Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tahoe Rim Trail 50m Race Report

En route to the mile 43 aid station
I was nervous about this race. I DNF'd the Highlands Sky 40 miler (illness) and the Pitztal Gletcher 95k (missed time cut-off ) and I was desperate to avoid going zero-for-three in three consecutive races.  This race was held on Saturday, July 19th but Lisa and I arrived in Las Vegas on Saturday the 12th to attend a hair styling awards ceremony my brother was a finalist for on the following day (he won!). On Monday, 7/14, we flew up to Reno then drove into north Tahoe where we'd stay until the day before the race. The Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) is a race at altitude --- 8,000 feet is the average elevation --- so I was thankful I was spending almost a week in north Lake Tahoe getting used to the elevation and running a couple of short runs on the Tahoe Rim Trail.

The day & night before the race were uneventful: I picked up my race number, Lisa and her father kindly went to the grocery store to get me some Greek yogurt and a banana for the morning, I watched a couple of Seinfeld and The Big Bang Theory reruns, and we had Thai for dinner. I woke at 4AM but unlike the Highlands Sky 40 miler, my throat wasn't dreadfully dry and I easily downed two cups of coffee, the yogurt, and the banana. We left for the start at 5AM and arrived in the parking staging area at approximately 5:30AM. In one of the email blasts sent by the race director, he strongly encouraged racers to deposit a drop bag at the Tunnel Creek aid station (miles 12, 18, & 33) with means for additional fluids because of a long, unaided stretch from mile 21 to mile 30. I heeded his advice and placed my hand held in a zip lock bag and sent it to Tunnel Creek. After wandering around for 10 minutes trying to find the drop-off point for drop bags, I made one last bathroom stop and arrived at the start line a few minutes before we set off.

The race director was quite proud of the aid stations and true to his word, each was memorable so I'll review my race by way of each aid station.

Hobart, mile 6: An uneventful, long, gentle ascent led the runners into this aid station although when the runners arrived, a man on a circus-like unicycle lashing a whip welcomed us into the station. This aid station had a circus theme, walk-up bar, and a nice spread of food. I was only six miles into the race so I quickly refilled my water bottle, had some watermelon, then continued on.

Tunnel Creek, mile 12: Runners came through this aid station three times so it was big, well-stocked, had timing pads, and a medical tent. The single track between Hobart and Tunnel Creek is wonderfully runnable but about a mile or so from Tunnel Creek, I tripped on a branch or rock and tumbled into the brush on the side of the trail. I immediately got up --- fortunately nothing serious happened --- then sat down for a few minutes to empty the sand and debris from my shoes and to brush myself off . Accumulation of sand and debris in my shoes and socks would be a near-constant annoyance during the race and something I may have avoided if I had gaiters but since I rarely have this problem running in and around DC, I didn't bother. I spent just enough time at Tunnel Creek to eat more fruit and refill my water bottles before the steep descent to Red House.

Red House, mile 15: My quads got pretty beat up during this race and I think my fast (for me) and aggressive run down into Red House was the beginning of the downward spiral. During the descent, I passed a 100 mile runner wearing sandals(!) and as I passed him, I asked him where we has from because a few days prior, Lisa and I were in a pub in Tahoe City and during conversation with the manager/hostess, she told us her friend from Colorado was running the 100 mile in sandals. I made a mental note to look for the guy and when I saw this sandal-wearing runner, I thought I'd found him. But, much to my surprise, this guy was not from Colorado and told me the guy I was looking for was six miles ahead of him.  I thought to myself, \what are the odds that two guys are running the 100 mile distance in sandals?!?"  Red House was a small aid station but the volunteers were, as expected, enthusiastic and helpful.

Tunnel Creek, mile 18: As the expression goes, what goes up must come down and, well, the enjoyable descent into Red House meant a slow, steep climb back to Tunnel Creek. I popped in my ear buds after leaving Red House and passed the time into Tunnel Creek with one of my brother's mixes. I retrieved my hand held from my drop bag, refilled all my bottles with ice water then set off for Bull Wheel.

Bull Wheel, mile 21: It was only three miles to this aid station but it became uncomfortably obvious during this stretch that my hip flexors were going to get pretty tight and remain as much for the remainder of the race. This was also a small aid station but they still had plenty of melon and water so I refilled my bottles, ate some watermelon, stretched my hip flexors, emptied my shoes, then set off for the longest unaided stretch of the race.

Diamond Peak, mile 30: My quads had already started to deteriorate so I didn't run this stretch as fast as I'd hoped but I did perk up when a trio of runners passed me and much to amazement, one of them was the legendary Gordy Ainsleigh, the first man to complete the Western States 100m Endurance Run and, thus, founder of the modern 100 mile race. I only recognized him because he was featured in the documentary, "Unbreakable", about the 2010 Western States. I must have sounded like a star-struck tween when I muttered, "Holy shit, you're the Western States guy. How cool is that?!?" His only response was that he can still bomb the downhills and, sure enough, he did. Ainsleigh is in his 70's, appears to eschew modern gadgetry and gear, and, insofar as I could tell, is a helluva runner (disclaimer: he crossed the finish line a few minutes before I did).

This aid station was at the base of a ski resort and the only place I would see Lisa and her father. They cheered me into the aid station and had several items on hand --- Tiger Tail massage stick, extra socks,and a Starbucks Frappuccino --- to get me back on track. Lisa helped me stretch out my hip flexors, I refilled my bottles (I left my hand held with her since I no longer needed it), ate some potatoes and fruit, soaked my head with cold water from a hose, then began the steep trudge --- 2,000+ feet in 2+ miles --- back up to Bull Wheel.

Bull Wheel, mile 32: What a relief it was to reach this aid station. The slog up the ski slope reminded me of the slope leading up to the summit of Kilimanjaro --- insanely steep and soft dirt --- but unlike the Kilimanjaro summit, this ascent was under the blazing sun and I was relieved to give my quads and hip flexors a break from the descents. I spent a few minutes at the aid station stretching then headed off to Tunnel Creek.

Tunnel Creek, mile 35: It started to sprinkle while en route to this aid station but not so much as to indicate a torrential downpour was approaching. I was a little slow out of the aid station but was eager to reach mile 40 so I soldiered on.

Hobart, mile 40: This aid station featured a full spread, including a walk-up bar. When I sat down, I (again) removed my shoes and socks to clean out the sand and debris and then I sauntered over to the walk-up bar to ask if the Coke or Ginger Ale could be spiked with Jameson and, sure enough, the bartender poured a generous shot of Jameson into a cup of Ginger Ale. My stomach was holding up well so I doubt I needed the Ginger Ale but I figured it wouldn't hurt. Feeling rejuvenated and thankful to participate in a sport where drinking alcohol during the race is acceptable, perhaps even encouraged, I set off for the last major climb of the day.

Snow Valley Peak, mile 43: The lightning & thunder, then the rain, started as I neared the ridge top.  Getting struck by lightening crossed my mind but that didn't stop me from stopping to take a few pictures and admire the view.  The rain got heavier as I approached the aid station then turned into a downpour while I huddled in the aid station. Several runners were dawning jackets or trash bags but since I had neither I decided I'd be better off running in the rain and descending to lower ground rather than hanging out in the aid station trying not to shiver. As soon as I left, my legs perked up: I passed a few runners and bombed the semi-technical single track. I felt great. The final 3 or 4 miles, though, were much slower. My second-wind didn't sustain me to the end but I did manage to shuffle across the finish line in just under 13 hours.

Spooner Lake, mile 50: I finished in 12:59:44 and among 143 runners that toed the start line, I was 59th.  My goal was sub-12 hours but given the amount of elevation gain/loss (20,000 feet!), I can't complain.  In the emails leading up to this race, the race director sang the praises of his race and for good reason:  the TRT was well-organized, the location stellar, and the aid stations well-stocked (booze at mile 40!).

The TRT 50 miler is a difficult race but the scenery and festive atmosphere during the entire race make it definitely worth running and one I may return to some day.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Highlands Sky 40 Mile: Coughing It Up at Mile 27

The Highlands Sky 40 mile ultramarathon (June 14th, 2014) is the second consecutive race I have DNF'd.  Unlike the Pitztal Gletcher 95k, though, I DNF'd this one of my own volition.  In the month leading up to the race, I dealt with a nagging cough, phlegm, occasional body-soreness, and sporadic fatigue and although I didn't feel 100%, I still managed to run my long runs and manage my training more-or-less normally.  I definitely underestimated how much abuse I was heaping on my body until it became clear --- ten miles into the race --- that I was too tired, too early into the race.  What follows is a brief re-cap of the events leading up to my DNF at mile 27.

-- Upon checking in, I muttered something about receiving a finisher's tech-tee "if I finish" and the volunteer immediately corrected me, "when you finish".  Maybe I was subconsciously preparing for a DNF?
-- The pre-race meal featured a vegetarian(!) option -- a cream-based veggie lasagna containing frozen(?) vegetables -- that went down without issue but I soon regretted.  There wasn't anything objectively wrong with the dish:  it just didn't sit well with me.  
-- I went to bed fairly early and got a solid night's sleep but when I woke up in the morning my throat was terribly dry and what little I felt like eating and drinking -- a measly granola bar and a cup of coffee -- certainly wasn't going to sustain me all day.
-- I pinned my race number onto the *left* side of my shorts whereas I usually pin my number to the right side.  I'm not superstitious but I think I'll stick with the right side from now on.
-- Lisa and I drove to the start line where I made a few last minute preparations and emptied my bowels for the second time. Two bowel movements in less than two hours didn't bode well for my baseline hydration.
-- When I finally set off I felt like I was running a bit faster than my usual pace but since the first 2+ miles were on pavement, I figured I'd try to bank as much time as possible before the slow-going (and muddy!) ascent began.
-- A torrential rain swept across the region the day before, leaving in its wake waterlogged trails and swollen creek crossings.  My shoes, socks, and feet were soon muddy and drenched.  
-- When I finally arrived at the mile 10 aid station, I ate some cantaloupe and other fruit then began another long ascent but unlike the first major ascent of the day, I felt decent on this one and managed to pass a few runners.  When I reached the summit, I began the descent and felt the best I'd felt all day.  I was passing runners on the descent and felt like things were turning around.  That spurt of energy, unfortunately, didn't last.  
-- If the constant hacking weren't bad enough, my hip flexors were tightening up, too.  
-- Lisa was waiting for me at mile 20 (I was already behind my hoped-for schedule) and I was already drained.  I barely had the energy to refill my bottles and gorge on the aid station fare.  I sat down for a bit and emptied the pebbles out of my shoes and socks then reluctantly got up and soldiered on.  
-- As I left the aid station I reveled in the sunshine and relative flatness of the fire road but it soon became a death march.  
-- In the mile or so leading up to the mile 27 aid station, I noodled around with throwing in the towel and decided that I wouldn't make a decision until I arrived.  When I did arrive, I collapsed on the ground and told myself -- and the aid station volunteers -- that I was just going to rest for a bit, try to stretch, tend to my stomach, and otherwise right the sinking ship that was my body.  I think it became obvious to the aid station volunteers first that I wasn't going to get up and finish the race.  I eventually accepted the fact that I wasn't going any further so I climbed into the aid station captain's van, waited for him to close down the aid station, and hitched a ride with him back to the lodge/finish area.  
-- As soon as I returned to my room I removed my soggy clothes, shoes, and socks and climbed into the tub.  Lisa arrived shortly thereafter and sat around while I submerged myself in a steamy bath trying to warm up.  I'd started shivering while sitting outside the mile 27 aid station.  I climbed into bed immediately after bathing/showering and didn't get up until well into the evening and that was only to eat some crackers and drink some Sprite.  Aside from the night sweat, I slept relatively well.  

When Lisa and I left the next morning my muscles felt OK but it was obvious I was sick.  I thought I might be able to beat whatever pestering sickness I had out of my body with an ultramarathon but that strategy clearly didn't work.  I scheduled a doctor's appointment the week following the race -- a race DNF marks a serious intrusion on my daily activity -- and, lo and behold, a script for some antibiotics and cough syrup cleared up whatever was making me sick.   A race DNF certainly isn't something any runner aspires to but I suppose if you run enough races, you'll have a dreadfully bad day and have to call it quits.  There is a fine line between toughing it out -- grit! -- and recognizing that going on may do more harm than good.  To paraphrase a mile 27 aid station volunteer:  it's better to race another day than not race at all.