Friday, July 6, 2012

The Journey Within.... my 2012 running of the Western States 100

Siting down to write about my recent Western States 100 has (is) a very difficult endeavor. In the days since the race I have sat at my Mac to write and come up short. The problem is not my recollection of the race. Surprisingly most of race is burned into my mind quite well. The difficultly comes with putting into words what impacted me the most on race day. A lot of what occurred prior to race day shaped the event more than my execution of the race. But to cover it all would make this a longer read than it already is.  Here we go.......


I knew to complete my goal of finishing the event and finishing better than before would take a change in training. My good friend Eric Toschi had an excellent WS100 in 2011. He shared his training log with me which was very helpful. We think alike with regards to Ultra training, it's not always long and slow running. Quality running and training all aspects of your body need to be covered. My mind set has changed over the past few years. I'm a runner, not just an “Ultrarunner”. I believe many people separate the two to the determent of their training.

I started slowly building my mileage up from December on. Early on with the help of the training group I coach I was hitting 70mpw without trying. My weeks looked more like a typical runners week. Long run, threshold run, easy and or recovery runs. The training was fun with the occasional un-planned hard effort to change things up and make it fun. During this time I did some polymetric and core work.

I planned to race Way to Cool 50K as a gauge for my fitness and go after my time from last year. I was pleased with my result at the race, but felt I had more to give. Regardless this put me in a good mindset to start the race specific training, i.e: hills and quad seasoning, since I planned not to ”race” until WS100

I developed a training plan with big weeks (90-100 miles) in April and May. During the biggest weeks I would run the Miwok 100K (as a training run). During the WS100 Memorial weekend I would run 50 miles on the course on Saturday.

In April I found a new convenient hill to do my shorter mid-week hill repeats on, the Hazel Ave bridge. I found that an up/down loop is just shy of a mile (.8). Its pavement, but with good form it wasn't too hard on my body. The incline is such that its runnable. I was able to easily lock in a pace that had me in the pain cave without blowing up. I worked up to an hour plus of repeats which made for one sweet mid-week workout.

Saturday long runs were either the Canyons or something similar in the Confluence area, (30+) miles. Like my personal favorite, repeats on the Dam Hill followed by an out and back to Cool. Followed up by a shorter (15-22mile) quality Sunday run. The Sunday runs really taught me pacing and made me a stronger runner. When I was running well on a Sunday run it was great. When I was suffering more it reinforced the mental game and made me run smart to get the workout done without a melt down.

During this time I began to work on my running shoes. I was having doubts that my tried and true Nike Pegasus were the shoe for me. I'm a bigger runner and they were just wearing out too quickly and I was sore a lot when I should not have been. I switched to the firmer Saucony Triumph 9, which is an awesome shoe.

Later I ate my criticism about the Hoka OneOne shoes and began wearing them also. For long trail running the Hoka's are it. Example: Fresh legs for marathon paced running the day after a quality 32 mile day in the Canyons. I could give you more examples, but basically I ran higher average weekly mileage with less pain and zero injury which I think the Hoka's played a large part of.

I monitored what I ate, but by May I slacked up a bit since my weight was hovering in the low to mid 170's (I'm about 6'3”). The comfort food helped me mentally with the busy days.

I knew my training had paid off because unlike past races when I started my taper I was calm and looking forward to getting the race done. Pacing Eric at SD100 also helped put me in the right mind set for a 100 miler.

Race Day

With the weather reports showing mild weather I was very motivated to get running. No heat in the canyons, bring it on. I would later comment that I will never again wish for mild weather at WS100.

Just prior to the Escarpment we hit the type of wind I only get when mountaineering on Mt Shasta or Mt. Whitney. It was gale force winds pushing you backwards, then came the hail and rain. Thank god I was over dressed in fleece gloves, t-shirt, fleece arm warmers and a North Face shell.

Escarpment to Robinson Flat I stuck to my plan and kept my HR low and my running relaxed. I walked ALL the ups, no matter how small. This was the key to saving my legs and body for later in the race. I saw a lot of interesting pacing going on prior to Robinson Flat.

Just after Red Star Ridge I closed the door on the bad karma that has haunted me since my 2009 DNF. I stopped near the large tree I had to hold onto while simultaneously voiding both ends of my body in 2009as runners went by, (you get the idea).

The rain, hail and cold temps continued to the point I was soaked and cold. But otherwise I was feeling OK, but my hands were very stiff. My Reynauds Syndrome had been in full effect for hours. This made opening a gel quite funny.

Just prior to Duncan Canyon I fell in line with Scott Mills and John Trent and another runner. The unknown runner ahead of me was stumbling and quasi- rolling his ankle a lot. Just prior to Duncan Canyon aid station I notified the runner I wanted to pass, he was freaking me out. He started when I called out and stumbled a bit. As I watched him I was not watching the trail and BAM!! I rolled my left ankle with a nice audible pop and then did a nice face plant. I heard someone say, “was that a pop?? ”. My internal reply was “yes you douche bag it was thanks for stopping to help as you went by me”.

I immediately tried out my weight on it and after a little hobbling/walking and cursing I got going again so it wouldn't swell. Soon after I came into Duncan Canyon. The aid station worker asked what I needed. I told him to tie my shoe laces as tight as possible. He said really, I said yes please just do it. There is a great shot of him doing on the Ws100 site.

With my foot strapped in I continued on since I had what I needed to get me to Robinson Flat. I was able to run to Robinson Flat mostly on my own which was nice. The rougher trail told me I would have to watch the ankle the remainder of the day. I would later take some NSAID because it freaking hurt.

Robinson Flat came and went, I had a quick refueling with my awesome crew. I look forward to the section after Robinson Flat to start some great running. Alas the rain and wind were still with us until Miller Defeat, not so much fun.

Once I was through Dusty Corners I was in very familiar territory. From here on I had various projected split times from past races burned in my head for the remaining sections. For some reason I was not rolling through this part of the trail like I had planned. By Pucker Point I realized I was low on calories. In hindsight this was probably my only low point of the race. I was alone and had been that way for a while and low on calories. By the time I started the descent from Last Chance I was feeling much better.

Canyons to Foresthill

On my best day I'm not a big fan of the descent to the Swinging Bridge. With a sore ankle I was dreading it. As I descended Matt Keyes came up to me and it was great to chat with him for a bit. He has this race dialed from multiple sub-24hr finishes.

I planned to put in a little extra effort on the two Canyon climbs. With the mellow weather I thought it would be a good place to push a little. My improved hill legs also had me wanting to give it a go also. Once on the climb up Devil's Thumb I pushed a little, but decided my idea was not a smart one. I started thinking about what I wanted to run on Cal St. and the last 20 miles of the race and I chilled out.

Once at the top I continued moving though aid stations quickly. I think I was at my lowest weight at Devils Thumb, 3-4lbs down.

I had an OK descent to El Dorado Canyon and an OK climb out to Michigan Bluff. This close to Foresthill I just kept thinking about what was to come and kept it mellow. Looking back maybe it was something else also. Because even on my worst Canyon training day I had more pep than I had during the race.

Once I was into Michigan Bluff I was ready to race a bit. Strangely enough my body agreed and I got to it. While geeking out on splits before the race I told myself a good spilt from Michigan Bluff to Foresthill would be 1:20-1:25. A great spilt would be 1:10 – 1:15. the trick was to run this without running myself into the ground, lots of racing still to do. I ran a 1:15 to Foresthill while walking all of Bath Rd. I knew then I had something going.

As planned my crew met me at Bath Rd so I could start eating before I got to Foresthill. It was great to see Eric, Kuni and Melisa and talk a bit. Another quick in and out at Foresthill due to my great crew and Kuni and I were on our way.

California Street

My plan for Cal St. was to run fast and smooth, but not lose the quads. Up to this point it was scary how good my legs felt this late in the race. I was bombing descents like it was a training run. Regardless I kept my head about me and just let the trail pull me along.

By the Dardanelles aid station I knew things were going to get interesting. Kuni was great as a pacer, he calmly monitored my intake of calories and kept me laughing. His story about his missing tooth was too funny.

Somewhere out there I mentioned to Kuni how I could not pee and run as many other runners around us were doing. I found out later that Kuni himself was giving it a try as we ran. When I found out I snapped at him that I would do physical harm to him if he pee'd on me. Another light hearted moment that helped get me through the evening.

During the run to Peachstone I had to hold myself back while I ran. It was at this time I knew I had the legs to make things happen. I won't lie it's a scary thing to feel good in a 100 miler 65+ miles in.

I had planned on a 3:15-3:20 Cal St if I was having a good day and running smart. At Rucky Chucky I did the math and saw I had run a little over 3hrs (3:08). I tried not to go crazy about it, but at this point I told myself it was time to race. On the climb to Green Gate I stuck to my plan and hiked it while eating. By the time Kuni and I met Eric I was ready to get on some smooth trail and roll.

Green Gate to the Finish

After switching pacers the race began. I was feeling good enough that I began to think that I had laid up early in the race. As we started to run I realized I had not laid up, I had saved my legs so I could run, not walk the next 20 miles. A weird focus or rather a clarity that started on Cal St blossomed as we headed out. Sure I was tired but everything clicked and felt like smooth. No real anxiety, It was run, hike, drink, eat and talk about the section coming up.

Soon after leaving Green Gate we began to pass people. I can honestly say that passing people is a HUGE boost this late in a 100 miler. I feel bad for the runners I pass, especially the runners that you can tell are in bad shape. I give a kind word, but the competition of what your trying to do helps to move you along just that little bit faster, even if it's only in your head.

Eric and I took the 20 miles apart aid station to aid station. Like Kuni, Eric was the calm voice of reason when I began to get out of control. He also monitored me so I could focus on my running. The calm voice asking if I ate would make me do just that, no whining on my part and no pressure or prodding by him to get me to do it. It was like we had rehearsed it. For my next 100 I can tell who I want for my pacers, Eric and Kuni.

I was pleased that the section to ALT went by very quickly. Pre-race I knew this twisty section and climb by Third Gate could be an issue for me. I wanted to get past ALT and onto the single track to Browns Bar that I love to run.

Strangely everything was clicking and I had a weird calm as we moved through this section. I was running as I had hoped to, but I still could not believe it. Soon enough we were at ALT, I told Eric I didn't believe it. Thus far in the race I had not asked for splits nor did I carry a list with me. At thing time Eric mentioned something about our pace through the last section. I don't recall what it was exactly, but I know the pace per mile was well ahead of what I thought I would be running.

Browns Bar came and went, I took my time on the descent to Quarry Rd which sucks even on the best legs. The body was a bit sore now, but my quads and legs were still with me.

Before I knew it we were climbing Quarry Trail from the road. Quarry Trail came quickly due in large part to Eric who had me run a lot more than I thought I would on Quarry Rd.

At Hwy 49 I saw Lily and heard a group of people yelling for me, it was a huge energy boost. I was in and out of the aid station quickly and back on the clock in no time flat. The energy of the aid station boosted me up and over Waterfall Trail into Pointed Rocks Meadow. I saw runners across the meadow and went for them. I think Eric let me go a bit but then got in front and reined me in as we began to descend. I can say by now I could smell nothing but the barn, even over the extreme rank that was issuing from my own body.

I knew the decent to No Hands Bridge would be tough both mentally and physically. It didn't disappoint, having Eric run ahead of me helped pull me along. Before I knew it we were at the bridge. If I recall it correctly I hit a big cup of Coke as I had since Green Gate and headed out. I remember running and wanting to run all that I could to Robie Point. What I actually ran only Eric knows, I recall some walking, but I felt like I ran a lot. I recall becoming a bit angry at this point. The “I'm going to break this trail in half” kind of anger. Very refreshing after a long day.

As we started the final climb I recall bitching a lot about the final push to the Fleet Feet aid station. I really don't like the Robie Point climb.

At the Fleet Feet aid station I was met by Melisa and a lot of friends. I recall hearing the voices, but I had only one thought, get to Izzy and Lily at the track. The road section to the track hurt SO bad. My hips decided they had enough.

I hit the track where Lily and Izzy waited for me and we ran it in. At the finish were my family and friends. About as perfect as it gets.

What worked and what would I change for next time

Training wise I think improving my overall running form and fitness over the past year helped the most. I had no injuries in the past six month and I felt more comfortable and efficient on all areas of my running.

Specificity of training was obviously a big part. It's WS100 so seasoning the quads is something you have to do. Besides Canyon runs I think my Damn Hill repeats helped my leg strength a lot. Mentally I think these repeats helped me also, hours of up and down on a hill by yourself will do that. Quality Sunday runs on tired legs was also very helpful.

Food wise I still believe liquid food is the way to go in ultras. I had zero stomach issues. I use a little known product called Spiz ( I know, the name is horrible). It's cheaper than most other products and has everything in it, fat, carbs, and protein. I can drink it warm or cold and it mixes easily. A serving size in a 20 oz bottle is 517 calories, but you can mix it higher with no ill effects. I did eat gels and regular food early on, but after 35 miles this was all I ate with an occasional gel until it was time to add Coke time.

I use music a lot in training and I really enjoy it. But for racing I think I've made too many mistakes not paying attention to my body when I have my iPod on. Racing without my iPod at the race was a smart move.

Clothing wise Drymax socks and Hoka shoes are the way to go. Gear wise my Salomon S-lab pack continues to be the best pack ever, well worth the price tag. I had to sew up one of the front pockets I torn out before the race but it held up just fine during the race.

The fit of the Hoka's is not great for me so I lost some toe nails, but otherwise I had good feet with only a few blisters.

A big thanks to my wife Lily and daughter for allowing me the time to train and putting up with me the past few months. Thanks to Kuni and Eric for great pacing and support. Thank you to Melisa, Dasie and Kathy for crewing and support. To everyone out on the trail Lisa, Glenda, Jane, and everyone else I know I'm forgetting, thank you, your cheers and support helped me more than you know.