running through hell

i could swear that my ipod shuffle is sentient.  that thing constantly offers up songs that are apropos to the situation.  maybe it’s that the mind grabs on to lyrics that fit the situation, but whatever the case it tends to be a source of distraction and motivation when the going gets tough.

and, it did.  get tough.  the going, that is.

saturday morning i saddled up for a 50k race in the mountains east of san diego.  yes, cool, costal san diego.  moderate temperatures and cool breezes are the halmark of said beach community.  but, head a couple of miles inland and that all changes.  as we pulled up to the pine valley bible camp, the temperature read 42 degrees.  huh?  it was a chilly start as we geared up and waited to get started.  this was no indication, however, of what was to come.  the day would top out with temperatures in the high 90’s.

i’ve been putting in some longer runs and have had some decent mileage weeks recently, so i was feeling pretty well prepared to cover the distance.  i felt very eager to run the race, though, and had a feeling that i might be able to break my 50k pr and maybe even go sub six hours.  as the time ticked down to the start, i was chomping at the bit to get started.

the course started out fairly easy as we ran on some road and then up a mild sandy graded single track.  i noted the composition of the trail as we headed up.  it was somewhat technical, but i was guessing that i’d be able to move quickly on the way back down and maybe make up some time if i’d been slowed down at some point during the course.  after climbing for a mile or more, we started dropping back down into a canyon.  and down.  and down.  and down until we reached the first aid station.  that meant that we’d have a final hill just before the finish.  well, i told myself that the course is what it is and i’d deal with that obstacle when i got to it.  i topped off my bottle in record time and continued with the climb out of the canyon.

the aid stations seemed to come pretty quick at this point in the race.  i hit the next one in decent time after having climbed up through the shaded canyon and into the big laguna burn area.  again, i moved quickly through the aid station and back onto the trail.  the singletrack continued to be a rough sandy type of trail.  not “sandy” but more like something you’d see in the utah desert.  as we moved up into the burn area, the air started to get warmer and we lost our protection from the sun of the ridges and trees.  the penny pines aid station came quickly, too, and before i knew it i was on the pct with another full water bottle and a topped off camelbak [with ICE! – thanks tracy moore!].

the stretch along the pct was gorgeous.  the trail follows the laguna plateau and looks down onto the anza borrego desert, ocotillo wells and the great salton sea in the distance.  the view was breathtaking and helped take my mind off the warming air.  i started paying attention to the time at this point in the run and trying to estimate my pace and what finishing time i could manage.  my garmin had gone tits-up at the start and i had quickly replaced it with a generic timex [thanks keira!].  i was making good time based on where i thought i was on the course, but it wasn’t until i rolled into the 16.5mi aid station that i had a better idea of how i was doing.  the watch read 3:00 at the exact half way point, which boded well for a sub six hour finish.

i topped everything off again, ate some watermelon and hit the arches of my feet with some vaseline to take care of some hot spots that were forming.  speaking of eating, i was sucking down a ton of fluids and salt.  i was drinking 20oz of gatorade endurance every 5mi or so and drinking about another 20oz of water in the same time frame.  in addition, i was taking gu every 45min and two salt tabs at each aid station.  i felt like i was really putting the fluids necessary into my body and preparing for the heat that was sure to hit. 

shannon gave me the beta that the penny pines aid station was 5.5mi from where i was at, so i figured i’d be able to hit it at four hours in and i’d eat some more and top off the camelbak there again.  i headed out and onto the big laguna trail.  the trail moved out of the pines and into the meadows and that is when the heat attacked.  the trail was exposed and there seemed to be heat from a blast furnace blowing from behind.  i started to get cooked on this section of the trail and ended up pacing off one of the san diego bad rats for a good portion of it.  the good news was that when i felt like i was slowing down a bit, i would try to pick up the pace a bit and my body would respond.  i reminded myself that it was just the heat and exposure that was making it seem tough and my legs still had plenty of juice.

i hit penny pines just before four hours and tracy took good care of me again, topping off the camelbak with more ice water.  i downed a bunch of salted potatos [YUM!], unpacked the ipod shuffle and headed out again.  from here, it was going to be a little over 11 miles of downhill and i was really looking forward to stretching out my legs.  i turned on the tunes and killing joke’s, “the house that pain built” welcomed me.  i laughed at the appropriateness of the song and turned on the gas.  my legs responded and i flew over the next three mile section to the 2/6 aid station.  those couple miles of hard running really let me stretch out my hamstrings and hips, which had begun to fatigue with all the climbing effort.

after that aid station, i dropped back down into the tree filled canyon.  the temperature backed off a bit, but the air was still warm under the canopy and every time the trail moved back into the open, it felt like opening the door to an oven.  it was at this point that the foo fighters, “long road to ruin” came on and the chorus continued to resound in my head:

“running through hell, heaven can wait”

in the current heat, it seemed oh so appropriate.  my ipod, i proposed, must have a neural link with me.  i laughed some more as it continued to offer up more unintentional “running” or “road” or “trail” related lyrics from unlikely artists. 

i bombed my way down this highly technical section of the trail with total disregard for my knees or my safety.  i was trying to fly, but the trail just wouldn’t let me move as fast as i wanted to.  i kept checking the watch and guessing that if i could roll into the last aid station around 5:10 into the race, i could easily pull out a sub six hour finish.  but, as i wound around the canyon walls in and out of the spurs, that 5:10 came and went.  i finally popped over a small rise and could see the blue roof of the aid station tent down below.  i let out a whoop and hurried to fill my now warm and nearly empty bottle.  alexa from the scthz was there and commented on how salty i was.  i looked at my shirt and it looked like a bizarre white and red tie-dye pattern.  i was caked with salt.  it was a beautifully disgusting affair.

i headed out of the last aid station with 4.2mi to go.  the trail headed up that climb that i’d noted early in the race and it was all i could do to keep moving on it.  it was exposed, i was tired and any really effort on the incline was sending my heart rate through the roof.  i moved at a shuffle, knowing that i could make up the time on the downhill and once i hit the road.  as moved along the trail, guestimating how far i’d gone, i could see that i still had a very slim chance of pulling off sub six.  i kept that goal in my head and continued to push despite the fatigue and heat.  i finally crested that blasted hill and started down into pine valley.  again, the trail was too technical in most sections to run too fast, but when it smoothed out, i flew like the wind.  i was quite pleased to see that my legs continued to respond when i asked them to turn over quickly.

with that thought in mind, i quite looked forward to hitting that last mile of road.  i knew that the surface would be smooth, i could open up my stride and i’d be able to fly to the finish and get my sub six.  the downhill finally bottomed out into the valley’s wash and i could see the road not far ahead.  i was almost there!

and then i hit the road. 

something odd happened as soon as i stepped onto that asphalt.  my legs turned to lead.  my nearly empty camelbak felt like someone had loaded it with sandbags.  i was sapped of all my energy and it was all i could do to lift my legs and run.  i shuffled and tried in vain to get my legs to turn over quickly.  i couldn’t figure it out.  so, i shuffled for a bit.  i spotted a guy walking ahead of me and i painted a target on his back.  i figured if i could pass him convincingly, that would motivate me to move faster.  it worked and as i passed him i felt like i had been sling-shotted forward.  my pace picked up and i was able to get the legs to turn over with more enthusiasm.

the turn into the bible camp appeared on the right and i knew i was under a quarter mile to go.  i pushed, giving every last bit that i had in me and rolled across the finish…in 6:04.  ugh!  i had JUST missed my sub six goal.  i was so close!  as i thought back over the race, i picked apart the different spots where i COULD have gone faster.  at the same time, though, i had pushed hard on areas that i felt like taking it easy and i know that i went as hard as i could on that course and in those conditions.  plus, it WAS a two minute pr for the 50k.

so, i was quite happy with the performance, even without the goal finish.  it was HOT out there and i had successfully run the course and survived the heat.  i drank, ate, showered and headed home with one singular thought on my mind…

…i couldn’t wait to crack a bottle of pumpkin spice ale and crash on the couch while tc drove his cars all over my legs.  i’m wondering what song the ipod would offer up for that scenario?

soundtrack for this post
Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace lick:
Long Road to Ruin
Foo Fighters
Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace

needle in a haystack

tuesday night, i was sitting at home and cell phone started roaring at the family [i have a home made sassquatch ring tone.  don’t ask.  i’m silly].  it was a trail running friend, molly, with news that a gal from our trail club, gina, had gone missing.  gina had set out with her brother-in-law on early sunday morning into a pretty gnarly area of the cleveland national forest for a 6-8 hour run and had not come home.  authorities were currently searching, but even the experienced SAR weren’t familiar with the network of trails or which routes we typically run in that area.  quickly, members of the trail club mobilized and were out passing out flyers and preparing to hit the trails to help the search.

wednesday morning, i received a call at work from my trail partner, special k, asking if i was free to join him in the search.  i had been waiting for a conference call at 1pm w/ trail club members to find out what the search status was and possibly assist in the afternoon, but instead i cleared my schedule, headed home and geared up for a 100+ degree day in the sun.  special k showed up at my place at about noon and we headed up into the mountains to meet up with other trail runners at the lazy w command post. 

on the drive in, special k, dr. mader and i all talked frankly about the situation.  the brother in law had come stumbling off of the trail earlier that morning, and with no news from the authorities on his story, the whole thing just stunk and although we hoped for the best, we really feared the worst.

when we arrived at the command center, we took stock of where the other teams were out on the trails and formulated a plan to head up to blue jay and start down one of the lesser used trails in hopes of finding gina or a sign of her passing.  as we were waiting for a couple other runners to show up and join us, the spokesperson for the search came out and donned a jacket for a press conference.  he had mumbled something about “not good news” to molly as he headed toward the cameras and our hearts just sank has he began what sounded like a death announcement.  he started in by saying that a woman matching gina’s description and clothing had been spotted in a canyon nearby.  after a long, pregnant pause, he said, “she is alive.”  we were shocked and overjoyed.

just minutes before, as we were driving through the lazy w canyon, we had heard a helicopter circling overhead and molly said that she was pretty confident that she knew which canyon it was that she was in.  we had so much nervous energy that we just couldn’t sit still.  we flew to our cars and to the trail head, geared up and headed out with hopes of either getting to gina before the rescue helicopter could get there or at least being able to get close enough to give her the news that help was on it’s way.

we hammered our way up the los pinos trail and up onto the ridge that overlooks the canyon that gina most likely was in.  as we pushed through the loose trail and overgrown brush we saw the SAR helicopter fly overhead and into the canyon that we were paralleling.  then another SAR helicopter and finally a news chopper joined the fray.  the two helicopters worked in tandem and as we continued to move along the ridge, we watched as they pulled her out of the canyon and made a beeline for the mission trauma center.  we shouted, waved and cheered as they flew over us and into the distance, beside ourselves with joy at gina’s rescue.

we’re still waiting for all the details of the adventure, but the good news is that both gina and her bil are in good shape and are expected to recover fully.  the best part of the whole ordeal, though, was the way that the trail club and the ultrarunning community rallied around one of their own and made radical sacrifices to help.  there were thirty or so trail runners out on those trails combing the mountains looking for gina with more in support at the trail heads.  the assistance of key club members was invaluable to the SAR as well, with information on the trails, routes and radio equipment.  cudos to everyone in the club for really showing what a community is all about.

soundtrack for this post
The Essential Clash lick:
Lost In The Supermarket
The Clash
The Essential Clash


we’re back home after a two week stint up in coarsegold.  it was vacationesque, but the real intent of the trip was for me to test out the feasibility of working remotely on a permanent basis.  when we headed out for the trip up north, both smsmh and i were sitting at 80/20 against moving up north.  as we both began to find our groove with routine, familiarity with the surroundings and as the stress of living in a fast paced society started shedding, those percentages began to change. 

smsmh found places to take tc to keep him occupied and happy.  we discovered the many paces to fish and kayak.  we found frogs, praying mantis, horses, turkeys, deer, coyotes, skunks, quail, humming birds, bats and a variety of interesting insects.  i ran with meghan in her stomping grounds and began to get familiar with the local trail networks.  we soaked in the local culture.  i even went into yosemite and hooked up with donald and his running crew and played on half dome for a day.

and then, on the final full day, we met with a real estate agent and looked at homes.  smsmh and her mom had been scoping out places the whole time we were up there and had a short list to look at before we headed back down south.  each home that we looked at had features and aspects that we really enjoyed, but the first house that we viewed completely clicked with both smsmh and i on so many levels.  it had us at hello.

now, the choice to move is a tough one and there are many pieces that would need to fall into place in order for us to even get to the point where we could make a decision.  one of those major pieces, though, has to do with work.  on thursday, my boss, the president of the company and the director of human resources are having a pow-wow to discuss the possibility.  so, i may have an answer from work this week as to whether or not i have their blessing.

honestly, the more time we spend back here after seeing what awaits us in the foothills of the sierras, if i get a green light from work, i’m prepared to make an offer on the house.  i’m that hooked and that ready to get out of the madness that is southern california.  i’m ready for a new home.

soundtrack for this post
Naked Self lick:
Soul Catcher
The The
Naked Self


thursday night was the last race in the vasque peters canyon summer trail series.  johnathon, the rd, and renegade racing always put on a great race and this series is a ton of fun each year.  it’s a collection of three five mile races through peters canyon in tustin, ca held on the first thursday of june, july and august.  the race benefits the olive crest group homes and finishes off each race with a great bbq and generous raffle.  it’s a blast for participants and spectators alike.  depending on the month, the race will either run clockwise up the canyon and then down the main, hilly ridge or counter clockwise up the hilly ridge and down the canyon.  thursday’s race was the former of the two, which tends to produce a slower time.

for each of these races [and this is the seventh time i’ve done the race over the past three years], as i line up at the start i tell myself, “self, we’re going to take it easy today and just have fun out there”.  and then the gun goes off and everything changes.  i’ve written in the past about how certain participants have inspired my competitive side and for every time i’ve told myself i’d take it easy, i end up turning in a blazing fast time and ending up at the top end of the field.

this month, though, i meant it.  i was determined to run within myself, enjoy the race and not hurt myself like i did last month.  in july, i’d turned in a 34:19 for an 11th place finish and for several days afterward my quads were just dead meat.  going downstairs hurt worse than when i’d finished my bq race at the oc marathon.  and this was only five miles.  so, i’d resolved to take it easy.

i lined up near the front, but not so close that i would be caught up in the initial sprint for positioning.  the gun went off and i found that i was running with a group that was actually right about the pace that i wanted to maintain, comfortably hard.  we headed up the 2.5 mile gradual climb up the canyon and i settled into a solid pace, but with relaxed breathing and a steady stride.  i was feeling good and in a really good groove.  i picked off a couple people on the way to the ridge but not because i’d targeted them for passing.  after about a mile of running, i noticed heavy footfalls that had been trailing right behind me.  someone was pacing off of me.  next, i noticed his heavy breathing.  he was sucking wind and breathing about twice as fast as i was.

i resolved to stick to my pace, keep my breathing steady and calm and not let him influence my pace.  i had the urge to surge and get him off my shoulder, but i resisted and kept my stride comfortable and my breathing relaxed.  i actually cracked up a bit as i counted his breaths compared to mine.  he sounded like he was really struggling, but he was keeping pace right on my shoulder.  with his rabid rapid breathing, i was beginning to wonder how he would fare when we hit the ridge.

before too much longer, i hit the turn and the breather came along with me as we started up onto the ridge.  the turn takes you onto a steeper, but still gradual, climb for about 200y before the course hits the first steep wall.  breather stuck with me until the wall.  i turned on the billy-goat legs and comfortably went up the climb.  no sooner did we hit the wall and i heard the breather pop.  he let out a huge gasp and he threw out the anchor.  i looked back and he was walking.  i turned around, focused on my climbing and returned to my comfortable push.

i won’t lie and say that the hills were easy.  my quads burned and i did push up the climbs, but i didn’t feel like i was tearing myself inside out like i had last month.  i recovered on the back side of each climb and billy-goat’ed each of the successive hills.  eventually, i crested the next to last climb and could see the final hill up ahead.  at the top of that climb was silhouetted a figure that looked familiar.  i heard him cheering for one of the runners ahead and was assured by his style and voice that it was indeed repete.

i barreled down the hill and started up the last climb and repete spotted me.  i started waving wildly and running like phoebe up the climb.  repete pulled out his bike air horn and started honking and yelling.  i quickly composed myself and said to repete as i ran past, “calmer than you are!”.  because i was.

the rest of the race was a easy gradual descent back to the start and i just focused on stride, turn over and my breathing.  the whole time i felt like i was really running within myself and was happy to have not pushed too hard.  as i neared the finish line, i remembered that i didn’t have a watch on and was curious what my finishing time would be.  i glanced up as i came across the finish line and was shocked to see 34:20.  one second slower than last month.

my “taking it easy” had netted me a comparable time to last month on what is supposed to be a slower course.  go figure.  i guess i really was #ctya or at least calmer than last month.

soundtrack for this post
No Hassle lick:
No Hassle

laughter > coffee

i rolled groggily out of bed this morning at 4am, drug myself up the stairs and into the bathroom to get ready for this mornings pre-dawn run with the dawn patrol crew.  as i sat there, letting my eyes get used to the light in the bathroom, i took a quick assessment of things.  slight niggle in the left knee.  sore quads.  SLEEPY.  i grabbed my iphone and pulled up the text messaging and let my finger hover over the contact field, contemplating typing that text to the run organizer stating that i’d be sleeping through this one.

but, the thought of a goose-egg on the calendar for the day and the fun that i was sure to miss out on drove me to get dressed, eat half a muffin and head out the door.  plus, i’d heard that repete was back in town and i didn’t want to miss out on a chance to hear his bike tour stories.

i was rewarded when i arrived at the trail head and lo and behold, pulled up behind repete’s truck.  i jumped out of the car, waved my body wildly and yelled a hearty hello.  i was finally beginning to wake up.  repete and i had a sound effect discussion about what lsd chris’ truck sounds like.  he thinks it goes, “brum brum brum” and i think it goes, “grum grum grum”.

we headed out for the dreaded loved climb of big bend and repete began regaling us with the stories of his cycling trip through glacier/waterton.  the two of us were running out in front of b, who happened to have a headlamp on.  we laughed at the huge shadows our running forms were making and ended up breaking into an impromptu version of dawn patrol shadow puppet theater. 

my alligator > repete’s dog, btw.

we laughed our way down to laguna canyon and then over to the big bend climb.  yeah…there wasn’t anything funny about the climb and i know i didn’t say anything on the way up.  once up and on our way back to the cars, i tagged along with eric and michelle and we discussed botox.  eric gave us a wonderful demonstration of what laughing with a botoxed face looks like which sent us into such hysterics that michelle ended up having to walk.  seriously, he looked like a muppet.

back at the cars, molly was handing out more party favors, this time with a dental theme.  well, as dental as you can get with sport beans, candy cigars and jelly bellies [i did score a new toothbrush for tc, though!].  the jelly bellies had the flavors written on the box, with varieties like ‘skunk spray’, ‘booger’ and ‘earwax’.  repete and i started cutting up again, making up flavors. 

“spider silk!”



which elicited the best quote of the morning followed by the best laugh.  michelle piped up and offered, “i’ll trade you my earwax for your dingleberry!”

finally wide awake and chipper as ever, i thought to myself as i drove away from the trail head, this is, hands down, the best way to wake up in the morning.

soundtrack for this post
Stars of C.C.T.V. lick:
Hard To Beat
Stars of C.C.T.V.