Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Happy July 4th...and possibly the most insane race I've ever done...

The other day, I saw a story describing how Allie Ostrander, fresh off her NCAA championship in the steeplechase, went back home to Alaska and destroyed the field in a local race.

And the memories came flooding back....

July 4th in Seward means the annual Mt Marathon race. It's not a marathon, more like a 5k, and a tradition spanning 90 years. It's been called the 'oldest, fastest, hardest, toughest...shortest' race in world.

Shortest? So what's the big deal?

Here's what: the course is just nuts. No other description makes sense.  3 miles on an out and back course, with three THOUSAND feet of elevation change. Meaning half the race is straight up.

The numbers are actually worse; the prime elevation gain happens over the course of a mile. Vertical rise of 2,675' in 0.9 miles. For comparison's sake, the final nasty push of the South Sister climb is 2.3 miles and 3000' of climbing. So, Mt Marathon is over twice as steep.



And it's a race, so you're less inclined to stop and enjoy the view while the masses leave you behind.

So why do I know this much?

Because I'm a proud alum!  Let me take you back to 1989...

I was a young, impressionable, bullet-proof Navy officer onboard the USS CALIFORNIA (CGN-36). Having reported a few months prior, I was designated the Reactor Electrical Division Officer (RE Div), responsible for leading the electricians who helped keep our two nuclear reactors humming (and intact).

Underway on nuclear power: I'm in this picture somewhere

In July of that fateful year, my ship made port in Seward for a few days of R&R. While walking downtown on the 4th, I heard about some crazy race that was happening that day, so I wandered to the starting line for the scoop. In talking with the race organizer, I found out he was offering free entry to any Navy personnel.

Hmmmmm.....

I've been underway for two months. Meaning, I'm not exactly in race shape. Far from it.  (Later that year, I was actually running laps on the main deck when the captain lit up the PA system with word that the SF earthquake just hit our home port. I remember stopping on the bow of the ship while he told us the news).

But back to Alaska, and an offer to enter this crazy race: Did I mention I'm bulletproof?

I'm in. Except one little problem...I'm nearly two miles from my running shoes; they are in the Junior Officer bunkhouse back on the ship. And I have an hour. And Uber doesn't exist yet.

Yep. Jog the two miles to the ship, get my shoes, jog the two miles back. About 15 minutes to spare.







 And how steep can the hill be, anyway?


Real steep. Insanely steep.  My ship was moored to the large pier on the left, above the small boat basin. The race started somewhere on the right side of the picture. Nice warmup, eh?

Then the race began. About a mile was through the city, then it headed up into the woods.


My goal quickly transitioned from "run hard" to "steady" to "I hope like hell I'm not on a gurney tonite." I believe I coughed up a burger and fries from a decade prior.

This race was not for the faint of heart or self-aware...fortunately, I was neither of these. Uphill was brutal, downhill was terrifying. I don't remember snow in 1989, just a lot of loose rock on the upper reaches. The fastest racers seemed to be taking a step every 15' on the way down.


From Lew Freedman's column in the Anchorage Daily News the next day: "This mountain has a personality disorder. It has a mean streak. It enjoys making people suffer...the wrong grip will slice open your hand as efficiently as a Veg-O-Matic."

No, I did not tell my mother of my holiday plans ahead of time.

Your not-so-atypical finisher who had some issues on the descent...



 As my fitness level quickly convinced me that I wouldn't be on the podium that day, I concentrated HARD on keeping my feet underneath me for that nasty descent. A few close calls and very wobbly legs, but no disasters like this guy...

Photo by Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News

After what seemed like (and actually was) hours, I was back on flat ground. Shirt shredded, feet shredded, just a hot mess. The next two pictures are actual pictures, as in 'film.' 

Shirt in tatters, shoes destroyed. Just me, my shorts, and socks....


But all limbs still connected and intact. Call it a win. 

Great footage of this year's race. 

10 min documentary

Scratch one big one off the bucket list!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Baby, it's HOT outside!!

In Sacramento...summertime...110 degrees....why???

Because track meet, that's why. Outdoor National Championships, top three in each event go to World Championships in London.



Before I began my journey south, a nice 48F morning yields a pleasant 12 mile run that turns into 9 when my calf cramps hard. Lots of limping on the way back.

Ready to head for a leisurely breakfast with Mom, followed by a pleasant drive to the airport, a flight to Portland, then Sacramento.

Nope. Check email. Flight canceled.

Hmmm.

Call airline. They graciously rebook me on a flight that arrives at midnite. I counter with an offer to drive myself to Portland to catch the second flight. Nope, rebookings have to originate at the same departure airport, even though the cancellation is their fault. After some good-natured haggling, I'm leaving Central Oregon for Seattle, then Portland, then Sacramento. With tight connections.

Decide to bring my own lunch instead of spending $20+ on substandard airport fare. Find a Starbucks, but it's not coffee I'm after...




Condiments!!!!! Like salt, please? No?  

Hard boiled eggs in a beer cup, because why not? 
Eggs without sodium are just fine.

More delays in Seattle: this isn't a good sign.



Zoe's National Honor Society ceremony.


Nothing to do with this blog, but since I'm the one writing...

15 minutes after leaving Seattle, my Portland departure begins boarding. I silently implore the pilot to punch it; not much else I can do. Upon landing, the first class cabin lets me run off first...actually, I'm second, behind an older woman in a shawl and flip-flops who is similarly time-afflicted. I made my flight, and I hope she made hers, though I ran much faster....However, my balky calf objected loudly.

Supposedly the delays were due to 'traffic.' Before I become too upset at the idea of unforseen aircraft taking up airspace, I remember an air traffic simulator I tried years ago while working the night shift. Lots of planes converging, and I had to keep them separated. A lot harder than it sounds when 3 dimensions and time are involved. Hats off to air traffic controllers everywhere.

Air National Guard F-15 landing at PDX.


Leaving PDX.

Nice quiet ride south.

Mt. St. Helens, peacefully dormant today.



My Portland Marathon nemesis, the St. John's Bridge. Hellacious climb at 17 miles.





Portland traffic stinks. It's 2:20 in the afternoon, and it's already bumper to bumper crossing into Vancouver. Urban planning fail; a 2 lane bridge feeder from 3-4 lanes is called your funnel effect. Or colic; take your pick. Serious and regular blockage.



What I thought was Mt Shasta was actually Diamond Peak,



Which means this was next...
Crater Lake


Finally Shasta makes an appearance.




North Central California is a whole lotta empty.



Off the plane in Sacramento, and a balmy 104F. Enough with the 'dry heat' jokes, people: we'll stay in triple digits the next few days.

Waiting for the hotel shuttle. An Uber driver parks in an unauthorized spot, so the shuttle driver lays on the horn like he's in Times Square. Turf war, anyone?

Officials meeting at the track.



The guy on the right is Andrew Valmon, member of the Jury of Appeals. I compliment him on his jewelry collection: he won Olympic Gold in the Barcelona Games 4x400m relay. And he still looks fast.



The PT area, with lots of compression therapy.





Next morning, I take a walk to Walgreens for more sunscreen. I don't understand why this next product is necessary here.



Just walk outside!

This woman was jogging. Look at her early morning attire...long tights?



There's a nice breeze. At 0630. It will be gone very soon.

A picture in the Sacramento newspaper. Any guesses?

Burning Man, the early years.


Today was the 40th anniversary of the release of Smokey and the Bandit. Absolutely loved Snowman Jerry Reed in that movie. To his dog: "Hold onto your ass, Fred."

Roommate Ishmael forgot his reading glasses, so we're off to The Dollar Store.



I beg him to get the pink ones.

Snacks at the broiling track included cream-filled donuts.





Lunch was creamy basil pesto pasta. Not good for the conditions, and even worse for your (lactose) intolerant blogger.  Dinner was stuffed baked potatoes. Baked! It's already hot enough, people!!

It's so hot that the sprinters are using water to cool off the track while in the starting blocks, to keep from burning their hands.



Literally 174F on the infield. Ugh.  And for our adoring spectators? Metal bleachers.

Gotta love these trackside posters:
A 4:29 mile? I thought he was a golfer!


During a break in the action, we're eating lunch at the track. Head umpire Bo decides to quiz us on track and field history. Oh, Bo, you've picked the wrong guy.

1st guy under 4 minutes for the mile was Bannister. Who was the second?

Easy. John Landy.

First American sub-four? Easy. Don Bowden. Bo said Wes Santee...Pause. No, I don't think Wes ever got under 4. I bet Bo a drink....and I won. Wes ran 4:00.5 as his best.

First indoor sub-four? Pause. North Carolina guy. Partial credit: Jim Beatty

First pole vaulter over 15'. Easy: Cornelius Warmerdam!   Someone else yelled Don 'Tarzan' Bragg: nope.

(Look, I TOLD you I read a lot as a kid).

First sub-10 second 100m. Easy: Jim Hines, 1964 Olympics

Then I threw one out: First sub-4 mile on American soil. Partial credit to Tom the Starter, who said a UO guy from Australia....Jim Bailey.

Did I mention the weather?


Not sure why people are calling me a desert rat...


Hey, whatever works.

The heat does strange things to people...


'Passive Thermal Control' is a NASA term to define a slow spaceship roll that evens out solar heating on the craft. Also known as 'Barbecue Mode,' I adopt similar strategy, and it seems to help; keep moving in circles, and the sun can't overcook me as easily.

Two hour break mid-afternoon. I head back to the hotel for a cold shower, so good. And so needed.

Olympic Decathlon Champion and current announcer Dan O'Brien brings his 3 year old son onto the track. I refuse him entry, citing the lack of hip numbers. Dan is not amused (well, maybe just a little bit).

Interesting photo:


That small half-circle is my head at 4:30pm with the sun behind me. This means that henceforth I will be gaining more shade. Happy boy!

In the 400 hurdles, I'm stationed outside of lane 8 at the first flight. Immediately after the gun, a photographer pokes me in the back and says I'm blocking her view. I nearly threw her camera in the trash. Don't distract me for the 5 seconds I need to be watching, lady!

While waiting for the 100m finals, I see Collier Lawrence near the start. She and her sister Mel ran well in the steeplechase yesterday. They also live in Bend and frequent my favorite gym.

Men's 800m; phenom Donavan Brazier, current NCAA record holder, gets written up by yours truly for stepping on the line after the start. That's the second time in three years that I've had to bounce him. As helicopter dad Lavar Ball would say, 'stay in your lane!'  The referees overrule me, citing lack of clear video evidence. Brazier behaves in the final and wins his first national title.

BTW, Brazier destroyed this guy's collegiate record from 51 years ago.


Yes, that shirt says Jim Ryun: first high schooler to run a sub-4 minute mile, way back in 1964
Tennessee's upstart Christian Coleman is the new owner of the collegiate 100m record with a spicy 9.82, fastest in the world this year. Halfway thru the final, he has a small gap on the field and is about to take it. 149 year old Justin Gatlin, 2004 Olympic Champion, says 'no you won't either' and runs him down. 165 year old Bernard Lagat, 14 time Olympian, hands out the awards. Score one for us old guys!

Women's 5k: at the bell, it's 2-time Olympian Molly Huddle alongside American record holder Shannon Rowbury, both wily veterans. And young kid named Shelby Houlihan, who takes them to the cleaners with a 62 final lap. Shelby made the last Olympic team and is on fresh legs, while the other two had other races yesterday. Still...Shelby is quite the assassin.

Look at those eyes! Cold blooded.

Men's 5k: at the bell, Chelimo is running away with it. The race for second includes stud Ryan Hill, stud Ben True, and babyfaced Eric Jenkins. A torturous 4th place at the Olympic Trials last year, and a collegiate career of finishing second to Edward Cheserek at Oregon, EJ is cursed with bad timing. Except that near-Olympic berth got him noticed, and he ran some huge races across the globe last summer. Today, he's yet another precocious youth showing blatant disregard for his elders, as he rocks the final 400 in 55 and makes his first national team.

Next morning: the tablecloth in the hospitality area.

 Translation: no cleanup from the night before. Ugh.

 Here's NBC on NBC...


I like this man's shirt.



Aric Van Halen (son of Alex) comes close but no cigar in the steeplechase semi. Never fear: his family has a pretty good fallback plan.

Olympic Champion Shot Putter Ryan Crouser unleashes the longest throw in the world since 2003 to win another title. His Master of Finance degree will come in handy when he counts his latest bonus check.

The award for 'Best Legs on the Track' (besides mine) goes to Oregon sprinter Kyree King. The guy has cables, pure and simple.


Suds has a healthy appetite
Shot putter Raven Saunders recovers nicely from her disastrous 5th at NCAAs to win, beating out Olympic Gold Medalist Michelle Carter. Raven's smile is wider than her shoulders.

The 400m hurdlers are in the blocks, and there's a party of some kind occurring on the (quite) adjacent fieldhouse balcony. It looks and sounds like a bachelor party watching the Derby or something: the folks are certainly not watching the track. I roar, "Quiet on the balcony!" They humbly comply.

Starting Line Clerk Anthony did a great job keeping the meet on schedule



Me (to a meet operations volunteer): "Does it seem cooler today?"
Him: "Sure does!"
Me: "Know why? Your fly is at half mast."

Possibly the story of the meet: Sara Vaughn, 31, mother of three kids, makes her first national team after years of trying. What an incredible reaction, and well deserved: she picked up 2-3 spots in the final 200m with a fabulous closing kick. Then she suffocated her hubby with an airborne hug of violent proportions. Well done!

A girl finishes the junior steeplechase, proceeds to empty the contents of her throat and sinuses, then turns pale. Only because she realizes she nearly sprayed me down. I smiled at her: no harm, no foul.

Robby Andrews is 4th with 500 to go in the 1500. I say to myself, he's got this. And he does, unleashing the most violent kick in the business to take down the Olympic champion. Robby usually finds himself too far back when it's time to finish. Today, he was right there.

Couple of spectators near my post are roasting in the triple digit humidity, and they look miserable, having forgotten their sunscreen. I offer up my SPF 100 and gain two new friends.

Kid in the junior 1500 unleashes a hellacious sprint at the bell. And then he dies on the backstretch. I realize it's the same kid who sprinted the first laps of the 5000 and then faded like an old t-shirt. His coach needs to have a sitdown and teach some basics.

Head Marshal Rory's lunch, off the track: no time for a five course meal!



Really hot, again. I volunteer to check the steeplechase water pit depth after every event (including non-running ones).

As the finish line umpire, I have a radio for communicating around the track. As of today, the score: is: Radios 2, Nick 0

Translation: my first radio stopped working completely. I accidentally dropped the second radio into a water bucket but quickly shut it off and pulled the batteries. After an hour of drying it out, I'm back in business. But maybe I'll stick to smoke signals and carrier pigeon.

Three days of 100F heat and three nights of minimal sleep has wiped out me and roommate Ishmael. We forego a fancy dinner in favor of something casual and quick:  a local joint that has some kind of Mexican bloody Mary drink with a 40oz Corona...



No, we didn't drink this: I won't need that much help falling asleep. And I need to be up for a 0545 shuttle ride so I can watch race walkers go 20km. Caffeine will be in order.

Race walk course: a 1km loop circled 20 times

Next morning:
After the walkers finish, I hustle back to the hotel. Not wanting to sit at the track for 2.5 hours, I squeeze in an easy three mile run to loosen the legs up. Cruising down an asphalt path, I hear some runners coming up behind me, so I figure I'll be sociable. Then I look...

Figures. It's Craig Engels and his buddies.

Craig missed the 1500m team by two hundreths of a second yesterday, brutal finish. When I told him I'm an umpire, he asks if I could pull some strings for him. Sure, I'll talk to my people.

I told him that Robbie Andrews isn't worth a damn if Craig ever has to pay for a meal again. Translation: I mentioned earlier that Robbie Andrews won the race with a monster sprint. The rest of the story is that Craig enabled that finish; he and Robbie were getting gapped with 300 to go. Craig opened it down the backstretch and went to 11 (Spinal Tap reference, of course), dragging Robbie up to the leaders and a big victory. Prolific Tour de France sprinter Mario Cippolini never had such a good lead-out.

Cipollini in typical form...
Craig asked if I was working today, and I told him I just returned from the race walk. He immediately morphed from runner to walker. I laughed and said he might just have a future in that sport.

Later at the track, I run into him.


I love track.

Hurdler Bershawn "Batman" Jackson retired today. Adam "Batman" West died last week...I'm not liking this trend.

The money shots post-meet....




Hot meet. Great meet.

Our work here is done...driver, the hotel please.


It's 4:30pm, and I could fall asleep right now. But first, some chicken tortilla soup...




On the shuttle to the airport...this guy:



Discus champ Mason Finley. The van becomes a whole lot smaller with him inside.

Then there's this guy:



His shirt says, "No mistakes. Only happy accidents." And a picture of painter Bob Ross.

One final indignity...flying north, window seat on the right side, sun beating down on already crispy skin, and no window shade. After four days in a furnace, will the madness ever end?

(ok, so my prose isn't quite on par with, say, Pat Conroy's. Give a brother a break).

I love track.