Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Double Wonderland, Reversing, part two: Ambition

by Ras

Double Wonderland, Reversing, part two: Ambition
The Wisdom & Foolishness Of The Threefold Goal

     I heard rumors soon after the 2011 Runderland that Van Phan was organizing the first two hundred mile race ever to be held in Washington. I remember thinking, "No way. That's crazy. That's impossible. I better sign up." I researched the logistics of the race, and it seemed very doable within the cutoff times. A plan started incubating in the back of my mind, using the Pigtails Challenge 200 as a test piece for potentially making my Double Wonderland fantasy into a ridiculously challenging reality. I decided that if I could complete the Pigtails Challenge 200, I would make an attempt at the Double Wonderland.
     I began to look at the entire race season as an extended training plan for a potential Double Wonderland. It gave me an excuse to play to my strengths: slow, steady pacing, and rapid recovery. I like running races on back to back (to back) weekends, and training for a 200 mile race gave me license to do just that.  

photo by Glenn Tachiyama
Gorge Waterfalls. Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.

     I knew I would need a 100 miler leading up to the Pigtails 200, so I signed up for the Badger Mountain 100 on March 30th, as well as the Chuckanut 50k on March 17, and the Gorge Waterfalls 50k on the 25th. (For more on Gorge Waterfalls, see my race report "A Glitch In The Ultramatrix" in Ultrarunning Magazine.)

photo by Glenn Tachiyama
Badger Mountain 100, around mile 80. Photo by Glenn tachiyama.

     As a form of physical and mental strength training I began dragging a tire up and down the local dirt roads for anywhere from four to eight miles one day a week. Dragging a tire helps develop whatever muscle group produces stubbornness, and for some reason I think it's the Gluteals. (Or is that just a mental association because that's where we feel the pain associated with interacting with stubborn people?) It also teaches you how to enjoy something while it really sucks. That is a useful skill in ultrarunning and one I have drawn on many times. When I am in pain, exhausted, limping and stumbling, I can step outside myself and see myself for the amazing and ridiculous creature we human's are, and that always makes me laugh, even through sobs of frustration. And what better way to make an impression on your neighbors than dragging a tire through the snow laughing maniacally to yourself? To be honest, in the Okanogan Highlands, my neighbors probably just thought I needed to take this tire somewhere for some reason.

photo by Kathy Vaughan
This is what happens when Kathy tries to leave me at home and go for a run on her own. Next time she'll know to tie me to a bigger tire. Photo by Kathy Vaughan
     For April I planned the E-WA Epic, consisting of the Yakima Skyline 50k on Saturday the 21st, and the Spokane River 50k on Sunday the 22nd. Kathy did the 25k at Yakima, and the 50k the next day at Spokane River as training for her upcoming first 50 miler. For the record, in many ways running back to back 50k's is harder than just running 100 miles straight through.
     In May I wanted to run the Sun Mountain 50 Miler, just four days before the start of the PTC200. Now don't underestimate me, I am easily foolish enough to attempt to run a 50mile race just four days before my first 200 miler ever. To me, that is the makings of a nice little challenge. The individual challenge of each race is great in and of itself, but the gestalt of running both in such close temporal proximity just makes me smile and nod and say, "Yes, please." But, fortunately, I have friends and family members whose faith in me is grounded in more realistic expectations than my own cartoonish self-conceptualization as a tireless dynamo who powers through thirst and fatigue by sheer force of will, subsisting on piss and vinegar. Saner heads prevailed, and Kathy and I volunteered at the race, instead of running it. I filled water bottles and handed out Cliff Blocks to a ceaseless chorus of, "You're not running today?" As I often find, not running was harder than running. However the Pigtails Challenge 200 Mile Endurance Run was all I could have hoped for an more, perhaps made all the more delicious by my abstaining four days previous. But if the race dates line up correctly, in 2013 I hope to attempt the Sunpig Mountaintails Challenge 250 Mile Endurance Runs. (I'm fond of that extraneous 's', as in the Barkley Marathons.)
     The Pigtails Challenge 200 was a paradigm shifting experience for me, opening up new realms of endurance possibility. I made incredible breakthroughs both mentally and physically that have affected every run I have done since. I especially benefited from my Great Fat-Fueling Experiment. (I cover Pigtails in great detail in prior blog entries, for those that are interested.)

photo by Teddy A Photography
When I'm having fun, I rarely stay on the ground. Performing with the Sick Donkey Records Crew at Conscious Culture Festival, June 2012. (l-r) Dj Sticky, Essential I, & Jahson Ites, aka Ras, aka Jason Vaughan.
     The Echo Valley 50 Mile was my only race for June. It was Kathy's first 50 mile race, and it was yet another amazing experience, simply witnessing her achievement. (I will eventually complete and publish the long overdue blog about that race which I have mostly finished.) Most of my emphasis for June was simply recovering from Pigtails, my peak race, then beginning another build toward the Double Wonderland in September.
     As the months passed I felt more and more confident. Things continued to fall into place nicely as my training and goals progressed, and more and more this seemed like the perfect year to attempt what I had in mind. But every so often doubts would assail me, usually snapping my eyes open late at night. On more than one occasion tremors ran through my body as my mind reprimanded me for aspiring to such an outlandish feat. These moments were few and far between, but extremely dark and unnerving. Fear would crack through me like lightening, blood rushing in my ears, adrenaline coursing through my corpus, drive and motivation abandoning me to cower in the corner. These moments of intense doubt, these glimpses of the possibility of spectacular failure and worse, did nothing in the long run to weaken my resolve, but kept me in mind to some degree of the reality of Death, that ever-present companion of Life.
     In July Kathy and I hosted the Bonaparte Mountain Un Run 25k/50k, where we took on a stacked international field in the 25k, battling two Brits and a Swiss. In true UltraPedestrian style we each brought home the Men's and Women's DFL's, respectively. The following Sunday we got thirty-three miles in on the Pacific Northwest Trail with the running group Kathy founded, Middle Of Nowhere Trailrunners (M.O.N.T.). Two weeks later I ran the White River 50Mile Endurance Run.

photo by Takao Suzuki
White River 50 Mile Endurance Run. Photo by Takao Suzuki
     My mileage peaked in August with the Angel's Staircase 60k on the 11th, a four day Wonderland reconnaissance run the 17th through 20th, and finally the Cascade Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run on the 25th. I then had ten solid days rest as the fateful hour approached.

photo by Glenn tachiyama
Cascade Crest 100, 360 on Thorpe Mountain, mile 86. Photo by Glenn Tachiyama
     I like to set goals in threes. I sandbag a fundamental but achievable goal as a baseline, a realistic but challenging mid range goal, and a pie-in-the-sky, it's-unlikely-but-hey-ya-never-know goal that I intend to aim for, but don't expect to attain. For a 100 mile race it might look like this:
  • Goal One: finish the course no matter what, even if the deadline has expired, even if the sweepers have swept past, even if the Race Director is running alongside me with a clipboard trying to get me to sign a release form so he can go home.
  • Goal Two: make the cut offs, earn the buckle, and tie or better last year's time.
  • Goal Three: sub 26 hour, Personal Record, finish ahead of Van Phan or Cheri Redwine, or any other not quite impossible unlikelihood that catches my imagination. 
     For the Double Wonderland, Reversing, I had Goals One and Two all hammered out:
  • Goal One: complete a single Wonderland in one go. I had never done this, but felt it was solidly in the bag barring severe injury.
  • Goal Two: Complete the first ever Double Wonderland, Reversing, no matter how long it takes, even if I have to drag my bloody stumps the last fifty miles.
But Goal Three eluded me. My pie-in-the-sky goal was a pastry of indeterminate identity. Everything else was all planned out.
     I intended to start from White River Campground, heading counterclockwise. This would have me completing the more difficult and less familiar direction loop while I was the freshest. It would also have me running Panhandle Gap, one of the highest, most technical, and most volatile sections of the trail, while I was still relatively fresh, at the very end of the first loop and the very beginning of the second loop. This also had the advantage of placing both of my crossings of Panhandle Gap squarely in the daytime, especially in light of my 2011 experience, one of the most intense of my trailrunning career. This is the sort of solid, safe, well thought out plan one should stick with, but one doesn't always do what one should, especially when one is I.
     When my daughter Angela was growing up I always stressed the importance of evaluating risks before taking them. If she wanted to try a new snowboard trick, or step up the difficulty on an old trick, or hit a new feature in the terrain park, evaluate the risk: compare the potential payoff with the potential loss. If you succeed, you land a new trick: sweet. But if you fail, are you risking your life? Are you risking fracturing in your spine and ending up in a wheelchair for the rest of your days? Or are you risking a few months with your arm in a cast? (For the record, Kathy didn't think me all that clever years later when Angela actually DID end up not only with her arm in a sling, but with a titanium rod in her humerus.)

photo by Ras

      Up to this point, the unsupported Fastest Known Time for the Wonderland was considered to be rather soft at thirty hours and thirty minutes. Adam Lint had set it inadvertently, not even knowing that an FKT record was kept for the trail and only being told so by friends after the fact. 
     My mind began chewing on this. I found myself constantly running numbers in my head, my 100 mile finish times, my cumulative times for my two and three day Wonderland runs, possible splits for specific sections of the trail, and a pie-in-the-sky goal began to coalesce. If I took my own advice, if I evaluated the risk versus the potential payoff, I could lay it all on the line, and reorganize my trip in a slightly riskier way with a potentially much bigger payoff. I could, at least in theory, set a new FKT for the Wonderland on my first loop, then set the first ever FKT for the Double on my second loop. 
     Double Wonderland Double FKT. Was it likely? No. Was it Probable? No. Was is possible? Yes. Was it an ego trip? Probably. But what a grand thing to set one's sights on and aim for, even if only to miss. I knew my wings were made of mere wax and feathers, and that I couldn't fly too close to the sun, but I felt confident I could get some impressive altitude and maybe, just maybe, catch a brief glimpse of something no one else had ever seen before.

  • Goal Three: Set a new FKT for the unsupported Wonderland on the first loop, then set the inaugural FKT for the Double Wonderland on my second loop.
     Knowingly playing it just a little bit less safe, I felt I was as ready as I could be. It was time to head to The Mountain.

Double Wonderland, Reversing: Actualization
The Subjective Nature Of Reality And The Objective Reality Of Nature

1 comment:

  1. Love it, you have planted a seed and cultivated it thru living the dream:) The only limit to ou dreams are the ones we set for ourselves.