Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Challenging day in the Canyon

I signed up to do day 1 of the Western States Training run last week, and then a few days later I received an email stating that the course had to be changed due to snow in the high country. The course was re-routed as follows, take the buses down to drivers flat and run the cal loop in reverse. Then you pass your car at the school and continue for 6 miles to Michigan bluff where you would turn around and head back to the school.
Now I have run Cal loop down of course and it is a very tough run with bone jarring descents and some climbs, but in reverse all those descents I would be climbing. Plus I really wanted to run in the canyon. I did what any ultra runner would do who wanted to run in the canyons I emailed Wonder Woman and we planned on running with Captain Kirk and his group of runners. Yeah!!! I get to run in the canyons and then reality set it, ohhh SH$% what am I doing?

I arrived at Foresthill school really early, I was wide awake at 2:30am and I took my time getting ready in the morning, but obviously when I have to much time I forget to check my pack on last time. I had left my 2 honey stinger waffles at home....which was vital later on in my run. I arrived and parked and just sat there watching the fog roll in. I met up with Wonder Woman and Captain Kirk and I was very excited, in fact I was all smiles from ear to ear. Probably because my foot was aching only a little bit but more so because I was going to be running.

Do you see Captain Kirk?

Right before we left, all smiles

We started our run around 7am. Captain Kirk explained to us we would be following the yellow ribbons, but he would make sure we made it to Michigan Bluff since that part could and was a bit tricky. We were only running for maybe less then a mile when we had our first huge descent, it was on pavement. While running down I just kept thinking I have to run back up this. It is about 1 mile on pavement down followed by at least 2 more miles on some single track trail. So far my foot was holding up and I told myself if I can make it through that technical section I can do this run. Once at the base there was the creek crossing. When we crossed it going out there was no rope to help guide us. But being the gentleman he is Captain Kirk assisted both Wonder Woman and myself across to safety. I would not have wanted to take a wrong step and end up soaking wet as it was pretty chilly the entire run.

Captain Kirk helping us across the creek crossing

After the creek crossing we had our first major climb of the day. Captain Kirk and his boys were phenomenal and Wonder Woman was an animal they took off like it was just a walk in the park. For me it was a different story, my legs were feeling dead and really loaded and heavy. I couldn't find a rhythm. I ran when I could but my legs were not having anything to do with it. I just kept trucking forward. Once at the top Wonder Woman was there to make sure I knew where to go. Then Captain Kirk came back to check on us, guess I must have been really slow on that climb. But what a great friend those two are. We ran into Michigan Bluff laughing and telling stories. My legs finally came back to me and my running became more fluid.

Michigan bluff had some awesome views, the entire run was very pretty and green. I could hear the wind blowing through the trees, random birds chirping, and the sound of my footsteps running over the pine needles and the smell of the Forest. What a way to bring the senses to life.

Now that we were at the top of Michigan bluff it was time for another bone jarring descent. This time it was 2.5 miles on some very tacky technical single track trail. I took up the rear and off we went. It was a awesome descent but very fast. I am not sure how long it took get down but it was a good while. At least 20 minutes. On the way down I saw Coach Nikon. He was out running with Kuni who he will be pacing this year at states. Coach Nikon was on his way back out. I stopped and talked for a bit and then we were both on our way, me I was still going down. This descent was giving me a beating it felt like. I needed every muscle to control my speed, I had to watch where I placed bad foot as one bad placement would cause some shooting pain.

It's Coach Nikon!

The new JCPenny pose

At the bottom of the descent I started my 5 mile ascent up the canyon. Yup, 5 grueling miles. I spent alot

We ran towards Devil's thumb, once at the thumb I looked at her and was having a hard time deciding what I wanted to do. I knew if I went down it was going to be a monstrous climb back up from swinging bridge. I followed her and she said once she reached the bottom she would turn around this way if I needed to turn around I could. It was really fun going down, it was fast switch back after switch back, one huge tree we had to hurtle and then more switch backs.

As I continued down I stopped and reassessed the situation. I was maybe half mile shy of swing bridge, and I turned around. Who in there right mind turns around with only .5 to go. Me that is who. I had had enough. I started my ascent and soon the entire group had passed me. They all made it look so effortless. I kept moving and met up with the group back at the water pump. Devil's thumb kicked my ass! By now my foot was killing me with each step. It felt like it had cramped and each step caused pain on the outer top portion of my foot I couldn't even move my toes without pain which made climbing very hard.

Going up the thumb, look at those animals

The break at the water pump was long enough for me to tie my shoe and we were off. I managed to keep up with Captain Kirk and Wonder Woman for a few miles but that was short lived when we started our 5 mile descent down Michigan Bluff. they were off to the races, and my body was hurting from the continuous pounding and punishment of the trails. I couldn't find a rhythm and each step caused pain to shoot through my foot and then my right knee started screaming at me which shot pain up my leg and into my lower back. I slowed my descent down to see if that would help, it did but I was having a hard time keeping things in control. This was the longest 5 miles today, it never ended the pain never ended. I had to take 2 Tylenol just to calm everything down.

At the base I now had at least a 2.5 mile ascent. I tackled it, I just kept moving. 2.5 miles is a long time when you are alone. I did hike out with one other runner and we just kept pushing each other. I ran very small sections like 20 yards when I could. It was steep and never ended. More switch backs after switch backs and then finally I could see houses. I had made it to the top of Michigan bluff. But mentally I was down. I didn't want to finish the final 6 miles. I was broken and spent and my stomach wasn't feeling well, it was turning. I saw Wonder Woman and I just looked at her and told her I don't think I can finish this. Everything hurts. She encouraged me and told me I could do it, she would stay with me during this section. We started running/shuffling as everything was stiff and sore. As we were about to hit the dirt road there was a dog out and about. This dog was a pit bull. We both tensed up a bit and just kept moving hoping the pit bull would move along.

We hit the fire road and I shuffled along. We passed a few of the runners who had run the training run and were making their way back. Wonder Woman was fantastic. We hit the final descent and I had take it a bit slow. Each step caused pain, as I winded my way down I just kept thinking I have to climb out. I arrived at the creek crossing and saw that someone had put a rope up to help assist the runners across. I soaked my feet and knee in the creek for a bit just to quiet down the pain.

Then it was time to climb. As we were climbing it started raining. It was a very cold rain and the skies slowly opened up on us. It was so cold I couldn't feel my fingers or arms. We were just a few miles from the cars. As I was climbing out on the single track I began to feel really nauseous. I felt like I was going to get sick at any moment. It took everything I had to keep moving. I arrived at the road and Wonder Woman was there waiting for me. She asked how I was doing and I told her I felt like I was going to get sick. She asked if I wanted to eat a waffle. I told her I had some in my side pouch only when I went to get it they were not there. Crap, I must have left them at home. She pulled one out of her pack for me. I ate it and not too long later was feeling better. My stomach had settled. I must have really needed some sugar. Surprised that it calmed my stomach down, but glad it did. We crested the paved road and started running. It was still raining as we ran on the street toward the school. Then I saw the tent and the school. I yelled out in utter surprise "Is that the cars?" still unable to believe what my eyes were seeing. Wonder Woman shouted "I think so" it was we had arrived.

At the finish and still smiling, couldn't have been that bad!

We completed this epic run 8 hours flat. 4 hours out and 4 hours back. It was extremely tough not just physically but mentally as well. Maybe I was a bit fatigued from the start and sleep deprived but I battled through all of my adversity to complete the run with a lot of help from Wonder Woman and Captain Kirk and the boys.

Wonder Woman's fingers were frozen she couldn't tie her shoes

I also have to say that that is a very tough run. In looking back on my experience yesterday I am pretty positive that I didn't fuel enough and that is what caused my major bonking episode and upset stomach. I can only learn from it and I have great respect for the Canyons.


  1. Ouch. You also look quite pale in that finish photo too my friend. Glad you survived. I remember running that Devil's Thumb section with my horrible pain when we did the Memorial Day run last year ... OUCH is all I can say. It isn't easy and it really isn't easy when you're in pain either.

    You're a tough cookie Pigeon. I can't wait to be back out there running with you although I am light years from where you are right now. :-)

  2. The bad runs make us appreciate the good ones that much more, right? Sounds like it was a brutal day out there, but like you said, something to learn from. Nice job stickin' through!!

  3. Great job on Saturday. Sounds like you pushed through some tough issues and made it---mission accomplished.