Monday, July 27, 2015

Zeroing in

I saw a hematologist on Friday morning.  He asked hundreds of questions it seemed.  He pored laboriously through my prior labs.  He put me on a table and found every lymph node in my body. I'm still sore from that part of the exam. He even confirmed that I'm developing a right side inguinal hernia, which I had suspected earlier in the year after I felt some mild pain after heavy squatting.  And, he prescribed a lot more tests.  Because I hadn't had any food yet that day, he decided to add an iron absorption test, which requires that the patient be fasting.

Basically, they measured my iron by taking blood.  They then had be drink a large quantity of iron in a liquid form, and come back two hours later to see how well my gut was absorbing the iron.  This was apparently the only test result that came back on Friday and I got a long phone message from the doctor.

He told me that my starting iron level should have been 35-100 or so (I think this is micro-grams per deciliter, but the units are kind of irrelevant here).  But, my starting level was 16.  So, despite an iron storage protein level indicating that I am storing plenty of iron, my blood is clearly low in iron.

He also told me that he expected the big dose of iron to push my level to the 100-150 range.  Instead, it went to 18 - barely budging.

This means that something is going on in my small intestine, preventing me from absorbing dietary iron.

So, I have to go to the clinic this week and get an intravenous iron infusion.  And, I'll get more results today.

Based on what I've read and one of the tests the doctor performed on Friday, I'm guessing that we will find that the cause of the anemia is that I've developed celiac disease, which seems to be a common reason for this problem.

If that is the case, I have to start imagining a life without pizza, bread, and beer and a whole lot of other things that are quite tasty (cookies, for example).

But, I'm getting ahead of myself here, and I need to let the doctor do his work.  I am very happy about the iron infusion.  It will be nice to finally receive some treatment rather than just tests.

I've obviously stopped taking the iron pills, since my body clearly cannot absorb it anyway.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A sudden turnaround

Last Saturday, I felt terrible and basically napped most of the day.  My wife and I had gone to visit her parents, and I had to apologize for how I felt and not being able to stay awake.  I did manage to sit down and eat dinner that night though, which I haven't been able to do much recently.  Well, I usually eat something, but it's rarely the meal that's been prepared.  I think I ate a salad for the first time in a month.  This time of year, I am usually eating multiple salads every day, but my appetite has been so messed up, that I have just stayed away from most vegetables for the past month.

Sunday, I felt a little better, but still rested a lot to make sure I'd get through the Neil Young show.  Monday, despite a short night of sleep after the show, I felt the best I've felt in a month.  But, it was just one good day, and I've had lots of decent days in the past couple months, only to feel terrible the next day.

I even thought about doing CrossFit on Monday, but my wife was exhausted and just wanted to go home after work.  I didn't want to try a workout enough to argue with her.

Tuesday, I felt pretty good again.  Two days in a row!  The only downside is that it was a hot and humid day.  I walked for about 1.5 miles at lunch and I was tired after that.  My wife went to CrossFit that night, but I didn't want to try a workout in the heat.

Yesterday (Wednesday), I felt decent again.  This was really encouraging - three consecutive days of feeling decent.  So, I decided to try CrossFit.

The warm-up involved some shoulder mobility work, jumping air squats and 2x100 run.  I was amazed that I could breathe OK on the runs.  That alone was a huge change.  A month ago, despite losing body weight, I was out of breath on even the shortest, slowest runs.  That seems to have changed.

The strength workout was 10 rounds of 5 strict presses and 10-20 sit-ups.  I opted for only 7 sit-ups and I kept the weights light on the strict presses - 65#-80#.  A few months ago, I would have done this workout at 95#-110#.  But, I want to ease back in and not get sick again.  As it was, 4 sets at 80# was pretty much my limit.

After the lifting portion of the workout, we had a 10 minute workout.  My goal was max reps of 1) 10 ball slams (20# - very light for me) and 2) 50 single-under rope jumps.  I got six rounds plus 10 more ball slams.  I had gotten tired during the workout, but I did OK.

Tonight, we get to choose our own movements, and I plan to do some rowing, pull-ups, push-ups, and deadlifts - all at an easy level.

And then, I can hopefully go to the hematologist tomorrow and tell him that things seem to be improving.  I'd still like to understand what caused this, but a permanent recovery is more important to me than knowing why it happened.                                                                                                                                                

Monday, July 20, 2015

Beyond Frustrated

Thursday around noon, I got a call from the hospital where I get my primary health care.  They needed me to come in the next day to see a doctor.  It was important and related to the lab tests I'd had the previous Friday.

I agreed to be there, but the tone of voice and urgency put me on edge.  They made it sound like something new had been found that required immediate intervention.  So, for 27 hours, I worried.  A lot.

At the appointment, which was with a doctor I have worked with professionally, but whom I'd never seen as a patient, I was confused.  After the preliminaries were out of the way, the doctor sat down and said "So, what can I do for you?"  I told him that the hospital had scheduled the appointment and I assumed he knew what it was about.  I told him about the anemia diagnosis and assumed the visit was related.

He said it sounded like I needed some lab work.  I told him that had been done a week ago.  Quickly, he pulled up my lab results and we looked at them together.  The one odd thing is that my iron levels are fine.  I am right near the top end of the normal range.  So, he said while I am very anemic (hemoglobin of 9.3, with a reference range of 13.5-17.5, and my last test in April was in the high 17's), it didn't appear to be iron-deficiency anemia.  Nonetheless, he didn't want to contradict another provider, so he wants me to continue with the iron supplements.  To be honest, that seems dangerous to me.

However, unlike my former primary care doc, he recognized that this was out of his league, and he referred me to a hematologist.  I see that doctor this coming Friday.

I first noted (in my training log) that I was feeling bad on May 4th.  I've gradually gotten worse by then, a very steady down slope.  I've lost 30 pounds.  In early June, my primary care doc didn't want to do any blood work, although a very basic blood panel would have shown the anemia.  Finally, in July, he had to do the blood work.  I can only assume my hemoglobin has been dropping this entire time and it may still be dropping.  So, eleven weeks after this all started, I still don't have a complete diagnosis, I have no reason to believe it's not getting worse, and I've had no treatment at all.

My hemoglobin level is at a level where the anemia is considered moderate.  If I drop to 8, the rules all change, as I would cross into the "severe" level.  Hopefully, I won't have to worry about that, but it would be nice to have a full diagnosis and some sort of progress towards recovery.


Yesterday, my wife and I saw Neil Young here in Vermont.  It was a great show - some songs from his new album and a whole lot of classics.  He started out acoustic and solo, and after 4 songs, his band joined in.  He stayed acoustic until about the mid-point of the show and then switched to an electric guitar.  It was his first show in Vermont since he played as part of a group in 1965.  That band played one night at a nightclub near Killington and was not invited to return.  This return, almost 50 years later, was very successful.

The only downside was being tired.  I essentially napped all day just so I'd have energy to get through the show.

I might have written this before, but I honestly feel like I aged 20 years in 2 weeks and it's not getting better.  When Neil sang "Old Man" last night, I was standing there, feeling a lot like an old man.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A partial answer - at least

Iron Deficiency Anemia.

That's what my doctor told me on the phone yesterday after looking at my lab results.  I had told him in the office on Friday that I thought there was no chance that I had anemia, because my hemoglobin levels were on the high end of normal before I gave blood last time.

As soon as he told me what was causing my symptoms, I wanted to know why, and here the conversation turned somber.  Iron Deficiency Anemia in men is rare and it is usually associated with internal bleeding.  That internal bleeding is often caused by serious upper or lower GI issues, including gastric cancers and colon cancer, along with ulcers and lesions and other less severe causes.  But, it's rare in men - about 2% of the population.  My doctor told me I needed a colonoscopy very soon.

I mentioned to my doctor that I had done a double red blood cell donation in late April (4/21), and asked if it was possibly related to what is going on.  I told him that I haven't had one good workout since I donated blood, and the other symptoms started to show up about 2 weeks later.

He said that I should have been able to recover from the donation, but with all the stress in my life, and trying to push hard at the gym, maybe my body just couldn't recover.  So, he told me to hold off on the colonoscopy.  I told him that I'd prefer to get it done anyway, and I'd schedule it on my own.  While it's entirely possible that the blood cell donation triggered this, it still seems unlikely that I'm the one exception to the rule about the cause of iron deficiency anemia in men.  So, it seems smart to get the colonoscopy done.  If that is clean, maybe I'll need an upper GI too.

So, I'm taking an iron supplement.  I should be able to work out within a week or two if things go well.  If I don't get better, that's another sign that there is some internal bleeding occurring somewhere.

The other thing that alarmed the doctor was a high C-Reactive Protein result.  This test should have a result less than 1.  I've heard of ultra-runners having levels over 20,000 after a 100 miler, leading doctors to think they'd had a heart attack.

CRP is a measure of inflammation in the body, but it's non-specific.  It doesn't tell you where the problem is.  At levels above 3, it is associated with higher cardiovascular health risks.  My value was 13.

So, I'm going to take iron for 2 weeks.  Retest iron levels, hemoglobin levels, reticulocyte count, and CRP, along with a complete blood count.

If the numbers all improve, we might have found the solution.  If not, there's more digging to be done.  But, I think it's important here to not just treat the problem, but to also find the underlying cause of what's going on.

I'm scheduled to do another double red cell donation on 8/11.  My doctor suggested I cancel.  He said my hemoglobin is so low that they wouldn't take my blood anyway.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Regression

I've been writing since early May that something has been "off" with my health.  I've been tired a lot, needed more rest days, had no "pop" with either strength-based or endurance-based work at CrossFit, and I've been sleeping a lot.  No, really a lot.

I don' think that a Saturday or Sunday has passed without me taking a 2-3 hour nap in the past 6 weeks.  Last night, I fell asleep on the couch at 8:07 p.m., went to bed about 90 minutes later, and slept until 6:17 this morning - 10+ hours.  This was after skipping the workout at the gym because I was too tired.

Saturday morning, I went to the farmer's market with my wife, we went to the supermarket, and I then came home and took a nap.  After my nap, I got up and mowed the lawn.  And, took another nap.

Sunday, I got up a little bit late - maybe 9:30.  It was a cold, rainy day and I planned on doing nothing.  By 1:00, I turned on the Red Sox game, and I fell asleep, waking up in the 7th inning.

Last Monday, I was too tired to go to the gym.  Tuesday and Wednesday, I got to the gym, scaled the workouts, but by the end of Wednesday, I was exhausted.  I had Thursday off work to go fly fishing, and I struggled that day.  I fished from about 5:45 a.m. until 9:00, when I realized I was exhausted.  I went to my car and napped for 45 minutes.  I then resumed fishing, but I was still exhausted.  About 12:30, I sat down on a rock in the middle of the river, and I just sat there for half an hour.  After that rest, I walked to my car and headed home.

At that point, I knew I was going to try to rest through the weekend.  And, I did.  But, I felt terrible all weekend - lethargic, sleepy, and no appetite.  There are very few foods that are even appealing to me right now, and even they taste funny at times.  Some of the limited foods I've been able to eat include Raisin Bran, ice cream, pretzels, potato or tortilla chips, and strawberries.  That's a lot of high fat and salty foods.  The idea of a veggie or a salad is just repulsive right now, and that's not normally the case for me.

I've now lost 20 pounds since early May, simply by eating based on appetite.  I've made no special efforts to lose weight.  Despite resting a lot, I have no energy or desire to train.  Even going for a basic walk seems like too much right now.

Luckily, I see my doctor again next Friday, the 10th.  But, my wife is so alarmed by how I've felt that she demanded I see someone else earlier.  She even suggested a non-mainstream provider as an option.

After talking to someone in my gym, a chiropractor who works with lots of other local non-mainstream providers, she recommended a local naturopath who deals in issues like these.  I've suspected this might be an adrenal fatigue or thyroid issue.  My primary care doc laughed out loud at those suggestions, but then did no testing and told me to just rest and I'd be fine.

Well, I'm not fine.  I have to say I don't mind the weight I've lost.  If I could lose another 15 pounds and then get healthy overnight, I'd be pretty thrilled.  I'm at my lowest weight in 5+ years right now, but I'm sure I'm losing muscle mass as well as fat.

I want to train.  I want to walk my dogs.  I want to feel strong while I'm out fly fishing.  I've spent the last 30 years of my life exercising regularly, so I can do these other things easily.  And now, it feels like I'm losing some of that.  This is way more than just getting old.  People don't age 20 years in 2 months.  At least, I'm assuming that is true.

I have had huge amounts of stress in the past few years - prostate cancer for me, multiple surgeries, ED visits, and and radiation for my wife, work stress, financial stress, kid stress, long commute, long work hours, multiple jobs, etc.  Maybe it's all been too much and my body is rebelling.  But, I need to find some answer to this before I'm a full-time couch potato who is too tired to do anything than control the TV channels.

Hopefully, between the two docs in the next week, we can find some answers.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Pete Rose and the Baseball Hall of Fame

I tried to retire this blog when I essentially retired from ultrarunning.  But, all 3 of my readers said I should continue writing, so I did.  But, I also said that without the ultra focus, I'd feel free to write whatever I wanted, rather than just ultras and skiing.  By now, my limited audience is really sick of CrossFit stories.  And, fishing stories were getting so old that I created a new blog to talk about them.

I've written about baseball here a few times.  I did a couple articles on using run differential to predict win-loss records, with respect to an Orioles team that was very, very lucky a few years ago.  Today, I imagine, I'm not going to make any new friends.  Once this post shows up in search engines, I'm sure I'll have to delete a few incendiary comments.  But, here goes.

In my opinion, it is clear that Pete Rose should never be allowed in the Hall of Fame.  To further fan the flames, I'll go even further and say that Rose is one of the more overrated players in baseball history.  I think his statistics are good enough to be in the HoF, but I don't think it's a slam dunk.  One number in particular, which I'll address below, really, really bothers me.

The 1919 Black Sox scandal threatened to destroy baseball.  The integrity of the game was challenged when gamblers greatly influenced a World Series.  Others are far more knowledgeable about this subject than I am, and I'm not going to re-hash that history here.  One of the things that came out of that scandal was baseball's Rule 21.  Part "d" of that rule is what I'm going to address here.

Rule 21, Part d:
"(d) BETTING ON BALL GAMES.  Any player, umpire, or club official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform shall be declared ineligible for one year.

Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible."

Pete Rose has violated both parts of this rule and has admitted to this.  Because he violated the second part, he is "permanently ineligible".  Banned.  Not part of the baseball.

Some people argue that he never bet against his own team.  My response is "So what?"  The rule is the rule and he broke the rule.  He is ineligible.  The game was almost destroyed by betting, and that is why the rule exists.  He broke the rule.  He is permanently ineligible.  Yes, I know I'm repeating myself, but I am so tired of the online arguments in favor of his inclusion in the Hall of Fame, because he allegedly never bet against his own team.

Now, let me diverge for a bit.  For years, I've thought the Hall of Fame itself has a major weakness.  There are people who are clearly the all time greats - people who had amazing careers over a long period of time.  Ruth.  Gehrig. Young.  Johnson.  Mays.  Cobb.  Williams. Musial.  Mathewson. There is no doubt that they belong in the HoF.  They don't even need a first name to be recognized.

There are others who were brilliant, but for a short period of time  Sandy Koufax stands out to me as the perfect example here.  Herb Score, but his career was way too short.  Thurman Munson.  Lyman Bostock (does anyone remember him?)  Maybe Kirby Puckett, but his career was about 12 seasons.

And then, there are players who were above average, sometimes well above average, over a long period of time.  Ferguson Jenkins.  Tommy John.  Bert Blyleven.  Nolan Ryan.  On the hitting side, Tim Raines comes to mind.  Harmon Killebrew.  Johnny Damon.  And, I put Rose in this category.

I think of the players in this latter group as people who collected gaudy absolute numbers by playing a long, long time.  They weren't terrible players at all.  But, they weren't the best of the best.

So, if you look at Pete Rose's total career, you see the all time hits record.  But, remember that he was a terrible player for the final five years while he doggedly chased the record.  He also made more than 10,000 outs in his career.  He ranks 65th all time in a category known as WAR - Wins Above Replacement value.  He is right behind Adrian Beltre and Jeff Bagwell.  Are they Hall of Fame material?  But, still he's in the top 100 baseball players of all time in this category.  So, yeah, he's a very good player.

What happens when you look at his qualitative numbers though.  When you ignore the gaudy collected numbers, and peer into how good he was per at bat?  In a statistic known as OPS+ (on base percentage plus slugging percentage, adjusted by league and ballpark), Rose ranks 411th all time.  This is just among hitters.  His WAR ranking included hitters and pitchers.

But, you might argue, his career value probably dropped because he hung on a long time to get the career hits record.  To that, I might say "so what?", because he was actively hurting his own team in a search for a personal record.  But, let's borrow some information from a CBS Sports article.

If Rose had retired at age 40, with approximately 3700 hits, his career OPS+ would have ranked him 257th all time.

If he had retired when he got 3000 hits, he would have ranked about 220th all time.

Yes, I remember watching Rose growing up.  Charlie Hustle.  The charisma.  The collision at home plate in the 1970 All Star game.  The never-say-die attitude.  I admire those traits.

If I get to create my own HoF though, I put Rose in the longevity wing, if the gambling hadn't happened.  In the current system, I think he belongs in the HoF for his career achievements, if the gambling hadn't happened.

But, the gambling happened.  The rule is clear.  If Pete Rose is ever inducted into Cooperstown, I will never step foot in the HoF again.  I think it would send a message to other players that the rules don't matter.  But, they do.  The rules exist for a reason, and I can't see any reason to ignore the rule and invite Rose to Cooperstown.  Ever.

Friday, June 19, 2015

A look back: Laurel Highlands Ultra (70 miler) - 2003

Laurel Highlands Ultra Race Report

The Laurel Highlands trail race is a 70.5 mile race in southwestern PA.  It travels northeast along the entire length of the Laurel Highlands trail, a trail whose every mile is marked by small cement markers shaped somewhat like mini Washington Monuments.  The race award is a wooden replica of the mile markers.

A year ago, my buddy Joe did this race in its relay format.  Relay teams can have from 2 to 5 members, and Joe’s team was a 2-person team.  Joe loved the race and talked about doing it on his own this year.  My schedule is usually tight in June, but due to doing a September 100 this year, I found myself with time to squeeze this race in.  Joe and I both signed up months ago and discussed the race by e-mail for months.

We’d been warned repeatedly that it’s a tough trail and the race is more like a 100 than a 50 because of the difficult nature of the trail.  My per-mile pace ended up being the slowest I’ve ever run in a race other than a 100.

So, on Saturday morning, June 14th, as soon as it was light enough to run without lights, we were off.  There were just over 50 people doing the ultra and perhaps a dozen or so relay teams.  The course is divided into five major segments of approximately 19, 13, 14, 11, and 13 miles.  The first segment is easily the most difficult and it was a tough way to start the day.

We did half a mile through a park to the trail and then immediately headed up.  We started at about 1200 feet and the trail peaks in the 2700-2800 range.  By mile 3, we’d done a major ascent followed by a major descent.  I had been thinking about shooting for four hours for this first segment, but decided to focus on an easy effort rather than time after seeing the course.  This paid off later in the day.  Joe, meanwhile, had left me behind after half a mile or so.  I wouldn’t see him for a long, long time.

Soon, we started the biggest ascent on the course, climbing to about 2600 feet just past mile seven.  By mile 10, we’d climbed 3000 feet.  By the 19 mile aid station, it was 4000 feet.

I had my dad along crewing for me.  He’s going to crew for me at Wasatch and he’d never been to an ultra before.  Because he lives in PA, this was a great opportunity for him to see a race and learn a little about crewing.  Plus, I could use the help.

I first saw him at 11 miles and was glad he was there.  My shoes were giving me problems and I needed to change to protect a hot spot that was developing.  I next saw him at 19 miles and there I needed to tape the hot spot.  He was more concerned than I was about my feet.  I’m used to dealing with these sorts of things, but I could hear the concern in his voice as he asked me about my feet later.

As I left the aid station, I saw my first runners in hours.  This is a small race and the field spreads out quickly.  I passed three people from 19-22.  Two of them would pass me back; one more than once, but I would always return the favor.  At mile 22, I saw a runner in front of me suddenly sit down.  He told me he was “crashing hard.”  I offered him food and electrolytes, but he mostly seemed like he wanted to just sit down and be left alone, so I took off. 

The running through here got easier but there were still some significant climbs.  Overall, my altimeter registered just over 10000 feet of climbing and descending with 17 climbs that counted as “laps” on the altimeter.  A climb only needs to be about 150 vertical feet to show up as a lap, but a 150 foot climb and a 1500 foot climb each show up as one “lap”.

I was averaging about 4 miles per hour overall, walking the ups, the steep downs and the tougher sections of the trail.  Overall, I may have walked 50 or so of the 70 miles.  My goal was to make 4 mph for 10 hours and then slow down as little as possible after that.  Before the race, I’d thought that making the old cut-off of 18 hours would be possible.  After just a few hours on the course, I told my dad that I was estimating 20 hours as my finishing time.  I’d end up pretty close on that one.

Around mile 26 or so, near a ski area, it started to rain.  Easy at first and then harder.  I found my dad just past the official aid station.  He told me that Joe was about 25 minutes ahead and running well.  I was happy for my friend to be having such a good day in his first attempt beyond 50 miles.

I got to the 32 mile aid station in about 8:20 or so and was surprised to see that my dad wasn’t there.  I grabbed aid station food and Powerade instead of Gu and Succeed and headed out quickly.  Before I left the aid station, I told the volunteers that when a guy wearing a cowboy hat and an orange shirt turned up, they should tell him he was in trouble.

Soon, I was starting the 35th mile and I’d be halfway there.  The mile took forever, it seemed.  This mile spawned a thought in my head and I was soon compiling a list of “Miles from Hell”.  The list ended up including 35, 39, 44, 50 65 and 69 by the time the race was over.  I hit the halfway point in 9:15 and my estimate of 20 hours still seemed plausible.

After passing mile 35, the terrain got easier and the weather worsened.  The mud from the first rain shower had mostly dried and the footing was better.  I had a couple great miles into the aid station at mile 38, passing three runners in the couple miles before the aid station.  One runner pretty much jumped out of his skin as I startled him while passing.  I think people were very much expecting to be alone out there and another runner passing was a surprise.

Suddenly, the skies opened up.  I was raining hard.  Just as I was thinking that this was the hardest rain I’d seen in a while, it started raining harder.  I found my dad at the aid station and he apologized for missing the previous station.  He’d gotten lost and arrived minutes after I left.  The rain led to some chaos that would cause some problems later.  I got out quickly and started a nasty, muddy descent.  Suddenly, the rain ended and we spent a few miles on nice easy trails.  Until mile 44.  That serpentine mile wound through jungle-like foliage up, down, up, down and around.  I thought it would never end.  But of course, it did, and suddenly, I was at the mile 46 aid station.

I grabbed my lights, knowing that it would probably get dark before I made the next aid station at 57.  I also wanted to take extra Gu and Succeed here in case I got nauseous as the miles accumulated a common problem for me.  Where’s the food bag?  It wasn’t there.  All of my food and Gu were gone.  They’d apparently been left behind at the mile 38 aid station in the rain.  My dad hadn’t gotten any water for the Succeed.  I could tell that my dad felt bad and I didn’t want to make him feel worse.  I did make a comment before I realized what had happened that the one thing that I absolutely needed was the Gu and now I didn’t have it.

I crossed the highway to the main aid station, which was off limits to crews.  They offered me some Red Bull.  No thanks.  I went with Powerade, fig newtons, salted potatoes, and hit the trail.  The next couple miles were mentally tough.  I had a limited amount of food to get through 11 miles and I was worried.  I had some Pringles, about 5 fig newtons, and one precious Gu.  I rationed them carefully and was thrilled to find that the unmanned aid station at 52 had Gatorade.  Normally, I wouldn’t touch Gatorade in an ultra, but at this point, it provided calories.  I pressed on.

At about mile 55, I pulled out my LED light.  Twenty minutes later, I added my halogen lamp as well.  I pulled into the mile 57 aid station at about 9:30 or so.  I heard a familiar voice.  Joe was there.  When he saw me arrive, he got out fast.

My dad had some good news for me.  He’d scrounged a few Gus from other runners and a protein bar.  I took the Gus and the burger that he’d gotten for me and passed on the protein bar.  I grabbed extra batteries for my halogen lamp, re-filled my hydration pack, grabbed a turkey sandwich and set out for the last 13 miles. By now, I was simply power-hiking.  I ran a few more short stretches but fast walking was the norm.

I needed to average 18 minute miles to break 20 hours.  It was going to be tough. 

I caught Joe about mile 57 and stayed with him for about ¾ of a mile before passing.  I made one pit stop and he re-passed me briefly, before I moved past again.  At about mile 60.5, we went out on a dirt road for about a mile and half.  Here, I thought, I can make up some time.  But, it was mostly uphill and I barely held my pace.  At the top was our final aid station.  I had a quick bowl of soup and hit the trail.  Like I’d done at least 3 times earlier, I tried to leave the aid station going the wrong direction, but the guy manning the station straightened me out quickly.

I hit mile 62 two minutes off pace for 20 hours.  I tried to make it up in mile 63, a fairly easy downhill mile.  I lost another minute.  Then two minutes in mile 64.  Twenty hours was slipping away.  But, I stayed focused on getting to the finish.  I was in my last two hours.  One foot.  Then another.  Repeat.  Mile 65 was tricky and I had to be careful to make a few correct turns.  The next mile was easy. 

When do we start the descent? 

We needed to drop about 1300 or so feet to get off the ridge we’d been following all day.  I’d been hoping it would be over 6 long easy miles, but at mile 67, we were still way up there.  I was caught off guard by the sudden appearance of red lights in the distance through the trees.  It turned out to be radio towers.  Then, under some crackling power lines.  Now we were going down.  Mile 69 was all down.  There it was – the mile 69 marker.  One to go.  It was an easy mile but through a labyrinth of trails, some marked with glow sticks and others that left me searching for the omnipresent yellow trail blazes. 

Lights in the distance.  Voices.  I was done.  I made it in 20:16.

This is one tough race, truly 70 miles of technical trails.  Unique in distance.  It’s a beautiful trail, but the view doesn’t change very much.  You’ve got to watch your step all day long.  Great aid stations.  And, the 22 hour time limit makes this race much more accessible to the middle and back of the pack runners than the old 18 hour limit did.  It’s well worth the trip to run this one.