Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Pacing the Last 20 Miles - 2014 Western States Pacer Report

At 3 am Sunday morning, I had hiked in 1.5 miles on a rocky dirt road to Green Gate, mile 79.8 of the Western States Endurance Run 100 Mile course. I was anxiously awaiting my athlete, Jennifer Kimble, to arrive. I used this time to prep some of my own gear. I was going packless (having slept wrong and tweaked a muscle in my neck early in the week plus wanting to be light on my feet) so I had my 20 oz Amphipod bottle and was cramming S-caps, pills, wipes, and gels into my pockets and Spibelt. I sat in the camp chair I had hiked in along with our gear and shivered a little. It was probably mid-50s but with fatigue and only 1.5 hours of sleep, it felt cooler. I drank a couple cups of coke from the aid station to get some caffeine and snacked on a couple Oreos.

Spoiler alert: She finishes the race!!

At about 4:30 am, Jennifer and Laura (who had paced the previous 24 miles) came into the aid station. She had just crossed the American River at Rucky Chucky two miles before and was soaking wet with a long extended climb into this aid station. She looked worn out but golly, she was also 80 miles into a hard mountain race. We changed socks and shoes and her top. She wanted her long sleeve, which was in her pack, but it had gotten wet in the river crossing. She put on a dry pullover from her drop bag instead.

In the past, miles 80-90 are HARD for Jenn, and she's had a tendency to sleepwalk and drag. Laura had done a great job of keeping calories in her, so that when she arrived, she was awake enough to be pushed. It was a great team effort!

At 4:44 am, 1 minute before their 30 hour finish time cutoff, we headed out. Now the 30 hour finish time was not set on an overall pace. It predicted you would be faster on the downhills and slower on the uphills and tried to tell you based on that when you would need to get through the aid station and still make it with the elevation change still to come. But after fighting cutoff times all day, we were still in that spot, walking out of the aid station 1 minute to that cutoff. And I know fighting cutoffs was really hard on Jennifer. It creates such a high level of stress. I am very accustomed to being aware of time cutoffs and having to fight them - it's no fun at all. We were going to fight them all the rest of this race too!

Below the red line is where I paced and we had to make up time!

Green Gate to Auburn Lake Trails (Miles 79.8 to 85.2)

We spent the first 5.7 miles to the aid station getting comfortable with where she was at and learning to work together as a team. Laura had given me the 20 second version of how their 24 miles together had gone. Now Jenn and I needed to come to an agreement about what pacing was going to look like here. Plus we spent the first hour in the dark most of the way to this aid station. She ran when she could and walked when she had to and I didn't push it much. She ate her gel and since she was running in front of me I couldn't see what she was doing. I asked, "Did you actually eat that gel?" She was like, "Uh, yeah." And I told her the story of a pacer who ran behind their runner for a bunch of miles and then gets into the aid station and finds all the gels and S-caps and water are still on their runner. The runner had been FAKING eating and drinking the whole way. People do weird things 80 miles into a race. So every once in a while, I would double check verbally that the movement I saw was indeed her taking an S-Cap or eating a gel!

Coming into ALT (Auburn Lake Trails) aid station, I told her we were going to be super fast here and then after this aid station I was going to start pushing her hard. She was hungry and wanting real food. We were coming in 1 minute before the 30 hr timeframe. A volunteer was 50 feet from the station and I asked him to name off hot foods. She perked up about chicken and rice soup, so we go whizzing into the station, I get my water refilled, her bladder still had enough in her pack, we get the soup, she grabs a quick snack, and then I grab a handful of saltine crackers for us to snack on and we walk out, soup cup in hand. It worked really well.

Auburn Lake Trails to Brown's Bar (Miles 85.2 to 89.9)

I told her that for these 20 miles, every aid station split would get shorter and shorter, so I would remind her every time that she wouldn't have to do a split that long ever again (that day). 5.7 miles, 4.6 miles, 3.6 miles, 3.3 miles, 2.1 miles, 1.3 miles. Boom.

I pushed her hard but she did most of the pushing herself. I would just keep the pace strong behind her so she had to go or get run over. Ha! But we would powerhike up a hill, and then at the top she would immediately start her run 2 seconds before I would be about to say "Let's go." A couple times we were in sync as I would start to say "Deep breath and push" and she'd have just started running in the middle of that anyway. She did such a great job. I think she knew she'd get an earful if she didn't go. She only had a couple times were I suggested a run but she needed just a little more recovery. Otherwise I never even had to employ timed run-walk intervals. If it was downhill or flat in that last 20 miles, we basically ran it and not a light jog either. We both knew we were racing the clock.

I would give her reminders each half mile from the aid station. "3.5 miles to the aid station..... 3 miles left...." Approaching the mile 90 aid station, Jenn lost it as we could hear the music 0.7 miles out but there was a chasm on that side where the music was coming from. So you have to pass the music and then do a switchback on the other side of the canyon. She is freaking out after we pass the music that now we are going away from it and finally 0.3 mi away just stops in the trail and yells "Where is the aid station?!" I point into the middle of the thick trees and totally deadpan, "There. I see it through the trees. Right there! Let's go!" I didn't see shit. And she said, "oh ok" and started running. Phew. Crisis averted.

We get into the mile 90 aid station, Brown's Bar. We are 7 minutes up now on the 30 hour cutoff time of 6:30 am. That's wonderful news but there are so many aid stations in the last 20 miles that it's easy to lose any lead you have. I am frantically getting water refilled while Jenn grabs a cup of coffee and some food, and I can hear a volunteer who is directly in front of her looking her straight in the eye saying "You are going to finish this." I turn and realize Hal Koerner is standing right there giving Jennifer a pep talk. Oh! 4 time Western States winner Hal. I say, "Yes, she is" and I hustle her out of the aid station.

Brown's Bar to Highway 49 (Miles 89.9 to 93.5)

We get a minute down the path and she says weakly "Was that Hal Koerner?" And I respond, "Yes. He really wanted your autograph but was too embarrassed to ask." And she gave a weak laugh. Good, that's a good sign. Any positive reaction means she is getting calories and still with me.

I spend a half mile emphasizing that we have single digits left now. We are encountering other runners in this section which breaks up time as well. We have 3.6 miles to Hwy 49 Crossing where I keep reminding her that lovely Laura will be waiting for us! It's wide jeep road here for parts and my original stance is to be just to her side and back in the edge of her periphery but she says I can walk beside her. We know one of the two big climbs is coming up just before the aid station, so we keep pressing. At one point she wants to walk for a minute but I push her that I need her to run right now. I don't want her to have to rush the climb too bad. I keep emphasizing that we are building time so she doesn't kill herself pushing the two significant climbs.

The climb is all loose rocks - not fun. And I know her feet are hurting but she just puts her head down and climbs. Then a nice descent into the spectators and volunteers cheering us into the aid station. We're now 14 minutes ahead but know this aid station will take a little more time than the last two (it takes 5 minutes). It's starting to get warm so ice into the water bottles and they dunk my buff in ice water to put around my neck. Jenn gets rid of the pack. We have a 10K to go and lots of aid stations so just the handheld from here. She tries to eat what she can from the good assortment of foods there. I down two fruit smoothie cups they have. I'm not a big fruit person but those were really really good. A little emotion as Jenn is HURTING and a big crew hug of the 3 of us together, and Laura and I push her out of the station.

Highway 49 to No Hands Bridge (Miles 93.5 to 96.8)

There's a climb out of there, a big one, and we get a few tenths in and Jennifer says she wishes she had taken Aleve back there. I said, "I can go back." She says, "Are you sure?" I say, yes, you keep walking. I RACE back down the steep hill and come into the aid station yelling to Laura like a maniac. I'm so happy she's still packing up. She gives me the Aleve, and I race back out of the aid station and push up the hill, completely exhausting myself. I finally catch Jenn, hand over the meds, and huff out, "NOW if you don't finish, I will whip you with an Aleve bottle for getting me to do that!"

We have 3.3 miles, and after that big hill leaving the aid station, mostly gradual downhill. We run through fields of tall dry grass, and the sun is really starting to worry me through the exposed sections. I don't do well in heat. I foresee problems for me here, but I'm glad Jennifer is unaffected. We run a lot of this segment trying to gain a little time on the clock before the big climb coming after this aid station. When we come into the No Hands Bridge aid station, we are now up 11 minutes on the 30 hour time. A big relief.

Jenn starts walking across No Hands Bridge, a cool bridge over the ravine there. I fill up the bottles with ice water and run to catch her. The sooner I can catch her, the sooner she stops walking and starts running again!

No Hands Bridge to Robie Point (Miles 96.8 to 98.9)

We have 3.2 miles left in the race, just over a 5K. Here is where I tell her that the big climb into Robie Point is coming up during this 2.2 mile segment. And that I've done the math and that, especially with how the 30 hr time cutoff takes slower climbs into account, even if we do 23 minute per mile the rest of the way, we will make it in time. But of course we agree we won't do that pace.

So we push that Robie Point climb. And I admit between pushing the climb, the fact I've raced this 20 miles at her dragging pace and close to my 50K PR pace on flat terrain, and now the searing heat of 10 am on a California day of exposure, I am starting to melt. My heat issues come out full throttle. Jenn gets a little ahead.

At the top, we have 1.2 miles of pavement left. And we're 14 minutes above the time cutoff for 30 hours. She pauses for 10 seconds to let me catch up. I am actually really suffering from the mid-80s exposed temperatures at this point, but I push down the dizziness and nausea, and we run.

Robie Point to the Finish (Miles 98.9 to 100.2)

We encounter a guy we had met earlier in the course who was spectating. He is running backwards on the course but when he sees us he runs with us for a quarter mile and tells us he had just seen Laura at the high school track waiting for us! He's super encouraging.

Then we see an acquaintance from Facebook named Jesus. I had met him very briefly before when he came to Dallas to run my New Years Double race this past year. He runs the last half mile with us. He happily gets some photos of us running together, we pause for a selfie, and he tells us there are only 4 turns left and then she's done.

Once you get to the Placer High School track in Auburn, you make a loop around 3/4 of the track surface into the finish. We hit the track, and I am ready for her to leave me. At Ozark Trail 100, Jeremy had this crazy fast sprint he pulled out in that last quarter mile and he left me in the dust, and I'm expecting similar. But no, we go at the pace we've been doing, and I'm relieved and happy I get to stay with her to the end. And we're both for this last half mile in complete shock that this is actually happening.

The last hundred feet, crew and pacers pull off to the side outside the fencing with a big "No Crew or Pacers" in the finish area. I'm a little superstitious anyway. I don't want to cross under that finish line arch until possibly someday that I would be strong enough and lucky enough to run the race.

Jenn crosses the finish line at 29 hours, 42 minutes. 18 minutes before the cutoff. 18 minutes from not getting a buckle. She's made it.
Click in for details


We're happy and completely exhausted. I take a while to get over my heat issues, having to rest in shade, Jesus gets me a cold Coke, and then going and sitting in the air conditioned car for a little bit. I've been through the heat stuff before. I just hate how susceptible I am. Jenn is still having a surreal moment but showers and gets cleaned up. Laura and Jesus look over us both.

Finally the buckle presentation ceremony happens an hour and a half later. It's so exciting to have my company, The Active Joe, called out in the list of sponsor greats that include Montrail and Mountain Hardwear. But then it's terribly awesome to see Jenn accept her bronze belt buckle and cross the stage in the ceremony tent.

So yes, I can honestly say, I'm not sure I've ever raced that hard in terms of that combo of terrain and elevation elements, for that distance, plus the psychological aspects of managing another person who has been through the wringer for 80 miles already. What an incredible experience. I'm so happy that Jennifer accepted being The Active Joe's sponsored athlete for the Western States Endurance Run, that she allowed me to crew and pace her during that journey, and that she ultimately earned her finisher buckle!


5 hours, 40 minutes. 
20.4 miles. 
4,000 feet gain. 4,200 feet of descent. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Grand Canyon 100 - Shattered Expectations

After not finishing Rocky Raccoon 100, I wanted an interesting race that wouldn't be harder than a 100 miler has to be. I chose Grand Canyon 100 on May 17 - while it was an inaugural race, it was a race director who has other non-inaugural events he produces, temperatures were supposed to be no higher than 65 degrees typically on the plateau on the North Rim, it wasn't too much altitude (8000 ft on average), the terrain not too technical, and the climbs were supposed to be difficult without being mountainous (12,600 ft gain). The weather in the two weeks leading up kept showing temperatures in the mid-80s so I knew that was an added complication going in.

It would end up being a very different day than I imagined. The DNF hurt. My DNF at Rocky Raccoon 100 hadn't hurt. I didn't really cry about that one. I had a good race, got unlucky with blisters, had pushed through to suffer for 30 miles with them, and then timed out for completing my last 20 miles. I was proud of that race day. But everything about Grand Canyon 100? Well, this DNF involved a lot of tears.

It hurt bad enough that I needed a few weeks to sort through and process, and I can finally write the race report and reflect on the good and fun things instead of being all sour about it.

The Long Trip There

My mom commented while I was on the phone with her during this trip that people have no idea the logistics required to even go do races like this. Trail ultramarathons, particularly the beautiful scenic ones, tend to be in isolated areas, so the travel to get there can be extensive.

For this, Jeremy (my pacer/crew), his wife Sara, and I flew into Las Vegas on a Thursday night. Dinner on the strip but very little partying.
Jeremy and Sara

On Friday we picked up the rental car in the morning and drove 4 hours to Kanab, Utah. Hotel check-in and a short rest while I finalized my drop bags, and then the drive to the race site for packet pickup and turning in my drop bags for the aid stations.

The drive to the race site was a country highway through open cattle land where you would find cows in the road during the day and rabbits would play Frogger at night. Then another 20-something miles of rutted bumpy dirt forest service road into the Kaibab National Forest. It was a roundtrip 100 miles and 1 hr 15 min each way.

We drove to the closest viewpoint after packet pickup. I would come through the Crazy Jug Viewpoint at 8 miles in. Sara and I had never been to the Grand Canyon, and it was amazing when we stepped up to the edge of the viewpoint and took it all in.
Crazy Jug Viewpoint

Happy to have a friend's support out there!

A long drive back to Kanab and a stellar pre-race dinner before bedtime. We highly recommend the Rocking V Cafe - gourmet fare in a little bitty town? Their southwestern cornmeal-crusted mountain trout was delicious!

Race Morning and Miles 0 to 8

On the road at some awful hour like 4 AM. Yawn. Getting to the race site was uneventful and thankfully the slight break of dawn was good assurance that a headlamp to start wouldn't be necessary. It was cold at that elevation (about 7500 ft at the start), maybe about 35 degrees, and I kept on my warm puffy jacket and huddled with the others around the fire boxes they had.
Filling hydration bladders and gearing up. Excited!

There were about 50 of us between 50 milers and 100 milers. 28 in the 100 mile including myself. It was time to start the race, so I gave Jeremy a quick hug and handed off my jacket. In the first mile I get thinking about how frozen my hands were. No use in having gloves because I wasn't going to be cold for long.

I wrapped myself up in my own thoughts and listened to the conversations of all the Utah folks who knew each other. Another mile in and when a few stopped at a viewpoint, I asked a guy, "Are you Cory?" He was and I yelled a quick introduction of myself as I went by. "Fast Cory" and I share a mutual friend, and I had found him on Facebook ahead of time and introduced myself so I would know someone at the race. The running community is pretty cool like that.

At 3 miles we left some dirt road to move to single track. It was tight between bushes and two-way traffic as we headed out to Monument Point, our first viewpoint. It was a lot rockier than I expected and the climbs had begun. Cory was nice enough to take my picture at the viewpoint at mile 4.5, then we all marked our bibs with a star from a Sharpie left there and turned around.

At mile 8, we went out to the Crazy Jug Viewpoint, where I didn't linger because we had visited there the night before. I got checked in with my number because it was a small out-and-back and moved on. I refilled my water at the aid station and grabbed a few snacks but didn't spend long.

NOT A TRAIL (Miles 8 to 15)

Two miles of dirt road into nice trail. And then.... a big climb up soft forest soil between scraggly bushes. NOT A TRAIL. I was ready - they had said the course was pretty runnable except for a technical section from miles 10 to 15. I had done technical. I knew I could handle technical.

But this wasn't just some rocks. Or even bouldering. Or hundreds of roots. This was NOT A TRAIL. For 5 miles, they splatted the forest, up and down valleys, through rough and overgrown sections, with little marker flags. I admit it took a couple miles before I figured out - this is not going to end. This is the full 5 miles. We bushwhacked through the cambered sides of hills, with a foot of pine needles and when there weren't pine needles to squish down in and ruin your gait, it was soft soft forest soil, not packed like on a trail. Between soft soil and cambered surface, I twisted my ankle a half-dozen times.

This antique section of forest was described well in another participant Kelly's blog post where he said "The next stage of the race takes us onto a trail section that hasn't seen a trail runner since Christ was a carpenter." Ha. Kelly is actually a total running stud who had a shot at winning the 100 miler but on this awful terrain he pulled a groin muscle and ended up finishing the 50K.

We hit downhills full of soft soil with lots of small rocks, and I would curse when my foot slid and I would hear curses back and uphill behind me as we all negotiated the terrain. The climbs would be steep and you would set your foot where others had for a foothold so your foot didn't slide back down a little in that soft dirt.
See the two little people at the top? No one had been on this
trail before they came through and flagged it. I'm sure of it.

When I got into Parisawamppitts aid station at mile 15, I was mildly cranky and starting to get hot. But Jeremy hooped and hollered, and I was happy to see him. "That 5 miles was awful. That was not a trail." Jeremy confirmed everyone else was equally shocked, disappointed, and jaded coming into the aid station. That made me feel way less prepared.

We get up to the aid station table. "What do you need?"

Me: "Ice."
Jeremy. "They don't have ice."
Me: "Ice."
Aid station head: "We have eggs and sausage and...."
Me: "Ice?"
Jeremy: "They don't have ice."
Me: "I just really want ice."
I wasn't throwing a big fit. It was just that my sole focus was ice. And now I was petrified that maybe none of the aid stations had ice!

It's 9 am and getting hot, and I'm worried. It's 6.5 miles to the next aid station and it will only get hotter on this exposed course. I eat some food, then Jeremy walks with me the tenth of a mile to where I have to go do a one mile out and back to the Parisawamppitts Viewpoint before continuing on. Jeremy says he'll wait there until I come back.

Some of the tightest single track I've done with branches grabbing at my clothes and a lot of boxing-style duck and weave moves, while moving through rocky spots and lots of up and down climbing. I get to the viewpoint, grab a selfie, and mark my bib with the red Sharpie marker. It's slow going on this section and a kick in the butt after those last 5 ridiculous miles.
Selfie with a handheld water bottle is easier said than done.

I eventually get back to Jeremy, and he's jumping ahead of me, snapping pictures. It did make me smile and laugh. I think I asked if I was going to be okay. He told me I was. I headed out for the next 6.5 mile stretch.
Yes, I was still smiling.

To Fence Point Aid Station (Miles 15 to 21.5)

Uneventful except for getting hotter and hotter. So I'll use this 6.5 mile stretch to talk about heat exhaustion and my strategies to get through it. Heat exhaustion is often associated with dehydration, but that's just one way to get it. A raise in your core body temp is really what is going on, and what I've learned over time is even when well-hydrated, some people are just susceptible to heat and that raise in body temp that leads to heat exhaustion. At 8000 ft altitude plus a lot of time with little shade, it becomes a problem.

I wore a buff around my neck that I could wet or put ice (if there was ever an aid station with it) inside. I wore a visor to keep the sun and heat off my face. I wore a light colored shirt rather than the dark The Active Joe shirt I really wanted to, which would have just absorbed the heat. I had on my hydration pack with 70 ounces of water. I carried a 20 ounce Amphipod handheld water bottle with an insulating sleeve.

When it started to get hot, my strategy out on the course was to put the buff up over my head and cover my ears. Then I would use the 20 ounces in my handheld, rationed out to the next aid station, to occasionally squirt the water on the top of my buff on my head and onto the back of my neck.

It worked well and kept the heat managed. Not GREAT but managed. All participants were complaining about a little lightheadedness and nausea. My nausea was almost non-existent, and I wasn't very lightheaded, but I felt very heavy and sleepy and my legs were like lead. I couldn't get a good run going as I trotted along. I could feel the sun sucking out all my energy.

At Fence Point, Jeremy was waiting, and I said we needed to get my core temp down quick. I sat in the shade of the tent for a couple minutes eating and drinking while we iced my buff down and put it on me. Thankfully, they had ice. We put cups of ice into my sports bra and put ice in both my handheld and my hydration pack. I was determined to get through this heat, even if it took a 10 pound back of ice every 6.5 miles to do it! My attitude was good.

I met Angela there who had a mountain bike and was crewing her friend. Jeremy had given her a ride to the aid station. Jeremy said the back roads made it difficult to get to the next aid station and make it to the following one in time. So Angela volunteered to crew me at the next aid station.

To Locust Point Aid Station (Miles 21.5 to 24.5)

Pretty uneventful besides trying to avoid death (just a little melodramatic there). I just kept moving through the direct sun and heat. It felt like my brain was boiling. Yep, that's what early stages of heat exposure feel like for me. My head was on fire and I thought it was going to spontaneously burst into flame. The last couple miles I fell in with another person in the 100 named Jennifer. She was from San Francisco, where I've run the marathon twice before and for two years served as an ambassador for the SF Marathon, because I love the race so much. So we had some great stuff to chat about. Before we got to the aid station at Locust Point, we stopped to take pictures of each other at the viewpoint.

Angela was there as promised. She was such a doll! She helped me get my core body temp down again and put ice everywhere we could. This was the point in the day with the sun directly overhead so it was so warm. Temperatures in the mid-80s. Jennifer had gone ahead out of the aid station. She had a faster pace than me and wasn't suffering in the heat quite as badly as I was.

To Timp Aid Station (Miles 24.5 to 31)

This section had numerous small valleys we would go down into, through where the sun's rays penetrated and heated up the grassy meadow, then climb back out of. They were like little fingers of the Grand Canyon pushing into the forest. And like a canyon they were also HOT.

Around mile 28 I passed a guy who was laying in the grass in a slightly shady area. I asked if he was okay. He said he was and just taking a rest. I asked if he had crew at the next aid station that I could notify of how he was, and he didn't. The heat was sucking the life out of everyone.

About mile 29, something miraculous happened. A cloud covered the sun, I hit a high plateau with some good shaded forest, there was fairly flat single track trail, and it was hitting about 4 pm where the angle of the sun was becoming way less harsh.

And ZOOM. It's like I was flying. My speed picked up to normal paces, my legs felt incredible, and I seriously couldn't stop laughing. Loudly but no one was around to hear. I was giddy with excitement. Finally, I had waded through 20 miles of awful heat to get my "second wind". I was hopeful for what would happen as the sun continued to set.

I came running into the aid station at quite a clip, and Jeremy seemed supremely happy to see me moving so well and the smile I had to go with it.

At the aid station, we refilled water, retied my shoes, and I ate. The heat had done a number on my physiology though because my essential tremor was in rare form. The best evidence of the hardship of the day on my body. I stood by the aid station table downing Oreos and couldn't accept the cup of coke he offered until I was ready to sip because I was going to shake all the liquid out of the cup. My tremor is typically light and just left hand and left foot, but I was under so much stress that my entire body just shuddered nonstop. It was frustrating but didn't slow me down.

I left the aid station in good spirits. Jeremy was heading back to the start/finish site and would take over pacing at mile 50.

To Stina Aid Station - Miles 31 to 38

I left the aid station just ahead of Bill, the runner Angela was crewing for. He had fought bad nausea all day. I had a run going and he was doing a fast walk so I stayed ahead of him. Until about a mile down the road. We were in shaded single track in the forest but all of a sudden it felt like all the heat of the day was trapped in the canopy of those trees. And it enveloped me and I turned to the side of the trail, came to a sudden halt, and dry heaved. Bill passed me and I couldn't catch his powerwalk after that.

That second wind of mine was already gone. My body started to act like it was beyond exhausted, but I kept a trot and brisk walk going. I came out onto a forest service road around mile 33. This terrain was easier although it had a lot more rolling hills. And I could feel that it was starting to cool down.

But I started to feel more nauseous and more light-headed with each step. I just kept moving forward and every once in a while would stop to dry heave.

After a couple miles, I still had a little over 2 miles into the aid station. I hadn't been able to eat any of my chews with the nausea. Throwing up was a bad calorie deficit situation to end up in. I needed to start fighting this awful feeling head on.

So I pulled out the papaya enzyme I keep on hand for upset stomach and chomped down a few of those slowly.  I gave it another 10 minutes and it just wasn't working. Fine, sometimes that works but sometimes it doesn't. Maybe some salt hitting my stomach would calm it down - another trick I've learned from experience.

I took an S-Cap and within another few minutes my stomach was feeling less on the verge of a reversal of fortune. I could now eat a GU. I went for one with caffeine and increased electrolytes. I needed calories, I needed energy, and I hoped maybe the caffeine would help the lightheadedness too.

But no, 1.5 miles from the aid station, and the lightheadedness was not recovering itself. I saw a kaibab squirrel (unique to this area with a giant fluffy tail) for the first time scurry across the road much further down in the direction I was headed. I was definitely woozy because I had to play the game of "did that really happen?" and decided that it indeed had.

I couldn't pinpoint why I was feeling awful. My legs felt awesome. My feet, even with the rougher rocky terrain and my usual issue of being a tenderfoot, felt amazing. No hot spots, no tender points.

I think my body had fought a hard battle ALL. DAY. LONG. It was signaling the white flag, and there wasn't a lot to do to stop it.

Making the Tough Decision

When I pulled into the Stina Aid Station it was manned by two high school students. That's it. Just them. I told them the issues I was having and that I was going to take 5-10 minutes to sit and sip ginger ale and frankly "try to get my shit together." I sat and sipped and talked to Bill who had decided to pull there. It was now getting dark and because I was getting there later than I had hoped, I luckily had a flashlight stashed in my drop bag, but I didn't have any headlamps.

I asked the aid station guy what the situation would be like if I had to drop at this aid station. Would I have to hang out here for hours? "Well, we have no cell service or radio signal here. We have to drive 3+ miles down the road and then TRY to get a signal, then we can radio to get someone to come drive you back to the start/finish."

Okay, wait. I'm at an aid station manned by only two kids. In a race where there are ONLY 50 between the 50 and 100 miler and I'm back-of-the-pack, so there's a handful max of people at this point in the course who may or may not be behind me. It's getting dark in the next hour and I have 12 miles to go on just a flashlight on empty remote forest service road. And if I get a couple miles out and I'm still dizzy and have to come back (my initial plan A when I pulled into the station), they couldn't radio for medical if someone was seriously wrong. And search and rescue would be interesting since no one was being informed of if and when I had checked into this aid station. Guhhhhh-REAT!!!!

I sat for a couple minutes, processing all this. And then I told him I was dropping. I was already off pace to continue past the mile 58 cutoff at this point, and I was seriously uncomfortable about the conditions I just named above.

The Ride of Shame

Once I made the decision, it was maybe an hour and a half until Bill and I were back at the race site. We had to wait for one of the high school guys to drive miles away to radio that two people were dropping. Then the race made the decision that he would drive us to the next aid station 6 miles away, but with how remote this all is, it was a 30 minute drive. I kept my cool through this. I had changed out of my wet outer layers into items from my drop bag at the Stina aid station. I had pushed away the emotions of what was happening.

At the next aid station, we had just arrived and I heard someone call our names. Jo loaded us into her big SUV and we started another bumpy backroad excursion to the start/finish. We chatted with her, what a nice person, and we had been to some of the some races and I knew Aravaipa Running in Arizona well from Javelina Jundred last year. I mentioned that I was eager to get back to the start/finish before I emotionally broke down completely and also I was thinking Jeremy was going to be pretty mad at me. She had actually spent part of the day hanging out with Jeremy so that was a funny further connection. Also, Jo's husband is Kelly, the stud runner I mentioned much earlier in the report with the funny synopsis of those 5 bushwhacked miles.

The Sobbing

Back at the race start/finish site, I thanked Jo and left her vehicle and walked to where pacers and crew were standing around waiting for their runners. Jeremy saw me and yelled, "What are you doing here?" Not in a happy way. I said I had dropped at Stina. "What happened?" he said loudly.

"I don't want to talk about it. I want to go." I turned and walked to the car, and my emotions were crashing down. I was barely keeping it together.

I got to the car, and I sobbed. SOBBED. For a while too. I just lost it. I was frustrated and disappointed, I felt like a wimp and a wuss and any other name you wanted to call me in that second, I felt like I had let down Jeremy as my coach, and then that I had let him down as my friend because now he had come all this way to not get to do 50 miles on that gorgeous course.

Jeremy ran to the portapotties before the long drive back and I continued sobbing in the car. I heard my door open and Jo practically crawled into the passenger side to give me a big hug. I had just met her and she was telling me not to cry and that it was okay. A little prodding and asking me about different foods (my stomach was still not completely over the nausea) and she convinced me to wait while she went and got me a warm flatbread and a cold Coke. I nibbled on that flatbread the whole hour and 15 minute drive back to the hotel.

Shattered Expectations

Jeremy had heard from the fast people their incredulity that the course, which had changed a couple times, was really "only" 6300 ft of vertical gain/loss in 50 miles. I've done some races with climbs so the 6300 felt on the low side to me as well. Many thought it was closer to 8300. (In the end, my Garmin fritzed out royally and I lost all my data which really upset me.)  So that would have put it at almost 17000 in a 100 miler. And you add to that the bushwhacking for 5 miles through ancient forest for what was described as "more technical" trail. The rest of the "runnable" trail was still rocky in spots and at times reminded me of Bandera (terrain I don't love). And the heat was supposed to be 65 degrees, not 85 degrees.

Jeremy said a lot of things on the drive back, but one stuck out, besides reassuring me that I needed to stop worrying about disappointing him in not getting to pace. He said this race was just not what we had expected it to be. I picked a beautiful race, but we had agreed on it because it really was tough but manageable - not too hot, not too much altitude, not too much gain, not too technical. In the end, it really wasn't those things. And my body had just had enough. THAT made me feel better.

When I think back, that 38 miles was harder than any 50K or 50M I had finished (15 of them). And I am proud for how I kept moving through obstacle after obstacle presented.

I know I was smart, and being smart sometimes sucks. Nothing, no buckle, is worth making a stupid decision with a husband and two small kids at home. But good gosh if I don't wish I had injured myself in a very physical and apparent way. Something clear cut.

In the end, it was a hard day for many. About a 45% drop rate in the 100 miler.

What's Next?

I don't know. Everything for future planning was basically put on hold for this race, in pursuit of this 100 miles. Within a couple hours of the DNF, I was on the edge of contemplating when to try 100 miles again. And by the next morning (after I had another good cry when my legs and feet felt incredibly good and not sore at all), I was thinking more about the next attempt. A hunger has been awakened to rise up and take on this challenge, and getting to 80 miles at Rocky Raccoon just makes it a more insistent feeling.

But in the meantime, I strained my back two weeks ago during strength training at the end of the sets when I was fatigued and just picked up a 25 lb dumbbell wrong. Maybe that was a good thing ultimately to make me less reactionary coming off this DNF and to settle myself.

I'll be pacing Jennifer for 20 miles at Western States 100 in a few weeks. I have a fun race, the Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon, where you run 3 miles in an unlit tunnel, outside Seattle in mid-July. Then I have a smattering of road marathons this fall where I may use them as speedwork or to just go enjoy a scenic location (all destination races).

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Complicated Runner Seeks Reset Button

I'm a complicated runner. As are most runners I know.

I like hard scenic challenges. A lot of my running is geared towards that. The majority of the time I'm okay with having the gumption to go for something, with not playing it safe, with not always completing races, and with having to make difficult choices (like being smart and DNFing when you fear passing out on the trail and the nearest aid station has no ability to radio for help).

And I feel like all I've done this year is go for the things that are so far from guaranteed, the things that are a big challenge (with often a big reward), the things where the chance of success is small. I don't regret my racing or my choices. But I'm tired. I'm tired of things being so hard.

Prelude: I don't perform well in heat, warm weather with altitude, or full sun. I can be fully hydrated, tracking my urination, and I've learned that my core body temp just goes up quickly when I get warm. Quickly. And then it's an epic battle to keep heat exhaustion at bay when you're already susceptible.

My running year (2014) so far has been

  • Bandera 50K which was a warm day that was hard on me but a new big course PR too, 
  • Rocky Raccoon 100 miler as my first 100 mile attempt, with a DNF at mile 80 after 30 miles of blisters
  • Atoka A-OK 25K trail race, which had 19 degree temperatures and snow flurries and recovering dead legs from Rocky
  • Gorge Waterfalls 100K, where 50% of the field including me DNFed this difficult course with tight time cutoffs
  • Possum Kingdom 55K, where it got HOT and ended with my longest sub-50 mile race finish ever of over 11 hours
  • Ouachita 50K, that unexpectedly included bouldering up rocks to the summit of Pinnacle Mountain and was another HOT day
  • Grand Canyon 100, where I DNFed at mile 38 after heat that was much worse than the usual temperatures that time of year left me lightheaded and exhausted from what felt like an all day battle. At the end of it all, 45% of the field DNFed the 100 miler. I was not alone.
And my difficulties do not mean I haven't been working hard. Look at those races above! I'm not sitting around eating bonbons every week. My miles for the first 5 months of the year are higher than this point last year. And last year was my biggest running year to date.

I know deep down I'm not a weak runner. I know I put in time. I know I keep major injury at bay. I know that I'm a smart runner. But I waver at times in my confidence, and DNFs and hard race days make me feel weak and wimpy and like I'd rather be stupid and play the "death before DNF" game.

I've been here before. Last year. After a strong Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon as a training run two weeks before the difficult Bighorn 50K with a proud finish in that event, I felt like this when I DNFed Tahoe Rim Trail 50 Mile from heat exhaustion a month later. My reset button was the fun, low stress, and (RELATIVELY) easy E.T. Full Moon 51K race a few weeks later.

I think I need to hit the reset button again.

I've seen amazing things, taken in beautiful scenery, and had grand adventures. But I'm tired now. I am lost and craving a race where I can have a high chance of success and can take it easy. Running is fun because it's a challenge but running is also fun when you are just out there reveling in being active and moving through the world. Is it wrong to want that too? Why is it so hard for me to balance these things? I'm so often 100% or 0% on something - an intensity I'm known for. You know whether I'm interested or not. I'm rarely so-so on anything.

Time to reset.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

2014 Grand Canyon 100 Race Preview

Saturday I am attempting to finish 100 miles. My first attempt was back in February, and I timed out in 80 miles after 24 1/2 hours. I didn't really flip the switch to decide to try a 100 miler until sadly my friend Brian took his own life back in October. He had pressed me for over a year to do a 100 miler. It's been over 6 months since his passing, but I think about him from time to time as I've been preparing and training, and I've wondered what he would think and what he would have to say about all this.

So a couple weeks ago, I decided that right before the race, I would do a preview of the upcoming event since it's an inaugural race most runners won't be familiar with, and I'd do it in the style that Brian used to do his race previews on his blog before each one he ran. So here we go...

The Kaibab National Forest on a plateau near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. The home to the largest contiguous Ponderosa Pine forest in the United States. The home of *FUN FACT* the Kaibab Squirrel, a funny looking squirrel who is a cool little example of evolution due to geographic isolation.

I leave tonight, the evening of May 15th, for Las Vegas. There's a 4 hour drive on May 16th. The race starts 6 am, May 17th. And I have to finish by 2:00 pm, May 18th.

Grand Canyon 100

Finisher Belt Buckle (pic from race's FB page)

Because when I didn't finish the 100 miler at Rocky Raccoon February 1, I didn't sit in my house and cry for a week. I immediately searched out my next chance to go after that finish line again. I wanted my friend Jeremy to pace me again (he was a really great pacer at Rocky), and since he's inconsiderate enough to be doing the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning with 4 100 milers between June and September, he told me my choice was sometime in May or wait until October or later. I didn't want to wait that long so I read up on all the 100 milers in May in the United States, and even in Canada, and chose this one.
A good part of the course goes along the rim of the Grand Canyon! (pic from race's FB page)

Reasons I picked this one of the May options:
  • I've never been to the Grand Canyon, 
  • it fit my goal of having a scenic race, 
  • I'm excited to try a 2-loop race of 50 miles each loop, 
  • I'm happy I get to have a pacer for the entire last 50 miles (and the timing fit in my pacer's racing schedule)
  • The weather for this time of year on the plateau is normally lows of 35 overnight and highs of 65 degrees,
  • The 12,600 feet of gain/loss is hilly but not impossible,
  • The 32 hour time limit is 2 more hours than I had for Rocky Raccoon.
Start/finish line has an old west feel. They will even put us in one of the cattle holding areas and swing open the gate to start the race! LOL (pic from race's FB page)
Here's the elevation profile of that 12,600 ft of gain/loss:

Only 25 other people in the 100 miler. There are another couple dozen in the 50 mile race (1 loop), and another 30 or so in the 50K race that starts an hour after us (shortened loop). There is no one going that I already know. But there is one other person from Texas (from Dallas) who I have mutual friends with, as well as a Utah runner who I also have mutual friends with.

Thankfully, I won't be alone. My good friend Jeremy who helped pace me at Rocky Raccoon is in for this adventure again and gets to pace the whole second 50 mile loop as I move at a glacial pace.

Supposedly, the weather is typically 35-65 degrees over the 32 hours. However, the forecast for this weekend is actually looking much hotter. Highs in the 80s, and overnight lows in the 50s. I am susceptible to heat exhaustion so I'll just have to be careful. 

It is just a couple days after the full moon and with clear skies, the stars should be bright and beautiful.

If no one else shows up AND I manage to finish. Ha. Brian was a fast runner. This question made a lot more sense for him than for me. And he measured win by an actual physical win. The "win" for me will be finishing. I've trained, I feel mentally good, I've rested well during taper, I've visualized scenarios and my finish, I've planned out my gear and race execution, and I have a great pacer/crew. Now I just need to go get it done and keep pushing away the worries about the variables that can derail a 100 miler that I CAN'T control.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Why Run 100 Miles?

Ultrarunners who pursue running 100 miles at one time all have some sort of screw loose in the head. It's just not an obvious thing to do, so why do we go "Yes, I want to do THAT!!" I think what makes us tick is completely fascinating. So I thought I'd post a little insight on why I have made that jump into being completely crazy and to try to run/walk/crawl for about 32 hours a couple days from now.

Because They Told Me I Couldn't - Pure Defiance

14 years ago I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, I was bedridden, I was dosed up on various drugs, and it was suggested I undergo a series of surgeries to fuse the vertebrae in my back together. The doctor said I would never run (I wasn't a runner back then anyway), and I would probably not walk past the age of 35. I took my health into my own hands and have managed my condition since then. A lot of my drive in running comes from a defiance to all those doctors I saw, some of the best in Dallas, who thought a bedridden life of pain was all I had ahead of me. A piece of me wants to shove it in their faces with every single finish. The "Because I Can" for me is more of a "Because You Said I Couldn't".

Because It Could All Be Gone Tomorrow - Chasing Time

With my condition, I've found keeping an active life keeps the worst of it at bay. Good days lead to more good days, and bad days can quickly spiral into more painful bad days. I still have fibromyalgia flareups a couple times a year. A week of pretty intense overall body pain, it's a reminder of what I don't want to be a norm in my life. With the doctor's prognosis, there's always a piece of me that is racing to keep one step ahead of the monster. It's what sometimes increases my intensity of wanting to do more NOW that I have to fight because trying to do it all right now at this instant is impossible and exhausting. It's what keeps that thought in the back of my mind that this could all be gone someday and possibly someday sooner than those without fibromyalgia since so much is still not known about the condition. I want to do big awesome things like lots of my friends but part of the drive to do it is derived from this.

Because I'm Stronger Than I Thought - The Internal Push

My first attempt at 100 miles had the worst mental pain of my life... no exaggeration. I had serious ultrabrain around mile 72, but even with the overwhelming screaming in my brain of "JUST STOP", I still kept taking one step... and then another... and then another. That completely baffles me. How do we do that? I find myself weirdly excited to get to that mental place again, to be completely amazed at what a body can do even when the mind is not completely on board.

Because It Opens Up a World of Possibilities for People - Reshaping Reality

Even just talking to people, runners and non-runners alike, about the attempt to run 100 miles and what it realistically entails, is interesting because you get to watch the reactions and their body language. And frankly, for a lot of people, it breaks their brain. It's so outside the scope of reasonable possibilities for what a person can do. Sometimes I feel that way about it too. But once they shake off the fact that this just reformed reality for them, there's an interest and appreciation that our bodies and minds are capable of something like that. And the next phase is, well, what else can a person do then? It's amazing to be able to be part of something that can reshape opinions of people and open us all up to an entirely new world of possibilities in our lives.

Because I Like Being An Inspiration of What Average Athletes Can Do

It's one of the things I hear over and over again, and truthfully, I love to hear that I touched someone's life. Who doesn't? The elite fast runners are pretty awesome, but I'm more inspired by the average ultrarunners around me working running into an already full life, balancing families, putting themselves out on a limb for incredible experiences, and focusing on creating gigantic memories. I honestly feel like part of my purpose in this world is to help facilitate running - through running clubs I've headed up, by creating races with finish lines for people to aspire to cross, and by putting that same passion into my running. The 100 for me shows that anyone can dream big, that it's okay to go after things that aren't guaranteed, that's it's okay to enjoy the journey even if there's no finish line, and that you can balance pursuing multiple priorities (running, family, work). This would ultimately be very unfulfilling personally if this was my only reason to want to run 100 miles, but it is definitely one of the reasons.

Because the Mental/Planning Aspects of a 100 Miler is Something I Enjoy

I grew up being the smart nerd kid in school with absolutely no physical abilities at all. One reason I love running is appreciating as an adult that I can do physical things, regardless the fact of whether or not I'm good at them. I'm comfortable with my place in the running world a majority of the time as a back of the packer. But trailrunning, ultrarunning, and as I've discovered, the attempt of running 100 miles, allows me to bring some skills to the party that I feel play to my strengths and skills I enjoy employing. As a mathematician, my ability to step through the logic of a process is a big help. And the mental part of being alone for hours on end, executing a plan, playing games with yourself, is amazing and fun for me.

Because It's Really Neat to Do Something So Few Try

Let's be real. That's just awesome. To do something others can't imagine trying and others won't try. I don't think it's a good enough reason to do one if it's your only reason, but going down the list, yeah, it's there.

Because It's an Efficient and Fun Way to See Some Scenic Locations

I've been intrigued about point-to-point 100 mile races. Can you imagine over 30-45 hours getting to see 100 miles of what is often incredibly scenic terrain?! Seeing it in a way that is often inaccessible by car? While right now my 100 miler attempts (the previous one and upcoming one) were on looped courses, I have a lot of interest in the possibility of getting comfortable enough to do a point-to-point race.

This reason is also just a reason I love trailrunning generally. After really enjoying the location of the Bighorn 50K race, I was also a little sad I hadn't done the 50 miler (not that I feel I was prepared for that). I just know that there's miles of that race course I haven't seen yet. With some 100 mile race courses, the viewpoint is the same.

Because I Love A BIG Challenge and Making Myself Uncomfortable

And 100 miles is definitely a big challenge. I love to see what I'm made of, to teach myself I can be outside my comfort zone, and to achieve something I wasn't sure was possible. I've tried for years now to annually ensure I do something very far outside of my comfort zone. What seems little and insignificant to one person can be a huge leap for another, and these were my leaps:
2009 - Ziplined over waterfalls and through forests in Hawaii (I have a fear of heights)
2010 - Hot air balloon ride in Napa Valley
2011 - My first marathon (San Francisco in July).... and second (Kauai in September).... and third (Chicago in October), and well as my first and second 50Ks two weeks apart (Rocky Raccoon 50K and Wild Hare 50K in November)
2012 - I volunteered in the freakishly cold American River, with water above my waist, in a wetsuit, in the middle of the night for hours at mile 80, the Rucky Chucky, at Western States Endurance Run 100 Miler. I can't swim and am very uncomfortable in the water.
2012 (again) - I ran my first 50 mile race (Run Woodstock in September)
2013 - I think Volcanic 50 was the most uncomfortable experience of that year. With big elevation gains and miles of abrasive lava rock boulder fields, it was a difficult race and completely not like anything else I had tried. In the end, I didn't mind timing out and DNFing after the experience I gained being out there.
2014 - the year of the 100 mile run! I still have a hard time believing I kept moving for 24 1/2 hours and 80 miles back in February.

So Let's Go Have An Adventure!

With all those reasons in the forefront of my mind, I fly out tomorrow for another adventure, chasing down a 100 mile finisher belt buckle! Whether I complete the race or not, there will be vivid memories created, new sights taken in, and an experience that will allow me to keep growing.

Tomorrow I'll post a preview of the inaugural Grand Canyon 100 for those who want to know more about the race.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Climb A Mountain, Get The Miles Done - Ouachita 50K Race Report

Ouachita 50K was a last minute race week decision as a way to get big weekend miles without the distractions of family and the comforts of home that draw me away from completing my biggest long training runs.

2 weekends before had been the hot, rocky, rolling hills of 11 hours and 34.8 miles at Endurance Buzz's Possum Kingdom 56K. And last weekend was a trip to Tyler State Park for 22 miles of hilly trails on Saturday and pushing through 2 1/2 hours and 11 miles on Sunday. Add big bad multi-hour treadmill hill climb workouts the last two weeks? I'm setting the stage here basically that this was the end of 3 tiring peak training weeks for me. This race was the culmination of a quest for miles and challenging miles and MORE miles.  (And yes, I need to go back and write race reports for Gorge Waterfalls and Possum Kingdom races. Some other day.)

My friend Cruz carpooled with me on the 5 hour drive to Little Rock, and we made it in such good time we went ahead and drove to the race site to get our packets.
Cruz, my running partner for this race

There are a lot of wonderful things about this race, but I have to say the women's shirt was particularly awful. It was a pale pink 100% cotton sleeveless top with this neon electric screenprint. The men's shirts were at least a technical running fabric, although the color scheme for them was very loud as well and not at all coordinated to the women's shirt (the men's was bright purple side panels and electric green chest/back).
Ouachita: the 80's called. They want their shirt back.

Race morning we picked up our race bib, which I wish they could have handed out the previous day with the packets but that's a nitpick. Cruz and I wondered if we would need a headlamp for the 6 am start - a pain to carry all day for only needing it for such a short time. But there was just enough pre-dawn light that no one needed a light at the start.

The first and last parts of the race were 2.9 miles each way on blacktop asphalt to access the trail. At a half mile in and at the back of the pack, we suddenly heard loud shouting and the big midpack spanning the road scattered and parted in the middle. As we arrived to the chaos, someone yelled to borrow a phone and another person volunteered theirs. A car was parked in the middle of the road and I thought someone had been hit.

It turns out a car came around a curve very fast and one of the front runners put out his arm waving to the guy to slow down and got hit by the sideview mirror, taking the mirror off the car entirely. But the runner kept going and sounds like he won 2nd overall?! The guy who had stopped to assist was yelling for a phone so he could call the police. The driver was standing outside his car looking annoyed. And I heard a couple guys who had rejoined the run saying one of them had jumped into the car when the driver got out and taken away the guy's keys! A scary start to the event. I'm glad no one was seriously hurt.
Seen on the way to the trailhead

Cruz and I chugged along at a casual pace. Cruz is much faster than me but he wanted to focus the day on time on feet, so what better plan than company for 31.1 miles with a back-of-the-pack edging-on-overtrained runner?! We knew there was a big climb up Pinnacle Mountain coming up at mile 5. We were eager to get on the other side of the 1000 foot ascent to run the marathon that came after it.
Ouachita 50M elevation profile (50K is first 16 miles and last 16 miles shown)

Headed to the mountain

And we had no idea what we had gotten ourselves into. We started the ascent with lots of boulders and rocks here and there, and then some staircase type rocks and up and over that to see what was beyond...

...And it was bouldering. What?! That is not what I thought I signed up for.

Wait, what does the race website say about that section in the course description? "A picturesque climb over Pinnacle Mountain". Well, when I see climb, I'm thinking it's a staircase-like rocky hike up. Not actual down-on-all-fours clinging against rocks because of the steepness. My fault for making assumptions! At least I had done this before, at Volcanic 50 last year, but this had a lot more UP to it although the rocks were smoother, rounder, and much less abrasive than the lava rock.

But here there were spiderwebs often between the boulders, and sometimes I could see spiders. Ewwwww, don't step there; don't put my hand in that crevice!

Looking down on the boulders and also our awesome view

I looked at our pace a couple times during the uphill and it was 43 minutes per mile. Such slow progress. We had some fun with a couple runners behind us as we all joked and laughed our way up the mountain. At least keep up the good attitude!
Just keep climbing!

I managed to get my trail shoe at one point wedged between two rocks. That was interesting. I yelled to Cruz, but 10 seconds of yanking and trying to twist my foot and I managed to free myself. I laughed while it was happening because I really wanted to panic in that moment instead.

We reached the summit, the official photographer was taking pictures, there were a handful of spectators there, and we asked one with a cheering sign to take our picture. I said I would hold her sign while she took our picture, so we just used it to pose for the camera, ha!
"I'm getting OFF this mountain!"

View from the summit
I thought the downhill would be easier, but no. More boulders. And by then I was feeling a little shaky, more nerves than anything else and a lack of trust in my balance and ability to not catch a foot and fall. I kind of eased myself down, sometimes sitting and scooting my butt down to the next giant boulder.
Balancing act coming down from the summit

Slowly making progress

I was happy we were past that and could now just run. Except for all the rocks constantly strewn across the trail. Between not wanting to get injured (like a bruised arch from landing on a rock or a strained hamstring from catching yourself in a stumble) and wanting to avoid a fall before my next goal race, I admit I stayed very timid on the trails here. But throughout I mustered a decent run whenever we had a less rocky section. However, I also kept just having the feeling I wanted to take a nap the whole race. I was eating calories at the aid station and Honey Stinger chews inbetween, but I think I was so worn out from 3 weeks of hard training that nothing could get me over that hump.

About 7 miles in, all of a sudden a beautiful big golden retriever with a bandanna came bounding along the trail towards us. Not another person in sight. We had another runner with us but I was leading our group of 3. As the dog approached I braced and YELLED "NO!" at the top of my lungs. You can never be too sure of what dogs will be aggressive even if they look like big cuddlebugs. The dog stopped, shocked, and headed off in another direction. No clue where his owner was.

A few miles after the mountain climb, we did a short spurt on a highway with a view back at Pinnacle Mountain
We crossed a beautiful old iron bridge along the way.

The course is out-and-back except for the mountain climb at the beginning. By mile 10 the temperature was starting to rise. At some undisclosed mileage after that, we discovered the "Double Secret" Aid Station hosted by the Little Rock Hash House Harriers!

This was awesome since this was going to be a 6.3 mile split between aid stations each way. It really helped break up the distance. Of course, as hashers, they had Pabst Blue Ribbon beer to offer everyone as they came by. I said, "Um, maybe on the way back." But nope, I never did try it.

By the time we got to the turnaround at mile 16.9 (not exactly halfway since the course differs out and back by the mountain climb we did on the way out), it was getting hot. Temperatures would hit mid 80s without a cloud in the sky and peak heat about an hour before our race finish. The Northshore aid station at the turnaround was wonderful and friendly. Those people were all smiles. I stuffed my sports bra full of ice and put a full cup into my buff which I put over my head. I would do that at all the aid stations into the finish after that one.

Small sections were in full sun and I was melting in it. And in the trees, the sun would peek through but it wasn't awful as long as the breeze was lightly blowing. Each time we went through some time with no breeze, I would finally say, "Ugh, where did that breeze go?", and the breeze would start back up! It happened 5-6 times, and Cruz joked I had curried favor with the gods.

6 miles from the finish I started getting pretty overheated and nauseous. I slowly sipped water and when we got to the aid station in the shady woods 4 miles out, I said I needed to take the time to lower my core body temperature. I get overheated so easily, even though my drinking was frequent and spot on all day. While a frequent cause of heat exhaustion is dehydration, it is not the only cause, contrary to popular belief. Some people are just susceptible to the rise in core body temp that results in heat exhaustion if left unchecked.

So at the aid station, we filled my sports bra and the buff on my head with ice, and I sat in a chair sipping icy Coca Cola. I untied my shoes, pulled up the socks a bit, and tightened and retied the laces while I sat. The tremor in my left foot while I did this was going crazy. This was my first race since being diagnosed with the essential tremor, which is exacerbated in fatiguing conditions. I teared up a little as I retied my shoes because the shake was so bad that it was terribly annoying and distracting, and I didn't really need another thing going on with me in that moment, along with the full realization that this will have to be managed at most ultras from now on.

I had already started adjusting my process at each aid station after I spilled water trying to refill my pack a few aid stations in when my hand was shaking as I tried to close the top of the hydration bladder. I started asking volunteers to help me with the hydration pack bladder and refilling process, or to pour the coke into a cup for me if they didn't jump to offer to do it for me. Everyone is so accommodating that no one questioned it. I was thankful for the help. Again, always manageable, but I have to think through those things more now.

The final 3 miles were back on the blacktop asphalt we went out on at the start of the race. It was unshaded and rolling hills with little to no shoulder. And unfortunately lots of two way resident and recreational park area traffic. Not everyone did the greatest job of handling runners hugging the white line of the edge of the road. Some were awesome; they slowed and put on their hazard lights and then moved into the other lane once opposing traffic passed. Some came within a foot or two and didn't slow. Or worse, they sped up.
Melting in the sun, moving along with our new friend Susan

I told Cruz I thought I was going to spontaneously combust. That I was boiling from the inside out. I was feeling so nauseous now and had slowed to a very slow-paced little run as my top priority was keeping my stomach contents where they belonged. Occasionally I would stop and turn to the side and dry heave for a second. The rest of the time I breathed through it to keep my stomach in check.

Cruz and I finally made it to that finish line in 10 hours and 2 minutes. We collected our nice handmade finisher medal from the race director, Chrissy Ferguson.

This race was a great learning experience with

  • doing the mountain climb early in a race, 
  • handling the rocky conditions when I have repeatedly said how much this tenderfoot hates rocks, 
  • practicing more with keeping heat exhaustion at bay, and 
  • gettingsome serious time on feet for another weekend in a row. 
One big positive too was feeling like my legs and feet held up well between the running, walking on rocks, and climbing. Although as usual, my feet felt pulverized. No blisters though!

And now, I get to taper. 3 weeks of tapering to be exact. Lower mileage, clean eating, lots of resting, mental prep, and packing. I have been looking forward to this all week. That's how I know I worked hard recently!

* Several of these pictures were contributed by Cruz Pitre. Happy to have a fast runner to hang out with because he could take stop and take a bunch of pictures and then easily catch up to me! *