Friday, September 28, 2007

Preparing for the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim

This weekend we are running the Grand Canyon. Twice. Its called the rim2rim2rim. We start at the South Rim, run down the canyon walls to the Colorado river; then run up the canyon walls to the North Rim; turn right around, and run back down to the river; and finally, back up the canyon walls to the South Rim where we started.

We are 6, in this adventure. The usual four - Ganesh, Gaurav, Santhosh, and me - and Padma and Arun. Padma the meticulous has created a great document consolidating all information. This is what the elevation profile looks like.

Seems like we have an overall elevation drop and gain of 9675ft. split over 4263ft. on the south side over some 9+ miles and 5412ft on the north side over some 14+ miles, totalling to an overall distance of 46-47 miles. There are multiple water holes in the canyon (the various campgrounds), we just need to make sure that they do carry water at this time of the year.

The gorgeous views of the canyon promise to make this the run of a lifetime. Eagerly looking forward to this.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Pikes Peak -- up once, up twice, down!

Pikes Peak stands alone in all its vibrant bare majesty. From anywhere in the area, you see all other hills dwarfed by this tree-less peak. The website talks about this race with a respect I havent seen anywhere else... "There’s a reason trees don’t bother growing above 12,000' on Pikes Peak. They can’t!"

We got there on Friday, the usual four and our crew, Roopa. We had decided to do the Pikes Peak D-D-D-Double, which is Ascent (13.3 miles, 7000ft gain) on Saturday, and the full marathon (ascent and return) on Sunday. Padma was to join us on Saturday, she was doing the marathon on Sunday.

Finally, the key to our success on both days was the ideal pacing. We refused to run up the hill, and kept a very steady pace. I also discovered the low oxygen makes me talk continuously. Santhosh bore the brunt of my verbal diarrhea including songs from Disney movies...

The above was just one of the lot. The hill when paced carefully and walked steadily didnt offer much trouble. Also, we won the altitude lottery. Altitude sickness is like a toss of a coin. You either get into trouble or you dont. Padma got into so much trouble, at 12000 ft she could barely coordinate her walking. She was forced to (prudently) pull out at the treeline. The first day, we chilled out at the Summit for a while (14100 ft) and promptly got a headache. The second day was much better.

In the end, it all worked pretty well. The ascent took us 5:14 and the next day the climb took 5:09 with 8:20 for the full marathon. Had to hold Santhosh back on the downhills and we saved our quads in the bargain. Gaurav, Santhosh and myself finished hand in hand, while Ganesh came tumbling soon after.

On the first day, Roopa deciding to do her long run, walked up the course up to Barr camp, and got down, covering over 15miles! A very interesting race, and a hard one at that. But it gets a lot more roadies (road runners) and is a little extra hyped because of that. If you are used to ultra distances, this one is fairly straightforward. Only trick is the altitude. If you get sick at altitude, then this is not the race for you. Either that, or you have to get there three weeks early and acclimatize to the place. This was the second of our series of four races. Two down two to go. Details on the other two will be up soon.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Pikes Peak Bloos

The race website for Pikes Peak says, "There’s a reason trees don’t bother growing above 12,000' on Pikes Peak. They can’t! Makes one wonder if trees are smarter than runners. Above treeline most runners take 30 minutes or more, some much more, just to cover a mile. What little air remains can’t satisfy the endless stream of zombies hoping only to survive their next step—a death march right out of a scene from Dawn of the Dead"
And yet there we were...four apparently not-too-bright 'flatlanders' tryin our luck on America's mountain. (alright.....Vinod being the lone mountain man having done back to back mountain 50 milers on two consecutive weekends! Even we think he is crazy)
To make things a little bit more interesting, somewhere during our training we had this brilliant idea...its so darn difficult to go up that big piece of rock once...lets do it two days!
And we did it!The D-D-D-Double...the Pikes Peak Ascent on August 18th and the Pikes Peak Marathon on August 19th. A combined mileage of over 39 miles and an elevation gain of over 7000 feet on each day, culminating in a maximum elevation of 14,115 ft. on both days.
(Just to put things in perspective...on another day in another age, I used to jump out of perfectly good airplanes with a backpack ....and that was at 12,000 ft.)

Two races down in the Indian Joe has so eloquently named our quest this year.
Two more to go...coming up next....a visit to the big hole in the ground (sometimes also known as the Grand Canyon).

Cornucopia of morass at the Big Horn

At the end of it all, it hurt. The truth slowly hit home -- "Don't do fartleks between miles 28 and 34, it can't ever do good to your shins!". Being pulled out at mile 34.5 sucks. It was a new experience, first brush with not meeting a cut-off time, in fact even coming close to one, Ganesh's warnings and other jinxes notwithstanding.

It started off with a sleepless night in Billings and the rest of the bloo-frat arrived the morning after. Breakfast was had at Dennys over eggs and gossip and we drove out to sleepy Sheridan soon after. Montana is beautiful. Lots of hills and large undulating grassy meadows. Soon we were checked into the hotel and started preparing the drop bags, even as Santhosh provided customary entertainment. Dano had prepared very cool tags to attach to the drop bags. Met him and Mike and Clarence at the hotel, and Renee, Brenda, and Leah at the packet pickup. The 100milers were already on the course by then. Rest of the day was spent in anticipation, pizza, and Asha emails.

The day of the race started at 2:30AM. We got to the start in Dayton and took the race bus to the Porcupine ranger station, our start line and mile 52 for the 100milers. All the 50milers gathered together for many photographs, all decked in spotless clean shoes. Little did we know the kind of muddy quagmires that awaited us.

We started promptly at 6AM. Within the first 5 minutes I was out of breath, within 10, wheezing, and by 20minutes was running downhill with side stitches. I am not sure if it was the pollen or the altitude, but I sure hope it wasnt the latter. Then there was all the mud and slush and other subsidiary morass. Over the day, my leg went into the quagmires atleast 8 times (once until the knee), and at mile 3, breaking my no-fall-ever record, I did a sideways superman and landed heavily on my side -- falling on sports beans hurts!

Aid stations along the way sucked. Nothing to eat. We are too pampered by Joe's races. Progress was slow throughout the downhill, impeded by the mud and breath. Reached the first dropbags at mile18 with 10minutes to cutoff, quickly changed socks, replenished clip2 and endurolyte, picked up a sandwich and Boost and walked out. The next stretch was a long haul, a 2000ft climb in 3miles. I recovered quite a bit on this climb, and managed to power walk parts of it. At the top of the hill, at Bear camp, the volunteers told me that it was 7miles to Cow camp, and 4 more miles from there to Dry Fork, for a cutoff at 4PM.

No excuses, but that did throw me off. I more or less dawdled my way to Cow camp with an hour and 20minutes to spare (to cover my 4 more miles) and was promptly told that Dry Fork was 6 miles away. Now that suddenly sounded very hard. There was only one way out, and I started to do fartleks, and powerwalk the hills. The darned section also had a lot of rolling hills. Pushing through the fartleks, I came around a bend where I could see the aid station. I had 8 minutes and nearly a mile long massive hill, and on top of the hill, Dry Fork aid station. At the realization that I was not going to make the cutoff, my muscles cramped, and I slowly hauled myself up the hill, dragging my feet, and came in some 5-6 minutes late. The aid station volunteers refused to let me go on, even as I fought withthem for a while. Others who had reached before me, and had yet missed the cutoff had also been pulled out.

It was awful. I had never known the feeling of being pulled out after 35miles, with the last nearly 7mi coming in fartleks. A novel experience, cant say I enjoyed it much at that point. Then I chatted with Jennifer from Boulder for a long while, while we waited for a ride back to the start/finish line. By this time, I was also concerned I had messed up my shins, could barely stand, and could hardly walk. Eventually got back, and met with Ganesh. He had been pulled at the mile 18 cutoff point with Dano. Lots of 100milers had been pulled out. Gabe had broken his ankle in two places. Mike had fallen and hurt his rib. Clarence and Renee were pulled at the same point as me. Leah got pulled at the next cutoff. In the end, 3 folks finished the 50miler and 3 finished the 100miler from Austin, while a whopper 85 were pulled out or DNF-ed in a total field of 141. The Big Horn had taken its toll.

Santhosh finished pacing Joe and Diana (the 100milers). Gaurav finished 40minutes after them. The bloo-frat was half-done. A race to remember for the persistent hollow feeling that continues to rankle.

PS: Ganesh's ankle recovered easily, and my shins are much better now. Gaurav seems to have no lasting after effects, and Santhosh who was limping the most after the race, has stubbornly avoided visiting a doctor about his foot -- hopefully thats healing fine too.