Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Epics and essences

Partly due to the normal post-100 lack of ambition and partly due to just not knowing how I would approach this thing, I have put off writing my Coyote Two Moons race report. If my Javelina report was a novel then what the heck was I going to produce for this epic run? A mini-series? It would not only take me forever to finish, but it would likely be unreadable in the end. So, in a valiant attempt to buck my own trend of exceedingly long race reports, I am going to try to capture just the "essence" of this event. My plan is to provide enough summary of the race and course to give anyone considering it in the future an idea of what its about, but also to provide highlights of the most important moments of the experience of "being out there."

The first challenge is simply in breaking the whole thing down. Luckily, one of the other race participants, Jakob Hermann, did much of the work for me well before the race. He posted a set of maps and profiles of each "section" of the race on the Zombie Runner Forums. These were a huge help in planning for the course in terms of time estimates, drop bags and just general expectations. They will also be used as my guide below in describing the race and trying to detail one or two essential characteristics of each of the sections. Jakob also has some good pictures of the race along with commentary for each and has posted his own race report on the Fried Quads forums.

Before I start, I will also provide links to some other pictures and reports in case you don't believe I will be able to keep this thing to a reasonable length (I wouldn't) and prefer to get a more concise view of the event. Chris Marolf and I traveled together to the race as well as in many of the early miles. His excellent report is posted on the Runner's World Forums and he has some wonderful pictures as well. Craig (and Leslie) also posted a report on the forums and Leslie included some pictures. Some really excellent photo samples are also available from perennial ultra photographer Glen Tachiyama who was on the course taking professional quality snaps. Finally, the RD himself has a report up which will definitely give you a whole different perspective of the event.

Background, prep, getting there, etc.
I am not going to go into too much detail here. This event is very unique not only in terms of the course itself, but also in terms of all the extra-curricular activities surrounding the event (i.e. bowling). You can read about these elsewhere as I did not participate due to time and logistical constraints. I drove down to Arroyo Grande on Thursday afternoon with Chris and invited a few others to join us (Harry Walther, Craig and company) in order to break up the 6 hour drive from the Bay Area. This allowed a reasonable night's sleep though I would recommend that anyone considering this event not underestimate the importance of getting as much sleep as possible in the week leading to the event itself. By the second night, a lack of proper rest can quite literally end your race. We also tried to get a nap in before the 6pm start, but, really, that was quite futile so just plan for sleep well before the race.

The last pre-race comments I will make are a little bit about planning. The details of the staggered start can be found on the race site so I won't go into that. However, one thing to know is that your start time will definitely effect your drop bag plans so try to spend some time figuring out where you expect to be at different times. I was in the 6pm start group which meant that we would get some daylight on the first day, but I basically planned for running at night from the start. Chris and I worked out a plan using the maps that Jakob posted (see below) that assumed the first transition from night to day would be at the Thatcher Aid Station and the second transition back to night would be at Gridley Bottom. Depending on your start time and expected pace this could be very different, so spend some time planning and estimating as best you can.

OK, without further adieu, let's get to the race. I am not only going to use Jakob's images below, but also his titles for the various sections so excuse my lack of creativity.

Start to Sisar
(A nice chunk to get out of the way, right quick)

As it appears in the profile, this section has the least climbing and one of the longest descents. Perfect for a downhiller like me and my challenge would be to not take this initial, longest, section too fast. It appears that the climb to the ridge is pretty steep, but really you are too busy just walking and talking at this point to really notice. Arriving at the ridge for the 6pm group was at sunset so it was quite beautiful. One note of caution is that the ridge is not flat at all and contains some steep little ups and downs. It is also quite a ways to the first aid station, but this is just fine as its the start of the race. The "water only" station that shows on the map (and in the course description) never seemed to materialize. Since it was in the middle of a long downhill section and I had a hydration pack it was not a problem for this leg. The 8+ miles of downhill is a long firetrail descent that is very runnable with the exception of some rocky sections and a few creek crossings that were easy to navigate without getting wet. I ran this section mostly with Chris and Rod Dickson who was running his 25-year anniversary 100-miler (wow!). We arrived at the Sisar Aid Station around 9:15, a bit ahead of our planned 31/2 hours. The important aspects of this section are really about getting into the groove of things and just putting some miles in the bank. While it is the longest section distance wise, it is the shortest time wise. Basically, it is a relatively easy section that really does nothing to prepare you for the big ups and downs that will make up the remainder of the race.
Two things stick out in my mind about this section. The first is simply being up on the ridge at sunset. The beauty of it really can only be captured by this amazing photo that Chris took of me during this time.

(photo by Chris Marolf)

That pretty much says it all. Basically, I was surprised right away with just how beautiful this course was. I expected barren, shrub-filled, Southern California hills. What I got was amazing vistas of mountains, valleys, city lights and the ocean in the distance.
The second part of this leg that sticks out in my mind is simply the anticipation of getting to that first off-ridge aid station. Because the course was broken up in my mind into these sections of off-ridge/on-ridge/off-ridge, I really wanted to have one big chunk done. My love of downhill is well known, but the long fireroad down to Sisar was certainly not my favorite. In fact, I remember looking forward to finishing it and walking the uphill even though I knew I would be quite slow there. This "fast section" seemed to take much longer than it really did. However, once I was out of Sisar, it was a nice boost to know that a big chunk of the course was already under my belt.

Sisar to Rose Valley
(Ups-and-downs in more ways than one)

What would you expect to follow the longest downhill section on the course other than the longest (and biggest) climb. Knowing ahead of time that you are going to climb around 4300ft in less than 7 1/2 miles, can help with the mental preparation for this leg. However, it is a long way from Sisar to the Lyon Canyon Aid Station at around mile 6 so don't underestimate your fuel and hydration needs for this trek. I had plenty of water even with the fictitious nature of the water-only aid station, but if you are not carrying a pack be aware that its going to be at least a couple hours for a mid-packer between these stations. Fueling is another issue and I underestimated here since I didn't feel the need for much at Sisar having just gone on a long downhill. Not only is two hours a long time without fuel, but it passed through the 4 hour mark which is always a transition point for me physiologically. I didn't realize any of this until hitting the aid station where I took in extra fuel before tackling the super-steep and somewhat sketchy ascent to Topa Peak. Rod was also at this aid station having a pretty difficult time as well so I imagine I am not the only one who underestimated this climb.
OK, so that's my cautionary tale, but how to describe this leg in summary? This is one of the most varied sections of the entire course. You start climbing up the gradual fireroad from Sisar. Eventually you cut off the road onto single track that winds along the hillside and then into some deep woods. Above the woods and just below the aid station it becomes much steeper with bad footing on loose, rocky, cambered trail. This was the toughest bit for me. After the aid station you traverse the fireroad a little more before hitting up single-track to the top of the peak. This section is incredible. It wound through scree and snow patches and the trail often simply disappeared. It is incredible steep and some sections are a bit dicey especially as people are heading in both directions. The peak is over 6000ft and the highest point on the course. However, even with the snow patches and wind, it was amazing up there. It was not that cold and you could see for miles in the clear air. However, there was no time to dally as the downhill is almost as slow as the up and the aid station guys had assigned a task of returning with a card pulled from a deck placed at the top. It was only about a 2 mile round trip to the peak and back, but it took nearly an hour.
After the peak, the course looks to be all nice downhill to Rose Valley. It starts on fireroad and then turns off onto singletrack as it heads down. I caught up with Chris at this point and was looking forward to some nice runnable, downhill. While I did run quite a bit of this section, I will admit what many others have said. This section is a bit scary. The trail is steeply cambered in parts on loose dirt and rocks. A glance to the right reveals that a mis-step could easily result in a long, unstoppable slide ending in...who knows! Other parts further down are on rocky ledges with drop-offs. Eventually you reach something that feels like the valley floor and, what appears on the profile as a couple miles of runnable terrain. The first thing to note is that, at the time we reached this section (a little before 2am) the temperature was plummeting. The second thing to note is that the little bump you see on the profile just before mile 14 is actually a very steep little climb to remind you that this course is never to be flat for long. Finally, just before the aid station there is a relatively large creek crossing that doesn't appear to have any rocks to traverse. However, I was lucky to have someone give me the "beta" that if you travel downstream a ways you can cross without getting wet. This was a godsend as it was apparently around 22 degrees in this valley and being wet was not something that you wanted at this point. Unfortunately, I still managed to do so as I went off trail just a few yards before the aid station and ended up crossing a muddy bog to regain the trail. My right foot sunk into the freezing, muddy muck.
As I mentioned, this section is quite varied. However, there really is only one big highlight and that is being on top of the peak. The image and feeling of standing up on Topa under a full moon with views in all directions will be forever burned into my mind. This is the only part of the race (other than some later aid stations for different reasons) where I really wanted to just stop. I could imagine a hike up here would be incredible and doing it during the day one would want to just hang out, have lunch and take in the views. However, this was a race (of sorts) so "hanging out" wasn't an option. I've heard hikers occasionally denigrate our sport claiming that we don't take the time to enjoy the environments through which we run. I would counter this by saying that what we lose in temporal perception we make up for in intensity. There is something about experiencing one's environment in a heightened emotional state that leaves an impression so much deeper than might be expected given the brevity.

Rose Valley to Thatcher
(Alone and alive)

With the sub-freezing temperature, Rose Valley was definitely not a place to dilly dally and Chris headed off before me as I was fiddling with the charger for my GPS watch. Realizing how stupid it was to be playing with a bit of technology as my body temperature continued to drop, I ended up just tossing the whole thing in my drop bag and heading out. I would just have to see how long the watch would last under its own power. I didn't have any really warm clothes here so I just had to make due with my gloves and light shell. It was really hard to get warm and my fingers were especially freezing. I actually ran some of the uphills here just to try and get my body warm. It also let me catch up with Chris for a bit. There were many people coming down now both from our own group and, as we drew closer to the top, from the 9pm start group as well. We tried to warn everyone about both the creek crossing and the freezing temps below.
In my memory this uphill didn't seem to take that long, but it is about 6 miles back to the aid station on the ridge so I imagine it took longer than I recall. It was probably around 2 1/2 hours.
I met back up with Chris at the aid station. It was a little after 5am and our plan was to make it to Tatcher at 9am which is when that aid station was supposed to open. We agreed to take it easy on the next downhill section, but once I got my legs moving, I had to just open it up. This was the first downhill that I remember truly enjoying. I was cruising and feeling great. As I was going through the woods, the leaders of the 2am start group were heading up. Those guys were fast! I eventually made it to the fireroad where I would have to head back uphill for a few. Still feeling good, I worked on keeping a decent uphill pace. The sun was up and with it my first wave of feeling tired. Unlike most other people, the sunrise tends to have the opposite effect on me. I focused on the views and as the fireroad rose and wound around the ridge, I started looking for the cutoff trail down to Tatcher. If I ended up at the other on-ridge aid station, it would be too far. Luckily, the cutoff was well marked, though I was curious why there was also an arrow pointing down it from the other direction.
I was happy to be heading down, but this trail was not going to be the most runnable. Lots of steps and rocky, steep sections assured that I would not be returning to cruising speed. It was also bothering my ITB a bit as I was constantly having to brake going down. However, my mental attitude was good and I was still enjoying myself tremendously. This is also the section where the front of the 6pm group should be meeting with the bulk of the 4pm group. Of course, the real leaders of each (i.e. the big sandbaggers) were heading up as I was about half way down the trail. I heard from Andy Kumeda (who ended up finishing many hours ahead of schedule) that the aid station wasn't even set up yet nor were his drop bags present. I decided that if that were still the case for me that I would simply take a seat and wait for both to arrive. Luckily, I didn't have to contend with that situation.
In every long race there comes a period where I am running by myself and just really enjoying it. This section was one of those times. I enjoyed the brilliant downhill through the woods, I enjoyed the uphill on the fireroad. The views at sunrise and even hopping down towards Thatcher trying to maintain a decent gate. It was one of those times when you remind yourself, "this is exactly why I run these things." The sense of joy that comes from the simple pleasure of just "being out there." I felt alive.

Thatcher to Rose Valley
(What a difference the day makes)

First, a word about the aid stations. Overall, they were all tremendous. The volunteers were excellent and worked hard to maintain the sense of fun that this event was meant to have. However, Thatcher definitely took the cake in terms of food. It was breakfast time and I was hungry. This aid station had it all. Not just the normal fare of chips and PB&J (both of which I partook), but I also downed a Coffee Frappuccino while I ate homemade potstickers over fried rice with pine nuts in it. Outstanding! In fact, I kind of stuffed myself. I reasoned that it would be OK as there was a nice long uphill ahead of me, I was still ahead of schedule and totally fine with taking it easy. I headed out along with Nick Ham (aka BritNick), but he quickly left me in the dust as he powered up hill. I had decided to take it easy at least on the initial part of this uphill. I had just finished over half of the race distance, but knew I was at least a couple hours from being half way in terms of time. Heading up Thatcher, the day started to warm up. Right about half way up for me, in the exposed part of the trail, it became downright hot. Steep uphill, a full belly and rising temps made for a very bad combination. The remainder of this climb was tortuous as I slowly made my way up the hill with my stomach retching. To add insult to injury, the first group of 100K runners were starting to head down. They were just at the start of their run looking fresh and happy. What could be worse than crawling your way up a hot, steep trail dealing with digestion issues at mile 52+ as a bunch of chipper looking folks come trotting down with only 10 miles on their legs and big smiles on their faces? I tried to be as friendly as possible, but let them know how much I appreciated them with my typical dose of sarcasm.
I eventually made it to the ridge with great relief. I walked a bit more along the ridge to cool down a bit and then knowing that the aid station was less than a mile away I shuffled along. This aid station was the same as the first one we encountered at mile 9. The climb up had taken a couple of hours and my stomach had finally settled. Fresh melon was my savior at this point. I was ready for one of those miraculous recoveries that often come at the end of the long struggle. I took off from here at a decent pace, but only made it about 1/2 mile before needing an emergency pit stop after which I felt much, much better. The next section along the ridge was great especially as I hit a couple of snow patches and grabbing a handful allowed me to cool myself as I ran. The second wave of 100K runners were now heading out along the ridge and seeing some friendly faces including Meredeth was a big boost. I kept a good pace here and even managed to shuffle up some of the hills. Eventually I reached the turnoff to the road that led back down to Rose Valley. This we had passed around mile 4 and some people headed down it despite the very large sign indicating that it was probably not the right direction.

(photo by Glen Tachayama)

Those 2 miles down to Rose Valley don't look particularly steep on the profile, but it is pretty much straight down. I decided to run this as I wanted to open up my legs even though I knew it was probably not a good idea for my feet at this point given that the grade was just beyond what I would consider runnable conditions. It felt good to arrive back at Rose Valley under completely opposite temperature conditions (something like a 65-70 degree difference) and it felt especially good to have the 100K mark taken care of.
The highlights for this section were really more like "low-lights" as the climb in the heat and my stomach complaining the whole time were definitely a major low. I never actually lost my cookies or anything, but it just kept churning over and threatening to do so. I'm never at my best in the heat, add a steep climb and an overly full belly to that and it seemed like a recipe for disaster. I focused on just continuing to move and began a mantra that would turn out to be so important much later in the race, "forward motion, is better than no motion." The strange thing is that knowing how much of the race I still had ahead of me actually made it easier to push through this section. I guess experience pays off as I knew I would get past this bad section and looking forward helped me to not overly focus on the issues that I was dealing with in the present.

Rose Valley to Gridley
(When you know you're going to finish)

Earlier in the race Chris and I had discussed taking a break, or even a nap, the second time we would reach Rose Valley. It seemed like a good idea at the time as even a few winks of shut-eye might help get through that second night. However, I reasoned that taking a break at the 100K mark seemed too tempting a spot to call it quits and decided to push on to Gridley where, at closer to 3/4 of the way done, I was more assured to finish the race. I chatted at this aid station with Don Lundell of who was the only one to finish the test run of this course. He told me that the section down to Gridley was a nice runnable grade that I would enjoy. He also told me that he liked the fireroad that we just came down as it reminded him of a certain section of the Leadville 100. I thought about this comment as I headed up this thing and tried to imagine what it would be like up above 10,000ft. Ridiculous! Again, the profile belies this trails difficulty. While it "only" travels up 1500ft over the two miles, it is not a consistent grade and there are sections of this that seem to be pretty much straight up. I noticed the indomitable Linda McFadden (aka Judge McFadden) coming up the trail and welcomed the company. However, I am slow on the uphills and the heat was once again wrecking havoc with my stomach and she went on ahead. I kept her mostly in sight and caught back up along the ridge and then left her on the downhill before the ridge aid station.
The Gridley top aid station would be visited three times here as we neared the last part of the course. It served as sort of a marker to break up the last few sections of the course: down to Gridley bottom and back up, then down to Cozy Dell and back before the final stretch to the finish. The RD was busily manning this station and was certainly the king of keeping things as light as possible as people stumbled on in various states of degradation. I told him my advice for future runners of this event which was "if you push through a bad spell at C2M you may find a good bit on the other side, don't worry, it's only temporary." He laughed and just pointed to the sign behind his head which read, "Why put on 'just another 100 miler?'" I guess that said it all.
I hooked back up with Linda here and we headed down to Gridley together. After about a mile or so I decided to let this nice grade set my speed a wee bit higher. Don said it was runnable and he was mostly right. The grade was perfect, but a couple of miles into it and the rocks pretty much kept you from really getting going. Furthermore, right before the bottom, maybe a 1/2 mile or even less, rather than finish on the nice fireroad the wonderful course designers let you know that this was never to be an easy course. The final section to the aid station was hopping down off big rocks over steep trail
Once finishing the crazy steep uphill from Rose Valley, this was the part of the course where I knew I would finish the race. That sort of confidence that says, "nothing is going to stop me now even if I have to crawl it in." The heat of the day was dissipating. The last couple of down/ups were long, but not nearly as steep as anything we had done so far. Once I reached Gridley bottom there was only 25 miles left and I would have at more than 10 hours to finish that just to make the minimum finish time of 4am. The only thing that I would have to contend with was sleepiness and general fatigue as the second night set on us. I had already decided to take a significant rest at the aid station and perhaps even a nap. This thing really seemed to be in the bag.

Gridley to Cozy Dell
(Rest leads to fun)

While they had a cot setup at the aid station, I didn't think I could sleep. I settled into a chair. It was close to 5:30pm and I decided that if the last 25 miles took me 10 hours then I shouldn't leave until around 6pm in order to finish at the designated 4am time. I'd never spent a half hour at an aid station, but I was gonna do it now. I took care of my feet a little, though not as much as I should have. I noticed a few blisters developing (probably from running down that Rose Valley road), but decided they weren't going to stop me so I let them be. Besides, I deserved a few body trophies from this race. I ate fruit, drank an Ensure nice and slowly and let everything digest. Finally, after feeling very rested and letting all my food digest, I downed a Red Bull and headed out along with Linda who had come in a little bit after me. As I headed out Chris and Rod came into the aid station both looking good and also planning to spend a little time there.
On the way out my legs felt really good. After getting past the initial tough bit of trail and onto the fireroad, I had no problem keeping with Linda on the uphill and we even "ran" a bit of it. However, even at our relatively quick pace, the six miles to the top seemed to take forever. The sun was setting and we could start to see the lights on the ridge, but they didn't seem to be getting any closer. Finally we arrived and were greeted by none other than the Easter Bunny himself now manning the aid station.

(photo by Jakob)

It was, of course, Chris (the RD) keeping things in the right mood. It wasn't quite Easter yet and I hoped to make it to the next aid station before it arrived as I knew the last section to the finish was going to be very tough. When I complained that the downhill to Gridley wasn't nearly as runnable as promised, I was told that the trail down to Cozy Dell would make up for it. There was another mile or so of climbing on the fireroad followed by more than six miles of pure downhill. It would be the longest ridge-to-bottom section since the initial one to Sisar. I felt pretty good. I have a rule that after the 3/4 point of a 100 miler, I take whatever my body will give me. If it lets me run, I will run. I didn't care too much about the uphill section and took it easy letting many people pass. I knew I was going to let it go on the downhill as my legs felt strong and I'd been looking forward to testing whether my quads would still hold out with all the downhill miles.
As the fireroad headed down I pushed a little to pass some people so I wouldn't have to do it on the upcoming single-track. It paid off because once I hit that trail, it was the most perfect downhill section of the entire race. Beautiful trail, winding gradually down the canyon. I simply leaned into it and let it fly. After a couple of miles of this perfection it transitioned to firetrail that was somewhat steeper. I let it go some more. There were only a couple of people heading up and even fewer heading down. Since I was still on pace to finish before 4am, these were all the folks who overestimated their finish times, some by hours. As I passed by a couple of guys they commented that they thought maybe Karl Meltzer was coming behind them running down the hill. I turned and said, "no, I think this is his uphill pace."
There was a little more uphill after the fireroad transitioned to trail and then road again. Just as I was busy being proud of myself for my ability to run downhill at mile 85 of a very hard course, I hit a cruddy section of the road that slowed me a bit. I heard someone coming behind me and thinking it was perhaps the guys I had just passed earlier I turned to warn them of the ruts I could see up ahead. Well, before I got even a word out, the real Karl Meltzer appeared over my right shoulder and then disappeared down below me barely seeming to touch the ground as he literally flew over this dicey section of trail. There is pretty much no way anyone could mistake my wild, rumbling downhill gait for the graceful, floating (and unbelievable speed) that just blurred past me in the middle of this night.
After that section, the trail flattened a little bit before heading back into single-track that was extremely technical and rocky. I had been warned about this section by Linda who did some reconnaissance the day before coming up from the highway where the aid station was. Running fresh and in daylight I might have challenged myself to push and have fun on this section. However, not only did it seem dangerous in general, but my focus was really starting to go. I found myself carefully picking my way over rocks and ruts as my mind and eyes darted from one direction to the next unable to maintain anything close to the laser-focus necessary to navigate technical trail at speed. Then, as quickly as he had passed me heading down, Karl appeared in front of me on his way back up. I stopped and moved off trail, but being the uphill runner he also stepped aside to let me pass. It took me about a 1/2 second of thinking "what the hell are you thinking?" before I managed to utter "no...go." He said "thanks" as he bounded back up the trail that I wasn't even able to run down at this point. I was pretty sure he and I are not even the same species. I didn't have to contemplate this depressing fact too long as I could hear the highway close ahead. The trail finished through a dry creek bed and out to the road where a short trip to the right arrived to the aid station. I asked the volunteers here if they had seen the "gazelle wearing a headlamp that had just went flying up the trail." It brought a good laugh especially from one woman whom I later learned was Karl's wife.
Obviously being able to run this downhill section late in the race was a major highlight. However, more so was just the pure pleasure of the initial switchbacks off the ridge. It was unadulterated running joy heightened by the fact that I had already completed so many hard miles. In fact, I wasn't even in a race in my mind. I was just running on a beautiful piece of trail enjoying the cool night air and wonderful mountain surroundings. That feeling of "I can run forever like this" filling the mind, body and soul. I didn't even think of the fact that I would have to return up these hills or how long it would be or any of the other concerns that might occupy my mind at this point in the race. So often in a race, especially a long one, the various mind games that I play to distract myself from the pain of the moment or how long I have to go, keep me from simply appreciating the immediate experience. It is a rare treat to be able to enjoy the simple pleasure that brought me to trail running in the first place.

Cozy Dell to Finish
(Here's where things get interesting)

This section had concerned me from the moment I saw the profile. Facing 9 miles of almost complete uphill with nearly 90 miles already on the legs seemed a daunting prospect. In the moment, this was not my thought at all. I was leaving the aid station after taking in some extra fuel and hydration for what I expected to be a long trip, but I knew I was going to finish the race. I expected at least three hours to reach the ridge so I also loaded my pack with some food for the trail. It wasn't even midnight yet so I had enough time to take this last section as slow as I needed to. I just needed to keep moving. What could be so hard about that?
The initial couple of miles was fine. I remembered all the technical stuff and expected it to go slow. I eventually made it back to the fire road heading up the hill. One of the disadvantages of my running this section down at speed was that my recollection of the distance was completely distorted. This road could not have been this long on the way down. It just kept going and going and I don't remember it being nearly this steep. The only saving grace was the number of people I met heading down. I saw Chris and Rod, Craig and Leslie and Fred. They all looked to being doing well. The only person missing was Harry. After what seemed an eternity the single-track arrived. I was once again faced with a major disconnect between my recollection and the actual distance of this trail. This is where the final difficulties surfaced. The trail was not steep, but my pace was slowing. The general fatigue of being in the middle of my second night without sleep were weighing heavy. Furthermore, my feeling labored and any extra effort brought about a coughing fit. At one point I remember sitting down on a rock to get something out of my pack. As I was leaning over my pack, my head started to droop, my eyes closed and I caught myself just as I was about to doze off. The only thing that I could do here was focus on the fundamentals. I ate some, I kept drinking, I talked to myself in my head repeating my mantra of "any movement is better than no movement."
I don't actually remember reaching the ridge and I don't remember when they came up behind me, but at some point on the ridge fire road a few 100K runners caught up. I chatted a little as we headed up and over the climb to Gridley Top. They left me as my climbing pace was a total slog. However, at the peak, I found my legs again and decided I would give one last big run down that mile to the aid station. Again, it felt so good, though I knew it probably meant I would not have anything left for the final descent. It didn't matter as once I reached there would be less than 4 miles remaining after this and even if I walked the entire final stretch at a very slow pace I would still probably arrive "too early". At the aid station, I knew what I needed at this point. Just as at Javelina, soup, mostly broth was the final order. I didn't dally too long as I wanted to start on the mile and a half of uphill that I knew would seem much longer. However, I had fought through the biggest mental struggle so the rest was simply auto-pilot to the finish. The last ridge section did seem long, but mainly because I just wanted to be on the final trail heading down.
When I finally reached the trail it seemed so foreign having headed up it more than 30 hours past. It was more technical and less runnable than I recalled and, as usual, it was longer. I think I had mentally "finished" the race upon arriving at this trail so it seemed like it was taking its time getting down to the valley. The temperature was dropping as I headed down, but I didn't want to stop so I remained in short sleeves and no gloves. The whole way down all I remember thinking about was my sleeping bag waiting in the tent. Finally on flat ground, I could hear the voices and cheers coming from The Ranch. However, I am pretty sure that we didn't wind around so much down here on the way out. Then I saw a creek to my left, then the pond and then the road. Shuffling along I could see the lights and people milling about. Someone in the distance said something about "runner" and I realized they were talking about me. With no energy to pick up the pace I just shuffled it on in crossing the finish line at a hair over 33 1/2 hours from the time that I left two days prior.
Completely exhausted in every possible way, I just stumbled around for a bit. I eventually realized I needed to get warm so I went to the tent. I grabbed my clothes as I wanted to clean up before crawling into my sleeping bag. The shower was in use so I just cleaned in the sink. As I went to put my clothes on, I realized that they all felt wet. My heart sank. My sleep pants felt OK and the fleece we got from the race seemed fine so that's all I put on. I then took my sleeping bag and sat by the fire. Despite my fatigue, I knew that sleep would not be immediate. A slice of pizza and a few other folks finishing and I headed into the tent and was immediately out.
There always seems to be a defining moment near the end of these races where there is one last battle to be had before I am allowed to complete my task. On that last climb to the ridge I literally had to will myself to keep moving. I never have visual hallucinations, but what goes on inside my mind generally suffices. I remember asking my wife if I could use her voice to tell myself to "dig deep." I remember getting upset with myself for negative thoughts and scolding myself saying things like, "come on, are you an ultra runner or not? do you think those negative thoughts will give you an excuse? you know what to do." However, overall, the strangest thing was the realization that I truly was thinking of myself as in the third-person. Not just in my mental speech, but in reality. At some point I realized that I believed that I was feeding and giving fluids to someone outside of me. I was asking myself questions such as, "is he drinking enough? is it time to give a salt pill? maybe he's taking too much water." It was completely sub-conscious and when I eventually realized that I was doing it all I could think was "huh, what was that about?" In the end, whatever impulse it was that drove me to separate my mind and body into two separate people working together, it helped me get up that final hill and through the second night.

As expected my attempt to keep this race report to anything resembling a reasonable length has completely failed. So, I might was well finish the tale of the rest of the day. I must have slept deeply, but not for very long. I don't remember Chris coming into the tent at all and he said I was snoring like crazy. However, about a half hour later I darted awake. The sun was coming up and I thought I had slept more than I had so I stumbled out of the tent. Drop bags had arrived so I layered on all of the warm clothing that I had put in them and sat by the fire again. I remember being surprised that people were still coming in. No matter, I was awake so I enjoyed the morning. I got to see old and new friends finish this beast and I waited around for breakfast. We had a scare as nobody knew where Harry was, but he had dropped at mile 80 after falling asleep on the trail and was still resting peacefully in the back of his car. Eventually everyone collected near the finish for a really great breakfast and awards ceremony. These guys really do put on a full-featured event. I didn't participate in the pre-event activities, but it was nice to have lunch before and then breakfast after the race seeing everyone transition from their before and after selves. I usually swear off repeating a race immediately after finishing, but this race I felt more certain than any on not attempting a repeat performance. Of course, as Harry has to return I will admit that the thought somehow slipped back into my mind on the drive home. Hmm...knowing about the various climbs, could I plan them better? Would it be less daunting with full knowlege of how tough it would be ahead of time? All in all, it was a really great event and I definitely felt, as Chris put it, that I "had nothing to prove after that one!"


Meltzer said...

Well said Steve, yah kinda long but I enjoyed every minute of it, especially the Gazelle commment. It might have looked like a gazelle, but that was a goat! Like the blog man, good stuff! Speedgoat Karl

SLB said...

Great report and race. Can I borrow your wife's voice for my race this weekend?

Out of interest how long did you Garmin go for?

Eudemus said...

Wow, thanks for the feedback Karl. Glad you liked the report. You are definitely the speediest goat on the mountain. I still can't figure out how your navigated that extremely dicey trail at the bottom of Cozy Dell, at speed in the dark. Very inspiring!

miki said...

Holy crap, it just took me 2 days to just scroll down your entry. I think I'll have to wait until summer vacation to read it. :)

Eudemus said...

SLB, thanks for the feedback. The Garmin battery lasted much longer than I expected. It made it over 14 hrs (about 48 miles). The only reasons I can come up for the longer time are that it was around my water bottle rather than my wrist (I've heard that sweat on the contacts can drain it faster) and I was moving very slowly so maybe it took far fewer samples per minute.

miki said...

Okay read it. Great great report. Congratulations ultrarunner. Amazing stuff.

Eudemus said...

Thanks Miki. Glad you were able to get through it (and liked it)! I feel like maybe there should be a prize at the end for anyone who reads one of my long race reports. :-)

Anonymous said...

Excellent race report. I enjoyed talking to you at the Gridley Bottom aid station and seeing you coming up Cozy Dell looking strong.

Hope to see you out there on a trail once again soon.

Jakob Herrmann

Andy B. said...

Wonderful report Steve - it confirms what I've read and heard from others that this event was a lot of fun and well organized. Sounds like you were well prepared and had a good race plan, and were able to stick to it. Congratulations!

I think I may be putting this one on my "to do" list.

Anonymous said...

Excellent report, Steve. I really liked how you laid it out with the sections, the elevation charts, and the summaries. It was nice running with you for the first night too!