Saturday, June 24, 2017

Chas and I Crewing the Show: Ron's Western States 100 Domination: June 24th, 2017

Pre Race Meeting - these seats all get filled
I want to start diversifying my posts and writing about something other then races I have run.  I could not think of a better topic then my crewing experience at Western States 100 this year.  For those unfamiliar with this race, it's a tough 100 miler with 18,000 feet of elevation gain and 23,000 feet of downhill.  More importantly this race is one of the most iconic 100 milers in the U.S.  It is the oldest 100 mile run and was started by Gordy Ainsleigh in 1970.  He was in a 100 mile horse race and his horse had issues so he ended up doing the distance on foot in less than 24 hours.  Western States is a point to point course which starts in Squaw Valley, California and ends in Auburn, California.  Each year toward the end of June runners who embark on this historic trail will encounter all kinds of weather from snow in the mountains to 100+ degree heat in the canyons.  Western States is the toughest race to get into because thousands of runners apply through a lottery process but only around 370 are selected.  I have always wanted to be a part of this event in some way to check out the hype since we hear so much about the energy and ultra spirit surrounding it.

Snow in June!!  It was hot out too!
An opportunity appeared upon hearing the news that my friend Ron Delozier had been selected to run the event.  Chas Adams, Ron's longtime friend, immediately got a plane ticket to go out west and be the crew chief for this race.  I didn't want to miss this chance to be a part of the race and assist Chas in getting Ron through this thing so I got my flight scheduled.  I arrived on Friday morning the day before the race started and got right down to business as Chas and I had a lot to do.  We went to the pre-race meeting which was cool to be a part of because there were a lot of notable ultra runners and race directors there.  Then Chas and I went to the grocery store to get food for ourselves during the 30 hours we would be driving around in the middle of nowhere.  We were trying to figure out what to buy and ended up just throwing a bunch of random stuff in the cart as we went down the aisles.  The high cost of living in California slapped us right in the face when we checked out.  In the chaos of getting groceries we did manage to get the most important item, Ron's pre-race 6 pack of Budweiser!  After that Chas and I did a hike around the Squaw Valley area and we reached a big snow field.  The snow pack this year in the Sierras was extraordinary compared to the recent past.  It was very odd seeing snow in June but it is the mountains!  Then we managed to get some dinner and relax for a minute while going over some last minute things with Ron, although Chas already had the race day itinerary dialed in.  Ron proceeded to drink his pre-race beers, after eating his pre-race large pizza, and was getting some weird looks by the other runners.  I guess that is expected sine they were unaware of how bad ass this dude really is!

Final Race Meeting (Beers) 

Ready for complete Western States domination

Race morning was busy around the check in and starting
Starting Line
line area.  We walked up the path a little ways to get a spot where would could see everyone start.  I have never seen so many spectators at a 100 miler before!  The runners were off and it was cool to see the elites out in front of the pack go by us and we bid Ron a farewell as he started the initial 4 mile climb up the escarpment.  After the start Chas and I had some time to kill since we wouldn't see Ron again until he reached mile 31 at Robinson Flat.  The place where we were going was not even that far away as a crow fly's but you have to drive around the mountains to get there.  After two hours of driving we found the parking area for Robinson Flat.  We had to ride on a shuttle bus for a few miles down a one lane road to get to the actual aid station.  When we got there it was like a huge party.  There were a ton of volunteers and spectators scattered about.  Chas and I nervously went through our crewing supplies hoping that we brought everything Ron would need.  We went through the game plan a bunch of times and also had to find the perfect spot to have Ron sit down when he came into the aid station.  That spot changed a few times as the sun rotated around us.  One would think that two ultra runners crewing would have all this stuff dialed in but we were a nervous wreck!  I think it may have been the fear that if we screwed something up that it could really mess with Ron's race.  He is a low maintenance runner and does not require much from a crew but we wanted to make sure we kept him going. 

Ron coming in to Robinson Flat looking strong
Assessing the feet 
We were starting to get concerned because Ron was behind his scheduled arrival time at the aid station but then we were informed about knee deep snow and ankle sucking mud on the first 15 miles of the course.  The temperatures were also beginning to rise early.  It would get up to 100+ degrees.  We did not have cell phone reception so we were standing next to the HAM radio operator's tent and could actually get enough of a signal to check Ron's previous aid station check in times.  Ron came into the aid station and he was soaked from falling in the snow and sweat etc..  We got him a towel that we soaked with cold well water to wrap around himself, he changed his shoes and socks, ate a little food, and drank some coke.  He initially wanted to wait until the night portion of the race before consuming caffeine but I think the tough miles in the beginning took a little toll on him.  He was playing it smart by taking his time through the tough sections.  Some runners were dropping out from the heat and exhaustion from pushing to hard through the first third of the race.  We filled Ron's ice bandanna to put around his neck and off he went.  We told him he only spent 6 or 7 minutes there but after he left we realized it was more like 15 minutes.  Crap!  One of our jobs was to make sure he was in and out of the crew points quickly.  Extra time at aid stations can really add up and put a runner behind the cutoff times.  Oh well, he needed a good reset after the crazy sections and we declared it would not happen again!

Off we went to the next crew point called Michigan Bluff, which was mile 55 for Ron.  We fueled up and got some ice in town before heading to the aid station.  The parking situation was pretty rough when we got there and we had to drive pretty far up a steep paved road until we found a spot along side the road where we could park.  It was super hot out so we sat in the car chilling with the AC blasting.  We were wondering how Ron was doing in the 115 degree heat in the canyons and we felt a little guilty for sitting in the AC, actually, no..we did not feel guilty at all.  In fact, we may have laughed about it a few times.  We decided it would be a good idea to get some sleep before heading a mile and a half down this really steep road to the aid station with all our stuff.  I was just dozing off when all of a sudden a super loud noise was all around us.  Chas's cell phone was hooked up to the bluetooth and when his wife called the volume must of been all the way up because it scared the hell out of us!  There was no going to sleep after that so we did some math to try and calculate when Ron might be coming into this aid station.  The we loaded up all our stuff and hiked down the road with it.  There were a lot of spectators and crews lining the street leading up to the aid station.  It reminded me of a parade that everyone got to early in order to get a good spot.  I ran into a few different people here that I knew including Mike Pfefferkorn and Jay Smithberger.

Coming into Mich. Bluff still looking strong!
Ron came down the trail into the aid station and had made up some good time in that 24 mile stretch.  He was a few hours ahead of the cutoff and we felt pretty good about that.  We gathered up his drop bag and walked him down the street to where we set up.  Ron took his time here to make sure he had everything he needed.  By the time Ron was ready to leave this aid station the last shuttle back to the cars was pulling away.  Chas jokingly gave Ron (who was half way done with a 100 mile race) some shit for causing us to miss the shuttle and having to walk a mile and a half uphill back to the car.  It was all in good fun because we did not mind at all.  Once again we were concerned that Ron had spent to much time at the aid station and we vowed to get him in and out of the next crew point in town at Foresthill which would be mile 62.  Ron's family was going to be there to see him and we got all set up so it could be a quick stop.  Upon arrival Ron declared he had a blister that needed medical attention. Chas went with him back to the medical room.  The woman who was working on his foot took her time in order to do a good job and was being very talkative as well.  There was some very nervous texting back and forth between Chas and myself because we could not believe how long this aid station was taking and time was quickly elapsing.  Ron finally got out of there, said hello to his family, and then we got him everything he would need as the next time we would see him was at mile 78.  Chas ran with Ron for a mile or so as he left and I was cleaning some things up when I noticed that Ron forgot his ice bandanna!  It was still hot out even though it was night time and when Chas got back to the car we both started freaking out that we might of put Ron's race in jeopardy by forgetting to send him with that ice bandanna!  We also realized he spent more than a half hour at this stop and we were a nervous wreck about that as well!!

Gordy and the guy he gave his entry too. 
Video of the crazy shuttle ride below:

We made it to the next aid station where we caught a little bit of sleep in the car and then rode in the scariest shuttle ride of my life.  This old rickety shuttle bus was flying for a few miles down this old dirt rode next to a cliff drop off.  It made for quiet ride for those of us on that tin can of death on wheels.  We made it to the Rucky Chucky river crossing which was mile 78 for Ron.  There was a Doctor at this site and he was intently eyeing up every runner coming into the aid station.  He was all business and we saw him almost put an end to an older runner's race when he came in with a sideways lean!  Gordy Ainsleigh was at this aid station doing chiropractic work on runners.  He gave up his race entry so a runner from Vermont on the wait list could do the race.   We happened to be there when the Vermont runner came into the aid station and was giving his gratitude to Gordy.  Ron came in and we actually got him in and out of there in pretty good time.  This was the type of pit stop we were hoping every crew point would be and we felt a lot better about things as Ron was well ahead of the cutoffs.  We drove to the next crew point at mile 94 where we would have a lot of time to get some sleep.  We had to hike a mile to get to the aid station from the parking lot.  I don't think either of us go much shut eye as our adrenaline was pumping in anticipation for Ron getting his Western States 100 finisher belt buckle.  We were watching the online runner tracker waiting for Ron to check in to mile 85 just so we knew he was on track.  His check in never appeared and there were runners that were at the same pace as him who had already checked in there.  We started getting very worried about why he did not check in and a million things were going through our mind.
The famous Ron and Chas Ultra Backpack

I told Chas that best case scenario is the aid station did not register his chip and he had been there and left but it did not add up.  As the cutoffs elapsed the mile 85 aid station we decided to hike to the aid station we were at and check with the HAM radio operators to see if they could find out what Ron's status was.  We were scared that he either got lost or injured and had to drop out of the race, actually we were both delirious from not sleeping and were completely convinced in our minds that his race was done.  As we were hiking to the aid station with our heads hanging low I hit refresh on my phone for the online tracker and BOOM he had checked in to mile 90 a half hour earlier!  That meant he would be at our crew point soon so Chas took off running to the aid station and I sprinted back to the car so I could grab the Star Wars backpack which had things Ron would need.  I have to explain the significance of this backpack.  Chas and Ron purchased it (at the Dollar store I believe) last year when Chas crewed Ron at Leadville 100 and it brought them good fortune so we had to keep tradition alive and use it at Western States.  It is a mandatory piece of gear for all their "A" races and gets a race pin added after finishing.  I sprinted as hard as I could up a hill and all the way to the aid station.  I passed Mike Pfefferkorn who laughed and commented that I was getting some miles in.  As I got close Chas was giving me the slow down and walk sign because Ron was not there yet.  Our morale completely changed and we were psyched that Ron was still in the race and doing really well.  He came in here and we got him in and out of this aid station quickly.  He only had 6 miles to go so we told him no need to camp out here just get to the finish line.

Ron Leaving mile 94 aid station, easy money!
Chas and I arriving at Placerville Highschool
We drove to Placerville high school where runners go around the track to finish the 100 miler.  We walked a mile down the street where Ron would get to the mile 99 aid station.  This was a very cool aid station because we got to see a lot of runners coming in here and the whole neighborhood was out cheering them on.  It is a point where the runners
Ron entering the final stretch around the track
know they are going to finish the race and their excitement is very emotional.  We also got a good laugh witnessing a local kid on a hover board who was zooming by the aid station table and stealing cookies.  Ron came in and we were super pumped for him.  How cool is it that he only had a mile to go with a lot of time left?!  As we got near the track I did a facebook live video of Ron entering the track and running around to the finish line so everyone back home could see him finish.  We were super pumped that Ron got that buckle.  He persevered through crazy weather and extreme course conditions and ran a very smart race.  It turned out the extra time he spent at those aid stations probably saved his race contrary to what Chas and I thought.  The woman that worked on Ron's foot at Foresthill was at the finish line med tent and she reworked the wrappings.  She was very smart and a protege to the guy who wrote the book 'Fixing your Feet".  I was talking to a gentleman standing near us about the book and he said "I wrote that book!"

Ron's latest hardware, a shiny WS buckle

Fix-A-Foot team
Chas and I had a great time in the adventure of crewing for Ron.  We definitely had a lot of laughs throughout the crazy 30 hours that we were on point.  We decided to reward ourselves and do a run in Lake Tahoe on the Monday after the race.  We were both flying out of Reno on Tuesday so it worked out perfectly.  We picked a random trail and ended up having the best views of the lake that we could of ever asked for on our 20 miler.  It was so majestic and seemed very
Ron got it done
surreal.  Then we had an awesome lunch and off to Reno for some gambling and a bunch of celebratory beers.  I am really pleased that I got to be a part of Ron's crew with Chas and experience all the ambiance that Western States has to offer.  It was definitely an experience of a lifetime and I will never forget it.  This race is sort of like the super bowl for 100 mile ultra marathons and we had a front row seat on the 50 yard line.  Here are some pics from our run in Lake Tahoe:
Marlette Lake

The backdrop is not fake!
Great views of the mighty Lake Tahoe

Ron got his buckle and we are running in Tahoe, life is good!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Forget the PR Race Director 50K: April 8th, 2017

Good Morning Mooooohican!
I ran Forget the PR 50K as my first ever ultra marathon back in 2012.  I have been back every year since as this race is one of my all time favorites.  It is sort of a homecoming for me because all of my closest ultra friends in Ohio volunteer at this race.  The race director Rob let's the volunteers come and run the course a week before the actual race and get the same schwag as the runners. We are also treated to post run beer and pizza.  Not a bad volunteering gig!  This race is in early spring so it's kind of the kick off to the ultra season and nicer weather.
My "Big Ass Hill Face"

The Dam Steps
Steve waiting patiently for my slow self
The weather this time of year comes in many forms.  We"ve had unusually warm weather and also unseasonably freezing weather.  We have seen snow, rain, ice, and sunshine at this event.  This year was a rare treat as the weather Gods smiled kindly upon us.  It was 30 degrees in the morning at the start but it warmed up to 60 degrees during the day!  Upon arrival I said hello to many of the usual suspects.  Rob told us to go and since I felt good I hung with the lead group.  I was running with Ron DeLozier and Steve Pierce.  We had a very fast pace going and I had a bad feeling that I was going out to fast.  We hit the big climbs at the beginning including the North Rim trail and also Big Ass Hill, a fan favorite!  We got through Firetower at the 5 mile mark and Covered Bridge at mile 8 when I realized I was in over my head with the pace we were keeping.  I pulled the old "go ahead guys, I have to pee and will catch up!'  I did have to go, but I mainly just wanted an excuse to pull off the trail and rest for a second.  I let them get further ahead and I started off again at a much slower pace.  Steve Pierce hung back with me.  He just wanted to be out there and enjoy the day.  For the  record Steve is really fast and would of normally kicked my ass!

The mighty Mohican River
The Home Stretch
We had a good time just taking it easy and having fun.  This course is really tough for an Ohio 50K with about 5,600 feet of elevation gain and it was definitely kicking my butt on this day.  I was not adequately trained leading up to the race but I just loved the feeling of being out there in the nice spring weather with good friends.  On the last 5 mile stretch Steve and I were running with our friend Darcy.  She is a really fast runner and even won the Indiana Trail 100 a few years back!  Anyway, her and Steve were doing hill repeats in this last stretch of this tough 50K.  Talk about having a lot of ambition!  We finished the race and I was really wiped out.  I was able to shower up before heading over to Trails End Pizza for some beer, food, and great conversation.  I was able to hang out with a whole slew of awesome people.  Rob handed me my sixth buckle and it felt just as good as the first one.  This was Rob's last year for putting on the race and it will be sad that he is not going to be in charge next year but he left the duty to two great people who will carry on the Torch.  I look forward to many more years of volunteering and running in Mohican at Forget the PR!

FPR 50K Buckle number six!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Michigan Adventure Race, Winter Edition: Jan. 28th, 2017

Pre-Race Meeting
The Michigan Adventure race is modeled after expedition racing formats such as former races like The Eco Challenge and also current ones such as The Patagonian Expedition.  This is a little out of the ordinary for me but it was a nice change from my normal trail running format.  I give Jess all the credit because she found this event and wanted to try it out and I am glad she did because we had a blast.  I remember watching the eco challenge on discovery channel when I was in college and thought it was such an awesome event.  Recently I read a book by Charlie Engle called Running Man and he discusses doing these adventure races which also refueled my desire to do this type of event.  I never thought I would be able to do one because I do not have enough time, money, or gear to train and do a big scale adventure race.  This smaller scale format was perfect because it gave us a little taste of what it's all about.  About a week before the race we read a little about the required gear we would need.  No GPS was allowed so we had to order a field compass which ended getting delayed in the mail and it arrived the night before we were leaving!  We also discovered that we needed to learn basic compass and map reading skills.  Neither of us had much experience with traditional orienteering.  Regardless, we were excited to go to Grand Rapids for this adventure.

Pretending like we know what to do!
The night before the race we got to stay and hang out with our friends Molly and Steve who moved to Grand Rapids.  The weather was cold and super windy.  We went out for dinner and a few beers and were wondering how cold it was going to be in the morning.  Luckily when morning rolled around the wind had died down but the temps were still in the low 20s.  I guess that is to be expected in west Michigan during January.  We arrived to the remote parking lot and stood there shivering while waiting for a bus to shuttle us into the camp where the race was.  Once we got to the convention center at the camp we did a full gear check to make sure we had everything.  Then we heard the pre-race speech and one hour before race start they handed out the official map with checkpoints etc..  Everyone else immediately started laminating and taping their maps up.  Jess and I were looking at each other like what the heck?!  Should we be doing this too? Then everyone started to plot routes with their topographical maps and compasses.  We were just staring at ours dumbfounded and feeling like major rookies.We had to ask a couple next to us how to use the compass and they were nice enough to give a quick tutorial.

The official map with checkpoints handed out one hour before race start

About 10 minutes before the start we had somewhat of an idea about the route we wanted to take.  There were 27 checkpoints and about 5 of the checkpoints had Amazing Race style challenges that you had to complete as a team.  There were a few divisions (2 person co-ed, 2 person male, 2 person female, and 3 person teams) and 202 teams overall.  We had three hours to find as many checkpoints (flags) and complete as many challenges as we could within the time limit.  If you complete more checkpoints in a longer time you finish ahead of a team that completes fewer checkpoints in a quicker time.  If you get all the checkpoints then you will cover a distance of around 5 miles.  When the gun went off everyone was sprinting down trails and through the woods.  We were following our compass and map.  The first few checkpoints we were able to find without issue while making good time.  It seemed like we were doing well.  Then we set off to get one of the checkpoints awhich was pretty far away and since we did not have great orienteering skills we just went in a straight line through the woods and thorns.  We eventually found the checkpoint and our clothes were ripped up!
Mid race south side of lake

We continued working our way around the property and the lake finding all the checkpoints.  Our first challenge was putting a milk crate on our outer foot and sharing one milk crate for our inner foot, sort of a twist on a three legged race.  We had to go around a track without our feet touching the ground.  This took some time because we had to wait in line to do the challenge.  We completed that skills challenge and moved on to more checkpoints, challenges, and routes straight through more thicket and thorns.  We realized that we had missed a checkpoint / challenge at the beginning of our route and we would have to do it at the end.  This turned out to be a good thing as I will explain later.  We missed another checkpoint two thirds of the way around the property and had to backtrack to find it.  The other challenges entailed scaling around a rock wall, going in a tree house and finding signs with letters posted in the woods while scrambling the letters to come up with the message, snow shoe (run because there was no snow) around a trail loop, and riding a fat tire bike around a lake.  Doing all of these things made the time fly by quickly.

We finished!!!                  
To our surprise we had found all the checkpoints and completed all the challenges except the one we missed at the beginning and still had about a half hour left.  We set out to locate and complete this last challenge.  When we got there we found it to be the hardest challenge we would face.  There were multiple word puzzles on trees around the checkpoint.  We had to get five of them right to get credit for the checkpoint.  They were so hard and we struggled mightly with this challenge.  We even worked with some other teams who were also scrambling to complete this last challenge.  We finally got the required number correct and realized we only had about 8 minutes left to get back to the finish line.  We found a forest road that led back to the start finish area and sprinted as fast as we could.  We crossed the finish line with two minutes to spare!  Then we joined the post race party where we had beer and pizza awaiting us.  It really hit the spot after running around in the cold for three hours.  Later we discovered that we did a lot better then we thought.  In the co-ed division we got 29th place out of 82 teams and 84th overall out of 202 teams.  Not too shabby for a couple of amatuers!  We worked really well together as a team.  For a bunch of photos from this event just go to this website.  I would like to do more of this type of event in the future.  There are a few other Michigan Adventure races.  One is 18 hours and sounds like it would be an awesome challenege.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Resolution Trail Run: Jan. 14th, 2017

This was my third year doing this race.  I really enjoy the atmosphere of this event.  My friends Keith and Paul put this thing on and they do a great job.  The best thing about this race is that it'a in January when nothing is going on and all the holiday business is behind us.  By mid Jan. it's been awhile since most people have raced or even been out on the trails for a run.  The first two years of this event had a lot of snow and crazy wintry conditions.  This year we had some warmer weather and even some rain leading up to the event.  We were worried there was going to be a lot of ice on the trail at Cass Benton park but it was actually not bad at all.  There were a few icy areas but we were able to get around them with ease.  The morning was pretty chilly with temps in the mid 20s.  It was about 30 degrees by the time we were done around noon.  It was cool to run this race without any snow on the trail.

The format of this event is different then most.  The trail loop is sort of a figure eight and is about two and a half miles long.  At the Resolution run you can sign up to do one hour, two hours, three hours, or four hours.  Then you see how many loops you can do in that time frame.  I have always signed up for the 4 hour event and I did 7 loops the first year and 8 loops the second year.  I was pretty sure I would be unable to top 8 loops but I was going to give it my best.  Some of my Toledo area trail running friends made the trek up to Michigan for this event.  I was glad to see Steve, Chris, Brandi, Jessica, and my new friend Bob.  I did not run with anyone during this race because I had not felt good all week and I ended up having a bad day.  My legs felt really heavy and I was just not running well.  I guess that is part of the sport, you never know what your going to get on any particular day.  I ended up going 6 laps plus added some distance by going off course to the bathroom twice!  I ended up with a little over 16 miles which is not too bad considering that I was having a tough day.  After the run I went out to lunch with the Toledo crew.  It was nice catching up with them and learning about everyone's race plans for the year.  My next event will be the Volunteers 50K run for Forget the PR 50K in April.  Can't wait to get back on those Mohican hills and it will be an official kick off to training for Mountain Lakes 100!