Thursday, September 26, 2013

3/4 of the UTMB....

I've been meaning to write something about my UTMB race, but haven't really been feeling up to it. In summary, I developed what felt like a urinary tract infection, and the pain caused me to make a couple of medical stops around the mid-way point and hang out in the med tent at Arnuva (km 94) for an hour or so. Once I was freed to go, I continued on to Champex-Lac (122 K), where I eventually dropped. It was vomiting inside the aid station at Champex-Lac that caused a third medical tent visit there, but it was a combo of the UTI-like issue and vomiting that caused me to drop. I dug myself into a hydartion/nutrition hole, and while I could have just hung out for several hours and gotten myself into a place to move forward, at the time, the issues seemed such that I didn't believe pushing on for another 8+ hours was in my best interest. I guess I'm not one to push through the types of issues that many do in a hundred mile race. I'd like to continue doing this for a long time. So, when basic body functions become painful and stop working altogether, I may be somewhat quick to throw in the towel.
A street scene in Chamonix. A fun town, but I enjoyed hanging out in a quiet valley the days leading up to the race. All pics are mine.
In hindsight, there were any number of solutions to the problems I faced during UTMB and ways I could have turned things around in order to finish UTMB, but at the time, the solutions were not apparent and my failure to figure them out forced me further into a hole. I would love to go back and restart the race with the knowledge of what would go wrong, and thus preemptively fix the issues as they came up, as I made a number of stupid mistakes that led to some health issues that it felt wise not to push through. I'm disappointed that I did not finish, but given the circumstances, I don't necessarily regret pulling the plug. I just regret getting myself into a place where I felt like I needed to pull the plug.
The trail heading down into Arnuva.
The night start at UTMB means that you start out and run hard through the night, and thus, need to be taking in calories and fluids, even though the temps drop and fluids might seem less critical. At least this is my guess for why I didn't hydrate/eat like I should have. And this led to what appears to have been a urinary tract infection or what one would feel like, feeling like I had to pee constantly, without being able to, except when I could, which was really painful, and just painful, in general. I've never had a UTI before, and the obvious solution to try to clear something like this up would be to down lots and lots of fluids, but when it feels like you need to pee, but can't, and then when you do pee it is excruciating, then drinking lots of fluids to lead to peeing (and thus, pain) sounds intuitive, but in the moment didn't happen because at some subconscious level, I avoided drinking to avoid peeing (again, it hurt). I started having issues with this about 50K in, and then stopped at Courmayeur (80K) to consult medical, who advised me to drink lots of fluids, and then stopped again in Arnuva (95K) to consult again, and the medical tent there kept me for an hour to get me to drink fluids and do a couple of urine tests in addition to getting my blood pressure back up. It was 90/60, which is in the low range and low for me; I'm not sure what that even means or if that's normal mid-race to be low--it doesn't seem like it should be after running down a long descent to the aid station. 
Meghan and I at the start of the race. Stupidly, I didn't drink much in the hour or so leading up to the start, because last year I'd almost peed my pants waiting for the start. 
After an hour at Arnuva, they told me to go on my merry way, and I did go, and was fairly merry. My mindset had changed from racing to just finishing it.  I made the climb up to Gran Col Ferret feeling stronger than I'd been climbing all day, and quickly passed back the two women that had gotten ahead of me during my hour on the cot, along with another couple of dozen of runners before I reached La Fouly. I felt like I had a new lease on life. Had I been smart here, I should have worked to get back into a good place from both a hydration and calorie standpoint. I also should have spent the hour in Arnuva focusing on getting food and water in, but I was in short sleeves laying on a cot alone in the medical tent, wrapped in an emergency blanket, and was too cold to think intelligently about getting up and spending that time in Arnuva working on eating and drinking. I was more concerned with staying warm wrapped in that piece of foil. Of course I had 2 more layers in my bag, which I also failed to put on. So, I consumed the 2 cups of tea with a sugar cube that the med team brought me, but nothing else, and while I felt great leaving Arnuva, those 2 sugar cubes wore off eventually--shocking, I know.  Again, in hindsight, there were so many simple ways to get myself back into a better place, but I got myself further into a hydration defecit, and an empty stomach.  
The trail heading up the Gran Col Ferret.
After Arnuva, I felt relatively great for most of the entire stretch to La Fouly, and continued to pick off runners, and came into La Fouly re-energized, but again, didn't grab as much as I should have in La Fouly. A banana and some protein drink, along with a glass of coke, which had been going down well all night.  I had survived most of the race on coke up until this point, with some protein drink thrown in and a couple of gels early, but I'd stopped eating gels a few hours into the race, and opted to go on liquid calories. I think this plan would have been fine, but I wasn't actually taking in enough liquid calories, as my hydration bladder was filled with water, and the liquid calories I was only grabbing in glasses of coke at aid stations, and my protein drink, which tasted good and went down well, but which I could only grab in small quantities when at the infrequent crew points. 

On a positive note, my legs felt pretty good and it wasn't the climbs and descents that caused me issues. While training locally is definitely beneficial, I felt like I knew what I needed to do going in to get ready, and my quads were relatively prepared for what they would face. It wasn't my legs that were the issue. It was a failure to have a good hydration/fueling plan and being fairly nonchalant about fueling/hydration and the issues that caused me.
The trail heading down into Arnuva, where I hung out in the med tent for an hour. Not a bad place to be, as I had enjoyed a few days in Arnuva before the race. 
In the end, we all need to make our own decisions. I did that at UTMB and made what seemed to be the smartest decision at the time. After suffering with UTI pain and infrequent and painful attempts to go the bathroom for 45 miles, followed by a nausea bout that had me, again, in a prone position in a medical tent, pushing on in the heat of the day over another 3 tough mountain passes just didn't seem the wisest choice. I'm guessing it was hydration-related, but for whatever reason from my neck down, things had just been "off" for most of the race. Could I have done it? Yes. Did I fear that my internal systems weren't processing things well, and that another 8 hours of intense exercise could potentially damage them? Yes, but I guess that's always a fear in long-distance events. I guess the difference being that it's always a risk, but you either continue to fight through or throw in the towel once you can tell that there are problems. Some people are of the opinion that you should never throw in the towel. I'm definitely not of that mindset, and feel that not throwing in the towel when your body tells you to, can be a bit short-sighted. Dropping is a personal decision, and in the end, each of us has to make the decision that is in our own best interest.

I felt pretty down after the race, and still do to some degree. While at some level I realize I'm not a complete loser, I definitely don't feel good about my UTMB race. It was one of my goal races for the year, and dropping out of a "destination" race always leaves a bad taste on what was, otherwise, a great trip. I was having a bit of a pity party for several weeks, but am starting to feel excited to jump into some races again, and reminding myself that I don't completely suck. Sometimes it's good to have a melt-down race to rattle the confidence and force some reflection on what's been a solid several years of racing.
Flowers on the UTMB course near Arnuva. 
It's a strange sport in some regards. In some ways, it's a seemingly cohesive community out there who support other runners and build people up, but there seem to be also a growing number of people within the community ready to criticize--look at how much shit Anton got for dropping. Sometimes there's a damned if you do or damned if you don't feeling. I've heard athletes criticized for dropping, especially the "elites", but have also heard folks criticize other athletes for putting themselves into the hospital. I'd guess that many people that drop can probably get to the finish line, but at some point you've got to decide at what cost. There's sometimes no way to win, both figuratively and literally, so when having one of those days when normal bodily functions become painful, and the body is clearly unhappy, I made a decision to pull the plug. There's a difference between certain types of "unhappy" and while sore quads is one thing, kidneys that are unable to properly process waste, or the body struggling to excrete said waste is a different type of unhappy, and a type of unhappy I'm less willing to run through. I'd like to continue processing waste well into my 80s.

I continued to have some issues for a couple of days following the race, but everything did clear up and I felt fine within a few days and like I probably wasn't anywhere near to the point of causing damage, but at the time it sure felt like it. So, of course I doubt my decision, and kick myself for dropping now, although I didn't immediately following. Pain, in hindsight, always seems less severe.  I guess that's why we keep signing up for these things.
A day relaxing in Annecy after the race. Annecy is a place I could spend some time.
I do want to go back to UTMB, and I'm anxious to race another 100 miler, and may try to jump into one soon, but maybe not. Sadly next year UTMB falls on the same date as the IAU World 100K, and assuming I'm on the team (Meghan and I have qualifying times from the Japan Shibamata 100K, so assuming no more than 4 people run faster 100Ks at MadCity or another road 100K I'll be on the team), I'll likely be in Latvia next year instead of Chamonix. It's a tough call, because while I'm more drawn to mountain running than road, I would have a hard time passing up the opportunity to represent the USA at the World 100K championships. If my Shibamata time does not get me on the team, then I will try to get into UTMB again.
While the race didn't go as planned, it's really hard to complain. I lead a fortunate existence and get to travel the world and visit places like Chamonix, with window displays such as these. I enjoyed more than my fair share of treats on this trip.
In the meantime, I'm super grateful to my sponsors Montrail and Mountain Hardwear and the amazing opportunity to travel to Japan in a couple of weeks for the Hasetsune Cup, a 71K race in the mountains near Tokyo with an estimated 15,000 feet of uphill (and the same in descent) over many short and steep ups and downs. I'm not sure I've done anything previously that I can compare it to, and I'm hoping to stay upright on what is said to be a very technical and tough run, and one of the oldest and most popular trail races in Japan. Starting at 1 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon with a field of 2000 runners with only one aid station half-way that gives each runner just 1.5 L of water, and run at least half in the dark, it should be an interesting and unique experience. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The joys of USADA and drug tests....

July was a frustrating month on the drug-testing front. First, they keep coming back. What I thought would be a yearly or at-most quarterly check has been monthly. I failed to update my schedule last week, and got my first missed test violation when they showed up at 6 a.m. Sunday morning at my Portland house (I was in DC). The missed test was completely my fault--I meant to go online last week and check my submitted schedule, but I figured since they had tested me at work a few days before I left for DC there was no chance they'd come back the following week and didn't bother checking whether I'd included my DC trip and lodging information/testing windows while in DC. While the tests are ordered by 2 different agencies (USADA or IAAF), they've still been spaced fairly evenly, or at least not more frequently than monthly. Wrong. This time would have been 10 days between tests. I mean seriously, me, doping? Although that brings me around to the next drug-testing drama.

A couple of days after returning from Western States I got a very official and legal sounding letter from USADA letting me know that I was being investigated for a potential anti-doping rules violation. Huh? To back-pedal a bit, whenever they come to test, I have to declare what I've taken in terms of vitamins/medications in the 72 hours prior. That usually equates to me declaring my daily Vit D supplement. When I was drug tested in April or May I had indicated that I'd had a Venofer infusion via a 200 mL drip. Venofer is an iron sucrose solution used to treat anemia. It's administered via an IV drip, wherein lies the problem. While iron is not a banned substance, getting an IV infusion of more than 50 mL that's not administered in a hospital setting is not allowed without a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE). However, in my case, I didn't need a TUE because it was administered in an out-patient clinic at OHSU which qualifies as a hospital setting. I know this because I checked into all of this BEFORE I got the infusions. That's part of the reason I found the notification so annoying--I went through the proper steps, contacted USADA, asked for clarification prior to treatment, and went ahead, and then got a letter saying that I'd done something wrong. Screw you. I freaked out more than a little when I got the letter even though I knew I'd done nothing wrong. And I wasn't sure how to respond. It was all very official sounding. Did I need a lawyer? Luckily, my primary care physician is great, and works with athletes, and I sent him off the letter from USADA, which he wrote a response to immediately, such that I responded to USADA the same day they sent me the notification. I was cleared of the violation within a week or two, but the whole thing caused me angst and a few tears.

To me it's just ridiculous to think that I'm probably the only ultra runner in the US currently being tested on an out-of-competition basis. Sabrina and Jon will most likely get put into the pool, but maybe not until next year (I won worlds in April 2012, and wasn't in the pool until February 2013). No one else in the sport needs to worry about getting a violation for using cold medication or an epi-pen should I have an allergic reaction to a bee sting (you can get a post-usage emergency TUE for this, but again, it's the process that's a pain).  It's one thing when you're a professional athlete and have nothing to do but lounge around between workouts and wait for USADA folks to show up and worry about applying for TUEs. Running is not my job. I have a regular job and it's already hard to squeeze it all in without worrying about whether going for a run is going to make me miss my testing window. I can also be an irresponsible flake, and simply forget to do things, like pay bills on time or update my whereabouts filing. It would really suck to get 3 missed tests and get a suspension because I'm a flake.

And then there's the awkwardness around getting tested at work. I'm required to declare a 60-minute window every day of the week. Logistically, it would be difficult to declare my 60 minute window before work (I'm out running many days and the window can't start until 6 a.m. which would mean I couldn't run in the mornings), and after work would mean that I'd have to go home and wait for them every night (I'm often out running, or at the gym or doing something).  On the weekends my window is 6-7 a.m. at home, but more often than not, they've come at work during the week ( although they've now come twice on weekend mornings at 6 a.m.). So, work seemed the best option during the week, being that I assumed it would be a once-every-6-months kind of thing, and not something that could actually disrupt my work day.

The "awkwardness around getting tested at work" comes in few ways. This last test I had just used the bathroom before she arrived, so couldn't produce a sample right away. I tried, and then had to carry my partial sample around with me, and back up to my desk, while I continued to work with my USADA friend in my cube with me until I could finish (I can't leave her sight once she's contacted me). Then there's the "watching you pee" aspect to the test, which at home is no biggie, but when you're in a work bathroom with multiple stalls, and the two of you enter the stall together with others in the bathroom, and are then pouring urine samples into fancy little bottles on the's got to look a bit strange.

In the meantime, I'm expecting them today or tomorrow to make up the test I missed Sunday, but maybe it doesn't work that way. Regardless, I now need to be a lot more anal about letting them know my every move because I don't want a second missed test. Three strikes (within 18 months) and you're out. Although in the low-key trail ultra racing world, what does that even mean? Is a non-USATF trail 50 miler going to tell me I can't race?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

WS 2013: F(th)ree from Fate (F8)

A nightmare woke me up a few minutes before my alarm was set to go off. The details are fuzzy at this point, but it involved racing a tough mountain 100 miler; Dave Mackey, Hal Koerner and I had all dropped out, and we were huddling next to a rock in the middle of nowhere. I am only superstitious in the days leading up to races, and this didn't seem a good omen, but what was I to do at this point? Explain to my crew that my demise has been portended and that starting could be a pointless endeavor? I also didn't think it wise to share with Dave or Hal at the starting line (sorry, guys!).

I went into WS with a very loosely defined plan; planning, which requires thinking about the race, makes me nervous, and I try to avoid feeling nervous. I only panicked when I heard reference to others' nutrition plans or crew instructions. I didn't look at splits, and I didn't have a concrete nutrition/hydration plan, except to carry calories and fluid and consume them, enough so to keep running. I told my crew on Friday a few things that they could offer me at aid stations, but not to be surprised if I never touched them. Loosely, I hoped to consume gels every hour until I gagged on a gel, and then figure it out from there.  I hoped it would all work itself out, and I never seem to stick to a plan anyhow. I guess my plan was to do what I always do--gels and water/sports drink--until it stops working, because it generally stops working.  I hoped that if my legs stayed in it, that my stomach would to.

Based on last year's rocky second half, I knew what some potential issues might be--dead quads, and/or an the inability to get down enough calories, in part because of renal protest from the dead quads (overworked kidneys from too much metabolic waste coming from tissue damage--or at least that's my hypothesis). The other big factor would be heat, but that would be a factor for everyone, and I'd done a solid 3 weeks of sauna training, and in recent past lives I have lived in sauna-like places, liked heat and liked running in hot weather. I added a mantra to my list, "Soy chaqueña" (in reference to my sometimes oppressively hot Peace Corps home in the Paraguayan Chaco).  Most importantly, I wanted to enjoy it--to not have it turn into a slog in those last 40 miles, and especially those last 20, as it had the past 2 years. I really wanted to run around the track, because last year I barely managed to limp around it.

Lisa and I at check-in on Friday. Photo by Amy AL-khalisi. 
Western States has become what my sister and I refer to as "Sister Camp." I have just one OLDER sister (I can't believe people ask us this question!), and for the past 3 years, WS has become the one week each year when the two of us get to spend some quality time together. I'm uncertain if given the option between a week in Hawaii or a week at WS, Lisa would choose WS, but she sure fakes it enough such that I'd guess that she enjoys WS even more than I do and would choose it over other more exotic destinations. Maybe in a few years we'll move Sister Camp to a beach location, but in the meantime, Squaw Valley to Auburn it is.  Lisa crews and then paces me from Hwy 49 to the finish each year, and we both hoped that this year I would be running strong enough to drop her finally.  The last 2 years it's been such a trudge to the finish, and Lisa has had no problem hanging with me.

Lisa and I hanging out Statesmas-Eve at the Montrail house.  Photo by Jason Leman.
So, Lisa flew in to Portland on Tuesday night, and we took off late Wednesday afternoon on the road down to Auburn, stopping in Klamath Falls along the way, and arriving in Squaw Valley Thursday afternoon in time to jet over to the panel discussion. I would normally avoid settings such as these before a race, but Ann Trason was talking, and who doesn't want to hear a little something from the woman who dominated the sport (and since disappeared from it) for so long?  It was a good mix of advice from seasoned WS veterans, and I was happy to hear, "throw your pace chart out the window," because I hadn't yet created one. Although in my opinion, pace charts are more useful for crews, if only for them to know if they have time to grab a burger and a beer en route to the next stop. I'm usually moving as fast as I think I can/should be, and knowing how that compares to my goal time isn't always a good thing. In general, I had hoped to be sub-19 after 2 years in the 19s.

Another reason I wasn't stressing about the race was because I was stressing about my calf. About 7 miles into our weekly Tuesday night trail run (10 days before the race) I took a step and felt a twinge in my calf, which was reminiscent of the calf strain I experienced 2 years ago in Marin, but less severe.  If 100 rubber bands were released in the calf strain 2 years ago, this one was more like 10 rubber bands letting go.  Regardless, I freaked out, and while I could still run home, the calf wasn't great, and kept pinging at me. As luck would have it, I had a previously scheduled chiro/graston appointment scheduled for Wednesday and Dr. Forcum confirmed it was a minor calf strain, but thought I should be OK if I treated it aggressively and took a couple of days off, followed by some light running, with no fast/hard efforts that might re-tweak it during the healing process. I was nervous because while he seemed unconcerned, he still wanted to see me 5 times before the race. I had been feeling like I needed a more severe taper than what my schedule called for, so this forced me to take it. I threw the final workouts out the window--no track work on Thursday (or running), and waited until Friday morning to run gently again. Over the next 7 days, I had 4 sessions (graston, e-stim, ultrasound) at Back in Motion with Dr. Forcum and his team , and 2 massages from my favorite guy, Michael Bilyeu. By Friday it felt normal, although the start up the Escarpment worried me more than a little.

The introduction of the top returnees from 2012 and MUC qualifiers. The only place all year (and in my lifetime) I get to practice my pageant wave.  Photo by Shahid Ali.
The Friday pre-race festivities and visiting came and went too quickly, and it was soon time to sleep and get this thing started. Besides the DNF dream, I slept well and didn't feel overly nervous at the start in part because the heat gave me something to worry about other than just racing. Quick hugs to friends and crews and we were off under what was a very different feel from 2012--no gloves, jackets or blowing sleet. The climb up to the Escarpment felt good; I didn't feel like I was working too hard, and was keeping pace with the fast chicks around me. The trail up top, once you pop up and over the Escarpment, is one of my favorite parts of the race. It was also the most pleasant section temperature-wise all day, as being up above 8000 feet it was relatively cool. The sunrise over Lake Tahoe was gorgeous, and I noticed it for the first time in 3 years (last year was too cloudy to be able to see it, but the first year I didn't even realize there was a view of the lake from the top--what can I say, I rarely stop to look behind me during a race). I didn't notice the elevation much--not sure why, as I seem to be one of the few that hasn't jumped on the Hypoxico wagon or doesn't live in a mountain state. I passed Topher at about the same time I passed him last year--a rutty gravely section of road about 8 miles in, and we joked about deja vu. Shortly after passing Toph, and right after Lyon Ridge, I face planted going downhill, and scraped up my left knee. I was bleeding, but oddly, was more concerned about the fact that I chipped a nail. I know. So, while I ran and stewed about some chipped polish, Topher caught back up, some more women came from behind, we caught up to some others, and once things settled out, I ended up running in the vicinity of Kerrie, Aliza, Topher, and Pam, and we all headed into Duncan Canyon together at mile 23.

Hiking up the Escarpment in the early morning light. After 3 years, I finally saw Lake Tahoe from the top. Photo by Bob MacGillivray. 
After a few mishaps at Duncan Canyon, including a not-properly-closed bladder, and poor communication by me to my crew on my ice needs, I lost most of the group, but caught back up to Kerrie after leaving the aid station, passed her and within 10 seconds managed to face plant again, this time scraping up the right knee and elbow, but popping back up with no bruised bones (and no further chipped nails). I worked on getting Pam and Aliza, who were a few minutes up at this point, back into view. I felt OK through here, but took it easy and walked more than I should have, perhaps. I caught up to Aliza and Rory just as we were entering the aid station at Robinson Flat, again had a slower stop than either of them, and left the aid station a minute or two behind. I felt like I wasn't pushing too hard, and was running controlled.

An early pack of Kerrie, Aliza, Topher, Pam and I heading into Duncan Canyon (mile 24). Photo by Dominic Grossman 
Robinson is always a big lift, as it's a major crew spot, and this year I wasn't quite so antsy about getting through, but rather about getting everything I needed. In general, I was slow through aid stations all day. The heat was such that leaving without a fully filled and iced bladder, or without sunscreen (which I'd forgotten up to this point), could make for a long day. I made a list between aid stations in my head, and tried to recite it as I was coming into each one. Rory and Aliza were out of view when I left, and it took me a few miles to catch them, but I caught them on the road before Miller's Defeat and we entered the next aid station roughly together, and I passed them here or shortly after.  I expected to see both of them again in the canyons, if not before. Pam and Joelle were now in front of me, putting me in third. The stretch from Robinson to Dusty and on to Last Chance is one of my favorites (heck, it's all downhill), and I'd put in music after Robinson, which really seemed to provide a boost. My boss at work made me a mix for the race, "Amy's Alt-ered States" and it was super fun.  Some favorites mixed in with several things I hadn't heard, along with a couple songs that caused me to laugh out loud.

Smiling heading into Robinson Flat. Photo by Gary Wang. 
I felt strong coming into Dusty, and heard that Pam and Joelle had switched spots, and that Joelle was just a couple of minutes up. I soon passed Joelle and then stopped to make a somewhat lengthy pit stop, where she caught up to me, but then faded back again. I was a little crushed because I really hoped she'd continue to crush it off the front; she's simply a faster runner than I am, and I'd love to see her have a great day at WS and knock it out of the park. Although I was also excited to think about what a great story Pam's race would be, comparing 2012 to this year. Maybe I should have focused more on trying to catch Pam, but I was just starting to have stomach issues at this point, and was more worried about keeping food down.

Running down into the canyons. Photo by Michigan Bluff Photography. 
I left Last Chance with who I thought was John Burton who I'd met on the initial climb, and couldn't figure out why he wasn't as friendly as he had been earlier when I exclaimed, "You, again!" His accent had changed, but his clothes hadn't. Turns out there were more than a few dudes with completely matching Salomon kits. I would run the rest of the race within a few hundred meters of this new dude (Adrian Lazar), without actually ever running a step with him. We went back and forth throughout the day (and he warmed up to me), and he'd eventually finish seconds in front of me.

On the dirt road leaving Devil's Thumb. Great shot by Luis Escobar, but this one frightens me a little bit. Looking slightly possessed.
I can usually survive on gels until about mile 80 and then start to gag on them. This year that only lasted about 50 miles, and climbing up out of the canyon en route to Michigan Bluff I knew that I needed to take a gel. It'd been a good hour since my last gel, which was probably only #5 or 6 of the day, but I also knew that there was a distinct possibility I'd gag on it. I did, and proceeded to get rid of some really weird looking things from my stomach. I'm guessing it was a combination of 16 oz. of beet juice from the day before, which had dyed everything coming out of every body orifice a brilliant shade of fuschia, and that gummy bear shards were the "things" but I tried to look away. It also resembled organ bits. Suffice it to say, that I was done with gels, officially nauseous and was only half way through.

I complained to my crew at Michigan Bluff that I'd puked (I generally am strongly against puking and try to avoid it at all costs and am really never a puker except recently in 100 milers). From here on out, I opted out of gels, and switched to gummy bears, coconut water and sprite/coke/ginger ale all in small quantities.

High-fiving John Medinger as I pass through Foresthill. Photo by Bob MacGillivray.
Despite not feeling great and lacking a bit of energy because I couldn't get calories in, my legs felt great, and I arrived in Foresthill looking a little crappy, but generally feeling pretty good. I tend to look a bit intense when I race, and I'd guess this race wasn't much different. I swear, for the most part, I'm having fun. My face just shows it differently than others and some of the race photos scare even me. Foresthill was festive, as always and I was happy to pick up my pacer, Robyn. Robyn, one of my early morning running buddies in Portland, was a WS/ultra newbie, and the absolute perfect choice for a pacer. I'd warned her beforehand that I don't like to be motivated/lied to ("You look great," etc.) and she kept up her end of the bargain, keeping up a fun, light conversation on a variety of topics. At the same time, I could sense from the excitement in the way that she talked about the weekend, her impression of the race thus far, hanging out with the crew, etc. that she was really enjoying the whole experience, and was witnessing a special event. It's really hard to grasp all that goes into a 100 mile trail race without experiencing one for yourself, and Robyn seemed to be soaking it all in, and seemed genuinely happy to be there and be a part of my race.

This is where one of us should have explained to Robyn that her pacing duties were done.  Restocking before heading across the river at Rucky Chucky. Alas, it all worked out for the best in the end.
My crew this year doubled in size from past years, with my sister, Jason, Dylan, and Jill, with Robyn joining until she jumped in to pace me from Foresthill to the river. I had the option of having Jason jump in at Rucky Chucky, but in years past, this section, from Rucky to the finish, has been the one where I've struggled most, and I felt that not having a pacer might actually allow me to push a little harder if I was hurting. I tend to want to put my music on and grunt--not something I like to do in front of a pacer (and to be honest, I'm not sure that I've ever grunted while running, but I thought this year might be the year).  As Robyn and I were approaching the river, she asked if I needed her to continue on, and I considered it. She was great company, but I had already planned to tell Jason that I didn't need him to jump in, and decided I wanted to go it alone.

I guess I assumed, wrongly, that when we got to the river, Robyn would know to stay with the crew, and I guess the crew thought Robyn and I had discussed this, which we had, indirectly, but without specific guidance. Robyn and I had also mentioned several times about getting to the river and how good it would feel, so I'd never actually told Robyn that she didn't actually get to cross the river. So, my crew handed me my headlamp on the nearside, and I crossed the river on foot, which was a joy as I was one of the first to walk across, which had sounded so appealing for so many miles. The river is actually kind of difficult to cross, as there are big rocks that you have to skirt around and over, while trying to hold things like music devices up and out of the chest-high water. There's a reason for that rope there and all of those folks helping to guide the way. I got out of the river on the far side, and low-and-behold, Robyn is behind me. My first thought was "Jason is going to think I intentionally deceived him." My second thought was, "Robyn doesn't have a headlamp and she's in it for the long haul," as the logistics of getting her back to my crew, now on the other side of the river, were more than I wanted to ponder. I shouted out for a spare headlamp, and a very nice guy not only gave us one to borrow, but then chased us up the road to swap it out for something brighter. I also asked if they could somehow let my crew know that my pacer had accidentally crossed the river, although I'm guessing they had no idea what I was talking about. Robyn was smiling, and seemed happy to have crossed the river, and happy to continue the journey, so we were off. And I was happy to have her along for the company. Being that I hadn't noticed Robyn in the water, I also hadn't noticed that Nikki was right behind Robyn, so we soon had even more company, and it was nice to chat with Nikki for a few minutes before she powered off in front of us on the climb up to Green Gate. Nikki helped light a spark under my butt, and I pleaded with myself not to let Nikki put 40 minutes on me like Krissy did when she passed me in the same spot last year. I didn't have a whole lot of fight in me to battle it out for second, but didn't necessarily want to give up any more spots.

Crossing the river. Photo evidence that Robyn (in white behind me) did enter the water and none of us noticed. And Nikki in orange is closing quickly. 
I've heard several comments about what an exciting race it was to "watch" from home, via the webcast or twitter feed, but as is often the case, it's hard to know what's going on behind you, so while there were a number of women in close proximity, I never had any idea how close behind they were until the finish. Once I passed Joelle around mile 40, I only saw one other woman all day, and that was Nikki when she passed me on the way up to Green Gate (mile 78). I guess I saw her twice, because she passed me climbing up, but I caught her again briefly at some point between Green Gate and Alt, but then never saw her again. I would hear that she was 2 or 3 minutes up, but I never closed the gap. I had no idea that Meghan was 5 minutes behind at the river, which is about the difference at the finish. So, while it might have been an exciting race to watch from the aid stations or from an armchair, from the WS trail it was kind of lonely. There was scant male carnage to be passed along the way, although again, some of that male carnage wasn't so much fun to pass (Jorge at mile 90'ish as an example), because they were friends who were not having the days for which they'd hoped and not people I should be passing unless they were suffering.  I was 20th at Foresthill, and 16th at the end, so in general, there wasn't much company along the way.

Robyn, knowing that I wanted to run from the river alone, took it upon herself to become my silent shadow so we plugged along, almost catching Nikki once, and going back and forth with our buddy Adrian, who I'd seen probably 10 times at this point. Somewhere along here Adrian asked if I was Amy, and I asked his name so we officially met around mile 85. Robyn was replaced by Lisa at Hwy 49 (mile 93.5), so recorded her longest run to date (31 miles) both time-wise and distance-wise, and her first experience running trails in the dark. Later reports confirmed that she loved the entire experience, even got a bit choked up when describing it to the rest of the crew, and plans to try a trail race or two in the coming year. My plan worked!

Lisa jumped in at Hwy 49 and we were off, as I'd seen AJW enter the aid station right behind me, and this lit a little spark. I'd finished ahead of AJW at both Ray Miller and Sonoma earlier in the year, but WS is his race, and I really didn't want to be one of the many that AJW was able to hunt down after Foresthill, so got out of the AS quickly and tried to pick up the pace. Plus, my goal was to drop my sister, so I had some work to do. She hung on until we got to the climb to Robie where I finally succeeded in dropping her. I thought that maybe she let me, but also know that she didn't really want to miss the finish, so I think I officially did it.

The finish. Happy to be done.
Jason was waiting for me at Robie, and Dylan met us en route, as well, and we made it to the track, which I was able to run around, sandwiched in between Adrian who sprinted by me after Robie, and AJW who entered the track as I finished. I finished third in 19:25, so did not meet my time goal of sub-19, and was 14 minutes slower than last year, but 5 places higher.  I was thrilled to finish top 3 in that field, and feel like I finally had a good race at Western States on a really tough day. Maybe not a great race, but it was a solid day, considering the conditions, and I'm definitely happy with my race. Temps in Auburn reached 102 on Saturday making it the second hottest WS in history. It was also exciting to be part of the heat-savvy Oregon contingent, bringing home 4 of the top 10 women's spots and 2 of the top 10 men's spots.  Pam had an amazing day and got revenge on 2012, Meghan continues to defy the aging process and gives us all hope for running well into our 40s and beyond, and Denise rocked out a great race to take over my favorite number, F8.  On the men's side, Yassine had a super solid day, breaking into the top 10 and of course everyone knows how Timmy faired. There are loads of other stories out there, as well, and friends that finished strong and others who didn't finish, but this is already a bit wordy. One of my favorite tales is that told by Sarah and her pacer, Desiree.

Western States is one of those races that feels like you've been away for weeks when in fact it's only been a few days, and it takes some time to adjust after getting back to the real world. Luckily Sister Camp continued on through Monday with a relaxing day on the Oregon coast, but as always, I was sad to send Lisa off on a plane the next day, and am already looking forward to Sister Camp 2014, most likely held once again from Squaw Valley to Auburn.

Lisa, Anpanman and I at the finish. Happy to have made her work a little harder in the final miles, and thrilled to have dropped her.
Many many thanks to my awesome crew. I had a great crew and pacers, who did an awesome job with the minimal instruction I provided. If anything, it reminded me that they are there to help me, and are making a huge sacrifice to do so, but can only do so much if I don't tell them what I need. My fear of planning is not always 100% helpful. It was also great to see my Uncle Dennis and Aunt Maria who came out to watch the finish and spend Sunday morning in the scorching heat at awards, only hours after a trans-Pacific flight home from Japan.  It meant a lot to have them there. And of course hats off to Craig, who knocked it out of the park in his first year as WS RD, and all of the merry volunteers.

The positives..
My Quads: Rocked it.
Last year my quads were starting to hurt really early, during the earliest descents--and were fairly dead by Michigan Bluff. This year, my quads didn't start to go until after Highway 49, and I only really felt them on the last descent to No Hands Bridge and from Robie Point to the finish. So, I'm not sure what I did differently, except that I backed off in the canyons a bit to not push it in the heat, and also paid attention to how I was landing to baby the calf. Sadly, I can't point to something and say "this worked!" but it does give me hope that I can endure the downs and still run late in a 100 miler, which will become key as UTMB rolls around (and there are more, and steeper downs). My quads were sore on Sunday/Monday, but not horrible, and feeling almost normal by Wednesday or so.

The Heat: I haven't lost my roots.
The few days leading into the race I kept trying to remind myself that I've lived in hot places 36 of my 39 years on this planet, hopeful that 3 years in the land of cool, green sogginess know as Oregon hadn't permanently damaged my hot weather skills. The heat wasn't horrid, and I felt as prepared for it as I could have been. Sauna training seems to work, or at least fooled me into not feeling miserable. To stay cool I used an ice-filled bandana tied around my neck, which really did help make it feel cooler. I also drenched myself in every water opportunity that arose (creeks, aid stations). My feet survived surprisingly well considering that they were wet all day.

I may not have been smiley all day, but I was definitely smiling here. Only minutes after this photo was taken, a wave of nausea returned and I was curled in the grass yacking up nothing and my face went a bit gray, but that was short-lived and I was eating pizza an hour later. Definitely the best I've felt after WS.
The negatives...
Nutrition: What 16 oz. of beet juice looks like the next day.
I'd guess I'm not exaggerating much to say I ran the last 50 miles on well under 1000 calories (and probably closer to 500), and likely consumed not more than 1000 in the first 50, too. First half diet: many oz. of water, 5-6 gels, 70 oz very watered down sports drink (weak, then added in ice), 1 popsicle, 10 gummy bears (minus several that were rejected after El Dorado Creek), sprite/coke at aid stations. Second half: max 20 gummy bears (minus a few that were rejected after Cal 1), a couple slices of watermelon, 2 potato chips (didn't end well), a glass of sprite/coke at every aid station (except Cal 1 where I tried to drink 2 and they were rejected), a cup of chicken noodle soup at 89, a water bottle's worth of coconut water that took me from Foresthill to Alt to finish, and starting at Brown's Bar, about 20 oz of diluted sports drink. I drank water in addition, more in the first half than the second. So, I'd guess I consumed somewhere less than 2000, maybe closer to 1500. Not ideal, but it was enough to get me to the end, although I'd count that as my one major area of failure on race day. I knew that nutrition could be a problem, and didn't really seek to change anything up, and proceeded with what I know doesn't really work for me. For me, I think I need to try some real food sooner (because once I start gagging I just can't do anything I have to chew and swallow), and/or switch to drinking more of my calories, and starting to drink them earlier.

The 2013 top 10. An awesome group of women there, and 40% from Oregon. The 2012 IAU women's 100K gold medal team also represented taking F1, F3 and F4. Go Team USA. Hoping we get to show our stuff in South Africa later this fall.
Montrail Masochists (lucky red ones from Japan)
Mountain Hardwear W's Ultrapacer Short II
Mountain Hardwear W's Way2Cool Tank
Mountain Hardwear Fluid Race Vest
Injinji Run 2.0 Midweight Mini-crew
Ice-filled Bandana--homemade 

Thanks to my sponsors, Montrail, Mountain Hardwear, Injinji and Clif for the awesome support!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Shibamata 100K: On finishing 2nd

If you want a happy feel-good race report, skip this one, and read the previous post.

I'm a stickler for details, and I tend to dwell on things. But, I need to move past last weekend, so I'm going to write the story how it happened, because I can't tell it any other way. And then I'm not going to talk about it or stew any more.  Because right now it's driving me fucking crazy. And I'm sick of answering the question, "How was the race?"

Meghan said to just say we tied, because we tried to, and no one can read the Japanese results anyway. That's not exactly true. The results are out there. So what do I say when people ask me, "So, did you win?" Answering that question in any form is complicated. I can say I was second, but that doesn't tell the story. I can't say that I tied for the win, because the race results indicate differently, and the race organizers have confirmed (after I complained) that Meghan was the winner. Not that the people I'm telling would know, or really care, but I do. So, while I'd like to just write that the Shibamata 100K was a great experience and finishing hand-in-hand with my friend and mentor was really special, I don't feel that way. At all. Yes, I mentioned I tend to dwell on things and can be a bit petty, as writing this would indicate. But I went to Tokyo to race, and would not have suggested a tie had I had any idea I would have finished second in the process. It's one thing to be outrun for second, but I wasn't outrun. I've happily been outrun by Meghan many times. If Meghan had outrun me, I would have graciously stood beside my friend on the podium. But instead I stewed. I had run slower than I would have in the second half and waited on a few occasions while Meghan used the bathroom, so that we could run and finish together. And to not call a tie a tie, which the race organizers refuse to do even though we finished hand-in-hand clearly intending to tie, is complete bullshit. For whatever reason the results really mattered to me.

The race started at 8 a.m. and we went out at a good pace (averaged 7:12 for the first 50K). We came through the marathon split around 3:08, and the 50K around 3:44. I felt good, physically, the harder part of the race was mental, and I was bored more than anything else.  It was warm and sunny for the first 5 hours (probably 75 by 1 p.m.) until some cloud cover rolled in. My stomach felt good all day, and besides a pee-break in the first half, I never needed to stop. I did feel a bit water-logged at times, but I was able to get gels down throughout, and just stopped drinking whenever I started to feel sloshy.

At some point after the midway point, I assumed that Meghan and I were not going to be challenged (out-and-back nature of course made it easy to see the competition), so I suggested we finish together. The course was flat and tedious, and company for the last half sounded much more appealing than going it alone. Plus we'd made the journey over together, had shared the experience together, along with many others, and it would mean a lot to tie. So I suggested it. And we did. Well, at least we crossed the finish line hand-in-hand.

Lessons learned:

If I learned anything this past weekend, it's that I'm really freaking competitive, and I took an option this past weekend that I probably wouldn't consider again after the experience on Saturday. I wanted to win that race. Or tie with my friend for the win. If I'd known that my suggestion to tie was impossible because of a timing system, I would have raced the second half and pushed the pace.

Never try to tie when there is chip timing and a culture you're unfamiliar with involved. At least not unless you're willing to accept second place graciously.  I was not.

Run your own race. Had I run my own race in the second half and finished second, I would have no one to blame but myself.

Saturday reinforced that while I love running for the US team in the World 100K, a flat road 100K is not actually a race that I would opt to do very often (once a year is enough). Prior to the race, the idea of an out-and-back actually sounded more interesting than a loop, but for a 100K road race, a loop format now makes a lot of sense--easier aid, better crowd support.  Of course an out-and-back through a more varied landscape or a more heavily populated area might not be so bad. Based off of my reaction to the results, I won't be invited back, but I'm OK with that. It's not the type of race that calls to me. It's no UTMB.

Running 100K on roads reinforced that I would rather race 100K on trails any day of the week. The course was fairly brutal--45K out and 45K back and then 5K out and 5K back along a flat bike path.  I'm from flat open spaces, and there's a reason I live and run in Oregon.

A shot from the race course.  Not a single spot of shade (well, a highway underpass or two, which also resulted in the only hills on course). 
The positives:
I'm fit. We ran 7:50 (7:50:31 and 32, to be exact) and I felt like I could have run 10 minutes faster if I'd run my own race in the second half. It was a hot day--sunny, windy and exposed--and the aid situation wasn't ideal in terms of speedy racing (had to stop to get aid/fill bottles instead of running through aid stations, like at worlds), so I was pleased with where I am fitness-wise on that course with those conditions. I ran 10 miles Tuesday night and my legs felt OK, so I hope that means I'm recovering quickly and in time to get some good WS training in before tapering.

I had no issues except that my hamstrings/butt got pretty tight. But I felt strong, and didn't have any major physical issues. Well, my feet got pretty trashed, but blisters are more of a problem once you're finished. They didn't affect my race.

I got to finish hand-in-hand and cross the line "together" with my friend and mentor. I just wish that I wasn't so hung up on the results such that I could enjoy that detail.
The finish.
I learned a lot about myself. Most of the things I learned are not positive things--I have my share of personality flaws, and this race exposed them. It was a lesson in what I need to work on. An example being the fact that I know exactly what happened and how the race unfolded and what the intent was, and just because the race results don't indicate that drives me nuts. Also, I could have graciously accepted the decision and made a much better impression, but I didn't.  Instead, I complained. And it looked especially bad because I, the one who finished second, was the one questioning the results. I could go on, but I feel bad enough about myself as it is. All races teach you something, but this one revealed more than I wanted to see.

Podium shot. I had no idea of the results until we were called up on stage.  My face = "are you fucking kidding me?" Photo by Mikio Miyazoe.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Orhangazi 80K: A weekend of meatballs and kaymak

I had very few expectations heading into the Orhangazi 80K in Turkey. I'd just raced Lake Sonoma the weekend prior, and the week in between wasn't great in terms of recovery. It included: a post-Sonoma photo shoot in high winds and unseasonally cold temps while running strides for 13 hours, 3 flights, a barge ride, and a car trip (all told totaling a couple of days worth of travel).  So I was a little startled when I saw a tweet from the Iznik Ultra congratulating me on my Sonoma race and saying they were "excited to see my talent" the following week in Iznik. That comment made me a bit nervous, as I would be running on tired legs and not planning to "display any talent."

At some point in the last few years published a story on trail running in Turkey. Last year, before I headed to Istanbul for a work trip, I contacted the author of the story to ask about where to run, and to see if anyone might want to meet up for a weekend run. This resulted in me being picked up from my hotel at 4:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning to go run in the Belgrad Forest with 5 guys.  A colleague expressed concern as to whether this was safe—going to run in the dark forest with a group of strangers (all male). I assured them it was totally legit--ultrarunners are ultrarunners the world around--although I think my colleague was skeptical. However, I was right, the guys were great, and we enjoyed a nice long run on muddy trails, followed by arguably one of my favorite meals of 2012--a post-run breakfast where I was introduced to Turkish crack (kaymak--pictured below). 

I always meant to blog about that morning on the trails with my new Turkish running friends, but I flew home the next day, and as a result of that flight ended up with DVT in my right calf, which resulted in a pulmonary embolism and 3-day hospital stay that overshadowed my lovely Turkish trail running experience. Recovery and stressing about whether I could run at Worlds became my primary focus. However, through email, FB and DailyMile, I kept in touch with my new friends, and one of them (Aykut) emailed me when he read on my blog that I would be visiting Istanbul again for work. I wrote back with the dates, and apologized for not being able to run  the Iznik Ultras, which were happening the weekend I arrived, because I was racing Lake Sonoma 50 the weekend prior. He wrote back within minutes, explaining an itinerary that would make it work--I could simply adjust my schedule to arrive 2 days earlier, and I could opt for the 42K, taking into account that I would have just raced Sonoma. This suddenly sounded like a grand idea, except the thought of a 42K after a 50 miler sounded horrible (too short and fast), so I told him I’d prefer the 75K, which I could treat as a slow suffer-fest and recovery slog. With a rapid exchange of emails, and approval from work, I had committed myself.

I arrived in Istanbul on Thursday afternoon, after a long 20 plus hours of travel.  I'd been home in Portland all of about 36 hours between returning from the long Lake Sonoma weekend, and that included a long work day, with a bonus visit at work from USADA for my second drug test in 6 weeks, and enough time to squeeze in an iron IV drip Wednesday morning before heading to the airport. I was toast when I arrived in Turkey, but I managed to stay awake long enough to eat dinner. Aykut, Caner (RD extraordinaire) and friends had graciously attended to all of the details of my trip to Iznik. Bright and early the next morning, I was picked up at my hotel to head to the ferry for the trip to Iznik.  Iznik is located only about 90 km SE from Istanbul, but part of that 90 km is across the Gulf of Izmit, so the trip to Iznik includes a ferry ride, followed by an hour drive.

One of the carrots that Aykut had used to get me to agree to run the race was that Iznik had the best meatballs in the world. I'm going to have to agree with Aykut on this one, and we made our first of many meatball stops shortly after getting into town Friday before noon. Meatballs were followed by race check-in, mandatory gear check, and some down-time in the park drinking Turkish coffee with last year's group and meeting some new friends.  Feeling antsy, I opted to get in a quick shake-out run before dinner as the 2 days of travel had me feeling tight and in need of some movement. I felt incredibly uncoordinated during my short 3-mile run along the lake, and things hurt, in general.  To top it off, I managed to face plant on concrete, losing a good chunk of skin from my left palm and knee. Not looking good. I lost enough skin that I was a little worried about falling again the next day.

There was a pre-race pasta feed later that night, and I was surprised by the attention I received. I was interviewed on camera, and had several people come up and ask me to pose with them in pictures. People seemed genuinely excited to have me there racing. I wanted to interject at least a few times, "Don't be disappointed, because I'm not planning to race!" I really wasn't trying to sandbag; I was tired.

The route around the lake, passing up into the hills to the south, and along the lake to the north, it's got a little bit of everything.

In its second year, the Iznik Ultras offered 3 distances: 42K (Mountain Marathon), 80K (Orhangazi Ultra), and 130K (Iznik Ultra) (last year’s inaugural version offered two distances: 60K and 130K). All 3 distances start at the same time together in the center of the town of Iznik and follow the same route, with the 130K completely encircling Lake Iznik. The 42K stops in the village of Narlica, which is the fourth check point in both the 80K and 130K. The 80K follows the 130K course until 75K, and then turns off and adds 5K to finish in the town of Oranghazi (the 80K was slated to be a 75K until just a couple of weeks before the race, when it was changed so that it would finish in the town plaza in Orhangazi, adding on 5K).  And the 130K completes the loop around the lake, finishing where it started in Iznik. There were around 220 starters spread across the 3 races.

With friends, Kerem and Aykut, at the start. The token self portrait. I was absolutely not nervous, which almost never happens. I guess racing a 50 miler the week prior helps calm nerves. Photo by me (obviously).
The race starts in the center of Iznik, and runs through town and out one of the three town "gates". Excuse the butchered and very short history lesson, but the town of Iznik was formerly known as Nicaea and some important points in its history include its stint as the interim capitol of the Byzantine Empire (1204-1261) and it's where the Nicene Creed (church goers) was written (325). The ancient town was surrounded by a 10 m wall, which still exists, at least in part, and the only way into and out of the city was through 3 gates on the land-bound sides of town. The race route leads you south through one of these historic gates, and within a couple of miles, heads up into the hills around Iznik.

Heading out of Iznik through the historic gates of town before we head up into the hills. Race photo.

The 80K includes about 6000 feet of elevation gain, and while this doesn't sound like much, it's all within the first 60K, as the last 20K is pretty much flat (as is the rest of the 130K race).  So, for both the 80K and 130K, almost all of the elevation change is within the first 60K. The course is a nice mix of single track, double track, and gravel road, with some pavement mixed in, too. I think the course is challenging in that all the climbing is done initially, and then when you are the most tired, you hit the flats where you feel like you should be pushing the pace.  Add in a bit of mud, and the course is not one to taken lightly.  It's definitely a very runnable course, and with the exception of bits of the first long climb (red), the first section of the second big climb (green section after 42K), and the shoe sucking mud portion (from 60-63K--see picture below) I ran nearly all of it. 
So, at the start I hung back while lining up, but once the race began, moved up to the front and ran with the lead guys out of town. There was a group of 5 of us by the time we headed up the first climb, and I ran with a couple of the guys before letting them go. I might have misunderstood what one of them said to me, but my take on it was that he had been excited to run with the world champion, but that I was moving a little too slow, so he was going to go on ahead and to have a nice day.  Again, my understanding of his message might be a bit off.  So, as we climbed up a windy road, I could see them ahead for a while, but then they were soon out of site.

Just after passing the first checkpoint at 13 km I could see a good portion of the upcoming climb along a gravel road and there was no one in site. This would become a common theme. I couldn't figure out how those guys got so far ahead of me, being that I could see for several minutes ahead of me. Alas, it didn't matter much, as they were dudes, and I had no idea of in what race they were even entered. It did give me something to chase, because while I don't necessarily feel the need to race against the men, it was nice to have some targets up ahead to try to catch and maybe for some company down the road. I was impressed by how much ground they'd put on me being that I was actually feeling pretty good, and moving really well. But I also wasn't sure where the course went, so maybe it turned off the endless road that I could see into the distance. Heading into the race, I'd been a little nervous about following the course, as there wasn't much of a map with directions, but the course was impeccably well marked with white ribbons, and never went more than a couple hundred meters without seeing one. The turns were very clearly indicated, and would be hard to miss, unless you zoned out for a while.

Heading down towards the first check point. Race photo.
The course continued to roll along for several miles up top with nice gradual ups and downs that were all very runnable. We passed by locals out tending their flocks, and with green views of the surrounding hills and farms, it was scenic. A phone had been part of the mandatory gear list, so I stopped to snap a few photos along the way, regretting the fact that I didn't get one of some of the adorable couples out tending their flocks, or of the crowd of women and girls cheering for us in one village.  There were people out along the way and they gave a nod or shout of encouragement.

The views from above. Photo: me.
I hadn't seen anyone since the first climb when the guys ran away from me, and there was no one behind me either, so I pretty much ran alone until we started to come down off of the first climb, and a guy in black caught up to me.  We nodded and high-fived, and it was quickly apparent that I didn't speak Turkish and he didn't speak much English. We continued to run together through the aid station and started to descend together down to the checkpoint that would be the 42K finish.  The descent lasted for a few miles, and at some point he fell back, and I never saw him again.  He was my only company all day. I would later learn that he was in the 42K, and was the eventual winner of the 42K race.

We passed through several small quaint villages, and there were more folks cruising around on tractors then cars.  Photo: me.
The long descent drops you onto the asphalt where you start to climb back into the town where the 42K finishes. Coke was sounding really appealing, so I downed a couple glass of coke, and continued up out of town, on what I had been warned was the tougher of the two climbs.  It was a welcome relief to hike for a bit, so I took advantage of the steep climb to refuel (gummy critters and a gel) and recover a bit.  After a couple of miles the climb starts to level off, and becomes runnable again. About this time, I started to hear gun shots, which freaked me out a bit. I came around a bend in the road and a police officer was wandering towards me talking on his phone. Passing him, I continued to hear gun shots, which continued to freak me out, especially as I was running right towards them, but being that the police man didn't seem to care that I ran by him towards the gun shots, I figured I wasn't about to die. I reasoned that police men around the world would not let you run directly into a group of thugs prepared to pummel you with bullets. Rounding the next bend was a group of police men shooting at nothing into the air. At least I wasn't going to die, but the adrenalin was flowing by this point.

Heading through a check point mid-race. The race had a nifty system where you wore little plastic "keys" that you inserted into the boxes on the table. Like a timing chip, but without the mat (also used mats at other aid stations). Photo by Aysin Ozer Baskir

The payoff to the second big climb, was a really nice long descent (about 10K worth) down to the 60K check point. I was feeling surprisingly good, and my legs felt relatively great for 60K into a race the week after an 80K. Coke was still sounding good, so I downed another 2 or 3 glass of coke in my re-usable cup, a hunk of cheese which the aid station man, confused by my insistence on only coke, encouraged me to take. The cheese was delicious, and for the next several kilometers I lamented the fact that I hadn't grabbed more cheese.

The 3K section after the 60K checkpoint was hands down, my least favorite portion of the course. I'd heard stories of the mud the prior year, but this year the course was in pretty good shape, and the mud on the first 60K had been minimal. Shoes had gotten wet a few places, but it wasn't bad. The 3K section was shoe sucking mud, which was hard to walk through, and running really wasn't much of an option for parts. So, I slogged, fearing that the rest of the course would be like this.  It did run through olive groves, which at least added some interest besides the mud factor. At some point late in my slog, a motorcycle passed and I figured out the secret to getting through this section--the grass to the sides, although the grass was pretty boggy, as well. 3K of muck isn't bad though, and it did eventually end, and was even so kind to end at a river crossing, so all of the muck was quickly washed away.

The shoe-sucking mud section although this photo does not do it justice.  Luckily  this section was only 3K, because it involved a lot of walking and navigation around large shoe-sucking sections. I lost my shoe once. The white thing you can see hanging from a tree (olive trees) is the flagging. The course was marked exceptionally well. Not sure how people got off course, but they did, and some even complained. Some things are universal.  Photo: me.

The payoff to getting through the muck was some lovely running alongside the lake. Even though the day was overcast, there were still some nice views of the distant hills across the lake. I appreciated having my iPhone along to take pictures, which helped me to swear less under my breath at the mandatory gear list, and weight of the pack I'd been lugging around all day.  The part of me that was the most tired during the race was definitely my back, as it's still early in the season, and my UTMB gear-hauling runs haven't yet begun.

The view along the lake around 15K from the finish. Photo: me.
The last 17K were pretty uneventful. I was getting tired of running, but it was flat, so I felt like I should run, and saw running as the quickest way to the finish line and to stop running.  The route takes you along the lake on a dirt road, and eventually onto pavement for a few K, before running along another dirt road right along the lake. The 75K aid station finally appeared, and the turn-off into the town of Orghangazi for the 80K finish. The last 5K was interesting, as it was a last-minute add-on in order to get us to the town center to finish, and took us on road, through "yards", down side streets, under a busy highway, and eventually onto a main street down town. There was a good crowd gathered at the finish, and I had an escort for parts of it, along with some boys that ran in the final couple of blocks ringing cowbells.

When I finished, I asked how many people had finished before me and was surprised to find out that I'd not only finished first overall, but had come through all of the checkpoints in first, as well--even that first one at 13K. The 4 guys that had taken off on the first climb all missed an early turn, and had lost 10 minutes or so wandering around, and were all entered in the 42K regardless. No wonder I never saw them. The guy who had caught up to me on the downhill around km 27 or so was one of those first 4 guys who'd gotten lost and ended up winning the 42K. In hindsight, I finished far enough ahead of the 2nd woman (and 1st guy) that I could have relaxed and not pushed the pace, but not knowing where anyone else is in the field, it's hard to know when to relax. For all I knew, there was someone 5 minutes behind me. I didn't necessarily understand what was being said to me throughout the day along the course. I also felt great (relatively speaking) all day, and while I was running hard, felt good, and didn't feel like I left it all out there. I finished in 7:13, which I'm definitely happy with, especially after running an 8:04 at Sonoma the weekend prior. The courses were very different, but both challenging, and I loved both of them for different reasons. Iznik was different though, in that unlike during most races when at some point at a low point I find myself asking myself what the heck I'm doing out there, I never questioned why I was out there racing during Iznik. I had fun the entire way and loved the experience.
Finishing in Orhangazi.  Race photograph.
I made a few new friends who were practicing their English on me. We didn't get much past "My name is..." but we tried. Photo from my phone.
With new friends Alessia and Sirin. The women's podium in the 80K. Photo from my phone.

Coraline acting as translator post-race. Photo by TC Serkan Baslams (?). 
A fun video that was produced (I pop up several times):

I wanted to see all of my friends finish, so I hung out at the finish for several hours, which I really enjoyed. Coraline was working at the finish, and kept me company and acted as translator, which was very sweet of her. My friends all eventually finished, so we departed for Iznik in time to see Aykut and Elena finish the 130K, as well.  Post-run celebrations consisted of another trip to the meatball restaurant and several desserts with kaymak topping.  I was in heaven.

Sunday included a 10K race, followed by the awards ceremony. For those into race medals, the medal for Iznik is worth the trip alone--it's a hand-painted tile made in Iznik (Iznik is know for its ceramics), and the podium awards included a beautiful framed hand-painted tile that is both unique and beautiful. And before heading out of town, we hit the meatball restaurant one final time for one final round of meatballs and kaymak-themed deserts.

It's hard to go back to reality after a fun race weekend away, but the reality of Monday morning was there much too soon, and I was back to real life and co-facilitating a training for 40 Mercy Corps staff on USG grant rules and regulations. This was actually the real reason I was in Turkey.  But in addition to work, the rest of the week included a number of additional meet-ups with my running buddies Kerem, Aykut, Caner and Ilgaz for runs along the Bosphorus, in the Belgrad forest, more post-run breakfasts and kaymak, and a night out in Istanbul.

Taken during a sunrise run along the Bosphorus. Photo: me.
Ultra runners around the world are just awesome.  The community there took me in, and made me feel like one of the family, and I was truly bummed to leave.  I became reacquainted with friends from last year, and made many new ones. It was really hard to go home and leave these guys when it was time to go. Runners around the world are a unique bunch, and it's always a community that's easy to enter into as a visitor, but my Turkish running buddies are not just running buddies, but good friends, and I could have stayed indefinitely. Many thanks to my friends Aykut, Caner, Ilgaz and Kerem who served as awesome hosts, and took me under their wing(s).  I appreciated all of their efforts to make me feel at home. And to Caner, the RD, who puts on a top-notch event; I was honored to be invited to participate.  I'll hope to come back soon, and in the meantime, to meet up with all of you to run again.  See you at UTMB!

Ah, kaymak. Dreaming of our next encounter. 
Enjoying beers in Istanbul with Ilgaz and Caner, RD extraordinaire. 
Saturday run in the Belgrad Forest, the week after the race. Kerem, Elena, Aykut and Caner. Someone forgot to give Aykut the memo on what to wear.
It seems my body reacts very strongly to leaving Turkey, as well, and I’m now 0-2 flying home from Istanbul. No DVT this time, but this trip I managed to faint mid-flight in my seat, and while I was passed out, peed my pants. That was embarrassing. And humbling. Which after all the attention that was paid to me my week in Turkey was probably a good way to shrink my ego back to appropriate size. When I faint, I tend to pass out for at least a few seconds, and the Dutch guy next to me was looking fairly freaked out when I came to. I ended up laid out in the galley with an oxygen tank, a doctor and a crew of concerned flight attendants.  Thanks to the dear Delta flight attendant who loaned me her yoga pants. Wetting yourself 5 hours into a 10 hour flight is awkward, at best.  Also embarrassingly, it was a scene from a movie that caused me to faint (a bloody scene in The Impossible).  I wanted to finish the movie, but couldn't risk another fainting episode, because I wasn't sure if I would find anyone to loan me a second pair of pants.

If you find yourself in Turkey in April, I highly recommend this one.  Or better yet, find a way to get yourself to Turkey in April.