Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Laurel Highlands Ultra

Just one week after the Dirty Kanza 200 and with the body still recovering, I was on the start line for the Laurel Highlands Ultra(what could possibly go wrong?).  This is a 70.5 mile foot race on the Laurel Highlands hiking trail starting in Ohiopyle and going to a bit north of Johnstown.  With me were Doug Ulishney, Jerry Agin(5 time 70 mile finisher), Kat Salerno and Jon Wright (figuratively.  they were on ahead at their checkpoints).

I had organized the relay team and took on the first leg of the race which is also the toughest.    It had several rocky climbs and was 19 miles long.  The morning started off extremely foggy, particularly at the higher elevations.  Dropping Kristen's car off at the 19 mile checkpoint and then continuing on to the start area was an adventure.  After leaving the car where we were pretty sure we were supposed to, we got into Ohiopyle and got everything ready.
I'd only gotten about 5 hours of sleep the night before and I thought that was a bit on the short side until Kristen told me she only got 3.  Wow, I must've overslept.  I don't like getting caught up in traffic at these things so I started near the front.  One thing I've found is that I have to be very careful not to start out too fast.  19 miles is a long way, by far my longest run ever having only started out in this game less than 11 months ago.  After the initial jump off the line in which I led for the first 20 meters(just to say I led the race at one point), I settled down into a comfortable running pace.  Before long we hit the trail proper and we climbed the steps off the fire road and it was time to start the real 19 mile segment.

I haven't done many very long races, the longest being the Fools 25K in April.  There I went out way to fast and posted what would have been a pretty good 5K time for me at the 3.2 mile checkpoint.  This time, I forced myself to let the runners who were just ahead of me to go and concentrate on my pace.  3.5 miles in, I was holding down 10 minute miles on what was very difficult terrain.  It wasn't made any easier with the light misting we were experiencing.  It made for some slick descents and rocks and the log bridges over streams were absolutely treacherous.  Step wrong and you were sliding right off.  Kristen had started in the 70 mile race but didn't expect to get all of it.  I figured maybe I could act as a pacer and keep things at a pace that wasn't too fast though that was more for me than her.  Starting the first major climb at 6.5 miles, I experienced my first issue.  My left knee and leg which I thought was recovered from the previous week, apparently wasn't.  I felt some tightness and had to let Kristen and a few others with us past.  I tried walking with them but knew to do so would hurt me later so I maintained what I could to the top.  Passing the 8 miles point was almost depressing as I did that little thing called math and realized I was on a slow day and it wasn't going to get any easier.   I wasn't even half way too!

One of the things I love about running trails is when you are out in the woods and often the only thing you hear is the wind, maybe some animals moving about and the footsteps of yourself and maybe the other person you might be running with.  Here, I would hear the voices of runners either in front of me or behind me and was finding it distracting as I was really trying to find that zone.  Hearing the voices from the 11 mile checkpoint as they cheered runners coming in didn't make it any easier.  I heard them from almost a mile out and it just seemed like it took forever to get there.  Upon arriving, I found a chair and a handful of orange pieces.  One of the volunteers got me some ginger ale which really seems to do it for me in these events.  After taking the few minutes break, I got up and moving again.  I was going ok for the first couple miles when the knee started having it's say again.  This time it was talking to me in unison with the ankle, big toe(victim of about 12 rock kickings) and the hip and none of them were happy.   One other runner took a quick stop to pop some endurolyte caplets and an advil.  I don't like taking these particularly during races but I was desperate.  He gave me one and I continued on.  It did seem to help the pain but I wasn't getting any faster.  I'd missed the 13 mile marker in my misery and this just seemed to compound everything as I couldn't believe just how long it was taking to get to the marker.  Finally, I came upon the 14 and I felt a bit of relief as I wasn't going as slow as I was thinking I was.

One last climb at about the 18 mile point was my final test.  I got passed by a guy who I'd beaten at a trail half the previous fall who recognized me and said hi.  I tried to force myself along to keep with the group.  Somewhere along the way, they got off trail and as I was a bit behind, I didn't miss the trail markers.  I made it in and did the handoff to our 2nd runner who shot out of the checkpoint.  From there, I hobbled over to the aid station and as I was climbing up to the roadway, I saw the group that missed the turn coming into the checkpoint area.  Well, I got past someone there at least.

After recharging a bit with some food and drink, I hopped in the car and got to the 3rd checkpoint.  There I met up with Jerry and Kat.  I was feeling cold and dehydrated so I was eating and drinking more while there.   I also had Kristen's stuff for the checkpoint too.  The watermelon/pineapple drink she'd mixed up looked really tempting but she needed it for her race.  After a bit, Doug came flying into the checkpoint area which was really unexpected as his announced antipated time was 2:30 and he came in at 1:55.  Off Jerry went and after talking a bit, Kat left for the next checkpoint while we waited for Kristen.  When she came in, she said she was done.  She'd been running up in the lead of the race but without the necessary miles of preparation she wisely called the attempt off and walked it in to the checkpoint.  We go Doug back to his car and while I went up to the checkpoint, Kristen took a break to sit in the Yough after dropping me off at my car back at the start area.  I made my way up to the 3rd checkpoint and was there for a while when our friend Tiffany and her son came in to wait with us.  Her husband was running the full 70 and had some issues at the previous checkpoint and she seemed a bit worried as he'd slowed down some.  After Kristen came in, I stayed a bit longer but had to head to the 4th checkpoint.  I got there and found Jon waiting for me with his wife.  I got him his number and we went in and met up with Jerry and were chatting a bit.  All the driving around I had done so far really began to show just how long this race was for the people doing the entire distance.

Once Kat came in, Jon bolted off.  She ran a really good leg of the race and Jon was intent on  trying to finish before dark.  He took a light just in case though.  After waiting at the checkpoint a bit longer and with Kat and Jerry looking to head back to the burgh, we decided to head on to the finish area.  We saw Tiffany coming into the checkpoint and it was sounding like Dave was going better once he got some real food in him.  It was good that he was going to be able to finish. 

We got to the finish area and they had a good food booth with some awesome veggie chili.  That took the edge of the hunger I was experiencing.  The fruit and other snacks really weren't cutting it anymore.  We also split one of the Sam Smiths Raspberry Ales we brought.which really tasted good.  After a bit, our 2nd leg man, Doug arrived back to await Jon's arrival.  We were chatting a bit with his wife and suddenly about 20 minutes before we were expecting him in, he came charging in.  After my crappy showing in the first leg, we wound up recovering to pull out a 4th overall in the mixed relay.  We were pretty happy with that as we'd all agreed before the race that we were running with no ambitions.  In the end, we all had a lot of fun and are already talking about doing it again next year.  I want a shorter leg though. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Dirty Kanza 200 - an interesting kind of hell!

(Photos courtesy of Art Bates unless otherwise noted)

I did a quick jaunt out to Kansas this past weekend. This was the first time out for the Dirty Kanza 200 for me. I've done several other rides a few which were much longer than the Kanza but they certainly weren't the same in the category of toughness. For one, I was only riding those others, not racing(Well, I was racing the clock, just not other racers).
Art Bates and me before the start.  Art was of immeasurable help to me for this race! I'm hoping he'll be able to make it next year!

One last text to Kristen.

The Kanza was definitely a tough race. The starting field was around 650. The race started out and I got comfortable up near the front. After some miles, we finally got a few little pops up hills. I was still near the front so things were looking good to me. Kansas, to us western Pennsylvanians, has a bit of a rep as being a flat state, and is very deceptively so. There were actually some very long stepping climbs later in the race that just seemed to go on for ever. what made them tough was the fact that quite often, you were riding into a headwind on them. On one stretch seemed like it was 15 miles long of severe head/cross winds. A bit over 20 miles into the race, I had my derailler overshift into the wheel. I saved it but spokes were damaged and the derailler was severely bent. in my haste to turn the bike into a single speed, I cracked the chain tool bit so that wasn't an option. from there, I bent the derailler back into shape with my hands doing the fine point tweaks with the leatherman tool that a friend had given to me a few years ago. That took me around 15 minutes. Lots of people had passed me by that point. I was then back on the bike and I'd gone into pursuit mode. Since I had my clipons on, i was able to hunker down on the bars and after a short windy climb, I steered into a tailwind and it was like I was shot out of a cannon.
I was blowing past group after group. Unfortunately, I had my head down and missed a turn. Dammit! I went off course for a bit more than a couple of miles. When I realized that I didn't see the small group I was chasing, I knew something was wrong. I turned around and traced back to where I had been and found the turn. I went back into pursuit mode. I came into the first checkpoint somewhere well past 100th place. I took on more food and liquids. In the back of my head, something was telling me to just replace the rear wheel. and of course, I didn't listen to myself. about mile 70, I started to feel it begin to disintegrate. One spoke had definitely broken and a couple others had loosened. I lightened up on the effort as this was also one of the very long headwind sections. I got in with a group and had to be patient riding it in to the 100 mile checkpoint. Art, who was my support person, later said it looked like I'd lost some ground and was still sitting well more than 100 back. Thankfully he didn't tell me that then. He was thinking I was in the running for a very long and disappointing day. I'd actually considered quitting because I wasn't sure how long my derailler would hold up and I was feeling a bit tired and demoralized but I thought about it and told myself 'Art drove all the way out with me to act as my support crew, so I'm not allowed to quit. He's came out here for the full experience just like I did so I have to finish this thing no matter what.' Before I'd gotten there, I was going to give him a call on the phone to have him get the spare wheel ready, but the terrain was just too rough and my hands weren't working well enough to pull the phone out of my stuffed pockets. It only added a minute or two til he got the tire pumped up and I got it on the bike.
Getting the ship righted for the third leg.
People were taking extended breaks at the checkpoint that time though. I jumped back on the bike and taking a few extra big chugs of water, some endurolyte caplets and a couple Raw Rev energy bars. The start of the 3rd leg saw us on a long straightaway. There were some rollercoaster hills after a bit but to that point, I was rolling the bike along at around 58Kmh(I'd reset my computer for a different wheelsize and missed that it was on the metric setting. Oopsie. It did give my mind something to do by having to convert it though). The clipons really helped in this section. I was flying past people at between 5 to 10 miles per hour faster. On a few of the sections I hit 74Kmh per hour and it was enough to allow me to loop over the tops of the rollercoasters going more than 35Kmh. I felt like superman when I'd hit the tops of these little hills and be sailing past people like they were just out on a casual ride. Then all of a sudden, it was back into the headwind after a turn. this went on for about 25 miles.I dropped groups as well as had some pull me back too. One group that was riding the race together was the Chamois Butter team. We wound up picking up rider after rider and suddenly we had 15-20 riders together. At one point, we saw a train coming and did the sprint and just beat the rail crossing bar coming down. Not long after that, we were riding up a section of the road when we came upon Selene Yeager coming back in our direction at the head of a dozen riders looking like a woman possessed. I'd seen that look from her before a few years back when she blew past our group at the Iron Cross race. Yep, We'd missed a turn. We got swung around and quickly caught up to her group and then after making the turn back on the course, we started a climb again. Selene blasted away solo(brave woman) and we had to let her go. We'd started the climb with a group of around 25 or 30 but the the time we'd hit the top after several miles of steps, it had gotten whittled down to a dozen. After that, we returned to the pace we'd been on and at mile 145, we hit actual road again. A few of us jumped and we were off and flying away. I went back into pursuit mode of a few other riders including one of the women's riders(Monica Sattler) who was quite fast. She'd gone with 3 others and was flying. I chased hard and nearly caught them as we passed even more riders from behind. Suddenly we were back into a town for the checkpoint. Art was taking pics and talking with another support person when I appeared heading into the support area. I caught him totally by surprise here.. He told the other person 'holy crap, my rider is here. I can't believe it!' and started hauling it over to the support area.  From his rough count, I was between 25th and 30th overall. I got refuelded and dumped off some extra garbage (I don't toss my gel packets or other garbage), gulped down some more of water and endurolyte tablets, took a few for the road, got another Raw Rev bar, snack and took off to go thru the last checkpoint.
Third Checkpoint and still holding it together.
It was another fast start and I was able to catch a few more but the last guy I was chasing on that section, I just couldn't close the gap as we'd started into some climbing. I formed up with a small group and was able to stay with them but now I was suffering from the earlier efforts. My left knee and ankle were also hurting because the egg beater pedals just didn't have the play that my classic Sampson Stratics did on my road bike. After a bit I realized they were pushing too fast for me and on the top of a steep pitch, I had to let them go since I couldn't use my bottom gear(39x26) and had to settle with a 23. I continued on solo and took a nature break when I saw the gap was big enough to do so without anyone happening along and seeing me. I was telling myself to do that at the checkpoint, but decided against it as there might have been a line and I didn't want to have to deal with it. Now the cramps were forcing me to. When I got back on, I saw a small group coming up to me. It was the Chamois Butter boys again. They kept such a smooth pace going, that it really helped me out. I'd drop at the tops of the climbs but I was still rolling the bike well on flats and downhills so I was able to come back. They were making it look good with their very steady efforts. I was able to ride with them til the 310Km point where my knee and ankle finally said to let them go. They were hurting just too much on the climbs to push it so I did what was best for the body. Shortly after that, the terrain flattened out as we were on the run in to the finish.
On the run in to the finish (photo by Kyle Thompson)
I had only one more rider catch me from behind and he got past me. My mind was fixated after that and was thinking 'None shall pass!' (Bonus points if you know the source) I made one final wrong turn into someones driveway and it allowed 2 more to catch me so I figured I'd ride the final couple miles in with them. Riding through the campus of Emporia State University, we all 3 did a fist bump to congratulate each other for making it but there was still a bit more unfinished business: the sprint. One of the others started the move down the final straightaway, but at a point, I lit the jets with everything I had left and held it for the final 200 meters. They tried catching the wheel, but there was nothing happening there. I had to do a very fast screeching halt at the finish as there was maybe 50 yards between the finish line and the final checkpoint and I had hit the line doing over 50Kph. Once there, I was able to get off the bike and immediately collapsed.
We couldn't let it go and just ride it in, now could we?
Art was there and got my bike over to a courtesy station by the ambulance as they wanted me to just make sure I was ok. He really did a great job and topped the day off by having a birch beer ready to go for me at the finish! That probably was one of the best parts of the day. After recovering some then collapsing on the sidewalk to rest more and I got myself over to the massage tents. There, I'd gotten one of the most amazing post race massages I'd ever gotten. Art and I started going over the race and how it went. The massage therapist, who was from Ireland, was very knowledgeable about cycling (we had our same favorites in Sean Kelly and shared a bit of a dislike for Stephen Roche - the conversation bounced around quite a bit, eh?) also was in the conversation. Apparently, I'd surprised the hell out of him on the last 2 segments. I'd recovered from total disaster to finish 36th(15th in 40-49 group) overall. I got my ride time a bit mixed up as my computer was only recording ride time so I was disappointed to see my time about 30 minutes more than what I thought it was. Those initial lost 20+ minutes for the mechanicals, then the later repairs(total repair time 37 minutes) and wrong turns seemed so precious now as I would have spent far more time in the first 100 miles with a group than how I wound up doing it. That could have meant huge wads of time saved overall. In the end, I was pleased with the effort and even happier that I didn't give up. After the race we were originally going to go to a camp ground but seeing my condition and the weather, Art, wisely told me we were staying at a hotel. We got cleaned up and headed back to town to check results and get something to eat then. I was hurting pretty bad. I couldn't do a full extension on the left knee so it made walking through town a bit difficult. The atmosphere was pretty cool and there were still lots of people there around 11pm. After a bit, we went back to the hotel where I collapsed and was asleep within minutes. I didn't even drink any of the Sam Smith's that I'd brought with me. The next morning, walking to get some coffee, I felt like I was completely drunk. I couldn't walk a straight line. After going to the awards breakfast and picking up my finishers pint glass, I was also given a bottle of wine too! The people out in Emporia were amazingly hospitable. It's a cool smaller town (they reaallly do need an Italian restaurant there - business opportunity anyone out there?) and this event is one of the highlights of their year. I did get one of the Race the Sun prints that were made for the first 250 people to come in before sunset at 8:42PM. Once I got some food in me and had been walking around and talking with a few others, I began to feel better. From there, it was the long drive home. We stopped every couple hours to stretch our legs and I did a few stints behind the wheel. We got back in at 3:15am and then took a few things I needed with me and drove home. Talking and texting with Kristen through the day seemed to have fueled her ambitions and she's determined to go next year. She's certainly capable of doing well there. For myself, after having another day to reflect on everything, I've got the tools to do a good race here. I've got a great support crewman in Art too! Who knows, maybe next year a win? I'm not interested in just finishing well. How long will it take for me to recoup from this? It might actually be quicker than I thought. It's Monday morning, I'm walking normally again and though I feel tired, I figure I'll be fine before Thursday. Then Saturday, I am doing the Laurel Highlands Ultra 70 Mile relay. I'm running the first leg of 19 miles. That screw on the road you saw a couple miles back, I think was the one that dropped out of my head.