Friday, July 31, 2009

So Much to Write

I have every intention of sitting down to write up a report from White River, but it's been hard to find the time of late. Just to give a quick overview, I set out to run the race with my uncle. Unfortunately he hit about the 50k mark and called it a day. I finished with two other friends and really had a great time. I even have some more photos to post from the day.

On the Pearl Jam front, there are some crazy rumors flying around about a Halloween show at the Spectrum in Philly. They are scheduled to play there October 28th and 30th, as it stands now. The Halloween show would be the final concert ever performed at the Spectrum before it's torn down. I've become engulfed in the hype, and now I'm hoping to attend this show. I know it sounds crazy, but I love me some Pearl Jam. Have you heard the Fixer yet? That's the first single from their forthcoming album. It's taken a few listens, but it's really growing on me now. Good stuff.

I'll be gone most of the weekend, but hopefully I'll have a White River report with photos early next week. And maybe I'll have some more definitive news on this Halloween show. I think my fingers will be crossed all weekend in anticipation of a Monday announcement.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

That's Better

Three years ago I did a VO2 max test. The results of which left me feeling a little discouraged. Considering that I'm at least a somewhat competitive endurance athlete, I figured I'd have a decent VO2 max. Well, in reality, my score was pedestrian, measuring about 54. Clearly it didn't mean that I wasn't going to be able to continue to run well, but I left the clinic feeling a bit inadequate.

Well, just this morning, I was given the opportunity to be tested at the Seattle Athletic Club. They have just begun to offer the service and, in order to promote it, I was offered a free test. I had a bit of trepidation going into it. I mean what if my VO2 max had declined? Would my fragile ego be able to handle an even more paltry score?

Thankfully, my numbers did not decline. In fact, my max today was measured at 64.8. That's still not in the elite range, but I feel much better about being over 60. Maybe this means that I can go back and run well at Western States next year. Let's see if I can sell Andrea on that argument. "C'mon Andrea. I finally have a VO2 max over 60. Can't I go back next year?" Ya, that'll go over really well I'm sure.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Speed Scrambling

Well, you've heard of speed climbing, right? Dean Potter, the Huber Bros., and Lynn Hill have all helped to create and advance the sport of technical speed climbing. Big vertical walls are generally the target for these rock climbing cheetahs. But have you ever heard of speed scrambling? It seems like such a familiar term, but "Google" it and you'll find nothing in the first two pages about climbing.

A little over a week ago, my friend Dan and I decided to take a little break from running and head to the mountains. We were both wanting to get out for a day, but needed a bit more adventure than what comes from a 4-5 hour trail run. Having not climbed for much too long, I proposed we tackle Sloan Peak via the Corkscrew Route. Dan, ever the good sport, seemed psyched on the plan, even given his lack of climbing experience.

Dan picked me up at 5 am Friday morning, and we arrived at the trail head by 6:30 or so. Our plan was to go light. We had ice axes and lightweight crampons, but we planned only to wear our trail shoes all the way to the summit. Having never climbed Sloan Peak, we were simply going off of Jim Nelson's description of the route from Selected Climbs in the Cascades: Volume 2. The trail is definitely not maintained and offers a couple of "interesting" sections. The first of which is encountered within the first half mile. Being that the trail is unmaintained and seldom traveled, for that matter, there's no bridge over the North Fork of the Sauk River. The river looked tame enough, but the ford was sketchy for a couple of steps through waist deep flows. Once across the river, it took a few moments to relocate the trail. When we found it, we started to put our running fitness to work on the steep uphill grind. We certainly weren't running, but we seemed to be making pretty good time power hiking. It was as we began this push upward that Dan shared with me the notion of speed scrambling. Evidently he and another friend,Eric. had just taken ownership of the term a week earlier, on Granite Mountain. A scramble is simply a non-vertical, minimally technical, climb up a mountain, and of course, speed-scrambling is just doing that quickly. So there we were "speed-scrambling" up Sloan Peak.

We really never stopped until we reached the saddle at the top of the first snowfield. It was here that we pulled out the book just to double check the route before ascending the Sloan Glacier. We chose to pass on our crampons. The snow was so soft that they would have just balled up with slush. The glacier had a handful of obvious crevasses, but we easily navigated around them. The only nervewracking section of the glacier, at least to me, was traversing underneath the towering cliff face of the summit. There were several very large chunks of rock scattered about the glacier, and I had no desire to have to dodge a couple hundred pound piece of rock careening down from above. Fortunately there was only about a ten or fifteen minute window were I felt vulnerable. Once off the glacier, we stashed our axes, crampons, and all other non-essentials as we began the final ascent up the goat path leading to the summit. This is the point where the Corkscrew Route gets its name. The path winds around the back side of the summit formation then steeply switches back and forth. We made a couple of route finding errors, and even ended up climbing a class 4 gulley, but with relative ease we reached the summit in 4:21 from the car.

The views from the summit were breathtaking. Glacier Peak looked like you could just about reach out and touch it. We could see Mt. Baker to the north and Rainier to the south. We signed the summit register and ate a bit of food. Dan took a photo of me and tried to text it to our wives. His cell phone was showing a signal, but he couldn't get the photo to send. Finally, Dan pulled out a small Gatorade bottle with about two swigs of whiskey in it. He took the first pull and I knocked off the second. You'd never know that Dan was a rookie, as he brandished the whiskey like a seasoned mountaineer.

Whether it was the whiskey or the food in our bellies. We seemed to have a little extra zip in our step as we made our way down from the summit. Once we reached our stashed gear, we really kicked things into another gear. Even though we were only in running shorts, we managed to glissade most of the way down the glacier and even the lower snowfield. Once back on the trail, we continued our quick descent, even mixing in a bit of jogging in the less technical sections. The descent was mostly uneventful, aside from a couple good spills. Once back at the river, we realized that we could cross a log jam slightly downstream of the ford. I was relieved not to have to make those couple of steps through the current on tired legs. Once across the river, we were able to jog most of the last half mile to the car. We stopped our watches as we popped out to the trailhead. From car to car, we climbed Sloan in 6:45. Without setting out to, we may have the fastest known time roundtrip on Sloan Peak. Leor Pantilat and Colin Abercrombie did the climb in just over 7 hours. Most everything Leor does is the fastest known time, so I can only assume their time on Sloan was the previous fastest. Regardless of the time, we had a fantastic climb, and I hope to get out and do more of the same very soon.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My Post-Western Life

Whew, things have been quite busy since I last sat down to write. Where do I even begin? There's been Pearl Jam anxiety, fly fishing excursions, a climbing adventure, and even a little bit of running. Alright, so maybe I haven't been THAT busy, but I'll share a few of the highlights.

Let's begin with my favorite topic, Pearl Jam. It turns out that Mike McCready was not being straight with me, a month or so back, when he came into Seattle Running Company to get some shoes. He told me that they were playing September 21st at Key Arena. As it turns out they're playing the 21st AND the 22nd. Where were you on that one Mikey? I thought we had really hit it off.

Thanks to the 20 bucks a year that I kick into the Pearl Jam Ten Club, I was able to get first crack at tickets last monday. The process was actually quite smooth. Generally when trying to get Pearl Jam tickets, even fan club tickets, there's a great deal of stress and uncertainty. Pearl Jam insists on selling their fan club tickets through their own website. That's great except that their website has typically not had the bandwidth to handle the demand for tickets, thus leading to site crashes and me yelling multiple expletives (not so good when I'm at work). For example, Eddie Vedder embarked on a solo tour last spring, and fan club members were able to get tickets first. Andrea and I chose to go to Vancouver, BC. That particular tour probably had 12-15 dates, all of which went on sale at the same time. As always, the tickets went on sale at 10 am, just as the store opens. To make a long story short, I twice had tickets in the cart ready to pay, and the website crashed. Meanwhile I'm answering the store phone and trying to help customers while still attempting to log in and get tickets. Finally at 10:53 am, I managed to thread the needle and get to the ticket cart and purchase them unscathed. So that's been a pretty typical experience when trying to procure PJ tickets. This time around, the ticket sales were staggered, and I had tickets to both shows within 2 minutes of them going on sale. What? I didn't even get to shout a single 4-letter word.

To calm my Pearl Jam anxiety, I've been spending a bit of time fly fishing. I really haven't been having much fishing success, but I've been exploring some gorgeous new places. Lately I've been stuffing my 3-piece rod into my running pack and incorporating a run into my fly fishing time. It really allows me to quickly get to some very cool and distant places.

Since I'm running out of time this morning, I'll leave you with this. Last Friday my good friend Dan and I did a fantastic climb up Sloan Peak. It was such a great day in the mountains that I will devote an entire post to it. Oh, and guess what? I even have some pics to go with it. My blog won't be recognizable.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Report

As I've already alluded to to, Western States 2009 was not the race I was hoping for. Once again I was beaten into submission by this event. However, I'm not feeling nearly as deflated, following this year's race, as I have each of the past three summers. Although I ultimately gave up, it didn't come without a real fight, and I'm proud of that.

In 2006, I had the race in the bag, only to mismanage the final 2.9 miles and ultimately ended up with a win-that-was-not and a trip to the hospital. As you might imagine, that was an incredibly bitter pill to swallow. At this point, I can look back on that race with a great deal of pride, but at the time I couldn't find anything positive in that experience. 2007 was a huge disappointment for me and a race that I'm not proud of at all. I was in very good shape leading up to the race, most likely even a bit overtrained. I became sick a couple of weeks before the race and had not recovered by race day. Knowing better, I went against my gut instinct and started the race. The end result was a drop only 35 miles into the course . It was a frustrating day all the way around. In 2008, all of us who had spent the last year preparing, making sacrifices, had the rug yanked right out from under us. Forest fires in the region forced the cancellation of the race for the first time in 35 years. To put all the hard work and focus into such a big moment only to have it snatched away was probably the most devastating blow I've been dealt by Western States. This year, although ultimately disappointing, has felt a lot less demoralizing than my previous three tries.

Okay, so what happened out there? Well as I had mentioned leading up to the race, I was fighting a really nasty bug. However, I must admit that I felt pretty dang good by Wednesday. Heck, I was even feeling pretty spunky on Tuesday. I left Seattle around 6:30 am and arrived in Auburn about 8 o'clock. Feeling antsy and needing to stretch my legs, I drove down to the river and ran from No Hands Bridge to Highway 49 and back. The warm air and the smooth trail were just the ticket after being crammed in the car for close to 13 hours. On Wednesday I ran about an hour at Diamond Peak, a small resort above Lake Tahoe. That too felt good, and my mindset really began to shift. I thought, "Maybe all this rest really will pay off." Thursday was more of the same, as I met up with some friends and headed up to Five Lakes Basin. Running uphill at 6 or 7 thousand feet was surprisingly effortless. I was convinced, really convinced, that I was going to pop a great race on Saturday. Friday rolled around and I felt very relaxed and confident. I stayed well hydrated throughout the day and ate well. As I laid in bed Friday night, I envisioned what it would feel like crossing that finish line upright, and in the top ten. That's really what I thought possible.

Western States had something different in mind for me, as it turned out. The day started out well enough. Besides following the lead pack up a wrong turn in the first mile, the initial 22 miles felt smooth. I was able to drink consistently and eat every half hour. Loping into Duncan Canyon, I was able to see my crew for the first time. I was in the top twenty, and I felt like I was just biding my time. With the field assembled this year, I knew that guys would go out very fast and most would probably end up paying the price. My plan was to move up as the pace and heat exacted their toll on the frontrunners later in the day.

Unfortunately things don't always go as planned, especially in hundred milers. Oh, there was carnage alright, but I was part of it too. Shortly after leaving Duncan Canyon, my stomach began to feel unsettled. I'm still not sure why, but as I left Robinson Flat, I placed my hands on my thighs while bent over and purged the contents of my stomach, EV-ER-Ything in my stomach. Worst of all, I didn't really feel any better. I walked a bit and tried to calm my gut, but still something wasn't right. I'll spare some of the gory details, but by the time my crew saw me again at Dusty Corners, I had begun to show some real wear and tear. "How are you feeling, Brian," Andrea asked. "Not good," I said. "I've been throwing up." Determined to get beyond Dusty Corners, I swapped my bottles and waistpack and slowly jogged down the trail. The trail is mostly downhill from Dusty Corners to Last Chance, but my insides were in such turmoil that I had to walk. My stomach was empty at this point, and I knew that I needed to get some fuel onboard. Gels weren't tasting good, or staying down for that matter, so I went for the solid food. Peeling the wrapper back I began to take small bites of my burrito. It didn't taste great, but it was an improvement over the gels and blocks.

About a mile or so before Last Chance, a group of about 4 0r 5 runners passed me, and I was able to fall in behind them and run for a bit. Being that I hadn't kept anything down for a few hours, I expected to be down in weight as I stepped onto the scale at Last Chance. It read 168. I was 43 miles in and only a pound down. The descent from LC down to the Swinging Bridge actually felt doable. In fact, I only threw up once before crossing the bridge and beginning the heinous climb up the Devil's Thumb. For the first time all day, I was really starting to feel the heat. As I bent down to soak my visor in the creek, Krissy passed me. She too seemed to be going through a rough patch, but we agreed to tackle the thumb together. Well, she turned out to be stronger than I, and it took everything in my power just to keep her in my sight. As we neared the top, it became obvious to me that my mind was beginning to lose a battle with my body. I felt nearly as weak as I ever have, as I rounded the final switch back and trudged into the aid station. I was honestly starting to have flashbacks to my climb up Robie Point in 2006, so I knew I had to get things under control or else there may be trouble. This time my weight was 167.5. I still had not lost any significant weight, so that was somewhat reassuring. I plopped myself down into a folding chair and luxuriated in the sensation of being off my feet.

It didn't take long before the volunteers started asking questions. I explained to them that I had thrown up everything that I'd ingested for the last 18 miles. Not only that, on the climb up to the Thumb, I began dry heaving, because at that point there was nothing in my stomach. They told me that I looked good and seemed very alert and mentally on the ball. Eventually I was able to eat a little bit of fruit and a couple of popsicles. Ginger ale too, seemed to go down without issue. I threw up a couple of times while seated, but eventually the food and drink stayed down. As a precaution, one of the volunteers took my blood pressure. It was a little low while seated, and it was dropping a bit when I stood up. I still don't quite understand what that means physiologically, but the med volunteers took note of it. After about an hour of sipping water, broth and ginger ale, I stood up and decided to attempt to make it at least to my crew at Michigan Bluff, another 7 miles away.

Much to my relief, Jeff Phillips had just come through Devil's Thumb, so I was able to catch up to him and make the descent into El Dorado Canyon with company. We both commented on the heat, yet it never felt as hot to me as 2006. We reached the river together, and I was feeling reassured, having not thrown up for some time. I refilled my water bottles and grabbed two Oreos as we began the steady climb up to Michigan Bluff. The cookies tasted good and went down without issue, however as I neared the halfway point up the climb, I was again doubled over and vomiting. "This F'ing sucks," I thought, as I tried to wipe my mouth with my dusty singlet. Within a mile of the aid station, I saw two men standing on the side of the trail. I didn't think much of them until I got closer. It turned out to be my Uncle Bob and my pacer, Dan. They had come down to look for me, since I was so far off my predicted arrival to Michigan Bluff. Both looked relieved to see me, but I could tell from their faces that I must have looked like hell.

Relief came again as I made the hard right into the aid staion at Michigan Bluff. It felt comforting to have my wife, uncles, and friends so nearby. As I came into the aid station, I was led again to the scales. This time I came in at 168 again. I stepped off the scale and proceeded immediately to the med tent. I sat down in the first chair I saw and explained to them my predicament. I still wasn't ready to call it a day, but it's pretty hard to run 100 miles on an empty stomach. As they questioned me, I was reminded that it had been at least three hours since I had peed. The med volunteers, who were all wonderful, determined that I should stay there and rehydrate until I could pee. Well, another hour or so must have passed, but finally I was able to get enough broth and Gatorade in me that my bladder felt full. I got up to pee and was reminded to go into a cup, so they could determine how dehydrated I was. It looked pretty yellow to me, so like an excited child, I rushed over to the med staff with my urine. "That's pretty good, huh?" They weren't quite as convinced as I, but admitted that it didn't look too bad, only slightly concentrated. That was good enough for them to turn me loose again on the trail, however, they cautioned that if this pattern of vomiting continued until Foresthill, I should pull the plug.

I walked out of the tent with a little swagger in my step. I even managed to joke a bit with my crew. Sure I'd lost an hour here and an hour there, but I was still in it, at least to finish. My legs were still feeling really good, my stomach was all that held me back to that point. Unfortunately as soon as I began to hike out of Michigan Bluff, I could feel the cramping starting to build deep in my stomach. It wasn't long before I was again bent over and spewing. Somehow amidst all of the vomiting, I managed to run pretty well on the descent into Volcano Canyon. It was killing me to have some spring in my step, and yet, due to my stomach, not be able to take advantage of it. Eventually I emerged at the base of Bath Road and was greeted by my two pacers, Uncle Bill and Dan. We hiked the whole way up the road. About halfway up I fought to control the dry heaves. Nearly at the top, I lost it, and I mean LOST it. Right there with UB and Dan sympathetically watching, I had the most violent, gut-wrenching puke-fest of my life. Like a wave slowing building, the dry heaving became more and more intense. Finally reaching it's climax my stomach exploded and sent it's contents violently outward like the wave crashing on the sea shore. The convulsions seemed endless this time. Knowing that it was the final straw, time seemed to stand still. Things must have been bad because, as I was bent over I could make out Dan and UB's shadows. When I really started to come undone, I could see my uncle's shadow making a throat-slitting gesture to Dan. When all was said and done, my stomach felt a little better, but mentally I knew this meant the end of my day and another failed attempt at Western States. As I ambled into Foresthill, I could hear a young boy ask his dad why that guy was walking. I thought to myself, "kid, if you only knew the half of it." It did however spur me on to jog into the weigh-in area. Again, I weighed in at 168. I headed straight to the nearest chair and again sat down. This time I was pretty sure I wasn't getting back up, at least not to continue the race. However, I gave it some time and tried to get some calories back on board. I gagged up a bit of the broth. "That's it," I thought. Once that doctor at Michigan Bluff told me to drop at Foresthill if I continued to puke, I wasn't about to ignore his warnings. I know it's courageous to push through adversity and hardship, but after what happened to me in 2006, I'm not about to tempt fate. With a great deal of reluctance on her part, the woman at the runner checkpoint accepted my resignation and clipped my yellow band thus ending my 2009 Western States.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Gordy Ainsleigh, You Old Son of a B... Gun!

It's all Gordy's fault. Well first off, he is responsible for this crazy circus we call Western States, but that's not even the half of it. In all honesty, I greatly admire the guy for successfully running 100 miles on foot in 1974 and thereby creating the sport of 100 mile trail racing. My beef with Gordy goes back to 2006. Gordy Ainsleigh spoke to a group of us at Scott Jurek's camp Western States camp, and to this day, I'm haunted by his words.

I can't completely recollect what he said word for word, but I've got the gist of it. "Don't let this race beat you," he said. "Because if it does, you'll never forget it." Gee, thanks Gordon. Those words were seared into my brain, and now beaten three times (4 if you count the fires in '08), Gordy's words are playing on a loop through my head AGAIN.

It's easy to say, "Oh well there's always next year. You'll get it. It just wasn't your day." I hear a lot of things along those lines. And yes, maybe that is all true. But for my own sanity, and for that of Andrea, I've got to take a year off from this race. So there will not be a Western States for me in 2010, and as hard as this race has become to get into, I don't know for sure when I'll get to toe the line at Squaw again.

So until then, I get to fall asleep at night to Gordy's words playing on repeat through my thoughts. It's just a race, and yet it's so much more than that. I really can't do it justice with words, but there's something very magical about Western States. As much as I may hate the race, I'm absolutely captivated by it at the same time. Just like I may be haunted by Gordy's words, I see them also as a crisp orange carrot hanging at the end of long, but hopefully not endless, stick, that I may some day satisfyingly chomp into. Thanks, Gordy. I know I'll one day appreciate what you told us. But until then...