Sunday, December 9, 2012

Better late than never? UTMB: The Race that wasn't...

In posting the Synchro-Blog piece last week, I realized I had never finished/published my UTMB race report.  OK, maybe I hadn't forgotten, but it seemed so negative when I wrote it that I hesitated putting it out there.  But, it's how I was feeling at the time, and I like to do things chronologically, so in order to move on to happier topics, like my favorite "The Year in Bad Self Portraits" or talking about plans for 2013, and to move on, it's getting posted even though it was 3+ months ago.  Just to warn you, this is going to be somewhat of a gripe-fest.  If you want to read a positive account of the UTMB experience, I'll send you to Meghan's blog.

So, onto the race. Where I last left off (well, a few entries ago) we were rerouted.  So, rather than run around Mt. Blanc through 3 countries, the revised course would remain in France, running up and down the valleys around Chamonix.  This came after the announcement on Thursday that the race would go on as planned without a course change, and thus after we'd all wrapped our heads around the idea that this was going to be an epic weather adventure. So, we then receive a text on Friday, middle of the day, that the race would be delayed 30 minutes to start around 7 pm and would be at least 100K staying in France and keeping us below 2000m.  OK, time to wrap our heads around an entirely new scenario. I was trying to be flexible, but like many, was not very excited by what was about to be our reality--a much shorter and faster night run through the rain and mud.

A 100K race starting at 7 pm in the rain/snow--oh boy.  Anyone that has ever run a 100K starting at night in crappy weather can tell you what that means: tunnel vision on a muddy trail in the dark. No views, no "journey" around Mt. Blanc, just a lot of running around in France, to seemingly having us zig and zag to get us to 100K (+). UTMB is a course that is known for spectacular beauty--a 10 on a scale of 10, and the same on the scale for difficulty. That's why I was there--for a difficult challenge in a stunning environment.  If I'm going to suffer, I want to do it in a beautiful place. The replacement course was not beautiful, at least not in the dark. It very likely would have been scenic had it not been dark and foggy, but the only real view we got was of the muddy trail in our headlamp beams. UTMB is known for being tough, and while the replacement course was not beautiful, it was still tough.

Meghan and I before the start.
The race started around 7 p.m. in the festive style that UTMB and apparently many European races are known for, with throngs of people lining the streets, complete with a jumbo-tron and video/music.  They let the "elites" start in the front of the field, so we lined up behind the start with a mob of folks behind us.  Knowing that folks traditionally go out fast, and knowing that the mob was behind us and not in front of us, I just hoped to not get trampled. The race started in the frenetic manner I expected and there was at least one fall at the start, as we all kind of hopped around trying not to run over the downed runners in that first block. But, in general getting out was fairly easy (so don't try to tell me that UROC needs an "elite" start when UTMB does just fine 25 times as many runners).   I was soon running with people I knew (Krissy, Rory, Gary) but quickly stopped to pee behind a parked car in town, hoping that it was slightly less rude than peeing in the crowd at the start line, which I had considered. I was still in a crowd, but Europeans don't mind nudity, right?  I quickly caught back up with my group, and felt like I was cruising comfortably through the first few miles that take you along a gravel path next to a road .  The path rolls, but is more or less flat-ish with more down than up. Understandable why the first splits at UTMB are always so fast--the first section is fast, in a race where many of the climbs are at grades un-runnable to the mortals. The revised course shared the first 24 miles with the real course, so we'd at least get a flavor of the UTMB course.
The revised UTMB course. There were more climbs in there than are indicated on the map, I believe. The last section  in reality didn't seem to match the map we were given.
The first climb started and Topher and Gary both blew by me at hiking speeds I couldn't match. In general, I felt good on most of the climbs, but the first one I struggled to find a rhythm.  Rory passed by, too, along with a few other females. I started to feel good again once we started the descent into St. Gervais, although the descent was fairly slick on wet and muddy grass, and I depended heavily on my poles for balance.  St. Gervais was the first big aid station and it was a bit of a mob scene, so I tried to get into and out of the tent as quickly as possible.  Unfortunately I hadn't explained this to my crew, who kept trying to (sweetly) offer me a blanket to warm up with. I was generally warm, and just trying to get through the mob scene as quickly as possible. In hindsight, I never even looked at the food offerings, and only took water and coke from aid stations so have no idea what culinary delights awaited had I stopped.  Cheese and sausage, from what I've read, but I stuck to my usual ClifShot diet.

While they did dramatically change the course, they did keep us on the real UTMB course up past Les Contamines, where we would eventually turn off after Notre Dame de la Gorge on what is the first really big climb of the real UTMB. We would turn off around 6200 feet in the modified version, whereas the UTMB course continues to climb up to 9000 feet.

The text that came Friday, announcing the course change stated that the course would be at least 100K. It didn't specify, but I assumed it would be around 100K. Eh, wrong.  I found this annoying as the race unfolded and it became evident that the course was actually closer to 110K. It's nice to start a race knowing the distance you're about to run. Otherwise, you get to the second-to-last aid station and naively ask, "15K to go?" And hear the response, "No, actually 25K to go."  Me, "WTF?"  We'd already made the mental shift of running 168K to 100K, and these additional shifts were just adding insult to injury.  My thought at the last aid station upon hearing this news was, "Let this crappy half-ass course be over with."  When you're what you believe to be 9 miles away from the finish of the race, and then they tell you that it's actually 15, it's a bit deflating.  After hearing that news, the hardest part of the race for me was the last section from the last aid station to the finish.  It was finally light, but this section of the course was not scenic, and was sort of flat-ish and rolling back into town, and had been traversed by the previous races so was a slop-fest. And a bit unexpected in that I had assumed the distance to be closer to 100K. I know, I complain about not getting to run 100 miles and then complain that they made us run more than 100K.  Again, it's just nice to know up front how far you're racing.

Overall, I felt like I rolled with the punches, and did my best to make the most out of what was not ideal. It's hard to compare the actual results to what would have happened had we gotten to run the full course.  The event we ran was not UTMB. I'm not sure what the finishing rate was, but it was high compared to what the usual UTMB finishing rate is.

Being that I don't regularly compete against most of the women in this race, it's a little hard to judge finishing place/time, but comparing my finish to the other US women, I'm not unhappy. Rory has had a great year, with her 2nd place finish at Western States, but I'd say for the most part, any one of that group of 5 could come out on top (or bottom) on any given day. I ended up 15 minutes out of 5th place, which is only significant in that the top 5 women are considered podium (top 10 for men), and I really had hoped to break into the top 5 (what can I say, I wanted a cow bell). And I'm getting pretty good at nailing the F8 position, with two F8s at WS the past 2 years and an F8 here. I hope it's not fate (feight).  The top US women ended up:

4. Rory Bosio (13:43:10)
8. Me (14:13:35)
12. Meghan Arbogast (15:14:25)
14. Krissy Moehl (15:25:57)
17. Helen Cospolich (15:57:36)

The organizers still managed to provide us with around 18,000 feet of climb (per Jill Homer's data) over 68 miles (according to my watch--Jill had 67).  So, while the climbs were not as long, they were still plentiful, and steep.

I can understand why the course change happened, but after having trained all summer, and having taken a week off of work, I really wanted to do a little more than run around on steep muddy trails in the rain. I'm from Oregon. I can do that basically any night I want to for 9 months of the year. However, the race organizers did their best in what was just crappy luck.  Seriously, the chances of having 3 years of bad weather in a row can't be that high.  And the window of crappy weather was pretty incredible, as it was beautiful in the days leading up to the race, and was gorgeous again, just following the race.

I was encouraged by the fact that the climbs really didn't seem that bad. Yes, they were steep, but I was prepared. Granted, we didn't do the major climbs that come in UTMB, but what we did do seemed completely doable. Folks say you can't train for the steepness in the US, but that really isn't true, at least not in Oregon. We've got steep climbs here, too.  I did a training run in the Gorge with 10,000 feet of climb in 30 miles with just 2 climbs.  Our race was 20,000 feet of climb in 68 miles.  I was definitely prepared for that and not completely wiped.  I wanted the real deal.

Will I go back?  Yes. I loved what I saw of the course, and can't wait to do the entire thing.

I wanted to suffer; I wanted to deserve time off afterwards; I wanted to struggle up climbs, and be so sore that I couldn't walk for a several days.  Instead, we were offered a modified course, such that my quads weren't even sore.  18,000 feet of climb in 68 miles, and my quads were happy.  My quads were SO ready, damn it!  I may have finished the route that was UTMB this year, and received a UTMB finishers award, but I haven't run UTMB.  I will be back, assuming that I can get in.

Seems to be the year of shitty weather and 8th place finishes in 100 mile trail races for me. I'm sick of finishing 8th in big races.  Like at WS, I wanted top 5 here. Here I was 15 minutes back, which isn't much in a race that lasts 14 hours, and had I had any idea where I was I can definitely think of a few places where that time could have come from. I had super slow aid station transitions. They were pretty much self service, and I struggled to get my bladder filled and gear re-adjusted on more than one occasion.  I came into Les Contamines in 5th the second time through, and left in 8th or 9th.  I wasn't hanging out in the aid station; it was all just kind of clumsy and I hadn't given my crew any instructions that could have helped in speedier transitions. Next year I'll have a better idea of what the aid stations are like and can plan on how to transition through them more quickly.  I really hate wasting time at aid stations.

All in all, the trip was a fun one, but the UTMB experience left me in a severe funk.  To put so much time/energy into preparing for one race knowing that you can completely beat yourself up and then have an off season to relax/recover, and then not have that race really happen was frustrating. I came back to the states, with my legs feeling fresh, and feeling fit, but mentally feeling like I wanted to be done with training. However, being in shape, and having many great fall ultras to choose from, I opted to jump into 2 additional races: Cuyamaca 100K in San Diego, and Pinhoti 100 mile in Alabama.  Suffice it to say that I half-heartedly attempted Cuyamaca, and dropped after going off course. Just was 100% out of it mentally.  Complete 2012 burnout, so decided to take the rest of the year off of racing. My work helped with that decision, as well, as it turned into an insanely busy fall, with many late nights and a 3-week trip to Iraq in December to ensure I couldn't register for TNF or Hellgate.

I'm feeling rested, and have started jumping back into training the past month. Nothing crazy, but I've had a couple of 70 mile weeks, and am trying to notch it back up, although running in Iraq isn't that much fun (it's safe where I am, but running draws major attention and the stares/honks/smog make it not my favorite place to run, besides the fact that I can only run out on the streets early in the morning, which is not my forte, unless I want to run loops around the apartment complex, also not my forte), so my weekly totals have dipped back into the 40s and 50s.  But, I'm healthy, and excited for a pretty awesome 2013 schedule, with at least 3 international trips for races, and another few exotic locales thrown in for work.  2013 is going to be a busy one, and I hope to be able to race at a high level a bit later in the year next year for some late-season key races, so am hoping this downtime will leave me hungry enough to do so.  And UTMB is one of the races on my list for 2013.  I want to circumnavigate that damn mountain!

Many thanks to our wonderful hosts and to the fun group with which we shared the house in Megeve.  Outside of the actual race experience, it was really a fantastic week.  And to Montrail Europe for all of their assistance during the race.  I hope to see you all again in Chamonix in 2013.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Syncro-Blog: Pandora's Race: Getting sucked into the Ultra Cult

I would guess that many of us entered the ultra world thinking, "I'll just sign up for 1 race."  I know that I did when I first signed up for Mountain Masochist 50+ back in 2006.  And I can very clearly remember the parking lot scene prior to a Signal Nob trail run--one of my first with my new-found group of crazy trail running friends--where Keith Knipling stated, "I'm not doing any more 100s--they're stupid."  That was shortly after he and his dad, Gary, had completed the Grand Slam, and I just assumed that Keith was serious (he went on to run at least 5 more 100s over the next 8 or 9 months including 3 in back-to-back weekends, and both versions of TWOT, which only true nutcases ever finish). And I can remember thinking at the time (fall 2006) that 50 miles was enough. I'd do it once, and then return to my normal life. I had no desire to try 100 miles; 50 seemed like punishment enough.  And I can distinctly remember finishing that first 50 and saying, "That was stupid. I will never do this again."  Yet, somehow I ended up in Wyoming 6 months later at the start line of the Bighorn 100. My first 100 was a disaster--I tried unsuccessfully to drop for 50 miles, and still wish I would have dropped rather than have finished, but that's another story.  But I'd definitely been bitten by both the ultra and 100 mile bugs. 100 miles is not my favorite distance (I prefer 50 miles, or my favorite distance, 100K), but somehow much of the past 6 years of my life has been consumed by training for and racing 100 milers.  My non-running friends have described the Ultra scene as a cult.  You get sucked in and never find your way back out.  So what's the danger of getting sucked in?  Obviously each individual is different, but getting sucked into the ultra cult has influenced my life in some significant ways.

In no particular order:

Ultra running can be an all-consuming hobby. I like to think that I used to be more well-rounded.  In my pre-ultra life, I could list off a multitude of interests and hobbies. I used to take language classes, salsa dance several times a week, cook, bake, knit, read, take stained glass classes, tango, yoga, biking etc.  I still claim to do many of those things, but I now bake bi-annually rather than weekly; I go salsa dancing once every 6 months; and I joined a book club to force me to finish a book once a month. And most of my non-book club reading has to do with running, in the form of blogs or running magazines. I've become a great conversationalist about running, but maybe not about much else, outside of my job.  Training to compete at the level I want to compete at takes up much of my time outside of work hours. If I'm going to show up at the start line of a 100 miler, I want to feel prepared, and like I can race it. For me, that usually means running around 70 miles a week, trying to hit 80 -  100 miles in my biggest weeks, with a somewhat constant guilt complex for not doing more and feeling undertrained. Add in a yoga class or two, and that means that most of my spare time is taken up by running.

It's affected my career decisions.  I work in the international development field, and before I got into trail running, I intended to go back overseas within a couple of years of arriving in DC (2004). My reason for not trying to get a field position is more complicated than just running, but a large part of it is because I wouldn't want to be somewhere where I couldn't run trails, or potentially run at all (an overseas posting with my current organization would not be taking me to Europe, or an international location with a similar ultra scene...think Juba or Kabul).  A career has never been that important to me, though, and it's become fairly apparent that I'm more passionate about running than I am about my day job, so I guess it's not surprising that my desire to keep training and competing at a high level has encouraged me to stay state-side in the forests of Oregon.

I've moved cross country partially because of trail running. That is not to say that the ultra scene isn't alive and well (better, even) on the east coast, but I'm a sucker for really tall trees, mountains, moss and ferns, and I feel at peace running on the wet trails of the PNW.  I moved cross country to live in a place of amazing natural beauty, primarily because the thought of calling those PNW trails home was too good to pass up.

It's affected relationships. My non-running friends have commented (jokingly, but it's partly true), that they lost me to ultrarunning. I had a core group of non-running friends before I started ultrarunning. But once I started spending most of my weekends running with new ultrarunning buddies, I wasn't definitely absent more than present with my old circle. And while dating/relationships have never been my forte, I've definitely had some relationships end (or never get off the ground) because of my running.  Although I guess if a partner can't support my passions, then maybe ultrarunning has been a good screening test for duds.

Getting sucked into the ultrarunning "cult" has obviously not been without effect.  And the question remains as to why I keep doing it when the goal of it is to run races that are potentially not going to be a lot of fun.  I hated my first 100 miler. I had a miserable time, and was not proud of my finish.  Maybe that's what motivated me to run my second 100--to prove to myself that I could figure out the distance. But in subsequent races, I think I've learned that you never really figure out the distance, and maybe that's part of the intrigue and is why, 6 years later, I'm still planning my life around 100 mile races. There is something about the unpredictability of the journey that is 100 miles, that has a real draw.  You know going in, that you're going to suffer, and that there will be highs and lows, and that you won't know what those will be until you face them; there's something about that uncertainty that is really quite appealing.  Or at least it must be, otherwise, why do we do it?

Some ultrarunning friends' thoughts on the topic:
Jen Benna
Dominic Grossman
Katie DeSplinter
Jimmy Dean Freeman

Friday, September 21, 2012

UTMB Gear List and Selections

Let me start off by saying that I have never seen people wear so many layers of clothing in a running event. I thought Portlanders over-dressed, but UTMB'ers took it to a new level.  Racers were bundled up as if about to face severe arctic weather (and we might have, had we headed up over 6000 ft, which we didn't). It was almost laughable, and a wee bit confusing, as it made me question whether I had enough on and had packed enough extra gear for my crew.  I kept trying to remind myself that I've been running in winter weather for as long as I can remember, and would never consider wearing more than a single layer on bottom, even when it's really really cold or really wet. And I never wear more than 2 layers on top, and that usually becomes uncomfortably warm. But, as racers started to panic about weather conditions in the days prior and swarm the Chamonix stores for additional gear, I got sucked in and did the same. 

I found one of the more over-whelming aspects of UTMB preparation in the weeks leading up to it to be figuring out what to carry in terms of mandatory gear. I thought I'd done a good job at keeping things light, until I saw Topher's pack a few days prior to the race.  People put a lot of thought and effort into this, and Topher definitely won the award for research and creativity.

Following is a list of the required gear, and what I opted to go with:

  • Backpack (Not on the obligatory gear list, but obligatory because you have to carry everything on the gear list) 
    • I carried one of the TenRedPacks from UltraSpire. Technically they were green this year, but the name came from last year, when you could follow the ten red packs around UTMB. It's a prototype of the Omega. First, let me start off by saying I really liked this pack--the materials, the construction, the design--all great.  And, I liked it better than any other pack I tried out in prep for UTMB (including the S-Lab 5--stiff and bulky--too much fabric, Ultimate Direction Highline--stiff and heavy, Ultimate Direction Wasp--weird straps causing a weird fit, Camel Bak something or other--uncomfortable fit, Inov8 something or other with odd bladder--uncomfortable bulky straps that hit collarbone/neck), and worn over layers, it worked out very well. I have since worn the pack over a single layer, and I like it, except for the shoulder straps which are fairly widely placed. Better than other packs that cut into the collar bone, but still a touch wide, and tend to slip off the shoulder. Also, there are some issues with the front straps which loosen as you run; the wide shoulder strap issue would be lessened if those front straps would stay put. To prevent them from sliding, I duct taped them into place, and this seemed to work OK. I'll probably permanently sew them at some point, as the duct tape seems to fail on the second or third run. Overall, really like the pack, except for being slightly wide in the shoulders and therefore sliding around a bit, and the (fixable) front strap issue. It's not perfect (but, almost--and can/will be made perfect with a needle and thread), but is my go-to pack for long adventures.  
Checking out the course pre-race with the Ultraspire Omega pack.
On to what had to go inside of that pack...

Obligatory material :
  • Mobile Phone with option enabling its use in the three countries (put in one’s repertoire the security numbers of the organisation, keep it switched on, do not hide one’s number and do not forget to set off with recharged batteries)
    • I purchased a cheap flip phone in France. My Windows phone is dying a slow death, and I feared wouldn't survive the journey (after a recent run, it didn't stop ringing, literally, for several days), besides being a bit heavy and having to pay international rates. 
  • Personal Cup or Tumbler 15cl minimum (water bottle not acceptable)
    • I cut off a juice box--picture a Capri Sun type of thing. Rolled up nicely, worked fine, and I used it for Coke throughout.
  • Stock of Water minimum 1 litre,
    • I carried a 1.5L bladder.
  • Two Torches in good working condition with replacement batteries,
    • Petzl MyoRXP for my main headlamp and a Fenix handheld for my secondary (E11--takes 1 AA battery). I carried one extra battery for the Fenix for the "replacement batteries" 
  • Survival Blanket 1.40m x 2m minimum,
    • Standard. Not much room to be creative here, although some folks will go that extra mile and cut it down to exact size. I didn't bother trying to save those extra thousandths of an ounce.
  • Whistle,
    • Standard small plastic emergency whistle. Not much room to be creative here. Some packs come with them.
  • Adhesive Elastic Band enable making a bandage or a strapping (mini 100cm x 6 cm),
    • Standard...I can not imagine a case, ever, where I would use a bandage mid-run or race, and I've fallen, bled, and broken things on a lot of runs. We were carrying 5000 layers. Surely in an emergency we could have used something out of our required clothing, like the bandana/buff, and made it to an aid station. This was one of those items that makes you ask, WTF? Granted, it weighs next to nothing, so carrying it wasn't really a burden.
  • Food Reserve,
    • I carried ClifShots and a ClifBar or two. Gels started to not go down so well at some point, so for the second half I relied on gummy Haribo Smurfs (not the first time I've relied on gummy things when my stomach is feeling a bit off--they're easier to suck on, thus preventing the gag reflex that swallowing a gel sometimes brings) and Coke at the aid stations. Having a crew meant I could not rely on aid station food, which was plentiful, but not standard fare by US standards.
  • Jacket with Hood and made with a waterproof (recommendation: minimum 10,000 Schmerber) and breathable (recommendation: RET lower than 13) membrane (Gore-Tex or similar) which will withstand the bad weather in the mountains.
    • I carried the MHW Quasar jacket. Great jacket, although I never put it on (I didn't need to--I was warm all night). 

  • Long Running Trousers or Leggings or a combination of leggings and long socks which cover the legs completely,
    • I opted for 3/4 length tights. I also had arm sleeves with me, so they could have covered the lower part of my legs, had they needed to. I had spare long tights in my crew bag. I would have been happy in shorts, too.
  • Additional warm midlayer top: One single midlayer long sleeve top for warmth (cotton excluded) with a minimum weight of 180g (Men, size M)
    OR a two piece clothing combination of a long sleeve baselayer/midlayer for warmth (cotton excluded) with a minimum weight of 110g (Men, size M) and a windproof jacket* with DWR (Durable Water Repellent) protection
    • I wore a short-sleeved half-zip (MHW Aliso S/S zip T) over a long-sleeved half-zip (Arcteryx--purchased in Chamonix when I realized I hadn't brought the "right" long-sleeved layer). I loved both of these, and loved that they were both 1/2 zips so I could control temperature a bit by unzipping one or both of them. The Aliso is a shirt I will wear a lot--it's a great medium-weight SS shirt, and the half-zip option is really nice. And it's a GREAT fit--not cut for a 5'2" woman with large hips, as much women's athletic apparel seems to be. I see this as being my go-to shirt for the rainy Portland fall that is about to hit.
    • I started in a MHW Geist jacket (a wind breaker), and also had a MHW Ghost Whisperer with me. I took the Geist off within about 10 minutes of the start, and only pulled it out again on the snowy part of the course on the climb up above Gorge de la Notre Dame.  Otherwise I ran in the L/S and S/S shirts all night, and never changed. I was warm all night.
  • Cap or Bandana
    • Carried a Buff. Never wore it.
  • Warm Hat
    • I carried a MHW Micro Dome hat. I wore a Turtle Fur tube, that I always wear. It allows my hair to stick out the back/top, which is kind of a must for me. I've worn it on every cold weather run the past decade. 
  • Warm and Waterproof Gloves
    • Waterproof gloves was one of the items I opted to switch out in Chamonix, purchasing the RaidLite over-mitts.  I really think that these are something I may use in the future for snowshoeing, cold-weather adventures, but did not put them on at any time during UTMB. Waterproof gloves, in general, are not something I would ever consider wearing, as I would imagine that they wouldn't be that effective once your hands are warm and sweaty inside of the gloves. The RaidLite mitts are thin enough that I could imagine wearing them as a single layer.  The other water-proof gloves out there resemble oven mitts, and I can't imagine using them for anything besides oven mitts. I wore MHW Power Stretch Gloves and switched those out for the MHW Heavyweight Wool Stretch Gloves at St. Gervais the second time because they'd gotten fairly wet up in the snow. My hands only got cold for a few minutes during the snowy portion, and otherwise, I didn't wear gloves most of the race.  Only for a couple of hours total out of 14.  A glove change was the only change I made all race.
  • Waterproof Over-trousers
    • I ended up carrying MHW Epic pants. This was one switch I made on race day, when I worried that I might need to actually wear them. In the end, I still didn't wear them. I had previously planned to carry O2 Rainwear pants (yellow papery things) bc they were significantly lighter than the MHW ones.  But, I couldn't imagine running in them. In the end, I couldn't imagine running in any of it, and didn't need to.
* The windproof jacket does not replace the mandatory waterproof jacket with hood

Required by the frontier police forces:

  • Identity Papers
    • Well, this became a bit obsolete once they changed the course to remain in France, but I did carry a photocopy of my passport. I didn't want to carry the entire thing bc it weighs a bit, and it's not something you want to get wet.

Very strongly recommended

  • Knife or scissors with which to cut the self-adhesive elasticised bandage
    • Um, nope. I can't imagine using a bandage mid-race or needing to cut one.  
  • walking poles for security on slippery ground in case of rain or snow
    • I used Black Diamond carbon Z-poles and can't imagine doing UTMB without them. I find them very helpful on the steep climbs, and were a life saver on some of the steep muddy descents that were kind of like skiing on mud.
  • a change of warm clothes indispensable in the case of cold weather, rain or injury
    • I had extra clothes with my crew, but never used any of it except switching out wet gloves for dry ones coming through St. Gervais the second time.
  • the sum of 20 euros minimum (in order to cover the unexpected....)
    • I did carry 20 euros but can only imagine needing this if I were doing the full course and having a really rough day (fondue stop at a refuge, etc.).

Advised (list not definitive):

Telescopic sticks, change of clothing, compass, knife, string, sun cream, Vaseline or anti-chaffing cream, needle and thread,...

All clothing must be the runner’s size and without alteration since leaving the factory.
You will carry this material in a pack which must be tagged at the race-bib distribution and is not exchangeable during the race.

If you decide to use poles, you must keep them throughout the whole of the race… It is forbidden to start without sticks and recover them up along the way.
No poles will be allowed in the spare’s bags.


My favorite gear item, besides my L/S and S/S shirts (the perfect combo for the weather--while it was raining much of the night, I either didn't get wet, or it didn't register), were my Black Diamond carbon Z-poles. I loved them for both the ups, and the downs, which were like mud slicks at times (the re-routing caused us to use some TDS trails which meant that there had already been 1500 people or so coming down/up them in the day prior in the pouring rain).

The good thing about having to go through this this year, is that next year I understand where to save weight, and what items worked well this year.  I really wouldn't change much.  I definitely wouldn't add anything. We had "epic" weather and yet I touched basically none of the mandatory gear I wasn't wearing. I likely would have used some of it had we gone up another 3000 feet, but feel like I had enough additional layers with me had I needed them. And everything I have seems to be light enough, in that I don't plan to waste time trying to save an ounce here or there. I'd rather spend that time out hiking up steep climbs in preparation than sitting in front of a computer screen researching UTMB gear options (I seemed to do a lot of that this year). 

The only thing I would change for next year would be on lights, in that I'd have an additional lightweight option to switch out during the day with crew, and then take back a heavier light late on Saturday. You have to carry 2 lights at all times, but there's no point in carrying a heavy headlamp with 3 or 4 batteries all through the daylight hours on Saturday if you a means of switching it out.
On to the race....

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

UTMB: The lead-up

Even though the weather gods have shat upon UTMB the past 2 years, who would have thunk that they would decide to dump the mother load on the race for a third year in a row? Not I, and I certainly didn't pack for it, as I stressed over finding the lightest gear possible to take on the challenge. I can remember telling Byron (MHW/Montrail) several times, "I don't need to wear the waterproof pants, I just need to carry them," as I looked for the lightest possible option (on this point, I'll still argue I was right...I cannot imagine ever wearing waterproof pants to run in, even after the weather we got at UTMB).  It was gorgeous for the days heading into the race and gorgeous the days following, but the weather gods decided to unleash their fury in a short 48-hour window to affect all 4 of the 2012 races (PTL, TDS, CCC and UTMB).  And while the event organizers and racers rallied to embrace what mother nature threw our way, it was a major disappointment to not be able to truly experience UTMB.

Full disclosure.  When I pictured myself running in the Alps, this is what I imagined.  I pictured myself frolicking through grassy alpine meadows throwing my arms into the air and breaking out into song, at least once, kind of like the dude in the video (but slightly more gracefully and probably with much less vibrato).

There was no frolicking or singing, not even in my head.

I haven't blogged in weeks (er, months), so I'll summarize my summer quickly. My training post-Western States went well. I jumped back into running 10 days after WS with a flat road marathon (a PR--woohoo! although my marathon PR is still pathetic at 3:04--my previous PR being my marathon split from the World 100K at 3:06).  Not super fast, but reassuring that my quads, which felt like they died at WS, were still alive and ready to jump back into training. Here are Daniel and I at the finish of the Sauvie Island Flat--held on the 4th of July. The main motivation for running the race was to have an excuse to sport patriotic attire including bunhuggers (and to hang out with my friend, Daniel, visiting from DC).

I wussed out on the body paint, but figured the tanlines were good enough representation of red and white stripes. Daniel was definitely a hit, and I met someone the next week, who remembered me as, "That girl that was running the marathon in her underwear."
I quickly ramped back up from 0 the week following WS to 70 miles and then a couple weeks in the 80s before a rest week and then hit 100 and 90 mile-weeks, which for me, are big weeks, before a 3-week taper. Some highlights of my long training runs were a St. Helens circumnavigation with "the boys" and a double Defiance, which is probably as good as it gets nearby for UTMB training--2 trips up Mt. Defiance, one from the back (Wyeth Trail) and one from the front (Defiance trail) resulting in over 10,000 feet of gain in 30 miles. There were some other memorable training runs, including a weekend in the Shenendoahs with the Keiths, a South Sisters summit with Oregon running buddies, and downhill repeats at Willamette Pass, my new favorite workout (it involves riding the gondola to the top and then running down and repeating as many times as desired--I did it 2 weeks out, so opted for 5 repeats or 11 miles downhill with about 8000 feet of descent).  Overall, I got in some of my highest mileage weeks ever, and more climbing/descending than normal.  I spent a fair number of lunch hours hiking uphill at 24% on the treadmill.  I wasn't putting in 130 mile weeks out of a yurt (watching this video made me feel like a complete slacker), but I did what I could and my quads felt ready to go.  I was feeling fairly tired on my last big week, and managed to fall 4 times that week, so opted for a good 3-week taper, and really backed off the final 10 days.  I felt great heading into it and was excited to see just how impossible this UTMB thing was, and why so many norteamericanos seemed to be humbled by it.

Me and the boys on a St. Helens circumnavigation. The summer included lots of fun long runs including this 33-mile classic PNW loop.

The group on top of South Sisters. Good practice in using poles, and 2 good falls to remind me that I'm clumsy (note: the carbon Black Diamond Z-poles are delicate, and will shatter if fallen upon).
I arrived early enough to head to Courmayeur, Italy (roughly the half-way point on the UTMB course) to spend some time with the Gaylords and see part of the descent down into Courmayeur on Sunday afternoon, and the climb up out of Courmayeur to Refuge Bertone on Monday morning.  Topher had suggested I climb the couple hundred of feet on the other side of Bertone so that I could look down the valley on the other side and take in the views. In a hurry to get back down to breakfast in Courmayeur and start indulging in my pre-race pastry taper plan, I opted to skip out on his suggestion thinking, "I'll save it for race day--it'll be even more special that way." He described that section of the trail as the beginning of the part which mimics the coastal trail in the Marin Headlands--rolling and runnable with amazing views (the apline'y meadow portion with big Alp'y mountains in the background where I planned to sing the Sound of Music theme song loudly).  Both the descent down into and climb out of Courmayeur were steep, but they didn't shock me. They weren't too unlike parts of climbs I'd trained on, and while I was glad to see them to get an idea of what I was in for, the whole thing still seemed doable.

What we should have done....Instead, we turned right at La Balme (39 K pt on this chart).

On Monday I headed back to Chamonix to meet up with Meghan and head out to Megeve, where we would be staying with our hosts, John and Sheila Catts, and additional guests, Bruce, Karen, Karl and Erika. John and Erika were to run TDS, while Meghan, Karl and I would be running UTMB. Megeve was lovely and peaceful; a nice quiet reprieve from Chamonix, where there were just a few too many achievement shirt and spandex-sporting runners milling about to put one at ease.

As luck would have it, these were the views in the days leading up to (and following) the race. UTMB seems to be cursed.  
Things started to look grim early in the week, as the forecast called for rain beginning on Wednesday or Thursday and lasting through Friday. Even though we knew the bad weather was coming, there was still hope, as the weather on Wednesday was summer-like and Meghan and I got out to tour a bit of the course near Notre Dame de la Gorge.  We were in shorts and t-shirts, and sweating, so it seemed possible that the weather forecast could be wrong, and that the current weather would hold.

Meghan and I checking out the "course" near Notre Dame de la Gorge.  We weren't actually on course, but did find a steep technical climb that resembled parts of the course. Warm and sunny!  
In the end, things took a turn for the worse, and what seemed grim earlier in the week, would have been ideal. But the earlier forecast for rain, turned to snow and heavy winds, with predicted temperatures and the snow line moving lower and lower as Friday approached.

Erika and John began TDS on Thursday morning, and we got updates from Sheila (who was out crewing for John and Erika) about how bad things were out on the course. It rained incessantly, and things continued to look grim for our start on Friday evening. We received a text stating we'd need to carry more layers. But, the show looked like it would go on, as a statement made at the press conference on Thursday afternoon insisted that the race would go on as scheduled on the original course. Runners panicked, and Chamonix retailers benefitted from a rush on purchasing additional layers. I tried to wrap my head around the idea that we would be heading up into what might feel like a blizzard at 9000 feet (10 cm of snow with wind gusts up to 70 km/hr and temps that would feel like -10C). I like to think that I like extreme weather, and was even excited about the idea of really miserable conditions. Might as well make an epic race even more so.

However, the race officials deemed it unwise to send 2500 runners up into a blizzard, so around noon on Friday we received another text stating that the course would be changed, keeping us in France at lower elevations, with total climb of about 6000 m (20,000 ft) over 100 km.  So, we wrapped our head around this news, totally bummed out by the realization that we basically would be going for a night run on a cold rainy night with zero views of the Alps.  Really, with zero views of anything, except the tunnel vision of the trail in your direct headlamp beam that comes with racing at night, made even worse by the fog, when you literally can't see much of the trail even. Wait, can't we Oregonians do that on any night for about 9 months of the year?

To be continued....(In an effort to at least get part of this out before Christmas, I'll stop here, and continue on soon, I hope).

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.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Some thoughts on WS

Not a race report, just a link to a recent podcast Yassine and I did with 3Non-Joggers on our Western States experiences.

Where the Magic happens:  Mailman One.  If you click on the image, it might just take you to the 3Non-Jogger page,  but if not, click here.
I will write something up eventually, but some races are harder to write about than others. Sadly, the day was not as effortless as I look in this picture (taken by Luis Escobar the day before WS).  All in all, not a complete train wreck.  8th female in 19:11, which means a guaranteed spot for next year, so I get to try it all again next June.  And for that, I'm very fortunate.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Photos from the Sun Mountain 50 Miler

Some photos (taken by Matt Hagen unless otherwise indicated--thanks for being out there, Matt!) from the Sun Mountain 50 miler on May 20th. I don't feel like writing much, so I'm just posting some pictures (with really long captions....)
Deb, to the left thinking, "Holy crap! Are you wearing those out in public?" I guess that's what happens when you put a short size S short on a 5'9" chick.  Gotta say, these are my new favorite shorts.  Well done, Mountain Hardwear!  I'm guessing they won't be around for long because if exhibitionist Amy likes them, then the general public will not.  But these shorts are awesome (and not just bc they are super short--they're actually super comfortable to run in, as well).  I plan to stock up before they come out with anything longer.  Long live short shorts!!  It seems like someone is finally listening to my pleas (or someone made a mistake). I'm also wearing the new MHW Fluid Race Vest, which is super lightweight and it worked well carrying a 70 oz bladder.  I love the fact that you can move the 2 chest straps (6 options for placement).  Very clever and easy to adjust (not on the fly, but pre-race as you have to physically remove the straps and stick them through a different hole--easy to do, just not while moving).  One of my pet peeves with hydration packs is straps that either slide around or aren't adjustable.  This strap system takes care of both of those concerns.
Hanging out before the start.  The shorts look much longer from the front.  Had fun hanging out with Linda (to my L) and company at Eric and Kelly's place in Twisp. Was great to hang with old friends, and meet some really cool new ones, as well.  Marta (to my R and partially blocked), a friend and training buddy from Portland is getting ready to rock her first 50 miler.

The wild flowers were AMAZING! Purple and yellows, more than anything else, but they were everywhere.  I wished, initially, that I'd carried a camera, but in hindsight, would have been stopping every 10 feet to take pictures.  I loved this race, and would rate it as one of the prettiest I've done. I'd also recommend picking the 50 miler over the shorter distances (25K and 50K) because the first 20 miles (unique to the 50 mile course) were the prettiest part of the course.
Somewhere about mile 11?  I ran alone for most of the day.  Except for a few miles with Anthony (pictured below). I almost never smile in running pictures, but Matt is a funny guy!
Marta looking excited to be killing her first 50.  She came in 2nd in about 8:12, and had a great time in doing so.  Also huge props to Bryan Mullaney, another training buddy from Portland who also finished strong in his first 50 miler.  
Running on a road section somewhere in the middle of the race with Anthony from Wenatchee (that's how he introduced himself to me).  My only running buddy of the day, as I passed him, but then he sped up to run with me for a few miles.  Thanks for the company!
This was the turn around on the final climb.  This last one was the hardest of the day, mainly because I had no idea when it was going to end and was ready for it to end at this point. This is Eric heading around the turn-around sign. He, along with his wife, Kelly, were our wonderful hosts for the weekend.  Thanks!  I'm willing to house sit as needed!  Seriously, the Twisp/Winthrop area (Methow Valley) is one worth checking out.  Awesome views, great trails, great climbs, dryer weather...a great wet-season getaway from the rainy PNW. 
Heading down from the final climb.  Because of the out-and-back nature of the last bit of the final climb, you can for the first time all day, get a gauge as to whether or not anyone is within 10-15 minutes or so.  No one was behind me (well, no women), so I opted to head in gently as I was hoping to preserve my quads for the upcoming 2 weekends, which include a big mileage weekend at the WS training camp, and a R2R2R. I didn't feel super strong on the climbs all day, but the fact that my quads weren't sore after the race is a good sign, as they were completely trashed 2 weeks ago when I did my first long run with significant climbing post-Worlds.  Hopefully the next 2 weekends of significant climbing/descending will be good enough to get me sub-19 at Western States.

How cool is this?  A genuine stile.  We got to climb up and over it at about mile 48.  After this, it's a gentle downhill and then an annoying little climb into the finish.  
Songs from the Sound of Music kept popping into my head.  Running along wild flower-laden trails with views of snow-capped peaks does that to me.

This is the course profile as listed on the Sun Mountain website. The course is basically a 20 mile section unique to the 50 miler and then the last 30 is the same as the 50K course. Last year a 4 mile section in the first 20 was missed, so the elevation profile here reflects the fact that last year's course was closer to 46, and there's a 4-mile chunk missing somewhere in that first 20.  This year we got to do the full 50.  The elevation profile would imply that that first 20 is relatively flat, but there was at least one big climb in there, so maybe that's the section that was missed last year. I always seemed to be surprised by what was coming up, and at what mile a climb was supposed to begin and end.  I turned around on a couple of occasions, once when confused 25Kers told me I was going the wrong way (I wasn't). The course was marked insanely well, though, so I should have just trusted the signs. All told, I finished in 7:21, a time I'm happy with on a course with a bit of up and down. A good race for me, nothing stellar, but I went into it to get in a solid training run building up to Western States, with the desire to leave something for the next two hard weeks of training and to be able to walk on Monday (race was on Sunday). I ran 10 miles on Tuesday and felt better than I ever have after a 50 miler, so mission accomplished.
Hanging out with Shawna at the finish. Shawna opted for the 50K as she prepares for the San Diego 100 in a couple of weeks, which was smart for her, but too bad for me, as it would have been fun to have her company out on the 50 mile course. James, Candice and all of the volunteers put on a great show, and the post-race festivities were no exception with kegs of beer, local pizza, and a great band (Blackberry Bushes Stringband).  Photo by Joseph Tompkins.
Check out all of Rainshadow Running events on their website.  Highly recommended! Low key vibe, beautiful courses.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Gold!! Wait....did that really just happen?

I'm not really sure how to put the World 100K experience into words. I'm still not sure that it actually happened. The month leading up to it had been trying, and had you told me at any point during that period what the final result would be, I would have laughed. I was definitely not a favorite going in from my point of view or anyone else's.  Exactly five weeks prior to race day I was discharged from the hospital after suffering from a pulmonary embolism, which was the follow-on to the deep vein thrombosis that showed up in my right calf after a flight from Istanbul.  I've already blogged ad nauseum on the experience, so please see the previous four posts if you'd like the full story.... In short, after a frustrating week of calf pain which resulted in 3 days in the hospital with PE and follow-up guidance from my ex-doc not to run for at least a month, I found a doctor who gave me the advice I wanted to hear (run) and was cleared to ease back into training. I did so, and after a few days, didn't feel any adverse affects from the DVT/PEs.  The five weeks leading up to Worlds mileage-wise were 11, 50, 79, 85, 42, and this was following a month on the road for work.  Not ideal, but less-than-ideal training seems to be the story of my life.
Meghan and I on the balcony at La Montanina.
On to Italy--so after the not-so-ideal lead-up to the event, I was really happy just to be there, and to be able to compete with my amazing teammates.  I wanted to place top 10 so that I could score a guaranteed spot on the 2013 team and figured I needed to run sub-8 hours to do that, but was really hoping for somewhere between 7:45-7:50 and somewhere closer to top 5 place-wise.  Meghan and I planned to start out together, although her time goal was a bit faster (7:40) than mine.  And the real objective was to score as highly as possible for team USA. It's much easier to push yourself when you're part of a team you love.  Part of the reason I was so upset at the possibility of not running, was not being able to compete as a part of this particular team, as I really like the individual members so much.

I was a bit freaked out about flying, but carefully selected a bulkhead exit row aisle seat and had more leg room than I knew what to do with.  On the PDX-Amsterdam leg, I watched 4 movies and didn't sleep a wink while doing calf raises and heel presses every few minutes and probably walked a mile during the flight.  I arrived in Milan on Wednesday exhausted, and made my way to Seregno and eventually on to our accommodations at La Montanina, a Catholic retreat center up in the mountains about an hour's drive from Seregno. The way the World 100K event works is that an established race bids to host the championship (that's why the date jumps around year to year), and the local organizing committee (LOC) arranges lodging and transportation for the teams. This year there were many issues with logistics, and I won't dwell on the specifics, but let's just say that there were a lot of unhappy campers due to lodging and transportation problems. It was bad enough to be almost comical at times, but maybe not that comical to nervous runners before a big race.  I ended up in a large attic room of 20 beds with Meghan, her entourage, and Lin, and had a great time in their company.  Meals were tasty, scenery was spectacular, and in the end, how does one complain with views like the ones pictured below?  Yeah, people were lost on buses for hours at a time and most people didn't get their preferred rooming arrangements, but we were staying in front of the freakin' isn't so bad!

La Montanina in the rain. The sun finally popped out on Friday for some spectacular views.
The mountains behind our hotel getting some late afternoon sun.
Sunset a short walk from our lodge. Alps in the background and Lake Como below. Not a bad place to hang out pre-race.
The pre-race days were spent with easy shake-out runs, team meetings, exploring nearby towns to find good eats, grocery stores, and WiFi connections, and opening ceremonies/parade. The day prior we all prepared our race nutrition, and I opted to go with 8 oz. bottles of Clif shot drink every 5K and a Clif shot gel every 10K.  We'd have our handlers stationed at the 5K and 15K aid stations, and then un-manned aid at the start/finish and 10K stations (in the end there were folks working those stations, as well).  This is one aspect that differs from trail races in that you never actually need to stop running.  The handlers are there ready to hand off to you as you run by, so unless you're requesting something different than planned, you never actually need to stop and the courses are generally flat enough that there is never an excuse to walk.
Team Oregon (Cassie, Meghan, me and Pam).  
Team USA at the parade. 
Race morning I didn't feel overly nervous.  I was just excited to get started, which took a bit longer than expected after some bus delays caused athletes to arrive late to the start. The course was a 20K loop, mostly flat, but with some rollers on the back half. It wound through neighborhoods, parks, the downtown pedestrian mall, along the interstate, side streets, more parks, etc.  It was varied enough to be interesting, and insanely well marked. For what the LOC missed out on in terms of pre-race and post-race organization, they nailed it when it came to the race itself.

Lap 1: Meghan and I started off together, as planned, and lap 1 passed quickly (more so than intended) and fairly effortlessly.  I felt good, Meghan felt good, life was good.  My biggest fear going in was that I would have to make frequent bathroom stops, which would have caused me to break off from Meghan and just waste a lot of time, in general.  An important lesson learned last year was that it's hard to make forward progress when you're squatting alongside the road with your shorts (huggers, in this case) around your ankles. I had taken one Imodium 30 minutes before the start, and it seemed to work.  I didn't need to dash into the bushes, nor did Meghan, and we were able to pace off each other as planned.  The pace was quicker than intended (7:08/mile average for first 20K; we had intended closer to 7:15-20/mile) but was still conversational.  I was smiley (intentionally so--I usually look like I'm overly serious in race pictures), and was popping smiles and thumbs ups as often as I could (so far all of the race pictures I've seen don't show me smiling, so maybe I wasn't as smiley as I thought I was). But, I was having fun, and the first lap felt good. First lap in 1:28:39 (7:08 pace), which was about 1:30 faster than intended.

--Let me take a minute to mention that I think the world of Meghan, and of the friendship that has developed between us since being teammates and roommates at Worlds in the Netherlands this past September.  Meghan has complete confidence in my abilities, and her confidence in me has rubbed off on me, and really helped me see myself as capable of achieving things I didn't think possible. We live not too far from each other (80 miles), and have been able to train together several times over the past months. Last year at Worlds I started off the race with Meghan and Devon and didn't really feel like I belonged in their company (and maybe I didn't at the time).  This year I started off with Meghan and felt completely confident that I belonged there and that we were each strong enough to push each other to great performances depending on how the day unfolded.--

Meghan and I somewhere on Lap 1 or 2.  Photo by Raymond Pretat.
Lap 2: Even though we continually commented about slowing down slightly, we didn't back off of the pace, and came through 40K (2:57:31 cumulative) almost exactly the same as the first loop in1:28:52 (7:09 pace/mile).  I hoped that if I continued to run at this pace as long as possible, I'd have more room to slow down later.  I felt great at the beginning of the loop.   I can remember getting chills as we passed the 5K aid station (so 25K in)--a combination of hearing the cheers from our aid station supporters and just feeling so fluid and effortless--a sensation I'm not sure I've ever experienced.  The remainder of lap 2 felt good, but towards the end of the lap I started to feel like I was on a long run, and like I would need to slow down a bit.

Lap 3: I could no longer hang with Meghan and started to drop back.  I really had to pee at this point, and didn't want to stop, so worked at peeing on the run.  Not an easy thing to do or anything I've ever done (intentionally), but after several miles, finally figured it out.  Uh, disgusting, yes, and wet shoes on an otherwise dry day, disgusting, as well.  Not a tactic I'd use on most days, but I didn't want to lose any time here and a port-a-potty stop seemed like a waste of time, so went with it.  I felt like I was really slowing down as Meghan pulled away, but then looked at my watch and realized I hadn't slowed down much, just that Meghan had sped up. The giddy fluidity that occurred in Lap 2 was gone by Lap 3, but I was able to maintain a fairly steady pace.  During this lap I set both marathon (3:06--have only run a few and haven't run one in 8 years) and 50K (3:41) PRs. I didn't get a total lap time on this lap, but if I average out Lap 3 and 4, I averaged approximately 1:31:30 for Lap 3. Meghan was in sight for a while, but was probably about 2 minutes up at some point. Nearing the end of Lap 3, I looked back while in the snake-y park section and thought I could see at least a woman or two in the park, so that motivated me to pick up the pace and start worrying about what was behind me.
In stride early on. Photo by Raymond Pretat.
Lap 4: Early on in the race, Meghan and I had been hearing, 4th and 5th, and not much about how far back we were, but getting into Lap 4, I started to hear a consistent number of people say that I was 3rd, and 3:00 back.  We never passed or were passed by any women along the way, so there must have been some drops up front.  While Meghan was mainly in view, she was as at least 2:00 ahead of me at some point.  I didn't pay much attention to the reports, as I really wasn't chasing first, but was just trying to stay consistent and not lose my current place.  I felt better on Lap 4 than on Lap 3, in that I was still holding a fairly consistent pace, and was that much closer to the end, and figured that Lap 5 would take care of itself.  I crossed the 80K point at 6:00:44, which meant a 57 minute 50 mile PR.  Holy crap.  I would never dream of running a 6 hour 50-miler, so was pretty psyched to hit this split in the midst of a 100K.

Lap 5: I don't remember much about the beginning of Lap 5, except that I tried to just keep pushing at a consistent pace.  It was at the 90K mark, that I started to hear people yelling a bit more excitedly that I was 45 seconds or 30 seconds back, and I think it only started to dawn on me then, that I was really pretty close to the leader. I hadn't even considered that going after the lead was a possibility up to this point.  It didn't take long before that reality presented itself, and I could see Meghan and the Swedish runner, Kajsa Berg, within view.  I watched Meghan make a move into first, and was thinking how freaking amazing it would be for a 51-year-old to take home the world title.  And then I watched Meghan come back to me and Berg move back into the lead.  When I passed Meghan, she told me she was bonking and to go for it.  I think I say, "Hey, me too," and not much else.  At the 92 K point, so 5 miles from the finish, I caught Berg, and passed without much of a surge. My first thought, was, "Hey, it would be fun to say I led this thing if even for a few steps."  I didn't say anything as I passed, not sure if I should have, but, "Hey, great job," seemed kind of trite at the moment.  After passing without much oomph I realized I should probably try to put a bit more authority into a surge, so as to make her think she was getting dropped.  I made an effort at a surge, and didn't look back.  I passed the aid station at 95K, and the US folks were going nuts.  I'm guessing they were shocked, but so was I. It's not too much past that  when you come to the only out-and-back section on the course, a 1 block, around a cone, type of deal, so knew I had at least a 2-block lead when I exited that section and Berg hadn't entered it yet.  At this point, I was having lots of internal debates in my head.  I was thinking about how others would handle this situation.  Ellie was one that came to mind.  What would Ellie do?  Ellie would turn into a focused little machine and kick the heck out of the end of the race.  Amy, on the other hand, who is typically afraid of such scenarios would back off, but there was really no where to back off to, and I thought about how much I would regret having had a golden opportunity to win a world championship, and then not having the inner fortitude to get it done.  I also kept coming back to the thought, "but I'm just not fast enough to win this kind of stuff."  But I seemed to be, so tried to just stop thinking, and focus on the fact that if I could just maintain this low'ish 7:00 pace, I was going to win this damn thing.  Holy shit!  I snaked through the neighborhoods (the course had tons of turns...there weren't many sections that went straight for long) and finally turned onto the street with the finish.  Not the actual finish, because they then have you enter a park where you snake around, and back out onto the street with the finish, but this was around the 98K point.  I entered the park, and did the big loop around, and glanced over across the park and could see the motorcycle (with the Swede....not sure why they opted to stay with her, but it made it easy to see her).  At this point, I knew I had nothing to worry about because I was only a couple minutes to the finish, and she was maybe 300 meters behind.  I turned back onto the road, and knowing I didn't need to sprint, enjoyed the last block into the finish.  There was no tape to cross (maybe bc the motorcycle wasn't with me, and they didn't realize I was in first?), and after finishing I was whisked immediately into drug testing, so the finish itself was a little anticlimactic. Finish time of 7:34:08 (7:19 pace/mile), a 36 minute PR. GOLD!

The anti-doping bit was not that much fun. My understanding of it was that there would be beverage options, including beer, which I dearly wanted, but we were only offered water.  So, I proceeded to chug 3 L of water in a fairly short period of time.  At some point, they brought my requested beer, but it had been opened outside so I wasn't allowed to drink it. They then brought me a 1.5 L coke, which I also downed.  4.5 L of fluids and it still took me over 2 hours to pee.  I guess I shouldn't have been peeing on the run.  Lesson learned.  It was disgusting anyway.

While in anti-doping, I quickly learned that Meghan and Pam had finished in 4th and 5th and that we were a lock for team gold, so between the team gold and individual gold, you really couldn't ask for anything more out of the experience. Meghan suffered for a bit around the 95K point, getting passed by the Russian for 3rd, but then held on to keep 4th and finish in a new age group world record (breaking her own) and PR in 7:41:52. Pam ran steady all day to finish in 7:43:04 for 5th, a huge PR for her, as well. Carolyn suffered from severe blisters, which caused some extended stops to remedy them, but finished in 8:32:15, which is a qualifying time for 2013 in South Korea. Annette struggled all day with stomach issues but didn't quit when many would have and showed true heart by pushing through to finish in 9:47:40. Cassie was injured going in, and dropped early. The men had some break-through performances (those of Joe Binder and Jon Owens especially) and finished a strong second behind the Italians. With 4 US men in the top ten, that means 4 automatics qualifiers for South Korea.

Is this picture real?  How did this happen?
Team USA singing proudly.
Team Montrail (Annette, me and Sean) at the awards ceremony.
A few days later, and I'm still slightly incredulous that it happened. Incredulous that I won, but also, that I won it in a time that ranks up there with some fast women. And I'm still not really sure how that happened (I'm not that fast!).  I've received an overwhelming number of FB messages, calls, tweets, texts, hugs, etc, and while I haven't had the chance to respond to each individually, I'd like to thank everyone for the amazing support and encouragement.  At work they even put up a finish line tape for me to officially cross leading into my cube (how very observant of them). It really has been an awesome experience. Standing on top of the podium while the national anthem plays for both individual and team gold is hard to describe.  I think the pictures do a fairly good job describing it without words, though.
Top 25 100K times by North American residents. (!!)
There has been some nice press on the race, and here are links to: iRunFarRunner's World, Running Times, USATF, IAU, ClifBar, and the Daily Review Atlas (hometown paper).

The bunhuggers will be back for Worlds in 2013, which will take place in September in South Korea on Jeju Island (google it--looks amazing!).  I will start the ab/arm work a bit earlier this time (and maybe a tan), but I gotta say, I loved wearing the huggers. They really do make you feel fast (or like you want to run fast so as to not spend that much time in public).

Pierre is becoming a very well-traveled prairie dog.  Photo by Darryl Schaffer.