Running

The next best thing to racing…Pacing!

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.]

Additional info.

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.]

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Mylinh and Joe at the start line on race morning.

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.

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Mylinh coming into the Robinson Flat aid station.

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.

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Catra and Joe at Robinson Flat.

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.

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Mylinh at No Hands Bridge – Mile 96.8 miles!

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.

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About 1 mile left from the finish line. The expression on everyone’s face says it all.

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?

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Catra and I congratulating Mylinh just after crossing the finish line.

 

Video of the final 400 meters of the 2009 Western States 100!
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Above is the chart I used to pace Mylinh – the 30 hour column is what I came up with, so you can see how that compares with what the cutoff was, and what Mylinh’s actual splits were in the last column.

Race reports and other stuff:

Gary Robbins
Video compiled by Kurt Bertilson
Tony Overbay
Bev Abbs
Erik Skaden
Matt Hart’s video on Gary:
Kevin Sullivan
Rick Gaston pacing
Dan Olmstead
Craig Thornley
Summer Wesson Pacer
irunfar.com
Jeff Genova

#100

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

To overcome…and right into 2nd place

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.

My splits:

  • 50 miles 8:54
  • 100K 11:16
  • 65 miles 12 hours
  • 100 miles 19:59

Blog entries:

Photos:

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Around and around and around and around…

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.

Live Update

Training begins

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.

Coyote 2 Moon Course Map

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…

My AC Nemesis

CIMG6145 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.

CIMG6182 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.

CIMG6191I 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.

CIMG6239After 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.

CIMG6222I 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.

This was my last 100 miler for 2008 — this year, I completed 6 total: HURT (Jan), Coyote 2 Moon (Feb), San Diego (June), Bighorn (June), Tahoe (July), and AC (Sept).

HURTing again in 09!

The 2009 entrants list for the HURT 100 was published this morning — both Catra and I made it in! The race filled in a day, and there’s currently a wait list for those who managed to pull the app off the website before they pulled it.

There are only a handful of runners who has participated in all their races, with Catra being one of those — she will be going for her 7th 100 mile finish there, and I’ll be attempting my 4th straight.

Good luck to everyone doing Leadville this weekend — I wish I were there to get my DNF monkey off my back, but due to $ constraints, I will have to wait for another year.

See some of you tomorrow at the AC trail maintenance.

Goodbye Moose…

When I did my first marathon over 10 years ago, I walked into Phidippides because it was recommended to me by several runners. I had no idea what I was doing then, but I walked out with a pair of my first running shoes, and some useful tips given to me by the friendly staff there. Honestly, I don’t recall who was helping me that day — it could’ve been Craig, or his partner Charlie. In any case, the store made an impression on me, to the extent that whenever anyone asked me about shoes, I always sent them over there. I never knew Craig, but wouldn’t be surprised if we crossed paths/trails at some point. All I know is that I will at some point when it’s my time, and that I’ll be running just like he did until that day comes.

Local runner Craig Chambers made path better for others


Shoe store owner Craig Chambers, a source of encouragement and knowledge in the running community, died of melanoma last week.

He fooled me. Or maybe I fooled myself because I did not want fate to unfold as it did.

I had thought that somehow, despite the disease that first appeared as two small dots on his scalp, the sheer force of his lively spirit would see Craig Chambers through.

I had hoped that Chambers, 59, who first appeared in this space in March after he walked the Los Angeles Marathon, would find a way to run right past cancer and keep going, just as he had done while jogging on what seemed like every fire trail on every low mountain in Southern California.

I had prayed that he would be a walking miracle, and that I would one day write of his comeback.

Sometimes, prayers are not answered. That happened here. Last Thursday, surrounded by family and loved ones at a Santa Monica hospital, Craig Chambers died.

You may recall that six months ago, Chambers allowed me to tag along while he made his way through the flat, hot course. He had run in every single L.A. Marathon, 22 in all, finishing each without trouble.

This year, however, suffering from Stage IV melanoma, he could only walk.

Chambers, who stood 6 feet, had piercing blue eyes and pale skin, was well aware of the odds. Aware that this would likely be the last time he would wind his way through the streets of Los Angeles, the city whose every corner he seemed to embrace.

For 26.2 miles that fine March day, we talked about shared interests: architecture, philosophy, politics, art, urban life and, of course, sports. He was an athlete, and an intellectual. His talk of Obama and Dostoevsky and bird watching helped me focus on something other than the fact that my quads were cramping and I walked, better yet, hobbled, in his shadow.

Chambers did not appear to like speaking about himself. He simply did not regard himself as someone to make a fuss over. This much I did glean: He had grown up Pacific Palisades. He had gone to UC Santa Cruz in the 1960s, had learned to see the world with open eyes there, and had started running during the jogging craze of the ’70s.

He said he had already outlived the doctor’s timelines for his longevity. I gathered that he thought the melanoma was something he could end up conquering. If not, he wanted to hold the cancer back as long as possible because there was still so much life to live, so many topics to discuss, books to read and friends to encourage. “You can do this,” I heard him say, repeatedly, to struggling runners that day. “Just take things slowly.”

He spoke from experience. His feats are the stuff of legend. He ran more than 200 marathons and ultramarathons, all over the world. Once he ran 200 miles through Death Valley, followed that with a 10-mile swim, and then followed the swim with a 100-mile bike ride.

Along with his college roommate, Charlie Hoover, Chambers since 1980 had operated Phidippides, an Encino running shoe store. For five years during the ’80s — after he had given up his car, just to see what it would be like — he ran 13 miles from his Santa Monica home to the shoe store in the morning, and then ran from work back to home every night.

Why did he stop? Kathy Kusner, his life partner since 1983, explained with a quote that is a window into how he approached life: “Well, I was telling him how great cars were, that a car was a good thing to have in L.A. Finally, the time came when he said, ‘Enough already, I’ve done this for five years, running 26 miles to and from work each day. That was fun, now let’s move on.’ “

I kept tabs on Chambers over the months. I heard about how he kept walking, sometimes with his old running group. There were times when he fell to the pavement. Always, he got back up, vowing to continue, a smile on his face.

The cancer kept coursing through his body. Already, he had endured months of hard chemotherapy, undergone a brain operation, and surgeries to remove part of a lung, part of a liver, part of his lymph nodes. Now he was injecting himself daily with Interferon.

Still, in June, when he and Kusner met me for dinner at an Indian restaurant in Culver City, he was positive, even somewhat excited. Scans had shown the cancer was slowing. There was the possibility he could be part of new drug trials. He gave a quick update, smiling. Then he wanted to know about my trips to Asia, about my wife and her east-Indian roots, about what was going on at The Times.

Never did I hear him speak too long about himself. Never did I hear him complain.

“It wasn’t ‘Why me, why poor me?’ ” Kusner would say. “It was more like, ‘Let’s keep trying, I’m not doing that badly. I can go on.’ He kept an unbroken streak for not complaining, right until the end.”

Three weeks ago, we ate dinner once more, this time at the Playa Vista apartment he shared with Kusner. He was so weak he could barely stand. He had lost 30 pounds. His voice was a halting whisper. He asked me to read him a soon-to-be-published column. Sick as he was, when I told him the piece worried me, that I was not sure it was any good, he looked at me and smiled and said nothing but positive things.

It was time to go. I helped him to his feet and hugged him, knowing this might be the last hug, hoping and praying it would not.

Keep going, he told me. Just keep going.

Craig Chambers, I will, and so, surely, will your friends and family. In your example, in the graceful, powerful way you lived and died, we learned much.

Thank you.

——

A funeral service for Craig Chambers, open to the public, will be today at 3 p.m. at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, 1712 S. Glendale Ave. A memorial, also open to the public, will be at Temescal Gateway Park’s Stewart Hall on Aug. 24 at 2 p.m.

Kurt Streeter can be reached at kurt.streeter

Disappointed

After yesterday’s Mt Disappointment 50 miler, I feel worse than I’ve felt after a race in a long time. If anything, I’m usually fine after a shower, food, and a good night’s sleep. Not only do I feel really beat up, I suffered from the biggest blister I’ve gotten ever in my life. I usually never get blisters, so it’s pretty unusual for me — I think it was because I was compensating for my weak ankle that I originally injured at San Diego a couple months back that I rolled again about 4 miles in.

The weather was hot, but not as bad as I thought it would be. My nutrition and hydration was good, but because of my foot/ankle issues, I had to walk a lot of the downhills, especially coming down from Shortcut via the Silver Moccasin.

I was hoping this would be my last training run before AC, but think I’ll need another run before then to build my confidence. If my foot heals in time, I may do the training run this weekend, but will likely wait until I mark the Bulldog 50K course the following weekend, then perhaps do the last official AC training run on the 31st.

 

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Weekend in NoCal

This past weekend, Catra worked at the SF Marathon expo at the Atalanta booth with the owner/founder Heather. While she was pushing skirts, I managed to catch some seminars conducted by Julie Fingar, Bart Yasso, and Dean Karnazes.

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On Sunday, we volunteered to help new race directors Mike Palmer and Jennifer Ray at the Skyline 50K held at Lake Chabot in Castro Valley. Our task included double-checking course-markers up to the first aid station at mile 4, checking off runners as they came through, then go over the last 5 miles. When we were done, we got Rocky who we brought with us, and hung out at the finish line watching the runners come in.

This weekend, Catra will be running at Headlands, and I will be doing 50 miles at Mt Disappointment.

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