Saturday, August 6, 2011

Who put these mountains here?

This past weekend I ran the White River 50 Miler, shuffling to the finish line in a near broken state. I knew this was going to be a tough one going in but was also aware that there wasn't anything I could do in training that would completely prepare me for what I would face out on the course. Before getting into the play by play here are a few statistics on the run:

Where - White River Area of Mount Rainier
When - July 30th 2011
Course - 50 Miles, 8750 Elevation Gain (Though a garmin would probably list it at around 12K)
Calories Burned - Between 5000-6000
Calories Consumed - Between 2200-2700
Time through first 27.3 miles - 5 hrs 20 minutes
Time from 22.7 to finish - 6 hrs 20 minutes

Who put these mountains here?'s far

From the above statistics you can probably guess where the wheels really started to come off. (Hint: I was finishing up a big downhill at the time) I probably wanted to drop around a half a dozen times...all throughout the second half of the race. The first thought of dropping occurred at Buck Creek after some extensive calf cramping on the descent had forced me to sit idle on the side of the trail while I waited for my seized up calves to quiet down. Just prior to Fawn Ridge I had told myself that my stomach was too wrecked and my legs were too shredded to go further yet after arriving at the aid station I realized that not only was it well within my physical capacity to continue forward, I actually wanted to keep going. This was due to equal parts a stubborn refusal to submit, a desire to see what was around the next corner, and because I found that being out their on the trails was just too much fun. These lows and highs became more frequent as the raced progressed which in my opinion is actually part of the appeal of these types of tests.

Start of race to Camp Sheppard - 3.7 miles (3.7)

We Started off in a mass start (all 300 of us) sans timing chips in the Buck Creek area near the Silver Springs Campground. The first half a mile was along a dirt road near the old air strip and served as a pleasant warm up before the course turned to almost exclusively single track with a little bit of double-track for the next 26 miles. Once the road section was over we followed a nice trail that headed out north along the white river towards the bridge to to the buck creek service road. From there we jumped on another quick section of trail that threw a few blow downs, some shotgun shells and beer cans at us before finally hopping over 410 and linking up with the white river trail to Camp Sheppard. This was a superb rolling section that lasted for about 2 miles before we blew past the aid station and started the ascent to Ranger Creek cabin. Luckily I still had plenty of fluids for the climb. I probably should have slowed down a bit on this section but I was having so much fun breezing through it that I just went with the pace. I could tell early on though that Danny was going to have a great day day was still up in the air.

Camp Sheppard to Ranger Creek - 7.8 Miles (11.7)

If you haven't hiked the Palisades trail I highly recommend that you do so. You will have the pleasure of traveling on some of the most plush single track trail in the state while taking in views of waterfalls, the Mountain, other Mountains, creek crossings and of course you will be sheltered through most of it by the combination of newer and old growth forest. I kept up a good power Hike/Run Pace through this section but in the long run probably ran a bit too much. The EFS liquid shots that I was eating weren't tasting so good at this point. I was a little put off by this considering I still had about 40 miles to go over which I would need to consume about 2200 additional calories.  I ended up losing Danny at this point as he was definitely having a good day. That was cool though, we each needed to run our own race.

Ranger Creek to Corral Pass - 5.2 Miles (16.9)

Great Photo by Glenn Tachiyama
This section of the trail continued through some nice old growth and periodically yielded some pretty stunning views of the Mountain. The higher we climbed the more we saw of the snow capped monster. Due to the insane amount of snowfall this past winter there was still some snow pack at the higher elevations of the race. Volunteers had actually come out earlier in the week to carve steps in the snow and tied up some ropes in an effort to make it a bit safer for the runners. The snowy sections were fun but a bit challenging. I actually ended up running into a few of the front runners who were on their way back on this section. They all pretty much just floated down the trail. After one last little climb we popped up out of the woods and skirted along a ridge line out to Corral pass. This was an absolutely awe inspiring section as we had the Mountain on our right and the Norse wilderness on our left. Coming back here with the digital SLR is a high priority this summer as I can't really recall being in another place that looked quite so wild.  At some point I saw Barefoot Ted, another local running celebrity, coming back out of Corral pass. Once I got out to the aid station I took a minimal amount of time to refill my bottles and grab some food and then headed back out on the trail.

Corral Pass to Ranger creek - 5.2 Miles (22.1)

This was the same section as that above only with the Mountain on the left and the Norse wilderness on the right.  I made sure to say thanks to the Ultra Running Photographer Glenn Tachiyama as I made my way back. (He took some cool shots of everybody with the Mountain in the background...I'll be picking those up before I post this to my blog) More awesome views here but I could tell that I was already starting to lose control of my stomach.

Ranger Creek to Buck Creek - 5.1 Miles (27.2)

Arriving at Buck Creek
It was make or break time. I knew I wanted to be a bit more conservative than usual on the downhill and was also acutely aware of the tightness in my legs and my increasingly upset stomach. I ended up running about an 8.5 minute per mile pace through most of this portion in an effort to save the quads. Unfortunately I ended up tripping near the bottom, caught myself temporarily, but then had both calves immediately seize up which then caused a nice face first fall into the middle of the trail. Thankfully no one witnessed my graceful crash first hand. After chilling out on the side of the trail for a few minutes I was able to gingerly make my way down the trail, first at a walk, then a faster hike and finally a decent run. Doug was at the Aid station at buck creek and did his best to be encouraging. My stomach had degraded further, my calves were killing me and I could tell my Quads and Hamstrings were going to follow suit shortly...

Buck Creek to Fawn Ridge - 4.5 Miles (31.7)

Another trip around the air strip and then on to the sun top trail. I was able to run about 2/3 of this despite my shot legs. After about 1.5 miles the trail just took off up the ridge towards the sun top lookout. This was an extremely brutal section. It was just too steep and it felt like I was going to pass out in quite a few places. My stomach was getting worse but my legs seemed okay...except for my brutalized calves. Fawn ridge was a welcome site. Nice Tropical themed aid station, filled with inflatable flowers, luau music and more helpful volunteers. I ended up eating some more fruit here and popped an electrolyte cap in an attempt to get my cramping under control.

Fawn Ridge to Sun Top - 5.3 Miles (37.0)

This is a pictorial representation of how I felt
This was probably the second worst part of the race for me. There were a couple of descents that I was able to run...until my quads started cramping. I was reduced to a fast hike downhill in some sections but by and large was still able to move forward. At this point I was still able to eat a bit and started feeling a bit better. (It was short lived) After descending from the false summit we crossed the Sun Top road and hit the last half a mile to the sun top lookout. I was expecting this to be worse than it was. I actually managed to pass a few people on this uphill legs were a bit better than my downhill legs. Towards the top I saw Glenn Tachiyama ready to snap a picture so I made sure to run a bit of that section with what I think was a smile on my face and made sure to give him a big thanks again. He does an excellent job catching some amazing moments during these races. Finally got to the US themed Aid station, lots of American flags and some cool oldies playing on the stereo. At this point I decided I was going to change into the shoes I had left in my drop bag and try to stuff as much food in my stomach as possible hoping that my decreased heart rate on the downhill would let me stomach digest things a bit better. I was able to change my shoes but couldn't actually tie them and had to ask an aid station volunteer to do that for me. I have to say without the volunteers I would've been left in a puddle of cramping agony at this point. Oh and the view of the Mountain at this point was breathtaking...too bad the imminent descent had my quaking in fear...

Sun top to Skookum Flats - 6.4 miles (43.4)

Even LOLCatz get cramps
This was by far the worst part of the race. Relentless 6.5 mile downhill section on the fire road. I broke it up into run/hike sections due to my spotty stomach and increasingly terrible legs. I couldn't run for much more than a half a mile without suffering from some combination of Hip, Calf, Quad or Hamstring cramps or nausea. (Sometimes all at once) I kept reminding myself that this was one of the reasons why I signed up.
After what seemed like forever I got to the skookum flats section where my beautiful wife was waiting for me with some words of encouragement and a short kiss or two. I may have dropped at this point if she hadn't been there to give me a big shot in the arm. I tried to eat some more fruit, took some tums and another electrolyte cap, said by to Brandi and let her know that I would see her in about 1.5-2 hours as I ran/walked/hiked/shuffled and cramped my way through the skookum flats leg.

Skookum to Finish - 6.6 Miles (50.0)

Still Smiling with 6.6 miles to go
This trail is awesome on fresh legs, on legs that had 43.5 miles on them it was a nightmare. It is extremely technical, with numerous sections where you need to pick your way through roots, rocks and all other manners of obstacles which just serve to increase the chance of tripping and eating dirt. I figure I was able to run (Shuffle) about 1/3 of the trail and power hiked the rest. That being said it was still ridiculously slow going and by the time I popped out towards the finish I had passed 3-4 people but had been passed by probably 5-10. It didn't this point I was just racing myself. Screw you body...I was going to win this thing. And by win I mean win the battle against my body...the race had been won by Uli Steidl about 4.5 hours earlier!

Finish Line

11 hours 40 minutes later
Much like everybody else I'm sure I had an amazing feeling at the finish. I shuffled/ran as best I could despite the cramping muscles. Brandi was there to cheer me in along with my buddy Danny, his wife Jenny and their three boys. All the other finishers, spectators and volunteers also joined in and I can honestly say it was the best race experience of my life. The whole day was full of highs, lows and everything in between and I will look back fondly on every joyful, painful, god forsaken moment.  Danny came over to congratulate me and I finally introduced him to my wife Brandi. We traded "congratulations" talked a bit about the race and then I made my way over to the medical tent. After about 20 minutes of laying in a cot I felt good enough to walk around again and proceeded to drink about 60 oz of water over the next hour or two. It should be noted that I was not the only one in the medical tent as there were several other finishers that looked to be in a bit worse shape than I. We all had fun reminiscing about our experiences out on the trail and all seemed pretty stoked to try it all again.

Recovery and Beyond?

If he had trained me those checks wouldn't have bounced
It took a few days of rest but my legs feel pretty much back to normal. I haven't done much to really test them yet so I'll be interested to see how they respond to some hill climbing. I've managed to do a fair bit of walking and have even gone out on a short run. Unfortunately I came down with a bit of a cold (or perhaps the one I had before the race came back with a vengeance) and was laid up in bed for the last couple of days. I'm getting over it though and anticipate returning to a fairly full week of running starting on August 7th. As my buddy Ryan said, my ego wrote some checks my body couldn't cash and those bounced checks came back to haunt me with a bit of a cold and some lingering muscle pains. We then proceeded to run this top gun reference into the ground over a half an hour period. On the ultra running front I have to admit I fully understand that this sport isn't for everybody. It's definitely for me though and I can't wait till I'm recovered and get to run another. I've already signed up for the North Face Endurance Challenge in San Francisco on December 3rd so I can't afford to take much of a break. Lets see if I can get further before the cramping sets in...

Here are a few more miscellaneous pictures below.

Another great photo by Glenn Tachiyama. The sun was a bit of a nuisance here

The trails weren't closed like in Road Marathons
Drop bags...a runners lifeline

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