Thursday, November 24, 2022

2022, COVID, Never Summer, Run Rabbit Run, White Rim

I had one goal in 2022: get another qualifier for Hardrock. I first ran a HR100 qualifier in 2019 at Run Rabbit. Normally the qualifier would be good for two years. But due to excessive snow in 2019 and COVID cancellation in 2020, HR100 extended the qualifier's period by a year so my 2019 qualifier race lasted me for three years. After going through the calendar and looking at qualifiers that are near by, Run Rabbit Run worked out the best. I had a big kayaking trip to North Carolina planned in the beginning of July so that makes training for any summer races questionable. Also RRR didn't have a lottery. As a bonus, I signed up for a warm up race at my favorite race, Never Summer 100K at the end of July. It's one of the "longest" 100K races in the country so perhaps not so good of a warm up. But I love the scenery up there in the Never Summer range, and who doesn't love the mud/cow pie combo? 

 My family left for NC at the beginning of June which gave me three free training weekends in June before I join them for kayaking at Week of Rivers. I did manage to dislocate my shoulder on a fall coming down Blodgett Peak at beginning of June, so that was pretty much end of careless bombing down hill for the year. Over the course of three weekend, I ran my favorite long run route at Lost Creek, course swept for the new Ring the Springs race, rode the 100k loop from Canon City to Cripple Creek and back with a co-worker, explored the secret Severy Creek Trail to Bottomless Pit, and found a way up Runs-Down-Fast mountain.
Blodgett Peak boulder field
Bottomless Pit
Sunrise in Lost Creek
Mama Moose on Hankin Pass, Lost Creek

I flew to North Carolina and joined my family for a week of white water paddling. At the end of the week, I took Alex down his very first class III rapid on the Nantahala. He styled it!
Alex coming down the race line on Nantahala Falls

I flew back to Colorado on Sunday, July 9th. On Monday I went to work and started to not feel right. That night I took a COVID test and it was negative. By Tuesday morning I was sick as a dog so I took another test and it was positive. Rules from work mandated I stay home for 10 days. The first two days was brutal: high fevers, chills that made my fingers shake so bad that I struggled to text Jade. Finally on Friday I was sick of staying home in the middle of summer without AC, and regained enough energy so I went for a walk at the Air Force Academy's secret trails where it's unlikely I ran into another person. From then on I walked daily at obscure trails and by next Wednesday I was finally jogging a bit on flat trails. Never Summer was 10 days away. The following weekend, two weeks after diagnosis, and one week before the race, I went for a test run in the Lost Creek Wilderness. I decided since I couldn't maintain any sort of decent pace, I may as well go off trail and explore. I took Bookside-McCurdy trail up then went north off the trail and found McCurdy Peak, then from there found my way back to the trail for a bit before leaving it again and found Bison Peak. I had wanted to find these peaks for awhile, but simply didn't have the luxury of time to do so when I was running the 42 miles loop and didn't want to finish in the dark.
McCurdy Peak
Route finding to Bison Peak
Closer to Bison Peak
Went up this crack, not a good way to Bison Peak

The run went far better than I expected, 24 miles, 6000 ft of climbing in 8 hours. I thought with another week of recovery, I could give Never Summer a try. 

The following Friday I drove up to Gould and camped at the race start/finish area and chatted with a couple other runners camped there. This year the race went back to a mass start so there was none of those starting at 3 AM sillyness that we did in 2020. 

The first two miles were fairly flat double track and I thought I was running pretty well. But as the trail tilted up toward Seven Utes Mountain, I noticed my heart rate was much higher for the effort that I felt. This continued even running down hill from Lake Agnes and American Lakes. I did run into a couple runners attempting their first 100k, I thought that was pretty gutsy of them choosing this race as their first 100k. 

Braddock ridge after Seven Utes

Lake Agnes

I hit the climb up North Diamond, my favorite section of the race, and ended up following a runner named Kristy from Vermont. It's fair to say that without her setting the pace, I would have climbed North Diamond much slower. She and I swapped back and forth running down Montgomery Ridge then I changed "pacer" to Bri from Denver, also running her first 100K. Bri and I stayed together to Ruby Jewel, about the middle point of the race. She had a crew and I needed to visit the john so we split. Though we did run for a bit together shortly after leaving Ruby Jewel, she soon slowed down and I went on my own to go over Kelly Lake and down to Clear Lake aid station. 

Kristy on the summer of North Diamond

Going up toward Kelly Lake

I was amazed that I was still going strong despite the elevated heart rate. The last big climb up to Clear Lake was over and I was relieved to have finished that super rocky section in daylight and came back down to Clear Lake aid station to gear up for the night. I ate a bunch home made chicken noodle soup then took off down hill. Soon I realized I ate way too much salt and wasn't carrying enough water to satisfy the thirst. But it was getting dark and cooler so I wasn't too worried. 

At Canadian aid station, I ate a bunch watermelon slices to satisfy the thirst and then to my huge relieve, found a way across Michigan River without completely covered in mud/cow pie mess. But soon my stomach turned and I was getting queasy and had trouble swallowing anything, solid or liquid. This worried me greatly since a similar problem ended my race in Silverton last year. I slowed down and soon a couple groups of runners passed me. Without much recourse, I slogged along until finally walking into Bockman aid station. 

I was greeted by a volunteer, so I told her my problem and asked for a miracle. She sat me down in a corner of the tent to stay warm and brought me a cup of ginger ale, then she brought me a infrared lamp to keep me warm. I sipped the ginger ale and to my surprise didn't feel like gagging it back up. Why have I not tried gingle ale before in 12 years of running ultras? Another cup of gingle ale and I was ready to try something warm and next sipped on a cup of broth. I still wasn't ready for solid food yet but it was time to get moving after almost 30 minutes of growing old in the aid station. I left the aid station and tagged along with a runner named Monica that I had met earlier, and Monica's pacer. The gingle ale and broth brought my energy level back up and I was happy and chatted with them for almost an hour until we hit the last climb of the day when I suddenly felt weak and still couldn't sip my tailwind or eat any of the food that I had in my pack.

The final climb was slow and weak, and going down the back side wasn't much faster.  By the time I crossed the road to Range Lake campground, I was ready to be done.  Last time I ran the final two flat miles without stopping to beat 19 hours, but this year it was mostly walking with a bit of jogging.  The body craved energy but the stomach refused to take in any.  I struggled across the finish line in about 21 and half hours, 150 minutes slower than 2020 even though the course is 4 miles longer this year. 

I couldn't swallow any food after the race without gagging so I cleaned up somewhat in the back of the Suburban and went to sleep.  Next morning I nibbled on my breakfast and took in very little then drove home.  

Normally after a race of this effort, it would take me a couple days before I start running again.  This time it took three weeks.  Every time I tried to run, my legs felt like bricks.  I did some reading and discovered other runners complained about excessive post race muscle damage after COVID.  I wonder if that's related to the extra elevated heart rate that I experienced during the race, hypoxia in the muscle tissues?  

I became worried about Run Rabbit Run which was 6 weeks after Never Summer.  Around late August Dionne texted to me run Mt. Rosa.  I warned her it'll be more like a hike in my state and she agreed to keep it slow.  Turned out she was also suffering from post COVID effect and we went slowly to Jones Park where she decided it wasn't her day and turned around.  I felt good for the first time since Never Summer, and legs felt fresh so I continued to finish the loop.  It was a decent outing at about 5 hours and eventually turned out to be my longest run between the two races.  It was after this run that I decided to give Run Rabbit Run a try.  

The following weekend I went raspberry harvesting with the kids on Blodgett Peak.  We got so much raspberries before rain and thunder chased us off the mountain.  Little did I know this was a preview of RRR.  

Labor Day weekend was our traditional MTB weekend camping at Twin Lakes.  We rode for 4 days and did some really cool route in the Sawatch range.  

Continental Divide, it was hard to ride at 12,400 ft

Top of the pass, down hill from here

Monarch Crest

Monarch Crest

Kim and I booked a VRBO in Steamboat for the race.  I came alone but Kim brought her usual crew Ty (husband) and Matt (Ty's brother).  I also texted Bee and discovered he didn't have a place to camp and invited him to park his super cool camper van at our VRBO.  

We had a fun night with dinner and hanging out perhaps a bit too late after the race briefing.  It had rained most of the day but the forecast promised clear weather for the race and perhaps some rain in the afternoon.  Kim's pacer Erin also arrived that night and the condo took on a party atmosphere.  

Race morning.  I had a decent night of sleep and wasn't ready to get up until 6:30 or so.  Apparently everyone else had different ideas so I was up shortly before 6 AM, ate breakfast and got dressed.  The weather was looking good out there.  There were talk of not starting with rain jacket but I was convinced to always keep rain gear on me.  

Kim, Bee and I at the start

Bee and I heading down toward the start

Conga line up the ski slope

Dark cloud moving in fast

I had made up my mind that I needed to go slow, like super slow, in order to have any hope of surviving this race.  I started the conga line of climbing the ski hill way in the back with perhaps only 30 runners out of the 200 or so behind me.  But the people around me still went faster than I wanted so I found a spot to go wet the bush and take my jacket off to let those speedsters go by.  By about half way up the ski hill, the cloud moved in and we were running in the mist and could hardly see the gondola.  

Then we were in the cloud

Halfway up to Mt. Werner, Matt checking in on me at mile 2

I met Ty, Matt and Bee's crew Corrin at the little building where we come out to the dirt road.  Somehow I had passed Kim without realizing it, but Bee was a couple minutes ahead of me.  By now it was getting cold and a few minutes later I put on my rain coat and the rain started shortly after.  

Rain tapered off by the time I got to Mt. Werner aid station where I saw Bee leaving.  I tried to get his attention but he was too focus to hear me and took off down the trail.  

The first couple miles after Mt. Werner was gentle down hill, and rain had stopped.  I fell in a pack with a small group of runners and had some good chats down to Fish Creek trail junction where we skip the 3/4 mile to Long Lake aid station this year.  The rain continued to hold off and as we descent Fish Creek trail the temperature warmed up significantly.  The rocky descent was quite a bit more treacherous this year due to the rain.  I run into Bee coming back up the trail about 1/2 mile from the aid station at the bottom so that puts him approximately 15 to 20 minutes ahead of me.  He looked happy and strong.  

At the bottom I ran into the whole crew, Ty, Matt, Erin, and Corrin.  I was in good shape and ate some food and manage to not lose my poles this time.  

Matt sending me off at Fish Creek

Going back up Fish Creek trail, a runner asked if he could tag along with me and why not!  I found out that this was his first crack at 100 after a few 50's and he's from southern California. He was super concerned that we won't make the final cut off and I assured him that at our current pace and location, as long as we keep moving at this effort level we'll make the cut offs with hours to spare.  We pulled another runner named Patrick into our posse and learned Patrick was a seasoned 200 mile runner.  We got some good tips from him in case either of us wanted to tackle a 200 miler in the future.  About 30 minutes up Fish Creek, I saw Kim coming down.  She looked happy and told me she's better now than before then bounded down the hill.   

Fish Creek

Fish Creek

It started to rain again so I stopped to put on my rain jacket and let others go ahead.  I ran alone to Long Lake aid station.  Shortly before the aid station, I spotted a moose in the lake.  

Moose in Long Lake

At Long Lake aid station I ran into Speedgoat.  I guess he moved from Summit to Long this year.  It's always good to chat with a legend.  

After Long Lake, the course ran a new route to Summit Lake that cuts about 3 miles from the old course.  The new route went by Fish Creek reservoir and the weather was beautiful there.

Fish Creek reservoir

Soon after the reservoir, the sky darkened and opened up.  Hail was coming down side ways and I had my rain jacket zipped all the way up the protect my face, and sometimes held a hand next to the exposed part of the face to block the hail.  Around this time, the lead hare runner passed me, wearing shorts and a singlet, no jacket.  

The scene at Summer Lake aid station was somewhat chaotic.  The tent was filled with runners changing into dry clothes and I was lucky enough to find a runner leaving his chair so I could sit down the change into dry socks and shirt.  A guy next to me mumbled that he hasn't even put on his rain jacket yet because he was not cold, though he couldn't feel his hands.  I wasn't sure how to reply to him except to give him a thumbs up.  I ate a good bit of food here with a long stop then left the aid station.  

Soon the weather got worse again with hail and rain coming down side ways.  So much for my new pair of dry socks staying dry!  I got to Billy's Hole around 6:30 pm and then Annie came in, as the leading woman.  She was all smiles and got a refill of her bottle and left within 30 seconds.  Not long enough for me to tell her that Bee would love to have a date with her.  Sorry Bee.  

In the aspen forest below Billy's hole, I got stung by a bee in my left Achilles tendon area.  Damnnit!  That hurts.  

Sunset down Flash of Gold was gorgeous as always.  Unlike last time, this year I ran this section alone, and I hold back the pace to not let the race get away from me.  In 2019 I felt so good and bombed down to Olympian, then paid dearly.  

Sunset on Flash of Gold

A few miles before Dry Creek, a trio of fast female hares passed me, probably all fighting for podium spots.  About 10 seconds after they went by me, two of them stepped about a foot to the side of the trail and as if on command, both dropped their shorts and squatted.  I was blinded by a pair of very pale rear ends.  I guess when you're gunning for the big prize, modesty doesn't really matter.  

After 10 miles of darkness of Flash of Gold trail in thick woods, the lights at Dry Creek aid station felt like a space voyager arriving back at a mothership.  I ran into Matt and Ty and Corrin and learned that Kim had dropped at Fish Creek.  She experienced fairly severe altitude sickness after Mt. Werner aid station, and though her symptom subsided at lower elevation at Fish Creek, she and the race medic both agreed that going back up to Long Creek for 25 miles at high elevation was not a good idea.  Darn!!!  Last year she spent a week at Silverton doing trail work and volunteering at Hardrock with not a peep of problems.  

Bee was having a great race.  They told me he was at least an hour ahead of me through Dry Creek.  

I left Dry Creek and soon ran into some lead tortoises coming back up.  Holy moly.  

After 3 miles of nice descending single tracks, the 3 miles of flat dirt road seemed to last forever.  At least it wasn't raining anymore!  

At Olympian, I found Ty and Matt waiting for me.  They have decided to crew for me now that Kim had dropped.  Ty also suited up to pace me for the Emerald Mountain section.  Even though I told him that he didn't need to do that, deep down I was glad to have him pacing me.  Last time, I suffered mightily on Emerald Mountain.  

Ty helped me change into dry socks, long pants and a long sleeve shirt then brought me a huge pile of food: scrambled eggs, quesadilla, broth, and coffee.  He even helped clean the dirt and mud off my feet.  This is luxurious!  

It was a fairly long stop.  I wanted to make sure I don't bonk on Emerald Mountain.  

The climb up to Lane of Pain aid station was a complete opposite experience from 2019.  Ty and I chatted non stop and I felt good, energized!  We even passed a few group of runners/pacers.  I had a small bit of food and drink at Lane of Pain then we descended into the convoluted loop that eventually brought us back to Lane of Pain.  By then my stomach started to get a bit queasy.  I didn't eat anything but drink gingle ale.  I thought I needed to go #2 but decided to wait until Olympian for the warmth and nice rest rooms.  

The endless switchbacks of Morning Gloria was wearing me down but Ty kept me spirit up.  It started to rain a bit but was nothing compared to earlier.  What a difference a pacer can make.  We arrived back at Olympian at 4 AM and Matt was waiting for us.  Too bad Olympian didn't allow crew go to inside.  Ty went in with me and after I finished the business in the restroom, he again brought me a big pile of food.  My stomach felt way better and I was able to eat a decent amount of calories.  Ty kept going with me out of Olympian until Spring Creek trailhead where Matt picked him up.  Ty has a 100 coming in two weeks and really didn't need this many miles.  Thank you Ty!

The march up the dirt road was done without hiccups but once up on the single track, I realized I should have gotten more calories.  It was cold, and gradually the ski brightened so by the time I arrived back at Dry Creek, it was dawn.  Once again I saw the happy face of Ty and Matt waiting for me.  

I knew what I needed and communicated to them that they needed to shove a lot of calories in me.  The bought coffee, eggs, bacon, noodles, and other things, it was a great breakfast!  

I was still cold and didn't want to change clothes yet.  I thanked them for helping me all night and bid them goodbye.  No more luxurious running, from here onward I was on my own.  

After two miles of relatively flat trail, I hit Grouse Mountain where the trail climbs 2000 ft in 3 miles.  The view was gorgeous!  I let a few runners pass me and decided to change into shorts.  The big slabs of racks made for a perfect wardrobe change area.  

Grouse Mountain

Finally back at Billy's Hole, I saw Billy and Amanda and reminded them that I kept my sunglasses this time and did not need to borrow Amanda's expensive sunglasses.  I ate some eggs and coffee then wolfed down a whole burger that Amanda had just grilled.  It was delicious.  I also spent way too much time hanging out with them but it was a beautiful morning and I didn't want to rush.  Billy told me that in the middle of the night the rain storm had caught many of the faster runners unprepared and the aid station resembled a M.A.S.H. unit, with runners wrapped in space blankets and tucked under the tables everywhere.  

Uneventful was the best description of the run back to Summit Lake.  At Summit Lake I got to use my drop bag for the last time. I dropped off the lights, long pants and rain pants.   The weather was beautiful, blue sky and not a cloud.  A couple runners next to me were debating about also dropping off rain jackets. I thought about it but decided to keep the rain jacket.  This is Colorado, never trust the weather.  

I took the segment back to Long Lake slowly, much slower than last time.  However this time I didn't hallucinate.  About 5 miles out from Summit Lake, the weather came down for a final assault on us.  Hail covered the ground and trail and parts of the trail looked like a creek.  

After the four way junction I started seeing the 50 milers coming back.  At Long Lake, I saw Scott Jurek and his wife Jenny and their kid running the aid station.  I had met him once but just now I realized how freaking tall Scott is.  I ate some watermelon and remixed the tailwind then left the aid station but forgot to refill the bottle that holds the water.  

Soon as I made the left turn up toward Mt. Werner, I realized the mistake with my empty water bottle, and also I should have ate more food back at Long Lake.  I moved ever slower and started eating pretzels but those were hard to swallow without water.  It felt like many runners passed me in the next two miles.  As the trail tilted toward the high point, I decided it was time to stop conserving the tank and give it a go.  As I huff and puffed up the final switch back, I let a few more 50 milers pass me and then popped a blister in my right foot's heel.  

I had felt the hot spots on both feet's outside heels for quite a few hours but elected to not do anything about them.  I was amazed that I didn't have any more issues given my feet were pretty much wet for the majority of the race.  But finally a few errand rocks did trick on the right foot.  A minute later, the hot spot on the left foot's outside heel popped in a similar fashion.  What in the world?  Sympathy blister popping?  

At Mt. Werner aid station, I ate more food and refilled both bottles with tailwind to ensure I have enough calories to bomb down the hill.  I joked to a volunteer about my blisters and he said just land my on toes and then heel blisters won't affect me.  Yeah I knew all about changing gaits during ultras from my Umstead 100 try number 1.  

I initially took it fairly easy down the hill testing the blisters then found they didn't affect my running gait much.  At about 1,500 ft below the aid station, I heard Kim screaming my name!  She had come all the way up to run me in.  
Kim found me celebrating on the way down the ski resort

Kim's strength is running down hill and she's overall a much faster runner than I'm.  So I did my best to keep up and found myself running faster than I ever imagined possible at this point in a race.  Soon we saw Ty and three of us cranked out switchback after switchback toward the bottom passing many runners.  By the time we finished the single track portion, I found myself running between 9 to 10 min/m pace through the ski resort.  What in the world?  I never go faster than 11 min pace even on flat roads.  

We flew into the finishing chute and across the creek straight into Fred the race director who immediately handed me the finisher's mug then Kim immediately filled it IPA and then I immediately chugged half of the mug.  Mistake LOL.  10 minutes later I found a burger and ate half of it and discovered it wasn't cooked.  A few more minutes later I barfed out everything on the side of the road.  

I found Bee and Corrin.  Bee finished an hour before me, his first 100!  I did notice that he was limping a lot more than I did, that first 100's post race gait is so familiar.  

Bee and I working on getting back to the condo. 

My IPA at the finish line with Fred

Some rather nasty footwear

My stomach did eventually recover and I drank another IPA and ate some soup back at the condo.  I was bummed that Kim didn't get the chance to finish the race but was super happy to have the opportunity with run with her and Ty and have them crew me during the most difficult portion of the race.  

I gave myself a few weeks of not doing much, knowing the post COVID race recovery requires far longer time.  By the end of the month, I was deep into preparing for our big White Rim Trail outing.  I had initially scoped out the White Rim last fall doing a solo ride.  I managed to get some camping permits this fall and lined up a group of 14 friends to ride the trail over 4 days.  

The White Rim was originally build for uranium mining.  I guess the uranium ran out?  But the trail remained and is now part of the Canyonland National Park.  It's one of the great overland routes for vehicles and bikes.  Very few people have actually ran the whole thing.  That's on my bucket list.  

We choose to go counterclockwise wise direction, mainly due to the availability of camping permits.  

Day 1: We started at the junction of 313 and Mineral Bottom Road just outside of the national park.  The first 13 miles was a gentle downhill on a pretty dirt road then we arrived at a chasm in the earth where the Green River flows through Labyrinth Canyon 1,000 feet below us.  

Starting at Mineral Bottom Road

Cruising the easy dirt road

Top of Mineral Bottom switchback, with the Green River below 

Bikes descending the switchback trails

Mineral Bottom switchback descend

I originally had envisioned Jade and I take turns driving the chuckwagon and riding the bike.  Turned out Jade wasn't really into driving vehicles off road, so I ended up driving most of the miles over the 4 days.  

Amelia cruising along the White Rim road

Bob and his daughter Tina

I'm making my way cautiously along the rather narrow section in Labyrinth Canyon
The girls dancing on the Gladiator before Hardscrabble ( in the background )

After about 22 miles we arrived at the crux of the day, the climb over Hardscrabble Hill.  My chuckwagon was the least capable so I led first.  The other two Jeeps probably never even felt the rocks.  

View of Labyrinth Canyon from the top of Hardscrabble

Kelly checking out our campsite at Potato Bottom down by the river

Descending the first steep pitch of Hardscrabble

Once we got over Hardscrabble we settled into our first camp at Potato Bottom where there was some nice cottonwood for shade.

Day 2: We had a shorter day to ride some easy terrains to Candlestick camp.  

Morning at Potato Bottom camp

Riding along a sandy section

The boys playing on the slickrocks at lunch

Taking a break

Three of the kids riding below the Island in the Sky mesa

Shortly after lunch we arrived at Holeman slot canyon for a much needed break in the shade.

This is the only section I got to ride the bike since it was easy enough for Jade to drive the chuckwagon a bit.  

I followed Amelia into Candlestick camp.

We got to Candlestick camp fairly early in the afternoon and it was hot and sunny so we rigged some tarps for shade.  After dinner, we went to explore the edge of the cliffs and found some really great views and shallow pools that supported life.

Alex setting up our 4 man tent


Amelia's massage station


The Green River

Sunset over the Green

Sunset over Candlestick camp

Owen's tent

Milky Way

Day 3: This day's big obstacle is the infamous Murphy's Hogback.  I had told the group that the trail is rolling with an upward trend for about 10 miles to Murphy's, and the rollers get "sharper" the closer we get to Murphy's.  

Amelia wanted to see over the cliff

One of the many "shaper" rollers

The chuckwagon train

The wagon drivers taking a break

Approaching Murphy's

Near Murphy's looking back

The final pitch to Murphy's top

At the summit of Murphy's we pitched the tarps for a nice shady lunch then descended the other side for about 15 miles of easy riding to the day's camp at Gooseberry.  

Lunch at Murphy's

Owen at the onion rocks near Monument basin

The group getting ready to descend Murphy's

The bike at the bottom of Murphy's

The girls riding around Gooseberry camp

Day 4: nothing like a 28 miles day that ends with a bang.  Shafer's trail was what everyone's dream/nightmare that awaits us at the end of day's riding.  

Sunrise at Gooseberry

Colorado River 

Musselman Arch

First view of Shafer's

Coming up Shafer's

Shafer's insanity

After 4 days of piloting the chuckwagon on the White Rim with plenty of time to think and plot, I think I came up with a viable plan for a self supported run of the White Rim.  The timing will be tricky.  I'll need to cache water in two spots along the trail.  The weather has to be cool to minimize water consumption but not cold enough to freeze the water cache at night.  Stay tuned.