Monday, September 27, 2010

Pine to Palm 100: A keeper.

I think I've discovered how to run 100 miles: sandwich it between an insanely stressful few weeks at work, and an equally stressful work trip to Africa.  I had no time to stress about the race for weeks prior, and no time to digest it afterwards.  I was looking forward to starting the race, just to relax for 24 hours or so, before worrying about heading home and packing.  The race itself just kind of came and went.  It wasn't exceedingly painful, but I had my issues during the run.  There were highs and lows, but the valleys weren't so low and the peaks weren't so high.  It seemed relatively easy in comparison to other 100s I've done, or at least my memories of them.  Keep in mind that all previous 100s I had completed resulted in death marches of upwards of 30 miles during which I had to lift up my legs with my hands to clear rocks, etc.  

Up until a couple of weeks before, I wouldn't commit one way or the other to running.  After Where's Waldo I had decided that I was mentally and physically tired, and didn't want to do it.  But I didn't have a really strong argument for not running, I was signed up, and I eventually talked myself into it.  I'm signed up for HURT and am planning to run WS, so really wasn't sure I wanted to do 3 100s in a year.  See previous post--I simply don't think that they are good for you and long-term, don't think that my body is built to sustain multiple hundreds each year forever.  In the end, I decided to run, knowing that I would have a down training month while traveling for work in Nairobi and Addis Ababa, so rather than be frustrated by the fact that it's hard to train on the road, what better plan than to run 100 miles, and jump on the plane the following day and enjoy a month off.   

The P2P course is a challenging one, with over 20,000 feet of gain and an equal amount of loss.  It's also long, and I'd be curious to know just exactly how long, as I'd guess it's a wee bit longer than the advertised 101.5.  I knew there would be a fair amount of road, but I was still surprised by just how much road there really was.  There were long long stretches on gravel road that were really runnable.  There were also some fairly technical trail sections, namely the scramble up to Wagner at about mile 88, or so.  

September in southern Oregon is sunny, they say, and the race was advertised as having spectacular views of Mt. Shasta and the surrounding area.  Several days out the forecast was calling for 100% chance of rain, and it didn't disappoint.  It wasn't raining at the start, but started not long afterwards, and pretty much rained the rest of the day and into the night (and again, into Sunday--I was fortunate to finish before the morning downpours on Sunday).  There were a few brief periods of reprieve, but the views were socked in throughout.  Some of the views were really nice, not that you could see far, but the close-in valleys and peaks were highlighted by lots of low wispy white clouds moving through quickly (bringing in more rain clouds).

So, my memory is already foggy of the course, but some highs and lows from the day:

My stomach was off from the start, and stayed off the first 30 miles with frequent trips into the woods.  My stomach was off in the other direction starting after mile 60, when the gag reflex took over and trying to swallow much of anything resulted in losing a lot more.  I hate to puke and almost never do, so this wasn't so much fun.  The only thing that I could keep down was Ultragen, which is a recovery drink that is fairly high in calories (one hand-held water bottle full has about 380 calories).  Starting at Dutchman (mile 65) this was the only way I was getting in calories, but I could only get this from my crew, who I saw at mile 65 and 83. 

I was fairly concerned about getting lost.  While a series of topo maps had been published for the course, there was no course description to accompany them.  One of the Co-RDs, Ian, had given a quick verbal course description during the briefing the night prior--if that could have just been captured in words, it would have made me feel much more confident that I would be able to stay on course.  I knew the course would be well-marked, but there is always that fear that the course will be vandalized, and markings removed.  In the end, the course was very well marked, except for the fact that the color of those markings were not what we expected.  It had been stressed during the pre-race briefing that all of our markings would be either pink/black or green, and much of the course was marked in orange.  This caused some doubt in certain sections, but I managed to stay on course all day, with very minimal back-tracking.  

I got really cold at the aid station before Dutchman and then the climb up into Dutchman.   By this time it was starting to get dark, and the rain continued while the temps started to drop.  I flagged down a car and asked for an extra layer on this climb.  The friendly driver started to take off a long sleeve tech shirt, but I pointed at her warm purple hoody.  A sign of how cold I was in that I not only requested clothes from a stranger, but than was picky about which layer she offered me.  Thanks April--you were a life saver!  Once I got up to Dutchman I grabbed my crew and headed into a corner of the tent where I proceeded to strip naked in order to put on a warm dry base layer.  Luckily Tonya was there to shield me from the rest of humanity, as I was cold enough to not really care.  Warm layers, 3 on top and tights, complete with warm gloves and a winter hat.  I admit, I overdid it a bit, but I was really cold, and the layers could be shed as needed.  

The Positives:
My legs felt good, more or less, from the beginning and my quads never died, as they had in past 100s.  My pacer might argue to the contrary, but I felt like I was moving fairly well for the last 30.  I was running all of the downs, not so many of the ups, but the last 30 has more down than up.  My biggest fear going into this was that the last 30 miles would be a death march, as it has been in all of my previous 100s.  While I wasn't flying, I was still moving, and we ran in pretty much all of the last 10 miles or so descending into town and the finish.   All day, I felt I was climbing pretty well, and enjoying the long descents.

The weather actually wasn't that bad, except for the 5 miles leading up to Dutchman, and then Dutchman. There were no views, but the rain kept things nice and cool, and I really enjoy running in rain.  Despite being wet all day, my feet stayed really happy, and I didn't change shoes until mile 83.  I wore my CrossLites and they felt great all day.  I changed into dry socks and the more cushiony Montrail Streaks and they were a welcome change until lots of wetness quickly took away the joy of some dry socks.  Overall, my feet held up great, despite the wet conditions, and once the pruniness went away, there were just a few minor blisters as a result.   

I had a great crew and pacer.  Thanks Challen, Marjon and Randy for giving up your weekend to follow me around. I think my crew might have had more drama than me, as the transmission went out at Dutchman, and they were trying to deal with this, while leaving me blissfully unaware.  Because of the weather, this was a race where crew was invaluable.  Without a crew, if you didn't happen to have all of your warm weather gear at Dutchman, you were at the mercy of the weather (and the helpful volunteers who shed a few layers to help runners on their way).  

The volunteers and aid stations were excellent.  Dutchman AS rose to the task of gale force winds and blowing sleet, and the other aid stations were equally helpful.  Hal and Ian put on a top-notch first-time event.  

I hadn't really set a goal time, except sub-24 hours.  At some point, as the mileage in certain sections seemed insanely long (Wagner and environs), I knew that I was getting closer to 24 hours and further from 22, but was happy with a 22:39 finish.  Given the weather, and my stomach, it was all I could do, and I'm happy with it.  I ended up first female and sixth overall.   

The hardest part of the weekend came on Monday when I jumped on a 10-hour flight to Amsterdam, followed directly afterwards by a 8-hour leg to Nairobi.  Trekking through the Amsterdam airport from one terminal to the next felt much more like the death march I'm used to experiencing in the final miles of a 100 miler.  I felt no shame in using my 100 mile finish to my advantage.  On the first flight I went back to the back of the plane to scavenge for snacks, and commented to the stewardess that I was STARVING after just having run 100 miles.  Luckily, she was a runner, and rushed to my rescue, which included mixed nuts and a hot fudge sundae out of the first class cabin.  Thank you, dear stewardess, wherever you are.  On the second flight, I schemed my way into an exit row with endless leg room.  Despite these perks, by the time I got to Nairobi, and despite wearing compression socks, my ankles and feet were huge and jiggled when I walked.  I had nothing to do all week except sit in meetings, so I enjoyed the lack of movement, and by Friday was craving a run.  I waited until Sunday, so took a full week, but actually feel really good, and got in good (but short) runs on Sunday and Monday on the treadmill.

Now, off (I'm jumping on a flight in a couple of hours) to Ethiopia for a couple more weeks of work and relaxation (on the running front).  

Saturday, September 11, 2010

100 Miles: Why?

100 milers.  They're not my favorite.  I dread them.  Well, maybe dread is a bit strong, but I fear them.  Running 100 miles isn't good for you.  There is nothing healthy about running this far.  50 miles or 100K is really long enough.  Long enough to take the speed element out of the equation and really challenge you both physically and mentally, but short enough that your internal systems don't go completely out of whack.  Long enough that you're good and sore the next day, but not so long that you have to walk down stairs backwards clutching the railing.  Everything just really starts to break down after 70 miles. You go into the race knowing that you're not going to leave it the same as you went into it.  Maybe this is part of the draw.  Physically speaking, the afterward part is not appealing, but on an emotional level, you know that you are going to learn something about yourself in responding to whatever the day throws at you.  I was just looking at some pictures of me after my first MMT.  My hands looked like inflated surgical gloves, and I looked, overall, like hell.  I looked happy, in a "I just went through hell and back" kind of way.  Physically stressed, emotionally exhausted.  The second time I ran MMT, I'm pretty sure I was on the edge of renal failure upon finishing.  I recovered without medical intervention, but it felt like someone had kicked me in the lower back repeatedly for several days.  Can that be good for you long-term?  I vomited and was peeing blood in the shower afterward.  That post-run shower was definitely a low moment for me.  Both years I ran MMT I literally had to pick up my legs with my hands to lift my feet up over the rocks going up the last climb because my hip flexors were beyond the point of doing any work in those last miles, and the last 30 miles consisted of a lot of hiking and not much running. 

So, if I 100 miles isn't my best distance, why do I plan to run 3 of them over the next 10 months?  Well, what about ultra running makes sense?  I can remember finishing my first 50 miler and thinking, "That sucked! Never again!" but waited no time before throwing my name in the hat for a second and a third, and within 6 months for a 100.  There is something about these distances that makes absolutely no sense but is very hard to resist.  Obviously, I haven't figured out how to gracefully finish a 100 miler yet.    And as much as I claim to dislike the distance, I want to figure it out.  I want to race and finish one, without the last 30 miles turning into a death march.   I've started 4 100 milers and finished 3.  Bighorn was my first, and I tried to drop out starting at about mile 50.  I was not successful in dropping, although I wish I had been, and it turned into a 50 mile run, followed by a 50 mile hike.  I then ran MMT, where I had a good race except for the last 30 miles.  Wasatch was next, where I dropped at the half way point.  Then another MMT, where I had a great race except for the last 30 miles.  Those last 30 miles are the most important, though.  They are what make for a great 100 mile race. 
MMT 2009.  Before the wheels fell off.
Photo by Aaron Scwhartzbard.

My strategy to date has been to go out fairly hard and then just hang on.  So, I've gone out strong in hopes of running while I still can, with the belief that I'm going to be crawling the last 30 miles no matter what pace I start out at.  I don't believe my body can perform after 70 miles, regardless of the pace at the beginning.  I have yet to try out an alternate approach.  So, it sounds like there are 2 things I need to work on, one being trying out a different strategy, and the other believing that I can persevere through those last 30.

Coming up over the next 10 months, I'm signed up for Pine to Palm, HURT, and Western States.  Pine to Palm starts this Saturday in Williams, OR and finishes in Ashland.  A new event, the course climbs over 20,000 feet, and descends the same, with 3 "epic" climbs.  I would love for P2P to not turn into a death march.  I like to run.  I don't like to slog through the last 30 miles, shuffling in for a finish.  Here's hoping I can figure out how to have that kind of day that will get me to Ashland running.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Where's Waldo 100K: An anniversary run.

A year ago, I flew out to Oregon from DC to visit a couple of friends from Peace Corps, and to run the Where's Waldo 100K.  It was my first trip to Oregon.  I've traveled a lot, both in the US and overseas, but somehow I had never been so lucky as to visit the PNW.  I think I'm glad I didn't visit Oregon at the age of 22, because if I had, I might not have had the itch to explore elsewhere, and I wouldn't trade all of the experiences I've had for the world.  In the days prior to Waldo, I had great visits with my PC friends in Corvalis and Bend, explored the coast a bit, went for a memorable run on Mary's Peak, and spent a day at Breitenbush (which was a culture shock having just returned from a month in Afghanistan).  And then there was Waldo, with awesome views and smooth runnable trails.  Two other DC/VHTRC friends ran Waldo, as well, and I told them before we departed that I planned to move to Oregon.  There was something about Oregon that drew me, and I wanted to call it home.  So, in the ensuing months I found a job in Portland, packed up my things in a big yellow Penske, said goodbye to DC, and deserted my 2 kittens.  By November, I was living in Portland.  So, this was an anniversary race for me of sorts, marking a year of change and new adventures. 
The sweet view of the Waldo Lake from the top of the first climb, Fuji.  Last year we camped right on the lake.  
Three weeks prior at White River I had been insanely nervous.  The entire week before WR I was overly anxious, which is not uncommon for me pre-race. I wasn't nervous before Waldo, which was odd, and made me a bit nervous.  It's funny how that works; I hate getting nervous, but then I get nervous if I'm not nervous.  I was excited to have some east coast running friends flying in on Thursday, as another VHTRC friend was getting married on Sunday.  It was going to be an action-packed weekend, with Kerry, Mitchell, Aaron and I running Waldo on Saturday, followed by Keith's wedding on Sunday.

Waldo starts with a nice climb out of the ski lodge.  I remember walking much of it last year, and now I remember why.  It's pretty steep and definitely meets my steepness gradient for walking.  But once you crest the top of the hill there are some really nice runnable miles down to the Gold Lake aid station.  My VHTRC buddy, Aaron, passed me right before the AS and commented that I was moving really quickly.  Hmmm....Aaron is usually miles ahead of me, so was I moving too quickly?  I didn't feel like it, but the fact that I stayed in front of him for 6 miles made me wonder.  I could see both Aaron and Meghan heading out of the AS as I was heading in, and I kept them in sight on the climb up to Mt. Fuji.  The climb was comfortable, and I ran much of it except for the steepest parts, and let Aaron and Meghan's walk breaks dictate mine.  Coming down off of Fuji I calculated that Ashley, in third, was at least 8 minutes back, and the others were all back of her by a bit, so Meghan and I were somewhat comfortably out front.  I started to believe that I could actually achieve my goal of qualifying for Western States. Waldo is part of the Montrail Cup, and as such, the top 2 get automatic entry into WS.  New rules this year allow that to roll down to #3, if one of the top 2 are already in.  Meghan finished 2nd at WS last year so is an automatic entry, which meant that as long as she was in the top 2, it would roll down to #3, so my goal was to get one of those top 3 spots.  I also wanted to take about 40 minutes off of last year's time and finish in 11:20.  I figured that 11:30 would likely be good enough for top 3 based off of previous years' results, and if not, then lots of people had really great days out there and that's cool, too.
I look like I'm about to hit the ground to avoid sniper fire.  I wasn't, and actually felt pretty good going up the climb to Fuji, and felt great on the way down.  I was cruising down and caught up to Meghan shortly before we reached Mt. Ray aid station at mile 20.  We ran the next several miles together, and had a nice chat.  It was fun.

Meghan and I were together for a few miles after the Mt. Ray AS (mile 20), and that section was really enjoyable.  She mentioned that we were under 11 hour pace (oops), and I mentioned that my only goal was for a WS spot.  It seemed counterproductive to pass Meghan heading up, when she's a stronger climber than I, so I tucked in behind.  We ran together for a few miles, until I eventually moved ahead.  I then bonked hard and started to have some stomach problems.  I started to feel a little light headed and generally crappy and spent some time in the woods.  I was surprised that Meghan didn't pass me, and arrived at Charlton Lake AS, still in first.  A Portland running buddy, Randy, who had to drop because of injury, asked me if I wanted his pacer to jump in with me for the last 20, which gave me something to look forward to. I mentioned to Randy that I was starting to feel kind of crappy.  About a mile out of the aid station Meghan blew by me with her pacer.  Yowzer.  She passed me like I was standing still, and I lost complete sight of her within about 10 seconds.  I figured that was the last I'd see of her.    

One of the lovely little lakes as you head up the first climb.  It was not yet this light out as we passed, nor was I planning on a leisurely run, so did not carry my camera.  This was taken in July during a trail work weekend.
Similar to last year, the section from Twins 1 to Twins 2 was the hardest part of the day for me.  It wasn't as hot as last year, but this is the least visually interesting part of the course (it's not bad, just that the first 20 and last 15 are so nice), and includes a lot of gradual runnable uphills.  My memory of this part of the course is that it is all uphill, but I doubt that is true.  I just seem to lack energy in this part.  Nothing exciting happened here.  I kept plugging away, trying to make myself run when I wanted to walk, and eventually reached the sweet little downhill into Twins 2, where Marjon was waiting for me.  I felt pretty good again by this part, and we cruised downhill.  I always feel guilty when I have a pacer, in that I don't want them to be miserable, so I kept trying to run for the most part, until we reached the climb to Maiden Peak.  This climb comes at mile 50, more or less, and is a steep one.  I can remember stopping with my hands on my hips last year panting for air on the climb up.  This year--while it still seemed to go on endlessly--wasn't nearly as bad, and I kept up a good hiking pace on the parts that were too steep to run (much of it, although there are some runnable parts, too).  I was surprised to eventually see both Aaron and Meghan up on the switchbacks in front of us. My mind had switched from racing for first to holding onto second many miles prior, and I wasn't really looking forward to a downhill chase from the top of Maiden.  Meghan didn't know I was behind her, and saw me as she came down from the peak, about a minute back.  I knew the minute she saw me, that I wouldn't see her again, and I didn't.  Maybe I should have tried a little harder to catch her, but I was pretty darned psyched to be in 2nd, and wasn't so worried about chasing after 1st.  By the time we got to the final aid station at mile 54, I was a couple of minutes back, and fairly unmotivated to chase.  
Coming out of Charlton Lake aid station. I always look so darn happy.  I was a little stressed here.  I was feeling a bit feverish/dizzy and had just made an unpleasant pit stop and was convinced I'd caught the stomach flu Kerry might have had the day before.  I think it was just altitude and some stomach issues.  I was in the lead here, but it wasn't long before Meghan blew by me with her pacer.  They passed me like I was moving backwards. 
 The most frustrating part of the day was the section from the last aid station to the finish. My pacer had stopped for a pit stop, so I was alone at the time and it seemed to me that the PCT turn should have come and gone.  Over the course of a couple of minutes I convinced myself I had missed the final turn.  I stopped and studied my map a few times, and continued on timidly.  I finally decided that I had missed the turn, and headed back in the other direction.  I hadn't gone more than a couple of minutes before I ran into my pacer, and we both came to an agreement that I couldn't have missed the turn.  We turned around, and lo and behold, the turn was just beyond where I had turned around.  In the end it didn't really matter, it was just frustrating to get turned around and lose the 4 or 5 minutes that would have taken me under 11 hours and a bit closer to Meghan.  But, I finished in 11:02, which got me both my time goal, and an automatic qualifying spot at WS.  I was thrilled!  And overall, it was one of the more enjoyable races I've run, in terms of just enjoying being out there.  I didn't stress too much about what others were doing, just about pushing myself and running my own race. Full results can be found here.

One of the Rosary Lakes.  I had just run this section a month ago so one would think I would be able to follow the trail....  The Rosary Lakes part is one of my favorites along the course.  Not only because they are 4 miles from the finish, but they are also pretty little lakes that look overly inviting.  
I almost never finish a race and think, "That was fun,"--especially not a 100k race that takes 11 hours.  But I have to say for the most part, with the exception of maybe 15 miles--Waldo was fun.   At least my memories of pain or suffering faded really quickly.  And while several people commented to me about what a great race it was between Meghan and I throughout the day, it didn't feel like a race, and I didn't feel any stress of racing.  And while I didn't run on Sunday, I felt good enough on Monday to do a short run with Keith in Forest Park before he and Tracy departed on their honeymoon.  I still feel like I recover slowly, but it is amazing to think what a 100K would have done to me just a couple of years ago in terms of recovery.  Unfortunately, I crashed on my knee in FP later that same week, and the recovery from that has been somewhat slower.

The rest of the weekend was a blast.  The wedding was beautiful, and what was just a 3-day weekend with friends was packed full of funny stories and great memories, and by the time Aaron, Kerry and Mitchell flew out on Monday, it felt like we'd been together for weeks (in a good way).  Here's hoping we can continue the VHTRC Oregon vacation in August in years to come and that I can convince a few more to make the move.  There's already talk of a Waldo weekend or CC100 weekend for next year....

Gear: La Sportiva Crosslites with Drymax socks.  Feet felt great afterward.  I've always suffered from blisters, but it seems I've finally found a combination that doesn't leave my feet trashed.  A couple end of toe blisters that might have been prevented with gaiters.

Hydration/nutrition:  Hand held until mile 20 and Nathan pack thereafter.  Water and gels of various flavor/brand, mostly expired.  Drank sports drink from aid stations.