Monday, July 21, 2014

Dirty Dozen take four

For the fourth year in a row, I signed up for the 12 hour race at the Brazen Dirty Dozen. For the fourth year in a row, I had as my "A" goal to get to 50 miles in that 12 hours. And for the fourth year in a row I was reminded that 50 miles is a long ways.

Above is my GPS data from the event. The big loop was 3.33 miles long and the little loop (to the bottom-right) was 0.65 miles long. For 11 hours we would try to run as many big loops as possible, and then for the last hour, we would run as many little loops as possible. (Only loops that you complete are counted, and it would not be a good feeling to be 3.32 miles through the big loop and have time expire, so the little loop provides a much less risky way to add on some miles.)

This is the GPS data from the start/finish/BBQ/usable toilet area. As you can see, there was a little bit of extracurricular wandering around. That BBQ isn't going to eat itself.

Above is the elevation chart for my race. This makes it look like there are potentially soul-crushing hills on the course, but in reality, that wasn't nearly the case (the big loop had about 150' of elevation change). The other thing this chart does is make it look like I was a machine out there, ticking off loops like clockwork! HA! That chart is plotted based on distance.

This is the same chart, but plotted based on time. That's more like it - the first few loops were fairly consistent, and then things started unraveling a bit. Note the long flat spot after the 8th loop - I sat in the start/finish area for a bit before convincing myself to head out again. At that point I had officially gone a Marathon distance, and there was a part of me that felt that was pretty good. But I was dragged back out for another lap, and then peer pressure happened and I managed to knock out two of my fastest loops of the day. The end of the chart shows the little loops that I did - they weren't exactly flat, but not far from it.

For the second time, the course was tweaked a tiny bit, replacing a "hill" with this nice shoreline single-track stretch.

Picture by Mick, Brazen volunteer.
Above I am "flying" along that new trail, being chased Divad (not his real name) who carried that flag and a backpack full of bricks while doing his loops. (Yes, my small water bottle got pretty heavy too, thanks for asking.)

Kind of a funny thing is that there is an aid station halfway through that big loop. The idea is to allow runners not named Divad to go as light as possible, and possibly even get by without carrying any hydration at all. Slow runners like me though, still need to carry something, so I carried a small handheld bottle. That worked fine while it was still overcast and cool, but once the sun came out, I would end up draining that bottle between the aid stations (this one and the one at the start/finish area).

Every time you finished a loop, you had to run the gauntlet of canopies, tents, and other items filled with spectators or other runners (there were a few fixed-distance races scattered throughout the day, as well as teams, so the smart runners got to relax for a lap as someone else wandered around the trail).

The gauntlet was generally a blast to pass through, although it was also a great mental test since it looked like it was a lot more fun to be sitting there than slogging around the loop.

There were two parts of the course that were less than ideal: A weird short detour around a new bathroom that was being installed (which meant passing by an old one that smelled so bad, even from a distance, that it was hard to imagine anyone being brave enough to try it out), and this stretch of trail through what appeared to have been a controlled burn.

Picture by Brazen volunteer. Mrs Notthat and others storming down a short downhill bit.
Clockie was wearing a Western States belt buckle. If Clockie gave some advice, for example, "Pick it up Frog Boy!" you should probably listen.
To help motivate people, Clockie was often seen wandering around the course. Clockie gets the blame for shaking me out of my walking mode and getting me to turn in those two fast loops at the end.

My token "Hall of Trees" shot - I love running through this stretch with the creaky eucalyptus trees.

The Brazen Rabbit was busy during the day putting up motivational signs. When you saw her out riding Spokes around, you knew fresh signs were in your future.

Like this.

Weird Haired Mom and Mrs Notthat passing through the start/finish area. I think she is threatening me with a piece of watermelon. (Mrs Notthat ended up getting 10 loops done!)

I innocently decided to walk a 9th lap after sitting for a bit - my revised goal was to get to 10 laps which gets you a 50K - and was minding my own business about half way around when Clockie got ahold of me. "Let's pick up the pace a bit" he said, and before I knew it, I was actually running again. By far the most glorious result of that was getting to pass Sirhc (not his real name). I managed to pass him once last year, but he was battling an injury that most people would have been hospitalized for; this year there were no excuses. (He still managed WAY more distance than me, and then spent the following weekend running the TRT 100 mile race. But I passed him this one time, so that's the bit I'll focus on.)

Photo by Nek, not his real name.
I love this shot - it makes me almost look like a real runner! When I finished that 9th lap, the afternoon 5K/10K was getting ready to start, so I flew through the gauntlet to get as much of a head start on them as possible.

It's not a Marathon; it's a sprint!
Once I finished my 10th lap, I was pretty much done. That burst of energy had drained me, so I sat for a bit, ate some BBQ, and waited for the little loop to open. My intent was to do two little loops which would get me to 35 miles.

A special arch and timing mat just for the little loop!

The little loop started with an avenue of trees. It was a bit downhill (which meant there was a bit of an uphill coming up), but it was really an easy loop which was perfect for tired runners.

When I finished my second loop, I was ready to sneak off and be done, but guess who I saw coming at me.


As a total shocker, I ended up doing seven of those dang loops, which brought my final total to 37.25 miles in the 12 hours. And Clockie gets the credit for me getting more than the 50K I was prepared to settle for. (For those of you that read my Western States thing, Clockie was Mr "All Day" Ken, who actually is a coach and does the entertaining Running Stupid podcast.)

The 6- and 12-hour runners got a great hoodie and a finisher's medal that doubles as a coaster and bottle opener. And maybe a weapon.

A special thing about this event was that it was Brazen's 100th event! Mr Brazen designed this flag (on the t-shirt that the 5K and 10K runners got) that's pretty cool since it lists all of their events.

I couldn't resist going through that list and working out which events I had been at. (Green are events I ran, blue are events I volunteered at, yellow are events I got a DNF at, events with no color are the ones I missed.)

Dirty Dozen is a great event. I know many of you would rather paint yourself with honey and try to pet a bear than run a looping race, and I would agree most of the time. Dirty Dozen is a bit different though, and worth a shot. The trails are varied and fun, the BBQ is great (as is the pizza that shows up around lunch time), and the atmosphere can't be beat. And if you are not up to the timed events, it's pretty novel to run a 5K in the late morning or a 10K in the late afternoon.

And besides, everyone needs the Swiss Army Knife of finisher medals.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Western States 2014: Emergency Backup Aid Station Captains!

Important Note: This is going to be REALLY long. Most of you can run away now and find something better to read. Some of you have no choice though, and are stuck with having to at least scan through this. Sorry.

For the fourth year in a row, I headed up to the Last Chance aid station for the Western States Endurance Run 100.2 mile trail race. This aid station, which has been run by Stevens Creek Striders since forever, is at mile 43.3 and is not accessible to crews, so it's just us volunteers and the nearly 400 runners that pass through during a seven hour window.

This year was a bit different though, for two reasons:

  • In a wildly unlikely twist, both of our Standard Aid Station Captains had their names drawn in the lottery and were running the race. This meant we were going to be using Emergency Backup Aid Station Captains (EBASC). Fortunately, this wasn't their first rodeo, and even better, both knew that this wasn't actually a rodeo.
  • A wildfire last summer had damaged the trail in the area of our aid station. Weirdly, where the aid station actually sits showed little effects from the fire, but there was ample evidence on both sides of us. One of the biggest impacts on the race was that the Swinging Bridge, which is about 2.5 miles after our aid station, had been burned out, which meant the runners would have to wade across the river. I suspect very few runners minded this at all, since this is typically one of the hottest parts of the course, and getting to cool off in the river would be a huge win.

This is a still grabbed from a wonderful movie that takes you through the race. In the background is the burned out Swinging Bridge, and in the foreground is a runner taking advantage of the cold water. 
As is traditional, I headed up Friday afternoon with the goal of camping out and being fresh for the morning. For the second year in a row, I was Ice Boy, which meant stopping in Auburn to pick up 540 pounds of ice for the next day.

The Last Chance Minivan loaded up with ice.
A nice change this year was that, rather than going into the grocery store and trying to convince them I wasn't nuts for wanting so much ice, I headed to the WSER warehouse where they completely understood why we needed so much ice.

Since parts of the road to Last Chance are actually part of the course, the road is closed during the race, which means you have to get there early and stay late.
From Auburn, you drive to Foresthill, then take a right on something called Mosquito Ridge Road. You now have 20 miles of absurdly windy road to drive to get to the even more obscure and windy turn off to head to the "town" of Last Chance.

Friday night at the Last Chance aid station. Some assembly required.
About half the volunteers that work at this aid station show up Friday night, while the other half choose to drive in early to beat the 9AM road closure cutoff.

You're never too old for roasted marshmallows.

This is what the entrance to the aid station looked like once it had been assembled. This is the view the runners had when coming in.

This is the view the runners have when they exit the aid station. I had put up a few signs for friends running the race.

In their finishing order, with the bottom row being the three runners I knew that didn't get to finish. Also, the last sign was the first attempt at a Spanish sign. I've been told the verb is not quite conjugated correctly, but it was the best Google could do for me.

One very cool thing was that Penny was awarded a WSER Friend of the Trail plank for her years of service for this race.

Above is a picture of most of the Last Chance volunteers. We were missing a few people (Hi Curt!) that are normally here, but there were a number of first timers on hand to take up the slack.

Me in my costume. We have a Hawaiian theme.
Food preparation is a big job.

A couple of fun first timers were these two from Australia, who brought Bongo the monkey. Bongo evolved during the race to embrace the Hawaiian spirit, as you will see later.

A couple of Car Wash volunteers were practicing aggressive cooling techniques.

A bit after 11AM, our first runner arrived, Max King, who was running his first 100 mile race.

Usually the elites that come through first don't take the time to cool off before heading out to the hottest part of the course. Max was the exception, and he happily took the time to get wet before heading out. (It seemed like this year, many more of the elites stopped to get cooled off than normal. This was a warm year, but not as hot as last year's record-breaking heat.)

One of the aid station captains and the RD posing in front of a very important area. 
There are 25 aid stations along the course, and each year the race director, Craig Thornley, and the WSER president, John Trent, choose to visit several of them. This year they chose our aid station. With the EBASCs. They were actually a blast to have around, and seemed to have a great time. I'm pretty sure Craig actually took a turn squeezing a sponge over a runner's head.

One of the things that makes this aid station work so well is this natural spring - the water is absurdly cold and plentiful, allowing us to be very generous with cooling the runners. (The tradeoff is that it also makes this a moist place where the mosquitos thrive.)

We tried to warn the runners that the water was cold, but that didn't always help.

The Last Chance Car Wash Women - "Making you cooler than you already are!" Not an angel in the bunch, but they never hesitated to do whatever the runners requested when it came to cooling them off. 
Bongo alerting runners that it was over 100 degrees in the sun.

Each aid station is famous for something or other; in our case, it's grilled cheese sandwiches.

Pagosa Springs Colorado is my hometown. It's a tiny place that's home to Roger Jensen, who I got to cheer for the second time through the aid station. (The first time was in 2011.)

This is just not right, on SO many levels.
Adding a bit of danger to the safety patrol.
The race has a number of safety patrols that run along with the runners. Seeing Catra was a great surprise when she came in.

Everyone in the aid station was anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Standard Aid Station Captains, and Lina was the first to show up. She gave us a thumbs up!

The water was VERY cold.
Very very cold.

It was awesome to see Starchy come rolling through. He was looking great (tongue and trail runner gang sign notwithstanding)!

Two other runners that came through all perky were Ken "All Day" and Mr Brazen Sam.

Sam getting the full treatment, which should have made Jasmin a bit nervous. 
Getting the salt wiped off.
Peggy was the other Standard Aid Station Captain that came through. She was looking great and confident.

That weird forehead bump is ice under his hat. This was a common request.
This's what makes this so much fun - so many of the runners were having so much fun; it was really contagious!

Eric, son of Tom, who gets the blame/credit for me being here, and John "Scofflaw Runner".
Loren getting quality time in the car wash.
Bongo is really starting to get into the flow of things.
Rachel, the youngest woman runner in the race (according to Tony), getting cooled off before getting her buckle.

Before the race, Gordy posted on his Facebook account that his stretch goal was getting to Dusty Corners, the aid station before ours. It wasn't much of a surprise though seeing him well exceed that goal and end up going all the way to Foresthill.

Gordy is such a Rock Star - he must have posed for at least a dozen pictures before heading out.

Last year, Emily, who started the race knowing she had a nagging injury, ended up dropping from the race at our aid station. This year she was determined to not stop here, and she was successful!

Our day is done when the horses come through.
And that was about it. We ended up with only one runner dropping at our aid station, and that was because he missed the cutoff. The MASH tent at times had a number of runners laying on the cots, but they all continued on.

After everything was packed up, I loaded all the drop bags into the Last Chance minivan and headed for the finish line. I REALLY wanted to get there before the winner came in - I had missed him the last two years.

Rob Krar streaking to the finish, winning the race after he finished a close second in 2013.
I made it with minutes to spare.

Second place went to Seth Swanson, who managed to bring some of the trail in with him.
This race is limited to 400 starters due to permit issues for the bit that goes through a wilderness area. Without that limit, they could probably easily find 3000 or more runners that would love to start this race. This means that there is a LOT of competition for those 400 slots, many of which are automatic entries (the top ten men and women finishers are guaranteed entry, as well as top three finishers in a variety of races that are part of the Montrail Ultra Cup).

Mortals have to enter a lottery and hope to get their name drawn. New for this year was that runners that failed to get their names picked in previous years got bonus lottery tickets, which greatly increased their chances. So a first year entrant got one lottery ticket, while someone that failed to get drawn in the previous four years got five tickets for this year.

Seth, who has the decidedly non-elite number of 359, tossed his name in the hat with a single lottery ticket. And got his name pulled. And then went on to finish second. This is so cool! (Emily, John, and Peggy also got in with one lottery ticket. Lina had two. Roger was a ticket hog and had three. I know several people that had five tickets and didn't get in. If you are keen to learn more about the lottery process, click here.)

Stephanie Howe won the women's race.
Note that Stephanie also has a non-elite number. She had two tickets in the lottery, had one picked, and then went on to win the race. Nicely done!

A fun thing was that there were a number of kids that hung out around the track, holding out their hands for high fives as the runners came in. For Stephanie, a herd of the kids paced her around the track - I loved this!

(Yes, I know it's a bit weird that a 100 mile trail race, with a number of river crossings and many stretches of technical trail, finishes by having the runners go about 300 yards around a high school track. But it is the most amazing thing to watch, and as a runner, it must be such an overwhelming feeling to hear your name and back story called out as you go around that track. I often spend most of my time where the runners enter the track.)

Jorge Maravilla is easily one of the most entertaining runners out there. As he came onto the track he suddenly started sprinting. As he went past me he yelled "I'm trying to drop my pacer!" He did - wow that was amazing to see someone going that fast after 100 miles!

(At the 62 mile point, runners are allowed to have a pacer run along with them, mostly for safety reasons since for most runners this is where night running starts. "Dropping your pacer" is when the runner goes faster than the pacer is able to keep up with. As a pacer, it's something you don't ever want to have happen, granted with 300 yards left it's not likely Jorge really still needed one.)

Pacers have yellow bibs. Ken was paced by Ann Trason, who is nearly as legendary as Gordy at this race. How cool is that to have Ann as your coach and pacer!
The next morning, Ken and team "All Day" stormed the stadium. He was definitely not Running Stupid.

Shortly after Ken came the first of the Standard Aid Station Captains, Lina. (It is not true she asked if she could do multiple laps around the track.)

Next came one of the happiest sights - Starchy being paced by Lavy! These two have quite a running history that began in 2012 at the first running of Inside Trail's Marin Ultra Challenge 50.

From a decidedly not sunny MUC in 2012.
That year, Starchy was heading down the hill to finish his 50 miler. Lavy came up behind him and decided she wanted to beat him. So they both sprinted down that hill to the finish - it was one of the most amazing efforts I've ever seen, and they've been running buddies ever since.

Webcasting video can be really intense. Especially when the pizza runs out.
The people at broadcast live from half a dozen spots along the course, capturing amazing moments and great interviews. You can see some of their work here.

I didn't get to see Roger finish in 2011, but was afraid he wouldn't have many people supporting him at the finish. HA! He came in with a huge posse - it was awesome! (Many runners, in addition to one or more pacers, will have a crew that drives to various points on the course to help with gear changes, special food [there's a great picture of Roger chowing down on a burger from a brown paper bag in Foresthill], and other things. From Robie Point, which is at about mile 98.6, the course goes on neighborhood streets and a runner is allowed to have as many pacers as they want - they can normally only have one at a time, but can swap them out at several points. Generally the crew jumps out and races down the hill with the runner - it's an awesome sight to see this large group of people explode through the gate and onto the track.)

The second of the Standard Aid Station Captains came in, paced by one of the Emergency Backup Aid Station Captains and Penny (without her award plank).

Next came Loren, still looking quite fresh (which is something a change of clothes will help with - he was in a very salty blue shirt when I last saw him).

Another fun (and thanks to Tony, loud) finish was Rachel and her posse.

And then the final runner I was following, Sam came in.

A favorite thing of mine is watching little kids pace their mom/dad/mountain man across the finish line. This was so cool!

At the end of the race, the first thing a runner does is get weighed. A runner's weight is tracked as they progress through the race, providing a clue that things might be going wrong before the runner knows it (or wants to admit it).

And that's about it.

This is a very special weekend (some refer to it as "Merry Statesmas") that I get a large charge out of from the inspirational runners. Yes, I plan to get into this race some year, but that's going to take some serious effort.

For now, I'm content to cheer and cool off runners.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures with snarky comments here and here. I also posted many more of my Last Chance pictures here and here.

PPS: Let me know if any of you would like your sign. I'll try to work out a way to get it to you.