Friday, February 29, 2008

Iditarod Invitational Race Report

[NOTE: I have several Videos that I took from the trail that I will post when I get back to Juneau sometime next week]

The race started at 2:00 pm on Sunday the 24th. There were a lot more people gathered around than I expected. With so many racers from far away places I expected there would just be a few people there other than the racers. As you can see from my starting video (once I get it posted) though there were people lined up yelling and cheering. That was kind of neat.

Foot racers getting ready at the start

Brij Potnis (with a very sleek load of gear) and Jill at the start

It was also very nice that as soon as I made it to the other side of Knik Lake I was finally done thinking about what I needed to do to get ready for the race and suddenly I could just focus on the race, and more importantly on whatever other things my mind would wander to over the course of the next several days.

The first few hours of the race were pretty uneventful. I ran for awhile with Tom Jarding and with Anne Ver Hoef and eventually settled into a pace a little ahead of them, but well behind all the bikers. I played leapfrog with the 3 skiers for several hours but eventually I passed them and wouldn't see them again until Yentna (Mile 57).

The sun was out and I was feeling great. At some point, about 15 miles into the race I turned around to get a nice 360 degree view of the scenery and coming up the trail behind me is Mike Curiak. I had first met Mike briefly at the race start just a couple hours earlier, but I knew already from our short talk that he was someone I would be happy to chat with as much as possible over the next several days. Luckily he was moving along at his touring pace or I never would have seen him again, but since he was stopping for 10+ hours each night I was fortunate enough to see Mike 4 or 5 different times while I was out there.

Sunset the first night just before Flathorn Lake (about mile 30)

After Mike and I chatted for a bit he took off ahead and I was alone again for several hours. In fact I didn't see a single other person until the next time I ran into Mike again near the Susitna and Yentna River junction about 30 miles later. In this time I got to enjoy a great sunset over Flathorn lake, pass through a perfectly calm and serene Dismal Swamp, and drop down onto a refreshingly cool Susitna River. I had stopped to put on a little more clothing after dark, but I was actually overheated because of this until I dropped onto the river. At that point I could feel the temperature dip (probably to around zero) and I was very comfortable. Also in this stretch was the first time I felt any pain in my ankle. It was the front of my right ankle but the pain was very minor and I quickly found ways to run in which it didn't really bother me.

I took the long way around the island at the mouth of the Yentna (Doh... why did I follow that stupid blinkie light? and who the hell put that light there?). This was only a few minutes longer but it was getting late and I was getting ready to get to the first checkpoint. I was even starting to get a little cold but thought I would just push on the 12 or so miles to Yentna Station with the clothing I had on then. Here I ran into Mike Curiak again. He was setup in his tent for the night and when I asked him what time he was starting in the morning he said, "I don't know, whenever I wake up." I was so jealous of that. Mike offered me a little hot water that he had just heated from melted snow. That hit the spot and warmed me right up. Just talking to another person for the first time in about 5 or 6 hours was also very helpful. As I headed up the river I felt so much better than I did just 10 minutes earlier. This high feeling didn't get me all the way to Yentna but close enough that I only had about 3 miles of "checkpoint slog". (the feeling you get as you approach a checkpoint and you just want to get there and get food and warmth). There was a thermometer on a pole on the river just before Yentna Station that read 10 below. Not cold by Alaska standards but it was a little colder than I expected that first night, and because I was too stubborn to stop for more clothing so close to Yentna I did get pretty chilled by the time I got to the checkpoint.

I got to Yentna (mile 57) at 1:15 am, I ate some spaghetti, filled my water, and headed out to the cabin for some sleep. I set my watch for 6:30 hoping to get 4 hours of sleep. I couldn't sleep well though. I suspect I only got about 2 hours of actual sleep. At any rate, being off my feet for 4 hours felt good.

I headed back out on the river at 7:00 am hoping the coming sun would warm things up. I noticed that Tom Jarding had signed out of the checkpoint 5 minutes before me so I pushed a nice pace hoping to catch up and have someone to run with for awhile. After 2 hours I gave up and figured he was either cruising faster than I wanted to go or that I had passed him somehow without knowing it. When I got to Skwentna several hours later I discovered that I was still the first foot racer, and when I saw Tom again a couple days later I discovered that he had gone down river for a few minutes after he left the checkpoint (to go to the bathroom) and that I was in front of him right away out of Yentna.

Getting up toward Skwentna (mile 90) I had a much longer period of checkpint slog. Probably about 10 miles in which I was walking very slow, my ankle was hurting quite a bit more, and I just wanted to sit down and eat some food. My food intake was very good on the trail. Everything I was eating was going down nicely and satisfying me but there's just no substitute for real, hot, fatty food.

At Skwentna I ate a burger, took some Ibuprofen for my ankle, wrapped some tape around my ankle, and got back on the trail pretty quickly. I think I was there for about 90 minutes. Amazingly once I got going again I felt great. There was a moose a few miles out of Skwentna that took some time to get around but other than that I was just cruising down the trail enjoying the afternoon. At about 5 or 6 pm I hit the beginning of the Shell Hills. I walked most of the steeper uphills but I was feeling so strong that I ran all of the less steep uphills and going uphill was really reducing the pain in my ankle. It was like these hills somehow threw a jolt of energy into me. When the trail leveled back out I was just cruising along, probably running about 6.5 mph for most of the stretch between Skwentna and Shell Lake.

Sunset the second night, near Shell Lake (mile 110)

I stopped at Shell Lake Lodge for about 10 minutes to get a little warm water and chat with Bill, Kathi, Pierre, and Mike. They probably thought I was a bit crazy when I told them how much I loved running up through the Shell Hills and that I'd love to stay and visit but I was planning to get back out on my way to Finger Lake before stopping for the night.

This time the checkpoint slog was particularly tough. It was only about the last 5 miles before Finger but it felt like it took a month, and now I was having pretty severe pain in both my ankles as well as behind my left knee. It would have been very wise to slow way down and take a few hours for this last 5 miles but with the checkpoint this close I just kept pushing on in hopes of getting there as fast as possible because that would get me off my feet digging into a warm meal as fast as possible. Unfortunately when I got there everyone was asleep because they had gotten word (from Skwentna?) that no one else was coming in that night. Carl woke up and checked me in, and was kind enough to offer to cook me up some eggs, but I opted instead for a couple oranges and a banana and would instead grab a warm meal in the morning.

I was already pretty certain that I was going to sleep for as long as my body needed but when I got into the sleeping tent and took off my shoes I became 100% sure that I would not be setting an alarm to get up. my right ankle was very swollen and bruised and really did not look good at all. It was just after midnight. I had covered 130 miles in 34 hours, but at that moment I was pretty sure my race was done. Ankles that look like that don't get better under continued stress. I knew I would try pushing on down the trail the next day, but I also knew then that the likelihood of making it to McGrath, 220 miles away was almost zero.

The next morning I could hardly walk so I was in no real hurry to try running for an entire day. I took some Ibuprofen, sorted through my food drop that was at Finger Lake, ate a great breakfast (Finger Lake had the best food I encountered on the trail... which is a good thing since I ended up having 4 meals there), chatted with Bill, Kathi, and Pierre for awhile (they had arrived from Shell Lake in the morning), and then at about 10:30 I set out on the trail looking for a miracle. Unfortunately it wasn't going to happen. After a few miles I knew my race was done but I thought I would keep moving up to Puntilla, even if it took 20 hours and then I'd scratch there. After all it was yet another beautiful day and I figured the more of the trail I encountered, the more prepared I would be for the next time around (next year?).

various photos along the trail north of Finger Lake, just getting into the beginning of the mountains.

Eventually though the pain became so severe that I just could hardly stand up. And then eventually I couldn't. I had come to a steep downhill just before a series of even steeper downhills known as "the steps" and as I began down the first few feet of the hill both of my ankles shot out in pain at the same time and I involuntarily fell to the ground. I tried sliding down the hill on my butt and my sled was going sideways and running me over from behind. Finally I just unhooked my sled and laid in the trail. I cried. I laughed. I ate some food. I was strangely both so upset and very content at the same time. I had learned so much in just 2 days. I was in one of the most beautiful places I've ever been, and I had this strange calming feeling knowing that I would be back here again, and that I would be feeling 100 times stronger. Just as I was about to finally get up and try to move Pierre came around the corner on his bike. I jolted up so as to not get run over. He slithered down the hill and I slithered down the hill behind him. I knew I was going to turn back but I wanted to do it alone. Somehow it felt shameful to turn around in the presence of another racer, especially when I had spent almost the entire race on my own. This was in fact one of the only times after the first few miles of the race that I had actually seen another racer out on the trail.

After watching Pierre ride away I stumbled a few more steps and stopped. It was 1:30 in the afternoon, almost 48 hours after the start, and I was done. Except I still had to travel the 7+ miles back to Finger Lake. It took me about 5 hours to get back. I ran into Mike Curiak one last time. This time we were able to chat for several minutes since I was no longer in a hurry. We parted ways once again with me jealous of him, this time simply jealous that he was able to continue on his journey. Be sure to check out Mike's blog to follow his continuing journey.

Sunset on my way back to Finger Lake on Tuesday

I finally got back to Finger Lake and had to wait until the next day to fly out to Anchorage. That night it took me several hours to fall asleep because of severe throbbing in both ankles and my left knee. The next morning I almost fell over just as soon as I stood up.

Boarding the Plane from Finger Lake back to Anchorage on Wednesday.

I've now been back in Anchorage for a few days and I feel more attached to this event than ever. Being out there and being a part of such an undertaking was such an unbelievable thing. I am very upset that I didn't get to reach my goal of finishing the race, but I've even more upset that I didn't get to simply spend more time out there and see more of the course. I learned so much about what it is do this race, but my injuries forced me to leave so much unlearned as well. I have so much respect for anyone who finishes or has ever finished this race. There are so many things that need to fall perfectly into place to be able to simply stay out there for that long, and then on top of all of that you need to walk, limp, ride, ski or run 350 miles. There's no getting around the distance. No matter how well everything goes that's still an amazingly long way to travel on your own power.

This said though I do feel like I have a better sense of what it takes to both finish this event and to finish it quickly. Before my experiences out there I thought that Steve Reifenstuhl's foot record of 4d 15h was absolutely beyond comprehension. And for the most part I still do. It's just in a different way that I now can't comprehend it. Before this race I thought that it just didn't seem physically possible to do it that fast, but now I realize that it is physically possible, but it borders on logistically and mentally impossible. There are dozens of things that need to fall perfectly into place for you to even have a shot at doing it that quickly. And of course on top of that you have to have the ability and fitness to cover that much ground in that much time.

I did finish the first 130 miles an hour faster than he did when he broke the record (and presumably faster than anyone ever has) and I had rested my body more up to that point than he had. Aside from my ankle problems my body felt so strong at that point. I had almost no muscle soreness and I didn't feel like I had physically worked very hard at all. I believe that I do have the physically ability to cover this route in a very fast time but I still have so much to learn to be able to do everything just right to make all the pieces come together. I intend to be back out there a year from now trying to put some more pieces of the puzzle in place, and hopefully getting a chance to see the heavenly sight that McGrath is after 350 miles on the trail.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

First Thoughts

I can no longer say that I've never dropped out of a race.

Way too many thoughts running through my mind to even begin to put all of them into perspective right now.

The short of the story is that at about mile 30 my right ankle started to hurt a little bit. I found ways to favor it so that it wouldn't hurt too much and I pressed on. It hurt on and off for the next 60 miles and then I had about 20 miles in which it didn't hurt much at all. Once the pain came back though it was much more severe and then soon after that my left ankle began to hurt as well. By the time arrived at mile 130 my right ankle was throbbing and extremely swollen. I took a 12 hour break and tried to head up the trail but after 7 miles I was reduced to a 1-2 mph walk with intermittent shooting pains in both ankles and up into the back of my left knee.

Just wanted to throw out a quick post focusing on some of the positive things I experienced the past 3 days:

I got to run 150 miles in perfect weather (temps on the trail ranged from negative 10 up to 25 above and were usually in the 10-20 range).

I met dozens of great people and was able to learn so many things from them which will make me a stronger racer the next time around.

My injuries wouldn't allow me to continue any further but I feel pretty certain that they will recover with some time off my feet.

When my ankles/feet felt good out there I was cruising along and feeling very strong. I did 130 miles in 34 hours running time and that includes over 7 hours of stopped time (eating and sleeping) at checkpoints. That means I was only out on the trail for 27 hours. Perhaps my injuries were a result of pushing too hard of a pace but I really don't think so. My entire body above my ankles was handling this pace just fine. I have almost no muscle fatigue and I don't think my heart rate was ever much above 100 bpm. I actually stopped on the trail a few times to check my heart rate because I was amazed at how easy it felt to keep moving along at 5 or 6 mph. This pace is about the same, or a little faster than the pace I ran the Susitna 100 in last year and yet my body still felt strong enough to push on at a similar pace if my ankles would have allowed it. This seems almost unbelievable to me as I could hardly walk and felt like I had been through a train wreck for 3 days after the Susitna, but right now I don't even really feel tired out, I just can't bend either ankle or my left knee.

I took a lot of video out on the trail. I will post a full report of my race soon with some pictures and video to go with it.

And now I am now reduced to life as a spectator. Jill has been cruising down the trail at an amazing pace but there seems to be news tonight that she is still at Rohn as a few hours ago. There was never any specific info. on when she got into Rohn but based on most of the info. out there it seems like it should have been 20 or more hours ago. The info. in and out of Rohn is very limited and it's certainly possible that there was some confusion about her time either in or out of there but I'm worried that she may not have slept enough up to that point. To those following her race online it may appear that she was getting a few hours of sleep here and there, but according to the checkers I talked to at Yentna, Skwentna, and Finger Lake she hadn't slept at any of those places. That would have made Puntilla her first possible sleep which was 38 hours after the race started!

I'm hoping to get some info. on her status as soon as possible because I want to fly up to McGrath to see her finish. Problem is there's only one flight a day to McGrath and I don't want to spend the $450 to get up there and have her already waiting there to fly back on the same plane I just flew in on.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

We toe the line 22 hours from now.

Everyone asks how long it's going to take? It's funny, because I have no idea. In my mind it's not a race, but an event with a focus on having fun and finishing. That said though, in reality it is a race and once out on the trail my focus will be on maintaining a solid pace and moving along as quickly as I feel is safe. Just how that converts to a total time though I really have no idea. I'm prepared to be out there for up to 11 or 12 days. Anything faster than that will be a success in my mind. I know that if things go well I can do it much faster than that but there are so many things beyond my control that can cause it to not go well. This is of course what makes this race so exciting, scary, and, as the veterans say, habit forming.

One thing I do know is that if I reach McGrath I'll have gained more knowledge about this event then I was able to in 6 months of training and preparation. Will this make me even more hungry to line up again a year from now? Well, that's looking a little too far ahead at this point. First I just need to figure out how to get some sleep tonight and then eat as much food as humanly possible tomorrow morning.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

North To The Future

We're off to Anchorage in a couple hours. I'll try to post once more before the race but here's the link to track the race in case I don't have another chance:

Iditarod Invitational Latest News

Thanks to everyone for your support along the way during my 5 months of training for this event. I couldn't have done it without you. Well, I guess I could have but it wouldn't have been the same.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Slushy Mess?

It's 33 degrees in The Kuskokwim Valley right now. The Kuskokwim valley is the coldest portion of the route to McGrath. It's more likely to for it to be 33 below zero than 33 above. On the surface this might seem like good news, after all extreme cold is one of the major concerns of this race. Problem with temperatures above freezing though is that this is likely causing a huge mess of slushy overflow with all of the snow that has fallen in the interior this winter. It is supposed to cool back down by the weekend but the 21 feet of snow that has fallen at Finger Lake so far this winter is going to be hard to plod through no matter what happens now with the weather. Hopefully the trail breakers are at least able to get some kind of trail put in, because right now, for much of the route there is no trail at all... just wet, slushy, snow.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Waiting Game

There is now not much more I can or need to do to prepare for next week. I'm not certain that I'm 100% prepared, but I am as prepared as I am going to be without ever having done this event before. Now I just have to wait and hope to sleep well and eat a lot between now and Sunday.

I try not to think too much about the race right now. When I think about it for a long time, as I did while running this morning, it tends to loom like a dark cloud. I'm sure the tension will continue to build until Sunday. I just need to find a way to not let it consume all of my next 5 days. It sure is going to be a sweet release to actually start the race on Sunday and have every ounce of pre-race stress behind me. After that all I will need to do is run 350 miles, but no longer will I need to prepare to run 350 miles.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Working Some Things Out

Thanks all for the advice. It's nice to be getting tips from the two fastest people to ever do this race. I'd be an idiot not to listen. Thanks Pete and Mike.

Got some new shoes today that I feel very happy with. Got out for a short run with them and wore them at work all day. They're Brooks Adreneline GTS 7 and unless I have some drastic problems with them in the next week they'll be the shoe I'll be wearing as I head out of Knik on the 24th. They are a full size big on me and comfortably fit 2-3 pair of socks. I also have neoprene overboots that fit nicely over them. With this setup I'm pretty sure I can keep my feet warm (as long as they are dry) in any temperatures I'm likely to encounter. I'll also have a few pairs of chemical foot insoles with me if needed.

I also bought about 13,000 calories of fat today which I plan to eat (in addition to my already increased food intake) in the next week. A gallon of ice cream; pound of bacon; 8 donuts; and 12 individual frozen pizzas. I ate two donuts after lunch, 2 pizzas just now, and I'm about to dip into the ice cream before bed.

I also received some silicone hose that I ordered in the mail today. This will replace the rubber hose I'm using for shock absorbtion on my sled. Silicone is rated to be flexible and durable down to 65 below and I was able to get two sizes which fit snugly inside of each other to increase strength. I've got a 3 day weekend coming up in which I can test out my sled some more, weed out unneccasary gear, and eat until I can't move. Should be fun.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Couple Things On My Mind

About 2 weeks ago I decided that I was going to make every effort to try to gain some weight before February 24th. Unfortunately I don't seem to be as good at this as most Americans. I've literally been trying to eat as much food as possible for almost 2 weeks now and I think I've maybe gained 1 pound. I guess down the homestretch now I'm going to give it my all and really focus on the fats. Donuts, ice cream, and bacon here we come (I don't think I've eaten a donut in 5 years). I just wish I could find a way to lower my gear weight by about 5 pounds while increasing my body weight by the same amount. Fellow racer, Pete B. has given me some good tips on lowering the gear weight. Anyone have any good tips on gaining some body weight? (besides having a beer or two each night because that doesn't seem to be working).

The other thing on my mind is how much I do not like the shoes that I'm currently planning to run this race in. Montrail Odyssey has been my shoe of choice for over a year now, but when I got a pair a size too big for me (to fit multiple socks) a couple months ago I didn't like the way they felt on my foot and they weren't wide enough in front to comfortably fit the socks. At that point I decided to get a pair of Montrail Hardrocks because they make them in extra wide sizes. These shoes feel great on my foot, with plenty of space for socks (and they're a lot warmer than the Odyssey), but when I run in them they never feel right. I've had some arch pains, some ball of foot pain, and most recently problems with my feet "falling asleep" while running. When I switch back to my standard sized Odyssey all of these problems are gone right away. This isn't something I want to be dealing with now that the race is only 10 days away but I've decided that tomorrow morning I'm going to go to the one store here in Juneau that sells running shoes and try to find something that feels good on my foot with 3 pair of socks on and give them a try. I hate the idea of changing race shoes with such short time to test them out, but at this point I'm really not at all confident in my Hardrocks so I guess I should at least give something else a try.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Two Weeks...

Two weeks from today and I'll be in Knik at the start of the Ultrasport. For the past 3+ months I have spent almost all of my free time training for this event and now that I'm into full taper/rest mode I spend almost all of my free time trying to improve anything I can with my gear.

I finally finished sewing up the snow cover to my sled last week and it was nice to find out today that it fits over all of my gear with plenty of room to spare for any last minute additions. Today was the first time that I packed up every single last thing into my sled... or almost everything, only had about 3,000 calories of food in there but I'll likely start the race with about 6,000 in my sled (as well as ~3,000 in my camelbak). It weighed in at about 34 pounds and will probably be closer to 40 once my water bottles are completely full and all my food is on board.

Yesterday I spent about 2 hours packing up my food that I need to ship away to Anchorage which will then be flown into 2 checkpoints along the way (miles 130 and 210). Each of my drops weighs in right at (or a touch above) the 10 pound limit. They contain about 16,500 calories each as well as a few batteries, chemical warmers, and stove fuel. 16,500 calories is a ton of food (probably more than I'll need for each stretch), but I've decided to go with as much as possible and if I need to leave some behind I'd rather make that decision once I'm a few days into the race rather than trying to make it now.

My camera can supposedly take 56 minutes of video on the 2 gb card that I have. My hope is to have the energy and memory and motor skills while out there to try to use most of this space for short video clips throughout the race. If this works out I'll hopefully be able to post a little video that will give a small glimpse into what progresses out there on the trail.

Anyhow, this is all still two weeks away so I guess I may as well stop getting so worked up about it now. On one hand I wish the race were just starting tomorrow. But on the other hand I can think of dozens of things I'd like to test/improve before the race. Problem is that many things just aren't going to be figured out until I'm out there on the trail for a few days. I suppose that's just the way it goes when you attempt something that so far ecxeeds any previous endeaver. I think you can read about this stuff and learn a lot in training but I'll probably learn more about what the hell I'm doing out there in the first day on the trail then I could in a lifetime of reading stories and advice on the internet. What I hope for is that as I learn these things I've got the knowledge, the strength, and the equipment to do something about what I've learned. And if not? That's the scary stuff that I just try not to think too much about. I do after all still have 2 weeks.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Settled In

Very few posts lately. Jill and I moved to a new place last week and organizing all our crap has taken up almost all of my free time.

We've been having great Iditarod Invitational training weather. It's been well below freezing for almost two weeks now and more often then not the wind chill has been well below zero.

With the move my bike commute is now 4 miles each way instead of 1.5. I'm digging the longer ride each day. Tonight I was biking home at about 8:00 pm, the temperature was around 10, and the winds were around 30mph. It should have been miserable but instead I was loving it. There's something very satisfying about being all bundled up in my little cocoon of mittens, parka, goggles, neck gaiter, and ski mask. I don't know that I could ever do the amount of winter biking that Jill does, but my new commute is at least helping me see why one might want to do that.

My training's been going pretty well. I was planning to do 20 miles every day last week, but on Saturday, what was supposed to be the last day, I only made it 6 miles. We had received over a foot of new snow and I spent the whole day unpacking stuff from the move. By the time I finally got out running it was almost dark. I was dragging my sled full of gear through all the new snow and I just didn't feel like being out there for 4 or 5 hours to get in the 20 miles. I spent 90 minutes to do 6 miles and then I called it a day.

January was easily the most ambitous month of training I've ever had. I ran about 430 miles in the month as well as 140 miles of biking and 115 miles of cross country skiing. Hopefully all this volume will pay off in a few weeks.

It's now time to begin tapering down and focus on making sure all my gear is dialed in. I still have a few minor things I want to adjust on my sled and I need to get all my food together. It should be below zero each of the next few nights so I might get out overnight this week too.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

I'm In Wasatch 100

This title pretty much says it all. Today was the lottery and for one of the first times in my life I actually got drawn into something.