Scatter my ashes here...

Scatter my ashes here...
scatter my ashes in the desert...

Monday, August 30, 2010

Nirvana at Night: Lean Horse 100

Final score: Argyle Road 100, Alene's feet -4 toenails in overtime, 28 hours, 22 minutes.

I had to run the Lean Horse 100. It's inexpensive, it's close to home, it has the same climate and terrain as Fort Collins, I know a lot of the runners who were there, the time of year is perfect, and I needed a training run for Across the Years. Mission Accomplished.

By the time I reached the finish line twenty-eight hours and twenty-two minutes later, my feet had been screaming expletives at me with every step since about mile 80. Ask my feet if they needed it.

But the real outcome of this race was that I was once again reminded of why I do ultras, despite the temporary pain like sore feet. Running through the trees and scenery of the Black Hills, and through the moonlight at night, is the ultimate high. And the Mickelson Trail is the perfect place to do that.

Overall it was a fun time and everything you could want in a 100 miler was there. It wasn't my best race, not by far, but it was one of those gems, low-key, easy on the budget, great scenery, nice course.

Holley Lange from Fort Collins was running the 100, and Doug and Marji Nash were coming up to help both of us. The plan was for Doug and Marji to crew for me from the 16 mile point until about halfway when Doug would begin pacing Holley, and Marji would crew for me throughout the night.

The way things worked out, Holley ended up having muscle problems that resulted in a painful 45 degree lean, and at about halfway she decided it was enough, a wise decision. Marji gave Doug and Holley a ride back to Custer, where Holley found a ride back to Hot Springs so she could go back to her motel room. Doug ended up crewing with Marji all night and then he paced me down the last 16 mile Argyle Road stretch in the morning.

Another nice thing about Lean Horse is the reasonable 6 am start time. It's always great to get a decent night's sleep before the race. I need that.

I appreciate so much that Jerry, the race director, kept the pre-race briefing short and to the point. It lasted no more than about 20 minutes. There is nothing worse than pre-race events that go on for hours when all you want to do is eat and finish preparing for the long day ahead.

The pre-race dinner was a little disappointing, but it is a low key event. They had only hamburgers, bratwurst, and potato salad loaded with mayonnaise. None of those things are appealing to me anyway, but especially not the night before a race. I choked down a dry hamburger and then walked across the street to the grocery store and bought a couple of frozen pasta dinners to heat up in my motel room microwave. Ugh.

Hot Springs doesn't have much for restaurants, there was a Pizza Hut, a Subway, a Dairy Queen, and a few little mom & pop places.

I saw a lot of runners I knew at this race, and I met a few for the first time. I saw Badwater/Across the Years runners Dan, Jamie, and Dave. Pat and Karen were there, along with Steph, my super alpha crew chief at Badwater. Karen was running and Pat and Steph were crewing for her.

I also saw Brad, who reads my blog and was running his first 100 at Lean Horse. He ended up having an outrageously great race, finished 5th overall in about 20 ours. Way to go Brad! Congratulations! I saw him around halfway during the race and he had his son with him, and he looked fantastic. Mike from Fort Collins finished 3rd, and I haven't met him yet, but congratulations.

I met Fuzz from Oregon for the first time, whom I know only from the ultra list. I met Bob, who was paced by my friend Cat at this year's Grand Mesa 100. And I met Ray.

I first met Ray around 15 miles on the Argyle Road, he was chasing butterflies. I threatened him. I said if you're not careful, you'll end up in my blog as "The Butterfly Man". But I had several conversations with Ray during the race as we leapfrogged each other. Turns out Ray has not only had a lifelong interest in butterflies, but more recently has developed an interest in tree farming.

We talked about trees from our respective parts of the country, the Southwest and Pacific Northwest. Ray has a tree farm on Vashon Island in Washington, on family property. You never know what conversations you might have with other runners in these events. Meeting Ray was one of the highlights of my race, because it's always fun to talk about mutual interests and things you would never imagine talking about during a 100 mile race.

It was a great day. The weekend before the race it had been 100 degrees in Hot Springs, the day before the race it was 101 degrees, and on race day we had cloud cover for the first two hours and the temperature never got much above 90 degrees even on the hottest part of the course. It rained in the evening and cooled things down.

The only glitch I noticed in the whole race was in the morning, 10 miles in, at the Morph aid station. About a dozen of us showed up there at the same time. No crews are allowed on the first 16 mile stretch which includes the Argyle Road. It was already getting hot and the aid station had no ice, which was concerning. All they had was warm powerade and warm water. They were out of water in their coolers and were refilling them as we all stood there. They seemed a little unprepared.

Other than that the aid stations were great, the volunteers were helpful and enthusiastic throughout the course.

I started out with a plan: I wanted to see if I could finish under 26 hours by pacing myself to go to halfway in 12 hours. I got to 25 miles in 5:52 and 50 miles in 12:05. Might have been a little too fast given the heat of the day. If it was a good day, and all went well, I know I could have done 26 or better. It was a little hotter than I anticipated, but I could have avoided some of the suffering by planning a little better.

The lessons will be repeated until they are learned. It was warm, and I didn't cover myself from the sun with my jacket during the heat of the day, which might have contributed to my lack of appetite. I did wear tons of ice on my neck and my hat and sunscreen, but the clouds make you think it's not as sunny and hot as it really is. I ate two sandwiches in the morning but all afternoon I struggled with taking in calories, it was just too hot to be interested in food. As a result, I was playing catch up with my blood sugar for most of the second half of the race.

My hydration was perfect, I did my usual ice topped with gatorade and a salt stick capsule in each bottle until night time when I started getting sodium from the chicken broth in the soup at the aid stations.

The one thing different about this race was that I never slept. Usually I take a nap, but I never reached that weaving, inefficient place where I am dead on my feet. I was drinking Starbucks frappucino and double shot drinks from about mile 50 on for my main source of calories. Liquid was the only thing I could deal with in the second half. I ate a lot of shot blocks too.

Around halfway I had grabbed a baggie full of cantaloupe and strawberries from my cooler and then picked up a banana at the aid station. After eating all that fruit I felt nauseated from about mile 50 to 60. It eventually passed but I couldn't deal with solid food anymore.

The middle section of the course was beautiful, between Custer and Hill City. Also there was a view from the trail of the Crazy Horse memorial.

One thing I noticed during the heat of the day were the signs warning of rattlesnakes along the side of the trail. I also saw a "Danger Buffalo" sign. I thought of this on the way back in, in the evening because it would be warm, but the rain kept the critters away.

During the night I saw the horse poop, a few times there were stepped-on road apples that looked like tarantulas, and the crickets in the grass sounded like rattlesnakes. But I swear I wasn't hallucinating.

I completely enjoyed the course, especially the part at night, going down the trail in the darkness, only with moonlight and stars in between the dark spaces of clouds, the big black shadows of ponderosa pines, smelling the trees and rain, seeing the moonlit meadows and beaver ponds, and listening to trance music on my MP3 player as I powerwalked the Mickelson trail.

I think it was nirvana, or heaven, or something, from about mile 55 through 75 in the darkness. I didn't use my lights hardly at all, and I reached that place that is why I do ultras. That feeling of being out there under the stars, moving forward, with music, like a dance. It doesn't get any better than that.

I did try sleeping at mile 80 at the Lime Kiln road aid station, but after climbing in the back of Doug and Marji's Ford Explorer, five minutes passed and I realized I wasn't going to sleep, so I got up and went on.

It did rain off and on at night but only enough to cool things down, never enough to get soaked or have to put on heavy rain gear. It also cut down on the dust on the Argyle Road the next morning.

What I didn't count on was the impact the Argyle Road would have on my pavement trained, dirt and rock-naive feet. I've been training almost exclusively on pavement for the past year, since my sprained ankle mishap last August. I did do a few Rock Repeat runs on the dirt road, which helped for the hills. My muscles and joints felt good and I am not sore anywhere except for my feet.

Since Doug wasn't pacing Holley as we planned, I asked him if he'd like to pace me down the Argyle Road starting at mile 83. It was a good thing because my feet started hurting around mile 80 and once we made the transition from the soft Mickelson Trail surface to the gravelly, hard-packed dirt of the Argyle Road, it was excruciating.

Every time we made the transition from going uphill to downhill and then back up again, cresting a hill and bottoming out on the endless repetitive hills of that road, the muscles and tendons on the front of my lower shins, and the surface of my feet, were screaming. The pain only compared with my foot pain at Badwater.

The bottoms of my feet felt like I jumped up and down with my full body weight, plus a couple of 50 pound dumbbells, on top of spikes for 28 hours. Every step was painful, and I wasn't the only one suffering. I had gaiters and my shoes stayed gravel-free, enough that I never had to take off my shoes.

Going down the Argyle road in the morning, there were several runners who were having to dump out their shoes and then deal with the nearly impossible task of getting them back on, and getting started again. I tried not to stop at all once we hit the Argyle Road.

At the Morph aid station at 90 miles I saw Fuzz. His eyes were wide open and he was drinking a beer! He offered it to me, but I said no. Soon he came flying by me and finished about an hour ahead of me.

It warmed up in the morning, but I was hurting too much to notice the heat. I couldn't manage running very well even when I reached the finish line. I could not wait to get off my feet.

By the end I had a huge blood blister on my left heel, a smaller one on my left big toe, a few little friction blisters on top of my toes, heat rash, and a hugely swollen left ankle. I had taped my right foot because of my peroneal tendon which has been bothering me, and my right foot looked 1000 percent better than my left foot. I should have taped both feet.

I am also going to lose 4 toenails. Less weight to carry.

Doug and Marji were a fantastic crew, and I was so glad they were out there. We sat there at a table in the post-race party, and Fuzz joined us, there was more leftover food from the pre-race dinner. Even as hungry as I was, I couldn't stomach the two day old bratwurst they were serving. I got some fruit and my belt buckle, said goodbye to people, and went back to the room to put my feet up while Doug and Marji unloaded my stuff into my car.

I got my training run for Across the Years. I plan to take it easy in September and then hit it hard again throughout the fall into Across the Years. As much as my feet hurt from Lean Horse, I imagine I'll be back, it's too convenient and close to home to not run this race.

Sunday I took a long nap in the afternoon. After that I went for a short drive around sunset to Wind Cave National Park and the wildlife are amazing. I saw buffalo, antelope, deer, elk, wild turkeys, and beautiful views of the Black Hills.

Monday morning I drove home to Fort Collins, and now I can start paying back the sleep bank and resting my feet before I go back to work Wednesday!


SteveQ said...

Your description of the race has me thinking that maybe - just maybe - I could do that race well some day. If I hadn't driven 13 hours to get to the start, hadn't slept (sorta) in the car, had eaten properly, and maybe had a few of the clouds you got, I might've made it to nightfall.

Nicely done! Losing toenails in those last 20 miles notwithstanding, sounds like you had a great time out there.

grrlpup said...

Congratulations, and thanks for posting this! I have my eye on Lean Horse for a first 100 in a year or two. It looks beautiful. :)

Alene Gone Bad said...

Lean Horse is one of those that every ultrarunner should do at least once. The scenery is worth it, as is Jerry's low-key approach to the race. Personally I'd prefer any race without a circus atmosphere, but Lean Horse is one of those well-kept secrets.

Good luck when you do go there.

mike_hinterberg said...

Great job, photos, and writeup! You missed China Buffet (AYCE) in your restuarant list -- for better or for worse!

SteveQ, definitely run it!

Alene Gone Bad said...

Thanks Mike! Congratulations on such a fantastic race! CHina Buffet? Maybe next time...

I hope to see you on the trails/roads around here!

Brad said...

Alene- thanks for the inspiration. You helped give me the mental game of my fist 100 and I found one of those rare moments in life where everything is perfect while surrounded by family, freinds and peers. Seeing you when I was heading UP to crazy horse was a nice boost.-Brad

Alene Gone Bad said...

Brad, congratulations on such a great race. I am glad you had one of those moments. I hope I'll run into you again soon, but for now, rest, recover, stare at the belt buckle- yes it's real-and enjoy the memories!

Alan Barnes said...

Great job! I was there (bib #4) and your description was right on. My feet are still recovering. Note to self: wear trail shoes next time.

Alene Gone Bad said...

Great job Alan! Wear something- steel soles might work. My ankles are finally back to normal size today and I can see the tendons in my feet again. That only took 4 days!

Mark Berry said...

Really enjoyed reading your posting on Lean Horse. I was there, running my first 50 mile race. Same experience - nauseating heat, deceptive clouds, and a brutalizing Argyle Road. Your pictures were beautiful and reinforced my commitment to run the 100 mile race this year. Thanks!