Friday, December 9, 2016


Chimera 100 Nov. 12, 2016 – Conquering  Surviving the Beast


“The Chimera is a figure out of Greek mythology. She is a fire breathing animal comprised of a lion, a goat, and a serpent... and those who have participated in her race refer to it simply as "THE BEAST"” – Chimera Ultrasignup page

2016 proved to be a good year of running but not so great for documenting my experience here on these pages.  It has been nearly 9 months since my last entry.  I’ve found myself drifting more and more into the abbreviated world of social media (https://www.instagram.com/jeff_h_liu/) .  Does anybody still write?!  Then again sometimes, a few photos and captions alone just aren’t enough to express an experience, especially one that is colored with great emotions. 

Since Beyond Limit Ultra in March, I completed another Nanny Goat 100 in May.  It was not planned and I ran it because it was convenient (close to home) and I wanted to have a 100 miler (not timed event) in 2016.  But the race left me with more than a half year of no ultra planned and too much time to think about “stuff”.  This seem to always lead to trouble.

Up to Nanny Goat 2016, I’ve run the 100 mile distance 5 times along with a 188 miler under 72 hours.  But, I still considered myself a rookie in ultra running.  Four of my finishes (NGx2, BLU, and BTR) have been loop courses.  The only point-to-point race (GY100) was flat as a pancake.   The two trail courses were mild at best (LH: 6,500 ft., BTR 12,000 ft.).  My only attempt at a legit trail ultra resulted in a DNF.  And the taste of the Pinhoti DNF lingered bitterly in my soul.  If I were to be honest with myself, I sometimes felt very much like a fake, a JV player, and someone with something to prove. 

I don’t know why I think this way because it doesn’t make sense logically.  I should be content with this shit and stay home with these few buckles.  But like other ultra friends, some of us are cursed with the desire to do more.  Go further and do harder stuff to prove to (imaginary) others and (ultimately) ourselves that we can keep chasing for more.  Am I a fake?  Am I just a flatlander?  Well, there was only one way to find out; and that was to go up the mountains again.

Now that was one half of me talking (well, thinking).  The other half was filled with “logic”, doubt, and pretty much scared shitless.  When Chimera came up in conversation with my friends Andrea and Joshua I think I said that I felt like throwing up in my mouth.  The 100 mile race is set in the Cleveland National Forest about an hour south of my home in So Cal with an advertised elevation gain of 22,000 feet.  I paced Andrea 3 years ago at Chimera and know (at least 25 miles) first-hand the rocky trails of the race.  I’ve also run other portions of the course that were challenging even in small doses.  Even strong runners considered the course “hard.”

It took some internal mental debates and prodding from Andrea for me to finally decide to take the dive.  Weeks of “just sign up,” and “Don’t be a pussy (#DBAP)” was basically what Andrea kept telling me.  I should have known better, then again, if I did, I wouldn’t into this madness in the first place.  I felt physically and mentally strong.   I have put hours and hours on the trail since Pinhoti so I know if there was ever a chance for me to make the push it would be now.  My game plan for Chimera would be simple; dance gingerly down the monster’s back and hope that it would sleep through my finish.  No time goal.  Finish the course under the 35 hour cutoff.

To better my chances of finishing, I asked for pacers.  Crewing and pacing is a big commitment and I hate having to trouble my friends with the responsibility.  But what I learned from Pinhoti was that having a crew and pacers can make a world of difference.  When I asked, and without hesitation, my friends Michelle and Lori stepped up to the plate.  The week before the race Lori got sick and her husband Lee stepped in to fill her spot.  I am so very grateful for their friendship.  I apologized in advance for any whining, swearing, farting, burping, and whatever else the trail may bring out of me.  Michelle would be there for me at mile 47-70 and Lee would anchor the last 30 miles to the finish.

Night before the race I had everything packed and was in bed by 8:00PM.  It was the best I’ve ever prepared for a race and I slept like a baby.  Aud drove me to the start in the morning for the 6:00AM start then returned with Michelle in about 12 hours when I’ve reached mile 47.  It was kind of a surreal feeling arriving at Bluejay Campground and gathering with other runners at the start.  I saw a lot of unfamiliar face at Chimera.  Aud and I agreed that we were amongst different company (from our loop running friends). 

I did my homework prior to the race and studied each section.  I focused on elevation changes visualized going through each part of the course.  First half consist of single tracks and the second was mostly jeep roads.  Gear packed used for the run:

UD PB pack with 2L bladder

Altra Olympus 2.0 1-47

Altra Olympus 1.5 47-70

Altra Olympus 1.5 (second pair) 70-Finish

Black Diamond Z-Poles 85-Finish (used only from 85-92)

Nitecore HC50 headlamp

Nitecore P12 handheld flashlight

I also set a change of clothe for the night at 47, additional clothing at 70 (ended up not needing), and a final day time set of clothing at 85 in Corona.

I did more homework for Chimera than I have ever for another ultra.  It was to be respected and properly prepared for.  But I think amongst all the preparation, the most important part was the mental preparation of sticking to the game plan.  Run within my ability, run what course allows me, and do not wake the monster Chimera.

The race started a few minutes past 6:00.  Gave my final goodbye to Aud and we were off onto the San Juan trail dimly lit by the glowing ruby skies.  I took a position in the back of the pack by starting slow and allowing several more runners to pass within the first few miles.  The beautiful mountains and sunrise along with the downhill of the first section can easily make one forget the long journey ahead.  I reminded myself frequently in this section to ease off the downhills and walk over rocky section.  I also took many mental notes of the decline knowing that I would have to retrace my steps on the return trip.
Aud and me at the start

The first 24 miles, out-and-back, single track section was beautiful and with spectacular views of sunrise lit mountains and clouds.  Feeling fresh, I only took a few minutes when I returned to Bluejay.  Knowing that the temperature would warm up, I filled my bladder and took only a few bites of what was available at the aid station.  There were just a few PB&J sandwiches and pretzels and candy.  I packed my vest with other food items I had brought to get me to the next major aid station 11 miles away at the Candy Store aid station. 



Beautiful San Juan Trail

From this section (Bluejay-Candy Store-Bluejay; 24-47), I begin to notice the small aches and twitches in my legs.  It’s not unusual for me to notice these things at this early stage of the race.  I’ve often said that it starts sucking after 30 miles for me in any given 100 miler.  But knowing the miles and miles of mountain ahead I wanted to preserve my legs and feet as well as possible.  This section included views as beautiful as the first section.  Single tracks with giant boulders lined the trail.  Again, we’d descend down towards Candy Store and then would climb the same trails on the journey back. 

Several parts of the Candy Store section were pretty technical.  I walked, crawled (hands required) through these sections with care.  I encountered a gigantic 5-6 feet bright copper/brick colored rattle snake near the bottom.  It stopped me dead in my track.  Backing up about 10-15 feet, I found rocks and begin throwing at it.  It was pretty angry but slowing slithered sway from the trail.  This took several minutes but I thought it was time well spent. 


As the temperature heated up my water supply was depleting fairly fast.  I got a partial refill half way down to Candy Store (water is limited as it has to be brought on the back of volunteers to the middle of nowhere), so I had to really watch my consumption.  When I arrived at Candy Store I was completely out of fuel and water.  The volunteers there were wonderful in assisting me with water refill.  I had really hoped for real food at this aid station but none were to be found.  Just bars and candy.  I fought very hard to go off the rails and into the dark end.  I asked and packed several bars and took my trek back up to Bluejay.

The skies began dimming soon after I left Candy Store.  At about half way up the trails to Bluejay, it was perfectly dark with only a few distance flashlights up high throughout the switchbacks.  I had properly anticipated the darkness and was lighting my way with my handheld flashlight.  Throughout these climbs, I managed a decent effort.  Nevertheless, I remember some doubts began to crawl into my head.  The internal voices went something like, “just get to Bluejay”, “yeah but how will you do another 53 miles” “I’ll have a nice meal and my pacers after” “you’ll just embarrass yourself when you have to drop in front of your friends”.  I was annoyed at not having food at Candy Store and I was alone in the dark.  Then I remember having these exact feeling and doubts on the trails of Pinhoti.  That’s when I said to myself to suck and up and keep moving. 

I was so happy to see Aud and Michelle at Bluejay and they shared the same excitement upon my arrival.  This was a long break.  I took about 20 minutes to change into my night gear and finally had a proper meal.  ½ of an In-n-Out burger and a cup-o-noodle.  I tried to bury my doubts and put on my best brave face.  But I think I said to Aud “this is hard” many times over the 20 minutes.  We packed my bag with as much food as possible (I complained about Candy Store, a lot) and we were off again soon after.  Aud said “you got this.”  I smiled.  Not sure if it was able to hide my doubts as Michelle and I left the station.

Michelle is excited!

Chimera was Michelle’s first experience pacing at a 100.  She is a strong marathon runner and we’ve done a lot of trail training together over the last months as she was preparing for her first 50K race.  She was super excited as we started and it was what I needed.  Once we left Bluejay and after a short section on paved roads, we started climbing what seemed to be some endless jeep roads.  I apologized for the amount of walking we were doing but it was all I could manage. 

These miles in the darkness were long and I spent a lot of time talking about how stupid ultra running is.  I told Michelle that “I’m never doing this shit again” quite a few times over the hours we spent together.  That venting seemed to really help.  Section by section, slowly we chipped away at the course.  Even with my obvious suffering, Michelle was enjoying the experience like a new addict finding the new high.  She even declared her intention to run Chimera in 2017.  Well, I guess I may be pacing this shit next year.

We passed the 100K vs 100M split shortly after we saw a few 100K runners running towards us.  At that point I turned and half-jokingly asked Michelle, “Can I drop to 100K?” “NO, we already passed the split” “it’s still shorter for us to backtrack and towards the finish than it is to continue on the 100 miler.”  She was firm in her answer and so I resigned to my whining and accepted the fact that she was going to get me to 70 where she said her job would be complete.   “When I hand you over to Lee, then you can drop all you want, but he’s not going to let you.” 

Going up 8 miles on Holy Jim to Santiago Peak after 60 miles of running is vastly different than when you do it with fresh legs.  It was a grind.  And for the first time in all my ultras, I felt sleepy hiking up these thousands of feet of endless switchbacks.  “I’m tired” become my favorite phrase over many miles.  To Michelle’s credit, her positivity and the cans of coke she fed me kept me going in these very dim moments.  I wondered out loud if I can just curl up and take a nap on the side of the trail on Holy Jim.  The answer from my pacer ahead was always “NO”.  My watch dies before I am able to charge it at my next drop-bag.  We past Maple Spring, I saw Diane and Melissa there.  Thank you both.  The quesadillas and chicken soup were out of this world.  The tent was full of dropping runners.

Mile 64 was when we were supposed to see Lori/Lee’s Santiago Station for the first of three times.  We didn’t get there until about 66 miles based on our Garmin.  These kinds of discrepancies often happen at ultras but were nevertheless frustrating for me.  When we finally got there I found yet another tent of runners who have decided to drop from the race.  I looked at the cutoffs and I was only 1 hour ahead of the ever pressing DNF line.  It was great to see my friends Sonja along with Lee and Lori.  Bless her heart, even with a bad cold, Lori was up there volunteering and working the station.  I was reminded again about the cutoff so I quickly plugged in my watch and changed my shoes and Michelle and I were off again to Maple Springs and Modjeska before returning back for a final time at 70.

When we returned, I sat and had a solid meal of cup-o-noodle and coffee (thank you Sonja!).  I thanked Michelle and everyone else.  I overheard that there were some issues with transportation for Michelle to get back down the mountains.  I tried to ask more but was told by Michelle to not worry and go finish the race.  Lee was ready and I took a deep breath and off we went down the mountains.  The sun was a few hours from rising but you can see in the very distance some colors starting to come back into view.  I found some renewed energy and although we ever moved very quickly, we kept moving.  Lee was a great pacer and kept us on pace and at every station we encountered we kept that one hour lead on the cut-off.
With Lee at 70 

I’ve only known Lori and Lee for the past two years but because of our shared love for ultra running it seem like we’ve known one another forever.  We joked and asked why we couldn’t just see sunrises from mountain tops like normal people.  That is by driving up the mountains instead of climbing them.  As we talked and joked, Lee ran ahead and pointed out best lines to run on those FUCKING ROCKY jeep roads.   With my sore feet and legs, there were only a few “runnable” sections from the 70s forward.  We made the best of what was runnable and I shuffled forward.  I determined that this race sucked balls.


Second Sunrise - Santiago
I was really surprised on how well Lee knew the course.  After having done Los Pinos and paced at Twin Peaks, he knew this back section like the back of his hand.  It helped and I am sure I asked “are we there yet” more than was necessary.  A lot of mindless chatters kept my thoughts off the blisters and the stabbing pain in both knees.  The sun peaked and there were few clouds in the sky.  It would be warm and I would stay over dressed until I got to Corona at mile 85.

When we arrived at the top of Indian Truck Trail (mile 78) we had managed to keep our one hour cushion.  This was a section that I was familiar with from pacing Andrea three years back.  The view from the top was spectacular.  It was like the serpent tail of the Chimera winding its way miles down to Corona.  It looked less spectacular and more daunting after 80 miles.  But I sucked it up and we averaged roughly a 15-16 minute mile pace in this section.  In the second half of the race, I moved the fastest through this section, shuffling to a mild jog whenever the trail would allow it.  But it would be the last section that my knees would allow me to move beyond a fast walk.

Aid station Corona, mile 85 called for a longer break.  I finally changed out of my long sleeve and pants and into my final daytime clothing.  A volunteer at the station offered me a fresh spam musubi that almost made me cry for joy.  I asked the station if they had any lube and they did not.  Another crew waiting for their runner saved my life by offering some fresh towels and lube.  I cannot imagine those last 15 miles if I weren’t lucky enough to run into them.  Last thing before leaving Corona was taking out my hiking poles from the drop bag.  It was time to wrap this shit up.

“Poles are for pussies” says Andrea and Josh.  I thought about that as I hike up those 7 miles from Corona back to the top of Indian Truck Trail.  “Do I give a shit?” “Hell no, because they are helping big time right now” I thought.  Lee became the drill sergeant up these hills.  “Come on Liu!”  “ooohhhh, yeah, let it out Liu”  I got to be honest, I was loving and hating him at the same time all the while climbing those hills.  The sun was at full blaze and we cherished every little corner that afforded some shade.  I dug deep in my mind and with my poles and we made our way back to the top of Indian Truck Trail.  Time check at the top of ITT showed that we were now 1:45 ahead of the cutoff.  Just 8 more miles to go.
Poles are not for pu$$ies

Andrea said that this the part of the race that made her say “fuck this race” and unfortunately I found out first hand that was entirely true.  "When you think you're through with climbing out of Corona, you've got to climb again," she said.  After a very brief break we turned left out of the ITT aid station and onto what I considered the most miserable 10K I’ve ever done.  Rocks and climbs.  Rock and climbs.  For the next six miles the hills kept coming and the jeep road got no smoother.  Lee kept promising that some downhills were coming until I just said “Lies” whenever he would speak of downhills.  Then finally we hit the last aid station at Trabuco.  “It’s just downhill from here” they said at the aid station.  True to their word, the last three to four miles were all down hills on steep fucking rocky tails. 

I was now wishing for climbs.  My knees would no longer bend.  My blisters had blisters.  My pace slowed to a crawl, other runners passed us.  Lee continued to holler and cheer up ahead.  Then it happened as it has in before during 100 milers.  I felt at peace.  I felt as if I was just watching myself.  I felt divorced from the pain, fear, and anger during what seemed like a lifetime in those last few miles.  I think we continued to talk but the conversation become muffled and dropped to the background.  I was filled with indescribable joy and fulfillment.  Physical suffering is strange gateway into these glimpses of spiritual awareness.  Then it was gone.  Before I knew it, the trails turned to pavement and we were coming in near Bluejay to the finish.

I rounded a few of the last corner inside Bluejay and a few of the runners who had just finished were by their cars and cheering.  I recall yelling to one of them in passing, “it was hard” to which he responded “Fuck yeah its hard, this is Chimera, its ain’t for pussies.”  That statement filled me with pride as I thought, "I am going to be a Chimera finisher."  Aud and the kids along with Lori were at the finish line.  Lee said “come on Jeff, lets finish this” and we started jogging towards the finish.  I held up Lee’s hand and we crossed the finish together.  I just thanked him and said that it would not have been possible without him (and Michelle).  Audrena and the kids were there and I can see the pride on their face.  I was so glad they were there to see the finish.

#buckleup



“All 100 milers are hard” is an accurate statement.  But I also knew that some are “harder than others.”  Before Chimera I didn’t really appreciate the gap of the difference.  That was a hell of a leap from my other races and I am grateful to have had a great crew with me to help me to the finish line.  I was the 27th of 30 runners to complete the race.  I feel no shame in the back-of-pack finish because of the 70 registrants, just 30 of us finished the dance with the monster Chimera.  I think the finish showed some growth in me as a trail runner and some added toughness since Pinhoti.  I will cherish this finish.



I’ve had some time to digest the finish and given some more thought in the passing weeks.  The need to chase bigger, harder, and more is difficult to fight.  But I truly recognize that at some point I need to draw a line and find the moment to stop chasing.  Perhaps part of the problem is that I still don’t know exactly what I am chasing, or running away from.  I am taking the Chimera experience and parlaying it into the biggest race year yet next year.  The Tahoe 200.  200 miles, 4 days in the woods.  I hope I can find what I am looking for out there and perhaps find an end to the ever calling chase.

One race, one mile, and one step at a time,

Jeff

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Beyond Limits Ultra 2016




Warning:  the following contains massive “hobby jogger phyco dribble” and little race analysis.  As usual my race reports contain more narrative of random mind drift during the event rather than analysis of pace, nutrition, and gear options.  If you find the described style to be annoying or corny, please save your time and skip the report.

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It has been over a year since I’ve rambled on these pages.  Since the previous entry re:GY100, I’ve completed 9 more marathons states which brings to the current total to 47 states!  I completed the Born to Run 100 in 2015 and suffered my first official DNF (although UltraSignup has me listed as DNS) at the Pinhoti 100.  I have experienced such growth in this year.  Through the success but mostly through the failures, I continue to develop strength and toughness.  The failure at Pinhoti in particular showed me my vulnerabilities and gave me the additional motivation to work harder.
Sometime earlier this year I signed up for the 100 at Beyond Limits Ultra (BLU) held in Mountain Center, California.  Aud had run her first 50 miler on this beautiful 2 mile loop course in 2015.  Set on Pathfinder Ranch at an elevation of about 4,500 feet, the dirt course of a nice blend of single track as well as well-groomed horse trails.  It is surrounded by woods, mountains, and crisp clean air.  In addition to it’s beauty, the ranch offers heated cabin, hot showers (with real restrooms on-course), and even good food for runners and paying guests.


                                     



 


Sometime after I registered, it was announced that the race had added a 72 hour and 48 hour options.  I toyed around with the idea.  The dates (March 31-April 2) were during the kids spring break which offered us the chance for a family “vacation”.  After some discussion with Aud, I “upgraded” for the 72 hour race, (gulp).  My rationale was that it’d give me some confidence should I choose to do something even more extreme in the future such as a 200 mile race.  BLU offered the best “baby step” for even bigger and scarier stuff.  My main goal for this race was two folds.


1.       Run three days with gratitude and love in my heart, run my best


2.       Take the opportunity of this race to raise money for the Cancer Research Institute


I hoped that by achieving those two goals, I can honor those around me who are doing the hard work of fighting cancer.  I knew by keeping their struggles in mind, that it would provide perspective and motivation for me to run beyond my own perceived limits.

Day 0 – Arriving at Pathfinder on Wed afternoon

The Ranch is about 2.5 hour drive from Orange County.  Once we passed Temecula you really begin to notice the barrenness of the high desert.  Miles of boulder scattered dessert intertwined with various ranches big and small finally winding us to the foothills of Mountain Center.  The temperature was now in the mid 40s and mild SNOW! was drifting upon our car windshield.  We arrived at Pathfinder around 2:00PM and was greeted by the race directors Stephanie and Ken as they were busy just starting to set up for the extravaganza that was going to take over the quiet ranch for the next three days.  After exchanging pleasantries and receiving my bib, we were off to our cabin and to set up our pop-up, table, and chairs on the course route.  Learning from our experience in the previous year, we selected the ideal location near our cabin and facilities.  The kids bolted out to explore the grounds while we got busy getting everything in place. 

 


The night concluded with a group dinner at the cafeteria of Pathfinder Ranch.  We mingled somewhat with the other runners then it was off to an early night of sleep in preparation of the three days to come.  I slept surprisingly well, mentally contempt with the acceptance of “whatever happens happens.”  I slept for 10 big hours that night.  Longer than I have in some time.
Day 1 – Fast Start


An awesome breakfast was served at 7 at the ranch cafeteria.  It was my last chance for a good amount of protein.  Scramble eggs, bacon, pancake and coffee then it was off for last minute preparation before the 10:00am (a bit late IMO) start.  I’ve taken the lessons learned in the last several ultras and taken extra time to prep for feet care and preventative measures against chafing.  All of the homework paid off well for the entirety of BLU.  No blister after 72 hours and no chafing anywhere on my body. 


The race promptly started at 10 after the group photo op and I felt really great from the start.  I utilized a new run/walk routine at BLU which was 20 minutes of running followed by 2 minutes of walking.  The course I relatively flat with the exception of 2 or 3 20-30 feet climbs each loop.  The walk run ratio also worked well with the 2 mile loop.  In the beginning of the first day, a lot of my walk coincided with arrival back at the aid station.  I would stick to this run/walk ration for the first 50 miles.


 


Feeling great and moving, I ate every 4 miles (2 loops).  The tightness associated with depletion did not appear until almost mile 30.  Really paying attention to my body, I adjusted the amount of carb and salt intake to combat the issue by feel.  Salt tabs also helped especially during the hotter afternoon.  I reached mile 50 with a PR of 10:35 while purposely running easy and in “all day” gear.  At 50, feet up, food, Starbucks, change of cloth (night gear) and 30 minutes in the lounge chair at my tent helped revive my energy.  By as early as 5 PM the temperature started declining rapidly.  The night clothing I prepared kept me very comfortable even with the high 30s temperature at night.  I knew this would be the coldest of the three nights and I was prepared.  After dealing with the hypothermic cold at Graveyard, I was well covered.


Moving surprisingly well, I continued until mile 70.  Before I turned in for the night I was still clocking 13-14 minute miles which was considerable for me even compared to the other runners still out there.  But I made the decision to turn in for the night with that good rhythm and momentum.  It was 2AM and I set my alarm for 6AM the next morning.  My goal was to hit 80 miles in the first 24 hours and I knew I had plenty of time to do that the next morning.


After getting up the next morning, I took an additional hour to eat and get ready for the morning.  By the time I hit my first loop it was just past 7:00AM.  3 hours came and went quickly.  By the end of the first 24 hours, I had reached 84 miles. 


Day 2 – Wheel fallen
 
 
 
A few experienced runners had warned that day 2 would be the toughest.  I didn’t doubt them.  But since I had neither experience nor expectation, I just continued to run, and ran by feel.  As the day progressed, the 48 hour race added new characters onto the course.  We traded encouragement and leapfrogged one another in countless patterns over the day.  I moved, ate, rested when I needed.  In around the 90 mile mark I began to feel some discomfort in my right ankle.  The pain gradually increased and by the time I finished my 100th mile (28:22) it was considerable.  We examined the ankle and adjusted the shoe lacing.  But seeing the early signs of inflammation, I knew trouble was coming.  I had not taken any anti-inflammatory or pain killers and I fought hard not to.  I kept moving with increasing pain.  I used my hiking poles and they provided some relief initially.  But by the time I’ve reached mile 120 I was walking a 23:00 minute mile.  The ankle looked more like a sausage.  It seemed hopeless.
 
 
I was no longer able to move at a “run” pace.  I was so frustrated but fought not to go into that dark place in my mind.  Aud and the other volunteers at the aid station tried to cheer me on but I felt miserable.  I only managed about ½ of the mileage of day 1!  What did I do wrong?  Did I come out too fast?  Should I have walked the decline sections?  While I didn’t commit to a number I thought 200 miles was achievable over the three days.  Now it seem to be slipping far away quickly.  I told Aud that I was done for the night.  It was still so early.  But I didn’t want to waste any more time on the course at that pace.  Instead, I just wanted to regroup and hope, and pray that I’d have a fighting chance the next morning.  I had zero confidence that I would even continue the next morning but I know that the body is capable of amazing things with some rest.  I hoped for a miracle.  So I cleaned up, 800mg of Motrin, and went down for 8 hours that night praying for a functioning wheel in the morning.

Day 3 – Hope, gratitude, and fight


I woke up in the morning and quietly dressed myself and headed outside.  I have learned from the first two days that these are hour are the most enjoyable.  As sun rise you see the colors come back to life in the woods.  The air is brisk and cool.  It almost made me forget about my ankle.  I walked the first two miles of the morning.  The ankle was still stiff but no longer in pain.  I was hopeful.  My body warmed up and the stiffness throughout loosened.  I made my first stop at the aid station.  “Ok ankle, just give me one more day” I said to myself and started some light running.  To my amazement, there was no pain.  I took it very easy and walked a lot.  I avoided rapid up or downs and ran the most runnable sections.  I was so thrilled and grateful to be able to run.  I was grateful simply for being able to move.
 

 

The 100 mile and 24 hour runners started at 8:00AM of day three.  A lot of familiar faces and provided renewed energy on the course.  A lot of my Run It Fast mates were out on the course.  Those who had seen me in my depressed state on the previous night were surprised and happy to see me moving.  I took advantage of pacers and other runners to keep my mind off the pain that I knew would eventually return. 

In running I am mediocre at best.  I entered this race with no expectation to compete with anyone other than myself.  There were some amazingly talented runners at BLU.  But on the evening of Day 3 I found myself somehow in 3rd place amongst the 72 hour male runners.  I was pleasantly surprised.  But close behind was a far superior runner closing in.  The only reason he was not far ahead was he had just completed a difficult 100 miler 4 days prior to BLU.  People may laugh but I am a competitive guy.  Once I learned of the positioning I wanted to hold on to that third spot.  So I kept moving.

 
 

The night before I thought I'd be lucky if I got to 150 miles in 72 hours.  I kept moving to keep my spot as I crossed 150 miles , then 160 miles, and then into the night fall.  I didn’t bother changing, slapped on a jacket and kept moving.  But as I kept moving, he kept moving.  I have to admit I became somewhat obsessed by the thought of holding him off.  So time kept moving and the laps kept coming.  It was not until 4:00AM and mile 180 when I finally stopped in a delirious and confused state.   I was exhausted.  I cleaned myself up and set my alarm for 2 hours.  I dressed myself ready to run upon the time I’d wake.  I don’t think I’ve ever fell asleep as quickly. 

 


Ten minutes before my alarm time I woke up in a panic.  “He’s out there” I thought.  I called down to the aid station only to confirm that he was indeed on the course.  “Fuck” I thought.  I got out there with the same feverish obsession as the previous night.  But by this time I was only able to walk.  So I walked as quickly as I could and by this time it was at a 16-18 minute pace.  I came into the aid station and asked for the status of other runners.  I was still ahead and in 3rd place.  I thought it would be difficult based on the spread for him to overtake me with the time remaining.  Whether it was my inability to do math at that point or my insecurity, I kept moving “just in case.”  Slowly and one step at a time, I finally stopped at 188 miles with 30 minutes left on the 72 hour clock.  Third place male, 5th overall.


Something very special for me was that Athan walked the final lap with me.  He had enjoyed himself thoroughly during the weekend.  All feedback from runners and volunteers what that he had given practically all his time volunteering at the aid station cooking, and serving the runners.  I also heard he was respectful, happy, and a pleasure to be around.  This filled my heart with joy.  We walked together that last lap and we talked a bit.  Nothing really profound was said.  It was just a dad-and-son walk together and being present with one another.  I remember telling him that I loved him and I was happy he was with me. 
 
 
Every 100 miler (or more) changes me in some ways.  I think with more time I will realize the profound effects BLU left upon me spiritually.  I learned a lot about multi day running in this race and I have little doubt that if I can make dramatic improvements if I were to run another.  All together I had an overwhelmingly positive experience that I know I will return to BLU again one day.
A few people must be mentioned as they were instrumental to the experience and my personal fulfillment from BLU.  First, I could not have done it without Aud and her tireless efforts throughout the three days.  She took care of me and other runners throughout the weekend.  She is an amazing woman and I am blessed to have her with me.  Others provided tremendous inspiration for me.  Many completed their personal “firsts” on this course.  Big congrats to Warren, Laura, Dee, Hank, and Sonja who were so inspiring to see fight and conquer.  Lori, Diane, Herve, congrats on your finish and the grit you showed during the race motivated me to keep moving.  Stephanie, Ken, Dave, and Karen, thank you for a wonderful event and your aid, and encouragement throughout the weekend.  Finally, thank you for my friends who were home struggling with things harder than any run.  I thought of you most when I struggled most, and your fight kept me moving until that 188th mile.

 

One race, one mile, and one step at a time,

 

Jeff

 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Graveyard 100 - Isolation and Annihilation


3/7/2015-3/8/2015 State #39 - NC

There is no such thing as an easy 100 miler.  There is much to learn.

Zion was going to be epic. 
Late last year I had decided that I would run the Zion 100 in April of 2015.  Everything was in set in motion.  Lots of hill training, a few trail/hill ultras in Jan and Feb and I would be "ready" for Zion.  Then life happened.  I received a wedding invitation from a childhood friend set for the same date as the Zion 100.  Don't people know not to get married during race weekend?  How inconsiderate!  Kidding aside, it was time for a backup plan.  A race in March I thought, and it would be the Graveyard 100.

The Graveyard 100 took place on 3/7-8 2015 in Outer Banks, North Carolina.  It is a point-to-point (my first) 100 mile road race that is 100 % pavement (also my first).  The course is as flat as a pan cake.  The total elevation gain shown on my Garmin was 1,371 with a loss of 1,224.  This race is unique in that aid stations are at least 20 miles apart.  Unmanned water stations are spread across the course every 7-8 miles.
Aid Station 1 - Mile 21
Aid Station 2 - Mile 41
Aid Station 3 - Mile 63
Aid Station 4 - Mile 87
Idiots who run this race solo without the assist of a crew receives a duel toned buckle in recognition.  As usual, I traveled out for this race alone.  I was extremely jealous of crewed runners with their ever present family and friends supplying them throughout the entire race.  It is a completely different race between the crewed and solo runners.  Another big factor was the unpredictability of weather.  The race has know for to experience extreme cold and winds. Temperature during this year's race ranged between 21-mid 40.

While sadistic, the Race Director, and the Graveyard 100 organization put on a world class event.  They were well organized, friendly, and above-and-beyond helpful before, during, and after the race.  Without the awesome volunteers at each AS, the result of the race could have been very different.
Coming into this race I had just completed a grueling 50K in Kentucky where I sprained my left ankle pretty good three weeks prior.  With a lot rest and treatments, I placed the ankle at about 95% at the start of the race. That would be mistake number one.
Cankle 3 weeks ago
With the forecast a few days prior to race start, I put together my packing list for each station with 4 food portions (peanut butter filled pretzels, cliff bar, chocolate covered espresso beans, TJ's almond cookies, and Hammer gel) between each Aid Station and 5 portions between AS3 to AS4.  I figured I would pickup food as I reached each station in order to reach the next.  This I learned was mistake number two.
I also put two layers of long sleeves with a mid-weight jacket from the start to AS3 with an additional layer with a heavier jacket at AS3.  I wore CWX compression tights for the entire race.  They were rated for 40-55 degrees...  the warmest pants I had.  This was mistake number three.
Finally, given that I had run a good number of trail ultras recently with far more intensive elevation changes, I thought that the flat course would make it an "easy 100".  This was the final mistake.
The resort town of OBX was a quiet during this time of the year.  Lots of business were closed for the winter.  It was a fairly straight forward 1.5 hour drive from Norfolk airport to the town of Corolla, NC.  I took a red eye flight on Thursday night 3/5 and arrived early morning of Friday 3/6.  I got into town with enough time to met with my friends Jaeson, Ethan, and Elizabeth for lunch prior to the race brief at 1:00PM Friday.

All smiles at race brief with Ethan, Elizabeth, and Jaeson
 
After a long overnight and day of traveling, it was a quick dinner at the host resort and off for a few hours of precious sleep before the 5:00 AM start the next morning.

at the start, 21 degrees
 
90 starters gathered for the Jimi version of the Star Spangled Banner at about quarter to 5:00 AM.  Then we were off.  We lost sight of speedsters Ethan and Elizabeth after the first mile.  Jaeson and I would stick together for another 67 miles.  It was COLD.  While my body maintained warmth my hands lost feeling even with three layers of gloves .  We headed north bound for the first 1.5 miles of the course before turning around on southbound Highway 12 for the rest of the journey. 

Jaeson and me after first sunrise

We started the race very well and averaged about 13:45 for the first 50.  We ran on as many patches of lawn as we could find along the way.  My Hoka Stinson made the miles of pavement as tolerable as possible.  But the continuous pounding would eventually take its toll.  We crossed Bonner Bridge (mile 50) just past 11 hours. 


First sign of trouble did not come for me until about mile 60.  I had run out of food just a few miles short of AS3.  I could feel things tightening up and it was the first time all day my mind went into that dark place.  "STUPID, STUPID, STUPID" I said to myself.  I had overestimated my speed between stations and underestimated the portions of food needed.  When we finally got into AS3, I had to take a long break to revive energy level and legs. It is really amazing how simple the human body functions.  In order to keep running, you really need just three things, food, water, and air.  You take away one of those three and things start to fall apart.

With the rest at AS3, I was out again toward AS4.  I left AS3 a few minutes before Jaeson knowing that he'd soon caught up.  We continued for several miles and I could tell that he was getting stronger as I was fading.  I asked that he go ahead without me.  He refused and said we should work together.  He had a chance to PR yet he was willing to stay with me.  I was not going to do that and hold him back.  After some hesitation I finally convinced him to reluctantly move ahead.  He is a good man.

By myself, I saw things.  I saw meerkat like creatures staring at me in the darkness from amongst the sand dunes.  I took photos of them only to see dark frames after the race.  I swear they were real.

About 10 miles before AS4(87m) I slowed significantly.  I can tell that my left ankle was beginning to swell.  Maybe due to some compensation or maybe the hard surface, now I felt a stabbing pain in the back of my right knee and calf.  As I slowed and walked more often, I became mildly hypothermic.  By the time I stumbled into AS4 I was shivering uncontrollably and teeth clacking.  I knew I was in bigger trouble than I thought when I saw the look on the faces of the volunteers.  Heater, blankets, hot drinks/food, and another 30 min there (as the AS volunteer said), "brought me back to life."  I put on a brave face and left the tent.  The first steps outside the tent send a spine numbing shiver throughout my body.  This was not going to be easy.  The inability to run fast enough to stay warm made me understood why runners would drop eve after 70, 80 miles...  ever so close to the finish.

The care at AS4 carried me to about 94 even though I was only shuffling along. then the shivers returned.  Saving grace was the second sunrise...  It is magical.  You can almost hear its music.  It saved me from a complete shutdown.

around 94-95 when the photographer showed I instinctively wanted to smile but this was the best I came up with.  my best Bob DeNiro

Just warm enough to keep moving. Past the last water station I went into a gas station and begged the lady for a cup of coffee since I carried no cash (another mistake).  Then I sat in the corner gulping hot coffee while it burned my mouth.  That was just enough to carry me to the end.  The last 5 miles was a death march.


I found that familiar feeling of emptiness and clarity around mile 97 while barely walking.  It's that feeling I felt only at a 100 mile race.  Its the feeling that that keeps me coming back.  Its a feeling of freedom.  I no longer cared about my finish time; not a care about catching the guy in front... and not a care about anything other than moving. Such clarity from the pain and physical emptiness. Gone was the ever present anger, pains, and regrets of the past.   I heard the birds chirp, the guy with a power tool a block away, a child cheering for her father.  Running a 100 miler stripes me bare of any pretense I put on the world and upon myself.  I am only what I am capable of doing, and I was doing everything I am capable of.  I cried.  Ever so briefly, and fleeting, this feeling is the reason I run ultras.


29:11:30 is a Personal Worst.  But I am as proud and happy with this finish my previous two 100 mile finishes.  I had done it without the assist of any pain medication for the first time I had done it without a crew, earning me the two toned hardware.

Jaeson and me showing off our buckles.  Jae earning a new 100 mile PR.
 
Until the next one.

One race, one mile, and one step at a time,

Jeff