Wednesday, September 29, 2010

McKenzie River 50k: The 2010 Edition

I remember the first year we went up the McKenzie River Highway. All Gail kept saying was how beautiful it was. This year was no different as we drove to our motel. It was a nice night after many days of rain earlier in the week. Summer never came to the Northwest this year and the trails were very different. Not dry and dusty but soft.

We picked up our "swag bags" had some dinner and called it an early night. The next morning Gail took the 0630 early start at I was off an hour later. We decided to leave our car at the start and hoped to get a ride back from the finish. (More on that adventure later). Gail was a tad nervous as she had not done over 18 miles or so since Spring. We both have had some strange adventures on this trail. She has had contact lens problems, running with others who got sick. And me, falling and breaking my ribs last year which caused me to have one of the worst nights of my life. I love this trail. It is mostly downhill with a fair amount of technical running due to rocks and tree roots. Gail on the other hand is not a big fan of technical trails.

This years course is a bit different. The start you run on gravel roads for a mile or so before dropping onto the stair section. So the crowds thinned out a tad before there but again I was in dead last after one mile. I always wish that I was a bit ahead of the pack when power climbs come. I want to go faster than most but feel its a bit rude to pass when so many runners are in a steady line. Soon we were up around Clear Lake and the lava beds. I passed a few but got stuck behind a guy who ran every downhill and walked anything up, even a few paces. At the first AS we have a new out and back because of the finish being shorter this year. I dropped my water belt and went up the short grunt section. It felt good to dump that belt for a bit. On the way back I saw Pam from Salem and said "hi". Noticed a few other familiar faces too.

I always feel that the course is pretty much downhill from here. Yeah there are some minor climbs but it is all runnable. I slowly pass more runners, some are friends and we chat a bit. I feel like I am running strong but my Garmin doesn't show the pace I expect. I am eating less these days and loving my Nuun as my gut never gives me any problems anymore. What a 180 degree turn around from the last 9 years of my distance running.

At the second AS I grab my drop bag and have half a can of Starbucks Esspresso, boy those are good. I enjoy this next section as its in some in very dense cool foliage with just a bit of technical sections. Soon I pass hiker who says "watch out for the stingers up there". I think she is probably talking about the stinging nettles type of plant. But after about 10 seconds I see to women runners in front of me scream, swing there arms widely and then double their pace. Uh Oh. Yep, it happens. Intense pain. I get stung by bees 3 times in less than a couple of seconds. I never see them in this dark section of the trail but boy it hurts.

Soon I catch up with Nancy. She is my hero as I think I said last post. At 61 she has such a great pace. We chat about Waldo, her next race, Mexico and many other things. I follow her for a long time. Soon I pass but I feel I may see her again later!

I keep looking at my watch. I feel good but no speed. Maybe tired Waldo legs still from 3 weeks ago? Not sure but I am enjoying the run with all this blue sky and nice cool temps. I keep thinking I might be catching Gail soon. I really hope I don't as that means she is having a good day. I pass a couple of spots on the trail where I caught up with her in the past. I am happy as I don't see her yet. Soon I hear the cheer of the mile 23 or so AS. I never tire of that cheer as you approach. I get to the top of the little hill at the AS and there is Detour. Yeah! I caught her here like 3 years ago. I give her a kiss and the AS volunteers get a puzzled look. We chat and she says she is doing great. I say "I gotta go cause I might PR".

I blast out and try to really push it a bit. I soon pass the area where I fell hard the last two years. I am constantly thinking about that this year but I only stub my toe a few times. I am now running a good pace. All is well. I pass most everyone except I think one guy catches me. I have my tunes cranked but we still chat a bit. I see the last AS and I ask "How far to the finish" A young guy yells back "Less than 4 miles" I keep running deciding I have enough water to finish. I want that PR!

As I round the corner at the last AS I pass the guy who had passed me. I get the adrenaline flowing and start running hard. I always thought there were really big hills in this last section but since my Ultra career as progressed I find no real hills just some short little up sections. In years passed I remember just dieing on these "huge climbs". Funny how things change. I am running sub 9 pace which is huge for me at this point in the race. I see my buddy behind me a few times and he is catching me on the hills but I pull away on the flats. This is fun. Wish I was fast so I could race like this with the big guns. I am passing tons of folks these last few miles. I make a turn on a dirt road and a course Marshall says "three quarters of a mile to go". I look at my watch. I only have 2 mintues to get my PR. I am bummed. I thought the new finish might be closer but I was wrong. I pretty much knew the last 5 miles I most likely wouldn't PR but I had to try, I would be pissed if I would have missed it by a minute or so.

Now we hit this gravel road and have a good climb. My racing buddy comes by, he is strong on the hill and passes me. He is nice and says "C'mon you are doing so good, don't let me by" I say a few words but don't have the hill climbing legs left to stay with him. After a 1/2 mile of climb we crest the hill for a nice downhill finish. I cross in 5:58, just under 4 minutes slower than my PR last year. I am a bit bummed but happy I am feeling good after 31 miles.

I chat with fellow runners and eat a few things as I wait for Gail. Sarah is looking for Marc and LG and I tell her he ran a 1/4 mile with me earlier. I talk with Meghan and Craig as they are looking at the Oregon Trail Series list. I say I think I am only one of two runners that completed all 7 races of the Series this year. It would have been 3 of us but April had sprained an ankle earlier in the race and had to drop. I ended up finishing 14th male overall and 4 in my age group in this years trail series. Even though I ran all the races they take your 4 best times to calculate the winners.

Here comes Detour down the hill to the finish. She is running strong. She crosses the finish and due to some health issues this is her first trail ultra in a year. Her last one was McKenzie of 2009 one year ago. She is a happy runner today.

We now have to get back to our car. one wants to give us a ride so we head out to the highway to hitchhike back up the road. It feels strange sticking my thumb out. Cars go by and no one stops. I tell Gail I should jump in the woods as she is so cute I bet the first car would stop! Soon someone stops but the bad news is we find out he is only going 2 miles further. So out we get dumped and stick out our thumbs again. About 10 minutes later some fellow runners in a pickup stop. We jump in the back. This is so cool. I feel like a kid again riding in the back. I think this is illegal in Oregon now but who cares, its fun! They drop us off at our car and we thank them.

What a smirk! (photo by Craig T)

As we drive home I wonder if I will do this race next year. I like the course but just not sure if I want to do it one more time as I have run it four straight years now. Kind of the same feeling about the Oregon Trail Series. I tell Gail I think next year I will try some other Ultra's, maybe out of state. Problem is that it is so easy to drive and do these. I have hardly done any in Washington and think I should give those a try. Want new adventures lurk? This winter I think I will be a Marathon Man. 26 miles or so seems far enough for a fun winter. Maybe next year I will do some more half marathons. Those are fun. You are not exhausted but can run fast for 1.5 to 2 hours. Who knows. I don't really have the fire to try a 100 miler but if I got into Western I would sure give it a try. This was my 75 th run of Marathon length or longer. Maybe that is making me pause and think about where running is taking me. I do know someday Gail and I will be in an RV driving around the country doing Marathons for a few months. It is something we both want to do. But that is probably years away with jobs still required. What do the few of you that read this blog think? Any fun ideas? Let us know.

Next up? Portland Marathon. No pressure or anything as I have posted my two fastest marathons ever the last two years on this course. Wonder if the fire will come back that morning? Right now I look forward to the race but not pumped about running hard.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"Go Get Your Hat Fat-Boy"

This was to be the race of the year. A 100k (62.5 miles) that climbs 3 mountains (12,000 feet) and is 99% on single track trail in the Central Oregon Cascades. My focus for the last 8 months has been to get my hat. Only finishers that are done by 9 pm get it. If you finish after 9 you get
an official time but you don’t get the hat. I want the hat!

2:30 am in the lodge pre-race

Gail and I spent the night in Oakridge as we have the last few years. 3 years ago we volunteered at the Mt Ray (mile 20) aid station. I learned so much about Ultra running by watching the runners come in to the AS. How they acted, what they ate, how they ensured they got what they needed. That day Gail and I went out for a 16 mile run on some of the trails the racers were on. I knew someday I would be out here racing. The next year I entered Waldo but got hurt about a month before on the PCT 50 mile run. I tested the leg a few weeks before the race and there was no way I could do the entire 62 miles. So I ran to mile 32 and then quit. Last year I thought I really could do it. But somewhere going up the second big climb (The Twins) my brain decided to leave my body and I had balance and just over all comprehension issues. I DNF’d at mile 47. It was the right thing to do but within hours I knew I had to come back this year.

Up at 1:15 am Gail and I did a quick breakfast and headed out for the 3 am start. Our friend David was hitching a ride with us on the 30 minute drive up the start. We chatted and enjoyed the company. At Willamette Pass Ski Area we parked the car and at 2:30 walked into the lodge. Had a quick sip of coffee and a chat with some friends. It was supposed to be in the 30’s but for some reason we got lucky the temps were in the mid 40’s. I wore a short sleeve shirt and a long over the top of that know I would drop the shirt at mile 20. I was covered in DEET and sunscreen as it was supposed to be a bad mossie year. We walked over to the start line. We got a short talk from the RD, I kissed Gail and off we went. You run for about a hundred yards then begin the climb up the ski trails. David and I chatted for the first 20 minutes or so. The dust was not as bad as years past. But its still pretty interesting to watch the headlights creep up the hill. After a mile or so we get to run. We drop onto some nice single track and off we go. My leg hamstring and leg begin to throb at mile 4. What is this? My good left leg is hurting so soon? It starts in my pelvis bone towards my back. I had this pain two weeks ago at Haulin Aspen. I get scared and think I can’t run 16 hours like this! I press on. Soon I am alone on a course marked my green glow sticks. You hear a few words now and then but mostly its calm. I hear only my breath or the trickle of a nearby stream. I enjoy this.

2 hours into the race the sun starts to rise

Dropping onto a road for about a half mile we cruise into the Gold Lake AS. It is still dark and the campers are sleeping so we must be quite. I refill my bottles and drop in an Nuun an move along. Now we start the first big climb up Fuji Mt. (As if climbing a ski hill is not big!) I think this climb is about 2500 feet. I mostly power walk but there are sections that are runable. I start to see light in the sky. It will be dawn soon. As I get to the Fuji Mt AS at mile 12 the bugs are awake and so is the sun. I refill only one bottle as it’s a steep but short 1.5 mile climb to the summit. You run a bit but mostly it’s a climb. I pass the fast early starters coming down the hill. I soon get to the top and as always enjoy the rising sun and a great view of the Cascades and the high lakes. I get RD Craig to take my picture as it is such a great spot with perfect light. I only stay a few minutes and then head back down. I see David on the way up and he says he is real sleepy. I take a few photo’s and then go on our way. Back at the Fuji AS I am excited for the couple thousand foot, 6+ mile, downhill run to the Mt Ray AS. I am with Marc, my fellow age 50+ crazy ultra runner. He always cracks me up with his stories. They always help pass the time. On this section I learned how he solo climbed 14,400 foot Mt. Rainier in Washington. He is one tough guy for sure. Soon he has to drop into the woods for a bit and I press on. This section seems to be more rollers than I remember and am a bit disappointed that it isn’t more downhill. At about mile 19 Tim Olsen the ultimate winner passes me. I tell him Erik passed me earlier last year. You must understand these guys had two hours to make up and they still pass me before mile 20, amazing. I run across the beautiful meadow, then back into the trees. I then hear the sound of voices, yep I am nearing Mt Ray AS. I see signs posted on the trees with funny sayings like “If it doesn’t hurt now, it will soon”. I cross the Waldo Lake road and enjoy the cheering crowd. I see Gail who will really take care of me this day. She has a 3x5 card I filled out the days before the race. It tells her what to do and what to ask me. Questions like, do you need Vaseline? Do you want more gels? Let me take your headlamps. This allows her to do the right thing in a time critical fashion and as my brain starts to not function as well, that I won’t forget anything. It works so well. I have a little Waldo stuffed doll I have pined to my water belt. At each AS I am having them sign it. I hope I will win the special Waldo award but I think I will lose to Nancy who at 61 is carrying Pom-Pom’s and doing a song and dance at every AS. I am so outclassed! Well off I go to the next AS.

Sunrise from 7100' Fuji Mt

Near the summit of Fuji

David said he need more sleep but he finished!

This section I am a bit tired. It has a slow climb that is hard for me to run. It is going to be a long day so I take it easy. Many regular start runners are passing me now. It’s just after 8:15 am and I am around mile 21. The temp is perfect in the 40’s with a blue sky. I catch up to Kate at this point, but I have to hit the trees again. I was hydrating very well at probably 30 ounces an hour or more. Some points with big climbs I couldn’t get enough fluid do to the distance between aid stations. We turned right onto the Bobby Lake Trail. I was trotting pretty good again catching up to Kate. But again the trees called. We turned North (left) onto the PCT and started the climb up to the Twins AS. I caught Kate again and she wanted me to pass so I did. I was running and walking and feeling OK. The pain in my left hip and leg were gone. I was so happy about that. This is about 6.5 miles to the Twins, so I will probably be out of water when I get there. I am carrying two 20 ounce water bottles, one on a handheld the other on my belt. I am putting the miracle potion Nuun tablet in each bottle. I am hardly eating gels, mostly Chomps, some Shot Rocks, turkey cheese sandwich, maybe some Starbucks Espresso at the AS but that’s about it. I also take one S-Cap and one Hammer Anti-Fatigue cap every hour. My stomach is good. At the Twins AS they are all dressed as Angels. They do a good job here and are very humorous. This is mile 27.2, one more mile than a marathon. I think I got in here in about 6:30 or so. Today my goal is to run between aid stations. Try not to think that I have 35 miles to go, or 20 miles to go etc. Just run the distance to the next aid.

As I leave the Twins I know for the next half mile or so I will still have to climb. The geology of this section is interesting. I love the boulder type of rock formation. More runners pass me. Bushwacker goes by and I say “I was going to say I am too old for this, but you are even older than me!” (He is 61) He stops and says “I forget your name” So I tell him and off he goes. Wish I could run that fast. Soon William passes me. He and I were one of 3 racers in a 12 hour run in Salem in May. We had a nice chat on the course that day. We get to the good downhill part of this section. I follow a gal who is a Maniac. We don’t chat but she soon lets me by. I am running nice, and it feels good. Soon I see Charleton Lake. I know the mile 32 AS is near. I see the signs on the trees. Then the crowd cheers. That always feels good. That is why I always clap and cheer for others at these races. I love the feeling and I hope others do too. I see Gail, she is with Pam, our new big time “fasty” from Salem. They take my bottles and Gail reads the list. I chew on a Snickers bar, it tastes awesome. I see Caroline and her big smile telling me “get going, get out of here”. I chat a bit more and tell Gail I am tired but doing OK. Off I go to the Forest Service Road. I have 5 miles or so.

I have to stop a few times on this short section. My stomach had some real issues and this cost me a good 15 minutes or so. This is the easiest section of the course I to run. Just mostly rollers. I get into the Road 4290 AS with just over 9 hours of running. That seems so slow for only 37 miles but the plan was all about my pace. This was the last time I see Gail until she picks me up as a pacer in another 10 miles or so.

Sarah and Detour at mile 37 AS. This is the last road we cross for 25 miles.

As I head out to the 2,000 foot climb up the Twins I am pretty nervous. This is where I died last year, so I go out easy walking when I probably didn’t have to. I know how big this climb is so I want to be strong and make it the 7.5 miles to the next AS. It seems flatter than I expected but when the climb starts it goes up pretty good. Quite a few runners pass me but I’m OK with that. It takes me 2 hours and 20 minutes to make it to the Twins AS but I feel pretty good when I get there. I fuel up, Sarah hiked in, so we say hi. I see some other AS folks I know and we chat a bit. I have a Popsicle and get brain freeze. “Oh it hurts” I yell out. So someone gives me hot soup. I probably spend 5 minutes or more here as I want to make sure I am good to go on. I know most say get in and get out of the AS but to me on these long races I mentally like the time I spend at them. It seems to refresh me from the boredom of just hours of running on the trail by yourself.

I died here last year. The climb up the Twins.

I had a professional photographer run the entire course with me.

Arch Nemesis Nancy! She is faster, older and had a better Waldo than me! Good job girl.

I head down the hill knowing it’s mostly downhill till I meet Gail at mile 47 at the Bobby Lake Trail. I am tired but mostly running. When I look up and see Gail running towards after only about 1.5 miles. How cool is that? It was so sweet to see her earlier than I expected. She just figured she would get to me and we could run sooner. I had given her this list of how to pace me. It said:

Run behind me unless I ask you to lead

Do not let me complain.

Tell me to drink every 10 minutes.

Make sure I eat enough.

At the Aid Stations don’t let me forget anything.

Don’t take what I ever I say personally.

And remember I love you.

I figured that covered most of it. Soon after we hooked up it was mostly flat with some rollers. I started getting tired and was walking more. I started to whine but soon shut up as I knew that it was easy to vent with your spouse. But I wanted her to help not listen to me feel sorry for myself. So we began the climb up Maiden to the last AS before the big climb of the day. We got into the Maiden AS at 4:09 pm. I had been running for just over 13 hours. The last 5.2 miles was at a slow 16 minute pace. Gail took ice and rubbed my legs down…oh did that feel good. I was drinking a good amount of Coke and it seemed to just give me enough boost from the sugar and caffeine. Nuun was working its wonders on my stomach. I no longer have any stomach issues. That is so amazing as I would get nauseous for the last 10 years of my running long distance. What a cure!

We left Maiden AS and had a good climb but then it was runable. I thought “This Maiden climb ain’t so bad!” Soon I was proven wrong. The trail on much of the mountain goes straight up the fall line. I was just RFM, one foot in front of another. Soon Cheri and Gary passed me. We both faked it and said we were doing fine. I never passed anyone on this climb but had probably 10 pass me. Some miles were at a 27 minute pace, that’s how steep it was. It just went on forever, then we see the spot where it gets real steep. I know its only a ¼ to ½ mile climb from here. It is super loose and tennis ball size loose rock. Gail and I push on. It is getting really cold and windy now. We summit and it is blowing 25 mph and probably in the upper 40’s. Dang cold! But I stay on the top for at least 5 minutes. I know this is a race but I won’t win anything. I want to enjoy the view. I may never be here again. I made it. I have never been here before in the last two times I have done this race. Enjoy the moment. Freeze the picture in your brain so you can recall it for years. Gail and I take some pictures of each other. I name off the Cascade high lakes and some of the mountains. I am cold. Time to move on. We say goodbye to the volunteer at the top and I am excited that the hard part of the race is over. I have about 10.5 miles to go to finish this sucker.

Climbing up Maiden Peak at mile 52. I am slow but moving.

Pacer, wife and BF on top of 7800 foot Maiden Peak

On Maiden its 45 degrees and blowing 20 mph. Cold!

As we ease our way down the steep loose rock section we see Marc coming up. He is so tough; I thought he would be miles behind me. He is hurting big time though. Seeing him motivated me to run more. We got directions on the way down. It was very technical and steep in places. I soon was leaving Gail behind as she is more shy of the steep than me. She says she will catch up. We get to good downhill runable sections and I pour it on. I am really moving. The low point is over and now its time to ride the highs. They usually don’t last very long at this 55 mile point. I keep looking back for Gail. Sometimes I see her sometimes I don’t. I push on. Soon she catches up with me and we get into our last AS at Maiden Lake. This place is amazing. I get my face wiped with a nice moist towel. Then my neck and shoulders are massaged! Oh this is great. Gail makes sure we have everything. We have 7.5 miles to the finish and I think its all downhill but the volunteers say there are a few climbs thrown in for fun. Yuck!

We have a walking climb out of Maiden Lake AS. We did that last hard section of 5.2 miles in 25:06 pace including breaks at the AS and the summit of Maiden Peak. I have calculated earlier that I wouldn’t get my hat (finish in under 18 hours), and so Gail would say, “but you are going to finish”. And she was right, and I was OK with that. This part of the trail was kind of frustrating as it was downhill then up and I was pretty tired. I started to do the math in my head. We left the last AS at 6:17 pm. I had 2 hours and 43 minutes to go 7.5 miles. I told Gail, “Hey we might make it. I have to do 20 minute miles to make it by 9 pm and get my hat.” She says “We can do that”. So I get a little juice going. I am power walking allot of the time. I feel sort of like I am gliding. Then I run for a bit. Gail says my running and walking are the same pace. But I want to run as it builds confidence, which I need right now. We come upon a guy who is out of gas. He has no gels left. We give him a couple and save his day. He finishes I notice later. It’s fun to be able to help each other out there. We hit the Rosary Lakes area and the scenery is a nice diversion. The trails start to flatten out along the lake shores. I tell Gail, “I might get the hat”. She cheers me on. Oh it is so great to have her with me. She worked so hard all day and now gets to enjoy this part of the race with me. I start hallucinating. After a bit I tell Gail what I am seeing. Everything from Huskies and to Armadillo’s to people sitting in lawn chairs. None are real. It was fun to share with her how the mind starts to go away. I look at my watch. I think we are about 3 miles from the finish. I run more. I have over an hour and 10 minutes to finish I figure. I tell Gail, ‘I might get the hat” (for about the 10th time!). We drop off the lakes back into the dense forest. The trail gets a bit bigger and has a nice gentile downhill slope. I push. I want this hat. I am feeling the best I have in 10 hours. I am at about mile 61 or 62. I figure I got a mile or so to go. It’s a little before 8 pm. I shout out to Gail behind me. “I’M GONNA GET THAT FRICKIN’ HAT!!!!” She gets excited and shouts tons of encouragement to me. I keep thinking, I have been working for a year for this. I imagine what it will look like when I break out of the woods and see the finish line. I push, I push.

And boom! There it is. We are out of the woods. I see the ski lodge. I see the finish line. It is dusk. We have had our headlamps on for the last few miles. I hear the PA. I hear the crowd. Gail says “Go get your hat Fat-Boyee!” Whoo hooo. I push. I hear the crowd. I can’t believe they are cheering for me this far away. I am so dang happy. Gail drops back and to the side. I push up the hill. Then I hear the PA. “We will stop the awards now so we can acknowledge this runner” Oh….I guess they were cheering for the real runners who win stuff not my 18 hour finish. Funny but it did help me keep going and was fun to hear. Now they do cheer. I cross the line with my fists clenched and my arms above my head. YES!!!!! I cross at 8:12 pm, 17 hours and 12 minutes after I started at 3 am so long ago. Meghan hands me my hat. I love my new hat. My hat is my friend. I will wear my new hat forever and ever. I hug Gail, say hi to friends and can not stop smiling. Enjoy the moment Bret it may not happen again.

Happy boy!

Oh and did I tell you I love my hat?