Sunday, July 7, 2013

Charging toward top 10 at Western States, or something like that

The Western States 100 Endurance Run has been a dream of mine ever since moving up to ultra distances in 2009.  Little did I know that an injury from that year would wake me up from my slumber.  When my name was drawn TWICE in the Western States lottery in early December, I started planning the next 6 months of training with my coach and pacer, Todd Braje, whom happens to have 3 National Championships to his name.  Training went extremely well with three 50+ mile training races, where I finished 1st (Febapple), 2nd (Bel Monte; got lost), and 10th (TNFEC-Bear Mountain; 2 weeks after Bel Monte).  In addition, I ran a smart race at the HAT trail run in March, finishing 3rd behind Caleb Wilkinson and Mike Dixon.  To top it off, I had a very successful Memorial Day training weekend with Matt Wilson and Jason Wiley, two very dedicated training partners. 
Training partners Matt and Jason getting ready for a run.
Matt would also be running Western States this year.
To further prepare for race day, I made sure to fly out well in advance and would make sure to completely rest and adjust to the altitude.  My crew and family would meet me out there on the 26th and the remaining days were spent getting ready for the big day.

Crew arriving at SFO!  Boy they look excited!!!
 My pre-race goal was to find my way into the top 10 and earn an automatic qualifier for the 2014 race.  As race day drew nearer, it became apparent that the temperatures would reach the triple digits.  This made my goal more attainable, being that I handle heat very well, although this would still be a tough feat considering the talent starting this year’s race.

This is dinner!  Ribeye, kale, and sweet potato!
On Saturday morning, I awoke at 3:30am and did the usual:  bathroom, coffee, breakfast.  We were staying at the Village at Squaw Valley, so I had a very short walk to the start. 
View from my room in Squaw.  If you look closely, you can see the Western States rock!
I left the condo at about 4:40am, picked up my bib, and headed to the start line.  Race organization for this race, was the best that I have ever experienced, with one exception:  NO SAFETY PINS FOR BIBS!!!  I saw Matt at the start line and he gave me 2 of his 4 pins and within minutes we were on our way towards Auburn.  I settled into a slow jog/powerwalk up Squaw Peak to the escarpment with Mike Morton, a pre-race favorite and a good friend.  Our families had dinner on Thursday night at FiftyFifty Brewery and we discussed all things Western States, 24hr ultras, and the military (well, I just listened to the military part).  Joining us at dinner was the hard-charging, Mike McMonagle, a recent Naval Academy graduate.
As we progressed up the mountain, I “let” Mike go as his hip warmed up and I crested the mountain in 51 minutes in decent position, but far, far out of the top ten.  My plan was to move consistently through the mountains and use my leg speed starting at Foresthill, mile 62.  After this initial 4 miles of ascent to 8750ft, the course heads out to Lyon Ridge for 6.5 miles.  I picked the pace up gradually over this section coming in at 1:52 in 46th place.  I quickly topped off my water bottles, one of which carried my primary energy source, Vitargo S2 by GENr8 (  If you have never tried Vitargo, then you don’t know what you are missing.
“GENr8 Vitargo S2 is the first and only super soluble form of the fastest recovery and re/fuel carbohydrate ever proven in university research studies.  Vitargo S2’s patented IVg technology delivers faster gut transit, glycemic and insulin responses, glycogen re/fueling, and performance. Vitargo is 100% sugar-free.”  This translates into more available energy, faster gut transit time, less stomach distress, a boost in performance and recovery, and less muscle protein breakdown.
Fuel of choice.

After the aid station, I had to duck into the bushes for a moment, a normal occurrence for me.  At which point, I exited and would run into Adrian Lazar Adler.  He held my water bottle for a second, so that I could remove my shirt as the day was starting to warm-up at 7AM!  We discussed our current position in the race and I told him that this pace would surely get us in the top 20, seeing as I expected a lot of carnage to take place in this heat.  I was right by the way, as ALA finished in 13th place (GREAT JOB!).  I progressed along at my own pace, paying no attention to anyone around me.  Running at 7000ft felt easy, making me trust in my decision to head to Squaw a week early. 
I would climb a couple more positions at Red Star Ridge (44th; mile 16 (2:54).  My pace was really slow, but I wasn’t worried as I wanted to take it fairly easy during the first half of the race.  I was excited to continue moving along and get to Duncan Canyon, where I would see my crew for the first time.  I arrived at mile 23.8 in 4:09, climbing another 4 positions to 40th place and entering the aid station with Pam Smith, Aliza Lapierre, and Amy Sproston.  At the aid station, I switched bottles for some more Vitargo, drank some salt water, and ate a few solid foods.  I was quickly off a few seconds behind the ladies, passing each of them over the next 6 miles to Robinson flat and climbing another 11 positions to 29th.  I reached Robinson in 5:21 which included a couple miles of slogging and powerhiking up the climbs.  Entering into Robinson Flat made me feel like a rock star.  All the crews were there to greet you.  I scanned around looking for Matt’s crew, as they were supposed to help me if I needed anything at this point, but they were nowhere to be found.  Probably due to the fact that Matt arrived 12 minutes earlier in 24th place.  A quick weigh-in, good on weight, and refuel and I was off for the little climb up Little Bald Mountain and a quick descent to Millers Defeat and Dusty Corners. 
Over those next few miles, I would leap frog with Pam Smith and some other ladies, as I tried to conserve my downhill legs for later in the race.  I entered Dusty Corners in 6:49, a 10:45 overall pace, in 31st place.  Again, my crew would get me refueled properly and cooled down with some cold towels and ice water, seeing as the temperature was already starting to climb into the 90-100 range.  This would be the last time I would see them until after the Deadwood Canyon and El Dorado Canyon, the most difficult and hottest part of the race.
As I headed toward Last Chance and into Deadwood Canyon, I would lose a couple more positions, but I wasn’t worried at all.  I was running my own race and I didn’t want to pound down the hills and do irreparable damage to my legs.  Unfortunately, I think holding back on each downhill caused more damage and I started to feel soreness in my thighs, but I was still able to move along at a decent pace and make up any lost ground on the uphill climbs with a little help from Rob Zombie and “Never Gonna Stop”.  This song had me moving effortlessly up Devils Thumb.  I caught up to Nikki Kimball at this point, who had passed me going down into Deadwood.  We talked for awhile and found that we both had run for Jenkintown Running Company back in the day.  We entered Devils Thumb aid station together.  My vitargo was all gone, so I had to refuel with more solid foods than I would have liked, and also throw in some Gu-Brew for some extra electrolytes in the canyons. 
Heading down the long descent to El Dorado, I made a mistake!  I missed a left hand turn and continued straight down the jeep road for about 4 minutes.  After not seeing flagging for awhile, I turned around and started moving back up the hill.  I think I saw that Nikki Kimball had followed me a bit and she realized her mistake sooner than me and was running back up the hill.  As I headed up the hill, about 4 guys on motorcycles and quads came by.  I waved them down and asked if they saw runners down the hill.  They did, so I turned back downhill for another couple minutes, until I realized this has to be wrong.  So, again I turned around and headed back up hill and found my mistake.  After about a 15 minute detour, I was back on course and headed into El Dorado along some nice, hot, single-track.  I started questioning my choice of direction, even though I didn’t see a turn-off, so I stopped at a little stone waterbath cut into the side of the mountain and doused my head with some water, waiting to see another runner arrive.  They did, so I surmised I was going in the right direction.  In all, my little detour lost me about 17 minutes, but only 1 position.  Again, I entered into the next climb out of El Dorado Canyon with my buddy Mr. Zombie and quick-timed it up to Michigan Bluff to meet my crew.  They were somewhat worried in that it took me a bit longer than it should have over this section, but I seemed to be raring to go and looking forward to Foresthill.  After a fairly “quick” stop, downing salt water, getting more vitargo, cold drench and lots of solids, I was off into Volcano Canyon and up to Bath Road.  A quick 1 bottle refill at Bath Road, and I was off to meet my crew at Foresthill and my pacer, Todd Braje.  I ran the entire way up Bath Road!  My uphill legs felt awesome, my flat running legs were there, my downhill legs were a little shot, at least for the steeper downhills.  I hoofed it quickly into Foresthill, looking in fine form, running 7 min pace or so after reaching Foresthill Road.  I entered the weigh station and was dead-on my starting weight.  Soon enough, Todd and I were off in 33rd place.
Todd had set some goals for me to achieve over the next 38 miles.  Firstly, pass at least 5 people down to the river.  Todd informed me that the carnage was starting to happen.  Mackey, dropped.  Clayton, dropped.  Uhan, dropped.  Many others, looking like death.  Matt (my training) partner, only up by 20 minutes, almost as I had expected, except I thought he would have 30 minutes on me.  Secondly, pass at least another 10 from the river to the finish.  This was extremely do-able.
As we headed down Cal Street, I was somewhat hesitant on the downhills, but soon was running like a bandit.  We reached Cal 1 aid station in about 43 minutes (8:30 pace) and closed to within 10 minutes of Matt, passing about 4 people.  I made up 10 minutes in 5 miles!  A quick refuel, salt, cold sponge, and we were off.  This next section had some uphills.  I ran.  It had downhills, I was tentative.  It had flats, I charged ahead.  Todd kept shouting encouraging words.  “You’re running these hills, the other are walking these!”  In another 5 miles, we were into Cal 2.  Matt was at the aid station.  We made up another 10 minutes.  This kinda freaked Matt out a bit and he commented, “He was afraid this was going to happen”.  I don’t think I acknowledged him much, as I wanted to stay focused, and he was quick to leave the aid station ahead of me.  I again refueled, took salt, cold sponge and was off about 2 minutes later.  The next couple miles into Fords Bar included a long winding switchback descent, which didn’t play into my favor, but soon enough we made it out of the woods, literally, and onto the fire/jeep road.  Up ahead was Matt, hiking up the hill along with another couple runners.  I quickly got on their heels by the top of the hill and headed down to the aid station.  Another quick refuel and I left.  Matt tried to leave with Todd and I, but very quickly was off the back.  As we hit the sand, something strange happened.  A pain crept into my left ankle.  WTF?  Okay, move on.  This is probably just the sand.  Keep chugging.  My gait started to change starting at mile 76.  My pace slowed to a quick shuffle.  We kept chugging along and caught and passed Hal Koerner, who would later drop at the river.  After a few well wishes, we continued on toward the river.  I wasn’t sure what this ankle was going to do, but all I could do is press forward.  We arrived down to the river at 14:52, 4 minutes ahead of Matt and in 25th place.  I achieved goal #1, at least 5, actually 8, positions gained from Foresthill to the River. 
We hit the aid station and everything fell apart.  My iPod had died about 15 miles ago.  I asked my crew for my replacement iPod.  Not there!  That threw me off.  I had extreme bloating, likely from all the watermelon.  I guarantee it wasn’t the Vitargo, as I had never experienced this before.  That threw me off.  I had to hit the porta-john.  That threw me off.  My ankle was bothering me.  That threw me off.  And to top it off, I had to cross the river on foot, while others before me were lucky enough to take the boat!  Anywho, after a long aid station break, I slowly made my way down to the river.  By this time, about 5 other runners, whom I passed previously, made their way in and out of the aid station.  I entered the river, knowing that my race had quickly unfolded and was over!  I went from being a predator to a carcass on the side of the trail.  My left foot wasn’t working anymore.  After retrieving my headlamp, we made the long hike up to Green Gate, very slowly.  Right foot, normal gait.  Left foot, 45 degree angle; no push-off!  DAMN!  We made it up to Green Gate.  Removed my shoe.  Iced my ankle for what seemed like 10 minutes, laced back up my shoes, took about 4 ibuprofen and set out toward Auburn Lake Trails.  About 100 yards down the trail, I realized, this wasn’t going to happen.  Turned around walked up the trailed and proceeded to withdraw from the race.  This was one of the hardest decisions of my running career.  I knew I had it in me the way that I had been moving to give the top 10 a shot, but a bum ankle took me down.  The posterior tibial tendionitis was back at exactly the most inopportune time.

So, I dropped, we hitched a ride with Larry (aid station volunteer) to Lance’s Place and my wife picked us up.

On a bright-note, Matt went on to finish 25th overall in 20:19 and win the 50-59 age group, despite dropping his pacer (stomach/dehydration issues) at Auburn Lake Trails.  Mike Morton went on to demolish the masters record in a blazing 15:45.  Mike McMonagle persevered for 29:24 to complete WS in a much, much slower time than he is capable.  Kudos to all these guys and every other competitor who even attempted this run during this very-hot, almost record-setting weekend!!!
I do have to give a major shout out to my family, who lets me compete in something that the rest of the world finds a “little” crazy.  My wife, Eleftheria, my son, Evan, and my daughter, Emma, are the best supporters that you can have.  Thanks to Todd Braje, a terrific coach, a great crew-chief, a motivating pacer, and a great friend for taking time to help prepare me for this and every other event.  Thanks to Matt and Jason for training with in the early morning hours each day.  Yes, we start running at 4:30-5:00am every single weekday morning!  And last, but not least, thanks to GENr8 for supplying such a bonafide product like Vitargo S2 for all my fueling and recovery needs!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience. I'm sure it was a tough decision to end your day so deep into the race. Especially THAT race. I hope you recover well and get back to WSER soon.