Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Nanny Goats 100

What a way to spend Memorial Day weekend.  Spending well over $1000 to fly 3000 miles and run around in a one mile circle for 100 miles.  And we wonder when people call us crazy?  We decided to fly on Thursday to allow a restful day on Friday.  We found a nice, inexpensive hotel about 30 minutes from the race and were able to rest well.  We did make a trip out on Friday to check the driving route and see the venue but did not stay long.  There was no packet pickup or briefing until Saturday morning.

There's really not much to say about the course.  It was chip timed and it went around a horse farm with just about what you'd expect at a horse farm.  There was dust.  Many horses, dogs, chickens and barnyard smells.  There was a section of longish mowed grass, some asphalt, and a lot of more or less packed down dirt.  They did spray down the dust near the start/finish but in many places there was dust hanging in the air pretty much constantly with over 200 people on the course.

The most striking thing to me about this run was how well people were moving in the wee hours of the morning.  Usually by 4am there's precious little running going on but they must grow them tough out there in CA because people were moving.  And we saw so many gutsy performances by newbies.  There was one woman who had never run more than 22 miles who did 64 in the 24 hour.  She said she planned to keep walking the last hour but nearly passed out at one point so decided to quit at 23 hours.  Many others got their first 100 mile finish.

One woman in particular, named Andrea, was running her first 100 after a couple of 50's and she looked totally solid all night.  She finished around 23 hours with a remarkable steady and strong first century.  There were also the gritty runners who kept at it all through the night and right up to the final hours getting their 100 miles.  Very impressive stuff.  There was also Tony the Endorphin Dude (that's what his cape said) who has never completed 100 miles or even come close before.  This man made a lot noise but he laid it all out there on the course.  Crying, puking, dry heaving and multiple collapses didn't appear to be stopping him but at around 88 miles he finally stopped, at the end of his tether for a distance pr and a race to remember.


For Liz and I it was a business like exercise.  Putting in the miles for another finish.  Liz won the women's race in a remarkable 21:01 with a very consistent effort.  Starting this race I felt weak and dead legged.  Earlier in the week I suffered a stomach virus (I believe caught from Liz) which kept me from eating at all for 48 hours and though I could eat some by Wednesday night it was only little bits at a time.  Not the optimal recovery plan.  Even power walking later in the race people were streaming by me and I can usually powerwalk well.  With the energy issue and a 30 minute nap at 1am I managed to finish in 23:20 which I was happy with.

We hung out with friends new (mostly) and old as people finished.  It was fun cheering everyone in through the barn that was the start finish area.  As usual everyone there was very friendly, helpful and fun.  There was food and drinks.  It felt good to sit.  As the clock ticked down to 28 hours several of us, organized by Martha and Ed Ettinghausen, went to a local Denny's and had some real food.  We then went our separate ways.  Our flight did not leave until 10:50 so we had some time.  We had brought sleeping pads so that we could get some shut eye before getting on the plane which we did.  More food along the way to the airport and soon we were airborne getting back into Atlanta at 6 Monday morning.  I've never seen the Atlanta airport so deserted!  Luckily the streets were too so the drive home was uneventful other than a stop to nap for 30 minutes half way home.

Thanks to RD Steve Harvey and all his helpers as well as the host ranch owner who's name (Beth?) escapes me now.  It was a fun weekend and nice to have an "easy" run with moderate weather.  We now head up to VA for Old Dominion this weekend where the weather forecast is looking good right now.  Let's hope it stays that way!

Liz and I with Old Goat Steve Harvey the RD.

Two of the many gutsy performers above and below.  Sorry I don't know your names.

Race count:  Liz (15)  Scott (10)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Keys 100

I had been dreading this race all year because I just don't do well in high heat and humidity.  Luckily we dodged the weather bullet this time but it was still plenty hot and sweaty.  The race organization was great, the people were great, the aid station folks did a wonderful job but still I have to say that I just didn't enjoy this race.  Perhaps it was the fact that it followed two more adventurous runs which are more my style, Zion and Salt Flats.  And maybe I'm just getting tired but I really found the traffic, heat, noise and headlights to be very wearing.  Much of the run is right on a busy highway across the Keys and the traffic was relentless.  The constant noise, danger, and night time headlights had me wishing I was elsewhere.  Also, when we had to run on the shoulder the camber was often so bad I felt like I was running across someone's pitched roof.  The Keys are pretty to be sure and I wouldn't mind a vacation there in the winter but a mid May 100 mile race ... never again.

For this one Liz and I flew down Friday afternoon, collected a rental car, and made it to race headquarters just in time to register, collect our timing chip, and find a seat for the 6:30 briefing.  RD Bob Becker whizzed through the briefing like a pro, giving a run down on what to expect and answering all questions.  I was wondering about how we would stay on course because the race map that had been handed out seemed quite complicated and I wondered if I was going to have to memorize turns or carry the map.  It turned out to be wonderfully marked with about a million signs throughout the course.

We slept in a hotel about 10 minutes south of the race start at mile marker 100.  (The race starts at MM100 and goes to MM0) Within about 30 minutes of starting we were in a pretty good downpour which lasted almost two hours.  Usually running in the rain kind of sucks but even sitting in the car at the start I was sweating so the cooling rain felt quite good.  The day stayed cloudy which was a godsend.  I have a hard time imaging how miserable and hot it would have been if there had been full sun with that humidity and heat.  There were often places where we were running down the highway or a parallel road and there were trees/bushes on both sides of the road blocking all wind.  To have the sun beating down on those areas too would have been devastating.

We also crossed many bridges, one of which was 7 miles long.  Crossing the bridges was nice as there was usually a breeze.  There were many runners and a ton of crew vehicles and people.  It was nice to see all these folks and to get their energy and encouragement.  One thing I noticed in this race was how much time many of the crewed runners spent with their crew.  These folks would come flying by me and then another 10 miles down the road they'd come flying by again.  Crew can be a great asset but you really have to be careful not to waste too much time getting pampered!

I stopped at 50 miles to change shoes and get ready for the stretch across the 7 mile bridge.  I grabbed my drop bag and as I was going through it I thought that I had screwed up and put the wrong stuff in this drop bag.  I had warm clothes and spare batteries here.  Oh well, I thought, I need to be more careful next time.  Then as I returned the bag I noticed that there was another bag of mine there.  And another!  And another!  My race number was #50 and we were instructed to put our names, the mile marker and our bib number on our drop bags.  And rather than have us put our drop bags in different piles for the aid stations they had volunteers sorting them.  So the volunteer just saw my race number and put all my bags at MM50.  I'm glad I noticed as my lights and reflective gear which I needed at the next aid station at 60 miles would have been there at 50.  I arranged for someone to bring my 60MM and 80MM bags to the proper place and struck out for the bridge.

Up until this point I had been doing okay with eating and my stomach but during the 3 miles to the bridge from 50 I started to feel bad and during the whole 7 mile bridge I only managed to drink 1/2 of one water bottle.  My stomach was already going bad but being up high on the bridge with the cars whizzing by 2 feet away I felt worse and worse.  I think it was the noise, the motion, the heat and movement of the bridge from the traffic that got to me.  I felt pretty bad by the 60 mile aid station so I sat down to change in to my night gear (it was 7:30) and drink iced ginger ale.  I was able to drink a can and a half of ginger ale which was great giving me some fluids and calories.  During the next 35 miles though my stomach continued to rebel and the only other calories I could get in were some more ginger ale, a starbucks drink, and 1/2 of a grilled cheese which I ate at 80 miles.  That's not many calories for 45 miles!

I sat for quite a while at 80 miles thinking that Liz might be catching up and also expecting a storm to hit from which we had been seeing lighting for a while.  An aid station worker had an iphone and the radar showed a band of intense showers heading right for us.  It was pretty narrow though so should blow through pretty quick.  I thought of lying down in a sheltered area there but the lightening didn't seem to be getting any closer so eventually I carried on.  About a mile down the road, though, the rain started with a vengeance.  Luckily there was a bridge right there so I crawled underneath it and waited out the storm.  I was probably 30-40 minutes until the rain let up and I got back at it.

At 90 miles I left the aid station with Petra from the Czech Republic.  We ended up walking together for the next 5 miles as the sky lightened.  It was a nice break as we chatted about our lives and I asked her about living in eastern europe during the collapse of the Soviet Union.  During the entire night I was doing a routine of walking and shuffling with the limit on my shuffling being my stomach.  I would shuffle until my stomach felt too bad then walk.  My legs and feet felt okay and my energy level was fine, it was just my tummy that was causing trouble.  But after a solid 5 miles of walking I finally felt this intense hunger.  I always carry at least a gel or two and pulled one out sucking on it tentatively. Soon after this Petra stopped at a convenience store to use the restroom.

I was worried that the gel would make me sick but it settled well and I found that I could shuffle without getting sick.  I was able to shuffle in most of the final 5 miles passing a number of people in varying stages of disrepair with sore feet and blisters the biggest problem.  I think  the heat and the rain (most people didn't hide like a sissy from the second storm) gave many some bad feet.  The last 3 miles seemed to stretch on forever but finally it was over.  I got my SMO's (shiny metal objects) and a finish line pic then sat down to take off the shoes.  The race finished right on the beach which made walking around barefoot pretty comfy.  It was good to see Andrei Nana and Bradford Lombardi at the finish.  I learned that Mike Morton had done it again with a huge course record and another sub 14 hour run.  The women also showed extremely well with a close race and the 2nd and 3rd slots behind Morton.  Alyson Venti with a 16:07 beat Tatyana Spencer in 16:12.  Remarkable finishes, ladies!

A special treat at this race was getting to see John Pyle finish his Patriot Run Across America supporting the Wounded Warrior Project.  We got to see him finish his journey which had started in San Francisco on March 1st.  Now that guy has some stories to tell!  Well done, John!

Liz pulled in at 27:31.  Unfortunately we needed to fly out of Ft Lauderdale at 7:40 that night and still needed to get to our car 100 miles north in Key Largo.  (We finished in Key West)  We asked around but no one was heading up that way with most people having arranged rooms for that nigh in Key West.  What a great idea!  Doh!  Mike Melton was doing timing at the finish and I asked him about using his internet connection to research a shuttle service we had noticed while running.  But he told me that there was bus service and that we just needed to go to the bus stop to catch a ride north.  Not the ideal situation but cheap.  We gathered our drop bags together and hitched a ride with a race marshal going out to check on the tail end runners and waited for the bus.  We tried hitchhiking without luck while waiting for the bus and had to switch buses at MM50 after an hour wait but eventually got to our rental car and started driving north.

I thought it would be impossible to catch our plane as it was too late but we gave it the old college try, switching off driving as we got sleepy in turn since we had been up for 48 hours or so.  There was virtually no opportunity to nap on the buses.  Anyway, we ended up doing the dash through the airport catching our plane in the nick of time.  Thank goodness it was a small airport.  We went from the rental car drop off, to the ticketing counter for our boarding passes, through security and to the gate in 10 minutes!  Whew!  We had pretty much been prepared to sleep in the airport and beg for a standby flight but Airtran got us on the plane.

Cudo's as usual to the race organizers and especially the volunteers.  Thanks also to all the crew people who were always quick to offer help to any runner.  Special thanks also to Timothy Purol's crew for buying me a roll of Rolaids when I ran out of Tums.  The ultrarunning community is the best!  It's now on to the Nanny Goats 100 this weekend.....

Liz adds:  I just wanted to say that I have never experienced so many acts of kindness from crews and runners.  I have never been at a race where so many people have reached out to help one another.  I did not have crew but so many crew people helped me in ways that would take too long to describe in detail.  I just want to say thank you to all of you who helped me so much.  Thank you!  Also I wanted to say that the post race party that had only begun looked to be one of the best yet.  I'm truly sad I missed it.

Race count:  Liz (14)  Scott (9)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Zion 100

There is so much to write about for this race and in such a busy schedule it's hard to find the time and energy to do this race justice with a complete and well thought out report.  With that caveat, I'm going to do the best I can and apologize for what will probably be somewhat disorganized.  I'll start off with logistics which, as expected, is turning out to be a huge part of this challenge.  

Logistics:  We flew from GA to Las Vegas where we had parked the RV for 8 days arriving just at midnight Thursday morning.  I drove for an hour or so and parked just off the freeway on the way to Virgin UT and the site of the race start.  After a few hours of sleep and some coffee we continued the drive arriving at the Virgin town park in the early afternoon after a grocery stop for supplies.  Post race we had two days to drive the 600+ miles to Denver to catch a 6am Tuesday flight back to Atlanta.  I'm glad we had two days because this race took it out of both of us, though Liz took the hardest hit.  We are now back in Atlanta for the next month with weekend plane trips scheduled for Keys this weekend, Nanny Goat's next weekend, and Old Dominion the following weekend.  A busy month to be sure.

Pre-race:  Looking at the website I anticipated a well organized and well thought out event.   Seeing the supplies and work being done at the park supported this.  I chatted some with RD Matt Gunn's wife Danica and mother Chris shortly after we arrived and learned that this race was to be a family affair though many friends and locals would also be key in the execution of the race.  Chris told me that she had 5 sons and one daughter and that all would be there to support Matt and us racers.  She is a sweet person and was interested in everyone's story and eager to help in any way she could.

Packet pickup was easy and the race briefing was a typed sheet with bullet points of last minute details thought there was a short briefing again in the morning just before we took off.  It was easy to see how pre-occupied Matt was with all the work and all the details that he was attending to in putting on this first time event.  Any first time 100 would be a huge undertaking but this race was an even bigger task than most with the course utilizing very little repeat course sections.  There was also the unseasonable heat and need to be sure there was adequate water in some very remote areas of the desert.  There was course marking which Matt did largely on his own, I was told.  On top of all this were all the little extras such as on course gorillas and a post race party with live music, catered dinner and a dunking tank!

I think Matt aged several years this past month despite all the help of family and friends.  Matt, your work is appreciated and though there were some hiccups during the race, your work and efforts paid off  with a great event.  I'm sure it will grow and become quite popular though I don't think it a "good first time 100 miler" race.  The challenges of the course and the possibility of hot weather like we had provided a challenge even to the veterans.

Race:  My description of the course will be pretty brief but for more detail and some cool pictures you might want to check out winner Jay Aldous' report or Manners' report.  After a few miles through the at this point cool desert we came to the Flying Monkey climb up onto Smith Mesa.  The name comes from a military ejection seat testing program that used monkeys as test subjects on or near this cliff.  Looking at the cliff as we approached it was difficult to tell exactly where we would go.  It just looked to steep from afar but the actual climb wasn't that bad though there was definitely some exposure.  I should mention that the course is roughly a figure of 8 course with the first, shorter loop, mostly on Smith Mesa and the second loop mostly on another mesa called Gooseberry Mesa.

Once on the mesa we had some nice gravel road running that continued on to AS2 at mile point 18.5.  There were some stunning views that I wish I had pics of as we were running in the direction of Zion National Park with it's towering sandstone wall.  The wind was whipping here keeping things nice and cool but it was blowing so hard that there were intermittent dust clouds blown along the road most of the way.  From AS2 we dropped off the road and into the ropes course.  It wasn't really that bad but the ropes really were needed to stop some serious butt sliding.  Once at the base of the ropes it was a very technical 1/2 mile or so of newly minted trail that ever so gradually turned into some nice singletrack.  

The track was nice but this turned out to be one of the hottest sections of the course for me due to the fact that we were in a canyon where the air wasn't moving and the sun was working with the canyon to produce a quite effective convection oven.  This long 8 mile stretch ended at AS3 and the start of a nice 4 mile downhill road section and then another trek across the low elevation desert to the next aid station which was right on the road which goes into town.  There were lots of people, a weigh in, cold drinks and electrolyte slushies, and a portable shower which I used to douse myself to cool off.  

For the first time in the heat in a running race I was wearing a long sleeve white technical shirt.  I wasn't sure how this would work for me but the verdict is positive and I'll be using it again this weekend at Keys.  The one issue that I didn't forsee is that the loose fitting shirt moved around a lot and I ended up with some irritated man nipples.  I tried covering them with some medical type tape but that didn't stay on very long with all of my sweating so at the next aid station I found some duct tape.  Now that stayed on! though it wasn't that fun taking it off after the finish....

After the busy road aid station we had a nice section of slightly uphill single track to another aid station and then a bunch of gravel/dirt road that took us past another aid station called the Virgin Desert AS (Matt's mom Chris was in charge here - thanks Chris!)  A couple of miles past this was a manned water only stop at the base of the gnarly and steep climb up onto Gooseberry Mesa.  It was about 6pm here and exposed to the sun but not as hot as I had feared.  I put it into my short-stepped granny gear and just plowed on up.  I didn't feel as if I had pushed too hard here but it was at this point that my stomach started to feel a little edgy.

After the mini AS at the top I started off across the mesa walking for a mile or two trying to let my stomach settle and to try to catch up some on fluid intake.  I was walking here with Janet an interesting woman from San Francisco starting schooling to become a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner.  We eventually started shuffling and soon reached the Gooseberry AS which had a 1 mile round trip out and back to a scenic vista.  Leaving Gooseberry was mile 52.5 with a 10 mile stretch to the next aid.  I picked up my light here but forgot my Nutella tortilla!  Oh well, late in these races I don't eat much anyway and I had a couple of emergency gels on me in case of bonking.  

I ended up leaving this AS with Liz and a Tucson runner by the name of Ken Greco.  Liz and I walked a short while talking about the day and then I eventually pulled ahead running with Ken for the next 6 miles or so.  It turns out that Liz was just behind us as she said she could see our lights for much of this section.  At one point I stopped to empty my shoes of sand and Ken pulled ahead.  A few people passed me as I sat but once moving again I repassed them and reached the AS at 62.5 after much zigging and zagging around the edge of the mesa.  At one point 5 miles or so out we could actually see the AS a mile or so away!  It seemed this section would never end.  It wasn't hard so much as just slow with all the up and down and back and forth and routefinding.  Here's a video of part of this section of the course.

Though I had no trouble with route finding here many others did have a LOT of trouble with this section including both Ken and Liz.  I'll talk more about their troubles later.  After aid at 62.5 there was a section of nice smooth gravel road to 77 miles.  The sleep monster hit here despite the cold air.  I stopped for a total of 30+ minutes trying to fight off the monster.  Finally I reached 77 miles and my warm clothes and gloves but found myself on the steep descent off the mesa just 100 yards past the AS.  So after a couple of hours of being a bit chilly fantasizing about my wind jacket and gloves only minutes after I got them I was taking them off and carrying them!  Doh!  Should have studied the map and route description.  Though many people had trouble with the course markings up on Gooseberry Mesa I didn't really have any issues until this section.  There was a section through a golf course especially that had almost no markers.  I did run into some guys that were out to beef up the course markers though and told them where I had trouble and where to direct their efforts.  In the end I probably lost about 10 minutes trying to figure out where to go but many others lost HOURS.

There was a bunch more desert dirt roads and singletrack as the new day lightened and a nice long downhill into the Hurricane View AS at 90 miles.  At this point I had been running on blisters for about 20 miles which has become a new tradition for me since Labor of Love.  I need to figure out how to avoid this!  I'm not used to blisters and don't like them.  Anyway, up to this point it had not gotten too hot but as I left this AS and started up a long hill on desert singletrack it started to heat up.  It was supposed to be 5 miles to the final AS but it seemed much longer.  The final section from this aid station started with a very sweet slightly downhill singletrack section along some canyon edges.  I was enduring the blisters and moving well but about 2 miles out the blister on my left foot extended or something and shut me down!  Wow did that hurt.  When my blisters get bad I usually pop them and they hurt worse but as I run on them it eases off.  This seemed even worse though.  I took my shoe off and tried draining it but nothing came out.  Oh well, best just get on with it.  I limped for quite a ways gritting my teeth and there may have been some profanity but eventually it did ease off and I was able to make slow but steady progress to the end.

I finished just before 11am, 28 hours and 48 minutes after starting.  It was really starting to get hot.  The temps may have been a bit lower than Friday but the air was not moving nearly as much.  It felt much worse though part of it may have been from fatigue.  Whatever the explanation my heart went out to those still out there running.  I had seen neither Liz nor Ken and very few other runners since being up on Gooseberry.  My feet were killing me but my legs really didn't feel all that bad.  I sat down and let people bring me drinks.  I don't think I got up off that chair for at least 30 minutes.  And as I sat in that chair I started to hear the stories.  There were two main themes.  First, many people were saying "I never get blisters, but I sure have them now."  And the second theme had to do with people getting lost on Gooseberry between miles 52 and 62.  Most worrying for me was when Hector Aleman told me that he had been with Liz in that section and that she had been lost there for SEVEN hours!  Yikes.  I really started to worry about her.

I followed her progress with the radio operators and drove out to meet her at the trailhead a couple of miles from the finish with water, sunscreen and chafe cream.  As I drove out there I barely missed catching Matt Gunn racing up the trail with a water bottle in hand.  It turned out that Ken Greco had called 911 while on the trail after the last AS.  He turned out to be okay and even finished with seconds to spare though Matt said he had to chaperone him along the trail where it came close to dropoffs because he was staggering.  Liz looked terrible.  Like a zombie.  She refused any aid but reported that she had been vomiting for the last 6+ miles.  I returned to the finish to wait for her.  I would have walked in with her but my feet were hamburger.

Liz:  Liz finished in 35:34 and looked worse than I had ever seen her before.  She even vomited after sitting down and that was the first time I had ever seen her vomit in our 6 years together.  

Liz minutes after finishing.
Liz's burst of speed at the end.
Her story as I've gathered it is epic.  As I said she had been running not too far behind Ken and I but I had to stop to take off my shoes and Ken got ahead.  I ran on without problems but as Liz moved down the trail she suddenly came upon Ken running down the trail towards her.  (This was a common theme in the "Gooseberry stories.")  I'm not clear on the details and neither is Liz but the next several hours included wandering and wandering, completing most of that 10 mile section at least twice, finding themselves back at the 52 mile AS and another episode that knocked my socks off.  Apparently at one point with frustration mounting and desperation entering the equation, Ken said that there was supposed to be red lighted balloons above the aid station.  (The preprinted map and description which Ken was carrying said there would be such balloons but they never did get put up.)  Looking off in the distance Ken saw red lights and convinced Liz that those lights must be the balloons at the aid station.  (In fact, they were far distant lights on a radio tower.)  The two then started off on a cross country trek towards the "balloons".  This was a very bad decision in this country.  The mesa is riddled with canyons and washouts and they were bushwhacking in and out of them occasionally coming to canyons too steep and deep which they had to go around.  They were now hopelessly lost.  Eventually Liz realized this was not working and found low stars to take a bearing and move in that direction.  But before they came to a trail, while taking a short break Ken did a remarkable thing.

This shows not only how lost they felt but what kind soul Ken is.  They had passed a water only station midway between 52 and 62 but were very low on water not to mention food.  Ken had a large hip belt and at this rest stop he emptied the pack and divided his food (a number of gels) into two piles offering one pile to Liz.  Amazing.  Liz, who always goes light, had run out of food thinking she only had 10 miles to go.  She did take one gel from this generous man.  Eventually they did find a trail but still had trouble figuring out where the course went.  Imagine how frustrating it would be to wander and work so hard out there and have so many miles under your belt and find yourself back where you had started!  If you read Manners' race report linked above he describes a bunch of people wandering and huddling together here.  The relevant section is near the end in the long unbroken paragraph.  I know that Lynette McDougal also got very lost here but I would imagine that most people besides these three stubborn souls decided to quit after so much strife.  But these three struggled on finishing in the final hours and final minutes of the race.

As I said before, Liz looked terrible after the race.  She passed out in her chair and could not eat or drink a thing.  It's too bad she felt so bad and couldn't take part in the post race chatting and party with the live music and catered BBQ.  But as the night wore on and the next two days of driving to Denver went on I became more and more worried.  Liz was having a very hard time eating or even drinking.  I believe that most people would have taken themselves to the hospital but I could not force her.  Though she wasn't peeing that often she was putting out a decent volume and the color was not that bad so her kidney's were working.  The biggest problem was her stomach and some very worrying chest pain.  If you really know Liz you know how stubborn she is and there was no amount of nagging on my part that would get her to go to the ER.

The chest pain and stomach pain got worse then better as the days went on but she was eating hardly anything.  She looked totally drawn and her skin was tenting badly showing extreme dehydration despite her getting a decent amount of fluids down.  Some salty french fries seemed to help but she ate very little in the 3 days after the race and when she did manage to get a bit down it sat on her stomach for as long as 6-8 hours.  When we got home on Tuesday and she got on the scale she was down 13 lbs from before we left for the race!  This was now almost 3 days after the finish of the race.  This was not good.  Finally I suggested drinking some chicken broth and this seemed to make a difference and she has been able to eat and drink better though her stomach is still very much not right here less than a day and a half before Keys.

This whole episode is scary and it's especially scary because I know how tough and how stubborn Liz is.  I hope she doesn't push too hard and hurt herself.  Anyone who thinks doing all these races is easy is mistaken!  It takes a toll.  I still believe that we can reach our goal but it's going to take all of our focus and determination to come through it whole.  I'm not normally so dramatic but this episode at Zion shows the dangers.

Wrapping it up:  Though I've focused a lot on the trail marking difficulties on Gooseberry I need to make it clear that Matt Gunn and all his friends and family did a fantastic job putting on this race.  There was so much that worked so well.  There was plenty of water on the course between aid stations and the electrolyte slushies were delicious and refreshing.  There was an abundance of food at the aid stations though more cooked "real" food would be even better though I realize the difficulties of cooking and keeping food warm when stations are open for 15 or more hours.  As the race grows there may be room for more variety.  The post race party was amazing with free beer, the BBG, live music, the dunking tank, and the slingshot that was used to launch draw prizes into the crowd.

At so many races these days, especially the new ones, people show up, run the race and then leave.  I absolutely love being able to sit around and chat and cheer in the runners, at least when I'm not the last runner! : )  Doing all these races we've made so many new friends.  I'm going to mention some and probably forget to mention others but some of the people we've seen at multiple races include Claude Hicks (good luck at Badwater buddy!), Mike Smith, Yoshiko Jo & Jackie Ong, Dennis Ahern and Ed Ettinghausen.  I'm sure the network will grow as the year goes on!

Thanks again to Matt, the extended Gunn family, and all the other very very excellent volunteers!  You all did a great job and are all much appreciated!

Race count:  Liz (13)  Scott (8)

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Salt Flats 100

Race morning looking out over the first leg of the course.

I had been looking forward to this race all year.  The idea of doing a 100 mile race on the famous salt flats of the Utah desert just sounded too cool.  And the race did not disappoint.  It was very cool running across the flats and it was nice to have some mountains to climb and some other scenery to break things up.  Doing the entire 100 miles all on the unrelenting flats would have been too much.

Like many (most? all?) races in Utah this race had a Friday start.  I don't know if this is just custom or the result of some blue law.  Liz and I had been in the nearby town of Wendover on the Utah/Nevada border for a few days after driving up from Las Vegas and the Labor of Love race.  We slept at the race start area on Wednesday and Thursday nights.  Like the Graveyard 100 earlier this year we missed a significant storm by just one day.  Thursday afternoon we were in town for the race briefing and to pick up last minute supplies and the wind was howling with 35+ mph gusts.  It was hard to even walk across the parking lot at the local Smith's food store.

The packet pickup was quick and easy as was the race briefing.  We got a chance to meet RD Vince Romney and his wife Chris.  Everything looked to be really well organized and thought out.  Vince is an ultrarunner and multiple 100 mile finisher so he really sounded like he knew from the inside what a 100 miler runner needed.  The aid wasn't terribly frequent but good enough that one water bottle would suffice.  After the briefing and braving the wind at the grocery we drove out to the start/finish area.  As we approached it we saw a massive dust storm but the dust was white and it was blowing directly across where we would be running in the morning.  I'm glad that the winds were forecast to slow down by morning.  I took this video of this blowing salt storm:

It was pretty amazing how the RV was buffeted around by the winds early in the evening.  There was even a little bit of rain as we drove in and in the morning it looked as if someone had splattered the rig with salty, muddy sludge.  By the time we were ready to sleep the wind had abated somewhat though there were still some very healthy gusts from time to time.  In the morning as the sky lightened, the activity outside increased and it was soon time to get dressed, make coffee and get the show on the road.

Vince had limited the field this year to 50 runners in order to be sure that he could provide a safe  and high quality run.  There were maybe 5 or so no shows and a good crowd milling around.  As 7am approached we all walked out to a piece of rebar pounded into the salt which served as the starting line.

The first leg of the race runs straight across the flats to what is called a floating island due to the mirage effect often seen on the flats.  Before the race Liz and I had talked about how this island sure didn't look like it was 16 miles away.  We were about to find out that looks can be deceiving!

Closeup of the "floating island"
On the right is floating island and the mountains in center we will run through after the island.
Like many ultras the start was anti-climactic but the reality of the run soon presented itself.  This vast plain of salt seemed much like an arctic snowfield though the feel of it underfoot was like no snow I had ever walked on.  I'm including a lot of photos and video here because they express the feel of this first leg of the run much better than I could with words.  The pics and short video below are from the first hour or so of the run.  Even more images can be found on my Picasa page here.

This is how the course was marked for the first 16 miles.  A simple piece of rebar driven into the salt with marking tape.
After 16 miles we finally reached the island though it never appeared to be floating to us.  I guess the angle of the sun wasn't right so early in the day.  Here's a pic of the lonely aid station #2:

After aid 2 we ran some more on the sometimes loose mud/dirt flat until we finally reached a gravel double track which took us through aid stations 3-5 as we wound our way through and over the mountains pictured above.  At aid 5, which was also aid 7 we did a bit of a backcountry loop that took us through about 19 miles with only one aid stop, a water stop and a long 6 mile stretch of dirt flats.  I have a short video of this dirt flay on the picasa page that I won't put in here but it merits a description.  This was at about 45 miles so it was getting late in the afternoon and we had come over onto the west side of the mountain. There was a strong NW wind blowing across this large flat.  I'm sure there was salt underneath but what we saw was almost all dust/dirt.

I was about 1/3 mile behind Liz at this point and with the intermittently blowing dust she would appear and disappear ahead of me.  The footing here was also a challenge with it being at times firm and at other times very soft which required either walking or a very shortened stride.  Either way this soft stuff was pretty tiring.  After this stretch we got back to aid 5/7 completing the backcountry loop.  It was quite beautiful as was the climb up from the salt flats to aid 5.  Much of this section and much of the rest of the course followed gravel roads and gravel double track which makes the course so runnable though running sub 15 hours as Jay Aldous nearly did seems tough.  But then running sub 15 is beyond me on the easiest course!

At aid 5 I picked up my Nathan racing vest, some food, and my headlamp.  Liz was here at the same time and found that she had failed to put a light at this aid stop.  I told her I'd run with her to the next spot she had a light packed which was about 10 miles away to share my light.  We ran our own paces passing back and forth but kept close and reached her light just at dark.  A worrisome stretch but it all worked out.  There was a short (200 yd) stretch just after dark where the double track went up a hill through the craziest dust I've ever seen.  It was seriously ankle deep dust, white colored, and as fine as talcum powder.  I could feel it running down inside my shoes and socks like liquid.  Luckily it was fine enough that it didn't even cause any friction issues with the feet though I did take the opportunity at the next spot I had shoes and socks to change out.

The night was long and it got extremely cold.  Liz and I ran together or close to each other as we reached the last long climb of the race.  We tend to run light with minimal clothing, water, and food but this time we did have warm clothes but even with everything on and moving strongly we were still quite chilled.  After aid station 12 there is an almost 1500 ft climb that, coming so late in the race, seemed to go on and on.  It didn't help either that there were numerous false summits and some meandering so you could never tell where you were going or how close you were to topping out.  We did this climb in the dark but I'd like to do it sometime in the daylight.  I'm sure it's very pretty. The descent from this climb brought us back down to roughly the elevation of the start and about mile 92.  From there we had a totally flat run to the finish with one more aid station at 95 miles.  The sky lightened and we were able to turn our lights off just as we reached the flat.  

For most of us running a steep, relatively technical, downhill at 90 plus miles is tough and I was really looking forward to the flats.  But after a few miles the flats were plenty tough on their own.  I tried shuffling but it was a bit too exhausting and we were not going to be able to break 24 hours so I settled into a power walk and walked it in with Liz except for our blazing 13 minute per mile sprint for the last 100 yards.  I think we were both feeling the effects of the hot Labor of Love run with only 5 days of rest before the start of this one.  I had blisters and bruising in the same spots on both feet as I had at Labor of Love.  I usually don't have blister issues so I hope this goes away with a weekend off before we head back out to Zion next weekend.

Several hours after finishing with RD Vince Romney 

This was a very excellent race experience!  It really felt like a journey compared to the paved out and back exercise of last week.  There's a lot of cool stuff out in this area that I'd love to explore in a non-race mode.  Vince, his lovely wife Chris, and all the volunteers did a fantastic job pulling this one off.  After the race they were asking everyone for comments about what was good and especially what could be done better.  They really want to grow this race and make it the best it can be.  You won't go wrong giving this one a try though in case of strong winds you might want to pack your sand goggles and gps for possible zero visibility conditions!  Thanks Vince and crew for the great ride!

After the race, on Sunday night, Liz and I got a $30 room in Wendover to shower and stretch out before the 6 hour drive back to Las Vegas where we parked the RV and caught a 7am flight on Tuesday back to GA for a week of work.  We'll fly back to Las Vegas next week for Zion and then back home for May.  In May we'll be flying out of GA for three races.  First the Keys, then Nanny Goat, and finally Old Dominion.  This will be a 4 weeks in a row stretch with the tough Old Dominion and it's heat and the 28 hour cutoff at the end of the stretch.  It won't be boring!

I need to mention two of the last finishers at Salt Flats.  Vince advertised that the event would be open to canine companions and even, it turns out, canine competitors.  Deeanna and Elvis both paid their entry fees, both got their numbers and both finished the race!  It was cool to see them both ambling in to the finish with only 11 minutes to spare.  Elvis the dog was still covering extra miles, perhaps because of all the people and commotion, right up to and after the finish line.  Congrats to you both!  And also to all the runners at this event including many first time 100 milers.  I believe the finishing rate was 85% or better with very few drops.

I'm really looking forward to running in southern Utah's canyon country next weekend.  I'll report on how it goes when we get back.  'Til then, cheers!

Race count: Liz (12)  Scott (7)