Thursday, July 9, 2015

Western States 2015 Race Report

With temperatures near 100 degrees, a merciless sun at 8,000 feet altitude beat on me as I ran the rocky, dusty, Western States Trail, the air hazy from both the dust and the nearby forest fires. I soaked in a stream by Swinging Bridge at mile 39 before the 1,800 foot climb up Devil’s Thumb. Then my stomach disintegrated - I felt nauseous and energy-less, with chills through my body as I tried to force myself to take another step. Just one more step. I remembered how easy and fun this climb had seemed at Western States Training Camp in May, when I’d passed a string of struggling runners. Then I remembered how at Canyons 50K I’d soaked in the same stream then stormed up the hill. Now all I could do was keep moving. I saw a very sad, motionless runner perched on a switchback. When I reached her, I saw it was Christine, my training partner. I wanted to encourage her, to stop and tell her she could do it. But I didn’t even know if I could do it. All my energy was in just willing myself forward, step after step.

It’s 3 pm in Auburn Sunday afternoon. I’m sitting in a cool air-conditioned motel room with Karen & Ken & Misha, my friends who’d given up their weekend to help me meet my goal of finishing Western States 100. Karen & Ken tell me they didn’t think I’d make it to the river - mile 78 - but they wanted to help me anyway.  

Right now you think this is a DNF race report. And it almost was.  But I thought of the email I would have to send my friends and coworkers that I’d dropped out, and I felt sad. I CAN WRITE MY OWN STORY  - and it’s not quitting. Somehow, despite everything, I stumbled into Devils Thumb at mile 43. I immediately slumped into a chair, ignoring for a second Coach Ann’s voice in my head saying “A chair is a coffin”. Tawnya & Bull Dozier hurried over to me, as I mumbled how nauseous and miserable I was. Tawnya brought me ginger ale, which I gulped. Bull took photos, and I begged him to not put them on Facebook. “It’s okay, it’s a tough day, so many people have quit. If you stay here for 44 more minutes, the aid station shuts, we’ll give you a ride out.”. NO. NO. NO. NO. I have worked TOO hard to get here - I’m NOT NOT finishing! I shot up out of the chair. I'd finished Leona Divide 50 Mile in the heat, finished Overlook 50 Mile as second place woman in worse heat conditions. I was not quitting now. 

I ran out of Devil’s Thumb aid station so determined. Despite how dreadful I’d felt, I’d still passed multiple people going up the climb. I wasn’t “killing it”, but I was still in the race. I remembered this section so well from Canyons 50K & Training Camp — a long downhill I could pick up speed, then the brutal downhill to El Dorado Creek, too rocky and steep to really hammer, but enough I could keep a good pace, remembering running this with Leigh-Ann. Then the long climb up to Michigan Bluff, remembering the rattlesnake I’d seen at Canyons. At Michigan Bluff, Karen,Misha and Laura were waiting for me. I really wanted to change out of my soggy clothes but there was still a speck of daylight which I wanted to push through. 

I’d started at dawn at 5 AM in Squaw Valley, almost 16 hours ago. I’d hiked up the Escarpment at the back of the pack, a position I was fine with - I like being at the back, that way I know where everyone is. I caught up with Timothy Allen, who I’d met in training camp, on the final scramble. In the high country, I passed shirtless Gordy Ainsleigh who teased me “Mountain Lions like girls with headphones”. I replied “Mountain Lions like topless runners”. “Topless! I don’t think of myself as topless!” It was a huge advantage to have run the course before - I knew all the jags of the course as it rolled through the spine of the Sierras. I remembered Ken’s podcast “Keep your head” + “Don’t trash your quads” and kept a consistent pace without too much effort.

It was fun to see Allen Lucas & Bonnie Porter at Last Chance aid station. As I was leaving the aid station, they’d made signs for runners I knew - like Alvin, Franco & Mark Tanaka. To my huge surprise, I was the last sign! I wished I had my iPhone to take a picture, but I’d decided I would NOT get distracted with social media or taking pictures, and was running iPhone less. I'd run the Squaw to Robinson Flat 31 miles section two weeks earlier, when the spring flowers were in full bloom. Now the flowers had wilted and dropped, as the full blast of summer had begun. However, it was a huge boost to see my crew every 10-15 miles, and I was basically on schedule until I got to Devil’s Thumb at mile 43. 

Now, runninng to ForestHill (mile 62) I took advantage of the daylight as best I could, but soon it was dark, and the trail wasn’t well marked for the night. i was glad I’d run the course numerous times, but even so I stopped & hollered a few times for other runners. On the descent down the canyon, Ken Neely caught me - I asked if he wanted to pass, but he said he liked my steady pace. He’d blown up trying to break 24 hours and was trying to put himself back together again.  “If you keep this pace, you’ll finish the race”, Ken said, which helped my psyche. The long climb out went quickly, and soon we were climbing Bath Road, me remembering Loren Lewis giving me Western States advice during Training Camp. He’d gotten to Michigan Bluff after dark, and finished - I was ahead of his pace.

At Forest Hill I changed shorts and socks and shoes. Well, actually, my crew changed my shoes and socks for me (THANK YOU) including moving my pacing tag from shoe to shoe. Jen established her sainthood by unpinning my race bib from my gross 62 mile shorts. (When I read later about Mike Kradens pacer switching SHORTS my jaw dropped, but not my trousers). Laura and I set off into the night. The first section went smoothly - I was drinking and eating, running well, trying to build up more of a buffer. I’d run the section in training camp and remembered being in stiff agony. I felt loose and good and strong. I ran into Cal1 looking for Bruce LaBelle, but couldn’t see him. I felt strong, I pushed into the red, past Cal2 way ahead of the cutoff. My goal of 3 AM to the river seemed easily achievable, then my stomach absolutely disintegrated again. I'd ignored Chihfing Fu's advice - "survive the night". 

At Cal3, mile 73, I chugged ginger ale, hoping it would help me as much as it had helped me at mile 43. Immediately as soon as it went down, I knew it would come back up. “Laura, we have to leave. NOW”. I got about two feet out of the aid station then started violently retching so hard that I popped the pins on my bib. All the ginger ale & fluids I’d taken came out. And I still felt terrible. Laura and I walked to Rucky Chucky. I was weak and dehydrated, and I’d been awake for over 24 hours running. I felt terrible, absolutely terrible. My stomach ached and was sore. And I was so sad. My race seemed over. How could I continue? Every time I broke into a jog, my stomach rebelled again & I would dry heave. In the darkness, runners & their pacers kept passing, including Catra Corbett. I managed two bites of Snickers. 

At Rucky Chucky, mile 78, I collapsed into a chair. Tony Nguyen was so helpful, and came by to give me advice on the river crossing. Ken came with cheese saying “Eat this cheese”. I told Ken very strongly where he could take the cheese and his advice, and Tony backed away with wide eyes. Somehow I was having a life jacket strapped on & crossing the chest-high icy river in the dark, with glowsticks marking the rocks. It was 4:10 AM. I was ahead of the 5 AM cutoff, but the race had slipped out of reach. All I could do was keep going til I was pulled. I wasn't going to stop of my own accord. 

Ken told me to trust him and eat the turkey & cheese, that I needed protein. Up to the top of Green Gate, and surprisingly the turkey and cheese stayed down. Alina & Jen were there, and I got another Snickers from them. We were at the top of the hill at 5 AM, with 6 hours for 20 miles. If my stomach stayed together, if I ran smart, if I could hang in there - I could finish. If if if. I thought about how much I’d trained for the race, how much time I’d spent up in the Sierras running the course, how much time I’d spent in the Headlands, how hard I’d worked for this race, and how many people were helping me. I thought of my DNF at mile 68 of Bear 100 and how devastated I'd felt after, seeing Chihping Fu and Mark Tanaka with their finishers shirts at SFO airport. Then the bitter pill of unpacking my dirty drop bags from running 24 hours at Bear without the solace of a finishers buckle. “I’m FINISHING”. I announced. 

Honestly, the next 20 miles I was in a zombie like trance of relentless forward motion. I put in my headphones & turned them up as loud as possible. I’d walk the ups, run the downs, shuffle the flats. I knew I had some serious blisters on my feet but my actual legs were strong and in good shape. Ken had warned "don't look at your feet - you'll get in the trap of taping & fussing, then you'll blow your time at aid station". So before we got into an aid station, I’d consult with Ken on our plan to get in and out as quickly as possible. When we got to ALT it was a very happy surprise to see Mike Weston! He was our volunteer, and in addition, I could give him my headlamp. At Brown’s Bar, I was in such a daze I didn’t even realize Hal Koerner had helped me. My mind kept doing the constant math that I needed to keep moving, and there was very little time to spare. At Highway 49 I tore through the mile 94 station, grabbing a new pack from Misha & getting another Snickers (yum). I was honestly surprised to see Misha, as when I'd seen her at mile 78 I was over the verge of quitting. Wow - she was still here on the course helping me! The final climb up from Highway 49, then we were in the familiar meadow with 6 miles to go I knew so well from doing an out & back three weeks ago. The next 2 miles were a sharp descent to No Hands Bridge. 

“Ken, I GOT THIS” - I took off my headphones and yelled. Ken said “What, what? What do you mean?” “Ken, I mean, I GOT THIS”. And then I dropped the hammer. And I mean, I really dropped the hammer. If you’re at mile 95 of Western States and staring a DNF in the face, you don’t leave much in the tank. I clocked down the hill, scampering through the rocks where I’d seen a rattlesnake in training. Ken even went ahead to warn hikers I was bombing down the hill! In no time we were at No Hands, where Ken bragged to Tim Tweitmeyer that I’d run 8 minute miles on this section. 

Those 8 minute miles gave me the cushion I needed, and finally I could relax, or as much as one can while finishing Western States. Alina & Jen gave me a Red Bull at No Hands Bridge, and Ken & I jogged up up to the final climb up the hill. At Robie, Misha, Alina, Jen, Laura met us. Then, a very nice surprise - Ann Trason walking her dog Zoey, with Bruce, who had given me so much good advice. Ann surprised me by wanting her picture taken with me. We all posed by the mile 99 sign that had haunted my thoughts for the last month. Ann had said “no crying til the white bridge”, a quarter mile before the finish, and we were there, crossing the white bridge. As we came into the stadium Andy Jones Wilkins slapped my hand.

Then I was rounding the track with all my pacers and crew and Ann, and I was so happy. I was walking as I had plenty of buffer of time, even after stopping to take multiple photos in the last mile. Ann said “you have to run on the track”, and for emphasis, pinched my butt! So I started running. I was so tired and so happy. I had done it, with the help of my friends, who’d spent a weekend helping me achieve my goal. Ann escorted me over to an ice bath where I dunked my feet, though I wanted to dunk my entire body. I’d really done it! I’d done it! I can’t say enough how much it helped to have Karen, Laura, Ken, Misha, Alina & Jen on course to help me. 

Things I did well:
Kept going even when my race seemed over
Didn’t look at my feet til after the race
Had variety of food (Snickers, pretzels, Milano cookies, Gatorade, Red Bull) so could digest what seemed appetizing. For the last twenty miles all I ate was Snickers
Kept my iPods charged so always had music
Said thank you to volunteers
Three packs to rotate between meant aid stations were very quick
Didn’t carry phone so not distracted by social media/taking pictures

Things to improve on:
Should have listened to body more instead of shoving down food on schedule - it pushed my stomach into the red zone

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Canyons 50K

Canyons 50K - 9,000 feet climbing, 9:28

As usual, busy week at work, so I only packed my race gear Friday morning, booked Auburn Comfort Inn Friday afternoon. The Quality Inn where Karen & Ken was staying was sold out, as was Super8 where Kevin was staying.  Picked up Kevin at 7:25 pm from the BART (only 10 minutes late) then headed up. My plan worked - no bad traffic, and we were in Auburn a little after 9 pm. Kevin was good company on the drive up as I was extremely sleepy from long busy past week. I had two separate friends visiting Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, then work events til late on Wednesday and Thursday. Too busy to buy Frappucino for the morning, and I forgot to pack Buff or Cap. Karen saw my Facebook post & brought over an American River Buff for me. And the Comfort Inn had a vending machine where I bought a Starbucks DoubleShot for the next morning. However, the room smelled like stale smoke, and when I asked to change the woman said they were booked full.
Thing to different #1: Don’t pack gear at last minute! Get race bag ready at least two days before.
Thing to different #2: stay at better hotel for Western States Training Weekend 

Got to the start in plenty of time, 6 AM, even enough to re-park car in better spot, use porta-potty, and take pictures with Pen & Kevin.

Started, headphone cords all tangled, walked at back of pack while sorted out. Could definitely feel that I’d run 50 miles two weeks ago. Passed people on initial descent down canyon. Walked hill up to Michigan Bluff station. 
Thing did well: Asked people if they wanted to pass, tried to be courteous.

Michigan Bluff - A runner was asking the aid station volunteers if the homemade cookies had gluten. The volunteers said they didn't know. I asked if "the cookies were made with love?" They repeated they didn't know, then got my joke.  Ate cookies, thanked volunteers. Descended down the canyon. Decent speed but didn’t hammer. On long climb to “The pump” aid station, the 100K’er started coming back. Got off trail to let returners pass. Chatted with Monique, a Marin runner. She’d gotten into Western States, but then gotten a stress fracture in training camp, couldn’t run. Strong cautionary lesson to take it easy. 
Thing did well: Thanked volunteers, ran own race. 

After Michigan Bluff was a “5 mile out and back”. It was one mile of flattish where there was a one man impromptu water aid station with a bongo-playing dude & Alvin! It was nice to see Alvin, we took some pictures. Then a long, long descent that kept going down and down and down. At the bottom was a stream with a waterfall. Ian Sharmian’s blog said he tried to soak in all the streams. I took off my pack and soaked my front and then my back completely. It was quite hot, in the high 80s and low 90s. The girls with me followed my lead and started dousing themselves too. 
Things I did well: Took S-Cap every hour, tried to keep body temperature down. 

Long long climb to regain all that we’d lost. I walked a bit with Laura, where we had ultra one-upmanship. 
Laura “Good training for running States!”
Me “Yep, I’m running States too.!”
Laura “My coach has run Western States 5 times!”
Me “My coach has WON Western States 14 times.”
Oneupmanship aside, fun to talk to Laura, she’d run Javelina also. She said her coach advised her to put ice in her sports bra. 

Finally back to the pump aid station, where I learned the climb I’d just done was the famous “Devil’s Thumb”. As I left the aid station, I passed a 100K runner who was laden down with enough gear for a small battalion, saying “Good job!”. He replied with
“Thanks, Ma’am”.
“Are you in the military?”
“Yes, how do you know?”
“You called me ma’am”. 

More climbing and descending down and out of the canyons. I was feeling a bit depressed. Though I was moving at a decent speed despite the heat, this was quite hard. I was grateful I was only doing 50K, but then would think I was going to run 100 miles in these conditions. How could I finish under the 30 hours cutoff?

The runner in front of me shrieked and pointed as she ran up the hill. A large, four foot long snake was slithering on the side. As I came up, I could hear the snakes loud rattle. UHOH. Not just a snake. A Rattle Snake. I tried to remember what to do when one saw a rattle snake and came up with nothing. I hoped it would slither away, but instead it curled up about a foot off trail, rattling loudly, it’s head in a triangle position. Not good. Not good at all. I debated what to do. Run by quickly? Throw rocks? Paralyzed, I waited. A slower runner came up behind me. 

“It’s a rattle snake, what should we do?”
“I’m born and raised in the city - no idea.”

I was really hoping that the other runner would go first, but he was as scared as me. Finally, very slowly, I walked as far on the opposite trail side from the snake as I could. I was scared. Snake stayed still. phew. 

After that liveliness, the rest of the race was tame. Climb the canyons, run the downs, finished at Foresthill at 9:28, near my personal worse (9:39) for a 50K. But I took it easy like a training run, and it was a hot day. My coach was proud I’d taken it slow. 

Things to do different: Bring back up music just in case iPod dies
Experiment with cap & ice. 

Things I did well: Relentless forward progress. Now I realize I’d done some of the toughest sections of the Western States course - the actual race will not be all so difficult. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Marin Ultra Challenge 50 Mile 2015

Marin Ultra Challenge was basically my Facebook feed of ultra-running friends, all in person, running a race! Wonderful day…even though I was crew less, pacerless, drop bagless, and even rideless.

MUC started at the base of the GoldenGate Bridge at 6 AM Saturday. I’d had a hectic week at work and started packing my gear at 8 pm Friday night. No time to coordinate a ride or drop bags. So I planned on carrying everything I need, and taking a taxi to the start. When I got in the taxi, I asked him to take me over the Golden Gate Bridge. He said he didn’t know how to get there. Eventually he admitted that it was his first day. I gave him turn by turn directions. On Park Presidio the car slowed to 20 miles, and he admitted he’ d bought the car yesterday! and wasn’t entirely sure how to drive it. And oh by the way, the car was used & he hadn’t had a mechanic check it, as “dealers are trustworthy”. After a pit stop at the Golden Gate Vista for him to restart the car, we made it to the race start at Fort Baker.

Misha found me waiting in the bathroom line, where I still was 6:55 AM when the Race Director announced that he would wait for the line to clear before he started the race (phew). Saw Tawnya at the end of the line.

Then the start! Walked up Coastal Trail to Golden Gate Bridge, as Mike Weston passed me in the dark. Alina, Alvin, Jen and I talked about lactose-free cheese, and met Sam Hsu in the dark. Cruised down Coastal, past Rodeo Lagoon as the dawn broke. Saw a hapless runner utilizing the “bush” bathroom, not realizing or couldn’t wait that the real bathroom was ~20 feet ahead. I ducked into the Rodeo Beach bathroom for a pit stop. 

Up & over Hill 88, where a runner (Kim) said she recognized me from White River 50 mile. White River 50 Mile had also held the start due to toilet line, and the RD had told a funny story about everyone knowing that Scott Jurek was still in the ports-potty, holding the start for him while everyone chanted for him.

On Wolf Ridge, I just wasn’t feeling it. Christy crested down the hill quicker than me like a surfer girl catching a wave. uh-oh. Usually downhills were my strength. My coach Ann had said I could not finish if I felt like I had the flu. The flu had been going around the office, but I at least wanted to make it up Willow Camp, which I'd done so many times training. But on Old Springs I was just cruising along, falling into step with another runner. Two turkeys were standing sentinel as we entered the stable area before the aid station. I thought they would scatter as we approached, but instead they advanced. I learned the old adage is true - you don’t have to be faster than the turkey, just faster than the other runner. At Tennessee Valley, as I didn’t have a drop bag, I gave my headlamp to Rose who was there at the same time as me. 

Pirates Cove to Muir Beach, then Muir Beach up Heather Cutoff to Cardiac. Descending to Muir Beach, Brett Rivers and the SFRunCo group seemed to be going quicker UP than I was going down. Relentless forward motion, jogging the flats, walking the ups. Ahead I could see Alvin, Jen and Alina, but I just didn’t seem to be gaining on them - at best keeping even. At Cardiac the aid station captain said “you’re at mile 19!”. Wow. So much work, so much climbing to only be at mile 19.

Down the Dipsea stairs which are increasingly decrepit every time I see them. Passed a few more cautious runners. Willow Camp Aid station, then the true race began. Passed runners going up Willow Camp. Passed Alina, who was having a rough patch on Coastal Trail. As I came into Pan Toll I saw signs for Leigh-Ann, my training partner - was she ahead or behind me? At Pan Toll I saw Laura, who was waiting for her runner Alina. Before she could sprint away I gave her a sweaty hug. 

As I came into Cardiac I saw Emily & Jen. As quickly as possible I was in-n-out. This section I’d done so many times in training - down Ben Johnson, around Fern Creek, up Lost. On the climb up Lost, Jen caught back up to me, and she told me she’d tried to catch me at North Face 50K in 2011 but not been able to ! I thought she was right behind me but I lost her on the Dipsea descent into Muir Woods. Ugh…more stairs.

The bridge was still out on Dipsea at Muir Woods, so we didn’t go up Dipsea to Deer Park but instead around on the road to Redwood creek. The plus was avoiding a climb, the minus was traffic on the road. At Deer Park Aid Station, Leigh-Ann was leaving as I came in. Again, quick in and out. I caught up with a woman as we started the climb up Miwok to Dias, but as we climbed she took the lead. She’d jog the gentle ups where I was quite content to walk. When we broke out to Dias though…suddenly 12 hours seemed in reach. I put my timer on and caught up with Leigh-Ann, who said the heat had taken a lot out of her. It was hot, but I didn't mind - I just thought of it as heat training for Western States. I deliberately didn't get ice at the aid stations to intensify the "hot" feeling. 

Muir Beach Aid Station, refilled pack for last time. A lady talked about how hot it was. It didn't feel that hot to me - Overlook 50 had been 100+. This was a balmy 80s, and I was in the home stretch with only 10 miles to go. Again, I knew the course so well - I wasn't even looking at ribbons. The 'hot' lady paused at the Zen Green Gulch gate, looking confused. I said "unbolt the latch" as she fumbled around. When I caught up to her, I unbolted it, and she darted through, leaving me to close it. When I passed her again she looked confused "why are we in a farm?" "Trust me, this is the course." She passed me back up Middle Green Gulch, but I caught her on the technical single-track of Wily, then passed more runners on the steep descent of Miwok into TV. At TV I was on the hunt. Ate three bites of watermelon, then was on my way up Marincello. Ken texted me asking how I was doing. “Passing people!”. I texted back. “Get off the phone & finish!”, Karen replied. 

I passed about 5 more people. As I descended Coastal there was a guy in sight, but I just couldn’t push enough to pass him. Finished, laid on the ground for about 7 minutes doing absolutely nothing. Then I saw Mike Weston, who’d had a spectacular finish well before me! Well done Mike! He did me a huge favor and drove me home. 

So on the one hand, I had no crew, pacer, ride, or drop bags. On the other hand, on my home course, I had friends every step of the way to crew me, (virtually) pace me, give me a ride home, or help me with drop bags. Thanks!!!

Things did well:

Left enough time to get to race start that even after UberX had engine trouble and had to pull over multiple times.

Packed headlamp.

Waited in bathroom line, started toileted. 

Started at own pace, didn’t get caught up in anyone else’s race.

At every aid station, quick turnover in/ out - trash out of bag, calories regained.

Kept pack adequately watered.

Watermelon at aid stations. 

S-caps every hour on the hour to avoid thinking about when I’d taken them.

Carried pace chart with cutoffs, didn’t stress about cutoffs.

Said thank you to volunteers.

Said thank you and “great day” to hikers.

Said “Great job” to runners passing / being passed. 

Things to improve on:

Was trying brand new battery pack, which didn’t charge my iPhone all the way. Turned off phone to conserve battery, couldn’t get whole course on Strava. Fix: Get more robust battery pack.

Had all Cola Scoobies, got quite wired/amped at end. 

No drop bags, gave headlamp to Rosie, haven’t gotten back. 

Shirt really worn out - should switch from 2008 NFEC to 2014 NFEC as “lucky” race shirt.

Didn’t bring buff, but didn’t really miss. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Golden Gate 30K

3:50, a substantial 14 minute improvement over my 4:04 the prior year.

Things I did well:
Ate well day before - Little Star Pizza!
Got plenty of sleep - in bed by 9 pm, though the 6:55 AM still felt early. 
Got to the race on time. At Woodside Marathon I went to a show til 3 AM, barely slept, and got to the race 10 minutes after it started. Starting on time, well rested, shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Brought plastic baggie for phone to protect it.
Hat protected my glasses from direct water. 
Ran my own race - walked all Hill88, ran the downs, didn’t get caught up in anyone else’s pace.
Tried to say “thank you” to all the volunteers.
In & out of aid stations quickly. Assessed weight of water in pack & ran 30K on 2 Liters. Roughly 5 minutes stopping in 3:50, including a 1:30 minute bathroom break at Tennessee Valley. 
Tried to say “Good job” while passing people or being passed.
Dropped the hammer at mile 15, and again at 17, with a 7:15! minute mile.
Set Strava PRs for 10K, 10 Mile, 20K, half marathon, and 30K!

Things to improve on:
My rain jacket didn’t seem to offer much protection. I don’t know whether it’s not a good jacket or I was sweating enough nothing would have helped. 
Set drop bag down on ground, it got waterlogged. Should double bag with a trash bag in wet conditions.

Wished I’d brought a cider to toast my finish, as everyone else was drinking beer & I don’t drink beer. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Crystal Springs Marathon

Crystal Springs Marathon went well, if I viewed as a training run. Stayed out til 1:30 at a concert I wanted to see, woke up at 7 AM to drive down to race start, arrived 5 minutes late kinda tired but ready to run. Ate bagel on drive. Kinda nice to start after everyone else as I didn't get caught up in conga line, just ran at my own pace. Walked the first big 2,000 foot climb, caught two slower runners. One said he was worried about the 3 hour 15 minute cutoff at mile 11. OH! I didn't know there was a cutoff. 

I was trying my coach's advice of "New Year, New Gear" & wearing my new running skirt. It kept slipping down oddly & I worried I'd washed it in too hot water. Around mile 3 I tried to cinch it up with the drawstring, & realized that my skirt was on BACKWARDS - explaining it's odd feel. Nowhere to change on the busy trail with the half marathoners overtaking, so I just kept running.

Around 11:02 I got nervous as I wasn't to mile 11 yet. Where was it? Ran faster to make the 11:15 cutoff time. When I ran in, the volunteers seemed very casual. Not much time, kept going on the 5 mile loop. Finally had breathing room to put my skirt on right direction. Later, I realized I'd made a basic math mistake - the cutoff was 11:45, not 11:15. 

Kept walking all the ups, running the flats & downs. Never really went super fast, just enjoyed the day, eating & drinking, electrolyte every hour. After mile 22 aid station, it was all downhill to the end, so I picked up pace, ending with 8:43 for final mile. My own timer said 5:45, but by official race time, 5:54 as I started late. 

At the end, Marisa made an announcement I was 2nd in my age group! So I picked up an age group medal. From looking at the results, there were ONLY 2 women in my age group, but hey, an award is an award. 

Things I did well:
1) Ran own race - didn't get stressed & try to catch up.
2) Ate bagel on drive down so always ahead of nutrition.
3) Said thank you to volunteers. Even the slow ones at the aid station who had pitchers but weren't using them.

Things to improve on:
1) Check direction of clothing (frontwards/backwards)
2) didn't apply bodyglide but not an issue

Friday, November 7, 2014

100 Miles at Javelina Jundred 2014

I was sprawled on my back on the desert floor, uncaring about the dirt & dust beneath me, energy less. As life went on around me, I had the barest flicker to join in. Just like Bear 100 five weeks before, I knew that my race was over. However, this time, unlike Bear 100 where I’d dropped at mile 68 with an “unclearable mental fog” - this time I’d finished 100 miles. I was prone on the ground as I’d continued for 28 hours with the promise to myself that at the end, when there was the end, I would indulge myself with doing ..absolutely nothing. No cartwheels celebration, no elaborate champagne toasts, no excited story telling. Just the luxury to do - absolutely nothing for 10 minutes, after running & trudging & walking & crying through the open skies of the Arizona desert.

An hour before, Ann (my coach & pacer) & I had been walking steadily. There was less than 3 miles to go in the Javelina Jundred, and I remembered the Dick Collins 50 front runners telling me “I just want it to be over” as they’d passed me 3 weeks before. I really, really just wanted 100 miles to be over. I’d always wondered how people could drop at mile 98.1 (Robie Point) at Western States, but now I got it. My feet ached. My mind was used up. I hadn’t slept in over 30 hours. I just wanted it to be over. So badly. But I couldn’t finish until I was at the finish line. Ann urged me into an “ultra-shuffle” - and I tried, as it wasn’t much more energy than running. So we shuffled & ran. Patty & her pacer had given me some of her coca-cola at mile 97, and it had perked me into a sporadic shuffle from a dull plod. But at best I was doing 19 minute miles, instead of my triumphal planned 13 minute miles [Patty passed me at mile 97 & finished 20 minutes ahead].

Ann had patiently been with me since mile 74, seeing me through the night & past dawn into day. She’d only planned to pace me for 15 miles (75 - 90), but she’d gone out on the trail to find me at mile 74. When I saw her going by in the other direction, I briefly thought she was a hallucination before I yelled "Ann!" and she joined me. At mile 88 at daybreak she was worried I wouldn’t make the cut-off, and said she would continue with me. I tried to tell her I could finish without her, she’d already done too much, but she said “I will go with you if you want me to go”. & I wanted her to go with me. 

Ken Michal told me that running 100 was like peeling layers off the onion of your soul, and a layer peeled off for me at mile 98. I apologized to Ann for being stuck with me me instead of the “Pixie Ninja”, who finished in ~13 hours ahead of me, or someone setting a master’s record.  Instead she was with me, an at best mid-packer, who trumpeted to everyone that once (once) through an extreme fluke I’d finished 2nd at a 50 miler. I was sure Ann was deeply ashamed to be seen gutting through with me.

“Ann, I'm sorry you're with me, I’m sorry I'm not an elite at your level.” 
Ann said something that shocked me.
“I’m not an elite.”
“Ann - you hold the WORLD RECORD.” 
“I just like running, & I’m shy just like you.”
“Ann - I’m not fast like you.”
“ I think you work so hard for your goals, especially after not finishing at Bear100, you turned around & kept going, and entered another 100 five weeks later.”
“You’re not ashamed of me?”

“I didn’t think I had 100 miles in me. This race was my last chance after failing at 3 prior hundred mile races. Thanks for believing in me.” 

 I’d like to say that I found a fourth gear & started running, but I didn’t. I cried & Ann rubbed my shoulder as we kept walking. Finally we were in sight of the toilets 1/4 mile from the end. I knew I’d have no energy after the finish line, so Ann & I both went to the bathroom. Then we walked past Karen, Karen yelled for me to run!, & I ran over the finish line. I’d finished 100 miles. 

Whenever I had a low point in the race, I’d look at the Running Stupid band that Ken had flicked at me. & I’d remember how many people were pulling for me, on and off course. Misha who was crewing me, my favorite musicians Gabriel&Dresden who’d sent me a download full of new to me Organized Nature episodes from ’07, Karen who had encouraged me, and most of all, my excitement of running from mile 75-90 with my running inspiration, Ann. All the time, money, and energy I’d spent training for this day - I could not, would not discard it at a momentary lull. 

Things I did well:
  • Misha was huge help to drive me to & from start, as well as fun pre-race meal Friday. 
  • Gamified loops - re-started timer at every loop, tried to keep time below 4:30
  • Ice on back of neck (like Ian Sharmian said) kept body temperature low
  • Meep-meeped R2D2 (Alina & other dude dressed in InkNBurn r2D2 shirts) 
  • High fives & encouragement to people I knew, & some I didn’t - some 100K’s & 100 milers were out there a long time
  • Thank you’s to volunteers (especially ice girl at Jackass Junction)
  • When my light was poor in loop 45-60 buddied up with another runner with brighter light, went with him from ~50 to 58.
  • Changed batteries at mile 60 for brighter light [thank you to mystery runner who gave me fresh batteries]
  • No iPhone til mile 68 when I needed pick-me-up
  • Emptied shoes & feet felt so clean
  • Felt hot-spot at mile 75, changed shoes, avoided blister-pop
  • body-glided, mostly no chafe
  • Chest chafed from bra, changed bra at mile ~58 from drop bag
  • carried watermelon  & cantaloupe with me in baggie, asked volunteer to cut off rinds so could carry cantaloupe
  • Good tunes courtesy of Gabriel & Dresden 
  • Tried to eat continually. Spit up soup at mile 63, let stomach settle, started eating again
  • Looked at Running Stupid wristband & remembered how many friends on trail & off rooting for me.
  • Red Red Bull pepped me up
  • Flew in on Thursday so not stressed about flight on Friday

Things to improve on:
  • Inadvertently carried ~1.5 pounds of espresso beans, 2 headlamps with me - just not very snappy when sleep deprived
  • Work with crew (if I’m so lucky) on transitions. Some were 15+ minutes due to setting up gear on cooler which everyone else wanted to get in & out of
  • Too many electrolytes - was taking one every 30 minutes during day, which made stomach turn
  • Slight screw up on drop-bags - I had packed AAA batteries but couldn’t find them, ended up with 8 double shots at Headquarters, none at JackAss

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Bear 2014 Race Report - DNF

I’d run 24 hours & 68 miles through blistering heat, high altitude, driving rain, vivid electric storm where I could see the individual leaves on the trees as the thunder clapped, burped a bazillion times, dehydration when I ran 2 hours without water (twice), & faced the most terrifying obstacle of slippery run where I reenacted an Alicia Keys song of “I keep falling”. But I was not prepared for the final mental obstacle - the “Tent of DNF”. 

At 6:30 AM, after running almost 11 hours in the dark, my pacer Ken & I were dashing towards an aid station at 7300 feet in the Utah mountains. We’d seen lightning in the distance all night, but suddenly the storm was full upon us. The thunder had before been so far away I couldn’t match bright flashes with sound, but now I could only get to 3 before there was another clap. The yellow aspens were as bright as day surrounding the muddy slick forest service road, as we kept shouting “where’s the aid?” We saw a distant glow ahead but we’d been fooled before with runners headlamps we convinced ourselves were an aid only to be cruelly disappointed. It was 7 miles from the prior aid station, a distance I thought would take us 140 minutes at a brisk walk. We’d been on our feet for almost four hours, and I’d drank all my water two hours before. 

For 11 hours we’d been trudging through the night, telling myself “relentless forward progress”. Ken & I marched on, finding the course & sharing stories about other ultras, our families, our travels. Around 5 AM we started descending, but a thick sticky mud made me slide and fall. My shoes were coated with 3 inches of mud, and my hands were coated too now. I wiped my hands on pine trees but I was still disgusting. Around 5:30 AM I tried running but all I could muster was a feeble trot barely faster than running. And then I would fall again, defeated by the mud. Each fall I’d fall to the left to avoid sliding down the canyon & falling down the slick hillside. 

Now, at 6:30 AM, with a raging electrical storm, running seemed less like an elective and more of a life saving necessity. “Let’s run” - the rain so thick my glasses were useless as  all I saw was a smudge where I thought the aid station might be, a bright blur. Finally we were close enough the aid station was unmistakable, and we ran in. 

I thought the aid station cutoff was 7 AM, and here it was 6:45 AM. I was mentally exhausted - there were 34 more miles to go in 11 hours, and I had to leave this cozy warm spot in 15 minutes. 
I collapsed into the nearest chair,  and after about 5 minutes managed to clean my glasses & see that 
1) there was a fire &
 2) there was a chair by the fire. 
“Is anyone sitting there?” 
“No”. I moved closer to the fire, too tired to even move my pack or mud plastered jacket with me. Ken brought me broth and water, which I eagerly gulped. I was deeply dehydrated and defeated.

“There’s a warming hut with cots & a stove”, said an aid station volunteer. I made the irreversible mistake of following her, throwing a trash bag over me to run into the warm tent where there was a cot with a plaid pillow. I lay shivering chilled, unable to process anything. Finally I realized the pillow was a blanket. I covered as much of me as possible, and shivered, wishing the blanket was bigger so I could take off my soggy muddy clothes. With my glasses off I reached behind me for what I thought was another blanket, but it was a dude! 

“Sorry, I thought you were a blanket”. Then the silence of the DNF tent broke, and everyone had a tale. 
“I blew my knee on the descent & it took me 6 hours”. 
“The rain will continue til Tuesday”. 
“The trail will only get worse”.
 I kept shivering, listening to the thunder storm continuing around me & thudding on the tent roof. In my mind, I had 34 miles to go in 11 hours, and had to leave this station before the 7 AM cutoff. It just didn’t seem possible. An aid station volunteer popped his head in, and asked for our numbers to radio down if we were dropping. ‘273’.

I woke to a loud buzzing sound I realized was myself snoring. I could still hear heavy rain. BUZZ! I started awake again and looked at my watch. It was 7:25 AM. I’d missed the cutoff. My race was over. The volunteer unzipped the tent and poked his head in - the crew of the guy with the blown knee was here. They palpated his knee and assessed his damage. I asked the volunteer to get my pacer Ken, who sat down where the blown knee guy had been.

“Ken, I’m sorry. My race is over”.
“Edie, you can keep going. I know I was going to stop at mile 75, but I’ll go all the way to the end with you.”
“Ken, it was taking us 2 miles per hour. Will the trails get better?”
“Probably not”.
“We were going so slow”.
“In 2009 I left Beaver as it was getting light with some fast walkers and we finished at 33 hours.”
“Do you want to blow your knee like that dude”
"No, I don't"

Now, I realize I was mentally spent & not making any sense. I thought I’d already missed the 7 am cutoff and Ken was being kind. Things I realize now

  1. Cutoff was actually 11:00 AM! I had over three hours even if I'd left right then.
  2. Altitude was making me stupid. My sister was supposed to pace me before she looked at the altitude chart and said she didn't do well at altitude. A family trait - I just don't think clearly at high altitude.
  3. I was extrapolating the horrid muddy descent into the future. The sun had risen, the thunder storm had stopped - it was a new day.
  4. I'd been awake for over 24 hours, I was worried about breaking a bone on a fall, a kidney failure from dehydration.
  5. I thought I was physically spent as Ken was faster than me. Actually, I walked a mile to supper on Saturday & biked on Sunday. Ken was faster as he was my pacer. 
  6. I only had 31 miles, not 34 miles. 
  7. I actually wasn't making any sort of real cost / benefit analysis - I was too exhausted. If I had, I would have thought about all my training, all my effort to get to the start line, and continued. But all I could do was stare blankly at the tarp above me, unlucidly. 
  8. The trail was beautiful and I could see it in the daylight if I continued
  9. Chihfing Fu passed through the aid as I was passed out on the cot. I could have trekked with him to the finish as he was last official finisher. 
  10. Trout was at the finish line celebration.

Now, sitting warm & dry in my SF apartment, I don't have a single blister, my quads are fine, my hamstrings are fine, and I scream at the Edie lying on the cot to GET UP GET UP GET UP. Make it to the next aid station! Misha is there with dry clothes! You're not done yet! GET UP! 

Eventually a very kind husband & wife drove Ken, me & other dropping runners over to Beaver Lodge (mile 75). Misha was waiting patiently in the trunk of our rental SUV. I hugged her. I went into the aid station and changed into dry clothes. Other runners I'd seen at Logan River were coming in. Some were completely miserable, some were continuing, some were dropping. We offered a dropping runner a ride to the finish to pick up drop bags as we were going there anyway. 

I texted my coach that I'd dropped and she sounded so disappointed - asking the DNF rate & if it was too late to get back on the trail. 

I quizzed the dropping runner on the trail conditions and also asked him his name multiple times. He'd run Hardrock, Massunetten, and other gnarly races, but he'd dropped at mile 75 as the trail was "miserable, and I wasn't going to make the cutoffs". Brian McNeil was his name, and he knew many people from my hometown of Arlington VA and told some funny stories. 

I'm not going to do a mile by mile, but here's other indelible memories: 

Eavesdropping on Earl "Rocket" Jones in the dark on the initial climb. I could hear him gabbing about "the good old days" where 
"If I wanted to run a race, I didn't sign up online! I called the race director & asked him if there were slots! Or I mailed a self addressed sealed envelope!"
"In my day, there were no race directions online! I flew into Burlington and figured out on the fly where Vermont 100 started!"
Me to myself: I'm sure race directors are pretty happy they don't have hundreds of runners calling them at all hours asking to register & how to get to the race start.

The sun rising & me seeing for the first time the beautiful autumn leaves and the pink glow on the land below 

Chihping Fu catching up with me around mile 6 on a gorgeous ridge.

Around mile 10, with my pack out of water, passing a runner and asking her how much further to the first aid station (mile 10.5) & her telling me the next aid station was mile 19!! Luckily she was wrong and I was almost to the aid.

Even after mile 10 kept climbing...
But finally a descent that made it all worthwhile!

At mile 14, I saw a runner collapse on the side of the trail. He said he had a heart condition and wasn't feeling well. I was halfway between mile 10 & 19, & I ran as quick as I could to 19. I felt guilty I hadn't stayed with him, and ran faster, even falling once. 

At mile 19 I told the ham operator to send medical help ASAP. In my mind runner "24" had been having a heart attack for the past 70 minutes. Around mile 21, I looked back to see runner 24 overtaking me! He'd gotten better and rebounded! All my effort was for naught. I still felt like I'd done the right thing. At mile 22 I passed 24 again - his face gray again. His heart condition had come back. I shook his hand & told him he'd done his best.

Delicious banana bread aid station mile 22 gave me in a baggie that I ate on this climb.

The hot climb between mile 22 to 30 where I was scared of cows, 

Chihping almost caught me again, the slow trudging pass where you're ~30 seconds mile faster than preceding racers, and the glorious fire road descent to mile 30. I was supposed to see Misha here but I was ~2 hours ahead of pace.

Lady with gray hair passing me, me being stubborn and catching up with her, then realizing she was wearing a Hardrock T-Shirt. We walked a portion together, she was a very nice lady (Allie from Montana). Allie ended up finishing! WAY TO GO!

Storm clouds forming - I asked Allie if she thought it would rain, and she said "it's not if, its' when".

 Last shot before night fell.

Cursing my poor planning for humping all my coldweather night gear from mile 36 to 45 - I had clothing & gear hanging everywhere, and when it started raining I had to repack everything to be dry.

How happy I was to see Misha & Ken at mile 45, as I hadn't seen Misha at 20 & was worried I'd miss her forever. 

Ken leading a conga train of runners from mile 45 as we chattered in the dark. Ken thought I was elite (ha!) as I’d finished 2nd at Overlook 50. 

Finding the course marking to aid station 52 & feeling proud! 

Getting stuck in a bathroom at mile 52 & having to yell for help to let me out. 

Looking for course markings in the dark with Ken. He had the brightest lighting I’d ever seen “200 lumens”. Ken was my first ever pacer and so awesome. He helped me take my jacket on & off about 17 times & listened to me burp a gazillion times. 

Running out of water around mile 56 after a big climb, and thinking an aid station was near. Ken & I talking about which light was the aid station. Asking runners passing us how close we were, and them saying "Negative, aid station is 4 miles away". Nothing to do but suck it up & walk thirsty. 

Ken wanting to tell me an Alaska story at mile 60 & me being too tired & thirsty. At this point I'd resorted to trying to catch rain water with a baggie & licking my jacket for moisture from the rain. 

Arriving at aid station 61 at 1:45 AM. Hearing a big cloudburst, sitting & waiting on a cooler for it to pass. Hearing the rain drum against the tarp & willing myself to continue. 

After mile 62 he told me the Alaska story: how on a fishing trip his friend’s leg was amputated by a boat propeller & Ken had formed a makeshift tourniquet & saved the guys life. 

On the climb out of 62 the sticky sticky mud & trying to convince myself we'd get to the next valley where there was no mud. Seeing the headlamps ahead to gauge where the trail was. Feeling so proud when I caught Ken from going the wrong way.

Mark Tanaka & Chihping walking up with their matching Bear100 T-shirts when I was despondent waiting for the BART from SFO home Sunday morning. Chihping said he'd deliberately been DFL. 

Things I did well:
  1. Tried to tell my pacer (Ken) & crew (Misha) how grateful I was that they were there for me. Ken & his wife Gayle drove 3 hours to get pre-race dinner with me. Misha took time off work to support me. 
  2. took pictures of beautiful trail scenery. Some races they take photos of "the most scenic angle". Every inch of Bear was beautiful. 
  3. read race reports ahead of time, recognized places where others had gotten lost
  4. flew in Wed night so not stressed Thursday
  5. tried to say thank you to volunteers
  6. ran quick for medical help for collapsed runner at mile 19 
  7. copious body-glide
  8. good music selection
  9. Ininji socks - no blisters
  10. tried to say positive sayings to other runners - what I wished they'd say to me, "have a great bear day!"

Things to improve on
  1.  Carried too much nutrition, not enough water.
  2.  forgot zipper was busted on warm jacket, carried it uselessly for 10 miles between aid station 36 - 45. 
  3.  Ran out of water multiple times even with 2L pack. With 10 miles between aid stations I really need 3 - 4 L at high altitude
  4.  recognizing mental vs physical exhaustion. Physically, I could have continued. I quit at a low point. Even if I'd continued, I might have DNF-ed - by all accounts the trail was a mess.