Wednesday, June 27, 2007

51 Miles -- One Day

What a great weekend! Two runs totaling 51 miles and mostly at night. In other words, some excellent TRT100 preparation.

Run#1 – Habitat Run Half Marathon (+/- 13.1 Miles)

This was the 6th race in the Gold Country Grand Prix Series. It was a “first annual” race, featuring 5K, 10K, and Half Marathon distances. The race was held on the Pioneer trail and started at the Harmony Ridge Market on Highway 20, a few miles east of Nevada City.

The races started at different times, starting with the Half Marathon at 8:10 a.m., so we picked up our race numbers, chatted with a few of the other runners, and went to the starting line. Reno’s Chris Bodelato was running the Half Marathon today, as was V Neelakantan (Neel) who practically lives on the course, so there was going to be some good competition.
Before the first race

The first few miles were uphill, on an old wagon trail close to the highway. I was following Chris closely and we had to look carefully for course markings. After about three miles, we crossed a road and started heading away from the highway on a fairly flat section of single-track trail and after another mile or so we started heading down a steep road.

I caught up with Chris on the downhill and we chatted a little bit. He is on the waiting list for the TRT50K, so I might see him fly by there. We enjoyed the steep downhill while it lasted, knowing full well that we had to go back up the same hill a little later. At one point we took a wrong turn and we ended up in front of a creek, scratching our heads and looking for the trail. Neel zoomed by on the far side and pointed out that the trail was on the left and so we quickly ran back and followed him on the correct path. In my hurry to catch up I tripped over a root, but fortunately the trail was soft and I did not get hurt, just dirty.

Once we were back on the main road, Chris started pulling away slowly. We reached the turnaround point and we started heading back up the hill. Some sections were really steep and it almost did not matter if you ran or walked. Neel, who lives really close to this trail and trains here a lot, was running strong and started pulling away. I thought about pushing it to the finish, but since I was still comfortably in first place in my Grand Prix age group, I figured that I would save a little bit of energy for run#2 later in the day, (pacing 38 miles at Western States).

The last three miles were all downhill and it felt good to run the last part fast. I finished in 1:33, but have to add that the total distance measured on my Forerunner GPS indicated only 12.7 miles, so I am not sure how accurately the course was measured.

Over in the 10K, Sean picked up second in his age group with his first-ever sub-60 10K on a pretty tough course. Along the way he also got lost once. Sean’s friend Hayes came in first in his age group and I think he is now tied with Rough and Ready’s Austin Violette in the GP standings. Austin was crewing and pacing for his cross-country coach at Western States and I ran into him later in the day.

In the 5K, Rocky got lost and actually ended up on the freeway. Fortunately he knew that this was not a road race and he turned around and managed to find the trail again, losing about four minutes, but still placing 3rd in his age group.

We waited for the medals and then we were off to the Wisdom Café for coffee. After that, I went for lunch at on of my favorite lunch places, Fudenjuce, on Zion street. I had a delicious (and big) Greek wrap there as well as one of their great fresh-squeezed juices. I pulled out the laptop and checked on the status of my runner. Dave was only about 15 minutes behind schedule, so since I had never been to Western States race, I figured I’d fill up my water bottles and head to…

Run#2 Pacing from Forest Hill to Auburn (+/- 38 Miles)

I met Dave jr. last year at the Lake Tahoe Super Triple and we kept in touch after the race. When Dave jr. wrote me that he was going to run the grand slam this year, I immediately offered to pace him at WS100, since it is practically in our backyard. He happily accepted and the day had finally come. Dave was shooting for somewhere between 23.5 and 26.5 hours, but never having run the course, all estimates were to be taken with a grain of salt (and electrolytes).

Although the weather was really good for June, it was still a hot day. I arrived in Forest Hill and found out that Hal Koerner, the eventual winner, had just come through. The place was buzzing with pacers, crews, volunteers, and spectators. I picked up my pacer number and hung out close to the aid station while the front-runners were coming through. Sean Meissner was there, crewing and pacing for Rod Bien and I also ran into fellow ultraholics Rajeev and Anil, who had just finished their 30-mile safety patrol.

After the first twenty runners had come through, I figured I should have an early dinner and headed over to The Pizza Factory. I had a delicious pizza with Rajeev, Anil, and some of their friends and we all had a great time. The town definitely had Western States fever; laptops were posted at the restaurant counters and customers could check the progress of their runners while ordering a pizza. The legendary Tim Twietmeyer, who clocked his 25th sub-24 hour finish last year, is now one of the race organizers and he was having breadsticks and checking on the race progress.

Since Dave had not reached the Michigan Bluff aid station (organized by our own Sierra Trailblazers Running Club) yet, I decided to go there to wait for him. I could not believe the number of cars parked on the side of the road, this place looked busier than Forest Hill! I found a spot about a mile down the road and walked down to the aid station. There was also a school bus shuttle service that took people back and forth.

After waiting a little while and checking the computer system a few times, Dave (#429) came running around the corner, wearing his traditional orange bandana (the same one I had been looking at from behind for many, many miles at the super triple last year). He had now finished a little more than half of the race and had the toughest part (the canyons and the heat) behind him. He had fallen a little bit behind schedule and looked like he was not eating as much as he should be. I gave him some gel and salt tablets, we talked about what was required at the Forest Hill aid station and it was “429 out!”

I drove back to Forest Hill and got ready. I put on a pair of fresh Balega socks, bagbalm, my Black Diamond nightlight, and a long sleeve shirt. I filled up my water bottles and got ready to go. Dave planned a slightly longer stop at Forest Hill, so I got his drop bag ready. Upon his arrival, we went to work quickly. Dave took care of a blister, and changed into a new pair of shoes. He ate some soup, a can of ensure, and 9 minutes later, we were out of there. It was exactly 8:30 p.m. and it was slowly getting dark.

Although it was “all downhill” to the finish, the Western States trail has a lot of ups and downs. It is mostly single track trail with plenty of dust, rocks, and roots. We walked the uphills and ran the downhills and flats. This went pretty well and we were getting pretty close to the section splits that Dave had anticipated prior to the race, although we were not quite making up time. Could we still make it sub-24?

We turned on the headlamps a little after 9 p.m. Dave had fabricated a light that would go around his water bottle, which worked great. I will try to duplicate that for TRT. The aid stations along the way were very well stocked (hence the nickname 100-mile buffet), but we did our best to minimize our stays there. My main job was to keep pushing forward and to make sure Dave was fueling properly. It’s hard to eat so many gels, but you really have to keep doing it to stay in the race. I was surprised at how well Dave was running this late in the race. He also had not lost his sense of humor (probably the best indicator that he was doing well) and we had a lot of fun along the way.

At the Rucky Chucky AS (around mile 78), we had to cross the American River. This was fun, but left you with a pair of wet shoes and I was a bit worried that this would not be good for Dave’s feet. Fortunately we had a pair of dry socks waiting at the Auburn Lake Trails aid station 5 miles ahead. While Dave was changing his socks, I asked for some coffee. They were just making some new coffee, so we decided to move on, hoping to get some coffee at the next aid station, but when we got there, they were, once again, just making some new coffee. We just grabbed a few Gus and kept running.

We kept a good pace, running for extended periods here and there and walking the uphill sections. Sometimes we caught a very good running rhythm and we were able to go for nice long sections. Still, it is very hard to make up lost time at a 100-mile race. We kept going, but it was clear we were heading for something in the 26-hour range, comfortably under 30 hours, which ultimately is all that the Grand Slam is concerned about.

At the Highway 49 AS, we finally got our coffee. A medical volunteer quickly patched up a heel blister for Dave and we were off again. There was still a lot of uphill running in the final ten miles, but the aid stations were getting closer and closer together. First 5 and 4 miles apart, then 3, 2, and finally, we reached Robie Point with only one mile to go to the finish at the Stadium!
Entering the track, the grand finale

The last 300 yards is run on the track and it’s a great finish to such a long race. The runners had to wear a timing chip for 100 miles and the sole purpose of this chip seemed to be to provide the runner’s name to the finish line officials and announcer, because there were no timing mats at any of the aid stations. In the future, I am sure we’re going to see runner profiles complete with pictures and preselected theme songs pop up on giant scoreboards as they enter the stadium. This year, the WS100 website already featured mugshots of all the runners, which was kind of cool.

As we rounded the far side of the track, I noticed that two other runners had entered the track and they were rapidly closing on us. I told Dave that he was “at risk” and had to hurry up. After running a hundred miles, I wanted him to at least get a good photograph of himself at the finish-line of this world-famous ultra and not just a shot of his arms waving in the air behind some other runners! Dave cranked it up a few notches and we parted ways on the final 100 yards (runners go straight and crews and pacers move into a separate chute to the right). The announcer called out his name and time: 26:41:51. The first 100 miler of the Grand Slam was in the bag! (Congratulations, Dave, on a well-run race!)

We had a nice pancake breakfast in the stadium and after that, my friend Chris gave me a ride back to Forest Hill. On the way back, we stopped at just about every Starbucks for coffee, in order not to fall asleep on the way home. It was a long, but very satisfying weekend. I could not have asked for a better training run for the upcoming TRT100. I'll fine-tune a few things based on this run, but overall things went really well and I feel ready.

At the finish

I also think I’ll sign up for the 2008 WS100 race. With the current lottery system, it may be 2010 before I get in anyway. One thing I would recommend for this race, or at least for the night-run part, is wearing is a pair of clear-lens sunglasses to protect your eyes from the dust. My eyes were a real mess afterwards.

Next up, a quick 5K on the fourth of July and then my own 100 miler: the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 on July 21st.

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