Tuesday, April 15, 2008

RR: The McNaughton Park 150

The Skinny:
Race: McNaughton Park 150 Miler
Where: Pekin, Il.
When: April 11-13, 2008

Results: Dropped at 100 Miles
33 Hours and 33 Minutes Elapsed

Pictures can be found HERE

On April 11, 2006; my grandfather and best friend assed away from Cancer. On that day I held his hand as he passed on to a better life. On April 11, 2008; he held my hand as I toed the line to try and conquer 150 Miles at McNaughton Park in Pekin, IL.

McNaughton Park is in itself a pretty challenging course. 10 mile loops of short and steep hills the entire way. However, those of us who have run here know full well that any kind of foul weather easily makes this course the most underrated 100 mile course in the country. Unfortunately for this weekend, it would be one of those foul weather years… again.

In 2007, I ran this race as my first 100 Miler and was now returning to try and tackle 150 Miles. No matter how far I would make it, I only had 48 Hours to do so instead of the race cut off of 52 Hours. Sarah and I needed to catch a plane home on Sunday so we could both go to work or school on Monday. Regardless of this point, I showed up ready to run and take on the mud beats of McNaughton.

Here is how it went...

The Race:
Lap 1: Miles 0-10

The starting siren went off and like a giant herd of sheep we were off and running down the first hill. It was cold as we run together in a pack, if nothing else than to simply try and feed off of each other’s warmth. A few guys are really taking off down through the first field and I ask them, “Hey is this a 10K?!” I couldn’t believe how fast some people were running, especially with 149.8 miles to go. It was evident who had thought this race out as they ran comfortably through the field and took their time easing into their own groove

I settled in with Al Kader from Brooklyn, NY. Al and I met last year at the Grand Tetons 100. We had fond memories there and decided to stick together for a while here at McNaughton Park. We talked a little bit about how things have been and how excited we were for the race, but our chatter was soon drowned out by silence. The wind whipped across the countryside at about 30mph with higher gusts. Temps hovered around 40 and the wind had quite a bite to it. The course was damp and muddy from rain in the days prior to the race, and it continued to fall in sporadic bursts.

The hills were kind of sloppy but nothing like last year and I was relieved. Rumor had it, the winds were supposed to die down tonight and the possibility of showers had decreased. (Oh how I wish the forecast had been right.) At the first creek crossing I noticed that a tree had fallen victim to erosion and was leaning half way across the creek and in the water. I walked over and walked along the trunk, onto a branch and jumped to safety without getting my feet wet. If I could only continue this through out the race, it would be a huge help!

We wound along the ravine bed until reaching the hills. Golf Hill is the steepest and a rope is set up along trees in order to help you pull yourself up the steep and slippery slope. Last year I went 65 miles without using the rope, this year I knew better and used it on every lap. As we topped out on the hill, we had just enough time to catch our breath before we ran down and up and down and up a few more. The course was in pretty good shape considering and we were all well on our way.

The course is as always well marked with yellow ribbons, compliments to Andy Weinberg who spends the better half of a few weeks ensuring that we all know which way to go. The course itself is one big 10-mile loop which has us weaving in and out of varying areas, constantly walking past places where you can see where you’ve been or where you need to go in the coming miles. It really is an intricate design, one that only a silk worm could replicate in the making of some odd sweater.

As we made our way through the next field, we ran past the small cemetery and I knew Heavens Gate was next. Heavens Gate is the aid station at Miles 6 and 7.5 and has its own loop. It is manned by the running Buffalo runners of Illinois. These folks are top-notch runners who exemplify the true meaning of trail running. Their kind and gentle spirit and copious amounts of enthusiasm and encouragement is yet to be matched anywhere through my experiences.

As I ran into the aid station I gave a big yell, “Buffaloooooo!” They yell back and we immediately commence into discussion about where my whitey tighties were. Even though I had lost a bet over the Super Bowl, trying to remain warm and continue to be able to run this race was more important than settling a bet. They were sure to air their disappointment on each recurring loop. After a quick snack we headed down into the Heavens Gate Loop, down and along the river-bank, back up to the field and by the aid station again. From here it is 2.5 miles to the start/finish.

Al and I trudged through the next set of fields, which were pretty saturated on this side of the course. Slick mud and standing water made for a miserable time with the footing. We only hoped it didn’t rain. All ready we were experiencing some passing showers and chilly winds. The last thing we wanted was more rain. We headed back into the woods, looped around this next section, through 2 more fields and arrived at the next creek crossing. We stopped to investigate the scene and realized there was no way to avoid being wet. I rolled up my pant legs and headed into the water that was shin deep and freezing cold. On the far side of the creek bank was a soupy mess of mud and slop. We trudged through and made our way up the last series of muddy hills to the start/finish line.

Sarah and Rachel were ready to do the pit change at the start/finish. Boost, gels, refill the bottles, stuff the pockets, warmer clothes, put the hood down and away I went. The transition was quick as Al and I were quickly on our way. What an amazing crew I had.. and dedicated!

Lap 2: Miles 10-20
Round and round we went again. Al and I stuck together through the Totem Pole aid station (mile 3 on the loop). As we passed through here and headed down through “The Beach” I noticed Al slow down a bit. I looked back to see if he was ok and he seemed fine. I continued on through the 1st crossing and looked back on the other side. Al seemed to have disappeared. I figured he had stopped to use the restroom so I kept moving along. (Later I would find out that Al had fallen victim to hypothermia very early in the race. He passed out and crashed on the trail. He woke up and shivered his way to the start/finish where he called it a day at 20 Miles. Though I thought about it all race long, the serious threat for hypothermia during this race was very real and a dangerous risk. Thankfully Al is fine and looking ahead to his next race.)

I myself felt pretty lousy during the second loop, like as if I was bonking. My gels and boost weren’t sitting in my stomach well at all and other foods all ready seemed very unappetizing. I hoped to shake the funk pretty early and pushed through it as best I could. The passing showers were starting to become more frequent, mixing with snow and the winds seemed to pick up before they decreased. It was cold, miserable and running alone made for some pretty depressing feelings on my behalf. What was I doing out here? I was not with it and felt disconnected from the race. I hoped as time went by things would change.

Lap 3: Miles 20-30
I had been having trouble with my nutrition plan and finally had it figured out. I was eating too much too early and eating it fast. In order to fix the problem and allow my body a chance to digest what I had all ready fed it, I began to stagger my eating of gels and drinking of boosts and my intake of Electrolyte tablets. As the miles clicked by I slowly started to feel better until I was running comfortably and feeling up to the task. I was amazed at how long it takes me to get into the groove during these races. Its not uncommon for 18-23 miles into a run is where I finally start to feel good. I’m not sure if this is good or bad but judging by how I felt during the race, I’m going to say bad.

Either way, I was feeling much better. I settled into the run and continued to make the rounds. As I ran into the start/finish area, I was skipping along with a huge smile on my face. I was in my element and having an amazingly fun time. During my pit stop I grabbed my headlamp and did another layer adjustment before taking off once more. A young man by the name of Al offered to pace me and I asked him to join me for lap 5, until then… it was off on 4.

Lap 4: Miles 30-40
I ran the 4th lap alone dreading the occurrence of the setting sun. The night time hours are my worst and something I am desperately trying to improve upon at these types of events. I ran most of the lap alone, saying hello to the stray runner I would run into from time to time. I made it across the first stream crossing before needing a headlamp which was good and in fact, I ran around the 10 Bears Loop before I finally needed to turn it on. Ran and snow showers continued to fall only now at a more frequent clip than before. The rains were getting increasingly more chilly and the winds slowly began to die down. As the sun set, I felt a real sense of isolation. I was VERY lonely and all ready wishing I didn’t have to run tonight. All I wanted was to lay down in my tent next to Sarah and dream. But I still had work to do.

As I reached the start finish line I changed my shoes and socks. I had been wearing a pair of Inov-8 Roclite 310’s. The shoes are pretty narrow which would be fine on a dry course, but the soggy conditions caused a greater amount of foot swelling and pruning. My big toes and little toes hurt. As I changed socks I covered my big toe one my right foot with Vaseline. I knew it had blistered on the bottom all ready, something I had hoped to avoid. I wore my last pair of Injinji toe sock and threw on my warm Darn Tough Coolmax Cushion Socks, my feet felt instantly warm and up to the task. I then learned that Sarah’s friend Rachel had fallen ill and was asleep in their tent. My crew of two was now a crew of one, Sarah was obviously worried and tired as was I. Its funny how she continued to worry about me and the race and all I could think about was my crew. She hurried me along and I left with Al. Al came down from Michigan to pace Jeff Christian in tomorrows 100 Miler. I suggested he could run one or two laps with me and then rest up for Jeff. Everything worked out fine.

Lap 5: Miles 40-50
Al and I took off down the trail. I was still feeling good and moving along at a decent clip. I continue to walk up most of the hills and run when I had the chance. My feet were starting to hurt and I knew my big toe had a bad blister on it. I decided to keep pushing through it as long as I could. As we went on into the night, the more I slowed down as my vision is not the best even with a headlamp.

At the first creek crossing we caught up with another runner. He was preparing to trudge through the water until he noticed Al and I take to the downed tree. The runner then decided to follow us and asked my pacer for some assistance. My pacer told me to run ahead and he would catch up. So I took off running and walking eventually making my way up to the top of Golf Hill where shortly afterwards I had caught up with a female runner. I told her my pacer was behind me with another runner and he was going to catch up with me soon. Quite a ways down the trail and in the Sheridan section neat the hairpin, my pacer was running AT me asking me if I had “Done a loop ta loop?” “No man, I followed the course with this other run here, looks like you guys cut the course!” I was totally bummed out to find out that the runner he had stayed with went off the course and ended up ahead of us. I was now faced with a morale decision to make. Do I tell the aid staff at Hevens Gate? Or just let it go.

As we ran into Heavens Gate, I saw the runner there. We know each other, I just don’t see the need to mention his name here. In front of the aid crew I told him, “Hey.. I was ahead of you after the 1st creek crossing. How did you get in front of me without passing me? Looks like you cut the course!” The runner immediately got irate and confrontational about it, “I would NEVER…” Of course I knew he would never intentionally do such a thing but the fact is that he DID do it and its unfortunate. McNaughton Park in the dark can indeed be a tricky place but you’d figure by the 5th lap, you’d know where to go!

Lap 6: Miles 50-60
I was very sleepy during lap six. After the totem pole aid station, I went down the trail running when I could. I was all over the place, weaving in and out like a drunk driver. My eyes were heavy and starting to close. As we ran down onto the beach, I fell asleep briefly and woke up quick enough o catch myself from hitting the dirt. I got a good laugh out of it and pressed on.

When I reached Heavens Gate at the conclusion of the loop there, I laid down underneath the aid station table to try and close my eyes for 5 minutes, hoping it would help me get to the start/finish without falling asleep again. After 5, I jumped up and saw a female runner eating from the table. She would head off into the Heavens Gate loop as we left it and we continued on our way. The weather was horrible now. Off and on showers had now turned into a steady rain and snow shower. I was freezing cold, tired, my feet killed and I still had to get them wet at the crossing again. The winds hadn’t died down yet as promised and the trail was getting increasingly more difficult to negotiate.

After making it through the creek crossing I had made the decision that my current best course of action was to take a few at the start/finish to recollect myself. I was all ready 2 to 3 hours behind my planned pace. I was now down to no pairs of Injinji toe socks and one more pair of shoes. Given the weather and the course, I was going to have to decide if the 150 was even attainable at this point.

We got to the start/finish and I was told that the female runner who I had saw at Heavens Gate as we were leaving had just been through the start/finish about 15 to 20 minutes ago. That seemed odd to me because she never passed me as well. I knew I was tired but I wasn’t missing runners coming on by. Turns out, she never even returned to Heavens Gate after her loop there and she had cut the course by 2 miles!

I sat inside the tent and thanked Al for his company. I was now 60 miles into the race and knew that 150 miles was quickly getting out of reach. I was tired and physically spent from dealing with all the mud. The amount of energy it takes out of you is large. I decided that I needed to figure out how the hell I was going to even make it to 100 Miles never mind 150! So.. I took off my shoes and socks, put on a dry pair of socks and decided to lay down for 2 hours to allow my feet a chance to dry.

Lap 7: Miles 60-70
There was no sleeping during the 2 hours I lay there in the cold morning, listening to snow/rain and sleet hitting the top of our tent. Rachel was vomiting in my crews tent so Sarah opted to lay next to me. Rachel would be leaving in the morning so my crew of two was going to officially be a crew of one. My feet dried well in the night and as morning came, I asked sarah to find Andy and ask him if he had any spare pairs of Injinji’s which thankfully he did. I heard the countdown for the 50 and 100 mile runners as they were on their way.

I put the socks on, a new set of Darn Toughs and my last pair of dry shoes. I also put on a different jacket and my rain pants. Thank god I come to these things prepared for the worst. As I left the tent and headed for the trail, I grabbed my fleece bear hat. I’ve had this neat little hat for years. As much as I was disappointed I had decided to not go for the 150, I still wanted to continue having a hell of a time making it to 100. SO with a smile all bundled up, off I went, slipping and sliding down the trail, chasing all of the runners who were now REALLY tearing up the course along the way.

As I made it to the Heavens Gate aid station, a man by the name of Curt Lowry. Curt had introduced himself to me a few times all ready during the race but when he did I was either too out of it, too tired or too hurried to really hold a conversation with him. He was well into his own 50 mile adventure when he made a point to stop and come over to introduce himself again. We shook hands and I listened to him speak. I just have to say that Curt is one top notch guy and what he said to me there in the field at Heaven’s Gate really touched me. I was humbled and moved to tears as I continued on down the trail all choked up by what he said. As I know he’ll read this, I want to say Thank you Curt. Thanks so much for your encouraging words.

At the 2nd crossing I went up stream and down stream looking for another downed tree or a branch to cross on. I knew that if I got my feet wet again, the race for me would be over for good. My feet are covered in mud. My shoes weigh a ton, I’m still freezing cold, tired but motivated to get 100 Miles in. I backed up and ran full steam across the water picking each foot up quickly. A cameraman caught the action and when I got to the other side he told me he’d never actually seen a man walk on water. My feet… we dry! I knew next time I wouldn’t be so lucky.

Lap 8: Miles 70-80
Back at the start finish I get the refills again and pick up two garbage bags for the next time I got to the river crossing. I was in need of a pacer to keep me moving along. Scott Gregersen volunteered to pace me a lap. Scott is in the 50 mile race himself and I feel terrible that he is going to end up with a 4 hour loop helping me out. He didn’t seem to care though as we were on our way.

Rain and snow continues to fall, temps are in the mid 30’s and the wind has thankfully died down. Unfortunately, the continuing precipitation made the course worse and worse as we went along. We were not at the point where I could honestly say that this years race conditions were worse than last years. The mud had the consistency of peanut butter and getting up and down the hills took every ounce of energy I had in me. I was covered in mud and the fun level was starting to decline.

We continued to run into fellow runners, or they ran into me on their way to their respective finishes. Brian Gaines, Travis Liles… and a few other runners whose names I forget. I was so humbled by the encouragement given during this loop. Everyone who passed me by that knew me, gave me a pat on the back and encouraged me to keep going. When I told them 100 would be it for me, some would stop, turn around and pat me on the back and still give me a “way to go.” I learn something new about myself during each race, but I think during this race, I learned more about people. In a time in my life where I continue to question the good in people.. people showed me that they are indeed good.

Creek crossing #2.. I put my legs into garbage bags and tenderly crossed the stream. Once on the other side, I put rocks in the bags and tossed them back across to Scott so he could keep his own feet dry. Unfortunately, Scott wasn’t so tender and poked holes in the bags. It was pretty funny actually. Jeff Genova was hoping to come up from Arkansas to pace me some during the race. Unfortunately, his daughter got injured earlier in the weekend and he was not going to make it. I had decided on my way back to the start/finish that if he wasn’t there to come out with me for the night, that 100 miles would definitely officially be it. I was barely holding on to hope for a 150 mile finish.

Lap 9 and 10: Miles 80-100
As I reached the start/finish I was told that Tracy Thomas had showed up and she was prepared to pace me if I wanted it. Boy did I! I grabbed 2 new garbage bags and found Andy Weinberg the RD. I told Andy that Lap 10 would be my final lap and that 100 miles would be enough for me. Andy wasn’t too happy to hear this and told me to see how I felt then. I had made up my mind long ago though, and was determined to get to 100 miles and enjoy just that.

For the next two laps, I really enjoyed Tracy’s company. She had to endure not only the course, but my flatulence. She endured waiting for me to apply Vaseline constantly to horrific chafe. She heard terrible corny jokes. But most importantly, Tracy lent and ear. We talked and talked about our sport and our lives. And I even got to tell her why I was running. I really missed my grandfather, and even though 100 Miles would be it, I could hear his voice in my head telling me how proud of me he was.

100 Miles… This would be plenty in these conditions. The amount of effort and the totality of the epic journey I embarked upon just to make it that far was incredible. I started to slip and slide down the hills, I even fell a few times. I continued to keep my feet as dry as possible. At Heaven’s Gate, Tracy chugged some Bud Light and on lap 10 I joined her with a small cup of Heinekin. She pushed me to the finish, keeping me upright and talking. We walked into the night as every steo I took grew increasingly more painful. My feet were blistered and sore. My quads felt like someone was ripping them off the bone. My knees hurt from trying to negotiate the mud. In 4 weeks, I’ll endure more pain at Massanutten Mountain Trails 100, I have nothing to prove to anyone, 100 Miles here… 100 Miles in the mud, muck and slop was enough. The shear thought of another 50 miles, anther night of rain and snow, was just too much to handle or overcome.

More runners came passed and tried to get me to keep moving forward in the 150. I didn’t want it enough to continue on. I am so thankful for Tracy’s help and she somehow found the need to thank ME for having her come along. No no Tracy.. all the thanks go to you.

After 33 Hours and 33 Minutes, I ran across the finish line of my 4th 100 Mile finish. Of all of them, this effort was the hardest and this race the toughest. I was exhausted and relieved. I was tired, cold and wet. I was muddy. I was done. As I was congratulated by my friends from the Midwest and Sarah, I was harassed by Andy Weinberg and Mike Halovatch. They were trying to motivate me to keep going on the course, which I appreciated. But at the same time, I felt it really took away from what I actually HAD accomplished and it really hurt my feelings quite a bit. It is what it is, I’m young, there will be other races and future years. I’m in no rush to do anything I’m not ready to do or not motivated to do.

I’m so thankful for all of the friends I’ve made over the years from the Illinois area. I really have to thank everyone for their support and encouragement through out the course of the race. As I said earlier, typically I learn something about myself during races. I learned at McNaughton this year that I have nothing to prove to anyone and that I am my own boss and I control my own destiny. I learned that even though the stack against me is high, even though there will be struggle, I CAN keep moving forward. But most importantly, I learned that there still is plenty of good in people and when they show you… it feels REALLY good. These are the people I will surround myself with in my life. These are the people who will help and encourage you to live, to laugh an to love. Thank you Illinois.. and thank you everyone!

Now the question remains... Could I have done it? I honestly, 100% think that if the weather was warmer and the trails were drier, I could have done 150 Miles no problem!

Next Up: Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 - Front Royal, VA - May 17!

My Laps:
Lap 1 1:53:51.26 11:23/M 10.000
Lap 2 2:11:23.02 13:08/M 20.000
Lap 3 2:25:38.14 14:34/M 30.000
Lap 4 2:38:08.97 15:49/M 40.000
Lap 5 3:06:30.69 18:39/M 50.000
Lap 6 4:13:11.88 25:19/M 60.000
Lap 7 5:04:38.76 30:28/M 70.000
Lap 8 3:45:01.12 22:30/M 80.000
Lap 9 4:02:53.18 24:17/M 90.000
Lap 10 4:12:38.78 25:16/M 100.000