Friday, September 7, 2012

Merrill's Mile

     Last March 31st, Rhonda had decided to do the GUTS Operations Endurance 12 Hour event with full intentions of going 27 or more miles to complete her first ultra distance run.  I completed nearly every one of the 1 mile loop with her and so enjoyed helping her complete this personal accomplishment.   But, like most of us, she knew she could go farther.  

     So, Willy “Natureboy” Syndram decides to put on Merrill’s Mile.  Another 1 mile, flat loop that is in the Frank D. Merrill Ranger camp, and it is very similar to OE.  I mention this event to Rhonda and without hesitation she says “Sign me up!”  Since I already had plans to run Angeles Crest 100 in July, my first thoughts are to just work the aid station and hang out.  But Willy, being the good friend that he is, starts talking to me, “You ever run 100 miles in less than 24 hours?  I bet you can do that at Merrill’s Mile.”  I tell him to let me focus on AC100 and we will see after that. 

     Honestly, I am very thankful and grateful that I was able to finish AC100 with some of the issues I had, but I feel like I didn’t give it 110%.  I just didn’t like the overwhelming scared-ness that I had at that event due to my stomach issues.  Don’t get me wrong, you get cocky at a 100 miles, it will soon enough lay a smack down on you. But there was something else I felt I needed to do this year, so as my feet heal from AC100 my thoughts then turn to MM.  

     Can I really cover 100 miles in the less than 24 hours?!  What type of pace is that?  How do I train for that being 6 weeks away?  I also didn’t realize the timing, but I had signed up for the GUTS Hot 2 Trot at Sweet Water State Park 2 weeks after AC100.  After getting some great direction from friends, I set my goal of running at least 40 miles at that event.  It was great training and I was able to reach 41+ that day.

     Race day comes for Merrill’s Mile and we decide to make this a family event also. That is one thing I truly love about loop courses is to be able to bring your family along, if they can handle it! :)  My 11 year old daughter Grace and our little pup Mocha come along too.   I had purchased a canopy for the family to use for shade or rain cover.  Grace has been to a few of these events before and after we get our stuff on the inside of the loop and setup, she jumps in helping the No Boundaries folks that are setting up the main aid station.  Throughout the day she would run/walk the loop to check out the other AS at the half way point.
 Soon enough, it is almost 9 am and RD Willy gathers us around for some last minute instruction.    “No biting, hitting, kicking are allowed, but eye gauging is ok!”  We are given some other basic instructions, then in true ultra fashion Willy yells out “Go!” and we are off like a herd of turtles.
     I wasn’t totally sure what shoes would best work for this event, so I brought 4 different pairs.  Through some great advice of a friend I decided to go from a minimalist trail shoe to my newly purchased marshmallow Hokas for the cushion at the end of the event.  So the game plan is switch shoes every 25 miles.  Dr. Ashli Linkhorn and the Sports Chiropractic Institute folks are on site to help runners for the entire 24 hours, so with the shoe change I take a few minutes to have my legs and lower back stretched out.  I have been a patient of Dr. Linkhorn for years and know that having them there and working on me every so often would help keep me in top shape.

Dr. Linkhorn working on some lucky runner.  She is the bomb!
     The other goal that I set after talking to many more experienced ultra-friends is to shoot for 60 miles in the first 12 hours, 5 miles an hour/ 12 min mile pace.  If you can do that, then you can nearly walk the last 40 miles and get 100 in less than 24 hours.  Hitting 60 is doable under the right conditions.   As the miles click off and we get a few hours into the race it really begins to heat up.  Someone has duct taped an outside thermometer to a chair.  As the day goes on I keep watching the temp go higher and higher.  

That's a cooling bandana, not an Ascot. :)

     It gets pretty hot and I start to come to the realization that I can’t keep 12 min mile pace in this heat.  If I do I am concerned that I will be too drained for later and come to a grinding halt.  I am not so proud of this, but I feel the need to be honest. Just over 25 miles I start getting very emotional.  Feelings of uncontrollable crying start hitting me in waves.  I kinda fight to be alone and let no one see this.  Some thoughts of hopelessness start and I just don’t know what to do, but I keep moving forward.

     The only way I know how to deal with this after so long is I realize that I have to be accountable to someone/people.  At this point I ask a couple of key people in my life to walk with me for a minute.  I tell them that no matter what happens or what I say either 1 of 2 things are happening with me. 1: I am moving forward.  2: Someone is taking me for medical attention.  No excuses.  Move or see a doctor; somehow in doing this I felt a relief and was able to just keep clicking off the loops.  Didn’t have any other choice, right!?  :)

     As the day wears on and sun keeps moving, that afternoon the heat breaks and we start getting shade again.  I start to feel better and can tell that it keeps getting cooler.  I get an odd look from a runner because I state out loud “Keep coming down” as I pasted the dreaded chair thermometer.
Don't know what's harder running or counting everyone's laps!

     In events like this, it is so nice to see friends and have their support.  One of my oldest friends, Nate Ridgeway has recently gotten bitten by the ultra-running bug and shows up to cheer us on and see what these timed events are all about.  Also, Ronnie Hines shows up.  He is running the night 12 hour event going from 9pm-9am.  

     Rhonda is also doing the night 12 hour.  The heat is like kryptonite with her having MS, so the night 12 hour is such a better option for her.  That was another reason I wanted to get 60 miles done in 12 hours to be able to walk some laps with her.  But at this point I am doing well enough she tells that I am doing great and I need to run my own race.  Besides, I will see her ever so often and most of those times I pause for a second to kiss her and run on.

     Ronnie Hines has signed up to do some training miles for an upcoming hundo.  When he gets over half way of goal for the night he finds me and we start clicking off the miles together.  For me, it is such a wonderful thing to have a good friend run with you and talk about different things.  Some of the bonds that I have made in ultra-events are some of the strongest in my life right now.  

     It happens to be nearly a full moon out this night so early on most people figure out that they can run just fine without their headlamps.  I am not sure what time it is, but I joking say to Ronnie, “Man, am I the only 24 hour person out here!!”  Shortly after we pass by the timing tent and Ronnie says something to Willy and Perry Sebastian of my comment.  I find out that other 24 hour people are still out there, but that I am now currently in first place.  WHAT???  ME!!!  From the volume of people I did think that I was in the top 5, but it was a shock to find out that I was in first.  

     I’ve never been in this situation before, what do I do?  Well, I haven’t reached 100 miles yet, and that was the #1 goal in starting this event.  Run 100 in sub 24 hours.  So that becomes the focus and if I can keep going after 100 and let things fall where they do.  

     I complete lap 99 and Ronnie hooks back up with me.  He has spent the last 6 hours helping me and other runners that were still out there.  We head out and it still makes me laugh all the positive things that he is saying and getting me pumped to complete 100 miles.  I am so pumped that in the last ¼ mile I speed up to about 8:30 pace.  100 miles = 22:34  
Run till someone hands you a buckle!

      Rhonda already reached her goal of 30 miles and just continues to go on.  I ask Dr. Linkhorn to help me with some stretching till Rhonda comes back around.  I decide that I am going to continue walking with her as long as she can keep going.  We are able to get 2 more miles in before time runs out.

I am still in shock that I won. 
Best trophy I have ever won!!!

Thank you’s:

Josh and Leah, Hiker Hostel: We really appreciate being able to come crash out at the Hostel after the race.  We enjoy your place so much.

Mike Delang, Harry Goslow, and the No Boundaries crew:  I can’t thank all of the AS volunteers enough for being there for 24+ hours.  Mike, did a great job of getting coverage for the AS and as always you know how to push my buttons!  Harry, thanks for helping us load up at the end, meant a lot to me.

Dr. Linkhorn and SCI: you guys rock!  Thank you for all that you did in helping me and other runners there.  Have heard nothing but praises from you guys being there.

Ronnie Hines: your unselfish actions that day was in true spirit of this family of ultrarunners.  Thanks for being there for me and others!

Willy: dude, you so know how to RD, but you are even better at being a friend.  Never would have gotten sub 24 without your push.

Grace: made me so proud helping out like you did and getting in 13 miles yourself!  Love my girl!

Rhonda: I would not being doing this without your love and support.  Everyone knows that you push me to my best, but this time you pushed yourself.  I am just amazed.  Love you very much!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Angeles Crest 100

Not only do you get a belt buckle, but they give you a beautiful plaque with the course layout and elevation with your name and time.
 In 2008 I had completed a few marathons and was introduced into this “ultrarunning” world when a co-worker, Victor Zamudio, asked me to come be on his crew for Angeles Crest 100. I was introduced to Patrick Ackley and had the honor of assisting both athletes in completing this race. I was bitten by the “hundo” bug and was totally intrigued while watching their incredible accomplishment.
This map that Vic created in 2008 had been on my wall in my cube for 3 years.

  I sign up for AC100 the next year and there was a fire that consumes a large section of the course and they have no choice but to cancel the 2009 running. This was a total blessing in disguise, for me at least, because I really don’t think I would have finished AC if it would have been my first hundo. Different things happen in my life and I finally am able to run the race this year.

Vic and Pat agree to crew for me on this run. Vic grew up just a couple hours south of the race and has family there in LA. They graciously let us stay with them Thursday night due to the three of us getting into LAX late. Friday morning we visit with the Zamudio family a little bit and then it is off to Wrightwood, to the race start for me to check in.

After the check-in and race briefing, we handle some last minute things and check in at the hotel for me to relax. Vic and Pat are very big on relaxing as much as possible the day before since the race will take so much out of you. Soon it is time for bed and I sleep as best I can, which usually isn’t that good.
Mr. Ackley at the start the day before the race.

 Alarm goes off at 3 am and I start getting ready. We pack and are at the race start line with time to spare. Soon they gather all the runners together under the start banner. The fire truck siren is goes off and we start running. We run out of Wrightwood and work our way to the Acorn trail. This gets your attention due to it being an almost 3 mile climb to get up to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). I see my guys at the first AS and I am doing alright. I will see them in another 4.5 miles.

At Vincent Gap is where you start climbing, 2500 feet in 3.8 miles on Mt. Baden Powell and reach the highest altitude point of the race of 9400 feet above sea level. Back in 2009, I had done a training run where I went to this high point twice and did not have an issue with altitude sickness. That training day was surprisingly colder than I expected. I wasn’t so lucky this time, per se. By the time I got to the top it had warmed up and I believe this impacted me with my stomach being upset. My plan was to start eating real food at this point, I ate half a ham and cheese sandwich and shortly after that it quickly exited my body. I got scared! I have watched friends of mine not be able to finish a race due to the inability to keep food down.

Looking back on this now, I realized I put a lot of stress on myself about this race. This was a race I had been looking forward to for 3 years. Vic and Pat had given of their time to help me and I didn’t want to let them down. I somewhat broke into survival mode. I knew that I had been just fine earlier eating vanilla GU’s, so that is what I went back to. I even stopped moving completely while I ate the GU’s just to make sure that I didn’t get sick or choke on them and throw them up also.

I get into Islip Saddle AS. This is a medical checkpoint. At AC100 ever 25 miles, they make you get on scales to make sure that you haven’t lost too much weight. I check out fine, but I noticed a “hot spot” (blister forming) on my left heel and Vic tapes me up perfectly and sends me on my way.

Things are going along ok, but it is really starting to heat up. I remember a runner having a small thermometer on his pack and he states that it is over 90. When I leave Eagles Roost, I make a pretty stupid mistake. I forget to pack my GU’s in my running pack and unfortunately this is a long stretch, about 8 miles, before I get to the next AS. Since it is now the hottest part of the day and I have no food, my only thought is to slow down and conserve energy. I know that if I can get through this section, my crew will be able to put me back together. I found out later that I had come into that AS with only 30 minutes before the cut off. They get me taken care of and I am back out on the course pretty quick.

 As the race goes on I am still fighting stomach issue and not being able to eat real food. I don’t even have a desire for it at all and this is totally odd for me. At every hundo I have run in the past, I have eaten an entire steak during the race! I LOVE STEAK, but not today. I am still scared that at some point I am going to run out of energy and be done. I get quite with the guys or sound like a winey, 5 yrs old girl asking her parents not to have to eat the healthy food. I so hated this, but I felt like if I did start throwing up, that it just wouldn’t stop and my day would be over.

The focus turns to me getting to mile 52, Chilao AS so that Vic can then start pacing me. Another lesson learned, don’t let people you don’t know tape your feet in a race! I had come in just a couple minutes early then my crew had expected and I didn’t see them. At this AS they had volunteers to wash and treat your feet if needed. I knew some things were going on with my feet, so I got them cleaned and someone started treating my blisters. I didn’t want to cause a problem or seem ungrateful, but I didn’t think their tape job would work. It did last me to the next AS, then Vic had to redo everything. It is always good to have someone on your crew that knows how to treat your feet and you trust them.

The wonderful volunteer in the chair to the right gave me batteries for my headlamp when my died. Such great people are around these ultra races!
 Vic does a great job of pacing me. We talk about all different things and he rewards me when I run and before long we are at mile 75, Chantry Flats, and it is Mr. Ackley’s duty to take over on the last 25 miles. One thing that messes with runners minds is the fact that when you leave Chantry Flats, you will not see your crew till the finish line. If you do decide to drop out, I am not sure what they have to do to get you out of there besides maybe having to wait till the AS closes. It is also known that the last 25 miles are view just as hard or harder as the first 25, so leaving Chantry Flats is dedication to the finish.
The next section of this race, the climb to Mt. Wilson is just BRUTAL!! 4.5 miles of almost constant uphill with an incline that is servre that I have to put my hands on my thighs to push down to climb this thing. I know that having 75+ miles on my legs and being tired can skew my view, but this had to be one of the hardest climbs I have ever done in a hundo. This climb was harder that the 2nd major climb on Baden –Powell! Just insane!! I state that I don’t know how I am going to get through this climb and yet another one at the end. Pat has me stay in the moment. Don’t worry about 10 miles down the trail, stay here and think positive!

 Pat was kind enough that he gave me all the vanilla GU’s that he had since that’s all that seemed to work for me. But it got to the point where we had run out of vanilla favor. Real food was still not appealing at all. I was scared of trying new flavors of the GU’s stuff, but I didn’t have a choice. The GU Chomps seemed to work and I was able to keep them down.

This is not an angry face but one of more of not trying throw up what I am eating.
 It is so amazing how long a mile stretches out at the end of these hundred milers. I just working so hard to move a decent pace and get to the next AS, but they seemed to never get there. Somewhere in this section all the blisters on my feet that I have built all race long just seem to at the height of getting my attention. I know at times I look like some old man hobbling down the trail. I know that I sound like a whiny, little kid, but Pat just continues the positive thoughts focus to get me down the trail.

We get past the last AS and are heading to the finish line. I am in front of Pat and we come around a corner to find a 4 foot long rattlesnake slowly moving across the trail. I get Pat to look to make sure I am not hallucinating. I am have done that before in hundo. Mr. Rattlesnake takes a minute, then we are able to past without issue.

 Coming out of the mountains and up on to the street is surreal for me. I have pictures of pacing Pat on that exact street and 4 years earlier, it is now reversed. I have no words to fully describe what it meant to me to see that park and finish line. I crossed the finish line and shook Hal’s hand, one of the RD’s. Thanked God for letting me get through this event and accomplish it. Hugged Vic and Pat and thanked them for their help.
One of the RD's, Hal Winston shaking all the finishers hands.
I know that it is very manly, but I got emotional at the end. Completing something that I had been working on for so long went deep into my soul.

Angeles Crest 100 is a great race. The RD’s and volunteers where just outstanding, just like I remembered them from 2008 and one of the reasons of getting in this wonderful sport. The goodness of humanity.