Monday, August 20, 2012

I Saw Waldo and Waldo Won! This Time!!!

This is what Waldo Lake looks like from Fuji Mountain on slightly cloudy morning of August 18, 2012.  It's also my only glimpse of the lake from about 7000 feet that I would get during the race.

This is a short blog about my Waldo, my first 100K race, where the geographic ups and downs mapped pretty close to the rise and fall of my mind against the body.  This is the race where my body and Waldo won, this time.

Of course, the term race for me is a bit of a misnomer unless I view it as my competition against the clock, that arbitrary time from when the race starts to when the race directors say wrap it up or in the case of Waldo the race where the body tells the brain you can't have anymore, you're done.

Yes, I'm a back of the pack average ultrarunner and the mind and body are sometimes at odds with each other.  I try to balance my modicum of capability with the challenge at hand.  I think I can safely say the Waldo 100K is a worthy challenge mentally and physically.

So it was I took the 3AM start to be safe so that I could hit all the cutoffs.  Thankfully I managed to hit all the cut offs with minutes to spare.  A little over 12 hours earlier the race director, Craig Thornley, did the countdown I was breathing easily, but I was feeling a bit odd for a early morning start.  This was the earliest I'd ever started a run of any length that started in the dark.

Fortunately, I'd done a night run with Mike Rosling a few days earlier and realized I needed fresh batteries and made sure I had a good backup lite just in case.  Running in the dark guided only by the runners ahead and a few well placed reflective tapes narrows the focus, it's where do I put my feet and why don't I see any tape.  Sometimes, I'd catch a glimpse of a head lamp in the dark or see a piece of tape laying on the ground, somewhat reassured I was heading in the right direction.

After the start we head uphill for the first two miles mostly hiking up the road and out of Willamette pass ski resort.  It feels odd to be in the top 10-15 runners and I think how odd it feels to be running ahead of so many other great runners.  Then reality strikes and I remind myself that I will soon have the pleasure of getting passed by a bunch of really fast people in about four hours or so.  But for just a little while I pretend I'm one of the front runners and it feels good.

Heading down towards the Gold Lake campground I glance at my pace and think it's a bit fast.  Sub-12 minute pace wasn't on my mental math card, but I feel like I should take advantage of the gravity assist and hope I don't trip.  A short time later I trip and fall, the first of many mind / body disconnects.  I decide to keep pressing as long as my heart rate and breathing are reasonable.  Check and check, easy breathing, HR less than 130.

At one point I see a big pile of brown stuff, side step it, and think "Bear", then I think how about we think "Horse" and the heart rate drops back into normalcy.  This is during a time when there's no runners in sight.  It's with relief I see the signs for Gold Lake campground and have to remind myself to slow down and enjoy this first stop before the climb up to Fuji.  Todd Miller wishes me good luck and it's too dark to see his face, but I thank him and the other great volunteers awake at too dark to see anything AM.

Next stop Fuji Mtn Aid station.  Heading up the mountain trail, I'm starting to get passed by quite a few runners.  I decide I need to set my own pace and let them go.  I'm looking forward to William "Pain Train" Williams words of wisdom.  Mike told me he'd be directing traffic somewhere on the trail.  Pretty soon I see someone sitting on the uphill side of the trail saying to take a left.  It's William and he says "take it easy".  I'm thinking does he mean I should be walking.  'cause that's what I think it means.  I try to translate into William's 'take it easy' and I'm remembering his birthday bash up at the North Santiam with Levi, Mike, and a few of his other running buddies, 'cause that easy was my barely able to breathe easy.

I decide he must have meant walk and adjust accordingly.  Easy took me just over three hours to cover the 12.4 miles from Willamette Pass through Gold Lake campground and up the Fuji Mtn trail.  Happy days only 3 more hills to climb and 53 miles to go.  Piece of cake.

I have to remind myself I didn't have a drop bag at this aid station, decide it's light enough to drop my headlamp, grab some watermelon, and head for the top.  It seems easier for some reason as compared to the run Mike, Samuel, and I had done a few days before in the daylight.

At the top I asked one of the Ham radio guys to snag a couple pictures of me with the lake in the background with my iPhone, (which by the way weighs too much to be lugging around for the couple pictures I got).  But, regardless I think I like the first one he took the best.  I think it shows the real me, that's me in blue, it shows me a little lite-headed, but glad I get some downhill running.

The downhill is definitely better and I see where the other runners are.  I feel like downhill is one of my "strengths", at least compared to uphill, flat, and technical stuff.  I gain on a few people and hope I feel this good on the next climb.

I hit the aid station, get some water and Gu brew, (which I now don't like anymore), mentally note how much I really appreciate the volunteers, say my heartfelt thanks and head on down the trail.

William gives me some more good advise about running easy and consistent, I love it when I see this guy running or volunteering, I can't help but be motivated.  I hope he had plenty of mosquito repellant, 'cause I could feel them attacking the backs of my arms and legs.  As part punishment, the mind decided no DEET and no sunscreen.  Of course, it was all based on science, partly cloudy, light sprinkles.  The mosquito's would be holed up somewhere staying nice and dry, right.  Hmmmm, the body would repay in kind.  There's a little rise after passing William, that's a bit of a chore, but fortunately I was distracted by some loud crashing behind me, I glanced back and saw this huge animal in the trees, fortunately not running towards me.  It was an Elk one of the few animals I saw during the whole run, aside from chipmunks and mosquitos.  That took my mind off the hill and got me onto a good downhill section.

I remember stopping at a small creek and rinsing my face and the 5AM lead runner blows by.  I think I better get moving. A little later I think I do a nice little side step to let Timothy Olson go by , he zips by and says "nice".  I watch in slow motion as he two steps across two boulders and on down the trail.  It takes me four steps and a bunch of pre-zigs and post-zags to cover the same space.  I gave some thought as to how I could reproduce that technique, patent it, and sell it for a trillion dollars.  Then I decided I better get moving and start some mental calculations, if a Gimpy man is running at an average pace of 13 minutes per miles with a two hour head start how long will it take a lanky Mike "The speedster" Rosling traveling at 8 minutes / mile to catch up with the Gimpy man.

Answer:  Not very long, my son took a pic of him around mile 20ish and the next picture was of me and he had a 6 minute lead on me.  I felt like he'd just passed me a mile before.

I'm still feeling good at this point, I like my speed and my time.  Sipping water, Gu brew, and eating at all the aid stations.  That was the plan and I'm following it.  Finishing looks good, done with the first 20, 45 to go.  There's been a light rain and I chat on the road what feels like the perfect snails pace.  That's a good sign.  This must be that 'Easy and consistent' William was talking about.

Now the fun begins, two hills down three to go.

The "Twins" aid station volunteers are awesome. There's Frank and Gabi from Corvallis, cheering me in and feel great.  I can't believe how good I feel.  Someone asks if I want some broth and I think that sounds good.  I snag some pototes dipped in salt.  I glance up and there's Bret Henry.  This is a good sign I'm running with Bret, his times from previous years were right on for where I want to run.  I snag some watermelon and think I better get on up the trail.  Water vest is full, Gu brew in the bottle and I'm off.  I've been doing my regular Gel's and think it's time for some more.

Uh-oh that doesn't feel right, before I know it I'm off the trail, one-two-three steps.  Mount Hood 45 mile repeat.  The body says whatever you did by not putting on sun screen and mosquito repellant, I'm not taking anymore of your food or drink.  The stomach rebels.  1-2-3 and Bret goes by and I'm thinking he's thinking that guys not going to make it.  I try to block out those thoughts and think reset.  If I start all over, a little Gu, a little sip.  I've got maybe two miles of feeling good before I crash.  I felt better for a couple miles at Mt Hood.  What can I do to change things up in the next two miles.  Answer: Mint Chocolate Gu.  A little, now a little sip.  Walk, go slow, you can recover there's plenty of time.

I'm not down yet, let's take it slow.  I get the Gu down and more water.  Now I just want to get to the next aid station.  It will be tough but just keep moving.  I can't believe I'm sweating just writing about this.  Charlton Aid comes and I snag some ginger cookies and shot blocks from my drop bag.  Decide I better switch to Coke, sugar-caffeine, that's got to be better than just water.  I read somewhere about a runner who was always throwing up during ultras and they switched to drinking defizzed soda, got switch things up.  Slow and steady, slow and steady.  Heading out of Charlton Aid I think this is the most beautiful lake I've ever seen.  I could camp here, I should camp here, I should find a place right now and camp here.  That's got to be the body talking.

The body wanted this, the mind said haha sucker you had your chance and it's not working.  Say goodbye to Charlton lake, three of five hills are done, two to go.  I said good-bye and head up to "Road 4290" aid station.  That's the last bag drop, what's there that might help.  I still haven't eaten the shot blocks or the cookies, I don't think I have anything else in the bags that will help.

I'm walking, but at a good pace.  I can still make it, if I can just get some food in.  Nothing, make it to Road 4290 on Coke, but it's starting to taste too sweet.  What to do?  Have a seat, and I do.  I empty the trail debris from my shoes, adjust my socks, and think maybe Sprite and ice.  I hear an aid station volunteer is to help, but encourage us to keep moving, I know it's not directed at me, but I still think yes, I better get moving.  Thankfully, the guy that won the "show me your Waldo" just shows up and does a haiku for the volunteers, I'm envious.  He hands out candy and is gone, I douse my head with ice water and head on down the trail.  Oblivious to the next climbs demands.

This is where I get the bright idea to turn on some music, Andrew, (my son), loaned my his small ipod full of music.  It put one earpiece in and turn it on.  It helps shift my focus from how tired I am to the music, I tried to concentrate on the words, the beat, the temp, and get my feet moving in sync.  Sometimes I get it and then occasionally I'm reminded how tired I'm getting.  Another sip, one sip at a time.  The "Twins" trail is a grind, the toughest so far.  I feel like I'm crawling, I could be laying down and moving faster it seems.

I still have enough will power to keep plugging along, I force myself to look around, keep seeing the meadows, the trees, the water, other runners/hikers.  I see I couple of guys and I'm gaining on them.  It turns out they are sitting down.  A little while later they pass me and then they are sitting down again.  This wasn't good, cause now the body is saying see that they get to sit down, that's what you should do.  How about that tree, nope it's got a limb sticking out of it, not comfortable.  OK how about that one?  Nope it is rotting and might collapse.  Sip some Sprite, uh-oh don't sip, sup, or think about eating or drinking. How about you sit on that log? Yeah that looks real comfortable, how about you lay down on this log?  I can't I have my running vest on.  Mind vs body, the body is arguing for rest, the mind to get up and move it.

I finally willed myself up and made to the next tree, all my good works, sipping soda will come to not save watering the plants.  Whoo hoo! two more miles of feeling good, take that body.  I feel good enough to move and I gotta take advantage.  Well it wasn't two miles, but it got me moving.  I knew it wasn't a good sign, but I also was starting to see the top of the Twins in the distance.  This is the fourth hill, I'm gonna make it.  I'm seeing again, the sky is sure blue, and it's warm again.  I know I'm moving slow, but I get that slow and steady now.  I made it to the top and I want to ever so bad run, jog, speed walk the downs.  I can't the body is grinding to a halt.  The mile to the aid station drags on and feels more like two, but I hear some bells and hooting.  There's Gabi and Frank, David Elsbernd sprays me down with water.  You couldn't ask for a  better bunch of volunteers.  But I'm spent and I let them know it. I want to get up, but I gotta have some food or drink.  I eat four little pieces of water melon and wait.  I sip some water and wait, I chew some ice and wait.

I finally glance at my watch and I think this aid station is going to close soon, I need to get moving.  Frank Schnekenburger is encouraging to get moving and I agree.  I gotta get going.  He threatens to have Gabi come talk to me and I use it as an excuse to move.  I can't believe how much motivation I got from this group.  I wished I could bottle it, I know I would have made it to the finish.  I didn't mean it Gabi when I said I wouldn't let you give me a IV at the end of the race, I think I could have used it at The Twins, maybe I would have had a better shot at finishing.

Even so, I trotted out of the aid station, feeling better, but soon was down to a walk.  There's the road and 3/4 of a mile I needed to make a decision.  Keep going to the next aid station, hit 50 miles, and drop or call it quits.  Dropping early is always a tough decision, one I've never had to make before.  I knew some day I might need to make it and Waldo was definitely a worthy opponent to call "Uncle".  So be it, Waldo's my uncle.  I got one nice pic of me and Uncle Waldo, but unfortunately pictures of Waldo from "The Twins" and Maiden Peak will have to wait for another time.

Waldo for me was more than a geographic challenge, yes the climbs are tough, the miles seem longer, but this is a beautiful and worthy trail course.  The volunteers are amazing, the race directors top notch.  I was thankfully saved the higher temperatures and treated to some amazing life experiences and new places to revisit.  I had the joy of my son Andrew crewing for me and that was one of the most rewarding aspects of Waldo.

Andrew gave me a ride into the finish line and I turned my number "230" into Craig Thornley as my first "DNF".  I shall miss you 230, Waldo, you made me say "who's your uncle" and it is you.  But I feel better slogging it out from mile 27 - 42, pushed myself more than ever before and take away some very good memories.

In particular, sitting with my son at the finish line.  Seeing Larry Stephens finish and wishing it was me, that delicious veggies soup and hamburger, and losing my glasses in the restroom and finding them at the aid station with Todd Jansen a few minutes later.

Finding Mike and his mom, letting him know he wouldn't have to wait until I finished.  Mike as always put it on the line and finished an amazing 10th, under 12 hours.  He's one inspirational guy how always runs from the heart.

Thanks Andrew, Mike, William, Frank, Gabi, Scott, Todd, David, Jared 1 and 2, and all the Waldo volunteers and RD's.  What a great experience and inspirations one and all.  Hope to see you all next year.

Oh Waldo, I did not know you, but I know you better.  I saw you once and hope to see you again next year along with those three big peaks above 7000 ft.  Mind and body working as one, Team Gimpy.

Woot! Woot! Woot!

Until then, Let's go Gimpy, Time to run!!!

Next stop, McKenzie River 50K...

This should be called the Waldo 100K (105K) as the Waldo course was modified this year due to several fires around Willamette pass and in particular near Bobby Lake.  It ultimately resulted in a few added miles and some "minor" changes to the course.  I wished I could have seen the whole thing, but had to drop around mile 45, officially "The Twins" aid station at mile 42.


Saturday, August 4, 2012

Mt Hood PCT 50: Improvements noted, hopefully more to come

     July weather brings blue sky and warm sunny days, a great time to be running.  Arriving the day before the Mt Hood PCT 50, the chipmunks, crickets, and beetles were oblivious to the running that was about to happen in a little over 12 hours.  It's a great wonder that nature offers up such a nice a pallet for trail running and for me getting out on the trails provides the opportunity to see Oregon at it's finest.

This July heading up to Clackamas Historic Ranger Station I was looking forward to a good 50 mile challenge.  This would be Gimpy's third 50 mile ultra since 2011.

After scouting out a place to park for the night, I wandered down to the start finish area and thought about the last minute details for the run and aid stations.

The Clackamas Meadow was gorgeous as the sun started to set.   I snagged a couple pictures of the meadow/lake with flowers in bloom, with a good night's sleep, Gimpy's 2nd Mt Hood 50 mile run was about to begin.

The Gimpy goals for the Mt Hood PCT 50 held July 28, 2012 were:

1) Run under 11 hours
2) Qualify for Western States (WS100)
3) Run faster than 2011
4) Finish with a smile

These are not necessarily the goals of the elite or speedy runner, but simply an average runner looking for incremental improvements on tougher and tougher ultra challenges, hoping someday to complete a hundred miler.

I knew going in to the run that the first two goals were a bit aggressive given the significant amount of time improvement needed to hit the 11 hour goal as compared to 12 hours 29 min in 2011.

I knew it was going to take significant reduction in mile times of 1:00 - 1:30 minutes / mile for the first 28 miles and over 2:30 minutes / mile for the last 22 miles to hit sub-11 hours.  It was definitely a daunting task.

Starting the run at 6:30AM, the morning started cool, the trail dusty, but for me the pace quite reasonable.  I had my new Garmin 910XT and heart rate monitor hoping to get a full run recorded.  In 2011, the old Garmin 110 had failed at 6 hours in 2011, barely past the return to the 28 mile start finish line.  As it turned out the satellite signal failed at mile 14 (Frog Lake) and it didn't recover until I turned the watch off and back on at the start finish line.  Technology has it's frustrating bits.  So for better or worse, I only used the heart rate and time for the first 28 miles.

The watch was a distraction, but I knew I'd get to see the speedsters and almost everyone else a couple times for the two out and backs and I hoped I'd get some motivation to keep the pace up to meet my goals.

The pace to Timothy Lake was good for me, but a bit bunched up in places.  I kept monitoring the heart rate and keeping it under 140.  I wondered where I'd pass the lead runners and early starters on my way up to Frog Lake.  A short time later, sure enough Ian Sherman and Mike "Shave and Haircut" Rosling were tearing up the course as I passed them heading back to the start finish area.  The two went on to 1st and 2nd place looking like the whole thing was but a walk in the park.  Bret Henry, someone who'd been running about my speed passed me some time earlier, but I decided not to try and keep up with him and rely on the heart rate as a indication of the right pace for a stronger finish than 2011.  I'm glad I didn't as he went on to shave a huge chunk of time off his own times which so far have been consistently under 11 hours.

Not long after the lead runners went by, I got some new motivation, when William "Pain Train heading for the Plain 100" Swint, Levi "1st Ultra" Wilson, and John "Get it done" Asman came rumbling by clearing the trail of root and stone.  I know this had to be the case since Gimpy did not trip, fall, or otherwise crash and burn for the entire race.

I had thought I'd try to finish the first 28 miles in about 5:30 and was pleasantly surprised when I rolled in around 5:15.  I thought wow, now can I finish the last 22 without the dead mans walk repeat of 2011.  This would be tough though since I wouldn't have my sister to pace me in to the finish this year.

Not having the Garmin in top form actually seemed to work to my advantage for awhile as I felt pretty good still going up to Red Wolf Pass aid station. I didn't start feeling the heat until I was heading up the first big hill.  The downhill sections felt fast, even though in reality they weren't as fast as I'd need.

Gimpy made a number of mistakes along the way.  I wore the vest for the first 28 miles, but for lapse of brain function or something, consistently underfilled it at the aid stations and ran out twice before getting back to the ranger station.  Otherwise, I continued to get enough Gu in every 30 minutes.

The other mistake came in the second half when I didn't get enough solid food in.  I'd switched to bottles so I could see how much fluid I had and refilled at all aid stations, but continued with just gummy bears and gels.  I felt good and was running all the downhills and most of the flats.  Heading up to the Warm Springs Meadow aid station I started feeling the heat and the distance.  They'd also moved the aid station down the road a bit further.  I was pleasantly surprised that I hadn't resorted to any Coke, which is usually a sign I'm running out of energy for the long runs.

I don't know if it was the melted gummy bears at the previous aid station or just one drink too many, but right after the final aid station at Red Wolf Pass I got about 150 meters and decided I better take one more Gu, sip some water before the finish, but almost immediately had to step off the trail and do the ole heave ho. One, two, three and hmmm, I actually feel pretty good.  The whole experience reminded me of something Mike had told me that he felt a lot better after he upchucked in a previous run.  That good feeling lasted a solid two miles.  I was rockin' 11:30's, which for me is solid at 45+ miles.  Unfortunately, I couldn't get any food or drink in me and nothing seemed good.

So Mr dead man's walk, I'd ran out of energy.  Mentally the best I could do was relentless forward progress at turtle pace, the beetles were walking faster than I was.  Two miles to go, not good for 11 hours.The eight horses going by was a nice distraction, especially the one that tried to kick me got my attention.  I learned that if you don't want a horse to kick you, you should greet it like in Harry Potter and the Hippogrif.  Bow low and say Hi.  Well that's what 48 miles makes me think about, that and the riders kept telling me to say hi.  I can't remember how many times I said Hi, I was too tired to recall.

I kept looking for the sign out of the reservation and finally the 1/2 mile sign to the ranger station.  At that point mentally I got jogging and finished in what on film looks like a walk, but I felt like I was sprinting.  Regardless 50 miles done, Boom!!!

Knocked off a solid 1 hour 8 minutes the 2011 time.  Apparently I needed to leave a little room for next years improvements.

The aid stations were well stocked and the volunteers were all smiles and very helpful.  I like the way Todd Jansen organizes the run and the post-run burger is great, even though I couldn't eat a thing for a couple hours.  Much appreciation to the Long Run Picture company for snapping pictures all day long.  Wouldn't have much to record the finish without them.  Nice work and many thanks for a great run experience.  

Mt Hood PCT 50M Ultra trail run - Gimpy's Run Numbers

Year  1st (28 miles)  2nd (22 miles)  Full (50 miles)
2011    5 hr 38 min     6 hr 51 min      12 hr 29 min
2012    5 hr 15 min     6 hr 05 min      11 hr 21 min
Diff           - 22 min          - 46 min      - 1 hr 08 min

How'd we get here.  Well 2012 running has been better, with some longer miles over the year and thanks to Mike, Eric, Tonya, and William a bunch more hills compared to last year.

These longer hillier training runs and a few more 50K+ races this year prior to Mt Hood resulted in much better preparation:
Feb 2012: Hagg Lake 50K              (6:26:12)
Apr 2012: Peterson Ridge 40M       (7:43:40)
May 2012: McDonald Forest 50K  (6:55:52)
July 2012:  Mt Hood PCT 50M      (11:20:45)

So far a solid run year.

I've still got a few more runs planned this year:
Waldo 100K (Finish goal - sub-18 hours)
McKenzie River 50K (Finish with a smile)
Flagline 50K (Better than last year)

Waldo is unlikely to result in a Western States 100M qualifying time (15 hours), not likely and the remaining 50K's go toward the Oregon Ultra Series.

The more I consider where things stand this year, I think it's better I didn't get qualify for Western States.  So much of running ultra's is mental.

I've learned a lot more about what it takes to run the longer distances and I don't think I've had enough hills and miles and mental prep needed to be successful in a race like Western States (<30 hours).

Even so, the judges have spoken and there inputs entered into the new Gimpy Run Improvement Time Scale (GRITS).  The results indicate the year to year improvement for Mt Hood PCT 50 rates 8 out of 10.

Looking forward to more good running at Waldo, McKenzie, Mt Batchelor, and seeing more Oregon trail ultra treasures.

As always, I wouldn't be running as well this year if it wasn't for some really nice people who keep encouraging me to never quit and to try new tougher trails, like William, Eric, Mike, Derek, Gene, Samuel, and now Tonya (Mike's wife).  Well and of course my alter ego Gimpy, who keeps me honest and takes the blame for all my faults and short comings.

Happy running...

Can't wait for the next big run...

Let's Go Gimpy, Time to Run!!!