Sunday, January 6, 2013

Tuscobia 150 2012

My second ultra endurance race is completed. Tuscobia 150, a 150 mile race with divisions for foot, bike or ski propulsion.
As with the Arrowhead 135 last winter, I skate skied the event.
The Tuscobia is a longer distance by 15 miles, but the Arrowhead has hills, so I wasn't sure exactly how they would compare.
Temps for both races were about the same...with Tuscobia being a bit cooler, especially at night with dropping into single digits I believe. In any case, temp difference was not to the point of really making any difference in performance between the two races. I just dressed a bit warmer at times at Tuscobia, although I decided to try to stay even cooler than at Arrowhead last year and to not take as much clothing with me.
That meant not wearing any wind vest for the start of Tuscobia and leaving my inner Patagonia insulated jacket, extra shirts, vest and socks out of my backpack.
At the start with Matt Maxwell on the left from IA....we were the only 2 crazy enough to give it a go, same as last year, when we ran out of snow and stopped at 40 miles, only to bike the 75 mile race the next day.

Photo by Helen Lavin.

This year the race had a staggered start, to try to get more folks finishing around the same time. The foot division had a 5 hour head start on me and the bikers started 24 hours after the foot division. 75 and 35 miles races started after the 150 mile bikers. It was a great idea and added a lot of fun to the event.

These races require a minimum of survival gear with additional gear as each racer deems necessary to be able to be self supported in winter temps out on the trail, at which sometimes can be extreme.
Tuscobia allows for gear to be in drop bags, so extra clothes can be "shipped ahead" to the 2 aid stations and that's what I did to avoid extra weight on the trail.
I think my backpack weighed in at around 18-22 lbs. based on my pack weighing 26 lbs. at Arrowhead last year. We didn't have a scale at Tuscobia.

I also dropped weight by not carrying as much food and my waxing technique has changed to a lighter kit. Again, different than Arrowhead, I could have put waxing gear in my drop bags, but I decided to carry the gear with me as I only had one setup and wasn't sure which of the 2 checkpoints would make sense to wax at. Not knowing snow conditions (or lack there of) along the trail, I could have made assumptions based on last year and trail condition reports I had heard from various sources before the race, but it's a bit of a crap shoot when the folks, although doing their best to give a recommendation, don't xc ski or if they do, don't skate ski. In any case, I knew the snow cover would be minimal and the snow would be very dirty with the high possibility of skiing over, around and through rocks so I adjusted my equipment as best I could.
Picture of trail/snow conditions near the 75 mile mark below which is the turn-around for the 150 miles folks, below. The west/southern end of the trial actually had some of the best snow as the winter snows hung to the south this year. The northern end had 8-9 miles of heavily rocked trail to start and there was a section at around miles 13 thru 19 which had been plowed to allow for vehicle traffic on the trail as it shares the road with residents that live off the trail. There was also various sections of varying lengths of rocky sections throughout the race.

Photo by Helen Lavin.
Most all road crossings, the train crossing and any bridges that had any elevation or "dip" associated with them whether up or down I walked. These areas tend to get the most abuse from the motorized users as they spin tires and belts as the ATV's and snowmobiles rip up them coming from both directions so of course the up and down has many rocks exposed and uneven terrain in light snow from ruts. I tried skiing down the first steep descent and was promptly drug to the side of the trail when hanging up on a rock. My skis and poles ended up wrapped around my body so that was the end of that. I walked all the rest of them to avoid injury or more likely a broken pole or ski.
I currently have a deep bruise and knot in my sternum where I took a dive and the ski tip tried to impale me in my diaphragm. I'm glad it didn't prevent me from continuing or affecting me too much in breathing, etc. during the race.

We did get some fresh snow the first day and evening and with some light snowmobile traffic the second day it somewhat leveled out the trail in general. The return did seem a bit better for ski conditions to me, or maybe it was just my general attitude that I was "heading for the barn".
The first 8-9 miles, as mentioned above, had a heavy rock content on the trail. It was impossible to really "sell out" skating as the glide distance was very limited before one would have to pickup a ski to avoid rocks or if one didn't notice the rocks, come to complete and sudden stop which usually meant going "ass over teakettle" or, as did happen a few times to me, a sudden 90 degree turn one way or the other as one pivoted on the now stationary rock embeddd ski.
Yes, I did use my rock skis that are now 13 years old and were used when new for my very first ski race The Noquemanon, way back when in 2001. These are the same skis I tried at last years Tuscobia before Matt and I ran out of snow and that I completed last years Arrowhead in. I'm amazed there is any base left at all on them. That said, I don't think they are sucking much wax in anymore but on the bright side, as a 75 mile biker said as he passed me later the next day after my start, I should have some good rills worked into the bases! Rills are channels purposely pressed into the bases to allow for moisture/water to escape to avoid suction when skiing in very "wet" conditions to allow breaking surface tension which will suck a skier to a dead stop and make warm weather skiing almost impossible or in the least, require a ton of energy to lift the ski each time.

I made the first checkpoint close to my expected time with the trail pretty decent (for a snowmobile trail, that is) after the initial 8-9 miles of heavy rocks and the remaining 20 miles or so to the checkpoint having sporadic rocky spots. Tracking information for the race here if interested.
I left the check point in 30-35 minutes after fueling up on soups and some usual high sugar and salt snacks. I wanted to get out on the trail asap to take advantage of as much daylight as possible, and further, with the staggered starts this year, I had figured by now I'd have caught some of the folks in the foot division but I found out I was quite a ways behind them. It gave me a short range goal to shoot for which helped make time move a bit quicker and added some fun to the event as it motivated me some and helped me to stay focused as I hunted them down.

I skied for about 90 minutes before it started to get dark and about the same time came up on two folks traveling in the foot division. The trail had at this point much better/more snow which is for me, a skier, a good thing, but the deeper and softer the snow the worse it normally is for the foot and bike divisions. The bikers wouldn't be leaving until early the next morning, so I wanted to see how far I could get before they overtook me. I had a private goal to try to be the first 150 competitor to cross the finish line across all 3 divisions, but I knew snow conditions would have to favor me for this which would mean worse conditions for the bikers. I decided to ignore that in effect I was hoping they had bad conditions as it was all out of my control, anyway.

Up to the first checkpoint I was averaging 4-6 mph depending on how many rocks were on the trail and I knew the top bikers would probably be doubling that pace so I had to get better ski conditions if my goal would be a reality.
The snow conditions were getting better for me as the trail went on. Softer, deeper snow was allowing me to ski at any pace I desired...kind of. This is still a snowmobile/ATV trail and not a groomed hard packed xc-ski trail. I had to deal with a lot of ruts and uneven trail surface so I really couldn't get the glide and keep the balance I needed to have to get into the 7-8 or better mph range. A better skier probably could have, but not me.

After a while I had picked off all the walkers/runners, the light snow had stopped and the full moon was visible as a fuzzy red/orange orb off my left shoulder as it cast shadows across the trail from the nearby trees as I headed south to the second checkpoint.
I got into the 2nd check point around 10:45 PM. I was feeling good, but had decided to eat well and try to get some sleep here before heading out for the final leg to the turn-around which would get me back to the same check point 25-26 miles later.
30 minutes after I came in, the gal leading the foot division came in and I went off to a room to take a shower and get some sleep.
After 2 hours I didn't feel as though I had gotten much, if any sleep, but I believe I did, just that it was very shallow and fitful. My plan was to sleep 3 hours, but I figured 2 was enough and if I decided I needed more on the return trip, I'd grab some additional shut-eye then.

The temps were in the single digits if I remember correctly and it was a bit before 3AM when I took off just minutes in front of my son who had come in with a couple other foot guys. The leader who came in just after me had called her race. She hadn't been able to eat or drink without getting sick and although she had a super start, fate would not allow her to continue. As my son had told me when I started to consider this type of racing, it's not really a foot race, it's an eating race. 2 other foot guys had come in while I was sleeping, in front of my son's group, but they only stayed a short while and had taken off so now I had a couple rabbits in front of me again.

I had 2 light ski jerseys on and my mid-range wind vest. Also had my heavier gloves and had stuffed a chemical hand warmer down each boot. I opted not to wax as I felt the snow texture was such that waxing probably wouldn't help much and I only wanted to take the time to wax once if at all possible and figured I'd do it on the return trip if at all. The snow was what we refer to as sugar or corn snow. Like little ball bearings so in effect, it was "rolling" pretty well. The small amount of new snow could change the conditions though and then waxing could be advantageous.

The 12 odd miles to the turnaround had decent snow once I got past the tore up hilly sections and crossed 3-4 roads heading out of town. I was making decent time.
It was an interesting time of night....I took inventory and felt good but wondered just why I was out there at 3AM. Well, I really couldn't come up with much of an answer other than to just to have fun and the challenge of it, to see if  I could do it and when it wasn't fun anymore I'd deal with it at that time. Until then, I had a couple guys in front of me I had to track down.

I'm really glad they were in front of me as there were a couple spots where the trail was a bit sketchy on which fork to take. I had seen once for sure they had gone the wrong way and had come back to the trail. By watching for sled dragging marks on the trail and road crossings with footprints I was pretty much able to keep my nose to the ground and keep moving along at a respectable pace and not be concerned about veering off the trail.
At mile 3 before the turn around I saw a light coming at me, but it was only 1 light so I knew it was the 75 mile foot person who had needed to have an early start, the rest of the filed was going to start later in the morning. Once I left her it was only a few minutes before I met the 2 guys leading the 150 mile foot division and then on to the turn around and start on the backside....over 1/2 way done now, only 75 miles to go!

As I headed back the 12 odd miles to the check point I had left a couple hours earlier I started to meet the foot division folks I had passed earlier. I stopped and talked to my son, who happens to be the Co-Race Director, along with his fiance (he gets to do the race while she has to deal with making sure the race actually happens!).
I caught the two guys leading the foot division and soon I made the check station, grabbed a shower, food, waxed my skis, dressed up light again and took off. I thought I'd wear my compression socks in the hopes it would help to keep my feet and ankles from swelling like they did during and after the Arrowhead last year. This was an idea given to me by a mtn. biker buddy. It seemed to help as I had no swelling issues to speak of after the race.

At mile 19 at 11:45 AM, just after I left the section of the trail where it had been plowed for 3-5 miles (so plenty of rocks to dance around), I met the first 150 mile biker coming at me that went on to win. We were in some pretty soft snow but he has handling it quite well. As we were on a long straight section I could see that there was no one behind him for 1/2 a mile or so and called out that it didn't look as though he had any competition. He wasn't buying it and never stopped, just stating that it looked like good conditions for skiing (to which I replied, "Oh Yeah!) and he stated that he was being hunted down and they were right behind him.
It was 10 minutes before I saw the 2nd place 150 biker and 20 more after that before the 3rd place guy showed up. Both stopped for 15 seconds or so if I remember correctly just to say hi before they were off again.
The 2nd place guy, when informed how far back he was, didn't seem the least bit interested or concerned....just implying that the lead guy was an animal and there wasn't much point in being obsessed in catching him. Two very different approaches to the race that interested me.

With all the bikers I saw in this 20-25 mile section, I pulled over and stopped to give them as much room as possible as the snow was soft and there wasn't any good lines for them so they were pretty much all over the trail as they worked their way through it.
Later in the day in this section I met the only female racer in the 150 mile bike division and she stopped for a minute to ask what the mile marker was for the upcoming check point after she snapped a few pics of me skiing towards her.

Soon a biker came up behind me and it was the first of the 75 milers. We talked for a few minutes before he took off and and I called out "good luck Charley" only realizing later it wasn't Charley but a guy named Dave I know that actually runs the Arrowhead race along with his wife....I guess I was a bit more tired and brain dead than I thought. Afterward he said he understood, been there, done that himself.

The rest of the day and evening went real well. I got to meet and say a few words to a number of the 150 mile bikers as I met them. One guy from Canada who I only "met" on Facebook gave me the pepperoni stick handup we had discussed while posting in fun a couple of days earlier, just few minutes after that a friend shared a couple pop-tarts and just getting to stop for a few seconds or a minute to exchange a few words with folks I've just recently gotten to know in this ultra community made the afternoon pass nicely.
As the 75 mile bikers would pass me most had a few words of encouragement and compliment me on skiing the race. 2 of the 150 mile bikers did manage to beat me to the finish..but heck, I only had a 19 hour head start on them! ;-)

Things were going well and although I knew I was going to have a tough 8-9 mile finish skiing through rocks in the dark, I thought after I left the last aid station/check point I might have a shot at a 36-37 hour finishing time, which was about my initial expectation.
My pace the first hour after leaving the station was very close to 8 mph.
Close to the final road crossing before the last 20 miles, a guy across the road at a local watering hole yelled over at me asking what in God's name was going on as I had stopped to take in a gu energy gel and some water. I told him a race. He offered to buy me a beer if I came over but I told him I had 20 some miles to go yet to get to the finish and a beer wouldn't do much to help me accomplish that. He then asked if I was biking and I said no, skiing, and he said he couldn't do that and wished me luck as I started off again. I believe I heard something about "crazy" but that would be nothing new.

A couple bikers, I believe doing the 75 mile race, were playing leapfrog with me as we moved down the trail....then something odd happened. As with the gal who was leading the foot division, I found I couldn't eat or drink anything. I knew if I did, it would come back up. Just thinking about food or water made the inside of my mouth sweat.
Damn, I still had 15 miles to go. A solid 3-4 hours counting the rocky section. Although I felt great, I knew I had to keep taking in energy or I'd bonk.
I just hoped I had enough energy in reserve (after 135 miles?, sure, no problem!) to finish.

It was a bit brutal for me....especially the last 5 miles. I fell on every road crossing because I'd try to ski right to the shoulder of the road but it always seemed I'd go too far and get snagged on a rock and over I'd go. I was getting concerned I wouldn't have enough energy or strength to get back up, at least with my skis still on my feet. Just a mile or so from the finish I came to road crossing and music was blaring out from a local bar....of course I fell over. I yelled a few obscenities at myself for losing concentration and allowing it...I almost wished I was too bad off and could justify crawling over to the bar and quitting...a broken bone wasn't to be found though so I got upright and headed off again to the blinking light down the trail that signified the end of the race. I told a few folks that if there would have been an aid station at mile 149.5 I would have pulled in and stayed there for 5 hours if needed to finish.

Finally, I got to the end of the trail and only had a 3 block walk or so the finish. I stepped out of  my bindings and almost fell over. I couldn't feel my feet. It's like they fell asleep or just weren't there. They weren't cold, just no feeling and not like numb no feeling. It felt like I was walking on points with no sense of balance. I'm not sure if it was my feet having issues or my equilibrium being messed up as it almost felt like I was swimming when I tried to walk. Didn't have the same sensation when skiing, thank goodness.
As I did last year at Arrowhead, I used my skis and poles as crutches and started walking. After 50-60 feet, my toes/balance came back and I could walk somewhat normal again.

Once I got close to the finish line the volunteers saw me out the window of the Bistro that served as the start/finish line and they ran out, my wife included, which was very neat! Unlike last year at Arrowhead, I started to allow them to take my backpack off....but why? I couldn't even feel the weight anymore. For a split second I thought I had taken it off and left it at one of my falls, but it was there, only that in 38 hours it had become such a part of me I didn't even notice it anymore.

Once inside the finish line building I sat down and started to feel like I was going to pass out, but it was probably just my mind and body taking a deep breathe.
Some broth and it was off to a shower and sleep.....the race being over.

So, which race is "easier" to ski? Assuming snow, temperatures and trail conditions being equal, I would think it's up to the individual. Tuscobia may seem flat, but there are gradual grades up and down and one's pace and motion doesn't vary much so there isn't much to mix up the stroke. Arrowhead does have the massive hill section, but if one can climb efficiently, the downhills are great for recovery and the added speeds sure don't hurt.

As with any race, especially one of this magnitude and complexity, the folks running the race and the volunteers can't be thanked enough. Many were up more hours than the racers. My stocking hat is off to them, Thank You!.

I may update this blog entry as I'm hoping to get a few pics, so check back if interested. Will add on to the end vs. inserting so it's obvious if the entry is added to and searching in the body of the blog won't be necessary.
The End.


phillip gary said...

Engaging account, Mark; nice going.
Those last 5 miles seem much longer as if Wisconsin decided for Tuscobia Trails a 1.5 mile equals a mile or something like that. Still, one gets a finish, it all seems to compress. Thanks for your remarks.
Phillip Gary Smith

Skunk River Cycles said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt Maxwell said...

Nice job Mark! I knew I was beat from the start. Blisters and a lack of motivation to keep at it for two full days took me out at the first checkpoint. I am motivated for Arrowhead though. See you there!

mark scotch said...

Sounds good, Matt. Looking forward to seeing you and to the race as well.