August 28, 2009

Harney Peak

View from top of Harney Peak

One of the nice things about imploding at only 24 miles into my race at Lean Horse was the fact that I felt fresh as a daisy within a very short period of time. Took advantage and spent the next couple of days hiking and sight seeing in the Black Hills. Saw lots of wildlife and awesome scenery - you can see some pictures here.

One of the highlights was doing the moderate 6 mile round trip hike from the Little Devil's Tower trailhead along the Needles Hwy to the top of Harney Peak, the highest point in South Dakota at 7242 feet. Beautiful trail through Custer State Park and the Black Elk Wilderness, which is part of the Black Hills Nat'l Forest. Man, they have some really nice trails through fragrant pine forest with plenty of rocks (mostly granite) and roots - I wish the Lean Horse course used some of these types of trails rather than dusty gravel roads!

Now THIS is more like it!

The trail meanders past many different rock formations in the Needles district and eventually hooks up with the #9 trail from Sylvan Lake.

It then begins to climb more steeply and ends with a few sets of stairs to the top of an old fire tower at the top of the peak. The tower is no longer used for fire spotting, but is still open to allow the plethora of tourists who make the hike a birds eye view of the surrounding area. On a clear day you can see 5 different states, but it was a little hazy during the time I was there as you can see.

View from the other side of Harney Peak

One of the coolest things was watching a hawk soar.....below me! Bizarre!

In spite of not accomplishing my goal of finishing the Lean Horse Half Hundred, I had a great trip and am already ponderin' which 50 mile trail race to do next. Giving some serious thought to Surf the Murph this fall and/or McNaughton next April. I may have to sacrifice doing Wild Duluth and Chippewa in the process though. Decisions, decisions!

August 24, 2009

Lean Horse 2009

I had every intention of coming to Lean Horse and accomplishing something I'd never done before.

Be careful what you wish for.

I suppose that ultra runners who participate in the sport for any length of time fall into one of two categories: 1) those who have DNF'd a race and 2) those who are going to. I took care of business and got that obligation out of the way this past weekend.

Here's how it went down:

Broke the 11 hour drive up into 2 separate days and got to play a little bit at Badlands National Park on the way out to Hot Springs. You can view the pictures here. Got settled in to my motel, did the packet pick up thing, met up with several other Minnesota runners (I'd mention names, but I'm afraid I'll forget someone), had the pre-race dinner, yadayadayada.

Got to the start line just before sunrise. The temps were nice and cool but were expected to reach the low 90's that day (it actually got even hotter than predicted - high temps ranged from 96 to 100 degrees depending on who you ask). I had what I thought was a solid strategy: walk the ups, jog the downs, everything else was negotiable depending on how I was feeling. Primary goal was to finish, deep down goal was to finish in under 12 hours which was the official (albeit soft) cutoff for the 50 milers.

We toed the line, counted down from 10 and off we went, right on time at 6:00 am. I was feeling pretty relaxed and enjoying the cool temps. We had about a 3 mile run through town on an asphalt path before hitting a gravel/dirt road to the first aid station 4 miles later.

Heading out of Hot Springs on the asphalt.

I was using my Nathan, so I cruised right through the first aid station. We crossed through a grassy field and landed on Argyle Road, a twisty, hilly gravel road with no shade what-so-ever. We would be on this road until 16+ miles into the race (and again after the turn around on this out and back course) before finally getting on the Mickelson trail. The second aid station was at mile 10 and I cruised through this one too. At this point I was slightly ahead of my planned pace and was feeling great! Eating a gel every 30 minutes, a BCAA cap every 30 minutes, an S cap every hour, slurping Heed. Everything was clicking.

I was expecting another aid station just a couple miles later since it had been listed on the web site when I was planning my race, but it had since been eliminated without my noticing. This was where I was planning on refilling my Nathan the first time. Big lesson learned - double check race logistics right before the event to catch last minute changes. The miles came and went - no aid station appearing on the horizon. I started to ration my Heed to make it last, and at about 15.5 miles I was starting to feel like I was getting slightly behind with my fluid intake. I was also getting to the point that my stomach was tired of Heed and I'd rather stick pins in my eyes than eat another gel - waaaaaay to early to be feeling like that! I had a hand held with Perpetuem planted in my drop bag at the 16 mile aid station, along with another flavor of Heed, so I didn't panic.

The Road to Hell - aka Argyle Road

Got in to the Argyle aid station at mile 16 about 10 minutes ahead of schedule, but lost that standing in line for the 1 water jug with about a dozen runners wanting to refill at the same time. Took a bio break and headed down the Mickelson towards the next aid station at 20 miles. By now, I was starting to notice the heat, and had to power walk even the flats. How quickly things can change!

Ulli the Walker cruising down the Mickelson Trail

The Mickelson trail was much prettier than Argyle and had a few small spots of shade. The down side was the rock walls on either side were radiating heat, and it was probably hotter on some portions of the trail than the air temps. Now I know what it feels like to be a slice of bread in a toaster! The Perpetuem was not sitting well in my stomach, and neither was the Heed. I was trying to force myself to drink, but seemed to be feeling worse. I didn't even attempt a gel through this stretch.

Reached the Lime Kiln aid station at mile 20 and knew I was getting in to trouble. Now my stomach was really feeling pretty queasy and I had a brief moment of feeling light headed. I knew I was dehydrated. Tried drinking some Coke, which usually works like a charm when I can't handle gels any more. Not this time. Found a tiny spot of shade to sit down and tried eating some grapes. Rested in the shade for at least 5 minutes and was starting to feel a little better. Drank more Coke which went down better this time. Topped off my water bottle with just plain water and was keeping up with the S caps. Got a ziplock bag full of ice which I tied up in a bandana around my neck, put more ice in my hat, and began walking the 4 miles towards the Pringle aid station which was just a mile before the turn around.

I started out of Lime Kiln at a slow walk. Making the 12 hour cut-off was no longer a realistic option with the way I was slowing down, but I still wanted to try to salvage a finish. I was feeling bloated, hot, and my stomach was on the edge. Tried eating some ginger, but it didn't help. About a mile or so down the trail, I felt like I was going to do the good ol' "yawn in technicolor" every time I tasted Heed or water-laced-with-Perpetuem. I tried slowing my pace even more to try to let my body absorb fluids - a pace so slow that turtles could have rear ended me. No joy. This was when the official death march began.

Warning: this next bit's a little ugly and full of graphic details.

By about mile 22 I started vomiting. Every time I tried to drink either water or Heed I would start heaving, even though there was nothing left in my stomach to eliminate. Had a few brief spells of feeling light headed again too. Just couldn't get any fluids to stay down. I don't know how long it took to go the 4 miles from Lime Kiln to Pringle, but anyone who saw me stagger in to Pringle was probably convinced that Hell is full and the dead are walking the Earth.

The aid station volunteers filled my bottle with ice water and I sat down on a bench in the shade. Tried drinking the ice water and was feeling like I was going to start heaving again. The light headed feeling returned and I put my head down between my knees - then everything went black and I passed out. I remember hearing the sound of water - only to realize that water was running out of my nose and on to the ground. The little bit of water I was able to swallow was still coming up even though I was completely out of it. I had no idea where I was. Thought I was dreaming. Finally came around enough to recognize that I was at an aid station in a race in South Dakota. In reality, that entire sequence probably lasted less than a minute, though I'm just guessing. Other runners were trying to offer electrolytes, ginger, encouragement, etc. That's one of the best things about ultra running - we take care of each other even if it means losing time in our own race. I would like to publicly thank those of you who offered aid during my time of trouble, especially since I can't really remember who you were under the circumstances.

OK, graphic details over - you can look now.

I ended up staying at the Pringle aid station for about an hour before officially dropping, even though I knew immediately after arriving at that AS that I would be stone cold insane to keep pushing myself in those conditions. Took another 3.5 hours to get a ride back to Hot Springs since there was no cell phone reception and nobody could call the cavalry. During that time I was able to recover well enough to drink 4 liters of water and was feeling reasonably well by evening.

Things I learned:

*I already mentioned the bit about checking last minute details.
*Another runner mentioned to me after the race that sunscreen can inhibit one's ability to sweat by blocking pores in the skin. I used a gel sunscreen for the first time for this event since it was so exposed and I was going to be out there All. Day. Long. Don't know if this is legit, but it kinda makes sense.
*Though we often rely on aid station volunteers or crew to take care of us, it is ultimately up to us to take care of ourselves by not making stupid decisions. Like continuing to run when you know you're in trouble. Actually, I didn't just learn this - I already knew it - but I was "gently reminded" of it during this race.

Thanks to RD Jerry and all of the volunteers who put countless hours into making this event happen! In spite of not being able to finish my first 50 miler, I learned some things and still had a very positive experience :)

August 15, 2009

Days of Old Track & Trail 10K

Today was the 2009 version of the Days of Old Track and Trail 10K in Maple Lake.... aka "last dance before Lean Horse."

Woke up about 2:30 am with a horrendous cramp in my left calf. Never really did get back to sleep - until about 15 minutes before the alarm went off. Hauled myself out of bed and halfheartedly decided to go ahead and run the race so that I'd get another run in towards the 2009 MN Trail Run Series. My calf was still a little sore from the middle-of-the-night cramp and I was feeling a little cranky. More stress related than anything I think, since I've really been feeling like I've bitten off too much too soon by signing up for a 50 miler next week on my ridiculously low mileage.

Got out to Maple Lake, picked up my shirt and race number, and decided that I'd try running with a hand held containing Succeed Amino sports drink to test out for next weeks ultra. After 4 swigs of the most vile tasting sports drink ever created, I dumped it out in the grass and went sans fluids. Even with the high humidity, it was the right choice.

Same course as last year... a 1.5 mile run on asphalt/gravel roads to the park, then a 3 mile loop on a nice, relatively flat trail through the woods that had just about every root and rock spray painted to alert the runners that there was (gasp!) an obstacle on the trail. Return trip on the 1.5 miles of asphalt/gravel roads back to the school. Beautiful morning to be out running, even with the high humidity :) Finished a minute slower than last year, but didn't really care. It was fun to catch up with Brook, John, and Marise afterward, but I think the best part of the day was watching the kids take on the 800 meter track run with the promise of ice cream cones for their reward. There are some "up and comers".... wonder how many of them will become trail runners a few years (or more) from now?

Thanks to RD Ben and all of the volunteers who did the work so that the rest of us could have some fun on the trail! Hopefully they raised a lot of money for the Maple Lake high school cross country teams :)

As I mentioned, I've been experimenting with lots of different sports drinks lately in preparation for Lean Horse. Some work, some don't - at least for me. I've got extras of the following up for grabs - if anyone wants them just let me know and I'll bring them to my next race/training run:

Succeed Amino - 4 single serving packets
Succeed Clip 2 - 4 single serving packets
Nuun - partial tube of Lemon Lime

The current weather forecast for Lean Horse is sunny with high temps in the 90's.

This one's gonna hurt.

August 9, 2009

Planning for Lean Horse

Lean Horse is looming large, and I don't feel ready.

I'd hoped to get at least another 20+ mile run in since Grand Island Marathon, but each of the last 2 weekends all I could muster was about 12.5 miles at Hyland. Last weekend, my hamstrings were starting to tighten up, so I pulled the plug early. Yesterday the humidity took it's toll and I got dehydrated to the point of feeling light headed and nauseous. Part of the problem may have been that I've also been trying some different gels and sports drinks - I guess that's why you do it in training rather than race day ;)

I'm still undecided about my nutrition strategy for the race and probably won't decide until race day. Kind of like what to wear - it always seems to go down to the last minute. Between Steve's ultra calculator and my own sports nutrition spreadsheet, I at least know my caloric and fluid needs and can plan my aid station stops accordingly. Right now I'm thinking that I'll carry Heed in my Nathan and perhaps leave a hand held in 2 different drop bags so that I can supplement with Perpetuem or Clip2 or Amino. I'd really like to forget about the hand helds and just blow through the aid stations, but the whole flavor fatigue thing and the need for protein over longer distances might make it worth while. Plain ol' gels and Heed won't cut it! I may just carry some branched chain amino acids in capsule form too (some gels have them, but in such small amounts that they don't even really count). Solid food takes too long to digest and basically just sits in your stomach during the race - nutrients aren't absorbed until long past the finish line. Decisions, decisions.

Well, the hay is in the barn as they say. I have a small barn and not much hay....will it be enough? I guess we'll know in 2 weeks!