Saturday, February 10, 2018

Tarawera 62k (Alternate title: Bighorn 2: Bighorn’s Revenge)

We came to New Zealand as our “engagement trip” (i.e., the trip we paid for using the money we saved by not getting an engagement ring), and we decided to do a race as long as we were here. Joe had never heard of the Tarawera Ultra before, but I had, and was eager to check it out. 

Joe at packet pick-up, before his weigh-in 

We had both registered for the 102k distance, but as the race approached, I was really nervous about doing it. As Katie Grossman put it so well in her recent article (I don’t know how to insert a link using this app, so here it is:, I’m trying lately to make my body a friendly, hospitable environment in case someone else would like to take up residence there for nine months. Running 102k in the pouring rain, in the mountains, with 10,000ft vertical gain, didn’t seem conducive to that. 

The day before the race, as I stressed about it and Joe and I talked about it, he encouraged me to try to separate it into two decisions: decide first whether you don’t want to do the race because it’s going to be a miserable suffer-fest in the rain, separately from whether you don’t want to do it because it might impact conceiving this month. But I couldn’t separate the two; it was BECAUSE it was going to be a strenuous muddy suffer-fest, in the chilly rain all day, that I was especially worried. I decided to ask at the expo whether I could drop down to the 62k, and then I’d feel better about it. Happily, they did let me, no hassle at all, and I felt so relieved.  

Come race day, however, it was impressed upon me how prideful and silly it was to think that running 62k (40 miles, according to my Garmin) with about 6,000ft of vertical gain, in the rain and slippery mud (AHH! Bighorn flashbacks!) would be comfortable. I had thought, going into it, that I’d just keep a conversational pace, and manage my food and drink intake, and my body wouldn’t be too stressed. But it seems I’m just not able to keep control well enough in an ultra. Over the course of the race, I ran out of calories between aid stations that were 10 miles apart, became light-headed, got my heart rate up really high on the long climbs where I kept sliding backwards in the mud, and just generally felt exhausted. I also suffered through anterior tib pain whenever I dorsiflexed or plantar-flexed, as well as a sting or bite from some exotic New Zealand insect that stung like a mother****** for a few hours—but I can deal with those things; it’s the general exhaustion and stress on my body that caused me even more stress during the race, as I thought about the consequences for our chances of conception this month. 

Despite this psychological stress, however, the race certainly had its bright spots. It was really well-organized. Joe and I easily stepped into a bus that took us to his starting line, and I was able to cheer for him when he started. Then I easily stepped into another his that took me to my starting line.  (Both races were point-to-point and ended back in Rotorua.) I also got to see an impressive Maori war dance before my start.

 Maori war dance we saw the day before the race

Passing by the roaring Tarawera Falls and several beautiful lakes were other highlights, as were the enormous redwood trees and lush ferns all around. The scenery throughout the race was spectacular.  (The only drawback to the nice scenery was in the last 3-4 kilometers, when we ran through beautiful thermal areas, with smoke billowing from the ground. The smell seemed beyond the usual sulfuric nastiness you’d expect near a geyser. It smelled like sulfur mixed with rotten garbage and diarrhea. Maybe it was just because I was already a bit queasy, but I had to stop running and plug my nose. I felt like I could barely breathe and my gag reflex started up. The finish line couldn’t come soon enough!)

The scenic (and smelly) thermal areas in Rotorua. 

I had been looking forward to observing any differences between the races I’ve done in the U.S. and this, my first international race. One observation was that there was very little in the way of portable food at the aid stations. There were no gels or chews or anything packaged, and the sandwiches and brownies they had got soggy in between aid stations. (The brownies were delicious, though.) Joe accidentally took a Marmite sandwich at one aid station — a costly mistake.  

(I tried some at breakfast the other day. Blech!)

I also got to see Joe twice—because the 62k cuts off a bit of a loop, Joe was able to pass me twice. He looked so good. Honestly, the first time he passed me, I was a little upset that he didn’t have the decency to look as miserable as I felt. He seemed quite chipper, in fact. By the time I saw him the second time, his attitude was slightly more appropriate for a difficult 102k. Still, despite running 40k (24 or so miles) more than me, with only an hour head start, he still beat me to the finish line. 

Joe ran me in to the finish, and I’m sure we made a funny pair—me with my limp from anterior tib pain, and him barely recovered from finishing his race strong. They announced something about each person as they finished, and ours was that we were on our honeymoon—or runningmoon, as they put it. Both race directors gave us a big hug. It was a great finish atmosphere.  We walked over to a bench away from the crowds and shared our race stories with one another. I love that we can relate so well to what the other experienced, since we’re both out there in the same terrain and conditions. 

This experience really changed my mind, from thinking that I can keep running 50ks while we’re trying to conceive, to realizing that I want to be more in control of what I’m experiencing, and I want to minimize the stress to my body at this time. So Tarawera will be the last race I do for a while.  After we’re done trying, or after we have kids, then, of course, I’ll go back to destroying my body with this silly sport.  (Habanero, anyone?)

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Tarawera Countdown: T Minus 3.5 Weeks (and a bonus story about peeing)

So, four weeks out from the Tarawera 100k, Joe and I finally decided to check out the course profile.

I wouldn't have thought of it myself, but Joe started asking questions like, "Do you think it's really hilly?" and when I realized I had no clue, I relented and opened the course website.  My web browser informed me that I had "Last visited" the race website on July 29 -- probably the day we bought our plane tickets, when we visited the page to check the date of the race.  Yeah, we are pretty bad at preparation.

It turns out the race has about 10,000 feet of elevation gain.  And I think I mentioned in my last post that it was all I could do to finish 50k at Bandera a couple weeks ago.  I took some comfort in the FAQ page of the Tarawera race website.

Here's an excerpt:
Q: I am not sure if I can do this ..
A: That’s the whole point. This is not designed to be an event that you know with certainly you can finish. It is designed to be an adventure that will push many of you to run further than you have before. If you have completed a marathon previously, you are well on track to finish any distance of the Tarawera Ultra. 

"Oh good!  I've completed a marathon!  I'm 'well on track,' Joe!"

If you have successfully completed an event like the Kepler Challenge, a half Ironman or Coast to Coast, the 102km ultra-distance is well within your grasp. You’ll still have to train diligently though.  

"Oh, wait.  They say I have to train diligently."

If you have a history of tramping in the hills and have strong legs and endurance, you should be able to complete any of the ultra distances, even with little running background.

"'Little running background!'  Maybe I can do this!"

My hopes and doubts about finishing keep roller-coastering just like that, even when I'm not reading the helpful race website.  Joe assures me I'll definitely be able to finish in under the 24-hour cutoff -- which brings on a whole new wave of fear.  Being out there for 24 hours?  That sounds terrible!  This is our vacation.  Death marches don't belong on vacations!  But then again, I think I could stand not having any more DNFs in this lifetime.  So there's that for motivation.

I'll leave you with a terrible story:

When we were car camping in the field at Bandera a couple weeks ago, Joe and I both had to pee before going to sleep, and we were both unwilling to walk all the way to the port-a-potties.  Joe decided to wait until it was dark enough outside and then pee outside.  I didn't feel like waiting, so naturally, I peed in a bag, and then put the bag outside the car where it wouldn't stink it up all night.

Of course, I was planning to throw it away the next day; I emptied it out the next morning before the race but hadn't gotten around to throwing it away . . . and then when I went to move the car later that day, to move it closer to the finish line so Joe wouldn't have to walk so far, I approached the car from the driver's side and so didn't see or think about the bag on the ground at the passenger side.  I realized the next day the horror of what I had done -- I littered Hill Country State Natural Area with a pee-bag -- and someone else had to throw away my pee bag!  I've been trying to restore karma ever since, by picking up any litter that I see.  And I'll obviously need to keep doing this until the end of time in order to atone for my misdeed.

To make matters even worse, I had said to Joe when I realized that I left it there, "I can never tell anyone this story, because the person I tell it to might be the very person who had to pick it up and throw it away!"  But then a week later, it dawned on me that the bag I used was the one Rob Goyen had given me, full of TROT swag . . . and he had written my name on the outside of the bag.  So, whoever had to pick up and throw away my pee-bag knew exactly whose pee-bag they were handling!  And that, my friends, is something I will have to live with for the rest of my life.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

New Year - New Goals

Last month I reviewed my 2017 running goals and ruminated on my lack of success in achieving them.  My goals for 2018 are more process-oriented than performance-oriented, and are designed with my peace and happiness in mind, rather than my ultrasignup results:

1. Run with Joe at least once a week when able-bodied.  (Joe suggested I add those last 3 words as a qualifier, so I don't miss my goal if I have an injury, etc.  Very wise.)
2. Run on trails at least once a week.  2 mulligans.  (Again, Joe's suggestion, to make sure it's an achievable goal.)
3. Race a new distance/format. (e.g., 6-hour, 12-hour, last man standing)
4. Earn Cactus 500 jacket.  (For reals this time.)

I'm still considering the addition of a 5th goal:
5. Get back to running one ultra per month.

I go back and forth about this one.  When I ran one ultra per month (pretty much 2013-summer 2017, it ensured I had a good, long training run every month.  Now that I haven't been racing regularly, I haven't been doing *any* long runs.  This is bad for my conditioning, as my efforts at the Bandera 50k yesterday showed.  It was hard to realize that I couldn't conceive of doing another lap out there, when I used to run the Bandera 100k and feel good doing it.  I really want to get back in ultramarathon shape again.

On the flip side, it's easy to fall into the trap of racing too often, and losing consistency since every other week becomes either a taper week or a recovery week.  I guess the sweet spot would be doing races but not pushing so hard that I'm unable to continue running consistently the week after.  Maybe that's what I'll shoot for.  So a tentative goal #5.

Speaking of Bandera, Joe had an amazing race.  He earned 7th place overall in the USATF National Championship.  In the last stretch of the race, he passed a runner who turned out to be John Kelly -- the guy who finished Barkley last year!  We both talked to him after the race, and I had no idea who I was talking to.  Other highlights of the day included seeing Mario Mendoza breeze into the finish to clinch his hard-earned victory, getting to hang out with Travis, Paul, Rob, and so many of our friends, finishing my first race since late September (yikes!), and chatting with Myke Hermsmeyer, who took this awesome photo of Joe:
PC: Myke Hermsmeyer
Our next adventure together will be Tarawera 100k in February.  In the meantime, I'll be working on accomplishing those first couple goals.  I'm also thinking of doing the Trail Racing over Texas 54k in Tyler, TX (Run the Rose) in three weeks.  I need more long runs!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Reviewing my running goals: 2017

It's getting to that time of year again for reviewing this year's goals and setting goals for the new year.  In December 2016, Joe and I sat down and wrote out our running goals for 2017.  Joe wrote 6 goals for himself . . . and went on to achieve every single one of them.

I, on the other hand . . . achieved precisely ONE out of my seven goals.  That's a whopping 14.3%.  In school, this would equate to an F.  A very low F.

Here were my goals, along with some post-failure commentary:

1. Finish HURT smiling Despite my smiles, I did not finish HURT.  
2. Finish second Hard Rock qualifier It wasn't pretty, but I did it.  
3. Sub-9 @ Wild Hare or Hells Hills  Hmm.  Didn't run Wild Hare; finished Hells Hills in 10:34.  I'm sure I had a good excuse.  :) 
4. Win Ultra series for Texas Trail Running Championship Nerp.
5. Earn Cactus 500 jacket Nerp.
6. Sub 24 @ Cactus  DNF'd after 50 miles.
7. Win 5th 60k CK series overall Only ran 2 of the 4 races this summer.

My most recent race was the Cactus 100.  I seriously had a Forrest Gump moment early on in the first loop.  This was me, minus the beard:

During the race, I flashed back to a comment from a fellow runner during the Tahoe 200 in September.  He said that after Tahoe he would never do another run that didn't end during the daylight, so that he could sleep in his own bed that night.  Running Cactus -- a race I've always counted among my favorites -- I suddenly realized I wanted to sleep in my own bed that night, too.  I simply had no desire to keep going.  I made myself run to mile 50, and then I turned in my chip, changed clothes, and went on to crew for Joe.  And he's so fast that we were both home and asleep by midnight.  My only regret is that I didn't sign up for the 50-mile race in the first place.  If I had, not only would I not be labeled a DNF, but I would also have gotten 2nd place female and some points for the Rockhoppers in the Texas Championship Series.  C'est la vie.

After Cactus, I decided I needed a break.  I've kept doing race after race -- Reveille Peak Ranch, Tahoe 200, J&J, Cactus, with no real training in between.  Strava shows me the grim truth -- weeks with 25-35 miles of running, because I was either recovering from an ultra, or tapering for an ultra.  It's always been like that, to an extent, since I started running ultras, but this recent trend is even worse than usual.  I vowed after my Cactus DNF that I would actually train for my next race, Bandera 100k.  So that's what I've been doing these last few weeks -- *actually* training.  Like, actually setting my alarm and waking up early to run before work, and actually doing double-digit training runs by myself.  It's been ages since I've done things like that.  I'm starting to kind of, sort of feel like a real runner again.

I don't know if I'll be in good enough shape to do a decent job at Bandera.  But I hope that I can set goals for that race, and for all my races next year, that I'm really excited about achieving.  It's too easy, clearly, to become burned out like I've done this year.  One fortunate thing is that the huge life stressor -- the annulment question -- has been removed, and that constant cloud of anxiety and sadness that's been hovering over me for so long has gone away.  Another fortunate thing is that, despite my lackluster performances of late, Team TROT has renewed my membership; I'm so fortunate to be part of that team of all-stars.  I sure hope I can do them proud next year. 

Team TROT superstars . . . and me!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Tahoe 200: Detailed Race Report, by Segment

I don't claim to have the best memory for race details; that's why I usually don't write detailed race reports. However, I think I remember enough of the Tahoe 200 to jot down some memories from each segment.  Here goes:

Starting line:
  • Luis Escobar gave the Micah True speech: "Raise your right hand.  Repeat after me: If I get hurt, lost, or die, it's my own damn fault."
Start to Barker Pass (mile 7):
  • The race begins with one hell of a long climb.  Like 4 miles long.  My feet already hurt within the first mile.  Not a good sign!  I stopped and took off my compression socks, and they felt a little better.
  • During the first day, I kept myself busy saying rosaries for folks who had given me prayer requests.  It helped the time fly by, and I felt happy to pray for people, to return the favor  in a way, because I know so many folks have been praying for me lately.
  • I got to see Joe briefly at the aid station.  I wouldn't get to see him again until 4:30am the next morning, at mile 63, because crew aren't allowed at a lot of the early aid stations.
towards the beginning of the first climb
Barker Pass to Loon Lake (mile 24):
  • Shortly after the Barker Pass aid station, the course markers disappeared.  Someone must have gone through and taken them all.  There was an intersection of three trails; I started up one, but looked at my GPS and realized it wasn't right.  So I went back and tried the other two trails; one matched my GPS, but none had course markings.  After a while of wandering back and forth on the trails, talking to other runners about what we should do, a group of six of us decided to go with the trail that matched our GPS.  We committed and took off, continuing to rationalize our decision for the next hour and a half, until we finally saw course markings again.  Whew!
fellow runner Ken's relief upon finding our first course marking in an hour and a half
  • I filled my bladder with dirty water from Buck Island Lake.  Mmm, floaties!
  • We were on the Rubicon Jeep trail for a while.  Those Jeeps stop for no man -- or woman.  I can't say I understand that hobby.  Move forward an inch, get stuck, move forward two inches.  Fail to yield to pedestrians.
  • It started raining towards the end of this leg.  Cold and wet is not my bag, baby.
Loon Lake to Tell's Creek (mile 30.5):
  • It continued raining throughout this stretch, and the temps dropped.  I had to stop under a tree and add layers -- rain paints, arm sleeves, rain jacket, buff over my head.
  • When I arrived at Tell's Creek aid station, I grabbed my drop bag (the 1st drop bag of the race), ran down the road to the bathroom, and changed my outfit head to toe, except for shoes.  Due to the rain, and also my clumsiness at creek crossings, my feet would stay wet from 1pm Friday through 4:30am Saturday.  *Sigh.*
Tell's Creek to Wright's Lake (mile 44):
  • Three words to capture my memories of this stretch: 1) dark 2) wet 3) chilly.
  • Around this point in the race I started thinking, Hey, I did sign up for the Tahoe 200, right?  I haven't seen the damn lake since we started the race!  At this point, we were way south and west of the lake, and wouldn't see it for quite a while yet.
  • This section included the Barrett Jeep trail.  Once again, it seems people can't get enough of driving Jeeps on questionable surfaces.  This time had the added annoyance of dealing with their bright headlights shining in my face.
  • I kept referring to my GPS app (Gaia); it was really helpful in keeping me on course.
Wright's Lake to Sierra-at-Tahoe (mile 62.9):
  • I had my second (and final) drop bag at Wright's Lake.  (After this, Joe would meet me at each aid station with a Victory bag filled with anything I'd need.)  Once again, I changed head to toe (minus shoes) in the bathroom; I was hoping that doing this would prevent chafing.  And I did get remarkably little chafing, which is a new experience for me!
  • This section included a road section of 3-ish miles downhill.  That was amazing.  I joked with a fellow runner, "I'm doing 11-minute miles!  This is great!"
  • I had remembered the RD, Candice, saying that we'd see the ski lift as we approached Sierra-at-Tahoe.  So I got really excited when I saw it . . . and then really frustrated as the aid station didn't appear, and didn't appear . . . I texted Joe something like, "Well, this is my life now.  Walking down this never-ending road."
  • As I finally approached the aid station, I ran into Katie heading out with her pacer, Shaun.  She looked great!  Then I saw Joe, who handed me my Victory bag.  I went inside the bathroom and gave myself a "baby wipe bath" and changed head-to-toe again.  This time I changed shoes as well, to a half-size bigger.  My feet were hurting, but no blisters as of yet.  
  • I tried to sleep in the car, but after a couple minutes, gave up, feeling like I was just wasting time.  It was really not fun leaving Joe and heading back out into the darkness, even though it was almost morning.
Joe modeling the Kodiak bag from Victory Sportdesign, which he used to crew me

Sierra-at-Tahoe to Housewife Hill (mile 70.5):
  • During this segment, I started noticing that my lungs were making a wheezing sound, like a squeak toy.  It sounded just like what I experienced at the end of Bighorn 100 in June.  It's kind of alarming, and it makes you focus on each breath in a way that reminds you, "Shit, if I stop breathing, I'll die!  I hope I keep breathing!"  
  • As I arrived at the aid station, I saw our rental car, and Joe asleep in the driver's seat.  I tapped on the window, almost sorry to wake him up.  I think I changed my shorts and shirt in the car, but I can't remember.  As I sat there, I kept coughing up terrible-looking phlegm.  Joe helped me put my shoes on.  I was really feeling overwhelmed at this point.  I'd gone 70 miles, been moving for a full day, and yet I still had 135 miles to go -- that in itself was way more than I'd ever gone before.  And now with the wheezing, and the coughing . . . I told Joe, "I feel like the wheels are coming off."  
Housewife Hill to Armstrong (mile 88):
  • I just had to make it to Armstrong, and then Joe would get to run with me for a few miles.  I was really looking forward to that.  
  • During this section, we ran through a really pretty meadow.  After that, we crossed a highway and stayed on the Tahoe Rim Trail.  I kept myself entertained for a few hours by listening to podcasts on my phone.  I learned valuable information, like how to make a shrunken head.
  • Coming into Armstrong was so fun -- it was a downhill, and I ran into Katie and Shaun again, and then spotted Joe sitting on a log watching for me.  And, to top it off, Scott Jurek was standing by the aid station with his baby, and told me, "Nice job!"  I needed a moment to collect myself after that.  Scott Jurek!  (Apparently he was pacing Luis Escobar -- who was the next finisher after me, by the way -- so Scott Jurek was right behind me! #fangirl)
  • At Armstrong, I tried sleeping in the car, but couldn't.  Then I tried sleeping outside the car in my sleeping bag.  That didn't work either.  So I just gathered my stuff and took off -- this time, with Joe!
Armstrong to Heavenly (mile 103):
  • Joe paced me the first 4 miles, which was a climb up near Freel Peak, which he had summitted earlier.  It was so nice chatting with him about the adventures he'd been on while I was running.  He'd bagged two peaks and explored some other trails, as well.  In exchange, I shared with him how to shrink a human head.  
  • After Joe left me to head back to move the car, I enjoyed running the rest of the segment.  I took exactly 14 pictures of the sunset.  It was so beautiful!  Unfortunately, none of my photos fully captures how pretty it really was.  The views of Carson Valley lights in the darkness were also pretty cool.
sunset picture 1 of 14
sunset picture 9 of 14.  I couldn't stop myself!
  • This segment only stopped being enjoyable once I reached the Heavenly ski resort area, and there was an unexpected climb.  At this point in the race, any climb is tough, but an unexpected climb makes me unreasonably angry.  Angry at what or whom, I don't know.  Just angry.
  • At Heavenly, Joe met me and explained he'd put my sleeping bag in the sleeping room, and he was charging my headlamps for me.  I laid down and slept -- I can't remember how long, maybe 20-40 minutes.  But I kept waking up and coughing up phlegm.  After I came out of the sleep room, the medical director stopped me and cautioned me that my cough sounded bad, and that they'd already had one case of pneumonia.  This worried me a bit, and I told Joe about it as we started off on the next segment.
Heavenly to Spooner Summit (mile 123.5):
  • Joe and I headed off into the night, on the Tahoe Rim Trail.  He stayed with me about 5 miles.  We noticed a course marking that looked like it had been moved to a wrong trail, so he fixed it.  (Why would someone move course markings?)
  • After Joe left me, before sunrise, I laid down in my bivy sack and took a 10-minute power nap.  After that, I was able to keep going.  There was one section that would have been a beautiful view of Lake Tahoe, except that the sun hadn't yet risen.  I turned on my music at this point and jogged down to the Spooner Summit aid station, still ahead of my predicted time by a couple hours.  
  • I was feeling pretty good during this entire segment.  At the same time, though, I was starting to feel like the end of every segment was longer than it should be.  I kept thinking the aid station should be here, it should be here, and even thought I glimpsed a tent and heard voices, but there was nothing there yet.  I was very happy when I finally saw the aid station, and there was Joe!  I think this was maybe the aid station where he rubbed my feet.  :)
Spooner Summit to Tunnel Creek (mile 140.5):
  • At Spooner, I changed to my Altra Escalantes.  Even though they were road shoes, I was desperate to wear something comfortable, and I always feel good in those shoes.  My poor feet were not feeling great, although still no blisters, just soreness.
  • I really struggled on this section.  Joe stayed with me about 5 miles, and it was all climbing.  Blech.  I had to stop every few steps to catch my breath.  I was wheezing, breathing heavily, high heart rate.  No bueno.  But the views were great, just below Snow Valley Peak.  
  • We stopped and had a picnic lunch and enjoyed the scenery.  Then Joe left to head back to move the car -- by way of Snow Valley Peak, to see the view -- and I laid down to take a nap in my bivy sack.  It was funny timing, when I woke up 10 minutes later and started off again on the trail, I ran into Joe, coming down from the peak.  I didn't even realize those trails intersected.  Good timing!  I got one more second of Joe Time.  
  • From here, it was all downhill to Tunnel Creek.  Literally, and also figuratively, in terms of my mental, physical, and emotional state.  I had such low energy, and my breathing problems continued. The continual mountain bikers kicking up dust into the air didn't help.  Around mile 130, I texted Joe and asked him to say a prayer for me, because I was really struggling and couldn't foresee how on earth I'd be able to continue and finish.  Then I asked if I could call him.  So I did, and he calmed me down a lot.  But man, was that a long, long, terrible slog for next 10 miles.  It was runnable, but I couldn't run, so instead I walked for about 3.5 more hours. 
  • Unbeknownst to me, after hanging up the phone, Joe went right to the store and bought me allergy medicine, cough medicine, food, and a rose.  I dragged myself into the aid station, having been wallowing in my own pity party for the previous four hours, all ready to hand him an invitation to the party as well.  I was ready to discuss how miserable I was and how it just didn't seem possible that I could keep going.  But he didn't ever give me the chance: he greeted me and said, "When we leave this aid station, here's how we'll go out.  Let me fill your bladder.  I've got sandwiches and donut holes in the car."  And then he showed me my flower.  So instead of discussing quitting, I ate something, and drained and taped two blisters.
  • Oh, this also happened: I had tried to text Joe and ask him if I could borrow his Hokas at Tunnel Creek, but I didn't have service.  (Joe's shoes are a full size bigger than mine, so he brought them to Tahoe in case I would want to use them at some point.)  When I got to the car, I asked him if I could change into his Hokas.  I didn't realize they were on his feet, since he hadn't gotten the text.  He didn't hesitate, he took them off his feet and gave them to me to wear.  It's like that saying, "He'd give you the shirt off his back" -- only better!  My feet felt sore still, but so much more comfortable in Joe's shoes.  I wore them for the rest of the race.
My flower.  Not pictured: the donut holes, which were another excellent purchase!  Well done, Joe!

Tunnel Creek to Brockway Summit (mile 156):
  • Joe and I took off across the road and along "Millionaire's Mile," this beautiful lakeshore road with multi-million dollar estates.   The kind that have names.  We had so much fun laughing and joking about the properties.  And we ran into a group of three guys that we chatted with -- until we turned a corner and started a sharp ascent.  The group of guys took off, climbing really strong, and I fell back.  
  • We made it to the powerlines, which was a ridiculously steep "trail" (not a trail), where I had to take a lot of breaks.  Climb, climb, climb, break.  Repeat.  Luckily we had attended the course briefing where we'd been warned that there are three false summits.  I was still fooled, though, into celebrating after the last false summit.  Joe hesitated to point out that we weren't quite done with the climb.  The sun set while we were on the powerlines, and at the top, we took a moment to enjoy the stars.
  • Once we really made it to the top, and we found where it connected to the Tahoe Rim Trail, Joe headed back down the powerlines (poor Joe!) and I continued up more climbs.  I felt good, though, for whatever reason.
  • At Brockway Summit, loud music and friendly volunteers greeted me.  This was supposed to be a sleep station, and another runner complained to me about how he wasn't able to get any sleep there, due to the loud music.  I had asked Joe to have my earplugs and sleeping bag ready for me, though, so I went inside a tent and had a restful two hours' sleep before taking off again.  (The medical director told me later that those volunteers had been "partying" before they arrived at their aid station, and had continued partying, and were maybe in a little trouble for it.)
Brockway Summit to Tahoe City (mile 175.5):
  • A highlight of this section was telling Joe about a podcast episode I had listened to on my way to Brockway.  Here's an excerpt from the conversation: 
          "So Oprah was interviewing Jimmy Carter."
          "Wow, there's a real brain trust."
          "[Laughing] He seems like a nice guy!"
          "Yeah, I'm sure he is.  Too bad he was a terrible Commander-in-Chief."
          "Okay, but there was this really cute story about him and his wife.  You see, he'd forgotten her birthday, so he wrote on a piece of paper, 'I'll do anything you ask of me.'"
          "Ooh, good strategy."
          "So she thought about it and asked him to bring her coffee every morning when she first wakes up.  And he's been doing that for 25 years now.  Isn't that sweet?"
          "Man, that plan really backfired!  Poor guy."
  • When Joe and I left Brockway Summit, it felt nice and warm, despite being in the middle of the night.  So Joe only wore shorts and a t-shirt.  Unfortunately, I started feeling incredibly sleepy, so I climbed into my bivy sack to take a power nap.  But I felt so bad -- Joe was just sitting there on the trail, freezing to death.  I got up, kept going, but then felt again like I just needed to lie down and sleep.  I finally convinced Joe to take my long-sleeve shirt and run back to the car, and I would lie down for a nap.  It took a lot of persuasion, because he didn't want to leave me earlier than planned, but it worked out well for both of us.  I ended up getting a 35-minute nap, and Joe got warmed up by running fast back to the aid station.
Tahoe City to Stephen Jones (mile 195.5):
  • This was my lowest of low points.  At the Tahoe City aid station, the medical director taped up my feet, and as he was doing so, I mentioned our conversation back at Heavenly, and said that when Joe had me take Claritin and cough suppressant, it seemed to help, although I was still wheezing and coughing up phlegm.  He proceeded to tell me that they'd had a case of pulmonary edema they just sent to the hospital.  When he detailed his symptoms, I thought, "That's exactly what I'm experiencing!"  That totally psyched me out, and back on the trail with Joe, I was taking a few steps, and then stopping, despairing that there was no way I'd be able to go another 30 miles when I had no energy and was having so much trouble breathing.  And I couldn't catch my breath on climbs, and there were so many climbs left!  And -- and -- and -- . . . I was working myself into such a panic that it was even harder to breathe.  Joe told me to slow down my breathing, take deep breaths, not worry, and I tried, but that's easier said than done.  Ultimately, he figured it would be good for me to rest, so he found a flat, soft-looking spot and made a little bed for me.  I slept 20 minutes or so.
  • pacing duties include taking pictures of trail naps
  • When I got up, I didn't feel a ton better physically, but I was at least able to make forward progress without feeling overwhelmed and despairing about being able to do thirty more miles.  On the big climb, I started muttering, "Okay, okay, okay" with every step.  (This continued through the end of the race.)  Poor Joe, to have to listen to that!  Joe got me all the way to the top of the climb, mile 11 or 12 of the segment, before leaving me to move the car.  Just as he left, as the sun set, a storm came up.  The winds picked up, thunder and lightning crashed, and I started moving down the mountain as fast as I could to avoid being struck by lightning.  Poor Katie got hailed on at this point, on the top of a different mountain!
  • The trail led down to a road, which led to a nice bike path along Lake Tahoe.  That was a nice stretch, and I power-walked my way past another lady runner and her pacer.  Then we turned off onto another street and then a singletrack trail.  I expected the aid station to be right there -- I kept looking at my GPS, but it was way further away than it was supposed to be.  It turned out to be God timing, though -- the aid station wasn't where it was supposed to be on Joe's map, either, and he was struggling to find it in the car.  He was so worried he'd miss me, but since I had to go further than expected, we ended up walking up to the aid station at almost the very same moment!  
  • At the aid station, it was still raining, so we went into the car and both fell asleep for about 90 minutes.  We awoke to a loud thunder clap.  I turned to Joe and said, "What if we waited until the storm ended to go?  What if we waited until morning, and then went?  I could still finish by the cutoff time."  Fortunately, Joe is much wiser and more determined than I am, and he said that would be a bad idea, so we packed food into our vests and headed out into the night.  
Stephen Jones to Finish (mile 205.5):
  • The final segment began with a relentless climb.  My verbal tic, "Okay, okay, okay" somehow seemed to help me take step after step up that stupid mountain.  That's right, it was stupid.  At this point, I was getting angered by the climbs, and called them all sorts of names in my head.
  • We passed by Barker Pass again, which was the mile 7 aid station, but which was no longer an aid station, and from then on, everything was familiar to me, because it was the same as the first 7 miles of the race.  It was fun reminiscing with Joe: This is where I saw you!  You were sitting on this log!
  • Joe left me almost at the very end of the climb to drive the car to the finish line.  After I finished the climb (finally), there was maybe 5 miles of relentless downhill.  I hadn't thought I'd ever tire of going downhill, but holy crap, enough is enough when you're at mile 200 and beyond.  I was also cursing the rocks.  I actually said out loud, "Great, I hope this hill never ends.  And could we get any more rocks here?"
  • Finally, I could see the lodge, and I heard a cowbell and cheers.  It was really nice of the few volunteers to wait around at 4:15 in the morning to cheer on a solitary runner in the darkness.  The scene was pretty anti-climactic.  I grabbed my buckle and Joe and I walked to the car and started driving towards my friend Annie's house.  Annie was a lifesaver -- she gave us a place to shower and sleep, and even did our stinky laundry for us!  
  • After recuperating at Annie's, we came back for the dinner and awards ceremony.  There I got to chat with Katie and hear about her race, and I got to meet Victor and Jenna Ballesteros and Lucy the Victory Sportdesign mascot.  It was such a treat to hang out with them and hear about Victor's race, when he did the Tahoe 200 in its inaugural year.  I'm looking forward to seeing them again when they come out to Texas for the Brazos Bend 100 in December.  I'm also really looking forward to returning a small, small portion of the help I got from Joe by crewing him when he runs the Brazos Bend 100.  Go Joe!
(Note: scroll down for two more reports on Tahoe 200: "Lessons Learned" and "Surprises")

Tahoe 200: Lessons Learned

Here's part 2 in my Tahoe 200 race recap series:

Lessons learned from this race, that could be applied to future long adventures . . . although let's never do another 200-mile race ever again . . .

1. Try out your shoes in advance.  I have used my size 9.5 Hoka Challenger ATRs for a long time, and I've loved them.  So a week before the race, I bought another pair (new model year), as well as a half-size bigger pair, to allow for foot swelling.  And then I wore them for the first time at the race. Hey! Stop judging me, Judgymcjudgealot!  I know how stupid that is.  Anyways, let's just call this a lesson learned, and move on.

2. Inov-8 Debris Gaiters are excellent.  Just excellent.

3. A bivy sack is a must.  I used the TACT Bivvy, $19.97.  It's like a space blanket, but in sleeping bag form.  When it was a damp 40+ degrees at night, I could crawl inside it and get a refreshing 10-minute nap without freezing.  Warning: you'll never get it to fit back inside the cute little bag it comes in.  Don't even bother trying.

4. Carrying rain pants (and a rain jacket) in my pack was a lifesaver.  They kept me warm and dry.

5. Bring a spare bladder, or at least a spare nozzle.  My nozzle sprung a leak, and despite Joe's best taping efforts, it could not be stopped.  I had no backup, so I had to arrange my tube so that it stayed above the level of my bladder; otherwise the water would leak out, making me both cold and wet and dehydrated.

6.  If you're coughing up phlegm, wheezing, and having trouble catching your breath on climbs, you might have pneumonia or pulmonary edema, like the medical director warned me when he heard me coughing . . . or you might be totally fine.  Best to just keep moving and not think about it.  Worrying about it just cost me time, stress, and a couple mental breakdowns.

7.  It's incredibly hard on your pacer/crew to only have one pacer/crew.  Joe is freaking amazing -- starting at mile 88, he would run an out and back, pacing me 5 or so miles, and then run back to the previous aid station, drive the car to the next aid station, crew me there, and begin again.  Who else could do something like that?  It would obviously be better to have a couple crew members, so one person didn't have to do Superman-like double duty like that.  But Joe showed that it can be done!

8.  You can do a 200-mile race on less than ideal base mileage.  I averaged only 47.3 miles per week in July, and 39.62 miles per week in August.  I have had consistent higher mileage for years, which undoubtedly helped, but I was not at all confident in my fitness going into Tahoe.  I was relieved to find that the mix of jogging, hiking, and slogging was doable with my current level of fitness.

Tahoe 200 recap: Surprises

Since the Tahoe 200 took me 91 hours (3 sunrises!  4 sunsets!), I feel like writing more than one race report.  So I'll think of this as more of a series of race reports, to include:
  • Surprises
  • Lessons Learned
  • Detailed Race Report, by Segment

I had no idea what to expect from this race.  I got some good advice, like the importance of gaiters (from Katie Graff) and the importance of sleep (from Ed Brown), and Joe helped me predict the time between aid stations, etc.  But still, as I lined up at the start, I turned to Joe and said, "What have I gotten myself into?"  

Here were the biggest surprises for me from the race:

1. It was impossible to get any sleep during the first hundred miles.  I tried to sleep on a couple different occasions -- at Sierra-at-Tahoe, mile 63, and at Armstrong, mile 88 -- but just laid there, unable to get it done.  I kept thinking, "Sleep would be good.  But I'm just wasting time lying here, not sleeping.  I might as well just get up and keep going."  It wasn't until the Heavenly aid station, mile 103, that I was able to sleep.

2. It was so easy to sleep later on in the race.  Once I'd slept at Heavenly, I could easily step to the side of the trail and take a 10-minute power nap.  I'd wake up feeling fairly refreshed and able to continue, at a slightly faster pace than prior to the nap.

3. I did not have a gel until around mile 190.  I was able to eat real foods (burgers, sandwiches, quesadillas, breakfast tacos) until then.  I only added in gels at Joe's prompting, because I was struggling so much and starting to really fade towards the end, and gels would be quick energy.

4. I thought I wouldn't be able to handle the idea of being out there four nights.  In ultras, nights can be a struggle, and sunrises can be a big energy boost.  I like running at night, but dealing with four nights in a row seemed overwhelming.  Yet, I actually said to Joe at one point on night #3, "This is the last full night!  And then just one partial night tomorrow.  That's not so bad!"  

5. I thought my whole body would be trashed.  My thinking was, if I have soreness and pains during a 50-mile race, surely the pain will be 4 times as much during a 200-mile race.  But actually, during a 200, you're doing a lot of hiking, and the pace isn't as intense as during a shorter race, so I actually had less pain in a lot of ways.  I had no knee pain, quad soreness, or back pain.  Only sore calves and foot pain.  Much, much foot pain.  

I guess one final, post-race surprise is how long it's taking me to stop feeling "out of it."  This morning -- two full days after I finished the race -- I woke up thinking I was still in the race.  It took me at least two minutes of questioning myself, "Is this bed just an aid station?  Do I have to get up and keep moving?  Or did I finish?" before I remembered that I did, in fact, finish the race already. Hopefully taking this time to process the race through writing will help me get my head back on straight.

around mile 128, enjoying a picnic lunch with Joe