Tuesday, August 22, 2006

DNF at Where’s Waldo 100K


DNF (Did Not Finish). The three most dreaded letters for an ultrarunner. It’s worse than DFL (Dead F---ing Last). At least with that it means that you finished. My first DNF after 39 marathons and 50 ultras, courtesy of my asthma.

I felt pretty recovered from my double the weekend before at Crater and Haulin. My legs were not sore, and my blister had almost completely healed. I thought I had recovered from my asthma attack after Haulin, but a few warning signs still lingered. I did not tend to them as I should have.

I drove down Friday, set up my tent at the Odell Lake camp site, and attended the mandatory pre-race meeting at 7PM at the Willamette Ski Area Lodge after gorging myself with a great pasta feed. We were briefed about the course and other activities were done such as giving of gifts to key volunteers as well as the announcement of past winners and 5-year participants since the inception of the race. But, the most anticipated announcement was regarding the actual length of the course. This year, it was wheeled a couple times! There was also a contest for the nearest guess by entrants. It turned out to be a little over 66 miles! Next year, the race directors are going to place this race in the bid for the USATF 100K Trail Championships, and it has to be more accurate, so they’ll have to cut out that extra 4 miles. But for our race, it would be the longer distance, the same course ran in the first 4 years.

I decided to go for the early start with my goal only to finish this race, which I avoided in past years as I heard it is considered one of the tougher 100Ks. Actually, over 1/3 of solo and relay runners opted for the early 3AM start. I’ve never started this early, and the timing threw me off a little. My sleep was interrupted by a train that ran behind the lodge resort next to the camp sites! Plus I had this dream that I woke up to late to make the start. Perhaps that was a sign that I should not have even started. But off we went into the darkness with our headlamps and flashlights. The race starts at 5000 feet, never drops below that point, and climbs to nearly 8000 feet. It was pretty warm at the start, but as we got higher, it became a little cooler and I was glad to have my long sleeve shirt. No hats or gloves were needed. I didn’t have any problems with the altitude at the Crater run that got almost up to 8000 feet, so I did not have any concerns about that. My healed blister did not bother me as I was wearing a different pair of shoes. My breathing was fine at the start.

I ran with two others at the start behind them. I could see in my headlamp light that there was a lot of dust being kicked up. But there was not much I could do since I didn’t want to run alone in the dark and I didn’t want to run a faster or slower pace. So I sucked in a lot of dust at the start, which I feel eventually was the cause for my DNF. In addition, there was a fire on the other side of Waldo Lake and I did smell smoke at one point. Someone said later they did too and that there may have been particles just too small to see. People who did not have asthma complained that they were wheezing even without running.

We topped out on Mt. Fuji at approximately 15.5 miles with incredible views, including Waldo Lake, Twin Peaks, and Maiden Peak, the last two climbs of the race. They seemed very far away. As I continued running, I had more difficulty with my breathing. I used my inhaler before starting and during the run. But I started to get passed by people at about 19 miles because I was having a hard time even with the rolling terrain, most of which I felt was very runnable. The regular starters passed me just before the Charlton Lake at 33 mile aid station, including a guy named Gus from Salinas, California who passed me asking, “Are you Van Phan? You’re an internet superstar!” When I talked to him later, he said there were pictures of me he had seen. He was referring to the “Beer shot” of me laying on the ground with empty beer cans strewn all around me taken by Glenn T. on a CCC training run. That picture is also on the web site for Dirty Girl Gaiters with the caption reading “Van Phan, who leads the points total in the TrailRunner Trophy Series.” I guess my training secret is out!

At Charlton Lake, I had to sit down. I left that aid station thinking that it was not so dire yet and that I could tough it out, since I have been in this situation one or two times before. Hal Koerner passed me asking, “What’s this with the early start?” Krissy Moehl passed me looking very strong. The next section was long and hot. I was passed by even more people who were concerned about me. I was able to run most of the downhill but had to walk in between spurts of running. I was having difficulty with the flats and uphills. I arrived at the 38.2 mile aid station where the last access to get a ride out was available. This was where the race directors told us the night before that if you leave this aid station, you need to be sure you can finish. I debated whether to go on. In that last stretch, I knew that I could at least run the downhills. So I left with the plan to walk the flats and uphills and run the downhills. The only problem was that the following 8 miles before the next aid station was 4 miles of flat and rolling, then 2 miles up before 2 miles down.

I switched from hand held bottles to a hydration pack with all my needed preferences since no personal drop bags were available beyond this point. As soon as I tried to run a short downhill, the pack compressed my lungs enough for me to feel that perhaps I should have kept the hand helds and my waist pack, but then I couldn’t carry everything that I needed with me. By now, I was really having problems with even the flats. I passed three people sitting in the shade. I later found out they were the rescuers on horseback, but I didn’t see the horses because they were tied up in a nearby meadow. I kept using my inhaler like candy, but I was not gaining any ground, literally. I was moving so slow that I was in jeopardy of not making the final cut-off at the next aid station at 46.2 miles, even with my early start. I finally hit the climb to Twin Peaks, and after only a few steps of climbing, I knew I was done. It felt like I was climbing Mt. Everest without oxygen and carrying a 50 pound pack. (I’ve never done this, so what do I know?) Step. Breathe, breathe, breathe. Step. Pant, pant, pant. I had to stop several times to lean on a rock or tree. All I was trying to do was to get to the next aid station to tell them that I was dropping. But the truth of the matter was that I still needed to hike out 1.5 miles after I got to that point. I could barely walk 10 feet.

All this time, I was getting eaten by mosquitoes and biting flies because I could not move fast enough. I got so mad at them that eventually I let them make contact long enough so that I could squish them, even if it meant that I would be left with a bite. How dare these things make my life even more miserable that it already was. They were taking the oxygen-carrying blood I needed to help me breath. I later counted over 20 bites. Finally, a gal named Laurie, who was part of the Willamette Ski Patrol running the 2nd half of the race came upon me. She had a HAM radio and tried to contact the next aid station about me to get the horse rescuers to come get me. She was not able to get a good connection and had me sit while she hiked up to them. A few more people passed me and I asked where the horse people were. They were only 5 minutes back. So I hiked down to them.

I met Curtis, a firefighter/paramedic and the leader of the group, his wife Judy, an ER nurse, and their friend Steve. They said that they were expecting to see me again. I guess I did look as bad as I felt. I was to ride on Curtis’ horse, Andy, who was very big. I had to stand on a log to get on. He had to adjust the stirrups to reach my feet. I was instructed to hold onto the pommel and lean back when we went downhill and lean forward on the uphills. Andy was very skittish and stopped frequently without any apparent reason. He walked off trail several times where my leg almost got caught between a tree and him. I asked right off the bat if horses fall over frequently, concerned that I would get a broken leg trapped under a horse. Curtis said no, that they usually are able to right themselves when they get off balance. The ride out took 2 hours on some very technical terrain that I would have preferred to stand on solid ground rather than sitting up high on a large horse. However, my asthma improved as soon as I stopped trying to run, walk, or hike. And I got to know some good people. Only one other person had to be carried off the mountain in the history of the race, and that was last year because he was dehydrated. I now belong to a very exclusive group.

I came back to the finish area and was checked by the doctor there. Surprisingly, he didn’t hear any wheezing, even though I still felt pretty tight in my chest. He released me. But when I entered the medical tent, Hal Koerner was there with an IV. His stomach didn’t do too well and I guess that anyone who had stomach problems during the race had to get an IV, even if they finished and were doing okay. Hal was not so lucky. Like me, he did not finish either. In fact, I ran into a lot of people who dropped, all guys. I don’t know yet if another woman had to drop. I know it sounds bad, but I was relieved to hear that others did not finish. It’s not like I relished it, but I think there was some comfort in knowing that you were not the only one. I felt less isolated.

Some highlights of the run included Krissy Moehl, who took the overall win in a time of 11:18, shattering the women’s course record, set my Kami Semick in 2005 who had a time of 12:02. Also, Krissy’s time was only 9 minutes off the men’s course record set in 2005 by Andy Jones-Wilkins of 11:09. Maniac Sean Meissner set a new record for the Wet Waldo contest of just under 14 hours. This required him to completely submerge in 6 lakes during the run. He actually did not win the contest this year since he had to compete against relay runners that also got into all 6 lakes who had a better total time. That doesn’t seem fair. I think they should have prizes for both.

So overall, I was able to complete 44 miles. Other than a bruised ego and tired lungs, I felt fine afterwards. I’ve heard other runners say that a DNF is not such a big deal. That may be true if you did it early in your running career. But after such a long streak without one, it made it all the more difficult. I’ve toughed out hypothermia, frozen hands and feet, and muscle cramps, but when you can’t breathe, there’s not much else you can do. I’ll be back next year with a face mask!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Crater and Haulin 2006 Race Report

8/12/06 and 8/13/06

It’s been a long time since I’ve been this sore from a weekend of running. The day after, I was walking down the stairs one step at a time. Perhaps it is finally the cumulative effect of all of my racing, but I think it is more that my body does not do well with road marathons. I had planned on signing up for the Super Triple (26, 26,72) instead of the Tahoe Triple, but after this weekend, it was apparent that I need to minimize my time on the roads. But I need them to get to my 52 this year. I plan on racing very few road marathons next year.

Our original group of five (Karen Wiggins, Chris Warren, Gayle Zorilla and her husband Ruben, and me) dwindled down to two. Unfortunately, Gayle’s father passed away and Chris did not sign up in time for Crater. So Karen and I drove down Friday 8/11 to Crater Lake. We had a nice stop for lunch at a thai restaurant before arriving at 4:30pm. We checked into the Whispering Pines Motel, a scary place right off of the busy highway 97. I don’t recommend staying there unless you don’t mind water coming out of the faucet that smells like urine. We did not shower there. We drove the course and knew that the next day was going to be a tough one. There was very little flat on the course. It was either up or down. We did not get to drive the last 4 miles that included the dreaded uphill climb on trails. The park was spectacular, however. Since there was no decent place to eat, Karen was kind enough to share with me her sandwich fixings for dinner. We were in bed by 9:30, but there was traffic all night on the highway. That night I dreamed that I had a DNF at Crater, a road marathon of all things! Not a 50 mile, 100K, or 100 mile, but a measly marathon! I woke up with that sense of relief that only comes with, “Oh, it was just a dream!”

Because our bib numbers were higher for not signing up early, we were required to catch the early shuttle to the start. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the pick up spot, no bathrooms were open or honey buckets present for all the runners scrambling to go. We boarded the buses and were dropped off in the clear morning with temperatures in the 30’s and a decent wind. The race did not start for another hour and twenty minutes and we were all frozen by then. Many maniacs were present to share in the misery. Finally we got moving on our numb feet with a reasonable uphill start for ½ a mile. Then it was downhill for 1.5 miles. After that it was up and down until mile 9.6. Then it was just up and up and up for the next five miles. I alternated running and walking by picking a rock or a tree to run or walk to. It worked out great because I finally caught up with Any Yanni. I believe that there is a 35-year-old body trapped in 52-year-old Amy. This woman is amazing. I don’t think I have finished before her in a marathon, at least not lately. We pretty much stuck near each other until the turn around at mile 14.5. Then she took off on the downhill. I stopped to tighten my shoes for the downhill and before I knew it, she was just a spot on the horizon. Already, my knees and quads were aching, and I wanted to scream down the hills, but I also knew that I needed to hold back for Haulin the next day. I passed one gal at the beginning of the downhill and another gal passed me a little later. I passed a few guys. There were these two guys that I was closing in at mile 19. Black shirt guy was in front of me and red shirt guy was in front of him. Red shirt guy stopped abruptly to massage his calves, I presume because they were cramping and black shirt guy and I passed him. Then I passed black shirt guy. Next thing you know, I hear someone huffing and puffing behind us and it’s red shirt guy trying to catch us. He passed us right before the aid station. He stopped to get a drink as I cruised through with my hand held water bottle and splashed some water on my head. I could hear him behind me coughing then dry-heaving. He obviously went out too fast and did not want to get passed. He later finished almost 20 minutes after me. Anyway, at 22.5 miles, we ran past the finish before the climb up a hill for 2 miles on trail. It seems almost cruel that the finish is right there and even crueler that this part of the race is in the end. Yes, the last 2 miles are downhill and is wonderful if you have anything left in you, which most people didn’t. I passed that girl who passed me on the downhill part. At the turn around, there was a girl up ahead almost a minute before I got to the turn around. But as soon as I reached it, I was on a mission to get under 4 hours. As I was running past her, I yelled, “Come on, you can get sub-4! Let’s go!” I could tell that she tried to follow me, but I’m a pretty fast downhill runner and I eventually lost her. She did go on to finish sub-4 and thanked me later for pushing her. I finished in 3:56 and 3rd in my age group. Amy was 3rd woman. Terry Sentinella was the first Maniac to finish even after coming back from an injury. I think his time was 3:18. For the most part, the Maniacs performed well, but we all agreed that Crater is a pretty brutal course. After all that uphill for 5 miles, your legs are pretty much mush for the downhill section. I had some post race food then soaked in the little stream at the end for 10 minutes in very, very cold water that made my toes ache so severely that I could barely stand on them after getting out. But I needed to for the next day.

Karen and I left Crater at about 1:30 and drove to Bend. We went to Foot Zone for our packets and saw Slug and Bill Barmore. We told them that we were headed for Sean Meissner’s house for a pasta feed, but they already had plans. Karen and I checked into the Red Lion Inn, much better than the Whispering Pines and showered. We arrived at Sean’s at 6:30. Maniac Phil DeYoung was already there. It was just the four of us, but we had a nice cozy dinner chez Sean’s. He prepared a wonderful meal of whole wheat linguine with his mother’s special sauce, spinach salad, and bread. Sean agreed that Crater is the hardest marathon that he has ever run. Good, I didn’t feel so bad about my time. The party broke up at 8:30 since we needed to rest up. Karen and I were again in bed by 9:30 with sleep a little easier from wasting ourselves earlier in the day. No DNF dreams this time.

We were up again early (4:45) to catch the shuttle to the start. Again it was cold in the 30s. But this time, the wait was not as long for the start. Everyone kept coming up to me and saying, “You must be Pigtails!” I wonder if they know my real name. Even a guy from Canada recognized me from Blackfoot and told me that I was even the talk of the town where he lived! The marathoners started at 7AM and the half would not start until 9:30. I saw lots more maniacs glowing in their bright yellow jackets and hats. We started out with numb feet and hands again on a short section of road until it turned into trail for the rest of the run. Although I was stiff, I felt I was running pretty well. I was surprised to see a couple maniacs dash out in front. Lesa Overfield looked strong. Monte Fus took off after telling me before the start that he hurt his ankle and was going to see how things went. Eric Barnes was gone and I never saw him again. I ran with my friend and age group competitor Wendy Jacobs for the first 5 miles, then she took off on the uphill like always. I never saw her again either until the end. It was about then that I caught up with Lesa. She had a good race. I caught Monte at about mile 10. One girl passed me on the uphill and I passed at least 2. I passed a couple of guys, too. I was feeling surprisingly strong after all the pounding the day before and ran most of the uphill before the descent. As soon as I started down, I took off, but already I was starting to feel that my tank was becoming empty. I just could not replenish myself fast enough. I was still burning calories from Crater. Although I did pass one girl on the downhill, I told her as I was passing her that she would catch me on the flats, and sure enough she did. I knew that I could not sustain that pace needed to stay in front of her. In addition, at the 17 mile aid station, I was disappointed to learn that I still had 9 miles to go. I thought I was closer than that. So I scaled back a little and let her go to avoid bonking too early before the finish. But then I arrived at the 20 mile aid station earlier than expected and realized that the 17 mile aid station was probably more like 18.5. By then, I had lost some ground on her. Every time I took in a GU, it disintegrated in 5 minutes. So I had to just dig deep to keep moving. The downhill helped, but there was still plenty of flat and a few short sections of up. Was there any pain? Absolutely! Although on trail, my quads were pummeled at Crater and were still betting a beating. I came upon this guy, and after seeing me behind him, he picked up the pace. But, eventually, I caught him in 10 minutes. Again, here was another guy who did not want to be passed by a girl. I remembered him taking off in the beginning and knew that I would see him again. The half marathoners joined us with 5 miles to go and it was unnerving to hear foot steps behind me. But they were moving at a much faster pace and it was fairly easy to know it was them and not worry that it was another marathoner. The last 2 miles brought more pain as I could feel a sharp pain from a blister on the bottom surface of my left 4th toe. I maintained my position for the rest of the race until I passed another girl with less than 2 miles to go. With a few hundred feet to go, I saw a different girl behind me and ran in as fast as I could. Turned out she was in the half. That last sprint at the end sent me into an asthma attack. I came in 10th woman and 2nd in my age group with a time of 4:07. Last year, my time was 3:57, but I had not run Crater the day before. I think I was the first maniac finisher of those who did the double. Eric Barnes was the first Maniac to finish Haulin in a time of 3:58. Karen finished both races in 4:50. I told her that at least she was consistent and probably ran a better second race than most of us who had longer times at Haulin. We received cowbells for our finishers medal and a one-liter Nalgene bottle with the Haulin insignia on it, the best schwag I’ve received for a marathon lately. I just love this race! Great post-race food and atmosphere. After I caught my breath, I was interviewed by the local paper. I mentioned the Marathon Maniacs but he did not include that little bit of information in his report. Check out www.bendbulletin.com. Then after that, I ate and sat in the stream for 10 minutes, which was slightly warmer than at Crater. Karen and I hit the road at 1:30 and did not get back to Tacoma until 8 due to all the traffic. What a weekend!

I’m still ahead of schedule with 34 marathons/ultras. Next weekend (8/19) is Where’s Waldo 100K, then 8/26 I’ll be pacing someone 50+ miles at CCC, then 9/3 Walk in the Park 50K, then 9/8 Lost Soul 100 mile, then 9/16 Cle Elum 50K, then I have a week-end off, then the quad with Tahoe Triple and Auburn marathon the week-end of 9/28-10/1. Whew!

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Pacific Crest Trail 50 Mile


Short Version:
8:42:22, 5th woman. First woman new CR 8:24, the next four women all within 10 minutes of each other (8:32, 8:34, 8:38, and 8:42). Perfect weather. Trail 99% single track, some dusty, some rocky and rooty, some sandy.

Longer version:
Drove down Friday, 7/28. Was to stay with Vicki Griffiths and Barb Macklow, ages 62 and 72, both running the 50 mile race. Many people that age can’t run 50 feet let alone 50 miles. These women are MY heroes. But the room in the historic Timberline Lodge was very small. Hardly any room to walk around in. Fortunately, I had a back up plan and had brought my large tent and cot to share a camp site with Wendy Jacobs and her husband in a campground ¼ mile from the start at Clackamas Campground.

Arrived at the campground at 6:00pm. Maniac Karen Wiggins was in the next site and helped me set up my tent; otherwise it would have been a show to see me deal with the tent rods. Met Maniacs Rob Cowen and Stephanie Day as well. They were all attempting their first 50 mile. Karen and Rob went on to finish. Before I left the race, I heard that Stephanie tripped over a rock or root and had an open fracture of one of her pinkie fingers according to Karen. They were on their way to the emergency room. Now, there’s a story for you. Hope she’s doing okay. I can just see the look on the ER doc’s face when he or she asked her how she did it. “Well, you see, I was running this 50 mile race when…” Spent some time with Bill Davenport, whom I met at March Mudness 100K. I also saw him at the Lake Youngs Ultra directed by Arthur. He ran the PCT last year as his first 50 mile and came back to better his time. He also is planning on running CCC in August. I’ll probably be pacing him at that race. Finally got to bed at about 10pm. Wendy and her husband arrived at 11. Was cold most of the night. Sleep was intermittent.

Woke at 5am. Broke down my tent figuring I would be too tired and sore to do it after the race. Looked like at least 50 starters at the 6:30 time. Early starters were at 5:30. Less than ½ mile start on road, then the rest was single track. Broke out to the front (about 10 in front of me) to avoid breathing in dusty trails and jockeying for a position once the trails started. Maniac Christel Elliot caught me at mile 5 and ran ahead to the first aid station. I never caught her and she finished strong in a time of 8:38. From mile 6-19, I did not do well. My legs were telling me that I had been racing too much and felt heavy. As a result, I tripped on a root. It all seemed to happen in slow motion. I saw that I was going to land on a rock, so with my other leg, I pushed off of it to allow me to fly over the rock and travel a longer distance. In the process, I tucked my right shoulder in and did a somersault roll. Other than a road rash on my right palm, it didn’t look like I had fallen at all due to the dry trail. No dirt clung to my shirt and there were no witnesses to see my wonderful falling technique. Stephanie’s broken finger makes my fall seem like child’s play. That fall took a lot of gas out of me and Wendy caught me at the mile 14 aid station. I never caught up to her either, and she finished second woman in 8:32. My stomach was not feeling well during that stretch. I used the sani-can at the mile 19 aid station and from then on, I felt much better. (Some advice-if you are having stomach problems and have a chance to use a sani-can, even if by the time you get there you feel better, I suggest using it. It will almost always be worth the stop. It’s like stopping to get a rock out of your shoe. Yes, it will take some time and you may lose your position at the time, but in the end, it will save you valuable minutes. Okay, enough grossness).

My second half went much better than the first. After that stop, I was able to pick up the pace. I was following a 9:00 finish. The web site had a race specific pace chart, and in the first 19 miles, I was struggling to stay on track. But by the 25 mile turn-around, I was 2 minutes ahead of schedule. Mile 19-25 was faster than the chart. This race is supposed to have a negative split because the first half has about 3300 up and the second half 1800 up. I think few people were able to do that. It is an out and back, so the second half is mostly down, although I would describe the last 19 miles as mostly rolling. The 9:00 pace suggested 4:33 in the first half and 4:27 in the second, a negative split of 7 minutes. My first half was 4:31 and second 4:11, a negative split of 20 minutes. Now, that may mean that I could have run faster, but I didn’t want to push myself. I still have many more races to run this year. Although I never caught any of the girls in front of me, I had fun passing many of the guys who were in front of me at the turn-around. I’m pretty sure that Vicki and Barb finished because before I left, I had heard that they had gone through the last aid station with 6.1 miles to go and 2 hours to do it in.

I would recommend this as a great first 50 mile “trail” run. The setting is beautiful. There are only a few negatives. It could get very hot as it did last year where it was in the 90’s in the shade. We were fortunate with this year’s cool temps. The trail is mostly shaded, but can be dusty. The last mile up to Timberline Lodge is sandy and tiring to get up, but running down it was easy on the joints and fairly fast. There are a few major road crossings, and hopefully in the future they will place cross-guards at them. At one point, I heard a car slam on its brakes after I had crossed the road and was above the trail, but at the time that I crossed, there were also a lot of bikers on the road.

I want to thank everyone for their support in my leading the TrailRunner Magazine Trophy Series. But I learned about three weeks ago when I read the fine print that the person who wins the Grand Prize goes to the runner who has entered the most races, not for the most points. Believe me, I have gone over this in my mind many times and get more frustrated each time. When the magazine sent out e-mails early in the season tallying all the points, the emphasis was on points accrued, not the number of races run. In the results page on their web site, they also only list total points. If the prize was all about number of races, they should have included that statistic as well. Only in their last newsletter did they mention that this guy named Adam Blum is leading the number of races run. I never even thought about reading the fine print because it only seems logical that the reward should go to the person who runs more miles and places well. So my trip to Edmonton, Alberta will not help me to win the grand Prize. Yes I set a new women’s CR and a PR for that distance, and I will cherish those memories. I am still going to stick to my original plan: run 52 marathon/ultras this year and go for as many points as possible in the Trophy series. I will not be traveling to distant places to run a 5K and get another race in just to try to satisfy a rule that I don’t think makes sense. Well that’s enough rambling. Thanks for listening.