Monday, May 4, 2009

150.61 miles in 26 hours Part 3 PTC Ultra

The ride to Hampton was pretty uneventful. I changed into my running gear in the Expedition and wolfed down some peanut butter bagels and trail mix. I wanted to stop for fast food, but didn’t want to waste the time. We arrived at Sandy Bottom Nature Park at 5;30. Dad and I just threw all my stuff in a pile at the exact same spot I had my camp last year. I didn’t set up camp because I didn’t want to waste the time, and I didn’t want any sort of comfortable diversion distracting me from my goal. I wanted 30 miles before 4:30 am and 37 miles before 7:00 AM. I could live with not making these goals but there would be no way in Hell I would miss them because I was setting up a camp I didn’t intend to use. By 5;45 I was on the trail.

My "Camp"

The course is 3.75 miles. I had 13.25 hours to do ten laps. Just like last year, the course was a giant mirror image P.

Most of the curved part was through a pretty heavily rooted area. I decided to walk the first lap just to let my body get used to being on my feet again. This year we had 40 people doing the one man ultra option of the race. Three more details about the race I must mention now before I forget. About 100 feet from the turnaround point is a huge visitor center with an air conditioned bathroom, porcelain toilets and sinks with hot and cold water that you pass every 3.75 miles. George the race director puts on one hell of a race. The volunteers and the rangers really make sure that you are taken care of.

I wound up talking with this guy who was over 50 miles into his first ultra and was continuing to do laps because he was going to never do another one of these. I really wish I could remember his name or what he looked like because I would like to look for him on the course next year. I’m sure he’ll be there. I finished the first lap in well over an hour and fifteen minutes. This was no big deal as it was just a warm up lap. The second lap I alternated walking and jogging. I was trying to jog the rooted area to get comfortable with it so I could run entire laps if needed.

When I hit an aerobic heart rate, I could feel myself fading fast so I started walking much more. I joined a guy named Patrick who was also over 50 miles into his first ultra. He was with a group of ten people who had been corresponding in a runners' forum for years and had never met before today. (Sounds familiar!) One of the group had lost a child to cancer earlier this year. The run was to honor him. His parents were both doing the run carrying a flag with a picture of their late son. Their group was a full 10% of the entrants.

My second lap was barely over 1:15. I could no longer do math, but it was painfully obvious that a 50 mile plaque was out of the question at this pace. Maybe I could do an ultra before cutoff time, but that math was too hard. I wasn’t sad or angry, but I was pretty agitated about it. Despite the fact that my mind was way to shot to do math, I decided to do a lean six sigma project on the dilemma. In a nutshell, in lean six sigma, you examine all aspects of a project break it down into as many steps as possible, measure the time each step takes. Then you find and eliminate all redundant steps and look for ways to make each step quicker and more efficient. This sort of thing usually takes a huge team of people and a several conference room tables and walls covered from one end to the other with butcher pa

per process maps and post it notes. I didn’t have any of that, but I had little else to do in the next nine hours. I was trying to speed up my walk with little success. It still eluded me how people way older than me and way shorter than me could walk faster than I could jog. I couldn’t solve that riddle, so I called Shayna and left her a message. It isn’t every day that a 40 year old calls someone on the phone and says hey can you teach me how to walk? While I was waiting for her call back I delved further into this ultramarathon process. I determined that the way I was staggering across the course, for every 20 feet forward, I was moving back and forth at least six feet laterally. Some of this was required for avoiding roots, but much of it was me just being sloppy. By paying too much attention to the ground in front of me, I wasn’t paying any attention to the direction I was headed. I was pretty much changing my direction every few minutes to avoid walking off the course. That equated to 30% wasted energy which if fully utilized would shave over 20 minutes off each lap. I began purposefully looking up and sighting my straight path forward for as far as possible every couple of steps and striving to stay precisely on that path. I finished lap three in 1:07. A 10% gain wasn’t quite as much as I expected, but it would put my stretch goals back into the realm of mathematically feasible. This also kept my mind totally engaged in the process and helped me to stay focused. I think it also kept the hallucinations at bay.

Last year, I pushed myself harder, bonked early and kept going. This resulted in severe hallucinations for the last several hours of the race. Just about every other bush, rock, log or tree looked like something. I saw bears, tigers, alligators and even a headless horseman. This year, runners ahead resting or coming towards me many times turned out to be just small trees. My overactive imagination was pretty disappointing. The following is from an email from another runner Mike who’s running induced hallucinations are way better than mine. Guess I’ll need to go harder next time.

52.5 MILES, 16.5 hours, 14 laps, 8 pounds, 1 fall, 1 snake and 1......ah ghost. . . .

Funny how the roots grew in height as the hours wore on....or was it I could no longer lift my feet? I'm sure it was the roots. A very nice course, and a very well organized and supported race. Bunch on nice people, ultra-runners....

I'm sure you all can figure out the 14 laps, 8 pounds, 1 fall (that hurt), 1 snake (and it was big)....but the ghost. That I'll haveto fill you in on that. On my second to last lap thru the trail portion, around 10 pm (I was at a 10m run, 5m walk pace) and moving pretty good, when my left hand went back during one of my strides, someone/thing held it. No kidding it felt like someone reached out and held my hand, I jumped out of my skin, spun around and flashed my light all around me.....and no one was there.....just me and the dark. Needless to same my pace was a bit quicker...the rest of that lap and my final lap thru that portion of the course. I'm not one to believe in the supernatural.....but some weird happened there....and it felt pretty real."

Tons of friends and family were texting me. I tried to text back but staring into the screen and keyboard was disorienting and messing with my night vision. To avoid texting, I spoke with Jenn, Carol, Cheri, Shayna, Abby, Mike and a few others and Texted with Dave, Drew, Tom and maybe a few more.

Shayna finally called me back and gave me some tips on walking. It turns out, you don’t walk with your legs, you walk with your arms. I already knew about not clenching your fists as this strains your neck and shoulders resulting in severe pain and impeding your body’s ability to stride efficiently. I already knew about not allowing your hands to cross the center line of your body as this puts undue torsion on your spine and wastes energy that could be transferred to forward motion. What I didn’t know was that to walk faster, you don’t move your legs faster. You move your arms faster and your legs will follow suit. Shayna also explained some nuances about forearm alignment, but I’m not going to risk misquoting her on that one. Shayna also cordially inviting me to sign up for the Oil Creek 50 with her. I pondered this often I briskly walked onward.

My next lap was pretty close to an hour. From here on, I walked as fast as possible and as straight as possible. By now, I had found straight paths diagonally across the worst roots and memorized all of the roots that I needed to just suck it up and step over. I even began to remember the names that my friend from last year had given them. I stepped over the mother of all roots, walked around Big Bertha, and almost fell flat on my face when I forgot about OOMPH! root. That’s an onomatopoeia as that is the exact sound that I heard when I or any other runner kicked it and fell forward.

The pollen was bad, but nowhere near as bad as last year. I could wear my headlamp on my head without the snowstorm visual effect of the airborne pollen being illuminated. I tended to like having places within my peripheral vision illuminated more than having to look were I wanted the light. Running with the light in my hand was much more effective and took considerable strain off of my neck and shoulders. Having the light lower illuminated the roots better anyway. I only used the light on the rooted trail. I had memorized the only three roots, two holes and three rocks to worry about along the rest of the course.

Each lap, I would briefly stop at my camp and grab some food or gatoraide mix. I wasn’t needing to hit the bathroom often so dehydration began to concern me. I dramatically increased my liquid and salt intake to compensate. The four caffeine free diet cokes in my cooler were a godsend. At each stop, I would pick up a box of peeps, or a big ass chocolate bunny and leave it at the turnaround table. Each time I came back with another gift the previous one would have been devoured. Having never fast walked before, I was pretty sure that I was going to have some interesting new blisters. I had been ignoring a small painful rock right behind my middle toe in my left shoe for over an hour now. I didn’t waste time stopping and messing with it. When I finally did, I located the pinpoint spot where the pain was but there was no rock. I figured it was a blister or a stress fracture, put the shoe back, on and continued.

By the second to last lap, I knew it was a blister. It felt like I had a packet of ketchup behind my toes. I could feel it squish back and forth with each step.

I stopped and tried on every pair of shoes I had but my feet were now so swollen that It was difficult to get a shoe on at all. I stuffed my foot back into my shoe and continued. Upon finishing lap 9. I knew that every step was doing damage. I figured that the huge blister should have popped by now, but it was still squishing back and forth. I wanted to do another mile after the last lap, but this was obviously out of the question. People were getting really excited as the course record of 115 miles last year had already been shattered. There were two guys neck and neck battling it out to the finish. One guy had done a quarter mile loop more than the other. The guy in second place had set a brutal pace that the leader would have to hold or lose the race. I knew this was monumental, but it just wasn’t in my field of interest. I staggered onward to finish my last lap. All I remember is each step hurting as my swollen ankle rubbed against the side of my shoe and as my swollen toes got crushed in the toe box. By now the two leaders were still neck and neck doing 7.5 minute miles on the short loop after 23 hours of running. I finished my 37.5 miles at about 6:30 am. Cheryl was so kind as to get a good picture of me finishing.

Then we watched the carnage as the leaders continued to try to kill each other by maintaining a pace most people can’t hold for a 5K. They winners finished with 120 miles and 119.75 miles each.

My parents picked me up and moments thereafter, I awoke at IHOP 35 miles away with my phone in my hand and an unfinished text message to everyone who had called or texted. The next thing I remember was sitting at the table in IHOP waking up and having to reread the text and continue keying. This began happening several times per word and sometimes twice per letter. I finished my text shortly before breakfast arrived. Next thing I remember is waking up and looking down at my fork stuck in a half cut sausage. I continued with breakfast and woke again with my fork in the same half sausage but at least I had managed to cut it. I somehow finished breakfast without a visit from the manager. I got home, threw a big towel on the bed and slept for five and a half hours straight.

When I got up, Jenn had brought the girls home from their week at her Mom’s and Carol was well into a sub six hour Saint Louis Marathon. It took a week for the swelling in my feet to go down enough to wear shoes and two weeks before my first run which was yesterday. My feet are now a half size bigger than they were before the event, and I need to wear shoes with the biggest toe box in the industry. I haven’t purchased them yet as I think the swelling will go down eventually. I have an REI gift certificate and a trip to Saint Louis next month. I’ll buy shoes then.

150.61 miles in 26 hours Part 2 Tour de Cure Century

On prior years the Tour de Cure has always been a point to point ride to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. OBX is a magical place for me. I was bummed that they had decided to make it an out and back ride, but it did leave me closer to the ultra when I finished the ride and it allowed me to get some miles under my belt before the official start. As the course was out and back, three of the four rest areas were doing double duty as stops on the way out and the way back. My left knee was starting to bother me a bit. I am pigeon toed and it felt like I wasn’t toeing in enough. When you bend a hinge out of alignment with its intended direction of travel you put undue strain on it. My knee (the hinge) was getting really pissed off.
I arrived at stop number two 47 miles in as many people were leaving it as stop number 5 at over 80 miles into the race. I had hoped to arrive sooner and with about ten more miles under my belt, but I was within reason. I had a snack and asked the bike tech on duty to adjust the toe in of my left cleat a bit more inward to reduce the strain on my knee. I rode on and the pain in my knee magically disappeared. I was relieved to be on the official course as they had patrols and mechanics at your disposal ready to assist with any problem. This part of the course was still pretty close to the swamp. It was mostly wooded, pretty, and enjoyable. At rest stop 3, I was now 63 miles into the race and 33 miles away from the finish if I skipped the loop through rest stop 4. There were several riders here (67 miles in) and still another half a dozen riders on the course who had not gotten to it yet. For the first time in almost 12 hours I sat down to eat my snack. I had planned to continue on and U turn at the point where a straight through ride would give me 100 miles but decided to do the turnaround here and avoid the potential for any rest stops shutting down before I got there. From here on, I was always within sight of at least one bike. I got to talk with a few people, but there was never an opportunity for drafting. The ride to rest stop six was pretty uneventful. I ate some more food and filled my bike bottle with half water half gatoraide. I needed the salt but didn’t want to overload the sugar. Upon leaving that stop, I was starting to get tired. This area goes though some of the big Chesapeake mansions along otherwise nondescript roads. It is boring and the lack of trees allowed the wind to pick up. I started to cramp up in my left quad, so I began pedaling almost entirely with my right leg, only pushng down with my left after my left foot hit the 4:00 position. After about five miles of this my right leg began to cramp so I switched to pedaling with my left leg and allowing my right leg to rest. This only lasted for a mile before my left leg cramped too. I just told myself that I was going to rest both legs and kept pedaling. This trick worked for about a mile and a half before I was forced to stop. Fearing another fall with a Charlie horse, I unclipped both legs before even slowing down. Not wanting to waste any energy, I coasted until I was traveling too slowly to continue. Trying to stretch out simultaneous cramps in both quads and both calves is not possible. Stretching one muscle flexes the other three. I just stood there for a few minutes and came up with a game plan. I figured it may be salt related so I ate all six Slim Jims in my backpack and drank my dilute Gatoraide. Then I stood on the slope of the edge of the road, balanced myself against my bike and allowed my heels to gently lower off the shoulder of the road and stretch both calves. This worked without sending my quads into spasms. After my calves were under control I massaged my quads and did a few toe touches to rest my back. Then I carefully stretched my quads. I returned to the bike carefully and kept it below 13 mph for the next few minutes. About a mile from the last rest stop, I turned back around and rode back to the area where I had so much trouble, then turned back towards the last rest stop. I originally had some math in mind, but I didn’t really have enough mind left to do the work. I figured I was now pretty close to where I should be distance wise. Just before arriving at the last rest stop, one of the motorcycles that patrols the course came up next to me. The rider said that he was the first one to log me, and that they had been looking for me all day. I’m not sure he believed me when I told him what I had done, so I went on and told him where I was headed after the ride. At the last rest stop, I sat down again for a few minutes and had some salty snacks. I would have stayed longer but the radio announced that in half an hour they would start sweeping anyone who had not yet made it to the last rest stop. I called my parents and told them to meet me back at the starting point.
I really don’t remember the last 10 miles at all other than riding under the big balloon arch at the finish.

I was kind of bummed that I missed the camaraderie of the mass start under the same arch that morning and the mass of riders for the ride, but Hell, you can’t have everything. My parents were not there yet and I only had 99 miles on my odometer. I did a huge victory lap around the school campus. After a lap and a quarter cool down, I saw my parents car in the parking lot. I stopped behind the expedition at 100.01 miles for the day – a new cycling PDR for me as the official course the last few years was exactly 100 miles or maybe a couple tenths shy. I let Dad secure my bike as I sat in the back. This was only the second time in over 12 hours that I had sat down on anything with a cushion. I would have liked to take a nap, but I was too excited about what I had done thus far, and what I had yet to do.

150.61 miles in 26 hours Part 1 Dismal Swamp Stomp

My dad is diabetic so doing the Tour de Cure century ride is absolutely mandatory for me. Last year, I did the Tour de Cure Century Ride the week after I did my first ultra. When I found out that both fell on the same day this year, I was excited about the challenge, but really disappointed that I would most likely not have the time to do 50 miles at the ultra and get another plaque. Most of my friends were pretty supportive of my intentions though. About two months before the big day, the Dismal Swamp Stomp was rescheduled from the first weekend in April to the same day as the Tour de Cure and the ultra. The Swamp Stomp is only 15 miles or so from the start of the Tour de Cure. Last year, my friend Tom who is an absolute machine tried to do the Tour de Cure and the Swamp Stomp on the same day. He is a multiple Boston Qualifier. He finished the half in way under two hours and was headed to overtake us on the bike when he bonked, got several flat tires and DNF’d.

Having all three events on the same day, my fucked up mind came up with the most ridiculous plan ever. I could start the Tour de Cure a few hours early from my house and put thirty to fifty bike miles under my belt as I rode to the start of the Dismal Swamp Stomp. Upon finishing the DSS, I would ride another 14 miles from there to the second break area of the Tour de Cure and finish the ride as usual with the slowest riders. That would get me to the Ultra with 13 miles under my belt. As they count all official races run that day, I would need only 17 miles at the ultra to have an ultra and a century ride under my belt in the same day. Of course if I did thirty more miles, I would have a century ride a half marathon and an ultra under my belt. Just another seven miles on top of that would get me another 50 mile plaque. I was totally confident I would do the century and the ultra. I figured I might be able to do the century the half and the ultra, but I really doubted I would get a plaque this year.

Following my Shamrock Brick in March, I pretty much started my taper for the big day. I emailed everyone with the potential to try this, but had no takers for joining me. My brother Bill replied that he would do it on a pogo stick wearing a sequin thong. I seriously considered doing my last ¼ mile that way but figured I would be too exhausted to safely pilot a pogo stick after 24+ hours of forward motion.

One more really nice thing about all these events falling on the weekend after Easter was that I could guiltlessly tear up the Walgreens post Easter candy sale. I picked 4,140 calories of boutique Cadbury chocolates and marshmallow peeps for under five bucks. I figured I would leave a box of something at the turnaround table each lap.

My parents took me to Fellini’s the night before where I had a big spaghetti dinner. I guess the huge side salad with Blue Cheese dressing did me in and I was up sick until midnight. I had intended to go to bed at ten and get up at 3:30 AM. Before going to bed, I changed the alarm to 4 so I would at least get 4 hours sleep.

I woke up feeling better and rushed to get dressed for the big day. Dad’s Expedition was nearly full with all the clothes, shoes food medical supplies and camping gear I had put in it the night before. I still had a backpack loaded with food, a couple different sets of clothes, my running shoes, my running clothes a spare tire, a U lock, my Tom Tom and some tools. It was about the same weight as the one I took to the Shamrock. This time I at least had the light on my helmet right side up. It was in the low 50s as I left the house which suited me just fine. I was quite comfortable in sweat pants, a few layers of technical shirts, gloves and a headband. I had mapquested my ride and found that the best route would be to take Little Creek Road to Military Highway to Campostello Rd to I 17. The ride was only 22 miles, but I intended to arrive early and ride the DSS one or two times. Several of the Tour de Cure rides were in severe winds. So far, air was just as still as the Shamrock last month. I was familiar with Military Highway but Campostello Rd was new territory. I had entered the waypoints into my TomTom but since I had nowhere to mount it on my bike, I just cranked up the volume and kept it in the mesh side pouch on my backpack. When driving, it announces turns in just the right amount of time. On a nice slow bike ride, it tells you about the upcoming turns way too early and way too often. I wanted to keep a lot of energy in reserve, so I was holding about 13 to 15 mph for the ride. Campostello was nicely paved but it didn’t have very wide lanes. At 5 AM, traffic wasn’t a problem. A few miles before I 17, I joined a convoy transporting a

huge bridge truss. It was nice having cops and utility vehicles stop all traffic for me but the Wide load sign escorting me was a constant reminder that I really need to lose some weight.

When we got on I17, there were no more stop lights, and I could not keep up with my convoy. I only had a few more miles left to hit the Dismal Swamp Stomp anyway. I arrived about 90 minutes before the start with 22 miles into my unofficial Tour de Cure route.

As I rolled to a stop in the starter’s area, my friend Cheryl greeted me yelling “Oh my God you’re actually doing it!” Cheryl was the only one to seriously consider doing the triple with me. She bowed out as she did the Umpstead 100 mile run the weekend before. Turns out she did it in 21 hours. I hung with her and a couple of pacers for a few minutes, before I headed off to ride the course. Note the Umpstead shirt.

A couple miles in, I passed a small bear on the side of the road. It brought back all the feelings when I faced off with a Mountain lion cycling in California 20 years ago. At the time I knew I wasn’t at the top of the food chain, but I didn’t know just how much danger I was in until I saw a show about mountain lion attacks last month. I was way past the bear before my mind processed the fact that he wasn’t moving at all and his feet were glued to a purple board with wheels under it. I took this one on the way back.

I wanted to do the whole 13.1 miles but turned around at mile 5 out of fear that I’d get a flat and miss the start.

This worked out perfectly as I had just enough time to change, stretch out and make a couple of phone calls. I even remembered to put on sunblock.

The sun was just rising over the woods as we started the half marathon. I started in the way back as always and went even slower than usual. I started off about half jogging and half walking. I didn’t plan to even get my heart rate into the aerobic zone at all this day. There were some really impressive walkers at this race. I also saw a guy pushing a jogging stroller giving the competitive age groupers a run for their money. Not far behind them was a guy running with a Jack Russell. A good two hours into the race, I passed a couple of walkers heading the other direction who had not yet gotten to mile 5. They looked strong and happy. I really hope they kept the course open for them to finish. I don’t remember talking with many people, but at mile 12 I remember talking with a girl who had quit running and was walking the rest of the way. All she could talk about was how cool it would be if they had smoothies at the finish. About half an hour later, (2:45 total) I finished and in addition to medals and sub sandwiches, they had Tropical Smoothie drinks. I looked for the girl I had walked a couple of miles with, but couldn’t remember what she looked like to save my life. I hung out for about 20 minutes, changed back into cycling gear minus the jacket and sweats, turned on my Tom Tom and made haste towards the Tour de Cure stop #2 about 14 miles away.