Thursday, February 11, 2016

Finished Before Noon at Rocky Raccoon!

I must be crazy...

Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile Race 2016 was my 3rd attempt at the century run.  At RR 100 last year, I ran 80 miles, but missed the cutoff time by a few minutes. I don’t think I would have made the first aid station in one hour anyway. I was beat down, blistered, and had rolled my ankle at mile 79.

Cactus Rose 2015 was my second try. I trained hard all summer with plantar fasciitis in my left foot and fell victim to a mental DNF. I let the rain, cold, mud, and puddles stop me at 65 miles. This was demoralizing. I trained super hard for this race and didn’t succeed.

But running life goes on…I ran two road marathons in the last few weeks of 2015 in hopes that maybe, just maybe, with these long runs, I could give Rocky another go. Fred, a new massage therapist, fixed my plantar fasciitis by driving the entire weight of his body onto his elbow and into my damaged foot. It worked!

After running Bandera 50K in January with my wife Kathy (her first ultra), I calculated that it was time to give running a break and try to heal my foot completely, then come back in Summer 2016. However…

The guys were all going to Rocky Raccoon to go run the 100…David Zuniga, Ben Martinez, Jesse Cruz, German Medrazo, and Joel Olivarez. I couldn’t resist joining the fun! I seriously thought to myself, maybe I will run better with that many of my friends running it, too? I began to ask a small group of people if they thought it was a sound idea for me to give it another go. Kyle Evans, my lifelong friend, tells me to go for it. David Zuniga says “check your mileage compared to last year’s training.” Ben and Joel also gave me a green light. To make my final decision, I had to go to the boss: German Medrazo, my running Godfather and mentor. He seals the deal by tugging at my heartstrings: “your friends are gonna be out there, you know you want to be out there, too. It’s in you already. You know you’d rather be out there than be working.  It doesn’t matter if you finish or DNF, you will still gain knowledge about yourself!” German swung the votes. I decided to go for it.

I was gonna finish this time. I read my post-race notes from last year…what to do, what not to do. I was mentally ready for this even if my training wasn’t there. So I set out Saturday 6am, set my Garmin, and began the journey. I just made up my mind that I was going to be out there all day, all night, and watch the sunrise, so I needed to just stay moving no matter what kinds of pains or problems might come along later in the race. I knew it would take me nearly the full 30 hours (twenty eight hours and forty minutes to be exact). Oh, and I had no pacer either. I had to push through loops 4 and 5 on my own. But you know what…I got it done!

I don’t want to sound presumptuous. I know I’m just a first-timer at completing this 100 mile race thing, but I guess I do have some valuable insight to share with all of you guys and gals who are contemplating a “hunnerd” as Benergy Martinez calls it.

Here’s what worked for me at Rocky Raccoon 2016:
1. In the first two loops I drank lots of water and drank liquid calories. You have to keep hydrated in the sneaky humidity of the park and get calories flowing quickly into your bloodstream. Liquid calories work fastest, Gu gels are syrup, so they digest quickly, too. And...I had a great nutrition plan. I packaged and labeled everything in baggies and wrote calorie amounts on every bag. I put each loop's items in quart size bags at the start area, so that I wasted zero time. All I did was pick up the bag, grab my refills on water, walk out to the next loop and separate everything int my SPI belt and vest and short pockets.

2. I started eating solids in the second loop. Trail mix and gummies…oh and lots of water and tailwind. Every hour I was drinking 15 ounces of water and 15 ounces of tailwind except for that 7 mile loop of damnation…I couldn’t drink more than what I could carry in my bottles, so I drank less frequently so that the 2 bottles would last the loop. Oh and I didn’t stop very long at any aid station. My goal was to get out of them fast. I would grab a handful of pringles, some pretzels, 3 or 4 quesadillas, refill my bottles and take off!

3. Loop 3 started getting cold! So I would grab a cup of soup every station plus the quesadillas and chips…and I was still eating the gummies and trail mix, but less trail mix now. The cheeseburger (1/4 piece) at park road aid station was amazing. It got real cold towards the end of that loop and I had to put on my cactus rose hoodie on top of what I was wearing. By the way, I used my old iphone as an ipod and just used the speakers on it to listen to music. It worked great because I didn’t have to use headphones. I think a few runners out there liked my tunes, so I kept using it for loops 3 and 4. My playlist was 11 hours worth of tunes, lol.

4. I didn’t have a pacer. As I left for loop 4 I started getting really, really drowsy. I could not for the life of me keep my eyes open. I caught myself drifting off to sleep for a few seconds at a time while I was jogging. I had to start walking because I was afraid of tripping and falling those first 3 miles of the loop. When I got to nature center, I downed a full cup of black coffee (I never drink coffee while racing) because I was desperate to wake up. I even went to the restroom and washed my face with cold water. It worked for a while but after damnation I got drowsy again. I had tried coffee, caffeinated tailwind, caffeinated salt pills…nothing worked. But then I had my banana chips with me, so I began eating them and guess what? They woke me up. I don’t know what it was, the crunching, the taste, or the smell of them, but they kept me awake! I kept a close eye on my time. I had to be sure to get done before 6am. I was a little fuzzy already, so I couldn’t really calculate my finish time. I pushed hard the last part of the loop and made it to the start line at 4:30 or so.

5. I knew at this point, all I had to do was keep walking briskly and jog here and there and I could finish! I didn’t stop but 2-3 minutes and got back out for the last loop. I ate gummies, drank Gu rocktane grape drink, and took a couple of Gu rocktane gels. I didn’t eat solids other than banana chips, gummies, and a pancake at damnation (yum!). I wanted to hurry and not fall behind on time. I thought about banking time so that if I wanted, I could walk the last 4 miles. So that’s what I did. I pretty much walked the last 4 miles knowing I had plenty of time to get in before 30 hours!

By the way, I never sat down. Not once. Call it superstition or whatever, but it was my plan. I focused on staying on my feet and moving forward. Oh and the stuff I packed for damnation? I didn’t even use any of it. I only used that drop bag to put my headlamp, hat, and gloves for the return trip on the way back to the finish line. Unfortunately, none of my friends were at the finish line at 10:40ish am and I didn’t have my phone to take pictures at the finish, so that bummed me out a little bit. I didn’t get to talk to Chris McWatters either…he was busy. But Thomas Orf gave me my buckle, so that was cool.

Thank you thank you thank you to ALL of the amazing volunteers at the aid stations. Y'all helped me get to that finish line!!!

The tools:
Hoka challenger shoes
Balega blister resist crew length socks
Ultimate direction hardrock vest
Spi belt to hold gummies
New Balance running compression tights
Asics running shorts with big pockets to hold food and stuff
Garmin 310 XT, Garmin Forerunner 230, and my trusty Casio G-shock watch.

The food:
Honey stinger chews
Scratch chews
Banana chips!
Cranberry trail mix
Gu gels…regular and rocktane
Cranberry trail mix
Soups at aid stations
Quesadillas at aid stations

The drink:
Water water water! 30 oz per hour first 5 hours then down to 15 oz and other bottle with tailwind or gu rocktane
GU rocktane grape drink
2-3 shots of coke at aid stations
a couple of cups of coffee at aid stations during the zombie stages of loops 4-5.

People to thank:
My wife Kathy who fills the depth of my soul with love and encouragement, my kids Hannah, Daniel, and powerhouse Zara, and Grandma (my mom). German Medrazo (the godfather) who designed the best plan for me and got me here, Lucia Amevia (the godmother) who takes care of us at Valley Running Company, Kyle Evans who always tells me "you're crazy!", David "the beast" Zuniga (the fastest runner in the South), Jesse (don't give him a microphone) Cruz, Joel Olivarez (why do you always doubt yourself, Orlie?), Benergy Martinez (the toughest runner I have ever seen), Dallas Nieto (the strong runner), Gabe (I wear racing flats at Bandera) Garza, Donna, Normita, Louisa, Cris, Mario Rodriguez and ALL the gang at RGV Trailrunners…Bill Ewton, Dale Cougot the Texas Yeti, Liz Galaviz my massage therapist, Sami Cho, Andy Ramos (laid back...I got my mind on my money and my money on my mind) and avid Whataburger enthusiast, Fred for fixing my plantar fasciitis, my students who believed in me and encouraged me to go for it, and most of all, my father God in heaven who watches over me as I do these races.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Bandera: It All Ends and Starts Here.

It has been a year since I last wrote a blog about my "running." The last blog was about my longest completed race, Bandera 100K. This one is about endings and new beginnings.

It all ends here. (Funny that my ultrarunning all started at Bandera 50K two years ago). I don't know for how long, because I still have "something in the basement" as Rocky Balboa said in Rocky 6. I've been running injured with plantar fasciitis in my left foot since June 2015...and dragging on with it to complete Colorado Bend 30K, Reveille Peak 60K, and Cactus Rose 100 (dnf'ed at mile 62). I went on to complete 2 road marathons, a few long runs, and finally got some sense and decided Bandera would be my last. I was just tired of running tired and hurt. I figure that 4 weeks or so will give me time to heal and decide my next move. 

It all starts here. Bandera 50K, 2016. Not for me, but for my wife Kathy. She started running in 2014...I guess she saw that if her chubby husband could "run" then she could too. So she did. And it is no joke when I say that the wrong Montalvo has been running ultras. She is a beast. So, she dabbled with 5K, 10K, 1/2 marathon, her first 25K at Mesquite Fire this past year...then pushed on to her first trail race outside of the Valley at Wild Hare 25K. Then...McAllen Road Marathon in December and on to Bandera 50K this past weekend. She never looks tired at the end of a race. She makes it look sooo easy! So I joked with her at Bandera that she should do Cactus Rose 50 Miler. The seed has been planted. Not many husbands get to complete an ultramarathon with their wives...but I got to! She is amazing!

Well, only time will tell how long it will take to heal and recharge. My good friend Kyle and I have conversed about all this...I trust him with all things running as he has been a close friend since we were kids and he is a lifelong runner and triathlete. He thinks I can come back stronger and faster. I hope he is right...because Kathy is going to be tough to keep up with at Cactus Rose this fall.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Bandera 100K- A Tale of Sleet and Slop

I’m not going to give a full race report for this one. Other than to quote my new friend Stephen Moore who summed it up this way:
“Loop 1: cold, wet, rocks, hills, mud.
Loop 2: repeat but colder, wetter, and more sloppy mud.”

And Ben Martinez, who gave this description about Loop 2:
“This...[last]1/2 marathon was a suffer fest. The mud. The water. The climbs. I'd had enough of it by this point and just wanted to finish. The last 3 climbs, Lucky Peak, Cairn's Climb and Boyle's Bump were brutal. It hurt as much going up as it did going down.”

I agree with both of them. The conditions were horrible for my first 100K (62 mile) race. The bleak forecast came true except it didn’t rain like was expected. We had sleet, a snowflake or two, mist, drizzle, freezing drizzle, and freezing temps all day and night. It was funny to see sotol cactus with ice covering the serrated blades. At some point during the night, there was also a bit of fog.

Some interesting things I learned about a cold, freezing, precipitation-filled race:

1. Ice melts slightly above 32 degrees. Where does the water go? Right into the trail.

2. Wet dirt creates mud. Mud can be super sticky and cling to your shoes for added weight…or it can be slick. The course at Bandera had both.

3. More water added to slick mud creates slop. Slop is super runny, thick mud…with water puddles on it.

4. At Hill Country State Natural Area, slop is slippery. How slippery? Think about dumping a 3 inch thick layer of lard onto a twisty, turny, up and down cart path…and then try to run through it without slipping. (Impossible)

5. There are muscles in the legs that have rarely been used…until you try to walk through slop. Those muscles get tired really fast.

6. It is possible to slip and spin 360 degrees without falling. 

7.  Enough mud on the trail can and does cover rocks really well…well enough to hide such rocks.
7b. Treacherous rocks above the mud still have mud on top of them. Muddy rock=slippery rock.

8. Exhaling through the mouth at 31 degrees creates a small cloud that blocks the vision…every time you exhale.

9. Headlamp batteries, although fresh, die much more quickly in the cold nighttime air.

10. It is generally NOT a good idea to try and take off wet layers of shirts and put on dry ones when you’re standing out there in the cold air and your fingers don’t work so well.
10b. overstaying your welcome at an aid station makes you lose your body heat really fast. Shivering and teeth chattering sucks.

10. It is possible to walk nearly 31 miles through slop and not have your legs fall off.

11.  Playing slip-n-slide in the slop is much more fun with the company of close friends than by yourself.

12. It is ok to yell f*ck! Or sh*t! everytime you slip on the brink of falling….every 10th step or so.

13. Ramen and mashed potato soup in a cup is gourmet food.

14. High, steep hills don’t look too bad when you can’t see them. The one pleasant thing about having to continually look down where you step at night. the downside of continually staring down to look where you step? keeping the eyes open for so many hours without realizing that you are not blinking burns the hell out of your eyes.

15. Aid station volunteers are really the most bad-ass people on the planet. Period.

Oh and 16. You gotta be insane to run 100K in the freezing, muddy conditions for 20 hours for a buckle. But I gotta admit… it is a cool one!

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Knowledge Flows at Cactus Rose

I posted earlier on Facebook:
"this was my first time at cactus rose...even though i only did the 50, it was my first 50 miler. thank you for having this event. i learned soooo much from friends old and new and from having to do stuff on my own. i look forward to doing the 100 next year."

The Philosophical Rant:
Doing this 50 mile event (I don't call it a race because I didn't race it, I accomplished it), I learned much more than I thought I would learn. First, I learned that I have to overcome my lack of belief in myself. For example, I fully expected to complete the mileage, but I didn't expect to have this strange dual assessment that I both succeeded and failed simultaneously. I felt I succeeded at getting through the 50 miles relatively unscathed and not crawling or hallucinating towards the finish. I didn't even cuss out there (that much). So finishing fairly strongly was my success. My sense of failure was two-fold: 1. Why didn't I push harder to get a better time? and 2. Why didn't I just go for the 100 Mile distance? The whole night and morning of the race I felt relatively diminutive amongst giants and confident ultra runners all around me, both seasoned and unseasoned all going for the 100. It may not seem much, but to a competitive person like me, it really bothered me that I didn't sign up for the 100…but I knew I had to stick to my plan. I did. Today, I don't regret my decision to stay at 50 Miles.

But wait…there's more:

I learned to trust my training and what that level of training would allow me to accomplish. I stayed on the same effort level as my training, and I was able to finish stronger than I thought I would.

I learned that when you run countless miles during training and ultras, to keep drinking lots of water in between events. Kidney stones hurt. (That's what happened to me two weeks ago or waaay before, just didn't realize what it was).

I learned that hokas work. They absorb a lot of punishment and give you confidence to run on rocky parts of the trail. Thank you "pinche" Ben for introducing us to the joys of Hokas…Sami, chop him just once!!!

I learned that short quick steps thru the tough rocks is better than trying to carefully navigate around them. I actually increased my speed and saved some impact on my hips and knees. 

I learned that ice cold watermelon chunks are manna from heaven. Thank you Bill Ewton.

I learned just now that clipping toenails right after an ultra is not a great idea…toenails fall off nice and easy…and gross out your spouse.

I learned that I have not been drinking enough water during training. I forced myself to really drink a LOT of water and was able to survive the heat better. (2 liters of water every 5 miles out there).

I learned that nothing can really prepare you for the hills out at Bandera except the hills of Bandera. However, I think I have a great training idea that we flatlanders can use to mimic them.

I learned that the state natural area gets really spooky at night…best to have a pacer or other runners with you in the deep darkness.

I learned that ultra runners are cool people. I made new trail buddies out there who were willing to share knowledge and food.

I learned to just get out there and run.

I learned that deep tissue massage really works wonders. Thank you Kefah Keraro.

Finally I learned that in the complexity of it all, the training, the "racing", the planning, the dropbox loading, the preparations and executions, that the support of my kick-ass wife Kathy makes all this possible. I am an ultra runner because of her. Thanks, my love for letting me play (or as she puts it with a giggle, my midlife crisis).