Sunday, March 27, 2011

Coyote Two Moons - Giggles & Grins with Gail Force Winds.

Wow, I haven't written anything on here in a looong time. Plenty to say, just not the will to say it. More on that another day. So after more than a year, what led me to find out if my Blogger account was even still active? I  guess it was the joy of participating in the sort of event that reminded me why I even got a Blog in the first place.

Last weekend my family and I headed to Ojai, CA for the Coyote Two Moon 100 the only ultra marathon with a bowling component. This was a return visit to C2M, after last year's run ended early for me, along with most everyone else, due to unusual, winter like weather, which dramatically hit the sunshine state mid race, quickly deteriorating conditions. There had never been a question whether I'd return to seek redemption along the Nordhoff Ridge...C2M's contagious (or is it outrageous) fun had hooked me, as Roch Horton said "If National Lampoon was ever going to put on an ultra...this was it". Mastermind Organizer, or "The Buffoon" as he is known, Chris Scott, has found a way to take fun and suffering and turn it into a weekend agenda where entertainment is part of the entry fee and participation the reward (not to say I wouldn't like one of those really nice buckles with the coyote on them). What is perhaps my favorite aspect of this event however, is it's subtle contradictions. While C2M is a brutally difficult undertaking (around 54,000 feet of elevation change) and draws some of the top runners in the country, no one is allowed to call it a's more of a 100 mile Fun Run. No one here takes themselves too seriously as The Buffoon would never allow it. That said, nothing is left to chance either, and everything from the high quality Patagonia SWAG, to the amazing volunteers that man the ten well stocked aid stations that dot the course, is planned and executed with careful attention to detail, providing an exceptional experience for all involved.

This year's fun and festivities kicked off for the Lambert family Thursday night at the C2M Bowling Bonanza,a chance for good bowlers to earn coveted bonus minutes and bad bowlers to embarrass themselves. One of the things that makes this event unique is the opportunity to win bonus minutes, or to be assessed "boner" minutes, both of which are then used to adjust your actual clock time. Minutes are won or lost through various behaviors such as prompt responses to emails, participation in non running events, not to mention your general disposition towards others during the big run itself. In other words, have fun...deduct minutes off your finishing time, take yourself too seriously...add minutes. Despite looking quite dashing in my C2M bowling shirt, I failed to break 100 for the second year in a row. An Omen?...perhaps!

Friday brought beautiful weather along with a magnificent lunch, a few instructions for the runners and of course, more entertainment and C2M fun.

In contrast to most other running events, the goal at C2M is not for everyone to start together, but rather for everyone to finish together, that is why C2M has a staggered start based on projected finish times. The first, and largest group of runners would get going at 6:00 PM Friday evening, with the fast, skinny guys starting as late as 10:00 AM Saturday morning. Once the 100 milers are off the 100K'ers begin taking off with the idea that everyone will finish between 6:00 AM and 10:00 AM Sunday morning for what else...MORE FUN! After last year's DNF, Chris was nice enough to put me in the 6:00 PM group giving me the full 40 hours to finish. Although a little chilly, it was a beautiful night in Ojai and any chance of significant precipitation was not forecasted until later in the day on Sunday.

Everything started off great, I was feeling good and the new Hokas felt fast, I arrived at the first aid station, eleven and a half miles into the race and well ahead of schedule. Chris, who seemed to be everywhere that day, told me I was going out too fast and needed to slow down or I was going to get out ahead of the aid stations, possibly arriving before they were open. What Chris didn't realize was that this was the first time in my life anyone ever told me I was running too fast, so this only served to push me harder. Although long (7.5 miles) and arduous (4,600 vertical feet), the second major climb was feeling as good as could be expected, then started seeing something in the beam of my headlamp that looked like snow. I initially dismissed the notion as there was no call for snow on Friday night that I was aware of, but soon had to come to terms with the fact that the temperature was dropping, the winds were picking up and the snow was getting heavier. Moving through the second aid station, continuing the climb to the top of Topa, I knew I was in trouble as I had on only shorts, a t-shirt and a light jacket and the weather was only getting worse. As snow began to obscure the faint trail that twisted it's way to the summit, suddenly, out of nowhere, I had the oddest sensation that my Dad, who passed away over five years ago, was with me and wanted me to know I'd be OK. Although a little freaky, the thought of my Dad watching over me gave me great comfort and motivated me to get quickly to the top and back down to the aid station. Although happy to be wrapped in a warm blanket at the Topa aid station, my drop bag and warm, dry clothes were still over six miles away at Rose Valley. Thanks to Dan Decker and the rest of the amazing volunteers who were braving the storm on our behalf, I headed off for the bottom of the ridge and Rose Valley. After two hours of negotiating  some seriously "off canter" trail that was crumbling beneath my feet, I arrived at Rose Valley and a drop bag full of warm, dry clothes. Despite the difficulties on top of Topa, I was the third runner through the A/S and still well ahead of schedule.

The next 32 miles unceremoniously came and went as the energy and warmth I had hoped daybreak might produce never came, leaving me damp and chilled most of the day. Each subsequent run to the bottom of the ridge thrashing the quads a little bit more, each march up to the top a little more painful. I could feel my wet feet beginning to prune and the soft skin on the bottoms feeling like it could tear off at any moment. I pulled into the Gridley Top Aid Station for the first of three visits at just after 2:00 PM feeling more chilled than tired, and happy to have maintained my position on the course up to this point, although I knew the faster runners were on their way.

Leaving Gridley Top I made the seemingly endless descent into Cozy Dell, my final resting spot a year ago. I had been looking forward to Cozy Dell all day as this was the first time I would see Karen and the kids since starting 22 hours earlier. I arrived Cozy Dell early, only to discover I had out run my crew. I decided to sit for a while, slowly tending to my feet, hoping Karen would soon arrive with dry shoes and socks. As soon as I thought it, there they were, what a sight for sore eyes. After quickly slipping on a pair of dry Cascadias and downing a Red Bull and some Pizza, back up I went. This climb proved to be the toughest part of the day both physically and emotionally as it seemed to go on forever. As I came to the top of the single track and spilled out onto the Ridge, I could feel the temperature drop almost instantly and the winds pick up. A minute later the snow was flying once again, intensifying with every step. Despite the shift in weather, reaching the ridge was a huge boost to my confidence as I knew I had only one more major climb to go. Soon I was in the warm and friendly confines of the Gridley Top Aid Station, so focused on the task at hand and the odd looking Farm Animals (was that Luis Escobar dressed as a Chicken?) that were manning the A/S, I was somewhat unaware of the storm that was raging around me. After receiving some quick information on trail conditions from Chris (there he was again, this time dressed as a pig) I headed off to Gridley Bottom. The run to Gridley Bottom was wet, and I could begin to feel the wind cutting through to my core. Chilled, but sure that I was close to the bottom and the A/S, I relaxed my focus and made the mistake of following the road instead of the flagging. I was soon wandering around an orange orchard totally lost and confused, cursing both Sunkist and my own stupidity. As I slowed down to try to make sense of what had happened and what to do next, I became increasingly cold. Eventually I was able to retrace my steps back to where I left the course and get myself back on track. Before I knew it, I was at the Gridley Bottom A/S and once again in the care of my family as well as a host of hearty volunteers including Bill Kee, who had also Captained the first A/S. After changing into dry... everything, getting some food and warming up, I was off for the final climb of the day. Warm once again, I was making steady progress on my way to the ridge, counting down in my head how much time might be left before I reach the top and the Gridley A/S for the final time. The higher I climbed the worse the weather became, but based on landmarks, I was confident of the fact that I was nearing the top and would soon be heading off on my journey back to Thatcher and the finish line. Then, in a matter of seconds it was over.

Throughout the climb I passed by a number of runners who were heading down to the Gridley Bottom A/S, despite being cold and wet we still managed to exchange pleasantries, encouraging each other along. Then at around 1:00AM along came a familiar looking group of runners, familiar only because I knew they were ahead of me and should have been on their way to Thatcher by now. This time no pleasantries were exchanged, just four words..."they called the race". I was shocked, just 30 seconds ago I was marching towards the finish line and now I was turning around to head back down to Gridley Bottom. Another year of battling the Nordhoff Ridge had come to an end. Last year I chose to drop because of the weather, this year I was stopped for the same reason, neither felt very good.

Although painful, I fully support Chris' decision to pull the plug. As cold and wet as we all were, and as bad as the weather was on the ridge, someone could of easily become critically hypothermic. In the end, sometimes a Race Director needs to protect runners from their own bullheadedness to press on. Although for many, the day (or two) was over, for others the job of rescue and recovery had just begun. Sunday morning, a hearty band of volunteers headed back up to the ridge armed with warm dry clothes and good spirits to assist the volunteers who were forced to spend the night on the ridge, make their way down to Gridley Bottom, abandoning equipment and vehicles up on the Ridge.

As I sat in The Ojai Pizza Co. Sunday night, a local news station was covering the storm that had hit Southern California so hard. A significant amount of time was dedicated to the storms impact on The LA Marathon and the trials that runners had endured that morning. I smiled. It reminded me of 2007, when so much attention was given to the Chicago Marathon where heat and humidity ruled the day, and the race was eventually called. What you didn't hear on any news source, was how on that same day, 550 miles to the south, a couple hundred runners endured triple didget heat indices for twenty to thirty hours without incident at The Arkansas Traveler 100.  In neither case did I ever once hear a runner blame the Race Director (or Buffoon) for not getting them across the finish line, instead focusing on their own preparedness or lack thereof, and the volunteers that so graciously helped them through. Even though I had no buckle to show for my efforts, I was reminded once again of what a special group of people I get to run with and how proud I was to be part of the Trail and Ultra Running Community. That in itself would serve as my reward this weekend.


Chris I owe you a big Thank You. It has been a hard year for our entire family, I think I shared with you at The Bear, that Karen and I were forced to close our store due to the economy, ending one of the few "dreams" I have ever allowed myself to have. The resulting Bankruptcy and relocation have put us in a position, not to mention a location, we never thought we would find ourselves. In addition, we have been separated from our 16 year old daughter Molly since December 2009, as she has been in Missouri at a Therapeutic Boarding School, successfully working on a number of issues that haunted her for years. In the past when pressures such as these have mounted, running has always been my escape, but when running literally became my business and the struggles of a running shop the center of much of what was causing me stress, it kinda complicated that whole running as an escape concept. It really wasn't until last weekend's return visit to Ojai and C2M, that I can say running has been fun, as it has seemed more like work these past twelve months. At times I am surprised I kept running at all, maybe I didn't know what else to do, I've never been good at Golf and you've seen me Bowl. Anyway I just wanted to say thank you for helping me to remember that all this running stuff is, or at least should be, about having fun. There hasn't been a whole  lot of joy this past year, but last weekend was a blast for the whole family and perhaps helped me rediscover the blissful diversion of running.

"He who refreshes others, will himself be refreshed"
-Proverbs 11:25



laurie said...

Amazing report, Willie. My thoughts are with you and your family. I hope the joy of running continues to creep back into your life.

Mark Berry said... didn't know your blog was still here...what about the fact that people like me still follow (or have been waiting to follow)?

Willie, I've always appreciated your postings - they're never just about a race or the spectacle around the event, but you allow the reader to see a part of your soul - sharing anecdotes about your journey, your family and the challenges you face.

Thanks so much for getting back on line. If I don't have the benefit of Rock Creek races, I'm grateful to still have "run of the range".

Your brother in Christ, Mark

Willie Lambert said...

Thanks Laurie. Mark...I appreciate the kind words. Lot's to write about and ponder in the next three months as a quintessential mid pack runner prepares for Hardrock.

-Be well.