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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Scheisse Cramps My Style

June 9, 2013
Squamish 50 Orientation Run 3 of 3

There are a lot of things that inspire us to push our limits and force us to see just what we're capable of.
The Squamish 50 Ultra Marathon, put on by Gary Robbins and Geoff Langford, an event that I signed up for in December of 2012 (with very little concept of what I was in for), is one such life event that has developed a deeper sense of perseverance, and has pushed my training limits in so many ways. On June 9th, some of those limits fell like dominoes as I broke several personal records in my running resume.

When I signed up for the Ultra, the options were for the 50k, the 50 miler, or a shorter 24k trail run. As my first ultra marathon, the conventional wisdom recommends to run a 50k (often after having done at least one standard marathon of 42k). Well, not one to abide to conventional wisdom I signedup for the 50 miler, a full 59 kilometers farther than I had ever run.

I signed up for the full distance of 50 miles (80k), not because I want to boost my ego (running and training for an Ultra Marathon is more of a humbling experience than an ego stroking one), but rather because there was--and still is at the time of this writing--a very, very, very big chance of not succeeding. Well, that sense of potential failure (DNF) is darn right too enticing to pass up on!

Doing a 50k, even from where I was back in December compared to now, has pretty much a zero chance of failing to complete the race distance. I would finish the race with grit. Maybe it's my martial arts background, but you always finish the fight, and the 50k was a fight I knew I could finish.

Now step into the mindset of the 50 mile distance, and I wasn't so sure. In fact the seeds of doubt were so huge that I was forced to take it seriously. It is an intimidating and lofty goal for someone so new to running, and somehow that's attractive to me. The epic nature of the course, and the work that would need to be done to complete such an endeavor is monumental, and I like that.

Preparing for a long day

The RD's, Gary and Geoff, wisely put on several orientation runs: a 24k that followed the back end of the course (which kicked my ass and flared up a knee injury that set me back for 4 weeks), a 32k middle section (which kicked my ass and brought to light my nutrition woes with vomit inducing nausea), and a 47k which covers the course from kilometers 10 to 57.
Not more than a couple of weeks prior to the 3rd orientation run, Gary posted some changes to the SQ50 website listing the following: a new earlier start time for all runners, additional drop bag locations, and modified cut off times. The course was turning out to be much harder than first anticipated and when Gary says that, you know it's a beast! (The 2012 course was different due to permit issues and 2013 replaces a ton of service roads with amazing technical single track)

We Run Mas Crew

On to training day!! We show up on the morning of the final orientation, ripe with anticipation. Several of our running group "We Run Mas" members are there also, including Elaine Fung, Adina Dragasanu, Shanthi Jayarajah, and Gregan Dunn. The rest of the crew is planning on doing a 37k version, and I'm shooting for the 47k today: it'll be my first marathon distance, first ultra distance, most elevation in a single run, and the longest time on my feet. Like I said, dominoes.

My goal:  8 hours at a steady effort with no injury. Period.

Awesome Turn Out

Gary runs off, chalk canister in hand, as the rest of us take our group shot. He has a two minute lead, although it's doubtful anyone's gonna catch him, even with him having to mark the trail as he runs.

Gregan and I run together to the trail head, Adina "Fairy of the Forest" is slightly ahead, and Shanthi and Elaine are cruising in the back of the pack. Gregan and I take an easy effort to the first section leading to Debeck's Hill. As we reach the meat of the climb, we are about 45 minutes in, and Gregan, who is a much faster climber than I, takes off. It's pretty cool watching him run up hill. I am monitoring my heart rate and want to stay sub 160bpm to keep from going anaerobic.

As I climb Debeck, a familiar face paces with me, a wonderful lady named Michaela. Well, she's wonderful now, but she made some fierce fun of my passion for bright colors on the Iron Knee race at the start line a few weeks back. Just kidding . . .we have a great chat as we climb the hill, sharing stories of our families and the little motivations of life that push us forward.
I tell her my wife and kids are crewing me today, since it's my longest run, which she finds very endearing. Awwwww, how sweet. We reach the top of the climb together and her running partner, Margot, is seconds behind.
Michaela and Margot

Quick photo op, and we start down Debeck descent. I zip past them and bound down the hill, knees, feet and quads all feeling superb. I pass Adina and another runner named Emily along the way. After reaching the base of the hill fresh as a daisy, I run towards Alice Lake.
That's Me Approaching My Crew

As I leave the perimeter of Alice Lake I see my crew. My wife and kids are there. I grab a quick cheer, pound a coke and refill some water. I bound off towards the Stump Lake loop with renewed vigor. I'm 10 minutes behind Gregan.
It's about kilometer 14 when I see Adina catching up. She chases me down for a few klicks, until I stop to evict "Henry" from my shoe. I'm normally fine with debris in my shoes, but once I start naming them, they have to go. We zip up the switchbacks together and reach the Aid Station at kilometer 18 together.
Adina "Fairy of the Forest"
She's doing the 37k route, so with a quick replenish of hydration, she goes left, and I go right to complete the 10k loop just south of the Aid Station. I dart off down the trail and suddenly, sharp pain in the right ankle. I screech to a halt and pull a nasty looking bug from my shoe. Bastard stung me! Well, whatever, move on trooper. I head down the service road, dodging hydro workers who are doing electrical work on some very tall powerlines. Suddenly I realize it's hot. Like really, really hot. Fully exposed, I trot down the hill at a decent clip when I see a runner heading up. He's about 7k ahead of me, having already completed the loop (amazing how fast some dudes are!). He gives me some pointers, and I take a moment to enjoy the scenery as I head back into singletrack forest.
This Bridge is Cool!! The Sun is hot!!
I get into the woods and am having a great time. Eating, drinking, pacing. All good. Then it strikes. Calf cramp. Weird. I don't cramp. I've heard of this phenomenon, but I'm not at all familiar with it. maybe my pace was too quick earlier? Hmm, Clif Shots? Carbs? Nuun? I forget about the salt caps in my vest (big mistake). I can't run fast. I can run, just not fast. Steady as she goes. Some light stretching every km or so. I reach some technical, very steep downhill, and wish I could jump down it, but don't want to aggravate the calf cramping.

I get spit out onto the bottom of the fire service road that I had left earlier and start the 4km climb back to the Aid Station. Uphill is much better! What the what? Did I just say that?! I truck along, passing some day hikers who think we're crazy (I guess they found out how far we were running).

I get to the Aid Station and ask Geoff how many more 47k runners to come. He says about twelve. Okay, I think, fine. Sadly, he was wrong, as those who signed up for it skipped the loop and were already ahead of me (this caused some confusion and phone calls to runners who they were expecting to see twice. Very responsible of the RD's. Good job.). This meant I had no one behind me (Shanthi and Elaine had gotten lost and took a "modified" route). I'm glad I didn't know this at the time. More coke, and I run off to meet the big climb . . . 3000' feet of up.

I hit the trailhead and start climbing. BAM, cramp. This time left calf. BAM, right calf. They're playing ping pong. Wait, the ping pong ball went out of bounds . . . BAM right Quad. What the heck!! I slow my water intake. Oh snap, SALT!! My black sleeveless windbreaker is white from salt buildup. I am at 1600' feet. My heart rate shows 220bpm. What the bejeezus?! 220!! I have a panic attack. Are my electrolytes so far out of whack that I'm having a heart attack? Wait a second, slow down there "worrisome willy". My heart rate monitor slipped off and was sending inaccurate readings to my Garmin. Okay, fix the darn thing, disrobe my vest and shirt and run on the spot as I do so. I must have looked like an idiot to anyone watching (which was the bears and the screaming trees and the moss) as my muscles were cramping and I sang a song to myself to ensure I was still alive. I know, ridiculous.

Shirt, vest and heart rate monitor all back in place . . . the problem is that the HR reading made me forget about taking salt caps. Dummy.

1900' . . ..cramping, 2000' cramping . . .  2600' cramping . . .  doesn't this mountain ever end?! It peaks around 3500' feet and I'm in full leg spasms the entire way up. At one point my left calf literally disappeared while my right calf did the wave up to my groin. Neat bedroom trick. Not so neat on a relentless climb up a trail called Galactic Scheisse.

Suddenly, the trail ends. it's kilometer 35'ish, I've run further than I've ever been before, on the top of a mountain that has no more trail. Instead, there's a small gorge and a river, and a tree with a rope hanging off it that drops to a small lip below. From there, a 20' foot log crosses the mountaintop river. Okay, easy, climb down the rope, cross the river by walking across the log and climb up the other side. No problem . . . except I'm cramping like a MOFO! A couple of deep breaths, grab the rope, and swing to the side of the ledge. BAM, full right leg cramp. I hang there for what seems like an eternity, as the bears and screaming trees and moss all giggle and roll in laughter. Good thing I have experience hanging from rope (a tale for another time)!

I drop to the ledge, and regroup. Slow steps, no cramps please, otherwise I'm taking a drink. I focus on the log like a tight rope walker and make it to the other side before I collapse in a heap as my left calf revolts again. SALT!! Oh right. I pop 3x Thermalyte salt caps and take a sip of Nuun. Slow walk up the slope, and along overgrown single track and my legs are starting to come back after about ten minutes. I see the hill going down. I eat some McDonald's Cheeseburger extra ketchup, no onions from my pack. Salty. Delicious. Clif Shots . . . I can run!

7km of steep technical downhill. I'm having a blast again, but I probably look like hell. Let's take a picture:

My Hell Face
I'm moving at a good pace though. The salt helped. Quest University comes up quicker than I expected. Then I see this glorious marker!

Holy snap! Time for music. I max the speaker on my iPhone and pull up NIN Downward Spiral on the playlist. It's a solid 3K cruise down dirt road to the start area at the Canadian Tire just off the sea to sky! I'm about 800 meters out and my leg is cramping again (I'm out of salt caps) and I don't care. I'm running this in to the finish!

Running It In: 47km + 6000' of climbing!
I'm stoked to be done. My family is there and so is Gregan! So cool that he came back after having lunch to see me come in. Gary and Geoff congratulate me for the achievement as I share my stories highs and lows. Gary points out that 4 to 6 salt caps an hour is what I need, as opposed to the 6 caps I took in all day!
 Ok, lesson learned. Well, that's what it's all about ain't it!

Finish time:  7:51 of running.