Tuesday, September 29, 2009

So much to say...

...and so little brain power. I'm gonna attempt to be thorough with this race report, but I can't promise many accurate details, as my brain is still flopping around on the PCT, somewhere around mile 65 or so:

As always, a MASSIVE thanks to my crew! There was a helluvalot of waiting for me during this one, since so many aid stations were inaccessible, and miles 55/75 were the exact same station. You were patient...uhhh...here's where the brain freeze hits...efficient! Yes, that was the word. Efficient, caring, motivating, and seriously? The best-lookin' crew out there. I mean, I know other people had handsome handlers, but you all take the cake in the looks department. And I'll never be able to thank you even-featured, fit lot ever enough. And the volunteers? Sheeeeit, they were enthusiastic and incredible.

Here we go:

After dealing with renting the SUV (don't get me started on Chase bank and how they handle their credit cards) Friday morning, I picked up Bud at PDX and headed to the hotel, where the clerk instantly recognized me from July's PCT 50, when Ruben and I hunkered down there for the evening. It was most excellent to see Bud, who I hadn't hung out with since the San Diego 100, two years ago. We dropped off our junk, grabbed some of the largest pancakes known to humankind (I managed to snarf down two and Bud, after calling me a "wuss" as the waiter took away my half-eaten meal, felt obligated to eat almost all 4 of his), and carted off to pick up my race packet.

I picked up my packet and Bud and I walked just a small stretch of the trail so he could get an idea of what was out there. And what was out there, you ask? DUST. Lots of it. I knew I'd be filthy during this run, but the puffing brown stuff kicked up in enormous clouds as we stepped along.

Back at the motel, I propped myself up and tuned in for my ten millionth viewing of This Is Spinal Tap, and just as David St. Hubbins remarked to Marty DiBergi, "Well, I'm sure I'd feel much worse if I weren't under such heavy sedation. ", Annie knocked at the door, hauling in a cooler filled with water, sodas, food, and beer. One and a half brews later, and I somehow fell asleep...you know those totally fitful sleeps, where your dream heavily, and the alarm gently shakes you alert?

yeah. NOT one of those.

I woke up every hour on the hour and managed a full 3 hours of slumber before getting up, dressing, and suddenly, I was out the door to my second 100 mile start.

Around 4:30 AM, I dropped off my drop bags and began jumping around with the rest of the field to stave off the chilly 32 degree air. I introduced Bud and Ann to Gary - my newest and bestest running buddy - found one of my oldest and bestest running buddies Kate, and Mike, the kickass fella I'd run the majority of the PCT50 with. Honestly, during this race I became incredibly aware of how small the ultra running community is, particularly in Oregon. The funniest reveal will come later...

Okay, I've been juggling with how to write/express my feelings on the race direction of this thing, so I'm going to just toss it out there, edit the shit out of it, and hope I don't come across like an ass:

History: If you don't know, the course was supposed to run 25 miles up Mt Hood, then back down, and then 25 miles south, then back. Well, thanks to our EVIL SOCIALIST PRESIDENT (your sarcasm detector should have blown a gasket with that statement), part of the trail up to Timberline Lodge is shut down due to - oh, I dunno - help save the environment. I feel for the RDs on this, because it was going to be a straightforward race in the beginning. They had to hustle their asses off to figure out how to detour the course and still give us a beautiful 100 to run. And they did! However, after changing the course, that's where the communication hit a brick wall, and I , and many, many other runners, feel that this race was left to die on the vine. So I now continue with this race report, already in progress...

The pre-race announcements included that there would be very few course markings and that we needed to "just stay on the PCT". Ooookay. Then, we were told that glowsticks would only be hung coming into aid stations: Nowhere else during the night would you be seeing them. Huuuhn?. Then, we were told that there would not be an official time clock at the finish, and that the RD's watch was the official clock, so if you finished, and that watch wasn't there, you'd have to go and find the RD to communicate your official finishing time.


There were more than a few sighs and grumbles, and there we were, 5 minutes from starting a 100 mile race.

We counted down (to the official watches time, mind you), and off we trotted, up a road about 1/4 of a mile to the PCT. Everyone started WAY to damned fast, and I got swept up in it, but luckily we hit the singletrack and grinded to a halt, walking the first 5 minutes like dwarves heading off to mines in the woods. Once we were able to run, I got into a steady rhythm, chatting with Kate ahead of me and Gary behind me. Gary and I had decided a few weeks ago that we would stick together for as long as possible, as our running paces are nearly identical and, hey, we really like one another! Who knew?

The dust in my headlamp was fierce, and I heard more than one runner coughing in fits. Around mile two, a female runner ahead of me stopped. I asked if she was all right, to which she replied, "I've been puking all morning. I shouldn't be here." She then barfed on the side of the trail and headed back to the start/finish. Man, I witnessed the race's first DNF, about 20 minutes in.

The rest of us continued, and jokes were bandied about, nerves finally calmed, and paces set in. Before I knew it, we were at mile 6 (or is it 5.9? Or 6.1? More on the questionable distances later) and Annie and Bud were waiting, topped off my bottles, and away I sped.

I spent time talking with Kate's friend Glen, whom I'd met at the finish of the 50 miler in July, and we hit it off most excellently, jabbering and joking, and once the sun fully lit the forest, I, Kate, Glen, and Gary had formed a wagon train that would stick together up until mile 28 (or was it 28.1? Or 29?). We all passed through an aid stop at Highway 58 feeling amazing...and then, came the bees: Gary got nipped in the leg first. About 30 minutes later, as I slowed to hop over a fallen tree, I felt one of those little bastards on my calf and kicked my leg, just as the stinger sunk in. Effing bees. Eff you and your effing sweet nectar.

We hit the Frog Lake aid (mile 14-ish) where Bud greeted me, filled my bottles and put his hand on my shoulder. Now this is a man who has been running ultras for 30 years and 100s for 20+. He leaned in and whispered in his gruff voice, "Run SMART." I instantly felt a rush of confidence. "You're gonna pass a LOT of these people later in the race. Now go GET SOME." I teared up with joy, knowing these words would become mantras later, when the real work needed to happen.

We headed back to the start/finish, passing through the same aid stops, our wagon train still intact, and literally, before I knew it, we were back. I walked to the aid where I was going to change out my waist pack for my NATHAN PACK OF AWESOMENESS and saw that Liam and Mariko had arrived. I was pretty much "in the zone" at this point, so it was down to business, no time to hang out. I gobbled down some PBJs and watermelon as I got dressed, which is when Bud asked, "Are you peeing okay?" I'd gone twice and told him so, and I saw his expression change. "Drink more. Lots more." I don't normally go very often over the course of 50km, but I knew that adding 69 more miles to that involved making sure I was completely hydrated.

My crew hoisted my pack on me, I looked around for Gary but didn't see him, so off I jogged, back on the trail.

Thank GOD, I checked the drinking lines about 100 yards out. The "fuel" line worked wonderfully, but when I switched to just water, nothing came. At all. I stopped, tried to mess with it for a second, then realized it was time for a change of plans. I dashed back to the aid station, told the crew that this wasn't working and strapped my waist pack back on, handing a handheld to Liam and telling him to fill it with water/Perpetuem. I wrapped my jacket around my waist, we transferred gels and salt to my waistpack, and off I went, with Gary right beside me.

This was the portion of trail that he and I had run together about a month prior, so it was great to relive it as a team. I pushed fluids, staying on my one electrolyte capsule/hour, as we began the climb up the PCT towards Red Wolf aid, which really came in no time at all. We figured we were on 13 mn pace, which blew our minds, as we were hiking all of the hills and really reeling in our running paces. I knew that after Red Wolf, there was a 2 mile drop down to a stream, and then a mile + of uphill to the next aid at mile 40-ish. This came and went without incident, save for having a blast together, and we stopped very briefly at Warm Springs aid to refill, and away we went.

We were entering unfamiliar territory for me, as the 50 miler flipped around after Warm Springs, and SHIT, there was some intense climbing. We powered up strongly to Pin Heads Aid (their hearts were in the right place, but when you're halfway through a 100 mile run, seeing printouts of actual pinheads is a tad bit unnerving), and these volunteers were the real deal: They had hiked in all of their equipment, uphill, and had everything a runner could ask for. Knowing that the next aid was 10 miles away (oy!), we filled our bottles and loaded up on food, and down, down, down we dashed.

Gary made mention of a hot spot on his big toe, so a couple of miles later, around 53, we stopped and I addressed it. Lickity split, and we were off again, only to stop a mile or two later so he could address a hot spot on the ball of my left foot. Again, what a team!

We ran more rolling stuff, hiked some ups, and took in the gorgeous views. We were shocked when we arrived at Ollalie Meadows aid (mile 55) at 6:00PM, a full 45 minutes ahead of my estimated time, feeling completely healthy and raring to go. I saw Bud's shock of white hair in the crowd of volunteers and crews and waved at him as I checked in, and suddenly, my pit crew was on the job! I swapped out socks, Annie covered hot spots, bottles were filled, food was handed over, and literally, at the exact same time, Gary and I were ready to tackle the 20 miles out and back to and from mile 65. It was at this aid station that I found out that the front runners had missed the turn as the course was poorly marked and had added a mile to their runs and that an aid station hadn't been set up early enough for them, so they'd gone FOURTEEN miles without aid. Man-oh-man, as if running a 100 miler isn't difficult enough, running it at 10 mn/mile pace and not being tended to?

As I readied myself, Bud, again whispered to me: "Go get some."

The man knows just what to say, and when to say it.

We returned to the PCT and continued south, which is when the front runners were returning. Holy SHIT: They were 20 miles ahead of us! I yelled a hello to Mark Tanaka, who was in 4th or 5th as he zipped by, looking as though he was on a 5k fun run, and that's when I began to hallucinate.

Do I hear an acoustic guitar?

Thankfully, it wasn't my imagination at all: A worker was propped up on the side of the trail, playing "Hotel California", about 200 yards of the next aid station at Ollalie Lake. We trotted to the aid table, refilled our bottles, drank some chicken broth, and bam! We were off yet again. i've never gotten in and out of aid as quickly as I did during this race, and Gary and I pushed one another to keep moving and not dick around.



As soon as we returned to the PCT, the climbs began. Not a big deal, but the race website gave a no idea what we were about to embark upon, and here we were, legs churning uphill on loose rock. We had no idea at this point, but this trend would continue for the next 15 miles: Nearly no actual trail, with only boulders and small loose rock to trip us up, mash our toes, our running settling into slow walking, up and down a mountain to the turnaround at mile 65.

And then the sun crept down below the horizon.

It was a SLOG. Our paces were reduced to 21 mn/mile and I really thought, had I known this was coming, I might have taken it even easier on the first 55 miles. Gary was going through a really dark patch at this point, but I kept plugging away, pulling and pushing us through. Around mile 63 or so, we came across Mike and his pacer, who I thought was supposed to be Joe Lee, coming back from the turnaround. It was, instead, Lanny, who told me he couldn't wait to read my writeup of the race. I promised him the use of a certain word for this section, so Lanny, here it is:

BULLSHIT. That section was fucking bullshit. Bullshit bullshit bullshit bullshit bullshit bullshit bullshit bullshit.


**** CORRECTION: It was Joe! Man, was I out of it.

We bade them farewell and, what seemed like 200 miles later, we hit the aid station/turnaround, scarfing down soup, refilling, locating drop bags for warmer clothing (it was easily around 30 degrees in the lower elevations) and out we went. I knew it was instrumental to get us in and out as quickly as possible, because as much as I wasn't looking forward to the next 10 miles, I knew that Gary might be at the end of his rope.

We powered out, but our paces were taking a beating. Gary tripped - as he put it - every second step, and without course markings, more than once, we ambled off onto rocks that led us to dead ends. Needless to say, we were frustrated. Many runners were coming towards us, even as we got to the end of this trial, which made us keep shaking our heads, saying that there was NO way they could make the cutoff at mile 75, easily being 8 hours away from that aid.

I was being patient, bitching here and there about the difficulty of the terrain, mostly to support Gary, but I really was laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation: Two men, battered, stumbling over rock in the middle of the night at a slow walking pace out in the middle of nowhere, just to cross a finish line 30 miles later to say that they had done it. My mood maintained a lightness, which I was surprised by, while Gary, who I could tell was in the lowest mental spot he'd been all day/night, insisted that I go on and leave him.

"No way: We started together, we finish together."

My mind went back to my first 100 mile experience, pacing Bud, when he came into mile 75 with his friend, Darren, who was in shit shape, saying we had to carry him with us. And carry we did: No matter how much he insisted that we leave him, Bud doubly insisted that we continue with him. At long last, we stumbled across the finish an hour ahead of the cutoff.

FINALLY, the trail ejected us onto a fireroad at the mile 72 aid, and I spun around and flipped the trail we'd come off of the bird.

"Good fucking riddance!" I yelled, which caused the volunteers to erupt into laughter.

We checked in, checked out (the guitarist was now onto "Take It Easy" - it had been an all-Eagles night, I assume) and headed to the 75 mile aid station, where we'd pick up Bud. Running had begun to become a problem for me, as the rocks and gain and loss for the last 18 mile really took it's toll, but we were able to maintain a strong power walk on the flats and ups and before we knew it, we were heading down the intersecting trail to our crews.

I knew I needed to eat, so I sipped some chicken soup and noodles while my crew readied my night gear. Annie wrapped a blanket around me when "it" hit. And by "it", I mean...

"I gotta puke."

I wandered into the dark, away from everyone, and wretched up a good portion of noodles. Bud came by just to make sure I was okay.

"My first puke during a race," I told him. Never a prouder moment for me during an ultra!

The overall atmosphere at that aid station was like a war zone. I'm thinking most people who dropped did it there, because there were a lot of miserable, moaning, groaning souls there. After 10 minutes of readying, I had my pack on and was ready to go. I told Bud to be prepared for some walking. He had no idea.

The three of us climbed out and onto the PCT and I knew something was wrong within a half hour. My legs were like lead. Lead filled with rock and stuff even heavier than lead. Super lead? The 10 mile climb to the mile 85 aid was taking it's toll, but Bud stayed ahead pulling me, and Gary hung in tight behind me, getting dragged up that mountain.

We came across another runner, Baldwin, who was cheery and chatty, which helped raise the mood and our spirits a little. He'd taken a nap trailside and was feeling a ton better. Our small talk dwindled and we left Baldwin behind, now chatting here and there about Larry Davis' series "Curb Your Enthusiasm".

"COFF-ee and miLK...COFF-ee and miLK..." Gary and I bandied back and forth to one another. Yes, it was hilarious at the time, but then again, just about anything would have been. Gary, i couldn't find the bit on youtube, but I did find this one, which popped in my head while we were quoting.

After 9,000 more hours, Baldwin caught us again and yelled, "Hey, Russ and Gary, is that you?" We responded positively, to which he replied, "Are you 'Rustyboy'?"

Holy shit, whaaa????

"I read your blog!"

Now if that wasn't a kick in the ass. I again began wondering if I was hallucinating. So Baldwin, this shout out goes to you, my friend. You were strong as hell out there!

When we dragged our dying carcasses into the mile 85 aid, Bud wanted a realistic assessment to see if we'd make the 30 hour cutoff at the finish. He asked a volunteer how far it was to the next aid. The worker twisted his face into an apologetic knot.

"Uh, well, it could be anywhere between 5 miles and 6.1. We've been hearing that range. Sorry, I wish I could be more accurate."

Bud's jaw literally dropped.

"Screw it, we're movin'," he told us, and after some soup, down, down we started, and I knew one thing was for certain: My quads were going to be as useful as two flat tires on a mountain bike heading down that hill. I could barely walk, and the reality began sinking in - this was no longer fun, or a challenge. This was a painful impossibility.

I allowed those realizations to drift in and out at we slowly made our way downhill, not judging, just letting them sit there alongside my, "Relentless forward motion!" mantra, when it suddenly came crystal clear. And Bud, with his ultra-6th sense - turned to me within minutes and saw it.

Bud: "Okay, Gary: Do you think you can make it to the finish?"

Gary (in the most unsure and hilarious tone): "Yeah? Why?"

Bud and I explained that I couldn't go on beyond the mile 91 aid. If our math was correct, from that point it was another 11 miles to the finish (the race was "actually" 101.9, although the jury's out on that). This means we'd have to average 2.5 mph to the finish, and I knew that a major climb still awaited. I'd be lucky to be able to make it to the top of the damned beast.

"What? No, you said we'd finish together!" Gary reasoned. He shook his head out of confusion.

"What do you want me to do?" I could read the conflict on his face and in his heart. I put my hand on his shoulder.

"I want you to finish this damned thing."

After it sank in, he nodded and we said our goodbyes, and Bud and I watched Gary's light as it bounced downhill into the dark, fading slowly away like a star.

Bud and I hiked it in to the next aid station and I informed them I was dropping. I honestly couldn't get my legs to move. Kate sat slumped in a chair refueling, and I told her the news. I could tell she was sad for me, but, I said, "I can't even move my legs, and I want to save them for our second annual 50KM December Fatass!" She understood (as much as you can after running for 25 hours), hugged me, and off she went.

Bud and I hung out at the aid station, chatting with the (again, awesome) volunteers, as I radioed the start/finish to talk to my crew and tell them I'd stopped. Within an hour, Annie, Liam, and Mariko all pulled up, while I sat in a worker's SUV with the heat blasting beside Anil: Another runner who'd dropped due to the fact that he was SLEEP RUNNING on the trail. Jesus, and I though *I* was done!

We gave Anil a lift back to the start to his car so he could snooze awhile, said our goodbyes...and that's when I saw Gary.

"HOLY SHIT!" I yelped. He came running over, and I kicked open my car door. He'd finished in 27 hours, puzzled by his amazing 11 mile split. I started crying for joy for him - HE'D DONE IT! For 10 hours, I wondered if he'd last another step, and here he was, all smiles, at the finish of what was easily the hardest run either of us had ever experienced.

"We really pulled one another through - what a team!" he gasped exhaustedly. And then and there, with nearly 200 shared miles between us, we promised to run as a team again, possibly during a multi-stage, multi-day race. And I don't doubt for one second that it'll happen.

As we drove away from the course, my mind already began it's conflicting thought processes: Was the last stretch really 11 miles? Probably not. Since it was likely shorter than that, could I have made it prior to the cutoff? I'll never know. But the most important thematic questions rise above the chatter of these silly second-guesses:

Do I run these races to finish them? Do I put my body and mind on the ridge of the unknown to simply cross a finish line, or is there something more I'm after? Then, I re-read what I've put down on paper above, and the focus becomes clear as a lake resting in the middle of a mountain range...

It's what happens between "start" and "finish" that I relish: The people, the love, the fear, friendships old and new, the pain, the joy - these are finisher's medals that I'll carry with me wherever I go. And, in the wise words of an old-time-ultra-runner, you can't collect these treasures until you go out there, and "get some".


mariko said...

I was amazed and humbled by your performance. Apparently I am accustomed to running with whiny, pissy people, because your positive attitude and permanent smile? So refreshing!
Really, I am honored to have been part of your awesome crew, even though I did very little! Here's to the next one!!

CSS little lego club said...

wow, shit what an amazing race. you're right it is about what happens between start and finish. reading this makes me think that the 1/2 marathon I'm getting ready for won't be all that bad.

your ability to do this still blows my mind. I hope you are able to lay low and recover.

Baldwin said...

I was wondering what that little confab between you, Gary and Bud was all about. Gary must have smoked past me during one of my pit stops. I should've never eaten any of those cherry pitted prunes packets, let alone four,the day before the race. For the record, the race is 103 miles long, at least that's what Olga told me when I finished.

Mike K said...

Hey Russ! I have to say each time I saw you out on the trail you looked awesome, I was sure you would finish. Sorry if this one didn't work out quite the way you wanted, still a helluva feat! Your friend Gary finishing so strong is amazing, I was really struggling for those last 11 miles and was sure it was LONGER than that! BTW, that was Joe Lee you saw pacing me, not Lanny... Rest up, hope to see you out on the trails again.

Gary Vale said...

Well said my friend. You are an amazing athlete and I am honored to have experienced so much with you. Thanks for keeping me going in the dark times and for your encouragement and blessing when we seperated. That positive send off pushed me to the finish. Many more awesome experiences ahead! I can't wait!

mallemaroking said...

I'm glad I can experience through your eyes the run without actually having to do it :)
Fine write-up, as usual.

Gary Vale said...

Oh and to Baldwin- Sorry for running into your leg when I ran by. You were sitting down on a log with two women attending to you when I ran by and hit your leg. Sorry. And great job on your strong finish.

Baldwin said...

@Gary V. I was wondering who that was. I ran out of food from Pinheads to Warm Springs and the two ladies gave me an energy bar. Actually I think the kick in my leg woke me up better than the bar.

Stephanie said...


That's all I got.
Pure poetry in the end there, Russ. You done good, my friend.

fatozzig said...

Lots of guts and lots of glory in that report, Russ. You did an amazing job in what, no doubt, will be some of the hardest conditions you'll ever encounter - from the lack of "direction" with the people putting the thing together, to the actual trail itself. Your athleticism and true humanity once more shine through your words.

ReneeMc said...

Amazing race, amazing crew, amazing report.
So proud of you -- every time I read one of these I can't help but think it.


Gretchen said...

Simply awesome, Russ! Can you please continue entering these crazy events so that I can continue to read your epic reports which keep me on the edge of my seat and bring me to tears? Seriously, that part where Bud was telling Gary he had to go on...I was dying. (Note to self: Do not read Russ's race reports while at work. Unless you like the look of mascara-smeared face.)
I'm so impressed - with everything you pushed through, and with your perspective on the whole experience. Amazing. Seriously.