American River 50-mile 2014: a smarter race - It was my 95th ultra since 2006 and 7th consecutive American River, although I had miserable asthma crisis in the first editions which I have been thankful...
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
This past weekend I returned to Florida to attempt my third straight Keys 100. I had managed to buckle the race in 2008 and 2009 and was hoping to earn my third buckle in the third year of the race.
After touching down Thursday in Fort Lauderdale, I drove to Miami and checked in my hotel - trying to work while reading race updates from the 24 Hour World Running Championships till 2:00 am. Then on Friday morning I went into my company's Miami office for awhile to get some work down. I like to get there a couple times a year at a minimum, but other travel had kept me away for well over a year so this was a good chance to reconnect with colleagues.
Afterwards I started to drive north (yup, not south to the Keys) to West Palm airport to pick up Bob Cicalese. Bob was a friend that I had met on an ultrarunning e-mail exchange called the UltraListServ. About 6 weeks ago or so he and his family were in California on holiday and I took him on a couple training runs. During one such run I suggested he consider Keys 50 as a good warm-up for Vermont 100 which we are both entered to run. Later, I upped the suggestion and said he should consider doing the Keys 100 instead as it is plenty of time to recover for Vermont (July) and any mileage he gets will be a great base for Vermont. I also promised him that if he did, we would toe the line together and I would help pace him to his first ever 100 finish and buckle. I could see this thought taking root in his mind ......similar to the way visions of a sweet young White House intern takes root in Bill Clinton's mind. Soon he embraced the concept, was hooked and in. So I had someone to run the Keys 100 with from start to finish....so I thought.
Anyway, after sitting in traffic for an hour, finally got Bob at West Palm and we began a comical drive to the Keys. There are toll roads (a bit foreign concept for a California driver) but I had driven them before so thought I knew where to go. But once we went through the Sunpass/pre-paid lane by mistake (without any such pass we thought until a call to the rental car company confirmed the license plate did the same thing) and once a slight wrong turn ended us up in a neighborhood of Miami that was not on any tourist destination maps. We locked our car doors and got the heck out of that part of town before were became extras in CSI Miami.
We finally made it to Highway 1 and drove past Florida City through the Everglades. I kept seeing signs announcing Croc Crossings yet never saw any gators. Bob and I were running a tad bit late so we drove straight to race check-in and the pre-race meeting. This year it was in a community center.
The check-in was very organized and we got our bags and numbers rather quickly. I managed to meet some fellow ultra friends and runners such as Christian Griffith from Atlanta, Bill Andrews (he and I did Badwater together and based upon advice we received from DC at ZombieRunner, walked the first two miles of BW together - he was also at AR 50 with me as well as Barkley) and Molly Sheridan. Bill was the guest speaker at the race meeting speaking on the very interesting topic of life extension through telomere extension (being a science major in undergrad and overall a geek - I truly enjoyed his topic that has led to 3 Nobel prizes....for more info go here: Sierra Sciences ). Bill's speach had as a central point that exercise helped slow the aging process and that extreme exercise had the best effect at slowing aging.....for some coincidental reason he had a receptive audience to hear this message.
Race director and friend Bob Becker did a great job opening the meeting and describing the event and answering questions.
It was during this meeting that a thought hatched in my head....it was one of those "OMG you are such a dumbshi!!" thoughts. This year, the Keys 100 allowed non-crewed runners. This means runners who opted for this more challenging race format would not have a car driven along them with a crew handing them supplies...instead drop-bags would be placed for them about 10 miles apart. Bob and I were non-crewed. Also meaning (dumshi!!) that the car would not be at the finish line 100 miles later! We scrambled trying to see how we could get our car down there when these super nice distributors of this new vitamin and antioxidant drink called (click here to go to their site) Yoli offered to drive the car and have it waiting for us in Key West. That was a relief. By the way, the Yoli drink is quite good and tasty - I joked I would mix the citrus flavor with vodka. You should give it a try.
So Bob and I headed back to the hotel and checked in. A quick bite to eat (where Bob watched his Flyers win game 7 of the Stanley Cup playoffs) and then back to the hotel. We spent about an hour or so organizing drop bags and contents. We decided that for the first 50 miles we would drop one at Mile 20, one at 40 and one at 50. Then after that every 10 miles. 50 miles drop was our biggest drop with the later ones having nighttime gear and supplies. Then it was off to bed.
The alarm went off a bit too early it seemed (thanks to some partying kids) but we were up and soon out the door to the starting line. We parked the car grabbed our bags and headed to check-in. Our friends from Yoli were checking us in so we gave them the keys. Then I proceeded to put our drop bags in the right boxes: 20 mile drop bag in the box reading MM 20; 70 mile drop bag in box reading "MM 70" and so on. This little instance would revisit us later.
Bob and I started walking to the starting line and as soon as we got there heard "One minute to go". Wow! Time flies when you are running late! We barely had time to wish each other luck when we were off. The 2010 Keys 100 had begun.
I had told Bob that we should follow advice I received from DC for Badwater. We walk the first two miles. After that we would develop a run/walk strategy and suggest 10 minutes running & 2 minutes walking through mile 25. Then we would see how we were doing and continue at that pace or adjust the run time down and walk time up. He agreed. But after 12 minutes of walking we said...OK let's start the 10 and 2.
During the early part of the race we came across some runners we knew such as Bill Andrews, Molly Sheridan, Christian Griffith and Bry Gardner. We chatted a bit with them but soon various race strategies spread us out and Bob and I were just two guys running our race.
The 10 and 2 was working quite well and pretty soon we came to the first ice and water stop for non-crewed runners (each spaced 10 miles apart...or so). I had already developed a hot spot on the bottom of my right foot. Bob was also developing a blister. So we took some time and tended to those. After refueling and re-hydrating, we were off.
By Mile 20, the sun was definitely up and I had put on my Moebens, OR sun hat and my Kool scarf (hollow so it can be filled with ice). Bob had a tank top on and a visor type cap. Pretty soon I could tell the sun beating on his head was getting to him. Somewhere around mile 22 he spotted a small white hand towel on the ground. He grabbed it, shook it off and plopped it on his head under the visor - presto: a sun hat! Bob swears that lucky towel saved his race for him.
Soon we were slowing a bit. The 10 minute runs were decreasing and the 2 minute walks stretching a bit longer but I told Bob we didn't care - we would take a little more time during the heat and recoup it as the day cooled down later. At the marathon check-in we found out we weren't exactly in last place (barely) so that made us happy. We grabbed more ice and water were soon out on the hot road again.
The Keys 100 follows Highway 1 down the Overseas Highway to Key West. That means bridges...alot of bridges. I enjoy the bridges. My first year at Keys I saw porpoise, turtles, a barracuda, and a lot of other fish. Last year I saw turtles. This year I saw one turtle, a bunch of sting ray, and one barracuda (it really is in the two photos below but I can't find it).
As Bob and I continued to run we approached mile 30 and I noticed my lower back was tightening up a bit and my piriformis was flaring up. My piriformis was what knocked me out of Rocky Raccoon 100 at mile 80. Damn - this is not good. I massaged it as we ran and walked. We would stop and stretch also. About this time the temps were definitely hotter and Bob, who had spent his last 6 weeks of heat training in the highs of 45 degrees F in Philly was not a happy camper. I could tell he was wondering why he ever listened to me when I suggested the Keys 100...that sweet young White House intern was beginning to look a bit more like Hillary on a real rough day.
I happened to glance at my watch that has a thermometer - a cool 100 degrees F! After the race I have heard reports that temps hit the 90's in the shade and 108 on the asphalt. Not quite Badwater but neither was it the Antarctic marathon. On the bridges it was cooler....but some of these bridges seemed to never end:
As we neared mile 30 my back and piriformis were really tight. At home I use a Physical Therapy ball (or a kid's T-ball ball) to massage the piriformis in my glute. But here no such items were lying along the Overseas Highway. There were however coconuts. So I grabbed a small baby one (already hollowed out by crabs) and brought it with me to the drop bag station. There I sat down and used the coconut to knead and massage the tight piriformis muscle to relieve the pressure on my sciatica.
Bob and I got our drop bag and Bob noticed that they were mile 70 bags. Damn! How did I screw that up? Then we realized that the boxes I put the bags in were marked for Mile Markers. The Overseas Highway has a mile marker in descending order down to MM zero in Key west. So we were 30 miles into our race....but at Mile Marker 70. I had put in our 70 miles bags into MM70 box meaning all our drop bags for later in the race were actually spread out earlier in the race!!!!
The two volunteers told us we weren't the only idiots (well I wasn't since it was my mistake). The volunteer Marshall would take our bags and would drop them off as he made it down to Mile 70 at MM30. That was a relief. So we refueled (I opened a packet of tuna fish and shared it with Bob).
Soon we were shuffling down the road in some of the hottest parts of the day. When there was cloud cover I didn't think it was too bad...and when there was cloud cover and the cross or tail winds it was actually nice in my opinion. Bob thought it was simply brutal. I am not sure, but I would think at times it was hotter than 2009 (not sure about 2008 as that was HOT) but at other times the weather was actually pretty conducive to a fast time (for someone else).
Well, we hit that stretch between mile 30 and 40 that included bridges. I really enjoyed this and kept trying to push the pace as much as possible. After stopping to get more ice and water at mile marker 60 (mile 40) we pressed on. This stretch had a lot of telephone poles. I made a deal with Bob. We run one length then we walk one length. Then repeat. We kept this up for some time and I could see us recovering some time.
At one point we were side-by-side and heard a honking. Through-out the day cars had honked either cheered at us or shouted stuff like "Get running!". This time it was a motorcycle driven by a cool biker dude while his girlfriend/wife/sister/mom flashing us her boobs as they sped by. We both chuckled at this and yelled a quick "thank you" as we moved on down the road.
But then tragedy hit.....the BIKE PATH!!!!!! The bike path has been for me one of the worst parts of the race. It is down off the side of the road pretty sheltered. There is no wind, no water, no nice view, nothing. And it goes on and on and on. Time stands still. Tree sloths have been known to commit suicide from boredom there. Jewelery melts and drips to the ground from the heat. Satan needs a iced tea when he visits it. The path is made of the melted soles of prior runners. Etc.
Anyway, we entered the depths of Hades....I mean the bike path and continued our march and that is what we did. Except for a few short bursts of slow jogs, we were in power marching time. Simply going forward with deliberate strong and fast steps.
After what seemed like an eternity we exited the path to Marathon. Marathon was the location of the mid-way point. Bob and I caught another runner and the three of us moved toward the 50 mile check-in at the Marathon airport. The other runner told us he was done and dropping for the day. Bob and I grabbed our gear and took a good 20 minutes resting, stretching, refueling, and hydrating. I also took that opportunity to apply a crap-load of Hydropel to chafing that was developing in places no human should ever be chafed.
Then we were off again. We headed to the next little challenge - the Seven Mile Bridge. The sun was starting to set so Bob and I put on our reflector vests and donned headlights and flashlights. Bob had loaned me a blinkie light but that popped off my vest and shattered on the ground so we went on without (sorry RD Bob Becker....we improvised with swinging the flashlight back and forth).
As we continued over the bridge the temps definitely cooled and Philly Bob was getting back into his element. I mentioned to him that once we hit the top we should run down the other side. So we did. Maybe we shouldn't have. By the bottom of the bridges "hill" my legs were tired, bottom of feet sore and my back was killing me. But we kept going, taking a couple rest stops to stretch on the side of the bridge.
Once we were on the other side we began looking for Mile Marker 60 and our next drop bag. There we found it and settled down into a couple of chairs as we chatted with the two volunteers who were crewing it. They were nice and one, a reporter, started interviewing us on the spot. After a bit we were off again and moving down toward Big Pine key - home of the endangered Key Deer. Last year I had seen one Key Deer, the previous year none. This year I clearly saw two Key Deer eating and near the end saw a herd of them consisting of about 10 deer in the brush on the side of the road....only their eyes visible reflecting our head lamps. Both Bob and I were actually feeling pretty good at this point and were picking up our pace (not actually running mind you but power marching at a good clip).
The miles seemed to pass and now it was my turn to get a second wind. Bob was attempting to sleep walk - that is he kept right on moving but would shut his eyes for a couple seconds at a time. Usually I do the same thing and this year I really thought sleep deprivation would be bad for me (especially after staying up till about 2 in the morning Friday watching the 24 hour running championship updates). But this time I never really had a strong urge to fall asleep. So I kept pushing reminding Bob we had to keep going.
About this time I started doing math. I would tell Bob - OK we are at this distance at this time. If we average 15 minute miles, we still have a 27 hour. If we average 20 minute miles around 30 hours, etc. He kept saying OK. Our goal was never to allow our cushion between a finish time and the 32 hour cut-off fall beneath one hour.
Soon we reached mile 70 at mile marker 30. To my surprise it was being crewed by Will, one of my crew members from my 2009 Keys 100. He commented that I looked a lot better than I did in 2009.....wow I must have looked like a corpse in 2009!!!!
Bob and I kept moving. All the time I kept telling Bob that if we do X pace we should finish at Y time. After awhile Bob seemed to move ahead of me. Either I was slowing, he was speeding up or he just got tired of hearing my mental calculations. By mile 75 my back was killing me. Bob got there a minute before me, but as we agreed, we were just going to blitz this stop to make up time so he just barely stopped.
But when I got there I had to stop and stretch. I tried to take some aspirin for my back. But it dissolved instantly on my tongue and when I went to swallow it got stuck and started burning. Next thing I knew I was throwing up. Tim a volunteer tried to help me. I must admit I felt so disgruntled with my aching back and slowing pace I probably was not the most appreciative. But I tried to thank him and move on.
Bob had, per our plan, kept going. I didn't think I could catch back up with my lower back cramping up but I kept trying. After two miles I stopped on the steps of a store and stretched some more - using a round rock as a massage ball. I kept the rock and ended up using it probably 8 of the next 12 miles. I was now on my own as there was no chance of me catching Bob - and I was thankful he did what I had told him to do "Keep going and get your buckle if I can't keep up."
Soon with the sun lighting up the morning sky, I hit Mile 80. Mile 80 is a major mile for me in 100's. It gives me a mental boost knowing I only have to take a step and then I have less than 20 miles to go. So that is what I did. I took one more step so I had less than 20 miles to the finish......and then dropped to the ground and stretched out. Tim from mile 75 was there dropping off some drop bags and he asked if he could do anything. I told him my piriformis was killing me but that there wasn't anything he could do. So I got up and put my power walk into high gear so that I was averaging around 17 minute miles. I kept power marching, dropping to the side of the road and stretching my back and massaging my piriformis. The miles came and went....slowly. But I was moving closer to the finish line.
Around mile 86 or 87 the skies opened up. I was along a bike path and the rain was coming down so heavy. The wind was blowing the rain so hard it actually plugged up my ear like I had just been swimming. But it felt GOOD! I actually started running again. The cool water made my legs feel better and actually seemed to help my back. But the heavy shoes were not helping my feet.
As the rains cleared the humidity from the evaporating water increased. I kept moving but was being passed by runners every so often. All were very friendly and supportive. I began to think that I might get the DFL award! This award, for being the Dead F____ing Last runner to officially cross would be a new one for me....but so well earned.
As we approached the Naval Air Station we began to climb what appeared to be Mount Everest (funny.....as tough as this "mountain" seemed at the time, as we later drove out of Key West I couldn't even find an incline there). The heat was very high and all my heat gear was on again. But finally, around Mile 94 of the race, I stepped on the Bridge leading to Key West.
I had about 3 hours and 20 minutes to go 6 miles. At 20 minute miles that would be just right - but way to close for comfort so I tried to push the pace. Soon I was off the bridge and onto Key West.....but that stretch along the road to town seemed to go on and on and my back was really killing me. The bottom of my feet were sore too....I think from the rain water.
Anyway, soon the golf course appeared and finally a Mile Marker 4 sign. I turned the corner and saw the sea wall ahead. I had plans and intentions to run the last 3 miles, but instead I immediately sat on the side walk and stretched. I stayed there for about 5 minutes stretching my back and piriformis.
Finally I stood up and started a slow jog along the beach wall. I jogged and power walked until Mile Marker 2. Then I just sat on the wall to catch my breath. A truck stopped and two runners who had finished the relay the previous day jumped out and asked me if I wanted some company for the final stretch. I accepted and we joked and talked as I did a very slow walk towards what seemed like a very distant finish line.
Finally, 31 hours and 10 minutes later I crossed the finish line to claim my third straight Keys 100 buckle - the only person with all 3! Bob was there full of praise. He had finished his first 100 miler more than an hour earlier cracking the 30 hour barrier!
So we cheered on a few more finishers (there went my DFL award) and then headed back to the hotel in our rental car that was so kindly driven 100 miles for us by the cool Yoli crew! We missed the awards ceremony but showered and caught about 2 hours of sleep. I treated my blisters (not too bad this year):
Then we went to Duvall street for some food. Neither of us were feeling great but I managed to down some conch fritters and have an alcoholic slurpie.
The next day we raced back to Fort Lauderdale to catch our mutual flights home. All in all it was awesome ....painful...hot....humid....painful.....but awesome! Now that my hat trick is complete....my goal is to Four-peat in 2011!!!