Friday, August 30, 2013

A 5K Straight Up The Mountain

The family and I had our first big on-our-own vacation (because Disneyworld is a totally different experience) at the beginning of August going to Denver, Colorado. It was also our first trip since Sophie was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. Thankfully, Denver is super gluten-aware and keeping her from getting sick wasn't as bad as we expected.

By coincidence during our planning, I had discovered that on Sunday while we were in Vail for a couple days, there would be a race called the La Sportiva Berry Picker 5K Trail Run starting just steps from our resort. Of course I signed up.

I picked up my bib the day before. No chip timing. The race shirt would be given out at the top of the mountain post-race (BAD IDEA: unless you were a frontrunner, no one got the size they had requested during sign-up).

I had deacclimated from the altitude tent (I'd been out of it for a few weeks), and, unlike Bighorn or Tahoe, I could feel the altitude here in Vail.
The bike rack reinforces why it's so hard to breathe!
I checked out the course a little bit the night before. I would be running up the mountain on the Berry Picker Trail, crisscrossing on switchbacks, nearby where the Eagle Bahn Gondola went up the mountain. In fact the race started right by the Gondola, then crossed on a bridge over a creek, before stepping onto the trail.

I'm going up THAT!

Yes, I get it. It. Goes. Up.

The trail had some decent pebbles and small loose rocks to contend with.

Looking back down the couple tenths of a mile up the mountain I went the night before.

Sunday morning, I walked out of the resort and 20 paces to where the start was. Sitting around waiting, I ended up chatting with a guy from Cincinnati who was also an ultrarunner. We chuckled at all the people warming up going a quarter mile up the trail and back down. I know it's appropriate for a 5K, but I hadn't done a 5K in 3 years! The first 5 miles in a race was my warmup nowadays. Just a different atmosphere completely.
Super casual packet pickup
We would be climbing 2,100 feet over the 3 miles, at a pretty constant rate.

We started and it wasn't long before we were all single file huffing and puffing up this mountain. I could tell from conversation that most people were locals and many of the ones who weren't had summer homes or timeshares here.

I huffed and puffed and was surprised at the technicality of this course. There were rocks, roots, and the morning dew and later yesterday afternoon shower had left the steeper uphills a little tacky and muddy. Switchbacks through the woods as we got higher were almost like eroded cliffs. We climbed over roots on roots in those sections. So many roots keeping the ground from just slipping away down the mountain.

I wanted to stop and breathe a lot of times. But I was determined to just keep moving the whole way. At mile 1.6 there was an older couple sweetly manning a small aid station for us.

A little further up was a bivouac - a wood a-frame for people to throw tarps on and take shelter. A little over 2 miles I was really asking myself, "WHAT AM I DOING HERE?"

A few minutes later, we came out of a wooded section and I glanced behind me and the morning sun on the mountains took my breath away (more than the elevation at that second!). And I truly had tears in my eyes. We couldn't see the gondola for most of the powerhike up. This was remote and isolated. I felt like the view I was seeing was special. That exact view could only be found by hiking up that steep trail to this point. It was all mine.

I gained on the folks in front of me in the last 1/2 mile. People were getting tuckered out, and this was when I felt my endurance win out. We hit the top and it turned into dirt road with a small downhill. People were spent and walking. I ran home road paces, 11:15 pace, for that 0.2 mile segment and got a cheer of surprise for my sudden speed at the top from two guys I passed. Then another BIG steep powerhike climb before the last 0.1 mile run-in.

I turned a curve and there was Steve and the girls. They've never seen me finish a race! Marissa had picked a little bouquet of wildflowers. Steve was trying to snap pictures and actually got this one before he had to drop the camera to stop Sophie from running onto the course. I ADORE this picture.

I bent down and kissed each girl while I huffed and puffed. I thanked Marissa for the flowers, took them, and turned to run the last couple hundred feet into the finish.

Coming into the finish corral, the announcer called my name and then I enjoyed the incredulity when he announced I was from Texas. A spattering of extra applause for this stupid flatlander who came to climb a mountain.

I crossed the finish line and went to collect my race shirt. Which again was a horrid Men's Medium because all the pretty periwinkle women's shirts had been claimed already. Grrrr.

My worst 5K ever, 1:14:40, and I was proud. :-D

And then I hacked up a lung for the next 20 minutes. I had seen folks do this after Bighorn and Tahoe, but I had the altitude tent working in my favor. Not anymore. My lungs were not happy campers with a race that finished at 10,200 ft altitude.

Even better than the finish was the fact that it had capped off a week of vertical training. A lot of hills. Miles may be low compared to lots of ultrarunners, but that week I hit 7,000 ft of VERTICAL. As an aspiring mountain runner, that's important. That matters.

So happy my girls could see me finish. And to later hear Sophie, when asked what mommy was doing on the mountain, say, "Mommy running." Prompted: "Mommy was running?!?" Sophie: "Yes, on dirt."

Yep, that's what I do in a nutshell. I run on dirt. ;-)

Can Runners Have Mental Injuries?

Yes, the answer is yes. We hear a LOT about plantar fasciitis, piriformis, and Achilles problems. I've been a really smart runner, and aided by fantastic coaches, trainers, and sports chiropractors to that end, so that I've stayed injury-free PHYSICALLY for 7 years of running (I had my first and only big injury in 2005 in my first year running and then realized I needed to be smarter about it!). But what do you do when you find you have a mental injury?

Well, I think I came back from Tahoe Rim Trail 50 Mile with a mental injury. After DNFing at mile 30 from heat exhaustion, I wasn't quite sure how to handle it. I had DNFed (Did Not Finish) an ultra before. But this one had blindsided me in a way others didn't. It was a goal race, I had prepared, and I had trained hard. Plus those 8 miles of hallucinating and overheating and dry heaving were scary.

I came back from Tahoe and relooked at my race calendar. I was scheduled to do two more TOUGH races this race season. Tahoe was meant to be a stepping stone. So what happens when you fall down on that path?

My August race I had waited to book travel. I think I wanted to know how Tahoe would go. I had peeked at airfare race week of Tahoe and the cost was astronomical. So when I DNFed Tahoe, it was an easy "Fine, that race is out." I wasn't going to fork over 500-something dollars for that one.

But my September race.... Volcanic 50. Well, that race could be downright dangerous if stuff like what happened at Tahoe happened again. Incredibly rugged and remote, the few aid stations were all hike-in, hike-out ones, and medical came in the form of heli-vac.

I was scared. My husband Steve was really worried about me doing that race. That had to factor in to my decision some as well.

Okay, Volcanic 50 is out [AT THAT TIME, more to come]. I'm grateful for the experience at Tahoe, whatever it was, but I had been pushing and pushing basically all year, and it was tearing me down now.

I had accumulated...

I was tired. I love challenges, but I was exhausted. So I said, "No August trail race. No September trail ultra race. I need something fun."

So I looked around and realized a race I had eyed enviously was coming up. The ET Full Moon Midnight Marathon and 51K. An alien theme, a midnight race, an "easy" ultra relative to these mountain races I had been pursuing. August 18 - 4 weeks after Tahoe.

I signed up... and hoped it would heal the injury I was sporting that no one could see but me.

[ET Full Moon 51K Race Report to come in the next post]

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Tahoe Rim Trail 50M - Sometimes You Just Get Beat

I was happy, excited, psyched for this race. Tahoe Rim Trail 50 miler. I had even upgraded from the 50K just 4 weeks before. Altitude (9000 ft) + Climb (10000 ft gain/loss) + Horrid climbs (like 2000 ft in 2 miles) + Awesome scenery.

This email that the race sent afterwards gives you a sense of what's to come...

I was blessed to get to travel with and spend the weekend with some great runners and friends. Brian (who I had known of but finally met on the plane) and Reece were running the 100 mile, and I roomed with Jennifer, who was running the 50M also.
Jennifer, Jaime, Peter, Brian, Reece, and me

This was going to be a tough race, and I knew it. But I felt good at the start line just pre-dawn. The first 6 miles were a bear - constant climbing. Everyone was nice and hung out, we jogged on the rare flat or downhill, and powerhiked the uphills. The altitude was noticeable but totally bearable.

About mile 4, a breathless view of Marlette Lake.

And we continued to climb.

Up away from the lake to the Hobart aid station at mile 6.

We left the aid station and climbed some more!
Looking down on Hobart aid station after leaving it.
See the person? Where I was headed. Up, up, up.

More great views about 8 miles in.

Mile 9 had such great scenery. Giant white boulders we went straight through

Towering trees.


I got into the Tunnel Creek Aid Station at mile 11 and headed out on the Red House Loop. I headed down the big long downhill while trying not to think about the fact I would have to come back up it. I kept an eas pace but spent that whole mile cheering and encouraging the folks coming back up, with a big smile on my face. I even got one "Hey Gorgeous" from a guy, and that made me laugh. People were so happy to see a friendly face coming towards them. I was so glad to be able to give that during this race.

During the loop, the flies started to be a bit of a menace, and there were a couple wet crossings. I stopped on a rock at one point and re-Body glided one of my feet. There were some super sandy spots through here. I remembered to take a picture of the terrain. I'd been told the trail wouldn't be technical. But the entire course was sand, sand, and more sand. Although not quite as bad all the time as this here.
The beach without the water and without drinks with little umbrellas

I met a girl during the Red House Loop who had done her first 50 miler at 19. She said her dad was in charge of the aid station out on this loop. What a relief as I knew this aid station wasn't "official" but was so needed for many of us. At that aid station at mile 14.5, I was starting to feel a little hot but not too bad. It was about 11 am on the big climb out of the loop, and I would take a short break at shade trees on the way up. I was just getting kind of hot. I met a nice guy through this couple mile section named Jim who was a help mentally to keep me moving. 30 steps of a run, 30 steps of a walk, and repeat.
The Red House Loop - a thousand feet down then a thousand feet back up

I came into the Tunnel Creek Aid Station and with my feet constantly moving around in the sand, I could feel some serious hot spots starting up. I spent 10 minutes in the medical tent fully lubing up both feet before heading back out. I was not going to end up with the foot maceration and blister problems I had back at Bighorn 50K.

Heading back out, now 17 miles in, we were on this slope with a small narrow track space carved out for us. The lake was on one side. Carson City was down on the other side later when we hit the ridge.

With boulders here and there, this was part of a 3 mile out-and-back portion, and I was constantly having to step off the path for 100 milers and mountain bikers. The constant disruption was annoying.

I was starting to feel more and more overheated. I was walking a LOT more now. Brian passed me on his way back, and he said he was backing off his initial goal pace. I told him I'd learned there was a mile 30 time cutoff, and now I wasn't sure I could make it. I was really happy when I saw Reece 20 minutes later - always nice to see a familiar friend out there!

I made it to the Bull Wheel aid station at mile 21. This was a hike-in, hike-out aid station. Minimal things and a couple medical people. I was a little depressed because I was feeling pretty certain I wouldn't make the time cutoff. My new pal Jim encouraged me to buck up, and we left the aid station together. About a mile later, I told Jim to go ahead. I had a new hot spot on my foot and needed to put a blister pad on it. I was happy that I used this race to handle foot problems as they came up -- to realize that time spent now was better than an exploded blister later.

Then it all went downhill...

I had 8 miles to the mile 30 Diamond Peak Aid Station. When I started moving again after fixing up my foot, within 1/2 a mile, I started getting dizzy and lightheaded. Over another 1/2 mile it just kept getting worse and worse. I was staggering a little. I'd seen a text come through from Lesley that they weren't getting any updates from the race online. I texted my best friends, husband, and my coach in a group text, telling them I found out there was a mid-race cutoff and I wasn't going to make the cutoff.

Meanwhile I followed it up with a text to my coach Jeremy. I told him I thought I was getting heat exhaustion or dehydration or both, and I didn't want to alarm Steve. I gave him Steve's phone number in case I didn't get checked into the next aid station.

Jeremy told me to wet my buff in my pack water and put it over my head and just take it slow. I debated going back to the previous aid station but was worried about getting out of there since it was a hike-out station. I knew the next spot cars could reach the course was Diamond Peak at mile 30. I later wished I had gone back anyway, but I kept thinking about Reece DNFing Tahoe last year at the Hobart aid station and having to wait 5 hours to get out of there. That story was still fresh from race eve.

The view was beautiful, but I was hot and felt trapped. I was traveling from one tree along the trail to the next. Little oases of shade. I'd make it to the next and wait for the now nausea along with dizziness to subside. I would retch on the side of the trail but nothing would come up, just lots of dry heaving. I was glad for this because I didn't need to lose nutrition and fluids through throwing up. It wasn't going to help this situation.

Two girls came up while I was sitting on a boulder for a second in one of these rest spells. They gave me two salt tablets, and I asked them to let medical know that I was struggling and back here. After they left, I swallowed one salt pill but then retched up the second when I tried to take it.

I took a screenshot of the local weather on my phone shortly after that at another rest break on a rock. I think this was about 8-10 degrees hotter than we had because it was pulling data on the desert side, versus the lake side, but it confirmed I wasn't crazy for thinking it was hot! Record heat the email from the race producers would later say. Lucky me!

About mile 25, my mind had been playing tricks on me for a while (and it would continue to do so). I thought I saw a race photographer up ahead. I occasionally thought I saw people in the distance. All rock and tree formations. Burnt out tree stumps looked like black bear cubs. And big boulders in my peripheral view would be trucks or vans. I so badly wanted someone to come rescue me, someone to be out there, I guess I had started creating the scenario in my mind. I didn't think of it as hallucinations until I told Jennifer about it afterward and she laughed with a "yeah, you were hallucinating." Oh.

I have to mention the flies. They were awful. They would buzz in your ears, and whenever you stopped, you were covered in a swarm of them. Flies and the occasional fuzzy black non-stinging type of bee. And I hate bugs. HATE. Talk about maddening. I would put my buff that was on my head down over my ears so that I wouldn't hear them buzzing and tickling my ears. It was dreadful. At one point I thought, "These are carrion flies. They know I've been left out here to die." Ha. I knew I was in trouble when I hardly cared as I would sit on a rock every few shady spots as I kept moving forward.

There had been medics on mountain bikes on other sections of the course, but there weren't any on this section. At some point, I sat down on a rock, and I called coach Jeremy. I cried and told him I wasn't thinking clearly. That I had thought I should keep moving forward, but now I didn't know if that was a good idea and wondered if I should just wait for someone to eventually find me.

He told me to lay down on a rock for a little while, cool down, and to wet my buff again. I spent probably 10 minutes on that rock before an older couple hiking came down the trail. I told them how I was doing, and they were so nice. They didn't have a ton of water to spare, but they used what they had to pour it on my forehead while I laid there. They stayed with me a couple more minutes while the water on my forehead dropped my core temperature, and then we agreed I should keep moving forward. I walked the next 1/4 mile with them to their branching off point.

About a mile later, rain clouds covered the sun for a while. I was so thankful for them. They made it possible to keep moving forward. The temperature dropped several degrees. There was lightning in the distance on the north side of the lake where the clouds were the darkest. I wished the rain would come my way, but I was just outside the zone.

I kept moving and eventually I saw another girl coming along behind me. A PERSON! I calmly told her what had gone on and asked her additionally to let medical know I was back here so I wasn't just a missing person and hopefully someone would backtrack to find me. And then I had the weirdest conversation ever, so odd that after she left I thought I had imagined her.

Her: "Do you need food?" (rummages in pockets, then freaks out at her open pocket, thinks she has dropped her car key, and realizes she still has it)
Me: (exasperated) "No, I told you. I have heat exhaustion or dehydration. I'm sick."
Her: "Oh.... well you can still make the cutoff. I started two hours late and the race director at the start said they would hold all the aid stations to extend the cutoff for me."
Me: (this doesn't sound right) "I'm not worried about the cutoff. I'm sick - my day is done."
Her: "But you can still make it!"
Me: (she is NOT getting this)
Her: "Well are you out of water?"
Me: "I have about 10 ounces left. I've been conserving so I wouldn't run out."
Her: "Oh, then you don't NEED any water, do you?"
Me: (are you kidding me?!?)
Her: "You only have a mile and a half to the aid station. You can make it on 10 ounces."
Me: (I know my head is really fuzzy, but whaaaa?) "It's only 1.5 miles? I thought there was a lot left."
Her: "Nope, just 1.5 miles."
Me: (she doesn't want to part with any water, fine, I won't make her! And I'm super confused) "Oh, okay. I'll be okay then I guess. Just let medical know about me."
Her: "Okay, bye."

Yeah, that 1.5 miles left.... was really 3 miles. And 10 minutes later I was out of water.

My head was still fuzzy but with the cloud cover and being back in a wooded area, I wasn't being drained by the direct sun and feeling dizzy. About 1.5 miles from the aid station, I crossed a bridge over a brook. I had been without water about 20 minutes. I had to say out loud "Don't drink it, don't drink it, don't drink it." Yeah, dehydrated much?

Medical Help Arrives

1 mile from the aid station, and I saw someone walking toward me. Medical. I cried. A huge cry of relief. I told him, "I am SO happy to see you." Medical Volunteer Rusty checked my pulse, chatted with me, and then gave me a pack of Cliff Shot Bloks and a big jug of iced water and told me to eat all the shot bloks and sip the water before we would keep moving forward to get me to the aid station. Within a couple minutes, I felt like a new person. I was drained, seriously drained, but the fog wrapped around my brain cleared.

I was still a little staggery, so we walked slowly, as there were some boulder segments in this part. The medical guy was shocked at how well I was doing. But when we discussed it, it made sense based on what the last couple hours had been for me. I had to keep it together and move forward - no one was going to find me if I didn't for a long time. He told me the second girl who I had the weird conversation with had been stopped at the cutoff and they had told her there was no way they were extending the cutoff for her - they found the whole situation with her odd as well.

When we walked into the aid station, I could see it had been a hard day for many. About 15 people there who had not made the cutoff. High for the size of the race.

My Day Was Done

30 miles, 11 hours, 6000 feet of elevation gain and loss, a DNF, but no blisters.

My new friend Jim I had met on the trail got his son to give a bunch of us a ride back to the start. I didn't know when Jennifer would be finishing but just the walk through the site to the finish line left me woozy. And there was nowhere right then to sit. So I filled my water and took the shuttle to the car to sit in the air conditioning and drink and drink and drink.

An hour later, I shuttled back and found a spot at the finish. I had not missed her thankfully, and I'm so glad I was there to cheer her in. She had done so well!

Jennifer finishing the Tahoe Rim Trail 50 mile
Afterward, Jennifer and I talked about it and I did the math. In the 30 miles, I had 245 ounces of water. It's not like I wasn't hydrated. I think I needed to be putting ice in my sports bra, and ice in a buff around my neck and on my head, which I later learned others were doing, but I hadn't. I think my core temperature got up too high; I was sweating out that water so fast. Reece later said he had some of the same problems I had as well - we agreed it seemed climb+altitude+heat equals TROUBLE.

Am I happy with what occurred on race day? No. Am I glad I went? Yes.

What am I grateful for?

  • 30 beautiful miles along Lake Tahoe.
  • Practicing my blister care on the fly!
  • Despite it all, I'm proud of how I handled the situation. I kept fairly calm and kept moving forward. Anytime you can just keep putting one foot in front of another, that's a good thing.
  • Being surrounded by other runners for a weekend is ALWAYS a great thing.
It was still a grand adventure either way! And I'm glad for the experience!