31 August 2010

Run Across Idaho

Early last week, I wasn't convinced that I could run 93 miles in a single day, but I felt prepared and hopeful and strong.  On Saturday, at mile 73.5 of my trek across Idaho, I wasn't convinced that I could make it ten more feet.  I wanted to quit.  I wanted to give up.  I wanted to transport myself home and into my bed and as far away from Idaho and running as I could get.

But I kept reminding myself, "This is exactly why you're doing this -- to see if you can keep moving forward when you're at your worst."  So I made it ten more feet, then ten more, then ten more, and I kept moving forward.

Run across the entire state of Idaho in a single day - from Montana to Washington.  I found a 93 mile route that utilized trails and paved bike paths.  Only about two miles of the course shared the road with motor vehicles.

My friend Annie was my awesome crew for the day.  Sadie was my awesome running companion.  We got up early and made it to Lookout Pass on the Montana-Idaho border for a 4 a.m. start.  Temps were in the upper 30's - not what I expected in August, but on a long run like this, I'll take the cool over the hot any day.

Welcome to Montana!

Gear check

For the first ten miles I followed the little beam of light from my headlamp down the west side of Lookout Pass on a quiet gravel road through mountain forest.  Sadie stayed ahead of me and out of my headlamp range for most of this section.  Every once in a while she'd stop and turn around to make sure I was still coming, and her little eyes reflected red from headlamp -- a bit spooky no matter how many times I saw her.  I expected to see other eyes reflecting at me when I glanced  into the woods, but I don't think any of the wildlife were awake this early in the morning.

The course was downhill for the first 30 miles, with over a 1,500 foot loss in the first 11.5.  I knew I had to start slow and fight the temptation to run too fast.  I made an effort to take it easy and even walked several times during the first section, but I still hit the first checkpoint (11.5 miles) under a 9 min/mil pace.  "I feel great! This is going to be easy!"

The sun popped up and I dropped off my cold weather gear.  Temps were forecast to be in the 70's, so I had a couple short-sleeved shirts ready, but it never did get warm enough for me to ditch my long-sleeved shirt.

I kept an easy pace and walked for a few minutes every couple of miles.  Save the legs...save the legs...  There was a pretty little river running parallel to the trail, and usually I'd stop and let Sadie jump in for a drink and cool-down, but every mile or so there was a sign warning me to KEEP OUT - MINE WASTE.  This stretch of the run was littered with historic mining towns.

I dropped Sadie off with Annie at mile 28.5.  She was not pleased to see me running off without her, but I wanted her to run more with me so I thought this was a good time to give her a break.

I made it to the mile 31 checkpoint in 5:14, which is a new 50k PR for me.  That wasn't too surprising, considering that my other 50k's were through mountain trails, and this stretch was smooth and downhill the entire way.  I didn't feel like I was pushing too hard, but having never run 93 miles before, I honestly had no idea what to expect during the last 1/3 of the course.  My legs felt fresher at 50k than they have at the same point of my other 50-milers, so I kept going at a comfortable pace.

By mile 40 I was very tired, but more mentally than physically, I think.  This was about the time I started doing the "I've gone this far, but I still have X miles to go" game.  That's not a great game to play.  I took a long checkpoint break, ate lunch (pb&j/SunChips), and reminded myself that this wasn't meant to be easy, that it's not the same if it's easy.

Coming into checkpoint/aid station

Lunch and Sadie snuggles at mile 40

Sadie joined me again at mile 40 for an 8.5 mile section.  Around this point, word of my challenge was starting to spread through many of the cyclists cruising by and I'd get a "Good luck, Scott!" or "You're looking strong!" or "Keep it up!" -- it seems Annie was making friends at the trailheads she was waiting for me at.

Just before I reached the 50.5 mile checkpoint a sharp pain shot through the outside of my left foot and it brought my running to a very slow walk.  "Shit!"  It must have taken me 20 minutes to walk half a mile.  I'm not sure what it was, but it hurt pretty bad.  I went to a picnic table and laid down on the bench.  I've been pretty lucky with injuries throughout my running career, and I've never had problems during an event.  This was the first time the thought crossed my mind that I might not make it to Washington, that I might have to "drop" from a race for the first time.  I knew that if the pain kept up that there was no way I could reasonably keep going (but then again, running 93 miles isn't that reasonable to begin with, is it).  Annie gave it a quick rub, and I switched shoes for psychological reasons more than any other.  The next section was 5.5 miles.

"This is do or die for me," I told Annie. "If I can get through these 5.5 miles, then I know I can keep going."  And I said to myself as I headed back on the trail, "If the pain is too much, I'll stop."

I thought I'd walk a mile to test the pain, and it still hurt.  But this was about the time this image kept popping into my head.  Suddenly my foot pain seemed pretty insignificant.  I started running again and the foot pain never entered my thoughts for the rest of the day.

72 miles of my route was on this trail

Running across Idaho (if you zoom in you can see me and my white hat)


I cruised into the next checkpoint, refueled, and headed back to the trail.  This section of the route was one of the most scenic, but I had given my camera to Annie a few stops before because I was becoming too tired to take photos.  It was getting later in the day and most of the bikers had already headed back to the major trailheads.  I had Idaho to myself.

My body was hurting, but it was the long-distance fatigue that I expected at 60 miles.  I'd run this far before and knew I'd be very tired.  I passed the 100k mark and laughed when I thought to myself, "Only 50k to go."  Only 31 miles to go. Only several more hours to go.  Only significantly more fatigue to go.  Only a lot of unknowns to go.  Only a 1/3 of the Idaho Panhandle to go.

I stopped for a sandwich and opted to drink my celebratory beer, not because I was celebrating anything, but because a beer sounded much better than some more water or Gatorade.  It tasted great.

I wasn't moving fast anymore, but I was on cruise control.  Run to a mile marker, walk two minutes, run to the next mile marker, walk two minutes.  I was tired, but feeling strong and confident.

Sadie's pretty amazing - she ran with me for 47 miles

Looking intently at the ground, wondering if I have the energy to get myself to it

Mile 63 - sun dropping, getting cold, feeling like I just ran 66 miles

Sunset over Coeur d'Alene Lake

The sun set as I reached the 73.5 mile checkpoint.  From this point on I was in a world I'd never been to before.  The fatigue I was feeling was greater than I've ever felt, but I knew it would be like that.  I expected that much.  What I wasn't expecting were the mental games that were being played out in my head.  I passed the point of "If I quit now, I know no one will think any less of me" - I've been there before, but I'm always quick to respond with a "but I'll keep going for myself, because I know I can keep going and I'd think less of me."

What was stuck in my head (very clearly, I might add) when I sat at the mile 73.5 checkpoint with a bad case of the shivers, chapped skin, and blisters popping on my feet was "If I quit now, I will not think any less of myself."  I'd been farther than I'd ever been.  I'd just run almost the entire distance across Idaho.  I'd gone through more pain and fatigue than I'd ever experienced. This wasn't a "real" race; there's no medal or ribbon or certificate waiting for me at the end.  So why go on?  What would be wrong with quitting?

I wasn't expecting this, and it scared me a little because I didn't know how to battle these seemingly sound reasons to quit.  But I knew I had to fight back - I'm not sure why I had to fight back; I just knew I did.  Looking back at this moment when I was sitting in my camp chair with the shivers, with every reason to quit and no reason to go on, I'm not sure I remember why I got up from that chair to keep going.  But I did get up, but not without the help of Annie, who had to physically help me up from the chair.  I walked to the trail, put on my gloves, turned on my headlamp, and started walking into the dark.

Something happened during the next 7.5 miles.  I'm not sure I can explain it.  I think it may just be something that I have to try to understand on my own, and maybe I'll never understand.

I reached mile 81 and the end of the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes.  Now it was through the little town of Plummer, and a not-so-fun one mile stretch along a highway (but it was late and only a few cars passed along) before meeting up with the gravel trail that would bring me across the border.

I knew I had only 12 miles to go, and I knew these would be the most physically difficult of my life.  Something happened a few miles back mentally and I felt okay in that department, but I still had to move one foot in front of the other, and any moving hurt, but I knew I was going to get Washington.

Sadie joined me with 10 miles left and we climbed a bit up into the rolling wheat fields of the Palouse.  It was a surreal night.  The moon was bright and I was able to turn off my headlamp for most of the last 10 miles.  The landscape was quiet and the coyote calls could be hear for miles.  I was walking most of this section, and only trying to run on smooth downhill stretches (which weren't many).

At one point Sadie stopped on the trail and stared at something in the tree next to us.  I turned my headlamp to what she was looking at and there was a huge porcupine sitting in the tree looking back at us.  Twice I noticed that I was starting to doze off while I was walking -- that was an interesting experience.  And when for a brief moment I saw a mythical lioness emerge from the sea onto a sunny beach, I knew it was time for me to get to the state line and get some sleep.

I crested a hill and saw the car's headlights parked ahead of me: Washington!  And after 21 hours and 50 minutes, in an anti-climactic finish that immediately revalued the history of anti-climactic finishes, I took my the last step across the state of Idaho, took a photo by the sign proclaiming the trail under control of Washington State Parks, and got in the car to head home.  Done.

From Montana to Washington

Thanks to Annie.  I couldn't have done it without her.  Thanks to Melanie and my dad and everyone's support.

I'm continually amazing at what running can teach me.

Now some rest, and then the next big adventure, whatever that may be.

Keep running!


28 August 2010

Run Across Idaho - Race Day Tracker

**Scott has finished his run from Montana to WA! See the Race Day Tracker stats below, and some race-day photos at twitter.com/scottmcmurtrey.**

I'm running across Idaho to help raise money for my March 2011 attempt to run across Chile.
1. Overview of route

2. Close-up of route (with mile markers)

3. Interactive course map (zooming, full-screen, Google Earth, etc.)

Times will be posted as I pass through the following checkpoints:
Note: time is Pacific Standard Time

1. Montana - Start -- Time: 4:00am

2. Mullan (Mile 11.5) -- Time: 5:43am - Smiles

3. Osburn (Mile 22) -- Time: 7:35am - Going strong.

4. Smelterville (Mile 31) -- Time: 9:14am - down 2 pounds - Fingers swollen but he's doing great.

5. Surprise Scott sighting (Mile 33.5) -- Time: 9:56am - Looks tired but still smiling, a good sign.

6. Cataldo (Mile 40) -- Time: 11:04am - Long stop. Spirits dipped a little but still strong. Ate sandwich & a few chips. Fingers still swollen, not worse.

7. Black Rock (Mile 50.5) -- Time: 1:37pm - Left foot started hurting at mile 50. After a quick rub, he switched from Green Silence to Racers.

8. Medimont (Mile 56) -- Time: 3:01pm - Looking good and feeling motivated!

9. Harrison (Mile 66) -- Time: 5:55pm - Looking strong!

10. Chatcolet (Mile 73.5) -- Time: 8:11pm - Has stopped caring so much about time & pace; he's tired and wants to finish. His weight is good. He's regretting draining a blister.

11. Plummer (Mile 81) -- Time: 10:04pm - He is so tired.

12. John Wayne Trail/Agency Rd. (Mile 88) -- Time: 12:20am - He's not stopping for a break; wants to be done.

13. Washington - Finish! (Mile 93) -- Time: 1:50am

I'm going to give tweeting a try too (I'm tweetless so far). Follow me at twitter.com/scottmcmurtrey - hopefully I can tweet some photos while I'm on the trail.

16 August 2010

Benefit Run for Haiti 5k -- and Run Across Idaho Training

On Friday night I drove south into the valley to run a 5k.  It was put on by the Seaport Striders running club to raise money for Haitian relief efforts.  I drove down with Joe, a guy I recently met at the running/beer drinking group that meets Wednesday evenings at Pullman's awesome local brewery.

The race started at 7pm, and we arrived around 6.  We warmed up by jogging the course (Sadie joined us), which was a simple out-and-back on a flat, paved path alongside the Snake River.  I set my 5k PR (19:30) back in March.  I'm in better shape than I was back in March, and much faster, so I expected that I'd have no problem lowering it, even with no tapering or race-rest.  The question was how much lower I could get it.  I thought a sub-18 was possible, so I set that as my A goal.  (Sub 19=B goal; sub PR=C goal.)

About 50 people lined up at the starting line.  Joe took off like a cannon (we'd already established that he's faster than me at these distances), and I took off like a similar cannon but with less gunpowder.  Joe led from start to finish, and after about a mile I was in control of the second position while running a pace I was unfamiliar with.

Around mile 2 the thought occurred to me that maybe I was going to die from an exploding heart.  I was pushing hard and it was hurting everywhere and my lungs were crawling up my throat searching for air...no sense in leaving anything in the tank.  But man, an empty tank hurts!  I was just about ready to give in and flop myself onto the side of the path forever when I saw the finish line a couple hundred meters away, so I decided to keep going.

The timekeeper was calling out the time, "17:49, 17:50, 17:51," and when I crossed the finish line she said, "17:59."  My A goal was met, second place, and another PR set -- a good excuse to go out for a beer.

On Saturday I went north to check out some of the trail I'll be running for my attempt to run across Idaho.  My friend, Annie, joined me on her bike.  She will be crewing for me on my big run, so we used this training run to scout some of the vehicle access points where she might be able to meet me.  I ran 30 miles on Saturday, and then we drove back up on Sunday to run another 10 mile section.  Even Sadie was tired. 

It's going to be a beautiful course.  I really think the flat pavement is going to be my hardest challenge; I'm used to climbing and descending and mixed terrain.  This course will be 100% runnable, so I'll need to be keen on making myself take walk breaks throughout the day.  And I'm crossing my fingers that it won't be 90 degrees - I'm thinking about 60 degrees all day long would be just fine.

Here's a couple photos from my 30-mile training run.

Exploring the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes

It's a blessing to run through country like this

Less than two weeks to go.  I'm excited.  This is going to be quite the challenge for me.

Keep running!


11 August 2010

Run Across Idaho (a preview)

I'm attempting to run across the state of Idaho on Aug. 28th.  From Montana to Washington.  In one day.  (Sure, I'll be attempting to run across the skinny bit of Idaho, but it still makes for a fun challenge.)

The route is 93 miles long (map).  Most of it will be on the paved Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes, a non-motorized path used mostly by bikers that crosses 70+ miles of North Idaho.  It's very flat and generally follows rivers and lakes.  I haven't been on this path before, but I hear it's beautiful.

I've never run this far, so I'm expecting it to be a serious challenge.  The flatness and pavement might prove to be as challenging as the distance.  Should be a blast!

In other news, Sadie and I took the weekend to travel up to the St. Joe National Forest in North Idaho.  We spent a few days trail running and sleeping in the back of my car.  It was wonderful.  The beauty of the part of the country is one of the reasons why I'm attempting the run on Aug. 28th.  Here are a few photos from the weekend:

St. Joe National Forest

This trail dropped into the valley, then climbed back up to the ridge on the other side.

Sun comping up over the mountains

Northbound Lake

High ridge trail

Heart Lake

Larkins Lake

Little North Fork Clearwater River

Keep running!


02 August 2010

White River 50 (2010) - Race Report

I love this race. Why does it make me hurt so bad?

Two years ago, the White River 50 chewed me up and spit me out. It was my first mountain 50, and it made quite the impression on me.  When I finished I thought maybe I'd never walk again, and I surely would never set foot on a mountain trail with anything more than +1 ft vertical gain.  I was ready to pack up and move to anywhere that was flat.

But, it seems, I have a poor memory, because I decided to go back this year and fight the two mountain climbs again.  I'm in better shape now, so I expected to do much better.  But no matter what kind of hill training I do here in the Palouse, it doesn't quite prepare me for vertical of White River (8,700 feet of climbing; 8,700 of descent).

My pre-race goal was to finish under 10 hours.  The race begins with about a mile along a dirt landing strip before it plunges into single-track trails for about 43 of the 50 miles.  I have a tendancy to start slow and push later in the race, but with over two hundred runners at the starting line, I wanted to push the pace a bit during the first mile to get a good spot on the single-track climbing trains that form.  I found myself in a fast group, and knowing that I probably wouldn't be able to hang with them for long, I broke my own don't-start-too-fast rule and hung with this fast group as long as I could.  Actually, I've been doing that more this year.  I push out hard to see where my limits are.  I guess today with no different.

We hit mile 4 at under an 8-min pace...then the climb began.  While most of the group was running the climbs at this point, I was content with power-hiking for a minute or two (and I wasn't losing much ground doing this) and then running on the "flatter" sections of the climb.  My legs felt great, but I knew it was going to be a long day.  The group eventually left me behind and I was just fine with that.

I hit the aid station at mile 11 well ahead of a 10-hour finishing time pace, and was happy to put it in cruise control for the rest of the climb up to mile 17.  There are some amazing views of Mount Rainier on this section of the course.  This is also an out-and-back section, so I got a glimpse of the leaders coming back - pretty amazing stuff from some of the best trail runners in North America.

The next 10 miles heads back down the hill (mountain) to the starting point/halfway point (the course is basically a figure 8) - this section includes about 5 miles of beautifully smooth downhill single-track.  I had to tell myself to take go slower than I wanted to so I could save my legs for the brutal second half of the course.

I hit the halfway point faster than I was expecting to, but knew that the climb up to Sun Top mountain was going to test the best of me...and slow me down considerably.  And it did.  The climb lasts about 8 miles and gains over 3,000 ft. of elevation.  It's simply a grind.  I ran only in spurts during this section, power hiked much of it, and felt like crawling like an infant for all of it.  The last mile or so is the worst part of the entire climb: steep, dusty, rocky, steep, sunny, steep, and steep.  Though I was still just under a 10-hour pace, I was wondering if I had enough to hang on.

37 miles complete, and now a 6-mile gravel road descent.  This part sounds wonderful on paper: after all the climbing, finally an "easy" gradual descent on an open road.  My legs weren't quite toast at this point, but they were getting there.  The 6-mile descent felt like 10 miles.  I ran the entire thing (minus two "I just drank too much Mountain Dew and ate too much watermelon at the aid-station" pukes) but I felt like I had a flat tire going the entire way down.

I got to the bottom with only a 6.5 mile section along the river to the finish line.  The aid station had ice water sponges and soaking myself with the cold water gave me a nice lift.  I ran probably 2 miles through this rooty, rocky, technical section before some of the minor climbs (30-50ft) started to feel like 1,000ft climbs.  I had given myself some time cushion on the long downhill descent though, so with about 4 miles to go I figured I could probably walk the rest of the way and still get in under 10 hours.  That was a relief.  I might have been able to push harder during this last section if I needed to, but I was happy to run the downs and walk the ups the rest of the way in.

I crossed the finish line in 9:34:16. (official results - Anton Krupicka shattered his own course record with a 6:25:29!

I love this course.  Why does it make me hurt so bad?

I feel like I know this course a little better after having run it twice now.  I can definitely see things that I can improve on to run it under 9 hours.  I'm sure I'll be back in the coming years.  It's such a beautiful course.

Keep running!

The race is just outside Mount Rainier NP

Enjoying the mountains the day before the race

50 Mile Trail Championship - the competition was stacked

Cool mountain morning stretch

Gathering at the start

Part way up the first climb

Mount Rainier over my shoulder

Amazing trails

Mount Rainier watching over the runners

Going through an aid station

Pounding trail (photo courtesy of Glenn Tachiyama)

Climbing up Sun Top (photo courtesy of Glenn Tachiyama)

Crossing the finish line