Monday, April 28, 2014

Stress and Sneaky Feelings

There is a "sneaky" feeling we all get from time to time.  As children its means taking that extra piece of candy, staying up past bedtime or the first time you're allowed to sit at the grown ups table after dinner.  In those moments it feels as if you got a 1-up on life.  As adults those occasions are rare because sneaky & good generally involves breaking a law or hurting ourselves or others.

Last thursday I tweaked something in my back while bending over to leash my Vizsla for a walk.  I rolled onto the bed and lay in a cold sweat 30 minutes before even thinking about moving.  It was as if someone was pushing a bowling pin out straight through my lower back and I could not do anything to stop them.

Vista the Vizsla
It took an hour to get my phone and a few more to figure out my limitations.  I could move myself with arm strength but any effort to sit up or put any weight on legs meant pain.  It was awful.  I called school, the insurance company, my mom, friends, etc.  The fact was although it felt like the end of the world I in fact was not dying.  An ambulance ride to the ER would be not only expensive but most likely useless.  I spoke to Robert at Southwestern Law school; he was so kind and understanding.  He shared his experience and gave me solid practical advice for which I am very thankful.

In my mind...Alex you are an freaking ultra runner!!! you ran 50 miles a few weeks ago and now you can't tie your shoe?  what happened compadre?  I knew the answer.  Law school finals are here and stress is at its lowest price of the year and dividends are paying out exponentially.  I knew I needed to go in for an adjustment after AR50 (link); but instead I read, read and read some more.  I lagged on taking care of myself and something was bound to happen.  This weekend I missed a family wedding and hanging out with my sister who was visiting front the bay area.

As frustrating as missing events is the worst was being unable to complete small tasks or move.  Heck even sneezing or coughing felt like a round with Mike Tyson.  Lucille was helpful as well.  She crewed for me at my headlands finish and knows my affinity for being an idiot at times in addition to understanding my odd pain scale.  Rather than toughing it out she suggested seeing Dr. Quy to get his opinion and going from there.

After a few phone calls and texts in ALL-CAPS I was able to reach my Chiropractor.  My girlfriend came over after work and upon arrival noticed the glaringly obvious.  There is no way on God's green earth that she could move me to the car.  Thus, I did what any man would do...go for it.

Two seconds later...I was kneeling and hugging a chair with a bear like hug not unlike the collegiate morning after hug of the john.  This "going for it" plan was useless.  I moved a few inches at a time then stopped to catch my breath and push down any yelp that sought to escape.  Christina made the executive decision to drag me.  If someone told me weeks or even years ago, the girl of your dreams will physical drag me a few dozen yards and I will love her more for it I would have laughed in their face.  But, it happened.

Last Semester, Christina reading as I studied in the Library
When I first saw Dr. Quy a few years ago he checked my shoes and immediately told me the reason why I was visiting him.  He is professional and understands athletes and I have the highest regard for his opinion.  Rather than treating my spine like an accordion he sought to release tension and that meant more time hooked up to electrodes than actual cracking.  I was wheeled inside on an office chair and eleven hours after my back seized I was able to finally take my first steps and walk.

As this weekend wore on I felt the childish sneaky feeling.  I got 1-up on life.  Christina did so much for me and throughout remained wonderful and more beautiful than ever.  She kept her cool in the car when my body went weird.  My heart rate shot up and sweat poured down my face as my limbs shook and teeth chattered from the pain and she remained.  She remained and held my hand.

She smiled even though my face grimaced telling me it was going to be ok while stretching my legs out to release some of the pressure, etc., etc.  After a mini lecture about needing to stretch more and being more careful about my health she smiled and still held my hand.

At mass she looked at me and said "I love the whole you, including everything; even if you are an old man."  The Sunday gospel reading was the famous doubting Thomas reading.  It was the reassurance I did not need.

I don't need to ask because I see, I don't need proof because I feel it.  This...we, are a good thing.

My childish grin has not waned since.  Yes, I am sneaky.  I stole this girl's heart and not giving it back.

Monday, April 7, 2014

2014 American River 50 Race Report

American River is the site of my fastest 50 miler (link) and my worst DNF (link) so both close and far from my heart.  I love going back because I feel like a course veteran and lets be honest a sweet Patagonia Running jacket for finishers is pretty awesome.  This year it was a Nine Trails Jacket and it always feels better to wear it because it was earned not purchased. 

I recently picked up a part-time job in my hometown of Monrovia.  I am a law student so finding a job that works with my schedule is near impossible and driving back down to Irvine was not feasible anymore.  My boss accommodated my schedule to work for me so I did not want to miss a shift and leave them out to dry on a busy night.  Thus, a collegiate style road trip would be the play.  Luckily I convinced Christina to come.  

Knowing AR50 this year is part of a building plan for the Angeles Crest 100 I felt confident that I could finish, but in the back of my mind really wanted to push it.  We left Los Angeles around 9:30 pm we drove straight from Folsom.  My friend Kristin who has crewed for me at Headlands & AR50 and just overall awesome came through again in a huge way.  She picked up my race bib and packet a few days before the race and we met up at 4:45 am Saturday morning not only to give me the packet but to crew as well.  Christina drove a heavy (read as: boring) part of the Grapevine so I could sneak in 2 hours of sleep so having Kristin there to help was a lifesaver.

The team was set...Kristen, Christina, Vista & Jazzy made up my sleep deprived enthusiastic crew.  Of course Vista and Jazzy were present for moral support and slobbery kisses but I gotta count them…

Buff Headwear
Oakley Radar
Salomon Men's Exo Wings Twinskin Running Short
Drymax Trail Socks
New Balance MT1010
Hoka Mafate
Ultimate Direction Handhelds (review)
Tailwind Nutrition (review)

GPS Maps
Garmin Link
Strava Link

Start Line - Main Bar (16.98)

In years past the first half was a road marathon followed by the meat grinder (Granite Bay (29.45) to Rattlesnake Bar (40.94)) and then you hoped you saved enough for the 3 mile “Cardiac Hill” climb at the end.  Mid-packers like me could go out quickly and get into good conga lines with faster guys on the back end of the front.  The speeders would drop us during the last 10 but were a huge motivation and help working together through the meat grinder.  The race favored the brave because the road marathon was a steady uphill climb to Beal’s Point where the trail took over.  This year the course favored the intelligent and destroyed the foolish.

The race started on the east bank of Folsom Lake, looped down towards Main Bar.  Miles 6-12 were downhill road and for the fools like me a great way to thrash the quads early (which I of course did).  All info on the race noted runners would see a lot more trail early in the race, so I decided to run in my New Balance MT1010s.  At the start I hustled quickly to get with a good pack so I would not get stranded in no man’s land but I should have been patient.  The MT1010’s were excellent on trails letting me stay light on my feet while providing traction but this was AR50 and there was still plenty of road.  Minimal was a mistake.

By the time I got to the Negro Bar Aid station my feet felt beat and my right foot pinky toe decided that splitting open at the bend was a good thing; needless to say my feet were falling apart in a hurry.  Rather than waiting till Beal’s Point I changed into Hoka Mafate hoping to salvage my feet for the remainder of the run.  I knew then that my pace was too fast to hold onto it for very long and when the pounding my joints had taken came back with cramps I would need extra cushion if I hoped to finish.

Negro Bar (20.18) - Rattlesnake Bar (40.94)

My marathon time was 4:17 which is only a few minutes slower than I ran in the Los Angeles Marathon (link) a few weeks earlier.  Clearly a bad sign especially knowing the tough sections that came on the back end.  I suffered most from Granite Bay to Rattlesnake.  That section, approx. 10 miles, I was getting passed left and right and often had to stop to let other runners pass me.  It was very disheartening to simply not have the legs to keep up.  The lack of sleep and fatigue really set in during that section.  Also, I love technical trails with a light shoe, but the Hoka Mafate protected my feet but also dulled the sensation underfoot.  What resulted was that I became tenuous with my steps and less sure footed further slowing my pace.
Leaving Beal's Point

The section is known as the “meat grinder” is tricky because its beautiful but the moment you stop paying attention to your footing you go down in an epic way.

I'll admit I did ask for Glenfiddich for my water bottles at Horseshoe Bar (38.14) and that got a few volunteers smiling.  Seeing them laugh was nice because the day had heated up for everyone and they worked so hard to keep all of us healthy and hydrated.

From Horseshoe Bar to Rattlesnake Bar I was pretty low on myself.  My nutrition, 200 calories of Tailwind Nutrition, per bottle and one bottle per hour kept my energy steady but my muscles just were not doing what my brain asked.  At one point a cramp turned my leg slamming my knee right into a rock. I fell a few times and anything more than a shuffle caused my hamstrings to throb.  I had an overwhelming sense of self doubt and darkness.  I tried to talk myself out of it but as various packs of runners passed me all I could think about was how I was unable to keep up despite my steady energy...the legs felt smashed and I could not do anything about it.

Dowdins Post (43.92) - Finish (50)

I am normally not a favor-asker when I pray because I have been given so much its almost unfair of me to ask for more.  But mile 43.92 (Dowdin’s Post Aid Station) I knew this was crunch time and if there was going to be a "back from the dead moment" it was there.  My internal dialogue went from a pep talk to a chastisement.  

All day my crew was solid.  The longest I spent in an aid station was 3 minutes while changing shoes.  My nutrition was on point and suffered no energy lulls note lightheadedness.  Sure I was beat, tired, sore and fatigued but if you aren’t then you’re not doing ultra marathons right.  How fortunate am I that I get to complain about running on beautiful trails with really nice people on a beautiful day?  I mean come on, how dare I.

I asked Our Lady of Guadalupe to help a brown man out.  I remember saying…Mother Mary please tell your son to let my cramps go away and let me finish this thing up, I know I am not high on the priority list but I really would appreciate the help if you have a spare second.  I started to pray the Ave Maria (in latin) and my leg seized up…I stopped hobbled, then bagan to pray in spanish and things loosened up.  I chuckled and everything got better.  My legs hurt but it was not unbearable, I was able to shuffle along consistently.  

I tried talking to other runners going up cardiac hill, heck I even saw a guy from Headlands 100 on the way up, he ran a huge chunk of it and looked like a stud.  I got super excited to see folks smiling knowing that the end was near.  The Last Gasp aid station (47.56) I was able to sponge some of the sweat off that was by this point white dust on my face making my eyes burn.  That ice cold sponge was heaven.  I managed to jog the last few hundred yards and teared up as complete strangers cheered for me and encouraged me to get past the finish line...

my prayer was answered…my muscle cramps did not vanish but the cramp that prevented me from smiling sure did.

Official Finish Time - 9:58:00