Sunday, June 29, 2008

Northern California is ass!

Let me just start by saying one thing. F*#K, SH#t, ASS, BALLS! Ok, so maybe that was more like four things, but when you put six months of hard training toward one single event that doesn't go off, it's a little frustrating. As I'm sure most all of you have now heard, Western States was canceled for the first time in 35 years due to wildfires.

As devastated as I was to hear the news, it was the right decision. Having been down there, I can speak to the atrocious quality of the air. We didn't see sun for three days because of how much smoke is in the air. From the little bit that I've read, it also sounds like there was a fire burning within 2 miles of Dusty Corners. It certainly must have been a hard decision for the board to come to, but it was the ONLY choice given the conditions.

That being said, how bad is my luck with this damn race? I received a number of phone calls and text messages from friends and family offering their apologies. One in particular came from my friend Tim. He said he was sorry to hear the race was canceled, and then went on to say that I must have the worst luck at Western States. Now I'm not naive enough to think that I'm the only one who has had some hard knocks at Western States, but the odds of what has happened to me there over the past 3 years must be one million to one. I went from being a near winner in my first Western States, in what Tim Twietmeyer told me were the worst race conditions he'd seen in 25 years racing, to the first ever disqualified Western States winner. Then I went back last year in better shape only to get sick two weeks before the race and drop out at Dusty Corners. Ah, then there was this year. Third times a charm right? WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! This year I really felt more prepared than ever for the race, and I was really expecting a great finish. In fact, just minutes before the Hammer called me to tell me the news of the race cancellation, I had just told my wife and mom that I really felt good about how things were going to turn out this year. In 35 years, this was the first time the race was ever canceled. I'm sure that there are hundreds of other stories just like mine, but it's sure frustrating to put so much hard work into this and make so many sacrifices only to have 3 years and ZERO finishes at States.

How about the good news? Well evidently everyone scheduled to run this year has automatic entry for next year. Honestly, when I initially heard that the race was called off, I said that I wouldn't be coming back, at least not for a while. Of course, that was before I heard that everyone had a guaranteed spot for next year. So now what? I'll have to give it a little thought yet, but there's a pretty good chance that I'll roll the dice on this one next year. Maybe since this year's race never even got started, it won't count as my third time. Then I can still count on the third time's a charm rule. No, that won't work. This was the third time, but I can't possibly have bad luck 4 years in a row, right?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

What goes up, must come down...100 GRAND!

On May 1st I reset the history on my Suunto T6. I wanted to know how many hours and how much ascent I could do before Western States. Having rolled over 1 million feet of ascent sometime in late April, I was curious to know how much climbing I could put in before the big day, so I reset the history and kissed my million plus goodbye.

Not really knowing what an attainable goal was, I set my sights on 75,000 feet of ascent. Well 75,000 came and went with the the month of May and I realized that 100,000 may not be out of reach. Well I'm proud to say that today my 14 mile run with 2657 feet of gain put my at 100,396 feet of ascent in 46 days. I can't tell you exactly how many miles I've run in that stretch, but I feel pretty dang good about that much vertical time.

Of course, as all Western States runners know it's the downhills that can kill you, so it may be just as important to note that I've descended 102,520 feet in that same time. I've never tracked my total ascent and descent so closely, so it's hard to know what it means, but it can't hurt to be averaging over 2,000 ft. a day.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Livin' the Dream

Whew! I'm a little tired, but no worse for the wear. Having just returned from a running road trip to Auburn, CA with the Alabama Hammer, I'm feeling more ready than ever for States. With just under 3 weeks to go, there's still some work to be done, but after the past 9 or 10 days of hard training, things are looking pretty good.

Just prior to leaving, I did a one and a half repeat of Mt. Si on Friday and a PR 12 peaks on Saturday. My thanks to Greg Crowther and Susannah Beck for pushing the pace on that one. For being a couple of super quick road runners, they greatly impressed me with their speed on such rugged terrain.

On Sunday morning, the Hammer and I loaded into the rented Prius and hit the road. We rolled into Ashland, OR around 3:30 pm and headed straight to Rogue Valley Runners. Hal and Carly were out of town, but we connected with Ian and met Erik Skaggs. Having been in the car for eight plus hours, it was time to stretch out our legs, so Ian laid out directions for a nearby trail run.

We were able to run a little over two hours on trails that led right out of the town's central park. These trails are the real deal too. They climb like crazy right off the bat, and there's everything from double track road to windy, technical singletrack. We awoke monday morning and squeezed in one more run in Ashland before hitting the road. Ian, Erik, Chris and Jenn led us through their six mile trail race course. I just can't say enough about what a good thing they having going down there. And geez, look at the talent pool Hal's assembled. I'm convinced that Ashland is a trail runner's paradise.

As much as we were enjoying Ashland, we had work to do on the WS trail. Thankfully Ashland is over half way to Auburn from Seattle, so Monday's drive seemed downright quick compared to the previous day's haul. We rolled into Auburn sometime around 6:00 pm or so and anxiously parked the car and threw on our running clothes. Monday's are normally an off day for me, but being on a road trip specifically to run made me think otherwise. The sun was still beating down as we left the track and began down Robie Point to No Hands Bridge. It was quite surreal to run this section of trail for the first time since my 2006 debacle, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

On Tuesday, our first full day on the course, we opted to run up in the high country. We parked at Robinson Flat and ran out beyond Duncan Canyon aid station. There was still a lot of blow down and a little snow from Robinson down to the bottom of Duncan Canyon. As we climbed back up out of the canyon, it was obvious that the clearing work had begun in earnest on the other side. Still there was a lot of saw briar out there, and our legs took a lashing. The weather was not the warm sunshine that we'd hoped for, it even sprinkled a little, but it felt good to be on the State's trail regardless. We finished the run in just under four hours and figured it to be 20 or 21 miles.

Wednesday we awoke to sunny skies and warmer temps. Just what I'd hoped for on the day we intended to hit the big canyons. We drove down to Michigan Bluff and parked the car. Having the one car meant that everything was to be an out and back, so we planned to run out to Last Chance and back. The Hammer had never seen the canyons, and was pleasantly surprised by how lush and beautiful they really are. He had imagined them to be much more barren and dusty. We ran a pretty relaxed pace out to LC. Once we were there, a very friendly fellow doing some work on the course pointed us to the spring to fill our bottles. He said it had never been tested, but people had been drinking from it for years. Sounded good to me, so we filled our bottles and pushed the pace back to MB. Aside from a wipeout right through a bunch of poison oak, I was very impressed with how strong I felt hammering the downhills. As I crossed the Swinging bridge, I told myself to run every step up the Devil's Thumb just so on race day I could tell myself it's not so bad. It wasn't easy, but I did run every single step up the Devil's Thumb.

We quickly stopped atop Devil's Thumb to discuss our plan. I told AH that I was going to run back through Michigan Bluff and add on the jaunt through Volcano Canyon. I told him where the key would be, and he'd come meet me at the base of Bath road with the car. Reaching the bottom of El Dorado canyon I quickly hopped into the river hoping it would rinse off any poison oak oils. Feeling refreshed from the cool dip, I mostly ran back up to Michigan Bluff. Once back at the car, I refilled just one bottle and grabbed another gel before hammering down the dirt road out of Michigan Bluff. Although it wasn't hot hot, it was definitely warmer as I descended into Volcano Canyon.

The Hammer was waiting for me just as planned at the bottom of Bath Road. He was psyched on his run and commented how good he felt climbing up to MB out of El Dorado Canyon. I finished my run in 5:32 and figured it to be about 30 miles with nearly 9,000 feet of ascent. We piled back into the car and headed to Auburn for a little grub and then down to the American River to soak in the sun. The sun, even though not all that hot, was such a treat for us. We haven't seen consistent sunshine in Seattle for months and months.

For our final run on Thursday, we decided to hit Cal Street. Again, having only one car, we decided to run down to the river, then take Driver's Flat Rd. up to the highway and hitchhike back to Foresthill. Thursday was the warmest day of the bunch, and it felt so good to blaze down Cal Street to the river with no shirts on. Geez, how long had it been since either one of us had had our shirts off outside in Seattle? For clarification sake, we parked and started in front of the library not the school, but we arrived at the river crossing in 2 hours and some seconds. Granted it didn't come after 62 miles, but it felt good nontheless.

Somehow we got separated down at the river, and we each climbed out of the canyon alone. The Hammer made it out first and found a ride back without even having to hitchhike. I followed, but unfortunately didn't have his luck and had to thumb it back. Only a half dozen or so cars passed before I was picked up. As I climbed out of the van at the library, I was relieved to see that AH had also made it back safely. We sorted out what happened and were laughing about it in no time.

Thursday night we arrived back in Ashland and met Hal and Carly at the pub for burgers and beer. It was so good to catch up with them and to hear about the store and life in Ashland. They were kind enough to offer up their home, so we crashed at their house and were able to shower. We headed out for one more run in Ashland Friday morning, and then stopped by the store to say our goodbyes before driving north to Seattle.

This trip rocked in so many ways. The Hammer and I got a lot of training in and had tons of fun along the way. It feels good to have some fond memories to go along with my many crappy memories of the WS trail. The real treat, at least for me, was to be able to bookend the trip with stops in Ashland and catch up with friends. The drive itself was made bearable and sometimes even enjoyable with monster riffs courtesy of My Morning Jacket and Pearl Jam.

BONUS: Our rented Toyota Prius averaged 46.5 mpg and only took 4 full tanks of gas!