Friday, August 16, 2019

Kodiak 100: Aug 16, 2019

The calm before the storm that was Kodiak 100
At the beginning of 2019 I was itching for another 100 mile race attempt.  While searching for 100 milers in Northern California I realized my options were limited for a summer race.  I expanded my search to Southern California and stumbled upon Kodiak 100 which was mid August and takes place around Big Bear Lake.  I have always wanted to check out Big Bear and the timing of the race was perfect so I went ahead and signed up as soon as registration allowed.  My wife Jessica was going to be my crew chief and she has done an amazing job of getting me through the hundred mile races that I have been able to complete.  My good friend Chas stated he would come out to California from Ohio and crew for me, bonus!!  Also, a few months later my other good friend Amy asked if I needed an additional crew member and I absolutely welcomed her to join the party.  So, between Jessica, Chas, and Amy I had an all-star crew and they would all prove to be very essential in getting me through this race. 
The quality of my training for Kodiak 100 lead me to believe I was going to do really well however the race had different plans for me.  This was my toughest attempt at a one hundred mile race due to being at higher altitude, technical trails, and over 17,000 feet of climbing.  I designed my training plan and was able to follow it fairly well.  Of course I had to adjust for certain life events but I really put forth a lot of time and effort to preparing for this race. Training officially began in March and I had started to do some running with Shaun who introduced me to gnarly races and also tough training runs that really tested my mental and physical abilities.  The biggest boost to my confidence was Broken Arrow 52K because I was able to handle steep climbing at altitude with minimal problems.  This was very encouraging and I felt as if I was in peak shape at this point in time.  The only problem was that I had another 5 weeks or so of hard training left.  July was a grind but I had never felt that solid going into a taper.  I became a little over confident which was easy to do when training went so well and I didn't really have any taper or injury type issues etc..  There was a 36 hour time limit for this event which is a lot longer than most races of this distance or amount of climbing.  I was aiming to finish in 30 hours although I would be ecstatic just to finish and get the belt buckle.
Nice setting for a race!

In years past, this race was an 8:00 PM start.  I thought it would be nice to sleep a little longer than a usual 5:00 AM start for most 100 mile races.  Well, Kodiak made a change and decided to start this years event at 6:00 PM on the Friday.  Oh wow, this presented a whole new challenge.  It basically meant that I would wake up in the morning and wait all day for the race to start along with having to run over the course of two nights.  The positive thing is that I would not have any pressure or anxiety about getting to sleep early the night before since no alarms would be set.  I did have a really good nights sleep the night before and we had time to go over race plans with Chas and Amy who arrived Friday morning.  It's hard to describe the feeling at the start of a 100 mile race.  It' almost like a huge sign of relief and gratitude.  The culmination of all those training miles and time spent preparing.  I was excited to head out into the mountains around Big Bear for 30+ hours of connecting with nature and seeing what I am made of.  The race began and we did a parade lap around town to spread the crowd out a bit.  Then we hit a climb on a dirt road where cars were driving by and leaving a fog of dust for us to navigate through.  About 3 or 4 miles in we finally got to some single track trail which was really nice.  We had a long downhill to the first aid station at mile 6.

Chas was waiting for me at the trailhead and somehow we missed each other.  Jessica and Amy got me necessary supplies and I left quickly as I didn't need to spend a lot of time at aid stations early in the race.  I would not see my crew again for 19 more miles and it turned out to be a Mike Tyson style punch to the face getting to mile 25.  It got dark out and we had to face one of the toughest challenges of the race by dropping over 3,000 feet down into Siberia creek canyon.  Usually downhills are best for making up time because gravity is in your favor but not in this case.  In the pre-race meeting the race director mentioned there was one tree down on this section of trail that we would have to climb over or go under.  Well, she failed to mention there was not just one of these giant trees laying across the trail but several dozen of them!  Each time getting over, under, and through these trees was draining on the overall pace.  It didn't help the trail was extremely narrow in a lot of sections and slow going because one wrong step on the loose gravelly surface next to the cliff could result in a search and rescue operation or worse.  The parts of this section that were not next to a huge drop off were narrow trail that had large shrubbery protruding into the trail so it was like running the gauntlet in American Gladiators.  Once we reached the bottom of the canyon the trail sort of disappeared and it took a few of us searching in the dark to find the markings telling us which way to go.
Sun setting over the lake and mountains

We reached the "creek" which was a very fast moving high rapids river.  There were large rocks which allowed us to cross without getting soaked in the cold water but one guy in front of me slipped and took a plunge.  I remember feeling sorry for him and secretly relieved that it was not me!  Once we reached the other side of this creek there was a guy and his family that hiked all the way down into the canyon to filter water out of the river for runners.  What an awesome thing for someone to do!  It was quite an operation they had going and there were runners lined up to get refills.  I had enough water in my bladder and decided to not waste time by standing in line.  Then we had to do a huge climb out of the canyon and it was getting past my normal bedtime.  A huge wave of exhaustion swept over me and I was frustrated that it took so long and such a physical toll getting to the bottom of the canyon and we were not even a quarter of the way finished with the race.  I was staying on top of drinking water but through the madness of the Siberia canyon section I was not consuming enough (or any) calories.  This no doubt was part of my exhaustion.

The climb out of the canyon took forever as suspected and I was pretty much a walking zombie as I strolled into the aid station and was greeted by my crew.  They were definitely concerned as I showed up way later than estimated but they also witnessed a lot of other runners coming into this aid station who were messed up and some were even dropping out.  Chas pulled out the baggie of gels from my pack which I had not touched and rightly called me out for not eating any calories.  I would never survive this race unless I started consuming calories so I knew what I had to do going forward.  I was so tired that I told them I wanted to take a nap but we collectively agreed that I didn't really have time for a nap here.  I was in such an exhausted stupor that I could of been mistaken for a drunken slurred speech college student stumbling home from the bars.  I was uncharacteristically angry about the situation in general and may not of treated my crew as well as they deserved to be treated, to them I apologize for that.  Luckily they know me and that I would never intentionally be a jerk to them, I am so lucky to have awesome people in my life.  It was about 1:30 AM at this point and after some rest and calories I trekked off into the night.  I would not see my crew for another 30 miles but they took such great care of me at this aid station that I felt rejuvenated and ready to continue on my mission.

That sun was out to get me!
The next 30 miles had rolling terrain in the forest and I was moving way better then earlier miles and it was relieving.  In fact, between passing people and others dropping out I was moving up quite a few spots during those late night / early morning hours.  My mind was very out of whack during these overnight miles so I do not have much of a memory of what happened.  I know that I did not see many other runners out there I just kept moving along.  Then the sun came up as I was getting on the Pacific Crest Trail section of the race.  I was very excited for this section because the miles I had on the PCT in Oregon at Mountain Lakes 100 were excellent.  The trail was well maintained and in great shape so I thought it would be similar in Southern California.  I was not accurate in my assessment because the PCT section around Big Bear was extremely rocky and technical.  It made for some very slow miles.  Although seeing the sunrise over Big Bear Lake from higher elevation was worth the price of admission and then some.  I had not carried sunscreen with me and I did not reach my crew until 10:30 AM or so.  The sun had been blazing and beating down on me since about 8:30 AM.  I used my long sleeve T-shirt to cover my head and neck, kind of like Chevy Chase did with his jeans walking through the desert in National Lampoons Vacation (credit to Ron Delozier for posting a pic on Facebook that reminded me of this caparison).

So Hot! So Exposed! 
9 hours ago my crew could not tell me apart from a zombie but coming into mile 55 I was awake and had a decent night of progress.  They were excited to see me and I was more excited to see them.  They gave me the royal treatment, I got a massage and got some clean socks. Also, they refilled the supplies in my pack and prepared an ice bandana as I was heading into the most exposed section of the course smack dab in the middle of the afternoon heat.  They said I looked good compared to most people coming into this aid station.  This gave me a nice little boost of confidence leaving the aid station.  I can't even put into words how thankful I am to Jessica, Chas, and Amy for everything they did for me during this whole race.  So off I went into the sun and I was mentally feeling great but physically I was pretty beat down.  Still drinking as much water as possible to stay hydrated and luckily the typical colon inflammation I battle at most 100 milers had not arrived yet.  I had 12 or 13 miles to go before seeing my crew again and these were some very tough miles in the heat.  The sun was blazing so hard that I took a lot of mini breaks were I would sit under a tall shrub even if there was a tiny bit of shade but that was rare out here is the high desert.  The ultra gods smiled down upon me as I came to the aid station at the bottom of a canyon and the awesome volunteers had two huge coolers filled with flavor ice Popsicles!  I sucked down two of those things standing there and took one for the road!  I also kept drinking as much water as I could get down because I knew the dry air at altitude and the heat would be a death sentence if I did not stay hydrated.
Sugarloaf, the mountain I had to climb  

Rocky steep climbing was par for the course

There were some extremely rocky and steep climbs as I made my way to the base of Sugarloaf Mountain where my crew awaited me.  I was happy to see them but I was extremely wasted from the heat and felt like a dead man walking.  Also, he who shall remain nameless, pointed out the mountain in the background where I was facing a 3,600 foot climb to the top and it seemed like a monumental task.  Amy started pacing me at this point and I was glad to have her along as conversation with a friend helps to distract from the pain.  The climb up the mountain was very steep, rocky, and unforgiving.  Like other sections of the course the technical aspect of it made for very slow movement.  I was reduced to concentrating on one step at a time and resting by leaning on my trekking poles at very frequent intervals.  It seemed to take a lifetime to make it to the top of the mountain but we finally got there!  We had some really great views from the top as the sun was slowly starting to set.  We turned around and started heading back on the rocky terrain and to my surprise there were quite a few other runners still on their way up to the top.  At this time I started to get a bad pain in my stomach and it was not the usual side ache type pain but more centered under my rib cage.  The route down the mountain was different then the climb up.  It took us on a nice smooth fire road where I should of been running down and making up time but due to the pain in my stomach and a developing hot spot on my foot I was reduced to a power hike at best.  I tried to slowly run a few times but it was not happening.  The sky grew dark and I was sad to see the light go but at least it was getting cooler out.  The head lamps got switched on and night #2 was underway.

More rocky climbs

Putting in the work, gotta get to the Sugarloaf summit!

At the Sugarloaf summit, made it!

We made it to the bottom of the fire road and then had to go back into the woods in order to get back to that aid station where Chas and Jessica were waiting.  The course markings were a bit confusing and there was a big trail intersection where we were not sure which direction to go.  We did a big drop down this steep hill and then the trail did not look much like a trail so we hiked back up the hill to re-check the markings.  Come to find out the first attempt was the right direction after all but we did not see a course marking for awhile so I was praying it was the correct way to go.  Then we heard aid station noises and seen all the lights which gave me huge relief!  Chas checked out my hot spot and confirmed there was not much that could be done about it and I would have to suck it up for the next 18 miles.  Even though I was drinking plenty of water I was still extremely low on calories.  Chas grabbed me a hot grilled cheese from aid station which really hit the spot and even relieved my stomach pain for a little while.  Jess helped me change socks again and checked to make sure I had everything I needed for the next leg of the journey.  Amy and I continued on in the dark, still power hiking through the woods.  Over the next few miles that hot spot under my foot had turned painful as every step made me cringe.  I repeated the mantra over and over that quitting is not an option and pain is all in my head.  I was still sucking down water as I was not peeing much in the last 10 hours and it was dark when I did.  I drank so much water over the course of this race that I was so tired of it!

Amy and I headed out into the dark at mile 81
Amy helped keep my attention off all the pain and exhaustion by keeping the conversation going through these dark miles.  Crew was not allowed at the mile 87 aid station however they were allowed to meet us in a parking lot which was a half mile from the aid station.  Amy and I got to the parking lot but Chas and Jessica were no where to be seen.  There was an SUV way on the other end of the lot with the lights on but it was hard to tell if it was them.  We waved our arms a few times in their direction but the vehicle did not move.  Just as we were about to continue on the vehicle started pulling across the parking lot and low and behold it was them!  They got me situated and prepared for the last 12 miles.  After a quick stop at the aid station we had a decent climb and then a huge drop down a rocky fire road all the way to the bottom of another canyon.  There was a kind lady down there with some limited aid station supplies and it was a nice little rest before the next horror show of a section.  We basically had to do a huge climb up out of the canyon on a very narrow trail that was mostly loose gravel.  I was glad that I had trekking poles to help stabilize my ass whooped self.  This was a very tough and dangerous climb which seemed to go on forever and I was so glad when we finally seen lights at the top where the aid station was.  We could hear voices cheering runners on.  There were some interesting characters at this aid station and they were extremely helpful.  I would like to say that most of the aid stations were top notch at this race and much thanks to all the volunteers.  So, we only had 4 miles to go and I was salivating over crossing the finish line.  The last 4 miles seemed like they went on forever as there was no way that I was able to run.  Finally we got out of the woods and had about one mile to go on the road back into town.

A crew for the ages.  Lucky to have all-stars in my corner!
Amy and I jogged through the empty quiet street and then into the lighted downtown area.  I crossed that finish line and was so glad to see Jess and Chas and just being done was a relief.  There was not many people around at the finish at 4:23 AM so it was kind of anti-climatic but I got my buckle and more importantly I proved to myself I could finish a tough 100 miler at altitude.  So, my final time was 34 hours and 23 minutes.  It took a lot longer than I anticipated and I was happy that I finished but thought I didn't have a good race.  Upon seeing the results I found out that I got 55th place overall and there were 30 people that finished after me.  Along with 71 people who did not finish.  So, overall it was just a really tough race and I felt a lot better about my results.  I know that just finishing should be all that matters but when you train so hard for something you expect to perform well.  Without my incredible crew I honestly don't think this race would of turned out favorably.  They went above and beyond the normal crew duties to make sure I got through the race and I am forever grateful.  Chas and Amy didn't even hesitate to fly across the country and help me and Jessica gave up another weekend of sacrificing sleep for me.

The next day was a Sunday and Chas got up early after only a few hours sleep and went for a run.  We mostly sat around the AirBnB all day drinking and eating along with going into town for some beer and food as well.  This was a very memorable experience and I was glad to share it with close friends.  This 100 mile distance is always such an unknown because there are a ton of ups and downs both mentally and physically.  Usually your body and mind are completely done with the race about mile 50 and it's a trip to realize your only half way done!  Keep putting one foot in front of the other and eventually you get to the finish.  I didn't have my usual side ache from this race which was enlightening.  The other stomach pain I got was kind of defeating during the race as it kept me from running over the last 30 miles or so but just another thing I must figure out!  I don't know when my next 100 mile race will be as I kind of get burnt out from the training.  Although after some time passes I am sure I will be itching for another challenge.

My fourth 100 mile buckle, it was a hard earned piece of metal.