Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Miles and Miles

Friday morning started early at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa.  After a little sleep, the roosters started crowing well before dawn and I was awake and pulling my last bits of paraphernalia together at 5AM sharp.  My last solid meal was a simple chicken breast at about 8PM the night before, so I was a little hungry.  I made a protein shake comprised of Perpetuem mixed with some egg based protein powder.  I used this to wash down a final Hammer bar.  In addition to the shake, I took on about a liter of water, careful not to overload on fluids that I would have to rid myself of later.

I strapped on my heart rate monitor and my Garmin 310XT to track my position throughout the day.  While my heart wasn't down in the 50's as it is at rest after the many hours of training that I have put in, it was still in the mid-60's and I was feeling calm as I pulled my gear together and called for our truck.

By 6:10AM, we were on the road headed on a thirty-five minute drive from the hotel to The French Laundry for the start of the 40-mile run.  I nervously switched on the radio as the first evidence of the dawn found its way over the eastern mountains separating us from Napa Valley.  I knew that whatever song I heard would likely repeat through my head for many hours to come.  And luckily I found myself singing along to Mumford & Song - The Cave as we crested the very pass that I would struggle to cross about four hours later.


Because I need freedom now
And I need to know how
To live my life as it's meant to be

And I will hold on hope
And I won't let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I'll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I'll know my name as it's called again


Fitting lyrics as we descended into the valley and started north on 29 for the final few minutes before we reached Yountville, California.  I didn't push my luck any further and switched off the tunes, still repeating the lyrics in my head.

Upon arrival at around a quarter to seven, I went straight to work.  Jason the Medic had arrived in his brand new 2011 Jeep Wrangler - a beacon that I would come to search out on the horizon over the hours ahead.  We exchanged hand shakes and a quick look at my watch let me know that the time was drawing near and my heart rate had crept up to the high 70's.  I wasn't nervous yet, but I was certainly feeling a little adrenaline pulsing through the body.  The coolness surrounding us contributed to the moment and the fresh 36-degree air felt splendid in my lungs.

I went to a bench overlooking The French Laundry's beautifully manicured herb garden and pulled tightly on my shoe laces, really focusing in on the task at hand.  I stood up to stretch against the beautiful trees lining Washington Street in Yountville, and then much to my pleasant surprise, a whole cadre of well-wishers showed up, almost at once.  My parents who had trailed us out to the starting point were joined by my wife's parents and quickly thereafter several of my professional associates and then one of my co-workers with her friend, the Olympian in tow on bicycles.  Finally, clad in a poorly sized 40for40 T-Shirt came Cousin Joe and his lovely wife.

At this point, I provided a little bit of comic relief as the liter of water had to be cleared out, so kneeling near the rear tire of the truck, I did the only thing I could of, short of fertilizing The French Laundry radishes, as my business partner so appropriately pointed out.  Although the caffeine clearly hadn't settled in for most of our supporters, I was greeted with a semi-circle of glowing smiles and after a short unplanned welcome and thank you by yours truly, I left the scene at 7 minutes past 7 headed north toward Yountville Hill and away from the warm applause from our supporters.

As with any run, the first few kilometers were less about the overall journey and more about finding a rhythm.  The glorious uncertainty is what makes each run unique.  Would my knees be hurting today?  How would my stomach be - receiving to the protein mixes that would be come my diet for the rest of the day?  Would I struggle to settle in an appropriate pace or would I relax and allow myself to do what I had come to do?

I almost answered the question as to whether I would be sure footed at only 1.8 kilometers into the run.  As I turned from Washington Street onto Hwy 29 North, i cut the corner across a gravel patch and my left ankle rolled over far enough to give me a jolt and remind me that while I would exceed 60,000 paces along the day, the run could end in failure on any one if I didn't take each one carefully.  After I scampered past my first scare, I was happy to see that the pace was settling in to just under 8 minute miles and my heart rate was working well below the 160 bpm target that I had set for my average.  I was finding my pace and without a bit of knee pain.  I felt that I was on my way.

By pure coincidence the route covered almost exactly 10 kilometers by the time I made a turn South onto the Silverado Trail.  I had covered my first 10k in a respectable 48 minutes, 36 seconds.  After correcting some confusion with Jason regarding water deliveries, I started settling in to a fairly consistent delivery of hydration.  On my Fuel Belt, I carried two flasks.  One was an 8-oz flask dedicated to my energy mixture.  This slurry of strawberry-vanilla Perpetuem, vanilla Hammer gel, electrolyte-rich Endurolytes, and water was intended to be consumed over a 90-minute period on a regular basis.  The other flask was pure H2O and as planned, I only took this on as I felt thirsty.  I settled into a rhythm of slurping some energy mix every 3 kilometers (approximately 1.8 miles) and found that I was putting down 8 ounces of water about every 20 - 30 minutes.

I got a special treat at 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) as I was greeted by my three boys and my beautiful wife at the Soda Canyon Store heading south.  I crossed the road and pulled my glove off to slap some high-5's to the gang and just as quickly as I arrived, I was gone - moving on down the road.  My average heart rate was in a good range - 161.5 and I was still turning out good miles with my overall average pace at 07:52 per mile or 04:53 per kilometer.  As I saw Sylvia and the gang pass me once more on their way back to Sonoma for their day of fun at Sonoma West Safari Tours, I was just passing through the half-marathon mark in 1 hour, 43 minutes.

At the 2 hour mark, I was cruising through the town of Napa and happy to be going through before the rush of the day had started.  The streets that I had surveyed months ago and had wondered about many times were somewhat void of traffic and I was never concerned for safety as I worked my way from North to South.  Even the weather was better than I had imagined.  The temperatures at 9:30 in the morning were still in the low 40's so my long sleeve shirt was just the thing, but the sun was shining solidly and I felt the warmth on my face.  Before I knew it, I was through and the town of Napa was at my back and the first real hills on Old Sonoma Road were in front of me.

Miles 19 and 20 really showed that my pace would slow as I moved through the hills.  As per my plan, I slowed to keep my heart rate under control and allow my pace to slow accordingly.  I was able to keep my heart rate below 175 throughout the first real hills and my pace remained below 9 minutes and I recovered nicely into the lower 8's as the the hills subsided.  I spent the next few miles rolling through the Carneros landscape enjoying the beautiful scenery on a very idyllic and almost country road, the first of its type in many miles.

At Mile 22, I turned from Old Sonoma Road onto Highway 12 and started my climb toward the pass between Napa and Sonoma Valleys.  To my left the beautiful Chateau of Domaine Carneros rose up in the distance and I could just make out a group of revelers waving and cheering.  I couldn't make out the specific calls and was too far away to see their faces, but I knew that our friends and supporters had made it to their first destination on a Sonoma wine tour.  Their next stop was some 16 miles away on my map and as the hills rose up in front of me and the tractor trailers thundered by, those 16 miles seemed quite a ways away.

The next few Miles involved some considerable hills and my legs showed me that they were beginning to feel the effects of the run.  Mile 23 as I left Domaine Carneros behind was my last mile below 9 minutes and while the hills were steep during Miles 24, 25 and even 26, I was mostly descending as I passed the marathon mark in 3 hours, 36 minutes.  And although the elevation was moving back toward something closer to the level of the sea, I felt the first stages of cramps starting to set in.  At Mile marker 25, I made the first change to my electrolyte intake.  I asked Jason the Medic for two additional Endurolyte capsules and asked him to hold any further requests for the capsules for another hour.  The Endurolytes should be taken in metered increments to avoid an overload.  I tried to up the water intake as well, since I could feel that my lips were dry, but as I crossed through 27 miles, I could tell that my efforts to rehydrate were going to be too late.  My quadriceps were fluttering steadily and while I hadn't fully cramped up, I knew what was coming.

I was running near the famed vineyards of Gundlach Bunschu when Lisa, my co-worker and William the Olympian rounded the corner at Denmark Street on their bikes.  They had been trailing me from the start and after 28 miles had caught me.  I enjoyed their company as I approached Mile Marker 29 and what would ultimately be my first stop.  As the cramps settled in, I knew that I needed some distraction, so I put on my iPod and turned inward with some cocktail hour specials from DJMK.  This first stop was less than three minutes, but pushed my first mile above ten minutes as I crossed past 30 miles.

On the streets of Sonoma, the cramps were strong - each step more difficult than the last to get air between my feet and the ground.  My average miles went above 10 minutes at Miles 31 and 32 as I made my way over the Sonoma Bike Path with William the Olympian as my silent shadow on his bike.  I enjoyed the company and tried to focus on the music in my ears and the beautiful meadows on the sides of the Sonoma Bike Path.  At times I could move my mind away, but it seemed that not many steps would pass before the cramps would strengthen and remind me that I was only 80% complete on the task at hand.

As I exited the Sonoma Bike Path, I turned North on Highway 12 and was forced to cross the street to continue west on Verano Avenue.  Unfortunately for me, the traffic was heavy at the time and the lights didn't work in my favor; I was forced to stop twice while making the crossing.  That pause in my stride was more than I could handle and the cramps came on in full waves.  I was going to need to stop and try to rehydrate and stretch.  Jason was parked just past Highway 12 on the north side of Verano Avenue and for this I was pleased.  I laid down on the bed of his jeep and tried to stretch my quadriceps into submission while taking on some additional hydration.  After a six minute pause beneath the golden arches, I was able to stand up and begin again.

Miles 33 and 34 were not as bad as the ones before.  I left Sonoma behind me with miles just over 10 minutes and my heart rate in the 150's, but slowing.  While I wasn't cramping completely now, my muscles ached from the cramps that had been settled in for the last hour and my strides became more forced.  I quickened my cadence slightly to compensate, hoping that a shorter, quicker stride might find me into a solid rhythm.  But I just couldn't get back into the groove.  And as I slowed, a new battle began - my body heat.

As I made my final turn to the North on Arnold Drive, I could feel my teeth chattering and could feel the chill in the air start to settle upon me beneath a now cloudy Sonoma sky.  I managed three miles in all along Arnold Drive before reality started to settle in - I was starting to get cold and I was starting to really question my ability to achieve my goal of finishing 40 miles.  As I approached Madrone Road, just shy of 36 miles, I decided that I needed to change some clothes, warm myself up, drink some water and give myself a chance to recover.  I settled into the passenger seat of Jason's jeep and cranked the heater up to full blast, while donning wind pants, my running vest, a sock cap, and a new pair of gloves.  In all, I spent thirteen minutes huddled in my shelter before setting out again - this time at a much reduced pace.

For the next two miles, Miles 37 and 38, I would be only walking and drinking water - working to rehydrate myself for the finish.  As I walked - straight-legged to prevent further cramping - my mind cleared and I realized how shaky and dizzy I had been for the miles before.  Just before Mile 37, I tried some guerilla stretching and attempted to restart my running pace only to be shut down again amidst full leg cramps that threatened my hamstrings as well.  I continued walking until just past Mile Marker 38 where I made my final turn toward an uphill finish.  I could feel that the extra shots of water had taken their effect and tentatively I started in a slow shuffle and eventually found a running stride.  I was well short of my sub-8-minute pace where I had started the day, but I was happy to be really running as I clipped my way along up my final grade, a 650-foot elevation gain from the town of Glen Ellen.

After more than six hours, the few 15 minutes that it took me to make my final climb up from the Sonoma Valley to the finish at Benziger Family Winery seemed like a snap of the finger.  Before I knew it, I was hearing the cheers of our supporters and seeing smiling faces on top of a winding entrance.  I was even clipping along quickly enough to beat ole Joe up to the winery gates.  As I crossed the yellow ribbon, I was greeted by so many supporters, not the least of which were Nico, Zachary, and William, who helped me finish off my last 400 meters in the Benziger parking lot.

At the end of the run, I felt amazingly good overall.  While the legs were certainly sore, I was fully coherent and able to walk around and interact with my friends and family and the wonderful supporters of 40for40.  I was able to give my special thanks to Jason the Medic who was with me every step of the way and without whose support, I would have never made it.  Thanks, Jason!

All in all I was pleased with my performance, coming in with an overall average of 10:06 per mile.  If I ever did find myself in an ultra-marathon distance, I would work to find a better strategy for hydration to avoid the cramping.  Perhaps some longer, slower training runs where I really got to know what to expect from my body at the extreme distances.  For now, I'll leave any thoughts of ultra-long runs to the future and just sit back, relax and enjoy the rewards of a job completed - 40 miles run to celebrate - 40 miles run for the greater good.