Thursday, January 14, 2016

A Fantastic Training Run at Bandera 100K

Normally I sign up for the 50K at Bandera. I've run that in 2013 and 2014. I would have run it in 2015 but ended up really sick then. I'm coming off of race directing at New Years Double, which means a 100 hour work week, lots of stress, not enough sleep, and a low mileage month of about 75 miles. I don't love Bandera - I dislike rocks greatly and this course is full of rocks, one year that I ran it had mud and humidity, and one year it was hot. Basically, all my worst conditions rolled into one.

This year I thought I would sign up for the 100K and just give it a shot. Worst case, I knew I could get through 50K. But best case, I could keep moving on my low training and finish!

I traveled to Bandera with Sarah, who would run the 25K, and Daniel, who would crew and pace me the last 14 miles as he was recovering from knee bursitis.

Race morning I was a little nervous but felt I had prepared well in all regards except training. LOL. My gear was solid, and I knew the course. I had drop bags well planned out, and I had mentally psyched myself up.

The 100K is two loops of the 50K course EXCEPT it starts the loop both times at 5 miles into the 50K course. I would learn the order of tackling the land formations, terrain, and climbs would make a big difference in my day.

Start to Nachos (Mile 0 to 5.6)
I said hi to a few friends as we milled about before starting the race. At 7:30 am, it was go time. I was glad Daniel reminded me about my sunglasses, which I had really wanted to remember to wear at the start. It's so easy to forget when it's barely dawn. I placed myself well toward the back.

The first 5.5 miles to the Nachos aid station I felt like a new foal getting used to its legs. There were lots of small climbs and loose rock. The slightly damp ground led to mud being wiped across the rocks and made it a little slippery. I wasn't sure if my lack of balance and sure footing was just getting used to the day or that this was a harder terrain area. It was cool, about 40 degrees with a strong cold wind. A runner named Wid said hi to me, and I saw my friend Dale with all his whooping I've come to expect from the "Texas Yeti." About 3 miles in I had my jacket off, but my gloves would stay on for another 7 miles or so. 

I had my trail mix pre-made and I was wearing a full 70 ounces of water in my pack at the race start, so I ran straight through the Nachos aid station, exactly on the faster scenario of times I had set for myself.

Nachos to Chapas (Miles 5.6 to 11.0)
The miles leading up to Chapas at mile 11 went quickly. These were usually miles I disliked in past years. I recalled the #8 trail as having lots of loose rock and having a hard time making ground on without walking in the past but I was warmed up and moved well now. I saw a deer cross about 30 feet in front of me, and that was cool. I came into Chapas and spent only 50 seconds there. Just enough time to grab my drop bag, restock my pack with another trail mix baggie from my drop bag, and grab a cup of Coke then walk out holding some Pringles. I was efficient so far.

Chapas to Crossroads (Miles 11.0 to 16.85)
Within a couple miles I was DONE with my trail mix, which had been my planned food for the first 12 hours of the race. After which I was to eat whatever looked good. I didn't fret and knew to listen to my body. If it didn't want something, I just would have to find something else it did want! 

This section to Crossroads includes a lot of field with nontechnical terrain. I thought back to my first year where it was muddy and the dirt here had clung to my shoes like high heels, making the most runnable section impossible. Now I jogged along well. But was being caught by the majority of the 50K midpack, who seemed to take me as a midpack person in their race who was slowing, and would say "we're halfway there!" It was frustrating to hear that all day. I try to be very mindful that there are other distances when I'm racing and not assume we're all in the same race and not throw out statements which could be encouraging to those in your distance but not so for other distances. Because spending half the morning stepping aside for the huge amount of people in the 50K and then those comments do wear you down.

Crossroads to Crossroads (Miles 16.85 to 21.85)
I came into Crossroads still a little ahead of my faster time scenario. I gave my pack over to two volunteers to refill. Initially the volunteer wanted me to hold the pack out while he filled it, but with my tremor disease, it would have been a shaky wet mess. So I simply said "I have a disease which makes my arms shake so it will be easier if I hand the pack to you [another volunteer] and let you two handle it." And I thanked them enthusiastically. I said hi to Sami who was volunteering, and then Steven Monté was sitting there in a chair! This guy had started 30 hours before us and his intent was to do 3 50K loops solo and then do the 100K with all of us. It turns out he did his 3 loops, laid down to nap before the 100K started, and then way overslept. So he didn't go back out. I teased him loudly, calling him a wuss. ;-P More Coke and a piece of quesadilla and I headed out.

I wasn't worried about my faster time because I knew the Three Sisters after the first time you hit Crossroads always slows me down a little. I had been leapfrogging with Wid for a while, but here was where we started to end up in sync more often on the course. That 5 mile section went faster than I expected, and it was back to Crossroads again.

Daniel and Sarah were there, and I was happy to see them. My low back was starting to hurt (I'm prone to back pain at times with my fibromyalgia, and it also was probably exacerbated by the drive down the previous day). So I came into the aid station calling for Coke, a slice of quesadilla, and a chair. I laid on the ground with my feet up in the chair, which should have been uncomfortable with my pack on, but it was like heaven to stop the low back spasm. Medical came over to make sure I hadn't collapsed. LOL. I just grinned and ate my quesadilla while looking up in the sky. My attitude was good for 21 miles in.

Crossroads to Last Chance (Miles 21.85 to 26.1)
The next 5 miles I started to notice my tender feet getting sorer but there was still a lot of runnable. I knew Lucky Peak was coming - I hate that one because of the steep descent after it with all the sliding from the loose dirt and catching loose rocks. I hung with Wid for a lot of this section. The last couple miles of this section though I started to get cranky. I needed calories but I also was focusing way too hard on the last 5 miles of the loop coming up. When I pulled into Last Chance aid station at mile 26, I told Wid to go ahead and I would catch up. I said I needed a cup of Coke, a cup of ginger ale, and then to sit and eat gummy bears until my mood improved. To me, cranky equals needing calories. I cheered Paul Terranova as he came through, then chatted with his wife Meredith.

Last Chance to The Lodge (Miles 26.1 to 31.1)
So I leave Last Chance knowing the next 5 miles have two strong climbs that I had been having trouble recalling specifically because in the 50K it's the first 5 miles of the course, so you're happy and fresh when you hit it. This section was basically awful with the loop in this configuration and as a back of the packer, I also had the sun right in my eyes as it was trying to set and had to keep one hand up shielding myself so I could see the loose rocks of each climb. That annoyance added to my bad mood.

I came into The Lodge at the end of the loop and saw Daniel and Sarah cheering. I was right at the time of my slower scenario but that didn't leave me much time for this aid station. BUT I knew I was no good going out if I didn't improve my mood so I needed to take whatever time I would need. It would be 16 minutes, longer than I would have liked. I was efficient with what tasks I needed to accomplish - I got my drop bag, put on my two headlamps, put on my jacket, got my pack back on. Then I had hot chocolate and ramen with mashed potatoes mixed in, then a cup of Coke. And I chatted with my friends. I slowly started to see my attitude improve.

The Lodge to Nachos (Miles 31.1 to 36.7)
I left there and within a mile had caught back up to Wid. I found the new foal feeling was well founded from the first loop as this was a harder terrain section as I feared it would be. About 2 miles into this 5.6 mile section, it was dark enough to turn on lights. I turned on my chest light but could go another half mile before turning on the headlamp atop my head. My mood was souring though as the sun going down had made me super sleepy. I was slowing down and starting to freak out in my head about future cutoffs. The cutoff at Nachos was generous but it would start to get dicey after that.

I went to turn on my headlamp on my head and nothing happened. I recalled before I had left for the trip, the lamp hadn't turned on and I just thought it needed a recharge. It's a Black Diamond Sprinter that uses the charging station, not alkaline batteries, and I had used this headlamp a billion times in the 5 years I've had it. I own several headlamps but that's my major go-to lamp. After charging it, I saw the green light on the charging station and had unplugged it and, in my hurry to finish packing, I didn't test that the light turned on. I guess it was finally just dead dead dead. It freaked me out. This section often had washes that crossed the trail and it wouldn't be too hard if you were sleepy to wander the wrong way. The trail would also often split into 2 or 3 paths that eventually came back together but the splitting in the dark is disconcerting. Further I had a spot in the first loop where I had paused where the trail seemed to dead end into a wash. But there was someone right behind me who also paused then stepped to one side and saw a ribbon on the other side of a bush and that told us which way to go. It had been really windy all day and on this second loop in the dark, I hit that exact spot of confusion from the first loop, and I went the correct way but the ribbon was gone! And in general, there were bigger expanses between ribbons so now I started to freak out about the ribbons blowing away.

I would get behind and then catch up to Wid. I would say how long to the next station and he would say "I thought we'd gone further than the last time you updated!!" It was frustrating for us both.

One time that I had Wid go ahead I decided to get my flashlight out of my pack and stop for a potty break. I knew I had batteries at Chapas in 7 more miles or so, but I wished I had some in my pack and wished I could remember how many batteries I had put in that drop bag. Was it enough? What if it wasn't? I was mentally wearing down, and through the grog of sleepiness, I was also getting panicky.

When I came into the Nachos aid station at mile 37, I said to the volunteers that I wanted to sit and think. They asked what I needed. I said I needed to make a decision about continuing. I was thinking about how much harder I thought the loop was in the orientation of the 100K versus the 50K, and how very few are slow enough like me to have to do that previous 5 miles at the start of the second loop in the dark. I was mentally defeated. A great volunteer Jacque talked through things with me. I was 25 minutes to the cutoff, but given my paces the last 5 miles, I wasn't going to make the next cutoff unless I had a sudden rally. My hydration was good. My nutrition was good. My muscles were good, and I was happy that my tender feet were sore but totally bearable. I said that I thought I was just done for the day, I was happy with what I had accomplished, but I had time until the cutoff so to not mark me as a drop yet. There was time for me to try to change my mind. After about 10 minutes I called it. I was done.

Jacque was nice and drove me to the guest ranch we were staying at right outside the state recreation area. Daniel was surprised to see me. No tears from me. I was okay with how it all went down.

Final Reflections
I could have just signed up for the 50K. I got another 6 miles more than if I had! And some great practice at approaching a race day from the viewpoint of being out there a lot longer.

It ended up being a fantastic training run coming off a lackluster last month of training, and I think it will be a great jumping off point for the next couple months!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Reflecting on 2015: A Tougher Runner but with Some Hiccups Along the Way

The year sums up with what toughened me up and the hiccups to prevent me from accomplishing more.

The toughening up -

  • 3 ultras - 1 with scree field! 1 with altitude.
  • 1 marathon
  • 1 trail 25K
  • 2 trail half marathons - 1 with altitude.
  • Crewing and pacing a 200 mile race. And learning to live for 5 days with basically no sleep.
  • Camping in 29 degree weather.
  • 20.5 mile run through Bryce Canyon - including trail wayfinding and running in snow!
  • 22 miles (over 3 runs) in the Marin Headlands
  • 28 miles and an overnight solo fastpacking trip in Colorado, over 4 12,000-ft-elevation mountain passes.
The hiccups - 
  • Spent all of January recovering from double ear infection and strep throat
  • Felt "off" in May and went to the doctor
  • Spent half of August and all of September ill until the doctors found I had an incredibly low Vitamin D value and started treating me for Vitamin D deficiency.
  • Directing two wet icky races, which are always harder to clean up and bounce back from.

So here's how the year went down. What a full year!

January 1st of 2015 began with the second day of New Years Double. Both days, the temperatures hung right at 32-33 degrees, with icy rain the second day. After having a cold over Christmas, being outside in all of that for two straight days left me with a double ear infection and strep throat. Any hope of running Bandera 50K or any distance at Rocky Raccoon 100 or 50 miler was shot. Most of January was spent recovering from illness.

In February, I started building back and Jeremy invited me to head to Arkansas to crew him at LOViT 100 miler. It was a cold, rainy, wet, muddy two days of racing, and I ended up jumping in to pace him the last 18 miles.

March means spring break and the family headed to the east coast, working our way along beaches from Jacksonville, Florida, up to Hilton Head, South Carolina.

At the end of March, my base was back somewhat, and I wanted to race somewhere new but convenient. So I went to Oakland, California and ran the Canyon Meadow 50K through redwood forest on a very pretty day.

April started with the first time I could run Hells Hills in several years (it didn't overlap with my Fairview Half race directing), so I headed down there with Elaine and Mike. Mike and I ended up running the whole 50K together!

I directed the Fairview Half the next weekend, and it went off without a hitch.

I had committed to a big camping trip in May, having never camped a day in my life, so Aubrey and I headed to Isle Du Bois (Lake Ray Roberts) one Saturday and camped overnight.

My big trip for May was flying into Denver to drive 9 hours with a bunch of crazy ultrarunners to Bryce Canyon for a weekend of camping and running. Sherpa John of Human Potential Running Series organized the trip. I had met him once briefly and had another acquaintance Steve going - otherwise, it was all strangers. The first night we camped was 29 degrees and snowed several inches. I was happy that all my new camping gear kept me warm!

The next day, I was like a puppy on roller skates running through so much snow on the trails for the first time, but I ended up completing 20.5 miles from one end to the other of Bryce Canyon, all alone the majority of the time. It was amazing. We camped another night and then drove back to Denver where I then flew home. I made lots of new friends, and it ended up connecting me with my sponsored athlete to send to Western States in 2016.

In June, the family headed to Colorado for a long weekend vacation. I was planning to run the South Park Trail Marathon, but the night before, I ended up with a really awful allergic reaction to something there in Colorado and spent the rest of the trip dosed up on Benadryl! So I ran the half marathon, which was still a bear of a race. Basically go straight up up up at altitude then turn around and run back to the start. And such beautiful views.

At the end of the month of June, I was back at Western States 100 for my 4th straight year.

My sponsored athlete, Robert, had a rough race day and needed to drop at mile 30.

I was able to then go see Rob Krar repeat his victory at the Auburn track.

The next day I drove all the way to the Marin Headlands to run their trails for the first time. It was amazing to think people have somewhere where they can run a 6 mile loop and get 1500 feet of gain/loss!

In July, Jeremy and I traveled to Idaho, both racing there for the first time. The Beaverhead Endurance Run 55K (for me) and 100K (for him). While Jeremy ended up having to DNF from altitude sickness, I pushed through almost 16 hours on that course to complete the 55K. It involved a mountain thunderstorm, a course mostly around 10,000 feet elevation, lots of ascents and descents, and most impactfully, a scree field for 3 miles from around miles 24-27 that just blew my mind. I'd never done anything as difficult as that, and I reference back to that place when I need strength.

At the end of July I had my first solo light backpacking trip. I'd like to call it fastpacking but (1) I wasn't that fast and (2) my pack ended up a little heavy for most fastpackers, at about 25 pounds. But for 2 days, I made my way through the 28 beautiful miles of the Maroon Bells Loop in Colorado outside Aspen, where I climbed over 4 12,000 ft high mountain passes, camping about 16 miles into the route. It felt great to take the plunge to just go do this alone and know I could take care of myself and think myself out of whatever situation I found myself in.

Our family headed to Seattle, Washington and Vancouver, Canada for vacation the first week of August.

I then met up with Jeremy for his adventure running Bigfoot 200. He finished in 108 hours of crossing the Cascade Mountain on some worn and some unknown new-to-humans trails. I slept about 15 hours over 5 days driving all over the remote national forest area to crew effectively, and then paced 45 hard miles during the race with him. It was a blast! It was also completely exhausting and I'm not sure I feel like it's something I want to do again.

Because after that race, the next 2 months were spent trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I had actually been into doctors in May asking the same question, but now the symptoms were so much stronger. Severe fatigue, falling asleep randomly, lethargy, cuts that weren't healing. We now think I had a Vitamin D deficiency that must have suddenly gotten so much worse from the trauma of Bigfoot 200 week.

Once we took enough blood from me to figure out that was it, the super doses of Vitamin D they put me on made me a new person. But by then, my base was gone and my weight was still up 10 lbs! I produced a great Showdown Half in October and then started working with a dietician. The 10 pounds were gone within 8 weeks thanks to her help. But in order to focus on that, I was still recovering from Vitamin D deficiency and had resorted to daily walking to at least stay active.

During September, I ran the Rough Creek Trail Half Marathon, even though I was clearly not better and suffered from serious fatigue at mile 10. But I was happy when I finished!

At the end of October, I produced the Big Cedar Endurance Run. I was so beat down when the weather decided to kick all my runners in the balls for a second year, and this time it meant flash flooding 17 hours into the 100 miler where water was up at their chest level. Big Cedar second year was canceled. First year had 12 100 mile finishers. And cleaning out from a muddy wet race is just the worst. I can't just throw everything back in storage - it has to be cleaned, dried, soggy cardboard tossed, it's just a mess.

So in late November, after the Big Cedar mess, Sarah and I headed down to Wild Hare. I woke up race morning with a big knot in one calf, maybe from driving down, and dropped down to the 25K. It was a muddy race somewhat anyway, and I had more fun hanging with Sarah all morning.

In December, I had lots of travel. I went to Auburn, California and was present at the Western States 100 live lottery drawing, and I was able to run 4 miles of the course the day before the lottery.

Sarah and I went to the Houston area and completed the Brazos Bend 26.2 Trail Run. It was much more like a road run than trail - completely flat, well groomed dirt or gravel fire road. My feet felt beat up at the end but otherwise, we were good.

Then, I went to San Francisco mid-month right after that marathon and was able to get two good days of trail runs in at the Marin Headlands, on trails I hadn't done on my June trip there.

Then I ended the year producing another awesome New Years Double, the fifth year for the Double! The weather was almost as cold as a year ago BUT no rain. Perfect racing weather!

To Infinity and Beyond!

Now on to 2016. What will happen this year? Well, given I never saw the 2015 hiccups coming, who knows? But I bet it will be fun and memorable, because that's always a major focus of mine!