Sunday, March 23, 2008

50-mile Buffalo Run Ultrathon, Antelope Island, Utah

Duration: 9 hours, 43 minutes, 03 seconds
Length: 50.0 miles
Vertical up: 3231.4 ft
Vertical down: 3218.7 ft
Average speed: 5.2 mph

The above picture with my arms outstretched shows me with my shorts falling down, which they did completely about 200 yards later. I was wearing shorts because it is not cool to run only in tights and I need pockets to carry the various analgesics and salt tablets needed to get through the day. (Sounds like a Rolling Stones song.) I am at about mile 20 in that shot, and mile 26 in the other shots.

Race day arrived March 22, 2008 for the Antelope Island (Utah) 50 mile Buffalo Run. The race is organized by Jim Skaggs, whose attention to detail made the race very enjoyable. I came in first in my division; see here.

Antelope Island is a 42 square-mile island within the Great Salt Lake. The island was previously owned by one of my clients, a railroad company, but was later acquired by the State of Utah. Aside from trees in commercial or park operations on the island, I am aware of only one tree on the entire island.

I was not ready to go. I had been suffering from a sore throat and had a hearty Mexican dinner the night before with my college kids. Upon waking up at 3:30 a.m. to get ready, I seriously considered a “Did Not Start” status. But, I had come all this way from Southern California and I thought I had at least show my face.

It was nippy and dark right before the start at 5:30 am, around 30 degrees. I was glad to see my brother Dave, who was doing volunteer work and runs the website for the race.

The worst part of a race like this is standing around getting ready to go; we are all dressed in light running gear huddled around the fire. At the start of an ultrathon, it is rare to see stretching or pre-race exercise one sees at marathons or shorter races. We are all just cold. Stretching and limbering up would just take us away from the fire.

We all stare at each other and wonder who will be losers and who will be winners. I see the same runners at every race; the ultra crowd is really kind of thin.

We were off at 6:00 a.m. Fortunately, this year I remembered to bring my headlamp. Last year we had a quarter of a mile bushwacking in the dark.

It usually takes me about four miles to get my blood running fast enough to feel comfortable. The first few miles to the first aid station basically involved getting acclimated to the altitude and shaking out the stiffness.

The race headed up to the 50K course, which I had run two years before. Starting from a campground at White Rock Bay, we ran up the White Rock area. So, we have an immediate ascent of some physical challenge. I am only 6 or 7 off the lead; I look behind me and there are dozens of headlamps stretched out for a mile or more as we head up to "Lone Tree."

Dawn broke as we all ran a very technical out-and-back loop at the first aid station. As we came back to the aid station (meaning, it became the second aid station) the drinks they set out for me were frozen on the top.

We ran up to Split Rock and the Red Rocks, which took us up to the Bay Loop and Beacon Knob, a vantage that let us see both sides of the island. Much of this trail was very steep, with several switchbacks and obstacles. I was very glad that I had spent lots of time climbing hills, doing trailwork and working on a Stairmaster. As I climbed towards Beacon Knob, I was only 6 or 7 off the lead. But, the younger runners were gaining on me on the ascent as I was laboring up it.

But, then as we descended from Beacon Knob, something happened. Going downhill, I felt like bonking and people I had beat the year before began to pass me.

In the middle of my worst feelings, as I was considering quitting, Brother Dave (and who wasn’t running this year because he had a 100-mile race in a week), ran up from the campground about three or four miles to meet me on my 17th mile. He was pushing me to run faster, but I wasn’t interested. I was sore and tired and my stomach was upset from the Mexican feast the night before.

Brother Dave urged me to drink more water. He said that my soreness may have come from inadequate water intake. Hmm, he might have something there. We hit the third aid station near the causeway as we swung north, and I tried to eat something. I gobbled down a salt pill. I drank lots more water. We turned south along the East Side Trail. At the fourth aid station, at approximately 27 miles, I was feeling grim but not as badly as I had felt the previous hour. This is where I would drop Dave so that he could work at the station. I downed a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich and a couple of Cokes. I headed south towards the Ranch, about 5.5 miles away, and as I approached the Ranch I realized I was feeling much better and starting to catch some of the runners who passed me.

At the Ranch, or mile 32, my stop was very brief. I was amazed to see the number of runners sitting or standing around; some changing their shoes. I left several runners at the aid station, and then passed three more out of the station. I was feeling my oats and would not walk again, only running, for the remainder of the race.

My conditioning kicked in; when I did this race last year I depended mostly upon long time on my feet in the roads in my home town of Newhall, California. For this run, my runs were exclusively on technical and steep trails, usually summiting the low mountain ranges around my house. When I didn't feel like going out in the weather, it was intensive 60-minute Stairmaster training along with some very heavy weightlifting for the quads and back. I also followed the recommendation of an ultrathoner I had read about in Running magazine who suggested that during training runs one conditions to drink and eat as little as possible to train the body to draw upon fat stores when under stress.

Mile 32 to 43 was pretty flat stuff on the edge of the lake. The sun was up but the weather in the low 40s -- absolutely perfect running weather. I shed my outer synthetic shell and ran in lighter gear. We had a perfect view for miles of the bay with Syracuse and Farmington on the other side. My brother Dave came out to meet me for a run of a few miles back to an aid station and he remarked about how well I was running. He was running sweep. The slowest runners were coming upon me from the opposite direction. I eventually passed the last runner coming the opposite direction, a fellow who had started an hour late.

At mile 38 I came within one hundred yards of three runners in their 30s who were walking. They turned to see me gaining on them and they picked up their pace. I came up to them at the second to last aid station at mile 43, but they left me and I could never catch them after that.

The last seven miles was a loop around a small peak next to Buffalo Bay. It was very technical work -- the most technical in the entire run. I very much enjoy technical ascending trails on a run because it gives me an opportunity to slow down and rely more upon anaerobic muscle conditioning (which I am good at) and less on raw aerobic resources.

I ran past many day hikers with their dogs and families. Then, back to the starting campground.

I came in running strong, although I was passed by a runner at about 48 miles, and earlier by another runner at 41 miles.

I received my award for first in my age class at 9:43:03.

It was a beautiful day. The race organization was wonderful. Fortunately, my tendinitis which afflicted me at mile 40 in Idaho in October 2007 did not flare up. For this race, I merely lost a toenail -- the ultrarunner's affliction.

It was worth it. When I run marathons, at about mile 17 I swear that I will never run another race. With this ultrathon, the terrain was so varied and the scenery was so wonderful, I was glad to be running at most every mile. Although, in truth, in the ultra one usually misses a lot of scenery due to the need to keep one's eyes on the trail to avoid a trip or turned ankle.

[The map isn't quite right because the Garmin 305 took awhile to acquire the satellites. the start point, not shown, is the same as the end point.]

My recovery was very fast due to my previous conditioning. By Wednesday I was back on a 70 minute Stairmaster regime although my toe hurt. By Friday I did a round trip of 18 miles or so to the Nike base (see below, where I did a roundabout ascent to the same place). I'll post above about my two pending 50 miles in April and May.

Photos from the Buffalo Run are above; thanks to Brother Dave for taking them. (He finished the week thereafter first overall in the Moab 100 -- this after running over 30 miles with me at Antelope Island. Go Dave!!).

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Twenty-eight Mile Ascent to Ye Olde Missile Base -- Newhall, California

Duration: 5 hours, 38 minutes, 40 seconds
Length: 28 miles
Vertical up: 6620.4 ft
Vertical down: 6688.2 ft
Average speed: 5.1 mph

The route was my peak training run 10 days before the ultrathon. This is not the proper timing; peak should be three to four weeks before the race, but because I had compressed my training and relied upon my high mileage base, I didn't have a choice.

This started at my home in Newhall, California. I ran the first 11 miles in pitch dark, which was tough because there were segments of Sierra Highway which were not lit, and I had to deal with on-coming traffic. In Canyon Country I became lost in the Santa Clara River riverbed for a mile before emerging on Sand Canyon Road. A brief fuel stop at the 7-11 wasn't really necessary for me at the time but it paid off later in the hours to come. Unfortunately, I forgot to switch on my GPS after the 7-11 until I had made most of my ascent up Sand Canyon Road, but it seems the software attempted to make the computations for speed and distance. At the top of Bear Divide I turned right onto the Forest Service Road in the Angeles National Forest and made the ascent to the old Nike Missile Base which is now Fire Station No. 9, a helicopter fire suppression unit at the top of the mountain. The firehouse dog, who seems to have been there since the mid-90s when I climbed the road on my bike, came out to chase me at the fire station but I had my stick ready. (I love dogs; one chased me on my bike when I was 45 and I broke my collar bone. As I lay unconscious in the street, the dog's owner in our leash-law city shrieked in grief and rushed to attend to her dog. The dog recovered nicely in about a minute. Another dog chased me and bit me, which became infected a week later when we were on vacation in Alaska; another dog beloved by our wonderful neighbor bit me and the horrified neighbor saw me raise a large rock ready to do damage if the dog bit me again.)

I descended the Forest Service road. I didn't have the energy to take the ridge trail down, which is my normal route when I take the much shorter ascent to the Nike Base directly from Newhall instead of the the circuitous route through Canyon County and Sand Canyon.

The miles just rolled off me, even with the fierce ascent. No soreness; I went into work and put in a full day and was back running 10 mile days two days later. I'm ready for the ultra.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Riding (well, sort of) to King's Peak

So, friends my age ride Harleys. I ride a Suzuki GXR and a Honda VFR and am not welcomed in the Harley crowd. At least I can pop wheelies.

I load my Honda onto the back of my trailer and haul it from California to Alpine, Utah. Piling camping gear on the back, I ride towards Wyoming with the Kings Peak trailhead in mind for a quick run up and down the trail; I recall it would have been a 28-mile round trip. I had climbed Kings Peak before, but had taken two days to do so.

I whip my bike up close to 130 on the straight Wyoming freeway. I am impressed with its stability. At that speed, my Corvette would have felt unstable and light.

It was August, mind you, and warm in Utah. On the high plains of Wyoming, and approaching the Ft. Bridger exit, the temperature falls. With my GPS I navigate my way to try and find Henry's Fork. Around 10:00 p.m. I stop in the advance of a thunderstorm to recheck my GPS and I lay my bike down as my feet slip on the gravel. Dozens of miles from civilization and with a brand-new bike I wonder how it was I would right it. A great fellow in a pick-up drives along the lonely road and sees me standing there with my bike down and the light on, makes a remark about being crazy, and helps me back on my tires.

As I approach the trailhead (which is found after 30 miles of dirt roads) the thermometer on the dashboard shows the temperature dropping to below 30 degrees. I am not prepared for such cold weather. I arrive at the trailhead, pop my tent and dive into it. The weather is rain and snow. My plan is for a 3:00 a.m. departure.

The morning arrives. It is colder and wetter than I imagined it would be. I drag myself out and start running up the trail at a good clip. At approximately the nine-mile mark the trail crosses the roaring, but not too deep, river below. The bridge is two or three slippery logs tied together. Crossing the bridge, and wondering what would happen to me if I were to fall in the river, I fall in. I am saved from injury on the rocks because I fall on my backpack which contains dry clothing (no more) and food. Two hikers in rain gear ask me if I am OK.

Sopping wet, I quickly change into all synthetic gear and continue running up the trail.

Alas, the mountain pass between the flats and the peak has been snowed in – about two feet of snow. I am forced to return the way I had come, but it is raining fiercely all the way to the trailhead. I pack my tent, climb on my bike, ride over thirty miles of extremely muddy roads and then two hours or so of freeway in the rain to Alpine. I feel like I am freezing for weeks thereafter.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Bob's Running

I’m an occasional ultrathon runner, 54 years old. I’m slow but sure. I’m too big for a real runner. Running gives me time to think about problems at work and with clients. It is exhausting, painful, blissful and exhilarating. When I’m on my 25th mile at 2:00 a.m. running in the moonlight in the mountains of Idaho dressed in warm weather running gear at the beginning of autumn, knowing that if I break a leg or otherwise stop I’ll suffer from hypothermia, I feel glad to be alive in a way that is impossible to describe.

When I was 39 years old I picked up bicycling. I did it at the invitation of my brother Dave, who ran an annual bike tour of the Uintahs. I bought a used road bike and a used mountain bike (a great handbuilt Answer) and put thousands of miles on each one. In my first two months of riding I dropped about twenty pounds.

Having been invited to climb Mt. Rainier at the age of 45, I started cross-training with running. Despite biking over a hundred miles a week, I found I could not run more than two miles without fatigue. I was pleased with myself that, after a week, I had pushed my runs out to two miles.

After my climb I strapped on my tennis shoes and started running more and biking less. I learned that running, like biking, requires reliable equipment. After going through shoes that had metal in them, shoes that blistered and shoes which ran too hot, spending lots of money along the way on cheap shoes, I came to learn that money needed to be spent on reliably-built shoes.

I also learned that running required time on my feet. The tough runs which I started doing in my late 40s which left me muscle-sore and fatigued I can now do with ease — sometimes doubling or tripling the run. But it took me months and years to get to the point where one’s body has the miles to absorb more miles without complaining.

From age 45 to age 47 I was satisfied with six miles a day, three days a week, but I noticed I could not control my weight as I had as a bike rider.

Preparing for my first marathon at age 47, my resting heart rate fell too low (between 20 and 30 bpm) and a pacemaker was installed to keep me conscious – a discouraging problem. It is now set to kick in at 40 bpm. Exercise leads to electrical problems in the cardiac system.

My first marathon was Death Valley, in December 2004. I ran 4:00, and was terribly disappointed. I have also found that the better I have become at preparing for marathons, I was not able to improve upon that time by more than 90 seconds, and sometimes I have slipped 12 minutes off that time. I figure I am slow but sure. In 2005 I ran the St. George (Utah) Marathon, my first real super-crowd marathon. It was a great experience. I particularly enjoyed miles 20 through 25 running with essentially the same crowd of people, usually thirty-somethings. The last mile was a change of pace, as there were people passing and being passed. At the end of the race, we were funneled into a chute with not enough room to walk around and relax; the crowds were thick. I had a hard time staying conscious.

A few weeks later I had my first long distance experience as I ran a 48-mile double-crossing of the Grand Canyon with my brother, Dave. He writes about it here, but don't believe anything he says about me. I then ran an ultrathon of 50K in Utah, coming in 35th place. I ran a 50 mile ultrathon at the same location in Utah, coming in 21st. My brother's write up is here. I ran scattered marathons, a half, a 10K and several 5ks in the meantime. I have also done 40 miles of pacing on one of my brother’s 100 milers, here but here don't believe him; I was the hero in the story and not the butt of jokes.

In 2007 I could not improve my marathon times. I rant the 2007 Salt Lake Marathon, where I came ran a heartbreaking 4:00:03 (Oh why, why could I not run four seconds faster? The runner's unhappiness.) coming in 12th in my division. I ran with my son Rob, who ran the half. The race plagued me with several blisters, something to which I am not accustomed. I walked over the Dick's Sporting Goods at the end of the race, threw away my shoes, and purchased my new Nikes.

I became particularly intrigued with long-distance ultrathons when I paced my brother in an October 2007 100 miler at Bear Lake, Utah. I ran about 40 miles. I then laid off until December to try and overcome a spinal compression problem plaguing me since February 2007 (which still afflicts me).

A December 2007 11K at Muir Beach in San Francisco caught me running way behind my son-in-law Casey, and further laying off to try and get my nerve issue resolved led to increase weight, and I was a tub of lard at 205 pounds when I took my family to Cancun in late December 2007.

I responded to my brother's invitation to run the Antelope Island 50M in March, and I did it without a lot of training and came in first in my age group. Inspired, a ran a 50M at Leona Valley in April, where I was severely afflicted with diarrhea and shin splits. I ran a 50M at Big Horn, Wyoming and did fairly well. My time at the St. George Marathon in October was 20 minutes better than my best time. Finally, for 2008, I ran a 50K in Orange County, running in 11th place overall.

My neural pain continues on a day to day basis; pain is part of my life. But, at 54 years of age, it is a wonderful experience every day.

The ultrathon experience is really quite different than a marathon. I am not a physiologist, but it seems to me that the marathon uses different and fewer parts of the muscle and bone structure than a trail ultrathon and can be more painful than an ultrathon, although one cannot run an ultrathon with the preparation typically necessary for a marathon.

An ultrathon is more grueling, in that it demands many more hours of intense physical labor. It also requires better resource management — one must care more for the risk of chafing, blisters and fuel consumption. Whereas I don’t have difficulty running a marathon without intrarace water and fuel, running an ultrathon basically requires being fully fueled at all times past mile 15. Around mile 30, the last thing I want is food, but I must force it down. In these last 20 miles, soup and peanut butter and jam sandwiches hit the spot. Liquid gels and Power Bars -- forget them. Carry the gel only for a time of desperation on a training run.

Preparing for the Ultrathon

Central Park and Harlem at EveryTrail

Map created by EveryTrail:Share GPS tracks

Trip Stats
Duration: 1 hour, 39 minutes, 3 seconds
Length: 11.2 miles
Average speed: 6.8 mph

I'm preparing for my ultrathon on March 22. This run was a double loop of Central Park with a short run through Harlem. Unfortunately, my GPS lost power three-quarters through the last loop so I have nothing to show for it.I left the Waldorf and finally got the GPS to connect to the satellites as I entered Central Park on 58th Street. It was a Friday so the park wasn't that crowded with runners, but there were certainly some very capable and fast runners to compete with, so my pace at time was fast. Even in the Winter, the park is a great place to run.

Whitney Canyon to Oliveview Hospital at EveryTrail

Map created by EveryTrail:Share GPS tracks
Trip Stats
Duration: 4 hours, 36 minutes, 10 seconds
Length: 21 miles
Vertical up: 7503.6 ft
Vertical down: 7524.1 ft
Average speed: 4.6 mph

This trip starts at the Whitney Canyon trailhead, or San Fernando Road and Highway 14 in Newhall. It ascends to Mt. Manzanita, descends along Los Pinetos trial to Olivewiew and the reascends to Mt. Manzanita's base, with a return through Walker Ranch, Placerita Canyon with the last two miles on the road.The descent down Los Pinetos trail was rough; it is a very steep descent and it appears to be used only as a horse trail. There were no bicycle tracks and the horses have torn it up. The ascent out of Los Angeles was an easy fireroad. I needed more than one liter of water for this, but didn't have it.