Monday, June 27, 2011

Western States

If you want to dive right in without all the rambling bs, skip to the section titled "The Race".

The course we ran was a modified one due to snow.

I spent way too much time thinking about a title for this entry, and wound up opting for the conventional and obvious one. The most indelible memory I have from the race itself prompted me to consider "Swings" as the title. In fact, Rod called me a pendulum towards the end of the race when my patterns of peaks and troughs were firmly established. Before the race started I was tempted to title this post "100" and write about the emotions that number evokes within the context of running. But, as usual, I am still learning a lot about what this weekend's experience "means" to me. After finishing my first 100, I re-read a few race reports from SD100 with greater context and empathy for the meaning behind the words. It all made sense before, but it makes even more sense now. One particular quote from Krissy's that speaks volumes to how I feel: "It takes so many hands, smiles, efforts and energies to get runners through 100 miles." As I'm sitting here typing, at 3AM, about 24 hours after finishing, I am thinking about all of the people who gave freely of their time and energy towards this silly endeavor.


In terms of gratitude, I have to start with Rod. I teared up a bit yesterday morning just remembering the night before. It blows me away when I think about the hours of my race that Rod took complete ownership of down to what I was eating, how my legs were moving, what our pace was, what was up ahead, etc. I was petrified for the first 60 miles of what he was going to expect of me and what it would be like to let him down when I eventually crumbled. Rod dug me out of 2 massive graves with supreme and unwavering confidence and continual (as in every 2 minutes) verbal support. The effort he invested was so far above and beyond anything I've ever done in my pacing duties that I feel like I need remedial training if I want to continue pacing in the future. And he did all of this 2 weeks after a PR at SD100. Wow.

I also have to say how incredibly thankful I am for Al and Jean who took care of me before, during, and after. Al was an incredible sherpa, hauling all of my crap here there and everywhere, and I had complete faith in him to be as anal as I am and not lose or misplace anything. The back massage Al gave me at Highway 49 did wonders to turn things around for the final stretch. Most importantly, sharing the experience, particularly the dull moments like the drive up here and the drive back with an old friend made the entire trip more than just a weekend race. And the great part (OK, I must admit this is totally selfish) about having Jean as a friend is that she knows the course and the roads so well that she was able to complement Al's enthusiasm and planning with logistical efficiency and quick decision making. I think they even enjoyed the experience, despite sharing only a few minutes of the race interacting with me.

I also feel a huge need to mention the support and encouragement from my partner in crime, Mike Buchanan, his incredible fiance, Sarah Hogan, his pacer (and one of my close friends) Jeff, Becky and Maya (on her first real road trip), and perhaps the best "fresh" part of the weekend, the extended Hogan and Buchanan families. Life is so much more than 100 miles of misery and having this massive family presence made the weekend incredibly colorful, spontaneous, and enjoyable. I never once had to worry about feeling lonely and that made a huge difference in my level of comfort before and after. Mike and Jeff both logged a bunch of miles to help me prepare, and Mike's interest (dare I say obsession?) in this race is the primary reason I was out there.

Coach K said something to me a few hours before the race which somehow rang true even in my disbelief. She said I would get a "second wind" and then a third, fourth, fifth. It was hard to imagine, but as always, the girl knows her stuff. Perhaps it's not even so terribly important what she said (because I certainly wasn't listening to much the day before this thing) but how she said it, without a hint of doubt, no shred of uncertainty, just completely blunt and direct as if it were a known, universal truth.

On to the fun stuff.

Al arrived on Wednesday, having more vacation days in his long tenure at 3M than most Europeans, and being so incredibly generous with his time to share the drive up and back instead of flying to Sacramento or Reno. I planned out a yoga class for Wednesday evening with my favorite instructor and we got a healthy dose of sweat and eye candy. After class, we rushed off to a friend's impromptu birthday gathering at The Counter where Jeff, Charisa, and Stephen met us after Jeff's and Charisa ripped up the track meet at Mesa. That Wednesday evening was really fun, just lighthearted and silly conversation, friends who live life with passion and intensity, and the first iteration of the Akos drinking game with Jeff and Carmela. I wasn't expecting Wednesday night to be anything special but it turned into a great way to loosen up about the weekend and get myself out of work/serious mode and into the fun zone.

Thursday morning was an early start thanks to Al who lives in Austin and gets up at 5am his time. So, at 4am-ish I started packing up gear and shuttling it to the car. Al had done some grocery shopping on Wednesday and had fresh fruit chopped into small containers for the drive, so we were pretty well set by the time we departed. We dropped Hunter at Kelly's and had breakfast at the nearby pancake house at about 7:30. Al's influence was so key with this schedule because if left to my own devices, it would have been 10:30. LA traffic was bearable, the central valley slogged by, and at the end of a long drive we were in Sacramento. At this point I pulled my signature move of getting lost by not paying attention and wound up on 5N past the airport heading to Redding. This goof was extremely reminiscent of my 280 -> 680 goof while attempting to drive from SF to Wildflower for my first triathlon. I saw it as a very positive sign that things were in the zone for me :)

We made it to Squaw Valley and found the cabin, grouped up with Mike and Sarah, and the three of us headed to the village for dinner while Al went to bed. I had kept him up too late on Wednesday and he wasn't going to get much sleep on Friday or Saturday, so this was a good move for him. At 135 lbs, Al doesn't need much food anyway. Mike's parents met us at dinner and the experience felt very much like 2007's pre-WS meal I shared with Rod, Rob (his crew) and Sean (pacer #2) with the exception of a bear who came close enough to spend some time in the village with Mike and I. Such amusing foreshadowing that wound up being as we were told after the race that a bear had stopped the 2nd and 3rd female women at mile 97 for about 7 minutes. Friday was a whirlwind of nothingness, I cooked pancakes, we shoved gear into drop bags, and sat through an uneventful athlete's meeting. My brain couldn't focus on anything and I kept re-guessing my drop bag plan which really wasn't a plan at all since I had no idea what I would want at any point having never done anything remotely like this. Friday night's dinner at the cabin was wonderful, with Rod, Krissy, Jeff, Becky, Maya, Al, and 90% of the Hogans and Buchanans all at this huge table. I didn't have to do a thing other than eat and enjoy the moment. Thank you so much Sarah for making that night so special.

Mike rapped on the door to the loft where I was sleeping at 2:59 am on Saturday. The next 2 hours went by quickly, feet were prepared, clothes put on, packs/bottles filled, and then we all piled into Rod's van, drove the 1/4 mile to the parking lot, walked to the lodge, and entered the fray. If you haven't been in the lodge the morning of the race, you can't know what it is like in there, but if you have, even as a spectator, you know exactly what goes on. I envision the experience as a rubber band stretched tight, there's enough room to breathe, but all around you is a fierceness and intensity that is ready to unleash itself. Mike and I picked up our bibs and timing chips, a few photos were taken, and then Rod, Al and I grouped up on the stairs to count down the final minutes. I put my bib on my shorts a bit too far to the side, which wound up being a bit of a problem for the people at aid stations, and I felt bad about that. I have to admit that I'm a little surprised that an event of this caliber doesn't consider having multiple bibs with numer and name and stickers for the drop bags. That's something that Ironman events have been doing for a while and it works very well.

The Race

High Country

I remember a group cheer when the countdown clock at the start ticked under one minute to go. I felt my own apprehension rise at this point, and grow steadily as the seconds ticked off. I don't remember the shotgun blast to send us on our way, perhaps because of too much adrenaline. Having never run this section I did not know how much to run and how much to hike, but I quickly found my rhythm and settled into a pack of ladies, maybe 4 or 5 of them, all bunched up in front of me as the darkness started to lift, what a wonderful way to start the day. I struck up a conversation with an Eliza from Vermont and the time flew by, before I knew it I was at Escarpment where we left the gravel fire road for the snow fields. At first the snow wasn't so bad, kind of like running on shaved ice, but I think the reason it didn't seem difficult was that those initial snow fields were pretty flat and thin. As we got higher, the snow depth increased and that made things more challenging for me. Some spots had footprints of varying depths, some spots had ridges from melting, and some spots were just lumpy and contoured on their own. There were patches of slicker ice, but we had adequate traction for most of the sections that were out in the open. I got a little confused at the high point where we went under a rope and turned onto a trail, but a volunteer quickly yelled me back on course. I remember catching a glimpse back over my shoulder of Lake Tahoe and the morning rays of sun peeking over the mountains on its Eastern edge. I took my first pee stop off the side of that first singletrack and watched the others cranking by on that short downhill trail, in wonderment and amazement at the fitness level of those surrounding me.

Soon we had left the chair lifts and people behind and we were off in the snow fields of the back country. I watched Meghan Arbogast pass on my right, and then flip ass over teakettle to the ground, gu flask flying off down the slope. She promptly retrieved her gu flask and proceeded to leave me in her dust. Oh yeah, she's like 50 years old too. A few others were slipping and falling quite a bit, one girl in particular who was in front of me for a few miles seemed to fall every 2-3 minutes. I fell maybe 3 or 4 times, none of them too bad, but what had me worried the most was how the slope was downhill to the left as we ran across it. The reason that had me stressed out was fear of my right MCL giving me trouble or possibly re-tearing. There were a few slips where my left leg slipped off down the slope and my right leg had to stabilize me laterally, but somehow the knee managed to hold itself together. There were yellow flags every 50 feet or even closer, but navigation was troublesome or at least challenging. I tried to keep someone in front of me, but wound up in a group of 30 or so who got lost for about a minute and then quickly re-found the correct course. At this point I ran up on Mike who I had assumed was ahead of me, but had actually been slightly behind until the group navigation snafu. He explained that he had fallen and punctured a bottle and his hand was also bleeding. I offerred up my spare bottles which were in my first drop bag, which he declined, but I planned to give to him anyway since I had my hydration pack and that was working just fine. We ran the next bit together, across a very cold stream, and into the first real aid station at Talbot. I was hungry from the work on the snow and shoved down some cookies and packed a baggie of pbj squares, but hadn't been drinking so I opted to not refill my pack because things were pretty busy. Mike and I set off down the fire road and ran past the timing volunteers at the exit of Talbot. I shouted out my number as did Mike, but I think my poor job of pinning my number too far to the outside of the left leg of my shorts coupled with how many people were flooding through made it very difficult for that time check, and I was told both Mike and I were not included in the early updates. We were in good spirits on the fire road from Talbot to Poppy, a very runnable section of downhill and well graded fire road. I ate my pbj squares out of my baggie and drank from my pack, then picked up the pace a bit, perhaps because I felt like I needed to do some rookie stupidity, or perhaps I just wanted to put my 180 lbs to work for me on this gentle downhill section.

The gravel turned into asphalt at the poppy campground and it felt really strange to be running on a road for the first time all day, it felt like cheating actually, or like a sanitized version of a trail race. I remembered how strange it was in Leadville as well, there's something not right about man made roads in a trail race. I made it to Poppy, but my drop bag wasn't there, even though I saw Mike's and we had dropped them off at the same time. I looked for it for a while and then I gave up, refilled my pack, made another baggie of pbj's, and headed off. I suppose I should have labeled my drop bags with the location I wanted them to go since I got all 3 back at the end of the race, but I still don't know where that Poppy drop bag was hiding on Saturday. I was happy enough with the decision to use a hydration pack for the snow, since it allowed me to use my gloved hands on some of the sections where I had to scramble and it was nice to have my hands free for general balance. But once we got to the dirt, I would have preferred bottles in my hands. From poppy we hit a really nice section of singletrack through some campgrounds and off into the trees and then out onto an exposed climb to Duncan canyon. I remember enjoying this section a lot, it was peaceful, there wasn't any snow to deal with, and I was finding a groove. I was growing worried because my legs were pretty sore from the first 12 miles. I had used up a lot of energy stabilizing, leaping, and sliding through the snow. It felt more like an obstacle course than a run at times. I normally feel most confident running downhill, but that was where I was feeling the most fatigue, whereas my climbing legs still seemed to be reasonably capable of doing some work. I felt like I made decent time to Mosquito Ridge Road where I was hoping to change shoes. However, my 2nd drop bag, which contained my shoes and was intended for Mosquito Ridge Road, was also not to be found. I eventually went on my way after some food and beverages, which were starting to taste really good as my body had switched into fat burning mode. It was heating up quite a bit, and I think I hit a low point of body weight at this station, something around 4 pounds light.

As I look back on the course description, I find my memories are somewhat confused. I remember Duncan Canyon, Mosquito Ridge Road, Miller's Defeat and Dusty Corners, but I don't actually remember them in any specific order other than Mosquito Ridge Road to Miller's Defeat which was a loop with the two aid stations in close proximity and some snow to deal with. I remember meeting a friend of Luc's, Chris, at Dusty Corners. I remember starting to pay attention to the 24 hour cutoff times and finding myself close to an hour under those times and feeling reasonably happy with that. I think a big part of my confused memory is that I had never run any sections before Dusty Corners before, so it was all so totally new to me. From Dusty Corners, we were on the "regular" course and even though it had been over a year since I had run the trail from Dusty Corners to Last Chance, I remembered it reasonably well.

Welcome to the Canyons

Coming into Last Chance was awesome, I started to feel elated. My legs were sore and fatigued, but at 43 miles in I could justify that fatigue to myself. I had regained some weight by focusing on drinking, and my stomach was feeling awesome, like I could eat anything. Hunger and thirst were both just right, and I started smiling thinking about how fortunate I was to have things going so well. I had a really cool brit guy at this aid station who helped me and brought me my drop bag which wound up being the bag I intended to have at Mosquito Ridge Road with my other pair of shoes and socks in it. I had assumed all of my drop bags were gone by that point so it made my day to get dry socks and my lighter, more racing-minded shoes on. I told this volunteer that my friend, Mike, was just behind me and to please shout "Welcome to the Canyons" to him when he came through, and also tell him that he has to do a lap around the cabin. For those who might be reading this who haven't been to Last Chance, there is an old, abandoned cabin right off the trail which we joke about being our summer home. And while I didn't actually run a lap around it, we joked about doing so many times. The whole "Welcome to the Canyons" concept is Mike's version of "Welcome to the Jungle" and we sing it frequently on our long training runs. So, I was just in this awesome mood at Last Chance, though it was hot and I was stuck with a pack instead of handhelds, and though I was still wearing my long sleeve shirt, I hadn't had a huge low yet and my stomach was fine. I headed down from Last Chance completely alone, and blew up the remnants of my quads trying to gingerly pick my way through the narrow and steep trail. I had contemplated jumping into the river at swinging bridge, but opted not to because I had my new dry shoes on and wanted to try to keep them dry as long as I could.

Swinging bridge is one of those spots that is both awesome and horrible all at the same time. When you are on swinging bridge you can't think about how beautiful that spot is, with the river below you and nature on full display in all directions. The horrible part of swinging bridge is that it marks the bottom of deadwood canyon and the only way out of a canyon is up. Devil's thumb in particular is one of the most challenging climbs on the course, it's steep and long and relentless. I had planned to eat on this climb and packed a baggie of grilled cheeses from last chance, but I found that I could barely gulp down water because of how heavy my breathing was. I started to suffer, and for the first time in hours I got caught by a couple of people. Eventually, I made it to the top, without having run a step, and enjoyed the most delicious popsicle I've ever eaten. I took my time here, I needed it, but I didn't sit down. I was happy to discover that I was still over an hour under 24 hour pace, and even yapped for a camera a bit. This aid station, since it's at the top of Devil's thumb, was one of the better highlights, it's what keeps you going when you're grinding away at that climb.

Heading out from Devil's Thumb and into El Dorado canyon I had mixed feelings. It had taken me about 9:30 for the first 50, which was ironically the exact number I had predicted. I budgeted 11 hours for what I thought should be a much less difficult second 50, which would put me under 21 hours. That seemed hard to fathom given how my legs felt, so I pushed the thought aside, especially since I was only 1 hour under 24 hour pace, which was relatively constant for the last 2 or 3 aid stations and that meant I was moving at 24 hour pace but an hour early. So, based on that I was looking at a 23 hour finish. It's so interesting how my actual finish time wound up squarely between those two bookends. I think the bottom line is that numbers don't really make any sense during a race. Heading down El Dorado was rough, I was starting to wince on some of my footsteps and I got passed by a few people. On fresh legs, with the number of times I've run that stretch, I feel like I can move fairly well, but after 50 miles I was starting to have some real trouble and I was ironically longing for some gentle climbs to offset these extended canyon descents. I was pleasantly surprised by the aid station at the bottom of El Dorado canyon, I suspected there might be one, but hadn't paid enough attention so it was slightly unexpected. However, they only partially filled my pack, so I wound up sucking it completely dry on the climb out, which was a bit of a bummer. I think they were doing that to save me the weight, but I should have paid more attention and opted for more water. It was hot, but compared to previous years, 2011 wound up being one of the coolest, particularly in the canyons. I struggled again up from El Dorado, without running a single step, even though I had worked up to run some of it in training. I was tremendously looking forward to seeing Al and Jean at Michigan Bluff and I wanted an update on where Mike was since I hadn't seen him since we left Talbot together.

El Dorado is long, but it is one of the signature pieces of the course for me, and having such familiarity with it allowed me to manage my way through it. I wouldn't say it was a low, I felt like I was managing my pathetic effort reasonably well and doing what I could at each moment. I hadn't thrown in the towel, quitting had not gone through my head even once so far and I was approaching a big milestone at Michigan Bluff, with another huge one waiting at Foresthill. As I crested the climb and jogged down the gravel road to Michigan Bluff, I started to tear up a little bit at the crowd that was there, particularly Sarah and the Hogan and Buchanan parents who were cheering loudly for me. I waved to them, made it through the weigh in, and tossed my pack and shirt to Al, so happy to be rid of them.

I asked for a sleeveless shirt and my 2 bottles from the crew bag, but I had packed so much crap in there that it took Al a while to find things and apparently I didn't have a sleeveless in the bag. I also wanted the 3rd headlamp since I didn't trust that my drop bag with my 2nd light would be at Green Gate, so I took a waist pack with that headlamp at mile 55 and wound up carrying it for the rest of the way. As I handed my handhelds to have them filled, I asked a volunteer about 24 hour pace and his response was "Dicey". It was exactly what I needed to hear. Some people thrive off positive thinking, and I'm not immune to the benefits of encouragement. However, Jeff and I have talked about this extensively, and I think we agree that a bit of negative reinforcement can work wonders as well. I think both Jeff and I need to hear some "challenging" comments to keep ourselves motivated. From my "fat and slow" tagline, to my "I suck!" outbursts, I demonstrate how I can thrive on negative energy. I don't think that makes me a negative person, but just one who embraces the full range of human emotion and someone who tries to use all of that range productively. So, this "Dicey" was the kick in the pants that I needed. I grabbed my bottles, Al handed me a slice of pizza and an Ensure, and we marched up the hill. At the top, I still had that hour buffer to 24 hour pace, actually it was more like 70 minutes, so I felt good enough to eat and talk a short bit, and then I headed off down the fire road towards the final canyon, Volcano. An older gentleman passed me here, running well, and we talked for a bit, then I think he and one other guy put some serious time into me on the climb to the trailhead marking the descent into Volcano canyon. For some reason, every trip through Volcano seems different. Some days it's fun and very runnable, some days it's difficult and painful, some days it feels long, other days it goes by quickly. It can even vary on the same day when doing an out and back from Foresthill. On race day, despite my apprehension at some of the steeper portions at the bottom, Volcano canyon rolled by.

Two hours to the river

Reaching Bath road is huge. Gigantic actually. It's the pivotal moment in the day for those who do well. The bottom of Bath road is mile 60 and your pacer can meet you there. They have a minimal aid station since Foresthill is only 2 miles away. It's calm and chill and I got to see Jeff, grab a slice of his world famous pacing pizza, and also see Becky and Maya. I hiked up Bath road with a guy from Boston, feeling pretty good about things. Taking stock I really wasn't that bad. With 100k in the bag I cruised into Foresthill, proud of myself for running farther than I ever had before, and excited but also scared about the work ahead. I stole some time to visit the bathrooms at Foresthill Elementary and got to wash my hands with soap right next to cowman, which was a fun little moment both because I love having clean hands during an ultra and because cowman is just an interesting dude. I came back out, grabbed my bottles, and heard Scott Mills being announced on his entry to the aid station. I love Mills, the dude is all class and gets down to business every time he races, but I sure as s did not want to watch him pass me, just not yet. Jeff had mentioned that Arbogast was an hour up on me, and it was enough humility to be beaten by a 50 y/o woman, but to also get my butt kicked by a 60 y/o dude was a bit more than I was ready to accept at the moment. In retrospect, this is all utter stupidity since both are incredibly talented athletes and there isn't any shame in 100 miles no matter how you slice it, but the irrational thoughts that go through my head make me do silly things sometimes. I probably should have stuck around and eaten, but instead I grabbed a cookie and off we went.

Rod was wearing his race vest which surprised me b/c I thought he said we weren't going out for a casual hike, we were going to be racing, but I was happy he had a few things with him like gu's and such. He had two bottles and I had my two, I was enjoying getting some electrolyte drink along with water which is something you can't do with a hydration pack with only one bladder. We talked a bit as we felt each other out, and then maybe 1 mile into the trail Rod took the lead for me. He is always the alpha dog, and his confidence and leadership are tremendous, so I think we work best with him in the lead. However, I think I got a little amped and as we rolled into Cal 1 aka Dardanelles, I got antsy and did a quick fill and bail. I took over the lead and started "pushing" the pace. Alyssa had mentioned to me that I'd think I was running fast but I'd actually be running pretty slow and she was probably dead on. While I felt like I was really working hard here, I would imagine the actual pace to be just under 10:00. (NOTE: After looking at Rod's garmin data, we didn't even break 10:00 in this section.) Rod and I did some predictions and he thought I could crack 4 hours to the river and then with another 4 to the finish we'd be looking at just under 23 hours. I told him I was sorry I didn't give him more of a buffer to work with under 24 hour pace, but he seemed very confident we could get this thing done before 5am.

What happened next will probably seem completely obvious to anyone reading this. Take note that I ate one cookie at Foresthill and then nothing at Cal 1. So, from mile 55 to 65, while I was drinking pretty well, I hadn't taken any fuel. I started to bonk for the first time of the day as I struggled towards Cal 2. I think Rod handed me a gu on the Cal 1 or Cal 2 stretches but it wasn't enough to offset the damage of forgetting to eat. The elevator shaft was very difficult and I worked it up to be more than it is, so I made it even more of a bear for myself mentally. My quads were shot and while I could stride OK on the flats, I started to fear the steeper descents that make this section so memorable. I got passed by a few peeps and rolled into Cal 2 aka Peachstone and sat in a chair for the first time all day. The aid station guys and Rod all tried to cheer me up with "only 50k to go" and other types of things, but I was hitting my first real low of the day and I just stared straight ahead. I tossed my hat into a pile of gear since I no longer needed it. I tried to eat some soup and I think this might be where I burned my throat, I'm not sure exactly which cup of soup was the one that was hot, but Rod started asking for an ice cube in them after that. I had some coke too, I had been drinking coke previously, and though it didn't hurt at all, and I knew it must be helping for some momentary pickup, it was starting to seem more like fizzy water. Rod forced me out of the chair and we stumbled out of cal 2, walking. I was shelled. Suddenly, even 4 hours to the river seemed impossible. The whole "2 hours to the river" thing is from Mike, he's been talking about doing it for years, and during the memorial day training runs we made our first real attempt which netted me a 2:03 and underlined how tough 2 hours would be. Of course the winners typically run 2:30-ish during the race, which seems very difficult to fathom. And here I was in this massive subterranean crater of a body, walking and wondering if my day was over.

Rod had things totally under control and wasn't remotely phased by this. That is where his experience really pays off. I've been through moments in my 2nd and 3rd 50 milers where I felt close to that bad, but never with 50k to go, usually only 6-8 miles of death march with the only real fear being running out of water. After a few unsuccessful attempts to get me running, and me whining about how I could run flats but not the descents, and watching a few people pass us, Rod told me he was going to give me advil. We were on the fire road climb just before Ford's bar and I was barely moving. I tried to say no, that I didn't need it, but I had to trust that he knew what he was doing so I threw them down. Then I proceeded to pretend that it wasn't helping as I went from barely walking to running again. While part of the recovery may have been the food I ate at cal 2, I definitely noticed a decrease in quad pain with the downhill sections post-advil. All of that added up to a feeling of being back on track. Rod's friend from Bend, also named Dave, who Rod calls DT, passed us somewhere around here, I forget exactly where, and got some hoots and hollers. Rod had predicted that we would be close and his prediction was so dead-on that it was scary. As we got closer to the river all I could think about was getting there before it got dark. When I paced Rod in 2007, he crossed the river with sun beaming down and it was an incredible moment. When I paced Mike last year, it got dark before we got to the river. I was hoping we might get a picture with DT at dusk that would have been a keeper. And I wanted to save the headlamps for after the river crossing, partly because I wasn't sure how long the battery charge would last and partly because it just seemed like 22 miles at night was somehow more manageable than 23+. As it turns out, I'd say it got dark about 2 minutes before we got to Rucky Chucky. Oh well, I guess we need goals for the future, right?

Dancing the night away

Rod pushed me through the near aid station and right into the boat as if we were on the clock. I think both Mills and DT were at Rucky Chucky near, and it was a pretty good strategy to just get across the river as soon as possible. On the other side I ignored my long sleeve shirt, gloves, and beanie because it felt warm. I put on the headlamp, with my backup still around my waist, and filled a bottle of maltodextrin out of the baggies I had packed in my drop bag, the only one to arrive in the place I intended. DT rolled out ahead of us, but Rod made me foxtrot our way up the hike to GG and we caught DT at the aid station. Mills pulled off to pee and that opened the window for us to take the lead so off we went to ALT. This section has some rocks and some gradual climbs, but I think the hardest part is that at night you can't see where you are so you don't know how much more you have to go before you hit the next aid station. I think the faster runners, hitting this section during the day, have a real advantage.

I felt like I ran as well as I could to ALT but that it was a struggle. I tried to eat at ALT and even got served soup by Tyler Stewart. I dropped Hillary's name for some street cred and got a nice little boost from the quick chat. I remembered ALT being a bad spot for Mike last year, it was a bit of a turning point in that race, when I started to worry that we wouldn't make the 24 hour cutoff. So, I tried to cruise through, and push to Brown's bar, but I was starting to fade again. I had used my other bag of maltodextrin at ALT so I had none for Brown's which also had me worried, I should have packed more. My stomach was actually fine, but my throat was trashed from breathing and I think I had burned it with the hot soup, so I was having some trouble eating and the malto made the calories a lot easier. I started mentioning to Rod that I was back in trouble again, but we made halfway decent time to Brown's in spite of that. I tried to choke down what I could at Browns, but the whole hasher thing is a bit of a turnoff, seeing old hairy men in red dresses after 90 miles is just odd. They did their best to encourage me, so I made it out of that aid station, but it was pure walking for most of the trail down to the quarry fire road. By that point it was bad news again, I was in a pretty bad low, as bad as before only now it was dark and Rod had already used the advil trick. He did his best to keep encouraging me, which I could tell was really draining him. He tried some foxtrots up that quarry road, but I was just grunting and panting and whining and feeling sorry for myself. We walked the entire climb up and over the hill to highway 49, Mills and DT both passed. I knew I would see Al at highway 49 and that would help but I felt horrible, I could barely put a foot in front of the other foot. When the third group passed us, Rod bummed one more advil off them and gave it to me at my request. I didn't know what else to do. I had spent most of the time on that climb apologizing to Rod for how bad I was sucking, apologizing for apologizing so much, and apologizing again for not being more positive so I wouldn't need to apologize.

I basically walked into highway 49, knowing that my split was going to raise a red flag with anyone following online. I sat down and rested, ate some soup, and Rod gave me a piece of bacon which helped too. I think I got malto, coke, and gu brew in my bottle, but I was too incoherent to know for sure. Whatever it was, it tasted strange but I didn't really care. Al gave me the world's best backrub and I choked down some soup, then stood up, walked towards the aid station exit, and dry heaved a bit. It wasn't from my stomach, which still felt fine, but my throat felt like I was gagging. It actually felt like a piece of chicken noodle was stuck on the roof of my mouth because of how raw and swollen it was. So I was mostly gagging for my upper airway and upper esophagus. This was all under a nice spotlight at the exit to the aid station, so I'm sure it was most pleasant for everyone there watching. Sorry.

Rod was back to tough love mode saying that I needed to run the descent from the meadow above highway 49 hard because it's the last one on the course. He was doing his magic, and for some crazy reason I responded. I think at the meadow the advil kicked in some too. And I remembered Mike had sat down there last year, it had been a really difficult moment for him, so I got some bit of a boost for making it past that point alive and still under 24 hours. So, I went for it and ran as hard as I could down that trail. Rod knew it well from Cool earlier in the year so he gave me the skinny on what to expect as we went. I probably was doing 14 min miles, but it felt like 6's as we mustered our way to No Hands Bridge. We saw and passed Mills who was off to the side leaning against a tree. And damn you, Mills, for suggesting it, but as we passed we heard him shout, "Dave, you can break 22 if you run hard, you have to earn it though." Damn you Mills. Ugh, the horror of pushing the pace at the end of a 100. We caught DT and rolled into No Hands together. I didn't even look at any of the volunteers, I just yelled out my number and cranked across the bridge. Running on a flat bridge felt incredible after all of the hours spent climbing and descending. Even the gradual climbs after that felt OK, perhaps because they were so mellow, although I was definitely at the edge of what I was capable of. Once we hit the steepest part of the climb to Robbe, DT passed and Rod was giddy with excitement. He said it'd only be 2 minutes if I didn't suck too bad, so I tried to do what I could and it did go by quickly. From there he thought it was only a mile and we had 19 minutes to make it under 22, but the aid station volunteers corrected us by mentioning it is 1.3 from Robbe and I was also adding in 2 minutes for the final 300 or .2 miles, since I wasn't sure how that was calculated in.

We hiked up the steeper section of road and Rod kept raising the bar. We hit an official "mile 99" marker with 12 minutes to make it under 22. My garmin had crapped out around nightfall so I had no real idea of what time it was, but I figured 12 minutes for one, mostly downhill road mile should be doable. As we started picking it up, we saw Al, Jean, and Krissy walking towards Robbe. They turned and ran with us, one big group down the road and to the track. I felt bad for them in their down jackets. Al was wearing 5 jackets at the time since he had a couple for me and kept unzipping them as he chased and started to warm up. We hit the track and I tossed my bottle to the infield while Rod and I cruised around the turn to get a look at the clock. It said 21:55 which I think made all of that mad dash seem completely unnecessary, so I eased off a little bit and finished up right behind DT and one other guy. Mills came in a few minutes later, as I sat in a chair with a couple of jackets and a blanket that Jason put on me. Al, Jean, and Sarah all took great care of me, Rod, Krissy, and Jason gave me hugs, and Tim Twietmayer gave me my medal. It was an awesome way to soak in the race.

Other highlights of the weekend:

-- A bear stopped the 2nd and 3rd female runners for 7 minutes somewhere between No Hands Bridge and Robbe point. Thankfully the bear was gone by the time I showed up because I would have let it eat me if it wanted to.

-- Ian Sharman seemed completely uninterested in a head to head Elvis duel, perhaps I did not butter up his ego enough for his taste? We had a cool chat in the registration line though, he has excellent manners as one might expect, but I had to admit I was disappointed in his lack of interest in stupid challenges. He won't get an invite to the bench-press-your-marathon-time challenge.

-- AJW snuck into the top 10 again, and after months of reading his blog I have to say that guy is spot on with his predictions and knowledge and crazy impressive with his consistency and dedication. He's a model of the type of runner I would love to be.

-- Bumped into Glen Redpath after the awards at the Auburn Brewing Company and had a nice chat, he rocked it but wound up 14th, that just goes to show how incredibly competitive this year's race was. He retains the #1 spot on our HtC team's all time party animal list.

-- Mike pulled the plug at Highway 49. The volunteers were apparently not terribly willing to let him drop so he tore off his armband in a moment of frustration. They offerred to tape it back on for him. He's doing OK and I'm sure we'll be back on the course next spring doing our training runs, bs'ing about 2 hours to the river, the California Club, and dropping our heros names like Skaden, Thornley, Arbogast, Jones-Wilkens, Bien, etc. Actually, I bet Skaden is in the canyons today doing a recovery run.

Friday, June 24, 2011


The day before. It's really not any fun. It's a whirlwind of nothingness, with distractions galore. As we prepare dinner, I don't even know what happened today, but I do have some highlights since the arrival as the clock ticks down the final 12 hours to the start of the race. In the interest of explaining where my head is at, these memories are presented in completely random order.

-- We saw this bear at dinner last night, he seemed cute until he snarled at us:

-- Tim Twietmeyer received a small cougar for his work and accomplishments within the context of the Western States Endurance Run. This was the only real "moment" in the pre race meeting.

-- Mike, Sarah, Al and I went for a little run today around the golf course. We encountered some pretty wet trail and did some jumping from rock to rock as well as some bushwacking to find dryer trail and eventually made it through. So, we basically did the 3 mile fun run today and we left the main event for tomorrow.

-- I watched Geoff Roes casually walk past us, drop his drop bags, and walk back towards the athlete meeting. Nobody said hi, though I have to believe we all recognized him. I see this as one of the coolest parts about this sport (so few chamois sniffers) and also a reflection of his very low key personality.

-- Rod (my pacer) gave me some good advice and soothed my frayed edges.

-- The countdown clock keeps ticking away. 11 hours left until the pain begins.

-- The belly of the beast awaits. There isn't anything left to do at this point but worry.

Mike just asked me if my attitude has changed since arriving. I can't say that I even know b/c I'm completely out of tune with who I am today. I like to keep myself busy, to put in a lot of workouts, to squeeze as much out of the day as I can. Today is all about doing next to nothing and even sorting gear and quadruple guessing myself adds up to a whole lotta nothing.

Jeff, Becky, Maya, and Rod will be here soon and we'll eat dinner. Then I'll go upstairs and pass out in my loft. At 3am I'll stop thinking and go on autopilot. And at 5am the fun begins.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Can't Stand Still

As I listen to "Can't Stand Still" from Mike Gordon's 11/16/2010 show I can't help but embody the sentiment that song expresses. My legs are jumping all over each other, my skin shivers and various muscles twitch sporadically and without warning. Tomorrow marks the official beginning of the journey to PHS where 300m on the track will hopefully erase the pain of the 100 mile march to get there.

From this interview by Mike Greenhaus, I was amused to read some of Mike Gordon's thoughts on his song which grew out of a collaborative birthday present from Mike, Page, and Fish to Trey while Trey was in rehab as a collection of 43 loops of 43 second jams:

The lyrics are about this can’t stand still feeling—this feeling I have when I go on my run everyday, and I just want to go faster. I don’t go too fast but I want to. And I run through lots of people and see lots of things and, with this song, I wanted it to be like a movie where scenes are flashing by. I have this feeling in my life too, you know? Clearly I’m not satisfied just having my Phish career. My solo career is as important to me, and I want to just run with it as fast as I can, though maybe it is actually going pretty slow in a certain sense. “Can’t Stand Still” represents the feeling of just doing a lot and that song and that meaning became more important than the original jam session.

Mike, you said it well. I can't stand still right now. I can't think, can't focus, can't apply myself to anything. I'm shaking like an addict. Images flash in front of my eyes and words fall through my head and shatter to the floor. Nothing sticks.

This experience has become an obsession. It's far more intense and overwhelming that I ever thought it would be. I have no idea what to expect of the day, and especially no idea how to deal with running from before sunrise through sunset and possibly through a second sunrise. The deeper I explore this race, the more I learn about the heros and past/present participants, the bigger it becomes. In the grand scheme of things, this isn't going to be a life altering experience. I'm not giving birth, saving a life, or making the world a better place. But the real present that is about to be unwrapped is a closer look at myself. I'm expecting to experience a moment, or perhaps heaps of moments, where I'll get to meet the real Dave Easa, shake his hand, pick him up off the ground, dust him off, dry his eyes, maybe even kick him in the ass, and send him on his way to Robbe Point.

Monday, June 20, 2011

5 days

With less than a week to go before I attempt to run more trail miles in one day than I've run in any week of my life, what is on my mind?

Ironically, I am thinking of some of my mom's last words to me and my father. It was the middle of the night and we were all in the same bed. My mom was wearing an adult diaper and was well under 100 lbs, her physical form was nothing like the mother who gave birth to me. It was right around 5 days before she died, maybe more, maybe less. My father was groggy, not quite awake, not quite asleep. I believe I was lying between the two of them, wanting to be close, wanting to be young again. My sister would fly in soon and be the last person to receive a substantial hug from my mother as the drugs eased her transition.

My mom said, unsolicited, something that I remember as "David, I'm scared". I'm unsure exactly how she expressed this feeling, but I believe she addressed my father by first name and I know she used the word scared. We were both sleepy at the time, tired from emotional exhaustion and the physical toil of trimming ironwood trees with a chainsaw as a means of coping with the inevitable loss. I don't think either of us knew how to respond, but my dad chose to ask a very reasonable "Scared of what?". The words I heard next are ones which have stuck with me, words that I can hear clearly as if they were spoken hours ago. She said, no she somewhat screamed, in an exasperated voice, "scared of dying!"

I suppose I am thinking about this moment because I am also scared of what lies ahead for me this weekend. But my fear seems so trivial by comparison. I feel unjustified in feeling fear of something I voluntarily elected to attempt. Especially when there are people facing real fear every minute of every day.

I'm hoping that this memory will give me the perspective I need to make it through the day, doing something I love, and something I have the privilege of being able to attempt.

Monday, June 13, 2011


I didn't go into last weekend expecting to learn a lesson about sportsmanship. I haven't really been thinking about that concept within the context of endurance sports since I stopped racing ironman events. I haven't verbalized it much, but one of my dislikes about the sport of triathlon is all the wasted brain cycles worrying about draft zones and passing/fallback rules. Running is much more pure, and it takes an obvious and egregious error of judgement to gain an advantage unfairly.

The subject of sportsmanship came up out on the SD100 course this last weekend and I wanted to share some of the details before I forget them.

First, the raw details. At Paso Picacho, mile 64-ish of the course, the 2nd placed male runner, Dylan Bowman, arrived ahead of the previous race leader, Yassine Diboun. Dylan asked for a split to Yassine and was told he was now the race leader. This sent a bit of a panic in motion, because Dylan was very concerned that he might have somehow cut the course, but felt very confident that he had followed all the markers correctly. His crew did all they could to make sure he calmed down and got him on his way. Next in was Yassine, who was similarly shaken by knowing that he had gone off course for a bit and run some extra miles. He, too, needed encouragement to keep going and put aside this mistake. At this point there wasn't anything else to do for either of these two guys but to forget the past and run towards the finish. That's what I always love about running, clarity of purpose exists with every step, and the majority of problems we encounter in a race are the ones we create for ourselves by failing to execute properly.

My longtime friend, Rod Bien, was in 3rd place at Paso Picacho after some rough periods earlier in the day. At the next aid station, Sweetwater, he had recovered and was trying to close the gap to 2nd. By the next station, Sunrise 2, he was only a few minutes behind Yassine, who we managed to catch (as I was pacing) just before Pioneer Mail. The three of us arrived at the aid station together, with 13 miles to go.

The next bit is what surprised me the most, what I found was the most unusual aspect of the evening. Rod actively encouraged Yassine to follow, to stay with us, and to not drop back. Yassine wasn't dead or even dying, but he was willing to accept that Rod had made up time by catching him, and therefore willing to concede 2nd place without much of a fight. I believe Yassine was on pace for a big PR but haven't confirmed that, this is all off fuzzy memory from the discussion which was really shouting over the wind in the dark of the night on rocky trail. Rod was clearly strong on the climbs, but Yassine was running very well, especially for having been in the lead of the race for a substantial portion of the day. As a result of his own toughness, and with a little bit of encouragement, Yassine finished together with Rod, side by side, having run the final 15 miles together. Interestingly enough, when prompted at Sweetwater, Yassine said he didn't want a pacer, and yet when given the opportunity to run with Rod at the end, he accepted without hesitation. I think that says a lot about the positive energy and unwillingness to fail that flows through Rod's veins and makes him such a magnetic personality.

When I spoke with coach Krissy about this, she wasn't fazed at all. In the moment, I must admit I had a mixed reaction to it. On one hand, I saw how incredible a memory this race was for Rod, and also for Yassine, I believe it was a 100 mile pr for both of them and the course is not one that anyone might consider "too easy". I wholeheartedly agree that a shared memory with a friend is substantially more indelible than a selfish memory experienced alone. That is one big reason why I love pacing or being paced, it's so much more than just running, it's a shared moment in four dimensions. On the flip side, I have 27 years of seeing Rod's competitive side and it has sharpened similar competitiveness in me along the way. I was confused that he would encourage Yassine to stay with us. Now, to be fair, it wasn't as if Rod slowed his pace to accommodate Yassine, it was definitely Yassine who became re-invigorated by the extra energy of running with us and picked it up a tiny little bit. I think this was the final pendulum swing from the sequence of events on stonewall peak that took him from 1st to 2nd and fractured his focus, but that is all pure speculation, I'll hope he enlightens me in his blog.

My vision of how things might unfold after picking up Rod at Sweetwater and seeing how strong he was running, was that we would try to catch Yassine, pass Yassine, catch Dylan, and dig deep for a chance at the win. Let me be clear that both Rod and Yassine ran harder than I could imagine, at times they dropped me, on a course I know very well and with 75 less miles in my legs. I also don't think anyone could have caught Dylan as he wound up finishing over 10 minutes ahead, it would have taken a minute-per-mile faster pace to overcome that gap, or otherwise completely ignoring all of the remaining aid stations and still running maybe a half minute per mile faster, all of which is very hard to imagine. So, in actuality, Rod gave up nothing by encouraging Yassine to stay with us, if anything he added to his cocoon of energy by having a 3rd runner in the pack. It was, without question, a good decision, just one that I was surprised by.

I've run with others in races a fair bit, sometimes as a pacer, but also as dual-athletes. The side by side athlete experience is different than the pacer/athlete experience, it's more raw and uncensored. It helps to be chasing someone, especially if both of you are chasing the same person. The closest memory I have to that is a moment on the Queen K in Kona where I was chasing down a fellow San Diegan, Michelle Gwozdo, who had dusted me on the bike and was running strong about 10 minutes ahead. I encountered the next female in her age group and the two of us pushed hard to bridge the gap, although it wound up being too substantial to close, so we both had to accept that Michelle was just too awesome to catch that day. Ironically, Michelle got in touch with me not too long ago about her interest in running her first 50k at Noble Canyon. Perhaps that is what helps regurgitate that memory of her.

I suppose a key aspect of enjoying a shared effort with a fellow competitor is that the competitor must pose no threat to my goal. And I suppose the key lesson for me to learn and realize is that ultras in general, and 100's in particular, are far more about the clock as adjusted for the conditions of the day and course, than about the people in front of you. Road marathons are so predictable that as competitors we spend an inordinate amount of time focused on position, particularly in relation to people we want to beat. Being out on the trail after dark is a bit different, the glory of the podium is entirely internal and ultimately irrelevant. There are no bragging rights and so few inflated egos. Ultrarunning ist mostly about running as well as we can on the day of the event, regardless of anyone else. How we measure that effort is often by clock, but also, fairly often, by feel as well since the clock doesn't tell the whole story. Position is a nice carrot, a garnish, but not the main course.

I suppose that lesson is still soaking in, as it's not completely learned or understood yet, and that shows in my inability to describe it. Perhaps, as I attempt my first 100, I will absorb this perspective and learn to embrace it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


I'm not much of an Elvis fan. Perhaps partly because the guy died when I was still breastfeeding. Or maybe I just don't really care for his music. Whatever the case, when it comes to rock and roll from the 70's, I think of Zepplin, the Stones, Rush, Sabbath, the Who, etc.

When it comes to running, however, I make an exception. I don my Elvis costume with pride. Even when I suffered through the TJ half marathon in said Elvis costume the day after PCT50 and got smoked by last minute invitee, Lana, at the line, I still enjoyed the race much more than if I had run as Dave Easa. The crowd truly does enjoy any costume and at the rock and roll marathon events, Elvis is the King. Well, actually, at any event Elvis is the king, but at the rock and roll series, where bands line the course every mile, running as Elvis takes it to an entirely new level.

Since the 2011 goal is focused on this silly 100 mile trail race at the end of June, I had to "train through" the San Diego rock and roll marathon this year. The festivities started with what I've decided to call the "packet pickup challenge." Let me set the stage. I work approximately 1/2 a mile from the Sorrento Valley coaster station. There is a 5:36 southbound coaster which arrives at the Santa Fe depot at 6:03. The next northbound train leaves at 6:21. Since it was a Friday and there was a padres game, there were many later trains I could have taken, so there wasn't any risk of being stranded downtown and having to drink myself into the arms (aka bed) of a cougar. I did the math in my head all day, 18 minutes seemed like such a small window of time, but the challenge was there, staring me in the face. At about 5:20 I decided to go for it, so I rushed to my car, put some racing flats on with my dress socks and jeans, locked up, and departed the parking lot on foot about 5:27. I arrived at the train station at about 5:31 (there are a few stoplights to negotiate) and purchased my ticket by 5:33. I hopped on the train at 5:36, right on time.

After some pleasant conversation with a few padres fans, I assembled at the door as the train approached it's southern terminus. Without trying to be too rude, I squeezed through the doors in front of the women and children and quickly found my stride. I had to run right through any intersections to have a chance, but fortunately the route to the convention center is relatively free from auto traffic. I had mapped it out as .7 miles each way, but without a gamin I'm not sure how accurate that was. I ran into the doors of hall B and found the booth where my packet should be waiting for me. My phone said 6:10 and I figured that the 4 people in line in front of me were going to burn at least 2 minutes each so my hopes were dashed.

Somehow, as if the seas were parting in front of me, those 4 people wandered off to get helped by others and there was one last person left to fetch my packet for me. While she was shuffling through a large stack, I gave a status update to Jeff who I thought would have to join me in this event next year. She eventually found my packet and handed it to me. It was 6:12 now. I decided to push my luck and went to pick up my race t-shirt which probably burned another minute. I didn't bother to think about the race bag since I thought that would slow me down.

At about 6:14 I had navigated through the rest of the expo and back out the doors to the lobby. I kicked it into gear, with my body warm from the first run. I probably scared a few people, while foaming at the mouth, with shirt in one hand and race packet in the other, as I started sweating through my jeans and shirt. I tried to take a more direct route back to the depot on the return trip. A cab actually pulled over expecting me to jump in for a ride to the airport or something, but by the time he came to a complete stop I was already past the door, that's how intense I was about making that train. I saw it parked and pushed myself as hard as I could, leapt through the door, and smiled. Perhaps 30 seconds later the doors closed and the train started it's northbound journey. Mission accomplished! Next year I will wear running shorts and try to get the goodie bag too.

Saturday was busy enough, but Jeff and I managed to fit in a morning trail run and an evening road run to attempt to keep my training for western states up to snuff. Since I was late for the morning run, we decided to do a slightly shorter course on trails than originally planned, but to also run as hard as we could. Jeff said that the first section (1.25 miles with switchbacks on the "way up" trail) put the hurt on him, but I suppose I was a bit more accepting of how painful climbing is for me and maybe by letting him lead and get ahead of me I managed to save something for later. The afternoon run somehow cruised right by, though I think we felt the cumulative fatigue a bit towards the end.

Sunday morning started with me oversleeping my alarm but still somehow, perhaps miraculously, waking up at 4:30. Roommate Paul had already left, he was racing the half and taking it seriously, and I had hoped to carpool with him but by oversleeping I blew my chance to do so. I got my stuff together, fed the dog, and was filling up my morning bottle of pre-race fuel when I heard Hunter barking outside. I was confused by that since he doesn't usually bark at that hour. By the time he came back inside I realized why, he had taken yet another direct skunk to the face. I sent roommate Trevor a text apologizing and left Hunter to lie in skunkville as I dashed out the door, already way late. At 5:30 the freeway is a parking lot, and I had prior experience with how foolish it is to try to park in the airport lot if you arrive too late, so instead I went downtown, somehow managed to evade the road closure barriers by 30 seconds or less, and snuck into a parking spot 1 mile from the start. I put on my Elvis costume, finished my bottle, and headed out to the start. I bumped into Morgan, asked about how the racing went the night before, watered the bushes, and found the start corral.

Up to that point, I had been too busy to think about what I was doing, but when I got into the corral I saw Joey and I reminded myself that today was bout getting her the B standard for the olympic trials. I had attempted to help her with that in January at the Carlsbad marathon, but my lack of training set me up for a meltdown and by mile 17 I was off the back. She went on to finish 2 minutes slower than the time she needed, and she was more fit now than before, so everything was lined up nicely this time. I was so confident that it would go smoothly that I was wearing a freaking elvis costume. Alisa was also joining us in a similar attempt, and while I hoped the 3 of us could all finish in one pack, I also suspected that things would break up and Joey would be the one I'd be focused on.

The start was really smooth and as we wandered downtown I was pleasantly surprised that everything seemed to be going perfectly to plan. We chatted a bit, and settled into a rhythm over that first 5k. On the second 5k, with some downhill to downtown, Joey was looking and running extra strong and I let her push the pace, into sub 6 territory for a bit. I didn't want to micromanage her too much too soon, and all my good days on this course have come after some fast running on those descents, so I figured it'd be ok. We hit downtown in a nice pack, with some fine looking women and a few friendly dudes, nobody seemed terribly perplexed about the Elvis costume, at least not yet.

The next section, up 163, is one I think is some of the harder running on the course. I did my best to encourage Joey, fetched her water, and gave her as good of a line as I could suggest, but the off camber running does have an impact on the ankles. The climb didn't seem nearly as bad as previous years to me, even though I was worried about cumulative fatigue from a fairly solid week of training. We got to the top and cranked down the other side, a bit behind a long legged, lean, ripped female in red NYAC singlet. As we approach Friar's road I heard her ask the police officer with a bit of panic in her voice, "which way". The cop just looked at her blankly, a response I assumed to be "not my job, lady". So, when she asked again, this time to the vast nothingness in front of her, I yelled forward to take the 2nd left onto the ramp. The RD did a really nice job of keeping the full marathon traffic separated from the half, and it was only in this one section, from the 163 to Friar's road, where it was a little confusing to us, without anyone close by to follow.

I always love the Friar's road section because it's chock full of cheerleaders (and cheerleaders love Elvis) and spectators. I started feeling really good here, especially as we cross the halfway point and started the second half of the race. Joey had been running so very strong the whole time, but at 13 some of the spring in her step started to disappear. I figured it was time for me to go to work, so I took the lead with Joey and the NYAC chick behind, and I dialed up 6:19 on the gamin. After the turn onto Morena, I looked behind me and said "oh - s" when I realized it had become a table for 2 instead of 3. I keep looking back and saw Joey make the turn then walk off the course and wave me on. I had no idea what to do. First I let the NYAC chick gap me as I shuffled forward trying to make a decision. Then I realized that I wasn't going to talk Joey back into it b/c by the time I got back to her, we'd be behind pace and if she pulled off, even for a 2 minute break, there wasn't any real hope of a qualifier time that day. I decided that I could at least get experience running the 2nd half as planned, to prepare for Chicago where I'll attempt to take David Lipke's sister to her 2:45 qualifier time.

I caught back up to the NYAC chick and for some reason I passed her. I am still debating the brilliance of that move, it seems silly in retrospect, but at the time I was just running, attempting to hold the pace I thought I should be holding. I saw Todd, one of my running friends who lives close to Morena and his daughter. I saw the lead female and started counting. After what seemed like an eternity, I hit the turnaround on Morena and realized I was in the ballpark of 10th place among the women. I had been trying to catch one of them who was ahead of me, but she was running strong so I wasn't making much progress and I didn't want to go too far under pace to make up the time, so I kept her in sight as two dudes ran past me. I saw Todd for the 2nd time and we had a nice chat up the hill, his daughter was apparently seeking approval for her shoe selection and Todd was just cracking up at how awesome my elvis suit is.

At the top of the hill, not a big hill, just a short little bugger, I knew we were done climbing for the day and I was actually kind of sad about that. Don't get me wrong, I love flat, fast, and paved, but doing all of the ultra training lately has given me the beginnings of an appreciation for climbing. At 180 lbs, I still completely suffer on just about anything over 1% grade, but somehow the grind is starting to have an appeal and I hunger for those moments. So, in the midst of that melancholy, a woman I had seen at the turn, and who had run with us on the first 5k, came past. I asked her if she wanted to pick up the pace, which was actually intended to come out as "wow, you made up a lot of ground since the turnaround, you must be running fast". She said something like "if you join me" and I really didn't need a 2nd invitation. I settled into her rhythm on the descent to mission bay, got in front of her, and pulled her to the north turnaround loop. I got to see Tim and Kris twice at that turnaround which was really cool b/c I hadn't seen Tim in a while. From there we were on the bike path until Fiesta island, the same bike path used by many other races, and one on which I have suffered greatly, countless times. So, I knew this was my element and I got the feeling that the girl I was now pacing, who wound up being named Lindsey, must already have her qualifier time and was there to race and go for it. So, we cranked through towards Fiesta, with a few shouts of encouragement from me, and we approached and then passed that one female ahead of us.

At Fiesta, Kloz got a few photos of us, and I think we did some halfway decent work along what is definitely the most lonely finish to a marathon I've ever done. The cheerleaders towards the end made it all seem better. I had to dodge a cart taking one of the lead women back to the finish as I tried to pass it on the left while it was making a u-turn, but somehow I managed to get to the chute, cheer for Lindsey, and sneak in just under 2:43. The finish line was logistically really well organized (as expected) and the band was great, but the overall experience just kinda sucks as it's just a big parking lot. I talked with Morgan again, found out that roommate Paul and Sergio had pretty solid finishes in the top 5 of the half marathon, and that everyone was pretty content with the effort. I also bumped into Marirose and Tom who were stoked on their efforts, found the bus, made it to the trolly, walked the mile to my car, and drove straight to Claire's on Cedros. One hour later (ok, maybe not quite) was seated and stuffing my face with clairecakes, omelette, and fruit. Paul threw a pizza party at the house, a bunch of friends came by, and I enjoyed a few too many beers as I basked in the glow of a wonderfully silly and self indulgent day and weekend.