Monday, September 24, 2007

A Great Day of Trail Running at the Sierra Nevada Endurance Run Double Marathon

I had really been looking forward to run the Sierra Nevada Endurance Run (SNER), but just a few days before the race it looked like it was all falling apart. A minor cut on my right hand somehow become infected and the next day a big red streak appeared on my forearm. It looked like a rash or some sort of allergic reaction and I thought it might disappear overnight. Instead, I had two streaks on my forearm the next morning. They started at the cut and traveled up my arm. I went to the doctor and he almost wanted to take a picture of it; it was a classical case of lymphangitus (a bacterial infection in the lymphatic vessels).

The doctor said it was pretty serious, but a one-time shot combined a seven-day regiment of penicillin would cure this quickly. Oh and, no strenuous exercise for a little while. “Does a double marathon qualify as strenuous activity?” I asked. After discussing the options, the doctor said it might be OK if all the red streaks were completely gone by Friday, but he still would not recommend it. However, if the streaks were not gone by Friday, I would be “foooolish”, the doctor said, while he looked me in the eye, trying to stare the stubbornness out of me.

I felt a little bit bad, but all hope was not lost. I wasn’t going to do something stupid, so all I could hope for was a lightning-fast recovery. The next day, the situation had improved a lot and on Friday the streaks were pretty much completely gone, so I cleared myself for the run and it was time to line up the crew! My friend and “crew captain-extraordinaire,” Chris, offered to come out with me on Saturday. We would treat SNER as a dress rehearsal for next week’s Super Triple, fine tuning a few final things.

One of these “final things” was trying a new pair of shoes. I have been wearing the Nike Air Zoom Vomero for about two years now, but when I got to Fleet Feet in Roseville the week before the race to buy a few new pairs, they told me that the shoe had been upgraded to version 2 Plus and they no longer sold the older model. I tried the new model and they felt pretty good. However, during a six-mile training run, I noticed that they fit a little bigger. I compared them with the older models and, sure enough, the new model (size 13) was about a half inch bigger!

The slightly bigger shoe was not too uncomfortable (in fact, the cushioning has improved in the new model), so I decided to run the double marathon on the new shoes (Chris would have an old pair handy in case I needed to swap them out along the way). After the race I would trade in the second pair that I had bought for a 12 ½, since Fleet Feet was on the way home from SNER anyway.

It was supposed to be cold and rainy on race day, but a few hours before the race it was actually quite pleasant outside. I still brought a whole wardrobe full of clothes just to be prepared for any kind of weather. Chris and I drove to the race and discussed the aid station splits and other race strategy. The plan was to run very conservatively for the first marathon and drop the hammer on the steep sections on the way back.

At Cavittt Middle School, the race HQ, We picked up the goodie bag, which included a shirt (without sponsor names!), a nice towel, water bottles, and almost an entire case of gel. I also received a great Joe McCladdie picture of me running Helen Klein 50K last year, which I thought was a very nice touch.

My Race Number -- Easy as 123!

Norm Klein’s pre-race briefing was short and to the point: 1) Littering was strictly prohibited and if you were caught, you would face a lifetime ban from any of Norm and Helen’s events (This was not the Tour de France!). 2) If you want to leave the race, you must go to an aid station (AS) or a search and rescue team would be sent out at your own expense. If the rescue team would actually find you they would, as an added bonus, shoot you. 3) Bridge construction somewhere along the course – wet feet possible (this turned out not to be a problem).

Norm Klein Lays Down the Law

Since SNER is held in conjunction with the Rio Del Lago 100-miler, there were a lot of people at the start of the race. I saw lots of familiar faces. For example, Scott Dunlap, who was back after having missed the 12-hours at Cool night run due to a knee injury.

The race started at 6 a.m. sharp. Jon Olsen and Mark Tanaka, who were both running the 100-mile race took off quickly. Scott and a few other runners took off after them, and I settled into a good rhythm in about 15th place. I paced with Ray Sanchez for a bit. I had run with him at the Sunsweet Tehama Wildflower 50K run as well as TRT100. Post-TRT, Ray had finished quite a few other ultras, including PCTR Headlands 100, where he impressively placed 2nd.

The first half hour or so was run in the dark, so I used my Black Diamond bottle lamps, which worked quite well. The early miles ticked away effortlessly, but I made a mental note of the fact that the six-mile section between Twin Rocks and Horseshoe Bar was more down than up. The race was run on mostly single-track trail from Granite Bay to No-Hands Bridge close to Auburn. The continuous rolling hills are pretty runnable, but there were definitely some “walkers” as well.

I met Chris for the first time at the Rattlesnake bar AS (mile 12). The two aid stations between the start and Rattlesnake Bar are only crew-accessible on the way back. I took off my hat and the extra shirt that I was wearing, because I was getting a bit warm. With an extra bottle for the 9-mile unsupported section, I took off. I quickly passed the Power Plant water-only AS and started on the seven-mile section to the Maidu AS.

This section featured "Cardiac," the biggest climb of the course (1500’ climb over about a mile and a half). I was not exactly sure where Cardiac was going to start, so on a few of the steeper sections I thought that I might actually already be on it. It seemed a bit overrated, or so I thought until I actually reached…Cardiac. There were quite a few switchbacks and I could see that this was going to lots of fun on my return trip. I walked the steep climb and I reached the top in good shape.

SNER Elevation profile -- Can you find Cardiac?

The last section before the Maidu AS was along an irrigation canal, so it was practically flat. Chris gave me the low-down on the competition: Scott was ahead of me about 10 minutes, and I was in about 8th place overall (still including 100-mile runners). It was fun to see Daffodil Run RD Joan Bumpuss volunteering at the AS. I quickly left and told Chris to meet me at the turnaround point at No-Hands Bridge, skipping the Auburn Dam Overlook AS in between, because it was only about a 1.5 miles past Maidu.

I kept cruising and figured I could reach the bridge in 4:20. Since there was more downhill running on the way back, I thought I could make it back in an overall time of about 8:40. The section from the Auburn Dam Overlook AS to the bridge is about 4 miles. It was during this section that it finally began to drizzle. I love running in the rain, so this was a welcome change for me.

As I was getting closer to the bridge, I figured I’d see Scott charging back towards the finish, but the first runner coming back was not Scott, but Sean Lang, followed by Suzie Lister. Where was Scott? When I arrived at the AS, Chris told me that he had noticed that Scott had taken off in the direction of Cool, which was part of an extra loop that was reserved for just the 100-milers. Chris, not familiar with the course himself, quickly checked with the AS personnel and they realized that he was not a 100-miler. Ouch! They radioed the next AS at the Cool Fire Station, but that was not going to do Scott much good. To top it off, the section towards Cool featured "K2," which was another big uphill like Cardiac. I am not exactly sure about what happened, but let’s just say Scott will be well-prepared for Western States next summer.

On the way back to Auburn Dam Overlook, I stayed close to Suzie Lister, who was setting a really good pace, power-walking the uphills and running the downhills. On this section, I ran towards the runners that were on their way to the bridge. It was a lot of fun to see the many runners like 15-year old Michael Kanning, who was running his first 100-miler (and finished!), Alan Geraldi, with whom I had paced at TRT for the last 27 miles, Chihping, tackling his 5th 100-miler in three months and still looking fresh, camera in hand, and Nancy Warren, the 12 hrs at Cool RD. I think I also saw Hao, who had commented on the blog last week.

I passed Suzie just before the AS, and the other runners told me that Sean Lang was about three minutes ahead of me. Coming out of the AS, I met Rajeev and Anil. We high-fived and wished each other good luck and then I made my way back to Maidu, Chris handed me my iPod, some gel, and a bottle of my orange Gatorade/Water mixture and I took off again after Suzie, who had passed me while I was stocking up at the AS.

The next section was trail running at its finest; I passed Suzie at the top of Cardiac and then started flying downhill. It was a wild rollercoaster ride downhill and I am willing to bet that my descent was one of the fastest of the day. Even after finishing the Cardiac descent, I just kept hammering, filled with pure positive emotion.

I passed Sean Lang about a mile before Rattlesnake Bar and stormed trough the AS, surprising Chris, who had to scramble to get my bottle refilled. One of the AS volunteers told Chris after I left that I looked pretty serious about minimizing AS downtime and whether it was possible to get fired from a volunteer crew. Don’t worry, Chris; there will be no pink slip in the mail! Seriously though, I felt very fortunate to have Chris there all day. Having a good crew can really make a big difference in a race like this.

The next 6-mile section included a lot more uphill, which meant more walking. Once you’re in front, the dynamics change a bit. I looked over my shoulder every once in a while, but there was nobody in sight. With all the twists and turns, however, it was hard to really get a good idea of my position relative to the other runners. I tried not to worry too much about my position and just kept moving forward as fast as I could, depending on the terrain.

One stressful thing on this section was that the trail had been very well marked on the way out, but on the way back it was much harder to see where you had to go. The course was the same, but many intersections only included pink ribbons on the No-Hands Bridge side. I must have come to at least ten of these places where I had to pick the right one based primarily on footprints or memory and, believe me, the latter was not so trustworthy since all the trails looked similar.

Time and time again, I lucked out, running several minutes, wondering if I should go back, only to find another pink ribbon with a sigh of relief. All in all, the trail looked pretty clean. All the runners had carefully listened to Norm, and wanted to avoid a life sentence in nearby Folsom prison. I found (and picked up) just one empty GU packet along the way.
Just before the last AS (Twin Rocks) I made a wrong turn, but I quickly backtracked and only lost about four minutes. I reached Twin Rocks and grabbed my last bottle of Gatorade/Water, had a few Clif Blocks and told Chris to meet me at the finish line.

I figured that if I could make it trough the next two miles without getting passed, nothing could stop me from wining the race. Well, I made it to the two-mile mark, but almost lost the race in the last quarter mile. Just before the finish, the trail forked again. I thought I remembered that I had to go straight, but there was fresh chalk going left. I decided to follow the chalk since it had been used quite a bit on other sections of the course, but I was not convinced. I ran up a levee and saw a man on his bike. I asked him if he knew where the school was, but he did not know and started pointing to the horizon. I thanked him, but immediately started sprinting back to the intersection, hoping that I wasn’t passed in the roughly ten minutes that I had just lost here.
I took the trail in the other direction and within a minute, I could see the school. A boy on the soccer field close to the school told me that I was in first place, so I looked over my shoulder one last time, and then coasted to the finish line, arriving in 8:54.

Arriving at the School

Suzie Lister arrived a few minutes behind me and she had also taken a wrong turn. It turned out that the chalk marks were for the 100-mile race which would pass the school and then go back to circle Lake Natomas. We immediately sent someone out to flag the intersection so that others would not make the same mistake.

In the awards department, Norm and Helen’s races are in a class of their own. All finishers received a beautiful eagle statue, but I also got a gorgeous mountain lion statue for the overall win. As if that was not enough, I received an age group win certificate in a huge frame. It was a good thing we brought the truck!

An (early) Thanksgiving dinner was served and we sat around a bit, recovering and cheering on the finishers, which included Nevada City’s Frank Plucker, who ran an excellent first 50-mile race. After taking a picture with Norm and Helen, we went home, passing by Fleet Feet and stopping for coffee on the way. I got to experience the nicest part of having a crew: not having to drive on the way home!

Thanks a lot to Chris, for spending his Saturday crewing and helping with the setup of some of the aid stations, and to Norm and Helen for putting on another great race! Congrats

3 More Miles -- The Draft Horse Classic/Gold Country Grand Prix Update

Well, I wish I could have slept in ON Sunday after the double marathon, but we had to run the 9th Gold Country Grand Prix race, the Draft Horse Classic 5K and 10K, in Grass Valley. For me the main thing was to just pick up a few GP points, preferably no less than 3rd place in the age division. Normally I run the longer, 10K option if it is available, but I decided to change to the 5K this time, much to the surprise of my age group rival Larry Defeyter, who easily won the 10K race.

Sean, Rocky picked the 10K as a final training run for their half marathon in Lake Tahoe. It was a straightforward, yet scenic out-and-back course, which was a vast improvement over last year’s confusing race through downtown Grass Valley in which I was accidentally directed to run an extra one-mile loop.

It was a bit hard to run the much faster road race pace, but I still managed to squeeze out a decent 5K run. Sid Heaton and Greg Ngo, came in first and second in the 5K 30-39 AG respectively. I am pretty sure I got my third place AG points, but we left before the results were posted, because there were some timing issues and it was cold and rainy.

I went for a cooldown with Chris Bodelato (5K winner in 17+ minutes), who had actually run the TRT 50K in July. We ended up running the entire 5K course once more at an easy pace, which actually helped my legs feel better.

Sean and Rocky ran a great 10K race, arriving together in around 1:12, placing second and third in their age group.

Next up: Off to South Lake Tahoe this Wednesday with Chris and Rebecca to run the Tahoe Super Triple. During the race I’ll try to post a daily progress update on the blog. Wish me luck! :)


Rajeev said...


Congratulations on your fantastic SNER race. You looked very, very strong when we met you heading away from the Auburn AS. ANil and I were confident that you would catch the lone runner in front of you.


Scott Dunlap said...

Peter -

Congrats on the win! You and Chris are a great team.

Unfortunately, I was incorrectly instructed by the volunteers to head up to Cool. I hadn't run the course before, so I just went where I was told. That added about 7 miles to my journey, although it was an epic 7 miles! I got to see some of the course I missed at 12 Hours of Cool, anyway.

Turned out to be a wonderful 60-miler!

Have a good recovery!


Michael Kanning said...

Go Peter!!! Great job on the win and a fantastic start to your "super-marathon week". Look forward to hearing about how the triple marathon goes and I'll be seeing you at the Helen Klein 50 in November!

Herman Lubbers said...

Lieve Peter,

Wat gaat het fantastisch, maar wat een schrik van die infectie op je arm. Gelukkig net op tijd over!!
Samen je verslag gelezen, wel spannend hoor en dan ook nog even verkeerd gelopen. Je hebt wel steun aan Chris. Geweldig die hulp.
Ook je interview gelezen vanmorgen.
Nogmaals heel veel succes gewenst.
Ook goed van Sean en Rocky!!
Liefs van mama en papa.

hao said...

hi pete,

congrats on the win! that was awesome. great write up as well. too bad i didn't get to catch up with you too much. that's probably out of the question during a race anyway. :) my 100 miler didn't go as well. i dropped at 80 due to some blisters. hope your tahoe triple goes well. can't wait to hear about them.

ultrailnakaman said...

Congrats on running well and winning! (Of course, you're not reading this now, since you're running Tahoe.) Is that Dutch, by the way (your parents)?

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