Monday, September 14, 2015

Lost: My Mojo. If Found, Please Return

So I came home from Bigfoot 200, and I struggled for days to just get past the anxiety and adrenaline of feeling responsible for the care of another person for 102 hours. The first night I woke up in the dark in the hotel room and wasn't sure where I was, what day it was, where on the course Jeremy still was. I didn't realize the race was even over. I was very confused. And for a few days, I would toss and turn. Steve would hear me say things like "Just 13 more miles to go!" in my sleep. Bizarre.

Jeremy's hard-earned buckle and DFL award

Plus I had spent 15 hours sleeping over that 5 days, 102 hours, of crewing and pacing, and paced 45 miles with 11,000 ft elevation gain and 13,000 ft of elevation loss. Which had also added up to more time on feet than I had since Rocky Raccoon a year and a half ago. And more mountain climbing per mile than I had ever tackled on my own.
185 miles in. Me timing the 10 minute trail nap he was allowed
here in the middle of the woods, while the cut on my leg actively bleeds.

But Jeremy's race was an amazing experience, and I was super happy to play a part in helping him finish 200 miles across mountains.
Mt. Adams in the background!

So with that, along with a few personal stressors that were going on, when I got home August 13, my body seemed to decide to stop cooperating on me.

  • My metabolism cratered, and my trainer confirmed that my weight had indeed shot up NINE pounds and it was not water weight. 
  • I was so fatigued that for a week after getting home, I would suddenly and randomly fall asleep. One day, I inadvertently ended up with THREE naps. I hadn't even meant to fall asleep each time. I would sit down and seconds later .... zzzzzz.....  
  • Running seemed impossible. I started walking daily with just a few tenths of walking. But my energy level could barely support the walking.
  • I had sustained a big cut on my shin from climbing a downed tree during the race. And it just wouldn't heal. 3 weeks afterwards, it still looked like it was just several days old.
Yep, 34 days old. Still looks only slightly better than
when I first got it. It wasn't THAT bad of a cut when I got it!
  • Sorry for the TMI, but it's important for the whole picture.... I had my period during the entire Bigfoot experience and my next menstrual cycle was much shorter than I've ever had.
My body was saying enough. So I cut way down on the craft beer that I *LOVE* and upped my daily walking and told myself to be patient.

The weekend before last I was finally running a little more and walking a little less, and out on trails too (thanks to Sarah and Suann for joining me). A few pounds have come off as my metabolism slowly going again. And then I got the back-to-school summer cold from my daughter. Ugh. So last week was an amazing 6 miles. :-/

But this week I'll get back to it. My work is ramping up considerably so I won't be able to ramp up fast or to much at this time anyway. 

However, this is all just a blip on the radar. I'll be back soon enough and adding races to the calendar. And it was a good experience to go through to remember that our bodies put up with a LOT on a regular basis and if you add stress and some crazy physical antics, it will tell you to check yourself!

Monday, July 20, 2015

All. The. Fears. - First Fastpacking Trip this Weekend

I have my first "fastpacking" trip this weekend, which now that I've tried out the pack and knowing the route is an average of 300' of gain and 300' of loss PER MILE, may be more a "slowpacking" trip. I'll be doing the 27 mile Four Pass Loop of the Maroon Bells area outside Aspen in Colorado.

My anxiety has been growing and growing. I feel completely unprepared (which isn't true) and low on confidence. I'm a high-anxiety worrier anyway, so here's all the awful things, and me having to deal with each fear.


  • I didn't pack the right gear. I've never been backpacking and don't feel like I know what I'm doing. Deal with it: I have researched a lot, asked a friend for her gear list from a recent trip, relied on another friend for recommendations like knife and good military style compass, and I'm keeping it simple yet comfortable where I could since it's only one overnight (no camp stove or fire. Just bars, GUs, jerky, and trail mix!).
  • I have no business backcountry camping many miles from a trailhead all by myself. I've camped TWICE ever. Deal with it: I'm really happy with the tent I selected, I've practiced setting it up, and one of my skills in ultras is my ability to be okay being completely alone for hours on end!
  • I like to plan, but backcountry camping means finding a campsite on the fly and what if I can't find one. There are lots of rules about where you can camp, and it's high tourist season of lots of people camping everywhere. Deal with it: This is one of those gloriously irrational fears of every serious planner. Uh, there's thousands of acres of space. I know not to be within 100 ft of trail or water. I know not to be in marked restoration areas. There have to be unoccupied flat areas with wind break that will be suitable, and I will find it when I need to!
  • This pack is heavy. How will I haul this up and down for 27 miles? Deal with it: I picked a great pack. My test run showed me I could run a little with it, and it sits well on me. I fitted it correctly and packed well (tent up and down along my spine, bear canister at the top with the food, sleeping bag attached at the bottom underneath the pack). The ultimate deal-with-it: I just will suck it up even if it's heavy because I'm an ultrarunner and that's what we do.
  • I've never been above 10,800 feet altitude while running. This has 4 mountain passes in the 12,000 to 12,500 feet elevation range! I won't be able to breathe. I'll have to go like a mile an hour. Let me say again - I won't be able to breathe, my lungs will explode, I'll be woozy and fall off a mountain, my head will explode from the headache. Deal with it: I'm not going to die if I just take my time. If there's anything I've finally learned from races at altitude, it's that. I used my altitude tent to acclimate decently to about 9,000 feet. It has shown me at races that it takes the "edge" off higher altitude. And while I am still susceptible to altitude problems, a low-dose aspirin beforehand helps the headache, and I'm okay if I go slow. 
  • I'll get lost. Deal with it: I have turn by turn directions from the forest service, I have a basic map. And now a friend of mine sat me down and taught me how to use my compass to actually figure out where I am on a map and then how to use it to sight out where to go next. I also met someone from Denver at the Beaverhead Endurance Runs race a week ago who had done the loop and said the signage was fine.
That covers most of the freakouts that have landed in my brain recently. And as you can see, I'll be okay. I just have to keep telling myself that if a problem comes up, I'll just DEAL WITH IT!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Our Running Lives are Composed of More Than Race Finishes

So ever since my race last weekend, I've been struggling with feeling really run down. I did two midweek runs, one on trails, but this weekend, the bed and relaxing baths have been my friend. My left hip was still tender yesterday, then I napped Saturday afternoon, and then I overslept big time for my run this morning, getting a solid 8 hours of sleep.

I can't understand why I'm so tired and worn out when I've only run 3 ultras this year, and only 1 in the last two months. It's funny the measuring stick used to decide if we've accomplished something. We so often judge it by race finishes and not the various experiences and the efforts surrounding races and experiences!

So a friend told me to sit down and write all the things I've done this year so I can understand why I feel like I do. He sees all the pieces and wanted me to appreciate them as well. Newsflash - this year alone I've traveled 7 times for running and ran in 2 states for the first time (Utah and Idaho)!! So here's my list...

  • January - after directing New Years Double, double ear infection and strep infection with a bad cold knocked me out most of that month. Blergh!
  • February - Paced 22 miles from 8 pm to 2:30 am at Run LOViT 100 Miler in Arkansas after crewing the whole day
  • March - Traveled to Oakland, California to run the Canyon Meadow 50K. 3800 feet of elevation gain/loss

  • April - Traveled to and ran the Hells Hills 50K, just two weeks after the previous 50K. 
Then, I directed the Fairview Half Marathon. My first time camping was also later that month!

  • May - Flew to Denver, drove 9 hours each way with a bunch of fellow ultrarunner crazies, camped 2 nights in Bryce Canyon National Park where it was snowing and 28 degrees. Ran 22 miles through Bryce Canyon. Altitiude to deal with the whole weekend as we were between 7500 and 9500 feet the whole time. Elevation gain of about 4500', loss of about 5500'.

  • June - June 1st I started sleeping in the altitude tent some but wouldn't use it fulltime until a couple weeks later. Mid-June, I traveled to Denver for a family vacation weekend. Drove an extra 1 1/2 hours each way to run the South Park Trail Half Marathon. 16 miles, all between 9900 feet altitude and 10800 feet altitude. The course was 8 miles going up 1750', then turnaround and come back down the same way. 
2 weeks later, I went to Western States Endurance Run and had all the activities surrounding that race, especially because I'm a sponsor (The Active Joe).
After my runner had to drop 30 miles in, I ended up doing a big driving trip and running trails in the Marin Headlands north of San Francisco. 6 miles with 1400 feet of elevation gain and loss!

  • July - Jeremy and I flew to Salt Lake City then drove 5.5 hours to Salmon, Idaho. The next day, I ran the Beaverhead Endurance Runs 55K. At 8000-10,000 feet altitude the whole time, and 5900' of elevation gain and 8900' of elevation loss, I spent 15 hours, 52 minutes on what ended up being mostly very technical terrain, including scree fields.

I've been preparing for my first ever fastpacking trip to Colorado. Not a run, not backpacking. It will be a 20 lb pack that includes my camping gear and over two days I'll be doing 27 miles in the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness Area outside Aspen on the Four Pass Loop trails. It's 4 mountain passes up above 12,000 feet altitude (I've never been above 10,800 ft), and it will total 8000' of elevation gain and loss. I'll be camping in the backcountry for the first time, and I'll be camping alone. I feel like I have a lot of anxiety about all the new things of this trip. And there's been a lot of work to get prepared, including buying an ultralight tent, buying a Spottracker so my husband knows I'm safe out there, getting a new pack geared towards fastpacking, and just wrapping my head around all the challenges of the trip.

As of today, I've been sleeping in an altitude tent for the past 7 weeks to take the edge off in high altitude races/running. I sleep at 9000 feet elevation, which results in my oxygen saturation in my blood to sit around 90-94% (depending on other variables). And to some amount your body is constantly having to adapt again after being at sea level during the day. The drawback of what can be referred to by some as "legal blood doping" of growing more red blood cells is that it's really hard work on the body. It's exhausting.

After the Colorado fastpacking trip, the altitude tent will be put away for the year. That tent has been invaluable. This has been my 3rd year using it. But I am definitely looking forward to restful nights of sleep!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Beaverhead 55K - Volunteers Worth Their Weights in Gold

I want to write a race report when I get a moment, but I wanted to take the time out for a story from Saturday from the Beaverhead Endurance Runs 55K race in Salmon, Idaho.

The 10 miles leading up to the Janke Lake Aid Station at mile 23.5 were pretty miserable. A sometimes trail, talus crossings, overgrown sections of sage bushes and pasture grass with lots of rocks. Lots of big climbs.
Talus crossing

Then a long while of cold steady run with strong cold winds (as soon as the rain started, I put on my rain shell jacket, my gloves, and pulled my buff over my ears under my running hat).
"I love cold rain!" Keep smiling and fake it 'til you make it!!

I tried to keep my mood up, remembering how remarkable the place was that I was running. I spent miles 10 to 23 using a mantra I created during that section: "Suffering is a little easier when you're somewhere this beautiful."
Headed up the pile of rocks

So when I came into the Janke Lake aid station about 9 hours into the race, I was feeling pretty worn down. I was not sure if I could do the next section (long scree field, climbing to the highest point on the course which was above 10,000 feet, and a drop down of 3000 feet in two miles) which was scaring me. The volunteer met me 20 feet out from the aid station in a field at the top of a big climb and asked how I was doing.
The aid station was at the top of this long, yet very nontechnical (thankfully for half a second) hill
I had been assessing my needs for this aid station for a while and had a plan. I said, "I'm cold. I'm tired. I'm a little sleepy because I think the altitude is starting to get to me. I'm scared that I'm about to spend 4 hours doing what's supposed to be the hardest part of the course. I need to sit and take the time here to eat and drink and get my head right." 

They sat me down in a camp chair. I said, "I just need to get really psyched up about what I'm about to do next." 

They didn't judge. They didn't fret that I was considering dropping, because I really wasn't. Two guys immediately put my legs into a sleeping bag and had me put on one of their jackets.

They made me up a bowl of potato chips, pretzels, and M&Ms, and got me some Pepsi. And then we went through all the things I knew but needed to hear again.

I've made this cutoff? "Yeah by 2 hours!"
And it's the LAST cutoff? "Yes, now just take your time and finish."
And what time is it? "4:30. You can get the scree field done before nightfall!"
"See that mountain over there? You're just climbing that. That's the scree field." Of course I can't see the scree, and hey, that mountain doesn't look so bad.
Brilliantly done, volunteer!

Then, we saw two lightning strikes in the distance. Bring on the next freakout. I was worried about getting hypothermia out there. But I was also worried about lightning strikes while being on the scree field. You're completely exposed, and they had covered this in the trail briefing. First, a volunteer assured me the path of those storms and clouds have been passing to the north of the mountain I was headed to. Then, a female volunteer walked me through how to handle lightning again: "Get down on the slope side of the scree some. Get off the top. Squat down low with just your feet touching the ground. Cross your arms and put your elbows on your knees so the current runs through the most direct path."

Nothing like a lightning strike briefing to make you feel better. LOL
Dark clouds ahead

As I sat and ate and chatted, I finally said, "See? I'm starting to feel better." I was smiling and laughing again, and my attitude was much improved.

Towards the end of the 12 minutes or so I spent there, the older gentleman asked me if when I was ready to go, could he take me this 10 feet out of the way to look off the cliff so he could show me Montana. Way to help get someone psyched back up!

We got the sleeping bag off me, the volunteer's jacket off me, and strapped back on my pack with their help because my gloved hands were tired and having trouble with the straps. Then, the volunteer walked me over to the cliff and pointed out Janke Lake and we looked out on the whole state of Montana. It was really really cool. He said, "How about we take your picture?"
Yep. I look COLD. That gusting cold wind would tear right through you.
Another volunteer was concerned that I was saying I was still cold. This was really worrying me. He ran off and returned with two hand warmers he had just started. We wanted to warm up my core so we put one in my compression shorts on my tummy and one in my sports bra below my armpit. Thankfully, the sun would start to come out shortly after that, and it would warm up again.
Getting a little happier now
I thanked them so much and headed out. I owe them a lot. I ended up spending 4 hours and 40 minutes on the next extremely scary 4.5 miles avoiding falling off cliffs or seriously injuring myself, thanks to my complete lack of grace and balance.

More on my race when I have time, but I had to share this. If you ever volunteer in an ultra, please realize that these little gestures help runners immensely!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Whole Western States Experience

I love Western States 100. Its history is a big deal in the ultrarunning community. They are a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting trail stewardship, maintaining the Western States trail year round, and facilitating medical research into ultrarunning's effects on the body. All those reasons are why I became a sponsor of the event 2 years ago through my company, The Active Joe. In 2 weeks, I'll be returning there with Robert Lopez, The Active Joe's sponsored athlete for this year.

While some are done with the hype of Western States or the lavish aid stations and crewing, it's just what this race is. And every time I go, I have several small experiences that show me the quality of our running community, and of what this race provides.

This was actually a draft blog post from after last year's race that just contained some notes. I've rediscovered it this week and flushed it out because I realized it had so much great stuff to share.

One overriding thing you will see in this retelling is how much the community takes care of each other. Yes, it's a competition. But no one will ever try to push anyone else down to pull themselves up higher. Well, they really shouldn't, and those who do are few and far between. I really hope the ultrarunning community never loses that!

Memories and Experiences of 2014 Western States Endurance Run

Mile 30 - Robinson Flat
  • Being the only one with cell service up on the mountain so I ended up the go-to person for live tracking for a bunch of strangers as word got around to the crews that my phone had some bars.
  • Helping a friend in the race at mile 30 when I gave her a cheer and she yelled "Can you do me a huge favor?" The cool thing at Western States is that no one will ever answer this with a no. I was excited to see and cheer my friend Melanie, but it was really cool to see that she was equally happy and excited to see a friendly face. As for the favor, I posted to her wall and tagged her boyfriend to let folks know she was feeling well so far after a back injury had led to no running for the 3 weeks leading up to the race.
  • Advising non-runners on how to crew their runner at the first major crew access aid station. Robinson Flat is a fun one because it's the first time that non-running spouses and parents are there to help their family. Many are not entirely certain what they've gotten themselves into. As runners came in, other crews made up of runners would pitch in, ask the important questions we know to ask, give pointed encouragement only a runner could, and advice fellow ultrarunners would know to give in that situation. We all wanted those first time crews and non-running families to succeed, and we would all try to help advise them on the track to pursue!
  • Having other crews step in to help each other. My friend Chris was pacing and crewing his friends Walt and Jay, but he helped out when Jenn and Jeremy each came through this aid station.

Mile 55 - Michigan Bluff
  • Seeing people flock to bug spray someone offered up. I was bit 2 times seconds after getting out of the car at mile 55 at Michigan Bluff. So I doused myself in bug spray, and Laura and I headed on the half-mile uphill hike to the aid station. We were joined by some other crews. Near the top, someone was spraying on bug spray. One of the people who had headed up with us asked if they could borrow it. Then like 4 others were like "Oh my goodness, yes, could I spray myself too?" This isn't rude to ask. Everyone looks out for everyone else out there!
  • After Jenn came through the aid station and left, all while another guy was still sitting in the aid station, I looked at him and said, "Why are you still here? You need to go!" And not feeling like a jerk because the reaction was, "Yeah, I know. One more second. I'm going, I'm going!" You really wish everyone could finish the race. It's not a competition for most of us out there.
  • They had stopped running the shuttle when we arrived at this aid station so we were able to park close. When I was leaving and Laura had started pacing here, I offered the one open seat in the car to a mom with two teens. She couldn't believe it. I drove her the mile down to her car and she headed back up to pick up her kids. We take care of each other. Even perfect strangers.
Mile 62 - Foresthill
  • Getting to spend the most time with a runner friend I'd had face to face in the couple years I've known him as we watched runners come into Foresthill at mile 62. I ended up at that aid station at the same time as my friend Kai, and we were able to talk about all sorts of things, details of our running, stories of our lives, for that 30+ minutes. It was really great to get to know him so much better than I had before.
  • Waiting after my runner Jenn came through because I had seen my good friend Jeremy's splits into mile 55 on the tracking website and knew his pace was slowing and being worried. I walked a half mile back to walk him in and see how he was. Ultimately he missed cutoff, but I am really glad I was there for my friend in the middle of nowhere at midnight when he had to DNF and knew I could be there for him without sacrificing my ability to crew and pace Jenn effectively.
  • Not vomiting as Jenn lanced a massive blood blister under her big toe nail while I used my headlamp to give her light and tried to look away all at the same time my face and light were pointed right at it. Ick. Engrained behind my eyeballs when I close my eyes.
Mile 80 - Green Gate
  • Having to parallel park in the dark at 1 am with a rental car that is a bigger vehicle (small SUV) on the side of a dirt road when I have very little experience parallel parking and yelling out my window begging the folks in the car behind me to help guide me into the spot so I didn't hit anything. And of course they helped.
  • Hiking 1.5 miles, with a 715 foot descent, on rocky dusty dirt road into the aid station, with a bunch of other crew and pacers, because that's just what you do to take care of your runner. And you don't think twice about it.
Mile 99 - Robie Point
  • Having an Air Force guy who had chatted our crew up a few times throughout the experience see us and run with us for a half mile, letting us know he had seen Laura at the finish line. His excitement for Jenn energized us both as we had hit the pavement and it was so hot and sunny.
  • Seeing runner friend Jesus at the aid station and him running with us, letting us know there were 4 turns into the finish to make and snapping some great pictures of us.
And of course, seeing the start, crewing the whole thing, supporting Laura as she paced Jenn 20 miles, then pacing Jenn myself for 20 miles, and then her finishing the race and collecting her buckle? So awesome. My pacing report for the last 20 miles is here if it's helpful to anyone. :-)

Happy Running! 17 days to another year of Western States!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Scared But Still Moving

It's okay to be scared. It's what you do with that feeling that matters most.

Sunday I'll be running the inaugural South Park Trail Marathon by Human Potential Running Series in Fairplay, Colorado. It's also the first long distance race my family will be around for. They'll stay at the resort an hour and a half away and hopefully the 4 year old and 7 year old will be entertained at the pool and in the restaurants because I'll be gone all day.

The family wanted to get out of town for a long weekend. I wanted a trail race since everything here in Dallas has been wet or fully underwater some of the last 3 months. Affordable airfare hunt led us to Denver, and my friend John Lacroix is producing South Park Trail Marathon the same weekend! Perfect!
Photo taken by John Lacroix

What Scares Me About This Race

But I'm blogging today just to say that I'm scared of this race. I've never run above 10,000 feet (this race starts just under 10,000 ft and goes UP). And I didn't really get to use my altitude tent for this event as I chose the race with just two weeks notice.

Then there's the climbs and conditions, all at above 10,000 feet...

From the Race Director in our latest informational email:
"You WILL get wet! You will get muddy. You will be going through rotting snowdrifts. You will be marching through short areas of flowing frigid water. Right now we have you maxing out at 12,030’ elevation on the course. You will experience 3,400’ of gain and 3,400’ of loss over the course."

Here's the profile:

Yes, so that's over 3,000 ft of gain in 13 straight miles. I try to find something to compare it to and the closest I have is Deadwood Mickelson Marathon which was about 1300' gain in 13 miles but was only at about 5,000 ft elevation. Which I remember led to feeling like I had baby deer legs for the next few miles of serious downhill.

I probably wouldn't be as worried about the climbing if I hadn't had some soft tissue damage to rehab a week ago in my knee, and then managed to completely throw out my sacrum in my low back a few days ago giving me awful muscle spasms (sports chiro fixed that up but the back muscles are still a little angry). So I basically feel like I'm falling apart. Note that the chiropractor has cleared me for this race. My body is angry but not broken.

Thankfully, Race Director John is being kind on his incremental and final cutoffs...
"We are more interested in your ability to push yourselves, have an adventure, and finish, than we are your ability to make a cut-off. Therefore, some of our cutoffs do indeed come with some leeway. At the end of the day, please listen to ALL Race Staff if they tell you it’s time to call it a day. We’re here to help you succeed, not end your day!"

So the snowdrifts, the flowing frigid water, the climbing, and the altitude SCARE me. But here's the thing: I still signed up. I'm still going.

While I may not have a lot of confidence right now, and shouldn't given all the things I just listed along with my inconsistent training, I always have confidence that I know how to keep moving. I can always put one more foot in front of the other. I am confident that I'm a pretty good racer from the viewpoint that I'm strategic, a good planner, and can work through issues as they come up. I am confident I can hang out alone comfortably for 8 hours - counting that in my skill set because some ultrarunners can't. Look at their race history and how they latch on to others during a race.

Race Plan

So my plan is to hike however slowly I have to for the first full 13 miles. If my heart is pounding in my head, I should slow down even more. Don't worry about timing or pace (which I know will look terribly slow and make me want to panic that I should go faster). That elevation profile is not built for running the first 13 miles. But it will be the downfall of some mid to back of the packers who try. Because it takes a lot of work keeping pride in check for runners to HIKE for essentially 4 hours.
Photo taken by John Lacroix

But my goal is to feel good about running back to lower altitude and use my traditionally strong quads to run the last 13. I want to save my energy for the last 13 miles.

Besides only running up to 10,000 feet, I've only ever driven up to 12,000 feet BRIEFLY and that was on my last trip to Colorado with this race's race director. Since I don't handle altitude terribly well, let's go push my limits and see how it goes! It will be beautiful and a fantastic experience even if it's a painful one too!

You gotta ask yourself: What's the worst that can happen?!