Friday, July 8, 2011

WS100 2011: Looking foward to 2012!

Lots of good memories from this one, and pictures speak louder than words (especially when they include really long captions), so I'm including more than a few below. To sum it up, I LOVED WS.  I didn't think I would, but it was a super fun weekend and I can't wait to go back next year.  That's the short version.  The long version follows:  

Sister and I before the start. Having Lisa there for the entire weekend meant the world to me. 
Prerace:
The week started off with a nice chill drive down from Portland with Todd, crew chief and pacer extraordinaire. We opted for the scenic eastern route full of wide open spaces. Being technologically challenged, I have no good means to listen to music in my car besides the radio and CDs, and there were only 4 CDs in my car, one of which is the Chipmunks Christmas Album.  Needless to say, there were really only 3 that were considered as options, and we proceeded to listen to a Dixie Chicks CD more than 8 times.  Fitting lyrics, although I think they aren't talking about actual running:

Ready, ready, ready, ready...ready to run
All I'm ready to do is have some fun

I'm ready to run
I'm ready to run
I'm ready to run
I'm ready to run...ready to run...
ready to run...yeah I'm ready to run. I'm ready
Whoa I'm ready to run...I'm ready...I'm ready to run...
I'm ready to run...I'm ready
Oh I'm ready to run..I'm ready. 

Needless to say, Todd is one of the most patient guys I know, because he said very little about the repeating CD, and left me in charge. By the time we got to Squaw Valley on Wednesday night, we were ready to do anything besides sit in a car and listen to the Dixie Chicks reinforce over and over that we were ready to run.  

Ellie and I at check-in on Friday.  Ellie and I got to spend most of Thursday together practicing our uphill running form and smearing ourselves with mud.  I predicted that Ellie would take this one, and was super excited to finish and hear about her second-half comeback. 
Thursday was spent at a photo shoot with Ellie and Max.  The photographer, Kevin Winzeler, takes some amazing photos, so I'm excited to see what comes out of this.  Never having been part of a photo shoot before, I have to say it was pretty awesome, although after 10+ hours, we were all ready to get out of the sun and stop the wind sprints.

Even better than the photo shoot was the arrival of my sister on Thursday. My sister and I are very close, but she hasn't seen me race since high school, when she was disgusted by my dry heaving before the start at track meets, and stopped going to watch, or something to that effect. She also used to claim to hate running, but has started running over the last couple of years, and has become a runner. It's been fun to watch her get into it, and to share this with her. At some point a couple of weeks before the race, I decided that I needed my sister there to be a part of it, and when it all worked out and she was able to come, I was thrilled to have her get to share in the experience. She was thrilled, too, and is much more expressive and emotive than I, so it was fun to watch her reaction to the entire weekend.  The only bummer to the snow route, was that crew didn't have access until mile 55, and my crew opted to meet me at Foresthill (mile 62), just to be on the safe side, as Todd was jumping in with me there, so she wouldn't get to experience quite as much of the race as normal.

Thursday night was a chance to get to hang out with everyone for dinner at the Montrail house, and was a great chance to relax and kick back before the pre-race festivities on Friday.

Top 10 from last year and MUC qualifiers at the pre-race meeting.
Always a strong field, this year's was no exception. Photo by Jack Meyer.
All of the pre-race hype that I thought I was going to hate, I didn't mind and actually kind of enjoyed.  I had experienced the pre-race scene (check-in, meeting) last year when I paced Annette, and knew what to expect, so it didn't surprise me and I didn't feel as nervous as usual. While anxious to get  the race started, I didn't have any feelings of dread or attempts to injure myself to avoid running. It was a nice day for hanging out outside and running into friends, and all ended too soon.  After a nice dinner with crew and new roomie, Jason, in Truckee, I went to bed feeling ready to go. I had just fallen asleep when I heard a beep from my phone: a fellow ultra runner texting me to ask, "U running WS?" Seriously? At 10 p.m. the night before WS? Lesson learned: buy an alarm clock that is not my phone.

Part of Team Montrail before the start.  I hadn't spent much time with either Jill or Joelle before WS, and staying at the Montrail house, really enjoyed getting to know both of them.  
The race:
I wasn't as nervous as I normally get before races, and the start was far less traumatic than I had imagined. I took the climb up to Escarpment pretty easy, running with Rory for some of it, but well behind the lead pack. I really wasn't concerned about how everyone else was doing, and was not focused on racing, but just running my own race. I'll admit I had an interest in where Pam was, because she was ahead of me by a couple of points in the Montrail Ultra Cup, and our finish places and times would determine who got second place vs. third, but besides that I was pretty happy to do my own thing. As we reached the top of the climb and turned onto the snow, I slowed considerably and passed no one while getting passed by many.

The snow sucked.  I've heard some people say it was fun.  I can honestly say I thought it sucked.  For me, it was impossible to get in a rhythm and each time I thought I was getting the groove of it, I'd crash or slip. I will admit that I did absolutely no snow training, although even if I had, I don't think it would have helped much for the snow running at WS, as I hadn't expected the hard-pack that we ran across. Much of it was at a significant camber, and was frozen solid, which made for poor traction. My balance, in general, is not stellar, and this section definitely highlighted this.  

The snow running was more difficult than this section implies, with much of it at an angle, and frozen solid. I did not enjoy the snow section, as grace and balance are not my strengths, and I hadn't run in snow at all in preparation (and when I do run in snow, I typically wear screwed shoes or yaktrax so as not to fall and break a leg).  The gloves helped a ton, as I fell a few times, and had to claw myself along on other occasions.  Photo by Gary Wang.
I was very happy to get off the snow and onto the easy downhill running after the mile 15 aid station.  I passed Pam at the aid station, and soon passed Sandi Nypaver, and somewhere in this section started going back and forth with Becky Wheeler and eventually passed her for good (although not by much).  I had no idea what place we were in and didn't ask. I thought I heard someone say 7th at or around Mosquito Ridge AS, but I had music on at the time, so she must have said something else, because I was in 11th at Devil's Thumb and had only been moving up. I didn't feel bad, and didn't feel like I was pushing too hard, although I was struggling and slow on the climbs.  I'd pass people going down, but get passed back going up. I guess that's what zero uphill training will get you. Luckily WS is a net downhill course, and being a strong downhill runner seems to help more than being a strong uphill runner (although if you're doing both well, you're obviously going to do best). And I would wager that if you're not in top shape, you can't fake your way up a climb, but you can fake your way downhill.  If that makes any sense?  In general, I felt like I was moving well once we got off the snow until we got to the canyons, as long as we weren't heading up.

It's always nice to see Glenn's smiling face out on the course.   Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.
My stomach was a bit queasy from the start. Not bad, but such that shot blocks went down much better if I macerated them a bit before swallowing, and the thought of swallowing them whole made me want to gag a bit.  And gels were taking me several minutes to get down. I started drinking Gu2O early on because I knew my calorie consumption was less than optimal. I downed a bottle of Ultragen at Mosquito Ridge (mile 31), but besides that, lived on Gu and Gu2O, which was the aid station fare, and a couple of PB&J quarters. The flavor selections for Gu were limited, and by the end of the day, the thought of another strawberry-banana Gu was bad enough to cause an avoidance response. The gear life saver of the day was my arts and crafts project from Friday afternoon: a bandana sewed into a triangle (with openings) so that I could fill it with ice and tie it around my neck. I started filling it with ice early, and used it for much of the day.  I realize that this wasn't a hot year, but even with some heat training in South Sudan and sauna sessions, it was a hot day for an Oregonian.

I guess I'm a heel striker.  And several people made comments about my hair, and wondered how I carried it for 100 miles. Um, well,  I guess I have strong neck muscles? Someone found me at some point during the weekend by "looking for the girl with the big hair."  I didn't find that very descriptive, but they found me, so maybe it was. (Note the arts and crafts project tied around my neck.) Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.
Initially, I had hoped to spend some time training on the course. But Memorial Day was spent in Africa at Comrades, and my course knowledge came from a quick read of the course description and elevation profile.  In a moment of pre-race panic, I went back to the course description Friday night while lying in bed, but the elevation profile and description led me to believe the canyons were flat. Canyons are never flat, and neither were these; selective reading, I supposed.  Both the climb to Devil's Thumb (47.8) and the climb to Michigan Bluff (55.7) kicked my ass. I was fine on both long downhills into the canyons passing a few people, but the guys I passed going down hiked by me like I was standing still going up. Somewhere after Devil's Thumb, I passed Helen going down into the second canyon to move into 10th and was surprised she didn't pass back as I crawled up out of the canyon into Michigan Bluff. 10th was the last position I wanted to be running in at any point in the second half of the race as top 10 has special significance at WS, but it was where I ended up at mile 50. I was hot, dizzy and hating life as I slogged into the aid station, where I snapped at a couple of friends, and slogged onward.

I felt like death here, coming into Michigan Bluff.  I was weaving a bit on the climb coming out of the canyons and thought this was the beginning of the end. I had a miraculous recovery which I credit to a quarter of a PB&J sandwich and cruised into Foresthill feeling like a rock star.  Photo by Jonathan Bernard.
The highs and lows that come in a 100 miler are predictable, yet always surprising. I'd felt like hell just a few miles back, but I loved the section into Foresthill and was suddenly cruising.  The snacks I'd grabbed at Michigan Bluff seemed to kick in (a piece of PB&J), and I felt awesome. The only downside was that the sweet guy that had filled my bladder at Michigan Bluff had only gotten it partially closed and I was drenched in Gu2O, which was causing the backs of my calf to stick to my hamstring. A clumsy creek crossing left me flat on my back in the creek, but I was once again clean, refreshed, and running most of the way into the Bath Road AS (60.6). I walked and chatted with someone up parts of Bath Road, but felt the urge to run and took off, cruising into Foresthill (62) like I was running a 5K (or so it felt at the time) and super excited to pick up my pacer, Todd, and check in on how my sister was enjoying her day. 

After a pack change, Todd and I were on our way and moved well for the majority of the 16 mile run down to the river crossing. I'd been going back and forth with Joe Kulak all day, and we continued to leap frog. It was nice to get an update on the race, because the lack of crew access had left us without any race updates up until this point. I was bummed to hear that Ellie wasn't in front, and surprised by the men's updates. I also inquired about Pam, but being that she was behind me and that updates had been spotty, didn't have any real idea of where she was.  I used that as motivation throughout the second half--an extra thousand bucks = weekend in Hawaii. Maybe it's sad, but a little extra cash really does motivate. 

My only real issues through this section were my feet, but I had opted to not change shoes at Foresthill, after deciding that it was best that I not see my feet.  I've often imagined my feet to be trashed, only to discover when I take off my shoes that they're not that bad.  That's what I decided was happening, and if they were truly trashed, there was nothing I wanted to spend time doing about it at this point. I avoid sitting, in general, in 100s, and shoe changes are slow and seated.  I was still moving well on the downs, and felt like I was hiking quickly when hiking. I was happy to move into 9th just before the river crossing, although bummed to pass Anita, who looked like she was in some pain, and struggling.  

I'd been looking forward to the river crossing all day, but for me, sitting down is generally a bad idea during 100s.  The high I'd felt at Foresthill had been slowly fading since then, and was now suddenly gone and I was at my third lowest point of the day (1. Michigan Bluff, 2. Snow). I felt sluggish getting out of the boat, but happy to see my sister's smiling face on the other side of the river. She seemed to be having a blast, and I'd be seeing her again at the Hwy 49 crossing where she would get to run trails for the first time in her life with me, at night!  Yes, I have to admit it made me ever so slightly nervous, but also excited to get to run the last 6.5 miles with my sister. At Green Gate (79.8), we stopped briefly to talk to Joelle, who was dropping there. Another bummer, as I'd gotten to spend some time with Joelle, as we were staying at the Montrail house, and she is a super person, and I was hoping she'd have a breakthrough 100-miler.  I didn't run much of the climb to Green Gate, and apologized to Todd, but it was time for the music to come back on, once we were past the aid station. I rarely listen to music while running, and really only reserve it for racing, but it definitely helps me. Whenever I would turn it off to talk to Todd, I would slow down, but when I switched it back on and found the right song (2 favorites linked there), I was cruising again (cruising, in an "85-miles-into-a-hundred" type of cruising).  

I'm kind of a pain-in-the-ass to pace, and I should have explained this to Todd pre-race, and explained what he should actually insist upon, because during the race, I will say no to everything and anything. Todd would kindly make a suggestion, and I'd shoot him down.  

Todd: "Shotblocks?"  
Amy: "Shut up. Don't ever say that again" (The thought of shot blocks at that point brought a gag response--for me they're really hard to swallow late in a 100 miler).

Todd: "Would you like me to run in front?"
Amy: "Never."

Todd: "Would you like me to remind you to eat?"
Amy: "No."

While Todd remained good spirited throughout, I think he was happy to pass me off to my sister at mile 93.5.  And I have to say, I was psyched to see Sister!  I can't say that I focused on pushing the pace much in the last stretch, but I did enjoy chatting and running with Lisa, and enjoyed her reaction to running downhill on a trail at night.  Behind me, I could hear her ask , "How do you do this?" Luckily she was a trooper, and figured it out on her own, because I was too tired to turn around and just kept going. No Hands Bridge was a welcome site and soon after the climb to Robie Point, which seemed to last forever, and the top of the hill happened much later than I expected.  We finally hit the downhill and made it to the track, and to the finish. 100.2 in 19:36.22, 8th female, 34th overall.

Sister looks way more chipper than me at this point.  I have to say I was slightly grumpy heading down from Robie Point, but Lisa took it in stride. Lisa had never run on trails, let alone at night on trails. In addition to Lisa's first marathon, I'm looking forward to Lisa's first trail race, to be followed soon after with Lisa's first ultra. She had a great time, and having  her there really made the weekend for me. Her constant amazement at how cool the ultra community is, was a reminder of  how lucky we all are; we do have a pretty cool community. She was smiling like this the entire weekend! Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.
Happier here, as I begin to grasp that I'm done--woohoo!  WS in the books in 19:36, 8th female.
Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.
Of note:
My sister!  It was one of those special sister-bonding weekends that neither of us will forget.  And my sister seems to be hooked on this running thing, because she's since signed up for her first marathon--Portland on October 9th! Go Sister!

Todd is an awesome friend/crew/pacer. He claims to have enjoyed it, but I promise to be nicer next year.

4 Oregon women in the top 10.  How sweet is that?  And the top 3 places in the Montrail Ultra Cup on the women's side went to Oregon, along with 2 of the top 3 for men.  An additional $11,000 into the Oregon economy this year--sweet!

Montrail/Mountain Hardwear made it easy for all of us on the team, arranging for a house. I really enjoyed getting to meet and hang out with teammates in a relaxed environment.  Thanks, Jessie!

There's nothing like a little Split Lip Rayfield and Scroat Belly to get me through the rough spots. Works every time.

Muscle memory, experience, and mental toughness seem to be a big part of success in100 milers.  I went in on the low end of the mileage spectrum, and ran well, despite the hiccups in my training in April through June.  Looking back at my training log, I averaged 52.5 miles/week since January 1.  Calculating from April 1, that average drops to 45 miles/week in the 12 weeks prior to WS.  If you'd asked me in February what my training plan would look like, I would have told you that I would try to hit a 75 mile/week average, with top mileage weeks topping out around 90-100 and lower mileage weeks in the 60s.  Unfortunately life gets in the way sometimes--injuries, work trips, trashed quads from racing, etc. and that just didn't happen.  At the same time, I went into WS with absolutely no pressure on me.

My biggest fear was that my quads would get trashed and that it would at some point turn into a death march.  That never happened and my quads stayed strong until the end.  I only began to feel them the last 15 miles or so, and they weren't that bad.  I was sore until Tuesday, but could have run again much sooner than after Miwok, although opted to wait until Friday.  Admittedly, my quads, while not sore, felt like bricks on Friday, but on a run on Sunday, felt surprisingly good.  My quads survived, and for this, I am puzzled.  I'd done inadequate uphill and downhill training, and relatively few long runs. My quads have fared much worse in runs for which I've felt better prepared.

I'm happy with my time, but I certainly had some left at the end. Regardless, my finish place wouldn't have changed had I been a bit more motivated to push in those last 20 miles and had finished 15 minutes or so faster, as Meghan was a good 45 minutes ahead of me.

I get to go back next year!  I have to say, I didn't think I was going to like Western States, but I loved it.  I can't wait to go back next year better trained--ready to run it more aggressively and knock out an 18:XX.  Todd and Lisa--reserve the date!!

Top 10!!  Feels good to have an open invite to go back for another try!

8 comments:

Chris said...

Absolutely incredible race Amy! I followed your progress and kept my Dad in Law in Georgia updated! :) A HUGE congratulations and it is high time you get some new CDs! Jason still tells those horror stories of the chipmunks CD on the road to Sisters ;)

Sophie Speidel said...

I told you you would love it. It's so funny how people think it's too hyped but you can't beat the vibe, the history, trail itself. *If* I ever do another 100, WS would be the one. Congrats on your stellar finish! We were talking about you last weekend in the SNP, about our epic run together when you were a total newbie, and now, 5 years later, look at you! Awesome.

sea legs girl said...

Hi Amy. There is so much great stuff in this report, I harldy know where to begin other than to thank you for writing it. But thanks for all of the song ideas, interesting comment on the "muscle memory" and glad I'm not the only woman out there running long races without putting her hair up (it's much more pleasant than one would imagine, isn't it?? :) - even with long hair). I hope it's a quick recovery for you. I ALSO hope to see you there next year. At least one of us has a guaranteed spot :) (congrats on an AMAZING 8th place!).

amy said...

Thanks Chris!

Sophie, I do think about you and all of our epic VHTRC training runs often. I miss you guys!

SLG, I do wear my hair up--but it's still big even when up. If I wore it down it would likely blind me. Look forward to seeing you in WI!

Laurie Todd said...

Wow, Amy!!!! Your mom had shared some of this with us (PEO), but reading about your experience has been fascinating. I am so proud of you for your determination and drive, though I think you and your "cronies" are a bit crazy!!!! Actually I am jealous of your incentive to do these long races. It was heartwarming to read your feelings about Lisa joining up with you.

"I knew you when..."

ultrarunnergirl said...

Huge congratulations, Amy! 8th place at WS - that is quite an impressive accomplishment. I know you can top that next year.
Having returned from an injury this past winter, I am starting to really believe that muscle memory gets us a long way on minimal miles, and it is truly smart to be well-rested going into big races. I had a feeling you'd kick ass at WS despite your training not going as planned.
So cool that your sister came along for the ride. I hope someday one of my brothers will run with me.

Teri S. said...

Awesome report. Congrats on a great race - way to represent Oregon (with everyone else!)

Host PPH said...

Your sister and you are quite alike. is her your twin sister?. and you are right Pictures are better to give an idea.