Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tuscobia Ultra

After a little thought I think that my experiences at Tuscobia deserve a closer look.

The night before the race Nick and I went out to check on the trail. Hard and icy. Good for the bikes, but bad for the lone skier, me. However by the time we awoke the next morning there was 2" of new snow on the ground. Perfect.

We took the bus from Park Falls to the start at Rice Lake (a feat that Tim deserves great credit for organizing) where we lined up for the start. As soon as the race started everyone realized that the hard surface we had seen in Park Falls wasn't representative of the whole trail. The trail was super soft. Most of the bikers couldn't ride more than a few yards before slewing off to one side and stopping. Only the fat tired snow bikes had a chance and only at extreme low pressures. What this meant for me was that I immediately passed most of the bikers and was able to keep pace, even with a few of the fat bikes.

That went on for about ten miles before the trail hardened up and I lost contact with most of the cyclists. After that it was just me for a long time. The trail was pretty unremarkable. No hills, just the odd spot where the trail dipped to cross a creek or in one case a railroad track. My glide wax was fine for the warm temperatures, but my grip wax was sketchy. Not a big deal since there were no hills to worry about. I re-waxed at mile 22 or so and then took a break about mile 36 to eat, wax, and put on my headlamp. Oh, and I should mention that this was the first time that I stopped to take care of the blisters that were getting the better of my feet.

Every mile of trail had a mile marker and I knew that this would be a blessing and a curse. I knew where I was so I could plan out strategy, but I also had a sense of how slow it was between markers. It felt like every mile was taking too long, but I knew that was just in my head. That said, I knew that the checkpoint where we were to refill our water was supposed to be at mile 44, but it wasn't there. By mile 45 I started to worry, but at mile 46, there it was. Not too big a deal, but mentally draining.

At the checkpoint (just a couple of folks in a mini-van, not the full service massage and buffet I was hoping for) I refilled my Camelbak and again waxed the skis. My feet were in rough shape and I knew it, but I felt like I could keep going. My left foot had a large blister that had already torn open and the right hurt more, but was still intact. I was also passed by Matt Long, the first runner to pass me up. That gave me a little motivation and I got started again and tried to keep up.

Keeping up was no use. My feet were too beaten. After a few miles of skiing alone in the dark with nothing to keep my mind occupied I started to get sleepy. For a while I kept moving, but soon all I could think about was sleep and I was drifting off while skiing. I decided to stop and bivvy until the next runner caught me and then keep going with them for company. I laid out my bag at about mile 56 and was soon asleep.

The sound of a sled on the trail woke me and I peeked out to see Mitch Rossman pass by. I was still tired, but figured I had probably rested enough. I rolled up my sleeping bag, pad, and bivvy sack all together and put them in the sled. It was great to find that I didn't have to pack them all away in their stuff sacks to do this. I could save a lot of time and effort that way. I was underway in less than five minutes, but Mitch was long gone. I occasionally saw a taillight in the distance, but I couldn't make up the difference.

A few miles later in the towns of Loretta and Draper I was passed by yet another runner (Daryl Saari). My grip wax was gone again and I just couldn't muster the energy to reapply it. My feet were also so bad that it felt like my whole right heel was a huge blister. I couldn't kick with my right foot anymore. I knew I had to do something different to give my feet a break. So I took off my skis and started walking. It still hurt, but not as much as skiing.

I was fine for a little while, but then I started to see things. First there was a bright blue flash, like a camera flash, but when I looked around there was no one there. No camera, no car, no buildings, just trees and the trail. I figured it was probably just some snow on my headlamp, but it seemed bigger than that. I heard sirens in the distance, but when I stopped to listen they weren't there. I kept going telling myself that it was just the sled on the snow. Then there were tractor tires in the trail ahead of me. I shook my head and they were gone. I was drifting off again. Corn was growing out of the snow ahead of me, then that was gone and white triangles of snow were floating up off the trail and dancing just above it. It was time to sleep again.

I was glad of my hasty packing from my earlier bivvy and bedded down at about mile 62. I figured I should eat something and got out the donuts I had bought before the race. I laid down, took a bite out of the donut, and woke up with the donut still in my hand. It was dawn.

In a rush I packed up and hurried down the trail. I still couldn't ski and walking was getting harder. The visions were gone, but I was spent and I didn't want my feet to be permanently damaged so I began to entertain ideas of dropping out. By mile 67 I was done. The trail crossed the highway here and I figured it would be a good place for someone to come and pick me up. I dug out my cell phone and turned it on, but there was no service, I tried again a hundred yards down the trail. Still no signal. Then there was a snowmobile coming towards me. It was Tim, the race director. He stopped and I gladly told him that I was done. He looked at me and said, you've only got eight more miles and everybody says that the trophy is pretty cool. What could I say, I was the only skier who had shown up. First place was mine. I cursed him and kept going.

The last few miles were torture. My feet were indescribable. The trail was dead straight so all I could see were trees converging. It looked like the trail went on forever. But somehow I made it to Park Falls. I followed the signs to the turnoff to the finish, nearly missed another turn in spite of it being marked with a flashing light. Tim waved me in to the finish and asked if I could turn around and do it all again. I said no.

My left foot had the largest blood blister I've ever seen on the heel and there was a blister under my large toenail that I knew meant the toenail was going to come off. My right foot was worse. There were two blisters on my heel: one on the back of the foot that had already drained and was larger than the one on my left, then the one that really worried me, underneath the callus on the bottom of my heel.

But a week later I was back on the skis. Now, in just a few short days I'll be attempting to do the same thing again, but this time it'll be twice as long and hilly.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Okay, so part two of the Pug trip report never materialized. Something with distractions and a little thing called Facebook. It goes kind of like this though:

We rode out of Cedar Falls to Eldora while my achilles got worse and worse. Sometimes high cadence on the pedals helped, sometimes low. We left Eldora and rode through the wind farm North of Roland stopping frequently to rest/stretch my ankle. Just after dark we arrived in Ames and I subsequently took the next week off from running and any serious biking. After that week off my Achilles improved significantly and I haven't had any problems since. I have been stretching more than in the past though.

Since then I've been focusing on the Arrowhead 135. We've had good snow up until this last week and I'm more prepared than ever. Not that that guarantees anything.

I've done two ski races to prepare for the AHU. The first, on December 19th was the Tuscobia Ultra. 75 miles of mostly flat snowmoblie trail in Northern Wisconsin. I finished, just barely, with bloody blisters on my feet. Since then I've lost a toenail and gotten new boots that fit a lot better. I actually tried to drop out of the race with eight miles to go, but since there was no cell phone coverage and Tim, the race director, wouldn't let me give up when I saw him I managed it. There was also something about hallucinations in the middle of the night, but anyway... The second race was Lance's Triple D on January 9th. 50k of flat snowmobile trail from Dyersville to Dubuque. No problem. The new boots work.

The Arrowhead is in one week and I'll try to get a race report up in a reasonable amount of time.