Race directing an ultra-distance event is both extra-tough and extra-rewarding at the same time. But the planning, preparation, and execution, doesn't always roll-out in a linear fashion. Sometimes I think that Quantum Mechanics and Ultra race directing have a lot in common. Both have their own versions of inherrent randomness and that ever-present "uncertainty principle" lurking in the background.
Uncertainties creep into the picture throughout the whole process. Will the event shirts be finished on time? Did I order enough, since I had to guestimate the total number one-month prior, based upon 12 entries? Will the medals show up on time, and will they look great, crappy, or just so-so? Will we have Severe Weather during the event? Will someone get struck by lightning or have a tree fall on them? Will someone fall down and severely bust their ass, this time? Will someone get bit by a snake, get Lyme's Disease from a tick bite, have an allergic reaction to a bee sting, fall face-first into poison ivy, have a heart attack, or get heat stroke? Will we be prepared for all emergency contingencies? Will enough volunteers show up on race day? Will our timing devices work, or will both laptops crash beyond all retrieval? These are just a few of the uncertainties that creep into ultra race directors' little heads at night, when they should be sleeping. And forget breaking even with the money! With a first year ultra-distance event, you'll be lucky to not completely bust your race budget.
Yep, you guessed it. We hacked-out two miles of NEW TRAIL for this event, with the park's permission, of course. And eleven miles of the existing trail was so severely overgrown with poison ivy, stinging nettles, and branches of various trees and bushes, we had to trim those trails back with a vengeance, too.
You can't imagine the hard work that my Trail Nerds put into this race. Imagine going for a ten to fifteen mile training run on a weekend, and then sticking around to operate a weed-wacker for four or more straight hours! And while you're operating said weed-wacker, you're getting covered from head to toe with pieces and parts of poison ivy, stinging nettles, and their plant's juices, all while being eaten alive or stung by wasps, bees, mosquitos, ants, and gihugic horse flies! Basically, it was a blast. A gaggle of Trail Nerds. Gabe, Greg, Rick, Kyle, Josh, and Lance.
As the race date quickly approaches, there's even more work to be done. There's always the presorting of aid station and start/finish line equipment and supplies. This is based on pre-existing lists, estimated need, and wild-ass-guesses.
Right before the race, there's the job of course marking of the trail. Actually, this task is the most fun. Groups of hardy volunteers get to run with sticks, signs, marking tape, and hammers in their hands. Of course after the race, we get to take down all of this stuff. That's even more fun. We get to run on rough terrain grasping scissors and knives in our hands while carring sticks. Woo-hoo! Everything your mom told you not to do when you were a kid! I guess we could make it even more dangerous; we could be naked while doing this...hmmm. (Nah)!
Rick Mayo and Kyle Amos (Trail Marking Coordinator, course designer, and a lot of other stuff).
How did this race get it's start? We kicked-around the original idea while on a trail run, of course. This is how we plan all of our races. We have a Winter version of this race in this same park, called the "Psycho WyCo Run Toto Run." That race started with just 43 runners the first year, and after three years had grown to 300. We had it in the back of our minds to do a Summer version with a radically altered course, and it finally gelled by March or so of this year, when Raul, Nancy, and I decided to personally fund the initial cost. We would call it the Psycho Psummer race (with a "P" in Summer, of course).
Kyle Amos and Shane Jones had ideas as to how we could make our (Winter) 3-loop 50K course into a two-loop 50K for our Summer event. Shane had scoped-out a section of woods that we would design and construct a trail in. Eventually this section was named "Shane's Debacle." There's a precedent for this naming procedure. My dog helped design a piece of single-track trail 3 years ago. I just followed my dog in the woods, and he took the best line up and down the hills all while using existing deer trails and favorable terrain. We built a trail there, and we call that section, "Fester's Wander." Some of our race participants would probably rather call it the "kick Bad Ben's dog" section.
Kyle is always the mastermind when it comes to the actual route and direction the course will take to end up with not only enough miles, but with enough gruesomely grueling miles, as well. Our Winter course has a lot of elevation change for a 50K held in Kansas. It tends to surprise a lot of people. The Summer 50K course ended up with even more elevation change. Yes, blame Kyle! At this point, I should lead a stirring rendition of South Park's "Blame Canada," using Kyle's name instead. But I won't. It's a beautiful course; a real keeper. It's also one of the toughest races that you'll run in the Midwest. And the Trail Nerds get to run on it all of the time! Map of the Psycho Psummer course.
Course Profile. There's a lot more to planning a race of this magnitude. I don't want to bore you with any more details, though. But I will let you know that our first year Psycho Psummer event lived up to it's name, and basically went off without a hitch.
All of our Trail Nerd volunteers were awesome. Prior to the race, we had out-of-towner Wynn Davis, the eventual winner of the 50K race helping to mark the course with Caleb Chatfield, champion and record holder of the Winter 50K event. In fact, many of the race's front runners helped mark the course. My buddy Pat Perry (that I paced at Western States) ran his own aid station with Caleb (and others') help. Cheri Sutton greeted all multi-loop runners with ice and cool bandanas and basically ran the main aid station. Mike Swords, James Barker, and many others performed multiple days' worth of help. People came out of the woodwork to help us, and many families of runners and volunteers were involved, too. Caleb Chatfield and Wynn Davis
Yep, that's the kind of selfless volunteers that we always get. That's why I love trail running and ultra running. And we always have fun doing it!
Well, it's been a little over a week since I crewed and paced my buddy Pat Perry at Western States. I've been busy catching up at work, home, and in my "hobby life" of putting on races, etc. It's been an on-going effort to complete this report in a timely fashion.
I flew to Sacremento on Friday, the day before the race. From there, I drove to the Lake Tahoe area, and met up with Pat and his family, which included his mom-in-law, wife, and three great kids.
Pat's family (and my crewing team).
We got to bed around 7:30 p.m. Pat, his oldest son, and I slept in our own room to get some good shut-eye for the long trek ahead. We all got up at 3:00 a.m., and got everything ready for the day. We drove Pat to the Squaw Valley starting area for the 5 a.m. start.
Pat, just 5 minutes prior to the Squaw Valley start.
The Squaw Valley (Olympic Ski Area) Start...at 5 a.m. A Chris Marolf (participant) photo.
After the start, Pat's family and I had some breakfast, and got ready for the day. Many of the aid stations were very hard to get to, (but not for lack of trying on our part). All I can say is that it involved a lot of driving (of 2 vehicles) on some really sketchy roads with little to no "real world" directions. What an adventure! The kids are awesome, during our crewing adventure.
In the meantime, Pat is running his ass off on huge vertical ascents and descents, in these spectacular areas:
Running down from Escarpment. Another wonderful Chris Marolf (participant) photo.
Running up towards Red Star. Another wonderful Chris Marolf (participant) photo.
Running towards Red Star, this time - down. Another wonderful Chris Marolf (participant) photo.
Another fully-exposed hot climb. A Kurt Bertilson photo.
Running down after Robinson Flat. Another wonderful Chris Marolf (participant) photo.
One of many "substantial climbs" during the race.
By the time Pat got to Michigan Bluff aid station, he was a little toasted, to say the least. He had problems eating enough calories during the heat of the day, and the uphills had been really tough on him. Not everything was going "as planned" for a sub-24-hour finish. The photo below says it all.
I ran with him for a short while after the aid station, to see "where his head was at." I told him to take the next canyon conservatively, and try to get his strength back by Foresthill, (where I will start pacing him). He took a lot of fruit and food with him, to eat for a while on the way there. I crossed my fingers.
An hour and a half later, (right on time), he rolls in to the Foresthill aid station, at mile 60. He's looking and feeling much better...he has his strength back.
It's 8:54 p.m., and the sun is getting ready to go down. I'm ready for him, and Ill be carrying all sorts of stuff that he might need in the middle of the night. I help him get set up with his waist light and a new shirt, and take care of some hot spots between his toes with silicone lube. Then we're off, into the night!
Foresthill Aid Station at 8:54 p.m. I get Pat ready for the last 40 miles of night running that I'll be pacing (running with him).
There's a nice downhill after leaving the pavement of Foresthill. Pat is back to his normal role as "King of Downhill Running," and he's cruising nicely. We get to the next flat and uphill part, and he slows down a little. He figures out my pacing methodology pretty quick, and says, "you stay just far enough ahead to not be out of sight, and turn around occasionally like you're saying, hurry up." I said, "yep, I'm an asshole!"
The strategy works for a while. We are passing a lot of folks, now that it is dark. On the downhills, I let Pat lead, because it's his strong suit. All of a sudden, his stomach starts to go south, and he slows to a walk, again. We get to an aid station, and he takes a little too much time there. He didn't forget my "30 second rule," he just didn't feel too good. With a little coaxing, he finally puked. He felt much better, and we were back to running again.
The aid stations were about every 5 miles or so along the course. They were wonderful, the way they packed all of that stuff into those remote areas.
Pat went through a few "ups and downs" physically/mentally, and took most of the climbs slowly. We finally got to Rucky Chucky Crossing, the American River water crossing, sometime after midnight. There were 2 aid stations...one one both sides of the river.
On the near side, there were a lot of runners that used to resemble humans, just lying around with blankets on them. We got out of there quick, and got into the river. They have attendants to help you across, and they made you grab the rope with both hands. The water was cold (but soothing) to me, but to Pat, I don't think it was much fun at that point.
Hal Koerner (the winner of the race) crosses Rucky Chucky Crossing in broad daylight. We would cross here in the middle of the night. A Michael Kirby photo.
Hal Koerner getting out of the water at Rucky Chucky Crossing, mile 78.1. A Michael Kirby photo.
After Rucky Chucky, there's a nice 1.7 mile steady climb. Pat's walking slowly again, (what I refer to as a Mall Walk). I remind him and try to "inspire" him to walk faster, at a 3.5-4 MPH pace. It works, somewhat. We speed up to about 3.5 MPH for at least half of the climb.
Pat's stomach troubles are always on the radar, from here on. We get into Green Gate aid station at mile 79.8, and he pukes again. He is light-headed whenever he stops running. (So don't stop, Pat, I'm thinking). He takes some antacid and has some soup, and feels better. We burn about 9 minutes here. We start running. And I mean RUNNING! Pat and I have a really good spell, and run for 5 straight miles at a really decent pace. We pass 14 runners and pacers during this stretch. (In fact, even though Pat was having problems, I counted 72 runners & pacers total, that we passed during the last 38 miles of the race).
We got to the Auburn Lake Trails aid station, and he went through the nausea and dizzyness stage again, and sat down. (Beware the chair)! He gets some potato soup into him, and we start walking down the trail. We walk for about 2 miles, then start running again. We make it to Brown's Bar aid station, and he goes through his routine again. I get an O'doul's NA Beer, and it hits the spot for me. (Never thought I'd say that).
We take off from Brown Bar's, and do a fair job of walking with spurts of running here and there. The sun is starting to come up. Pat realizes that there is no way to get to the finish in under 24 hours for his silver buckle, but we resolve ourselves to get there as quickly as possible, given his physical condition at the time.
Highway 49 aid station seems to take forever to get to. Maybe it's because it's light out. We get there, and don't stop at all. "Let's get this baby over with!"
We get to No Hands Bridge, pass the aid station and keep going. At this point, I surprise Pat by pulling out my cellphone, and calling his wife. I told her we'd be there in approximately 32-minutes and 11 seconds...(I lied...I just wanted to make sure his whole family got to the finish line on time).
From No Hands Bridge on, it's little over a 5K to go, but there are some gnarly hills and altitude gain to go through to get to Auburn. We climb and climb, and comment about not remembering this much climbing during our training run, the month prior.
We finally get to the pavement of Robie Street. There's about another 1/2 mile of pavement to climb, and then we're free from any more uphills! Yeah! We start running again. Pat can "smell the barn door," so to speak, and he gives it everything he's got. We cross over the railroad bridge, round a few corners and hit it hard. We see the high school. He zips through the fence and onto the track, and his family is waiting to run around the track with him. He finishes in an official time of 26:51:50. The pictures tell the story:
Pat (and I) cooled off our legs in the canal behind Placer High School, after the race.
Pat finally sits down.
Pat at awards ceremony, proudly wearing his Trail Nerds shirt.
Pat's Finisher's buckle.
Bob Miller (right), couldn't run this year, and gave Pat his entry.
He and his daughter come out from Michigan each year, and work there tails off as volunteers for the race. What a cool guy! His daughter was nice, too.
Dad (Pat) gets the royal treatment from his kids.
I had a marvelous time crewing and pacing for Pat. Training camp was a blast, too. I felt very priveledged to be part of this special race for Pat.
I find ways to enjoy life as much as I can. Also, life's too short to treat people poorly.
I'm into long runs in the park, consuming salt, popping blisters,
eating roadkill & tree bark, and burying whiners in shallow, unmarked
graves. I also enjoy designing trail race courses that would make the
Marquis de Sade blush.
A fun time for me would include banging muddy shoes together, setting
broken bones with a machinist's vise, and duct-taping-down any part of my
body that is bleeding or just flopping-about uselessly.
What helps me to be an active trailrunner and grandpa?
1) Daily sponge baths with bovine stem cells;
2) Copious amounts of delicious & nutritious homebrewed beer; and
3) My secret elixir...Bicarbonate of Figleaf.