Thursday, November 14, 2013

2013 Ozark Trail 100 Race Report - Cue The Banjos

Two weeks, two pacing gigs in a row, two very good friends. October 26 I was in the deserts of Arizona in lots of sand and heat with Lesley for her first 100 mile attempt at Javelina Jundred. Consider now the juxtaposition to one week later where I was in the backwoods of Missouri in fall foliage and freezing temperatures with Jeremy for his 8th 100 miler at the Ozark Trail 100 outside Steelville, Missouri.
At mile 17.5

Warning - this covers 12 hours of driving to get to Missouri, then 30 hours of crewing, and 22.3 miles (6 hours) of pacing. This sucker is long. But I love reminding myself of details later, and maybe some sections will bring a laugh to those who read it! And I have to say the last 4 miles of this race are decidedly epic and worth the detailed report. 

Halloween night, Lesley and I went to southern Arkansas where Jeremy lives. Lesley was recovering from her 62 miles at Javelina and had come along in her words "to provide the entertainment." A 4 hour drive and a night's sleep at Jeremy's, and the 3 of us left early Friday for Missouri. I drove the long 8 hours of mostly small curvy country highways to get to this remote area.

Packet pickup, pasta dinner, and trail briefing were easy and small. There were only 65 starters in the race. Then, we headed to the nearby Meramec Inn to get some sleep before our 3 am wakeup call.
Yeah, it's as classy a joint as you guessed from this picture.

Race Start

Out the door about 3:45 am for the 1 1/2 hour drive through Forest Service Roads in the middle of the giant Mark Twain National Forest to get to the start line for this point-to-point 100 mile race. The race would be mostly going south to north, and we were staying in the town closest to the finish, so it was a 60ish mile drive just to get to the start.

We parked, hung out in the car a bit, and then went to get Jeremy checked in and then huddle together in front of a propane fire box.

Then at 6 am, they were off! And now we had about 4 hours before we would see Jeremy again at mile 17.5.

First Crew Access - Sutton Bluff, Mile 17.5

Lesley and I left the start and went west, where you would go east to go to the crew access point. We were going to go into town for gas, a bathroom stop, and breakfast. A big dude in a big truck pulled up behind me at the gas station. He made me really uneasy - why is he staring and acting like he's about to get my attention? "Are you with the race?" It was a crew of obvious non-runners WHO HAD BLINDLY FOLLOWED US, thinking we were heading to the next crew spot. You should have seen his face when we told him he had to go back to the start 45 minutes away. An unintentionally wasted 90 minute roundtrip for him!

I decided to use Google (we had a cell signal, a rare thing, in this little town of Salem) to map us to the Sutton Bluff campground. An hour and a half away, we ended up in tiny dirt backcountry roads and inadvertently went by one of the later aid stations you usually shouldn't hit unless you were meaning to go there. We had to cross some low water concrete creek crossings. The first one freaked us out but we cried "It's a SUBARU" (Jeremy's car) and plowed through. We joked all through the trip that he was going to get back his car with one bumper hanging off.

We got there and parked. Then...
NAP 1 - 1 hour.
Then we groggily woke up, grabbed the chair, his drop bag, and bundled up, and went over to the aid station.

We only had to sit for 15 minutes before he arrived. Highlights of this stop: 1) I forgot, again, how to access the bladder in a Salomon pack, and it took me fumbling around for a couple minutes. 2) Lesley stole someone's beanie cap and flashlight off the picnic table thinking they were his, and 10 minutes later when we 3 realized they weren't his, she ran back to put them back. HA!

About 7 hours before we would see Jeremy again. He was in good spirits and moving well.

Second Crew Access - Brooks Creek, Mile 43.5

We hunted down the Bixby Country Store, one of the only places nearby to get hot food. We asked the man there what he suggested we got. "You girls ever had a CHICKEN WRAP?!?" He said it like it was this new age thing, some type of molecular gastronomy invented in France. "Um, Noooooooo," we said, thinking it was best to go with it. "Well, it has...." as he points to the menu on the counter which he then reads verbatim like he's filling us in on the secret family recipe, "chicken, lettuce, cheese, and RANCH DRESSING, all in a FLOUR TORTILLA." He's so pleased.

Okay, 1 chicken wrap. And he sold us on the Dirty Fries too - french fries topped with pulled pork and coleslaw. Food was pretty good for what it was. But man, it was overpriced.

We had a long drive back to the hotel.
NAP 2 - 1 1/2 hours.

Another long drive to the aid station. We set up our chairs and again, only had to wait about 20 minutes. During that time, two girls came in, one looking frigid. Her sister (as we later found out) tried to convince her to take her arm sleeves. When she threw a minor "I don't wanna" fit, Lesley and I joined in on pushing her to really consider taking the arm sleeves. She ultimately did, and I'm glad because she was a frozen statue by the next crew access when we saw her.

Jeremy came in to the aid station with a smile. He changed his socks and shoes, added some layers, ate a bunch of food, and headed out. We wouldn't see him again until the middle of the night. About 7 hours later.

Third Crew Access - Hazel Creek, Mile 68.5

A long drive to the nearest big town of Cuba to eat at one of the "nicer" restaurants there because I wanted a good healthy dinner since it would be my last hot meal until I paced the next morning. The restaurant then proceeded to lose our order, finally get our food made, only for me to cut into my grilled chicken to find it RAW inside. Great - sorry, Jeremy, your pacer died of salmonella poisoning 3 hours before you arrived into the aid station.

The delay made us both mad because it shortened our nap time. No time to go back to the hotel for a nap. We needed to find this aid station and then car nap. Map the GPS to Hazel Creek Campground, which then proceeded to take us, in the dark about 10 pm, to the most backwoods, hadn't been driven on in 10 years, overgrown, narrow dirt road I had ever seen. We did see a few deer and a skunk. But we also felt like we were living in a horror movie. It was really creepy.

Finally at the aid station, we can only plan to nap until the earliest on a great day that we would see Jeremy.
NAP 3 - 1 1/2 hours.

We go over to the aid station. It's officially 32 degrees in the forest, but they say that's the coldest part of the course and about 10 degrees cooler. We are horribly bundled up. After a short bit, someone has heard on the radio that our runner had hit the previous aid station. We go over to the bonfire and hang out with some of the volunteers and crew there.

One guy works for the local fire department and is talking about their cool infrared imaging technology. "Yeah, not but 3 weeks ago, I found a murdered HOODRAT right over there, right behind those bushes."
Me: "Whoa"
Lesley: ... ... ... "Wait, you mean, like right over there?"
Him: "Right over there, right behind that sign."
Lesley: "WHAT?!?"
Him: "Yep, dealing meth. Lot of that stuff out here."
Then he pauses for a second and, given we were still shaky and creeped out from our drive to this campsite, he says in this thick accent: "Them's backwoods people. Life is ROUGH out here."
Cue the banjos.

We redo the math and realize we can stay in the warm car for a while longer. I can't even remember if we tried to nap again. I don't think so. Then, 30 minutes curled up in blankets and jackets in our camp chairs until Jeremy came in.

And one of Jeremy's only trail toddler traits "I DO IT MYSELF" emerged a little here. Shivering and shaking but still fiercely independent when he has two people waiting right there just to help him, plus several other volunteers. The volunteers at this station were excellent. Aid station captain helped push him out. He was cold but moving. It was 1:20 am. We thought we would see him in maybe about 4 1/2 hours on a good day.

Fourth Crew Access - Berryman Campground, Mile 81.3

A far less creepy drive to this stop. It took a little bit to wind down and I was a little hungry. And then yes, I was eating pita chips and hummus at 2 am. Like Lesley and I over half the tub of hummus. I was glad I had brought it in the cooler. Good hearty healthier calories then a lot of snack food.
NAP 4 - 2 hours

Then quite a while huddled under blankets waiting for Jeremy. No heater or bonfire at this stop. It was fairly barebones.

We were worrying about why we hadn't seen him yet when he showed about 6:10 am. And he was pissed. "I did extra miles," he said. After a road crossing, the markers had become scant in the dark and he had to find his way and double back to make sure he was even on the trail at one point. He was not happy.

We wanted to keep ahead of the cutoff which was at 6:45, and there wasn't much going on at this aid station. We threw our blankets around him and worked at getting him food and changing his layers. Just like at Hazel Creek where he had insisted on rebuttoning his flannel shirt with his frozen fingers, he insisted this time. "NO," I said firmly. "This time I am helping you." "Fine!" he said grumpily. Yep, more of "I do it myself!" just like my 2 year old.

Time To Pace...In the Dark - Heading to Mile 90.1

We left the aid station 25 minutes before cutoff. We needed to keep moving. Of course I was afraid of some sort of sleepwalking episode like Lesley had. We couldn't afford 25 minute miles for any length of time. I knew we needed a 19 minute pace if we left seconds before the cutoff. Based on when we walked out of that aid station, we just had to average 20 minutes per mile.

It was about an hour and a half until the light. I was shaky on the terrain seeing it in the dark for the first time. The leaf cover was considered light this year. Most trees hadn't dropped their leaves yet, at least until the last 7 or so miles, when it would be inches thick on the ground. But there were roots and lots of rocks of various sizes and loose vs embedded. I'm not graceful, and I'm nightblind.

Jeremy picked up on my worry and said he wouldn't run until light. Phew. Thank you!

He was in a good mood and we chatted away. I told him stories about what Lesley and I had done all through the day. He'd laugh at some, chuckle occasionally. "Okay, this is going to be okay. He's not super grumpy. He's not going to bite my head off."

Once dawn came, aside from me marveling at how beautiful the forest was in the morning light, he started running flats and downhills a lot of the time. When he wouldn't immediately, I would say, "This looks like a nice runnable section" or "This would be a good place to run", and he usually would. Gentle urging.

I had heard the first aid station, Billy's Branch, at 8.8 miles from where he had picked me up, could be as much as 2 miles further by GPS than they had reported. So we were wary to count it down. And this was a good solid stretch without aid. But at 8.5 miles, a guy was standing there. I said, "Wait, the pacer isn't supposed to hallucinate people!" It was awesome - he walked behind us and rattled off every food thing they had. He sold Jeremy on having some soup and offered that they had some instant coffee and could add some hot chocolate to make it taste better. Jeremy really perked up at this.

18:19 pace through this 8.8 miles.

The Loopy Section - Heading to Mile 97.1

At the aid station, he sat down, but I didn't want us staying long. They refilled our water and got him soup. They started the coffee/hot chocolate mixture heating. When it was ready, I snatched it and took a sip. I asked, "Can you add 2 ice cubes?" They said, "It's not too hot." I said, "It's hot enough, and I want it warm. I don't want us to sit here. I want him to drink it and go." It worked. He gulped it down, and we left.

Jeremy says later he was kinda out of it this section and a little loopy. But he didn't seem so much that, just that he got a little quieter sometimes. Pacing is about reading the room - sometimes I would chat away, and sometimes I would just walk quietly.

He didn't want to run the flats and downs as much through here. I would gently urge, "This is a great section for running a little." And he'd say, "No." Okay, I had to try. We were still making cutoff so I didn't need to push him.

At mile 93.6, we did stop and I included him in the tradition Lesley and I had of the "single digit dance". As soon as you have less than 10.0 miles left in an ultra, well, it's just about counting it down now. The dance involves mostly a small rah-rah in the arms and little to no leg, knee, or hip movement though! Jeremy was even game for doing a selfie, a rare occurrence, but he had his camera and I had no phone to do a really effectively do a self-portrait, so I took his picture instead.

45 minutes in he chastised me for not telling him to eat. I had misunderstood his semi-coherent explanation of his food needs when we had left the aid station. He got a little grumpy and distrustful of my competence for a little while after that.

A mile or so later, his mood must have changed because he wanted to get the selfie done. So he pulled out his camera, and we posed. Nice of him when I know he doesn't like selfies. I really liked how the picture turned out too!

We came into Henpeck Hollow aid station, and there was Lesley! It was about 9 am and starting to really warm up from the freezing temperatures although it was still probably low 40s. I stripped off the pants I was wearing and put on the shorts she had brought, and I took off my pullover. Jeremy left a layer too. We didn't even sit; we wanted to go!

Pace here was about 18:45.

Bring It Home - Heading to the Finish, Mile 103.6

He was back in a good mood and his previous loopiness was gone. We had no worries about making the final cutoff. The scenery changed and the leaves got a lot thicker. Jeremy started really moving - I'd been behind him the whole time. I never led, so he always chose the pace. More running and less walking, we were bringing down the average pace to around 17 minutes per mile. We slowly passed a couple people those first few miles.

Then at some moment, he flipped a switch. And even with hiking uphills, we started averaging 12 minutes per mile. I was struggling to keep up with him and huffing and puffing out a recovery on the uphill hard walk paces. Note that even at the beginning of the race he had averaged 14:00s. He had not run this fast THE WHOLE RACE.

Suddenly we caught up to Jerry (a sweet guy who always had a smile that we'd seen off and on throughout the race), and the two sisters with the arm sleeve episode from earlier. All in all, in only 6.5 miles, we would pass 7 people. Out of only 38 finishers. Who passes 20% of the field in the last few miles of a 100-miler?!?

Jeremy seemed to get a real kick out of seeing me struggle to keep up. I think it made him run harder. He had joked for weeks about trying to drop me out there. I'd been a little worried since he's much faster than me. I didn't want the embarrassment of coming into an aid station without my runner. But here we were and suddenly it was coming true. He kept insisting he wasn't trying to drop me.

We would scream down these downhills, all thick leaves hiding rocks and roots. And while I was terrified, I was also laughing. I felt like I was racing, except the person in front of me had done 80 more miles than me. Hard not to laugh at that. At one point I yelled up to him while we running hard, "I can't tell the bleached leaves from the rocks." And he gleefully yelled back "Then avoid them all." Yeah, easier said than done.

One mile left and we came out into a field. The start of getting to the finish. He said he could see someone way way ahead of us, then saw me huffing and puffing, at one of the few times we could walk side by side, and said, "Nah, we don't have to catch them." I took a couple deep breaths, then broke out in a trot, "Let's get 'em." Gah. I was dying.

But we did. And the pacer for that guy laughed and said, "Is that a pacer struggling to catch their runner?" Um, yeah, my finest hour.

Then he passed another guy, and we could see the finish at the end of this field. He knew he had a sprint left in him like when he ran Fat Dog, and he was ready to go. And I can't pull a 9 or 10 minute mile on fresh legs, let alone after 6 hours in the woods. So he said, "I'm going to go." But first he pulled out his camera to give me something to do while I slowly came in. He told me to take some pictures of him and the beautiful scenery and off he went.

When I finally arrived and walked around the finish corral and under the flagging about 45 seconds after he finished, Lesley was standing there so happy to see him finish. I was so proud of not just another 100 miler for him, but in his attitude the whole 22 miles together and the beast mode he had exhibited in the last 4 miles. We gave each other a big hard hug. It was really an awesome last hour and a great finish.

30 hours 48 minutes. No cutoff worries ultimately, because he was 1 hour and 12 minutes before cutoff. He ended up placing 30th out of 38 finishers out of 65 starters. Solid midpack.

Rest of the Story

The rest of the story is simple. We all got cleaned up at the hotel and then a long 8 hour drive back to Magnolia, Arkansas, most of which I drove. Urgh - tiring. Lesley and I made the last 4 hour drive to Dallas the next morning.


Isle Du Bois 55K Trail Race on December 7 and then Dallas Marathon on December 8. Local races don't usually get me excited, but trying the big task of doing 60 miles in 2 days, with the first day having some decent technicality with rocks and a cutoff that makes me nervous? Now that's a fun challenge!!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Javelina Jundred 2013 - Crew and Pacer Race Report

When one of your best friends is running her first 100 mile race and asks you to crew and pace, you just ask when and where you need to be! Lesley had chosen Javelina Jundred 100 Mile Trail Run on October 26, 2013 in the Phoenix, Arizona area on the Pemberton Trail for her first.

Our fellow bestie Elaine would also be crewing. Elaine and I flew out midday Friday to meet Lesley there. We went out to the trail to see the race site set-up and pick out our tent. 
Big race site in the desert
They had a really neat set-up where you could rent a tent and cots for yourself and/or your crew, and they would set it all up for you. Perfect for out-of-towners.

All the green tents were rented ones. We picked a great spot out of the main drag
but within 50 feet of the indoor restroom and showers. Score!

In the downtime of Loop 1 on race day, Elaine decorated the tent. It made it so easy to find in the sea of tents!
The race loops are "washer" style where you reverse your loop each time you come back into the start/finish line base camp. When you're tired, and your crew is tired, it's not confusing AT ALL (NOT!).

The course is 6 full 15.3-mile loops and a partial 7th loop.
They had some great reminders and decorations at the start of each race loop.

And of course we took a picture at the start/finish!

Race eve dinner was Italian - yummy pizza and a glass of wine (or two) to settle the nerves. 

Then an early bedtime back at our rooms at the host hotel.

Race Morning - A Brush with Running Celeb
In the car by 4:45 AM - yawn. We went to the race site where I dropped off Lesley, Elaine, and all the gear in our car. I would then have to go back to the parking area a few miles away and take a shuttle to get back to the start.

Walking to the shuttle, I walked right by Hal Koerner who seemed to be trying to figure out how to use the shuttle to get all his gear to the start. I was amazed to see such a front runner heading to the start so close to the gun going off.

I sighed in relief when I grabbed what looked like it must be the last seat in the shuttle van. I sat in the middle of the back bench seat and then I saw a head through the side door survey the scene and duck back out. "JB!" I yelled. He stuck his head back in. "We can fit you in on this back seat. You're skinny!"

Someone else recognized his name and asked if he was JB Benna. He was totally humble about it. The crew dad next to me was confused about the guy's celebrity status, so I told him that JB had made this well-known movie about ultrarunning called "Unbreakable". I'd met JB briefly at Western States 100 this year. We chatted for the couple minute drive to the race site.

Everyone hopped off the shuttle van, and I went to hurry the 0.3 mile walk in the dark to the race site to find Lesley. I was struggling to powerwalk as fast as tall JB. Dude was carrying 3 full gear bags so after asking nicely and being rebuffed, I basically said "Come on, we're going the same way" and helped him carry one of the bags.

Near the start line I handed him back the bag and said I needed to find my runner and wished him luck. We'd see him again out on the course about midnight. (He did finish the race.)

I rush off to get to Lesley and in the dark and chaos of expansive "Tent City", I tripped on the corner of a tent stake and went down hard in the sand... In front of the main portapotty area... With 50 runners waiting in the lines. UGH. 30 people lurch with a "Are you okay?!?" Yeah, just my pride hurt. They all had to be saying "Good thing she's not pacing or crewing for me!" HA!

And They're Off!
Back with about 10 minutes to the start. I grabbed a quick picture with Lesley. Note we're in jackets - funny because it would get VERY HOT later in the day. I told Lesley I had taken one for the team, and we wouldn't have any more falls today. :-)

The start line had lots of excited energy coming from all the 100 milers.

They trotted through the start arch and we knew we had several hours before we would see Lesley again. Then I looked down and noticed my knee was bleeding. Oops. I went over to medical to snag a bandaid but the medical people were sitting there looking bored and Elaine was worried with all the dirt in it that it might get infected over the day. Medical guys were nice and cleaned me up and I slapped a bandaid on my stupid skinned knee.

Team Headlamp

Here was our official crew pic after we had climbed up a hill to look down on "Tent City" aka the race site. 

Elaine, Me, Adam

Adam went off to the higher hill, but Elaine and I first had him take a picture of us with our team shirts. I love this shirt - designed by Iris who does all my race logos for The Active Joe. It's a great tech shirt that's subtle (it says "Blinding the Competition" since Lesley's trail nickname is Headlamp), so I'll wear it again for sure!

Then a park ranger yelled at Elaine and me. It's a trails-only park, and we were wandering off trail up on this hill. He pointed out the hill and was nice about it. Oops! During this, I noticed later my off-trail travel resulted in a few one inch cactus spines embedded in my shin. Classy.

The view at the top of the hill was awesome. It was also one of the few places I could get any cell service.

We came back in time to see the frontrunners come in for their first loop.

Hal Koerner who would end up winning the race!
A little while later, we laid out our crew set-up. I had learned some techniques at Western States. You spread out a beach towel with all the things they may need. Then they can easily shop and you can go down the towel asking them "Do you need glide?", "Need more energy gels?!", etc. 

Lesley came in and like clockwork we handled all her needs.

Fill water, take pictures, restock her, get the rocks out of her shoes - Elaine and I worked together as a team to get it done!
Lesley grabs Oreos before heading out on Loop 2

What did we do between loops? Strategize and make mental lists of what Lesley would need at the next loop, mellow at the tent, head to the car for an air-conditioned nap with the seats down in the back of the rental SUV, recharge phones, take a picture with the cactus!
Elaine + Cactus. She's set - neck pillow and water bottle!
30 Miles In! 
Lesley came in at the end of loop 2 still in good spirits. Some people were starting to look pretty wilted as temperatures climbed quickly. 

Crew pitstop with Elaine handling needs and restocking and me lubing up feet and changing her socks. A good friend will lube nasty dirty smelly ultrarunner feet!

This next loop would be in the 90s through the afternoon.
There's a great Lesley smile.
 She shoved food in her gullet before heading back out for Loop 3

"No One Touch Me!"

Lesley had been out on Loop 3 longer than we'd expected. She was still within the limits to keep making cutoffs, but any extra time she'd banked the first two loops was disappearing. She came in right before 7:30 pm, crossed the timing mat, I stepped out from the crowd to get her attention and gesture her over to our crew set-up, and she looks bothered.

Then she yelled "NO ONE TOUCH ME!" 15 people in her vicinity shrunk back a foot like she had slapped them all. She repeated again and again, "I don't want anyone to touch me."

She sat in the chair. I said, "Lesley, what's wrong?"
"I just want to sit here," she said.
I gave it 10 seconds. I knelt by the chair.
"I need you to tell me what's wrong," I said quietly.
She was flustered. Her digestive system had betrayed her out on that last 15.3-mile loop and she'd had to make several potty stops along with not being able to take in food or drink, through the hot afternoon temperatures.

Elaine and I pushed on her hard. "You have to go back out there, Lesley." "No, I don't wanna." Elaine said, "Lesley, Brian would want you to go back out there." That started to turn her around. Our good friend Brian had been signed up for this 100 miler and had passed away a little less than 2 weeks before. We had spread his ashes just the Wednesday before the race.
Lesley had talked to the race director and she carried Brian's bib in the pocket of 
her water bottle handheld the whole race. He was with us in some form or fashion.
We got some sips of water and convinced her to drink a little soup broth, got her out of the chair, and with Elaine pushing and me pulling, figuratively not literally, we marched her out to the course.

So This is What Ultrarunner Sleepwalking Looks Like
The company seemed to raise her spirits. We moved along at a decent walk for the first 1.5 miles while I babbled away about the day's news. I'd been tracking all our friends at Cactus Rose 100M and 50M back home in Texas and told her all about everyone's exploits.

She complained about her tummy cramping, and I kept having her drink sips of water.

We got to the aid station (stupid spacing - an aid station 1.5 miles from the start of that every-other loop), and she sat in a chair. I admit I didn't refill our water, but neither of us had drunk much and I was way more focused on food. I had her take two endurolytes (trying to settle her nausea) and got her some soup. I tasted the soup to make sure it wasn't too hot and handed it off telling her if she would take 3 sips, I would leave her alone and we could go, because she didn't want anything. She made a potty stop next and we were out of there.

5 miles to the next aid station. Such a LONG 5 miles. With about 3/4 of a mile, Lesley went sharply downhill. I was leading her trying to keep some purpose to the walk, and glancing over my shoulder slightly to make sure she was behind me. She wouldn't talk. I kept talking just to try to give her something to focus on. I knew lack of fueling can be a big cause of sleepwalking and hallucinating on course, and I knew I was fighting to overcome 15 hot miles of dehydration and poor fueling and try to get us back on pace to make cutoffs.

The 5 miles became these things:
  • Hand feeding Lesley Mike N Ike candies (her fave candy on the trail which I had taken from her handheld) and the occasional Endurolyte salt tablet. This was literally a "Time for a Mike N Ike. Open up, Lesley." "UH UH." "Yes, now." I would then shove candy into her slightly open month.
  • Flashing my headlamp in her eyes to wake her up.
  • Telling her to keep moving and not to slow down when headlamps would come towards us
  • Several times she did sit down on the side of the trail to take a nap. I would say, "I'll count to 10 in my head. Then it's time to go." And on the dot, I would tell her it was time, hook an arm under her armpit and have to wrench her up from the ground.
  • One of the times she complained about a shoe and plopped down for me to take the shoe off and find the rock. When we got out, she bellyached like her wrist was broken. I thought it was a rock in her palm. No, it was a little cactus spine. So here I was picking out a splinter in the dark of the desert with my headlamp while my runner howled.
  • Reasoning with a Manipulative Child. Me: "We're out here; you can't drop now." Lesley: "Yes, I can. They have ATVs at the next aid station." Me: "Yeah, well, it's night so they can't get you out in the dark." Lesley: "..." Talk about an addled brain on her because she dropped the argument. ATVs do have headlights, but hey, it worked!
Yes, she was basically a trail toddler. 100%. And she knows she was, although the details in her mind are less fresh and less scary. I was freaking out. "I shouldn't have let her go back out." "I just wanted her to at least get a 100K buckle if not the 100M." "She's going to hate me after this." "She'll never be my friend again." "What if I can't get her moving this time?!"

Luckily, it was all starting to work. All the drink reminders and drying out her mouth with the Mike N Ike's meant that 3 miles out from the aid station she pitched a fit that she was out of water in both handhelds. I proceeded to pour all my remaining water into her handheld and told her to keep drinking. Post-race I had a little dehydration and know it was this 75 minutes in the dry desert without water when I gave her mine. Still worth it.

The sugar from the Mike N Ike's at least helped enough to get us to the Jackass Aid Station. We were at mile 51.

Back From the Dead
I had been promising her she could sit when we got to the aid station. But I was still refusing to let her take a nap. We had agreed she could have one 10 minute nap during the 100 miles, but it was too early, and I was still trying to figure out if we could make up time to stay within cutoffs and get her the distance.

She sat on the edge of a cot. I yelled repeatedly that she was NOT to lay down. She put her head down on her hands while I went off to refill all our water bottles. I came back with coke and soup and had her drink them. A guy was asleep on a cot next to her with just his feet poking out of a sleeping bag.

"He gets to sleep," she said.
I said, "No, Lesley, he's dead. They just can't get his body out of here until dawn." That got a smile.

3 cookies, a potato piece, more soup, 2 more cups of coke, and a bean burrito where, like a toddler, she dipped her finger in the excessive bean goop and flicked it into the sand several feet away from her. And it's like the light started to go back on in her brain.

Finally. I had gotten her drinking again. And now I'd refueled the machine. It was time to move.

She was back from the dead, and we left the aid station and jogged the flats and downs, averaging a 17-18 minute pace. A mile later she wanted to do our traditional "Single Digits Left in the Race" dance, but I refused. She was ready to give in for a 100K (62 mile) buckle when she finished Loop 4, but we weren't here for that buckle. So I didn't dance.

I did the math and redid the math and redid it. And I accepted the reality. She'd lost so much time sleepwalking and in the previous Loop 3, when she and I are not fast runners to start with, she just could not make the cutoffs. Hard cutoffs wouldn't happen until around mile 77, but the writing was on the wall. So I told her, "Ok, 100K it is."

Everything hurt on her but she kept moving. She had a good attitude now.

Creatures of the Night
Lesley had seen a small rattlesnake just off the trail early in the loop that gave her a scream, while I had totally missed it.

But about a mile after our conversation of acceptance of finishing 100K, all of a sudden something scurried into the shadows of my light. Something furry that darted, changed paths unexpectedly, and brushed my shoe as it crossed between the tight formation of me then Lesley to the other side of the path. Some sort of field mouse! And Lesley and I screamed bloody murder. It FREAKED. US. OUT. 

A quarter mile later I yelled a "Stop" with a rattlesnake several feet ahead spread across the trail. We quietly stood there, no doubt looking bored, as he slithered across the trail. Once his tail had just left the trail we skirted the outside edge to pass him. We warned the approaching runners coming towards us, on another loop coming back in this "washer" style course, to watch out in case he was hanging on the edge of the trail or changed his mind to recross.

Funny how cool we were with that rattlesnake versus the reaction to the harmless mouse! 

Last Aid Station
We got to the last aid station, and funny enough I didn't remember to check her soup. She chastised me quickly for scalding her after she took that first super hot sip. Darn it all!

So I had to rush the cup back to get a couple ice cubes. It may look bizarre when the pacer is acting like a taste tester, but the temperature's important! I need it to warm her up, without scalding her, and without being too hot that she sits and coddles it when I need her to get moving. Delicate balance!

The Darkness Will Eat You
The last couple miles the desert trail opens up to rolling dunes of white in the headlamp. Since I hadn't been on the trail before and was leading, I was straining to seek out each ribbon marker. My lamp was dimming a bit for my level of night blindness, so I took one of Lesley's knucklelights for leading us. But generally the last couple miles I was holding in a slow anxiety attack building. I have some claustrophobia and the darkness was feeling smothering like it was pressing in on us. I remember thinking the darkness was going to eat us. My brain had been on overdrive for almost 6 hours through the evening. I was ready to end that loop.

In The End, You Can't Fight The Clock
Lesley and I came into the start/finish, and Lesley turned in her chip and declared her DNF. We'd been moving at a 17-18 minute pace those last 8.5 miles, which was great. But she would have had to negative split the next loop to make the cutoff time. Sometimes you have to face reality. She wouldn't get anything more than the 100K buckle if she got pulled at mile 77. The day was over.

I'd been running with her since 7:30 pm. It was now 1:30 am. That's discombobulating!

By the time, she had a rest in a chair, then we got everything packed up, drove in one car to get to the other car in the shuttle parking, and then drove to the hotel, it was 4 am. YAWN. Man it felt good to sleep, but I couldn't sleep long. Then I went and found a HUGE diner-style breakfast nearby. Later that day, Elaine and I flew back home to Dallas.

I'm proud of Lesley for the fight she gave out on that course, happy to have crewed her with Elaine, thankful to have been out there for Loop 4 with her and able to give the help I could, and incredibly amazed at her 100K-buckle-earning 62 miles that day! Way to go, Lesley!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

2013 Volcanic 50 Race Report - I Did Something that Scares Me, and I Loved It

Wow, this race is still a violent vibrant kaleidoscope in my mind. And two days later I am still all smiles. Volcanic 50 was the hardest race I had ever entered. I was even really scared out there some of the time. This article on Five Ways to Become a Fearless Bad Ass sums up how I view these trail races and why I go for it.

I didn't finish this race, and I'm thrilled with the experience I had.

Wait, WHAT???

Yes, I addressed pre-race that failure to me was not defined in the narrow runner view of the duties of completion or adequate racing performance. It was going out and giving it my all, making memories, seeing amazing scenery, and living far outside my comfort zone. There were 128 entrants for this adventure and ultimately 118 finishers. I was one of a less than 20% female entrant rate and the only person from the Southern United States. My coach said I was trained, and I had put in the time. I had also been sick for the 3 weeks leading up to the race. I was put on steroids a week before the race. I was not too vocal about this, but my race week had meant awful steroid side effects. I was able to get to sleep by 2-3 AM (insomnia) and was completely bloated all week with the 8 pound instant water weight gain as another side effect. The two days before the race, I was up to 10 pounds over my usual weight just a week before, and I was visibly swollen everywhere. With a weak occasional cough still. Lovely. I still thought I would be fine.

Race Day Morning

Hubby Steve came with me, and we made the 1 hour drive in the dark from our hotel in Woodland, Washington, to the Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument, to the Marble Mountain Sno-Park that would be the race site. There was no cell service at the race site. I picked up my bib and my race shirt.
You can see I had already started the uber-small signature ultra bib fold and had to undo it for the picture.
And I absolutely love the color of the women's shirt (men's shirts were kind of a full lime green) and the elevation profile on the back:

A little over an hour to prep my gear and make a potty run. Ironically, I met Lars (we have a good mutual friend so I was hoping to run into him) in the bathroom line.

Posing before the start - geared up!
I met my Facebook friend Shannon who used to live in Texas and had moved to Portland. We have a LOT of the same friends from here in Texas. And then it was time to start the race!

Within the first 6 miles we had climbed about 3000 ft. 4000 ft within the first 13 miles. So most of the climb was very early on. As was a LOT of the technicality.

Beautiful Pine Forest

I powerhiked these climbs in the soft forest soil at the start. I suck at climbing, but I didn't really lose people much and didn't really have people gain on me much in my position, so I took that as a good sign.

It smelled wonderful. It was humid but cool temps. Having fun!

A few miles in was a rockier section with smaller pine saplings, moss and lichen ground coverings, and lava rocks.

And we worked our way through a tiny boulder field around a small canyon dropoff that housed a small waterfall.


Here I took a picture and exclaimed "THIS IS AWESOME" in front of everyone around me.

People echoed the sentiment, and I said, "We don't have anything like this back home in Texas!" Headed back along the path, and I heard "Are you Libby?"
Me: "Yes?"
It was Jeff, a good friend of one of my good friends. And another person I had hoped to meet. We chatted on and off through the next wooded uphill section for another mile of so.

Leaving the canyon with the waterfall

After another big climb through the woods
 Then a flat nice area to run where I noticed the serious pace differential between me and those around me. :-/ Womp womp.
5 minutes of good runnable trail!

What a view

Seriously Scary

And then I would say miles 4 through 13 were downright scary. Those who don't say it is are blessed with one of several things I do NOT have:
1) grace
2) balance
3) speed
4) luck

I do this stuff to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable, and boy, this epitomized that. I always kept moving forward, but audible disbelief, positive self-talk, and momentarily stopping to take a deep breath and clam down took place off and on.

So let's go through the super scary moments through this section.
1. Boulder Fields
2. So Very Alone
3. Steep Canyons
4. Rope Climb!
5. I was being Chased!


It's exactly how it sounds. We had a couple miles of straight sections of loose stacked boulders. Big wooden posts with orange contractor flagging marking it, or a small placed orange cone would help guide us across them.

We would balance and step from one rough boulder to the next. Stepping and hopping along. Hands down at times. Sometimes I would hoist myself down by bracing on two boulders and dropping my legs down. Or putting a hand down to make a 2-foot-high step up. It just kept going as shown in the picture below.
People circled in red to show the expanse of this boulder field. Click to see the image bigger.
I was terrified about hurting myself, all the while I was hurting myself little by little. Afterward, my legs and arms are covered with small scrapes. During the race, my hands burned from all the small abrasions on my knuckles and one on my pinky finger kept bleeding.

In the middle of it all, I offered to take a picture of a couple prepping for a selfie. And they took a picture of me in return.
 Eventually I was getting a better feel for moving through it. Sometimes there were little patches of dirt connecting some boulder field segments. If you moved straight from one flag to another, you might have the hardest boulders. If you were willing to make a wide arc, the terrain might be a little easier. You had to look down to navigate, and then stop to get a better picture of the path you were going to attempt. It was time-consuming.
Official race photo. Photographer was awesome to announce his presence before we came around the curve onto that vista.


After the boulder field, I was now getting to be very alone to go through several smaller canyons.

I became really worried I had missed a marker at one point because it was just SO quiet and kept my panic down the best I could and had to backtrack a couple tenths of a mile to go back to the previous flag. I had been going the right way.

I came around to one canyon and passed a bush where a big ptarmigan bird and I scared the bejesus out of each other. It yelped and squawked and flew away in a ruffle of feathers. I felt my heart pounding and ran harder for the next half a mile with that adrenaline surge, ha.


I had one big canyon around mile 8 where I think I chose the steepest path up possible, because my mind just couldn't comprehend a less steep route. I saw the flagging above me and just went the straightest path to it. Stupid. The very top of that canyon climb was so steep and it was so sandy that my feet were skidding back down and I found myself pulling myself out by my arms on the boulders.

And then my hand pulled a boulder as big as my head out of the canyon wall. With the first "THUNK", I actually thought I had dropped my water bottle. No, I watched this boulder roll down the canyon a hundred feet. And echo as it slammed down there. And then I thanked my lucky stairs that no one was immediately behind me. Scary.

On others, people talk about the steep downs and them "skiing" down them. Yeah, that's for graceful people who aren't worried about doing something stupid like getting off balance and rolling head over heels down that 150 feet. Instead, I would end up sliding at times down on my butt or my back. So much so that when I pulled off my sports bra after the race, dirt fell out and was all over my back inside where the bra had been.


On the other side of the Toutle River at mile 12 was a climb back up out of the canyon. It was basically a cliff for the latter half of that climb. And while I had heard about it, I had to laugh when I did see the rope. And it was very much needed. 20 feet of rope, knotted every foot or two. I rappeled up the wall, because the sand made footing impossible, and I would brace a foot on an embedded boulder in the sand and pull myself up on one of the knots in the rope with my hand, and repeat. Until I slid on my tummy up onto the ground above when I was done.

Where the knots were every 2 feet instead of every one, I got really scared about falling back down.
Photo by Glen Failla

Not me in the pic. Photo by Phil Ullrich

Not me in the pic. Photo by Phil Ullrich


At mile 9, I heard the sweepers about a half mile back, their voices echoing in the canyon I had just come through. A guy and girl, I knew that had to be Marta and Frederick. I had figured out that so much of the climb and technicality was early on that the sweepers they introduced at the pre-race trail briefing were off to a good start in chasing me.

Hearing their voices scared me, and I ran hard. For 3 miles I rocketed through this forested segment. I saw toadstools as big as a dinner plate. It was a gorgeous, overgrown primordial forest of giant trees. It was also super super soft wet forest soil which felt great on the feet relative to boulders but also was narrow and eroded at times and I rolled my ankles about 6 times running this section. I thought about my trainer Donnie and all the ankle stability work we had done and how I was watching it pay off right now.

So these were the scares going on around me.

Caught by the Sweepers

A long while after leaving the Toutle River aid station at mile 12.5, the sweepers caught up to me. I was sad and asked if my day was over. They said if I could keep a pace going, there was no reason I still wouldn't make cutoff.

I had noticed about mile 14-15 that I was starting to have problems with huffing and puffing and a higher heart rate than the exertion level I felt I was going. This was particularly bad on the climbs. I wondered at the time if I wasn't as recovered from being sick as I had hoped.

But I slowed down, sweepers now hanging out with me as they cleared the trail of markers, and I was still moving forward with purpose. After a while I even felt better and ran for a while.

Mile 18-20 though I started to feel progressively worse, and my hacking cough from my cold had returned with a vengeance. And I felt way more tired than I knew I should. I told the sweepers that even if I was close to making the cutoff, this was the end of my day. You know when things aren't right, and I know I was feeling worse as I went.

DNF does not mean No More Mile though
Mile 20.7 I arrived at the aid station. I wasn't on target time for the mile 24 cutoff at this point anyway unless I planned to speed up for the next 3 miles, and I knew I couldn't do that. The Ham Radio Operator, Richard, was parked the closest so I was going to have to hike out with him.

I sat for several minutes after we walked into that station and when they took my pulse then, it was still high. My body was ANGRY. After another 15 minutes of rest, Richard and I started the 3.1 mile hike out of the north side of the mountain. Once we got to his truck, it was a 2 hour drive back to the start/finish. My day was over.


I am not sad for not finishing. I feel like I should feel guilty about that, but I don't. I'm still grinning ear-to-ear about the experience. I saw things I wouldn't have seen if I hadn't tried. I experienced things completely new to me that wouldn't have happened if I didn't have the balls to sign up. And I did so many things right on this race day...

  • Kept my cool - the north side, the blast zone, is notoriously exposed and full sun. I wore a buff and visor on my head and one around my neck. My hydration pack's 70 oz was to drink, but my 20 oz handheld was for squirting on the back of my neck and top of my head. It felt glorious, and I had no heat issues. Since I had heat problems at Tahoe Rim Trail, this was a big victory.
  • Kept hydrated - I never had any hydration issues all day.
  • Carried the load - I had about 9 pounds of gear on me between my hydration pack, the big pockets located in my rain vest, and my handheld. It was heavy. I shouldered it well.
  • Fueled appropriately - GUs sporadically and a variety of food taken at the aid stations.
  • Survival gear used - I got to use my SteriPEN on some stream water we passed about mile 18 and then again with the water I took from a stream before hiking out at mile 20. UV purification for the win.
  • No major owies - scratched up and my upper body is as sore as my lower body, but I didn't get myself hurt.
  • Motivated myself - I kept moving, and I kept in great spirits.
  • Didn't forget to look around - what a shame to be there and not appreciate it. I savored each view and moment.
  • Learned a lot about navigating - noticing where the trail was is a serious challenge for me in that terrain, but I started to notice patterns and how to spot the path of the trail across the canyon after a while. And realizing that the best way to get from marker A to marker B wasn't always a straight line!

To Close

I wouldn't have traded this race for the world. I had the best time. The race directors did an awesome job.

The 21 miles (not counting the 3 mile hike-out) was harder than any race I had ever done. That includes Bighorn 50K. That includes my two 50 milers.

I gained some serious perspective through this experience. I hated the rocks and climbs of Bandera 50K back in January, and that race is known for its technicality here in Texas. Now, it doesn't scare me much. It's all relative! I don't even mind the idea as much about going back to Bandera in January!

My coach Jeremy said that a great way for a flatlander to get better experience at running mountain ultras is to run mountain ultras. If I have to accrue a few DNFs on my way to getting better at this terrain, climbs, and often altitude, I'm okay with that! Maybe someone will read this and let go of the "death before DNF" freakout runners do and realize the gains that come out of a DNF.

What's Next?

Still figuring that one out. I have some ideas. I know that race directing The Showdown Half Marathon and New Years Double will keep me super busy the next few months, so the plans will work around those constraints.