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Rio Del Lago: A Day In The Life Of The Crew

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the Sacramento/Roseville area over the years visiting my Uncle Steve.  Steve and I have always been close and every couple of years, we get together for an adventure.  For the past several months, we’ve been planning a trip to Yosemite for a rematch with Half Dome.  As the date approached, a trip to Yosemite looked unlikely for a variety of reasons but I figured I would still visit Steve and we’d just find something else to do for the weekend, little did I realize it would be crewing for Paige at Rio Del Lago.

Paige, Brian, Kelly And Steve At Dinner

Paige, Brian, Kelly And Steve At Dinner

After Leadville, Paige and Brian had fresh legs since they had only run 50 miles (sounds kind of hilarious to say, only 50 miles) so they were scheming to utilize their training to springboard into another hundred.  They immediately went to work finding a race that wasn’t too far out.  After a lot of debate back and forth, I went to Ultrarunning Magazine’s online race calendar and quickly found Rio Del Lago which was taking place in Granite Bay (just outside of Roseville) on the same weekend that I had planned to go to visit Steve.  I called Steve to see what he thought about spending our weekend together crewing for Paige – he was on board… of course he was, he’s up for anything.  Our next job was to convince Brian that RDL was where he should complete his first hundred – it didn’t take much convincing and soon, entry fees were paid, hotel rooms booked and flights bought – things were really falling into place.  Paige’s friend, Gretchen, lives just and hour from the start of the race and quickly reached out to Paige to see if she could help out crewing and/or pacing – absolutely, the more the merrier!

Paige And Brian At Medical Check-In

Paige And Brian At Medical Check-In

We got into Sacramento on a gorgeous Friday afternoon and promptly found some outdoor seating for lunch.  Steve stopped by for a quick hello and we agreed to meet up later for dinner.  After lunch, we checked into our hotel and then on to the medical check-in/pre-race meeting.  We saw several familiar faces, a lot of new ones and few legendary ones like Gordy Ainsleigh, Ray Sanchez, and Norm and Helen Klien to name a few.  With our obligations for the day done, we gave Steve a call to figure out a plan for dinner.  We decided on a spot that was convenient for all and got a seat outside – it was completely relaxing and delicious.  With a final conversation about the details for race day, we said goodnight, parted ways with Steve and headed back to the hotel.

Brian And Paige, Moments Before The Start

Brian And Paige, Moments Before The Start

Race morning started at 4AM for the 5:15AM check-in.  The gym was a buzz with energy – excited runners chomping at the bit to get running and probably some nervous energy in there too.  Soon they ushered the runners outside the gym for the start of the race, I was having a hard time reconciling the fact that I wasn’t running – don’t get me wrong, I love crewing and pacing but there is nothing that compares to being out there on the trail.  The gun went off, one final kiss good-bye and into the dark they ran.  We stood there watching as the last of the headlamps disappeared into the forest and then Steve, Kelly and I looked at each other and said, “breakfast?” – it was time.

The first crew accessible aid station (AS) was Rattlesnake Bar at 12+ miles into the race.  I didn’t like the name of this one at all but I decided to put my own personal issues aside for the day and we made our way to the AS.  We covered some pretty rough roads to get there and I wasn’t sure if Steve’s car was going to make it, it is definitely built for speed and luxury but not off-roading.  Luckily, we did make it and just in time to watch the front runners come blasting through.  The AS was set back from the trail quite a ways and nearly everyone that came through had a hard time figuring out what was what.  The two guys who were manning the AS seemed to be new to the game so I tried to help out where I could until Brian rolled in.  He was running a blistering pace and feeling good.  We got him topped off and back on the trail.  Paige came in shortly thereafter and was all smiles, this would become a theme for the day.  We tended to her bottles and she was off again.  The highlight at this AS was watching one of the front runners throw a tantrum when she found out that another woman was in front of her – she went from smiling to screaming and pumping her fists in the air saying, “how far ahead of me is she?  Jimmy, how many minutes ahead is she?!!”  Classy.

Paige At 22 Miles

Paige At 22 Miles

The day was starting to get warm and the trail was getting hilly – it was about to get interesting.  We next saw our runners at mile 22+ at the Auburn Dam Overlook, which was in Auburn but did not overlook a dam, hmmm?   This is where Gretchen joined the crew; immediately, I could tell I liked this girl – she was a ball of positive energy.  Our runners came through in good shape and good spirits.  The next section would take them over the legendary “No Hands” bridge which is part of the Western States 100 course – Paige was very excited to get to see it and it didn’t disappoint.  By the time they rolled into No Hands AS, it was downright hot.  We got them in and out of the AS quickly.  At some point while we were there, the race leader came back through the other direction – the dude was moving!  The next section involved a big climb so we had a little time before expecting them at Cool.  Cool was cool and quite HOT!  Okay, that isn’t that funny but I couldn’t help myself.  The AS was at the fire station in Cool which is a little mountain town.  It is just a couple of stores and restaurants but they really rolled out the red carpet and, as crew, we thoroughly enjoyed the hospitality.

Me, Kelly And Steve At Cool AS

Me, Kelly And Steve At Cool AS

This section of the course was a loop that came back to the same AS so we set up “camp” and just hung out for a couple of hours.  We got some food, relaxed in the shade, watched people come and go, oh yeah, and got to see our runners twice without having to move.  Everyone was feeling the heat and the miles by now, some more than others.  We watched as runners struggled to get themselves out of the AS and back on the trail – it sounds strange but this is a big part of what I love about this sport, watching people doing battle with their body, the conditions and most importantly, their mind.  And then watching them pick themselves up out of the chair and continue down the trail… and, it only gets more interesting as the race goes on : )

Paige Dancing Across "No Hands" Bridge

Paige Dancing Across "No Hands" Bridge

Back at No Hands bridge AS, the wheels were coming off for several runners as we watched them get hauled away in ambulances, puke over the railing, and drop out for various reasons.  These are the things you see as a crew that you rarely see as a runner.  Thankfully, our runners were fairing much better despite having a little bit of a midday lull.  Watching Paige dance across the bridge rocking out to her music, I felt overwhelmed with a sense of joy for my life and love for her – how did I get so lucky?  The next stop was mile 45 and put us back at Auburn Dam Overlook, this is where Gretchen was jumping in to pace Paige for the next 20+ miles.  It is also where we got to meet Brian’s cousin Rhonda and her partner Dana who had come up from the Bay Area to see Brian in action.  Paige wasn’t feeling that great when she got there and was happy to have Gretchen’s company.  It was only latter in the night that I found out just how miserable she was actually feeling.  Thank you to Gretchen for being there for her.  We had a couple of hours before we would see our runners again so we took it as an opportunity to get some food.  Kelly, Rhonda, Dana and I went to In and Out while Steve ran home to freshen up and get some warmer clothes for the night.  It was great sitting in the air conditioned restaurant slurping on a milkshake while getting to know Rhonda and Dana.  After dinner, we said our good-byes and then Kelly and I headed back to Rattlesnake Bar where we met up with Steve.  Both Paige and Brian came through happy that the temperatures had cooled and were feeling excited to be past the halfway point of the race with the toughest terrain behind them.

Gretchen And Paige Having Fun In The Night

Gretchen And Paige Having Fun In The Night

The next couple of AS went by fairly quickly and soon it was time for me to jump in at the Cavitt school to run the last 33+ with Paige.  I couldn’t help but think about how tired I was and how I needed to rally if I was going to make it through the night.  Crewing is exhausting work, different from running, but exhausting all the same and when you add in pacing duties too, it takes a bit of mental gymnastics to get through it.  When you are the runner,you know its going to be tough so you prepare for it but its your day and everything is focused on getting you to the finish line.  On the other hand, as a crew, it is all about your runner and getting them to the finish line – its every bit as awesome but a very different experience and one that is easy to underestimate just how draining it is, even with a runner like Paige who isn’t demanding at all.  At this point, I would like to thank all those who have crewed and supported me over the years, it is truly appreciated.

We moved through the night, sometimes chatting it up and sometimes in silence.  Despite being almost all on trails, this is a very urban race and the second half more than the first.  There were several sections which felt spooky at best and downright unsafe at other times.  We passed under bridges and through dark parking lots littered with broken bottles and graffiti.  It was dark and my imagination was active but in the end, it turned out fine despite bumping into a couple of very drunk people who must have thought they were seeing things as two runners passed them by with headlamps on.  My mood wavered throughout the night fighting sleepiness and general fatigue, I did my best to keep it to myself but I’m sure Paige wasn’t completely oblivious to what was going on.  Steve and Gretchen were at each AS waiting for us and keeping us moving.  During a race, the night is one of my favorite times, it is quiet and it is the period when you have to dig the deepest.  I also love coming into an AS in the middle of the night and it is a little oasis of life, light, and comfort.  Rio Del Lago was many things but their evening aid stations lacked the experience I love so much with many of them not having lights, warm food or a buzz of energy.  One, we actually almost passed by without noticing until an AS volunteer called to us – yeah, that was strange.  They had a great volunteers and a huge selection of food but nothing warm and no lights other than their individual headlamps which they turned on as we approached.  Back on the trail, my stomach was not feeling great and I was a running zombie.  Paige was doing great and I definitely felt like I was sucking her energy as I tried to stay awake  **SKUNK**  “Stop!  There’s a skunk on the trail, right there!”  Just ten feet in front of us was a little waddling black and white welcome crew.  Fortunately, he was in a good mood and went on about his business without much notice of us.  This section of the race was an out-and-back and we were starting to see runners on their return trip.  Others had finished already but now we were getting into the next batch of runners and it was good to see a few others out there.

At Sunrise With Just Ten "Short" Miles Left

At Sunrise With Just Ten "Short" Miles Left

Soon we came upon the turnaround and Paige decided that a short nap would do her wonders.  Steve wrapped her up into a blanket he had brought and helped her lay down in the parking lot with her feet up on a chair – she was out.  Gretchen went into action taking care of our bottles.  I sat down on the curb next to my girl and immediately fell asleep with my head resting on my crossed arms.  After fifteen minutes, we were up and gathering our stuff for the return trip.  It had worked, that little nap took the edge off and we both felt much better though my stomach was still working through something.  Soon after leaving the AS, we saw Brian and Kelly for the first time in quite a while – they were moving good and our hearts leapt!  The rest of the night is a bit of a blur but eventually the sun started to make its appearance which revitalized everything.  We started to see runners out for their morning run and soon the spookiness of the place began to disappear.

As we got closer to the finish, I was amazed at how much running we were doing still that late in the race and how good Paige looked – she is amazing.  We passed along the river, past a huge dam, near the prison, along a gorgeous ravine, and covered many miles of wonderful rolling single-track.  With three miles to go, the final AS had a list of runners that they were still expecting (i.e. runners who were still on the course behind us).  We asked about runner 76, Brian, and the response was “we aren’t sure, we have a question mark next to his number.”  Huh?  Last we saw him, he looked good but anything can happen in those last miles and we hoped for the best.  As we crossed over the final levy and knew the finish line was only a half mile away, it started to feel less like work and more like accomplishment.  Coming into the final stretch, Steve and Gretchen were waiting with camera in hand.  Paige finished her third hundred miler in style and I feel so fortunate to have been there for each of them.  After doing her medical check-in, Paige found a comfy spot to lay down with her legs elevated.  Gretchen said her good-byes and Steve and I watched for Brian and Kelly.

Brian Gaines: Hundred Mile Finisher!

Brian Gaines: Hundred Mile Finisher!

There was still no update on his whereabouts so we weren’t sure when to expect him.  Steve was waiting to talk with the race officials to see if we could get some confirmation that he made it through the last AS and just then, he yells to me “here he comes!”  I scrambled to get my camera and get to the door just in time to see him finish!  Brian Gaines = hundred mile finisher!  This day was a long time coming and I felt overwhelmed with happiness for him and Kelly to finally see him reach this elusive goal.  Brian is a true ambassador and has inspired many with his love for the sport.

Me, Steve, And Gretchen

Me, Steve, And Gretchen

After some pictures and some fluids, Brian found a comfy spot on the lawn to revel in his accomplishment.  Paige and I went to the post-race awards so she could get her second place age group award.  What a great day and with both our runners having finished, we could now sit back and really soak it in.  Congratulations to both Paige and Brian on a most amazing accomplishment!  Kelly, I can only imagine how much your loving support meant to Brian on this special day but I know it was a lot.  A huge thank you to Steve and Gretchen for their company crewing and their support while pacing.  It was great to meet you Gretchen, I look forward to our paths crossing again.  Steve, we will get back to Half Dome someday but this was a pretty good adventure too.

Quote of the weekend: Brian, “I didn’t think it was going to be that hard.”  In reference to his running 100 miles over mountainous trails.  Brian, I love ya man.

Kelly And I With Our "Buckle Rich" Runners

Kelly And I With Our "Buckle Rich" Runners

Leadville Recovery

One week ago, I could barely walk.  I was surprised how sore and immobile I was after finishing LT100 last weekend.  On Sunday afternoon, I was very stiff and had little to no control over my leg muscles.  I didn’t have the cramping I’ve dealt with in the past but the muscle soreness was more than I was used to.  I hydrated well all day and that night I slept very well and when I awoke on Monday, I felt a lot better.  Tuesday, I was still very tired but most of the soreness was gone.  By Wednesday, I was regaining some strength.  Thursday we ran and it actually felt good, not that strange clumsy feel I am used on the first few runs back.  Our run today went very well and my legs and feet feel about 90% which is encouraging.  My biggest problem has been the cold I have been coping with all week.  I had a scratchy throat leading up to the race but this past Tuesday, it got the better of me and became a full-blown cold.  Yesterday was the worst day so far, hopefully I have turned a corner though I am still quite foggy.  I was thinking back to the last time I was sick and it has been nearly two years, it was a great run but now my clock has been reset – hopefully, it will be at least as long : )

A Mixed Bag Of Emotions

Paige, Me, and Brian on Loveland Pass

Paige, Me, and Brian on Loveland Pass

Its all about the buckle…  Last Thursday, Paige and I headed to Leadville with fellow CHUGs Brian, Kelly and Deanna.  We took the scenic route and stopped to check out Loveland Pass, we couldn’t help ourselves, we had to snap a “jumper”.  After a short stop to pick up some groceries, we were in Leadville.  We checked into the Leadville Hostel and headed to packet pick-up.  As we walked into the gym, the energy of the place was palatable.  At the table next to me, a guy announced himself as racer number 3, Duncan.  This guy looked fast and with a low number like that, I wondered if this “Duncan” might be somewhere near the front come Saturday.  We picked up our packets and then had a delicious pasta dinner.  My nerves were already in place but now they were front and center.  We mingled a little before heading back to the hostel, a short walk away, to relax a little before a restless night.

Me, Tony Krupicka, and Paige

Me, Tony Krupicka, and Paige

Friday was our medical check-in and mandatory runner meeting.  As we were standing there, Tony Krupicka walked in.  Tony, was second at Western States and has many a course record.  We said hello and introduced ourselves before asking for a picture, which he graciously posed for.  Rob, Tom and Rina had come to Leadville for the weekend to crew and pace, they met us for the crew meeting which started immediately following the runner meeting.  It was awesome to see them along with Lucy.  After the meeting, we grabbed some lunch at High Mountain Pies, they made an awesome pizza!  After lunch, it was back to work, we had drop bags and crew vehicle bags to pack.  Then we briefed our crew for what to expect come Saturday.  The hostel was imposing a 6:30PM quiet time which worked out great for us even though we didn’t go to bed, it was very relaxing.  The next morning, the alarm was unneeded as I woke up at 1:58AM after another restless night.  I felt okay and promptly got up to tend to my pre-race stuff.  After finishing getting dressed, I met up with my baby and other runners from the hostel.

Paige, Me, Rob, Tom and Rina - At The Start

Paige, Me, Rob, Tom and Rina - At The Start

It was a short walk to the start where we saw a ton of friends from all parts of the country.  We checked-in and then took some pictures before lining up for the start.  As the gun went off, I felt a surge of excitement and nerves.  My plan was to run a sub-25 hour race but knew that was going to be tough, even on a perfect day due to my level of fitness and the altitude… but I had to try.  So, a couple of miles into the race, I kissed Paige goodbye and wished her luck on her day – it was hard to say goodbye but definitely not the hardest thing I would have to do before the day was over.  The next 13 miles were packed with over 600 runners but I didn’t mind, I was running Leadville.  As we wound around Turquoise Lake, I fell in with a group of runners going my pace.  The first aid station (AS) was May Queen and there was Tom guiding me in.  After a relatively quick turnaround, I was off into the woods again but I was already behind my goal pace.  The next section went smoothly and I arrived Fish Hatchery still behind schedule but feeling decent.  The next section was short, only about 4 miles until I would see the crew again.  When I got there, Rina was already there which meant that Paige wasn’t that far behind me.  After pushing for nearly 30 miles and still being way behind the sub-25 hour pace, I decided that I was going to wait for Paige and we could run the rest of the race together.  I didn’t have to wait long, she was having a bang-up day and rolled in 15 minutes or so later.  After a quick change of the shoes, we were on the trail again.

Leaving Twin Lakes

Leaving Twin Lakes

It felt so good to be running together.  We passed through Halfmoon AS and were feeling good.  This section is very runnable and we were passing miles reasonably quickly.  It was starting to warm up a bit and I finally took my gloves off.  We saw Brian coming into the AS as we were leaving, he looked good.  Over the next 9 miles, we did long stretches of running with some uphill walking.  We were passed by Barefoot Ted, a bit of a legend.  He is one of the main characters in the whole barefoot running movement.  He was wearing some homemade hiraches (sp) when we saw him but at other points in the race, he was actually barefoot – amazing.  When we pulled into Fish Hatchery, I heard someone call my name – it was Julia.  Julia is a longtime friend who moved to Denver for residency and here she was cheering us into the AS with her pup Charlie.  We were ahead of our anticipated arrival time so we took our crew off guard but they quickly got us our things and we were on our way toward Hope Pass.  Paige wasn’t feeling too great, her stomach was bothering her, so we took it easy as we passed through several water crossings.  The deepest of the 5 or 6 crossings was an actual river and it was knee high – it was refreshing but it also meant we now had wet shoes.  I was saying that we should be seeing some of the front runners soon and just as I finished that comment, Tony came around the corner with his pacer – he was tearing it up!  Seeing him and how easy he made it look sent a surge of energy through me; it didn’t have quite the same effect on Paige : )  We got to the base of Hope Pass and started to climb, it was slow going but we made steady progress. As we came over a slight crest, we could see the Hopeless AS, it was situated in the valley below Hope Pass – what a great spot these folks had.  We sat for a minute while the volunteers filled our bottles.  We collected our selves and headed up and over; the back side of the pass was just as beautiful.  The trail was challenging on the way down with tricky footing and lots of runner traffic to navigate but we saw lots of familiar faces, all with words of encouragement.  When we eventually made it to the road, we didn’t know exactly how far it was to the turnaround but we knew it was going to be tight.  We started up the road which was very dusty and congested.  My mood was slipping fast and hard.  By the time we reached the turnaround, we only had 15 minutes to get back out onto the trail.  Paige and I had a quick conversation about the very real time crunch we were facing, we had to make the return trip back over Hope Pass 15 minutes faster than we had just done it if we were going to make the cutoff at Twin Lakes.  We decided we had to go for it even though it seemed unlikely we were going to make it in time.  We got into the Winfield AS, did our medical check-in, and then got down to business.  I heard my name and looked up to see Brandon, a friend and roommate from college.  He was there to pace his friend who was also pushing the cutoff.  I really wanted to catch up but we needed to move so we said a quick hello and then we hit the trail.

Our Pacers: Rina and Tom

Our Pacers: Rina and Tom

Tom and Rina were dressed and ready to roll.  We made our way down the dusty road again trying to move as quick as we could but it wasn’t nearly as much fun having to be so worried about the time.  Upon hitting the steep section of the trail, Paige began to struggle with her breathing.  Before long, the pressure of making the time cutoff and the steepness of the hill started getting in her head.  We sat down and talked for a while and she decided she didn’t want to go on.  It was a tough decision for both of us because once she decided, I had to decide.  Was I going to keep going without her, which didn’t sound that great, or was I going to stop and not try to make it, which sounded even worse.  Paige felt terrible that she might be the reason I didn’t make it to the finish line – as soon as I heard her say that, my decision was made.  I kissed her goodbye and Tom and I headed up Hope Pass while Paige and Rina turned back toward the road.  I was teary for a few minutes and then I got angry.  I was mad that the cutoff times were as tough as they were.  I channelled the anger, found a rhythm and started reeling in runners.  The sun was setting as Tom and I made it to the top of the pass.  We were making good time and even better time on the downhill side.  After a quick stop to top off our bottles at the Hopeless AS, we started really moving.  We kept up a very solid pace all the way down to the river and into the Twin Lakes AS with 20+ minutes to spare… I had made it.  I couldn’t believe it and I could hardly contain myself.

WIth Rob, Heading Toward The Finish

WIth Rob, Heading Toward The Finish

Having made up so much time, I felt confident that I could make the remaining cutoffs… my dream of finishing this thing was alive again.  I did a quick change, checked out of the AS and headed into the woods, alone for the next 17 miles.  The effort to make up time had taken its toll on my legs but I was still moving fairly well and nothing specifically hurt so I knew I would bounce back.  I continued to pass people and by the time I made it to Halfmoon AS, I had gained an hour on the cutoff.  I could breathe a little easier now.  I got my drop bag and sat for a minute.  Then I brushed my teeth, ahh, what a feeling.  I noticed Joe Judd at the AS and said hello.  Joe had come to Leadville to pace Paige but when he got word that Paige had dropped, he volunteered to help another runner – what a great guy.  Heading out of the AS, my confidence was high, I could walk the rest of the race and still finish in time.  The next few miles passed quickly and soon I was back at Fish Hatchery AS where Rob was ready to join me for the rest of the night.  Leaving the AS, I was pretty stiff but Rob suggested a little running and that was all the encouragement it took, we ran the next mile or more at a decent clip – it felt so good to cover some ground.  That all came to a crashing halt when we hit the base of Sugarloaf and started to climb again.  I pushed as hard as I could but all I could manage was a strong hike – Rob was patient with me and we steadily reeled in runners.  After a seeming eternity, we crested the top of the pass and started down.  I wanted to run but my legs weren’t having it so we continued our fast hiking until Rob finally convinced me to run a little more.  The final couple of miles into May Queen felt remarkably long.  At one point, we could hear the cheers and talking coming from the AS and then they got distant again as we circled around and came back into it from the road – it was a tough reality at that stage of the game.  When we got to the AS, Tom guided us in.  I sat down inside where it was warm while Rob collected some soup.  As I sat there, I was basking in the fact that I had well over 4 hours to finish a half marathon – I knew it was a certainty that I was going to finish now and that felt pretty darn good.  Rob got me up out of the chair and back on the trail.  We walked for a good long while as I tried to warm my legs back up.  We tried a few times to run but for the most part, I was relegated to a fast walk.  As we approached town, the sun had risen and was starting to warm us up again.  We laughed some but mostly just focused on the goal.  We turned the corner into town and as we crested the hill, we could see the finish line about a half mile away.  We simultaneously decided that we would start running from the sign that said “Slow” – for some reason, speeding up just as the street sign instructed me to slow down really tickled me.  We ran the rest of the way to the finish where Paige, Tom, Rina, Lucy, Brian, Kelly, Deanna, Ben and Sarah awaited.  I immediately found my girl and held her tight as the tears rolled.

Click For Video Of Finish

Click For Video Of Finish

This was by far the most emotional race I’ve ever done.  I’m still struggling to reconcile all the emotion from the weekend but there are a few things for which there is a great deal of clarity: 1) I loved having the Corson boys at my side throughout the journey, 2) it was great to be in Colorado, 3) it was awesome spending time with Brelly, Deanna and our other running friends, 4) running at altitude is different, 5) mountains are awesome, and 6) my girl is the best.  Despite her own disappointment, Paige completely came through for me, supported me, and shared in my joy – she is amazing.  I couldn’t ask for better friends; Tom, Rob, and Rina took time off work to come crew/pace and  they did a great job!  Brian pushed aside his own disappointment from the day, and showed up for me to celebrate.  Of course I had mixed emotions about how the day unfolded but I can’t deny how ecstatic I was to have pulled it together and finished the race.  After showering and napping, we said our goodbyes to Rob and Rina before heading to the awards ceremony.  We then spent the afternoon eating and lounging around.  Tom stuck around for the night and we did more of the same.  I slept well that night and woke up feeling much better than expected.  As we packed up our items, the sadness started to creep in – I didn’t want to leave, I didn’t want to have the experience be over, I didn’t want go back to the real world… not yet, I wanted to stay a while longer and savor everything.

Results

Leadville Training Wrap-Up

Looking Forward To A Day Of This

Looking Forward To A Day Of This

With just a little over a week to go, I have to surrender to the fact that my training wasn’t all that I hoped it would be.  We’ve been busy this summer and traveling a lot which definitely played havoc with the training.  I did manage to get in several good long runs, a few back-to-back long runs, a couple of 50 mile races, a few hill repeat sessions, and a few speed sessions, so its not that I didn’t do anything but I had hoped to really go into this race feeling as though I’d done everything I could to prepare.  My weekly mileage has hovered between 40 miles on the low end to 85 miles on the high end with most weeks coming in somewhere around 70 miles – not horrible by any means but also not enough to really build my confidence either.  The one major upside to this reduced training is that I feel completely fresh, wake up without any little aches and pains, and am chomping at the bit to run!

Despite the fact that I haven’t done all the training I’d hoped for, I am very excited for this race.  Rob, Tom, Rina and Lucy are coming to crew/pace.  We will get to hang with some of our favorite CHUGs (Brian, Kelly, Deanna, Ben and Sarah) and get to see some of our other running friends from all over the country.  We will get to spend several days in the gorgeous mountains of Colorado and take in the clean crisp air that it has to offer (albeit a little thinner than what we are used to here at sea level).

I’ve finalized my “crew instructions” and pacing chart, we’ve done our nutrition shopping, and we’ve put together our packing lists, so I’m starting to feel a little more relaxed.  This weekend, I hope to pack up the majority of stuff so that next week is all about relaxing.

Badwater, Didn’t Like It

I went to Badwater 135 this year anticipating I would like it, I was wrong… I LOVED it!  We flew into Las Vegas on Satruday, July 10, picked up Jim at the airport and then met up with Ed and Terry for a supply stop.  After buying a ton of snacks, beverages and water for the week, we were on our way to Furnace Creek, CA.  We made two stops along the way – the first was at a random little place called the Amargosa Opera House which is located just on the border of Nevada and California.  The claim is that the attached hotel is haunted (insert Scooby-Doo music), but we didn’t see or hear anything out of the ordinary.  Back on the road, we decided to stop at Dante’s View which overlooks the Badwater basin – it was our first glimpse of the valley and it was amazing!  Paige and IAfter taking in the view, which included seeing the starting line as well as nearly all of the Death Valley, we headed down the road toward Furnace Creek where Adrian and Simone awaited.  When we got to the resort, the temperature was 119 degrees and while that sounds hot, it actually felt good.  I will admit to being a little bit of a desert rat having always been drawn to hot dry climates but,it seriously didn’t feel all that hot.  We checked into our rooms and they far exceeded my expectations, who would have thought that there would be such glorious accommodations in the middle of DV?!?  Everyone was in a chipper mood and after some catching up, we headed to dinner.  Runners and their crews could now be spotted here and there and my adrenaline was pumping – we were “running” with the big dogs or, in this case, some of the toughest men and women on the planet and it was awesome!  After dinner, Adrian, Paige and I headed to the pool.  Adrian’s philosophy is that Saturday is just a day off and meant for celebration, I’m not gonna lie to you, it got a little crazy before the night was through but we survived jumping from the roof of the sunshade into the pool so all was good.

Ed And I Excited About The Heat

Ed And I Excited About The Heat

Sunday we shuttled the car to Lone Pine 100+ miles away, which at first seemed like a huge hassle but we quickly realized the benefit of doing this was that we would get to see the entire course in broad daylight – major bonus!  When we got back to the hotel, we signed our crew waivers and sent Adrian off to check in.  That afternoon was the mandatory pre-race meeting and I couldn’t wait.  We filtered into the room and as I looked around I began to recognize a few faces that I had seen on various Badwater movies, I had to pinch myself to make sure it was all real.  There is something very special about this race and it was evident at every turn but sitting in that room with all the runners and their crew, it was palatable.  After the meeting, we mingled for a while and then headed to dinner.  Now, all the runners and their crews were there and we were seeing lots of familiar faces – both people we knew and people we knew of, it was awesome!

Pre-Race Dinner

Pre-Race Dinner

Furnace Creek may be a small resort in the middle of Death Valley but they really know how to cater to their guests – our meals were delicious.  After dinner, we all dispersed quickly, we were tired and knew this would be our last good night of sleep before the race.

Race morning came all too fast and I was slow to rise.  We headed down to get some breakfast and took advantage of the buffet fully.  Then we finished our prep and headed out to get some pre-race pictures with everyone.  The mood was surprisingly light and we laughed a lot.  The race has a lot of rules and one of them is that only one vehicle per runner can be at the start and that all the occupants of the vehicle must be belted into a seat.  Ed and Terry volunteered to stay at Furnace Creek and let Paige and I go to the start.  What a wonderfully thoughtful gesture it was, we’d never been to the start and they both had, they insisted that we needed to see it – they were right, I had goose bumps and it wasn’t because I was cold.

Jimmy, Simone, Adrian, Me And Paige

Jimmy, Simone, Adrian, Me And Paige

The start is iconic.  I’ve seen hundreds of pictures of the start, I’ve watched movies showing the start and there I was, witnessing it first hand.  We took our pictures by the Badwater sign, walked around, talked with other runners and then watched as things heated up for the start.  The ceremony felt good.  Still, the mood was relaxed, more or less.  After the national anthem, the runners got underway.  The first section is a bit crazy as the runners are all still together, crew are figuring out the routine of taking care of their runner and crew vans are leapfrogging each other every few minutes.  Soon enough, we developed a rhythm, Adrian got into a groove and the runners started to sort themselves out by pace.  I had been very concerned that I would mess something up or break a rule and jeopardize Adrian’s race but I was finally able to relax a little.  The route runs right back past Furnace Creek, so when we got there, Paige and I traded out with Ed and Terry and stayed there to get some lunch and relax a little.  This pattern of swapping out two crew for a break and keeping four with the van seemed to work well and we continued it throughout the race.

On The Course With Adrian

On The Course With Adrian

By the time we caught up with them, both Ed and Terry had taken a turn pacing and it was my turn to jump in.  I did my final prep and at the next stop, it was go time.  I had no idea what to expect, Adrian was moving well, it was the hottest part of the day, and I was fresh off of lunch – it could have gone either way but it ended up going just fine.  I was surprised how much I enjoyed running in the heat (with support, of course) and I was amazed at how strongly Adrian was running several hours into this event.  I stayed with him until Stove Pipe Wells where Jimmy took over pacing duties.  Simone and I went to get some dinner while the others headed back out onto the road.  It was fun to spend a little time with Simone and felt awesome to sit for a while and relax.

Paige Getting Cooled Off During Pacing Duties; Even At Night, It Was 100+ Degrees

Paige Getting Cooled Off During Pacing Duties; Even At Night, It Was 100+ Degrees

Soon we caught up with them out on the road, swapped our two crew and kept the cycle going through the night.  Paige finally got her shot at pacing.  The heat does weird things to the body and Adrian had already been through a couple of rough patches but he responded calmly and did what needed to be done to get himself going again.  Panamint Springs, was a little oasis in the night, the restaurant was open as was the gas station.  They also had one cottage rented for runner/crew use to sleep, shower or just relax.  We opened the door to the cottage, inside was runner carnage.  People lay passed out all over the various beds, couches and floor.  One runner lay in a fetal position on the floor with nothing but his running tights on and looked at us with scared eyes as we entered (he later went on to finish very strong).  We took a quick shower and got out of there.  After having a little dinner, we were back out on the road to find our runner.  Adrian was making good time coming into Panamint, so Jimmy and Simone took this opportunity to get a quick break before the sun came up.  When we arrived, Adrian checked in and then promptly took a short nap to recharge a bit before the sun, and the heat that would follow, came up.  We watched runners come and go, it was all business at this point.  Runners were feeling the effects of the 70+ miles combined with the heat.  The crews were feeling the effects too.  The next several miles were uphill and the sun was just coming up which made the temps manageable and the scenery totally gorgeous.

Jimmy Stands Ready To Assist

Jimmy Stands Ready To Assist

As the heat of the afternoon wore on, both Adrian and Jimmy kept their eyes on the prize and did their best to keep moving forward.  Adrian had several battles with his stomach and tried all sorts of different sources of calories, none of which seemed to be the answer.  At one point, milk was what he wanted and we had nearly run out so Ed and Terry went in search.  Normally, milk is in abundance but this is not the case in the middle of Death Valley, they had to barter with the general store to get a couple of pints which they transported in an empty coke bottle.  It is amazing how quickly all the rules change during an ultra event – clean is relative, 20 minutes of sleep is heaven, 3 hours of sleep is like a vacation, a shower in a dirty communal shower is sheer decadence, and milk being transported in an empty coke bottle is normal.

The next several hours were slow going with many stops along the highway.  The afternoon sun was hot and at one point, Adrian got chilled despite the 110+ heat.  He knew this wasn’t a good sign and diligently got himself out of the heat until he could get rehydrated and feeling better.  The Owen’s valley offered all its glory on the second night of the race.  Adrian was feeling tired but better.  Some fluids and calories had stayed down and he was moving steadily toward Lone Pine.  With things under control, each of us got a good long break on the second night.  We checked into our hotel, showered and got a solid three hours our sleep in a bed.  Upon waking, we headed out to meet up with the group for the final climb to the finish.

One thing that is consistent with ultras is no matter how you are feeling in the moment, give it a few miles and it will change … sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse but it will change.  In this case, Adrian was feeling better and moving well.  I jumped in to relieve Jimmy who had done a ton of miles over the past two days and welcomed the break.  The last several miles of this race are straight up.  With about three miles to go, Adrian looks at the guy just ahead of us and says to me, “you want to take him down?” and then promptly picked up the pace.  I laughed to myself and followed his lead.  We got next to the guy and started to pass him when the guy sped up to match Adrian’s stride.  “Oh, I see, that’s how you want to do it, eh?” (said in his awesome Scarface voice) and then he started running.  Now remember, he has already run 130+ miles, been awake for 2+ days, and the road is straight up but his competitive juices were flowing.  I don’t know what pace we were running but it was a full stride and the guy disappeared quickly behind us.  I absolutely LOVED it!  What a competitor!

Runner And Crew: Jimmy, Paige, Me, Adrian, Simone, Ed And Terry

Runner And Crew: Jimmy, Paige, Me, Adrian, Simone, Ed And Terry

When we were a half mile from the finish, the whole crew was there to join for the finish.  Adrian was adamant that everyone be there … together … for the finish.  As we turned that final corner and the finish line came into sight, I had to hold back the tears.  It was such an amazing way to finish an incredible journey.  I wish there was a way for me to capture the emotion of the moment, to somehow provide a vicarious experience but suffice it to say that it was far better than anything I had conceived in my mind.  After several minutes of hugs and congratulations, we posed for some pictures and Adrian got his beloved buckle.

With our mission accomplished, we headed back to the hotel for a little rest.  Later in the morning, Paige and I got up and did a little run of our own.  We headed out into the Owen’s valley just in time to see Jack Denness coming into town – Jack is 75 years old and has finished 11 previous Badwaters, what an inspiration.  After our run, we went for some lunch with Ed and Terry at Mt. Whitney Restaurant which, by the way, had absolutely amazing chocolate malts.  With our belly’s full, we headed up to do some hiking on Mt. Whitney.  We didn’t have passes so we were limited as to how far we could go but we still got to witness some gorgeous scenery and do a little trail running too.  When we got back to the parking lot, which was also the finish line area, Jack was just finishing his 12th official Badwater journey.

The post-race party was that night in Lone Pine.  The tradition of this race is one of the many draws to it.  I absolutely love that everyone comes together after the race to share their experience.  During the race, they take a ton of photos and video and then they put together a professional looking recap video set to some kick-butt music and show it at the post-race party.  This year’s video was as inspiring as years’ past but was more meaningful since we were actually there to witness it.

There are two things that could make or break this experience: 1) the runner and 2) the crew, we were extremely fortunate on both fronts.  Adrian was the perfect runner – he knows himself so well and what works for him, that made our job easy.  He never lost his sense of humor (which is bar none) and his focus on the main goal of finishing never faltered even as he was forced to modify his goals for the race.  He kept his cool when things unraveled and then he pulled them back together.  He communicated what he needed from us without being demanding.  And, he did what he could, when he could.  Like I said, he was the perfect runner.  As for the crew, I couldn’t believe how much fun we had despite the heat, lack of sleep, the bugs, and the stink : )  I can only speak for myself but I really felt like we got along great as a group and everyone really pitched in where needed.  We all had the same focus, get Adrian to the finish line in good shape.  It was an honor to be a part of Adrian’s team.  Before having been there, I was intrigued by the race.  Having been there, I’m completely taken with it.  Will I be back?  Yes.

A Very Social Run

imagesThis weekend was the final big weekend of training for Leadville so on Saturday, Paige and I headed out to Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve to do a long run.  We got a late start and by the time we got there, the parking lot was full of cars.  We headed out on our first loop and very quickly came upon a guy stashing a bottle near a tree.  As he looked up, he started running next to us and asked us how far we were going.  When I told him 30 miles, I expected the usual response of shock and comments like, “I don’t even like to drive 30 miles,” but instead he asked what we were training for.  We said we were training for a race in Colorado next month called Leadville to which he promptly replied that he was very familiar with the race and that several of his friends ran it last year.  Turns out this guy, Tom, was doing his last long run before Lean Horse 100 and he was also doing 30 miles.  And, we have been at several of the same races, his son went to Iowa during the same years I was there, we have several friends in common, his first marathon was Grandma’s marathon (also my first) and that we had each done more than a dozen Grandma’s with our last being 2005.  The loop flew by and before long we were starting a second loop.  About halfway through the loop, two speedy runners came up behind us and started asking about the Badwater shirt I was wearing.  I recognized them from seeing the on the Lakefront Path.  Their names were Beth and Rob and, as luck would have it, they have been itching to get into ultras and had a ton of questions.  We chatted for the next several miles and told them about the CHUGs.  As we finished up the second loop, Tom (who was one loop ahead of us) and Paige called it a day as I headed back out for one final loop.  The last 9+ miles were pretty tough but overall, the day was a huge success!  I loved that we made three new friends and hopefully recruited three new CHUGs!  I always love “small world” type things like how many times our paths had crossed with Tom before and how many times I have seen Rob and Beth on the path but then randomly meet them 30 miles away on a trail in Darien, IL – fun stuff!

The rest of the weekend was fun too.  We went to see Grown Ups on Friday, it was definitely good for a laugh.  Saturday night, we went to a birthday BBQ for Erica, one of Paige’s good friends, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves till the wee hours of the morning.  Sunday we each had a great second long run to cap off the weekend before heading up to Evanston for our second BBQ of the weekend to kick off the celebration of Billslie (Bill and Leslie) who are getting married later this month.  We wound down the weekend on the couch relaxing.  It was truly a great weekend.

Voyageur Trail 50, It’s A Wrap

voyageur-2010-440We left Chicago on Friday morning and rolled into Carlton, MN around 5:30PM.  After picking up our packets, we went to Cozy Cafe for dinner.  Sitting near the entrance was a group of runners, one of which we recognized as Rob Wehner (the super RD for Glacial Trail which we ran and loved last fall), he invited us to join their group and boy were we glad we did, they were hilarious!  After dinner we walked over to watch the finish of a 5k the town holds as part of their Carlton Daze festivities.  We were drawn to a couple with a tiny yellow lab puppy and immediately made friends with Jim and his wife.  It turned out to be one of those conversations that leaves you wishing you were neighbors so you could get to know these people more (and play with their puppy, of course).  We headed into Duluth to have a look around.  Having run Grandma’s marathon several times, it was fun to revisit and show Paige around since she’d never been before.

Race day: I’ll start with saying that this race was a lot tougher than I remembered.  Paige and I ran together the whole way which was too bad for Paige because I was in a terrible mood for most of the run.  I think this was a lingering bad mood from the week but I thought a day in the woods would heal it… eventually it did but it took like 40 miles of being grouchy and, as usual, Paige was a trooper.

A Swinging Bridge At Roughly Miles 3.2 and 46.8

A Swinging Bridge At Roughly Miles 3.2 and 46.8

The temps at the start were in the low sixties but the humidity was in the mid ninety percent.  We rolled out of town and quickly picked up some very technical single track for the first 3+ miles.  It was slow going with several runners taking it very easy through this section.  Next we started on several miles of nice rolling wooded trails before hitting the dreaded “power lines”.  I didn’t remember this section being all that bad last time, selective memory apparently because it was tough.  We got through it and the rain began to fall.  At this point, I was soaked from sweat anyway and the rain felt good.  We ran like this through the turnaround, physically I was fine but my mood was still a bit dismal.  The return trip was good with a lot of running despite some long gentle uphills.  We purposefully threw in a few walking breaks but generally, we just kept plugging along.  The sun started to peek out and accented the beauty of this course, I had also forgotten how gorgeous it was.

Someone Is Having Fun

Someone Is Having Fun

On the way back, we did a sock and shirt change at the 34 mile drop bag, it felt amazing.  The next section led us back to the power lines, the sun had heated things up a bit and the rain had turned the trail into a muddy slip and slide – this didn’t do much for my mood.  By the time we got through there, I was more than ready to be done.  We topped off our bottles at the aid station and I tried to muster some friendly banter but only got out a “thank you”.  The last ten miles got progressively better and by the last five, we were moving really well.  We danced over the rocks and roots, passing people that were feeling the effects of a long day.  As we hit the pavement on the edge of town, Paige noticed a woman in front of us and locked in.  She hit the turbo and it was all I could do to keep up with her, I loved it!  We passed her and said some friendly words of encouragement but I’m guessing she was thinking to herself, “they saved way too much for the end.”  After crossing the finish line, Andy Holak came over to congratulate us and give us our finisher mugs.  They have custom made pottery finisher mugs – a very cool tradition.  This was Andy’s first year as RD and he did a great job preserving the “look and feel” of the race.

We met up briefly with fellow CHUGs Tony, David and Jerret before showering and grabbing some post race dinner.  One thing I really love about this race is that they encourage people to stick around by serving dinner and providing showers so people can get cleaned up and hang out.  My gut instinct tells me that I will be back at this race again but the nine hour drive may keep me from making it an annual thing.

Voyager Trail 50

voyageurmorecolorbordersmallWe are off for the northland.  Ten years ago, I ran my first ultra at Voyager Trail 50. At that time, I was living in Iowa City and running several marathons per year but this was a big deal.  This year, I return with a little more experience but just as much excitement.  In four weeks, Paige and I will be toeing the line at Leadville and this race will serve as our “dry” run to dial in our nutrition, shoes, etc. before the big race.  I have very fond memories of this race and the Iowa City crew that made the trip special and have no doubt that this year will be just as special as I will be running with my favorite person not to mention several CHUGs will also be running.  There may be some limited runner updates on race day on the website.

Off To Badwater We Go

Our Job: Get This Man To The Finish Line

Our Job: Get This Man To The Finish Line

The packing is finished and for once, I don’t feel like I overpacked… at least not much.  We have watered our plants and we are ready to head to the airport.  We fly into Vegas and then pick up Jim before meeting up with Ed and Terry, who are driving out, then off to Furnace Creek to find Adrian.  We then have two days to get acclimated to the 100+ degree temps before the race start on Monday.  Adrian is a veteran at this race and hopes to improve on his time from last year – go Adrian!  Once he crosses the finish line, he hopes to keep going right on up to the summit of Mt. Whitney – amazing.  Our job will be to keep him hydrated, fed and moving forward, he’s given each of us a whip to use liberally – kidding, of course : )

Thoughts heading into the experience: 1) I’m glad I’m not running it, 2) I hope I can hold up okay in those temps, 3) I plan to have a lot of fun, and 4) I hope Adrian has a good race and bags that summit!

Once our duties in Death Valley are done, its off to LA for a few days of running and relaxing.  Dave is hosting us for dinner at his place on Friday and the Coyotes have graciously accepted us as their honorary guests for the weekend.  It should be a fun trip!

For those wanting to follow along with Adrian’s progress, here is the link to the main results page which has a link to the 2010 webcast: Badwater Race Results

Also, if you get inspired, Adrian is running in support of a local charity , here is a link to learn more and donate: Aggeus Foundation

Harry Connick Jr.

0011A couple of months ago, I noticed that Harry Connick Jr. was coming to town.  I’ve always been a fan and so I mentioned it to Paige to gauge her interest.  We talked about it but it seemed a little expensive and we had a lot of fun things on the calendar already so we opted to pass.  Fast forward a month and a half, its my birthday and Paige, being the observant and totally sweet girl that she is, got tickets to see the show.  First of all, my birthday was the perfect night with sushi and a walk around town on a gorgeous summer evening followed by yummy birthday cake (Paige’s first ever attempt at a cake and she pulled it off like a pro).  Then last week, we celebrated our first year together by going for dinner at McCormick and Schmick’s and then to see the concert.  Dinner was delicious, we started with oysters and lobster bisque followed by surf and turf – kind of an odd mix but exactly what we were both craving.  After dinner, we made the short walk over to the Chicago Theatre just in time for the show.  Our seats were fantastic, center stage and six rows back.  No warmup band here, the curtains went up and out came Mr. Harry Connick, Jr.   At first, he seemed just a little awkward and stiff but it only took him a song to get in the grove and by the third song, he had the whole place absolutely rocking!  The band was amazing and he far exceeded my expectations (which were quite high).  He is a tremendous performer and I love love love the style of soulful music he plays.  The two hours flew by between the music, his anecdotes, and the fun interactions he was having with the crowd and before we knew it, the concert was over.  My favorite section of the concert was about two-thirds the way through and he had a guest trombone player on stage and he turns to his guest and says, “let’s show them how its done in New Orleans.”  At that point, they both put down their instruments and started free form dancing – it was borderline out of control but perfectly matching the music – hilarious and awesome.  Thank you, Paige, for the great birthday and for an amazing first year!