Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Revisiting past DNFs: HURT 100

Looking around at the clean shoes and eager faces at the start line of the HURT 100 is a little discouraging, knowing despite how chipper we all seemed at 5:55 a.m. that, very likely, fewer than half of us would cross the line to kiss the sign, and those of us who did would no longer have beach-ready feet. HURT is hard to finish, but that’s what the RDs want per the sign that you kiss upon finishing and what’s imprinted on the finishers’ buckle, “’Aole makou e ho'ohikiwale kela,” Hawaiian for, “We wouldn't want it to be easy.” 
The HURT sign at the finish. Photo: me. 
This year the finishing percentage almost reached 50% (60 finishers out of 121 starters), the highest finishing rate ever (average is closer to 40%). During the first and second loop we joked on course about it being “HURT Light” although that joking stopped by the third lap. Even in a dry year, which this was, the tedious technical repetitiveness of HURT makes it a mental challenge to keep heading out loop after loop. Compare HURT’s finishing rate to other races considered to be the toughest 100s, like Hardrock (with very different qualifying standards, so hard to compare), which often boasts a finishing rate over 70%.  Besides the trail itself, a number of factors contribute to why HURT’s finishing rate is so low:
  1.  The weather in Hawaii in January (heat and humidity vs. snow and cold back home). 80 degrees with 80% humidity feels really warm if coming from real winter.
  2.  A January 100 is tough to prepare for—lots of your running buddies are taking a down season. Throw in the holidays and travel, and there are a lot of distractions, along with the shortest, coldest days of the year to train. 
  3. The lure of the beach, and the simple fact that loop courses close to an urban area and the beach are relatively easy to drop from—drop and you could be ocean-side with drink in hand in 20 minutes vs. drop at the wrong spot at Bighorn and receive an offer to hike out with the aid station crew and horses the following day.
  4. The loop. Every time you leave an aid station you have to head up one of three climbs, which after the second or third loop, you have memorized and might dread.  And each aid station can be driven to so it’s likely your crew is there with a car. It's a really easy race to drop from, although the aid station volunteers will try to persuade you otherwise.
Honolulu. The course is somewhere in those mountains in the background, dangerously close to the beach or your hotel. Photo: me.
I DNF'ed HURT in 2011 after 60 miles. Looking back it’s easy to second guess my decision, but at the time, it what was I thought I needed to do. The year prior I’d torn half-way through my posterior tibial tendon, and it became increasingly painful on loop 3; continuing on it seemed to not be in the long-term best interest of my ankle or 2011 season. Linda and I headed to Maui after HURT and the rest of that Hawaii trip was not as much fun as it could have been, as I dwelt upon my DNF; DNF's really can suck the fun out of destination races. I went back to Hawaii later that year for my cousin’s wedding, and one rainy November morning ran the course from Paradise Park (AS 1) to Nu'uana (AS 2) and back. I swore after that muddy, slippery run that I would never run HURT again. Why needlessly suffer?  Each year though, in January, as friends entered and succeeded at HURT, I had a little twinge of feeling like I was missing out. So, this past summer when I was home sick in bed (and still dealing with a torn hamstring tendon attachment after Comrades), I saw Denise post somewhere on social media about throwing her name in for HURT, and within minutes did the same. FOMO at its finest.
The HURT trails on a rainy day in 2011. We lucked out this year. I think this is also part of the section leading into Paradise Park that has now been graveled over. I've had nightmares about this section. Photo: me.
Training and the Build-up
I often complain that my training isn't ideal, but the lead-up to HURT was especially not ideal. The World 100K broke me. I’d face-planted in the Seattle airport en route to Doha and my knee ballooned up such that it looked like I had an alien coming out of my kneecap. The alien child disappeared before the race start, but my knee was left bruised and swollen. Hard to believe, but running 100K on the hardest surface imaginable with a ton of fluid on your knee is likely going to cause some lingering problems. Immediately following the race in Doha I couldn't bend my knee without some painful medial clicking. 
My knee about an hour before go-time in Doha after a lot of ice and ace-bandaging. Something's still not quite right in there.
The clicking led to an MRI to make sure it wasn't a meniscus tear (it's not), and various other visits to a variety of specialists (PT, acupuncture, body work, sorcery) to figure out the issue.  The World 100K was on Nov 21, and trying to deal with an issue didn't allow much time to get in decent 100-mile training mileage, and my mileage leading into Worlds was never very high as I was still building from my hamstring injury this summer. I hit 70 miles just once in training for Worlds; my mileage was closer to 50 most weeks.

The knee clicking never really went away (turns out it's not really knee, but likely some tendon attachments, hamstring or adductor of some sort), but the pain eventually did, so after a 3-week "recovery" from Worlds was able to get in a good 3-week training block ending on Jan 3 in time for a 2-week taper. My longest run was 25 miles, and I had 3 runs over 20 miles. I finally bought a plane ticket a couple weeks out when it seemed like I could extend and lift my left leg enough to clear rocks and roots. My HURT build-up post-worlds looked something like this:

Nov 21: World 100K, left knee was wonky and painfully clicking immediately following.

Week ending 7 weeks out: 0 miles, save an MRI, PT and body work sessions.

Week ending 6 weeks out: more PT visits, and the equivalent of maybe 15 miles on elliptical/treadmill hiking.

Week ending 5 weeks out: 30 miles uphill hiking on treadmill (15% grade @ ~14:30 pace—I hike with a purpose when on the treadmill and they are medium-hard effort workouts; a couple of botched runs, culminating in a fall on the good kneecap on trails Sunday because I couldn't lift my left knee high enough to clear obstacles) for about 45 miles total. The run on Sunday left me curled in a sobbing heap in the middle of the trail, but my friend Darla offered the sage advice as I lay there sobbing on the frozen trail, “You know, things can turn around quickly.” It was on this run that I decided to pull the plug on HURT, and later Darla’s words convinced me to hold out a little longer. Things did seem to suddenly turn around, and I picked up the mileage the next 3 weeks.

Week ending 4 weeks out: 67 miles, long run at Smith Rock on trail with ups and downs; slightly more hopeful, some hill work and more uphill hiking. 
Running in scenic IL over the holidays. I actually think farmland is pretty, it's just not great HURT training. 
Week ending 3 weeks out: 75 miles, much of this home over the holidays, which means flat runs on country roads in rural Illinois. I also included in this mileage the “workout” I did on Sunday en route home from Illinois, where I had a few hour lay-over in Atlanta and tried to walk every step of the Atlanta airport. Atlanta is a big airport and I didn't quite make it (because I back-tracked to grab Chipotle). I ended up with blisters (I switched into running shoes mid-walk) and some back chafing from the over-weight carry-on I was lugging around. Oh, the things we do...

Week ending 2 weeks out: 82 miles, most of which were on uneven snow, which really worked all those little connectors. I ended up with very few miles on technical trails, but the snow was a good substitute for tiring out those little things that get tired on HURT trails. I kept doing some uphill treadmill hiking with one or two sessions each week of 60-90 minutes at 15% under 15:00 pace. One 26 miler on uneven packed snow on Jan 1, and 22 miles of long hill repeats on Jan 3.
The weather wasn't HURT-like, but a week of running on uneven snow was great for working all those little stabilizing muscles. 
Last 2 weeks: 2 week taper with a 13 mile run the Saturday before at the MadAss, a speed session, and a hill session.

Sauna training throughout. I had also sauna trained for Worlds, so was in good "sauna" shape. I'm a firm believer in spending quality time in the sauna before a hot race. I like to spend about 50 minutes (I escape every 15-20 minutes to shower off and refill water) in a ~180 degree sauna  5-6 days/week. This is a major time suck.

Prior to the race, I looked up my 2011 splits as a frame of reference. They were 4:24, 4:54, 6:05. My thought was to go out a bit slower this year, knowing that getting through laps 4 and 5 would be the hardest.  My goals had little to do with place this year. Yes, I’m always hoping to be competitive, and deep down I wanted to win and run a decent time, but I also wanted my “competitors” to succeed. At HURT is there is a general sense of camaraderie in terms of trying to keep everyone advancing forward to kiss the sign, and you really sense it at the pre-race meeting, and aid stations throughout. All ultras have that at some level, but it does feel stronger at HURT to me. The RDs and volunteers genuinely care if you succeed and will go out of their way help you make it happen. My only real goal this year was to kiss that damn sign, and check HURT off the list of past failures. The women's field was stacked, but I wasn't concerned about how it would all shake out. After DNF’ing at HURT before, finishing was primary; “racing” was secondary, and in a field of friends, I really just wanted us all to reach our goals. 
Me and Little D enjoying some Hawaii sun in our matching Julbo shades on a shake-out run on the Pillbox trail. Photo: John Odle.
I got to Hawaii on Monday and enjoyed a few days on the North Shore. I was working, so didn't have much time to explore, but it was a nice way to get used to the weather, have a change in working environment, and to have that up-late-packing/early-morning-flight experience several days out from the race. As much as I travel, I still suck at packing. Wednesday, I moved from the North Shore down to Kailua for a fun day with Denise and crew before picking up my crew of Jason and Mikio on Thursday and Friday and a move to Kaneohe. I've stayed in Waikiki before, and, in general, avoiding Waikiki was the key to seeing a side of Oahu I really liked. It was fun to see a lot of friends at the pre-race meeting; the women’s field was a strong one, but more importantly filled with friends and the out-and-back nature of the course ensured the opportunity to cheer on friends in passing throughout.
My friend, Yukari, who I met at Hasetsune Cup in Japan. She wound up 5th, and another Japanese runner 3rd.
Onto the Race:
The first loop felt easy; the climbs weren't nearly as steep as my memory of them, and I didn't feel like I was working too hard. On the first climb, I quickly found myself in the lead, kind of what I had told myself not to do, but I felt in control.  About half-way down the first descent a female voice greeted me from behind, and assumed it was Kerrie, but then asked (hard to turn around on these trails without a face-plant) and wasn't surprised to hear it was Nicola, instead. After a couple minutes, she passed, and floated down the technical trail like I was standing still, with Jamil Coury. This continued for the first 2 laps, where I would pass Nicola and Jamil climbing out of the aid stations, and they would scamper past going down. In my head I’m a decent downhill runner, and not so strong on uphills, but Nicola schooled me on the downs, and I felt strong going up. I think my inability to descend technical downhills quickly probably saved my quads from earlier destruction.

Coming into Nu'uana with Jamil Coury right behind me during the first loop. Jamil got ahead of me in loop 2 or 3, but then we passed him taking a nap on the trail somewhere during the night. Photo: Mikio.
I came through lap 1 in 4:04, which was a lot faster than I had planned and caused a little alarm, although I felt good. I was still eating and drinking well, so kept moving well through lap 2, and hooked up with Sam for the second half of this lap. Nicola was still close, although catching me closer to the bottoms of the climbs. Sam was really the only person, besides my pacer, that I spent any significant amount of time with so it was nice to have someone to talk to for the last half of lap 2. He did remark that he was a ways ahead of his goal pace, as was I, and would likely suffer later (sorry, Sam). My only fall came in lap 2 coming into the Nu’uana aid station, and although I face planted, I didn't hit anything very hard. My biggest fear, after the fall before Worlds and on the other knee in December, was falling on my knee caps. I still have what feel like Mike and Ikes floating around in there and I didn't think my bursae could handle it.
The classic HURT root shot. What I refer to as the "root tangle up top". This photo I took in 2011, but it hasn't changed; maybe a few more roots. When dry, this section is not horrible. When wet, the roots are slick as snot and not so much fun. You pass through this section what feels like 50 times. 
There is a lot more to HURT than those classic HURT shots of the root tangles up top, but because of the course design, every section you love or hate, you pass 5-10 times. The first time I ran HURT I think I expected it to be 100% covered in roots, so it seemed less technical than I'd feared. This time, it seemed less steep, but more technical than my memory of it. And the steps. There were more than a few occasions when I thanked my parents for giving me tall genes, because there are parts of the course where being 5'2" would be a disadvantage as there are metal-edged steps, which would be waist-high if you were less tall. 
Finishing loop 2 with Mikio ready to help out. My crew was on top of it all day.  Photo: Jason. 
Loop 3 was fairly uneventful. Nicola and I started out Loop 3 close together, but I had 15 minutes or so on her by Paradise Park, and then coming out of Nu'uana AS I didn't see another female until I'd been out of the aid station for 45+ minutes, and it wasn't Nicola. I was bummed to later hear she'd dropped, and also bummed to stop seeing some other friends on this loop. That's one of the discouraging parts of HURT--when you stop seeing your friends in passing, and knowing what that means. At some point, I decided I needed a pick-me-up and I turned on my music to try to motivate the pace until I'd have someone to sing to me (Jason had promised to sing me Taylor Swift songs), and I made it in under 5 hours, so was slowing, but the wheels were still attached. 

The wheels came off in the 4th and 5th loops. Picking up Jason was a boost, but as it turns out, I don't know enough Taylor Swift songs to even recognize them, and I made the mistake at Paradise Park AS on the 4th lap to down a ton of liquid calories at once (a combo of miso soup, sprite, and coconut water). I'd been feeling slightly nauseous for several miles, and the past hour of calories (which weren't much) all came back up on the way out of the aid station. After that point I might have consumed 300 calories in the last 33 miles/11 hours.  30 calories an hour isn't going to get you very far especially when you're in an already-depleted state. I went in feeling a couple pounds heavy, so perhaps I burned off that extra winter fat during those hours. During loop 5 I got super sleepy and told Jason I needed to listen to music to motivate. I was so tired, that I didn't even notice my shuffle was on repeat and played one MGMT song for over an hour. Jason did, though. :)

Loop 5 is all about the "last time." Like, in this case, "the 10th and last time I have to cross this darn river." Photo: Mikio.
And the last time I have to go downhill, even mildly. Here, a few minutes from the finish, and descending very delicately. Photo: Mikio. 

The last 2 loops were a calorie-deficient slog, and I felt bad for Jason, but at long last, and well after daylight, we made it up the final climb, and one final painful descent into the Nature Center. My quads were trashed by the last loop, but held up surprisingly well for the lack of long runs and downhill pounding in training. I was decently uphill trained after so much treadmill hiking, but not necessarily the other way around. I could tell my heels were getting trashed, too, but viewing the damage mid-race does little good. Jason tried to motivate me with time goals, but I was cringing with every step, and not that motivate-able. I finished in 26:22, which is a time I'm happy with, and ranks 5th on the all-time list. I do kick myself a bit after-the-fact for having the last 2 laps turn into such a slow slog. I went into the last loop with a 3+ hour lead and I was moving slowly enough that I was worried Alicia would catch me. Luckily the race ended at 100 miles, because she gained a ton of ground on me in the last lap and finished 2nd in 28:10. I'm a little horrified by my splits (4:04, 4:27, 5:00, 6:05, 6:46). Oddly, I more or less stayed in 8th place overall throughout those last 2 laps: Alicia and Eric Purpus were flying on loop 5, but overall, most of the rest of us were crawling.  Sometimes it's just about getting done, regardless of whether it's pretty. But now I want sub-25!

Finally, kissing that sign. Photo: Jason. 
The awards for the top 3 male and female finishers at HURT are always something local and hand-crafted, and in its 15-year history, always unique. Had I known that I was racing for a ukulele, my approach to the race might have changed, and I might have choked from the pressure of racing for the coolest award ever--a hand-made concert ukulele made from a koa tree that had fallen near the course made especially for us. Luckily they weren't revealed until the awards banquet. They are beautiful instruments, and I look forward to learning how to play mine. So far, I've only figured out tuning, and Dueling Banjos, but plan to branch out soon. Thanks HURT--you went above above and beyond once again. 

Top 3 M and F finishers with our ukuleles. Best awards ever. Photo: Bob McAllaster.
Things that worked for me:
Jason keeps the FB and twitter followers up-to-date on the Oregon contingent. Photo by Mikio.
1. My crew was awesome. I can tend to look a bit serious/focused during races (I’m smiling inside, really), and I may have forgotten to acknowledge their outfits during the race (I expected nothing less, especially because Jason had been looking for a grass skirt since landing, and had Jason not been in a grass skirt, I would have been surprised). Mikio and Jason were the best crew one could ask for (not to insult past crews, of course…), and I hope to return the favor someday. A huge thanks to Mikio and Jason for their super support. They were also a hit on the interwebs and twittersphere with their photos and live reporting. 
Can you believe I failed to comment on their attire until after the race? Bad runner! Photo from Jason.
2. A&D Ointment—the preventative diaper rash ointment (not the curative stuff—the preventative—A&D makes both). THIS STUFF IS AMAZING. And cheap. And available everywhere. I had zero chafing between my legs, which has never happened in a 100. A hundred mile issue solved. TRY IT! 

3. The Montrail Bajada II(or soon to be) released. I’m lucky to wear the men’s sample size (9) so have been wearing this shoe for several months. The foam is a little cushier than previous Bajada models, and the tongue is now gusseted and has lace loops on 2 sides to keep it in place (in the original model it would often slide to the side). Previous models also had some blowout issues (I never had issues with this) and the upper has been completely revamped, and is “sleeker”. I love this shoe. Full disclosure: I did end up with bad heel blisters. But, this all happened after mile 60. I had zero issues the first 60 miles, and also never once took my shoes off the entire 100 miles. I double knotted them at the start and didn’t untie them until I crossed the finish. I stopped eating/drinking the last 40 miles because of nausea; blisters are linked to hydration issues in my experience. So, I don’t blame my heels issues on the shoes (or socks), but on the combo of trench foot that developed from being constantly wet for 100 miles (sweating heavily) and then dehydration. 
The Bajada II's were great for HURT and are my current favorite shoes. 
4. Injinji see above under shoes about heel blisters; I blame this on hydration issues. So, my heels weren't pretty, but my toes and pedicure were still beach-ready. 

5. Clif Recovery drink. I used this for a bulk of my calories during much of the first 3 laps, which was not necessarily intended, but it tasted good. I think what I need to work on is getting more solid food in the first half of a 100 so that there’s something inside me. At some point it just seems that my stomach is just too empty. I don’t know if there’s anything to this but when I did start to get sick, there was almost nothing to throw up. I did focus on real foods in the first lap (was trying to get down PB&Js), but when it’s hot, I struggle. Every race I say I need to work on this, so at some point, I need to follow through as nausea starting around mile 60 is the death of me in almost every 100 I've run. The Clif Recovery drink was still going down OK in sips, and I should have been more diligent in getting a bottle down between aid stations.

The roots are still there all night, they just get harder to see. I got very sleepy and very trippy during this part. A bright light helped me manage to stay awake and never quite fall despite about 50 toe clips.Photo: Jason.
6. Lights: The only thing I put some time into planning out pre-HURT was my lighting plan. My plan worked out well (I borrowed lights and switched them out every aid station), with some user error thrown in. For HURT you want the brightest thing out there, and want it on high, so be prepared to switch it out every couple of hours, which means every aid station at HURT at night (unless you're still running 4:30 laps--I wasn't). My one failure in this regard was that I'd never even turned on one of the lights, and didn't know how to work it. Of the lights I tried out (I had an arsenal), the Petzl NAO was the brightest. I still prefer the Petzl Tikka RXP, in general, because it's super bright, lasts much longer, and is less weight, but on HURT trails, it pays to have a NAO, but take a few extra NAO batteries and switch them frequently. Because you spend so much time staring intently at the rooty trails all day and night, my eyes got really tired, and the brighter the light, the more awake I stayed. 

7. Sauna training: HURT was hot and I was soaked by mile 2, but the heat never really bothered me, besides maybe not helping on the nutrition front. I spent a lot of quality time in the sauna (and also used an ice bandana, which helped both with cooling and possibly the trench foot issues). 

8. Uphill hiking on the treadmill: Even though there are lots of long climbs around Bend, I really like uphill hiking on the treadmill. Walking at 15% grade at a quick pace--I often do 14:38 (4.1 mph) or 14:17 (4.2 mph) pace--for 4 - 6 miles is a great way to get ready to hike uphill quickly in races. When I go out on long runs, I never end up hiking much (I use a  mix of running/hiking), and doing a dedicated hiking workout on the treadmill is a great way to practice hiking quickly for an extended period. I often get into an ultra, and find myself hiking and think, "Why don't I practice this?" I hiked more for HURT than I have for any other race, in part because I couldn't run in early December because of my clicking knee, but could still hike on the treadmill. 

I said I wanted to check HURT off the list and get my finish and never go back, but I can’t say that there isn't already a part of me that wants to end up in Hawaii next January and work on a more evenly split race. If I don’t end up racing next year, I may just learn enough on the ukulele to provide some on-course entertainment during the late night hours, hanging out somewhere up in the root tangle on top playing dueling ukuleles. 

Beautiful ukulele! Or, just a way to sneak in a photo of Sam, who is also quite pretty. 
As always, thanks to my amazing sponsors: Montrail, Mountain Hardwear, Injinji, Clif Bar, Julbo, and Nuun for the support! 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Hasetsune Cup 2014 (and 2013)

I understand why I don't blog with any frequency. Blog posts don't need to be books, but alas, here's another chapter:

About two miles into Hasetsune, I was worried as I looked up at the first vertical wall of a climb. From last year, I remembered that Hasetsune was really tough, but I’ve never run a race two years in a row where I remembered so little about the course.  Shortly before the start of the race, I turned to Max and told him that the hardest part of the course was from kilometers 30-55, and that the first 30K was” runnable.”  The first statement is likely true, although it’s hard to differentiate between the first 30K and the section from 30 – 55, or from 55 – 71.5. The first kilometer downhill through town is fast, but this quickly transitions into a climb for a couple of kilometers, and then, abruptly, to the first of many steep climbs—hands-on-knees steep. I looked up the first one, about 2 miles in, and at the long line of racers in front of me hiking, and my first thought was, “Max is going to kick my ass.” This first ascent still wasn't enough to jog my recollection of the climbs to come. In the first "runnable" 30K the climbs were relentless. Last year must have been so painful that I simply blocked out the memory of it, as this year it was like running the first half of the course for the very first time.  At every hill I thought to myself, “You've got to be kidding me.” Followed closely by, “Max is going to kick my ass.”
See just how mad Max was? 
While races without aid are not unheard of in the US (Plain 100, as an example), the set-up of Hasetsune is. Whereas Plain 100 has no aid, it also has little support on course, and no crowds of supporters, some dressed up in Mini Mouse costumes, shouting encouragement along the way. Hasetsune, in its 22nd year, is a big event in Japan; the 2,500 spots fill almost instantly online. The logistical support is high—in that there are many volunteers involved and a good amount of fan support along the way. It’s not like you see people the entire way, as you're usually enveloped in dense forest, but you do pass a handful of checkpoints where folks are out cheering, and also spots on the trail with volunteers taking down numbers. The course is impeccably marked with white signs (all in Japanese), and red arrows. Last year I did get slightly off course when I followed an errant sign to a shrine, but this year, I used common sense and followed all signs of the same size, color, and not made of wood (the permanent trail/tourist signs). Once it gets dark there are red blinking lights (like the kind you’d use as a rear light on a bike), that were spaced frequently enough to rarely doubt whether you're on course. Aid is minimal, in that they allow you just 1.5 L of fluid (water or sports drink) at the 2nd of 3 major check points. 

A wee exaggeration but if all the other signs are on laminated white paper, following a random wooden sign 60 Km in is a bad idea. 
Studying the course profile of Hasetsune is deceptive. It looks like an undulating gradual climb up to a couple of peaks, and then a gradual descent to the finish. This isn't what the course feels like or is actually like. While there are peaks, the continual short steep ups and downs make it hard to know which are the peaks and which are just part of the incessant zig-zagging up and down. Most climbs aren't super long, but it's almost all up and down. Over the 71.5 Km course, there's over 30,000 feet of ascent and descent, which equates to almost 700 feet/mile. 
Team Montrail/Mountain Hardwear Japan-U.S. in a rainbow of colors at the start. Photo by Sho Fujimaki.
Last year’s race was a challenge for me for different reasons than this year’s. I was fitter last year, after racing well at Western States and training for hills through the summer for UTMB. Despite a disappointing UTMB, my DNF wasn't for lack of fitness. I’d done a lot of hill work. However, a work training I was co-facilitating the week before Hasetsune made it so that I couldn't arrive until Friday late afternoon, and I didn’t sleep well Friday or Saturday nights before the Sunday start. The technical nature of the course dictates that a lot of concentration is required to stay upright, and for me, the combination of jet lag, poor sleep, and tired eyes made for a very sleepy Amy once the sun went down. The race starts at 1:00 on Sunday afternoon (Monday is a holiday), so that everyone gets the nighttime running experience. It gets dark around 5:30, which means that for all but the fastest, at least half of the race will be run in the dark. So, for the last 40 Km, I struggled to stay awake. It was also a bit warmer last year, and I ran out of fluids long before Checkpoint 2 (43 Km), where they allow you 1.5 liters of water or sports drink.  Last year I led through about half-way, to be passed by 4 women, but rallied late to finish third in 9:44. I felt like I disappointed the Montrail/MHW hosts, and myself, but it wasn't a complete train wreck, just not quite what I'd hoped due to some very sleepy miles. After last year I wanted to come back, focus on more specific hill training, and stay awake the entire race.

However, the injury that turned Comrades into a long hike kept me out for almost 2 months this summer. Having suffering a fairly significant (1.8 cm) tear to my semimembranous tendon attachment (one of the hamstrings), I only began running again around August 1. I worked diligently all summer doing physical therapy, without feeling like it was healing, but a PRP (platelet rich plasma) injection the end of July really seemed to be the thing that helped it turn the corner. Trying to be smart, I eased back into running keeping my mileage quite low through August, and into September only got up above 50 miles once or twice going into Hasetsune on Oct 12. I was definitely not where I wanted to be, but I’d committed to the race months before, and the carrot out there of a Japan race in October had given my start back into training a goal on which to focus. And despite being polar opposites, I wanted to race prior to the World 100K Championships and this seemed like a good distance option, as it would also build confidence as a long run, and (hopefully) more time on my feet than will be required at the 100K.

Running near Yaya Village up in the hills above Addis. Really interesting glimpse into some aspects of how/where Ethiopians train.
In addition to injury, sometimes life gets in the way, and besides the injury, work and life has been hectic.  I decided to move to Bend, OR at some point over the summer and found a house to buy in early September. Between September 11 and Hasetsune on Oct 12, I had a 3-week work trip to Ethiopia, 5 days back home to close on the Bend house, a couple of days at work back in Portland, and then turn around and leave for Japan. I can't complain though, because Ethiopia is one of my favorite places to go for work. Addis Ababa is set at 7500 feet, and work permitted me stay at a high altitude training center, Yaya Athletes Village, so I was able to enjoy early morning runs up around 9000 feet in the peaceful hills above Addis, “long” runs on the weekends (my long runs were never as long as I intended—I topped out at 17 miles, but 17 miles at 9,000 feet felt like a lot more to me), and had the luxury of a decent gym, which is not always the case in the places work takes me. So, I had a decent 3-weeks of training in Ethiopia. And, Ethiopia is just a cool place to visit. I also got to spend a few days in Jijiga, and surrounding communities, near the Somalian border (couldn't run there), but a cool experience, regardless, and a good reminder of why I love my real job.

Cute little goat herder we came across while out on the run. 
During my few days back in Portland, I had one particularly good run with the Tuesday night group, that left me feeling oddly confident. It wasn't anything special, we just ran up Leif the way we always run up Leif, and I even bailed when they jumped on the trail to head back and cut the run short, but I felt strong and fluid, like I hadn't felt in months, and felt like I was really running again. Perhaps that one run was enough to convince myself that I was strong enough to tackle Hasetsune. The missing links were long runs (since June 1, I’d done one 20+ mile run in the Enchantments in August, a 26 mile run in Bend in September, and then one 17 mile run in Ethiopia. 3 long runs in 4 months), decent weekly mileage, and any steep hill training, but it’s all I had. I focused on believing that running is 90% mental.

Max and I arrived in Japan on Thursday, and spent Friday doing interviews at the Tokyo Columbia/MHW/Montrail office for Japan trail running magazines and websites.  The trail scene in Japan is a vibrant one, and growing, probably similar to the growth seen here in the US in recent years. I’ve had the chance to meet the MHW/Montrail team on 3 visits to Japan in the past 2 years, and they are fabulous hosts. Montrail is the number one trail brand in Japan, with the Bajada being the number one seller, so an interesting difference from the market here in the states.
One of the websites, DogsorCaravan, prides itself on being a Japanese version of iRunfar, down to the style of pre-race interview.

Max was happy to come across so many cats in Japan, this during some interviews in the Columbia office.
My pre-race plan was to start out a bit slower than last year in hopes of a stronger middle section. Time-wise, my training had been nowhere near where it had been last year, so I was hoping for a similar time if I had a good day, taking into account last year’s struggles. I tried to remind myself that muscle memory is a grand thing, and that ultra-distance races are as much mental as physical. The last thing I’d done before I’d gone to bed Saturday night was to check my splits from 2013, so I’d know roughly where I wanted to be.

The start. Note the creative and colorful use of KT tape. Very popular in Japan.
I felt like I started out controlled, but came into the first major check point at 3:00, 3 minutes faster than 2013. Likewise, I hit the next major check point (and water stop) at 42'ishK about 5 minutes faster than my 2013 split, and without running quite as dry as I had in 2013. The weather was warm at the start, but cooler than 2013, which also helped on the hydration piece, which is one of the challenges at Hasetsune—carrying enough to make it more than half-way without a chance to refill (each person is allotted 1.5L of water or sports drink), on a course that is going to take 9+ hours to finish.

A typhoon was on the way, and heavy rain was expected starting on Monday morning, but held off for many of us. Hasetsune has a 24 hour cutoff (yes, for just 71.5 Km, but this course is tough and many finish close to the cutoffs). The 2014 edition was much foggier than 2013, and visibility up top was a challenge at times once the sun went down, about 4.5 hours in. I used my Petzl Tikka RXP, which has the reactive lighting technology, and then a one AA hand-held Fenix. I love the Tikka, but in fog, no headlight is ideal, and the handheld was key in filling in the light from below.

Somewhere early on. Photo by DogsorCaravan.
So, while I assumed I would be slower than last year based on fitness, I guess it goes to show you that muscle memory is a great thing, and that ultra races are, indeed, often as much about your mental place as your physical. I went into the race with somewhat lowered expectations, but ready to accept what the day gave me, and that I shouldn't count myself out at the start. I surprised myself and felt relatively good for much of the race. It was hard, but my quads didn't die, and I was able to run faster than 2013 even in the earlier sections. I often feel that ultra runners, as a bunch are often over-raced or over-trained, so perhaps there's something to be said for years of experience and the benefit of a couple of months off (usually forced by injury, but injuries may be the key to mentally recharging us) to refresh and re-energize.
Supporters cheering at Checkpoint 1. 
Like last year, and as I mentioned to Max, for me the hardest part of this course does come after the water stop, namely on the last big steep descent following the last steep climb that includes some chains. I kept waiting for the chain section, but each chain-less climb helped indicate that there was a least one steep final climb to go (the chains are attached for hikers to hang on to). It's a super rocky section, that I would struggle to hike down without falling, and I always pussy-foot my way down it, and watch at least a few guys scamper past. I'm not sure how much I could improve on this section, as it's just not my cup of tea. Where I do think I could improve is in just ascending faster, as this is a section that one can train specifically for, and for which I hadn't trained. Despite my lack of steep hill training (both up and down), I didn't struggle on the downs, except in the super-technical sections, and that wasn't a quad issue, but a fear and agility issue.

Relieved, I finally passed the natural spring (another place on the course to get water, but being in the last section of the race, is nice, but not entirely helpful if you're already dehydrated by that point. It does indicate that you're approaching the 3rd major checkpoint, and from there is the "easiest" part of Hasetsune, which is mainly downhill, but also with some flat and steep ups, that remind you that you are still at Hasetsune, a race that keeps on giving.
In the final 10K or so, you do pass through a couple of small communities as you head back to finish from where you started. Single loop courses have always had a strong appeal to me. Photo by DogsorCaravan.
Throughout the race I had no idea how far behind me the 2nd place woman was. I'd seen a couple of women in the first mile of the race, which might have spurred my faster-than-intended start. There was a lot of chatter in aid stations, but being all in Japanese, I had no idea what was being said. The last section seemed not as gloriously downhill as last year, but I remembered more of this part from last year than previous, and while it does seem to go on forever, there is comfort in knowing that your'e eventually going to be spit out in town and a couple of blocks from the finish. I did finally find the finish, in 9:31:18, faster than my 9:44:47 from last year. After struggling all summer with injury, and sub-optimal training in August and September, I was thrilled with my finish. Second place (福田 由香理) was not far behind in 9:35:50, and 3rd (江田 良子) in 9:49:29. Full results are here.

First female and thrilled to be back racing. Photo by DogsorCaravan.
Happy to be done and to be greeted by friends at the finish. Photo by DogsorCaravan.
Max's first comment to me after the race was along the lines of "WTF?", but Max has not, in fact, attempted to kick my ass. We did laugh about it afterwards (I was laughing....he was sort of laughing).

On the men’s side, Ruy Ueda crushed the course record from last year ( 7:19), almost getting in under 7:00 at 7:01. I met Ruy briefly at the Shibamata 100K in June of last year. His first ultra, he came in behind Meghan and me by a ways. I believe he met the Montrail/MHW folks who had come out to watch me at that race, and was on the team by last year’s Hasetsune where he was 6th. Still in his first year and a half of ultras, Ruy is 21 and has a super bright future in front of him. Like Max, he likes to mix things up, and is as likely to jump on the track for a 10K as run a technical mountain race. He’s definitely one to watch on the ultra circuit in the coming years. Setting the Hasetsune course record is a huge deal in Japan, probably much like setting a record at Western States in the US. Ruy wants to come race in the US in the spring, and I can’t wait to see how he lines up against a competitive US field. Another Montrail/MHW team member, Shuko, was 3rd, and Max was 8th, which was good for a team win.
Team Montrail won all 3 Hasetsune Cups. Men's, Women's and Team. Photo by Sho Fujimaki.
Top 5 women. I'm big in the U.S., but I'm a giant in Japan. Photo from my iPhone.
I would like to do this race again, and like I said last year, to train more specifically, namely include some steep hands-on-knees hiking, and just more vertical. I’d like to break 9 hours on this course, or at get in the vicinity. After the race I looked up past times, just to see who holds the course record. The women’s course record is 8:54, set by one of Japan’s top ultrarunners, Norimi Sakurai, who has won Hasetsune 5 times (in addition to the 2007 IAU 100K world championships in 7:00, and holds track world records in both the 100K and 6-hour). Definitely not an "easy" record to go after, but one I would merely like to get closer to, and see if I'm capable of getting close to the 9-hour mark. 

As always, thanks to my sponsors, and especially Montrail and Mountain Hardwear. The Montrail/Mountain Hardwear staff and team in Japan have been wonderful hosts to me on my visits to Japan. I can't thank them enough. And to Clif Bar, Injinji, Flora and Nuun for their continued support. To all of the Japan Montrail/MHW teammates, but also to Max King who was an awesome travel companion. Max has a lot of fans out there and for good reason--he's a really nice guy. I'm a fan, too, despite his comments about cats. On a gear note, I wore the Spring 2015 Bajadas for this race and I love these shoes. They improve on the current Bajada, and have some significant improvements (tongue, upper, foam) that make them a shoe I would wear in any trail race.

The Spring 2015 Montrail Bajada. Love it!
And a few more photos from the trip:
Somewhere famous....A shrine near the hotel.
The view from our hotel in Tokyo.
Barrels of sake.
Food is always an adventure in Japan. We had some amazing meals (luckily this was not part of one). 
The last night in Tokyo. With Tomo, me, Max, and Daigo.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Patagonia Run 2014: A Sparkling Argentinian Hellgate

In an interview recently, someone asked me what my 2014 highlight was to date, and Patagonia Run 100K was definitely it. Injury and lots of life stresses have taken control over the last few months, but before I head out of the country again (3 weeks in Ethiopia for work), close on a house in Bend, OR, head out of the country again (Japan for a race), move to Bend, and then head out of the country again (Doha for the World 100K) all before Thanksgiving, here's my race report on the Patagonia Run 100K.

I was signed up to run Lake Sonoma in April, but then was invited to run the Patagonia Run 100K near San Martin de los Andes, Argentina on April 12. California or Patagonia? I couldn't pass up an opportunity to return to a region of the world I love. If you've followed my blog or actually know me, you might know that I have a soft spot in my heart for South America, especially what is considered to be the southern cone (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay). So, when this invite came to return to Patagonia, even though I'd just been down there in February to race El Cruce near Puerto Varas, Chile, I jumped at the chance. Like Puerto Varas, I had also visited San Martin de los Andes back in 2003 while traveling home to the US after 3+ years in Paraguay. Being back there further reinforced just how much I love that part of the world, and how very lucky I am to have these opportunities to do what I love: travel to amazing places and explore those places on foot. Plus I'd run Lake Sonoma the year prior, and with Comrades and Western States on the horizon, didn't necessarily need another high profile race to freak out about.

With over 2000 racers divided among 6 race distances (10K, 21K, 42K, 63K, 83K, 100K), the Patagonia Run offers something for everyone. The races start near and finish in San Martin de los Andes, a town in the Patagonian lake district; a 2-hour flight and 3-hour drive from Buenos Aires.  I was surprised to see how many people had actually flown in from Buenos Aires just to race a 10K, although San Martin is a tourism destination, and I might do the same in the US to spend a lovely fall weekend away. I had been invited to run the 100K (actually 103K or 64 miles), which had about 400 entrants and started at midnight on Friday, much like one of my favorite races, the Hellgate 100K++, held each December in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Like is often the case at Hellgate, the Patagonia Run was shaping up to be a cold one, with temps around freezing, the potential for precipitation, and plenty of river crossings to keep the feet frozen. Conditions I sort of look forward to.
View out the bus window on the drive from Bariloche to San Martin de los Andes. Photo: me.
Getting to San Martin from Portland was fairly painless, or as painless as a 30-hour trip can be. I lucked into an empty middle row on the long Atlanta - Buenos Aires leg, which made the entire journey that much more pleasant and allowed me to stretch out and sleep, so after 3 flights, and a 3-hour drive from Bariloche, I arrived in San Martin on Wednesday evening feeling pretty rested. After a shake-out run and dinner, I slept hard. Thursday was filled with registration, a radio appearance, interviews, and a group run, and wasn't the day of lounging around that I had envisioned. The group run took us up to a look-out over Lake Lacar--the large lake upon which San Martin sits. While on the run, I quickly recognized it was a run I had done 11 years before when I'd stayed in San Martin while traveling home after Peace Corps. Talk about deja vu. Being in San Martin brought back a flood of memories from that trip that I'd all but forgotten. I'd been traveling with an Israeli guy I'd met on a barge in Chile, and as different as we were (he'd grown up on a kibbutz in Israel and worked as a horse therapist), we spent a fun few weeks traveling together. The post-PC trip through Patagonia and beyond was a great 2 month trip, that I easily could have extended into years, and love to continue building upon, even if years later.

Group run to a view point looking out over Lake Lacar. Photo: my phone.
I failed miserably in my bad self portrait series last year, so am working hard this year in order to catch up in time to put out the worst selfies of the year summary at the end of the year. Although seriously, I was taking selfies long before it was mainstream. This is a good one though, and I've got some other winners hidden away. Mauri, pictured here, took good care of us in Chile, and it was fun to connect with him again. Photo: me.
The same view, just without the group blocking it. Amazing how standing in a spot you've known before, but forgotten, can bring back so many memories. Photo: me.
Thursday and Friday went by too quickly, and the planned nap time and relaxation seemed to be consumed by registration, pre-race organizational details (drop bags, etc.), interviews, radio programs, group lunches, finishing up a write-up from El Cruce (I like to tie up one race before beginning another, and writing about them seems to do that in my mind, although I've failed in this case), and, in general, not much down time. Midnight starts are hard, in that it's not like an early morning start where you get a shortened night's sleep the night prior; you can hope for a nap during the day, but at some point during the race, the up-all-night feeling is bound to set in. That said, I've done one midnight start prior at Hellgate in 2011, had a great race there and loved the midnight start. Several times in the days leading up to the race I was asked about my thoughts about the start, and each time I talked about it being my favorite race format, because after running for so long in the dark, the sunrise fills you with energy and a renewed sense of purpose. I was hoping this would be true the second time around.
Pre-race interview and mate drinking session with Factor Running, a radio show from Buenos Aires. Photo: GuiaKmZero.com.
I did several interviews in Spanish, and like to think that people can understand me, but there was the one guy, who after hearing me speak, asked to conduct the interview in Spanish but that I should answer in English saying it would be better for all of us. Confidence shattered! Alas, most people humored me, and let me babble along in Spanish and seemed to understand what I was trying to say.

I usually reserve this pose for Hal, but it's hard to resist a double selfie.  Photo: me. :)
Doing my best to make sense during an interview. I love trying to communicate in Spanish, even if what I say may not completely convey what I think I'm saying. Photo by Alee Bazan.
I got a solid 8 hours of sleep both Wednesday and Thursday, but wasn't able to nap. I attempted to nap several times on Friday between 6 - 10 p.m., without actually falling asleep. I'm generally pretty good at napping, especially when kittens are involved, but I'm not good at forced naps when I feel like I should be sleeping, and the more I pleaded with myself to fall asleep, the less chance there was. So, I finally jumped out of bed at 10 p.m. hoping I wasn't screwed. Memories of Hasetsune Cup in Japan last October came to mind, where I start nodding off as soon as the sun went down, after a similar mid-week travel schedule. I already felt sleepy, and I was destined to be up for another day, so I made a quick decision to go with Nuun Energy in my bladder for an added caffeine boost. I had yet to try Nuun Energy, but my stomach typically handles caffeine without issue, and figured it couldn't hurt to try. Falling asleep on the run is no fun.
I may not have gotten any sleep, but I did find gnocchi for my pre-race lunch. Gnocchi is one of 3 pre-race superstitions that I try not to go without. Photo: me.
For El Cruce (the stage race I'd done in February in Chile) there had been a long mandatory gear list, which included an emergency bivy sack and blanket, among several other items. Despite being much longer, colder, and run in the dark, Patagonia Run had a pleasantly short mandatory list, which included the race shirt, an emergency whistle, and a headlamp, which had to be on until 8 a.m. (I tried to turn it off in one aid station to avoid blinding the aid station volunteers, but was immediately reprimanded to keep my light on, so just kept blinding people the full 8 required hours). I wore one headlamp, and opted to place a second in a drop bag at Km 33, and then had my favorite small handheld for an emergency/second light. 8 hours is a long time to run in the dark, so opted for a switch to keep my light source super bright, which would also help keep me awake. I started with a Petzl Myo RXP and then switched to my new Petzl Tikka+.  Even though they told us the sun would rise at 8, I had slept in both mornings, and hadn't witnessed it for myself. I still had my doubts, as that seemed really late, but there was truly not enough light to switch lights off until right after 8 a.m. Thus, two thirds of my race was run in the dark. I've got to give a shout out to Petzl and the new Tikka+. I'm sometimes amazed by how good lights have gotten, and this one is both bright, and the reactive lighting works.

Most races have a race shirt, but in the US you usually just receive it in your shwag bag, or get it as a finishing prize, whereas in South America you're often actually required to race in it. In this case it was a long-sleeve tech tee. Luckily the temps were at freezing or below, so it was never uncomfortable. Kind of reminds me of school field trips where the teacher decides to dress everyone the same so as not to lose anyone and to be able to identify who's part of the group.

The course map and elevation profile. Basically two big climbs with some runnable middle and end sections thrown in. It was dark for me until just before the aid station indicated in red on the map, so any photos are from the climb up and top of that pointy peak after that. 
The rain cleared in the hours just preceding the midnight start and we lucked into a starry and frozen night. The rain in the days prior, followed by freezing temps resulted in a frost-covered wonderland. For the first eight hours, it was though we were running in a world covered in glitter. It was gorgeous. A few inches of snow up on the ridges, led to an overall bright and beautiful night. Every blade of grass was covered in frost, and it made for a memorable and super sparkly run. 

Photos at the start. Note, how warmly everyone is dressed and the matching shirts. Photos: de Adventura.
The race started out briefly on road, winding on to dirt paths and back onto a wide dirt road, which gave some space to get around people, and spread out a bit. Sadly, I followed my new buddy, Enrique from Ecuador, and with a group of four or so of us, we all blew by a left-hand turn up onto single track. The course was impeccably marked throughout, but I'd argue this early intersection could have benefited from a volunteer indicating the way, or flagging to block off the road and clearly indicate the turn. We dead-ended at a gate, and quickly turned around and headed back in the other direction. This was about 10 minutes in, and although we probably only ran a quarter mile past the turn, it resulted in another several dozen people making the turn in front of us. We saw the now obvious turn onto the trail as many had followed us, and when they saw us heading back, turned back before us, and a queue formed when both groups merged onto the trail. This resulted in a few miles of frustration, as the pace was not what we wanted, so we tried to dart out and around people, but the trail was a narrow cut with banks and vegetation on either edge, and I’d estimate that the half mile detour resulted in losing a good 20 minutes plus in wasted energy trying to get around a major bottleneck of runners on the trail.

The cluster cleared, and I was eventually again running with a small group of guys, and seemed to have passed back any women that had gotten ahead in the misdirection. I felt good, but then as we started to run up the road, suddenly felt deflated, maybe from the wind sprints in trying to pass in the section before. So, I meandered along on my own. I'd heard from many that the course was not technical, and for the most part this was true, but the trails were also not that fast, in that they meandered almost like one would expect a curvy mountain bike or game trail to meander, so between the running around obstacles and jumping over downed logs, it was hard to get in much of a rhythm. I found this true for much of the course. Hard to describe except that the trails almost never went straight. This isn't a complaint, more an observation, and it probably helped to keep me awake at night, as I felt like I needed to consistently pay attention to where I was going.

Mid-way up the first climb, all of the energy spent trying to catch up and pass people after getting off trail, hit me and I experienced the biggest bonk of the race for me. My legs didn’t have much pep, and I let the group of guys I’d been running with go.  The first 27Km of the race is leading you up to the summit of Colorado. Before the final push to the summit there’s a long windy section where you’re still going up gradually, but the trail is winding through the woods, around downed trees, and generally just not very direct in nature. I’d argue that not much of the course is technical, but it’s a course that can be hard to get into a rhythm because you’re either skirting a downed tree, or taking a cow path that winds in a way that clearly demonstrates the non-hurried lives of cows. An inch or two of snow covered this outer portion, but the path was clear, and the world was glittery with the fresh snow and a headlamp. Eventually you get up above the trees, and the summit becomes evident. Cresting the summit it was cold and windy. Some dedicated volunteers were up on top; throughout the race there were volunteers in pairs or alone posted, seemingly, in the middle of nowhere. It was an impressive feat standing out there in sub-freezing temps. Immediately chilled on top, and despite the peaceful beauty of the frosty summit, I opted to get down quickly. The descent, was steep and a bit tricky, and I caught up to Mauri here, who was struggling.

It was just after the Colorado 1 aid station that I hooked up with Mario, who when he started to tell me his story (school teacher from Chile), he reminded me that we’d run together during one of the stages of El Cruce. He was very nice, but I tend to like to be on my own, so hoped that he’d either drop back or surge ahead, but he was hard to lose. He’d climb faster than me, and I’d descend faster than him. Through this rolling section, I wasn't able to gracefully get away from him (nor him from I). At some point, we started running together for the most part, and then his light started to die. From that point, he really was stuck with me, as I also didn't want to strand him in the dark. We came into the big barn aid station (Quilaniahue 1) where he found a replacement light. We were no longer bound together, but by this point, we were sort of a team. Leaving that station, we really started to roll, and I felt better than I had all night. We flew by several guys in this section, and I’ve never worked with someone like that in a race, where he’d pull me on the ups, I’d pull him on the downs, and together we were moving faster than we would have moved apart. It was fun, and I felt great. We came into PAS Quechuquina, now just out of the top 5 overall, and left motivated to pick off more.

This next section was also cruisable with rolling wide trail where you could get into a rhythm, until you’re dumped onto the shores of Lake Lacar, where the course takes you along the shore. It was still dark at this point, without much of a hint that the sun would eventually rise. This section took a bit of the wind out of my sails, as it was again, hard to get into a rhythm, with some loose rocks along the shore, sand, logs to jump, and navigation was mildly more difficult. In general, besides that first turn myself and a few others had missed at the beginning, the course was impeccably marked. There were little reflective markers posted frequently, and you could almost always see the next one and know which direction to head. We only once almost mistook the eye shine of a horse for a marker, but I quickly noted to Mario that the course marking was large and moving, and realized that it wasn’t the correct way to go.

Starting to come down off of the high, we hit the Quechuquina Hydration point (Km 63), which is right before you start to ascend gradually for several miles leading to the last big ascent. Mauri was there (who had dropped after the descent I’d pass him on earlier) and for the first time, I asked about other women, and he told me not to worry, that they were far behind. After the aid station, there is a long section of climbing, which includes a a long gradual ascent along with some rolling, to an aid station (Coihue, 72 Km), after which you begin the steeper ascent up the last big climb. The first part is along a thin winding trail that has waist-high bamboo. Also hidden in this section are a ton of downed logs of about 12” diameter. What this means is that the trail is apparent—you can see where the path leads through the bamboo, but you can’t quite see the ground through the bamboo. It was like running through a mine field (except instead of getting blown up, you trip and face plant over hidden logs). It didn't seem to matter if I was leading or in the back; Mario struggled to see the logs more than I did. We’d be running along, and I’d see him face plant ahead of me, or I’d be running along in front and hear him face plant from behind. I also managed a couple of face plants, but paled in comparison to Mario's numbers. I’d guess were both pretty psyched to come to the end of the bamboo section. 

The sun was finally coming up through this section, although it wasn't quite light.  At the Coihue aid station (~72 Km), right before you climb up Cumbre Quilaniahue, I finally turned off my light. I was ready to leave the aid station sooner than Mario, so I left, assuming he’d catch up to me quickly on the climb. Climbing up, he didn't catch me, and I almost felt guilty for leaving him, but then had to remind myself that we weren't actually a team. The climb up was tough, but one of the highlights of the race, as the sun had just risen, and for the first time I could see in daylight the beauty of where we’d been running all night. With a dusting of snow up top and on the surrounding peaks, the view from the top was breathtaking and daybreak did provide that rejuvenating feeling I had remembered from Hellgate. After 8 hours of running through the dark, I was ready to stop focusing my eyes so intently on the trail. I did notice that my vision was slightly blurry, which had been hard to tell in the dark. Once again, there were some hearty, and likely cold, volunteers up top, along with a photographer capturing the spectacular backdrop.

Heading up the last big climb. The course was super well-marked with yellow ribbons (seen on the right here) or during the night with reflective dots. Photo: me.
Gorgeous views up above. I didn't take many pictures along the way, but couldn't resist stopping to take a few a shots. Photo: me. 

Race photo. Despite the freezing temps I stayed warm all night in shorts, the race T and my ghost whisperer.
The descent from the top was tricky and slow, for me, with a lot of loose rock and dirt, things to trip over, generally just pretty steep, and I couldn’t see very clearly. Luckily, the blurriness continued to improve, so I’m going to have to guess it was caused by fatigue from 8 hours of intense use under low-light and sub-zero temps. I had a case of Hellgate eyes.

The descent dumps you into the Quilaniahue aid station (80Km) for a second time, and you retrace your steps back to the Colorado aid station (87Km), once again along some winding cow trails that aren't technical, but annoyingly curvy with lots of turns and stops and starts so getting into a rhythm wasn't easy. Mario did catch back up to me during this section and we ran together and yo-yoed back to Colorado.  This section was easily my least favorite of the route. Once leaving Colorado, there’s a generally mild section, with straighter lines, and gently downhill to the last aid station (Bayos, 96Km). From here to the finish, it’s downhill, but the course is now packed with runners, as all of the 10K and other distances are also now on the same route. 

On the way home in the repeat section from 80 to 87. Photo: GuiaKmZero. I think that is Mario in the background, about to be reunited again.
The trail finally dumps you onto road, where it’s easier to pass, and it’s a screaming downhill into a town, and a finish in the center of town. Two guys I’d seen a few times since the start passed me on the trail section, and I caught back up to one of them on the road. I told him I wanted to get in under 13 hours (my goal had been loosely between 12 and 13, not knowing the course, and based off past times, and mid-race I set a goal of top 5 overall), so we pushed and he soon dropped me for a second time. I finished in 7th overall/1st chick in 12:55, 2 minutes out of 5th and  ahead of 2nd and 3rd place women who came in together in 14:03.  Sadly, I later learned that my friend Mario, had to pull out at Colorado 2 with an injury. No wonder he never caught me those last 
Happy to be done. 
The awards ceremony was a pleasant surprise; I'd seen there would be a cash prize for the 100K, but they hadn't listed the amount, so I was pleasantly surprised to win 10,000 pesos, and also an entry and travel expenses paid to a 100K race in Costa Esmeralda, Brazil in May of 2015. Again, hard to pass up a trip to the beaches in southern Brazil, so I will likely find myself down there again in a year, if not before.
Adriana Vargas, me, and Laura Lucero. 10,000 pesos and a trip to Brasil!  
I also won a gift certificate to a local store, and scored these sweet ski goggles, which I plan use a lot this winter in Bend (!!). Photo: me.
It's been several months since the race at this point, and some of this was written recently and other parts long ago, but looking back Patagonia Run has been one of the year's highlights. The race organization was excellent, the ultra running community down there is a newer one, but a fun and inviting one, the scenery was amazing, the course challenging and fun, and overall it was just a really well-run event and one I'd return to in a heartbeat. I love Patagonia! It really was like running through a glittery wonderland for hours on end. My visual memories of this race are awesome.

Thanks to Mountain Hardwear Argentina for the invite, and thanks to my sponsors, Montrail, Mountain Hardwear, Injinji, ClifBar, Flora and Nuun. Also Petzl provided me with the new Tikka+. It's a great light--check it out!

Shoes: Montrail Bajada--my feet were unscathed after almost 13 hours in wet shoes and socks.
Socks: Injinji Run 2.0 Mini Crew--zero blisters!
Nutrition: Clif Shot Gels, Clif Recovery drink, and some gummies
Lights: Petzl Tikka+, Petzl MyoRXP, and Fenix E12 (single AA handheld light--also great!)
Shorts: Mountain Hardwear CoolRunner shorts (I live in these things--love them)
Jacket: MHW Ghost Whisperer
Gloves: MHW wool blend. Love these.