(Finish line; photo: Elizabeth)
Running 100 miles is never all roses and rarely (in my four attempts, never) goes exactly as planned. And as you've probably seen, I am my own biggest critic. With that preface in mind, Run Rabbit Run 100 was a big success for me. I ran fairly well, didn't have any of the cramps that have been plaguing my races this year, managed my trouble spots decently and never once even considered giving up. On the other hand, I didn't run the race that I know I'm capable of and I did subject Billy to listening me turn into a whiny bitch for an unfortunate 7+ mile stretch during my biggest low point in the early morning hours last Saturday from miles 90-97. Those details, plus the fact that I crossed the finish line in 25:32:13, which was good enough for third place in the "tortoise" race, is really all you need to know. But since this is my blog and I get to control the content, there's plenty more to come.
As always, I say that I'm going to try to keep this short and include lots of pictures. And, as always, I'm sure it will be too long... (but keep in mind that my AC race report was in three parts!)
On Wednesday evening, after a long day of travel, Sally and I rolled into Steamboat Springs in time to meet up with Chris and make a delicious dinner. Chris Vargo was there to crew Sally during her race. I hoped that some of his speed and general bad-assness would rub off on me. Our 3 bedroom condo at the Lodge at Steamboat (booked through the race at a great discount) was a perfect location, less than a five minute walk to the race start/finish. There are tons of condos and hotels in the area and Steamboat seemed pretty empty.
It rained during the day on Wednesday, through the night and off and on throughout Thursday. The forecast for the weekend made it seem pretty certain that we would get wet during the race. But watching the news and seeing all the flooding going on in Boulder put things into perspective and our storms were nothing at all in comparison. Thursday morning, Sally, Chris and I walked over to check out the starting line and first climb and Chris did a little recon run for us up that first hill.
During the rest of Thursday, Sally and I got our stuff together for the race, made numerous trips to the grocery store and finally checked in, dropped off our drop bags and listened to the pre-race briefing. Elizabeth and Billy arrived about the time the pre-race meeting ended, perfect timing for us to have a group dinner and for me to go over my thoughts about how they could be most helpful crewing me during the race on Friday.
(pre-race dinner, not sure what the girls are doing, other than having too much fun...; photo: Billy)
One "different" thing about Run Rabbit Run is that they split the 100 mile race into two separate races. There's the "Hare" race and the "Tortoise" race. Both races run the exact same course. The Hares are racing for real money ($10,000 prize for first woman and man, with money going 5 deep); they also started at noon, had a 30 hour cut-off and are not allowed any pacers. For the Tortoises, the male and female winners would each win $250 and the money goes three deep; they started at 8am, had a 36 hour cut off and are allowed pacers after mile 42. Since even the most cursory look at the entrants list made it clear that I wasn't in the same universe as the top Hares and since having a pacer sounded like a great idea, signing up as a Tortoise was a no-brainer. Sally, interested in going for the dough, signed up for the Hare race.
When I got up on Friday morning at 5am, the skies were clear and it was even pretty warm outside. We walked out of the condo at 7:40 for our quick walk to the start line.
(photo: Luke Crespin)
There was a nice crowd at the starting line and they sent us off right at 8am.
The race starts with some steep switchbacks but then follows a straight line up the ski slope under the gondola. I ran some of the switchbacks, but there was no way I was running up that ski slope!
The first climb is about 5.5 miles and goes up 3,500 feet (from 6,886' to 10,372'). The trail was a little wet, but not terribly muddy and footing was actually much better than I expected.
The next five miles were all on single track up above 10,000 feet before we went back down, down, down, on a beautiful trail alongside and right above Fish Creek. There were some really nice waterfalls on this part of the trail. This descent was fun, but not super fast (for me at least). It was super rocky and the rocks were uneven and slick. And falling off the side would have been pretty disastrous.
The Fish Creek Falls aid station (mile 17.3) was the first time I saw Elizabeth and Billy.
I got there a little ahead of schedule, but Elizabeth and Billy were there with some encouraging words and Tailwind for my handheld.
From Fish Creek Falls, it's a four mile downhill run on the road into downtown Steamboat and over to the next aid station at Olympian Hall. I was dreading this road section, but it was actually pretty nice. After the technical descent down the Fish Creek trail, it was fun to stretch my legs out on pavement for a little bit.
Also, there were some incredible houses to look at on the way down this road. Houses that looked like ski lodges or resort hotel. Wow.
During this road section, I looked at my watch and realized it was just about noon and I was exactly 20 miles into my race. That meant that the Hares were starting. They'd spotted me a 20 mile head-start. I wondered when the first ones would catch me...
At Olympian Hall (mile 21.3), I ate one of my hummus/avocado/cucumber/quinoa lavash wraps and headed off for a 20 mile loop that would take us up for a few miles to a water-only unmanned aid station, then down to the Cow Creek aid station and around a longer way back up to the water-only aid station and finally back down to Olympian Hall. About a half-mile out of Olympian Hall (the first time), I was running up a hill with Don (who finished in second, 12 minutes ahead of me) and we missed a pretty well-marked turn. Oops. We were too busy talking and following a random hiker. A hundred feet later, we ended up at an unmarked fork (of course it was unmarked, because it wasn't on the course). After some grumbling about course markings (my bad), we chose one fork that went straight up hill. Still no markers but thankfully it dead-ended after a couple hundred meters. We turned around and at the bottom of that hill, realized what we'd done and made our way back on the course. Thankfully, this was the only mistake I made on the course. I know they had some issues last year, but I found it to be generally well marked this year. (They could have used some extra confidence markers in a few places, but that's not a huge deal.)
I kept moving pretty well during this section out to Cow Creek, hiking the steeper climbs and running well on the rollers, descents and (very) few flat sections. I was moving back and forth with a few other runners and was thankful for a little company. Even though the weather was pretty much perfect - comfortable temperatures under clouds and sun - my meltdown and near-complete-disaster at San Diego 100 earlier this summer was weighing pretty heavily on my mind and I was very conscious of keeping my pace in check and staying on top of my calories, hydration and electrolytes. I was drinking 200 calorie bottles of Tailwind, eating Honey Stinger waffles and chews, taking my salt pills and eating some of the "real" food that I'd prepared. I carried dates pretty much at all times during the race and ate my lavash wraps off-and-on throughout the day.
(photo from race Facebook album)
I didn't waste any time at the Cow Creek aid station and just kept moving. At 3pm, it started raining lightly and we could hear loud thunder off in the distance. The light rain felt good, but I figured for sure this was the beginning of a long, wet evening. Then, the rain just stopped. Somewhere around mile 37 or 38, the first Hares passed us going the other direction on their way out to Cow Creek. And about a mile before getting back to Olympian Hall, I ran into Sally, with a huge smile on her face, as always. It was great to see her.
Coming into Olympian Hall, I could hear Billy, Chris and Elizabeth shouting me in. It felt great to see and hear them.
(photos from race Facebook album)
I got to Olympian Hall, ate another wrap and headed out for the road section back to Fish Creek. Going up the road wasn't nearly as much fun 20 miles after running down it and I was a bit scared of the 11+ mile climb back up the Fish Creek trail to Summit Lake, but I was still feeling really good.
I got to Fish Creek Falls (mile 46.1) at around 6pm (10 hours into the race). I changed my shirt and swapped out my relatively light-weight Salomon hydration pack for my Ultimate Direction Wasp.
(At my other races, I never would have stood still this long for a photo; photo: Elizabeth)
I'd pre-loaded the Wasp with 60 ounces of water, a bunch of food, a beanie, gloves, a lightweight jacket, my headlamp, extra batteries and my iPod. I wanted to have all of that stuff for the night, but holy crap was that pack heavy. I dumped some of the water while I was hiking and did end up using almost everything else in the pack during the last 60 miles of the race; while it was nice to be "prepared," it would have been much smarter of me to have put some in drop bags and grabbed other from Elizabeth at Dry Creek (miles 64 and 73). Live and learn.
Other than kicking myself for carrying such a heavy pack, I climbed Fish Creek pretty well. I didn't run very much of it, but I moved determinedly. This climb looks really scary on the course profile and as a result I was scared to death of it, but while I was on it, it didn't seem that bad. On my way up, Alex Urdaneta from Bogota, Columbia caught up with me. He and I hiked and ran together for the next 10 or so miles. It was getting dark and cold and having the company was awesome. After getting back up above 10,000 feet at Summit Lake (mile 57.7), there's an 8 mile long drawn-out dirt road to the next aid station. This part of the race was super boring. It was dark out, so even if there were views, I couldn't see them and the road just twisted around and around and around. Forever. It was while I was heading down this that the first Hare passed me. Jason Schlarb (the eventual winner) passed me at mile 62. That means that he ran 62 miles in the time it took me to run 42. Holy crap. That's just crazy. Karl Meltzer passed me 15-20 minutes later and most of the rest of the top male Hares weren't too far behind.
I got to Dry Lake (mile 65.3) at around 11:10pm, excited to see Elizabeth and Billy and to pick up Billy for his 38 miles of pacing duty.
I came into the aid station feeling good and in good spirits (and somehow even got mistaken for elite runner Joshua Arthur by a camera crew!) but during the out-and-back, I ran out of steam for the first time during the race. The 4.5 mostly downhill miles to the turn-around were not fun. I ran some of it, but mostly walked and hiked. I'm not sure what happened, but my guess is that the adrenaline from the anticipation of picking up Billy and getting a pacer kept me moving well to Dry Lake but once I got there, relief set in and I relaxed enough to lose momentum. And also, this was the first point in the race where I fell behind on calories. Between miles 50-65, I was focusing more on staying warm and keeping moving than on eating. It caught up with me during this stretch. The good thing though was that I didn't have a low point until mile 65. I was expecting it much sooner and have never gone nearly that far in a 100 mile race without one.
The "out" part of the out-and-back seemed like it was going on forever, especially once more Hares started passing me from behind and a few Tortoises were coming at me on their way back from the turn-around. And it had started raining again. Not hard, but steady. Finally we got to the aid station, which was probably the best of the race. Between the welcome blasting music and the Christmas lights, we wouldn't have missed it anyway, but a super friendly kid met us immediately before the entrance and escorted us to the covered aid station. We hung out there probably a few minutes too many, but it was warm and covered, the volunteers (including Nick Clark) were super friendly and I got some more calories in my stomach.
The return to Dry Lake went much better than the way out. Even though it was mostly up hill, I ran more of it than I had on the way down. My stupid headlamp was dying, so that was a bit of a struggle, but I knew that I would change batteries at Dry Lake and all would be fine. We got to Dry Lake where Elizabeth was fast asleep in the backseat of the car. (Crewing is hard work!) The rain had stopped, but we were still hearing thunder and seeing lightning. We expected a cold, wet finish to the night. A change of shirts, new batteries in the headlamp and some food in the stomach and we were off.
I hiked nearly every step of the 7.6 mile climb back up the dirt road. This climb also looks absolutely brutal on the course profile. And it was tough because it's long and comes at mile 75 of the race, but not because it was particularly steep. On our way up, we started wondering why we hadn't seen Sally. A bit later, truck lights came up the road from behind. I wondered who would be coming up the road at that hour and figured it was someone headed to the Summit Lake aid station. It slowed when it pulled up next to us and Chris rolled down the passenger window.
We immediately realized that there was only one reason why Chris would be driving up that crappy road - Sally had dropped. Bummer. (It turns out that she got lost on her way back up Fish Creek and when she finally got to the Long Lake aid station she ended up getting DQ'd for being likely to not make cutoffs. Sucks ass, but she handled it very well.)
The first big surprise for me about the course was after Summit Lake (mile 81.9). I assumed that we were taking the same dirt road back to Long Lake that I'd run on the way out. But leaving Summit Lake, we were directed up a strange little path that led us to the "Wyoming Trail", a fun 7 mile single track that eventually took us back to the Long Lake aid station (for the third time). Billy had to spend a lot of time and energy during this section to keep me moving and trying to convince me to eat. I was definitely getting tired and even though it's a net downhill section, most of it was above 10,000 feet. At no point during the race did I really directly feel the altitude, but during this section, my breathing and effort felt just a little heavier than usual (or "usual" for 90 miles into a race anyway...). I had also fallen back behind on calories and I think that, plus the altitude, plus the fact that I'd now been on the course for over 20 hours, was beginning to really wear on me. I'd felt pretty good physically throughout the race, but somewhere around here, my ankles - both of them - started to hurt. It was a sharp pain in the front of my ankle, right at the curve where the foot meets the lower leg. I tried loosening my shoe laces but that didn't help. Something was definitely swollen. It hurt more on descents than climbing. Even though this pain lasted for the rest of the race, I was able to put it out of my mind at times and thankfully, it was the only real physical issue I dealt with during the race. (It's actually still a little swollen and painful, especially in my right ankle.)
It was a cold night and it was snowing just a little bit, but it wasn't nearly as cold as I'd feared. I was thinking a lot about the fact that the sun would be coming up soon and was super excited to get to ditch the headlamp. If I remember correctly - Billy please correct me if I'm wrong - I wasn't complaining too much through here and Billy did get me to run certain chunks of this. Toward the end of this section, I passed two other Tortoises and passing them really got me moving. For most of the day, I'd been moving between 6th and 8th place among the Tortoises. I figured I was now in 4th or 5th.
We got to the Long Lake aid station (mile 90.1) at 6:30am. I'd been running for 22.5 hours. With 12 or 13 miles to go, my sub-24 hopes were obviously long gone, but I knew that sub-26 was definitely possible. I'll say it loud and clear that the only way sub-26 happened was because Billy was there pushing me from behind. The section from Long Lake to Mt. Werner (mile 90.1 to mile 96.9) was my lowest point of the race. Unlike those other two sections where I was surprised that the climb was easier than expected, this section's difficulty caught me off guard. I expected rollers and instead got some pretty intense, short, steep climbs, and descents that didn't seem to be long or runnable enough. We were still above 10,000 feet. I got bitchy and was complaining like never before. Poor Billy. I'm sure he wanted nothing more than to just run ahead and be done with me! There was one runner not too far behind and I kept saying that I didn't care if I got passed again, but Billy wasn't having any of that.
One fun thing about this section between Long Lake and Mt. Werner was that the runners in the 50 mile race (they started Saturday at 6am) came past us headed the opposite direction. They were all so encouraging and friendly, even stepping out of the way and congratulating us. It was fun to see them, even if I was spending a lot of energy suppressing jealousy of their fresh legs.
The final aid station (Mt. Werner) was at mile 96.9. When we got there, I figured we had about 4.5 miles to go. That was the distance from the start of the race to this aid station on Friday morning. But the aid station volunteers kindly told us that we only had 6 miles to go. What?? It was because we were taking a different route down. After that bad news, I did get good news: they had a box where I could leave my pack and they would bring it down the mountain after the race. Unburdened by the pack (even though it only weighed a fraction of what it had when I first put it on 15 hours earlier), I felt a ton lighter. The runner who had been behind us came into the aid station right as we were leaving. Billy was not going to let him pass me. I think my last real complaint was about the time we left that aid station. From then on until nearly the very very end, I just put my head down and ran.
I ran this last section in exactly an hour. That 10 minute/mile pace seemed pretty impressive at the time. It was all downhill, mostly on a fireroad (with a little steep downhill section through bushes that wasn't even a trail), but still, I ran it well.
This section did seem to go for ever and ever and ever. It twisted around so much that I lost all sense of direction and had no idea where the finish line was. My Garmin's battery had run out after about 22 hours and Billy wouldn't tell me how far his watch said we had to go. Every time we turned a big corner I thought the finish had to be "right there". That was frustrating and I'm sure I let Billy know how I felt. :)
During the last couple hundred yards, I kept getting little bursts of energy which would propel me for 30 seconds or a minute. But even when I wasn't moving with energy, I was still moving. Finally, the finish line was in sight.
Then, they make you run up a couple little stairs and hug one of the race officials. 25:32:13.
(photos from race Facebook album)
We took a bunch of photos, including this one that somehow represented bunny ears:
There was some confusion about whether I'd finished third or fourth among the Tortoises. As it turned out, I was third, which meant that at the awards ceremony later that evening I got a great hand-painted mug and a check for $100.
We hung out at the finish line for a little bit and I hobbled back to the condo. A nice warm shower (part of which I spent lying down on the bottom of shower) and then I found a nice spot in the sun for a nap.
A few quick notes on gear and nutrition that worked great for me, shorts, shoes, socks and nutrition. Shorts: Once again, I wore the Salomon Exo S-Lab Short Tight from start to finish. I love those shorts. They're comfortable, have just the right amount of compression and the pockets are fantastic for holding the basics. Shoes: For the first time in a 100, I wore the same pair of shoes the entire race. The La Sportiva Helios worked perfectly. I hoped I wouldn't have to change shoes and at no point did I feel like I should. By the end of the race I really really really wanted them off my feet, but I would have felt that way with any shoes. Socks: I didn't change my socks either. Since at least AC100 in 2010, I've worn the DryMax Max Protection Trail Running socks in all my trail races. The socks aren't cheap, but since I reserve them for races and really long runs, they last a pretty long time. They're comfortable and I have never gotten a blister while wearing these socks.
Nutrition: This summer, I started using Tailwind for liquid calories (sorry Infinit...). It's an awesome product. During the race, I was drinking 2-scoop (200 calorie) bottles of either orange flavor or naked/unflavored. It has a strong salty taste, but you get used to it really quickly. The flavors are mild. Unlike some other liquid calories I've tried in the past, I never got sick of drinking Tailwind. It tastes good cold and still tastes good once the water is air temperature. I should have used it a little more in the later stages of the race but didn't have the baggies in those drop bags or my pack. I won't make that mistake next time.
(Chris, Elizabeth, me, Sally, Billy immediately post race)
The race went well for me and equally (or more) importantly the whole weekend was a blast. Sally and I had a great little group of supporters come with us and I owe huge thanks to Elizabeth, Billy and Chris for their help, friendship and encouragement before, during and after the race. The race organizers were nice, friendly and well-organizers. And it was fun to meet some Colorado peeps (Amy, Nick, Luke and Courtney) that I'd only previously known through social media. Billy did another kick-ass job pacing me to a 100 mile finish. Dealing with me was a challenge, but hopefully it was also fun. I'm looking forward to returning the favor to him next year at AC. And extra special thanks, as always, to Elizabeth for her unceasing support of me and this nonsense hobby. I'm a very lucky guy.