START (SQUAW VALLEY): Saturday, June 27, 2009 @ 5:00:00 a.m.
FINISHED (AUBURN): Sunday, June 28, 2009 @ 9:23:11 a.m.
TOTAL DISTANCE: 100.2 MILES
TOTAL TIME (HRS): 28:23:11
RACE SUMMARY: AWESOME JOURNEY!!!
We trained hard, did all our homework & got ready for this race the best way we knew how. I knew I had to be physically strong for this challenge & prayed unceasingly that my knees would hold up during the race('cos it's only been about 10 months ago that I had both my knees scoped). The main concern for me was all the downhill running that this course was notorious for. I knew I was ready for the climbs. This time will also be the first time that I will be using a pacer only because I was not familiar with the course.
Prerace, we all hung out & enjoyed ourselves taking in the race atmosphere and admiring the beautiful Squaw Valley scenery. We were able to do this only because we were staying at the Olympic Village Condominiums near the start line. This proved to be the right move, especially on race day, where convenience triumphs everything else. I stayed calmed the next couple of days & only got a little nervous the night before the race, but I still managed to put in about 6 hours of good sleep. Overall, the sequence of events on the race schedule were followed without any hiccups.
Race morning was cold, maybe in the 60's and we made our way to the front of the start line rubbing shoulders with race favorites & heavy weights. I stood beside Gill on my right and Marian was behind me. The anxiety & nervousness was soon replaced by pure adrenaline when the race announcer began the count down. 30…..20…..10…..5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Boom! Race Starts….
The trails leading up squaw were lit up by adequate lighting at the start which was excellent and there was no need to use my gerber firecracker flashlight which I planned to carry the whole way 'cos I did not planned on having a drop bag at Michigan Bluff (55.7 miles). The strategy at the start is to run to the 1st big tree as recommended by our HURT Guru, Big John & try to stay ahead of the pack to avoid unnecessary wastage of energy gosling for position. In the midst of the excitement, I ran about 200 yards & the altitude got the better of me. I was really breading hard & immediately my hammies started talking to me. I remembered telling myself there's still a long climb ahead (3.5 miles to elevation 8750 ft). Ernest, just relax & power walk to the top. In an unexpected change of events, the lead pack took a wrong turn & had to backtrack and rejoin the main group (they probably did an extra quarter mile). At this point, I just laughed at their misfortune as this reminded me of our own Marvelous Mango race that took place recently where one famous race director made the faster runners run extra up concrete hill. I finally started to loosen up and by this time Gill & Marian have already passed me up the hill & I was probably about half mile behind them.
At the top of Escarpment, I took a little time off to enjoy the scenery and told myself to take it easy form here on as there's roughly about 10 miles of downhills to Lyons Ridge. Did not encounter any major problems on this stretch as the downhills were gradual and very runnable, except that there were many places that have numerous rocky sections where you have to be careful to avoid getting sprained ankle. There were also a surprisingly number of small streams that we had to maneuver & avoid getting our feet wet. I gave up that thought after awhile as this proved to be too exhausting, besides the cold water kind of refreshes your feet as it gives you this tinkling sensation up in the high country.
I ran according to how I was feeling at any one time and did not over extend myself. In my mind, the only split that I had established was to reach Robinson Flat (29.7 miles) at about 12.00 noon, The 24 hour cut off was 11.25 a.m & the 30 hour cutoff was 12.25 p.m. I was actually trying to get close to the 24 hour cutoff & harbor the though of a sub-24 finish. Somewhere along the course, in the early hours up in the high country, I heard a familiar voice. Piss!, Hey Ernest? I turned the corner and was surprised to see Gill squatting behind a tree doing his business. I made eye contact, acknowledged him with a nod & a wave of my hand and slowed down. In the course of the next 2 hours, Gill went behind the tree an additional 2 times. Gill's stomach wasn't happy & it was here that I made up my mind to run together with Gill. There were long sections of downhill running, much more than we were accustomed too and my right ankle (weakest) started talking again. I ignored the conversation on numerous occasions & it finally left me alone to focus on the race. This proved only temporary as this conversation would return and haunt me again in the last 30 miles. Gill was not having a good time either, his shins were hurting from the downhills and we had to slow down a couple of times just to recover. However, in the midst of all these discomfort (which was mostly manageable and is a natural part of the package deal) we made good progress. I remembered telling Gill that he was doing good & not to be too harsh on himself, just relax! We'll get through this! Stay with me Gill, "NO MAN LEFT BEHIND"!!! We pushed on through sections where there were so much loose soil that our lungs where filled with all sorts of trail dust. Sometimes we would just let loose & get to the front of the train & avoid inhaling more dusts. The accumulation of trail dust in my lungs would also return to haunt me in the last 30 miles.
Somehow, we managed to reach Robinson Flat and were greeted by our various crew members. I think we were on target pace round about 12.00 p.m or so. I remembered telling the Fishman that my ETA at Robinson will dictate when I will reach Forest Hill (62 Mile), still harboring the thought of making the 24 hour cutoff at 7:00 p.m. Deep inside I was confident that I would make up time on the difficult climbs that were coming up. I figured that if my knees and ankle would hold up, then I will be close to 24 hour pace. I was hopeful & still confident!
I was actually very surprised that both my knees were working well. They did not talk to me the whole journey. I became more confident as the day progresses. Somewhere after Robinson, I broke away from Gill and was running by myself for awhile. I think it's one of those sections that's so full of trail dust that I just had to get away to avoid getting sick. This section seems to be very long with many up & mostly down switchbacks. My knees were feeling good & I just had to put down the hammer. I actually looked back and slowed down a couple of times, hoping Gill would catch up & felt bad for leaving Gill behind. So much for the "No Man Left Behind" policy.
There's sections of the race that I cannot fully remember, maybe because I was digging deep & trying to get to Forest Hill by the 24 hour cutoff @7:00 p.m. that everything else is just a blur. Anyway, I ran into Gill again at Dusty Corner (38 mile). Gill was already sitting on a chair at the aid station when I hobbled in. (I had to make a unexpected pit stop to clear my bowels and I think that's where Gill would have made time & caught up.) Here, I spent an additional 15 minutes at this aid station to nurse a bad blister on the top of by left big toe. Gill patiently waited for me to get patched up. Incidentally, I was really grateful to Steve for providing me a blister kit that he thought would be useful to me & that I should carry this the whole way just in case of an emergency. This blister kit really came in handy although it took awhile for me to figure out how to use it properly. It did served it's purpose & I was happy to be running again.
Gill said, You ready? I said let's get the hell out of here, to much time spent already! So off we went running together again. This time it was hot in fact the temperature in the afternoon was in the triple digits, but I did not really felt the heat but was more focused on making the 24 cutoff at Devils Thumb at 3:30 p.m. We preservered and slowly made progress towards Last Chance (43.3 mile) & finally to Devils Thumb (47.8 mile). The climbs were hard but I was prepared for them. In fact, Devils Thumbs was not as hard as I had imagined it to be. We caught & passed so many people going up these two hills & it's just really a confidence booster for us as we reached the top. I was starving at the top of this aid station. I did not even have the inclination to have the ice Popsicle which was the highlight/prize of this climb. The aid stations at WS are well stocked and adequate but the selection of foods are just mediocre. Maybe I'm just picky & am not accustomed to Mainland Howl ie food. I simply cannot find anything solid & was mostly swallowing fruits the whole way. And yes, the Gu gel packs were the last resort. I took 3 with me at every aid station. We took longer than usual, as I tried desperately to refuel but the aid station captain out of concern for time had to chase out out. We were thankful to her for keeping us on track.
As we left Devils Thumb, we were already behind 24 hour pace by an hour. I was a little disappointed but remained hopeful that if we remained strong we can in fact pick up time in the night. I do not think that Gill was thinking of the 24 hour cutoff at all but this was just my own thinking. It's still worth a try, right? After all, this is the Western States, No Guts, No Glory! was still floating through my mind at this stage. Wishful thinking, maybe?
We made our way in the warm afternoon to El Dorado Creek (52.9 miles) It's only about 5 miles but It seems like running forever down this stretched of switched backs. This section reminded me of the switched back at Manoa but 10 times longer. (that's how it felt like at the time). Gill commented that we have been running down this damn thing for about 50 minutes at quite a clip, how can this be 3.2 miles??? #$%^&* I think this section was probably the hardest one for the both of us to handle. Again , I grabbed all kinds of fruits at this aid station, as I was feeling the effects of not eating enough.
After this we prodded along in the setting sun towards Michigan Bluff (55.7 miles). At this point, the projected 24 hour cut off time was slowly slipping away from my grip & reality was beginning to set in, I started having doubts, but I cannot adandon the thought of trying for the Silver Buckle. I was still hopeful that somehow, when I reach Forest Hill my Buddy/pacer will be able to motivate me back into the thick of things. I just have to get there in good shape for this to happen. For I know the "Fishman" will be relentless.
We pushed & pushed & finally reached Michigan Bluff at around 8:00 p.m. My legs felt good but I was still starving & cannot find anything solid for my stomach. I did a quick transition, told Gill he was doing fine & handed Gill over to Steve who was supposed to pace Gill the rest of the way to the finished. I think I was in/out of this aid station in 3 minutes. I know I was behind and needed to make up time to Bath Road (60.6 miles) & Forest Hill (62.0 miles).
I hassled out & moved quickly through the setting sun mostly running interspersed with some power walking as time was slowly slipping away. I made good progress but the effort started to take its toll on my body. I was getting hungry again, feeling weak but I just got to press on. I wanted to get to Forest Hill before it got really dark & the emergency light I have with me can only to so much. I pressed on and finally made it to the Bath Road which is a paved section leading to the Forest Hill School. At this time it was already dark, and I tried to looked to make sure I was on the right path. Finally, as I approached the school I was greeted by my paced Fishman & Sarah (Marian's sister) who guided me to the Forest Hill Aid Station.
I weigh-in at 173 lbs at Forest hill (started at 175 lbs) not too bad , I thought but was still feeling very hungry. I tried to eat some but was hard pressed to get my drop bag and moved out of the aid station to the corner where my crew and pacer was waiting. In the end, we hurried to get our night equipment together, did a change of socks & off we when into the final stage of the race. When we left the aid station, Gill & Steve was still there getting their equipment together.
We probably left Forest Hill at around 9:00 p.m & missed the 24 hour cutoff by about 2 hours. I was still hungry, tired, my blistered toe was killing me, my aching right ankle was continually talking to me, my quads was not happy and I was developing a temperature and my throat was getting sore. Other than that I was OK and still had the drive & determination to finish this race. Quitting was never a option but the Silver Buckle was slowing slipping away.
The Fishman knew of my aspirations. We talked about this many times, and he was certain that I was up to the test. I had no doubt that he will try his best to get me to the finish & even to the extend of pushing me beyond what I can normally handle. With this in mind, I began to let my pacer know how my body was feeling going into the night part of the run, hoping to gain some sympathy, after all, I have already covered 60 miles. Nope! Fat Chance!!
We continued walking on the road trying to make that right turn that connects to the trail head. The pace was beginning to quicken & I was getting worried on what might follow once we reached the trail. The Bear Bell on his pack begins to sound louder as each step got more deliberate and forceful. Soon, we were moving at a good clip and my worries soon faded as I relaxed into the meditative trance of that melody. I knew there was no point trying to convince him that I was tired and that he should slow down the pace for me. I actually tried that a couple of time but each time my request fell on deaf ears and I realized I was wasting my energy trying to talk to myself. At every turn, I will hear, "You are doing Good Buddy", "Excellent ", "I'm so proud of You". This when on for a few hours and in my mind, I knew that we were making very good progress and was making up loss time. At this point, I just let myself loose and followed the light and sound that was set before me. However, after awhile somewhere between Forest Hill & Dardanelles (65.7 miles) near a steep section of the trail my right ankle became extremely sore (as this turns out to be the weakest link in my body) and I begin to find it hard to negotiate steep downhills. The stress was beginning to build up as I got more tired trying to get my footing on the trails. Then suddenly, in a matter on a few minutes I could hear a train of voices coming in fast form behind us. I tried to maintain the pace for as long as I could & avoid getting passed by the group. I reached another steep section going downhill and had to finally step aside and let the group pass. Near the end of the passing group is where I heard, Good Job Ernest! Where's the Fishman? My heart sank when I realized that it was Steve & Gill who had caught up to us. I told Steve that the Fishman was somewhere in the front of me as I tried to compose myself and take the final step down the slope. In the next split second, everyone passed us and all we could see was just dust moving in the direction of the advancing runners. This was definitely my breaking point. I thought that we were making good progress and there was no way Steve & Gill would have passed us this soon. Fishman tried to motivate me again but I was finding it getting difficult to move with my now very sore ankle. I slowed down even more & I sensed that the Fishman was beginning to get concerned about the pace.
Buddy, we need to pick it up! Come on! Just shuffle you feet! You are doing Good! Keep moving! Awesome, awesome! Keep going!!! OK! I'll try, I said. I 'll just keep moving. Buddy, I'm getting sleepy. I think I'm beginning to run sideways? Don't worry just keep moving.
Buddy can we stop for a little while? I need to stop, I need to eat something.. I sleepy and I need something to keep me awake. Where's the caffeine pills that you bought?? I didn;'t bring it! I thought I 'll use the seven hour energy booster instead but I did not get this in the last aid station. I even forget to drink the red bull too!! …Can you massage the back of my neck? I hope this will keep me awake…
Never mind, then! just keep moving we are coming to the aid station soon. Come on buddy! Can you hear it, aid station?? What aid station is this, I asked. I don't know, Fish replied. Make sure you eat something at the aid station, OK! We left Dardanelles (65.7 miles) and reached Peach stone (70.7 miles) in slow fashion. A dozen runners passed us along these sections.
We made slow progress towards Ford's Bar (73 miles). I think it was at this aid station that we found real food that I can stomach. Grilled cheese sandwich never tasted so good! I got a boost of energy here and made better progress towards the Rucky Chucky Crossing (78 miles). I took awhile for us to get organized at we eventually made it across the river without much incident. The water was cold and I was making more noise that the Fishman. We wasted no time getting up from the river and did not planned on staying on the far side of the Rucky Chucky. Immediately, Fishman took the lead and we power walked up to Green Gate (79.8 miles).
We had planned on having a dropped bag at Green Gate which is about 1.7 miles from the Rucky Chucky crossing. This proved to be the right strategy in changing off our wet socks & shoes. We chose to power walked up Green Gate instead of staying cold at the River Crossing & having a drop bag there. We made excellent time up green gate and was moving well after we got refreshed by the cold river water. We passed a few runners up Green Gate and according to the Fishman they thought we were Possessed! That's how fast we were moving!!!
Cheryl, Kelly, Neal, & the Pieman were waiting for us at Green Gate and we make a quick transition: Changing only our socks & shoes and doing away with the long sleeve shirts me made progress over to Auburn Lake Trails (85.2 miles). I wasn't feeling sleepy anymore but I was still hungry. The Fishman sensing this new opportunity to make up time started running again. We ran and ran and ran and I was really surprised that I could keep up with the Fishman. Fishman too was surprised at the pace that we were moving & found a new reason to push. By this time, we were pretty certain that I was not going to make the 24 hour cut-off and we eventually settled down a little. We reached Brown's Bar (89.9 miles) in excellent fashion but I truly gave all that I had coming into this section. I was wasted, I ran like a man possessed. In fact, we passed so many of the runners that had passed us in the night that one runner commented that I was back from the Dead!
After this point, I was again drained of energy. This was my second low point. After runningg so much, I pretty much had to walk the most part of this last section. I had to stop at one aid station and was made to stay for medical evaluation because my weigh was down about 4%. I started at 175 and lost 7 pounds. The medics made sure I was OK before they released me out on the course. They made me drink 3 cups of Gu2o and some soup/broth and gave be some heating pads and a thick blanket to stop me from shaking. At this point, I think the Fishman finally realized that I had pushed too hard and it was time to ease off. This however was the worse time for me. After sitting for about a half hour I found myself so stiff that it took a long while for me to be walking again.
They say that the first 60 miles was the hardest andonce you reach Forest hill the rest of the 40 miles is much easier. I definitely do not agree with this statement. The last 6 miles is equally difficult and is mentally draining. We resume the journey on route to Highway 49 (93.5 miles) cautiously and by this time, I had developed some kind of throatinfection. I was constanly coughing up greenish phlegm and had difficulty breathing. I was digging real deep but still had to push as there was about another 3 hours to do the final 6 miles.
The morning sun was a welcome sight but it was hot and this added to the stress that was building on my beaten up body. Buddy it's in the bag, Fishman said. You 're going to make it! At this point, I suddenly remembered what Cheryl had said earlier about this race. This is a point to point course and you need to make the cutoff for every aid station. Buddy, I think we need to make the cutoff for every aid station and there are two more aid stations to go before the finish. I think we still need to push to get more buffer. The feeling was mutual and we began this last push towards the finish trying to gain as much time as we can without blowing up. It was hard, every mile seems like eternity but I preserver-ed and always knowing that the Fishman was there to make sure that I was alright was very comforting. Slowly but surely we made our way to No Hands Bridge(96.8 miles) and then to Robie Point (98.9 miles). This final mile was hard too as I find it increasingly difficult to breath. I asked Fish can we just walk all the way to the Stadium? I promised to run the final lap on the track! He smiled and we walked all the way to the entrance of the stadium and there as if something magical happened I found legs to run again. As we ran into the stadium I heard my name mentioned by the announcer and I sprinted the last 300 yards towards the finish line, simply amazing!
I realized that this is definitely a team effort and I do not think I would be able to have pulled this off without my Buddy/Pacer, the Fishman! I will surely like to return the favor and I'm sure if given that same opportunity, it will definitely be Silver!!!