Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Itch!

They itch, every last one of them. The one's on my back itch. The one's on my head too. The one at the base of my skull and on my neck. On my elbow, my forearm, back of my right thigh...you get the idea. They all itch. I don't like the itching. It is what has remained after the dull pain subsided. The dull pain was OK. The dull pain was, in fact, good. It was a sign of the fading of the sharp, needle-like pain. Besides, pain I can deal with. There is some modicum of pride in pain. Itching is just plain annoying.

Sunday was the Big Basin Redwoods 50K Trail Run. I ran this same race last year. In fact, this was my first time ever repeating an event. Even though the course had changed somewhat from last year (supposedly a bit more difficult), I was still wondering what I would do for this encore performance. You see, I actually finished this race in the top-10 last year. I like to write that because it looks so good in print. Reality is that there were only around 30 people in the race and since I often come in the top 1/3 in these smaller races, I get to feel like a "real runner" if not too many people show up. That seemed pretty unlikely this year with 60 initially signed up to run. Oh well, I'd have to find some other way to make this repeat run a memorable event.

Last year, I also received 3 wasp stings during this run. It was sort of a common occurrence last summer as I learned that I seem to have that certain something (sweat? heat? smell?) that seems to attract stinging insects. This year, the infamous Big Basin Yellow Jackets made sure it was a run I would not soon forget. The race course for the 50K was to include a 15K loop and a 10K loop each done twice. The 15K loop includes some of the most beautiful trails around. It runs through deep redwoods, has steep, technical downhills, creeks running through it and a most excellent waterfall. However, it seems that our flying friends, Vespula pensylvanica, enjoy the natural beauty as much as we do. In fact, that don't seem to appreciate fast moving hominids traveling through what they view as their territory. Last year they were only to be found in a single location down near the falls. This year, they were much better organized. There first line of defense was just before crossing Berry Falls Creek. They then collected in a larger grouping closer to the falls itself. Finally, in case you made it unscathed through those two sections they had one last area after the falls staked out to sort of say "don't come back". It was a good strategy as many people managed to avoid them in the one or two spots only to be caught in the final trap. A select few made it all the way through unscathed. Me, with my insectal magnetism, managed to collect dermal souvenirs at each location. It wasn't until after the last section that I realized that a few of them were catching a ride on the back of my shirt in order to let me know, over and over again, just how "special" I was.

For a while, the race was a bit like a bad horror movie. Not only could you hear the yelps of other participants up ahead letting you know what you were in for, but after you made it through, you could hear the anonymous yells and even screams coming from the distance behind you knowing what they were going through, but incapable of doing anything to help. The rest of the run through that first loop was as painful as it was beautiful. The stings on my head particularly felt like someone had beat me some form of sharp instrument about the skull. By the time I made it back to the aid station near the start, I had already decided that I was not going to repeat that loop again under any circumstances. I knew I had at least a dozen stings and it couldn't possibly be safe to keep collecting them. I told the volunteers at the aid station that they should talk to Wendell about re-routing. At any rate, I was going to just do loops of the 10K section even though I knew it was the steeper of the two.

The 10K loop went by without any major incident, but it was definitely the tougher loop in terms of intensity. There is one very steep section that seems to go on for quite a while, especially when you don't know where it will actually end. However, I felt during this section that my breathing was becoming labored. In fact, I sort of felt like I was running at elevation. I don't know if it was just all the adrenaline expended or if there really was some reaction to the multiple stings. At any rate, I decided to take Wendell up on the Benadryl he offered when I finally returned to the aid station. He warned me of possible stomach problems, but I assured him that my iron gullet has yet to fail me. He also informed me that the 15K section was now altered to just be an out and back to the creek crossing. I was pretty sure this was after the first location of the wasps, but was assured otherwise. Early on in this section I hooked up with Rick Gaston and Patrick Nolan. It was good to have company at this point and I have to extend some serious thanks to those two guys for making this section simply cruise right on by. The creek crossing was indeed after the initial swarm locale, but the advance squadron had apparently moved on so we all managed the out-and-back without further attack.

We actually made pretty good time heading back up and were heading out on the final trip of the 10K loop at about 4:40 into the race. I recalled doing it the first time in around 1 hour 20. A 6-hour race would be a pretty nice ending, especially on this tougher course with all the extra challenges thrown in. Rick and Patrick had the same idea, and they upped the tempo as we headed into this loop. I kept with them for a bit, but knew my uphill legs just weren't going to keep me in pace. I was definitely feeling some leg fatigue at this point. I'd save it for the final downhill and just try to keep running my own race. It's often the case that I find people to run with in the middle of a race, but generally finish on my own as I like to run within myself in those final miles. Whether I'm in front or behind my fellow runners matters little. I enjoy working through the mental struggle of the final stretch on my own. It's part of the attraction of ultrarunning to me. Even though I couldn't keep up with Rick and Patrick, I didn't really have too much trouble with the steep section. Knowing it the second time made it seem shorter and I made it to the fireroad, it seemed, with time to spare. However, I didn't recall how "rolling" the fireroad was and the final downhill seemed to be taking forever to arrive. Furthermore, I was feeling a bit of dehydration having drained both my water bottles. The Benadryl had worked, but I had forgotten about the other possible side effects, one of them being dehydration. I needed that downhill bad! Then it was finally there. A single track through the woods then back to the road. A sign at the road said 0.9 miles to the park headquarters. With only a few minutes to go, I was nearly ready to give up on the 6 hour goal. However, I couldn't recall whether the headquarters indicated was where we started or if it was the building about 1/2 mile further on. I kept pushing until I could see the bridge that separated the two loops. Less than two minutes to go. I might make it after all! A little kick to the end and I slip in just under the buzzer. 5 hours 59 minutes 29 seconds.

Bonus: Apparently my acceptance of the many gifts from my back and yellow flying companions paid off. In the end only 32 people completed the 50K garnering me my first (and very likely only) top-10 finish of the season.

18 comments:

matt said...

hey steve,

congrats on the great run. i brought up the rear, but look forward to tackling it again next year (i guess they are talking about april next time).

it was an amazing experience. i didn't even seem to mind the stings. i got hit at two locations.

your words about tackling the last portion of the race really resonated with me. i look forward to improving and having the kick to do just what you do and to run more within myself.

another inspirational effort, steve! great job out there :) and excellent report.

hey, did you track the distance throughout the race? i registered significantly more than 31 miles, but have never had trouble with my foot pod before...just curious.

Eudemus said...

Matt,

Sorry I missed you out there, but glad you were able to come up north for this great race. I didn't track the distance. I am a relatively low-tech runner for someone with a degree in Computer Science. However, I did hear Wendell say it was a bit more than 31 miles, but I don't know how much he considers "a bit". :-)

Sarah (PCTR) said...

Great job, Steve, on the run and the write-up. Sorry about your stings...

I'd have to ask Wendell for sure, but I think that the modified pink loop made the total darn near 31. If you'd done the initial pink loop twice as planned, it would have been 52 Km, as I recall.

Congrats, you guys, on toughing it out - great to see both of you out there and after your runs, too. And congratulations, Steve, on another top 10 finish!

Sarah

PS And Matt, how cool to meet your wife and son - Leo is adorable!

Norbert said...

Steve,
nice story and as usual I had much fun reading and remembering... Seeing you on the course - be it at the start, at the finish or somewhere on an out n' back - always makes me feel the community - like a north star - Steve is always there so it must be good...
Having said that, we both enjoyed the positive and negative - as you stated - the true ultrarunning experience. Personally I enjoyed the second 10k (orange) most of all, I was all alone and was going my pace (just like you did). Back on the fireroad I ran out of water too, but knew it was a short stretch home and it was a beautiful silence all around me.
Best regards,
Norbert
PS: I think the first patch of yellow jackets was after the turnaround, because it was a fast section (and the turnaround was right AT the creek within a technical section)...

willgotthardt said...

Hey Steve-

Good to have the chance to talk a bit before the run, enjoyed it.

Very sorry you (et al) had to deal with the wasps again, I was oblivious to it all, more concerned at the time with chasing down 18-24 year-olds (why are they allowed in these events anyhow?)

Hope you are healing up well.

RE: Mileage...my *NEW* Garmin 205 recorded 15.92m for the two loops (25K).

Will G.

angie's pink fuzzy said...

NICE! top ten!!!

Man, sounds like a WICKED event. What fun. And I love Big Basin!

Eudemus said...

Thanks Sarah, it was a great event, stings and all. I am a bit more sore than I expected after "just" a 50K, but maybe the stings or still recovering from HH100 or just pushing it a little more for that sub-6. Who knows. I had fun!

Eudemus said...

Norbert, it was good to see you out there as well. I totally agree about the second 10K loop and enjoying the silence. I actually got to see a fox up on the fireroad as I was running by myself. Very cool. See you at the next event!

Eudemus said...

Will, it was nice seeing you out there as well. As for running with those youngsters you should be proud that you were keeping with guys half your age. However, that kid from Stanford...holy cow! 2:10 for that course is off the hook.

As for your question about why they are allowed to run, I think maybe it is YOU who are in the wrong event. If you check out the 50K results you will see that there isn't anyone under 35 in the top-10 and 4 or the top 5 are over 40! Clearly, its time to leave the kiddie distances behind and start running ultras again :-)

Eudemus said...

Thanks Angie. Big Basin is always fun and always beautiful.

willgotthardt said...

"However, that kid from Stanford...holy cow! 2:10 for that course is off the hook".

No idea how accurate that time is, as he was WAY off course early in the 15K loop and actually returned on the outbound trail the opposite direction. Not that it would have mattered much, he was clearly the fastest runner in the park.

I finished the 15K loop with both the (15K) winner, and the 18yo US Marine who finished 2nd in the 25k, at just under 1:24:00...could not however match his split pace (57:39) on the 10K loop.

Will G.

rick said...

Will G. the fact that you can still whoop it up with the young guns is amazing.

Hey Steve, good running with you. You and Patrick helped my race as well. I'll take Yellow Jacket stings over Poison Oak any day. I wouldn't want 22 stings though like that person on the message board.

See you at Firetrails.

Addy said...

congrats on the sub 6 hour finish! Amazing, especially with the number of stings you got. You fast people must have carried off the wasps from that first spot you talked about, because by the time I reached it, there weren't any wasp interactions (thanks for the link on those buggers by the way, I had no idea yellow jackets were a kind of wasp).

I had the same thought about doing repeats of the 10k loop. Glad we didn't have to do that after all!

It was fun seeing you out there, and i look forward to seeing you at DC!


Congrats again, and I hope those stings heal up soon!

miki said...

Congrats Steve! Great run. I was kind of glad that I forgot to bring my camera with me on Sunday. I figured that if I did, you would have taken a spill before you reached the aid station I was at and lost your sub 6. :)

Brad said...

Sarah and Wendell should hand out a "Most Stings" Award. Or, you get 5 minutes taken off your time for every sting.

See you in October at DCF50. I'm off to tackle my first 100 @ RDL!

Fred Ecks said...

Yo Steve, nice job! I'm frightened to contemplate what time you might've hit without the yellowjackets. :-)

One quick note on your blog: You've got the link to Catra's blog wrong. It's http://trailgirl.blogspot.com/ not blotspot!

Another note: I'm on the lookout for a convenient time for a Grand Canyon R2R2R. I too am signed up for Firetrails and Javelina, which seems to mean 2007 is out. Might you be interested in a Spring 2008 R2R2R? The timing might work out conveniently after recovery from Coyote Two Moon and before States (if I'm admitted). Let's chat. :-) Anyone else wanna share such insanity?

We'll miss ya at Angel Island, man! Have a great weekend.

- Fred ( fredx@pobox.com )

Eudemus said...

Fred,

I'd definitely be up for R2R2R next year since it didn't make my calendar this year. I don't know when in spring is good as far as weather and what not, though. Most people tend to do it in the fall. I still haven't given much thought to next years calendar yet

katsu said...

hello,nice to meet you.
I'm katsu,Japanese.I'm looking for the info about Big Basin Redwoods Trail Run and I looked your blog.Your blog is useful for me.I'm studying English now,so can't understand completely.
I'm going to travel U.S at end of April and entry the race.If you don't mind, could you give me an advice?