Sunday, June 23, 2013

First S24O

I've been slowly assembling a bicycle touring kit, one doesn't need much - a tent, a sleeping bag...a bike I guess (have enough of those)...and a little gumption. I finally bought a little 1-2 person tent (2 if you are cozy) that would fit on a bike, and picked up a down bag a few weeks before that. With nothing really to keep me from going I just decided a pick a date and GO. I had been thinking of going mid-week, and while a camping adventure might not seem like the best idea for middle-of-the-work-week it had some attractive features as well. I could just leave an extra change of work clothes there and my office has a full locker room with showers. The plan was to bring my camping kit to work with me on my bike, work the day, then take off for the Thursday night, return early the next morning and shower for work (Friday), then take my time getting home after work that night. Once the plan was set, just had do it, no excuses not to, right?

Ugh, from the moment I left work on Thursday afternoon until well after I got back to the office Friday morning, it rained. It Poured.

I figured I was well prepared enough so I didn't deviate from the plan. I left the office around 4pm, picked up a couple banh mi from my favorite lunch spot near the office (I wasn't planning on cooking on this trip) and took off. My destination was Kanaskat-Palmer State Park, about a 30 mile ride from the office. I didn't reserve a spot but I figured it wouldn't be a problem on a deary Thursday (it wasn't, plenty of room at the campground) but this way I wouldn't have to locate a never-before-visited stealth camping spot. The ride there was fairly uneventful, the bike nav app on my phone got me there just fine, even along some unpaved trails that I wouldn't have found otherwise (pic).

About 8mi out of camp I stopped at a Freddies for a couple 22s. Picked up some new-to-me beers from Harmon Brewing (Tacoma, I think?). It was still raining pretty hard and starting to get dusky so I pressed on to camp. Once there a quick loop around the campground to pick the least puddle-ridden spot. The tent pads were all demarked with a wooden retaining edge, in most empty spots creating a fine lake to camp on. I found one that looked a little higher and dryer than the rest (but still very very wet) and quickly set up camp. My tent goes up in about 5min and I unpacked the rest of my gear and threw it inside as quickly as I could. Snapped a quick picture of my campsite then dove inside myself. I changed into some slightly drier clothes and cowered inside for the rest of my stay. Ate a couple sandwiches, drank a lot of beer, read a little, monitored the perimeter of the tent for leaks (it's a decidedly 3-season tent and this was pushing the envelope into the 4th season) and eventually turned it. I slept fairly well (drunk) but awoke at around 4:30 (normal wake up time for me) and It Was Still Pouring. Ugh.

Ok. Tear down camp in record time, put my wet cycling gear back on. Oh great. The dry pair of sock I had saved wound up stored in a leaky part of the tent and were water logged. Well, at least they are wool and On they go. Tearing down camp goes smoothly enough, though I hate putting away so much kit this wet and muddy. Just means that I have to pull everything back out later to dry out, oh well. I snapped one more picture (with my apparently blurry-lensed phone - looks sad, no?).

Back on the road the return trip is actually quite a bit quicker. It's a lot more downhill, though very gradual. There is one half-mile section of very steep (10%+ grade) where my loaded bike pace slows to a crawl, but otherwise is a nice return trip. Snapped another pic (blurry-lensed again) on the trail. I arrived back at the office before 8am and was able to slosh and trudge to my cubicle before most of the office arrived. Grabbed my dry Corporates and headed down to the showers. As miserable as my camping trip was, its better than a day at the office! and it was nice to break up the work week, I regret nothing. Though I'll certainly wait for a better forecast for next time. Next time will be soon though - Can't waste these long summer days!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sri Chinmoy 24 hour run (Sydney, Australia June 15-16, 2013)

I'd seen the name Sri Chinmoy many times in association with various endurance runs that involve running a short mindless loop for insane distances. Apparently he was a spiritual leader born in Bangladesh in 1931, orphaned at a young age, who became a spiritual leader then immigrated to NYC in the 1970's, was an inspiration to musicians (like Carlos Santana) and athletes (like Carl Lewis) and politicians (Gorbachev and Mandela), eventually nominated for the Nobel Peace prize. He was vegetarian, didn't drink/ use drugs, celibate (though if you met him after marriage, you weren't required to become celibate) who knew the meditative and "self-transcendence" value of ultra running and established the Sri Chinmoy marathon team.

I knew I had to find a run to do if I was going all the way to Australia for a meeting, and this is what fit on the calendar. I had done only one 24 hour run before at PacRim 2010 and at that time only intended to run 50 miles under 12 hours. This time I had the stated goal of 100 miles under 24h.

I spent the bulk of my first day in Australia scoping out the public transportation to the Blacktown International Sportspark, a former Olympic training grounds, where the race would start Saturday at 10 AM. It is about 2 -2.5 hours each way if you don't get on the wrong train. Stopped for a coffee and bottle of coke, nearly $8! Race day awoke at 4 AM, started carefully applying body glide, tape to feet, packed drop bags. Debated whether to take my BP pills or not, and decided to take a double.

You had the option of either 24h or 12h to run as many times as possible around a 400 m track. There were only 39 runners in the whole race (>25% were over 50 yo), which was apparently the Australian National Championships, meaning most everyone there was fast. Immediately I set up a borrowed table between a runner named Karen who did 100M in just over 21 h despite an injury, and the eventual women's winner, Larissa (who did 193 km that day). A walker, Sharon, who is the national walking champion along with her husband Justin who broke the walking record that day,190+ km/ 24 h, gave us her race report from the recent world champtionships in the Netherlands. They advised a strategy of taking it easy in the daytime heat (Sydney has palm trees, it is 70 degrees even in the shortest day of the year this week) and cranking it up at night, when it is in the 40's. They swivel-hip walk faster than I can run and barely look like they are exerting themselves. They just look like normal people aside from all their leg muscles. I got the usual, incredulous, "you came all the way here for this?"

Had 90 minutes to set up my own personal "aid station" which is what I could carry in a backpack. Changes of clothes, Hammer perpetuum (which raised some eyebrows at airport security), coca cola, salt and vinegar pringles, gu's, extra body glide, PB + J sandwich/ 2 bananas. Karen, who had also taken a train, had 2 bags and at least a dozen flasks of different liquids already set up. Everyone knew everyone already."You do a lot of these? (24h races)" It seems the races are a bit fewer and far between compared to WA. I think they thought my goal of a mere 100 miles was cute, but Australians are very low key and polite.

It was a beautiful sunny day, a bit warm (upper 60's) for a compression shirt but I knew the chafage savings would be worth it. I didn't know the runners so couldn't tell who would eventually win... sometimes a runner would take a break for hours then come back fresh, and end up winning after 24 h. Some seemed really strong at first and quit after 12 or 18 hours. Some walkers wearing tropical shorts eventually ended up going a lot farther than I did. I swear, I wish I could walk fast. The eventual winner Trevor ran in a tank top and shorts (until the very end when it was low 40's and you could see your breath) insanely fast but would take long breaks in between, never looked tired even at the end.

I took it easy; I gave myself full license to do as poorly as my body dictated, but quitting early was not an option because there were 14 hours of darkness (5 days from the shortest day of the year) and there was nowhere else to go at that hour anyway. The thing about "self-transcendence" runs is, apparently they do not allow runners to socialize unless they are walking on the outer tracks, it is illegal. So I turned on my tunes early and just people-watched. I used to think the idea of a 1 mile loop was monotonous, but surprisingly this 400 m track (about 3 minutes running easy pace) was actually not bad, the repetition was meditative and even changing directions every 4 hours was somewhat jarring after awhile. The hardest part was wrapping my head around the idea of 403 laps, or when brain dead at midnight considering that I still had over 150 laps to go and 7 hours more of darkness. The sun went down by 5 pm, and it got cold fast. Was under 10 hours at 50 miles but started to crash and burn right away; I do not do well after dark, even with the blazing stadium lights on. I took a caffeine tab but it may as well have been popcorn- no effect.

Started to struggle even before 8 pm. There was a volunteer in a green hat (learned later his name was Milos, actually I think he was crewing for his GF who was running the 12h run, which started at 10 pm), who knew all the runners by name and every loop yelled words of encouragement all night. He was tireless, trying to get me back on my feet after my numerous cat naps, fetching hot drinks or once even pulling me out of my chair. It's amazing, how even the simplest words of encouragement are gold to someone who is feeling so shitty and confused.

Also saw a fellow MM #1883, Jc who was on vacation and on his quest for 7 continents (he only has Africa left, already did 50 states and 100+ marathons), just doing 50k of the 12 hour run. We discussed various MM we know, he kept me company during my "zombie" hours, his wife and friend cheering us each loop. Everything at the aid station tasted like curry and was vegetarian, which was fine until the bowels let go. They asked me what they could get for me, soup? porridge? coffee? tea? but I was too confused to answer.
I had to do 403 loops of 400 m to meet 100M. Even at 20 hours I thought I had a chance. Was texting Rob and Ocean with what I'm sure was incoherent babble at rest stops. At 21 hours I knew that though it was still mathematically possible to do my sub 24 100m, but I did not have enough gas in the tank, so sat in my chair sticky and freezing for a 45 min cat nap.

The sun started coming up around 21 hours. It was still freezing cold. I had no goal but to keep moving, and just walked. Then in the last hour I decided to run again, finished at 370.3 meters, or 91 miles. They gave us sandbags labeled with our numbers (which looked like dope) to drop in our last lap so we could get credit for every last metre, which they measured with a wheel. Apparently I missed the awards ceremony where all the finishers got trophies (even 6th place). Picked mine up later from Jc.

The 2 mile hilly walk back to the train station was a true death march. Bought a greasy burger so wouldn't bonk in the 2 hours back to the hotel. There was no food there and I nearly cried with the thought of walking to the mall for a sandwich. After a shower and 6h nap, my BP is the lowest I've ever seen, 96/56.  but little chafage and the feet look good and ready for next weekend's Wellington marathon.

Friday, June 14, 2013

It ain't over til it's over (Australia, June 13-14, 2013)

Felt refueled after the relaxing weekend, only 2.5 days until my first trip to Australia. What could go wrong?

Hellish 2 days. Wednesday up at 4 because I need to get in a 10 mile run before work…. Every patient was late or ran over, fires to put out, a bizillion things to review/ sign in my inbox, emails, phone calls…. forget about lunch….haven’t packed yet... barely make it home with only 30 minutes left to pack. The plan is to travel 19 hours and 17 time zones from Wednesday red eye to Friday morning to Sydney, Saturday morning run a 24 hour race with a goal of my first sub-24 100 miles, then go to a neurology meeting for 5 days, fly to New Zealand for the weekend to run a marathon, then fly home and return to work the next day.

I make it to the airport by 4:40 for my 7 pm flight. Scan my passport. See agent it says. Wait in the Delta customer service line. Where is my visa, the agent asks. Blank look. Visa? I need a visa to go to Australia? Wha? It’s a fucking British commonwealth country, not like Argentina…. And there I just waited in a line at the airport and bought one there. No, he could not give me a boarding pass until I had a visa, but good news, I could get an instant e-visa on line.

So I pull out my laptop and go to the Australian government web site. I click a bunch of buttons and it takes several screens to get to e-Visa. I enter my info and… what? They cannot grant me a visa? They Delta airlines guy just shrugs his shoulders. The lady waiting in line next to me looks over. She is a flight attendant. Of course Australia requires a visa. You’ve got to check every country you go to, duh and too bad for you. I scan my laptop screen to try to figure out why. I think it is because my passport expires next month, and they require a passport that is good for at least 6 months. This makes no sense to me as I will only be there a week.

My heart stops. Then it starts racing. My mouth is suddenly parched. My head starts throbbing. I am a deer in the headlights as my week flashes in front of my eyes. I can’t think straight. I have an hour and a half until I have to board my flight. I can’t renew my passport now. I can’t find another ticket to Australia tomorrow and anyway I would miss my run. I can’t get a refund on my meeting tuition or my hotel room, or my flight to New Zealand. Maybe I should find a flight to New Zealand and skip the meeting. But if I miss my outgoing flight, my entire itinerary is nullified and I have to pay a change fee.

I scramble to find the number for the US embassy in New South Wales Australia. They do not answer questions about visas until after 1:30 pm, and it is only 10 am there. Every business is closed in the US now it’s after 5 pm. I start googling Australia visa. I click a link to a 24-hour 3rd party agency who helps facilitate visas. I pay the $40 fee. Within 5 minutes they tell me, I am granted a visa. It turns out, I had initially requested the wrong visa (they have a separate visa for short term visits called ETAs). Hallelujah! Trouble is, I can’t download the visa number because their website is only compatible with PCs, not macs. I call them. The guy is sorry, he has no registration number to give me, but he assures me my visa was approved and linked to my passport. The Delta airlines guy checks with his manager. They can’t let me on without the registration number. Another oh-well shrug, on to checking in the next lady. I now have less than 30 minutes to board my flight or lose my entire trip. Around and around in circles, on and on, denied denied. 5 minutes left. Give up? finally the Delta airlines guy rechecks with his manager, it finally went through. He checks my bag, I run to the security line, and get to my terminal to find… my flight is delayed. I only have a 1 hour layover at LAX and the flight is 25 minutes delayed. Even if I make the connection, will my bag? 

I think I'm awake (since really I just lost a day), but I'm not. So far Sydney is like a Toronto or Chicago but with and Seattle summer weather. Lots of ethnic diversity, I've never seen so many Chinese people, especially with Australian accents.

I know I should check out the Opera House or the Sydney Harbor Bridge or finding live Koalas and Kangaroos but I'm too damn greasy and tired. 

I spend half the day drinking and the other half scoping my route out to the Blacktown International Sportspartk where I will be looping a 400 m track for 24 hours. Walk to tram, take tram to Central station, 1 hour train ride to Rooty Hill,
oops got on wrong train, oops got off wrong platform, ask a couple of locals who look at me quizzically. I'm WALKING to the Sportspark from here? The one on the highway? It's only 25-30 min from train station to sportspark, but I'm sure it will suck in the dark tomorrow (it's winter in Australia), and it sure will such after running 24 hours.

Adventure Run (Anderson Island WA, June 9, 2013)

Last weekend, the Fremont 5K Friday night and Flying Wheels ride saturday were fun, but what I was really looking forward to was Sunday’s adventure run. Sleep in, just pack your supplies and wander around exploring your surroundings without any set route or agenda. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a fan of organized races, which have a course of certain distances already marked with aid set up, but I’m just not into collecting buckles or trying to make cut-off times right now. Rob’s wanted to see Anderson Island, which I’d never heard of. It’s a small island reachable by a ferry from Steilacoom south of Tacoma (which apparently has the state's oldest library and oldest penitentiary). The southernmost island in Puget Sound.

I have this deja-vu like I’ve been to Steilacoom before, but it takes me awhile to remember, a quaint small town with absolutely no parking within miles of the ferry, so we take the car onto the ferry. Once across, we drive around the island which looks a little like a mini-whidbey, and part at Anderson state park where there are only 3-4 parking spots carved into the bushes. This trail is lush but pretty gnarly, rooty, and buggy.

We bush-whack a patch to find a beach, get back on the trail and back onto pavement, which is always a relief for me. After a couple miles we find another trail which seems even gnarlier, and the foliage (including some fern porn) labeled with signage,
the random chimney in the middle of the forest.
Then we found another bigger beach all to ourselves to run along the pebbles.

Rob’s up ahead calling out, “poison oak” and “stinging nettles”. I’m still not really able to reliably identify poison oak but do remember the “leaves of 3 let them be”.

About an hour of that got a little old, so luckily one of us (not me) has a good sense of direction and got us back on the road. None of the roads are actually along the waterfront, which are occupied by private property, but we can see snatches of it.

Occasionally one of us points out something to look at, the abandoned ferry boat,
the donkey in someone’s yard,
wildflowers, but mostly we just ran in companionable silence. Still it is very different from running alone.

Navigating the roots and nettles in the muggy weather has made me a little sluggish and we only covered about 11 miles, but it’s OK. Catch this ferry or the next. Looking forward to where the next adventure run will be.

Knowing when to quit (May 24-26, 2013)

Went to see my doc about an unrelated issue last month, and my BP was 160/100. It’s not the first time. Even 7 years ago I remember a 150/95, but I had been rushing around and taken Sudafed. When I ran VT100 the first time, my BP was 160/95, and they just blew it off. I must be nervous. Same thing last year. The machine must be broken. Ultrarunners don’t walk around with BPs that high. Kept a log for 2 weeks to see if it was a fluke. My BP was 150-170/ 90-100 every day. I would have to start BP pills. What? But it would wait until after Pigtails 150.

Ocean and Dyno had been training admirably for the sole purpose of preventing my 3rd DNF at VT100 next month. Dyno ran his first marathon at Dizzy Daze 2 months ago. They were ready to spend the entire holiday weekend to pace me 2 nights in a row. As usual I slept poorly the night before and went out too fast at first (even ran a sub 10h 50 mile split and beat my last years 100k split by over an hour). Still, I felt OK until the sun went down. That is when I turned into a pumpkin. Ocean had the bad luck of being first to pace. I went from doing 2:10 loops to a nearly 6 hour loop, staggering, sleepwalking. Didn’t want to take caffeine tabs because of my BP so took my 2 hour nap break early, then did a loop with Dyno.  The sun came up and I felt normal again. Did OK the next 12 hours or so.

Then started lap #13 of 16 with Ocean. Suddenly everything was hurting. Dark thoughts invaded my head that Ocean could not respond to. What is wrong with me, I suck, why couldn’t I just keep moving like everyone else? It’s always the same, nothing will ever change. I’m pissed off. I decide all the pain is in my head. I start sprinting because I can. I ran the last 2 miles of that loop at what felt like sub 9 minute pace, now 110 miles into the run. The wind felt good, the legs felt loose, the burning foot pain forgotten for the moment, pain IS all in your head. I knew I would pay later for my foolishness but I didn’t give a crap.

As soon as I stopped, the pain came rushing back. Now I was drenched in sweat from sprinting. Shivering. Nauseous but hungry. Feet swollen massively with heat rash, so I had to switch to bigger shoes. I don’t like 100s, I really don’t like 150s. I need to retire. Someone up there has been trying to tell me something for 3 years that I refused to acknowledge- runs that continue into night are not for me.

After a very long break I am totally stiff and frozen but I take off with Dyno on loop #14. I start running a little but suddenly I can’t keep enough calories in. Then I start peeing gallons every 20 minutes, but miraculously manage not to spray my shoes in the dark. I slow to 1 mph. I look for patches of ground to lie down on. There was a bench somewhere…. How far was it? I would cut off my left breast for a cot. But I can’t take caffeine or advil now…. have to get back to the aid station which is an eternity away. Every time I see disembodied headlamps coming at me, I feel a weird panic, like crying. All hopes of finishing under 48 hours disappear, under 50, under 52… or at all…..

I see Rob coming the other way, something like 75 miles into his 100, had been going for sub 20 but having a rough day too and left his pacer. I don’t want him to leave but he has to keep moving and so do I, only a couple miles to the aid station, only 22 miles left to go. Dyno is doing everything possible to keep me going, he has already run about 40 miles himself. I’m feeling claustrophobic, I HAVE to get out of these GD woods. Finally we get out of the woods but the street side is no easier, it’s now single track. I can’t move at all. I am vaguely aware that I kept repeating, “what?” and “where are we?” before the hallucinations started. Parts of the ground kept coming up to meet me. I would see things moving in my peripheral vision. Finally I was convinced I saw a giant Garfield the cat… no wait…. Actually it was Pikachu from Pokemon, 

or maybe lights reflecting off 2 yellow street signs.
Dyno called Ocean. It had taken me like 4 hours to get halfway through that loop and there was no way I was going to finish. I remember being shuttled into a car then somehow getting home.

A couple hours later I woke up, hearing voices downstairs. Aside from feeling stinky with itchy feet, felt fine. I had planned a BBQ and Mrs. Ocean and son came by to help cook. Rob and Francesca (who finished the 200 miler in 62 hours) came, but no one else did. Guess people were tired, or still running, or…. felt uncomfortable to be around a DNFer. It’s true… once you DNF it gets easier to DNF. Once you steal, once a quitter….

Got a couple of messages over the next week, was I OK? Of course I was OK. So why am I annoyed by the underlying tone of pity, the assumption that I should feel devastated rather than so happy to be showered, off my feet, and drinking beer instead. I guess either I’m defensive/ projecting/ in denial or I just hate pity. I’ll admit I wasn’t as prepared as many of my colleagues, and I certainly didn’t play the right strategy race day, but I live to run another day. I’ll never be an Olympian or a supermodel so why is running 100s any different. Not everyone can do it, and not everyone wants to do it. Maybe this time you’ll find me in the kiddie pool having more fun than in the open water.

Thanks to Ocean and Dyno for being true friends, welcome to the thankless world of pacing…. You sure you still want to go to VT100?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Ennui, it's OK

French Open has clay. Wimbledon has grass. Well, move over fancy pants tennis Majors, the Eugene Open has plastic! Ennui, plastic is just not your surface. That's the precise reason why you didn't shine this year. It had absolutely nothing to do with going to bed at 4am, all jacked up on red wine, and all your pre-game "smokes" and beer, and extra-large breakfast. 

Congrats to Ocean Jr. & Papa V for repeating as the 2013 Eugene Open champions.