Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Still ticking, and the ticking is getting louder. A bit.

Wow - my last post was July 2? That's what happens when you mess up a knee and become mostly useless on the trails. This is going to be long, but hopefully not too whiny. (Spoiler alert: There will be some whining.)

To recap, back in May, my old enemy, a partially torn meniscus in my right knee, got a bit irritated, so I dialed things back a bit (and yes, maybe running a race each weekend for 18 weeks in a row, starting in February, may have contributed).

So I took some time off, and the knee got better. By the time I was volunteering at Western States near the end of June, I considered myself 90% healed. And then, just a few hours before I was going to head out from there, I managed to twist the knee by stepping in a hole not big enough to hide a golf ball, and everything reset, with the knee being in much worse shape than it had been in May.

This recovery has been not fun. After a month or so, it was significantly better, and I restarted my lunch walking and was getting excited. Then things took a dark turn again.

I work on the 3rd floor and despise the elevator, but had been taking it while the knee got better. The day after my successful lunch walk, I took the next step, and started using the stairs again. That day I ended up making three trips up and down, and things seemed fine, but that night, things were not fine. By the next morning I was back to barely being able to walk again.

After that setback, I did something I've never done, and started seeing a physical therapist. I continued to take it easy and embrace the elevator, and am now back to being able to do lunch walks, and even more exciting, taking the stairs again. The next step will be a small attempt at running, but that's likely still a few weeks away.

This has not been a fun summer, from a running standpoint. There have been many races I had been looking forward to that I had to skip. But Mrs Notthat and I committed to streaking at Brazen Racing this year, so I still participated in quite a few races (many when I should have been sitting on the couch) - mostly just hobbling the 5K.

Following is a recap of sorts.

Brazen Stars and Stripes - July 4 (My Pictures)

Redwood City has a fun Fourth of July race, which, if I was actually up to running a race, I would have much rather run (largely because it's local). This was nine days after the injury, and I was still severely hobbling. But a streak is a streak, so I intended to limp around the 5K in lovely, but far away, Concord.

Then a call came out for volunteers, and I jumped at the chance to instead take pictures of the other runners.

The arrow-through-the-head made an appearance! Picture by Jason.
Since volunteering counts as being at the race, this kept my streak intact. But there was not going to be an easy out next weekend at…

Brazen Dirty Dozen - July 8 (My Pictures)

This was a race that, when I had signed up, I had hoped to get a reasonably fast (for me) 50K. So I was set to run the 12 hour event (well, not really 12 hours, but more on that later) and Mrs Notthat was going to run a 5K and a 10K.

This event is a blast with the main event being a 12 hour and 6 hour race around a roughly 3.4 mile loop on a fun trail. You do as many loops as possible - there is a shorter loop (0.7 miles) that opens up in the last hour so that you can squeeze out as much distance as possible.

To add some spice, there are also a couple of normal 5K and 10K races scattered throughout the day. Those races don't start until late in the morning, while the 12 and 6 hour races start at 7AM. So, to avoid making Mrs Notthat have to get up early only to sit around for four hours, my plan was to show up and start my "12 hour" at about 11AM, making it an 8 hour race for me.

For me to get an official finish, I needed to complete one lap, and it wasn't going to be easy. But I did it, using hiking sticks for the first time. My official time was just barely under six hours (even though I started really late, my official start time was at 7AM), but the actual time was a bit over two hours. The knee was not happy, and ended up getting iced a lot when I finally staggered through the finish.

Mrs Notthat storming to the finish in one of her two races that day.
This was not my finish, but hours later when I was getting a picture of Mrs Notthat. Grandkid Second Born is realizing he could easily beat me in a race. Picture by Jay. 
A fun thing - the grandkids were dropped off near the end of the race so that we could play with them for a week!

Brazen Bad Bass - July 22 (My Pictures)

This 5K is all paved, but has lots of rolling hills. The knee was feeling much better than at Dirty Dozen, so I silently gave myself a goal of going sub-one hour.

I missed that goal by four minutes, but was pleased to not leave in worse shape than when I got there.

A first and likely last - a reserved parking spot for me! Not because I was fragile, but because I had the It's-Its!
Mrs Notthat also ran the 5K, so she ended up having to wait a LONG time for me.

Brazen Summer Breeze - August 5 (My Pictures)

Now that I was 60, this was a race I was targeting to get my Ageless Wonder status (run a 10K in fewer minutes than your age). Sadly, that was not to be this year, and instead, I was going to be shooting for a sub-one hour finish in the 5K. Heavy sigh.

This race is wildly popular, but for reasons that escape normal trail runners. It's on a trail, but it's generally flat and kind of boring. It's built for speed, and since I'm not, this race is not a favorite (unless I'm shooting for Ageless Wonder).

Photo by Volunteer Alex. Sunscreen was not an issue.
Mrs Notthat also ran the 5K since this is not her favorite race either. The 5K course is actually a bit more interesting than the other courses.

Brazen Bear Creek - August 12 (My Pictures)

This race was the first after the stairs setback, and I was a bit worried. The last mile or so is shared between all distances. It's normally my favorite part of the course, since it's moderately technical single-track with a nasty creek crossing sort of thing just before the finish.

The problem is that I was going to be hobbling along, using a hiking stick, with many faster 10K and Half runners wanting to pass. I'm fine with stepping to the side - I wasn't winning anything - but this single-track is lined with some of the most healthy poison oak you'll ever see. 

Mrs Notthat ran the 10K and passed me in that final single-track bit of trail.
The creek is no big deal, and it's actually often refreshing, but erosion made getting from that last step down to the ground challenging if you have a knee that should be resting on the couch.
Photo by Jay. I was not in great shape heading to the finish. 
I used only one stick so I could keep one hand free to take pictures. The problem with that plan was that it was my left hand, and my left hand had never taken a picture before. It took a lot of really bad pictures that day.

In the end, I got it done, but the knee was not happy and I ended up with a fair amount of poison oak.  

Diablo Dash - August 19 (My Pictures)

This was not an actual Brazen race, but Brazen was running it, and they needed some volunteers, so Mrs Notthat and I headed over to help out (well, Mrs managed to sneak in and run the race). I ended up working the first aid station then taking hundreds of photos. My knee was thrilled that I didn't push it.

Mrs Notthat blasting through the first aid station.

Brazen Trail Hog - September 2 (My Pictures)

This race turned out to be one of my favorites since we got to introduce two friends visiting from The Netherlands to trail running. It was the first race for either of them, and they were a bit nervous. But that went away pretty quickly once it all started - then it became fun!

The M and M Twins live streaming a bit of the race back to a disbelieving Netherlands.
Photo by Jay. Note the lack of walking sticks or a knee brace. I was getting better! Well, except for that stupid rubber pig snout. 
This race had record heat, and this course is very exposed, so many runners had to go much slower than normal or drop down in distance.

Dutch girls dealing with the heat by eating ice cream! Sadly, they now think all races here end this way. 
A sweltering Mrs Notthat finishing her 10K. 
Mrs Notthat is normally impervious to heat, but this race really got to her. When the race started, I thought there was a pretty good chance she would finish before me, but that didn't happen, which worried me a bit. But she hung in there and got it done. (She actually let people squeeze a sponge with icy water on her head at the finish - it was really hot out there!)

Brazen Drag-n-Fly - September 16 (My Pictures)

The Drag-n-Fly 5K course is fun - there are no big climbs (the other distances are infested with big climbs) and you get to go around the lake. Mrs Notthat ran the 10K, but it's a tough 10K, so I was pretty sure I would finish before her (I did). 

Photo by the Chasqui Runner - It's a thrill when a professional photographer takes your picture! I'm about a half mile from the finish.
Mrs Notthat pushed really hard, and was completely drained at the end.
Getting her third place age group medal managed to revive her quite nicely.

Brazen Rocky Ridge - September 30 (My Pictures)

Oh man. There is no "easy" distance at this race - even the 5K has a large climb to fight through. I decided to try to up my game and walk the 10K. That would mean a large climb up the dreaded Paved Hill, but maybe worse, that would mean a long downhill bit. With my knee, the downhills tend to be more of a problem than the uphill - I can manage to walk flat and uphill with little to no limp, but downhills, not so much.

So Mrs Notthat and I both did the 10K. 

The paved Hill was exposed and hot. And long.
A nice surprise was that, once you got to the top, you were in a nice cool marine layer. That was amazingly refreshing!
Photo by a Brazen volunteer. As much as she likes the sun, Mrs Notthat also liked this cool fog.
A stunning turn of events - I won my age group! And beat someone in it! (Note that I wouldn't have even placed in the two age groups older than mine - it's good to be in an unpopular age group!)

Brazen Tarantula - October 14 (My Pictures)

And that brings us to current time. And the first race that was in serious danger of breaking our Brazen streak.

The fires up north had actually forced our daughter (Weird Haired Mom for you history buffs) and her family to evacuate their house. The grandkids (and their cats and dog) came down to stay with us where the air quality was at least tolerable. We weren't sure at first whether we would be able to go to this race, or even whether the race was going to happen. But the air cleared up a bit, Aunt Aubri volunteered to take the kids up to the Exploratorium, and the race happened as scheduled, although on a highly modified course.

For safety, we ended up running only on trails that were near the park's main road, which actually made for a fairly fun race since we got to see the other runners multiple times. Mrs Notthat and I both did the 10K. I was a bit borderline as to whether to attempt running or not, but decided to stick with walking for now.

One fun thing about the course change was that we got to go to the top of the dam. Yes, it was on a paved road, but getting to go where people aren't normally allowed was kind of cool! Here, Mrs Notthat is flying back down that climb.
Photo by volunteer Michael. I made it to the top of the dam! And didn't blow away!
Mrs Notthat is wildly not fond of costumed mascots normally, but she was fine with this tarantula/RD. "I could see his face, so it was all good" she said. I think that secretly she really likes spiders.
And that's about it. I believe there are six more races in the Brazen streak, and it's looking like we may actually pull this off. I'm hoping to get at least a little running in somewhere in these races, but I've also been enjoying the walking and am OK being patient. I'm also happy that I've been able to upgrade to the 10K distance, even if it shows how much fitness I've lost over the summer.

That's it - move along!

Late Breaking PS: Mrs Notthat messed up her ankle at the SF Zoo while trying to rescue the grandkids from a zookeeper that was sure they had escaped from a cage! She will be volunteering at Goonies! With the grandkids!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Western States 2017 - Last Chance take 7!

Note that this is going to be long. Really long. War and Peace long. But there are a lot of pictures so it will go faster than you might think. Think War and Peace from Readers Digest. (All of you under 40 will have to google that.)

For the seventh year in a row, I was invited by Stevens Creek Striders to join their Last Chance party, ongoing since 1982. This is an aid station (the BEST aid station) at mile 43.3 of the Western States Endurance Run.

First things first, I needed to make the signs. Starting in my second year at Last Chance, I thought it would be fun to make signs for the runners I knew in the race. That year I made four signs. This year I made 14 signs (plus three made by others, and there were a couple of general purpose signs that I just reuse). Something a little different this year - I also made a couple based on requests for people I didn't know.

Double-click to see these a bit bigger.
The Trail of Signs on a small uphill bit shortly after the runners leave the aid station.
My next goal was to convince my Soul to haul more stuff.

Yes, this is very redneck. And effective. But redneck.
I wanted roof rails so I could throw some light stuff up on top. Proper roof rails were a bit over $300, which seemed like a lot for the one time a year they would be useful, so I engineered these out of spare parts laying around the house. (I have a LOT of spare parts laying around the house.)

Ready to head out!
I picked up a soft rooftop carrier bag, filled it with a bunch of light stuff, and freed up a lot of interior space. I knew we were getting more ice than ever this year, along with some bonus water jugs, so I needed as much room as possible.

Yes, Amer is a very cool guy, with an icy stare!
I met Amer at the WSER warehouse in Auburn on Friday afternoon, and he turned out to have a vehicle that was big enough to hold my vehicle AND all the ice. We grabbed about 800 pounds of ice and ten water jugs. The trick now was to get all this ice to the aid station before it melted. (Not that being at the aid station was going to keep it from melting - we wrapped it up in a couple of tarps with a layer of insulation, but the heat was remarkable, and it never really got very cool that night. There was a lot of meltage.)

The group shot had to be hurried since we had just heard that Walmsley had already left Dusty Corners.
The Last Chance aid station is wildly remote - just getting there is not trivial - which makes it a bit stunning that so many people willingly give up their weekend to hang out here. There were over 50 people volunteering here - many of which showed up Friday and camped out.

Donna and Tammy checking spelling and grammar on the drop bags.
A fun thing was that Tammy and Donna joined us there for the day. (After five minutes fighting the mosquitos, I think they were having second thoughts, but eventually the mosquitos go away when it gets too hot for them.)

Make mine over-easy please.
Amer manned the grill for the second year, and made the best craft-quality grilled cheese sandwiches.

The buffet!
Get that guy out of there! He'll wreck everything!
Drop Bag Central.
The best porta-potties on the course! (They even had lights with motion detectors in them for night use! And potted plants!)
The MASH tent. Hopefully this wouldn't get used. (Spoiler: I think it did, but not as much as feared.)
The medical people are the first to see the runners as they come in. They need a few huge syringes scattered around as props.
The greeters, waiting for the runners to start showing up.
The radio guys - our only reliable connection to the outside world. (Cell service is at best spotty - for most people it's non-existant.)
What it looked like as the runners came in to Club Last Chance.
It looks like Jim is putting on a mask to hold up the aid station! "Fill this bag with all your PB&J! NOW!"
The first runner in was no surprise - Jim Walmsley came in at about the same time he came in last year, which was way ahead of everyone else. We knew the snow and mud of the high country was going to slow down the runners, but apparently not Jim.

Thirty nine minutes after Walmsley, our second runner arrived.

Eventual winner Ryan Sandes getting soaked before the canyons.

Gail and Tammy wrasslin' an ice bandana. There were a huge variety of these and they all seemed to work differently.

The first woman runner was YiOu Wang! And she looked really fresh and ready to dominate the rest of the course. (Sadly, she wouldn't, and would end up getting cooked in the heat.)

YiOu getting a LOT of ice stuffed in her arm sleeves and pack.

Magda and Kaci came in together, both looking OK considering what they had been through. Magda would end up finishing second and Kaci would have a very tough race, but end up getting the race done anyway.

I should know better than to try to get a nice picture while the runner is eating something. Kaci looks awesome in any case!

The eventual winner, Cat Bradley getting very cooled off!

At first, Lon scared me. "Here, let me show you something" and then he started pulling up his vest. He ended up finishing well under 23 hours and as 26th man!

Something we've never done before was to have an awning over the car wash area. It was really hot by now, and the runners needed every break possible from the sun, even while getting ice cold sponges squeezed on them. (The ground would get muddy, so this setup would end up migrating around a bit to let the mud dry out.)

The aid station exit monitors. Some tasks are more glamorous than others!

The hydration experts - filling bottles at the speed of ice! (I know, that makes no sense.)

Mandie getting the full ice experience!
Every year, Last Chance gets to enter a runner into the race. This year was Mandie's turn, and even better, this was her first 100M race! (Spoiler alert - she nailed it! 14th woman in well under 24 hours!)

Ken helping Kim sort out his drop bag.
Kim was another Last Chance vet that got into the race (using traditional methods - he had only two lottery tickets!). It was his second 100M race, and first Western States - he nailed it! 36th man and just under 23 hours!

The award for the most non-traditional head gear went to this guy.

Tammy and Chris.
Chris and Ace are attempting the wildly hard Original Six Hundo Challenge, where they run each of the original six 100M races in the same summer. This race was the second of the batch.

Chris getting ice shoved into his sleeves.

Ace showing the effects of too much caffeine.
They both got in to the aid station later than planned, which was actually good news since it meant they were adjusting their effort and pace to match the conditions. As a spoiler alert, they would both finish!

Ace getting cool! Even without his horse!

John getting iced up! Popeye arms!
It was so great to see John get into the race - it took him four years of lottery frustration! But he was determined to make the most of it, and was running a smart race.

Rick was an amazing story. This was his sixth year trying to get into the race, and instead of getting in, he made it on to the wait list. Western States added a wait list for the first time this year, and since it was the first time, it was unknown how many of the wait list runners would get in (or at least get offered a spot). The list had 50 names on it - Rick was number 33 - and two weeks before race day, he was in. Eleven runners ahead of him on the list chose not to run the race. (Being on the wait list is really hard - do you train as if you are getting in? Do you book flights and rooms and gather a crew for something that might not happen? Or do you switch to a backup plan?) Rick chose to assume he would get in, and it paid off.

(As it turned out, I believe the 39th runner on the list was the last one to get in, getting Gordy's spot at the very last minute.)

Kent the safety sweep proving to Dwight that he can list off the names of all his kids. In order. (There are a ton of them.)

Another goofy, mouthful picture. This time it's another John!
For reasons that are unclear, we didn't have the traditional sweeper horses this year, but instead had the more standard sweeper runners. I'm not sure how many runners dropped at our aid station, but I think it was only one or two at the most. Sadly, several runners that left our aid station late would succumb to the struggle of the hot climb up Devil's Thumb and end up dropping there.

Ryan Sandes coming in for the win!
Once we had everything packed, it was time to make a mad dash for the finish line. This year, we knew there was little chance of getting there in time to see Walmsley win it, but we pushed on any way.

At Last Chance, we are very isolated. We have to drive about 40 minutes to Forresthill before we get a usable cell signal. So we are completely in the dark as to what's going on in the race, outside of our little piece of it.

I had to make a stop at the warehouse in Auburn before heading to the stadium, and while there, got a call from Amer letting me know that Walmsley had dropped and there had been no winner yet! So I ended up getting to the track in plenty of time to see Ryan come steaming in and grabbing the win.

A bit later, the women's winner Cat came in.

I caught a stupid cold a week before the race, so I did something I've never done here before - I got some sleep. Not a lot of sleep, but enough that I missed seeing several runners come in that I would have really liked to see finish. But the sleep was very needed.

Chris pushing an extremely bored Skye, with Chelsea making sure he doesn't pop any wheelies with that stroller.

Delightful Tiffany with the at least as delightful Liza getting ready to chase Ace around the track. (I'm not sure "delightful" would be an appropriate adjective for Ace.) 

And here comes Ace! I won't say he was looking fresh, but he was looking awfully dang good, all things considered.
It was at this point that my day took a bizarre turn for the worst. After getting this shot, I ran from the track onto the edge of the football field's grass to get ahead of Ace and grab a couple more pictures. (Who am I kidding - at least a dozen more pictures.) And I stepped into a slight depression and twisted my already fragile right knee. Instantly I was reduced to a painful hobble. I managed to get a few more shots, but not the dozen I had hoped for.

Liza: "You call this running? Move it old man!"

Here comes Wait List Rick!
It was so great to see Rick get this finish! He beat so many odds and a really tough running day to earn this - very impressive!

John is here! And his family is struggling to keep up!
The last runner I knew on the course was John, and he came in with plenty of time to spare. By this point I was reduced to just standing in one spot to take shots, so I missed a great finish, but thankfully there were many others there that didn't miss it.

"We're coming daddy!"
And that was about it for me. There was still 30 minutes left in the race, and from past experience, I knew that this last 30 minutes was going to be a bit wild. As it turned out, 23 runners would finish after John - two of those in the last minute, including one woman with nine seconds left! But I missed all that.

In retrospect, I should have hobbled over to the small stands and cheered all these runners in, but all I could think of was how hard it was going to be to drive the three hours to home. (Actually, the drive was fine - thanks in large part to the sleep I had gotten - but getting gas and a burger was challenging.) 

I'm pretty sure this year's running of the race is going to go down in legend as one of the toughest ever. 
  • Based on median finish time, this was the fourth toughest race year. Note that two of the tougher years had a 32 hour cutoff time, which messes a bit with the results.
  • I thought that going by the number of drops would also be a good indicator, but it's not really. 2017 had the lowest finish rate since 2009 (number 9 by median time) and just barely lower than 2015 (number 29 by median).
  • If you look at the top 100 men's finish times, only three men cracked that list this year, with the winner coming in at 45th fastest ever. For reference, last year has nine runners on that list, with the winner at number 16. The women's history shows a similar trend, with winner Cat posting the 57th fastest time ever. That's a definite indication that times were slower for everyone, including the elites.
It was a blast as always. There was a worry that we would run out of ice due to the high meltage, but that turned out not to be an issue. There was also a worry about water - in theory the Car Wash was supposed to stay away from the spring, although we were told on Friday that we were OK to use it. Probably. So we ended up using a mixture of the spring water and jug water (thankfully the spring was working reasonably well this year, but we've learned that we can't really count on that). 

And for the record, the mosquitos seemed to be very happy to see us. VERY happy.

That's it - move along…

PS: Here is a link to all the pictures I took at Last Chance. (Update: That link might not work. Here is one that should.)
PPS: Here is a link to some pictures from the finish line.
PPPS: Here is a link to pictures of the signs. By the way, let me know if you would like your sign, and I will try to get it to you.