Wednesday, April 26, 2006

the Sierra Nevada Endurance Run RECAP - 53.2 miler

WARNING – this is the longest race I’ve ever run and the following is the longest race report I’ve ever written. To read this takes some endurance, so proceed at your own discretion…

To ALL those who’ve supported me along this long training & racing journey:
Here is the long-awaited and oft-requested “race-report” email on my Sierra Nevada 53.2-mile Endurance Run which I completed on September 24th… this is one of my signature LONG-WINDED e-mails complete with links to video and photos. If you are at work, or don’t wish to spend 15-minutes reading an email (right-now) then simply save or delete this message… for those of you who have demanded I send this (ASAP), enjoy… I hope it provides as much inspiration as you need, as you all have inspired me SO much.

Where do I start!? The first question nearly EVERYONE has asked is “why?” Well, actually, it’s been “DEAR GOD, why would you do that to yourself?” But we’ll simply start with the “why” part…

THE DRIVING FORCE BEHIND MY INSPIRATION TO RUN A DOUBLE-MARATHON ON TRAILS, the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run… a 5-min, 12-second preview video link follows...

*If you have trouble downloading the video, or you don’t have “Real Player”, you can check out a different Western States 100 video. Or if you just want to SEE MORE! This second video utilizes “Windows Media Player” or other default players by clicking the following link

The Sierra Nevada Endurance Run
was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, hands down. That is the simplest way for me to sum it up. I have been through a lot in my life, from family turmoil in adolescence, to many marathons, even the emotional pain of physical injury, but that all paled in comparison to a double-marathon on trails, with elevation-change of 10,000 feet spread out over nearly 53.3-miles. Not only was the course “mountainous-trails” but it was 80% highly technical single-track trails (meaning nearly one-foot-in-front-of-the-other look out for rocks, roots, dips, holes, and LEDGES that could lead to a serious spill, cut, gash, or fall). Lucky for me, the Granite Bay-Folsom-Auburn area of California is some BEAUTIFUL country. The weather couldn’t have been much better than it was. I got to watch the sun rise, enjoyed breathtaking views of Folsom Lake and the American River. I pretended I was on a 53+ mile wilderness hike and I just couldn’t resist the pure joy of running most of it. The community of ultra-runners is much like the marathon community, only far more intimate and personal, considering how tightly knit marathoners are that is a BIG statement. There are SO many stories I’d like to share with you, but you know that if I got going on too many of them, this would be a short novel and a 2-hour read! For now, I’ll stick to the basics…

Sierra Nevada Endurance Run Start TO Rattlesnake Bar (Miles 0–12)
The race was to start at 6:00am. I got up at 3:45am and made my traditional “qualifying-race” meal of chocolate chip pancakes and Peet’s Kenyan coffee! After stuffing myself with as many chocolate-chip pancakes as I could get down, we were off to the starting-line. I stayed at my sister Mary’s house in Rocklin, a mere 8-miles from the start of the race in Granite Bay (which is near Folsom Lake). A very funny coincidence, the starting-line of the Sierra Nevada Endurance run was literally only a few miles up the road from the starting-line of the California International Marathon (near the Folsom Dam), where I qualified for the Boston Marathon only 10 months ago! There’s some great mojo for me up there near Folsom! The gun went off right on schedule, and nearly 150 athletes started off on their long journeys… among us were the participants of three races, the Sierra Nevada Endurance Run Relay (a 2-person relay), my race (the 53.2 mile run) and the Rio Del Lago 100-miler. Yes, there are people crazier than moi! I would need a 10-hour- 45-minute FINISH today if I were to qualify for the Western States (the Boston Marathon of ultra-trail-marathons). It was nearly pitch-black when the gun went off to begin the race, so I stayed close to many runners with headlamps on, and I walked the better part of the first couple of miles. The trail was marked with PINK ribbons and glo-sticks, it was chilly, pleasantly cool air in the mid-50’s, which topped out around 79-degrees later that day, simply DREAM-like weather for this area, this time of year. I lost myself in the predawn views of Folsom Lake. I even forgot at times that I was a participant in a RACE, as I stopped aside the trail and started snapping photos of the lake with my cell-phone’s digital camera! Then, I started running to find a good (2-bar) signal on my cell phone so I could picture-mail them to Kate’s cell phone so my family could see these breath-taking sights!!! I had my phone in the air, my arm fully extended as I waited for pictures to upload, and as crazy as these people are, most looked at me like I was from Mars as I ignored the fact that there was a race happening. When I finally arrived at the first “crew-point” to meet my dad, my baby-sister and brother-in-law, and my fabulous fiancée Kate, I was only slightly behind my targeted pace of 12-miles in 2-hours. They all laughed at me sending photos and text messages! I was nearly a quarter of the way through the race, and I was excited to see what else was in store for me! I gobbled down another chocolate-chip pancake and ran after a couple of older gentlemen (Bill & Dana) who I had ran the last mile or two with, and told my family I’d see them at the next checkpoint.

Rattlesnake Bar TO Auburn Dam Overlook (Miles 12–23)
As I started the second-leg of my quest, I wondered to myself if “Rattlesnake Bar” was named because of a high-concentration of RATTLESNAKES!!! Yikes!! I used to have nightmares as a child of snakes “getting me”, so running this particular portion of the course (which was ALL single track trails with the brush on both sides of the trail grazing my legs at ALL times) a bit creepy. I think I did sub-7-minute miles for a stretch there! When I caught running buddies Bill & Dana, they politely asked me if I’d like them to step-aside so I could pass and I playfully requested that they block me for as long as they could. I told them that I was a neophyte and rookie to the ultra-running community, and that this was my FIRST time venturing past the 26.2 mile distance that has captivated my imagination and soul for the past 5 years. Both guys laughed and smiled and took me under their wing. It was unbelievable, did I EVER run into the RIGHT guys at the RIGHT time! Little did I know, the accomplishments these two guys have amassed, it made me realize yet again how blessed I truly am, and that yet again an angel had led me to THIS race at THIS particular time. These two would serve as my guides for nearly 15-22 miles of the experience! Bill (49) was one of THREE individuals last year (along with Dean Karnazes) to run the WINTER Western States 100. As if Western States wasn’t hard enough, Dean, 5-time winner Tim Twietmeyer, and Bill had run the storied race in January, when around HALF of it was covered in snow! On top of that, Bill had completed 22-consecutive-years of the Leadville 100-mile race, a race as difficult (in terrain) as the Western States, but at a MUCH HIGHER altitude! The Western States has a HIGH altitude of 8,700 ft, and 38,000 ft of net elevation change VS Leadvilles LOW altitude of 9,200 ft (HIGH of 12,600 ft) and a net elevation change around 31,000 ft. They both commented that they were pacing themselves for a 10-hour finish, which I knew would give me some “grace-time” should I melt down in the second half on-way to my necessary 10-hour, 45-minute qualifying time. I told them both of my dream to run the Western States before my 31st birthday which basically gives me until June of 2007 to do so. Dana informed me that not only had both he and Bill WON this race (Sierra Nevada), but he was personally on the 4-person “special considerations” committee that admits athletes into Western States. After telling him of my quest for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and of Sophie Hartmann, he gently assured me that this would NOT get me into the Western States. I fired back, “well, I’ll just have to send you photos of my UCLA co-ed race crew” to which he replied, laughing, “that WILL convince three of the four of us!” That was the LAST we spoke of the Western States until after the race. The LAST thing I wanted to do was be a pest for a couple of hours HURTING my chances to get in. I may be IN a lottery for 350 slots with 1,000-2,000 other people, but it couldn’t hurt to have met Dana when I did. Bill, Dana and I stayed together as we ascended “Cardiac Hill,” between 2-3 miles of vertical climbing that was the most significant uphill of the day, nearly 1,500 ft up. Atop Cardiac, it was a very flat, pleasant few miles to the Auburn Dam Overlook where I got to see my mom for the first time today! She took it upon herself to make sure Kate was taking care of herself while Kate was race-crew-captain for me! The two were an awesome pair. I munched down half a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, had a handful of pretzels, and refilled my bottles with water and Gatorade. ONWARD to No Hands Bridge!

Auburn Dam Overlook TO No Hands Bridge and BACK (Miles 23–31)
In the previous section of running, I had taken a nasty fall where I JAMMED my middle toe on my left foot. Not to long after that, Bill bailed, and Dana joked that he was next. He was! At the top of Cardiac Hill, he took the worst spill of the three of us, falling and hitting his hip hard, and scraping up his palms. Dana had trouble getting into a running rhythm after that, and as we left the Auburn Dam Overlook, he fell back. Before Bill and I knew it, he was nowhere to be seen (or heard). We stopped and yelled back for him, but someone else answered back. Hmmm. As experienced as Dana was, Bill mused that he’d be fine and we should continue on, as we’d likely see him again at No Hands Bridge. Bill informed me we were just about to cross a magical threshold, onto the last few miles of the Western States 100 course! I was giddy that on our way back, I’d be running the last few miles of the course in the same direction as in my current “dream” race. Granted, if the DREAM goes as planned, I’ll be running this section in pitch black darkness aided by a headlamp, as I will strive to finish in under 24-hours, or sometime between 3am-5am. It was between Auburn Dam Overlook and No Hands that runners began flying by in the other direction! Bill and I began to count… there’s the RACE LEADER! 2nd place. 3. 4, 5, 6, 7, first girl at 8! 9, 10, 11, 12… we were ALMOST to No Hands, which we could see in the distance… 13, 14… Bill and I were in 15th place together when we reached the turn-around point. It was now 10:40am and I was 4-hours, 40-minutes into my Western States qualifying quest! At Mile 27, I had 6-hours to complete the final marathon, which was more downhill than up on the way back the EXACT same way we came up. We had about 600 ft to climb in the next 2-miles to get back to the highest point in the race, but I was ENERGIZED! As we made our way back over the bridge, Dana emerged from the trees running with another guy, smiling and looking great. He let us know he was feeling GREAT again and he just had to make a necessary “pit-stop” in the bushes. He said, “I’ll catch YOU, Bill, later. Jimmy, have a GREAT race and I hope to see you at the finish!” Bill and I stayed stride for stride together all the way back to the Auburn Dam Overlook as he told me stories about the many people in the race that passed us, he seemed to know EACH ONE personally!!! When we finally arrived back at the crew point, Kate was eagerly awaiting. This was the point in the race that “pacers” entered the picture. A member of your race-crew could be designated a pacer, and run the last 21+ miles with you to make sure you didn’t get lost, delirious, hurt, or plain pass out. I was feeling PRETTY good considering I had just run a 50k (31 miles) on trails, and I was with Bill. So I told Kate that she wouldn’t be joining me. I knew she had HER big qualifying race (for Boston) in 21-days (the Long Beach Marathon), and in front of us was the DOWNSIDE of Cardiac Hill, and another 23 miles of pounding. While Bill and I refueled, Dana caught up to us. I introduced them both to Kate and my mom, and this HUGE mountain-man looking guy walked up and said HI. Bill and Dana introduced me… Gordy – Jimmy… Jimmy – Gordy! I darted them a look, and they both nodded. This was Gordon Ainsleigh! THE man credited with starting the 100-mile trail run craze by running what is NOW the Western States course in a race VS horses!!! I couldn’t believe it. The FOUR of us took a photo, and it was quite possibly one of only a couple photos where I’m laughing (or even smiling). You’ll see that picture (and more) in a post-email photo-slide-show that my mom put together. I grabbed another half-PB&J and ran after Bill and Dana, who were already jogging away. There was ONLY one more crew-point left between me and the finish, a mere 23 miles to go.

Auburn Dam Overlook TO Rattlesnake Bar (Miles 31–42)
Dana, Bill and I worked our way back towards “Cardiac Hill” and in the back of my mind, I knew that would likely be the last couple of miles we were together. Dana was feeling better, Bill was telling me of his notorious bad endings to this race, and both of them were asking me when I would FLY away, and I think Dana was slightly annoyed that I called my friend Sara to see where she was (she was driving up from Davis to hang with Kate and my mom and cheer me on). I think Dana called me a “whippersnapper” and said “okay, THAT’S IT!” When we hit the Cardiac Hill decent, I began to open it up. There was a split-second when I took my eyes off the trail to see how Bill was doing, and I lost my footing and slipped OVER the ledge… WHOA!!! I scrambled to grab hold of something, and JUST caught myself. As Bill caught me he gave me a very relaxed, “nice recovery!” and “good thing you didn’t fall, I was going to have to report you for cutting the course.” We both laughed, but adrenaline was coursing through my veins. Couple that with the fact that my competitive self was beginning to surface… I was in 15th place with 20 miles to go!!! Could I crack the top 10??? I said to Bill, “Have a GREAT race, see you soon!” and I bolted. The next 9 miles were a back-and-forth between bliss and exhaustion. I was beginning to labor. I caught my first runner! He politely stepped out of the way as I flew by at around a 7:30-per-mile pace. I tried to speed up, or at least maintain pace to hold off any attempt by him to stay with me. Before even slowing down, I had caught another runner! I was now in lucky 13th place! I thought of my dearest Kate, who’s birthday and favorite number is 13. I was now only 6 or 7 miles from Kate at the next crew station. On my way there, I caught two more runners and was now in 11th place! I saw a sign stating that I was now LESS than a mile from Rattlesnake Bar. Only 8-10 minutes until I’m there, right? I got lost!!!! There were these “off-roading” driving paths that crisscrossed a FEW intersecting horse/hiking paths, and I was exhausted and borderline delirious. I started around a corner, and saw the crew point, but I also realized if I walked up to the crew-point from the wrong direction, I could be disqualified for cutting the course (or at least going off-course). I had SO MUCH TIME to finish in under 10-hours, 45-minutes, as my time was NOW at 7-hours, 15-minutes. I had 3-hours, 30-minutes to cover the final 12-miles. I backtracked about a quarter mile until I found the trail again and came back to the crew station ON COURSE. I was frustrated, exhausted, aching, and READY to be done. Kate bounced around like an eager puppy dog wanting to be let out. She let me know that she had found out it was OKAY for her to “pace me” from the 12-mile point in. I agreed to letting her come, deeply relieved that I’d have someone with me for those final TOUGH miles.

Rattlesnake Bar TO Twin Rocks (Miles 42–49.2)
As Kate followed me into the final major phase of the race, my mom YELLED after her, “remember, you CAN’T TOUCH HIM!!!” The rules of the race stipulated that a pacer could NOT act as “race crew” in between crew points. This means she couldn’t help me up a hill, give me anything to drink, she couldn’t even give me an Advil or carry my water bottles for me. She playfully smile back… who, me??? Kate ran right on my heels for miles. It was a gently rolling 7+ miles to the last aid station at Twin Rocks. We passed a guy who (with his pacer) had been kicked by a horse, and REFUSED aid. He was VERY disappointed to be passed by Kate and I, as he was proud of his top 10 positioning. We sped up to drop him. I was ACHING, throbbing, and in agonizing pain at this point, but we pressed the pace anyway. We caught the guy in 9th, who was doing fine, but his PACER was hurting and apparently was ill-prepared for a hilly-mountainous 21 miles. As we passed them by, the pacer was sitting on a rock with his shoes off, and the 9th place guy looked bewildered. We pressed on. I was in 9th place and I prized the idea of being in the single-digits! But EVERYTHING hurt. We got to Twin Rocks after what seemed like HOURS. I had 4.1 miles left. As we finished filling our bottles with ice, Gatorade, and water, the guy who was previously in 9th, now 10th came FLYING around the corner to the Twin Rocks aid station. He looked fresh, strong, relaxed. I was toast. But I couldn’t let him know. We hurriedly left and it was my goal to RUN the rest of the way.

Twin Rocks TO the FINISH (Miles 49.2–53.28+)
As we started (fast), we clipped away between 8-9 minute miles (I think). I kept thinking about 10th place, I thought MAYBE I could run hard enough to catch the NEXT person, so if Mr. 10 caught me, I’d still be in the top 9! lol Things started cramping. Kate commented on some turkeys, and I pleaded with her for no more talking. Everything was irritating me at that point. With about 2 miles left, we caught the next person, the girl leading the women’s race! She nervously asked Kate if she was in the double-marathon, Kate smiled and said, “don’t worry honey, I’m just a pacer.” We almost got lost a few more times as we looked down each of the long forks in the path for the pink ribbons tied to tree branches. The last 2-3 miles took FOREVER. We came out of some trees and over the next set of trees I saw what looked like a school building. I literally thought I might be hallucinating. That COULDN’T be the end. Must have been another school. Then we came up on THE field where I started… I was 200-yards from being DONE! I picked it up to 6:00-mile pace! I stared at the finish line in disbelief. My mom, sister, brother-in-law, and baby-niece all cheered me along the final 30-yards. 9-hours, 28-minutes, 19-seconds later, I was done, and totally spent. I was filthy, bleeding (from a fall in the last few miles) from my thumb, I had scrapes and scratches all over my legs that were coated in dirt, and I could barely walk. I had finished in 8th place, and as they put the stickers on the finisher’s board, it turns out I was also the first person between the age of 18-29, taking 1st place for my “age group.” A woman approached me and asked what she could get for me, and the best-sounding thing I could think of was Red Bull on ice! I drank the two best Red Bull’s I’ve ever had, and I didn’t really care for Red Bull (UNTIL NOW!). We headed back to the hotel, and I had the BEST 15-min ice bath I’ve EVER experienced. It reduced my deep-aching-pain by about 80%. After cleaning up we went to Islands for burgers, and Mary talked them into letting us into a private party and giving us FREE dinner with appetizers!!! After dinner, Kate and I went out with our friend Sara to a bar for drinks. We got home at 1:30am, and 22-hours after waking up, and 54-ish miles later, the day was done! I can not WAIT to do it again! My mom almost immediately emailed us a photo-slideshow of the day…

Here is a list of people I am GRATEFUL to, and whom without, I could NOT have done this:

  1. Kate “the GREAT” Martini – my love and crew chief, who supported me through every training day, and every step of the double-marathon
  2. My family who has supported me ENDLESSLY, been behind me no-matter-what I do... my mom, dad, sisters (Mary & Sarah), brothers-in-law (Stan & Reuben), and cute-as-heck-nieces (Alexis, McKenna & Gabrielle)
  3. Sophie & Vivian Hartman – the inspiration to endure ANY pain and continue to fight on… Sophie continues to fight her fight at the UCLA Med Center, her 2nd bout with leukemia, and I am inspired by ALL the other SURVIVORS (Alex, Virginia, Van, Kendall, Melanie, Jeff, Audrey, and so many more)
  4. My grandparents – the memories of James & Margaret Freeman moves me to this day, they are my role-models and idols, my example of living a life about love and family, passion and commitment
  5. The Team In Training San Gabriel Valley Marathon Team – seeing such amazing people put themselves on the line, doing something they previously thought they could not do, and quite possibly still don’t fully believe they can do, both FUNDRAISING to make a difference in the lives of others and pushing their own physical limits, I am SO blessed to be in the presence of these angels constantly… I LOVE these people with all that I have
  6. My incredibly supportive friends, training partners, and (now fellow) ultra-marathoners who’ve provided advice, support, and motivation… Sara, Travis, Emily, Greg, Murray, Katie, Amber, Teresa, Theresa, Marnie, Gareth, Gionne, Archie, Sonia, Yoshi, Neil, there are SO many I’ve failed to mention, but who played a crucial role in supporting my quest

I shall find out on Saturday, December 3rd, if I have been selected (by lottery) to participate in this year’s Western States, which shall take place on June 24th-25th, 2006. If I do NOT get selected for Western States, I plan to complete the Angeles Crest 100-mile Endurance Run (in the San Gabriel back country) from Wrightwood to Pasadena mid-late next September, 2006...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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