and within a couple miles I was feeling pretty good.

2 miles away from KP’s house, we start up a dirt road that is nearly a constant 7 miles up hill. The incline to it wasn’t too terrible, but the fact that you are constantly going up hill that long did wear on me. We get to the top of this climb and head down a fire road for 5 miles and meet KP in his truck for the one and only aid station for this 30 mile trip. We take a couple minutes to talk about things, grab a snack, and off we go for the rest of the journey.

The very next trail we get on is a 1 mile downhill that is just nasty. The trail is covered with large rocks that are loose and slippery. I had a number of close calls of hitting the ground forwards or backwards. We get down in this beautiful ravine that has some nice trails that roll along and we can finally get into a good running rhythm and cover some distance. Not sure how long that section was but it seemed to be over way to fast because the next thing I know we are starting up a trail called Holy Jim, a 4 mile constant up hill. The one thing I must say about the trails in CA is that the way they were laid out, the incline is not that bad. The Smokies in NC, the AT trails seem to go straight up the mountain, in CA they have a lot of switchbacks but the trails have a way that you can get into a rhythm and get through the distance.

We finish with Holy Jim and have 3 miles to go on the fire road to get back to the 7 mile now downhill to finish this trip. I know that in physics going downhill is easier than uphill, but still going constantly downhill for 7 miles, at least for me, was hard at times. Using the same muscles over and over will get to anyone. As most of you know me, I try to make a game out of anything, especially if I trying to distract myself from the pain. I started thinking of myself as a race car going down the mountain. I started to take the inside of the curve whether it was on the right or left side of this dirt road. I get about 2 miles from the end of this dirt road and notice this car driving away from what I had seen early on the way up of what we thought were empty bee hives. Well, they were not empty and I think the guy in the car has done something to them to make them mad. There are thousands of them flying around the hives but fortunately not too close to the road. I immediately started walking very softly and even remember saying out loud “I come in peace!”

I am very sore and my feet are killing me. I get to the asphalt road and realize that in my sleepy, painful run out from KP’s house, I don’t know how to get back! I am in the front because Pat had stopped to talk to someone and I just had it in my mind to get down and complete this run. I start walking up the road and notice that Pat is coming up behind me and he is moving at pretty good clip. I know what you are thinking, but no, the bees had not gotten after him. He gets up with me and says “Let’s roll!” There is no stopping the man, he is ready to finish this thing but it has to be at the finish line of KP’s driveway. One thing he tells me is that KP had taught him to always finish strong. Finish strong??!! I feel like I am nearly going to have to break out into a sprint to keep up with him. We run by some neighbor kids with this real puzzled look on their faces like “why is that big guy chasing that other guy and breathing so hard?”

It was an absolute OUT-STANDING weekend!! I feel much better about my training. I know there are a few things to tighten up on, but I am happy for where I am right now.

KP – thanks for everything dude. The encouragement, butt-kicking, and hospitality were great. You have an awesome family.

Pat – Dude, you continue to teach and amaze me. To realize you were that sick and continue on to run another 75 miles in the AC100 last year, mind-blowing. You made the times of suffering much more bareable.

Vic – Thank you for all the coaching and advice you have given me to get me to this point. I appreciate your patience through all the silly questions I have asked you about how to do this, that, and the other in the craziness called ultras.

Rhonda – my beautiful wife, thank you for continuing to put up with this crazy quest I am on. I Love You!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

SweetWater 50K

This past Saturday I ran the SweetWater 50K in Lithia Springs, GA. I signed up for this with the mindset of it being a training run for the AC100. It was local, 25 minutes from my house, and I needed to get a more little race experience. With all the running that I have been doing, I still have only participated in only two other actual ultras events before this one.

As the time got closer I started thinking about how much I could improve on my 50K PR. My first 50K was my first ultra ever and man what it was it a slog fest of 7:40. I had never done a physical activity for that long in my life! I just knew that with a few years of running under my belt that Sweet H2O would be much better.

I started reading other’s thoughts and blogs on the race and knew this was something that I would really enjoy doing. Call me crazy, (I know some of you do already) but since the SCARs adventure the harder a race is described, the more I am interested in it. I started reading about the “Powerlines” and “TOTW” (Top of the World) sections of the race. And then the website has a great picture of the “creek crossing” that is high enough to be over most people waist! The other thing to know is that the SweetWater Park is not that big at all. The park website states that is has 9 miles of trails, so obviously to run a 31 mile race there is going to be some loops involved.

Another aspect to this event, with it being so close to the house, I was able to assist in getting the race setup with trail marking and aid station supplies. One requirement that the AC100 has is to volunteer for an ultra event for runners to give back to the ultra community. I agree with this requirement and really enjoyed myself. All of the folks from the DCRR, Douglas County Rogue Runners were just fantastic to work with. I felt instantly welcomed into the group. Thank you! I helped mark the course and still don’t know how Johnny and Scotty, the RD’s came up with the 31 miles, but I know they did because I know I covered that distance!

We start off the race on the road and within the first 3 or so miles get to the first major creek crossings. There were discussions between runners about the creek crossings. Should you take a change of shoes? Should you just take your shoes off? I remember seeing a guy the first year the race was run carrying a pair of flip-flops! Maybe I have had good luck, but since running in the rain for 8+ hours at Delano, I don’t worry about my feet getting wet especially if you are wearing the right socks. Thin and light synthetic socks seem to work well for me.

After a number of miles we get to our first time through the TOTW and Powerline section. TOTW section looks like a dirt roller coaster, just climbing then a descent. Someone had taken orange spray paint and painted the phrase “Just think what the second time will be like!” One of runners was asking if that was just a cruel joke or was it for real? The Powerline section is just raw. It didn’t seem like it was a trail, but more like running down a very steep section that was caused by serious erosion.

This is the 3rd year for Sweetwater, but the first year that they have cut out the half-marathon. In years pass most of the entrants signed up for the half. This year there was 250+ runners all doing the 50K. With a race being new there are always trouble spots to work through. This year was the major creek crossing at mile 20. As I showed up at this section there were 20+ runners waiting to cross. This water crossing is so serious that they have a rope that you have to hold on and multiple lifeguards waiting to make sure no one gets taken down stream. It was a little disappointing figuring that I lost about 25-30 minutes of time waiting for my turn. I am sure the RD’s got an ear full about it and know they are already working out a solution for next year.

I slog through the second time over TOTW and Powerline doing the best I can, but the sun was out and heating things up pretty good. Now I had been told that if you get through that section the second time you are home free. The last 4 miles as relatively flat and smooth. Mile 28 turned out to be pretty big shock to all of us. The RD’s had not told anyone about the change in the course at mile 28. I see a sign for Mile 28 and pointing nearly straight up a hill where there is no trail besides the one that all the runners had made during the race. Wow, I didn’t know what to do but take it a step at the time. I come up on another runner hugging a small tree desperately trying to catch his breath and made the statement to me as I passed “This is absolutely ridiculous!” Scotty & Johnny, you guys are sick for that, but I did enjoy it after I got up it!

I had a humbling experience that happened on mile 29. I was getting down through the trail as best I could run/walking. At one point that I was running and hear these footsteps come up on me pretty quickly and feel and tap on the shoulder and hear “Good job, buddy.” David Horton and his running partner pass by me looking like they just started the race. Before I know it they are gone an out of site. For some of you don’t know, David Horton is one of the top elite ultra runners in world. He accomplished things in the ultra world that only a handful of runners have ever done and still holds a number of records in the ultra worlds. Why was this humbling? Well, for one, as David told us all at the dinner the night before the race, “I’m old!” He will be 60 years old next year. Even being 20+ years younger and also calculating that I had about a 30 minute lead on him at the creek crossing at mile 20 he still passed me! There is something to be said about experience in ultras and knowing how to gauge yourself. I am sure that I was one of many the he passed in the last few miles. I just hope that I will be able to still be running when I am 60 and passing younger guys!

I have to give out some more props to some of my fellow ultra guys:

Matt, you are a beast! Outstanding time. I know that it is just a matter of time before you are taking 1st place in anything you run. You were so fast I didn't get a picture of you!

Colt, welcome to the ultra world! Dude, not running a marathon and coming out and pulling the time you did. You are solid! Thanks for helping me get a better time. You didn’t know it, but the last 10 miles I was trying to catch you the whole time! It made the run much better.

Dave, I am glad I finally talked you over to the dark side of running! I know you are just going to continue to enjoy this and get better and better. You did very well for you first ultra!