Boom. Martin's first 100-mile trail race. And now I know how much a 100 hurts. It's a lot.
I have so many people to thank! Shelley (my wife) for crewing and getting exactly as much sleep as I did this weekend; Lucca (my sister) for being so supportive throughout my ultra exploits which means a TON coming from a sibling; Dave Swoish for pretty much running with me for 30 miles and tolerating my sense of humor the entire time; Luke Distelhorst for pacing me the entire second half (even though he had planned to pace Dave) when Dave sprained his ankle and had to drop and Justin Angle for perhaps unknowingly mentoring me these last three years and for enduring my endless ultra n00b questions that I almost invariably already knew the answer to but had to ask anyway just for peace of mind.
I seem to be getting good at pulling rabbits out of may ass every time I attempt a new ultra distance. After flubbing my first trail marathon I had a great day at my first 50k, an amazing day at my first 50 mile, and now this. I am blown away. I went in relatively confident I could go sub 26 hours and was thinking (wishing?) for close to 24 hours if I somehow had everything go right. I most certainly did NOT have everything go right and still beat my best case scenario by over one hour.
And now I am crippled.
Where to start? Perhaps at the beginning, in true long-winded Martin style.
As the day drew closer and closer I had to keep reminding myself that this is what I wanted! It was my stated goal, I had worked HARD to come back from a serious injury earlier in the year, I had actually trained for it, I had run a qualifying race, I had volunteered to do trail work, and if successful this was actually going to be a stepping stone to something even bigger. No backing out now.
The last couple of days I had slept like crap. Work is over-the-top stressful right now with a huge deadline looming and then there was this little trail run I had coming up which was affecting me more than I thought it would. Even though I dutifully went to bed early and even turned my alarm off Thursday and Friday morning I still got maybe six hours of sleep each of the two nights prior to the race. Oh well. Then three days before the race something happened to one of my teeth. I think I cracked a filling or something as suddenly I was extremely sensitive to heat/cold and even chewing hard food would hurt and I had a constant, dull ache in the right side of my mouth. In a panic I called my dentist and amazingly she said she could get me in late Friday afternoon and... I did nothing. Since the pain was not debilitating and since I was unsure how I would feel Saturday morning with a new crown I wussed out.
At least race morning went very well. Shelley and I both got up early, were not rushed, got gas and coffee on the way up to Easton and I had plenty of time to show Shelley where the race would come out of the woods so that she could meet me at the last aid station. There was plenty of time to hit the head, check in, pin my number, change clothes and nibble on grub. And to keep getting nervous.
I saw Daniel Paquette at check-in and he wished me luck. That was nice. I also saw Jon Robinson who was already in the zone so I just wished him luck. I saw so many Seattle Running Club teammates! It's pretty incredible how many of them came out for this event; very, very cool.
AT 9:15 AM there was a meeting which in retrospect was a gigantic waste of time to selfish people like me but I suppose it was not meant to tell the racers anything about the course or to give any updates (which is what I was expecting), it was instead to honor all the volunteers that have made this event what it is and to celebrate their years of contribution. In that sense it was great.
One last trip to the head, I changed my Crocs for my running shoes, grabbed my vest and it was off to the start line. As I was standing there with perhaps five minutes to go I inexplicably started to get all misty eyed... obviously this event and having Shelley there with me meant quite a lot. Queue violins.
The countdown started with "FIVE, FOUR...!" and kind of caught me by surprise. And then we were running.
I had planned to start at or near the back of the pack so as not to get sucked into going too fast and suddenly I was only about three rows back from the front. D'oh...! As we headed out I grabbed the ebrake and slid back through the ranks until I was somewhere smack dab in the middle. Much better. Where were all my teammates that I had seen at the start? Still behind me. :(
On Pacers and Running Partners
Originally I had hoped to run with someone. I sent out the plea and got crickets. At first anyone would have made me happy but then after a training weekend on these trails where I ran with Kevin Smythe it turned out we were extremely compatible.
About one week before the race I asked him if he would mind me tagging along with him for the duration and at first he was okay with this. But then as the day drew near he kind of back-pedaled... And I totally understood why. This was going to be Kevin's first 100 as well and he did not want to have to wait for me if he was feeling great while I had a low point and he also didn't want to feel obliged if he was hating life while I was feeling super. In the end we agreed not to agree on anything and just start together and see what happens. Unfortunately now Kevin was behind me and I had no idea where he was. Scratch plan A.
After Kevin wasn't an option I asked Tim Mathis.
Turns out Tim also wanted a minimum of pressure and professed to 'only' be shooting for 28-30 hours. I was laughing to myself as I replied and told him it was okay and that I would be fine. I know Tim would turn in a better time. Scratch plan B.
Finally I asked Shelley if I could use her iPod for the second half of the run and she said yes. Whew, good to have a plan C.
About three miles in as we were climbing up the dirt road to the first single track and I caught up with Dave Swoish.
Dave had also attended the training weekend I was at and seemed perhaps a tad faster than me but I broached the subject of running together anyway. And he was amenable! Hooray, now I had a plan D. AND Dave had his own pacer, bonus.
Dave and I ran more or less together for what must have been about 30 miles at which point I kind of pulled ahead a tad. I passed through the next aid station without thinking much of it and then when I reached the half way point I heard Dave was out because of a sprained ankle. Crap! Luke Distelhorst (Dave's pacer) to the rescue.
Luke had planned on not only pacing Dave but was crewing for him as well (along with Dave's parents) and when he heard Dave was out he actually waited for me to arrive at Hyak and then asked if he could pace me instead. Without so much as a second thought I told Shelley to keep her iPod and accepted his offer. Say hello to plan E.
And what a great plan it turned out to be. Luke is one of those mildly obsessive (in a good way!) guys and he had been talking to Dave for weeks about strategy and literally memorizing splits. Turns out my pace just happened to be in perfect harmony with this plan so I just slotted in. Unbelievable. In addition to that Luke was encouraging, positive, talked when I needed it and shut up when I didn't and saved my bacon during my low point. Between Luke and the aid station crews I was treated like royalty at each food stop. After hearing countless horror stories about pacers I was dumbfounded by my luck. THANK YOU LUKE.
On having a Crew
Shelley was amazing! We had decided that she could pretty easily meet me four times and since the fifth time (Mineral Creek) would be WAY inconvenient that I would just tough it out and not see her between Hyak (mile 53) and Silver Creek (mile 95). It was a good call as the crew that did show up at Mineral Creek (mile 73) had to drive to the freaking moon, park and then walk two miles down to the aid station. In the middle of the night. Then they had to wait for their runner and finally walk two miles back up to their cars and drive back from the moon to wherever they were supposed to meet again. That would have sucked.
Shelley found each aid station no problem, was there well ahead of me in spite of my accelerated pace and had my drop bag already unpacked and was ready to help me in any way I needed. What a dream. Each time we met I gave her a big hug, what was probably a gross, sweaty, stinky kiss and ran away missing her a ton. But looking forward to seeing her again helped. I love her.
On Aid Stations
Holy Total Package Batman, these aid stations had it all. Not only were they pretty frequent, they had good food! I had resolved WAY before the start to hold off on the sweets until as late as possible as they tend to shut me down. Gels and sports drinks do work but I can't do them for long as I quickly get sick of sweet things and when I do I don't want to eat anything. Knowing that eating was paramount to success in this event I was determined to only consume real food for as long as possible. Sports fuels are easier to digest but at my pace anything would probably work fine. And it did.
I ate turkey and cheese wraps, almond butter wraps, avocado and drank a ton of plain water. The only exception to my rule was I also sipped on a bottle of Perpetuem throughout the race as I knew it would not make me gag and I also mixed Endurolytes into my Perpetuem bottles for electrolytes.
That's not to say I didn't use the aid stations, far from it! At the aid stations I gobbled more turkey and avocado wraps, potato chips, fruit, a freshly made smoothie right from the blender, cookies, [Yeah, they are sweet but it's not gel!] Pierogis, hot soup (three kinds), grilled cheese sandwiches, beer and was offered but declined a shot of whisky and a champagne mimosa. What's not to love? That's rhetorical, the answer is nothing. These aid stations rocked.
ASIDE - at the pre-race meeting I heard there were 1.5 volunteers for every runner. Combine that with all the people crewing and pacing the runners and they were probably outnumbered four or five to one. Awesome.
On Unofficial Aid Stations
I had heard this story of some loggers that drive up to a spot where the course crosses a dirt road and there they erect this 'beer gauntlet'... It all sounded very mysterious and delicious to me and at around mile 30 I saw them. The trail dumped you onto a road and suddenly you were running between two rows or empty beer bottles like so many lights on an airport runway. On your left were a bunch of big trucks on your right were burly guys in flannel holding out bottles of beer and encouraging you take a swig. I did. With gusto. All the loggers cheered. It was indeed delicious and I have a new special memory of this event.
On Unique Features
Most events have at least one distinguishing feature, this one has more.
- Descending to the John Wayne Pioneer Trail. Imagine it's getting dark and you are bombing down a pretty steep, rocky road. Suddenly the course markings tell you to head straight into the woods and as the slope drops away from you and it gets even darker you see a rope tied to a tree which extends down the hill. Now imagine the hill is several hundred meters long and that you are blind without your light. I was loving this and practically getting rope burns on my hands I was descending so fast. At one point I kind of swung out off the trail and had it not been for the rope I would have taken a long tumble to the bottom... Luckily I was able to swing back on to the trail and continue. As it was I kind did an extended save toward the bottom and landed in this very Mary Katherine Gallagher looking splits. They guy at the bottom in the folding chair all bundled up in clothes making sure folks didn't run down to North Bend was probably very amused.
- Running through the Snoqualmie Pass Trail Tunnel.
The night was warm, the air in the tunnel was warm, it's over TWO MILES LONG, it's pitch black and water is dripping from the ceiling. Every time I would run through a section of drips I would think that a runner was gaining on me from behind, it was just the drips which sounded different when they were behind you.
- Climbing up to the Thorpe Mountain Fire Lookout. This was my low point. I was barely moving! The trail is straight up and it's a freaking out-and-back. The whole time your mind is obsessing on how much easier it would be if you just skipped this little detour and simply carried on down the trail... But at the top, in spite of the fact that it was just barely getting light, it was beautiful. For some reason I still had the presence of mind to ask Luke to take my picture.
- The 'trail from hell'. As you leave Kachess Lake Campground (mile 68) you skirt the shore of the lake for perhaps four miles and this singular section of the race takes most people TWO HOURS. Heck, it takes the front runners 1.5 hours. The entire thing is technical, it's always up and down and the gradient is too steep for most mortals to run. Did I mention you do this in the middle of the night? I had purchased a hand-held light just for this section and it was the bomb. With my 200 Lumen headlamp and my 200 Lumen flashlight I covered this section in about 1:45 and never felt like I was putting myself in danger.
On Taking Care of Yourself
It has been drilled into my head that when you run an ultra you do NOT ignore the little things as they will invariably turn into big things if you do. Three times in the first half I stopped to empty my shoes which had collected little rocks. Twice I applied Body Glide to my feet. Once I changed shoes AND socks (and my shirt). Did all this help? Yes, but I still got some pretty effing impressive blisters on my feet. I might have weak feet but think how bad it might have been if I had ignored all the problems! I have no doubt that I would have had to drop. As it was the blisters only slowed me down with about 15 miles to go at which point there was nothing I could do.
And then there was keeping up with my nutrition (read: eating and drinking). I had some solid, real food at least every 45 minutes and would sip my Perpetuem bottle regularly and top all that off with tons of plain water, some sports drink and aid station food. The harder you work the less you can rely on hunger and thirst to be your guide and you need to know how often you have to eat. Sometimes eating isn't super fun but doing it when you need to is crucial.
On Low Points
Everyone I talked to said, "Dude, it's not if but when..." All that talk kind of scared me. Subsequently at the start I was trying to 'embrace the journey' as they say and take on whatever was thrown at me. Mile 20 came and went, no low point. Mile 40, still no low point. Mile 54, no low point. Heck, on No Name Ridge at mile 80, STILL NO REAL LOW POINT. Then came the climb up to Thorpe Mountain (mile 83); without realizing it I was suddenly practically on my hands and knees. My power hike had turned into a survival hike and I had to stop twice to literally put my hands on my knees just to conserve strength.
Martin: "Oh man Luke... I am beat down."
Luke: "You're doing okay."
Martin: "Feel. Very. Weak. How long has it been since I have eaten?"
Luke: "Back at the last aid station, about one hour."
That was when I had my first gel. And half a mile later when I got to the Thorpe Mountain aid station I had another. And a cup of Coke. I chased this with the contents of my last wrap and threw the tortilla into the trash. Sometimes you just need to do what works even though I knew it was the beginning of the end for my stomach. I guess I figured that making it through this bad patch and not being able to eat solid food for the remaining 15 miles was better than loosing an hour or more and only maybe getting back on the solid food. I think it was the right call.
On Having Idols
Prior to this race I participated in a training weekend with Arthur Martineau. This guy is nothing if not the Cascade Crest Godfather having finished it EIGHT CONSECUTIVE YEARS IN A ROW. And some of those years involved pretty mind-blowing times. This year Arthur was having issues. He had recently hurt his foot and was still recovering from that injury and thus had not been able to put in the training time he would have ideally liked to. He still managed to drop me like a bad habit on the toughest day of that training weekend three weeks ago and so when I suddenly found myself catching him it was a huge, very selfish, boost to my moral. I'm not sure how I can say this without making Arthur feel bad but it's the truth. And to his credit he turned his race around and finished like only someone with his experience can. By killing it. Kudos to you Arthur.
What did I learn? A ton. Here are a few nuggets.
- Flour tortillas are heavy. It's all that lard or shortening or something but they sounded way better at the start than they did half way in. In fact, by mile 70 I could not choke down another bite as my mouth was too dry. Even washing every bite down with four mouthfuls of water was a chore! Never again. Or at least not that many. They formed into a hard-to-digest ball of dough in my stomach and the last one I actually unwrapped, ate the contents and tossed the tortilla.
- Soup, especially warm soup at night, is great. In fact, any time you can combine calories with liquid it works for me EXCEPT when it's in the form or a sweet sports drink. Soup yes, Perpetuem yes, fruit smoothies yes, even beer yes, stuff like Gu Brew or Powerade not so much. I dunno, maybe it was just mixed too strong? Everyone seems to have their preferences and I do love cold HEED when it's not too strong.
- Staying away from the sweets and gels was key to me continuing to eat. As tempting as this 'candy' is, I now know I need to abstain or I will simply not want to eat as I get sick of this stuff so fast. In fact, I think I was sick of it in February. Again, Perpetuem was the exception. I have a friend that ran this race two years ago and subsisted almost entirely on gels. To the tune of 70+! Incredible. Vive le difference I say.
- Juice in moderation. In addition to gels being tempting, so is the caffeine. I don't drink coffee or black tea and I know from experience that too much caffeine will upset my stomach so again I saved my caffeine for the end when I had caffeinated gels. At the Thorpe aid station I had one cup of Coke and at the last aid station I threw caution to the wind and had three cups of Mountain Dew. Even then I should have rained it in as my stomach rebelled against the cloying sweetness. The rush of actually doing this was sufficient as an upper for me and I should have held back.
- Just when you think you are going slow enough, think again. I started out at what I thought was a slow place yet twice when I caught someone I just stayed behind them and let them dictate the tempo. I think it was the right call. There are only a million opportunities to go fast in the second half of something this long so wait for it. One of the people I caught and hung with was Amy Rusiecki.
Amy was awesome. She could carry a conversation all by herself effortlessly and all I had to do was chip in single syllable prompts every once in a while and she would continue. I learned that she is from the east where she and her husband (Brian Rusiecki) run like banshees. She has completed the Vermont 100 numerous times but this was her first 'mountain' 100. When I was running with her she was the 2nd woman on the course and ended up getting 3rd. Her husband led almost from the gun and came home with the win. Damn.
- Relentless forward progress is key. You might feel like slowing down and you might feel like stopping but if you can just keep moving you will be much better off AND you'll be done sooner. Go ahead and slow down if you need to rest, eat, whatever; don't stop if you can help it. I did take one almost 10-minute break at the half way point to change my shoes and shirt and adjust to the idea of Luke pacing me but other than that and one sit-down that was perhaps a tiny bit too long at the Thorpe Mountain aid station I did pretty well and kept reminding myself to move. Just to keep moving. Even when my left knee started to hurt with about 12 miles to go and I knew that my feet were in bad shape on the last descent I kept going. I would run when I could and walk quickly when I couldn't. Easier said than done I know.
- Go with the flow. I had to settle on plan E and even though it was a great one, I had no idea it was coming to fruition until mile 53. Until then I was of the opinion I was going solo to the finish. And I was okay with that. Plan E was just a big bonus.
- When you finally stop your body will most likely shut down. Mine did. Hard. I was in some sort of pain throughout the last 15 miles but I managed to essentially run it in. When I finally crossed the finish line and stopped moving my body stopped working. Within perhaps 60 seconds I could only hobble my quads were so tight. My shoulders ached and even my arms and abs were sore. It was nuts! Keep moving just a little and/or have an ice bath or your favorite massage therapist handy. Or just be ready to suffer some. I did.
- I was shoving food in my face all damn day and I still lost five pounds in 24 hours. I also could not eat much right after I finished. In fact I could not eat much for dinner the evening after I finished. My body was still in a bit of shock. The next morning I had a reasonable breakfast and the following evening I had a big dinner. It takes time.
- Nothing feels as sweet as finishing. Figure out ahead of time what it would take for you to drop and then don't do it unless that thing happens.
In case you're wondering if my perception of events is in touch with reality, here is my pacer's race report. It was pretty cool to read this.
Here are all the pictures and video.
I had my Garmin in 'UltraTrac' mode which means it only checks in with satellites every 60 seconds instead of every five to save battery life. 6-7% off is not too shabby I must say.
|Breakfast||5:45 AM - apple sauce, 1 scoop protein powder, 2 scoops Perpetuem, Udo's Oil, walnuts, water|
8:30 AM - scrambled egg, fruit, water
|Workout Food||Oh man... I can hardly remember but it included at least this: 4 bottles each w/4 scoops Perpetuem and 4 Endurolytes, 2 turkey and cheese wraps, turkey and avocado wrap, almond butter wrap, half a grilled cheese sandwich, 2 cups of beer, 2 cheese Pierogis with butter and salt, 4 cups of soup, lots of fruit, 1 cup of fruit smoothie, cookies, lots of potato chips, 2 bottles of Gu Brew, 3 gels, cup of coke, 3 cups of Mountain Dew, a ton (4.5 liters?) of plain water|
|Injuries||Blisters on both of the balls of my feet, swollen feet and ankles (from experience this takes many days to fully subside), swollen hands and wrists (that thankfully subsided in 30 hours), slight pain in my left IT band (that seems to have subsided), massive soreness in my quads, shoulders and even some in my biceps and abs which is subsiding much faster than I thought it would to be honest. A small bump on my forehead from my headlamp which I wore all night, I guess the strap was a little too tight.|
|Therapy||15 minute ice bath for my feet right after finishing, lots of plain water, 4 Ibuprofen, a shower, nap. I would have liked to soak my whole body in Lake Easton.|
|Time of Day||10:00 AM|
|Weather||70 to upper 40s and back to 70, dry, mostly sunny, calm|
|Course||One big loop with a big climb up front and some brutal climbs between mile 80-88.|
|Results||4th - Men 40-49|
10th - Men
12th - Overall
|Equipment||Brooks Cascadia 8 (first half), Hoka Stinson Evo (second half), Garmin Fenix, Ultraspire Surge|
|Clothing||Injinji Run Original Weight Mini-Crew, Brooks 5" Essential Run Short, Brooks short sleeve EZ T III|