Monday, December 13, 2010

3 Non Joggers Guest Appearance

I was invited to go hang out in Russ's basement last week.  You can hear the results of that interesting experience here (episode 9):

(It's a podcast about ultra running, mas o menos.)

On the running front, I managed 86 miles this past week and I'm feeling it after a 49 mile weekend.  Of those 86 miles, 66 of them were run in the rain, and about 30 of those in a downpour.  It was a wet week here in Portland.  I think that might be the highest mileage week ever for me, with 80 being the previous high (not counting race week totals).  This week and next I'll shoot to maintain the mileage, and then start tapering down for HURT.  I'm feeling ready for my mini-vacation from running, which will come post-HURT (while laying on the beach in Maui).  It's been a good but long year of racing, and I'm looking forward to some down time to enjoy some winter snowshoeing and skiing before gearing up for Miwok and Western States in the spring.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

JFK 50: Way out of my comfort zone.

You can blame the length of this post on Delta airlines and free internet access during the holidays, as I sit here on my flight home to Portland from DC, reflecting on last weekend's race:

Leading up to JFK, I hadn't given much thought as to what my goals were until my friend, Darla, asked me during a run the weekend before.  And I verbalized to her that I wanted to run around 7 hours.  It just popped out of my mouth, without prior thought.  After I blurted that out, I somehow felt responsible for trying to achieve that now "public" goal (so thanks for asking, Darla!).  I've run sub-7 once before for 50 miles (6:56 in Coban, Guatemala) on roads with plenty of climb and some elevation factored in, so I knew that I had it in me for the distance. However, I wasn't sure how slow the Appalachian Trail section would be and if the C&O Canal Section would bore me to the point of drowning myself in the Potomac.  My fastest trail 50 miler to date was a 7:34 at Bull Run Run.  JFK is technically a trail race, although the fact that 26 miles of that are on the flat towpath and another10 miles are on road (2 + 1 at the beginning, and 8 at the end), makes it a pretty "easy" trail race.  "Easy" probably isn't the correct term here.  It's a very "runnable" 50 miler, in that you don't get any opportunities to walk between coming off of the AT and moving onto the road section, and there isn't much room to justify walking at all.  And running a flat 26 miles in the middle of an ultra is not easy.  Mind-numbing, yes, leg-trashing, yes, but easy, no.  If you saw me finish on Saturday, the pained expression on my face and my crippled gait would lead you to believe that it hadn't been "easy."

Mile 10.  Feeling good and enjoying the Appalachian trail section. Photo courtesy of
I took a pretty hard one-week taper going into JFK.  I ran a solid 20 miles the Saturday before, but then ran no more than 7 miles on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday with 3 rest days.  I haven't had a long break since last winter when I was nursing some ankle tendon injuries and was starting to feel like I needed one.  I had planned to take 2-3 weeks off  after Pine to Palm in September, but after a week, I was itching to run again, so did.  Thus, after working back up to a couple of 70 and 80 mile weeks (big weeks, for me) I was feeling sluggish and decided to take one easy week pre-JFK. The reason I signed up for JFK was that I wanted to get a 50 miler in before HURT in January.  When I realized that JFK would coincide with my trip back to DC for Thanksgiving, it was an easy solution and wouldn't require extra travel besides heading home a couple of days early.  It's also a Montrail Ultra Cup race, and would allow me to have enough races to compete in the Cup.

I learned long ago, that looking at entrants lists is a somewhat futile activity, as names always get added at the last minute, and the JFK entry list was too long to search, anyhow.  I knew that Jill Perry was running because I saw her at sign-up the day before, and that there were a few fast marathoners, but didn't know much besides that. I had meant to at least check previous years' splits at some point, but forgot to do that, so had no idea what splits I might want to be hitting if I were to really try for 7 hours.  I also forgot to bring any gels, because it was advertised that the aid stations would have them and I forgot about probably wanting one in the first several miles, so grabbed a chocolate Santa and some gummy savers from Sheetz as fuel until l I hit a gel-stocked aid station.  I really hadn't given the race a whole lot of thought or planning, but as is the case with my training schedule, I'm not much of a planner when it comes to these things.  And the less thought I give it, the less stressed out I get, and that's a good thing.  So, I was pretty calm the night before, enjoying a nice dinner with Kris and friends, and lucking into finding gnocchi on the menu at the Italian restaurant in Hagerstown.  Gnocchi and pink sparkly toenails are my 2 pre-race rituals/superstitions.

Race morning was lovely---chilly at the start, but warm enough for short sleeves with some arm warmers and mittens.  It was fun catching up with VHTRC friends in the school gym pre-race, and while walking to the start.  I was pleasantly surprised to see Pam Smith, a friend from Oregon, standing next to me on the starting line.

JFK is the oldest and largest ultra in the country (~1200 runners this year; you can read about the history here), and the mass of people at the start was a bit unnerving.  And as one would expect from a race that starts on roads, includes lots of fast guys, and also lots of newbies to ultra-running, it started out at a pretty good pace. I attempted to start out fast to begin the trail section towards the front.  The race is very distinctly divided into 3 sections:  The Appalachian Trail, the C&O Canal Towpath, and the road section.

The Appalachian Trail:  
The first 2 miles are on gently climbing road, up to the AT.   Being that the trail section comes early, and is infamous for turning into a congo line, there is good reason to try to start out fast and avoid the masses. The Appalachian Trail section is technical.  It's rocky, crowded and covered with leaves, which make it a bit precarious.  After climbing pretty consistently for the first 5 miles, the AT section is rolling, with more climb than descent, until you reach Weverton Cliffs, where steep switchbacks take you down to the Towpath.  I was moving OK along the AT section, although my legs had no juice on the rolling climbs. I managed to stay upright until about a half mile from the end of the AT section, where I managed to face plant on my right knee and left middle finger.  That finger has already seen hand surgery from a running fall, so I was not happy about its swollen and purple state.   I wasn't in the lead anywhere on the trail section, and couldn't see the person in the lead, but somehow when I passed through the aid station at the transition point leading onto the C&O, I was in first.  I'm guessing there were some bathroom stops or shoe changes involved, because I was a bit confused when they said first female as I came through the aid station.

Stats: 15.5 miles in 2:19:55 for 9:01 min/mile

The C&O Canal Towpath: 
That soon changed, as the girl in yellow, who I think had been leading on the AT, quickly resumed the lead.  I passed her back within a mile, and tried to get into a rhythm, while trying to plan for a bathroom stop at the next aid station or so. I passed Anstr at about this time, which was a highlight of the Canal section, as he seemed genuinely happy to see me, and sped up to run with me for a few feet. It was nice to see VHTRC shirts scattered throughout the day, and to come upon many matching "Happy Trails" shirts as we passed the early starters.

The next aid station came along, and I expected to be passed as I took a longish stop, but exited the bathroom and aid station still in the lead with the bike escort.  I assumed the girl in yellow must have faded a bit, and I stopped worrying about what was going on behind me.  I continued to pass people on the towpath; it gave me something to think about besides the fact that this section seemed endless.  Some of them were early starters, and some were just fading, but I don't think I got passed by anyone along the towpath, and managed to pick off quite a few.  I cruised along pretty comfortably, except that I felt like I was pushing, and started to feel like the wheels would eventually come off.  But the slower you go on the towpath, the longer it lasts, so I kept pushing and pleading for the mile markers to pass more quickly.   At some point, I saw Horton, and he told me I probably had 10 minutes on the next female, and that she was hurting, so I wasn't too worried, as I wasn't feeling that bad.

My Garmin died during Pine to Palm and hasn't yet been replaced; I used to rely on it pretty heavily, so really wasn't sure what pace I was keeping.  A very nice French guy from Virginia ended up running with me the last several miles of the C&O and when I asked him at some point, we were on 7:30 pace.  We both seemed to be pushing, but dying at the same time.  The aid stations came and went, and although I struggled, I managed to maintain a lead, and what people told me was a comfortable one.  No one was passing us, even though the pace was slowing, and those last miles on the towpath seemed to last forever,  By mile 38 or so, I really started to get grumpy, and couldn't wait for the canal section to end and for that hill to come to give me an excuse to walk.  Finally we reached the final C&O aid station, and turned off the onto that glorious road, and that first steep little hill, which I was all too happy to walk.

Stats: 26.3 miles in 3:27:14 for 7:52 min/mile

The Road:
I did manage to start running again after the hill, and although it wasn't fast, I kept running.  At the same time, I knew that 7 hours was starting to slip away, and I just didn't have the heart (or legs) to go after it.  I slogged through one aid station, stopping for soda and gels, and then another.  I went back and forth with my friend from the towpath, and another guy who seemed to be moving better than we were. I entered the mile 46 aid station and was focused on the table, when I heard the guy working the station mention, "It's so exciting to see such a close women's race."  Huh?  I gave him a dazed and confused look, and turned around to see Pam entering the aid station about 10 feet away.  She scared the crap out of me.  I had absolutely no idea she was behind me.  I was so out of it, I hadn't seen her approaching for the last 4 miles on road.  We exchanged cheerful "hellos" and she told me that she was trashed and that it was mine, and to go for it.  I wanted to tell her the same thing, but it didn't seem an appropriate time to get into a debate about who was more trashed, so just took off, still startled at seeing her there.  I was feeling completely trashed, but was also not willing to give up after leading for 30 miles. So, I surprised myself, and dug as deep as I could and pushed on, looking back frequently to assess the situation.  My "sprint" out of the aid station had put some time on her, and I kept surprising myself by maintaining that distance, as my legs were completely shot.

Throughout the day, when I was feeling low I kept thinking of Mike Broderick, and some dear friends and their little boy who has had an unfair struggle in his first few weeks of life, and wouldn't let myself fall into negative thoughts.  In this weekend prior to Thanksgiving, I had a ton to be thankful for, including my health to be out here doing what I loved with many others who share the same passion.  I used these same thoughts that had been coming back to me all day to dig as deep as I could, remembering that my pain was temporary, and that I chose this pain.  I also remember thinking during this stretch that I wished I could see a few hours into the future to see what the eventual outcome would be.  But, at that moment, it was up to me to determine what that outcome was so I pushed on, fearing the finish line would be too far away.

Stats: 8.4 miles in 1:10:07 for 8:20 min/mile

Yes, I was in as much pain as my face implies.  Photo from
The Finish:
I finally reached the final turn, and asked the crossing guards how much further.  0.3 miles.  $#@&!  I was trying to push, but my legs simply weren't moving.  It's like that basketball dream I always have where I'm playing in big furry mittens, or the running dreams where I'm running in place.  I looked back countless times in that final 0.3 miles, while willing my legs to move forward, and for the finish line to move towards me.  After what seemed like days, I finally reached the line, and Pam hadn't caught me.  6:57:16, with Pam finishing 21 seconds back; the closest finish in JFK history for either men or women.  Way too close for comfort, and a good first step in breaking out of my comfort zone.  If you've read this blog before, or know me, I've mentioned that I don't like to race, and that competition causes me to back off.  I surprised myself that I had it in me to fight for this one.

Many thanks to Pam, for pushing me, and congratulations, also, on a great time and race.  We pushed each other under 7 hours and should both be proud of that effort.  In 48 years, only 7 other women have finished under 7 hours.  Kind of funny that we'd both come all of the way from Oregon to duke it out in Maryland, but a great day for Team Oregon (Dan O from OR was 5th in the men's race, too).  I really thought that Pam allowed me to win, but you can read her account here (maybe she's just not admitting it publicly).

Some people hate JFK for the size, $, Towpath, and/or hype, but lots more people love it. Some people do it year after year after year.  I was lucky enough to watch Anstr finish his 28th in a row.  28 years of the Towpath---wow.  I'm definitely glad I had the chance to do it, as it was a unique ultra experience that is not found elsewhere.  The military connection to the event also adds to the uniqueness of the event, and it was especially exciting that this year for the first time in the 48-year history of the event, an active-duty military guy won the event.  Brian Dumm, air force, ran 5:52:02 in what was another close finish; the second closest finish in history.

There's a nice story on the race here.  And if you watch the video on that page, you can see my pathetic final "sprint."

And something I didn't know until the awards ceremony---apparently JFK is one of the races that has special qualifying standards for the national 100K team, such that anyone running under 7:15 can be considered for the team.  So while I don't plan to run the 100K national championships in Madison in April, I could still be considered for the team.  I'm guessing chances are slim that I would get on the team without running in Madison, but it's exciting to have met the qualifying standard.  I'd love to represent the USA in Amsterdam next year.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Breaking out of my Comfort Zone

The other day someone asked me if I run marathons.  I replied with one of those, "Well, um, not really. Marathons kind of scare me.  I've run a few marathons, but haven't run one in a few years.  I run anything over a marathon, but marathons are short and fast, and that kind of scares me." They gave me that odd look that people often do when I describe a marathon as "short and fast" and scarier than a 100 miler.  Well, to someone that likes a race with over 20,000 feet of climb, marathons, as a race, are short and fast and do scare me.  The thought of a half marathon is less scary for some reason, but the thought of a 10K or 5K is downright petrifying.  I don't think I've run a 5K since my last cross country race in college; it's been a good 15 years.  So, my goal for 2011 (besides placing in the top 5 at Western States) is to run a road marathon.  Fast.  Well, as fast as I can.  I'd like to run a 3 hour marathon.

Dad and I (ten years later)
I've run 4 marathons.  My first was Big Sur in 1998, which I ran with my dad.  It was fun.  We finished together in 3:34'ish, and it wasn't so bad. My dad--who started running later in life (mid 40s) and is a pretty speedy old fart with a marathon PR of 2:55--didn't think his daughter--who took the only year off of running in her life during her first year in grad school and had started training in January for an April marathon--would be hard to keep up with, so didn't train too intensely for the occasion.  Let's just say that I was still cracking jokes at mile 24, and dad had stopped laughing.  But, we finished together, and it was a beautiful marathon and really fun experience.

My second marathon was the Asunciรณn Marathon in Paraguay in 2002.  I was in my 3rd year of Peace Corps, and living in the capital at the time, thus used to dodging buses and inhaling diesel fumes.  It was an experience, and very Paraguayan (the organization of it--or lack thereof--was quite different than one might be used to or expect, which made it that much more endearing).  Again, I ran around 3:30, and wrote a letter to Boston to ask if I could use it as a Boston Qualifier, being that it wasn't a certified course.  They agreed, and my 3rd marathon was Boston in 2003.

Training for Boston was a hoot.  I was backpacking my way home from Paraguay, and thus got to run my way up the coast of Chile, into Argentina, and Peru (not literally, I traveled by bus, boat and plane).  I ran 3:12 at Boston, motivated by the huge crowds and water stops, and the intense contrast to the marathon I had run in Paraguay to qualify.

At some point, I wound up in DC, so ran the Marine Corps marathon in 2005.  I had a really good first 23 miles and was on 3-hour pace.  I had never experienced the "wall" before.  Wow.  It really does exist.  I now respect the wall, and what zero intake of calories during a race will do to you.  I staggered in in 3:17 with a (really hot) marine helping me up that last little hill.

Not long after that trail running entered my life, and not long after that the VHTRC and my ultra-running friends.  I jumped into my first 50 miler at Masochist in 2006 and haven't looked at a marathon since.  But that needs to change.  I plan to step out of my comfort zone in the next year, or so (see, I'm already pushing it back) and train for a road marathon PR.  It's not just about running a marathon.  I can easily do a marathon on any weekend and I often run that distance or longer for a training run.  It's about putting myself out there and going for 3 hours.  Eeks!   I'm already making up excuses to get out of this.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Memorable Runs: Entoto, Ethiopia

After Pine to Palm I was interviewed by a guy from the Ashland paper, and made a comment to him about being frequently misquoted or having things taken from my blog that appear elsewhere that make me look like a flake.  Example from Trail Runner Magazine on the Massanutten 100: "Toenails....I lost at least four....and it's the start of cute shoe season, damnit."  And whatever I said after the SOB 50K that this guy quoted wasn't much better.  So, when I saw his article on Pine to Palm where he made a comment that I would be traveling for work to Ethiopia and Kenya, and that running overseas is just too dangerous, I cringed a little.  I think I mentioned that in some places I travel to for work it is too dangerous to run on the streets, but Addis Ababa is certainly not one of those places, and it would be a huge stretch to say that "overseas" is dangerous.  Heck, my DC neighborhood was much more dangerous than most places I travel.  And while the streets of Addis are safe, with a population of around 3.4 million (2007) and cars that would never pass an Oregon emissions test, the air quality doesn't encourage one to run there after about 7 a.m.  So, I did end up doing some treadmill running, and only ventured onto the streets of Addis a handful of times (but not for security reasons).

However, I did get to experience a run up near Entoto, which sits up in the hills above Addis.  What is exciting about this?  Well, this is where many of the great Ethiopian runners train.  While I didn't see anyone famous (not that I would recognize them, although one of them lived in a huge house across the street from the hotel according to the guard), it was pretty incredible knowing that I was running on the same footpaths and dirt roads that get pounded regularly by the Ethiopian elites.  So, on 10-10-10 I enjoyed a lovely 10 mile run at 10,000 feet up around Entoto, and below are some photos of the scenery on the run.  It was a Sunday, and maybe a rest day for the greats, as someone in our group mentioned.  But on a weekday, those roads and trails are the training grounds of the best in the world.  There were killer views, and some really cute kids tending the herds.  And I was sucking air the entire way....

The meskel flower, which blooms around the time of a religious holiday by the same name (apparently, also known as tickseed sunflower in the eastern US, where it is considered a weed).

That's Addis down below.  You can see the smog hanging over the city.  It's pretty bad.

Donkeys (and women) carry eucalyptus down to Addis, where it is used as firewood.  The women carry huge bundles of sticks on their backs which are probably 3 meters long and weigh much more than the women do.  You see the women on the steep road down into Addis with these huge bundles.

The churches at Entoto.  Not part of the run, but close to where we started the run.  Many churches are octagonal in shape...I don't remember why.
To top off the day, I saw the movie "The Athlete," about the famous Ethiopian marathoner, Abebe Bikila (in Amharic with English subtitles).  Abebe won gold at the 1960 Olympic marathon in Athens (barefoot, apparently because the shoes his coach brought him were too small), and again in Tokyo in 1964; the first African to win gold.   It's an interesting movie and it was awesome to see it in the theater in Addis (where the entry cost $2, and popcorn and soda together were less than $1).  Many of the landscape scenes from the movie reminded me of the fields up around Entoto.  Definitely a movie worth checking out for you running geeks out there.  

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.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Good Memories: Cabin Weekend 2006

I came across this photo the other day and it brought back a lot of good memories.  It was taken somewhere along the AT in Shenendoah National Park.  It was August of 2006, my first exposure to the VHTRC, and the first time I'd ever run over 26.2 miles. This run was all part of a cabin weekend and was the day I really got hooked on trail running and the VHTRC. I didn't realize it at the time, but this small group standing here along with the larger VHTRC family would have a major impact on my future weekend activities and my life.

Some fond memories of this run:

The route was on and off the AT, with some steep ups and downs via connector trails, with stops for breakfast, a historic tour of the former summer home of Herbert Hoover (?), some stream soaking, and a late afternoon ice cream stop right near the end.  Early on we stopped for breakfast at a wayside along Skyline Drive (Big Meadows?) where Tom proceeded to consume more than I had ever watched anyone consume during a run.  I was in awe, but also curious as to how this was going to work out for him.  About 5 minutes into the run I found out, as he left it all along side the trail.

I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.  It was August in Virginia and I wasn't used to carrying anything while running, but I did have along a waist pack that held 32 oz of water.  I was thirsty much of the day.  Luckily Sophie and Kerry were kind enough to share once they realized the newbie was about to pass out.  I was also starving, having brought along maybe a couple of packs of Sharkies for what turned into an 8++ hour adventure.  Sophie saved me with some dried fruit and nuts, and between Sophie and Kerry, they managed to keep me alive until we finally made it to the camp store and ice cream.

Quatro taught me a thing or 2 about running downhill as he flew by me on more than a few occasions.  I watched from behind, in awe.  I have since learned to run recklessly downhill.  I remember wondering why people kept walking the uphills.  Again, this was my first run with a group of ultra runners, and I'd never seen anything like it.

Holy Tit harassed me the entire weekend.  He kept screaming at me to shut up (I can be quiet at times, especially upon first meeting a group of crazy outgoing runners who have been sitting around a campfire drinking beers for hours).

I drove from DC with Kerry and Kirstin and they adopted me.  This weekend would soon be followed by many more weekend adventures at Kerry's new training center in Front Royal--Portabello--and the ongoing search for a suitable pool boy (yet to be identified). These were also the days when WUS (the Woodley Park Ultra Society) was founded and my Tuesday nights were taken, too.

The pain following this run was intense.  I thought my quads were broken and would never be the same.  I seem to remember the distance as 34 miles; I think we named this one Quatro's death march, but many runs could be called the same. Never had I run this far over such varied terrain.  I distinctly remember watching others frolicking about the next morning at the cabin and realizing that I was alone in my extreme pain.  These people did this all the time, and it didn't even faze them.  Little did I know, that I would be sitting here 4 years later, 10 days after a 50 miler and 10 days before a 100K, as one of them. 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

White River 50: Engage

The White River starting line.  I'm just to the right of and behind Yassine, smiling oddly enough.  Race photos and views of Mt. Rainier taken by Glenn Tachiyama; finish line photos are by John Wallace III.
There's a scene from Top Gun after Goose dies when Maverick is back in a plane for the first time and his head isn't in it. "He won't engage," the instructor tells the sergeant guy.  Well, so ultra running isn't exactly like flying fighter planes, but in races I often resist engaging (racing in this case, not shooting at people from a fighter plane).  My head's just not into "racing,"--if there is someone in front of me, I'd rather slow down than speed up.  I had a little mantra on Saturday, and it was, "Engage."  Short for, "Get your head out of your ass and push yourself."  I had been really anxious the entire week leading up to White River, and was really hoping to avoid getting buried by nervous thoughts.  At the end of the day, it's really just an internal battle, so who was there, or where I finished among them really shouldn't matter. That might sound nice, but in reality I wanted to place well.  I had a goal time in mind of something under 8:30.  Not having looked at pace charts from previous years, hitting that goal was kind of just a crap shot.  My estimate was based on where people finished last year, with hopes of finishing second, which was just shy of 8:20 last year.  Regardless of place, I wanted to run a time that would give me some confidence in lining up at future races. 

White River is really just 2 big climbs and 2 big descents, with a several miles of flattish rolling trail thrown in at the beginning and at the end.  The scale of the elevation profile looks a little misleading to me. The climbs feel bigger and longer than they look in the elevation profile, but if you look closely, you'll notice that both climbs go on for about 10 miles.  They were gradual and runnable in parts, but I found myself hiking a fair amount of them, as well.  The downhills were about as steep as they look in the profile--big fun! 
The reward for heading up the first climb: first glimpse of Mt. Rainier. 

The first flat: The first few miles into Camp Sheppard are along the river on a flat to downward-sloping trail.  I started off pretty quickly, and led until after Camp Sheppard, where Meghan and Ashley Arnold floated by me going up hill.  I felt fine on the flats, but once the climb started, the wheels came off quickly. 

The first climb: This was my low point in the race.  I had pissed off my hip flexors in bikram yoga earlier in the week, and they were really feeling grumpy, acting as if they might cramp up and stop working at some point.  I also had long strings of people behind me at various times, and this always causes me stress.  I don't like to set the pace for others, especially if I'm holding them up, so constantly worried about whether I should step off trail or not.  I eventually got to a place where I was running alone with Matt, and he kept me moving until I eventually stepped aside and let him by.  I wouldn't see him again (although I finished ahead of him...funny how that works).  I eventually made it up to the top of the climb, and just as I did, Amber sped by me.  She was flying, and even though I felt like I was moving up on the flats to the turnaround, never had in her sight.  Despite my crappy climb, I made it to the turnaround, ended up back in 3rd as Amber was still in the aid station, and was told I was about 3 minutes back of Meghan and Amber.  Not bad for as crappy as I felt on the climb.

I swear I heard Glenn tell me "Don't smile," so I just look confused.
The first descent:  Oh how I love to run downhill.  I tried to take it conservatively, as I knew there was still a lot of running to be done, but it's hard on switch back-laden trail to contain the fun that is running downhill.  I kept a pretty conservative pace, and was surprised to pass Ashley right at the bottom of the hill.  I moved into second, but saw Ashley and Amber again as I left the Buck Creek aid station, the half-way point, more or less.  I grabbed my iPod at Buck Creek, thinking I might want it for the climb up Sun Top.

The second climb:  My first climb buddy, Matt, had described the second climb as much gentler and runnable.  What?  Maybe in Anton's world.  But in my world, the second climb, especially the first few miles of it, were anything but gradual.  I was running out of water quickly, and my lower and middle back were screaming at me.  I couldn't decide if it was back pain, or kidney pain.  There were all sorts of obstacles on the second climb: my screaming back/kidneys, my empty water bottle, a group of horses, some mountain bikers, and hot exposed sections of climb.  I didn't feel as low as on the first climb, but I was definitely being lazy.  I used the guy in front of me (a friendly British guy from Seattle) to gauge when to run and when to hike.  He had 2 water bottles, which appeared to be over half full, and I kept resisting the urge to ask him to spare some.  I finally worked my way past him and his underutilized water bottles just before the Fawn Ridge aid station, where I downed 4 glasses of water, filled up my water bottle and moved on.  The rest of the climb, more gradual once you pass the aid station, seemed almost a cake walk after some fluids.  The only really interesting thing in this section was a few mountain bikers who whizzed by at breakneck speed.  Luckily I wasn't listening to music, as they blitzed by me flying downhill around sharp turns.   Although the climb seemed endless, I finally passed Glenn, who was snapping pictures right below the aid station.  Woohoo, now for the fun part!

The views on the first climb were amazing, until you got the view from the second climb.
The second descent:  Weeeee!!!!  Now for the fun!  So, at the end of the seemingly endless climb, you pop out at the Sun Top aid station on a gravel road.  Like all of the other aid stations, this one was great, and the volunteers were extremely attentive. They told me I was 5 minutes back of Meghan (which was what I'd been hearing since Buck Creek), so I grabbed what I needed, and started the descent.  I guess I hadn't read the course description very closely because I knew there was a road section on this descent, but didn't realize that the entire descent was on the road.  The signs read something like, "Runners next 6.5 miles on road."  Yippee!  Running down a steep gravel road for 6 miles is fun at first.  I cranked on some music for the first time of the day, and Split Lip once again helped me pick up the pace.  The downhill felt great for a good while, but really did start to suck after about 4 miles.  It was steep, and it just kept going and going.  I didn't see a soul until about 2 miles from the bottom where I passed a guy that was walking.  He must have been in some pain to be walking down this glorious hill.  I glanced at my Garmin occasionally and my pace ranged from 6:10 to 7:10.  A good place to make up some time, after the slow ascent up Sun Top. My quads felt good, although I felt like I was torturing all of my abdominal muscles.  Eventually, all good things must come to an end, and so too, the hill.  As I approached the next aid station I heard someone say that Meghan was 10 minutes up.  Wow, she must have flown down that hill, as I felt like I was cruising, and according to the estimates people offered up to me, she'd gained 5 minutes on me on the way down.

Always glad to see the finish.  And psyched to be under 8:30.
Skokum Flats to the Finish:  I had heard that the last section could kind of drag on.  You've just come off this killer downhill, and then you pop into the woods for 6+ miles of technical trail along the White River, that isn't 100% flat.  It was a nice rolling trail, with plenty of roots, although it was not nearly as technical as I was expecting.  I ran pretty much all of it, although I wasn't pushing too hard, and it seemed to drag on forever.  I made the mistake of asking a few different people how far it was to the gravel road.  I know better than to ask a question to which I already know the answer.  I was wearing a Garmin after all, and I knew when I had left the previous aid station.  The answers were miles off, and the final kid that told me I had "less than a mile" to the gravel road, when in reality it was about 100 feet took the prize for the least accurate answer. OK, so it was true, but there's a big difference between a mile and 100 feet at mile 49.5. Again, don't ask a question you don't want to hear a wrong answer to, and to which you already pretty much know the answer.

David Horton letting me know that I was the 1st Loser. 
I came across in 8:22.03. Meghan finished 11 minutes ahead of me in 8:10.51.  I had no gauge of where I was time-wise all day, so I was pretty psyched to come in well under 8:30 and hold onto 2nd.  Overall, a good day.  The post-race grub was good, and several of us got a nice soak in the White River, which is truly white.  Well, kind of like diluted milk, a result of glacial run-off I was told.  I'd been dreaming of sitting in that river those last 6 miles, and enjoyed the company while soaking.  An added bonus was $600 for finishing second, and a pair of La Sportivas.  I wore the Crosslites during the race and they were awesome, so I'll be ordering another pair.  I've been looking for a favorite trail shoe for a few years, and I think I've finally found one. 

The top 10 women. 

I highly recommend this race:  well-organized, a beautiful and well-marked course, great downhills, amazing views of Mt. Rainier, enthusiastic friendly aid stations volunteers, good post-race BBQ, and a large and talented field.  It was a fun day in the mountains!
Our Team Oregon carpool had an awesome day! Yassine and Pam both finished 5th.

Friday, July 16, 2010

My SOB story

Siskiyou Outback 50K:

Not in the mood to write, so I'll just add some comments.

Happy thoughts:
  1. First girl!  Winning is almost always fun.  Although my time kinda sucked, which wasn't so much fun.  My time definitely wouldn't have finished first in most years.  Luck in picking a slow year, I guess.  4:40.01.  Not bad, but I would have been happier had it been around 4:30.
  2. Other good news, I won a really kick-ass cowbell that is gold and sparkly.  I plan to use it frequently and obnoxiously.  
  3. The course was gorgeous.  Beautiful views of Shasta throughout. 
  4. Met some really nice people and enjoyed hanging out in and around Ashland.
  1. I forgot to bring socks.  I found some thin crunchy dirty ones in my car that I knew would result in unhappy feet. 
  2. Garmin was out of juice so I ran without a watch.  Annoying.  But I survived.
  3. I forgot to pick up breakfast on Friday for race morning.  Luckily I found a few-day-old chocolate croissant in my car.  It's amazing what Bridget hides within.  And, I didn't see the coffee cart until it was way too late (2 minutes before the start).
  4. I still hate to race or the thought of racing.  I think I often move faster in training runs. 
  5. The elevation really affected me.  SOB runs between 6000 and 7000 feet, and it felt like it. 
  6. The 4200 feet of climb felt more like 8,000.  I thought the course would be flatter?
On Sunday I wanted to take advantage of being in Ashland and run some of the Pine to Palm course.  Pine to Palm is a new 100 miler in September that finishes in Ashland.  Because I still had a 5-hour drive to get back to Portland, I opted to run the last section from Ashland, rather than drive to other sections of the course, and add on to my return trip.  I ended up running an out-and-back on the last 8.5 miles of the course, so 17 miles total.  The section I saw was mainly dirt road, and was basically an 8.5 mile climb, followed by 8.5 miles down, although there is about a 1 mile climb in that last section. That last hill is going to be a quad-trasher, assuming the quads are not already trashed, and the last mile into Ashland is truly going to suck.  It's super steep and paved, and was painful on this run, so I'm imagining what it will feel like after 99 miles.

I wasn't too sore after Saturday's run, but by the end of Sunday's run, my quads were ready for an ice bath, so I enjoyed some soaking time in the reservoir in Ashland, where the water is icy and refreshing. I LOVED Ashland.  Can't wait to go back, which won't be too long, as Pine to Palm is just 2 months away.  Time to ramp up the miles.  I've got White River 50 at the end of July, Waldo in August and then Pine to Palm.  The thought of 100 miles has me a bit nervous, but we'll work through that.  My one major fear is that the last 30 miles turns into a death march. That's been the case in every 100 miler I've done, and I really don't want to do that again. 

Some other happy thoughts.... In falling and smashing my knee a few weeks ago, I completely forgot about the pain in my right ankle (posterior tib tendon), and it seems to have vanished.  Both ankle seem to be healed!  Woohoo!  And this just adds to my theory that to cure one injury, you simply need to acquire another one in a different spot.  My knee is back to 100% now, too, so I'm jinxing myself here, but appear to be injury-free.  My recent face plant reminds me that anything can happen at a moment's notice, so I'll enjoy this injury-free status until the next time I crash.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

June funk

June was a busy month, with a couple of weekends filled with visits from DC friends, and another taken up with a trip to CA for pacing duties at Western States. It was also a fairly crappy month in terms of training.  The visits from friends were both on weekends where I would normally have run big mileage, but couldn't because of entertaining responsibilities, and a couple of other issues that led to two other low mileage weeks.  The week of WS I caught a cold/flu that had me out for most of the week, and the week after WS I crashed hard on my knee on Leif Erikson in Forest Park and couldn't run for a few days because of the pain and swelling.  I ended up getting x-rays, which showed that nothing was broken, but the doctor is putting me on a strength training program because my knees aren't as pretty as he'd like to see at my age.  He didn't seem overly concerned, just that my knee cartilage is showing signs of degenerative joint disease. I hope to use these knees for many more years, so I'll follow his advice and start doing some strength training.  I've never had any knee issues, other than some creakiness when walking down stairs, so am hopeful that my knees stay healthy once I can get the soreness and swelling in the left one to disappear.

So, what I had hoped would be a string of weeks in the 70-80 mile range, has been a more consistent 60 miles/week.  I've never been one to log my training, until a few months ago, when I started logging it on Daily Mile.  I averaged out the last 15 weeks, and my average is 55 miles/week.  Sounds pretty low, but when I account for some low weeks because of travel, crashing, illness, tapering, etc, I guess it's not bad.  I'll try to bump the running average up to 70 miles/week, hitting some weeks in the 80s and 90s as I get ready for Pine to Palm in September.  The weekly mileage figures also don't take into account cross training, which I've been trying to do on a regular basis, including some road biking, swimming (altho I haven't been in the pool since April) and bikram yoga.  I've really gotten hooked into bikram since about February, and have been going 3 or more times each week.  Each class is 90 minutes, so it is a bit of a time suck, but I think it's been helping with my overall core strength, ankle stability and is great heat training.  And I definitely feel at least a bit leaner since I've been going.  And I love the heat--105 degrees and humid.  I easily sweat out a couple of buckets each class.  It kind of makes up for the heat I'm missing by not living in DC anymore (although it is supposed to reach 100 here in Portland today).  I can't say that I'm getting any more flexible, but at least I'm not getting any less flexible.  And flexibility is definitely not a sign of fitness, as there are some really large out-of-shape people in the class that can bend themselves into pretzels.  I will never be a pretzel.  I've accepted that fact since grade school when I never got a presidential fitness award because of my abysmal performance on the seated toe touch.

One June highlight included climbing Mt. St. Helens.  We somehow lucked out and picked the perfect day, which was cold and cloudy at the bottom, but sunny with fresh snow at the top.  The fresh snow made for good traction, some great views of the surrounding peaks, and lots of snow blindness and sun burn for members of the group.  I ended up with a red neck, which was better than the burning eyeballs experienced by others.   The hike was steep, but not overly difficult, and doing it with a group of non-runners, made for an easy hike with lots of waiting for the group to catch up. I bought my first ice axe, and am looking forward to climbing other OR and WA peaks to justify its purchase.  I'd like to do Mt. Hood, Adams and Jefferson in the coming months.

The last weekend of June I paced for Annette Bednosky at WS.  She was a rock star, placing 8th woman, and really keeping a solid pace during the 38 miles I was with her.  I've never run so much in any of my other pacing experiences.  It was good to see at least part of the course in case I ever run the thing.  I've heard good and bad things about the hype at WS over the past few years.  And during the course of the weekend, I have to admit I was pretty turned off by the entire event and hoopla surrounding it.  But a few days after the event my feelings about it seemed to shift, and I would really like to run it if I ever get the chance, but if not I won't be crushed.  There are many other (and more interesting) hundreds out there.  I'd like to run WS next year, but I'm almost more excited to run San Diego, which could be the plan if I don't get into WS.

This weekend is the Siskiyou Out and Back 50K down near Ashland, OR.  I signed up months ago, and am not really feeling in a good place training-wise to be running a race, but it will be a good long training run for some upcoming races.  I might even try to do a double, and get out on the Pine to Palm course on Sunday.  I've never been to the Ashland area, so it will be nice to see what I've signed up for in September.  SOB will be balmy, and is higher than I had realized (the course profile makes it look like it's all between about 6000 and 7000 feet--what was I thinking??), so it could really suck. But what doesn't kill me makes me stronger, right? Or leads me one step closer to dropping this ultra habit.  I'm just hoping to have fun out there, to remind me again why I keep running these things. 

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Pocatello 50 miler turned 50K--2010 blizzard edition

As I came into the mile 26 aid station a very nice man said to me, "The race has been cancelled." My response was, "Thank god." I then asked him to confirm a couple of times just to be sure, as I could hardly believe the joyful news.  I was trying hard not to succumb to the cold and didn't want to drop at mile 32, but the thought of heading up Scout Mountain, which was a good 1500 feet or so higher than anything we'd encountered so far, was less than appealing.  And with cold, wet feet, and a feeling that I could again start shivering uncontrollably at a moment's notice, I was happy, maybe for the first time on Saturday, at the thought of not needing to head up Scout Mountain.  Not only not needing to, but not being allowed to.  I think I might have teared up again at this point, but this time not out of sheer misery.  Thank you RDs for this sane decision in what felt like insane conditions.  I had decided on more than one occasion during the first leg, that these Idaho folks were crazy and that I was definitely not hard core enough for this little adventure.

Before heading out of the mile 16 aid station, I wondered how many times does one allow oneself to nearly freeze to death in one week?  I'd been on a long bike ride the Sunday before on Skyline drive in Forest Park, which had turned ugly once it started to rain hard at the turnaround.  By the time I'd gotten home, my lower back was spasming, and I was shaking uncontrollably.  I couldn't shift very well, and was having trouble using my brakes, in addition to clipping out of my pedals.  I had really embraced the rain in Portland all winter, but that ride and then the ensuing crappy week of rain and cool temps had me really over cold wet weather and dreaming of summer.

This was my first real trip to Idaho.  I'd driven through on my drive west, but had only spent the few hours it takes to drive through on I-84.    I picked Sean up in Bend on Thursday night and we headed eastward (I'm still working out the fact that Idaho is to the east...having lived in the midwest or east coast my entire life, I still think that everything "west" is west), and he quickly experienced my driving-induced narcolepsy, as he was awoken from a nap to the sound of me slapping my face to stay awake (just one of the many reasons I like to carpool).  After witnessing our first of many accidents (motor home meets herd of cows--not pretty for either party) we camped for the night somewhere along a river in Oregon.  Friday was pretty uneventful: drive, car accident, road construction, check the weather forecast, car accident, keep driving, check the weather forecast, etc.  The weather forecast looked promising for Pocatello and the forecast was no longer calling for rain.  Woohoo!!  We had opted to camp at the start/finish, and we arrived almost in time for the race briefing, where we were warned about the several miles of snow that we'd be trekking through on Scout.   A cool and breezy evening, but after a good meal, I had a warm and cozy night's sleep and the 6 a.m. start rolled around quickly.

The start was misleadingly warm.  I wore a sleeveless shirt, arm warmers, wind breaker, and mittens on top, and a skirt.  But the temps started to drop not long after we started, and by the time we were on our way up the first climb, the rain had started.  It wasn't pleasant, but wasn't miserable.  I was sucking air and really feeling the altitude, so was thinking more about the lack of oxygen, than the rain.  The rain made the descent down into the mile 8 aid station insanely slippery.  The trail resembled a louge track in this section and I as I slid down the hill, bouncing off the banked walls, it kind of felt like one, too.  There was one point when I crashed off to the left, managed a couple of steps, and then face-planted off to the right.  I think I had only crashed twice by the time I got to the mile 8 aid station, but there were more crashes to come.  The mud in this section was really special; both slippery and clumping, so while sliding downhill, I managed to pick up about 6 inches of it on the bottom of each shoe (Montrail Masochists, don't know if any shoes worked well in this mud, but these didn't).

The bush whack section was next. And I have to mention that I'm surprised this was even allowed by the Forest Service (although I have no idea what type of land this particular section is classified as....).  While it would be fun and interesting on a nice day, it does entail about 150 people traipsing off-trail up a steep climb.  It's a tad bit disruptive to the habitat here, I would think.  But that's a tangent....  So, about a third of the way up this section of bushwhacking up to a ridge, the sideways "snail" started (a mix of snow and hail--the sideways part, because it was coming at us sideways because of the gale force winds).  I do remember being happy that the mud had finally fallen off of my shoes, so there was a positive in this section.  Roch passed by me on the climb, mentioning that we only had 20 minutes to the top (it looked like 2, so I was a bit disheartened to hear this), and I remember losing sight of him, and thinking that that was a bad idea.  It didn't take long before I was miserable and cold. I couldn't feel my legs, my fingers were numb, and I was starting to swear frequently (and cry less frequently).  The markings were pink and blue ribbons tied low onto little shrubs.  The course was absurdly well-marked, for the most part, but as the snail picked up and as it became harder to keep looking ahead with the pings of snail in the eyes, it was really hard to figure out where the flagging was taking me.  I knew that I was completely under-dressed for these conditions, and needed to spend as little time as possible up on top.

I got off course at some point, and luckily as I made my way back to the last bit of flagging I had passed, a guy in the distance (probably only 20 m, but there was zero visibility, and who I later found out was Kelly, who had spent lots of time up here and knew where he was going) pointed off to the left, so I headed leftwards.  Unfortunately, many other runners didn't have a "Kelly" who knew the area like the back of his hand, so many groups of runners (there were reports of groups of 7 and 12, along with a few solo runners) ended up wandering (some for several hours) trying to find their way.   After veering to the left, we eventually hit a jeep road type of trail that ran along the ridge.  I don't remember how long we were on the ridge beyond this, but there was eventually a turn off to the right, which I found (some missed this turn, too, and Kelly had blown by me on the ridge), and the downward trek to the City Creek aid station had begun.  Running was a challenge, as the mud was again slick, and I couldn't feel my feet or legs, but there was hope in that downhill meant an aid station, eventually.  At some point I emptied my water bottle, because I was too cold to drink, and the bottle was too heavy to carry under my arm without dropping it.  I had taken it out of the handheld strap, because I needed to bunch my hands up into balls in my mittens to keep them warm and I couldn't do this and hold onto the bottle with a hand.  I tried to stick the water bottle down my skirt but my hands weren't functioning well enough to do this, and tried to stick it down my bra, but again, this was a challenge, so eventually just left it along side the trail when I dropped it.  I crashed again at some point, flat on my butt, with both mittens buried in sloppy mud.

It eventually stopped snowing, and the trail turned dry.   It even warmed to the point, that the day felt completely un-extreme, and I had a feeling the people at the City Creek aid station wouldn't understand if I tried to explain I had nearly frozen up on top.  Alas, by the time I got to the aid station, I could hardly think of a reason not to go on (except the fear of how much Scout Mountain would suck in a blizzard), assuming I could put on a couple more layers.  All I had in this drop bag was a Payday, my nathan hydration pack, and a short-sleeved shirt, as I had saved all of my "warm" gear for the Mink Creek aid station at mile 32 for the climb over Scout (my "warm" gear consisted of dry shoes and socks, pants, a thin capilene long sleeve shirt, and a hat, which all seemed completely inadequate at this point).  I put on my short sleeve shirt and Linda loaned me a jacket (which made the rest of the journey thoroughly more enjoyable--thanks Linda!) and I grabbed my pack.  I had been surprised to see Sean and Joelle standing at the aid station when I got in.   I was somewhat relieved to find that I wasn't the only one that thought the conditions up there had sucked, and had considered dropping.  The three of us left the aid station together shortly after I got in, although they quickly lost me.  I hadn't taken time to eat anything at the aid station so was bonking a bit, and my lower back was screaming from being clenched from the cold.  The hydration pack wasn't helping matters with the lower back pain, but my water bottle now lived somewhere on that last descent.

I grudgingly made my way up the climb, and hit the next aid station, which was just 2 people, and asked if I was in for another cold and miserable climb and ridgeline.  They confirmed that this was a likely scenario.  Without further whiney details, this climb also became cold, windy and snowy.  There was much more snow at this point (parts had probably accumulated 4 inches or so), which made the traction pretty good, as the mud was covered by snow.  The course was kind of frappuccino-like in both color and consistency, and was pretty runnable once up and over the last steep section of climb.

Eventually, the mile 26 aid station came into view, and the glorious news was received that the race had been called.  We now just had to make our way down to the Mink Creek aid station at mile 32.  They tried to encourage me to warm up in front of a heater, but I just wanted to get down and get warm where I could stay warm.  I picked up a guy that had been warming at the aid station, and ran with him for a few miles on what was a very runnable section.  The snow really improved the grip.  He eventually dropped me, and I passed by a relay runner that had passed me on the climb.  He looked to be having a pleasant hike to the "finish."  The course turned to complete slop for the last half of this section, and my feet were cold, wet, and ready to be done.  The entire run had really bothered the issues I've been having with the tendons on the inside of my right ankle, as there was no stability with the mud, snow, slush, etc. and my ankle tends to do OK on even terrain, but complain a bit otherwise.

The tent and "finish" eventually arrived, and I devoured some hot chocolate while Sean had no trouble convincing me not to camp out on Saturday and to head into Pocatello to find a hotel and a hot shower.  We quickly departed and shuffled down the road to the start/finish area, which as it turned out was only about a quarter of a mile from the Mink Creek aid station.  I don't think the hotel reception desk was too thrilled to see us come in, covered from head to toe in mud, but being that my teeth were chattering uncontrollably, and my hand was shaking so much that I could hardly sign my name, they just handed over the keys quickly.  A hot shower followed by 15 minutes in the hot tub, and I was back to normal, more or less.

Lessons learned:
1.  I don't like to be cold.  Not really a lesson learned, but a reminder.  As I lay in bikram yoga class this afternoon basking in the heat and humidity, it made me question my move away from the 100 degree humid heat that I loved about DC summers so.  I love that feeling when you get into a car in the summer and you just kind of cook before you roll down the windows.  I can't say that the opposite is true.  I rarely enjoy feeling cold.  Maybe I'll look into some hot ultras next year.

2.  For any mountain ultra, I need to prepare for the worst and stick some emergency items in drop bags, just in case.  If I hadn't been able to borrow a jacket, I'd have been even more miserable on that second climb, but if I had thought to throw a set of warm clothes in that City Creek drop bag I could have been even less miserable than I was.  Dry gloves would have rocked, as I used my arm warmers pulled down over my hands for the second leg after my mittens were trashed during a fall in the first leg.  And the "warm" clothes I'd thrown in for Scout were pretty laughable.  I shouldn't have used last year's race to predict what I would need this year (photos of runners frolicking down snow fields in tank tops).

3.  No matter how cold I get, try to remember to force myself to eat and drink.  I was starving by the time I reached Mink Creek.  In over 6+ hours I consumed 2 gels and a Payday, and probably a half liter of water.  Gels were just a pain in the ass to get open, but the extra effort might have kept me warmer in the end.

4.  Impromptu blizzards just kind of suck.  We are lucky that everyone was found relatively unharmed, as it could have gotten really ugly out there.  The RDs made the right call to call the race when they did.  With the amount of snow on the second climb, there could've easily been a foot of new snow on Scout, and the markers, in general were low to the ground.  With blowing snow, and potentially hidden markers, Scout was a disaster waiting to happen.  Add that to runners who were already wet and tired, and who had probably not been taking care of themselves as they normally would have with regards to nutrition and hydration, and it would have gotten ugly.

In the end, I was pretty happy that I never had to make the call to drop or not.  A DNF would have been disappointing, but to continue on would have been stupid.