– the blog –

The Best Laid Plans 14 August 2017

The training week of July 31st to August 6th went a little nutty towards the end. According to Weather Underground, Portland's temperatures for that week had our average being 96°F, with our high being 105°F and the thermometer never sinking below 88°F. In short, it was pretty darn warm outside, even at 6am in the morning and especially for a 15 mile run.

That's not the whole story. Thanks to forest fires to the north, south, and east, our air quality dipped down into the "Unhealthy" range according to the Oregon DEQ. It was so bad that one could barely see Portland's downtown from our apartment, let alone Forest Park beyond, where I usually do my trail runs. My Thursday morning run had me cutting it short by a couple miles as I could feel my cardiovascular suffering in the warm temps and poor air quality.

Our group camping trip for the weekend got canceled since no one was energetic about spending the weekend outside in conditions all too similar to what Portland was experiencing. With that in mind, I decided to forgo my Friday morning run to protect my lungs and instead do a longer run on Sunday. The hope being that the air quality and temps would improve enough for me to do the Timberline Trail around Mt. Hood. A challenging 40 mile and 10K+ of elevation gain run that ranges between 5500' and 7200' in elevation. By doing the Timberline Trail run on Sunday, I could have one last big run and still have a full two weeks to taper before the NUT 100K.

Tina and I headed up to Mt. Hood on Saturday afternoon and the air quality did seem improved. You could actually see the mountain from Portland, though it was still quite hazy. The weather report indicated the temperatures at Timberline Lodge would be in the mid-70s the next day but that the air quality would go slightly down again. That night we camped at Alpine Camp, which is a primitive campground just down the road from Timberline Lodge. The temperature never dipped below 60 degrees and despite a Benadryl, I slept poorly and woke up feeling dehydrated.

With a quick meal of breakfast bars, fresh fruit, and water, we drove up to Timberline Lodge and around 6:45am I started running counter-clockwise around Mt. Hood. On my person, I had a backpack with two small running water bottles, drink mix and food for the entire day, a tiny first aid kit, sunscreen, headlamp, my phone, a spare pair of socks, and body glide. The pack was heavier than one would wish for running, but after running out of food last year and how few people I saw the previous year, I may have overpacked a bit for safety.

The day was warm from the beginning. Last year, I ran Timberline Trail in early October and wore a long sleeve the entire day and had to put on my rain jacket a couple times because of chilly winds and occasional drizzle. This time, I started in my lightweight wool running shirt and it was too much. Even running downhill towards White River at a gentle pace, I broke a light sweat.

Despite this, the first 10 miles went fast and smooth. Took me a few short back and forths to find a safe crossing for White River and the trail through Mount Hood Meadows was a bit narrow and overgrown in parts, but as this was a training run I took it at a moderate pace. By the time I got to the Gnarly Ridge Trail junction, I had caught up to a couple that had left 20 minutes before me and made the decision to take a five minute break to empty my shoes. The ground was dry and each step was kicking up a decent amount of volcanic dust, so I wanted to avoid any potential foot problems from sweaty, dusty socks.

The climb up Gnarly Ridge was spent mostly walking. It is not steep, just almost continually up and with nearly 30 miles to go you want to conserve your energy. The air was noticeably dry and looking up at the mountain was like looking through a brown, partially transparent curtain. The smoke had returned overnight and the normal panoramic views to the east were nowhere to be found. Despite this, you could still feel the sun glaring down on you. At the top of Gnarly Ridge I had already finished nearly both of my bottles from their last top up a few miles beforehand. I kept a lookout for the usual snowmelt streams but despite hearing a bit of trickling, they were all still buried under snow fields.

This is where I think I started losing the hydration game. I had not been able to find my 1L Platy bladder at home the day before and left without it with the faint hope it might be somewhere in the car. Alas, it was not and I left Timberline without a backup water source that I could have filled up to get me through this section with plenty of water. Oops.

Eventually I found a clear, cold snowmelt stream about a mile before the Cooper Spur Trail. It was delicious. I quickly swallowed about 600ml of water while eating some solid food. Refilled both of my bottles and added in hydration mix. Also doused my head with water as it was quite warm even at that elevation.

Ran down to Cloud Cap Saddle and all the way down to the Eliot Creek crossing via the new trail built last year–Thank you, Forest Service! The trail was in better condition than I expected. Only the short bit right along the creek seems to have suffered from the winter melt. The climb back up from Eliot Creek was still tiring but I felt significantly better than I did the year previous.

A couple miles later I stopped again to empty out my shoes again (so dusty), refill water bottles and myself, and douse my head repeatedly in cool water. It was getting pretty warm out and the ground just seemed to amplify it. Through the next part, I ran into four other people running around the trail clockwise. Chatted a bit and continued on. Reaching Elk Cove, I stopped for more water and dousing, and then I immediately met a group of people running the Timberline Trail together. They looked rather stronger and cooler than I felt in the midday heat. Their backpacks looked pretty lightweight too. Surprisingly so. I was late for meeting Tina at the top of the Vista Ridge Trail, but I would have been curious to know how much and what fuel they were using for their run.

Made it to Vista Ridge Trail junction and promptly plopped down to the ground, took off my shoes and socks, and dunked my feet in a nearby stream. Ate food, drank water, and doused my head a few times. Felt warm, but did not suspect any dehydration and no part of my body felt problematic. And while my pace was not extraordinary, it was getting the job done, especially for a training run on such a warm day.

I did my best velociraptor impression for the camera and then started jogging towards Ramona Falls, 10 miles away. After the Vista Ridge break, I had a hard time getting my body running again. It was like my internal motor was resisting me and refused to rev high enough. Thinking it was the heat, I stopped at nearly every stream and doused my head and drank water.

A couple miles down from McNeil Point is where I rolled my ankle. If you have ever been on this section, it is where there are countless tree roots in the trail for a half mile or so. To the point that even though it is mostly downhill, I repeatedly would walk for a dozen feet whenever it became too uneven for reliable footing. Alas, during one of these slow downs, I still stepped wrong and my ankle rolled.

This was about 25 miles into my run and still 5 miles from Ramona Falls. With no alternative, I tightened my ankle brace, gritted my teeth, and kept on going. Unfortunately, this was the tipping point. On the run down to the Muddy Fork crossing, I started feeling woozy. Not fall over worthy, just not feeling solid on my feet. I kept on pouring cool water over my head whenever I could, but it just barely kept me going. Once across the Muddy Fork, I hit a humid wall of overgrown trail that sapped my strength to the point that I started walking.

Tina was planning on meeting me near Ramona Falls to see how I was doing before I did the last section of trail back up to Timberline Lodge. Eventually I got running again, refilled at Ramona Falls, and met her where the trail heads down to the Sandy River. I sat down and told her I was done. With a painful rolled ankle and what felt like a decent case of heat exhaustion, it was not worth forcing myself to finish the last 8.5 miles.

The 3 mile walk out was slow and I beat myself up mentally about quitting, but it was the right decision. In Welches, we stopped at a coffee shop and got cool, delightfully fruity smoothies as I was craving something cool and sweet. I also ate a banana and drank a decent amount of water during the rest of our drive back to Portland.

Here's the crazy thing. Saturday morning I weighed myself and was 188 pounds. When I got home on Sunday night, I weighed myself again and was shocked: 179.6 pounds. If you consider the smoothie, banana, and water I consumed on the way home, I probably was 10 pounds under my starting weight by the time I reached Ramona Falls. More than 5% of my body weight lost during my long run.

So, I took a couple days off to recover and started rehabilitating my ankle. The weight mostly came back but the ankle has been more problematic. Even with rest and taking it easy physically, today's light workout on the treadmill made it mildly stiff and sore. With the NUT 100K being this Saturday, I was becoming seriously concerned it might not hold up to 60 miles of running.

After showering, I checked my email and...lo and behold...the NUT 100K is canceled.

Huh. Well. Shit.