Friday, July 27, 2007

8500ft

It's taken me a while to get around to this report as I have been in Las Vegas for most of the week after the race. Since my I had a very long bad spell during this race and my memory of the bad stuff fades quickest, this report of the TRT50 will be shorter than most :-).

I drove up to the area relatively early on Friday, but apparently not early enough to avoid all the traffic. It took about 5 hours to get to Carson City where the race check-in and packet pick-up was. I did manage to see some friends there including Chihping, Rajeev and Anil. They were all preparing for the 100-mile option. Chihping, who is from Fremont like myself, was not content to simply spend a full day and night on the course and informed me that he intended to sleep in the woods before the 5:00am race start. I guess it means he got to sleep in a little longer than everyone else. Personally, I stayed in a nice plush hotel room with a comfy bed.

Us 50-milers didn't start until 6am. I drove to the parking area by 5am and caught the shuttle bus (a mini-van actually) into the park before the start. For some reason, they don't give out race bibs at check-in for this race and you have to stand in line to pick them up. While waiting, an announcement was made that someone was in desperate need of a pair of size 10-1/2 mens running shoes as they had forgotten theirs. Before I could even wonder about the sort of person who would do such a thing (actually, I've done similar), I looked up and noticed that it was none other than Harry Walther! Harry and I have shared numerous races over the past couple of years and actually are intending to share a room near the start of the Headland Hundred where we will both be doing our first 100-miler. So, it was only fitting that I should pull out my spare shoes and save the day (or at least his race). Of course, it might have been my only chance to finish ahead of him had he been forced to run in the two right shoes that he actually brought with him.

Since this was my first race at any real sort of altitude and was also to be my last "big" run before my 100-mile attempt, I intended to take it fairly easy. In fact, I wanted to put some good time on my feet for this "training" run. Of course, that isn't to say, I didn't still have a time goal in mind. Just before the start I bumped into Catra Corbett who decided to just pop over to do the 50-miler after already passing through Tahoe on her PCT through-hike attempt. SHe is also from Fremont. I'm not sure about the sanity of these Fremont ultra-runners and what that says for my future in this sport. At any rate, the race started with the usual ultra-lack-of-fanfare and we were off. I took the start very, very easy. I hung back and chatted with Harry who was also going easy. I passed a few people on the first couple of downhills, but generally just tried to stay in line walking the uphills and taking the more level stuff slowly.

I was definitely feeling the altitude especially by the time we reached the first aid station which was around 8500ft, a height above which my body would eventually launch its revolt. However, shortly after the initial peaks there was a nice downhill that allowed me to open it up and pass a number of runners before coming into the Tunnel Creek aid station. I grabbed a few bites, but not too much as I wasn't that hungry. From there we headed into the infamous Red House Loop. The start was all mine as it was steep downhill on soft dirt allowing me to just let it go and fly. I had a blast. In fact, so much that I didn't pay much attention to how to get around the big mud puddle sitting in the middle of the trail at the bottom. Oh well, it's not a trail run without making a mess. The trail leveled out and went into a slow climb for a while. Many people caught back up to me, but I felt pretty good keeping an easy pace. The big climb back out was a bear, though. It was here that I really started to feel the altitude as I crawled up at a much slower walking pace than I like to keep in a race. Back at Tunnel Creek I probably should have lingered a bit, but with the steepest climb behind me decided it was more important to keep things moving.

The next section was a more gradual climb up to the Diamond Peak aid station, again around 8500ft. It was here that things started to fall apart. I was really starting to feel the altitude at this point. This aid station, half-way between Tunnel Creek and the turnaround, was water-only so I filled both bottles full and just wanted to keep moving. The turnaround station was only about 4.5 miles away. However, at this point, I was really not feeling well. I didn't have any stomach problems, but I felt a bit light-headed and any sort of extra effort would send my heart rate up to the point where I would have to actually stop and rest. I took to simply walking pretty much everything that wasn't downhill and even those I took at a pace that seemed to exert a bare minimal effort. I really felt like I just wanted to crawl to the side of the trail and go to sleep. Nothing felt right and I was moving slow. I lambasted my feeble ability to deal with altitude and cursed myself for even having a nickname such as "mountain man" when I couldn't handle anything but the shortest of mountains.

The course leveled out as it approached the turnaround at Tahoe Meadows, but I simply walked the whole thing. I had sucked down both my water bottles and was completely dry. I told myself that I would just try to focus on time on my feet and nothing else. I reached the aid station at well over 6 hours and was looking at the prospect of walking the entire way back. I decided I might as well spend some time here and get hydrated and eat as much as I could hold since it was going to be a very long return trip. My goal had gone from 11hrs, to 12hrs to something looking more like 13+. I ate and drank and ate some more. I changed my socks from my drop bag and strapped on my waist pack to carry a third water bottle. I grabbed a popsicle and headed out walking. I met a woman named Janet who was also planning to do the Headlands Hundred and hung out walking with her for a while. However, as we reached a little uphill I couldn't even keep her pace. I really felt dejected. At one point I sat on a rock and hung my head below my knees. It had been more than 3 hours and I didn't see any end in sight to feeling bad.

I found a couple of other people to walk and talk with and just resigned myself to the slow pace. A bit of downhill came up and I ran it. I took the uphill after it slow again, but something seemed to have clicked when I ran down hill. Another longer downhill was coming up and so I let myself go a bit. It felt good, but I wasn't yet convinced it was over. The next little uphill I stopped and took a hydration check and decided to drink more. I knew there was more downhill before Diamond Peak so I drained both bottles again. Again, the downhill felt good and I filled at the aid station excited that there was even more downhill coming up to Tunnel Creek. I was really starting to feel better as I knew we had dipped below 8500ft again. As I came into the flat section before Tunnel Creek I continued to run and knew that I had finally pushed through a very long, very tough spell. I ate and filled up at Tunnel Creek with my spirits higher than they had been all day. Janet was there and noted how remarkably I had recovered.

I took off from there at a good pace. There was lots of climbing coming up including the high point of the entire race so I knew I wasn't out of the woods yet. However, I felt good and I was mentally ready to discover whether or not 8500ft was just a limiting factor for me or whether I had really pushed through and arrived on the other side ready to tackle this new challenge. The climb back up to Herlan Peak would give plenty of opportunity. I found that I was able to walk the hills at a really solid pace and even managed to take many at a slow shuffle pace. I could still feel the altitude, but I managed to find a pace that was good and I experienced no more racing of the heart or light-headedness even during the climb up to Snow Valley Peak where I had managed to catch up to some people who had passed me even before the turnaround point. One of them was a Carson City local who told me that it was pretty much all downhill from Snow Valley. This had me very excited as the one positive side-effect of the 3-1/2 hour bad spell was that my legs felt great.

I didn't waste too much time in the aid station as I felt like I had also taken better care of my hydration and nutrition needs than I had earlier as well. I was prepping for the downhill as we traveled along the ridge a bit after Snow Valley. I also realized that my realized that my time goal had gone from 11 to 12 to 13+ then back down to 12 and now I could even imagine 11 1/2 as a possibility. This gave me an even renewed sense of spirit and incentive to get down this hill. I don't think I have enjoyed any downhill as much as I did those last 6-7 miles. I don't know how many people I passed on this section, but that wasn't really my focus. Many did, however, wonder how I still seemed so fresh this late in a hard race. I tried to explain when I had the chance, but mostly I just enjoyed the pure pleasure of running free and "fast" at the end. The final bit is flat back into Spooner and I enjoyed just cruising to the end in a fairly respectable time of a 11:37:32.

I must say that this race is probably the most beautiful from a scenery stand point. It is also one of the most difficult as this was my second longest run from a time standpoint. The amount of walking I did, I think, will be a big help with HH100. I also learned that I probably need to pay better attention to drinking and eating more when I am running at altitude. However, the most important lesson I learned was that no matter how bad things seem that you can push through them. All you have to remember is to never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER give up on yourself. Ever.

5 comments:

Sarah (PCTR) said...

"the most important lesson I learned was that no matter how bad things seem that you can push through them. All you have to remember is to never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER give up on yourself. Ever."

I think that's the most important less you can EVER learn about ultrarunning, I think. Great job, Steve, hanging in there - you should be very proud of yourself.

We learn more from our tough races than the ones that come easily, that's for sure.

See you Sunday.

Sarah

miki said...

Congrats for pulling thru that Steve. Sounds like you made up a lot of time. Makes me even more worried about altitude though.
Your report makes me think you'll do really well at Headlands. Can't wait.

Norbert said...

Hi Steve,
nice report, although I think most of us had felt like you as we have walked more % than usual. No doubt, the altitude take its toll. It's a good training though and helps us being better at sea level. Now onto the next journey: HH100 - one small step for Norbert (50M), a giant leap for Steve (100M) or something like this.
Was happy to meet you and to see you enjoying your popsicle!
Norbert

Addy said...

Congrats on the big comeback during that race! The altitude certainly made everything seem harder. Pretty amazing that you went from feeling so low to flying on the downhills and not coming that far behind your initial goal. I'll perhaps see you at HH100 as I'll be working at the rodeo aid station from 3-7 :) Not sure what time runners will be coming through, but it should be fun! Hope your tapering is going well

Brad said...

How true about Never giving up on yourself. I found that out at Quicksilver. Congratulations on another 50 mile finish and good luck with the 100!!