Sunday, August 17, 2008
PCT 50 and The Death March
Gail and I got up at 0' dark-thirty (0300 am) to drive up to the start of the Pacific Crest Trail 50 mile run. Gail had worked the day before so she got to sleep in the back of the car while I drove to the 0530 early start. As we pulled into park (right across from the start line) Sarah and her non-runner husband Marc pulled in right behind us. I went up to the sign in area to check in and get our bibs. Co-RD's Olga and Monika were smiling and taking pictures as I picked up our packets. I went back to the car and handed everything to Gail as she was in a rush to take the early start. I was going to be brave (or stupid) and take the regular start at 0630. Sarah and I chatted and I discovered that Marc was talked into doing the race around the campfire the previous night. (Sarah as a long term injury and had previously signed up for the race). Marc brought no runner items as he didn't want to be tempted to run the race. (So much for that idea!) About that time Gail says "I have no insoles for my trail shoes!" She had left them in her road shoes. The trooper she is, she still was planning on running without insoles!! Then I went and asked Sarah what size her shoes were and amazingly enough they were pretty close to Gail's shoe size. So I asked if we could try them. She said "Of course". They ended up fitting in Gail's shoes perfectly. While all this was going on I talked to Marc and he was wearing one of the course officials running shoes which he borrowed (he brought none to avoid temptation) and they were pretty darn small he said. I mentioned that I had a spare pair of trail shoes with me. And guess what? They fit! What a great trade. Gail gets Sarah's insoles and Marc runs in my back up shoes.
So we head up to the start line a few minutes before the gun. We chat with folks and then off they go. As I look at Gail she seems different. What is it? She has no water bottle! "Gail! Where is your water bottle?" "Oh crap she says" and then looks back and finds where she had set down her bottle while she used the pre-race facilities. So she grabs and off she goes. Gail is planning to only run to Timberline Lodge, which is the half way point of this 50 miler. But she says she will just run as long as it feels good.
Over the next hour I just chat with our ultra running friends and watch Olga and Monika strip down to their bikini tops to get their photo's taken. (How many races to you go to and get to see the RD's in bikini's?) It is a fun time as all the "fasties" show up.
The pre-race briefing is simple. If you get lost you are stupid! The race stays on the PCT the entire time except for a little jog to the Little Crater Lake campground. "So just follow the signs and all should be well"
Monika yells "Go" and off we trot. We head up the road for a little 1/4 mile turnaround then back past the start. I run with my friend David from Eugene. We both start out slow and chat. As we come back to the start area, David dashes over to his wife for one last kiss. I then look at Olga as she sees this too. So I stop and we copy them in a comical embrace.
We hit the PCT a mile or so into the race. The sun is up so no need for flashlights on the trail. The first six miles follows the shores of Timothy Lake and is a very nice section rollers on a wide trail. David heads out and I chat with a woman for a few miles. I soon pass and find my self alone just a few runners from the back.
My fuel plan is what has been working for months. Gels every 30 minutes, two gulps of water every 10 minutes and E-caps every hour. Around mile 5 a runner comes up fast behind me. Her name is Linda I think and she is always in the top 5 women finishers. She got to the start 10 minutes late and said "Its a long race, no problem". We chat for a bit as we come to an intersection in the trail. We both stop and look around, not sure which way to go as the course is not marked. We see a sign to Little Crater and we figure this is the way to go. As she pulls away she yells back "I see other runners". Relief sets in as we know we didn't take a wrong turn.
We turn into Little Crater trail and run a quarter mile or so on planks of wood across a swampy area. Little crater is an amazing spring. Super cold water comes up from underground forming this super clear water filled crater about 150 yards wide. As I run I have to dodge runners coming out of the aid station. I hit the 10k (6.1. miles) mark at about 1:05. A nice easy pace as I don't want to push it early on.
The next section has a bit of climb, maybe 300 to 500 feet up to AS 2 at 9.3 miles. As I get closer I feel blisters starting to form on my heals already. I had gotten them again on SOB a few weeks earlier. As I pulled into the AS I asked if they had duct tape. They said "Yes" so I sat down and took off my shoes and the patches I had on my feet. I put on new patches and placed 6 inch strips of tape over them. As this was going on the mosquitoes began feasting on my legs. I had no bug spray on so they thought I was Sunday brunch! At times I probably had 20 of them on me at once. I had never be attacked like this in my life! I would swat at them then work on my feet for about 5 minutes. I knew they would win for sure. Well I was finally done and off I went.
This next section is great trail. The first part is a steady climb over rocky terrain. I would walk the steeps and run what I could. Soon the trail smooths out and we begin a steeper climb. Around mile 12 we are on the traverse the side of a large hill and catch a awesome glance of Mt Hood. Timberline lodge looks to be 30 miles away but actually is only 12 or so which is kind of demoralizing. I am running most sections at an easy pace. Around this point the top of my foot has been hurting for an hour or so. And now the pain runs up the outside of my shin on. Not sure what it is but it is getting worse. I run into AS 3 (mile 14.5) at the Highway 26 intersection and I refuel and head out.
The next section has some steeper climbs so I walk allot. Soon it is downhill and I let it fly into AS 4 at mile 19.1. The theme here is Thongs! Pretty interesting thongs hanging on trees and being worn by men and woman alike. This is the last AS before our big push up Mt. Hood.
The run up to Mt. Hood is more of a 6 mile walk. I probably only run 25% of this section as we climb up from probably 4,500 feet to over 6,000 at Timberline. About half way up I run into these two hikers going the same way as me. They are all dressed in the official Africa Safari outfits of Khaki color. As I walk behind them I hear a British accent speaking about someone who is in London. I think "This is cool, they are probably here on vacation enjoying our mountains." How wrong I was to be. As I waited to pass them the fast runners had already made the turn and were coming down the mountain. The older hiker was putting up his hand (open palm) and yelling "Slow down!" They did this numerous times and would not attempt to move to the side of the trail at all. I thought this is pretty strange and rude. The runners I observed would move to the side or even off the trail as they headed down the trail. This guy just kept up with his rant on every runner. Soon I said "Excuse me, on your left" as I power walked by them. I asked how is your day? I got some response like "Not very well". OK I thought and pulled away from them. Another runner came by and I heard a yell. The back and younger guy had put out his elbow and both the runner and hiker took a bit of a hit. Soon a woman who was behind me came up behind the hikers. I heard her say "on your left" as she walked past them. Some words were exchanged and I heard her say "We are in a race" the older hiker said "I don't give a shit!" When the woman caught up to me she asked if I had heard the exchange? I said "yes". Of all the trail races I have been in, these two were the rudest hikers I have ever come across. Come to find out later this guy works in Vancouver at one of the hospitals . He wrote a letter to Monika to complain about the runners. They had a few emails exchanged and he was getting pretty intense in his comments. He also wrote the Forest Service to complain that an event like this is too big to be held on trails (150 runners over 50 miles????). I also find it interesting that he put his job title on all the emails. (Ego?) Sure hope his company allows personal emails from work. Ha! Here is link to the email exchange. http://www.pctultra.com/index50.htm
Click on the reports link at the top of the page and then scroll down to the section titled A word from Monika Gold, co-RD, on a “Hiker’s incident” . More of this was on the Oregon Ultra Runners email list with actual copies of the email. Monika was great as she dropped this as the future of the race could be impacted by this ..... oh he would probably sue me if I said what I was thinking.
I get above the Timberline and hike the sand dunes of Mt. Hood. This is a hard section due to the steepness of the climb, the sand and altitude. The view is amazing though. You are looking straight up at the summit! It is a beautiful clear day with the temps in the 60's on the mountain. I can feel my blisters acting up and know I need to fix them again soon. I see Gail for the first time. She is running with two other women and looks great. I guess she is not quitting at the 25 mile point. What a woman!!! I get a kiss and we chat a few seconds and then part. I go above the Lodge and then cross some big snowfields and finally get to run a bit to the parking lot where the turn around is set up. I grab my drop bag and some food and water. Kate is there to help. She is great and does everything for me. I mention my feet and she says "Yes change your socks" When she sees my feet she knows work has to be done. I have 2 half dollar size blisters on the side of my heals. She does it all! Takes off my shoes and socks. Cleans my feet, then puts on moleskin then layers of duct tape to keep it all in place. This takes 10 minutes or so but I know if I don't do this my day will be done soon.
After a short hike above the lodge its time to fly down the mountain. The first part is great with all the soft sand and you can really let go and it feels so soft each time your foot lands. Back on the trails it is a real pounding for this 6 mile downhill. My leg really starts to hurt. Each time my right foot lands its under allot of pain. Still not sure what it is but I am not quitting now. As I roll into AS 6 at 30.9 miles I feel the first sign of fatigue. My stomach is not feeling to great but I know I need to eat. Nothing on the AS food table looks good. I force down some Coke and few non-sweet items. I am still gel-ing every half hour and they are starting to gag me.
This next section has a big climb in it. Really the last one of the race in this direction. I power walk and the heat is starting to rise. I have filled my bandanna with ice and wrapped it around my neck for some great cooling. My foot is getting worse. It hurts more to walk than to run. What is wrong? I think its just some soft tissue that got all fired up and now I am beating to death for 8 hours. At the top of the hill I run. The downhill section into AS 7 at mile 35.5 feels pretty good. At AS 7 I can barely walk on this leg. Meghan suggests I loosen my shoelaces but it is probably too late for that. Again my stomach is not great but I can still drink. I take two more ibuprofen (that's four today) and head out.
This next section is a gradual climb but I walk most it. Only running the flattest of flats and the downhills. I begin to hate life around here. Soon it is the part I like. Nice downhill section that is pretty technical due to the amount of rocks in the trail. It makes me concentrate on my running and I ignore my gut and leg. I pull into AS 8 at mile 40.7. I am tired. I fill my bottles and chat with a runner that I have been close to. I let him head out first and I try to stay with him. It works well for a few miles but soon I am walking again. This is about a mile from AS 9, so about mile 43. My gut is done. Nothing is good. I am hot, my leg hurts and stomach doesn't like me anymore. I walk the last mile to AS 9.
Right before AS 9 I see Gail. We stop and talk. She doesn't feel good either as her stomach is upset. I take my hate off and her face stops and she says "You don't look good" and I agree. She says I will wait for you. I feel that I am done for the day so I tell her to go ahead as I don't know how long I will be at this AS. I don't want to slow her down as she is doing so good on her 25 mile run in this now 50 mile race! Did I say she is amazing. All you runners out there, get your spouse to run with you. It is the best!
I sit down at this AS and try to cool off by pouring ice water on my head. Nothing looks good at the food table but I do have a little cup of Coke to try and juice me up and settle my gut. I am getting to the point where I can't think straight. More ice for my bandanna and I get up and walk out of the AS. BTW all the aid folks were awesome. Most were runners themselves and even those that were not did a great job. Thanks to all of you!
I get back on the PCT for the final 6 mile section to the finish. I know my running is done. My gut has taken over the discomfort of my leg now. I figure I will just "Death March" it in for 6 miles to the finish. No quitting now. I was on pace to break 10:30 but not now. Not even sure if I will break last years 11:54 time. I can't run at all. I even walk the downhills. Every time I try to trot I stop after 20 yards or sot. I stop drinking as my gut feels shutdown. Actually I try and sip just a tad every few minutes as dehydration is getting worse. This trail goes on forever! It is so runnable but I can't do it! I try to visualize my easy 6 mile runs at home. Letting my self know that this will be an easy walk to the finish. As I walk I freak out as I think I see something on the side of the trail. I scream out "OH F**K!!" and jump back. Nothing is there but the adrenaline seethes through me. 5 minutes later the same thing happens but I see something else and again I scream out loud. I know realize I am in the early stage of hallucinating. Probably from mild heat exhaustion or dehydration. My gut is getting worse. I am thinking I might lose it. Soon I wretch. I have never gotten sick on the trail. I wretch again and up it comes. Just liquid. I find a log and sit and continue the event. I am shocked this is happening to me. I read others blogs and all the Ultra runners have done this. I never thought I would get like this. I sit for a few minutes, no one passes me. I am in a cold sweat. I get up and begin walking and as usual start to feel a bit better. I figure I have 2 miles to go. I try to run, but can only manage a waddle on the steepest of downhills. Two young bucks pass me. Soon they walk too. I am walking a fast clip now and catch them. I can tell they are hurting too. They soon sit down and I go on by the 20 something's in my 48 year old fat-boy outfit. It feels good.
I know this section of the trail. I am close to the road. I begin to jog a bit and then hit the main road. YEAH! I am almost done with this crap. I vow to run to the finish no matter what. I get cheers from folks by there cars and it feels good. I see Gail, she has brought me mints and a cup of water. What a partner!!! More cheers now as I turn into the parking lot. I see the finish and the noise gets louder. Gosh I love this part! I cross the finish and I am so done!
I walk over to Gail and want to leave right away. I try to socialize with friends but I feel so sick. David had a great race, beats me as usual and tells me I finished 30 minutes faster than last year. A PR! (How does he know this?) I feel good about it but don't really care. I tell David and Gail, "No Waldo! No way I am doing that race" I walk off to the car to change after a bit. Gail gets her Garden Burger and we leave for home.
I finished in 11:26 which is a 13:43 pace. Pretty good for all the stops and walking I did the last 6 miles. I was 83rd out of 114 runners, a little better than I usually do in 50 milers. Gail finished in 12:17 a great time. She of course felt fine after the finish but also had very rough time that last 6 miles. So much for her only doing 25 miles!
On the way home Gail and I stop in Sandy. I already have drank a large Starbucks bottled Mocha Frapacuino and now buy the 44 ounce Coke slurpee. It goes down good, brain freeze and all.
When we get home I weigh myself. When I left in the morning I weighed 216, now I weigh 209 and that includes the huge drinks I had. Yep, dehydration killed me today. I vow on my next race to drink even more.
Not sure what to think of this race this year. I felt good with my legs. But blisters and leg pain killed me. Then the stomach issue was the twisted knife in my day. I really like this course but am I meant to run this far? I don't know.
By the next day my foot is so swollen I can't wear shoes. Two days later I go to the doctor, nothing is broken but just severe tissue trauma he guesses. Tells me how dumb I am to do this stuff and prescribes the "Game Ready" machine. It is a pump you fill with ice water and it compress around your injury under pressure. It is very cold and is meant to reduce swelling quickly. I can hardly walk for 3 days. Finally it goes down and by 6 days later I get shoes on and can go to work. And I do this why?
Thanks to the Green Card Girls Olga and Monika for putting on a great race on a very special course. I hate the thought but I am sure I will run this one again next year. (Idiot! Ha!)