Sunday, June 5, 2016

Dirty 30 race report

Well I have another ultramarathon under my belt.  As usual, it not only challenged me physically, but emotionally and spiritually too.

The Dirty 30  - a 50K in Golden Gate Canyon, CO.  It was actually 32 miles but I guess that doesn't make for a good name....

Gary and I pre-race

Start line

I sent my running partners Gary and John an email back in January telling them I was thinking about doing this race - any interest?  John didn't - he was done doing long races (I should probably follow his lead at some point!).  Gary liked the idea and the challenge.  We have adventured together for several years (Gary 20+, John 10+).  I don't ever look at the race details, just the pictures from the course.  Gary immediately looked at the race details and came up with a plan - we would have to run 19 minute miles, plan our nutrition and we will make the cut-offs.

We went to Golden Gate Canyon several times to recon the course.  It was usually snowy and cold.  We both got busy with life and didn't train or recon to the level that we should have.

This race was a bitch. No if's and's or but's.  It was a bitch!  It was one of the most challenging days I can remember.

For training, I did several mountain runs, however none more than 15 miles. I raced some snowshoe races this winter but they were only 10K.  The bottom line....I was under-prepared.

We decided to opt for the early start as we were going to need the extra time.  There were 50 +/- of us that opted to suffer more than the rest of the crowd.  The weather forecast looked favorable for a great race (low of 40, high 65, no rain).  The sun was just starting to rise, the nervous energy was palpable.  Most of the early starters were first time ultra competitors.  The race director, Megan, called them SISU's.

From the website, "Sisu is a Finnish word that cannot be properly translated into the English language, but is loosely defined as stoic determination, bravery, guts, resilience, perseverance and hardiness, expressing the historic self-identified Finnish National Character.  Sisu is about taking action against the odds and displaying courage and resoluteness in the face of adversity. Deciding on a course of action and then sticking to that decision against repeated failures is Sisu."

I admit, I was a little jealous of the attention that was bestowed upon the newbies.  I knew I was going to suffer today.  The question, "Would I be able to overcome the challenges ahead (and display the qualities of Sisu)?" loomed large.


I started out in 4th place (for about 100 yards - lol).  Over the course of the day, all but a few would pass me en route to the finish (500+).  For me, this was not a race against the other racers, this was a race against the trail, the conditions, the clock and most importantly, my brain.  My goal was to finish before the course closed.

My race strategy was to power hike all of the uphills, try to run the flats and downhills.  Drink water every 10 minutes or so, try to eat every 30 minutes.  I had a smorgasbord of food in my pack.  I try to eat real food early to keep my stomach happy. Then later, gels, bars, anything that I can tolerate. Over the years, I learned to have a good nutrition plan but be flexible as I never know how my body will respond on any given day.

I also used hiking poles.  They help me with the uphills and more importantly take 20-30% of the weight on the downhills creating less jarring to my knees and hips.  It engages my core and helps with balance - especially in the technical portions.  I did a lot of training at Orange Theory Fitness the past 1.5 years.  This has taught me focus (on the dreaded treadmill and rower), has given me some serious core strength, raised my aerobic capacity and anaerobic threshold.

Back to the race....

The word that best describes the first half of race for me - HUBRIS - I was full of it.  I kept thinking that this is going to be easier than other races/events that I have done - Grand Canyon, Leadville Marathon, Skyline to the Sea, Snowshoe marathons, etc.  Time goals started to creep into my head. "If I can do Leadville Marathon in under 7 hours, this should be easy!"

We were flowing through some nice non-technical singletrack. There were some climbs but nothing too difficult.   I always go out too fast, I always go out to fast, I always go out too fast.  Maybe one day, I will figure this out.  Gary was hanging back. He is much more disciplined than I.  I would get to the aid stations first and regroup while he steady paces his way in.  Today, I didn't realize that he was struggling with cramping and calf pain.

At around mile 9 the trail turned into a crazy technical rock skree field (elevation ~9500').  No running here.  I wondered if there was going to be a lot more of this.  It was totally un-runnable - up or down. The trail started to humble me.  The terrain reminded me of the top sections of Mt. Grey's and Torrey's.  I have climbed several 14-ers and it has proved to be great training for this - both mentally and physically. I was extremely glad for the hiking poles here! We then descended into aid station 2.

We left aid station 2, 40 minutes ahead of schedule still feeling pretty good.  12 miles done - 1/3 of the way there.  The trail out of aid 2 started to climb.  It was steep and long.  The negative thoughts started creeping in.  I ate some food but my stomach wasn't feeling that great.  I was forcing food and drink down. It was almost 5 miles to the next aid station.  It was 5 miles to the next bathroom.  It became clear that I would need it.  There was a sign that said 1 in 100 ultra runners poop their pants.  I was determined not to be that one....Though at times, it was getting close!

The trail descended for 2 miles with a 1000 foot elevation loss into aid station 3.  When the trail goes downhill, I think that I am the king of the world.  The trail flows and time flies. The hubris crept back in.

Aid 3 is 17.4 miles in.  WELL over half way!  There was a volunteer with a sign that that made me laugh so hard, I had to take a picture with her.

I paid a visit to the outhouse to drop some weight.  Now all was well in my world.  Lower bowels were empty and I still had a spring in my step.  I had a drop bag to replenish my food.  I changed socks, wet my head and I was ready to tackle the second half of the race.  Unfortunately Gary dropped at this point. He was cramping really bad.  He didn't think he would make it to the cut off in time to continue on in his current physical state. He called it a good training day and dropped out. There were a lot of people dropping at this point.  Seeds were planted in my brain, though I didn't know it at the time.

The temperature was much hotter than the forecasted 60 degrees - I cursed at the weather man for giving me unrealistic expectations.  It was probably 80 degrees in the sun.  I exited aid station 3 to a grinding 2.5 mile (1200') climb.  I was starting to cramp.  I took several breaks along the way.  The flats and downhills now became shuffles instead of runs.  I was breaking down.  This section was 8 miles to the next aid station.  It was very technical.  I was alone for most of it.  There were a half dozen or so of us suffering, passing, resting, leapfrogging each other.  I felt my attitude plummeting faster than I could run downhill.

I got it into my mind that I would drop at the next aid station as I thought I would only have 50 minutes to make the cut-off from aid 4 to Windy Peak. - the last obstacle of the race.  I thought that distance was 5 miles.  I was now shuffe-walking - visualize Marty Feldman's Igor in "Young Frankenstien" (walk this way).  That was my running gate.

I arrived at Aid 4 (mile 25) and accepted my fate.  My hubris had turned to humiliation. I was defeated. I rationalized that 8 hours, 25 miles was still a good day. It had been a long time since I didn't finish a race - maybe I was due?  My cramping was fierce at this point. I was quite dehydrated.  I sat down in the shade.  I told them I didn't think I would make the 5 miles in 50 minutes.  They immediately started questioning my logic.  It was only 1 mile to the 3:00 cut off.  I had plenty of time.  Fuck, Fuck Fuck! I guess I didn't really have an excuse anymore.

This aid station was probably the best aid station in the history of aid stations.  I ate fresh fried pirogies, boiled sweet and white potatoes dipped in salt, avocados, chips, watermelon and popsicles. Yes - Pirogies and Popsicles how much better could life be!?!  I must have sat and ate for 15 minutes straight.  I accepted that I couldn't use the "I'm too slow excuse" and I was resigned to gut out the remainder of the race.  I refilled my water bladder and set out to finish.   I also took a lifeshotz vitamin boost.  It couldn't have come at a better time. I knew my wife Gina would be proud! I felt awesome!

The rest and food really energized me. My "Igor" gallop turned again into good running form and I was going as fast as I had a the beginning of the race.  I was back in the flow.  Again, I was pretty much alone as almost everyone in the race has passed me by now.... I knew that this rejuvenation wouldn't be long lived, but I would ride it out as long as I can.  I was at the cut off in 8 minutes as it was all downhill.

I turned into a steep downhill single track in the woods. there were several familiar faces coming up looking really tired.  Ominous warning.  I am cruising along and I start to feel something dripping down the back of my legs.  I thought, "Is it water or blood?" Thankfully it was water.  I must not have secured shut my water pouch.  I pulled it out of the pack and there were several hole in it.  Fuck, Fuck, FUCK!   How does this happen?  And what timing!!

 A random hiker offered to lend me her bladder, I politely declined.  The lowest holes were about 2" from the bottom of the bladder.  I could keep about 16 oz of water in the bladder.  I knew that wouldn't last long.  I still had 8 miles, and the hardest part of the course was looming large ahead of me.

The climb to Windy Peak was 2.5 miles and 1200'.  Alone, it wouldn't have been too difficult.  It was now mile 26, exposed in the hot sun and 8.5 hours of running thus far.  I was still able to run the flats and the short downhills.  The uphills started to become more technical and steep.  I was able to maintain with several breaks.  My legs were starting to cramp again.  I took some salt tablets and took a big pull from my water hose.  About 5 minutes later, the cramping got real.  I felt like I was on the edge of full tonic-clonic seizure.  I drank the remainder of my water.  I thought I was close to the top, but I was very wrong.  I took it easy, modified my gait to minimize the cramping.  I was in trouble.  I sat along the side of the trail and massaged my calves and thighs to to try to flush out some of the lactic acid.

I started asking other runners for water.  I had salt deposits all over my clothes, face and hat.  I was pale and my heart rate wouldn't come down.  The other runners let me take pulls off their water hoses.  One trail angel named Charles had a spare bottle in his pack that he gave to me.  This guy saved my race (and most likely, my life!)  I drank a good bit of it quickly, took more salt pills and marched forward.  I summited about 20 minutes later.  I took a picture at the top.  Sat down for a few minutes and drank the remainder of my water.

Top of Windy Peak Mile 28 - Cue the butterfly!

I heard the volunteers talking about me that I was out of water, not looking so good.  There was some chatter on their walkie talkies about sweeping the course.  However, the only way to safety would be to finish.  I needed to go about a mile downhill to get some more water.  I better get moving.  I didn't want to DNF at this point!

I was back to my "Igor shuffle".  All downhill from here (except for the uphills...).  I started to reflect on my life.  My mom is not doing well with her health and her situation weighed heavy on my at this section.  The emotions were strong at this point.  I decided to turn on some music.  Foo Fighters - "Times like These" started playing.  Couldn't have been more appropriate.

About half way down, four high school boys were coming up the trail  They asked me if I saw a guy with a white hat on.  They were bringing up water for him.  I wished it was for me, but I knew I could get water fairly soon and didn't want to take it away from someone who "really" needed it.  I told them somewhat sarcastically that there were hundreds of runners with white hats.  I had a tan hat on.  They kept going up, I kept going down.

I come up to aid 5.  One of the volunteers asked me if I got the water that they sent up for me?  Fuck, Fuck, FUCK!!!  I told her that I didn't think it was for me as the boys specifically said a guy in a white hat.  We both had a laugh.  I sat and drank water and tailwind electrolyte replacement.  2.6 miles to go.  I got up and headed for some more downhill.

I could hear the cheering at the finish line but I couldn't see it.  The last mile seemed like it took forever.  There was a prize for "last ass off the pass".  I was thinking that I had a good shot a winning some money.  I slowed my pace a bit to come in 5 minutes before the official cut off.  Turns out there were a handful of people still behind me.  No prize....

I finished with some people at the finish line but not the crowd I felt I deserved - lol.  Gary was there to support.  He guided me towards the food and we exchanged stories from the battles that were fought today.  Lot's of emotions.  As we were talking, I realized that I had to really had to dig deep to finish.  I was in awe that I finished.  It was a definite character builder!

Thank you Megan and all the volunteers on the course.  There were supporters dressed as clowns, sunflowers, I think I saw cookie monster, and a sadistic sexy police woman in fishnet stockings (she sent the water for me). The aid stations were well stocked with great food, supportive volunteers and great energy.  The views form the trail were absolutely spectacular and the pictures on the website don't do it justice.  A great time was had by all!

At the finish.  Full of salt!

I have to thank all those that support me along the way.  Especially my wife Gina, my kids and all my family and friends near and far.  I thought of so many of you on my run while in solitude for almost 11 hours today.  I feel blessed to have the life I have and the people in it.  Gary - always my partner in these crazy adventures.  You will get it next time. And John, you would have loved this race.

 My favorite quote from a sign today:

I am definitely a "special kind of idiot!"