Sunday, July 4, 2010

Badwater 2009 Crew Report

Runner: Steve Hanes
Crew: Denny Colegrove, Niki Yoblonski, Ronnie Hanes,
Melinda Hanes, Michael Baksh, Michael Hanes
Author: Michael Hanes

Watching the videos months prerace at a team meeting was the unsettling equivalent to watching why putting up a bear bag is important while camping. Lots of gone wrong shots, everyone touting that “yes indeed Death Valley is the hottest place on earth” exclamations that shoes used to melt, it's almost hot enough to fry an egg, and oh yea “it's like the hottest I've ever been”. Me personally, I was glad I wasn't running and was worried enough about crewing.

July 2009. After years of preparation by dad and months of getting the crew ready we landed in Vegas, we being Steve, Ronnie, Denny and I. We Found the only rental van with spare keys, had a quick nights sleep then headed west past the sprawl of the city. We were relaxed, in good spirits and generally feeling cramped from the couple days of traveling. A couple stops at Walmarts then a non-eventful but scenic drive through the desert rounded out the second day. We drove up Devil's Lookout on the way in and could see Badwater basin below us with the valley stretching out to the north and Mount Whitney in the background. It was a pleasant 80 degrees and breezy on top, clear and good visibility we joked we should just buy the postcard because there was no way we were good enough to get a picture to do it justice ourselves.

We arrived at Death Valley proper late in the afternoon and Denny's Kestrel said the temp was 112. It felt hot but I was expecting to turn into jelly from the comments on the pre-race video. Water bottles had been in hand since leaving Vegas and I swigged nervously any time I thought about how hot it was and unconsciously when I saw someone else lift theirs. The other thing the videos said was that the heat was “sneaky”, and I was keeping an hard eye on the rascal. The next few days were spent greeting the rest of the crew, packing the van, eating, resting, eating and eating. By the time Sunday came around I couldn't take much more relaxing, I was ready to go!

Steve Denny Niki and I were in the van early driving to the start. I don't think a word was spoken and though it wasn't entirely hostile I couldn't help feeling a bit bad for Niki who must have been thinking “Crap, I signed on with this team. . .so much for fun”. It wasn't completely new to me but I could see how it could be taken that way. When we unloaded, the start line had the feel of new morticians cracking jokes at work. There was an air of solemnity hanging over everything but the nervous excitement and goodwill of finally starting kept things light. After the pictures, the formal start line up and a beautiful singing of the national anthem they were off. Dad looked great from the start, I was afraid he would start off too fast because the excitement and plenty of rest made it feel easy. As I snapped his picture a few hundred yards down the road he looked like he was in complete control and running his plan; steady composed and respecting the course to come.

Denny, Melinda and Ronnie had the first crewing shift so my team said good by and wished them a good time. Mike, Niki and I took off back to the rooms as crew 2. As soon as we got in the car the mood swung happily jovial. I think it was because we had finally started and we felt the excitement of actually doing something (even if it was to go back for breakfast) but Mike and I started joking in earnest, entertaining ourselves and Niki, while trying to preserve the integrity normally reserved for those older than 12. We usually succeeded but there were some low points. I was excited because up to this time we weren't sure what to expect and didn't really know how to interact with each other. As soon as we pulled away from the start it was like each of us dropped the gloves and anything was fair game, much more fun than feeling standoffish!

Steve caught us a little off guard when he came through Furnace Creek 3 hours later where our siesta was, he was on a great pace and looked comfortable, we didn't expect him for another half hour or so but we managed to cover that up. He had a quick ice cream and was off. I think Mike commented “Damn, your dad is haulin ass”. Crew 1 kept attending him by the mile and my crew retired again to finish the down time we were allotted. A few hours later, after the minimum time etiquette would allow for a crew change, I decided it was time to jump in and see what this was all about. Sun gear and ice in place we relieved Denny's crew to his comment “I knew they couldn't stay away”. The only sinking feeling I remember the whole trip is when I saw Denny Ronnie and Melinda pull away after the first crew change. It only lasted about 15 seconds but it was enough to remind me that we were in the middle of the desert with no communications and had better be thinking ahead to keep things on track.

Mike and Niki had never crewed before but after just a couple stops we roughed out the efficiency and settled into our tasks. Mike appointed himself First Science Officer, keeping the most incredible calorie and fluid notes on dad as well as all of our weights at intervals for the remainder of the trip. Niki and I handled ice bandannas, spray water and food prep. In short we had a tight ship. Dad continued to look steady and calm through the afternoon. Running splits must have been sub 11 minute miles, pit stops were 20-40 seconds and when we got to Stove Pipe Wells dad was way ahead of his 48 finish goal, looking great and and “feeling fine” I believe the quote was. He decided to stop for a while in the shade nursing two ice cream sandwiches, a water bottle and the garden sprayer while the crew refueled, used the facilities and cycled ice. Mike and I realized that a liter of icewater to the back of the neck two or three times in short order is highly rejuvenating, we couldn't quite convince Niki of the benefits though.

The climb out of Stove Pipe Wells is Townes Pass, a dead grade going from sea level up to 5,000 ft in a mileage I can't recall. Dad's 600 calorie snack got him a few miles in but it was back to crewing shortly. We had been debating when we should start pacing dad, officially we were able to since Furnace Creek before noon. Since he looked so strong and we didn't know how we would hold up we decided to wait until it was cooler. At the 50 mile mark, just over 12 hours from the start and partly into Townes Pass I jumped in to pace leaving Mike and Niki all crewing duties. Luckily it was a walking grade up hill, dad however is a stronger walker than I and even after he was 50 miles and 120 degrees into it I was working to keep up! That was great news. He was on such a good pace that the front runners didn't end up catching him until later that evening and into the night.

Niki and Mike handled the van admirably and I was free to enjoy the scenery and observe other runners/crews which I didn't have the chance to do just driving by them. Dad was still so relaxed and comfortable that he was ok with anything to eat. I felt bad to ask for Niki to make me something special because I had only been pacing a couple hours and would have been more fickle than the runner! Strapping on the headlamps we came to the top of the Pass and took a 20 minute break in the dark to eat a good meal of baked beans et. al. and let it soak in before the downhill into Panimint. We wished other runners well and enjoyed the time.

We made excellent pace on the decent which seemed to go on and on while my toes wedged into the tips of my shoes from the downhill pounding. Dad started to look like he was finally showing a few signs of being on his feet all day and covering 75 miles. We had to slow down once on the downhill and walk for a stretch so he could eat a bagel with turkey. He was still in good spirits but had started plopping into the chair on sit down breaks and wasn't as quick to jump out. A few miles across the valley floor Crew 1 came back from their siesta to take over duties and my team was free to take the rest of the night off!

The drive from Panimint to Lone Pine that night was beautiful. The sky was clear and filled, possibly a half moon out, watching the runners' crew vans snake across the valley and up the next mountain range miles in the distance was inspiring. Mike pulled the car over at the top of Father Crowley's grade and we all got out and watched, talked, thought and shared a touching few minutes after the day's work. We passed the front runners at the top of the hill and I dozed on and off for the rest of the ride, I was fried. When we got to the hotel I asked for the first shower, laid down on the bed and didn't hear anything more until getting up the next morning.

When I rolled over I was a bit surprised Mike wasn't there. The plan, at least when I crashed was for Mike to take his shower then for he and I to share a bed so Niki could have one to herself. Apparently as I was falling asleep I was on my side and arranged a pillow under one of my shoulders so I could lean on it and relax the muscles without letting them sag. This had the appearance of me seductively cuddling said pillow and Mike was a bit nervous by the implications and decided to seek space elsewhere.

We all felt great for breakfast and went to a diner, I don't recall the conversations but we were all in a good mood. Mike managed to spill his water on the table then rinse it off with his coffee a few seconds later. I think there was a comment to the effect that he was much better with water bottles on less sleep and was henceforth cut off. Niki told us about Mt. Whitney and some of her adventures. Fueled up we headed out to find dad!

We passed some of the front runners heading out of town and were about half way down Owens Lake bed and just beginning to joke about where we would see him when I spotted the signature turned out right foot and slightly pitched torso a few hundred yards up the road that meant he had finally started working hard. Mike and Niki were appropriately incredulous until Mike recognized Melinda's gait as pacer and we all got a face recognition on Steve as we drove up. WOW he had moved during the night! Maybe 12 minute moving miles since we left him, we were stunned.

Thus came the day of Owens dry lake: flat, dead and hot at 5,000 feet. The thermometer said it was in the hundreds and single digits but I felt more lethargic than in Stove Pipe at 120. Niki did an amazing job pacing all day and my half hearted attempts to relieve her were thankfully turned down. Dad's walking pace was 13 minute miles but he was working hard to do it. Food got out of whack for a bit and never really recovered for the rest of the day. Through it all he kept on moving but we could see it was tough. Niki was the painted opposite; fresh and chipper she looked like there was nothing to it, maybe that's the lift a good pacer brings.

We roused Crew two on the radio outside the hotel as we came into town. Denny somehow knows exactly when and where Steve's going to be and was waiting for the call. Mom and Denny made a BigMac, fries and a chocolate shake run while dad moved through town and took a well deserved seat in the shade just as the food came up. Passing on the fries he managed the burger and most of the shake before taking a nap in the car for a half hour before starting the 12 mile ascent up Mt Whitney. Unfortunately only one vehicle could go up Mt Whitney and the van had only room for 4. Denny and Mom graciously let the rest of us crew even though they wanted to be a part of the climb as much as we did. Thank you both, next time you won't have to sit out (did I just say next time??)

The food and rest must have done Steve some good but I couldn't see it just looking at him. Hopefully he felt better. The sun was just going down behind the mountains as we started out, being on the eastern foot it was the first place in the valley to get shaded though the air was still hot. The mood changed again here; where the previous days were full of joking and fun comments it seemed like this was a somber march to the summit. Niki commented about the change and I said I wasn't quite sure but the closest I could come up with was that it felt like vespers. We had had so much fun during the race and in the days leading up to it that this last climb was it, after that it was all done; there was no more runner, no more crewing, a signaled start to heading back to our jobs and day to day responsibilities where this thing called BadWater doesn't exist. I hoped that flew but I also couldn't help thinking that Dad, finally showing exhaustion was carrying the mood as well. How was it possible for us to joke and carry on when just a few feet away he was working arguably harder than any of the rest of us had worked in our entire lives and us not recognize and respect it. The whole rest of the race he had looked fantastic, made it look easy in fact, Owens dry lake was tough but he kept moving, here he was simply spent.

After a bit of the climb every mile and a half he would need to pull over and eat something. He could probably only process the simple sugars from what he took in so in another mile or so he would need to sit down and eat again. He was quite irritable at this point and while I'm sure it wasn't because of us it had the effect of putting us on tip toes which seemed to make him all the more irritable.

Curiously a sherrif's car sped past us before we reached the checkpoint 2/3 up the hill, then shortly later another one raced past. . . what in the devil was up. Not stopping at the checkpoint dad marched through picking up Niki as a pacer and dropping off Melinda. Getting up to the first switchbacks we started seeing cars coming down from the top talking about a fire and heading to the bottom. Determining only Hell or Chris Kostman, the race director, had the authority to call off the 135 we kept going until we encountered one or the other. Just after a switchback to the left in the rock face there was a pull off where we could look out over Owens dry lake and see the snake of car lights imperceptibly moving to keep pace with the runners still strung out along the valley. Dad was a few yards past this when an official coming from the finish line told us we needed to stake out and were likely finished because a fire had closed the upper campgrounds. Again, we hadn't heard this from Hell or Chris so dad pulled up a chair, noted the time and we all enjoyed the view and settled in for a wait perhaps farther into the night. After about 60 seconds Chris came driving down saying that yes indeed the upper finish was closed due to evacuation and the checkpoint we passed a mile back was the end of the line. Blink, blink, everyone pile in and drive down to the station. Mill about while the news is confirmed and reconfirmed, accept it's all over, get into vehicles again and head back to the hotel.

It happened so fast and with such finality that it didn't really sink in as being finished. At the hotel dad headed in to get a shower while we unloaded coolers into the rooms. The sudden transition without a defining apex had us all a bit on our heels. There was an odd rift in conversations as we unloaded the coolers of the last few days, being a very real indication that we were done. For me it didn't really change until after a failed attempt at McDonalds that night and we went back and made a meal off the copious remains of crewing food. Lunchmeats, fruits, bagels trail mix and a couple Fat Tires that we kept cool for the ride all came out and we sat around the room joking and listening to other sides of the story. Dad felt great and was in high spirits eating a sandwich and listening to our follies of crewing. He didn't feel like anything was missing at all, he had done his best. It wasn't about jumping across the ribbon at the end, it was about all the steps leading there and he had done that complete. The beer tasted good, the second sandwich hit the spot and things were more as I pictured them.

The next morning news came that they had reopened the top with a host of possible finishing scenarios to accommodate anyone who had been displaced. Dad was happy with his effort the previous night and decided to leave it at that. We were excited to go back up for a photo op at the top because in the confusion last night here wasn't time. Mike and Melinda however, had a long trip home so they took off while the rest of us made the beautiful drive up Portal Road in the day cheering runners still on the climb. At the top, the altitude and cool shade of the pines was a welcome relief to the previous weeks heat; pictures, the shiniest buckle I've ever seen and congratulations all around were shared. We topped it all off was a massively good burger and fries for lunch while we unwound and enjoyed the view.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Philadelphia 100

I'm still alive. I haven't kept this up, but have been doing good things. I have more adventures coming up, so I'll try to post here to let folks know what's going on.
I heard about the Philadelphia 100 in early January. It sounded like my kind of event. Free!!The idea was that a group of runners would meet at Lloyd Hall in Fairmont Park and run on the Boathouse Loop for as long as anybody wanted to run. There would be people running from Saturday morning to Sunday afternoon. One of the races I have on my calendar is a 48 hour event. I've never run a fixed time event. I planned to use the Philadelphia run as a 36 hour event. The Boathouse loop is a paved path along the Schuylkill River. I would get to resupply at my car every trip around. I could carry what I needed for 8 miles. It sounded like a perfect training event.
I checked and found a place to stay nearby. The Chamounix Hostel is in Fairmont Park. It is 4 miles away and I could stay for $30 a night. Things were falling into place. As the time got closer, the weather was forecast to be near perfect, with day times near 80 and nights in the 50's.
I drove down Friday to Philadelphia. It is a couple hundred miles, so I planned to take most of the day. I wanted to go to Fairmont Park to see the race site and meeting place in the daylight. I didn't want to be wandering around in the dark on race morning. The race director warned us that parking would be a nuisance. Parking was limited and even if we used the metered parking and kept the meters fed, there is some rule about having to move to a new spot every couple hours or get at ticket. I wanted to see where I could park without hassle.
I followed my gps unit off the Schuylkill Expressway into the side streets right to Lloyd Hall. The whole place was an absolute zoo. I admit to being a country boy, but I have traveled some. The sidewalks were full of people walking and pushing strollers. There were kids on bicycles weaving in and out of traffic, people stepping out from between parked cars. Fairmont Park is one of the largest city parks in the USA. The Philadelphia area is home to 5 million people. Most of them seemed to be enjoying the fine afternoon in the park. This was 3pm on Friday. I couldn't think what it would look like Saturday afternoon. It would be much different from any other run I had ever done. In fairness, Fairmont Park is beautiful. It is along the river and had sidewalks and benches. I couldn't blame those folks for wanting to be there.
I couldn't stop because there was no place to park, so I went on by and went to the hostel to check that out. I followed the computer screen to Chamounix Hostel. It was a smaller, obviously older building in a corner of the park by the riding stables. I parked and found the door locked. I remembered reading about a lockout period in the middle of the day, so that made sense. What really put me off though, was the trash can on the front porch overflowing with beer bottles. That told me that the housekeeping was slack. It also told me about the people who stayed there. The more I thought about it, it didn't sound like a place to get a good night's rest and leave at 5am for a race.
I decided to stay somewhere else and get my rest. The handy gps unit said all the near hotels were Hilton and Marriots. I drove back to Quakertown to find a cheaper place. All the places at the turnpike entrance were the chain places. I drove on into town and found a local no brand name motel. It was in my price range at $45. The room reeked so bad of mold and cleaning chemicals, I couldn't take it. I got my money back and retreated to the expensive places. I ended up at a Comfort Inn for $89. At least it was clean and didn't smell. I turned in early and fell asleep readily. I needed to get up at 4 to get to the race in time for the 6 am start.
I woke up at 6:42. I never heard the alarm or it didn't go off. I was almost an hour late and over an hour away. That was not the main problem, though. My head was stuffed up tight and my eyes didn't want to open. I felt like I had taken a thrashing. I could tell I wouldn't run 100 miles this day. I lay there a bit and calculated. I was certain I would never find a place to park by the time I arrived at 8:30 on the first nice Saturday of the spring, especially on a holiday weekend. It was Easter weekend, after all.
I dragged myself to breakfast and thought about what to do. I had come all this way and didn't want to just turn around and go home. I used the computer in the lobby and found a rail trail in Allentown, 30 miles away. The Ironton Rail Trail is a 6 mile loop. I was sure I could manage 6 miles at a time. My friend Wanda was planning to come and check on me at Philadelphia in the afternoon. She has crewed for me at other races. There was no need for crewing in an 8 mile loop, but she wanted to cheer me on. I called her to say there was no need to go to Philadelphia.
I drove on up to Allentown and managed to find the Ironton trail. I lucked into the only place along it with bathrooms. The Ironton trail is very nice. It is paved, about 10 feet wide. It has several access points with parking. It wanders around back yards, along a river and some empty land that was obviously railroad property once. It passes a preserved, early concrete kiln from the 1860's. It is shaded, which was nice, since it was a warm day for early April. It is popular, with many people out walking or cycling or jogging.
I headed out to get in some miles. My head was still plugged up. My chest felt like it had an iron band around it. My feet were made of concrete. The first loop was work. The second time I got a little looser. The third loop was getting hard again.
I kept trying to figure out what was going on. A couple years ago, I had a race in Umstead, in North Carolina. It was in the early spring. The pine trees were in full bloom and the yellow pollen was everywhere. It was on the cabin floors, on the puddles. That time I felt the same; I just couldn't go. I ended up not finishing that race.
I was determined to do another loop now, so headed out a fourth time. Even if I ended up walking in, I wanted more than 18 miles. I made it around and added a bit to call it 25 miles. I just sat on the grass, all done for.
Wanda had arrived by then, and we headed to find a room. I took a shower and needed a nap before supper. After supper, I turned in and was out like a light.
When I woke up, I was all new again. My head was clear and I wasn't sore anywhere. I was quite hungry. After breakfast, I headed home. I felt like a million bucks. I was antsy in the car. I wanted to run. I felt like I could have run all the way home.
I must have had some allergy. At Umstead, I must have been affected by the pines. There were no pines here. Nothing was blooming. I didn't go away from anything overnight. I didn't cough or sneeze. My stomach wasn't affected, so no food poisoning. I'm baffled for an exact cause. I'm glad it went away so quickly, I just want to know what to avoid so it doesn't happen again.
So that was my race weekend. It didn't go like I expected.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


I first ran in Death Valley in February ’06 in the Death Valley marathon. That year the Titus Canyon road was closed and we ran out and back on West Side Road. It was the first time I’d traveled to a race. The temperature got into the 80’s. I wasn’t prepared for that. I lost my S-caps right away. I didn’t eat much at all. My legs were locking up from cramps the last couple miles. At the end, as we milled around, another runner came over and asked with concern if I was OK. His girlfriend was embarrassed and pulled him away. He was right, however. I was hot and exhausted, not thinking really clearly.
Since then, I’ve learned a whole lot. I came back and ran the marathon again in’08. This time it was on the much tougher and scenic Titus Canyon route. I did much better that year and began to love Death Valley.
I began to run longer and more difficult courses. The toughest race was Massanutten in ’08. I was 34 ½ hours finishing that 100 miles. I ran 4 100’s in 2008. I applied to Badwater in January ’09 like many other runners. I know I’m not an elite runner by any stretch. I made back up plans for a solo run the week after the official race. I made stay reservations for both the big dance and a solo party.
When the email came from the selection committee came, I opened it with trepidation. I re-read it several times in the next couple of days to be sure it was real.
I had prepared a crew. Denny would be crew chief. He works for the county emergency services He has been a firefighter and ambulance attendant. He is thorough and is an organizer.
My son Mike is an engineer. He too is organized and logical. He is a passionate skier and cyclist. He has done several 100 mile bike rides.
My daughter Melinda lives in California. I wanted to make this a family event, so she and her boyfriend Mike were in. My ex-wife rounded out the family. Her nurse skills might come in handy.
We needed one more and were able to find Niki from the Badwater blog crew postings. Niki is a climber and mountaineer, spending time in the mountains all over the world. She is also a cyclist, having covered 200 miles in a 24 hour period.
Mike and Denny had crewed for me before, in Vermont and at Iroquois in New York. The best chance for more crew training came in May at the Keys 100. Mike, Denny, Ron and I flew to Florida. We picked up a rental van and set it up just like we would for Badwater. Keys is a point to point run on a paved road, just like Badwater. It is a great practice event. Several others were practicing there too.
At the 6 am start, I went out a bit fast. The crew said “You’re going pretty fast” “I know, it feels OK for now” Around the 17 mile point, I was way up among the relay teams. I was sitting in the shade eating something when Alissa Springman came by.
I pointed her out as last year’s winner. That’s when the crew said “You are still holding 9 minute miles.” “What!! That’s way too fast” A bit later, my thighs started to feel a bit sore. I started to take walking breaks, then more. I ended up walking the last 30 miles. I was making 15 minute miles, so I didn’t lose any place because of it. I finished in 25:05 much wiser and with an experienced crew.
We flew into Las Vegas Thursday. We picked up our rental van, making sure to get one with two keys. Getting locked out of the car is a disaster we didn’t want. We stocked up in a big store and finished the list in Pahrump. We stopped at Dante’s View so the crew could get a look at the valley. It is stunning and the scope of Death Valley and the task ahead became real.
After supper that evening, we stepped out to a hot evening with a hair dryer wind. That was the only time I felt any concern about the weather. Sunday went by quickly with runner check in and the pre-race meeting. We turned in early and I slept well. We were up at 4:15, nervously quiet. Once we got to Badwater, I felt calm. The point called Badwater is a parking area where the race was to begin. I weighed in, got lots of pictures taken and waited. Even at line up, I was calm. Thalia Kostman, daughter of the race director, sang the national anthem, very moving, in her beautiful voice.
At GO, I moved out with everybody else, intending to stay in the last half of the group. I didn’t have a real strategy, just to remain steady. I had told the crew to keep me under 12 minute miles. I knew the first 42 miles were the key to the race. I walked the upslopes and ran the flat and downhill parts. I found myself running with Frank McKinney from Florida. This was his 4th Badwater. Our pace was well matched and I saw him many more times. We were in the shade of the mountains till around 9:30, when the sun rose above them. I was running easy, looking at the desert scenery, still not sure it was real.
After the Furnace Creek check in, I felt the day warm up. I had done my sauna training, so I was as ready as I could get. The crew started spraying me with water and making ice bandanas for my neck. At Stovepipe Wells, I sat on the shaded porch with my feet up. I ate ice cream and rested. I was videotaped by somebody. I said “ Do I look like I’m racing? There is 100 miles to go, no hurry now” He thought that was funny. I probably rested 40 minutes. Mike and Niki fueled the van and got more ice. As they were finishing up, I started out. I told Niki, “If we get through Stovepipe with feet and stomach intact, we’re halfway home.”
The walk up Townes Pass is where I got the first company. Mike got out and paced me here. We began to get passed by the faster runners that had started later. There are 3 starting waves, with the elite runners assigned to the later starts. I remembered last year when we were at the Emigrant Canyon turn off, we were told that the course route had been changed due to flash flooding ahead. We got another rain shower right there just like last time too, only no rainbow this time.
I continued to run and walk easily, not feeling any pressure. I came in with a goal of finishing. I really wanted a buckle for finishing in 48 hours or less. During a burst of optimism I had made up a chart showing a 44 hour finish. I was feeling good and ahead of even that.
It got dark as we neared the top of the pass. Niki took a picture of us at the sign on the summit. I ran most of the long downhill to Panimint Springs. There was a crew shift change a few miles outside Panimint. Frank caught up to me as I ate by the van. He intended a break at Panimint as I did. Jack Denness was running the checkpoint at Panimint. He showed me the cottage set aside for runners. I was able to get a shower, but the bunks were full. My prepared crew laid out a pad for me and I was able to nap just off the parking lot. They let me sleep an hour and a half. I felt good and finished a huge strawberry smoothie they had ready for me when I woke. There must have been 1,000 calories in the thing. I saw Frank’s crew van on the road as we left, he must have been right behind me.
Denny took over pacing up to Father Crowley Point. This long uphill is dreaded by most of the runners. It is 8 miles long, narrow and with few good places for the van to park. Daylight arrived as we moved along. I felt good, felt strong.
After the top, Melinda took over for some pacing duties. It was great to move along and talk and enjoy the sights. There is a long downhill stretch past the Darwin turnoff. I ran the whole thing, 7 miles or so. I ran through the Darwin checkpoint, calling out my race number, 83. For a portion of this I was doing 9 minute miles. Really flying for me. Especially with 24 hours done and almost 100 miles.
At the end of the downhill, I sat down at the van and ate and rested a bit. My plan was to walk the long flat past Keeler. We did get pictures at the 100 mile mark. Right around there, we got a couple F15 flyovers. Around the 115 mile mark, Kelvin Marshall’s crew pulled up behind us. I had crewed for Kelvin last year. This year, he wanted to better his time of 40:20. He hoped to beat the previous time set by another Australian runner. He did so with a 36:30 finish. In a few minutes, Kelvin blasted by me with Steve Ochoa in tow.
Soon it was crew change time again. Niki stepped in to pace. Mike and Mike were the van guys for now. Niki was a good pacer, talking when I wanted to talk, quiet when I was.
I got a bit behind in taking in calories around this point. Mike B had come prepared with some MREs. He had a backpacking stove and made me an omelet with turkey and cheese, followed with hot tea. That hit the spot and gave me the boost I needed.
Most runners find the Owens Lake stretch boring and hate that part. I didn’t find it so bad. It took me a while to figure out what I was seeing cross the lake. It looked like a parade of Loch Ness monsters. There was a head and tail and humps in between, black in color and reflecting in the lake. As we got to the lower end of the lake and they got closer to the road, I could see that they were truck tractors pulling two trailers of rock. I don’t know what they were doing, but there was a parade of rock trucks going somewhere.
This seemed the hottest part of the course. Denny’s weather instrument only registered 115. It had been 120 the day before. Maybe the fatigue had something to do with it. I was still moving well with a steady walk. The crew kept spraying and bandanaing. Nothing sounded good to eat and I got behind on calories again. I looked forward to a burger and fries in Lone Pine. I kept underestimating the distance left. By the time we turned onto Route 190, I was way behind the curve, into a bonk. I was tired and a bit cranky. I thought I remembered the walk to the Portal Road as having shade. There was no relief this time. Niki and I checked in at the Dow Villa time station and finally turned onto the Portal Road. I was really ready for that burger and fries.
I had told the crew we would take a break in the first part of the Portal Road. I remembered it as wide and shaded in the first ¼ mile. I sat and put my feet up on the bumper. The food went down well. I was sweaty from the hot walk and when I sat in the shade, I cooled off fast. There was a bit of a breeze and I began to shiver. When I finished eating, I got into the car that had been sitting with the windows up. The warm car felt good, as I was still shivering. I got to doze a half hour. Ron and Denny went back to the Best Western to wait while I went up the last 12 miles. I told them to allow 4 hours.
This is the home stretch, so there was no pressure or doubt of finishing. It’s just late in the race and runner and crew are tired. This is the steepest part of the course and everybody walks here. Part way up the road is along a stream, the first fresh water we’d seen anywhere on the course.
It got dark for the second time and we put on reflective vests and got our lights out. Way below us we heard a siren. It came closer and then a sheriff’s deputy car came screaming up the hill. A couple minutes later another one followed. The last checkpoint is at a wide spot along the road at mile 131. We recorded a time of exactly 40 hours to there. I ate a bit and moved on toward the finish line. The next mile and a half is the steepest of all the course. I got through that well and turned to the left onto the last switchback. From here, the last 2 ½ miles are much easier. I felt the cool air and knew we were near the pines. Just as we got around the corner, one of the sheriff deputies came down the hill and told us the campground and the area was being evacuated due to a forest fire. We were to go back down off the mountain. About a minute later, this was confirmed by the race director, Chris Koffman. He told us to stake out and return to our motel. The finish line was closed and our race was over.
I didn’t feel let down. I absolutely knew I would finish in 41 hours. That was way beyond my most optimistic hope. The actual finish line wasn’t needed at that point. It would have been only a ceremony.
We went back down to our rooms at the Best Western. The crew was all wound up. I was tired but happy with the whole adventure. We talked a while and I got a shower to wash off the stickiness. My feet were in good shape, just swollen.
After breakfast the next morning, we unpacked the van and cleaned it. Then we went to see if we could get to the top of the mountain. The Portal road was open, so we went on up to see the official finish line. Many other runners were doing the same, so things were crowded at the top, with runners and the usual hikers and campers.
It is such a contrast to run for days through the desert and finish in the cool pine trees with a waterfall rushing nearby. No doubt there is a metaphor there. I got my finisher’s medal from Chris. He must have had some sleep at some time, but he was at all the starts and met every runner at the finish line. His is an endurance event.
As we went down the road, there were runners still coming in. We honked and cheered for them. In all, there were 75 finishers of the 88 starters. That makes it a pretty good year. The medical team reported it was quiet for them.
It has been a month now and I have no doubt lost a few details. The whole thing went so smoothly, it is hard to imagine what could have been better. I do know I want to go back and do it again. It was due to the crew that it did happen so well. I felt like a circus pony doing my bit while they ran the show.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Getting Ready for the Big Dance

Since Old Dominion, I've backed off and let things heal and strengthen. I've been running fewer miles and taking rest days. I've been using the sauna several times a week. I can tell I'm getting more heat trained. I can stay in longer each time, but it still takes a toll. I can't get up early the next morning to run, I have to take the day off or run in the evening. I just feel like I've taken a beating. It's like coming down with the flu, that achy all over, tired feeling.
Part of the adaptation is teaching the body to sweat more and to use salt (electrolytes) more efficiently. For a while, I was pouring salt on my food. Now I use a lot less. I have been drinking 2 liters of water in a half hour and still losing weight in the sauna, as much as a couple pounds. That is a lot in a half hour, especially considering I drank 4 pounds of water in that time and still lost weight.
I did take a couple afternoons off to run on the hottest days we've had here. I felt guilty running on a weekday afternoon when I had work to do. I'm sure I'll make it up. I ran 11 miles on Route 49. It was 85 degrees and 50% humidity, not especially hot by most standards. I was out 3 hours and drank 90 ounces of water. The often quoted medical texts say humans can only process 20 ounces per hour. I came back 5 pounds lighter than I left. I lost a total of 180 ounces of sweat in that 3 hours. I needed 60 ounces of water an hour to keep hydrated.
Today I ran in the afternoon. It was only 80 degrees today. I made a real point to keep taking in water. I drank 120 ounces in 3 hours and came back in at the same weight I left with.
It takes some adjusting to drink that much and not feel full. Mostly I have to pay attention and realize what I did in the past isn't enough.
I have assembled a box to send to Melinda. She can bring those things so I don't have to fly quite so much out. Extra shoes and some clothes I won't need before I go.
Things will move even faster now. I can't believe it's only 2 weeks and one day till race day. I leave in 12 days.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Old Dominion Training Run

I went to Woodstock, Va to run the OD 100 last weekend.Old Dominion is the second oldest 100 miler in the country. Only Western States is older. Like States, OD started as a horse event. The horse and runner events have separated since then. This was the 30th running of the event.
I had run Keys 100 May 16, then Denny's BFT Boogie, 42 tough miles with 8,000 feet of climbing, just last weekend.
Most wouldn't have even attempted another 100. I'm not sure what that says about me. I felt good by the end of the week and had rested as much as I could all week. I drove down in 6 hours. It is about 300 miles. About 30 miles away, I still didn't see the mountains we were supposed to run over. That area has unique geography. The mountains popped up just in time and they were for real.
The race headquarters is at the Shenandoah County fairgrounds. The grounds are visible from the exit of I81. There are motels and places to eat within sight of the race start.
I checked in at the fairgrounds and got my number, 58. I intended to camp, but the grass was almost knee high and soaking wet. They had received 5 inches of rain in the last 3 days. I was allowed to sleep on the floor of the building that was the headquarters. I had foam pads and didn't mind the hard floor. I just didn't want the wet. The race briefing was on time and not lengthy. There were 39 runners, about the usual number for this event.
I went out for some pizza and came back to a dark and empty building. I was able to turn in before 9:00. I slept well and the first of the race crew coming in at 3:15 woke me up. That was about right timing. I got dressed and ate a bagel and only had to wait around 10 minutes before the start.
The morning was comfortably warm and foggy. I felt good and started off in the main pack. We ran some streets to get out of Woodstock and then some paved roads to the George Washington national forest. The roads there were a mix of pavement and gravel. Some parts were steep so that was plenty of walking. The aid stations were 4-6 miles apart. I felt good and kept a comfortable pace. I could tell I was moving plenty fast, but it felt good. There were a couple nice trail sections, but the first 25 miles were mostly roads. I was out of the 25 mile station at 4:40 into the race.That works out to a 11:15 pace per mile,which is faster than I sometimes run.
I felt good, no sign of the quad soreness that I felt at Keys and on the BFT. The BFT had a lot of downhill running, so I wasn't sure if I had done more damage. Apparently not.
What did grumble was groin muscles. I had torn them badly in martial arts class almost 2 years ago. They were not right all last summer. I thought they were healed this spring, since there hadn't been any soreness there. I kept going, paying attention to what I felt.
At 32 miles, I took a good break. I ate a can of chili and a hard roll from my drop bag. I have learned I need real food and not to rely on aid stations. If I had anything to say about this race, the aid station food was spare. Pretzels, Pringles, and chocolate chip cookies were the choices. At the last couple stops there had been orange sections.
I felt I could ease out another dozen miles, since the trail came back to that same place later. I headed out and took it easy. This time I saw some more trail sections. Nasty trail, with lots of rocks and water running down it. I don't know how anybody could ever run this part.
The day was getting warm. It must have reached 85 degrees. I walked along and got passed by lots of runners.
I got to the 42 mile point. That was a medical check. We had been weighed at check-in.
I thought I had been doing good with my drinking and S-caps. I did get a bit behind on eating. A few yards before the medical check, I crossed another stream.
I weighed 2 pounds over my earlier weight. Considering I now had wet feet, I called that dead on. That was good to know, considering how things went at Keys.
I told the folks there I was dropping out. They agreed with my assessment and gave me an ice pack.
I was given a ride to the next station where there were more crews and I might get a ride back to base. There wasn't a ride there, so I got driven to another station and did finally get a ride to the fairgrounds. I needed to check out with the race timing official. That point had been repeated several times in the briefing. I couldn't find him. I ate and waited and he finally came back a couple hours later. He showed me a sheet he had left on the table in case anybody needed to sign out. This race is small, and quite different from any other I've been in. Not bad, it just thinks differently. Definitely old school.
I loafed around the parking lot until dark, then put out my sleeping bag on the grass. I intended to cheer in runners as they finished. The runners would have to pass right in front of me. The last bit was a lap around the outside of the horse track to the finish line.
I didn't hear a runner all night. I didn't wake up till 4:00 am. By that time most of the runners were done. I did get to cheer in 2 runners.
I stayed for the awards presentation and breakfast. The most amazing story was Dan Brennan. He got off course by 9 miles. He ran back to the course and finished the race, 118 miles, within the 28 hours allowed. And Dan is no kid. He's 58 years old.
"Tough as nails" was the description that summed it up.
I felt I had a good weekend. I know that is a monstrous amount of running in a short time. I wanted to see how much I could do. I had paid the registration fee. It cost me around $100 to drive down. Old Dominion is usually a hot and humid, tough race. I hoped for a run in the heat. It was actually the nicest weather in years. I stopped early before I did any serious damage. I have too much at stake in July to blow it now. I'm not sorry I went down. I may well try this one again. It is sometimes disparaged as a road race. It is not, there are some absolutely nasty trail sections. And the 24 hour finisher's buckle is very classy. Being old school, the awards are men and women's winners, then 24 hour finishers. No age groups, no finisher's plaques for completing the distance.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Keys 100

I hoped to write a full report. It has been almost 3 weeks now and I'm losing the details.
Here is the short version;
Airlines got us into Miami 3 hours later than planned. We missed the mandatory pre-race meeting while we were getting supplies at Walmart. Director Bob Becker gave us a quick briefing when we did get there. We turned in for a short sleep, the second in a row for me.
I didn't feel stressed at all by the heat. It was 85 degrees, with a breeze. Denny had mobile internet and said the humidity was only 50%. That sounds very low for there. I would have expected 85%.
I started off well, maybe a bit fast. My hands started to swell. That was new for me and I didn't realize how serious it was. I did change shoes at mile 30 or so, but too late. I had blisters by then. I didn't bring oversize shoes because I've never had this happen. I expect it in DV, but not here.
I also developed some tightness in front of my thighs. That eventually limited and ended my running. I walked the last 30 miles. I did walk 15 minute miles, including breaks, so I still made time and didn't lose place by it. At mile 5 or so, Route 1 splits and I took the wrong turn for a half mile. That cost me a place.
I finished in 25:05, Not a bad time. Looks like 13th of 27 finishers of 70 starters.
Mostly this was a crew training run. They did very well, so I feel this was a successful weekend.
We did get to dive Monday afternoon on the reefs. We ate quite well after the race.
I'd rate this a 8.5.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Gettysburg to DC Relay

Last weekend I was part of a 12 runner team that took part in the American Odyssey Relay. I was part of the "Whalen Good Time" team. It was a family team mostly made up of Whalen's. A couple extras filled out the roster. The Whalen's had been athletic and on their track teams in their high school days. For some that was 30 years ago. There were 3 Whalen teenagers who were now on teams. Nobody had done this type of event before. The furthest anybody else had run was a half marathon. It was a family event, not a race.
The start was according to our reported previous 10k times. Slowest teams started first. We were #35 of 105 to start.
The morning was cool and a bit overcast, just nice for running. I was the #4 runner. I had legs 4, 16, and 28. Each leg was around 6 miles. Some were easier or harder. The race handbook had ranked the legs for difficulty to allow the team captain to place runners in the appropriate slot.
We had 2 vans, 6 runners each. Van 1 took off, meeting runners at change points and sending out the new runner. Van 2 had the morning to kill and met us at point 7, where their man took over. Then we, van 1, went to eat and get some rest.
The course was mostly on secondary paved roads. It went through the Gettysburg battlefield and Antietam. This area is great for running. It is mostly rolling with enough short steep parts to make it interesting. I noticed how the grass was more grown and the trees were more leaved out than at home. It is only a couple hundred miles south, but must be 3 weeks ahead of us.
Van 2 carried on through the afternoon into the dark. We met them at the Boonsboro high school. This was a major transition point and arrangements had been made to open the school gymn and showers for us. It looked like a disaster center with people wandering around, sleeping on the gymn floor, talking on cell phones.
I had an out and back leg here. I ran from the parking lot to the edge of town and back. The 2 runners following me in rotation did similar loops. When we turned it over to van 2, we went to the Amtietam Battlefield Visitor Center. We got some sleep here and soon it was our turn again.
In a couple legs, we were on the C and O Canal path. This historic path led us more directly toward DC. It was gently downhill and packed dirt. My section was well shaded. I was grateful because the day was warming fast. Van 1 turned over to van 2 around noon. It was well into the 80's and humid, quite nasty for running.
After loading up on pizza, we headed to Washington to the finish area to wait. I hadn't been there in many years. I'm glad someone in our crew knew their way around the expressways. We went to the national mall, a grassy area on the Potomac river within sight of the Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson monuments. We drove around and were fortunate to get a parking place within sight of the finish line. We lay in the shade and watched and cheered other teams as they finished. A couple more family members joined us to see the finish. Soon our runners came along. They had run in the hottest part of the day and were quite beat. We all joined in for the run under the banner. Pictures and medals were in order. Then we loaded up and out for a needed meal together.
This was my first relay race. The format is quite different than a trail run. The run, get stiff and then run again, is quite a change. Also, the legs were short to me. I'm used to 40 or 50 or 100 miles at a stretch and I pace myself accordingly. 6 miles is a sprint to me. The others on the team found that very funny. They are used to a 10k as a whole race.
These relay races are apparently popular and numerous. I think this group may run another one. Some members won't run again, some family members had commitments this time.
In all, I had fun and would do another one.