Aug 9, 2015

Angeles Crest 100: 2015

Hike the long climbs hard, run easy on the flats and downs. That was my strategy heading into my third Angeles Crest 100.  I knew I could hike hard and fast uphill all day, thanks to the time spent on my fourth John Muir Trail backpacking trip at the end of June.  Running and hiking in the San Juan's of Colorado for 9 days and pacing my friend, Chris Price, at Hardrock 100 didn’t hurt either.  Indeed, it helped establish my confidence heading into the 29th edition (my 3rd) of this historic local race.
After sleepwalking my way to a 29:45 (my slowest time) finish at the 2014 AC100, the race stomped whatever confidence was left to be able to run these races well.  I could come up with a million excuses but the fact was I’ve always experienced big lows that have taken forever to get out of.  My belief was that it was simply not taking and digesting enough calories, so I went back to my tried and true method of GU gels and salt pills.  Thanks to the book “Waterlogged” by Tim Noakes I had stopped taking salt for the past few one-hundred mile races and experienced lows I was barely able to recover from.  So I decided to go forget what I read and go back to what had worked in the past. Science schmience.

Race day arrived.  The past few days in Wrightwood were relaxing.  I was taking my time preparing for the race and enjoying the quiet moments.  I made sure to sleep well, eat well, and be mentally prepared over the last couple of weeks.  I was hoping it would pay off.  My goal had always been to be able to break 24 hours and this year was no different.  The only thing that was different was that I was coming into the race healthy, mentally and physically the best I’ve come into it, and WANTING to race.  
Wrightwood: The start (with an Uncle Hal photobomb!)

Wrightwood to Islip Saddle (miles 0-25):
The customary “Get out of here!” was yelled at 5am and we all started to make our way up through Wrightwood before hitting the Acorn Trail.  The very last house passed before the trail was Dom and Katie’s cabin.  For the last 3 weekends (and, coincidentally, where I am typing this up) and in previous months they have generously opened their doors and we’ve taken advantage of being able to jump out on the trails right from their doorstep.  

Grossman's Corner

I stuck with my strategy of hiking uphill comfortably hard and conserving the running legs for later.  I was moving well and putting distance on people who were running and hiking.  I got to the top of Acorn in :53.  I cruised the rest of the way to Inspiration Point letting the people who were keen on the downhill pass me and I arrived at the raucous aid station that is Inspiration in 1:53.  Quickly but calmly refilling my water at the aid station I walked to the far end and started my hike out to Vincent Gap.  I was really happy not to be in a line of runners anymore and I quickly settled into my own groove with some quiet time.  I arrived at Vincent Gap (mile 13) happy to see Dave Daley’s crew as they were helping me out until I met Marshall at Islip Saddle, mile 25.  I hiked the entire climb up Mt. Baden-Powell in 1:03-04, catching folks, and staying within myself.  After the customary photos by photographer Larry Gassan at the highest point on the course, I cruised all the way to Islip, again letting a couple runners go by me on the way down.  I usually run the downhills well so letting a couple people by was not easy.  I arrived at Islip to meet my cowboy-hat wearing crew in Marshall.  We exchanged a quick hug, got my necessaries and I was off.  I felt calm and good.  5:12
Up Mt. Baden-Powell
Photo: Paksit Photos

Islip Saddle to Chilao (miles 25-53):

I have always felt terrible arriving into Eagles Roost (mile 30) but this year was going to be different, I tried to convince myself.  I again hiked the climb up Mt. Williamson comfortably hard and cruised into Eagle’s Roost in :55, my fastest split ever.  The best part was that I was feeling really good.  I was very excited on the inside but I showed no external emotion when I arrived at the aid station.  This road section which I have loathed in the past was just fine.  I let a couple eager beavers by but I soon would regain position on the trails and the climbs through Cooper Canyon.  I felt great, the music and caffeine were working, and I hiked up to Cloudburst (mile 38) happy.  Feeling this good this far into the race was unchartered territory for me and as soon as I let myself think it was going to be a good day, I quickly thought about ultrarunning rules number 2 & 3.  You’ll have to ask legendary AC runner, Fenton Cross, for those golden nuggets.  The next section to Three Points has always been terrible to me and this time I did a decent job of getting there although I started to feel a little worked.  The next hot and exposed section to Chilao was the start of my downswing.  I arrived in Chilao faster than I ever have but I was starting to crack.  I plopped in a chair.  My first sit down of the day. 5:57
Chilao: Dave Daley in foreground with myself being tended to in background.
Photo: Dominic Grossman

Chilao to Chantry (miles 53-75):
I consider the next section to be the easiest “25” of the course.  After 6 minutes at the aid station, I picked up my first pacer, Marshall, and headed out.  I was slow.  Very slow.  I knew it was a calorie issue and I had a brief 2 min window where I felt like I was coming back but it was short-lived.  I arrived at Shortcut (mile 60) tired.  I spent 12 minutes there resting and trying to bounce back.  I rested my eyes and just sat.  I was starting to worry that all the good work I had done in the beginning was being wasted.  This is where I notoriously fell apart last year and I was wondering if it could happen again.  The long fireroad descent into Westfork is something to take advantage of.  The grade is perfect, the sun is starting to go down (although it’s still hot), and you’re starting to really drop in elevation.  It didn’t matter for me however, I was barely making it down.  The climb up Newcomb was also slow and laborious.  I started to feel sorry for myself and doubt about my ability to perform in 100s reared it’s head. “Marshall, I suck at 100’s.” “I’m sorry for being this slow.” “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”  I’ve started to learn more and more that when I get like this there’s usually only one reason: sugar.  I don’t have enough of it and it’s not getting to my brain.  Physically I felt great, apart from some left tib anterior tendinitis that was starting to bother me.  The trick though is to convince the mind to take fuel in while it’s screaming “Hell no! Get that crap away from me!”.  It’s a lesson I’ve learned the hard way.  I begrudgingly ate a PowerBar and somehow made it to Newcomb at the tail end of daylight.  I sat there for 11 minutes.  We finally got out and I gingerly made my down to Chantry.  I usually love running this section but I was still in a funk and was barely plodding 16 minute miles on the rutted out trail and the entire field seemed to be passing me by.  On the final ¾ mile climb up the pavement to Chantry I finally started to get some life back.  On the downside, my left shin was starting to concern me as it was quite painful with every foot movement.  

Chantry to Loma Alta Park (miles 75-101.5):

I was coherent.  That was a good start.  I was picking up Jimmy Dean Freeman, who I consider one of the best consistent closers on this course.  That’s why I asked for his services one day after finishing AC in 2014.  I gave Marshall a well-deserved hug and thanked him for staying so positive out there while I wasn’t at my best.  I left Chantry at 10:26pm and I started to doubt I could make it to the end in under 24.  I was definitely feeling better but was down on myself.  Jimmy laid out the plan and I’ll quote him:
“Mike, I think we can do this.  You need to run some of the inclines, hike the shit out of the steep stuff, and maintain a consistent pace on the downs.  We need to get a lot of calories in you, not waste any time at the aid stations, and focus on catching and passing people to help pull us forward.  I believe we need to average 19min/mile on the climbs and 11min/mile on the descents and 2-3 min or less at aid stations.”
It was set and I started to feel better as we kept moving.  The 2 mile section from Chantry to the Upper Winter climb, where I had done multiple repeats the prior year (contemplating dropping), was where I started to run with JDFs encouragement.  
Me: “My shin is really hurting and it’s really affecting my running.”  
JDF: ”I don’t care.  You can turn this into a negative thing or you can accept it and keep going.”  Although the pain was sharp and really wearing on me psychologically,  I knew it wasn’t more than tendinitis and it wasn’t going to kill me.  So I accepted the pain for what it was and started not caring although present at every moment.  “Food, two gulps of Coke, wash it down with water.” That became the nightly mantra. I tackled the steep climb with almost the same vigor as I had early in the race and maybe all the early conservative running started to pay off. I cruised down the Mt. Wilson Toll Road, really wanting to finally open up my stride, but sharp spasms from the tib anterior kept me in check and I kept the stride short but consistent.  I had passed 5 people on this section and truly started to believe that sub-24 could be mine if I ran like this until the end.  I suddenly became hyper-focused, pain became secondary, and there was no way I was going to waste this opportunity.  I was out of Idlehour Aid Station in 4 min and worked my way down into the vortex that is Idlehour Canyon.  The climb up to Sam Merrill was a strong hike intermixed with running.  I got to the aid just as a runner was leaving.  10 miles left.  My watch had died at the last aid station and I was asking JDF for time updates. From what he was telling me we were going to be cutting it really close.  I didn’t panic but I was running with my eyes wide open.  Upper Sam Merrill was a trail I’ve known well over the past couple months and was aware how technical it was, especially on tired legs.  I passed that runner and ran it as well as I could under the circumstances.  I ran up the Mt. Lowe Railway trail and all the way into Millard keeping my eyes peeled for headlamps.  We were approaching Millard and I asked for the time again.  I don’t remember what he told me but I knew there was no way I was stopping at the aid station.  After taking my last gulps of Coke at the base of the last climb I ran the whole thing hard.  I wanted to be under 24 so bad and I wanted to catch whoever was in front of me.  Down El Prieto, I ran the best I could from Millard to the Finish (:52).  As we hit the final road stretch through Alta Dena I desperately asked JDF for the time of day wondering if we would make it.  He smiled and held up his watch.  It was 4:32am.  He had been lying to me the whole time.  I briefly chocked up.  It was going to happen.  Finally.  I saw the next runner just ahead.  I fell 1 min short of catching him after a 48 min head start from Chantry.  It turns out it was my buddy Dave, who avenged his DNF last year spectacularly.  
I crossed the finish line and I couldn’t contain my emotions.  It was over and I had done it.  What a journey.  In the ensuing days I look back and of course wondered how much time I left out on the course.  What could I have done better?  It’s the joy and curse of the hundred miler.  It’ll always pull you in for more.  This particular race is more than just a race.  It’s a historic path through wonderful mountains that will teach you things about yourself you couldn’t have known otherwise.  Thanks to Marshall and Jimmy for taking their time and energy to help be a part of this journey.  Thank you to all the volunteers on the course and the special local ultrarunning community for making this race one to always come back to.
Final Time: 23:36

Finish: A hug from Sally McRae as I let my emotions get the best of me.
Photo: Michael Everest Dominguez

Congratulating Colin Cooley on a pacing and crewing job well done for Dave Daley
Reunited with my pacer/crew at the finish

Tired but happy with the sub-24 buckle at the award ceremony

Jan 12, 2015

The Year in Review: 2014...and what's ahead: 2015

It's time to reflect on the successes and shortcomings of the year.  This is one of my favorite posts because I also have a chance to look into the upcoming year and plan new adventures locally and around the globe.  To start, I want to look back on this year and see what I had set out to accomplish when I wrote a similar post on January 2, 2014.  Below is what I wrote at the beginning of 2014 of what I hoped to experience and typed in red is what actually happened.  Unforeseen and notable things are further down in green.
-Run WS 100 as well as I could possibly run it.  I have a goal time in mind and with the right lead up and perfect race it can be achieved. This includes a nutrition plan, training plan etc."
            Didn't intend to start off this way but it did: FAIL.  I did have the right lead up until two hours post Leona Divide 50 in April when I got out of my car and couldn't put significant body weight on my right leg.  That meant no running....for a month!  That basically destroyed any chance I had of doing well at Western States.  It was tough to take because I just PR'd in 7:58 at Leona.  I got injured (not surprising) during the run but finished.  Another year hopefully.
 -Backpack a long-distance route solo in the Arctic Circle.  I am super excited about a particular one.  It will be revealed when plane tickets are confirmed.
           My original intention was to backpack the Kungsleden in Sweden solo, but instead backpacked 300 miles across Iceland which is REALLY close to the Arctic Circle.  It sure felt like it most of the time too.  And it was with my buddy The Onion.
-Break my marathon PR.  I'll probably attempt one in the fall, but not too sure yet. 
            I ran LA Marathon just five weeks after I returned out of shape from South America.  So to be fair, I wasn't close to PR form: I ran a 3:05.  I had signed up for Chicago for October but didn't run it.
-Backpack the splendid Sierra High Route in its entirety in August and in one push.  I have backpacked most of it (200 miles) but broke it up into 2 seasons.  It´s the big brother to the JMT.  Mostly above 10k ft, with 20+ passes, and 75% off trail.  One of the best I´ve ever backpacked.  This years trek would mark my 10 year anniversary/love affair with backpacking.  An idealistic kid with dreams of the wilderness in the Sierras back in the summer of 2004. I owe a lot to that solo experience.  This would be an appropriate way to celebrate it.
           Started it with my good friend, Chris Price.  Took a nice spill coming off Frozen Lake Pass and opened up my shin pretty good.  Took a couple days off the trail to treat it and came back out with Chris but ultimately only completed half of it due to time constraints.  It was a great trip nonetheless.
-Finally, run the length of the Backbone Trail.  I´ve been ignoring the one long(ish) trail that´s in my own backyard!
          Decided not to run the race (which doesn't exist anymore) or trail in one go.
-There are a few other backpacking and running trips this year but they are not set in stone quite yet.  Probably some 3 dayers in spring and potentially a thru hike. Maybe introduce some friends to what backpacking is all about?
          The backpacking trips included Iceland, Sierra High Route, and New Zealand.  I introduced Chris to cross-country backpacking so that counts for something.
-Sub-24 at Angeles Crest 100.  Not really my style to run two 100 mile races close to each other so this might be the only year I do it.
         I just wanted to do this to get a Hardrock qualifier.  I did this 1 week after Iceland and 5 weeks after Western States.  Unfortunately, no hills or heat training was there in Iceland.  So I got my ass whooped and completed my slowest hundo to date, BUT got my Hardrock qualifier. 
-Be a more thorough therapist.  I occasionally see runners at my place from time to time and I usually give the basic stuff but I frankly think it needs more day to day evaluation and treatment.  In light of that I´m going to start seeing patients weekly until I feel their issues are either resolved or I´ve given my best effort.  I´ve received way too much good in this short life so far to not give back.  So contact me if you´re interested.  I´ll start at the end of the month.
         OK, so I did create a website, started seeing runners privately, but since it's so time consuming I charge a $50 fee per visit.
-And one more thing I can't reveal quite yet.  Hopefully soon though.
         I think a few people guessed this.  I asked Megan to marry me and she said yes.  We got married in September.

There were a few unforeseen things this year that are worth mentioning:
-I had a great time running with the VCC (Venice Coffee Club) in the weeks before the LA Marathon.
-Who knew Western States Training camp would be so much fun.  It was like overnight camp for ultrarunners.  A well put together few days where I made new friends, ran with current ones, and saw 70 miles of the course.
-Mt. Russell summit.  A true Class 3 summit in the Eastern Sierra that was simply terrifying at times and spectacular.  Good times with Chris and Erik.
-Iron Mountain summit.  It's been a long time coming and it was a fun one to do with Dom and Andy.
-New Zealand backpacking and running for 25 days.  It was technically our honeymoon and ended up being one of my favorite trips.

As far as this year is concerned here are the things that come to mind now:

-Proper training and performing to my potential in 100 mile races.  These races are still so elusive to me and haven't put the right training in and performed well in them.  I'm so over slogging through another one of them.  I have signed up for Zion 100 in April and I'm 5-6 weeks into my current training program.  This includes strength/conditioning twice a week, mobility/maintenance twice a week and an actual training plan.  I don't know why it's taken so long but I am finally giving the race and my body my undo attention, time, and respect to not only complete it but do my very best.
-LA Marathon! Road marathons aren't really my thing but my hometown one means a lot (especially since I'm running to my apartment essentially) and this will be part of the build up to Zion. My B-race (we'll see what that means when the gun goes off).
-Due to the fact that I have 3 hundred mile races coming up this year (possibly 4), what better way to take time off running than to thru-hike a trail: I've listed the races I'm currently signed up for with the trails I'm thinking about backpacking after them:

-Zion 100 - there are some backpacking options in April but I think I'll hold of until the summer
-San Diego 100 - The 500 mile Colorado Trail in late June/early July, just in time to pace Chris Price at Hardrock 100 in mid-July.  I've done the CT back in 2007 but I just remember being hungry all the time.  It's nice to re-visit this at a different point in my life. Plus, with new re-routes some sections will be somewhat new.  Alternatively, I may do a CO road trip to camp, climb peaks, and enjoy the backcountry for a couple weeks prior to pacing.
-Angeles Crest 100 - Haute Randonnée Pyrénéenne (HRP).  After thru-hiking the Grand Traverse of the Alps in 2011 I've been wanting to explore these mountains and I don't think there is a better route (mix of trail and cross country) from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea than through 500 miles of the Pyrenees. 
-Wasatch 100 (based upon lottery) - JMT. A good time to get my fourth thru-hike of this great trail, after the mosquitoes and running season have passed.  Regardless of whether I end up running Wasatch due to end-of-summer 100 mile fatigue I'll still plan on this trek.

-A trip to Morocco may be in store for Megan and I, come September, and that's a region for whatever reason I feel I may have a strong bond to.

The above seems like a lot to me, and I guess it is.  I'll be amazed if it all comes together perfectly, but seeing as I only have a finite amount of years, I say dream big and experience the wonders of this great earth while you can.

First sunrise of 2015. 
"I have learned, that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours." -Henry David Thoreau

Denali Expedition Recap

Summit Ridge I won’t be writing about the day to day as that was succinctly put in the twelve “Denali Transmit” posts which you ...