I am back in Cairo at one of the high points thus far in my life. Thank you for all the support out there. I wouldn't have made it without hearing from everyone. I hope to have more experiences as amazing as this one, but am not sure if I will. This race was without a doubt one of my proudest accomplishments and I had more growth in my life. I have made incredible friends, saw part of the world I would never experienced and pushed myself to limits I thought I wasn't capable of. Yesterdays 54 mile 25 hour run was the hardest thing I have ever I ever done physically but beyond that mentally. I never considered the mental challenge coming into this race but in the past 36 hours I was in some very dark places in my head.
Overall I came in 78th place out of the 146 people who started 116 who finished taking me 53 hours. If you had told me 10 days ago this would have been my result I would have probably thought this race was a huge failure. Having finishing now I am so proud of everything from finishing, my time to the people I met in this race. Reflecting back the best days were the toughest ones. If my race had been days 1,2 and 4 I would have had a much faster race, but a much different experience.
I spent a huge amount of time preparing and training for this race. I would not have made it if I hadn't had everything dialed in. I had every calorie I would eat accounted for, every piece of gear I would need, heat training and months of running. I am not a superstar runner but a strong one and this race was very hard for me. Everything seems so manageable reading about it ahead of time, but there are so many unforeseeable challenges in doing your first ultra. I just reread my blog and am so glad I kept it for myself and the memories as well as to share with everyone. I thought they would be some more whining in them and be a bit more emotional. Instead they seemed more like a factual account of what was going on.
Racing the planet staff, Sam, Alaina and Ross, were incredibly professional and ran the race very smoothly. The volunteers put in hours of work for nothing in return and I am so thankful to them. The medical team, which I got to know all too well, were incredible. Jay, Rob, and Joe all took amazing care of me and were constantly looking out for my health and safety.
People really had a caring for me, my success and well being. Two people especially cared for me and I might be overstepping when I say this but loved me. Katie and Manon thank you two so much, without you two I couldn't have finished this race. They believed in me when I didn't and their caring for me was unbelievable. It feels so amazing to have that from people I met five days ago.
Manon is an ER doctor in LA. All that anti nausea medicine I was taking was not paid for by the race, she was giving it to me out of her caring and wanting me to succeed in this race. I was responding by being delirious and losing it. Here is a picture of her "cooling her jets".
Katie was out here doing research on hyponatremia, but all her equipment was lost in the mail. She was a lifesaver out there taping my back, blisters and handing out "medical" cheese. Such a great supporter who was always looking out for me. I think she must have been being silly for the camera in this picture in long sleeves and a tuque as I can't remember one day with it being cool enough for a hat or long sleeves.
As for the actual race on day five it started off at this campsite at about 5:30am.
Here is a photo of my tent mates from the previous day. We started with eleven in the tent but ended up with eight since three people had to stop their races. Even with eight we were all cramped in head to toe while we slept.
The first two stages were beautiful through an old ocean called the valley of the whales. The footing was amazing and I moved very quickly running almost until the forth check point. My foot began hurting very badly, like there was a knife being stabbed through the bottom. I worked in some walking and finally sat down to take my shoe off and tapped a gauss bandage roll to the bottom. It felt so much better but running like that for more than a few miles wouldn't work. As I approached check point four, about 20 miles in, the heat set in and I knew I would have to take a break as the next stage was a very difficult one over soft dunes. I arrived at check point four somewhere between 17th and 25th place around 10:30 or 11am.
The lead medical doctor, Jay, looked at my foot and said it was an overuse injury. He said I wouldn't hurt myself anymore and it was just pain.
I lay at the check point for the next four hours and was passed by almost every competitor. Here I am with Jon Gannon, the competitor I spoke about earlier with a broken toe. He is a real tough guy, I can only imagine the pain he endured.
I am impressed we were still smiling as it was 118 degrees out! Here is a shot on the other side of the SUV to give you some idea of where we were, with the dunes we were about to cross in the distance.
As I was lying on the ground some of the sweepers with camels came up. After a few minutes I hear the loudest sound out of the camel. I lift my head to see the camel on its knees and the rider wrestling with its head. He grabbed the camels nostrils and pulled back its head forcing the camel to open its mouth and shoved a 1.5 liter bottle of water down its throat which the camel drank in about five seconds. That was probably one of the coolest things I have ever seen in my life. I just checked online and unfortunately couldn't find a video of it.
I ran out of check point four until I hit the dunes and hiked until check point five which Manon was running. It had cooled off a bit but was still 110 degrees out. By check point five my foot was killing me so she gave me an aerosol spray can to roll my foot on. It felt AMAZING, such relief. She also gave me some more nausea medicine as the heat of the last leg was getting to me a bit.
I continued on to check point six which was 30 miles into the last leg while the sunset. It was very pretty. Check point six was the overnight check point with tents set up. I stopped and ate my last dinner, chicken korma. It was surprisingly tasty considering it is all I ate every night for the week. I should have taken a nap but decided to continue on. Having done five marathons in five days I was tired and at mile 30 out of 54.
As I continued in the dark things deteriorated quickly for me. I was walking slowly alone in the dark having been on this stage for about 16 hours. I was very weary and started to feel my heart race and head spin. I stopped and lied down on the side of the course and put my head in the sand. I told myself two minutes before I would get going again. If anyone is caught sleeping on the course they are pulled from the race as it is very dangerous with cars patrolling. I started to feel incredibly sorry for myself. I started thinking of all the hard work I had put into the race and why others were moving so much faster and having so much more success. As I wallowed in myself pity I saw some headlights in the distance which got me to my feet.
The approaching car rolled down its window and Manon was inside. She rolled down the window and asked how I was doing. I said fine and she drove on. I saw her pull over in the distance and turn off her lights to see if I was still moving forward. I thought to myself how sneaky that was of her.
I think she could see I was walking slowly when in the cooler night weather I normally would be running. After she saw that I was still walking on, she drove back. She asked again how I was doing and I told her how I had to take the short rest, felt like my heart was racing and had a fever. She checked all my vitals and asked me if she wanted to pull me from the race. I said no, though in the back of my mind I was wishing she would pull me so I would have an excuse to quit. I was so exhausted and just wanted to be done.
She spoke with the other race directors in the car and came back telling me she couldn't let me go on alone in the dark. She had told me before that I couldn't run anymore in this race and that she was letting me go on with my last chance. She also said that I had to be 100% honest about my conditions at all times and if she couldn't trust me that was it. She knew I was a poker player, and even though I am a bad liar she thought I was misleading her about my condition. I admit I did down play it a few times this week, though I am guessing she knew that. She held me for the next competitor, Taro a Japanese competitor, saying that if I didn't stay with him my race was over.
For the next two hours I followed Taro step by step. All I could think about was how I couldn't leave him. As I walked behind him I felt my heart racing again. I would feel really hot and woozy. We eventually reached check point seven and Manon was waiting. She asked how I was doing and I filled her in. She again checked my vitals and told me to rest at this check point for awhile before going on. I was welcoming a break and took out my sleeping bag and lay on the hard ground.
After 15 minutes on the ground I began getting cold and took off my wet cloths in exchange for anything warm and dry I had. The wind was whipping and my 3/4 length bag was not keeping me warm. I lay on the ground for three hours getting colder and colder with my legs killing me. I told myself that I was done with this race and would continue to the next check point and pull myself. I created a little fantasy in my head about why it was okay to quit now, 25 miles from the finish.
Eventually one of the volunteers came and poked me, saying I had been there for three hours. I knew it was now or never so I lifted myself up and walked around the SUV to find Jon and Ken, a competitor from China. We all began walking together. At this point it was about 1am or 2am and we had all been on the course since 7am. The pace was very slow as we all had a variety of injuries, mine being by far the least painful and serous of the group. We would stop every couple of miles to rest. My heart still felt like it was racing and I told them I was done. They said that I had to go on to the next check point with them as we were in the middle of nowhere.
It seemed to take forever to reach check point eight. We couldn't see it forever as it was over a small dune which further lowered our spirits. I'd guess with our frequent breaks we were moving at 25-30 minute mile pace. As we walked in Katie greeted me asking how I was doing. I told her about my racing heart and how I was not feeling well. She checked all my vitals and told me to rest. I had been so cold in the wind at the last check point that I took the plastic ground cover and wrapped myself in it to get out of the wind. As I lay under the plastic I grabbed my bag and rummaged around for something to eat. All I had left were two freeze dried porridges which the thought of made me sick, especially having them cold. As I was lying on the ground I overheard Katie and Tony, a consultant for the race, discussing my condition. Tony was saying I couldn't make it as we had 15 miles. Katie was telling him she thought I could go on.
Jon and Ken were talking about getting moving again and I knew I had to continue with them. I also thought getting some food would really help me, so I asked Katie if she had anything and she produced two small pieces of cheese and some wheat thins from her bag. After eating what I had for the last week these were the two best pieces of cheese I had ever had. It was unbelievable how delicious these things were.
We began moving again and I felt AMAZING. I couldn't feel my heart racing any longer, nor was I getting hot flashes. I would have started running again but I didn't because of Manon and what she had told me earlier. Jon was in a very bad state at this point, and I wasn't sure if he would make the final 15 miles. We were creeping along barely ahead of the Eygptian camel riders sweeping the course.
The sun began rising as we approached checkpoint nine and it was so beautiful. Jon's spirits began rising and we were joking about everything as we walked. For the first time I had the realization we had been on the course for almost 24 hours. I couldn't believe how great I was feeling with the terrible state I had been in just a few hours ago. When we arrived at check point nine Katie, Manow and some of the volunteers were waiting with huge smiles on their faces. We stopped for 15 minutes to take pictures and I was overcome with joy. It was such an amazing feeling and an unreal high. That was the high point of my trip, out there with everyone after the night we shared together.
I don't have the pictures yet as they were taken on Manow's phone who is headed back to the states. Maybe I can add them later.
We powered through the last stage and I began to run the last mile or two. It felt great coming in strong after being on the course for 25 hours. I was greeted by Deyl (who had an amazing day five!!! You should read about it in his blog) and a bunch of my other friends at the camp. Here is a shot of me right after finishing the 54 miles, and 155 miles in 5 days.
The rest of the day was spent getting very hungry. Deyl and I had planned on not eating this day as we didn't want to carry the food all week. Trust me when I say that was a better idea on paper than in action.
I was trying to trade my porridge for something I could keep down. I was lucky that Steven, a very experienced ultra marathoner who came in third, took pity on me. He was nice enough to trade me for a porridge for his mashed potatoes even though I knew he didn't want the porridge. He had given me one the day before as well. That was the hungriest I have ever felt in my life and freeze dried mashed potatoes tasted so good. It was only 400 calories or so and I had only eaten 1600 calories the entire day before while covering 54 miles. I was still starving but it helped.
As the day dragged on we had nothing to do but be hungry and sit in the 115 degree heat. By 4pm I was at my end and ready start begging other competitors for food. Deyl was in a similar state and we didn't think we would be able to eat until 24 hours later after finishing the race at the pyramids of Giza. Then Alina made an announcement that there was a surprise gift from the local people. She said they had Egyptian flat bread and cheese for us!!! I had been craving cheese all week and the bit Katie gave me just wet my appetite. Deyl and I were first in line and devoured our four pieces of bread and soft cheese. It was so good and salty. The entire time I was eating I was monitoring the line looking for a chance to get back in for 2nds. I felt so pathetic but I just didn't care, I was too hungry.
I jumped in for 2nds and took them to my tent so no one could see me in the state I was in. I found Deyl already there having grabbed 2nds as well and we sat in the back hording our food. We went back for thirds finishing everything off. The other competitors had more composure than us and I think we were the only ones to have 2nd's much less thirds. After finishing I felt so pleasantly full I lay down to sleep for the first time in 48 hours, so thankful I wasn't hungry.
The next morning we were bused to the pyramids of Giza for our final one mile run and photo shoot. I sat by Manon on the bus and we talked about the previous day. I thanked her for not pulling me and letting me finish my race even though I was so sick. She said that she never thought for a 2nd about pulling me on that day. She had on earlier days, but she said day five in the night everything was in my head. I was floored and asked about my racing heart and fever. She said my heart rate was normal and I didn't have a fever. She said I was having a mental struggle (breakdown?) and needed to hear that I was about to be pulled. She put me with Taro to help me mentally, not to have him watch my safety.
I was in utter shock that I was so weak mentally. I feel gross just thinking about it and writing it here. In all my preparation for this race I never considered that my biggest weakness would be in my head not in my body. Manon had really pulled a great bluff on me. I was convinced I was about to be pulled from the race if I didn't do exactly as she said, while I had been ignoring some of her advice/orders earlier in the week.
We arrived at the pyramids and it was a bit of a letdown. I had built it up in my head as this amazing finish but it wasn't. Sure it looks good on Facebook, but my highlight was day five check point nine with very special people watching the sun rise over the desert. That was a moment I will remember forever.
I have so many other experiences and thoughts that can't fit into this blog that may fade from my mind as time goes on. I have grown incredibly close to so many people in such a short amount of time. So many people I spoke before the race said their journey was life changing. I never considered mine would be going in and brushed it off as people being overly emotional. I thought I was preparing for a race and competition, that was not what it ended up being for me.
As I finish this up I am getting teary eyed. If you are reading this considering doing something like this I would say go for it. I don't know what your journey will be but I bet it will surprise and change you.
I don’t have much time on the computer so I will have to keep this short. I’ll write a longer blog when I am back in Cairo. Thank you all for the comments, it means the world to me.
Dad, everything here is being run well and my safety is always being looked out for.
I finished 54 mile stage safely. It was very grueling for me. I finished in about 25 hours which put me in about 100th place. I am just happy to finish as there were some times when I wasn’t sure I was.
I ran the first two stages and did very well. Once I hit the third check point, about three hours in, I had to take a 4 hour break to let the heat pass. My watch read 118 degrees and that leg of the course was rated difficult. It was so smart to take the break as I wouldn’t have made it. Most of the competitors passed me.
I did well on stage four and five passing a few competitors. Stage five was the overnight camp, but I only took 20minutes to eat something which was a mistake. By check point six I was really struggling and had to rest for three hours. I was wiped and every check point from there on I would take 2-3 hour breaks to rest up. I couldn’t sleep but I was able to rest my weary legs.
I consider myself a pretty tough guy but people out here take the cake. I am think my fitness and training is very good but I was beat today by lots of people who had more constitution than me. It sounds so easy to just push beyond your limits but when you are running in pain it’s very hard.
The medical team was great today. They were on top of my safety at all times, I was very impressed.
Thanks again for reading, I will write a more detailed post in a few days. Please keep the comments coming!
What a difference a day makes!
Thank you so much for the comments, it means the world to me. I am sitting here teary eyed from all the comments. It’s a bit embarrassing as this is definitely a “tough guy” race and crying isn’t really something these guys do.
Yesterday’s blog was probably a bit melodramatic. I can’t read it now, but I was at the lowest point of the race having been on the course for 10+ hours and coming in at sunset.
Today was simply amazing. I finished in 22nd place. I forget my exact time. I started the day off with my daily trip to the medical tent. The doctor told me that I couldn’t run today or tomorrow because of how sick I was. I was given some nausea medicine which I promptly managed to lose in my daze.
I started off the first stage following the doctor orders walking. I came to the first check point in 90th place. I was feeling sick to my stomach similar to the day before. Once I crossed the check point I began adding in some shuffling to my walk. As the miles passed I began feeling better and better. I started passing lots of competitors as my nausea subsided.
By check point two I was feeling pretty good and had moved up to about 60th place or so. I felt like I had ½ the Sahara in my shoe so I stopped for 10minutes to clean out the sand. The doctors at check point two realized I had run some and made sure to check my vitals. They have done a very great job staying on top of things while still letting us push our limits.
The heat started to turn up after check point three and we there were some large hard packed dunes to cross. I added back in some walking to my jog and didn’t pass to many competitors for a few miles. Then out of nowhere some cloud cover rolled in and the temperatures dropped by 20 degrees. I haven’t seen one cloud the entire time I was out here and was pleasantly surprised to say the least.
I began absolutely flying and was holding about a 9 or 9:30 pace. Although that doesn’t sound blazing fast on sand, with a pack and working on my 4th marathon in four days I was very pleased with the pace.
I approached check point three which was on top of a sand dune. I walked for 5 seconds right as I first hit the dune and then began to run up. It was really motivating to hear that I was one of three competitors all day to run up it.
I started to really tear once I left check point three. I caught Deyl about a mile in and we ran together for a few miles. He was doing great looking strong and holding a very steady pace. I was feeling good so I went ahead of Deyl. I even felt so good I began to sprint and at one point when I looked down at my watch I was running 6:30 minute miles. I was on the biggest runners high of my life and had goose bumps all over my body. I felt so strong and so good with the cool weather. As I knew going in heat would be my biggest hurdle not my fitness.
In the last 100 feet I sprinted past a competitor but couldn’t quite catch the guy in 21st. It’s been two hours since I got in and I feel very refreshed and ready to go for the 54 mile day tomorrow. I am praying to the Sahara gods that we get some of the cloud cover we had today, it will help me so much. This race is hard enough without the grueling heat we had the past three days.
My plan for tomorrow is all heat dependent. If the weather is similar as today I will try to run the entire thing and think I can do really well. If it is as hot as its been the past few days my plan is to rest 4-5 hours during the heat of the day. I want to run straight through regardless of the heat but that’s a sure fire way for me to end up attached to an IV in the medical tent.
I consider myself a pretty tough guy but some of these competitors are real warriors and have ten times the constitution I do. One guy has been walking with a broken toe. I cannot imagine how he is able to keep moving. It is taking him 8-10 hours a day to finish which cuts into his recovery time and sleep every night. Yesterday was so much harder to walk than run. I remember when I began researching this race and I thought “worst comes to worst I can walk.” How wrong was I walking is 10 times more grueling than running.
One of my tent mates has had his big toe drilled and drained of fluid since it was infected. I don’t know how he goes, on its truly amazing. He is a Danish guy with the build of Robo Cop.
The competitor in 2nd place pulled out of the race today because of chaffing on his groin. It doesn’t sound too bad, but I have some starting and its real painful. He has been lying at camp with his legs spread eagle all afternoon. Anyways I thought these stories would be enjoyable and I can say without a doubt all those competitors are so much tougher than me.
Beyond these random stories there are countless people in the medical tent every night getting blisters fixed and having their backs taped from chaffing of bags.
I think there are two women in the top 30. I have met some strong willed athletic women, but these girls blow them all out of the water. They are German and Swiss with legs more muscular than mine. One even brought a pack of cigarettes with her. I don’t know why but watching her smoke after every stage really cracks me up.
I realize from reading this everyone must ask why do people do this. I honestly doubt I will do this event again, though it has been an amazing experience. I started training for this six months ago and am in by far the best shape of my life. I am also really enjoying seeing the desert and Egypt in a way I would never experience on a tour bus. It also gives me an appreciate for the rest of my life. When I am back home I am going to really appreciate the simple things in life.
Thank you again for reading! As I said before it means the world to me and is keeping me going. Please keep the comments coming, I will need them.
Thank you for all the comments, it really helps and kept me strong.
Today was the hardest stage and really brutal for me. I woke up feeling very nauseous and took medicine for it at every check point. It took me over 10 hours to finish and I came in 83rd barely ahead of the sunset. I wish I had done better but if I had pushed more I might not have made it. I had to walk most of the day since my stomach felt like I was going to vomit anytime I got moving. Walking is so much harder and wearing on the body than running.
The runners with ultra-experience are really starting to shine in this race. I am starting to realize these stage races are about so much more than running. Most of today’s stage was over soft 200m sand dunes and it was hotter than the previous days. The medical team held me at every check point since I have put myself in the medical tent the past two days. I thought of quitting a few times today and it is so good to hear from everyone, please keep the comments coming.
I have to try to pee and am heading straight to bed. Sorry for the short blog I am wiped. Only two more days. I am looking forward to finishing.
I arrived in Cairo two days ago. The trip was about 24 hours from my place to the hotel and all my flights went smoothly. I haven't drank much alcohol in the past year and went a bit overboard on the wine on my Vancouver Frankfurt leg. I woke up not feeling refreshed and with a pounding headache, very dumb by me!
I am a bit of a travel nerd, and was excited to fly on Lufthansa's first class for the first time. I got lucky with award availability and was able to upgrade 10 days ago from business. I was flying in Lufthansa's older first class and must say I wasn't too impressed. If I had paid full fare for the ticket (~22k) I would have been very disappointed, but the price was right for a few frequent flyer miles! Of all the international premium cabins I have flown I think Virgin Atlantic has the best product, even though there highest class of service is classified as business. Virgin is the only airline I would consider paying full fare for their upper class, I find it to be great value. That said I haven't flown any of the Asian carriers except Asiana airlines and Philippine airlines.
The hotel was about 20 minutes from the airport and when I arrived the car was sniffed with dogs for weapons. Then I had to go through a metal detector and all my luggage was scanned to make sure I wasn't trying to get a bomb into the hotel. It was nice to know that the hotel is secure but very eye opening to what has been going on in the middle east. Here is a random shot of me on the balcony of the hotel.
Yesterday I met some of the race participants and race directors. From talking to the race directors it sounds like it's not going to be as hot as it has been in the past. They were saying it will probably only get up to 110 degrees or so, which is so much more manageable then 120+ degrees. As I have wrote about before heat is what I think is most likely to stop me from finishing. Since my last blog I really cut down on my running and increased my sauna work. At the end I was doing 45 minutes daily in the sauna with 15 minutes of that was spend doing core work, pushups and dips. Its surprising how doing some light working out in 160 degree sauna tires you out. Hopefully it pays off. Here is a random shot of me on the balcony at the hotel.
I was impressed by the other racers and how athletic they all looked. Usually I don't think people look like they would be athletes, but pretty much everyone I have met who is doing the race looks like they are in amazing shape and can really run. Most had shaved heads and veins popping out of every part of their body. For those who haven't seen me in the past week, I shaved my head as well. Hopefully it will help keep me cooler as well. I have had the same haircut since elementary school, so I feel like a shaved sheep with my buzz cut. Here I am right after.
After meeting some people with the race I went back to my room and ziplocked up all my food, electrolytes and laid out my bag. I am bringing 2500 calories a day. I estimate that I will be burning 5000-7000 calories a day, so I will be losing more than a pound a day in weight, not to mention all the liquids I will be losing. From reading other peoples blogs it sounds like lots of people bring to much food and you can scavenge for their leftovers so I am hoping I can get a few hundred extra calories a day from others. I have been cutting out more and more of my amenities and I got my pack down to a very svelte 16.5lbs with no water. This will put me at one of the lightest packs.
Here is a picture of all my gear and food for the seven days.
After packing up I went for an hour run on the golf course. It started off very sluggish, but then some of my mindless top 40's music came on and I found my groove. I am going to change out my music to more mindless pop songs, though I will have to conserve as I only have 15 hours of music on my one ipod (one of the few amenities I brought). The run finished up great, though I was disappointed that I couldn't run outside of the hotel gate and see Cairo because of the recent unrest in the area. One of my favorite things to do when traveling in a new city is just start running and seeing the city by foot. I have so many great memories from those runs.
Today Deyl and I are hopefully going to do some tourist things. I wanted to head to the museum, see the sphinx and the great pyramid. Tomorrow we have a competitor briefing first thing in the morning followed by a gear check. Then we have a four hour drive south west of Cairo to the first stage campsite. Then the following morning at 7:30am we have our first leg. In past years that has been the easiest part of the course, so hopefully I can get most of the miles covered before it gets warmer.
My body has been feeling amazing the past week. I have been really happy with my tapering. I have been getting so many adrenaline rushes just thinking about the race. I love the feeling!
Thanks again for reading and all the support on the blog, I know I am going to need it over the next week. My next update will be after stage one, hopefully everything goes smoothly!
My next entry is going to be from Africa! I am pumped to leave, but having a bit of trouble keeping my running motivation up. Good thing I am tapering! It started raining everyday and I just can’t motivate myself to go for my long runs. That’s okay though as I need to be tapering and I never taper. Once I get in the rhythm of exercising I like doing it consistently. I find that tapering just makes me a bit sluggish on race day, but that’s probably because I have never done it properly. I have never even followed a full 20 week training probably, so that probably has something to do with it.
I am not really sure what my taper plan is but this week I did 36 miles with a slight pack. Next week I am planning 30 miles with no pack and then 10-20 miles the week before the race when I am in Africa.
Last week I went out to Death Valley and did a 3hr, 4.5hr and 3hr run. The first run was an evening/night run when I got in and felt amazing. It started off around 105 degrees but quickly cooled off to the mid 90s. Unfortunately days two and three didn’t go as smoothly and I suffered from the heat. Day four started off great for the first 2.5-3 hours. Then it hit 110 degrees and I got a bit of heat stroke. I also had huge cramps after the heat hit and I was forced to walk, which I could hardly do as the cramps were so bad.
When I went back to my hotel room I couldn’t even get my shoes off as my cramps were so bad. I was having really bad abdominal cramps, so anytime I bent over my stomach would seize up. It looked like something from Aliens where one of my ab muscles would cramp and stick out a few inches from the rest of them. The next morning my abs were sore from contracting randomly. I guess one plus to the cramps is you get a good workout!
I was still suffering after day two, so my run on day three was very hard. I was okay until about 11am when it got up to 105 degrees and the cramping started in again. I was running very slowly to avoid cramping but they still it set in. I also don’t think I drank enough water when I finished my 4.5 hour run the day before and was feeling dizzy and light headed because of it. Since I was out alone I didn’t want to push anymore so I quit after three hours.
During the race I plan to run hard early when it’s cooler and then walk once it hits 100+ degrees. This last trip to Death Valley really showed me that I can’t get behind on electrolytes and hydration. Once I am it’s almost impossible to catch back up. The heat will be the main reason I don’t finish so I plan to really monitor it and take my time when it’s hot. I may also have to spend a few hours in the aid stations when it’s hot to get my core temperature down, rehydrate and catch back up on electrolytes.
I have been very motivated to get in the sauna. Right now I do 45 minutes every day in the ~160 degree sauna. Starting tomorrow I am going to add in some shadow boxing or jogging in place in the sauna to make it even more difficult. Beyond sauna training I don’t know what else I can do to prepare for the heat.
My goal of 45 hours that I set in the last blog is probably a bit to lofty, especially if it gets hot. I am not going to worry about my time going into this race and just be mentally prepared for the heat. That means setting aside speed and just making sure I feel great at all times in the race. If I start to feel the heat at all I need to take a break, as I can go from feeling fine to being totally cramped up and unable to walk in 60 minutes.
The furthest I have ever run in my life is 25 miles, which I have done a few times during my training. I have never actually done 26.2 miles for a true marathon distance. The 50 mile day is going to be really tough, especially with the fatigue from the four days before. That said I am not to worried about the distance, as long as the heat doesn't get me. We will see what I say though when I am at mile 35 and exhausted!
As for preparation, I feel that everything is in place. I know exactly what I am eating, how much of it and when. The only change to my food is that I am brining some salt and vinegar potatoes chips. I just crave them whenever I run for hours, and they have a good calorie to weight ratio. That is the one food item that I don’t think is nutritionally optimal to weight that I am bringing. One other small decision I have to make is on my shoes. I am debating between two pair and will make last minute decision on which to wear. Everything else is all laid out on my guest bed and I plan on packing up my pack next week.
Until next time from Africa!
I have to admit I have been stalking some of the race participants looking at their past fitness results. There are some very impressive athletes signed up for this race. Many participants have incredible track records with countless ultra’s or doing 10+ ironmen. I have been trying to get an idea of what type of pace I will have for this race. It’s easy to sit at home and think I can hang with the top guys who will be running at 9:00-9:30 mile pace. It sounds so easy but the reality is guys who are doing that pace have done countless ultra’s and are lifelong athletes. They didn’t just show up with six months of training but a lifetime.
In Santa Barbara Mike Swan is regarded as one of the top ultra runners. He is a great athlete, especially when he was training very hard ten years ago. To give some idea of how elite the runners are in the Sahara race, Mike finished Western states in just under 24 hours. Ryan Sandes who won a few of these races completed western states in just over 15 hours. The top male, Vincente Juan Garcia Beneito, who is running this Sahara race, actually had a faster time than Ryan by an hour when he did the Gobi race a few months ago. I would guess that Mike Swan in his prime would have finished the Sahara race in about 40 hours.
I’d like to think I am in about as good of shape as Mike was but that’s probably not realistic. Based off these times I would love to finish in less than 45 hours or at a pace of 17min/miles. Doesn’t sound very impressive, but I think this would be an amazing accomplishment for my first ultra marathon. When you look at people finishing this race in sub 40 hours you see some incredible accomplishments on their resumes. It’s pretty rare to see someone come in under 40 hours who hasn’t had a lifetime of endurance training. At the end of the day though just finishing in anytime will be an amazing accomplishment.
If the unfortunate does happen and I don’t finish, I don’t think I will be too disappointed. This has been an amazing journey and regardless of if it ends with me getting bit by a snake on day one and having to pull out or finishing in sub 40 hours I think I will be happy. I am in by far the best shape of my life and have more energy than I have ever had. I feel so strong, like I am on steroids. I have never taken steroids but this is how I imagine they would feel at least. After long 5 hour runs I think no way can I run tomorrow, but then I wake up and I feel refreshed and ready to run. It is such an amazing feeling getting huge adrenalin rushes all the time. It’s a better feeling than any drugs I have ever done! I am surprised with how strong my upper body is from wearing this heavy pack. My core feels stronger than ever. When I go to yoga and we do planks for 2-3 minutes I don’t even feel it while everyone around me is groaning and going to their knees. I often stay up during the rest period for more of a workout, but feeling like a teacher’s pet when I do it! I can also do about 20 pull-ups and about 80 pushups in a minute. I remember a few years ago I couldn’t do two pull-ups! That’s quite an improvement since I don’t really train or do them too often.
This past week has been my biggest week of running ever. In the prior seven days I have run 98 miles all with a 15lbs pack at about a 10.5-11min/mile pace with a 130 heart rate. About 15% was on roads, 15% on trails and the remaining 70% was in very soft sand. Unfortunately in Vancouver there aren’t long sandy beaches but just about a 2.5 mile stretch, so I ran it countless times. I would guess without a pack and on roads I would have covered 130-140 miles at the same heart rate, which is a pretty incredible amount of distance. I feel pretty awesome considering how many miles I ran. I had some slight hip pain but pretty minor all things considered.
This week I am off to Death Valley for my final week of training before tapering. I am not sure how many miles I am going to run this coming week but want to get three big days in a row in the heat. I’d like to do 3 hours my first day, 5 hours my 2nd and 6 hours my 3rd. We will see if my body is okay with it! That may be all I run next week, or I might do one more long run over the weekend.
I have all my gear in order except I may make a change in my shoes and calories that I am taking. On this Death Valley trip I plan to eat 3500-3800 calories a day and see how my body does on fewer calories. I will have 800 calories for breakfast, about 200 cal/hr while running, 800 calories within 1-2 hours of finishing running and 800 calories for dinner. Although 3500 calories sounds like lots, I would require about 6000 on the long running days. Before the trip I am also going to eat 500-800 calories less than I normally do so I go in on a caloric deficit as I am only in Death Valley for three days. Hopefully this will give me some idea if I can do the race on 3000 calories a day or if I need to bring more. From reading others blogs most people don’t eat much by day four or five. I find that when I run all I want to do is eat!
I have also done a few things I thought I never would to prepare for this race. I am brining almost zero amenities. That means no sleeping pad, no tooth brush (I am brining floss though!), no bug spray, only 2 ounces of sunscreen, possibly only 3000 calories a day, minimal warm clothes for the evenings, and only two pairs of socks. I have also gone as far as to shave my legs (hair gets incredibly dirty) and cut my hair very short. I am not sure if I am going to shave my head before the race but I do think it would help with the heat.
Once again thanks for all the support, it means lots to me!
I have so much I want to talk about, it's going to be very hard not to totally nerd out on it all. I’ll try to keep it shorter for the non runners! If any of the other runners have any questions ask away in the comments, I have tried tons of different gear/food and and feel like I have a pretty good idea what works.
Here is a shot of me taking a quick break out on the dunes, in the morning. I hate using imageshack as the pictures disappear after a month or so. If anyone knows a better site let me know!
I had a pretty successful trip to death valley this past weekend, even though I didn't run as far as I wanted. I felt as though I have about 95% of my gear in perfect order and the items I need to switch up are pretty minor or substituting one workable item for a great one. I am actually feeling incredibly prepared for the race in terms or gear and fitness. I found that my body recovered incredibly well day to day. I was even thinking of going for a run today after dong 75 miles last week, but thought I should take a rest day. My legs felt almost completely rested every morning. The one area where I am most concerned is my electrolyte plan.
As not to bore everyone I am going to keep the training part short and sweet. I know whats its like reading a blog and thinking BORING! I did three runs this weekend of 12,18 and 16 miles in 92 degree, 115 and 115 degree heat. The first one went amazing. The 2nd was great until mile 14 when I started to cramp severely. I wanted to do 30 miles, but it was good to see my body shut down in the heat and get some idea of what I need to do to have a better electrolyte plan. Here is a video of my calf after the run where you can see how it convulses uncontrollably.
Day three I ran very slow at the start of the day to try to see if I could avoid the cramps by keeping a slow consistent pace. I also started with three electrolyte pills an hour and an electrolyte drink instead of only the two pills I was taking the day before. Once it hit 115 degrees my body seized up again and I was reduced to almost a walk. The cramps weren’t as bad as the previous day but slowed my pace by about 5 minutes a mile.
I really want to figure out this electrolyte situation as I think I will be able to do amazingly well in this race if I have it sorted. Cramps are definitely my big limiter now. I could see taking off 5 minutes a mile over the entire race if I get a good electrolyte plan. I have been doing lots of reading and am planning another trip to death valley to see if I can have better results. I think I may cut the caffine gels as it saps salts from your body. If anyone has any articles or tips please send them my way. The heat really slows me down, more than most people, as I sweat a huge amount. Here is a picture of me after day three and you can see the salt stains in my shorts. They could stand up on their own!
Last week I did a long run with a diferent pair of socks and got a huge blister on my toe. Luckily for me when I wear my swiftwick socks and my broken in shoes I don't get any blisters. Its pretty amazing with all the running this weekend this one didn't pop. I have an appointment to see my pedicurist, Kimmi, tomorrow. She is so amazing and works wonders on my feet. I gotta admit one thing I love about Ultra training are the massages and pedicures.
I am so fortunate in so many ways, I couldn't imagine the agony of bad blisters. Its pretty crazy that that I don't even notice that bad boy when I run. I have zero issues with so many big problems.
The death valley trip was also great to find out that the sweeter nutrition bars and gels didn't sit well with me. I have decided to go with beef jerk and pemmican bars. I am also taking the sweeter versions for the run for the simple carbohydrates and unsweetened varieties for after as I prefer them. My pre and post race nutrition was great and will be eating lots of chicken tikka, chicken korma, oatmeal with blueberries and almond butter. They all tasted so good and I even found myself craving them as I was running.
I am aiming to have my calories per ounce at about 140, and bring somewhere between 3000 and 4000 calories a day. From reading others blogs most people lose their appetites by day four or five. I won't be able to recreate a race situation like that so I won't know if I will still have one that far into the race. I was eating about 5k-6k calories a day when I was in death valley and could have eaten more. I also intent to front load my calories and eat more the first few days to lighten my pack and keep my strength. I admit it will suck running 50 miles and only have 2000 calories to eat afterwards, but those are the sacrifices you make! Luckily they force you to keep 2000 calories a day, otherwise I wouldn't have any food for days six and seven.
If it only gets to 100-105 degrees during the race I think I will have an amazing performance. If it gets up to 115-120 I think I will be walking during the heat of the day and even laying up in the aid stations. Heres hoping to some relatively cool weather!
I have been meaning to blog for awhile, but haven’t gotten to it. I got a few emails today from friends asking me how my training was going, so I thought I should get on this blog. I meant to buy my own domain and blog there, but now it seems like to much work, so I'll just start here. I want to keep a record of my training and the experience of the race as I have a feeling its going to be amazing. I am doing this race with my good buddy, Deyl Kearin. He first told me about this race two years ago. I remember looking at him and saying that he was insane for even considering it. Then four months ago I went to him and said we should do it, so that’s how we ended up here. For those who don't know, this is a 5 day (technically 7 days but you only run 2k-10k the final two days) 156 mile race through the sahara desert where you carry everything but your own water.
I have read every other blog posted and they are so wonderful. One common theme from every blog is that getting comments from home makes all the diference in the world. I want to hear from as many people as I can when I am out there! I think it will really help me push. So thats another reason I wanted to start this blog. My favorites blogs that I have read are from the people who finish in 70+ hours. When you read there blogs you really feel their pain and wonder how the hell they were able to finish. Some were very unprepared and came at the last minute. I don't want to pick any out but some are incredible stories of overcoming insurmountable odds. (Look for the one where a guy showed up last minute to surprise his Mom!)
As the race gets closer I find myself being more and more consumed by it. Today I ran 20 miles in 3.5 hours. 7 miles were to Jericho beach in Vancouver and the remaining 13 were going up and down the same 3 mile stretch of soft sand beach over and over. The girls playing volleyball thought I was insane, but I guess I am kinda that weird running guy now. I have been wearing a 20 pound pack to train but lightened the load to 15lbs today. I held a heart rate of 140 bpm. It was the first overcast day in Vancouver so I opted not to wear my ski gear running. I have been trying to get adjusted to the heat so I have been layering up. Between wearing less cloths and having 5 less pounds on my back I felt like I was flying today. Although 10min miles doesn't sound too fast, it’s not bad for ankle deep sand with a pack. After the run I went to the sauna for 1/2 hour at 160 degrees. I have been doing a badwater sauna training schedule to prepare for the heat. I think the heat is going to be my biggest problem in the Sahara.
A month ago Deyl and I went out to Death Valley for three days for a training session. The car registered 122 degrees and the Death Valley website said the sand dunes we were running on were 125-128 degrees. The heat was so debilitating I could hardly run. We were going at 15 minute miles and after about 45 minutes I would have to stop and walk. I drank so much water that my stomach was full but I was feeling dehydrated. I did learn that electrolytes are much better to be taken in pill form. In the heat I had trouble balancing water intake with electrolytes. With pills you can get exactly what you need when you need it. Deyl did much better as he had been living in Costa Rica and was more adjusted to the heat. When we got back from Death Valley I did lots of reading about heat acclimation. Luckily for me you can adjust relatively quickly. I have been doing some type of heat training everyday (sauna, bikram yoga and running in ski gear) and for the past week have been following the program on the badwater website.
The race the planet staff say it can get up to 122 degrees Fahrenheit in the Sahara. This seems surprising to me as the hottest day every recorded in Egypt is 122 degrees, but regardless being more prepared for the heat will help me. Deyl and I leave for our 2nd Death Valley next weekend for another three day trip. I am planning on doing everything as I would in the race. The weather is forecast to be 110 or 111 degrees in stovepipe wells, so it will probably be 113-115 out on the dunes. There is so much I have thought about for this race, it’s hard to try share it all at the start! Over the three days in Death Valley I want to run 10-15 miles the first and at least 20 miles days two and three.
On today's run I really dialed in my racing nutrition for the first time. I added in some caffeine gels which I thought really helped me. I never have caffeine and eat an insanely healthy diet. I will write another post about nutrition and my diet since this is already getting long. I also got my gaiters figured out and for the first run had zero sand in my shoes. I will explain what I did in the next post as I think it could really help some competitors with size 12+ feet.
This week I ran 70 miles in mostly soft sand with 20lbs pound pack, except for today when I took a 15lbs pack. Next week I want to do 80 miles in sand. Then I am going to dial it back to 60 miles as I have had three big weeks. Then up to 85-90 depending on how I feel. Then hopefully get two 100 mile weeks before I start a two week taper. This plan could change at a moment’s notice as I don't have a coach and run when I want too. I have been running pretty much every day and have to force myself to take days off. I must say I am having fun!