Sunday, September 25, 2016

Mountain Lakes 100 -- 23:34:14


I successfully completed my second 100 miler, covering the 100.95 miles of trails in Mount Hood National Forest in 23 hours 34 minutes. I found this race to be very difficult and I'm grateful to have finished, happy and uninjured.

Mostly, everything went really well -- I had no stomach or digestive troubles; I drank plenty of water and didn't get dehydrated; the weather was cold (40F) in the early morning, but I kept moving steadily and was never uncomfortably cold; my feet held up OK and I never took off my shoes or had to deal with blisters; my pacer, Dan Rhodes, was totally awesome and provided a great uplifting morale boost for the last 45 miles; traveling with friends Rebekah and Alan made the logistics super-easy.

Yet still, this race chewed me up! I became very sore as time went on, and I found the terrain to be generally difficult with tens of thousands of rocks and tripping hazards. Still, I'm happy I did it and I'm thinking I'm willing to give this distance another shot.

Why Mountain Lakes?

Word had spread through my running club (Coastside Running Club) about this race. My friend Norm was going to sign up for it, and then Amanda said she'd run it as a 40th birthday celebration. One of our members, John, ran it in 2015. I was disappointed in myself with my failed attempt at Javelina Jundred the previous year, so, I thought I would give this distance another shot and the race seemed to offer the right amount of challenge -- 100.95 miles long with 10,800' of elevation gain. On the downside, it was not a Western States qualifier, but I was OK with that. As it turned out, Norm and Amanda did not enter the race, but another running club friend, Rebekah, did, which I was very happy about. Rebekah and her boyfriend Alan and I traveled together and shared a rental car, which made the logistics much easier for me. Thanks, you two!


On the positive side:

  • I had a really solid 69 mile race across England called The Wall, at the end of June.
  • I had a decent 50 miler, Siskyou Outback 50 Mile, at the end of July.
  • My peak training week was right around 100 miles for a six day period.

On the downside, I was mostly running only around 60 miles a week, and I was having a difficult time scheduling long runs. My longest training run was 32 miles and it was awful -- I had been attempting 40 miles but came down with leg cramps at mile 32 and (for the first time I can recall) had to call for a ride.

In the weeks leading up to the race, I was quite busy between my paying job and my volunteering. Two weekends before the race, I spent the weekend working Tahoe 200, at the Sierra-at-Tahoe aid station at mile 63. Then the next weekend, I spent pretty much the entire weekend helping out with the Half Moon Bay International Marathon. I was a bit stressed about not being prepared for my race and I was looking forward to having a good long weekend of running, as a way of decompressing!

A couple of days before the race, I put together a spreadsheet with a best-case finish time of under 21 hours. I knew this was an improbably fast time, but I needed to tell Dan (my pacer) the absolute fastest time that I would arrive at mile 55. I wish I had taken the time to work out a 23 hour finish time. I had simply estimated 10 minutes per mile for the downhills and 14 minutes per mile for the uphills, and with a couple of minutes of breaks (for water, food, and bathroom stops) on each leg of the journey between aid stations (about every 6 miles). Oh, well, I printed out the schedule and taped it to my water bottle.

The One Bad Shoe

While standing in the security line at SFO, on my way to catch a flight to Portland, I noticed a problem with my right running shoe. It had a 1" rip in the fabric between the upper and lower parts of the shoe. Yikes!

I had worn these shoes in three big races going back to April, plus plenty of training runs. I got mad at myself for not checking the shoes more carefully before the trip. These were the only pair of shoes I brought!

I imagined what 100 miles of running and hiking might do to this tear -- maybe my whole shoe would fall apart? I texted Rebekah to ask her opinion. She was already in Portland and she asked what size shoe I wear and what brand I wanted. She and Alan were going to hunt for a replacement! Sweet! I texted Dan to get his opinion -- "duct tape will do in a pinch" and I should keep the new shoes in a drop bag just in case. Good advice. When I arrived in Portland, Rebekah and Alan picked me up and she handed me a box of brand new Hoka One One Challenger ATR 2 shoes! (For my future reference, they were size 12.5.) They fit perfectly!

After I took the photo with the flash, later that day, I realized that only the thin fabric had torn, and that the strong supportive straps were fine. The tear didn't grow and the shoe did fine for the whole race. Still, I said goodbye to them in Portland and came home with my new Hokas.

While waiting for my flight, I recognized the prolific ultrarunner Mark Tanaka. We chatted for a bit. He was on the same flight and was running the race, too! Cool!

The Last Night and Morning

Alan, Rebekah, and I found a good restaurant on the third try, after touring Portland for a while. I went with my old standby of spaghetti and marinara sauce. Rebekah had the same except with a bunch of meatballs in order to get more protein. We were still a bit hungry and Alan spied a frozen yogurt shop across the street.... yummy!

We set our alarms for 3:15am, in order to have time to drive 2.5 hours to the starting area in order to pick up our bibs and to be ready for the 8am start. Rebekah offered me an over-the-counter sleep medication that contained diphenhydramine. Getting a good night's sleep the night before a hundred mile race is really important, and I knew I was likely to toss and turn and fret over stupid things. Being sleepy was the worst part of my experience in my first hundred miler. So, I took two pills, thanked her and bid them goodnight. I did toss and turn for a bit, mainly because my legs were restless (I needed to run!) but somehow the 8+ hours slipped by and I was in deep sleep when the alarm went off. I apparently got a solid 7+ hours of sleep! Nice!

We were on our way at 4am, with Alan doing the driving. (Thanks, Alan!) Mount Hood National Forest is quite remote and I had not been able to find any closer hotels. Still, it takes a while for food to digest, and so eating breakfast during the drive, about 3.5 hours before the race start, was fine.

After finding a parking spot (which wasn't easy), I enjoyed the stunning scenery of Olallie Lake with Mount Jefferson in the background. This must be the most beautiful start/finish line of any race. It was just ridiculously pretty with gorgeous pink skies during the sunrise.

I did some last minute planning for my drop-bags. I was concerned about being warm enough during the night, especially if I got injured. I was also concerned about staying warm after finishing. At the last minute, Rebekah encouraged me to put my warm green cotton cap in with my mile 55 drop-bag which ended up being important to helping me stay warm. I didn't end up using my thin jacket or pants. Also, at the last minute, I decided to put both of my headlamps in my mile 26 drop-bag, which proved to be very useful.

I felt a bit thirsty and my Nuun electrolyte tab had fully dissolved in my water bottle, and it tasted so good, I drank the whole thing. Unlike a 50K or marathon or shorter race, I was not remotely concerned about having to pee during the race. In fact, I wanted to be well-hydrated.

The Race

A few minutes after 8am, we were off!

I settled in with Rebekah for an easy run around Lake Olallie. The forest was pretty and I simply tried to enjoy the experience and to be slow and relaxed. We were quick to walk on the gentle uphills, knowing that we needed to save our muscles and energy for the long journey ahead.

At some point, I needed to pee (this would become a ridiculously common need as the day and night wore on), and Rebekah left me behind.

I chatted with others and warmed up as the miles wore on. I eventually arrived at the first aid station, about 3 minutes ahead of my optimistic 20 hour 49 minute goal time. Slow down!

I started feeling a warm spot on the sides of my neck where my vest rubs a little bit. I had forgotten to put Body Glide there! I figured it was well worth a couple of minutes to dig the small stick of Body Glide I was carrying from my pack and apply it. I'm glad I did because I didn't get any chafing on these spots for the rest of the race.

There's a long fast easy decent of 1600' to the next aid station, Powerline. I tried not to go crazy and to take it easy. I averaged 9:14 per mile (moving pace) on these 6.1 miles, which would be the fastest leg of the race for me. I almost caught up to Rebekah but then I had to pee again!

I made another quick stop at Powerline, filling up both 20oz water bottles for the longest and most difficult leg of the race -- 9.35 miles, 2631' of elevation gain, and 722' of decent. I was 8 minutes ahead of my optimistic goal, but I was OK with that considering how easy the running had been.

Rebekah! I and another guy (triathlete, first ultramarathon race!) slowly caught up to her and a couple of other runners. Eventually, the easy running came to an end as we made a right turn on to single track trail. This trail got steep and difficult in a hurry. It was frequently overgrown and frequently rocky. For a while, it seemed we were hiking and jogging up a dried creek bed, full of rocks and tree roots. This section banged up my feet and, in hindsight, took a lot out of me.

Eventually we return to Breitenbush where I wasted a minute trying to identify caffeine free gels. I think there was someone dressed as a giant chicken here, too. I turned around to retrace my steps and head back to Olallie Lake. We got to see some of the front runners and those behind us in this out-and-back section. Rebekah! She seemed to be in a great mood and we stopped briefly to say hello. Onward! I wouldn't see her again until the finish.

Olallie Lake! Mile 26! I was running well and felt pretty good all-in-all. I quickly went through my drop bag and grabbed my headlamps, since I would likely need them before getting to my other drop bag at mile 55. I talked with a guy who was running with his young son and they had stayed at the camp ground the night before. He said if you arrived on a Thursday, you could probably get one of the first-come first-serve sites. I'll keep that in mind if I do this race again!

Over the next six miles or so, my mental state changed quite a bit. I was really feeling how far I had to go -- "OK, now we're starting a 69 mile race, like in England, except I'm quite sore already and the terrain is much tougher here". I happened to end up in front of a small group of runners and I let myself feel pressured to run a little faster than I should have been running. We kept up a steady pace on this gradual incline.

At about the 33 mile point, a third of the way through the race, I took stock of my body. I was quite sore in my feet and ankles and I generally did not feel very energetic. My right nipple was chafing. I felt a couple of blisters forming on my right foot. I thought about how in 2011, when I ran Headlands 100, how I felt pretty good at the 50 mile mark, as if I had finished a good workout but with plenty of energy left. As these miles wore on, I started to get down on myself -- "Why didn't you train harder?" "You're a crappy runner." "How can you be so torn up so early in the race?" Somewhere around here, I took my first naproxen which is an over-the-counter NSAID that reduces swelling and alleviates pain somewhat, but is processed by the kidneys which are also busy processing muscle breakdown, so I have to be careful with this medicine.

Then a funny thing happened. I arrived at Warm Springs aid station, mile 44.5, and I was only 10 minutes behind my sub-21 hour goal. Cool! This greatly boosted my spirits.

The shadows were getting long and the air cooler and I ran alone. One section of the trail was especially beautiful. I must have been near a ridge and orange light from the sunset streamed horizontally through a couple hundred feet of trees, creating a neat pattern of beautiful light, orange leaves, and shadows. I soon got out my best headlamp.

Runners occasionally passed me, as I had slowed down due to soreness. One runner caught up to me and I pulled aside and then she asked if she could run with me until the next aid station because she didn't have a headlamp. She said her crew had tried to give her the headlamps at mile 30, but she refused because she didn't want to carry the weight. But here she was in the twilight, still a few miles from the next aid station. Doh!

I was happy to help and I offered her my backup headlamp. As I was digging it out of my pack, she squatted down next to me to pee. (I think we were all way too tired to care about modesty.) We agreed that she would get it back to me at the next aid station where our drop bags waited for us and where her crew would be. She thanked me and raced off into the night.

Onward... I tried not to think about the fact that I was only a little more than halfway done. I tried to look forward to seeing Dan at mile 55 and getting my warm clothes and a big chocolate chip cookie, thanks to fellow club member Eileen. I was slow and I felt beat up.

Clackamas aid station! A volunteer jogged up and handed me my backup headlamp. Cool! Dan! Alan! As I refueled at the aid station, one of them grabbed my drop bag, and with Dan's help, I got my warm clothes (windbreaker jacket, cotton cap, gloves, arm warmers, windbreaker-type pants) and a big chocolate chip cookie. Yum! I was in good spirits, but I told Dan that I was in preservation mode, and was falling apart. I was on track for a still excellent 22 hour finish, but only if I didn't degrade much further.

The miles passed slowly but steadily with Dan, as we worked our way around Timothy Lake. He caught me up on his life in Bend, Oregon, since he had recently moved there from Half Moon Bay. The Timothy Lake Dam had Christmas lights and a lot of volunteers. (All of the aid stations were great. Thank you, volunteers!) For a minute I thought I was back at Clackamus, but no, I still had 4.7 more slow miles to go before circumnavigating this lake and then heading home.

Returning to Clackamus I made a quick stop to refuel. My feet felt OK, so I didn't think I needed to wear my new shoes. However, my water bottle had developed a significant leak. Someone located a disposable water bottle that I could take and we threw away the old bottle that had served me for thousands of miles. Onward! Less than a 50K to go! It was around 11:30pm and I was roughly on track for a 22 hour finish.

I tried to stay positive, but I was still getting more and more sore. I was eating and drinking plenty, though. In fact, maybe I was drinking too much. I was urinating ridiculously often, like every 30 minutes, and my urine was a clear color. As Dan said, "Of all the problems you could have, peeing too much is a pretty good problem." Quite right! We cheered on the dozen or two runners who were still arriving to Clackamus at mile 55 and so they were at least 16 to 20 miles behind me.

For some reason, possibly because I had a heavier water bottle on my right chest, my right nipple was getting really sensitive. I just held my bottle or put it in my pack. Otherwise, my skin was doing OK. The blisters on my feet seemed to stabilize.

I was getting tired of the energy gels and Dan offered me a chocolate Ensure. Wow, mana from heaven, that was good. (For the record, pacers are allowed to give food and drink to their runners in this race; this was the only physical assistance I got from Dan.)

My nice bright Petzl headlamp died sometime around 2 or 3am. In spite of my best attempts, including watching a YouTube video, I had not put it into its maximum duration mode apparently. Thankfully, I had a backup!

We came into a meadow and I could tell the stars were bright against the dark sky. I stopped and asked for us to turn off our headlamps. I did my one and only tourist stop, taking in the beautiful expansive dark sky with a thousand stars. It felt good to be alive. Onward!

I was slowing down more and more. I was depressed that my finish time was going to be even slower than my 23 hours 18 minutes of Headlands 100. Every step was uncomfortable and my legs were very sore. Doing any kind of unusual movement, like stepping over a log, brought on the beginnings of cramps. I tried to power hike as fast as I could when I wasn't running, but my average pace was slowing down to 16, 17, and 18 minutes per mile. There were times when my shuffle of a run was as fast as Dan's walk. Demoralizing.

Somehow, I thought I had run a lot of uphill to get to Clackamas, and so on the way back I told Dan that we have a lot of downhill on the return. Yet somehow, we always seemed to be going uphill! I swear this course was uphill both ways!

Around the mile 90 mark, my GPS watch died. I didn't need it to tell me that I was slow. The sky was getting brighter. This is supposed to make people feel better and more energetic, but it made me feel slow.

Something is probably wrong with the listed distance between the last few aid stations, according to another runner we talked with afterwards. We were taking forever to get to Olallie Meadows, the last aid station.

Only 3.6 miles to go! People were still passing me. With about one mile remaining, someone caught up to us and Dan asked him, "Do you want to pass?" "No, I'm good." I took this as a signal to put in a hard effort to the finish. We pulled away from the guy and I somehow felt pretty good, on a natural high, I'm sure. Where is the finish line? It seemed to be taking longer than expected. We came across a kid and we asked if the finish line was nearby. "300 yards! You're almost there!" I didn't believe him! But sure enough, we finally dumped out on to the road, I got my bearings, and raced towards the finish. A car was pulling out of the parking lot and I didn't slow down. "That'd be ironic if I got knocked down by a car within sight of the finish line." I started getting emotional. I had really done it! Tears of joy and relief came. Alan! There were cheers. Hands in the air, I crossed the finish line. Wow, that was hard. The race director gave me a hug. :-)

Post Race

I recovered and had some breakfast -- pancakes and bacon, mmmm. I won a raffle for a new Ultimate Direction water bottle which was a nice coincidence to replace the one that broke during the race. And we hung out, waiting for Rebekah, and hoping she was doing OK. Alan let us know that she had fallen early in the race and was sore. We cheered other runners coming in. Elliott, who I had run with at Siskiyou Outback 50 Mile recognized me and said "hi". Cool! Dan was able to get a ride back to his car. Thank you, Dan!

Rebekah! She did it! Read her race report; it's much better written than mine.

There was no cell phone coverage, so I couldn't let family and friends know I was OK. When we got back to our hotel, I slept for over 13 hours. I was tired!

I learned the next day that the live tracking was still showing me out on the course, which needlessly worried friends. I emailed the race director, saying that I and my pacer were OK. And then I was off to the airport for my flight home. Wow, what a weekend!


Most of all, I'm grateful to my wife for making it possible for me to get the training runs in. Generally speaking, I spent a couple of hours every Saturday morning (and sometimes much longer) and a few hours every Sunday morning (and sometimes longer) getting in long runs. Also, Tuesday nights and Thursday afternoons, and usually Wednesday afternoons, and sometimes Friday evenings, I did shorter runs. In short, I was running a lot. :-)

I'm super-grateful to club members Rebekah for the good advice and inspiration, and to Alan for crewing, and Dan Rhodes for being my pacer extraordinare, and for Paula offering to crew me (but I thought it was too much trouble for her for me to accept), and to Eileen for the delicious cookies, and to everyone who was thinking about my progress during the race.

What Went Well

  • No stomach issues, really. I got tired of energy gels, but I never felt nauseous.
  • I felt a couple of blisters developing on my right foot, but most of the time, I didn't notice the problem and I never had to take my shoes off during the race. After the race, I had two good-sized blisters, but no (new) black toenails.
  • Didn't get lost! The course was very well marked.
  • Didn't fall, although I kicked a dozen rocks at least and stumbled a couple times.
  • I never felt desperately sleepy; getting a good night's sleep the night before was key.
  • I stayed well-hydrated nearly the whole race. Only once was my urine noticeably yellow, somewhere around mile 30 or 40. Overnight, I kept on drinking about the same amount, apparently, because I was urinating every couple of miles, which felt ridiculous, but as Dan said, "If that's your only problem, you're doing pretty well!". True! This meant that my kidneys weren't getting overwhelmed with muscle breakdown and that I was well-hydrated.
  • No bowel problems.
  • My maximum weekly mileage was 100 miles, which was good, but that was only one week.
  • I finished the race, happy and uninjured!

Things to Improve

  • I ran too fast early on and from mile 26 to 32 or so, given my training. I couldn't keep up that effort and the soreness cost me a lot of time later on.
  • I should have gotten in two or three more long runs, especially 40 mile runs.
  • I should have prepared a 22 hour pace chart and stuck to that for the first half.
  • I didn't check out my equipment very well prior to the race. I should have had new shoes and a new water bottle.

Random Data

  • At SFO, I ran into the KQED reporter, Rachael Myrow, who used to do the Calfornia Report. We had lived in a group house in college for a couple of years. It was good to see her again!
  • Garmin Data
  • Results
  • weight the day before: 163.0 lbs
  • weight two days after: 163.8 lbs
  • I took 5 naproxen.
  • I took about 10 salt pills.