A passion for trail running, ultras, mountaineering, snowshoeing, hiking, and other outdoor adventures

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

From Miwok to Eve of Mountain RATS via Bighorn

Well, it's been a busy last three months, on every front except in terms of my blogging! Too much of a perfectionist to just sit down and get out those immediate thoughts and experiences. Which is I guess what this is all about rather than being too analytical!

Anyway, there were two interesting footnotes to the successful Miwok race and trip: My lost wedding ring on the Miwok course mysteriously became "found" when I happened to read the blog of friend Cherie Yanek a few weeks ago, noticing she had posted a report on the race. Turned out to be from the RD, and at the bottom she listed a wedding race as "lost and found." I had so given it up for lost (during a glove change at an aid station most likely) that I hadn't even thought to contact the RD till I saw that 2+ months later! In the meantime, I had gotten an identical ring at the same jeweler's as 1995.

The other Miwok footnote also involves Cherie: Turns out I came within a minute of her, even though I looked for her at the finish and she had had a good mile or two on me at the turnaround. I shouldn't be totally surprised, since I passed a good 20 folks or more probably from mile 48 onward, but she slowed enough with the various troubles she had (she was post Umstead 100 and Boston, so it stands to reason!) and I picked it up enough that I almost caught her. I just learned that also when I happened to check her blog a few weeks ago to see if she had posted on her VT100 race, and it kind of dumbfounded me, and brought back just how well I had closed at Miwok.

Speaking of "closing," that was also the theme of my North Face Bear Mountain 50K race, only seven days after Miwok. After a very sluggish first half, the rains stopped and sun came out and my spirits brightened and legs lost their heaviness. From the section past Tiorati Circle on to Anthony Wayne I picked it up, and from there took it into yet another gear. Easily passed 20 or so folks the second half, and ended up with a 7:17:58 time, which bettered my 2008 time at Bear Mountain (albeit on a different course that was a little easier this time around) by somewhere around 7-10 minutes.

That leads me on to Bighorn in June. Along the way, just when the training was going best, I got some kind of strange pain in my right hip, just after returning from Brazil, that led me to have to take 8 days off and only cross-train. Just in that period 3-4 weeks out when I was going to hit peak mileage, and put in another B2B. Anyway, by the time I saw a sports med (Metzl) the pain was gone, and he just said to do plyometric squat jumps to strengthen glutes. So, I came into Bighorn about 2 weeks back into training, but without the peak training, the speedwork sessions, and other confidence building I hoped to have. Still, I felt fit, and my four sessions with a sports pscyhologist left me feeling pretty good about my chances, plus I was psyched to have a pacer in Jeremy.

This was my first Bighorn, of my now three DNFs, where I felt like I didn't give it away, with blister issues, stomach problems, long energy outages, the things that plagued me in '07 and '08. I thought I ran a smart race, held back on the huge climb from about 6 to 9, picked it up from there, passed some folks, and felt good heading into Footbridge at mile 30. But I was still behind where I wanted to be, when I picked up Jeremy for the nighttime section, and the long ardous climb up to Porcupine. I could tell I was losing time as some folks passed me, and I did have to do a 5 minute or so stop to lube a spot on top of my foot that was chafing, under the tongue of the shoe. But my effort was steady, though when I checked it (more difficult in the dark) my HRM seemed to show lower rate than in the early climbs (110s-120s instead of 130s). So maybe I didn't push hard enough. But I didn't really feel like I could push much harder.

The only other mishap on the way up to Porcupine was having my glasses lenses popped out by the stub of a tree branch. We had to spend like 10 minutes finding it in the dark, and a runner coming opposite way ending up spotting somehow. It was slower going the higher up we got with all the mudpuddles from the snowmelt. And chilly! Anyway, as we got closer to the turnaround, on the slightly snow-altered course, I could tell as I saw folks heading back down, like Rob, that I wasn't coming in there with enough of a cushion on the cutoff to have a realistic shot of finishing.

At Porcupine, I ate and restocked food and changed shoes and socks. Not quite sure how long I spent there, but I didn't dally. I think I may have been one of the last to head out from there, as others had already dropped and were waiting for the arriving bus with the 50 milers to get a ride back to Dayton. I never seriously contemplated dropping there, though I knew my race would end at Footbridge at mile 66. I still felt good, it was nearly dawn and I wanted to see the sunrise, and was enjoying Jeremy's company. Also, he had no easy way to get back to Footbridge and his car.

Sunrise gave me some renewed energy. We weren't bombing the downhills, but weren't dogging it either. We lingered a little at aid stations, where Jeremy refueled as he was carrying less, and there was one station where the volunteers spotted a white wolf, which we briefly saw down the ridge. That was pretty cool! We didn't get a picture, but I did take several more in the AM with my nice new "bombproof" superlite camera. Then came the 50 milers zooming by, and the constant, distracting game of looking out for them coming, and getting off the trail to let them by. This I find to be one of the biggest problems with the race--it really throws you off your rhythm and causes you to lose time to have to constantly get out of the way of their faster folks. They're nice and let you know they're coming, but it's downhill, they're moving fast, and it takes energy and time to step onto the uneven surface off the trail to let them go by. I kind of wish they would find another way to get the 50 milers onto the same course more gradually and when they have thinned out more. It kind of punishes the back of pack 100 milers. Oh well!

Anyway, in the Narrows section, we didn't see many runners. One who had stopped and was holding onto a tree who had twisted an ankle or something, whom Jeremy stopped to talk to and check on. And two women 50 milers who passed us and urged us on, saying we could all make the Footbridge cutoff. But I knew from my aid station splits that wasn't going to happen, even though my Garmin had lost its battery life long since, and I had forgotten to swap out with my other Garmin at Porcupine. I had energy to keep moving, and to alternate running of a sort of shuffling variety with walking, but not to pick it up in any significant way. It always seems to take forever in the miles approaching Footbridge, and this year was no exception. When we finally got in there, I was surprised to see Rob and a half dozen or so others who had missed the cutoff or just decided not to continue. I got my dropbag, and we did the long walk up to Jeremy's car.

There was a mixture of relief it was over and disappointment another Bighorn was ending prematurely for me, and at the same point in the race I can't seem to get past. A little part of me had feared I would make the cutoff, in which case I know I would have gone on no matter what based on my 08 experience, but that was really unrealistic as I wasn't that close to making the cutoff. I did in fact pick it up some the last few miles, and Jeremy said after he had trouble keeping up (his trail shoes were all battered and full of holes and on their last outing!). But even then I was close to 35 minutes off the cutoff.

All I can really say is I gave it my best in terms of what I had physically and mentally. In retrospect, I guess it's worth pushing the early hills a little more and risking it, as you can't give that much time away. And I suppose a pacer who was an experienced runner might have been less shy about giving me some "tough love" of pushing me and keeping me on a tighter schedule. But that's a lot to ask someone who's new to this type of event, and I hadn't really given him direction about how to approach that. And in fact, I'm not sure I would have gotten through the night and morning as well as I did without his company and camaraderie.

Somehow there was a little less bitter aftertaste with Bighorn this year. The trip across the state to meet Esperanza in Jackson, and then the 10 days in Tetons and Yellowstone, totally enveloped me in new sensations and left no time for feeling sorry for myself. I took about 4 days off, as we did our near daily hikes, and then resumed running the last few days, and had a couple beautiful trail runs near Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Mammoth Lodge, and then in Gardiner along the river. Looking back at our last day up in the Beartooths, when I ran up to the fire lookout at 9,900 to catch up to Esperanza, I look back and wonder what might have happened if I had had the benefit of that level of acclimatization (12 days into the trip) at the race. That's the one thing I haven't yet tried at Bighorn that seems like it could maybe push me over the top!

Anyway, I don't regret it, loved the experience, loved seeing Diane and Rob and meeting their friends with their new Ethiopian daughter, hanging out with Nelson and his wife (why am I blanking on her name), the pre and postrace meals, meeting folks like Chip and Bogie. The views continue to blow me away throughout all sections of the course. They pretty much take your breath away. The canyons, raging rivers, rock walls of yellow and orange hue, the verdant forests, the snow, the feeling of being up high in the cold predawn hours. These are those unsurpassed Bighorn experiences I'll always carry with me no matter what!

So, after the end of the Wyoming/Montana expedition, it was back to NYC for a pretty intensive month of training heading into RATS. Made it out to Delaware Water Gap and up to Hudson Highlands for first time, trained with the pack of 18 to 24 lbs. 3-4 times a week, was on the trails 3 days a week and probably averaging a good 12 hours or so of weekly trail time. Doing speedwork on my own, lifting, yoga. All in the heat and humidity of upper 80s and 90s. Two long runs with Garth, Paul, and Lesley, variously, in Harriman over that time. Now this is the type of training I should be doing for 100 milers, I thought!

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