Saturday, August 30, 2014


Well, it's over.  All those frozen pre-dawn mornings on the skis, the weightroom, the miles and miles and miles.  It was a great adventure, one that will certainly pay off in future races, but I wasn't able to use any of it last night.  I learned long ago that I either have or it I don't- and I hand nothing on this day.  After some nice runs in the Alps last week, I acquired a virus or some sickness that made me exhausted and dizzy all this race week.  I had some terrible head pain, muscle pain throughout my body, a fever and dizzy spells.  I kept it to myself and stayed optimistic it would break and I would be rested after a week of no exercise whatsoever.  I ate as much as I could, slept 12-14 hours a day and just waited, rather scared that whatever was wrong with me was not passing.  I toed the start line with a plan to be very conservative.  I was dizzy and wanted to go lay down as the final countdown began and the music blasted. It was quite a frantic scene taking off to that kind of hoopla.  I smiled and tried to enjoy the scene- maybe once in a lifetime.

I was dizzy and had cramping twinges in my calves on the first mile through town.  I felt completely disconnected from my legs and any uptick in effort beyond casual jogging made me see black spots.  Thankfully, it was raining hard.  That cooled me and helped to clear my head.  I hiked all the climbs and passed many with ease, only to not have the coordination to run downhill.  I walked basically all of the downhills.  I saw Brandi in Contamines and she saw the deer in the headlights look on my face and knew I was in for a rough go out there.  I climbed the Col du Bonhomme (second climb of the day 4000+') and felt ok, but I limped all the way down to Chapieux to the aid at about 50k.  Even the beautiful grassy downhill road that leads the 2 miles to town, I was only able to jog and stumble an 11 min pace.  That is 6 min mile territory and I was unable to even jog it at this point.  For the first time, I felt a bad pain in my lower back.  I wasn't sure if it was from bad running form or if it was a kidney issue.  I sat in Chapieux for several minutes eating some soup.  It had stopped raining a while ago and I was boiling, even in the middle of the night wearing very little. 

From Chapieux, I jogged up the gravel road in the dark towards the Col de la Seigne.  Then, my light died.  I sat on the road and changed the battery to a brand new extra battery I just bought for $50.  I plugged it in and it only showed 1 out of 3 bars remaining.  I charged it fully and it was nearly dead before I used it!  Wow, that only bought me a few hours of light, then I would be down to my small back up light.  Not good.  Onward to Courmayeur.  On that road at a bathroom stop I saw some red in my urine.  That meant it was my kidneys.  Now, I was scared.  I ate and drank plenty, but my energy was absolutely failing. I was swerving and stumbling on the roads.  It was about to get ugly on Seigne.  I took my time, knowing I was on the edge of losing my finish.  I actually climbed ok and even passed some others.  But, in the first steps downward, I was falling and beating myself silly.  I focused hard on form and trying to get anything going to save me.  I had an overwhelming urge to sleep and the dizzyness was making downhills dangerous.  I got to the Lac Combal aid. It was just 13 more kilometers to see Brandi in Courmayeur, Italy and I wanted to get there.  As I pulled into the aid at Lac Combal mile 40, my spare battery died and now I would be down to just my emergency light.  I had some water and soup then went into the medical tent for a checkup.  The doctor pushed into my right kidney and pain shot through me.  She told me my day was done and said I could get a car to Courmayeur.  I was thankful for their help and felt like I was risking serious damage if I continued to Courmayeur.  It was no let down to stop.  I had played all my cards and my day was done.  I looked forward to hugging Brandi and catching the bus through the Mont Blanc tunnel.  I will be watching my health closely- especially the kidney thing.  Hopefully, it was just from the atrocious downhill running form I was using and not some kind of kidney failure.  It was humbling to fail so completely. However, I know I was not able to perform due to a sickness- not overtraining or some self inflicted problem from errors in my preparation.  That is a small victory- knowing I am stronger than that and someday that strength will show.  It is just sad that it could not show on this wonderful course around the Alps.

So, I slept a few hours and here I sit blogging while the winners approach the finish line.  Not how I imagined it.  I am still excited for my future as a runner.  September is a big month of hunting and directing IMTUF.  We will be home in a few days and hopefully I can recover soon and try to race again before the season ends. 

Thanks for reading.  I appreciate your support.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Saturday at the Races: Huckleberry Trot 5k and the Brundage Summit Cat Track 10k

A final tune-up

I haven't run fast for a while. I focused the past months on as much volume and vertical as possible, which has not meant much energy to sharpen the axe.  20 days out from UTMB, I figured a day of shorter racing would give me a nice strength boost and recalibrate my mind and muscles to what real pain and suffering was all about.  It just so happens that this weekend, there are 2 local races starting just 2 hours apart that made for an exciting and acutely painful "speedwork" day. I have not run a 5k or 10k since I was 10 years old, so I did not know what to expect besides trying hard and having fun.

First up was the Donnelly Huckleberry Trot 5k.  I had it on good authority that the winner of this rig got a fresh baked Huckleberry pie.  Sold.  I am a sucker for fruit pies...especially locally picked berry pies.  I took it out hard, but my hamstrings were already very unhappy and tight after just a half mile.  Some rolling hills added to the fun and my heartrate soared.  I figured I could run around 5 minute splits- which I knew would hurt carrying all the miles and fatigue on my legs into the race.  At the turnaround, I wasted a bit of ground missing an arrow in the parking lot behind the old Roseberry General Store.  I rejoined the inbound course and focused on form.  Mostly, I focused on proper arm carriage and backward/downward elbow drive with velocity.  This drives faster leg turnover and avoids wasteful arm gyrations that plague my running as I tie up with fatigue.  "Put the elbows in your back pockets."

On I went, deeper into anaerobia and farther into the pain cave.  My watch registered 3.1 and I still had a ways to go.  My sub-16 slipped away.  I hit the line in 16:21 and was glad to be done.  I thanked everyone for the "fun", grabbed my pie, chugged an ice cold shake of ginger/citrus SWORD sports drink mixed with whey protein isolate for quick recovery, rolled the sticks with my R8 and I headed north on Highway 55 for Brundage Mountain. 

Finishing my 5k.  Marcie Betty photo.
As predicted, the pins turned to concrete sludge while sitting in the car for 45 minutes.  I cranked the tunes.  Neil Young's Old Man is the standard when I need to feel something.  Alice in Chains Down in a Hole to get mean.  The Stroke's Someday just because.  I got to the starting area and hobbled around to loosen up.  It was already over 80 degrees and my head was spinning and breathing labored in my warmup jog.  I took a VFUEL gel.  And another.  A VESPA Ultra for focus and muscle-sparing aminos.  As I jogged, a young kid bounded past me with a great stride and I knew he would be the one to beat.  His name was Gabe and though he was new to mountain racing, he had some solid D1 track and cross country under his belt at the University of Kentucky and had recently been logging miles with Max King and David Laney around Bend, Oregon.  Yeah, he would be in the mix for sure.

The Brundage Summit Cat Track 10k is a first year event organized by Brundage Ski Resort and RD'ed by my wife Brandi.  It is a classic and simple challenge that I undertake often in my up the Cat Track and back down it.  There are better routes up and down the mountain, but this one is a fine test of legs, lungs and guts.  The start is at 6000'.  The first mile climbs 400 feet, to where the steepness starts.  The next mile goes up 800' and is a VO2 maximizer.  Early in the 3rd mile you hit the "shoulder" of the mountain, hang a left and roll north along the summit ridge from 7200' to the summit at 7640' and the turnaround.

Photo by April Whitney.
As Brandi began her starting countdown from 5, 4...a bear darted above the slope just above us to the delight of everyone.  He was a beautiful blonde and seemed to be frolicking and enjoying himself as he bounded across the steep ski run.  3, 2, 1...GO!  I felt tired and slow.  I settled in while a kid in an orange shirt sprinted off the line, then soon it was just Gabe and I out front.  I hit the mile in 7:19- a full minute faster than I have ever ran that first mile.  Gabe was right with me.  We hit the first steeper pitch and I surged to make some space.  I always feel better with a gap .  I have been like that since I was a child.  The Old Man and I had countless hours of fighting over this point when I was young.  Real fights that went all night long sometimes.  I just could not help it and still can't.  He begged me to slow down and run even splits like in the Prefontaine movie where Bowerman is trying to get Pre to pace himself.  No matter the pre-game plan, I am compelled to impose my will and then out-suffer the competition if they choose to go with me.  Every good race I have run used this "strategy."

The steepness came and my margin grew some more.  My breathing was raspy and I was near my limit as the slope increased to over 20% for the final 500' vertical pitch to the shoulder at 7200'.  The angle eased but my legs would not turnover.  My hams were smoked from the 5k this morning and I was left with a short and choppy stride.  I have run this stretch much faster in training, but it was not happening for me.  The heat was soaring up there.  As I approached the turnaround aid station, I saw my Mother-in-law Rita and barked out "shot of coke...shot of coke."  I was falling apart and needed a bit of sugar to clear my head. I managed to get a mouthful on the run, a big splash across my face and tossed the rest.  It helped.  I hit the top at 26:30, a PR by about 2 minutes.  As I descended, I passed Gabe 30 seconds later, which meant my lead was 1 minute.  He looked great and I feared his youthful speed on the downhill.  A shot of adrenaline spiked through me and I galloped a bit faster.  My wobbly legs struggled to find a rhythm on the steep and rocky descent.  One misplaced step onto a rock and everything I have been building this year would be ruined.  My plan was to run the rockier upper stretch a bit more cautiously, then gain speed as it smoothed out below and run the last 1.5 miles all out.  Of course this plan hinged on having a big lead.  If the race was close, I was ready to roll the dice and go "a la mort."  As it played out, I was able to find a groove in the 4:45 pace range and actually gain a bit more ground finishing 90 seconds ahead of Gabe for the W. We hung out on the lawn a while sharing stories and enjoying the day.  Later, the party headed for Smoky's Bar and Grill in the Lodge for awards and beers.  The event was a fine success for Brundage and Brandi again knocked it out of the park as RD.

Up Split 26:30 (8:32 pace)
Down Split: 14:55 (4:48 pace)
Finish: 41:25 CR/FKT (6:39 pace)

I am thrilled that I was able to hold it together in both races and as I write this I am plenty sore, but in a good way.  The kind of deep quad seasoning that forces adaptations I will need after 75 miles in the Alps.  Not sure why I am always more hobbled than others by races and hard training.  I see after-race interviews with winners looking like they are ready to run some more.  I am always so much more beat up than anyone else. I have some theories:
1. I undertrain.  Possible.  But I get my peak miles up there to elite levels and can hold it together for 100 mile races, so I can't be that lacking for fitness.
2. I am old. 35 is plenty old for achy, arthritis-y soreness.
3. I am bio-mechanically unsound.  Yeah, my mechanics are lacking. 
4.  I race harder than others.  I think this is it.  Something in my brain allows me to push myself to a greater percentage of my maximum than most others, to induce more damage and bear more pain.  This is great when the body allows, but can be disastrous when things are not right. 

Recent Training

I'm easing back now- only 19 days to go.  I'm plotting some final training missions in the peaks to cap my prep for UTMB. Mostly off-trail hiking and peak bagging from here on out.  Really starting to get excited.

I'm working on a full crossing of the Crestline above McCall.  Not the Crestline Trail, but the "Real Crestline"...the top ridge.  I have looked at it everyday since I moved here. Brandi and I married on frozen Payette Lake with it as a back drop.  I have been doing recon work in small chunks over the years.   It is an obvious and perfect objective.  Roughly 25 miles long with over 10,000' vertical.  About 20 of those miles are off trail scrambling over the serrated knife edge of the Crestline and topping about 15 peaks.  Some highlights are Fall Creek Summit, Box Peak, Beaverdam Peak, Rain Peak and Pearl Peak.  The start is at around 5100' at the South Crestline Trailhead. After the first climb to Fall Creek Summit, you are above 8000' for the duration of the traverse, before dropping into 20 Mile Trailhead at 5700' to finish. Few days of rest, a good weather forecast and it's on!

Typical Crestline action around Beaverdam Peak.
Classic granite ridge traversing above Burnside Lake
Looking down at Duck Lake (right side of pic) and the 20 Mile Creek drainage- part of the IMTUF 100 course.
February 16, 2012.  We married on an ice fishing trail on frozen Payette Lake under the beautiful Crestline. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

7/28 to 8/3

Week of 7/28 to 8/3:
105 mi, 20 hrs
24,000 climb
All singles, one day off
Long runs: 32, 21, 20, 20
2 power hikes with heavy pack- up to 60 lbs of rocks

Stay Vertical Cross Country Camp
2nd Annual gathering with the girls of San Francisco's Lick-Wilmerding High School Varsity CC Team.  We had a blast.  The girls are a year older and much stronger.  They are committed to a State Championship in 2014.

Track day...5 x 1k.

Loon Lake.

Team mascot- Aksel.  He ran himself sick on this particular day.

Box Lake.

 IMTUF 100 Country
Tons of miles checking conditions on the IMTUF course. 

Eva on Sawtooth Peak
Brandi and Eva with big exposure below.

Sawtooth Peak- looking into the East Fork of Lake Fork drainage.  The massive avy chute that obliterated the trail below is obvious.  All will be right by race day.  Chainsaw goes vrooooom.

Hydration takes a back seat to Idaho's purple gold.  A bumper crop for the huckles this year.   "Best in 40 years."

Crestline Trail above Box Lake.  Pausing to inhale some sardines and avocado.

UD's Scooter J special.  Money pack.  All runs in the past month I have been toting a full UTMB load and this thing carries lie a dream.