Thursday, September 25, 2014

Drag-N-Fly deja vu

In 2010, I ran the Brazen Drag-N-Fly Half Marathon in 3:50 with The Boy. We won't talk about the following year since that was a bit of a bizarre aberration, although I suspect the late finishes of that year led to the installation of a cutoff at mile 9.9 in 2012.

Which I missed by 23 minutes.

In 2013, Mrs Notthat and I chose to run the 10K distance since we had been up late the previous night running a 10K.

In 2014, I had a choice to make: Do the comfortable thing and run the 10K again or go out of my comfort zone and run the Half, risking that dreaded cutoff.

The thing was, when I missed the cutoff in 2012, I had been moving fine. I wasn't injured or feeling bad - I had covered that 9.9 miles about as well as I could, but I still missed that cutoff, by a lot.

The funny thing is that, in trying to decide what to do in 2014, I was convinced that the cutoff in 2012 had been 10:45 AM, and that the 2014 cutoff of 11:00 AM was giving me 15 extra minutes to play with. And that's what convinced me to give it another shot. (Spoiler alert: I was wrong about the cutoff in 2012 since it was also at 11:00 AM. If I had known this I doubt I would have attempted the Half again this year.)

In the end, I took a deep breath and signed up for the Half Marathon. I knew it was risky, but I figured with that (totally bogus) 15 minute cushion and with a tiny bit of focus, I could make it fine. Probably.

Captain Ylrac (not her real name, but her real position) at the first aid station.
It was a very clear day that promised to get very warm in a bit, which is typical for this race. Last year though, there was actually a bit of a downpour for the last bit of the race (and since we did the 10K, we were sitting in a restaurant when the clouds opened up).

Weird Haired Mom and Weird Haired Dyoll (not his real name or hair) taunting me.
When you leave that first aid station, you start up a long, moderately steep hill. Since the course is a lollipop shape, we all knew we would get to finish the race by flying back down this hill.

Weird Haired Mom and Weird Haired Dyoll were ahead of me and I figured they would stay that way.

The stick of the lollipop is all a relatively smooth (but decidedly not flat or shaded) fire road. Normally most of this road is heavily cracked and rough to try to run on, but this year, the parks had really smoothed the roads out, making them fairly easy to traverse. Well, other than the hills and lack of shade thing.

This is the second aid station, which was also going to be the fourth aid station, and the home of the cutoff. It's also where the loop that makes up the candy part of the lollipop starts and ends.

The loop is about six miles, and about half of it is among the most technical trails around. It's easily the best bit of this course, but it's really tough - there is a LOT of the downhill that is really hard to walk down, let alone try to run.

Capitan Nad (not his real name) prancing at the third aid station.
It was getting warm by now, but this part of the course has frequent infestations of shade, so it wasn't going so bad. (And yes, that really is pavement. It's really weird how such a technical loop can have about a half mile of pavement in it. Uphill pavement.)

By mile nine or so, I was pretty comfortable that I was going to make the cut off. And then this happened. It took me forever to get down this steep, ridiculously technical trail.

I, along with four others, including WHM and WHDyoll, showed up to the fourth aid station about three minutes after the cutoff. Three stupid minutes.

But that was enough. WHDyoll managed to talk the Brazen Rabbit into being able to continue on, and I'm sure I could have done the same thing, but I have this overdeveloped need to follow the rules, and I had missed the cutoff, so I was done.

I have missed a cutoff and DNFd (Did Not Finish) four times now, and outside of the disappointment, the biggest frustration has been the long wait to get a ride to the finish. That was not the case this time though, as we almost immediately had a ride back.

Which was great because that meant I got to see Mrs Notthat finish!

The Blog and WHM being sad and medal-free.
Lots of non-Blerches in the house!
A group of us ran this race as a virtual Blerch race. Only one of these people is not wearing a finisher medal.

Ekim (not his real name) trying to teach a duck/turkey to sit up pretty. This ended as badly as you are probably  thinking it did.
The front of the shirt and Mrs Notthat's medal. 
The back of the shirt - I love this design!
So, as in 2012, I actually had about as good a first ten miles as I could on this course. I was 20 minutes faster, and was much closer to the cutoff than then.

Here's the thing that makes me a bit nuts though; in 2010 when I finished in 3:50, if there had been this same cutoff in place, I would have missed it by one minute.

There is 3.7 miles to go from this point, and there is a bit of a climb, but it's nothing compared to what you have just been through, and there are no more technical trails to slow you down. The tough part is that that last 3.7 miles is all exposed, and can get really hot. But there is an aid station at about the halfway point where you can cool off again. I honestly think I would have finished in a bit under four hours if I had kept going (the finish line cutoff was 4.5 hours).

In the end, I will have to either get just a few minutes faster on that first 9.9 miles, get comfortable with talking my way into continuing when I'm a few minutes late (this seems to work for others, although it really goes against my instincts), or stick to the 10K for this race. (Yes, there is another option - the early start, but this race already requires us to leave earlier than most, so having to leave an hour earlier is not very appealing.)

Regardless, I had a lot of fun at this event and got to see a lot of running friends - it was still worth coming out for it.

But lordy is this race giving me second thoughts about Rocky Ridge; a course that makes this one seem like a road race. (I will be taking advantage of the early start there. I told Mrs Notthat that I might downgrade to the 10K, and was told that that was not an option since we need matching Half Series coasters. She's right.)

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

If someone asks you to crew/pace at the Tahoe 200…

… do it.

But just be aware of what you are getting yourself into.

A couple of months ago we were asked if we wanted to spend a lovely long weekend in September at Lake Tahoe. Mrs Notthat immediately answered "of course!" And just like that, we were going to be a small part of the insanity that was the inaugural Tahoe 200 trail race.

Lake Tahoe is circled by the Tahoe Rim Trail, which is 165 miles long and filled with scenic wonder and rocks. And climbs - lots of climbs. A fairly popular pastime is to hike the TRT, with several people attempting FKTs (Fastest Known Times) each year.

One person who was very familiar with the trail, Candice Burt, decided it would be an awesome idea to hold a race on the TRT, although there was one thing missing; a nice round number. As in 200. And thus was born the Tahoe 200.

Parts of the TRT go through wilderness areas, which are nearly impossible to get race permits for, so there were going to have to be some deviations from the TRT in any case. Tacking on a few miles here and there allowed her to come up with a very challenging 200 mile (202 miles officially, although most are sure it was a bit longer than that) course that was largely just a big loop, with a few short out-and-back bits for logistical reasons.

Click this map to see it much larger.
The start and finish was at the Homewood Ski Area on the western shore of the lake. The first 60.4 miles of the race had no crew or pacer access, so the runners were on their own through what was generally considered the toughest part of the course.

Starting at mile 60.4, at the Sierra at Tahoe ski area, runners were allowed a pacer, and crew could meet the runner at the designated aid stations (there were eight of them along the rest of the course). A unique thing was that there were four aid stations designated as "sleep stations." These places would have something soft the runner could lay on and blankets to wrap up in to keep warm. (The runner could sleep at any aid station, but these were just better equipped to handle it. There was a 100 hour race cutoff, along with intermediate cutoffs at each aid station. Just about everyone would nap several times during the race. Except Victor.)

The section I paced, from Tahoe City to Rideout, expanded to show a friendlier elevation chart for that section. That's still a lot of climbing though.
The elevation chart for this race was horrific - not a lot of flat stuff to be seen. Officially the course had 39,800 feet of climbing (I consider it a fail that they couldn't find 200 more feet of climbing somewhere out there). The other issue the runners faced was the altitude, with the highest point a bit below 10,000 feet.

Last year at HURT, we shared an apartment with Tawnya, a runner we had met at several Bay Area trail races, who was taking her first shot at the HURT 100. Her and her husband, the equally nuts Kent, had both entered the lottery for the Tahoe 200 (yes - there was so much interest in this race that it had to have a lottery and wait list!) figuring that one or the other would get in, which would mean the one that didn't get in could support the other.

Except they both got in. And each needed their own support crew. And someone very brave that would watch over their kids (around a half-dozen of them at last count) while they ran around the lake. MrsNotthat and I ended up being part of Team Tawnya.

Gotta love these pre-race mug shots. And Tawnya purposely picked that number; hopefully most of you will know why, while the rest of you need to read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
Mrs Notthat and I drove up after we ran the 5K at the Brazen Trail Hog event outside of San Jose. We were going to skip that race until I saw the shirt and I had to have it.

Definitely worth the trouble, plus I won first in my age group, and not by default! (I beat four others.)
We missed seeing Tawnya go through the first accessible aid station, but caught up to her at the second one, Big Meadow at mile 80.

Karen had paced her here from Sierra at Tahoe (mile 60.4).

Team Tawnya at this point. Sadly, Karen had to leave us and head home.
Heading out of Big Meadow with Dwight pacing.
One odd thing that made this a bit more interesting was that Tawnya was being met by a film crew at various points along the trail. There is a movie being made about relatively normal women doing extraordinary things, and they decided that Tawnya would be perfect for this.

We had clear skies the whole time we were up there, with a small exception on day three. The huge moon at night was great, although it did overwhelm a lot of the stars. 
Once Tawnya and Dwight left Big Meadow, we all headed on to the next access point, Armstrong Pass (mile 89.8). The road to this aid station was a bit, um, primitive. If there had been any rain, you would have needed a four wheel drive and a bit of luck to get there. As it was, we managed to wrestle our minivans out there with little trouble.

"All Day" Ken and Geoff getting some rest before heading out.
We generally had some time to kill once we arrived at an aid station. We would either visit with others or try to catch some sleep during these periods.

It was funny how we looked like some kind of traveling circus - a group of about 20 to 30 vehicles migrating from aid station to aid station, each waiting for their runner to come in, which would cause a brief flurry of action, followed by more waiting. We all got to know each other a bit, and everyone was there to help each other as the race went on.

"Yes, we have a toilet. It's a 5 gallon bucket out behind that tarp." This was better than nothing, which is what we had at a couple of aid stations, but wow! I would have hated being on bucket duty. Or bucket doody, as the case might be.
Tawnya being filmed as she laid down in the back of our van to get a bit of rest before heading back out.
Mrs Notthat and I had planned to spend time sleeping in the back of our van, and had brought along a couple of soft mats. What we hadn't thought of was how well they would work for Tawnya - being able to seal up in a relatively warm and quiet van on soft mats was a perfect place for her to get a nap.

Total time spent here was a bit over two hours.
Dwight paced Tawnya out to the next aid station, Heavenly at mile 103.8.

Shortly after the sun came up, Tawnya and Dwight (with the film crew) arrived.

Twelve hours of pacing through the night will do this to a guy.
Heavenly was notable because it was a bit over the halfway point. Pretty much all of the runners, including Tawnya, had run a 100M race before. And pretty much all the runners, including Tawnya,  had never gone past that. This was new territory.

Photo ops were plenty!
After a short nap (and a bit over two hours total here), she was up and ready to forge on, this time with Mrs Notthat as her pacer.

A relatively important bit of information was that neither Mrs nor I had ever paced anyone before. We were both a bit nervous about this and really did not know what to expect. Our number one job was to get Tawnya to the next aid station without getting lost. Other duties included reminding her to eat/drink and to keep feeding her positive thoughts while preventing her from dwelling on how monumental of a task was still ahead of her.

Another task of the pacer - don't let her forget her sticks! Oops!
From Heavenly, we all headed over to Spooner Summit (mile 120.7). For the crew, we got to eat a proper meal at a proper restaurant - it was awesome! (Although it was also opening weekend for the NFL, and on Sunday morning, the place was packed with football junkies that gave us a pretty wide berth since we obviously were not one of them.)

Photo by Sam, a mile or two from the Spooner Summit aid station.
Arriving at the Spooner Summit aid station.
NASCAR has nothing on this crew.
At Spooner we were joined by two more crew members, Kelly and Grace (both of whom I first met at HURT). It was great to have some fresh energy at this point.

An impromptu changing room.
Total time here was just under 90 minutes.
Kelly took over pacing duties as they headed to the next stop, Tunnel Creek at mile 137.7.

For the crew, this became another opportunity to eat at a real restaurant. It was also an opportunity to do some math and figure out how close we were going to be cutting the 100 hour cutoff. Tawnya had built up a bit of a cushion, but it was not all that big, and we were a bit concerned that it wouldn't take much to go wrong for it to evaporate completely.

So we left the restaurant determined to get more efficient with the aid stations; she would be either sleeping, eating, or stretching - the social time needed to be eliminated.

The one thing we hadn't counted on was her speeding up. Somehow that seemed wildly unlikely.

But Kelly managed to get Tawnya to Tunnel Creek sooner than we had anticipated, and vowed to get her to the next aid station ahead of schedule as well. Total time spent at Tunnel Creek was a bit over an hour and a half, with most of that time sleeping.

I need to mention that Tunnel Creek was actually a lot of fun. We were totally surprised to see these two goofballs, not only working here, but in a position of authority!

Ace looking awfully perky for as long as they had been awake here.
I do NOT want to know the story of that pair of underwear. 
The next aid station was planned to be Martis Peak, mile 149.4, but that aid station had been moved a bit further along to about mile 153 or so. After Tawnya and Kelly left, most of us hunkered down for the rest of the night, figuring it would be fairly quiet here (it was). As the sun came up, we found a Starbucks and headed to the Aid Station Formerly Known as Martis Peak.

Bernie the Small Wolf is not as fierce as he looks. Probably.
Where we found Arie (Geoff's wife) who had driven up during the night.

Kelly managed to get Tawnya in ahead of schedule, and suddenly our buffer was building back up. It would feel like we were allowing Tawnya to sleep an awful lot, but that seemed key to getting her moving well on the trails; an hour nap would be rewarded with more than an hour saved in trail time.

Total time spent here was just under an hour. There was "only" a 50 miler left to do and Tawnya was starting to smell the barn a bit.

It was Grace's turn to pace now - the next aid station was Tahoe City at mile 170.7.

The aid station in Tahoe City was in the Save Mart parking lot along the main road. That meant there would be no shade and a lot of noise. Since I was pacing next, I stayed here after they left, and caught a bit of a nap in the relatively quiet woods (except when a runner came in).

Tawnya did a lot of stretching at each stop, and I suspect that had a lot to do with how she was able to avoid any cramping or muscle issues.
Having an aid station in a supermarket parking lot was a bit different. The good bit was that you had access to a HUGE aid station (that accepted cash and credit cards) - I took advantage of that and bought a sandwich. The bad bit was that you were in a huge, hot, noisy parking lot.

Grace got Tawnya here ahead of schedule again. By now there was no worry at all about her finishing in under 100 hours. In fact, there was now some concern that she would finish very early on Tuesday, which would be inconvenient for the kids to meet her there.

This also meant that I had no time pressure in getting her through this next 16.5 miles. I just had to keep her on the course through the night. We could do 30 minute miles and everyone would be happy with that.

Diane took this shot of us getting ready to head out. Total time here was a little over 90 minutes.

A couple of interesting things: It wasn't obvious where we needed to go to get out of here, so there was a designated volunteer to guide us through the parking lot. Also, a friend of Tawnya's, Janette, was here. She had started the race but had to drop at mile 60.4.

The runners were required to carry a huge amount of safety gear (the 12 pack of beer seemed a bit excessive, but Tawnya went for Bud Lite, which reduced the weight a bit). For most of the runners, this was their first experience having to carry a pack that was much heavier than they were used to, and that ended up doing in Janette. But without the pack, and after a day of rest, she was raring to go, and wanted to walk out with us for a bit, just to get some miles in and visit. Since you are only allowed one pacer at a time, this was a bit of a concern, but it was decided it was OK since she wasn't a pacer (yet - more to come on that angle).

We started on a paved bicycle path and in the fading daylight.
A "funny" thing, and maybe the only thing that went even mildly wrong, was that nobody had put an espresso drink in her pack. It turned out that she had a couple in there but hadn't been drinking them, so they were removed to save some weight. When we were about 100 yards from the aid station, she reached for one.

So I dashed back across the street and grabbed one. I should have grabbed two though. She drank it right away and was ridiculously perky for someone that had been moving for over three days now.

The paved path soon gave way to a proper trail.

This race was billed as a graduate level ultra. This meant that, while it would be well marked, it wasn't gong to have as many confidence ribbons as you might be used to. The good part was that there really weren't many intersections, so there weren't many opportunities to get off course. And all those intersections were very well marked.

(Tawnya did run into a case fairly early in the race where someone thought it would be funny to move the signs around and point runners the wrong direction. Since she had spent some time previewing the course, she realized quickly what had happened and was able to correct it without adding too much distance.)

This is going up that first small climb. The real climb is still ahead of us, waiting for it to get dark.
The trails were pretty easy to follow, but were severely infested with rocks. You would hit a downhill bit and think it was time to run and make up some time, but it was very challenging to run, especially this late into the race, with all those rocks waiting to trip you up.

The signs and ribbons were all highly reflective, which was AWESOME once it got dark.

If you look hard and use your imagination, you will see a great little waterfall in the center.
For me, the sad part about running at night is that taking pictures is pretty much out of the question - using a flash can blind you once you have adjusted to the dark. So I have very few pictures from the course. Just believe me when I say that the real hill was really hard. It had a lot of stone steps and loose rock, and just to keep it interesting, some fairly sheer drop offs. (And not being tempted by the scenery undoubtedly saved me from tripping and ending up fractured on the ground.)

As we were going up that climb, it started to get significantly colder, so we stopped to put on warmer clothes. It was then we noticed a pair of headlamps coming up at us - it turned out Janette had found another runner to officially pace, and they were making great time. Once they passed us, Tawnya took it personally, and suddenly had a burst of speed going up that hill and I had to really work to avoid being dropped.

After a bit though, that burst wore off. This is where a second espresso drink would have been magic. Instead, I was following along behind her when I heard her say that she had just fallen asleep. While hiking up this hill. Next to a sheer drop off.

The weird thing was that I had no idea - she wasn't wobbling or stumbling; even sleepwalking she had better form than me. I wasn't sure I believed her, but I started really watching, and then she said it had happened again.

The problem was that we were not in a good place to rest. It was cold and windy with nothing even vaguely flat around. So I just started talking to her more, promising that once we finally finished this climb, there would have to be a place to rest a bit.

REALLY hard to see, but that's a moonlit Lake Tahoe down there.
It took forever, but we finally reached the top. And surprisingly, we passed Janette and her runner. This seemed to perk up Tawnya, and we were suddenly making pretty good time going downhill.

After a couple of miles of this, it was time for a pee-break, which Team Janette took advantage of and passed us back. The rest of the course was a fairly easy downhill, although it was severely rock-infested, so you could not lose your focus at all. The good bit was there were no more cliffs to worry about falling over.

Eventually we staggered into the Rideout aid station, mile 187.2. Even with all that had gone on, we had managed 24 minute miles and arrived a bit ahead of schedule.

From here, there were only 14 miles left. She could sleep for eight hours and still make the cutoff. About three hours after arriving though, she headed back out, this time with Sam pacing, and was ready to get this thing done!

Sam took this shot. The sign says 7.5 miles to go. The sign post says "please don't hurt me."

After a bit of sleep, Mrs Notthat and I headed to the finish line at Homewood. It was all a bit unreal that this event was nearly done.

And right on schedule, down the hill they came.

Navigating the finish line. That's her husband, Kent, with the black jacket and orange visor on. That's Candice, who's twisted idea this was in the first place, in the lower-right.
It was so exciting seeing her come through the finish chute. Her kids were thrilled (one called out "you're my hero mommy" which just about made me lose it).

A few more steps and you are DONE!

This is all of Team Tawnya (minus Karen), her husband Kent, a mass of kids, and the film crew. (Actually, there really were others helping with the filming, but most were sleeping at this point.)

And that's about it.

For the first running of an epic 200 mile race, this went really well. Out of 90 runners that started, 60 finished, which was WAY more than expected. (I had thought it would be more like a 40% finisher rate.)

One thing that helped was that the weather was great. It got warm during the day and cold at night, but neither extreme was abnormal and most were well prepared for it. There were some widely scattered light showers on the morning of day three, but they caused no issues.

There were a few late course changes and the moving of the Martis Peak aid station that led to a bit of  stress (the section I paced was one that had been changed a bit; I had brought a map, but it was the old course, and when I asked at the aid station for a map with the new course, all they had was the same one I had - the changed bit was well marked on the trail though).

The most grumbling I heard was related to the Aid Station Formerly Known as Martis Peak and Rideout aid stations not having bathrooms available. There were a few scattered instances of an aid station running out of something (spoons, cups, cheese), but that all seemed pretty minor.

All in all this was a great event. It has taken me several days to get back to normal (I don't do well without my normal sleep patterns, and this was wildly outside of my normal sleep patterns), but I'm mostly fine now. The runners I have talked to seemed to recover much quicker than I did (Tawnya is pacing a runner at the Headlands 100 tomorrow!).

So should you accept if someone asks you to crew/pace at this race? You bet, but make sure you understand what that will entail. Tawnya did a phenomenal job setting up this crew - we all got along well and managed to have a great time out there. Granted, the pre-race planning took most of the guesswork out of this, so barring something very unexpected, there was nothing to stress about.

Thank you Tawnya for inviting us along on your adventure. What you and 59 other runners accomplished was astonishing!

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.