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

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

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From my friend Giovanni around mile 12:
mile 12

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

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Some photos from the course:
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Finishing pic that Karla took:
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Back of race shirt and finisher medal:
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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

2012/11/03: Snow Canyon HM (race report)

I intended for this to be a short report, but of course that didn’t actually happen. 😉

Short version: I ran the Snow Canyon Half Marathon today and broke 2 hours, which is completely insane to me.  My previous PR was 2:06:33.  My official time today was 1:56:49.

Since my focus is really on ultras (with some marathons thrown in for good measure, I rarely race shorter distances.  This weekend I was originally signed up to run the Really Big Free Marathon here in Las Vegas (just for fun).  However, after running a good race at the St George Marathon 3 weeks ago, I really wasn’t interested in doing this particular marathon.  My friend Patrick  told me about the Snow Canyon Half Marathon on the same day, which seemed like the perfect opportunity to set a HM PR.  Admittedly, my HM PR was soft as it was from the second half of the St George Marathon.  But I hadn’t legitimately all-out run a HM since early last year.

I know I’m in the best shape of my life, and I really looked forward to this race.  Then, 13 days prior to the race, while my husband and I were moving houses, I sprained my ankle while carrying a box of books.  I initially thought I would not be able to do this race.  However, after 9 days of zero running, I ran 4 miles at a pace that’s faster than I normally run, and it surprisingly felt good.  I guess the rest really refreshed me.  My second run back, 3 days ago, I ran a 5k in costume and set a new PR: 27:15 (even though the course was 3.17 miles).  I was cautiously optimistic, particularly since my ankle was still not 100%.  But strangely enough, my ankle felt better running than just walking or sitting around.

My PR going into this race was 2:06:33.  I hoped to improve upon it since that was after a “13-mile warmup.”  In an ideal world, prior to spraining my ankle, I felt I had a chance of running under 2 hours.  But this thought still sounded crazy to me.

Patrick was nice enough to pick up my packet yesterday since I woke up at 2:40 this morning to drive to his house and then to the race.  Several times over the last few weeks, he’d made references to me running a sub-2 which quite honestly really annoyed me because while it was my “ideal world” goal, I purposely didn’t tell anyone (besides my husband, running coach, and the lady next to me on the bus this morning).  I don’t like other people setting expectations for me, particularly when they’re borderline unrealistic.

Additionally, he tried to convince me that I should run 8:00-minute miles with him for as long as I could and then run-walk the rest after I blow up and that I should still PR due to the time I banked.  Gee, thanks, Patrick. 😉

Anyway, I digress.

This morning, I felt good, and my ankle felt okay in a brace, but I wasn’t sure how 13 miles would go.  The longest run I’d done in the past 13 days was a 6-miler.  I knew the course had a ridiculous amount of elevation loss, most of which was in the first half; the second half still had some downhill but there were some short uphill sections too.

I’ve gotten into the habit of starting races very conservatively and running negative splits, but I decided I wanted to not hold back so much early on.  I was going to run by feel, which I knew meant that my faster miles were going to be toward the beginning (primarily due to the course), but my goal was not to get ridiculously slower later on.

Once I crossed the start line, I almost immediately realized I had not used my inhaler.  Luckily I had it with me, so I was able to use it, but it was a slight hinder to my running.  Then, about a mile later, I realized I was too warm for my sweatshirt, so I had to take it off while running.  I hate messing with my clothes during a run because it throws off my run, but stopping or even walking didn’t sound like legitimate options.

The course was beautiful, with reddish colored rocks/hills all around; running through canyons is beautiful and just a neat experience.  I was surprised how quickly the miles seemed to be passing by.  I was amazed that I was running at a faster pace than I normally ever run and that I was doing it for so long.  It wasn’t until afterward that I realized it while talking to Patrick, but I definitely ran 10k faster than I ever had before (54:27 official PR compared to 53:05).  And I even ran 5k faster than I ever had before (27:15 official PR from 3 days ago compared to 25:59 today).  Also, during the race, it was so weird to look at my average pace after 7 miles and realize it was the same as my current 5k PR pace.  Freaky.

I hit 7 miles at barely over an hour (1:00:11) which was comforting to me as it meant I barely needed to keep under a 10-minute mile average for the rest of the race to break 2 hours.  However, the effort which had seemed easy got significantly more difficult.  I ran up a short but semi-steep incline and my breathing which had been okay to that point was somehow gone.  I literally felt like my breath was gone.  Since this was the beginning of some of the little uphill sections, I dialed back my pace a little bit so I could breathe.  There was only one hill that seemed to last a little too long and I considered walking for a few seconds before the more dominant part of my brain said, “NO!”

I had brought my 20-ounce Amphipod water bottle and even though I drank less than half of it in the cooler temps, it was a good idea in hindsight.  I didn’t need to utilize any aid stations for water (or gels as I’d brought my own).  I’d considered bringing my 12-ounce bottle instead, which would have worked, but I opted for the larger one just to be sure.

The race was pretty peaceful.  I really enjoyed myself, and I couldn’t believe the race was going by so quickly (but part of this I know is a matter of perspective… if my races normally last 4-24 hours, of course 13 miles is going to seem faster, regardless of the actual time).  This isn’t to say it was easy, though, particularly toward the end.  The highlight in the last few miles, somewhere between miles 11 and 12, I managed to puke up what tasted like orange gel and acid, which I immediately swallowed (the thought of which I think disgusted me even more).

I ran every single step of the race, which wasn’t a huge goal of mine, but it was fun to have done anyway.  If I hadn’t brought my own water, I would have walked through water stops as I’ve choked on water from cups one too many times to attempt drinking while running.

I had no finishing kick at the end like I normally do, but I sort of view this as a success in its own way.  While I love sprinting, I am thrilled that for a change, I didn’t have excess energy at the end to make me wonder if I could have run faster earlier on.

My official chip time was 1:56:49, which was just shy of a 10-minute PR.  Even just typing that is crazy to me.  I guess I should make a confession now: I’ve always been in awe of people who run under 2 hours in a HM.  I never understood how they could keep that pace for so long, and it seemed like a completely impossible aspiration for myself, so I never even considered it.  But now that I’ve done it, I can say it was more of a mental hurdle than anything (similar to how all I ever wanted from a marathon was to break 5 hours–I would have been totally satisfied running a single one in 4:59:59…I never dreamed I’d run a 4:17, which I did a few months ago).  It is still ridiculously surreal to me, though.

These are my splits from the race: 8:53, 9:01, 8:36, 8:29, 8:18, 8:22, 8:34, 9:30, 8:49, 9:05, 9:28, 9:34, 8:55, and 1:20 for the last .15.  I tried to run the tangents where possible, so even with weaving around people, I was happy with how my Garmin distance compared to the official course length.

Also, I’ll take this opportunity to give my running coach, Ian Sharman, a plug.  He’s been my coach for barely a year (since the end of October, 2011), and my improvements speak for themselves.  Below is a list of PRs prior to October 2011 and between then and now:

1M – 8:14 unofficial  à 7:37 unofficial
1.5M – 13:31 à 11:36
5k – 28:12 (short course) à 27:15 (long course)… 25:59 unofficial
10k – 1:04:23 à 54:27…53:05 unofficial
HM – 2:19:36 à 1:56:49
Marathon – 5:12:33 à 4:17:41
50k – 6:56:27 à 5:43:38 (for 51k)
Distance PR (in 24 hours) – 66 miles à 89 miles

I feel like I’m proof that people are capable of WAY more than they think they are. 😉

Here are a few photos from the race:
Snow Canyon HM2   Snow Canyon HM1

Here is a self-portrait I took by setting the timer after the race.  It’s definitely not one of my favorite photos, but I figured I’d share anyway:

Snow Canyon HM

Katrina

2012/10/06: St George Marathon (race report)

Short version: I ran the St George Marathon not knowing what to expect since the race was only 13 days after I ran 89 miles at NC24.  I hoped to get a negative split due to the elevation profile of the course.  I ended up finishing in 4:20:12 (2.5 minutes slower than my PR), but I officially set a new half marathon PR.  And I ran a 7-minute negative split.  Oh, and I passed 480 people in the last 7.5 miles of the race (and only got passed by 4 in that section).

Much longer version:
I originally had no intention of entering the lottery for the St George Marathon because I didn’t think my chances of getting in were very good and it was also 13 days after North Coast 24 (NC24), which was my goal race for the fall. However, my husband, Asa, really wanted to do it; he’d heard great things about the marathon and grew up in southern Utah so he was very familiar with the area. Since it’d be his first marathon, I entered our names into the lottery (on a both or neither condition, so either we’d both be picked or we both wouldn’t be picked). I doubted we’d even get it. However, we did!

At NC24 two weeks ago, I set a distance PR of 89.28 miles. Asa, despite not training for it (or the marathon, actually), completed just over 35 miles. However, he had a recurring foot issue crop back up during that , and it’s caused him issues since then. He was disappointed because he really wanted to do it, but in the end, he decided it would be a bad idea. We’ll choose another marathon down the road once he’s recovered and actually trains for it. 😉

The news of Asa not doing the marathon made me totally reconsider how I was going to do the race. I had planned on just going at whatever his pace would be (which I assumed would be slower than mine) and not worry about time at all. This made sense, especially considering my long race two weeks prior. Since NC24, I’d run minimal miles—only 17 between the two races (plus an additional 21 miles of walking), but I felt I recovered a lot quicker than I thought I would. However, there’s a difference between feeling good on a 3-5-mile run (5 was my longest run since NC24) and being recovered enough to put in race effort in a much longer race like a marathon. Also, I wasn’t sure how the course would affect my time, for better or worse. On the bright side, the course had a net elevation loss of over 2,000 feet! On the not-so-bright side, it had some decent uphill sections too; additionally, the start line was over 3,000 feet above where we live.

I saw a mention of breaking the course into three sections, which made a lot of sense to me: the first ~7 miles which were mostly downhill, miles~ 8-13 which had the majority of uphill and hills, and the last half which contained a lot of downhill. After driving the course with Asa the day before the race, the reality of how not easy the course was became more real. So many people talk about the course in terms of the elevation loss, but they seem to ignore the elevation gains which were way more prevalent than I would have preferred. I decided to approach the course in this way: Keep the first section conservative and avoid the tendency to do it too quickly to save energy for the middle section. Keep the middle section at an easy pace, which I knew would mean my overall pace would slow as a result. Then, use whatever energy I had at the end of the first half to run a smart, hopefully quicker, second half. And an overarching tenant of the entire plan was to pay attention to how my body was feeling because it was possible that I actually wasn’t fully recovered and that it would not turn out to be a good race day. Of course, in the event of that being the case, I planned to still finish, assuming I wasn’t risking serious injury, but I would flip my switch from “racing” to “just for fun.” No big deal.

I will mention here that my previous marathon PR (okay, spoiler alert: that is STILL my PR) was 4:17:41. It was done as a goal race in the spring, six weeks after my 50-miler. The course at Ojai 2 Ocean had a net elevation loss of about 700 feet with only one uphill section that was a gain of 200 feet over a couple miles (so nothing significant at all) in the first 6 miles; the rest of the course was either flat or downhill. The entire race took place well below the elevation at which I live, and it actually ended at sea level. It was the ideal course for a PR. In that race, I ran a negative split of about 3 minutes (2:10 and 2:07), however, the race did not provide official splits, so I opted not to claim the halves as half PRs.

Prior to this race in the spring, my official half marathon PR had been 2:18. I knew I’d easily shattered it but didn’t have anything official to back it up with. I’d done a half marathon in the summer in Las Vegas on an anti-PR course (aptly named Running with the Devil) and set a new official PR of 2:17:01, so barely, but given the circumstances, I was happy to have lowered it. I haven’t “raced” a half marathon (except the summer one) in for time in nearly 2 years, so I fully admit the 2:17 was super soft (actually done at a slower pace than my PR marathon).

The night before the race, Asa and I met up with my online friend Patrick and his 3-year-old son for dinner. He was hoping to go sub-4 and had the half marathon stats plus training runs on the actual course to support that. When he asked me what time I was aiming for, I really couldn’t give him an answer. I finally told him I hoped to go under 4:35, since that’s when I got to the marathon distance at NC24. However, I wasn’t even sure that was feasible since I knew the weather would be warmer at the St George Marathon and that the course would be a LOT more difficult. Patrick also tried, unsuccessfully, to convince Asa that he should run the marathon even with his hurt foot since he’d already paid the money and the cutoff was 6.5 hours. Asa has good common sense, so he laughed off the idea. 😉

Funny side story about my wardrobe for the race: I normally run races in one of my “normal” running skirts that have short shorts built in (but that don’t have much compression at all. However, with all of the downhill on the St George course, I decided that something with compression would be better. The majority of compression gear I have go down to my mid-calf and they’re black; I figured (rightfully so) that these would be too hot. I have a single pair of good compression shorts that go to right above my knees. This pair has two flaws, though: One is that it is the least flattering set of running bottoms I own (not that I try to make a fashion statement with everything I wear, but it really made my lower half look pretty horrendous). Also, they had a hole the size of a quarter on my upper left thigh (classy, right?); normally, this is a non-issue as I rarely wear these shorts, and when I do, it’s dark outside. I had a remedy, though: I would “paint” the area of my skin under the hole with a black permanent marker so the hole would not be blatantly obvious. Yes, that was my legit idea. However, at the expo, I had an unasked prayer answered when I found a booth selling cover-up running skirts; unlike all of the running skirts I already owned, these didn’t have anything built in underneath. This meant I could wear it over my hideous compression shorts AND hide the hole. And I found a sparkly purple skirt that I figured would match the purple shirt I’d brought perfectly. So I splurged and bought it.

On race morning, Asa dropped me off at the bus pick-up area, which was actually the finish line, and buses took runners to the starting point since it was a point-to-point course. I knew the weather would be cold (well, 40s), so I brought a sweatshirt and sweat pants I picked up at a thrift store as “throw-away” clothes. The starting area was neat. There were a bunch of little warming fires that people stood around. There were also more porta potties than I’ve EVER seen at a race, including the RNR mega-races. There was also fruit, Gatorade, water, coffee, and even hot chocolate! There was also music playing over the loud speakers between announcements.

What I did NOT intend to have happen was the immediate coughing when I got close to one of the fires from all of the smoke. Evidently, smoke is one of my asthma triggers. Lovely. I used my inhaler, although it didn’t seem to do any good, despite that I’d moved away from the direct area of the fires. The coughing before I even started running was annoying, but I can’t say it impacted my running any more than the running-induced coughing does (it just began over an hour before the race started instead of a couple miles into the race).

I tentatively lined up near the 4:30 pace group because I didn’t have a better idea. I knew it’d take several minutes for all of the ~7,000 runners to cross the start line, but while I was standing there waiting, I decided to use the porta potty one last time (and since the race was chip timed, it really didn’t matter when I crossed the start line. When I got out of the porta potty, the mass of people at the start line had significantly dwindled and I was toward the end of the runners. I crossed the line nearly 12 minutes into the race. I was concerned I’d have to weave around a ton of people right away, but this wasn’t the case. I think at least part of this was due to the fact that there was a 6.5-hour cutoff, meaning that while walkers weren’t prohibited, the race wasn’t very conducive to walking.

I decided to stick with my plan of running the first 7 miles at an easy pace. My pace was in the high 9s to mid-10s, and it felt easy. I wasn’t trying to keep any particular pace but instead trying to conserve energy for the hills ahead. I didn’t walk at all in this section. My 10k split was 1:02:37 (10:05 average pace); my predicted finish time based on that split was 4:24:22. This info was posted directly to my Facebook profile and also texted to Asa so he knew where I was and when to expect me at the finish line. The couple mile or so was done in the dark before sunrise. Southern Utah is beautiful.

The biggest incline was just after 7 miles and lasted about a mile. I hadn’t developed a strategy ahead of time for the hill. I’m not keen on walk breaks, but I also know I’m not a super strong uphill runner and sometimes it wastes more energy to try to run. I ran about half a mile up it, just trying to keep a pace that was manageable without caring what it actually was, before I realized my breathing was really labored (not from the asthma but from running uphill, lol), so I opted to walk. After a minute of walking, my breathing still wasn’t recovered, so I walked one more minute. This was my slowest mile of the race: 11:17; I’m still not sure how it was that fast with two minutes of walking.

After that hill, there was a downhill section followed by another uphill section that was less steep but seemed to go on for nearly as long; I didn’t remember this one from the drive the day prior. Up through over about 12 miles, there seemed to be a LOT of uphill. As I expected, my overall pace got slower. However, I was still feeling good, so time at that point mattered less; I really wanted enough energy to run a negative split. If I was able to run a negative split, it would tell me I was right in going out conservatively. However, if I were to get a positive split, it would tell me I was not truly dialed in on what constituted a conservative effort. To me, the course seemed designed to pretty feasibly run a negative split, but this was based on the assumption of not wrecking oneself in the first half (particularly the first 7 miles before the toughest section).

When I got to the half marathon mat, my time was 2:13:39, which was associated with an updated predicted finish time of 4:27:25. (Yay, new official half marathon PR by over 3 minutes.) My average pace for the entire race to this point had slid to 10:12. I was actually pleased it was not slower. I pretty much knew at this point I wouldn’t get a PR, but I still wanted to see how much of a negative split I could get. There were some pretty decent downhill sections, and I loved these. I feel like I was made for downhill running because I never end up with quad issues. I felt bad for people later in the race who were hobbling down the inclines sideways because that appeared to be the only way their muscles would work. I had two miles that were sub-9:10, which I thought was crazy. I continued running pretty much everything, although sometimes I would stop at an aid station to get Gatorade; I had a 20-ounce Amphipod handheld bottle with water that served me very well. “Stops” at aid stations would consist of about 10-15 seconds of walking while drinking followed by continuing to run.

I can think of two occasions on longer uphill sections in the second half where I walked a minute apiece; this was a strategic move as I took the walk toward the top of the incline knowing I’d be refreshed a bit just before heading downhill again. As a distraction to the uphill parts, I tried to focus on the scenery. It was so picturesque! There were also lots of signs spread throughout the course made by family members and friends of runners.

As a side reference, the aid stations had TONS of volunteers and were awesome. Some of them had fruit, Icy Hot, and Vaseline in addition to the normal water and Gatorade (and sometimes gels). They were also equipped with some “lucky” volunteers whose job it was to kneel in front of runners and rub Vaseline/Icy Hot all over their lower legs/thighs. While I didn’t partake in any of that, I thought it was a nice touch, albeit not likely what the volunteers had in mind when they decided to help out.

I was surprised how warm it started to feel in the second half. I think it only got up to the 70s, but it felt hotter than that. It’s funny because I live in Las Vegas and trained through the summer, so there’s no reason anything below 80 should feel even remotely hot, but for whatever reason, it did.

I was continuing to run and was trying to get my average pace below 10:00, not because there’s anything particularly special about this value but instead because it gave me numbers to play mental games with. For so long, I’d almost be there, then I’d walk through an aid station and take the next mile or so trying to make up for it. I knew a 10-minute mile would equate to a 4:22 finishing time, which would be less than 5 minutes off of my PR. I had a pipe dream that I could get it below 4:20, but as the miles ticked by, I was still having a hard time making it to a 10-minute mile average overall, let alone finding 2 extra minutes somewhere. My 30k split was 3:06:20, which awkwardly was listed as a 9:60 average mile, haha.

In the final 8 miles or so, I got a bit discouraged because whenever I thought I’d run the final uphill section, I’d find another one. Remember, this was supposed to be the fast, downhill section! 😉 I also noticed some soreness in my piriformus muscle (located in the left cheek of my butt). I tried walking a few seconds and pressing on the area, but I wasn’t able to locate the trouble spot. I also noted that it was sore whether I walked, ran slowly, or ran quickly, so there was no reason to not run quickly (well, my version of “quickly”).

The final 3 miles or so were neat because they were in the city of St George so we had some crowd support. It didn’t compare to one of the massive races in terms of size, but it was a small-town welcome which I really liked. There were lots of people with signs, people cheering, and little kids standing out high-fiving runners. I sped up, knowing I only had about a half hour left.

At the 24-mile point, I saw my husband, he took a photo of me, and he ran with me for a few steps. I love him so much! Somewhere after that point, there was an aid station handing out cold wet towels, which felt amazing. There were also a couple aid station in the second half that had misters spraying runners who wanted it. The last couple miles were essentially flat. I never saw a mile 25 mile marker, but I did see an official 25.2 one. When I saw this, I looked at my watch and saw it was at just under 4:10. I realized that if I could maintain under a 10-minute pace that I could break 4:20.

I switched my watch to current pace and consciously kept my pace under 10:00, actually closer to mid-9s (mile 26 was done in 9:30). When I turned the last corner, the finish line seemed a bit farther away than it should be, based on the time my watch said. I think their mile marker may have been a little bit off as the last partial mile was .25 according to my Garmin (done in 2:01—8:04 pace) and I didn’t cross the finish line until 4:20:12. I was a little disappointed about this, but then I realized I was only about 2.5 minutes off of my PR time on a more difficult course, so my time was okay. My average pace for the entire race was 9:55. My last 10k was actually done in less than an hour (which I’d only ever done in a single 10k race).

While I didn’t get a marathon PR, I walked away with an official new half marathon PR, which I decided to claim since I had official published splits to “document” it. After running the first half in 2:13:39, I’d managed to complete the second half in 2:06:33. From my previous official PR of 2:17:01, this was a huge difference; from the second half of my spring PR marathon, it was really only about 30 seconds faster, but regardless, it was still faster! And I ran over a 7-minute negative split!

My Garmin mile splits for the race were: 10:27, 10:32, 10:03, 9:58, 9:54, 9:44, 9:42, 11:17 (Veyo hill), 10:19, 10:16, 10:36, 10:05, 9:38, 9:37, 9:05, 9:11, 9:40, 10:07, 10:42 (Lodges hill), 9:43, 9:30, 10:13, 9:44, 9:07, 9:39, 9:30, and 2:01 for .25 at the end (average pace of 9:55 overall).

In looking up my results after the race, I found an interesting stat saying that in the last 7.5 miles of the race, I PASSED 480 people and only GOT PASSED by 4 (that’s not a typo). So I really can’t be too disappointed with my performance. I know a few other people who should have finished way before be and they all finished within 13 minutes, so I really can’t complain.

After crossing the finish line, I walked around the finish area; there was so much going on that I was a bit overwhelmed. I grabbed a popsicle (yes, they had TONS of food, including all the free ice cream and popsicles you could want!) and walked around wondering where my husband was before deciding to sit under a tree for a while and stretch. I found my way over to a booth where volunteers were typing bib number into a computer and handing out labels with official finish times—very cool!

I found Asa, his parents who had come (since they don’t live too far from the race site), and one of his cousins. Asa surprised me with a beautiful bouquet of a dozen long stemmed roses! They were so beautiful, and he was so thoughtful. I guess he’d contacted a florist earlier in the race but requested to pick them up closer to the end so they wouldn’t wilt in the car. He’s such a sweetheart!

After walking around, I felt surprisingly fine, and even my piriformus muscle had become a non-issue. No chafing or blisters either. Strange, but okay! Looking back at the race, I really can’t say I would have done anything differently. Of course I would rather have run it with Asa, but that would not have worked out today. We will do a marathon together sometime, though. 😉

Below are a bunch of photos:

With Patrick before our dinner FE:
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Trying on my race day clothes the night before (very happy the skirt looked/felt okay):
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Before going to the race (with my keep-warm clothes on):
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At mile 24:
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Finishing:
SGM finish

With roses from the hubby after the race:
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Asa and me after the race:
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Pictorial image I was surprised to find on my results/stats page:
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Photos from driving the course to show some of the scenery:
Start area:
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Set-up for warming fires:
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Porta potties as far as you can see… 😉
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This is during the first “downhill” 7-mile section (evidence net elevation loss does not equate to all downhill, haha)

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This is the mile-long hill starting just after mile 7 (worst hill of the course):
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Beautiful (minus bug splatters on the windshield):
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This was one of the biggest hills in the second half:
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This series of signs cracked me up:
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Race shirt and finisher “medal” (made out of stone):
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Katrina

2012/09/29: Red Rock HM and 5.4M Ascent (volunteer report)

As most of you know, I run quite a bit, and do quite a few races too.  I’m always appreciative of volunteers, and I kept planning to volunteer sometime, but it never seemed to work out.  Most races are on Saturdays, which are when I’m typically either race or (more likely) doing my long run.  ‘
I’d had my eye on the local Red Rock Twilight Half Marathon and 5.4-Mile Ascent for a few months, but seeing as North Coast 24 was just the week prior, I wasn’t sure about it.  As it turned out, I feel fine, but thought it’d be risky to race, so I decided this was finally my chance to volunteer.

I emailed the RD, Joyce, a couple days ago.  Joyce runs Calico Racing, which is the most awesome race org I’m aware of; she puts on races about every month or so here in the Las Vegas area, and they all have at least 2 distance options, sometimes with as many six (Labor of Love in April – 10k, HM, marathon, 50k, 50M, and 100M).  She sent me a detailed “agenda” for the race and put me down for 4.5 hours.  Cool…

I showed up at 8pm Saturday evening.  She immediately handed me a reflective vest, a blue light (like a light saber), and told me I’d be directing runners at the most critical point in the course.  On the first lap, all runners loop back toward the start line, but on the second lap, they’re directed out in a different direction.  The course is point-to-point with a small loop at the beginning.  It got a little complicated because the faster people were lapping the slower people, so it was difficult to tell which loop people were on.  While I waited for the race to start, I was really energetic, so I ran back and forth for about 20 minutes; Red Rock is beautiful, especially as the sun is going down.  And no, I wasn’t wearing running clothes, but I had running shoes and a sports bra, so that’s all that really matters (it was surprisingly easy to run in jeans).  After the last runner passed by, I ran the loop backward to ensure I didn’t miss anyone.

Then I helped Joyce load some stuff into a huge truck before going around picking up glow sticks and all of the course markers on the loop.

When I met Joyce at the finish line, I unloaded all of the course marker signs and reported for my next duty.  I initially was the chip clipper person.  I gained a whole new appreciation for that job.  And based on my experience, I will NEVER again pull the zip ties so tight on my chip as those are infinitely more difficult to cut than ones that are looser.

I only cut chips for a few minutes before Joyce said she needed something else.  I went over and helped arrange all of the drop bags on tarps in alphabetical order.

Then I unpacked all of the overall and age group awards for both races.  They were neat little stones with holes in the center, each with a little tea candle.  I absolutely love the unique awards Joyce comes up with for every one of her races.  Trying to read all of the wording on the fronts of the awards made me realize I should have brought a light (even though it was nearly a full moon and very bright outside as a result of that).  Luckily, someone lent me one.  I arranged the awards on the table just in time for Joyce to make the preliminary awards presentations; she called names and I gave out awards, which was fun for me.

Then, I went back over to the finish line and cut more chips off of shoes.  This is difficult to do, particularly at night.  I was surprised with the number of people who laced their chips to their shoes instead of using the ties–this ALMOST resulted in some clipped shoe laces.  It was enjoyable to be at the finish line seeming people so happy to finish.  The course is NOT easy; it’s uphill for the entire first half–I’m familiar with the course because it’s essentially half of the out-and-back Red Rock Marathon course which I ran in March.

With 45 minutes to go (3 hours and 15 minutes elapsed in the half marathon), the person handing out medals and the person manually recording times left as their time was up.  This meant I absorbed both of their jobs, which proved to be quite cumbersome.  Noting the time each person crosses the mat and their bib number, then clipping their chip off and handing them a medal takes some juggling (literally–clipboard, pen, clipper, light, and medals).  Luckily, there weren’t very many people coming in during this period.  Being right there when people finished a difficult race, particularly those who were doing their first half marathon, was very neat.  I was so happy for everyone and whoever was at the finish line made it a point to cheer for EVERY runner who came in.

At midnight, the end of my shift, Joyce thanked me and told me to please come back and volunteer at whatever races I don’t run.  She said she had been excited when she saw my email asking about volunteering because she said she remembered how even my splits at the end of my 12-hour race were a few weeks ago and if I was organized enough to do that, then she knew she could count on me as a volunteer.  I’m not really sure about that logic, but I’m glad she trusted me to be so involved in so many elements of the race.

Since the last bus taking people back to their cars would not depart for a while longer after my shift, I took three runners back to their cars.  We had some fun conversation for the 20-minute car ride.  I love runners, really.

In summary, I had an AWESOME experience, and I will definitely be volunteering at other races in the future.

And as an added perk, it turns out I earned $45 in credit to put toward a future Calico Race.  Way cool.

(Sorry there are no pics.  I wish I would have brought a camera, but at the same time, I don’t know when I would have had time to take any photos!)

Katrina