Category Archives: Race Report

2013/05/25: Nanny Goat 12/24/100 (race report)

Short version:  Nanny Goat was supposed to be my 4th 100-miler (all taking place in a span of 16 weeks), and I planned for a PR.  However, knee pain prompted me to drop at mile 63.  I have no regrets.  After resting for about 8 hours, my knee felt quite a bit better and I actually went out to pace some other people at the end of their 100-mile races.  Total mileage with pacing was about 74 miles.  I would have liked another buckle, but it wasn’t worth risking injury.  This also enabled me to go out and help some friends with their races.  While the event turned out totally different than I had anticipated, it was a very rewarding experience.

Much longer version:

I completed my first 100-mile race at the beginning of February, followed by another one 6 weeks later, another one 5 weeks later, and then Nanny Goat 100 planned for last weekend.  I had high hopes for this race.  I’ve learned a lot in each one of my ultras, but 100-milers in particular intrigue me because so much can happen in the last 30 miles or so.  But this is part of what I love about them.  If it was easy and races went perfectly, they wouldn’t be appealing.  As much as I want things to go well, I love challenges.

My PR going into the race was 24:53 set on a similar flat loop course a couple months prior.  I had trained well, peaking at a 90-mile week which included a 47-mile weekend.  I felt great and went into the race seeking a PR.  I’ve put less emphasis on even pacing in ultras recently because I feel like it drags me down and makes racing not as enjoyable.  I’ve always been a very analytic runner.  I love numbers, and I love my Garmin.  But I’ve tried to get away from that.  I greatly attribute my attitude shift to Eric Clifton.

Eric was the second well-known ultrarunner I ever learned about, but for 4 years, I only knew about him from what I’d read (and later watching “Running on the Sun,” which chronicled the 1999 Badwater 135 race, which he won).  Eric’s a heart runner.  He runs as hard as he can for as long as he can.  This has resulted in some huge successes, including records that stood 15+ years.  As one might expect, this strategy has also led to some equally epic failures.  Eric and his outlook on running (and life in general) intrigue me.  I could talk to him for hours and not get tired of hearing what he has to say (and I have had the opportunity to do that).

Eric encouraged me in my second 100-miler in March to take a risk and not run conservatively.  I ran by feel and got a PR by almost 4.5 hours.  In my third 100-miler last month, I committed to it just in time to start my taper, so I ran it somewhat conservatively.  But going into Nanny Goat, I wanted to try his strategy again.  Of course I knew that doing this would lead to a huge PR or crashing and burning, but I’ve discovered that I love racing in the moment and am much happier running by feel and risking a meltdown than I am focusing on numbers and running “smartly.”  I’m not saying this is the “better” way, but I am saying that it’s becoming my preferred way of approaching ultras.

I looked forward to Nanny Goat as I knew a handful of people who would be there.  I was carpooling with my friend Colleen who I met at my second 100-miler (and who also ran my third 100-miler), as she lives relatively nearby.  Our 4-hour trip to southern California was uneventful, and we arrived at the race site in the early afternoon the day prior to the race.

The course is a 1-mile loop that starts/finishes in a barn.  (This is not nearly as torturous as people assume.)  There were about a dozen stalls in the barn that groups of people could claim.  A group of us had chatted a few days prior, so by the time Colleen and I arrived, someone had already claimed our stall and all of our names were written on it.  I smiled because I already felt at home.  Other “room mates” besides Colleen were Mitch, Josh, Eric, and Jeff.  Mitch and I cross paths at a lot of races, and I first met him at a 12-hour race I did last summer.  He was also at my 100-miler last month.  I met Josh at my second 100-miler (and again at my third 100-miler); coincidentally, his first 100-miler a few years ago was at Rocky Raccoon, which was where I ran my first one this year.  Josh is also the founder of the Run It Fast club, which is a community of people who encourage each other to push beyond their personal limits.  (FYI, “fast” is relative, as evidenced by the fact I’m one of the newest members of the club.)  I met Eric at my 100-miler last month; he’d been at my second 100-miler too, but I don’t recall seeing him there.  I had never met Jeff in person, but we’d chatted a bit online leading up to this race.

At the race site, I ran into a ton of people I knew and got introduced to a bunch of others.  There were many hugs and goofy poses.  Colleen is very photogenic, and she has a certain pose she does.  I won’t try to explain it.  Just look at the photos and you’ll see her doing it and the rest of us–why?  Because it was fun.  I also got to meet the race director, Steve.  He’s hilarious.

A couple group photos; I knew most of the people in them already (I’m in the jeans and red shirt):

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Colleen and me with the race director:

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I walked a loop of the course to see what it was like.  It was essentially flat.  The “worst” part of the course was a .15-mile or so section where there was grass that was uneven and had lots of potholes.  I knew the novelty would wear off of this area during the race.  My favorite part was a straightaway section (about .1-mile) that was shaded by orange trees; at the end of it, runners ran partially around a goat pen (yes, a literal goat pen) and then through the barn, around a curve, and a gradual downhill for another .1-.15 mile.  There was an out-and-back section that I didn’t care for, particularly the hairpin turn at the end of it.

Colleen and I discovered our stall was barren, unlike the other ones, so we made a trip to the dollar store to shop for some Hawaiian themed decorations.  We came back and quickly decorated before heading to dinner at the Cheesecake Factory with over a dozen other runners.  Not everyone who went to the dinner knew everyone else, but it seemed like everyone quickly got acquainted, and I don’t think anyone felt left out.

Our barren stall:

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After our trip to the dollar store:

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From dinner:

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After dinner, Colleen and I drove to the home of Evelein and Sebastiaan, two runners we didn’t know.  Ed (the Jester) had seen one of us mention looking for a place to stay the night before the race, and he put us in touch with that couple who belonged to his running club and were interested in hosting out-of-town runners.  They were really nice.  They’d actually offered to make us dinner, even though we decided to go out with the group; we invited them, but they declined.

Saturday morning, Colleen and I went to the race site at 6:30 for an 8am start.  All check-ins were done on race day, so there was a decent line when we got there, but we quickly got our bibs and swag.  Timing was done by a bracelet that contained a timing device; there was a sensor we passed each lap that read the bracelet and displayed our name, time, and mileage each loop on the barn wall.

“Room mates”: Mitch, me, Josh, Colleen, and Jeff (Eric was missing):

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Some more pre-race group photos:

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Colleen and me in front of the live streaming web cam (where we smiled and waved at all 4 viewers, haha):

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Outside of the barn, doing the “Colleen pose” before the race:

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One of the most memorable people pre-race was my friend Tony, Endorphin Dude to some who know him.  He ran the race last year and had a pretty epic meltdown and stopped at mile 88.  He came back this year for redemption.  As a result, he didn’t bring his notorious cape, decided not to take photos during the race, and opted not to do any of the other silly stuff that he normally does.  I will point out that since Nanny Goat last year, Tony’s completed 2 100-milers; I was at his second one and accompanied him on his last loop.  This year at Nanny Goat, Tony declared he was “all business.”

Me with Eric and Tony pre-race:

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Just me:

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Me with Josh:

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With Eric and Jeff:

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I had to laugh when all nearly 200 of us gathered in the goat pen and the announcement was made for people who “weren’t very fast” to move to the back, and about 90% of people moved back.  Someone sang a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem, and then we were off.

The race started out with some cloud cover which was really nice.  It was a bit crowded the first couple loops before people spread out, but it wasn’t too bad.  I was just enjoying the opportunity to be surrounded by so many friends.  At the very first out-and-back, as I was approaching it, my friend Brady who was coming back from it sprayed me with his water bottle.  I figured it was going to be a fun day!  I didn’t run with anyone in particular, but there were so many runners (and walkers) out there that there was always someone to talk to if I wanted.  The out-and-back section was nice in the respect that you got to cross lots of people going to and from the turnaround point.  I tried to always say something to the people whose names I knew.

Early on, I was making myself walk part of the grassy area (one minute each lap) as I felt like I was expending more effort than necessary when I ran it.  I was running the rest.  My average pace (including walking) was consistently 10-something minute miles, and I felt fine.  A 9-something minute mile slipped in there somewhere, but only once.  Everyone seemed to be moving at really good paces.

At mile 18, I noticed a hotspot and chose to deal with it ASAP.  When I went into the stall, Eric was there.  He had knee issues and was trying to remedy his situation with tape or something to get back out.  I didn’t have tape or know how to use tape, but I gave him an alcohol towellette to at least clean the area so the tape would hopefully stick.  After I fixed my foot and did what I thought I could to help him, I got back out on the course.  It’s funny because I thought I would have been frustrated to have to stop so early to take care of my own issue, let alone taking additional time to help someone else, but that wasn’t the case.  The day was young, and I wanted to stay out there as long as possible; I also wanted my friends to be out there as long as possible too.

My average pace, not including stops, stayed at 10-something minute miles for quite a while.  As the clouds burned off, it got warmer.  It wasn’t “hot,” but the weather change was noticeably slowing people down.  I normally don’t have any stomach issues, but I started to feel a bit nauseous around the marathon point.  I kept going, expecting the feeling to pass.  By the time I got to 30 miles, I’d still been keeping my moving pace under an 11:00 pace, but I wasn’t feeling better, so I opted to slow down more.  My running pace (or effort, as I was only looking at mile splits, never instantaneous pace) remained the same, but I walked more.  Another issue I had was the amount of dirt in the air.  I have asthma, and stuff in the air irritates my breathing.  I always develop a cough when I run, but in ultras, I can normally stave it off for many hours due to the lower effort level early on.  But I developed it in this race earlier than I’d hoped.  It wasn’t a big deal, but it was annoying and did slow me down.

There were a handful of photos taken of me mid-race; here are a few:

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The warmer weather seemed to affect a lot of people.  The smarter people resorted to walking a lot more to save their energy for when it got cooler.  There were a lot of people throwing up and not being able to keep food down.  I was forcing myself to eat, but my stomach continued to feel terrible.  One older man, who was 81, actually collapsed on the course and was taken away by ambulance.  I think it made everyone else pay a little more attention to what they were doing and ensure they weren’t pushing themselves too much.  (The only “perk” of the warmer weather was that people started taking their shirts off, and half-clothed fit people aren’t too hard to look at.)

At mile 40, I still wasn’t feeling well, but I was running a bit with my friend Chris and new friend Andrea.  All three of us were at the exact same point; those two both went on to run over 100 miles in 24 hours.  At mile 41, I got a popsicle, which is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever eaten in a race.  I felt a bit better after eating that, but that was short-lived.  I was retreating to the stall more than I wanted.  But I had more hotspots to deal with and just felt sick.  At one point, 4 out of the 6 of us assigned to the stall were in there in various stages of brokenness.  I knew my issues didn’t set me apart as there were people feeling worse than I was.  I discovered this when I tried to get the other 3 to come out with me for a walking loop (any forward motion is better than none), and no one wanted to go, so I went out alone.

I wasn’t having a good race.  I don’t mean that I didn’t like my time (as ultras in particular are defined by so much more than that); I mean that I felt pretty awful.  And I’d begun having some issues with my right knee, which is a knee I’d previously had some problems with about a year and a half ago that knocked me out of running for a full month.  I remember my friend Brady catching up to me and exclaiming, “I finally caught you after chasing you for 48 miles!” That made me laugh; I was a mile or two ahead of him at that point.  We ran together a bit before parting ways.  Somewhere around this point, I met a guy named Geoff who I stayed with for about a mile.  He was running Badwater this year, and got accepted in spite of the fact he’d never crewed there before.  Since I crewed one of my friends there last year and had written about my experiences and lessons learned, I told him I would send him the link to that in the eent he wanted to pass it on to his crew.  I noted that he must be having a bad day too as he was just a couple miles ahead of me at that point.

I made it to 50 miles in 11:13.  I can typically get to the 50-mile point in races quicker, but considering all of my breaks, I was surprised it hadn’t taken me longer.  I continued to feel sick.  One nice lady shared some ginger chews with me, which helped a little bit.

Shortly before the 12-hour point, I found myself walking with a new friend, Leon.  He’d been flying around the course early in the race but was now moving at my pace.  This was not just his first 100-miler but his first ultra.  He wasn’t feeling well and said he was considering downgrading to the 12-hour.  He was well over 60 miles by that point.  I told him that even if he kept moving at the pace he was currently going, he could still break 24 hours for the 100.  It seemed like he felt pressured to make a quick decision since the 12-hour point was approaching.  (People could freely switch between the 12-hour, 24-hour, and 100-miler midrace.  If you stopped under 12 hours, you were included in the 12-hour results.  If you kept going past 12 hours, you were included in the 24-hour.  If you reached 100 miles before 24 hours, you got included in the 100-mile and 24-hour results and had the option to continue to 24 hours.  If you reached at least 86 miles by 24 hours, you could keep going to 100 miles and had 4 additional hours to get there.)  I told him not to base his decision on the 12-hour point because he was probably just in a low point that would pass.  I encouraged him to keep going and if he still felt like stopping later on, he could stop then; the only difference would be that his results would show up in the 24-hour instead of the 12-hour, which was a minor technicality.

My knee continued to bother me, which troubled me.  Ultras hurt, and my knees always hurt eventually from the constant pounding, but this is always both knees.  Pain in just one knee was concerning to me.  When the pain eventually moved to a different part of my left knee as a result of compensating for pain in my knee, I was also concerned but kept moving.  My friend Josh, who’s an awesome runner, dropped down to the 12-hour.  One of his deciding factors was that he’d taken 2 pain pills and his knees didn’t feel like they should have after taking that medication; I kept this in mind.  I was bummed about him dropping down because I really like Josh and he’s always encouraging out on the course, but I understood his decision as I secretly wondered if I faced the same fate.

I continued to move forward and took two pain pills.  An hour later, I took two more.  Not only did they not seem to mask the pain at all (as they should have), but I started to develop pain in my right IT band.  I went back to the stall and talked to Josh and Eric.  Josh had already dropped and tried to encourage me to go back out, as I would expect any good friend would.  But it just wasn’t worth the risk of injury to me.  Eric had knee issues too, and after reiterating to him multiple times throughout the day that a single race was not worth seriously injuring himself, I realized that I needed to listen to what I was sincerely telling him (and a couple other people).

At that point, Eric was at 47 miles and I was at 60.  He wanted to get to 50 miles and I realized 100k didn’t sound too bad for me.  We went out and slowly did a loop together before grabbing a beer for two final “beer loops.”  We chatted a lot.  Eric had dropped out his last 100-miler too (my third 100) after not being able to keep food down, so it was sad to see him not reach his goal again, but I knew he’d made the right decision.  We spent the last couple loops encouraging others and eventually made it back to our stall.

While sitting in the stall, I was a bit torn between being silent and not drawing attention to the fact I’d dropped and continuing to cheer others on.  This isn’t likely for the reason it seems.  I was at peace with my decision and I didn’t have a problem with people knowing.  However, there were quite a few people dropping and I didn’t want this to unintentionally provide someone going through a low point justification to drop unnecessarily.  I picked up on this when I told Colleen and she hinted that maybe she should stop too.  She’d had knee issues too, but said she was feeling okay; I told her to keep going and to do her own race.

There was a period of time where I tried to sleep in a chair with my legs over the edge, somewhat elevated.  My knees ached so much just sitting there.  Sitting there, I was confident I could have kept going and gotten to 100 miles in less than 28 hours, but it just wasn’t worth the price it would cost me.  I’m determined, but I wasn’t willing to risk seriously injuring myself for that race.  Had it been a different race, like my first 100-miler, I might have made a different decision; I had a finish-at-almost-all-costs mentality in that race.  But now, I have nothing to prove to anyone, including myself.  I think I slept about an hour.

My dad, who lives just a couple hours from the race, wanted to come see me finish.  I called him late the night before and told him about my decision to drop.  He said he understood, and I was glad he still decided to make the drive to pay me a visit.  He showed up early, around 6am.  Even though I wasn’t running, I was happy to see him and I was also glad he got to see part of the race.  He stayed about an hour before heading back home.

About 8 hours after doing my 63rd loop, I decided to officially get my timing band cut off.  I’d laughed at Eric a couple hours earlier when he’d gotten too close to the sensor, registered an extra lap, and went back out to make his actual laps register the number of registered laps.  As Steve was cutting my band off, Eric started laughing and I looked up at the barn wall to see it registered another lap for me.  Steve said it was no big deal and there would just be a one lap discrepancy.  I was sure I could talk to the timing people to get that one deleted, but instead, I went back out to walk a lap.  I ran into my friend Vanessa who was also walking, so we did the lap together.  My knee felt quite a bit better.  However, I don’t think it could have handled being out there for 28 hours non-stop, at least without injury.

After my 64th loop, I was just hanging out in the barn cheering for people coming through.  Seriously, if you want to witness triumphs of the human spirit and see just how far people can push themselves, come to the finish line of a 100-miler (or work an aid station near the end).  I was so proud of everyone who had been out there all night and continued to move forward, now close to the 24-hour mark.

I never intended to go back out on the course, but it just sort of happened.  I’d been trying to get things for runners when they came through (pain pills, coffee, batteries, gels, ramen noodles, etc.) when my friend Brady came through and asked for a gel.  There weren’t any out at the aid station, so I went to get some from my private stash.  By the time I got a selection (I wanted him to have a few options), he was already out on the course, so I went back out to catch up with him.  After I caught up with him, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to keep him company for a loop.

I really like Brady.  I just met him in person the week prior, but we’d been Facebook friends for a couple months.  My first knowledge of his family came last year when I crewed for my friend Karla at Badwater.  Ed the Jester, who had hooked Karla and me up, had very colorful attire, and I noticed the day prior to the race that there was a “mini-Jester” accompanying Ed and his pacers.  The kid was named Colby, and Brady is his dad.  I read a report Colby had written after Badwater and continued this kid’s progress is races… his first marathon late last year, his first ultra at the beginning of this year, his first 100k in March, and then I saw him and his parents at my second 100-miler.  I didn’t get to meet Brady, but I met his wife Shawna and saw all three of them a lot on the course.  A week prior to Nanny Goat, Colby (at the age of 12!) became the youngest known 100-mile trail race finisher.  I had the awesome opportunity to spend the final 7 miles with him and a few others (including Ed and Brady).

Brady’s a Marine.  There was a woman out on the course carrying a flag for 24 hours to raise money for a military charity.  Brady insisted on catching up to her when she was within sight of us.  She was just walking but had a good walking pace, and Brady paced off of her.  While I don’t think we ever mentioned it during the race, I knew Brady and I both realized it was Memorial Day weekend.  Being in the Air Force, Memorial Day causes me to reflect on friends who have died in combat.  Two in particular always come to mind.  The 4-year anniversary of my friend Roz Schulte’s death just passed a few days prior.  Roz was my first friend ever killed in action.  She was an intel officer deployed to Afghanistan; she was a strong, confident woman who was also incredibly compassionate.  Her life was cut short when her vehicle hit an IED.  The other person I always think about is Nate Nylander.  Just over two year ago, when an Afghan military member opened fire in a briefing room, Nate, who was in an adjacent area, ran toward the sound of gunfire in an effort to help others.  In his efforts, he thought he incapacitated the gunman, but this wasn’t the case and led to a shootout.  Unfortunately, Nate’s gun jammed and he was killed.  However, his actions prevented further loss of lives as others were able to escape unharmed.  I also did not realize until after the race when I looked at his Facebook page that Brady had dedicated his final 50 miles at Nanny Goat to a fallen hero: Marine Sgt Trevor Johnson.

After doing the first loop with Brady, I decided to stay with him for a couple more.  He wasn’t quite to 90 miles, so I didn’t plan to stay with him the rest of the time as I didn’t think my knee could handle it, but I wanted to keep him company while I could.  I refilled his water bottle, got him gels and oranges, kept him company, and tried to encourage him to run when he probably didn’t want to.  I tried to stay positive for his sake.  Late in a race like that, I know (from seeing others and from personal experience) that people’s moods are very unstable and that mental lows are more easily triggered than mental highs, so while I joked around, I tried to remain cognizant of what I was saying.

At one point, I reminded Brady that the weekend before, Colby had broken down his race into 5-mile segments, so I told him he only had about two “Colby segments” left.  Colby and Shawna were supposed to get to the race near the time he was finishing, but it was dependent on flights as they were returning from a trip.  I think it’s so neat that Brady and Shawna have set a positive example for their kids and that Colby had a 100-miler under his belt (and a buckle ON his belt) and that even his 6-year-old sister Mimi loved running, including a difficult 10k trail run the week prior.

I thought it was funny that I completed three more loops within the 24 hours than I’d gotten credit for.  I’m assuming I could have brought it up at the time and maybe gotten credit, even though I’d removed my timing bracelet, but it wasn’t important.  In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter whether I got credit for 64 or 67 miles.  My race was over and the experience wasn’t about me.  However, I did take a break after 4 loops of pacing Brady; I didn’t want to leave him by himself, but our mutual friend Ryan had come out to help out and he stayed with him a few miles.  Ryan actually paced a handful of people throughout the race.

During the break, I rested my knee, drank some water, and ate a quesadilla.  I also cheered as runners continued to go through the barn, some finishing their 100-milers and others with a few miles still left.  My friend Mark came back, after doing something terrible to his knee the previous day, to cheer runners on.  He even kept Brady company for part of a loop.  His beautiful new bride Sharill also came back out; she had walked 20 miles the previous day.

Tony was pacing runners on their last laps, and when a finisher was coming through, he’d announce it and everyone would get up and yell and cheer (more than usual) and take photos.  He was really in his element.  Oh, you’re probably wondering about Tony’s own “redemption” race… It didn’t really happen.

Tony struggled a lot early on with keeping food down.  He’d put a ton of pressure on himself and did not seem to be enjoying himself in the ways he normally does.  He got as far as mile 43 before having a meltdown of sorts.  He ended up making it to mile 50.  Through some heart-to-heart talks with friends, he had an epiphany.  He had been concerned about what people might think, but he realized that his true friends would still love him regardless and that a buckle from this particular race wasn’t going to change anything.  Once he let go of the burden of not reaching 100 miles last year, the old Tony returned.  Watching him out on the course in the morning encouraging other people, taking care of their every need (including feeding Colleen pancakes off a plate while walking), and celebrating their accomplishments really made me happy.  Tony’s a great person, and helping other people reach their goals in spite of not doing what he had been dwelling on for over a year showed real growth in my opinion.  There was no doubt he was genuinely happy being out there.

When I took over for Ryan at mile 96, I was surprised how fast Brady was moving.  As we ran down to the grassy area, we were easily under a 10-minute pace.  I was glad when he chose to walk at the grass, haha.  We continued chatting and I kept reminding him to drink water (de ja vu of what I remembered him telling Colby to do just a week prior).  He seemed happy when I pointed out that we had less than a Colby segment left.  He also looked at me at one point and said something to the effect of, “Wow, you are really filthy.”  I told him I knew this, to which he responded, “No, I mean, I’ve never seen a white shirt that dirty!”  Thanks, dude.

I loved seeing the runners who were still out on the course, all less than a couple hours from finishing their 100-milers.  I tried to cheer for everyone and remembered that same point in my own races—so much distance covered, but still feeling like the finish line was so far away.  Some of the people out there looked pretty beat up, but it was inspiring.  I loved seeing Ed out there well past the 24-hour point and the completion of his own race.  That’s what I love about the ultra community—people truly care about one another.

There was a woman named Danni who, with about 5 hours left, was on the very edge of being able to make the cutoff and get to 100 miles.  The concern was that people tend to slow down late in a race and she actually needed to pick up the pace by about 2 minutes per mile to finish the 100 miles before the cutoff.  So what happened?  Ed sacrificed his own standings to ensure she made the 86 miles in 24 hours and then completed the 100 miles.  Ed completed 108 miles in 24 hours, a mere 3 miles behind 3rd place, but this didn’t seem to matter to him.  Seeing Ed out there in the final hours helping Danni was heart-warming.  Ed is continuously a beacon of hope in these kinds of races.  At one point, I counted no fewer than 8 people around him in the final several hours.  Why?  People know if they stick with him, they will finish.

I discovered my friend Colleen was on her final loop when we passed her on the out-and-back section.  Tony had paced her a handful of miles then went to take care of Jeff who was in greater need of support at the time, so she was by herself.  I got Brady through that loop and then told him I would catch back up but that I wanted to accompany Colleen at the end of her loop.  I ran back to where she was to walk with her.  She was in a lot of pain, but I was so proud of her.  I wished I could have accompanied her more, but I realized it was impossible for me to be in multiple places at one time.  I know she could have finished the race on her own, but I’ve found that company is really nice to have during long races.  I encouraged her to run at the very end and she did.  It was a beautiful sight to see when I announced there was a 100-mile finisher coming through and the barn erupted in cheers.  I let her run through the finish area while I hung back a bit and walked around the side—it was her moment.  I hugged her and then went back out on the course to catch up with Brady.

Colleen’s finish:

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Hugging Colleen:

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While running to catch up with Brady, I felt the blister on one of my baby toes pop under the pressure of the toe next to it.  I felt the skin slide down as my now-raw baby toe constantly rubbed against the toe next to it.  Had this been my own race, I am quite sure I would have stopped to assess it, but this wasn’t my race, so I quickly put it out of my mind.  I had to focus on Brady, especially since there were only a few miles to go.

Brady’s friend Tanya also spent some time pacing him, including in the final few miles, so I got to talk to her a bit.  As time went on and Brady’s family hadn’t arrived, I began to get concerned they wouldn’t make it by the time he finished.  I tried calling his wife Shawna and then texted her.  I figured she was still in the air (an accurate assumption, it turned out).  I also texted her to tell her he was doing well, where he was mileage-wise, and that people had been with him non-stop for at least 15 miles (including Tanya and me at that point).

Pacing Brady with less than 4 miles to go:

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Out of the blue, Brady hit a low point, but luckily this particular one wasn’t until almost mile 98.  I recall an exchange where I asked him if he needed anything—Gu, water, etc.  He said he “felt like goo.”  I had to ask clarification whether he felt like he wanted some Gu or whether he felt like he was goo.  He confirmed it was the latter.  Brady still had plenty of time to make the cutoff, but I wanted to keep him moving at a decent pace and still running in some parts because I knew he could do it.  At the end of the final loop, in the last .1 mile, Tanya called Shawna so he could leave a voicemail.  I had wished his family would be there for his finish, but that voicemail was the next best thing and I thought it was a very sweet gesture.  I really admire how close his family members are to one another.

Brady ran after hanging up the phone.  Once again, I got to announce there was a 100-miler finisher coming in.  I seriously don’t think I could ever get tired of doing that.  And again, I stayed back a bit and let him get his buckle, take photos, etc. without getting in the way.  When he went over and sat down, I asked if he needed anything.  He smiled, held out his arms, and said, “A hug?”  Of course.  Have I mentioned how much I truly love my ultra family?  Honestly, I’m closer to a lot of ultrarunners than I am many members of my own family.  Running long distances bonds people together.  Some of my closest friends were once strangers I met mid-race when we were both in low places.

Brady’s finish:

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Brady with his buckle:

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As I rested a bit, I saw Mitch and Jeff pass through the barn.  For some reason, I thought both of them still had two laps to go.  I got antsy just sitting around, so I took a shortcut to backtrack on the course to find Jeff who looked like he was in really bad shape; Tony was with him so I knew he was in good hands, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to have more company.  Luckily I chose to go out when I did as he was actually on his final loop.

Jeff was moving slowly, leaning to one side, and not very responsive, but his young son was right next to him showering him with praise.  It was precious to witness.  At one point, Jeff told him to go ahead, but he refused and said, “No.  I want to finish it with you.  Together: father and son.”  His son was walking right next to him with his arm tightly around his waist and his head against his chest, practically holding him up.  I felt so privileged to be there to see this very special moment.  As we got to the barn, Tony announced Jeff was finishing and once again, the barn erupted in cheers.

This is one of my favorite photos from the entire race.  It shows Jeff and his son, his wife off to the right, and Tony and me off to the left.  This was about 15 feet from Jeff’s first 100-mile finish:

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Unfortunately, I realized around this point that Mitch was already done and had finished just 10 minutes before Jeff (when I’d thought he had another loop).  I was happy to learn Ryan had been with him at the end, though.  Next, a woman named Elsie finished (her second Nanny Goat finish), then everyone waited for Danni to come in.  With seven minutes to spare, Danni crossed with finish line with Ed and a few other people, including her husband.  This was so neat to see.

I know I won’t remember everyone (please forgive me), but some other notable things that I know happened at the race: My friend Kristin (who I met at my second 100-miler) completed her first 100k.  Lynne, who had been the photographer at my second 100-miler, signed up for this race with the intent to do 20 miles, but she completed 50.  Diana also completed 50 miles for the first time.  Lots of people set distance PRs.  It’s really sort of irrelevant what the numbers are—it’s just incredible to see people go farther (and in some cases WAY farther) than they ever had before.  My friend Giovanni completed the 100-miler after completing his last one just a week prior.  My new friend Leon, who considered stopping at 12 hours, kept going and not only finished 100 miles but did so in under 24 hours… and he’d never done an ultra before.

If you want to talk numbers, more impressive to me than the 24-hour winner (121 miles) is the guy who got second place in the 24-hour (and third place in the 100-miler)—Kent ran almost exact even splits in the 100-miler, with the last 50 miles being mere seconds quicker than the first 50.  Additionally, he managed to cover significantly more miles in the last 12 hours than in the first 12 (for a total of 119 miles).  Events like this give people an opportunity to test their limits, and many of them do far better than they ever thought they could do.

After the race, I took down our decorations and snuck in a shower.  There was a single shower in the vicinity, and since people took showers at different times, there wasn’t a line.  I was also surprised at how clean it was considering how many dozen dirty runners had been in there before me.

After showering; I was clean, but I managed to lose my hairbrush so my hair was a mess, haha.  With Colleen and Tony:

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Over a dozen of us went to lunch together, including some more friends who hadn’t made it to the race as well as Brady’s family who had finally arrived.  I told Shawna that after spending 7 miles with Colby and then 8 miles with Brady just 7 days later, she was next on my pacing list.  Lunch was fun.

This isn’t a very good photo, but this is Brady and Colby.  Colby was proudly wearing his shirt and 100-mile buckle from the previous weekend.

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Then Colleen and I made our way to our friend Eric’s house.  He was in the process of moving and had no furniture, but we were just grateful for a place to sleep for free.  He had his 4-year-old son there and I played with him a while upstairs.  That kid had a lot of energy; I wish I would have had more energy to play with him more.

Monday morning, Colleen and I had breakfast with our friend Paul.  Paul had attempted the 100-miler at Nanny Goat but dropped due to back pain.  He had been at my second 100-miler, but I did not meet him until this race.  After breakfast, Colleen and I headed back to Las Vegas.  Luckily, the majority of traffic was heading in the opposite direction, so our drive wasn’t bad.

Paul, Colleen, and me at breakfast:

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Looking back at Nanny Goat, I don’t have any regrets about the “running by feel” strategy I approached the race with.  Even if I had tried to run more even splits, I don’t think this would have prevented my knee issues.  And in future races?  I plan to use the same strategy, at least for the time being.  I know it sounds ridiculous, as this is a new realization for me too, but I would rather enjoy myself and crash and burn than to conservatively and safely run more even splits.  I’ve discovered that even when I crash and burn, assuming I don’t have serious physical problems, it’s temporary and if I keep going, I’ll get a second (and third) wind.

I also have no regrets about stopping when I did.  As I already said, I don’t have anything to prove to anyone.  I erred on the side of caution instead of potentially injuring myself.  I would have liked another buckle, but it wasn’t worth the risks I would need to face to get it.  There will be other races.  Also, if I had stayed out there the entire time doing my own race, I would have missed out on the opportunities I had to help other people in their own journeys.  It’s funny how things turn out sometimes.

The ultrarunning community is very selfless and giving, and the people in it motivate me to be a better person.  Through the current time, I feel like I have gotten so much more from others than I have given.   I truly appreciate chances I have to give back, in any capacity.  I doubt anyone would have dropped out if I had not been there, but I hope that in some small way, I was able to make their journey a little brighter.  I try to embrace the concept of doing what I can with what I have wherever I am.  At Nanny Goat, I was capable of going out and keeping some other people company, so in my mind, there was no reason not to do this.  Likewise, it took virtually no effort to offer words of encouragement to others on the course.  I aim to never get too wrapped up in the things I can’t do that I forget to take advantage of the things I can do, however small they may seem at the time.

Katrina

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2013/04/20: Labor of Love 100-miler (race report)

Short version: I ran my third 100-miler (11 weeks after my first one) at Labor of Love on 20-21 April. I ran it in 26:26, which wasn’t a PR, but it was on a much more difficult course than where I got my PR last month. There were lots of friends at the race. I was fortunate to have elite 100-miler Dave James pace me for 27 miles. In spite of a bad spot from miles 66-88, the race was an awesome experience. It was a small race (34 starters, 25 finishers), but I was 3rd female overall (out of 6 finishers, 8 starters). My next 100-miler is 5 weeks away. I love the ultrarunning community. 🙂

Much longer version:

The ultrarunning community is like my family, and that is not an overstatement. That group of people is the only group of people in which I have *ever* felt fully accepted. The foundations for some of my most meaningful friendships have been built over the span of hours across miles shared with strangers. This has been the case since my very first interaction with an ultrarunner. When I wasn’t sure if I should try my first 50k, I emailed someone in a book I’d just read. It just so happened to be ultrarunning legend David Horton. He gave me the encouragement to try, and I did it. I’ve been overwhelmed with the generosity and kindness of everyone I’ve crossed paths with, which extends beyond other runners to volunteers, race directors, and other runners’ crews and families.

Labor of Love is a special race for me, as it was the site of my first 50-miler last year. I’d done 50+ miles on two other occasions, but both instances were in fixed-time races, so there had been no obligation to complete a certain distance. My first official 50-miler was a big milestone for me, and I’d managed to do it in 11:21 which was good enough for 3rd place female overall. Honestly, though, I would have been okay with this being my single Labor of Love event ever. The 100-miler was on the same 11-mile strip of pavement, and over 4 out-and-backs just didn’t appeal to me. However, I also had no desire to step down to any of the lower distances (since there are 2 10k options, 2 HM options, a marathon, and a 50k in addition to the 50-miler and 100-miler).

After my last 100-miler last month, I lost focus. With no races to aim for, I didn’t do any concentrated quality training. And I was depressed. I know this is common–to train months for a race and then finish and think, “Now what?” I had this sentiment, and I also missed my friends. My second 100-miler was so much fun. I knew over a dozen people before I ever showed up, and at the race, I got to meet some online friends who I felt like I’d known a long time, and I also met a lot of new friends. Simply put, I wanted to see them again… and a lot of them would be at Labor of Love. I committed to running or at least volunteering since I couldn’t pass up the chance to spend more time with them. Also, this is a local race for me–no reason not to go.

In the end, a bunch of my on-the-fence friends jumped on the 100-mile bandwagon and I figured, “Why not?” I signed up two weeks prior to the race, just in time to taper, haha. I accepted whatever was to come, knowing it might not be pretty, but at least I’d be amongst friends. I was grateful for the 32-hour cut-off, which is very liberal, but in the back of my mind, I still remembered how easy I thought the 30-hour cut-off for my first 100-miler in February would be… and I only made it with 42 minutes to spare. Forty-two minutes might seem like a long time, but that equates to a mere 25 seconds per mile, including any stops.

After I made the decision to run Labor of Love, I decided to wear a sign that said http://www.walkforliz.com in order to help raise awareness for a “project” a friend of mine is doing. Drew who is crossing the country on foot to raise money for a lady named Liz (who he has never met) as a random act of kindness. Liz beat leukemia but was recently diagnosed with severe multiple sclerosis. She is only 21 years old, is pregnant, and already has a 20-month-old daughter she has difficulty doing anything with. Drew is raising money to ease some of the financial burden for her and her family. I just met Drew two weeks prior to Labor of Love when I found his story online, saw he was coming through my area, and invited him to stay at our house and keep him company one of his days on the road. Yup, I invited a stranger into our home, and I not only survived but gained a friend. I shared 32 miles with Drew one day, mostly walking but with some running. He inspires me and his cause is genuine. I figured the least I could do would be to raise a bit more awareness for what he’s doing by “advertising” during the race. I WILL write a non-race report in a couple days about the ultra distance I covered with Drew (which I meant to do over a week ago). He is a good person, and I like good people. 🙂

A couple days after I told Drew I would wear the sign, the tragedy in Boston happened, so I added a blurb about that; my friend Deb (referenced a bit later) made the ribbons for us.

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And blue and yellow fingernails for Boston. 😉

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Last month at my second 100-miler, BLU 100, there was a guy who ran the 50k whose name didn’t sound familiar, but based on his fast finish time, I felt like I should know who he was. Luckily, it wasn’t too long before he added me as a friend on Facebook. He is one of the fastest 100-milers in the world and won the U.S. 100-mile trail championship race twice. His name is Dave James. We exchanged a handful of Facebook messages after the race. He seemed nice. I mentioned he should come out and do Labor of Love or one of the other local Calico races sometime. As with everyone I tell to visit Vegas, I noted that we have a guest room if he didn’t have other accommodations. He already had a couple races on his schedule, including a 100-miler that he won, so he noted it would be a Thursday-before-the-race decision if he came. I assumed he wasn’t coming, but remembered this statement the Thursday before Labor of Love. I messaged him and he said he was coming but hadn’t committed to a race yet. He noted some transportation issues he had and I did some coordination to ensure he would be able to get around here, specifically to the airport after the race. He seemed very appreciative.

The night before Labor of Love, Ken and Stephanie, who were the co-race directors at BLU 100 hosted a dinner at their house–there were probably two dozen people if not more, and I knew most of them. They also had over a dozen out-of-town runners staying with them, including Dave James. My husband and I went to the dinner, and when we walked out to the back patio, a bunch of people were already eating. I scanned the faces at the table and then said something like, “Hey, I don’t know all of you, but I’m Katrina.” Dave immediately stood up, introduced himself, and thanked me for helping him out with transportation and inviting him to the race. He’s a very unassuming guy and he’s very modest; we chatted a bit over dinner.

At the conclusion of dinner, a few up us stayed out back to chat. Karla (who I crewed at Badwater), Josh (who I met at BLU 100 and felt connected with since his first 100-miler was the same one as mine, just a few years prior, and he was even closer to the cut-off than me… but he had made HUGE improvements), Dave, and I chatted about running-related things. Josh intrigued us all by talking about a 500k (not a typo) race he’d run twice. I loved the few moments of silence where the other three of us just look looked at each other while mulling over the possibilities while Josh sat there likely wondering what he’d started.

It was during this little chat that I discovered something interesting and I got a better grasp on my “lineage”… Ian Sharman was my coach for 15 months and helped me make tremendous improvements in my running; he’s most notably known for his 12:44 100-mile time. Who did he get some of his guidance from for that race? Dave James, who had just run a 13:06. And who encouraged Dave to try for a low 13-hour 100-miler in a sea of naysayers? Eric Clifton. I met Eric Clifton “randomly” about two months ago right after my first 100-miler when I was lost and in need of direction for my second 100-miler. His advice and perspective largely drove how I trained for and ran BLU 100, where I got my nearly 4.5 hour PR (24:53). He has a ton of experience and takes the time to share it with me; he also spent a few hours with me at BLU 100 when he had a “crash and burn” episode during his own race–he’s known for his epic successes and equally epic failures. Eric’s one of the most intriguing people I know. I also consider him a friend.

Toward the end of the evening on Friday, Dave and I were talking and he asked if I had a pacer. Of course I didn’t (as that would mean I knew someone local who was willing and able to spend 22 miles with me in the middle of the night). He asked when I was allowed to have a pacer, and I told him mile 44 (after two out-and-backs). There was a pause, during which what I thought was happening and what logic told me wasn’t possible didn’t match. And then it happened. Dave asked if he could keep me company miles 44-66. WHAT?! After going home, Dave and I exchanged a few messages on Facebook, and I gave him a couple opportunities to change his mind. But he looked up my past ultra results online and still seemed to want to pace me. I was happy about this, but I still couldn’t imagine this actually happening.

I chatted quite a bit with other people at the dinner too. There were a handful of us who had been at BLU 100 last month. Deb, Rob, and their son Matt are among these people. I met Rob through a mutual friend online and I’d met him and his family at BLU. At BLU, Rob ran the 100-miler while Deb and Matt completed their first marathons. I remember Matt had been so sweet–he always said something nice to me by name, and he was happy to announce to me when I got to the halfway point, haha. I love this family. I also met Mark for the first time, even though we’d done a handful of the same races in the past, including BLU 100. He adores Hokas (as did most of the people I saw other the weekend for that matter…), so I have to like him by default. 😉 Vanessa is someone else I had seen at races before but never met; she was kind.

Mike and Kimberly are a couple I keep seeing at races. I knew who Mike was since Badwater last year, since he ran it and he’s friends with Karla (who I crewed), but I didn’t officially meet him until BLU. Just a few months ago, I realized that this lady I kept seeing at races was actually his wife Kimberly. She finished just behind me at the Labor of Love 50-miler last year and I have photos from Badwater that we’re both in. I was glad to finally really meet her at the dinner, even though we’d exchanged some words at BLU.

This is the *only* photo from the whole weekend where I’m not wearing running clothes; this is my friend Giovanni and me.

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The Labor of Love 100-mile course consists of a little over 4.5 out-and-backs on an 11-mile paved road. The elevation varies from 4,600 to 5,700 feet, and the race has over 8,000 feet of gain (and the same amount of descent). There were three points we could have drop bags: at each end and in the middle, which corresponded to the three aid stations. I opted to have three bags, although the one at the far end was very minimal with just a light and a change of clothes. My “main” bag was in the middle one since I saw it every 11 miles. I also had a bag at the start/finish area. I always overpack, but there’s no reason not to; if nothing else, it gives me peace of mind!

This was all of my race day stuff, including what I wore/carried and my drop bags.

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Saturday morning, I got to the start area and had a great time chatting with a bunch of friends there I knew. Dave was there too; he said he wasn’t going to do a race that day, but maybe the next day. Based on my 9:52 time to do two out-and-backs last year and my uncertainty about when I would get to that same point this year (doing the 100-miler instead of the 50-miler), Dave said he’d met me at the start/finish area around 5pm (10 hours into the race). Cool! It appears I still had a pacer. I also ran into a guy I work with, who’s sort of a jerk. He knows I run long races, but I guess It caught him off-guard that I was there. He was defensive with I asked him what race he was doing, then he told me he was doing the 10k. He responded and said, “You’re probably doing the f&^%ing 100-miler, huh?” I said I was, to which his eyes got really wide and he said, “Really?! You’re seriously going to f&^*ing run 100 miles?!” He then awkwardly introduced me to his wife using similar language. He said I was crazy, at which point I just smiled and turned around to start talking to a bunch of my friends who were also doing the 100-miler.

This photo makes me laugh so much. These are my friends Josh and Colleen with me, and the guy from work is the one looking toward us in the background with a very weird expression that seems to sum up his sentiments about “people like us.” Haha.

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Here’s another photo of Colleen and me. She told me she was going to wear all pink. I had a pink running skirt, so I thought I’d wear it, in spite of the fact it was new and I’d run less than five miles in it (and I had ZERO issues with it!).

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And here’s a photo of Dave and me. (Yeah, he’s super nice, fast, and dare I say quite attractive.)

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I didn’t really have a strategy going into the race. Since the course is all hills, I decided I was going to walk the inclines and run the other parts. The course has significantly more elevation gain on the way out to the turn-around point than on the way back. This was a bit difficult mentally because I started walking earlier than a lot of other people, and after only about a half mile of running together, I let my friend Karla go because I didn’t want to run uphill. In the first 11 miles, I had a chance to interact with a lot of people before we got really spread out.

Colleen and I briefly met at BLU 100 last month (also her second 100-miler) and we’d interacted a lot between that race and Labor of Love. We got along really well, and we’re actually both local to this area (although we live as far apart as geographically possible… about an hour or maybe a little more). Mitch is someone I first met at the Once in a Blue Moon 12-hour race last summer, and we’d run into each other multiple times since then. Giovanni is someone I’d seen at races for years, but I didn’t know his name until my second 100-miler. Colleen actually asked me at that race if I knew Giovanni, since he also lives in Vegas, and I said I didn’t. Giovanni and I talked a bit during that race too. It wasn’t until afterward that I realized that I DID know Giovanni, I just hadn’t know that was his name, haha. Eric W (not to be confused with Eric C) had been at my second 100-miler, but I had not met him at that race. But we had become Facebook “friends” so it was nice to meet him in person.

Eric and me with Mitch up ahead a bit; this was around the 6-mile point. Giovanni took this photo and quite a few other ones.

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Eric and me again.

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By myself. This is one of the many photos that I don’t know when it was taken. I can typically figure out when photos were taken based on what I’m wearing and who I’m with. Since I went through minimal clothing changes and ran a lot of the race by myself, all I can say is that this was taken somewhere in the first 44 miles of the race.

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Another photo of just me.

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Here’s Eric and me again.

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And a close-up of the sign on my back. I also had a small sign on the front of my skirt that said walkforliz.com, but none of the photos captured it clearly. I was excited the few times people did ask about the web site and I was able to share what Drew’s doing. 🙂

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There was another guy whose name is Jay(?) who I have seen at a lot of local races, mostly marathons. We always seem to spend the last few miles “leapfrogging” each other and exchanging a few words. He is also in my finisher photo from my 51k last summer. We ran and chatted off and on for about seven miles at the beginning before we realized we were doing different races. He was doing the marathon. I wasn’t sure how we were moving at the same pace if our marathon paces are about equal and I was running almost four times farther, but I chose to not try to analyze the situation. When he discovered I was doing the 100-miler, he had a lot of questions. He seemed like he genuinely wanted to understand my motivation and other “whys” of the situation, but it was still a concept he could not seem to wrap his mind around. I don’t blame him, really. Someone recently reminded me that last July, I said I would never do a 100-miler. 😉

Here’s a great photo of Jay and me.

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The major exception to all of the inclines in the first 11 miles of every out-and-back is a pretty steep descent that lasts a bit less than a mile. It was a lot of fun to run down (the first few times) but not so fun going back up. The first out-and-back was quite fun because there were lots of people out there: the 100-milers, the 50-milers, and also marathoners. While the shorter races were going on, there were more water stops, which is sort of ironic. I took advantage of them, though. In addition to taking a gel every 40 minutes, I’d grab a cup of Heed at each water stop and take a couple mouthfuls. I carried a 20-ounce Amphipod bottle and I just kept water in it; this worked out well so I could use the water to rinse my hands if they got sticky.

This is the hill, which angles off to the left, back to the right, and then it curves upward some more out of sight.

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I noticed a small hotspot developing on the side of my big left toe, so I took a few moments at the mid-point aid station (16.5 miles in) to put a blister bandage on it. I’ve learned that not only is it important to deal with issues as soon as they arise, but it’s worth the extra few moments to do things right. This meant I wiped off the area with an alcohol pad and let it dry before applying the bandage. While my toe was drying, I took advantage of the time I had to stretch, put more gels in my spibelt, etc. I finished the first out-and-back in 4:24; the “back” part was 10 minutes faster than the “out” part; while the times got longer each time, going back to the start/finish always took less time. This time was 8 minutes faster than the year prior when I was doing the 50-miler, but I was feeling fine, so I didn’t question it.

The second out-and-back was rather uneventful. People were getting more and more spread out. There were a few little groups/pairs of people running together, but with the exception of a few minutes here or there, I was on my own. But I was enjoying myself. With only 34 100-milers, including 8 women, I always knew my placing amongst the women. Heading out from the start/finish at mile 22, I knew I was the 4th place female, but I was literally less than three minutes ahead of Colleen and a lady I’d passed at mile 20. I kept track of where I was just for my situational awareness, not because I wanted to run anyone else’s race, especially that early on. At mile 27.5, I grabbed my 12-ounce Amphipod water bottle out of my bag. The *only* other time I’ve ever run with two handhelds was at Labor of Love last year, as I always like to have access to water and the temperature had risen to the mid 80s.

Here is another photo taken sometime in the first 44 miles. What cracks me up is that I look so worn out… even though, at a minimum, I still had 17 HOURS left.

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And my “official” race photo, again, taken somewhere in the first 44 miles… although I actually think it was within the first 22 as the photographer didn’t stay around very long.

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When I left the aid station after grabbing my second bottle, I was surprised to look ahead and see Karla off in the distance; I’ve spent enough time behind her in races that I can pick her out pretty easily! I wasn’t intentionally speeding up, but I was slowly creeping up on her. I was about 30 seconds back for probably about a mile… until she finally realized I was there when a runner passed her, she exchanged some words, and then she heard the same runner exchange words with someone right behind her. She started running more, and I caught up, but it was short-lived, as I expected it to be. Karla’s a very consistent runner, but it was nice to spend a few minutes with her.

Later in that out-and-back, I developed another hotspot of my left foot and took a few minutes at mile 38.5 to remedy it. Things were going well. Whenever I crossed anyone going in the opposite direction, I always said something to them. Those types of interactions are what I love about ultras.

I was amused by the fact that there was a female leading for most of the race. That alone wasn’t super strange since Calico races tend to not attract top competitors, but I was intrigued by how far ahead she was of the first male, my friend Mike (who races a lot, including running Badwater). I also didn’t recognize the woman, and she never said anything or acknowledged words of encouragement from me. I figured she was just very focused and “in the zone,” but it still stood out to me. Of course I took advantage of every opportunity I had to tell Mike he needed to catch up to her… because that’s what friends are for. 😉

The first 44 miles went by really smoothly and I got to the end of the second out-and-back in an elapsed time of 9:19, 33 minutes faster than I did last year. This was 41 minutes quicker than Dave expected me, so he wasn’t ready. I asked around and no one had seen him, but finally one lady said he was taking a nap. I told her to tell him I was back out on the course when he woke up, but she insisted on waking him. Since it was going to take him a few minutes to get ready, I was told to go ahead and he’d catch up. I remember commenting, “Yeah, I don’t think he’ll have any problem doing that!”

Prior to this race, I’d only ever had two pacers, which was at my first 100 (two months ago). One lady was someone who chose her first ultra three years ago due to a race report I’d written the year prior (from my first one), and we actually met during her ultra when she recognized me… then we kept in touch and she paced me for miles 60-80 at RR100. My husband also paced me at the same race for the last 20 miles. They were awesome, but they’d never paced anyone before, and honestly, by the time I was with either of them, I was mostly in survival mode, so the biggest thing they did was just talk to me. Dave is super experienced in racing and pacing, so it was an interesting experience. He was awesome. He talked to me lots, but he also did tons of other things that enhanced my performance during the race. Having him as a pacer (or any pacer for that matter) is a total luxury. He took good care of me.

My third out-and-back was my most enjoyable one and also the one that seemed to take the least amount of time (although it actually took a bit more time than the first two). Dave didn’t carry water, so he frequently took advantage of the “abandoned” water stations from earlier in the day, even when it meant there weren’t any cups or he practically had to lie on the ground to access the water cooler. He also took restroom breaks. I sort of made it a game to see how far I could get before he caught back up. (Yup, there’s my confession, Dave. Your suspicions were correct.)

I LOVED running down the big hill, and right before this, at mile 49, Dave said he’d catch up. After a couple minutes of running down the hill, I hadn’t seen him yet, so I looked behind me and he was about 20 feet back. I said, “I thought you were going to run with me!” to which he responded, “I’m trying to catch up.” I motioned with my hand to catch back up, after which I immediately thought, “Whoa, I can’t believe there was any situation ever where I would have the opportunity to tell Dave James to hurry up!” We both had a good laugh about this. My pace, by the way, was an 8:3x during this descent, which is fast for me, but nothing for Dave. Dave had actually run down to the far end of the course earlier in the day in a “leisurely” sub-7 minute pace before volunteering down there for a bit, doing some trail running, and eventually making it back to the start finish area where he took his nap before pacing me.

Around mile 52 or so, Karla, who’d stopped at the aid station at mile 49.5 caught up to Dave and me. The three of us ran together a bit talking about random running things. I attempted to take a picture of the three of us while running, which turned out pretty bad. But then Dave was kind enough to run ahead a bit and take a photo of Karla and me; that single photo marks a very brief moment in time where Karla and I were tied (for 3rd place female). It was starting to cool down by this time, so Karla ran ahead to the turn-around and in pursuit of her drop bag at the middle aid station (mile 60.5). I had a jacket in my far end drop bag, although shortly after putting it on and running it is, I was way too warm so I took it off. Dave asked me if I wanted to wear his lighter jacket and if I wanted him to carry my jacket I didn’t want to wear. I thanked him but opted to go jacket-less a bit longer and to just tie the one I had around my waist. Dave had also offered me a jacket prior to the start of the race because it looked like I was underdressed, even though I felt fine.

Bad “self” portrait of Dave, Karla, and me.

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And the better photo Dave took of Karla and me when we were momentarily tied, haha. I really like this photo.

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Dave was good at ensuring I was eating and drinking enough. When it got to the point I didn’t feel like eating much and mostly just ate oranges, he cut up oranges for me (leaving the other volunteers to tend to other runners) but also insisted that I eat some other food. At mile 60.5, he told me I needed to eat some real food. When I tried to get away with not doing it, he told me to eat some ramen noodles. I tried to give him reasons why I couldn’t… I didn’t want to waste time stopping to eat, I couldn’t eat while I walked because I was holding two water bottles, I didn’t want to carry it after I was finished, etc. But he told me to give me my water bottles, to start walking and eating (it was up the steepest hill anyway, so it’s not like I would have run it), and that he would carry my trash when I was done. So, it was settled, haha. He also carried other random stuff of mine, mostly trash, including some ridiculously sticky gel packets that I didn’t want to give him but he insisted. At one point, I think it was with the gel packets, I commented that he wasn’t my slave, and he said, “But I AM your pacer. Give them to me.” Okay! Dave’s super humble and I had to pry info about his own races out of him (but it was totally worth it!). 🙂

As it started to get dark, more traffic started appearing on the road. Evidently, on a dirt road that branched off from the road our course was on, there was a “420” rave party taking place. This meant there were vehicles speeding down the road driven by people who had no regard for runners on the road. Dave warned me of cars coming, and on a few occasions, he ran in front to signal to drivers that we were there; the first time he did this, I asked, “Why are you running away from me?” and his response was, “I’m trying to keep cars from hitting you.” Oh… That’s nice. 🙂 There was a really disorienting point for me when I was walking up the steep hill on a curve at about mile 61 where it had just gotten dark and there were cars coming with their headlights on and a runner coming toward me with their light on. For whatever reason, I was staring at all of the lights and was somehow unsure where I was supposed to go. I think I said, “Whoa,” to which he responded, “It’s okay, just look down and keep moving.” Surprisingly (or not), looking down at the ground re-oriented me, yet I hadn’t thought to do that on my own.

Dave kept me motivated and reminded me to run on sections that were downhill at times I didn’t really care to run. Just running with him made me want to run faster. I mean, he’s Dave James! He cracked me up, though. A lot of people at the race recognized him, and I’m sure they were wondering how/why he was pacing me (I wondered the same thing), but a few didn’t know who he was. The biggest piece of info about him I liked to share was that he’s run a 13:06 100-miler. But every single time he heard me say this, he’d comment, “It was on a flat course, though.” Yeah, because that *so* negates the accomplishment of that ridiculously fast time. 😉 I was also impressed with how encouraging Dave was to all of the other runners. In ultras, I always try to say something to every other runner when I cross paths with them, but Dave was quicker than me doing this almost every time, and you could hear the sincerity in his voice.

Toward the end of the out-and-back with Dave, when I wasn’t running, I was walking briskly. I consider myself to be a pretty fast walker, but to hear Dave say I had one of the walking paces he’s seen made me smile. However, I explained to him that my brisk walking pace was merely a way to compensate for my relatively slow running pace. Dave’s good at predicting paces; at one point while we were walking, he noted that we had to be under a 13-minute/mile pace. Yup—12:3x. I couldn’t help but laugh when he would fall behind a little then jog ahead until I caught up because he had difficulty maintaining my walking pace. 😉 That’s another thing I appreciated about Dave as a pacer: He gave genuine encouragement, but he didn’t give over-exaggerated compliments. And some of his statements I wasn’t sure whether to take as compliments or not, like when he said at one point, “You’re doing great! I didn’t think we’d get this far while it was still light!” Gee, thanks. Haha.

At the end of our segment, Dave apologized for not being able to pace me more, but he had a legitimate reason. He was heading to Europe to begin his racing tour over there a few days later and couldn’t afford to not sleep. He was also still getting over a sickness that caused him to drop out of the Sonoma Lake 50-miler a couple weeks prior. I told him I grateful for the time he did pace me, which was the truth.

I ran into my friend Joel at the start/finish area; he was recording times. It is always nice to see a friendly face; we’d crossed paths a handful of times, most notably at Badwater as he was Karla’s other pacer last year. My elapsed time at mile 66 was 14:41. I was approximately 10 miles ahead of the next female behind me at this point in time.

Before heading back out onto the course, Joel took a photo of Dave and me:

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Starting off on my fourth out-and-back, I was sad to not have Dave as company, but because I was in such high spirits at the end of my segment with him, I had zero thoughts of dropping. In this particular race, 66 miles is a MAJOR dropping point because 100-mile entrants can drop and still get credit for a “heavy 100k” and not a DNF. The lead female had actually dropped here, meaning I had moved up to 3rd female overall.

The fourth loop was not pleasant for me. While there were physical factors, I know the root of my problems were mental. It was dark and I was not just alone, but I was lonely. With the sun down, it started to get cold. I put on tights under my running skirt and wore a couple jackets and gloves. The cold made me feel stiff, which made it uncomfortable to run. Even my walking pace slowed. I found myself not only cold and slow-moving but incredibly tired. I was nodding off and waking up only when I walked off of the road into the bushes. Or I found myself on the other side of the narrow road. The tights and knee-high socks I put on were rubbing on the sunburn I hadn’t realized I’d gotten, but I was able to dissociate from this discomfort, even though my calves and the backs of my knees chafed on top of the sunburn by the end.

Another element that was a physical and mental bother to me were the cars speeding by. Without anyone else there, it was solely up to me to watch out for myself. When I stepped off the road to give the cars room, it meant I was walking on the slanted gravel shoulder which caused my feet to slide sideways in my shoes; I got a couple blisters and it banged my feet up pretty well. From a mental perspective, it upset me that the drivers were so careless, and in some cases reckless, swerving TOWARD runners. This bothered me because I knew there was no way I was the first runner they’d seen out there or that they somehow didn’t know there was an event (besides theirs) going on—they just didn’t care. I had multiple close calls with vehicles and I witnessed this with other runners too.

I was in a bad place. It was around mile 80 that the thought of dropping out crossed my mind. It wasn’t a rational thought, but it did seem like a good idea. But there were a few things that prevented that from ever becoming a reality: I was running the race for Liz. I’d also vowed to keep Boston in my mind. Dave had spent over five hours of his day devoted solely to me and my race. And logistically, if I dropped anywhere besides the start/finish area, I’d be stuck in the middle of nowhere, still freezing. So I kept moving. One foot in front of the other. It was depressing to do the math, though, and realize I might still be out there for 10+ more hours. As time went on, I realized I’d let my lead on the 4th female dwindle from ten down to six miles. I felt helpless because I didn’t feel like there was anything I could do to change that, like just speeding up. Once I accepted that I could only control my race and not anyone else’s, I felt a little better.

I was glad to get to the end of my fourth out-and-back. My elapsed time was 22:25. I decided I needed to eat something. There was chili and cornbread, so I sat down to eat it. It actually tasted good and it was warm. I saw my friend Eric W there. He’s had problems and dropped, but he still earned his heavy 100k designation. I’d been concerned about him as I knew he was having issues pretty early on and then I hadn’t seen him on the course in many hours.

After finishing my chili, it was starting to get light and I set out on my final 12 miles, a smaller out-and-back than the other ones but on the same course. I was still curious where the 4th place female was, and I had a new motivation: I wasn’t going to lose 3rd place. I wasn’t running, but I was walking at a decent pace, and I realized I would fight (somehow) to stay in 3rd if I had to. I was relieved to discover when I got to mile 92, the 4th place female was 8 miles behind me, meaning she would need to cover the distance twice as fast as me just to catch up.

The sun reenergized me. I still hurt physically, but mentally, I felt a lot better. At about mile 92 is when the 50k runners started passing me since their race was that morning. I got some weird looks, nice comments, and a few people just wanted to know why I would subject myself to such “torture.” Karla passed me going the other way on the way to her finish; she actually got a PR of 23:3X. I was very happy for her. One of the 50k runners, Chris, is a friend of mine and he slowed down and chatted with me a couple minutes and took some photos. After so many hours of darkness and hardly any interaction with other people, even something as simple as this really lifted my spirits.

I have no idea what this expression is, but this photo makes me laugh. Chris took it.

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And Chris also took this photo; I don’t think I look terrible, considering I was at mile 92 and over 24 hours into the race.

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As I passed the mid-point drop bag area for the final time, Karla and her son were there and asked if I wanted them to take my bag back to the start/finish area, which I did, so I thanked them and congratulated Karla. I had intended to swap my 20-ounce bottle out for my 12-ounce bottle that I’d left in my bag a lap earlier, but in my haste to get my bag ready to go, I didn’t grab either bottle. I realized this after my bag was gone, but the turn-around was only about a half mile beyond the aid station, and once I got back to that aid station, I only had 5.5 miles left. What I neglected to realize, of course, is that it would take a lot longer than usual to cover that distance.

At mile 95, I saw something that was totally unexpected but made me really happy: Dave was running toward me! He’d woken up at sunrise, opted not to do a race, ran trails for a couple hours, and then just happened to get back on the road right near someone who told me I was back on the course just a little bit. So he decided to keep me company the final five miles. Yay! Of course I quickly realized he would have the opportunity to see me in one of my most “broken” phases (minus the very middle of the night). Lovely…

I hadn’t run in hours at that point. I’d tried is a few times, and it hurt a lot. And my pace was nowhere near what it should have been for that effort level. But Dave told me that I should try to run a bit more and it’d loosen me up. When I first tried, it was super awkward and painful, as I had previously experienced. I looked at my watch and realized I was “running” almost a 14-minute mile. I apologized since this way slower than I had ever run and there was an elite runner next to me trying to run the same pace. I felt quite ridiculous. But he said I was doing fine and that it would get better. Sure enough, it did get better. I only ran a minute or so at a time, but it was a lot better than just walking. And I was shocked to see my running pace finally get to a sub-11 minute… then a sub-10. It was so surreal to me.

As far as being without a water bottle, I got lucky. The additional water stops from the day prior had come to life for the 10k and half marathon runners by the time I got to what should have been the first “abandoned” water site. I really wasn’t that thirsty. But Dave convinced me to drink Heed after I admitted (and remembered, when prompted) that I hadn’t consumed any calories since the chili at mile 88 nearly three hours earlier. After taking a mouthful from one of the cups and tossing the rest, which caused Dave to go back and get me another one to drink, I drank the other cup he gave me in its entirety merely because I didn’t want him to have to go back again.

A funny moment I recall from probably about mile 97. I saw a woman heading out for her final out-and-back (9 miles from the finish), and I said, “Oh good…” to which Dave responded, “What?… Wait… That is your competition you were concerned about for third place?… I think you’re good…” It’s funny to me because even though math told me I had secured my position as 3rd place female a few hours earlier, it wasn’t really until that moment that I really realized that.

Dave told me that there was a beautiful view of the valley from one point that was just a little bit off the course. My first thought was, “Really? I already added enough bonus mileage weaving back and forth across the road and into the bushes in the middle of the night…” But Dave’s excitement over this view made me want to check it out. It was in the last few miles, and indeed, it was a hidden little gem. It was beautiful, and I just stood there looking down below at the course as it wound down to the other end for a minute or two. Dave also pointed out stuff in the distance and showed me where he’d been running earlier in the day. It was definitely worth the few minutes and tenth of a mile or so “detour.” In a very literal way, Dave reminded me that so many things aren’t just about the destination/finish line—they’re about the journey, and there is so much to appreciate along the way, assuming we take the time to pay attention. Dave’s passion for running and life really inspire me.

I told Dave I wanted to run the last .2 miles. And I RAN it. It was mostly uphill, and I somehow managed to do is at a 7:48 average pace. I SO wish I had a photo of the two of us during that moment, but it wasn’t meant to be. I actually sadly don’t have a single photo of us running together.

While I only vaguely recalled it when Dave told me about it after the race, in my final push to the finish line, I was so focused on that that I was totally oblivious to the fact I was running toward a moving vehicle that was pulling onto the course. The chances of me getting hit would have significantly increased had Dave not done what he could to get the vehicle to stop (which it did). It’s a good thing SOMEone had my well-being in mind.

I finished as the 3rd place female (out of 6 female finishers and 8 who started) in a time of 26:26:54. I was about an hour and a half off of my PR, but given the more difficult course and struggles in the miles 66-88, I was okay with it. Out of the 34 runners who started the 100-miler, 25 finished it. Of the nine who dropped, five dropped at mile 66.

Here’s my 3rd female overall award (which will go nicely with my 3rd female overall in the Labor of Love 50-miler last year!) and my buckle.

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Dave and me after the race with my finisher buckle. I really like this photo, especially since it shows my semi-crazy socks, even though the shadow of my hat covers most of my face. It’s hard to see, but my socks have hearts since it’s Labor of LOVE plus ladybugs for good luck. I love all of my quirky socks–they make me happy. 🙂

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And here’s a similar photo but with my face showing. And in case anyone’s wondering if I’m super pale or if Dave is just really tan, the answer is yes to both, haha.

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Here’s a photo of Dave and me in front of the Lovell Canyon sign; I’m holding my buckle and 3rd place award (which was made of out sandstone, I think).

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I got to see Deb and her family after the race too. All three of them are awesome. Deb completed a 10k BOTH days and even managed to set a new PR on a difficult course! Rob ran the 50-miler and set a PR, and Matthew ran the half marathon and also set a PR! Additionally, all three of them volunteered at aid stations when they weren’t running. After finishing his 50-miler, Rob manned the far end aid station through the night, which was the coldest place on the whole course–he is awesome. All three of them seemed to be everywhere all of the time; every time Deb drove by me on the course, she had something kind to say. I love this family.

Here’s a photo of Deb and me after our respective races in front of the Lovell Canyon sign. Her determination and positive attitude really inspire me.

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After the race, I hung out for a bit with some other people who had already finished and cheered some more people in. It was nice to finally be done and to relax a little bit. I was happy to hear that of the top three male and female overall runners, four of them were people who’d been at dinner the night prior and all of us had been at BLU last month. Mike won overall, Mark was 3rd place male, Karla was 2nd place female, and I was 3rd place female. There were also quite a few 1st place age group awards within our little group; Calico age group awards only go one deep. 🙂

Eventually, Dave and I drove back to the same house we’d eaten dinner at Friday night. It was a super nice house and all runners were invited to come and go as they pleased. I needed a nap and Dave needed to get back to that house to get his stuff, so he drove my car there since I didn’t feel like driving. I took a short nap and then hung out with about a dozen other people who made their way back to the house.

I was so proud of how all of my friends did, not just the people who placed high in the rankings, but everyone. A handful of people managed to get PRs, and everyone did really well. There was only one person who didn’t complete the distance he set out to do, but his performance inspired me. After not being able to keep any food in his stomach for many miles (35?), he was essentially forced to quit at mile 60. But after resting and finally getting nutrition, he went back out to do 6 more miles to get to the “heavy 100k.” My friend Ed the Jester was injured, so he walked the whole 100 miles; he always had something kind to say and greeted people by name and with a ring of the cowbell he carried the entire race. I was so proud of my friend Mitch, who was the last person to get to 88 miles by over 90 minutes, who still had a smile on his face as he headed out for his last 12 miles alone. I was also in awe when I saw Colleen’s massively blistered feet afterward which she had endured in pursuit of her buckle. I love seeing triumphs of the human spirit, and I was able to see so many of these over the weekend.

I later took Dave to the airport so he could catch a flight to visit some family and then start his European racing tour. Very cool. I had arranged another ride for him to the airport, but the person had decided to not leave until the next morning; I knew Dave wanted to get there earlier, so I told him it was no problem to take him. Yet he hesitated because he knew the airport was not on my way home. Right, it would add 30 minutes to my trip… compared to the nearly 7 hours he spent with me on the course. I figured it was the least I could do, haha. I also know he was concerned about me driving, as indicated by the message I got about an hour later checking to ensure I’d made it home safely. 😉

Under the circumstances, I think my race turned out pretty well. I loved getting to spend time with so many friends, not just during the race but before and after it. Having Dave pace me was an incredible experience, and I learned quite a bit about myself in the process too. For example, if he was able to encourage me to run after mile 95, over 25 hours into the race, that means I am physically capable of doing it regardless of whether or not someone else is there with me. There were times when I put in more effort because I didn’t want to let him down which again emphasized I am capable of pushing myself more when I’m on my own. He showed me that I still have room to improve and that I haven’t reached my potential yet.

Dave’s a wonderful person. I’m still really not sure why he cared enough to pace me, but I am so grateful for his kindness throughout the whole weekend, including lugging my drop bags around after the race so I didn’t have to. I told him afterward that I didn’t know how to repay him. Typically, it’s common to repay a pacer by pacing that person in a future race. However, that’s obviously not at all realistic in this situation. His guidance was clear: Pay it forward. THAT is why I love ultrarunning. Likewise, when Eric Clifton opened his home to my husband and he after BLU 100 and I asked him afterward why he was so willing to invite total strangers to his house, he said that over the years, many strangers had opened their homes to him before races and that he still had a lot of paying it forward to do to even break even. I love this. Being surrounded by acts of kindness and generosity like this can’t help but make me want to be a better person and do what I can to help others. I mean, if elite athletes with nothing to gain can go out of their way to help someone way slower who they don’t even know, what else can I do?

One thing I considered not mentioning but will anyway is the fact I was a bit disappointed looking back at the photos from the race because I look so “chubby” in them. I hate it really. However, I decided to share them all, even the ones in which I really don’t like how I look, as there are so many fun memories attached to them, and a lot of them include my friends. I admit I might be too critical of myself in some aspects—I mean, how unfit can I be if I completed 100 miles? But I do know I still have some work to do. While I can’t say I don’t care what I look like entirely, my primary desire to lose a few pounds stems from the fact that I know it’s easier to run when I weigh less—simple physics. 😉

As for what’s next for me, I have another 100-miler in 28 days: Nanny Goat 100 in southern California. It’s on a 1-mile dirt loop at lower elevation. I *will* take a break after this one, for real this time. As it is, I’ve done three 100-milers in 11 weeks—Nanny Goat will mark four in 16 weeks. 😉 I’m going to aim for a PR. Doing it without a coach is a little risky to me, but I got my PR last month solely following guidance from Eric C, so I know it can be done. My biggest hurdle, I think, is finding how to prevent, or at least lessen the effects of, my early morning slump. The logical answer is to get a pacer, but the more realistic/feasible answer is to find the root of the issue and deal with it. And this race should be fun. Many of the people who were at BLU last month and Labor of Love last weekend will be there too. I look forward to my next adventure! 🙂

I’ll close with a photo of the buckle. It’s funny what great lengths people will go to in order to earn one. But it is pretty. 🙂

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Katrina

2013/03/16: Beyond Limits Ultra 100-miler (race report)

Short version: I ran my second 100-miler and did it almost 4.5 hours faster than my first one, and the experience made me question where my true potential lies.

MUCH longer version:

I ran my second 100-miler on 16-17 March: Beyond Limits Ultra (BLU).  My first 100-miler was 6 weeks prior to it at the beginning of February.  I let my contract expire with my running coach after having him as a guide for 15 months.  I just wasn’t able to justify extending it another time, for only 6 weeks, when I expected that most of that time would be recovering and taper (in other words: very little actual training).  Based on the parting advice from my coach, I planned to do minimal running between the two events with a single long run of a max distance of 16-18 miles…

The first few days after my last race, I felt pretty lost without a coach.  I’d gotten so used to just doing whatever the schedule said that I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it on my own.  Luckily, I didn’t have to do it totally on my own.  Through a very random encounter, I crossed paths online with the person who was the second “well-known” ultrarunner I ever heard about when I first got into ultras 4 years ago: Eric Clifton.  And by random, I mean RANDOM.  Feel free to skip the following side story (the whole next paragraph):

A week after Rocky Raccoon 100, which was my first 100, I was trying to get info on another ultra that was underway; I was interested in it because the winner of Rocky Raccoon, Mike Morton, who’s an amazing runner (major understatement), was racing another 100.  Mike and I had crossed paths a couple times, the most notable one being when he agreed to wear an orange bracelet in honor of my friend Jenny who is going through some serious medical issues; there’s actually a small photo of Mike on the cover of the March Ultrarunning magazine that was taken during Rocky Raccoon, and the bracelet is visible—pretty neat.  After trying a few other avenues with no luck, I went to Mike’s Facebook page to see if there was any race info on there, which there was.  A guy who was in contact with people at the race was posting a couple updates, one of which had a few responses to it.  The first thing I thought when I looked at the few other responses was, “Whoa! Eric Clifton is posting here!”  It shouldn’t be a huge surprise since Eric was Mike’s crew chief at Badwater last year when he won it, but I’d only ever heard of Eric, never met him or interacted with him at all.  To me, he was a name far removed from my reality.  I posted something in the thread, to which Eric responded.  Then we exchanged a few messages back and forth, which was neat but very weird to me honestly.  I mentioned my first 100-miler and my upcoming one, and he said he’d heard of the upcoming one.  He also noted that he lived pretty close to there and could stay with him if I needed a place to stay.  Whoa! We eventually brought the conversation to private message since we’d been using Mike’s wall as a chat session.

When I told Eric about my next 100-miler, I admitted I didn’t know how to approach it.  I also mentioned that BLU was never meant to be a goal race; I’d signed up for it months prior and hadn’t *really* committed to doing it until after Rocky Raccoon.  He gave me a new perspective on running which totally changed how I treated the time between Rock Raccoon and this one.

Instead of primarily resting like I’d planned, I got my weekly mileage up to a peak of 70, including a couple runs around 20 miles, and one instance where I ran 15 miles one night followed by 18 more the following morning. One thing Eric told me in one our first interactions was: “Great accomplishments are not achieved from mediocre efforts.” This really stuck with me.  I had already met my goal of “just finishing” a 100-miler at Rocky Raccoon; it took 29 hours and 17 minutes, but I had done it.  I decided I wanted more.  I wanted to see what I was really capable of doing, or at least get closer to it.

In the last month or so, I’ve started to question my limits, particularly with regard to running.  Nearly every goal I have ever had in running has been arbitrary.  I’ve met a lot of my goals, but instead of viewing those as successes, I instead wondered how much greater my potential actually was.  Maybe my goals had been too easy.

Before I go any farther, I should point out that Eric’s racing strategy is not exactly mainstream; every time, it is to go as hard as he can for as long as he can.  This has resulted in some epic failures… but also some epic successes.  He’s held course records in races like Rocky Raccoon 100 and JFK 50 that lasted at least 15 years (which is pretty much unheard of).  He was also featured in the documentary Running on the Sun, which chronicled several runners in the 1999 Badwater, which he won and set a new course record that year; this is what I think he tends to be most well-known for, but his accomplishments go far beyond that one race.  His view of racing, and running in general, intrigued me.  (Actually, HE intrigues me.)

I made the conscious decision to approach BLU aggressively and to take a leap of faith.  I knew very well going into it that I would walk away with a huge PR or I would crash and burn and “death march” for many miles.  But it was important to me to take the chance.  I have never welcomed failure; I’ve always known things can be learned from it, but I can’t say I’ve ever sought it out.  However, Eric gave me a new perspective on this.  If a person succeeds 100% of the time, they’re not pushing themselves.  If people only ever stay within their comfort zones and what they perceive their limits to be, they never truly discover where they are.  Only by going beyond them and failing can a person better understand their limits.  This is why I was at peace with the possibility that I would “fail” in the race by doing it even slower than my first one, in which I had some major issues (blisters mostly).  (I vowed to not actually quit the race, even if I crashed and burned.)

A few weeks before the race, my friend Roz came to my mind and I couldn’t stop thinking about her.  Lt Roslyn (Roz) Schulte was a classmate of mine at the Air Force Academy.  Tragically, in May of 2009, the vehicle she was riding in while deployed to Afghanistan hit an IED and she was killed.  She was my first friend (albeit not the last) to be killed in action.  There was a group that formed shortly after her death, Running for Roz, that raised money in her name.  Several months ago, I had inquired about how I could get a Running for Roz shirt to do one of my races in, and I received one almost immediately.  I had not worn it in a race yet, and I realized it would be perfect to do the BLU 100-miler in Roz’s honor and memory.  I realized I could also use this as an opportunity to raise some money for her two memorial funds.

At one point, I was concerned that running the race for Roz was in conflict with my aggressive approach to the race, but I quickly realized it was actually very appropriate.  One very easy lesson to be learned from Roz’s short life was that life should be lived to the fullest.  I intended to run the race to the best of my ability, to run it passionately, and to truly embrace what life had to offer.  I also learned that the day after the race was Roz’s 29th birthday.  Interesting coincidence.

Going into the race, I was really excited, not just about doing the race but about all of the friends I would get to see again.  I knew at least 15 of the people who would be there, and since it was a small (1.78-mile) looped course, I knew I would get to see everyone many times.

This was the inaugural BLU race, although the race directors hope to expand it to many similar races across the country.  One of the neat elements of the race was that lodging for the 100-mile, 24-hour, and 50-mile runners was included in the entry fee (there were also 50k and marathon options).  The race site was at a camp that had cabins right along the course; the cabins are where we all stayed.  It was bunk-style sleeping arrangements, but there were restrooms with running water!  Also, dinner the night before and breakfast the morning of the race were included in the entry fee, and the cafeteria was within a 5-minute walk of the cabins.  Everything was located very close together which cut down on some of typical race-day stressors since there were very few logistics runners had to concern themselves with.

My husband Asa and I arrived at the ranch around 4pm on Friday.  The first person we saw was my friend Joel.  When my friend Karla ran Badwater last year, Joel and I were her pacers.  Not too much more time passed before Karla and her husband Z arrived; all of us were staying in the same cabin along with some other people.  We walked to pick up our packets and met some more friends along the way.

I met a guy named Mike who I’d crossed paths with a few times before but never actually met in person; he and his wife Kimberly had worn orange bracelets for Jenny, and actually, earlier this month, they went down to Mexico for the Caballo Blanco Ultra in the Copper Canyon (which should sound familiar to anyone’s who’s read Born to Run).  They actually gifted one of their bracelets to a Raramuri (Tarahumara) runner—this story was actually the first thing Mike said to me.  Very neat   I met one of the race directors, Ken, for the first time in person (although we’d exchanged messages online) and also met his girlfriend Stephanie (who I’d met previously) who was the other race director.  They both seemed surprisingly calm, especially considering this was their first race-directing experience.

At dinner, I saw more friends, including meeting a few I’d only previously known online.  I also got to “officially” meet a guy named Claude.  We had crossed paths multiple times over the last few years; we saw each other last month at my first 100-miler, I remembered seeing him at Badwater last year, and I finally recently figured out where I first saw him when I came across an old photo.  In late 2010, right before I deployed, I did a small 8-hour race.  Somehow, I managed to be the winning female; Claude had been the winning male—I hadn’t remembered this until I saw the old photo of the final standings written on a dry erase board.  The ultra community is super tiny.  I also got to meet a lady named Shawna.  I felt like I already knew her family based on stuff I’d read online.  I was particularly impressed by her 12-year-old son Colby who had done his first marathon just a few months ago, and a week before BLU, he did his first ultra: a 100k!  There was a speaker at dinner: Jordan Romero, who was the youngest person to climb the highest peak on each continent… and he’s only 17.  Wow.  He and his mom were doing their first marathon at the race.

That’s something else unique to point out about this race: Not only did the 100-miler have a liberal 32-hour cutoff, but all of the other races, including the marathon, had the same cutoff.  For this reason, there were a lot of first-time marathoners and ultrarunners, which was really neat.  The course was a flat mostly dirt loop that had two out-and-back sections; it was as unintimidating as possible.  The only real challenge was mental.  The 100-miler was 56 loops.  The course was set at an elevation of 4,600 feet, which isn’t super high, but not totally unnoticeable.  The race day temperature was projected to be between 45 and 65 degrees F, which is perfect running weather in my opinion.

I slept surprisingly well before the race, and luckily there weren’t any “crazies” in our cabin who felt the need to wake up at 3am for an 8am start, haha.  Most people went to the cafeteria for breakfast, but before every race that is a marathon or longer, I always just eat a banana, so I stayed in the cabin and took more time stretching and getting my drop bag ready (which I put just outside of the cabin since the course went right by it) while eating my banana that I’d brought with me.

When I got to the start line, they were already making announcements.  I had wanted to go meet Eric Clifton, who was actually doing the race (gasp), beforehand, but I couldn’t find the right time to do it between announcements, so I didn’t.

I had decided my strategy for the race was to run by feel and not to set numeric goals or try to run certain splits.  I was apprehensive about this, but really excited to try something new.

The race started and Asa and I ran together for a bit; he was doing his first 50-miler (even though he hadn’t trained for it!).  I was wearing a Garmin so I knew my pace, but I only looked at it out of curiosity; I chose to not make any decisions (like speeding up or slowing down) based on what it said.  I was running with my 12-ounce handheld water bottle because I didn’t want to have to stop and get water as often.  I had elected to take a gel every other lap for a while.

The first few laps were uneventful, but people were already starting to spread out, especially with everyone from all of the races on the same course.  It was only about three laps before I started getting lapped and lapping others.  With the out-and-back sections, there was tons of interaction with the other runners.  As with every single other ultra I’ve done, everyone was super encouraging.  My friend Ed, who is known for dressing in jester attire, was out there doing what turned out to be 160 miles over the weekend, and he gave high-fives on virtually every exchange.  Ed is also in pursuit of trying to break the world record this year for the number of 100-milers run in a year.  Eric and I never officially introduced ourselves to each other, but we started exchanging waves too and a few words every now and then.

I learned a lot of lessons from my first 100-miler, including the need to stay very aware of what’s going on with my body and to be proactive.  At Rocky Raccoon, I had developed blisters before the halfway point, even though I never noticed hotspots developing, and I never dealt with the blisters because I didn’t know what to do.  This resulted in walking much of the race between miles 45 and 80 and nearly all of miles 80 to 100, with the sensation of walking on broken glass with every step for over 8 hours.  I did not want to experience this again.

Near 20 miles into the race, I noticed a hotspot forming on my right big toe.  The temperatures were rising and due to sweating a lot, I also noticed some chafing under my bra strap in back.  Luckily Asa was in the cabin when I went in and helped me put bandaids on my back, then I changed my bra.  I also put a cushioned blister bandaid over the hotspot and changed my shoes.  Since it was getting warmer, I decided to run shirt-less (which I typically never do) also changed from my running skirt to a pair of “denim” (pattern) running shorts; the latter decision was admittedly mostly based on aesthetics since my running skirt creates a muffin top and the shorts have a looser band. This whole thing took probably 10 minutes, but I felt it was worth it.  I went back out feeling great, but this was short-lived.

Somewhere between miles 20 and 25, I began to feel nauseous, which is very uncharacteristic for me.  I couldn’t pinpoint a specific cause, but I figured it had something to do with the fact the temperature had risen to 82 (so much for a high of 65!) and I was very thirsty, so I was drinking a lot.  But I was still maintaining a decent running effort.  The large amount of liquid in my stomach was not in agreement with trying to run.  Not knowing what else to do, I chose to walk a loop to see if that helped.  It was really hard to do because I didn’t want to walk yet, let alone for that far, and every part of my body besides my stomach wanted to run.  But I also knew that I needed to get the nausea under control.  I walked about 90% of the following lap, plus about half of the next one, and I felt a lot better.  I did choose to take more walk breaks in the next few hours, not because I needed to but because I felt the heat of the day would force me to slow down if I didn’t choose to do so myself.

At the end of every loop, there was a screen that showed our mileage, lap time, and standing.  There was also a camera that streamed live video, along with real-time lap updates, to a web site where people not at the race could watch for free.  This was very neat.  I noticed I slipped in the rankings a bit, but like my Garmin data, I only looked for reference, not to make decisions off of.

There were a couple more times throughout the race where I had issues with my bra strap chafing; each time, I waited until I caught up to Asa, who was mostly walking, and he’d run with me the remainder of the loop back to the cabin to help me.  He’s so awesome.  Each stop meant time I wasn’t moving forward, but I didn’t consider it wasted time; instead, I saw it was an investment that wouldn’t pay off until later.  The fact I wasn’t focusing on paces made these necessary stops easier to make because I took them in stride and didn’t try to compensate for them by speeding up or worse yet not making them at all.

That’s another difference between Rocky Raccoon and BLU.  During Rocky Raccoon, I took pride in the fact that besides a few potty breaks, I never sat down or rested for any length of time.  I still didn’t rest at all during BLU, but if there were opportunities to sit down or even stretch a bit (like when I was cleaning my foot and letting it dry before putting on a bandaid), I took advantage of it.

I spent time with so many people on the course.  There was a guy from England named Anthony who I met the night prior to the race who was doing the 50-miler.  He was one of the fastest people out there, even faster than most of the 50k runners and marathoners.  Late into his race, I could tell that he was not having as good of a race as he expected, but in spite of this, he not only finished but won the 50-miler (even if it was not in the time he’d anticipated).  I also spent some time with my friend Tony, who is known by many as Endorphin Dude.  I first met him at a 12-hour race I did last summer, with his friend Chris (who was also at BLU).  He’s not a fast runner, but he runs a LOT of races.  What I love about Tony is his incredibly positive attitude.  He’s just a fun person to be around and he smiles a lot.

In addition to the family (mom, dad, and son) who I already referenced, there was another family who was also running: I knew Rob from online and he was doing the 100-miler, and his wife and son were each doing their first marathon.  They were all so cheerful.  I met them all the night before and I was pleasantly surprised to not only exchange encouragement with the son Matthew but to realize he even remembered my name.  I had to smile when I finally got to the halfway point and Matthew, who had finished his race several hours earlier was right there and quick to point out in a very excited manner that I was half done (at least by distance…haha).

A weird thing happened somewhere between miles 50 and 60: I had a lot of energy and was running when a lot of other people were walking.  Previously, in this situation, I would have slowed down in an effort to “save” my energy for later.  But in this race, I chose to take advantage of it while I had it because I knew there was no guarantee I could just bank it for later.  One of the weirdest things I noticed was that I was “unlapping” some of the faster runners.  I also spent some time with the eventual female 100-mile winner and some time with the male 24-hour winner.  At one point, the people around me were moving too slowly, and when the eventual male 24-hour winner started running, I ran with him… and then at some point, I ran ahead.  Logic told me I was in the wrong, but I reminded myself I was running by feel, so I kept moving forward at a pace that felt right.

Somehow, in a scenario I could not have imagined, Eric Clifton and I ran together.  He was with one of his friends who is a marathoner but totally fascinated by ultras and the people who run them; he was just keeping Eric company.  Eric had gone out fast, led the 100-miler for a while, and then crashed and burned.  I’d told him through exchanges leading up to the race that he owed me some stories; this spawned from instances like the time I posted a status update on Facebook about Born to Run being an interesting read, to which he responded with something to the effect of, “Yeah, especially if you were at some of those races and know what really happened.”  I never expected he’d actually be able to tell me some of those stories, haha.  But he did.  We actually ran together and chatted for several hours.  It was awesome.

One of the interesting things about Eric is that he ran without a light, even though the course was mostly not lit and there was just a sliver of a moon.  But I followed his example and was surprised how well my eyes adapted.  It also made the experience more serene.  When I run with a light of any kind, I feel sort of like I’m watching The Blair Witch Project, haha, and the motion of the light can actually be disorienting to me.  Another perk to running in the dark is that the sky was a lot more beautiful.  Living in Las Vegas, I never see stars.  But I saw tons of stars above the ranch.  Eric tried to find a comet that should have been visible, but that never happened.  But I ended up seeing 6 or 7 shooting stars which were beautiful.

At some point, Eric’s friend left and Eric decided he wanted to walk a whole loop.  I didn’t really want to do this, but my desire to pick his brain more won out over continuing at my own pace, so I walked with him.  By the end of that lap, we were both so cold that we went separate ways to put on more layers, and the plan was for us to meet back up on the course somewhere.  I’d already put on more clothes earlier—tights, a shirt, and a light jacket, but I was still cold; I’d originally wanted to just wear my shorts since my legs don’t tend to get cold, but at the urging of Eric’s wife, I chose the tights.  His wife had actually seen me many loops earlier, before Eric and I had run together, knew who I was, and introduced herself to me.

After I put on some more clothes and got out onto the course, I had no idea if Eric was ahead of me or behind me, but I figured we’d find each other.  I actually felt really energized, at least in part due to the walking lap giving my body some time to recover.  Even though I was around 60 miles into the race, I was actually running, and I was one of the few people running.  I felt great.  I was also unconsciously motivated to run quicker to try to catch Eric (since I knew we’d never meet up if we were moving at the same pace on different parts of the course).  I chatted with lots of people on the course, telling most of them I was trying to catch back up to my running buddy.  When Asa and I would cross paths, I asked if he’d seen Eric, to which he always said he hadn’t.  After a couple hours, I knew something was weird because I was pretty sure I’d seen everyone on the course.  I’d also been checking the standings board which always showed the last several runners to pass through and I never saw his name. Hmm.

Eventually, I had a better idea why I hadn’t seen Eric’s name when I looked at the standing board and finally saw his name… and alongside it was his 2+ hour lap.  I did catch up to him.  As happy as I was to finally see him again, I was disappointed that I knew we wouldn’t be running together anymore… He was moving a lot slower than me.  He has issues with the cold and has practically no body fat anyway, so I knew he was in a bad place.  I wanted so much to slow down and spend more time with him, but I couldn’t.  It was my race in which I was trying to push my limits, which is something that he had encouraged me to do.  He had taken a nap, and in that period of time, I’d managed to make up the 7 miles that had previously separated us plus some.  I lapped him a couple more times, then he ended up dropping out.  I appreciated that he’d waited at the timing area/aid station to let me know and to also give me his contact info since Asa and I would be staying at his home the next night.

After Eric left, I was pretty bummed.  And more than being bummed, I was COLD.  I put on more clothing.  This meant I was wearing tights, tech socks, knee-high decorative socks over the top (to cover my partially exposed calves since my tights were 3/4 length), short sleeve shirt, thermal, hooded sweatshirt, light jacket, two pairs of gloves, and a wool cap.  I was still incorporating some running in with the walking I was doing, and I was still ridiculously cold.  It was definitely colder than 45… actually 30, haha.  But it felt even colder than that, which other runners attested to as well.

I have experienced tiredness in overnight races before (duh), but I’ve never had a problem with being sleepy… until this race.  I found myself nodding off while walking and walking into bushes and fences.  I talked to other people on the course who were having the same problem.  My only guess is the combination with being tired plus the cold temperatures made the body want to shut down as some kind of defense mechanism.  It was so strange.  One of my friends actually almost walked into the lake in a nodding off episode.  While it struck me as incredibly funny, I knew it wasn’t actually funny.  But it did help to walk with other people because just talking kept the mind engaged and everyone stayed awake.  I spent quite a bit of time with Karla.  I also spent some time with Tony.  Ed and his small posse was another group I hung out with in the middle of the night/early morning.  The cold really took its toll because there were noticeably fewer people out there in especially the early morning hours.

When it was very cold in the middle of the night, my hands were so cold that they were hurting, and I was spending about 5 minutes every or every other lap trying to warm them up with the hand dryers in the cabin restrooms.  I didn’t like spending time doing this, but I also didn’t like having cold aching hands.  I also made an effort to have the aid station fill my water bottle with hot water each loop as it felt slightly warm through my gloves.  I drank sips of it, but I really wasn’t very thirsty.

As far as nutrition goes, I continued trying to take a gel every other loop or so, but I was also eating real food.  Every loop, I tried to grab a little something (like chips, pieces of tortilla with beans, lentils, potatoes dipped in salt, etc.)—typically just a couple bites of something.  I also drank a little cup of some kind of soda every few loops.  There was not an exact method to my madness, but I had energy and my stomach wasn’t bothering me, so I figured I was doing okay.

Throughout most of the race, I stayed consistently the 4th female in the 100-miler.  Late in the race, Karla was ahead of me by 2 laps and 5th place was behind me by 2 to 3 laps.  Again, this was more just reference information for me.  My race was dependent on my own effort, not the relative standings of those around me.

When the sun came up, everyone seemed more refreshed, and the sun seemed to make everything better.  Another neat thing about it being light outside was that runners could actually see one another’s faces in passing.  It gets back to the human connection that is so present in ultras in particular.  The shared experience means a lot, and being able to actually see other people (not just their lights or silhouettes) is meaningful, at least to me.

A few weeks ago, I was picking the brain of my friend Sue.  Sue’s an awesome runner; she actually all-out won NorthCoast 24, beating the other females and all of the males.  We were chatting about Rocky Raccoon and the upcoming BLU race.  One of the things I told her was that my goal in longer races (over 50 miles) is to keep incorporating running into the race as long as possible before the inevitable “death march.”  She told me that it was totally possible to still be running late into a race, even a 100-miler.  Hmm.  Of course this was based on some strategic planning early on, which I had totally not done, but I aimed to still be running bits and pieces at the end.

I started running more once the sun was up and it surprisingly felt okay.  My right knee had been bothering me for many hours, but after trying to stretch and massage the area around it without much success, I just decided to ignore it.  It wasn’t a terrible pain, but it was definitely a discomfort.  But I chose not to focus on it.

At some point, while Karla and I were doing some running, but mostly walking, together, I realized that if she sped up that she could still make her 24-hour goal.  She seemed uncertain of it, but I urged her to just do it.  Even that late in the race, I could still do math relatively well and knew our current pace was on the verge of her being able to do it; if she sped up, it was practically guaranteed.  So I said farewell to her at around mile 96 (I was around mile 93).

Again, what I’ve had drilled into me over and over again is that ultras in particular are about competing against yourself, not other runners; ultras are also about encouraging others.  I was happy to see Karla increase her lead on me because she was meeting her goal, and this did not take away from my race at all.  Before the race even started, I knew who the female winner was going to be, and I knew Karla would be ahead of me too.  (Of course this brings up my own perceptions of my limitations and how I am “supposed” to perform…)  One thing I will note is that females seemed to be more consistent in at least the 100-miler.  I don’t think at least the top 6 females ever swapped places throughout the whole race, even though the males between us kept shifting around a lot.

When I had 3 loops remaining, I was happy to see my dad at the start/finish/timing/aid area.  He’d driven a few hours to see me finish an ultra for the first time.  I was a bit concerned because I had no idea what to tell him for a projected finish time because I really didn’t know.  He also tends to get places really early, so when I didn’t see him earlier, I wondered if he would be late.  I also wasn’t sure if he’d have any idea of where to go specifically, but my cell phone had no reception, so calling him wasn’t an option.  I had decided that whatever would happen would happen and there wasn’t a whole lot I could do to change it.  I was glad to see he was there with his camera; he takes great photos.

When I had 2 laps to go, I saw Karla at the start/finish area and she told me she’d gotten under 24 hours.  She was way more surprised than I was.  I stopped a moment to take a pic with her and continued on my way.  Somewhere around this point is when I looked at any sort of numerical goal for the first time.  I realized I had a chance to break 25 hours.  I wanted to do this.

I spent a little bit of the next, second to last, lap with a guy named Joshua.  I’d met him early in the race and we were both happy to have remembered each other’s names.  He was wearing a shirt that said “Run It Fast” which served as good motivation whenever I saw it.  I was not running the race “objectively” fast, but I was putting a lot of effort into it to run it as fast as I could.  Through talking to him, I learned he’d done a handful of 100-milers but that his first one was Rocky Raccoon a few years ago.  He was actually closer to the 30-hour cutoff than I had been, but he now has a sub-20-hour 100-mile PR.  Again, more motivation.  He’d taken a few hours off in the middle of the night with the ridiculous cold, so he was behind me mileage-wise, but he was moving at a good pace.  I ran with him for a bit before he moved ahead.  My new time goal gave me something to keep me energized.

I was running about half of the time with a few miles to go.  I was happy to almost be done.  With one lap to go, I ditched all of my jackets and long sleeves I’d been wearing so I was just in short sleeves again.  It felt cool but really refreshing.  I also ditched my iPod that I had worn since the very beginning, even though I only listened to it at all the first couple hours.

I ran almost my entire last loop.  With less than a mile to go, I caught up to a guy names Chris who was slowly walking along; after a quick exchange, I realized we were both on our last loop, so I told him to run with me.  It was really neat to share much of the last mile with someone else.  When we were within a half mile of the finish line, I realized we could walk the rest of the way and still get under 25 hours, but I reminded myself that the huge emphasis of this race was to do my best, NOT to focus on numbers (even though the sub-25 hour goal had motivated me for about an hour), so I kept running.  Chris had more energy than me at the end, so he ran quicker and finished before me, but that was okay.  I was running my race.

My last mile was just over a 10-minute mile, which is pretty quick for me under any circumstances.  I actually sped up at the very end and leapt in the air when I crossed the finish line in 24 hours, 53 minutes, and 57 seconds.  How I had energy to leap I really don’t know, and it wasn’t planned—it just sort of happened.  This was a 4 hour and 24 minute PR!  I could not have imagined that would happen.  One of the first things I did was to go over and congratulate Chris and give him a hug.  He was the 1st place male in the 29 and under category.  I was the 4th female overall and 1st in the 30-49 (that’s not a typo) age group.  I got my medal, buckle, and award and posed for some photos with the two race directors.

Next, it was time for my untimed .25-mile “victory loop” around the lake.  Asa had finished his 50-miler about 8 hours before I finished, but he’s waited to do his victory lap so we could do it together.  The incentive for doing the victory lap was a bumper sticker (i.e. 100.25, 50.25… 31.35, 26.45), which is a neat little touch.  Asa had a lot of blisters, so we just walked the victory lap together.  At the end of it, we jumped to get a jumping photo together.

While we were standing there, Ed came through and he stopped so we could take a pic together with our orange bracelets for Jenny.  Ed had posted something for Jenny prior to the race and said he and I would get a pics with our bracelets and buckles after the race.  I told him we could just pose with my buckle, but he was insistent that he get his buckle (which he’d already earned after his first 100 miles of the weekend) so the photo would be in line with what he said it would be.  Considering his race was still in progress, it meant a lot that he was willing to take a few minutes to find his buckle and take the photo.

Soon after finishing, Asa and I walked back to our cabin.  I was really sleepy.  I chatted with Karla and Z; Karla was trying to rest as well.  I fell asleep for a few hours and then woke up, showered, and got dressed in clean clothes.  I looked at the time and realized that there were likely still people running, so I stepped outside the cabin and encouraged a couple people I saw who passed by.

Instead of leaving right away, I wanted to go to the finish area and see what was going on.  There were just less than 2 hours left in the race and there were a few runners still out on the course.  People seemed to be moving pretty well.  One of the race directors, Ken, noted that he had gone out and spent several laps with my friend Tony when Tony was ready to drop out.  How many other races exist where the race director would do that for another runner?  Ken got him back on track, but coming down to his last lap, it was still not a guarantee he would make the cut-off.  Ed, who had run 160 miles in the last couple days said he would go out with Tony.  I spontaneously volunteered to go back out too.  I was sore, and I did not feel great, but I wanted to do my part to help Tony.  I grabbed my running shoes and swapped my flip flops for them.

Accompanying Tony of his last lap was a great experience.  I know he could have done it without me; he was in good hands with Ed.  But I wanted to show him some support too.  Another lady, whose name I didn’t catch, was also with him.  Tony was overwhelmed with people’s willingness to help him.  But really, that’s what ultras are all about.  I’d had some time to rest and take a short nap; the least I could do was to help someone in some way who had been out way longer than I had ever been before.  Tony was insistent that we cross the finish line with him, but as we rounded the last bend, he started jogging and the rest of us stayed back to allow him to experience the full glory of doing 100 miles.  He had about 17 minutes to spare.

On the advice of Ed, instead of stopping, Tony started his victory lap immediately.  And in typical ultra fashion, almost everyone in the finish area chose to do the victory lap with Tony.  Moments like that make me so happy.  It reminds me that the ultra community is like a family, and the people within it deeply care about one another.  It reminds me that there is goodness in the world.

Tony received the DFL trophy in addition to his finisher medal and buckle.  Seeing him finish the 100-miler was heart-warming because he went through so much to get there.  Another neat finish was by a lady named Deb.  She was not out on the course the whole time, and she walked with walking sticks most, if not all, of the time, but she completed her first marathon.  It took her over 27 hours (elapsed time on the clock), the last marathon finisher by nearly 20 hours, but she did it.  It served as a testament to what people can do with the right attitude and determination.  Seeing her with her finisher medal was so awesome; it was truly earned.

I’m sure some people may have read the last paragraph and had some negative condescending thoughts cross their mind.  But I have nothing but admiration for people who persevere so much in pursuit of their goals.  There seems to be a funny perception that races that have very liberal time limits somehow dilute the experience for faster runners, but this is hardly the case.  The faster people, including those who win races, are given their due credit, which is not overshadowed by anyone who is slower.  I think it’s awesome that there are events that give people of all abilities the opportunity to test their physical limits.  There’s always the argument of walkers and slower runners getting in the way, particularly on a loop course, but this has nothing to do with speed really; it’s a matter of people having mutual respect for the other people out there on a course.  There wasn’t a single time during this race where I felt that someone else was in my way.  And it was encouraging to me to see people of all abilities out there.

After BLU, Asa and I drove to Eric’s house (where his wife lives too, as one might assume).  On the way there, I was messaging him back and forth (Asa was driving), and he said he was getting ready to go for a run.  For some reason, I wanted more info.  Really?  I’d just done 100 miles and then done 2 miles with Tony.  Obviously I would not run again.  Eric noted that my last loop was way fast and that if I could do that, surely I could run again.  Huh?  It made me wonder, though… Was it possible to run again so soon?  My own curiosity and desire to go for a run with Eric and his wife won out over “logic.”  We only ran a little over 3 miles, but it was at a pace of about 10.5 minutes/mile.  The fact I was able to do that made me wonder what else I could accomplish but was being limited solely by my perceptions of what I thought was possible.

I wanted to get a photo with Eric after the 100-miler, but since he didn’t finish it, that opportunity never arose.  However, I did decide to get a pic after our run.  Eric’s colorful tights are very typical of him.  He has tons of crazy tights, all of which he actually made himself.  He has more crazy tights than I have crazy socks, and his tights are crazier patterns than my socks too.  For our run, I felt compelled to put on some St Patrick’s Day socks just to be slightly more colorful; his wife was wearing bright colors too.

That night, long after Eric’s wife and Asa went to sleep, I talked to Eric about running and life in general.  I figured it was an opportunity that would not come around again anytime soon.  It was thought-provoking and made me question my own abilities even more.  I can’t relate to him on some levels, but he had some interesting things to say.  If nothing else, I walked away from the experience knowing I’d made the best decision to not pay attention to numbers for once, particularly since the numbers I’ve surrounded myself with have mostly been arbitrary.

I appreciate Eric taking the time leading up to the race to give me some guidance or at least share his perspective.  It was very different from when I actually had a coach, but the nice thing about it was that I could pick and choose what I wanted to do because his advice wasn’t directive.  Most of the time I did follow his recommendations, and my race turned out extremely well.  It could have just as easily gone the other way, but I really would have been okay with that too.

Eric pushes me out of my comfort zone, and I told him early on that I appreciated that he told me things that I not necessarily wanted to hear but that I needed to hear.  On a regular basis, I’m surrounded by people who can’t even fathom covering 100 miles on foot, so their expectations for me are nothing.  And I don’t have a firm gasp at all on where my potential in running lies, so it’s easy to get complacent.  While I get lots of “good jobs” from people just for doing 100 miles, no one really made me consider I could do it better/faster, let alone any sort of training advice for how to do that.  But Eric did.

However, I’d be remiss if I did not bring Sue up again, because she did impress upon me that I hadn’t yet reached my potential.  Another person I also need to mention is my friend Shannon who is a very talented runner.  I recently read about her 50k national championship road race.  The course was on a 5k loop, and I recall her saying how tough the last loop was, and it was the slowest one—but it was still faster than my 5k PR by a bit.  I’m in no way saying I could compete at a national level, but I wondered why I was unable to even run a single 5k at least as fast as her worst/final 5k in a 50k.  Part of my challenge really has been focusing on arbitrary numbers.  I’ve been decent at meeting goals, but unfortunately, because they’ve been arbitrary, they really don’t MEAN much.  To test this theory, a few weeks ago I went out to set a mile PR—not to TRY, but to actually DO it.  I ran is in 7:08, which was a 20-second PR.  Evidence:  My limits are largely imposed by me.

I have low self-esteem when it comes to running.  And while lots of people are quick to say, “You shouldn’t!” those words really haven’t changed anything, regardless of the intention behind them.  It’s only been recently, through the insistence of multiple more successful runners who I truly respect and trust, that I’ve started to really change my attitude.  In the past, I’ve SAID my attitude changed, but that wasn’t totally true.  But I hoped by saying my attitude had changed that it really would have changed, haha.  Not so much.  But now, I do wonder what else I can do in running.  This isn’t just a result of people telling me I can do more but actually running by feel during BLU and seeing first-hand that I’m not as slow as I once was or perceived myself to be (and therefore lived up…or down to).

In the past, I’ve been quick to assume, when I hear of other people doing great running feats, that they have an inherent talent.  This might be the case.  However, attributing others’ success mostly to genetics takes away the hard work they have put in, and it also makes me less accountable for my own performance in comparison.  It’s way too easy to assume the people who do really well are genetically gifted and that the rest of us will always be on a subpar level.  In one respect, it is true—I don’t think every single person would be capable of running a world record marathon time, for example.  But what can each person do?  More importantly, what can I do?

I’ve interacted with multiple people recently who attribute their success to hard work, not genetics.  Hmm.  Even if this is just partially true, what is my excuse for not performing better?  There are a million “reasons” I can fall back on… not having as much time to train, having competing life obligations, not having appropriate coaching, not having the fanciest running apparel and gadgets, not having access to the same quality of food and supplements, etc.  But really, those are excuses.  I owe it to myself to find ways to unlock my potential, and most importantly, be mentally okay with the idea of improvement.  It’s silly to think that a person would not be okay with progress, but people become comfortable with where they are and it’s easy to assume they’ve reached their potential when they plateau rather than to challenge it and request more.

The lessons on self-limitations, potential, and pushing limits I learned from this one race have truly transformed the way I think about life in general.  Being okay with the possibility of failure is new to me. It’s easy to approach things cautiously and wonder about the ramifications of failure… However, I’ve discovered it’s at least as important to also consider the consequences of actually succeeding. I don’t want to live a mediocre life. 😉

By the way, to date, over $1200 has been raised for 2 funds for my friend Roz.  More info on the funds and how to donate are located at the following link: https://runningtoabetterme.wordpress.com/2013/02/28/runningforroz/

Now for a bunch of photos from the race (in chronological order) followed by a short video that Z put together for me.

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Dinner with Asa, Karla, Joel, and Z (taking pic)

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Lucky #77

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Group prior to race start (all distances)

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Just starting out, running with Asa

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Running with Asa toward the beginning

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Within first 4 miles

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Within first 4 miles

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Somewhere between miles 5 and 20 (wearing Running for Roz shirt)

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Somewhere between miles 5 and 20 (wearing Running for Roz shirt)

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Somewhere between miles 5 and 20 (wearing Running for Roz shirt)

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Somewhere between miles 5 and 20 (wearing Running for Roz shirt)

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Somewhere between miles 20 and 50

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Somewhere between miles 20 and 50

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Somewhere between miles 60 and 90

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Somewhere between miles 60 and 90

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Somewhere between miles 60 and 90

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Somewhere between miles 80 and 90

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Around mile 95

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Mile 96

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Somewhere between miles 98 and 100

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Crossing the finish line. New PR: 24:53:57

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Asa and me at the end of our .25-mile victory lap

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With Asa

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With race directors Stephanie and Ken

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With Ed

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Tony crossing the finish line (with Ed and me in the background)

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Age group award and finisher buckle

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New bumper sticker

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With Eric Clifton after our 3-mile run (he did wear shoes during it)

Video:

Katrina

2013/02/02: Rocky Raccoon 100-miler (race report)

Short version: I finished my first 100-miler.  Relentless forward motion the whole time–ZERO breaks.

MUCH longer version:

Four years ago, after reading the book Running Through the Wall: Personal Encounters with the Ultramarathon (by Neal Jamison and Don Allison), I wondered if I could run a 50k.  I had just run my first marathon three months prior and was training for my second one.  I had a 20-mile run in my plan and didn’t want to do it alone.  When I looked for a 20-mile race that same weekend (what are the chances?), I found a local trail run that offered a 10-mile and a 50k option.  I thought about doing the 10-miler and then running 10 miles on my own.  But then I looked at the prices: $35 for 10 miles or $50 for 50k (31 miles).  The second option was a much better deal!  But could I run an ultra?

I did not know any ultrarunners.  However, throughout the book, a man named David Horton continuously came up.  He was an ultra legend himself and inspired and motivated many other people to do them.  At the end of the book, I found his email address and emailed him, almost exactly 4 years ago (4 February 2009).  The email was titled “50k–Should I?” I admitted I had no business emailing him, told him my very short running history, and asked him what he thought.  He responded telling me to do it, gave me some advice, and told me to email him after I completed it.  Well if THE David Horton thought I could do it, then maybe I could!

A seed was planted…

I won’t rehash my whole running life to date, but I will say I completed that 50k and went on to do an additional 13 ultras over the next 4 years before my first 100-miler.

When people used to find out I ran ultras, I would always say, “Yeah, but I’m not one of those really crazy people who runs 100-milers.”  (Haha.)  But I couldn’t say I wasn’t intrigued by 100s.  I met people who did them, and they seemed “normal.”  Eventually, it seemed inevitable that I would do one.  But the intrigue alone wasn’t enough to enable me to sign up.  I needed to have the confidence I could finish one before I took that leap.  Shorter ultras can be done without intense training–I knew because I’d done quite a few essentially on whims without proper preparation.  But I knew there was no way I could fake my way through a 100-miler.

Tracking friends during the Rocky Raccoon 100-mile race last year, I made the decision that IF I ever did a 100-miler, I wanted to do this one.  In the spectrum of 100-milers, it is one of the easier ones due to the terrain (still on trails with lots of roots, but not very technical), minimal elevation change, and liberal time limit.  Also, the race was in Texas.  I fell in love with running when I lived in Texas, and many of my running friends still lived there.

Doing my first official 50-miler last April was a confidence boost to me.  Dropping my marathon PR from 5:12 to 4:17 was another confidence raiser.  When I crewed for my friend Karla during Badwater and paced a total of 43 miles (broken up into segments) over a span of 40 hours, with minimal soreness and no issues staying awake and alert, that was the moment I knew I could do 100 miles.

I had hired a running coach in October of 2011 who was a miracle worker of sorts.  Ian Sharman is a very accomplished ultrarunner.  He coached me through a handful of races, including my first 50-miler.  However, I wanted to wait a while to bring up the prospect of a 100-miler to him.  I chose to test the waters by posting on the race’s Facebook page about maybe doing the race.  Seeing as I had not brought it up to Ian, I swore I had checked to ensure he was not in the group.  However, lo and behold, a bit of awkwardness ensued when I posted an inquisitive message on the page only to have him respond to it and say I could do it.  Oh, and I might not have mentioned that Ian holds the blazing fast course record for that race of 12:44. Wink

Needless to say, I extended my coaching contract with him for an additional period of time to cover training for Rocky Raccoon.

I put in a lot of miles in preparation for Rocky Raccoon.  I ran not only marathons but a 50-miler as supported training runs.  My peak mileage on a week with no racing was just over 80.  While my paces had improved over the time Ian was my coach, fitting in 80 miles was still a HUGE time commitment.  Thankfully, my husband, Asa, was very supportive.

Leading up to the race, I realized I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to have a pacer for the last 40 miles of the race (two loops of the five-loop course).  Asa agreed to pace me the last lap, which was perfect.  But I didn’t have a pacer for the fourth loop.  I was also in the sort of awkward position of doing the race on a minimal budget and not having the means to pay for a flight, hotel, etc. for a pacer, so it was imperative that I find someone in Texas.

My first choice was SusanRachel, an army doctor I’d grown to respect after multiple years of interacting with her online.  Unfortunately, this ended up not working out; the business trip that would have brought her to Texas the week prior got cancelled.  I had exactly one other option: Alma is a lady I met nearly three years ago.  We ran the same 50k—it was her first ultra, which was my first ultra the year prior.  She actually recognized me on the course and said she’s read my race report from the race and that it had factored into her choosing that race as her first ultra (wow!).  We parted ways after the race but kept in loose touch via Facebook.  She was interested in pacing me.

After a few in-depth interactions with Alma, I quickly discovered she would be the ideal pacer for me.  She hadn’t done a ton of running recently, but she had done a difficult 25k a few weeks prior and loved trails.  She also seemed very excited, which made me really excited too.  I told her I thought I was low maintenance but that I’m sure everyone thinks that of themselves. Wink  I said I really just needed someone to keep my company and to be an extra set of eyes to ensure I don’t get lost and an extra brain to ensure I’m eating and drinking.  She said she was up to the task.  She was originally going to camp at the race site, but then her family decided to make a trip out of it; I was humbled that they were willing to drive the several hours just so she could pace someone she hardly knew!

In the days leading up to Rocky Raccoon, it should come as no surprise that I did not sleep well.  Every possible thing that could go wrong appeared in a dream.  Lovely!

I decided I would put drop bags at both locations I was allowed to have them.  One of the drop bags I wanted to use ended up being too small; this bothered me because it was my “lucky” ultra bag that I’d used at (almost) every single ultra I’d done; I had a baggage tag that has a bunch of layers of taped sticky notes, masking tape, and duct tape, each with one of my previous race numbers written on it.  However, it worked out because I ended up using two bags at the start/finish area and a bigger one at the other point.

Since I wanted to organize things in a way that would enable me, Asa, or Alma to quickly get things, I packed everything in gallon-sized Ziplocs.  This also protected everything in the event it rained.  I wrote the contents of each bag on the outside of it; I had a bag for medical stuff, gels, lights/watches/batteries, energy stuff, socks, shirts, light jackets, etc.  The contents of the drop bags at both locations were almost identical (obviously not the exact same brands/colors of things, but the same kinds of medical supplies, same number of extra articles of clothing, etc.); I did this because I didn’t want to have to remember what was in which one.  At the start/finish, since I had two bags, I put all of the clothing in one bag and everything else in the other one.  This is a pic of the drop bags:

Asa and I woke up early Friday morning, after just a few hours of sleep, to catch our flight.  After a few minor issues (leaving a few minutes late, taking a wrong turn at the airport, and standing in the wrong line for 10 minutes), we missed our flight!  I have NEVER missed a flight (okay, connecting flights, yes, but never one due to an oversight on my part).  I couldn’t believe that of all times it was THIS time!  Thankfully, United was able to book us on another direct flight leaving just an hour later.  Crisis averted!

We flew into Houston, picked up our rental car, and drove to packet pickup in Hunstville, which was at the start/finish area of the race.  I listened to a short brief about the race, but it pretty much just covered info that I was in the race document that I’d already read.  I also dropped off my drop bag I wanted at one of the aid stations on the course (not at the start/finish).  I happened to run into one of my online friends as well.  Supposedly Jason and I met during Badwater, where he was crewing too, but I have no recollection of it; I felt sort of silly since I didn’t even remember I’d met him and he remembered where on the course we were when our runners crossed, haha.  Jason’s girlfriend was doing her first 50-miler and he was doing it with her.

I was in awe of how beautiful the state park was!  Here is a photo:

We checked into our hotel and then went to Olive Garden.  It was a happening place!  I saw five friends I knew there, including Jean, one of my running friends from San Antonio, and Rich, a guy I used to work with.  I already felt more at home with the coming day’s events since I knew I’d be around friends, literally.

I laid out my clothes for the next morning and was pleased that I would be getting to bed with enough time to get 7 hours of sleep before my 3:50am alarm!  Hahahaha.

Before I laid down, I sensed a little bit of impending doom and wondered what I was getting myself into and why I thought it was even possible.  As it turns out, around this exact time, I got a message from one of my Facebook friends that made me feel a little better.  It said: “Thank you for inspiring me to tackle tomorrow’s Rocky Raccoon 50 miler. You’ll never know how much your words & actions have put me in a position to attempt this race and have the confidence and determination to do this.  Thank you.”  This is really what I needed to see, and it inspired me.  I exchanged a few messages with this person before going to bed.

My body thought it was 7pm.  My mind also wouldn’t be quiet, and the more I tried to not think about details of the race, the more I thought about them.  I laid there for almost 3 hours, unable to sleep.  It also did not help that the hotel’s walls and ceiling appeared to be made of paper.  I could hear everything (like footsteps, cabinets opening, etc.).  And there were also a few sirens outside.  Just before midnight, I finally fell asleep… only to be awoken less than 5 minutes later when the alarm clock across the room went off (and was set to a very staticy radio station).  After I stumbled over to turn it off, I got back into bed.  Nine minutes later, it went off again; this time, I unplugged it.  As soon as I went back to bed, I suddenly realized 100 miles is a long distance.  And I would have less than 4 hours of sleep before the race.  This thought kept me up a while longer.  Once I finally dozed off, I woke up a few more times, concerned I would oversleep.  My total sleep time was roughly 3 hours.  I normally sleep 7-8 hours a night.  Oh my.

We had heard that we should get to the start line early to beat the traffic and get a good parking spot.  We left the hotel by 4:30am and got to the race site just before 5am for the 6am race start.  Alma had gotten into town late the night prior and said she wanted to come to the race start but likely wouldn’t, which I said was no problem and I totally understood; I made sure she and Asa had each other’s cell numbers.  However, she showed up!  I couldn’t believe she’d come just to see me before the start even though it’d be well over 12 hours before she’d need to be there to pace me!  Here’s a pic I took of her, me, and Asa:

I ran into Mike Morton before the race start.  He is quite possibly my “favorite” elite ultrarunner, not because he’s wicked fast (even though he is!), but he is very humble, encouraging, and just a very good person.  To me, he epitomizes what I really love about the ultrarunning community.  We chatted for a few minutes.  I have a lot of respect for him.  (Spoiler alert: He ran the race as a sort of training run but still won it, finishing almost an hour and a half ahead of the person in second place.)

Asa snapped a quick pic of me before the race start:

There was a countdown and over 300 runners disappeared into the woods.  The first hour or so, it was still dark and the trail was really congested.  I had zero control over my pace, but it felt easy and I was having fun already!  The first aid station came up quickly, at 3 miles.  Then another one 3 miles later, named DamNation.  My drop bag from the day before was here.  It was the perfect spot as there was a loop after this section that brought us back through 6 miles later (12 miles into the large loop).

Somewhere in this 6-mile stretch, I happened to run into a lady named Rachel who I’d just “met” online the night prior when we realized we’d both be doing our first 100.  We ran together a little bit.  I was overly amused by the fact that our Marathon Maniac numbers were just 6 numbers off from one another, even though she had way more stars; she was wearing a shirt with this info, which is how I knew.  The next aid station was about 3.5 miles from the second pass through DamNation, then 4.5 miles to the end of the loop.

Toward the end of the first loop, I caught up with my friend Rich.  He was doing the 50-miler, which had started an hour later than the 100-miler and followed the same course except that the DamNation loop was smaller and they did a total of three loops instead of five.  He was happy to see me and said I was moving well.  He had originally signed up for the 100-miler after missing cutoffs the last two years, but he downgraded to the 50-miler because he said training for the 100-miler was no longer fun.  His timing out of the race previously honestly served as a big concern to me for over a year and intimidated me.  I knew he was faster at shorter distances, up to 50 miles, so I couldn’t logically conclude I would somehow be able to make cutoffs if he couldn’t.  It wasn’t until I ran a couple shorter races (marathon, 50k, and 50-mile) faster than him that I really felt like I had a shot.

The only time I actually fell, not tripped (that happened tons), but actually landed flat out on the ground was in the first loop at mile 18.  It was a section of the course where people were running in both directions.  There are lots of little foot bridges on the course, and I was coming over  one when I decided to hop off the side a little early to make room for a group of people coming toward me.  I must have caught my foot as I went down immediately.  A lot of my left thigh and calf were covered in dirt, but I wasn’t hurt.  Also, my right hand hit the ground pretty hard, but it was shielded by my handheld water bottle.  But I knew I hit hard because I somehow managed to get a bunch of dirt and pine needles jammed between my screw-on cap and the bottle.  This of course meant that my water got mud in it.  But it didn’t taste any different—just a little “crunchy,” haha.  Everyone in my vicinity stopped running to make sure I was okay.  I was, and felt a little silly.  But this just reminded me why I love runners.

I hate wasting time at aid stations.  On the course, I would refill my water bottle whenever necessary and grab a handful of something while that was being done.  I didn’t really browse; I was in and out.  At the end of each loop, it was a little bit different as more stuff was done.  Thankfully, Asa was there at the end of each loop and I’d give him instructions (like putting more gels in my spibelt, locating a particular item, or swapping batteries in a light); while he did this, I would use the porta potty.  This worked out really well and I was able to be in and out of the start/finish area in 3-5 minutes.  One of the great things about this course was the closeness of the aid stations to one another.  However, I think there is the tendency of some people to feel the need to stop at every single one.  I don’t do that, or, I know exactly what I want and swipe it as I go by.  I can’t afford to spend minutes at each one because that can really add up!

I made it through the first loop in 4:10.

The second loop started out quicker than the first one because the crowd was way spread out by then.  I happened to run into two of my friends who are married to one another: Cheri and Jeff.  They were doing the 50-miler, and while Cheri was ahead of Jeff, they’d crossed each other on the course so they’d stopped to chat a little bit.  I stopped too just to exchange a few words.  I hadn’t seen them in nearly two years since I attended their Race to the Altar trail race prior to their wedding.  They’d been generous enough to lend me two documentaries on Badwater and a crewing guide when I expressed curiosity in crewing last year.  They’re so kind.

These two photos were taken by the official photographer along the course, somewhere during the second loop (between miles 22 and 27 if I had to guess).  Yes, I do plan on buying one of the pics, but I haven’t ordered it yet, which is why I have this ghetto version:

Around mile 23, I happened to run into one of my friends from San Antonio, Renee.  She said hi, we hugged, and she snapped a pic which she immediately posted to Facebook.  Of course I had a mouth full of food.

I was feeling great at the beginning of this lap, but somewhere in the 30-something mile range, I hit a mental low.  It was so random, but I stayed there for nearly 15 miles.  It wasn’t like bonking; I still had energy to run, but I just felt depressed.  However, it disappeared as quickly as it appeared with just a few words from a single person.  Mike Morton told me I was doing a good job.  I don’t know why this made such a huge difference, but it did.  I will also note that this wasn’t the last time he encouraged me on the course, and I heard other talk of him taking the time to exchange a few words with other people too.  This is one of the things I love about ultrarunning.  People are down-to-earth and even the people at the very front will take the time to support people way behind them when they have the opportunity.

The second loop took me 4:34, for an elapsed time of 8:45.

I grabbed my headlamp and a knuckle light prior to my third loop as I knew it would get dark during that loop; I’d ditched them prior to the second loop.  The headlamp gave off decent light, while the knuckle light didn’t start off great and only got dimmer.  However, I liked the ease in which I could hold it.  On the advice of people who had done this race before, I used a headlamp and a handheld light as they served two different purposes.  The headlamp was good for looking ahead and also catching the reflective trail markings, while the handheld was good for pointing at the ground, especially with all of the roots out there.

I think it was also on this loop that I first crossed paths with my friend Tammy.  I first met Tammy at North Coast 24 in 2011.  On the way to that race, I had been reading Ultrarunning  magazine and had come across a photo of a very colorful looking lady with “Tammy” on her shirt.  During NC24, I passed a colorful looking lady only to look back and see the same name on her shirt.  Our exchange went something like this: “I think I saw a photo of you in UR magazine!”… “Oh… Yeah, that was at Western States.”  Throughout the rest of the race, whenever we saw each other, Tammy had nothing but encouraging things to say.  She also gave me advice as I trained for my 100-miler.  When I saw her during Rocky Raccoon, she was super encouraging.  She was going the 50-miler and kept telling me how well I was doing.

She snapped this photo of me, somewhere between miles 40 and 60:

I continued to interact with people on the trail.  It’s funny because I really don’t consider myself a social runner, but I love the camaraderie of ultras.   And there is something incredible about the unspoken bond between people pursuing the same goal.  There was one guy I met who seemed like a jerk (which honestly caught me off guard), but after a few exchanges, he admitted he was really tired and apologized.  From then on, our conversation completely changed because I could understand he was tired and his very dry sense of humor actually became really of funny.  We had random exchanges like, “Hey, watch out for that root!” which might sound helpful, but seeing as the trail is covered with them, it was pretty ludicrous.  We also ran a few sections together because he really wanted to get to the 52 mile aid station by 12 hours.  We also made random noises when we came over the top of hills.  It was totally random but fun.  We did make it to the aid station by 12 hours, and we spent some time with one of his friends we met along the way.  I recall one of them telling me my Cheeto-covered hands were sexy, just before I came up with the brilliant idea to wipe them on my orange shirt (which blended in perfectly, haha).  It’s funny how quickly people connect during a race like this.

Honestly, I am very introverted, socially awkward, and I do not make friends easily.  In areas of my life besides ultras, I would rather do almost everything by myself.  But for some reason, ultras are very familiar and comfortable to me socially.

I think it was during this loop that I also ran into a guy named Trent for the first time.  He was really nice and we kept seeing each other.  Of course I didn’t find out until after the race when he looked me up on Facebook that he celebrated his 40th birthday in the wee hours of the second morning of the race.  What a way to celebrate!

I came across a man doing the 50-miler who was walking within walking sticks.  Besides saying “good job,” I hadn’t actually talked to him until late in my third loop.  It seemed that most of the 50-milers were on their last loop, so I said to him, “Almost there,” to which he said, “No… I still have another loop.”  I told him that if it was any consolation, I still had two laps, they were bigger, and I wasn’t moving much faster than he was.  In a very genuine tone, he said, “Thanks.  It’s nice to know I won’t be out here all alone.”  That really touched me.

The course was a lot more runnable than I thought it would be.  I knew before the race it was an “easy” course (in trail terms), but I still didn’t know what it would be like.  Being almost exclusively a road runner, I’ve had some extremely challenging times on trails, so the fact the trail was “easy” by trail standards did not provide much consolation to me.  There were a LOT of roots, which altered my stride and caused me to pick up my feet more, but it wasn’t nearly as intimidating as I thought it would be.  Also, while the course isn’t pancake flat, there are no uphill or downhill sections that are very steep or last very long.

In the third loop, I noticed I had some blisters on my feet.  I never noticed hotspots, only blisters that were already formed.  I thought this was weird as I rarely get any blisters.  However, I suspect it had to do with the way my feet were moving around in my shoes on the trails, which is different from how they move around on roads.  I was torn about what to do about the blisters.  The logic in me said I needed to deal with them somehow.  But the more practical side of me didn’t know how to do that.  I was concerned that messing with them would make them hurt more, or even worse, that I would not be able to get my shoes back on if I took them off.  So I opted to just keep moving forward since the pain was bearable.

About a mile from the end of my third loop, I was walking right behind a lady and we were chatting with each other.  She was doing the 50-miler and said she’d tried it last year but got a DNF; it’s worth mentioning there was rain and tons of mud last year.  She said it was her first 50-miler she would complete.  She asked me what my name was so she could look me up in the results later.  As we got closer to the finish line, I didn’t want to be rude and ask her if she was going to run, since I wasn’t sure if she was walking the whole thing or running or what her strategy was.  But I commented when we were about a half mile away and she got really excited and took off running.  That was really exciting to witness.

I also ran into my friend Jason and his girlfriend on multiple occasions throughout the race.  He always had something sarcastic to say that cracked me up.

By the end of my third loop, my blisters seemed to have gotten a bit worse and I was mostly walking, but I chose not do anything about them.  I finished my third loop in 5:39, for an elapsed time of 14:24.  This meant I had about 15.5 hours for the remaining two loops.

Alma was anxiously waiting for me at the end of my third loop.  I was shocked that my Garmin Forerunner 305 had lasted through the first three loops.  I traded that out for a Garmin Forerunner 405 that belonged to Alma’s husband.  She also had a Garmin.  While I totally admit that so much emphasis on GPS devices gets away from the “purity” of ultras, numbers keep me occupied and I just… really like numbers, haha.  I also had an iPod during the race, with one earbud.  I listened to music off and on for the first three loops, but I didn’t even turn it on during the last two.

Alma and I took off and I was really excited to have some constant company.  I find that when I run at night, particularly when I’ve been running a long time, if I’m by myself, I tend to move at a slower pace and sort of weave instead of moving in a straight line.  But having someone to talk to keeps me mentally engaged, which has an effect on how I move forward as well.  While Alma and I had never spent more than a few minutes together in person, we’d be together the whole loop, however long it took.

Alma and I chatted about tons of stuff: running, racing, running coaches, families, work, lots and lots of random stuff.  At aid stations, I would tell her what I wanted, if anything, and she’d get it for me and bring it so I could just keep walking.  I will say I LOVE ultra volunteers, and this race was no exception.  However, I’m pretty self-sufficient.  At aid stations, I’d let them refill my water bottle, and while they were doing that, I’d grab a handful of whatever looked good, but any interactions were very quick.

I realize this is going to sound really gross, but my primary nutrition during the race was gels.  I consumed 30 of them.  I also grabbed handfuls of other (real) food from aid stations.  I also started drinking Heed instead of water to get in some more calories.  Thankfully, I have a strong stomach and can eat whatever looks good.  I didn’t end up with any nutrition issues and never bonked.

I was walking the majority of the fourth loop as my feet in particular were really hurting with blisters.  My quads were also pretty trashed, which was weird to me since I’ve done downhill marathons and much hillier races with no quad issues, but in this race, they’d been really sore after about two loops.  However, my blisters were definitely my major limiting factor.  I was annoyed by this because blisters seemed like such a silly reason to slow down.  But they were very painful.

I relayed a story to Alma that I’d heard regarding Gordy Ainsleigh, who is one of the 100-mile pioneers.  A few decades ago, his horse was lame and he therefore couldn’t do the Western States 100-mile race with the horse, so he did it on foot.  In an interview, he mentioned that he got to a point when the distance he had left seemed impossible; even shorter benchmark points seemed too far.  He chose to commit himself to taking just “one more step.”  I picked up this strategy and it worked incredibly.  I knew I had no option than to complete the race, but I needed a way to achieve this.  So I chose to focus on not getting to the finish but instead just taking “one more step.”  I told myself I would do that until I couldn’t take another one, then come up with another action plan.  Whenever the thought crossed my mind of how much mileage I had left, I reminded myself all I had to do was take another step.  The rest would take care of itself, assuming I could stay ahead of the cutoffs.

During this loop, we spent some time walking with a man who did Western States 10 years ago and had not done a trail run in about 6 years.  I never got his name, but the guy and I had a lengthy discussion about how important it is for people to not stay in their comfort zones and how glorious it is to work so hard for something so challenging.  We talked a lot about buckles.

I finished the loop in 6:31.  Time seemed to have flown by, though.  Alma was so kind and I loved spending time with her.  By the end of the loop, I felt like I had gained a sister.  Before we got back to the start/finish area, I made sure to tell her how appreciative I was of her willingness to help and her family’s support in spending their weekend in the area so she could pace me.  I still couldn’t believe they had chosen to do this for me.  She said she might come back for the finish, but she wasn’t sure.  After showing up early the previous morning to see me at the start and then pacing me, I was already overwhelmed with what she had done.

Asa and I set out on the last loop at 21:05 elapsed time.  This meant I had just shy of 9 hours to complete the last loop and make the cutoff.  This seemed like it would be a piece of cake, but my blisters had gotten worse.  I felt like I was walking on broken glass with every single step.  I should point out here that Asa had never been on his feet continuously for more than 13.1 miles (and that took 2.5 hours), and he had never paced before.  I had a freshly charged Garmin Forerunner 305 for this loop.

The last loop was so slow.  But there were plenty of other runners still out there and I knew they were all in pain.  It was sort of eerie with the way things echo in the woods, and you could hear the pain out there.  The cries, screams, and gasps as people tripped, fell, and twisted limbs echoed.  I don’t know how I should have felt in this situation, but the message I received was that I was not alone in what I was going through.

I am not an overly emotional person in my day-to-day life, but there were multiple times in the last loop that I burst out sobbing for no apparent reason.  The most obvious reason was because I was in pain, and that’s how I expressed it at the time because it seemed like the most logical reason.  But it was so much more than that and fatigue, as well as concern over making the cutoffs. It was also overwhelming gratitude for having the opportunity to do the race, to have made it that far, to have my husband pacing me. To share it with so many strangers I felt so bonded with. To see people moving slower than me who would realistically not make the cutoff but nevertheless kept moving forward. To realize that moments in life so raw and pure are so rare in the superficial world in which we live and to savor every moment of it.  I was also sad for the people who never venture outside of their comfort zone to try something in which there is a very real chance of failing.

I had some low points on this loop when I was concerned about the paces I saw on the Garmin.  There were instances when I realized I somehow needed to speed up to make the cutoffs.  In retrospect, I think I should have let Asa have the Garmin.  He could have kept our pace where it needed to be and sped up just slightly when the pace dipped too low without needing to alert me of the potential problem.  As it was, it sort of freaked me out.  But I kept moving forward, and as time passed by, I realized I would make the cutoff.

I was able to slowly run, dare I say jog(?), a few little segments of the loop.  When the sun came up, it didn’t help my blisters, but I felt refreshed.  Asa took this photo around mile 91:

When I passed through the DamNation aid station for the final time, Asa told me he’d grab me something to eat and that I could keep moving forward.  He was excited when he saw grilled cheeses since he knows that was one of my favorite foods during NC24.  I think I literally squealed when he presented it to me; I was still within earshot of the aid station and they laughed when they heard my response.  This was one of my low times, and I think it’s easy to see on my face.  I considered not even posting this photo, but it does capture the fact that the event was NOT easy.  But I think the grilled cheese rejuvenated me!

Tammy, after finishing her 50-miler, paced a runner in the final 20 miles of her first 100-miler, and I saw her around mile 93.  Again, she was very encouraging.  And she snapped this photo of Asa and me:

In the last few miles of the race, I was moving incredibly slow and a lot of people passed me.  I thought I would have been frustrated with being passed by so many people so close to the finish, but this wasn’t the case at all.  I was so elated to know that every single person who passed me would finish the race under the cutoff since I was just ahead of it myself. In the moment, I knew it didn’t matter that they would get a quicker time than me; it only mattered that we were all finishing what we set out to do. I also realized the race was never really against the other runners–it was against ourselves.

With about four miles left, Asa texted Alma and he said she responded and said she’d be there.  This really lifted my spirits.  Asa took this pic around that time:

My blisters were still not letting up, and I had a new pain in my left pinky toe.  I knew it was already blistered, and the way it was positioned, the toe next to it was constantly stepping on it.  I developed a new twinge of pain that I felt with every step.  It’s hard for me to describe, but it’s similar to how it feels if a piece of tin foil touches a cavity.  Ouchie.

One of the things I really appreciated about Asa was that whenever I said anything negative, like how much my blisters hurt, he never bought into it and instead told me how well I was doing and talked about positive things.  I was also proud of him for encouraging all of the other runners we crossed paths with.

On the advice of my friend Tammy, I asked for people to consider sending positive messages to Asa before the race for him to read during the final loop.  Twelve people sent him messages, and he read them two different times during the last loop.  I really appreciated those messages!  Additionally, a few times during the third and fourth loops, Alma and Asa read me some of the other things people had posted on my Facebook page.

I was surprised how many people there were around me in the last couple miles of the race.  Then, Tammy magically appeared near me in the final mile.  She was again very encouraging.  I told Asa I wanted to run the last little bit once we crossed the last road.  It didn’t matter how much it hurt; I NEEDED to run across the finish line.

When we crossed the road, I grabbed Asa by the hand and we ran.  It hurt so bad, but I was so utterly overwhelmed with joy.  A photographer from EnduranceBuzz.com captured some photos of us crossing the line:

One of my favorite photographs was taken by David Hanenburg from EB.com.  It’s right after Asa and I crossed the finish line and we’re leaning in for a kiss; in the background, Alma is right there smiling.  I am so grateful this moment was captured.

Also, I was shocked when I discovered that Alma also took video of us approaching and crossing the finish line:

My final finishing time was 29:17:41.

I had less than 43 minutes to spare.  It might sound like a lot of time, but it equates to 25 seconds per mile (not even counting time I spent at aid stations)!

Here are a few pics that I took with Asa and Alma just after my finish:

I feel the race changed me as a person.  I made some important realizations in conjunction with the race:

One of them is that rewards are greater for tasks that have a legitimate risk of failure and I think we owe it to ourselves to take these calculated leaps of faith in all areas if our lives.

Also, mental determination is powerful, but you must truly believe with every fiber of your being that you can achieve something; simply saying or thinking it isn’t enough. I realized there were multiple times I could have quit and circumstances would have made it justifiable to 99.9% of people I would have told. But I knew I could do it and chose to keep moving forward, at whatever pace I could, until I got removed from the course or made it to the finish line.

Additionally, never underestimate the impact of a small gesture or a few words to another person. Particularly, if you appreciate people or things they do, TELL THEM.  I am normally just as guilty as the next person with regard to this.  But I have gotten it really hammered into me the importance of this, having been on both sides of this.  Before the race, I randomly touched based with a lady named Melanie whose blog I used to follow; she gave me advice before my first ultra 4 years ago.  I told her how the little bit of time she took motivated me to pursue ultras and where that has led.  She was touched by this, and it turns out she was actually one of the aid station volunteers at the race. (She actually holds the female 50-mile record on the course, but she likes giving back and helping others.)

I also emailed David Horton, who originally encouraged me to try my first ultra.  He said he was proud of me and that he appreciated me following up with him.

My Facebook friend I mentioned before sent me a message saying I helped to inspire him, and he in turn inspired me.  And for the record, he finished his 50-miler (not that I had any doubt he would)!

Alma posted a message on Facebook after the race that is one of the kindest notes I have ever received in my life.  It reminded me that the kindness I try to extend to others does not go completely unnoticed, and it CAN make a difference.

It has been reaffirmed to me that telling someone how much they’re appreciated actually improves the mood of the person getting the feedback and the person giving it.

I also sent a message to Mike Morton after the race thanking him for being so kind and encouraging, not just to me but to other people on the course.

This has become so important to me.  I’d like to say I’ve always cared for people, and I do think that’s true, but on so many occasions, I’ve neglected to let them know.  I can’t explain why exactly the race impressed this importance on me, but I think it has something to do with seeing and interacting with people at some of their most vulnerable moments, with no defenses in the way.  I’m also reminded of a quotation that has been one of my favorites for years: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

There is a song I heard on the radio recently called “Words” by Hawk Nelson.  Because they reflect my sentiments so well, I wanted to share a few of the lyrics: “They’ve made me feel like a prisoner / They’ve made me feel set free / They’ve made me feel like a criminal / Made me feel like a king /// They’ve lifted my heart / To places I’d never been / And they’ve dragged me down / Back to where I began /// Words can build you up / Words can break you down / Start a fire in your heart or / Put it out /// Let my words be life / Let my words be truth / I don’t wanna say a word / Unless it points the world back to You”  And here’s the music video if anyone’s interested:

I truly believe the world would be a better place if people were kinder to one another and used their words for good.

Another change since the completion of this race is that I no longer have a running coach.  After just over 15 months of coaching and extending my original contract twice, my contract finally expired.  Ian Sharman helped me SO much, including setting PRs at every distance from 1 mile to 50 miles.  I could not have asked for a better coach for my needs.  It was very difficult to let the contract run out, but from the very beginning, I knew that the coaching was temporary.  Ian has motivated and encouraged me to new levels.  I will be forever grateful for the time I spent working with me; of course I paid him, but he went above and beyond what I ever expected.  I highly recommend his services.

In case anymore is wondering if I will do another 100-miler, the answer is a resounding YES!  I will be doing the Beyond Limits Ultra 100-miler in about 5 weeks in southern California.  It takes place on a 2-mile loop of flat groomed trail.  I signed up for this race many months ago and just kept it a secret.  (It seems I can’t pass up a good deal on a race, haha.)  I hope to apply lessons I learned during Rocky Raccoon to this race.  I really wanted to keep Ian as a coach for this additional period of time, but since the majority of the time will be recovering and tapering, I sadly could not justify the finances of it.  However, Ian does know my intent to do this other race and was kind enough to give me some advice for it.  Honestly, I’m already feeling out of my element after having a coach for so long, but I know this is for the best (even if I don’t like it right now).  I hope I cross paths with Ian again sometime down the road (or trail).  But alas, I’m on my own.

On that note, I’ll close this report with a close-up photo of the finisher buckle.  As a testament to the fact that buckles are earned, not given, I will note that of the 340 people who started the 100-miler, 111 of them did not finish it.  Only 67% of people who toed the line earned a buckle.  All of the pain was worth it.

Thank you for reading.

Katrina

2012/12/21: Mayan End of Days 12.21-Miler (race report)

I’ve been trying to do a little more trail running recently in preparation for my 100-miler (that’s only 6 weeks away).  I looked for “local” (within 2 hours) trail races over a month ago, based on guidance from my running coach, Ian.  I didn’t find any.  About 3 weeks ago, Ian recommended I look again.  I told him I doubt any had just “popped up” but that I’d check.  A day or two later, I get a random email about an “underground” race that would coincide with the end of the world and it was a trail run.  Perfect!  Plus, it was inexpensive, about $20, for 12.21 miles—appropriate for a race called Mayan End of Days Run.

Yesterday I woke up at 4am to drive the 2 hours and 15 minutes to the race location near St George, UT.  I was excited about the race, largely because of this excerpt from the email sent two days beforehand:

“If this is your first “Underground Runner” event a few things will help you out: these are truly underground events, meaning that it’s just you, the road, and few soon to be friends. No gels, or aid stations- you bring your own nutrition. We will have water available at the turn around (6.1 miles) . ****** note. Please bring you own bottles or way to carry water, we will NOT have cups available. This also means no porta potties, be legal and creative! “

After getting there, I checked in and got a smiley face on my hand, which signified I was registered.  We were given a brief description of the course route, took a group photo, and we were off.  This was my coldest run to date.  If you live somewhere that it REALLY gets cold, don’t laugh.  Realize that I became a runner when I lived in San Antonio and I now live in Las Vegas.  The temperature at the start of this race was 26* and 29* at the end.

There were lots of people wearing weird costumes, which I guess is typical of underground events.   Since it was a few days before Christmas, I decided to dress Christmas-y, and I fit in quite well.  Instead of explaining what I was wearing, it’s easier to just look at the pics.

The purpose of this race for me had been to gain some confidence on trails.  Considering my marathon 7 days prior and the 25 miles since then, I wasn’t in a position to try to race anything.  The first mile was paved and the “trail” started.  I say “trail” because it wasn’t a trail.  It was a dirt road that had uneven areas (including where vehicles had driven through mud and then the mud had frozen) and a bunch of rocks at places, but it wasn’t what I would consider a trail.  It was a difficult course, though, as it was quite hilly.

After the first couple miles being sub-10-minute pace, my legs felt quite sluggish, like they just didn’t have energy.  This coincided with the start of the hills, too, so I figured I’d just enjoy myself.  I ran, I walked, I chatted with other runners, and I LOVED the views.  Southern Utah is gorgeous and course and the mountains in the distance were so pretty.

I ended up feeling warm after about 3 miles, so I took off my gloves and jacket.  It wasn’t until about an hour later, when my hands started to hurt and the cold went up my arms that I decided to put the jacket and gloves back on.

I felt like I was going quite slow, especially since I took quite a few walk breaks on the uphill sections in the second half, but no one ever passed me, so relatively, I didn’t feel like I was doing too bad.  There were only 50 runners (the race was capped at that), so there were a handful of times where I kind of felt like I was out on my own in nature, which was very peaceful.

My finish time was about 2:09, but it didn’t really matter because there were no bibs, chips, timing mats, or even a finish clock.  But I had a blast.  The one thing we did get were finisher medals which were really neat.  Then, afterward, a bunch of people stayed around and just chatted.  It was a really neat event.

I talked to the RD afterward and mentioned that while I had no idea how my name had gotten added to the email distro list, I was thankful.  Surprisingly, he had no idea how my name had been added to it either, haha.  We talked for a while and discussed that there will likely always be an appeal for events like his, even in a time where there is so much focus on bigger more commercialized races with lots of perks.  There is something special about paying a small fee, running a marked course, and getting to share the experience with like-minded people who truly just enjoy getting out and running.

I laughed driving home as I thought about this race compared to my 50-miler 3 weeks prior.  The 50-miler had cost 5 times more, yet this race had more aid (water at the start, turnaround, and finish) and was way more fun.  The only additional things I got for an extra $80 at the 50-miler were a tech shirt, a reusable grocery bag, and some spaghetti, lol.  And the extra distance didn’t really justify more money, in and of itself, considering it wasn’t a closed course or anything.

Anyway, I LOVED this event, and I look forward to doing a few more of these in the future.  The RD mentioned expanding it to Las Vegas sometime too, if there was interest.  The irony in these events is that participation is necessary for them to happen, but at the same time, too much publicity turns them into the same kind of huge races that is exactly what ones like this pride themselves on not being.

My friend Patrick ran the race too and finished a little ahead of me.  We took an “air” pic after we finished.  We look goofy, but I love the pic for some reason.  Below is that pic as well as some other ones from the race.  Oh, that’s another neat thing about this race too: great photographer who took LOTS of pics that were all put on Facebook for free!

Recommendation: Run an underground or low-key event in your area if you hear about one.  They can be a lot of fun.  However, as a warning, it may make you question why you spend so much money on much larger races. (Or, conversely, it might remind you why you like megaraces.)

The promised photo of us being goofy:
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Other pics from the race:
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Katrina

P.S. Missy and Midnight say Merry Christmas
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Yes, sorry, I’m one of THOSE people. 😉

2012/12/15: Hoover Dam Marathon (race report)

I was originally not going to post a race report for my marathon last Saturday since it wasn’t a PR or even a goal race of mine.  However, it ended up being my favorite marathon I’ve done (out of eight… five that were this year), so I wanted to share my experience with it.  It’s a hidden gem, in my opinion, like quite a few of the Calico Racing events.  This one was the Hoover Dam Marathon (that also had a half marathon and a 10k–all of the Calico events have multiple distances, typically ranging from 5k/10k up to marathon/ultra).

I signed up for this race as a supported training run.  I knew it would be the morning following my husband’s Christmas party (read: alcohol, improper nutrition, heels, little sleep), but I figured it’d be good training.  I also didn’t taper for it and it was just 2 weeks after my 50-miler.  In other words, my expectations were low for my performance, but I LOVE Calico events, so I looked forward to it.  My goal going into it was hopefully to get under 5 hours, but I’d heard the course wasn’t exactly easy (keep in mind the only times I’ve broken 5 hours have been on point-to-point courses with a net loss in elevation).  This one had a little elevation change and was an out-and-back.  It was also primarily on dirt/gravel, which I’d heard was difficult to keep footing on by someone who’d done the race previously.

Asa, my husband, signed up for the 10k, which started 2 minutes before the marathon.  The 10k had a very small out and back which meant those runners passed back by the start line as the marathoners took off.  The marathon turn-around point was the finish of the 10k.  The marathon course consisted of two out-and-backs, but each time, we had to run almost a mile past the turn-off for the finish area before turning back around.  The half marathon started 30 minutes after the marathon and consisted of one out-and-back.

I was pleasantly surprised with the course because the elevation profile looked like the first 3 or so miles were gradually uphill when they were actually gradually rolling uphill (which I preferred!).  Due to the out-and-back nature of the course, there were was access to an aid station less than every 2 miles even though there were only a few stations set up.  The scenery was pretty as we ran by Lake Mead and up onto an overlook where we got a different view of the lake.  There were a handful of tunnels we ran through, which was neat.  It was a bit disorienting because it was bright outside so the pitch black in the tunnels was sort of surreal.  It was easy to see the light at the end of each one, but when I looked around, I couldn’t see any other runners or even my feet.  I hoped there weren’t any rocks I’d trip on, but I was fine.  My GPS didn’t like the tunnels at it always lost signal and then had a difficult time trying to calculate the distance in the tunnel, haha.  At the turnaround was a great view of Hoover Dam.

The morning was cool, which I liked–41 degrees at the start which was “freezing” to Las Vegas people.   I wore capris, a tank top, a light jacket, Christmas socks!, a headband with bells and reindeer antlers, and a jingling bracelet.  In the car before the race started, I shook the bracelet and asked Asa if it was annoying, to which he responded, “No.”  Then I asked if it would be annoying for someone to listen to for nearly 5 hours.  He slowly smiled and just looked at me as if to ask if I really needed a response to that question. Of course that didn’t dissuade me from wearing the bells.  I figured that I might motivate some people to run faster to get away from the sound.

Right after starting, I saw Asa and we ran together for a couple minutes.  He said he’d run with me, before I convinced him he would NOT be running MY marathon pace for only 10k.  I told him to run ahead, which he did.  I continued running along at a little faster than an 11-minute pace and that felt okay.  My calves were tighter than usual, but considering the amount of time I spent in heels the night before and the uphill sections at the beginning of the course.  I felt fine and decided I was going to run a “comfortably effortful” pace for the race.  Less than 5 minutes after Asa ran ahead, who would come up behind me but my friend Karla (the one who ran Badwater)!  She seemed very energetic and I told her I was just running the race as a training run.  She said she was running it as a training run too.  I still don’t think she comprehends that she’s sort of like Super Woman, it doesn’t matter that she’s 20 years older than me, and her “training run marathon pace” is literally my marathon PR pace, lol.

Anyway, of course Karla said she didn’t want to run ahead.  Her pacing plan was to run sub-10-minute miles on all of the flat/downhill parts of the course and just over 10 minutes a mile on uphill sections.  She was thinking a 4:20 was doable.  This was NOT my plan, lol.  My marathon PR is 4:17.  However, I chose to just run with her for a while.  We talked a LOT and somehow I was running sub-10-minutes miles doing this.  Time flew by.  Karla and I talked about lots of stuff during the time we weren’t cheering on other runners.  We even took a few pictures of each other along the way and have some goofy official race photos to show for our time together.

We made it to 6 miles barely over an hour 1:00:1x, which was way faster than I’d planned.  Karla and I continued to run together until we got to about 11 miles and she finally decided to run ahead, lol.  Not long after she took off, another girl caught up to me and wanted to run together for a while.  However, I had to break it to her that she needed to be WAY ahead of me if she wanted to come anywhere close to her goal of 4:05.  At that point we were at about 12 miles and already over 2 hours (barely, but not a course to run a negative split on).  For the mile or so we ran together, though, we got on the topic of ultrarunning, and she got all excited that I run ultras, and it made me feel awkward so what did I do?  I diverted the conversation to Badwater and how Karla ran it.

I think I officially made it to the halfway point at about 2:12, which registered as about 13.35 on my Garmin.  I ditched my jacket at the halfway point because it was annoying running with it tied around my waist.  I am a wimp with cold when I’m just standing around, but assuming my clothes aren’t soaked (like at NC24!), I stay pretty warm while running.  I made the decision to slow down on the second half, primarily because I wanted to take some photos of the scenery.

During the second half, I ran a lot, walked some, and took quite a few photos.  Some of the pics were blurry if I took them while running so I had to walk (or stop completely, like in the tunnels).  But it was fun.  One of the things I love about courses with out-and-backs is that I get to see lots of other runners.  I knew a handful of other runners from other races I’d done.  People seemed to like my festive apparel.  I gave lots of high fives in the last quarter of the race.  The volunteers were awesome and very encouraging.  Even the race photographer is very interactive with runners.

In the final 3 miles or so of the race, I decided I was ready to be done with the race, so I sped up to sub-10-minute miles.  My Garmin distance said 26.5 miles and my official finish time was 4:38:56.  I was definitely happy with that.  It’s still crazy to me that I can now get below 5 hours without putting in anywhere near maximum effort.  I tried for YEARS to get below 5 hours and it never happened.  Now, on a course that wasn’t known as “easy” (not saying it was super difficult either), I sort of goofed around, talked a lot, and took lots of pictures, and I still had over 20 minutes to spare.  Of course I have to give some props to my running coach, Ian.  He has enabled me to do things I was never able to do on my own.  I am at a loss for words for exactly how to explain the impact he’s had on my running and ultimately my life, so I’ll just say he’s awesome.

So here’s a funny story about Asa’s race.  After running ahead, he finished the 10k in 1:03:x.  He then waited at his finish line for over an hour to see me go by.  He waited until the last bus went back to the start line (since the 10k was a point-to-point course).  He said he saw the 11-minute milers, then the 12s, and finally the 15s and got concerned because he didn’t know what happened to me.  When I ran by the 10k finish area, I looked and didn’t see him, but I assumed he’d already finished and boarded a bus.  Piecing everything together, we think we know what happened.  Another minor detail is that there was a point, after rounding the corner of a wall at the parking garage where the 10k ended, the marathoners/half marathoners turns right while the 10kers might an abrupt turn left to the finish that was RIGHT there.  The only thing we can think, based on never seeing each other and my 6-mile split with his 10k finish time is that he was RIGHT ahead of me.  This would explain why I didn’t see him a minute earlier when I had a view of the finish line, and he never saw me run by. LOL.  So as it turned out, we could have run together after all.

Getting to my point of sharing this race report… I highly recommend this event to anyone!  It’s pretty, the course is fun, the social aspect with seeing lots of other runners is enjoyable, the volunteers are awesome, and it’s just a great event!  I’ve never done another marathon that I would rate so high in all of those regards.  The only areas I’d say it lacks in are crowd support and mega crowds.  The race is sort of remote and pretty small (less than 200 marathon runners), but these are actually pluses for me.  While people cheering can be motivating, I really don’t mind if a race has that; in this race, the other runners and volunteers provided more than enough motivation anyway.  And I HATE megaraces, so I don’t see the small number of runners as bad at ALL.  Plus, all runners get a nice tech shirt (this one has long sleeves) and medal.  And I didn’t get an award at this race, but I can attest that the overall and age group awards at Calico races are always neat.  The race director, Joyce, puts a lot of time into making them meaningful and unique (like my hourglass from my 12-hour race and my cactus from my 50-miler in the middle of nowhere).

In the age where bigger always seems to be better in racing, I can’t help but give a shout-out to local race organizations like Calico Racing.  I’ve done 7 of those races this year and have no complaints about any of them.  Another thing I love about Calico is that they “pay” their volunteers in credit toward future races–$10 an hour.  How cool is that?  Here’s their race web site, by the way: http://www.calicoracing.com

Now, here are some pics:

Hubby and me before the race:
1   2
Pic that my friend Mitch took during the race (he’s talented to run and take pics at the same time!):

3

From my friend Giovanni around mile 12:
mile 12

Karla and me after the race:
4
A couple official race photos of Karla and me (still figuring out if I want to purchase any):

5  6

Some photos from the course:
7  89  10  11  12  13

14 15

Finishing pic that Karla took:
16

Back of race shirt and finisher medal:
17

Thanks for reading and/or looking at the pics.

Katrina

2012/12/01: Expedition 50-miler (race report)

I really had no idea what to expect from this race.  I intended for it to be a supported training run in preparation for my first 100-miler at the beginning of February.  I like to use races as training runs (when the training runs are marathon length or longer) because it’s just easier logistically and mentally.  I love running, but I find it difficult to map out a 25+-mile long run and to figure out where to stash water, etc.  I find it more enjoyable to do it in a race environment because I don’t have to think about the course and there is ample aid along the way.

I found this race by accident.  The 50-miler was actually listed as a relay, but when I investigated it, I discovered that solo runners were allowed (in addition to the 5-person teams).  However, I was a bit concerned about the cut-off time that was 10 hours.  That’s a 12-minute/mile pace, which is normally very sustainable for me, but I knew the course was hilly, so I was quite concerned about this.  I inquired and was told solo runners could do an early start which would allow for 90 extra minutes.  11.5 hours was better but I was still unsure of it; my official 50-miler PR from earlier this year was 11:21 on an easier course.  However, I thought about it and decided that since my purpose of the race was actually to get in a long training run, even if I finished after the cut-off and wasn’t listed as an official finisher, the run would still be successful for my purposes (although of course I wanted to finish before the cut-off).

In the days leading up to the race, I became increasing concerned about the race, not my ability to complete 50 miles but about the race organization and logistics.  Several days before the race, there had been no informational email sent out; there was very limited info on the web site, and it was pretty much just the course.  Finally, Wednesday night, an email was sent out, however, it only made me more anxious.  The gist of the email would be that there would be a bunch of special awards (like best team name and best decorated vehicle) and that everything else would be discussed at the meeting on Friday night.  I was annoyed that there was a mandatory meeting from 8:30-9pm when the early start of the race was at 6:30 the next morning.  I sent an email to the RD asking about drop bags and confirmation of the cut-offs since there was no official mention of this.  I was assured that I could bring drop bags and designate where to put them.

I drove the 2 hours to the race town Friday in the late afternoon.  My friend Patrick was nice enough to let me crash on the couch at his place, which saved a large sum of money.  I went to dinner with him, his wife, and his little son.  I then went to the race meeting.  There was a comment that there would be water for the ultrarunners at 2 of the relay exchange points.  I thought I had to have misheard that there would only be 2 places with water because that made no sense.  Before I had a chance to do it myself, another one of the ultrarunners (there were 5 of us total… plus over 50 relay teams) raised his hand and asked for clarification.  The RD matter-of-factly said that yes, there would only be water at 2 points (roughly miles 11 and 38) because “ultrarunners are normally self-sufficient.” WHAT?!  I had a 20-ounce Amphipod bottle that I always carry, which I knew would last between the exchange points (which were 3-7 miles apart), but there was no way I could go the middle 27 miles with just that.  4 out of the 5 of us went up afterward and the RD said that we could bring water if we wanted it and it would be put wherever we designated it.  That was better, but I was still very leery of how that would play out.  I was also concerned that it was emphasized that runner should be very familiar with their legs of the race because there was minimal marking.  I read through all of the directions (which were on 10 separate pages, broken up by leg) and realized there was no way I could memorize all of it.  I decided to just hope for the best.

After the meeting, I rushed to Walmart to pick up bottled water and bright labels to label the water; I figured I wanted one of the 20ish-ounce bottles at each of the exchange points, just so I could keep my bottle topped off.  I was honestly afraid someone was going to drink my water (since there was no water for anyone), but I figured I could only do what I could do.  I finally made it back to Patrick’s place.  I let him look at the race directions and got to hear all of his negative comments about them, lol.  Evidently, some of the big downhill sections I had enjoyed so much in my recent marathon and my (major) PR half marathon were along the route but would be run in the opposite direction.  After telling him about the lack of water stops, etc., Patrick told me that if I needed assistance during the race to call him and he would probably be able to bring me something; I appreciated this gesture.  By the time I finally got to sleep, it was after 11pm, and I recall looking at the clock a lot, although the time never changed more than 20 minutes between glimpses.  Not only was I concerned about oversleeping, which is a normal concern of mine, but I was very concerned about getting majorly lost, not having water, etc.

I woke up at 5am, got dressed, ate a banana, stretched, and headed to the start area.  I had 2 drop bags that had some extra clothes, first aid stuff, and gels that I opted to have put at the beginning of leg 5 and the beginning of leg 9 (roughly miles 23 and 38).  I also had a water bottle for each of the exchange points after the first one.  I arrived at the start line at about 6:15am.  There had been an explicit warning in the race booklet not to pee on the course and to use port-o-potties.  When I got to the start, I asked one of the volunteers if there was a bathroom and was told there wasn’t, lol.  Then, I asked another volunteer how well the course was marked and she asked, “Oh, you’re not bringing the directions along?”  No, I’m not carrying an 8.5×11-inch booklet along for 50 miles.  At the last moment, I guess the RD sensed my concern and gave me his cell phone number in the event I got lost.  At about 6:33am, someone said I could start whenever I wanted; the other solo runners weren’t there.  I was disappointed, though, after asking twice previously about the earliest time I could start and being told 6:30am that I found out someone started at 6:02am.  Anyway, they said the time was 6:35am and I took off.

The course was on open roads, which added an element to the race that I’m not used to in races.  Very soon, paying constant attention at every intersection not only for cars but signage indicating each turn, I realized it was going to be a very long day physically as well as mentally.  I also knew that waiting at stop lights would lose its novelty after a while.  Only 2.5 miles into the race, I got confused by one of the signs.  I thought I recalled I needed to turn left at a particular street, but as soon as I followed the arrow across the street from the right side to the left one (which I anticipated), I saw another arrow saying to cross the street.  I tried calling the RD with no answer, so I crossed the street to find the arrow on that side said to turn left (which made sense).  The RD called me back about a minute later but I told him I’d already figured out what I called him about.

The course was quite peaceful.  Part of the course was in Snow Canyon National Park; it was on a paved section, but it was away from the road.  The scenery there was beautiful, but I also knew the biggest hill was in this area.  There was a section that increased by nearly 1000 feet in a mile, so I walked almost that whole uphill section.  I’ve learned that it is so important to stay at an effortless pace early on in such a long race.  At that point, I was only about 10 miles into the race and I knew there was no reason to tire myself out because I’d pay for those couple minutes of time later on if I tried.

As I ran along, I wondered where the 3 other solo runners were (who started behind me) and when they would catch up to me.  I also wondered when the first relay runner would pass me.  They started 85 minutes behind me, but I knew they would be traveling much quicker.  I decided that I would be extremely happy if I had it to over 3 hours into my race before anyone caught up to me as that would mean no one was running twice as fast as me.  The first person flew by my at 3:04, and I saw a person every now and then for the rest of the race.  A few times, I know I confused some people because there were quite a few race members loitering at certain points to check the progress of their respective runners, and I don’t think they understood how I could be moving so slow (relatively) but still be “ahead” of them.  I always laughed and reassured them I wasn’t their competition (literally), I was running by myself, and I started early.

I found it funny on the section by the highway (which was the same section as part of my recent marathon) how much the elevation profile varied from the highway (where the marathon had been run) and the side (where this race took place).  The highway was nice as gradual while the side was literally like a roller coaster.  I love running downhill, but the downhill sections were unrunnable to me due to the grade.  I tried to do a zigzag down each one, but my pace was quite slow (especially for a downhill section).  Somewhere along here, the other male ultrarunner (besides the one that started ahead of me) passed me.

As I passed through the exchange points, I was happy that I could always spot my water bottle somewhere to top off my bottle.  I also always told a nearby volunteer that anyone who wanted it could have the rest of the bottle.  One thing that annoyed me is that there had been an explicit warning against littering in the race booklet.  I totally understood not littering, but I did not understand the order not to litter but not providing ANY trash cans along the way, including at the exchange points.  I was taking a gel religiously every 45 minutes, which meant that I always had something to throw away.  At some points, where everyone was busy, I kept carrying my trash.  At other times, when I wasn’t able to find other cans along the course (there were a few but not many), after asking a volunteer if there was a trash can and being told there wasn’t one, I asked them if I could leave my trash there anyway.  They all accommodated my request, but a few seemed more reluctant.  This frustrated me because I almost felt guilty about my requests, but I wasn’t sure what other options I had.

For the first half of the race, I really didn’t talk to any of the other runners.  I’d say something as they passed, but they were almost all too focused to respond.  When I was getting gels out of my drop bag at mile 23 and ditching my jacket, the runners waiting there realized I was one of the solo runners and everyone else’s eyes got really big.  On that next leg, I was still feeling really good, and I felt like I could have sped up, but there was a relay runner barely staying ahead of me and really didn’t have a reason to speed past her.  On this leg, I hit the halfway point in barely under 5 hours.

I was letting the terrain dictate whether I ran or walked; during my walking sections, I was trying to walk as a decent pace to not waste too much time.  I was walking around mile 29 when a lady runs up to me from behind and asks if she can run with me.  I said, “sure,” and picked up my pace to a jog.  She said she was struggling because she’d done the race before and the second leg was always the hardest.  It was leg 7 and her previous leg had been leg 2.  We talked for a few minutes before she realized I was running the whole thing.  From then on, anyone we saw (whether it was other runners, crews, or random people in their front lawns), she had to tell them I was running the whole thing, lol.  She was really nice, which helped the 4 miles we ran together go by quicker.

I don’t know if it was that lady’s commotion about me being a solo runner or what, but for most of the rest of the race, the other crews offered me aid.  Admittedly, I thought it was kind of funny that the relay runners’ crew vehicles would come up alongside them halfway through their ~5-mile run to see if they needed anything, but I also realized their relay was vastly different from the race I was running and that some of the people doing the relay were doing it as their first race.  And while I don’t even know what I would have done with a crew if I had one, except easier access to water, gels, and a trash can, and I never needed anything from the crews that offered, it meant a lot to me that they did offer to help.

About 35 miles into the race, Patrick texted me and called me to check on me.  I guess my cell phone (even though the screen was locked) managed to dial itself in my spibelt and leave him a 3-minute voicemail with nothing.  He called to see if the voicemail was an accident or if I actually needed something.  I thought that was nice of him.  Around that same time, I also managed to call a number consisting of an infinite number of 1s (the details show the number as a scrolling line of a bunch of 1s followed by “error”), lol.

There was one segment of the race where I was sure I was lost because I was sort of out in the middle of nowhere with some industrial buildings and no people (runners, crews, race people, or ANYone).  After following a road for an hour (maybe longer) that had lots of intersections that made me question whether I’d missed a turn, I finally saw a sign.  Segments of the race like that were mentally draining on me because every step I took, I wondered if I would have to walk it in the opposite direction.  Also, way out there, my cell phone didn’t have reception, so I was totally on my own.

Around mile 40, one of the female solo runners passed me and we exchanged some words.  I was majorly impressed with her.  It was her first 50-miler and she had been so concerned about getting lost that she started with the whole group at 8am, meaning she’d made up 85 minutes on me in 40 miles.  She was awesome (and ended up finishing about an hour and 45 minutes ahead of me).  I always break up long races (or runs for that matter) into smaller manageable chunks because my mind still cannot comprehend running 50 miles.  During this race, I broke it into segments based on the different legs.  This seemed to work, because running 3-7 miles at a time isn’t too difficult for me to wrap my mind around.

As the race went on, I played math games and set arbitrary time goals with myself just to pass the time and keep myself motivated.  My real goal of the race was to do the distance, my secondary goal (which I felt was only borderline doable) was to do it under the cut-off, and my third idea (not really even a goal since it didn’t seem realistic) was to get a PR.  At one point, I realized that I could finish under 10.5 hours if I kept a 15-minute/mile average pace.  It was crazy to think that time was possible, but that pace wasn’t exactly easy to maintain at that point in time.  However, it was somewhere around maybe 42 miles that I realized that running made me more tired but that running (slowly) actually hurt less than walking, so I started running a lot more.  My pace was SLOW but I was moving forward and in good spirits, so I figured that was all I could really ask for.

The finish area came a little sooner than I had expected but I sped up going over this last little footbridge and sped up even more as I made the last turn into the finish area set up in a little park.  My official time was 10:13:56, which is a PR of an hour and 7 minutes!  I couldn’t believe it.  I walked over to the curb to sit down and stretch.  One of the teams that finished right behind me came up afterward and one of the guys asked how much of the race I’d done myself.  When I said I’d done the whole thing, he exclaimed, “You ran 50 MILES?!”  I told him I had but that I’d started 85 minutes before his team (because I didn’t want them to think that I had run the whole thing faster than they had).  It was at that time, one of the other guys asked me what was wrong with my ankle, to which I responded, “Oh, I sprained it at the end of October so now I run with a brace on it to keep it stabilized.”  The first guy exclaims, “You ran 50 miles on a bad ankle?!”  I told him it felt okay, and then all 5 of them walked off silently.

It’s interesting to me that everything is relative.  For example, I don’t want to say that running 50 miles isn’t a big deal because I feel that such a statement would diminish the accomplishments of people who haven’t run that far.  However, I will say that I don’t think that it sounds crazy.  But I surround myself with friends who run much farther distances, so my perception of craziness may be a bit…skewed.   I can understand that someone who just ran ~10 miles over two legs might think running 50 miles is crazy.  But then again, I used to wonder how anyone was even able to run 5 miles.  So…everything IS relative.

I got a ride back to my car (a few miles away) and then I went to the banquet, which was strange.  The food was fine, but it had never crossed my mind that I was supposed to run 50 miles, shower and change into something fancy, and then go to a banquet, so I showed up in my running clothes.  Perhaps if I had finished many hours earlier (and lived locally) like many of the relay runners, this would have been feasible, but that wasn’t the case.  I almost ditched the banquet because I didn’t want to feel out of place.  But I was hungry.  As it turned out, I was the 2nd place female (out of 3), so I got a plaque.  The 3rd lady finished at the last possible second (literally) before the cutoff; I was happy she had completed the race.

I drove home after the race that night and had a lot of time to think about the day.  I was amazed I had gotten a PR and had not managed to get lost.  I also did something I’d never done before in an ultra: I didn’t eat any real food.  During the race, I consumed only water and gels (13 of them to be exact).  I got tired, but I never bonked.  However, I do dislike gel even more than I did before.  But I also realized that I do okay when I have no other options.  I’ve developed aversions to gels mid-race before and not been able to eat them the rest of the race, but at those, I had other food options.  At this particular race, when I started to gag a few times, my mind took over and I knew that taking gels was my only option if I wanted to be able to finish the race, so I did what needed to be done.

The irony about this race is that one of the only reasons I signed up for it was because I wanted a well-marked course where I didn’t need to think and would have ample aid along the way.  I did not get what I thought in those respects, but I gained some more independence and confidence in my ability to take care of myself during an ultra.  Regarding the elements of the race I was disappointed with, from an ultra perspective, I sent an email to the RD.  I got the impression that he truly cares about his race and is passionate about it but that he just really didn’t know how to support the solo runners.  If he listens to at least some of my comments, I have no doubts that this race will improve in the future.  The relay runners seem to have loved it, but I feel there are improvements to be made if it is to serve as an ultra event also.

This race was good for my running confidence.  After about a year of awesome running, the week after my half marathon where I set a huge PR, I did a 50k trail race that did not go well.  That was 3 weeks ago.  My ankle caused me quite a bit of pain whenever I landed on it wrong (which was often), I had some balance issues on some switchback sections, and I was slow.  It took me just shy of 8 hours to finish it, which was a personal worst (when my previous personal worst was almost 2 years ago when I did a race with no training).  I finished the race, but it was a huge blow to my confidence, which was quite concerning to me since my 100-miler is at the beginning of February.  Additionally, I felt very beat up after the race and didn’t run for several days.  I just felt awful and fatigued.  I decided to not even attempt to do a race report because I really did not have anything positive to say except that I finished.  Also, during that race, it was not fun.  I won’t say I enjoy every single moment that I run normally, but the race as a whole was just not enjoyable.

In comparison to that 50k, this 50-miler went very well.  I felt quite good the whole time and I truly enjoyed it, in spite of the concerns I had.  Even the things I was worried about prior to the race did not end up being as bad as I thought they might be.  I won’t say it was an easy race, but it was definitely easier than my recent 50k as well as some marathons I’ve done.

I felt like my running lately shows that sometimes bad runs just happen, but there might be a light at the end of that tunnel if a person doesn’t lose hope and keeps putting in the necessary work.  From the 50k through a week prior to the 50-miler, for 2 solid weeks, none of my runs felt good.  I never seemed to get in the groove where they felt comfortable, and also, all of my paces were about a minute slower than my effort level told me they should be.  Running was not fun and I was frustrated because it had been going so good.  But on one particular run, a 10-miler around my neighborhood, the fun came back and has stuck around.  Again, I won’t say every single moment of every run is nirvana, but overall, I do love running.

There was only one photo of me from the race.  I think it was taken around mile 15 (give or take a few):

Expedition 50m

And here is a pic of my plaque and finisher medal:

Expedition 50m 1

Katrina