Monday, March 27, 2017

4MPH Challenge in CA #shepersisted

It's about time to get serious with the training for this year's Big Thing - the Primal Quest expedition race in September.  Pack weight, paddling, lots of climbing, gear prep, all that good stuff.

But first!  One race in a format that I enjoy very much, the "last (wo)man standing" style event that started with the Big Dog Backyard in Tennessee.  Mark Swanson and Shasta Trail Runs have set up a 4MPH Challenge race on a beautiful 6-mile course that you have 90 minutes to complete.  It's a one-way trail/road over to a second aid station, then you turn around and come back to the start in the next 90 minutes.  If you decline to start a lap or fail to finish one, you're out.  Until then - run until you stop!  Kip and I ran this race in 2015 and enjoyed it and it seemed like a good one to run again.

This weekend was totally just for fun for me, a reason to visit Kip and Scott in California, and a test to see how this would go with zero pressure for once.  I was psyched that Kip decided to come do the race as well, great company for the drive over and a trail running buddy for whenever we happened to be going the same pace.

There was a bunch of potential rain in the forecast, that was a possible downside.  The upside was that it rained hardly at all, mostly in the first couple hours, and it was amazingly cool and cloudy the whole time.  Beautiful running weather!  That made everything much easier, what a major bonus.

After spending a night tripping over roots at Rocky Raccoon, I was also thrilled that this trail was so easy to run on.  There were a few small obstacles but I could see every potential trip hazard and I could run without the threat of falling on my butt.  After some recent races for comparison, I was definitely appreciating many aspects of this one.  Only thing missing was my Super Crew husband, but for quite a few laps I had plenty of time in transition to take care of everything on my own, no worries.  He would have been super bored, and anyway, this race was just for fun.

Enough with the lead-in already, let's get running!

Here's me with my rain jacket flapping, running down the beautiful trail.  All photos are courtesy of Shasta Trail Runs - much appreciated!

The course starts on pavement through the campground parking area, then jumps onto singletrack and weaves along the lake for several miles.  One memorable section is along the main road, and one has to wonder what the cars (or I guess, the drivers) think of our headlamps in the middle of the night.  This was the rockiest section of trail so I tended to run/walk through here (and I might be in this photo if you look really closely, but I couldn't say for sure):

Then lots of twists and turns and lovely views of the lake and wildflowers and a tunnel of manzanita (maybe?) - all very pretty:

After a while (which tended to feel longer as the laps went on) we exited the trail onto another section of pavement.  There's a chance that's me in the back, or at least someone with my color hat on:

I liked the road in the middle as a place I could power walk up the hills and run down, slowing down through here the least of all the parts of the course.  Then back to singletrack, including a solid climb up some switchbacks, a long traverse above the next valley, and then a steep drop down to a creek.

Two years ago we had to rock-hop across the creek and that was quite a challenge.  Since then the race organization helped the park build a bridge, yay!  It's a beautiful bridge too.  Unfortunately it wasn't quite ready for us yet, but happily we weren't back to rock-hopping.  The race organizers had a solution.  It involved this, which John would have loved to be a part of, I'm sure:

Setting up the plank, with supports and even an anti-slip cover!  It still required a bit of care, which became "a lot of care" in later laps, but it was a big improvement and I succeeded each time without getting my feet wet.

Then a nice gentle downhill to the far aid station.  The start/finish area had been moved further back (to a lovely spot with real bathrooms and covered areas and picnic tables) so they were able to remove the technical loop around the far field.  Another excellent improvement.

Someone asked me how the course compared to the Big Dog - the daytime laps are definitely easier, with the smoother trail, more % pavement, slightly shorter distance per hour, and I think less overall climbing.  However, the nighttime laps are harder because the 4MPH Challenge stays on the same trail, while the Big Dog switches to the easier road for 12 hours.

Still on the easy daytime laps, a crowd of runners coming back along the middle road section:

The woman on the right sat next to us in the far TA and she would talk to herself and say funny things and make us laugh - thank you for the smiles and cheeriness!

Hey, there's Kip (in the background, obviously)!  Go Kip go!

A couple other events were going on at the same time, a 12-mile and a 36-mile division.  They were billed as non-competitive, but it is worth mentioning that this 12-year old named Natalie got back to the finish line first for the final lap of the 36-mile event.  Most impressive!

As you might expect, the laps mostly blur together in my brain.  Kip and I ran together off and on and had a great time talking to pass the time.  I dialed in some time checkpoints and worked on optimizing my time on the course.  After one really crowded visit to the far aid station (it was raining and there were a maximum number of people there all trying to set up chairs and drop bags under the easy-ups), everything smoothed out and became routine.  Run, finish, pee, drink Spiz, fill the water bottle, maybe eat a bit of fruit or reapply some lube.  Sit for a couple minutes, get up and go again.

My running felt really easy all day, I was very pleased.  I let my lap times drift upward and I applied a bit more effort as the day went on, balancing the amount of leeway of time and effort that I still had available.  My recent training on the Hill of Life in Austin seemed to be worth it, as the uphills took no toll on my legs.  The weather continued to be awesome and perfect.  My mantras were "patience", "posture", and "panther", finding that I liked mimicking a big cat padding along the trail.  Plus, you know, alliteration.

After 7 laps, it was time to pick up the lights.  We didn't actually need them until we were almost back to the start/finish, but it was better than fumbling through that last mile in the dark.  Well, time to figure out if I can improve upon this part!  Two years ago I yo-yoed between too slow and too much push, too relaxed and too stressed.  This time I eased into the nighttime transition, paid close attention to my splits, and continued to slowly ramp up the effort but only a little at a time.

The night laps were certainly a bit slower, but nothing to fret about.  I was really happy with my improved attitude about it, that helped keep this race "just for fun" and I was interested to see how far I could take it.

Starting another lap, we usually hung out in the back and let the faster runners go on ahead:

It was interesting watching everyone else speed away at the start of each lap.  Looks like everyone else had decided on the "faster running, more transition time" strategy.  I was working toward minimizing the time sitting down and lowering the stress of the running/walking.  I started thinking about it as area under a curve, where the graph is effort over time.  Sometimes when my brain is left alone too long it gets a bit math-y...

As far as what everyone else was doing, whenever I started thinking too much about anything like that, I would say to myself, "Irrelevant!"  I used that word a few times that night.  It's a keeper.

Kip tested out a new ibuprofen strategy of taking a little at a time but more frequently, and that seemed to work out well for him.  His legs were feeling better than mine by the end of the day, which we both thought was odd considering our comparative training coming into this race.  I made note of his ibu test and decided it might be something I could make use of.  I was utterly hydrated for once (thank goodness for the bathroom/portapotties on each end of the course!) and this looked like a good opportunity to run such a test.  So I started on a low dose/higher frequency intake after mile 60.  Legs and body responded well, that seemed to be working.

Kip lasted partway into the nighttime hours, way to go Kip!  He hit several milestones, or as he put it "I should do one more lap so I can reach (x)" where x = 50K, returning to the start/finish (also known as where our car was parked), running a lap at night, 50 miles, etc.  Finally, for realsies, he was ready to be done after 60 miles.  It was great running with you, Kip!  He went to shower, nap, and then helped crew me on that end of the course.  Much appreciated.

I was enjoying how everything was going so well.  My main goal was to set a personal PR for this course, which previously was 72 miles officially (I went almost 78 miles but the last lap was over time).  Heading toward the 78-mile mark, I just wanted to be sure I got there on time for it to count.  Stay calm, just get there.  And I got there, excellent!

It was finally time to start taking a look at the rest of the field, which had been quite large for quite a long time.  It took a while for the group to start dwindling, well done to everyone who lasted all day and into the nighttime hours.  It was hard to count everyone for sure because they allowed people to start a minute or two into each lap, but with a little focus I guessed there were two other women and six guys heading out on the 78-mile leg.  Top 10, cool.

For sure my previous women's record was going down.  Any chance I might be able to get it back?  Well, the other two women were running strong, so I decided that for the immediate future this question was irrelevant.  Just something to keep in mind in case it mattered at some point.

And all of a sudden, there were just two of us ladies remaining.  I didn't get a chance to meet them (or many other runners for that matter) with my pace being so different from most everyone else's.  But I did hear that Roxanne was running with bronchitis?  That's pretty hardcore.  She made it to 78 miles before succumbing; I'm guessing she has more miles in her when she's not sick.

The group of us made it back to the first TA, no problem.  I went about my business, peeing and refilling and drinking, making the most of a couple minutes.  Kip mentioned that the other woman, Melissa, wasn't happy to see me finish that lap.  Well, that's interesting.  Turns out, she decided not to run another one - after we started the next lap, Kip came running after me to report that she was done.  Awesome, thank you Kip!  And also, how are you still running?

So now I just needed to make it to the other end to hold the women's title again.  Careful pacing, watch the time checks, ease on up the hill and down the other side.  Yay for the win!

Go on or no?  The interesting thing about this particular race was that I had reached a point of making that decision lap by lap.  It was a very "pro/con" kind of discussion in my mind.  How are my legs holding up?  What is to be gained by continuing?

One thing I noted was that a 6-mile lap is WAY more commitment than a 4-mile one (i.e. compared to the Big Dog).  That's a pretty long way, so you kind of need to be sure you can make it at least most of the way without it turning into a death march somewhere in the middle.  When the miles are easy, 6 of them doesn't seem like much.  Later in the race, it becomes a bigger hurdle to continuing on.  Not an insignificant difference.

So, contrary to my normal mode of having a plan and sticking to it, I was perfectly happy making assessments on the fly, putting off the bigger decisions until I really needed to make a choice.  I had a few things going on at the 90-mile point.  I needed a bit of time in the portapotty, I had fewer minutes to spare (down to around 3 minutes at that point), and I needed to mix up another set of Spiz if I was going to get any real food in me.

My thoughts about continuing included wanting to get back to the other end of the course and not having to wait to get shuttled back, wanting to make it to daylight and the second morning for the first time on this course, and wanting to show that the women's win wasn't my only motivation (it really wasn't something I had thought that much about).  My legs seemed OK with continuing, requiring more effort and moving a little slower with each lap but no real issues yet.

What ended up happening in those 3 minutes: A stop in the bathroom that should have been quicker, a water refill that should have been more, a kind of "throw up my hands and give up" regarding the Spiz powder mixing since I was low on time, a skip of the ibu pill, and a grab of 2 honey chomps packets to have *something* to eat now that I was skipping the Spiz for the first time.

I lined up with the 6 guys, said to myself "I don't know what I'm doing!" and took off back into the night.  It was finally starting to get light again, yay!  I really appreciated being able to see the trail again.  I wasn't moving faster but my brain was happier not having to concentrate as hard.  I focused on eating some chomps to keep from bonking at this stage in the game.

Then the question - maybe 100 miles?  Should I go for it?  I pondered this for a while on the way back, working up some plans.  It seemed reasonable, I had a serving of Spiz left at the other end, I had help from Kip to make that turn-around a lot easier, and he could come pick me up if he knew I was going to stop next time at the far end.

As I was mulling over the ideas, about a mile from the end of the lap everything started hurting at once.  My legs got sore, my knees were aching, even the bottoms of my feet seemed tired which doesn't often happen to me.  Hmm, I guess that ibuprofen was really doing something, up to the point when I stopped taking it!

Well, that was fine, it helped my decision.  I muddled through the run/walk cycles to finish out the lap and made sure I got back in time.  96 miles and 24 hours - good enough!  I had fun, I got to run some experiments, I learned some things, and it was topped off with a "last woman standing" title that I haven't managed to accomplish in a couple years.

5 men continued from there, and after 108 miles it was whittled down to 3 - Saravanan, Larry, and David:

They lasted 120 miles before David and Larry stopped (topping the previous record of 114 miles).  Here's Saravanan on his last, winning lap:

Pretty picture of the road coming into the far TA:


Full results:

It would have been fun to wear this shirt after the race, but it didn't arrive until after I left for California.  Back in Texas, modeling my new favorite shirt - and Waffle House arm warmers  :)

Fun race, fun time with Kip, excellent weekend!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Wild Windigo adventure race

Two big benefits of being in Texas this winter - the chance to see family and friends more often, and the chance to do Too Cool adventure races!

Wild Windigo is a 1- or 2- person race with an 8-hour maximum, taking us around Dana Peak Park - somewhere new for me and John.  The park is great fun, with nice trails, a bunch of little peaks to climb over, and a beautiful lake.

This is actually a post-race photo, but it's a nice lead-in to the day.  Dave and I raced together, with John racing solo so he could do his own thing and stay out however long he felt like (he has a hip that has been bothering him recently, although that doesn't really explain why he's shorter than me in this photo...)

We were surprised by a day of chilly weather after all the recent Texas warmth.  My gear list started with shorts and a T-shirt but got longer every time I rechecked the forecast and poked my head out the door.  All bundled up and ready to go!

Racers gathering at the start line, awaiting instructions:

We checked the maps and checkpoint list, while a group of sprint racers took off like they knew where they were going - ? - we decided to take a few seconds and get that straight first:

Dave knew right away where we needed to start, so we took off up the road.  It didn't take long before Dave offered me a towline, as it was slightly uphill and into a headwind and with me still getting over a recent cold/congestion.  That helped a lot, and I managed to follow closely through the first section of trail.  Nice trail!  Fun to ride and it didn't slow me down too much.

Dave made some excellent choices at trail intersections, following the trail map while he rode, and soon we had punched points B2 and B3 on a trail along the shore.  Back to the main path and over to the far bike point, B4.  Tammy and JD were coming back from there, presumably having gone directly to that one first.

We saw most of the rest of the teams as we made our way back, Hi John!!, then rode up a small hill to find B1 along a fenceline next to Dana Peak.  Back to TA, first section done.

Dave was super fast in transition while I started shedding outerwear.  Time to trek!  Back up the road, this time cutting across the fields and taking a direct bearing for the trail entrance.  We saw some bikes coming in not far behind us, but I think we were the first team to start the trek.

We started with the points that were further away again, climbing up a fun little mesa to reach T3 at the top.  The cedar trees were spread out nicely and there wasn't much underbrush, so the bushwhacking went well for the most part.  Down the other side to a trail that led around toward T5.

We cut up to a parallel trail and eventually found the south end of the spur.  A short climb led to T5, that was a nice find without any wasted time.  Coming down we met a couple hikers, and the woman seemed very concerned when we started down into the mess of brush toward the lake.  We know what we're doing, don't worry!

Well, we think we do.  This bushwhack was kind of a pain and we started questioning if there really was another trail down here, but there had to be - we had just biked on it.  Ah, there it is.  Back to the running part of our program.

We came around to Twin Peaks, followed a trail up to the saddle, then climbed through the trees and small cliff to the top.  It took circling half of the top to find T2, but it wasn't far and soon we were climbing through the rocks back down.  Great place to put a checkpoint!

More shedding of clothes, happy to be completely warm finally.  Hi again John, looks like you're having fun!  Dave and I continued on trails toward Dana Peak, took off down a fenceline trail and then followed a small gully up to T4.  Now it was time to climb the big one - Dana Peak itself.  Dave found trails up most of the way and the checkpoint was easy to locate at the top.  Nice one.

We slid down the south side, back to the trails, and back to the fields toward TA.  Next up was the dreaded windy paddle.  The wind hadn't bothered us much up to that point but we could see little whitecaps on the lake.

When Dave checked us in, he learned that we needed to complete a special test at some point.  Might as well do it now, we're warm and we don't have to wait in line for it.  The forecast called for the winds to die down bit by bit during the day, so maybe it would help to do something else first.

Randall put together a fantastic Survivor-style challenge!  We were tied to a long line of webbing that wound around and through various pieces of bungee cord, and we had to follow it through the maze.  Very cool!  We got hooked up and Dave led the way:

Trying to help, not sure I'm not making things worse, but Dave seemed to be managing OK:

Doing some contortions as the webbing made an interesting path to follow:

John was a bit faster than us when he tackled this later (and then set a speed record during a second attempt after the race was over) - we always said we would love to watch him on Survivor:

OK, can't put it off any longer - let's get on the lake.  No other teams had come in behind us off the trek, so we seemed to be holding a decent lead.

Dave launching us into the wind:

And off we go...

OK, for real this time:

We paddled hard into the wind, bumping over waves and working on keeping our balance and our boat pointed the right way.  It took some work but eventually we made it to the shore below Twin Peaks.  Hmm, we don't see the checkpoint, even though we had been scanning for it the whole way over.

We backed the canoe up and went slightly south until it was clear we were at the southern end of this peninsula.  Well, I guess it's more north?  We were paddling that way when I turned to catch sight of P1.  We had originally pulled up perhaps 10-20 feet away from it, but some brush blocked our view.  Well at least we figured it out without going any further north!

Dave got out to punch the passport while I tried to maneuver the canoe into a better spot to launch back out to sea.  That only accomplished getting us stuck.  When Dave got back in, we tried to go forward but ran into a small bush that we couldn't get through.  Backward only beached the canoe back on land.  Oops.  It took more finagling but finally we were free.  P1 was probably our biggest time suck of the whole race, so we really can't complain too much!

The ride back toward TA was a real breeze, literally a tailwind blowing us back in that direction.  So nice.  We saw a couple teams battling the wind going out but looking strong.  We had used canoe paddles for the first section since it was the most challenging part and I am most comfortable with single blades.  We switched to double blades for the rest of this leg since we also wanted to practice with those.

Michelle and Benny watched us sail past the TA on our way to the next paddle points:

We debated which one to get next.  Based on wind direction I was thinking P2 would be best.  Dave was much more concerned about the navigation, and it turned out that this part of the lake had flatter water and less fetch.  The wind wasn't nearly as much an issue over here.  When Dave started guessing where P2 was going to be, and I started questioning his guesses, it made lots of sense to both of us that we should start with P3 instead.

P3 was easy - just to the right of the boat ramp at the end of the camping area across the way.  We could even see it up in the trees when we docked.  We got out and stiffly climbed the little hill up to it, working out the kinks in our legs and glad for a little walk break.

Compass time - ah yes, that's a better direction.  Disaster averted by calling an audible to go for P3 first.  There was somewhat of a headwind going north but not too bad.  In fact, it was stronger once we got into the inlet, something about the land funneling the wind right into our face.

We greeted a few fisherfolks and found P2 on the left side of the inlet.  Paddle points complete.  A nice tailwind, a bit more paddling, quick hellos with two RunLab teams who were paddling toward P2, a short portage over land to the TA and we were ready for the last section.

One last biking leg, mostly on roads.  Dave finally located B6 on the map after trying to find it during the paddle.  It was way out past the entrance to the park.  We got on tow and Dave led the way.  The towline was super helpful mostly to keep me in the draft, occasionally also giving me a tug up the longer hills.  Thank you Dave!

We rode over to the substation and found a little trail going through the trees and into a huge park that wasn't on the old map.  Cool!  Through the park and up to the powerline on the other side, there's B6.

We returned the same way, missing the opportunity to ride the main road around to B5 - we saw this later and it would have save some hills.  The park road was fine, but the subdivision hills were quite steep.  Ugh.  Nothing like having to power up a challenging grade at the end of a race when you've been pushing hard for several hours.  Good training!

Up and down, then B7 in a drainage off to the side.  One more point!  I looked at the map while Dave punched B7 - a little up, little down, then OH! that's a big climb!

The sign said "HILL" - no doubt!  Dave decided to get off and walk up it, thank you sir, don't mind if we do!

We rode around to find B5 tucked into the woods at the end of a cul-de-sac, good job on the nav today everyone!

Coming back we were just starting down the steep hill when Dave decided the view was worth a photo.  Why yes it is!  If I can... stop... my... bike...

OK, ready for a picture!

Wheeeee!  Along the bottom we spotted a racer up ahead who had just punched B7 and turned around to head back.  I wonder if that's John??  It is, it is John!  He had completed the whole first half of the race (bike and trek), one of the paddle points, and now one of the final bike points.  He was heading for the finish line and so were we.  Awesome!

So we got to ride in together, chat about how everyone was doing, and be happy that we were all finished.

And... done!  I think we won?

We did!  Nice.

A dark photo with me, Art, Deanna making sure everything is recorded properly (thanks Deanna!) and Dave:

Team Vignette at the finish line:

That was great fun, thank you Art and Robyn for an excellent course!  We look forward to more Too Cool Racing this spring  :)

Friday, February 17, 2017

Solar on wheels

Here's a look at the small solar setup on our travel trailer.  It doesn't provide gobs of power, but it has made a huge difference in our ability to live without hookups for days at a time.  We are now usually water-limited, and with good water conservation (and showers somewhere else) we have dry camped for up to 2 weeks at a time.  That wasn't possible without the solar system.

It doesn't give us enough power to run the air conditioner, but it easily keeps the lights on, the fridge running, the phones charged, and the water pump available.  Slightly more power is required to run the heater (electric fan/propane heat) and to turn on the inverter for AC plug power for the laptops, printer, etc.  Depending on the amount of daily sunshine, we can also use the microwave.

We have a propane generator as a backup system, which we did resort to using during one week at Rainier National Park with mostly-shaded sites and several days of rain.  With our inverter/charger, we don't need to run the generator very long to recharge the batteries.

The solar panel seemed large when we bought it, but nowadays it might be considered old-fashioned.  It's 205 watts and fits nicely on the roof of the trailer:

Another view, with a shout-out to TREE (Texas Responsible Energy and Efficiency) in the background:

The two lead-acid batteries that ride on the front hitch - better than the batteries that came with the trailer originally, but still only 220 Ah capacity:

John did several modifications to the trailer in order to install and wire this system, and I will be forever grateful for his solar and carpentry skills.  The side compartment that John added for installing the electronics:

The largest component is the inverter/charger which is used to convert DC from the battery to AC electricity.  Or AC from the grid to DC to equalize and charge the batteries.  It's a MagnaSine with true sine wave inverting for the "cleanest" AC power that works best with electronics like computers.

We have learned a great deal about the various electrical systems within the trailer.  The biggest detail is where DC vs. AC power is being used.  A normal house runs almost strictly on AC power, but an RV or travel trailer has a combination system.

For example, things that run with DC power include:
The refrigerator (can choose DC + propane or AC power)
Lights (all LED now)
The motor that drops the bed down for sleeping and lifts it for storage
The water pump (when using tank water instead of a city water connection)
Controller for the water heater (for burning propane)
A DC power plug that John installed so we can USB-charge our cell phones and iPod
Water/sewer tank level monitor
Propane detection system

AC is used for:
Heating water (can choose to use AC electricity instead of burning propane)
AC outlets for anything you plug in, with the exception of the DC plug noted above
The refrigerator (when switched to AC power)
Air conditioner

When we're off-grid, the inverter takes DC power from the batteries and changes it to AC for the second set of items listed above.  The inverter itself uses power to run, so we generally leave it turned off unless we want to use the microwave or charge the laptops.  DC power is always available for the first set of items listed above, as long as the batteries have some charge remaining.

When we're plugged in, e.g. at an RV park, none of these details matter too much.  But we can still use the solar system to charge the batteries and supply DC power, depending on the sun situation.  Our current spot has a little too much shade.

With all that in mind, John designed a flexible system that we can configure depending on the situation.  The black box in the middle is the disconnect to the solar panel.  The white TriStar is the charge controller which regulates the flow of current from the solar panel to the batteries.  The red switch turns DC power on and off to the inverter.  And the gray box on the left allows us choose between using the inverter and bypassing it to use AC shore or generator power directly.

We started with a gasoline-powered generator, but found that it was hard to maintain.  If we didn't use it fairly often, it would gunk up and eventually require a rebuild.  Plus we had to keep gas in the tank.  The new generator is plumbed to the propane line, it doesn't need to be exercised, and it has been very reliable.  Our only question is whether we really need it at all, or if we should be using this space for a larger battery bank:

The displays inside the trailer aren't super high-tech but they do the job.  The "100" on the top left is the charge status of the batteries (100%) and this display will also show amps charging/being used along with the voltage at the batteries.  The middle buttons are for the ramp light and activating the bed lift.  The Magnum on the right is the controller for the inverter.

The fuel gauge on the lower left is no longer being used since we removed the gas tank.  The white switch on the lower right is for remote start of the generator:

We have some thoughts on potential upgrades.  Ideally eventually we could remove all propane completely.  This will require increasing our solar and battery capacity:

- More/higher wattage panels

- Lithium batteries with way more capacity (which will likely allow us to sell the generator)

- Switching from propane to using more electricity:
Heating water strictly with electricity, using AC power for the fridge, leaving the inverter on most of the time, changing from a propane stovetop to an induction cooker, adding a crock pot and toaster oven, and using small electric space heaters instead of the propane heater

The heating elements especially can really burn through (as it were) electricity.

- If we could accomplish all that, we could remove the generator and propane tanks, which would reduce weight to help balance out the additional battery and solar panel weight, and eliminate that source of fossil fuel use.

- Oh, and convert the truck to electric...!  We can dream  :)

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Rocky Raccoon 100

I made a bet with myself that I could keep this short.  And... go!

I signed up for Rocky as a Western States qualifier.  I like the qualifying race list for WS, it's fun to try different events every year.  I figured I'd get one out of the way early this time.  Even though I swore I'd never run Rocky - every time I ran 50 miles here at Sunmart I couldn't imagine running those trails all night long.  Daytime is great!  Nighttime, not so much!

Then I couldn't help myself and signed up for Bandera, because I love Bandera.  That race went really well, and as a side benefit I got my Western States qualifier even earlier.

So... what to do with Rocky?  Try to set a PR, of course!  My PR is as old as my 100-miler history, way back in 2003 at our first Vermont 100, running with Kip and surprising the heck out of ourselves.  Ever since then, for various reasons I haven't come close to breaking that time of 22:41.

Run "fast," deal with the roots at night, try to set a PR - sure!  OK, this could be a challenge.

Lining up for the start:

I probably should get my watch set up:

It was quite a mass of runners funneling onto the singletrack.  Good for a fast walk and a nice warmup.  I passed people when it was easy.  Then all of a sudden I was alone in the dark, running by the lake and happy with the easy-feeling pace.

The weather was *perfect* all day and all night.  40's, 50's, maybe 60 degrees, overcast the whole time, slight sprinkles now and then to keep the dust down.  I didn't change clothes the whole time, only flipped my cap around to wear the headlamp at night.  Good for some time savings!

The course really is great, nice soft trails, very few rocks.  Yes, plenty of roots.  I knew that coming in, from the many Sunmart miles.  But it was better than I had remembered, at least for the daytime hours.  I counted the number of times I kicked a root during the day: twice in the first loop, 5x in loop 2, back to 2 times in loop 3.  Nothing too substantial.

John walked my drop bag out to the Dam Nation aid station - huge thank you to John!!  (We didn't get there until late on Friday, too late to send the bag with the race folks.)  He caught a glimpse of the lead runners coming through:

I enjoyed the curving trails, the road sections where I could stop concentrating for a while, the short ups and downs, only a couple kinda-steep sections, the beautiful gentle downhill on the far side, the quick views of the lake, the variety, the pine trees, the pleasant day.

I stopped at the Dam aid station going out and coming back in, drank some Spiz and refilled the bottle.  Each time through I got help from Tim, a super friendly and helpful volunteer.  Thank you Tim!

I skipped the other two aid stations except to use the bathroom.  The Park Road aid station had the cleanest porta-potties!  With a little candle burning in the corner.  Love it!

The long section of two-way traffic coming back to the start/finish and going out again was a bit of a pain, but most people understood that we all needed to work together and it was nice to greet people.  Especially people I knew - Hi Bryan!  Hi Joe!  Hi Bing!

Back at the start/finish, John helped me with the water refill, SPIZ drink, and some knee gel a couple times.  He also made sure I saw this sign, LOL:

I was really happy with my pacing and my effort during the day.  The first lap felt easy, 20 miles in 3:53, excellent.  My splits in the 2nd lap were mostly similar, with slightly more push on the pace for a 4:04 lap.  That was promising.  I upped the effort a bit more in lap 3, started passing people here and there (good bits of side motivation), endured a rather long 7-mile loop on the far end, but otherwise had excellent split times.  I was really happy to see lap 3 at 4:17, not far over 12 hours for 60 miles in the daylight.

It was a good day!

[Night falls]

I love my handheld Fenix light, but some roots are just invisible.  I hit one of those invisible ones coming into the Dam aid station and fell hard enough that someone came over to see if I was OK.  Yes, I'll be fine, the limping should quit in a couple minutes (it did).  It's now a colorful reminder, the only visible artifact from last weekend.  At least it was on my outer thigh, nothing that impeded forward progress (besides the brief pause for the actual spill).

One more time on the ground!  In the middle of the 7-mile loop I ended up with sand in my mouth, my water bottle hiding in a bush, my legs covered in dirt.  I spat out sand and obscenities for a few minutes after that one.

Nothing like a little adrenaline to get you moving again.  Albeit a little more carefully.

My legs were still moving well - not easily or painlessly, but with plenty of forward momentum.  My knees got sore but didn't slow me down.  Uphills, downhills, running on the road to make up time, speed walking as fast as I could, it all continued to go well.  It probably helped that I had the memory of last October's Big Dog Backyard as reference.  This was work, but still way easier.

Lap 4 = 4:49, most excellent for a dark lap.  Except I was worried that I would start giving away more time.  John was optimistic.  I was starting to wonder.  Everything could fall apart at any moment, after all that work.  It felt like I was getting close to the edge.

So I hurried back out onto the trail for one last lap.  And indeed, I did hit a problem that jeopardized the whole PR effort.  My stomach reached a limit in processing anything.  This has happened before and I'm finally starting to figure out the cause (strong effort over many hours, made worse if it's hot, thankfully not the case here), the symptoms (full stomach and never hungry/not wanting to drink, opposite from earlier in the race), and the bad side effects (inability to push the pace or go uphill strongly).  With better planning for situations when this might happen, I believe if I dial back the intake and maybe consider more simple sugars over the latter part of a hard-run race, I will hopefully reduce the effects next time.

For now - it was one more lap, I had to try to limit the damage.  I quit drinking SPIZ, drank only a tiny bit of water to keep my throat from getting dry, and decided to test the soda theory.  I drank a couple ounces of ginger ale and Coke at a couple aid stations, hoping to bring in just a little sugar to keep from bonking.  Also the fizz made me burp which was a relief (apologies to those of you who had to hear it).

It seemed to be enough to keep me going (not sustainable, but it didn't have to be).  With my stomach limiting my speed, I decided to start blaming my legs for being sore, although they probably weren't any worse than the prior lap.  I was also being super careful over the roots.  My obsession with my aid station splits grew.  I was so relieved to finish the 7-mile Dam loop and be done with that challenging section with some leeway remaining on the clock.

Stay in control, keep moving forward, walk it fast, focus on posture... one quick stop at the Park Road for some soda sips (probably shouldn't touch the Fireball, but thanks for the offer!)... one last steep uphill... one more time greeting runners going the other way (I'm so tired of headlamps in my face, at least that's almost over!), then there's John running with Joe!  Hi John!

He walked with me for the last half mile, I couldn't talk much with a dry/scratchy throat but it was wonderful to smile.  I think I might make it!

I made it!

The clock reads 22:20, a PR by 21 minutes.  That... was... a lot of work.

Chris helping me pick out a buckle.  Normally I don't take finisher awards, but I was offered a buckle from a previous year with a runner's name etched in it, and that seems pretty special.  Jean Cummings Perez, your buckle is going on our "trophy shelf" at the Beard farm, thank you!


Shower, sleep a couple hours, hobble back to the finish area.  It was great fun hanging out and watching finishers in the morning.  Happily John still had phone battery so he could get photos.

Congratulations Bing!

Nicely done, Joe!  Always an honor to be in the same race as you.

Thank you for a wonderful, well-run race, Chris!

Another pause - I think I was still tired:

Yep, still tired!  I can't quite believe John took this picture on the way home, but it makes me laugh so I guess I'll share it:

Was that short?  I think that was short!