Monday, May 21, 2012

10 Things About the Jemez 50K and My First DNF

DNF = Did Not Finish. That's what the Jemez 50K was for me when my body was genetically poorly wired to have my muscles metabolize oxygen efficiently at high altitude. I struggled for about 8 1/2 miles of the race until I was more being driven mad by the fact that it felt like I would never get my breath back. I completed 19.2 miles, almost 2/3 of the course. I did what most would consider the very hardest part of the course. It was a training run and while every DNF is sad, traveling on my own for this race and knowing my endgame race is 4 weeks away makes it an easy thing to reconcile not having my health further at risk if I had been stupid and bullheaded.

So here are 10 notes about Jemez 50K and my DNF... (with some of the best pictures sprinkled throughout)

1. My husband is absolutely amazing. I called him at Mile 14 with my voice choking up and telling him I couldn't breathe for the last 2 hours and thought I would have to DNF at mile 16.4. He reassured me that he loved me whatever my decision and knew I would make the right one. I knew he thought this, but it's so great to hear. And then when I texted him leaving the mile 16.4 aid station with a simple one-word "Continuing", he brought me to tears with his return text of "Awesome! You are the toughest person I know." Just what I needed to hear to fight through the disorientation and huffing and puffing for another 2.8 miles before the medic took my oxygen level and I learned I wasn't just being a sissy.
Mile 16, just got to the bottom of the monster ski slope
2. My friends are the best. I'm a firm believer in Team So-and-So. We all have an investment in our friend's trials and journeys and we want them to succeed and we cheer them on when our lives are so busy that being by their side is just unreasonable. If you count me then as a member of your "team", you better believe you can bet you'll be in mine. I had been very Team Suann through Suann's training for the Zion 100 and then during her race efforts, and Elaine and I are "teammates" for several years now. Suann and Elaine both got me through this race. Suann tweeted with me at mile 15 when I thought I was going to lose it. She calmed me down. Elaine cheered me on and passed along information once I had to drop in a place where data service sucked on my cell phone.
Forcing a smile as Suann tweets me down (like "talking me down") off the proverbial and very real cliffs!

3. This course was absolutely gorgeous. Even the parts where the fire had come through a couple years ago had a beauty to itself in its tiny bushes and aspen saplings as it tried to rebuild itself.
My view from the top of Pajarito Mountain

4. I spent 8 1/2 miles struggling to breathe and blaming myself. I kept looking at the clock and stopping for a breath and going, "What am I doing wrong?!?" Did I not run enough miles? Did I not powerhike enough? What had I done? The medic reassured me multiple times that it wasn't about my training or fitness level, it was just a genetic lottery. And now that the foggy brain and disorientation is gone, the next morning I laughed at this notion where I had blamed myself. Because all of sudden it was crystal clear how there was no reasonable way that this was any sort of product of undertraining.

  • 6 miles took me 3 1/2 hours. Yes, that's 35 minutes per mile. 
  • At my best moments for 8 1/2 of those miles, I would do about 30 steps before having to take a 20 second standing catch-my-breath break. But many times, I could muster only 10 steps and would then need a minute for that break.
  • I could not eat my honey stinger chews without standing completely still during the most uphill 6 miles. Because eating inhibited my already limited breathing and I thought I would pass out.
  • I chatted with Shama, Shifra, and Brandi at the bottom of the ski hill for a second and only the next day realized how out of it I think I sounded.
  • Sometimes I had to make my moves slow and extra deliberate because it was loose rocks with a long way to skid or roll down if I slipped and frankly I was extremely lightheaded and unsteady on my feet for a lot of very hard uphill miles.
We climbed that, and then we turned a corner and just kept climbing.

5. Runners will appreciate this. There were several points on the course that elicited an out loud "Are you serious?!?" reactionary yell from me. Slipping down a dusty slope, climbing over a boulder, hopping from big rock to big rock, playing "don't find the loose rock with your foot". And this 1000 foot sudden short drop down a black diamond ski slope which I slipped and slid the whole way down.
Yes, I came down ALL of that.

6. I took a big tumble trying to smile big for the photographer at the top of Pajarito Mountain. Put a big section of loose rocks in the grassy field between me and that guy, why don't ya! I was amazed I didn't get scraped up.

7. I now have something to point to that shows that, while many runners think this way, I am just not the type of runner who needs "vengeance on a course" or to "go back for a redemption race." I don't look at Jemez and scowl and want my revenge on it. I know a lot of runners like this. While the finisher pottery would be nice, I know Jemez may not work into my schedule next year. I know I already did the hardest part of that course, and I was blessed to experience 2/3 of that course. I don't feel like I HAVE to go back. 

8. I would like to do another race at altitude at some point. The medic said, between a combination of 1) enlarging my alveoli and strengthening my lung volume by inhibiting my inhale and exhale through different tools and techniques, 2) going up 2 weeks before a race to increase my red blood cells to carry more of that oxygen through my body by acclimatizing to the altitude, I could train myself to get through a high altitude race. 

9. For 8 hours I endured the hardest training run I had ever done. Fine, fasties, focus on my abysmal pace and how "few" miles I completed in that time. I see that it was an amazing workout and my goodness if each day of Chattanooga doesn't feel easier and better than this!
Top of the ski slope - blue is the fast 50 mile runners who passed me, red are the cheer squad girls at the bottom

10. You put in the training. You put in the work. You make the race plan. You put in the prep for your gear and your pack. And then something out of your control takes away the race. That is an unsettling thing for any runner that there is always something out there that can ruin your race day.

And Most Importantly that it receives no bulleted number... I am still glad I did this race. It was a lot of fun, even through it all. It was also well-organized, and hats off to the race director Bill Geist and his crew!

FOR THOSE WHO WANT MORE DETAILS... I blog all my notes so I can learn from them if I need to reflect later and so I can relive these moments in the future more vividly. Enjoy the longer race report, with more pictures, here...


  1. My goal, with every race, is to leave everything out on the course, no matter what form that takes. You definitely did that and more here. Awesome job.

  2. 1) I'm 100% Team Libby--will always be! Steve is so right, u are one of the strongest people I know!! 2) I'm now Team Steve! Love that man! WTG my friend! I'm so proud you did this race and uncovered a new challenge. :-)

  3. Team Libby rocks! Girl, you did great! Your drive and spirit are the reasons we love you so much! Proud to know you and call you my friend!

  4. I am so proud of you for giving this your all despite the obstacles. You went for 8 1/2 HARD hours. You kept your eye on the ball (Chattanooga) and followed orders from medical, and you learned a ton. Sounds like a win to me. #TeamLibby all the way!

  5. Thanks for sharing your Jemez experience, Libby. You toed the starting line and finished a good stretch of a really tough course--I was on it with you this year. Had the photographer located himself at any # of points along the Pajarito ascent (instead of on a nasty, steep scree chute), he could have captured me, forearm against tree, gasping and wheezing. Be very proud of what you did at Jemez--Well done!