Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Whole Western States Experience

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

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

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

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

Memories and Experiences of 2014 Western States Endurance Run

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Scared But Still Moving

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

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

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

What Scares Me About This Race

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

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

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

Here's the profile:

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

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

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

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

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

Race Plan

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Grabbing Me By The Balls: Trans-Bryce Run Trip This Weekend

Two months ago I was wanting to get my running ramped way up again. I would look at race calendars, but nothing was "grabbing me by the balls", so to speak. Actually, that's exactly how I speak. That's the phrase I use when looking for a goal. The "you must do this!" feeling where your heart says that you aren't sure what will become of you if you don't go. Where it's scary but you are more scared you would shrivel up and die if you didn't go (which of course is an exaggeration but this describes the longing).
"The mountains are calling and I must go." -- John Muir
And in the past, I've been highly driven by the call of those experiences. I trust that. It motivates. Day to day training holds little appeal for me. But to go move efficiently through a beautiful location that is not car accessible? Wow. There is power in that!

I've had that feeling before. Gorge Waterfalls 50K in March 2012. Bighorn 50K in June 2013. Volcanic 50K in September 2013. Rocky Raccoon 100 (attempted; 80 miles completed) in February 2014 (for the challenge, not the scenery). Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon in July 2014 (3 miles of it in a pitch black railroad tunnel which is a huge leap for this claustrophobe). But nothing since then.

I had been reviewing race calendars for the spring/summer, but nothing specific was getting my attention. And then out on a Colorado ultrarunners group I follow on Facebook, I saw a post one early March day by Sherpa John, whose Tommyknocker Ultra 50K I had run in Colorado back in September. He owns Human Potential Race Series, which puts on several ultra races in Colorado.

The link on the post was for a running trip - not a race. A group of ultrarunners leaving Denver on Friday, May 8. It would be a carpool trip of 9 hours to Bryce Canyon National Park. The group would camp Friday night. Saturday morning we would split into groups starting at different intervals based on what we wanted to run, drive to the start points, and run point-to-point back to the campground. Those doing all the miles would do 48 miles with 15000 ft of elevation gain and 16000 feet of elevation - the full Trans-Bryce route. Lots of altitude, climbs, and rougher trail. I wouldn't be surprised if some of them are hunting an FKT (Fastest Known Time) on that route. This isn't a race - a few water drops along the way, everyone should buy a map, and it's each person's responsibility to stay on the trail. Then, camp Saturday night and drive back to Denver on Sunday.

Note that the Bryce 100 race is one full month later (therefore much hotter) and not actually in the National Park. It's NEARBY the National Park. There's no race opportunity IN the National Park. We're not a camping family so when would an opportunity like this come along?

My jaw dropped as I read all the info. This sounded so awesome..... and scary at the same time. Scary only because of getting outside what's comfortable. Not scary like "fearing for my life and safety" scary. I had found my "grab me" moment for an upcoming run goal to demand my full attention.

  • It involved.... 40 ultrarunning strangers (I had met 3 of them before but briefly). My shyness wasn't sure about being thrust into such a large group who know each other already.  
  • It involved.... camping. Which I had never done as of when I signed up in March. But which I had been saying for a year I needed to work on because I felt a pull to try fastpacking, and being able to camp would be sorta kinda ESSENTIAL for that. 
  • It involved... self-sufficient running, basic orienteering, wayfinding, water filtering and purification, and basically "take care of yourself." This was the part I was actually the most comfortable with and yet still very uncomfortable because I'd rarely used those skills all together.

I didn't hmm and haw for long. I walked my husband through the plan. He was on board. I walked my best friend through the plan. His response was... "You mean CAMPING camping?"  "You know this isn't Motel 6 camping?" Thanks for the vote of confidence. ;-)

I chatted with my friend Steve from the Front Range Ultrarunners Group who was also going. It was $50 to cover all the camping fees/ logistics / park fees. Then split the gas costs of carpooling. I said I would check on airfare from Dallas because this was seeming like a cheap trip so far for this kind of adventure. When it popped up as $145 roundtrip for direct from Dallas on American Airlines, I yelled "SOLD!" And signed up immediately. I did know I would do a subset and not the full 48 miles. It looks likely it's 24 or 32 miles for me this Saturday.

I did the training I could with the other priorities in my life that are above running, including a race to produce in April and working around an injury I gave to myself that I had to rehab quickly after it happened from lifting and hauling things to and from a Uhaul. I pulled out my altitude tent since I don't handle high altitude well (this is roughly 8000-9000 feet), but it was for a reduced time and not as long in the tent per day as I usually tried to spend. So I expect the benefit to be limited. I visited REI and had them help me acquire a sleeping bag and pad. I went camping with my friend Aubrey a week ago to try out my gear and try out camping (pssssh.... I actually enjoyed it!!). I've bought my map, I already had a compass and emergency whistle, and I've packed my Steripen (to purify water from creeks on the route). Now to just go there and enjoy the beautiful weekend in a new place and meeting new people who love the same sport I do. How awesome does that sound?!

BUT I still have a huge fear of the unknown. This upcoming weekend in Bryce feels like a gigantic unknown. Today I said to Steve, "I'll stay here. It's a safe place where it's safe here." Ha. I'm so excited I could pop, yet I'm also nervous and worried in how uncomfortable the unknown and unfamiliar is.

So here I go, on a new adventure on Thursday! Wish me beautiful views, and I will try to bring back beautiful pictures on the run!

Happy running, folks!

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


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.