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Adventures on the Fringe: Infinitus 888k Pace Report

 

http://www.firstgiving.com/imaging/stock/74490199-44d0-4b9e-8a94-1e0359eed77c.jpg

 

***note: I have really struggled with how to properly explain the vastness, insanity, stubbornness, heroics, and borderline stupidity of this race.  Hopefully I did it justice. It’s a long post, but then, it was a long race.***

Running, for all its popularity in the last decade, is still a niche activity.  Marathon running, though it has seen a recent boom, is a side niche of that niche.  Then there is ultra running – something which is seeing its own renaissance (and getting popular enough to produce some impressive hand-wringing about ‘the way things used to be’ *fart noise*). Still, outside certain circles, the world of ultras remains pretty damn counterculture (http://www.outsideonline.com/1977961/reality-check-ultrarunning-not-mainstream). 

Buried in this world, this side niche of a side niche, you have other activities. Among the adventure races, the FKT attempts, and multi-day events, there are corners of athletes who see no point in signing up for a race that they know they can finish.  There are activities for people who want to push themselves to their very breaking points, and then past.  Events designed to tear you into tiny pieces, if only to see if you can put yourself back together again in time to make it across the line. 

When my friend Jordan (a relay team member who I paced at Fat Dog 120 last year: http://www.myfitnesspal.com/blog/ThickMcRunFast/view/fat-dog-120-pace-report-689573) said she was training for an 888k race, I thought it was a typo.  Who would do that? Who could even do that?  That’s clearly not a real thing.  But when we met for a relay in February, she confirmed that it was true.  She was training for Infinitus.  An event put on by the aptly name “Endurance Society” in Vermont.  It would be a 10 day race, a loop course that you would have to complete 888k (550m) on, and not much else was known about it at the time. She asked me to pace.  My response? “This is crazy.  I am so in.”  I didn’t even have to think about it.  OF COURSE I was in.  I had to see what this was about. My mind spun just thinking about the logistics of such a thing.  I had to know what would happen.  Would anyone else sign up for this? (10 people would).  Would anyone make it? (Yes - a lone soul). Would there be crying? (So much crying). What would the nutrition look like? (I would force feed my friend melted butter). What would this do to your feet? (Pretty sure that every person who participated is now a licensed foot surgeon an’ shit). 

As we got closer, more details emerged.  It would be a figure 8 course (Infinitus…the 8 theme will be repeated), one ‘top’ loop of about 10 miles, which included one hard climb and 1600 ft of total gain; and a ‘bottom’ lollipop loop of 16 miles.  The stick of the lollipop was a 3 mile bog that connected to a 10 mile loop around a lake. Then you would have to go back through the bog.  The lake loop included 4-5 miles of steady climbing. The whole lower loop had about 2400ft of gain.  There was a ski lodge in the middle that housed the sleeping quarters (a loft that became a beloved, if smelly nest), all our gear, a microwave, and the food tables.  Crews could stay at the lodge, or take some loops with the runner. This figure 8 course and the lodge would become my entire world for the week. Nothing else existed.

 Runners had 10 days to cover 21 full figure 8s.  Anything less than that would be considered “DNF”.  A week into the 888k, other races would start on the same loops. There were 72 and 48 hour versions (as many laps as you could run in that time, with buckles for those who reached 100 miles), as well as an 88 and 8k on the last day.  But, for that first week, the 10 intrepid souls of the 888k would be out there alone, with only those crazy enough to crew this Quixotian quest for company.  They would go through all kinds of weather. Nothing would stop this train.  They had to stay on pace to have a chance.  Outwardly, they would not have to move fast.  2 full loops (52+ miles) per day, plus two days with an extra half loop.  If you moved around a 3mph pace, you could do that easily, have some time to eat and perform foot care, and even have a few hours a night to sleep.  But if problems arose….well. Crisis management is a skill you better have. 

I arrived on day 5 of Infinitus.  I had been working in France, and flew to LA for two days to pack all my outdoor gear up, only to haul it all to Vermont.  A redeye saw me to Burlington, where I was greeted by Doug Salvensen, father another runner, Greg  (Greg was also on the Fat Dog Adventure last year- in fact, Greg has run one 100 a month for the last year).  I was introduced to the quaint charm and distinct smell of the Blue Berry Hill Ski Lodge, but there was no time to relax. I got on my running gear and packed up with water and food, because Jordan was coming off the top loop and would need help with the bottom.  By the time I arrived, the runners had already nicknamed the top “happy” and the bottom “sad”.  Two runners had already dropped out due to injury, and only 3 people were poised to make it the entire distance (Greg, Jordan, and a girl named Jess who had also run Fat Dog, though our crews didn’t know each other). 


our home and nest

A shifting crew of friends would help Jordan out, and right now her pals Sarah and Lucas were in charge of her. They gave me the update and rundown:  The first day had been great, then came a 20-degree night, complete with hail. The runners woke up to snow on the ground.  Now the temperatures were perfect, but would be shortly climbing into the 80s and 90s, with thunderstorms forecast.  On top of this, Jordan was having problems. She had stopped wanting to eat and was calorie deficient.  Later we would find out the problem: there had been a calorie miscalculation early. For some reason, she thought her Perpetuem had 250 calories per scoop, when it only has 100. She thought she was taking in 500 calories per bottle, but only getting 200. Some loops she would only get 50 calories.  The guys running this race were getting daily burns between 9 and 11 THOUSAND calories.  Even though the burn is less for women, doing this on her level of intake was impossible.  She was bonking. Hard.  Her mom had been with her the first few days, and instead of forcing her to eat, she did a very mom thing and let her tired daughter say no.  Now I was here to be mean and force food down her throat. 

I didn’t even have enough time to process. A minute, later, she was coming into the ski lodge and we jumped into action.  Sarah put a bowl of food under her nose, and I got to work massaging her quads, which had been rendered dead a few days ago due to lack of calories.  She whimpered: “I know I don’t sound happy to see you, but I am so happy to see you”.  A friend to share the long road with can be the best pick-me-up a person could ask for.  We got her pack loaded up and some food in her, and it was time for me to pace. 

And I will be honest: I didn’t even know if I could successfully pace this event. I had planned on putting between 150-200 miles on my legs for the 5 days I would be there.  That is significantly more miles than I have ever done in a week.  I would have to manage her race when she lost the ability to think. I would also have to manage myself, because I am useless to her if I can’t get up and run.  I can’t help her out of a sadness hole if I am in my own pain cave (and the road ahead was littered with both).  And, as always, I had to be the Good Attitude Mouse.  Pacing, after all, is not about you. It is about the runner. If you are in pain, bitch to the rest of the crew, but not to the runner. They are in more pain, and they certainly don’t need your negativity.

So, reservations, aside, I headed out for our first ‘sad’ loop. 

Which was not sad at all. In the afternoon light, it was beautiful. The bog was boggy, and my feet were instantly soaked, but the climbs easy, the views spectacular, and the forest peaceful.  The RDs, Jack and Andy, had put sporadic decorations to make you laugh, or freak you out (depending on your tastes). Jordan seemed in better spirits as we chattered away the 5-hour trek.  I learned about the other runners.  There were Greg and Jess, getting things done.  John, the hilariously loud-mouthed Texan. Rebecca, the woman who enjoyed Death Races, walking along determinedly with ferns in her hair to keep the mosquitoes out of her hat.  Joel, who had just attempted a “Beer 100m” (run a mile, drink a beer, repeat x100. Yes, that’s a real thing), and was helping everyone with foot care.  Will, who was trying for 200 miles in his third trail race ever.  Mark, who had just run 200 miles a few weeks prior. They are inspiring and amazing people, all.  It would be my honor to get to know them and their crews over the course of the week.

 Bog life. Miles and miles of mud

We strategized out there. We made a plan to get her to eat (melted butter all the things!).  We talked about timing. Her feet hurt. She was sure she had some blisters under the tough calluses on her forefoot.  I was twitchy and wanted to run, but knew I had to reign it in for the long haul. 

 not creepy at all: The solar powered baby lights of the upper loop

We powered through that loop, and Sarah had a meal waiting for us back at the lodge.  The sun was going to set soon, so I would accompany her on the top loop as well. Then we would sleep for a few hours, and get before sunrise to tackle the bottom loop. This way we would maximize the daylight on the bottom loop. The upper one was much easier, psychologically.   The plan was for her to make 2 full figure 8s per day.  If things held up, she really only wanted me to run the bottom loops with her, to the tune of about 32 miles per day. Her boyfriend, Ben, was showing up in a day and even though he was coming off of a 48 hour adventure race, he could handle one 10 mile loop per day, and she could do the other 10 in daylight by herself.  What a great plan! How easy!  This was going to be cake.

a 'not sad' view from the 'sad' loop

That cakey feeling lasted until about 2 miles into the top loop, when we hit the one mile, 1000ft climb up Mt. Romance.  This was not unexpected. There are a million highs and lows in your normal ultra, so I was prepared to talk her out of some dark times. And to me, on fresh legs, in the sunset, it did not feel bad at all.  To Jordan, it was hell.  She had been putting up a brave face about how much her feet hurt.  It dissolved when the sun went down.  We made it to the top (signified by a clown hanging upside down from a tree, because Andy and Jack are sociopaths). 

 

Soon the whimpering started. A few more miles, and she started half crying and asking me if she was tough enough to do this.  I had to dip into my bag of pacing tricks to get her out of her sadness hole.  Music to the rescue!  I cued up my iphone and became her hype man. I was playing anything I could think of to keep her mind off of her feet.  There was something hilarious and ridiculous about running through a deserted forest at night, blasting “Get Low” and repeating inspirational slogans.  A punk cover of “Country Roads” got her spirits up, as it turned out that was the alma mater of her childhood summer camp. So we sang that.  The fleeting good time didn’t last. She started apologizing for this not being ‘fun’ (which I actually laughed out loud at – this was going to be many things, but I don’t know if ‘fun’ was something I was expecting).  I told her singing her camp song was fun for me.  Finally, we hit upon The Refreshments “Banditos” (everybody knows that the world is full of stupid people…).  That did it. She was up and signing and we were back to laughing.  Then we saw the set of 8 Barbie torsos in jars – which were the decorations that signaled the end of the loop (Andy and Jack are sick), and were happy to be home. 

We put her feet up and tried to drain the blisters under her callus.  Trouble was, we couldn’t find any.  Not knowing what to do, we fashioned a donut (a pad with a hole cut in the middle…you put it around a blister to relieve the pressure on the affected spot), and got her into bed.  Before she went to sleep, Sarah and I concocted a mixture of soup, melted butter, and the oil poured off a jar of natural peanut butter that seemed to help her. She drank two of those, and we borrowed more butter to put in her oatmeal the next morning. Sara was going to get up at 330am to get everything ready, and we would be off at 430am to do the bottom loop.  I had formed my own blister after running in wet feet, but it was only a friction blister, high on my left heel. So I drained it, cleaned it, put on some NuSkin (ow ow OW OW), and bandaged it. It would give me no trouble, though I took care to keep it clean and dry.

Jordan had her buttered oats and an Ensure for breakfast.  I ate some pancakes, and we were off. The extra calories had her feeling better, but her feet were still not happy. We traversed the bog, and Sarah met us at the top (there was a place she could drive to). Jordan cursed and tore off the donut device. We re-taped and changed shoes, and everything was better.

Sunrise through the trees of the bottom loop

Now, a series of mistakes were made. We did not know at the time how these things would cascade into insurmountable disaster. 

1.     Jordan was having forefoot trouble (the uneven terrain was hard on forefoot strikers). She thought it was blisters under a tough callus.

2.     In order to take pressure off the forefoot, she started landing on her heels in her zero drop shoes.

3.     Her Achilles started hurting, but it was ignored, because it was the least of all the hurts.      

What we really needed was a pair of traditional, 12mm drop running shoes that would let her land on her heel more without changing her stride as much.  But, as we are all trend monkeys, no one had a shoe with a drop over 4mm.  This turned out to be a fatal flaw, although we did not know it yet. 

more 'decorations'

The loops started blending into each other, until we could no longer ignore her foot pain. She needed to get that pressure off.  So, we laid her on the ground, gave her a pillow to bite and my hand to squeeze.  Joel grabbed his needle and blister kit. He had to get under her callus to drain the blister. This was going to be hell. 

An hour of needles and screaming later –there was no blister.  Nothing to drain.  It turns out she had bruised her forefoot, and then jabbed needles into it.  There was nothing that could be done for a forefoot bruise, except try to pad the hell out of it.  So we put her in her Altra Olympus (zero drop – MISTAKE!), and shoved some socks into the arch to make her land on her heels (MISTAKE MISTAKE).  It alleviated the pain and she was back to feeling good.  She took the night off to give her feet a break.  This was great for me, because I am also a forefoot striker, and my feet were beginning to throb as well. After one soggy loop, I had come in, peeled off my socks, and had my big toe callus peel off with them.  GAH. I was tired and hungry myself.  There was one hot meal a day provided by the Infinitus crew.  I came in and motored through an entire plate of noodles before I noticed that there were giant chunks of chicken in it (I have been a vegetarian for over 15 years). As a testament to just how hungry I was…I shrugged and got another plate. 

Added bonus to the night off – it allowed Jordan to drain.  I’m not kidding. Her calorie imbalance had led to a 12lb weight gain over the first week.  She was retaining ALL the fluid.  Eating, drinking water (and butter), and rest led to a lot of peeing, and she was down 6lbs of those pounds by the morning. 

Ben was there by that time, and he took her on the lower loop in the morning. I thought I would do the rest of the day with her…I just needed a few extra hours to get my feet together.  Well, that’s when the thunderstorm hit.  One of Jordan’s deepest fears is lightening. This race was going to make sure she faced that fear.  While I waited nervously in the lodge (which lost power), Jordan and Ben were forced through some insane times.  She was already depressed because she thought her race was gone (she stopped to cry on many a rock). Then she made it back to the bog, and the skies opened up.  She screamed and cried and shook in terror, but kept putting one foot in front of the other. By the time she made it back, she was loopily signing.  I could only offer her lukewarm coffee (still no power), but she was grateful for it.  The rest of the day she took off. We needed to hit the full reset button.  Her feet were in so much pain.  She needed a break. 

Still, the next day, we went out and did another figure 8, which was back to being awesome. We were having so much fun again, singing and tromping through the woods. We did the time calculations, and she could still make the cut off, but it was going to take everything she had, and we could not have another setback.  We had infinite hope. She stopped every now and then to stretch her Achilles, but hey, that wasn’t anything to worry about (IT WAS VERY MUCH SOMETHING TO WORRY ABOUT). We were experiencing the meat of what Infinitus had to throw at us.  We had worked up a joke that we were in The Hunger Games.  Just when you thought you were safe, Andy would release some new hell. He was out there letting crates of deet-tolerant mosquitoes loose. He was magically making the loops longer (our Garmins agreed), and somehow tilting everything so it was uphill both ways.  He put bobcats and bears in our path. He cued the lightening.  One loop, we came across a tub of Trail Toes (foot lubricant of the gods), and lapsed into hysterical laughter because we had sponsors! Our thanks to the people of District 11! 

I let Jordan do the next top loop alone, because she was in great spirits, it was light out, and I was still managing my own foot bruising. 

Three hours later, she came back to the lodge. I gave a whoop and asked her how she felt. 

She burst into tears and blood started pouring out of her nose. 

Whelp.

Whelp.

We got her head back and took her shoes off. The 72 and 48 hour racers that had gathered for registration looked on in fear. What had happened out there?

Turns out her Achilles totally blew up at the top of Mt. Romance. She had hiked up, feeling great, putting in one of her best times ever.  Then she just couldn’t move.  She basically had to crawl back to the lodge. It was pretty clear that her race was over, just short of 400 miles, but she was still in bargaining mode. If someone could just stabilize her heel! We could tape it! She could still walk until the end! There were still 3 days left!  DAMNIT SHE COULD DO IT. 

Ben went into Voice-Of-Reason mode.  Was another loop worth a year of rehab to her?  What if she snapper her Achilles entirely?  What would it take?  There was no warning for that. If it was going to go, it would just go.  She agreed to take a day off and see.

So, with no pacing to do for her, I started making loops with other people.  Rebecca and Shirley (who was in the 48 hour race). Jess’s pacer and I did a backwards loop and brought calories to those who needed it one particularly hot day.  We also took pictures of the racers out there.  Jess was having her own foot hell, and also had to drop out.  It was similar to Jordan’s, just much more far gone. Her feet were covered in blisters. Every loop required an hour of draining and care that rivaled Jordan’s own scream-fest.  She was a zombie, being led around by her pacers and asleep on her feet. She put herself on antibiotics to counter the growing infection.  Her mom started having to leave the room during foot care.  It got to be hard to watch. She was shaking and crying while her crew was packing her up to go back out there. It made me uncomfortable. Still, her race, her choice.  She kept going until it was clear that she would do herself irreparable harm.  We can debate whether or not this was toughness or stupidity. It was probably both.  But she had a goal, and she gave it her all.  It was something to see. At times worrying, at times inspiring.  It gave my brain a lot to chew on.  How can a person just keep. on. going. like that?  What strength must that take?  I will be thinking about that for a while. 

Jordan, for her part, still refused to believe it was over.  But, in her down time, she decided to learn more about foot care, and help the newer racers who showed up.  We all resolved to buy and memorize the book “Fixing Your Feet” by John Vonhof. (http://www.amazon.com/Fixing-Your-Feet-Prevention-Treatments/dp/0899976387).  It was invaluable, and Joel even emailed the author questions about Jess’s foot treatment while it was ongoing. He responded! 

The rest of the race was fun for me. Jordan never did get back out there, but she was energized. This experience changed her life. A lifelong perfectionist, she said that ‘this failure meant more than any previous success’.  She is determined to do it next year. I will absolutely be back to pace. 

OH! And Greg actually finished! He even made it 29 hours early!  Ben and Joel accompanied him on his last loop. His mom had the three of them light sparklers at the start. We drove to a few places and saw them along the way. Once, we went to the top of the bog and brought beers. We sat in the dark forest and talked about life while waiting to encourage Greg on his impossible victory. It was nice.  We woke up at 2am and saw him in.  God knows Andy is going to make this harder next year. He never expected anyone to make it, let alone over a day early.  Hunger Games!

 

Putting it into perspective: A visual representation of how far Greg could have run from his house in Boulder, had he not been running in circles in Vermont

Other thoughts:

-I didn’t touch on it, but the 48 hour race deserved its own report.  The people who showed up were not the ultra runners I am used to. It was the Spartan Death Race/Crossfit crowd.  There was a distinct inverse relationship between the length of race and amount of crying of its participants.  I don’t mean this to say that these people were pussies - far from it.  They just were not ultra runners (for the most part - there were some spindly people out there too J). They were people looking to challenge themselves. They just wanted to see how far they could make it.  Would they outlast traditional ultra runners? No, of course not. But that’s not the point.  I would be crying just as hard in a Death Race. The point was them testing limits.  Again, we can debate the tough vs. stupid side of this, but I saw so much courage out there, that it would be difficult to get snobby about it. 

-Allow me to get snobby for a second anyway:  Dudes, running is hard. Train or something.  Just because you can do a million burpees, doesn’t mean you can run 100 miles.  This is not directed at everyone, or even most of them- just the loud ones.  As in any population and sport, the loudest, most dude-broiest, were the first ones to crumble.  Jordan, with her new outlook on life, felt pity and hoped they learned their lesson and would come around. I’m not as good of a person and had a laugh at watching some bravado get taken down a notch.  Then I got them a burger and a coke.  Its all good. 

-I paced 140ish miles. I kept loose track, but my Garmin details are off. Sometimes it died. Sometimes I grabbed someone else’s Fenix for a loop (there were a few of them around and it was hard to keep everyone’s straight).  It was the most I had ever run. Andy gave me a tshirt and a medal for it, which made me supremely happy.

-I learned that you need to brush your teeth four times a day in things like this, or else you will get mouth sores from all the sugar. 

-My Brooks Pure Grit 3s and Altra Olympus 1.5s were great in this…but I really needed some traditional shoes too.  I would get a pair of Sketchers Go Pros or something next time around.

-I learned to accept new levels of dirt.  The showers weren’t constructed at the ski lodge. We only had a hose next to the barn and rain. So I ran an ultra every day and showered all of once.  The rest of the time it was wet wipes.  I’m still surprised I didn’t lose my shit entirely because of this.

- I still find the whole experience difficult to wrap my mind around.  I don’t know if I am an entirely different person on the other side, but I cannot say that this didn’t change me.  I have this vague sense now that limits are meaningless and self-constructed.  I am only bound by what I am willing to do, and what I am not willing to do. 

-Anyone could do this.  It does not take an elite athlete. It just takes desire.  If you are thinking about signing up to do something you feel is impossible – just go for it.  You will absolutely surprise yourself.  You can do it. I believe in you. 

 

The 8 happy chickens of the lower loop believe in you too!

The glory of the finish line photo

Hey! Not a bad photo! Look at how high that kick is on the follow through! Someone's been doing form drills!
 
Wait. This reminds me of something...
 
I can't quite put my finger on it...
 
 
 
 
 

There is is.

Simply majestic.

Adventures in Ultrarunning, Part II: Leona Divide 50km race report.


Where I ended my Part 1 saga: I was, with only a few days notice, going to run the Leona Divide 50km race.  Now, I don’t want to say I was untrained for it. I was what we’ll call “semi-trained”.  I had no doubts about making it the distance.  I had done several runs in the 16-22 mile range the weeks before.  I was just concentrating on running a decent, flat road marathon, not a decent trail ultra with 4500ft of climbing.  I had run flat tempo runs and intervals.  Not sustained climbs (ok, I had done a few sustained climbs.  I ran the twin 2000ft climbs of Trippet Ranch a few weeks prior – and took a hard fall in the process - but one trail run/week is not what I would normally be running to be competitive). 

But I still wanted to do well.  A quick check at ultrasignup revealed a handful of local competition that was around my level (the true pro super stars had all run Lake Sonoma the week before, or were in the 50 miler, and the local marathon specialists were in Boston).  I knew I could place near the top, unless there were a bunch of newbs ready to dominate their first ultra (as I would find out, there was only one newb ready to dominate her first ultra).  The weather reports were also showing climbing heat.  I couldn’t do anything about weather or competition, so I decided to ignore it.  I targeted a finish time of 5:30, which I thought I could do based on training and times spent running a section of the course. Everything else would sort itself out. 

Race Plan

There were two drop bag stations along the course. I didn’t really think I would need them, but I like to have stuff in them ‘just in case’.  The first one was at mile 9.  I deposited a pair of socks, Vaseline, and two Tangerine Powergels in it.  I decided to start running in my long sleeve, since it was kind of cold (and I wanted to avoid sausage fingers). I could throw it into my bag at 9, and get my powergels out. I would only be running with one Nathan Handheld (20oz), in which I would also carry two powergels.  I could get extra stuff at aid stations.  The one wrinkle in this is that the aid stations carry Clif products, which is not my preferred brand.  But I didn’t think it would be a problem.  I would see my second bag at mile 22.  I stocked it a bit more. Socks, powergels, bodyglide again, but also a change of clothes, blister pads, and ginger pills.  Failing to plan is planning to fail, after all.  Or something.

 

http://www.jesseluna.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Elevation-chart-LD-50k.png

 

The race is a “Y” shaped course, and very runable.  2.6 miles up to the first aid station, then 6 miles along one stretch of the Y, then back to the triple junction, then 7 miles out on the second arm, then back, and the final 2.6 miles home.  The first 5 miles are up, then a nice 4 miles down, back up those same brutal 4 miles, then a 2 mile down hill towards a more running, rolling portion. The last 2.6 miles would be down down down. My gameplan was to stay within a few minutes of the leaders, then let my mad downhill skillz and general endurance fitness carry me past whoever I could get past in the last 3 miles.  The course is totally exposed – no shade to be seen.  So I would have to resist the temptation to pour my scant water resources on my head.  Its also pretty runable. There are large climbs, but nothing terrible like SOB.  I knew from previous runs that there would be a hiking mile here or there, but I really wanted to RUN as much of this race as possible.  Of course, that is also the rub:  More running = more energy expended.  A brutal elevation profile includes more hiking, which will keep your legs a bit fresher for the end.   This elevation isn’t terrible. So it can be a bit rougher and more tiring. My plan was to run around 12 minute miles on the ups, and 8 minutes on the downs, for a 10ish overall pace.  This would put me at 5 hours 20 minutes. I threw in 10 minutes for aid station slop and there is my 5:30. Another wrinkle in the course is the 'slant' - its mostly single track trail, that slopes down slightly to the outside. So it can be precarious and hard on the ankles.

Pre-race

I didn’t have much time to think about it. I did an emergency taper.  A 9-mile run the week before, I upped my calories and carb ratios to the point where I was FLOODED with energy, A few 3-4 mile jogs in the days leading up to the race.  And that was that.

I was able to sleep decently the night before, and was up at 4am the day of.  I was honestly unsure if my race started at 6 or 630.  Originally there were two different start times, but I wasn’t getting updates because I wasn’t on the race list yet, and the website, ultrasignup, and twitter said different things.  I had friends running the 50-miler that I wanted to see off though, and knowing that I had to sort out my registration with timing, I decided to get there early.  I threw on my clothes (Browns shorts, Shock Absorber Ultimate Run Bra, a Dirt Divas t shirt, a hot pink UA long sleeve and my Brooks Pure Grit 3s), plus some gloves and some Zensah calf sleeves.  I ate oatmeal with banana and chia seeds, and had a cup of coffee. I couldn’t really choke down the oatmeal, though I was feeling good otherwise.  In order to get enough calories, I mixed up a bottle of Perpetuum to drink en route, and headed out on the hour drive to Lake Hughes, CA. 

I made it to the start line about 5:40am.  I checked in, and found that Keira had already taken care of my timing, because she is awesome.  So I pinned on my number, and deposited my drop bags.  I drank some water and peed.  Good thing too, because BOTH races actually started at 6am, due to heat concerns.  I did run into some people on the course who were a half hour behind because they were late.  Yay cautiousness! So with about 5 minutes to spare, I lined up.  A girl to my right nervously asked me if this was my first ultra. It was hers. I told her no, and not to worry, it was just like going for a hike.  She said “well I’m going to try to run”.  I thought “more power to you”.  If she was faster, there was no point in trying to keep up. Either she was going to go out like a shot and die when heat and distance took its toll, or she would be able to maintain a high level that I wouldn’t be able to match.  If the former, I would catch her in the last miles. If the latter, I would burn myself out trying to keep up.  It is usually best to run your own race. 

The Race

And we’re off! 

 Minus a few walk breaks of a couple seconds for very steep parts, I am very proud of myself for running the whole way to the first aid station.  I wanted 12 minute miles, and I was in the 9s.  Hrm. Perhaps too fast, we shall see.  I barely stopped to refill my water bottle, and was off again on the long climb to the crest, before the 4 miles down to the second aid station.  Last time I had made this climb, it took me nearly 15 minutes.  This time, I tucked in behind a pack, and ran the whole way.  I switched my watch from mileage to altitude (I do this when I don’t want to obsess over how long something is taking me – I just want to know how much further ‘up’ I have to go). Before I knew it, we were cresting the ridge. I ran the whole way up.  This time it took me 11:50.  I was getting too ahead of myself.  But I had such a lovely downhill in front of me, so I swallowed my first powergel and bombed on down to the 9 mile aid station.

 

 Decent energy on the downs! But look at that cloudless sky.

The ‘new’ girl I had spoken to was already on her way back out when I was still a half mile from the aid station.  I gave her a hearty cheer. If she can keep that pace, she deserves to beat me.  The rest of the lead women’s pack (and some men) were all bunched up. And none of them were lingering at the aid station – so I filled my water, downed some coke, made the executive decision to grab some shot bloks and a clif gel rather than wait for my drop bag, and ran out of there when they did.

Only about a mile later did I realize that I had forgotten to take off my long sleeve when I said “bye Felicia” to my drop bag.  And it was getting hot.  I took my remaining powergel, and would be taking shot bloks every 10-15 minutes after.  I was way ahead of pace for the first 10 miles, so I gave myself permission to calm down and walk the incline. It was getting hot anyway, and my long sleeve was oppressive.  I would have taken it off and left it, but NO LITTERING ON THE TRAIL. Especially not on this trail (the PCT doesn’t need a reason to reject permits – don’t give them one).  So I held on to it.  Now, as I went climbing, I started to feel bad. I was hot. My stomach hurt.  Things were seemingly getting worse every 10 minutes with the addition of each shot blok to the system. Though there was one bright spot – as I neared the top, a guy said “hey I know you!” It was the gentleman who referred to me as a ‘person of consequence’ at SOB.  He said it again, and it made me laugh again. Then he told all his friends about my POC-iness as we climbed. It really took my mind off how awful I was feeling for a bit. 

Thankfully I hit the downhill stretch. My stomach still hurt and I was still hot, but this I could handle.  I didn’t feel good, and stopped eating, but was able to drink water and made it to the aid station at mile 15.  I gave them my long sleeve, then got more water, more coke, and tried eating a potato. It didn’t work, so I grabbed more liquid calories.  Ahead of me, it was 7 miles to the next aid station. 2 miles of runnable rollers, an up, a down, an up, and a final mile down.   I was unable to eat anything at this point and incredible nauseous, and my pace showed it.  The heat was beginning to bake us from the top and the bottom. I thought to myself: “throw up or drop out, because we need to get this situation under control.”  I was in 6th place.  Another woman passed me as I walked.  Well fuck that. I started running and came upon a group of guys that I drafted off of for a while. They were chatty and it helped. I did not want to risk taking more Clif stuff, so I had to make due with water until I could get to my powergels.  It was time to hold on and distract myself with talk.

As the pack of us ran, we came upon others.  One guy gave me a high-five as I passed and said “yeah! real women run far!”. I was wearing my “Dirt Divas” shirt that says “real ladies get dirty” on it, so that made sense.  Then he shouted “Yeah big girls! Big girls run far!”  And awkward silence fell over the group as my jaw dropped. About a mile later someone broke the silence by saying “maybe he meant ‘tall’ ”.

****trail break****

Ok.  Now.  A few things:  First, I recognize that I am not the size of your average lead-pack ultra woman.  BUT, I wear a size 6 for chrissakes (even squeezed my ass into a 4 the other day). I think your average person would look at me and think “athletic and healthy”.    Second, his tone implied he was trying to be nice and encouraging.  I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he did not mean “fuck you fat chick!” or even “wow you are doing well for such a fatty fat fat fat!”  Third, maybe he DID mean ‘tall’ and it just came out horribly, horribly wrong. It was 17 miles into a very hot ultra. Maybe he had trailbrain. I don’t know. But I’m only 5’9.  Its not like Lisa Leslie just rounded the corner on him.

With those qualifiers, People…Please:  DON’T EVER SAY SHIT LIKE THIS TO A PERSON.  ITS NOT COOL.  YOU COME OFF LIKE A HUGE DOUCHE. Even if you are utterly shocked at how freakishly tall someone is - or whatever their seemingly ‘abnormal’ physical attribute is – keep it to yourself.

I ended up beating that guy by over an hour.

****trail break over****

In my disbelief I ran ahead of all of them. I caught the guy and left him in the dust. I ran by the woman that had passed me, and then another.  By the time I reached the mile-long downhill into the aid station at mile 22, I was in 5th place.  1st was way out of my league (she was BOOKING it).  But I was within half a mile of 2nd and 0.2 miles behind 3rd and 4th.  Fourth was my friend Debbie, running in her full Spider Man suit (having done battle with the sun before, she now wants no part of it).

 

 I can't even imagine how she did it in the heat

I ran into the aid station and took a seat in the shade.  I had run out of water before the last downhill and sat drinking cup after cup of cold coke and cold water. I got my drop bag. I took ginger pills to calm my stomach, grabbed my powergels. Re-tied my shoes. Ate some watermelon. 

 

Welcome to the Mile 22 aid station

 

And then I was out of there and up the hill again.  This 7-mile stretch was tough. Perhaps the toughest of the course. I did a lot of mental self-talk.  I just had to make it to the next aid station. Then it was a 2.6 downhill stretch to the finish. If I could make it to aid, I could make it home. I just needed to survive a few miles. I needed to hang on.  The inclines weren’t terrible, but it was exposed and hot. So hot.  I ran out of water 4 miles in.  That was trouble. Real trouble.  There was a woman hot on my heels.  I was feeling better thanks to the ginger pills and powergel, but I was hamstrung by the lack of water.  I came upon 2 guys, and recognized one as Ethan Newberry (The Ginger Runner), who I ran with at the end of my very first ultra.  Thankfully, he had extra water that he gave me.   That saved my race.  The woman behind me came upon the group, and we all ran as a pack for a bit.  It was now mile 25-27, and my body was starting to feel it, having covered the marathon distance that I was actually trained for.  BUT, the happy chatter we had in that group started to pick my spirits up again (also the water helped – and Ethan started filming us. Nothing makes you pull your shit together faster than having someone aim a camera at you).  I took my last powergel, and bid the group farewell. The woman did not follow. But every time I rounded a corner, and went out of site, I pushed the pace.  If every time she saw me, I was a bit further away from her, maybe she wouldn’t give chase. 

I landed at the last aid station. Sweet holy god, I was gonna make it.  They told me I was in 4th (could have sworn I was in 5th). I asked when 3rd had left, and they said 2-3 minutes ahead of me.  So I downed a coke got my water filled, and said “well lets burn it down then”.  The captain laughed and said “well you can burn it down, but first you have to tell me about how you’ve been taking electrolytes” (it was hot and they were concerned about their runners because they are excellent people).  After satisfying his mind, I was off to go hunting. 

So I ran. Oh how I ran these downhills.  I pounded these trails for all I was worth.  In the baking heat, with dead legs, I ran.  I hit mile 30, and there was an up! Who put this god forsaken up here????  Oh it was so hard.  I felt like I was crawling up this quarter mile long hill. I poured all my water over my head. Finally, FINALLY I got to the top and was able to run again.  I passed a guy who was so cramped up he was duck walking down the trail. I tried to encourage him, but it came out “dhfijadpsihfger;grfdt” with a thumbs up.  I hope I didn’t call him fat on accident.  I turned off the trail and reached the mile-long paved road to the finish.  The volunteer told me to stay to the left and I replied with “Ow OW ow ow” because my legs seized as soon as I pounded down on asphalt instead of trail.   And that’s when I saw Debbie ahead of me in her spider man outfit.  I wish I didn’t have to pass a friend, but all’s fair in love and ultra running, so I put the afterburners on.  She knew I was coming (how could she not? I sound like a horse clomping downhill), and she had words of encouragement when I passed. 

I didn’t let up. I just kept going faster, I wanted it to be over.  My watch ticked off a 6:34 mile and I started passing cars parked along the road.  There were people with medals on their necks. Someone said “You’re almost there!”  I angrily yelled at him “BUT HOW FAR????”  I think I wanted a mileage or something.  It was literally around the corner.

Sweet holy jeebus, there it is. The finish line.  I jumped across it happily.

Keira hung a medal around my neck, and handed me my Trophymug.  I had come in 4th (I suspected the aid station people had misquoted my place).  I walked to the side, and was asked if I needed anything. “water” was all I could say.  Keira got me water and asked me if I wanted a seat in the shade.  I responded by sitting my ass in the dirt and staying there for a bit.  Debbie came in soon after, in 5th.

 

Trophymug says: "fill me with beer!"

 

Post Race

I sat in the dirt for a while.  I did eventually get up, when people started to come to talk to me.  Turns out, 3rd place was a minute or so ahead of me. 2nd was about 10 minutes.  1st, who had run a spectacular first ultra, laid all of us to waste.  But she came up to Debbie and I (and the girl who was right behind me in 6th) and struck up a conversation.  She said she had such a great time, and she couldn’t believe how nice everyone was (its true – trail races are much more cordial than road races).  Ethan came across the line and we chatted with him and his girlfriend (Mile Long Legs) for a bit.  It was all pretty glorious.  Keira’s fiancé, Jesse Haynes (who has normally witnessed me swelling uncontrollably or sick and miserable as can be) came up to us and said “woah you caught her!!!”  Debbie said “of course she did”.  It was nice of her, given my sort of dick move of passing her in the last half mile. 

Debbie and I stuck around for a bit, eating, drinking from our mugs, and cheering for other Divas who crossed the line. We sat at the picnic tables in the forest, talking to people and just soaking up the atmosphere.  It really enforces how ultrarunning is a community.  And…I’ll admit it: Its something of an ego boost. I have this habit of sprinting like mad to the finish of ultras, and people remember it, and often come up to me and comment on it.  I’m not a pro ultra runner, but its nice to feel a tiny bit famous sometimes. At least in our little side niche of a niche of a niche, I can sometimes be A Person of Consequence. 

I wanted to wait for some of the 50-milers to come through, but with the heat, they were going to be a while. My friends had checked into an aid station very far away (mile 26ish), and I knew I would not make it four more hours, so I peaced out.  On my way to the car, I ran into the girls.  WHA? How did that happen. Turns out the heat was getting to everyone. Due to nausea, they had to drop out.  Knowing how heartbreaking a DNF can be, I was really upset for them, but both took it with grace, which is sometimes all you can do.  Both will be back, I have no doubt.

It turns out that overall, Leona had a 35% drop rate this year.  The apparent temperature climbed to over 100 degrees out there (at the front of the 50k, the worst I temps I saw were 86-88 degrees, and that still felt terrible, so I can hardly imagine the pain those runners were in). 

Overall Impressions

This was a great race. Well run, pretty, well stocked, very efficient.  A good course for a first ultra. Challenging but not horrid.  Storied.  Inspiring.  My drop bags were waiting for me at the finish, along with homemade vegetarian chili and a keg of beer. 10/10, WB.  I could have taken 3rd and maybe a run at 2nd if I hadn’t had nausea problems and run out of water, but it is what it is.  Given the training and the short notice, I am thrilled with this result.

That heat though. Oof.

 

 

Adventures in Ultrarunning Part 1: The Long Road to Leona

Its been a while since I’ve updated anything- so here are the last few month’s of races crammed into one post.  Part 2 will include the glorious comeback. 

 

A long road led me to the Pacific Crest Trail last Saturday to run the fabled Leona Divide 50/50.  It started back in October.  I was all trained and tuned up and ready for a sub-3:10 attempt at the Chicago Marathon.  It was perhaps a little too windy for my goal, but I was running a solid 3:12-3:13 when BAM. I slipped at an aid station and felt several things in my leg pull at once.  I tried to run a few more miles, but my body was throwing red flags up all over the place, and I had to swallow my first DNF.  A miserable day turned funny as I sat on a bench back at the finish line.  I was the saddest of pandas, blinking back tears all alone at Buckingham Fountain, when I heard someone call my name.  I looked over and saw my friend and Girls Heart Rockets teammate Cindy hobbling toward me on crutches.  Turns out she tripped over a fire hydrant on her way to the start line and ripped every ligament in her ankle.  GAH!  She even tried to run the race, but realized about 3/4ths of a mile in that it was just not going to happen.  Our twin sadness became laughter and we headed toward the beer tent.  (For what it’s worth, Cindy recovered enough to run the Boston Marathon in 3:21this morning). 

 

 

Cindy and I are the saddest sads that ever did sad

When the dust settled and the inflammation went down, I was diagnosed with a femoris strain.  It wasn’t bad, but I was not allowed to run for a few weeks. I was sad about what had happened, so I put together an aggressive recovery and race schedule.  I was determined to capitalize on my 3:10 fitness.  My glute, and the gods of running, had other plans.

First up after taking most of November off was an ‘easy’ 30km trail race- Paramount Ranch.  I was cruising in 3rd and biding my time, ready to strike at two good but inexperienced front runners, when I noticed that my hands hurt. I looked down and they were swollen to the size of blowfish.  Now, I sometimes get sausage fingers while racing in the cold (poor circulation and lizard-like bloodflow), but this was some next level shit.  The race was 3x10k loops. I stopped after the second and found the race director/my trail coach, Keira Henninger, who immediately shoved me into a truck with a ranger and called an ambulance.  My neck was also red and swollen, apparently.  I never found out what caused the reaction, but after some benedryl, force-fed to my by Keira’s fiancé, I stopped swelling. My race, however, was over.  I had to settle for 7th in the 20k.  But I didn’t die.

Next up was supposed to be the Camarillo Marathon – a ‘training’ run that would both put my fitness to good use, and prepare me for the Sean O’Brien (SOB) 100k in February.  Well it was painfully obvious that my glute was NOT having the whole ‘fast running on pavement’ thing, so I was forced to just run the half.  Still kept a decent marathon pace though, and felt good enough to go out and cover 7 more miles that night on dirt roads.  This race was kind of fun.  I hadn’t just run a race for ‘fun’ in a long time.  I got some sort of AG award. I forget. It was months ago.

Still, after that I rebounded. In January I found my stride again. My glute calmed down. I started getting good back–to-back long runs in on the weekend, and felt very, very confident heading into my SOB taper.  SOB is a Montrail Ultra Cup race, with the top 2 women and men getting automatic entry into the legendary Western States 100 – the Super Bowl of ultra running.  So naturally it attracts a deep field of runners. It is also one of the more brutal ultras in the world – the 50k has 6,500ft of climbing – 12,500 for the 50 miler, and 16,000 for the 100k.  For perspective – Western States – the famous, leg-destroying Western States- climbs 18,500 ft over 100 miles. 

 

https://therunstuff.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/screen-shot-2015-01-31-at-11-07-21-pm.png

 

Yup. That's it. Hurts just looking at it

 

I wasn’t kidding myself. I wasn’t going to win this race. But I thought I could hit the top 10, and maybe sneak into the top 5 if it was my day. 

 

Two days before SOB, I woke up sick. 

I pretended I wasn’t sick.

I was so sick. 

I did my best to battle back the fever, the aches, the snot, but I was just not going to be well for this race. 

I lined up anyway. Why the hell not. I trained, I paid, I was going to go out there and give it hell as long as possible.  I knew it was going to be a long day by 2 miles in.  I was sweating too much, working too hard, feeling too dizzy.  At sunrise, I told myself I would just run aid station to aid station. I would make any decisions about dropping when I came to them. I would at least make the 50k. 

I hit the 50k turnaround, and just kept going.  I would at least make the 50 mile.  It started raining.  My stomach was fast filling with some post-nasal-drip seriousness.  I was too nauseous to run downhill, too dizzy to run up.

And I was still going to do the whole thing. I really was.  But then, climbing up to the top, I was faced with a decision. Go right and it was 7 miles to the finish. Go left and I had 12 miles down, then up Bulldog Mountain.  Followed by those same 7 miles.  I couldn’t do it. I was dizzy and feverish and weaving on the trails.  So even though I was well ahead of the time cutoffs, I turned right.   It was the correct thing to do.  But I still sort of regret it.  I ran as hard as I could to the finish.  I came upon Jesse Haynes (Keira’s fiancé, team Patagonia member, Western States top 10 ultrarunner- and the one who gave me the benedryl at Paramount) who was maintaining trail markings on the course.  He looked downright shocked to see me, but consoled me and told me I looked great for the circumstances.  I felt a little better and sniffled down my way down the mountain to the finish.  I still managed to sprint in and take 7th place.  Not the day I wanted, but it is sort of nice to know that I could still take on SOB on the worst day of my life. 

And it was the worst. Just the absolute worst.  Never run an ultra sick.  Normally there are moments of horror and pain out there – but there are also moments of beauty and sheer joy, when you just feel like you are flying. There are a thousand little triumphs in your average ultra.  But I have to say: I did not enjoy a single step of this race.  The beauty was lost on me (and it was beautiful – the rain and the mist out there were heaven to most people –it was much cooler than in 2014 and favored faster times).  I, however, have never been so miserable in all my life.  But apparently you wouldn’t have known it to see me sprint in.  A gentleman came up to me as I was throwing on some dry clothes and asked me my name.  He said: “the way you sprinted in – you must be a person of consequence”.  I had to laugh.  He clearly did not see the way the USLTV broadcaster shoved me out of the way to get to my friend Silke when she came in 3rd in the 100k (her husband took 1st on the men’s side and got the WS golden ticket- they are an ultrarunning powerhouse couple).  I have never felt less like a ‘person of consequence’ than while struggling through that race. 

So I did what any sick, disappointed ultra runner would do – I went home and spent the rest of the weekend drinking rye and eating pizza with my friends.  Probably not the best for my body, but at that point, who cared? Certainly not me.

Needless to say, after this stretch of races – freak injury, freak allergy, freak illness – I needed a win. 

And when I need a win- I turn to Girls Heart Rockets.  Our distance relay team does not like to lose.  Last year, our ultra team had to DNF Ragnar Del Sol when two runners came down with horrible illness and could not keep food or water in their system. One was diagnosed with food poisoning – the other with a mystery illness that she is just now getting under control, a year later.  So while the team doesn’t usually repeat races, we had unfinished business in the Arizona desert. 

So less than 2 weeks removed from SOB, I hopped on a flight to Phoenix for some redemption. This year, we would work the rotation a bit differently.  Normal Ragnars are 12 person teams, each running 3 times.  An ultra team can be 6, or 3, or 2 or 1 person.  We were a team of 6, and we each had to run 6 times.  We could either run 2 legs, back to back, 3 times, or do a 6x6 rotation.  We opted for the 6x6.  You have less recovery time that way, but it keeps you on your toes a bit more, and breaks the race into more manageable chunks.  For instance, last year, my first leg ended up being 20 miles (a 13.5 mile leg and a 6.5 mile leg put together). This time, I was running anchor and my longest leg would be the last 7.5 miles.  

We were in high spirits to start.  Since I was running 6th, my first leg (5 very flat miles) weren’t until the heat of the day.  80degrees of baking asphalt wasn’t fun, and perhaps I didn’t need to start off with a 6:50 mile, but it felt good to stretch my legs.  My second leg was a very easy 2.5 mile jog around midnight.  I kept that to about a 7:10 pace and still felt great.  My 3rd leg was rougher – 2 uphill miles to start out with, but then a long 4 mile downhill that welcomed me at 3am.  I was doing alright, my legs felt tired (not surprising after a full glycogen depletion 12 days earlier), but my paces were solid and not declining too much.  I ticked off my 4th leg at about a 7:45 clip (hard to tell because I had to wait for a lot of stoplights).  Then trouble hit.

One of the girls could not get out of the van. She said she was too cold. Too tired. Too weak.  Not really something you want to tell a van of experienced ultra runners who are  also cold and tired and sore – but who will die before letting the team down.  But she wouldn’t get out of the van, so we had to make a plan on the fly.  Legs got shuffled around.  All of a sudden I was running a long, hilly stretch, I wasn’t sure anymore if I was running my planned 33 miles, or 37, or 40 miles.  I just nodded and said I would do whatever the captain needed me to do, dead legs or not. 

The way it worked out, I still ended up with the anchor leg.  7.5 miles of hot, exposed concrete.  The first few miles ran through a busy park.  I didn’t have much trouble clocking a 7:30 first mile – then things got weird. Someone was unhappy about Ragnar being in their park on a Saturday. They were switching course markings and hiding them.  I came upon a 3-way junction where they had stacked three signs, all pointing at each other.  I tried one direction, and found myself wandering on a golf course. I tried another, but didn’t see any blue signs for a while, so I doubled back again (tripled back?).  At last, I found the way I was supposed to go. Someone had taken the next marker, drug it off to the side of the road, and attempted to hide it under a bush.  Pissed off at the time I wasted, but not wanting others to do the same, I tried my best to set the course markings right.  All in all it took about 10-15 minutes of running around to get the signs back in some sort of order.  It completely threw off my rhythm.  There was a water station a few miles later, and I told the volunteers what happened. They said they would call a race director in and I was free to continue on my way, now having run some bonus miles and really messed up my times.  I was just hoping I didn’t screw up the win for the team.

I used my anger to fuel my tired legs along the river path.  It was so hot and I was so tired. I remembered that I had stuck a gel in my water bottle pocket, just in case.  Sweet Powergel saves me again!  Renewed, I climbed out of the river path and hit the last three miles, which ran through a town of strip malls and crosswalks.  I got caught at every. Damned. One.  Team vans stopped at lights laughed at my obvious frustration and cheered me on in my determination.  I suddenly found myself engulfed in Cubs fans.  It hit me that the finish was at the Cubs Spring Training site! I must be there! And suddenly there was a volunteer, giving me instructions on where to turn. I could see the finish.  I broke into a sprint again. I saw my team and was so happy! We all ran across together and were able to celebrate. 

And even though my last leg was something of a fiasco, we still won the Women’s ultra division by 3 hours. We even beat all the 12 person women’s teams.  Plus, the medals were really cool! 

 

They have a bottle opener! They band says "ultra" on it!

 

Bonus puzzle to be solved when you put the whole team together!

Finally, I felt I was officially back on track. 

My next plan was to get back a good marathon.  I was offered a position at a university in France – something I could come and go to, having my permanent home in LA, but going there several months out of the year to work.  I would need a visa, but that shouldn’t be a huge deal. Right?

So with the idea that I would be in France come April 1st, I started looking for races.  The Dusseldorf marathon came to my attention. It was pretty, flat, inexpensive, and right in the time frame (it is on April 26th). I could cut back my overall miles (to about 30-40 per week), and increase my ‘quality’ miles, doing speedwork and whatnot. I might not break sub 3:10 – but I could do pretty well and get some speed confidence back before I started training for Chicago again. For long runs, I kept training with Keira’s “Dirt Divas” – they were all training for the Leona Divide 50/50. Those runs were relaxing and not too terrible on my body.

 I started the visa process.  The first step is easy – the local prefecture signs your “Convention d’accueil” and the university sends it to you.  With that in hand, you can visit your local French consulate and get your work visa, which takes about 10 days to process.

I sat. I waited. And waited. And waited.  It took over 2 months for this first stupid step to happen.  In theory, the whole process should take about 20 days.  F*ck you, France.  Fcking cheese-eating surrender monkeys.  When the convention wsa not at my house by April 13th – I knew Dusseldorf was out.  What the hell was I going to do now? 

 I frantically emailed Keira.  I’m stuck with no race to run! HALP!

On April 16th, 2 days before the race, she let me know that I was cleared to run the 50k.Someone had dropped out and I could take their place.  Best of all, I could run under my own name.  

Next up:  Part 2: “So you’re stuck in the country and you decided that running 50 km was the best thing to do to pass the time”

Fat Dog 120 Pace Report

A few months ago, my friend Jordan put out a call for pacers for this race:  

http://www.mountainmadness.ca/fatdog.php

The tagline of this race is "Just Short of Everest".  Over 120 miles, a runner will climb 8,672.7 meters (the elevation of Mt. Everest is 8848 meters).  So, this is serious business.  It has been listed as one of the 10 toughest ultras in the world, and is the 2nd toughest in North America, only surpassed by Hardrock 100.  It takes place in E.C. Manning Park, in British Columbia.  This race is a killer, but its also one of the more beautiful places you could ever run.  I jumped at the chance to pace this course.

http://www.mountainmadness.ca/photos/images/Fat%20Dog/heather_wildflowers.gif

So what does pacing entail?  Why do ultra runners even need pacers?  

Well, remember, 120 miles is a hella long way. We're talking 30+ hours of running. No sleep, constantly moving, trying to get up Mt. Everest.  People can get a little screwy.  Pacers are there to make sure that the runner isn't in danger.  You make sure they eat, try to keep them to their schedule.  You keep them together, keep them moving, keep them from quitting. You talk to them while they are crying while walking uphill.  If they are too far gone, you keep them alive until you get to an aid station so you can drop out.  You tell them they are doing well.  How exactly you go about doing this depends on your runner, so you better know them well (are they they kind of person who wants quiet encouragement, or do they need you to keep talking about something, ANYTHING, so they don't have to think about how much their feet hurt?).  The most important thing to remember about pacing is this:  IT IS NOT ABOUT YOU.  No matter what problems you might be having, you don't get to bitch about it.  Obviously you have to make sure you are eating, and taking care of yourself, but you are there for your runner.  You may have to hand feed them canned fish (did it), or give them your socks (yup), or body glide them (what are friends for?) or hand them your caffeinated gels when they start getting a headache at 5am (sigh - yes).  You may be cold and terrified and pissy and tired and chafing, but you have to keep that to yourself. You are there to drag their carcass across the finish line come hell or high water.  Pacing is a selfless thing. You pay money to run half or a third of a race for someone else. There is no glory in it, it is just something you do because another human needs your help. You don't even get a T shirt.  It sounds like a sucker's job (and it kinda is), but it is something I love about ultra running.  

 

So I flew to Portland late Wednesday night (the race started 10am Friday morning, and we had to be in BC to do packet pickup and drop bag sorting by 3pm Thursday).  Early Thursday morning, we woke up and headed out with her parents to pick up the another of her pacers, one other runner, and her boyfriend's pacer (her parents rented a giant SUV to accommodate all the people and gear).  I kind of love how ultra running is like college- random people just show up and crash on your floor or get in your car.  Its nice!

Jordan shared her goals with us.  

A goal:  Under 36 hours (you get a special buckle).

Super Secret goal: New course record.  Old Course record was 33:49

Not mentioned goals:  Win the damn race. One has to think if she got the record, she would win.  

My portion would be from miles 40-80. Bonnivier Aid Station to Sumallo.  Based on the calculated splits, she would see me around 8pm, and I would get 12 hours, through the entire night. We would head up a mountain, then descend in the dark.  

The race began at a beautiful river.  The runners got onto a bridge, where Jordan nervously waved at us. The gun went off, and they started trucking up the switchbacks.

 

The next we saw her was at mile 18. Jordan cruised in in 3rd place. She requested a change of shirt, a handheld bottle with three scoops of Hammer Perpetuem (a nutritional suppliment for ultra runners that has a blend of carbs and protein that won't upset the stomach at heartrates below 70% of max). a change of shoes, and some canned herring. Since she didn't want herring on her hands, we took turns feeding it to her.  Her toes were also starting to bother her, so as a precaution, she taped them with duct tape.

Embedded image permalink

The next crew access point wasn't until mile 40, where I would start running with her.  The crew drove there, about an hour and a half ride. On the way we stopped so I could get a hot meal of pasta to fuel myself for the night run. I began to get ready. I wore compression shorts with a mesh overlay, a singlet, a green Saucony long sleeve, white hat, yellow gloves, Balega trail socks (extra padding!), my Garmin (which I knew would only lost 6-7 hours), and a newish pair of Brooks Pure Grit 3 trail shoes. Note: I also had on a Shock Absorber Ultimate Run Sportsbra. I have been looking for a go-to running bra since Under Armour discontinued the Endure. This one was great. 12 hours, no chafing!

I had my Black Diamond headlight, which has a low and high setting. I brought extra batteries in case it pooped out on me before dawn.  For fuel, I had my Nathan hydration pack with 2L bladder for water. I also had a handheld that I would fill and pop tabs of Nuun (an electrolyte supplement) into.  I had my powergels (tangerine with caffeine).  I grabbed some Clif Shots and a Clif bar at the aid station, and planned on eating food at the aid stations along the way. 

 

Ready to go as soon as this vaseline gets where it needs to be! 

 

In high spirits, we left the aid station and ran up a wide fire road.  I got the scoop on how she was feeling.  We were actually moving very well, then took a left onto a single track trail in the forest, and turned on our lights.  Our ascent had begun.  

The trail was technical. It was narrow. It was on the side of a cliff. It was sloped and overgrown. Pretty difficult, and Jordan started getting angry at it.  About an hour in, my light flickered off high, and stayed on low.  It wouldn't go back to high, and I was rendered pretty unable to see.  I had to lag behind for a bit, tried changing the batteries, but it was a no go.  I was starting to get worried about what was going to happen, when Jordan's BF and his pacer came upon me.  They had an extra handheld light that they donated, and I was back on.  I caught up to Jordan. She was whimpering uphill (a pacer's worst nightmare - I left her alone in the forest and when I got back to her, she was alone and crying).  She said "Are we still going uphill? Why do I feel so bad?" I assured her that we were, in fact, still going uphill.  It was starting to get foggy.  She swore that we had to have missed the aid station.  She told me the volunteer said it was 12km away. Thankfully, I had looked at the race guide and knew that it was 12 miles, not 12km.  At this she let loose a torrent of curses against the volunteer. They were all "liars" after that.  Thankfully, the hill flattned out to more rolling landscape. In a bit, we came to a poriton where the trail was lined with glowsticks, welcoming us into the Heather Aid Station.  About 30 seconds later, we both started shaking uncontrollably. It was cold and windy, and once we stopped moving, we got uncomfortable in a hurry. I grabbed us both some veggie broth and got her a quesadilla while the volunteers filled our water bottles.  I notice a bottle of Scotch among the offerings, and thought about it for a hard minute before passing (apparently her BF and his pacer both partook).  The cold was incredible. The Volunteers had wrapped Jordan in an emergecy blanket while she ate. I shook so hard that I spilled a bunch of water into my Nuun tube while trying to get a tab out. I didn't notice, and closed it. 30 seconds later, it exploded. I had created a Nuun bomb. no more Nuun for me.  We both knew that we had to get moving to get warm soon, so we went off into the night. I expect a number of people dropped at that aid station.  If you were feeling bad when you got in, staying there would be the nail in the coffin.  

The next aid station was about 10-11 miles away, through rolling meadows. Unfortunately, the single track was still narrow and rocky, and pretty unrunable in the dark.  It was also super foggy, which made the trail markers hard to see. Jordan started begging for sleep.  She started cursing hills. I kept talking to her, saying the aid station was only 5 minutes away (I was a liar too). I kept telling her she was doing great.  And she was.  She just whimpered and cursed a lot.   We hit the next aid station about 3am.  They had a nice fire going. Some people were asleep in a hut.  There was broth.  The temptation to stay was great, but Jordan decided not to nap and to keep going.  The volunteer assured us that the descent was 'easy and runnable."  Sure, maybe in the light, if you hadn't run 60 miles already.  We trotted down, trying not to trip over the frequent tree roots, trying to ignore the steep drop to our right.  Slowly, we inched towards sunrise.  All of a sudden, going over a few logs of a stream, BAM. My feet went out from me.  I slammed into the ground. My light broke and flew into the forest.  The darkness around me was complete.  Jordan was a about 100meters ahead of me, but in the dark, I couldn't see her at all.  I was in real trouble.  I sat on the bridge for a while, looking for the light, but it was gone.  I only had my weak backup to help me get down the mountain on this treacherous path.  I only really had one choice- so I made a plan. I would carefully pick my way down until the sun rose, then I would unleash hell and catch up no matter what. A runner came up behind me, moving quickly. I asked him to tell Jordan what happened when he came across her (he never would, and I would overtake him before I got to her, so she spent the next two hours not knowing where the fuck I was).  

As I walked down the path, still slipping every now and then, I tried hard not to go to a dark place. I was failing my friend. I was the world's worst pacer. I was in a dangerous spot and potentially in trouble. She was out there alone.  It took a lot to calm my mind down. I couldn't do anything about it, so I just vowed that once I could see, I would be down that path as fast as my legs could carry me.  I reminded myself that if she was alone, at least it was on a descent, and she loves downhill as much as I do.  Every now and then, I would yell encouragement to the darkness, just in case she could hear me.  "JORDAN!!! I'm coming!  I'll be there soon! You're doing great!".  To my right, a woodpecker went nuts in the darkness.  It scared me, but I was so happy, because that meant the sun would rise soon. I reasoned that,a t most, I only had an hour of walking left.  Bit by bit, the forest became lighter. I kept turning off my light to check to see if I could get away with it.  I started jogging, then running.  My shouts became manic.  "JORDAN! ITS LIGHT OUT! HERE I COME!"  No one has ever been happier to see the dawn. "JORDAN! I'M PHOTOSYNTHESIZING! WE'RE FUCKING MAGIC!" "JORDAN! WHO DOES THIS MOUNTAIN THINK IT IS? DOESN'T IT KNOW WHO YOU ARE??"

I got my footing back and bombed down the mountain.  I put on some serious track speed to catch up to her. I hit a log bridge right before the next aid station, and a volunteer said "OMG, you're in second! The lead woman just crossed!" I didn't take the time to explain that I was her pacer, I just processed that we had crawled into first through the night.  "JORDAN! YOU'RE IN FIRST! I'M RIGHT BEHIND YOU!".  I turned a corner and there she was. "JORDAN! YOU BETTER NOT BE A HALUCINATION!". She started to laugh. I was not the worlds worst pacer! She was in a low, so I started with the happy chatter.  I sang "total eclipse of the heart" at the top of my lungs ("every now and then we get a little bit tired of walking up this hill... turn around...every now and then I get a little bit nervous that the last of all my gels has gone by...").  I told her how great her ass looked. I exclaimed that she was in first. She just kept repeating that aid station volunteers lie.  I told her that if no woman caught me while I was crawling down the mountain, no one was gonna catch her (I estimate, from the pain in my quads, I was running 7-7:30s down the mountain to catch up- no one was gonna do that at mile 80).  I just kept the energy high and ran her into the aid station.  

Embedded image permalink  Secret: There's vodka in that bottle.

She changed into shorts, picked up Amy, her new pacer, and took off into a flat section that was infested by mosquitos.  I changed, had the medics bandage my knees after my fall, and got some soup.  We went to the next aid station.  Jordan, still mad at the volunteers for being dirty liars, angrily stomped off into the forest without her pacer, who had to run after her.   She insisted she WAS NOT in first (she was. By a lot).  

Her parents took me for breakfast, and then we went to the next aid station. I napped for about 20 minutes.  I talked with Chandler, her last pacer, about strategy.  She had to be pushed, but not too much. She was in first, but if she believed the second place woman was right on her heels, she would keep going.  Chandler was responsible for the "skyline" section - 6 gnarly ascents and descents. Her plan? "Yell at Jordan until she crosses the finish line".  

Turns out, Jordan didn't need to be yelled at. The fear of god (or the second place woman) was in her. She wanted that win, but hated the pressure of being in the lead. She went so fast, Chandler couldn't keep up. She dropped her pacers at mile 110.  When she came into the finish area, we didn't believe it was her. First, she was alone, second, she was way ahead of pace (only 30 minutes behind the course record - only her blistery feet kept her from going for it).  Hell, she was running to the finish!!!

the finish line

 

And there it was. Jordan Wirfs-Brock. 1st place woman in a time of 34:19.

It was beastly

 

I can't wait to do it again.  

Transitions and a race preview: Its time to go fast again

This summer has been all about one transition after another for me.  First of all, I am transitioning from ultramarathon training to just regular marathon training.  You see, I did this:http://www.myfitnesspal.com/blog/ThickMcRunFast/view/-i-don-t-know-enough-to-be-scared-comrades-marathon-race-report-666838

 And that was wonderful, but now I am training for a fast, flat marathon, and I that requires an entirely different gameplan.  Training for an ultra meant that speedwork took a backseat. I ran a lot of miles 70-80 per week for the meat of my training. I ran a lot of hills, a lot of roads, a lot of trails, but I did most of it at an easy pace.  Endurance was the game, not speed.  Now, I have to re-learn how to run fast, and its been an interesting journey.  Dropping down to 40-50 miles a week makes me feel like I have all the time in the world, but ramping up the tempo runs and intervals can make me feel like I am dying.   

To make things more difficult, I came back from Africa and immediately jumped into my summer teaching gig, the International Geobiology Course.

check out the video we made last year if you are interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38KC4QYRnJM 

  I can say without a doubt that this course is the coolest thing I do all year, but it does take a toll. It is a 5-week intensive training of graduate students. When I say "intense", I mean "I don't know what sleep is anymore".  12 hour days are considered "easy".  At first, we drive out to do field work for 2 weeks. Every day is up at dawn, out to the field, back for dinner, and then lectures after dinner. At a certain point, we head into the lab, but its the same schedule. At the end, we seclude the kids on Catalina Island, and things get even more hectic as they produce projects out of all the data they collected.  There isn't a lot of time to worry about health or exercise.  I do not make a single one of my own meals the entire time I am on this course.   It just is what it is.  Every year students and instructors alike say "I"m not going to gain weight, I'm going to work out". That lasts maybe a week. By the end, we are all frazzled shells, living on alcohol and our favorite snacks (this year it was Moscow Mules and peanut butter cups).  That said, it is still crazy rewarding. Its just something I love to do.   Plus, Catalina


ANYWAY, it is officially time to start running fast again. My marathon coach wants to throw me into a race this weekend to see what will happen, so I signed up for the Cypress 10k. I assumed it would be fairly low key, and then I saw the results from previous years. Apparently, this race is hard core.  Anything slower than 40 minutes won't get me in the top 10.  In order to place, I would be looking at a 33 minute race.

Yeah, 33 minutes for a 10k? That ain't happening at this stage (or probably any stage ever).  I don't race a lot of 10ks, so I don't have a good idea of what is going to happen out there. My last two were trail races, one out and back up a mountain (nothing like 4000ft of elevation change in 6 miles), and another that was flat-ish, but still on sandy trails with a water hazard, which made it more like a steeple chase and slowed me down.  Of course, I was also in much better speed shape at that time. The flatish one was 42:36, so I'm aiming to beat that.  Its gonna be hot in SoCal,so we will just see how this goes. Its like a little race adventure!

 

"I don't know enough to be scared": Comrades Marathon Race Report

Lets set this up at the beginning:  The Comrades Marathon is not your average marathon.  To start with, it averages about 89km (56 miles), while a marathon is 42km (26.2 miles).  Its course alternates between the 'up' and 'down' runs - both are between the towns of Pietermaritzburg and Durban in KZN, or KwaZulu-Natal province, South Africa.  The course changes slightly, depending on what roads are availble, but it always includes "The Big Five" - 5 famous, soul killing hills:  Polly Shorts, Inchanga, Botha's Hill, Cowlie'' Hill, and Field's Hill.  On their own, nothing to to worry about. Strung together after 20, 30, or 40 miles of running? Torture.  2014 would be a 'down' year, so I would see Polly first.  I would deal with the plunging down into Durban. I would end at the Indian Ocean. 

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-PYltOWDZqvs/TzNX1jwZ_4I/AAAAAAAABSY/Mvm9mipzCUs/s1600/comrades_down_run_profile.jpg

Why did I decide to do this race?  Well, several years ago, I read this article.

http://www.runnersworld.com/races/famous-comrades-marathon?page=single

Amby Burfoot described a feeling I wanted, even though I had never thought about running a step beyond 26.2.  The idea took seed in my brain, and layed dormant until last fall, when my friend Kelley, who was postdoc-ing at the University of Cape Town wrote and invited us to run the famous race while she still lived there.   I am prone to impulsiveness, so even though I had never run an ultra, I fortified myself with a bottle of wine and signed the fuck up.  

 The race is run 'gun to gun', meaning that, from the starting gun, you have 12 hours to finish.   Your chip time is irrelevant (except for medals). If it takes you 12 minutes to cross the start line, you have to finish in the next 11:48.  At 12 hours, they close the finish line, and even if you are feet away, you are turned back with a sad smile.  The mayor will tell you "I'm sorry, but you have not finished Comrades".  

Pre-Race

The race was June 1st. I left for SA May 19th.  I spent one week doing field work (South Africa also has some hella old, interesting rocks), then met my family in Johannesburg on May 25th.  After that we went to Kruger National Park for some safari. This didn't impact my running, as I was well into my taper, and the week before the race consists of sitting down and maybe taking 15-20 minute jogs every day to keep your legs loose.  Sitting in open-air trucks spotting lions was perfect.  I did not do an sort of carb depletion, because that would be folly for this distance. I just ate a lot of food, drank a lot of water, and avoided anything crazy.  This was actually great, as looking at animals kept me from freaking out about the race

The night before the race, I left my family in Durban, and drove with my friend Alyssa to Pietermaritzburg to get my head in the game.  I was strangely not nervous. I knew it would be difficult, but I had no clue how difficult. For a marathon, I know exactly how much pain I am in for. This was just a nebulous idea that "there will be pain", so it wasn't as bad.  I had trained very well. I was in excellent shape. I knew I would make it across the finish line, it was just a matter of time.  I expected to make it in 8 hours.  If everything was clicking on all cylinders, 7:30 (and a Silver Medal) was possible. If things went bad, I knew I would still be sub 9 (a Bill Rowan Medal).  I saw the temperature forecast climb to 84 and humid, and I wilt in heat, so I threw out my plans of making a Silver before the starting line, and concentrated on staying sub 9.  

Starting Line

I woke up at 4am, and downed a protein bar and some coffee.  I dressed in my USA singlet, my USC shorts, and put on my gloves and arm warmers. Alyssa drove me to the start line.  Gun was going to be 530am sharp.  I got into my corral, and started to feel the legendary hospitality that makes Comrades "Comrades".  All around me, the African running clubs were, singing, chanting, telling me good luck, asking me my time expectations.  We settled in, and the South African anthem started. I put on my game face and started getting my mind right.  Then, something else happened. The mining song "Shosholoza" came on, and all of a sudden, the crowd, which had been 10,000 separate conversations, all rose as one voice.  Its an anthem about hard work, about moving forward. It expresses hope and heartache in dual proportions.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2eyt500i80

That video was shot from about my position.  All of a sudden, we were all lockstep.  One body of people.  We who were about to die.  There it was. There was the feeling I was chasing.  I didn't have to run a step to get it. I am not ashamed to say I started to cry. During the race, women would come out of their villages and sing it to the runners. It always lifted me up.

But then the moment was over. It was 530.  The cock crow played. A canon boomed, and we were off into the night.  

The Run

I had been told many times, but I never fully understood it until I ran it:  The Down Run is NOT DOWN.  There are steep descents, but the rolling hills of the first 20k put my legs through the meat grinder.  The race counts down in kilometers. The first sign we saw said "89km to go".  I took a deep breath and remembered to go slow, not blow it up in the beginning. I was going to be out there all day, so I accepted it.  I was in it for the long haul.  

Step one - I had to learn how to deal with the water situation.  There were tables every kilometer, but in SA, cups aren't handed out, Instead, there are 150ml tubes of water or energade called 'sachets', and sachets take some getting used to. The trick is to bite off one corner, then stop when you feel the pressure change.  If you get too rough with them, they will explode all over you.  

 

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-WsbEjpL-UGE/T4UEsplsGVI/AAAAAAAADE4/uMzWDoNoM_M/s1600/1.jpg

 

Once I got used to it, I admit I like them better than cups. You can take two, and dump one over your head while holding on to the other and drinking at will.  Its easier than I expected. This doesn't mean I didn't step on several, sending jets of water all over myself and others.  

The first big ascent of Comrades is Polly Shorts. We got there, and I crested the top to see the 77km to go sign. I saw sunrise over South Africa. I saw beams of light on plateaus in the HRRRRMMMZZZMMMMM <---------That's a vuvuzela.  There were kids on the top of the hill, and I got a real laugh, becuase in all the beauty, all I heard was that sound for the next 2km. 

I started walking up steep hills. It was taking too much effort too early to maintain pace.  Comrades bibs tell everyone how many you have completed. When I saw that those with '0' or '1' were all running, while those with '9 or '14' were all walking, I wisened up and walked.  

Walking the hills allowed me to enjoy the crowds, which were fantastic. Every 5 seconds, someone was yelling "USA!USA!" at me, or giving me a fist pump, or saying they were proud of me.  Not many women run Comrades, so I got a lot of "Lady! Brave Lady! We are proud of you! You are beautiful! I bring this to you!". Children ran along side us and begged for the food we were not eating.  I handed out Coke and Potatoes and energy chews.  There was no lack of food sitting around, so I wasn't worried about nutrition.  I ate before I was hungry, drank before I was thirsty, and walked before I needed to.  Before long, I had made my way up the first big ascent, to the highest point.  I hit some downs and let it fly.  My spirits were up, and I felt good.  A bit of hamstring tightness has been with me for a few days, but I wasn't feeling it.  

At 42km, with one marathon done and one to go (plus a 5k), I saw Inchanga looming in the distance.  Holy Shit, Inchanga. It just kept. on. going.  My timing was fine, but I had to walk up most of it. For the first time, I was passed by the sub 9 'bus'  (a bus is like a pace team).  I let them go, knowing that I would pass them for good on the downhill (I am happy I stuck with this, It was a wise plan).  I came down the back side of Inchanga, and mentally felt the shift. I 'only' had a marathon to go! it seemed so short!  The problem was - it was getting hot. The sun had risen. I discarded my arm warmers and gloves.  At the halfway point, I did a full systems check:

How do I feel? Well, I've run a marathon, so there's that, but I'm good.  My knee is bugging, and I am hot, but not overly fatigued. Lets go.  Wait, lets stop for a leg rubdown first (lots of physio stations - you could get ice or a quick standing massage)

I hit solid 7:15 miles on the downhills. It was joyous.  

The further I got into the race, the more people started remarking how well I was doing, how good I looked, how they couldn't believe it was my first race.

I picked up a tail about 55km into the race.  A Afrikaans gentlemen was trying to pick me up.  Seriously dude? Leave me alone, I'm running.  I feinged distress and ducked into a porto-potty to lose him.  

This must have triggered something, because the next 10k were riddled with bathroom stops and dives into freeway ditches. It was phantom distress though, as nothing happened.  It just caused me to walk some miles and lose some time in the name of caution.  However, even the pictures of me walking show the determination on my face. Quitting was not an option. No way in hell.  

Photo: Other pics will follow, but I kind of like this one.  I may be walking, but my face says "you can't make me quit"

I knew from listening to others that 60km in (29 to go) was supposed to be the hardest part.  I flew through it without challange. I rocketed down the hill to the boundary of Durban, feeling the sun but not feeling it.  Flying.  Of course, then I hit the flat and wasn't flying anymore. My watch started beeping at me. I had messed up charging it the night before, and it was dying prematurely. I still had 21k, a full half marathon to go, but I was on pace for sub 9, so I let it die. 

 

I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I ticked off the kilometers one by one.  Bit by bit, piece by piece, I digested the race. The beers that the Afrikaaners were offereing me started to look more appetizing, but there was work to do.  I stopped for another leg rubdown, and a guy said 'only 15k left!" I grinned as wide as I could and yelled 'piece of cake!' as I ran off again.  I was manic and happy. My legs felt like lead, but they were still running. I was still running.  I hit 10k to go and a steep down.  Then, I saw motherfucking Cowie's Hill climbing in the distance.  Shit. Time to walk again.  There was no one running now.  A man next to me said "I do not think I will do this again".  I responded "you say that now" and ran past.  

All of a sudden, we had 5k to go, and were on the freeway into Durban.  Systems check:  Green 5x5. It was time to go hunting.  I wish my watch was working, because I was moving.  I passed woman after woman.  

3k to go: Shit, son, I may have revved up too soon. These are gonna be a long 2 miles.

I passed a woman who started speaking to me. She told me that her daughter was in New York, and all alone. She said she was running for her. She said that she couldn't keep up, but could I please take her love for her daughter with me. She said she was proud of me. I would have started crying if I had any energy left.

She caught back up to me at 2k to go. She said this was the hardest stretch, through the streets of Durban. It was very much like the last mile of Chicago.  I saw the 1k to go sign. I knew I would not walk to the finish, and I would get my Bill Rowan medal.  I started running. We took a left, and I saw the stadium. I ran faster. We took a right, ran through the tunnel, and onto the grass.  There were two women ahead of me.  Well, FUCK THAT. I started sprinting. I heard my family yell my name from the infield as I breezed past. I caught one woman, then the other. I rounded the corner, and hit some timing mats. It wasn't the finish. FUCK FUCK FUCK.  The finish was still 100m away.  I would have crawled there.  All alone, I ran across the line. They announced my name, my country.  

My mom saw me cross the finish line. Later she told me she was sorry that she didn't have a camera. I told her that it was ok, seeing me cross was a moment just for her, and she didn't have to share it with anybody.  I was given my medal, and several people tried to shake my hand at once.  Turns out, even with a time of 8:45, I was the first American Woman across the line.  The heat was not being kind to people that day. 

 

 

Post Race

I still haven't processed everything - that will take a while.  But some first thoughts

-I wasn't even all that sore. i certainly have hurt worse after races. This means one of two things: either I trained very well (check), or I didn't run hard enough (I gave it all I had, but did walk due to phantom GI issues).

-I killed this race.  The aftermath was a bloodbath. 800 people taken to the hospital with dehydration, heat stroke, and exhaustion, but there I was, walking away.  Comrades broke a lot of people, but it didn't break me. 

-Up run in the future? Up run in the future.  Two Oceans as well.  Mayhaps a 100-mile race.

-I need to get my diet under control, as I am heading into Marathon training. My coach basically said "well, high mileage is laughable now, so lets do some speed work".  My response: "UNLEASH THE FURY" 

A Wild Race Appears: Verdugo Mt. 10k (part two) race preview

OK, so I totally forgot about this race. 

 

Sunday (apparently) I will be running the Verdugo Mountain 10k for the second time.  This is the elevation profile:

 

Why am I doing this again?

http://www.papermag.com/uploaded_images/tumblr_m9ygu9TWRt1qh9nffo1_500.gif

No really, I think because its cheap and 10 minutes from my house, plus its a challange. 

 

A view from the course. Its allotta up, and allotta down

 

 

Last year I had a few goals:

1) don't poop self

2) be AG competitive

3) finish in under an hour

 All goals met.  I won my age group with a time of 59 minutes + change.  I haven't run on the course since.  

What am I goind to do this year?  Well, its kind of an experiment.  I haven't trained specifically for a sustained, 3.3 mile (not 3.1, you bastards) climb, but then I hadn't really last year either.  Last year, I was not really distance trained.  I was in half marathon shape, but this year I am in ultra shape.  I have had a year of trail running, and logged mostly 50+ mile weeks (rather than the ~25-30 miles/week I was doing before this race last May).  So I am very intrigued to see how this shakes out.

 Added bonus?  The pre-race email annouced that this year, AG winnner will receive free shoes.  

 

 

So my upgraded goals for this year:

1. Continue not pooping self

2. Ideally, cut 4-5 minutes off my time.  

3. WIN FREE SHOES

The top 3 females of this race usually come in around 50-52 minutes (course record is 48 minutes), so I am probably still off the podium, unless I have way underestimated my progress.   In fact, depending on who is running and who might have aged into my AG, a time or 54-55 minutes might not be enough to win this year, even though I did it in 59 last year.  That is why my time is my first goal. That is something I can control.  Setting a place as a goal is tricky, because it relies on what other people do.  

 

Anyway, we'll see what happens.  

8 weeks out

Flights are booked. Hotels are booked.  Safaris are booked.  I'm running a marathon at least once a week and I feel great.  The most important part just arrived

 

SO PUMPED.  

Signs of Progress

I stepped on a scale for the first time in a while (well, ok, I stepped on a scale for lulz one night while eating to make a point about body fat numbers on scales being ridiculously off), just to check in at what I have been doing. I did the full 'after you pee in the morning' routine, just to be sure. Technically I should have waited until a morning after a rest day, so my muscles were retaining less water, but I only did a 6 mile run yesterday, and that is like a rest day for me.

Anyhoo - 

weight 148.2 pounds (identical to where i was 6 months ago)

body fat 11.4% (lololololololololololol)

 

So that body fat % is very much not real (impedence scales are going to be off by as much as 5%, and will only measure your lower body anyway), but it is down from the 12.4% I was last time, and that is the right direction.  

 

I'll have to go into the kinesiologist and have a hydrostatic weighing done to be sure, but it looks like the 'eat 2700 a day, at least 120g of protein, and strength train' program has been working for my slow body recomp. HUZZAH!

http://isisthescientist.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/loki-gif.gif

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