Friday, December 30, 2011

The Year in Bad Self-Portraits

Dedicated to Marjon, who takes the best self-portraits in the world.  I still have a long ways to go. But lots of good memories in these shots, as scary as many of them are.  I was going to post a 2011 recap, with "normal" shots, but am feeling particularly lazy, so I leave you with these, instead. 
Snowshoeing with Meissner near Sisters, OR.  The finest in performance sunglasses.  
Reflecting on a lawn after a fun run in the Marin Headlands.  Beautiful run, beautiful day. The next day I would seriously tweak my calf, which would put a damper on the first half of 2011.
Bocce ball fun on the 4th of July. Good times with good friends (and none of us got the least bit competitive....).
Fun in the beer garden at a bike crit in downtown Portland. It took several shots after several beers, to actually get the bikes and me all in the same frame.
A visit to the rose garden with Ma and Pa.  Potentially one of the better self portraits of the year.

Canal touring with Meghan in Amsterdam. Pierre was blocked out by my giant head.  Sorry Pierre!  Wow--just look at how much more area my head takes up than Meghan's.  No wonder self portraits are such a challenge. 
More sightseeing in the Netherlands, this time with Annette. This was the day after the 100K and we were both feeling it. We did manage to get out and see a bit of this cute little town.
Crewing fun at Pine to Palm.  There wasn't much crewing to be done, sadly enough for our runner, but it left us some time to entertain ourselves.  
My sister's first marathon, and my attempt to photo-journal the event.  Luckily Lisa did a better job running, than I did at capturing it.  For a relatively skinny girl, I sure do seem to have a lot of chins. 
Vegas, baby! 
I was so excited to be at the Grand Canyon I couldn't control my expression.
Photographing while running is harder than it looks.   
The GC group leaving Las Vegas. 
Lots to work on in 2012, the least of which are my photography skills.  A lot to look forward to on the running front, as well.  Hopefully another run at the World 100K Championships in April in Italy, another go at Comrades in South Africa, this time going my favorite direction--downhill, Western States, and I hope, UTMB in France in August.  There will be many local races and adventures to round out the calendar, as well, starting off with Orcas Island on Feb 4.  Here's to a healthy and happy 2012.  

Friday, December 16, 2011

Hellgate 2011: Special, but not so crazy.

For me, the biggest challenge of Hellgate seemed to be in getting to the starting line. It started the Saturday prior when my new fuzzy bedroom slippers, which are dangerous for all sorts of reasons (the-never-wanting-to-leave-the-house-again-because-I-don't-want-to-take-off-these-fuzzy-little-balls-of-delight type of reason), helped me fall down a flight of hard wooden stairs leading down to our basement. I let out a string of expletives that both shocked and impressed my roommate, and he thought for a second, as did I, that I might have been seriously maimed judging from the sound and what came out of my mouth.  Luckily, I fall well (everyone has their strengths), and managed to land squarely on my upper-right bum (and not my tailbone), and nail my upper right back, tweaking my shoulder.  I was in pain and covered from head to toe in the marionberry smoothie I'd been carrying, but nothing was broken.  I lounged around on ice the rest of the day and ended up cancelling my Sunday morning run plans with Ronda because I was too sore to get out of bed, but managed to get in a quick 4-miler with roomie on Sunday night that confirmed that I wasn't broken, just sore.

The fall down the stairs seemed to worsen the cold that had been coming on for days, and by Monday I felt crappy enough to stay home from work.  I went to bikram Monday night, solely with the hopes of using the 110+ degree room to burn off the cold.  The bikram cold treatment seemed to work, as I awoke Tuesday feeling almost normal, except that my hamstrings were majorly tweaked from bikram. Argh. It had seemed curious how insanely flexible I'd been in class. I spent the rest of the week stressing about my hamstrings, and massaging the heck out of them with Arnica gel.  Even though I'd been feeling unusually ready for Hellgate trianing-wise after averaging 70 miles/week over the previous 10 weeks, getting to the starting line was beginning to look challenging.

After a less than optimal week, I  managed to make it to VA and to wake up Friday morning in my favorite training villa in Front Royal after 11 glorious hours of sleep feeling rested and 100% ready to run. Bring on the crazy!

I arrived at Camp Bethel a bit later than planned, due to the slow pace at which I approached Friday afternoon.  So, in fear of missing the pre-race supper, I grabbed a turkey sub from Sheetz loaded down with jalapenos, banana peppers, pepper jack cheese and mustard.  Potentially a poor choice?  I stopped by a store to grab a friend some TheraFlu and picked up Imodium just in case. I have a history of stomach issues in races even when I don't dine on crap pre-race.

Horton in his element.  Pre-race briefing at Camp Bethel.  Lots of good energy in the room. All photos by Bill Hite.
Hellgate is unique in that it starts at midnight on Friday so folks start gathering at Camp Bethel, the finish line, Friday afternoon, and into Friday evening.  There's a pasta feed, a pre-race briefing, and a bit of heckling from Horton.  He asked me if I'd come to race, and I mumbled, and then asked me if I knew what the course record was.  I did.  It's always a bit difficult to judge what goal time is realistic on a course you've never been on, but based on the fact that Krissy Moehl ran the course record with frozen corneas and nearly blind for the last 11 miles, I figured it shouldn't be completely out of reach. At least sub-13 was the time I was shooting for (course record was 13:01:14).  I also hoped to win, because a course record isn't a course record unless you finish first. Above all, I wanted to finish 2011 on a positive note, and hoped that everything came together for a solid effort.

It was fun to see many familiar faces during the pre-race festivities, and as everyone dressed and prepared themselves to be carted off to the start, it was fun to eavesdrop on how various folks were approaching various potential issues.  Putting on layers, taking off layers, worrying about cold, wet feet, etc. One guy considered leaving his socks off until after "the" river crossing, and then putting them on afterwards.  This became even funnier during the race when we crossed several raging streams before getting to "the" river, and this just in the first 4 miles.  I'd guess we crossed 20+ runs (that's east coast for creek).  I didn't count, but the creek crossings were a constant and planning to keep your feet dry was a pointless endeavor. I hope the guy putting plastic bags over his shoes for the early rivers (per the accounts of others), gave up at some point. I actually prefer to run with wet feet, or rather, I like to run through cold water because it feels refreshing as odd as that may sound, and found the many water crossings pleasant, although the first few were a bit frigid and the toes a bit frozen.

The River.  We'd already crossed several rivers, but this turned out to be the real one. After Aaron's car-ride story of frozen gloves from putting his hand down in the river, I opted to remove my gloves for the crossing.   
At 10:45 p.m. everyone jumped in vehicles and we caravan-ed to the Gates of Hell, from where the race begins.  At 12:01 after the usual Horton pre-start rituals, we were off. The lead pace was slow, so I joked for the boys to move over so I could take the lead, and actually did for a mile or 2.  It was short-lived, and maybe a bit stupid, as the first of many odd pains/aches began shortly after...the first being completely dead quads. It was looking like it could be a really long night.  None of the issues I was worried about heading into the race bothered me (heart/chest pain, right knee pain, sore hamstrings) but a number of other random things flared up.  Luckily, they all seemed to work themselves out within a few miles, including: brick-like quads, exhausted hip flexors by about mile 10, flaming ITBs , some ankle tendon pains, pack-induced lower back pain, etc.  I kept trying to remember that pains will usually disappear and as Horton likes to say, "It doesn't always get worse."  This seemed to be very true all night and day, as weird twinges would come on, but then quickly fade, and I felt relatively good and fresh for much of the day. "Relatively" is relative when you're running a mountainous 66 mile race that starts at midnight.  It helps to write this a few days after, as I'm sure Neal can attest to the fact that I didn't look very fresh coming through a couple of the later aid stations.

I don't remember the details of all of the sections, but the race can be generalized into the dark half and the light half (depending on how long you're out there, as those who finish in 18 hours get to experience a lot more light than dark, etc--but this report is written from my perspective which worked out to be roughly even, if not skewed a bit towards the dark side).  Aaron Schwartzbard gives a very accurate course run-down, and interesting historical tidbits on the race, and Keith Knipling's report from 2007 is also very detailed and useful.
Course profile taken from Keith Knipling. My favorite sections included those from Camping Gap (mile 14) to a few miles before Bearwallow Gap (mile 46.5).  The front half climbs were nice, too.  I didn't love the final section before Bearwallow to Day Creek, and the last section wouldn't have been bad had I not been expecting it to be all downhill.
The Dark:
The portion run in the dark includes lots of fire road and gravel road on big but runnable climbs.  There are some rough trail sections thrown in, but a majority of it is on very runnable terrain, which is nice being that it's dark.  The full moon made for a beautiful night of running. I switched off my light for much of the road climbing in the beginning, which was a nice rest for the eyes and helped to keep my light as bright as possible for the rough trail sections.  I used a Petzl Myo RXP, and the Fenix EO5 (new to me for the race and I found it to be really useful).  It's a tiny light, weighing almost nothing (1 AAA battery), but on sections where it helped to have a second light to fill in the shadows, it worked well.  I also used it on its own on some of the road sections where the moonlight wasn't quite bright enough to see all of the bumps and holes. I like carrying 2 lights, but don't like the weight of a standard handheld.  This was light enough (0.7 oz) even for my week arms, but at 27 lumens gave off a decent amount of light for its size.

I was worried for about the first 10 miles about the deadness in my quads, but then started to feel OK, and really enjoyed most of the night section.  I did face plant twice, but that's almost expected.  The Promise Land Section was a highlight (AS 3 to AS 4), as it's a nice really runnable grassy fire road. The only negative to this section, is that there can be lots of holes and uneven terrain. I attempted to run without a light for parts of this, but that resulted in one of the face plants.  My other favorite section in the night half was the downhill coming into AS 5.  It's part on trail, and part fire-road, and was really fun to bomb down.  I passed 4 or 5 guys in this section and was feeling really good heading into the "breakfast" AS #5.  I don't remember being offered breakfast, although I do remember hearing the word "sausage" on my way out.  In general, I was trying to get in and out of aid stations as quick as possible, so just kept moving.

Heading into AS 4, feeling a bit rough and before my only major stomach issue of the night.
I wasn't much in the mood for real food, as my stomach had been somewhat on edge all night, and I was concentrating on continuing with Cliffshots once an hour or so. Starting a race at midnight presents all kinds of potential issues, one of them being that most people are not used to fueling all night. In a 100 miler, the night section usually comes late in the race, when many are probably taking in fewer calories, but at Hellgate, you hit the night from the beginning when you're trying to stay ahead on fueling.  Maybe my nightly snacking habits paid off, as I never felt that bad, and my stomach only threatened to head south around AS 4, but never really did. Only a single extended pit stop the entire race, which for me is a good day.

Not having any idea of splits, or really much knowledge of the course, it was hard to calculate what pace I was running.  Knowing that the course was closer to 67 miles than 62, I used my Garmin a lot throughout to try to figure out where I was in comparison to 13 hours. As I obsessively checked my Garmin and tried to do the math in my head it started to make me a little batty.  I hit 33.5 miles on my Garmin right around the 6 hour mark and it was still good and dark, so was somewhat on course for a 12 hour time, assuming the two halves are equal (which they're not).  But, my limited knowledge of the course from reading the course descriptions was of the first 20 miles, and once I got past that, whatever I'd read about the course disappeared from memory. Every turn and hill was somewhat of an unknown. We always seemed to be heading in the opposite direction from where I'd guess we might head, and each turn was kind of like a "huh, that's interesting" kind of moment.  I'd read through the course description many many times, but it's hard to remember the details when you don't have the context to which to apply them.  In hindsight, a printout of the elevation profile would have been nice to have carried along, because even though I'd looked at it, I had no memory of what the second half would entail, except for a jagged line.

So, with that said, it's not surprising that I had a couple of navigational issues, which I'm guessing cost me about 10-15 minutes total.  The first came after leaving the "breakfast" aid station (#5). I was really inside my head and not paying much attention as I headed up the road, when I realized that I was really zoned out and hadn't been watching for a turn, had there been one. I'd been moving really well down into AS #5, and motored through and just got absorbed in my own thoughts.  The good thing about the full moon was that a light was really unnecessary on the gravel road parts, and you could run from the light of the full moon.  The bad part about this was that it was difficult to see the reflective markers if you didn't have your light on.  I switched my light back on, but after several minutes with no new markers in sight, I realized I wasn't very certain that I was still on course.  I took out my map and tried to figure out where I might be, and if I was supposed to be on road, but still wasn't sure.  I'd passed 4 guys going down the hill into the breakfast aid station, so proceeded to wait for one of them to catch up, which took a few minutes, and shouted at them to confirm that we were on course. Just because they were behind me didn't make me very confident, being that they might just be following me.  They confirmed, so I took off again, but in my indecision, and lack of forward progress, etc, wasted a few minutes and the forward momentum with which I'd motored out of the aid station.

Sunrise in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The Light:
The day half includes more of the crappy shin-high leaves covering softball-sized rocks sections, where footing is a bit more difficult, and running at times is a bit more challenging--including the aptly named "Forever Trail."  The leaves weren't so bad this year (according to the experts), but even with a few to several inches of leaf cover, it becomes difficult to see what's underneath.  There is less climbing in the light half, but in general, there's not a whole lot of flat throughout, being that there is 13,000+ feet of gain, and just under 13,000 feet in loss. The sun came up for me right around AS 6.  Horty yelled something to me about picking up aid as I ran through the AS, as the next 8 miles were a long 8.  This was at least the second time he tried to get me to slow up and refuel, but my Nathan was still relatively full, and I had a handful of ClifShots.  Plus, my drop bag would be waiting for me at AS 7, and I could grab more gels and refill there.  He also let me know that I was in 5th (or 6th) and that I had folks to catch in front of me.  Besides my buddy Darryl, who I spent a good portion of the night and day near, I had passed several, but hadn't been passed by anyone since the first few miles.

I enjoyed the section right after AS 6, as it reminded me of a later portion in Promise Land, yet wasn't.  Grassy fireroad that is runnable and scenic.  And with the sun coming up over the mountains and the view of mist in the valleys below, it was really quite lovely.  It brought back lots of memories of east coast runs, and while I have to admit I prefer the big trees in Oregon, the forests of Virginia are pretty stunning, as well, and I was really enjoying this homecoming run and scenery.  After the lovely section, we turned onto some crappy trail before hitting AS 7, which was rocky and difficult to run.  This is where I started to get a bit grumpy.
Concentrating on the trail. Between the night running, and the technical trail sections, Hellgate requires a lot of focus. I was pleased to get away with just 2 face plants on soft sections. 
By the time I got to AS 7, I was starting to want to be done, and didn't thoroughly enjoy this next section, which footing-wise had some really thick leaf cover over poorly-placed rocks. I was just trying to stay in front of Darryl and company, so used them to motivate me to pick it up whenever they caught up.  At some point in this section I pulled out my music and the world changed.  I picked up the pace, and felt like a different person.  I should have taken out the music about an hour sooner, but alas, better late than never. Moving through AS 8, I think I dropped the F-bomb when Neal told me I had 16 miles.  Mileage-wise, that would have taken me a good bit over the un-advertised 67.  The Horton mileage thing can get a bit annoying, especially late in the race.  You know going into it that the mileage isn't accurate, so I was going by my GPS, but then when you get to the last few aid stations and are trying to calculate how many Horton miles are built into the end, it gets confusing.  In the end, I shouldn't have looked at the aid station mileage or asked questions, because you can't do anything about it at that point, and it just leads to frustration. I'm not sure the rationale behind putting out inaccurate distances at aid stations, rather than just listing the actual distance, but it's a Hortonism that you just need to accept if you're going to run his races.  And when Horton yells at you that it's a "looooong 8" to the next aid station, does that mean it's a technical, slow 8, or does that mean it's 9.5?  Hard to say.

It's always frustrating to get lost.  I missed the turn onto the "Forever" trail, a couple miles after AS 8, which cost me somewhere around 5-10 minutes.  Darryl, who ended up 3rd and finished 10 minutes in front of me, was a couple of minutes behind me when I missed the turn.  Alas, the turn was well marked with ribbons, but most other road turns had been marked with bright orange arrows painted on the road, so I guess I was expecting them (wrongly). I should have paid more attention to the fact that there were multiple ribbons (it was very heavily flagged), but when you're running downhill on a gravel road and there's someone in front of you, the natural desire is to keep heading downhill. I passed a guy to move into 3rd, but since we were both now off course, I guess I was never really in 3rd.  There were several of us that missed it, so I wasn't alone in my oblivion. Alas, it was an easy fix, as it became obvious fairly quickly when arriving at an intersection with a stop sign sans trail markers that a turn had been missed.

The Forever Trail is aptly named.  It seems to go on forever at a time in the race when you really just want it to end.

As close as I get to a smile.  At least I don't look angry or distressed.  I really was having fun out there!
Arriving at the last aid station, I was happy to be off of the Forever Trail, and excited for the downhill finish.  Alas, when I asked the AS to confirm that the last 6 miles were flat or downhill, they kind of chuckled and pointed up towards the parkway.   I'm not sure why I envisioned the finish as a 6-mile downhill, but I'd been looking forward to it for miles, and was slightly bummed when I had to slog upwards again. If you take a look at the elevation profile, you'll notice it's not all downhill.   But, it is shorter than even what's advertised.  A hefty 3'ish mile climb followed by about 3 miles of bomb-able downhill to the finish.

I finished in 12:23:40, which was good for 4th overall, 1st chick, and a new course record. Full results can be found here.  Helen Lavin, who has won the two prior Hellgates finished just 13 minutes behind me, also well below the old course record.  I'm not sure how to summarize Hellgate, other than with Horton's description, "special."  A great way to cap off the year in a unique race with many close running buddies.  I achieved my goal, and hope that I can run the course faster.  Course knowledge would have been fairly useful in a few places, and I'm still kicking myself about those lost minutes from navigational issues.  Every year at Hellgate seems to earn its own name--The Leaf Year, The Ice Year, etc., and this might have been The Easy Year or The Wet Year. The weather was relatively warm (20 at the start? and up to 35 during the day?) and there were no ice or snow issues.  There was a lot of water on the course, but again, that was kind of nice.  I plan to return, although it's hard to say if it will be in 2012.  After hearing Hellgate stories for years, I feel like I need to experience one of the harsh epic ones to truly experience Hellgate.  Regardless of whether my Hellgate experience was a soft one, I loved the experience.  Thanks to David Horton and all of the volunteers for making it such a fun and "special" experience.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Crazy enough for Hellgate

I watched one of those animated videos the other day that brought about some momentary clarity on a day when I was heading out for a run, but trying to decide if a rest day for a cranky knee was a better choice. It was the injured Ironman one, where the chick in the sauna is talking about her training (through 6 stress fractures) to a regular guy, who just keeps asking "why?" and sees the apparent absurdity in her endeavors.  I've paused to question the sanity of what we ultrarunners do many times recently as I get ready for a race that I've always considered just beyond the brink of sanity--one that I never wanted to run because it was just a little too nuts. And, it's been during the training for this race that I've paused on a few occasions to question why.  Even through my moment of clarity when I knew deep down that rest was a smart option, I opted for a run, also knowing that the smart option would leave me stir crazy for the rest of the day, having the day off of work and plenty of time to run and a weekly mileage total I hoped to hit.

One of those "we're nuts" moments was on a recent night summit to Larch Mountain via Angels Rest.  I proposed the idea of a Friday night run at our Tuesday night trail run, and you know you're surrounded by a bunch of crazies when the 4 guys behind you immediately agree to join in on the fun.  We left from the Bridal Veil parking lot at about 7:30 in a steady rain. Normal people are home on the couch or bellied up to the bar, but my friends and I were opting to run up into what likely would be a snowstorm on top of Larch Mountain covering 23 miles and 7500 feet of climb. We did find snow, but managed to summit even with a foot of powder on top.  We finished sometime after midnight, found some late night grub, and made it home and in bed by 3 a.m.  There were more than a few occasions on that run when we admitted to ourselves, "This isn't normal."  99.XXX percent of the population isn't running up a mountain in the rain/snow to get in night miles in extreme conditions.  But it was one of those runs that was 100% memorable--I won't soon forget that group or that particular run. The Gorge is beautiful by day, but also pretty damn amazing at night in the snow.

The view on top of Larch.  Me, Yassine, Shane and Aaron (Jason is taking the photo).  The snow up top  was a good 12" deep. 
Another of those "possibly nuts" moments was on a 30 mile solo night run in Forest Park two days later.  I wanted to hit my first 100 mile training week, and wanted to get in more night running so opted to wait to start my run until 3:30, to guarantee that at least a few hours of it would be in the dark.  And even though I realize that running alone on trails in the dark is not what many consider the wisest of options, it's one of my favorite times to run, and I'd guess the chance of real danger is fairly slim.  Yes, you could run into a freak in the woods with an ax, but I like to think that I could outrun most ax-toting freaks (and in Portland you can run into freaks just about anywhere). And just when I'm thinking that it's not the brightest of ideas, I run into my running buddy, Rick, also out running alone through the woods at night.  There's comfort in knowing that I'm not the only wack-job out there (and that hopefully, the other wack-jobs out there are just friends out getting in miles).

And I guess that's the appeal of Hellgate.  The same wackos head back year after year. It can't be so bad if the same people inflict it upon themselves repeatedly.

Hellgate calls itself a 100K, although everyone except Horton, seem willing to admit that it's actually 66 miles.  Starting at midnight (or rather 12:01 a.m. on Saturday) in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia the second Friday of December, it almost guarantees to be a suffer-fest and a race where no 100K PR will ever be set.  Rather, times are likely to be several hours slower than any other 100K you'll ever run.  The factors that attribute to this include those extra 4+ miles, the weather, and a tough, technical course that includes somewhere around 14,000 feet of climb. Started in 2003, the years get referred to as "the ice year," "the cold year (or frozen corneas) year," the "leaf year,"  etc.  Yet while everyone loves to complain about Hellgate, those who complain flock to the event year after year. Limited to about 150 runners, the event has a cult following.  To celebrate my 5 year anniversary as an ultrarunner, I'm finally just crazy enough to see for myself what it is about Hellgate that causes everyone to complain so, yet return to the source of the agony, again and again.  Whether I'm tough enough to endure Hellgate is a question yet to be answered.  Oregon has made me a bit soft, I'm afraid.

Here's hoping that Hellgate is not a white-out year....

Monday, October 31, 2011

Epic October runs

After Worlds I had a case of post-event funk, not really enthused about training, while at the same time really wanting to sign up for something, but unable to find anything that fit into my schedule around some previously planned trips and visitors.  I finally settled on Hellgate 100K as a "distant" goal in December and opted for some epic runs on routes that I'd been wanting to do.  Throw in running the Portland Marathon with my sister--her first--and October has been a month of epic runs to remember including:  St. Helens Circumnavigation, Portland Marathon and topping it off last weekend with a rim to rim to rim in the Grand Canyon.  Some photo memories from October....

Mount St. Helen's Traverse, 33 miles, Oct 2nd with Jason, Randy, Shane, Kathleen, and Ellen.
Early on in the day.  The day started out gray, and stayed that way most of the day.  It was comfortable at first, but we were all anxious to get dry and warm by the time we finished.
The trail is well marked, although some markers are easier to see than others.  Hard to miss these mini-boulder-pile-style cairns.
Felt like we were running on the moon at times.  Like no other place I've ever run.
On a hot sunny day, the trail would be quite exposed.  Luckily for us, it was overcast and raining much of the day.
Pretty obvious reminders throughout of the eruption.  A highly disturbed landscape.
Our moment in the sun.  This sunburst lasted just moments, but it was nice to see the sun, St. Helens, and our shadows, even if only briefly.
Portland Marathon with my SISTER!!  Oct 9th.

Lisa and I pre-race.  My sister rocks! I can honestly say that I never thought I would get to run a marathon with my sister. I love that she's gotten into running.
Early on.  Lisa was smiling!  Weather was perfect, and very Portland.  Cloudy, drizzly, and cool, and actually pretty much perfect for marathoning.  I gotta say that the course certainly does not show you the best of Portland.  Lots of train yards and industrial areas.  
Running buddy, Jason, gives 1000s of women the opportunity to meet the man of their dreams.  
Just a few blocks from the end and Lisa is still smiling!  Way to rock it in for a great first marathon finish!  
Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim with Meghan, Jason, Todd and Yassine.  Oct 23rd.  51 miles.  A truly EPIC run!!  
(Epic may be grossly overused in this post, but this run truly was epic)

Couldn't have asked for a better group with which to experience this--you all are the best! 
First sighting of the Grand Canyon upon arrival on Saturday.  Excited for the adventure to begin early Sunday morning!
Yassine put together this great video from our adventure....A fun way to sum up the journey.

October brought a lot of fun memories!  Here's hoping for a few more epic runs in 2011, including the Hellgate 100K in just 6 weeks!  I've wanted to do Hellgate for years, so am excited to be back on the right coast in December to experience what will hopefully not be an overly epic run through the Blue Ridge Mountains in the cold wintery dark.  One never knows what Hellgate might bring....

Friday, September 23, 2011

Huggers in 2012?

My biggest stressor in preparing for the World Cup 100K was what to wear.  Bun huggers or shorts? My uniform arrived a week prior to my departure with huggers, but no shorts, so I sent a desperate email to the folks at USATF to fedex me some shorts pronto. They arrived, but in the meantime, I had grown used to the idea of wearing the huggers, something I hadn't had the opportunity to do since college, where doing so earned me the nickname of Wedgie. However, racing a 5K in blue underwear is very different than racing for 8 hours in blue underwear. In the end, I decided sporting the huggers would be a bit cocky, being that I was an alternate coming off the bench. I put the huggers out there as a goal--if I ran well enough to stay on the team, the huggers would be the reward, and I could wear them in Italy in April.

I'm not really that much of a flake--I had bigger stressors than just about deciding whether to wear underwear or shorts, although it did take my mind off the more serious questions, like what the hell I was doing running around in circles on flat roads in the Netherlands.

Another stressor was the fact that I hadn't been training for a flat road 100K, but I mentioned that a bit in the last post, I believe. Anyhow, after finding out 3.5 weeks prior that I made the team, I was able to abruptly halt my Waldo taper, squeeze in 78 and 71 mile weeks with some (well, 1) longer road runs (30 miles with Meghan 3 weeks out) some track work, some tempo runs, buy a plane ticket, taper for a week and a half, and call it good. As first alternate, I'd known the possibility existed that I'd make the team last minute, and I'd arranged my schedule to accomodate (dropping Cascade Crest and replacing it with Waldo, with the idea that I'd drop out of Waldo if I got on the team at the last minute). However, my training was geared more towards Mt. Hood and Waldo.

Meghan, Pierre and I on a canal tour in Amsterdam (Pierre is a traveling prairie dog, who you might see pop up from time to time. He started leaving me post-its at work the week prior expressing his desire to tag along, promising that he'd trained very hard for the event).
We arrived in Amsterdam on Tuesday and had some time to go sightseeing before heading out to the athletes' quarters near Winschoten on Wednesday afternoon. Meghan and I toured the Van Gogh museum (which was excellent),  and enjoyed several croissants (also excellent), some tasty beers, fine Argentinian steaks, a relaxed run around the streets of Amsterdam, and a canal tour before heading out to Winschoten on Wednesday.  The trains were more complicated than expected, but we arrived Wednesday evening after a scenic tour of the Dutch countryside (thanks Timo and Anne!).  The Netherlands is flat. I knew this, but was still amazed at just how flat it was--Paraguayan Chaco flat.  And everything was very cute, small and organized. The farm animals were plentiful and adorable, as well. Cute small houses, neat orderly lawns, perfectly paved roads, orderly fields, and well-maintained bike lanes. It was all a little surreal.
Pierre waiting for the train that never came (at least not to the track where we were waiting).
Being sequestered with all of the athletes was interesting. We were at a sort of summer camp place, where people come to spend their holidays, housed 3-4 athletes to 2 BR units. For me, I had the best roommate scenario possible, with Meghan and Joe, who were both 100% relaxed and had a calming effect on me. The last thing I want to do before a race is to be holed up with nothing to do but think about the fact that I have a race to run. I'd rather have a hectic day at work, not enough time to throw some things in the car, arrive late the night before, and throw on some shoes early the next morning and run. This was the opposite. Two and a half days to rest and get accustomed to the time change around a group of antsy runners. Add to that a mid-morning race start that allows for several hours of pre-race reflection on race day. Was I anxious? Yes.
Team USA: Pam, Meghan, Devon, Carolyn, me and Annette.
There were several reminders that this wasn't just any race: posing in team uniforms with the flag, a parade of nations, team managers and meetings, breakfast each day with runners from all of the participating countries dressed in their respective sweats, etc. And of course the fact that we were wearing honest-to-goodness USA uniforms from the '08 games--pretty sweet but a wee bit of pressure. Luckily, there were 6 of us out there working together.  6 very strong runners, who all had the possibility to score for the team, which lessened the pressure on any individual. Meghan and Devon were definitely the front runners, but any of us had the potential to score and push each other on to team success. Teams can have up to 6 members run, and the top 3 score for the team.

Wait... is this Oregon? The only sunny day we had was race day. 
Meghan trying to look intimidating.  
The course was a 10K loop around town, which we'd run 10 times to reach 100K. Never having run a loop course of this nature, I didn't know what to expect. We'd had the chance to tour the course in a downpour on Thursday. If felt homey, at least the running in a downpour part.  And, of course there were all of those adorable small houses to swoon over.  And lots of windmills, too.
Nathan and Matt share a moment in front of a windmill.
Touring the course in a rainstorm. We're off course at this point, but it doesn't really matter. It would have been impossible to stray from the course on race day. 
Friday was a lot of down time, which sounds great, but it only worked in making me increasingly antsy.  There was a parade in the afternoon, with all of the countries wandering through the down-town pedestrian mall after some kids danced in the town plaza.  It was interesting.

Saturday finally rolled around, after what felt like an eternity. We were bused to the start on the first sunny and warm day all week.  75 degrees with 70% humidity after a cold rainy week in the 50s. This thing was finally underway, and we'd all get a tan in the process--the first reminder that I should have worn the huggers!

A summary of the race by lap:

Lap 1: (44:42) Crowded at the start, but eventually weaved our way through traffic, and I moved up to run with Meghan and Devon.  At some point, I realized this might be a wee bit agressive, but it felt good, so I hung around for a while.  Was fun chatting with Jo, who I met at Comrades, and who went on to finish 2nd.

Somewhere probably towards the end of lap 1 with Devon, me, Meghan and Jo.  Happy here, as we've only got 9 loops to go! The only shot of me smiling the entire race (photo from live webcast).
Lap 2: (45:10) Kept trying to fall back, but found myself catching back up to Devon and Meghan so hung around. Was feeling good until right before the Start/Finish where I realized I was suddenly about to crap my pants.  There was no where to stop, as there were barricades lining both sides of the road. Oops. Race went from good to disastrous in a matter of about 400 meters.
Annette and Pam looking strong early (photo by Darryl Schaffer).
Lap 3: (49:09) 3 bathroom stops. 2 in porta-potties and 1 in public.  Sorry Winschoten.  There was really no where to have an emergency stop.  There was a stop in the park bushes, with a group of old men standing about 5 feet away.  And you're not really that anonymous when you have "Amy" typed across the front of your bib with a USA jersey on. Alas, I wasn't arrested and it rained hard that night, so hopefully that cleaned up the city a bit.  I doubt I was the only one. In lap 3 I moved from 3rd on the team to last (6th), and was a ways back.
Our crew at the 5K aid station.  Just as in a trail ultra, aid stations are something I look forward to immensely, and a good way to tick off the miles.  "Only 5K to the next aid station," etc. Unlike trail ultras, there was little stopping at these aid stations, as our designated crew person was ready to hand off to us and get us back on course in a second (photo by Timo).

Lap 4: (51:02) 3 more bathroom stops. Tummy still not happy. I took 3 imodium during laps 3-4.  At least at this point I knew where the porta-potties were located and made bee-line moves towards them.  Except where I couldn't. At one point I ended up in a driveway, which wouldn't have been so bad had the guy not been out working on his car in the garage, just a few feet away.  Oops.  Sorry, sir.

Lap 5: (49:44) At some point the immodium kicked in (for days).  My stomach felt OK at this point, but I was deflated after having made so many stops and having lost so much time.  I was also probably a bit dehydrated and under-nourished as I'd stopped taking in calories to try to get through the stomach issues.

Lap 6: (53:01) I caught up to Pam and Carolyn somewhere in here, as they were both struggling with their own issues.  Pam was having problems with GI cramping and nausea, and Carolyn's knee was really bothering her.  I plugged on, but was less than enthusiastic about 5 more laps, as it was really a slog at this point. I'm not sure how I managed to run slower than loop 4, where I spent several minutes crapping, but I did. I was moping, and my pace reflected that.

Lap 7: (52:21) More plugging/slogging away.  Trying to remind myself that the race starts at 70K, and that I could make up some ground if I were to speed up.

Looking a little more pensive.  Probably thinking, "Did I really just crap my pants?" Or, "How far to the next porta-potty?"  Or, "Can you get DQ'ed for crapping in public?"  I could lie to you and tell you I was thinking about life, or race strategy, but I wasn't (photo by Raymond Pretat).
Lap 8: (49:06) As I came into the start/finish, I saw Devon, who'd been running up front with/in front of Meghan, off to the side in a chair.  My first thought was F*@&! And I basically yelled that over to her.  Well, I think I said, "What happened?" But it probably sounded like "Oh f*@&!"  Finding myself in 3rd, I was suddenly needed, and that motivated me to pick up the pace, and run through the aid station more quickly than the previous laps.  I think I clocked a couple 6:30 miles out of fear, and then bonked big time.  OK....still 30K left--time to push in a more sensible and sustainable manner.  I felt guilty most of the lap for how I'd yelled at Devon, hoping that it had sounded more like a sincere question of whether she was OK, and less like an exclamatory Oh Crap!

No stopping allowed.  Picking up aid on the run at the US feeding station at the 5K point. Yet another serious face. I'm not nearly as miserable as most of the pics make me out to be (photo by Timo).

Lap 9: (49:32) Knowing I was in 3rd for the team, and having the US crew yelling at me each time through the aid stations was motivating.  Several times I thought about how disappointed Meghan would be if we didn't make the podium. Due to drops and injuries, the US team had not finished a complete team the year before, and this was a point of frustration for many, especially Meghan.

Lap 10: (46:28) Starting off on Lap 10, Lin yelled to me that a podium team finish depended on me. Nothing like a little pressure to motivate--Argh! I felt like I was cruising in lap 10, and was passing people left and right (although many of them were relay runners or folks I was now lapping). I kept reminding myself that every second counted.  In that last lap, I passed the top 4 Japanese runners including their first runner just meters away from the finish, which was satisfying, as they all had run by in a pack looking really controlled and smart around lap 4.   In the last lap I moved up from 17th to place 11th in 8:10:11.   Meghan was 5th in 7:51:10, Annette 6th in 7:54:59, Pam (8:16:45) and Carolyn (8:45:53) rounded out the team.  Meghan set a world record for the 50 year old age group (AMAZING) and Annette had a big PR day.  I would guess the rest of us were not all that thrilled with how the day unfolded for each of us individually, but we were all happy to place 2nd as a team.

The men's team rocked it, finishing in 2nd, 3rd, and 6th to take the gold.
In my defense, I had picked off the entire Japanese team in my last lap, so my looks of anguish, include a bit of fatigue, as I started my final "kick" with about 5000 meters to go (photo by Darryl Schaffer).
In the end, seconds didn't really matter, but you never know that until it's over.  The Russian team beat us handily by 35+ minutes to win gold and we beat the Japanese handily by about 40 minutes to take silver.  
On the podium.  Felt good! (photo by Darryl Schaffer)

Did I have a great race?  No. I was crapping almost constantly for 20% of it.  It’s hard to crap and run at the same time.

Did I have fun?  Looking back, yes.  I almost always remember races somewhat fondly no matter how much suffering was involved.  And shortly after the race, I knew that I would do it again if given the opportunity. There’s something really special about a World Championship event, and the spirit and camaraderie of being part of such an event. I haven't run on a team in years (well, I have my Montrail teammates, and there's WUS and the VHTRC, but not a team in the sense of a team competition), and I'd forgotten just how fun it is!  The race course was festively decorated and there were people out all day cheering us on.  If you're going to run 100K in 10K loops, you might as well have a party going on around you. 

Am I proud of my effort?  Yes.  I had a long rough patch, but came back strong and dug deep to finish as strong as I could for the team.  It was all about the team’s placing, and once I found myself in 3rd, it was much easier to quit whining to myself about how much time I wasted, and suck it up and finish as high as I could to help the US stay on the podium.  I started lap 10 in 17th place and finished in 11th, running the fastest 10th  lap amongst women. I didn't finish in the time I wanted (sub 8), but I definitely pushed hard late, and turned it from a complete train wreck into a respectable finish.

Finishing in 11th kind of sucks, because it’s one place away from 10th.  The difference for me between 10th and 11th is huge. Tenth would mean an auto entry onto the 2012 team, and the next worlds are in Italy in April.  Do I want to be on the team?  Yes.  Will I actually make the team?  Maybe, but maybe not.  It looks like I could be on the bubble based on times, and I don’t look forward to playing the alternate role again if that’s where I end up.  Being an alternate puts me in a tough position.  What it meant for me this time was that I was half-ass training for Waldo (a mountain 100K) and half-ass training for worlds (flat road) and not effectively training for either.   If I don’t run Worlds, I’ll likely choose to run Zane Grey, and the training for these 2 events couldn’t be more dissimilar. It's hard to be training for a technical mountain course, with the possibility of a fast flat road course in the back of your mind. 

Evidence that the huggers exist.

So, will I get to wear huggers in Italy?  I hope so. But if not, I'll be wearing them at Zane Grey.

Lessons learned:
If you think before a race that your shoes are going to tear up your feet, they probably will, and you should seek other options.  I wore some K-Swiss Quickie Blade Lights that I could tell were going to trash my feet the first time I wore them. I had blisters by mile 10, and they only got worse.  If I end up on the Italy team, I'll do a bit more research and find some road flats that work.  In this case, I would have been better off in trail shoes (I toyed with wearing the Montrail Rogue Flys, and wish I would have).

I may need to admit that I have some food issues/allergies or remnant parasites, and some testing might be a good idea.  I need to figure out a solution so that I don't waste precious minutes sitting in a porta-potty.  Or maybe it was just bad luck from a case of extreme nerves. This year I was fine at Miwok and WS, but had some major issues at this race, Mt. Hood, Comrades, Chuckanut.

Regardless of whether you think you're going to chafe, you are.  Apply body glide liberally to all body parts coming into contact with new objects, like the Nike shorts and bra top that may have left permanent scars.  I experienced number chafe, too, which was a new one for me.

Running in loops on roads can be fun! And if I make the team for Italy, I'll be focusing very hard on getting well under 8 hours!

Thanks to the great Team USA crew--from our managers to friends and family of the various team members who were out there helping--you were all awesome and supportive and your assistance was much appreciated!

There were a lot of linkages for me on this team, which was also fun:
Montrail ladies pose for a group shot.  Here with Annette and Ellie.
Andy, also on Team Montrail, rocked it to finish 3rd overall, at his first Worlds.
Team Oregon: Me, Pam and Meghan.
Team WUS!!  Long live WUS.