Sunday, April 10, 2011

Labor of Love Ultra Weekend - Marathon & 50k

When I decided to pursue Titanium, I knew upfront that there would be some weekends during the year where I would have to double up on the marathons.  For those who don't know, when Endorphin Dude is not running, he acts as the chief instigator for a competitive film making team called It Donned On Me. We make movies under time constraints, which for most competitions is 48 hours.  These film projects take place on weekends and there are four major competitions every year.  When planning my Titanium schedule, I had to take this into account and block off four weekends to write, shoot, edit, and produce these films with my team.  Hence, I have to double up during the year to make up for those weekends.  I never imagined that I would be doubling up two weekends in a row!

When I first saw the Labor of Love weekend on The Marathon Guide schedule, I figured this was the race for me. The Saturday marathon really didn't have a hard deadline, as there is a 50 and 100 miler going on concurrently, and the Sunday 50k allowed for nine full hours to complete the race.  Easy, right?


No amount of sugar in the candy store can coat what I am about to say: Labor of Love kicked my Endorphin butt 26.2 times and then threw me into an ice tray, filled it up with Cytomax, watched me freeze up into an Endorphsicle and then kicked me an additional 31 times.  I can unequivocally say that this was my toughest race experience to date.  Mother Nature, high altitude, one big scary mountain, and exhaustion didn't make it easy for me, but at the end of the weekend, I passed every test thrown at me.

6:55am, Saturday Morning:
I arrived at Lovell Canyon, some 30 miles outside of Las Vegas early in the morning.  Thankfully, I was feeling much better after loading up on the Sudafed and DayQuil the day before.  I woke up Friday morning with that scratchy throat and muscle ache feeling, and it didn't help that I spent that whole day traveling.  When I arrived in Sin City, my energy level had dropped so low that it worried me.  After checking into my Motel 6, I went to Walgreens and went straight to the pharmacy.  I popped in some pills and headed to the carbo load dinner with some Marathon Maniacs. Throughout dinner, I felt lethargic and unmotivated, but what kept my spirits up was being surrounded by my running buddies.  Good times.  After dinner I returned to my room and crashed.  When I woke up a few hours later I felt refreshed and ready to go!  Thank goodness for modern medicine!  It was very cold out in Lovell Canyon, and I was eager to start running so that my body would warm up.  I had forgotten my neon yellow gloves back at the room, but thankfully my buddy Desert Tortoise had an extra pair of gloves that he let me borrow.  That may have saved my life that day!

The Marathon Maniacs were out in full force!  From left to right: Yolanda "Walking Diva" Holder, Hector Aleman, Desert Tortoise, Casey Chernesky, Cadillac Steve, Jessica Wabbitz, Diane Adele, and Endorphin Dude.  Not sure where Marathon Mitch and Lan Bui were!
And so we start.  I did like the scenery, but that mountain ahead worried me, as I knew I would have to climb that thing the following day!

8:59am.  Plugging Along.
I made the decision to take this marathon nice and easy.  I figured, why stress my body any more than I should, since I had a 50k the following day?  Besides, I really enjoyed the scenery.  The marathon ran along the paved Lovell Canyon Road for roughly 11 miles twisting and turning covering rolling and gradually uphill terrain. At mile 11, we turned around and ran 2.1 miles out and back along the same paved road, before returning to this same aid station. We then turned around again and return the 11 paved miles back to the finish line. What was great about this course was that I kept seeing the other runners at the turn around. I saw everyone at least twice! 

It was brisk out there in Lovell Canyon. Good thing I wore all black!
I met Laurie from Anchorage, Alaska, on the course. She recognized the cape and caught up to me! Laurie had been following my blog for some time now, so it was fun to meet her. We had fun walking together for a bit.
Blue skies! Who would have thought that it would later snow?
I think Marathon Mitch was already at his mile 34 when I was at 13!
There's Marathon Maniac Diane Adele. This picture has a very prom feel to it.

10:16am.  Diva & Divo.

It wouldn't be a marathon without the two biggest Divas there.  Well, one Diva and one Divo, the male Diva.  Yup, two Guinness World record holders were at Labor of Love!  I love it when I get to see the Walking Diva and Mad Hatter Fancy Pants out on the course.  Being the true Diva and Divo that they are, they struck their poses and worked that course.

106 marathons in one year by a female.  Wow.
Mad Hatter Fancy Pants runs four marathons every weekend. He ran five marathons at Labor of Love.  This Marathon Maniac is racking up the miles and will soon be officially inducted into the record books.

1:31pm.  Let It Snow!  Let It Snow!  Let It Snow!
I was plugging along and doing my thing when something wet and cold hit my face.  It was a snow flake!  I couldn't believe it.  I was out in the middle of the desert and it snowed! 

What happened to the blue sky?
Let it snow!  Let it snow!  Let it snow!
Endorphin Dude with fellow Marathon Maniac Lan Bui in the snow.
Marathon Maniac Hector and his friend.  These two look like little kids playing in the snow!
Dude! It's snowing in the desert! I'm a California Boy! I ain't used to this. I'm Endorphin Dude not Lindsay Vonn! To my Utah Marathon Maniac buddies, send me some yak trax!

You think those pictures above were photoshopped?  Here's video proof of the snow! 



3:35pm.  To The Finish Line.
I really thought it was going to snow the rest of the day, but three hours later, the sun came up.  I'm not sure what was up with Mother Nature.  I had never run in snow before, and though it was really cold, I had fun!  I was glad that the blue sky returned because it warmed me back up.  This was the final stretch of marathon.  I only had a 10k left.

And the blue sky returns!
5:14pm.  Mile 26!  Wow, it took a long time to get there.

I finally crossed the finish line a little after 5:15pm.  It was a very long day, and I was glad I took it easy.  After experiencing this course, I came to the conclusion that nine hours for the 50k was not going to be enough time.  I talked to the race director about an early start and she said I could show up any time, as long as I finish by 3pm on Sunday.  The race was scheduled for a 6am start, so I figured heading back out to Lovell Canyon by 2am would work.  Being out that early meant that I needed to go shopping for winter gear. If I was shivering at noon, imagine how cold it would be at 2am.  Do you know how hard it is to find a ski mask, gloves, and thermal undies in the desert in April?  Fortunately, I was able to locate a Sports Chalet that sold ski gear.  I picked up some new winter clothes and headed back to my Motel 6 for a power nap before having to head back out for my 50k. I managed to squeeze in four hours of sleep.

2:43am.  Sunday morning.  18 Degrees F.
It's amazing what 240 minutes of quality sleep could do for a runner.  I actually felt refreshed and ready to go!  I quickly got up, got dressed, and jumped into the rental car.  I arrived at the start line a little after 2am and took my head start.  It was interesting to see the walking zombie 100 milers finish up their race. While I started out at mile one, most of them were at their mile 85 or so.  It was tough being out there in the cold dark canyon, and even with the extra layers of clothing, I still froze.  My body tightened up as I inched along.  It was too cold to run.

Brrrrrrr.

4:49am.  Delirium Kicks In.
I continued to waddle along like a little penquin.  My eyeballs froze up like little round ice cubes, as this was the only part of my body that was exposed to the arctic air.  When I hit mile four or so, I needed to feed myself, but it was so cold that I couldn't remove my gloves.  Thankfully, I saw a car come toward me.  I flagged that car down in hopes that the driver would let me sit in his or her seat in front of the heater.  The driver, indeed, pulled over and let me in.  She was a friend of one of the 100 miler runners and she was genuinely concerned about me.  She immediately asked if I needed medical attention, but I assured her that all I needed was to nourish myself but couldn't do so outside.  Ah, to be in a vehicle with the heat blasting was exactly what I needed!  I removed my gloves and opened up my granola bar.  Had it not been for that driver, I probably would have starved to death.  Trying to unwrap a granola bar in that arctic freeze would have resulted in a loss of digits.  I could see my fingers breaking off one by one due to extreme frost bite.



6:36am.  I See Sun.
That mini pit stop in that Honda Accord made a world of difference for me.  I managed to get that second wind.  Mind you, that wind felt more like a glacial breeze, but I'll take it.  As the hours passed, I saw a few more 100 milers come toward me, all of whom looked like the walking dead.  I also began to see some 50k-ers come from behind.  By this point, the sun had risen, and I managed to snap out of the delirium which haunted me earlier.  Endorphin Dude is a very social super hero, and being all alone in the cold dark canyon sent this marathon caped crusader into unhinged mental territories.  Seeing other runners along the way helped to ease my mind.

Mad Hatter Fancy Pants just looks deranged here. We both do. I swear, the two of us look like psychotic bank robbers!  We are the marathon version of Bonnie & Clyde.
I was plugging along when Kirsten Rasmussen caught up with me. When she said she was from Anchorage, AK, I immediately thought of Laurie, the woman I met during the marathon the day before. Turns out, Kirsten and Laurie are friends and traveled to Nevada together! Kirsten didn't recognize Endorphin Dude without his cape! The sign in between us is the direction pointing to mountain that all 50k-ers had to climb.

7:26am.  And The Climb Commences.
The toughest part of this 50k finally arrived at about 7:30am. I stopped at the aid station right before the 50k detour to gulp down a few shots of Gatorade, stretch out my legs, and take a few deep breaths.  Once my mind cleared, I embarked on that journey to the summit at roughly 6805 feet.  I kept telling myself that it's just like walking up that hill near my apartment to get to the dog park so that the Epinephrine Pup could release her endorphins in both liquid and solid form.  Unfortunately, this mountain was just a tad bit more difficult, to say the least.  Nonetheless I continued up and up and up until I reached the turn around.

By that time, I nearly lost it.  The volunteer at that aid station offered words of encouragement and a pep talk, but by then, I had no more sugar in my system to coat it and I flat out admitted that I didn't think I could do it any longer. The volunteer assured me that he would be sweeping the course and that if any time I need to retire, he would drive me back to the finish line.  I was very tempted to just hop into his truck right there and then, but then I kept thinking about those three retro-looking heart-shaped medals waiting for me at the finish line.  I came all the way to Lovell Canyon for those three pieces of bling, and I wasn't going to let a little elevation and altitude stop me!  I thanked the volunteer and continued my trek towards the finish line. The thin air at the top of summit sent my mind into a frenzy.  I had to pull out whatever I could to stay in this game, and I managed to find motivation in the oddest of places.



10:16am.  Off The Mountain.
When I reached the down hill portion of the mountain, I let out a little sigh of relief.  I let gravity take over and I power jogged down the hill.  Yes, I may have just made up a new term, "power jog."  It wasn't quite a run, but it wasn't quite a jog.  It's that motion in between.  That's what I did.  I wanted to get out of that mountain as fast as I could so that I could get back onto the main road.  I only had a little more than a half marathon left and there was no time to waste.  When I finally made it out of there, I rejoiced!

Get me out of this crazy mountain!
Seeing Marathon Maniacs on the course always helps clear my mind! Karl was looking strong, and he ran the marathon the day before too!  Karl didn't need the early start like I did.
After I got down from the mountain, there was Kansas, and I don't mean the state, though it did kind of feel like I was in some warped Wizard of Oz experience up in that mountain!

Getting off that mountain and back on to the main road made me very happy.  Seeing my buddy Kansas at the bottom of the hill put a huge smile on my face.  I wished I had more time hang out with him, but I still had a half marathon to go and time was running out. I took a quick pic with him and along I went. Kansas managed to snap a shot of me as I dragged my feet away. You can see from my posture that I am beat up. You know that there is a grimace on my face.  I can tell you that there was very little gas left in me, but I kept going.

One foot in front of the other...

As much pain as my body endured, in my heart I knew that I could finish this race, so I continued to chug along.  The sun got hotter and my fuel pack got heavier.  Amazingly enough, my pace got faster.  The last thing I wanted was to get swept, so I power walked my way to that finish line with very minimal breaks. Step by step, little by little.  The clock kept ticking but I kept going.  I hit mile 26.2 and let out a sigh of relief.  I hit mile 27 and smiled.  Mile 28 made me cheer, mile 29 made my heart jump, and when I hit mile 30, I felt that burst of pride explode within me.  I picked up my pace and pushed my way to that finish line. The physical pain disappeared, the adrenaline pumped hard, and the endorphins kicked into high gear.

Almost there!
I see it!  I see the finish line!

3:03pm.  Mission Accomplished.

When I crossed that finish line, I nearly lost it. I fell into the arms of the race director and gushed how this was the most difficult challenge of my life.  It's true.  Never before have I completed 57.3 miles in a span of two days.  This Labor of Love ultra weekend to me is just like The Goofy Challenge, but on steroids.  I spent nearly 24 hours climbing hills, gasping for air, and teetering on the edge of redrum. I reached levels of physical and mental fatigue where I started to question why I was even out there. In spite of all this, I kept positive. At the end of the weekend, I limped away with three shiny hearts hanging around my neck. I am so proud.

Shortly after I crossed the finish line, so did Mad Hatter Fancy Pants.  Bear in mind, that he crossed that finish line five times.  That Marathon Maniac ran five marathons that weekend.  Here we are with Race Director, Joy Fourier.  Thank you once again Joyce for putting on this incredible event.

On a final note,  I would like to share an excerpt from fellow Marathon Maniac "Kansas-IronClyde" Guadalupe J. Galindo's Labor of Love race report.  The final 11 miles of this race tested my mind and body as I inched along the dirt road.  What got me to that finish line was something Kansas called "reslience."  His race report really hit me.

Throughout the weekend I saw runners dig deep, others faces the elements and pushed forward.  But the best example of resiliency I saw, was the very last thing I saw. I had missed Endorphin Dude during his marathon on Saturday, and I didn’t see him on the course on Sunday. So I drove out and picked up gear I had dumped at one of the aid stations ran by Ryan, another MM. I was eager to know how Tony was doing so I continued out on the course. I didn’t see him and I reached the last aid station. The volunteers running the station said he was on the trail and would be coming down in a few minutes. So I waited. With only a little time gone by Tony came around the corners with a smile on his face! After a quick chat and some snap shots he was on his way with 11 more miles to go, and time was not on his side. The course was brutal, the weather played a huge factor, and I can’t even imagine what his legs, back, and mind must have felt like. During an endurance event you have to have mental toughness or else you could lose it, but there he went, one foot in front of the other. Although things may slow him down, he was bound and determined not to let anything stop him. Endorphin Dude is not only powered by endorphins, but he sets the bar high when it comes to being resilient!

This isn't so much a race report, but more of a story of how the entire weekend was viewed and experienced through my eyes. I was able to witness ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

- "Kansas-IronClyde" Guadalupe J. Galindo
In this jungle called the Marathon, I am that awkward little monkey swinging from tree to tree.  I don't have the speed of a cheetah or the agility of a gazelle, but I know what I need to do to get to the other side of the jungle.  I know when I need to eat my banana, I know which branch to swing from, and I know when to stop under a tree to rest.  To say that this Labor of Love ultra weekend is challenging would be a gross understatement.  I pulled out all the stops, and at the end of the day I made it, thanks to this little thing Kansas called "resilience." This awkward little monkey is very happy.

Titanium Scoreboard: 14 down, 28 to go.

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