Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How to get a skunk to cross the road

I started running Friday night at 8pm. It was about 3 hours later and I was running down the dirt road through Sisar Canyon under the brilliant full moon when I saw two small eyes glowing in the darkness by the side of the road. I yelled and smashed my trekking poles together and whatever it was took off. Emboldened, I ran another 1/4 mile or so down to the aid station and turned around to come back up. Again, in the same spot, the eyes glowed at me. I stopped and tried to see what kind of animal it was. A calico cat! I was surprised it wasn't a wild animal, but relieved to see there was nothing to fear.

Ever since last year's Coyote Two Moon was canceled when I was at mile 84, I wanted a chance to go back and finish the race. This year the SMSA 50K race was held instead, but the race director was kind enough to offer us Coyote Two Moon belt buckles if we came back and did a fat ass version of the 100 miler. After the blizzards of the two previous years, it was slightly disconcerting to have a perfect weather forecast of clear skies and warm temperatures. I finished the climb back up Sisar Canyon and started the long 5 mile stretch of gradually uphill road to the turn down Horn Canyon. Again a pair of eyes glowed by the side of the road. Not another cat I thought, just as my headlight focused on a white stripe. Definitely NOT a cat. Retreat!

I stopped just out of sight of the skunk which was on the uphill side of the dirt road. I briefly thought of running as quickly as possible along the other side of the road and hoping for luck. But I really didn't want to get sprayed. Or even a near miss. And it seemed like the skunk would feel trapped given that it would have to scramble uphill if it wanted to get away. After a brief paralysis, I decided to bombard the skunk with small rocks while yelling like crazy from as far away as possible. It didn't take long for this siege approach to convince the skunk to run for safety across the road and down the hillside. Whew, that was a relief!

Having led with the most amusing anecdote, I am going to switch from a race narrative to a list, in no particular order, of lessons learned. Although this 100 miler was my slowest to date at 28 hours and about 10 minutes, I think it was one of my best efforts and considering the 28,000 feet of climbing, not really all that slow.

Looking up Rose Valley towards the Ridge Line.
1) I have never felt this good the day after a 100 miler before. This could be due to many factors, but I am attributing a significant part of it to the Hoka Bondi B shoes I wore. My feet and legs are still sore, but not nearly as bad as after previous 100 mile events.

2) Heat: I don't do well in the heat which bothered me last year at Zane Grey. I did push a bit to climb up from Gridley Bottom before it got too hot on Saturday, but once the heat settled in I decided to prioritize nutrition and hydration over effort coming up from Cozy Dell. I decided that once the sun went down I would be able to move faster again, but only if I kept up on food and water. So coming up Cozy Dell I stopped in occasional shady spots to stay on my nutrition plan. I think this is the best approach to the heat for me. Trying to push through the heat only seems to result in the inability to take in food/water and subsequent bonking.

Feeling the heat.
3) Crew: I had a crew person for the first time ever. My wife Francine was generous enough to come with me and meet me at all of the accessible spots: miles 43, 57, 70, 77 and 100. It was great having her support, but given how smoothly the weather, nutrition and the race went in general this year, I am thinking that the real value of crew support is when something doesn't go as expected. Unfortunately the race may have been harder for her than me as she had pulled something in her back the day before the race and she ended up in the emergency room the day we returned to Seattle.

4) Nutrition: I managed to stay right on my nutrition plan for almost the entire race. A gu packet on the 1/2 hour and stinger honey chews on the hour. Every 2-3 hours I would switch to a bottle of Perpetuem or Sustained Energy instead of gu/chews. This combination really seemed to work and I did not get the food cravings I normally get although I did eat a couple of mini burritos and a grilled cheese at various aid stations.

Approaching Howard Creek aid station at mile 70.
5) Melt down: For some reason near the end of the race, I decided that I was tired of dealing with gels and thought the adrenaline of coming to the finish would carry me the rest of the way. Half way down the last big descent of Lion Canyon, I completely melted down. I kept having to blow my nose only to finally realize it was a nose bleed. My new gloves were soaked in blood and I stopped moving to try to arrest the bleeding. I even sat down to feel sorry for myself and was just about convinced to walk the rest of the way when I realized that I wanted to get it over with too badly to just walk. Next time I will keep eating all the way until the end.

6) Training: I felt better than ever during this 100 miler, but I put in significantly fewer miles than I had for the two 100 milers I did last year. I will write a more detailed subsequent post on how my training has changed, but I have been doing a significant amount of strength and speed training and reduced overall mileage this year. For example, last year in Dec-Feb heading into Coyote Two Moon, I ran 814 miles. This year I only logged 647 miles in the same 3 months. A lot more 50 mile weeks this year compared to 75 mile weeks last year.

7) Garmin: I love my Garmin 310XT except for the 18 hour battery life. I had been having success working around this limitation by carrying a USB battery and recharging the Garmin during races. This time, the watch turned off when I added the charger so I thought I ended up recording the race in two separate files. However, when I went to upload the data, the primary file with the first 18 hours has disappeared. Definitely time to get the Suunto Ambit with its 50 hour battery life!

The coolest belt buckle in ultrarunning. Worth all of the 184 miles it took to achieve.
Finally, a big thanks to Chris Scott and the gang of volunteers who worked harder than ever to support a much smaller group of runners. Hopefully we will all get the chance to run in the mountains above Ojai again in coming years.


  1. Congratulations Mike! I've been meaning to check in with you, but just a busy week. I hope Fran is recovering. Maybe you guys can take it easy this weekend--much earned rest. Great buckle too! I'll catch up with you in more detail soon--great writeup. Skunks are ok.

  2. Hey! Great job! Sounds like a really positive experience after last year. Would like to hear about your training plan of less miles! What's next for you? Glad you didn't get skunked and I sure hope your wife's back is better, what a trooper!