Saturday, May 17, 2008

Running brain-dead at PCT50

PCT50 Trail Run:
Distance: 50 miles / 80.5 km
Gun time: 11:59:42
Bib number: 99
Date: May 10, 2008

Getting there

PCT50 race took place just 3 weeks after my first 50 miler at Leona Divide.
After getting about 2.5 hours of sleep that night I woke up at 2AM and I carpooled to the race start with Marisa. I expected to catch another hour or two of sleep in the car but that plan never materialized. We talked with Marisa all the way to the Boulder Oaks campground.

When we arrived there at 4:55, it was still dark. We parked at a curb and got out of the car to pick up our packets. The next thing I remember I was in the dust by the car in the push-up position. There was a hole on the side of the road where we parked at, and I got into it. I fell now at then during the trail races, but this time I overdid myself – I managed to fall and scratch my knee and palm to blood an hour before the race began :)

And off we went

It was chilly at the start – 37F as far as I remember – who would know that the temperature will climb up to mid eighties just several hours later! It was great to see a lot of familiar faces at the start: Kevin, Jerry, Robo, Robert S, iMichielle, Keira, Jenn, Eric K, Eric Lumba, Charlie, Pam, Greg, Chris, Gabor and others.

We started off at 6AM. The first stretch – probably 0.5 mile – was pretty flat. After that we hit PCT and began our 6-mile long climb to the first aid station. The mountains around us were spectacular! At some point we saw a small river in the valley below. The river looked like a glacier in the rays of the morning sun.

Some of the rock formations looked like a bunch of huge 100ft-high tree trunks bound together. We did not have a lot of chances though to enjoy the view. I could not take my eyes of the trail even for a moment without a risk of falling on my face again. The trail was fairly technical with a lot of rocks on it.

It warmed up and I took off my gloves and long-sleeve shirt at the first aid station. I saw Pam and Greg there. Before I reached the second aid station (another long climb) I tripped and ran several yards bend down to the ground wondering if I ever manage to restore my balance or not. Eventually I fell and scratched my arm and knee. The nipple of my hand bottle was full of dirt too. So I had some rest there, washed and disinfected my scratches.

Todd’s Cabin

On my way to Todd’s Cabin I met Ben Stegner, who happened to be from our running club as well, and we spent the next hour talking about running, kids, work and other stuff.

Todd’s Cabin is the most unique and extreme aid station I ever saw. You need to turn from the trail and run downhill some 100 or 200 vertical feet to reach it. Oh, and to get back to the trail you need to run all the way up.

At Todd’s Cabin we caught up Chris, who is responsible from bringing Ben into the trail running. Chris is an 11-times Ironman finisher and a very strong runner too. When they run with Ben, they use code names instead of the real ones – John and Jennifer. They tried to explain me the reason. It had something to do with secret services and X-files. But my brain was already malfunctioning by then and I did not get the point.

I managed to keep up with these guys almost all the way to Penny Pines.

Penny Pines

The trail heading to Penny Pines goes high above the desert with a bunch of most awesome viewpoints. I guess this particular part of PCT is also called Desert View Trail.

This is when we saw the first of the head runners going back already. I recall Kevin, Jerry, Michelle and Keira, as well as several less familiar faces.

Penny Pines is the 4th and 5th aid station at the same time. You get there and run another 2+ miles to the turn-around point, and then run back to the same aid station again. I met Erik K there. He looked strong but announced he is about to DNF as he was peeing blood. Definitely a very wise decision, but we all felt sorry for Eric anyways.

Back at the Dale’s Kitchen

My run back to the Dale’s Kitchen was uneventful. I was tired, overheated and dehydrated. At the Dale’s Kitchen I met Kirk, Gabor and … someone else, but I do not remember whom (was it Paul?). I was neither lucid nor responsive. People had to ask me every question twice. One of the volunteers at aid station said that I was “brain-dead”. And it was not too far from the truth.

Gabor noticed my head is full of salt crystals. I did not eat any salt tablets – usually I suffice with PowerBar Gels – and ran out of electrolytes. They made me eat 3 tablets right at the aid station and 3 more tablets in 30 minutes after that.

Road to hell

As we left Dale’s Kitchen, I tried to keep up with Kirk and Gabor, but they lost me within the next mile after it. I was going for another mile at my own pace, but it did not take me long to realize that I am done. I could not stand this heat and this trail anymore. I could not stand running another hundred yards even downhill, and I was sick and tired of myself. I wanted to DNF immediately. The only problem with that was I still had almost 6 miles to go to the next aid station, while returning back to Dale’s Kitchen did not even occur to be an option for me.

I walked most of those 6 miles, even flat and downhill sections. It took me about 1:30 to get to Fred Canyon Road.

I felt like crap and had a bunch of flies circling around me, who either fully shared my opinion or took me for a corpse. The flies were very annoying. I could not just sit down on a boulder and have a rest without them landing on my face. I became angry, started to curse them aloud and smashed at least 3 of them on my cheeks and forehead.

But my own whining was a way worse than the flies! Why cannot I DNF right here? Why a hell the aid stations are so far apart on this bloody course? When will I get there already?

I had enough time to come up with the list of the reasons for my DNF and my performance issues. I already mentally wrote an explanation for my fellow club members in my blog and rehearsed how I am going to explain it to my wife and daughter that were waiting for me at the finish line.

To take my mind off it all, I switched from whatever music I was listening at the moment to an audio book I had with me: “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind” (by Al Ries and Jack Trout). And the battle for my mind it was!

Last aid station

I entered the last aid station with the words: “Number 99 is down!”
- How do you feel?
- I am dead! I am quitting!

It was great to see Michelle M, Alexa and Sue who volunteered at that aid station. They sat me down, gave me some water. Someone tried to convince me I have only 6 more miles to go – mostly downhill – and plenty of time to cover them. But I already set my mind of quitting and did not want to listen another word about running any further.

One of volunteers asked me a bunch of questions about what I had to eat and drink for the last couple of hours. They gave me water, cold Coke, more water, salted potato, and Coke again.

People were trying to convince me to continue. Adam – Alexa’s boy-friend – even threatened me with a knife he used there to cut oranges. But I was pretty stubborn in my decision…

.. and then Michelle put a red bandana soaked in ice water around my neck. It was like magic – I started to feel life is coming back to me. So 7 more minutes and 2 ice-cold bandanas later I was running again.

The Finish

Thanks to Michelle, Alexa, Sue, and other volunteers who revived me at the last aid station, I did manage finish, and even break 12 hours (by mere 18 seconds though)! It took me an hour to I cover the last 6 miles and I even passed 8 runners doing that (that’s why ear buds are illegal at some races, especially when you max out the volume on Metallica and Anthrax).

I got my medal from John “El Cubano” Martinez, the RD of the PCT50, and got hugs from my wife and daughter. It felt so great to be finally done with this thing!

Besides shaking hands with everyone, there were two more things I wanted to do before leaving: try the famous Cuban roasted pork and watch Kirk to finish the race: I owed Kirk some stuff from my first aid kit. Kirk’s knee was covered with blood but he refused having it taken care of before the finish.

Kirk looked strong when he was running the last yards to the finish line. But after he crossed it, he could not stand, could not sit and could not talk for a while. A bunch of folks picked him up and dragged his body to a chair (there is no better way to say it). If I saw it before Leona, I doubt I would dare to run a 50M race this year. I was not sure back then if we should dial 911.

However now the picture of poor Kirk after finish feels more inspiring to me than anything else at PCT! I feel ashamed I wanted to DNF at the last aid station so badly! By the end of the race I seemed to be in a pretty good physical form compared to Kirk. And if Kirk did not DNF despite all his struggle, what freaking excuse did I have to do it? I did not have any problems with knees or feet (legs hurt, but nothing extraordinary), I did not have any significant blisters, I did not pee blood, I did not have any stomach issues, I did not even puke. Yup, I was short on electrolytes (my head was covered with salt), and was dehydrated too. But who freaking was not?

Anyways, they say that ultrarunning is 70% psychological and 30% physical. (Not sure about percentages, do not quote me on that.) If I could handle psychological component of it as well as our I-will-never-quit-iron-man Kirk, I would be a much better runner, and a much better person too!

More photos from the race:
PCT50 '2008


Greg said...

Great recap, Dmitri. Very inspiring!

Michelle said...

Great recap Dmitri!
It was classic to see the look on your face when I put that ice-cold bandana around your neck! It was like a million-watt light bulb went on in your head! I could just see the wheels turning, as you started to think, "Hey, maybe I CAN finish this race!"

Anonymous said...

There was nothing brain-dead about that re-cap, Mr. Chechuy. I totally enjoyed it. The whole passage with the flies-feeling like crap-corpse connection was golden! I thought you did very well, to be honest, and I was very proud to share the course with you. And, I don't mind admitting, I was shocked when you blew past me and Gabor on that last stretch. No doubt, you had in mind that you just wanted to be done and see your family that much quicker.

As for my race, it started out one way and took a trip halfway around the world to end another way. In other words, it was a humbling day. Bonking from Mile 28 on, it could have gone better. I got a pick me up from the prospect of seeing Adam and the ladies from our group at the last aid station, sufficiently so that I was able to trot it in. But, I had done so much walking, and I would do so much more after that. My airways felt tight, too. Gabor and I spent much of the last stretch fast-walking, and we still managed to catch a few guys. Once we saw the finish line, that's when we started to run, just so that we wouldn't cross it walking. Besides, some bonehead was trying to pick us off toward the end.

I was beyond used up at the end. Laying down sounded like the best thing in the world, but then I wanted up because I didn't want the attention that I was getting. OK, so I was kinda hammered, but it's just part of the nature of what we do. I didn't want to be weak about it, the thought of SD100 in my mind. And, I still had to get up early the next day to put in a 12-hour overtime stint at work.

Everything's good these days. About the only issue is the sunburn I got. It turned the skin purplish for the couple of days afterward. Now, when I run, water blisters form where the skin should perspire. There's some raw skin in a couple of places where it looks like a rash, too. But, that too is all part of the scenery when we do the things that we do.

I hope you'll be able to make it to the Saturday San Mateo Run. We could chat about SD, you can get used to my style for the 100, and most importantly, yours will be the perfect compliment to so much good company. One thing I will say about SD, though, and this is not negotiable: Don't allow me to quit unless I'm stone cold dead.

Take good care of yourself, Dmitri. And, give my regards to your family.


Anonymous said...

Love your recap; made me feel being sick on the trail (sense memory;-)

So you had a bad day! Nothing to be ashamed of. Even if you had DNF'ed, it would have been ok!!!!!! Not sure why we always have to think we let others down when WE can't run!!!???

You have great friends - keep them close.

Congratulations, Dmitri.