Monday, June 25, 2007

2007 Western States 100 Mile Run - Safety Patrol & Pacing

Date: June 23-24, 2007
Location: Squaw Valley to Auburn
Race: Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run (Safety Patrol & Pacing)

(Picture courtesy of Larry Gassan)

I had been looking forward to this weekend ever since I had signed up for Safety Patrol for the first 30 miles. Anil had participated in the memorial Day WS Training Camp so he was familiar with the middle sections of the WS course. This was our chance to see what the first 30 miles looked like.

We drove up Friday afternoon with Christine Miller, another ultra runner. She was also part of the Safety Patrol for the first 30 miles.

We found our way to our motel a few miles from Squaw Valley after dropping Christine in Squaw Valley. We went and checked out the Start area before doing this though. It was very inspiring.

Anil and I woke up around 2:30 a.m. and quickly ate breakfast and got our hand bottles and waist pouches organized with gels etc. before heading to the Start. It was chilly and I was glad to be wearing 2 layers.

We met a whole host of friends in the Start area. Most of them were runners and a few, like us, were in the Safety Patrol red shirts.

The lot of us in the Patrol started the 3 mile climb up to the escarpment at 4:30 a.m., 30 minutes before the start of the race. The trail was very dusty and steep. A mile or so before the top we could see camera flashes down below to our right and we knew that the race had begun.

The elite group of runners included Lon Freeman (course record in the 2007 Miwok 100K), 2006 WS winner Graham Cooper, Hal Koerner, Guillermo Medina and Brian Morrison among others. The first of the elites passed us about a quarter mile from the top. It was astonishing to see how they were making their way up the steep slope!

Anil and I waited at the top to get to the back of the pack. We were off!

The escarpment was almost at 9000 feet. The first few miles were downhill - fast with decent footing. Altitude affects my breathing but the downhill section was fine. We descended more than 1500 feet and then ran along for the remaining miles mostly around 7000 feet.

The next 10 miles or so we were running among friends - Carol Cuminale, Barbara Elia and Karen Hanke. I was to pace Karen later in the day (from the mile 62 mark in Foresthill). Anil was scheduled to pace Chris Marolf from the same point.

The trail was extremely dusty. The lack of rainfall was evident in the total absence of snow. The only white we could see was on distant mountain tops.

Anil was in fine form. Altitude does not seem to bother him at all. He is going to have a blast in the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 miler in July!!

My breathing was starting to become labored. We reached the 10 mile aid station and I quickly ate a few cookies and some PBJ squares. The next big cutoff was at Dusty Corners (11:30 a.m.).

By now Karen, Anil and I were running together as were a few other runners just ahead of Karen. They were all anxious about making the cutoff. They finally trooped in at 11:20 a.m. with Carol and Barbara not far behind. They had hardly any time to grab stuff to eat and fill their bottles before they had to leave. Western States is very particular about enforcing cutoff times and no runner wants to be caught napping when the cutoff bell goes off!

Since Anil and I had only another 7 or so miles to go from there on, we decided to back off on the pace. We reasoned that we needed to save something in our legs for the 38 miles of pacing at night.

We walked and ran the next 3-4 miles until we caught up with a runner named Cyrus (from Detroit). The altitude seemed to be affecting him even more than me. He was very tall and he would bend over every so often trying to suck in air. I noticed that his cap was not venting enough of the heat he was generating, causing him to sweat copiously. I asked him to take it off and I gave him my visor. Anil and I also shared our slices of mango & ginger and our sports drinks and salt tablets with him. He made it to the Robinson Flat AS with 5 minutes to spare!

He promptly went out of the AS and sat down just outside. I quickly piled a plate with food and took it to him. His son had his bottles filled up by AS staff. He sat there for another 10 minutes and finally left around 1:50 p.m. His next cutoff was 3:05 p.m. and we later learned that he did not make it. Maybe he will have better luck the next time he start this race. Good luck to him.

I was very surprised to see Karen Hanke still in the AS. She was sitting in a chair and when I asked her when she intended to leave, she announced that she had decided to quit. Poor baby! As she found out later, she had suffered from altitude sickness and just could not maintain a good pace. Even though she rolled into Robinson Flat at 1:10 p.m., i.e. 30 minutes before the cutoff, she knew that she could not sustain it much longer. Being the savvy and experienced athtlete she is, she decided to quit. Smart decision!

Bob, her husband, had offered to drive Anil and me back to Squaw Valley to pick up our car. Since Karen was also with us we decided to grab lunch. We ate in a pizza place near the Foresthill AS. This is where we met Pete Lubbers. Like Anil, he will be starting his first 100 miler in Tahoe on July 21.

By the time we made it to our car in Squaw Valley it was almost 5 p.m. I drove down to Auburn while Anil dozed. We checked into our motel around 7 p.m. after grabbing a bite to eat in a Chinese restaurant.

Anil barely got an hour of shuteye. We left the room at 9:15 p.m. in order to make it to the Foresthill AS. Chris rolled in there just after 10:00 p.m. He was just under the 30-hr finish pace.

Anil took off with him and I drove back to the motel. Since I no longer had to pace Karen, Anil and I had decided to share his pacing load. I was to take over pacing from Green Gate (mile 80).

I figured that Chris, even if he were to lift himself to a 29-hr pace, would get there around 4:15 a.m. (I was going by a detailed spreadsheet he had made prior to the race). It took me almost an hour to find Green Gate. I reached there only to find that Chris had gone through at 3:45 a.m.! He had lifted himself to a 28-hr pace!!

For a few minutes I felt very, very guilty for letting Anil down. I then shrugged it off. It was done. I could do nothing about it. I wished him and Chris luck in my mind and made my way to the next place where I could meet them. This was at the 93.5 mile mark - the Hwy 49 AS.

This time I made sure I did not dally. I reached at 5:30 a.m. and waited along with a whole lot of family members of other runners. I had a fun time talking to Molly Pelton (womens' winner in the 2006 RDL 100 miler). She was part of Gary Bennett's crew.

I went through 3-4 cups of instant coffee and spent some time with Shige (Yuki's friend) and Miho, Yuki's wife. Yuki came in around 7:50 a.m. with Chihping pacing him. He looked tired but I knew that nothing in the world would stop him from his second consecutive WS finish!

Chris came in just past 8 a.m. with no Anil! I asked him and he said that Anil was behind and would arrive soon. Since Anil had the pacer bib number I could not leave with Chris. Chris spent not more than 3 minutes there.

Anil rolled in about 5 minutes later. I quickly took the bib number from him and darted up the trail. I passed Yuki and Chihping and found Chris not far ahead. The trail then descended for the next mile or more down to the No Hands Bridge. Chris was flying! He must have been doing sub-7:30!! I was so impressed. We made it to the No Hands AS and were out of there in no time at all. The next mile or so was flat and then we started the small climb up to Robie Point.

Chris then started running and walking as soon as we hit the pavement section at the top. We knew that we were a mile and a half from the Finish. He looked strong all the way to a 28:36 finish. What a fantastic run he had!! Congratulations my friend. The way you ran those last 6 miles was very inspiring.

Anil was very tired. We went back to the motel where he showered. We then grabbed Subway sandwiches and coffee from Starbucks before heading back to the Bay area. I drove while Anil dozed. He is such a tough runner. He never complains and is always ready to go the extra mile to help a fellow runner.

I hope he and I get in next year.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Tri OneOOne

In Clearlake I met this man
Of whom I am now a big fan:
A true Hero, he was called Me.

He was as valiant as can be.

On his back I swam, biked and ran.

Oh so badly this race began:

Raw panic flooded the brainpan
Then I slew the Fear beastie

In Clearlake.

Bring up the rear, not the van,
Was the tentative pre-race plan:

I was, after all, a newbie.

But five others I did out flee

As His arms broadened my wingspan

In Clearlake.

Date: June 10, 2007
Race: Tri OneOOne (1.86M Swim, 80.6M Bike, 18.6M Run)
Location: Clearlake, Lakeport, CA (Lake District)
Time : 10:48:56

The Greek god Pan inspired panic in lonely places. Hence the word panic in English (from the Greek panikon "pertaining to Pan"). I felt it for only the second time in my life.

The first time was in Muscat (Oman) sometime in the summer of 1992. Rajeev Char and another friend were trying to teach me how to snorkel. The mask I was wearing was one of those real old ones - the kind that has an oval faceplate surrounded by thick black rubber. My field of vision went from 180 degrees to less than 90 degrees the instant I put my face in the water. I felt intensely claustrophobic and panicked. It took me 45 minutes to conquer it and start snorkeling in the shallows.

My second encounter was brought about by a host of reasons - tight wet suit, too fast a pace causing me to get slightly out of breath and the sight of the other swimmers disappearing from view.

Let's rewind a bit.

Saturday, June 9
I picked up Rajeev Char from his place at 11:00 a.m. We loaded up his stuff in the car, hoisted his bike on a bike rack and hit the road after picking up water, bagels and some coffee.

We met up with Vinod Herur, another triathlon stud (like Rajeev Char), in the Vista Point parking lot on the Marin side of the Golden Gate bridge.

(The San Francisco skyline behind us)

We hit 101N and finally stopped for lunch around 2 p.m. Our next stop was just past 4 p.m. in the little town of Lakeport. Specifically 3rd & Main where the race was to start and end the next day.

There were not too many athletes when we picked up our bib numbers and racked our bikes in the transition area.

(The race registration area)

We decided to grab a few beers (carbo loading???) while we waited for the Race official's briefing at 6 p.m.

We trooped into this little restaurant called Park Place. We met the maitre d'hotel, a girl name Ashley. More about her later. We also met this wonderful 80+ year old lady whose daughter, after getting divorced, had re-invented herself. Mellonie Irvine has her own CD now. You can read about her on Such an inspiring story.

The race briefing went by fast and we then headed to this wonderful hotel Vinod had found. The balcony was in line with the swim turnaround. What a view of Clearlake with Mt. Konocti a bit to the right on the far shore!

The picture below shows the swim course.

(The buoys on the swim course)

(Listening to the official briefing)

After getting our transition bags and other stuff together we finally hit the sack.

Sunday, June 10
We were up at 4:30 a.m.. Did the rounds of the bathroom and hit the road to get to the race. We found parking a few hundred yards from the Start/Finish area.

We inflated our bike tires and got into our wet suits after having body marking done and picking up our chip.

With 15 minutes to go I realized, when using the toilet, that I had put my wet suit on inside out! Kelly (picture below) McKean, who went on to win her Age group, and Rajeev Char helped me set things right. I had generously applied Body Glide to my ankles, my knees, my wrists, my elbows and around my arm pits. The rookie I was, I forgot to apply it around my neck.

(Lovely Kelly and handsome Vinod during the pre-race briefing dinner from the evening before)

A few pictures from before the start below.

(Helping a fellow athlete inflate her tires)

(Getting ready to don the wet suit)

SWIM (2x0.93 miles; 1:30:27)

The start of the swim was a tread water start i.e. we had to wade out a bit from the pier to start. The water felt cold when it seeped into my wet suit but the temperature soon equalized and I felt just right. 7:00 a.m. the Pros had been sent on their way. I remember treading water and hearing the voice of the Race Official saying "45 seconds", "30 seconds" ... I had my watch in Chrono mode and pushed the start as soon as the "gun" went off. I made it around the first buoy and then the panic hit me like a sledgehammer.

I stopped swimming. My mind instantly decided to quit. It tried to justify that decision be stating that I'm a runner, not a triathlete. This was NOT my sport. Then my Spirit took over. It promised to see me through. It got me to start swimming again albeit slowly. It lovingly cradled me until the mind had accepted that there was no turning back.

Then I got into a groove. Swim a few strokes. Look up. Sight the next buoy. Make course corrections. Swim some more. It went on like this for another 80 minutes.

The second lap was faster because I had gotten the hang of navigation. The lack of Body Glide on the back of my neck caused a lot of chafing. I was the last one out of the water, in position 116.

The volunteers in this race were simply outstanding. The volunteer who helped me with my transition got me my transition bag, helped me out of the wet suit, laid out my helmet, bike shoes, gels etc. on the table and even folded and put away the wet suit. Thank you whoever you are. I changed into my bike shorts, stuffed my jersey pockets with Cliff bars, a spare tube and candied ginger.

BIKE (3x26.88; 5:35:38)
It took about 4 miles and a small climb before my legs got into biking mode. The first person I saw was Vinod. I was at about mile 9 while he must have been at mile 22. Char came into view soon about 2 miles later. They both looked in fine form. I ate a Cliff bar just before the turnaround. I was passed by numerous Pros and fast Age Groupers and it was inspiring to see them pedalling away at breakneck speed, as though I was standing still instead of biking at 15 mph. The lap ended with a nice 1.5 mile descent into the town of Lakeport.

That first lap was done at an average speed of 15 mph. The 2 cages on the bike had bottles filled with Gu2O+Clip2+Succeed. The plan was to finish both bottles over the lap and replace them with fresh ones at the end of the lap. I did that and was away on the second lap.

That lap was pretty much a copy of the first one save for the feeling of nausea about 2 miles into it. I reached into the jersey pocket behind me and found the ginger. 4 pieces and 5 minutes later the nausea had disappeared. That happened on and off through that lap and the next. Nausea followed by ginger. That queasy feeling prevented me from drinking and eating as much as I would have like and the run later showed me how much I had been affected.

I finished that second lap with an overall average still at 15 mph.

The third lap was a slow one. There were not many cyclists out there. Just 4 people behind me that I could see. I tried to eat as much as I could but it was not a lot with the nausea still rearing its head now and then.

All along this third lap I was thinking about how Anu had done the 56-mile bike ride during her Miami Half Ironman (Nov 2006) in just under 3:30. I have nothing but admiration for her. She is another amazing athlete!

I ended the bike portion around 7:10 into the race. Overall speed had dropped to 14.4 mph.

I quickly got out of the bike clothes and into running shorts and a matching singlet. Slapped a visor on my head, sunglasses in place and grabbed my hand bottle filled with Coke+Succeed. That combo has worked in all my ultras this year and it delivered here too. The Coke helped somewhat counter the lack of proper nutrition on the bike.

RUN (2x9.3 miles; 3:30:12)
I had planned to run the entire course. Of course you know the old adage about "All the plans of mice and men ...". I did though run the first 11.5 miles non-stop. This course was just an incessant barrage of hills. Short but steep ones that took their toll on the athletes. I ran the first lap at a constant pace of around 11 min/mile.

My breathing had started to unravel slightly during the last bike lap. It came apart completely right at the start of the run. The breath made a wheezing, raspy sound going in. Almost like a death rattle. That prevented me from picking up pace. I was still determined to run as much as I could so I settled into a pace that was commensurate with the amount of oxygen going in!

I ran 18.6 miles on Coke+salt. I met Vinod and Char about 1.5 miles into my first lap. They were at about mile 8 for them. They looked great and encouraged me. I met Char again almost at the same point in the second lap and he looked very strong and I knew that he was going to go under 9:35 (9:23 was his actual time). What a stud!! I doff my hat to you sir.

I met Vinod a mile behind. He was walking. He admitted to being tired. I would have been on my knees had I been in his shoes - 100 mile bike rides on 3 consecutive days over the Memorial Day weekend followed by a hard race in the Escape From Alcatraz triathlon the week after and then this ultra triathlon the week after Alcatraz! He is another super stud I'm in awe of. He went on to finish in 9:48.

My own race ended 10:48 into it as I sprinted across the Finish line. Char got off the massage table when he heard my name being called just to see me finish. What a wonderful friend.

I got a fantastic massage 30 minutes later.

The volunteers in this race were just phenomenal. Ever smiling and ever ready to len a helping hand. The race organization was superb too.

Char and Vinod - Thank you very, very much for all the tips and advice and help you gave me. This race would not have been as much fun had you not been there. Vinod - thanks for the pictures. They are wonderful.

We ate dinner in Park Place (the same place where we had had our beers the day before). We made friends with Ashley and learned about her. Her husband's cancer was discovered 3 days into their marriage! They had canceled health insurance for a couple of months in order to pay for their wedding and the illness was discovered during that period. He has been on chemo for 7 months now and they are $ 600K in debt. You could never have told from her demeanor. She was cheerful and smiling and such a wonderful person. Look her up if you are ever in Lakeport and tell her that Rajeev, Rajeev and Vinod send their love.

One word of caution too all you folks out there who are contemplating doing a triathlon - please do not take the swim as lightly as I did. All my bravado could have been disastrous. Please put in the requisite training AND adequate amount of open water swimming before you try your hand (and arms) at a tri.

Good luck to you all. Be safe.