Sunday, November 16, 2014

Javalina Jundred 2014

Ultra "Celebrities" The Jester, Dirt Diva, and Gordy
photo credit Jake Richter

Once again, I had the opportunity to participate in a great event organized by the Coury Brothers from Aravaipa Running out of Phoenix.  I decided to sign up as a qualifier for Western States lottery next year, but what I discovered is that it is a very cool event that is close to El Paso.  I approached it more like a business trip, something I had to do to check off the box, but in the process had a very enjoyable time.
The 100 mile race is a looped course of 6 laps of 15.3 miles on the Pemberton Trail and 8.7 mile last lap through the Tonto Tank Trail in the McDowell Mountain Regional Park.  A 100K distance is available as well which is 4 laps. It is a good beginner course in my view, but not easy by any stretch of the imagination.  The atmosphere is second to none from my experience, however.

Having come off the 100K at Mont Blanc on August 29, I decided to follow a low mileage training program to prevent injury.  I did max 50 miles a week with the longest run of 20 miles on Saturday. I spent Sundays on the bike and did some swimming.  I am planning to do an Ironman in late November, so that was in the back of my mind.  I have learned from 'older' ultra runners that low mileage training may be sufficient to complete these events and may be less likely to cause injury.  

Pre Race
I decided to take the option of camping at the race site, which is very popular at this event.   They rent out tents and cots for an additional fee, or you can bring your own tent.  Also, they allow car camping in the parking lot next to the race site.  I had no pacer and no crew on this trip, and flew from El Paso Friday afternoon arriving at 2pm.  Unfortunately, I missed the "beer mile" which was held at 2 pm on Friday. It was won by fellow Mas Loco Patrick Sweeney. I rented a car at the Phoenix Airport, and headed out for the 45 min drive to the park which is outside of Fountain Hills, AZ.  I forgot to print a pass that would let me in the park for free but they were very nice to take my word that I was racing the next day.  I set up my tent in a clear spot of the expanding "tent city" and headed to the host hotel for packet pickup.  After a stop at the grocery store to stock up on supplies and ice for my cooler to be placed at the Start/Finish line. Then it was early to try to sleep for the next days adventure. 
Tent city in the desert

Race Morning
I slept fitfully and got up at 0400 AM for the 0600 start of the race.  I put on  the same Compressport trail top and bottom that I wore at CCC with compression calve sleeves. Dry max socks and Salomon X lab trail shoes.  They had a nice bathroom with a shower a few feet from the tent area.  Ate some breakfast and prepared my drop bags for the day.  I had a cooler (ice with almond chocolate milk, prosciutto, and cheese) and a bag of stuff (extra warm clothes, lights, batteries, socks, extra shoes, Cliff bars, Kind Bars, and Gu/Salt tablets)  for the Start/Finish Line and another bag (warm clothes, socks, batteries, food) for the Jackass Junction aid station which is half way point of the loop. Several people were milling about picking up their bibs which you can do on race AM.  I ran into Claire and talked to her briefly, she was pacing a friend and getting ready to go to Wake Island for 4 months to work as a Physician. I lined up at the start with 500 people and wouldn't you know who was standing right next to me, my friend Greg L. from El Paso who was also running the 100 miles.

Lap 1    15.3 miles  3:07:33
The race started with 500 runners for the 100 miles (the 100K start at 0700) while still dark.  I took a small headlamp and went at a slow pace dictated by the people around me as passing is quite difficult early on.  The first aid station is only 2.5 miles away and then we started a gradual ascent to Jackass Junction.  The sunrise was spectacular and the temps were in the low 60's F.  It was during this lap that I first got to see all the amusing costumes folks were running in.  There was one guy with pants that had a hole over the butt which was displayed for all to see. (I passed him quickly).  I also got to chat to several interesting fellow trail runners with very accomplished running resumes.  The first was a Loyd from Utah who had a T-shirt from Wasatch 100 with, the course profile in the back.  He told me he was a 9 time finisher from that race which takes place in Sept.  He also has done the Bear 100 and Hardrock 100.  We talked for a while as we ran/walked and this made the time pass quickly to Jackass Junction.  There, I left my headlamp and took some nutrition at the aid station which was very well stocked.  The next 7 miles was a gentle downhill and towards the end there is another aid station about 1.5 miles from the start/finish point.  I started to see people who were in the lead at this point which allowed me to "follow" the race as it was developing.  When I arrived at the start/finish I graved my Salomon race vest with two 20 oz bottles in the front.
Lap 2  15.3 miles 3:31:30, total distance covered 30.6  miles in 6:39:01
During this lap, I started to see the folks behind me and then the 100 K runners finishing their first lap. The first half is a gradual incline but making it possible to run at a slow pace.  During this section, I passed three young guys dressed up as "The Chippendales" and wished them well. (at the end there was only one left).  The sun was starting to heat things up and I was conscious of hydration and nutrition.  At Jackass Junction, they had avocado and salt which was delicious and went down very well. I also had boiled potatoes and a Cliff Bar.  The next section back to the Start/finish is more rocky and I understand it has been made worse by all the rain they received in the Summer of 2014. Once I reached the start/finish point, I had a prosciutto and almond chocolate milk for lunch. It was now 1pm in the afternoon.
Rocky section, photo by Fast Cory

Lap 3 15.3 miles  4:09:00, total distance covered 45.9 miles in 10:48:24
This lap was the same direction as Lap 1, and was the hottest part of the day.  On Friday, the day before the high was 90 degrees but thankfully a cold front had moved in and the high on race day was 83.  There were a few clouds which were always welcomed but very little in the way of shade from the small tress in some part of the course.  It was during this lap that I got to run with Gordy Ainsleigh, the first 100 mile trail runner from Western States (his bib was the number zero).  We had talked briefly in June at Western States and I talked to him for a while which was very enjoyable and made the time pass.  He was there because the board of Western States required him to "qualify" for the race by completing a 100 miler as he has DNFd the last few years at Western States.  As the originator of the race, he does not go on the lottery though, he has automatic entry by finishing (he did).  Later on, I got to meet Catra Corbett the famous "dirt diva".  She has done hundreds of Ultras all over the country and is the nicest person you could meet. (of course, all ultra runners are super nice).  When I asked her whether she was dressed up as  "Raggedy Ann", she said no that it was a she was dressed up as a Harajuku character.  Since I had never heard what that is, she went on to explain it was an area in Tokyo where mostly teenagers dress up like anime characters or punk musicians.

Dirt Diva in Harajuku costume

 We then ran into fellow Mas Loco Jess Soco who was on her second lap coming the opposite direction.  She was having knee problems and abandoned the race when she finished that loop. I ran for a while with Bobby Keogh, who is 65 years old,  from New Mexico and who I originally met at Rocky Racoon 100 in 2013.  He is a very accomplished Ultra runner having done the Grand Slam (Western States, Vermont 100, Leadville 100, and Wasatch 100 all in one Summer) several times and said he would do it again next year if he got into Western States.  As we chatted, we came upon a man and his son who were giving away popsicles in a section half way from Jackass Junction to Start/Finish and we both had one. One lady who passed us said she wasn't having one because the food coloring in the popsicles caused "brain damage".  Bobby laughed and said quickly, "that is OK, I already have brain damage, that is why I do these Ultras".

Lap 4 15.3 miles in 5:27:08 total distance covered 60.2 miles in 15:15:32
At the start of Lap 4, it was close to 6 pm and the sun was setting.  I got my headlamp and took off my hydration vest off. I put another shirt on top for warmth during the night and took one of my 20 oz. bottles to carry.  I also had two 8 once bottles in my belt.  This was a lonely loop and was made worse because I forgot to bring my music which I had intended to do on this loop.  The field was very spread out and there was no one to talk to. At Jackass Junction, I briefly saw Claire J. who was pacing her friend Jody. I had no pacer and the people who did have pacers seemed to be having the most fun. The only sound out there were the hauling coyotes which I have to admit were a little creepy.

Lap 5 15.3 miles in 4:42:05 total distance covered 75.7 miles in 19:57:37
At the Start/finish, I got my music to keep me company.  The loop was the same as 1 and 3 which was my least favorite because of the rocky sections.  On this loop, I passed by Ed Ettinghausen who dresses up for every race like a court "Jester".  He is on his way to breaking the Guinness Book of World Records for most 100 mile trail races in 1 year (this one was 33, I think).  I think he is planning on doing 40 this year and will break the record on Dec 6 if things go as planned.  He is an amazing athlete and  a real nice guy.  At Jackass Junction, I saw elite runner Kaci Lickteig had stopped to eat (she finished 3rd overall in 15:40:55), I foolishly said to her "you stop at aid stations to eat?" She didn't answer me and just gave me a look and was probably thinking "yes, and I also go to the bathroom like anyone else."  Of course, since I wasn't done making a fool of myself, I asked her "What place are you in?".  To that she replied politely, "I don't even know, anymore".  After that she kept going on loop 6  for her.

Lap 6 15.3 miles in 5:01:29 total distance covered 91 miles in 24:55:08
When I finished Lap 5 it was now 2 in the morning.  I remember as I went to my drop bag, Jamil Coury saying that in most of the country it was the end of Daylight Savings time. In Arizona, they don't change the clock so instead, Arizona is now Mountain time Zone and no longer Pacific Time Zone.  "Just a little bit of trivia" for everyone as he put it.  I was feeling pretty good and not for a second did I consider not finishing.  Also, I never had the thoughts I had before of "why am I doing this? What is the point?"  I just kept ticking down the miles and waiting for the next aid station to come.  I suppose I have arrived at a new point where I don't question my sanity, and I suppose that means I am completely brain washed.   Towards the end of this loop, the sun started to come out again and I got to see a second spectacular sunrise.

Lap 7  9 miles in 2:45:22  to finish 100 miles in 27:41:30
As I finished Lap 6 at the start/finish I ran into Greg L. who was a minute behind me and there I got rid of my headlamp and refilled my water bottles.  They provide a glow stick necklace at this point to indicate that you have finished 6 loops. The start of this loop is the same as loop 1,3,and 5 which was my least favorite rocky section.  I walked this part as my feet were very sore at this point and I could feel every rock I stepped on.  At mile 5 was the turnoff to the Tonto trail which was downhill and at this point I started to "run" again.  At this point, for some reason I could not walk fast, but I could run at a faster pace and it was downhill which helped. I ran to the finish and was greeted by Mas Locos Jess Soco, Maria Walton, and Patrick Sweeney.  I got my belt buckle and sat down to eat.  Jess got me some egg burritos and later on I had some pizza.

In keeping with my idea that this was a "business trip", I had booked a flight back to El Paso for later that day.  This meant, I had to hurry and get changed for the return trip.  The shower at the campsite had a long line of people, but someone mentioned that where they had made us park in another campsite there was also a shower.  I hitched a ride there with Greg who was heading home and showered and dressed.  Then I drove back to my tent and had the challenging task to take the tent down and pack my bags. On the 45 min drive to the airport, I had for the first time hallucinations which I have read about in people doing ultras.  This was around 2 pm, so almost 36 hrs with no sleep and I thought I saw a state trooper on the side of the road and later on I thought I saw a person sitting next to me which in reality was a piece of luggage.    I made it to the airport with plenty of time for the return flight.  I slept at the terminal and on the flight home.

I had a great time in this race and recommend it highly.  The Coury brothers put on great races and its a great way to spend Halloween. Next year, 2015, the race is actually on Oct 31.  My total time was 27:41:30 which placed me at 199 out of 290 finishers. There were about 500 starting the race which means 58% finished which is about average for this race.  One thing to keep in mind is that you can sign up for the 100 miler and if you finish 100K, you get a 100K finisher buckle but you still show up as a 100 miler DNF.  The race was won by Catlow Shipeck (36) in 14:51:33.   He looked great the entire race and led from the beginning.   Miguel Lara, who is a Tarahumara runner, was second with a time of 15:15:35, and 3rd was Kaci Lickteig at 15:40:55. She incidentally broke the Woman's course record previously held by Liza Howard.
Two week later, I am much less sore than I have been before my previous 100 miler in 2013 and my 90 miles at Western States in June. That is a good thing, because in 2 weeks, I am doing Ironman Cozumel.  Next year, I am doing the Boston Marathon and hopefully do Western States in June as I am in the lottery again. If not, then I will do another qualifier and try again for Western States in

2016 and even try to get into the hardest race in North America, the Hardrock 100.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) CCC 2014 Race report

Had a great time in the Alps and the event is as spectacular as advertised.  There are several contiguous races going on during the week and the atmosphere is like no other Ultra I have participated in.   I was racing the CCC (Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix) course which is 100K (62 miles) and generally follows the last section of the main event, the UTMB 100 mile race, which starts in the afternoon and never crosses paths with the CCC runners. The total elevation gain is 20,000 feet with 5 major climbs.

 I am going to provide a brief description of my race and post some pictures which I borrowed from the UTMB Facebook page.
Pre Race.
Flew with Laura from El Paso to Geneva, Switzerland with stops in Atlanta and Amsterdam.  We departed on Wednesday AM and arrived on Thursday AM.  Used a van transport form Geneva to Chamonix, France which took about an hour.  After checking in the hotel, had to pick up the packet as the race was the next day.  The process was long as there are 1500 runners and we had to show our required kit for check-in and bib pick up.  The jet lag made the process more of an ordeal than it has to be.

Race AM
Woke up at 0400 am to get ready for a 0515 taxi pickup to Chamonix for a bus ride to Courmayeur.  The bus left at 0600 and took 45 min to go under Mont-Blanc via a long tunnel which crosses to Italy.  The race starts at 0900 but with so many participants the buses start early and I did not get a later bus pass.  I tried to sleep in a covered area as I waited for the start of the race.
Race Start in Courmayeur, Italy

The Start
There were 3 waves separated by 10 minutes and I was wave 2.  Before the start, they played the National anthem of France, Switzerland, and Italy followed by Vangelis and the song, "Conquest of Paradise".  The starting line was more like a Marathon than an Ultra with so many people and the music made it very emotional.  The initial 2 Km are on roads of Courmayeur with largely small incline. The pace pretty much dictated by all the people who were there, which was pretty manageable.

After leaving Courmayeur (3,900 feet), we continued climbing and climbing up to the Tete de la tronche (approximately 8,500 feet elevation).  The climb is about 6 miles long and its steep, specially as you get closer to the summit.  My Strava data shows somewhere between 20-30% grade with very few switchbacks, the trail goes straight up for the most part.  The conga lines were looong, several hundred people all walking up the side of the mountain as far as the eye could see.  I made it possible to see where the trail would lead although there were many occasions when it seemed like you were reaching the summit but there was more climbing ahead.  I used my Ambit 2 altimeter to to tell me if I was close as I had an idea of the elevation of the climbs.  As can be seen in the pictures, the views are spectacular.  You don't see Mont-Blanc but instead get views of the Arguille de Midi which is more rocky at the top.

After the Tete de la Tronche, there is a steep descent down to Refuge Bertone, the first true aid-station at mile 10. There, I had Pepsi and some salami and cheese which would be the aid station staple for the race. I saw the elite runner Nickademus Hollon who I met in Mexico and was volunteering at the aid station.  We chatted for a short time about his upcoming race, the Tor des Gents in Italy the following week. (a 200 mile race with a time limit of 6 days).  He got second place incidentally. 

What follows is a 5 mile relatively flat section at 6,500 feet to Refuge Bonatti.  Next was the Italian town of Arnuva.  After this we are in Switzerland and start climbing again to the Grand Col Ferret which also peaks out at 8,300 feet. 

Mountain summit

After the summit, followed a long descent to La Fouly in Switzerland.  I arrived at 630 pm (26 miles) at the aid station and that is when it started to rain.  I got my rain gear on and pressed on as the trail continued downhill to Praz de Fort. There was another climb that went to the town of Champex (mile 35) where I arrived at 8:30 pm.  I stayed at this station briefly, had soup, salami and cheese and coke.  The place was super crowded and people seemed to be settling for a while, taking off shoes and stretching.  I elected to keep moving into the night and the rain for the next climb. The rain really started to come down and it was dark. The trail was very muddy and slippery along the way. The third mountain peaks out at 6,300 feet and the descent ended at the Swiss town of Trient.  The place was surreal at 0100 after 16 hrs and 45 miles covered.  There was a place for dropping out of the race with a few weary runners sitting looking pale and wet. I decided to press on in the rain up the next climb to Catogne which also peaked out at 6,700 feet. The trail was very muddy and I was passed by people who seemed to be able to descend faster despite the trail conditions. A few people fell down near me, but I avoided falling.  The descent was to Vallorcine, back in France, and another large aid station at mile 51 where I arrived at 0400 AM.  Unbeknownst to me, what followed was probably the hardest and most technical climb of the race, the Tete aux vents. 

Climbing in the Clouds
During this section the rain stopped and the sun began to come out, but the trail was super technical with large rocks, boulders, and puddles from the rain.  It took everything I had to press on at a pace that was very slow and painful after all the cumulative miles. The views were spectacular on this section above the clouds were Mont-Blanc and the Midi de Arguilles rising up to 16,000 feet. The Tete aux vents peaked out at 7000 feet and all that remained was 6 miles down to Chamonix.  The last aid station was 2 km down at La Flegere in France but there was a nasty climb to get there which was steep but was not clear on the course profile. The rest of the course was run-able down to Chamonix and it was in this section that Laura met me with about 3 miles to the finish as she was climbing up to greet me.  Once I arrived in Chamonix, the crowds were very supportive yelling Allez and Courage as I ran past them.  I crossed the finish line at 25 hrs 03 min, feeling pretty emotional again like at Guachochi, seems like I don't take for granted finishing these events any more.

Post Script
The UTMB course and events are truly unique and provides some spectacular vistas which are hard to describe.  I enjoyed this race very much but found it very difficult due to the technical nature and steepness of the trails. Combined with rain and jet lag, it made for a difficult challenge to finish under the 26hr. cutoff.  I can't imagine how difficult it must be to run the 100 mile course which has a cutoff of 46 hrs and 31,500 feet of elevation gain.  Then in another category is the Tor de Gents for the truly insane, 200 miles and 78,000 elevation gain. As I mentioned, Nick Hollon did that race and got 2nd place, the first American ever to get a podium spot. His race report can be read here: Ultrademus.  It is super long but very well written.  

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ultramaraton de los Canones in Guachochi, Chihuahua 2014 Race report

Dusk at Sinforoso Canyon night before race

I had a great time at the 18th running of the Ultramaraton de los Canones in Guachochi, Chihuahua.  I wanted to share the experience with all of you who may consider this event in the future.  There is not much written about this event in any "blogs" so I went into it with very little knowledge of what to expect. I hope to inform  readers of this report as to how difficult but how beautiful and truly unique it is.  At the end, I will compare and contrast with the Ultramaraton Caballo Blanco in Urique which I have done twice before and have written about as well.

For me personally, the training for this event was not optimal.  I had come off my first DNF at Western States 3 weeks before after running 90 miles and reaching the time cutoff.  I was not able to run after that race for about 10 days due to my quads getting trashed.  More about Western States here:Western States 100 race report. Not only was I physically not in a good place, but mentally I was having difficulties accepting that I had DNFd my A race for the year.  It was hard for anyone to relate as everyone thought 90 miles was "pretty amazing", but to me it was a failed effort that I needed to put behind me.  I ran easy on roads and the weekend before did some easy trails as I was recovering and tapering at the same time.   In hindsight, here is really no place adequately prepare for this race.  No trails in El Paso match the technical and elevation gain of this Ultra, more about that later.
Parral, our first overnight stop

Getting There
For many people, one obstacle to participating in this event is the perceived difficulty and danger of getting to Guachochi.  I have done 2 prior races in the Copper Canyon and had no concern what so ever.  We had a group of 8 total runners from El Paso and New Mexico/California that would be making the trek together, for that we had 2 cars.  I rode with Alfredo H, his wife Pamela M, and Pam's sister-in-law Myriam.  In another car were Jaime H, Nancy K(from Santa Barbara), Miguel C, and Kelley K. (from Santa Fe).  We left Thursday at approximately 2 pm, which allowed me to work half a day, and stopped at the Santa Teresa point of entry.  We got our visas and drove down to Villa Ahumada for the requisite stop to eat quesadillas and Mexican coca cola. From there we drove to Chihuahua City and then to Parral, Chihuahua for a planned overnight stay. We arrived around 9 pm, pretty hungry and stopped to eat first at the Vaca Voladora Restaurant. From there we drove to the Hotel Americano and got 3 rooms for the night.  Next AM,  Friday AM, day before the race, I had planned to run 2 miles easy.  Kelley had a different idea as we got started said she wanted to go up to a statue she had seen lit up the night before.  So it was that we ran towards the statute trying to find a path to the top. It was pretty technical and there really was no trail but we made it to the top.  The views of the city were spectacular and made it worth the effort.  There was also an old silver mine that we got to see.  Many years ago, Parral was known as the World's Silver Capital and was felt to have the best quality silver.   On the way back, we took a different route and got lost, making our run a total of 4.5 miles.
going up to statue in Parral
On the way to St Joseph Statue

We ate breakfast at the hotel and joined the others on a tour of the city before starting the final drive to Guachochi.  We arrived at around 3 pm and went to have a late lunch/dinner at the restaurant El Corral. From there we went to pick up our packets and there was a long line and they did not have Pamela's bib which delayed the process even more.  It was not very well organized and was unnecessarily lengthy, in my opinion.  There was a 10K race at 5 pm in the city streets on Friday going on at the same time. After that,  Kelley, Nancy, and I drove to see the Mirador or place where you can see the Sinforosa Canyon.  Nancy was not racing with us and we wanted to show here how to get there for the next day.  There we had some spectacular views of the canyon but it got dark and we had to head back to town, arriving around 9 pm.  There is a pasta dinner and orientation at 7 pm which I did not attend but Miguel did and he found it helpful.
Packet pick up L to R  Jaime, me, Myriam, Pamela, Alfredo, and Kelley

Race Morning
The race begins at 5 AM and we needed to be there early for check in.  I set the alarm for 330 AM but was awake before the alarm.  We had the unpleasant surprise that there was no water that morning which caused some complications. I ate a Kind bar, banana, and a Cliff Bar with water for breakfast. We drove to the starting line and got a bracelet to indicate we were at the starting line and checked in.  That process was quick and may allow one to arrive later and get extra sleep if possible. We lined up at the starting line and the race started on time.
Race AM, ready for battle R to L Alfredo, Pamela, Myriam, Kelley, Jaime, me, and Miguel


I am going to divide the race into 5 sections which are very different to help illustrate what to expect.  The first is from Guachochi to the edge of the canyon, the second is from the top to the bottom of the canyon, the third is along the river and up El Chipote, and the fourth is the climb back out of the canyon, and the fifth is the return to Guachochi.  For gear, I had brand new compression trail shorts and top from Compressport which Laura had suggested.  I also had calf compression gear and a Salomon hydration vest with 1.5 Liters of water.  I carried two empty 20 oz. bottles in the front to fill later.  I carried a whistle, an emergency blanket, a water proof jacket, and a small flashlight.  For food, I had several Kind Bars, CLiff Bars, Gu, and Endurolyte salt tablets by Hammer. I also had Black Diamond adjustable climbing poles.

Guachochi to Edge of Sinforoso Canyon
We left the main town square where the race begins on paved roads for about 1 mile and headed out to the canyon on the road I had driven the night before.  I was pretty dark and most runners had headlamps.  I did not have a headlamp because I knew that the sun would come out soon and did not want to carry it for the rest of the day. I did have a very small flashlight, which was helpful and for safety in case dark fell on my way back that day on the way back.  Retrospectively, I think it would be better for EVERYONE to have a headlamp because when it gets dark, the canyon can be a very dangerous place with no light.  I went an easy pace to save my legs for the 63K (39 mile) journey that was ahead of me. The elevation, I should point out IS an issue and we started at 8,000 feet from the city with a slight elevation gain to the canyon. This part was mostly paved and unpaved roads up to the point at 5 miles where the first aid station was.  There, they had "drop bags" and some runners with family drove their cars there to meet the runners. In theory, one could have them take the hydration packs there, which some people did, but I would not recommend it.  I heard of at least one person who arrived to find he did not have his gear there.  After that, we went on single track trail towards the canyon.

Edge of Sinforoso Canyon to Bottom of the Canyon
Once I arrived at the edge of the canyon, the views were spectacular.  I had seen it the day before, but some people were seeing it for the first time.  Many runners stopped for pictures at this point.  It is also said, some runners have in the past been so intimidated by the sight of the canyon that the abandon the race at this point. This downhill section is gnarly and technical.   I found myself along with the others slipping and falling on my butt countless times.  Rocks would occasionally roll down and everyone would yell, "Piedra!". Probably a good word to learn if you are not fluent in Spanish. I had never trained or used the poles before, so I had to figure out how to make use of them.  One runner badly sprained her ankle and told me she had heard a pop.  The next day she told us how she had to climb back up because she knew she would not make it as she had done it before.  There were several "conga lines" that formed on the trail and I had to pass some of them.  On the way down, we passed several streams and creeks.  I stopped to fill my 20 oz bottles and drank from the stream.  They had told us it was OK to drink from the first river but not the second river, so I drank a little bit and poured water which was cold on my head.  In one of the 20 oz bottles, I put iodine tablets that Miguel shared with me.  The other bottle, I would use to pour over my head to keep cool as the temperature started to rise rapidly.  As I said earlier, for the readers who live in El Paso, there is nothing to compare or train for this section. The footing was loose and the angle of descent was more steep than anything I had encountered in the past.  At the bottom, approximately 3,300 feet, there was an aide station which consisted of a couple of guys with bales of water and pinole (a corn based drink) that was being stirred with a stick.  I decided to pass on that as I did not want to get sick.
Initial descent, photo by Alfredo H.

Route along the river and up El Chipote
Once we arrived to the bottom of the river, you reach a run-able flat sandy section, which I was able to gain some time. The temperature was starting to rise and I was running out of water. We passed several streams but I did not trust the water quality.  We then started to climb again, a mountain next to the the river which all the runners called El Chipote. Looking at the Strava data, it only goes up to 3,800, an elevation gain of 500 feet, but the bottom of the canyon was pretty hot, and as I said, I had run of water. I then reached an aid station called "la cueva" which means the cave in Spanish because there is a cave next to it.  Here I filled my hydration vest and 2 bottles.   I inquired the volunteers, who were great, where the water came from and they explained that it was from spring water nearby which they hauled over in a big bucket.  For Gatorade, they had the powder which they carried down from Guachochi and mixed for us. During this section, I encountered a group of runners that had gotten lost and ended up down close to the river.  They believed they has been lost for an hour but as happens in this cases, it always feels like you lose a lot of time.  The course is marked by red ribbons as there is no "trail" to follow in some sections.  I had several occasions where we went off course for a short distance and had to backtrack to find the red ribbons.  In the beginning, I tried to keep my feet dry and jump over rocks at stream crossings.  It was at a stream crossing that I slipped on a rock that was wet and jammed my thumb on my pole against the rock.  I fell right in the stream and from that point on decided that I didn't care if  my feet got wet.  I took the opportunity to soak in the stream for several minutes up to my waist to cool off.
Pamela on the rocks (photo by Alfredo H.)

Climb out of the Canyon
After the climb up and then down the Chipotle, we passed next to a small creek, and from here you could see the top of the canyon where the Mirador or lookout point is at.  That was the point we had to climb to, 4,800 feet of elevation gain in about 6 miles.  By this time, the mid day sun was bearing down and the temperature was up to 99F according to my Suunto watch. The climb is very steep in several sections and sometimes require "boldering" through large rock formations.  These sections required me to put both the poles in one hand and climbing on hands and knees.  Some of the runners had climbing gloves to protect the hands from rocks.   On the way up, we passed another aid station next to to a stream and once again I sat in the water and poured water on my head.  From here we climbed a section of switchbacks that was very exposed and hot.  The next aid station is next to a beautiful water fall.  Here I loaded up with more spring water and drank several cups of Gatorade.  This is where I caught up to Jaime who was asking the volunteers if they had any ice, I thought he was delusional from the heat.  As I left the aide station, I had a horrific cramp in my left quad that stopped me in my tracks.  I sat in the shade and waited for it to pass.  I took 3 endurolyte tabs with water and it finally subsided to the point where I could resume.  The next milestone we reached was "the wall" where the trail narrows along the side of the canyon and the drop is about 2,000 feet.
More climbing, shows how gloves may have been helpful

Pam negotiating the Wall (photo by Alfredo H.)

After this section we reached the swinging bridge after which there was an aid station where they had bottles of water, electrolyte solutions, and even ice. The next mile and half is a road that climbs pretty steep for another 900 feet to get to the edge of the canyon where the Mirador or look out is located. It was on this last section that I ran into Nancy who had driven there to meet us.  She walked with me and carried my pack to the car leaving me with a hand held to finish the last 8 mile section.
Pamela climbing back out of canyon (photo by Alfredo H.)

Mirador to Guachochi 
This is a run-able section of the course if one still can run.  I surprisingly was able to run most of it to the end.  It follows a completely different road back to town after passing some open fields with single tract.  There are aide stations every 3 Km and you pass the 100K runners coming back from the city which loop back to the swinging bridge for the additional miles.  At the aid stations, I had coca cola, bananas, and electrolyte solution.  My watch lost power at this point so I could not keep up with pace but knew the time.  As you arrive at the finish, there were many spectators lining the street encouraging you and I got followed by an ambulance that was escorting the first female 100K finisher.  As I arrived at the finish, I received a Finisher's medal.  I looked at my watch and it was 7:15 pm meaning I had taken 13 hrs. 15 to complete the race.  The official results have not been posted yet, so I am not sure of the exact time.  Afterwards, I was filled with emotion and cried from the relief of having completed this tough event 3 weeks after my DNF at Western States.  I kept thinking, this is my Placer HS finish, this is the finish line that I did not get to experience in Auburn. It was a cathartic experience and made me realize how much it had bothered me not to have finished.

Post Race
After finishing, I walked to the apartment where Miguel was as he had completed the race in 11 hrs. 44 min.  I showered and walked back to the finish line to meet the others.  Jaime was driving back after having completed in 14 hrs with Nancy.  After dropping him off at the apartment, Miguel and I went to get Kelley who had finished just as it was starting to rain quite heavily and was dark.  Alfredo, Myriam, and Pamela would have the most difficult experience of the last 2 hrs in the dark and rain, but finished in a little over 17 hrs.  As the results are not out yet, I don't know the percent that did not finish.

Comparison to Ultramaraton Caballo Blanco
Having completed both races in the canyons, I wanted to compare the two events for anyone who may be interested.  Caballo Blanco in Urique has many more people from outside Mexico due to the book and the Mas Locos who attend make it a truly special event. Guachochi has many more events, a 100K, a 63K, and on Sunday a 21K.  There seemed to be many more Raramuri runners in Caballo Blanco because they receive corn vouchers for completing even one loop of the race and more for finishing the 50 mile course.  At Guachochi, they don't give corn vouchers.  As far a difficulty, the Guachochi race is much harder and more technical than Caballo Blanco.  Guachochi is also more self sufficient because the bottom of the canyon is inaccessible compared to the jeep roads which Caballo Blanco follows.  In terms of natural beauty, the Sinforosa Canyon is spectacular and you get to run on it.  The Caballo Blanco race starts and end in Urique which is at the bottom of the canyon.   In short, I think both of these races need to be experienced.

Post script
Overall, I had a great time traveling down with the group from El Paso.  It is a quick and relatively affordable trip to a very exotic land for a tough challenge.  I want to thank Nancy for being such a great sport in crewing for us. To Alfredo for driving us there and back while Myriam and Pamela drank beer all the way down.  To Jaime for driving the other vehicle and making the reservations for the apartment in Guachochi.  To Kelley for inspiring me to go to do this race, you were an inspiration to all who met you on this trip.  Miguel who was such a great travel companion to all of us as well.  I also want to thank the organizers and volunteers who hiked down the canyon to meet us an provide aid or to make sure we arrived safely at the various checkpoints or to get bracelets. Now is on to the next event, the Ultratrail Mont Blanc in the French Alps. I will be blogging about this race as well.  I hope to complete the 100 K in less than 16 hrs and thereby get on on the lottery again for Western States as I have unfinished business there!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Western States 100 Endurance Run DNF report

I had a great time and learned a lot from my first DNF (did not finish) of my short racing history.  It is a cliché, but it is said you learn more from a DNF than race you finish, so I'm going to put into practice. I hope to provide a perspective of the race that may help others in the future who may be planning to do this race as well as to share the experience with everyone.

Pre Race
I arrived to Squaw Valley on Monday of race week to attend a medical conference and which I summarized in the blog.  On Thursday, they had lectures for crews and for athletes about the course with some helpful insights provided.  On Friday, I went to Reno to pick up Kelley Koehler who would crew me for the race.  She is an accomplished ultra marathon runner and Triathlete who I met at the Caballo Blanco Ultra in 2013. We also travelled together to Urique in 2014 for the Caballo Blanco Ultra.   After a quick stop for supplies at the local food mart, we took the drop bags to the designated location.  I prepared a total of 10 drop bags with extra nutrition and gear which I will discuss later.. 

Leaving drop bags on Friday

 I then went to get registered.  I received a bracelet, got weighed, and received a ton of great swag. I also participated in a medical study on gastrointestinal (GI) problems in 100 mile runs, so I met with the investigators.  They drew blood for analysis and to compare to after the race.  Since I got there late, there were no lines and the process was quick. 

Checking in at Western States 100
getting weighed in at Check in
Blood draw for GI distress study

At the end of check out, they take a picture of the participants, I guess to keep tract.  They are all very professional and organized.  They used to check blood pressures before the race, but this year they stopped doing it.  In the medical conference, Dr. Marty Hoffman mentioned that they decided they didn't need to do this after having done for many years.
Profile picture at WS 100

After registration, we went to the expo and registered Kelley as a pacer.  Chris "Tarzan" Clements also joined us to register as a pacer. Pacers in 100 mile runs typically run along for safety for the last 40 miles.  At Western States they are also allowed after 8 pm at mile 52.  I had never met Chris but he heard I needed a pacer and was interested.

Kelley my crew and Chris "Tarzan" my pacer

In the afternoon, there was a mandatory meeting for all the athletes.  The highlight for was seeing the elite male and female top 10 being introduced.  After dinner, we Kelley and I went to the condo and watched the movie "Unbreakable" about the 2010 race and I was in bed by 9 pm.  I fell asleep in about 1 hr. I woke up at 3 AM before my 3:30 alarm had gone off and started getting ready.  Ate a banana, almond chocolate milk, and some prosciutto. At 0415, I put away all my luggage in the car and headed to the start to pick up my bib and get weighed.  I also stopped by to talk to the GI study investigators and swallowed a LARGE pill which was a thermometer which would be used to measure my core temperature during the race.  They asked me whether I was having any GI distress and what I had eaten for breakfast.

I am going to break the race down by aid stations and talk about each section of the course.  That is how I approach a 100 mile race, its aid station to aid station, trying not to think about 97 more miles to go at the top of the first climb.  This may help someone who in the future is doing race to get a better idea of the terrain and what to expect.

Squaw valley to Escarpment 3.5 miles
The race starts with a 3.5 mile uphill section with over 2,500 feet elevation gain from 6,250 feet to 8,750 feet at Emigrant Pass.  I had decided that I would go this section very slow to keep from getting anaerobic and save energy.  The road is a smooth incline on a jeep road. My planned pace was 20 min/miles which I was able to stay pretty closely.  Since I was towards the end of the pack, I got to hike up with Gordy Ainsleigh and he was very talkative.  Gordy started this race 41 years ago (more in blog post from Dec) and he shared with me a lot of insights about the past.  He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the race and he was a joy to share the trail with.  I also met Tom Green in this section as we hiked.  Tom is now 63 and was doing his 10th Western States race. I would later find out was the original "Grand Slammer" who 30 yrs ago did the four 100 mile races that existed at the time (Western States, Vermont 100, Leadville 100, and Wasach 100) in the same summer.  At the top, I stopped to take the view of Lake Tahoe and the beautiful view that is a sight to behold.
Going up to Escarpment WS100 2014

Escarpment to Lyon Ridge 7.0 miles
After the climb to Watson's monument, the trail becomes a gentle downhill on single tract. I settled into a comfortable pace, conscious that I did not want to go to fast so as to "save" my quads for later in the race.  I hiked the short up hill sections as well.  This section is largely above 7,000 feet and has on some years a lot of snow.  This year there was no snow but few creeks and streams to cross.  I largely kept my feet dry in this section. As you follow a mountain ridge line, the views on both sides are spectacular.  When I arrived at the aid station, I refilled my hand held 20 ounce bottle and my waist pack 8 oz bottles.

Lyon Ridge to Red Star Ridge 5.5 miles 
This section is still above 7,000 feet elevation with some short climbs and descents along the ridge line.  The pace was good but I was affected by the DUST, there was al lot of it, specially with long "conga" lines that formed in the trail.  I tried to use my buff to cover my mouth but it made it harder to breath. There were also a lot of lose rocks and technical sections.  I arrived to Red Star Ridge at 9:15 AM which was putting me behind my projected pace.  I had a drop bag there and another 20 oz. water bottle.  I refilled my pockets with GU, Cliff bars, and salt tablets.  I said hello to Rhonda, Rich and Jonathan who were in the medical tent and who I'd met at the medical conference earlier in the week.

Red Star Ridge to Duncan Canyon 7.8 miles
We continued to descend with few uphill sections interspersed.  I caught up to Jess Soco in this section.  I had met her at the Caballo Blanco Ultra and she was running with Luna sandals. We spoke briefly and I passed her.  The dust continued to be a problem is this sections and we were still at elevation.  Occasionally, I would feel a twinge in my right ankle from the injury I had sustained 6 weeks before.  It was mostly when I stepped on a rock and my ankle twisted.  It was a reminder that I had not really been able to train well the last one and half months before the race. Once I arrived at Duncan canyon it was about 11:30 am and the sun was starting to warm things up.  I used a zip log bag which I was carrying to put ice and placed it under my buff and another in my stomach. This race provides a lot of ice for the runners and I took full advantage starting at this point.
Beautiful views of WS trail

Duncan Canyon to Robinson Flat  5.9 miles (30 mile point)
This section begins with a gradual descent followed by a steeper ascent up to the aid station.  I was still feeling good eating Cliff bars, GU, and salt tablets along the way. I power hiked the uphill section at the end.  I was using my Suunto (Ambit 2) watch but had changed the GPS setting to check every minute instead of every second.  This conserves battery but the accuracy is decreased in terms of miles covered and pace in minutes/mile. As a result, I never really knew how far I had gone or how far it was until the next aid station.  When I arrived at Robinson Flat, I got weighed for the first time, I was up 2 pounds from the morning weight.  The GI study people measured my core temp which was 101 F.  They collected all my wrappers from the food I had eaten, and asked me whether I had any GI distress, which I had none. (except gas a little).  Kelley my crew was there and we got my drop bag where I had my Salomon hydration vest.  We filled it up with water and I ate some potatoes.

Robinson Flat to Miller's Defeat  5.6 miles
Leaving Robinson Flat, you start with a steady climb for about a mile.  I felt really heavy carrying all the water bottles plus the hydration vest. In hindsight, I would have liked to have carried less stuff but I was worried about the canyons to come later in the day and wanted to stay hydrated. After the initial climb, there is a long descent that is really exposed due to the fires last year. Several people passed me in this section and I had a low point here.  Rich H. was one of those who caught up to me here, he is Maude's brother, a Nurse Practitioner who I work with.  He is a physician from the Bay area and was doing the race for the first time as well. Before I got to the aid station, Jess Soco caught up to me again and told me she was worried about the cutoff, which she thought was at 2:30 pm.  I told her it was at 3 pm for I was carrying my pacing chart.  We arrived at 2:30 and I got some more ice. Jess made a quicker stop and was gone before me.

my pacing guide
Miller's defeat to Dusty corners (2.7 miles) Got Lost and did extra miles
This section is initially flat with some rollers and then steadily goes down Last Chance Rd, a jeep road, which is pretty run-able.  I once again caught up to and passed Jess along the way and then as I was going reached the end of the trail I was in.  I did not see any markings and that is when panic set in. I had missed a turn on the trail and had gone probably a mile or so further.  I started heading back and was yelling for help and finally after about 15 min, I saw another runner taking a turn down a different trail and caught up to him.  I asked if he was sure this was the correct trail and he said, "I'm sure, that is Gordy Ainleigh in front, and I think he knows the route!".  When I arrived to Dusty Corners, Kelley was there to surprise me after having driven for 1 hr. like a speed racer to meet me.  She said Jess had passed about 15-20 min ago and had seen me take a wrong turn but was unable to get my attention. I was pretty upset with myself but had to keep going and get over it.  Gordy was there as I left the aid station, looking pretty tired.  I was 35 miles into it and I was at the same place as Gordy, that left me worried as to whether I would finish.

Dusty Corners to Last Chance 5.3 miles
We continue on Last chance road through several rolling hills. At this point I ran into Melanie from Oregon who was also doing Western States for the first time and her first 100 miler.  She was pretty discouraged and I tried to pick up her spirits. She also had gotten in with the lottery and qualified with a 50 mile race.  This is the last year you could gain entry like that.  I always liked the name Last Chance for an aid station and they were pretty cool.  I loaded up with ice and prepared myself for the canyons.

Last Chance to Devil's Thumb 4.5 miles 
Initially, the descent form Last Chance is pretty gradual but then it becomes quite steep with many switchbacks for about 2 miles down to the Swinging bridge of Deadwood Canyon.  Unfortunately, the bridge was damaged in the fire and was not usable.  A new section of trail was created with a cable crossing of the river.  This is the first time my shoes, Salomon S-Lab Fellcross, got wet and then we had an equally steep climb out to the canyon for about 2 miles and 1800 feet elevation gain. I arrived at Devil's thumb at around 6:30 pm which was 30 min before the cutoff .  I would be chasing the cutoffs for the rest of the race, good thing I had them written down on my card.

Devil's thumb to El Dorado Creek 5.1 miles
This is the second canyon that we pass along the way.  The descent is not nearly as steep as the descent to Deadwood Canyon and this is where Jenn from Kentucky caught up to me and Melanie.  She had a good pace going down the hill and I decided to latch on to her.  She loved to talk like me on these races, my spirit animal is the Loro (Parrot), and she had a great attitude.  She was doing the math and reassured me and Melanie we could finish in less than 30 hrs, because I was increasingly getting worried and pessimistic.  We passed the 50 mile mark on this section and we had run for about 15 hrs. with the "easier" sections to come.  I stayed with her until the next aid station which is after a bridge at the bottom of the canyon. Melanie couldn't keep up with us and eventually dropped at mile 70.

El Dorado Creek to Michigan Bluff 2.8 miles (55.7 miles covered)
This is a mostly uphill section, I had left Jenn at the aid station and climbed up as fast as I could power hike.  It was starting to get dark and it was here that I came upon Rick, who was having GI problems and had been vomiting.  He looked pale and I told him so.  I offered a salt tablet which he took and after 5 min, I pressed on the trail.  Kelley was at Michigan Bluff waiting for me and hiked the last section with me.  Once again, I got weighed and got temperature checked for the study.  I sat and Kelley had prosciutto and almond chocolate milk for me.  She took off my shoes and socks and checked my feet telling me they did not look "too bad."  I was pampered there with all the Mas Locos in attendance.  Maria, Tyler T., Krista, and my pacer Chris.  (Chris' brother Tyler was also there).  Kelley put on my socks and now I would switch to the Hokas for the rest of the run. Kelley would also be pacing me to Forest Hill as it was after 8 pm and pacing is allowed here after that hour.
Coming up to Michigan Bluff mile 52.7

Michigan Bluff to Forest Hill  6.3 miles
This section is initially flat but then goes uphill for a nice portion followed by a steep descent to another smaller canyon.  I carried a head lamp and another lamp around my waist to see the trail. Kelley had a pretty bright headlamp and stayed behind me except where we had room to run next to each other.  It was nice having company and we talked a lot of the way.  I could not run the downhill sections and was having to walk pretty slow down. My quads and hip flexors were hurting with every step and the steeper the trail the pain became intolerable. We passed the Bath Road Aid station and then we arrived at the road leading to Foresthill.  At Forest Hill, I was weighed again and I met up with my next pacer, Chris "Tarzan" Clemens.  I got word that Chris was interested in pacing from a friend of Kelley, Nancy who lives in California and was willing to come up for the weekend. I joked with him that when selecting a pacer, you have 2 choices, someone who knows you but does not know the WS trail or someone who is familiar with the WS trail but does not know you.  In his case, he was neither as he and I had never run together and he had never done the race before.

Forest Hill to Cal-2 (Peachstone)  8.7 miles
Chris was a great pacer, he was encouraging me and supporting me the entire way. After leaving Forest Hill the trail goes down hill again, but now I was getting to the point that I really could not move downhill very fast. This would cost me the race as I would come to find out.  I got so bad in sections that I was holding on to tree branches to slow me down and diminished the impact on my legs of walking down the steeper sections of trail. Surprisingly, I could still shuffle on the flats and power hike the ascents, I just could not descend at all. We arrived at Cal 2 at approximately 2 AM and the cutoff was 2:30.

Cal-2 to Rucky Chucky 7.3 miles (78 miles covered)
Since I could not do math, Chris was very good about keeping tract and let me know we had to get to Rucky Chucky by 0500 or we would not be allowed to cross the river. The initial section to Ford's Bar was steep but then it levels off and I was determined to make the river.  I pushed as hard as I could on the flats and walked, power hiked the ascents.  The downhills were impossible to cover with any speed. We somehow managed to get to Rucky Chucky at 0430. The place was lit up on both sides of the river and at that hour it was surreal.  A friend said that it reminded him of a scene from the movie Apocalypse Now, and I think that captures the image perfectly.  I got weighed on the near side and crossed via a cable with folks guiding you to avoid large rocks in the river bed.  They had glow sticks submerged on top of the bigger rocks.  The water was waist deep in many places and I was soaked.  My legs did not appreciated the cold water and I got a chill after coming out the other side.
Crossing Rucky Chucky at 5 AM (I am glad Chris is smiling?

Rucky Chucky to Green Gate 1.8 miles
This section is a steep up hill and the sun was starting to come up again, the second sunrise of this adventure.  Near the aid station, Kelley was waiting to meet me and as usual she was great.  She was carrying some almond chocolate milk and extra food.  I stopped briefly at the PortoPotie (bye bye temperature pill) and left my head lamps with Kelley.
Green Gate to Auburn Lake Trails 5.4 miles (85.2 miles)
We left Green Gate at 5:30 or so and had to be at the next aid station by 7 AM or we could not keep going.  At this point, I decided to push as hard as I could now that the sun was up and I put my music on a rock play list to motivate me.  This section is runnable and not so steep which helped.  I was passed by Tom Green in this section.  He would be the last official finisher at 29:57:32 earning him his 10th finish.  Jen also power hiked her way past us and finished in 29:49.  Chris as usual was encouraging me and towards the end we could hear the music and we knew we were close. We arrived at 6:56 AM and I got weighed and was out of there as fast as I could. Chris got my water bottles filled while I was being weighed and as we were leaving heard the horn that signals that the cutoff has arrived for the aid station.
Auburn Lake Trails to Brown's Bar 4.7 miles  89.9 miles covered and place where I dropped
The next section is 8.3 miles and we had to be out of the Highway 49 aid station by 9:20 AM.  That gave me 2 hrs and 20 minutes to cover 8.3 miles.  I reached another low point here and wished that I had missed the cutoff at 7 AM so I could rest.  I pushed as hard as I could but I was finding it increasingly difficult to move.  We arrived at Brown's Bar and I briefly saw Hal Koerner there, he has won the race 3 times and was working the aid station all night. (what other sport would you ever see that?)  I kept running down the hill and Chris caught me at the bottom of the hill.  That is when I saw the climb that was in front of me, I looked at the time and we had about 45 minutes to get to Hwy 49, which was 3.6 miles away and uphill.  I decided I would not make it and that my health was possibly in danger. I told Chris that I would drop and go back to Brown's Bar. He gave me a big hug and we hiked up to Brown's Bar where I officially dropped.  They tore my chip off and wrist band and I was officially a DNF. I had gone 90 miles in 28 hrs. and that is as far as I could go.

Chris and I got a ride back to Placer HS, the finish point of the race with a guy from Ashland, Oregon.  I don't remember his name, my mind was trashed along with the quads at that point, but he had paced an elite to the finish and then went to work the aid station all night. It is people like him, Hal, and Anne Trayson (15 time winner), who volunteered at Robinson Flat (Kelley got to talk to her there) and then went to Rucky Chucky to find someone who may need a pacer to run with them in the rest of the way. She has done this in the past.

I arrived at Placer HS and ate some eggs and watched Jess Soco and Jen and Tom Greene arrive at the finish.  Gordy dropped at Forest Hill (mile 62) which is pretty good for 67 years old with an arthritic hip. He incidentally told me the VA has agreed to pay for stem cell injection into the hip.   Rick recovered enough from the nausea to get to Forest Hill where he also dropped.   I went to the medical tent and told the GI study folks that I had dropped.  They took my blood again for studies.  I then had a needle drainage of my second right toe which had developed a subungal hematoma (blood under nail).
Subungal Hematoma post drainage
John Vonhoff who wrote a book called "Fixing your Feet" and is an expert on runner's feet looked at my toenails very disapprovingly and told me how to cut them and file them down to prevent these types of injuries.

The results of my lab work were post race:  Sodium 133 (normal around 140) which means I was slightly hyponatremic, BUN 38, Creatinine 1.58, and Creatine Kinase (CK) was 46,025. The upper limit of normal is 500 IU.  I got these results the next day and I made sure I hydrated to prevent rhabdomyolysis.

Of note, there were 376 starters, 296 finishers, and a Did not start (DNS) rate of 5.8%.  Finish rate was 78.7% which is higher than most years.  129 silver buckles (less than 24 hrs) were awarded. The high in Auburn was 89 and the low 59, so not as hot as previous years.
At the finish line with Chris and Kelley
Afterwards, I went to hotel and showered and attended the award ceremony where I slept on a chair in the shade.  We all went to lunch and said our goodbyes.  Looking forward to the time we all meet again.

R to L. Me, Kelley, Chris, Maria, Tyler C., Crista, Jess S, Patrick S, and Tyler Tomassello. Photo by Luis Escobar

Post Script
I had an amazing time at the 2014 Western States 100 Endurance run. The event lived up to expectations in every way imaginable for me.  The course is amazing and tough, the volunteers, my fellow runners who were in the front of the pack and the back of the pack were a joy to meet.  I learned a lot about myself and how I want to approach these races in the future.  I recognize that I lost 6 weeks of good training at the end which hurt me. I probably went too slow in the beginning and I was careless to get lost. I probably ate and drank to much early on and carried to much weight with the vest and other water bottles.  I hope some day to get another chance, have to hope I'm lucky again in the lottery.  Now its on to Guachochi 40 miles in the Copper Canyon in 2 weeks and another great adventure.

Many thanks...
I want to thank the race organizers and 1,500 volunteers who made this race possible for all of us. Maude and Rick, it was nice to spend time with you before the race and out on the trail.  To all the fellow Mas Locos, including Jess, I appreciated all you did for me along the way.  Chris, my pacer, I could not have asked more from you, you were spot on in terms of support and guidance during the race. Kelley, my crew, she was there every step of the way and provided me with invaluable assistance.  Could not have done it without you.  I return, I hope to one day crew or pace one of you or someone else so that I can give back to the community of ultra runners of which I am so proud to be a member off.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Medicine and Science in Ultra-Endurance Sports Day 2

I started Day 2 with a nice 6 mile run, same course as the day before and was a great start to the day.  Below I will summarize the lectures for the second and last day of the conference.

Injury Pattern in 100-mile Ultramarathoners- Morteza Khodaee, MD, MPH    Univ. of Colorado.

The main areas of injury during the race include:

  • Dermatologic- blisters and subungal hematomas (black toenails)
  • Musculoskeletal-patellofemoral pain (7-33%), Achilles tendinopathy (8-19%), knee/foot/ankle tendinopathy (<10%), IT band syndrome (7%), stress fx (5-10%), plantar faciitis (8-10%)
  • Respiratory-asthma exacerbation.
  • Excess hydration/hyponatremia
  • Rhabdomyolisis
  • Trauma
  • High altitude illness
  • Heat-related illness
  • Exercise-associated collapse
  • Gastrointestinal problems-predominately nausea and vomiting.
  • Vision problems
During training there are less dermatologic and metabolic problems but overuse injuries. In an extensive survey, 77% ultra runners reported exercise-related injuries in the past year. However, compared with the general population, ultramarathon runners appear healthier and report fewer missed work or school days due to illness or injury. Take home point: You are likely to get injured while training for an ultra.

Key Medical Issues at Ultra-endurance Foot Races  Brian J. Krabak, MD   Univ. of Washington
Brian went on to contrast the overall injuries and illness rates in marathon races, Ultramarathons, and Multiday Marathons (Stage Races).  In marathons, the predominant problems were medical with less musculoskeletal and skin problems.  In Ultras, the musculoskeletal problems were more prominent and less so the medical issues. In stage races, the skin problems were the overwhelming majority of the issues encountered. Another topic covered was Postural Hypotension (low blood pressure while standing) which in one study occurred in 85% of runners admitted to the medical tent after a race.  The cause is an abrupt cessation of lower extremity muscle pumping actions combined with cutaneous vasodilatation.   This in turn results in venous pooling of blood in the lower extremity and low blood pressure.  The presentation is the collapse of the runner after crossing the finish line, dizziness, nausea, confusion.  Treatment is to lie down, elevate legs, and orally hydrate.  Prevention is by hydrating and WALKING after crossing the finish line, however there are no lasting effects except to your pride. Next, he discussed heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat exhaustion is seen with a normal to slightly elevated rectal temperature (102-104 F) with skin still moist.  It causes an inability to continue to exercise or collapse, weakness, fatigue, muscle cramps, nausea, irritability, agitation, and mild confusion. Treatment of heat exhaustion is removal from competition and cooling with ice packs or immersion of whole body in ice water.  Heat stroke is more serious and can cause collapse with severe mental status changes.  The skin may be hot and dry and the rectal temperature can exceed 104 F.  Treatment is with ice packs or immersion of whole body in ice water and transport to hospital.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, he discussed hypothermia where core temperature in a cold environment decreases to less than 89 degrees F.  Mild hypothermia can cause rapid heart rate, hyperventilation (rapid breathing), mental status changes, and shivering.  Moderate hypothermia causes slowed heart rate, hypo-ventilation (slow breathing), CNS depression, and loss of shivering.  Severe hypothermia causes pulmonary edema (fluid in lungs), slow heart rate, low blood pressure, coma, and life threatening ventricular arrythmias. Take home points: train and plan for the different environmental conditions to finish race safely.

Medical Needs at Ultra-Endurance Footraces: Race Director's Perspective    Craig Thornley, Race Director  Western States Endurance Run
Craig gave a really nice lecture about the philosophies of the medical aid at an endurance race from the race director's perspective.  One approach is to treat runners like horses whereby medical personnel are given supreme power to pull a runner from a race even when the runner wants to continue.  The other extreme is to let the runner make their own decisions with regards to whether to continue or to drop.  A natural tension exists between these two extremes and the sweet spot is likely somewhere in the middle.  Craig said the goal should be for the runners to view medical volunteers as allies and not to be avoided for fear of being pulled from the race.  Take home point:  In an ultra, the decision to drop should be made by the runner with the advice of qualified medical personnel.

The rest of the day was spent with case studies about medical problems with runners.  The first case was an elite runner who had a severe asthma attack at mile 30 and required bronchodilators (Albuterol)  and improved with subcutaneous epinephrine.   The second was  about a runner who had acute cholecystitis while running the Tahoe Rim Trail.  The third was about a case of high altitude pulmonary edema in Leadville 100 at Hope pass (12,600 feet).  Next was a case of rhabdomyolysis in a physician who improved with hydration and completed the race. (hope that wont be me).  They discussed a horrible fire in Australia in 2011 which happened during an ultra, and a physician who was there spoke about it.  The last case was of a runner in 2013 who after dropping at mile 85 developed seizures on the way to the finish by car.  He had severe hyponatremia and was hospitalized for 4 days.  He has fully recovered, has no memory of the events and is back to run the 100 miles again.  He was at the conference and answered questions as best as he could remember of how much water he drank that may have caused such a severe hyponatremia.

Overall, an excellent conference, and they will be repeating it next year on race week of Western States for anyone who may be interested in attending.  I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Medicine and Science in Ultra-Endurance Sports Conference Day 1

I started my first full day in Squaw Valley with a nice and easy 6 mile run in the AM.  Then I had the pleasure of attending a fascinating series of lectures in a conference titled, "Medicine and Science in Ultra-Endurance Sports".  This is the first time this event has been held and is sponsored by the Wilderness Medical Society.  I wanted to share the main bullet points from all the lectures which were all very good.

Cardiac Function in Ultra-marathoners- David Oxborough, PhD   Liverpool John Moores University
Dr. Oxborough went on to describe several acute and chronic effects on the heart in response to long distance running.  The chronic effects include eccentric hypertrophy of the Left ventricle (the main pumping chamber) and increase in the chamber dimension with normal function maintained.  This as opposed to a sick heart which will enlarge and  have decreased function.  The normal adaptive enlargement is to allow for more cardiac output during exercise.  He also observed in athletes that the Left atrium and right atrium (the top chambers) enlarged proportionally more than the left ventricle.  In the acute phase, in other words, right after the race, there appears to be significant Right ventricle enlargement and some decrease in function which improves after 1 day.  When bio markers of heart muscle injury were measured after an ultra, these were found to be slightly elevated.  This suggests microscopic heart muscle damage.  There also have been reported animal studies which show increase in fibrosis in the right ventricle and may predispose these individuals to arrhythmias.  (abnormal heart rhythms).  The most common appears to be atrial fibrillation which a few studies have shown has an increased incidence in long distance runners. He reported that all the studies do not seem to indicate an increased incidence of coronary artery disease (the cause of heart attacks) in long distance runners.  Take home point: Endurance training and competing has effects on the heart but these are not pathologic. Keep running.

Neuromuscular Fatigue: Lessons from Extreme Sport- Guillaume Millet, PhD  University of Calgary
Dr. Millet went on to differentiate the causing several elegant studies of maximum voluntary contraction before and after the ultra he showed that central fatigue is more of a factor than peripheral fatigue.  The cause of mental or central fatigue may be related to excess serotonin accumulation in the brain, or the so called "serotonin hypothesis".  There was no difference between men and women in these studies.  Take home point: fatigue is mostly in your head.

Effects of Ultra-Endurance Exercise and Carbohydrate Restriction on Membrane Fatty Acids, Inflammation, and Insulin Sensitivity- Stephen Phinney, MD, PhD  UC Davis
This lecture reinforced what has lately been the idea that a high carbohydrate diet may not be the best approach to training and participating in endurance events. As fuel, a typical 70-75 Kg athlete has 2,480 Kcal stored as muscle and liver glycogen, whereas that individual has 110,700 Kcal in the fat stores.  In order to become efficient at burning fat, a ketogenic diet (low carb, high in Fat and Protein) will dramatically enhance the capacity of fat oxidation.  This results in a reduced dependence on glycogen.  Of note, it takes weeks of adaptation when one goes on this diet before performance is restored.  The changes are at the mitochondrial level in the muscle and reduced insulin sensitivity. Take home point:  Consider altering from the conventional wisdom that carb loading is good and switch to a ketogenic diet. (paleo)

Gastrointestinal Distress in Ultramarathoners-  Kristin Stuempfle, PhD
A very common occurrence in running ultras, GI distress occurs in 37-60% of runners in 67-161 Km races.  In 161 Km races, it is the number one reason for dropping out. For one, as the cardiac output increases, there is decreased blood flow to gut and kidneys to shunt to the exercising muscles.  The causes appear to be various and include esophageal motility disruption and lower esophageal sphincter tone resulting in heart burn.  In the stomach, intense exercise causes delayed gastric emptying and this results in bloating, cramps, nausea, and vomiting. (lovely).  In the intestines, absorption of sugar and water is decreased and this can cause diarrhea.  Interestingly, they analysed what people ate and the effects of GI distress with the finding that consumption of more FAT seemed to cause fewer symptoms.   Take home point:  You are likely to have GI symptoms when you do an Ultra. Fluid and fat consumption may protect  you from it.

Sodium Supplementation, Drinking strategy and Weight change in a 100-mile Ultra- Marty Hoffman, MD  UC Davis

Marty mostly talked about taking salt tablets during the race and weight changes which are observed in the runners. He had a slide about the recommendations based on the weight, which are as follows:
  • Weight up, stop drinking until you pee off the excess.
  • Weight down, drink.
  • Mental status changes, drop and get medical help.

Take home point: Good idea to take salt tablets and drink water.

Barefoot/Minimalist Shoe Running and Foot Strike Pattern- Kevin Kirby, DPM, MS California School of Podiatric Medicine
Dr. Kirby began with a historical perspective on shoes and running shoe design. He showed how lightweight, thin-soled running shoes have been continuously available to runners for the past 40 years.  In the 70's they were called "racing flats" and were nearly identical to what today are called "minimalist shoes".  In an analysis of barefoot running, he showed that they increase stride frequency.  Also, contact time, stride duration, and flight times all decrease in barefoot running. .  Lastly, barefoot runners shorten stride length possible to avoid heel impact. He reminded us that "over-striding" has long been known to cause inefficient running form and reducing stride length often seems to lessen injury risk in runners. Lastly, he presented a study of 103 runners over 12 weeks which showed that running in minimalist footwear appears to increase likelihood of experiencing an injury. The speaker then spoke at length about heel striking vs. forefoot/midfoot striking, and found no significant difference in frequency of running injuries between the two.  However, there was evidence that CHANGING foot strike may cause injury. He also mentioned the Hokas, which he said were good and recommended changing shoes during the training week to reduce risk of injury.
Take home point: If heel striking, don't worry and don't try to change it.

Exercise-Associated Hyponatremia (EAH)- Tamara Hew-Butler, DPM, PhD  Oakland University.
An important topic for all marathon, Ironman triathletes and ultrarunners, hyponatremia can be life threatening. A low serum sodium can be caused by dilution in that you take in too much water combined with depletion of sodium via electrolyte losses in sweat or vomit. An important contributor to developing EAH  is the hormone ADH (anti diuretic hormone) also called AVP (arginine vasopressing).  Its function is to prevent water from being released in the urine, it concentrates the urine.  In an ultra or marathon, AVP levels are high during and post race which contribute to the dilution of sodium. Affected individuals can gain or lose weight and as such, body weight changes become less reliable indicators of fluid balance as race distance progresses.  When sodium is low symptoms can be vague at first but can progress to mental status changes.  The diagnosis is confirmed with a blood test and is treated with hypertonic saline.  Take home point:   Exercise-Associate hyponatremia (EAH) is bad, recognize the symptoms and treat urgently.

Rhabdomyolysis and Acute Kidney Injury - Robert H. Weiss, MD  UC Davis
Rhabdomyolysis is skeletal muscle damage that causes release of myoglobin and other muscle components into the blood stream and can in severe cases cause kidney failure to the point of needing dialysis.  It is characterized by severe muscle pain and inflammation.  In 2009, they reported on 5 cases of rhabdomyolisis and four had significant injuries that limited their training, so they came to the race under trained.  They pushed through despite being in severe pain. \Other predisposing factors include dehydration and hyperthermia.  Medications such a statins to treat cholesterol may increase risk but not proven, recommended to hold this medication before an endurance event. Take home point: If you are hurting a lot, you may need to quit.

Overall, an excellent day of lectures, if you are still reading this, I hope you get something out of it.  Tomorrow the lectures are less scientific and more practical.  I hope I still have the endurance to write it all again.