Monday, March 08, 2010

Howling at the Coyote Two Moon 100M

Race: Coyote Two Moon 100M
Date: Mar 5 - Mar 7, 2010
Location: Ojai, CA
Time: 38:25

Trail or I:who would first relent?
Up we went into the dark night.
On finishing I was hellbent.

Then it came, the first long ascent:
The start of a long drawn out fight.
Trail or I:who would first relent?

Last year, up Topa, I was spent.
This year I made it there upright.
On finishing I was hellbent.

Down to Rose Valley, then ascent
Up to Topa; end of first night.
Trail or I:who would first relent?


Rain, snow: of chill a grim portent.
Fought hard to stay in the spotlight.
On finishing I was hellbent.

Sleep and cold tried to make a dent:
Fought them I did with all my might.
Trail or I:who would first relent?

On finishing I was hellbent.

What an epic race this one was. Having traversed almost the entire course except for the descent to Gridley Bottom and the subsequent ascent to Gridley Top in 2009, I was confident of being able to finish the race this year. The inclement weather from noon on Saturday until almost 3 a.m. on Sunday made the race that much more epic.

Thursday, Mar 4
Anil and I flew into Burbank airport and made our way to the Ventura Bowling Center in Ventura for the 6 p.m. bowling festivities. The alley was filled with familiar faces - Catra, Andy Kumeda, DC, Gillian, Georgeanna Quarles, Dave Combs, Deb Clem, Chris Scott, Nancy Warren, Dean Dyatt, Diane Vlach and a host of others. It was like coming home and like a year had not gone by.

Anil and I were on a team that also had DC, Gillian and Andy and Marie Boyd. Marie is the RD of the Bishop 50M race. I was probably the worst bowler on show in the alley and our team finished dead last.

We checked into the Capri Hotel later that evening and fell asleep after making a few drop bags.

Friday, March 6
We woke up late Friday morning and spent at least 30-40 minutes making the drop bags. Race briefing cum lunch was at 11:30 so we did not eat a heavy breakfast. We drove a few blocks down the road to an electronics store to buy a charger from my iPhone and then to a grocery store for water and a few last minute things. On then to the race briefing.

People were already in line for the food when we got there. We sat at a table with Glenn Tachiyama, DC, Gillian and Dave Combs. Chris Scott soon started talking about the race and we listened as carefully as we could. It looked like the rest of Friday was going to be clear but the rain could roll in on Saturday.

Anil and I went back to the room and got our drop bags etc. for drop off to the Thacher School. We picked up our bib numbers along with our goodie bags and got a free pair of Drymax socks from the company.

Back to the room it was to rest a bit, tape our feet and return for the 6 p.m. Start. Anil and I had gone to Boccali's to pick up pasta and a sandwich. We finished taping our feet, ate our respective dinners and drove to the Start. I had decided to run the entire race in compression shorts over which I had on thick tights. A short-sleeved base layer T-shirt was covered with my favorite Brooks long-sleeved orange shirt over which I had on a green rain jacket that had a hood. Injinji gloves on my hands, feet (sans socks) in Brooks Cascadias and gaiters around the ankles completed my running outfit for the next 40 hours.


(Anil and I before the Start. Photo:Andy Kumeda)

The Start area was a hive of activity. Even people who were starting hours later were there just to flag off our group. It felt great to see the camaraderie and the banter between these amazing runners. Catra even remarked that my bib number 33 had been her bib number the past few years and that I was going to finish for sure. Prophetic words!


(Catra pointing to my bib# 33. Photo:Andy Kumeda)


Thacher School ===>Sisar



(The 6 p.m. start group. Photo:Stan Jensen)

We started promptly at 6 p.m. Soon we were in a long line of runners snaking up the Horn Canyon trail. Thacher School is at 1500 feet while the top of the climb was at 4500 feet i.e. we had a 3000 foot climb in 4 miles which meant an average gradient of 13-14%. Great way to warm up!


(Finally!)
The copious rains this year meant that the 3 stream crossings we made were done so with a lot of water flowing past. My shoes got wet while crossing the last one. The runners started to spread out soon. Pretty soon we could see just one light up above us, that of Levi Rizk, which meant that Anil and I were in "second" place. We soon reached the top and began the long 7-mile downhill that would lead us into the first Aid Station, Sisar, at 11 miles. Anil and I enjoyed this long section since it gave us a chance to open out our legs. There were a few streams in the last few miles before the AS and my feet got soaked again in one of them.

The AS finally arrived. I quickly downed a chocolate milk and put the other one in my backpack for the long climb up to the next AS, Topa. Anil and I were out of there in less than 7-8 minutes.

Sisar ===> Topa
It was about a half mile from the Sisar AS that we met Dean Dyatt and Andy Boyd. Dean had found Anil's cell phone along the trail while Andy had found Anil's blue bandana. How amazing that they had spotted these objects in the dark! Anil and I thanked them and resumed our climb, marveling at how amazing it was that they had found them.

This climb is interminably long and it gets steeper the further up one goes. We soon passed the point where we had made a right turn to go down to the Sisar AS. Now the trail got steeper and narrower. We kept plugging away at the slope relentlessly. Up above us we could see the occasional flash of Levi's headlamp. He looked like he was way up high and we wondered about how far the AS really was!

I started remembering parts of the trail from last year and came to the section where George Ruiz had passed me on the trail in 2009. I remembered that the AS had come up quite soon after George had gone past. Sure enough we reached the AS a scant 15-20 minutes later.


(In the Topa AS)

It was cold up here. The volunteers, however, were so warm and helpful that it took our minds off the cold. I had a chocolate milk here again and Anil and I left almost right away to begin the short but very steep climb to the top of Topa. The entire trail had been covered with snow in 2008 (Steve Ansell told me this last year) while only the top of Topa showed snow in 2009. This year we hardly saw any snow. The steepness was unchanged but the absence of the snow let us follow the narrow trail that switchbacked its way up the cliff. On the way up I noticed something glinting iff to the side of the trail. It was 3 spent 30-06 cartridges! Anil promptly put them safely in his pocket.

Saturday, Mar 6
The top had a little bench on the side of which there was a talking head and a deck of cards. As instructed, I pressed the button to activate the talking head. "My head hurts ..." came the nasal voice, marring the idyllic silence atop the 6800 foot Topa cliff. Anil and I switched off our lights and sat on the bench for 45 seconds enjoying the expansive view below us and taking in the beauty of our lovely planet. Then it was time to get back to the race.

Our descent was done relatively fast. We met a bunch of our fellow starters on the climb. We met Wendell Doman in the AS. He was about to tackle the Topa climb. That meant that he was just 3-4 miles behind us. He had started a full 2 hours after us! These people are so talented!!

We did not linger too long here again. We ate some solid food (cheese quesadillas) and set off for the long 6.3 mile trek down to Rose Valley.

Topa ==> Rose Valley
This stretch is actually the one I like the least in C2M. It has unsure footing along the way added to a pronounced camber in some sections. Nonetheless Anil and I made good time reaching the bottom of the descent. The next couple of miles wound their way uphill and then past a few stream crossings to the Rose Valley AS. This was the first of 2 visits to this AS (at mile 21). The next one would be around mile 45 or so.

Marie Boyd (Andy Boyd's wife), the RD of the Bishop 50M race, was here waiting for Andy to show up. She was so very helpful! In fact, she was there at every AS I went to after Rose Valley and it was sheer pleasure to interact with her. Her calm and very helpful demeanor made for a very comforting experience all through the race. The tape on my toes had started to come off because of all the stream crossing. I spent 5 minutes sitting in a chair getting rid of all the tape. Mari was kind enough to offer me some Hydropel. After drinking my usual chocolate milk, Anil and I set out to begin the climb back up to the Topa AS. It was starting to get cold the further up we went. I was looking forward to the night ending and the Sun making its appearance.

We reached Topa around 6:30 a.m. It was very, very cold up there on the summit and I was in awe of the volunteers who had braved the cold all night helping runners with their race. Anil and I ate some more food, warmed up a bit by the fire and then left the fire to make the long trek down and then up to the Ridge on the way to the Ridge Junction AS.

Topa ==> Ridge Junction AS
The Sun's appearance had chased away Hypnos (Roman God was Somnus) and his hordes. We were eager to press on and get to Ridge Junction as early as possible. It would be great, as I told Anil, to start the long descent to Cozy Dell, with some light left.


(Coming into the Ridge Junction AS)

I remember passing the point where the Horn Canyon trail meets the Ridge (the 4 mile point at the beginning of our race; many hours ago!) at 8:18 a.m. We soon reached the Ridge Junction AS around 8:45 a.m. Andy Kumeda and Fred Ecks were there along with a few other volunteers. Nattu rolled in here right behind us. I was very impressed - he had started 2 hours behind us and caught up around mile 42.

Anil and I ate a quesadilla each and left after thanking the amazing volunteers.

Ridge Junction AS ==> Rose Valley
A couple of miles after the AS, Anil had to answer the call of Nature (I had gone around 6:45 a.m.). It was while I was waiting for him to finish that I spotted a familiar figure - Martin Casado. He, Anil and I now formed a triumvirate that made our way along the ridge. It started to rain now. The rain soon turned to sleet and soft snow. It was so beautiful. Before we knew it, we were at the turnoff that went down to the Rose Valley AS.

This is one of the steepest descents, and ascents, in the C2M 100M race. Martin had problems descending. The top of his foot, where the ankle meets the leg, was tight and hurting badly. Anil, who is a very strong runner, took off here like a hare and disappeared from sight. Martin and I gingerly made our way down the fire road. Soon Martin was a few hundred yards behind me. It had started to rain by now. I rolled into the AS and promptly sat down to eat a quesadilla and drink my chocolate milk. Martin came in and one of the volunteers was kind enough to offer him the use of her Stick. Diane Vlach, Peggy Davidson and Diane Vlach came in soon after. The 3 of us left very soon after.

Rose Valley ==> Howard Creek
It was on the climb out of the Rose Valley AS that Martin flirted with the idea of dropping out of the race. His plan was to get to the Howard Creek AS but he was not sure if his sister would be there to give him a ride back. Being an ultra runner (= nutty, like all of us) he decided that he wanted to get at least 60 miles in that day before quitting. His plan now changed to traveling the 9 miles back to school from the top of the climb. We soon parted ways - he went off to the left while we took the right turn towards Gridley Top. It was here that the rain, which had caressed our skin until now, became a horizontal force transformed into sleet and snow. Anil and I were now walking along the ridge, hunkered up against the cold and the driving sleet but still enjoying this adventure of adventures, looking for the turnoff to Howard Creek. After a long descent the turnoff finally showed up.


(Running down to the Howard Creek AS. Photo:Glenn Tachiyama)

The 3 mile trail down to the Howard Creek As is the best trail in the entire C2M race. Eminently runnable with soft earth and a thin carpet of leaves, it was a pleasure to finally open up the legs and let them fly. It was on this descent that Diane, Nancy and Peggy caught up with us. Soon there were 5 of us making our way into the Howard Creek AS.


(With Anil, Diane Vlach and her parents in the Howard Creek AS)

Somehow our drop bag was missing here. I settled for a quesadilla and some water. Marie Boyd, who was helping Andy in a tent, was kind enough, once again, to give me some Hydropel for my toes. We must have spent about 10 minutes here. I met Diane Vlach's parents. Her friend, Jose, was at all the aid stations and he took a picture of us together.

It was time to get back on the ridge to start the last two descents, one of which was the longest at 7.7 miles.

Howard Creek ==> Gridley Top
The trudge up the trail from the Howard Creek AS went by smoothly. It was not a very steep trail and the footing was secure. The rain hit us a bit once we got to the top but it looked like the worst of it might have passed. We followed the ridge a mile or so down to the Gridley Top AS.

My initial calculations had us leaving this AS at 4:30 p.m. To our surprise, we reached at 3:40 p.m. and were out of there at 3:51 p.m. I had been telling Anil stories about my battle with the Cozy Dell ascent from last year and he was kind of prepared for this long descent and climb back up to Gridley Top.

Gridley Top ==> Cozy Dell
The initial 0.75 miles is a climb and Anil and I manfully trudged up the slope. Then began a mile long descent, we could see the trail forking off from the ridge below and to our left, down the ridge. The views at just past 4 p.m. were sublime. A left turn put us on the trail down to Cozy Dell. I had to stop a half mile down the trail to empty my shoes of the gravel that had gotten in. I could hear the voices of the 3 girls, Nancy, Peggy and Diane, above us as they too joined the descent.

The next few miles were along a narrow trail that had a few places where the drop off was precipitous. We made our way through those sections gingerly. Very soon we were off the narrow trail and a right turn put us on a broad trail that led to a right turn onto a narrow trail a mile or so later.

This trail started to get slick underfoot. Very soon we were battling clay mud. This is a surface that is hard to run on. One feels like one is skiing. Mark Swanson, a 2010 C2M 100K finisher, described clay mud as Vaseline on steel.


(Mud near Cozy Dell Photo: Doone Watson)

The closer we got to the Cozy Dell AS the worse the clay mud got. Numerous were the times when both of us almost overbalanced. I had been telling Anil horror stories of the absolute last section of this trail, the part of the trail that was covered with a lot of rocks and poor footing. In reality, this year, it did not seem as bad.

We ran into the Cozy Dell AS at around 6:25 p.m. i.e. a 2 hours and 35 minutes after leaving Gridley Top. That was pretty good going I reckoned.

A couple of the volunteers spent 5 minutes looking for our drop bag which was finally found. Anil, whose heel was hurting, changed into his extra-wide Brooks Addictions and we departed after eating a bit and drinking our respective race drinks (Chocolate milk for me and Ensure for Anil).

What an ordeal the climb up turned out to be. We soon found out that going UP clay mud was infinitely harder than "skiing" down. I fell at least 3 times as did Anil. My hand bottles were mud covered as were my legs and my hands. We knew that we would have to endure this discomfort for 2 miles, a distance that was sure to take us at least 40 minutes if not more.

We sucked it up and kept moving forward, all the while warning runners who were going into the AS about the clay mud. Finally the left turn came. We were glad to get out of the muddy section and onto firmer ground albeit one that sloped upwards a tad steeply for a mile. I was a bit ahead of Anil at this time and I would wait for him to catch up. We eventually reached the narrow trail that would take us to the ridge. It was a little bit up this trail, around 8:16 p.m., that Anil urged me to go ahead. He asked me to let Chris Scott know that he was on his way up and would not be very far behind me.

I felt terrible leaving my buddy behind and did it only because I felt like I could put the hammer down in the next 15-20 miles and ensure my finish since I did not see myself returning next year.

I left Anil behind and settled into a fast pace up the hill. I reached the ridge at 9:00 p.m. or so. It was very cold up there. A half mile into the mile long climb and my right hand was feeling intensely cold. I decided to put my hand bottle in my open jacket pocket, the flashlight in my mouth and run with my fists pressed into my butt to keep them warm. I only managed this for a half mile but I lost my bottle in the process. Never mind.

It was an extremely cold, hypothermic and wet Rajeev who reached the Gridley Top AS at 9:45 p.m. I promptly asked Chris and Luis Escobar if they had spare gloves.


(Talking to Chris Scott and Luis Escobar in the Gridley Top AS)

I took off my jacket, my T-shirt and my base layer to put on a fresh base layer that had been in my backpack. To my disappointment, that base layer was wet too. I decided to put on my wet clothes and get out of the AS as soon as I could. Sue Johnston, Chris Scott's wife, was a darling! She loaned me a pair of her dry gloves. They made the last 25 miles of the race so easy for me. Thank you, Sue. A big hug to you too. :-)

Gridley Top ==> Gridley Bottom
The descent got warmer the lower I went but I also got sleepier. So much so that, 38 minutes into my descent (10:38 p.m.) I sat down in the middle of the trail and dozed for 5 minutes. I got up, swallowed a caffeine tablet and started the descent again. The caffeine kicked in in about 10 minutes and the rest of the descent was uneventful. Negotiating the crazy rocks during the last 0.75 miles of this descent was not pretty. My whole body jarred with every step from rock to trail or onto another rock.

Sunday, Mar 7
The Rajeev caravan rolled into the Gridley Bottom AS at around 12:30 a.m.

I had someone call Chris to find out about Anil. I was glad to learn that he had left Gridley Top at 11:09 p.m. to make his way down to Gridley Bottom. I was very happy to hear that.

I drank a chocolate milk, took out Anil's Lake Sonoma 50M jacket from the drop bag and put it on under my T-shirt and sat down by the big, warm fire to doze for 15 minutes. Sleep was not easy to come by so I finally got up and left that AS around 12:55 a.m.

Gridley Bottom ==> Gridley Top
The 3 NorCal girls soon passed me on their way into the AS. 5 minutes later I felt an intense urge to answer the call of Mother Nature. That took me a good 10 minutes and I remember starting the journey up around 1:25 a.m. Feeling infinitely better, I settled down into a fair pace and a good rhythm. I came to the point during my descent where the trail had taken a sharp right turn. It was a left turn on the way up. I was not more than 50 minutes from the top. With about a mile or a mile and a half to the AS, it came into view. It kept showing up every now and then, getting closer but at a terribly slow pace! Sleep was starting to crowd my brain once more.

It was such a relief to stroll into the AS and promptly lie down on a sleeping bag provided by Luis Escobar. He was kind enough to cover me with his blanket. It was 3:27 a.m. when I closed my eyes to try and sleep. It was 3:50 a.m. when I got my butt off the floor and it was 3:54 a.m. when I began the long 8 mile hike to the Ridge Junction AS.

Gridley Top ==> Ridge Junction AS
I was cold though not as much as last year when I had started at pretty much the same time (3:55 a.m. this year compared to 3:30 a.m. last year). It had been bitterly cold last year but this year was just perfect. The snow covered the entire ridge. I could see a long ling of footsteps snaking their way up into the darkness. Walking on fresh snow is slow so I opted to step in the footsteps of those who had gone by earlier. Time and again I would use my flashlight to scan the ridge ahead and would still find it climbing up.


(Wintry conditions Photo: Doone Watson)

A few times I stopped, bent over because breathing was a bit hard for me, like it had been many times in the past 87+ miles. The beautiful views to the right of me, of Ojai and beyond, acted as a palliative for my struggles with the snow. I thought of my Dad, orphaned when he was 8 or 9, struggling to make it in this world (make it he did - big time!!). This struggle was nothing compared to what he had faced. My spirits lightened and I came back into the moment, as I had been through much of the race. I stopped wondering about how much more I had to climb and focused instead on finding the right footsteps to put my feet into.


(The beautiful views that greeted the early morning mind)

Before I knew it, I had crested the 1.5 mile long climb up from the Gridley Top AS and now faced a rolling course back to Ridge Junction. The sky was getting a bit more blue and the snow covered ridge was beautiful. I had been seeing lights behind me the past 0.5 mile and they belonged to a male and female runner who passed me on the rolling section. I stopped to pee and had a bit of fun making an interesting pattern on the pristine snow.

I soon caught up with the two runners again. The lady was kind enough to give me a Honey Stinger chew. It tasted pretty good at 6:00 a.m. I fell in step behind them and, looking around me, realized that we must be pretty close to the AS. So close that I was truly shocked when it suddenly showed up in front of me.

It was 6:30 a.m. It had taken me 2 hours and 35 minutes to cover the 8 miles from Grifley Top to Ridge Junction, a pace of just under 20 minutes a mile. Not bad I thought to myself.

Incredibly enough, Fred Ecks and Andy Kumeda and another volunteer were still up and smiling when I came in. I had my water bottle filled, grabbed a chocolate covered macadamia and headed for the Finish after thanking them.


(In the Ridge Junction AS at 6:30 a.m.)

Ridge Junction ==> Thacher School a.k.a Finish
The right turn onto the Horn Canyon trail came up at about 6:50 a.m. There was snow for the first 0.7 miles and the going was slow. The snow soon disappeared but the rocks and the steepness did not! I had to step this way and that just to get good footing. It was here that the top part of my foot, where it meets the leg, started hurting. I had to be careful now - I did not want to worsen it. I kept plugging away and eventually reached the point in the trail where I could hear a stream below me. A few 100M/100K runners passed me here making the descent look easy compared to my labored one.

I was finally at the bottom I clearly remembered this section from last year. Andi Ramer and I had made it to the Finish line around the same time and that memory was crystal clear in my mind while the realization was also there that I was making a new one today.

Beat Jegerlehner passed me with two stream crossings and 0.7 miles to go to the Finish. I too started running once I got past the 2 streams and found myself chucking my backpack and green jacket on the grass as I made the obligatory run around the soccer field to finally reach the "Finish" at around 8:25 a.m. for a race time of 38:25.


(Finish at last! Photo: Stan Jensen)


(Hugging Anil after the finish)

I was happy. I had finally completed this brute of a race. Funnily enough, it had not seemed as hard this time around as it had last year.

Will I go back next year to run it? As of today, the answer is No. I want to volunteer instead. As many hours as I can physically manage. It will be wonderful to help someone else achieve their dream of finishing this hard, hard race.

I was bummed to find out, after the race, that Anil had stopped at mile 81 (Gridley Bottom). Nonetheless, he knew best what he had to do and if stopping was the decision, so be it. Good luck to him the next time he does this race. I am very confident that he WILL finish.

Chris Scott is a fantastic RD. I love his sense of humor and the approach he has to running. His volunteers must love him a lot to brave the blizzard conditions atop the ridge for hours and hours while helping us. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. You folks ROCK!!!

7 comments:

two moon buffoon said...

and your report is now linked on the two moon site. well done, rajeev!! how does the buckle fit?

Joe Pham said...

Congratulations, Rajeev. You conquered that beast!

Rajeev said...

@Chris - Thank you! The buckle is the most precious one yet!

@Joe - Thank you, sir!

Hugs to you both.
Rajeev

Tapori said...

Coach,
Congrats again on such a fantastic run..Salute !!

Rajeev said...

Suraj,

Thank you, my friend.

Hugs.
Rajeev

ukrishna7 said...

Rajeev,

Great read! Love the tiny details.

Umesh.

unconquerable brilliance said...

hi...if u remember me we met at sanjeevs rehab at alibagh...name is ajitabh dutta..email ajitabhdutta@gmail.com...hope u liked the music