WSER 2015


   Race Report – WSER 2015

I went into this race prepared, healthy and rested.  My “A” goal was sub-24, and I knew that I would need to execute perfectly to make this happen.  This was not my first rodeo (at the 100 mile distance), but it was still only my third 100 mile race.  Apparently, I still have a lot to learn.

Having the good luck to have run the race the year before, I was not nervous leading up to the race and on race day I was calm and collected.  I arrived at check-in around 4:20am, and got my bib number pinned on and ready to go in a few minutes.  It was great to see so many friends at the start – including ARC members Shari, Christine, Edie and Billy.  I also caught up with many of the Canadian athletes that I had a chance to meet before the race.

Section 1: Squaw-Robinson

My plan for the start was to run comfortably within myself through Robinson Flat.  I planned to keep my heart rate within 135-145bpm, and was able to stick to this.  I was given advice by Ann not to focus on my time into Robinson, but rather on how I felt at this point in the race.  I was surprised to see Matt Keyes at Lyon’s Ridge AS, but then remembered that he likes to go out slow before turning it on after Robinson.

IMG_3877I did not look at my watch for this segment, and ran into Robinson Flat (12:03pm) 20 minutes behind last year’s time. I felt great and knew that I had run a smart race up to this point.  My crew (daugther and niece) were prepared, and I was able to get out of there within 3 minutes.  I had an ultragen drink (230 cal) before leaving, and ate chips and potatoes on my climb out of Robinson.  It was hotter in the high country this year (compared to last year), but I managed my core temp by submerging myself in Duncan Creek before slogging up the final 4 miles to Robinson.

Section 2: Robinson-Last Chance

I planned to get into race mode in this section, and average >5MPH into Dusty Corners.  In actuality, I only averaged 4.5MPH (13:18 per mile) from Robinson to Dusty, so I was unable to fully exploit this (majority) downhill portion of the course. I walked much of the uphill section from Robinson, while I was getting my nutrition and I had a hydration bladder malfunction which made me stop and take off my pack to fix it. The fear of blowing out my quads early had me run loose and relaxed, but also a bit slow.  Just before crossing Robinson Flat Road onto Last Chance Road, I came across Billy Yang (fellow member of Ann’s Running Circle).  Asking him how he was doing, he let me know that had already blown his quads.  Same scenario and place as last year for me.  I told him that his only recourse is to seek the cool waters of the river and streams to cool down his legs. I also told him not to worry about finishing, since I had gutted through the same ailment last year.

Getting in Dusty Corners, I was feeling strong and my legs were holding up nicely.  I had been getting out of the aid stations within a couple of minutes, and this was no exception.  My nutrition plan was already starting to waver though, as I was getting to aid stations with uneaten food (which should have been consumed on the run).

The next section between Dusty and Last Chance felt good, but I was slowing down a bit (4.35MPH).  I arrived 10 min off my planned pace, but was not concerned.  I was still within my plan, as long as I could save my legs for the last 38 miles after Foresthill.  I was feeling a bit off at Last Chance, but was intent on grabbing food and getting out quickly (even though this is my club aid station!).  My wife and daughter (Usha and Siddartha) were there as volunteers to help me refill my hydration bladder and get my tailwind from my drop bag. I filled my head and neck buff with what seemed like 5lbIMG_2995s of ice, to keep me cool in the canyon.  I was unable to eat my grilled cheese sandwich which I had been looking forward to (unable to eat ¼ sandwich), which should have given me pause to stay a bit longer to get food down.  I did not take this cue, and headed to the car wash towards the exit of the aid station to get doused and loaded up with ice for the descent into the canyons.

I was thoroughly doused with ice cold water from head to toe.  It took me almost 2 miles to shed the goose bumps produced by the ice bath!  I left the aid station eating potatoes and chips on my way to Deadwood Canyon, but I was now behind on getting the calories needed.

Section 3: Last Chance – Foresthill.

Legs feeling good, I wanted to take advantage of the short downhill to Deadwood Creek before the major climb of the race – Devil’s Thumb.  Looking at my splits, I see that I was only able to run 4.1MPH on the downhill stretch to the river.  I was starting to bonk at this point (but did not know it).  As I was crossing Swinging Bridge, Billy called out from the creek.  He had heeded my advice and was soaking in the river.  Before throwing myself into the 1,700’ climb up Devil’s Thumb, I was going to submerge myself in the cold water and cool off my quads.  I only stayed in the water for a few minutes, but it felt great.  It was now time to tame the beast and ascend Devil’s Thumb.  As I hit the other side of the river, I took down a GU (was hard to get it down) and started plodding up the climb with hands on knees to get more power into my stride.  About 0.3 miles into the climb I was aware that I was fading fast and that I was about to bonk hard.  Within a few minutes I was slowed to a crawl, as I had run out of energy and hurting bad.  It took me 50 min to make the climb up to the aid station, which is about 5 min slower than I was planning.  At this point, I knew that I needed calories.  I asked for a popsicle (this aid station is famous for them!) and went to the far end of the buffet to get it.  In doing so, I passed up the other food and opted for some soup as well.  I ended up leaving the aid station before getting enough food in me (or with me).  Chips and potatoes were not going to be enough, but I figured I would be OK on the mostly downhill 5 miles to Eldorado Creek (AS).  I left eating a handful of chips.

I was able to run (despite feeling depleted), and a little over an hour later (1:02) I crossed Eldorado Creek and was at Eldorado AS. I was not feeling well at this point, and needed to get some solid food in me.  I was hitting a new low and knew it was going to be a hard crash. At the aid station, there were no sandwiches, only sweets and salty snacks.  There was broth, but I was so bloated from drinking (water, soup and tailwind), that I did not want more fluids (in fact, I was getting dehydrated at this point, but I did not know this).  It is 2.6 miles, with 1,700’ of climbing to the next aid (Michigan Bluff).  This has always been a tough climb for me at this point in the race. As I left the aid station, I found that I had lost any ability to power hike.  Too low on energy to run and without the ability to power hike meant that I was destined for a death march to the Bluff. I tried to eat on the way up, but nothing would go down.  I jammed a GU down, but that was all I could get in.  At one point, I stopped by a downed tree and attempted to throw up.  No luck.  It took me 1:17 to cover the 2.6 miles to the aid station, but if felt a lot longer.

IMG_3883I was disoriented and irrational when I met up with Kim as I entered the station.  He brought me to where my crew was set up (Neera and Annapurna).  As I sat down, my crew went in checklist mode before I stopped them.  I told them that I could not go on in this state.  I needed to reset and get myself stabilized before heading out.

I told Kim that it was about 2.5hrs since I last was able to pee and that was a concern.  I started drinking a coke from my crew kit.  Kim figured out quickly that I was dehydrated and I now needed to drink more.  I tried to pee, but nothing was happening.  At this point, I was weak and pale and sitting on a chair in front of the port-a-potties.  A nurse came by and could see that I was in distress.  She convinced me to come into the medical area, since I was now starting to shake uncontrollably (even though it was 90F).  I noticed that Billy was in the medical area as well, with his crew around him.

As soon as the nurse got a blanket on me, my coach (Ann Trason) comes into the medical area to see me on the cot.  All that I could hear was her screaming “What is going on? Are you OK?”  Kim was there, trying to get me to eat a sandwich. Ann comes over as the nurse is asking me when the last time I peed was. Ann commented (half-jokingly), “Peeing is overrated.  You need to get out of here.” The nurse did not like this, but Ann continued… “You need to eat and get going.  Take the food with you.  Walk; eventually you’ll feel better.”  She then told me to eat the sandwich that I was holding.  I did as she ordered. Tough love!  She then got me a couple of peppermint candies and told me to do like a chipmunk and keep them between my gums and cheeks.  She said the long term regret of not finishing was not worth the relief of quitting now.  It was not long before I was moving.  At this point, I was at the aid station for about 30 minutes and it was 7:40pm.  Ann then suggested that I wait until 8pm, at which point I could leave with my pacer (Kim).  This was all that I needed to get my spirits back up, and we did as she suggested.  Kim and I got ready with our gear and headlamps and headed out at 7:56pm to Foresthill.

I started coming around and feeling better about 800m out of the aid station, and was able to start running.  I could see my friend Shari up ahead, so we ran with her and her pacer for the next few miles onto the trailhead for the Volcano Canyon descent. It was starting to get dark now, and I wanted to get to Volcano Creek before I had to use my headlamp.  I was running well now, and we made good time down the canyon without having to use our headlamps.  The climb out was slow, due to my inability to power hike. We walked the entire climb up Bath Rd. I was able to run well on the flats and downhills, so we made good time to Foresthill. I made it to Foresthill in good spirits, at 9:32pm.

Resetting plan with pacersIt took me 1:23 to cover 10K.  Not good, and now I was almost an hour behind my time from last year (where I finished in 27:44).  All that I could think about now was potentially chasing cutoffs and coming in at 30hrs. Not my idea of a fun time.  I was in a negative funk and needed to shake it off (someone slap me, please!).  Seeing my crew was good, and having a chocolate milk was even better!  That snapped me back into action and I was starting to feel normal again.  I got my watch on the charger, resupplied with food and fluids for the trail and headed out with Kim.

Section 4: Foresthill to the River

Feeling good now, we picked up the pace and I felt like I could run again (finally).  It was fun again! It took us 1:08 to cover the 5.7 miles to Cal 1. Along the way, I was surprised at how hard I could push.  I should have fueled more along the way, because by the time we arrived at the aid station I was now coming down from my high.  I was able to eat some pizza and drink some coke at the aid station.  We packed food for the trail and headed out to Cal 2.

I was now slowing down again, and my climbing ability was in the shitter (6 minute hill was more like 15 minutes).  Another low point, but I was able to eat a bit and get my energy stabilized so I could keep moving forward.  We caught up with Shari again and ran with her (leap frogging each other along the way). On arrival at Cal 2, I saw a friendly face – Bruce LaBelle, the aid station captain.  I was doing OK at this point and had a good conversation with him. He was reassuring and told me to have faith in my coach and to run within myself.  Pick and choose where to run, and when to walk (the hills).  Use the trail to your advantage, don’t fight it.  All good advice.  I was able to eat a sandwich and packed more food for the next section.  We left quickly and headed out to more rollers and short climbs on the way to Cal 3 (Fords Bar). I was not moving well at this point, bouncing between highs and lows.  Running well for a bit, and then having to walk up the climbs.  I was averaging only 3.6MPH until the river and was getting frustrated again. Fords Bar came and went quickly; same routine – get into aid station, sit down, Kim gets me food, eat a bit and then we head out.

I got some mojo back on the descent to Sandy bottom and was able to average a 15 min/mi pace to the river crossing. I decided to skip the aid station and hop directly on the line to cross the river.

The volunteers got us fitted with life vests and then we waded into the river at Rucky Chucky.  The cold water felt good.  The current was soothing my tired legs and rejuvenate my quads.  I chatted a bit with one of the cable volunteers (works at my physiotherapy clinic).  I was able to cross quickly, without slipping on the slick round rocks on the river bottom.  Water only came up to below my sternum, so it was easy to balance on the line.  I could see Luc and Mariano at the far side waiting for us.  As we got out of the river, Mariano had supplies for us – including my ATF chocolate milk.  This was just what I needed to help stabilize me.  Regardless of energy levels, power hiking was over for me in this race.  Last year, I would run up most of this hill, but not this year.  Hamstrings and glutes were overworked and I had to resign myself to walking the 1.8 miles uphill to Green Gate.

Section 5: Green Gate to the Finish

On the way up the hill, I said matter-of-factly that I was done. Ready to drop. “What’s wrong now?  Plenty of time to make it to the finish” Luc said to me.  I was at a low point, and just feeling sorry for myself.  I should have known better than to complain.  Everyone is tired at this point.  Need to focus on solutions, not problems!  Looking for more excuses, my chafing was now becoming an issue.  I mentioned that my shorts had become so saturated with lubricant, that they were now causing chaffing on their own.  Kim said that we should just swap shorts.  “You’ve come so far already, the climbing is done and you have Michele waiting for you at H49.” Kim was done with pacing and had a change of clothes in the car (1.5 miles from the aid station).  Feeling better after the chocolate milk kicked in, how could I not go on?  I agreed to the clothing exchange.  No humility, and no concern for our surroundings, we dropped our shorts and swapped them right in the middle of the trail (much to the amusement of our crew and others passing by). It felt so much better to have a different (and pliable) pair of shorts on.  Felt sorry for Kim that he would have to manage with my mangy shorts until the car. Oh, the sacrifices one makes when pacing!

Since we had my supplies already, I walked right through the aid station (to check in) and Luc and I immediately headed out on the 5.4 mile stretch to ALT.  The climb to Green Gate was the last point on the course that I had any negative thoughts invade my race party.  I was now committed and resolved to make a concerted push for the remaining 20 miles of the race.  My head was clear and I was determined to keep it that way.  I told Luc that I needed to eat when I was feeling good and not wait for the inevitable low point that comes from depleted glycogen in the blood stream.  I now had a new understanding about the physiological limit of metabolising food when running.  I had it all wrong.  I was trying to ingest around 300 cal/hr to meet (but not exceed) this limit.  I now knew that I needed to ingest more than 300 call/hr in order for me to digest and have available the 300 calories which my body could potentially absorb and convert to glycogen for energy. Epiphany!   From that point onward, I was eating something every 20 minutes and was able to feel stable and good for the duration of the race.

As slowly as I was moving, I was now passing other runners throughout the night.  The rollers on the way to ALT were not a problem for me and we made it into ALT in an elapsed time of 1:20. As I was getting my coke and quesadilla, the medical staff were asking me 20 questions.  How was I doing? When did you pee last?  How is your stomach?  Can you eat?  I was doing well at this point, and gave affirmative answers to the questions and we quickly headed back out on the trail towards Browns Bar aid station. Again we caught up with Shari and ran a bit with her until we could open it up a bit and get into a faster pace.

The approach to Browns Bar (mile 90) is a gentle downhill for the last 1.5 miles.  At this point, you can hear the blaring rock music that welcomes you to the Rogue Valley Runners (Hal Koerner’s) aid station.  We quickly replenished water and grabbed our food for the trail ahead.  Gingerly picking our way on the steep and technical (0.7mi) downhill to the Quarry trail by the river.  I was now in familiar territory.  Only 9 miles to the finish; 3.3 miles to Highway 49 crossing where I would pick up my next and final pacer – Michele.

I was really looking forward to this, as I was now in a different place with regards to race goals.  At this point, I was on track to perhaps get a PR, so that was one goal.  The other goal was to make sure that Michele had the time of her life.  A passionate runner, Michele is one of those selfless volunteers at races, frequent pacer at marathons and huge fan of the sport. I know that my first time pacing at States was one of the highlights of my running career, and I wanted her to have this experience as well.

We covered the 2 miles along the river easily, running almost all of the hills.  Made it to the H49 spur trail in good time, and settled into my ultra slogging pace up the rocky climb.  Near the top, the trail gets very runnable again, so we ran it into the aid station from there.  Unlike last year, I was not staying here long.  10K to go, and I had to change pacers at this point.  Michele was ready to go and after browsing what Mariano had in the crew kit lunch box, we took off at 7:13am.

I briefed Michele on my capabilities (walk the steeper hills, run the rest) along the way out of the aid station, before hitting the climb up to Cool Meadow. The Meadow was wonderful.  Good running and fantastic aspect in the early morning hours.  As we were exiting the meadow, the tranquility was broken by the grunting cadence of another runner that I was leapfrogging all night long.  Even with his hunchbacked posture and labored breathing, he was able to pass me on the downhill to No Hands Bridge.

Just after we passed the shortcut trail, I thought that I saw Billy pass us. I told Michele to pick up the pace, and we started to hammer down the hill. With the pounding came the urge to shit.  Soon it was overwhelming, and I was forced to stop and look for a place to relieve myself. Unfortunately, the trail at this point is surrounded by poison oak.  I had to ask Michele for some private time, as I found a large tree by the trail that I could hide behind as I took my dump.  It took a few minutes to figure out how I was going to get my business done, and another few struggling to go (it had been over 28hrs since the last time I was able to go!).  With what seemed to be 10lbs of crap removed from my body, I now felt revived and ready to go.  We were able to up the pace as we approached highway 49 and ran well down to No Hands Bridge aid station.

Feeling good now, and with only 3 miles to go, I told Michele that we could still get in under 28 hrs, but would have to really pick up the pace to do it.  The gentle uphill made running more difficult at this point, but we were still able to average a 10:30 pace in this section.  As we hit the final climb up to Robie Point, we continued to push and were now redlining and breathing hard. We could now hear the crews cheering as runners ahead were coming off of the fire trail onto the road.  Painful to power hike, I pushed through the pain to keep the pace up.

IMG_9721We made it into Robie Point at 8:42am.  Running it in from here, would allow me to finish under 28 hrs.  As we approached the end of the trail and could see the aid station, I saw coach Ann waiting with Zoey. She got up and started cheering for us.  It was so good to see her there.  I could now care less about the 28hr mark now, as Ann was there to walk me in!  She asked how I was doing and then we were off on the last 1.3 miles to the finish.  Just at that moment, Usha, Luc and Mariano met us to run in with us as well.

We were walking at this point, as I was recounting how the race unfolded for me after Michigan Bluff.  As we approached the “Western States – Mile 99” sign, I started running again and asked if we could pick up the pace.  At this point, my buddy Peter Hargreaves comes running up to us, to run us in.  It was good to see him, but we we were pushing hard at this point, so not much talk between us except to say that I was trying for sub-28.

He mentioned the possibility if we ran fast, so… We ran fast!  We continued to push all the way up the rollers to the white fence, where we make the turn to the final ¼ mile downhill to the track.  We were now running around a 9:45 pace as we rounded the turn onto the final downhill road.

As I entered the track at Placer High, I had around a minute left to make it to the finish to break 28 hrs.  I picked up the pace and ran the final 250m at a 8:15 pace in my attempt to do so.  Rounding the final turn, I could see that my watch was off by about a minute, compared to the official time.  The finish clock was now reading 28:01:10.  I slowed down a bit to take in the final stretch to the finish.  My pacers and crew peeled off into the pacer chute and I crossed the finish line in 28:01:47. What a wild ride! So many ups and downs, but I was happy that I was able to push through and make it to the finish (with the help of my friends and crew).

Finish Line 

Seems like everyone was there at the finish line. I could now see familiar faces of my friends lining the finish chute – Dan, Chaz, Lina, Peggy and Peter were all there. I was greeted by one of the research assistants for the medical study to get my blood drawn and determine which post-race recovery protocol I was going to get.  Before going into guinea pig mode, I turned to my pacers and crew to thank them.  The climb to Michigan Bluff did me in, and recovering from that crash took me most of the way to the river (22 miles/6 hrs.). Without their help and encouragement, it would have been easy to drop.

Thanks to Michelle for bringing me inI turned to Michele and took off my finisher medal and put it around her neck.  I told her that she earned it as much as I did. With that, my mission was completed.  I wanted to make sure that her experience was a complete one, and with all of the drama and hustle at the end at the end of my race, I think that she will remember this day as long as I do.  I got the challenge I was looking for, and having to adapt and reset goals made this year’s run that much more memorable and rewarding. Looking forward to toeing the line again (lottery gods willing), sometime in the near future.

That silver buckle is out there for me, I just need to put all of the pieces together in the right way to get ‘er done!

The A-team crew and pacersAs always, indebted to my pacers, crew and coach to helping me through the lows and pain to dig deep and see what I was made of.

Key Lessons 
  1. Eat on a regular schedule (every 30 mins). Don’t rely upon GUs and electrolyte drink for core calories.
  2. Choose lube wisely. Petroleum based lube will soak into fabric and cause problems later in race (can also change shorts).
  3. Time heals most wounds.  Especially with nutrition being off.  Don’t sit around, but have enough food to eat on the trail and walk it off.
  4. Sucking on peppermint candies can get you going when you are crashed.
  5. Listen to your coach!
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