Saturday, December 10, 2011

Deception Pass 50k

Deception Pass 50k was a last minute decision for me. I've been injured. I think with PFS in my left knee, but I need to go to an ortho and find out for sure that nothing is seriously wrong. I've barely run any distance runs in the last 6 weeks and today my body reminded me of that. My hips, knees, glutes and hams were all quite painful and my legs were dead and tired feeling.
Luckily, the course was beautiful and lots of friends were out there running today to keep my mind off it. The morning began with a lunar eclipse that I watched while scraping frost off my car. The more painful moments of the race I spent daydreaming about running Western States 100 since the lottery was going on at that time. I felt out of practice with long runs and I sweated too much in the beginning and ended up very dehydrated.
I crossed the finish line and immediately friends told me "You're in!"
In what?

So now I'm marking the original 100 mi race (with the attendant prestige) on my race calendar for 2012 and thinking about my knees, my hip, and leg pain, my proclivity for dehydration in races and my weakness in climbing.

I clearly have a long way to go in the next 7 months.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Race Recap: Bad Apple Ultra 12 Hour

I know. I know. I said my race season was over for the year after Cle Elum. Well, I did take 5 weeks off, but I jumped right back in with both feet when I went to Michigan for a family visit with my first timed event–Bad Apple Ultra 12 hour.

A timed event is different from my usual ultras. Instead of running a pre-determined distance you run a set loop repeatedly for a pre-determined time to see how many miles you can rack up. I had never done a timed event before, and in fact I swore up and down I would never do one. "So boring. Why the hell would I want to run in circles all day? I like going places!"

I took up ultra-running when I moved out west so my family has never seen me run. Shortly after booking tickets home this fall I did a quick search for ultras in Michigan–just on the odd chance I'd find one. And I did. Find one. And it was a timed event. No way. Uh-uh.


It took me a week of mental arguing, but I signed up. For the 12 hour. 12 hours of running in an apple orchard. A flat, Michigan orchard. 4 miles...over and over and over. Dear God, what have I done?

Fall was perfect in Michigan this October. I reveled in the crisp days and clear starry nights at my parents farm. There was cider and family. And in the middle there was a race.

I awakened at 4am and drove the 40 minutes to Greenville, dodging deer with my mom's new pickup truck. It was cold and raining lightly as I gathered with about 20 people under the awning. Shortly after 6am we headed out for our first loop. The dark orchard sprinkled with headlamps was quite fun. I was near the front of the group and ran a couple loops with a guy from western Michigan. As dawn began to break a cloudburst of sleet and cold rain drenched me. My hands were icy, but I took comfort in the fact that I was able to click off my light and run through a gray shadow world. The orchard and forest were like a grainy old photo and I was a flash of pink winding through it.

"4 loops before you caffeinate." My goal was 60 miles for the day and I didn't want to start the music or the Coke too soon. Little rewards when I reached certain goals helped me focus. 16 miles down, I can start drinking Coke. 10 am, 20 miles done. Ipod. 24 miles, ditch the jacket. 28 miles drop the tights. 32 miles amino acid supplement. 36 miles...40 miles...

The sun was out. The fall color was brilliant. Blue skies punctuated by fluffy white clouds. The orchard was busy with families and workers on a gorgeous Saturday. And I was running. Running, running, running. I settled into a rhythm early and kept it. My legs were like pistons operating on their own. My mind would wander, then check in, wander and check in. I had my 3 short walking distances (probably totaling less than 300ft per lap) and my one spot to stop and decompress my lower back and stretch my hamstrings for 10 seconds on every loop. Aid station: Oreo, potato, salt, Coke, Coke, run 4 miles, repeat.

44 miles... 48 miles... 52 miles....

The monotony didn't kill me and make me want to quit as I had feared. Like any ultra my attention was driven by the things to look at along the way–natural beauty, people, where I was putting my feet–and internal maintnance: Do I need electrolytes? Am I warm enough? Calories? Pain? Is it serious? Too slow. Too fast. I can't stand to listen to Rihanna right this second...
In between my mind wandered to many topics and the miles passed with surprising speed. The onset of pain in my legs and hips and knees and feet began around mile 32 and increased with every mile. But pain is part of running long distances and I learned long ago how to triage and block out anything that wasn't going to put me out of commission once the race is over.

56 miles...
I rounded the corner, with the aid station in sight and saw my dad and my niece coming toward me. This made my day and reinvigorated me. My dad has never come to any events like this before and seeing him there made me feel like I could keep running forever if it would make him proud.

"How many miles you run?"
"56" (big dumb smile on my face)
"You in the lead?"
"I think so."

My niece fell into stride with me and I waved at my mom as I came into the aid station. Oreo, potato, salt, Coke, Coke...
Megan and I ran through the golden afternoon. She'd run her cross country regionals that morning, so I'm sure she was glad her aunt was moving slowly! The euphoria of seeing my family faded quickly and the pain came rushing back. Without my ipod cranked to help distract me I was nearly overwhelmed, but Megan helped me maintain my pace as we chatted our way to my goal of 60 miles in 12 hours.
I hugged my dad and stood in the "recovery stance": hands on thighs, hunched over and trying not to collapse someone said, "5:30! You're good! Go around again!"
I looked him straight in the eye and said, "Do I have to?" I was done mentally.
"Well, no..."
The guy I'd run the first 2 laps of the morning with shouted, "Do it!!" I think some of the other races and race volunteers echoed the sentiment. I'm not sure because something inside was already clicking over. It was a chance to really push myself.

Oreo, potato, salt, Coke, Coke...

I put the ipod back in and headed out. Megan didn't feel she could run another lap with me and it was probably for the best. I was tired and cranky inside and I didn't want to talk. Just run. Like I had been doing all day. By the time I was a mile in the pain had receded, beaten back into submission by my dogged determination to not let it conquer me. The mind has to be as strong or stronger than the body to run ultras. Running 4 miles more than I was mentally prepared to do was training my mind more than my legs or lungs. I was smiling as I passed the half way aid station. I was smiling on the descent and climb that followed. I was basking in the sunset light streaming over the fields as I headed down the home stretch. I was smiling when I came into the finish for the last time.

I can't say that I loved the timed distance, but I did love this race. It was well run, a great course and delightfully low key. My family was able to attend and I was able to push my boundaries–running nearly 2/3 the 100 mile distance in less than half the time. The orchard was not flat, the terrain wasn't hard packed. The views were not boring. I didn't get sick of running the same loop, in fact the rhythm was almost meditational. I am certainly glad I did it.

64 miles, 12 hours (and a bit), 1st woman, 3rd overall

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Cle Elum 50k Race Recap

Cle Elum should have been in June. In June I was ready to run 50k and make it count. 3 weeks after Cascade Crest I wasn't.
The trip started out on a rough note. I took the long way around–which ended up being the epic-ly long way around (8 hours!) and hit a deer on the way. Kevin and I finally crashed on the ground beside the car a few miles from the start at 1 am.
Race morning traffic woke me up at 5. 4 hours of sleep is plenty, right?
I was excited to see my friend April from Corvalis and as the race started in the overcast morning she and I ran together. We chatted and people passed us as we turned onto trail. We walked uphill and April commented, "I think we're last."
We continued on and I eventually got ahead of her. The climbing was ongoing, although I was frequently surprised by downhill sections. I had intended to take them easy because my knees have been having issues since Cascade Crest, but they were steep and the thick dusty dirt was I ran them harder than I intended.
I reached the ridgetop and was met with cold wind and spluttering rain. So much for the sunny side of the mountains! By this time I had passed a decent number of people and was excited to see a lot of friends, both running the race and volunteering, at the midpoint aid station. After some food and a water refill I set out, running with two friends. We climbed some more (all told I heard this course had 7,000ft of elevation gain which I was glad I didn't know beforehand!) before setting out on a set of long, loping switchbacks that carried us deep into a valley. I pulled ahead of them and settled into a steady pace at the bottom. What I didn't know is that the entirety of what was left was completely runnable.
About mile 20 I realized I was almost done. "Wow! This is short!" Running 100 miles certainly skews your thinking.
With only 5 miles to go I realized that if my friends hadn't caught me by now, they might not if I didn't slow down. So my competitive side surfaced and I ran hills I would have otherwise walked. When I reached the final descent I killed it. My knees didn't much like the rough treatment of me bailing downhill so fast, but oh well. I reached the finish in 6:23 and placed 4th (in the women's race).
Now, for some much needed rest, recovery, and Chardonnay!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Cascade Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run Race Re-Cap

A fellow thru-hiker and friend posted this as her status on Facebook two nights before Cascade Crest. It references a thru-hiking tactic and it made me remember the times I had to just "give it 100 miles": 

"I believe in the 100-mile rule. If you feel like giving up, give it a 100 miles. Something wonderful is bound to happen that will change your mind and give you emotional fuel. It works in hiking and the rest of life, also." 

This thought rattled around in my brain as I got the last minute details together, solved car problems and dealt with a new and mysterious leg pain. "Just give it 100 miles". When thru-hiking that's 3 days. 3 very full, wondrous days. Days that you look back at the end and can't believe that it was only that morning that you were crossing such and such meadow, that you lunched on that panoramic pass, etc. Every mile is packed with life and adventure, wonder. Every minute full and seemingly longer than a minute. And I was about to take the distance of 3 of those over-flowing days and cover it in one go.

The morning of the race I got ready, just as I have for the other 13 races I've run. The ritual has evolved and I was ready in a leisurely manner within an hour. At the starting line in Easton, WA runners swirled in eddies of excitement, nervousness, or anticipation. I chatted with friends and leaped around, jumping with joy and excitement. I had no idea what it was going to be like to run 100 miles, but I certainly knew that it would be an adventure.

And I love adventure.

As 10am drew near we gathered for the singing of the national anthems of Canada and the US. As the final notes of the Star Spangled Banner were being sung I realized I'd forgotten my electrolyte tablets for the first 33 miles. It was already 70 degrees and arid. There was no way I could leave Easton without them.

"3 minutes!" the race director called.

I sprinted to Kevin's truck. I found the hide-a-key, unlocked, rifled through bags, dumped stuff everywhere and generally made a mess. Found the electrolytes. Shoved about 30 into my pocket, relocked, threw the key–sans holder–into it's hiding place and sprinted to the starting line. I settled comfortably into the center of the herd of 140ish runners just as we all began to chant "10...9...8...7..."

A few seconds later I was jogging across the starting line. The thought that flashed through my head was, "Is this really happening? Am I really going to run 100 miles?"

I jogged slowly, no sense in rushing. We start with a 3,000ft climb or thereabouts. It was already hot and sunny. And there were 99 miles in which to make up time. I chatted with a friend, then he pulled ahead. I listened to the conversations of 2 doctors and 2 other friends until they too pulled away. As we left the aid station at mile 4 and began to climb, I fell into line behind the doctors again and hiked steadily uphill. I listened to them, and to the people behind. The gap between our train and the one ahead widened. At some point we reached a rolling flat, then a downhill. It was hard to move slowly behind the people ahead. I passed as people stopped to pee. Eventually I caught the group ahead. They were climbing slowly, ever so slowly. In fact they teeter tottered with each step up. I stayed behind for a while, but eventually it was too much. The trail widened and I went around. A few moments later a voice behind me echoed my thoughts about how slow was too slow. David, as I would discover his name was, has run Leadville and we fell into amiable conversation as we moved along. We paced slowly. 

"This race really begins at Hyack. We just have to get there first," he said.

We rolled into the Cole Butte aid station. Then he got a little ahead. I caught him on the downhill road a few minutes later. We ran the road, then at the bottom, walked up the road. In and out of Blowout Mountain aid station. Then it was up, up and up on trail. I was ahead of him, but by the time we hit the PCT he'd caught me. I cheered at the sight of the PCT emblem and yelled, "Home Sweet Home!"

The PCT was beautiful rolling miles. I pulled away a bit and found myself alone with memories of thru-hiking. Of the Heather that passed through here in the pouring rain 6 years ago. At the time I was wet and cold and miserable. All I wanted was warm food. Dry things. A shower. The restaurant at Snoqualmie Pass. I'd been hiking for 4 months through burly terrain and mercurial weather. I was not imagining I'd cover these miles again on a hot day. I certainly never thought I'd be running them.

And yet, here I was. My heart was light and full of joy. The sheer joy in running trail, climbing over logs, and covering distance was all that mattered. Views came and went. Tacoma Pass aid station was a riot of cheering and energy. A volunteer gave me a wet wipe to wash my face and my-oh-my was it so good to remove that grime! David came in before I left. I said, "See you up the trail" and was on my way, munching a handful of grapes.
From there the route climbed. I don't know how far or how long. It was hot and open and the views of Rainier dominated. I hiked just ahead of Austin, a military man who was also doing his first 100. We chatted. The time and miles were dissipating. Eventually he passed me. I rolled into Snowshoe Butte aid station a few seconds behind him. I ate and got water and set out. He wasn't far behind initially, but after a while I realized I was alone. For the first time I put my headphones in. I'd been moving for 9 hours.

I cruised along as the sun dropped in the sky. I came across a clearcut that was familiar. I'm certain Remy and I had our shittiest, wettest, worst night of camping ever there. I paused at some decayed logs and drank some water. I was fairly certain it was the spot. Another mile. Another memory. I ran on.

On and on...then a powerline. This was familiar too. Forest. A second powerline. The late afternoon light was turning my world to pure gold. I threw my hands out and let the warm wind ride over me. I think I laughed. I know I thanked God for the moment. Beauty.
More forest and then a third powerline. A few moments later I was in Stampede Pass. I rummaged through my drop bag. I got my flashlight. I ate, I drank. I was climbing steeply out. I continued to listen to music and the miles are a blur. I felt great. I was enjoying the run like none other this year. All was well. Dusk fell. I arrived at mile 41.

Junk food was no longer satisfying me. I was hungrier than I thought I'd be. There were grilled cheese sandwiches. I don't eat animal products for a myriad reasons. But I also know that the body is a machine that needs fuel. Without remorse I ate one. I refused the meat ravioli as well as the turkey sandwiches, but cheese got me through this race. Without the calories and fat I wouldn't have made it. I'd reached my limit of cookies, and grapes are just not enough to fuel 100 miles of sustained effort. 

I got my flashlight out and left the station in the deep dusk. I crossed a small creek and started up the climb. I tried to take a drink...from my flashlight.

I'd left my water bottle at the aid station.

I ran back, "You guys are so awesome, I just had to come through again!" Laughter. "I'm going to need this!" Grabbing my water bottle. More laughter.

I went without my light for a while until I started stubbing my toes on rocks. It was decidedly dark. Down I ran under starry skies. Up I climbed. I circled meadowed valleys. Not that I could see them, but I remembered. And more than remembered, my senses just know trails and where trails go and what they go around. My feet found their way along the PCT without much assistance from me as they had all day. I was vaguely aware of PCT markers along the way, but only after my brain had already processed their information and sent my feet the correct direction. Months of following those metal markers is firmly ingrained, much as migratory instinct, in my soul. I wondered if I saw white blazes what would happen. Which instinct would be stronger. 

I passed quite a few people in the dark. The PCT emblems were lost except for the occasional flicker as my light sought them out at creek crossings. Somehow I knew right where to aim the light to discover the familiar blue, black, white and silver trefoils. I thought back to the first dusty miles on the PCT earlier in the day, how I'd hugged a tree with one. And how I'd blown kisses at others. I really did miss thru-hiking.

But this adventure was in full swing and it was reminiscent of a thru-hike in that its scope was outside the realm of normal comprehension. Pierogies at the next aid station rocked my world. I wanted to fill every pocket with them, but I didn't. I ran down, down, down. Finally, the course veered off the PCT and descended steeply to a sharp right turn onto...
Trail? Not quite. A dirty, bushwhacked boot pack led into trees. Ribbons of light and motor hum were just below. I-90 was rushing by. Hyack was near. I thought of David. I was almost to the "start of the race." Within a few minutes I knew why the "Ropes" section of the race was so legendary. The course descended straight down a slope. The dirt and rocks were loose. Ropes were strung like garlands through the thin trees. I sat down unexpectedly. Laughter. I clambered along some more. Another surprise plop onto my butt. More laughing. I was having fun! Then I popped out onto a wide, gravel railroad grade. The John Wayne Trail. Just ahead was another hallmark of the course–the Tunnel.

The tunnel is exactly that–a two mile long tunnel where the railroad punched through the mountain. Now abandoned by the railroad, the John Wayne Trail follows this tunnel, and therefore, so does Cascade Crest. 

Running through a long, dark tunnel at night alone is eerie. Especially when the fog rolls in around you. Derelict high voltage paraphernalia littered the walls. My favorite was one conglomerate of wires and metal that had a jointed paper skeleton enmeshed in it. I laughed at that. Soon the novelty of the tunnel wore off and I just wanted to get to Hyack. The long runnable section was somewhat annoying. I wanted an excuse to walk. Someone passed me. I passed 2 people. Then, I was in a parking lot. I turned left, following the glow sticks.

I realized I needed to pee, which I hadn't done for 30 miles. It was a welcome thing. I had been somewhat worried about my hydration. The dark, empty parking lot was great...I simply squatted where I was. No need for bushes.

After running along, and then under, the interstate I was excited to see Hyack aid station. Remy was there cheering and holding signs. He helped me change out flashlight batteries. I gulped down potato soup and grilled cheese and Vega. I dumped grit and rocks that I'd been carrying since the first climb out of my shoes. 

"I've never run this far before." 

"You're doing fantastic! You've passed a TON of people!"

"Yeah, well, you just can't top the thru-hiker endurance!"

I had jumped and danced my way in...I did the same thing out. 

This was where the race began.

I walked the flat road out of Hyack for a half mile or more. Then I felt the food settling and my mind gearing up for the next 47 miles. I began to run. It was almost 2am.

The gravel road up to Keechelus Ridge was not steep, but it was a climb. I turned my music on, breathed the starry night deeply into my lungs and hiked fast and steady. I've termed it "Anish hiking." Those who've been with me on a backpacking trip will know what that means. I reached the ridgetop aid station all hunger and energy. Soup. Grilled cheese. On my way. Another 7.5 miles of gravel road switchbacking down into the abyss of night. I saw dots of light below as runners and their pacers moved through the darkness. I realized I wasn't scared of the night. Even alone. Most everyone had picked up a pacer–company for the last miles of the race–at Hyack. I hadn't. I wanted to face my fears, as I've been trying to do all year. One at a time I've taken them out and looked at them. It's terrifying. But, I've found  that the more often I uncover them and stare at their ugly faces the less scary they are. Thoughts of mountain lions did flitter through me, but I wasn't scared. I did shine my light into the bushes and behind me now and then, but mostly I was free of worry. Coming down from Keechelus I looked up at the stars and was thankful for the night.

Arrival at Kachess Lake was 3:03 am. I was only 3 minutes behind my friend Candice. Remy again changed my batteries, hugged me, cheered me, and watched me eat soup and grilled cheese and vega. I was soon on my way down the Trail from Hell. I had 50k to go.
I caught a man and his pacer a short distance onto the trail. The Trail from Hell is so named because of it's lack of maintnance, resulting in steep, narrow, loose trail littered with deadfall. As I came up behind him he exclaimed, "How are you moving fast on THIS?!"

"Oh, I'm having fun! It's like a jungle gym!"

I clambered up and over and dropped down to hands and knees to crawl under logs. I laughed and huffed and puffed. I passed group after group. Signs began beckoning me toward "Heaven"–the theme of the next aid station. I balanced on a log across Mineral Creek. I left Hell and arrived in Heaven at 5am.

Another friend was there, waiting to pace a mutual friend of ours. He found my drop bag for me and advised me of the vegetarian options. I swapped my flashlight for my headlamp. Grilled cheese, soup, cookies, go.

Up the road to No Name Ridge I went. Mint chewing gum in my mouth. My teeth felt gross from the junk and not brushing. My tummy was a little gross from the junk and the 72 miles I'd already covered. The gum made both much happier.

I strode along at a strong Anish pace uphill, snapping bubbles with my gum. Dawn was breaking. The horizon grayed, then became gilded. I caught up to Candice. She looked tired, but she was still going. We had a little less than a marathon to go.

Ever upward. That's how the road felt. I enjoyed the sweet fragility of dawn. The fleeting moments when the light is perfect–lavender, gold, gray, pink, inexplicably all at the same time. Snowy, jagged peaks were revealed. The ridge with multiple spires that I would soon traverse did as well. 

At the top I reached the aid at mile 81. I jogged in, whooping and doing a little dance. Friends were there. I did not at that moment want anything sweet. No cookies. Not even the pancakes because they had chocolate chips. I asked for black coffee. Lots of it. I spied a cup of orange juice and excitedly brought it to my lips.

"That's a mimosa!" someone warned me.

I paused.
"Oh, what the hell."

I gulped it down and did the same with the coffee. I crammed croissants into my pocket. They weren't sweet. Neither was the string cheese which i pocketed. It was time to hit the Cardiac Needles.

The Needles are spikes on the ridge. Steep up and downs known on the Appalachian Trail they would be known as PUDS (Pointless Up and Downs). Up, up, down, down. Steeply. Repeat. So goes the next 8 miles of Cascade Crest. At the top of the first one I noticed my head was spinning. "What the..."

Champagne hits hard when you've run 80 miles.

I'd caught up to the friend I was originally running with at the start. He and his pacer encouraged me. He also told me I was running in 4th place among women.
"What?! Holy..."

"The woman ahead of you is pretty tired..."

"No. Don't tell me that."

I fought to put that out of my head as I passed by them. I'd read that the first two needles are the worst. From that I inferred that that meant the rest weren't hard at all. That is completely wrong. In retrospect I hit the first needles and Thorpe mountain much too hard because I misinterpreted that statement. Thorpe is an out and back up to a manned fire lookout to fetch a small piece of paper, proving your ascent. I dropped my pack with the aid station workers at the base and garnered my paper. By the time I got back my extra energy was sapped. I forced down a cookie and headed out. A woman came in as I was leaving.

I was hungry. I was tired. The needles were relentless. I saw a bear. I kept moving.

"Embrace the brutality"

"These are just PUDS, Anish, suck it up."

"Keep running. She's right behind you."

"I need a fricking caffeine IV."

I talked my way along. Finally I put in my music to help me pace.

"God, please let this be the last needle. Cause, if there's another one I think I'm just gonna sit down and cry."

At long last I saw French Cabin aid station below me. I'd volunteered at French Cabin last year. As I bombed down the switchbacks I recognized Jennifer, who'd been there last year, and she recognized me. We excitedly greeted one another as I devoured food. I don't even remember what. Recalling the strategy of another friend of mine had used at Badwater I requested that they fill my water bladder half with coke and half with water. That was as close to a caffeine IV as I could get. 

The next 7 miles or so were the longest of the race. It was mostly all downhill and normally I would kill the descent, but this morning I was jogging. I kept telling myself to run, aloud, but my body would only go just so fast. I refused to walk. She was right behind me.
Several times I had the feeling of waking up. Alertness would suddenly wash over me. My eyes would focus sharply and I had the distinct feeling that I'd been running for an indeterminate amount of time with my brain "shut off". Every time it happened I sucked desperately on the coke and water. Would this never end? 

At long last I saw the aid station. I was in and out in a matter of seconds. I literally dropped my backpack, grabbed a full water bottle and a handful of grapes. I was running along a dirt path. I passed a man and his pacer. The route turned to follow the sandy swath beneath power lines. I could see a white subaru parked at the end and knew it had to be Remy. I ran along. He dumped water on me as I passed by and turned onto the road. 3 miles.

It was hot.

3 miles.

Gravel and dirt gave way to pavement and my pace increased.

2.5 miles.

I crossed above the interstate.

I choked up and fought it back. 

I hope Remy tells Kevin I'm on my way.

2 miles.

I increased my pace. I was digging for how much I had left.

I wasn't sore. I was simply running.

1 mile.

I began to recognize Easton. The race was ending.

I was strong.

I turned off the road and was running parallel the railroad tracks. I could see the finish.
I'd imagined this moment many times in my head in the last year.

But I'd never imagined the thought that was in my brain right now in the reality of the moment:

"If I got some water and food I could keep going. I don't physically have to stop."

A friend high fived me as I went by.

I turned the corner.

I could hear the applause and the race director announcing me.

10 yards.

I was smiling.

I jumped and spun across the finish line.

100 miles.

20,000+ ft of climbing.

26 hours and 39 minutes of forward motion.

Adventure, pure and simple.

39th OA (106 finishers) 4th woman.

I felt fantastic nearly the entire time. I will not say it was easy, because it wasn't. But I won't say it was hard either. It was something other than that. It was an event I lost myself in. The first 8 hours passed without me even noticing. So did the first 70 miles or more. It was effort, but it was bliss. 

I can't wait to do another one.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Angel's Staircase Sweep Recap

I was planning to reprise adventures in the Sawtooth-Chelan area the next weekend in the same general area as the Angel's Staircase 25k, 50k, and 50 mile races. I figured it would be fun to backpack most of the course (plus a bit) and see friends running through. That plan got modified when Kevin asked me to sweep the 50 mile course with him.

"No, no, no...I don't want to go that far in a day. My body needs a break. And I want to sleep under the stars."

"But on the other hand, I could sweep a gorgeous course...."

"Oh well, tapering is over rated, right?"

So, I devised a compromise.

We backpacked our overnight gear to the top of the saddle adjoining the Staircase. From there we continued on with daypacks as sweeps. I stopped and waited at a pass so I wouldn't be doing the entire 50 miles (although, I ended up doing 46 in the end anyway). I laid in the sun on Deadman's Pass and basked in the beauty of the mountains. But after nearly 2 hours I was beginning to wonder where Kevin was. The sun was sinking inevitably westward and we still had 25 miles to sweep.

He arrived sweaty and cranky from carrying heavy signs and a water jug through less than optimal trails. We grabbed some food that the aid station crew had cached for us below the pass and headed out. The trail wound through beautiful meadows and forests and the light played on the peaks. The mosquitoes were abysmal. It was nearing evening when we reached the nearly empty water cache and were able to finally stop carrying the 5 gallon jug. We filled our water rapidly because the mosquitoes were feasting on us. Then we ran.

Long sweeping switchbacks into the valley.

From the pass above the cache and beyond we watched as purple dusk cloaked the eastern hills of Washington. Stars began to ping the blanket of sky. We'd been going for 15 hours and we had 15 miles to go–at a minimum–before we could shortcut to our camp. Welcome coolness covered us as we moved along. We eagerly awaited the next aid station so we could get much needed water and food. It was fully dark when we reached an unsigned junction and for a moment we were confused as we walked tree to tree with our headlamps, looking for weather beaten Forest Service signs. We determined we were only a short distance from the aid station and continued on the trail bending right. About .2 later I stopped.

"If there was no race sign at the junction, then that means the aid station workers took it. If the aid station workers took it, that means they packed up and hiked out already, down the other trail. If they're gone then there is no food or water for us. And there is no one for us to give these signs too."

With that realization we looked at the dozen or more re-bar signs in our hands and turned around. There was no way we were going to carry them 10 more miles!! We got back to the junction and stacked them along the trail for the race director to come get when he packed out the water cache later. Then we continued on.
The forest was dark and silent, except for the occasional sound of creeks. We made noise for bears as we trotted along. We were tired and starting to get sore. We were out of water and food, cranky and dehydrated. Finally we reached the junction to Cooney Lake.

We dropped the signs we had in our hands. There was no way we were going to finish the course tonight and backtrack to camp...our original plan. We'd take the shortcut past Cooney.

As with most accessible back country lakes there were myriad social trails and campsites networking the area and we soon dead ended. It was late and we were tired and we could see the ridge where our warm sleeping bags and a Nalgene of water were. But no trail connecting the two. After a few minutes of detective work I located the trail and we were on our way again. The climb was short, but it felt steep after 17 hours of moving. We shut off our headlamps and climbed by full moon light. Shooting stars raced across the sky. All was silent and wild.

The top of the pass was windy. Since the weather was good, we hadn't brought a tent so we put on every stitch of clothing we had. This included me wearing my rain jacket–and Kevin's swim shorts over my wool pants! We huddled in our sleeping bags. I made a wall from the bear canister and my shoes to block the wind from putting out the stove. Even that wasn't enough and I coiled around it, trying not to catch my sleeping bag on fire. Unfortunately, the efficiency was still diminished by the wind and we ate half cooked pasta before falling asleep.

4 hours later dawn turned the horizon to fire and illuminated the North Cascades with the joyous glow of a new day. We peeked from our bags and I managed to take a few pictures. So

An hour later I awoke...roasting. The sun was firmly above the horizon and the wind gone. The desperate layering of last night was now cooking us. We quickly packed up and headed down to Cooney Lake, picked up our signs and continued. Thankfully, a couple miles later the final aid station had left us some water. We filled and ran...the mosquitoes!!!

About 2 miles from the finish we met the Race Director coming up and we gratefully let him carry some of the signs and water jugs. When we reached the end he cooked us some veggie burgers and even had managed to save 1 beer from the racers for us to share.

It was certainly not the adventure I'd been planning, but it was "good hundred miler training" ;)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

White River 50 Mile Race Recap

The weeks leading up to White River were mentally tough for me. I had lost focus. This, as well as some personal issues the night before the race, left me feeling like I very much did not want to run Saturday morning. I slipped into the mid-back of the pack fairly quickly. I wanted to drop out at mile 4. I was having a miserable day.

The first 16 miles or so were a long climb. The aid stations were not what I was expecting and I was low on calories. I put my music on loud and early to help blot out the fact that I was running. I mostly tried to think of other things. I found a gel on the trail about 20 miles in and ate it. I hate gels and they usually make me sick, but in this case I figured being queasy would be more enjoyable than bonking...and surprisingly I didn't get sick. When I reached the aid at mile 21 they were calling out encouragement to all the runners and proclaiming "6 miles ALL downhill to the next aid station".

I headed out from there onto the loping switchbacks back down the mountain I'd climbed earlier. Within 2 switchbacks I began to mentally deal with my situation. I was not going to drop. I had 30 miles to run. I might as well capitalize on my strengths and do my best to forget that I didn't want to be out there. I began passing people in a steady stream. I came up on a guy and was behind him for half a switchback. He stepped aside at the apex and allowed me to pass. He said, "I'm just going to draft."

I tried my best not to laugh.
He didn't last a full switchback.

I went to a happy place. I wasn't running, I was tubing. My water bottles were full of lemonade. I relaxed and after passing a lot more people I was coming into the next aid station. Thankfully a friend was volunteering there and he grabbed my drop bag for me while I stuffed my face. Running close to 30 miles without enough calories always sucks. I walked out of the aid station...and continued to walk the flat. Some day I will learn to STOP EATING, even though I am hungry at aid station. I didn't get nauseous, but I certainly felt sloshy and full...perhaps due to the 4 cups of Coca Cola I bolted. I finally started jogging again when I got to the next climb. I jogged, but I mostly hiked fast, up...and up...and up. Then the course wound down to the road and I was thrilled...AID STATION!

But no.

The course crossed the road...and continued up...and up. I was out of water. The sun was beating down. My hike fast speed felt laborious, although the runners I passed who fell in behind me assured me it wasn't. Finally rounding a switchback with stupendous views of Mt. Rainier the aid station was in sight. Again I drank multiple cups of Coke.

The aid station worker asked, "Ice in your water bottles?"

I've read that cooling your hands triggers a lowering of core temperature, which then results in you being able to continue to perform at a higher level. Grasping two bottles full of ice water as I headed 6 miles down a gravel road in the full sun made me a believer. I felt cooler. I felt more awake and less tired. I pushed hard on the road. It was the last down and I wanted to make it count. I looked at my watch and realized that a Western States qualifying time might actually be possible, despite the slow early miles. I passed people. My lower back began to feel like my hips were being permanently pounded into it. Finally, I came into the last aid station.

From there it was 6 rolling miles to the finish. A runner I'd run with at Sun Mountain was there and we headed out together. We kept each other going through the last miles when we both just really wanted to be done. We jogged rather than walked, which I'm sure I would have been doing if I'd been alone.

Then finally...the finish chute!

I arrived tired, but more from the all day mental battle than from physical exhaustion. In fact, my body felt as good physically as it has this entire year. There was no pain, aside from foot pain from bad shoes. 50 milers are beginning to feel physically less demanding and more manageable. I've been consistently in the 10 hour range all year. I feel that this bodes well for Cascade Crest.

10:39...and a Western States qualifying time!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

2011 Sun Mountain 50mile Race Recap

I headed out through the forest in the general direction of Twisp in the middle of a pack of runners. We trotted along the moderate single track gradually clumping into about 3 groups. Most of my friends vanished with the lead pack, and a few more were a few strides ahead. About 2.5 miles into the 50 mile race I knew something wasn't right. I stopped and took off my jacket. I'd already faded to the back of the pack and the only other runners behind me passed by. I kept going, but everything was just off. I soon realized why as I began to cramp. My period had started.
Now, not only does running 50 miles normally sound hard, but for someone like me who also has the unfortunate menstrual side effect of severely incapacitating cramps and nausea therefrom (making it nearly impossible to eat), running 50 miles suddenly seemed impossible. I had been anticipating this problem, but hoping it would wait just 10 hours. No such luck. I kept jogging along slowly as the course wound out into cattle country. The forest gave way to sagebrush and golden blooms of balsam root. Cows dotted the landscape. I put on my music early and plucked a balsam root flower for my hair. I distracted myself with the beauty of the land around me and the snowcapped mountains that played peek-a-boo with the early morning sun and clouds. I was DFL (dead fucking last) and it wasn't going to get better. I wanted to cry.
Somewhere around mile 20 I caught and passed 2 people, most likely early starters cause I hadn't seen them at the regular start. Shortly thereafter I passed 2 regular starts at an aid station and then melded into the traffic of the just started 50k race. I'd run the next 28 miles with them.
As predicted nothing did get better. I was nauseous. I was hurting. I was at the back of the pack. I managed to force some food down at each aid station, but lethargy was taking over. I came to a junction that said "50 mile second time (Mile 30) turn left" and something clicked. I'd run 50k in extreme physical discomfort. Sure, I could quit now and call it good. Or I could suffer through the rest of the miles and finish in a poor time.
Or I could fight back.
I have never taken a painkiller during a race. I rarely take them when I'm not racing. In fact, the only time I take them is for cramping. I had one in my pocket. I said a mental apology to my kidneys, liver, and endocrine system and I took it. By the aid station at mile 36 the cramps were mostly gone...and with them the nausea. I was so far behind in my calories by this point that I filled my pockets with food, drank 2 cups of Coke and headed out.
My head was clearer and I remembered from last year's 50k what lie ahead. A climb up Sun Mountain...a run down it followed by a climb up Patterson Mountain and back down. I started taking in fuel every 15 minutes including my homemade energy chunks that are loaded with caffeine. I picked up the pace and forgot about everything but running. I hiked up Sun Mountain, passing people I'd been playing leap frog with all day. I passed more people coming down. I focused on maintaining a strong pace and trying to get in the calories, water and electrolytes I needed as the sun warmed the day.
As I came into the final aid station at mile 44 I saw 2 women ahead leaving the station that I knew were fairly comparable runners to me. I was shocked to see them. I had certainly made up a lot of time in the last 10 miles. I ditched one water bottle, filled the other, grabbed food and headed up Patterson Mt. I was tired and there was a strand of runners winding all the way up the mountain. Some were at mile 45+ some were at mile 26+, but we were all tired. Some were doing the hands on hips stumble. Others where hiking steadily. Everyone else was doing something in between. I started out moving slow. I was in the place I should be in the race. I'd finish about when I should and I was certainly no longer DFL. I could relax a bit and just finish up the last 5 miles and be done.
Or I could keep fighting like I had been for the last few hours.
If you're reading this blog you know me...and you know what I decided. I had gained significantly on the 3 women I could see ahead of me as well as some of the men in the 50mile race by the time I reached the turn around at the top. I didn't pause there except in my mind. It only took a second for me to take in the view and decide to play to my strength and go for broke on the descent. At the bottom it would only be 1 mile to the finish.
I took off.
I ran.
It hurt to breathe.
I zipped down the mountain to the road. I threw my empty water bottle into the sagebrush and passed two guys as the course turned and headed uphill. It was gradual, but my instincts are always to walk the hills. Especially at mile 49. I slowed and started walking. I was nauseous again. I wanted to be done. I wanted to cry.
But more than that, I didn't want to let anyone I'd just passed catch me in the last mile.
I started running again. I pushed myself up the hill with the repetitive thought, "You are almost there. You've fought too hard to give up now. You are not walking".
I finally turned onto Chickadee trail and knew I was literally almost there. Soon people and finish line flagging was in sight. So was the clock: 8:48.
I crossed the line with a new PR (by over an hour!) for the 50 mile distance and sat down saying, "I'm not sure whether I want to cry or throw up."
Within a few minutes I was on my feet. I was ecstatic about my new PR. I was even more ecstatic when I discovered that I was the 3rd woman overall. There's nothing like going from last to 18th OA and 3rd FOA. There's nothing like running a beautiful course through the mountains and pushing yourself and your limits.

There's nothing like discovering that you are tougher than you think.

Race Results:

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Capitol Peak 50mile Race Recap

Last Saturday I lined up with a hundred plus other people in the Capitol State Forest and headed out for a run. An all day run. You know, the kind that takes 10 hours and you cover 50 miles up and down a mountain and through the woods and over the river and back to the finish line we go...

I have only run 1 other 50 mile race, a year ago, and it was flat. Kansas flat. I ran a 50 mile fun run through the Cascades to Stehekin last September, but this would be my first 50 mile race with any real elevation gain (6,500 ft). I didn't really have time goals, my only plan was to set out at a comfortable pace that I felt I could maintain for an indefinite period of time. I wanted to practice race strategy and being on my feet for hours on end, maintaining forward motion, keeping positive and staying hydrated and fueled in prep for my 100 in August.

So I went easy. I hiked the ups fast (whoo hoo...getting better. I passed some people going up!). I ran the flats and I killed the downhills in a restrained (for me) manner. I ate, I drank, I took electrolyte tabs and I kept moving. And you know what?

At mile 20, I didn't even feel like I'd been running.

At mile 26 I felt like I'd been out for about a 10 miler.

At mile 35 I felt like I'd run a good "long run" training day.

At mile 39 I hit a low mentally.

At mile 42 I felt like I'd run a 50k.

At mile 47 I caught up to 2 people and I found I had the energy to kick--hard. I went flying down the switchbacked trail leaving the guy way behind. The woman stuck with me for the first half before she fell back. When I hit the road with about 1.5 miles to go I was beginning to feel the sustained increase in speed, but it was still downhill. So I kept pushing, because

I was nowhere near tired.

My muscles weren't fatigued, my mind was clear, my mood was good. 50 miles was a short distance away and it felt like I'd run about 30. I caught another person and as I flew past him he gave me a high five and some encouraging words. A few strides later I ran into a friend who was there supporting some mutual friends who were also running and he ran the last bit with me. His encouraging words kept me moving even though the downhill became flat and had some little ups. I managed to cross the finish line at 10:02:53.

After a few minutes to catch my breath I was jogging to my car for a change of clothes. While my time wasn't that fantastic (I was 8th woman, 3rd in my gender/age group and 47th overall) the fact that I felt as good at mile 10 as I did at mile 20 as I did at mile 50 makes me pretty ecstatic. The fact that I had so much energy at the end and that if I'd maintained my pace rather than kicking I could have run for several more hours makes me even more so. I'm well on my way to being ready for Cascade Crest 100.

I can't wait for Sun Mountain 50 miler in 2 weeks!

Full results:

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Embracing the Brutality--Ultrarunning Style

There is a mantra among thru-hikers of the Continental Divide Trail: "Embrace the Brutality".

"What does THAT mean?" you ask, if you are not one of the few to have tackled the endeavor. Well, it means embracing the relentless climbs, the unmarked sagebrush laden ridges. It means embracing that the 36 miles you walked today only took you 24 toward your destination. It means embracing yet another hailstorm even though the bruises from the last one are still faintly green and tender. It means embracing the fact that, yet again, there is cow shit in your water. It means embracing the snow, the cold, the heat, the constant navigation. Accepting that there is a huge difference between being lost, being Lost, and being LOST. It means embracing the fact that there is lightning striking all around--and you're on an exposed ridge. It means embracing all that comes with walking every step from Canada to Mexico through the Rockies in the span of a few months. The more you accept these "brutal" moments the more you find out what it's like to truly live--what it's like to push yourself past boundaries, through pain, and arrive with the sense of not only calm, but also accomplishment, that results.

On Sunday I ran the Yakima Skyline Rim 50k race in Ellensburg, WA. More than once I found myself laughing and thinking, "Embrace the Brutality" albeit, for only a few hours, instead of a few months. The out and back course has 10,000ft of climbing (maybe more--who knows). Most of this comes from steep single-track that climbs approximately 1,000ft per mile--the rate that any thru-hiker knows is where you balk and your legs begin to shriek. As this implies, you not only had to run up these punishers, but you also had to run down them...and then turn around and repeat the process.

The weather was sunny, and the air dry. Two big challenges for a west side puddle splasher like me. The wide open ridges were coated with sagebrush and there were views of the Yakima River, Mt. Ranier, Mt. Adams, Glacier Peak, and the North Cascades. There were also lots of fantastic volunteers and die hard ultra-runners there to make this an enjoyable escapade. As always, James Varner did a superb job putting on a challenging and amazing course.

The morning started out as many I have seen. I huddled in my car, staying warm as the gold light edged it's way down the sides of the canyon until it flooded the valley floor. We headed out at 8 across a narrow pedestrian only suspension bridge across the Yakima River. We had been warned, "You have 4 hours and 15 minutes to get to the turn around. The cut-off is strict. 4 hours and 16 minutes and you aren't going to be allowed to run back."

The course immediately climbed 2,100 ft in 2.2 miles. The runners thinned into groups, a continuous thread of bright splotches against the sage and gold hillside. My hamstring had been messed up for over a week--hurting so much that I could barely walk. Attempts to even jog across crosswalks had sent spasms through my whole leg just the day before. Needless to say, I was hiking this hill. My leg cramped and hurt and bitched at me. But there were 30 miles ahead and I wasn't stopping yet.

At the top, we spread out along a rolling jeep road for 3 miles to the first aid station. Refilling my water, I bombed down the first major descent (equal to what we'd just come up). I spent the next several miles running with a friend as we hit the bottom and cruised through sagebrush flats. Then the next climb started.

We were 8 miles in and a 1,900 ft climb to the next aid station loomed. I put in my headphones, previously having been enjoying the songbirds, and switched back to hiking mode. I was soon alone. Lost in a world of rocks, and beauty, blue sky, blessed sunshine, and the ebbing pain in my legs. I started to pass people about half way up the climb. Near the top the pain dissipated and after a refill at the aid station I was cruising along through rolling ridges.

As I climbed the next, shorter, climb a barrage of 25k runners and 50k early starts passed me going in the opposite direction. This gave me a chance to do one of my favorite things in racing--smile, say something encouraging, do a little dance, whoop, and/or give high 5's. (No, I don't do all those to everyone...but everybody gets one of them!) Soon, I was descending, skipping down a relentlessly long, rock strewn descent. There were no confidence markers, nobody slogging toward me. I stopped and looked around. Behind me there were some folks coming down, well, that doesn't matter--they're following me, but ahead nothing. Really though, there was a cliff on one side and no other trails that I could see in the sage. So I barreled ahead. On this descent I learned that there really is something to Acupressure. Occasionally my foot would hit a rock just right and a pain would shoot through my hand or arm. I almost dropped my bottle once!

At the bottom, to my surprise, was the turn around aid station. I ditched my jacket and gloves, ate, refilled my bottles, crammed some boiled potatoes into my vest pocket, and prepared to hike back up the beast I'd just run down. It had taken me 3.5 hours. I headed out, soon realizing that despite my efforts I needed more fluids, more salts, and more food. I upped my intake of electrolyte tabs and food from once an hour to once every half hour. My bottles were empty by the time I climbed into the 20 mile aid station.

Around here my body decided my homemade energy chunks weren't tasty and that paydays, grapes, and coca cola were. So, I ate a lot of each and drank 3 cups of coke before taking off again. I enjoyed the next descent and the flats, but the last long climb to the final aid station was intense. This is where I had the "brutality" thoughts the most.

The next 3 miles were rolling along the jeep road. I felt good and I ran almost all of it. Then I saw the sign pointing me to the final 2.2 mile descent and I mentally rejoiced. Ok, I think I said something out loud too. I passed someone at the top of the descent and then bombed down the descent as fast as I could. I knew it was a totally downhill stretch and I didn't hold back. About half way down my legs were cramping and I had to pause long enough to take an electrolyte tab to keep me going.

Then I saw the bridge, my downhill momentum carried me across it. I sprinted to the finish, whooped, leaped in the air. I threw my bottles on the ground and yelled, "THAT WAS AWESOME!!!"  to the general amusement of the people standing there.

Final time: 7:27:37
4th woman
23rd overall

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Chuckanut 50k Race Report

I'm lying in bed, icing my knee. It hurts when I bend it. It hurts when I push on it. I hope it's just some inflammation that will go away soon. The reason it hurts is because I ran my second 50k of the year yesterday. Or, maybe it was the 10 mile hike and trail work I did today....

Either way, I'm gonna tell you about the race, because really, that's more interesting than me chopping and digging in the dirt for a few hours.

This was my third year running the Chuckanut 50k. As usual Krissy Moehl and a fantastic group of volunteers (many of whom I count as friends) put on a great, well supported race. The weather was as perfect as mid March in Bellingham can be (partly cloudy and upper 40's). The field this year was incredibly fast with at least 4 people breaking former course records. Big names such as Scott Jurek, Geoff Roes, Ellie Greenwood, and Darcy Africa were there.

The morning started with me walking into the registration area, and, as typical anytime I'm about ready to run, I was smiling. First person I made eye contact with was Scott Jurek...and he smiled back. Pretty sure my smile got even bigger and stupider!! Wish I'd had something intelligent to say...

The first 6 miles were good. It was hard to hold myself back, but I ran into a friend and we chatted at an easy pace. I climbed Fragrance Lake trail and descended to Cleator road in exactly the time I intended. I felt good tackling Cleator and managed to run most of it, only walking 3 short sections. The ridge trail rolled right along as usual, but I felt much slower on the descent to Dan's traverse. I caught up to a couple friends on the N. Lost Lake Trail and ran near them until the climb up E. Lost Lake Trail. On that descent I met another friend and cruised down to the base of Chinscraper. The next climb I walked entirely. I was feeling tired and the beginnings of cramps were developing in my legs. In retrospect I probably hadn't drank enough at the earlier stages of the race, although I had been feeling fine. I ate and drank and by Cyrus Gates Overlook I was feeling a bit better and ran all the way to the final aid station at a strong pace, but not as fast as usual. I focused on mentally preparing myself for the final flat 6 miles that have always defeated me in the past.

When I left the "beach party" at the final aid station I told myself, no walking except two short climbs. So shuffle running. Then I turned the music up and let my mind wander to pretty much anything but the annoying cramps in my legs and the hard, flat trail. I didn't let my mind convince me to give up and I did indeed run the entire section, only walking those 2 stretches. I reached the finish 6 minutes slower than last year: 5:51, but considering my sporadic training and the fact that I am still in recovery mode I'm going to be satisfied with that. I felt good at the finish and was even jogging around the park tracking down the various layers of clothing I'd given to people throughout the run.

While I love Chuckanut (as my first ultramarathon it will always hold a special place in my heart) I think it's time to hang it up. There are burlier 50ks, gorgeous 50milers, and epic 100's calling my name. But shhhhh...don't tell my knees :-)