Saturday, September 23, 2017

Mountain Lakes 100 "Empty Handed": September 23, 2017

This year leading up to race week:

This year has tested me physically and mentally more than any year I can remember.  2017 started out fairly normal for the first two months and we had a great vacation to Cabo San Lucas at the end of February.  Then on March 8th a wind storm caused major damage to the plant where I work.  This resulted in having to put in 60 plus hour work weeks for the next four and a half months.  During this time Jess and I decided to sell our house because the housing market in our area was booming but this added to the chaos of my busy schedule.  I also suffered an injury at the end of April around the time I was supposed to start my training plan for Mountain Lakes 100.  I did a 20 mile trail run in Lake Tahoe around the end of June with Chas Adams but other than that my training miles were limited until July when I was finally able to start ramping up.  Basically I had to jump right into running high mileage weeks to be on pace with my plan and this was exhausting since so much time was being spent at work and fixing up our house to put on the market.

I was able to get in some consistent training weeks with long runs and felt like I was starting to get in good 100 mile race shape.  I was able to get some hill work in during a trip to the Smoky Mountains with my family in late July.  At the beginning of August I had a hard fall on a training run and landed on my hard plastic water bottle.  I am pretty sure I cracked a rib and it was very painful for the next 6 weeks leading up to the race and made training more difficult.  There were wild fires in Oregon all summer which threatened the race but some wintry wet weather really helped the cause and the race had to be rerouted a bit but was going to still happen.  There was a road closer from Detroit, Oregon (where we were initially going to stay) to the race start at Olallie Lake.  Since it's so remote there were no ways around the fires so I had to cancel my lodging in Detroit two weeks before the race and find somewhere new to stay.  Our house sold at the beginning of September and we had to be out the weekend before the trip to Oregon for Mountain Lakes.  So during my three week taper we were boxing stuff up and getting ready to move.  The weekend before the race we worked non stop and completed the move on Sunday afternoon.  I was relieved to be done with the house, work started calming down, and I felt great physically but was not mentally prepared for the race which was less than a week away. 

Race week:

On Sunday night Jess urged me to get a new Garmin watch that I had been looking at for quite some time.  I ordered it with Amazon prime's two day shipping and it was supposed to arrive on Tuesday.  Monday and Tuesday were the only days I had to pack since I was leaving for the airport directly from work on Wednesday afternoon.  Of course, the watch got delayed in transit and was not going to arrive until Wednesday.  I was going to run home during lunch to pick it up if delivered in time but the post office website went down so I was unable to track it.  I decided to just use my old watch and leave without the new one.  When I got to the airport Jess texted me to say the watch had arrived and she was going to send it over night shipping to where we were staying in Government Camp, Oregon.  I contacted the Airbnb host Charlie to make sure it was ok to have it sent there.  He said there is not a mail service there but I could have it sent to his place in Hood River, Oregon which was an hour North of Government Camp.  I didn't really have time to explore other options so I told Jess to send it to Charlie's place.  I thought I would drive up to Hood River to retrieve the watch on Thursday but it turns out that overnight shipping from Michigan to Oregon is more like two day shipping and it would not arrive until Friday.

Jess is usually my crew chief for 100 mile races but she unfortunately had to much going on at work to make the trip.  Luckily Jess's mom, Jane, along with her two friends Buff and Deirdre were already planning on helping Jess crew for me and they were up to the challenge of getting me through the race.  Also, Joe and Debra Gatton made the road trip from Colorado because Debra was going to help crew and Joe was going to pace me.  I was very grateful for everyone coming all that way to help me out.  Thursday afternoon we arrived at our lodging for the race and we made a whole bunch of food for dinner.  Another guy running in the race, Chris, posted on Facebook and wanted to know if anyone else staying in Government Camp wanted to grab some dinner.  Since we had more then enough food I invited him to come over and eat with us.  I am glad he took us up on that because it was cool to get to know him and also get some help eating the overabundance of food!  Friday morning, the day before the race, I packed up all the gear bags for the crew and we had a meeting about the overall plan for the 30 hours I would be racing.  It was early afternoon and the Garmin watch had not yet arrived yet so we decided to go and check out Mount Hood and also drive out to Olallie Lake so my crew would know where to go and I could pick up my race packet.  It took us about two hours to get out to Olallie Lake which we did not anticipate.  The forest service roads were very narrow and also had a lot of craters which made it slow going.  There was a lot of snow on the ground at Olallie Lake and we heard there was a foot of snow on the first 26 miles of the course.

Race Check-in at Olallie Lake
It was after 6:00 PM when we were leaving Olallie Lake and had a long drive back.  I was freaking out a bit because I still had an hour drive North of where we were staying so I could pick up the Garmin watch!  So I drove like a madman on the way back and the van / SUV crew mobile was getting beat up from the potholes.  We arrived back at Government camp around 7:45.  The ladies cooked some dinner and started preparing my food for the race the next day.  I was gracious they were able to do that for me.  Joe offered to drive me to get the watch so I could rest.  Charlie who had my watch agreed to meet us part way so our drive would only be about 45 minutes.  The check engine light came on in Joe and Debra's Subaru as we were driving North on a "out in the middle of nowhere" highway through the mountains.  Joe did not think it was a big deal at first but when we got to the meeting place he had to keep the gas pedal down so it didn't stall out.  On our way back to Government camp the car was not sounding good at all.  I was trying to program my new watch in the dark.  We made it back and Joe and Debra were going to take their car in to get looked at in the morning.  It was about 10:00 o'clock and I was getting ready to lay down.  I had my alarm set for 4:00 am to make sure I was dressed and ready to go since it was a long drive to the race start.  Before closing my eyes I noticed on my phone that I had a message from my new friend Chris.  The Government Camp gas station closed at 8:00 PM and they were not able to get gas so he needed a ride to the race in the morning.  I told him no problem and we would leave around 5:15 AM.

The alarm went off at 4:00 AM but I had already been up since 2:30 AM.  It is so hard to sleep the night before a 100 miler because the anxiety is at an all time high.  The lack of sleep the night before definitely adds to the challenge but it's a part of the overall experience for many participants.  We loaded up all of my race stuff and also the supplies for my crew since they would be out and about for a long period of time.  Everything was nicely organized.  Jane said she would drive to the race so I could rest my legs etc..  All we had to do was pick up Chris and we would be on our way to Olallie Lake.  Jane backed the crew vehicle up and something didn't seem right.  As she started to pull forward it felt like we were driving over a bumpy stretch of road.  I got out to see what was going on and when I got around to the drivers side of the car I noticed the front tire was completely flat!  Noooooo!  It was so flat that the rim was on the ground.  I was very nervous at this point because we had such a long drive to get to the race start at 8:00 and it was about 5:20 when we discovered the flat tire.  I messaged Chris about the tire and he decided to start walking from where he was staying to where we were.  We pulled the car up out of the steep parking lot and onto some level ground.  I was tearing the car apart trying to find the spare tire.  I found the jack which was contained inside of the panels in the back of the car.  As I was freaking out I was lucky to have such calm and collected women along with me to keep the situation in check.

Deirdre was immediately solution oriented and was rifling through the manual.  Shocking enough we had to peel back some carpet behind the front passenger seat and use the tire iron to turn a screw and lower down the spare tire underneath the car!  This lowering procedure was taking a long time and Joe came out and suggested that Chris and I just take his car but we would have to keep gas to the car so it didn't die out.  We jumped in the Subaru and I quickly realized there is only a quarter tank of gas and the car was badly shaking when pressing on the gas.  I immediately turned the car around because there would of been no way for Joe and Debra to get gas even if we did make it to Olallie Lake.  Back to plan A of changing the tire.  We got the tire changed but I was really nervous about driving on those rough forest service roads with a doughnut tire!  We did the best we could as far as taking it easy on the rough roads but driving fast enough to get there in time.  Chris was a bit nervous because he still had to get his race bib but check in time had ended at 7:00 AM.  We got to the race about 7:45 AM and Chris was able to check in and I was able to get ready to roll for the 8:00 AM start.  I was relieved that we got there before the race started.  The morning was very representative of the entire year leading up to the race because it was very busy and chaotic but it all came together.

The Race:

We lined up at the starting line and I was feeling good despite all the craziness leading up to the race.  Olallie Lake and a view of Mount Jefferson were behind me and I was imagining crossing the finish line with that same view on Sunday morning.  The first 26 miles of the race was a big out and back and the most technical part of the course.  The weather was cool at the starting line but I knew it would be warming up throughout the day so I did not overdress.  Due to snow on the course Chris and I debated whether or not we should wear traction over our shoes.  I didn't see many others with it on so I decided against it.  The traction devices can be tight and restrictive on the feet which is the downside and why I opted to not use them.  Chris decided not to use traction either, I was ultimately happy with my decision but I think Chris regretted not wearing it because it lead to some stabilizer muscle issues.  Using certain muscles and tendons for balance and slippage in the snow can lead to some painful miles later on.  The race started and I waved goodbye to my awesome crew whom I would not see again until mile 26!  The first part of the course wound around Olallie Lake and presented some fantastic views.  When we got to mile 1 my new watch beeped and I realized the lap feature was on.  I did not want my watching beeping after every freaking mile so I literally had to figure out how to navigate the settings and turn that feature off while hiking up a long gradual climb to the first aid station around mile 3.  I pretty much blew thru this aid station since it was so early in the race.  I did make sure I had enough water because it was about 11 miles to the next aid station.

Ridge Line.  Photo Credit: Todd Vogel
The next section was through some snowy trails but since I was in the middle of the pack the snow was mostly packed down.  There was some climbing and rocky sections that lead out to a ridge line that presented maybe the best views the course had to offer.  This was a little out and back section and on the way back thru this ridge area I had to pause and really take it in.  It made me grateful to just be alive and healthy enough to be out in nature and doing something I love.  Continuing on toward the next aid station we got to run around some beautiful mountain lakes and since the foot of snow was beginning to melt there was a lot of shin deep slush that was soaking our feet.  There was really no good way around that stuff.  One girl had fallen and her knee was cut open, I offered her some small band aids but I doubt they were going to hold up.  A few miles from the next aid station Chris passed me going back the other way, yes he is very fast and was about 5 miles ahead of me.  He mentioned the fun part was coming up and before I knew it there was a huge drop in elevation and the trail kept going down and down.  I thought to myself this was going to be fun climbing all this was back up!  I made it to the aid station which was about mile 14 and my watch said it was over 16 miles.  This was a bummer, I set it to a conserve battery type mode so I could go the whole 100 miles without my watch dying but this meant it did not ping the GPS satellites as often and my pace / mileage was way off.  I had no idea where I stood as far as time and pace on course which presented a mental challenge.  I felt decent leaving this aid station and powered up the super long climb but wheels slowly started to fall off.

Ridge Line.  Photo Credit: Todd Vogel
 This was an extremely long 9 miles back to the mile 23 aid station.  The snow had melted quite a bit more and the trail condition had turned slippery and even more slushy then before.  There were a lot of fallen pine trees on the course and I caught the tip of my shoe on a little nub and I fell bashing my knee on a rock.  My back started hurting and my pace was extremely slow due to taking so much caution on the trails.  I got a bloody nose from the dry air and it lasted for quite awhile.  When I finally reached mile 23 I was exhausted and told them I was glad to see them and they said they were glad to see me.  I descended back down to Olallie Lake and was exhausted but excited to see my crew.  I sat in the back of our vehicle while Jane used all her power to work out the knots in my back and Dierdra and Buff helped me change socks, shoes, and get me some food.  I needed calories and powered through some potatoes wrapped in tortillas.  They did a great job getting me refueled and ready for the next part of the race.  It felt great to have dry shoes and socks on when leaving this aid station and the rest of the trails were at the lower elevation and dry which was also a nice relief.  I jumped on the Pacific crest trail heading North and felt great.  I flew through the next 4 miles or so and beat my crew to the next aid station.  They were walking up with all my stuff shortly after I got there.  I grabbed a few things as I would not see them for another 25 miles or so.  I loaned my backup head lamp to a guy who did not have a light and his name was Charles Lindberg, "like the pilot!" he said as I left the aid station.

View From Ridge Line.  Photo Credit: Todd Vogel
The next 20 miles or so were very peaceful as I imagined all the through hikers who had navigated their way up this famous trail.  There were rolling hills along with sweeping views that extended out over Native American Reservation land and I paid mental respects to the true native people of our country and all the hardships they have faced over the last 500 plus years.  I was at peace with nature and it made me feel good but the events of the year and days leading up to the race were catching up to me and I started to get physically and mentally tired.  I was drinking coke at the aid stations but it was not helping like it usually does.  At mile 50 it was dark out and the temperature had dropped.  I stood by some warm heaters in the aid station tent drinking hot veggie broth and it was hard for me to leave but I knew I had to keep moving.  As I left here I started to get a familiar dull pain in my right side.  I've had issues with my digestive system in general over the last 8 years or so after a bout of serious food poisoning.  Digestion is not easy for my colon and when I do endurance events it gets worse.  During the three of the last four 100 milers I ran there has been a pain in my right side that crops up during the last 4 or 5 miles.  It is my colon getting inflamed due to blood going to my legs and not having enough in my gut to help with digestion.  There are usually unpleasant consequences for a day or two after my races as well but I can manage to get through that in order to get my 100 miler finish buckle.  I was worried this side pain was starting much earlier then usual even though it was minor at first.  I am not sure why it started early but I can only think of a few possibilities.  Perhaps I ate too much food at once when I saw my crew at mile 26 or I was not staying hydrated because the weather was cooler then I was use to and did not feel the need to drink as much.  I wish I knew the exact reason so I could avoid it happening in the future.  Heck, the side pain might even be from something different all together!

Snow, slush, and mud. Photo Credit: Todd Vogel
I got to mile 55 aid station, Clackamas Ranger Station, about 45 minutes ahead of the cutoff and Jane was there waiting for me along with Joe and Debra.  The pain had grown a little worse but I was still moving and determined to finish the race.  Joe was jumping in and ready to pace me for the rest of the race and his excitement about it really got me pumped up.  Before leaving the aid station one of the volunteers asked me three times if I had warm enough gear for the next 16 mile trail loop around Timothy Lake because the temperature drops big time during the middle of the night and the air around the lake gets very cold.  I assured her that I had enough warm clothes etc.. which I thought I did.  The next 5 miles or so went pretty well, I was mostly power hiking with a little running sprinkled in here and there.  Joe was upbeat and making me laugh a lot.  I also found out they ended up having to buy a new car earlier in the day!  It turns out their car engine had completely blown up and it was going to be very expensive and take a lot of time to fix so it made more sense to buy a new one.  After leaving the next aid station the pain in my side had grown from mild to severe and I became extremely exhausted which led to me having to stop every minute or so and rest with my hands on my knees and head hanging down.  I leaned on some trees here and there as well.  Then I realized that I did not have enough warm clothes with me as I started to get very cold.  My body temp dropped because I was not running at all and moving very slowly.  I've overcome this type of exhaustion in the past but two things were different this time around.  It was the pain in my right side that I became very worried about and also I was chilled to the bone.

Joe was being a great pacer and was pulling out all the tricks to get me moving again but things were quickly going downhill.  Eventually we made it to the Timothy Lake Dam aid station at mile 65.  They strung lights up across the whole bridge and all over the aid station which was quite an awesome sight!  I was able to clean up a bit after having to use nature as my bathroom a few miles earlier.  I contemplated dropping out because of my concern over doing permanent damage to my intestines and the fact that I was moving really slow and could not even run anymore due to the pain in my side.  Debra, Jane, and Joe talked me into doing one more section before making a decision and I am glad they did.  You never know when things can change and take a turn for the better.  Unfortunately that was not the case at this race.  I actually made the 5:00 AM cutoff at Clackamas Ranger station, which is mile 71 after completing the loop around Timothy Lake.  However, I still had 29 more miles back down the Pacific Crest Trail to get to the finish and at the rate I was moving and the thought of my side pain getting worse I would not of made it.  It was a really tough decision but dropping out at that point was the smart thing to do.  I would not see my crew for 25 more miles so if I dropped somewhere in between I would not have cell reception and we (Joe and I) would have to wait hours to get a ride.  I found out that Chris ran into some issues as well which ended up knocking him out of the race around mile 50.  It was his first 100 miler and I am sure that he learned some lessons as well but like I said, we are constantly learning in this sport.

I got in Joe and Debra's new Subaru Outback and was looking forward to getting the heat cranking so I could warm myself up.  I was chilled to the bone and I realized how stupid it was to take the warnings lightly and not take all my cold weather gear with me around the lake.  We learn so many different lessons when running these races and most of the time we learn the hard way.  I will also make sure I eat a little bit at a time in future races so my body does not have to work so hard to digest food.  I will also make sure I am drinking enough fluids no matter what the weather is like.  Lastly, I think I will try to avoid caffeine as this possibly had something to do with my side pain but that is just speculation.  I am still extremely disappointed that I did not come home with the Mountain Lakes finisher buckle but deep down I knew that dropping was the right thing to do.  I hope that someday in the future I can return to Mountain Lakes and claim redemption.  We had a lot of fun with the rest of our time in Oregon.  It's such a fantastic state and hard to believe we have such awesome wilderness in America.

My crew and I hanging out Joe and Debra not pictured
I want to finish this write up expressing deep gratitude to my crew and pacer.  Jane, Deirdre, Buff, Debra, and Joe stepped up to the challenge and were very excited to help me out.  They dedicated part of their vacations to getting me through this adventure.  They never complained about anything and were having a great time.  I am forever grateful for their generosity and lucky to have such awesome people in my life.  One inside joke that I need to end this report with is "30 DAYS IN THE HOLE!!!!"   

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