Tag Archives: running

2013/07/20: Crewing Grant and other Badwater Reflections

It’s funny how life turns out sometimes……

After crewing my friend Karla during the Badwater 135-mile footrace last year, I knew I wanted to go back and crew in the future.  It’s an incredible experience seeing people push their bodies beyond what most people would think is even possible.  The race, for anyone unfamiliar, takes place in mid-July in Death Valley.  It goes from Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the U.S. at 282 feet below sea level, to the Mount Whitney Portal at over 8,000 feet above sea level.  There are no aid stations; each runner has a crew that shadows them for the duration of the race.

This year, when the selected participants were notified, I turned down three opportunities to crew as I was unable to commit at the time and did not want to say I’d help and then back out later.  As the race got closer, I was confident the stars had aligned and that I could help someone out.  A month before the race, I was so happy I found a stranger who needed a crewmember (who had gotten my name from Karla).  That excitement was short-lived, however.  I was not able to take leave for the days I needed, in spite of the fact I had been told previously I would be able to do so.

Having to drop from someone’s crew just a few days before the race was devastating to me.  I would miss seeing friends, the experience of being out there again, and most importantly, I was letting someone down who counted on me.  I tried finding someone to replace me on the crew, but I was unsuccessful in doing this.  I will say I was picky, though; I told the runner that I would rather provide her with no crewmember than one who would be a liability to the team (i.e. limited running experience, no heat training, etc.).

Even though I was not able to find the runner an extra crewmember, while trying to track someone down, there was a handful of runners who went out of their way to help me.  Some of these people I knew, but others I didn’t.  One such person was a guy named Harvey who saw my request on the Badwater Facebook board and went above and beyond contacting people he knew and putting me in direct contact with a few of them.  Harvey, as it turns out, was a Badwater runner, had done the race before, had gotten 4th place last year, and actually was on the U.S. men’s 24-hour national team—wow!  Yet what was he doing in the days leading up to the race?  Trying to help me (a stranger) find a crewmember for a runner who he also didn’t know.  This sort of willingness to help is why I love runners.

Although I was unable to crew at Badwater, since I live in Las Vegas, where many non-local people fly into, I decided to offer my help where I could during the weekend prior to the race.  I had to work Monday through Wednesday during the race, but I was totally available over the weekend.  One guy named Juan who said he needed a ride from the airport in Las Vegas to Furnace Creek.  I told him that was no problem.  At that time, I had no idea Juan was one of Oswaldo Lopez’s crewmembers; Oswaldo was the 2011 Badwater champion.  (Wow!)  My friend Tammy mentioned that I could stay in her room in Furnace Creek that night (Saturday) if I didn’t want to drive back late; she also asked me if I could do some last-minute shopping, which I didn’t mind.  Tammy had gotten team shirts made that had the names of lots of her friends who had somehow influenced her on them.  I was honored to have my name on the shirt and that Tammy gave me one of the shirts.

Shirt front:
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Shirt back:
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After shopping Saturday afternoon, I picked Juan up at the airport.  I’d never met him before, but I felt like I’d known him for years.  On the way to Furnace Creek, we realized we had a lot of friends in common.  We also both loved how close-knit the ultrarunning community is and how approachable everyone is, including the elites.  The two-hour car ride flew by.

Prior to talking to Juan, I was aware of Oswaldo’s accomplishments, but I’d never met Oswaldo, nor did I know much about him as a person.  As we pulled up to the lodging building (where coincidentally Tammy and Oswaldo were both staying), I did something uncharacteristic of my introverted self.  I asked Juan if Oswaldo was still awake, and he said he was; I then asked if I could go meet him, and again he said yes.  I wasn’t really sure what I would say to him, which is why I typically don’t put myself in these kinds of situations, but this turned out to be a non-issue.  Oswaldo’s hotel door was open and we walked in; after a brief exchange between Juan and Oswaldo, Oswaldo shook my hand and said, “Thank you for bringing my friend.”  I was touched by how sincere he was.  Juan, Oswaldo, a few other people, and I all hung out for a while before Juan said he was hungry.

Juan and I walked to the restaurant (the only one in Furnace Creek) and Oswaldo came along too.  Along the way, we managed to “pick up” a guy named Ray.  Ray and I are Facebook friends but I don’t recall ever meeting him before.  He does tons of 100-milers and recommended a few to me (enabler!).  I also happened to run into my friend Andrea who I met at Nanny Goat a couple months ago; she was crewing for an Italian runner.  It caught me off guard to hear my name across a road in the middle of the night, but it was neat seeing Andrea again.

Dinner was sort of surreal for me, sitting across the table from Oswaldo.  He was an incredibly humble and friendly person.  At one point, three out of the four of us at the table were on our smartphones.  I added Oswaldo as a friend on Facebook and he immediately accepted the request.  I thanked him, to which he reached across and shook my hand and said, “Thank you for your friendship.  I don’t tell you on here.  I tell you in person because I mean it.”  How sweet.  As we all conversed, Juan mentioned to Oswaldo that I knew Eric Clifton.  (Eric Clifton has a long running résumé, including winning Badwater once.  He has become a friend, but he’s also a mentor to me; he gives me guidance, challenges me, and gives me viewpoints I don’t always consider myself.)  Oswaldo’s eyes lit up and he said how much he respects Eric and how strong of a runner he is.  Seeing this kind of respect from one elite runner for another one made me smile.

Oswaldo sitting across the table from me at dinner:
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After dinner, we went back to Oswaldo’s room.  He hung out inside while most of his crew (plus me) hung out in the hallway for a few more hours.  They were all very nice.  Another exchange I had with Oswaldo was about the upcoming race.  He said he was going to run it hard and make the best of all of the training he had put in but noted that you never know what will happen during a race that long.  I thought it was admirable that his aim was to run the best race he could and to be motivated by that instead of concentrating on everyone around him.

Here’s a photo of Oswaldo and me right outside his room:
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Sunday morning, I hung out with Tammy and got to chat with a few other runners I’d met last year at Badwater or elsewhere.  I offered to volunteer at runner check-in but I was told they didn’t need any help.  I figured there was no use in me staying around.  However, there was one person I really wanted to see named Chris, as he made the biggest impression on me last year and he’s not online much, so I opted to stay until after the runner group photo in the hope that I would see him.  Another perk of staying for the photo was that I was able to run into some more friends.

As I left the building to go to the group photo location, I looked up and saw Juan coming out of a doorway followed by a few more people, then Oswaldo.  When he saw me, Oswaldo “yelled” at me by name.  I hadn’t thought I’d run into him again, but I’m glad I did.  The night prior, after dinner, I’d sent Eric a message saying I’d crossed paths with Oswaldo and Eric had some kind things to say about him.  I told Oswaldo that Eric said he hoped he would have an amazing race.  He seemed so appreciative that Eric had taken the time to say anything about him.  I got another hug from Oswaldo as well as another photo with him and also one with Juan.  Oswaldo is so kind, and he was genuinely thankful for so many seemingly small things.  It was neat to see.

Oswaldo and me:
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Juan and me:
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I was grateful I got to see Chris, who I really wanted to see.  Chris is one of the most genuinely beautiful people I’ve met and he exudes warmth.  It made me happy that he not only recognized me but greeted me by name when I walked toward him.  Chris is a double amputee after losing a leg and part of his arm as a result of being blown up while clearing land mines as charity work.  Last year, he took the time to give us, Karla’s entirely rookie crew, crewing advice; I also got to chat with him after the race.  He was trying out a new prosthetic leg that had some new technology.  It was pretty fascinating.  I got to chat with Chris for about 10-15 minutes before the pre-race brief started.  There was no reason to stay for the brief so I left.

Chris and me:
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Leaving Furnace Creek was bittersweet.  I was happy because I’d gotten the chance to be in the Badwater atmosphere for a little while and see friends, some who I hadn’t seen since last year.  I also got to meet some new friends.  But I hated that I was leaving Furnace Creek before the race even started.

During the race, I was rooting for Oswaldo to win, and I hoped Harvey would finish in the top few too.  Why?  Because I like when good people do well.  This isn’t to say that the other top competitors weren’t good (as I would discover…); I just simply didn’t know them (yet).  However, in a race like Badwater, I hope ALL runners do well.  I posted constant updates online.  When one friend asked who my friends were so she could cheer for them, I told her the people I was following but told her to please cheer for ALL of the runners because they all deserved it and conditions were brutal.  Since there were only six checkpoints plus the finish, there were long periods of times where updates were sparse.  I could only imagine what was going on out there as the leaders, especially the men, swapped around every single checkpoint.

In the end, Portugese Carlos Sa finished first, Aussie Grant Maughan finished second, Oswaldo finished third, and Harvey finished fourth as the first American.  On the women’s side, Cath Todd finished first, Pam Reed was second, and Meredith Dolhare was third.  The men’s race was especially close, with the men’s race still undecided when they got to the base of Whitney with 13 miles left.

I thought a lot about Badwater during the actual race.  When I was in Furnace Creek over the weekend, I was asked multiple times if I wanted to run Badwater myself someday.  I had a canned response to this, something to the effect of, “No, I have no desire to run it, however, I love the atmosphere and really enjoy crewing and pacing.  I’d love to stay involved in the race in future years, but I don’t want to run it myself.”  I’ve adamantly held this stance since last year.  However, after saying it over and over so many times in conversation, I realized I didn’t really believe what I was saying.  I tried re-wording it, but it still sounded dishonest.  I knew that deep down, I did want to run it myself.

When I saw Tammy late on Wednesday when she came back through Las Vegas after the race, I told her I’d had an epiphany.  She said something to the effect of, “You want to run Badwater” immediately.  Then, on the spot, she gave me a lot of the stuff she’d used during her race, including a couple coolers.  She said she did not want to run it again but wanted to stay involved in other capacities.  I was so grateful for her generosity.

Tammy and me right after she gave me her stuff:
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On Friday after the race, I was in Phoenix for my husband’s cousin’s retirement from the Air Force.  I happened to see a posting in a Facebook group I belong to requesting crew for a person wanting to do a Badwater Double.  The person had already run the race, went up to the Mount Whitney summit and come back down to the Portal (a 22-mile round trip), and wanted to run the 135-mile race course in reverse.  Crewing this sounded like it would be exciting; the catch was that the person was going to start within the next 24 hours and I wasn’t even going to be back in Vegas until the following afternoon.  I expressed my disappointment about not being able to crew but said I’d be available Sunday afternoon and evening if the runner found additional crew and was still running then.  The runner, by the way, was Grant, who’d gotten second place in the race.

Eric F (not to be confused with the Eric referenced above or the other one mentioned further down), who had posted the request and served on Grant’s crew during the race, asked me if I knew of anyone else who might be able to help.  I told him I didn’t since most of the local people I knew who were runners had either just run or crewed at Badwater a couple days earlier.  I did not expect anyone to respond, but I figured it wouldn’t do any harm to re-post the request on my own wall.  Surprisingly, within minutes, an online runner friend of mine named Neil who I’d never met in person, and who I didn’t even know lived anywhere in this part of the country responded and said he’s do it.  What?!  He was in a car on his way to Lone Pine before he even had all of the info he needed.

Neil had never crewed before, and now he was somehow going to crew a Badwater runner for many miles (most of the time by himself).  I was originally not going to be able to help until Sunday afternoon as I had a race scheduled Saturday evening and wanted to sleep a few hours after that before driving to Death Valley.  But when it became clear it would be easier on everyone if Grant started Friday night instead of Saturday morning, I realized I’d need to get there earlier if I wanted to help.  It didn’t take much deliberation to drop the race and drive to Death Valley as soon as I got back into town from Phoenix.

Neil was sending updates for the first 40+ miles with some commentary on how Grant was doing, temperature, etc., but he got out of cell range early Saturday morning.  People online were antsy to get updates, while I tried to impress upon them I would post them when I had them (since my friend was texting me and I was posting them), but that no one should assume lack of updates meant anything bad.

I got home a little after 3pm on Saturday and was back on the road with some ice and other supplies by 4pm.  I hadn’t heard from Neil at all in almost 10 hours, but I figured he and Grant would be somewhere between Panamint Springs and Stovepipe Wells, miles 63 and 93 on the return trip back to Badwater Basin.  I decided I would drive to Furnace Creek, drive the course backward, and find them.  Sounded easy enough.

Sure enough, I found them right on the other side of Stovepipe Wells at around mile 90.  I greeted my friend Neil with a hug and commended him on taking care of Grant solo for the previous 20 hours.  I then walked back to Grant when I saw him approaching, gave him a quick hug, and introduced myself.  My first impression was that he seemed nice.  He mentioned that he was going to make a brief stop at Stovepipe Wells because he needed more calories.

This was the first photo I took of Grant, at the very first stop when I got there:
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Running at sunset:
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Gorgeous desert sunset:
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Sitting in front of the general store in Stovepipe Wells:
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I was surprised that all of the calories Grant was taking in were liquid.  He wanted something with protein; the only thing that was available was plain milk, so we picked up two of those and a Coca Cola.  I asked if he wanted me to grab more for the rest of his run and he said to get three (I got five).  He sat down on a rocking chair in front of the general store and commented that was the first time he’d ever sat down in a race (luckily it wasn’t actually a race).  I chatted with him a bit before a guy named Pat came over.  Pat was crewing another runner, Danny, who was also doing the Double.  It wasn’t until later that I realized that “Pat” was Patrick Sweeney, who has his own ridiculously long running résumé.  He was very nice.

When I walked across the street to my car, dressed in running clothes, I saw a guy with a Badwater shirt.  Immediately after looking at what I was wearing, the first words out of his mouth were, “You must be crewing for Grant,” to which I responded, “You must be Danny.”  We were both right.  Danny had initially planned on running a Quad (the Double twice), but he was having shin issues.

As it turns out, Danny and Grant were running their Doubles to honor Lisa Smith-Batchen.  She had intended to do the Quad herself to raise money for water wells for AIDS orphans in India and Ethiopia.  However, she got injured and had to DNF Badwater.  Danny and Grant decided to pick up the charge and each do “their part” (as if running Badwater once wasn’t enough).  By the way, the charity web site if anyone is interested in donating money is http://www.badwater4goodwater.com.  Lisa was incredibly touched by their decisions.  I had a handful of interactions with Lisa, which was also surreal (as I mostly know her from her role in the Running on the Sun documentary).  Runners are awesome and this is proof they’ll go out of their way to help each other out.

In Stovepipe Wells, Neil made room in his truck so that I could sit in it too.  Using one vehicle was more efficient, and the plan was for him to drop me back off at my car after Grant was finished since he was on his way back through Lone Pine.

Grant is a solitary runner and didn’t want company, which made it somewhat easier on us.  However, I realized one of the advantages to pacing is that it’s easier to get an idea of how the runner is doing mostly just through observations.  When instead we used the support vehicle, we had to pay more attention to the short period of time in his vicinity and it required more questions.  Grant was very easy to take care of, though.  His needs consisted mainly of ensuring he always had a water bottle with ice in it, two salt tabs twice every hour, and about 300 calories an hour.  After each encounter with Grant, we’d pull up a half mile or mile, depending on what he wanted.  There were also quite a few times when he’d run by and say he didn’t need anything.  We tried to get an idea of what he’d need at the next stop to be prepared so he wasn’t having to wait on us.

Shortly after Stovepipe Wells, it got windy and dusty!  There was a huge sandstorm that was difficult to even see through.  Watching the sand flow across the road was surreal.  The sandstorm slowed Grant down a bit, but he kept moving forward.  This was quite incredible to watch.  I would have loved a photo during this period, but I knew the fine sand would have destroyed my phone, so I used discretion.  During this section, there was also a bit of rain.  Yes, sand and rain, and it was still 110 degrees outside.

Here are a few photos from the middle of the night, but not during the sandstorm:
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There were large gaps in photos, and updates sent to Grant’s friends, throughout the run for a couple reasons.  Updates were sporadic at times because of lack of cell reception.  A much larger reason for gaps in photos and especially updates was due to my priority out there—of course I knew people were excited, anxious, and wanted constant info, however, my role out there was to crew Grant.  Providing updates was very low on the priority list compared to taking care of Grant and ensuring he had everything he needed.  I acknowledge I might have been “frustrating” to deal with at times because whenever I had cell receptions, it seemed people wanted more info than I was providing.  While it might not have been apparent to any one person, I had requests to post detailed info on Grant’s wall, tag a particular person in every post, send the same wall post to someone else via private message, others requesting updates via text, and a barrage of other messages asking questions.  With my limited resources, I did what I could, while keeping my focus on Grant’s well-being.  I hope the affected people understand that.

In the truck, it was fun getting to talk to Neil.  We’d known each other online for a few years even though this was our first time meeting in person.  He’s a person I wanted to meet sometime, but I never thought it would be in those circumstances.  We’ve actually both been running five and a half years and we’re both in the Air Force, just at totally different points.  I’m separating from the Air Force, and after many years of being enlisted, he just for commissioned as an officer a few months ago.  I enjoyed talking to him and sharing stories.

After being awake way too long, I finally convinced Neil to take a nap.  This was shortly after the sandstorm.  It also happened to coincide with a low point for Grant.  He was moving much slower and was not stable on his feet.  He was also not as cognitively alert as he had been earlier.  He was very sleepy too and noted he was “seeing things.”  I gave him some caffeine in the form of a Starbucks shot, but it did little to improve his situation.  I was concerned about him.  If Neil had not just gone to sleep, I would have made the decision for one of us to stay with him for a while.  But since I knew Neil needed sleep, I did the next best thing I could think of.  Regardless of distance, I never pulled up farther than I could see Grant’s red blinky lights.  It was dark and I wanted to be able to visually confirm he was still moving forward.

It was about an hour before Grant said he needed to lie down.  He said he wanted to lie on the dirt.  I quickly tried to think of a better alternative, but he said he didn’t want to be comfortable.  Luckily, I convinced him to at least let me put a towel down for him.  I knew it wouldn’t aid in comfort too much but that it would keep him directly off of the dirt so he wasn’t breathing in as much sand (I figured he’d already had enough in the storm) and that there was no point in him getting even dirtier.  Grant chose to use his Amphipod water bottle as a pillow.  I think he was out before he even touched the ground.  He just sort of fell into a heap on the ground, his blinky lights still flashing.  I thought about turning them off, but I didn’t want to bother him.  In retrospect, I don’t think anything would have woken him up.

Grant’s nap:
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By this point, we were only about a mile from Furnace Creek.  I could only imagine what would have gone through someone’s head if they passed a truck in the middle of the night with a person lying outside in a very awkward looking position.  I chose to stand outside the truck to perhaps make it less suspicious looking(?).  As it turned out, no cars drove by during the time Grant slept.  After my concern for him over the last hour or so, the time he slept was peaceful because I knew he was okay.  His breathing was audible, so I figured he was good as long as he was still breathing.  He asked to be woken up in an hour.  He woke up suddenly on his own after 45 minutes and was quite disoriented for a moment.

Unfortunately, Grant seemed to be in worse condition after his nap.  As he sat there on the ground, I said (rather rhetorically), “Are you going to get up and keep moving forward?”  He responded, “I don’t have a choice, do I?”  Watching him stand up and continue to move forward was inspiring.  But I was more concerned about him and kept a constant eye on him.  I wanted so much to help him somehow, but I didn’t know what to do, so I just monitored him.

After a two and a half hour nap, Neil woke up.  He seemed just as disoriented as Grant had been when he woke up.  He asked where we were, oblivious to what had transpired with Grant.  Grant still had 20 miles to go.  When Neil discovered we weren’t even to the Badwater Road turn-off, my friend realized the journey was far from over.  When he saw Grant at the next stop, it affirmed this.  However, in spite of how he was feeling, Grant kept moving forward.  He also didn’t complain.  If we prompted him, he’d give feedback, but other than that, he was silent.

Not long after turning onto Badwater Road, I witnessed something freaky.  There was a random guy wearing little clothing carrying no water running back toward Furnace Creek.  It happened so quickly, and after seeing no other people for so long, it surprised me.  Clearly I was not alone as Neil immediately turned to me and asked in an excited tone, “Did you just see that guy?”  He seemed reassured by the fact he was not alone in his sighting.  We concluded the chance of us having the same hallucination was rather low, but we vowed to ask Grant about it at the next stop.  It turned out we didn’t need to do this, as the first words out of Grant’s mouth when we saw him again were, “Did you guys see that guy?  He scared the s**t out of me!”  We all laughed.

Something incredible happened with about 16 miles to go.  Grant started to speed up.  He was running again.  A quick look at him told me he was still not feeling good by any stretch of the imagination, but he had somehow transcended the physical pain and was in some sort of weird zone.  I couldn’t comprehend the mental fortitude he possessed.  Constantly, I would say in amazement to Neil, “Look at him; he’s already catching up to us again.  And he’s running!  Look at the way he’s moving.”  It was so inspiring to me.  Neil even commented that he’d been looking for some inspiration recently and that he’d found it out there in the desert.

Just as it was barely beginning to get light, I took this photo.  The little white light is Grant:
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The sunrise out there was beautiful.  Here are a few photos from that time:
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This is the magnetic sign on the side of the vehicle.  I didn’t realize it until I was looking at it later, but I caught the reflection of the sunrise over the ridge:
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Grant’s little mascot drove for a while:
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Throughout the whole journey, one way Neil would gauge Grant’s well-being was when he drove by him on the way to the next stop, he’d say “woo hoo” and take note of Grant’s response.  Most of the time, he responded with the same; other times he acknowledged it otherwise, while some of the time, he did not respond.  While I don’t know how Grant is outside of running, or how he was during the race or even earlier in the same 135-mile run, my impression of him was that he was quiet and very introspective.  I tried hard to respect this while also getting info on his well-being I needed to ensure we crewed him appropriately and made sure he had what he needed.

Grant shortly after sunrise:
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I was so impressed by Grant, but I struggled with how to express this verbally in the moment.  I did my best, but it seemed he was pretty self-motivated.  A few interactions I had with him made me giggle.  One such occasion was when I said, “Regardless of how you feel, you look great!”  I sincerely meant that, but then he looked directly at me and said in his Australian accent, “I look great?  I feel f***ing filthy!”  I’d been awake for 24 hours at this point, so maybe that was part of it, but this really cracked me up.  Another reason I found this amusing was that I was reminded of something my friend Brady told me when I was pacing him during the final few miles of a 100-miler a couple months ago.  After being with me a couple hours, Brady suddenly looked at me in horror and said, “Wow, you are filthy!” which I acknowledged; he then expounded upon the original statement by saying, “No, I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone that dirty!”  Haha.

The long journey took its toll on Grant, even during the “short” (13+ hours) I was there.  This was not long after sunrise around mile 128:
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You can see how tired he was, but the sun brings new energy:
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Looking at photos a few days after the race, Grant looked at this particular photo and said he looked “grimy.”  I told him he looked “bad@$$.” Seriously, this is one of my favorite photos, taken about 130 miles into his final 135-mile run:
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Grant was running well toward the end, so I took this opportunity to take some more photos:
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The scenery out toward the salt flats was beautiful:
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I like this photo because Grant looks so tiny next to the huge rock wall.  Yet the size of the rocks pales in comparison to the massive distance he just covered.  It’s really incredible to realize what people are capable of doing when they set high expectations for themselves:
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A couple more photos near the end of Grant’s journey:
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The last mile or so leading to Badwater Basin was in the shade, which was a nice little perk.  Grant finished his Badwater Double on the same section of road where he had begun the Badwater race almost 6 days prior.  (Note that is wasn’t a continuous effort, so it took significantly less time on his feet to cover the 292 miles.)  His final 135 miles took him a total elapsed time of 33:22:54.  For reference, when he ran the Badwater race, he covered the first 135 miles in 24:53:57.

Finishing the final 135 miles:
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Finally done:
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We all hugged each other after Grant was done and then just stood around for a few minutes.

I took this photo of Neil and Grant:
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He was tired but had a good attitude:
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We then went over to the famous Badwater sign.  Grant headed down there first.  I am grateful I was able to take a photo of him by himself looking out across the salt flats.  It’s one of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken, not because of its artistic merits but because of what it represents.

Grant in a photo he titled “Reflections on going backward to go forward”:
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Grant at the Badwater sign (serious and then when I asked him to smile):
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Neil and Grant:
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Grant and me:
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Neil, Grant, and me (love this photo):
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Next, Grant wanted to take off his shoes.  I was interested in seeing what his feet looked like.  Neil said he didn’t want to look, but in the end, he couldn’t stop himself from looking.  Considering he never changed his socks and that his feet had been hurting him for over 50 miles, his feet didn’t look terrible.  This doesn’t mean they looked great either.  I put some ice and water in a small ice chest and helped him ice his feet for a few minutes.  I also helped him his sandals on after that.

Icing his feet:
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Grant’s feet:
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Before heading back to Stovepipe Wells, Neil decided to check an item off of his bucket list: Run a mile in Death Valley.  This is a prime example of the necessity to be careful what you wish for.  Recently, he realized he wanted to run a mile in Death Valley sometime.  Shortly after that, he saw my request for someone looking for a person to crew him in Death Valley.  Grant and I cheered Neil on as he started his run and we drove the first mile of the Badwater course to meet him at the end of his run.  It was about 9am and already 103 degrees.  He said that the single mile felt like he’d raced a 5k.

Neil finishing his bucket list mile:
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On the drive back to Stovepipe Wells, Grant slept.  Initially, he slept sitting up, but he quickly sort of “fell over” and slept on a cardboard box next to him.  It was definitely well-earned rest, so I smiled when I saw how well he was sleeping in such an uncomfortable looking position.

Grant sleeping in the truck:
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When we arrived back in Stovepipe Wells about 40 miles later, Grant was still sleeping.  I moved all of my stuff to my car and then made the tough decision to wake Grant up.  I considered letting him sleep, but I wanted to tell him bye and give him a hug.  He was so out of it.  In an effort to not freak him out, I gently rubbed his back to wake him up.  Well, he woke up, but I did freak him out (or at least surprised him as he was yet again confused where he was and what was going on).  While the reasons I woke him up were admittedly selfish, I think it turned out for the best because he needed calories and I was able to get him some more milk at the general store for his journey back to Lone Pine.

Driving back to Las Vegas on Sunday, I felt so grateful for the experience I’d gotten over the previous 15 hours.  I was SO proud of Neil who had stepped up to crew someone over 135 miles even though he had no previous crew experience.  This was incredibly selfless and I’d learned so much more about him, not just about his life but about him as a person, than I had in years of chatting online.  I have so much respect for him.

And Grant… What an incredibly humble and kind yet totally bad@$$ person.  He shattered his goal time for the Badwater race and earned second place, then chose to go 11 miles up to the summit of Mount Whitney and back down to the Portal, then he ran the race course in reverse and honored his friend/coach Lisa in doing so.  Interacting with Grant, even during his run, it was hard to fully comprehend the huge feat he was undertaking.  He seemed so modest and reserved.  But he was so incredibly tough mentally and physically.

I think everything in life happens for a reason.  I am so glad Neil volunteered to help a stranger in his journey because it would not have been possible without him.  I am also very honored I had the opportunity to play a small role in Grant’s journey.  Grant was very self-sufficient, and there were times my duties out there were minimal.  But looking back, I know my time out there was worthwhile.  The single statement Grant posted (in response to one of the photos of him lying on the ground sleeping) that reaffirmed this to me was this: “I was coming apart mentally by then and wanted to lie down beside the road. I was also having balance and cognitive problems. Have never been so far over the edge before. Thank you for caring about me and making sure I was ok. I certainly couldn’t do it for myself by then…”  This made it all worth it to me because it showed me I served a purpose while I was out there.

After Grant’s Badwater Double, I was chatting with one of Grant’s Badwater (race) crewmembers, Eric S, and I realized something pretty neat.  It was evidence of how things come full circle… When my friend Tammy ran Badwater, due to a weird situation, she was crew-less for a period of time.  Other crews gave her water, including Grant’s crew.  When I saw Tammy after the race and she realized I wanted to run Badwater someday, she gave me a bunch of her stuff, including coolers. Over the weekend, I used those same coolers to carry ice and supplies out to Death Valley…to aid Grant as I crewed for him at the end of his Badwater Double. Neat, right?

Some people have expressed surprise that I drove to Death Valley to crew for Grant,  No, I didn’t know Grant.  I didn’t know his friend, Eric F, who had posted the “urgent” request for someone to help out either.  But that didn’t matter.  Ultrarunners are like my family, even ones I haven’t met (yet), and if I see one who needs assistance that I can provide, I can’t justify not helping.  I have benefited so much from the kindness of others in the ultra community who had nothing to gain by aiding me that I try to give back whenever I can.  Of course, even in trying to give back, I benefit, so I have a feeling I’ll never even break even (but I’ll still keep trying).

I love the ultra community.  As I’ve noted before, it is the first (and only) group I’ve ever felt welcomed into and feel fully accepted within (and this has held true since before I even ran my first ultra when I was just curious about them).  Every ultra experience I have, whether I’m running or crewing/pacing, I am reminded why I keep coming back to ultras.  I truly love the people I meet, and I make meaningful connections with people in a way that just doesn’t happen in “everyday” life.  I’m introverted, I don’t make friends easily, I hate small talk and obligatory superficial social interactions, I’m socially awkward, and I prefer to do most things alone.  People tire me out, so I tend to save my energy for situations I feel are worthwhile.  In ultra settings, I thrive, which is why people who know me in that setting don’t likely understand what I said in the last sentence… but that’s okay. ❤

Katrina

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

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

Much longer version:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Colleen and me with the race director:

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

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

Our barren stall:

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After our trip to the dollar store:

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From dinner:

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

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

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

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Some more pre-race group photos:

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

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

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

Me with Eric and Tony pre-race:

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Just me:

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Me with Josh:

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With Eric and Jeff:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colleen’s finish:

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Hugging Colleen:

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

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

Pacing Brady with less than 4 miles to go:

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

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

Brady’s finish:

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Brady with his buckle:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul, Colleen, and me at breakfast:

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

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

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

Katrina

12-year-old Colby’s first 100-miler

I got to witness something incredible yesterday: I saw a 12-year old complete a 100-mile trail race. I know that sounds surreal. It’s one of those things that might have been hard for me to comprehend if I had not seen in with my own eyes…

I’ve followed Colby’s progress from afar since I first saw him at Badwater last year. He was helping out to crew Ed the Jester, who actually hooked me up with my now-friend Karla who I crewed at that same race. Colby has a blog where he posts race reports that I have enjoyed reading. He completed his first marathon late last year, followed by a 24-hour race at the beginning of the year (where he ran over 50 miles), his first 100k in March, and another 50 miles just a week after that. Colby is not your average 12-year-old.

I met Colby and his parents (who are also ultrarunners) at the Beyond Limits Ultra in mid-March and got to see him run. He was fun to watch; most kids are indeed fun to watch run because they don’t take themselves too seriously–they just run. But Colby shows a dedication that I don’t think many kids have, although I rarely see kids at ultra events, so I don’t have many comparisons to make.

This past weekend, the Ride the Wind 100-miler took place near where I live in Las Vegas. There were other options as well, ranging from 10k to 100k. I saw an ad for this race a few months ago, but after looking at the elevation profile and the description that included terms like “rocky” and “technical,” I didn’t consider it. Unlike most ultrarunners, I don’t prefer racing on trails. I enjoy being in nature and running some trails, but not for time. On Thursday, Colby’s mom Shawna asked if I was going to be there. I told her I wasn’t and that I had a 100-miler a week later I was focusing on. When I inquired if her whole family would be there, she confirmed that was the case.  She would be there along with her husband Brady, daughter Mimi, and of course Colby. She also mentioned that it would be Colby’s first 100-miler. I told her to wish Colby well for me and that I might be able to come to the finish, but it was a big question mark. I live 45 minutes from the race site and a few hours Sunday morning would be the only few hours I would have to spend with my husband for over a week; I also had no idea *when* Colby would be finishing.

I smiled when I woke up yesterday to a status update Shawna posted several hours earlier that read: “While you are sleeping, my 12 year old is at mile 70 of his first 100 miler. On a trail.” I sent Shawna a message, not knowing if she even had cell service, asking for a status update. He was over 80 miles by that point. At this point, I still wasn’t sure of the feasibility of going to the finish line as my husband wasn’t even awake yet. I thought maybe we could both go to the finish line. As some more time went on, I found out that Colby had gotten lost in the middle of the night and added at least six extra miles to his race. This meant he was that many miles behind where he thought he was; this was mentally hard for him. Even as an adult who has done three 100-milers, I can say it would be hard for me. Shawna put out a plea for anyone in the Las Vegas area who could come to consider accompanying Colby on his last ~7-mile loop.

As soon as my husband woke up, I explained the situation and without even hesitating, he told me I should go support Colby. I love my husband so much. (And as it turned out, he had schoolwork he needed to do anyway). I told Shawna I would be there. I also saw that two friends, Rob and Deb, who I had met at the Beyond Limits Ultra and saw again last month at my Labor of Love race were also heading out there; they had both done races on the same course the day prior. I knew my friend Ryan was out there somewhere too as I’d seen a message from him earlier saying he was heading there.

When I got to the race site, I was happy to be among friends. Rob and Deb were there, Shawna was there of course, and Ed the Jester’s wife Martha was there too. I got to meet the race directors as well as another lady names June. I absolutely love the running community. It wasn’t too long before Colby came in with Brady, Ed, and Ryan. He sat down for a brief moment and then a group of us headed out with him. The group consisted of Brady, Ed, Martha, Rob, June, one of the RDs (Carmella), and me.

I was surprised how well Colby was moving at that point in time, particularly considering he was really close to 100 miles by that point with the “bonus miles” he had done. In addition to walking pretty consistently at a 20-22 minute pace, he was still jogging little segments of the course. The course was anything but flat, and there were rocks everywhere; it was very easy to lose footing.  He was moving way better and was in better spirits than I was at that point in my first 100-miler; there were times I was moving at a 30 minute pace. He seemed surprised when I told him that. It was evident that he had somehow developed a mental toughness that some adults can’t grasp. One clear piece of evidence lies in the fact that this race had 10 starters, all adults besides him, and 7 of them had dropped out; even for a 100-miler, that’s a ridiculous attrition race. The race was hard with the terrain and Vegas heat. Yet somehow, a 12-year-old was able to endure in those conditions.

When Colby mentioned that he broke down the race into milestones, this didn’t surprise me, as I think all, or at least many, people do this in longer races. But how he broke it down caught me off guard. When I asked him, he said that he broke it down into 5-mile increments, but when he went through low points, he broke it down into 1-mile increments. I was surprised by this because the last 40 miles of my first 100-miler, at no point could I comprehend 5 miles or even a single mile, even during my not-so-low times. I had resorted to focusing on literally the next step because anything greater than that seemed too large. When I told him this, I think he was amused, but perhaps it boosted his confidence a bit.

Even though Colby had been awake for well over a day, he was still very mentally alert. He told me how he would do math to figure out certain things, like the number of feet he had left based on the number of miles he had to go and the number of feet in a mile. When I asked him if he’d figured out how many steps he’d taken, he said he had, and he explained to me how he’d come up with that number. As a number-lover myself, I thought this was incredible, but even I don’t do that much math when I run, and surely not that late into a race. My mind doesn’t work like that with so little sleep. I know this because I’ve tried.

I brought my phone along, so I tried to take as many photos as I could. I wanted to help document his race, at least the final loop, for him and his family. I love taking photos, so this was fun for me. I only fell once, and it was when I was goofing around running off the trail trying to catch up after I lagged behind to take some photos. I scraped up both hands and my right shin, and I banged my left knee on a rock; I was initially concerned about my left knee, but I think my joint is actually fine and that I just have a big sensitive-to-touch ugly bruise. No big deal; if I *didn’t* fall on a trail, that would be abnormal.

Since we were the last people on the course, Carmella was taking down the markings. A couple of us were helping her. At one point because I dropped one and Colby, who was a few steps behind me stopped and picked it up and gave it to me. Anyone who has ever done an ultra knows how difficult it is to bend down late in a race. I thanked him but told him not to pick up anything else any of us dropped and that one of the rest of us would get it. All he needed to do was keep moving forward. His response, was, “Oh. Okay.” I smiled, though, as the fact that helping out like that was evidently so second-nature to him that he didn’t consider it would be in his best interest not to do it.

Colby went through a couple low points during the last loop, but it was nothing major. I think it was beneficial there were so many of us out there to talk to him and encourage him. I will admit, though, that there were points when Brady and Ed looked like they were more worn out than Colby; this amused me. Even when Colby was going through some lows, it made me smile that whenever anyone said anything positive to him, he *always* thanked them. He also thanked anyone who told him to watch his step or anything else cautionary.

When I noticed we were a bit less than a mile from the finish line, I told Colby and he perked up. He said he was glad he had done the race when he’s so young because he would be the youngest (known) trail 100-mile finisher ever. He’s also wise beyond his years, based on some of the other things he said in that final mile. He matter-of-factly told me he had gone through lows but that he knew they would pass so he just kept going. This is something that seems logical in theory, but in the midst of a low, it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel because you have no idea if it will last 5 minutes or 10 hours. But somehow, he had come to terms with this and was okay with it. I remember telling him that those lows are one of the things that bring ultrarunners together because every single person who runs an ultra, particularly a long one, will experience them and that few other people will ever understand what it’s like or why it’s worth it to push through to the other side.

Toward the end of the race, when I told Colby that he should enjoy the journey and the moments leading up to getting to the finish line, he smiled. Then he said that he knew he would only have the chance to finish his first 100-miler one time and wanted to enjoy it. The fact he “got it” was fascinating to me. Not only is he 12 years old, but he had been awake over 32 hours at that point, and he was still capable of intelligible thought and speech.

All of us besides Brady and Carmella, who was still removing course markings, ran ahead to the finish area so we could cheer Colby in. About a quarter mile from the finish line, I was sort of surprised to see my friend Giovanni taking photos. I wasn’t totally surprised because Giovanni carries his camera everywhere. But I was surprised because Giovanni had finished the 100-miler just a couple hours earlier but chose to stick around to see Colby. The day prior, I guess there was a point where Giovanni thought of dropping, but he said that if Colby was still going, he would keep going too; Giovanni was one of the other two finishers; the other one was a guy named Rodney who I don’t know. Side story: Giovanni gave all of us a scare earlier in the day. He evidently didn’t sign in at a couple aid stations, so no one knew where he was. When people were sent out to find him, they somehow just missed him. When we started out on the final loop with Colby, we had no idea where Giovanni was (although there were measures underway to find him).

Ed came up with the idea to stand in two lines facing one another on either side of the finishing chute with our arms up (fingertips touching the person across) to create an arch for Colby to run through. However, I knew Colby would be running at the end, and I wanted to capture this on video. When he mentioned earlier in the loop that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to run at the end, we assured him he would have the energy. Sure enough, Brady and Colby came running in, not shuffling either–actually running. I took video as he ran a straight-away section, and then I ran over just in time to make up my part of the arch. This meant I didn’t get video of his entire finish, but I did get about 15 seconds of him running. I wanted to do this because someone took video at the end of my first 100-miler and I really treasure this. I wanted to give Colby and his family something to look back on later. As Colby mentioned, you only complete your first 100-miler one time.

I don’t know Colby’s final time, but I think it was between 32:15 and 32:30; the cut-off was 33 hours. There were lots of hugs at the finish line and then Jimmy, the other race director, presented Colby with his 100-mile finisher buckle. This was very neat to see. Then Brady carried Colby away to an RV out of the sun. There was even a cake to celebrate his finish.

I am grateful for the opportunity to share Colby’s final loop with him, and I absolutely love his family. They’re all incredible, including little Mimi who did her first 10k on that course on Saturday. Very neat. I also got to see a handful of other friends and be reminded yet again how much I love the running community, particularly the ultra community.

I know there are likely people reading this who don’t think children should be running such distances. I don’t really care to debate it, but I will say I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what I saw yesterday, and I will address a few points.

Some individuals might argue that running long distances can hinder growth or cause other physical problems, but many of these claims seem to be based off of people’s perceptions of what they think should happen, not necessarily reality. There are young kids who have run marathons and suffered no long-term effects. Of course I’m sure if people dig hard enough, they can find instances to dispute this, but this is true for everything in life–everything is bad for you–got it. As for long ultras, there really isn’t much of a precedent.

For someone who doesn’t know this family, I think it might be easy to jump to the conclusion that Colby is pressured into doing these events. First of all, anyone who’s done an ultra knows how difficult it is to complete an ultra when their heart is fully committed to it; I don’t think it’s really feasible to “make” another person (adult or child) run 100 miles against their will. Colby loves running, excels at it, and has the mental capacity to handle it. I don’t think all kids have this, or adults for that matter, so I don’t advocate everyone running 100 miles. But this shouldn’t keep the ones who are willing and able to do it from doing it. Colby is a child and his parents are ultimately responsible for what he does and his well-being. From what I’ve seen, not only are they not pushing him, but they’re the ones who have to hold him back at some points or keep him from doing too much. At his 24-hour race at the beginning of the year, they pulled him from the course when they deemed it was in his best interest, even though he wanted to keep going. Through their own running, Shawna and Brady are setting an excellent example for both of their children to follow if they choose to do so. I think this is awesome.

Running doesn’t totally monopolize Colby’s time, as he has other interests too, including playing soccer. Just a couple days before this race, actually, his soccer team won a championship game.

In my humble opinion, many of the naysayers are basing their viewpoints solely on societal norms. In other words, if it doesn’t fit it with what’s “normal” or “common,” there must be something wrong with it. Sometimes people do things that many view as impossible merely because they don’t know the goals they have are supposed to not be possible to reach. People do incredible things when they aren’t burdened with the notion that they’re trying to do impossible feats. I can only speculate, but considering Colby’s parents both runs ultras and he has been to many races and knows lots of adults who run ultras, it likely doesn’t seem that abnormal to him. Based on this, running 100 miles was only an eventuality, never a question about whether or not it was possible. I feel like there’s a lesson in here somewhere. I also think it’s evidence that people are capable of way more than they think they are.

I love instances like this where someone goes out and does something incredible that others can’t help but take notice of. I enjoy that it might make people uncomfortable in the respect that it’ll make them question their own (perceived) limitations. Maybe it won’t motivate someone else to sign up for a 100-miler (or it might…), but perhaps it will inspire others to set their goals a little higher or venture outside of their comfort zone to do something others have deemed “impossible.” I mean, if a 12-year-old can run a trail 100-mile race and be one of only three finishers (out of ten starters) in tough conditions, what else can the rest of us do in our own lives?

Following are the photos I took from the final loop of Colby’s race. I also put a link to the finish video at the end (that I’m not sure how to embed). If anyone is interested in reusing any of these photos, please contact me directly for permission. I also have versions that are higher resolution and totally untouched (not manipulated with Instagram). 🙂

 

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Link to video of Colby running with his dad at the end: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=752218625933&l=6206520881410082103

Katrina

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

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

Much longer version:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And blue and yellow fingernails for Boston. 😉

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eric and me again.

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

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Another photo of just me.

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Here’s Eric and me again.

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

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

Here’s a great photo of Jay and me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Katrina

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

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

MUCH longer version:

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

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

A seed was planted…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My final finishing time was 29:17:41.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for reading.

Katrina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The promised photo of us being goofy:
1

Other pics from the race:
2

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4

5

6

7

Katrina

P.S. Missy and Midnight say Merry Christmas
8 9

Yes, sorry, I’m one of THOSE people. 😉

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