Here’s the brief Facebook exchange I had with my buddy Jimmy Dean. I guess it’s on!!!
This was the actual ticket that was drawn at the Western States lottery earlier today. It was one out of 5 that was in the ‘hat’ – one for every year I was not chosen. Last time I ran States was in 2007, when I got in based on the 2-time loser guarantee.
Now, I have to decide if I want to attempt the Last Great Race again.
100 mile races have a unique concept called “pacing”, ironically, what the word implies is not what typically happens. Pacers generally accompany runners during the latter parts of a 100 mile race to provide safety, guidance, and most of all, the companionship and motivation that one requires during the stages of the race when thoughts of defeat, fatigue, and quitting begins entering ones minds. Except for elite runners, “pacers” have very little to do with keeping a certain minute/mile average like the “rabbits” in track and field and road racing.
In the 30+ or so 100 mile races I’ve run, I’ve had a handful of pacers, and until this year at Western States, I had never really paced anyone else before — the only exception was with Catra, which I think is a little different as she is my girlfriend, and we’ve also run entire 100 mile races together.
Earlier this year, Cindy Goh asked me to accompany her over the last 32 miles from Foresthill to the finish line at the Western States 100 — I was thrilled and honored. Cindy is a good friend of mine, and I knew that we would have a great time on the trails. Then suddenly, I received a phone call from her telling me that she wasn’t going to run, and that I should find someone else to pace. Well, it turned out that Joe Pham‘s wife Mylinh Nguyen was needing a pacer, so I volunteered — interestingly enough, Catra was planning on pacing Joe.
Background of Western States, and 100 mile foot races:
[In 1955, Wendell T. Robie rode his horse from Squaw Valley to Auburn, proving that horses can cover 100 miles — this idea eventually became the Western States Trail Ride, AKA the Tevis Cup “100 Miles – One Day” Ride. In 1974, Gordy Ainsleigh became the first person to run this course on foot, having previously rode on horseback in 1971 and 1972. In 1977, with 14 runners, Gordy’s amazing accomplishment was turned into an organized event which became known as the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. Today, there are over 1200 applicants, of which only 425 are chosen to participate, in what is considered the Boston Marathon of endurance running, attracting the best athletes from around the globe.]
Since I never paced anyone before, and didn’t know the Western States course very well (I had only been on it once when I raced in 2007, but the section I would be on was also the same section I had trouble in, so remember very little). Adding to the stress was Mylinh would most likely be skirting the cutoffs, assuming that she kept a similar pace as her previous attempt in 2005, when she came into the finish seven minutes after the final cutoff of 30 hours. Needless to say, I had my work cut out for me.The week or so leading up to the race, I was a nervous wreck — more than I typically would be when I’m actually the one running the 100 miles. This time, I only had to run 32 miles, but it wasn’t the distance that I was concerned about, but having to make sure Mylinh maintained a pace fast enough to remain ahead of the cutoffs. I knew I was pretty good at gauging the right speed to stay on track, but the concern was that Mylinh had to be the one to maintain it — not me. I also didn’t know her personally very well, only having chatted briefly during the few times we bumped into each other at some previous races in the past. So I wondered how she did running at night — did she get sleeply like I used to? What other issues did she usually encounter? Blisters, stomach problems, etc. I had no idea.
I prepared more ahead of time to pace this race than I would have if I were actually running it — the difference was that I had someone counting on me to help get to the finish line, whereas normally, I would only be accountable for myself. I looked over the maps, read race reports, and studied previous splits for those coming in between 29.5 to 30 hours. [See actual pace chart at bottom.]
Since pacers are not allowed to join their runners until Foresthill (mile 62), Catra and I went to a couple of the earlier aid stations to meet Joe and Mylinh as they came through. The first one we went to was Robinson Flat (mile 29.7) — this was the first big aid station, and where most crew members would see their runners for the first time. I was hoping to see Mylinh there around 1pm, even though the cutoff there is 1:40, but I wanted her to have a little bit of cushion. As the clocked ticked past 1, Mylinh finally arrived at 1:14, and looked good. She had already gotten separated from her husband, who came in several minutes later, but he was not doing as well.
Once they left Robinson Flat, we went to get some lunch at Ikedas in Auburn, then headed over to Michigan Bluff (mile 55.7). We soon discovered that Joe had dropped at Last Chance (mile 43.3), having missed the cutoff by 5 minutes. Mylinh on the other hand, was still maintaining a solid even pace, staying about 30 minutes ahead of the cutoff. I knew though, that if she held that to Foresthill, she would have the hardest part of the course behind her.
At Michigan Bluff, she was 42 minutes ahead of the cutoff, and I was hoping that she would continue to maintain that window into Foresthill. Based on her pace, I predicted her ETA into Foresthill at close to 11pm, so headed out to Bath Road (~1.5 miles away) around 10:30 to wait for her to come in. Just before I got to the end of the road, I saw Mylinh approach. She looked great, and I was happy and somewhat relieved, since I was hoping it would make my pacing duties easier. She was right on my predicted pace, but knew that she had very little room to spare if she were to make it to Auburn.
Her husband Joe made it back from Last Chance where he dropped, and with his help, we got her in and out of the aid station. I put my hydration pack on, grabbed my flashlight, and off we went into the darkness. As we ran down the road to the trailhead, I asked a few questions to get a quick assessment as to her overall condition — are you eating and drinking, any foot issues, stomach problems, etc. A few quick nods and no’s, and I was glad to learn that she was fine.
The first stops were along the California loop — Dardanelles (mile 65.7), Peachstone (mile 70.7), and Ford’s Bar (mile 73), or Cal 1, 2, and 3 respectively. We jockeyed back and forth with Melissa Johnson and Kristina Irvin — I had met Melissa recently at Coyote 2 Moon, and Kristina last year at Angeles Crest when she did the Last Great Race. It was comforting to know that we were in close proximity with very strong runners. I also knew that Mike Palmer, who was going for his 12th finish, was still behind us, and kept wondering when he would catch up to us.
I remembered the section between Ford’s Bar and the river felt very long when I actually raced it in 2007 — this time was no different, even though it was only 5 miles. We got there at 3:49am — only 1 minute slower than my predicted arrival time. Once we crossed the river, I knew that her husband Joe would be waiting at the top at Green Gate (mi 79.8), and would be able to provide some moral support. As we climbed the two mile stretch, Joe met us part way down. At the aid station, I was very surprised to see my buddy Rob Cowan sitting in a chair — he was obviously having issues, since he’s an extremely fast and talented runner. I offered a few words of encouragement, as we headed off towards the Auburn Lake Trails (mi 85.2) aid station.
This was a tough stretch for me in ’07, and it seemed like Mylinh was also having difficulties there as well, as the miles were obviously taking its toll on her. My split chart told me we needed to arrive at the aid station by 6:32, which quickly came, along with the second sunrise of the race. The cutoff there was 7:00, so for the first time in the race we had less than a 30 minute window. We arrived at 6:47 – only 13 minutes to spare. I panicked slightly without making it too obvious to her, but at the same time, made sure that Mylinh understood that she had to pick up the pace a little. That’s not an easy thing to do for someone who had run 85+ miles in triple digit temperatures earlier in the day.
So I told her that whenever we came to a downhill or a flat section, she would have to run, no matter how slow, and in return, she would get to walk all the uphills to take a break. Unfortunately, her pace changed very little, but we managed to get to Brown’s Bar (mi 89.9) at 7:53 — only 4 minutes slower than my predicted arrival, but now 37 minutes ahead of the cutoff. She managed to pick up the pace by almost 4 min/mile!
We were now just over 10 miles to the finish, and also knew that the next aid at Highway 49 (mi 93.5) had a tight cutoff. I encouraged Mylinh by telling her that her husband would be there to greet her, hoping that she would maintain the pace that she had going into the last aid station. Even though she slowed slightly, she still managed to get there at 8:47 – well ahead of the 9:15 cutoff, and 13 minutes ahead of my predicted time there.
As we said goodbye to Joe, I reminded Mylinh that we only had about 10K to go — a distance that most runners could comfortably finish, but this was at the end of a 100 mile race. The last aid station was the iconic No Hands Bridge at mile 96.8, and I had us getting there at 9:54, which would give us just over an hour to cover 5K, and get to the finish. We arrived at exactly 9:53 — 1 minute ahead of my splits, and 22 minutes before the cutoff. I yelled to Joe, who was waiting there for us, to get Catra and meet us at Robie Point (mi 98.9) so they could run the last 2 miles with us to the finish.
We began the slow climb out of the aid station. It was hot — we later learned Auburn reached temperatures over 110 degrees. Along the gradual fireroad before we started the climb up to the finish, there was very little shade — I felt the sun piercing the back of my neck. 11 hours after joining Mylinh 30 miles back in Foresthill, I was beginning to feel the fatigue, but I didn’t have time to be tired, because my runner needed to get to Auburn, and had barely an hour to get there. There would be plenty of time for both of us to rest later.
Typically, with only a few miles left, I would begin to smell the barn, and somehow manage to find my second wind — I was hoping that would be the case for Mylinh as well, but unfortunately, it wasn’t. She was clearly slowing – the signs of the last 29 hours and 95 miles obviously taking its toll. She politely asked to stop. I responded with a gentle, but firm “no” — we didn’t have time to stop. Then she pleaded — and again I denied her request. I told her that she didn’t come 98 miles for nothing, and asked how much it meant to her. She answered by quickening her pace slightly, but that unfortunately faded shortly thereafter. 3 miles an hour — that’s all we needed to average. 20 minutes per mile seemed so easy to do, yet for someone who had gone through notoriously brutal sections earlier in the course, such as Devil’s Thumb, that pace is nearly impossible to maintain. But she had no choice — it was simple math at that point. No Hands Bridge to the finish is 3.2 miles, and she had to do it in 1 hour and 7 minutes — not a second slower, else she would not get any credit, just like in 2005 when she was 7 minutes past the final cutoff. I would not let this happen, I knew how much this meant to Mylinh, although at the time, she told me that it didn’t matter, but also knew that she didn’t really mean it.
We finally began the climb up to Robie Point. A few runners caught up to us as I led the train of about half dozen others all striving for the same goal, as I offered words of encouragement, telling everyone that we were so close to being done. Mylinh was still having difficulties — wanting to rest and stop, even grabbing my hydration pack. I ignored her pleas, and dragged her up the hill — there was no time to be nice, since the ticking clock didn’t care about hurt feelings either.
Soon we would see Tim Twietmeyer running down the hill to greet all of us, telling us exactly how long it would take us, and that we would finish. It was somewhat comforting to know that his voice sounded confident, and didn’t have the sense of urgency or defeat, which would’ve indicated we may not make it. Near the waterfall, we passed a runner who was obviously having issues — his pacer was helping him take off his shirt, and when I gazed into his eyes, he had a very detached and unresponsive look. With time running out, his pacer had his work cut out for him. I wanted to stay and help, but I had my own runner to get to the finish line — I wished them luck and kept going.
As we continued climbing, Mylinh had sudden spouts of energy, yelling and screaming she would finish, then quickly shifted to the opposite end of the spectrum, and talked about dropping out as she pulled on my pack to stop. I tried keeping the positive momentum going, but it unfortunately faded as quickly as it appeared.
The physical and emotional stress were beginning to take a toll on me as well — although I had not run nearly as far as Mylinh had, I have to say that it was far from being easy for me, especially considering the temperatures had begun to rise up to the triple digits again. In addition to just covering the ground, I had to make sure that she was keeping on pace, eating, and drinking, especially when she couldn’t, or didn’t want to.
As we neared the top of the climb, I was seriously hoping that her husband Joe and Catra would be there so that I could hand over the baton to them, so to speak — I was exhausted, and wasn’t sure if I could manage 2 more miles of pacing stress. As I turned onto the fireroad leading to the gate where the Robie Point aid station was, I saw Joe. I yelled to him that Mylinh was right behind me, and that they needed to do whatever they could to get her moving — there was little time remaining, and I ran out of things to say/do to keep her going.
Catra did a great job motivating her, while Joe and their friends were also making sure that she kept moving. Tim would run back to us a few more times and encouraged us, as did many of the neighborhood residents, who came outside their homes to cheer us on — it seemed like the whole world was focused on Mylinh. Soon there was only about a mile left, and we had just under 20 minutes to make it. I knew then that she would finish — the only time I felt that way in the entire race. She could finally walk if she wanted to, but instead, she picked up the pace — the fastest she’d run all day. I ran ahead so that I could capture her coming onto the track at the high school for the final lap to the finish line.
With less than a mile to go, I looked over to the side of the road, and saw a runner collapsed in a driveway. I instinctively stopped to see if he was ok, and saw that he was clearly in distress. His pacer was standing over him, and said that help was on the way, so I continued along with my group of runners. Unfortunately, I would find out later that Jeff Genova did not make it to the finish, and ended up in the ICU afterwards. He ended up with 99 miles that day – unfortunately, there’s no partial credit in this sport. The good news is that he’s made a full recovery, and is returning this year to take care of unfinished business.
After finally reaching the entrance of the high school track, there was only 400 meters, and the end was finally in sight — something I’ve been wanting to see for so many hours. For Mylinh, she had waited 4 years. It was surreal. Many of her friends, spectators, and runners who had already finished, came up to the edge of the track to cheer her in, offering high fives and congratulations. Only 100 meters…80…50…30…10. The race clock read 29:52:31 as she crossed the finish line — done. I walked over to the finish area where Mylinh stood, and I gave her a hug. With tears in her eye, she quietly thanked me with the same voice she used earlier when she requested to stop. I responded with a smile. No words were needed — we both knew what was accomplished. I knew what it took to run 100 miles along this challenging course, but only Mylinh knew what she really had to do that day in order to get to the finish line.
Though I swore I would never pace anyone again, that day I became a part of someone’s dream, and perhaps I will some day be able to help someone else realize theirs.
Anyone need a pacer?
Race reports and other stuff:
Video compiled by Kurt Bertilson
Matt Hart’s video on Gary:
Rick Gaston pacing
Summer Wesson Pacer
As I was updating my Marathon Maniacs page, I realized I finished my 100th marathon/ultra at the HURT 100 this year.
Summary (as of 4/7/09):
- 1st marathon: Los Angeles 3/98 (3:56:53)
- 1st ultra: Comrades (downhill) 6/01 (8:52:37)
- 1st 50K: Bulldog 9/01 (5:58:52)
- 1st 50 Miler: Mt Hood PCT 7/04 (10:24:11)
- 1st 100 Miler: San Diego 10/04 (29:06:46)
- Fastest marathon: Los Angeles 3/08 (3:28:15)
- Fastest 50K: High Desert 12/08 (4:38:09)
- Fastest 100K: Miwok 5/08 (12:13:41)
- Fastest 50M: Leona Divide 4/07 (9:25:46)
- Fastest 100M: Vermont 7/05 (22:08:45)
- # of 50K’s (including 33/35 milers): 22
- # of 50M’s: 10
- # of 100K’s: 1
- # of 100M’s: 27
- # of 24 hour runs: 1
- Most miles in 24 hour run: 114.2 miles (San Francisco 1 Day)
- Slowest marathon: Auburn Marathon 10/05 (4:54:49)
- Slowest 50K: Unknown 50K 3/08 (9:22)
- Slowest 50M: Twin Peaks 12/08 (15:15)
- Slowest 100M: Wasatch Front 9/07 (35:57:08) – DFL
- Number of DNFs: 1 (Leadville 2007 — missed cutoff at Twin Lakes #2)
- Most consecutive races – non marathon: Dana Point Turkey Trot 10K (12)
- Most non-consecutive races – marathon: Los Angeles Marathon (9)
- Most consecutive races – marathon: Los Angeles Marathon (8)
- Most consecutive and non-consecutive races – ultra: San Diego 100M (5)
- Total marathons: 36
- Total ultras: 69
Those who know me personally, or follow Catra’s blog, are probably aware that I’ve had some personal challenges lately. I think that most people who were in my shoes would’ve opted to not do the SF 1 Day considering the circumstances, which is what I initially chose to do, but decided that I had to so I could have closure and move on. My performance this past weekend is a good example of how I managed to change one of my worst experiences in life, into an unforgettably positive one — both of which I will never forget.
My challenges came early on, even before the race began — having to figure out how to get to the race, and where to sleep the night before. With a few e-mails and a posting on the race forum, I managed to get the help of two of my running friends — Nattu Nataraj, and Miki Higuchi. Miki was kind enough to pick me up from SJC on Friday, invite me to a fantastic dinner at Sushi Tomi near her place in Mtn View, then drop me off at the Caltrain station where I would take a train to the city. Once I got to SF, Nattu picked me up, and allowed me to crash on his floor.
The following morning, when we got to the race, there were many runners/crew already setup along the grass lining the path we would be taking. I set my little cooler up in between Bob Harris and Steve Matsuda and Diana Rush — all fixtures of the SoCal running community.
The race started promptly at 9am. I was in a pack of about half a dozen runners, led by Wendell and Sarah’s son Aaron — finishing the first loop in 8:38. I let my adrenaline take control, and unfortunately I did not slow down for several more laps, especially considering that my plan was to average 12 min/mile. When I caught up to Steve Ansell and Beat Jegerlehner, they gave me a lot of crap about going out too fast. I told them they were probably right, but still continued to maintain the same pace, figuring I’d either crash and burn, or have a really good day — I was fortunate that it turned out to be the latter.
If you recall from my previous post before the race, I had some intermediate goals — 50 miles in 9 hours, 65 miles in 12, and an overall distance of 115 in 24 hours. Turned out I hit 50.2 miles in 8:54, then 65.1 in 12 — pretty crazy, huh. I hit my splits dead on, even though I really wasn’t paying attention to my pace or progress, not to mention I pulled those out of my ass, since I’d never done these kinds of races before.
I didn’t really have a schedule for walk breaks — initially, I was planning on taking one every hour, then realized that that was not frequent enough, so began walking every lap. So what I eventually ended up doing was walking from my cooler to the first stop sign along the road, then the slight uphill once we turned right onto the dirt all the way to the top, just past the trash can. This seemed to work for the majority of the race, and only towards the last couple hours did I increase my walking a little further to the trash can instead of the stop sign. The longest walk break I took was 2 whole laps — once with Catra in the middle of the night, and my very last loop I did with Kristen. I did not sit down at all, or stop for an extended period of time. I also did not change my shoes/socks, and only put on a long sleeve and shell at night when it got extremely cold, foggy, and breezy. My nutrition consisted primarily of Shot Bloks and fruit smoothies/juices, with one slice of pizza sometime during the late afternoon.
Most of the time, my laps were pretty uneventful, but there were some memorable moments:
- Go-Go Cindy bringing me a Jamba Juice
- My friend Eileen who I haven’t seen since HURT, coming out to cheer me on with her newborn baby and dog
- Seeing Kristen and Lori and their family, which included Ry (age 13), and Trevor (age 9)
- Flora, Jo Lynn, Rick Gaston, and Hao volunteering
- All the messages that people sent throughout the night, which was very encouraging, especially since I didn’t have a crew — thank you everyone!
Although I’ve been doing ultras for about 7 years, I’ve never run in this type of race before, so this was whole new territory for me. I knew it would be hard, but it was much harder than I ever imagined. My quads were thrashed during the race, not to mention my Achilles (the right one especially) were completely swollen. Typically, I only experienced these symptoms or pain after the race, so the fact that these appeared during the race indicated to me that it was not easy, and using the same muscle groups for 24 hours really took its toll. I remember at one point saying to Catra that I would stop at 100 miles, but as I was ready to call it in after reaching that distance, Rick Gaston informed me that I had a possibility of moving up in the rankings from where I currently was (4th). Other than being tired, I felt ok enough to keep going, so I did. I figured once the sun came up, I would get my second wind, and more people would be out to keep me motivated.
Around 7 or 8am, I noticed more people/runners out on the route as I expected, so it was nice to have some company again. I think I had about 113 miles with about an hour left, so I attempted to reach my goal that I had set before the race — 115 miles. I was joined by Kristin who walked a lap with me, and got 114 with just over 20 minutes left. I could’ve squeezed another mile, but was done. My quads and Achilles were screaming, so I ended up with 114.2 miles, which was surprisingly good enough for 2nd place overall, and first place in my age group (40-49). The winner was Shan Riggs, who ended up breaking the course record with a total of 130.2 miles!
The great thing about this kind of race is that I was able to go very minimal — I carried nothing, and ran with my light weight road shoes. On the flip side, I did a lot of rummaging around in my cooler, not to mention the long bathroom detours. which probably added up to at least 2-3 hours of wasted time. Near the end, Sarah and Wendell made the loop into an out-and-back — unfortunately, that meant that I had to go out of my way to get to my cooler, which made my laps at least another minute longer. Now the question remains whether I could’ve used that time to rack up more mileage, or whether I could’ve done something to minimize the time I spent. If I had a crew, I’m certain I could’ve done better — or at the very least, reached my max mileage a lot sooner. I guess we’ll see what happens when I return in 2009.
Psychologically, this race benefitted me in several ways — it was definitely a confidence booster to know that I could run 100+ miles in 24 hours, and also be somewhat competitive. More importantly, this experience allowed me to overcome my fears, sadness, hurt, and pain — both from my running, and more importantly, from my personal life.
- 50 miles 8:54
- 100K 11:16
- 65 miles 12 hours
- 100 miles 19:59
This weekend, I will be participating in my first 24 hour event — the San Francisco 1 Day. Those unfamiliar with this race/format — it’s a 1.067 mile loop around the lagoon at Crissy Field, which is located near the Golden Gate Bridge, where we would have to run as many clockwise loops as we can in 24 hours. This is somewhat opposite of how we typically race, where we would have to cover a certain distance, and get timed as to how long it takes.
I have a somewhat aggressive goal, considering my lack of experience in this type of event, but will be attempting to do about 115 miles, give or take. My plan is to cover 50 miles in about 9 hours, then try and get to about 65 miles at the midway point, which should allow me to have about 12 hours to do the remaining 50 miles. Or, if something goes horribly wrong, I should be able to walk the remainder at about 3mph and still reach 100 miles, which is my fallback goal.
There will be live updates on their website which will show everyone’s progress each hour, and there’s also a way to send a message to us.
Last Friday night started out with some carbo-loading (I think there are a good bit of carbs in hot wings and beer, right) at Gordon Biersch in Old Towne Pasadena with my friends Vinnie and Dolly. It was a fun new hangout surrounded by the Wish Tree project, and a stage with a live band — nice change from our usual spots.
Saturday morning, I drove out to Ojai — site of the Coyote 2 Moon event, going on its second year now. There, I met up with H’ard, Mark, Manley, Jenny, Gretchen, and Drew for a training run that started around 7:30 at Thacher School (the new start/finish area for the race), and went up to the fireroad. There, Jenny and Gretchen cut their run a little short as they were planning on heading out to the 9 trails course the following day, so the 5 of us headed down to Sisar Cyn. At the gate, Mark and Manley headed up White Ledge to Topa Topa, and Drew, H’ard, and I continued down to the bottom of the canyon — an 8 mile round trip. The three of us then continued up towards the ridge, refilling at the spring at the campground, and just as we got to the ridge, we saw Mark and Manley on their return. We got to the top around 12:30, so it took us about 5 hours to cover about 19 miles with about 7000′ of climbing if I did the math right. From there, it was mostly downhill back to Thacher, where we finished around 2:30, which gave us a total of 27 miles in 7 hours.
Later in the afternoon, I drove down to south OC to Bill Ramsey’s 3rd Annual Oktoberfest party, where I saw a lot of our local running friends. We dined on great food — bratwurst, German potato salad, German chocolate cake, etc. I also got to wash it all down with Bill’s home-brewed beer, which was excellent.
After I left there, I hung out with my good friend Tammy who I’ve known since high school — we recently got reacquainted through Facebook after over 20 years. It was nice to see she hadn’t changed at all, and that we were able to pick up right where we left off.
Tomorrow night, I’m meeting with Eric and Vanessa at their place for some food, and afterwards, we’ll be watching the Primal Quest video.
Friday I have a work function, and am heading out to the Staples Center to catch the Kings game with some co-workers.
Finally, this weekend, I’ll be having my post-AC Potluck at my place.
Just when I thought I could take a breather from my 100’s this year, starting this Saturday, we’ll be heading out to Ojai to get some mileage in along the C2M course, with the plan to eventually cover every inch of it before the race.
The loop we’re doing tomorrow is from Thacher down to Sisar, then up to Lion’s with the out-and-back to Topa Topa. From there we’ll head straight to the Ridge Jct to cut out the 8.7 mile loop, then return to Thacher for about 27.5 miles total and lots of elevation gain.
On Sunday, I’m looking forward to seeing everyone at Bill Ramsey’s Oktoberfest party, then a week after is my post-AC event as well. Lots going on…
Around 3:30 Saturday morning, I woke up to find my hydration pack soaked, and a big puddle on the floor — there was a hole just big enough that it lost half its content overnight. A slight panic set in, but remained as calm as one can be while dealing with a crisis before a 100 mile race. The interim solution was a piece of duct tape, hoping my hasty patch job would make it until I would see my pacer/crew at Chilao.
The morning was warm — VERY warm. I have not experienced a start at any race that comfortable in a long time — definitely not at AC in the last 4 years I’ve done it. My goal this time was aggressive compared to my previous finishes — I wanted to get as close to 26 hours as possible, knowing realistically that it would likely be more around 28 hours. I would’ve been happy with that, since my fastest time so far was just over 30 hours, which I happened to do a week after I ran Wasatch last year. My concern though, was my left ankle that I originally hurt at San Diego in June, which never really got a chance to heal properly since I kept re-injuring it in subsequent races, most recently at Bulldog a few weeks back.
Catra was also shooting for a course PR, but we would not be running together this time — our first 100 miler which we would be on our own. She was excited though, since she was looking forward to being paced and crewed by her Crossfit friends from Team Elite Fitness Academy in Monrovia.
As most races go, the beginning went just fine, although I do recall last year, I had some serious stomach issues before I even made it to Inspiration Point (mile 9.3). This year, I was right where I wanted to be — 2:04 into the first aid, 10 minutes faster than my previous times.
I got to Vincent Gap (mile 13.9), just after 7am, right at the 26 hour pace, and readied myself for one of two longest stretches in between aid stations. Even though I thought I made it up and over Baden-Powell (the course high point at 9400′) faster this year, I was actually 2 minutes slower, which could’ve been because of my tumble, plus a slight detour to get some water at the spring by Little Jimmy’s campground.
This was when I began feeling a hot spot underneath both feet — flashback to 2005/2006 when I had the same exact issue. Déjà vu! I decided to continue on and make an assessment while climbing up Mt Williamson — at the top, I concluded that I would need to get my feet taped up, or at least take a look at what was going on. When I entered Eagle’s Roost (20 minutes off pace), I couldn’t find anyone who could help me, so I continued on — big mistake.
The paved section out of the aid station is one part of the course I really dislike — this is the detour for Cooper Canyon, where they are trying to protect some endangered frogs. It’s a gradual uphill on the highway, then a steep downhill into the Buckhorn campground. Once at the bottom, it’s a slow grind up to Cloudburst (mile 37.5)
When I finally arrived, I knew my feet were bad, so immediately requested for someone to help fix them (didn’t even need to look). Mark Weineke happened to be there, got his kit, then patched me up — both heels already had silver dollar-sized blisters, and one was already sliced open revealing raw skin underneath. The thought of running over 60 miles on those was not very comforting. I left there close to 2:30pm, almost an hour behind my original pace, but knew earlier that my goal was to only finish this time around.
The next section to 3 Points (mile 42.7) should’ve been fast and easy, but it was slow going because of my feet. Luckily, the terrain is relatively non-technical, so it didn’t bother my blisters too much, and I arrived at 3:45pm.
For once, I was looking forward to the asphalt road up to Mt Hillyer (mile 49.1), since I knew it would be easy on my feet, but forgot how long it took to actually get there. Good thing was that most of the trail section leading there was relatively smooth. I got to the top at 5:30pm along with three other runners.
I knew the trail down to Chilao (mile 52.8) would be difficult, so wasn’t looking forward to it, but at the same time, I wanted to get to the aid quickly so that I could get my feet re-taped for the remainder of the race. As we climbed to the top, I joined up with Wally and Howie, who immediately dropped me as we began our descent. Near the blacktop, I was also passed up by Carl Borg — out on his first 100 miler attempt.
Just before the aid station, I was met with Willem who was supposed to pace me from there, but he wasn’t able to because he was sick. Oh well…I was used to doing 100’s solo anyway, but was bummed because I knew that he would’ve been a good pacer. Interestingly enough, he paced Catra a few years back before we started dating.
I sat down, and luckily found Deb Clem, who happened to patch me up at 2 previous ACs. For some reason, this process has become routine unfortunately. I saw many people there — runners who dropped earlier, pacers, crew, etc, including my friends Robert Baird and Jeff Stein.
I was at the aid station for 30 minutes, then headed out just after 7pm (14 hours in) for the remainder of the race — the section I was most familiar with. The good thing was that I knew what lay ahead, and the bad thing was that I knew what lay ahead. At that point, I was still a little behind a 30 hour pace, but well within cutoff. It was still early, and I knew I’d be slowing down as I approached the most difficult sections of the course, so didn’t want to waste too much time.
I did relatively well going into Shortcut (Bill Ramsey’s station at mile 59.3), since the terrain was downhill and smooth most of the way, until a short steep climb at the end. I made it there around 9pm, about 30 minutes behind my previous year’s pace.
From there to Newcomb’s (mile 68) was basically a 1.5 hour mostly downhill stretch on fireroad, followed by another hour+ climb to the saddle. In the past, I’ve had trouble there, but felt relatively ok (other than my blistered feet) this year, arriving at 11:30pm or so.
The 6.6 miles to Chantry (mile 75) would normally be fun along a rolling and windy fast singletrack, but after having almost 70 miles under your belt, plus it being dark, made it a bit more challenging and less fun. I ran briefly with Kristin Farley and Dave Campbell, two local ultrarunners along that section.
My arrival at Chantry was around 2am — 30 mins slower than last year, but almost 30 mins faster than 2005, and I was still surprisingly close to a 30 hour pace. At that moment, I was not concerned about my finish time, but just making it before the cutoff. What I hoped to not have to do was to walk all the way in, but knew what would be coming up the next 25 miles, which did not make me feel too confident based on the condition of my feet.
After thanking David Overstreet who helped me at the aid station, I set off alone into the darkness, which is always a bit unnerving, but the familiarity of this section made me feel more at ease. I was still moving well, or at least I thought I was. My foot mainly bothered me on the downhills, although it still hurt on the ups as well, but just not as much, since I could use my forefoot more. In the past, this is where I would begin to fall asleep, so usually looked forward to the bench at the Wilson trail junction where I’ve had to take a nap in all my previous ACs — this time, I actually declined an offer to join Kristin and her pacer Wendy along with Jussi, who were all taking a breather there. When I reached the toll road, I caught Mike Stephens who I recognized from last year, and would not see again until after the finish.
In a way I was looking forward to the downhill into Idlehour (mile 83.8) because I needed a break from the long climb, but at the same time, I knew it would be painful. I got to the aid just before 5:30am, greeted by a big chicken and Barefoot Ted — I thought I was hallucinating at first, since I rarely see chickens on the trails.
I knew along this section, the sun would be coming up, and hoped it would give me some much needed energy, but realized it would unfortunately do nothing for my battered feet. I would see no one here until just before the Sam Merril aid station (mile 89.3), where Jussi finally caught up to me.
We both left there around 6:30am, with a long technical stretch ahead that I wasn’t looking forward to. Middle Sam Merril has always been known to be chewed up by the mountain bikers, and one of the most rockiest sections of the course. I ended up having to walk (or rather tip-toe) the entire section down to Echo Mountain, and also up all along the Mount Lowe railway.
Once I got to Sunset, the rocks would ease up, but would remain technical enough that I still couldn’t really run. Just before I reached Millard around 10am, Linda Dewees caught up to me, but could not maintain her pace. I had almost exactly an hour to get under 30, but knew it would not be possible based on what lay ahead, and the condition of my feet, as the pain had become excruciating.
I was glad to get off El Prieto onto some flat asphalt, which I normally would not welcome due to the impact, but this time, it was much easier on my blistered heels. After the last climb which took us from the old finish up to the road to the new one, it was a long gradual uphill. I was able to run fairly well all the way in, and ended up crossing the finish line only 13 minutes slower than last year, my second fastest in my 4 finishes at 30:17. Catra came in about 40 minutes later to finish in 30:57 — her 6th AC.
Every once in a while, I come across a good article in the newspaper — this one definitely hit home, and made me realize how we oftentimes take things for granted. It’s been about 10 years since I lost my father to cancer — I was out-of-town when he died, so never got a chance to say goodbye. My mother, also suffered from the same fate, but even though I was at her bedside, I did not have an opportunity to tell her how I felt before she lost her battle.
I started my letter, and hope that you will too.
College students study death to learn the meaning of life
Kean University students visit the dead, the dying and convicted murderers. Along the way, they learn to value what they have.
By Erika Hayasaki
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
September 3, 2008
UNION, N.J. — The dead man lies naked on a metal table, a small cloth covering his groin, mouth open, arms rigid and cocked.
A blue-gloved autopsy technician thrusts a hefty razor into his chest, unzipping his brown skin to reveal a thick layer of yolk-colored fat. He pulls marbled meat from the bone.
The man was 30, an only son, married, a father of three. Around 9:40 p.m. the night before, someone shot him in the head. Now, a technician at the New Jersey Medical Examiner’s Office in Newark is holding his lungs, tar-speckled as if covered with spores of mold.
Rebecca Schmidt, 21, a ponytailed biology major, stands over the body, alongside a dozen of her Kean University classmates midway through the eight-week summer course Death in Perspective.
“They’re looking for the bullet; come see,” says Professor Norma Bowe, 49.
Schmidt leans in, captivated by the disfigured ball of metal lodged above his left ear. She breathes through her mask sprayed with perfume, which does little to block the smell of death: feces and rotten eggs.
This is so cool, she thinks. Schmidt has seen death plenty of times, but never the inside of a corpse.
For the last decade, Bowe has led her classes of 30 students into the refrigerated tombs of bodies stacked bunk-bed-style in the morgue and into hospice bedrooms, glowing from television screens, occupied by the sickly and soon-to-die. She guides them through the barbed-wire fences of Northern New Jersey State Penitentiary, past the outdoor recreation kennels where gang members sweat and swear, to a law library where they sit down with murderers.
Her students are from suburban small towns and inner cities. They enroll in Bowe’s class because they are curious about her unusual field trips. But something more powerful also draws them here: a need to know how we die, and why. What happens to our bodies, and is there such a thing as the soul?
The poet and philosopher Khalil Gibran once wrote:
You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
Bowe guides her students by this principle. There is a three-year waiting list to get into the class.
“This is his tongue,” another autopsy technician tells the students, pulling out the slimy bundle of muscles of a 73-year-old man sprawled on a table next to the gunshot victim. His face is peeled from his skull, forehead folded in a flap over his stubbled chin. The medical examiner’s report said he had been distraught over his wife’s recent death and hanged himself in his garage.
A young woman fights tears. Other students turn away. After a few minutes, three leave.
One by one, more exit, until three are left. One is Schmidt.
On the floor next to her feet, the shooting victim’s belongings lie strewn across a white sheet: a tangerine and red flame-colored T-shirt and sneakers that match, a blood-soaked white undershirt, four packs of Newport cigarettes, a few dozen MetroCards for the subway, $211 in cash.
As a volunteer emergency medical technician, Schmidt has looked into the eyes of people dying as she gave them CPR. It’s weird, Schmidt says, to feel their bones crush beneath her palms as she tries to press life into their chests.
It’s not the sight of someone’s blood, or broken body, or last breath that disturbs her. What Schmidt can’t understand is why, in those moments when death is before her and her adrenaline is pumping, she cannot bring herself to feel truly sad.
“OK, guys, gather up,” Bowe tells the students outside the coroner’s office. “Any thoughts?”
The students stay hushed.
“Say something,” Bowe says.
The woman who had been on the verge of tears breaks down.
“Come here,” Bowe says, hugging her, as Schmidt and the others watch.
“It’s good to be alive, right?” Bowe says. “Did you notice how fragile we are? We have no business taking our lives for granted.”
It is a Monday in May, the first class of summer session. Bowe’s assignment: “Write a goodbye letter to someone or something you have lost.”
“Go where it’s scary,” Bowe says, “go where you don’t want to.”
Schmidt, a former athlete, shifts in her seat. Seeing dead people? No problem. Delving into her emotions? Not so simple. There is a science to ignoring.
Something happened to her when she was 15. It’s her secret, and it changed her. At 16, she signed up to be an EMT. Her first call: a dead man who had been in bed for two weeks, decomposing.
“People look at me like ‘How can you do this?’ ” Schmidt says. “I wonder, ‘Am I too cold?’ “
The class members introduce themselves: “I’m a psych major,” says Vatasha Daniels, a baby-faced 22-year-old. She lost someone seven years ago, but she’s not ready to admit this to everyone.
“I took this class,” Daniels says, “because I felt like it would just be interesting.”
Next to Daniels sits 24-year-old Danielle Pante, who seems unflappable as she tells her story: “I lost my mom when I was 4. Two years later my dad’s girlfriend died of cancer. In high school, I lost three of my friends — two car accidents and one OD.”
A week later, after the students’ first writing assignments, Pante is crying and gasping for breath in class, reading her goodbye letter to her mother aloud. “I think about you every day, and wonder what life would be like. . . . “
“We’re here,” Bowe says. “We don’t care if you cry the whole way through.”
Another girl tells of a father coping with cancer. Another admits to having been raped.
But some truths aren’t ready to be revealed.
Schmidt tucks her paper away, crossing her arms, avoiding Bowe’s eyes, hoping she will not call on her. Please don’t ask me to read, she wrote on the assignment before submitting it.
Daniels looks at her desk, knowing she didn’t write the goodbye letter she should have. The pain is too raw.
Four weeks before we die of old age or after battling disease, our body feels cold. Our mouth and fingernail beds develop a bluish tinge — our circulation is shifting, Bowe says in a lecture on the stages of dying. Three weeks in, our blood moves away from the digestive system, we lose appetite, the liver begins to go. Capillaries in our nose thicken. Two weeks in, our eyesight fades. One week in, the kidneys start to give way. A day or two before, our breath shortens. A few hours in, heart rate increases, blood pressure drops.
“You know how great that feeling is, when you first meet somebody you’re really attracted to?” Bowe says. “The same chemical will flood your brain when you’re dying.”
The body takes care of our pain.
“At the end of our life, we have a lot of wisdom,” Bowe continues, “and we have a lot of regrets.”
Bowe grew up in an abusive family in New York, and her struggle to cope led to a fascination with death and suffering. As she grew older, Bowe gravitated away from her parents, and spent years working as a nurse in emergency rooms and hospice care centers and studying psychiatry, in which she earned a doctorate. She has witnessed hundreds of deaths.
It is halfway through the course. On a muggy June afternoon, Bowe and a prison guard at Northern State Penitentiary lead the class through metal detectors, under a sniper tower, past a barbed-wire fence where entangled birds die and rot. The prisoners wail and curse and bang on windows and bars.
The students meet the murderers in the law library. One says he broke into a home and the woman wouldn’t tell him where the safe was, so he killed her.
Daniels feels no sympathy for the men. Other students ask the inmates questions. Daniels has a few pounding inside her but says nothing.
“That prison was horrible, and I am sure it is the closest thing we will compare to hell on earth,” she wrote in her reaction paper. “I went home and said a prayer.”
Daniels’ essays reveal nothing of her personal life. But as classes go on, listening to other students share their trauma nudges her to take a step toward facing her own.
The last day of class arrives. Bowe asked students to write about their most difficult life experience.
“OK, who’s up next?” Bowe says, looking at Daniels.
Daniels nods. It’s time.
“The murder of my older brother on June 24, 2001,” her voice trembles. “My hero, my father figure, a great son, a college graduate, a father.”
Her classmates look stunned. All semester, Daniels had been silent. Even Bowe had no idea.
Someone shot Daniels’ brother, Dwayne, one afternoon in a fight over a woman. He was 28.
Yesterday was the anniversary of his death. Her brother had been raising two boys, now 13 and 17. Today, they live with Daniels’ mother.
“He got 25 to life,” Daniels says softly. “I want to ask him now, was it worth it?
“When I went to the prison I wanted to ask the guys.”
“You still want to?” Bowe says. “Write down exactly what you would like to know, and I will give it to the men.”
Schmidt, the former athlete, never read her goodbye letter aloud. Writing it was enough.
At the end of the semester, Bowe returned her folder of essays. Inside it was Schmidt’s goodbye letter: Dear Brian. . . . I’m not here to say goodbye because that leaves no opportunity for a hello in the future. . . . I want you to know how much I love you.
The letter was to the son Schmidt gave birth to at 15. Too young to raise a child, she gave him up for adoption. She remembers choosing the agency and family. She remembers walking away from the hospital, reeling from heartache.
Depression came in waves. Guilt became her shadow, pulling her back from becoming the star athlete and student she wanted to be.
Bowe keeps Schmidt in mind on the last day of class when she reads them a commencement speech written by Anna Quindlen: The knowledge of our own mortality is the greatest gift God ever gives us. It’s so easy to waste our lives, our days, our hours, our minutes.
Schmidt thinks about this message.
For her final class essay, Schmidt writes: With each situation we are given choices. I’ve decided to live. . . . Thank you Dr. Bowe.
Aweek after the end of summer session, Bowe stands before a dozen inmates. She teaches mental health to the Northern State Penitentiary inmates each week. One is an ex-Mafia hit man. Another beat a man to death and became a Buddhist in prison. Some are the same men Daniels and the other Kean University students met on the field trip. On this day, Bowe has brought Daniels’ questions.
If he was given a chance to say anything to me, my family, or most important my brother’s children, what would he say?
Bowe tells the inmates to respond if they want.
One asks: “Do you think this will bring her some type of solace by doing this?”
“I do,” Bowe says. “I think it’s really hard for people when there’s a lot of unfinished business.”
A few weeks later, Bowe calls Daniels to her office.
Bowe puts on her reading classes and picks the letter from the Mafia hit man.
Living each day with the thoughts of what my actions caused, in a living tomb, is not much of an existence. Yet I am alive and where there is life there is hope.
Bowe finishes, and Daniels cries. “That hit home,” she whispers.
Bowe reads from the Buddhist’s letter:
If I were given the opportunity to speak to the family of my victim I would do so without hesitation. There are a million apologies I’d like to give them, and a million ways to say them. But I’ve already forced myself into their lives by murdering someone they loved. I’ll not dare contact them and offer an explanation then, and reopen wounds they may have closed. . . . That’s something you might consider, even if only to yell at the man, and tell him how you feel.
When Bowe finishes, Daniels says, “I want to forgive him, I do.”
“That’s a big step,” Bowe says.
Maybe one day, Daniels can write a letter to the murderer, Bowe suggests. But first, Bowe tells her, she must write the goodbye letter to her brother that she never wrote for class.
A few weeks later, Daniels will sit at her computer and begin to type: Dear Dwayne. . . .