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June 9, 2010

Long Road to Ruin: Blue Canyon 100K* Report

*Technically it was only about 49 miles, but that’s part of the longer story …

"Maybe the season - the colors change in the valley skies -
Dear God I’ve sealed my fate - running through hell, heaven can wait -
Long road to ruin there in your eyes ... "
- Foo Fighters, “Long Road to Ruin” (video after post)

**
Obviously, there’s not much suspense to the way this one ends: I've already announced that I didn’t finish the 100K race last weekend. Consequently, I’ve been predictably undermotivated to post a detailed account of one of the most disappointing events of my life, and pondered not presenting a report at all.

Two considerations ultimately changed my mind …

1) I’m still wondering how much of last weekend’s result was my own fault, and to what degree I was just an unfortunate victim of circumstance – and hopefully, writing an official report and getting some objective feedback (that means you, kind readers) may help sort some of that out. Also …

2) I took a ton of pictures and covered every trail on the course, so a full report might still be instructive (not to mention cautionary) to anyone thinking about doing this race in the future.

And with that, we’ll jump into the recap. I’ll try to keep things moving through the early stages, and spend some extra time on the more pivotal parts as we get there. Away we go!


The race started at 4:30AM, with about 20-25 people gathered in the darkness. Most of the first six miles are an uphill climb on a rocky, narrow single track …


… which poses some unique trail hazards not typically encountered in your average ultra.


One reason the race starts so early is to get some mileage under our belts before the fierce heat of the day takes a stranglehold on the course. Forecast temps were in the upper 90s for Santa Ynez (the nearest town), but we all knew the heat of the remote canyons would be far higher than that. The sun was coming hard – and the more shaded miles we could get in beforehand, the better.


Just past the Arroyo Burro aid station at mile 7, you spend a few miles on rolling single-track …


Before taking on a 2,000-ft climb towards Angustora Pass. Total elevation gain for the 100K course is more than 16,000’ - so while stretches of trail like this would be the biggest climb on many courses, at Blue Canyon it’s just a practice hill for later in the race.


From the aid station at Angostura, you’re awarded with a great view of Gibraltar Dam and Reservoir, and more than 3 miles of downhill fire roads ahead.


As you get closer to the reservoir, small rock features you first saw from a distance become larger and more impressive with every step.


This aid station marks the turnaround point of the 50K race held later in the morning, as well as miles 18 and 49 of the 100K. On my first time through, the morning was definitely heating up, and by the end of the day, one of the volunteers here (more about him later) told me the temperature reached 103. And this was a relatively cool spot: ultimately the course would take us 22 miles further into the hills, where the heat was noticeably greater. For the time being, however, I had no worries at all.


The next several miles skirt up and down the hills and around the inlets of Gibraltar Reservoir. This was one of the most scenic sections of the race – but later on, it would be the place where everything fell apart.


I’ve done two ultras this spring, and run past two quicksilver mines. I just thought that was an interesting coincidence.


The single-track portions of this race are best described as overgrown. Anyplace you could actually see the trail was a luxury; more frequently, you were stepping on top of tall grasses or through brush and brambles of various sizes (anywhere from shin- to waist-high), or bending over at the waist to avoid scratching the heck out of your face and neck. By the end of the day, the burrs and weeds nearly destroyed both my shoes and socks.

Even crazier is that these trails had actually been cleared prior to race weekend - so I’d hate to see what they looked like beforehand.


This is the Forbush aid station at mile 31. From the pre-race e-mails sent to us, here's what was supposed to be there: water, ice, soda, S-caps, Succeed, amino drink mix, GU gels, GU Brew, cooked potatoes, salt, crackers, jellybeans, chips, and various other snacks.

And here's what was actually there: water.

It might not have been so bad, except for one thing: the previous aid station was in precisely the same situation. The mile 25 station was billed as having the exact same list as above, but all it had was a single Gatorade container-sized stash of water and one bag of ice in an igloo cooler. And even THAT might not have been so bad, except for the fact that we had to pass each of these stations on the way back as well. And did I mention that the day was a little bit warm?

Nevertheless, I was still feeling pretty good here, and while I had my bottles filled, the volunteer assured me they’d keep replenishing the water supply throughout the day. File that one under “famous last words.”


Beyond the Forbush station begins a long descent towards Blue Canyon, which actually doesn’t look blue from here – but it sure looked challenging.


There’s really not much to the creek at the bottom of Blue Canyon, but a little later on, I’d get to know this particular area fairly well.


Leaving Blue Canyon is one of the steepest, longest, most difficult climbs I’ve ever done in an ultra. Throw in the fact that the trail was almost completely overgrown in parts and that the heat was becoming insufferable, and this was one of the most dreadful climbs I’ve ever experienced.


At the top, you’re rewarded by two things: this killer vista, and the knowledge that you’re only about three miles from the turnaround point.


I haven’t mentioned one other little unpleasantry yet: the whole course was simply CRAZY with flies. They were so widespread, so numerous, and so bothersome that I was compelled to pitch a tent over my head at times, like on this fire road that leads to the turnaround point. There’s really no way to accurately describe how irritating this was … but I’ll be darned if I’m going to let my race be ruined by a bunch of bugs.


Have you ever seen the turnaround point of a race in the distance, figured out that there’s nobody within miles of you, and realized you could just turn around early without being noticed? More importantly, if you were in that situation, would you spin around early?


Me neither.


There’s something about making the turn for home that feels great – and when it’s combined with the sight of a long downhill stretch in front of me, it’s not surprising that I was feeling really great through this section of the course …


… although the steep descent into Blue Canyon was almost as difficult on the descent as it was going up. The loose rocks, tricky footing, and steep grade were quite a challenge to my Evo shoes, which are super comfortable but a little bit lacking in the traction department. Worse, though, was that the heat was definitely becoming a major player in the event. Shady spots had long since disappeared, and there was really no escape from the conditions …


…except perhaps during a brief dip in the creek at the bottom of the canyon. In hindsight, this was probably my happiest point of the day: I was in the thick of the battle, but there was no doubt in my mind that I’d be able to survive.

Which is why I need to stop jumping to conclusions so much.


Even the bugs seemed friendlier around here: instead of the biting flies and gnats that swarmed everywhere else, this area of the wilderness was overrun by ladybugs (if you click to enlarge, you can see them). I like ladybugs: they don’t bite, they don’t try to burrow into your eyes or ears, and they’ve got that whole cute vibe going for them.


So I certainly didn’t mind giving several of them a ride for a while – even if it was on my head.

To this point, I was managing salt and calorie and fluid intake fairly well, typically draining my bottles 10 or 15 minutes before rolling into an aid station. However, I for the past several miles I also knew that I was dancing right on the edge of “managing” and “dealing with chaos”, and I could tell that my margin for error was razor-thin.


That’s why I was so glad to make it to back to the Forbush aid station, where the following exchange took place …

Me: Boy, am I glad to see you!

Volunteer: Hi there. Unfortunately I’ve got some bad news for you: we don’t have any water.

Me: Um … what?

Volunteer: We’re out of water, and we think the next aid station is out of water, too. I’m trying to get some more water in here, but in the meantime you should probably just sit in the shade and wait until it gets here.

Me: Crap. OK.



So I sat down next to a group of 50-mile runners who were also waiting for water, all of whom had already decided to drop from the race. It’s also worth mentioning here that I don’t have any ill will toward the volunteer, who was making the best of a horrible situation. All of this was happening at about 2 in the afternoon, at mile 41 on the course, after I had been running for more than 10 hours on a day when the temperature was well over 100 degrees. His main concern was keeping us safe, and I’m not sure what he could have done differently.


He eventually scoped out this little creek about 200 yards off-trail, where I spent the next 30 minutes soaking in the water, trying to lower my core temperature while simultaneously not letting my blood pressure boil because I was stressed out about getting back to the race.

I also contemplated just how sick I might get if I started sipping straight from the stream, but I flunked out of Boy Scouts too early to remember if I would get “life-threatening sick”, or just “bacterial infection or intestinal parasite leading to hospitalization” sick. Ultimately, I decided against taking the risk …


… and just stared at the happy ladybugs instead.

My own outlook was taking a significant downturn, however. After sitting for almost 40 minutes, my muscles were starting to cramp throughout my legs and feet, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to continue the race if I sat much longer. So I shuffled back towards the volunteer, where we had the following exchange:

Me: Any update on the water situation?

Him: Not really … I’m still trying to find out if anyone’s able to get some out to us.


In other words, the status report went from “We’ll replenish the water for sure,” to “We’re waiting on water to arrive,” to “We’re not sure if we’ll get any more,” in the time since I passed through here on my way out. For the first time all day, I wasn’t certain that my race would end well – but I became convinced that the way to finish wasn’t by sitting around here anymore.


And so I walked. Hobbled, more accurately. The next aid station was more than 4 miles away – a distance that seemed almost hopelessly far.


Along the way, I tried to hydrate through the skin as much as possible by lowering myself into whatever ponds or streams I came across, which was temporarily effective for cooling, but did nothing for my cravings for a drink.


Even though the terrain was only moderately rolling through here, I couldn’t run more than a few steps at a time because 1) my legs were still in cramp mode from the long rest, and 2) the more effort I exerted, the thirstier I felt. So I ended up walking most of the miles to the next aid station …

Which was out of water as well.

The Gatorade container I described earlier was completely empty, and all that was left in the igloo was an empty ice bag and a bit of standing water with lots of dirt floating in it (from ice being grabbed by messy hands). I tipped the cooler on edge enough to fill one bottle halfway, and eagerly drank the water almost all in one gulp …


… only to have it come right back up a few minutes later. By this time, I caught sight of the reservoir again. It’s hard to explain the feeling of seeing a huge body of water when you haven’t had anything to drink for several hours, and just thrown up while walking into the sun after covering more than 45 miles of hills … so let’s just say it’s unpleasant.

I was basically a dead man walking – my legs were cramped, I was completely lightheaded, and I had absolutely no energy to make it up even the gentle hills. And the day was running out on me: with a 9PM course closure, I was looking at a little over 3 hours left to cover 15 miles. That wouldn’t be happening.


So when I reached the 50K turnaround aid station at mile 49, I was cooked. I sat in the chair for a few minutes to see if I’d recover, but my leg pains just got worse, and my head wasn’t getting any better. So for the first time in my life, I officially dropped out of a race. Needless to say, it's not a moment I’ll remember fondly.


The only bright spot in the whole ordeal was this guy: Scott, a volunteer at the aid station who reads my blog. He recognized me on my first pass through the station as soon as I took my camera out for photos, and then he thanked me. When I looked puzzled, he explained that he was one of the winners of the Sockwa giveaway I did last fall. He was also the one who eventually gave me a ride off the course in his truck.

It turns out that Scott’s a super nice guy who’s fallen in love with trail running, and has two daughters who like Jack Johnson music. So obviously we hit it off pretty quickly. (He didn’t even complain when I made him pull over so I could puke again.) And I wouldn’t have known any of that if I hadn’t dropped out. The lesson here? Practice kindness – sooner or later it will come back around to you. And you never know who you might need to get yourself rescued.


Despite the pleasant surprise of finding a blog fan (really, what are the odds?) in the middle of the Santa Ynez Mountains, , I felt almost unbearable remorse as my final impression of the landscape was from the inside of Scott’s truck rather than standing upright on my own two feet. In the days since, I’ve spent an unhealthy majority of my waking hours vacillating between being disappointed in myself for not trying to finish the race - especially my decision to sit for 40 minutes instead of just trying to power through the Forbush aid station - and upset at the organizers who created a situation that invited so much failure and potential disaster.

Only 5 people finished the 100K race. Only 4 others finished the 50-mile race. From my standpoint, I’m absolutely certain that I could have finished if I had the support that was advertised, or even if I had an accurate sense of what to expect going in. I could have worn a hydration vest instead of carrying bottles, or I could have stashed fluids for myself at the drop stations. Other races have long stretches (10 miles or more) without aid, but that’s spelled out in advance so the runners can plan for it.

But to tell runners that aid stations will be fully stocked, and then have two consecutive stations turn up completely empty on the hottest day of the year on one of the toughest courses in California just seems irresponsible, potentially dangerous, and – in my case at least – a perfect way to ruin someone’s ultra.

I’ve decided to leave my ranting at that, but a friend of mine pointed out some interesting discussion that’s taken place since the race last weekend. I don’t really hold any bad feelings towards the event, although it’s unlikely I’d ever be inclined to race there again. In the meantime, I’ll just chalk this one up to a bad day and a learning experience, and move forward towards finding the next adventure to start building my mojo back.

**
Foo Fighters, "Long Road to Ruin" (click to play):



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58 comments:

G. E. Anderson --- 6/9/10, 9:19 PM  

Thanks for the detailed report, Donald. You do the running world a service by letting us know what you encounter in terms of support, or, in this case, the lack thereof.

Not finishing this particular race was clearly not your fault. And despite the poor organization, you still managed to run a distance that most people (myself included) can only dream about.

I wouldn't have even left the house knowing I would be running in 90+ degree temperatures that day. You got out there and gave it your best. Bravo!

Gretchen 6/9/10, 10:40 PM  

I think that spider was a bit of an omen, don't you? But look at you, you're smiling in every single picture! It almost looks like you had fun at times. The ladybugs on your head are simply awesome!

Aww, it's so easy to second guess things in hindsight. You have to trust yourself and your judgment at the time. I know you're tough as nails (Um, hello Western States???) so not even having been there, I know you made the right call.

Did you hear about what happened at Pocatello 50? How they had to cancel the event mid-race due to extreme weather causing dangerous conditions? It sounds to me like this was a potentially similar situation, with the opposite extreme of temperature. No water in 100 degree heat isn't just about being tough, it's about being safe.

So while I don't think the absence of your final miles are your fault at all, I do think you're wise to simply chalk it up to a bad day, an adventure, a learning experience, and let it go. No point in dwelling. There's too many other fun running adventures to be had! :)

blackirish 6/10/10, 12:04 AM  

Blue Canyon Trail Race RD/ Robert Gilcrest reply

Donald

Fortunately we have we have fair skinned/ SPF'd lathered up softies like you who trot around snapping up your photo logs and conjuring up your narratives on how to pat a race on the back or even slam a new races mistakes. Your blog will serve us well in two ways, 1st it will keep teabags like you away, at least i hope it does 2nd it will help bring in more tough and honorable ultra runners like Maria, Helen, Brooke, Andrew and the rest of the lot that finished to the BCTR start line next year. So keep up the good literature between your bug bite treatments and pedicures. Yes i made some mistakes that made it a bad day for some several runners and i regret that it occurred. No true back country ultra is immune to mistakes and failures. Do my very best to guarantee satisfaction i dont guarantee mistake free/happy results to everybody- not possible! Your flat out wrong about about the so called Gatorade bottle being empty- that's was a ear biting Mike Tyson cheep shot comment. Its actually a 15 gln FDA approved water storage canister and when i returned to the Gibraltar Mine Aid Station on Sunday afternoon i measured 11.5 gallons of water still inside it. There was even a bit of ice still in the cooler full of cold water. Siphon pump worked just fine too, You were probably to busy shushing flies away to have realized that you had to actually take your other finger off your camera shutter button and put in on them on the pump handle. I have read several well written emails that appropriately detail where i went wrong. Honorable ways to pass on the frustration, complaints and positive feedback. Crybaby diatribes like your difficult day in the back country swatting flies, bugs or other things that buzzed around you and ranting about poor aid stations service/ supplies or lack of. Next time get off your ass make something happen like so many of the other entrants did rather than sit around in the lily pond's and bitch and moan. and how about that lame ass email you sent me tonight Please dont think your doing me any favors by giving me the heads up on something you already posted and asking me for my thoughts "post" posting. ouch! that was another Mike Tyson cheap shot below the belt! Donny,
i have always been clear that if your not satisfied with what you paid for then let me know and i am glad to give you your entrants fee back in full, just let me know where you want it sent too. That goes for anybody else who feels like their experience was not worth the fee they paid. If it sounds like i am angry, i am. I angry that mistakes happened and persons like you think your justified to slam us via a blog rather than face to face.

Later Donald

shel 6/10/10, 1:27 AM  

"The mile 25 station was billed as having the exact same list as above, but all it had was a single Gatorade container-sized stash of water and one bag of ice in an igloo cooler. And even THAT might not have been so bad, except for the fact that we had to pass each of these stations on the way back as well. And did I mention that the day was a little bit warm?"

by the time i read this statement, the hair on the back of my arms started to stand up, and i knew where the whole business was going. donald, you should feel absolutely no remorse for not finishing this race. i am all for a low key fat ass event if that is what is advertised, even then the people who brought the simple idea to the table have a responsibility to make sure that basic necessities are provided. as a race director i can tell you that the very first and most basic job you have is to keep those runners safe. you cannot prepare them for the challenge if they are unprepared, you cannot undo bad decisions they make... pretty much the only thing you can be reasonably expected to do is have a way to help them in a medical emergency and fuel them. if you can't get that right then you have no right being in business. this is a gross negligent disappointing failure on their part. as far as i am concerned this race is ruined and should be boycotted if the same organizers are ever in charge again. what an embarrassment. they are very lucky that something worse didn't happen.
lick your wounds, and feel free to point the finger in their direction. you did everything you could have and more.

Anonymous,  6/10/10, 3:35 AM  

Sorry it was a DNF, but I loved the story nonetheless. Next time you are running out and about and have access to water you are no tsure is safe to drink, take along an eyedropper filled with bleach. Two drops and 20 minutes will purify 1 quart of water. It is safe and when you realize that every stream and pond you see is a source of water on a race, empty aid stations do not seem to matter anymore. I have used the drops for 15 years in this fashion. Good luck.

Trailrat 6/10/10, 6:51 AM  

Great write up! Sorry to hear about the DNF but it happens, trust me I know.

Anyway I came across this on Yahoo and thought you would be interested. You most likely have already seen this story but I thought I would send it anyway just in case you haven't.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100609/ap_on_sc/us_sci_old_shoe

Shad

Tuck 6/10/10, 7:02 AM  

Given the circumstances, and the RD (nice comment!), I think bailing was the prudent choice. Not showing up at all would have been even better, although you couldn't have known before the race obviously what had happened.

I don't see any reason why you should take this personally.

I guess the Evos worked well, since you hardly mentioned them?

Bob 6/10/10, 7:03 AM  

Donald,

Great report (as always)...and, wow, what a response by the RD! Whew...

Thomas 6/10/10, 7:11 AM  

You should fulfil his wish and make sure the RD's comment gets seen by as many runners as possible.

Nice guy.

I guess that seals the deal for next year's non-participation.

The Dude 6/10/10, 8:43 AM  

Being from Memphis, where temps and humidity stay above 90 for four months a year, and experiencing the conditions you described (very well, I might add!) regularly, you did the right thing on this race.

Seems to me like there are plenty other interesting 100K's to consider in or around CA that will provide just as much challenge and adventure while avoiding this RD.

Good luck and keep the great ramblings coming!

The Dude 6/10/10, 8:47 AM  

Oh, and what did you think of the WRC Atayne shirt during the event in those conditions? I was more curious about it as a shirt, less as bug netting...

stronger 6/10/10, 10:21 AM  

Good call Donald.

We all know the RD will be back to read all the comments- you can tell by his attacking cowardly response. These are people's lives that YOU endangered, Mr. RD! It was not Donald's fault that you could not deliver, but your ego certainly tried to tear him to pieces for trying to make the best of the bad situation you helped create. It's a good thing he is such a tough, nice guy- with a loving family and a HUGE support system of runners who put a lot of stock in what he reports. Best wishes for your race going down in flames...because there obviously won't be any water to put it out ;)

Karma.

Anonymous,  6/10/10, 10:40 AM  

I'm just going to leave this here.

From the race description.

"We will have the 'overstocked' aid stations again this year to accommodate what is expected to be a sold out event."

lol.

When you only have a handful of people complete a race, something is wrong Mr. RD.

G. E. Anderson --- 6/10/10, 10:40 AM  

Wow! The RD seems to have unwittingly made your case for you. :)

Robb,  6/10/10, 10:50 AM  

Wow, Mr. Race Director, calling Donald a crybaby sounds like the pot calling the kettle black.... sounds like you're the crybaby because you got some bad press. Oh boo-hoo, someone is writing that you didn't deliver on your promises. Cry me a river.

You also sound like a complete douchebag as well as someone who is unqualified to put on an ultra... I mean seriously, you promised a variety of stuff at the aid station, and you're bickering about whether there was or was not *WATER* there (nevermind everything else that was promised and not delivered)

And Donald, your health is more important than trying to prove something by finishing an ultra that obviously wasn't up to the task of supporting runners.

Anonymous,  6/10/10, 11:25 AM  

Wow - the race director is a real prize.

jscott87,  6/10/10, 12:02 PM  

RD gets an award... 1st place douchebag overall.

Many people have the ability to run self-supported 100k distance. Those who do arent promised(as well as PAY for) aid stations.

Are you attempting to say that the handful of people who finished your half-assed race are the only athletes who showed up? Like Donald said, he would have made it happen if he had any idea how big of a disappointment your race would be.

enough of the PC stuff... you are an ass hole who endagered the lives of many. Donald went out of his way to not place the blame squarely on you, and you attacked him anyway. No aid when promised equates to poor race directing, making you a poor race director.

Stacy 6/10/10, 12:41 PM  

Ditto everything Gretchen said. You really shouldn't waste any more of your time or energy reflecting on this particular event. Seems pretty obvious you took the right path at every fork in the road, so to speak.

(As it happens, I nearly put myself in the hospital this past weekend over heat and dehydration. And it only took me 1/2 as many miles, so I win?! From your description, you were a hop, skip and jump from VERY serious trouble.)

Not much to say about the RD's comment. His work speaks for itself.

shel 6/10/10, 1:18 PM  

dear RD,
clearly you do not quite understand the business of RDing.
if i go out and buy a pair of nikes and run 5 miles on them while they unravel and fall apart into ribbons, am i obligated to contact nike before i "defame" them in a blog post, describing their poorly made product? no, i am a consumer and as such have a right to expect the quality product i was promised.
you see, being RD isn't the job of "rock star" or " big idea man", but that of "head servant". you are selling a product, and your customers have every right to complain given the inferior product you sold them.
let's be clear: things happen. you can't control weather or bugs, if there were mud slides, forest fires or blowdowns those would all be legitimate excuses. but if you had the ability to get 2 jugs of water in, you had the ability to get 6. and if you had the ability to get 6 waters in, you also had the ability to get a couple boxes of gels and s-caps back there too. for some reason, you chose not to. whether it is money, time, lack of volunteers or laziness makes no difference. if you can't afford to provide what was promised you are obligated to pay for it yourself, change your advertising or alert racers to the problem. had you said at the start line, "attention please, AS # 9 and 10 will only have a limited supply of water and nothing else" you would have given racers the opportunity not to start, to wear their hydration pack, grab an extra bottle or call family or friends to hike in and meet them out there with a jug of water later in the day. you CHOSE not to. you are at fault for the failure of their races and of your own miserable failure as an RD. the personal way you attacked donald shows a lack of maturity and you should be ashamed at how you handled your race, and now handled the negative fallout. think long and hard about whether you want to be in this business anymore before you go endangering any other lives in the future.

also, maybe you need to spend a bit more of that time out in the mountains thinking about who you are, and what is important in life.

blackirish 6/10/10, 1:24 PM  

Donald and guests

Earlier today i got an email from a women shamming me for my post on this site last night as well as other things . It came right about the time i truly knew that i had screwed up with my comments at this same time i was trying to understand and rationalize how my failure occurred last week. Donald's race day recap was fair, it was a recap of his and the misadventures of some entrants whose expectations had been seriously let down and put in dangerous threatening postilion . My anger and frustration stems from my own short comings and disappointment with my failure to meet the expectations of the entrants.Yes, i have sent Donald a personal apology and now i am posting an apology to those who have been affected by my posting

Sincerly

Robert

Julie 6/10/10, 1:40 PM  

Actually, sounds like a super fun race if you knew you needed to bring your own water. The course looks awesome!! I think with all the ultras around now that provide everything and anything, its cool there are still the "go run your race" ultras available. As long as you know what you are getting into.

Also, I think dropping out was the right idea. Severe dehydration is a dangerous thing that can have very, very long lasting consequences. Its not just go to the hospital and get an IV. Some of those consequences, depending on the situation, are hard to recover from, ever. Kidneys are fragile. So, good job dropping out!

Mauricio,  6/10/10, 4:35 PM  

Donald, This is Mauricio (the guy that was chasing you). First I want to let you know it definitely not your fault for DNF ing. I was warned by very creditable source that the race was poorly organized last year and should reconsider running it , but since I just had a hernia surge 3 weeks ago and I was heading out the door to Afghanistan it would be a long time before I would be running in another race, I went for it.
It is a shame that he failed to provide the basic needs in such at such critical point in the race. When I arrived Forbush Camp aid station (mi 25.4 out and mi 40.6) I was surprised to only see one 5 gallon jug that was ¾ empty. I made a quick fill and moved on. Along the way I was thinking I hope they have enough water for my return leg with the 50mi guys running through the aid station. At Romero Camuesa aid I told the guys I think FC is going to run out of water. They assured me someone will be running down and resupply FC. I took off for the 2mi out to the turn around, you were running down while I was making my way to the unmanned turnaround.
Once I got back to RC Aid for my sanity I again asked about FC aid water situation. He again reassured me that water was being brought down Not happy with that answer I pounded as much liquids as my stomach could handle. It sloshed around the whole way down. I ran into one of the 50 milers and he told me that FC aid ran out of water. At this point I only had 1/2 water bottle left. I made it to FC aid and you guess it no water. Fortunately I put one water bottle in my drop bag and a large liquid gel. The aid station guys said that 5 guys were sitting in the creek waiting on water and if I wanted to wait with them. I made a risky decision by pushing on and hoping for water at the Mine aid.
Gibralter Mines Aid was further than what was on the map due to a downed tree. The whole way I was in major water conversation and not taking in salt. Jumping in the creeks and running the shaded parts walking the sunny parts. I finally made it to GM aid and praying that there was water. I did find water and sat down in the chair and drank 8 water bottles. Making my way around the lake I saw you on the other side. I made it to Angustora Pass with no issues except for the flies. I made it back to the S/F alive. I was looking for my Drop bag but only found my bag filed with empty water bottles and trash in it? I asked the RD and his answer was “I always tell you guys not to put anything in your drop bag you don’t want back” as I was looking around for my stuff I found my water bottles on the table with one sock, he came up to me and said “look in my truck” and handed me a light, I told him that’s my light and he walk off.
In summery the trails are some of the best I have ran but with the organization and the way he treated me I will think twice before running in one of his races. He put a lot of people in a really bad spot and fortunately no one got seriously injured. A BIG THANKS TO ALL THE AID STATION GUY’S AND GALS!!!!
PS: Thanks for bringing back my other drop bag to my car at least I got one back!

Mauricio

Drs. Cynthia and David 6/10/10, 6:25 PM  

Thanks for the writeup. It's a good reminder of the trouble you can get into. I think a DNF in this situation was just clear thinking on your part. If you paid for support, then you should get it, and the RD is completely wrong and should consider a different career, as he is clearly not prepared for the responsibility he took on! And legal disclaimer or no, there is no excuse for putting someone's life and health at risk. He is lucky that no one was injured.

Cynthia

Katelyn Benton 6/10/10, 7:44 PM  

Wow! Wow to your write-up and the RD's response. I actually didn't come away from reading your write-up thinking, "that's a race I'll never do." I thought you actually outlined your frustrations relatively calmly, especially considering I'm sure you were pretty upset by it, but the RD's response kind of psyched me out. It doesn't really seem in the spirit of the sport to be so cruel to you.

And on the race director's comment - in addition to running ultras frequently, I've also crewed for a couple of elite runners myself, and believe it or not, they need water too. If I were crewing for a frontrunner and I didn't have water for them on a hot day when they were depending on me too, I think they'd also be suffering if not completely pissed off. Elite runners are fast, but it doesn't mean they're without needs.

And bravo for taking pictures and writing. I mean, I do video/photo reports too so of course I think they're rad, but man, it's YOUR experience. Thanks for sharing!

Katelyn

Anonymous,  6/10/10, 9:32 PM  

hey rd!
we all know you are apolgizing in attempts to save your ass. i understand. but so you know...you are and always will be a douche.

Pamela 6/10/10, 9:57 PM  

I really need to get off FaceCrack and start reading blogs again. This was some major entertainment!

Sorry your race got tanked and I'm sure you will never trust a race to have what you need again. Well, maybe some races - maybe the ones that have aid stations stocked as advertised.

What I can't understand is how Robert failed to warn everyone at 4:30 AM that he'd had trouble getting volunteers and supplies because surely he knew that from the get go.

Robert - next time you want to pitch a fit at your customers write the note in notepad and then delete it. You'll come out ahead. As it is there is little you can do to mask your ugly temper.

Billy 6/10/10, 10:15 PM  

Great report Donald. To say it was a tough day out there would be a major understatement.

Will reserve comment on the other stuff.

Donald 6/10/10, 10:56 PM  

Sorry for the belated return here, folks - I was traveling most of the day. So ... what'd I miss?

A few notes worth mentioning here:

1) The RD guy did e-mail me separately and apologized for his outburst. He was clearly frustrated with the whole situation (race and aftermath) and just plain reacted badly. We've all been there, I'm sure.

2) Mauricio: thanks a ton for your comment - it helped put a lot of things in perspective for me. Also, congrats on running an incredible race. It was only the knowledge that you had powered through the FC aid station that emboldened me to continue down the course on my own. Of course, I didn't realize that you had stashed your own fluids there :)

Finally, I think I said this to you on the course, but thank you very much for your service to our country. (For those who missed it, he's headed to Afghanistan later this month.) Sharing the course with tough, determined, gracious people like you makes me proud to be an ultrarunner as well as an American. It was nice meeting you, and I hope to run with you again after your safe return from duty.

3) To everyone else who weighed in: thanks for your support, especially in regards to the DNF decision. The second-guessing is still going to linger with me for quite a while, but I'm probably ready to move on from it now.

wirehairedrunner 6/10/10, 11:36 PM  

Wow, the RD really showed his true colors with his response. I hope it is read by the ultrarunning community so they can be warned to never participate in future renditions of this event where the RD didn't take any responsibility for his irresponsible actions and grossly misrepresented the aid stations. Just the finishing rate alone is proof of the chaos and calamity. I'm glad you made it out safely. And just a side note: the Pocatello 50 was a much different deal--the RD's acted very responsibly and did the right thing for the runners, considering the conditions.

Boris Terzic 6/11/10, 3:43 AM  

Wow @ the RD comments... just wow.

Diane 6/11/10, 4:31 AM  

wow. This entire story is unbelievable.

I am not an ultrarunner. I am a slow shuffler who can barely crank out a half marathon and a few triathons. And I am a member of an organizing committee for a large cycling event and the volunteer coordinator.

If any event I EVER particiapted in treated me this way I would certainly make every attempt to notify the RD. And to have the RD respond in such a manner is truly unforgivable.

I am glad that you are safe and well. I think you were wise to make the decision to not complete this race under such circumstances. I am sure there will be many successful races in your future. Best Wishes.

snowshoehare 6/11/10, 4:43 AM  

It can be REALLY tough, but one must not take these things personally...

It is the RDs character flaw...

It is very sad and scary this person put so many lives at risk, EVEN THAT OF HIS OWN STAFF, in my opinion...

Let us hope and pray everyone involved and those that read about Running and Ramblings ordeal LEARN FROM THIS SITUATION!!!

In my zeal to run more than the one 50 mile ultra that I've done, it makes me realize one must weigh ALL the risks one can think of..... even super sh!tty race planning...

Thankfully, no one was hurt physically, but remember HURT can be emotional, psychological, and spiritual as well...

YOU MADE THE RIGHT DECISION, Running and Rambling!

Run and ramble on, eh?!!?

Anonymous,  6/11/10, 5:43 AM  

Wow. Just wow.

I know races have waivers to sign, accepting the risks inherent in running, but I think that when comparing what was promised at the aid stations to what was provided, this RD was LUCKY no one died due to his negligence.

-georges

Ray,  6/11/10, 6:05 AM  

Donald - not much more to be said, but also wanted to chime in and say it sounds like you made the right decision in dropping. Def not your fault.

Ultras are not without danger, but are meant to be FUN. Despitely obviously being frustrated with the DNF and lack of support, your write-up conveys your sense of optimisim and desire to just enjoy the race. I thought you remained very objective and calm in relating the series of failings on the RD's part, and your response to the RD's posts is clearly in keeping with your character. Well done.

I Pull 400 Watts 6/11/10, 7:09 AM  

Good report, sorry about the DNF though!

I liked the pictures, it looks like a very nice run all things aside.

Anonymous,  6/11/10, 7:12 AM  

The RD is a complete ASS. Clearly he knows nothing about the ultracommunity and should never be involved in putting on a race again. Please do not support anything he is ever involved with again...

Chris 6/11/10, 9:07 AM  

Wow...the RD sounds like a complete douche nozzle. Mental note not to ever run any of his events.

PhotoMatt 6/11/10, 9:11 AM  

It must have been painful to see (and sit in) all that flowing water without being able to drink it!

If you're putting on a race in the backcountry where streams are nearby and you've promised water, throw a bottle of iodine tabs into each aid station kit. They'll probably never get used, but if they're needed it could keep a rough run from being a total disaster. (Yeah, the water near quicksilver mines is probably full of mercury, but what the hell - that just causes madness, right?) ;-)

And if you screw up as an RD, apologize and take your lumps. Don't drunk-post a rant that's going to haunt you.

CoachGreg 6/11/10, 10:17 AM  

Donald,
Greg here (The quicksilver guy), and also from the 100k "ultra-disaster" race. I too wanted to wait to see other comments (especially a personal apology from RD and two other producers at event) before writing about this race.

I will respond later tonight or tomorrow with added entertainment. I don't want to pile on...though I would love too... so let me first go give my race shirt and beanie to this homeless guy down the street, listen to France V. Uruguay on the radio, get some work done, and enjoy a mani-pedi before having an adult beverage on this glorious Friday.

:-)

Anonymous,  6/11/10, 10:28 AM  

After Donald's post, I would STILL CONSIDER the event next year...

After the RD's response, I won't.

Andy Henshaw 6/11/10, 12:01 PM  

Donald,

After reading your blog post, I'd categorize you as a Whine and Cheese Ultra runner. You are a person who runs to write about it, rather than competing.

It's unfortunate that you can let the sting of your first ultra DNF decide the fate of a truly great and challenging race. Yes it is true, the Forbush aid station did run out of water and that is unfortunate. However, your mentioning of there being no water at the Gibralter mine aid station is completely false. It appears there was a faulty valve on the pump, but 11.5 gallons of pure, fresh water still within. Maybe it was frustration or downright stupidity, but did you really fail to notice something that important? Or was that just another embellishment like the rest of your statements in this post? Likewise, I'd like to say in the RD's defense that he backpacked about 10 gallons of water on his back to the Forbush aid station to resupply. Maybe it was a feeble attempt carrying only 10 gallons of water for a large number of dehydrated runners, but it was an attempt nonetheless.

As for the other aid stations. I thought they were very adequately stocked with not only water but gatorade and food that would put most other races to shame.

Yes, his retort to your post was a bit disconcerting. But you cast the first stone.

For all of you reading this post, please try to keep a balanced perspective on the matter and don't let one person's mudslinging completely influence your decision.

-Andy

barbara 6/11/10, 12:04 PM  

Had Bob Gilchrist's errors this year been his first, much more slack could have been accorded him. But he made similar and just as egregious mistakes - like not warning runners at the Start about what WASN'T out there - in his first attempt last year. He received feedback about that, and ignored those messages this year. Sad that he repeats a bad history...

Brooks 6/11/10, 4:05 PM  

I'm going to try to avoid stirring the pot too much with my opinion, but it definitely is more in line with Roberts':

Having run some of the hottest, nastiest, most grueling 50's in the country (enter: Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, NM races), and with the Hardrock 100 on the horizon next month, I can safely say this was by no means the most challenging race I've done, even taking the water situation into consideration. Not by a long shot, actually.

Ultrarunning as a sport, has always been pursued by, and geared for, hardcore athletes and passionate adventurers, not individuals who think it would be cool to do because they read Ultramarathon Man or Born to Run. Neither is it for those who decide to run longer distances simply because they can't run faster.

I am not insinuating that either of these labels apply to you, but I for one, loved the challenge and the extra variable the heat brought and was more than happy to drink straight river water late in the race. It added to the adventure AND enabled me to finish the race last weekend. You'll probably take offense to this comment but I personally think lots of ultrarunners need to either toughen up or stick to road marathons.

As far as Robert's response, it was a little juvenile, but I can see why he felt attacked. I never even met the guy before last weekend but it was definitely not a lack of planning or compassion on his part that led to the water situation. Mother nature is just one more variable we can't control. For God's sake, I saw him at 4:00 in the afternoon in the heat of the day with a full pack of water, personally hiking the course to provide fluids or other assistance to runners out there. That impressed me more than anything, as he had apparently been out there for hours doing this for runners... his heart and determination, along with his willingness to learn and improve with each year's event will eventually bring an elite crowd.

Brooks

Drs. Cynthia and David 6/11/10, 4:13 PM  

Your friend Andy here (as well as the RD) appears not to understand ultrarunning. It's hard enough to remember to refill your bottles, get salt, vaseline, etc at an aid station when midway through a race on a challenging day. The zombiefication that occurs is well known to anyone who's actually done such long events. A runner shouldn't have to troubleshoot faulty equipment, and it won't even occur to them to fix a problem they don't even know exists. If the insurer for this event (or the park officials) knew of the sloppy execution, I can guarantee they would refuse to underwrite or even allow the event in the future- the risk of injury and chance of lawsuit is just too high. I invite interested parties to make sure to inform them so that irresponsible RDs such as this one cannot continue to put on events. It is for the good of the sport and the participants as well as insuring the future of events.

Your post certainly didn't dissuade me from being interested in the event, but the RD's and Andy's comments did.

Cynthia

lsdchris,  6/11/10, 4:30 PM  

You must return. Do not let a DNF go unanswered.

Go self-contained. Expect nothing from the RD, and you won't be dissapointed.

barbara 6/11/10, 4:37 PM  

Brooks - it was EXACTLY Gilchrist's lack of planning that required him to schlep fluids on his own back at 4PM in the afternoon. His clear disregard for ADVERTISING something that he didn't, nor would 'fess up to not, delivering, is what's at issue here, not Don or your "toughness." Don's or your toughness (for all you've done) is not the question or criticism here.

Anonymous,  6/11/10, 5:50 PM  

Andy,

It's too bad that your age and therefore, immaturity, just came to light. A phenomenal runner and competitor you are at 23 -24.

Respect for those who run by your side is your real test. You will just have to settle for being the only person to ever win this race. Mr. Gilchrist will not get permitted again.

Don, you did nothing wrong. In fact, you provide a great service for the rest of us.

Andy, Did you have kids waiting at home for you, that depend on you?

Ponder that.

Sounds like the responsible ones were able to jump out of a first (maybe second) story window while the house was on fire.

The fact is we will be running these races longer than you.

I actually heard from a runner at the race, you called this your most difficult race in your career. Good for you.

I also heard, numerous people contacted the RD to make sure he was taking care of the basics of ice and water.

I now hear my wife saying dinner is ready.

See you on the trails,
-Anonymous (male) LOL

Keira Henninger 6/11/10, 6:01 PM  

Just wanted to chime in my 2 cents...this post was put up on my trail running group's website so I read it. I myself ran the 50 miler, and dropped at Forbrush. I actually climbed out of the canyon at Forbrush to get to the road to find water, then on the road for about 8 miles(with no water) until the 100k turn around people driving back to the finish saw me & picked me up. I was attacked by a swarm of bees & lady bugs on the road, and at one point cried as I thought of my son & husband & how dangerous the situation had become!

Robert had one of the best 50k courses(and aid stations) I have ever seen. The volunteers were outstanding, and just top notch. After that things went south for a few different reasons, but I do believe Gilcrest meant no harm. I just wish I would have known the condition of the trails before hand, and I would have worn some zensa leg sleeves, and moeben sleeves. Honesty is always the best policy, and thats what was lacking here. I love that zane grey sends out a video of what you are in store for!

I myself am a race director, and was actually out marking the SD100 course all day yesterday with Scotte Mills. We talked about Blue Canyon, and the chain of events for hours, and he was just beside himself at the whole situation. I was devistated to have a DNF, but at the time waiting in the canyon with 5 million bugs for water was just not what I had in my mind when i came to this race. Honeslty whats worse was not a sole knew where I was going or I had left the course except the Forbrush aid station worker. The lack of radio communication was extremely dangerous if you ask me(but I also know I was the dumb ass that hiked out of the canyon).

What's done is done, and Robert sent me a very nice email apologizing. Once again I know he did not mean any harm to anyone. Being an RD is a thankless job, and most of the time you spend money out of pocket. I am just so sad by his anger towards the whole situation. Although he did apologize it still shows his true nature which is just not someone I would EVER have around my close ultrarunning circle of friends. We are a huge family in this sport, and honestly the people are why I love this sport so much!!!

LSD-Hey you crazy man!!! Don't tell him to go back!! No way!! You are too funny! Who ya crewing/pacing this weekend?? I will b at mile 75 hope to c ya!!! Luv ya!

Keira Henninger ;o)

Anonymous,  6/11/10, 8:42 PM  

I love Brooks arrogant rant. He wrote

-"Having run some of the hottest, nastiest, most grueling 50's in the country (enter: Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, NM races), and with the Hardrock 100 on the horizon next month, I can safely say this was by no means the most challenging race I've done, even taking the water situation into consideration. Not by a long shot, actually."

Hilarious!! Dude it took you 11 hours to run 50s miles!! If I ran that slow I would be hyping up how epic the race was. I would hate to see how fast you run the "hard" ones.

What a middle of the pack loser!

signed-
Not a fan of Brooks

Donald 6/11/10, 9:12 PM  

Andy: congrats on your win at the race on Saturday. Clearly you're a talented runner - but please don't ever believe that your talent gives you license to judge who should or shouldn't deserve to be on an ultra course, or whether ultras should be reserved simply for those who are competing for the win. Given your age, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt for your lack of perspective on the reasons other people enter ultras.

And I certainly wouldn't characterize my report as mudslinging - in fact, most of the day was quite enjoyable, and I think that's the impression most people took away from the majority of this report.

Brooks: congrats as well on your 50M win, and I wish you the best of luck pacing Andy at WS, and with your own Hardrock run this year. In addition to the same piece of advice I told Andy, I'd caution you against making assumptions about anyone's toughness unless you know them personally. And you'll forgive me if I disregard your suggestions for what races I should stick to.

Other than that, I find it puzzling that you can say it wasn't a lack of planning that led to a reportedly "overstocked" aid station having nothing but water, or for having an insufficient amount of water for the runners on the course (a situation that would have been far worse if there weren't so many drops). For the record, I never faulted Mother Nature or the bugs or the hills any more than you and Andy did in your own reports - it was the fact that the things we were told would be there weren't, and we weren't even notified of the situation at the pre-race meeting, which would have been the stand-up thing to do.

One point I'll concede to the two of you as well as to Robert is that there may in fact have been water in the container at Gibraltar that I couldn't get out of the tank. I raised and lowered the pump several times, and it was dry. Perhaps the pump was broken as you say it was, and perhaps more people passed through the aid station and consumed the water (see Mauricio's comment above) before I got there.

Despite my disagreements with both of you, I do respect you guys for your abilities, and wish you the best of luck in your upcoming goal races.

shel 6/12/10, 3:34 AM  

donald, re: your comments to andy and brooks - you are a stand up guy. unfortunately there are some young "hot shots" or not so hot shots who have taken to this sport who have no idea of the camaraderie and acceptance that exists in it. it is just as much, if not more, of a sufferfest for someone to take 29 hours finishing a 100 miler than it is 17 hours. brooks and andy, neither of you have any right to dictate who is a worthy competitor or deserves to start. that sh*t should be left with the knuckleheads at the 10k, not with us. donald is truly a respectable and gracious person. i would have not cut the RD or either of you near so much slack. the fact that you even attempt to defend a race where such a tiny percentage finished is laughable. apparently, you and a small handful were the only ones, crazy enough, worthy enough, or lucky enough to survive the debacle... and the mere mortals are a bunch of pansies. ha! i say that you are the pansies, who take the low road of exclusion, arrogance and conceit. you should be embarrassed. it is quite likely you have not heard the last on this, and i look forward to imagining the comments you'll hear from the veteran mid-packers at your races in the future.

Jason Robillard 6/12/10, 6:19 AM  

Clearly, the RD, Andy, and Brooks do not understand ultrarunning culture. That saddens me.

Billy 6/12/10, 10:08 AM  

I was gonna stay out of this but all this bickering back and forth is leaving a bad taste in my mouth and is the antithesis of what this great sport of ours should be about.

The RD's diatribe was outlandish and out of line, yes, but he at least manned up, owned up to it and apologized. What else can he do? I'm sure he's disappointed more than anyone else. (And those casting stones 'anonymously' should grow some stones - at least have the decency to reveal who u are).

Let's just chalk this up to a bad day for a lot of us out there
and move on already. We can and should rise above this. /fin

kevsteele 6/12/10, 11:24 AM  

Hey Dan,
Here's a shot of you at 4:20 in the morning: http://bit.ly/bn60pk.

I was gathering before/after portraits of the 15 runners that started the 100k at 4:30. Some were early starting 50k or 50 milers. I've also got a shot of you running between the first two aid stations just before sunrise at mile 6-7. It's in the gallery of images. I think it was Jason who was helping you at Forbush. He is awesome in the backcountry and knew what he was doing to take care of you guys in those conditions with what he had at hand. Crazy temperatures out there - I think this may be one of the harder and more beautiful ultra courses. There is enough support in the ultra community to really make these SB backcountry courses solid and safe. More are getting involved to do that. Robert has a good heart and envisioned these ultras, others are stepping up to help on the execution.

-Kevin Steele

Brooks 6/12/10, 5:46 PM  

If a 2:55 marathon, 7:22 50 mile, and 17:31 100 mile are slow, you must be something special. What can you do hot-shot? (You won't even show your identity so I'm guessing you're going to say you're a 2:10 marathoner. Do your research before you berate somebody you don't even know.)

brownie 6/12/10, 6:37 PM  

Hopefully guys like you will encourage all ultras to have a staff gynecologist!

Stick to 5K's panzee, leave the real running to guys like Brooks and Andy!

Anonymous,  6/13/10, 2:39 AM  

Dear Brownie,

Thank you for your application to bartending school. Unfortunately, your application has been rejected. While your experience as a liquor store clerk is invaluable, we feel your general disposition will be off-putting to your potential customers. May we suggest you apply at our sister school, "The jerk in the dunk tank at the carnival" school.

Thank you for your application.

Sincerely,

Brian Flanagan

Donald 6/23/10, 11:41 PM  

Sorry, folks ... the comments section is officially closed.

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