Saturday, September 15, 2012

Run Rabbit Run 50 Mile: September 15th, 2012

Rewind the clock 2 years ago to the fall of 2010.  Jessica's cousin Joe Gatton and his wife Debra who live in Steamboat Springs, Colorado volunteered for the Run Rabbit Run 50 mile race.  They said it was awesome and Joe said "this race is completely doable and we should run it in 2012."  There was some details about the difficulty of this race which they failed to mention at the time and I will explain them later.  I had not even attempted a marathon at that point but agreed that I would do the race in 2012 depending on how my running progressed over the next year.  Shortly after that "maybe" answer there was an email sent out to most of Jessica's family including extended relatives stating that we were going to run 50 miles in the mountains of Steamboat in Sept. 2012 and I believe that email ended with a "woohoo! Go Jamie!!".  From that point on it was decided that this thing was gonna happen.  Fast forward to summer 2011 I did my first trail marathon which went well.  Skip ahead to spring 2012 and Joe came to Mohican in April and we both did our first trail 50K (31.1 miles) at Forget the PR.  The 50K was very difficult and had about 4,500 feet of accumulated elevation gain throughout the course, but we hobbled across the finish line with big smiles on our faces.  Right around this time a fellow trail / ultra runner and great friend Lucas Hardbarger had also committed to doing the 50 mile with us in Colorado...AWESOME!!

So my training started in late May.  I bought some new minimalist trail shoes, the Vivobarefoot Breatho Trails, which were great because they have some nice traction and complete ground feel.  I began to drop a bunch of weight by eating healthy and lost 30 + pounds since the beginning of the year.  Then July came and it was a hot and dry month.  So hot that training was not even close to where I wanted it to be.  Then August rolled around and temperatures actually cooled off a bit.  I was able to get some very good training runs in with my friend T-P, and Luc came up for a nice training run as well.  Joe was training on the actual 50 mile course doing sections of it at the time.  His very first description 2 years ago was "it's a big hill at the beginning then rolling terrain the rest of the way out and then at the half way point you turn around and run back...easy!"  After running a few of the sections he was now stating that "we may want rethink things and do the early start."  I started looking at the actual course description on the web site which states this run is not for the novice trail runner or a first time 50 miler etc..  If you are going to sign up you need to be sure you can complete the whole thing in under the time limit of 15 hours.  Turns out the hour early start was only an option for the age of 60 or older so that meant a normal start for us.  I love a good challenge and testing the limits of my human endurance so I said "BRING IT ON!!"  I know Luc and Joe were thinking the same thing.

Joe, Debra, and Jess ready to summit  Rabbit Ears Pass
Jess and I flew out to Colorado a few days before the race.  I don't want to go into detail about the vacation (which was fantastic!) as this post could turn into the size of a book really fast .  The first full day there we did a hike up to Rabbit Ears Pass which was the half way point of the race and one of the highest elevation points I would reach at 10,600 feet above sea level.  We did this to see the amazing views and also to acclimate to the altitude since I live at 700 feet above sea level.  The altitude adjustment was my biggest concern going into the 50 miler.  As we got up there I felt pretty good, no issues!  Then we met up with Luc and Jen who were staying with us at Joe and Debra's condo.  Party time!  So on Thursday Luc, Joe, Debra, and myself decided we needed more altitude acclimation so we drove a few hours South to Leadville and the trail that leads up to Hope Pass and I mean straight up.  We hiked to 11,000 feet above sea level, 1,500 feet short of Hope Pass and decided to turn around since we were wasting energy doing
Luc and I hiking up to Hope Pass
this super hard hike and the race was only 2 days away!!

Friday we went to check out both starts (tortoise and hares) of the 100 mile race.  A trail running friend from Michigan, Dusty, was doing this race and we wanted to cheer her on at the start.  Also, due to a large prize purse there was elite ultra runners and 2 Tarahumara Indians from the Copper Canyons of Mexico entered into the race.  It was awesome seeing them take off and proceed to climb up black diamond ski slopes to start!  Then we got our race packets and listened to the Race Director's speech and he said some words about not quitting that played an important role in my mental well being throughout the race.  Then on Friday night Joe and Debra's friends Scott and Susan came into town.  They were volunteering with Jess, Jen, and Debra at the first aid station in our race.  We ate a delicious carbo loading pasta dinner that Debra had prepared for us.  It was the perfect dinner to have on the eve of this epic race.  We all watched the documentary Unbreakable about the Western States 100 mile race from 2010 in order
Start of the 100 mile "Hares"
to get pumped up for the next day and then we hit the hay.  As I laid in bed a million things went through my head.  Was I trained good enough?  Was I over trained?  Can I finish within the 15 hour time limit?  Will the altitude affect me?  How well can I handle this 6.4 mile 3,600 foot climb up the mountain at the beginning of the race??...Afterall, I am a flatlander from the midwest....what was I thinking signing up for this??  Then I thought about how much fun I was going to have and how good I will feel if I complete one of the hardest challenges of my life.  Everything I worked for all summer was now just a few hours away.

Ready to Dominate!!
150 Headlamps Ready to Roll
4:30 AM came pretty quick.  I heard the bedroom door opening slowly and I looked up to see a light shining in Joe's face from his phone and the Rocky theme song playing.  It was nice to have such a great laugh so early in the morning.  We walked a mile to the starting line, we figured that we were going 50 miles so what is one more?  The race started at 6:00 AM so it was still dark and nice and cool at the start. As we lined up at the starting line we were in the front of the pack.  The countdown was over and we were off and running.  I was caught up in a big group of people at the beginning and was actually in a fast run for the first mile or so.  I did not want to start out at such a fast pace because I knew what kind of climb we had to do at the beginning and did not want to waste energy.  In the chaotic stampede of the start Joe had managed to stay right behind me but we lost Luc.  I think Luc had a wardrobe malfunction but I never got the details about it.  Looking forward to reading his blog.  So I kept up with the group for about a mile or so as we ran up a little single track from the base of the ski area to the mountain service road.  It was kind of a relief when we got to the service road because it was not crammed with all the runners like the single track.  We kept a good power hiking pace as we started our ascent up the mountain.  Joe must of been in a zone because he was out hiking me big time.  Off he went and I settled in to my own pace doing switch back after switch back up that road.  Climbing and climbing and climbing some more.  I met some awesome people during this 6.4 mile stretch up the mountain.  Still not sure how far back Luc was or how far ahead Joe was but  I figured it was probably a good thing that we all just run our own race.

The view during our climb up Mount Werner
About half way up the mountain the sun was rising and it opened up the horizon to some of the greatest views I have ever seen.  This was very mentally uplifting.  Near the top of the mountain I kept checking my Garmin watch to see what our elevation was.  I knew we had to get to 10,568 feet above sea level.  I was still amazed at how far we had climbed when I would look down the mountain to the base area.  So finally at the top of road I see a welcome site as Debra and Scott are cheering and ringing us in with a cow bell.  I made it, at least I thought, there was still a tenth of a mile climb up to the storm center which was where the aid station was located and it was steep!!  Finally I got to the top and seen Jess, Jen, and Susan who were very busy.  In fact they didn't even see me as I sat there munching on some grapes and oranges.  I didn't want to distract them so I said a quick hello as I filled up my water bottle.  Jess was very excited to see me.  I gave her a kiss and off I went.  On to Long Lake!

Long Lake
The decent off storm peak was awesome.  After 7 miles of uphill power hiking I was finally able to run!  I flew through the next few miles of single track that rolled across the top of the mountain.  I was able to get my average pace per mile down below 15 minutes.  I knew that I could never allow my pace to go above 18 minute miles because then I would not be able to finish within the time limit.  I was in awe of how pure the scenery was running across the rolling mountain top.  It completely took my mind off the fact that my back was hurting pretty bad and I was only about 10 miles into a 50 mile run.  We ran through some wooded areas and also some open fields, there was some runners that were taking pictures and it made me wish I had a camera.  Luckily Luc lugged a camera with him and was kind enough to send me copies of his pictures...Thanks bro!  As I got 13 miles into the race I came to a clearing and right there in front of me was Long Lake.  It was as majestic of view as you could ever imagine and the next aid station was only about a mile away!  As I came into Long Lake aid station I quickly ate some fruit and PB&J sandwiches.  I refilled my camelbak with water and off I went.  Since I am a back of the pack runner I knew I could not spend much time at the aid stations.

View of the open fields on top of the mountains
The next section of the course was very similar to the last section.  Rolling single track trails through open fields and wooded sections.  There was a lot of uphill climbing and also downhills which I could fly down.  We ran by some hunters who were probably not happy that a coupe hundred runners were stampeding through the area.  There was also some mountain bikers out.  At home in Michigan when I run the trails I am always stepping aside to let the mountain bikers pass but here I stepped aside and one of the mountain bikers pulled off the trail.  He said "go for it man, your the one running 50 miles today!"  That was a nice change of right-a-way but it also made some reality set in...I am going 50 miles on foot!  I started to feel some fatigue about 17 miles in and realizing how hard this course actually is.  Then about a mile later I came to the Base Camp aid station.  Food did not really seem appetizing at this point but I knew I had to keep a lot of calories in for energy so I powered through some more fruit and also some chips.  I did not stick around long and started the decent down to Dumont Lake Campground to the next aid station.

2 mile climb to Rabbit Ears!!
This was a nice section of trail.  It was only about 4 miles and mostly downhill which was nice at the time but in the back of my mind I knew we would have to climb up these hills on the way back.  As I came into Dumont lake campground around mile 23 I was greeted by a whole bunch of spectators who were clapping and cheering me on.  This is the only aid station where crew access was allowed so there was a lot of people there for support as they waited for their runners to come through.  The people at this aid station were doing a great job helping all the runners and they were drinking beer so they had a great sense of humor as well.  I was hoping to see Jess and the girls out here but they must not have been able to leave their post yet since they were not there.  No worries though, I still had to climb 2.5 miles / 1,200 feet up to Rabbit Ears Pass and then come back down so maybe they would be here when I got back.  At this point in the run I was feeling really drained.  Early in the morning when we started the temperatures were in the mid 30s.  Now it was high noon and the temps had climbed to 80 degrees and the sun was beating down.  I left Dumont aid station and followed the gradual uphill jeep road leading to Rabbit Ears.  I was at a point where I could not run any uphills so I was just power hiking this section.  As the ascent kept going up I was feeling more and more defeated.

Awesome view from Rabbit Ears
My mind started to shift to thoughts of "if I feel this bad now how am I going to make it all the way up to Rabbit Ears Pass and then turn around and do this whole course in reverse!"  I told myself just keep putting one foot in front of the other, I really don't have any other plans today so I might as well just relax and keep going.  During these negative thoughts something happened that gave me a big mental boost.  I seen Joe coming down the jeep road.  I was still a mile and half from the summit and he was cruising back down!  He was in pretty good shape.  He told me it is demoralizing getting to the top but once your there you get new a new wave of energy!!  I liked the sound of that.  One thing that concerned me was Joe's whole face was white with salt.  He said he has only been drinking flat coke the whole day so far.  Yikes!!  I advised him to consume some salty foods and drink water so that he does not bonk out.  We parted ways and I continued my death march.  With about a half mile to the top it got extremely steep.  The only way to the top was to climb about 10 steps and then rest for a second, rinse and repeat.  Finally I reached the summit and made it official by high fiving the guys on top checking us in.  26 miles in and half way done!!  Then I began my long journey back.

I had a pretty good pace going as I ran back down and I ran into Luc about the same place that I ran into Joe earlier.  Luc was doing good and enjoying the course and said Joe had told him about the "new energy" he will get as soon as he reaches Rabbit Ears Pass.  Luc told me the girls were down at Dumont aid station and I was excited to see them.  I came in and Jess, Jen, and Debra were there cheering me on.  Jess was awesome here as she took care of everything for me.  Making sure my camelbak got replenished with water and got me a bunch of food etc..  I said my goodbyes and told them I would be in VERY late as I still had about 22 miles to go and I was feeling worn out.  Here is Luc, myself, and Joe each at the Dumont Lake Campground aid station:

                                                        It was nice seeing Jess, Debra, and Jen and I walked away feeling mentally uplifted.  Running was getting difficult at this stage in the game.  I was running just a little at a time and then walking a lot.  I was losing a ton of salt and didn't realize it until I noticed my black hat had turned white!  At the Base Camp aid station I started putting salt on everything..oranges, PB&J, and I ate a ton of doritos and other chips.  I now have a new found appreciation for Doritos.  I also took some S caps for the first time and they helped.  On the way back to long lake I started getting a bad pain in the top of my foot, where the foot meets the leg.  Weird spot for a pain and I had never had one there before.  It actually got so bad that I could not run at all.

Sun setting on the horizon
Great I thought, I can't run at all and I am about 17 to 18 miles away from the finish.  I decided to power hike the rest of the way because I was going to finish at all cost.  There was a few back of the packers who I had conversations with as we hiked and it made time go by quick.  It seemed like the climb from Long Lake back to the top of Storm Peak on Mount Werner took forever.  The pain kept growing worse as I went.  I kept checking my watch to make sure I would be able to keep pace to finish in under 15 hours.  When we finally seen Storm Peak it was such a welcome site.  One runner yelled "F$%K YEAH...THERE IT IS!!!" and this made me laugh because I knew exactly what he was feeling.  I thought I would be able to fly during the 6.4 mile jaunt down the mountain.  Up at the aid station I filled up my water bottle and filled a whole sandwich bag of doritos and then began my decent.  Home free I thought.  It got dark and a lot of people were passing me as they ran down the mountain.  I had a strong desire to run with them but my foot was in really bad pain.  About 3 miles from the finish I met a guy named Pat.  He was in his early 60s and he did the hour early start.  He walked with me and our great conversation had really helped me to keep moving forward.  It seemed like forever until we arrived at the base of the ski area and the finish line.  Finally it came into sight and Jess, Jen, Scott, and Susan were there rooting me and Pat through the finish area.  We ran the last tenth of a mile across the finish line.  14 hours and 29 minutes on my feet and I FINISHED!!!  It was such a great feeling of relief.  I was so worn down that I could not express my emotions but I was very excited. 

Finally Finished!! Time for Beer!!
I learned that Joe had an excellent run and he had a dominating time of less the 13 hours!!  As I finally sat down Jess brought me some pizza and beer.  All I can say is that pizza, beer, and sitting down were the greatest things on earth at that moment.  Then a little bit later Luc came running in to the finish line and I was right down there to greet him and tell him I was glad he made it back safely.  We both agreed that was a very tough course but was super rewarding to finish it.  On the walk back to the car I got treated to another famous Luc ultra puke right in the main resort area!  Jen and Jess were so funny as they told people walking by that "Don't worry, he is ok!" and "he is not drunk, he is a runner!"  The rest of our vacation consisted of drinking, eating, and relaxing.  Definitely an epic journey that I will never forget.  What is my next big adventure?  Stay tuned!! 

Pre Race Carbo Loading with Barley and Hops!!

Midwestern "flatlanders" showing the mountains who is boss.  Well, the mountains are still in charge..but we gave em hell!!  Us with our finisher mugs.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Run Woodstock Hippie Half Marathon: Sept. 8, 2012:

This race takes me back to Woodstock for the third year in a row.  I was pretty excited about this for a few reasons.  First of all, some of my friends that came from Iowa and Minnesota last year were talking about coming again this year.  Secondly, Jessica showed great interest in doing the trail half marathon and I was happy about that (a win in my secret quest to prove to her that trail running is really fun!).  Last but certainly not least, my good friend Nick was doing the 100K and it was his comeback ultra after shattering his foot / leg only a year ago after falling off a waterfall while trail running in Mohican.   One regret I have from this event is that I did not really get any pictures.  So this blog will be mostly reading without any visual effects except for a picture of the landshark!  You are probably asking what the landshark is, so keep reading and you will find out.

Nick had talked about upgrading to the 100 miler and I told him I was going to pace him on the last lap which would of been about 12 miles.  When he told me he was going to stick to his original plan of doing the 100K I decided that I would just run the half marathon with Jess and kind of take it easy since it was the weekend before my 50 miler in Colorado.  I also learned that 10 time Mohican 100 mile finisher Mark Carroll was coming to Woodstock to pace Nick in the 100K so that made me glad that someone would be with him.  So, plans kind of changed a few weeks before the event.  I learned that my friends from out of town could not make it and when signing up for the half marathon I discovered that the camping at Hell Creek Ranch (where all races start and end, also, all activities take place here) was SOLD OUT!!  Woodstock was pretty low key two years ago when I did my first half marathon.  Then last year the popularity had really grown.  Now it is a full fledged rocking race weekend.  They are fully organized and I am just amazed at how many people are now involved with the event.

So Jess and I got a camp site at Bruin Lake which was a fifteen minute drive from Woodstock.  Earlier on Friday (the day the 100K and 100 mile races started) Nick texted me and said he had forgotten one of his water bottles.  He asked if I could bring one that he had loaned me earlier in the year when I paced Lucas in the Mohican 100.  Luckily I already planned on returning it to him and had it packed in my bag.  I told him I would drop it off at the aid station which was being run by one of my new trail running friends..T-P (T-P works at the corporate office of the company I work for and we met out on the trails one day).  Jess and I checked in at the campground and the headed over to T-P's aid station.  I said hello and was hanging out for a minute when all of a sudden Nick showed up!  He was on his second loop of the ultra course and it was great timing as I filled the water bottle I had brought to return to him and he said a quick hello / thanks and took off.  We then learned that Nick and some other runners had been stung by a group of ground hornets,  Nick had a bump on his head that got huge but it went down throughout the run,  Jess and I talked to T-P for a minute longer but didn't stay to long since he was extremely busy running his aid station.

As we were getting ready to leave there was a runner who came into the aid station wearing a shark costume.  Turns out he was running the 100 miler in that thing!!  Nick later told me that during the night portion of the run the landshark came up behind him and said he needed to follow because he lost his head lamp but then took off without one in the dark.  Nick said it was freaky when the eyes of the shark costume were staring at him (since they were in the back of the costume) as he ran by.  We also laughed at how heavy that costume must of gotten in the rain when it got soaked.  Turns out the landshark has been running in that costume for 10 years.    He did finish the 100 and here is a picture of him after his finish:

Jess and I went back to our campsite and as soon as we got settled in our tent to go to bed it started raining.  If you read my blog from last year you know the night before the race it poured all night and turned the course into a mud fest.  Whoever said history repeats itself is certainly correct because it poured down rain all night again this year.  As we woke up early the next morning I had some concerns..was doing a half marathon the week before my 50 miler to much?  Was I risking injury by going out on a slippery muddy trail?  If I got injured I would be devistated since I put in so much training for the biggest running event of my life which was only a week away in Colorado.  Then I decided that I love trail running and that I was going to strap on my VFF Trek Sports and go out there with Jess and have a great time on the trails.  That is exactly what happened.  We just enjoyed the entire course and we ran the whole thing with big smiles on our least I think Jess was smiling!  The course was not as muddy as the previous year since it did not rain all week, only the night before.  Nothing to interesting happened during our 13 miles on the bridal trails of the Pinckney Rec Area.

When we crossed the finish line we grabbed a few snacks and then decided to try and find out where Nick was camping.  I thought he might be finished but was unsure.  After walking around the campground we finally found his camp spot and I seen his running vest and water bottles.  At this point I knew he was finished but still curious as to how he did.  Then I seen the First in age group trophy (toy VW van) sitting in the dash of his car.  We walked up to the main area and he was up there drinking some of his delicious home made brew that he put together specially for Woodstock.  When we finally said our hello's I could tell he was really pumped up and he did confirm that he got first in his age group for the 100K!! Congrats to Nick!!  What an amazing accomplishment.  I came back later in the evening and hung out with him for a few hours at the campground.  I am really impressed by what he has accomplished and it gave me some good motivation for what laid ahead for me in one week.

It was another exciting year at Woodstock and looking forward to many more.  Stay tuned for my next blog which will be coming right up....see if I am able to survive 50 miles in the mountains at Run Rabbit Run 50 miler!!