Sunday, July 17, 2022

The Dirty Dozen is back! And still dirty!

The Brazen Racing Dirty Dozen event/festival/torture-fest was last run in July of 2019. This race fills a niche that most normal runners would argue doesn't really need to be filled. Races have a start line, a finish line, and that's it. You try to get from one line to the other as quickly as you can. 

There are a lot of runners though that know quite well what niche events like this (and the Coastal SF One Day) fill. It's a niche where you get to define your race's distance. You get to take breaks. Eat. Visit. Or you can push hard and cover a distance you might not otherwise think possible. Many get their first Half Marathon, Marathon, or Ultra distance finish. (Like me getting a 100K finish!)

The 2022 Dirty Dozen was its 11th running. In a throwback to the first running in 2010, this year's version was simplified to have only timed races (all other years had 5K and 10K races scattered throughout the day as a way to break things up by tossing fresh legs onto the course).

This year, runners had the choice of three hour, six hour, or the race's namesake dozen hour events. There were two and three person team options for each event. All events started at 7 AM. All events used the same 3.4 mile loop and had available a smaller 0.4 mile loop for the last hour, allowing you to get more distance while reducing the risk of the final horn blowing while you were only part way through a loop.

In my case, I had two goals:

  • Complete at least four laps, getting my first Half Marathon distance since July of 2019.
  • Volunteer at the Byxbee parkrun before starting my Dirty Dozen. 

Officially, there's no way to accomplish both of these goals. Unofficially, there's totally a way to do this. 

Me, on the left, being a time keeper at Byxbee parkrun before heading to Dirty Dozen. Probably the first time keeper to wear a knee brace and gaiters.

With the Byxbee parkrun going until a bit after 9 AM, I likely wouldn't be able to head out to Dirty Dozen until about 10 AM, and it's an hour drive to get to Point Pinole. So my realistic earliest start time would be about 11 AM. As long as you don't mind officially starting your race time at 7 AM, you can physically start whenever you want - in my case, I headed out at 11 AM on my first loop. When I finished that loop, I had officially taken nearly five hours to complete it.

IMPORTANT BIT: If you start late, DON'T cross the start/finish line before you start your loop - if you do, you will get credit for a loop you didn't do, and Clocky will be quite put out.

By starting late, my only real option was to enter the 12-hour event.  It meant I had plenty of time (eight hours) to not only reach my goal of a Half Marathon, but have lots of time left over in the wildly unlikely case of me feeling perky and wanting to keep going. (Spoiler alert: HA! As if!)

Getting loopy

The first exciting thing upon arrival was picking up my bib. Which couldn't be found. So I was given a loaner bib and told to go tell Sam in the timing tent. 

I was not actually part of a team. Teams are smarter than that.

As soon as Sam saw me, he said "I'll bet you're looking for your bib." They had been using it to test the timing mats. For someone who had just shown up, my bib had already finished many laps. Sadly, they made me use the loaner bib so I could finish my own laps.

So cool to run so close to the water for so much of this course.

When I left Redwood City, it was sunny and seriously warming up. While driving north to Point Pinole though, the marine layer quickly took over and the temperatures dropped. I had not brought any long sleeves and started to wonder if I was going to freeze (it's happened there before). The marine layer continued dominating the weather until I got within about five miles of the race, when suddenly it retreated, the sun started blazing, and my fears changed from freezing to getting roasted (it's happened there before). 

While it was sunny all afternoon, it was not excessively hot and the constant breeze helped keep things tolerable.

Hug the coast!

A surprise was that we got to use the trail that more closely follows the coast. This avoids a dumb little hill (seriously, a very small hill, but one that becomes extremely irritating the more times you have to climb it) and puts us on much more fun trails.

Hi there Lorna! Seriously - how cool is that trail!

At about the two mile point in the loop, you hit an aid station. I was carrying a small bottle, so this turned out to be very useful for getting that bottle filled.

The mid-loop aid station. (Later, they would actually have pizza!)

One thing worth pointing out, there are FOUR outhouses along the course. This can be a big deal (and was for me on my fourth lap).

The glamorous life of an RD. "The porta-potties are running low on toilet paper." Heavy sigh…

Running through the shade of the trees.

The second half of the course spends a lot of time in a grove of eucalyptus trees. If you've spent any time around these trees, you know how creepy they can sound. They creak. They squeak. They taunt you with the many little acorn-like things they drop on the trail.

But they are glorious.


NONE SHALL PASS! (John survived this and ended up getting second place in the 12 hour! The Clocky scars will last a lot longer than the glory though.)
Clocky likes to wander randomly around the course, tormenting the runners. Or confusing them. "Why is there a compass on the course?" If you really want to wind up Clocky (ha ha ha - clock humor), ask what part of Canada makes the best compasses. (And then run. Fast.)

The festival area. Picture by a Brazen volunteer.

My first lap weirdly was my fastest (HA!). It was odd to be running a lap with others who had been out there for four hours already - it made me feel a bit like an elite runner, at least until I would get passed like I was standing still by an actual elite runner. (It was a funny coincidence that the song "9 to 5" started playing as I finished that lap, with Sam remarking how the 9 to 5 lifestyle suits me.)

My second lap wasn't too bad - I was able to run most of it, but by the end, my right knee was complaining bitterly. I still managed to look like a proper runner for this picture.

Picture by Brazen volunteer. 

At this point, I started to doubt that four laps were going to happen. Two laps were an ultra-10K. Three laps would get me to double-digit mileage, which would be an OK goal - it was something I hadn't done in a couple of years. I was telling myself that three laps might be my limit. I started to get down a bit.

Passing through the festival area though has a way of picking you up. I knew running was no longer happening, but felt like walking was still pretty tolerable. So I headed out on my third lap and would decide on a fourth once that was done.

These "motivational" signs start appearing throughout the afternoon.

One thing that came up during my third lap was that I realized I had made a big mistake wearing no-show socks. Back in the before days, I never wore them - they are a fairly recent addition to my wardrobe. I wear them at 5Ks, and have no issues. But after about nine miles, the top of the back of my shoe was digging into my foot and had created a raw spot. 

I had forgotten that getting tired was not the only fallout of increasing mileage.

So, before starting my fourth (and I was pretty sure at that point, my last) loop, I stopped, sat down, took off my shoe, and stretched that sock enough that it provided protection. And that worked. But sitting on that chair felt really good. REALLY good. 

Fortunately Janeth came by and started explaining the evils of chairs, so I struggled back to my feet and headed back out. 

My fourth loop was uneventful, other than an outhouse stop.

The finish line is in sight!

Ummm, no.

And that was it. I got four laps and officially 13.48 miles. I had a minor, self-inflicted heel abrasion, a knee that was determined to keep me from considering a fifth lap, and many muscles that were feeling unfamiliar soreness.

But I was happy. And hungry. One of the best things about this race is the post-race BBQ. (On my fourth lap, the aid station had pizza, which was wildly tempting. There is something very poetic about eating a slice of pizza while slogging around the course in the middle of a race. But I chose to save myself for the BBQ.)

The hoodie, medal, and loaner bib.

Closeup of the medal/coaster to show the detail.

The medal is a work of art. There are 12 spokes, each with a keyword written on them. Spokes 1 through 12: Drink. Walk. Eat. Rest. Cheer. BBQ. Big Loop. Run More. Walk More. Little Loop. Finish! Then, a bit oddly, Run at number 12. 

Maybe Clocky is a compass after all.

I ended up being dead last among the 12-hour men. (Heck, I would have tied for dead last among 6-hour men.) But I was second in my age group. Funny thing for those of you that think getting older makes it easier to win age group awards; since this race I've moved into the 65-69 age group. If I had been in that age group for this race, I would have been fifth. There may not be as many older people in these races, but the ones that are there are really good.

One thing that surprised me is that there were significantly more women in the race than men. The three-hour was nearly even, but the six-hour and twelve-hour had nearly twice as many women as men. I wondered if this was a fluke coming out of the pandemic, but in 2019 (the last time the race happened), there was a similar female majority in the timed events.

I had never noticed this before, and really can't explain it.

Clocky probably has something to do with it though.

That's it - move along…

Monday, July 4, 2022

WSER 2022 - My 11th year at Last Chance!

For the 11th year in a row (skipping the horror that was 2020 when the race was cancelled), I was allowed to join the Stevens Creek Striders in helping out at the Last Chance aid station. This aid station is at mile 43.3 and just before the dreaded Deadwood Canyon, which always promises heat. Crew and pacers are not allowed at Last Chance, so that means we have the runner's undivided attention. And that makes volunteering at this aid station a reasonably unique experience.

(There are a few negatives: It's very remote with mostly no cell service, and once you are there, you are stuck there until the aid station closes since portions of the road in are used as parts of the course, and there are mosquitos - MANY mosquitos.)

There is also wildlife.

The 2022 version of the Western States 100 trail race carried on a lot of the new precautions introduced in the 2021 version, including food handling and the lack of using sponges for cooling the runners. The most notable change was the number of runners! 

2021 was still hampered by travel restrictions, so many overseas runners were unable to attend, and had their entries rolled over to 2022. 315 runners started  in 2021, well under the normal 369 that normally start. 2022 saw the number of starters increase to 383, with a large chunk of those runners coming from the 2021 overseas rollovers. 

Of those 383 spots, 239 were available to the lottery, where well over 6000 runners had applied for entry. Amazingly, there were 18 with 128 tickets this year, and 11 of those got in. The other 7 will have 256 tickets next year if they run a qualifier and enter the lottery yet again. (To get 128 tickets, you have to have entered eight times, each year with a qualifying race. Truly amazing!)

Embarrassing bit

I was determined to get to Last Chance fairly early on Friday - many of the volunteers come up on Friday and camp out to avoid having to get up early to make it here by 9:00 AM, when the road closes to general traffic.

From Foresthill, you drive a bit over 22 miles on the windy, appropriately named Mosquito Ridge Road.  Then you turn off on a narrow, vaguely paved road called Deep Canyon Road. After snaking down that road for a couple of miles it arbitrarily decides to become a narrower gravel road. About three miles (and a couple hours) later, you hit the Dusty Corners aid station. 

This is the aid station just before Last Chance, and it is crew accessible - it has to be one of the least accessible crew accessible aid stations ever. 

When I drove through Dusty Corners, there were a few people there already. Some volunteers camp there as well. 

I kept going towards Last Chance. The road deteriorates gradually the further you go. Fortunately, you "only" have three miles of this. 

Unless you miss the aid station and keep on going.

I was not expecting to be the first one there, and so I was completely focussed on dodging rocks and ruts until I saw other cars. Then I came to a gate. There is no gate on the way to Last Chance. There IS a gate about a half-mile after Last Chance though. I went a bit further before finally admitting that I may have made a mistake, and took a look at a GPS map I had downloaded a few years ago, and confirmed I had driven well past Last Chance.

Even with no cars there, Last Chance is a bit hard to miss. The three porta-potties should have been noticed. The Last Chance sign. The Starbucks. (There is no Starbucks.)

Moving past the embarrassing bit

Since I was first, I grabbed the best parking space, unloaded the tables, chairs, coolers, and such, then set out to put up the signs. 

For this year, I upgraded my sign stake technology, and was eager to see how well that technology worked. (Spoiler alert - it worked great! You can read more and see the signs here.)

After a bit, other people began to trickle in and Last Chance was quickly becoming a bustling area. 

The evening went fine, the mosquitos were getting fed by us (involuntarily), and we relaxed around a pretend campfire. 

Some ice drama

Starting about 8:00 AM or so, volunteers that were not into camping and feeding the mosquitos started to show up. One thing they all agreed on - there was no ice trailer at Dusty Corners.

Generally, I pick up about 1200 pounds of ice from the WSER warehouse in Auburn on Friday as I head in. In 2019, Lon the Aid Station God arranged for an ice trailer to be delivered to Dusty Corners with both their ice and ours. We drove up to Dusty Corners on Saturday morning and grabbed ours - this meant a lot less overnight melt loss - a huge win. In 2021, there was no ice trailer, so I dragged the ice up as normal. But for 2022, the ice trailer was back!

Except it wasn't. 

Peggy and Amir discussing how cool ice is.

Amir, the Last Chance ham radio guy, contacted Dusty Corners and asked them to let us know when the trailer showed up. Meanwhile, we were getting a bit nervous. Volunteers are asked to bring a bag of ice for just in case something happens, and we've done well to not have a "just in case" moment for a number of years. But this was now quickly becoming a "just in case" moment. 

Finally we got the call that someone was bringing the ice to us. It became a happy morning when I saw Lon driving up with a truck full of ice (he brought us 800 pounds -  it turned out we had to go back in the afternoon and grab another 400 pounds).

You can't imagine how great this sight was.

Pre-race briefing

The traditional pre-race briefing is fun. You get a pretty good idea of how many people are there (around 60, including the radio guys and medical people).

Peggy explaining that mosquitos are not an endangered species.

A fun thing was that two awards were going to be given out to people that have made this aid station one of the best on the course. The first went to Michael, who has been volunteering here for more than 20 years! (The Striders have managed this aid station for 40 years!)

"Where do you keep all those volunteer shirts?"

Bizarrely, the second award was given to me. Granted, leveling the porta-potties is a useful skill, but really? Me? So many others have done so much more for Last Chance. 

"Are you sure there wasn't a mistake?"

Sadly, I didn't notice the Mango cat hairs on this before I took this shot.  Mango is smirking in his sleep about them.

In any case, it was time for the group photos.

It always amazes me how many people show up to volunteer at this remote aid station.

These are the actual Stevens Creek Striders that were here.

The race

The rest of the day went fairly smooth. We got our first runner at 11:20 and kept busy from then until we closed up at 5:25.

NASCAR pit crews got nothing on us.

Note the ice in her sleeves.

The hydration bar and buffet.

Volunteers come in a variety of ages! She worked the drop bag area for a bit before joining us in the Car Wash.

Our Early Warning System. Peter radios bib numbers down to the drop bag people who can be waiting with the drop bags of the runners as they arrive, making the process seem a bit like magic.

Another view of the buffet.

For hot food, we had soup and grilled cheese. No prime rib.

The Car Wash is still the coolest.

There were only a few runners that I knew in the race. The Pixie Ninja was one of the first through.

Kaci deciding whether to risk her sandwich while getting drenched.

Kaci had major hamstring surgery done in December. Mortals do not recover and train in time for a 100 mile race just six months later. Pixie Ninjas though…

I'm trying to work out whether that mustache is real.

Ace was number 64 on the wait list. In the past, runners in the 30-40 range could reasonably expect a chance at getting into the race. Runners in the 60s, well, they could safely make other plans. The Wednesday before the race, Ace got the call - he was in if he wanted to be. (He wanted to be.) He is running the Hardrock 100 in a bit less than a month. Ace is not normal.

Lisa the Brazen Racing entry! Triumphantly holding her non-soggy sandwich that she had somehow kept from getting soaked while she got doused.

Jessi heading out to face the heat of Deadwood Canyon.

Jessi ended up holding a special place in Last Chance this year - she was the last runner to arrive that actually managed to finish the race. (Every runner that came in after her, 17 of them, ended up dropping at some point.)

And that's about it! For a variety of reasons, I decided to skip going to the track this year. I'm sad that I missed seeing so many great finishes, but man, that shower and comfortable bed at home was awesome.

For the nerds

The official race guide provides some guidance on when you should leave the Last Chance aid station if your goal is a sub-24 hour finish or a sub-30 hour finish (the race cutoff). Based on that, I'm always curious how accurate the guidance is.

From 11:20 to 2:05

Our first runner arrived at 11:20. The guidance suggests that if you want to finish in less that 24 hours (and get the coveted silver buckle), you should leave by 2:05. We had 110 runners in that time range, and 88 of them (80%) managed to get a silver buckle. Four of those runners dropped and the rest finished before the 30 hour cutoff.

From 2:06 to 4:20

Runners in this range are expected to finish before the 30 hour cutoff. We had 160 runners during this period, and 142 of them finished (89%). Seven of them managed to finish in under 24 hours!

From 4:21 to 5:25

These runners are in the danger zone. Most will finish before the 30 hour cutoff, but many will not. It can be a challenge to convince these runners to stop and get iced up since they are watching the clock and are hesitant to squander any seconds in the aid station. We had 71 runners in this range, and 37 finished. Jessi came in at 4:53 and was the last runner in to finish. (We've had runners come in later than that and manage a finish, but that's not normal.)

In the end, we had four drops at Last Chance. Dusty Corners had seven drops (if you happen to have crew there, that can make it more attractive to drop). Devil's Thumb, the aid station after Last Chance, had nine drops. The goal is to have no drops, and Last Chance is good at minimizing them. 

And that's a wrap!  

As usual, it was a lot of fun (and hard work) being at Last Chance. The volunteers are so focussed on getting the runners everything they need to keep going, and there are enough of us that we minimize bottlenecks (runners have a knack of coming in in bunches).

Next year will be the 50th running of the Western States 100. It's going to be really special, and I can't wait. A HUGE thanks to Peggy, Bonnie, and Eric, the aid station brain trust, and the Stevens Creek Striders for all they do to make this the most fun aid station on the course, and allowing me and so many others the chance to take part.

That's it - move along…

PS: Click here to see a post about the signs.

WSER 2022 - The Last Chance Signs

For the 10th year, the signs at Last Chance made their appearance. To get some background on this, you can read the first part of this.

One difference is that I finally made the move to use modern technology for my sign posts. Previously, I would use wooden stakes and screw the signs to the stakes. This was time consuming since the signs had to be screwed onto the stake after the stake had been pounded into the ground.

I ordered 50 of these. It wasn't enough.

One issue was how to attach the foam-core signs to these stakes.

Very little can't be fixed with tie wraps and duct tape. (In this case, no duct tape needed.)

I poked a few holes and looped tie wraps through them. Then it was a matter of just poking the stakes in the ground (MUCH easier than pounding stakes) and sliding the signs over them. This worked amazingly well!

Enough about sign technology…

The signs coming into Last Chance

First, here are the signs as you come into Last Chance.

I know, these are dumb. It's Tony's fault.
Last year, I made this set for The Endorphin Dude, who has a reputation for telling really bad soda-based jokes during races. For this year, I modified the last one to say "Crush it runners" instead of "Crush it Tony."

The original Burma Shave inspired signs created several years ago.

Just to give you an idea of what it looks like coming in, here is a movie made while walking into Last Chance.

The signs as you leave Last Chance - General 

Over the years, the number of signs that are not for a specific person have been added.

That "Think Snow" sign is in its 11th year.

I added one new general sign, and I suspect at least half the runners rolled their eyes when they saw it.

I suspect a lot of four-letter words came to mind as runners went past this.

The signs as you leave Last Chance - for specific runners

In addition to me, two others also made signs. First, mine.

This sign has made it three years. My puppies still don't look like puppies though.

Requested by Janette - I need to visit Sleepy Eye Minnesota. And I don't think chasing someone with a Pokemon is really a thing. 

Requested by Paulette - apparently Kimberly likes pizza and corgis.  Please pretend that's a well drawn corgi and that Kimberly is not wearing a coonskin hat.

Pen requested a Pamakids sign. Look at that amazing font!

Requested by Angela - Roger is originally from New Zealand, so I decided that a rabid kiwi would be something to run from. Admire that drawing of that rabid kiwi. (And yes, there are 64 "tickets" on that "table".)

Requested by Angela - Mieki is a veteran WSER course marker, and is originally from the Netherlands, so I got a Dutch friend to do some translating for me. Apparently "canyon" is not a common word; she said "ravijn means in my opinion literally ‘the end of a rock and then you’ll fall down’." I messed up the grammar a bit, but the idea is still there that the canyons are not fun.

Requested by Mandie - Monica is a founder of rabbit running apparel.

Jessi was the last runner into Last Chance that managed to get a buckle - she's a superstar!

Kelly is from Canada. It amuses me that she got an official overseas deferral from last year. There are almost no seas between Canada and the US.

Requested by Peach - Gusgus is the Official Ginger Runner dog. 

I cheated a bit on this sign - it's last years sign with the "no crutches" and "Strong Hammy" bits added. It was astonishing to see Kaci running this race so soon after her December surgery!

I met Emerson the week before WSER at the Byxbee parkrun, a weekly free 5K. I loved that he  and his crew flew in from Australia a week early to run that 5K, then drove up to Olympic Valley. His second ever 100M race, he nailed it!

Eduardo, one of the Pamakids, is from Mexico. That might be the best Mexican flag I've ever drawn!

Katie will always be known as that runner that used a tampon to control a bloody nose. (Whatever works - she snagged the F9 spot for next year!)

Enrique is also a Pamakid, and also got a fine Mexican flag!

Matt is also a Pamakid! He got in with 32 lottery tickets - six years of the lottery! 

Another Pamakid.

Behnam was the official Stevens Creek Strider runner this year. That thing in the upper-left is similar to the official Strider logo - it's almost recognizable!

Requested bay Peach.

Requested by Paulette.

Sunaad works at Apple on the Maps team. That is the course map on that sign. (It should not be relied on.)

Ace was 64th on the wait list. He found out on the Wednesday before the race that he actually got in. I have not heard whether Paul McCartney would rewrite his song for Ace.

Lisa was the Brazen Racing entry, and she did awesome!

Ben was the only runner that had to drop before he was able to see his sign. 

Following are the signs created by Oscar and Carolina. You'll notice a a few for some that I had made signs above. 

Gail made this last sign on the day of the race!

And that's it. The number of signs keeps increasing. I'm sure most runners can at most scan most of them, and I always stress a bit about someone being disappointed that they don't have a sign. But I hear lots of good things about them, so it seems like it's worth it.

And with new stake technology, who knows how far this will go!

That's it - move along…

PS: You can read the main 2022 post here.