Monday, March 2, 2015

Pacing the 2015 LOViT 100 Miler

In this previous post, I talked about crewing the first 82 miles of the LOViT 100 Miler at Lake Ouachita in Arkansas for my friend Jeremy. As I said there, I wasn’t planning to pace him at this race for fear of rolling an ankle or being left behind (as he is much faster than me on technical terrain, even with 80 miles on his legs!). But through tough race conditions, we agreed I would pace the last 18 miles.

Probably blurry because we're shivering - it was COLD.
Not mine. But happy I could help someone take home one of these!

The Waiting Game

Our friend Lalita had given me a ride from the finish line to the Crystal Springs aid station at mile 82. Several amped-up pacers and a few crews waited eagerly for their runners. We had been told in the tough conditions they would give the runners an extra hour on the original 6:45 pm cutoff for that aid station. Then, word got around that they would let you go out regardless as long as you had a pacer or crew to watch over you. But how late coming into mile 82 would they let him push it?

Right before 8:00 they started saying that the aid stations ahead of us might be shut down before we got there, but they would let us go out anyway BUT when our runner arrived into mile 82, we couldn’t let them sit. We were supposed to get their needs met very quickly and get them out of the aid station. Or we risked that they would get pulled by race management anyway. And for good reason, because if you are having a seriously hard time moving, they don’t want you finishing a bunch of hours after the cutoff or getting stranded and needing to be rescued. It’s their discretion to pull anyone who looks like they aren’t going to keep a good pace going.

So each time a person acting as spotter would yell that they saw a headlamp, all the pacers would come rushing out of the pavilion to wait and watch. Johnny Eagles and his pacer came in and I asked her if she had seen Jeremy. A very basic description is all that is needed: “he looks like a mountain man.” “Oh yes, we passed him about 10 minutes back. You should see him soon.” LOL.

I had debated layers but with so long in the cold, I went with FIVE upper body layers and tights. I had on a short sleeve shirt, then long sleeve shirt, then my waterproof shell to lock in that core warmth, then my puffy jacket, then my Big Cedar 100 waterproof rain jacket as another layer against wind. Yeah, it was a cold weekend.

When Jeremy arrived, I had all my gear packed for Lalita to take to the finish, I had myself all prepped and packed and my headlamp and flashlight ready, I had his headlamp and flashlight out, and I had new shoes that I knew he wanted to change into. He came into this air of complete chaos and fear as everyone was rushing and hurrying their runners out. I told him “You can’t sit long because we have to go now or you won’t get to go back out.” Like a NASCAR pit stop, another guy and I frantically changed his shoes and socks. Our friend Dat (running the 100K) came in then, and I was so hurried I didn’t even acknowledge him.

Miles 82 to 87: Wet Feet and Meeting the Charlton Switchbacks
We hiked into the dark. He stopped and said he needed to fix something. He messed, I asked him to let me take his flashlight, he refused, I asked, “What are you trying to do?” He said, “I’m not sure.” Ah, ultrabrain. I said, “Let’s go then.” From my point of view, that was really as kooky as he got. No other truly absentminded moments. But I laugh every time I think about it.

At about a mile into this section, there was a small creek crossing. Jeremy stood on the edge and cursed and looked for a way to get through with dry feet. After wet feet all day, he had enjoyed dry socks for half a second. I said, “There’s really no way around it. Let’s just go.” Straight into the ankle deep water. Brrrrrr.

On this out-and-back course, when he had started the race, it was all small creek crossings he could rock hop across for this section. And at this time, with all the rain that had come, my feet were soaked for the next 18 miles. There were so many small crossings with no way to avoid getting wet. I remember that Jeremy tried on to avoid plunging in, and he succeeded, but it was balancing across a log a bit, and I waded right into the water alongside him in case he slipped. At another, a big rock he went to step on immediately rolled, and we were thankful he hadn’t put his weight on that leg yet, or he would have been hurt.

2 miles into this section was “Pipe Springs”. Seriously, just a pipe coming out of a low wall in the middle of freaking nowhere. This began a 2.5 mile out and back singletrack section to the mile 87 Charlton aid station. We would run the downhills and walk the ups. And on this course, there wasn’t anything but down or up. Anything you even thought was somewhat flat was still just a prolonged gradual up or down you soon realized. He always kept a pretty solid consistent pace going.

The downhills all made me a little nervous. Wet, slick leaves hiding roots and loose rocks under them. And traveling in the dark, I realized my trail experience is growing because I really just had to trust that however my foot fell, that my ankle would react and spring back as needed, and I lifted my knees a bit more than usual because catching a toe on a rock was a great way to go sprawling forward on your face.

Jeremy was concerned about me doing the switchbacks into Charlton. A bunch of descending switchbacks that were narrow, with a cliff drop on one side, and littered with loose rocks and big roots and plenty of leaves here and there to hide those too! And once you made it down to the aid station, you had to climb it all back up since this was an out-and-back section from the main path. Jeremy had considered doing the drop down alone and having me wait at the top. But then we were worried they would see him without a pacer and not let him continue. 

So I tackled the switchbacks, squealing here and there on the way down. Nothing like a descent like that where you feel like you are leaning forward toward the fall with each step – I hate it. Jeremy had done this whole thing that morning at mile 42, and he told me that going back up would feel shorter and easier. It was a climb, but he was definitely right. Elizabeth, who Jeremy had leapfrogged with all day, had passed us a mile before the aid station. When they didn’t pass us going up the switchbacks when we were going down, I started to really worry that they had held her at mile 87 and wouldn’t let her and her pacer continue.

Down at the Charlton aid station, we immediately asked if we could continue, and they said YES. But we were told the other aid stations were packing up, so we needed to fill our hydration packs full and they would fill a gallon Ziploc with food to put in our packs for the remaining middle-of-the-night 13 miles. I was offered food but said no a bunch. The advantage of doing long runs without any fuel was that 13 miles, even 13 slow miles, without food didn’t bother me. And I had a couple small snacks in my pack. But then Lalita offered up some sort of Caffeine-Kahlua (“but cooked off”)-Chocolate Brownie bites coated in powdered sugar. Then she retracted them because I shouldn’t have caffeine with my essential tremor disease. I was like “Screw that! Give me those!” and then proceeded to eat 5 of them. Brushing off the powdered sugar from my gloves, I looked like the happiest girl at the cocaine party!
Walking out of the aid station, he said, “You promised me a photo.” Yep, I was withholding a selfie of his wife and child that I had said I would show after mile 87. So we huddled around my phone to look at that before we hiked back up the switchbacks. I told him at the next aid station at mile 92, I would have a video of the baby that his wife Sara had sent me. That late in a race, a little bit of happy like that can go a long way!

Miles 87 to 92: Scary Truck and the Longest Forest Service Road in Existence

We started back to Pipe Springs, and it was fun to have a couple places of “oh yeah, this section”. The things that preserve a place in your mind are interesting – this one spot stands out for some tiny undulating dunes of forest soil with these wispy baby pine saplings in the whole area, all just 4-5 inches tall. In between this normal pine forest environment. It seemed a little alien to me. On the way back, on recognizing them, I said that they looked like they would grow into truffula trees from Dr. Seuss’ Lorax.

Occasionally I would let out a big sigh. It’s a tactic I use to keep my upper body relaxed. It was especially needed during pacing though because I was wearing one of Jeremy’s old hydration packs and it sat right on my trapezius muscles at the base of my neck, making my shoulders tense up! I had fit the pack to me well, but the straps just hit right there. It made me long for my Ultraspire Surge pack that I love because the straps sit wider, towards the shoulders. Jeremy leads when paced, and he would ask over his shoulder, “Are you okay?” He does well with focusing on that the other person is going to be okay so it wasn’t a surprise, but it was funny to be checked on by the person who has been up and moving for 28 hours.

After reaching Pipe Springs, we turn left (“when you get to back to Pipe Springs on the return, TURN LEFT!!” echoed in my head from the aid station volunteers’ warnings) onto a forest service dirt road. And we were on this road forever. Scratch that, it just felt like forever. I could finally see the stars in the gap in the sky created by the road and pointed out Orion ahead of us. Jeremy told me to not push him to run right now because his feet hurt, and I hadn’t planned to do that anyway. He was still moving, and consistently so, so I had hunkered down that it would just be a long night.

Out of nowhere, a big truck came around a curve. Not just a pickup, but not a big rig. But it was a BIG truck. A trucker’s truck. While the guy might have been wondering what we were doing hiking out there, I was really confused about why the truck would be out here and especially at this time of night! I assumed it couldn’t be for anything good! As we hiked along, the truck slowed to a stop and then turned off its headlights. Uhhhhh. It’s 11 pm in the dark in the middle of nowhere in the woods. As we approached, I may have uttered some comments about leaving Jeremy to be violated if this was a bad man in the truck. I was ahead of Jeremy and I hear from the blackness of the cab, “Ya all good?” And I said confidently, “Yeah, we’re good!” And his lights went back on and he drove off. Phew. I was not in the mood to be the victim in a horror story, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it was truly that creepy.

During this time, Elizabeth’s pacer Grayson ran up ahead of her and caught up to us, with the music of his little speaker system blaring. Elizabeth had strained her ankle early in the race and it was really starting to bother her such that she had trouble putting weight on it. Grayson wasn’t sure what to do if they hit a spot where she couldn’t continue. I had him get out his phone, and I first gave him the race director’s phone number, then I gave him my phone number, and then I said to make sure she starts using a branch as a walking stick so she keeps moving. He came back a few times after that to check on mileages of where we were and how far apart the remaining aid stations were.

After FOREVER on that forest service road, including a stop where we changed out Jeremy’s flashlight batteries, we came to the FS47A aid station. And there were still people there! They were told they could leave, and they stayed. And they had a big bonfire and food, and what made Jeremy really happy – thin mint cookies! He said he needed a minute at the fire, and I acted stern but I edged over to the fire too. I was wearing tights and learned a lesson. After a few hours of being in close to freezing temps, a minute in front of a hot fire left my legs burning like I had ants in my pants. Like all the blood had rushed to the capillaries on my skin’s surface at once and it did not feel good. Note to self: no bonfire stops when wearing temps in freezing temps.
It was extra cold here and it was interesting seeing how most of this course was a direct east to west traverse. We could cross several microclimates over those hours out there. Kinda cold to suddenly some warm air to freezing cold again where I could clearly see my breath to some light fog to one spot where Jeremy said it had to be below freezing and when I asked how he knew, he pointed to the leaves on the side of the road that were all shimmery and coated in frost. My reaction to that: “That is so much better than shiny spider eyes.” That is the shimmering jewel-like flickers you see when at Rocky Raccoon 100 in the middle of the night!

Staying in a Good Mood

People ask what a pacer and their runner do all those hours – silence? Talking? One-sided talking? The whole time we were out there Jeremy was actually in a good mood. That’s a hard thing to do that far into a race and when your hip flexor is killing you and your feet are totally macerated and blistered that every rock, and every step, hurts. I shared stories of the day of what I’d done, then turned to stories of what mutual friends of ours were up to this weekend. I talked about who had inquired about how his race was going and who sent cheers his way. We told awful jokes. He told me about things that had happened during the race so far. Since he was a little grumpy and quieted when paced at Ozark Trail, I was expecting the same this time but was pleasantly surprised at the better mood!
We would get in a rhythm of moving and I would get silent for a bit, and then he would say, “You’re quiet. Are you okay?” “Oh, yeah, I was just singing a song in my head.” Then I’d hum a few bars then sing a few lines. I tend to sing songs over and over and over in my head and then another will pop into my head and I’ll move to that one. This time, it was “Inside Out” by Eve 6, “Ain’t It Fun” by Paramore, and “Shut Up and Dance with Me” by Landon Austin. Surprisingly, no songs from Frozen this time.

Miles 92 to 96: Up and Down a Mountain, GPS Check, and Rocky Road

We had to climb 3.5 miles to Hickory Nut Mountain and the next aid station. It never seemed like that big of an ascent. There were several short moments of steep hills, but it didn’t seem as bad as the elevation profile had looked to me. Near the top, back on a forest service road, we hit a junction. The signs just didn’t feel crystal clear. One had an arrow to the aid station but it was the head of the arrow without a tail, and it felt like points of the arrowhead went to both ways of the junction. But we were also both really tired. We chose our path, and I got to have my anxiety rise as I worried about having Jeremy take any more steps than absolutely necessary. I pulled out my phone, pulled up the course map, compared it to our GPS location, and then ultimately ran up ahead on this long uphill road until I saw the lights of the aid station and could yell back to Jeremy that we were going the right way.

Matthew at this aid station had peppy music playing and a laser projector lighting up the sky to the music. To get back to the trail, we had to sit and jump off this stone wall. That put us onto a few miles of downhill muddy rocky road. It was not the fun kind of downhill with the spacing of the rocks and the occasional slick mud that made us glissade. And because we argue a lot, at 1 am it was completely reasonable to bicker about the pronounciation of the word “glissade.”

We passed some leafy shoots that were like tall tendrily vines with even spaced white triangular leaves. In the glow of headlamps, I remarked that they looked like butterflies. It was surreal.

As we picked our way through that awful mud road, I commented that if you had told me 5 years ago that I would be in the middle of the woods in Arkansas in the middle of the night all alone (collectively) hiking in freezing temps, I would have laughed my head off.

We came out to the last half mile of pavement which had some pretty steep uphills as a last way to stick it to the poor 100 mile runner. And then Jeremy used the last of his legs to run the final tenth of a mile into the finish line. Dustin and Rachel, the Race Directors, were waiting for us, along with Lalita and our friend Nicholas.


He Finished!

Jeremy sat down in a chair with his new 100 mile buckle. I was offered food but wasn’t really hungry at all. He munched on a cinnamon roll, while we all chatted about the day. It’s funny how it felt like the most normal thing in the world – to be sitting in freezing temps in a pavilion on the lake at 3 in the morning, talking about running.


I went and pulled the car up and started all the heaters full blast, and Lalita helped me load the gear. After finishing the race at 2:51 am, and for me, having been up almost 24 hours, I was surprised how awake I still was. I got him back to the hotel, we both got a chance to shower, and then I had my first ever 4:30 am beer before bed.

I’m really happy Jeremy asked me to come on the trip because face time with friends is always the best. And while I wish his hip flexor hadn’t given him trouble, in the end, I was glad that I ended up pacing because it really was a fun / miserable 18 miles on the trail. ;-)

Hats off to Race Directors Dustin and Rachel Speer. They were very well-organized, did an excellent job of communication leading up to the race, and took individual care of each of their 36 race starters across the two distances. Especially in better weather, I definitely recommend people check out the LOViT 100K and 100 Miler.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Crewing the 2015 LOViT 100 Miler

My friend Jeremy Day was signed up to run the LOViT 100 Miler, named for the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail outside Mt Ida, Arkansas, on February 20, 2015. So I came along to drive him home after the race and to crew him during the race, helping out however I could so he could finish and collect another 100 mile belt buckle.


I’m going to post in this blog entry about crewing the race, and I’ll follow up in a couple days with a blog post about pacing the race (updated: pacing report here). My hope is that (1) this helps those who crew, pace, or run LOViT 100 Miler in the future, and (2) more people learn that crewing is one tough job! I hear so many jumping and frothing at the mouth to crew and pace strangers without realizing the time and energy involved.

The Set-up and Getting to the Race

This race was unusual with its 6 pm start on Friday. That would mean about 19 hours of the 30 hours to cutoff would be in the dark. Unfortunately, it was also going to be cold and wet.

Jeremy and I had discussed that I would not pace him at this race. Besides the logistics of getting a ride to an aid station, neither of us were crazy about the possibility I could roll an ankle on the slick technical terrain. But Friday morning, after he had been up with his 7 week old son off and on during the night, Jeremy was worried about getting sleepy during the race and warned me he might end up wanting pacing. Luckily, I had brought running clothes (thinking I would get out for a run nearby between crewing moments) and then he brought one of his extra hydration packs that I could use just in case.

I arrived Thursday to spend some extra time with the Day family and love on baby Oscar.
He is such a cutie!
On Friday afternoon, we traveled the 3 hours to the host hotel just a mile from the start/finish line, and Jeremy was able to get a short nap on the drive and again when we arrived, before the 6 pm start. There were 13 starters in the 100 mile. I said hi to my friends Lalita, Dat, and Chris. The 100K (which Dat and Chris were running) would start at 6:00 the next morning and have 23 starters. It was a small event with a personal feel  - depending on your pace, this can be lonely, but the individual attention by volunteers and the race director is pretty special.

Race Start, a Surprise Visit, and a Restless Night (for me!)

When race directors Dustin and Rachel sent the runners off to start the race, it was 34 degrees and raining. It was forecast to rain all night until midway into the next day. Jeremy doesn’t require a lot of crewing help usually so, with the unusual timing of this race start, I had told him I wouldn’t see him again until mile 47 because I planned to get a full night’s sleep until 5:30 am.


I went to dinner at the resort restaurant and, while looking over the crew document, I realized the aid station for mile 9 was only a few minutes’ drive away. I thought that with an entire night ahead of rain and darkness, it would be a nice surprise to see a friendly face when he wasn’t expecting it, and it could be a chance to fix anything (like deciding he wanted different layers once he was out there running) or get something from his supplies that he had forgotten. So I bundled up and grabbed Jeremy’s supply bag and drove out there. I was walking up to the aid station just as he arrived! He was good with what he had but seemed happy with the surprise visit, and I headed back to the hotel.

The rain was pouring down when I returned to the cottage and I felt bad that I wasn’t helping through the night hours. It’s hard to accept responsibility for helping someone for just part of the race, especially the later parts, where things not taken care of early in a race can start to go downhill fast. Not that he isn’t perfectly capable, but a crew member can just be that extra little objective voice to keep things on target, especially speed, hydration, nutrition, and temperature regulation. So I set an alarm for 1:30 am, thinking that if his pace was slowing, I would run out to the aid station (the same one I had been to for mile 9). I then proceeded to wake up every hour. L I would check the online live tracking (which was phenomenal and timely). At 1:30 am, he was still running on the pretty fast side of the time range we had discussed, so I hemmed and hawed but assumed I would miss him by the time I drove out there (turns out I was right). I went back to sleep and tossed and turned more. At 4 am, after more bad dreams and waking up every hour the whole night, I got up for good.

Miles 42 and 47 - In Good Spirits

Now I had time to go to Charlton aid station at mile 42 when he wasn’t expecting to see me until mile 47. Driving to the aid station, I went through rain and also experienced the worst fog I’ve driven in in years. And I made a bonehead move of passing the mile 42 aid station, driving all the way out to mile 47 because I was sleepy and groggy, and then having to hurry back in the fog to the mile 42 aid station.

My friend Lalita (who was crewing friend Elizabeth who is a similar pace as Jeremy) was there when I arrived. It seemed like she managed to be at all the aid stations all the time! Magic? While waiting, Lalita squealed as a field mouse ran through the pavilion, and I was told I had missed the big campground rat who had gotten curious about the aid station before I arrived!

Jeremy was in great spirits at mile 42 and seemed surprised to see me already. He definitely didn’t look like he had spent 12 hours in the rain! 

I headed off to the Crystal Springs aid station at mile 47. The aid stations were never more than 7.5 miles apart, and most of them were 4-5 miles apart. Driving from one to the next was never more than a 22 minute drive! Usually crew were allowed at every other one, but this was the one place that you could access two in a row. Jeremy was still doing well but asked at that point that I might want to plan to pace from mile 87 because he was feeling a little sleepy already. He gave me a bunch of wet clothes to dry out with his car’s heater after he changed into dry stuff. I also took his headlamp and flashlight from him.
In the middle of the glamorous task of
changing headlamp and flashlight batteries
I traveled back to the hotel to grab a shirt Jeremy had forgotten to pack in his bag of supplies, and I grabbed him a coffee at the country store to try to perk him up a bit now that the store had opened for the morning. Then on to the Brady Mountain Aid Station at mile 58. This was the longest stretch between seeing him, with 11 miles.

Miles 58 and 65 - The End of the Rain, Time for Something Drastic

When Jeremy arrived at the aid station, he got to see the creek crossing just 20 feet from the aid station. There was some cursing as he waded across the shin deep cold water. 
He is only smiling because I demanded that he do so.
It was now noon and, after 18 hours of rain, the rain probability had dropped to almost 0%. With the help of two of the guy volunteers, Jeremy changed all his top layers. Wet clammy skin plus dry performance fabric equals a sticky time trying to get new clothes on!

I said I would meet him again in 7 miles. At Mile 65 was the Avery Recreation Area aid station, with a pretty view of the river with the dam and spillway. Jeremy was right on the cutoff pace tied to the 30 hour final cutoff when he arrived. The volunteers weren’t bothered because he was still moving. He seemed relieved. But we were both worried going forward. He decided to do something he called “drastic” – he went from the 110 oz LARGE pack he had been carrying (to train with it for Bigfoot 200 coming up in August) and had me grab his 20 oz handheld. Lighter now, he hoped to make up a little time.
I showed Jeremy a picture of his 7 week old baby that I asked his wife to send me, and he headed off again. I would see him again back at the Brady Mountain Aid Station at mile 71.

I went to a convenience store and grabbed Butterfinger Bites. A favorite candy of his, in addition to the pictures from his wife of the baby, it was in my arsenal of psychological tools I was ready to employ to keep him moving if needed!

Mile 71 – Just Keep Moving! No DNFs Allowed!

I waited at the Brady Mountain aid station eagerly with Lalita and Josh (both of whom knew Jeremy). Lalita was crewing Elizabeth who came into the aid station very focused and close to cutoff pace. But in what makes this trail community awesome, in the middle of downing some food and while she's working through her own race issues, Elizabeth looked up and saw me, and probably my concerned look, and said “He wants to drop. Don’t let him.” Uh, ok. Now I was really nervous.

He came in, just a little behind cutoff pace. And yes, he was talking about DNFing. He had fallen early in the race and hurt his hip flexor. And with another 60 miles on his legs, he was in a lot of pain and having trouble with each step. He couldn't imagine being able to continue with how painful it was feeling.

I love this moment when I think back, not because he was hurt of course, but because Josh, Lalita, and I rallied and triaged and troubleshooted (troubleshot?) and that's what the ultrarunning family does! A lot of pep talks and tough love on the emotional side. I showed him another picture I had been sent of his infant son. I had brought him more coffee and had him drink that. On the physical side, we found a foam roller for his hip flexor, then Lalita and I each offered up a hip flexor stretch (hers hit the target area!), Lalita poked around at his hip flexor trying to massage it out, she found a tennis ball and rolled it with that, and then he was moving a little bit better…. And we kicked him out of the aid station. 

But not before I told him I would pace him at mile 82 instead of 87. “Are you sure you can do that?” he said, referencing that we had agreed 18 miles of that much hilly terrain would be difficult for me at my current training. In the middle of his pain, he seemed genuinely concerned about me. “Yeah,” I said. “I can keep up forever at the pace you are now going.” He he he.

He crossed the shin deep stream he had cursed on his way out to this aid station. He was prepared with dry socks from his drop bag at the previous aid station at mile 68 to change into after crossing the stream. He sat down on a rock to change socks, and Josh said he was taking too long. He said, “Hold my gloves.” He proceeded to jump across this 5 foot wide creek crossing! After helping Jeremy, where I gave him crap about “it can hurt a little more by running or you can do 22 minutes per mile walking and it hurt a little less. So I expect a run.” And he hobbled down the trail away from us.

Prepping To Pace at Mile 82

Lalita was so nice to help me out with the logistics of pacing (which are SO much easier on a looped course than an out-and-back like this one or a point-to-point). I parked my car at the finish line and she gave me a ride back to the mile 82 Crystal Springs aid station. And she further took care of me by stopping at the country store to make sure I ate a burger before my long night of unexpected pacing ahead AND bought that burger for me when I lamented that I had left my wallet locked in the car at the finish line!


Then I just worried for hours. Each headlamp that appeared in the distance was a moment to hold my breath and hope he was still moving forward. 11 miles of waiting. Then it was the cutoff for that aid station. Then it was after the cutoff. 

And I’ll separate my pacing into a separate post to come next! (Updated: Pacing Report HERE)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Brian

I'd like to share what I learned in this past year. A friend took his own life one year ago tomorrow. I had seen him just 3 days before when he paced one of the races I direct. I originally met Brian through him volunteering at my first ever race on my own back on 1/1/11.

This anniversary of his death is really hard to talk about, but I feel the discussion is beneficial to put out to the world. This post formed over about 2 weeks of turning it in my head.

In the sudden shock of his death, there were a lot of tears and heartbreak, but ultimately big changes came out of it for me, many of which I feel were positive:


  • Let others know where they are valued in my life. In the aftermath of his death, I had not realized that I was in his top tier of friends. Frankly, he would have never communicated that. In hindsight, his love was in his actions and comments but never direct. Not knowing this, I had put him in my midtier of friendships (very very few being in the top tier). After his death, several of his friends along with myself waited for that echelon of best friends to emerge - when they didn't, we found out we were that to him. I learned that for me, I didn't want people in the position I was in of finding out your value in the worst possible circumstances. I want to make sure the important people in my life know where they stand at all times. In the last year, I'm more giving of my "I love you"'s and declaring to people that they are important in my life (Note: even if I feel my actions and communications already say that).

  • I want more validation of my value in friendships. I dislike this fallout. But I'm sensitive. I went from having a friend, a standard decent loved-our-routine-communication friend, to spreading his ashes. I want to know if I'm an acquaintance, a friend, a good friend, or a best friend. Not being sure where I stand is difficult. I don't want to force friends to state where our relationship is at. But occasionally in this past year it creates an additional level of stress out of my need for validation. I was thankful in the two weeks after his death when a good friend just got it on her own and sent me "I want you to know you are important in my life."

  • Family is important. There was a stress in being the only one of his runner friends who had met his widow and child (and had only done that once). And they are both wonderful. I found myself in the wake of Brian's death wanting to be more familiar with the family of my friends. One of my best friends had me meeting the spouse within a couple weeks of Brian's death and I planned a Christmas party where everyone had a chance to spend time with each others' spouses. When all your friends are runners and you see them on the run, at a race, or going on race trips, it's surprisingly easy to be good friends with someone and not know their family.

  • A cry for help gets immediate attention. The moment Brian posted his goodbye on Facebook before committing suicide, I was headed to the doctor for an appointment. I thought he was making a really bad joke at first. Then I couldn't find the punchline. Then I was leaving a message on his voicemail. Then I was asking for someone to go check on him. And then it's a blur. A really bad blur. I've had the occasional vaguebook of an acquaintance or friend on Facebook that raises my hackles. And I will check on you. I'm sensitive now.

  • Every person can have a wide influence. But you didn't know him. Half the time I feel like I didn't know him. And definitely we didn't know he was having the feelings of suicide. But for those who really didn't know him, grieve and recognize that people have battles you aren't aware of, but don't push it all too hard. It's awkward. If you want to know someone's true wishes, talk to the people who were close to him. And then respect what they tell you. Responses toward his death made me uncomfortable in not wanting to speak for him but knowing how he would have felt about some things people wanted to do in his honor, I had to speak up.

  • He lives on through us. My first attempt at 100 miles was an odd thing without him there. He had pushed me to flip the switch on trying a 100 miler, and I never committed while he was alive. Another year of the Fairview Half Marathon happened in April, but I won't forget how happy he was at his performance that day in 2013. And now I prepare to put on my first 100 miler for the North Texas community. I think often how he would have been one of my first registrations. He liked pushing the boundaries of being comfortable. He would have been proud.


There are ripples coming off all our actions. Never forget that.

Monday, September 8, 2014

2014 Tommyknocker Ultras 50K - All This To Win a Bottle of Whiskey

I wanted to win the bottle of whiskey. That's what I decided 30 seconds into this race. More on that in a second.
A happy day in the mountains!
Photo credit: Human Potential Running Series (From Their Facebook Page)

I had chosen Tommyknocker Ultras 50K in Woodland Park, Colorado as a fun end-of-summer race with some challenge to it. I then trained very little (relatively) in August for this level of challenge.
Race shirt

Tommyknocker Ultras 50K and 100K was an inaugural race up in the Colorado Rocky Mountains sorta near Pike's Peak. It was rolling hills, nothing too big, but totaling up to 5100 ft of gain and loss in about 34 miles (a "long 50K"). The race starts at about 7700 feet, quickly rises to about 9000 ft and then stays around there the whole race. The course was fairly nontechnical - ATV dirt roads through and around Pike National Forest.

Because the 100K started at 2 am (we started at 8 am), it was nice to know that even on my slowest day I was going to make the 12 hour cutoff. Race week I learned how small the event would be - ultimately 35 starters in the 50K and another 6 in the 100K.

Friday night was the race eve dinner (included in the entry fee) and trail briefing by the race director, Sherpa John. I just happened to be standing next to someone in a Bandera shirt, I struck up a conversation, and I had found another Texan - Michael from Houston!

In the race briefing, we were warned that the grade of the road would be rough - too steep to run comfortably but not steep enough that walking would seem incredibly slow. We also learned about the DFL awards and the special orange rock on course.
The "Dead F*cking Last" award was a little plaque if you were the last to finish in your distance, and it came with a comp entry for any of their races in the next year. Also, there was a bottle of 100% corn moonshine whiskey at the last aid station 3.5 miles out for everyone to enjoy if they wanted out there. The very last overall finisher would not only earn the DFL award but would get to take home whatever remained of the whiskey. 
What a fun idea and an awesome souvenir. I started to think maybe that was worth aspiring too (especially as these small races tend to come with a pretty fast field of competitors).
The bottle of whiskey in question.
Photo credit: Human Potential Running Series (From Their Facebook Page)

The special orange rock was a rock spray painted orange that would be placed on the course. If you carried the rock with you to the finish line, you received a check for $250. Later we would find out the rock was about 3.5 miles from the finish and weighed about 25 pounds!! Someone had taken it to earn the money by the time I got there so I was able to see it at the finish. Another fun idea!
The Special Orange Money Rock -
Photo credit: Human Potential Running Series (From Their Facebook Page)

35 minute drive back to my hotel in Manitou Springs where I was sure it must be beautiful but all I had seen so far was clouds covering the mountains and rain!

Race Start - Miles 0 to 3.5


An 8 AM start with a small casual race meant that I felt like I had a TON of time in the morning. I parked in the tiny parking lot and stood around in my jacket in mid-40s temps chatting with other runners and volunteers. It was a beautiful clear sky but there were strong chances for thunderstorms midday. The problem with a race at altitude with clear skies when it's in the 40s and you'll wear a jacket until right before the start? I was braindead and forgot to put on any sunscreen!! Last minute someone had a bottle of it to pass around and I put a little on my face quickly.

We start the race with Sherpa John hitting a rock with a pickaxe. Pretty fun way to do a "gun start".
Photo credit: Human Potential Running Series (From Their Facebook Page)
Photo credit: Human Potential Running Series (From Their Facebook Page)

Within 30 seconds I found myself firmly in last place. Yes! The DFL award WOULD. BE. MINE! I knew I was undertrained, I knew the course would climb about 1300 ft in the first 3 miles. So let everyone else go out too fast; I was here to enjoy the whole day!

The first 0.78 miles was on the main dirt road before turning into a campground to move to ATV trail road. A race vehicle trailed behind me since I was the last runner, but I was actually getting really annoyed as I felt they were sticking way too close. Back of the packers know more than others what it feels like to have a sweeper or pace vehicle breathing down their neck! I was happy when we hit the campground, and the vehicle ceased its chase.

The woman in front of me (later learning her name was Nicholette) was always just about to cross over the next ridge every time I caught a glimpse of her in her bright orange shirt. Her shirt matched the buff I wore around my wrist. We had been warned that we needed to wear something bright, preferably blaze orange, because of the bow hunters that would be in the woods. We were also warned about gunshots we would hear, and I did hear them all day long, but they weren't hunters, they were people doing target shooting.
Nicholette at the top of one of a bazillion hills on this course

We shared the trail with the occasional vehicle heading to or from a camping area, infrequent race vehicles, and lots of ATVers and dirt bikers. Everyone was super courteous.
Lots of cambered road the whole way

I passed a cute little grove of aspen trees amid all the pine ones and snapped a picture.

3 miles in I finally came to a clearing high enough where I had a 360 degree view of the beautiful day.
Climbing up to the clearing

I took a picture of the mountain to the south, not even realizing at that point that it was Pike's Peak.

At mile 3.5, I came in to the whoops and hollers from the volunteers and added my own, "DFL, baby!" I saw the bottle of whiskey I hoped to take home, grabbed a stack of 8 Pringles, and was immediately out of the aid station. With carrying a full pack of water, I was able to only have to fill it TWICE in 34 miles - at miles 13 and 21.

Miles 3.5 to 8


You could tell we had a lot of rain the last week because there were huge puddles in the road.

I was surrounded by lots of pine trees and aspens, along with a whiff of honeysuckle I think I caught once. Everything was green, and the sky was so blue. I passed a couple creeks and could hear water often in the early miles.

I ran things that were downhill or slight uphill, and I walked everything with a discernible uphill grade. I knew this constant up and down was going to wear down my glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves over the day, so I stayed conservative. My goal wasn't to run fast and hurt a ton; my goal was to enjoy the experience. Especially after two 100 mile attempts this year, I'm still needing some happy trail time to offset those hours invested.

The climb into the next aid station was a doozy. Play spot-the-aid-station in the pictures (hint: red canopy tent).



The area all around this aid station had been the location of a big wildfire about 15 years ago.


Miles 8 to 13


At mile 8 (Haymans), I saw my friend Steve who was volunteering at the aid station. In my goal for DFL and ultimately the final finisher to take home the whiskey, I asked how many 100Kers remained. I felt like an elite: "*huff huff* how many ahead of me? How far behind am I?" Except the COMPLETE OPPOSITE. Steve told me another had just dropped and 3 were out there. The way the course worked they were doing 2 extra loops from his aid station before completing the last 24 miles with the 50Kers, so my goal was to be passed by 3 100Kers now.

Pre-race Sherpa John had told us two runners in the 100K had turned wrong and added a bunch of miles, resulting in one upset runner heading home and the other who called it quits but was starting the 50K with us that morning!

Steve told me at the aid station that now I could finally see Pike's Peak with the clear day. I said, "But I don't know which one it is!!" The locals laughed. He pointed out the big mountain to the south. The view from his aid station was one of the best of the day.

I wanted to stay on top of calories so I pulled out a snack size ziploc from my pack, and we filled it with potato chips. I posed with a picture with Steve, who by the way I hadn't seen since we ran Gorge Waterfalls in March 2012, and headed out.

An uneventful next 5 miles of more curvy rolling dirt road to bring me into the Phantom Creek aid station at mile 13.
I think someone said this was called Signal Butte. Our trail went to the left. Not up it, thankfully.


I caught Nicholette here and informed her she needed to hurry up because I wanted the DFL award. A man who was just out in the park came up and asked if there was "like a 10K race or something going on?" Nicholette and I burst out laughing as the volunteers explained the mileage of the races that day. The next stretch to come would be the longest of the day at 8.7 miles so I pulled out another Ziploc from my pack and stashed two Snackwells devils food cookies (delicious when I snacked on them later!)

Miles 13 to 22


From here, Nicholette and I began to leapfrog a lot this next segment. She was always ahead, and then I'd catch up, and she'd head off again. We chatted a little, but I explained it wasn't easy to chat on uphills for me if I expected to breathe at all! A mile out from the next aid station, and we were run/walking together at this point, pretty even. It was her first 50K. Actually her first race over a half marathon distance!

A guy named Ricky I had met that morning suddenly comes up on us. He tells us that 6 of the 50Kers had gotten lost and gone an extra 8 or so miles. 4 of them had dropped out. Well, that was alarming and would take Nicholette and me into a state of hyper vigilance for searching for markers.

We had a big steep descent followed by a big steep ascent in the middle of this section. My plans to equalize the total average time with a faster downhill were completely squashed when it was all loose gravel going down. And then we had our first creek crossing, where I mostly avoided wet feet, before ascending. The second of the lost 50Kers who continued passed us here along with a guy who was just being a safety runner out checking on everyone on course. We'd see him again later at the last aid station.
Bottom of the valley
Tromped through a little grass to the left and mostly avoided wet feet.

The altitude really didn't bother or affect me, except on the climbs. I would just get winded a little too easily, and the steeper ones I would get the slightest bit of a headache. I took that as a good sign that the 4 weeks in the altitude tent sleeping at 10,000 feet had worked well!
Pike's Peak again

About a mile or two out from the aid station, a volunteer came out on his mountain bike to greet us and chat as we made our way in. I remembered John from pre-race when we were all standing around chatting. We had laughed as he had worked to figure out how to use his Jetboil to make coffee. Super nice guy.
My bike escort
Photo credit: Human Potential Running Series (From Their Facebook Page)
First a little rain, then suddenly one of the loudest thunder claps I've ever heard. We all jumped! Then the hail started, and I was happy I had my shell rain jacket tied around my waist and my hat on. I put on the shell - regardless of any other actions that day, a big goal was to keep my core warm as the rain would chill me and the temperature would drop.
Dark clouds rolling in

The hail wasn't too painful unless it came at an angle and hit my legs. It only lasted about 20-30 minutes and was fairly small pieces. It finished just as we pulled into the Magnum aid station at mile 21.7. I happened to recognize a guy I knew through Twitter, Jerry, here. That was a fun out-of-the-blue introduction. Nicholette seemed to be spending a little longer at this aid station so I headed out alone. While the previous section had been the longest, this next section wouldn't be short at 8.25 miles (which I swear was actually almost 9 miles).
Photo credit: Human Potential Running Series (From Their Facebook Page)

Photo credit: Human Potential Running Series (From Their Facebook Page)

Miles 22 to 30


It continued to rain on and off for the entire rest of the race. Just a short bit after the aid station, the race moved to a more isolated section of trail. No ATVs or other vehicles seemed to be allowed here and there weren't camping spots so it became very quiet. I was descending into a valley on twisty narrower dirt road. I stopped for a quick potty break which is definitely the opposite of quick when you're a girl ... With compression shorts on.... And am soaking wet from rain.
Sky cleared up for a few minutes

The flagging started to get more infrequent, and I started seeing yellow CAUTION tape rather than the orange flagging tape we were supposed to be watching for. Was this for something else? Isn't Caution a warning to maybe not go that way? These were the out loud conversations going on. Then I spotted another orange flag and let out a strong descriptive phrase of relief.... And then back to yellow Caution tape! Maybe this was last minute reflagging from moose eating flagging or vandals! I was desperate for something definitive and knew I had about 5 miles in the right direction before the aid station would provide it.

It was here, between my potty stop and slowed pace in determining what route to take at each intersection that Nicholette came around a corner and see me ahead in the valley and yelled to me. I waited back a bit. I did a water crossing that soaked my feet (with 10 miles left in the race). I then yelled back to tell her about a hard to see single yellow ribbon at the next intersection. I then made another water crossing. Nicholette yells up to me "We were only supposed to have two water crossings TOTAL. That was our third. Are we on the right path?" She echoed the negative thoughts in my head. My anxiety level was high. I really wasn't in the mood for bonus miles.

I waited back, and she caught up. We went on together playing "spot the orange (or probably yellow, and we hope they're for us) flags" as we went. Oh look, a yellow flag in the middle of an intersection. Left or right? Ugh? At the top of the ridge we see both paths came back together. Wasting time for no reason deciphering flags, but how could we know that? We discussed staying together because two sets of eyes were better than one.

Nicholette pulled out her phone to see if it had enough signal for a compass reading. We were going due north. I knew the map and general route and knew we were supposed to be heading north and would eventually intersect the course again.

A mile since our last orange ribbon, and we pass a camping site. Nicholette yells hello to the people sitting outside. One guy yells back, "you're on the right path." He said several had come through as lost and concerned as we were. He yelled something about in a mile but we couldn't catch what he said.

A mile later of playing "spot the infrequent yellow flags", we reached another dirt road intersection with a spray-painted orange arrow. THIS is what we were looking for. Something definitive to say we were in the right place.

A mile from the aid station, we started the panic again. Around every turn, no aid station. But it was supposed to be 8.2 miles, maybe even less by GPS on the Gamin! Finally at 8.7 we came upon the last aid station, Manchester Creek.

We chatted with the two guys. We talked about who was left out on the course still. Supposedly the two 100Kers were still behind us. Especially now that I knew I would not be taking the whiskey home, Nicholette and I both decided to do a swig of it.

According to the aid station, we had 3.7 miles to the finish. Funny how tenths of a mile become important when you're tired. I insisted as we moved forward that it could only be 3.25 miles by GPS because this was an out-and-back in the race, and I measured it at the start to that aid station.

Miles 30 to 33

Mostly downhill on this out-and-back section of the course. Nicholette didn't remember any of it from when we came through at the beginning of the race.

My friend Steve drove out and happened to meet us 0.25 miles to the finish. After the last aid station, Nicholette and I had decided neither of us would make a final sprint for it and would stick together at this point and cross holding hands. Two DFLs.

We crossed the finish line as we planned right about at 11 hours. Nicholette had completed her first ultramarathon. Once Sherpa John confirmed we were the last 50Kers, he agreed to make another DFL award. As the non-local, I took the one that already existed home. Nicholette would get delivered the new one. And he was cool with letting us each have 50% off a race next year, versus one comp entry. Very very cool.
The finisher item at top is glass and a magnet.
And then the DFL Award Plaque (view from around Mile 8 on the course).

Final Stats?

  • 100K – 5 Starters and 3 Finishers (60% Finishers Rate)
  • 50K – 37 Starters and 26 Finishers (70% Finishers Rate)
  • Finish Time: 11:04:00


And the whiskey? Ultimately, there were two 100K finishers after us. So no whiskey bottle souvenir for this adventure. But it was a fun distraction on what I set out to make a fun race.

My legs were so completely tired from the up and downhill, my feet felt pulverized by the hard surface, and my toes and toenails ached from my feet moving around in my shoes on all the hills. And I had the sunburn too. But I had so much fun, enjoyed the full day, and spent the day in some of the prettiest scenery I could choose for that weekend!