Monday, August 6, 2018

Race Report: Obligatory Ass Pun Goes Here, Con't

Some of you, like myself, have probably been waiting for this for almost a whole year.  

My new love in my life, Marsha

Don't worry, you won't be disappointed.

In case you didn't read about the last time this happened (seriously, you totally should have), I had resolved to rerun my burro race because I didn't feel that I had executed particularly well last year, literally right off the get-go.  No altitude training, no pre-race burro training, and I pretty much couldn't handle my burro right off the line.  Things escalated pretty quickly after that.

I made sure this year was different.  You could almost say my preparation was a little overkill:

  • I flew down to meet my new steed for this year, Marsha, on Cinco de Mayo (no relation)/Derby Day (potential relation).  Yes, this was the same Marsha from last year who I drove on the back half of the course but this time I would be leading.  I bagged a couple of 14ers that weekend but on the 6mi training run later, Marsha still remembered me and she was quite behaved.  I did notice that she would graze whenever we stopped (important later).
  • Started doing Intermittent Hypoxia Training so I wouldn't pass out right off the start.  
  • Instead of bagging 14ers prior to the race, I entered a 5k Llama Race instead, taking place the day prior to the Burro Race in the same venue.  I wanted to see how far I could take my heart rate at altitude, instead of doing some slow hike up to 14k multiple times last year.  
That being said, there were a few things that weren't ideal--I had raced a 100miler only a week out so my immune system had shut down and I had developed a case of bronchitis (likely exacerbated by a ton of inhaled granite dust), which would make for a hilarious driving voice.  My legs felt ok though as I had taken it easy during the week, but I definitely was sounding hoarse. 

I totally entered the llama race thinking it'd be a decaf version of a burro race--a shorter and faster course, lighter animal, much better hugs.  The setup was novel--I had pre-registered online, and after bib pickup, those of us city folk who needed an animal were issued a poker chip to cash in with one of the folks who did bring extra llamas.  There were different colored chips for runners and walkers so owners could issue llamas according to their pace, and I ended up at a trailer with too many walkers and not enough runners, picking up an overly-social llama named Luigi.    

homeboy really loves hugs.  also, those eyelashes.
I had about an hour to kill after I called dibs on Luigi so I walked him up and down Front St. to figure out his habits--he was kind of like a dog, pretty hell bent on sniffing human, llama and alpaca asses, but I found his lighter weight made it easier to control than with a burro.  Children had an incredibly calming effect on him and he was incredibly receptive to hugs and posing for photos, and I'm not going to lie--it did cross my mind that he was probably my most effective wingman ever.  

The race format was a different from that of the burro race--you start at the top of Front St. pretty much at the gates of South Park City, run a couple hundred metres back downhill to the Hand Hotel and saddle your llama like it's a tri, then continue proceeding south to the 285 and then looping back north on a course with ~7 water crossings, finally rejoining the burro course race at the top of South Park City and then coming back to the Hand Hotel.  I knew Luigi was easily distracted so I knew that my race placement would likely be determined by how quickly I could get his saddle set and ergo--I would likely need to throw down a sprint right off the bat.    

there wasn't much of a start line but I seeded myself close to the front of the pack, literally right behind a runner without a llama who was with us for some reason (there was a charity team event proceeding after the competitive pack race so maybe she was a little early).  there was a trailer bottlenecking part of the street on my left but I was hugging the right, and I thought if I was able to get this chick out of the way I should be able to get myself in a pretty good position to get to my saddle first.

couple things.
1. this would not last. 
2. why i have my tongue out is beyond me.
3. thanks Karin!
nobody could see down the street as spectators were still having trouble getting off the road, and as a result the starting gun was quite abrupt and almost unexpected [for me].  Luigi took care of bodychecking the one lady in my way, and I was able to get to my saddle rather quickly.  He was antsy from the pace I threw down but this was exacerbated by some other racer's llama losing his shit and backing into Luigi just as I was about to clip him in, and the entire saddle and pack fell off his back.  thankfully a spectator saw my predicament and came over to hold his lead while I got my shit together and I probably burned a good minute getting my entire pack on him.  not sure why i had zero chill over fifteenth place or so in what was definitely a training run but I kept the sprint going down Front St.

FULL EXTENSION (thanks Karin!)

there was a bottleneck once we turned back onto the 9 but once the trail opened up I was able to overtake around 3-4 racers.  we got bottlenecked again at the first water crossing, and that was when I first noticed Luigi would stop midway through the crossing as he didn't like my pace, and it would take a solid yank on the lead for him to stumble forward and for him to get another foot in the current.  we got bottlenecked again as we started our first hill but that opened up to a wide ridgeline and I had plenty of room to maneuver.  Luigi would have none of it though as pack mentality was starting to set in and none of the llamas were now inclined to change up the order.  I was repassed by one chick wearing a hilarious 'Llamaborghini' [sic] shirt but by that time full-on single track had started and the order was pretty much set.  

from there it pretty much turned into a wrestling match with Luigi--he defended his position well but we lost the chick in front of us with about 3/4 mi to go, and Luigi's behavior was getting more and more aggressive (lowered head on a full stop) at water crossings.  Even the last quarter mile, which was a straight shot back to the Hand Hotel, took me a good five minutes dragging Luigi down the road.  others had appeared behind me and I was passed by one team in the later event but still managed to drag Luigi to an 11th place finish.  

forty minutes later, luigi has suddenly run out of fucks to give.  (thanks Jo!)
when I got clear of the finish line, Luigi came to a dead stop in the middle of the street.  I tried unsaddling him to get him closer to the trailer to no avail, and even the owner couldn't figure it out without luring him with a bucket of alfalfa.  turns out i picked a tired llama (or maybe i worked him too hard emotionally prior to the race), but i was still grateful for the opportunity to stretch out my arms and legs and lungs.  i did notice my legs had trouble with some seizing on a late sprint that was very close in feeling to attempting to sprint with Smokey last year in an unacclimatized state, which seemed a little odd as i was able to sprint faster earlier in the race, but otherwise this told me my hypoxia training was probably running out and i should watch my start pace the next day.  

(sorry on the length of that race report for a 5k.  i actually only clocked about 2.65mi.  we'll now return you to the regularly scheduled programming.)

the remaining day was spent on playing with fire and drinking way too much alcohol because drinking with friends you only see at these events is a rare opportunity, but I burned it off by helping shift Marsha and her friends over from the fairgrounds to a yard closer to Front St. so we wouldn't have to worry about jockeying for trailer parking in the morning.  I had a late lunch because of a food order fuckup at the local brewery but with the race being at 1030h the next day, i didn't mind eating dinner closer to 9pm.  

i got to the start line for 0730h and after helping my Cali friends with preparing their donkeys they drove all the way from SoCal, I went to get my bib and get my saddle weighed.  Marsha was a smaller donkey than Smokey so her saddle was a little different; her saddlebags sat closer to her front legs whereas Smokey had larger bags centered between his legs.  After saddling Marsha, I killed the remaining time by helping my friends from Wisconsin last year get set up as well--Ryan had Marsha last year and would be racing Natasha, Ben had Bandit last year and would be racing Alice, and Ben's brother, Chris, would be racing Smokey.  I told Ben and Chris that Alice was Smokey's girl and that they'd go faster if they hung out together, while my friend Caz had told me Marsha and Natasha were trail sisters based on her training run experience, so it seemed like Ryan and I would be spending yet another burro race together.  

There would be a few things I would do differently though--I left my vest at home and  stashed all my shit in the saddlebags this year, including a bag of carrots I may or may not have fed to Marsha prior to the race to get her to stop returning to the corral where she spent the night.  I also brought a jacket for inclement weather instead of an anorak that stayed in my saddlebag to lessen the chance I would trip up in it at the start.  

Ryan said he knew better than to go balls out this year and so we stayed closer to the back but Ben dared us to come join him and Chris at the we did.  We seeded ourselves with Ben/Alice and Chris/Smokey going side-by-side and Ryan and I right behind.  We were next to a giant horse-sized donkey named Charlie (seriously, he was definitely 15 hands high), and much as I did with half an hour to the start--all our donkeys started shitting nervously with a couple minutes to go.  On top of that, someone's mini horse saddle malfunctioned in that window and the horse threw a fit, causing quite a panic in the vicinity.

Best.  Start line.  Ever.  

I wore my Mechanix gloves to start this year, fully expecting Marsha to give me a hard time with her halter but once the gun went off she didn't resist my dumb slow-as-shit pace and went with it.  There was a pretty decent headwind pushing back on the uphill to the 9 so despite getting passed by numerous racers, I told myself they were all short-course's and I kept with a comfortable pace with Ryan behind me doing the same.  I let go of Marsha's halter once we started cresting downhill and gave her a little bit more room to trot but surprisingly she had no impulse to sprint, probably because we were sufficiently mid-pack.  

Marsha wondering if I'm actually picking up my feet or not
slow rip up the 9, from Taz's view.
I lost Ryan once I got to the ditch towards CO-1 probably because I was celebrating how I wasn't dead yet by running faster, and in a complete turn of events from last year--my HRM strap was not around my waist and I had no reason to stop to catch my breath.  I let go some more of Marsha's lead and she responded by kicking it up a notch and soon we were catching up to more runners.  We stumbled across Chris and Smokey heading the opposite direction, indicative of him losing control of Smokey at some point, but we met at the very place he was supposed to reenter the course so I told him of Smokey's affection for the ladies and that he was welcome to come hang with me.  

I also apologized for not being able to work both altitude and a headwind but Chris didn't mind and we kept the parade going for quite some time, passing Dave/Taz who I knew were on the short course and starting to chase Jeff/Willy.  The headwind had quite a dehydrating effect on me so I asked Chris if we could take a walk after the first aid station on CO-12 roughly five miles in for me to grab a sip and some salt pills; he agreed as he didn't mind the break.  We quickly reclaimed our position against Dave/Taz, Jeff/Willy and now Charlie, the latter to which I noticed had an antagonistic effect against Marsha.  Chris/Smokey fell back because Chris had wore his hydration pack against his skin and under his singlet, and was trying to readjust it on the fly.  I waited for him once prior to Smokey losing his shit, and elected to leave him behind as Marsha was still driving Taz hard.  Willy and Charlie fell behind too, with Willie insistent on investigating the ditch instead of running.  I got to the short course turnaround (mi7.5) with only Taz behind me and after passing less than seven short course racers on their return trip, so I elected to wait for someone to help drive Marsha further onwards (and knowing there would be a water feature up ahead), which took roughly 3-4 minutes.  The volunteers were glad as they rarely have a chance to interact with donkeys during the race so I didn't mind the wait.  
shuffling through CO-12
Turns out though that Marsha did though, as once Willie and Charlie caught up, Marsha was very pissed I interrupted her grazing time and uncharacteristically refused to hang onto the two of them.  Willy and Charlie quickly disappeared up the road as I slowly came to terms that I had fucked up again--I was now reduced to dragging my donkey past the short course turnaround at 20min miles, consistent with last year.  I had averaged 5mph up until now, and I knew for sure I was not DFL, but it was still a little frustrating that I was reliving a moment I had tried so desperately to avoid.  

Marsha was still moving way more than Smokey did last year, but I couldn't quite figure out what was her problem.  She seemed attracted by the creek that ran parallel to CO-12, but once I took her to some water set out by neighbors, she would refuse to drink and decided to eat the grass next to the water pan instead.   I also noticed my lead was shifting the halter a little too much to the side, but decided against readjusting it (and effectively setting her free briefly) mid-race.  On one occassion she banked hard into the ditch to attempt to graze but I elected to finally apply a pressure release knot on her, which got her back into the middle of the road.  Out of fucks to give, I gave her three carrots hoping she would associate not-grazing with reward (vs. stopping with reward).  

Thankfully that was the only time that happened but I still ended up entering the lollipop circuit at a blistering 20+ min/mi pace.  They had coke so given my pace I took it full strength, in the face of our slow pace on a hot day.  Once again I didn't see any long course runners heading the opposite direction on the way home so I knew I was still doing decent, but Marsha was now in the running for the 'worst drag chute ever' award.  To distribute the stress, I wrapped her lead around my waist before putting a modest amount of slack over my shoulder, forming a triangular facet to concentrate the force applied on the halter.  

Sure enough I was able to sight another racer once the hill leading to the pass started.  It was a racer with a hydration pack, and his donkey was taking intermittent stops, although I'm partly convinced he may have been waiting for me to join him so we could drive each other's donkeys easier and with less effort.  I caught up to him shortly after passing a photographer on horseback, and it turned out the racer had been facing the same issues I was, so we elected to stick together for as long as possible.  

The dividends of running with [Other] Chris/Josie driving us from behind would not be apparent for some time though, as our pace didn't actually change once we were together; we just felt less resistance from our respective steeds.  The headwind was getting to ludicrous levels now and we knew we would be in a world of hurt once we got out of the bowl to the top of the pass, and as a result none of us were particularly keen on going faster than a jog.  To fuck with us though, Marsha and Josie both showed no hesitation at the water crossing and did not require intervention like it did with Smokey and Doc and Marsha last year, which completely blew our minds.  But once the trail yielded to cutting across a meadow, Marsha suddenly became hellbent on eating the entire field.  I had to keep my lead short and above my shoulder to keep her head up and away from the grass, but even then Marsha would occasionally win that fight, much to Chris' chagrin (/bewilderment that she could eat so damn much).  

The winds were pushing 50mph as we started ascending the rockwall towards Mosquito Pass Road, and I had to flip my trucker hat according to wind direction, but I was able to hear Willy being driven, despite not being able to see Jeff.  Once we climbed out we were able to see Charlie going the other way so it was comforting to know that I had almost made up that brief intermission at mi7.5.  My glutes were burning so I sat myself down in a puddle, and the relief was amazing in the wind; the only problem was that I had got my left hand wet and it was slowly going numb in the face of me not wanting to go into my bag and put something on.  

Chris and I grinding up to the pass
It was definitely 60mph gales at the top of the pass (I learned later that the wind ripped fourth place's sunglasses off his face), and I pretty much had to communicate with the marshal there on what my flasks needed via hand signal.  He directed me to go around the Fairplay/Leadville directional sign at the top of the pass to mark the start of the descent while he dealt with it, and even then Chris was having trouble talking to Josie with all the noise.  Nothing an ass slap couldn't solve though.  

ring-around-a-rosie around the sign
 I apologized for not wanting to stay longer and thanked the volunteers for testing how much wind their Jeep Wrangler could stand at the top, and once the descent started Marsha and Josie starting pushing it back to 10min/mi.  (Donkeys are known for not being directionally challenged, and they may pick up the pace once they know they're going home.)  The pace wasn't consistent and Marsha would slow once Josie got too far back, but it was reassuring they were still in this fight, and to not see any other racers down in the bowl.   Because of the wind, this was hilariously the first time in over an hour I could maintain an actual conversation with Chris.  

We kept Charlie in sight for the most part as we descended past the CNN crews near London Mill, but we were also unintentionally fucking with his racer as we'd tease him with some jenny driving power and get to within 20' of him a total of three times before easing off for reasons.  The first time, Josie got stuck negotiating some rocks so I stopped Marsha at a switchback to regroup.  The second time, Josie somehow managed to biff it and drew blood on her kneecaps (which drew a chuckle from Chris as he thought it looked hilarious from behind) but it was ok because there apparently was some sort of corresponding adrenaline rush.  The third time it was Marsha giving up but in a first, she yielded to Josie coming up on the right side and leading us right behind Charlie.  

finally running again
The six of us ended up at the end of the loop (i.e. 7.5mi remaining) pretty close to each other; Charlie's racer had to hand something off to some crew while I took another shot of coke; Chris didn't realize there was coke so he had to turn around.  I told Chris I'd walk ahead of him as I liked my chances better with Josie instead of Charlie; Marsha would prove this to be correct once Charlie attempted to pass us and Marsha tried to buck Charlie twice in the face.  What a diva.  

Chris/Josie came up in short order and we got the shuffle going again; we bid Charlie and his racer the best of luck as we dropped them (we later found out it was Charlie's first time running long) and rode the downhill towards the short course turnaround (i.e. 5 mi remaining).  Knowing me way too well, Marsha eased up on an uphill; at the top of this hill was a house whose residents had put some beer, water and snacks out in an unofficial aid station.  Last year I had finished too late to grab a beer, but this year we had made it in time; much to my chagrin it was just Keystone Light so I passed, but the gesture was much appreciated.  Josie kicked off the next downhill, but we were starting to notice that both Josie and Marsha really really really liked to start walking 200m out from checkpoints.  We had made it back to the short course turnaround well before dinnertime so neighbors were still out cheering us on, not that either Josie or Marsha gave a fuck.  Our loud 'hyah's and 'hyup-hyup's attracted a bunch of horse spectators, but Josie and Marsha insisted on prancing down CO-12 like models on a runway.  

It turned out that Marsha just needed to shit out all that grass she ate, and once that happened (much to Chris/Josie's chagrin) we were able to get shuffling intermittently again.  The part of CO-12 past Kootchie Kootchie Road (yes, i totally picked this part of my race report to make some shit up) was mostly undulating and had one or two uphills but these bursts of running would last only 2-6 minutes.  Chris and I resolved that we would only walk if Josie/Marsha wanted to, but of course they would stop around 200m out from the next radio checkpoint adjacent to Highway 9.  I opportunely pounded down a stubby 250mL of bottled water as I waited for Chris to join us and we shuffled off; I could tell Chris was getting tired from doing all the yelling, especially with all the wind at the top of the pass, and he was talking to Josie less and less but there was only so much I could do from the front.  

The next section back to Fairplay would be a mix of unmarked trail, single track and wide road.  I knew the single track would be a bottleneck if Josie wasn't up to riding Marsha's ass so I knew that gains in speed would have to be done as much as possible on wider sections.  We tried a few combinations but in the end the thing that worked best was duplicating the conditions that led to Josie getting in between Charlie and Marsha earlier--on the wide sections, I'd lead Marsha off to the left without getting her close enough to the grass to start grazing, while Chris would push Josie off to the right.  Once Marsha saw Josie was about to overtake her she would immediately get bitchy and pull back to the right on her own to stay ahead of Josie--but she did it with a gallop and maintained it until Josie eventually eased off.  

We would repeat this process wherever possible, opportunely doing other things while hiking on single track like taking a group piss, adjusting Josie's saddle, or cramming a Clif bar into my dry mouth.  Rain clouds now appeared to the east of us closer to Guanella but I was still confident I could finish without getting my jacket out.  We were able to blow past the penultimate radio checkpoint, only to get stopped by a decently steep hill seconds later; Marsha eventually had to stop at the top but only because she, like humans, apparently can't run and pee at the same time.  

We had to turn downhill into a quarry once back on the 9 but Marsha was insistent on going the short way via 9 and playing in traffic; once we got her under control we were able to maintain a running pace through the quarry pretty much until the single track started, which I didn't mind since I knew there were some very overgrown tight corners in that section (and because for the first time that day, I started developing chest pains from the pace we were pushing).  

Finally trudging up the last hill, I checked in with the radio car but waited for Chris to join me.  Marsha and Josie were now game to run the last 400m (relatively speaking), but Marsha was still hell bent on not letting Josie pass.  I released some slack and based on where it was pulling, as well as the direction of Chris' voice, I could feel that Marsha was literally sticking her ass in front of Josie's face and refusing to yield.  

That's my girl.  

last few yards


I didn't have any goals for this race but to improve upon my time and execution, and despite a similar placement as last year (in a larger field), I managed to shave off nearly two hours off last year's time.  I didn't think I fucked up as hard as I did last year--if I had to change anything from how I played my cards this year, I'd probably leave the carrots at the store and I would have sent it past the short course turnaround to keep Marsha as focused as possible.  Nevertheless, my experience this year would be best summarized by this exchange with a neighbour on CO-12, just past the short course turnaround:
Neighbour, who sees me struggling to get Marsha shuffling: Great job!  You're doing awesome.
Me: haha thanks.
Neighbour: At least it looks like you're still having fun!
Me: Haha. I'm not here to have fun, I'm just here for the therapy.
Neighbour: And is it working?
Me: Yeah, my ego's gone.  
By the numbers:

  • distance run: 45.74k
  • elevation gain: 1451m?
  • official time: 7:46:16
  • official placement: 11/20
  • random stranger standing in front of the Hand Hotel who held Luigi while I got him saddled.  literally couldn't have placed as high without you.
  • Chris, for enduring my farts and trusting me to lead Josie for more than half the race.  literally couldn't have placed as high without you.  you pretty much shouted you way through the course, and I couldn't have done that with my bronchitis.  
    • and for rushing over from an Ouray 100 AS to do this!  much obliged, on behalf of all my friends who ran it.  
  • Luigi's owner, for trusting me with showing his prowess in the worst possible way.
  • Bill, for trusting me with Marsha, and Brad/Amber for facilitating this again this year.
  • Ben, for coming back this year after having a kid and improving to seventh place like a boss.  
  • The Hand Hotel, for not stopping me from drinking a whole bottle of wine at the post-race festivities.  
  • The town of Fairplay for hosting this jackass.
  • Caz for toughing it out on Brigs' longest run!  12.5h is a dumb amount of time to be out there but is inspiring nonetheless.  All the best with Boom Days!
  • Old friends and new, in particular John, Karin and Jo!  Hopefully you get that pair of alpacas back in the shire.  ;)
Stray observations:

  • Charlie rallied and came in shortly after us.  Ben survived Alice and took home seventh (and $!).  Chris/Smokey found Ryan/Natasha and two other pairs and made it work, albeit in a slower time than last year.  
  • I had the choice between a Jeep Compass Trailhawk, Subaru Impreza and Kia Forte from Budget.  You can guess which one I took.  
    • that being said, the Compass Trailhawk's struts doesn't have enough degrees of articulation.  Don't ask how I know. 
      • yes I know it's a mallcrawler.  
  • The limo on CO-12 right before the Y-junction is still there but it now has busted windows.  
  • On the merits of IHT: I am cautiously optimistic this works.  Despite hitting the sauce HARD on both Friday and Saturday, my morning HRV and resting heart rate was very close to baseline, even at 9950' and mildly hungover.  As noted above, I didn't have much issues with breathing until the final mile of the burro race, and my muscles didn't really seize at all from oxygen deprivation.   And in complete contravention to what I said last year, I think I should have pushed it against the headwind a little bit more because I felt I was holding back getting up to mile 2.  
    • at the very least, my ringwraith-like breathing is less frequent now, and I feel like my tolerance for higher volume weeks is much higher, not that my volume has changed.  
Tips for people who still think this is a good idea:
  • if you are considering the llama race 
    • register online.  
    • then get there ahead of time and line up for bib pickup early.  that way you will be issued a chip earlier and can go shopping earlier so as to have a better chance of getting a runner llama and have time to acclimatize to handling your llama.  
    • you don't need gloves.
    • you also don't need to yell, "I'M COMMANDEERING THIS LLAMA" upon receipt.
  • you should consider the llama race if you are running the burro race, especially if you are coming from a lower place.  it's a decent warmup with a more controllable animal, and even if you end up with someone as difficult as Luigi, it's good practice for figuring out how to get an equine going from a full stop.  
    • did i mention he may have been my best wingman ever?
  • I said handhelds last time, but I think a running belt would be better.  every time I went back to my saddlebags to drink, Marsha would think we were turning around or that I was grabbing carrots.  
  • No carrots.
Up next:
  • I'm done writing until the big dance at UTMB.
  • Aid stations:
    • The UTE 100, working the all day party at Miner's Road
    • Iron Legs, working AS1/4 in the Powderface parking lot.  

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