It was a bit of a strange prep week before the race. I wasn’t that nervous and to be honest, I hadn’t really prepped mentally like I had in the past for other first-time race distances. I was in great running shape, but had no idea what I was going to do for nutrition, pace, etc. The longest run I had ever done was the TRT 50 miler and that was over two years ago. A couple of weeks ago, I began making an Evernote page and studying the pace times for the middle of the pack and also for the top 20. I got about half done and thought I would just finish some time this week, but it was now 8 pm before the race and I still didn’t know what to tell my crew or pacers where to be when.
The week before the race, I had an intense 4-day meeting in Truckee with my work team that started with early days and late nights (maybe a few too many beers). The prep for the race kind of got pushed to the side by other priorities.
I had a great meeting with Coach Fain on the Sunday before the race and basically, we threw out the pacing schedule altogether. So then how fast do you start? How fast do you go in the middle? How do I run 62 miles through the mountains? In the night? Maybe in the day? So many unknowns to answer so is it best to not think about it? I guess that was the approach I took in the end.
So, on Friday at 4 pm, I got home from my last conference calls and wrapped up the work for the week. One of my work colleagues, Julia Hemme, was going to crew me and super pacer Steve Rowbury, fresh or not so fresh off the 11th place finish at the Kodiak 100, was going to make sure I made it from Van Norden to the finish. My uncle, Marty Brounstein, was going to support also. He is a 2:40 marathoner and just thinks this isn’t really running. But he enjoys seeing all of us crazy people. I think I can say “us” as I feel more like an ultrarunner now and less like a marathoner if you know me.
Now it was 8 pm before the race and Steve Rowbury took over while I started loading my fuel, 100 calories of CarboPro mixed with 100 calories of Tailwind. This had gone over well on my 20+ mile runs. I packed up my salt tablets, Huma gels, Honey Stinger chews. This was my fuel. I was going to eat PB&J early in the race until I couldn’t as I knew that these calories would be important. I was going to take 1.5 water bottles down per hour. This would be 300 calories. I was going to try to stay away from the gels unless I needed them. The time goal I decided was Palisades by sunset for no other reason than to make sure my crew had a time to be somewhere.
Marty and I quickly left the house at 4 am so we didn’t wake up the kids as that would be a bad start to the day for all. Success! I was one of the lucky ones to have a short commute to the start (15 minutes) and a driver (my uncle and Julia).
After a few pictures, a bathroom stop, and a quick announcement by Peter, we were off into the dark. It was so surreal. I don’t do a lot of night time running and the dusty trail made it feel like we were traveling through a snow storm as the flecks of dust flashed in front of our headlamps. I put on the buff for the first few miles and was sweating like crazy. I saw folks with surgical masks and that may have been a better choice. I just kept saying to myself how fast should I go? Am I going too fast? I heard some banter behind me on the Animal as folks were talking about their next races (Hard Rock, Spartathlon, UTMB). This may be a group that is a bit more experienced than me I thought to myself. And then the words from Coach Fain came into my head, “This is going to be the hardest thing you have ever done.” I got to get that out of my head and just run. Was I going too fast?
At the top of the Animal, I got to see a sunrise. I had run this section at least 20 times but never at dawn and it was amazing. But I put my phone in my bag and I just didn’t want to waste the energy to get it out. Mental picture was taken, and I moved on. I hit the Animal aid station and got my first sign of familiar faces. Mike Tebbutt and Ksenya were “manning” it in animal costumes. I refueled my vest and my handheld water bottle and was on the way. I was just about to Carpenter Valley Road and all of the sudden I felt some sharp bites or something. They were super painful and didn’t really understand what was happening. I then saw Jon Murchinson and Peter Broomhall running towards me and asking about a wasp nest. “Yep, back there 100 yards.” Well…I hope I am not allergic I thought.
My crew was just awesome and saw them at Carpenter Valley Road and then again at the top of the Euer Valley climb, along with Helen Pelster. I felt so great at mile 12 and was chatting with a few folks. They all had the same goal of hitting the Palisades by sunset, so I thought this is a great place to be. But there was still my longest race I have ever done ahead of me. With the wasp stings behind me and no allergic reaction, I ran through familiar faces at the aid station in Euer Valley at mile 14 (Lesley, Sharon, Helen, and a Kane Cullimore siting, and many others).
I had run this section a few weeks earlier and knew what to expect so began the climb up Mustang Sally and then back down. I ran into Steve Martelli on the way down and he was hurting a bit from the wasp stings. He is a warrior as I am not sure how you can come out of that dark place. Great to see him finish his 5th CP100K!.
I was right on track for a 10 am stop in Johnson Canyon by the time I started climbing to Hawk’s Peak. On my descent down to Johnson Canyon, I started feeling tightness in my left groin for the first time. I just noted it and moved on. This probably was a sign of what was to come. I had been drinking both my bottles of CarboPro and TW between aid stations, so I thought I was in good shape with my nutrition. At every aid station, I grabbed a PB&J. I really thought I was doing some good things.
I pulled into Johnson and there was my awesome crew along with a great surprise (Stephna, Shiloh, and Jacob joined us). Jacob just wanted to eat the spread that my super crew leader Julia Hemme set up. Stephna later told me that he was like a bee on the food and they kept swatting him away and when I pulled in and said he could have some, they almost killed me. They didn’t realize there was a whole tent of food up at the aid station.
I did a quick check in, got my water bottles filled, and grabbed my poles. I filled my DPMR ice bandana (a savior!). And then headed up the hot climb to Summit Lake. I felt really great at this point. All I could think was just to keep drinking. Little did I know that the wheels were going to come off so early. I made it through to Summit Lake and then began the climb up to Frog Lake overview. All of sudden, I felt dizzy and my left knee began to tighten up. This was the first cramp. I couldn’t move and had to stretch it out. This was way too early.
I limped my way up to the top of the overlook and then began heading down. I tried to force down a couple of salt pills and some honey stingers. Maybe I hadn’t been taking in enough fuel or electrolytes? I was very confused as I wasn’t physically tired. I slowed down and tried to see if I could get back to a slow run down the hill. It worked for a bit until I had to head up again.
I got passed by about 50 runners on this section and was pretty demoralized by the time I got into Devil’s Oven, but it was great to see my pacer there, who was volunteering before our journey later. He had some great advice and forced me to take in a bunch of fuel. “Go slow mate and it will come back. I’ll see you at Van Norden.” I climbed slowly up to the top of Castle Peak. One of the best moments was just before beginning to cross the ridge line and a South American guy (not sure his name) was sitting there enjoying the view. He said that you have to just take it in and enjoy the moment. I had forgotten about the enjoyment and I noted it as truly a cool part of ultra-racing.
Somehow I got through this section, one of the hardest of the course and was able to get back to 10 min mile pace into Castle Valley. It is really crazy to be in such a bad place and then have it turn around. I knew it wasn’t the last time I would feel like that and I knew that it was probably going to be worse next time. Super crew leader Julia had my spread set up with a nice comfy chair and I downed broth, quesadillas, gels, and electrolytes. I got my ice bandana refilled for the next 12-mile section through Hole in the Ground. I left after about 10 minutes and was feeling great. I grabbed one more quesadilla (thanks George Ruiz) and headed out slowly.
On this section, I got to spend a few miles with Stacie Riddle, who talked about this as a training run for this week’s UTMB. And then she was going to come back and do another Tahoe Ultra Run. I stopped thinking about complaining about pain at that point. The Hole in the Ground was just great. It was somewhat runnable, and I got to spend some miles with some great people. The cramping then started again about half way to the aid station. Not again!! I slowed it down and tried to force some salt pills but just couldn’t swallow them. When I got to the aid station, I downed a bunch of pickles and pickle juice, along with the turkey, avo, and pickle wrap. I hoped this was enough to get me back again if it ever was going to happen. I picked up a Roctane Tablet at the secret aid station and that seemed to do it for me. I was able to run after that. It was crazy to be 48 miles into the race and I felt fresh all of the sudden.
I popped out onto the road after the huge drop into final Hole in the Ground area and shuffled my way into Van Norden. What a feeling that was!! Mile 50 and there was my crew and pacer. It was just before 7 pm, about 2 hours after I thought I was going to get there. This meant we were going to do Palisades in the dark. I had no idea what this would mean. Steve seemed excited. We had a short stop and Steve got me on my feet. We were off…last 12 miles and I just needed to do it in 6 hours to get the Western States Qualifier. I had changed my goal at this point. Let’s finish before 1 am. It should be no problem, right?
I knew the Palisades sections from a couple of training runs but didn’t really know the rest of the course well. We started with a little shuffle up the fire road and around the lake before a short climb. I actually didn’t feel that bad, so I began to pick up the pace. We started passing a few folks on the downhill as it started to get dark. The lighting was amazing as Steve stopped to take a few pictures of the Palisades and Castle Peak with the dusk light shining on it.
I came into the next aid station actually feeling ok. I had just about 8 miles to go and 4 hours to get there. Steve kept telling me, “you got plenty of time, mate!” This made me feel at ease. The next part really was the test of the race as we began the climb to Crow’s Nest. I tried hard to keep the legs moving up the steep terrain but had to stop several times and put my hands on my knees. I had gotten a few gels down me over the last hour and seemed to have gotten over the nutrition issues for the short term…that didn’t last long. I got up to Crow’s Nest and pulled in to see a familiar face with JP Prince. I tried to force some broth down but just couldn’t get anything into me. I was really starting to struggle as nothing tasted good. I had some soda and then pushed on into the Palisades, into the dark. You looked off in the distance and you only see headlamps and course markings that went up the steep ascent. What a cool, surreal scene. Steve hadn’t done this in the dark either, so it was going to be an experience for both of us.
My crew and my wife were watching me closely through the race updates. They were happy to see that I had sped up but then a bit worried when I clicked off my next mile in 57 minutes, probably the slowest mile of my life. Meanwhile on the course, I was struggling. I knew what the terrain was like in the daytime and knew that I was tip-toeing on the side of cliffs and rocky slopes. But all I could think about was getting to the finish line. At one point, I pulled myself up one of the 100-foot ascents on a rope, and then laid down on the side of the cliff, as Jon Emis stepped over me. “You ok, Dan?” “Hey Jon…doing just fine. I’ll see you at the finish.” I mustered a little squeak.
A half hour later, I was at the top of Mount Lincoln, with only a downhill to go, right! Wrong, as Coach Fain always has a little surprise around the corner. I laid down one more time, with a cramp in my left leg that took me suddenly off my feet, where I was writhing in pain. I had been cramping now for over 32 miles off and on. I couldn’t shake them. I was happy to just have a few moments where they did go away. We got to the top of Mt. Judah, took a picture and knew it was just all downhill.
We began running and running and finally the lights and music appeared in the distance. I heard Coach Fain announce my name and Steve gave me a shout of encouragement. I crossed the line! I got a huge hug from Stephna, Julia, and my Uncle. And Helen got me over to the lounge chair. I was done in just over 19 hours, about 3 hours longer than what I had expected, if I expected anything. I was so happy to be done but also a bit sad as I now I was already thinking, “That’s really not far off the time to do 100 miles…Western States maybe? I hope so!”