Saturday, 20 August 2016

The Grand Canyon. What goes down....

Our travel plans to the USA were hatched around the Shabbat table more than a year ago and 6 months later the plans went into effect. The West coast and specifically the Grand Canyon was high on our priority list. We knew we had to book well in advance to get places in the park.
After booking I started researching hikes and trails and by the nature of things also runs in the canyon. Some of the top US mountain and ultra runners attempt what is known as rim to rim runs, traversing  from one side of the canyon down to the Colorado river and then up the other side. That's about 34 kilometers taking the shortest route. Then there are the runners who want more of a challenge and run rim to rim to rim or R2R2R. 68 kms of mostly down and up...Although there are no official races there are records kept for these endevours, known as FKT, ie Fastest Known Time. The FKT for R2R2R was set by Rob Krar in 2013 at 6:21. Read about his run here:
We had booked a cabin on the more popular and accessible South Rim of the canyon, as luck would have it next to the trailhead of the Bright Angel trail. I had determined that while a rim to rim run was logistically too complicated, it was possible to run from the rim down to the Colorado river and back up again. Reading through the various trail and running sites it became apparent that the way to run or hike this is to descend via the South Kaibab trail,  run alongside the river for a few kilometers,  and then ascend the Bright Angel trail. This is for several reasons. The South Kaibab trail is steeper and more difficult,  but has more stunning views of the canyon and especially of the river. There are no rest stops with water on the South Kaibab whereas the Bright Angel has 3 rest stops with water which is critical when you ascend later in the day. The park authorities discourage this hike as a 1 day effort, and have signs warning against attempting it both at the beginning of the trails and at various places as you descend.

There are also experienced hikers who caution against it - especially in the summer, where the temperatures are typically around 40C at the river.
But I had already determined within myself that this was a trail that I wanted to complete, while realising that it also demanded respect and solid preparation.  To that end in the weeks leading up to our departure I tried to run as many of my runs - especially the longer runs - on hotter days and in the early afternoon heat. These runs were usually on the hilly Har Eitan circuit above the Sataf springs. Around 2 weeks prior to leaving I decided to run the very challenging descent from Har Eitan to the springs. It's a particularly steep route which drops about 140 meters in just over a kilometer. I used to run and/or hike this route in both directions as preparation for some of my ultra marathons...After the descent I ran along the wadi for a few minutes and then climbed back up. After this challenge I was extremely sore the next day, and thus decided  that since the descent (and subsequent ascent) at the Grand Canyon were of an order of magnitude greater, I would have to mostly hike rather than run this looming challenge. was not a great confidence booster.
After all our planning and scheduling we flew out of Israel and landed in Phoenix.  Michal and I, together with Elisheva who had just finished her 2 years army service and Noa who had finished her first year of high school. Shira and Yishai would join us a week later in LA after our visit to the Grand Canyon. ..After a relaxing day and a half in sweltering Phoenix (not withstanding a late afternoon monsoon) we packed up the rental minivan and headed towards the Grand Canyon.
We drove through heavy rain and arrived on Tuesday evening at the Bright Angel lodge on the South Rim of the canyon.  Our cabin was very close to the edge of the rim - about a two minute walk! I was very keen to see it, so before unpacking we headed off...The first reaction on seeing the canyon is a jaw-dropping "Wow!!".  Or as Noa spontaneously observed: "מה רבו מעשיך ה"  - "How manifold are your works, oh Lord" (Psalms 104). Noa and I ventured about 750 meters down the Bright Angel trail as the sun set over the canyon - walking back up would be the last part of my trek 2 days later...

The following morning Michal and I went for a  run at sunrise along the edge of the rim.  The rim at the top of the canyon is at an elevation of about 2200 meters - that can be an issue for some people because the thinner air means less oxygen is available to breathe. I was fine - but Michal did mention that she felt she was breathing more heavily than usual for the pace we were running...  Later on that day we hired bikes and went for a breathtaking (haha) ride along the edge of the rim from the Grand Canyon visitor's center to Hermit's rest with many stops along the way to catch views of the canyon from various angles - the Colorado river was visible - looking like a thin streak from our vantage point 1500 meters above.  In the evening we went to watch the sunset from another point along the rim and then I was hoping to get to sleep early ahead of the next day's challenge.  I had decided to take the Hiker's express bus at 4am which would deliver me to the South Kaibab trail head at 4:30.  This meant that I would have to daven (morning prayers) after my return but it was essential to get in as much of the trail as possible before the heat intensified...
As usual before a big race I prepared all my gear the night before - tried and tested "race ready" shorts with multiple pockets containing 4 gels, a small bag of pretzels, some spare electrolyte tablets, a "compeed" plaster in case of blisters, and an empty small (200 ml) bottle to be used for taking water at the water stations.  I had my 3 liter capacity hydration backpack which I would fill with cold water to which I would add 2 electrolyte tablets. Club (HaSolelim Jerusalem) short sleeved shirt, Saucony Peregrine trail running shoes, injinji toe socks, running hat were all ready along with sunscreen, vaseline, voltaren and tape.
I woke up after a solid night's sleep feeling the adrenaline and ready to go.  I had made sure to drink steadily and well the day before and took a banana with me to the bus.  Michal was also up early and
walked with me to the bus stop...I was the only one there... The bus left on the stroke of 4 am and at the 2 additional stops another 10 hikers and 1 other runner got on the bus - It was dark outside but this was a night with a full moon so I decided there was no need for a headlamp.  We arrived at the trailhead at 4:30 and the others went off to organise themselves.  I ate my banana and was the first one on the trail...
It felt almost magical as I started down the steep slope - the massive walls of the Canyon in the early morning darkness with the full moon bathing the rocks in a glowing light. I had taken Michal's cellphone to take photos and was carrying it in my hand - taking photos and not bothering to stop my watch as runners are wont to do...the trail was wide but with lots of steps shaped out of wooden pieces at the top of the steps to prevent corrosion and often there was a depression in the actual step -
probably caused by the relentless pounding of the daily mule trains which go up and down the trails.  After about a kilometer I heard what sounded like water and assumed that there was a spring in the area.  But the sound got louder and I couldn't see any signs of running water - peering behind me in the semi darkness I realised that this was the early morning mule train - I had been passing various clumps of dry mule-dung, but I didn't relish the thought of having to negotiate jumping over lots of clumps of fresh - I quickened my pace and started more running down the slope than hiking in an effort to put some space between myself and the mules...But I was still trying to take some photos which demanded stopping and the mules would get closer...after about 1.5 kilometers I reached the appropriately named "Ooh Aah Point."


The whole canyon opens up in front of you - I had to take a few photos here and decided not long after this to step to the side of the trail and let the mules pass me by - a supply train with about a dozen mules and 2 drivers...I had consciously decided beforehand to run less down the trail - so I would just have to dodge the dung as best I could...having let the mules pass I was a lot more relaxed and settled back into a rhythm of good paced hiking (and dung dodging...) I was averaging around 18 minutes per kilometer down the trail including photo stops...This was slower than I had intended but was probably understandable given the moonlit start and taking a lot of photos early on. After Ooh Aah Point I heard some voices behind me and it sounded like a pair of German hikers - I decided to myself that I wasn't going to let them pass me...
I continued along towards Cedar Ridge at about 2.5 kms.  By now the sun had risen over the canyon although I was still progressing mostly in the shade.  I could still hear the hikers behind me, but at about 4kms the trail flattened out and I could start running freely for the first time - what a great feeling that was! I arrived at Skeleton Point at around 5 kilometers feeling good after about 1 hour 17 minutes. Even though it was still early in the morning and I wasn't feeling the heat, I was careful to drink steadily every 10 minutes and took my first gel at this point. Continuing to feel good I was
Down down into the unknown
running more when the trail conditions allowed, but being careful to hike the more challenging sections. From this point on I was starting to get glimpses of the Colorado River - flowing below between the walls of the Canyon. As I approached the river I realised that I had been catching back up to the mule train as I saw them trundling on steadily below.  Seeing the river was uplifting as that was my first main milestone on this adventure. 
Just me and my shadow

 Continuing steadily downward the river appeared larger each time it came into view.  Finally towards the 10 kilometer mark I approached a tunnel which preceded the first river crossing. I watched the mule train steadily advance through the tunnel and the ensuing river crossing.
I crossed the river and came to the end of the descent in exactly 2.5 hours. I had cut my average pace to 13.5 minutes per kilometer and the average grade had been 14%.  
The river looms larger with the bridge crossing

I was crossing the bridge across the river at about 7am.  The minimum temperature that day at the river was 25C and the maximum 41C. I guess it was about 30C when I was there but it was very dry and I had no feeling of discomfort.  I eased across the bridge onto the North side of the canyon - the water looked inviting but I knew it was dangerous to enter those strong currents...
On the bridge

 Having crossed the bridge I took out my packet of pretzels which tasted like the best I'd ever eaten even if they were slightly stale...I made my way along the riverbank trail towards the Bright Angel trail which would take me back up the canyon.  I knew there was a water tap nearby and took a slight unintentional detour towards the campground until realising that I was going the wrong way...Turning back I cooled off by splashing myself with water from the Bright Angel creek.  I found the tap at the start of the trailhead and drank a few more small bottles of water and poured more water over myself - very refreshing and I felt that I had enough water left in my backpack until the next water station at Indian Gardens which was about 5 kilometers away. I soon crossed back across the river on another bridge.  On my way down I had only met 1 couple of hikers making their way up the South Kaibab trail, but as I started up I was passing quite a few groups of hikers.  The trail from the bottom to Indian Gardens is significantly less steep and after negotiating some sandier soil I started running up at a steady pace.  In fact the next few kilometers were my fastest of the day as I developed a steady rhythm on a more runnable trail.  I was steadily passing hikers and that probably gave me added motivation.  The battery on Michal's phone had almost run out so I wasn't stopping much for photos either. I was running almost exclusively in the sun now and drinking steadily - even though I was climbing the temperature was going up - as I approached Indian Gardens the trail got steeper and there was more greenery from the springs - I was mixing running and hiking according to the difficulty of the climb. I was keenly waiting for Indian Gardens and the water stop there, but the trail seemed to go on and on...finally I saw the sign and then the much appreciated water.
I sat down near the tap and drank a good few bottles of water and drenched myself with many more.  I also took the opportunity to refill my backpack with another liter or so of water to which I added another electrolyte tablet.  I felt really refreshed and was enjoying the shade of this trail oasis.  
As I headed out I knew there was less than 8 kilometers to go - but these would be the hardest of the day - exposed to the sun with the temperature climbing and the trail becoming steeper.  The next stop would be the "3 mile rest stop" - i.e. about 5 kilometers from the finish.  Every time I entered a little scrap of shade I made a little blessing - I was drinking steadily - but feeling the heat.  At some stage here I had to step to the side of the trail to give way to a descending mule train which was carrying a group of campers down to the river. The further I climbed up the trail - the more people I saw coming down - Indian Gardens is usually the furthest hikers venture down before making the return climb - and more hikers make the shorter return hikes to both the 3 mile and 1.5 mile rest stops.  It was still relatively early in the morning, but when I reached the 3 mile rest stop there was quite a gathering around the lone water tap.  Somewhat foolishly I only took 1 small bottle to drink and 1 more over my head - and headed back up the trail - saying to myself that there was only 5km to go and yet another rest stop a further 2.5 kilometers away.  It was during this section that I had my only real crisis...By this stage I was exclusively hiking on the steep trail and the heat felt relentless....I started feeling a little unsteady - nothing critical - but at the next sliver of shade I sat down on a rock - took out a gel and had a long drink... I only stayed there about a minute - but felt better and headed back up.  I made it to the next rest stop and the tap there had a problem that it couldn't be closed - that was OK for me as here there was no pressure from other hikers and I took my time to drink a lot and probably more importantly cool myself off by pouring lots of water over my head and all over my body.
Now there were only 2.5 kilometers to go!  The home stretch.  I knew I was going to finish and feeling OK I continued upwards - with just over a kilometer to go I heard the unmistakable call from far above...."ABBA" - Michal, Elisheva and Noa had come down from the end of the trail  and seeing my blue gear thought it was me - Elisheva used the zoom on her camera to confirm it and I peered upwards to see them waving from afar.

This gave me a tremendous bolt of adrenaline as Noa came running down to greet me and Elisheva took some more photos.  We all completed the last 700-800 meters together as I recounted some of the highlights of the day.

This was clearly one of my all time great adventures - certainly rivalling the best of my ultra marathons.  While not that far in actual distance - the total was a tad over 27 kilometers - there was by the nature of the trails a lot of climbing both down and up on challenging terrain in difficult conditions.  I finished in an overall time of 5 hours 51 minutes and my Garmin (watch) statistics told me that my stops for photos and water were about 30 minutes which sounds right.  The full Garmin stats should be available here:

I have to thank Michal, Elisheva and Noa for their enthusiastic support and for agreeing to let me fulfill my crazy challenge even though it affected our available time at what is truly one of the wonders of the world.

Monday, 26 March 2012

The Best of Times - The Worst of Times

Jerusalem Marathon 2012

March 16, 2012

This was my slowest marathon - and I had a blast running it. I stayed overnight opposite the start/finish area, but almost contrived to miss the start. There were about 900 starters (2500 in the 1/2 marathon and 4000 in the 10k), and I made it to the back of the start just as they were firing the gun. The weather was wintry – showery and strong wind gusts with a temperature at the start of about 7C (45F). So I decided to take advantage of my overnight proximity to the start line and not towait around in the cold and rain outside. I left the apartment quite late and headed down to the tunnel which goes under the road nearby and into Gan Sacher. Unfortunately when I got there – I found there were barriers and soldiers who notwithstanding my pleas that I was a marathon runner and my start was in a few minutes – refused to let me pass! I ran (quickly!) up towards another entry point on the corner of Bezalel but I wasn't allowed in there either! By now panic was setting in as I headed up to the Supreme Court where they finally let me in and I was running (very fast!) as the clocked ticked over to 7am and the start time. I stripped off my 2nd layer as I ran – and gave up the idea of handing in my bag to the appropriate place - instead I found someone walking back from the start area and shoved it into his hands, told him my race number and "hoped for the best". As I approached the back of the start line from about 200 meters away I heard the race announcer say – We'll count down from 5…" Luckily the start had been delayed by a couple of minutes – and exactly as he reached "zero" I joined the back of the ranks! I settled into a decent rhythm on this hilly course – about 600 meters of ups and downs - in my estimation that's worth at least a 10 minute difference compared to a "flat" course.

The start was at 7am but there was good support on the streets even at this early hour.
It's a stunning course with the climbs offering vistas of all parts of this ancient city. At about the 10k mark I was joined from behind by Ian, one of my clubmates, and we proceeded to run side by side and to enjoy each other's company.

I was steadily taking in gels, salt and water, and felt comfortable - averaging about 4:45/km (7:40/mile) pace. We headed up on the climb to Mount Scopus and ran a circuit of the university campus there heading into very strong winds at one stage. We were laughing and playing off the crowds. One of Ian's friends handed him a block of chocolate... Ian tried a piece and then threw the rest to a group of puzzled soldiers… We headed back downtown and through the Old City and negotiated some slippery cobblestones.

So far the rain had been sporadic, light and even refreshing - but at around 29k we were hit by a hailstorm! More laughter and shouting on our part - it was great to be sharing this run with a friend - and the support on the sidelines was terrific even through the hail.

We headed up to a well known promenade and Ian started inching ahead - I still felt good and stayed in contact - we had a brief out and back from 34k to 37k and I saw that we had closed on some of the runners who were ahead of us. At the turnaround at about 35.5k I was 9 seconds behind Ian - but just about there I felt a sharp pain in my left soleus and had to slow a bit. The pain got worse - I tried sucking a salt tablet and changing my stride. I stopped to stretch it out and returned to running - it still hurt but I was able to continue - but from here in Ian powered home and ran a great negative split passing quite a few runners in the last 6km including 2 age groupers in the last few hundred meters which gained him 3rd place (50-54) out of 105 and 42nd out of 815 finishers. He finished in 3:22:01 (we passed halfway in 1:41:18) and I fnished in 3:27:32 - 8th in the age group, and 59th overall.

Even though I picked up a slight injury towards the end and didn't finish as well as I had hoped, I thoroughly enjoyed this race. The organization was first class, the course was both beautiful and challenging – a true mirror of all that the city represents. The Jerusalemites came out in force to cheer us on – even in the nasty weather – running down Rechov Yehuda reminded me of the cyclists negotiating the crowds in the Tour de France! L'Shana Ha'ba'a Biyerushalaim! Next year in Jerusalem!

Monday, 14 November 2011

Sovev Emek 62km 11/11/11

Sovev-Emek 62km Ultra Marathon


I approached this race somewhat uncertain, with a few question marks hanging over my head. I have had some tendonitis in my right ankle over the last year. Around this time last year I took a few months off – had lots of physiotherapy and went to see an orthopedist who specializes in feet. He gave me an injection which helped for a few weeks, but the pain returned. Using a series of stretches and strengthening exercises I managed to return to a reasonable level of training. I ran the Jerusalem half-marathon in March – which was a great event and several other low-key races. Towards the end of the summer we moved from Jerusalem to Efrat. My commute to work is now longer and more tiring – getting out to run in the evenings is harder – I haven't run many weeks with over 50 kms mileage. However – I did manage to get out every Friday for a long run. Starting before our move on the trails around Jerusalem, and over the last months around our new home – runs that built up from 20 to 30 kms and beyond. I really enjoyed these runs – meeting new runners, new trails, breathtaking views, watching deer bounding down the mountainside at breakneck speed, watching my (new and first) Garmin watch clock in at 1000 meters. Not too many other midweek runs – but a couple of times I upped the pace a bit and found the results pleasing. I was all set for a big push during the Succot holiday – about a month before the race leading up to the longest pre-race run – 40km and "the taper".

On the Sunday of Succot I played in a cricket match and managed to strain my hamstring in my left leg. OK. No more running during Succot. Stretches and strengthening. A longish run where I had to walk all the uphills. A shorter run where I couldn't generate any pace. But 2 weeks before the race I did manage a decent 34km hilly run – not quite 40km – but hopefully I would be able to complete the race, although, unusually for me, I had no good idea of what pace I would be able to run.

Unlike my 3 previous ultra marathons, this course had aid stations every 5 kms with water, isotonic drinks, and various food. I didn't like the idea of having to stop to drink – but running without a backpack was tempting. I decided to compromise. The run was basically 2.5kms out then 2 loops of 28kms and 2.5 kms back. I brought a bag along which the organizers would have waiting at the aid station at the half-way mark. For the first half of the race I would drink at the aid stations – for the second half I would use my hydration backpack with 1.5 liters.

I arrived at the race start at Kibbutz HaZore'a at 4am. It was freezing cold – colder than when I had left home 2 hours earlier. The 92 km runners had started at midnight, but the only person around was 1 of the runners who had dropped out of that race. Shai, the race director and some volunteers arrived to hand out the race numbers and timing chips around 5am ahead of our 6am start. I davened and got ready. In my race shorts pockets I was carrying dates, salt tablets, sugar jellies, compeed plasters (in case of blisters) and 2 ibuprofen tablets. The race started out on time as the sun rose. In my past ultra races I have always started conservatively , not worrying too much about runners ahead of me. Generally I have had enough in reserve to pass lots of runners as the race unfolded. In my last 50km race I used these tactics and came home strongly and finished fourth. I wondered afterwards if I should have tried running faster earlier to keep in closer touch with the leaders…

With the start most of the worries and concerns quickly disappear – the legs feel OK. One of the runners, Ariel takes off ahead but I am left in a group of 7 or 8 runners – the pace is solid – probably a touch faster than I would like – but I decide to stay in contact. On the uphills some of the runners pull ahead, but I catch up and pass them on the downs. We are not running as a solid group but staying within eye contact – I am moving between 2nd and 8th place. We arrive at the first aid station at around 6km – manned by smiling, helpful volunteers. I stop to drink a cup of water and a cup of isotonic drink – some of the others don't stop and pull ahead. But I am able to catch them back up and so we continue until around 20kms. A lot of the trail is very rocky – we try and navigate between the rocks or to run on the side of the trail where it is less rocky…

Udi has pulled ahead in 2nd place now and Gavin and Benny speed up – I realise that it is too fast for me – so I let them go. I am left with Amir and Eyal and fall back to 8th. We are still averaging about 5 mins/km pace. The ball of my left foot is really hurting from all the rocks – I try landing more on my heel or curling up my toes but it doesn't help. I take an ibuprofen tablet and the pain subsides a few minutes later…As we approach the half-way mark I pass Eyal. At the half-way aid station I find my bag – take out a banana and some Pringles and put on my backpack. I feel good and quickly come up to and pass Amir.

I now feel good and I'm running at a good pace. I search the way ahead for Ilan in his blue shirt – there are lots of runners from the 32km race coming towards me – but no one ahead. After 8 or 9 kilometers I see Ilan ahead. As I get closer I see that another runner has a problem and has stopped to walk. I pass them both and now I'm in 4th . But I hear someone behind me – it's Benny – how is he there? He comes up to me and explains that he was sent the wrong way at one of the aid stations and ended up running in the wrong direction. He has now caught us back up – and we end up running together and catching Udi at around 44kms. We are now 2nd and 3rd . We run together for a few kilometers – but I start feeling nauseous and Benny pushes ahead. I look behind and see that there is noone there. At the aid stations I drink more water, splash water on my head and face – by now it's quite warm – and take some more salt tablets. The nausea subsides, but now the ball of my other foot is really hurting. Another tablet. I have slowed down, but I'm still running a respectable pace. Still no one threatening from behind, so I settle on steady running with no big push – don't know if I could have pushed harder given my lack of training and the early fast pace.

I cross the finish line in 5:25 – 2:33 for the first half and 2:52 the second.

Ariel won in a very good time of 4:41 and Benny finished in 5:18. After checking the results I saw that every runner (59 finishers) ran positive splits (2nd half slower than first). Ariel had the lowest split (5 minutes) and I had the 7th lowest. Three runners who started behind our group came through to finish ahead of all of the runners except for Ilan who finished 4th .

Overall a very well organized race – great credit to the race director Shai Hazan and his eager band of volunteers.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Mountain to Valley Relay, April 2010

Mountain To Valley Relay, April 29-30 2010, Israel.

This is a 24-stage relay race for teams of 4, 6 or 8 runners, covering an overall distance of 210 kms. There were 62 teams of 4, 46 of 6, 103 of 8 and 3 2-person teams, and 15 ultra runners who were running the final 127 kms of the course. Additionally there was 1 Brazilian runner who was starting the night before and attempting to cover the full distance. The race start was on Thursday with the start times staggered from 7am until 4pm according to the quality of the teams, with the calculations being made such that all the teams would finish on Friday morning between 6 and 10am. More details are available from the race website
This year's experience was totally different from last year's. Last year we were a mixed group of runners from our Jerusalem running club. An 8 person team divided into 2 units and 2 cars. We had a wonderful time and an unforgettable experience. But it wasn't competitive. On my 3 legs I gave my full out effort, but this year I wanted more. By the end of last year's race I had decided that next time I wanted to be in a competitive 4 person team.
Leading up to the registration for this year's race (which filled in a couple of weeks!) I approached some of our club runners and we formed a veterans (over 40) 4 man team. Our club coach Herve, Dudik and Shimon. Ian agreed to be our reserve runner, and in the end came very close to joining us… Dudik ran with us in last year's team, but for Herve and Shimon it was all new…
In the weeks before the race Herve had not managed to get back to his usual self. He was carrying a few niggling injuries but was determined to compete and not disappoint the team. All 4 of us joined a night training run 2 weeks before the race – two 10km legs with a 90 minute break. Everyone had organized all their night equipment. On the Friday before the race Shimon dropped a bombshell on the club website. He had a nasty fall on an easy run and had badly hurt his knee. I called him and we agreed that he would rest and ice, and we would decide at the Tuesday training session (2 days before the race). Meanwhile Ian was on full alert.
Tuesday. Shimon is jogging comfortably on the grass, but not looking fully confident. Dudik calls us all together and pulls out the surprise that he has prepared – Team shirts – that was the turning point for Shimon, and he is IN.
Thursday. I collected everyone in my car and we headed up North. In the second half of the journey we start passing places that we would be returning to during the race. As we near the start we start passing cars with race flags and also some runners. Our start time is 4pm. The final start time of the day. That is because we were considered a "fast" team. Herve runs about 32 minutes for 10K, both Dudik and me 38-39 minutes, and Shimon just over 40 minutes. We arrive at Nimrod's castle in the Golan Heights an hour before the start. Our main competition is starting at the same time. Our clubmate Danny and his team who are defending their win from last year. The race organistaion is first class. We receive a wrist bracelet and an ankle chip which must be passed from runner to runner at each station. The first leg is 6.3kms all downhill on the road. Herve is our first runner and we decide to leave and wait at the next station before the start. I am the third runner, after Dudik and before Shimon. During the first 2 stages I have a strange surrealistic feeling as we drive from station to station – as if the race hasn't yet started…Herve arrives at the first station in about 19 minutes! Dudik takes over and we drive on to the next stop. Kibbutz Snir. Shimon, Dudik and I are sharing the driving. We also have a navigator nominated for each leg, and the runner who has just finished his stage has a "free" leg to rest, recover, change clothes, and eat and drink. As I wait for Dudik I run a short warmup and stretch in the shade on the grass. The weather is pleasant – around 24C (75F). Last year we were sweltering in 35C (95F) heat. I am happy to see that Nachshon, the runner of the fastest 4-person team (non-veteran) has passed Dudik – that means that Dudik is running a sensible pace. Herve has given us a handy lead on Danny's team, and I'm hoping that Danny's co-runners will push themselves to catch up. That should work to our benefit towards the end…Dudik finishes his leg and I set off on a relatively easy 6.7km leg which starts downhill on the road before heading off on some flat trail. I see that Avidov from Danny's team is closing on me. I finish a few seconds ahead of him in about 26 minutes. Shimon is also running at a sensible pace, and their last runner passes him and finishes a couple of minutes ahead of him. Herve takes off again and regains the lead for us. Their second runner closes on Dudik, and I start my second leg with my headlamp on as the light is starting to fade. The leg is 11 km mostly flat and Avidov gradually catches up to me and we run together for most of the leg. Towards the end he pushes forward, as I finished the leg in 43 minutes.
Our team is working well together. Driving, navigating, eating and drinking. There's no time to rest. You finish running and by the time you have recovered, eaten a bit, and with the driving and/or navigating you are very soon getting ready for your next run. Shimon finishes his 2nd leg and we are again about 2 minutes behind our rivals. Herve takes off, but he is noticeably struggling. On this shorter leg he doesn't manage to pass Danny and the gap has started to widen. By the time Dudik finishes his next leg, where he had a fall but recovered, the gap is 6 minutes. I start my next leg which is again almost 11 km and has some tough climbs – altogether 470 meters of climb (1540'). Using my "ultra" tactics on some of the steeper climbs I switch to "power" walking. One of the runners who was from a team that started 30 minutes before us and we have passed catches up to me, and we run together. The combined effects of night, climbing and the mounting kilometers bring me to the changeover in 58 minutes. During this stage I turned over my ankle slightly, thankfully with no ill effects, and almost slipped off the path. The last 200 meters was a steep downhill and as I handed over to Shimon I heard one of the other runners say that there was a difficult drive to the next station. I trudge back up the steep 200 meters and tell Dudik to start driving immediately. At the beginning of the race we said that we would give the runner who finishes a stage a few minutes to stretch before taking off, and at every stage we had all our team waiting for the incoming runner and helping with the changeover. By now, everyone was tired and the driver and navigator were usually waiting in the car, maybe catching a few minutes of sleep. The three of us are in the car as we drive past Dir Hanna and through the village of Arabe. Oi Arabe! We were in trouble. The most complicated instructions of the race were on this drive. We were to pass through 3 traffic circles, and look for various statues, and find an electricity pole in the middle of the road…we got lost! We were not too foolish though, and worked out quickly that we must turn back to the last known landmark. After several tense minutes one of the locals pointed us in the right direction. We were hoping that Shimon wasn't running his 7.3 kms too fast…But he was…Shimon arrived at the station, and team 443 is nowhere to be seen. He shouted out Herve again and again – no answer from the dark. He asked the volunteers – thinking that perhaps Herve had left without waiting for him… he spent what must have been the longest 5 minutes of his life shouting out and trying to work out what had happened. We turned up 5 minutes late, and Herve set off without having time to put back on his reflective jacket.
During the last few stages we had caught up to another 4some from our club who had started 90 minutes before us. It was good to see them and share some mutual encouragement and experiences. Our club also had an 8-person team but they had started at 11:30 and we weren't likely to catch them. Herve finished a flat long leg – the longest in the race of 13 km. He didn't look good. He was complaining of severe pain in his quadriceps muscle and not running freely. But we didn't really have time to worry about it. Dudik set off and after the Arabe fiasco we set off quickly for the next stop. Dudik finished his leg and I set off on my next run – 8.7kms. It was a leg that I had run last year. During most of my legs I manage to catch 2 or 3 runners. All runners have to wear reflective jackets and flashing red lights behind at night. The flashing lights present targets, and I try to gradually reel them in. There are excellent signs with sticklights – sometimes I mistake the sticklights for runners…After a few kilometers a runner catches me from behind. I am happy to run together with him as my headlamp does not give great light. I finish the leg in about 43 minutes. We have now fallen about 20 minutes behind our main rivals. Shimon sets off and Dudik tells me that they had some problems with the drive on this leg also, but thankfully found it in time. Shimon is running a relatively short leg – so we set off straight away not wanting any Arabe recurrences. But on this leg Shimon takes a wrong turn and is delayed by some minutes – apparently some of the local kids had taken some of the signs as souvenirs…I only have 2 remaining legs to run. A hard leg that I ran last year of almost 10 km, and then an easy short leg of 5.6 km to finish off. The finish is approaching…Herve is waiting for Shimon – he looks tired, cold and tense. Shimon comes in and Herve sets out. But Herve is limping badly and barely moving. I watch him as he stops to stretch. He continues but after 2 minutes calls me on my cell phone and tells me that he thinks that he can't continue. Dudik has just finished his "big" meal. But according to the race rules if a runner has to withdraw the remaining runners must continue in their set order. That means that Dudik must run Herve's leg, me the next leg then Shimon and back to Dudik – our "awesome" foursome just became a not so "fearsome" threesome…And looking at the stages to come I see that instead of 15kms in 2 legs I will be running 32kms in 3 legs including the tough final leg. Herve hobbles back to us. Dudik starts getting ready while I go to inform the race volunteers about what is happening.
Dudik sets out and we proceed to the next station where we meet some friends from the Bet-Shemesh running club who are running 4 4-person teams together. Throughout the race I have made sure to keep up a steady intake of food and drink. After each leg I would eat a banana. I also had some pasta with tuna and vegetables, yoghurt, pretzels and chips. I'm starting to feel a little nauseous now. This can sometimes be a sign of dehydration. I try and drink more water and start taking salt tablets every 30-40 minutes. Dudik arrives after a difficult leg – not surprisingly he has also suffered from a side stitch. I set off on the next leg – Herve has given me his headlamp which is much better than mine and gives me a lot more confidence in the dark. I pass a couple of runners and climb up towards the famous statue of Alexander Zaid. From there it's a descent into some fields. The last 2 kms of this 10.2 km leg are on the road – I complete the leg in 58 minutes, and we are now 45 minutes behind Danny's team. Shimon sets out on the hard stretch that I was meant originally to run. We continue in the car to Ramat Shofet – we are now entering the area where the annual ultra races are run, so I know it well. Shimon finishes his tough stage and hands over to Dudik in the first light of a new morning. There is a chill in the air, but what a relief to think that the next stages I can run without fear of falling and without a headlamp. Dudik has a relatively short stage, so we hurry to the next station at near Kibbutz Hazorea to wait for him. At every station there are smiling volunteers. Some of them have been here most of the night. Shimon brought with him a gas burner to prepare coffee, but we never had time to set it up. So here, as earlier he is offered a few sips of coffee from the race volunteers. Here there are also some sweet biscuits, but I still can't eat anything. Dudik arrives and I set out on a long, flat stage. I shout out to Dudik as we're changing over to check our times because I remember that the race website said that they would close the 2nd last station at 8:15 and the last station before the finish at 9:00. I set out just before 6:15. I told myself I had to finish the 11.5km in an hour, so that Shimon would have an hour to complete his next stage of 10.6km. As I start I feel stiff and slow. But gradually I free up my muscles, pass the usual 2 runners (why is this always at the beginning of a stage?) and pick up the pace to what felt like 5 mins per km. (8 mins per mile) I run like this for about 35 minutes, and hope that I've run about 7kms. It gets a bit harder and I slow down, but only slightly. What a great feeling to see the 1km to go sign. As I approach the changeover I see Shimon from afar and he's not quite ready. I shout out to him and he runs over to the changeover point. I've run the stage in 62 minutes, and I tell Shimon that he has an hour to finish the stage. We have a very short drive to the next station while Shimon runs a loop. Dudik and I go over to the volunteers to explain that Shimon should finish by 8:15, but we might need another few minutes. They tell us that they have received instructions to keep the station open until 8:30! But Shimon doesn't know that… I take advantage of the long break to say the morning prayers – I'm not sure what time I'll arrive at the finish, and I will try and sleep a little there before the drive back home. Rona is helping Herve with some stretches on his injured leg. Their 4some has much more serious time issues than us. They won't make the cutoff. But both Harel and Rona say they don't care. They have run 180kms and they are going to finish the 210kms – even if the volunteers fold up their tables and close the stations.
Shimon finishes his stage in 57 minutes! Dudik sets off and we proceed to the last station at Yifat. Dudik again has a short stage, but again there is a problem with the signs, and I set off on the last stage just before 9:00. Now I am really stiff and I can't shake it off like last time. There is a runner who has started just ahead of me and he opens up a gap. I do improve a little as I continue. This leg has some serious climbs. On the steeper sections I revert to power walking. There's a runner behind me and he continues running and slowly passes me. I reach the peak of the mountain and start the descent into the finish at Timrat on rocky stones which make running difficult. Just as I pass the "1km to go" sign Shimon calls me to find out how I am going. Soon enough I see him waiting to accompany me on the last 800 meters. Herve is waiting near the car and shouts out some encouragement. David from our 8-person team joins in and as we cross the finish Dudik is waiting with the rest of the club runners. I finish the 10.6km stage in 74 minutes.
Our overall time is 18 hours 11 minutes which averages out to 5:12 per km.
The first 8-person team finished in 14:48, the 6-person in 15:21 and the 4-person in 15:36.
Danny and his veteran 4-man team finished 7th overall and 1st veterans in 16:44. We were 26th overall, 10th among the 4-person teams, and 2nd in the veterans. The first 127km ultra runner finished in 14:36 and the Brazilian managed 170km and had to shorten the route due to gastric problems.

Monday, 8 March 2010

50km Trail ultra marathon

50km Ultra Marathon Ramot Menashe, Israel
5 March 2010

Two weeks before the race we travelled to England for 10 days. On Sunday, 12 days before race day I participated in a 6 mile road race with some decent hills. I enjoyed the race and did well. I felt good. But in the following days I noticed a serious pain in my left foot. It was most likely the same place that I had felt a very slight twinge in some of my long runs back home. On those runs it never bothered me and I never felt anything after the runs. In the days after the race it was very painful – it bothered me a lot when I was walking. So – I took a few days complete break from running – I was tapering anyway and the runs weren't critical. Gradually it improved, but didn't disappear. On Friday, a week before the race, I went out for a 45 minute run on a muddy trail in London. I hardly noticed the foot and it didn't stop me from running normally. We left England on Saturday night, back in Jerusalem for the Purim holiday, a couple of bike sessions, 40 minutes on the grass on Tuesday, and on Thursday afternoon we (me, my wife Michal, and our youngest daughter Noa) were heading up North.
Our third year in a row. Two years ago I ran the 60km race, last year the 80km race, and this year I was planning to up the ante to 100km (Each year the longest distance has increased). But I had a nasty fall on my bike a couple of months ago which cut out a few weeks of training. I guess that I could have finished the 100km, but I think I made the right decision to opt for the 50km race. We spent the night in a bungalow on a nearby kibbutz guesthouse. I arranged to meet up with another of the 50km runners at 6:25 the next morning. Michal and Noa would arrive later.
Last year I only managed 1 hour's sleep the night before the race. I was really tired this time and fell asleep early at around 8:45. Michal and Noa were in the other room. I woke up at 1:30 – understood that that was it for the night, but hey – 5 hours sleep before a big race – I'll take that anytime! I turn my thoughts to all my friends who are getting ready to start the 100km race at 2:00. Mixed feelings of wanting to be there, and realizing that I took the sensible approach…I read a little, drink, eat my traditional pre-race meal of a roll with lots of jam (jelly for the Yanks), get dressed, check that my "race ready" shorts have their pockets filled with all that's required, voltaren gel on the foot and knees just in case, sunscreen, daily prayers and out the door.
The race start which is also the point that we return to after each loop is about 15 minutes off the road in the middle of a national park. We pass a couple of the 100km runners along the way and take note of some of the arrows that will direct us. Organised parking and a 300m descent to the start point. Within a couple of minutes I have my three race numbers – front and back of the shirt, and 1 for my bag which I place in the tent.
I venture out to check the directions for the start of all the loops. A chat with the timekeepers to verify that the first of the 100km runners have not yet completed their first 50km. Their second 50km is the same 50km that we will run. I calculate that they will be passing through soon. I meet Asaf who is waiting as a pacer for Aviv, 1 of the 100km runners. And now we see the lead runner approaching – no surprise here – it is Eilon Brachfeld – the winner of last year's 80km and the year before in the 60km race. But Eilon is running together with another runner, Amit Zeissel, who finished 4th 2 years ago in the 60km race. All the waiting 50km runners and the event staff cheer them on, as they come into the tent to refill their drinks and grab some food. They have run 50km (later all the Garmins indicate it was 52km) in 5:20 and set out almost 40 minutes before our scheduled start at 8:00. Amir the 3rd place runner came through 12 minutes later, followed 6 minutes further behind by Aviv, Levi and Gilad. As I went out for a final pre-race "pit-stop" I saw the 7th runner approaching. We had our pre-race briefing and right on time we were off with the 7th runner coming in as we were leaving.
The start was uphill. A sign of things to come? I saw Ran Shilon take out his walking poles – later I saw from the photos that there were quite a few runners with them – I don't remember seeing them in past years. I see one of the good runners – a top local triathlete at the front of the pack – I don't recognize any of the other frontrunners. But it's clear to me that they are running too fast. I let them open up a gap – count carefully how many are ahead of me, and find myself in 10th place out of the 90 that started. In the 1st kilometer I pass Ran and another couple of runners as the dust settles. That puts me in 7th. A runner pulls up to me from behind, and we switch positions as he pushes the ups and I pass him on the downs. I introduce myself – he is Mordy. I discover that it's his 1st ultra – and tell him that it's a good idea to hold back a bit in the 1st 2 loops and save some strength for the final loop. He tells me that he'd be willing to settle now on his current place. We are running 7th and 8th. I tell him that if we run sensibly there's a good chance that we'll catch some of the runners who have gone out too quickly. He continues to press forward and slowly draws ahead. This was at about the 4km mark. I won't meet another of the 50km runners ahead of me until about the 33km mark…I continue at my pace. It feels comfortable but steady. I'm careful to drink from my sports drink every 10 minutes. The forecast is for a warm day in the mid 20's (mid 70's F), but so far it's relatively cool in the early morning. We come to a water crossing – no way around so it's straight through – the water is up to our knees. I'm running this year with my La Sportiva trail shoes – in past years I've run in regular Saucony shoes – as I emerge on to dry land I'm starting to squelch and I remember what I think Dot said once – that the trail shoes are so well sealed that sometimes it's hard for the water to escape – oh well – not too bad – although I can feel a little grit there also – but nothing that's going to make me stop – maybe at the break in between loops…I pass some of the 100km runners – Gilad, Levi and Aviv and a fair bit later also the 3rd place runner Amir. Only the 2 leaders are ahead of me. We are following red arrows on this loop – it's well signposted, but at one junction I see the arrow has fallen on the ground and I'm not sure whether to continue straight on or turn right. I wait about a minute for the runner behind and he reckons that we should continue straight. And he was right!
I make it in to the tent after 20kms in 1:50:25 – that's just a touch over 5:30/km pace. I didn't time my stay in the tent – but I was quite quick – Fill up the hydration pack with my sports drink, get a banana from 1 of the excellent helpers, a few gulps of water and water over my head and I'm back out after about 1:45 minutes. Since I'd drunk some water I took a salt tablet (Saltstick) and from them on took 1 about every 45 minutes. I also had some jelly beans on me that I ate from time to time and a date. I was feeling good as I set out to follow the yellow arrows. There was some moss on the ground which was a bit slippery. I couldn’t see any runners ahead of me, and because of my fast stop there was noone behind me either. That was until around the middle of the loop at 27-28kms. We came out to run around a big field. Finally I saw the runner ahead of me. I took a fix on where he was and checked my watch. I made it to the point in 3:30 minutes. Still a lot of work to do. I glanced across the field and saw that there were a few runners, but they were well behind me. After another few kilometers I see that I am closing on the runner ahead. The song from that youtube clip on ultra runners that Doug sent ( )gets into my head as I push forward – it stays with me until the end of the race… Just as I pull up to the runner we turn right up the steepest uphill of the day – it's long also – and definitely unrunnable. So – I pass him walking…7th place. After the uphill there's another 2-3 kms to go on this loop. As I approach the tent I see Mordy leaving to start the final loop. But the arrows send me on an 800m circuit away from the tent. I spend 90 seconds in the tent this time – refill the pack and another banana. Press my watch at 3:17:15 – 1:23:30 for 15kms which is 5:34 pace, and I note that I'm 6 minutes behind Mordy!
OK. It's time to give what I've got. 15 kms to go and I'm still feeling good. I press forward harder and after 3-4 kms see 2 runners ahead of me. I pass them quickly on a flattish stretch –perhaps a little too quickly – because soon after my legs start feeling a little heavy – but nothing terrible. Just in case I drink some more and take a handful of jelly beans. On this loop there are 2 long very steep uphills. No way to run these. With about 9kms remaining I come up behind the 2 leading 100km runners. Eilon and Amit are still running side by side and looking strong! I give them some encouragement and not far ahead of them is Mordy. Later on he told me that he made 2 mistakes. Despite my warning, he pushed too hard too early, and he ran straight through the last change without refilling, and then ran out of water with 10kms to go! As I approach the last few kilometers there are several places where there is a long vista ahead of me. I can't see any other runners so it looks like it's 4th place for me. But with about 2kms to go I see a runner walking ahead of me. I push forward and pass him. He seems a bit disorientated and asks me how many kilometers until the finish. I have a feeling that he's not one of the runners who was ahead of me, and that somehow he took a wrong turn…anyway – I approach the finish and after one final tough uphill I see Michal and Noa – take Noa's hand and cross the line. AS I thought – I finished 4th. 1:29:57 for the final 15kms which was a bit longer than 15kms. Pace worked out 5:51 for the final 15kms and the overall time was 4:47:12.
Eilon ended up pulling ahead in the final kms to win the 100km in 10:51, 2 minutes ahead of Amit. Third place was 11:58 and here are the stats from the garmin of 1 of the 100km runners:
103.1 kms total – 4.144 kms climb
Loops: 51.9 kms 2038m climb, 20.8 kms 695m climb, 15.0 kms 711m climb, 15.4 kms 700m climb
Photos including elevation profile: