Monday, May 19, 2008

Ultra-Success!

Yesterday (5/18/08), I successfully completed my first ultra marathon, the 2008 Ohlone 50k. What an experience it was. For the race, it can be summarized like this: hills, heat and, oh yeah, more hills. I'll ramble off some random details about the race as I move towards the end where the real interesting stuff begins, including satan, my savior, heat, pain, suffering, and a horse trough.

Course profile. Where are the flat sections?

-Average speed of school bus from Livermore to Fremont (i.e. shuttle from the finish to the start) was about 22 MPH, including the freeways. I was sitting next to Caren Spore (last year's female winner and course record holder) on the ride to Fremont. Told her it was my first Ultra and she started laughing like I was crazy. I understand why now. Previous record holder and this year's eventual winner, Beth Vitalis, was sitting across the aisle. Female ultra royalty. Very cool eavesdropping on their stories.

-Already warm at the start. Took off few minutes after 8 AM. Headed off with friends, Glorybelle Lillie (Silly Lillie, from Get Out There and Run Already fame) and Danny Bringer. I'm not sure if they realize how great it was for me to run with them at the start of this race. (Thanks guys). Oops, forgot to double tie shoe laces - pull over, tie and catch up.

-Quickly learning we'll be walking lots of hills today. Find myself very happy to make it to Mission Peak in 1 hour.

-Had a blast flying down to Sunol aid station (mi: 9.11)– actually had a chance to run at a good pace on this section. Come to think of it, might have actually been the last chance to run for that long a period. Felt good heading from Mission Peak down to Sunol. Good pace so far.

-Got sponged (or soaked) at Sunol - very hot already - and filled up the bottles and grabbed a quick snack before leaving. Looking back, I think I might have left Sunol too quickly – probably needed a little more fuel here. This is also the last time Glorybelle was with us. She turned on her turbos at this point. Heading out of this station, I started to lose some power in my climbing legs already. Again, next time I think I need more fuel, earlier (Note: Doing more hill training would certainly help as well)

-After struggling along, I happily arrived at the Backpack Area aid station (mi: 12.48), where I was honored to receive aid from ultra-legends, Ann Trason and Carl Andersen. Even though I'm a newbie to this, I'm well aware of the feats that Ann and Carl are known for. Very cool to be in their company. Ann kept telling everyone to eat up because the next 2.5 miles are uphill big time. She's wasn't lying.

-After leaving the station, the trail goes straight up a brutal climb. As i started up the climb, my legs felt they couldn't do it. "How in the hell can I keep doing this? Can I really do this?" I actually started thinking of possibly not making it. I really felt like crying. I'm a very positive person and would never think of quitting, but this was bad. My only thoughts were to move forward with whatever I have until I can't and then rest. Repeat until done. After struggling to go very far each push and more brutal climbing, I suddenly started to realize something happening. (Cue turning point music) My strength was coming back! My energy (fuel) was finally kicking back in. "I can do this. Yes it sucks, but legs are working. Let's go!" (note: After this, my energy/hydration management was mostly fine until leaving Satan's pit towards the end of the race - more on that later. (credit to Catra (Dirt Diva) for the Satan's pit term)

-From here to the top of the world (Rose Peak), I'm running anything relatively flat or downhill and power-walking the hills ( an endless amount of them)

-I catch up to Danny a few miles before Rose Peak and he's looking beat up by the heat at this point. I know he's hurting because I start to pull away from him. I pass by him again on my way down from Rose Peak and won't see him again until after the finish.

-It was very helpful running different segments with people. Strange thing for me is that I actually started catching people and eventually leaving them behind. For a long stretch heading up to Rose Peak and then to the 26 mile aid station, nobody was passing me. I found myself running/walking long stretches with nobody around me. "Maybe I'm not doing so bad after all."

-After Rose Peak, I made a joyous stop at Maggie’s Half Acre aid station (mi: 19.7). I was so happy to be done with the climb to the peak (elevation: 3817 feet). I fueled up, got soaked again to cool off, felt "great" and started the charge down. The next 6 miles is basically a continuous combination of steep downhills (beating the quads) and steep uphills (beating everything else) with an occasional 30 yard stretch of "flat" thrown in. Again, repeat as necessary. "How are we going to get down to the bottom if we keep going up?" (Last 2 miles down at the end explains that one.)


-A
fter basically taking a shower at the Stewart's Camp self-service water "aid station"(mi: 23.6), I headed up the next set of hills with another racer and then caught up with the Dirt Diva (Catra) and her boyfriend, Andy, towards the top of the big hill. Want to hear amazing? She was coming up to the end of 100 miles! (Fremont->Del Valle->Fremont->Del Valle + a bonus 7 miles) They looked exhausted. 100 miles in this heat is crazy. What a woman. I introduced myself and chatted for a couple minutes before powering on. (Note: Catra summarized what was remaining and told me that after the next aid station, at the bottom of the single track going down, to stop at the creek and cool off before heading up the hell hill out Satan's pit. (It's not that I didn't hear her, I was just too tired when I got there to remember to do anything) After leaving them and the other runner I was with, I was feeling about as good as I thought I could. Still walking the uphills, but found myself with unusual energy on the downs and flats. I Finally made it to the Schlieper Rock aid station (mi: 25.95) and fueled up as much as possible before charging down the crazy single-track. Ouch, more downhills. It actually wasn't too bad going down. I was sore but felt good running down. Seemed like I was completely alone out there until I caught a girl down at the bottom by the creek.

-S
atan's pit. Here is where I should have stopped, dipped my head, rinsed off my legs,caught my breath, etc. before moving on. I didn't do any of those things. Didn't even think about it. Judgement gone. People had told me along the way that the last uphill was steep (and I believed them and could see that at this point), but I didn't realize it was steep and went up for a half mile! "What the f*ck! Are you f*cking kidding me! How can this be! This isn't fair!" Here we go...about 50 feet up the hill, I curse more. My body cannot handle this. It's not just a mental thing anymore. I'm starting to overheat, I'm breathing hard and my heart rate is going through the roof. This isn't good. It's hotter than hell on this hill with very little shade and I'm trying to think of how to fix this. My only strategy is to try and walk from any shade I could find to the next available shade (few) and then catch my breath and make sure I'm ok (i.e. cool enough/hydrated). After what seemed like 20 – 30 minutes of climbing this hill, I reach the top of the steep part. At this point the hill levels out a bit allowing myself to actually continue on. I'm not running at all anymore. I'm only thinking one thing right now…"How far is that last aid station?" I'm hot, my water is now empty and I have 2 bottles with maybe a ¼ left of warm electrolytes. I'm really hurting walking up towards the ridge wondering if I'm going to be ok. Other than earlier when I needed strength, I started praying for God to help me. It was right after this that I'll never forget. As soon as I asked for help, a nice breeze started kicking in across the ridge. It wasn't exactly cool, but it was enough to break the still heat. That breeze may have kept me cool enough and allowed me to get enough of a breath to keep moving. I was still out of energy and hot but I kept moving. And then, one of the weirdest, best and most unforgettable things happened in this race. As I was struggling along walking on the ridge, with my fuel tank (and senses) on empty and getting worse, I see this person coming towards me from about ¼ mile away. My first thought is bad.."What the hell? Do we have to loop around something and come back towards this way?" I keep watching and slowly my depleted brain thinks, "That guy doesn't have a shirt on...Wait, he doesn't have a number either. Wait a second. That's Oscar!" Oscar is my father-in-law, a former marathoner in the army and daily runner. Oh my God. What a sight to see! This crazy son-of-a-bitch had run up the final 2-mile hill and was coming across the ridge towards me. This was my savior. God was listening. (Side note: At my first triathlon last year, I was coming out of a hilly run - energy depleted and trying to finish strong and he met me with about 1/2 mile to go. He ended up running with me and helping me charge the finish line)

Post race with my father-in-law
At this point, with Oscar next to me, I knew I would be fine. He got me relaxed and gave me enough of a jump to get a shuffle going. I'm still hurting and way too hot and can only think "water. where is the water?" We made it across the ridge and finally hit the downhill while noticing the sign for the aid station saying ½ mile ahead. I can do it. I need to get to that aid station to cool down, hydrate and fuel up for the final two miles. And then finally,...The most beautiful sight I had ever seen (almost better than seeing the finish line). The last aid station, Stromer Spring (mi: 29). Let's just say that I almost took a bath in the horse trough there. I drank tons of water. I took Advil, salt, chips, candy,bananas. I drank a full can of coke. My body was toast and I still had to go downhill for 2 straight miles, but at the very least, my body temperature was back to normal and I felt hydrated again. Sore, but hydrated and cool we head down for the last brutal descent. Sorry toes. Oscar trying to encourage me all the way down. At various points, I have to stop for a few seconds. My left knee (or at least the outside) is really hurting going down these hills. We continue on until about ¾ miles left when we see a girl in obvious trouble. She was already being helped by another female runner trying to run down the hill, but things didn't look good for her. We tried to offer water, anything, but she was refusing (most likely unknowingly) to take anything. Just then, she breaks loose from the girl's grasp and tries to take off on her own down the hill but can only keep her feet for a few more steps. "oh shit!" It's there where she finally can't keep up with the steepness of the hill and has a terrible fall. The other racer, Oscar and myself run to help her and make sure she's ok. I tell Oscar to go down and get help and we'll stay and watch her. Of course, he won't let me stay there and says to go finish the race and get help. Feeling guilty, I charged down the rest of the way (about ½ mile) to the finish. (I can't remember feeling if this was hard or not - just thinking of the girl) For 1/2 mile, it still seemed like it would never end. Finally, I notice the parking lot is at my level and see the path to the finish. I hear people cheering and I see my family ahead cheering for me. Wow. Made it. It's over. After catching my breath, I tell RD Rob that there is a girl right up the trail that is in trouble and needs some attention. At this point, I'm very concerned about the girl, but my mind and body are so tired, I'm not even sure what I should be doing. I need to sit down with my family and figure out what I just did. (Oscar comes down a few minutes later saying other runners are helping and she should be ok. Thank God.)

Finishing the race, pulling myself together and then sending out help...




-Note: I didn't know it at the time, but another racer, Steve, had to be airlifted to the hospital and is still in ICU at time of this writing. My prayers and thoughts are with him.

-7 hours, 28 minutes and 46 seconds is the official time of the race for me. Good enough for Male Rookie of the Year (best time for first time Ultra runner). My friend Glorybelle (aka Silly Lillie), took home the Female Rookie of the Year award with an amazing 6 hours and 45 minute time (Top 5 women, 2nd in age group & 31st overall!). Dan came in a little bit later at 7:53, still happy despite the heat. (official results)

It's me. Male Rookie of the Year.

My original goal was 7 hours (other than the obvious goal of actually finishing), so I was happy to be within 30 minutes of that. With a little more respect and preparation for the climb out of Satan's pit, I would have come close to beating 7 hours. (yes, it was that much of a factor)


-A
s I sat at the finish area pigging out on all the incredible food, I felt better and better about the race. It was tough. It was hot. It was hilly. It was brutal out there. I overcame heat and water trouble at the end. I overcame early doubts. I finished a distance that I had never even come close to running before (previous PR for distance was 20.43 miles) over a course that I was nowhere near trained for (blame it on the flat California central valley).

-So what's the damage (next day)? Surprisingly, my legs aren't too bad (yet). I think my quads are about to announce their pain to the world in the next 12-24 hours. My right butt muscle area (technical term) is where I am really sore. It takes me a few steps out of the chair to get it loose, and I still walk like I'm 90. The real damage is to my feet. Multiple blisters on both sides of my feet and around the toes. I'll also be kissing goodbye the toe nails of my big toes on both feet (maybe my left middle one too). They're looking bad. Overall, I'd say my condition is better than I thought I would be. No muscle injuries or scrapes from falling. (Come to think of it, I'm pretty excited and amazed that I was able to handle every downhill on this course. Technical is an understatement. Those Brooks Cascadia shoes were awesome.)

-W
hat's next? At this point, I don't know. I have some ideas but I'm going to wait until my body heals and see where I'm at physically and mentally. I'm definitely interested in doing more trail runs in the future. I know I'll be back next year for this race with better training, better strategy and hopefully an even better overall experience.


-M
any thanks to the race directors, sponsors, and volunteers (especially the volunteers) for making the race possible. Thank you to all the racers who talked with me, walked/ran with me, shared stories and strategies with me, pushed me and allowed me to have a great time. Thanks to Silly Lillie and Dan Bringer for letting me be apart of your running squad for the early parts of the race. I needed that. And thanks to my family for being there at the end, especially my wife. She's so supportive of me when I get these crazy ideas in my head. I can't thank her enough for letting me have my adventures. Always great to have family waiting for you at the finish. Looking forward to next time!

Me, Victoria, Catra (Dirt Diva), Glorybelle and Danny at the post race picnic (photo by GB)



Post race with my mom (dad was playing in a softball tournament but met us afterwards)



Kids playing in the lake after the race


7 comments:

F. Lee May 20, 2008 at 12:17 PM  

Excellent report Mike! Can't wait to join in on this adventure next year. I'm proud of you for not just finishing it, but doing so and while still able to walk! Great work and congrats on ROY honors!!

Dave May 20, 2008 at 3:04 PM  

Mike,

I got here via another blog. Great effort. That race sounds like a mutha! I am preparing for my first 50 miler in September. Hope it goes as well for me as it did for you. Congrats.

Dave

209Mike May 20, 2008 at 4:11 PM  

Lee, Thanks for the words. I can't wait to run this with you next year. That ROY award will be yours for sure.

Dave, Thanks for stopping by and the comments. Tough race but makes it even more rewarding now. You'll do great in your first race. I know I'm hooked now.

GB May 20, 2008 at 5:36 PM  

MIKE, I am so proud of you! Holy Shnikeys you done good. I have to say that YOUR report has got me all fired up to run Ohlone again next year. And you KNOW if I do it, you HAVE to do it. We'll be seasoned pros this time around.

I was so thankful to run with you and Danny for so long. So helpful. And your description of the course was PERFECT. I felt the same pain you did at the same exact points on the course.

And yes, oh yes, did I pray pray pray. At many points along the course, I begged Jesus for help. Like you, my prayers were answered. It was great to meet your family. And Oscar was just awesome. He shouted some words of encouragement as I was coming down that last hellish hill. I thought, "Man, this guy is RUNNING up this thing??? What an animal." Now it all makes sense.

Great report Mike. We have to do more races together in the future. Boston still awaits you!

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) May 21, 2008 at 9:58 AM  

What's up with all you rookie runners doing this as their first ultra (and then winning the rookie award)? Did I get that right--you skipped doing a first marathon first? Maybe you and gb can petition to get special entry into this year's Badwater as your next race...

You're crazy. Great job!

By the way, I decided this year, my fifth running, that no matter how well I think I've learned the course, the hills GROW during the winter.

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) May 21, 2008 at 11:34 AM  

BTW, "crazy" in ultrarunning parlance, is a very weighty compliment.

willgotthardt May 21, 2008 at 2:05 PM  

Just a heads up for '09...it's Ohlone 50K tradition that when the new 'Rookie of the Year' crosses the finish line, then tosses his bottles randomly across the field in complete relief/exhaustion, that the previous year's 'RotY' (me actually) collect said bottles and return them to the runner, as demonstrated Sunday.

Well done with both race & report.

Will G.

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