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Thanks for visiting my blog. This is where I document and share all of my running adventures with my friends and fellow runners. The good, the bad, and the unquestionably painful. All for your entertainment! Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

2015 Jackpot 24 Hour: Turning Circles in Vegas


I don't run very many of these timed events because I don't envision myself as a "timed event runner". I like to see myself as an ultra trail runner...or a mountain runner. Running across ridge lines at high altitude is much sexier than turning loops for 24 or 48 hours. 

This comment is not meant to disparage the timed event aficionados of the world, but rather to highlight my own delusional opinion of myself. I want to do epic things and amazing mountain venues, and do it well. But I rarely do.

The fact is...I love running in the mountains, but I'll never find the level of success that I do on those little loops. I need to find a way to accept my lot in life.

That point was driven home with force while running the Jackpot Ultra Running Festival 24 Hour Race in Las Vegas over the weekend.


I had no idea what to expect from this race and I didn't really look at the website and study the course. I knew a lot of my friends would be there, so I accepted that as a testament to the quality of the event and decided to run it.

My intention was to run Jackpot as a training run to prepare for the Pickled Feet 48 hour in March. I didn't have a goal going in, but I did give some consideration to a possible spot on the podium if all went well.

Vegas was having record breaking heat at the time of the race, so I spent a lot of time refining my nutrition and hydration plan. Hammer Nutrition is the race sponsor, so I had some comfort and a tremendous amount of experience with the fueling products that would be available at the aid stations. I planned to run with a bottle of HEED and Jo would always have another bottle available to swap with me whenever I needed it. The rest of my calories were going to come from Hammer gels for as long as I could tolerate it.

Jackpot is a 2.38 mile course, mixed with every fathomable running surface. There's absolutely NO shade and you can see the entire course from anywhere you're standing. It's a sea of sweltering bodies and hard running surfaces.

There was a bit of confusion at the race start. Nobody was really clear when they started the race and we all stood there staring at each other for a moment before I decided to run. It was never my intention to lead the pack, but somebody had to take charge.

We're Off!

Typical View of the Course

There were multiple races running at the same time, and there was no visual indication of which race a runner might be in. So as I began to get passed in that first loop, I simply assumed they were running the marathon or 6 hour event. If I hadn't done that, I would have felt the uncontrollable urge to battle for the lead...and that never ends well for me.


The first couple of laps felt comfortable, but it didn't take long for the heat to rise and my temperature to follow. The heat was going to be the deciding factor for a lot of runners and within the first 5 laps, some people were already fading.

Asphalt. The Enemy of the Ultra Runner

As the heat rose, I gave serious consideration to jumping in the lake. That was before I gave it a good look. I'm not 100% sure, but I think this is runoff from the Las Vegas strip, which means it's primarily vomit and spilled beer because it doesn't rain in Vegas.

That's a LOT of Vomit and Stale Beer

Because we all wore the same bibs, I didn't know what my position was for several laps. Around the 50k mark, I asked Jo to find out. She grabbed me on the next lap and told me I was in the lead. I told her not to tell me again until after nightfall because I didn't want to dwell on it so early in the race. Those things can get into my head and begin to dictate how I race. It was too early and way too hot to be worried about it.


My pace was comfortable, but solid. I focused on keeping my heart rate low while managing my hydration. I was taking a Hammer gel every other lap and drinking a bottle of HEED on almost every lap. That seemed risky, and I worried about my nutrition and electrolyte balance, but I kept it well monitored and it was working.


At the 6 hour mark, the course freed up a bit as the 6 hour runners were finishing. I also noticed a lot of other runners began to take breaks to cool off, hydrate and eat.

The attrition was beginning.


The 100 mile leader was running at a blistering pace and lapped me a few times by the 50 mile mark. I knew I was running at a sub 16 hour pace and figured he was well under a 15 hour pace. We chatted a few times as he lapped me and he looked solid. Then I began to reel him in as he faded. I passed him twice while he sat on the side of the trail trying to recover from stomach issues.

The heat was destroying the field.

I kept drinking and fueling, checking my physical condition for issues but there were none. I was patiently waiting for the sun to set so I could really begin to let go.


The runners and the crowd were all very supportive and I could hear my name being called from all over the course. People were shouting encouragement constantly. I loved the energy and feel of this event and it kept me focused. I felt like there were people invested in my success and I wanted to do well for all of them.

The Setting Sun...Now the Race Will Get Interesting


The Best Crew Chief in the Business! I Love This Woman!!
Photo Cred: Danielle Zemola

Jo and I needed to drive home right after the race, so I asked her to go to the hotel and get a full nights sleep so she could drive while I slept. We almost never do this because we work together and she keeps me moving like I need to. We got prepared for her departure by discussing our plan whenever I saw her at each lap. She got all my things together and organized her crew area, adding a Valentines Day balloon so I could find my things in my depleted and delirious state late at night. When she was satisfied, she headed to the hotel for some sleep.


After the sun fully faded, I began to push the pace even harder. It was cool and comfortable and running came easy. I was feeling fresh again and my lap times dropped.

Near midnight, I realized I was closing in on the 100 mile mark quickly. I ran the numbers in my head and discovered that I was going to have a 100 mile PR. I picked up the pace and burned my way around the course. I crossed the 100 mile mark in 15:22:52, a PR by 43 minutes!

When I hit 100 miles, the timer slowly looked up at me with a blank stare and told me I was the first person to hit 100 miles. I also beat the current course record by 18 minutes.

Hitting 100 Miles

At this point, I was about 17 miles ahead of the 2nd place 24 hour runner and I felt confident that I could win this race if I stayed smart, fueled correctly and simply kept moving forward for the next 8 hours. At times like this I keep repeating "Hurry every chance you get" in my head and it keeps me focused on moving with a purpose. I kept moving forward...

Late into the night, my quads began to ache and my shoulder was burning from carrying a water bottle for so many hours. 22 ounces feels like a ton if you carry it long enough. My body was beginning to betray me and I was fading.

As the sky began to lighten to the east, I saw my bride as I came to my crew area. I was elated to see her again, after a night of fighting off the demons all by myself. I got a fresh bottle, a gel and the sweetest kiss ever. Then I ran some more.

Jo is BACK!

As the sun rose, I was cycling through periods of high energy and total fatigue. I always felt "good" but I was having a hard time staying focused. I really just wanted the time to burn off so I could quit running.


By now, everybody knew I was going to put up a high number and they were pushing me and cheering all over the course. I really needed that support because without it, I would have simply walked until the clock stopped.


At the 22 hour mark, I realized I could hit 140 miles if I just maintained my pace, but it was going to be close. I needed 4 more laps at 30 minutes each to get it done.

I turned the first lap in 27 minutes. That was an 11:20 pace and it felt like 6 minute miles.

With three laps to go, I was staring at my watch constantly. As I ran around the course, it became obvious that I would get to 140 miles, but I had no desire to try for anything more. My body just wasn't willing.

Flying High! One Lap to Go!

With only 1 lap to go, I still had 55 minutes on the clock. I told Jo I was going to walk the entire thing. That comment was met with opposition. She insisted that I RUN every step!

Uh...OK?

I ran the last lap easy and chatted with every runner I passed. I gave encouragement and thanked them for the support through the night. The best thing about timed events is the camaraderie that develops on the course. We all see each other for hours, and sometimes for days. It's a unique experience.

My brain had told my body that we were almost done, so my body began to totally shut itself down. I was barely able to keep moving as every muscle started to seize up and prepare for its rest and recovery. The final quarter mile was excruciating.

As I made it to the finish line, the crowd was cheering and I was feeling elated. When I crossed the timing mat at 140.42 miles, they told me to head out and get as far as I could because I still had 28 minutes on the clock.

I declined.

They insisted.

I declined more.

DONE!

That was it. I didn't have another step left in me and couldn't run if I was being chased by a bear. Thankfully there aren't any bears in Vegas.

A Much Needed Chair

Winning the race was an incredible feeling, but I also set a 24 hour PR, a 100 mile PR, set both of those course records and ran a qualifying race for the Mens US 24 Hour Team. That's a long list of accomplishments for a single day of racing and I felt overwhelmed by all of it.

The Race Director Presenting my Trophy

I was thrilled with my fueling strategy and I know that it had a lot to do with my success in this race. I had blown up during my race in Brazil the previous month because I had made mental errors with fueling, but I corrected my mistakes and it paid off. I owe a lot to Hammer Nutrition for their support and patience.


I ran the entire race in a new pair of Topo Athletic Fli-Lytes. They're super lightweight and felt great. I had never run more than 12 miles in them and was thrilled with how they performed over the long distance. Awesome shoe!

What started as a training run turned into a lot more. I may not be the mountain runner that I want to be, but I'm enjoying my experiences in these timed events. At some point, I may just have to face reality and come to terms with the kind of runner I am, versus the kind of runner I wish I was. I can live with that.

Next stop...Eagle Idaho for the Pickled Feet 48 Hour Race. I think I'm ready!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Brazil 135+: Vomit early and often


It's difficult to write about an adventure of this magnitude, while really being able to properly convey how incredible it is. While I had a terrible race myself, it still stands as one of the most amazing things I've ever been a part of. I'll do my best to help you understand why that is.

First, there's some backstory. The Brazil 135+ was originally known as the Brazil 135. The "+" was added when the race course was extended by 40 miles due to some "political complications". What's another 40 miles when you've already done 135?

Gaining entry into this race is a bit of a challenge in itself. Runners are granted entry through an invitation that comes after you have been recommended for a spot in the race by a member of the selection committee and then approved by the Race Director. Once all of that is completed, the logistics begin to take center stage.

First off, travel to Brazil requires a visa. This means you have to fill out forms (mostly in Portuguese), submit all of this with a substantial sum of money and hope there are no problems. 

Then you have to start working on all the things are required for actually running this race. Being a point to point race, this means multiple hotels have to be arranged and booked. A rental car needs to be acquired, and hopefully, it'll be a car that can navigate the rugged 175 mile course. And most importantly, International runners are strongly encouraged to hire a driver, an interpreter and at least one pacer. And after having been there myself, I don't know what I would do without these people. 

It's a lot of crap to manage from several thousand miles away. 

Enter...Chris Roman.

Chris was central to helping me get into the race in the first place, and then jumped in managed all of the details surrounding logistics. This would be Chris's 4th time running the race and he had the connections to get things done in South America. 

Everything eventually fell into place and we headed to Brazil!

Leaving the Comfort of the Wasatch 



Jo and I flew to JFK, met up with Chris, who had flown in from Florida, and we all boarded the plane for the long trip to Sao Paulo.

When we arrived in Sao Paulo, we met up with one of our hired crew members, Sergio Cordeiro. Sergio is kind of a big deal in Brazil because he's been a professional triathlete and has done a lot of amazing things over the years. It's kind of like having Usain Bolt on your crew if you're running a race in Jamaica. The dude was shaking hands and signing autographs the entire time we were together.

I was happy to have Serie with us when we picked up our rental car because he's the only one of us that can speak Potuguese. Unfortunatley, he doesn't really speak English, si it was still a huge hassle. We eventually got it all sorted out.


Rental Car Debacle 

Our first night in Brazil was spent in Americana, a two hour drive from Sao Paulo. We were hosted by Paulo Calil and his family. Paulo had crewed for Chris in the past and was scheduled to be our driver and interpreter for the entire trip. He and his family treated us like royalty upon our arrival and we wanted for nothing. It was truly great.

Waiting for us at Paulo's house was our 3rd and final crew member, Geraldo Silva. He's a 2:26 marathoner and would be pacing us, along with Sergie. Geraldo has a big personality and an abundance of energy. He seemed like a great choice for the job. After some food and sleep, we all loaded up and headed to Sao Joao da Boa Vista, which is where the race starts.

After checking in to our hotel and getting settled, we spent the remaining day relaxing and discussing the race.



Chris and I had decided to run together for the entire race. This is a very risky move because it means we're committing to each others success or failure. We discussed it a lot on agreed to accept it for whatever it might bring.

Out time in Sao Joao da Boa Vista was spent preparing for the race. We had to by food and supplies for the crew and runners, attend packet pickup, sit through a race briefing and try to fuel and rest as much as possible.



Fetching Supplies


More Essential Supplies

Side Note: See the dog wandering through the bar in the picture above? Dogs are a constant theme in Brazil. They're everywhere! Fortunately, they all seem to be very sweet animals.


Chris and I at Packet Pickup


The Entire Team! Sergio, Chris, Geraldo, Jo, me and Edwardo (Paulo's son)

While we were making race preparations in Sao Joao Boa da Vista, we got word that Paulo wouldn't be able to join us due to a family emergency. This would leave us without an english speaking Brazilian on our team, so he had his son, Edwardo, stay with us. He's a great found man and he speaks english very well. Things were working out.


Race Director, Mario Lacerda. He's Insane. Just sayin...


Me and Roman Working on Race Strategy

Finally, everything was purchased, the car was ready, the team was briefed and we were ready to get this thing underway. We all gathered for a final meal before the race and relaxed.


The Last Supper

By the way...I know this is a long blog post and we haven't even started running the race yet. So let me take this opportunity to thank you for hanging in there. We're getting to the good stuff.

The race begins at 8:00 PM, which has positive and negative aspects. It's nice to not be rushed in the morning and start when the weather is coolest, but it also adds a lot of hours when we're awake and not getting rest. I think this ultimately caused a lot of problems for runners as the race wore on.


Chris, Geraldo and Me Right Before the Start



Geraldo had decided to start the race with us, which I found interesting. There's no rules regarding pacers. They can run with you whenever you want them, they can mule for you if you need it and they can run the entire race if they feel like it. Geraldo apparently felt like it.

After the typical pre-race stuff, we off into the night for the beginning of a very long journey.



It was still very hot and humid at the start of the race and I was sweating profusely within the first mile as we ran through town, heading for the mountains. I felt like we were running an even, easy pace, but I also noticed we were WAY up in the front of the pack. 

The first big hill was relentless and we ran the entire thing. When we got to the top, I said to Chris, "I'm not sure that was smart". Without hesitation, he said "It wasn't". We decided to walk the hills after that. 

Let's talk about hills....

I've run a lot of mountain races in the United States but I have never seen a race that was this relentless. There's very little flat ground on the entire course and if you don't manage your race properly, it will crush you. When you factor in the extreme heat and humidity, this race is definitely harder than anything I've ever seen.

Bit of Elevation Change

And...here's where it all goes wrong for me:

From the beginning, I knew I wasn't going to be running at me peak because I had just come off my win at the Across the Years 48 Hour race 12 days earlier. I had run 202 miles and nobody can fully recover from that in such a short period of time. I wasn't kidding myself about this.

My legs felt sluggish and never loosened up, but I wasn't terribly worried about it. I told Chris that I wasn't running well and I just felt fatigued, but we expected this and dealt with it. Leg speed isn't what we need for this race anyway. We need the ability to keep moving at a slow and steady pace for a very long time. I felt like I could do that. Far a while...

I was sweating so badly that I was draining my entire 50 ounce bladder in about 4 miles. The crew was set up to meet us at 5. When I reached them, I downed a 22 ounce bottle of HEED and refilled my pack with water and Endurolyte Fizz tabs. 

After being crewed at mile 10, I noticed I was getting bloated and I mentioned it to Chris. By mile 11, the nausea set in. I recognized right away that I had made a mistake and had ingested way too many electrolytes, resulting in Hypernatremia. I would need to combat this by drinking water to dilute the minerals in my body, but all I had were more electrolyte laden fluids and I HAD to drink. I sipped slowly and slowed my pace. 

At mile 12, I puked. And it never stopped.

At the next aid stop, I refilled my pack with straight water and tried to settle my body down but I kept vomiting. Very quickly, I was unable to ingest anything without triggering more vomiting. I couldn't get fluids down and food was out of the question. 

I decided to keep moving while we worked this out. 

At mile 20, we reached the base of Pico do Gaviao. This a 3 mile climb...steep and relentless. I tried to eat again before making the ascent, but nothing stayed in. I left my crew and made the climb, dry heaving my way all the way to the top. 

I had told Chris to take Geraldo and run ahead for this climb. It's an out-and-back section so we would see each other along the way. We passed each other while I had about 1 kilometer to go before the peak. Chris stopped and asked how I was feeling. If I had anything in my body, I probably would have puked just to properly illustrate things for him. I pushed on. 

On the descent, I only had to stop once for a bout of dry heaving. I took this as a good sign. Chris and Geraldo were waiting with the rest of the crew when I came off the mountain. I sat in the dirt and whined for a while but that wasn't helping either. I tried to get some water and calories in me, but nothing would stay.

I was totally resigned to my fully depleted situation and decided to keep moving in hopes that I could overcome this. I had come a long way without any hydration or nutrition and we all know this wasn't sustainable. If I could eat and drink, I wasn't going to last much longer in these conditions. 

I survived 9 more miles without successfully eating or drinking anything. Near mile 35, we met our crew and I fell to the ground. I had no energy and there was no sign of recovery. I told Chris that I wasn't going to be able to continue. I just couldn't keep doing this to myself, while simultaneously, ruining his race. He argued and told me not to worry about HIS race. His was OUR race and we'll get through to the end together. 


Hearing him talk just crushed me. I quietly sobbed inside while I sat in the dirt on that dark road. I just knew I couldn't go on and I knew it was crushing him to see me like this. 

Almost too quiet to hear, I just said, "I can't". 

Chris got down in front of me with his hands on my shoulders and just stared into my eyes. Or maybe my soul. He stared for a long time before standing back up, grabbing Geraldo and heading down the course. 

I was out of the race and I was devastated. Not only for myself but for all of us. Words will never describe the profound sense of loss that I had at that moment. 

I piled into the back seat of the car and slept like a baby.


 I woke up 2 hours later when we stopped to meet Chris and Geraldo. I got out of the car, still in my running clothes and waited for them to come down the course. I felt like an imposter out there. I had no business being on a race course in running clothes. 


When the guys arrived, I helped to crew for them and settled into my new role as a crew member. This is the role I would have for the 120 miles. 





The sun was coming up and the heat was settling in. Chris was running a good race, but he was getting fatigued and beginning to have some fueling issues. With me out of the race, Chris had free reign of all my Hammer Nutrition products and I was trying to get as much of that in his gut as I could. He was responding well to HEED and gels, but neither are designed for a race this long. 





The course travels through several small villages and towns. We would take the opportunity to buy groceries when we passed through during the day. Ice cream was a logical choice for Chris in this heat, but even with a chest full of ice, it was impossible to keep it frozen. The heat was unrelenting. 




Now that I wasn't competing, I was fully dedicated to helping Chris have a strong race. I took charge of his wellbeing and focused on his needs.


Chris and I are Pretending We're Too Cool to Notice We're Being Filmed


Geraldo! Unstoppable! Unless He Needs a Sandwich. 






When Chris needed a little more personal attention, I was happy to jump in and run with him. This gave us more time to talk about his physical condition and our plans to keep him moving. 

Chris began to go through a series of lows and highs, with the lows lasting much longer than the highs. Fueling was getting to be more challenging and I was starting to run out of ideas to keep him stung and moving forward. 

Taking on the Role of Pacer





When the sun started to set on our second night on the Caminho da Fe, we were all getting exhausted. The night sky was a welcome reprieve from the intense heat, but it brought issues of it's own.





Caught Sleeping



Geraldo Can Sleep Anywhere


Chris was having vivid and wild hallucinations during the night. If I hadn't been so worried about his physical and mental condition, the whole thing would have been hilarious! When he pointed out to Jo that she had just stepped on an invisible teddy bear, causing it's stuffing to spill out all over the road, I almost lost my mind due to the hysterics! But laughing at Chris's situation would need to be reserved for later. It would just be rude in the moment. 

DOGS! I love the dogs of Brazil!










Chris made it through the night and eventually into Paraisopolis, which used to be the finish line of the Brazil 135. Now it was just another town and happened to mark the spot where we had 40 more miles to go. And in all reality, the hardest 40 miles of the course. 

Chris had been doing a bit of vomiting by this point. This guy wants to be me so badly that he's even started to puke like me! Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. 

I wasn't worried about his vomiting because he was still able to replace the contents of his stomach. It wasn't easy, but we made it happen. I was trying all kinds of food and drink combinations to keep him fueled. I was measuring his caloric intake to ensure he was getting his essentials, even if it was on the low side by this point. I was part mathematician and part nutritionist. 

I'm Sure I'm Giving Chris Some Discouraging News About the Course Here




Chris had an enormous 8km climb coming up and I was focusing on making sure his body was in a position to manage the ascent. In my mind, this would be his defining moment of the race. Jo and I made sure that he was getting all the attention he would need leading up to final miles of the race. 















Side Note: a 4x4 is really necessary for this race. PLEASE take my advise on this. 




Typical Course Markings for the Caminho da Fe



Convertible HOKA's


Even though Chris was feeling rough, he never stopped for long. He was insistent on getting in, sitting for a minute, then heading out. Geraldo would often stay behind and take care of things for Chris, then run to catch back up. But Chris kept moving forward. 





Geraldo eventually needed to be relieved and Sergio jumped in to take his place. For the rest of the race, they would take turns running with Chris. I was amazed that Geraldo was able to maintain for as long as he did. That dude is true stud.

Sergio and Chris...Moving Well in the Late Miles












As Chris approached the Break Leg climb, he was already exhausted. We had been working on preparing him for this ascent for several miles, but he was just physically spent by this point of the race. Before heading up, we loaded him down with ice water, gave him a jacket and put a headlamp in his pack. We had no idea how long the climb would take but we were just a few hours from nightfall and the climb goes on for 6 miles. 






We had to drive the crew vehicle around his climb because it's not passable by car. We followed our driving directions and waited for Chris at the top of the climb. AND...waited. 

I was sleeping when the shouting woke me up and I realized the sun had set and it was pitch black outside. And Chris wasn't here yet. I couldn't understand what the commotion was about because everybody was yelling in Portuguese. Our interpreter, Edwardo, yelled to me that they were talking about Chris. He went on to tell us that Chris was down the mountain and couldn't go on. He was vomiting and unable to continue. We all piled in the car and drove down the mountain! 

After about a kilometer, I found Chris and Sergio standing in the trail together. I jumped out and checked on Chris. He was definitely confused, and somewhat delirious. He couldn't understand how we found him and what we were doing there. I explained what we were told and he refuted every bit of it. He went on to explain that he thought he was off course and that he thought they had been lost for hours. Because he can't communicate with the pacer, they had spun this massive web of confusion.

I assured Chris that he was still on course and he was fine. Frustrated by the situation, I put the pacer in the car and got loaded up so I could pace Chris for the rest of the race. I needed to be totally confident that he was ok and I couldn't do that if he couldn't communicate with his pacer. I sent the crew back to the top of the hill and we headed up behind them. 

When we got to the top of the hill, we paused to resupply. Sergio was still in the car and I knew he was upset that I replaced him. He's a fantastic pacer and I didn't want him to be upset, but we were too close to the finish to allow a tragedy over miscommunication. 

Geraldo grabbed his gear and joined us for the final miles, running ahead to scan for markers while carrying Chris's gear. We were pushing forward, fast. 

With the exception of some course confusion near the finish, things went perfectly. Chris was chatty, but very fatigued, as you might expect after 170ish miles. I was excited for him and happy to have this time to talk about the entire experience. 

Chris finished as first international runner in just over 52 hours. He now holds the American record for the original 135 mile course, as well as the record for the new 175 mile course. I couldn't be more excited for my friend!








Chris and Mario at the Finish!


Random Dog Picture!






The awards ceremony the following day is a huge production and Mario makes sure that everybody gets recognized for their part in the race. Including those of us who failed to complete it. I had never received a DNF medal before, but I like the idea.


Mario Hanging my DNF Medal Around My Neck


Lisa Smith-Batchen, Me and Mario Lacerda



Chris Being Presented With His International Winner Trophy



While I was obviously disappointed with how my race went, I can honestly say that this race was one of the greatest running experiences of my life. The adventure is simply amazing, and having an opportunity to be a part of a race like this is a dream come true. It was all made ether when Chris set his record. It was an absolutely incredible experience.

I also had the opportunity to learn a lot from watching Chris run his race. He's a tremendously strong individual and he's totally unstoppable. He's strong in areas where I'm weak and I can learn a lot from a man like him. It was a privilege and an honor to be a part of his race.

I'm definitely going back to Brazil in 2016 to apply the things that Chris Roman taught me. 

Thanks for following along and happy trails!