Saturday, September 4, 2010

Hittin' the road to Lean Horse 100

There's something about taking a road trip. It's a rite of passage for young Americans. Many of us have memories of spending time in the back of the family station wagon when we were young, where the goal seemed to be making good time not making good memories. When Jeff and Bonnelle(of the famous Murphy/Stevenson school of Ultra Running!)suggested at the Grand Canyon last year that we do Lean Horse 100, we saw a perfect opportunity to have a road trip and expose our kids to the great American west one Flying J at a time.

The plan was to take it easy and not torture ourselves or the boys as we made our way from California to the Black Hills of South Dakota. I took two weeks off work and would need the time to go from being nocturnal to normal. With my last day of work finished we packed the Honda Civic and headed for Vegas. We'd take 4 days to get to South Dakota, seeing a lot of cool stuff along the way. We made our way North from Vegas to Salt Lake City, DuBois Wyoming, and then Hot Springs, South Dakota passing such sights as the Temple Square, The Grand Tetons, and Mt. Rushmore. Running 100 miles is a test of endurance, but travelling across the great American West really gave us an appreciation of the adventurous and courageous pioneers that settled this country. They didn't have Cracker Barrel restaurants back then did they?

Race day finally came and the weather cooperated a little cooling down from 104 on Friday to low 90's on race day. The race director, Jerry Dunn, leads approx. 250 of us out of town on his bike as family, friends, and locals yell, "Way to go runners!"
The course is run almost entirely on the the George S. Mickelson trail which runs from Deadwood to Edgemont. Formally a railway, you can be assured of two things; there will be no huge climbs/descents and the scenery will be spectacular! The course is an out and back with most of the climbing(nearly 7000 feet)taking place in the first 50 miles. My wife and boys crewed for me the entire time. The boys would run down the trail to me, grabbing my bottles and asking what I wanted, then run back to their Mom giving her any special requests. Most of the day my needs were simple; ice water and Gu. Once I had them make me up a bottle of Perpetuem and once a bottle of Starbucks Coffee Frap. The aid along the course was good and offered the usual ultra goodies. I got to the 50 mile turn around in 11:50 where my crew was waiting with a Dairy Queen cheeseburger and chocolate malt! As I left the 50 mile aid station I was looking forward to the night and the cooler temperatures that it would bring.
I was lucky enough to run most of the day with Bonnelle who was having a great day. Her plan was to pick up a pacer at mile 50 or 60 and I was welcome to tag along if I wasn't too far ahead by then.(Her words) At mile 60 we picked up Jeff who just a week before won his age group at Leadville 100 and also received Leadman for finishing the Leadville marathon, 50 mile run, 100 mile mtn. bike ride and the 100 mile run! We picked up lights at the Crazy Horse Memorial parking lot and headed off into the dark of the Black Hills. I ran much of the night by myself seeing Jeff and Bonnelle's lights in the distance ahead. She would go right through the aid stations as Jeff would gather what she needed from "The Crew Van" and catch back up to her. As a side note, the van was the envy of every runner and crew out there! We ended up passing quite a few runners as we made our way back to Hot Springs. Mile 75 to 100 was similar to the last time I did 100 miles. It seems as though time slows to a crawl. My strategy after 50 miles was to just take it 5 miles at a time, which seems to work okay until mile 85 when 5 miles seems to take a month. 90 to 95 is even worse. The sun is starting to come up and you realize that you've been running almost 24 hours. Then it hits you...if you walk, the last 5 miles could take up to 2 hours! But I don't want to be out here for 2 more hours! So...I guess I'll run. That works for awhile, then your body protests to a level that your mind can't override. So you eat a gel and push on, trying to block out the pain and just take it for what it is.
At some point you wonder why you're doing this? Why put yourself through the pain, the mental challenges, all those hours of training? You wonder if it's worth it. Then you get to mile 99 and the finish line is in sight. You're running faster than you have all day and feeling great. The pain is gone. No longer tired, you fly through the last few turns like you're finishing a local 5k. Someone yells out, "Way to go runner" and it almost brings you to tears. Maybe you're emotions are all on the surface. Maybe you're just exhausted. Maybe you're just proud to have made it to the finish. I think it's all of those things and the fact that I'm just thrilled to be a runner.
Then it's over. The trip back to California was great. We stopped to see friends in Colorado and saw some of the most beautiful scenery we'd ever seen. When we finally arrived home the race was a jumble of memories. My feet were swollen for 2 days and I have a blister on one foot. Other than that I feel great. This morning I went to the gym and on a bike ride. I'll start running again soon and am already thinking about the next challenge. For now I'm looking forward to cooler temps and running the Grand Canyon in October. I want to say thank you to Jerry for putting on a great race and to Lisa and the boys for all their support and encouragement.

Until next time, happy trails,

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Birthday Run

Well we've made it...another trip around the Sun. 2009 is in the books and we're a month into 2010. I hope all who are reading this are doing well. I'm two days away from reporting for my new role at the DC. I'm excited for the new challenges, change of scenery, and three day weekends! That's right, I said three day weekends. I'll have off EVERY Sat., Sun., and Monday. Good for running, soccer, and family in general. I'm definately looking forward to the weekends off.

On Jan. 27th I turned 37 and so talked Bob into running a 37 mile birthday run with me. He finally conceded because the alternative would've been running his own birthday miles...45! We started out in the dark on the 29th. I stashed some water up on Apache Saddle for later in the day and got to Bob's house about 6:10am. The plan was to run around town while it was still dark then head up on the trail at first light. The more miles we got in early in the morning, the less we'd have to do later in the day. We we're going to run our "Smokey Bear Loop" and then head up the hwy to Quatal Cyn. From town to the bottom of Quatal Cyn and back is about 24 miles then we'd stop at that point for a brief lunch break at Bob's then head out to complete how ever many miles we needed to get us 37.

The snow was deep up in the shaded areas of the trail and so we ended up doing way too much post-holing on the smokey bear loop. We broke through the hard top crust and then sank 18 inches in the slushy snow beneath, cutting up and bruising our lower legs and shins. The going was slow, but it was early and we are resilient, so we pushed on. We briefly lost the trail in the snow but wasted no time getting back on track. It felt great to get out of the deep snow and onto the road.

The top of the saddle was cold and windy and the first mile of Quatal cyn was slippy, but as we descended the snow gave way to the familiar dirt and rocks. It was nice to open it up a little on our way down the canyon. We passed a couple of hunters on the trail, but other than that the mountains belonged to us. We peeled off a couple of layers at the bottom of the canyon, the sun now higher in the sky and beginning to warm us. We dreamed of lunch as we ascended the canyon back towards the saddle. Thanks to the early a.m. mileage, we had it figured that we'd be at about 32 miles or just over 50K when we reached town and our awaiting lunch at Bob's. Lisa and Holly graciously took our order the night before and would be awaiting our arrival. The downhill to Bob's felt good and we cruised in, right on pace to soup and baked potatoes...typical ultra fair and just what we'd need to finish the last few miles.

Paul and Tara were kind enough to join us for the last miles. They had taken the time to go out earlier in the morning and in true tour de france style leave us well wishes on the campground road where we'd pass on our way up to the trail. After a brief stop to read all the chalk graffitti we headed out to finish the Birthday run. The last few miles were great and we both felt great.

It is a real treat to spend the day with a good friend in beautiful scenery. We pushed ourselves mentally and pysically and were very happy and satisfied to be done.

After a shower and change of clothes we all met back over at Bob and Holly's for a Birthday party and post run dinner. Mexican food always goes down easy but after 37 miles it is even better. A slice of orange, frosty glass, and a Blue Moon...the ending to the perfect day.

Birthday runs are a great way to celebrate not only your age, but life. If nothing else it is a great excuse to get out into the outdoors and move like we were meant to. You might not be ready this year to do your birthday miles on foot, but a bike works too. Or how about a lap around the track for every year? Just do something. As George Sheehan says, be a good animal.

Happy Trails. Mike.