altitude running

Old Pueblo 50 – part 2

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It was still raining and the road was rather treacherous on my return. The entire road from the freeway to the camp (8 to 10 miles) is dirt but after 6 hours of rain, it was all mud and small lakes. It took a whole lot longer than I wanted but I was really in no hurry since my friend was not due for several hours. I took my time because I really did not want to break the car nor did I want to get stuck. I was glad to have taken his car because I do not think my minivan would have been able to get the traction on many of those muddy hills nor get through some of those small lakes. I got to the camp and parked up on the hill where we had parked before. That was a mistake. The majority of the parking is up on a hill above the Kentucky Camp and the road down is soft dirt making the whole walk down a wet muddy mess. I was not wearing decent shoes for this weather so this was not a fun experience. My shoes were soaked after just a few steps, fortunately, I was able to avoid the deep, soft mud.

I arrived back at Kentucky Camp early to cheer on the finishers. I found out that people could check on the progress of runners so I attempted to locate Louis. Turns out, he did not check in at Station 29. A little more questioning and I found out that he and many others did not check in at Station 33 either. I did not worry because they said that they located some of those who did not check in at 33. They said that a whole group came in at the same time and some just did not get recorded. At around 5 o’clock, I went to stand in the communication center to listen for word of Louis and the other runners. It was somewhat chaotic (not just for me, for the workers as well).

Between mile 33 and 46 there is a river crossing. This area is in the desert and when it rains in the desert the lower lands flood really fast with just a little rain in the mountains. We knew about the river but no one counted on 3 feet or deeper water at that point. At around 5:30 runners coming in were reporting that the river was getting deep and fast. 15 minutes later after investigation the speed and depth of the water, the acting director closed the race to anyone coming into Stations 33 and 46. The rain also opened up a river hazard for the area between Station 46 and the finish so they were told to hold all runners at those two stations. Runners were reporting being swept off their feet at both river sections and we were all getting worried. I also remembered hearing on television that another storm was supposed to hit sometime after midnight. At about 7, the workers and the director were all communicating with the aide stations and attempting to locate all the runners. There were about 17 unaccounted for at this point. The thing about all this is that Louis was the only one who had not been recorded at Station 29. The rest of the runners were seen or recorded at 29 and 33.

I am starting to wonder when they are going to call in rescue and I voiced my concerns. About 7:30 they decided to finally make the call. They finally got through to Cochise County Rescue. It turns out that the area we were in was in a different county from the running course. In fact, we crossed three counties. The dispatcher told the race communications coordinator that he would call the Santa Cruz County Rescue in on the matter. The communications coordinator told him that he was hoping to have a tri-county effort and the response was, “we will call Santa Cruz.” Turns out they are closest rescue with a helicopter. 45 minutes later they were still dragging their feet. Shortly after the call to Cochise, one of the communications operators was talking with the local fire department on the radio. The fire department dispatcher told us that they could not send out rescue until daybreak because the river could not be crossed by any vehicles. I (along with everyone else in the room) was speechless. After a few moments I spoke up. I said, “You have 12 plus people out there who are basically naked. It is cold and getting colder. The temperatures will approach freezing and there is another storm coming tonight. Those people do not have rain gear nor do they have headlamps. All of the night and cold weather gear was in their packs at miles 33 and 46. How many kinds of stupid do you need to be to figure that out? They will be hypothermic very soon and unlikely to survive until morning. The Communications Coordinator told the operator to call him back and explain the situation to them. their solution was to have the captain of the fire station go out to Kentucky Camp. He got there at about 9:15. Right as I was at my wits end.
I was finally putting the pieces together. Louis did not check in at 29. He did not check in at 33. Their sweepers found no one while looking along that first section of the course (no one thought to tell them to keep looking until they found the only runner who did not check in on that section of the course), but they were back by 6 or 7. At about 9, my conclusion was one of two things happened: a. Louis got lost. He turned back onto the first half of the course and got lost because there were no markers left to guide him. Or b. He got hurt. There was a steep slope on the southern side of that road I last saw him on and had he fallen, no one would have been around to see him. It was cold enough and he was tired enough that if he were hurt, he might not have been able to get back to the road. Either way, I was done listening to these people spin their wheels. I went back to the waiting room where the rest of Louis’ race team was waiting. I told them I was leaving to go get him and they tried to get me to wait. I said that I was not willing to wait anymore. I asked if Gus, one of the coaches and husband of the head coach, wanted to go with me. I figured another pair of eyes would be useful particularly if Louis were hurt. He said we could drive to where we last saw Louis but he was not thinking of going any further. He did not know that I was not going to come back without Louis. We went and told the acting director that we were going to go get Louis. As we were walking up I heard them say that a helicopter was being dispatched to the area. He said “I can’t stop you” and the only thought running through my head was “I was not asking permission and you could not stop me anyway.”

We left around 10. Fortunately, the rain had stopped at about 9 and the roads were not as soft as they were when I arrived earlier. I am fairly sure Gus’ knuckles were white more than once because I was driving a little faster this time. I was confident in the roads so I was confident in my driving faster this time. I also have a lot of experience driving at night. I delivered pizzas in an area with a lot of rural roads so I was a lot more comfortable than I figure Gus was. As we were driving out, we came across a fire department vehicle at one of the cross-sections of road. The firefighter asked for our names and I told him what we were doing. I gave him my phone number and he wished us luck. We got to the running trail about 20 minutes later. I slowed down and started honking the horn and yelling out Louis’ name while I was wearing my headlamp and watching along the sides of the vehicle. We drove like that for about a mile until I saw Louis on the driver’s side laying under a tree. Turned out, he was on the road across from the turn for Station 29. I was ecstatic. I was very happy he was not hurt. He said he had missed the turn off for the aide station and ended up going further up the road and turned back into the first section of the course. He said he ran for a mile and figured he took the wrong turn. He said he did this a few times and, all told, ran about 40 miles. As the sun started to set, he realized that he was in danger of getting truly lost. His saving grace was the adage that you do not do anything to make yourself more lost and just stay put. This was his best course of action because that is exactly how I found him. He was right where we had last seen him. He said he had fallen asleep about 20 minutes before we found him. He said he was not really worried because he knew I would find him eventually. I am humbled to have garnered such trust from anyone. I am blessed that I was able to find him. We never did see a helicopter. At one point I was going to call the news services in Tucson and perhaps see if they could send out a helicopter since this was a good news story if nothing else.

It turned out that Louis was the only one that was missing. All the other unaccounted for had shown up or had called someone to pick them up along the course and never checked in.

I feel that I was there to go get Louis that night. I had contemplated dropping out of the race as late as the week before. Something prevented me from doing so. It did not feel right to me to drop out of the race. Looking at how all that transpired I feel that I was there for one reason and I am glad to have been there for that reason. I am still looking forward to destroying that race next year though. 🙂

Namaste.

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Old Pueblo 50

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I ran in the Old Pueblo 50 Ultramarathon this last weekend. It was an experience. This post will take some time to write so I am not sure when it will finally get posted. There are pictures and a long story to go with it all. I am just organizing my thoughts around this whole thing and will get it all written down, it will just take a little time.
I was ready for this race. I trained and I felt great. I had the gear and the nutrition. I was primed and ready to knock this out and make this race my bitch. The weather was going to be cool with a high in the 60s with a chance of rain. Ideal running conditions. A large part of this run was in rocky terrain which I have done before so was not really an issue. The only issue was finances. I have not been working for awhile so the cost was a major issue. I as contemplating cancelling but for some reason, I did not.
I was excited and looking forward to the challenge. My friend and I left Friday afternoon headed toward Tucson. We had to pick up race packets by 6 and we made it with time enough to make it to the hotel and a dinner his team RaceLab, was having that night. I have met and trained with some members of the team before and we had a nice dinner. There was some advice given which boiled down to: enjoy the run and trust your training. We got to bed about 9-3:30.

I slept a few hours that night but when 4 am rolled around, I was awake and felt quite rested. Even so, I felt off. Something did not feel right. I did not put too much into it and got ready. We followed other team members to the start/finish location at Kentucky Camp where we dropped off our drop bags and got ready to go. We had five locations where we could have our own supplies for nutrition and clothing. Miles 7/29, 25, 33, and 40 were drop bag locations and there were aid stations every 3-5 miles through the course as well. I had nutrition and Heed-filled water bottles in each bag. The first drop would be where we were to leave our headlamps and warm gear. This was a good place because we could also pick any of it up again because it was the same station at mile 29. We had to have a change of shoes at mile 40 (and possibly mile 33) because there is a river crossing after the mile 33 drop. I actually put shoes, a hat, a shirt, shorts, socks, and EFS in each drops as well. My mile 40 bag also had warm weather clothing and another headlamp.
This would have all worked out well but for the weather. At the start, we had 20-30 mile/hour winds. This was not so bad but I think this contributed to my own problems as the race went on. I was a little fatigued as we went on but this is not abnormal. The altitude as well as the fact that it was 4 in the morning. We also stated with a fair amount of uphill which is difficult when you are just warming up. I think I would have been fine but I still felt odd.
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At mile 1.5 a first happened for me, my bib came off. It is not like it was not secured. I had it pinned to my fanny pack and it tore off through the pins. Weird. Would have been more of a problem in a bigger race but, with only 144 people running, I just had to tell the stations my number and we were good. Uphill for several miles really was taxing for me. I was not tired nor fatigued, I was affected by the altitude but I think it was also the wind. When we went downhill, the wind had stopped, and it was effortless for me. We made it through the 3 mile station and went on to the 7 mile station. I felt good but it was going to be our first long trip without a station. It was only 6 miles but my weird feelings did not cease. My friend was keeping a steady pace and I was keeping up with him. Somewhere around mile 10, I started to realize I might not be able to make the cutoff time to reach mile 25. I was making progress but it was not fast enough. I decided to let him go ahead and try to make it without me. I did not want him to miss finishing the race because of me. I started to take my pulse so I could gauge what was going on with me. My pulse was running at about 90% of max and that was too high. At the mile 13 aid station, I sat for a bit and I told him to go ahead so he could finish the race. I continued on with the hope that I could find a way to make it to mile 25 before the cutoff time. I started walking more on the uphills and a little on the flats so I could recover and my HR came down and my pace picked up a bit. This next section was thorough a lot of rocky, mountainous terrain but I navigated it, albeit slowly.
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I should note here that right before mile 13 we started to notice missing markers and almost got lost. After we left mile 13, we started to have a lot of problems. As I mentioned, this part of the course is through the mountain and there are a lot of trails passing through the area. We had to guess and rely on our maps to find our way through. My friend and a few others who were lost eventually left me behind at about mile 15. Right around now is when the rain started. It was cloudy the whole day but we did not expect that it would rain for the rest of the race. Literally, it rained from about 11 am until 9 pm (the final race cutoff time). I had to go slow from about mile 15 to 19 because I had no trail markers to follow and I played tracker at times to figure out which direction to go. (There were several events going on in the area that day and, apparently, the horse riders pull down the ribbons maliciously.)
There is a beautiful canyon I had to go through just before heading to mile 19.
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Beautiful, unless you have to run down it because the thing is all rocks. That played havoc with my toes but I made it fine. I arrived at station 19 with 25 minutes to get to mile 25. 6 miles in 25 minutes was not going to happen. I dropped out and waited for someone to drive me back to the start. It was at this point that I realized that I was without transportation or dry clothing. It is one thing to be running and know you are going to be wet, tired, and cold. It is something else entirely when you are going to have to stand around for 7 hours waiting for warm, dry clothing. I asked the person driving me if we could stop and get my bag at station 25 since I had dry clothing in there. I was wrong. I did not put anything but the shirt, shorts, socks, and shoes in there. I did not even have another base layer in there. It would not have mattered because they left our bags sitting out and they were all drenched by the time I got there. I was still contemplating the issue of no transportation as we drove. turned out that the path we took was a road, the same road the runners were on. I was hoping we might run across my friend and I could get his keys. I saw him running between mile 25 and 29 and offered him some of my supplies and some dry gloves got his keys, and we left. I think we got back to Kentucky Camp around 2-2:30. I did not go into the camp because I was freezing, so I went back to the hotel. I took a shower and got a little food. I rested a bit and planned on returning by about 5. I got back to the camp at about 4:30 (I was going to go get pizza before I returned but I forgot). I am glad I did not delay my return much longer because things were afoot…

More in the next post.
Namaste