Monday, September 21, 2015

I'm Supposed to be a 201km Report!


How I Ran 80 Miles, Self-Supported, with Kurt and almost got Hypothermia

Kurt, the stoic one.  I'm a goof.


In talking about it, neither Kurt nor I recall exactly how the idea arose.  Somehow, we had gotten it into our heads to double up on the Top of Michigan 100 km which we had run twice (report here).  This race starts in Gaylord, MI, and ends in Mackinaw City, MI.  We originally planned on starting x number of hours before the official race (which was scheduled for October 3), from the finish, turning around at the start, and running back to the official finish.
That plan was moved up three weeks due to the fact that my wife is expecting our second child on October 26.  That meant that we were going to do the entire 201 km (we added one km to make it 125 miles) self-supported.


I trained for this harder than I have for any race prior.  (If you're interested in that, I've included a training section at the end of the report.)  Kurt and I pored over the map of the course, deciding where we should place the food/water drops in between the major cities along the route.  There were to be ten aid stations (AS) we hit twice, on the way down and the way back.  We would use the place where the official race started as our turn around, making a total of 21 AS. 
We wanted to finish the first 100 km no faster than 14 hours, so we calculated the time we needed to arrive at every AS.
I spent a couple of hours preparing 42 bags of Gatorade powder, 42 peanut and butter sandwiches, and 21 bags of Halloween candy.  That, along with 82 cans of Coke, 42 snack bags of goldfish crackers, and 42 snack cans of Pringles would be what was available to us.  
The forecast called for a 90% chance of rain Friday and Saturday (it was wrong in part, but more on that later), so I had packed a change of socks at every other AS, as well as a changes of shirts at the approximate 50 km  and 150 km AS, as well as the turn around.
Kurt picked me up around 2 pm Thursday afternoon, September 17, and we made our way north.  Starting at Gaylord, we stopped at the spots that we had designated for our AS and strung our bags from trees to avoid raccoon molestation.
 Well, most of our bags we strung from trees, but more on that later
 We met a very nice, older man while hanging the bags in the picture below.  He comes up again in this narrative. 

Race Day

As is always the case on race day, we woke up well before the alarm we had set.  I woke up around 3:30 am, Kurt about 4.  We got dressed, packed our fanny packs (which we had bought specifically for this occasion), and checked out the morning weather report. As I said, it was supposed to rain all day Friday and Saturday. 
The weather radar looked ominous, with a line of storms ranging from Mackinaw to south of Gaylord, and covering the western half of the upper lower peninsula. We donned our rain jackets and headed outside. 
It was not raining as we walked the short distance to the pavilion, where the actual race ends. We took some pictures, I started my video log of the journey, and we proceeded to the trail head.

-------A note on the trail. It's a crushed limestone path about 6 feet wide. The 100 km course from Mackinaw to Gaylord has an elevation gain of 700 feet, all of it a gradual uphill. Because there would be no built in walk breaks (hills), we had decided to just run until we felt like walking, and then walk until we felt like running. ------

Mackinaw to Gaylord 

The major cities along the route, north to south, are: Cheboygan, Topinabee, Indian River, Wolverine, Vanderbilt, and Gaylord.  We put two drop bags between Mackinaw and Cheboygan (distance - 16.3 miles),
one between Cheboygan and Topinabee (distance - 11.9 miles),
zero between Topinabee and Indian River (distance - 5.6 miles),
one between Indian River and Wolverine (distance - 9.7 miles),
one between Wolverine and Vanderbilt (distance 10.9 miles),
and zero between Vanderbilt and Gaylord (distance - 7.6 miles).
We also put bags at each city.  We tried to place the in-between bags as close to halfway between the cities as possible, but found out that we had placed the one between Cheboygan and Topinabee about eight miles from the former.  When we realized that, I got a tad discouraged, but realized that when we got to it on our return, we would be at the approximate 100 mile mark.  That made me feel better.
We started off at a comfortable 11 min/mile pace, and just ran.  It always feels good to run again after a taper.  By the time that we reached the second drop, we realized that we would have to walk the remainder of the distance to Cheboygan if we wanted to keep to our schedule.  We maintained a 15 min/mile walking pace, got to Cheboygan, enjoyed some snacks and water, and moved out.
After five miles, we realized that we had placed the next drop too close to Topinabee.  After seven miles, I became discouraged because I thought that we had missed it.  Then we saw it.
At Topinabee, we realized the value of hanging the bags.  I stated that we hung all but two.  This is one of the ones that we did not hang, and the raccoons had gotten into it.  They ate all of our sandwiches and my wife's cookies.  They had left the candy and salty snacks, so we were alright.
The rest of the trip to Wolverine was uneventful.  We determined that as long as we maintained a 14 min/mile, overall pace, we would be fine.  We would run until it was 13:50, and walk until it was 14:05.  Prior to that, we were running four miles, walking four miles.  Still at our original, respective pace of 11 and 15.
At Wolverine (27.2 miles), I stopped for a restroom break at the vault toilets pictured above, while Kurt gathered our supplies.  we lounged on the grass for about seven minutes.  The pace that we had maintained was finally starting to get to us.  We cleaned up our mess and soldiered on to Vanderbilt.
-----A brief note on the weather conditions.  It hadn't rained yet.  It had misted for the whole trip, but both of us were wearing our rain jackets tied around our waist.  There was no sun due to the cloud cover.  Overall, excellent running conditions that would come back to bite us later.------
I was feeling pretty gassed heading out of Wolverine.  Our pace suffered as a result.  We were reduced to just running when we could.  We met the kind older man at our drop between Wolverine and Vanderbilt and had a brief, pleasant conversation with him.  He mentioned that he had seen us from across the road that paralleled the trail, and had come over to make sure that it was indeed us, and not someone else messing with our bags.  I'm pretty sure that he was the only person that we talked to, beside ourselves, the entire trip.  At some point after Wolverine, I hooked up the charger to my Garmin, so we would run 20 minutes by Kurt's chronometer, and walk 10.
Heading out of Vanderbilt, on the 7.6 mile stretch to the turnaround at Gaylord, I went into my long dark tea time of the soul.

The Long, Dark, Tea Time of the Soul

I've talked about this before in prior reports.  It's something both Kurt and I, and many ultrarunners, experience.  We've only gone through it when the race involves running through the night.  For us, 100 milers.  It's when I fall into a psychological pit.  Everything just seems pointless.  It's difficult to describe, but if you've been there, you know.
I made it a point to tell Kurt on the drive up that it was important that both of us not experience this at the same time.  This way, the one who was not could talk the other out of it.  Kurt came through.  This still resulted in us walking the entire 7.6 miles from Vanderbilt to Gaylord, where Kurt had his.

Gaylord:  100 km:  Halfway Done

At Gaylord, Kurt had to repair his shoes with duct tape, as the sides were becoming blown out.  That's the danger of using your most comfortable, broken in shoes for something like this.  I waited at the drop bag site for him to change his socks, tend to his feet, and repair his shoes.  We then walked the half mile to the pavilion to eat our snacks.  
We discovered later that leaving the drop site without donning the long sleeved shirts that we had there would be a crucial mistake.
At the pavilion, Kurt dropped into his psychological hole.  His was centered around the fact that we had arrived at the turn around nearly two hours later than we had planned for.  We were now about 15 hours and 50 minutes into the run.  It was my turn to help him out.  I don't know how I had the faculties to figure it out, but I remarked that it was because this was a self-supported run.  That's what caused the added time.  It took us about five minutes to get the items we wanted out of the bags that we had hung.  We then spent 5 minutes enjoying them.  Add another five minutes to put the trash back in the bags, and that's 15 extra minutes per stop.  Multiply that by ten stops, and that's an extra 2.5 hours.
In reality, we were keeping up our pace, but the time it took to get to our bags was adding up considerably.
We threw our trash in the garbage can there, turned around, and set our sights for Mackinaw.

The Long Road Home

I don't remember if we did any running between Gaylord and Vanderbilt.  If so, it was brief.  When we finally reached Vanderbilt, we just grabbed some water to fill up our hand-helds, and we each grabbed a Coke.  We sat on a bench at the Vanderbilt trail head and just enjoyed them before moving on.
The bench in question, the next morning.
-------A note on Coke.  This is the best thing ever during a long run.  Liquid sugar and caffeine.  Nothing beats it.  There was an added pep to our step coming out of every AS due to Coke.------
About one mile out of Vanderbilt, it started to rain.  The expression, "raining buckets" does not capture the essence of this downpour.  It wasn't a thunderstorm, but it was raining hard.  Super hard.  Super, duper hard.  We had both put our rain coats on at Gaylord, so we just kept on walking.
The problem that we encountered was that all that we were wearing underneath our coats was short sleeved tech tees.  Kurt's shirt didn't even have sleeves.  50 degrees isn't a problem.  Torrential downpour isn't a problem.  But when you combine them both, and you're not wearing adequate clothing, stuff goes bad.  We were getting hypothermic.  For every two steps we took moving forward, we moved about one stride to either side.  We ran into each other countless times.  We both fell off the side of the path a few times.
We were in no man's land, between Vanderbilt and Wolverine (neither of which is any kind of city to speak of anyway), with no way out.  We were focused on getting to our next drop.  It was just something to look forward to.
The drop in question

That drop was marked by a series of very large boulders on the opposite side of the trail.  Both of our headlamps were fixed on that side.  Kurt told me later that he would see them, but when he stared at them for a bit, they would disappear.  I was seeing the side of a barn out of the corner of my eye, and when I turned my gaze upon it fully, it would dissolve into the foliage that was actually there.  When we finally did get to our bags, we grabbed some water.  I remember telling Kurt that I had to get out of this, meaning the rain.  He went to look for a lean-to that he thought he remembered seeing on our way down.
This was a new experience for us.  Our first 100 mile completion, Indiana Trail, 2013, was cold but there was no precipitation during the race.  It got into the 30's (Fahrenheit), overnight, and the course was 50% covered in water.  So we had overcome the cold.  The difference was that, at IT, we both had long sleeved shirts at all of the AS along the course.  By the end of that race, I was wearing six shirts and two light jackets.
Neither of us had anything long sleeved at this point.  The closest spot that we had anything warm was Indian River, about 8-9 miles away.  I had been shivering for the past three hours.  When Kurt came back to tell me that he couldn't find any lean-to, I told him that I was just going to go up the driveway and knock on the old man's door.  Kurt said, "What are you going to say to him?"  I had no idea.  All I knew was that I had to get out of the rain.  In actuality, we weren't even 100% sure that that was his house at the end of the drive.  We knew that he lived close, and there weren't any other houses near, so I was confident that it was.  However, it was 4 am.  I acknowledged Kurt's point, and asked him what we should do.  We ended up seeing an old barn across the road from what may or may not have been the guy's driveway, and went up to investigate.
The barn was missing half of one long wall, and many sections of roof.  But it was dry, and out of the wind.  I ventured to the back of the barn, looking for an old horse blanket, a tarp, anything.  All I found was a chair.  I brought the chair to the front of the barn and sat down.  Kurt laid down on a 2 x 4 to avoid laying on the cement floor.  We both fell asleep for 5-10 minutes.  Upon waking up, I became aware of the fact that I was still shivering.  I told him we had to do something.  The rain was still pouring down outside.
The door of the barn, minutes before our rescue.
We had both brought our phones, so Kurt found a cab company in Gaylord and explained the situation to the dispatcher that answered the phone.  The situation was this:  we knew that we were between Vanderbilt and Wolverine, on Trowbridge Rd.  We had the address on the mail box at the foot of the driveway.  We had $10, no credit card on us(Kurt had one in his car at Mackinaw), and ideally wanted to get back to Mackinaw.  Failing that, we would take anything that was open in Gaylord.  An all night diner, gas station, anything that was warm and dry.
The next 1.5 hours was a comedy of errors starring Kurt and the cab driver.  We had given the dispatcher the address and Kurt's phone number.  The driver called him to confirm the address.  He then called back 45 minutes later, asking if we had seen anyone drive by.  That was a definite no.  He told us that he was on Old 27.  Kurt explained that we weren't on Old 27, we were on Trowbridge Rd., and asked the driver if he had a GPS or a smart phone so he could just plug in the address.  The driver replied that he did not, and then his phone dropped the call.
This whole time, we were standing outside, in the wind and rain, just hoping to see headlights.  After repeated attempts to try and call the driver back, Kurt gave up, and we were stuck again.
It was now 6 am.  We had been shivering for nearly 5 hours.  I walked up to the house at the top of the drive.  Kurt was 20 feet behind me.  I told him that I was just going to ask for an old blanket, and see where the conversation went.  Kurt said, "Let's just wait 30 minutes."  I said, "What's going to be different in 30 minutes?  There's nobody awake in their now, what's to say that there will be in 30 minutes?"  The fact that we weren't even totally sure that it was his house made me turn around and head back to the barn.
Once inside, Kurt called his wife and asked her to find a cab company in Mackinaw and Cheboygan, give them the address where we were, and pay them over the phone.  About an hour later, the cab pulled up, and we were warm again, on our way back to Mackinaw.

Lessons Learned

As is our wont, we dissected the heck out of what happened on the drive home.  We came to the realization that, at Gaylord, if we would have just recognized the fact that it was only going to get colder, and put on the appropriate clothing, we would have been able to marshal through the rain.  We would have been wet, but we would have been warm (relatively).  
We also learned just how different doing things self-supported is from doing them at an official event.  Aside from the time factor, if this was at an event, we would have had to only make it to the next AS, where we would have warm, dry clothes.  We could change, spend some time with other people in a well-lit, supportive atmosphere, and then head back out to the next AS, where we could do it again.  Being stuck in the dark, in the middle of nowhere, with no relief is completely psychologically deflating.


We still have to refine our plan somewhat.  But like MacArthur and the Philippines, "I shall return."  We've already blocked off sometime between the end of July, 2016, to the end of August to make our triumphant return.  This way, the cold won't be an issue.  In the interim, we will make the necessary adjustments.  We left some unfinished business on that trail, and we plan to come back and take care of it.

Video Log

I made a video log of the first 62.2 miles.  There's some sweet intro music over a slide show for the first 3.5 minutes.  So if you want to skip to the actual log, start there.

Garmin Data

I used a portable USB charger to charge my Garmin 310 about 14 hours in.

My Wife's Delicious Cookies

I mention these a few times in the video log I've included.  They are the perfect run food.  The ingredients:
  • bananas
  • raw, natural almonds
  • quick cooking oats
  • raisins
My wife doesn't measure anything when cooking, so I can't give you any measurements.  She just takes 4-5 bunches of bananas, peels them and puts them in a big bowl.  She then beats them until it becomes a soupy mixture.  She adds oats until it becomes thick, then adds the almonds (which have been run through the food processor) and raisins.  Then you put them in a 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes.  The best run food ever.


I trained harder for this race than I ever have.  It became evident to me after my DNF at IT 100 this year what was too little training.  I still don't know how much is enough, so I figured I'd err on the side of too much.  So that's what I did.
There are 92 days in June, July, and August.  During those 92 days, I ran 950 miles.  I only ran 5 days per week.  I ran doubles every week.  I started with once per week in June, moved up to twice per week in July, and ran two weeks of three times per week.  I remember, during the third week of July, just wishing that it was September so that I could taper.  This was my first time ever not going bat crap crazy during a taper.  I was just too happy to not have to bust my butt every day.
Because my Achilles heel is my lower back, I went to the gym and did ab and lower back exercises every Monday.
I don't know how much was too much.  I didn't suffer from over training syndrome, so it wasn't too too much.
So this is my go to training for any race of import.  I can scale it down a bit for a just finish, but not too much.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Lessons From A DNF

Lessons From A DNF

(not a race report)

DNF: Did Not Finish.  
My long time running partner, Kurt, and I had three rules for not finishing a race.
  1. You're physically broken
  2. You're bleeding out
  3. You risk worsening a physical injury by continuing
Up to 25 Apr,, 2013 I was 2/2 at the 100 mile distance.  
My first attempt/completion was at Indiana Trail 100 in April of 2013(report here), where 65% of the field dropped because of the course conditions.
My second attempt/completion (here) was at Hallucination 100 in September of 2014, where I had to walk the last 25 miles due to a back issue.
I felt as if I were invincible.  I had stared some horrible stuff in the face and come out on top.  

When I felt my back tightening up at the end of the first loop yesterday, I knew what it meant.  I didn't say anything to Kurt because there was no point.  All I could do was to just rock it until the wheels fell off. 
They fell off sooner, rather than later.  About two files from the first aid station on loop three, approximately 35 miles into the race, they flew wildly.  I told Kurt what was happening.  I must have said at least a dozen times, "I'm not walking the last 60+ miles."  After walking the last 25 of Hallucination, there was no way I was doing that.  Kurt suggested that I finish the loop.  I told him that I really didn't see the point in that, and dropped as soon as we hit the aid station.  I had nothing to prove to anyone.
Yes.  It hurt.  A lot.  For many reasons.  We were tracking to set a PR for both of us.  We were undefeated at the distance.  We were tougher than anything that we had faced.
None of that mattered when faced with a situation beyond you're control.  Which brings me to the point of this post

One Way To Look At It

  • I was robbed!
  • Son of biscuit!
  • Why me!
  • I coulda' been a contender!
  • It's just not fair!

How I Got Over It

This is what I discovered, after I got off of my brief visit on the pity pot.
I am 99.9% sure that Kurt and I would have finished sub 24 at IT in 2013.  We ran at least 50km in training every single Saturday for three months.  That was not to be.  The entire week preceding the race, it rained.  The course was 75% covered in water.  We persevered.  We were among only 35% to finish the race.  We were darn proud.
But wait a minute.  Shouldn't we rage against the weather for ruining our chance at a sub 24?  after all,  it was a circumstance beyond our control.
Either I had to be as mad at those circumstances as I was at these, or I had to let go of this as much as I had let go of this as much as I let go of that.
So that's it.  I could waste my time and energy raging against things that I can't/couldn't control, or I can accept what happened, and strive to make sure that it doesn't happen again.  I have a big race coming up in October.  I am so excited to train for it.  I'm looking forward to whipping myself into shape; to making sure that this never happens again.  As is said, "Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me."
Also, I have absolutely nothing to prove to anyone.

  • I was among the 35% at IT100 in 2013 who didn't quit because it was cold or because the course was flooded. 
  • I walked the last 25 miles of Hallucination 100 after my back seized up.

Time to get off of the pity pot, and get to work.
back to work boys