Sunday, November 20, 2016

Highlights of Wild Hare 50M

Rather than a full race recap, here are a few highlights from yesterday's Wild Hare 50-mile race:

1. Getting to run with Edward and share all my Gordy Ansleigh stories from the Texas Trail Camp a few weeks ago, as well as my stories of hilarious conversations with Rob Goyen.  My favorite story: As we're filling the sinks to wash breakfast dishes on Saturday, Rob comes in and tells me, "We ain't got sponges, but f*** it."  We washed all the dishes with paper napkins instead.  I want to be more like Rob.

2. Edward asking me, at mile 10.5, in all seriousness, "This race is three loops, right?" Me: "No, it's seven.  Seven loops."  The horrified look on his face was accompanied by an incredulous, "What?! You're kidding. . . . f*** me!"  Throughout the rest of the race, I kept bursting out laughing as I recalled that conversation.

3. The field portions of the course were dotted with little mini-bridges, consisting of a board across the top, and slanted boards acting as ramps.  At one of these crossings, I was approaching a 10k or 25k runner; the timing was such that if I kept at my pace, I'd pass her right on top of the bridge.  I didn't want to crowd her by doing that, and it didn't cross my mind to lag behind her a few beats until we had both crossed the bridge safely and then pass her (an option that would have cost me only a few seconds, as Joe later pointed out).  The first option that came to my mind was to just skip the bridge and pass her while she was on the bridge. 

Unfortunately, there turned out to be wire beside the bridge -- wire which I didn't see until it had tripped me and I was sprawled on the ground.  I popped back up, with fresh blood from cuts, from the barbs on the wire, and bruises where the wire itself had dug into my legs.  Since there are very few places where one could trip on this course, and lots of soft ground to land on if one did trip, I think I can safely claim "Best Blood" for this race.  (i.e., You can try your hardest to prevent me from falling on my face, but I will make it happen every time.)

4. It was so fun seeing Chris Russell at his usual spot on the back half of the course.  I got to see him at least twice each loop.  (If you crane your neck a bit, you can also see him from afar at a third location as well, since the trail twists and turns so much.)  Early on, Chris assured me that there was nothing to worry about; I had safely locked in first female.  So I took my time, letting Chris lure me into carelessly chatting, as if we weren't in the middle of a race.  When he told me during a later loop that the second female was only 4 minutes back, I was astounded, and totally blamed him (rightly so).  "And you're sitting here, making me talk to you!"  

5. Joe and I had reviewed my times from last year's race, and planned to see each other when I came through the start/finish around 10:10am, which was when I came through last year.  This year, I came through at 10:00am instead, and I missed seeing Joe.  I was hoping he'd show up at the midway aid station or where Chris had stationed himself, so I was so happy to see him the next time I saw Chris.  I forced Joe to give me a hug every time I saw him from then on -- except the time I was startled into realizing that the second lady was only 4 minutes back.  

6. I've been living in sleep deficit this whole week, stressing over my qualifying exam, traveling for work, dealing with a cold, and feeling unfit due to a lack of consistent running and a total absence from the gym for weeks.  So it felt like useful practice in mental toughness during the race, when I was tired and felt like walking, but forced myself to keep going, remembering how blessed I am to be able to spend time in nature, doing what I love, and to have a body capable of running long distances.  I was ambivalent about running the 50 -- I didn't sign up until a few days before the race, because I thought I might want to do the 50k instead and not go through the amount of time and effort it takes to run 50 miles.  But in the end, I'm glad I had the chance to push myself and feel the accomplishment of a good race on a beautiful day.  (Thanks for convincing me, Joe.)

7. Last highlight: the fries at Buccee's on the way home.  Amazing.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Cactus Rose 100 - 2016 recap

This was my 4th straight year doing the Cactus Rose 100.  It was my first hundred, back in 2013, and I think it's my favorite hundred. (Prove me wrong, H.U.R.T.  Prove me wrong!)

Going into this race, I felt like there was a 50% chance of it going well, and a 50% chance I'd end up lying in the middle of the trail in my standard bonk position.  Fortunately, it ended up all right.  Here's a quick recap of my race this time around.

Loop 1 - Steady Pacing
I started this loop behind friends Larry Kocian, Tom Bowling, and Joe Prusaitis, so I had the advantage of getting to hear their great stories, which kept me entertained and comfortable in my pace.  I can't hear Joe's "cricket in the eye" story too many times.  Before we parted ways, Tom gave me the "gift that keeps on giving": he got "99 miles of Cactus Rose to go" stuck in my head with every mile we ticked off together.  Thanks for that, Tom!

When I came through Equestrian the first time, Chris Russell saw the blood all over my legs and asked me if I'd had a bad fall already.  The sotol are that prolific this year, and that destructive!

During this loop, I saw the sunrise from the top of Ice Cream Hill.  Life doesn't get much better than that.

Loop 2 - The Best Crew
The highlight of loop 2 was getting to see Joe Schmal and his wonderful daughters.  They were at Yaya aid station, the Lodge, and then Yaya and Equestrian during loop 3.  His youngest asked how I was able to run up the hills, and I had to answer truthfully: as a rule, I never run up anything a marble would roll down.  I hope this information didn't tarnish her opinion of  me too badly.

Loop 3 - Getting the Band Back Together
Travis Bagwell was my first ever pacer for my first ever hundred, Cactus Rose 2013.  Back then, he practically had to force feed me, and he couldn't get me to do anything faster than a power hike from miles 50-75.  I was really happy to hear him say this time that I'm a totally different runner now than I was back then.  We kept a pretty good pace -- my 3rd loop was actually faster than my 2nd loop.  We were able to catch and pass the first female.  For the rest of that loop, I assumed she was right behind me, but when we got back to the Lodge (start/finish), we found out that she dropped.

Travis held me back from getting too excited and wasting my energy; he is a master strategizer and could probably make a decent living as a professional pacer.  (Hear that, Travis?  That's the business you can start when you and Martha finally pack up and move to Colorado!)

Before Travis left me at mile 76, he calculated how fast I would need to go to break 25 hours, which seemed like a good goal.  He told me, "It won't be easy.  It will be hard.  But you can do it."  That meant so much to me.  He also said that he was going to get a few hours of sleep and then hang around to watch me finish.  Knowing that he was there waiting for me was a great motivator during that last loop.

Loop 4 - Music and Motivation
I enjoyed the first half of the 4th loop, since due to the "washing machine" (clockwise/counter-clockwise) nature of the course, you get to see all your friends that are on a different loop.  It was fun seeing Cara, Jean, Lisa, Steven, Sheila, and their pacers.  After a while, though, there were no other runners on their third loop, and it was just me, the moon and the stars, so I plugged in some music.  Between Kenny Loggins, the thought of Travis waiting for me at the finish line, and the desire to finish as soon as possible so I could go spend the day with Joe, I managed to keep moving at a good jogging speed, through what my Garmin tells me is actually a 102-mile course.

The running goals I wrote down in January of this year were:
1. Get a Hardrock qualifier done - Cruel Jewel
2. Win Capt'n Karls series 4th year done
3. Win Habanero done
4. Sub-24 Cactus nope - 24:23

I didn't meet that last goal, but like Homer Simpson says, "If something's hard, it's not worth doing." Even though I didn't meet that goal, I was able to improve from last year's course PR of 26:35. I'll just have to keep coming back to Cactus until I'm able to break 24 -- or until I build up enough calluses on my legs that I'm immune to sotol scratches.  That would be a great super power.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Race Recap: The Whataburger Challenge

The gang post-Challenge
Race Report: The Whataburger Challenge
Joe Schmal and Julie Koepke, Race Directors

Inspired by Mountain Outpost’s “Chipotle Trifecta” challenge, featuring Jamil Coury and Schuyler Hall, our group of San Antonio trailrunners, the Rockhoppers, recently held a similarly absurd event, with a Texas twist: the Whataburger Challenge.  For those who haven’t had the privilege of eating a Whataburger, or aren’t familiar with the brand, it is a San-Antonio-based fast food chain with most of its locations in the state of Texas.  On the morning of September 5th, 2016, 10 brave, foolish souls gathered together to compete in the challenge of eating a #1 combo (single-patty burger, fries, drink), running 4 miles to the next Whataburger and eating a #2 combo (double-patty burger, fries, drink), then running 4 miles to the final Whataburger, finishing with a #3 combo (triple-patty burger, fries, drink).  Many spectators and supporters also showed up and stayed with the runners throughout the challenge, alternately documenting, heckling, and encouraging participants.

At 8:05 sharp, the clock was started and the gorging began.  Race favorite, Brian Ricketts, took an early lead, finishing his combo before most participants had even unwrapped their burger.  Stony-faced and business-like, he strapped on his Ultimate Direction vest and sped out the door, with a singular purpose in mind.  Other early favorites, Joe Tammaro and Scott Rabb, were next out the door, albeit considerably behind Ricketts.  Fan favorite Chris Russell took off shortly thereafter, along with a group of female admirers, followed by the rest of the competitors.

Speedster Joe Schmal was the first to make it to the second Whataburger; unfortunately, however, the Whataburger Challenge is really more of an eating contest than a running contest.  The second combo took its toll on him, but more on that later.  Rabb was hot on Schmal’s heels, followed by Ricketts.  The first hiccup among the race leaders occurred here, when the friendly Whataburger employees gave Ricketts a triple by accident, instead of a double.  He didn’t notice this fact until he’d already eaten half the burger; at which point, he merely shrugged it off and put it away faster than anyone else could handle their double.  Meanwhile, Tammaro ordered a single (not understanding the rules, which were very clearly laid out previous to the challenge), so he had to correct his mistake by ordering an additional patty.  Even so, Tammaro was second out the door, with Rabb following close behind.  Tom Bowling was still under the radar at this point – leaving the second Whataburger considerably later than the leaders.  Later in the race, his pacing strategy would pay off.

By this time, the elite competitors were beginning to separate themselves from the rest of us chumps.  Schmal, despite arriving first at Whataburger #2, and full of confidence, was barely able to leave under his own power and left the building a broken man.  Other casualties at this location included Jazzy Stallworth-Ratliff and Dave Thomas, who decided not to even order the second combo; Julie Koepke, who pitifully struggled through only a few bites of her second combo; and Sam Scheffer, who made a valiant effort, but also failed to finish his meal.  Of the remaining runners, Russell was DFL at that point, but was surrounded by his typical support group of attractive females, which probably buoyed his spirits and eventually got him through his #2 meal.

At Whataburger #2
At this point, it’s important to mention that one of the competitors, Franz Konczak, has been vegetarian since March; yet, he was willing to set aside his dietary restrictions for the sake of this significant event.  Konczak was able to put away his #2 meal; however, no more solid food would pass through his lips this morning.  Strangely, although he wasn’t up for a third combo, he somehow had room for a milkshake at the third Whataburger.

Up ahead, at the third Whataburger, the real competition was heating up.  Tammaro was the first to arrive, and had a five-minute head start over Ricketts.  When Ricketts walked in, he assessed the situation, ordered his food, and sat down directly across from Tammaro, silently but eloquently communicating his intense desire to win and thereby demoralizing Tammaro into submission.  At that point, Tammaro knew the writing was on the wall.  One hour and forty minutes after beginning this journey, Ricketts ate his last bite, declaring his digestive superiority.  We don’t get many moments in life where we are overcome with pride for a loved one; however, Rickett’s wife, Cindy, had the chance to witness this life-altering moment firsthand, as she was crewing and documenting this historical occasion.  One can only assume she experienced the same kind of spine-tingling pride and joy that an Olympian’s spouse might feel after a lifetime of sacrifices culminates in a gold medal on the international stage.

The struggle is real
Despite being demoralized by his loss, Tammaro pridefully forged ahead, finishing only 9 minutes behind Ricketts.  Afterward, he went outside by the dumpsters, where he earned his second award of the day, Most Puke.  Ricketts and Rabb also endeavored to claim that award, but came up short.  Rabb, to his credit, actually ordered a #3, but could scarcely bring himself to open the wrapper.  By virtue of eating one bite, Rabb took the 4th overall spot.  He would later bemoan the difficulty of the third meal, opining that the food at the third Whataburger was extra dry, and that a single French fry ended his race.

Tom Bowling, despite the slower start, had the most impressive finish.  He blew by Schmal and Koepke, like they were standing still, with about one mile to go before arriving at the last Whataburger.  He would continue his steady push to the finish by spending the next hour slowly picking through his #3.  As soon as he sat down, there could be no doubt that the man would finish what he started.  Bowling would be the final competitor to finish all three meals.  The Whataburger Challenge had a 70% DNF rate, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is a more strenuous event than Badwater and Hardrock combined.  There’s talk of a lottery for next year.

Long after all the awards were handed out, and people started going home, the misadventures of Russell continued.  Crippled by shin splints and calf cramps, as well as a wrong turn which he blamed completely on his loyal pacer, Sheila Ballado Pinkson, Russell could not even bring himself to show his face inside the third Whataburger.  Instead, he headed directly to the parking lot, where his adoring fans hung on his every word as he recapped his arduous journey.

The hype surrounding this event turned out to be well-earned.  Competitors have already started discussing what the next gluttonous competition might entail.  Time will tell . . .


Overall Male – Brian “Banjo McNaturepants” Ricketts – 1:40
2nd overall, 1st Master – Joe “Tater Tots” Tammaro – 1:49
3rd overall, 2nd Master – Tom “Wrong Way” Bowling – 2:39

4th overall – Scott “Rabber’s Delight” Rabb – 15.35 ounces remaining on his #3 meal
5th overall – 3-way tie between Chris Russell, aka The Cactus Kid, Joe “Schmo” Schmal, and Franz Konczak  – ate #1 and #2 meals; didn’t start on #3 meal
8th overall – Sam Scheffer – 5.7 ounces remaining on his #2 meal
9th overall, 1st female – Julie Koepke – 10.6 ounces remaining on #2 meal
DFL – Jazzy Stallworth-Ratliff and Dave Thomas -- #1 meal only

1st and 2nd place winners, along with Rachel, the birthday girl

Awards Ceremony

Monday, August 22, 2016

Habanero Hundred Highlights

Yesterday, at 12:54pm, I finished my second Habanero Hundred 100-miler.  This year, instead of being the only finisher, I was one of thirteen.  Walt Goodson, the first overall finisher, looked so strong!  He beat me by more than half an hour, putting me in 2nd place overall, and 1st (and only) female finisher.  I knew this year would bring a lot more finishers!  It was fun to see everyone out there on the course, all of us pushing ourselves mentally just as much as physically.

You know when you've been through something long and drawn-out and you're too exhausted and over it to rehash all the details?  :)  Instead of doing that, I would like to reminisce about some of the highlights:

Amazing race direction, volunteers, and spectators

Rob and Rachel Goyen like to put on tough races.  For Habanero, they mess with runners' minds by staging it in the heat of the Texas summer, making it 16 loops, and even putting 1/2 mile markers out there, so each mile seems to stretch out for eternity.  The noon start makes it so you're out there in the heat of day 1, and still out there as the sun starts to bake you again on day 2.  You also are more sleep-deprived than usual since you finish the race about 6 hours later on Sunday than you would with a normal 6am Saturday start time.  Finally, on this new Habanero course, you're not even running on a trail -- you're running through a somewhat mowed pasture, with cow shit and random stretches of so much sand you could set up a net and play beach volleyball.

Not kidding about the sand.  PC: Joe Schmal
Despite giving ultrarunners the challenges they so bizarrely seek, Rob and Rachel also do everything they can to help runners persevere through their suffering in order to reach their goals.  They stock the aid stations with everything you could need, they have a great team of medical staff to make sure everyone stays safe, and they think through all the details to make sure each runner has a really special experience.  They even made this sign and placed it at the 6.0 mile-marker.  That made me feel pretty special.

This quote came from a previous conversation, when Rob had asked me what advice I had for runners who wanted to finish Habanero this year.  Having the sign out there on the course was extra motivation for me to take my own advice.

The aid station volunteers were so amazing and helpful.  Becky, Jaime, and the other medical personnel took such good care of us.  Jeremy gave out just the right mix of heckling and encouragement.  And Myke Hermsmeyer, noted trail racing photographer, was seemingly at all points on the course, day and night, capturing moments of joy and (mostly) suffering.  The spectators were also great -- every time I ran into or out of the start/finish, people cheered encouragement.  I never got tired of hearing "Go #1!" and "Go Julie!" It almost made me forget, as I headed out for each new loop, that I still had 94 miles to go, 88 miles to go, 82 miles to go, etc.  (Almost.)

Gator-itas and ice

At the aid stations, the volunteers used a blender to churn out slushies made with Gatorade, which was amazing when we were suffering in the humidity.  At each A/S I'd fill one bottle with ice water, one with Gator-ita, and get ice in my hat and bra.

Foot care

This is the first time I've ever had anyone doctor my foot during a race.  It was just a case of trenchfoot, from the rain, creek crossings, and sweat keeping my feet wet for 24 hours.  I spent way too long at the start/finish A/S at mile 75 getting it taken care of, but my feet immediately felt better with the change of socks and shoes.  That feeling lasted a couple loops before my feet became quite sore again, and probably could have used some more attention.  But who has time for that?

PC: Myke Hermsmeyer

It rained off and on during the night and day, sometimes hard, sometimes light.  There was a little lightning and thunder, and for a few moments I worried they'd have to call the race.  (But then I remembered that we're trail runners, not pansies.)  Honestly, for a lot of the time it was raining, I guess I was a little out of it, because I barely noticed it.  Saturday afternoon started off incredibly humid, though the temperature was only in the 80s -- so it was cooler than last year's race, but I think more humid.  That meant chafing, overheating, and then feeling slightly chilly once we were soaked by the rain.  After I finished, I had to borrow a sweatshirt from Rob, because even though it was probably in the 80s, I had a little sunburn and was just exhausted from the ordeal.

Quality time with a quality person

I would describe this race as occurring in two parts: Before Joe and After Joe.  In case you don't know Joe Schmal, he's a super fast runner, and all-around good guy, who agreed to be my pacer for this race.

Before Joe was all right; it was 68 miles of running pretty well, managing my pace and nutrition, making sure I didn't overheat, saying a couple rosaries, and singing Starship to myself, followed by 6 miles of dragging ass and fantasizing about investing in a Hoveround.  Joe had told me to expect him between 5 and 6am, so from miles 69-75, I kept telling myself, "Just make it to Joe," confident that he'd help me carry on.

From the moment I saw Joe at the start/finish line, around 5:30am Sunday, he anticipated and took care of my every need.  He even took off the tops of my gels for me without my having to ask.  Need I say more?  He told me stories when I didn't feel like talking, he lied to me about how well I was running (Chris Russell's pacing strategy!), and he even backtracked to the start/finish line once when I had forgotten to ask what place I was in.  Occasionally I was good company, for short stretches when I was feeling all right and had the cognitive energy to make conversation, but for long stretches of time, he had to put up with a spaced-out zombie, when all I could muster was grunts and assenting noises as I forced him to walk more slowly than he's probably ever walked in his life.  Yet somehow he insisted that he was having fun and there was no place he'd rather be.  Have I mentioned that Joe is the best guy on the planet?  Even in the midst of the suffer-fest stretches, being with Joe made it fun.

Out for a casual stroll with Joe, mile 99.8.  PC: Myke Hermsmeyer
With three miles remaining, Joe wanted to text our friend Chris Russell and ask for some words of inspiration.  (I was not moving well at this point.)  I asked Joe to call him instead.  It was so fun to talk to Chris -- I could listen to Chris talk forever; he's so fun, such a great storyteller, and has the best voice (which maybe sounds weird, but if you know Chris, you get it.)  While I didn't get the superhuman boost of energy from the conversation that I was hoping for, it was definitely a highlight of the race.

The finishing touches of Joe's pacing: he paced us home, by driving in front of us, because we were all worried that Edward and I would doze off on the drive back to San Antonio.  And then he helped me carry all my crap up 3 flights of stairs to my apartment.

Best joke

On the drive home, Edward told me a joke he'd heard during the race: Q: What did the socks say to the pants?  A: What's up, britches?

Post-race hangout

It was so fun hanging out with folks at the finish line.  I don't know how long we sat there, talking about the race, listening to Rob tell stories from our trip to Cruel Jewel, and cheering for other finishers.  It took awhile to gather the motivation to get up and head to the showers.  After we cleaned off the incredible stink that had settled on our bodies like a second skin, Edward, Joe, and I headed to the nearest Whataburger -- where Edward and I took a long nap in the parking lot after failing to finish our modest meals.  This does not bode well for our upcoming Whataburger Challenge.  Joe, on the other hand (who didn't stink after the race, just to clarify my earlier sentence), demolished a #2 meal, and probably could have put away a #3, but didn't want to cause us excessive shame by comparison.

Waiting for our meals at Whataburger.
Recovery . . .

. . . will entail lots of lying around, epsom salt baths, and no running this week, because Reveille Peak Ranch 60k is on Saturday.  I'm hoping 5 days will be enough to regain my love of running and total feeling in my feet.  At least there's one big thing to look forward to: instead of racing shirtless as he usually does, Joe will be sporting a shirt of my choosing, as the consequence of losing a bet earlier this summer.  It's a good one, and there will be pictures.  

Huge thank you to our Team TROT sponsors, whose kit I used throughout the race:

Nathan (I used the Fireball hydration vest and later switched to 2 SpeedDraw plus insulated handhelds.  I also went through 2 Halo Fire headlamps throughout the night.)

Julbo (I wore the Venturi shades)

Trail Toes (lube)

Victory Sportdesign (I used the Bear II and Cougar I gear bags)

Altra (I wore one pair of the Superior 2.0 for the first 75 miles, and then changed into a dry pair, straight out of the box.  I love those shoes.)

Bearded Brothers (Coconut Mango bars!)

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Mental Toughness: Some Questions

During this morning's run, I was reflecting a bit on mental toughness as it pertains to running and racing.  I thought I'd post some of my questions here, to prompt further reflection and discussion.  I don't have any answers, but I'd love to hear the opinions of other runners, as well as other questions people might have on the topic.

Mental Toughness in Daily Training

  • Surely there is merit in making ourselves do hard things, when all we really want to do is lie on the couch and watch Game of Thrones.  But is it important to practice mental toughness on every run, in order to have it at key times (during races) when you need it?  Or is it more important, long-term, to skip or cut short a run when you're "not feeling it," to avoid burnout and keep your mental game fresh and ready for your next race?
Arya running the Kings Landing 100M (an old-school race with no chip timing or aid stations)
  • Do you have to keep proving to yourself that you have mental toughness?  Is it something you have to practice constantly?  Or once you've proved to yourself that you can push yourself beyond perceived limits, can you proceed with the confidence that you'll always have it, without having to practice it day in and day out?
Dependence of Mental Toughness on our Reason for Running
  • Is it possible to have the mental toughness required for ultrarunning without having a really good reason for being out there in the first place?  And what counts as a "really good reason"?  If your reason for suffering through an ultra is a selfless one, like running for those who can't, or offering up your suffering for an intention, does that give you greater mental fortitude than those who run for a more selfish reason, like personal pride?  Or can those self-centered reasons be just as powerful a driving force?  (Confession: my reasons are mostly self-centered.)
  • Does consciously exploring our personal reasons for competing in ultramarathons increase the strength of our mental toughness?  Or can unconscious, unexplored motivations be just as powerful?
  • If I enjoy racing, and I do it often, will I one day end up like Forrest Gump, with my passion for ultrarunning -- the lifeforce behind whatever mental toughness I have in races -- suddenly and inexplicably gone for good?  Or should I not worry about this, and continue sucking the marrow out of every race opportunity I have, as long as my passion outweighs the pain?

Thinking through these questions reminded me of the reason I started this blog, with the title "Running as Prayer."  My prayer for running has always been:

Let my every footstep be a prayer
of praise and thanksgiving to God.

Sometimes, it literally comes down to forcing myself to take one more footstep.  And then another.  And another.  Along with lots of prayer.  That has always gotten me to the finish line.  I guess prayer is part of my mental toughness equation, along with my pride and the feelings of positive reinforcement I've gotten from previous ultras.  What makes up your mental toughness equation?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Fossil Valley 9-Hour Race: What does it mean to "finish" a timed race?

I remember reading an Ultrarunning Magazine article where Gary Cantrell discussed his race, Big Backyard Ultra.  Here's the description of the race from

The concept is simple. 
At 0700 hours on Saturday, October 15, we will start a race around the 4.166667 mile Big Trail. 
The time limit will be one hour.
At 0800 hours, we will begin another race around the trail.
We will do the same at 0900, 1000, and so on, 
every hour, on the hour,
until only one runner can complete a race within the time limit.
Any runner not in the starting corral for any race, is not eligible to continue.
No late starts!
If no single runner can complete a race at the end, 
there will be no winner.

As I recall the article, it lamented the fact that runners tend to quit before they absolutely cannot go any further.  Some quit because they are just tired or sore and want to be done.  Some quit because they have a preconceived goal of how many miles they want to hit, and once they hit that, they feel like they've accomplished what they came for.  But almost no one quits because they literally can't take one more step.  In fact, I think Cantrell said that letting yourself slow down to the point where you're "timed out" is basically the same as quitting.  

I thought about this idea a lot during my race this weekend: what counts as "quitting" or "giving up" in a timed race?  Is not giving your absolute hardest effort essentially the same as DNFing when it's a timed race?  

I started off the Fossil Valley 9-hour race pushing pretty hard, especially given the heat, humidity, tough nature of the course, and length of time we'd be out there.  Eventually I let up a bit, still running everything but the hardest inclines, but not pushing the pace, in an effort to keep my heart rate down and save something for later.  

As I ran, I kept doing the math in my head: Was I on track to finish 17 loops, like Anabel did last year for the win?  I thought so, but only if I kept my pace consistent and didn't have positive splits.  Looking at my Strava, I was very consistent; each loop was between 31 and 36 minutes (the 36-minute loop included a porta potty stop).  

When I finally got to loop 16, as the sun rose and I ditched my headlamp, I knew the timing would be very tight.  It was about 6:25am, so I'd only have 34 minutes to finish the loop if I wanted to go for a 17th loop.  (You cannot start a new loop after 7am.)  I figured the 16th loop would take me 35 minutes; after all, I was exhausted, hot, and really over running 2.67-mile loops all night.  Honestly, I very much hoped I wouldn't make it back to the start/finish before 7am; the last thing I wanted to do was go out for one more loop -- especially since I was in 2nd place by a ways and wouldn't have any affect on my place by doing extra work out there.  

But then I thought again about what Cantrell's point.  Was I a quitter?  Have I ever quit in a race?  Why would I start now, even when there is not chance of winning?  Is that really the only reason I race: to win?  Or is it that in racing, in pushing myself and testing my limits, I learn more about myself, I become a stronger person, and I define my character?

I ran loop 16 in 31:33, as hard as I could at that point, after 8.5 hours of running through the night.  When I got to the final straightaway at the end of loop 16, I ran as fast as I could, still secretly hoping I wouldn't make it before 7am, but leaving it up to God.  As I approached the start/finish area, David Hanenburg, the race director, yelled at me, "You've got 45 seconds!  Are you going?"  I hurriedly asked if I was still in 2nd place -- I was clearly still undecided whether it was worth it to go.  But David repeated, "45 seconds if you want to go!"  So without filling my water bottle or grabbing any nutrition, I took off, yelling, "I'm going!" as I punched my fist in the air.  The runners and spectators sitting all around the start/finish cheered, and off I went.

As soon as I turned the corner and was in the woods by myself again, I popped what felt like the 20th Montana Huckleberry Hammer gel I'd eaten that night.   Since I had thought loop 16 would be my last, I had stopped eating awhile ago.  I was also out of water, and maybe a bit dehydrated; after eating about 2/3 of the gel packet, I started retching.  My utterance at that time, "F--- this sh-t!"  reveals that despite my heroics in taking off for a lost-cause 17th loop that wouldn't affect my podium standings, I was still not happy to be out there.  But I did still have some Tailwind, and I had my friend Joe waiting for me to finish, so I carried on as fast as I could.  Loop 17 took me 34 minutes, meaning I still ran all of it except those two killer hills.  

When I finished, I did feel a contentment that I gave it my all; I fought to the finish.  I think I feel happier now than I would have felt if I'd just quit after loop 16, before the full 9 hours had expired.  But what does this teach me about myself?  Maybe that I'm very prideful when it comes to risking labeling myself as a quitter.  Maybe that I get a weird pleasure out of pushing myself as far as I can go, and I get positive reinforcement from not giving up.  Maybe that I like to be the underdog and fight for a lost cause.  I'm not really sure.

One thing I do know, is that I need a break from running.  I've raced 3 ultras in 5 weeks, and I've pushed hard at all of them.  That also means that I've pulled 3 all-nighters in 5 weeks, because they were all night races.  I'm feeling a bit burned out and unmotivated.  I told myself during the race that my reward for pushing so hard could be not running all this week.  Isn't that sad, that a runner's reward to herself would be not having to run?  That's definitely a sign that I need a few days off.  Maybe it's a good time to learn how to play Pokemon Go?  

Me and Katie pre-race (Katie ran the 6-hour race and won!)

Monday, July 18, 2016

Muleshoe Bend Recap in Verse

Muleshoe Bend was super fun, as are all the Captn Karl's races. I decided to record my memories of this year's race in verse:

My goals for the race were simple and few
To have fun and smile, sub-7:30 would do.
Wearing my TROT gear, just back from 10k feet,
Hoping I hadn't lost acclimation to heat.

I started to sweat when I shut the car door.
Once the sun sets, humidity will rise more.
To Rockhopper Central I strolled with all of my gear,
And also took photos with TROT mates, who were near.

When the race started, I shuffled in mid-pack,
Struggling with my Achilles, the heat, and calf cramps.
As people ran past, I reminded myself, Be patient:
This isn't a race to the first aid station.

I kept on, no bladder but two bottles instead,
Half to throw down my throat, half to squirt on my head.
Eating every half hour, waffles and gels in the woods,
Taking winding turns and picking up my pace as I could.

Excitement abounded between my music and other features:
Though my iPod buds failed me, I saw many creatures.
A scorpion, a fox, and many small spiders;
A rattlesnake crossed my path, didn't hide there.

Coming into each station, the volunteers were so kind,
But I rejected their sponge bath offers so fine.
One thing I did take up at the suggestion
Was Stefan's to pace me the last 9-mile section.

Running with him, and Ed Brown at times,
Was so fun and made the miles fly by.
Through the one starry section and the many in the trees,
His encouraging words and tips set me at ease.

And when we finally arrived at the finish line,
Chatting with Chris and Brad about mullets at 2am felt just fine.
To chill and chat in the tent as the generator seemed to break,
And watch Joe and Stefan hold up the inflatable was great.

And then, alas, it was time to head --
A three-plus hour drive to Fort Worth before bed.
At 4 in the morning, I left Muleshoe Bend;
Fortunately, 2 more Capn Karl's before this summer ends!