Friday, August 10, 2012

WS 2012: Uninspired

OK, I wrote this about a month ago, and just have been too lazy/busy to hit publish.  It sounded a bit too negative (well, I guess it still does, because I haven't changed it), but I'll post it anyway. It's how I was feeling at the time. Time to move on to other events, and post something more recent, but I like to do things in order.  So, these were my thoughts as of about a month ago...

Bleh.  That's kind of how I feel about the whole WS experience.  Kind of how I felt going into it, kind of how the month of June was in general, and kind of how I feel about it afterwards.  I probably should be happy with a 25 minute PR on a slower course.  And 19:11 is a time that a lot of people would be happy to run on the "full" WS course (the current course not modified by a "snow" route, as was the case last year).  I should be happy with F8 in the strongest women's field ever at WS, which means I'm guaranteed a spot for next year.  But, I still feel kind of bleh.  Uninspired.  Which is kind of how I felt during the race. And it's what leaves me wishing I could go back and redo the race, and really, the entire month of June. But there's always next year....

Heading up the Escarpment.  It was cold, wet, and windy. Photo by Drymax Socks.
On to the uninspired details: like many others I froze my ass off for the first 35 miles.  Western States is known for being a cooker and many WS'ers spend the month leading up to the race spending hours in a sauna to replicate what race day conditions in the canyons should be like. I spent my fair amount of time sweating it out in the sauna, and in the bikram studio.  We lucked out, though, and the forecast for unseasonably cool weather turned into downright frigid by race morning. As an Oregonian I was excited for cooler temps, but not necessarily for cold temps. I may be acclimated to cool, but I'm still a hot weather girl at heart.  I like that feeling when you're on the verge of heat stroke.
Riding up to the top at Squaw for some photos. With Sister and Tim.  Photo by Ellie Greenwood.
The days leading up to WS were fun, although I was feeling pretty anxious. I definitely felt a bit more pressure going into this year's race than any other race I've run. But, for the most part, the drive down and pre-race days with my good friend and pacer, Todd, and sister, Lisa, were great. My sister got to crew and pace me last year, and I think she's fallen more in love with the race than I have. I wouldn't be surprised to see her on the starting line sometime down the road. Pre-race activities included getting to participate in a Luis Escobar photo shoot with Ellie, which was a lot of fun, and he captured some great images. He can make anyone look good.

A favorite image from the photo shoot.  Luis has an amazing eye, and I love how he plays with light in his images. This was taken on the golf course in the valley in the early morning light.  Photo by Luis Escobar.
The hype that didn't bother me last year during the pre-race festivities, seemed to be a little more overwhelming this year, and I was ready to just get started and be alone in the woods with my thoughts. Race morning finally arrived, and I was anxious to just get out there and get on with it.
Climbing up the Escarpment with Krissy. Photo by Jeffrey Genova.
Not really expecting the cold to last much past the first 5-10 miles, race morning I put a thin jacket on over my pack, thinking I'd be taking it off on the climb up the Escarpment.  Little did I know I'd be wearing it for hours, and then switching to long sleeves at Robinson Flat. Apparently iRunfar tweeted something about me (representing the cold rainy state of Oregon) being the first to shed layers at Robinson--which wasn't exactly true. I had to take off the jacket to get my pack off to get weighed, and then my hands were simply too cold to put it back on.  The Ghost Whisperer is a great super lightweight jacket for wind and is deceptively warm, but when it gets super wet, putting it back on is like trying to put on saran wrap, which is hard to do, especially when your fingers are numb. What iRunfar didn't see is that I put on a dry long sleeve shirt 20 meters down the trail. I was numb.

Dusty Corners (I think). Arm warmers have been converted into hand warmers after wet gloves turned into icicles. Photo by Hannah Shallice.
So, I got behind on nutrition and hydration early because my hands were frozen and getting at my pack under my jacket to drink seemed an insurmountable effort I didn't attempt to make often enough. I think this helped set myself up for a long day.  My quads started to whimper much earlier than last year, and I could tell early on that the last half was kinda going to suck.  My attitude didn't help matters much.  My hands were very quickly fat and puffy, and my lower arms were oddly painful.  Which in the end was fine, being that you don't run on your wrists, and it gave me something else to dwell on, besides the fact that I wasn't having any fun. It felt kind of like I would imagine severe carpal tunnel to feel like.

I was running in about 10th place before Robinson Flat (~mile 30), and passed Liza on the climb up to Robinson, and then Tina not too far out from Robinson.  Both looked to be struggling with the cold.  I was cold, but not nearly as cold as they looked.  I was happy to not be a petite female at this point.

Climbing up out of the canyons. Joyful expression. Photo by Veronica Whittington Schmidt.
My quads were starting to suffer by the time we started descending into the canyons (~mile 40). I'm guessing that my quads died early for a couple of reasons.  One, I just didn't do enough hill work after training for the flats at Worlds in April. I did do some hill training, but maybe not close enough to race day, and a couple final quad trashing sessions in early June might have done the trick?  Not sure. Last year, I'd trashed them 2 weeks out, and then had no problems with them during the race, so maybe there's something to be said for a good final trashing that leaves you sore heading into a shorter (2-week) taper.  I've read recently that downhill memory in quads is short-lived, so I'll keep that in mind for UTMB and WS next year, and do some last-minute long descents.  And second, I think the early descents with completely numb quads did a fair amount of damage. It's hard to control your running form (pounding/foot slapping) when you can't feel anything.  Not sure, as quad death seems to be fairly inexplicable.  I've had races where I expected my quads to die based on insufficient training (last year at WS), and they didn't. And races where I expected them to come through like champs (this year at WS), and they didn't.  And there is quad soreness and then quad death, when you begin to wonder if you'll end up in the hospital with kidney failure.  I was fearing the second, and my body was giving me the same signals.

My quads started to go in the canyons.  JB Benna ran the descent down to El Dorado with me, and while my quads were sore, I was still running downhill well at this point.  I also had a video camera on me for a few miles, so maybe stupidly ran the downhill faster than I should have, although the canyon descents were the most fun I had all day. And once your quads start to go, running with the breaks on doesn't seem to help any more than just running naturally without the breaks on.  Regardless, the canyons were the part of the course that was the most fun this year because I was still running well, but wasn't freezing my ass off at the same time. However, the canyons also started hinting at the fact that it was going to be a long day.  At about the same time I started to feel nauseous.  Not to the puking stage, but enough so that fluids and food were unappealing.  Again, a sign of bad things to come, especially because I hadn't been drinking during the cold sections, either.

Snacking in Foresthill. Sprite and ginger aid were going down really well, so I survived largely on soda for the final 30 miles.  I think the question I most often get about running is if my head or neck ever get sore.  No.  That I don't even notice that giant furball until people start to ask me about it.  Photo by Drymax Socks.
I was moving OK up from Michigan Bluff to Foresthill, but again, just really not that inspired, and going through the motions. I picked up Scott Wolfe in FH, and he tried to motivate me down towards the river.  When I'm in a funk, coaching really doesn't do much for me, except make me want to strangle my coach, and I still feel bad that I was a bit grumpy the entire trip with Scott.  He kept reminding me to turn left and right at the switchbacks and I some point I turned around and lost it a bit.  Where else was I supposed to go when the trail turned sharply to the right, but right?  My quads, which had been getting progressively more sore since about mile 40 really started to really scream by the time we reached the river crossing at mile 78, and I feared the next 22 miles, as I could tell it was going to be a slog.

I dropped off Scott at the river and jumped into a boat with Todd, who would take me to Highway 49 crossing, where my sister would be waiting for me to take me to the finish.  Todd is the best crew person/pacer a person could ever ask for.  He knows what you want before you ask for it, and was completely focused on my comforts/needs, from the minute we picked him up on Wednesday in Portland, to the minute he dropped himself off (in my car) at his place on Sunday night.  He drives, packs the car, runs errands, and any other number of things. Someday I hope to pick Todd up in a race and be a joy to run with--so far that hasn't really happened.  Sorry.

I hadn't passed or been passed by another woman since passing Liza and Tina around Robinson Flat, but immediately after crossing the river heading up towards Green Gate, Krissy went screaming by.  To put it into perspective, she passed me at mile 78, and finished 42 minutes ahead of me.  That's either a testament to how well she ran the final 22, or just how poorly I did, or a combination of both, but during the race, I just didn't care that she went screaming by. I had no juice to follow, and no will to try to latch on, so didn't even try.
Not sure exactly where this is, but somewhere before Foresthill, based on the shoes. Photo by Dusty Davis. 

The last 22 miles were just kind of sad and pathetic. I was in a funk, and while I could still run parts, it wasn't pretty and it certainly wasn't joyful.  I didn't revel in the experience, or appreciate the beauty of the trail (well, it was getting dark, and the trail is a tunnel of poison oak in this part, which is not a thing of beauty). I just wanted to be done. Why was I out there? Why had I put in so much time for a race I now seemed completely unmotivated to race?  It really made me question why I continue to race and barely find balance with my job, running, attempts at failed relationships, friendships that I don't always have enough time for.  Oh wait, all of my friends are runners these days. Well, most.

I picked Lisa up at Highway 49, and just tried to focus on getting to the end without losing too much ground.  She made a comment at some point about coming back next year.  I reminded her, that there would be no next year unless I managed to stay within top 10.  My sister just may be more into WS than I am, and it really has turned into a fun sister-bonding weekend, so I started to stress out a bit at screwing up the last section enough to drop from 7th to 11th or worse. Luckily, not even I could screw it up that much.

Tina caught me on the climb up to Robie Point at about mile 98.5.  I didn't care. 7th or 8th didn't matter much to me at this point, nor could I do anything about it.  My quads were trashed to the point of a hobble.  Todd met my sister and I at the top of Robie, and they both encouraged me to run.  I really couldn't. My journey around the track was pathetic and barely called running.

In the end my finish time wasn't too far off a finish time that would make me happy.  I finished in 19:11, which is a respectable time on the regular course, but I really wanted to be sub-19, and really wanted to hit about 18:45. And while I'm disappointed in the time, I guess I'm most disappointed in my attitude and effort on the day, especially those last 38 miles.  I didn't have much fun out there, at an event I had anticipated for months.  If you're not having fun, then what's the point?

Shuffling around the track. Photo by Drymax Socks.
Looking back, the main disappointment with the day was the final third of the race.  But while it seems easy now to sit back and wonder if I just gave up, during the race my body just couldn't respond and I was scared to push it.  The last 2 hundreds I've run (WS last year and Pine to Palm in 2010) went pretty well from start to finish.  I finished feeling like I hadn't done any major bodily harm, and was starting to question the notion I've always had that 100s just aren't that good for you. But this one was similar to my experiences at Massanutten, where blown quads, left me nauseous and at a point where felt that I couldn't actually push any further without doing some internal organ damage.  Maybe imagined, but my CPK (26,600), BUN (41) and Creatinine (1.63) tests came back high, and I was peeing Coke-colored after the race, in addition to feeling nauseous for a good 12+ hours after the race. It's hard to explain, but there's a feeling when things just aren't right, and when you're at the verge of doing something that could lead to hospitalization.

The day after. Sister, me and Todd. I don't usually feel short.... Photo by Larry Gassan.
I just wish the good performances would cause as much of a confidence boost as the lackluster performances do to cause a complete confidence bleed. The "bleh" performances seem to weigh in my mind much more than the good ones, and contribute more to how I perceive myself as a runner.

Regardless, I get to go back next year, and will work on figuring it all out in the meantime.  I get a chance to continue to work on the 100 mile (+) distance at UTMB at the end of August.  My approach for that one is to really take in the experience and the scenery and enjoy the journey--smile more often, maybe even laugh on occasion.
Meghan, Me and Hannah the day after. Meghan and I spent a lot of time together preparing for this and I'm happy that we both made Top 10 and look forward to many more WS training runs next year. Photo by Hannah's camera.
Huge thanks to Lisa, Todd and Scott.  I'm lucky to have an amazing support crew, who despite my grumpiness, seemed to enjoy the experience. Next year I hope to win the "funnest to crew/pace" award, which I definitely didn't win this year.


Anonymous said...

I run, but am not an ultramarathoner, so I am in awe of the WS100 and I would be super-proud to run it in the time you achieved (on, for you, an off-day).

By trade, I'm an ICU nurse, so it seems that you experienced some degree of kidney dysfunction and of rhabdo. You didn't go to a hospital? Did you go to a lab? Did you just drink a lot of fluids?

I hope you don't mind my questions. Professional curiosity...

Olga said...

Amy, it's amazing how much more insight I can glean into this whole recap after spending a couple of house in the Gorge with you. Yet, I can tell you, I could relate to it as much if I didn't - just kind of neat that I feel you talking to me know more personal:) Anyhow, a few of point I wanted to bring up in similarity, with no real order. The fact that we view ourselves and judge by bad performances rather than good ones is normal, sad, but normal. We need more people around us who keeps reminding us about good stuff, not ruh-ruh people, but people who we are certain don't lie, who can call out on bs, but who can say when good is good. That said, not only you're a very good runner, you are a great and solid person. What brings me to another point, one you briefly mention here, and which we discussed some on the run. Why we keep doing thing that keep damaging us, or at least exhaust us, AND which often (not always, not to everyone, but often) put a dent in our work, relationships, friendships 9other than with runners), our development as human with wide views...I actually just posted on it recently. And about how unhappy you were with 19:11 and 8th place, when crapload of folks make you feel guilty for it, yet the most negative is your attitude. One year I somehow managed a top-10 there, you know. It wasn't any great time needed to be run these days to place, but I did, legitimately, passed or out-lived some great female runners that day, and I am proud of my 23:14. The following year I returned, the 2006, the hottest in the last 2 decades, and only 52% of the field finished. I was one of them. I was praised, but I was pissed. For reasons not entirely related to the heat I walked from mile 10. Regardless, I made it to the track in 28:30 (I think?). What I was pissed about, though, was my attitude and my not-so-nice treatment of my crew and pacers, the two of my best friends, and till this day, while I am forgiven, I feel bad about it - and my mood - in the last 38. What that means? May be that you and I, and I bet a lot of others, run races as emotional beings more than physical ones. That's what stays.
Anyhow, long comment:) I hope you get to enjoy UTMB's beauty and focus on it, and if performance comes with it, great, if not, just let it flow. Be mindful about all - and as you know, life is so much longer and so much bigger than our running careers. And next time we meet - it's beer time!

amy said...

Hi Anon,
I didn't go to a lab or a hospital. WS does the blood tests at the finish line. I had forgotten to log in to check my results, but the WS medical director emailed me later that week to check in on me based on my numbers. I really only felt bad for about 24 hours, and was fine after that. I tried to post-race, but I didn't really start drinking fluids again until Sunday morning bc I was too nauseous.

amy said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comment, as always, Olga. I still feel guilty about an aid station interchange at MMT when I got flustered when my crew was late. I barked at them, and then spent the entire distance until I saw them at the next crew access point, agonizing over the fact that I hadn't hugged them and told them thank you for being there. I don't think they thought much of it, but I was so relieved when I finally reached them again in order to apologize. Emotions are definitely out of whack in the midst of a 100 miler.

I'm through with the heavy weeks of UTMB training, and the last weekend was definitely one where I questioned why I was out there. I was tired, and missing out on time with friends, but at the same time knew that I wouldn't be great company with my friends if I turned around early. Sometimes it seems like you're going to feel guilty one way or the other, and there is no perfect solution. This weekend I chose to be partially selfish (went along on a girls' weekend, but spent the days out running), knowing that if I hit the mileage numbers I wanted, I could go into my taper confident, and spend those extra hours in the next few weeks mindful of focusing on the non-running parts of my life.

ultrarunnergirl said...

Glad you posted this, even if it wasn't all inspiration and greatness and triumph.

I always try to look at it this way: the great races wouldn't mean nearly as much if we didn't have the bad races.

Thanks for the perspective from a top 10 finisher on a crappy race. I think it really resonates with us mid-packers.

Anonymous said...

Congrats on improving your time, especially with the physical challenges. I always appreciate your humility and honesty in your posts, and do hope you feel some sense of accomplishment. You have a rigorous job and a full life, and it's amazing that you train and perform at the level you do. It was good to see you ever so briefly at the AS. Have a great run at UTMB! ~ Melissa

alligator said...

Good luck at UTMB! I will be glued to my computer on Friday following along!

Anonymous said...

You have the most beautiful legs!!

amy said...

Why, thank you, random anonymous commenter.

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