Monday, August 27, 2007

Maturing at the Vermont 100 Endurance Run (By Dave Yeakel jr.)

Here is part 2 of the Grand Slam journal written by my friend and guest blogger Dave Yeakel jr. This is Dave’s account of his Vermont 100 experience, his second race in the 2007 Grand Slam (Part 1 can be read here).

At 43 years of age I am not mature. OK I said it and I feel better! The little boy in me still enjoys playing in the woods, running thru puddles and creeks, jumping over fallen trees and returning to society totally exhausted, dirty, and dreaming about the next time.

But that is not the maturity level that I am referring to. Instead, it is my adolescent period of running which after 7 years I find myself wanting to do more than I’m probably trained for. A time when as my mother often told me “your eyes are bigger than my stomach,” but I still pile the food higher on my plate.

As I returned from Western States at the end of June I became convinced that my obsession with not posting a “DNF” (did not finish) has hindered my finish times and left me guessing at my true ability. Crazy and random thoughts surged thru my head; questions about my desire to suffer late in a race, questions about what I’m trying to prove to myself or anyone else, questions about why I’ve become obsessed with these new found challenges that exhaust both my physical and mental abilities, questions that sometimes just should not be asked by any sane person.

This is but a glimpse of a runner suffering from an obsession and returning to the 1st 100-mile race he ever ran. Vermont was a race that I foolishly lost some respect for after 3 feet bruising years on the rocks at Massanutten. Certainly, I could run under 24 hours at Vermont with its modest elevation changes and very run-able road surface, especially with my new attitude! Only one problem arose for me “there is no easy 100” and when you begin losing respect for something that’s when you get hurt.

The plane trip to New England found me in a sophomore slump, which only worsened as the day progressed and the gray skies began dumping rain. For some reason I was having problems getting excited for this run. I enjoyed continuing friendships made at the Western States (WS) but still did not find the emotional spark I so desperately needed to run well.

Friday morning I slept until 8:30 before having a leisurely breakfast and reading the local paper, taking a walk and a mid-day nap. Now this was a lifestyle I could get used to! Pre-race check-in and medical check ended around 3 pm so I planned to arrive at 2pm, take care of requirements, eat from the pasta buffet and return to the hotel by 7pm for as much sleep as possible.

2am Saturday morning I was awake before the alarm ever got close to sounding. Preparation was quick with a final gear check, packing the car, and exit of the hotel since there would be no need for a room on Saturday night. By 3:15am I was standing in the main tent just 20 yards from the start line. Yep, still no emotional spark, no butterflies in my stomach, nothing – just conversation with other runners and a clear understanding that it was going to be a long day.

4am we were off and running downhill, I tried to settle into a rhythm and soon found other runners that I knew to team up with and banter about life and running. The race unfolded rather quickly and I mean quickly as I ran a bit faster than anticipated or within good judgment for my adolescent skills. 25 miles rolled by in 4 hours/25 minutes and 30 miles in 5 hours/38 minutes. Neither of these times was reasonable for me to sustain over a 100-mile course, especially with two races of equal distance within the past nine weeks. I should have slowed myself down but immaturity prevailed.

Other than a goal of finishing in 24 hours I had not set any major targets for myself. I carried a split sheet in my pocket just like WS but never looked at it. One nice aspect of running faster than I should was the large number of people I talked with in the first 50 miles. Runners whom I would never normally have opportunity to talk with because they should be miles in front of me, which they were by the end of the race! Another nice feature was seeing more of the horses sharing the course with us on the same day. Vermont is the last remaining 100-mile race where horses and runners co-exist.

At Camp 10 Bear aid station (“C-10B”, mile 47.2 – 1:19pm) the Vermont heat and humidity was beset upon us but not nearly as oppressive as prior years and I was still ahead of my planned pace feeling reasonably strong and confident. The next 23.8 miles would bring us through a complete circle of the Vermont countryside before returning to C-10B and a final push for home.
This loop is where I lost control in 2003, neglecting to pick up my flashlights and warm clothing from an aid station and having to return several hundred yards to retrieve them or DNF in the fading light. No worries this year as I found my way to the famed Margaritaville aid station (mile 62.1) and enjoyed a few moments chatting with the party goers and eating a cheeseburger in paradise, after all it was named after the infamous Jimmy Buffett. As I rolled out of Margaritaville the clock was still in my favor and my mental stamina remained strong believing that 24 hours was within my reach.

The second time through C-10B (mile 70.1 – 7:07pm) I had budgeted a significant amount of time to compose myself and change equipment for the last 30 miles. Shoes, socks, warmer shirt, lights and complete restocking of nutrition were all planned for and completed. The aid station was bustling, as it becomes the location from which most runners collect their pacers for the final miles and support crews offer emotional support.

While I had run Western States with Pete Lubbers as my pacer and had a blast, the remaining three Grand Slam races I am running without support crew or pacers. Yes, I have become intensely aware that crews and pacers can save time in aid stations and help protect a runner from suffering the consequences of “ultra brain” and “stupid mistakes” often even saving one’s race. I suppose a significant part of the challenge to me is completing these runs as man (or adolescent) against the trails. Because of this I knew the last 30 miles would be dark and lonely.
The next major mental target was to reach the aid station named Bill’s (mile 88.6). In 2003, the 90-mile mark had brought me to my knees, well actually my backside as I succumbed to my desire for sleep at 2am in my first 100-mile race. Since then I have not surrendered to the sleep monster but have fought with it on many levels.
This race, this night would be no different as I began fighting the desire to stop and sleep. Soon, I was walking with my eyes shut only to “awaken” with the fear and nausea that I had possibly missed a turn or gone off course. Getting lost in one of these races is a large personal fear because even though my legs may be well enough to run I may never find my way back on course or could be eliminated for erroneously and without intent, cutting out part of the course.

At Bill’s aid station I received my first glimpse that the 24-hour goal was in serious jeopardy. I had slipped from running 45 minutes ahead of pace at C-10B to 30 minutes behind with only 11.4 miles to go, it was now 1am and 21 hours into the race, 3 hours to go. Once again the race was on and I was beginning to feel emotionally distraught, as I so desperately wanted to finish within my goals.

Sleep--walking was interspersed with running as I would summon up the energy and force myself to engage the internal battle for more speed. For hours my brain had tried to calculate splits and finish times based on different scenarios playing out in my head but with only a few short miles left there were less and less scenarios to play out and trails that seamed to stretch longer and longer beyond my small tunnel of light.

Upon reaching Polly’s aid station (mile 95.5) I believe my will and desire finally gave in as the reality of needing to cover 4.5 miles within 37 minutes (an 8.25 minute per mile pace) became impossible for my weary legs. This was just not going to happen, so I mentally conceded defeat of my 24-hour goal and drank another cup of soup to warm my body and replenish salt and fluids. The remaining miles took 23.5 minutes per mile, my slowest of the day.
Perhaps a significant slowdown over the final miles of a 100-mile run should be expected as the combination of sleep deprivation, emotional drain, and physical trauma catches up but those reasons do nothing to calm my lingering dissatisfaction with personal performance still resident within my mind weeks after the finish line has been crossed.

Am I upset? Only by missed opportunities. To run 100 miles and finish in 25 hours, 9 minutes is still quite an accomplishment for many and as an immature runner becomes my second fastest time at the distance. Upon review of the numbers I’m convinced that the goal was not lost in the final miles but in the first 30 when the little boy in me took control and I played with my friends in the woods of Vermont.

What’s next? – Leadville Trail 100, “The Race Across the Sky”.
How will my body react to no oxygen? This race’s historical finish rate is less than 50%!!!

Dave Yeakel, Jr. (#212 – out)
77th of 144 finishers with 199 starters

Grand Slam Update:
30 registered runners / 5 DNF’s at Western States / 2 DNF’s at Vermont – 23 still running.

Note: Meanwhile, Dave has already successfully completed part 3 --Leadville trail 100. Dave: Congratulations on finishing Vermont. As you said, there is no easy 100-miler! All the best at Wasatch!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Running under the shooting stars at the 12 Hours at Cool Night Run

Last week, I joined about 75 other runners in Cool, CA to run the inaugural 12 Hours at Cool Night Run. I had one of the best runs of my life there. Not because I ran very fast or far, but because after I ran through a low period in the second loop, I got into an effortless rhythm in which I felt like I could go on forever -- a case of prolonged runner's high.

The Cool night run is a timed event on a 9-mile loop course called the Olmstead loop. It starts when it is still light, at 7 p.m., and you have twelve hours to complete as many loops as you can. More importantly, you have until 5 a.m. the next morning to make it to the cutoff at the start to be able to go out for a last loop. The course -- a combination of single-track trail and fire roads -- runs over some rolling hills for the first 5 miles and then has several significant climbs spread out over the next 3 miles. After that, it is a fairly flat last mile back to the start/finish behind the Cool Fire Station.

At mile 3.5

To get an idea of how many miles I might be able to run before the cutoff, I took my two sons, Sean and Rocky, out to the course a week before running the TRT100. Since we were going on vacation for three weeks right after TRT100, arriving back in the US only the night before the 12-hour run, I would not have another chance to run the course.

Sean and Rocky after completing the Cool loop on the bike

The kids and I had a great time and I reduced my expectations quite a bit after I found myself pushing the kids' mountain biked for significant portions of the course. It took the three of us a little bit more than 2 hours, so 72 miles was definitely out of the question. Adding tired legs from TRT into the mix, it would either be 63 or 54 miles. Course knowledge always helps quite a bit and I was certainly happy to have run the course once before I would actually come out for the race.
The end of the 9-mile loop

I was going to run this race with jet lag, which I hoped would actually be in my favor. However, we stayed up very late during the last days of our trip and after a delayed flight, we arrived in SFO on Friday afternoon. By the time we left the airport, it was 3 p.m. -- rush hour. It took us about 7 hours to drive home (instead of the usual 3) and I had to pull over a few times not to fall asleep. I was completely fried when we came home, but with our jet lag, we still woke up early the next day. I had a good pasta lunch, rested a bit more, and then hooked up with my friend/crew Chris around four to head over to Cool.

The little town of Cool, CA

We stopped on the way to get some Gatorade and coffee and got to the race HQ around 6. I got my number and chatted with a few other runners, like Jeremy Reynolds, who had just won the Western States Horse Race in record time (congratulations, Jeremy!).

I was expecting to see Rajeev, Anil, and Chihping at the start, but found out later that they ran a bit late. Chihping literally ran late: he actually ran 10 miles from the Auburn train station to the start at Cool in an effort to reduce global warming. This, of course, after completing yet another 100-miler between TRT100 and Cool!

Chris, preparing the crew truck

Nancy Warren, the race director, gave us a quick rundown of what to expect. The race was very well organized, with a great group of volunteers. Robert and Linda Mathis ( were at the start tracking the runners' laps and updating the race web site real time. Nancy and her family were running the incredibly well-stocked start/finish aid station, and there was an aid station at mile 5.5, run by ultra-veterans Norm and Helen Klein. The course was well-marked with ribbon and glow sticks, so really all we had to do is run!

Nancy Warren explains the course
After the race briefing, we all gathered at the start. My plan for the race was a slightly unorthodox. Go out very fast for the first loop, to avoid the dust on the trail and to take maximum advantage of the daylight. I would run this first loop without a headlamp, so I would have to make it back quickly. After that, my plan was to settle into a slightly slower pace for the rest of the night. My wife had made a thermos of Starbucks coffee for later and I was also counting on jet lag to keep me awake.
With Jeremy at the start at 6:59 p.m.

We started at exactly 7 p.m. and I quickly moved to the front of the pack and maintained 2nd place until Alan Abbs, who was running a great race, passed me at the 5.5 mile aid station. I felt great. Running at sunset is the best! This was the second run in two weeks that started in the evening (Runs in Italy, like the one we had just run a week earlier, tend to be run in the evening) and if it was up to me, we would have more of these evening runs.

I thought I might be pushing a little too hard, but decided to just let go and have fun. I arrived at the start in third place in about 1:15, faster than planned, but a little extra time would come in handy later. I put on my bandana and Black Diamond headlamp, changed water bottles, and I was off for my second loop.

I had barely run a mile of the second loop and all of a sudden I found myself a bit nauseous and out of steam. What happened? Running the uphills felt almost impossible and even the flat sections felt rough. Negative thoughts flashed through my brain -- I had not completely recovered from TRT, so was this going to be similar to walking the last 47 miles of that run? I had hoped to avoid bonking late in the race, but now, only two hours into it, all I could do was walk -- it was going to be a long night. It got dark and I turned on the headlamp. The trail was quite dusty and sometimes it was a bit hard to get good footing in the dark.

Surprisingly, not too many runners passed me on this second loop and I finished it in 1:45. At TRT, I had good luck with eating soup and potatoes, so I had some of that at the aid stations, hoping it would cure my upset stomach. I stopped for a little while at the truck (I really wanted to just sit down, but avoided the temptation), went to the bathroom, and took off again.

Race Headquarters behind the Cool Fire Station

Maybe it was the potatoes, or Norm and Helen's soup, maybe it was the fact that it was now 9 a.m. in Italy, or maybe it was one of the wishes I made upon the numerous shooting stars, but all of a sudden, I felt better. I started running again. Not fast, but not too slow either. I got into a rhythm I had never felt before; effortless, yet unstoppable. I ran for a mile, then another, and another, and just kept motoring along amazed by this sudden change of pace. I walked only a few of the very steep sections, like the half mile section after the creek crossing at mile 5. Surprisingly, I could find my running rhythm again on the runnable section and I just kept cruising along on auto-pilot.

It was a new Moon and the sky was filled with meteor showers, which was quite spectacular if you dared to take your eyes of the trail for a second or two. Most of the sections were still pretty warm, but there were occasional cold pockets where the temperature was chilly. I finished my third loop and told Chris I was back on track. Rajeev was at the aid station and wished me good luck on the final laps. Every time I would pass the aid station, I was offered a number of delicious-sounding menu items: bacon, breakfast burritos, and, my personal favorite, pancakes. The only problem is that I don't eat too much during the race, so every time I would tell the volunteers I would be back at 7 a.m. to take them up on their offer. I had some potatoes, a little bit of coffee and I was off again for loop number 4.

There were quite a few runners ahead of me, but many of them called it a night early on, completing just a few laps, so it was hard to know where I was in the overall standings. I did not care too much about this anyway. I just wanted to make sure I made the 5 a.m. cutoff. Since I felt good and I was still running steady, I started calculating possible cutoff scenarios again and it was obvious that I was heading for an easy 54 miles. I started passing a few people here and there, but since there were now less than 75 people spread out over the 9-mile loop, I was mostly running solo.

At the end of lap 4, I felt confident that I would nail the 6 loops, and while Chris changed the batteries in my headlamp, filled up my bottles, and prepared some coffee, I took a quick 10-minute sit down break. I put on a light jacket, because the 5th lap would definitely be the coldest lap. I wanted to start my final lap at 4:45, so that I would have a little extra time to finish the full loop before 7.
Somehow, it almost felt as if I was going faster on the 5th lap than on the previous laps. I have had runner's high quite a few times before, but never quite as long as this time. I had found my all-night rhythm!

I was back at the start at 4:37, took a quick break and told Chris to have the camera ready at the finish line and then took of on my final lap. On this final lap, we were greeted by a beautiful sunrise. I passed a runner and noticed it was 15-year old Michael Kanning. We were close to the Klein aid station and Michael was going to stop there, running an unbelievable 50.5 miles in 12 hours. It reminded me a bit of myself; my father and I would routinely hike distances of 40K to 60K a day in Holland when I was around Michael's age. One summer vacation (I believe I was 15 then), we racked up over 1000K in the forests of Holland and Germany.
With Michael Kanning at the finish
I turned off the headlamp and chatted with Michael a little bit. He is planning to run Rio del Lago in September -- his first 100 miler. Apart from running the race, which is admirable in itself, Michael is also fundraising for cancer research (See his blog I told Michael that I would give him $0.50 for each mile he ran at Cool and wished him the best at RDL, and then took off running again, because I was still shooting for 54 miles.

Sunrise at the Olmstead Loop

The last half mile of the loop is fairly flat and as you come out of the forest, you can see the fire station and the parking lot in the distance. I started running faster (pancakes were waiting at the finish!) and sprinted into the parking lot, towards the finish line. I felt great and crossed the line faster than Chris could take a picture with about 13 minutes to spare in 11:47:26.

Photo finish minus the finisher

I was officially the last finisher, yet 6th overall and one of 5 people that completed 54 miles. Alan Abbs won the race running 63 miles. Due to the 5 a.m. cutoff, there were not too many people left. That did not stop Nancy and her volunteers from cooking some more food, however. They immediately cooked me a delicious stack of pancakes that really hit the spot.

My favorite: pancakes!
After breakfast, Chris drove me home. I was really tired and very grateful to have someone to take me home, because I don't think I could have stayed awake while driving. When we were almost home, I realized I had lost my sunglasses, but fortunately Nancy had found them and she mailed them to me (Thanks again, Nancy!).
Finished -- 54 miles in a cool 12 hours
Thanks again to Nancy, Norm and Helen Klein, Robert and Linda Mathis, and all the other volunteers for putting on this great event. Depending on my work and running schedule next year, I will definitely put this on my list of races to run again. That course record is ready to be broken :)
With Nancy Warren

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Running in Italy -- The Strasopportico 7K

News about my crazy running habits (TRT100, etc.) spread fast while we were on vacation in Italy, so it was only a few days after we arrived that we were already signed up for a 7K "Corsa" (race). This was going to be the Italian edition of the Gold Country Grand Prix. I had no idea what to expect, but it would be fun to see the differences between the way that these events are hosted in Italy vs. America.

The race was called the Strasopportico 7K. This was the 26th running of the race and it was held in the picturesque little medieval mountain town of Sant'Agata dei Goti. It was about an hour by car outside of Napoli, where we were staying. It took us a lot longer to get there, though, because we decided to take public transportation and the South of Italy is not exactly known for its efficiency. The first difference between the Italian and the US races was that the race started at 6 p.m. I usually train in the evenings, and personally I would much prefer if all our local 10Ks started in the evening. That way you don't have to get up super early and you're warmed up by the time the race starts (+1 for Italy!)
The beautiful town of Sant'Agata dei Goti

A friend of ours picked us up at a train station close to the race and kindly took us to the race. Vicky was going to take pictures and the boys and I were all going to run the 7K (or so we thought). The sign in tables were very similar to the ones in the US, except everybody was cutting the line (-1 for Italy).

Signing in -- Don't wait for your turn here (if you want to participate in the race)

We signed up and the kids received a different color bib. I was worried that the kids were entered in a kids race by mistake and double checked. It turned out that the kids (14 and under) were all running a shorter 5K version of the race that would start a few minutes early. Fortunately they were in the running for the same awards, which were some beautiful ceramic amphoras, modeled after originals that were found during excavations in this area. There were amphoras for the top three finishers in each ten-year age group (+1 for Italy).

The prizes -- beautiful amphoras

The fee to participate was only 5 euros and that included a nice t-shirt, a jar of local honey, snacks and Gatorade at the finish (+1 for Italy) . We also bought some great-tasting sports-honey, which came in a huge 4oz package with a screw cap.

Ready to go with sports honey

6 p.m. came and went, it did not look like the race was going to start any time soon. Finally at about 6:15, the kids were lined up on the road and the race organizer explained where they had to go. It was pretty straight-forward, because the 7K would start with an extra 2K loop and then follow the same course.

Sean (front) and Rocky (with black and purple sleeves) with stopwatches ready

Once all the kids were lined up, the race director called, get this, ALL women! Apparently running in Italy is a men-only sport and women and kids are treated as second class citizens. Women were not even awarded in age groups, but just treated as one group, similar to the 14 and under kids (-10 for Italy). I could not believe it. This probably explained why there were just a handful of women that participated. The kids were sent on their way and the men were going to start a few minutes later.
I noticed from looking around that there was also a surprising lack of older and slower runners. It felt as though I had accidentally landed in the elite runners chute of a prestigious road race. Everywhere I looked, I saw lean and mean Italians, with the exception of a few teenagers who actually seemed to be running for fun. I guess people do not run just for fun in Italy (-1 for Italy), and only show up for a race if they can do well.

This strange attitude had one positive side effect: there was a huge crowd of non-runners that lined the course. The finish line even had metal crowd barriers to avoid runners getting trampled (+1 for Italy).

Most of the runners belonged to running clubs and came dressed in their team outfits. Some teams were huge, with as many as 60 runners on the course, while others were as small as 10 runners. There must have been at least 10 running clubs that were represented and there were very few unattached runners.

I could still feel the Tahoe Rim Trail miles in my legs and I had no idea how fast I would be able to run, so it was clear that it was up to Sean and Rocky to bring home the hardware.

Lined up for the (all-male) start
The race started and the pace was fast. We turned around a sharp corner into a huge parking lot and snaked our way through about 50 cars to get to the main road. As soon as we got on the main road, I calculated that I was in about 25th place. The course wound its way around part of the old downtown and ended up close to the start again and we followed the same course as the kids from there.

It was a gorgeous course, which ran over a beautiful old bridge, through some very narrow cobblestone streets, and past centuries-old buildings and plazas. It then ran uphill through the outskirts of the little town and made a big loop back to the start.

On the uphills, a few men passed me, but I was able to pass them again on the downhills. I was surprised at how well I was able to run and kept going at a pretty fast clip. I had hoped to make it in about 29 minutes, but I was not sure how hilly the course would be. After about 15 minutes, I passed Rocky, who was suffering from a cramp, but determined to start running again soon. A little while later, I passed Sean, who was running great. He had passed some fast-looking kids and only had a few kilometers left to run. Go Sean!
After a few minutes, a few men passed me in what looked like their finishing kick. I looked at my watch and figured they were surging a bit early, but when we turned around a corner, I could see the final stretch of road that led to the finish line. I immediately went after them and was able to pass one of them before the final turn onto Main street. I sprinted towards the finish and arrived in 25:10, way faster that I had expected. I did not have my GPS watch, but I think the course may have been a little shorter than 7K, because I don't think I went that fast.

Kicking it in!

Sean finished a few minutes later and I thought he might have a top-three spot. Rocky also made it, despite his earlier cramps. We enjoyed some cold Gatorade that was handed out to all finishers.

Sean's finish

Rocky runs through the crowd towards the finish

The awards ceremony took place in the center of town an hour later and it looked like the whole town was there. People came by with cups of wine (+1 for Italy!) and the race director got all the kids who finished on stage to sing the national anthem. All the kids got a nice medal regardless of how they placed. Oddly enough, the race results only showed the places of the top-three age group and overall winners without their finish times (-1 for Italy). No other results were shown. Sean did not make it in the top three. He could have been fourth, but we'll never know.

The kids sing the national anthem

How do you spell Lubbers?

Sean explains that he is from the US,
while Rocky walks away with his new medal and t-shirt

At the end of the awards ceremony, we had another delicious pizza (+2 for Italy). We walked around the old downtown a little bit and came across a small real estate agency. How about a nice cottage at the edge of town for just 16,000 euros. Tempting, but then I'd miss the rest of the Grand Prix series...

Real estate bargains in Sant' Agata dei Goti

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Glimpse of Heaven, Taste of Gel -- Running the TRT 100

Sorry this has taken a while, but due to some electrical converter problems I was not able to use my laptop in Italy during my three-week vacation…

On July 20th, my good friends Grant and Marie (and their dog Artie) offered me a ride to Carson City, where the Tahoe Rim Trail 100M/50M/50K race check-in and briefing would take place. I was leaving on vacation the Monday after the race, so the plan was that my wife and kids would meet me at the awards ceremony on Sunday and then take me to a hotel close to SFO from where we would take the plane on Monday.

It was fun to see a lot of familiar faces, like Scott, Rajeev, Chihping, Anil, and Sean Meissner, at the pre-race briefing. I also got to meet Alan Geraldi for the first time in person. I knew him from the "Ultraholics" Yahoo! group (a group of Bay Area ultrarunners), but had never met him. Little did I know that by the end of this very tough race I would know Alan very, very well.

Some of the Ultraholics at the briefing

After the briefing, I hung out with Rajeev and Anil and then we had dinner at B’shgetti’s with Alan. After that, I went to bed early. I felt ready to tackle the course. I had trained on the course several times with a new "speedmarch" run/walk technique (2 minutes running alternated with 1 minute walking) and I had also trained to use a gel every half an hour, to keep fueling consistently. I was really hoping to break 24 hours, but that proved to be a little ambitious for this first 100-miler.

On race day, I got up and took the bus to the start. My friends Grant and Marie were camping on the Rim Trail and they said they would try to meet me at Mount Rose. I had given them a copy of my proposed splits, which had me arriving there at 10:35.

I had my pockets full of gel and electrolyte tablets as well as two 20-oz Ultimate Direction hand bottles (with bottle lights for the first stretch in the dark). The 100-milers took off at 5 a.m. and the 50m and 50K runners would leave at 6 a.m.

I immediately started my speedmarch 2-1 technique and it worked well. I effortlessly hit the first split at Hobart (6:15) and then went on to Tunnel Creek. During my running sessions, I would pass Kathy D’Onofrio, only to be passed again by her during my walk breaks. This continued until she pulled away for good after the Tunnel Creek aid station. I would see her again later in the evening, but under different circumstances.

The first Red House loop went well and I ended back at the AS a few minutes ahead of schedule. I grabbed my new Nike sunglasses and was off to Mount Rose. This section climbs gradually for about nine miles and I figured it would take me two hours to get there and 1.5 hours to return to Tunnel Creek again. I reached Mount Rose about 15 minutes ahead of schedule and spent less than a minute at the aid station. I briefly met Grant and Marie there, who told me they would come to meet me at the Start Finish, per my proposed schedule. It was a great to have this unexpected crew support.

On the way down to Tunnel Creek, the first 50-miler passed me. It was super fast Tahoe Triple winner Thomas Reiss. I think it was his first 50-miler and he was on course record pace or close to it – way to go, Thomas!

On the way back from Tunnel Creek to the start, I passed a few back-of-the-pack 50K runners and I walked most of the steep uphills. The climb out of Red House is known as the “taste of hell,” but it is actually only about a mile of serious climbing. To me, the harder climbs are the climb out of Tunnel Creek to Hobart (up the endless switchbacks) as well as the climb to Snow Valley (highest elevation of the course).

I kept taking a gel every half hour. I used Power gel this time, after reading Karl Meltzer’s blog (can’t argue with his results!). He noted that Power gels have more sodium than other gels and it was going to be fairly hot. In training, I had run a 25-mile training session from Mount Rose to Red House and back using the speedmarch technique and Power gel every half an hour. It took me a little more than 5 hours to cover the distance and that was with a backpack full of water. During that run, I tried all the different flavors of Power Gel to see which ones I liked best. Green Apple and Plain turned out to be my favorites. Green Apple brought back some memories, because my oldest son, Sean, gave me one of those to use during my first marathon (Big Sur)! The Power gels worked well in training, as did Hammer gel.

My stack of gels before the start
By the time I got to the top of Snow Valley Peak, however, the gels started to taste less good, and it would take me some time to swallow the whole package. The descent to the start finish was fast, but I held back, continuing my walk/run strategy.
I had learned this speedmarch strategy during my time in the Dutch army. It was designed to march small units across long distances in the most efficient way. On fairly level terrain you’re supposed to cover 6 miles per hour this way. Here I was going about 5, which was great for me, considering the elevation change of the course (19,000+ over 100 miles). I noticed that it worked surprisingly well in various training runs, so I had decided to run and walk right from the start.

I reached the start finish in 10:20, which would have been good enough for about 16th place in the 50-mile race. I weighed in and my weight was right on target at 179 lbs. It had been within a half pound of my target weight all day. Never having been weighed during a running event, I had been a bit worried about losing too much weight during the hot part of the day, but that did not turn out to be an issue.
I took a 10-minute break at the AS. Grant and Marie were there and they helped me put on a new pair of shoes. I ate some soup and put on some new sunscreen. The volunteers at the AS were great. Grant and Marie had set up camp alongside the trail at Mount Rose, so they would meet me around mile 74. They asked me if there was anything I might want at that point and I immediately answered “Coffee!”

I took off again (still exactly on schedule) and started running and walking the initial flat section out of the AS. I ran for about a mile and grabbed my next gel and that’s where the "success story" ended. As soon as I put the gel in my mouth, I had to throw up. I just could not get another gel down and my stomach felt upset.

I reached the single-track trail that would lead to Marlette Lake. In the morning I had run and walked this effortlessly, but it seemed as though the grade of the trail had changed. I was forced to walk the entire section. It was quiet now, since there were no more 50K or 50M runners on the trail. I power-walked all the way to Hobart, and then marched on to Tunnel Creek.
It took hours to cover those 11 miles. I did not pass anyone, but nobody passed me either. I could walk pretty well, but every time I started to run, I would stop again after about 20 seconds. I had my watch count down the two and one minute intervals, but since I was no longer running and walking, that got a little bit irritating, so I decided to turn it off. My 24-hour goal was shot; there was no way to make up the time that was lost. I was convinced that I would at least finish this race, so I decided to just let go of this somewhat artificial time goal that had been keeping me occupied for most of the day. Instead, I was going to try to enjoy myself -- at least a little bit.

At the Tunnel Creek AS, Norm and Helen Klein gave me some ginger to ease my upset stomach. I still could not take any gels, so I switched to potatoes and chicken broth, which helped a lot. Since it would be dark by the time I would be back from Red House, I wrapped a long-sleeve shirt around my waist and put on my Black Diamond headlamp. I ran some sections of the downhill to Red House and felt pretty good again. I still could not run any uphill sections though.

At Red House, you were supposed to mark their bibs with a marker to prove that you had really made it there. This had caused a lot of anxiety after the pre-race meeting. What if there was no marker? What if you simply forgot? Anyway, I quickly marked my bib with the red marker and then I saw Kathy D’Onofrio again. She was sitting down on the ground shivering, yet still determined to tough this out. I quickly gave her my long sleeve t-shirt and asked her what she wanted to do. She wanted to rest a bit and then push on, although it was clear that she was almost hypothermic. We decided that I would let the AS know that she was not feeling well and that if she was not back by a certain time, they would send a vehicle down for her.

At that point, Ray Sanchez passed by and we talked a little bit more about what we could do for Kathy. Either way, we had to walk about 3 miles back to the AS, so we’d better get going. I walked with Ray for a little bit, but got nauseous again and had to throw up. Ray went on running and walking while I just kept walking. On the final ascent, I saw the first-aid truck make its way down to rescue Kathy. Ray had told the AS captain and he had dispatched the truck right away, which was probably a good thing.

By the time I got to Tunnel Creek I was feeling pretty cold myself. Fortunately I had extra clothes and I quickly put on another shirt and wrapped a wind jacket around my waist. I had some soup and potatoes and I was off again. I left the AS at the same time as Andy Black, who was paced by the infamous Errol Jones (a.k.a. The Rocket). I followed them for a few entertaining miles, until their pace became too fast.

It was a long hike up to Mount Rose. In the dark it was hard to tell exactly how many miles were left (My Forerunner GPS watch had (also) run out of juice at mile 52). I met many of the runners who were on their way back from Mount Rose. I saw Scott, who was running an excellent race and he told me he had seen my “fan club” just a mile ahead. This was music to my ears, I was finally going to have some coffee!

I reached Grant and Marie’s campsite (right next to the trail). They had rigged up a chair and the coffee was ready (the taste of Heaven!) I thought it would be a good idea to take a 10 or 15-minute break here, although I was also worried about getting too comfortable. My aim had been to minimize the time at aid stations, and it is easy to waste a lot of time sitting around.
Ultraholics to the rescue! I had not been sitting down for more than a minute before the next runner passed by. When he said hello, I realized it was Alan Geraldi. Alan, a fast and accomplished triathlete, was also running his first 100-miler and he was also doing more walking than running at this point. I really wanted to stay and rest, but that way I would never get there! We both had some coffee and we were off to the Mount Rose AS, which was just a mile ahead.

We alternated the lead every so often, and although Alan complained that his legs were shot, I could barely keep up when he was in the lead. We spent a few minutes at the Mount Rose AS. Rajeev had given me a pair of gloves and Anil's wife, Rashmi, had kindly put those in my drop bag. It was very cold in the meadow, so these came in very handy.
We headed back to Tunnel Creek. We kept a steady pace and came across a lot of runners on their way up, including Chihping, who had actually spent the night prior to the race in a sleeping bag close to the start of the race!

Walking together was much more fun! We talked about all kinds of things (ultras, triathlons, diets, and so on, but we also just walked long stretches quietly. Every once in a while we would stop to rest or stretch a few seconds, but we mostly just kept moving forward.

We reached the Tunnel Creek AS and took a little break there. I had some more soup and some potatoes. There were quite a few people dropping out and many of them were sitting in the tent waiting for a ride. It was time to move on to the toughest part of the course, the climb back up to Hobart. Alan and I had both dreaded this long climb. In the end it was not quite as bad as we thought it would be, but it was definitely hard. We made our descent to the AS, and for a little bit it felt like we might have taken a wrong turn. In general, things looked a lot different on the second loop (read: farther and steeper).

Since we left Mount Rose we had been making guesses at possible finish times. The big unknown had been how long it would take us to get from Tunnel Creek to Hobart. Only after reaching Hobart, we felt that we could realistically shoot for breaking 28 hours.

We left the Hobart AS quickly. It was light now and we still had ten miles to go. If we were going to break 28, we would not break it by much. We climbed to Snow Valley, and then started our long descent. Walking those last ten miles was one of the hardest things I have ever done. You know you’ve made it, but it just takes forever and ever to cover the distance.

Everything looked unfamiliar on this section, too. Every time we thought we were around the corner from the Aid station, the trail would make an unexpected turn. Rocks looked like water coolers and trees looked like houses. I kept looking at my watch as we were getting closer to 27:30. The last section is 1.7 miles and at a 4-mile pace, that would take about 25 minutes. We could not really avoid getting to the AS much later than 27:35.

Finally we reached the last AS. Alan stopped briefly to see a friend and then joined me again. We had decided to cross the finish line together, and did not care too much about our overall place anymore. A few people had passed us in the last few miles. On one of our final turns on the trail we heard some more voices behind us and we regained our competitive drive. We would not be be passed anymore! We ran to the finish line and with a “1,2,3-Go” Alan and I finished the race tied for 26th place in 27:50:45. After all, we had easily broken the 28-hour mark.

I rested a bit and watched Chihping finish in 29+ hours. We got a ride to Carson City and had some lunch there with Keith Blom and his wife. Keith had just finished WS a month earlier in just under 24 hours and he was one of the runners that passed us at the very end.
Chihping at the awards ceremony
Vicky and the kids showed up and stayed for the awards ceremony. Jasper Halekas won the race in a new course record of 18:16! Mark Gilligan came in second and also broke 20 hours.
The winner, Jasper Halekas

The plane ride to Italy was interesting to say the least, but after a few days things were almost back to normal again. In Italy, we had a great time, ate lots of pizza, and saw lots of great places. Believe it or not, I even ran a 7K race there (report to be posted soon).

The coveted belt buckle, at last!
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