Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Digging Deep At The Western States 100

I’ve been told that a 100-mile ultramarathon can be a one day journey of every possible emotion a person can conjure. My first Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run this last Saturday confirmed that for me. I was brought to my knees, both physically and spiritually, but was able to rise again and again thanks to a new source of will and the support of my crew and friends. One run, two sunrises, and an infinite dose of appreciation for this race, this sport, and the amazing community behind it.

My journey to Western States has been a long one. It started four years ago when I applied for a lottery slot, only to miss it twice and become a “two-time loser” entry for 2008. The forest fires cancelled the race in 2008, so 2009 was my first shot to toe the line. It might sound frustrating, but it wasn’t since I was able to better prepare by racing a number of ultramarathons in that time. I had some good miles under my legs, some heat training, and my ecstatic crew, Brian Drue (my bro-in-law) and Dan Wheeler. My “A” goal was to go sub-22 hours, my “B” goal to get a sub-24 hour finish for the coveted silver buckle, my “C” goal to finish by the 30-hour official cutoff. With that, we rolled up to Squaw Valley a few days before June 27th.

The good news was that the week was packed full of events, including a very helpful session by John Medinger on “how to crew for Western States”. We learned all kinds of great tips, particularly as he emphasized “don’t forget to take care of yourself, not just your runner”. The day before the event was a lot of fun too. I really got a good sense of the history and unfathomable volunteer work behind Western States, whether it was Skip Swannick giving us a pep talk 30 years after being the first woman to break 24 hours, Shannon Weil (the first female finisher in 1978) and Karsten Solheim (11 time finisher, starting when he was 60) presenting the Friend of the Trail Award, or the amazing Mark Falcone who detailed the thousands of hours of volunteer work and cooperation with the Forest Service to get the trail in pristine shape. With so much passion behind this race, it’s no wonder it’s such an extraordinary event.

(Scott Jurek, Eric Skaggs, and Hal Koerner pre-race)

(Greg Soderlund, Shannon Weil and Karsten Solheim present the Friend of the Trail Award)
(Great weather!)
(Lots of team spirit!)

Talk amongst the runners was mostly about the weather report, predicted to climb into the 100’s. Many were making their projections about the elite runners too. On the men’s side the talk was about defending champion Hal Koerner, 7-time winner Scott Jurek who had returned after a four year hiatus, the unstoppable Dave Mackey, east coaster Leigh Shmidtt, local stars Eric Skaden and Mark Lantz, heat-loving Andy Jones-Wilkins, faster-than-ever Jasper Halekas, Montrail Ultracup leader Eric Grossman, fast and furious closer Victor Ballesteros, and two foreign runners, Tsuyoshi Kaburagi from Japan and Jez Bragg from the UK. For the women, many were wondering if the course experience of Nikki Kimball and Beverly Anderson-Abbs could fend off the challenges from Hardrock-record holder Krissy Moehl, Colorado speed demon Anita Ortiz, Oregon’s Jenn Shelton, and local stars Jenny Capel (current front-runner in the Montrail Ultracup Series), Jamie Frink, and Caren Spore. Whomever was to make the top 10 was going to have to earn it for sure.

(T-minus 4 minutes!)

At 5am, we counted off the last few seconds and charged up the hill. With so many spectators, it felt like a Tour de France stage! Really fun. That is, until the leaders went off course about a half mile in. Probably a little frustrating for those guys. ;-)

I kept an easy pace, hiking up Squaw Valley as the sun came up, and chatting with the runners around me. Past winner Graham Cooper was recently back from a stress fracture, and enjoyed the unpredictability of a day that could end anywhere from Escarpment to Auburn. Meghan Arbogast and Connie Gardner were showing few signs of their stellar performance at the World 100k the previous Saturday (Team USA brought home the gold), and were cruising along and enjoying the sights.

(Lush sections up top)

(At the peak)
(Only 96 miles to go!)
(Flash a smile to the cameras!)

We picked up the pace at Escarpment (mile 4) to avoid the mosquitoes, and before too long we were heading downhill. The single track was wonderful (thank you Mark Falcone!), and I ran along with Connie Gardner and got updates on the 100k race and her son getting ready for college. She’s pretty amazing! I wasn’t watching my pace much at this point, and just tried to stay comfortable. I tagged along with Steve “The Bomber” Ansell and Jenny Capel to Lyon Ridge (mile 10.5), where we got our first fuel of the day. They let us know we were just ahead of the 24-hour pace. Steve and I said “great!”, but Jenny felt it wasn't enough and kicked it up a notch, leaving us in the dust.

(Climbing out of Lyon's Ridge)

The scenery in the back country was breathtaking (or maybe that was the altitude?). I had the pleasure of running much of it with 7-time finisher and Western States Board Member Whit Rambach, who gave me a full history of the fires in the area. We were both happy to see that Red Star Ridge was making an amazing recovery, with plants and flowers sprouting up from the scorched earth. Rebirth and renewal everywhere we looked.

(It's getting toasty!)

I got my drop bag at Red Star Ridge (mile 16), just in time to add a handkerchief head dress and some more sunscreen. It was starting to get warm! Whit and I made our way through the exposed hills until we heard the music pouring from Duncan Canyon (mile 23.8). These guys were rocking! The volunteers had me gassed, sponged, and on my way faster than Jeff Gordon at a NASCAR race. I donned the headphones for the next section, listening to an honorarium playlist of Michael Jackson tunes such as “Burn This Disco Out” and “Got To Be Startin’ Something”. Perhaps I should have worn a memorial white glove too. ;-) The recently burnt forest was a hill of mesmerizing black skeletons that stood like tombstones, with life bursting at their bases. The circle of life was everywhere.

(The circle of life)

Somewhere in the hike up to Robinson Flat I caught a toe and went down on the rocks. My handheld water bottles saved me from heavy skin damage (and gave a great Bellagio-like water show when both bottles emptied their contents), but my camera took the brunt of the fall and died a quick and painless death. I shall miss you, sweet Olympus 340! Luis Escobar offered me a hand up, and together we shuffled into the party known as Robinson Flat (mile 30). This was the first time I would see my crew, and they were ready for me! I took a seat while they swapped out my food and water, loaded me up with ice, and sent me on my way. Zoom!

(Hal Koerner rips through Robinson Flat)

They also caught me up on the race. Dave Mackey had come in first, with Hal Koerner just on his tail. Scott Jurek was about eight minutes back, and the rest were already 15-20 minutes behind. Anita Ortiz and Bev Abbs were well ahead in the women’s race, and Jenn Shelton had limped in with a hip injury, seemingly out of the race.

(Refuel at Robinson Flat)

(Can a brother get some tree cover? Please?)

After a short climb, I hit the exposed ridge beyond Robinson Flat and began sucking in the heat of the day. The rocks were warming up, so it felt like a convection oven. It was hard to keep a quick speed without overheating, so I eased up a bit to balance it out. Miller’s Defeat (mile 34) came just in time since I was out of water, and for the first time I had slipped out of the 24-hour target finish time by about 12 minutes. I suspected this would be the case for the remainder of the day – the heat would keep me off pace, but hopefully I could make it up after Foresthill. I got another sponge bath, and trudged down towards Last Chance.

This section of the course was much hotter than I remembered, and the exposed sections were so toasty I began subconsciously holding my breath. The creeks were dry, so there was little assistance. I just started counting prime numbers to keep my mind off of it, sipping and savoring my water like a fine wine. I caught up to Marty Hoffman and Jimmy Dean Freeman and we pulled each other along to Last Chance (mile 43.8). I joined Dean Karnazes under the hoses of the volunteers, who informed us that the temperature had exceeded 105 degrees and was going to get hotter in the canyons. Sure enough, it was going to be one of THOSE States. ;-)

The volunteers were right – the farther we got into the canyon, the hotter it got. Dean charged right down into the heat, with a few runners behind him. The runners we passed were complaining of fairly serious problems – Tom had a nosebleed that wouldn’t stop, Brian Wyatt said his kidneys were throbbing, etc. I felt like Rocky (our Pug), breathing heavily out of my mouth and quickly slowing to a walk. When I reached the swinging bridge at the bottom, I was swerving and having trouble focusing. Ten steps later, all the condensation dissipated from my skin and my head felt like it was on fire. I got dizzy, fell to my knees, and vomited. Damn.

Dean helped me up to a small creek, where he was busy soaking himself every way he could. I pulled out my secret weapon – a 99 cent car wash sponge in my back pouch – and started dousing myself. After six or seven plunges, my head stopped pounding. I reached for a gel, but started dry heaving as soon as I saw it. Just then, another runner tumbled on the bridge, and we helped him to our little spring of hope. The best thing for me to do was just get moving, so I took one last soak and headed up the Devil’s Thumb climb with my pulse bulging out of my neck and head. It felt like it took forever to reach the top.

(AJ Wilkins gets a sponge shower at Devil's Thumb, photo courtesy of Matt Hart)

Devil’s Thumb (mile 48) was part MASH unit, part oasis. I only got halfway through my sentence when they took my weight (3 lbs under – 2 more and I would be forced to stop), whisked me under a tent, gave me a popsicle, and soaked the back of my neck with ice. These volunteers knew EXACTLY what to do. Whit Rambach came up and grabbed a few popsicles of his own, and others did the same. We quickly learned that “the Thumb” was taking its toll on many. Scott Jurek had dropped, and Wade Repta had blacked out on the way up. One woman told me that about one in four looked like me, and that I would be on my way in less than 10 minutes. I contemplated another hot canyon and wondered if it was wise to continue. But she was right, I felt better. Plus my crew would be at Michigan Bluff. Best to at least make it there.

I found a good shuffle speed heading into the next canyon, and kept leaning forward to keep the wind moving on my skin. Whit and I stopped at a nice water spot, which was enough to get us to El Dorado Creek (mile 52). It was tempting to stop and take a dip, but I noticed I was only 40 minutes off the 24-hour pace so I figured it was best to keep moving. As soon as the climb started, I began overheating again, and soon sprayed my half-digested snacks in one massive Technicolor yawn. The heat Beast was upon me again, so I just kept moving up the hill.

(Caren Spore hauls through Michigan Bluff)

I was overjoyed to see my crew at Michigan Bluff (mile 55), and they sat me down and doused me in ice-cold towels. I detailed some of my issues, but they said I was doing better than most. They got me up to speed on the leaders, who had passed through four hours previous. Hal Koerner and Dave Mackey were neck and neck, and Leigh Shmidtt was about 15 minutes behind them. Anita Ortiz had broken away from Bev Abbs with a 20 minute lead, and was looking good. I started feeling better, and the crew sensed it and began packing it up. “Let’s keep going,” Brian would say, “you’ll want to make it to Foresthill”. I wasn’t sure what he meant by that, other than there were certainly some good beer drinking spots there if I should drop. They filled me up again, and I was on my way.

(Like seven inches from the mid-day sun)

The sun started to set over the hill, and the temperature dropped a few precious degrees. I signed a quick note on Dan Moore's poster, the founder of the Auburn Running Company who had died the day before, at the Bath Road aid station and used his positive thoughts to chug up the road to Foresthill with my crew. It was so much fun to see everyone at Foresthill! Friends, cohorts, and….wait a minute, that’s my 3-year-old! Sure enough, the family had come out to surprise me. I was instantly in perfect spirits. After a few kisses and change into night gear, my crew hustled me out of town. I was an hour and a half behind my 24-hour time, but thought there might still be a chance as the cool evening approached.

(Excited for some night running...and a fresh shirt)

(Crew master Brian gives a refill)

(My entourage! Brian, cousin Cameron, Dan, Me, Jen, Sophie, and Ryann...Christi taking photo)

(Got everything?)

(My crew takes me out of Foresthill)

The next section was one of my favorites, for it was here that I ran my first ultra in 2005. In a huge déjà vu moment, I caught up to Marty Hoffman, who had taught me how to run downhill at that very same race and was one of the first to tell me about Western States! It’s all your fault, Marty. ;-) I cruised quickly down the single track, making it to Dardenelles (mile 65.7) just as the sun went down. My stomach and head were a bit shaky, but I was still in this race, dammit.

I had hoped that the night would bring much cooler temperatures, but the rocks were still toasting the trail from below. I felt good in motion, but horrible when still. I got some refreshments at Dardenelles, but violently vomited about five minutes afterwards. Ten minutes after that, I was having trouble keeping water down. I fought my way to Peachstone (mile 70.7) where I knew my friends Dwight and Kate Morejohn would be to help sort it out. I honored their aid station by sitting down and immediately unlunching all over my shoes and their chairs. Niiiice.

(The "before" photo - me puking all over Kate's nice aid station)

(The "after" photo - Kate sends me on my way! Photos courtesy of Dwight Morejohn)

Kate was awesome, just patting me on the back and mixing a nice water/broth blend to settle my stomach. I could see they had 3-5 other runners in various stages of recovery, with a few flat out asleep. But they weren’t giving up, where they? HELL, no. Dwight gave me tons of advice and some tips on how to sight trails at night that worked wonders. Thanks to the good spirits of friends and volunteers, I got back on my feet and hit the trail again. But I had done the math in my head – I was now a scary 4% under weight, hadn’t held any calories for over five hours, and couldn’t even keep S! Caps down. To ensure I didn’t hurt myself, I would likely be throwing in the towel at the River Crossing.

The trail wound down to the river bank, and I could hear it all around me rushing like the wind. I entered this fascinating state of transcendence. At first I thought my headlight had gone out, since the darkness had closed in on that little square patch of light that had been my reality. But the darkness was everywhere, left, right, above, and even below my feet. My running felt effortless. It was like I was flying. The following thought just kept repeating through my head:
At your darkest moment, you shouldn’t fear the void
See it for what it truly is
An infinite pool of will and courage, as clear as spring water
Stare into it and see the reflection of your soul looking back
For many, this is the face of God
Look into her eyes
It’s full of stars
My God, it’s full of stars
Each time I repeated it, the face would appear in front of me. Each time she would smile back. Was she telling me it’s okay? Or was she laughing because I stole that last line from the movie A Space Odyssey:2010? This was a blissful state. I had no idea how I was moving forward, but I knew I was flying. The stars in her eyes kept getting brighter and brighter, until they emerge as the lights of the Rucky Chucky aid station (mile 78). Wow. How’s that for a guiding light?

(Crossing the river)

I pulled into Rucky Chucky higher than a kite in orbit. I don’t even remember them weighing me or what they said, just a lot of smiles and encouragement. I got an escort down to the river where I had the childish desire to play in the water. I debated whether to tell my crew that I was hallucinating and having a spiritual breakthrough of monumental proportions, but the sobering cold waters of the American River told me to just share the facts so we could figure out what to do. Brian and Dan got to work on my now-soaked shoes, and I told them I had thrown up everything since Dardenelles and was having trouble keeping water down. They paused with concern, but quickly broke it down. One cup of broth here, one cup of broth at Green Gate, and we’ll see how it goes. Dan said that another Vespa might do the trick, so we saved that for Green Gate.

We hiked up to Green Gate together, but not once re-addressing our decision. Their goal was to get me to the finish, and as long as we were moving forward, it was progress. Brian was great at getting me focused on the right goal – the “C” goal of finishing – and that I needed to pay attention to the three hour buffer I had. He was right that I couldn’t walk it in from here. There was still work to do.

At Green Gate, I took my broth and Vespa without any issues, and put a smile on my face for my crew. “I’ll see you at Hwy 49, and bring some sunscreen”. They smiled back with that half-concerned look that only true friends can deliver, and wished me well. I had my own goals for this stretch – find a rhythm, and/or find that darkness again. Find her face and see her laugh once more. Either I was going to make it to the finish, or have a helluva story to tell.

I cruised through the next section, much in thanks to Glenn Meeth and his cheery pacer, Tracy. She did a great job of talking about various things, then fitting in a "why don't we run to the next light". I didn’t dawdle on the calorie math anymore, but just tried to stay focused on a good pace. I came into Auburn Lake Trails (mile 85) feeling good and adding 15 minutes to my buffer, but flunked the medical test by being 8 lbs under weight (about 5%). They sat me down until I could drink three cups of broth, which took back 10 minutes of my gain. Alas! They were more concerned by my answer about the color of my urine, which was “I haven’t peed today, so I don’t know…but my vomit is nice and clear”. I got the dunce cap award for sure. I chugged down the broth, went on my way, promptly vomiting it all back up about a half mile down the trail.

Brown’s Bar (mile 90) was a great party, and I just cruised through with a quick refill of water and some Jolly Rancher candies. The Vespa was really kicking in now, so I had a nice mellow level of energy. The sun came up as I worked my way down to the American River once more, and the animals were all waking up. The circadian rhythm gave a nice little boost up the last climb. Such as fascinating experience to see two sunrises in one run.

At Hwy 49 (mile 93), Brian was in his running shoes and ready. We jogged through the beautiful area of Cool, CA, and he caught me up on the winners. Hal Koerner had held on for a repeat win, while Anita Ortiz powered through for a win in her first attempt at the distance (using only 36 gels!). He also let me know that my pal Jasper Halekas had gotten fourth, sneaking under 17 hours. Wow! Later I would learn that there was a three way race for M9 and M10, with Mark Lantz, AJ Wilkins, and Victor Ballesteros (who clocked the fastest time of the day between the river and the finish) within seconds of each other. Mark got M9, Andy got M10, and Victor got 11th – his consolation prize was that he won the Montrail Ultracup Series, which was the biggest payday of the day.

(Victor Ballesteros scores the payday)

(Karyn Hoffman gets the most outstanding homemade award)

At No Hands Bridge (mile 96), I officially ran out of gas so Brian and I walked it in. Dan joined us at Robie Point, and our exhausted bodies turned the corner to the track, I could barely contain my emotions. Oh, the places we had gone today! I could barely recount the person I was just 28 hours ago.

(The crew pulls me into the finish in 27:38)

And I couldn’t have done it without the crew, friends, volunteers, and others along the way. As I shared my journey with Jeff Riley (21:38 today), he summed it up well by saying “it may not have been the race you wanted, but it was the experience we are all secretly hoping to have”. He’s absolutely right.

(How hard do you have to push to get M10? Take a look at AJW's feet...yowza)

As I crossed the finish line and soaked my feet in the ice pool, it was clear that everyone had an amazing story whether they finished or not, or they had crewed, paced, or run. This was an epic day of adventure, survival, discovery, breakthroughs, camaraderie, and triumph of the human spirit. You could spend your whole life looking for a taste of any one of these things. Or you can spend one day to get enough of all of it to last a lifetime.

(Here's my buckle, and I'm going to wear it! Actually I need it to hold my pants up now that I'm 10 lbs under)

(Exhuasted but happy runners and crew)

My sincerest thanks to everyone who helped me get to the finish line. I know I've personally read the "I never would have made it" on many a blog, but I'm telling you, it's the truth (honest to blog!). I will drink a beer in each of your honor this week, that is, as soon as I can hold it down. ;-)


From the finisher page:

1M1Hal KoernerM33Auburn Finish Line100.209:24pm16:24:55Finished
2279Tsuyoshi KaburagiM40Auburn Finish Line100.209:52pm16:52:06Finished
3113Jez BraggM28Auburn Finish Line100.209:54pm16:54:26Finished
421Jasper HalekasM33Auburn Finish Line100.209:56pm16:56:26Finished
5401Kevin SullivanM38Auburn Finish Line100.209:59pm16:59:33Finished
629Zachariah MillerM33Auburn Finish Line100.210:34pm17:34:12Finished
7332Leigh SchmittM36Auburn Finish Line100.210:49pm17:49:37Finished
8M2Erik SkadenM37Auburn Finish Line100.211:22pm18:22:44Finished
979Mark LantzM43Auburn Finish Line100.211:45pm18:45:56Finished
10M4Andy Jones-WilkinsM41Auburn Finish Line100.211:46pm18:46:52Finished


122Anita OrtizF45Auburn Finish Line100.211:24pm18:24:17Finished
231Krissy MoehlF31Auburn Finish Line100.212:26am19:26:02Finished
3F2Beverley Anderson-AbbsF45Auburn Finish Line100.212:53am19:53:14Finished
4F1Nikki KimballF38Auburn Finish Line100.201:55am20:55:43Finished
5F4Caren SporeF41Auburn Finish Line100.202:17am21:17:22Finished
6F5Meghan ArbogastF48Auburn Finish Line100.202:33am21:33:36Finished
780Elizabeth VitalisF44Auburn Finish Line100.204:11am23:11:31Finished
8219Jamie FrinkF36Auburn Finish Line100.204:37am23:37:15Finished
9136Jenny CapelF36Auburn Finish Line100.204:49am23:49:27Finished
1032Connie GardnerF45Auburn Finish Line100.206:34am25:34:16Finished

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Raven Craft - The Man Who Ran 100,000 Miles

On March 29th, 2009, Robert "Raven" Craft hit an incredible milestone. By running eight miles a day for 34 consecutive years (all on sand, mind you), he completed 100,000 miles! And then kept going. Will the real Forrest Gump please stand up!

ESPN did the following piece of this fascinating guy and his lifelong obsession. Now THAT'S dedication. You can see a cleaner version of the video on his Web site.

And here's the original Forrest Gump footage, played to the soundtrack of A Flock of Seagulls.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Compression tights and clothing - worth it? (2XU and Opedix reviews)

I’ve been experimenting with compression clothing for training and recovery over the last few months, and am coming to the conclusion that they are helpful in many cases. If others are finding the same thing, I suspect we’re going to see a lot more crazy compression products and outfits over the coming years. After trying a number of products, the 2XU compression calf guards and Opedix R1 compression tights both got my thumbs up and rotation of regular use.

Compression clothing has been around for decades, known to many as the “grandma socks” hosiery that people wear post-surgery to prevent pooling of blood in the legs (which can lead to venous thrombosis). The concept is that by applying pressure to the surface of the skin with elastic fibers, this compression (along with the muscular pump effect of the muscles in action) aids in the circulation of blood. Athletes and manufacturers looking for an edge found ways to apply this to improve both performance and recovery, and soon companies like Nike, Under Armour, and others turned it into a fashion play as well. In the last 5-6 years, it’s really exploded.

(Everybody is doing it these days!)

It’s hard not to be skeptical of a performance claim when products jump immediately to being “fashionable”. After all, the girdle-like form fitting is probably more than enough “performance” for most. ;-) But when I saw Torbjorn Sindballe use compression socks for his 3rd place overall finish at the 2007 Ironman World Championship (where he CRUSHED it), I knew he wouldn’t play around with this stuff just for fashion purposes. Then they started popping up everywhere at the pro levels, and some big ultrarunners like Todd Braje were telling me they do make a difference for longer runs (like on his record-setting 5hr 30min 50m finish at the 2009 Jed Smith). When I got three recommendations to wear them on the same day in April (to tackle my 50k and two marathons in one week), I figured it was time to test out some products. I bought a bunch of different kinds – socks, calf guards, tights, shirts, shorts, etc. – and give them all a test run.

For most products, the difference was subtle at best. I felt like the biggest difference was in recovery, particularly when I had a short window to recover for the next race. But a couple of products surprised me with their applicability in unadvertised areas.

2XU Compression Calf Guards – These are like sleeves for your calf, but extra tight. I was familiar with Australia-based 2XU because they provide the Inov-8 racing shirts (which are wonderful, like everything Mark Lundblad has picked out for us). Peter Virney from Sports Multiplied, the 2XU distributor for the US, outfitted me in a pair at the Boston Marathon Expo and I trained, raced, and recovered in them over the next two months. They definitely helped in recovering quickly, particularly when sitting on a plane (just like grandma told me!). Since they are not too bulky, they were easy to slip on under my jeans at work too. I like that they weren’t a full sock, because I like to wear Injinjis, but that does eliminate the foot compression available on other 2XU models.

(Sportin' the 2XU compression calf guards at the Big Sur Marathon)

I couldn’t tell if the compression was adding much to race day, but I certainly wasn’t having any issues with cramping. They were handy for other reasons at the rainy Miwok 100k – by providing added warmth and acting like a “shin guard” from my muddy treads, they definitely earned their keep by keeping my skin fresh. Conclusion - good lightweight protection, added warmth, and a nice recovery tool. These are definitely keepers.

Opedix R1 Running Tights – I call these “bionic tights”, because they took compression support to a whole new level. Unlike the fairly mild and universal compression provided by most tights I tried, the R1 tights use stronger materials around the knee to create their patented Knee Support System. The goal is to help “save the knees” by preventing the outward motion that causes wear and tear, in addition to the compression benefits for the whole leg. The resulting effect feels like a movable brace, giving the feeling of structured (but not limiting) support. The support is particularly strong just about the knee in the quad and hamstring area.

(Rear and front view - note the additional support around the knees)

Although I don’t have knee issues myself, I did notice that the additional knee support was comfortable and could see that it would be helpful. The recovery benefits were great, particularly after the quad-pounding Miwok 100k. I felt instant relief on my knees from putting them on. Conclusion – strong structural support, and surprisingly helpful in recovery. I’ll be keeping these too.

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised at the utility of compression products for racing and recovery. Most compression products are expensive (the 2XU calf guards were $62, and the Opedix R1’s are $170), but I’m game for anything that provides a little extra comfort or takes a day off my recovery path. There are certainly cheaper models out there, so try them out and see what works for you. I would love to hear from others who have tried compression products and what does/doesn’t work for you. Let’s learn from each other!

- SD

[In full disclosure, I paid for some of the products I tested and received some free test products from others. I paid full price for the 2XU Calf Guards, and received a tester for the Opedix R1 running tights. Since I’m now running in more 2XU gear than Sugoi gear, I’ve added their logo to my page and have a new pro deal with them through the Inov-8 Team.]

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Crew-tial Success Element for Succeeding at Western States

In the last few days, I've developed a special appreciation for one of the crucial elements to success in a 100-mile race - my crew. I haven't done too many of these 100-milers, so like many, I often read a list of finishers for a race and think "good for her/good for him". I tend to forget there is an army of people behind each name making sure they get to the finish in one piece.

The Western States 100 looks especially trying for crew members. Not only is it point to point, but you've got to hustle up and down crazy roads, hike miles into aid stations with coolers of ice, stay up all night, and somehow managing to stay just a bit more level-headed than your runner. Just reading Laurie Thornley's advice shows you how much effort is going to go into the planning, execution, and troubleshooting of a 20-30 hour event. It takes a village!

I've been working with my crew, Brian and Dan (my brother-in-law and his neighbor), over the last few weeks to iron out the details. And there are a LOT of details. I had conveniently asked them to crew for me after about six beers months before the event, receiving a resounding "hell, yes!". Now I was wondering if the hangover was going to sober them right up and realize this was actually going to take some work. The crew guide I wrote for them is five pages long, details how to change my socks and shoes when I can't reach down to tie them, and ends with "by the way, I'm likely to be a complete asshole the last six hours". Dude. It's one thing to ask a fellow ultrarunner, but yikes. My spidey-sense is telling me I'm asking WAAAY too much from these guys but they are just too nice to admit it.

The guilt got to me, so I suggested an easier day of crewing and some options to opt out. The conversation went something like this:
Scott - Perhaps I could drive myself to the start, and you guys can check in on me at Robinson Flat...that way you don't have to get up too early and your day starts around Noon.

Dan - Perhaps you should let your crew decide what is best. Where's the first aid station we can be? Then that's where we'll be. That and every aid station from there to the finish where your crew is permitted.

Scott - Well, maybe you could just hit the aid stations that are easy to drive to, like Foresthill.

Brian - Dude...half the fun is trying to figure out how we're going to get all this stuff down to these crazy places before you get there. It's a complete adventure! And there's no way we're missing the River Crossing. That's photo gold, even if we have to trudge a few miles.

Scott - I would completely understand if you want to just meet me at the finish if this all gets old at some point.

Dan and Brian - Oh, we'll see you at the finish alright. Because we'll be waiting for you at Robie Point and telling you to move your ass so we can get our free breakfast.
Then it dawned on me...they REALLY want to do this! They want all the adventure, fun, spills and thrills of a 100-mile adventure. It's frankly, the closest they ever want to be to running an ultra, but gives them a great taste for what it is.

Just knowing how excited they are to be a part of this event has boosted my spirits and nearly eliminated any remaining doubts I have about the big day (nearly, that is...always a few lingering doubts, no?). If anything happens, my crew will be there for me, and we'll figure it out together. Phew! What a relief.

Damn. This crew thing sounds pretty cool. Maybe I should give it a try!

- SD

My fellow synchrobloggers are chiming in with their last minute thoughts/advice on Western States, so be sure to read on:

Craig Thornley talks about pacing
Bryon Powell takes bets on the top finishers
Sean Meissner gives kudos to his teammates
AJ Wilkins gives his last-minute thoughts

Friday, June 12, 2009

Texas high school track star earns team title all by herself....AGAIN (Baltimore Sun)

I don't know if we should call Bonnie Richardson of Rochelle, TX, a track star or a rock star. As the sole track team representative for her 14-person graduating class at Rochelle High, she won four individual medals in five events, bringing home the Texas 1A track team trophy single-handedly for the second year in a row. Wow!

Small-town Texas track star Bonnie Richardson repeats as team champion by herself

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The best small high school track team in Texas is once again a freckle-faced girl named Bonnie Richardson.

Valedictorian of her 14-student senior class in the tiny farming town of Rochelle, Richardson won the Class A girls team state title by herself for the second consecutive year Saturday by single-handedly beating 56 other schools.

Her reward was a second state championship trophy she won't have to share with anyone — there are no other girls on the Rochelle High School track team.

"It's great. It's over. It's done," Richardson said. "It's nice that I can relax now."

(read the whole story here)

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Book Review - Born To Run (Chris McDougall)

I gotta tell ya, I'm a huge fan of Chris McDougall's new book, Born To Run. I just finished the audiobook on my iPod (expertly told by Patrick Lawlor), and all of the facts and characters are still swimming around in my head. Chris really did a phenomenal job of combining the history and unique lifeview of the Tarahumara indians, the experience of ultrarunning, the conspiracy of the multi-billion dollar running shoe industry, his personal experience fixing injuries with barefoot running, ultrarunning characters like Ann Trason, Scott Jurek, Barefoot Ted, Luis Escobar, the crazy antics of Jenn Shelton and Billy Burnett, all cumulating in "the greatest race the world has never seen". Chris is a total pro, and each chapter is packed full of facts, quotes, and antics that will get you laughing, thinking, and inspired to run. I think it's one of the best running books I have ever read.

This is definitely on the "must" list. If you're tapering down for States, get your long runs in vicaruously through this great read/listen! It's on sale at Zombie for $17.

And if you're out running, watch out for bears.

- SD

Monday, June 01, 2009

The Myth of the Lonely Long-Distance Runner (Time Magazine)

Claire Suddath of TIME Magazine did an interview with Chris McDougall, author of the new book, Born To Run. I think they both did a good job of capturing the ultra spirit (plus a funny story of Jen Shelton puking up beer and jalapeno pizza). You can read the full story here.

[Prize money] is actually one of the big debates in ultra-racing right now; some of the top competitors want there to be prize money but the second money gets into it, the sport is ruined. Right now, there's a certain sense of amateurism and purity to the sport. I was crewing for ultra-runner Jen Shelton during one race and she was gunning to win, but she ate a jalapeno pizza and pitcher of beer five hours before the start, so at mile 40, she blew up and was retching on the course. When she lifted her head up, she realized that two of the guys she had been competing with were standing there waiting for her. She was 40 miles out in the woods alone and they wanted to make sure she was okay. They took her to an aid station and once she was cared for, they took off [for] the finish line. You get a sense of real camaraderie out there because ultimately it's about everyone pulling together.

- SD