Thursday, November 17, 2016

Pinhoti 100: Getting Served Humble Pie

Image result for pinhoti 100

If you had asked me which races I was planning to run at the beginning of this year, I'm not sure that Pinhoti 100 would have made the list. However, timing for this classic fall race aligned well with other races that I had done this year and shooting for a 3rd 100 mile run this year was certainly on the to-do list. That, combined with the fact that I needed a race in Alabama in my pursuit of a 100 miler in every US State. Lastly, my good friends Jen and Shawn were already registered so logistics aligned well, too.

Despite its obscure location in Alabama, this race attracts strong talent. A quick gander at the fastest times shows the types of athletes that have completed this point-to-point course from Helfin, Alabama to Sylacauga, Alabama via the Pinhoti trail in Talladega National Forest. Karl Melzer, the then course record holder, ran a 16:44. This is the same man who has the current record for the fastest traverse of the Appalachian Trail. Not surprisingly, this year wouldn't disappoint with the talent levels. David Riddle from Ohio was registered. This is a man who has run several sub 6 hour 50 milers and rarely loses. I suppose my one claim to fame was my win against him at the Mohican 50 earlier this year ( in fact his only non 1st place finish in 3 years). I noticed that he registered for the race after I did. In my brain I told myself he was seeking revenge. Although that was a completely different race, one will find that he and I never really had a race. He ran away with the win and an eventual course record of 16:24.

Weather for this year was the best that I had all year. Earlier I had run Zion 100 in Utah and Ouray 100 in Colorado. Although two states that are typically labeled as "sunny," I of course brought the Seattle rain. I was glad that this wasn't a repeat of those experiences. We had mid 70's for the day and upper 40's for the night. It was my first race that I had great weather! The start was as usual, very fidgety. There were over 200 runners registered for this race. Going into it, I was quite sure that there were 8-10 that could easily win it-it would depend on who had the best day. 

Once we got started promptly at 7 am in Heflin, it was a sprint to single track. I was warned by my friend Jen that it turns single track early on, it just caught me off guard. I noticed that I was probably in 15th during the start. Not surprisingly, Riddle took off (and in fact I never saw him the rest of the race). I remember conversing with a guy named Anthony who had run some 50ks and 50 milers, but never a 100. He was a bit nervous but I assured him to put just one foot in front of the other. Not that I'm a super seasoned ultrarunner, but I certainly won't forget my first 100. I wanted to quit so bad. However, getting a talking to, I was quickly reminded that I registered for the torture and it was up to me to get to the end. Hopefully that advice served Anthony to some degree on his endeavor that day. I hung out with him for a few miles before I found my target. 

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I found Caleb. Caleb had a strong, thick Southern accent but was by no means a joke. The 24 year old had run Orcas Island in Washington earlier this year (a very mountainy 100 miler in WA State). In fact, he was good friends with the Race Director at Pinhoti and was dating his daughter. We talked about our careers and goals for the day. We ran into the first aid station together. His crew had his bottles ready so he blew right past through. I spent about a minute refilling my water bottles. I know how important it is to eat and drink early on. Both Caleb and I agreed that the race really doesn't start until mile 50. Riddle and others that took off, I was convinced that I was going to catch up to. 

A different part of this race for me is that I was already we were in 4th and 5th, respectively. I think this is still the hardest challenge for me. I'm not sure if I should have gone out that aggressive or go out more steady and maintain during the day. The results of this race likely indicate that I need to run my own race. Too often I get caught up with what everyone else is doing and I lose my own rhythm. After going through the 2nd aid station, I quickly became acquainted with the ground. I remember following Caleb through this dirt section and somehow fell. There were no rocks or roots. I literally just fell down. Caleb turned around and asked if I was good. I laughed and said that I was but was a bit confused how I managed to fall on nothing. Thank to the fall, I managed to get a nice skid mark too, similar to carpet burn. It's odd how I can run courses that have boulder and root after root and manage not to fall, but then eat it on flat dirt. Regardless, I got up and continued moving. 

This is when the course started to climb a little. The first 40ish miles are incredibly deceiving. There is very little climbing and tons of rolling, undulating hills. This too is a terrain that I'm figuring out if it is a strong suit of mine or not. I'm thinking that I prefer the medium length ups and downs. For this race, I was running too many hills too early on. I certainly paid for this later on. As I was following Caleb I noticed the terrain was a bit like running on ice. The course is covered in pine needles that make climbing seem like you're climbing on ice. This really wore on me as the race went on. Every step forward I took a half step back.

Image result for rocks and roots on pinhoti trail

After about 15ish miles with Caleb, we split paths. I moved in front of him and was by myself for a while. Really I was feeling good at this point. This is eventually when I caught up with Adam Tekacs. Adam is a Canadian runner who hails from Toronto. He's had a rough year with injuries and was focusing on just a finish. Not only would Adam finish, but he would put over an hour on me. With that said, we became very well acquainted throughout the race. I'm not sure I've ever played leap frog with someone so much. We came into mile 27 together and we left that section. I remember seeing a sign that said "one marathon down, 3 to go." Those signs are in fact very demotivating to me. Mile 30ish is usually when I get my first wave of depression. It is the reality check that I'm not even a 3rd of the way there. This sign was certainly not a kind reminder of that. With that said, Adam and me were in 2nd and 3rd. The only one in front of us was Dave Riddle. 

We continued for several miles together. I remember the next section we both were running out of water and wondering where the next stop was. When we came to it, we both refilled and headed back out in the woods. It was at this moment that the hip flexors were not happy. it was about mile 33 and they were already agitated. In retrospect, I think that it was caused by the running of the smaller hills and the pine needles. They were being forced to work harder on the climbs as every step we fell back a tad. Unfortunately for me, this is a problem that persisted for the other 77 miles. Certainly there were some moments better and worse than others but mentally it was already freaking me out. I entered this race wanting to finish top 5 but always have higher expectations, despite not being mentioned (perhaps superstitious thing?).

It was here that we were climbing up Mt. Cheaha, the highest point in the State of Alabama. I remember the climb not being as bad as others that were about to come. This certainly had tons of boulders. As Adam and I were summitting, we saw tons of tourists enjoying the 70 degree day. They were all waving. They knew that we were running from Heflin to Sylacauga and still had a LONG ways to go. Shortly after was the aid station. I quickly got what I needed and headed out. I think what my hip flexors lacked in the day, my efficiency at the aid station gave me a consistent lead over Adam throughout the day. My one minute that I spent was being compared to his 5-10 minutes at the aid stations. The next section was perhaps my favorite. After Cheaha, we headed down the largest boulder field of the course and then all roads. I remember making tremendous progress here. This is also when gastro problems started to arise. My timing for this was impeccable. There was a porta pot on the road. I quickly stopped and moved on. 

Image result for mt. cheaha

After checking in this aid station, I remember the next being the 2nd worst section. It was back in the woods but on a really long section. I believe this was the 8 mile section. The problem is that Adam stayed at the previous aid station longer and I didn't have anyone near me. Consequently, I became very lazy. My hiking was getting worse and the hip flexors were wanting nothing to do with climbing anymore. This was a very sad reality, not only that I train in Seattle, but that there was much more climbing in the second half of the race. After finally getting to this aid station, I collected my gear and finished the short 3 mile section that was next. It was here that I collected my headlamp for the night section. It was about mile 55. Many roads were to come. After about 10 minutes on this section, I saw Adam coming up from behind. He was looking really strong. When it came to the roads, I didn't have a chance. I'll just accredit this to Adam's training in Toronto and probably having tons of exposure to roads. It was here too that I learned that he is actually part of the Canadian 100k world team that is competing next month. After he caught up we ran a little bit and then he took off. This is basically when I never saw him again.

He took off and shortly thereafter, it was time for the headlamps. It was a depressing concept that we would need headlamps for practically half of the race...night sections are not my favorite and this course was tough with all of the pine needles and leaves covering the boulders. Shortly after turning the headlamp on I quickly ate it again. There were a couple of choice words released and then I felt better. Basically the only part I remember from this section was that I eventually got to a sign that said "hill ahead :)" Something told me that I won't be smiling here soon...typically the climbing is a strong point, but not this race and not this day. My hip flexors were convulsing and refusing to cooperate. I could hear music from the aid station which was located at the top of the hill, but all I remember is a tons of switchbacks that seemed to go on forever. However, after probably the 20th switchback, I was at the top. 

I drank some coke and other salty foods. My diet for the day had been power bars, similar to gummy bears. My stomach was getting a tad sick of all of the sugars and demanded foods that were a bit more real. From this section I remember that we continued climbing. This was another low moment for me. I wasn't climbing a ton but I couldn't run. It was covered in tons of boulders and leaves. Then there were the hip flexors. Every step was a reminder that I couldn't move quickly. After practically walking this entire section I made it to mile 79. I'll call this Liar Aid Station. The adults told me that it was all down hill. In fact, they promised me that. Very quickly a teenager of probably 15 years quickly informed me that I would be going uphill on more roads. The adults quickly shut him up. Too bad for these adults, I know how aid station people work sometimes. The teenager was absolutely right. It wasn't downhill, it was more uphill on a gravel road. 

After laughing to myself about the aid station workers I know that they were just wanting to be helpful. It was back on single track. It was at this point that I saw two headlamps behind me. My initial thought was that there were 2 people going to pass me. Although true, it was only one racer with their pacer. The person happened to be the eventual women's winner, Jacqueline Merritt. I was about to get served a huge dose of humble pie. I have no qualms losing to women, but it certainly isn't a morality boost. I've been "chicked" 3 times in 100's. The first was in my first 100 (doesn't count, right?), the second was to the Amy Sproston, the women's 100k world champion, and now to Jacqueline. With that said, Jacqueline is a solid runner. So solid in fact, she crushed the women's record by 20 minutes. Needless to say it looked like she had just started. She passed and was like "you feeling ok?" I actually thought that I was moving somewhat ok but it looked like Jacqueline had just woken up and started running. I never would have guessed she had 85 miles under her belt.

After letting her by, it was about another 15 minutes until the next aid station. The next section was the worst of the entire course. The temps dropped by about 20 degrees in this section and it was all on road. It sounds really pleasant, however, the hip flexors were again just giving up. Not to mention it is about 8 miles all by yourself on this road. There is a water drop about halfway. Not sure why, but the song "Running with the Devil" came into my brain. This was probably because this was the longest road section ever and I started to get incredibly drowsy. So drowsy in fact that I couldn't walk in a straight line. I was wobbling side to side on this road. I was in desperate need of some caffeine. Not sure why, but I get tired very easily. It was about 1 am at this point. I finally made it to the the last aid station and they informed that it was only 5 miles to the end. I got some updates and moved on.

This was another section that seemed to take a while. It takes you past this swamp and then dumps you on this road for 4 miles. The race ends at Sylacauga High School but getting to the high school felt like an eternity too. The last two miles I got "attacked" by about 3 dogs. The first was the worst. His teeth were showing and you could tell that he wanted nothing to do with a person at 2:45 in the morning. Go figure, I finish 98 miles and then get pulverized by a huge dog. Thankfully, with my dog charming skills he just growled and barked. There were two other dogs that did the same but they were thankfully not as bad as the first. As laziness fully kicked in, I was walking tons of this section, being sure to look back for lights in case another racer were to come. However, I was in the clear. I could see the lights of the track stadium and knew that my suffering was over. I pressed forward and was greeted by the race director and others at the finish. They congratulated me for my 4th overall finish and 3rd overall male. I was very happy that this one was over. Official finish was 20:04:00.

Image result for pinhoti 100

In retrospect, I learned a lot from this race. First, it is important to keep my own pace. Second, I think I underestimated the course. The boulders, pine needles, and the leaves made this course incredibly challenging. I'm also beginning to conclude that I do better on courses that have a bit longer climbs. Although there was nothing I could do about the hip flexors, I do question if I should have trained a bit more. I have been taking 2 days off a week and only getting about 50-80 miles a week. Some of my best results in 100's have been in 6 days of training. This certainly is something I will continue to experiment in. The good news with Pinhoti is that I managed a top 5 finish and successfully completed my 8th 100 miler in 8 states. Just 42 to go....!

Lastly, just want to give a huge thanks to Orange Mud and their VP2.  Once again, it served me well and provided all of the hydration needs that I needed. Congrats to Jacqeline on her course record and Dave Riddle on his. Also, thanks to Shawn and Jen Merchant for figuring the logistics out and Ellen for the ride to the start. Finally, I want to thank everyone who continue to read about these adventures. Hopefully these continue to be enjoyable.

Cheers,
NK

Friday, August 12, 2016

At the Crest of Everest and Half a Time

"They're so beautiful!" These were the words that I sent via text to my good ultrarunning friend, Jen Edwards, in regards to the San Juan Mountains in Southwest Colorado. Shortly thereafter I received a message back stating, "we have to go there!"

These were words that were shared about 4 months ago as I was trying to figure out which 100 I was going to run this summer. The San Juan Mountains hosts an incredibly historic event known as the Hardrock 100. My only qualm with this race is that unless you are incredibly lucky, your odds of getting in are minimal, as the lottery system places a heavy emphasis on veterans who had already completed the race. Don't get me wrong, it is a beautiful course with lots of history and difficulty in completing, but I knew that I wanted to try something a little different. That is when I decided to check in on Ouray 100. It is a race that is the equivalent on the beauty factor, but arguably even more difficult. The race boasts close to 42,000 feet of climbing and 42,000 feet of descending. A total of about 84,000 feet of elevation gain-A LOT! This would be the equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest from sea level one and a half times. Then you have to consider that the lowest elevation of the entire race is at 7600 feet. At one point, it gets over 13,300...Unfortunately in Washington, I just don't get that type of elevation training. The climbing is a lot, but the elevation is a completely different story.

To be quite honest, this intimidated me a little bit. Had Jen not pushed me into it and a free race entry from Josh and Orange Mud, I probably wouldn't have signed up. However, sometimes the beauty of nature and a kind push from friends to do rad things make me a bit of a pushover and susceptible to making irrational decisions. I'm surprised I never got into drugs...

Next thing I knew I was registered and I had my crew member, Jen, going along with me. This undoubtedly would be the most difficult race I had done up to this point. HURT 100 in Hawaii was probably the hardest to date, but total climbing there was about 25,000. This would only be about 17,000 feet more and at a much higher elevation...

As soon as the tickets were purchased, I checked the weather for the week of the race. It was rain for a week straight...of course it would be! Sunny Colorado turns into Stormy Colorado whenever I signed up for this. Jen and I joke that anything we plan to go to together turns into a hot mess, weather wise. Last year I paced Jen at Fat Dog 120 and the weather was hailing and raining for her entire 40 hour race. It was just so much fun seeing nothing but dark clouds and freezing to death on the peaks. I literally couldn't wait to get blown off a mountain from hurricane like winds and freeze to death on the peaks for my race this year...it was like living a dream that was about to come back-except this time she would get to stay warm and I would be in the Hunger Games, trying to survive.

At the start of the race, only 31 people showed up. We each were given our trackers and were ready to go. Similar to the Hunger Games, it was so the Race Directors could keep track of where everyone was at and pick people up who selected the "pick up" button. Really the only difference between this race and the Hunger Games is that there were no cannons going off when people died or quit. The rest is quite comparable.

At the start, the weather wasn't terrible. The sun was shining and everything looked hopeful. I knew better. I had checked the weather before it started and knew that as the day progressed, the chance of thunderstorms and rain was almost inevitable. I toed the line with the other runners at 8 AM Friday morning and knew that I would be out here for an incredibly long time. This wasn't really a race as much as a hike in the mountains. I had that mindset going in and believe that that helped me throughout the entire course of the race.

Once we were all lined up, the Race Director let us go. The first couple of miles were essentially all jeep trails. I followed these and intentionally didn't run any hills. I'd get my fair share of climbing and needed to conserve my legs as much as possible. As we started off, there were a couple of guys who were doing just that, running all of the hills. I kept my cool and went at my own pace, making sure that I was being strategic about this race. Most people probably wouldn't finish, and 100 miles is a long way to begin with, not to mention the elevation profile. The pic below is the views that we had at the beginning, about 3 miles into the race.




When I hit the first aid station, we then started to head to our first climb.This is when I would learn very quickly what I had registered for. The ascent started to get a bit vertical. Like a lot vertical. My heart-lung machine was pumping blood harder than it otherwise would. It kinda felt like I was an obese person who was forced to hit the treadmill for the first time. My love for the idea of doing something epic was quickly beginning to change. Training leading up to this race, I had done extensive training at Mt. Rainier, running Camp Muir repeats from Paradise to train for the elevation as well as the climbing. Certainly this helped me out, but I was running against some mountain goats in this race (the winner I found out lives at 10,000 feet in Colorado). There were a couple of guys who got up that first climb like they were Sherpa's. I was a lost, confused wanderer who wasn't sure what I was getting into...

With that said, it was the first climb and it wasn't as dramatic as I'm making it sound; however, it did take the breath away from me. As with all mountain races, there typically is a big reward for those willing to do the work. I shouldn't have been surprised with the views rewarded:



From here, I grabbed the hole punch and punched my bib to prove that I was following the course. Now it was time to go down, down, down. I was moving pretty quickly on this downhill as it wasn't super technical, but not too fast as to blow my quads up too early. There were many more downhills to run and needed to be sure that I was conserving my body as much as possible. I sometimes like to think of myself as a controlled runner-not going out too fast and not going out too slow. Typically it is in the later stages of races where I make my move on other runners. The adrenaline in the beginning is hard to let go but you have to think perspective and constantly remind yourself that it will be a long time. After I got back to that initial aid station, I then started to head to Richmond Aid Station. It was here that I noticed the sky was beginning to blacken.

The next point from here was Chicago Tunnel. This is when things started to get bad. The climb to Chicago Tunnel is difficult to start, and then the rain started. Great! As if this course wasn't hard enough, the rain would be my worst enemy. Thankfully I had planned that things would get bad, and that is why I put my secret weapon in my Orange Mud pack-a trash bag. My high tech trash bag likely saved this entire race for me. Chicago Tunnel certainly felt like Chicago to me in the winter. It was blowing horribly and the rain started to pelt down on us. I was questioning if it was going to start sleeting here soon. The problem with the exposed Rockies is that there is no protection from the rain. We were above tree coverage and I didn't have the nice foliage of the trees like Washington to protect me from getting pelted in the face. The trail also started to get much more technical. It was scree, lose rock, that every step I took I took about a half step back. It was HORRIBLE. We have this scree in Washington, but here is seemed to be 2 feet deep. Between trying to climb at elevation, fighting the loose rock, and getting pelted in the face by gale force winds and raindrops, I was having the vacation of my life. I just couldn't think of anything else I'd rather be doing. After finally making it to the top of Chicago Tunnel, I punched the hole bib. I attempted to take a picture, but my camera was fogging up. This is the best that I could conjure:


From here, I started to head over to Peabody Fort, the highest point of the race and probably my lowest moment overall. First off, there were tons of jeeps that were on this road as they were heading up to the fort. Shockingly they were all incredibly kind, but that probably was more out of pity. They were witnessing a person in shorts, a trash bag, and the face of someone who looks like someone was punching them in the face as I couldn't see a thing on the climb. Truly this climb felt like an eternity. It was like I was a slug trying to get to the top of a building-I just wasn't going to get there! More jeep drivers continued waving and even stopping for me as the road was only big enough for one of us to get by. I'm sure too that they were thinking we were all psychopaths for being out here.

The rain continued falling down and the winds were getting really, really bad. It blew my hat off a couple of times and I had to backtrack to retrieve it. It was also this point that I started to bonk. I hadn't been eating because I didn't want to take my gloves off. I desperately paid for this. By the time I was getting closer to the top, I was bonking and my hands were too cold to open my pack of jelly beans. It was at this point that the leaders were heading back down. Their faces were incredibly red. It sort of looked like someone took a pan of boiling water and poured it on their face. Of course, it was from the wind hitting their face. They were at least going the opposite direction of the wind and I was heading straight into the thick of it. They gave me a look like "good luck" and I'm sure I gave them one back of "when am I getting off this thing!" About 20ish minutes later the bonking continued to get worse. It got so bad that I waived a jeep down. I felt like a kid who really wanted a piece of candy but mommy and daddy had to open it as the kid was either too dumb or weak to do so. This jeep saved me. I asked if they could open it as my hands were too cold and the lady inside said, "oh, please come inside, it's warm." I quickly rejected but appreciated it and the guy driving passed the beans back over. I was back in business!

I shoved the jelly beans in my mouth and finished my climb to Fort Peabody at 13,365'. I was struggling getting my bib punched as my hands were freezing and my bib was blowing in the wind, but I finally got it to work. I quickly turned around and headed back down. I laughed to myself as there were probably amazing views here and I didn't see a single one. Typical! I hit the aid station again and started to head towards Ironton. 

The rain let up again and the climbing began again. More technical climbing here too. Eventually the trail turned off the road and went into a prairie. There were tons of wildflowers all over but I couldn't see the trail markers. However, it was clear that the runners weren't supposed to follow the road. I searched for the orange markers and found them hidden in the flowers. I began to follow them and was back on course. The view here was out of this world:


I continued to follow this trail and shortly after the iron in the Ironton Mountains (so I call them) quickly came into view as well. I was at a complete loss of words:


The wildflowers here and the views of the mountains is something that can't be expressed into words. They are a view that I could only dream about. Certainly the weather could have cooperated a bit more, but all of the struggles and pains that I had gone through to get to this point were completely worth it. There were no other people up here but me. It was like I was given the gift of the world and I was the only person there to enjoy it. It was both an amazing feeling and also one that made me wish that other loved ones I know could have seen this with me. Nature has a way of gripping the strings of the soul and this view expressed something that can't be articulated into words. That is essentially what was happening to me at this point. However, the reality check quickly came back in that it was indeed cold up here too. I was marveling in the views but also knew that I needed to progress. I started to head down this mountain and it was incredibly vertical. There was tons of descending in such a short time frame. Good for me this go around, but bad as I also knew I would have to climb this, likely in the dark. I pressed on and got to the highway. From here, I followed this and was heading to the Ironton Aid Station, the primary aid station of the race. It was here that I would see the CEO of Orange Mud, Josh, and my crew member, Jen. 

Jen and I had planned that I would get here around 5:00 pm. I got here closer to I believe 3:30, which was a great thing. This has happened before at Oil Creek in PA when my parents expected me to get to the aid station at a certain time and I got there much earlier. However, there was nothing urgent that I needed and knew that I would run around this road again and could meet Jen then. I met Josh for the first time and he greeted me. I quickly accepted aid from him and headed back on the road. This section was another low moment in an odd way. It wasn't super technical, but you definitely weren't going to run this. It went up, up, and up. Again, I was getting some odd looks from the jeep drivers but in a way I think they understood what I was doing. Here the rain started to pick up again and just make my life so much better. However, it did clear up again and I did get some reward with more views:


I got to the top and quickly started my descent down. Again, it was a very technical descent but knew that I had to keep going. I got into the aid station here and saw Jen this time. She felt horrible for missing me the first time as she had my music, but I think it was good that I procrastinated the music this go around. I also dropped my phone off as well. We both decided that I wouldn't need my light for this go-around as I likely would be back before nightfall. It was a strategic decision in the sense that if I got caught in the dark, I would have to wait for someone with a light. However, I was quite confident that I would be OK and used it as motivation to keep moving when I would become lazy. I continued up the ascent that I just descended and quickly began to despise that mountain much more. There were some guys at the top who waved at me and gave me a look of awe, yet complete confusion and satisfaction that it was me suffering and panting for air and not them. Nonetheless, I happily took their look of confusion and pressed on. I summitted the top again and started working my way back down. I was passing tons of other 100 milers who were heading for the aid station on the first loop. They were hours behind and I knew that I was sitting at 3rd in the moment. I kept on and saw Jen again at the Ironton Aid Station. At this point I knew that I needed my headlamp. I took it from her and started to head back to the Richmond Aid Station. It was the climb that I was resenting the most. This had been the steepest of them it seemed, and although at one point it offered amazing views, this time I knew it would be a different story. I was right. Dissimilar to the wolf who huffed and puffed and blew the house down, I was huffing and puffing but collapsing uphill and praying for the top. However, with most things, every step forward gets you there. I was at the top and started to head through the prairie field of flowers. It was actually easier at night finding the markers as they had reflectors-rather than trying to find orange flags in a field of orange, yellow, and red flowers. I avoided more technical terrain and to Richmond Aid Station I went.

When I got there the workers informed me that it was 4.5 miles to the next one, mostly downhill. They were actually right. Sometimes I think aid station workers are programmed to lie and tell you what you want to hear rather than what is actually true. These were honest aid station workers. It was all down hill and I believe I made great headway on this section. Got to the next aid station and they informed me that the leader has been out there for 1.5 hours and hasn't come back. Probably not a good sign...I left and started to climb. Of all the sections, this was one of my least favorite. It was a complete car wash. It was raining harder and harder the higher I went and the plants were beyond saturated. I think I would have had more pleasure getting licked by a whale. I arguably would have been drier... It was at this point that I saw a headlamp. The leader! He was heading back. That was a good sight. I continued onward and was zigzagging up this mountain. It was like the eternal zigzags. No views, complete soaking, and incessant climbing. Love that. Eventually I saw the second placer. He was much behind the leader. I continued on for about 10 minutes and found the coveted hole punch! I quickly punched my bib and turned around. I was moving down and continuing to get completely soaked. This is when I saw 2 other headlamps. It was the eventual champion with his pacer. He was moving very well. 

I got to the aid station and they informed me that the 2nd placer had dropped out. He apparently didn't have the leg strength to move forward. Not shocking. We had already climbed close to 23,000 feet already. I moved on and this was another least favorite section. Not sure if this was because it was nighttime or because it was another swimming pool that I couldn't even swim in. I continued climbing up, up, and up again and then got off course. I couldn't see the markers and decided that I was off course. After about 10 minutes of looking around, I finally found the course and began moving in the right direction. From here, I kept moving towards Silver Lake. It was a giant prairie up here. I could tell because the wind was smacking me in the face again and I was again completely exposed. I pressed on and not long after I saw the two headlamps coming from behind. It was Avery and his pacer. This guy was moving so well downhill that I looked like I was frozen. I let him by and pressed on to the aid station. We both were there and I saw Jen. I had my headlamp changed and prayed for a miracle with the bonking. She handed me my common banana and half avocado and I took off with Avery. This was my slowest section yet. Climbing back up the mountain I just came down was incredibly demoralizing. Then I saw Avery and his pacer disappear. The sun was beginning to come back up as I was over the top and heading back to Fellin Park.

I was beyond excited. The sun is like an extra energy boost. I finally turned the headlamp off and my sleepiness was beginning to go away a bit. Pulling all-nighters is not my cup of tea but the sun has a way of tricking your body into thinking that you actually slept. Although I didn't have my camera at this point, this was a pic of some Aspens that were similar to this part of the course that I did see:


From here I continued on and took the wrong turn on the road back to Fellin Park. I was heading the direction that we started the morning before and realized that I was going the wrong way....I waved a car down and asked if this was the direction of Fellin Park, knowing full well that it wasn't. They said no and felt horrible for me. They asked if I wanted a ride. I politely (I think politely) declined and turned around and ran additional mileage. This mistake cost me about 30 minutes total. I got to the aid station and was delighted to see Jen. She gave me some noodles and I had told her that I was bonking terribly. I had tried to eat jelly beans that night knowing full well that my stomach wouldn't take them. I puked them right up along with the avocado and banana I could keep down. This was likely why the bonking was even worse. However, in desperate measures, anything was better than bonking and thought that I should give it a try. Apparently the human body can only handle so much sugar. I knew that jelly beans and the quick sugars would no longer be a part of my diet.

From here was the nicest part of the trail. It was up to Twin Peaks. It is incredibly steep with no protection if you fall. It was the perfect section for after pulling an all nighter. However, the reason I approved is because I made great progress on catching the leaders. Avery and Rob (the guy who had been leading the entire race) were slowing down a lot. I saw them towards the top. The sun was actually out at this part and I was stunned at the views. I was mad at myself for not having my phone with me. I then started to head towards Silver Basin. From here I saw that Avery was coming back and had passed Rob. I knew that Rob was likely hurting. I continued on and came to the Silver Basin Aid Station. To my surprise, I saw Josh and Jen here. I was informed that Josh, the CEO of Orange Mud, would pace me. I was ecstatic! It was about mile 80. I was actually getting hot for the first time in the race and took my trash bag and jacket off. Jen asked if I wanted to change my shirt and Josh just got to the root of the problem. "You smell!" Those were essentially the first words he told me. I laughed, completely out of it from the no sleep. I told him that it wouldn't matter and apologized that he would have to smell me for 10 miles. 

We basically hiked this section and we talked about the company and just lots of things. He probably thought that I was a crazy person and couldn't hold a conversation, but I am beyond appreciative to have had someone to talk to me. Anything to get my mind off of the 20 miles in front of me.



We continued on and he told me about adventures that he had had in the past. My feet were also suffering terribly by this point. I had many hot spots earlier but it was to a whole new degree. It felt with every step that daggers were being thrown at my feet. The technical trail had obliterated my feet and I had developed trench foot from all of the car washes and rain. Josh and I passed Rob and moved into second. We saw Jen at Fellin Park again and quickly snapped a pic:


We then headed to the Perimeter Trail. From here, we moved on again and I attempted to run the downhills. The switchbacks here seemed to be eternal. We asked one person how many more and they said about 7 more switchbacks. Great. Just what I wanted to hear! However, we pressed on and got to cross another stream. I hopped over and moved a little more until we got to the hole punch. Josh seemed happy to do some reading on Chief Ouray, a building at the top, but I cared far more about getting the small hole on my bib as another signature that this road was coming to a close. We moved on and I attempted to run the downhill. My feet really were not having this section. I had to put the trash bag on again as the rain started and back to Fellin Park we went. After we got here, there was just one climb left: The Bridge to Heaven. I was 92 miles in and had about 10.5 to go. Finishing was no longer a question. It was just if I would get there before the second nightfall. 

I didn't take my headlamp as it was only 3:30 in the afternoon. I thought that it would be motivation to move quicker. I set out with my standard banana and avocado and left Josh behind. Jen walked with me for part of this and we were moving our way up this section. It was another scree field. I'm not sure that I have been in so much scree in my life. The Bridge of Heaven was going to be the Bridge of Hell for me. The rain was starting to come again and I had to put my trash bag on one final time. 

To say that I was slow as a turtle on this section would be a complete insult to a turtle. I looked like someone who had gotten hit by 3 buses, ran over by 4 trains, and hit by 5 cars and was hardly moving. That is what this section felt like to me. Not to mention there were so many pins and needles in my feet that the only thing that I could focus on was the pain. In an odd way this was probably a good thing as I haven't slept in a really long time. Focusing on the pain diverted my attention to that rather than the fact that I could pass out really easily. However, the sleep eventually won in the end...

It was here that I saw Avery and his, I think, 3rd pacer coming down the mountain to the finish. I congratulated him and he warned me that it was further than what they had advertised. Nothing really surprised me at this point. I just kept my survival pace and saw a huge mountain in the distance. "I'm glad I don't have to climb that" I thought to myself. Little did I know that the joke would be on me. Every time I got to a summit, the markers just kept going...I was beginning to get a bit pissed and annoyed at this point. Eventually the course got to the green mountain....I literally laughed out loud. I was so angry. The Bridge of Heaven of course was going to be at the top of this green mountain. I did the zigzags and the exposed area allowed the rain to pelt me in the face again. It kept raining harder and harder. I looked around and saw that no other mountain was raining. It was literally just the one that I was on. I laughed a satanic laugh and continued pressing onwards. I got around the corner and actually saw the hold punch!! I grabbed it and started my descent. By the 3rd switchback down, I spotted Rob. He looked equally terrible. He asked if I had some salt. This perhaps was one of the greatest bonding moments in both of our lives. I checked my pockets and had about 8 Dorito Chips. No longer was this about "racing" as much as surviving. I could tell that his level of appreciation was outside of this world. 

With that said, I wasn't about to get second at this point. I pressed on downhill with the pins and needles in my feet. This is when the hallucination hit full force. I saw logs that I could have sworn were bear cubs or mama bears. One log about halfway down the mountain I was so convinced was a guy with a camera that I stared for about 20 seconds at the log. It was a log. Shortly thereafter was my last episode of hallucination. This was my favorite. Soon the loose rock and scree turned into data shards. I thought that I was in a software program running through data. The rocks and shards were data, and it was my job to dodge them and get to the end of the software program. In my brain I told myself that these couldn't hurt me but in reality, they would cause some major damage. I moved on and pushed hard until I hit the last road section. Only 3 tenths of a mile to the end. I pressed on and saw Jen and the others at the finish. A big smile came to my face and tears were coming as well. Jen was essentially sobbing and after 35.5 hours of pure grit and perseverance, my eyes couldn't take it. I had soft teardrops come out and we embraced as I took my seat at the end. 

To say that this was was tough would be an understatement. It was an emotional train ride filled with an adventure that can't be articulated into words. How do I explain to someone what climbing 42,000 feet and all at elevation feels like? How does not sitting for close to 36 hours and no sleep feel? I wish that there was an explanation as to how difficult this was and a way to put that explanation into a sentence. There just isn't. Why do I do this to myself? I don't know. I wish that I did. There isn't a reason behind these things. All I know is that I think we were made for adventure and pushing limitations that we didn't think were humanly possible. Some people do things for the bragging rights. Most ultrarunners I know are far from that. They do these things for reasons they can't even explain. I guess I'm in that odd group of people...

Can't begin to thank enough people for the support. First off, thanks Jen for coming out and crewing me. Certainly this wouldn't have been possible without your help! Josh, you're the man. Couldn't be more grateful for the surprise pacer and the ability to have that company. Lastly, thanks to my family and friends all over the US who continue to amaze me with their interest in this sport. Certainly no regrets for finishing second in this race. Beyond appreciative for the experience of this race and the support of the Race Director. So appreciative for an event like this and hope that it stays low-key, yet in existence. With the exception of the Barkley Marathon, I'm not sure what would be more difficult than this. Also the belt buckle is kinda cool...

Hope you enjoy this read! 

Cheers,

NK

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Mohican 50: At It Again

In June, I found myself in my hometown state of Ohio. Coincidentally, it happened to be on the same course and race that made me swear 4 years ago that I would never run an ultramarathon again-the Mohican 50 miler. However, just as The Fray so eloquently puts it,"Never Say Never." The reason for my return is simple. First, I hadn't been home in 9 months and the race was conveniently located 10 minutes from where I grew up. Also, I had no intention of being out there for 24 hours (as I was last year running the Mohican 100), as I wanted to spend some more time with family. The thought of finishing by 2:00 PM in the afternoon seemed like a dream. Last year I finished the 100 in 3rd overall in 20:08. For the 50 this year, I was aiming for sub 7:30 (personal best was 7:34). Thankfully conditions this year would be much better than last as I wouldn't be battling the rain and mud that never ended at last year's race.

The 50 mile race started at 6 am and it was a field of over 200 runners, some of which were incredibly talented. Among this group included Salomon runner, David Riddle, Vertical Runner, Brian Polen, and a couple of other guys who had quite the running resume. Truthfully, my goal for this race wasn't to place high (although top 5 is always the ideal), but to break my personal best for the 50. The problem was that I hadn't run a 50 miler in over a year and when I did, I had anything but the best time on the course. The worry with the 50 is that it is at a much more aggressive pace than a 100. Although the 100 is twice the distance, I find that it is generally easier to pace yourself than a 50 as you have to be fast, but not burn yourself too quickly-something I did at the Capitol Peak 50 in 2015. 

Not surprisingly the start was full of all kinds of jitters. The sun was up so I wouldn't need my headlamp, but the anxiety of runners was prevalent. Racing is bittersweet to me. Bitter in the sense that I hate being anxious and having external pressures on me (thanks parents) and sweet in that part of me still likes competing. The reason I got into the sport is because I enjoy being out in nature and getting a decent exercise in the process. However, the competitive nature in me also thrives and that is why I find myself entering races-to see how fast I can go. With the field that toed the start line this year, I should have known that fast times would be had. Below is a pic of the start


As soon as 6 am came around we all were off. Right away, there was a posse of about 6 of us that took off at the start. The beginning is very friendly. It starts on a paved road that goes through the campground. This lasts about a mile and then it is on single track trail in the Mohican wilderness. The 6 of us were moving at quite a pace. This tends to happen as you don't want to get behind people that are too slow, especially when you get on the single track. The reason for this is it is difficult to pass people and you start falling behind those that you know you need to keep up with. Maybe it was the fact that I hadn't run a 50 in a while, but this pace seemed to be blistering. At first I wasn't sure if I registered for a 50 mile or a 50k... As we marched through the woods we basically were running all of the uphills as we headed to The Gorge Aid Station. These hills are short, but steep enough that I wasn't fully convinced that I should be running them, especially this early in the race. However, to not lose pace or look too much like a pansy, I basically mimicked the other 4 in front of me-nothing like giving into peer pressure! As I got to the first aid station I tied my shoes and refilled my water bottle. For this race I stuck with Orange Mud's VP1, which is essentially a single water bottle. With aid stations every 5 miles apart, I figured that was sufficient for what I would need. The other 4 runners all blasted off without stopping. I'm all for being as efficient on time as possible but also value taking care of oneself. I wasn't about to get myself on the wrong foot at the start.

I continued on and eventually caught up to them as we were heading towards the next station. The pace was moving very quickly. Earlier I overheard one of the runners in the group say that we were under 8 minute miles for the first 5 miles. I can't say that I was too surprised by that. When I got to the second aid station, I saw Terri Lemke-a bad ass runner who's son I ran track with (who also happens to run 200 milers). I patted her back and wished her well as she was endeavoring the 100 mile race. Shortly passing her, I came to Don Baun, my former high school track coach. He too was enduring the 100 mile race and wanted to give some level of encouragement. He wished me well and I went passed him. The pace was still moving really well. The 5 of us were beginning to separate a little bit but I knew that it was much too early to be concerned about place. Currently, I was sitting in 5th. 

As I started to head to the Covered Bridge, the guy in the green shirt completely ate it. He tripped on a tree root and took a pretty hard landing. He quickly got up and pressed on. When it came to the downhills this dude just blasted past everyone. I consider myself more of an uphill climber but a somewhat decent downhill runner, too. This guy made me look like I was standing still on the downhills. We continued on and got to the Covered Bridge. By this point I was in 4th. Hickory Ridge was next and this is the worst climb of the entire race. I worked my way up and eventually caught up to the 3rd placer. He was moving at a decent pace and I followed him for a couple of miles. We made small chat but overall we kept our minds on other things (for me, that was laying down at the finish). Just passed the last aid station, I went around him and never saw him for the duration of the race (he eventually finished 5th). As I came out of the woods I could feel the heat and the humidity settle in.  I saw all my family at the start, as well as Kyle Lemke, a good trail running friend and high school teammate. After restocking my GU stash, I saw that the 2nd placer, Joe, was also there. He suggested that we run together and push each other for the second lap.



We both left together and I was the one leading it. Joe had run a 50k before but never a 50 miler. He was running with David, the Salomon runner, who was about 5 minutes in front of both of us but decided that he wanted to break longer than David. Joe had run competitively at Shawnee State and is good friends with the 100 mile champion of both last year and this year, Michael Owen. We tagged along and this is when I started to get very tired. I'm thinking it was the humidity. I had been eating the entire race and am convinced that it wasn't from bonking. Unfortunately in Washington State, I don't get the high temps that we had (88 was the high for the race) but even worst, the humidity. Even in the shade of the trees, I was getting very tired. It was this section where I felt very slow and that the whole world should have passed me. However, we both pressed on and got to The Gorge Aid Station. I quickly got more water and headed out. Joe really wanted to get 2nd and 3rd together, but secretly I wanted to move quicker than we were (even though my body earlier said 'no way!'). Shortly after leaving this station, Joe started to fade behind. In fact, I never saw him for the rest of the race. As soon as I got to the next station, I quickly got more water and headed out. Thankfully I hit another high. Now it was to the Covered Bridge again. This is the shortest distance to any aid station and I felt it. It is basically all down hill and I felt tremendous moving through this section. 

I hit the aid station and the workers were very helpful in getting me what I needed. I refilled my water supply and headed back out in the wilderness. Basically for every aid station, banana's were the main food. It is loaded with potassium (I guess runners are supposed to eat lots of that) and it is soft and goes down easily. One would think that of all the races I've run, I should have learned eating the PBJ sandwich wouldn't work. I kept chewing a single bite for probably 2 miles and decided that I would take a swig of water to push it down. Chewing those sandwiches is the equivalent of eating sandpaper for me. After marching my up Hickory Ridge, I continued on and was passing marathoners and other 50 milers like crazy. There were trains of people running together and passing them was difficult on occasion. 

That is when suddenly, out of nowhere, Michael Owen passed me. I had a double take to see if a 100 mile runner actually passed me-he did. The USA 24 hour champion, Lewis Harvey, was right behind him too. Suddenly, my 2nd place position made me feel terrible! I started following both him and Lewis, and all 3 of us entered the final aid station together. This is when David Riddle, the Salomon runner, and current 50 mile leader was spotted. I think he was shocked to see me there as well. He had dominated the entire 45 miles and was trying to finish up at the last station. Basically it was the top two 100 runners and the top two 50 mile runners all at one stop. We quickly all got our gear together and headed out. It was a cool feeling to be with 3 top-notch runners. Owen, a wicked talented runner from Ohio, Harvey, a USA champion, and Riddle, an elite Salomon runner who has won huge events such as Ice Age 50 and JFK 50. Part of me felt that I had no place in this posse! 

For whatever reason I was the designated runner for this group. I took charge for about a mile and that is when an unsuspecting tree root caught my foot and I took a tumble. The other three tapped my back and pressed on. I walked a little to brush off the fall. It was here that I hit another low moment. For some reason I began to justify and settle for second. Then the voice in my brain was shouting, "you just ran 46 miles and now you're just going to give up?" Thankfully the voice of intelligence redirected my intentions. I was on point for breaking my sub 7:30 time and in a position to potentially win this thing overall. 

That is when I picked my pace up and tried catching them. Off in the distance I saw Riddle by himself. He was walking and I knew that he too was suffering. Both of the 100 mile runners passed him. I nodded at him and went by him as well. I was now back in the lead! I pressed on and got a huge urge to keep pushing forward. Only 3 more miles to go. The next two miles went by fairly well as I passed more runners, including the 100 mile leaders. I never saw them again and the victory was within reach. I came out of the woods and pushed the last road section to my screaming family.

I got to the finish line in 7:24:41, which averaged 8:54 a mile.  Less than 4 minutes behind was Riddle. Of all the races, this one was by far the closest I have been a part of. This race I had my parents, sister, cousins, aunt, grandparents, and local friends all come out to support me at the finish-about 15-20 people. Again, I was reminded of how blessed I am to have such a supportive family. Although they don't understand why I do this sport (I don't entirely either), they are there to support those goals. Truly this was a reminder of the awesome family in Ohio that I have. Below is a pic of sister, dad, mom, and cousin from TN (his wife far right). Not pictured but there were grandparents, aunt, 3 other cousins, and friends.


Huge thanks goes to Ryan O'Dell, the RD, Don Baun for getting me into the sport, and of course, to all of my family and friends who came out. Lastly, is for Josh and his innovative running gear. Certainly couldn't have thought of better hydration gear to use. This race ultimately taught me to never discredit oneself. Sometimes life becomes a huge comparison game. One thing I've learned is comparison is the the thief of all joy. Had I come in and discredited myself against some of these other runners, I really do think that I would have psyched myself out. The underdog always has a chance-sometimes one just has to overlook the competition and stay focused on your own goal. Lastly, below is a pic at the awards ceremony.


Thanks for all who read this!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Through Blood and Hail

"This ought to be easy." Those were the initial words that entered my mind as I briefly analyzed the race profile for the Zion 100 in Virgin, Utah. It had been a while since I had done an "easy" 100 and after a near flawless race at Oil Creek in October, I thought that I could contend with the course record at Zion. You see, Oil Creek had 17,700 feet of total climbing and this one only has about 10,600 feet. However, as the saying goes, "never judge a book by its cover." That is precisely the lesson that I learned at Zion.

When my friend, Joel Ballezza, and I traveled to Zion, we received about 5 different emails stating that rain was likely going to be inevitable during the race. There were warnings from the Race Director stating the risk associated with running a desert race while it's raining. Unlike areas that regularly receive rainfall, the desert isn't a location that absorbs water well. It tends to run like streams of water and create mud that can't be imagined, but only experienced. Despite the warnings, Joel and I decided that we already made plans for this and we weren't about to back out due to inclimate weather. This is ultrarunning after all.

The night before the race, we should have known how this was going to be. Neither of us had packed our drop bags, but we attended the race briefing the night before the race. As we got there, we noticed that every runner had packed their drop bags and were dropping them off. However, we didn't have ours. We were quickly asked if we had any at the check-in. We both said "no" and were informed that we had to have them dropped by 8:00 PM Thursday night or we wouldn't be allowed to have them. It was 6:30 PM and we were 30 minutes from all of our gear. We asked if they could make an exception and were given a resounding "no." We quickly turned around and headed back to the house we were staying at to pack our gear. After looking at the aid stations (a bit more in depth) we decided which ones we wanted to put our gear in. We quickly packed the drop bags and headed back to the start of the race. It was 7:45 PM when we dropped them off. Although normally I'm a minimalist, having some gear in drop bags is better to have and not need it than needing it and not having it. After that stressful moment of racing to get there in time and missing the entire race briefing, we arrived and at least got our gear dropped off.

The morning of the race, we were up at 3:45 AM for the 6 AM start. Very, very early. I had a knife and a bottle of peanut butter. That was my breakfast. I took 5 knife fulls and scarfed down the peanut butter. From there we changed and headed to the race. After taking the shuttle to the start of the race we were one of the first ones there. I sat down by the bonfire to stay warm. As I was sitting there, Sam Reed, another ultrarunner, was there who had run HURT 100 with me in January 2015. He remembered me and asked if I was Nick. He noticed my hat (and likely tattoo) and to my surprise, I said "yes." We made small chat and discussed the weather and how it can't be as bad as Hawaii. From here, we headed to the start of the race.

Once we got to the start, we were off. It starts off very gradual. I noticed that my shoes had a couple of holes in them by the big toes. This was something that I never noticed when I packed them. This was not a good thing, especially considering that the majority of the trail is sand and small pebbles. I could feel them getting into my shoes early on and filling my shoe. Fantastic! I contemplated getting duct tape or something else to cover my shoe but ultimately decided that I would be ok. We then started the ascent up Flying Monkey Aid Station which is a dramatic climb early in the morning. The image below shows how dramatic the climb is.





Being a mesa, we started to run all over the top once we reached the top. At this point, I started running with two 100k runners. I thought that this was a good idea as they were moving a little faster. To be honest, I didn't even know what place I was in this early on as they started all of the 100k and 100 milers together. This makes it extra challenging to figure out who the competition is. Once we checked in at the Flying Monkey Aid Station a second time, we continued down the descent towards Dalton Wash. Getting here was a bit of a challenge. We crossed a couple moist areas and even a river (thankfully I avoided getting my feet wet) and reached the aid station. By this point, the 100k runners started to get ahead of me. This was more than OK with me as I wasn't racing them and wanted to keep my own pace. From Dalton Wash Aid Station I started to head towards Guacamole Aid Station. Getting here wasn't too difficult. It was mostly on all roads and I could tell that I was moving really well in getting there. I was sure to fill up my bottles to make sure that I was hydrating on this flat section, especially as the sun was coming up a bit more. Once I got there, I grabbed some avocados and ran around the top up here.

This section reminded me of the scene off of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. It was the scene where the Hobbits were in the woods and were warned of getting off the trail. If they got off, they got dazed and confused and fell into the trap. That is kind of what this section felt like to me. I got there and found myself running in what felt like a maze. Even though there were nice pink flags, it wasn't easy to stay on course and I found myself getting off a lot and not knowing where to go. I felt like one of those hobbits that was about to get completely lost on the trail. However, after passing Joel and being informed that I was heading the right direction, I quickly escaped this trap!

From here, I headed back to the Dalton Aid Station. It was here that I again had one of my fastest splits. I zoomed past the road section and got to meet another Orange Mud Ambassador, Eric Aditya. He welcomed me and helped me with my bottles. Although I couldn't stay and talk much, I'm very appreciative of his help and encouragement. From here, I started to head towards Goosebump. It was this aid station when nothing went right. Although I passed a couple of runners, things were about to get bad. This climb was probably the worst of the entire race. As I approached it, it looked like I had never seen a mountain in my life. I started to bonk. Usually hills and mountains are a strong suit being from Washington, however, I feel like the entire world could have passed me on this climb! It was a slog and the two runners who I passed then passed me about halfway up this climb. A huge pet peeve of mine is passing someone and then getting passed by them. To me it's a sign that I don't really know what I'm doing.



Once I got to the top, my calf muscle completely cramped up. It wouldn't stop flexing. It was incredibly painful and I wasn't exactly sure what to do about it. After standing still for about a minute I finished the rest of the climb and asked the aid station workers what their input was. They suggested salt. After taking a couple of salt tablets and taking longer at the aid station than I should have, the calf finally stopped flexing. I grabbed some more of my food that I stashed at this aid station and headed out. It was at this point where things really started to get bad. Because I hadn't been drinking nearly the amount of water that I should have, I noticed that my urine was not normal looking at all. Like at all. It was a very dark brown, borderline red color. To say I was panicked would be an understatement! I began to walk and have some serious concerns. A few other runners started to pass me and I asked their input.They were worried for me and said that they have never had that happen to them before. It was like a true nightmare coming to reality. The fear of pissing blood was something that I needed to somehow resolve. It was only mile 35ish, far short of the end of this race. Ultrarunning is an adventure to me, but if this problem persisted, I would have dropped. I'm sure that my doctor would be proud of me for continuing 10 extra miles of this questionable bodily dysfunction....

Once I hit that aid station, I drank tons of water and continued on. I took it an easy for about 1.5 hour and walked most of it. I wasn't about to risk this. Thankfully, my urine got more clear and I started to feel good about pushing it a bit harder again. I headed back to Goosebump Aid Station and onto Cemetery I was! This was another road section. I zoomed past this and got there and caught up to a couple of other runners. I felt really good, especially as I got my music and treated myself to some Coldplay and ChainSmokers. As I was heading to the Cemetery aid station, there was this lady that for some unknown reason wanted to touch my calf muscles...Without asking, she just reached down and started to feel my muscles...She then exclaimed "I have no idea how you guys do this!" I was completely flabbergasted and completely confused. I wasn't sure if this was from finishing 50 some miles or the fact that this lady voluntarily touched dirty, sweat-infested calf muscles. Either way, I left with something else to think about on my run. After climbing up this hill, the good vibes were soon about to die...This is when the rain settled in. In my brain, I picture the desert getting a light rain. This isn't at all what I experienced. No. It was a torrential downpour for 5 minutes followed up by 10 minutes of hail. Being on a mesa, there was no place to take shelter and I was in a short sleeve shirt getting pelted by these ice crystals. I was hating life. I was beyond freezing and there was nothing that I could do about it. I started to yell out loud "why am I doing this!?" as they continued to smack me in the face. I looked over at the other mesa and saw sunshine. Hahahhaha. But seriously. Why does it seem that I am ALWAYS in the wrong place at the wrong time? I started to walk again and the winds were picking up even more. I finally got to the aid station and the rain started to fall even more...

While there, there were about 3 other 100 mile runners who came in. They all had rain gear and looked extra prepared-something that I wasn't. A lady named Nancy came to me and asked if I had any ponchos. Of course not! She then said that she would go find an extra. She did and came back. She said that it was my lucky day as it was the only one left. I gave this lady a hug and think I cried internally. Finally, something that went right! Back in the rain and roads I went. However, this time, the roads were completely mud and about a foot of mud was sticking to my shoes. I practically walked this entire 4.5 miles back to the aid station. My hands were so cold from the hail and that I didn't even have the strength to open my food packets. Consequently, I started to bonk again. I finally got to the aid station. From here, I gathered my other jacket and headed back down the long hill. At the bottom I put my headlamp on and started to on the roads again.

After getting another high and hitting the aid station, I began to catch up to people. This is where the 3 loops began. They give you a different colored wrist band every time you finish one of their unique loops. They had this bomb ramen noodle soup that made this aid station my favorite. I had it every time and didn't have a hard time keeping it down. By the second loop, I had passed 4 other runners. I was feeling really good and continued on. This is when I got to the blue and final loop before the finish. This had to be the loop from hell. It started off gradual and then took me in the middle of nowhere. And I mean the middle of nowhere. I couldn't see lights anywhere. I started to get incredibly annoyed and questioned if I was even on the course anymore, something that I knew that I was as I continued to follow the blue course markers.

This is when the rain started again. It was about 12:30 AM at night and was beyond tired of this loop. The wind picked up big time and I grabbed the poncho that Nancy gave me but couldn't even put it on as the wind was blowing so hard that I couldn't get it to stop blowing in the wind so badly. Awesome. Freezing, can't get poncho on, and getting soaked. Again. I finally gave up and said I will continue this death march to the aid station. About 2 hours later, I finally saw light which indicated the end of this death loop and hope for the finish. I checked in and started to head towards the end. One worker told me that it was 8 miles and another 6. There is a huge difference, especially at mile 94. I continued onward and got to the road section. I honestly thought that I was close to finishing. I was wrong. Ended up rounding the corner and got back on this dirt section. I could tell that the ups and downs were beginning again and that my glorious ending wasn't in sight. This is when my headlamp started to die. I had packed extra batteries in my Orange Mud pack but didn't have the ability to get to them without being completely in the dark. That is when I saw two lights pretty far in front of me. I started running much harder and made tremendous ground on them. I noticed that they both started to look back and picked their pace up.

Truth is is that I wasn't trying to race them but only ask for some light as I change my headlamp to ensure that I get to the end. They continued to pick up the pace and that is when I noticed the light at the end. Finally! There was light at the end of the tunnel and chance to finally be able to sit down! I was over this race and just wanted it to end. Between the blood and the hail, this race was absolutely nothing as I had anticipated. After getting there, I crossed the finish line and was informed that I placed 9th overall. However, results later show that I was 7th in 21:40. The two guys in front of me finished 1:30 minutes in front of me in 6th and 5th. Had I known this, I might have pushed a little harder. I also had a couple of hot spots on my feet from the consistent rubbing of the sand and pebbles that entered my shoes from the holes.

Overall, I learned that hydration is key and that being a minimalist and even having a risk of rain, it is better to pack and not need than to need and not have. After freezing to death and being saved by an aid station worker, I decided that this isn't something that I want to risk again. I thought sub 20 would have been easy but the conditions and the inability of taking care of myself during this race proves that nothing is ever a given. Huge thanks to Orange Mud and their gear. It never ceases to amaze me how efficient the gear is and how it contributes to my accomplishments in this sport. Thanks to all of the volunteers and Nancy who for sure saved this race for me. I look forward to heading home for the Mohican 50 in OH in June and then likely Ouray 100 in Colorado in August. Very happy to have finished my 6th 100 in 6 States!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

At Long Last


Sixty five and sunny is what smacked my face when I got off the plane after a red-eye from Seattle to Cleveland. Is it really October? That was my initial question. Oftentimes Ohio is mid 40’s, snowing, or just plain out miserable. I couldn’t believe that this was going to be the weather that I was going to have for the duration of my stay in Ohio and Pennsylvania. I flew home to take on the 7th annual Oil Creek 100 in Titusville, PA. The course is known to be rocky, technical, and difficult overall. It boasts an impressive 17.6k feet of climbing during the duration of the race. Challenge accepted. I in an odd way enjoy technical courses, particularly if climbing is involved. Ever since moving to WA, my climbing technique has improved drastically. As odd as it may sound my mentality going into this race wasn’t that of a “a race,” but more of an experience. Trees and fall foliage are impressive this time of year in the Midwest. I have heard rumors how beautiful the course would be. This, along with proximity to family, is what brought me home.

Before heading to PA, I had the opportunity to see some old friends and family and attend my hometown fair. Considering I hadn’t been to the fair since a senior in high school, it was an experience! It would be criminal to be at a fair and not get fair food…I succumbed and got a coveted elephant ear. Just as I was stuffing my face a fellow ultra-runner spotted me and called me out. Terri Lemke exclaimed “You shouldn’t be eating that!” In half embarrassment I scarfed down another bite in front of her face. I figured I am going to be burning a lot of calories so I might as well load up, right? Terri ran the race a few years back. Her husband, Mark, shook his head and looked a bit nervous that I was attempting the race. Terri quickly told him that “Nick is used to those races.” Not exactly what I wanted to hear two days before the race…We exchanged a few more words and parted ways.

Around Aid Station 2


The day before the race we made it out to Titusville. Not to my surprise the Allegheny Mountains were absolutely stunning. Vibrant colors ranging from crimson reds, mustard yellows, and magma orange is what met our eyes. Titusville is a quaint town in the heart of the Allegheny Mountains. It’s a beautiful town with tons of history. In fact, it was the first spot in the United States where oil derricks were used to drill for oil. Hence the name of the race, Oil Creek 100. I would get to explore the site of where this occurred. We had dinner at a small restaurant called Maria’s. I ordered the spaghetti and got some last final calories before the day of the race. Then we went to the pavilion and picked up the race packet and I got to meet my pacer, Todd. He willingly volunteered to pace me for the last 25 miles of the race.

That night I packed my gear and was ready to wake up at 4 in the morning for a 5 am start…The thing with flying from the West Coast to the East Coast is that 4 in the morning was more like 1 in the morning. After having a somewhat restless night I beat the alarm clock. My parents awoke with me and my mom gave me some great words of wisdom, “I don’t know why you do this to yourself.” I thought the same thing to myself. I suppose there is no fabricated answer as to why people run that distance. I gave them the final instructions of what I needed when I saw them. We then headed out to the start of the race.

We got there and it was cold out. It was about 39 according to our car. However, the good news was that it was supposed to warm up to about 62 and be sunny all day. I decided to just where shorts and a long sleeve shirt. For hydration I of course went with Orange Mud’s VP2. I toed the start of the line towards the front. Going into this race my expectation was to place in the top 5. GO! We were off. I was now going to be out in the wilderness for what I thought the next 20 hours. In the beginning I was following the leaders. There were about 5 of us running together. I talked to one guy who had run Grindstone the year before. We exchanged some of our running stories while the two guys in front of us did the same thing. We were on pavement for the first 1.5 miles. We would go on this pavement a total of 8 times. Flat and pavement. I knew that I shouldn’t be deceived. This was far from a road race! Once we hit the trail we started to ascend. This is when one guy took off and he was gone. Me and two others were together now. I found out that a guy in our group ran the Mohican 100 and placed pretty well. That was a race that I had done earlier this year as well and placed 3rd. Thankfully conditions were much more favorable this go around! We joked about how terrible this year was for that race.

I was following the Mohican guy and I noticed that his back was getting wet. Turns out his water bladder was leaking. Apparently he hadn’t sealed it properly. He pulled over and addressed the situation. The other guy with us stopped as well. I continued on. In retrospect I guess I feel a little guilty; however, what would I have done for him? It isn’t a 3 man show to seal up a bladder. I needed to progress onward. In my mind I did pity him a little. It was mile 4 and his day was not off to a great start…with that said, I was very appreciative of the Orange Mud hydration pack and company that I am blessed to represent.

About mile 7 I crossed a road and didn’t see the ground appropriately. Consequently, I had my first fall. Nothing dramatic but falling is never an enjoyable ordeal. I’m not a believer in karma, but maybe this was for not helping the guy back there? Regardless I continued on. For this race I made it a goal to make sure that I stay on top of nutrition and hydration. A race can easily go bad early on if one isn’t intentional with the food that they eat. For this race I veered away from GU and gels. I had power gummies in their place. They are similar to gummy bears except with better flavor and much more vitamins. This is a food that I thought my stomach would be able to tolerate much easier.

About halfway through the first loop I shut my headlamp off. As the sun was coming up I could see the colors and the trail much easier. It was stunning. Colors bursting into life. This was a reminder of why I do what I do. Running for me is the perfect fusion of activity and my addiction to nature. This was proof of that. Right now I was in second and just got out of the 3rd aid station. The course is 4 aid stations and 4 laps. The first 3 laps are 50k, which is about 31 miles. The last loop is a 7.5 mile loop. After the 3rd aid station my stomach decided that it needed to use the restroom. Thankfully there was a porta pot in the middle of the woods! This sport isn’t always glamorous, but let me tell you, that a porta pot in the middle of the woods is the equivalent of finding an oasis in the Sahara. After that pit stop I continued on and to the fourth aid station. Unfortunately the parents weren’t there…we had discussed that the loops should take me about 7 hours. It took me 5. I was getting a little nervous because I was running out of power gummies and my parents had the only stash. None of the aid stations had them.

I grabbed what I could and headed out. No sense in waiting for the parents. I did pass the first placer on his way back. He was about 15 minutes in front of me. In this sport 15 minutes is practically nothing. I continued on. My legs were feeling great. I continued with the nutrition and hydration. My secret for this race was filling up the water bottles 2/3 full. I didn’t want the pack to be too heavy, yet I needed to make sure that I had enough water. This worked well as I was about out each time I entered an aid station. I continued on and got the second aid station. This is where I saw the parents. They were super apologetic for missing me the first time. They both commended me and said that I looked good. For once, looks were accurate. I felt tremendous. I was about at the halfway point and really my legs felt like they had just started. They encouraged me and said that the leader was about 5 minutes ahead. I closed the gap! I continued on and up Heisman Hill. Of all the hills in this race, this one takes the crown. It is gradual enough that one should run it, but I refused. The gradual incline is my least favorite of all terrains. I’d take super rocky and steep any day of the week.

I continued on and sure enough I caught up to the leader. We exchanged greetings and ran a little together. We were passing tons of 100k and 50k runners. We never really talked but I felt like I was being stalked. I have never led a race before. Ever. I didn’t like this feeling one bit. It felt like everyone was chasing me and were really close behind. This guy I know was no joke, He ran the course last year and ended up winning it in 18:18. That was a very respectable time for this course. I felt like he was plotting something-he just wanted to use me to keep a pace and then he would ditch me. A huge pet peeve of mine is to lead and then get passed by people. Once I pass someone, I don’t allow myself to get passed by them again.

We both continued onward. I tried a Tropical Hammer gel. I about puked it up. I haven’t tasted such a terrible tasting gel before! Back to the power gummies I go! The guy was still behind me…As we got out of the 3rd aid station I noticed that I was making some distance on him. We climbed up Cemetery Hill and then shortly after, Roosevelt’s Revenge. I did gain some ground on him on these. To the flat section and then we completed lap 2! 62 miles done, 38ish to go. This lap too took 5 hours. A 100k in about 10 hours. Somehow I was still feeling great. My legs still felt solid. I continued onward and passed last year’s champion. I was about 10ish minutes ahead of him. I didn’t feel that that was comfortable enough. I continued on and got to the first aid station. One of the girls there exclaimed, “he’s on his 3rd lap!” That was definitely a pick-me-up. Between my music and that great compliment, I felt I had a lot going for me.

I continued eating and drinking. Next thing I knew I was at the 2nd aid station and my dad asked “how are you doing that?” I laughed and thought to myself the same thing. I have never felt this good for a 100. Ever. This is also where I picked Todd up. We started running together and he took the lead. I gave him a run down that I don’t run the hills anymore and that I run all the flats and downhills. He understood and we moved on. We passed a couple of his friends and they joked with him saying, “he hasn’t dropped you yet!” Both Todd and I laughed. We got to the 3rd aid station and this is when we turned the headlamps on. This was my favorite aid station as they had fresh blueberries. I scarfed down 3 cups of these. I think they have some magical power of some kind. Todd and I continued onward in the darkness. We started climbing the hills and Todd’s stomach was getting bad. He urged me to continue on without him. I did so. Although Todd only accompanied me for 10 miles, I sincerely appreciate his willingness to help me out. I was glad to hear his stomach was better post-race.

I continued in the darkness, alone. I ate it a couple more times. Running in the dark over rocks and roots isn’t what I’d recommend to someone. Not to mention that the legs were beginning to feel the distance. They had about 85 miles. Next thing I knew I hit the pavement and was at the aid station. Lap 3 was completed, but, more importantly, 93 miles were done. Just 7.5 to go! My parents reloaded my food and water. Mom told me that I had 2 hours to run 7.5 miles to break the course record. I couldn’t believe it. I continued out and passed the 2nd placer. He was walking on the flat pavement. I knew that he was hurting. No one walks flat pavement unless they are at a very bad low. I think he was in his low. I ran past him and we both wished each other well. I hit the woods and continued on. The last lap contains a hill called The Hill of Truth. It is a 600 foot hill that connects with the main trail. Before getting to the hill, I ate it one more time. Both bottles came shooting out like rockets. I picked myself up and kept going. I just needed to survive 4 more miles.

Climbing the hill was easier than expected. I attribute my good climbing game to the numerous mountain trainings in WA that I did this summer. The ones in WA were more technical, steeper, and longer. After getting up the The Hill of Truth, I hit the pavement and knew that I had it won. I continued onward, got around the corner and could see lights at the finish. I got to the end and was greeted by my parents, about 20 volunteers, and the Race Director. My final time was 17:04:50. He informed me that I had beat the previous course record by 21 minutes and that I averaged 10:15 a mile. I was in disbelief. I pinched myself to see if it was real. I hugged both parents and claimed a chair! Finally, I had won an ultra. I thought it was funny that I had to beat a course record to win one! Nonetheless it felt great. The last 2 races weren’t the best. Mohican was a mud pit the entire time and Volcanic I ran an additional 3 miles on a 31 mile course. This race all of the stars aligned perfectly. I couldn’t have been happier.

Finish with the parents


I have so many people to thank for this event: Tom for coming up with the idea of hosting this event, the volunteers who consistently amaze me with their willingness to put up with not always happy runners and Todd for volunteering to pace me, and Josh and Orange Mud for the gear that they provide. Lastly, I have to thank my parents for getting reservations, riding with me to the race, crewing me, and staying up with me the ENTIRE time. Each time I passed them they had a smile on their face. I’m beyond blessed to have them and am appreciative of their support. Even though they don’t get it, I think they do in an odd way. Thanks to all who read this. Hopefully it was amusement to some degree.

 

Cheers,

 

NK