Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Top of Michigan 200K, errrrr, Top of Michigan 127K

The decision was made that we would run 200K was hatched in 2013 at the Top of Michigan 100K.  Running a 100K was so much fun, running twice that distance would be at least twice the fun right?  Coming off of a DNF at the Indiana Trail 100 in April, both Andrew Siniarski and I were a bit sour.  What is the best way to forget that foul taste of defeat?  Bite off a bigger mouthful of course.  Training commenced for me in earnest in June.  I planned to get my weekly mileage up to about 72 miles the final week of training, then taper off.  I actually topped out at 60 miles, then tapered for a few weeks.  I have never put so much effort into training.  I'm an ultra runner, I shouldn't have to run faster than a ten minute mile, even in training?  Not this time.  I spent a lot of miles sub 8.  That's blistering for me.
So Thursday, September 17 comes along.  Stuff is packed.  Warm clothes, rain jacket, gear, shoes, tape, bottles, everything I could need.  Hats, gloves, socks, everything in dropped bags that would be distributed from Mackinaw to Gaylord along the North Central State trail.  Andrew and I headed north.  Our first stop was in Gaylord.  We dropped a few bags under a pine tree.  My bag contained sweatshirts, new cottons, tech shirts, and some duct tape.  We hit the road.  Out next notable stop was north of Vanderbilt.  An older gentleman met us, wondering what we were doing.  I don't think he believed us.  Nice enough old guy though.  This chance meeting would matter a lot later in the day...We made the rest of our drops headed north without incident, got to Mackinaw, ate some pizza at the hotel, set the alarm for 5:15 and got ready for bed.
Bed Time
 As a note, my daughters, aged 4 and 6, really wanted me to bring a few friends to keep me company.  Most pictures will have my friends in them, who were a stuffed rat, and the "My Little Pony" named Rainbow Dash.
 We planned to start at 6:00 am Friday morning.  Got up a little early, got dressed, taped up.  Shoes on, psyched up, it was a nice morning.  We headed to the trail head, looked at the watch, it was 5:53.  looked at the sky, and headed out. We headed out too fast, and in order to keep on our schedule, walked for a few miles into Cheboygan, which was 16.9 miles in.  Felt good.  Took care of some biological issues, and moved on.
Rat and Rainbow Dash in line
Everything felt fine as we headed toward our next major stop, which was Topinabee, then on to Indian River.  Both stops felt good, and felt great to know that we were closer to Gaylord than we were to Mackinaw at Indian River at 34 miles in.  We left civilized county when we left Indian River, in more ways than one.  As we approached Wolverine, we were sticking to the schedule, running at a solid pace, the solid pace drug on for a few too many miles though.  We pulled into Wolverine, and for the first time of the day at mile ~44, felt a little gassed.  So Andrew took a break in a shack, and I laid on my back with my friends, and looked at the sky, while I enjoyed a Coca-Cola, otherwise known as Rocket Fuel!!

Taking a break in Wolverine
Needs met, we left Wolverine, at Mile 44, and headed toward Vanderbilt.  We were slowing down, and taking longer than we planned at each aid station.  We never planned on how much time it would take to climb into the woods, pull a bag from the trees, eat, drink, then re-hang the bag.  Each stop was dragging out, and I was becoming frustrated.  However, as we pulled into the aid station north of Vanderbilt, we met our friend again, the older man we met the previous night.  We spoke with him for about 15 minutes.  It was at this time that I noticed that he was driving a tractor, and thought I noticed a lean-to under which it was parked.  Time was ticking, and we rolled in and out of Vanderbilt.  On to Gaylord, and the turn!!  The sweet turnaround.  We shook the dust of mile 54 off our range rider boots, and rode into the sunset, or at least to the south, and the sun was setting.
A few miles later, the sun set, and energy faded.  Andrew was struck with a case of the low-points.  It was very sad.  I did for him what he would have to do for me a few short hours later; kicked him in the ass, and told him to quit crying.  This is what we trained for.  You have the energy, recognize this for what it is.  A temporary low stretch.  He already knew that though.  We made in to Gaylord about 2.5 hours later than we had planned.  That really took it's toll on my mind.  I entered my low point at the same time my shoes blew out.  They were the ones I brought to the dance though, and we were going to dance. 

Duct tape!  Good as new
Andrew  talked me out of my low point as we left Gaylord.  The key words there were left Gaylord.  We left Gaylord without looking at the radar, without bringing sweatshirts, hats, gloves, or new shirts.  This would prove to be a fatal mistake.
We arrived back in Vanderbilt, approximately mile 70, took our aid, and left.  Andrew saw someone on top of a building at what we thought was a rave in a warehouse.  It may have been a rave in a warehouse, but no one was on the roof.  Hallucinations were in full effect! 
At 1:19 am, the rain started to fall.  Hard.  Did my rain coat in, and soaked me to the bone.  Andrew stayed dry, but got very cold.  We fought through the driving rain as best we could, but the temperatures dropped to 50 degrees F, and the wind kicked up.  I began to see the next aid station in the trees, and it turned out it was just bushes.  My shaking was so violent, I couldn't speak, and I couldn't do so in more than broken sentences.  I began to think about curling up under a pine tree to get out of the rain.  This was turning into a serious medical issue.  I suspected hypothermia was setting in.  We had to get out of the rain, fairly quickly.  We finally got to the aid station, and mustered enough focus to attempt to find the lean-to.  It turned out to be a barn, with a door that opened just enough to get in out of the rain.  
This is what Heaven looks like
It was still cold, and we were still wet with no way to dry.  We knew at this point, our 200k attempt was over.  We had made it 79 miles, and were done in by our own failure to execute.  If we would have made a few minor changes in Gaylord, we could have fought through the rain. 
I called my wife Jessica, who arranged for a cab to pick us up and take us to the hotel.


Next Rail-to-trail adventure is tentatively scheduled for June 2016.  Anyone up for a 200k?

Important points / Learnings
1.) Max training week - 60 miles
2.) Taper length 3 weeks
3.) I felt like training was sufficient, no significant issues were encountered
4.) Self supported adventures take longer!  Plan on it, build time in for aid station stops
5.) A 2:1 ratio of running to speed walking works well for long flat events.
6.) Plan, and then execute the plan.  The best plan is worth nothing if it is not well executed
7.) Run adventures with a friend (or multiple friends in this case, Andrew, Rat, and Rainbow Dash), it is far more enjoyable

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Burning River 2013

Thursday night I finished up packing everything I thought I would need.  I ran the race in my head.  Shoes?  Check.  10 Pairs socks?  Check.  Lube, tape, drop bags packed?  Check.  The plan was in place.  My crew would consist of my lovely wife Jessica, who would be accompanied by my mom, as well as my pacer, Andrew Siniarski. 
Andrew and I left Friday morning, picked up my bib and swag, and left for our hotel.  We arrived at the hotel and convinced the proprietor that we really did want a room with two beds, that we would not be sharing a king sized bed even if it did as he put it “has plenty of room for two”.  We ordered pizza, and discussed some the next 36 hours.  We laid out our equipment, and started getting ready for the next day.  While doing so, Andrew and I met a fellow runner named Isaac Espy.  Isaac, or as we referred to him, Alabama,  loaned us a much appreciated can of orange spray, as the hotel room stunk like an ashtray, despite having “No Smoking” stickers all over the room.  2:00 am was going to come early, so we hit the sack at 8:00.
We awoke at 2:00 am Saturday and got prepared, which included finding a McDonalds for coffee.  We arrived at Squires Castle at 3:45, checked in, and waited for the gun.
I completed the loop, running at what I felt was a very conservative pace.  I arrived back at the castle (mile 6.2) after 1:09:54 (11:16 pace) to be greeted by Andrew telling me angrily to slow down, that I was going to kill myself.  Andrew is scary on a good day, and this is what I hired him to do, so I decided to trust him.  This would be a theme that would develop over the next 27 hours.

Just before The Polo Fields, I saw Alabama, not looking real great, had a bad leg.  We spoke for just a minute, and he confirmed that he was “fair to middlin’”.  I proceeded on to Polo Field aid station (mile 17.2) in 3:19, where Andrew was waiting for me.  I was happy to see him, as he sprung into action, asking me my condition, filling bottles, making sure I was eating as I should.  He got me out very quickly.  I was feeling great, and I remembered telling him that when I saw him at Boston Store, I was going to want him to push me like crazy.  It turns out he has a decent memory.

It got a little wet in the last few miles before Shadow Lake aid station (mile 26.2) in 5:13, so when I pulled in, I wiped down my feet, changed socks, and felt so great with my street shoes, I didn’t feel the need to change, big mistake.  Everything was going according to plan at this point, running conservative, feeling good, and staying hydrated.  No problems, just enjoying some great company.  Just after leaving the aid station, I stepped onto the first hill of the day that was slicked with churned up ankle deep mud.
I couldn’t wait to see my crew at Oak Grove (mile 41.7).  When I arrived in 8:51 after struggling through miles of mud, I cleaned up my feet, changed shoes, and got a new shirt, which was wonderful.  The mud was beginning to take it’s toll, but I was totally willing to accept it as part of my foolishness in not changing shoes at Shadow Lake.  I ate some soup, chips, and gave hugs and kisses to my wife and mom.
I arrived at Snowville Aid Station (mile 50.4) in 11:28, this is the heart of coyote country.  I was greeted by one of the most helpful groups of aid station staffs in the race.  Tape had come off of my nipples, and chafing was occurring.  The bugs were really getting bad, and I didn’t want to remove my shirt.  It turns out, “Hello Kitty” duct tape was waiting for me.  I can’t thank these workers enough! 

I was running a great time, so when I left Snowville, with only 5 miles to meeting my pacer Andrew, my spirits were flying high.  It took me 1:37 to run five miles.  At one point, I was slowly walking down a set of greasy mud-covered step, and slipped.  I landed square on my butt.  As I was lying in the mud, trying not to pass out, I realized that the race was mutating.  This mud was making this tough.  I ran into Boston Store (mile 55.5) at 13:05, 50 minutes later than expected, greeted by Andrew, from 300 yards away, with his hands raised high, in the universal sign of “What is going on??”  The last 5 miles had sucked the life out of me.  I felt like there was nothing left in the tank.  My feet were starting to hurt.  But, I had my pacer.  Life was great. 

Andrew and I set out from Boston Store, walking to loosen up again.  We run together, a lot.  I think we have heard each other’s every story, multiple times.  Andrew was behaving as he normally does, which is to say obnoxious, loud, and foul.   Most of the time it is enjoyable, I just could not take it at that point though, so I suggested that silence was golden.  Just shut up! For two seconds just shut up!  Stop taking!  Andrew suggested to the quiet woman just ahead of us that if his commentary was bugging her, it would continue, so she should speed up, or slow down.  That’s when we met Beth Simpson-Hall.  On and off for the next five or six hours, we came to realize that we were in the presence of someone who we would aspire to be over our running careers.  She has run 37 100 milers, this successful completion would turn out to be her 38th.  Between her and her husband, they ran out of room for their buckles, so they keep them in a bowl on the end table as a conversation piece.  I love ultras.  I get to meet the best people.

I ran into the Ledges Shelter (mile 65.7) in 16:03 with my crew waiting for me.  At this point, eating was very difficult.  The only thing I could stomach were a few slices of cheese quesadilla, a few sips of broth and some coffee.  I also drank a Five Hour Energy.  I changed my shirt, and socks.  It was great to see my crew again.
At Pine Hollow (mile 70.6) my mind was totally broken down.  I knew it would be the start of the low point, or the “Doom Phase” of the race.  So, knowing it would be that way anyway, I think I just got a head start.  I couldn’t eat anything, although Andrew and crew literally crammed sustenance into my mouth.  I was in a horrible mood.   My feet hurt, really bad.  I had instructed my crew to remind of a few things at this point, such as, this was my choice to participate in this race because I relish the pain.  While this is true, it was nothing that I wanted to hear at that point.  As I was walking out of the aid station in a very grumpy, nasty state of mind, I got to meet the folks from the Kent State Podiatry program.  They skinned off my shoes and socks, cleaned my feet with alcohol, and mole skinned them up.  I left feeling ok.  Not great, but ok.

For a few miles, we had a great power walk on; this caused my mood to improve slightly.  We were picking them up and laying them down at a 16 minute pace.  I was feeling decent, but my feet were really starting to kill me.   This lasted until Little Meadow.  Leaving Little Meadow was the nail in the “Feel Good” coffin.  At one point, on a muddy hill, I pondered why people do this.  I said that’s not even fun.  I hated it; I just wanted it to be over.  Andrew very patiently listened to me.  His patience seemed to aggravate some part of my mind.  The next logical step was to think about the likelihood that I would not make a cutoff.  I had Andrew go through multiple calculations of what the slowest time I could run and still make cutoffs.  I was absolutely positive that I would not make the 30 hour cutoff.  None of these thoughts were improved by the fact that we missed a few turns between Little Meadow and Covered Bridge.

We entered Covered Bridge (mile 79.6) at 21:01.  Andrew forced a cup of broth and potatoes into my hand.  The staff brewed a cup of coffee for us.  As Andrew filled my bottles for me, I laid down on my back in the middle of the aid station, looking at the roof.  It felt really good to stretch out, but my feet were the problem.  I mentioned that, and Andrew told me that we need to fix it now.  I uttered some nonsense about something, probably incoherently.  I think he sat me in the weeds and took off my shoe and taped up my foot.  I vaguely remember this process.

Howe Meadow (mile 86.7) was great, as I got to see my crew again.  This was a quick stop.  I sat down, drank a few sips of coffee.  I am not sure that I ate anything at all.  I had a random person do a calculation of how slow I could run and still make cutoff.  The answer was 27.27 minutes per mile.  Literally, I could walk slowly; really, really slowly and still make cutoff.   I wasn’t convinced.   At this point, there was literally nothing going on between my ears.  We left the aid station for the final assault.  My feet hurt really badly, and my mind was non-functional mush, but I had the best pacer I could have asked for, and he was running the show. 
The last 14.3 miles were a terrible blur of foot pain.  However, there were two high points.  The first of which was when the sun crested the horizon through the trees, and my heart felt light since Pine Hollow.  The second point was coming around the corner at Memorial Parkway and seeing my crew.  With 5 miles left, and a ton of time, I knew I would finish.  My feet were throbbing, and I am sure Andrew was sick of my crying, but he stuck with me, and didn’t shove me into the river.

I finished at 27:36:51, collected my buckle, and had a few pictures taken with my crew.  Overall, it was a great race.  Like every race, I try to take something away from it.  First, research my foot issues.  Second, eat more solids sooner, and save the liquid fuel for the middle / end of the race.  Big thanks to my crew and pacer!  As you already know, I couldn’t have done it without you.