Friday, August 31, 2012

Leadville Fiasco - DNF by Spreadsheet

The two days leading up to the race, Carlos kept saying: "I wish I could just wake up on Saturday afternoon at Winfield (the turn around aid station)". Well, all of us would have missed the most critical part of the race and in some cases, what was to be our entire race.

I have to say that this was the first time I followed a plan so closely, only to lead me into a situation where it became impossible to finish. I ran out of time, although I was still 45 minutes ahead of the cut-offs at Winfield. Sounds weird? Here's how it happened.

Some of us had sent emails to the race director regarding an additional trail section that they had tried to use for years so that runners wouldn't have to run on the road section that leads into Winfield. That road is really dusty and the cars lift up a lot of dust and runners apparently hate that section. The rumour is that it added over 3 miles to the course (1.6 miles each way), all of it in the Twin Lakes to Winfield section, arguably the toughest part of the race. After running 50 miles, 3 miles of rolling trail can easily add over an hour of so-called running, in my case maybe even more. Somehow, this fact failed to register into my oxygen deprived brain.

Even at the pre-race meeting, I don't remember them telling us how much trail had been added. As far as I recall, they just mentioned that they added "some" distance but that they had added 15 minutes to the cut-offs, although not the 30 hour finish limit. Somehow, making up 15 minutes in the last 50 miles didn't seem too bad. I failed to see the real problem, which is that they had added that hour+ in one section, but only added 15 minutes to the twin Lakes cut off. To make that cut off, you had to make up the time in the FIRST 50 miles, not the second.

So my original plan, which called for turning around in about 12h30 (get to Winfield before 4h30 PM) and then keep going strong, still seemed like a good plan to me. I had all the aid station times figured out. I was the man with the plan.

To be fair, everyone else in the room made the same mistake. So many blogs and race reports warned about the folly of going out too fast that after the gun went off, we were all taking great pains to make sure we were running extra SLOW. God forbid we make it to May Queen in less than 2:15. Only Carlos took off at a good clip, the rest of us jogged slowly on the road, then got stuck on the Conga line once we hit the trail. On the trail, there isn't much you can do. You just follow. I was running alongside Chris because for some reason, our urge to pee seemed synchronized. I must have peed 5 times before I got to May Queen. All that peeing slowed me down a bit and I left May Queen at 2:37, a bit over the 2:30 I had planned. Not too shabby.

The second section goes over Sugarloaf, a 1200 feet climb and then down Powerline. I felt really good and we passed tons of people on that section. On the way down, going pretty much all out on the nasty dirt road, I clipped a rock, couldn't recover and fell really hard. I felt something slide under my left elbow, landed on a rock on my left quad and I felt there was a good chance my race was over. I got up, looked at my elbow and saw quite a bit of blood. While walking a bit, I wiped it clean with some baby wipes I had in my vest. The blood kept coming but it was squirting. I used my gloves as compresses and kept going. My quad hurt a bit but not bad. Finally we make it to the bottom and I was sure we were at the aid station because there must have been 300 people lined up on the road. Unfortunately, we still had well over a mile to go (I think) but it felt even longer.

At the aid station, I decided to show my elbow to the doctor, who cleaned it and put some gooey ointment on it but no bandage. I grabbed a few gels, refilled and took off. Time from start: 4h54, where the plan called for 4:43. Lost a bit because of the fall and clean-up but still within reach. Chris has taken off and I can see him ahead, maybe 400 meters. This section is mostly road, under the sun and it's just a nasty shuffle. Eventually, we turn into a dirt road that isn't much better. We go past a crew accessible area where I catch up to Chris who stopped to fill up with his crew. This is probably where I lost my race. There are a lot of shallow uphills which I decided to walk, because I felt like I was well within the cut-offs and almost everyone else was walking. My legs felt strong but after running for 7 or 8 hours at 10,000 feet, I wanted to be conservative and save my strength. Big mistake. We got to the Half Pipe station, where I refilled and put a bandage on my arm and left as fast as we could. We got out at 10:28Am, 6:28 from start, the plan is 6:19. We're stable at 11 minutes off plan but we're over 1h30 ahead of the cut off. There is absolutely NO sense of urgency.

This is a long climb, that gets steeper as you go and it feels like it will never end. This section feels like it will never end, although there is not much I can tell you about it. You climb. You breathe hard. You try to run when it's flat-ish. After what seems like forever, it starts going down (after a few false hopes) and then you go DOWN. The memory of my flying attempt at the Powerline was very vivid but I went down pretty fast. At Twin Lakes, we meet with Chris' crew (Kim). I refill, take a few minutes to rest in the shade and then walk to meet Chris, who's getting ready. We learn that Morgan is only a few minutes ahead, a big surprise. He's apparently having some issues with the altitude. No news from Kendra and Steve, but I suspect they're not far behind.

We leave at 12:44PM, 8h44 into the race. The plan calls for 8h25, so I lost a bit of time but the cutoff is 10h30 so I'm 1h45 ahead. What could go wrong? Again, no sense of urgency whatsoever. I'm still with Chris. We have so much time banked (or so we think) that we decide to walk to the base of the Hope Pass climb. This climb is going to be a bitch and that last section we just did was pretty difficult and we thrashed our quads going down that hill. Again, few people are running so we feel good about our decision. We cross the river and make it to the bottom. Then, the climb start. Holy Mary Mother of God. In no time at all, I'm breathing as hard as my lungs will permit. Taking a mouthful of water is a challenge because you have to skip a breath to swallow and you can't afford it. After a while, I decide to sit down to let my hr go down a bit. Chris pushes on. I recover pretty fast and keep going. Almost every log or stump has someone sitting on it. I pass way more people than the few who do pass me. Actually, most of those who pass me, I end up passing a little bit further. A girl is laying down on the side of the trail, people are asking her if she remembers her name and her address. They have a radio, so I keep going. Holy shit, this is getting serious. Now the leaders are coming down. Tony Krupicka comes first followed a few minutes later by others.

I sit one more time for a few minutes and then I push on. Eventually, after a long time, I pop out into the open and see the aid station near the top. I see Chris a bit ahead but I don't even try to catch up. He leaves the aid station just before I get there. I decide I have enough water but I get a soup. As I start eating it, Kendra and Steve come in the station and I decide to wait for them. I have plenty of time, right? It doesn't take long and we start climbing. The top is not as close as I thought but we eventually make it.

The view on top on Hope Pass was unbelievable. I don't have pictures but they would be meaningless anyway. The sense of vastness just cannot be captured by a camera. Also, the sense of accomplishment that comes with having run up that friggin mountain after running close to 50 miles is unbelievable. Anyway, we start going down, and down, and down. This is fucking steep! We meet Carlos about 2/3rd of the way down. He looks good, but he tells us to hurry up, that the new trail is really long. We get going, get to the bottom and volunteers direct us to the new trail section. People are not happy. Coming down, nobody could spear the breath to bitch. Here, it's another story. The trail goes generally up, but is rolling. I run ahead of Kendra and Steve and lose touch. 4:30PM comes and goes and I'm nowhere near the aid station. What the fuck? People are talking about another 2 miles. Shit.

I get there around 5:30PM, 13h30 into the race. I've been doing maths slowly in my head for an hour. Basically, it's taken me 4:45 from Twin Lakes to Winfield. Assuming I leave at 5:45PM, I have 4h15 to make the 10PM cutoff. And I'm still 30 minutes ahead of the cutoff! What I don't know is that some aid stations have added an extra 15 minutes on top of the 15 minutes so I actually have 4h30 but how the fuck am I supposed to know that? Nobody is talking. Everyone at that aid station is doomed, but they're still pushing people out as if nothing happened. I'm pissed. I get weighted, I've lost 6 pounds, pretty good. Too bad my fucking race is OVER.

Chris is there with Kim, maybe 4 minutes ahead of me. Morgan is sitting in his chair, white as a sheet. He tells me he gained 8 pounds. What? I assume his race is over. Chris is getting ready to go out. Kendra came in behind me and is nowhere to be seen, probably having left already. Morgan gets up and announces he's going back out. What? I ask him if he thinks that's wise but I don't push it because I don't want to scare his girlfriend. Steve is not in yet, but he had all but told me he was done. His pacer is going to be pissed. I tell him that we can wait for Steve and if he drops, maybe he could come out with me. We probably won't make the cutoffs, but at least he'll go over Hope Pass. I get ready and a short while later Steve comes in, confirms he's dropping and we take off at 17:34. We jog the trail, which is much easier in that direction. Still, it takes us a while.

I'm still doing maths. I'm feeling fairly strong. Stronger than I thought I would at this point. That's too bad because if I were more tired, I wouldn't be able to do the maths that prove that I'm screwed. I wonder if they're going to add more time once they see this fucking fiasco unravelling. I see people crying, telling their pacers that they can't make the cutoffs. I see pacers yelling at their runners that it doesn't matter, that they have to try. We get to the turn off the trail and up the pass. Holy shit. My heart rate redlines within seconds. I'm thinking that I have to drive back to Toronto on Monday, a 3 day drive. My wife broke her ankle and can't drive. To make the next cut-off, I will have to make such an effort that I can't imagine making the next one and because of the added time, I will be running downhill in the dark instead of in daylight. My chances of getting hurt going down become quite real and for what? To get pulled at Half Pipe instead of Twin Lakes? Muscle damage really hits you after 60 miles, so the discomfort I will feel during my drive home will start getting worse for every extra mile I run. I was willing to pay that price for a buckle, but not for a DNF.

I stop, turn around and tell my pacer that I'm sorry, but I can't do it. He's not happy but I don't really care at this point. I just flushed 9 months of training down the toilet. We go back down, meeting tons of racers with no (or very little) hope of finishing. We go straight down to the road, hitch-hike and some nice people give us a ride to Twin Lakes where I officially DNF.

Morgan and Kendra made it through Twin Lakes but eventually missed a cut-off. Chris missed the Twin Lakes Cut-off. Only Carlos got his buckle.

I'm still pissed off at the race director. They say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions and I'm sure that's exactly what happened. The fact is, they should have waited until next year but someone was so excited that they finally got permission to use that new trail that they couldn't help themselves. They didn't have time to think about what adding over an hour to the race meant for people who had planned their race for months and planned to finish in the 29:xx time frame. At the meeting, they didn't even mention how much longer the course was. They should have revised all the cut-offs to give the sense of urgency that they are supposed to generate. This is the biggest race fiasco I have ever seen. What a fuck up. I just wanted to run the race I trained for.

The worst thing is, I have an excuse. In all my previous DNF, I just couldn't finish. It was my weakness in a certain area that got me. The heat, the technical trails, the heat, nausea. This time, sure, the altitude was tough but that was expected and according to what I knew, I was still doing fine. Until I wasn't. So I have this excuse and I fucking hate it because now I have to prove that if I had known earlier, I could have finished.

Anyway, now I have to go back next year. I'll be in better shape. I'm going to be leaner. And of course, I'm going to have a better plan.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Pre-Leadville THoughts

Pardon me visitors, it's been two months since my last confession blog entry.

My wife and I, now being freed from the shackles of parenthood (our kids have fled the coop, for now at least) have decided to spend the summer in Sedona. It's hot, but then again Toronto ain't Antarctica either, but if you get up early, the temperature is fairly cool (less than 25C) until around 9AM. For longer run,  I go up to Flagstaff where it's much cooler, especially up in the mountains where it can be down right nippy. Sometimes I leave here and it's 25C and sunny and by the time I get to the trail head, it's 12C, covered and windy.

Somewhere around the saddle
Actually, those mountains are a big reason I was so eager to come. Mount Humphreys' trail head starts at 9,300 feet and climbs up to 12,600 over 5 miles. That's a profile very similar to the climb over Hope Pass. Not quite as steep, but the trail is nastier. I don't always go up to the very top because the last part from "The Saddle" to the summit is just a grind, but I've been there 5 times and climbed to at least 11,800ft on each occasion. From the saddle, one can then come back the same way or go around the long way following the Weatherford/Kachina trails, an added 15 miles of fun.

Going to the top, with a small group from the Sedona Running Company

Weatherford trail

19 miles of fun
There are some nice climbs around here as well, Wilson Mountain (+2400) and AB Young (+1800) to name a couple, although the altitude tops at around 7,000 feet. Still, that takes a toll. The rest of the trails I've done are rolling hills, with very little flat.

What I'm trying to say is: I've never done so much climbing. Last Spring, I remember wondering if poor sea level Torontonians like me could ever train to run uphill. Well, last time I went up the Humphreys, I actually ran most of the way up to the saddle. Most, because some of the trail is not really runnable and also I did have to take some walking breaks in the steeper parts above 11,000. I climbed to the saddle in 1:15, more than 15 minutes faster than my previous hiking time. I remember the first time I went up and I got passed by a runner, I couldn't fucking believe that guy was doing that. What a difference a few weeks can make.

Going up Wilson Mountain near Sedona

So I think I'm as ready as I can be, considering where I started at Xmas. On January 1st, I was 20 lbs overweight, still under the shock of my puking-fest at the Grand Canyon in October. One can only do so much in 8 months. I still feel I can build on what I have now and improve even more, but there's just no time. Running here is just a joy and when I think about going home, my heart sinks a little. Running is running and it shouldn't matter where you do it, but to me it just does.

On top of Wilson Mountain, looking at the Humphreys in the distance
What can I say, it ain't just the same as looking down the Down Valley Parkway from the Crother's.

We're leaving for Colorado next Wednesday. I will drop off Michelle and the cat at a pet-friendly hotel in Denver where they will wait for me. She broke her ankle hiking a few days ago, and I don't think Leadville is where she wants to be. I'm surprisingly not nervous about the race, either because I'm stupid or maybe because I know I've done pretty much everything I could to get ready for this race.