Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Pittsfield Peaks Ultramarathon June 14th - 54 miles 14,000 feet of elevation gain

Anticipation day

It was Friday morning and I felt like a kid on the last day of school, full with anticipation of what was to come, excited and eager to play for the summer. I was ready and packed. My calf tear had healed nicely from late April. In terms of long runs since the injury all I had gotten were three long runs two 20s and one 33 miler all on road, but the foundation had been laid previously. I had run a total of 5 miles for the week.
Kevin and I had a slice each at Joe's Pizzeria in New Canaan just before departure. The tank was full. I checked my emails a last time and found a race update from Andy Weinberg (RD) and a course condition update from Sherpa John. The start had been updated to a 5:00am start to give us more light. Sherpa John's course update gave me pause:

"Course Conditions from Sherpa John on Friday morning:
Special Thanks to my group of fellow Trail Markers Jeff Waldron, Nate Sanel, Brenda Caldwell-Phillips, Dot Helling and special guest David Cristof form the Czech Republic. You all want to know how the trails are and we can certainly tell you. Expect to get PLENTY muddy on the Blood Root Loop and during short sections of the course like Hayes Brook and other low lying poor drainage areas. The mud on Blood Root is pretty deep in places and unavoidable. It WILL be there on race day. This also happens to be the kind of mud with an oily residue floating on top and smells like methane. :) You'll love it! Also, the stinging nettle is out there... and its out there for about 3 to 4 miles. It ranges from ankle to knee high! You won't notice the stuff and it'll drive you crazy with wanting to itch it. Do yourself a favor and bring a bandanna along to wash your legs off to remove the sting. Ignore this tip of advice and you'll surely pay. So... you WILL get wet, you WILL get muddy and you WILL itch like hell.... PERFECT! See you there!"

Would I love methane......?

My oldest son Henry (8) had been complaining of a sore throat in the morning and my wife thought it would be a good idea to take him to the doctor for a check up since strep throat had been reported at school. At the doctor's a standard throat culture was taken and I would find out around 1:00pm about the result. I would be on my way to Pittsfield by that time. You always worry about your kids.

Kevin, my crew chief who will assist me on my 200 mile attempt in November in the same area, was on time as usual. I could tell he was excited too. It was just him and I going up to Vermont. Never let go of the child inside of you. We were like two kids going on an adventure. Kevin an EMT volunteer has been by my side (on a bike) training for this event. All of my training runs (long and short) had started at around 10:30 pm to accommodate a "normal" family life. Kevin is a no nonsense type of guy but at the same time gentle when necessary, in other words the ultimate go-to crew guy.

On our drive up to Vermont we were laughing and discussing final strategy tweaks. We stopped at a supermarket to buy some video tape for my camera and I bought Kevin as a token of appreciation, a signal orange fly swat for the black flies and mosquitoes that we would encounter. I had made Kevin a spreadsheet with ETAs for the various aid stations, questions he needed to ask me each time and what he should supply me with. With ignorance at the helm I took a stab at my target time which was 12:20 a time that was not to happen...
We stopped at Dunking Dounuts in Windsor to supply Kevin with coffee. I had gone cold turkey two weeks ago and was tempted to give in. I needed the maximum caffeine boost on race day. While Kevin was ordering I noticed a grandmother with her grand child being in distress. The girl was panting like a dog and I turned to Kevin and said "Kevin I think you should take a look at her". Kevin's EMT instincts kicked into high gear. His gentle approach with the girl calmed her down. She had asthma. Kevin ran to get his stethoscope while I tried as best as I could to keep her calm. She was scared and did not know why this was happening to her.

After listening to the girls lungs Kevin thought it would be prudent to take her to the hospital. The wheezing sound of her lungs called for additional help. Kevin called 911 and the police was there in minutes and shortly thereafter the ambulance came. She needed to go to the hospital. The mother who was working at Dunkin Donuts at the time was in tears but we assured her that her daughter was in good hands. We hope everything went well with her. The police officer thanked us and insisted that he would pay for the coffee and not Kevin. The police officer told the cashier to hand the money back to Kevin and said jokingly to her "let me pay or I will arrest you!", we all laughed and said farewell to each other. A good deed done!

We continued our drive and it was time to call the pediatrician to find out about Henry's throat culture. It was positive and a prescription had been called in to the local pharmacy. My boy had strep. Henry seldom get sick. Kevin said he'll be fine in no time. Shortly thereafter Kevin's cell phone rings and his wife tells him that Tim Russert, the well respected political analyst had just unexpectedly died. Tim Russert, in my eyes a straight shooting, right to the point, no fluff, no "read between the lines type of guy" was gone at the age of 58! I couldn't believe it! We were both stunned.

As we approached Vermont the green mountains and lakes provided a sense of calmness that to a degree was soothing the news of the day.


As we entered the quiet town of Pittsfield we looked up on either side of the road seeing nothing but green covered mountains. It was a beautiful site. The general store where the registration was taking place was a place where I'd like to go every day to buy my groceries. The wonderful various smells of food, old wood flooring and it's personal ambiance is something that is missing in today's suburbia, a place where people congregate and share the news.

We located Aimee farms where the start would take place and the spot were we could raise our tent. As we navigate down a 3 foot drop in the dirt I jokingly tell Kevin that at last he gets to ride his SUV off road (after 100,000 miles).
After finally figuring out where the tent supports go (read rookies), we make our way to register for the race at the general store. I thoroughly enjoy the smaller venues much more so compared to giant races (anywhere from 1,000 up to 35,000 people). It's much more personal, intimate and you feel like a family. You'll share the race memories like you would with your family. I got to meet the Andy Weinberg (RD), Sherpa John and the rest of the contestants. What a group of nice guys and gals!

We make it back to our tent and make our last call home to our families and start the final prep for race day. I typically do not sleep much the night before the race and this time was no different. We both fell a sleep at 11:00pm.

Initiation Day

At 02:30am my near bursting bladder woke me up. The ultimate alarm bell. I quietly made it out of the tent with my head light on. Everyone else seemed to be still sleeping. It was only 2 1/2 hours to race start. Most of my ironman races people are already up and have finished their breakfast. I like this. Ultra people know how to stay patient and conserve energy for a long day that lies ahead. I made it quietly back into the tent and briefly laid down to try to focus at the task at hand. Then I put my racing clothes on. I would wear lyme green gaiters to match Time For Lyme's logo colors and my shoes even had the lyme green color. They sure stood out and would be helpful aid to locate me if I got lost.

Facing my fears of running in tall grass was part of it. Ticks. It's like falling off a horse you have to get back up again. Deet, the tick repellent, which I do not like (ask Kevin) would be a part of the preventative measures as well as tick checks. The repellent would go on my clothes and not on my skin. I had my compression calf socks on that reached just below my knees would provide added protection plus help me with the stinging nettles. A tick should not deter me from enjoying the outdoors. Prevention is key!

Running on "real trails" would be a first for me. Uneven footing, mud, water obstacles, rocks and with added weight close to 3 lbs would soon test my legs for the next 54 miles. I was excited no doubt about it but at the same time I was a bit nervous. How would my feet, ankles, calves and quads fair? All unanswered questions soon to be met with a dose of reality.

At 3:00am Kevin's alarm goes off! It was an alarm alright! Kevin who seemed to have gotten the same amount of sleep as I got to work right away. He made two cups of coffee and oatmeal with brown sugar, blueberries, cranberries and honey! Room service galore! As daylight approached we could see a camp fire being lit up at the starting line. We were only a few hundred yards away. The temps would rise quickly and so was the humidity.

This race was going to serve as a recognizance for my upcoming 200 miler in November. Part of the course (the now infamous Bloodroot leg) would be used for the PP54 but run in the opposite direction.

The course basically consisted out of four different sections each one with it's own degree of difficulty and characteristics.

Section 1 - The Overture - Contest trail to aid station mile 12

Five minutes prior to race start approximately 70 eager runners move towards the starting line which was drawn in the gravel road by the RD's heel. We were told by the RD to look for painted money stones which if found had to be carried to the finish to be redeemed for cash. I thought jokingly, ok I will probably see a million dollar monolith out there early on but in hindsight even if the rock weighed two pounds and if found early in the race I probably would have had serious problems getting it to the finish in time for the 24 hour cutoff.
A calm low key start took place. No frantic ironman start in the water.

The first section started out with a gentle climb with a breathtaking view only to culminate with a steep section which I have probably never encountered before in my entire life. It was short but long enough to make me worry of what was in store for the other sections. It is only the beginning and am am already thinking about stopping to catch my breath. My groins were now already shot (mile 6!) from all the lateral movements running down hill. Something I will train on. I started thinking about football drills where you move laterally with you hands up. I must do that before November! I thought to myself it's time to stay patient and not to burn out early. My strategy was to walk as soon as my heart rate hit 150 bpm knowingly with cardiac drift it would end up slightly higher. I also tried to start running just before the crest because it would eventually flatten out if the terrain was followed by a flat section or drop if I was going down hill. At every turn I consciously to choose the shortest point. It all adds up especially in an ultra.

As I was climbing I decided to take pictures along the course. Needless to say not too many pictures were taken after mile 18 I was too busy focusing at the task at hand.

Coming into mile 12 aid station I felt fresh. Kevin gave me a new set of bottles with 250 calories each and two gels. He asked how my feet felt and I said fine but my groins weren't. I had carefully planned my calorie intake with a gel every 30 minutes and a full bottle every hour which would give me 450 cal per hour. This is what my body is trained to take in more is a real challenge for when running or biking. According to my calculations this would all be ending up with a deficit of 750 calories if I hit the targeted finish time. There would be two times where I would eat also a Cliff bar (230 cal) at mile 18 and at mile 38. I had a plan but it was soon about to encounter a major mishap...

Section 2 - The Temptation - Hayes Brook - to aid station mile 18

By now the field had started to spread out and I felt that I was running mostly by myself. This section was very tempting to speed up on but I kept thinking about the challenging Bloodroot loop where I had planned to switch from handheld bottles to a Camelbak hydration system simply because it could hold more and this section was an 18 mile loop with a couple of remote aids stations.

The Hayes Brook section was probably one of the "easier" parts of the whole course but tempting enough to run fast to potentially ruin the rest of the day. I came into the aid station to see Kevin yet again. I was still feeling fresh and pleased with my nutritional strategy up to this point (mile 18). This time I sat down to change socks, Vaseline my feet again and switch to the Camelbak. I ate my Cliffbar. Transitioning has always been my weakness and this race was no exception but I did not want to go out forgetting something and pay a dear price for it. I timed myself at every aids station to analyze it later and hopefully learn how to cut the time down. Total rest at the aids stations turned out to be 61 minutes. This time should be cut in half at least!

Section 3 - The Bonk - Bloodroot - to aid station mile 38

Out I went and I started to feel confident about my nutritional strategy which is basically everything in an endurance race. The first few miles felt easy. When I took my first sip out of my Camelbak I tasted only water. I thought for a second that the powder must have sunk to the bottom so I started massaging the hydration bladder while running. I took another zip, water taste yet again and then another zip - H2O only! I had forgotten to put my mix in. I felt I had gone far enough where I could not turn back (hindsight I should have).

I had 6 gels (600 calories) and water in the tank for the next 18 miles, add some Gatorade and bananas which would amount to some 200-300 calories from aids stations on this section. My back pack was to be loaded with 750 calories plus the 600 from gels and add a couple of hundred calories from the aids stations. The planned total for the 18 mile section would be around 1,600 calories. I was now dealing with half the amount of calories. Ok I said to myself try to eat as much as possible at each aid station but the deficit had already started to set in on my first real climb. I have a hard time eating solid food when running. The heat and humidity was relentless but I was bothered more so by the humidity (read 90%). I was sweating profusely and I began to worry about my salt depletion. Instead of taking one salt tablett every hour I now took one just after 30 minutes of the prior one.

The first real climb went on and on. There would be 25-30 yard climbs only to be met with a disappointing 5-6 foot plateau as rest and then again another climb. It went on and on and on. It did test your patience for sure. With a mountain full of leaves it just hard to see the end. You had to say to yourself ok let's make it to the next plateau let's not worry about the end because it might just disappoint you again and get the better of you. Just before the summit I looked at my hands and they looked like Nathans hot dogs, swollen, retained by water. Too much salt I thought and decided to hold off for the next two hours. From here on I kept rubbing my finger tips feeling for signs of a return to normal skin tension.

As I greeted the nice and friendly volunteers at the aid station I emptied my Camelback which contained pure water and replaced it with Gatorade. I had a piece of a banana a few bites of a small apple. It's especially hard trying to eat something directly after a climb. Fluids are much easier in my opinion. A woman from Colorado came up just behind me asking for salt tablets. She had no problem with the climbing but the humidity was something new for her as Colorado air is bone dry. I gladly gave her a few salt tablets. I said thank you to the aidsstation peopke and left for next aid station at mile 33.

After a "nice descent" for a change it was time to start climbing yet again this in combination with stinging nettles and mud swamps. I ran as gingerly as I possibly could, stepping strategically on chunks of grass that could reduce the amount of mud seeping into my shoes. My feet are my investment for the race I kept thinking treat them as nicely as possible. These hills were relentless. The black flies started to follow me and my arm swing got more erratic. The mosquitoes were less aggressive. Time to press on. I meet up with another runner who has removed his t shirt, it was hot and the humidity was still zapping your energy. Soon thereafter I heard a group of guys behind us and it was Sherpa John and company. I asked him when I could expect the next aid station to show up and he responded "we are almost there". I started thinking about my kids "are we there yet?".

I tried to hang behind the boys but by now I was starting to bonk, loosing energy every minute due to my mishap of failing to add my energy powder into my camelbak. I had to get to the next aid station to get more food in my system. My 6 gels were long gone and I needed something to eat. I met up with the young guns at the aid station only to see them leave shortly thereafter. I refilled my hydration pack, had a luke warm cup of Coke and ate a few banana halves. It was time to get to the major aid station at mile 38 where Kevin was waiting with fresh supplies. "Only" five miles away. I looked at my watch and my altimeter indicated that I had only climbed 7,000 feet of the total 14,000. Time for a reality check. I knew the last section was designed to make you earn every step and to keep you honest.

The descent to the mile 38 aid station was a never ending story. My quads were taking a real nice beating and my toes started to hit the front of my shoes. Zig zagging down to reduce the quad beating and the blistering from getting worse. I was starting to get slightly lightheaded on the descent. I needed more food. I took out my forgotten candy treat, Swedish fish and licorice to tie me over until I got back to the aids station. The candy was simple sugars but it gave me a small boost of energy to get me to the aid station for refueling. My skin had now returned back to normal.

As I entered the aid station with great relief I told Kevin that the descent had given me a blister on my right toe next to the big toe and it needed to be lanced. He took a safety pin which he heated up to sterilize prior to lancing. I like to watch the fountain of fluid relieving the pressure. After some liquid band aid I put on a new pair of tetrasoks accompanied by a dry pair of shoes. I gulped an entire bottle of my crucial hydration mix at the aids station and a whole Cliffbar. I needed to regain my energy but as you all know the catching up on calories is tough part you need to slow down. I changed back to the two handheld bottles and a light fanny pack stuffed with gels. I had enjoyed the chair and Kevin kept telling it was time to go. I had spent 29 minutes at the aid station. I could have stayed longer easily.

Section 4 - Time to close the deal - Finishing

I felt cold and donned a long sleeve t-shirt. I also put my headlight on I was afraid that I might be out there when it got dark. I had no idea. It looked like I had a fair amount to climb still according to my watch. I left the aid station somewhat stiff but my mood was still intact I was having fun despite the mishap with the nutrition. My mood is my best gauge. Most ironman races I have done in the end I start asking myself why I am doing this but this race was different I was joking with people but suffering at the same time. This section has some really challenging and hard climbs that will play tricks with you mentally. It is one thing to be able to see the peak, pick a small target to reach half way and pace yourself thereafter but yet again the leafy woods and winding terrain made it hard to see the end. It will be hard to remember all the turns for next years race.

Just before mile 44 I took two other runners down for a 1/4 mile detour. We were running down hill and should have made a sharp left turn instead we all were zoning out but I felt responsible being in front and apologized for a climb that we didn't need every step counted and was felt. We hiked back up and lost maybe a 1/4 mile. Many climbs consisted of frequent up again down again and so forth. It jerked you back and forth and tested your mental fortitude. I still think if I would have seen the top afar I could have gauged my approach better but this made it very difficult. I met up with my recently acquainted good friend yet again who was climbing better than I was but I seemed to have more legs going down hill. He was still suffering from this years McNaughton 100 miler.

On the descent from Joe's Hill I could hear but not see the loud speaker at the finishing line. I said to myself "ok let's squeeze out the last you have in your quads and make a run for it" but at the bottom I saw an arrow pointing upwards. I said "you've got to be kidding me!". After the climb and another descent I saw another arrow and I said "let me guess it's going UP!" The next comment when another uphill showed up was "unbelievable when will it end..." and that was when I stopped saying anything because I started to sound like Jack Nicholson in "The Shining". I said this self talk will serve no purpose, stay focused and don't say anything and maybe, maybe you will not jinx it.

The thunderstorms had moved in and all I was praying for was no mudslides please. I finally made it down to the river in valley and over the bridge I ran. The final stretch was on an open field with a freshly mowed lane directing me to Aimee farms. The finishers ahead of me cheered me on and it felt fantastic. Running a big race your just a number but here you are family! I had just found another love in sports.

I finally made it, Team TFL made it! A final tick check and no ticks! Yes!
Simply put this was the most fun I have ever had in an endurance race. Some 8,000 calories later I was home. I gave Kevin a big high five and thanked him for a stellar job. All said and done this was a good primer and a break out workout for what's to come.
Next stop August a 24 hour solo run at New Canaan High.

The fun has just begun.....

There is hope!
Support Lyme Research
Team TFL - Nov. 6th, 2008
200 Mile Ultramarathon


ri said...

Hey Carl-

Great race report! Good running with you.

Good Luck in your 24hr run. Hope to see you in November.


"Sherpa" John Lacroix said...

Good work Carl!

ultrastevep said...

Hi Carl...

Great report, like reliving every painful moment ;-)
We actually ran together quite a bit, I remember those black compression socks with the yellow gaitors.

Keep up the good work!