Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Whole Western States Experience

I love Western States 100. Its history is a big deal in the ultrarunning community. They are a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting trail stewardship, maintaining the Western States trail year round, and facilitating medical research into ultrarunning's effects on the body. All those reasons are why I became a sponsor of the event 2 years ago through my company, The Active Joe. In 2 weeks, I'll be returning there with Robert Lopez, The Active Joe's sponsored athlete for this year.

While some are done with the hype of Western States or the lavish aid stations and crewing, it's just what this race is. And every time I go, I have several small experiences that show me the quality of our running community, and of what this race provides.

This was actually a draft blog post from after last year's race that just contained some notes. I've rediscovered it this week and flushed it out because I realized it had so much great stuff to share.

One overriding thing you will see in this retelling is how much the community takes care of each other. Yes, it's a competition. But no one will ever try to push anyone else down to pull themselves up higher. Well, they really shouldn't, and those who do are few and far between. I really hope the ultrarunning community never loses that!


Memories and Experiences of 2014 Western States Endurance Run


Mile 30 - Robinson Flat
  • Being the only one with cell service up on the mountain so I ended up the go-to person for live tracking for a bunch of strangers as word got around to the crews that my phone had some bars.
  • Helping a friend in the race at mile 30 when I gave her a cheer and she yelled "Can you do me a huge favor?" The cool thing at Western States is that no one will ever answer this with a no. I was excited to see and cheer my friend Melanie, but it was really cool to see that she was equally happy and excited to see a friendly face. As for the favor, I posted to her wall and tagged her boyfriend to let folks know she was feeling well so far after a back injury had led to no running for the 3 weeks leading up to the race.
  • Advising non-runners on how to crew their runner at the first major crew access aid station. Robinson Flat is a fun one because it's the first time that non-running spouses and parents are there to help their family. Many are not entirely certain what they've gotten themselves into. As runners came in, other crews made up of runners would pitch in, ask the important questions we know to ask, give pointed encouragement only a runner could, and advice fellow ultrarunners would know to give in that situation. We all wanted those first time crews and non-running families to succeed, and we would all try to help advise them on the track to pursue!
  • Having other crews step in to help each other. My friend Chris was pacing and crewing his friends Walt and Jay, but he helped out when Jenn and Jeremy each came through this aid station.

Mile 55 - Michigan Bluff
  • Seeing people flock to bug spray someone offered up. I was bit 2 times seconds after getting out of the car at mile 55 at Michigan Bluff. So I doused myself in bug spray, and Laura and I headed on the half-mile uphill hike to the aid station. We were joined by some other crews. Near the top, someone was spraying on bug spray. One of the people who had headed up with us asked if they could borrow it. Then like 4 others were like "Oh my goodness, yes, could I spray myself too?" This isn't rude to ask. Everyone looks out for everyone else out there!
  • After Jenn came through the aid station and left, all while another guy was still sitting in the aid station, I looked at him and said, "Why are you still here? You need to go!" And not feeling like a jerk because the reaction was, "Yeah, I know. One more second. I'm going, I'm going!" You really wish everyone could finish the race. It's not a competition for most of us out there.
  • They had stopped running the shuttle when we arrived at this aid station so we were able to park close. When I was leaving and Laura had started pacing here, I offered the one open seat in the car to a mom with two teens. She couldn't believe it. I drove her the mile down to her car and she headed back up to pick up her kids. We take care of each other. Even perfect strangers.
Mile 62 - Foresthill
  • Getting to spend the most time with a runner friend I'd had face to face in the couple years I've known him as we watched runners come into Foresthill at mile 62. I ended up at that aid station at the same time as my friend Kai, and we were able to talk about all sorts of things, details of our running, stories of our lives, for that 30+ minutes. It was really great to get to know him so much better than I had before.
  • Waiting after my runner Jenn came through because I had seen my good friend Jeremy's splits into mile 55 on the tracking website and knew his pace was slowing and being worried. I walked a half mile back to walk him in and see how he was. Ultimately he missed cutoff, but I am really glad I was there for my friend in the middle of nowhere at midnight when he had to DNF and knew I could be there for him without sacrificing my ability to crew and pace Jenn effectively.
  • Not vomiting as Jenn lanced a massive blood blister under her big toe nail while I used my headlamp to give her light and tried to look away all at the same time my face and light were pointed right at it. Ick. Engrained behind my eyeballs when I close my eyes.
Mile 80 - Green Gate
  • Having to parallel park in the dark at 1 am with a rental car that is a bigger vehicle (small SUV) on the side of a dirt road when I have very little experience parallel parking and yelling out my window begging the folks in the car behind me to help guide me into the spot so I didn't hit anything. And of course they helped.
  • Hiking 1.5 miles, with a 715 foot descent, on rocky dusty dirt road into the aid station, with a bunch of other crew and pacers, because that's just what you do to take care of your runner. And you don't think twice about it.
Mile 99 - Robie Point
  • Having an Air Force guy who had chatted our crew up a few times throughout the experience see us and run with us for a half mile, letting us know he had seen Laura at the finish line. His excitement for Jenn energized us both as we had hit the pavement and it was so hot and sunny.
  • Seeing runner friend Jesus at the aid station and him running with us, letting us know there were 4 turns into the finish to make and snapping some great pictures of us.
And of course, seeing the start, crewing the whole thing, supporting Laura as she paced Jenn 20 miles, then pacing Jenn myself for 20 miles, and then her finishing the race and collecting her buckle? So awesome. My pacing report for the last 20 miles is here if it's helpful to anyone. :-)

Happy Running! 17 days to another year of Western States!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Scared But Still Moving

It's okay to be scared. It's what you do with that feeling that matters most.

Sunday I'll be running the inaugural South Park Trail Marathon by Human Potential Running Series in Fairplay, Colorado. It's also the first long distance race my family will be around for. They'll stay at the resort an hour and a half away and hopefully the 4 year old and 7 year old will be entertained at the pool and in the restaurants because I'll be gone all day.

The family wanted to get out of town for a long weekend. I wanted a trail race since everything here in Dallas has been wet or fully underwater some of the last 3 months. Affordable airfare hunt led us to Denver, and my friend John Lacroix is producing South Park Trail Marathon the same weekend! Perfect!
Photo taken by John Lacroix


What Scares Me About This Race


But I'm blogging today just to say that I'm scared of this race. I've never run above 10,000 feet (this race starts just under 10,000 ft and goes UP). And I didn't really get to use my altitude tent for this event as I chose the race with just two weeks notice.

Then there's the climbs and conditions, all at above 10,000 feet...

From the Race Director in our latest informational email:
"You WILL get wet! You will get muddy. You will be going through rotting snowdrifts. You will be marching through short areas of flowing frigid water. Right now we have you maxing out at 12,030’ elevation on the course. You will experience 3,400’ of gain and 3,400’ of loss over the course."

Here's the profile:

Yes, so that's over 3,000 ft of gain in 13 straight miles. I try to find something to compare it to and the closest I have is Deadwood Mickelson Marathon which was about 1300' gain in 13 miles but was only at about 5,000 ft elevation. Which I remember led to feeling like I had baby deer legs for the next few miles of serious downhill.

I probably wouldn't be as worried about the climbing if I hadn't had some soft tissue damage to rehab a week ago in my knee, and then managed to completely throw out my sacrum in my low back a few days ago giving me awful muscle spasms (sports chiro fixed that up but the back muscles are still a little angry). So I basically feel like I'm falling apart. Note that the chiropractor has cleared me for this race. My body is angry but not broken.

Thankfully, Race Director John is being kind on his incremental and final cutoffs...
"We are more interested in your ability to push yourselves, have an adventure, and finish, than we are your ability to make a cut-off. Therefore, some of our cutoffs do indeed come with some leeway. At the end of the day, please listen to ALL Race Staff if they tell you it’s time to call it a day. We’re here to help you succeed, not end your day!"

So the snowdrifts, the flowing frigid water, the climbing, and the altitude SCARE me. But here's the thing: I still signed up. I'm still going.

While I may not have a lot of confidence right now, and shouldn't given all the things I just listed along with my inconsistent training, I always have confidence that I know how to keep moving. I can always put one more foot in front of the other. I am confident that I'm a pretty good racer from the viewpoint that I'm strategic, a good planner, and can work through issues as they come up. I am confident I can hang out alone comfortably for 8 hours - counting that in my skill set because some ultrarunners can't. Look at their race history and how they latch on to others during a race.

Race Plan


So my plan is to hike however slowly I have to for the first full 13 miles. If my heart is pounding in my head, I should slow down even more. Don't worry about timing or pace (which I know will look terribly slow and make me want to panic that I should go faster). That elevation profile is not built for running the first 13 miles. But it will be the downfall of some mid to back of the packers who try. Because it takes a lot of work keeping pride in check for runners to HIKE for essentially 4 hours.
Photo taken by John Lacroix

But my goal is to feel good about running back to lower altitude and use my traditionally strong quads to run the last 13. I want to save my energy for the last 13 miles.

Besides only running up to 10,000 feet, I've only ever driven up to 12,000 feet BRIEFLY and that was on my last trip to Colorado with this race's race director. Since I don't handle altitude terribly well, let's go push my limits and see how it goes! It will be beautiful and a fantastic experience even if it's a painful one too!

You gotta ask yourself: What's the worst that can happen?!