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Monday, July 14, 2014

Beaverhead 100k, Salmon Idaho, July 2014

What you should first know about me:
  • I'm a flatlander who grew up in south Louisiana, at or below sea level, and now lives in Minnesota, elevation 794 feet.
  • When running ultras I try to focus on positivity and to spread that around. If I sound like I'm complaining when discussing this run, I'm not. I'm just trying to express the magnitude of it from a flatlander's perspective. I loved this run (now that it's over).
Course breakdown
100k is 62 miles. This first-year run is based out of Salmon, Idaho and runs in the Beaverhead Mountains. It follows the Continental Divide trail along the Montana/Idaho border most of the way. Most of it is run between 8000 and 10,000 feet elevation. Elevation change is 27,800 feet. Running Surface: 59% single track, 35% ATV double track, 6% boulder/skree.

The race directors are two brothers named David and Eric who seem to be great guys as well as great race directors. I was really impressed. I decided to jump into this race after the registration closed--on a whim and a hope to explore the west and use some personal leave time before losing it--and they were very accommodating.

Before the start 
The night before, in the hotel parking lot, I met a couple from Calgary and offered the lady, who was running too, a ride to the race shuttle in the morning. The shuttle was to leave at 4 am, so we agreed to meet at 3:45. I set two alarms for 3 am, but at 3:46 I was awakened by her knocking at the door. "Please give me 5 minutes," I said through the door. I was so happy she had knocked! I was also so happy I had set everything out the night before per my prerace ritual. 

I forgot my watch in the room, and it felt strange, but somewhat liberating, to run without it.

There were only 12-14 of us in the 100k (a later starting 50k had something like 50-60 runners) so we only needed a short bus. I sat next to a lady from Missoula and while we were talking about running packs she mentioned carrying hair spray. I wondered why anyone would carry such a thing, but I was afraid to ask. Later, I realized she was talking about bear spray, not hair spray, and she mentioned the possibility of running into bears here. I realized we're not all that far from the Yellowstone ecosystem. Grizzlies? Oh snap! The flatlander's mind races. Then, at the start, the race directors mentioned keeping an ear open for rattlesnakes. Double snap! One of the brothers said he was sending his kids ahead of us to scare the snakes off the trail.

Start area
Start line with US, Idaho, and Montana flags.
Sun rising
Final instructions on the bus
The Run
With an anthem played on a trumpet and a nonchalant countdown we were off. The first five miles were more or less a steady climb, mostly through lovely pine forest, and my legs felt tight, but they loosened up eventually. Around mile 6 we hit a meadow with lovely views, then more climbing.

Lovely views

Most of the trail was very runnable. One thing I noticed, and I assume it has to do with the elevation, is that my nose was very runny all day. And it wasn't just me. It seems l heard the bugle of snot rockets all day and into the night.

I wanted to run a smart race. For me, that means an appropriate pace from the start. More importantly, it means not going out too fast and suffering late. I did a good job of this, staying conservative but steady. Still, I would find suffering later. But perhaps that is what I had come here to find. After all, it had only been a couple weeks since I ran the Black Hills 100. I had also come to find lovely scenery and it was here in spades and just kept getting better the more I ran.

Much of these middle miles went by quickly. I settled into a pace that would flip flop with a lady from Vancouver named Suzanne. I like running downhills, but she seemed to like running downhills with loose rocks, and I eventually learned to wave her by on these sections. We shared some good trail conversations.

Climbing away from the Lemhi Pass aid station
I moved through the aid stations quickly and efficiently. I was impressed with the enthusiasm and course knowledge all the aid station volunteers shared with us. I would hear things like, "It's 4.7 miles to the next station with 1000 feet of climb," as someone put ice in my water bladder. Or, "If you thought that last climb was something, the next one will take you over 10,000. It's right behind us here."

Continental divide marker
The (roughly) halfway mark at Lemhi Pass came sooner than I expected. The climb out of there started to catch up with me. I tried to take deep breaths, with my hands on my hips to open my lungs. I got light headed and red-lined my heart rate on this climb (and plenty of others), but kept moving. Somewhere around here, the aid stations seemed to move a bit further away from each other. I went through waves of near-bonking. I tried to eat lots of fruit and I drank plenty of water and Heed at the aid stations, as well as the Tailwind mix that was in my water bladder. I yelled Woo! often to pep myself up.

I was sweating a lot but the weather was near perfect. Occasionally we heard thunder, or perhaps felt a sprinkling of rain drops, just enough for a cooling effect.

Course markings were everywhere, very thorough

The up-and-downness of the course seemed to be intensifying in this middle third, after the halfway point. Maybe some of that was my fatigue. The legs were hurting some. Deerflies followed me from one aid station to the next. Sometimes I would slap myself silly to get rid of them, although all I was doing was slapping myself silly, never harming or even getting rid of the buzzing deerflies. Somewhere around mile 40-43, Suzanne and I caught up to a local guy named Joel. Real nice guy. Of course we were climbing at the time. As we were ran over some snow, I grabbed a handful and rubbed it over my head and face to cool off. I even ate some, and wondered if that was a mistake. I had been having a tough time swallowing the Tailwind. Before we got to the Goldstone Pass aid station, I decided to let Suzanne and Joel go ahead while I sat on a log and threw up. I've done this in other races and sometimes it makes me feel better, especially if I've been drinking too much. And it did help some, but I was wiped out. And this is when the course decided to open up its unique and relentless brand of ass whoopings on me, one after another.

There were two big climbs around Goldstone, one right before and one right after it. The first was up a rocky ridge and it caused me to sit on a cooler for a minute at the next aid station. The second went higher, but didn't seem as steep. These climbs were real ass kickers. I sounded like a steam engine chugging up them, and I was grateful I don't smoke anymore, although it's been less than three years. I wonder if that should be on any of those effects of quitting smoking charts, maybe after "Regains sense of smell," it could say "Can climb mountains in ultramarathons."

The views were really opening up.
I kept thinking I would rally soon, as I usually do in these things, to run through the low points and rough patches, and I did, but the terrain seemed to be against me rallying. Or running. Between Goldstone and Janke Lake aid stations, which was the last time cutoff, things got rockier, but the ridges we ran across were so lovely. At times I was running through a Lord of the Rings landscape.

The Scree(m)
Before I left Janke Lake aid station, one of the volunteers said with the tone of a funeral director, "This is the scree section." I ha no idea what to expect. Before the race, the directors had given us instructions on what to do if a lightning storm hits us on the scree field. Scree is a term for loose rock. The course description says that 6% of this race is over scree(m) field. The views are incredible, but I had to keep my eyes down. I was so grateful I was doing this section before sundown. I was grateful it wasn't raining too. I can't imagine doing it in the dark, or over wet rocks. With every new peak coming into view, I wondered if we would go down the mountain or continue bouncing over these loose rocks up the peak. I hoped we would go down. Then I'd see a runner/hopper top that peak. Somewhere in this seemingly endless mess, someone released the mosquitoes. They swarmed my head and arms. I pulled my buff around my face and head. A couple people passed me here. I wanted this to be over and the only thing I could do to make that happen was to keep moving. So I kept moving, jumping from loose rock to loose rock with cramping feet and legs. But this is why we do these things. To keep moving when we shouldn't, or when we don't want to. To move through these things. And to interact with whatever the trail gives us that specific day. To breathe it all in while moving. For me, it's the best way to find the spirit of the now, as well, to dive into the moment, to surrender to it.

And then, the trail markers turned into arrows, leading us steeply down off the mountain. I was grabbing trees and rocks to slow myself down. I buttslid some. It felt great to be moving quicker. Soon I was at the last aid station and it was time to pull out my headlamp.

Descend down this valley
Last aid station. 5 to go!
A couple injured people were waiting here. I assume the scree(m) fields had injured them. One of the directors showed up to carry them down and he asked about me, wondering if I was injured. "I'm running down," I said, and gave a big Woot! It was about ten o'clock. One of the volunteers showered me with bug spray and then I was moving down the rocky four-wheeler road that followed a creek. The sound of that rushing water sounded lovely in the dark. The road and I crossed streams  a couple times and the cool water felt good.

The path left the road back to lovely, very runnable single track. The movement felt good. The moon, a "super moon," rose over the mountains behind me. It was like another brighter headlamp over my shoulder.

I love night running. I passed some kind of large animal that seemed to be aggressively wheezing and stomping its foot. I kept moving. I ran through a field of what I at first thought to be black rocks, but then noticed all the eyes reflected in my headlamp. The cows stood and moved around, all of them watching me run by with my strange light. Earlier in the day, in the scree field, I had wanted this thing to be over. Now, I didn't want the running to end with such a lovely night. But eventually I heard the sound of cowbells and music and saw lights (the finish line is at the director's cabin--how cool is that?). 17 hours and 16 minutes and I was finished, stuffing a sandwich into my face. That finish line area was a lovely place but I didn't stick around long because the shuttle was ready to give me a ride into town and almost full. The overriding sentiment in the van seemed to be, Wow! We really just did that! Wow! Although we got in and out of the van slowly, there seemed to be a shared sense of bliss on that ride.

Looking Back
The race directors did an amazing job with this. They collected some amazing volunteers. They set up a stunning course with great and clear markings. They had all the details covered yet were flexible and low key. And they wanted us runners to have fun. We did.

After the race, walking gingerly across the parking lot at the shuttle dropoff, I considered a new rule: No long runs until the chafing from the previous one is completely gone. Not even a trace. But that's just silly. I'll take a little tenderness for the memories this day created.

I hope this race continues far into the future. I'm grateful I was able to get there and experience it.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Black Hills 100, June 2014

We spent a few days before the run in the Black Hills area. Lisa's brother and his family were there at the same time and we had a blast with them. Lisa and I stayed a couple nights in Custer State Park and a couple nights in Deadwood. Two days before the race, I celebrated eight years of continuous sobriety (wow! never imagined that one). This was a lovely getaway for us.

Lisa and the Bunde clan at the top of Harney Peak
It was raining on the drive to Sturgis from Deadwood on race day. It had rained much of the day before too. At Woodle Field, the race start, we hung out in the car watching the rain. I made it to a group of outhouses near the track, and discovered too late, that the one I had chosen had no toilet paper. It was facing the opposite direction from the crowd waiting in line, so with my pants down I peeked in the next toilet (it was empty). No paper there either. What to do? I considered my socks. I asked the crowd for help and received a knock and a hand through the door with paper towels.  That's community. We trail runners look out for each other.

The rain subsided by start time, 6 am. An hour earlier, the Tatanka 100, a mountain bike race, had begun here too and would ride the same first 50 miles of trail that we did. The Tatanka course is a loop, while the Black Hills 100 is an out and back along the beautiful Centennial Trail from Sturgis to the turnaround at Silver City. A 50 mile and 100k run all began together with the 100 miler, and we left the track, followed sidewalk out of town, ran through a tunnel under a road and were on the Centennial Trail.

Race start with Lisa. She is awesome. I am lucky, blessed.
My main goals for this race were to:

1. Finish.
2. Remain positive and spread that positivity as much as possible--to enjoy it.
3. Run smart. Go out at a reasonable pace. I've never done that in a 100. I'm excitable.
4. Eat real food as much as possible. 
5. To move quickly through the aid stations, to not linger.

My concern was making the cutoffs. I've only finished two of these, both last year, Zumbro and Superior, and neither were done below the 32 hour cutoff of Black Hills.

We had lovely views of Bear Butte as we left the Sturgis area and began climbing our way into the hills.

Bear Butte
It was fun to chat with people around me. In the past, I would get talking to someone at the start and end up running faster than I should, not paying attention to pace. Today I reminded myself to take it easy, to run my own damn run.

Gnarly Jordan
I settled in around a couple other Minnesotans, John Taylor and Scott Huston. This was John's 61st 100 or longer race! We could all learn plenty from him about recovering from these things, and he confirmed one thing I've suspected, something very obvious, which is that diet plays an important factor. In no time we were through Alkali Creek, the first aid station. I screamed Woo! and grabbed water and a banana and kept moving.

Following John and Scott
The course was wet. I was surprised that the mountain bikers ahead of us hadn't shredded the trails to pieces--in most places I couldn't tell they had been through. The Bulldog aid station popped up all of a sudden. I grabbed water, a banana, a quarter of a peanut butter jelly sandwich and kept moving.

Mushroom that looks like a burger bun
At the Elk Creek aid station (17 miles) I ate a couple Endurolytes, a banana and watermelon. I ate a lot of fruit throughout the run, watermelon, cantaloupe, and bananas. I also drank soup broth at the later aid stations. These things appealed to me and stayed down easy. I only ate the salt pills a couple more times, and I ate about 3-4 Gu's (salted caramel) throughout the run. I had mixed Tailwind in my water bladders and that seemed to give me most of what I needed with the fruit and the broth.

Centennial Trail
Immediately after Elk Creek aid station there were five creek crossings within a mile or so. The creek was flowing and cold at thigh level, with ropes tied off to help us get across. I've never done these before and was worried about proper etiquette. Was I supposed to let the person ahead cross all the way before grabbing the rope?

Crossing Elk Creek
I met a dejected bike racer heading back on one of these crossings. The mud had been too much for her, or at least for her bike. On the last crossing, the stream branched out in multiple directions. Somehow, without intending to, I ended up sitting down in the middle of the current. My feet left me. I held tight to the rope. The cold water felt awesome and I popped up and kept moving.

Elk Creek

After the creek crossings, the trail was full of mud in the bottoms. It was irritating and took some energy to get through it. I'm not complaining, as we take what the trail gives us each time and do with it what we can. I was surprised to pass another biker here who was clearly struggling with the mud. It was nice to climb out of the bottoms. The trail was dryer in the hills. 

Crooked tree that inspires the race logo.

Somewhere around the Crooked Tree aid station we saw the leaders of the 50 mile run returning. This is what I love about out and back courses, seeing everyone in all the races moving through and also getting a sense of where I am in the overall scene. I tried to give them all a big loud Woo!

Coming down the long hill leading to the Dalton Lake aid station, I met a guy from Sioux City. For the next few aid stations we would leap frog and I would call him "Sioux City" and he would call me "Mankato." He was a fun guy and I could tell from talking to him briefly that he would finish this. I recognized this aid station as a place my son and I had camped and fished at several ago. I added gaiters to my shoes here and drank some Coke.

The next section climbed up again and then, somewhere near the 100k turnaround, we were on the ATV trails, with large ruts full of water. At the first one, I tried to squeeze between the ruts and slid into the mud, performing a total faceplant mudbath, laughing as I got up and kept rolling forward. It seems I fall down at these things a lot. 

Insert face and body into puddle and roll around like Otis the pig.
Trail markers

He thinks we are racing each other.
After the Nemo aid station (mile 36), the trails had several dirt bikers and four wheel riders. At one point the dirt bikers were helping a lady who had fallen off her four wheeler. Her face was bloody and the back of her head was soaked with blood. I felt helpless because there was nothing I could do for her, but they were slowly getting her out of there and she seemed able to ride on the back of the thing. My legs were getting sore along here. I was slowing down. I also saw the leaders of the race in this section, the first one coming by as I was wetting my face and head from a stream that crossed the trail. Somewhere around here I saw Ed Thomas on his return. He would be paced by Maranda Lorraine and it was good to have met them both (we've been at many of the same races). Those ninjas have great energy.

Leaving the Pilot Knob aid station, I looked around and remembered being here years ago, biking in the snow with a friend. My legs were really hurting now. I wondered if it had something to do with the higher elevation than I'm used to. I saw John Maas on his return leg--that gnarly bandit just ran Kettle Moraine and was smiling. By the time I hit the turn around about 12.5 hours into this I was a mess. I need to sit down for awhile. I needed to regroup. Lisa is so awesome at these aid stations. I felt this kind of drunk love for her through the next 50 miles. I refused to tell her how I was feeling about her because I felt like a schoolboy and she would have one more thing to tease me about.

Coming into the beautiful valley at Silver City
Leaving Silver City
The climb out of Silver City bit me hard and left me reeling for awhile. It was just cruel. I was light headed and sat down. Things really slowed down here. Maybe that's natural, as it was getting dark. I walked a lot. One thing that lifted my spirits was that the Bunde clan had come out to visit us at the Pilot Knob aid station. Long before I reached the aid station, I could hear the Bunde kids screaming Woo! in the dark. I needed that spiritual bump then. Later, Sioux City mentioned hearing our Bigfoot calls at that place.

Black Hills lion found just before dark.
I tried to embrace the pain in my legs. I tried to wrap myself around it and accept it as just another sensation. Maybe I did that. Maybe I just finally accepted it. Maybe I ran through it. I kept telling myself to simply run into the moment. Somehow I kept moving through this beautiful night. Coming into Nemo, hounds bayed in the distance and I imagined what strange things they thought of our quietly moving headlamps. In my light I saw the reflections of eyes of mice, bunnies and deer. A couple times I turned off the lamp and stared up at a perfectly clear sky. Once I sat on a log and rested my head in my hands, possibly fell asleep for six minutes before cramps had me dancing around the trail. At each aid station, Lisa was waiting for me, offering encouragement and cantaloupe and lifting my spirits.

The mud that was so irritating earlier had largely dried on our return. I ran much of one section with a lady from Pennsylvania who had broken her thumb earlier. A group of three of us had loosely connected headlights that seemed to hold each other together through that piece, even though I'm not sure who the third headlight belonged to, can't put a name or face or gender or anything to it. It was simply a light, moving just behind me, that in some ways helped keep me moving too.

There is something about these things that draws me in, and that's the curiosity of what I might find within myself, deep in the night when things feel like they're falling apart. It's not necessarily a test, what I'm talking about. Perhaps it's nothing magic, but simply the astonishment to find that energy to keep moving forward. I know that for me what works is diving deep into the moment, into the now of the matter, and that becomes a special and eternal place.

At some point, from high up, I could see distant lights of Sturgis through a valley. It was beautiful. I knew it would be light soon. And when that light appeared in all its colors I felt reborn. I was moving! Those stream crossings were cold but I kept moving through them and at Elk Creek  (mile 83) I was feeling so good. I changed into dry shoes and had some hot chocolate. I left the hiking poles I had used to get through the night with Lisa. I didn't want them slowing me down. I was ready to run and I was shocked at how fast I felt then.

Good morning cows (we had a nice discussion)
At the Bulldog aid station I hardly stopped, took some water and bananas and asked if there was anyone ahead whom I could play chase with. I was really opening up, especially on the long downhill sections. I didn't know where this energy had come from but I felt like I was floating.

I found a few people along the way, and most seemed to be moving pretty well too.
The return views of Bear Butte were amazing.
Just after Alkali Creek (mile 94) I caught up to Sioux City. I was so happy to see him. It was like finding a long lost friend after years apart! We shuffled along together. I learned his real name is Taylor. What a delightful character he was to run with. 
Tunnel under the highway. Almost there.
Lisa and nephew Evan had come out to meet me--at Alkali Creek I had asked her to please run in with me as a team. That great energy I had found earlier was definitely waning but I was having such a blast. How can a person not be completely ecstatic when the end of this is in sight?

This one felt so good. 29 hours and 4 minutes was my finishing time. I'm so blessed to be able to do this thing I love, and to be able to do it with awesome people around me and with Lisa too. I usually fall into things in my life, perhaps I get lucky with things, but I feel like I actually ran a smart(ish) race this time! And I had so much fun doing it. As usual, I'm so impressed by all those who showed up for the attempt at this thing. And the volunteers who helped us get there. And as always, I'm so grateful for Lisa.

I barely made it out of the parking lot awake.