Tag Archives: trail running

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). 🙂











































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



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.


2011/07/16: Inks Lake 60k (race report–first DNF)

This race was my first DNF, which should have been a DNS. Having done 5 ultras previously (in addition to 3 marathons), I was looking forward to it. I had heard this one was on a more difficult course, and the fact it’d be at night (on trails) would add a hint of unfamiliarity. However, I was up to the challenge. Yet I will say that I am a believer in paying attention to signs…

My husband, who is normally half a country away, is in training that is taking place 8 hours away from my current location, meaning we’re within decent driving distance on weekends. Yet this weekend, I begin a course that will last the duration of his training (5 weeks) that is 8 hours away from where he normally lives (haha). My point is that this past weekend was the only time we’d be able to see each other for a while. When I found out a few days ago that he’d be able to come visit for the weekend, I should have nixed the race to spend more time with him. However, I decided I’d try to spend time with him and race. The race start was at 7pm on Saturday with cut-off time of 7am Sunday, so we’d get to spend some time before the race and then a little time after the race (after we slept).

Saturday morning, when I woke up, my stomach didn’t feel right, which was sign number two that I probably shouldn’t do the race. However, I was determined to do it anyway and assumed I’d feel better later. I didn’t eat very much that day and just wasn’t hungry. I spent part of the afternoon with the hubby and then we both went to the race start.

97 people started the 60k, with about 150 doing the 30k (which started 15 minutes after the 60k). The course was on very rocky trails with lots of cacti; 60k was 6 loops and the 30k was 3. At the start it was 97 degrees. I started off toward the very back.

It didn’t take very long for the 30k runners to catch up and start passing me. One of the things I thought I’d like about the “short” loops was that there’d always be people around, making it difficult to get lost. However, I didn’t realize how much of the course would be single-track, meaning that I spent a significant amount of time walking in the brush/cacti to the side of the trail, trying to be a courteous trail runner when people came up behind me (which was all the time). This resulted in lots of minor scratches and several cactus pricks.

About two miles into the loop, my stomach still wasn’t feeling right and the heat was making me feel worse. A couple miles later, I decided that trying to push it to 6 loops (and up to 12 hours on my feet) would not be a smart move. And honestly, whether I finished 1 loop or 5 loops, it’d still be a DNF if I didn’t do all 6. I also realized it’d be really bad if I pushed it and finished, but messed myself up for a week of more, since I need to drive half way across the country for a course in a week (and I need to be physically fit/able when I get there). So I dropped after the first loop. (My husband, by the way, had been having significantly more fun than me as he was helping out at the start/finish area aid station.)

My husband and I went back to our hotel, got a decent night’s worth of sleep, and got to spend all of yesterday with him until late afternoon. I can’t say I was happy that I DNF’d, but in that situation, I think I did what was best for me. And I was also able to recoup some time with my husband that I risked losing due to my selfishness. (I’m not saying that everyone who races is selfish, but in my situation where my hubby and I are both in the military and get to see each other only every month or two if we’re lucky, it was selfish for me to try to do the race too.)

Once I got back to the hotel, I also made the discovery that I had a hot spot on one of my feet that I had been totally unaware of. Had I been out there much longer, that could have turned into a very nasty blister (which I would then have had to deal with at my course coming up). So I’m glad that I made the decision to not propagate the bad decision to start the race by choosing to finish at all costs.

I’d like to think that if I’d been feeling better that I’d have been able to complete the course, although I will say it was no joke. The finish results show this… Out of 97 starters in the 60k, only 50 completed it (and only 7 of the 15 women completed it).

The course was beautiful. Below are some photos I took along the way when it was still light, along with a photo that was snapped of my hubby and me just before the start There’s also a photo of me about half a mile from the end of the first loop; I felt worse than I look, if that says anything.

As I mentioned, I have mixed emotions about my DNF, but overall, given the situation, I am content with it.













Inks Lake 10k


2011/03/19: Race to the Altar Half Marathon (race report)

I signed up for the Race to the Altar trail half marathon a while back.  Being only a week after my 50k, I typically would not have chosen to do it, but it was an event designed for two of my running friends, Cheri and Jeff, who are getting married tomorrow.  I feel a special connection with them because one or both of them have participated in every one of the 4 stateside ultras I’ve done.

Had it not been for the fact that Cheri and Jeff were expecting me, I doubt I would have done this race.  Last night, I realized that the race was a lot farther away than I thought (120 miles).

Also, I have had a heavy heart the last few days and really just wanted to be by myself.  I got an email 2 days ago saying that one of the airmen I worked with when I was deployed had died the day prior.  I don’t have details; I know it wasn’t combat-related, but if he had not been deployed, it wouldn’t have happened.  The whole thing just caught me off-guard.  It’s just so surreal to me that someone I just saw a few weeks ago who was healthy (and young…24) is suddenly not here anymore.   His family said bye to him several months ago under the impression that he would return home in the same condition, which did not happen.

When I first started the race this morning, I was in the “race” mindset, but a few miles into it, I knew it just wasn’t a good running day for me.  My plan was to do what I could for the first half and then to walk the majority of the second half while taking photos.  The trail was beautiful.  Some areas were flat and open, and a lot of it was either very windy with subtle elevation changes or less windy but with significant elevation changes.  The sky was a gorgeous blue with a few puffy white clouds.  With less than 150 people total doing the full, half, and 5k, the trails were relatively empty.  I had a lot of time to just enjoy nature and think about my life.  I also thought about the life of SrA Hinkle and the other people I was deployed with.  Time flew by.  By the second loop, I was actually feeling better than I did on the first lap.  I ran when i felt like it, walked when i wanted, and took photos whenever I saw fit.

This race was really what I needed today.  Granted, it didn’t need to be as part of a race, but the obligation of the race is the sole reason I ventured out of my home today.  The whole experience was just wonderful.  My time was my personal worst for a half marathon (although I’d never done a trail one before), but I didn’t care.  I felt significantly better and refreshed at the end of my run than I did at the beginning.  I am so glad I decided to do it.  It was one of the meaningful running experiences I’ve had to date.

Instead of my usual play-by-play commentary of the race, I’ve posted a bunch of photos from it below (of the course, finish area, the soon-to-be bride and groom who wore a running wedding dress and a tuxedo shirt, and one of me at the end).  I also posted an elevation chart.

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2011/03/12: Prickly Pear 50k (race report)

Short version: Ultramarathon #5 complete: Prickly Pear 50k (6:56:27). The Good: New PR (barely). Got to see some old friends. Neat finisher medallion. Only fell once. The bad: Warm, 85 degrees by the finish. Lightneaded for a significant portion of the race. Fall was on switchback part of trail and did half a somersault, scraped my knee and shoulder, banged hand on ground, hit head on ground. The ugly (literally): Feet are more blistered than ever, not sure why. Overall: Fun time!

LONG version: This is the only race I’ve done three times.  It just so happens it’s an ultra.  The first time I ran it in 09, I did it in 6:58:11 toward the end of a marathon training schedule, so I was in decent shape.  Last year I did it with a lot less training with the idea in my head that I could do it again because I’d done it before; I finished in 7:42:xx and I hurt quite a bit.  This year, I hadn’t trained for it specifically but had some decent (by my standards, low by most others’) mileage.  I hoped to get a PR but really wanted to get under 6:35, which is around what my 50k split was in a 12-hour timed race in January.  However, I looked past the fact that the PP50 is on a trail (not road) in the daytime (not at night when it’s cooler).

This race takes place in a park in San Antonio; it consists of 3 loops of just over 10 miles.  The majority of the trail is runnable, but some portions have a lot of rocks and there is another portion that is a swithback that goes downhill that must be navigated VERY carefully.

The first loop flew by and I finished it about 7 minutes faster than when I got my previous PR.  I felt good.  I did notice that my feet seemed to be sliding around in my shoes more than normal and that there was something not right, but as time went on, I chose not to do anything about it.  Honestly, I knew that if at any point I took my shoes and socks off to fix myself that I wouldn’t want to put them back on, let alone run anymore.  But when I got rocks in my shoes, I did stop to dump them out.

Also in the first loop, about 10 minutes into it, I made a startling discovery.  After I’d washed my water bottle last night, I didn’t get rid of all the soap.  It wasn’t just a soapy aftertaste, it tasted like the soap was straight from the detergent bottle.  I tried squeezing some of it out and when I squeezed out white bubbly water, I couldn’t help but laugh.  I ended up dumping the water and refilling and purging water from two consecutive aid stations, but the soap did go away.

Around Mile 14, I started to feel a bit lightheaded and dizzy.  I had been drinking water, although perhaps not as much as I should have due to the problem noted above.  I had also been taking a gel every 45 minutes as I usually do.  I took in some salt at an aid station in the form of a boiled potato dipped in salt.  This seemed to help a bit, and at all aid stations the rest of the race, I repeated this.  I still felt faint until about Mile 19, at which point I was feeling a little better.  I was walking a lot which made me frustrated because I felt FINE except for the lightheadedness and uncomfortable feet.  I just didn’t want to pass out on the trail; so I erred on the side of caution.  I felt okay when I was just walking, so I kept forward motion, just slower than I wanted.  My time at the end of the second loop was barely faster than my cumulative time at this same time in the race when I got my PR, due to my significantly quicker first loop.

At about Mile 24, I felt really lightheaded again but just kept drinking water and eating gels and boiled potatoes and salt.  The weather was also getting a lot warmer (85 degrees by the time I finished) so I was sweating out a lot of salt.  My skin was covered crusty salt by the end, yuck, lol.  I should also note that a girl who I’d previously passed in the second loop had managed to pass me early in the third loop and we were playing “leap frog.”  She was hurting and had resorted to just speedwalking, but she was relatively fast at it.  I worked hard to keep her in sight while still walking an ample amount myself.  When I got to the switchback portion this time around, I was concerned about my dizziness and balance and decided I was going to take it excruciatingly slow.  The other girl who was ahead of me had the same idea and I managed to come to within about 10 feet of her and we chatted a bit.  And then it happened, my first fall of the day; I’d tripped numerous times but not fallen.  Of course I had to be very original in how I did it.  When I started to fall, I fell forward (since I was going downhill) and managed to do a half somersault.  I was scared about going to the right because there was a steep embankment, so I rolled a little to the left.  In the process, I managed to bang my right hand on the ground pretty hard (from propelling myself to the left, away from the embankment), scraped my left knee up pretty good, scratched my left shoulder, and hit my head on the ground (luckily I didn’t have much momentum).  Once I got to a sitting position, everything seemed to be flipping and I literally just sat there for 4 minutes before I felt safe enough to move.  The other girl didn’t see what happened, but she heard it, asked if I was okay, and when I said I was, she continued to increase the lead she had on me (which wasn’t hard to do considering I was still for so long).  This really scared me and I decided I was just going to walk for an indefinite amount of time, but at least until the next aid station that was a couple miles away, where I could get some more salt.  So I walked and walked and walked.  I knew toward the end of the second loop that my goal finish time was out of the question and suspected any PR was not feasible.  However, after my fall, I was sure of this.  I walked almost nonstop for about 4 miles and could no longer see the girl ahead of me, but this wasn’t of any concern to me.  I just wanted to finish.

Somehow, I started to feel better around mile 28 and ran a few downhill stretches and still felt fine.  Hmm.  I started running even more and still felt okay.  I even caught up to the other girl and passed her and another guy.  I also ascertained that the idea of getting a PR may be possible, but I wasn’t sure of this until the last half mile.  I was too tired to sprint as fast as I normally do at the end, but my fastest instantaneous pace near the finish line was 6:02mm.  My official finish time was 6:56:27, a minute and 45 second PR.  In spite of everything, I was satisfied with this.

I also met up with my friend Paul and his girlfriend who both did the 50k as their first ultra.

I didn’t score any hardware this race, but that’s fine.  I did get 4th place in my age group, which again, I’m happy with, given the circumstances.

I sat around the finish area for about an hour to help cheer in the majority of other finishers who were still on the course.  From about Mile 28 through now (several hours after the race), I haven’t felt lightheaded at all.  I think the salt did the trick.  In previous ultras, when I get too much salt, my fingers swell.  My fingers didn’t swell at all today, which is good since I didn’t have too much salt, but I also don’t think I had enough during most of the race either.  The only part of my body that hurts right now are my feet.  I’m sure I’ll have muscle soreness tomorrow, but that’s easily manageable.

What struck me as funny in the finish area was the large number of people with skinned knees and other body parts from falls.  I don’t recall this in previous years, but there’s just something comforting to be surrounded with a bunch of other dirty bloody people, haha.

I waited to take my shoes off until I got home.  As I suspected, I had multiple blisters, including a blood blister on one of my baby toes.  But my feet got me through 50k, so I really can’t complain!

Also, the finisher medal was actually an etched glass medallion.  Everyone also got nice short sleeved tech shirts.

Overall, I truly had a good time!  I think that maybe one of the reasons I like it so much is because it’s not easy and I evidently have a hidden liking of voluntary shared misery.

Here are some photos:

Somewhere in the first two loops:

Elevation chart:

Paul took this one.  No, I’m not hunched over because I’m in pain.  I’m just trying to get my scraped knee and shoulder in both in the photo, haha.  Of course you can’t even see the scrapes on my shoulder in the photo 😉

Three more (the lump on my stomach in the first two is one of my earbuds, fyi):



My feet (just because they looked gross, even though most of the blisters can’t be seen due to the dirt and being under my toes, except the blob on my left baby toe that’s the same color as my nail polish isn’t actually nail polish):


2010/03/13: Prickly Pear 50k (race report)

I did this race last year toward the end of marathon training and had a great time. This year, however, I’ve had issues staying committed to any training plan. My problem is that I like races, just not training for them.

DISCLAIMER: I do not recommend this to others because I acknowledge it is not smart and that if I keep doing things like this that I will eventually get injured.

On 24 Jan, I ran a half marathon, and since then, the only runs I’ve done have been 1 10k, 2 5ks, 3 1.5Ms, and 1 15.55M. That’s a total mileage of just over 32 miles in 7 weeks. With the exception of the 15.55M 2 weeks ago, the last time I ran longer than 13.1 miles was my last marathon last Apr. Two weeks ago, I decided that I’d like to do this race again this year but would only do it if I could go out on a whim one day and do half the distance. So I did that. Also, I researched ultras (some more) and found evidence that there were indeed people out there who have done longer races with even less prep. I figured that if they could do it, so could I (in other words, if they can be stupid, that somehow gives me permission also).

Just like last year, I didn’t tell anyone about the race in advance in case it did not work out. I also felt comfortable knowing what the trails were like and knowing it was 3 loops, so I could stop after 1 or 2 loops if I had to.

Yesterday morning I woke up about 0530, ate a granola bar, drank some water, and headed to the park where this would be held. It’s funny because McAllister Park is a beautiful set of trails that is literally right in the heart of San Antonio, just a few miles from the airport and downtown. I arrived later than I’d hoped and since it was in the 40s, I opted to run with a long sleeve shirt over my tank top. I didn’t have time to put on sunscreen under my long sleeve shirt, so I figured I’d just do it after the first loop (which worked out okay). The 50k started at 0700; there was also a 10M that started at 0830, although I never saw any of those runners on the course.

Adrenaline made me run faster than I’d planned to on the first 5 miles. However, I did slow down and got into a decent running and walking pattern. Last year I’d finished in just under 7 hours, but this year, I knew this was out of the question and just wanted to beat the 8-hour cut-off. I met a woman on the course within the first couple miles of the race who randomly asked, “Hey, you posted a report about this on Runners World last year, didn’t you?” “Yes.” She then told me that seeing my photos and the finisher’s medallion (and the etched glass mug I got for an AG award) were why she signed up for the race; it was her first ultra. She also said her goal was to get under 6:58 because that is what I had gotten last year. I was caught off-guard a bit that someone had read and remembered specific details from my report, that it had influenced them in some way, and also that she recognized me. We ran together for a bit and “leapfrogged” a bit on the first lap and a half, but then I lost track of her. This was inspiring to me, though, and gave me more of a reason to finish.

There were 4 aid stations on each loop that were all well-stocked with water, gatorade, gels, pretzels, chips, cookies, boiled potatoes and salt, candies, etc. The volunteers were all very helpful and offered to fill up my water bottle and always asked if I needed anything in particular. Unlike large road races I’ve been to, races like this trail 50k were much more personal. Really, though, most people are coming through each aid station one at a time instead of in huge groups and there’s time to stop for a few seconds and actually thank the volunteers because a few minutes over the course of 31 miles is practically nothing. Right after the first aid station on the first loop. Just before the 2-mile point, I fell the first and only time. I tripped many times, but this time, my water bottle flew out of my right hand while my left hand, both knees, and my right upper thigh all got scraped to various degrees. All I could think was, “Oh, it’s a good thing I only have 29 miles left!”

I finished the first loop in 2:11, which concerned me because that was my same split as last year and I should have been slower. I consciously decided to slow down on the second lap and walk more. Throughout the entire race, at every mile, I would mentally calculate what the slowest mile pace was that I could average for the rest of the course to still get under 8 hours. This loop was rather uneventful, and I got lapped by 4 people who were super fast (even on the trails). My mind drifted and on multiple occasions, I wondered if I was still even on the right trail; at all major decision points, there were signs or orange ribbons hanging from trees or flour arrows and X’s (marking where not to go) on the ground. However, just as I would begin to wonder if I was on the right trail, I would see a ribbon or sign that would tell me I was okay. There were multiple points I wish I had taken a camera to show the trails, but I didn’t have a one that would have been small enough to tuck away when not using, that was digital, that I didn’t mind if it got destroyed because of the dirt.

Around mile 18, I was really dreading having to go out on another loop. I did pass one guy just before the end of the second loop, which was a surprise because I thought I was in last; however, judging my his slow walking/limping, I was not sure he would continue on to the last lap. I made a quick stop at my gear bag, filled up my water bottle, and reluctantly headed out on my third loop.

I was energized at the 22-mile aid station because one of the volunteers exclaimed, “Girl, you’re not last. There are 5 people behind you!” That was a real shock to me, but very motivating. I walked a lot of this lap but was relieved by the fact that I only needed to keep an 18…19…20…21-minute pace per mile to break 8 hours. One of the only parts of the course that enabled runners to see who was in front or behind them for any sizeable distance was this long relatively steep straight incline that was all dirt and gravel with no trees. I was ecstatic when I saw a couple who were only about a quarter mile ahead of me; granted, they were running the incline and I was walking, but it made me very happy that they were that close since I had not seen another “racer” in over an hour. About a mile and a half later, I caught up to and passed the couple. I passed people at 24.5 miles in! However, they too, had decided that with the rising temps (then in the 80s) and 2 moderately paced laps that they were taking it easy. At the 25 mile aid station, the volunteer said there were 5 people who had not passed through but that he could not confirm if they were still on the course or had DNF’d, but I did tell him that there were definitely 2 other people not too far back.

The finish area was kind of hidden. On the second and third loops in particular, I knew what mileage I would be at when I got there, but even a quarter mile out, there were no indications it was so close. On the last lap, I picked up my pace from walking to jogging with about two tenths of a mile left, knowing it was not too much further. In typical fashion, I sprinted the last bit to the finish line (sub-6 minute mile pace, which was a huge deal considering the rest of the race). My chip time was 7:42:12. I had finished and that’s all I really cared about.

5 people finished after me, which was surprising too. One finished almost an hour and a half later, but the volunteers had left the clock running so he’d get an official time, even though it was over an hour after the advertised cut-off. I cannot emphasize how nice and accommodating all of the volunteers were, and this is just one example of that.

Less than a minute after crossing the line, the woman who’d read my report from last year came up with her AG award mug that she’d wanted since she’d seen mine from last year. She beat my time from last year by four minutes, so she was happy about that too. However, she said it’d been more difficult than she’d thought and was re-thinking the fact that she’s signed up for another 50k only 3 weeks away. I did not get an AG award this year, but I was totally fine with that and was not expecting one

I hobbled around and sat down to stretch. It was while talking with a 15-year-old boy who was asking me “why?” questions about why I’d done this 50k, why I’d done it again after knowing what it entailed after last year, etc., that I realized none of my answers made sense because I evidently have no explanations. I did it because I could. And that’s that.

I’m extremely sore and (including one of my knees), but otherwise, besides my scrapes from my fall, I have no injuries. No chafing or blisters even. I did have a bunch of dirt in my shoes afterward, and I knew this during the race, but I could not feel any blisters forming, and I knew that my feet would not want to go back into shoes if I took them out, so I took my chances.

Just prior to my finish:
PP50 10

Me after the race:
PP50 10 me

My minor boo boos:
PP50 booboos

PP50 booboos 2

My etched glass medallion. I got a neat tech shirt too, but it’s in my car and I don’t feel like braving the stairs so I have no pic of it now:
PP50 10 medallion

My dirty feet afterward:
PP50 10 feet

All in all, I have no regrets. I just know it wasn’t a bright idea. However, I really didn’t have anyone to share this news with, so I wanted to post it here.


2009/03/07: Prickly Pear 50k (race report–first ultra)

Today I ran my first ultra: the Prickly Pear 50k Trail Run. I purposely didn’t tell anyone about it in advance, in the event it did not go as planned.

Now here is where I insert my disclaimer about how I really should not have done this race based on the fact I’ve only been running since last May, I’ve only done 4 19-milers ever with my longest since my Nov marathon being only 23.1 miles, and I’ve had some medical issues lately (although I was cleared to run).

I found this race when I was looking for a 20-ish mile race this weekend since I was scheduled for a training run of that length. I came across this race which included a 10-miler in conjunction with a 50k. Ten miles was too short, and I figured I could enter the 50k and only do 2 loops instead of 3, but I couldn’t force myself to enter a race I was going to purposely DNF. So I considered the crazy idea of signing up for the whole thing. I created a new screen name and posted on the Ultra forum with my situation; I should have known that I was not going to get a sane answer from people who run upwards of a hundred miles for fun; they encouraged me to do it.

I was still skeptical, so I did a lot of research online, in books, and watching a documentary of David Horton’s 66-day running adventure from Mexico to Canada via the Pacific Crest Trail. In one of my books on different individuals’ encounters with ultras, I saw David’s name listed all over it due to his “god-like” status in the sport and the inspiration and mentorship he’d provided to many runners over the years. I happened to come across his e-mail address, so what did I do? I e-mailed him, not expecting a response of course. However, a few days later, I got a very detailed response along with a bunch of tips and a request for me to e-mail him again after I completed today’s 50k. I signed up in January.

A couple days ago, I e-mailed the RD and asked about the cutoff time, which he said was 8 hours. I crunched some numbers and was concerned I would not make the cutoff, considering the distance and that it was on trails. As I was getting all of my race stuff together last night I thought, “Wow, what am I getting myself into? 31miles??” However, I put my concerns aside and went to bed. Of course I slept terribly because I kept waking up thinking I was late for the race and kept dreaming of getting lost on trails.

This morning, the 70 degree temperature at 6am concerned me, but I also knew I didn’t have any control over it. An hour later, the race began at a local park here in San Antonio. After the first few miles of everyone being bunched together, we were all finding out own places in the pack. I was toward the very back. I was concerned because I knew that the 4 of us running together were the last ones and I knew that the pace we were running was not one I could keep up with for 8-ish hours, but I also did not want to fall back and get lost on the trails, which was one of my phobias going into this. However, throughout the first lap of 10-ish miles, we did slow down a bit and 2 of the guys fell back. I was running with a nice lady in her 50s named Isabelle, and we gradually passed a few more people who had started out too fast. Isabelle was on a quest to run a marathon or greater distance in every state and had never run an ultra before. However, she was a bit intimidating to me because she runs numerous marathons a year (compared to my one ever), her average marathon time was 4:15 (compared to my debut 5:12), and her longest run being 30 miles (compared to my 23). However, she was nice to talk to and wanted to run with someone.

The whole course was not too technical of a trail, but it still had its fair share of rocks, roots, and un-runnable areas, including one area with switchbacks that required us to hold trees to maintain our footing. I had opted, however, to just use my road shoes instead of shelling out over a hundred dollars on trail shoes I’d likely get very little use out of. This turned out to be a good decision, as the shoes I wore were fine.

The first loop, I tripped many times, likely because of the unfamiliar terrain and the fact I was not used to picking up my feet as much when running on roads. The second loop, I tripped minimally, and the third lap, I tripped a lot because I was getting tired and not lifting my feet enough. There were a few aid stations on each loop with very helpful volunteers who would refill water bottles and offer encouragement. There was also a LOT of food at each one, such as cookies, candies, muffins, pretzels, potatoes with salt, and a bunch of other stuff. I ate something at most of them, in addition to gels along the way, and I think this really helped.

Isabelle and I ran nearly the entire race with less than a quarter mile between us, and about 80 percent of the time, we were running together. We had conversations about lots of things and bonded, as it would be expected after a multi-hour conversation. Along the way, we also met up with other people and would run with them for a bit.

My first lap was 2:11, which is faster than I thought it would be, but I was prepared to slow more drastically as the miles accumulated. The second lap was 2:21, which I was also happy about. I was about an hour ahead of where I predicted I’d be, but I expected I’d hit the wall on the third lap. However, that never happened! The last few miles, of my third/last lap, I pushed harder as I realized I was right on the verge of breaking 7 hours,which would be a whole hour faster than I’d predicted. This was my slowest lap, but my split of 2:26 was enough to give me a chip time of 6:58:11! As is my trademark, I did sprint the at the very end, sub-6-min pace. Isabelle was only 20 second behind me. My Garmin read 31.18 miles.

All of the finishers got nice etched glass medallions. Much to my surprise, I got 3rd place in my age group of females 29 and under! I know there were more than 3 in my age group who started, which made me excited too since it wasn’t just by default. I got a nice etched glass mug for this.

I was covered in dirt at the end due to the high temperatures (in the 80s for the last few hours of the race) causing me to sweat and the winds blowing dirt all over, but it was well earned. My only “injuries” were 3 tiny blisters and a stubbed toe as a result of jamming it into a rock at mile 27; luckily the stabbing pain stopped after 2 miles when my toe went numb. I’m already sore, even after an ice bath, but I guess that’s to be expected. The jury’s still out regarding whether I’ll try another one of these again, but it really was a great experience!

Isabelle and me after race

I and me

Just me afterward


Finisher’s medallion


My 3rd place AG mug


My post-race feet