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.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Let's Talk FAILURE

Saturday I'm running a race called the Volcanic 50. It's a 50K+ trail race, actually about 34 miles, circumnavigating Mt. St. Helens in Washington.

The race communications have been very clear that this is not your standard 50K race. They expect it to feel a lot more like a 50 mile race, both in effort and duration.

I realized in the priorities of my life, training was not what it could have been in August and wrote about it yesterday. And initially, I had even thought I would drop this race from my calendar, after signing up for it now 10 months ago. I came back and kept my entry with a tougher viewpoint of "What's the Worst That Can Happen?" and was glad I kept it on my calendar. This is the first exclusively racing trip where my husband Steve will travel with me. Because I truly don't know what's on the other side of this.
I have studied the course and understand what I'm getting myself into.

Will I get hurt? Will I get sick (like heat exhaustion, dehydration, etc.)? Will I get pulled at the mile 24 cutoff (the only midrace cutoff)? Will I finish and be a complete blob of muscular nothingness and in serious post-ultra pain? I don't know.

The theme in my last couple weeks has been thinking about the word FAILURE.
Thank you, Merriam-Webster!

And what is specific then in your perception of failure is what is the DUTY OR EXPECTED ACTION.

Here's what could be a failure on Saturday:

  • Failure to complete the race - this is the usual and obvious definition.
  • Failure to try - if I don't toe the line. If I don't give good effort during the race.
  • Failure to run smart - guilty of that at Tahoe Rim Trail or I shouldn't have had heat exhaustion.
And here's what will make this endeavor never ever a failure in my eyes, regardless of the completion on Saturday:
  • I dreamed of embarking on adventure
  • I had the balls to sign up
  • I will get to use tools I've never tried in a race - UV water purification and carrying all my footcare products for any triage on the fly!
  • I will see amazing scenery on Saturday
  • I will be in the presence of wonderful people who share a passion for the same sport I do
  • I will have memories, good or bad, that are not easily erased or softened with the passage of time - nothing reinforced that more than Tahoe Rim Trail 50 Mile this year!
  • I will be in a place where, without running, I would have never ever gone. I mean, c'mon, MOUNT ST HELENS!!
This is what keeps me excited while keeping fear and much of the nervous energy at bay. Because, in my eyes, this trip will never be a failure.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

August Running - Priorities, Data, Memories

The month comes down to my priorities, my training data, and my running memories. So let's review!
[ Posted my ET Full Moon 51K Race Report from August 18 today also HERE... ]


Our training gets prioritized in our overall lives, and you'll notice my priorities this month don't show the word training really.

  • The first week of August: FAMILY (vacation during summer break)
  • The second week of August: FAMILY and WORK (catchup from vacation, no one does your work for you when you are a small business owner and not there!, and the girls were still off from school for one more week before the new semester)
  • The third week of August: RECOVERY (recovering from the pulverizing 32 miles of asphalt at the ET Full Moon 51K and then recovery from the plague I contracted on the Vegas Strip)
  • The fourth week of August: RECOVERY (still awfully sick with the worst summer cold ever).

Note that the illness went on for 15 days and ended up needing a good course of steroids.


So now August is over. Hrmmmm, that's not how the month was supposed to look. There are several numbers I work hard not to focus on throughout the month while I'm in it, but I'm a mathematician. So how was the month by the numbers?
  • 92 miles for the month. But when that's for 13 workouts total, that averages to 7 miles a workout. Even if you take out my big 32 mile race in August, that's still an average of 5 miles per workout. Happy about that. Ignoring the posts from everyone who put in 2-3 times that mileage in the month. That's their journey, not mine.
  • I don't know my total vertical gain for the month, but I know it's up there. I think I may start tracking it in my training spreadsheet. For the type of races I want to target, as a flatlander training in Dallas, it's crucial confidence-building data. But I do know...  2100 ft gain August 4. 1200 ft gain August 18. 1080 ft gain August 26. 2450 ft gain August 30.
  • Last week in August alone totalled out at 4500 ft vertical gain. One set of 18 hill repeats on my short steep hill that I lead North Texas Runners workouts on Monday. One 3 mile 15% Treadmill run. And the remainder is two flatter runs.


And August by the running experiences, which is a huge part of what running means to me:
And now... On to the Volcanic 50 race on Saturday. August numbers are logged, and there's no cramming for this test. The day will be what it will be (obviously, duh).

2013 ET Full Moon 51K Race Report

The ET Full Moon Midnight Race (51K, Marathon, Half marathon, and 10K) had been on my radar for a couple years. It's a road race which I now rarely do. But it's a very unique one. For one thing, it's all alien-themed. But the theme fits - it's not one of those gimmick races where it's just a way to get your money. The race starts at the "black mailbox", which is actually white, that for years conspiracy theorists thought was the mailbox to Area 51. Spoiler alert: it's really some poor rancher's mailbox that he would for decades find people breaking into, rifling through his mail, shot at it, or blew it up. Poor guy.

You then run down the Extraterrestrial Highway the whole way. And you finish at Rachel, Nevada, which is known as an alien tourist destination, very much like Roswell, New Mexico.

Oh yeah, and you run down this highway through the middle of the night... in the middle of the Nevada desert. It starts at midnight after a 2 -2 1/2 hour bus ride from Vegas to get out there.

I had needed a break from stupid hard mountain races after my DNF at Tahoe Rim Trail 50 Mile 4 weeks before (Race Report Here), so I made my plans and signed up for the 51K at the ET Full Moon Midnight Race.

With little kids at home, I knew flying in Saturday would be foolish - they'd wake me up early that day, I'd fly out, and then hotel check-in times would make it hard to get much of a nap. So I flew in to Las Vegas late Friday night, went to a late dinner, and headed to bed about 1:30 am (3:30 am back at home).

I slept in until 10 am, went out to find a big brunch (Border Grill at Mandalay Bay - love that restaurant), then napped from 2:30 to 4:00 pm.
Yucatan eggs benedict
Dulce de luche churro tots

I took a taxi to the Hard Rock Hotel, which was the host hotel and the location for packet pickup. I was able to meet up with a Twitter friend, Devin  (@TexasDevin). Devin was also running the 51K, his dad (who would be celebrating a birthday at midnight when we all started) was running the half marathon, and then Devin introduced me to his friend, "David from Minnsota", who was running the marathon. Small world moment: David ran my New Years Double race at the beginning of 2012 - in its first year!

The shirts and bibs were cute. Comfy tech shirt and I'm a fan of any sort of custom bib. Note this awesome picture wasn't taken by me, I loved it from @CaseyRuns and wanted to be sure to point out this is her picture she tweeted.
Photo credit: @CaseyRuns

I went back to my hotel (MGM Grand), and I ate two sandwiches for a super early dinner. About 6 pm I grabbed a Starbucks mocha and went up to my room to change and make sure my drop bag was packed. At 7 pm, I took a taxi over to the Hard Rock again. Everyone was lined up in the hallways. I found a spot and chatted with the girl next to me, but it wasn't long before I recognized another Twitter pal, Casey (@CaseyRuns). It was sogreat getting to meet her, and yes, she's as tiny as she looks - itty bitty.

The buses were ready to load at 8:15 am, and it was a little chaotic. Buses were labeled "Quiet" or "Chatty", and Devin, his dad Gary, and I were able to get on a quiet bus. There was no way I was able to sleep on that bus though. We arrived a little after 11 pm. Everyone put on their glow bracelets and glow sticks and glow whatever-they-had-brought. I had 3 glow sticks hanging off of each side of my spibelt around my waist and then two glow bracelets on.

Ready... Set... Go

Then all of us in the 51K and marathon, a few hundred people, started running down a highway at midnight. The course was 1,225 feet up up up consistently over the first 13 miles. Devin and I ran together, which ended up being pretty darn perfect as we're both very chatty runners. I spotted a few friends along the way, Angela and Jeff. We marveled at the stars. We could see the silhouette of the mountains in the distance. From the name, you can deduce they choose the date right around the full moon. We turned off our headlamps and could see our shadows across the highway. Some people ran quite a bit without headlamps. I'm a little night blind so I needed my headlamp light.


We passed roadkill - a dead fox, dead jackrabbit, dead snake, and so on. Devin and I started to joke about the lack of wild"life", as I worried we would only see wild"death". But later we did see a jackrabbit off the side of the road, and then much later when I was alone, the biggest jackrabbit ever would run across the road in front of me.

The best wildlife though was when suddenly Devin screamed and jumped up in the air. Right in front of him, his light had illuminated he was about to step on the biggest tarantula we had ever seen. We stopped and gawked at his size. Then we told the people a little ways back from us that he was there and looked back to see them stopping to look.

A couple times I thought I heard cows mooing from the dark. But it could have been the vuvuzela horns they were blowing at the aid stations, which you could hear for miles. It was funny how everyone disappeared outside your headlamp. You had no perspective of what you were running in at all since we'd started in the dark too.

13 Mile Hill + Altitude 

I'd done a few altitude races this summer, so the elevation here hadn't concerned me. Starting around 4,300 ft and climbing to 5,500 before dropping back at the finish to 4,700 ft. But de-acclimated from the altitude tent, the altitude was still noticeable. It was just a LITTLE more effort to breath through normal paces. But Devin and I kept on a consistent 12:30 mile until we topped that 13 mile long hill.

But at this point, my stomach was starting to get annoyed. Maybe it was the dairy in the Starbucks mocha (which I'm still glad I took because I didn't have sleepiness issues like many did), maybe it was the weird food schedule, or maybe it was just the whole predicament of running in the middle of the night!

All Downhill

Miles 13-20 were all downhill before the course would flatten out the last 12 miles. After having trouble on a similar elevation profile at Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon, this time I was happy to see my legs cooperate and turn over to make the quads work on the downhill right away. Even with the occasional "Whoa, Devin, I need to walk for a second" as I thought my GI system would rebel, our pace was decent.

At mile 20 you pass the finish line at tiny Rachel, Nevada, and keep going out another 5.9 miles before turning around and coming back. They had an aid station there and I was happy to see a portapotty because my tummy was starting to feel really upset. This is where Devin and I parted, as I sent him on ahead.

Shuffle Shuffle Shuffle

My stomach never really recovered. But I could run a little again and did to the turnaround for the marathons (mile 23.1). And then my legs started to feel really heavy and my hip flexors just wouldn't engage. And all that hydration made me constantly feel like I needed to pee for the last 12 miles of this race. So I did what I could, and I shuffled along. I cheered every single person who passed me coming back from the turnaround. It kept me focused and made time pass a little faster.

By the way, the mile 20 aid station, the mile 23 aid station, and the mile 26 turnaround were discombobulating in that in the dark on a straight highway, you constantly felt like you were only a half mile from getting there.... when you were 3 miles away. I had been warned about this but it was still a little maddening.

A Good Attitude Counts for a Lot

After we turned around at mile 26 to head back, the sun was coming up, and I could really see what I had been running in. It was a beautiful sunrise up over the mountains at the far edge of the desert. I came upon a guy who seemed awfully beat up mentally, and I gave him some encouraging words. Of course he rallied and finished ahead of me.

Of course now I really had to pee, and the sun was up and I was on a flat stretch of land where you could see for miles. Lovely. Now what. After a couple miles of shuffling along with this thought, a little dirt road ran off the main highway, and there was a small ditch and culvert barely below street level. Great, a couple feet of privacy. And a gap in the runners coming and going that at least I had a 1/4 mile of privacy between me and others. Yes, this was a milestone for this prissy runner.

I played games those last 6 miles to keep shuffling hard enough that my pace on my Garmin for that mile wouldn't drop below certain paces. Or could I get it above a certain pace for the next half mile. Mind games when you run for 7 1/2 hours!

A Finish and The Gratitude

I came into the finish at 7:24 am after a midnight start for the race. I had handled a cranky stomach for 18 miles. I had enjoyed the stars and seen the sun come up. I was proud of my great attitude the last hour on the road and that the race never really broke me down mentally at all.

Oh and the finisher medal? It glows in the dark - the whole green section does. Otherwise, decent size, unprinted ribbon, but nice.


I didn't sleep on the 2 1/2 hour bus drive back that left at 8 am. Typical for me, I was still too wired. I did manage a nap after returning and even a dinner with a Cirque Du Soleil style show (Le Reve at the Wynn).

I walked back to my hotel the long way on the Strip. Between pre-show and post-show, I walked about 4 miles. This helped recovery so I wouldn't look like a zombie staggering through the airport the next morning!

I flew back out 7 am Monday morning and was there to pick up the girls when they came out of school!