July 28, 2019

Over a Field of Graves

This week I went for a jog in Washington, D.C., making my way to the mall where I wondered around my favorite veteran's war memorial. The following words are enshrined on the grounds there:

"Our nation honors our sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met." 

Do you know which war this was? I'll give you some hints...

- The UN fought on the same side as the US there

- We nearly lost the war. Neither side won. An armistice was reached.  

- It was General MacArthur's last campaign before he was fired by President Truman

- The area remains highly volatile and one side routinely launches missiles over the ocean

- 36,000 American's gave their lives there  

If you've never been to this memorial, make the trip. It is eerie and emotional as much as it is sobering. These figures are like a platoon of ghosts unwittingly marching over a field of graves. 


July 20, 2019

Lactic Eating Bacteria -- In Your Gut!

the closest picture I could take of real-life bacteria
An article was published in the LA Times a few weeks back which said that we runners have a certain bacteria in our guts that survives on lactic acid (the stuff that the body produces when we exercise aerobically). These bacteria, or Veillonella, consume lactate and then produce a bi-product called propionate that is used to fuel our muscles. Not sure how relevant this is to this blog, but it is an interesting concept - that the body creates fuel from its own waste product.

Of course the article expanded on the marketability of a substance containing these bacteria or the actual propionate. The idea according to the story is such a substance -- call it an athletic probiotic -- could be sold to the average Joe who wants to become an elite athlete.

Good luck on that one, Joe.

July 7, 2019

Into the Bedlam. Avoid the Mundane

San Gorgonio from Seven Oaks Trail
It was around mile 15 when the aerial siege descended upon me - with a vengeance. I was under attack. Moments came, then went, when I was flailing my arms and hat - the only weapons at my disposal - at the thickening black cloud. I had to climb 2,000 vertical feet through this mayhem just to get to the ridge where I hoped to find refuge. The worst were the bastards that bit right through my compression socks. Knowing what they were feasting on gave me a sick sense of satisfaction when I crushed them mid-meal.

Then there was that noise. That constant zzzz  zzzz zzzz  that would fade in and fade out. One minute it reached a crescendo as I brandished my weapons, the next minute it faded to the background, when I stopped to catch my breath while hunched over, heart racing and trying to comprehend why I didn't bring a head net. I stumbled deeper into the bedlam, visualizing a ridge with a strong breeze where I could finally sit down.

One of the my favorite things about longer runs, particularly those at altitude, are the random thoughts and experiences that I often stumble upon. Maybe it's the lack of oxygen, the constant drip of endogenous (natural) opiates, or the overwhelming elements nature throws at me, or all of the above, running long in the mountains helps penetrate the mundane.

When I made it to the ridge at the top of Seven Oaks Trail, I sat down on a bench and peered across the valley to Mt. San Gorgonio, southern Cal's highest peak. I realized I'd covered a lot of terrain, from Big Bear Lake to the top of Bear Mountain, down to the Santa Ana River via Radford Rd. to refill my water, then up Seven Oaks trail. But now I wondered, how far would it be to the summit of San Gorgonio from Big Bear?

Maybe next time. With a head net.           

July 2, 2019

Western States - "Gordy Will You Pace Me?"

Gordy Ainsliegh and I - Rucky Chucky
"Have you been eating?" I asked Jukka as soon as he arrived at Forresthill aid station. "Not really," he uttered. We jogged in the dark toward the aid station then he said "I've had a bit of nausea." The next thing I heard was  a collective gasp. "Oh my god, are you ok?" a panicked voice blurted out from the crowd of volunteers. Jukka was flat out on the pavement, struggling to get to his feet. I quickly helped him up, blaming myself for mishap. 

We sat him down on a chair at the aid station. A volunteer tended to the raspberry on his elbow while I tempted him with Forrest Hill's best: cheese quesadillas, pieces of PB&J, Coke, M&Ms...anything I could get my hands on. Jukka wasn't taking the bait.

Things then took a turn for the worse. Jukka, my chatty, happy-go-lucky friend from Finland, started to fade. His sentences were turning to gibberish, missing key verbs and consonants. Then his head slumped down between his shoulders. He was out. Unconscious (but still holding cup of coke I noticed.) "Medic!, Medic!", the volunteer yelled.

As a pacer you always feel responsible for your runner. No matter what happens, because a pacer's number one job it to keep his/her runner safe. I had been on the job for less than 10 minutes and my runner was already passed out.

Jukka - getting calories during WS 100

By the time we got him to the medical tent Jukka was already showing signs of life. His gibberish was turning to jokes, which then turned to jousting with me. As I handed him another coke and quesadilla he reminded me that the only time I ran UTMB it was short course - 100k not 100 miles. Jukka did UTMB, but it was the full 100 miles. At this point I knew he was back in the saddle and ready to ride the bronco.

One of the hardest things for a crew and pacers to do during a 100 mile race is estimate the time the runner will arrive at a given aid station.  Jukka's second pacer and crew chief, Dreama W, and I decided I would pace him from Forresthill to Rucky Chucky near side, and she would take him from there to the finish. This worked great for me as I needed to drive to Santa Cruz for an event the next day. Timing when we would arrive at Rucky Chucky proved a little more challenging.

But Jukka still had to make it there first. After the "lights out" incident at Forresthill I was worried he wouldn't make it another mile. He was talking a good game after getting some calories back in him, but talk is talk. My job was to keep him safe. His job was to get to the finish line.

So we set out into the dark night and quickly found a nice rhythm descending the switch back trail. We came upon one runner and his pacer, then another, and another. Within an hour or two Jukka and I had passed a dozen runners, moving in sync on the winding single track trail. Jukka was back in the game.

Based on Jukka's pace for most of the day, I suggested to Dreama that we should be into Rucky Chucky around 3:30 am, or 30 minutes before the thirty hour cutoff. But that was before the "lights out" incident at Foresthill, which put Jukka back 15 minutes and much closer to the 30 hour cutoff. When we departed Forresthill, the more accurate estimate would have put us into Rucky Chucky around 3:45 or 4:00 am. But there was one problem. We got there at 3:20 on account of Jukka's resurgent running after leaving Forresthill.

As a runner, it's one thing to suffer through nausea, dehydration, stomach cramps, dry heaves or the many maladies a 100 mile race will throw at you. It's another thing to find your pacers in disarray.

When we arrived at Rucky Chucky the first thing I noticed was that Dreama wasn't there, not realizing we were early due to Jukka's fast pace. I walked through the small crowd looking for her. No luck. I then noticed Jukka had struck-up a conversation with the legendary Gordy Ainsliegh, the man who started Western States back in the late 1970's. Jukka was sharing our situation with Gordy. Gordy turned to me and asked why I couldn't simply pace Jukka for the next 20 miles to the finish line. I explained I had to be in Santa Cruz that afternoon and there was no way I could get there on time if I ran all the way to the finish. 

Jukka was ready to set out on his own, but then he turned to Gordy, "can you pace me?" Gordy kind of chuckled. Then he paused. "I don't know why I didn't think of that?" It was totally surreal. One minute I'm running with Jukka on the Western States trail, and the next minute I'm pinning my pacer number onto the legendary Gordy Ainsliegh's shorts. I asked Gordy if he really wanted to do this. He was resolute.

It is said by many that things happen for a reason. That the greatest surprises in life come as part of a greater plan. If this is so, then Gordy was there to ensure that Drema would, after all, run with Jukka to the finish line. Because just as Gordy was walking down to the boats to cross the river with Jukka, Dreama appeared. And it was, maybe by destiny, the few minutes it took Gordy to get suited up to run, the exact amount of time Jukka needed to wait to depart with Dreama across the river.   

Congratulations to my friend Jukka for finishing the Western States 100 mile endurance run. Thank you, Jukka, for inviting me to run with you. It was an experience I won't forget.