My strategy hinged on a complete disregard of all outside stimulus. No watch, nothing in my hands, no hat or sunglasses to fidget with, no thoughts of Western States, no pressure. Just some shoes and shorts and a little water and food and a big day on the trails. I haven't been at the sharp end of a big race like this in a while, and I have run only 455 miles coming into race week this year. That is 30 some miles a week, with some weeks in the 50's and some with less and more cross training. Without a big summer mountain running base under me, I needed to exist in my own world and forget everything else. That is not to say that I didn't feel fit. My broken hip and shoulder had healed and my endocrine system has mostly put the West Nile Virus stuff behind me. I had a nice smooth block of steady miles and I nailed a lot of my workouts. I even busted up some PR's set during my 2013 Bear fitness. We had a ROUGH winter in McCall. Lots of my workouts were frozen roads or intervals on the spin bike. December and January were mostly spent shoveling the driveway. The only dirt and mountains to run requires a 45 minute drive north to Rapid River. Down there, I got some rough game trail running in 15-20 mile chunks that rack up 7000+' of gain. I made do with what I had and I came to Portland in a state of fitness I have really never felt earlier than July. Brandi and I came out on Monday and did a few runs on the course, toured the city and ate lots of good food.
|Somewhere on Multnomah Falls Trail|
|Pizza from the pub in Cascade Locks|
|Pre mural, down by the Powell's Book Store|
We start in the dark with an obscure two track access trail around a pond to get to the Multnomah Falls Lodge, then take a nice rolling singletrack. You get a pleasant mile warmup, then blast off up the Wakeena Falls Trail which switchbacks steeply up a wide paved trail. When it gets beyond the standard tourist turnaround and enters the realm of the hikers and mountain runners, the footing devolves to a choppy and washed out mess, running with creeks. There were a handful of fasties pushing the pace and pulling away. I run hills just fine, so I did my own thing, and pushed some early calories into the bank.
After 1500' feet of climbing over a couple miles, the trail descends in a similar manner as the earlier climb. First down over rocky nastiness to the Multnomah Falls Overlook, then down paved trail to the bottom. All of this went smoothly. The legs didn't feel great, but it is easy to get worried when there are 20 people around you running WAYYY under course record pace. I just kept relaxed and focused on my game. As is my norm, I would catch up on the climbs and fall back on the easier sections. None of this would matter for the next six or seven hours, so I just let it happen without ego or concern.
Miles 6 (No Name) to 22 (Cascade Locks) are fairly monotonous. By monotonous, I mean regular visits to stunning waterfalls, tricky singletrack running through mossy old growth forest, and consistent short climbs and descents. Challenging terrain, but not the pace to make a stand. I think I got through here in 9th position. Leaving Cascade Locks, I began to feel stronger. Ryan Ghelfi came along and we got to talking and started mowing through the field. We hit the long and smooth downhill into the turnaround (Wyeth) in 4th and 5th place and I was out quickly with adrenaline flowing and the desire to reel in some more. I surged into the 3 mile long hill and before long I found Ryan Smith, my pick to win the race. He was definitely not having the kind of day he is known for, but it was cool that he soldiered on to finish with his wife Silke. I had the first little twinges of some cramps, so I backed off a bit and fed off the well wishes of lots of friends coming down the trail towards me. I guess when you direct 2 ultras, coach and race all over the place, you get to know some runners. It seemed I knew every other person. Two of my runners, Erin and Frank, were looking good and after some words of encouragement, I set my mind back on the chase. I was getting reports that 2nd was 2 minutes and the leader was 10 minutes up, but the numbers were always changing. It is amazing how the minds of runners process time. One woman told me 10 seconds, then the next group said 6 minutes. I began to remember some of my early training in criminal law on the unreliability of eyewitness testimony. How can so many people see the same thing and process it so differently? Amazing how the brain works. I tried to block it out and keep on my own path. With 20 some miles to go, anything could happen.
I got back to Cascade Locks, hit another Vespa, but left in a hurry without replenishing my gels. I ran the next 9 miles with only a Honey Stinger Waffle and 50 cals of VFuel drink. It was very bad timing for such a mistake. The cramping got worse and I began to have some substantial pain on the bottom of my left foot. I consumed some extra gels at the next crew spot (49mi, Yeon), hit one last Vespa and left in sight of #2. Chris is a talented roadie and he put some distance on me on the 2 mile stretch of road. Some rough trail brought me to No Name Aid with just 6 miles to go. I was feeling a bit smoked, but still had designs on running every step of the Multnomah climb and winning the race. Leaving the Aid, there is a short climb up to join the Multnomah Trail on rocky singletrack. I am not sure what happened, but I felt a white hot jolt of pain in my heel and fell flat on my face. I heard and felt a pop. Wow, what the F was that? I stood up, picked the rocks out of my palms and tried to power hike. The next step, it popped again and I was down again. I was going to have to make a decision to quit and walk less than a mile down to the finish, or commit to the huge, technical and rocky climb and descent, with a foot that was exploding. I tried a modified stride. Any transition from heel to toe caused the tearing, so I just peg legged using my heel with my foot turned sideways. I begged everyone I saw for pain killers, but most of them thought I was insane or didn't speak English anyway. A 3rd tearing incident, and by far the most painful came high on the hill on the wet rocks. I pressed on in terrible pain, just trying to get lucky and finish. I figured up to 10 runners would pass me, but I would finish if I could just get to the top. For now, the fitter looking hikers were holding pace with me and I appreciated the company.
I made the 1500' climb and committed to a downhill shuffling, stiff legged extreme heel strike that avoided any contact with the ground on the bad left foot, except the very back of my heel. It must have been quite a scene for the 500 or so hikers up there. I remained disciplined and resisted any desire to compete or strive to hold my place. My future and my health was on the line, I had 3 times ruptured my plantar fascia in the past few miles and I still had 3 miles to go. I still had a great chance of needing to be carried out of there on a litter. I made it to the pavement- now just .8 mi to the bottom according to the sign. I got better at my limpy stagger and probably widdled it down under 15 minute pace. I hit the trail at the bottom. One mile of searing pain to go. When I got to the Falls Lodge, I allowed myself some looks back and wondered how far Ghelfi was back there. He had to be coming. If I saw him, what would I do? Nothing. He was in fact coming, but there was little real estate remaining. The tourists took in my contorted look of agony as I wimpered with each stride through the bustling parking lot. Just a half mile now. More looks back. Still clear. I switched into a stride reminiscent of Forest Gump, before he got his magic leg braces off. It was so ugly, but I was doing it. I had been through hell the past 2 years. I had come all the way back. This was a big time race and despite a busted foot, I was going to podium on 30 some miles a week of running. I really could care less about getting 3rd and being "first loser." In my opinion, there is the race winner, then everyone else. You either win or you didn't, so I have no sore attitude just because I missed the Ticket by one spot.
I crossed the line to cheers, a kiss from my wife and congrats from Ruy and Chris. They ran a fine race. Chris must have caught fire after I made contact with 13 to go, because he finished less than 30 seconds back from Ruy. What a race! I would have had to really climb well to have a chance to catch either. I don't really know that the bum foot made any difference. These guys just had better wheels than me at the end, when it mattered. I did not concern myself with the Golden Ticket during the run. It would have just been another distraction. Sure, it would be great to go back to Western. However, I made a resolution to only do races on their own merit, not for a qualifier. When I had to make the decision with 4 or 5 miles to go, to finish or to drop at Multnomah, the Ticket had nothing to do with it. I carried on because the entire race experience had been worthy- Portland, my time with Brandi and my friends, the excellent running, everything. If the race had been anything less, then I would have dropped. The injury just would not have been worth enduring.
|Ruy, Chris and I just after I crossed the line.|
Thanks to the Race Directors at Rainshadow Running...Matt and Kerri Stebbins and James Varner. The Gorge is a great venue for a race. I think I would try the 50K here someday. I heard the aid volunteers were great, but my wife Brandi is such a crewing machine that I don't recall if I even looked to anyone else for aid. It was all kind of a blur.
Huge Congrats to the winners of the Golden Tickets and to all the finishers. Those rocks can rattle some bolts loose, so anyone making it 100k definitely earned it. If you like the rough ones, come on up to Idaho and try one of my rigs.
Big thanks to my sponsors that have stuck by me through my troubles. Here's what I used from my sponsors:
Ultimate Direction Groove Mono fanny pack with a 12 oz Body Bottle
VFuel gels and drink. Aimed for around 300 cals and hour, with very little other foods all day. No tummy issues and each gel is such a treat.
Vespa CV-25 Vespa's greatest benefit to me has always been enhanced mental clarity. I used this to stay focused on my game plan and to disregard everything else. I took a CV-25 about 15 minutes before the start, then at miles 13, 22, 31, 40, and 49. Each dose saw a drop in perceived exertion and a relaxing effect on my mind and body.