Got shells in my shoes

I ran the Dances with Dirt 50K (32 miler) in September at the Pinckney State Recreation Area.

It’s a fairly brutal race.  There’s not much climbing, but it tempts you to run fast, which can take its toll later on.

It goes through Hell, Michigan, too.

It also goes off trail. The trail markers are hung on trees and it’s up to the runners to pick their route through the woods.

This year something rather common happened – someone vandalized the course markings, moving them and leading the runners into a dead end gully. Our group spread out, climbing hills in search of the legitimate markings.

The run course also took us off trail and into some rivers. After finishing the race I found shards of broken freshwater clams shells in my shoes (ouch) and a couple complete shells embedded on the bottom of my shoes.

I clearly hadn’t recovered from running 100 miles at Leadville a month earlier, but I didn’t feel too bad. I bruised both heels after aggressively running downhill which came back to haunt me as the miles piled up.

I also tried a couple new products in anticipation of maybe using them at Leadville next year.

First, I used some Dirty Girl Gaiters. The goal was to keep sticks and stones out of my shoes. They didn’t work. The Velcro attachments didn’t stick on the shoes. I’ll try them again and see if I can’t improve that Velcro attachment. They just might not work at crazy races like this.

Second, instead of my Nathan running pack, I used a handheld water bottle from Amphipod.  The aid stations aren’t too far apart so a single water bottle works well. I also was able to keep some gels stashed in the pocket. I’d need to use two of these at Leadville and I’m not sure where I’d carry my emergency clothing. But as the weather at Leadville seems to be getting warmer, I’d rather stay cooler by not wearing a pack.



The Night before Leadville

Leadville, Colorado – At 4am tomorrow morning, they’ll fire a shotgun at the corner of Main Street and Sixth to start the 30th Leadville Trail 100 mile run. Despite the early start, I look forward to being in that group.

It’s been ten years since I first ran this event. With a finishing time of 24 and half hours, it remains my fastest time after 5 more tries.

That may change this year as I’ve run about 200 more miles in training for this event. I also did some run training in the Appalachians earlier this year. I’ve noticed an improvement, too. I ran/hiked about 45 miles over 4 days around Frisco, Colorado and never felt too tired.

On the negative side, I’m 10 years older and about 3 pounds heavier. My weight could have been a bigger liability had I not lost about 24 pounds of winter blubber during the past 5 months. Weight is such a major factor at Leadville. Running with an extra 10 pounds of fat is like carrying a gallon jug of milk. Besides the added work, it’s tougher on your body. This is magnified in Leadville as the trail is often going up and or down.

One other negative? The race course is longer. They’ve added about 2.3 miles.

As for my race strategy, I am not doing much differently this year.

I have chewable vitamin C tablets with me. Last year I craved orange juice, which seemed to improve my upset stomach. These little orange tablets may help.

I’m using gel packets instead of gel bottles just because the aid stations have them. For solid food I have some Fig Newtons and Shok Bloks. I’m going to try avoid other solid food until later in the race in hopes that it helps my stomach. My  stomach totally cooperated 10 years ago.

Overall, I am hoping to run more segments where I’ve walked in the past. I hope to stride up the mountains a little quicker too. We’ll see.

You never know what’s going to happen over 100 miles.


Leadville Trail 100: Run #6

Sometimes I think I write these race reports just so I can remember what I did.

Anyway, I forgot to write about last year’s Leadville Trail 100 mile run. Here’s what I recall.

For one, I had a support crew. My girlfriend Lori came out for her first Leadville race and helped me through the course. I had hoped to introduce her to Jenn from IMBA who was crewing for her boyfriend but didn’t get the opportunity before the race. When I ran through an aid station about two-thirds into the race, they were next to each other chatting. Jenn, this is Lori. Lori, Jenn.

I did have stomach issues again before eventually vomiting about 60 miles into the run. Even drinking water was making me nauseous. So, right before the aid station I took four strong gulps of water. Bam! Everything came out and I started on Stomach 2.0. The ugly side of ultras.

Still, my new and improved stomach still wasn’t 100%. I craved orange juice.

With about 6 miles to go and the sun beginning to rise for the second time during the race, I ran past a mellow dude sitting at a bonfire. He said, “Run between the cans.” There were two columns of aluminum cans on both sides of the trail — AND ONE WAS AN ORANGINA! I stopped in my tracks and asked the camper if he had more Oranginas. He did. I offered to wait while he went to retrieve one from the cooler, but he insisted I keep running to the finish. He’d catch up with a cool, bubbly citrus beverage in hand.

He never did.

After running 90-some miles, you wouldn’t believe how easy it is to fixate on such an event. No, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a hallucination.

At the finish line, Lori was kind enough to run to the store and buy some OJ.

And fortunately she was at the finish. I ran the last 12 miles faster than ever before. So fast that Lori would have still be sleeping at the hotel when I got to the end. Realizing this, I waved down a car with about 4 miles to go. I asked if they could call Lori and let her know I was well ahead of schedule.

“What’s her number?”

Ah… Thanks to speed dial, I don’t even know that on a normal day. Thankfully I remembered it was written on my race wrist band as an emergency contact. They told me to keep running and it would be taken care of. Unlike Orangina-man, it was.

I had my second fastest finish at 26 hours and 32 minutes. That was good for 116th overall out of the 351 that finished. There are typically around 1,000 registered racers.

Why was I faster? I’d run more training miles than ever before and weighed less than in previous years. I think that latter was key.

I also used three pair of shoes. I started with a pair Montrail Rockridge, swapped to my regular road shoes at the Fish Hatchery outbound, then to a second pair of Rockridges at the next aid station. I made the same changes on the return. This worked. It felt great running in some light road shoes.

The other update is I used a Black Diamond Spot headlamp. I was very pleased with its dimming feature which helped the batteries last all race long. I also put cellophane tape on the lens to diffuse the LED spot. I plan on using this again in conjunction with my Surefire flashlight.


Taping on toe nails

One problem with ultra-running is it can really lead to some ugly feet. No matter how much one spends on fancy shoes and socks, it seems the occasional black toe nail and blisters are inevitable.

I’ve read that the blackening is often caused by the toe nail continually hitting the inside top of the shoe. If that’s the case, I plan on wrapping my bigger nails in athletic tape prior to any future long runs.

During this year’s Leadville 100 I got four black toe nails — a personal best!

Twice now after pulling on socks I’ve felt a wood splinter against my foot, which only turned out to be a smaller toe nail falling off.

Losing the bigger nails is usually a little more traumatic. I had one flip back while pulling on a sock. It didn’t really hurt as there was a partial nail underneath it. I just taped the old nail on top to provide some protection until the new nail could grow in more.

And if you think damaged toe nails are a sick and wrong topic for this blog, by all means avoid this video I made while draining blisters.

Don’t forget! The 2010 Leadville Trail 100 run application is now on-line!


Strains, Pains, and Belt Buckles

leadville-logo“I believe that if you set out on an adventure and you’re absolutely convinced you are going to be successful, why bother starting?” — Sir Edmund Hillary

The temperature was in the mid-40s at the start of the 2009 Leadville Trail 100 run.  I was one among more than 500 fidgety runners trying to stay loose while thinking about the big race ahead.

Then at 4 AM, the shotgun was fired and we were off, heading downhill and out of town under beautiful starry skies.

The first five miles are mostly gravel roads, which are great to warm up on. Then there are a couple steep, rocky climbs before we start on 8 miles of rolling Turquoise Lake singletrack.

Somewhere along the trail, I get passed by a real quick woman wearing knee high white socks. I thought it was a hot fashion statement, but they’re compression socks. Many of the ultra-runners were wearing them. They apparently improve circulation and speed recovery.

The first aid station, Mayqueen is at mile 13.5 and I’m in 58th place. Not bad. I’m trying to start a little slower than in years past.

As planned, I don’t stop and continue on the Colorado Trail, climb Hagerman’s Pass, run down the very steep Powerline descent and eventually head into the Fish Hatchery aid station (mile 23.5). The temperature is really starting to warm up, so I remove my arm warmers. I also try eating a Balance bar for protein but it takes me forever to finish it off while running.

After 30 miles, I arrive at the Box Creek aid station. So far, it’s been an uneventful race. I don’t feel fast but I’m doing fine. The sun is really coming out in full force and making this a hot race — which I typically don’t do well in. Anticipating that, I’m starting to consume about 2 electrolyte (salt) tablets per hour.

During this section, some older, skinny gentleman catches up to me. He’s got a thin bead of snot between his nose and lip. As he passes me, he looks back at my crotch. Then again.  Then a third time.

“Dude, can I help you?”

He responds that he is just trying to read my race number. At Leadville, returning racers are assigned numbers based on their finish the previous year.

“I’m number 120.”

Fine, it was a suitable excuse for the look backs, but wipe your nose, runner.

At mile 37 the race became a whole lot more eventful. I turned my right ankle hard while stepping on some small boulders. I hear a few pops and nearly fall to the ground. I start limping along the trail and swearing (only as a means to relieve pain. Uh-huh.) Am I going to finish now? I was so convinced at the start. Damn it, Hillary!

My limp turns to a shuffle as I press on. While the trail is very narrow, my sprained ankle is on the upslope side of the trail, so there’s less chance of my rolling it again. On the descents I trying keeping my right foot angled outward, again to reduce the chance for more damage.

Eventually I hobble into Twin Lakes aid station at mile 39.5. I track down a race medic and get my ankle wrapped. She does a great job. It’s really tight but she assures me it’ll loosen up over the next 60 miles.

I’d started this race in running shoes because most of the early course sections include gravel roads, paved roads, and Jeep trails. In looking back, perhaps that wasn’t the best idea since road shoes can be less stable than trail shoes. No matter, I grab my trail shoes from my drop bag, pull them on, and head back out onto the race course.

During a big river crossing, I wash the salt residue from my face and reapplying sun screen. The cold water feels great.

Next up? A 3,600 foot climb up Hope Pass. Fortunately the wrapped ankle doesn’t feel too bad when heading upward.

However, the descent off of the mountain is another story. Going down super steep and rocky descents requires a lot of ankle strength. I stop often to let other runners pass.

Another racer’s video from the 2009 event

Once off the mountain and into the Winfield aid station (mile 50), a spectator yells, “Keep your chin up!” I stop in my tracks and ask, “Really? Do I look that bad?”

Apparently, yes.

I’m overheating in the hot sun. The race volunteers have started measuring our weight at each stop to make sure we don’t get too dehydrated. I’ve lost 5 pounds in 10 miles, which doesn’t seem to phase them. I eat some warm watermelon and half a PB & J before starting the second half of the race.

I think the climb back over Hope Pass is perhaps the toughest part of the race. It’s a long, steep, hot struggle uphill. Then, just as you clear the tree line, you look up and see the tiny human ants still higher up on the Pass and realize you have a long ways to go.

I really thought about dropping out but I then I’d have to justify it on this blog and Facebook. And my long term goal is to get 10 run finishes. Dropping out only prolongs that and this race isn’t getting easier.

So I press on and make it up, over then back downhill into Twin Lakes. Here I see my friends Kevin and Shelby Bauman who happened to be nearby during the race. More warm watermelon, another half PB & J, and I’m off.

The sun is behind the mountains now and my headlamp is on low. For some reason, I’m feeling pretty good. Perhaps everyone else has just slowed down to my speed. I’m not running fast, but I’m consistent and passing other runners.

In and out of the Oak Creek aid station and I’m back on the road segments. My Nathan water pack had been leaking a little, but I wasn’t losing too much. But now the drink valve (aptly called the BiteMe™ valve) comes off and won’t go back on. Nice. I suffer for a few miles without water.

At the Fish Hatchery, I sit down and drink hot veggie soup with noodles and cold watermelon. Yes, it’s getting cold out, so I pull my arm warmers back on along with gloves. I’ve got 8 hours to finish, so unless the wheels fall off during the final marathon, I should finish before the 30 hour cutoff.

At this point I’d gone through my entire stash of electrolyte tablets, about 30. Not wanting to take chances, I successfully begged some tablets from a helpful crew.

Now the final mountian climb is before me — the Powerline. It’s not crazy steep, but it’s a total tease. There are many false peaks that make you think you’re done climbing when you’re not.

Near the top of one peak, I look back to admire the long bobbing line of lights climbing behind me.

Perhaps it’s the heat and everyone drinking more, but there seems to be more urine and vomit along the trail this year. The former is from the talented runners who can “go” as they continue walking. They leave a long damp streak on the trail. At one point I comment to a nearby runner about the length of one streak. The urinator must have had an ultra-bladder. Impressive.

Once over the peak, it’s a quick downhill run to the Colorado Trail. Last year my headlamp batteries died here. This year I’m using two lights, one on my head and one in my hand. I’ve brought spare batteries just in case, too.

My Princeton Tec LED headlamp has a bright mode which really lights up the trail. It’s pretty amazing for such a light piece of hardware. But, the problen with headlamps is there are no shadows. Without shadows, the human brain has a more difficult time determining the trail surface irregularities. For that reason I’m carrying a very bright SureFire G2 LED flashlight. The combo works great as I pass other runners on the toughest part of the trail as if it were daylight.

The final aid station is Mayqueen and I don’t stay here long with just 13.5 miles to go.

My ankle wrap led to blistering and swelling during the Leadville Trail 100

Actual post-race footage

At this point my foot pain is really starting to increase. Stuffing that ankle bandaging and swollen foot into my running shoe isn’t good. I’ve got 4.5 hours to finish, so I mostly hike the trail.

The sun soon rise over Turquoise Lake and there’s a single scull rowing across the relatively smooth lake. And no, it wasn’t a hallucination — not this year.

With four miles to go, Charlie from Boulder starts running with me. He’s not in the race, but is thinking about 2010. He’s asking me a bunch of questions about the run, training, etc. He talks about his job where they produce material flow sensors that among other things can accurately determine the amount a fuel loaded into large navy vessels. The things you learn at mile 98…

Off the boulevard, a left, a right, one hill, and there it is. The finish line. One can’t help choking up a little. There are cheering spectators all along this final stretch. I pick it up to run across the finish line. Race promoter Merilee puts a finishing medal around my neck and  gives me a hug as I say “Your race kicked my butt.”

With just 23 minutes left before the cutoff, it was my slowest finish. I head to the medic tent and find the woman who wrapped my ankle 60 miles ago. She was very pleased if not surprised to see me there. I held up my medal and thanked her for helping me finish.

As I hobble towards my car, I cheer on the other runners still finishing. (275 runners finished in total.)

I drive a couple blocks (only stalling once!) to a gas station and buy a 20 pound of ice. I drive to the award ceremony building, lay the ice across my quads and fall asleep.

Two hours later, I wake up, walk over to the awards ceremony and pick up my buckle and custom sweatshirt.

My fourth finish is not pretty but it’s official and it’s over.

Just six more to go.


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