Thursday, July 31, 2014

Ready or not. It's here.

So… hey. This blog still exists. I forgot too!  

Actually, I didn’t forget and the truth is not that I haven’t had time.  It’s that I haven’t made it a priority with the time I have had.  We’ve basically been going full throttle since May (and my last entry) and now here I am only a few days away from my big goal of the year – the elusive Angeles Crest 100.  This is my attempt to figure out where all the time went and answer the burning question everyone has been asking:

So, are you ready?

Jesus. Stop asking that. I beg of you.

We left off with a win at the Bishop 50 miler, which I felt pretty good about. It was a great test of my ability to push hard just for the sake of pushing hard.  There was no one around, but I was intently focused on making it hurt as the temperature soared and the miles drug on.  I closed hard, hoping to break 9 hours on the challenging course, but turns out it was a few miles long and I had to take 30-60 seconds at each aid to completely douse myself, save I explode in the exposed desert.  I was very happy with the effort, felt recovered after a few days and then headed up to Auburn for the Western States Memorial Day Training Weekend.

This is where things momentarily unraveled.  75 miles in three days less than a week after a hard 50 is not a good idea.  I say that now. I would say that before, actually.  But when faced with the task at hand, I remained entirely resolute that this was the best idea in the whole world.  The first 32 mile day was splendid, and I received reassurance from my friend Chris Price who had just run (won) the 100k  at Bishop and was doing the same thing.  The second day, my foot started to hurt a bit, which was weird, but by the start of day 3 I felt fine.  By mile 10 of day 3, however, my foot hurt so bad that I had to stop multiple times just to take weight off of it.  I immediately feared the worst.

I couldn’t even walk correctly for three days, so naturally, I decided to just run on it.  This technique didn’t work.  I started seeing Nano PT immediately and we began treating a strained peroneus brevis.  This little asshole put a serious dent in my mileage, but luckily I could still do my Hot Yoga Barre classes, spend time in the ‘ole Hypoxico and not let myself go to total shit.

A week later, I found myself limping to the starting line of the Shadow of the Giants 50k, fully expecting to drop after 10 miles.  I wouldn’t have even started, but it was a matter of the heart – Dom and I’s 5-year anniversary of him tricking me into dating him – and I at least wanted to run a few miles.  However, I found myself over halfway through before I finally admitted that I was having issues.  At this point there was no convenient way to drop, so I figured I may as well run it in.  I talked myself into slowing down, relinquishing my lead and generally not caring.  This worked, but my calf was seizing like the dickens.  For my last trick, I got lost a half mile from the finish and then my whole leg seized up so bad that I had to sit down only yards from the finish.  3 people passed me, and I was rendered useless.  Somehow, I still got the thing done under 5 hours, so that seemed ok.

Limping around the Panorama Trail - First Date looms in the background

The following week I had planned on hiking up in the Sierras in preparation for San Juan Solstice, but I still couldn’t walk very well.  So I did a bunch of heat training and watched the entire first season of Orange is the New Black while sitting at 13,000’ in the Hypoxico.  I felt powerless.  And also pissed that my trip to the San Juans was kind of expensive and non-refundable.  At any rate, I got on the plane a few days later and hoped for a miracle.

I get it Piper. I, too, am trapped in a prison.

I really hoped I hadn’t wasted said miracle on the rental car upgrade I received in Gunnison.  And as I stood on the starting line in Lake City, my foot still hurting, I was most certain that I had.  Even if the drasted thing held up, I would surely perish above 12,000’.  I hadn’t run that high all year and honestly had not been to Baldy since the winter.  This is the part where I begin forgetting all of the great training that has happened this year and focusing on how terrible I am.  These voices swirled as I huffed my way up the first major climb – other runners streaming by like I was standing still.  Oh, I forgot the best part – less than an hour in, I fell into one of the numerous “creek” crossings (read: raging rivers) and soaked myself to the bone. Two other runners plucked me out by my pack before I was swept downstream. EXCITEMENT!  My entire body was numb for the next three hours.  MORE EXCITEMENT!!!

Sampling of the views up around 13,000'
(photo: David Eitemiller)
Luckily, things improved from then on out and I went to serious work on the second climb up to 13k.  I passed a ton of folks and started feeling pretty good about things, save the girl cramps I was inconveniently experiencing.  It was about this point that I also noticed that my foot really didn’t hurt.  Weird!  But just as the joy is giveth, the joy is taken, stomped upon and locked away never to be seen again.  The results of only sitting in a tent above 12,000’ – not actually trying to run- began rearing it’s ugly, but expected head.  I was now to run 12 miles up above this altitude and the effect of staying at such a height expressed itself as the most severe lightheadedness I’d ever felt.  I was dizzy as hell and expected to navigate tricky snowfields with not even a handheld to self-arrest should I falter (as if that would have worked anyway, but that was the dude behind me’s plan).  I walked a LOT.  I added at least an hour onto my total time, if not more.  I was not dejected, however, because my brain did not know how to feel feelings.  It only knew to keep moving, keep eating and get the fuck to tree line.  

I guess I looked shitty enough that they tried to hold me at the Divide aid station, right as a wicked storm blew in.  I was having none of that, so I poured some Mountain Dew into some cold soupy “mashed potatoes” and threw it down the ‘ole hatch, saying “I am fine now that I have Mountain Dew!  Toodles!”  Basically, I just avoided eye contact so that I could leave.  Sure enough, within 10 minutes and as I approached tree line, I felt MUCH better.  So much so that I decided to run as hard as I could on the way in.  My legs actually didn’t hurt at all.  Which is code for, of course they hurt – I had just run 30-something miles in the mountains, but not enough to affect my gait.  I threw on some tunes, attacked the last major climb and then flew on down to town.  I ended up feeling really satisfied about the whole thing, and REALLY happy my foot was now cured.  By running 50 miles in the mountains. Over extremely shitty terrain.  Makes sense to me!


The ultimate selfie.
After the race I drove 3 and a half hours to Telluride and went to the famous Bluegrass Festival the following day.  Worth it.  Then I woke up early for another run, drove 3 hours back to Gunnison and flew back to LA.  I worked for 3 days, and then drove to Tahoe for Western States, procuring a speeding ticket in the process.  I didn’t get much running in, but did get to pace Dom for the last bit of his race, which turned into a nice little speed workout (no joke). Maybe this was all for the best considering my last mountain race to Western States related outing.  Foot = good.

I went back to LA for four more days of work and then drove all night to Silverton, CO for a 10-day training vacation.  Dom had to recover, but I hit it hard - running for 4-6 hours a day up high.  Of course, I made the mistake of checking the interwebs when I was in town and immediately became convinced that everyone else was training harder than me and that I was a complete loser.  You see, 4 hours in the San Juans may only represent 8-10 miles, when accounting for the long ascents, snow fields and occasional items requiring a rope.  Luckily I had a 20 mile day on tap, and then 42 miles pacing my friend Howie at Hardrock.  The 20 mile day was incredibly intense – filled with route-finding, constant rain and hail, lightning on the ridge and eventually encountering no way to get through Putnam Basin to the Bear Creek trail and me running to Molas instead.  Dom drove from town to pick me up, as I regaled him with tales of learned techniques for surviving and keeping all my fingers.  This involved punching myself in the boob to get a gel out of my pack’s pocket, procuring it from the ground with my knuckles and then using my teeth to saw it open.  I then clasped and released my hands like you do when you are having blood drawn for the entire duration of my run.  To this day, I have no idea why I didn’t wear my nicer gloves.

Post-holing our way up Virginius. Long, difficult day, also with shitty gloves.
The highlight of my trip, unsurprisingly, was Hardrock 2014 and one of the hardest races of my life.  Mind you, I was not actually IN the race and I only ran 42 miles of the specified 100.  But that shit was bananas.  After crewing all day and not sleeping, I found myself heading out of Grouse around 12:30am directly into a very bad storm.  I was wearing shorts and regretting that among many choices, especially after tending to a bewildered Billy Simpson – fresh off a hypothermic battle royale with Engineer Pass.  Howie gave me an out, but there was no way in hell I was going to wimp out and go back to the warm car.  This would be fun! 
You guys. This is Billy. We're not fucking around here.
We made our way up over Handies (14k) under a full moon.  Which was under a thick layer of clouds.  Which were spewing rain and hail upon our fragile souls.  I ate all of the gels in my pack in an attempt to stay warm/awake.  Yes, all of the gels I had planned to carry for 42 miles – I shit you not.  Coming down the backside, Howie was concerned about how much he’d slowed down, but I was convinced it was just the fact that it was like 3 in the morning and anyone would be tired as hell at that hour.  I surely was.  I was tripping all over the place because I couldn’t keep my eyes open.

Burrows Park aid finally came, and we ate and drank to our hearts’ content.  As we left, there was finally a hint of light in the sky and the next part was some super easy cruising on a fire road.  Sure enough, life got way better – honestly, for both of us.  Howie even convinced me to eat flowers.  Things were fantastic through Sherman and all the way up to Cataract Lake-ish, when silly Howie thought he had lost the ability to run.  I made him eat a protein bar, which he then informed me he was allergic to, and this helped slightly.  At some point, I fell in a raging creek (theme of the San Juans) and soaked myself and all my layers, which was great for what lie ahead.  I began eating everything of fat and protein content at the aid stations – hard boiled eggs, avocados, turkey sandwiches (4 of them at Maggie’s) and pumpkin pie – in an attempt to gain body fat right on the spot and insulate myself for the unrelenting storms.  Shit proceeded to get very intense.

Somewhere up on Maggie Pass, little Howie got his wings.  I didn’t quite see this sacred gift bestowed, as there were ice pellets firing down from the sky and I couldn’t even see the course markers, let alone a goddam miracle.  People were hiding under rocks, I was hiding under my own arm and we were all communicating by screaming at the tops of our respective lungs.



And suddenly, I found myself having difficulty keeping up.  Howie was a man possessed and I tried to burn the whole scene in my memory to call upon on some unnamed switchback on Upper Winter Creek.  The infamous mile 75 climb of the Angeles Crest 100.  AKA nowhere near as bad as this shit.  


(Clash of thunder.) 
(Hail comes down harder.) 
(I am sorry, Lord, for suggesting we might come out of this thing alive.)

A slight pause from the wrath. (Also pictured: more wrath looming ahead.)
Only here, the climb up to Sam Merril was a 2700’ ascent in only a mile and a half, AKA a motherfucking wall.  Now 91 miles in, Stern-o dropped my ass… left literally crawling up to the top in yet another storm. (Thank goodness I could still downhill.) I can’t imagine how happy he was to top out and see Silverton far below, but I think I now have a better idea than ever before.  We finished up a few hours later – Stern with a shiny new Hardrock PR and 6th finish.  Me with a shiny new appreciation for what it takes to be a Hardrocker and really, just an all around tough runner.  It was an amazing experience and I’m forever grateful to Howie for letting me pace him the last two years.  I certainly learned a thing or twelve.
Howie Stern - 6 time finisher; also running AC 
Now, the real question is: will any of those twelve things help me at AC, which as I mentioned is only a day and a half away?  Your guess is as good as mine.  I definitely worked on my hiking game more this year than ever before, and spent a lot more time running hard up very high.  My first workout back from CO turned into hill repeats that felt like an out-of-body experience, so that seemed good.  I ran Vincent Gap to Cloudburst two weekends ago and it literally felt like nothing.  As in, I ran easy and finished feeling like I’d done nothing.  I jogged up Baden-Powell talking the entire way.  It was weird.

Yet here I sit with the overwhelming feeling that I haven’t done enough.  My mileage is not where it was last year.  My consistency was all jacked up with races.  Races that went well – but still.  Races require adequate rest, as I’ve learned the hard way, so I’ve made it to this day feeling healthy but questioning everything.  I try to remind myself that this is the way it goes heading into the major goal race of the year, particularly when that goal race is a mountain 100 miler.  So many things can happen.  So many things WILL happen.  

I’ve run faster this year.  I’ve done more 30+ mile runs than before, and they don’t feel like 30+ mile runs.  I’ve finished all of my races.  I’ve finished all of my races feeling strong at the end and able to push hard.  Most of my runs I’ve felt OK to BEST DAY EVER!; with the absolute miserable suffer-fests few and far between.  Usually by this point in the affair, I have more shitty runs than good ones.  So maybe I have learned something.  Maybe the right thing to do was build my base and really high mileage in the first part of the year and then sharpen with races and hard workouts.  All signs in my body are pointing to yes, and yet…. I just don’t know.  I’ve never done it this way before.

I’ve trained the entire year by feel.  I’ve raced every single race by feel.  I’ve fueled by feel.  I’ve slept by feel.  And it’s all worked out really, really well.

But do I feel ready for the Angeles Crest 100 this weekend?

Like I said, let’s stop asking that question.  The only thing I honestly feel right now is everything.

Haha, guys. Remember when the course looked like this?