Thursday, March 30, 2017

Another Old Race Report - Laurel Highlands Ultra

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.  It 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.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A throwback race report: 2004 Hardrock 100

I had a version of this report full of pictures, but the file seems to be missing.  So, this is the text only version:

Hardrock 100 Race Report – 2004

In December of 2003, I was disappointed to lose the lottery for the Western States 100 race.  I’d missed the 2002 Western States race after surgery to repair a torn ACL.  I’d worked hard in my rehab and had finished the 2003 Wasatch Front 100 miler in 33:44:45.  I was hoping that I’d get another shot at Western States in 2004, a race I’d never run.

Many runners on the internet ultra list were also disappointed about not getting into Western States.  Some of the comments seemed so negative that I realized I’d fallen into the wrong mindset.  I couldn’t control the lottery, so why worry about it.  Perhaps the closed door at Western States meant another opportunity elsewhere.  But where?

Besides Western States, the other ultra that had intrigued me for many years was Hardrock.  With a new entry system for the 2004 race, first time applicants didn’t seem to have a good chance of getting into the race.  But, a losing entry would increase the odds of getting into the race in a future year.  So, I decided to apply, assuming that I’d at least start the process of getting into the race in the future.

I’ve entered a number of race lotteries over the year, and one thing has always been true.  For every race, I’ve won the lottery the first time in and lost all subsequent attempts.  Hardrock turned out to be the same.  In early February, while I was scanning the waiting list to see how far down I was, my wife, who was looking over my shoulder, suddenly started yelling, “You’re in, you’re in!”.

I didn’t know whether to be ecstatic or terrified and I guess it was a bit of both.

I work with a coach and let him know the results.  Living in Vermont would make my training difficult.  Most of our trails are closed until Memorial Day and it would be tough to do adequate hill training until the last month before the race.  But, my coach came up with a plan and I started working at it.

An early season test would be the Bull Run Run 50 miler in Virginia.  Things went very poorly there.  I was fighting a cold, I felt a bit overtrained, and things were really stressful at work.  The night before the race, I got to bed late, feeling dehydrated and not mentally ready for the race.  The next morning, I walked off the course 7 miles into the race, concerned by a sore Achilles tendon.  The race was a disaster in many ways.  How was I going to finish Hardrock if I couldn’t do a much easier 50 miler?

When I got home from the race, I stepped on the scale.  I weighed 196 pounds, way too much.  I’d weighed about 186 at Wasatch the previous September and even that had been too much.  I needed to get my weight down to increase my odds at Hardrock.

I was also anxious to get back to serious training, given the disaster at Bull Run Run.  But, my coach thought I needed some rest and I took it easy for two weeks before resuming training.  This rest was good for me from both a physical and mental perspective.

I changed my diet dramatically by mid-April, switching to a near-vegan diet that emphasized unprocessed foods, including lots of salads and beans and whole grains.  My weight began to drop quickly and I felt the effects quickly in my running.

On the 1st of May, I ran a strong 32 miler with 3200 feet of climbing.  Two weeks later, I ran a comfortable 32 miler and two weeks after that,  a 30 miler with about 12,500 feet of climbing.  The next weekend, I cruise-controlled a marathon just under 4 hours, an easy effort that was my fastest marathon since 2000.  I ran 335 miles in May and my weight was down to 176 at the end of the month.  But, I’d only climbed about 29000 vertical feet in May, less than the climbing I’d do in one race at Hardrock.

In early June, I focused on two last long runs before I’d leave for CO.  One was a 50K trail run in southern Quebec that had 10K of climbing.  The other run was an Adirondack Great Range traverse, a tough hike over ten summits in the Adirondacks.  This one had about 10K of climbing and it took 12.5 hours to cover 26 miles. 

By the end of June, I’d run over 1500 miles for the year, the most miles I’d ever run in a six month training cycle.  Would it be enough?

It was about time to leave for CO.

I flew to CO two weeks before the race.  I went straight to Boulder to visit with a friend and start my acclimation at 6000-8000 feet.  My first day was a hilly 17 mile run and I did some rock climbing the second day.  On my third day, I was supposed to meet my dad in Colorado Springs, so I decided to do some hiking on the Barr Trail that goes to the summit of Pike’s Peak.  Given the weather forecast, I thought I’d go up for 6 or so miles and then turn around.  But, I felt good and the sky stayed clear, and I hiked 13 miles to the summit, covering 7400 vertical feet in 4:21.  I felt the altitude a lot above 12,500’, but I was surprised to have even gotten that far.  I rode the train down to save my quads from the pounding that a 7400’ descent would create.

The next day I drove to Ouray with my dad and ran an easy three miles to about 8500’.  Starting on the Wednesday, 9 days before the race, I was going to go along on the course-marking hikes that occur daily.  Some friends from back east had told me that these days are great ways to meet other runners, to see the course, and of course, to acclimate to the altitude.  The first day was 16+ miles with 6600 feet of climbing and it really scared me.  We started with an easy hike up to the Maggie Gulch aid station.  Then, a cross-country route up to a pass, a traversing descent on a trail, another cross-country section down to a jeep road, up another saddle and down through a valley.  It seemed that this race had no trail miles.  Finally, a herd path turned into a trail to the Cunningham Gulch aid station.  From there, we did another major ascent, the last ascent on the course, and a final descent to our cars.  The next morning, I was wiped out.

The course marking the next day was out of Ouray, where my dad and I were staying in his RV.  I decided to not do the entire day of marking, not wanting to climb the 5500’ to the summit while already tired.  I was trying to taper for the race itself.  I did perhaps the first 3.5-4.0 miles up the trail, climbing only 2200’ before turning around.  The descent was pleasant and runnable, and except for the steep drop-offs to my left and I was really enjoying myself.  But, my left shoe caught on a root or rock and it felt like someone had ripped my middle toe off my foot with a pair of pliers.  I decided to simply hike down without looking at things, and I hobbled the whole way down.  When I looked at the toe, it had already swollen to twice its normal size and had turned purple from bruising.  Just walking was painful.  I was afraid I’d broken the toe and I still don’t know exactly what I did to it, but there seemed to be no reason to go to a doctor.  A doctor would either tell me that I could run or I shouldn’t run.  Either way, I was going to start the race as long as I could walk.  Plus, Friday was a rest day.

After a day of rest, we were going to mark the course from Telluride to the Governor Basin Aid station.  I took my ice ax with me for the day, trying to see if it would make sense to use it for glissading in the race.  I have a lightweight racing ice ax that is fairly easy to carry and I thought it might buy me some time in the race.  From Telluride, we did a long and fairly steep ascent to treeline and then things got even steeper to Mendota Saddle.  From the saddle, we could finally see the pass and it took my breath away.  The final ascent was up a loose scree field and it looked a bit scary.  But, 45 minutes after we left the saddle, we scrambled into the pass.  It had taken us 3:20 to get from Telluride to the pass.  John Cappis remarked that he’d be happy with that time in the race and I agreed that this seemed reasonable.  In reality, I’d only take 2:35 to cover the same terrain in the race.

There was a lot of snow on the other side of the pass and we watched as trail marking people came up the snow from the other side, kicking in steps the entire way.  I talked to some other runners about glissading technique and we watched a few people go down the slope.  It was steep, but with an ice ax, it was a trivial glissade.  From the bottom, I photographed a number of other runners glissading down, some well in control and some completely out of control.  We continued down more snow and I used the ice ax three more times before we were completely below the snow.  From there, it was an easy couple of miles to cars and we were done for the day.  I decided that I’d use the ice ax in the race on this section.

My toe felt fine while climbing, but really hurt on the descent.

The next day was the 4th of July and many of the other runners were going to run a 10K in Silverton.  I decided to run the 10K as well, but not push too hard.  I tried to treat the race as a tempo run, but was surprised at the difficulty of the course.  We climbed about 650’ in the 10K, mostly on dirt roads.  I took one major fall on a wet stretch of dirt road while trying to pass another runner.  I finished in 56:40, one of my slowest 10Ks ever, but my position in the race field was more encouraging than my time.  I finished ahead of more people than I expected, but I also worked harder than I’d planned.  My toe felt better than the day before, but it definitely remained a concern.

The next day was the last day of course marking, this time from Telluride (backwards on the course) to Oscar’s Pass.  With the race now only 4 days away, I decided to do only about half of the course marking.  I’d have to wait until race day to see the pass and Wasatch Saddle.  My foot needed some rest and so did I.

That night, my wife and children arrived and it was nice to see them again.  The next few days would be spent hanging out with them and getting my wife out to do some climbing.  Plus, I had some race activities to deal with – check in, course briefing, and a mandatory meeting.  Thursday arrived quickly and it was just about showtime.

The Race
I think I set a PR by sleeping 7 hours the night before the race.  I got up at 4:15 on Friday and had a bagel and some scrambled eggs.   My wife and son took me to the start and we checked in about 5:30.  I met my pacer, Brad Hatten, for the first time.  He lives in Durango and hikes on the course quite a bit.  Plus, he’s started the race five times and in 2003, had finished in under 43 hours.  His course knowledge would be invaluable.

We started promptly at 6:00 a.m. and I immediately found myself in the back of the pack.  My primary goal for this race was simply to finish and I figured that running early could only hurt me later on.  I hoped that if things went well, my time might be in the mid-40s, but I had no way of knowing if this was possible or not.  Scott Eppelman had given me some great advice – just keep moving and let the course come to you.  Trying to impose my will on a course like this just didn’t seem to smart an approach.

So, I hiked out of town and onto the narrow trail known as the Nute Chute.  We followed this trail until we crossed Route 550, and then we hit our first water crossing.  My feet wouldn’t be dry much of the rest of the race.  We headed up and I fell in with a number of other runners – Matt Mahoney, Joe Prusaitis, Mark Swanson, Jennifer Roach, and Nancy Halpin, among others.  Near the top of the climb, I met and talked with John DeWalt.  We would see each other a lot the next couple days. 

Mark remarked that he was surprised at my conservative start.  He thought I’d start much faster, but I knew that I’d be conservative for much of the race.

The wildflowers were beautiful through the upper part of this climb.  We reached our first summit, the Putnam-Lime Creek saddle about 7 miles into the race.  We’d climbed about 3000’ so far.  We then did a short descent and a climb to another saddle in the next mile and a half or so.  From here, the course went downhill steeply, mostly on a cross-country route.  I opted to walk the descent and the people I’d hiked up with quickly left me behind. 

We eventually got onto a trail and descended through a rocky section and eventually to treeline.  I ran some stretches, but a near-fall worried me.  I’d already fallen once in the saddle above and I was worried about hurting my knees or aggravating my toe any more.  So, I resumed walking, the entire way to the Kamm Traverse aid station.  Here, I ate as much food as I could and left the aid station with Uli Kamm.  We’d never met but he was very generous with his advice for this stretch and the race in general.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was near the back of the pack at this aid stations.  Friends who were watching the results on-line were concerned about me for much of the race because I was flirting with the 48 hour times.  I simply hadn’t bothered to look at the recommended 48 hour numbers or the cut-offs.  I figured it was best to run my own race and if I got pulled, it was because I was too slow anyway.

As Uli and I walked the traverse, he told me that conventional wisdom was that back of the pack runners should be close to him and Jim Ballard.  Falling far behind would mean that I was at risk of not making 48 hours.  Uli also told me the history of the traverse that bears his name and described the older and much faster route.

After finishing the traverse, we crossed a creek and I lost Uli on the uphill.  I almost left the course by accident, but some hikers quickly corrected me.  I started the long hike up to Grant Swamp Pass.  The top of the climb was steep and I finally got there after a few tense moments.  This is the home of the Joel Zucker Memorial plaque and I duly placed a rock on the memorial pile.  The course description for the top of this pass states “Take a deep breath and look over the top of the pass into Swamp Canyon.”  I knew that this was likely the scariest descent of the race, but I was in awe of what I saw.  There was a soft snow field at the top, then a long, seemingly vertical section of loose rock before more snow fields.

The manual says to glissade the snow field if it can be done safely.  I wasn’t sure if it was safe or not, but the alternative looked like too much work.  Other runners had worn a chute into the snowfield, so I sat down and started sliding.  I got moving pretty fast and slid onto the rocks below the snow.  I tried to stand up quickly and simply keep moving, skiing the loose rock down the hill.  This turned out to be a lot of work and I had to constantly watch for loose rocks from above me.  But, in a few minutes, I was down the steepest part and back on a trail.  Across the valley was a big red mountain that looked like a big dirt pile.  There was an obvious trail switchbacking up that mountain and I knew that was my next climb to Oscar’s Pass.  But first, I had to get down to Chapman Gulch and the first aid station where I’d meet my crew.

On this descent, I noticed that my left big toe was starting to bother me a lot.  It hurt at the top of the joint right by my foot.  Plus, my middle toe was sore as well.  The descent hurt a bit, but was easy and I soon found my crew.  They gave me a new bladder full of Succeed and I cruised the food table for something that looked good.  It was well after noon and felt warm.  My stomach was getting selective about what food it would take.  This would only get worse as the race went on, but it never got as bad as at Wasatch last year, where I was sure I would throw up.  I also grabbed my ice ax here, as a mental crutch mostly, for the descent off of the summit.

Back in Vermont, I’d done a long run with Sue Johnston in May.  Sue has a first and second place finish at Hardrock.  She had warned me that the first three passes are mentally tough in the clockwise direction.  The second and third, in particular, are difficult.  Sue warned me not to let them get to me mentally.  She told me not to “freak out” early in the race.

I climbed Oscar’s Pass very well.  I passed seven people on the ascent, but as soon as we started down towards Telluride, people started passing me quickly.  At least a dozen passed me on this stretch and I became very frustrated.  My left foot was killing me.  My left knee was sore.  I was slow.  I started to think about dropping out in Telluride.

I finally got through the worst of the descent and hit the dirt road into Telluride.  My crew was here again and they ended up seeing me at a low point here.  It had taken me 10.5 hours to go 27.6 miles.  I had hot spots on my heels that worried me.  I’ve never had a heel blister in an ultra, but one was forming.  My left foot felt like it was on fire.

I also had a pacer waiting in Ouray and decided that I needed to at least get to Ouray before making any decisions about quitting.

I decided to switch my shoes from Adidas Supernova Trails to the Montrail Hardrocks, plus change gaiters.  As I stood up in the Hardrocks, I knew that they were going to hurt my left middle toe even more than the Supernovas.  I asked my wife to go to the car for my Salomon XA Pros.  They don’t have enough cushioning for a course like this, but I hoped my toes would be better.  As I changed into those shoes and went back to my original gaiters, I told my wife that it would probably just be easier to quit right then.  I was acting like a baby.  Finally, I was ready and had some mashed potatoes and a sandwich and left the aid station.  My temper tantrum had wasted 22 minutes.

My wife and kids walked a couple hundred feet out of the aid station with me, wishing me well.  They were all so great.  I was acting like a jerk and the kids saw me only as super-dad heading out for the next part of his run.  How could I quit in front of them?

As I headed uphill, I felt much better.  I worked hard on relaxing and getting back into the race.  The climb was steeper than I remembered, but it was familiar.  Plus, I was passing people again.  I tried to help one runner who was clearly having trouble, but he seemed to be done.  He never made it to the next aid station.  I kept a steady pace up this section and got to Virginius Pass in just over 2.5 hours, way faster than during course marking.  This was one of my best stretches of the race, both physically and mentally.  I felt like I was back in the race.

At the pass, I quickly changed into my long pants for the glissade down the other side.  In my haste, though, I made a key mistake.  I had attached my new BD Zenix headlamp to the cross-straps of my pack and I left it behind here.  I had backup lights, but I love the Zenix and I’d never get to use it in the race.  I still haven’t gotten it back and I’m hopeful that it will turn up somehow.  After some soup and hot chocolate, I jumped over the edge and glissaded quickly down the hill.  I passed a number of runners using the fixed rope from the top.  A few more snow descents and I was on the jeep road to Governor Basin.

I had some soup and tried to eat a sandwich at the Governor Basin aid station, but my body was starting to refuse many solid foods.  I’d been using lots of banana and chocolate Gu up to this point, and I simply increased my use of Gu as my body rejected solid food.  Uli and Jim Ballard caught me at this aid station.  I was now behind the two people I was using as a benchmark for finishing.  It was also getting dark and I only had one flashlight for the 7 mile descent into Ouray.  If it died, there were huge drop-offs to the right side of the road that I would be unable to see.  I ran some of the descent, trying to stay ahead of an LED light that was chasing me down the hill.  But, I walked way more than I ran.

I arrived in Ouray at 11:05, about an hour behind where I’d hoped to be.  I met my crew and pacer and made some quick changes.  I changed into new shorts because it was warm.  I drank a milk shake and had some soup.  It was the first time I’ve used a milkshake in an ultra and I think I’ll use them again in the future.  It went down great and the caloric density is pretty high.  On the other hand, I was unable to even contemplate eating the cheeseburger they had for me.  In the past, cheeseburgers have been great at ultras, but my last two hundreds, they haven’t worked at all.

Brad was ready to go and we took off through town.  It became obvious quickly that he really knew the course and I simply watched his feet and followed.  I’d warned him that pacing me would probably mean a 28-30 hour hike with very little running.  I told him that I was stubborn and persistent but not fast.  So, he set a solid hiking pace and I followed.  He told me that his least favorite stretch of the course was coming up.  It’s a nasty trail section that has evolved just for the race, taking us to a roped crossing of the Uncompaghre River.  From there, we went steeply uphill to the tunnel on Rt. 550 and then up the Bear Creek trail towards Engineer Pass and Oh! Point.

At one point, there was a rockslide in front of us but not close enough to be a worry.  We cleared the switchbacks and started on the ledge trail.  I could see the darkness on my right that represented the void.  It was important to stay on the trail here.  While this section doesn’t seem dangerous at all when fresh, a slip when tired could be disastrous.

Finally, we cleared the ledges, and went past the Grizzly Bear and Yellow Jacket mines.  From the second mine, it was just over a mile to the Engineer aid station.  Before we got there, Brad told me that he didn’t want me to sit in the chairs by the fire.  He said it was too easy to stay there.  I thought of the phrase “Beware the chair”.  When we got to the aid station, I sat on some cold dirt and Brad got me some soup.  I had a hard time drinking the soup because a nearby runner was throwing up repeatedly.  Others around me just looked at each other.  I think we were all afraid that listening to the sick runner would put us over the edge.  I told Brad I needed to get out of there.

We’d already done over 4000’ of climbing from Ouray and there were only another 1000 or so to the top of our climb.  Brad led the way and I simply followed.  Eventually, I noticed a few snow flurries in the air.  Shortly thereafter, I saw the light at the top of our pass and the longest climb in the race was over.  It had taken us about 5 hours to do less than 10 miles, all of it uphill though.

At the top, we got onto an amazingly easy jeep road and headed down.  From the top, it was 5 miles and 2200 vertical feet down to the Grouse Gulch aid station.  The next two aid stations would be critical.  Grouse claims more runners than any other stations; it’s apparently easy to drop out with a fourteen thousand foot peak lurking in the next session.  After Grouse, the next big aid station at Sherman often claims runners as well.  At the trail briefing, Charlie told us that he thought the Grouse to Sherman stretch was the crux of the race.  I thought about all of this as we walked down to Grouse.  It was getting light.

Just before the aid station, I stopped at a roadside porta-potty.  Brad must have thought I was taking too long, because he knocked on the door to make sure I hadn’t gone to sleep.  I got out of there and we talked as we headed down.  I’d been out for almost 24 hours and I was sleepy.  I also needed to re-tape my feet.  I asked Brad if it would be OK to sleep for 30 minutes to let my pruny feet dry out before re-taping them and he agreed. 

As we got to the aid station, my crew wasn’t there.  And then, suddenly they were there, arriving just as I did.  I told them of the plan to take a quick sleep break and I found a cot in the aid station.  I unwrapped my feet and exposed them to the air and laid down.  It took me about ten minutes to fall asleep and about ten minutes later, Brad woke me up.  It’s an old trick and I would have done the same thing to him.  I don’t think ultrarunners ever get the full amount of sleep they request at an aid station.  I didn’t argue with Brad and taped my feet as quickly as I could.  I put on dry socks, grabbed a veggie breakfast burrito and we were gone.  I’d spent 38 minutes in the aid station.

At the aid station, Brad introduced me to his friend, Heinz, and explained that Heinz would take over pacing from Cunningham to the finish.  Brad was very generous in his time as a pacer, but thought that getting some sleep during the weekend would be a good idea.  I found it hard to even think ahead to Cunningham, but quickly agreed to the switch.

On the ascent to American-Grouse Pass, I tried to eat the burrito, but it was tough to choke it down.  I ate most of it and then had some Gu.  The climb was beautiful in the early morning light, despite a few rain sprinkles.  It was tough though – 2700 vertical feet in 2.5 miles, the last part very steep.  From the saddle, I got my first look at Handies.  It looked like Mt. Everest, but Brad quickly told me that it was much easier than it looked.  From long days in the mountains in the northeast, I found that easy to believe and we headed down into American Basin.  Again, Brad was great here, leading the way and I just had to move.  I stared into the distance, looking at the climb to come.

Near the start of the climb, we came across some young backpackers.  One of them was playing a funky-shaped guitar and singing a Pink Floyd song.  I asked the two hikers if they knew “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad”.  I don’t know if they didn’t know it or simply didn’t get my feeble joke, but they told me that they didn’t take requests.  The day before, I’d been listening to the Dead on my MP3 player while hiking up Oscar’s Pass.  Going Down the Road Feeling Bad started while I was hiking the pass and I ended up laughing out loud.  The previous year, at Wasatch, I was much happier when a tough climb was greeted with the Dead’s “Fire on the Mountain”, and the song’s plea “Long distance runner, what you standing there for?  Get up, get up, get out of the door”.  However, this year, GDTRFB seemed more appropriate to how Hardrock was treating me.

Soon, we were on the ascent route to the top of the Handies and for the first time, I noticed that climbing was getting more difficult.  I stopped several times on the climb to regain my breath.  We made the summit about 10:00.  I’d originally thought it possible that I’d see the sun rise from this summit, but I was way off that pace.  Brad showed me the old Upchuck Ridge route, possibly the only place where a route change at Hardrock has made the course easier.  I was glad we weren’t taking Upchuck.

The initial part of the descent was tricky, but things quickly got better and Brad picked up the pace.  We were descending with Jim Drummond and Chuck Kroger, but eventually Chuck got ahead and Jim couldn’t keep up, so we were by ourselves.  The descent to the water-only aid station at Burrows Park took forever and a quick stop there was pleasant.  While the road was hot and dusty, I knew we could make some decent time there.  We spent some time with John DeWalt on this stretch, but neither of us could muster much of a running pace.  We eventually took a right turn onto a newly constructed trail and it was a tough trail.  It only lasted a few minutes though and we were almost to Sherman

It took us 6:01 to cover this stretch, vs. Brad’s normal time of 6.5 hours.  We also had heard that Karl Meltzer had covered this stretch in less than four hours, in the dark, earlier in the race.  I can’t even imagine going that fast for these 13.5 miles.

At Sherman, I was feeling good although I could feel some hot spots on my feet.  Brad suggested changing socks, but I decided to not touch my feet.  I was afraid the tape would come off, so I left things alone.  I ate some soup and grabbed my nighttime gear and we headed out.  The worst climbs were now behind us and I had only about 30 miles to go.  I’d left the aid station after a key portion of the course.  I had 17 hours to cover 30 miles and for the first time in the race, I allowed myself to start thinking about finishing times, rather than just the concept of moving towards the finish.  If there were no disasters, I was sure I could make it.

The next few climbs were easier than those earlier in the race and I pushed hard out of Sherman.  I passed Uli here and I think it was the last time I saw him.  We got to the stream crossing just above a waterfall and rather than waste time looking for the safer upstream crossing, we just plowed through.  A slip would have been bad, but we were striving for efficient movement.

We caught Joe Prusaitis just a bit later.  It was the first time I’d seen him since Ouray.  He seemed tired, but in good spirits and still focused and we continued on.

We continued the long but gradual climb to the Cataract-Pole Divide.  It was now feeling hot in the midday sun and some distant but gathering clouds worried me a bit.  I didn’t want a thunderstorm to force me off the course for a while or to make the trails slippery, either of which would be disastrous.  We heard a bit of thunder, but we were never really threatened.

From the Divide to the Pole Creek aid station, I was suffering.  There were a few things going on here.  It was hot and I was low on water and calories.  And, I was sure that Joe was lying to me about distance remaining in the race.  After we’d cleared the divide, I thought we were going to head right into Maggie’s Gulch.  I had simply forgotten about a large portion of the trail in my tired state.  Brad kept telling me that we still had 23-24 miles to go, but I was convinced it was only 17 or so, and I was unsure why he was lying to me.  Severe sleep deprivation was setting in and I had many hours to go.  I needed to muster all of my strength to stay focused.

On the descent, many people passed me and they were running.  Brad tried to get me to at least shuffle faster on this nice downhill trail, but I wasn’t there.  I was trying to just survive.  We finally saw the Pole Creek aid station, and cruelly, it was up a big hill.  We got there and I asked for caffeine.  They didn’t seem to have any.  I had some hot chocolate, and depressed over the lack of caffeine, I decided to leave.  A volunteer mentioned that they could make some hot chocolate and add instant coffee.  I declined, stupidly.  Brad asked me to take some soup or potatoes, but I simply left the aid station.  Runners who have a pacer should usually listen to them and my next 4.4 miles would prove this.

From the aid station, we had a gradual descent to a valley floor and then an ascent to a saddle over to Maggie Gulch.  The saddle was hidden but seemed relatively close.  But, every time we went around a knob or knoll, we saw that we still weren’t there.  Near the top, despite taking 4 caffeinated Gu’s on the climb, I simply wasn’t there.  It seemed like I was in a dream where I was trying to move through water.  Somehow, I made the Maggie-Pole Pass summit and knew that I was close to the Maggie Gulch aid station.  I forgot that the summit was on the Continental Divide and I wouldn’t have cared anyway.  The descent was tricky but I made the aid station in fewer than 20 minutes.  I told Brad that I needed a longer break here for calories and caffeine.  He agreed with this very much, despite the fact that we were going to lose daylight soon.  I had a coke, two cups of soup, some watermelon and a cup of mashed potatoes.  I felt like I couldn’t possibly eat any more and we took off.  The aid station director, Lisa Richardson, was at this aid station and she had a few Powergels.  I found one with double caffeine and stashed it into my pack for later.

We left after 19 minutes in the aid station, leaving just after 7:00 p.m.  I only had 16 miles to go and I had 11 hours to cover the distance.  We started up the climb to Buffalo Boy Ridge, but I was confused.  I’d helped to mark the course and things seemed different.  Matt Mahoney was with me and he agreed, so I just followed the flags and didn’t worry about it.  A rockslide came toward me near the top of the ridge and Brad warned me about a few rocks that were closing in.  I had to move to avoid being hit.  At the summit, I thought I’d remembered that we went straight down to the old jeep road in the basin below us.  Instead, we traversed downhill on a decent trail for a long time.  Brad was in a hurry here, wanting to clear the next basin in the daylight, but I couldn’t keep up.  Near the bottom of our descent, I stopped to put on long pants.  John DeWalt passed me here and told me that his pacer had fallen back.  I joked that maybe we should switch pacers since I couldn’t go fast enough for my pacer.

From the trail, I’d shown Brad the new pass we were going over before starting a cross-country trek in a bowl.  That pass, Stony Pass, took a long time and even Brad was out of breath as we got to the top.  We needed flashlights as we started the descent on the back side.  I told a few people what the rough descent route was, but it had been daylight the last time I’d been here.

After about 15 minutes or so, four of us lost the trail.  There were sheep grazing in the bowl, bleating at us incessantly.  The dog on duty to watch them was barking like crazy.  It was jet black dark.  And, the next marker was missing.  We were worried.

I finally told the people with us that I could find the route based on my course marking day, but that we’d have to angle cross-country through the bowl and they’d have to trust me.  I don’t think they really trusted me and I’m not sure that I completely trusted me, but the other option was simply going in circles, looking for a marker that the sheep had probably trampled.

I’m not sure how long it took – maybe 15 minutes that seemed like 3 hours, but we found a marker.  Brad quickly started going marker to marker and showing me the way.  The lower we got, the closer to Cunningham Gulch, the better the trail got.  But, the trail was way worse than it had been during the trail marking day.  It was very dusty and very slippery.  I fell twice and found my LED light almost worthless in the dusty air.  And, I was inhaling dust.

But, thankfully, I could see the last aid station and we were getting close.  After we got to the road, it took just a couple minutes to find my family and get to the station.  I simply wanted some coke and soup and I wanted to hit the trail.  I was guessing I had about 5 hours or so left in my race and I was hoping I might be a bit faster.  My family had brought me a milkshake and I had some of that.  My poor daughter was clearly exhausted and I knew she wouldn’t make the finish line.  My wife and son were planning to be there, but the rest of the crew was going to bed and they’d meet me in the morning at the awards ceremony.

I found my next pacer, Heinz, and we crossed the river and headed up.  And up.  This was the last climb and I’d hiked it before, but not with 94 miles and 30K+ feet of climbing behind me.  We had to climb 2600’ to 13K – one last time at 13K in the race.  On the way up, I tried to stay with John Dewalt and his pacer and one other runner, but I was having some breathing problems.  I think the dust on the previous descent was the source of the problem, but I had to back off a bit.  It was OK though.  Heinz was a great pacer, a wonderful positive and soothing voice.  And, I knew I was going to finish.  I just needed to do it at a slowed down pace.

Partway up, I had two Gu’s but they didn’t seem to help.  After another 45 minutes, I told Heinz that I was going to take a break and eat the double-caffeine Powergel that I had.  We turned off our headlamps and marveled at the stars.  I pointed out some shadows on the walls of a nearby bowl but Heinz said nothing.  I suddenly realized there was no moon and they couldn’t be shadows.  They were snowfields.  I pointed out that the snowfield on the right looked like some sort of demonic face.  Heinz humored me.  Then, I noticed that the snowfield to the left was moving.  It looked like the profile of Phil Lesh playing bass for the Dead.  I enjoyed the hallucination for what it was, but said nothing to Heinz about this one.  It seemed appropriate to have a hallucination about the Dead though.

Shortly after we resumed climbing, we hit the top.  I’d done it – all the big climbs were done.  I was very tentative on way over to Little Giant Saddle, not wanting to slip down the scary terrain to the right.  After the saddle, I was also very tentative for a while on the steep descent, not wanting to tumble down the talus field to my left.  I used my trekking poles and tried to use my handheld light as well, but this was difficult.

We made it to the dirt road section past the Big Giant mine and we continued down.  I knew that we had a couple road miles to Arastra Gulch and then 3+ miles to the finish.

Another runner caught us and introduced himself as Bill Losey.  We’d been close for much of the last 30 miles, and talked a bit, but we hadn’t exchanged names.  When he told me his name, I knew that he was a good friend of another friend, Joe Novicky.  Joe is a great cheerleader for us when we do our tough races and we talked about Joe on the way down the road.

Heinz let us have our conversation and simply walked ahead, navigating and keeping the way clear.  I’d noticed earlier that Heinz was periodically kicking rocks out of my path to reduce the chance of me tripping.  Suddenly, Bill and I picked up on this and we started designing a new career for Heinz as an ultra pacer.  He was simply so helpful and positive that any runner would do well to have him as a pacer.  I don’t know if we amused Heinz with this conversation or embarrassed him, but it worked for us.  Finally, near the Arastra Gulch road turnoff, Bill went ahead.

We found him later picking up an animal bone and putting it into his pack.  Apparently a friend’s son wanted a dinosaur bone from the race and at mile 97, Bill had the clarity of thought to think that the bone on the road would work.  Heinz and I showed Bill the way across a creek and left him behind.  He’d stay just behind us the entire way into town.

We now had about 3 miles to go into town and I was shot, but I just kept moving.  Suddenly, I saw some sort of a painted African mask laying upside down on the trail in front of me.  The colors were beautiful – mostly teal stripes and I stopped to look a bit more closely.  The only thing there was a rock.  A little bit later, at an intersection, I saw trail markers going in every direction.  Heinz beckoned me straight head, but there were markers indicating a turn.  Upon closer examination, the other “markers” were yellow flowers.

We started crossing one stream after another.  At some places, the stream and the trail were the same.  We could occasionally see lights in the distance.  Three o’clock came and went.  Sub-45 would not happen.  Then, Heinz recognized the ski area and we were nearly there.  There were a bunch of chairs to my left and someone congratulated me, I think.  I thought there were 6 or 7 chairs, but maybe they were all empty.  Then, someone needed my name and number and radioed the info to the finish line.  We were really about done.

Bill was just behind me and I didn’t know if he wanted to pass me or not.  I’m a pretty competitive person and I wasn’t sure what I’d do if he tried to catch me.  But, the gap stayed fairly constant.  We crossed a few streets, including Main Street.  I knew Reese Street was next and then a left turn would take me to the finish.

After we made the left I could see the school.  My wife and son came out to meet us and they were so encouraging.  At 3:37 a.m., 45 hours, 37 minutes and 30 seconds after I’d started, I crossed the line.  I kissed the rock and tried to hold back the tears.  Somehow, I’d done it.  After nearly giving up about 35 hours earlier, I’d finished Hardrock.

I told Dale that no matter what I’d imagined about the course, it was harder.  I told him that as much as I love the Wasatch course, Wasatch simply doesn’t compare to this course.  I also told Dale about Sue Johnston’s advice and how that had helped to stay in the race when things were tough earlier in the race.

I went inside to check up some friends, particularly some other east coast runners.  I asked about other runners on the course, hoping that others I’d been out there with would make it.  I’d finished 65th and there were 15 others who would finish later, 7 of them in the last 20 minutes of the race.  There were 125 starters and 80 finishers, the most finishers in the history of the race.  At Wasatch, I’d finished in the top half of the starting field, but I didn’t pull that off here.

I took a shower and simply went to bed in the gym.  I slept off an on until 8:30 or so, when Brad woke we up.  He told me that it was time to get up and get moving, just like he’d done 26 hours earlier.

As soon as the concession opened, I bought a Hardrock finisher’s jacket.  I got the last one in my size, but I hadn’t been willing to buy it before I’d actually finished.

A few things strike me about the race.  First, I’ve never done anything close to this difficult.  The second night was very mentally difficult and the visual tricks my mind played on me were quite interesting.

I ran very little of the course – certainly fewer than 10 miles and maybe as few as 5-6 miles.  I am not a good downhill runner and that left me walking

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Round 4 Updates

This one will be filled with some wonky medical terminology, I'm afraid.  Don't say I didn't warn you.

So, to start with, my occasional reader here might have noticed my whining since my last chemo treatment.  Workouts were terrible, fatigue was terrible, and I had one truly bad workout week.

I talked this over with the doctor yesterday.  She said she fully understands my workout goals and applauds them.  She said I'm very unusual to be so devoted to fitness even through chemo.  At the same time, with my hemoglobin dropping by point or so every 2 weeks, my weight going down about 4 pounds every 2 weeks, and some kidney issues that have cropped up, she would like to see changes.

She thinks consistency should outweigh intensity for right now.  Tell that to the CrossFit gods.  They don't like pronouncements like that.  But, I think I'd already seen that the intensity has been too much, and I did literally cross the line last week.  Twice.  So, it's time to slow down a bit, be consistent, but always live to fight another day.

The biggest concern right now is that my one remaining kidney is not currently functioning very well.  The main blood test is called Serum Creatinine, but to look at kidney function, creatinine goes through a formula (I do this all the time at my job) to measure something called estimate Glomerular Filtration Rate (eGFR).  Ideally, eGFR should be greater than 120.  It really shouldn't be below 60.  My last two readings were 50 and 44.  Those are not good and suggest some sort of injury to my kidney.  If I had 2 kidneys, this might not be as big a deal, but I only have one.

So, what could be causing the problem?  The obvious answer is a kidney stone, but I have no symptoms.  The second is a new tumor close to my kidney, and pressing on the kidney.  So far, all of my tumors have been on the right side of my abdomen and the remaining kidney is on the left side.  I'm certainly hoping the tumors aren't on the move, especially during chemo.  Lastly, and most worrisome, would be that the cancer has invaded the kidney, which could be very bad news.

Plus, there are other options - infection, blockages of any sort, and some other esoteric things.

So, this week, we are going to do an ultrasound of the kidney.  Next week, we are going to do a full body torso CT scan to look at how well the chemo is working, and they will pay extra attention to the kidney in that scan.  Between the two scans, they hope they can find something definitive and hopefully minor.  In the interim, I wait and worry.

The chemo, round 4, was yesterday.  It went off without a hitch and I worked out at CF a couple hours later.  I did scale the workout though.  And, I still feel human today.

We came up with some modified plans to help me in between treatments.  I'm going to do some extra IV hydration a few days after chemo.  I'm going to get some extra anti-nausea meds that day as well.  Hopefully, those two things, plus a reduction in workout intensity, will make things go a bit easier the next two weeks.  I'm going to really focus on hydration.

The CT scan will be next week.  It is pivotal.  I'm now halfway through my treatments.  The CT scan can find one of three results.  First, the tumors can be growing unabated.  Secondly, the tumors can be stable - no growth and no shrinkage.  Third, the tumors can be shrinking.

The first possibility is by far the worst.  It means that the past four treatments have been in vain, and we need to start over, looking for a better option.  Each new option has a lower response rate than the one before, so the odds get worse over time.  I try not to think about this option.  Even the current option has a success rate low enough that I'm not optimistic.

The second possibility is better, but not great.  The tumors are small enough to be removed if stabilized.  But, if they are removed after chemo, will there be other new small tumors in there?  Will there be cells untouched or unfazed by the latest chemo?  I don't really know the answer and if this happens, I don't know what we will do.

The third possibility is ideal.  If the tumors are shrinking, it means four more treatments.  Another 8-10 weeks of feeling like crap.  Surgery at the end of chemo.  But, the possibility of a clean excision, and a longer remission in the future.  This is obviously the preferred choice, although 8 more weeks of these side effects won't be fun.  But, if I know it's working, I will tolerate it.

If the first scenario happens, there are still many options.  I can think of half a dozen drug combos that we can try.  Some have response rates lower than 10% - not very inspiring.  Some are higher, but are more typically used in a palliative setting.  However, in some cases, those palliative drugs create enough remission that surgery is possible.

Another possibility is the middle result, still followed by surgery, with hope that the underlying cells took a hit as well.  It's harder to tell after that one.  Will it recur quickly or slowly?????

The absolute worst case is trying and failing a number of drugs, or finding out that my left kidney is now involved.  So, we just won't worry about that for now.  I will hope that the kidney issue resolves quickly, that the left kidney is uninvolved, and that my current chemo is working.  It's my best hope, it's what I'm in the middle of, and I've got to cling to that as my best path forward.

Some of the other options are just too much to deal with so soon.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Status Quo

I'm still feeling a lot like I felt a couple days ago.  No energy.  No appetite.  Tired and achy.  For someone who trains like I do, this has been a tough week.  I'm just not used to feeling so run down, and I can almost always find a way to train at least a bit.  But, as of now, I've done nothing for three straight days.

I finally gave in and called my oncology nurses yesterday.  It's really nice that the oncology center has two triage nurses dedicated to patient problems.  I don't always get them on the first call, but I can be talking to them within an hour of any problem that arises.

After explaining what's going on, they agreed that I'd probably crossed the line - done more than my body was up for, and now I'm paying the price.  They were very glad that I had no fever.  They had a few ideas that we could try now, but it was mostly hydration and I think I'm doing OK there.  They also suggested a multi-day infusion of an anti-nausea medicine, but I'll be getting one of those on Monday with chemo, so I deferred.

We did come up with a plan for next week though.  Just some ideas to help me through the period between the chemo infusions.  We are going to do some hydration next Friday (after chemo on Monday) and add a multi-day anti-nausea medicine to the mix, hoping that those two elements will prevent this from happening again.

They would also like me to consider a somewhat lighter training load until I'm feeling better.  Given how I feel, I'm not going to argue.

I'm mostly curious where my weight will be on Monday.  From the first to second round of chemo, my weight was unchanged.  From the second to third, when I'd dealt with more nausea, I'd dropped 4 pounds.  This past week, if it wasn't for medical MJ, I doubt that I would have eaten at all in the past week.  I can barely taste food, I have no appetite, and I'm actively nauseous a lot of the time.  I think it's been 3 days since my last cup of coffee - a sure sign that I'm not feeling well at all.

Yesterday, I didn't eat a bite of food all day and I wasn't even hungry.  I finally felt a little bit hungry about 7:00, so I ate a medical MJ brownie.  After that took effect, my appetite came back and I had some pizza plus a slice of cheesecake for dinner.  That's not my normal diet, but these aren't normal times.

Tonight is the 5th and final workout of the CrossFit Open.  It's a hard workout - 9 barbell thrusters and 35 rope-jumping double unders.  Times 10.  For time.  With a 40 minute cap.

I really want a score, but it would honestly be stupid to do this entire workout.  So, I have a plan that will allow me to say I finished the Open, even though my last score is going to be pathetic.

I am going to do 9 thrusters tonight and then quit.  I'll then report that I failed to finish the workout in 40 minutes (this one should take me 18-20 minutes under normal conditions), and report my score as 9 reps in 40 minutes.  I'll finish last in my regional competition, but I'll have a score, I'll be able to sort of claim I "did" the Open.  Essentially, I'm going to score badly and then claim a victory of sorts.

I doubt that anyone will give me any grief for this, given that I've been doing the Open through chemo.  I just have to listen to my body (and my nurses) on this one.

I must live to fight another day.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Over the Line Smokey; Mark It Zero

I'm exhausted.  There is no other way to describe it.  I did the CrossFit Open workout on Friday night.  It was only a 13 minute workout, but I went hard.  Lots of deadlifts and wall balls were part of the workout, and my back is still a bit torched.

On Saturday, I skied harder than I have all year, leading a group of hard charging 8 year olds all day.  After a warm-up run on easy terrain, every run we did was in the trees or on steep bumps.  My calves are still sore.

Sunday was a rest day.  We took my daughter back to Syracuse after her spring break.  I drove some, napped some, and I wish I'd napped more.

Last night, I did CrossFit again.  This was a simple workout - 9 sets of squats followed by 10 x 30 seconds of burpees.  And, today, I've just got nothing.

I simply ache deep in my muscles, in my bones, and all I want to do is sleep.  Yet, somewhere in the back of my brain, I keep hearing a voice telling me to do CrossFit again tonight.  I think I'm strong enough to ignore that voice though.

I want to pick up my wife after work, nap on the way home, eat some dinner and go to bed.  I honestly hate to admit that.  But, it's the way things go sometimes.  I am not in control here, and it's easy to imagine making myself sick by pushing too hard.

So, tonight, I'm gonna take a zero, and hope I feel better tomorrow.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Just thinking out loud...

A friend just made a comment to me in an email, saying that my chemo would "stop him cold".  I told him that I'm in a four month struggle with this chemo and I don't have time to just sit around feeling sorry for myself.  I told him that I can't just sit on the couch with a vat of ice cream, and put my life on hold until I feel better.  Today may be better than the future.  So, I've got to do what I can, when I can.  It's really that simple.

In reality, I think it's the sudden prospect of a different future than I'd always imagined.  And, it's not even that "sudden", but the cumulative effects of treatments, the realization that a cure will likely never happen, and that soft tissue sarcomas simply reduce lifespans.

I have to live with that every day.  I see three ways I could react to this reality.  I could live in denial, with no changes in my life, except for treatments.  I could do the treatments, and then give in to the inconvenience and lowered quality of life.  I could sit on the couch, watch TV, give up the gym, give up skiing, give up cooking, and simply wait for the end.  Or, I can decide to live the hell out of my life.  Technically, there's a 4th scenario, but that is ending all treatment, and I'm not ready for that quite yet.

So, I choose the third path.  It's not a hard path for me to choose.  It's how I've always lived my life.  Full speed.  Head on.  Get out of my way.  I've joked for years that there will be time to sleep when I'm dead.  I still believe that.

I'm trying to not be stupid.  When my body needs rest, I rest.  Last weekend, I took the weekend off of skiing because the temperatures were very cold and I wasn't 100%.  I slept a lot that weekend.  But, I also cooked a lot.  I tied a lot of flies.  My wife and I went to a beer tasting.  I watched a movie I've been wanting to see (regretfully, it sucked).  And, I lifted weights on Sunday.  For the most part, I consider that to be a rest weekend.

My current chemo regimen will go through the end of May, at least.  If the chemo works, I will then have surgery in June or July.  If it doesn't work, we will try another treatment.  We will try until something works and I can have surgery, or until we exhaust all options, or until I decided that quality of life is more important than the side effects of the treatments.  I have no idea which way this path will lead.

I could easily be gone in a year, to be perfectly honest.  Or, I might be here for another 5 years or 10 years.

It is odd thinking that this could be my last ski season as an instructor.  That my last trout season might be starting in a few weeks.  Or that I might have to leave a job that I love for health reasons.  My current job is the most fulfilling job I've ever had.  I work with smart people, committed people, people who want to improve the state of healthcare in our country.  And now, as a major consumer of healthcare, the work seems that much more important.

I worry that I won't live to see the end of our current President's tenure.  I want to see my children graduate from college.  I want to see them blossom into young adults, fall in love, and live lives of their choosing.

And mostly, I want to spend my life with my wife.  That is the hardest part of all of this.  I've been on this planet for 55 years now, and I've spent 34 of them with my wife, 30 of them married.  This means more to me than anything else I've mentioned above.  I know she's a strong and tough lady.  I know she will be OK.  But, if something happens to me, it's going to hurt her.  And, I'd do anything to avoid that if I could.

But, don't feel sorry for me.  This isn't a post where I'm asking for sympathy.  I've lived a hell of a good life.  I've had some amazing adventures.  I've lived all around this country of ours.  I know so many good people that I feel privileged to call my friends.

Sometimes, the story just has a different ending than you hope for.  That doesn't make the story a tragedy though.  It just makes it different.

And for now, despite the circumstances, there is no ennui here.  Not too much sadness.  Just a need to live my life as it exists now, to do the things I love, with the people I love.  And right up until the moment that it becomes untenable, that's what you'll see from me.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Round number 3 in the books

I spent the entire day at the hospital yesterday.  Things just seemed to drag out all day.  Not one appointment was on time, it seems.

I got there early and the first thing to do was access my chemo port and draw blood for labs.

After that, I had an appointment with a new oncologist who would read my lab work and sign off on the chemo.  Except, I ended up meeting with 2 different oncologists, and the second seemed more interested in conducting a therapy session rather than just getting me to chemo.

I know she meant well and was trying to make a good first impression.  But, she isn't even my new medical oncologist, so I thought it was overkill.

At noon, she was still talking.  At 11:00, I was supposed to be starting chemo.

Finally, about 12:30, I got into the chemo bay and was assigned my seat for the day.  A friend stopped by to visit.  When she left at 2:00, my chemo drugs still were just arriving.  The first drug takes only 30 minutes and the second takes over an hour.

I was able to participate in a company meeting from 3:00-4:15, and my chemo finally finished about the time the meeting finished.  By the time I got out of the hospital, it was time to pick my wife up at work.

Regretfully, we were also trading in a car last night, and we had to deal with that.  So, we never made it to the gym.  I'm going to try the gym today, but the first full day after chemo can be pretty rough, so we will see how it goes.

We did make one little mistake with our car trade-in.  We traded a car with studded snow tires for a car with no snow tires.  And, we are supposed to get 18"-26" inches of snow from a storm today and tomorrow.  So, we opted to not go home the next 2 nights.  We left the kids a car with snow tires and lots of food.

My wife and I will be staying at Hope Lodge at the hospital.  Trying to get home in this storm seemed too risky.  And, if I had a reaction to the chemo, getting back might be impossible.  So, staying close seems to make the most sense to me.

This was my 3rd round of chemo.  We have tweaked the meds for after chemo after each of the first two sessions.  I had a rough night last night, but I'm feeling better today.  I'm hopeful that we are dialing in the process and each remaining round will be better than the first two went.

I think that I will be able to train in the gym tonight, which is a good sign.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Feeling like doo-doo

The bottom just seems to have dropped out.  I am exhausted.  All the time.  I sleep in every car ride.  Going to the gym is a horrible chore rather than something I want to do

To be honest, this is really frustrating.

Friday night, I had my CrossFit Open workout.  It lasted only 12 minutes and I was happy with the result, despite the apparent lack of oxygen in the room.  I got home and got to bed early that night, with a long day the scheduled for next day.  And, I woke up feeling like I had the flu.  Despite that, I made it to Sugarbush for the day.  I taught a number of kids how to tune their own skis during the day.  This was a good diversion on a very cold day, even though it meant that I never got to ski at all.

After the ski day, a friend and I headed to Burlington to see Adrian Belew's Power Pop Trio.  It was a great show - a perfect complement to the last time I saw King Crimson, in terms of songs that were played.  All around, it was very impressive.  I stood at the show.  After standing all day at Sugarbush.  By the end of the show, my legs were screaming for a break.

I did manage to get 9 hours of sleep on Saturday night, but I still felt like crap the next morning.  Everyday is the same.  I feel like I have the flu when I wake up.  It doesn't really get any better.

On Sunday, I managed to go out for brunch with friends and my wife, get some groceries, watch some basketball, tie some flies, and do some cooking.  To me, that's a rest day.  But, by Monday morning, same result.

Monday night's gym workout was a disaster.  I simply didn't want to be there and my effort was commensurate with my attitude.  Even scaled, it sucked and I hated every minute of it.

Today, I have started to take a new medicine - something everyone has heard of - to help with my focus and concentration at work - something to fight the brain effects of the chemo.  It wasn't my first choice, but I need to be better at my job if I'm going to collect my paycheck and feel good about that.  Chemo brain (google it) is a real thing.

On the way to work this morning, I slept the entire drive.  After dropping off my wife, I drove to my office.  Napped in the parking lot.  I finally came inside and took the new medicine.  It certainly hasn't taken effect yet, and I could easily take another nap.

The idea of CrossFit tonight repulses me at the moment.  That doesn't mean that I won't do it, but I feel like there are 2 main issues right now.  First, as I'm trying to live my "normal" life as much as possible, is that simply too much for what I'm dealing with?  I've been told by docs to do whatever I feel up to doing.  But, I'm not that average cancer patient and I'm probably doing way more than most others in a similar situation.  I'm guessing there aren't many athletes in the CrossFit Open doing chemo during the Open.

First of all, is it good for me?  Or, would I be better served by "turning it down" a bit?  I just don't know the answer to that question.

Secondly, what is the net effect, if any, of my exercise and go-go-go lifestyle on the disease I'm fighting?  Last night, I admit that I couldn't think of one real reason that my workout was helping.  It's not curing my cancer.  It's not going to prolong my life necessarily.  And, it wasn't fun.  Now, I've had a few surgeries the past few years and I've recovered well from them.  A big part of that is my fitness and training routine.  For someone my age, I am in well above average shape.  Yeah, I'm somewhat overweight, but I'm also fairly fit.  Will that help me in a future surgery?  Is it helping me with this chemo?  If so, how much training is enough and how much is too much.

Or, am I forcing myself to exercise, doing more than my body is ready to tolerate, potentially making my disease worse, and not having fun while doing that?  That would be the height of stupidity, to be honest.

But, maybe there is a value that I don't see.  Maybe it's mental.  Maybe it's simply not giving in to this fucking disease and choosing to live life on my terms.

I just don't know right now.  The one thing that seems obvious is that I should not train hard day after day after day, especially if the training sessions themselves are miserable every time.  I need to see some tangible benefit to my training.

OTOH, I don't want to sit on a couch, napping, eating ice cream, and waiting for the grim reaper to show up.  When trout season arrives, I need to be strong enough to get out of the house and fish, even though I'll still be doing chemo for the first couple months.  I'm not ready to just quit doing the things I love, and some of what I love, I can do well because I train so hard the rest of the time.

I just don't know the answers.  I assume I'm some sort of outlier here.  I've always taken exercise to an extreme level.  I'm better now than I was, but my entire life is based on a go-go-go attitude.  For years, I've said there will be plenty of time to sleep when I'm dead.  I still believe that, but I don't want to hasten anything along.

Perhaps some sort of moderation is in order.  I think I need to spend the next week or two just listening a bit better, trying to figure out what makes the most sense for me.  Maybe I'll never know.  Maybe I will find a sweet spot.  To quote XTC, it's "just a complicated game."

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Half a Hawks

Only someone from my CrossFit box would possibly know what that subject line means.  Ryan Hawks was a professional freestyle skier who died in an accident at Kirkwood six years ago.  I have taught skiing with his father for most of the last 2 decades, and I got to know Ryan in the early days of our gym.

He was an amazing athlete - skilled, athletic, mobile, explosive, and yet very humble and just a regular guy.  The first time I asked him and his winter skiing buddy about what they did out west, they talked as if they were just a couple of ski bums, driving around, finding an occasional competition, and giving it a try.  In reality, Ryan was so much more than that, and I'm glad I got to know him a bit in the early days of Champlain Valley CrossFit.

But, he did die six years ago when he failed to navigate a landing after a big jump.  He was a lifelong friend of the owner of our gym, and our owner, Jade, put together a killer workout for us to do twice a year to honor Ryan.  Here is a video about Ryan for those unfamiliar with him:

The workout is as follows:

As Quickly As Possible
Row 1000 meters
50 deadlifts
50 thrusters
50 box jumps
50 burpees
50/side walking lunges with plate overhead
100 double unders

I think I've done the workout 8 or so times since we started doing this every year on Ryan's birthday and the anniversary of his death.  Because of the cancer stuff, I've had to scale the workout at times - fewer reps, lighter weights, or last night, both.  But, I wasn't going to miss this one, so I opted for half the prescribed reps at the lower end of the weight scale.

I think my best time for the full workout is in the low 40's.  Scaled, I've done it in the 30-35 range.  Last night, I did half the workout in 19:00, and it was all I had.  But, I'm glad I was there to help Jade and everyone else honor Ryan.

Today is a rest day with the next workout in the 2017 CrossFit Open scheduled for tomorrow.