27 September 2016

Wahsatch Steeplechase, the Kidney Stone, and a Baby Boy

June 11, 2016 was a long day. It was so long that it needed two days to fit everything in.

Part 1: Wahsatch Steeplechase
I limited my summer racing plans to an everyone-says-it's-a-blast local race called the Wahsatch Steeplechase on June 11. With a baby due on June 26 and Annie getting increasingly pregnant by the day, I thought for sure June 11 would be a safe date for a close-to-home race. 

The Wahsatch Steeplechase is a tough, local favorite that has a lot of flavor. The course is about 16 miles long but it packs a punch in the middle part of the course that includes some gnarly (for me) scrambling over a rocky crags with some decent exposure along the ridgeline. The pre-race briefing warns of rattlesnakes, cougars, and thunderstorms. 

race profile
I had scouted out the course a couple times in the weeks before the race. The first scouting mission resulted in an 'oh shit' moment when I came upon the craggy section, and I detoured around the scrambly bits thinking 'no way the course goes over that section' (turns out it does). The second scouting mission was a success, and I made my way over the scrambly bit after some online re-assurance from vets of the race. A third attempt at the course the weekend before the race ended up being cut short after I crashed hard on some rocks about five miles in (not even on a particularly technical section) and banged knee pretty good. I limped back to the car.

So I guess I was ready.

In my mind, the course is broken into four very distinct sections -- 
1. the long, gradual ascent to the base of Black Mountain, 
2. the steep ascent up to the ridgeline and the technical, scrambling sections to the peak, 
3. the steep and twisty descent from Smuggler's Gap, and 
4. the long, very fast City Creek descent (with a few miles on pavement).

Section 1 was uneventful besides the usual leapfrogging for positioning that comes on single-track ascents early in races.

photo from the course that I took on one of my scouting missions
photo courtesy of SpongeAAMP
Section 2 was tough. The ascent is steep and the ridge is technical. I felt much more confident on the crags than on my first scouting mission. There were even some volunteers at the more 'exciting' parts that were there to try to, I assume, keep runners from falling off the cliff. I made it to the summit of Black Mountain by roughly the time I was hoping. I felt strong and ready for the long descent to the finish line.

photo of the crags from one of my scouting missions
(here's a blog from a previous year's race with good photos of this section)
Section 3 is usually the kind of steep downhill trail I thrive on, but I think I might be getting older (despite my attempts otherwise). I settled into a comfortable rhythm and chopped my feet down the mountain without any incident. I think I could take a couple minutes off this section next year if I get a little younger.

Section 4 is the ultra-fast City Creek descent. It's a 7-mile bomb straight down on a very fast grade with a few miles of pavement thrown in to make it even faster. It's why the smart racers wear racing flats for this race despite all the scrambling and crag-hopping of section 2. (I didn't wear racing flats because I was too scared about the scrambling and crag-hopping of section 2.) I knew after the first couple miles of pavement that I didn't have as much left in the tank as I hoped I would. The wheels started shaking with about two miles to go, and then with about a half a mile to go the wheels fell off and I staggered to the finish line.

I don't remember ever having a bigger (non-ultra) bonk than this one. I sat on the grass with a very pregnant Annie for about thirty minutes just drinking water and Gatorade. At the time, I had no idea that things would just go downhill from there.

Results: http://www.wahsatchsteeplechase.com/results

this is me bonked, and this wasn't even the worst part of my day

Part 2: The Kidney Stone
After a nice post-race lunch with Annie, I spent most of the afternoon putting together a pack-n-play. That took more energy than the race did, I'm sure. Then Annie and I settled in for some dinner and a movie on the couch.

"I don't feel great," Annie says to me. She's been saying that for the past seven months, so neither of us think much of it. We're two weeks from our due date.

"I don't feel great," I say to Annie. I thought I might have eaten something bad at lunch.

"I don't feel any better." I'm now moaning in the bathroom not sure what's going on.
"Maybe you have a UTI..." says Annie.
"uuuuugggggggggghhhhhh," I say.
"You may have a kidney stone," says Google.

"uuuuugggggggggghhhhhh," I say much louder.
"Do we need to get you to a doctor?" Annie says. I'm already halfway in the car.

"Can someone help us?!?" Annie pleads in the hallway of the 'urgent' care center. 

We've been in our holding cell for over thirty minutes and by now I've already made a few trips to the bathroom to throw up because the pain is so bad.

I'm squirming in pain and poor Annie is feeling helpless.

"We need a urine sample," the doctor says.

But I haven't been able to urinate for two hours. My bladder feels like it's going to explode. The pain in my bladder is the second most painful thing I've experienced. The most painful? -- the pain in my lower left side that's happening at the exact same moment.

"Want to try to urinate again?" asks the doctor.

"I'd rather you dig out my bladder with a spoon," I say.

"Would you like a catheter?" asks the doctor.

"For the love of god...yes. Now. Yes. Please. Anything to relieve my bladder," I whisper in a very respectful manner.

Catheter in. 

"We're not getting any urine," the nurse says to the doctor.

"We need to get you to the emergency room," says the doctor. "I think you probably have a kidney stone. One of the symptoms is that you feel like you need to urinate when you don't have a full bladder. We don't have a CT scanner here, but they do at the ER. Oh, and would you like some ibuprofen?"

We're in the emergency waiting room now. I feel like we've been waiting too long. The super-dose of ibuprofen I was given at the urgent care center is starting to wear off. A Saturday night emergency room crowd isn't one for small talk.

"We need a urine sample," says the nurse after I've been in-processed. 

I look at him and almost throw up again from the pain I'm in. The super-dose of ibuprofen is really wearing off now. 

After explaining that I can't urinate and that my bladder is, despite what the urgent care doctor said, painfully close to bursting, the ER doctor orders the nurse to do a bladder scan. 

"Your bladder is empty," says the nurse.  Impossible, I think.

"One possible side-effect of a kidney stone is a bladder spasm. A bladder spasm can make it feel like you have a full bladder," says the doctor.  I haven't had a drink of water in close to six hours at this point and I'm dehydrated. They put an IV in me.

"We have you scheduled for a CT scan but you're after a couple other patients, so it might be an hour or so. I'm sure you have a kidney stone, but we'll need the scan to confirm," the doctor reports. "How's your pain?"

"It hurts. My pain hurts real bad." I'm starting to writhe around again. The doctors tells the nurse to give me some morphine.

"That's much better," I say as the morphine hits.  

Annie captures my moment of morphine

After my dose of morphine quickly and mercifully settles in, the nurse begins to push his cart out of the room and the doctor turns to leave. Annie stands up to give them room to leave.

"Um, I think this might be bad timing," Annie hesitantly exclaims as she's standing in a large puddle, "but I think my water just broke."

Part 3: A Baby Boy
A team of nurses rushed in to sweep Annie upstairs to the delivery room. We weren't planning to deliver at this hospital. And our doctor wasn't at this hospital either -- though she was in Tanzania until the following week so that wouldn't have mattered anyway.

My nurse came back about thirty minutes later to assure me that everything was going well with Annie and that she was in constant contact with Annie's nurse to keep me updated while I waited for my CT scan. 

After another thirty minutes or so, I'm finally wheeled away to get my scan. Then I had to wait another 45 minutes to one hour for the scan results.

Back in my room again, my nurse came in with an update.

"Everything's fine, but Annie's at 8cm now," she says."But don't worry, there's no way you'll miss the delivery," she assured me. I don't remember replying to her with much more than an "okay, thanks" with a goofy smile on my face. I went back to watching ESPN or whatever else I had on TV. The morphine had diminished all sense of urgency I should have been feeling at that moment. My wife was upstairs in labor! We were about to have a baby! But I didn't seem to care too much about that because I was catching up on the baseball scores.

Finally, the doctor came in with my results and said I had two kidney stones. TWO! The one on my left side was causing all my pain and it had moved a long way down already. The one on my right side had just started to move down, so I'd feel it once the pain medication wore off -- but the doctor said it looked like it may be breaking up so there was a chance it wouldn't be so painful. He said it could take anywhere from a day to two weeks to pass the stones. Great...

So I was finally cleared to be discharged from the ER. The doctor gave me my orders and my prescription for pain meds, and he gave me one pain pill for the road. 

"How long will this pain pill last?" I asked. 

"About four hours," said the doctor.

"What time does the pharmacy open?" I asked.

"9am," he said.  I looked at my watch and it was just past 2:00am. It was 2:00am and my wife had been upstairs in labor for almost two hours already! We're going to have a baby! The morphine had worn off.

"So what should I do when this pill wears off three hours before the pharmacy opens?"

"Just pop back down and we can help. Oh, and drink a lot of water. If you are hydrated enough, then there's a possibility that you can pass the stone pain free." Challenge accepted.

I filled up my two-liter water jug and rushed upstairs to Annie's room. And by 'rush' I mean that I was wheeled up there in a wheelchair by one of the nurses. It seems that word had spread around the delivery wing that one of the soon-to-be mothers had a husband with a kidney stone downstairs because when I was wheeled through the doors heads started poking out of rooms to look at me. They couldn't hide their snickering. I believe I was the first man ever to be wheeled directly from the ER upstairs through the doors of the delivery wing.

Annie was doing great. I commented at how well she was managing the pain and then she told me she already had the epidural. While I was downstairs in the ER doped up on morphine watching ESPN without a worry in the world, she was going through the most painful part of her labor. It wasn't until a few days later when I had a moment to reflect that a wave of guilt hit me because I wasn't with her through it all. I was supposed to be there with her then -- that's when I could best use the tools/techniques I had learned from the birthing class. But at the time everything was such a blur. 

There was no time to reflect because Annie was in the middle of heavy duty contractions. After one contraction, I'd chug. After the next contraction three minutes later, I'd run to the bathroom in our room to pee. After the next contraction, I'd chug. And so on for two hours. If there was any chance that the more hydrated I was equaled a less painful passing of the stone, then I was going to turn myself into Aquaman. I was hydrating like an Olympic hydration champion. 

Around 5:00am, Annie was at 10cm and ready to push. It was so surreal. Not because I was about to be a dad, but because I had never been so hydrated in my life. I was peeing so much and so often that it was almost like an out-of-body experience.

For almost two hours it was PUSH for Annie then PEE for me. PUSH. PEE. PUSH. PEE. The race was on. Nurses were betting on if Annie would give birth first or if I would pass my stone first. Most of them were betting on Annie, which clearly meant that they had no idea how hydrated I was.

I can't remember if it was the sixty-seventh or sixty-eighth time that I peed when there was a magical little 'clink' at the bottom of the strainer I had been aiming at for the last two hours.

"Yes!" I yelled, and I heard the nurses clap from the room. The stone was out.


The dayshift came on at 7:00am. After the shift change and between pushes, Annie's new nurse checked her just to see how things were progressing.

"Ummm, nothing to worry about, but I need to go get the doctor." A few minutes later the nurse came in with the day shift's head doctor. The doctor checked Annie for what seemed like a long time.

"So," the doctor says apologetically, "there's been a mistake. You're only at 5cm. We can stop pushing for now." She explained to us that it could have been easy for the night shift doctor to think Annie was at 10cm because of how membrane-thin her cervix was. I could tell the doctor was upset at the night shift doctor's mistake and that she was trying to bite her tongue from saying anything damning.

"Sorry, we'll just have you rest for a few hours and check on you regularly."

That was a huge bummer. Annie was very disappointed. It's tough to be pushing for two hours hoping to hear "we see the head!" like we had imagined only to be told to rest up and try again later.

So we both rested and tried to sleep, but most of that time I was on my phone keeping everyone updated.

About six hours later Annie was actually at 10cm, so we began to push again. I'm not sure I've ever been more proud of Annie than that day. She full of so much strength. She was amazing. She was a rock star. 

After another couple of hours of pushing, the doctor started to talk to us about options if the baby didn't progress from where he was currently. Annie wanted so badly to avoid a c-section. She used her power of persuasion to convince the doctor to give us another hour of pushing, and then another hour. As long as the baby wasn't in any danger, then Annie wanted to push. 

But the baby wasn't progressing at all anymore. Counting the two wasted hours of pushing Annie did in the early morning, she had been pushing for seven hours. So the two head doctors conferred and told us that it was time to get the baby out via c-section. Annie burst into tears at the disappointment, and it seems like it was the next second that they started wheeling her into the operating room.  I was held back for about fifteen minutes before they escorted me to be with Annie.

The c-section was already in progress when I got to her. Annie was scared and I tried to comfort her. For the first time in the past 24 hours time seemed to have stood still. We were moments away from the excitement of being parents, yet it was hard to get past the fact that Annie was strapped to a table with her insides opened up. She was shaking uncontrollably (which is normal, they told us) and scared and kept saying, "I can feel it. I can feel everything." Even though she wasn't feeling pain, Annie could feel the pressures and tugs and movements of the surgery. In all our preparations, we didn't prepare for what a c-section would be like, so everything was quite unsettling at the time. The moments felt like minutes and the minutes felt like an hour. But Annie was strong and ready to be a mom.


"Would you like to see your son?" I heard someone say.

At 7:24pm on June 12, 2016, over 19 hours after Annie's water broke while I was doped up on morphine in the emergency room, Oliver Ernest McMurtrey took his first breath. I stood up and looked over the sheet toward Annie's feet to see our slimy little purple monkey for the first time. His first couple cries were a little weak, but then he let it roar. I can't remember if I walked or floated over to him while three from the delivery team were doing their checks on him.

Oliver's first minute of life
"You can touch him," one of the doctors said to me as I stood there not knowing what the heck to do. "Really?" I thought, not sure to believe that I had any business being near this little human. I reached down and touched his hand and he grasped my finger. After they cleaned him up, put a diaper on him, and swaddled him in a blanket, they handed him to me. "What am I supposed to do with him?" I thought. They must have seen the hesitation/panic on my face because one of them said, "You can take him to his mom."

I brought him over to Annie. Even through her heavy medication I could see her eyes meet her son's. We had a couple minutes together as a family before the doctors took Oliver and I stayed with Annie until her surgery was finished.

Annie was eventually wheeled back to her room, and we learned that Oliver had to make a quick stop in the NICU just to double-check some things regarding his initial weak cry. He was all right and already back into the nursery. My dad and his wife, Janie, had been at the hospital for a few hours and they were finally able to join us in Annie's room. The nurse said I could go see Oliver, so my dad and I went to the nursery while Janie stayed with Annie.

It was quite the thing to see a little humanoid wrapped up in a blanket in the nursery and to know that he was ours. It was scary, overwhelming, and awe-inspiring. The nursery nurse finished her routine checks on Oliver and told me I could take him to our room. So we went on our first walk together -- my dad at my side and my little son in the bassinet before me.

When we arrived back in the room, I took Oliver to Annie and laid him against her skin. Holding her son for the first time as he nuzzled into her chest, Annie whispered beneath her hours of pain and restlessness, "I can't believe it."

family portrait

And then the day was over, and we were parents.

Keep running!


06 May 2016

Bloomsday 2016

Bloomsday is my favorite annual race. It's a big-party-of-a-road-race that's hilly enough to make it a pain in the ass to keep it in a top gear. This year was my seventh time running it. It was the very first race I ran when I began my running career back in 2007.

When Annie and I moved to Salt Lake City in 2014, we both agreed that this was an event worth coming back for each year. Sure we have friends in Washington that we get to see too...but they all know that Bloomsday is the real reason we come back. :)

Early in the year I had big plans to PR Bloomsday, but those plans fizzled away pretty quickly when I wasn't getting in the miles I had hoped to. But Bloomsday has a way of being a blast even when a PR chance is off the table.

I started the race with a few fellow Beer Chasers: Graham, Buzz, Dan F, and the legend Doug J. From the gun, Graham and Buzz shot out like rockets, and I tried to keep up with Buzz for a couple miles, but then my legs reminded me it wasn't a PR day. I held on through the heat and hills expecting Dan and Doug to pass me on the homestretch. It's always more nerve-racking racing with friends because yearly Bloomsday bragging rights is a serious business.

I crossed the finish line in 46:56, two minutes off my PR.

Bloomsday has been offering race photos for free the last few years. They put on such a user-friendly event. I can't recommend this race enough.

Here are some 2016 action shots!

Next up are a couple local trails races and then (gulp) the birth of our first kid.

Keep running!


20 March 2016

MSIG Sai Kung 50k (Hong Kong) - race report

When I became a runner in 2007, I already had a bad case of travel-itis. So way back then I recognized that my love of travel and my new-found love of running would be the perfect match, so I decided that I'd travel to a new country each year to run a marathon. Other than 2013 when I was injured and couldn't race during our Germany trip, I've toed the line at an international race each year.

When Annie and I were first together, we each made our own top 10 travel destination wish list and then compared. We've already knocked out the trips that were on both our lists, so now we're basically going with each other's remaining top pick every other year.

This year's trip-planning hit a big snag though -- we found out Annie was pregnant (due in June!). She decided early on that she didn't want to travel while pregnant but that I was free to go wherever I wanted...as long as it wasn't some place she ever wanted to travel to too. So that narrowed my options considerably. In fact, China and India are really the only two places on my must-do wishlist that Annie isn't thrilled about visiting as well. So as I began searching for early seasons races in India and China, I came across several in Hong Kong. I know, I know...it's not exactly China, but the timing was right for the Sai Kung 50k in Hong Kong so Annie gave me the green light to sign up.

My sister, Megan, joined me on the trip. She's joined me for other international races in Iceland, South Africa, and Scotland, and she's been my globe-trotting partner for many trips long before I was ever a runner. After a 17-hr flight, we arrived in Hong Kong the Thursday night before the race.   Hong Kong is 15 time zones ahead of Salt Lake City and I didn't get more than an hour sleep on the flight, so it was a little rough sleep-wise heading into the early morning race on Saturday. But even if it means little rest and acclimatization, I prefer to have the race as early in the trip as possible to 'get it out of the way' so I can spend the rest of the trip eating and drinking and not worrying about race-day. We spent most of Friday on a foodie tour around one of the neighborhoods north of Kowloon and had a great intro to Hong Kong cuisine, then got back to the hotel in time to catch a few hours of much-needed sleep.

The Race
It was raining at 4:30am Saturday morning when I caught a cab to the shuttle bus location across town. Then it was a rainy, rickshaw-slow shuttle ride to the race start at Sai Kung Country Park. Megan would join later in the day to spectate at the finish line.

The rain died down as everyone gathered in the dark for the start of the 50k. 55 degrees is winter in Hong Kong, so most of those at the starting line were decked out in their winter gear -- layers of jackets, tights, arm warmers, leg warmers, and buffs. In my short-shorts and t-shirt, I briefly worried that everyone else knew something that I didn't know about the weather forecast.

I situated myself in the front third of the 300+ starters. If I was going to do anything correctly at this race, it was to not go out too fast. I knew my legs weren't really ready for the vert, so I planned to start at an easier pace than I normally would. Salt Lake City has had more snow this winter than last winter, so I didn't get much vert at all through my training cycle since I tend to stay away from the steep and deep snow. Anyway, I knew it was going to be a tough course.

The course was going to be closer to 55k this year after a route change. And though runners never get higher than 1,400' above sea-level at any single point in the race, the course still manages to accumulate roughly 8,500' of ascent.

Start to CP 1 (mile 0-7)
After a mile or so on a road heading out of the main park area, everyone squeezed into a skinny, steep, stone-stepped, jungle trail. Light was in the sky now and the rain had all but stopped. One thing I wasn't expecting on the course were the endless stone steps.

Up and up wet stone steps.

Then down and down wet, very slick stones.

This section was highlighted by a lot of falling. Mostly on the steep, slick downhill sections. Lots of mud. Lots of wet rock. I found that the best strategy for this section was to slide down from tree to tree. The fun parts were when you'd slide past the tree you were aiming for.

So it was slow going for most of this section. It certainly helped me not go out too fast!

Once the sun rose, the rain clouds started to burn off, and I started to get clear views of the South China Sea and the jagged green peaks of Hong Kong. It was quite beautiful, and worlds apart from the seven million people crowded together fewer than 20 miles away.

I came through CP 1 in 67th place.

CP 1 to CP 2 (mile 7-13)
As scenic as the course was, this section was the most scenic. It was a lollipop loop across a couple sandy beaches and then some great ridge running along a peninsula for some breathtaking views of the open sea.

The sun was out now and sparkled against the blue horizon, but the stone covered trails were still wet and slick. On one particularly rocky descent the runner behind me fell and hit his head. "I'm okay," he said. I walked with him for a very short bit to see if he was okay. When we reached the bottom of the descent he started running again. It reminded me of a big crash I had a few years ago on a fast, rocky descent where my head had just missed hitting rocks. That's always in the back of my mind when I'm screaming down a technical trail.

I'd been keeping a relatively even pace up to this point, but now I was starting to pass several others who presumably went out too fast.

During the out-n-back section the race leaders came flying by (some pros from France and Nepal). It's always fun to see the pros in action. Despite this being the most scenic section of the day, the out-n-back sub-section wasn't the best place to do an out-n-back. The trail was very narrow and rocky. By the time I was coming back it was quite the logjam.

I hit CP 2 (same place as CP 1) in 50th place.

CP 2 to CP 3 (mile 13-19)
After another beach crossing and more steps and then another beach, we started climbing again. The trail seemed to be drying out some as the sun got higher and hotter.

At this point the 50k course met up with the 25k runners who started an hour after us. For the first part of this two-part climb there was a lot of "on your left" and "looking good!" and "oh god, are those more stone steps?!?" as I weaved up and through the slower crowd.

We eventually split from the 25k course and started up another climb. I was starting to feel warm from the sun and tried to conserve energy up the climb.

On the big descent at mile 17, my quads were screaming at me as if it were the final descent of the day. I walked a bunch of this steep descent in hopes of saving my quads for later. But I was only halfway to the finish line, so I grew increasingly concerned that it was going to be a rougher-than-hoped second half, and my spirits reached their low point of the day.

This section ended with a flat mile or so as we crossed the big High Island Reservoir dam. The flat was a wonderful relief to my legs.

I came through CP 3 in 40th place.

CP 3 to CP 4 (mile 19-27)
This section was the break my legs needed. It was the flattest least jagged section of the day and even included a few rolling miles on pavement along the reservoir. Pavement isn't usually what my legs are craving when they need a break, but at this point anything smooth (dirt, pavement, ice, slip-n-slide) was desired more than those damn stone-covered paths.

We were now winding our way back in the direction of the start/finish, and since my legs were getting a mini second wind, my spirits got a much-needed jump start. The sun was warm, and I was dousing my head with as much water as I was drinking.

At the end of this section, we got to within a quarter-mile from the finish line...making it very tempting to just skip the last section and go home with a memorable 27-mile dnf (it was too tempting for many, as my sister Megan said she saw a bunch of people do just this.)

I came through CP 4 in 32nd place.

CP 4 to finish (mile 27-34)
If the finish line being only a quarter-mile away at CP 4 wasn't enough of a punch in the stomach, then the big climb awaiting us was a potential knock-out punch.

It was the biggest climb of the day at the hottest point of the day with the least amount of shade of the day with the most uneven stones of the day with the best views of the day.

The crux of the climb was less than a mile long but gained over a thousand rugged feet. I passed a couple guys who seemed to be barely moving, which was much-needed proof that I was actually moving as well. No one looked happy, not even the photographer sitting near the summit.

I hit the top of the climb wondering if it might be quicker to get to the finish line just going back the way I came instead of continuing on. I decided to continue on because deep down in my heart I never, ever wanted to see any part of the trail I just climbed again.

In the cruelest joke of the day: the final descent was the stoniest, messiest, hottest, descentiest section of the day. That's all I'll say about that.

I crossed the finish line in 7hr43min, good for 23rd place. (official results / strava)

This is a tough, early season course. Hong Kong has a ton of trail races to offer, so I can't compare this event to others, but overall I'd give it a thumbs-up. Aid stations were pretty minimal (water and fruit), but other than that everything was well-run.

And Hong Kong exceeded all my expectations. I'd love to go back if given the opportunity.

Keep running!


Now enjoy some photos of the course.

map reference

elevation profile

gathering at the start

on an early climb

early morning (courtesy of event)

view from the course
steep, slick, rocky, muddy descent

this would have been a nice aid station if it were open

approaching first beach crossing

along the beach

heading out to the Cheung Tsui Chau peninsula out-n-back

Nearing the tip of Cheung Tsui Chau

what goes down must go up again

typical view: stone steps, lush vegetation, jagged horizon

another typical view: Sexy Scott

the short sections along the beaches were
the only respites we had from the ups and downs

Long Ke Wong from above

more stone path leading into the sky

pano near the top of the final climb

approaching the top of the final climb