Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Western States 100

Where to begin?
I couldn't even think of a catchy subtitle for this blog post.
I guess I'll start with disclaimers. These apply to the blog in general, but particularly this post (which may also not be safe for work or for young children).
This is just one experience among many. I'm not a particularly special ultrarunner by any means. This post, like much of the blog, is in the hope that the stories and lessons within are of general use.

So: Where to begin?
Being lucky enough to get picked in the lottery last December?
Getting into ultramarathons in the first place, and excitedly entering the lottery the last few years?
Perhaps even farther, when J and I met the (in)famous runner Dean Karnazes at a bookstore event, who was introducing his book "Ultramarathon Man" which gave perhaps the first general-interest popularity to both ultramarathons and the Western States 100 -- the original and grandaddy of trail ultramarathons in the U.S.?
Or do I go back even further, when I was a kid and teenager and dreaded nothing more than running "The Mile," where I was always stuck at the back, face beat red and wheezing but working my ass off struggling to breathe and wondering why it was so much easier for the kids with healthy lungs?

Or should I just start at In-N-Out?

Well, in short, running Western States was a dream. Just a few short years ago, I never could have imagined running that far, and then I never could have imagined running a historic race like Western States. I was amazed and humbled at the opportunity, and very fortunate to be accompanied by a stout crew:
Alex: Great friend and pacer from Fort Collins, who also dreams of (and deserves to) run the WS100 himself, and graciously offered to pace. We've had runs/hikes up to 11 hours before "just for fun," so pacing seemed like a great idea as well. He didn't bargain for the extra hours, though! (Sorry, and more on that later).
Nora: Nora's a great friend of J and me, and her enthusiasm is both unwavering and infectious. In addition to details, she makes fun and creative work of photography and blogging. She's a veteran of Leadville and helped get me through unscathed, and she keeps J going while J takes on the extra stresses uniquely related to being married to the runner in question.
J: J is my life's love and supports me on these adventures while making incredible sacrifices to help them be realized. Seeing her face, even briefly, is what keeps me going through the night, and makes me eager to get home when I get lost or trapped in bad weather in long training runs.

I am incredibly lucky that they joined me in this adventure, and will never forget it.

Oh, also, in combination, we've all spent several decades in California, so it was fun to go back.
Soon after landing, we all agreed on a stop at In-n-Out.
The best part? We're all pseudo-vegetarian, so nobody eats beef! Yes, the fries and shakes are that good. And, Nora pointed out the existence of a "grilled cheese" sandwich on the secret menu. Nice to be back in California!

With an afternoon to explore, the girls, especially J, were keen on visiting Davis. It's one of the few Platinum-Level bike towns (League of American Cyclists) in the U.S. Not wanting to run, I got some cross-training in:

We enjoyed checking out the various shops and the University. It certainly appeared to be a bike-friendly and beautiful town, and I'm sure we had the same thoughts as many visitors and potential college students alike: Why the hell does it have to be in the Valley?

So onward we went to our hotel, in Truckee. Now, Tahoe is slightly closer to Squaw, but we were all excited to check out Truckee itself, and we weren't disappointed. It's a cool old mining town with a hip, backcountry vibe, and there was a food market going on when we arrived. Nonetheless, we still saddled up for pizza, wine, and microbrews at Best Pies -- a great choice -- before retiring for the evening. After a quick hot tub dip, that is.

And retire I did, or we did, as I should mention, I was woefully short on sleep at this point: a very bad calculation. I had some work things to finish up, which I should have had done earlier, but some significant distractions and surprises the previous week started pushing things back.

The next day was gorgeous and I was already feeling more rested. First, we grabbed our breakfast, at the Larkspur Hotel, which was overall an excellent hotel, and included a great breakfast buffet. The standard of breakfast buffets is, of course, the presence of a waffle iron, and this one did not disappoint. There wasn't even a gaper line of families making 6 waffles at a time, holding everyone up! No, progress to the waffles was unimpeded, and I also enjoyed topping my oatmeal with fruit, milk, and a bit of Fruit Loops. Carbs!

We then headed up to Squaw for the pre-race checkin and events. Even more exciting, for the crew especially, was the new Montrail 6k Uphill Challenge, which was free, and included free arm coolers. Alex got his steady daily run in, while J and Nora met a new friend, Kathy (staying in town randomly on vacation with no relation whatsoever to the WS100 race) whom they ran/hiked with to High Camp.

They were treated to great views, and told me about the swimming pool and ice skating rink up there.
Gorgeous, isn't it? I'd be running up the same trail the next day, only to run another 97 miles, and instead of bluebird skies, I'd be pelted with horizontal sleet. But we're getting ahead of ourselves!

So, back at the ranch, I proceeded through race check-in.
(Insider tip: Among a cohort of eager Type A personalities, there is a line that forms immediately at 9AM. Wait just an hour and the line is non-existent).

This is a slick, multi-stage system of friendly volunteers, including weigh-in and blood pressure check, and same great race goodies, including a very cool Montrail backpack and a hooded sweatshirt.

I still had some time to kill, so I started going through my drop bag items, and realized I left a light back at the hotel. I quickly drove back to retrieve it, and returned shortly after the crew had finished their run.

So, in the parking lot in the last half hour, I used their help to decide what to put in drop bags. (Ultimately, I used a jacket and a light, pretty much the only things I expected to "need").

Now we waited a bit longer for the mandatory pre-race meeting. It was mostly race history and specific tales and folks, though I appreciated the enthusiasm and effort of some of the volunteers, such as the trail-clearing crew. And there was one small bit of information that stuck in my head that ended up being useful after all: Everything along the ridge all the way to Robinson Flat is remote and difficult to access. You don't want to drop anywhere in there. If for any reason you aren't sure you can't make it to Robinson Flat tomorrow, don't start the race.

After the meeting, we headed to Tahoe, taking in views of the lake while enjoying microbrews. We then headed down to the lake, where it was cool in the shade but very pleasant in the sun. I took the opportunity to grab some more sleep and passed out on the beach.

I heard bits of discussion from my crew, and eventually I gathered something about some geese nearby. It turns out one goose was incredibly curious and came very near to my feet several times. I woke up and yanked my foot away literally as the goose was moving towards my big toe. My crew was armed and ready -- with a camera -- and registered their disappointment. "It wouldn't hurt," they claimed, as I protested the idea of an infected toe. With friends like these...

We headed back to the hotel where I got my things ready and got ready for bed. The crew checked out the winery next door and had a great time there. We got as much sleep as we could, before 3AM was upon us.

We made the drive out to Squaw and had plenty of time (for me) to get a little bit of breakfast, and also digest it, and then relax and hang out. It was nice to be ready and calm for the big event.

We caught Nick just before the start, and he was looking good and ready to rock. We all lined up and got ready in the dark, and without much fanfare, we were off and heading up the hill.

The morning was tolerably cold. I debated clothes and went with both a long sleeve shirt, a WS-provided "buff" that was tied as a hat, and arm warmers borrowed from Alex. This was an awesome combination that served me well for 62 miles (I ditched the arm warmers, and "transformed" the buff from a hat into a fighter jet and then a robot and then ultimately a headband).

As we headed up the hill, the sky lightened up to show us what we were missing: the fact that we were running straight into a cloud, essentially. It was windy and wet, and by the top, rain alternated with sleet and forceful gusts of wind.

But before the very top, I heard my name and was very glad to be recognized by fellow Colorado runner Ryan Kircher. I was very happy to have been spotted, as I was looking for him as well: we ran and chatted a bit at PPFA in January, and I knew we had similar goals. As he put it, "I think I can get 20 hours on a good day; I'll be happy to get anything under 24; and I'll be pretty upset if I can't do 30!" That's exactly how I felt. I really wanted to settle into a rhythm in the early miles and have someone to chat with, so it was great to have hooked up with Ryan so early.

We reached the top and scrambled up the escarpment, before dropping into a meadow of wildflowers. This would have typically been a glorious summer scene, but instead was an eerie soup of limited views.
Still, we rolled along nicely, briefly meeting up with another Colorado runner, Wes, and being passed by Tina from Boulder who ended up having a very solid run. Ryan and I were in a groove next to another runner, Ben from La Jolla, CA, and I enjoyed conversation with both of them. The early hours dropped quickly and we were moving steadily but comfortably. We'd get a bit of separation at aid stations or bathroom breaks, but usually found ourselves connected again within short order. This is how it went for the first marathon.

Everything was going great, and I was running on a dream trail.
The photo evidence, in fact, shows me smiling.

And somewhere around there -- I have to remind myself, to remember it was true -- I was singing on the trail.

After a bathroom stop, I was about 20-30 seconds behind Ryan, but was slowly catching up.

Asthma Attack
This part is intended to be informational to help other people prepare for something like this, as well as to partially describe what it might be like. But if anyone finds part of it inappropriate, let me know and I'll delete it.

And then, I saw a woman on the side of the trail, with tears in her eyes and struggling to breathe.

I asked her if she was OK, partly as I ran a bit past, expecting a half-wave and a nod, kind of like when you see a person with a broken bike on the side of the road. Another runner had gone by already, so I thought she didn't need help, but I still needed to take a moment to assess the situation fully and get a response from her.

I asked her again if she was OK.
Another runner -- Meghan Arbogast -- stopped next. She was more direct and hands-on with the runner (she and Kami also knew each other) and immediately held her from behind. Meghan's immediate calmness and action was critical as well as inspirational in getting several of us to begin action as well and to recognize the gravity of the problem.

Kami was having a severe asthma attack, and was getting worse within seconds. She was not able to get enough air in even while resting, and was on a trajectory to get worse. Meghan held her tightly from behind and supported her, telling her she would be OK in a calm, soothing voice. I supported Kami's other side and (cold) hand, and tried to be calm and reassuring as well. 1 or 2 other female runners stopped in support, and began discussing that a runner behind them had an inhaler, but they didn't know how far back she was. As a sign of how much she was out of it, Megan pointed out a stick/branch that was poking sharply into Kami's leg, so we moved it out of the way. Other runners went ahead to get help. Somehow, in the mix, Tyler Stewart and Pam Smith were there, and I'm really sorry, I don't know who exactly had an inhaler, but one of them did (which was a bit low) and then Pam had another one.

Those inhalers very well may have saved her life.
Deus ex machina.

One of them handed me the first one, I shook it up and put it in Kami's mouth and gave 2 solid puffs. She was breathing better almost instantly. Another couple of puffs from the 2nd inhaler, and she was a bit more lucid. But she kept repeating, "I'm so sorry," selflessly feeling bad about us stopping, despite our response that there was nothing to be sorry about.

We felt the worst was over, but she was still not in good shape. Everyone was willing to help out as needed, I have no doubt about that. Among the women were several bibs with "F" on them (meaning previous top 10) -- I had previously joked, earlier on the trail, that running near an "F" bib meant *I* was running too "F-ing" Fast!
I volunteered to help her out, and told the women to keep going, (in part) because they were involved in a competitive race up front.
They did move on, with some hugs and deep concern, and I promised I'd stay with her.

We were somewhere in the middle between 2 aid stations, but remembering the pre-race meeting, it seemed like going forward, to the more accessible Robinson Flat, would make the most sense.

We needed help, and the initial reaction is to want outside help. But such help doesn't materialize in emergency situations, so anyone in the situation has to take action quickly themselves, like some of us did.
I have no doubt any of those other women would have continued to help her out just as well. Maybe better. But part of me thought that, perhaps subconsciously, the stress of knowing some of the women personally and 'worrying' about their race would make it harder for her to relax. Sometimes it's easier to deal with help that seems a bit more impersonal, I guess, is what I was thinking. In addition, after making that decision, I had completely let go of the race: I would stand there or walk however long was necessary, and I was 100% OK with that decision. I knew CPR, and I'm intimately familiar with asthma. My main job was really to stay calm, and keep her calm.

And to be clear -- at least half a dozen people were important and necessary in just getting her off the trail. Megan, right off the bat. The two with the inhalers (Tyler and Pam?), that had carried them along the trail for miles and shared them immediately: we would have been in really bad shape without that (and the fact that they happened to be nearby). Some of the runners that went ahead to alert the medical team. And Kami herself, who had enough energy and mental resolve to move forward for at least a couple miles and kept calm enough to do so, rather than give up and just wait.

Kami was able to stand up and start walking, and said she felt better, and told me to go ahead, not to worry.
I told her I wasn't leaving her, and we went back and forth a bit, and I told her not to be mad at me, but I wasn't going to leave her until Robinson or we reached medical care. She accepted this offer.

We began walking, and then she tried running a bit. A few steps, and her lungs tightened up quickly, so she walked. If she went too slow, she got cold and shivered a bit, so it was a tradeoff. She said nothing that dramatic had ever happened before. We kept walking, I asked her about things like medical history and drug allergies. She alternated between full sentences, short responses, and pantomimed responses, suggesting she was still feeling much worse than she appeared. I offered my buff as a sort of scarf to breathe through, to heat up the air a bit.

The fact is, something triggered her asthma, likely the combination of exercise and the cold. It was something like 37 degrees, and wet. Emergency inhalers clear the airways for a short period of time but don't solve the problem. She needed to be removed from the trigger of her asthma.

We kept walking. After 30, and then 40 minutes, questions went through my head, like
Where the fuck is Robinson Flat?
Where the fuck is the medical team?
Why didn't I keep one of the fucking inhalers with me?
Isn't this a fucking horse trail? Where are the fucking horses?!

(I am not trying to be colourful or clever, but I'm trying to show you what goes through someone's mind at a time like this).

But I tried to remain outwardly calm and reassuring. She asked how far we were, I told her that it seemed like somebody should come any minute, and from a description from a nearby runner, we were now within 3/4 mile.

She was moving steadily, and finally, 50 minutes after receiving the inhaler, someone was running in the opposite direction.

A body catch a body, coming through the rye.

"This is Kami!" I shouted.
"I know, I'm a friend" he said, and he ran through as I tried to give a brief medical update. He just grabbed her and hugged her. I don't know who it was, but later learned it was a guy who just took off immediately as soon as he heard there was a problem. I admire and appreciate his quick and immediate response. Quickly after, I saw one, and then another person coming down the trail. One was Twietmeyer. One was carrying an inhaler. I knew she was safe, enough, for now, and gave her a quick hug.

The entire time I told myself to stay calm and not cry or anything until she was safe. Now I was running up to Robinson Flat, choking back sobs. She coulda fucking died is what I thought.
But she didn't, and she was going to be OK.
And now, within 2 or 3 minutes, there was the jolt of cheers, crowds, and finally seeing my crew.
It was like being dropped back into another world, and I wasn't ready to adjust. I wanted to run -- really wanted to run -- but not necessarily race. I had thought of ditching my watch with my crew so I didn't even think about it anymore, before rethinking that a watch can be a useful and practical tool if I needed it.

I had to clean up the expression on my face and tried to force a smile.
It didn't fully work, although the girls just thought it was some sort of crazy face and camera timing.

I didn't stop to socialize much with the crew, though I gave J a big hug and kiss and briefly told Alex the situation, so that he knew I felt fine but also wasn't worried about pacing.

I wish I had visited longer, though, and I appreciate the time they spent in the cold rain waiting and worrying.

What next? 32 miles until Foresthill. After seeing the crew, I had a mental boost like usual, but I was also anxious to get running. And we had a bit of downhill to do it. I actually felt pretty good here -- no matter what happened to my race, at least I was useful, so the day was already good. I had no regrets about stopping and wasn't worried about my overall race time, yet somehow I was convinced I was 40 minutes "behind," when in reality it was more like 20, something I didn't realize until the race was over. This is mostly an observation on how the perception of time changes in a stressful period. In any case, I felt good and passed some people going downhill. Ill-advised, and even worse, I remember my feet slap-slapping on the ground as I did it. I didn't care. I just wanted to get moving and didn't care anymore. I felt like running but maybe not in a race anymore. Maybe I even wanted to hurt a little bit. At the same time, I was confident in being able to finish in 24 hours, and owed that to my crew and myself. So for a brief period, I was just running.

That only lasted for so long. Not sure when, exactly, but eventually my thoughts turned darker. This stuff happens in ultras, but you're supposed to block it out. The whole day, in fact, is about selfishly blocking out all other distractions and concerns. You have to be 100% committed to the idea that running 100 miles at a certain pace -- and nothing less -- is a worthy goal. It's the only way to get these things done. But I made an exception to this process: why should I care about this race when something actually serious happens instead? Did I overreact*? Maybe she was just fine. Did I, or anyone else, underreact? Does this race matter anymore? Shouldn't I suck it up and get over this? Is it good or desirable to be person that can suck it up and get over this? But people get lost or make wrong turns and lose time but keep going -- heck, I've done that -- why was this different?

(* I later learned that she was OK, but also that she had a second, severe attack afterward. I met an Army Medic, Bill from Baraboo, who gave a description of her being in pretty bad shape again, with both asthma and hypothermia signs, and she went to the hospital. I'm glad she went to the hospital and recovered fully, and sad that she went through that pain and worry again.)

So, I was losing focus. I run these things to see what I'm made of and then want to integrate that into the larger picture: not to increase Ultrasignup rankings, but to be a better husband, scientist, friend, citizen, uncle, etc. Running helps, often, and fails, sometimes. I had some darker thoughts and questions about the Religion of Ultrarunning. But as for the day itself, I didn't know what was left to prove.

We were in the canyons now, with a switchback descent to some river, then ascent, then repeat. I'm glad I wasn't the only one thinking it, as Nick had the same observation: canyons are cruel opposites to peak-running, where the exciting goal is a glorious summit followed by a descent. But, the canyons were remarkably cool, temperature-wise, being in the upper 70s instead of 20-30 degrees warmer on average.

This should've been great, I would have liked to have been chatting with some folks, but instead was stuck in my own head. I had done sufficient heat training for nought. It was supposed to be hot here, like it was in the movie. It wasn't like in the movie!

I was slowing down, now. I could feel my quads on the downhills, and began splashing water on them, yet they weren't completely blown, just sore. My feet were a bit beat up. Ultimately, my right knee tendon was my weakest point, and ended up giving me the most trouble through the night.

But I was still moving, toward Alex and the Silver Buckle, which seems like a good name for musical. I picked up occasional bits of garbage while I could still bend over.
We finally reached the Devil's Thumb climb, and I actually passed a few people. I remember Pete saying he looked forward to it while many dreaded it. Bring on the climbs!

But then, more descending, and eventually, pavement, and finally, Alex:

I had my pacer now, and needed my crew. I felt bad about barely seeing them last time, so I wanted to get my money's worth here. J kindly iced down my quads, as the others helped with other food and Red Bull and pickle juice! I was heartened to learn that the girls ate pickle sandwiches, so some of the pickles went to good use, much to the chagrin of my pickle-hating pacer.

Now we were at Mile 62, the weather was perfect, and I had my pacer! Things were awesome. We've heard stories about runners "dropping" their pacer by running fast, and wondered if this would happen on a remarkable day, as I chased some super stretch goal. In the movie, in fact, Geoff Roes really crushed it after this! So it was time to get rolling.

Not only that, but Alex and I were bound to have lots of laughs and fun conversation, just like a training run.


Umm, not so much.

I was excited to get caught up on the details of the race, as well as the rest of the day for the crew. That was good and good to hear. What did I have to offer in return? Not much. I was committed to a 24-hour finish, but had abandoned many other goals. I made Alex run very slowly for longer than he anticipated.
I'm sorry, Alex.
Didn't really push much, and as I could feel twinges in my knee on any semi-technical downhill, I didn't want to do anything stupid, so I was very conservative. There was a brief stretch to Peachstone where I was concerned about having enough of a time buffer and was worried about cutting things too close that I ran a few solid miles and felt good. After the aid station, and any semblance of rocks on the trail, and I slowed down dramatically.

This is what I wanted to avoid since Leadville. Ironically, I still felt better than at the end of Leadville, but I wasn't committed. I really think I was just emotionally spent. I was prepared for running 100 miles, and I was prepared to respond to an emergency, but it turns out that both at the same time was too difficult to handle. For me, this time. After either of those two, you usually have downtime to process and recover. I wish I could just do it and turn my mind off and move on, but I wasn't prepared to do so.

Without anything else going on, who knows what would have happened? I very much could have used the mental benefit of staying positive and chatting with others for longer. But maybe that pace would have ultimately been worse for later parts of my race and I would have been worse off. Who knows. Make no mistake, though: my legs were also in bad shape. It's hard to separate the mental and emotional and physical aspects of these things. I decided the regret of missing the 24-hour cutoff would have exceeded the excitement of running an extra 5 or 10 or 40 or 100 minutes faster. But I no longer had the chance to answer the question of how fast could I run at my hardest? In that respect, I wavered between feeling like I let myself and others down, to wondering if and how and why it mattered.

I was already able to, earlier, answer questions about who I am and what was most important to me. Those things were surprising and will remain as strong reminders for the rest of my life. It's just that, by the end of the race, things got uglier.

Well, we enjoyed our descent down to the river -- finally! -- among a chorus of croaking frogs. It really was a beautiful night on a beautiful trail. Occasionally, there were some longer, Donnie Darko views.
The girls were out there, waiting, on the other side of the river, but under the same moon:

A shame about how runnable the latter part of the trail is, just as advertised. With waning daylight, I should have run harder here, but barely did, as I'd occasionally tweak my knee or hit a rock with my fat feet and then slowed again. My backup light that I had with me wasn't that strong. My stomach still felt fine, as it did all day, and so did my heart and lungs, which were woefully undertaxed.

Sorry, cardiovascular system.

Finally, we made it to the river -- not at dusk/daylight as we hoped, but in oncoming darkness.

But, we did have the advantage of actually fording it, rather than taking a raft. And no oxen were lost!

The river was an important mental checkpoint. I had a good headlamp, and now we just had an uphill hike to see the girls. As I asked Alex for splits, I kept asking them how long until we saw them? Here they were, north of Mile 80:

Looks like we're smiling! Must have been having fun.
Just 20 miles to go, the homestretch!

The home trudge.

I had a handheld light stashed at Auburn Lake, but didn't bother to retrieve it.

Alex and I weren't talking much here at all. One time we snapped a bit at each other while trying to get off the trail for a runner behind us. He was trying to figure out what I wanted, which was mostly to keep moving and then walk to the side as they past, since abrupt stops and starts were hard for me. But I think I articulated this with a grunt, at best.

We were mostly in our own little world here. Sometimes Alex was a ways ahead. Saw one guy projectile vomit on the side of the trail. Another group bickered as he asked her for GU and then water, as it was clear she was muling his crap (not the only instance of this on the trail) and he was being rude to her, as he also then yelled at her about pace.

I think my rudeness was limited mostly to grunts and short answers. I was short with an aid station volunteer that was getting me coffee, but I still thanked him, and then thanked the next person by name to try to make up for it. I appreciated Alex's pace updates, and occasionally he did have little stories and anecdotes. Believe me, I took it all in, I was looking for anything positive.

Almost to Mile 90, and then there we were, Brown's Bar. Someone tapped me and shook my hand -- Brandon! I was startled, and then relieved. Tim had him moving well, and I told him the Silver Buckle was his. We headed out of the aid station first and Alex led a spirited charge ahead, but Brandon was moving better than me. Beforehand, I would have wanted to finish ahead of him, yet to my surprise, my true reaction was joy and relaxation. With him ahead of me, I didn't have to worry about how he was doing, as I wanted him to get the Silver Buckle. As long as he stayed ahead of me, that was guaranteed.

So we had No Hands Bridge to look forward too, and then a climb, and not much more. All of the individual pieces were familiar from pictures and reading; even still, I asked Alex at every aid station to get a brief description of upcoming trail, and unfailingly a shiny-buckled volunteer was happy to oblige. Except for a meadow, which I didn't remember...being in that meadow in the moonlight was certainly a peaceful highlight of the trail.

Alex kept me going and avoided taking the wrong trail on subtle trail forks. Finally, we could see Robie Point above us. I was OK on time -- right? Looks like I had 50 minutes not to turn into a pumpkin. But that climb looked awfully high, and I was actually a bit worried. Powerhiked again and caught up to some people, I enjoyed this and my legs felt pain-free -- if only there were more terrain like this! Soon enough, with time to spare, we were at the top, and kept going through.

But, walking, on dark streets, looking for the girls. The goal was well within the bag. Alex prodded me to run. Meh. Some stranger -- an older guy -- I've never met before and will never see again said I was almost there and could start running. Meh. He said it again, "C'mon, you can run!" And then I did.
The girls were there, then, and the track was near, so we were able to run together. Everybody was tired. A few volunteers and passerby's cheered us on, and then I was on the legendary track.

Nobody was behind me, so I'd have the track to myself. Except someone was there to greet me -- Burch! I gave him a high-5 and said he should run with us. He said he was waiting for his Mom. I still didn't understand this. I asked Nora how Burch did, she dodged the question and lied. Smart move: had I known the truth, I would have stopped and run backwards on the track, as I mentally considered passing somebody late on the track when you're already spread out (i.e., not for position) to be bad form.

The final stretch, and the clock seconds were ticking up in the upper 50's, so I instinctually sped up -- dammit, how much of this running could I have done earlier? 22:42 (:59)...Gordy's time.

That was about as much energy as I had.
Did I mention my nose had been bleeding for an hour and a half?
Burch was admirably in better spirits, despite having trashed legs. I was punch-drunk.

And that was all the energy I had. I was now cold and couldn't fathom making it to the car. I was short with answers and dropped please's and thank you's with my crew. I was utterly exhausted and didn't want to think about anything. And I wanted pants.

I wasn't able to whoop it up or be as happy as I would have liked, and the crew deserved. They were wasted from being up 26 hours as well. I should have planned a situation that gave them more sleep so they had more reserves. I had nothing, and I feel bad about that. Had I finished in 30 hours? Don't want to think about it. I've generally held myself to a higher standard to be mindful of that. I was just emotionally wiped out in a way I wasn't prepared for, couldn't fully explain to them, and maybe never will be able to fully explain.

Well, we got the Silver Buckle:

And I could not have done it without an amazing crew.
Thank you so much J, Nora, and Alex!

This was quite an amazing experience that I'm glad to be a part of. I wish I could have delivered more consistent happiness and enthusiasm to my crew. To even consider one of these, I have to deliver 100 miles of fun to all involved. It's unlikely I'll have the chance to run there again, but it was an enjoyable experience, and as it was, the non-racing part ended up being the most important part of it. The racing part was a mental rollercoaster that I'll take some time to process.

But I'm in no hurry.


  1. Good work all around Mike. Thanks for sharing the whole story.

  2. That is a great post. Your clear head with Kami clearly was what was important on that day. Congrats on the buckle.

  3. God. I'M going to need time to process all of this. What a well-written account of a Saga among Sagas.

    There will be a laundry list of things, about this race, that you'll never really know.

    But I believe -- now more than ever -- that the measure of a man, in conditions like this, is not to be quantified, but qualified.

    She COULD have died. You know me, and my situation. Realizing how few people, relatively, will take the time from their beloved pursuits to lend a hand to one who is truly struggling ... brings a tear to my eyes for your sacrifice and human concern.

    You ran a great race, Mike. Your story tells it. Your results tell it. Short of illness or injury, what could harm your timing MORE than an abject hit to the rhythm and the pace ???

    You should be proud of yourself ... on about a million levels.

    And ... as somebody who paced you, once, I'm sure YOU feel worse about your interactions with pacers, crew, and aid station workers than THEY ever did/would/will -- yet another testament to your compassion.

    Bravo !!!!

  4. Thanks guys, it was a very small part and not even the most important. We needed those inhalers and the other great folks that stopped and helped, or ran ahead to get medical attention (and the medical attention itself). I wish I were outside the story and don't want attention from it, it was a scary experience for her I'm sure. The point of sharing it is in case people encounter something similar, and how to deal with it or prepare for it. I'm carrying an inhaler on these runs from now on (and even on some long hikes). And I realized many people may not have dealt with asthma directly and are unsure how to help others deal with it.

  5. Wow! Thanks for sharing Mike. I think finishing with Gordy's time was a perfect ending to the experience. Hopefully we can catch up in Silverton. A Bear Ass Brown sounds very good!

  6. Wonderful report Mikey! We are so proud of you and enjoyed cheering you on from the sidelines. Thank you for being such an inspiration for myself and my boys.

  7. Having been on the bad side of severe breathing problems for many hours during a race, I can identify that you were a hero. What a meaningful and successful run you had. Congratulations.

  8. Whew! What an account... Brutally honest & obviously heartfelt recounting of a pretty amazing race & weekend in general! Interesting to read about the "other side" of the experience vs. the crew's perspective from only a few key check-in points asking the way. We only get small glimpses into what you are going through out on the trail. Words & pictures still only tell a fraction of the real story that I'm sure is replayed in your mind. Thanks for inviting me to be a part of these ventures & you should be very proud of your Silver Buckle - you deserved it! And next time we'll remember pants! Disclaimer: Jessica & I are self-proclaimed excellent crew women, although in our sleep-deprived, emotionally-spent states at the end, we did the unthinkable & forgot to bring warm pants - sorry guys! So when's the next 100? Heard they do ultras in Hawaii :-). I'm in... Congrats Mike & thanks for sharing.

  9. Mike,
    What a day. Thank you so much for staying with Kami. You did the right thing. I felt guilty for leaving her, but knew she was safe with you. It did seem to take forever before I finally saw someone coming to help.

    Great job getting your Silver Buckle. Pretty monumental toughness on your part.


  10. I know it's not the day you wanted, but you did a fantastic job and the Silver Buckle is yours! Glad to see you out there even though it was in front of B for most of the day! Heard you've been traininging with some Nick-kid who might be able to tear up some trails! Congrats Mike!

  11. My favorite line: "Well, we got the Silver Buckle."

    "We." Class act.

    Congrats, Mike.

  12. Congrats on a great race. I'm taking time to digest all of this, as I've developed asthma in the past two years and have been out in the woods alone without an inhaler...

    It's stories like this one that remind me what I enjoy about these events (they're not races, as slow as I do them; and there's so little enjoyment sometimes). In the local 100 a few years back, the second runner found the first one unconscious on the trail. He had a pacer, who stayed with the fallen runner while he went to get help from the nearest aid station. Only when they knew things would be okay did he go on. To win. By three hours.

  13. Good Job Mike! I think life is about stepping/speaking up in those rare unexpected seconds of opportunity. I've had my share and I cherish them all. You had a great one on the WS course....But, you are from Wisconsin after all!

    You definitely deserve another In N Out (try the grilled cheese with grilled onions next time!)