Monday, April 24, 2017

AIP Update: 2 Weeks In

I'm on day 17 of the AIP diet.  Here's an update on how it's going, in case you're thinking of trying it yourself, or maybe are just a weird diet-voyeur.  (No judgment here!)  I'll do it report card-style, because Lisa Simpson is my spirit animal.

Fidelity to the diet: A-

  • I have been eating solely meat, veggies, and fruit.  However, I have made mistakes with spices and peppers, like when I used cumin. (I realized last week that cumin comes from seeds).  I have also willingly eaten bell peppers and little bits of tomatoes, which are also on the "No" list, when they've been served in my food.
  • Whenever Joe and I have eaten out, we've either gone to bbq places or steakhouses, figuring we have the best shot there of finding food I can eat.  (What a sacrifice!  We even had to suffer through a meal at a Brazilian steakhouse last week.  It's been rough.)
  • Speaking of BBQ, I have cheated and eaten BBQ sauce.  That's probably the most added sugar I've had in over two weeks.
  • I've patiently picked every shred of cheese out of store-bought salads, and I've thrown away every crouton and egg slice that's come my way.
  • I've carried baked sweet potatoes and fruit in my hydration pack during long runs, instead of Honeystinger waffles or Gu Chews.
  • I've been in several all-day meetings where they served lunch, and I've either 1) brought my own lunch, aka dried beef, baked sweet potato, and fruit, or 2) scavenged the catering table for deli meat and iceberg lettuce while my co-workers enjoyed sandwiches and dessert.
  • I have ignored the persistent food cravings saying, "Just one Coke Zero won't hurt you.  Doesn't ice cream sound great right now?  That Pop-Tart would really help fuel your run on the Powerlines."*
*Note: Since starting this diet and cutting out all added sugar, I've had weirdly specific sugar cravings.  After taking a shower, I thought my towel smelled like a donut.  During a run, I thought I smelled Diet Dr. Pepper.  At this moment, I'd really like to eat a brown Tootsie Pop.

Calorie management for running performance: B
  • My first couple runs while on the diet, I felt pretty lethargic.  They've improved since then, maybe because I've started eating sweet potatoes, which have 27g of carbohydrates per cup.  
  • This past weekend, I did two moderately long runs: a 3.5-hour run and a 2.5-hour run, both at Bandera.  The first one was a night run, after dinner.  I ate one apple during the run, and felt good the entire time.  The second was a morning run, after a breakfast of vegetables and fruit, and I didn't consume anything during the run.  I bonked hard enough that I couldn't think clearly toward the end, which resulted in this conversation:
          Joe (quoting The Simpsons): "Now, let's all celebrate with a cool glass of turnip juice."
          Me: Have you ever had a tune -- tunip -- tune-up?  What's that word again?
          Joe: Um . . . 

Enthusiasm for continuing on AIP: B
  • After the month-long experiment is over, I would like to continue avoiding grains and dairy and only eating whole foods -- for the most part.  I do miss going to Sammy's for an omelet with Joe on Sunday mornings, and I miss trying out different restaurants (usually carb-heavy ones) during our once-a-week lunch together.  So right now I'm thinking those two meals a week could be the exceptions to the rule.  I definitely will let myself eat nuts, spices, and peppers again without restraint once this experiment is complete.
  • One AIP website I was reading said something like, "Everyone makes mistakes on the AIP diet.  It's nothing to worry about.  But you do need to start over from scratch when this happens."  Joe and I have had fun joking about that: "Don't worry about the report you messed up.  Everyone makes mistakes.  But you're fired; go clean out your desk."  As far as this diet goes, I am happy to acknowledge that I've made mistakes, and happy to try to do better going forward, but there's no way I'm starting again from day one.
Another note: Strength and conditioning coach extraordinaire Phil reminded me that AIP is about eliminating all causes of inflammation from the body.  Thus, he told me, doing 20 miles of hill repeats is not AIP.  That kind of thing causes stress and inflammation.  So the fact that I'm still running, in combination with the mistakes and exceptions I've made in the diet, means I'm not a perfect model of the auto-immune protocol.  And I'm okay with that.  Overall midterm grade: B.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Experiment of one: AIP

On Saturday, I started the autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet.  So far, my progress has followed the usual steps: 1) start diet, 2) post food pic on Insta, 3) talk about diet with friends.  The next step is clearly: 4) blog about diet.

Seriously, though, a couple friends have asked me to blog about the diet occasionally over the next month, because they're interested to hear about someone's -- particularly, an ultrarunner's -- experience.  I figured that's a good idea, in case it could be useful to someone else.  Of course, there's the caveat that we are each an experiment of one; what works for me might not necessarily work for you, and vice versa.  Here's my story so far:

My reasons for starting AIP
For a year or two, I lived a fairly no-grain, no-added-sugar lifestyle.  I was happy eating the same foods (scrambled eggs, smoothies, carrots and hummus) day in and day out, for multiple meals a day.  Then Joe and I started dating, and things became more complicated -- in a good way.  I wasn't going to serve him a smoothie for dinner when he came over to my place, and I surely wasn't going to turn down whatever he served me at his.  And if we took the girls out for ice cream and everyone else was getting one, it would feel antisocial to refuse . . . It was fun, yet from there it was a shockingly quick spiral into eating 1,500 calorie meals at Carl's Jr. on a quasi-regular basis.

Sometime in the midst of this, my doctor went over some lab results with me, and informed me that one marker, associated with adrenal levels, was outside of the normal range, and he recommended that I try AIP.  Naturally, I blew him off.  I'd heard of the protocol from my strength and conditioning coach, who does it occasionally for a month at a time, and it sounded awful.  No grain, no dairy, no hummus?  No thanks.

However, ever since the Lone Star 100 in February, I have felt like I'm eating junk all the time.  I gained about 5 pounds, and I was unhappy with myself.  Some of my runs have felt terrible, and sometimes it's hard even climbing the stairs up to my apartment.  It's difficult to pinpoint the causes of those last two things: I know I've been racing ultras too frequently; I've suffered from iron-deficiency anemia in the past; I donate blood regularly.  All of those things could be factors in my fatigue.  But I feel like I'm doing what I can about the iron, taking a supplement every day.  So hitting the "reset" button on my diet seemed like the next step in getting healthier and hopefully feeling better.  Of course, I could have chosen a diet that involved moderation, but that's actually harder for me than a strict elimination protocol; for better or worse, I'm kind of an "all or nothing" person.  So for the next month, I'm all in.

Learning curve
Going to H-E-B the night before I started the protocol, I wasn't sure what to get.  Fortunately, I had these little cheat sheets to guide me:

I ended up getting lots of vegetables, some frozen grilled chicken strips, avocados, and fruit.  It's been interesting trying new combinations of foods.  I've found I hate plain avocado, but I really like it combined with cilantro, cumin, and salt, served on cucumber slices.  I have a bland enough palate that chicken and broccoli tastes fine.  And I've just realized that coconut milk isn't prohibited, so I'm thinking about reverting back to my old smoothie ways.

1 avocado, 2 tbs cilantro, 1 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp salt
I have had a couple accidental cheat moments already -- eating guacamole that had some ground-up bell pepper in it (oops), using seasoning that had paprika and sugar (oops) -- but those seem like small errors in the big picture.  I'm really trying to be faithful to the protocol, so that it can give me useful information about what foods make me feel better, and which might have a detrimental effect.

Observations so far
Today is only day 4 of the protocol.  Here are some observations I've made over the last few days, with the caveat that I'm not necessarily suggesting causation.

  • My runs haven't been stellar.  They've been slow, and even tiny bumps feel like huge hills.  I've had to stop and walk a couple times.  (Though to be fair, it's as muggy as a steam room here lately, and that could be part of it, too.)
  • I've lost 2 pounds.
  • It takes a lot of cabbage and grilled chicken to make me feel full.
  • I am perfectly happy (so far) eating whole foods and avoiding junk.
  • It is so helpful to have an extremely supportive significant other when making a change like this!
  • I should use a cutting board, instead of my hand.  (Had to Google "How do you know if you need stitches?" earlier today.)  
So that's my story so far.  I'll report back with an update in a couple weeks.  In the meantime, if you have any good AIP recipe ideas, send them my way!

Friday, March 31, 2017

New habits

One of my colleagues at UT-Austin, Dr. Pratik Mhatre, recently published a blog post on Maximizing Mental Agility.  He included a bit about habits, which is a topic I've been thinking about recently.  I'd like to start healthier habits in my eating, exercise, and use of time.

As Pratik notes, "Two things primarily create a habit:

  • Repetition i.e. you just have to do something over and over again to get it to stick.
  • Consistent Mapping i.e. deliberately thinking about your actions on how you want things to be."
I think it's most useful to focus on doing one thing really well, versus doing a bunch of things poorly, so even though I've jotted down about ten new habits I'd like to start, I want to restrain myself and only try to institute one at a time, and give it enough time and repetition to make it actually stick.

In terms of ultrarunning races, I already have several habits -- some good (e.g., reflecting and writing in my journal about how I'm feeling about an upcoming race), and some bad (e.g., not addressing issues such as chafing right away, before they become bigger problems).  One new habit I'd like to start is going back to my lists of what went well/what didn't from a previous race, to make sure I'm learning from my mistakes and not repeating them over and over again in subsequent races.  With a race coming up tomorrow, this seems like a perfect opportunity to begin establishing this habit.

I'll be running the Hell's Hills 50M tomorrow, and I'm not excited about it at all.  I've been having knee pain that's brought my 6-mile training run attempts to a screeching halt lately.  I suffered through a 50M race a couple weeks ago that I should never have entered, as I was drained and over-raced.  But I've committed to this race, and I want to bring points to my team, so I'm going to start and do my best.  At the very least, I can make the race useful by practicing my new good habit.  

So what did I learn from my previous race that I can bring to tomorrow's race?  1) Grasslands was a sandier course than I expected.  I really benefited from wearing gaiters.  The Austin area got a lot of rain earlier this week, and the RD's email said there will be stream crossings.  That could mean mud in my shoes, so I'll pack and wear gaiters tomorrow, too.  2) Perseverance pays off.  At Grasslands, I was moving terribly slow, but I kept moving, and ended up with a 3rd-place finish.  I know that when I start walking, my knee feels fine, so I can definitely finish tomorrow's race, even if it means walking.  I just need to remember, Relentless Forward Progress, and not give up.  3) The 2Toms Sport Shield wipes I used worked great, so I'll be sure to pack some in my vest and use them before and during the race.

"We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit."  -- Will Durant

Ironically, in practicing this new good habit, I've also fed a bad habit, which is reading my work emails and then going off through a rabbit hole . . . Okay, back to work!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Tinajas 100k Highlights

Last weekend, Joe and I got to experience the inaugural Tinajas 100k/50k at Colorado Bend State Park.  That park is the home of one of the Capt'n Karl's summer night races, which are my all-time faves.  The great part about Tinajas is that the 31-mile loops cover many areas of the park we never get to see during the Capt'n Karl's races, and in the daylight, which is key to really enjoying the scenery. ;)
Gorman Falls
Since I can't think of any really good stories from the race, this won't be a super-riveting blog post.  But part of the reason it didn't produce great stories is that everything went pretty smoothly and I never really had any low points.  Whatever made it go so smoothly, I want to bottle up and do again in future ultras.  What follows is my attempt to document what went well, in the hopes it can be replicated.

Lowering Perceived Effort

I wasn't in top-notch shape for this race, but several things helped lower my perceived effort, which helped keep me going pretty consistently:
  • Enjoying the beauty of nature; we had multiple stream crossings, and gorgeous overlooks.
  • Seeing friends on the out-and-backs.
  • Asking myself, "How bad do you want it?" whenever my effort was slacking.
  • Looking forward to seeing Joe at mile 31, 99% certain that he'd won the 50k, based on intel from Jacob Babich at one of the aid stations.
  • Listening to Edward's Simpsons-packed iPod Shuffle: the gift that keeps on giving!  I started listening to episodes mid-way through the first loop, and continued listening and laughing for at least four straight hours.  I'm sure I confused many fellow runners by my seemingly random laughter.  Tom Bowling heard me laugh and asked me if I was sneezing.  Most other runners who heard me probably just thought I was nuts.  The value of those episodes continued even after I stopped listening; when Joe paced me the last 7.5 miles, I recounted many of the funniest lines I'd heard and we got another round of entertainment from them.
  • Listening to music when I just couldn't take any more Simpsons.
  • Seeing Joe at the Gorman Falls aid station, around mile 44, and hearing that he was planning to run with me for the last 7.5 miles.  That really helped me break the rest of the race into manageable chunks, thinking I only had to go to Conference Center 1 and Conference Center 2 without him, and then on to Cedar Chopper, where he'd be waiting for me.  
  • Running with Joe, getting to hear about his race and the conversations he'd had with folks afterward, and laughing over classic Simpsons episodes.
"Look, Daddy!  Todd is stupid, and I'm with him.  Now Mommy's stupid!"

Tinajas, like Cactus Rose (another of my favorite races), is pretty much self-supported, meaning the aid stations have water, but no calories of any kind.  What I brought worked really well for me.  I never bonked, even though I didn't follow my usual method of keeping an eye on my watch and forcing myself to eat 100 calories every 20 minutes or so.  I just kept in mind what Jim Walmsley says, "Eat or get eaten," and tried to stuff something in my face as often as I could.

I prepared a gallon-size ziploc bag for the Gorman Falls and Conference Center 2 aid stations (so I wouldn't have to drive around picking up drop bags after the race), and had 2 sandwich-sized baggies within those.  I packed enough calories for 3 hours from the start/finish to Gorman Falls, enough for 2 hours from Gorman Falls to Conference Center 2, and enough for 2.5 hours from Conference Center 2 to the finish.  Here's what I packed:
  • Little Debbie Nutty Buddy bars
  • Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie cookies
  • a Twix bar
  • 2 Snickers bars
  • about 6 gels (I still can't stomach the thought of too many, after consuming about 80 during the Lone Star 100 a few weeks ago.)
  • a peanut butter/banana sandwich
  • a couple packs of Gu Chews
  • a pack of Honey Stinger chews
  • a box of "Hey Joe" caffeinated chocolate 

We had light rain and temps in the 50s for pretty much the entire race.  Here's what I wore:
  • Nathan Hydration Vapor Howe pack
  • Ultimate Direction women's Ultra jacket
  • arm sleeves from Cruel Jewel (I did not enjoy that race, but at least the arm sleeves are helpful!)
  • Hoka Challenger ATR (the OG model; I've had these a couple years).  With the rocky nature of the course, I wanted plenty of cushion.
  • 2 pairs of socks: injinjis and Feetures (both very thin).  I had wet feet for 14 hours, but never changed socks and never got any blisters.
  • Smartwool sports bra.  I'm not sure it matters what kind of sports bra I use; if my life were made into a movie, it could be called There Will be Chafing.
  • Garmin 910xt; I love that it lasts for an entire 100k.
  • Trail Toes tape (with tincture of benzoin underneath) -- part of my morning pre-race routine.
  • Victory Sportdesign hat -- my fave.
  • Victory Sportdesign Bear II gear bag at the start/finish
  • Lise Plantier also gave me a couple lubricant wipes from Pam Kirby and the Austin Trail Running Company.  Those were really helpful; I need to stock up on them!
The race was so enjoyable that on the drive home, I signed up for the Crazy Desert 100k this Saturday.  Recovering from a 100-miler in 3 weeks is one thing, but recovering from a 100k in one week?  It'll be an interesting experiment.  I'll report back on the results.  One key difference: instead of 50 degrees and raining, it looks like it'll be 86 degrees.  Guess I won't be needing those arm sleeves . . .
Joe and I with our beautiful rocks

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Lone Star 100 Race Recap


This past weekend, I was fortunate to experience the inaugural Lone Star 100 mile race, put on by Rob and Rachel Goyen of Trail Racing Over Texas.  I had been hoping to run it, but had wanted to wait until after HURT before signing up.  Since I DNF'd HURT but was uninjured, I was eager to register.  In fact, I was so eager that I registered for Lone Star the day after HURT, while on a hike with Edward and Joe.  Edward had been training like a rockstar for Lone Star, and was really excited to race it.  Joe had told me that if I decided to do it, he'd be happy to drive us to El Paso and crew and pace me.  Yep, I'm a lucky girl.

Here are my race highlights.

Pre-Race Meal 
L&J's cafe by the cemetary. Boom. During the race, Edward told me that eating so much Mexican food had caused him some GI troubles, but I say, only a poor craftsman blames his shoddy tools. Amirite?

Loop One: Patience
Race start: 5am
Joe, Edward, and I had raced the Franklin Mountains 50k on pretty much the same trails as this race, and that had taken me about 8.5 hours, so I had an idea about how brutal this course was going to be.  With that in mind, I started off super conservatively.  Joe, Edward, Dustin, and I had placed bets on what we thought the finishing rate was going to be, and my guess had been 37%.  (The actual figure turned out to be less than 30%, and that includes runners who took longer than the stated cutoff time of 36 hours.)

By the second aid station, I was in second-to-last place.  I had to swallow my pride as people asked me if I was feeling okay.  They all thought something was wrong, but as I told Myke Hermsmeyer on my way up North Franklin Mtn, I was placing my money on "slow and steady," with the feeling that finishing within the cutoff time would be a win -- and might even be a literal win.  I felt that most of the people ahead of me would end up dropping out.  Thank goodness I was proven right.  But I had to be really patient for that to happen -- about 34 hours and 15 minutes of patience.

Somewhere on loop 1
At each aid station accessible by car, and also at Mundy's Gap, the "highest aid station in Texas," Joe was there to help me out and cheer me on.  He made four trips up to Mundy's over the course of the race, which involved climbing up a long scree field to the top of a mountain ridge.  (While there, he helped out runners and volunteers alike.  He even made a special trip down to get more oranges when the aid station ran out, and climbed back up the mountain with a backpack full of oranges.  He also brought Whataburger for the volunteers who were up there for 48 hours straight.  What a guy!)

Loop Two: Into the Night
Back at the start/finish, ending loop one and about to begin loop two, I changed my shorts, bra, and shoes in the port-o-potty.  I wanted to avoid the terrible chafing I suffered through at HURT.  Fortunately, El Paso is a lot less humid than Honolulu.  But I still had some issues (I must have incredibly sensitive skin), and I wanted to nip the problem in the bud.  Joe helped me add some more Trail Toes tape on my back where the skin was starting to chafe.  Changing from Altra Superiors into Hokas made my feet feel amazing for the first part of loop two.

I saved a treat for myself during loop two: the night before the race, Edward gave me the most amazing gift.  It was an iPod shuffle loaded with audio from Simpsons episodes.  That kept me entertained a long time during the late afternoon, evening, and nighttime on Saturday.  This was the opening scene of the first episode I listened to during the race.  "Are we there yet?" "No."  How appropriate.

Another highlight of loop two was the beautiful moon.  It was full, or almost full, and a brilliant reddish color, with reddish clouds around it.  I risked tripping and falling several times because I couldn't keep my eyes off it.

Loop Three: TGFJ
My 3rd summit of North Franklin Mtn
I picked up Joe for loop three around 2am.  I had worked so hard to be vigilant with my nutrition and hydration throughout the race, in the hopes that I could present myself to Joe in good condition when it was time for him to pace me.  I was still smarting from my DNF at HURT, and from how pitifully I behaved when Joe and Edward paced me there.  After a lot of reflection on what went wrong there, I zoomed in on the fact that I got way off my nutrition.  I'd be just starting a 1,500-foot climb and realize it was time to eat, but I didn't want to stop my ascent, so I'd put it off, thinking, "I'll wait til I get to the top of this climb, and then I'll eat."  After enough situations like that, I think I just got deep into a hole of calorie deficiency, and once that happens, the will to eat anything is entirely zapped, and I just dig myself deeper and deeper.

To prevent this during Lone Star, I made myself eat something every 20 minutes or so.  (This is way more tiring than you can imagine, if you've never tried it.)  Sometimes it would just be some crackers or chips, though, which maybe wasn't as many calories as I needed.  I guess it says something that post-race, I couldn't remember much about the first part of loop three. Yesterday, reflecting back on the race, I asked Joe, "When we started loop three, was I moving okay?  Or was I already struggling?"  He reminded me that right after we started loop three, I insisted that I had to sit down on the bench on the ridgeline for a couple minutes.  "Oh, yeah.  I remember that now."

My lowest point, Joe and I agree, was the stretch called Shaeffer's Shuffle.  That was a much worse climb going the other direction, during loop two, but during loop three, I just lacked any energy at all.  I was so slow-moving.  And I had to sit down on a rock and rest once or twice.  But I had told Joe to tell me every 20 minutes to take a gel (my watch had died before the end of loop two), and that's what we did.  For thirteen hours straight, Joe followed a strict regimen of telling me to take a gel every 20 minutes, and I followed a strict regimen of emitting a moan, taking another gel, and holding my stomach as it immediately cramped.  After a while, even taking a sip of water made my poor stomach cramp.  But I decided that, horrible as the stomach pains were, it was worth it to get my energy back.

Going up North Franklin summit the third time, Joe and I enjoyed watching for the 1st place male and then watching for Edward, who we knew was closing in on 1st place.  We knew he had it in him to win the race.  He looked so strong and focused when we saw him, it was awesome.  We were also excited to see Myke Hermsmeyer, the best race photographer in the world, climbing the mountain again to take photos of our last summit.  As soon as we reached the top, getting my final summit bracelet and leaving a note for Rob, a cold front seemed to move in.  The temps dropped and the winds picked up significantly.  We ran back down to Mundy's aid station, and that's when I started feeling good again.

Leaving a note for Rob . . . NSFW
The stretch from Mundy's to East aid station was my best in that loop, according to Joe.  Then from East to West aid stations, we were propelled along by a tailwind.  The stretch from West aid station to Pavilion was challenging, to say the least.  The winds were now cross-winds and headwinds, and gaining in strength by the minute.  That stretch seemed to last forever.  The only thing that made it enjoyable in the least was Joe's encouraging words.  Every once in a while, he'd say something like, "You're moving really great here," and I'd believe it.

When we finally climbed up to the Pavilion aid station, I knew we only had 1.5 or so miles left to get to the finish line, so I didn't stop, but went right up towards the ridgeline that would take us home.  Immediately, though, I was struck by the incredible force of the winds.  I got knocked down and banged my knee.  I couldn't stand up, the wind was so strong.  I really couldn't see how I'd be able to get myself to the finish line along this ridge.  After crouching on the rocks for a minute, I shouted to Joe over the wind, "It's not going to let up, is it?"  "No."  No, it was sustained and was just going to keep getting worse.  We had to keep going.

For the first part of the ridgeline, we were shuffling in a bent-over state (which was agony on our lower backs).  Then, after a while, we couldn't even get by doing that, because the winds were so strong that we were getting blown over.  So we started moving like crabs, crawling on our butts.  A good strategy for not getting blown off the mountain and dying, but unfortunate that our hands kept landing on cacti, and that my butt is covered in bruises from the rocks.  It is also just about the slowest possible way to ambulate.

Joe took a video of the last part of the descent, when we were lower down, and so didn't feel like we were about to die.  He wishes he could've taken a video along the ridge, when the winds were at their strongest and craziest, but we were both too focused on survival for that to happen.

That final adventure with the wind made the finish even sweeter.  I was so happy to be alive and done, to have survived the race; that meant so much more to me than winning.  When I hugged Joe, my legs kind of gave way, and I got a little teary, and it sure wasn't because of my place on the podium or my finishing time.  It was that he and I got to share an incredible adventure, one that at times seemed impossible to accomplish, and now we get to share those memories forever.  We talked about it afterward, and we both feel that way: we didn't appreciate the situation at the time, but looking back on it, we're glad we got to experience it.  I guess that could be a metaphor for a lot of situations in life.
Survival mode
The finish line was fun for a few minutes: high-fiving Edward, whose incredible hard work in training, brilliant planning and strategizing, and smart and strong race earned him a well-deserved 1st place overall finish; getting a hug from Rob and Rachel; getting photos taken by Myke; getting wrapped up in a blanket by Rob.  But the winds were not dying down, and we were all chilly, so Joe and I hightailed it to the car as soon as possible.  And took this selfie.  I love it, because it's us in our natural state: dirty, exhausted, exhilarated.

Until the next adventure . . .

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Ka'au Crater Hike

Of the eight or so amazing hikes we did on our recent trip to Oahu, Joe and I agreed that the Ka'au Crater trail was by far the best -- in fact, we both think it's the best hike we've ever done.
Start/finish of the trail, and location of marriage proposal
The sign at the start of the trail seemed a little sketchy, and the first steps of the trail involved a rope, which foreshadowed the adventure to come.  According to Joe's All Trails app, the trail is 4.5 miles.  It turned out to be more like 6 miles -- 6 very slow miles.  Our fastest mile took about 29 minutes, and we had one mile that took us more than an hour.  The total elevation gain was 2,300 feet.

The beginning stretch was fairly flat and took us through what looked like a prehistoric forest, with huge trees and beautiful vines hanging down.  It was rooty and muddy, and we followed along the singletrack beside some old pipes.  (This was an opportunity to continually quote The Simpsons: "What the hell is this, some kind of tube?")  We passed by a group of twenty-somethings who were talking about their hostel and their trips to Africa and other exotic places.  Then all of a sudden, we found ourselves following a stream, and it was pretty clear we'd lost the trail.  We decided to keep going along the stream, because that was the general direction we wanted, and then we came to a pool beneath a small waterfall.  We didn't want to backtrack, so we swam through the pool and climbed up the waterfall.

[Joe's note after reading this post: "You should tell them how I made you go in first and test how deep it was.  Say something like, "Heroically, Joe had me go in first to test the water level."  Okay, Joe, done!]

Anyway, after we climbed up from that waterfall, we soon came to an awesome waterfall we could go sit behind.  That's where the twentysomethings caught up to us, and we took a picture for them.

After we left the kids behind, we pressed on, and never lost the trail again, and we were virtually all alone on the trail.  That was the first in a series of three big waterfalls we passed.  We climbed along the side of the second one, and we got to climb straight up the third one.  (Video here.)  We were thankful for the ropes that had been placed in all the tricky spots by an older guy who called himself Uncle Joe, who Joe had met at the HURT 100 race the previous weekend.

After the waterfalls, we climbed up to the rim of the volcano crater.  It was surreal to pop out of the jungle and see the flat plain of the crater below us.  On the near side of the crater, we were in the clouds, and it was windy and drizzling.  At one point, it seemed like it was raining upwards at us.  Climbing around the crater involved a lot of rope-assisted climbing until the halfway point, and then a lot of butt-sliding down steep, muddy ridges.  (Videos here and here.)  The trail made a lollipop shape around the crater, and once we got about halfway around, the clouds started clearing, and we could see the beautiful views of the mountains, the city of Honolulu, and the Pacific Ocean.  We kept marveling at how anyone could have installed the powerlines we saw at the top.

Butt-sliding down the ridge, in the clouds

Every once in awhile, we'd joke about our "blistering pace" ("Wow, that last mile was sub-sixty minutes!") and marvel about how incredible this hike was, and how we might never in our lives find anything to top this adventure.

We had no idea the hike would take as long as it did, so while I had enough water, I had only brought the one energy bar that we split at the second big waterfall.  We hadn't had lunch, although we had some excellent shave ice in between our morning hike (Koko Crater) and this hike.  I was starving, and before we started our descent from the ridges around the crater, I asked Joe if we could split the granola bar he'd brought.  He generously gave me the whole thing, which I was super grateful for.  Then we headed back down into the jungle-like, rooty singletrack, which rejoined the trail we'd started on.  Joe says it was around this point, with less than an hour left in the hike, that he decided to scrap his plan to propose later that night and propose when we got back to the trailhead instead.  We were enjoying the most adventurous, beautiful, strenuous hike we'd ever been on, and we were stinky and filthy with mud from head to toe.  He said this was more true to "us" than a fancy hotel dinner would be (although we did enjoy a fancy hotel dinner later that night to celebrate).

When we were almost at the trailhead, I delayed us a little bit by attempting to wash a layer of mud off in the stream.  It didn't work so well, and right before we got back to the trailhead, Joe looked back and commented, "Now it just looks like you have diarrhea running down your legs."  I responded, "Yeah . . . looks like" and we both laughed.  If I had realized that Joe was about to propose in two minutes, I would have joked with him about making the least romantic comment possible in what would typically be the most romantic situation.

Another funny thing was that Joe reached the trailhead a couple seconds before me, since he was ahead of me on the trail at that point.  I didn't know what he was planning, so I called ahead, "Can you take a picture of that sign at the top?  The one that says it's an unmaintained trail or whatever?"  Joe obligingly turned on his camera and tried to take a picture.  He just got his GoPro right before the Hawaii trip, and he's still working on mastering it, so he accidentally took a video of the sign, and you can hear him ordering, "GoPro Camera mode" in a frustrated attempt to use the voice command.  I asked him to save that video forever.  It's pretty funny.

Finally he was able to take the picture I requested, and then before I could walk away toward where we'd parked the car, he gave me a side-hug and said, "So I was going to do this later at the fancy hotel, but I decided this is more 'us.'"  Then he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him.  Since he hadn't planned the proposal this way, he didn't have the ring, and we joked that that level of preparation was also appropriate for us.

Another detail that's fitting for our personalities is that instead of buying a ring, we're using a ring I already had, because we'd rather spend our money on experiencing more adventures together than on something that, like as not, I'd probably lose anyways.  Later that afternoon, he showed me what he got instead of a ring: he started a savings account for us labeled "Julie and Joe's Australia Vacation."  He put the money he would've spent on a ring in that account, and he set up an automatic transfer to keep adding money from each paycheck.  We're hoping to have enough to go sometime in 2018.  Australia has always been my dream trip, and I still can't believe that it's actually going to happen.

I don't know if we'll ever be able to top the adventure we had at Ka'au Crater, but it'll be fun to spend a lifetime trying.  We're also looking forward to coming back and doing this trail again next year and more times in years to come, because it will hold an extra special place in our hearts as the site of our engagement.

Back at the Air bnb right after the hike and proposal

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

HURT 100 race report, or Why I'll be entering the HURT lotto again next year

This past weekend, I tried to race the HURT 100.  My boyfriend Joe and my good friend Edward came to Hawaii with me to crew and pace me.  Our friend Jessica, who lives in Oahu now, also came out and crewed for me, which was awesome.  I owe every happy footstep during the race to these guys.  I made it to mile 67.5, which counts as a 100k "Fun Run" finish.

I thought I knew what "hard" meant.  But HURT redefined that term for me.  Like I said to my crew during the race, it was exactly what I signed up for.  The course was brutal, the views were spectacular, and the people were beyond wonderful.  It was so cool to be on the course and experiencing the race that I'd watched online, read about, and tried to enter multiple occasions.  This time around, it was more than I was capable of doing.  But for whatever reason, I'm not leaving Hawaii crushed; I'm actually even more excited to try this race again -- and again -- until I can finish it.  (And maybe more times even after that.)  Bonus: Both Joe and Edward are excited to enter the lotto and run the race also, and we've made a pact that no matter which of us gets in, we'll all come back to Hawaii to crew and pace them.

I can't really do this race justice in a race report, but I'll try to jot down some highlights.  If nothing else, hopefully re-reading this again next year will help me learn from this experience and have a more successful race next year.

Pre-Race Meeting
Pre-Race meeting near the start/finish (Nature Center)
The highlight of the pre-race meeting was the "blessing of the race bracelets," where we each dipped our bracelet into a bowl of water, which would supposedly increase our chances of finishing.  I knew I could use any luck I could get!

The race directors also mentioned the especial need for hydration vigilance.  They recommended runners drink 32-64 oz of water between each aid station.  They said the vog (volcanic fog) present in the air would result in increased dehydration.

Race Start
Before the race, the race directors had us hold hands with our fellow runners and stand in silence, listening to the water flowing in the stream under the bridge.  It was very peaceful.  Then the guy next to me asked a runner with a huge ultra-beard whether he had a separate bib number for his facial hair.

Loop 1
It was so fun seeing the course the first time.  The roots were beyond crazy.  I never found them annoying during the race, though -- even the section where the trail was entirely made up of roots, along the side of a cliff.  I thought it was pretty fun.

Photo credit: Ultrasignup

I took a wrong turn on the first loop.  I was on the third and final leg of the loop, and a lady with a French accent who was hiking along the trail saw me turn right when I approached a gate.  She asked, "Aren't you supposed to follow the orange flags?"  I said yes, and kept going.  After about a tenth of a mile, I realized, "Wait, was she trying to tell me something?"  I wasn't sure what to do, so I pulled out the turn-by-turn directions from my vest.  They clearly stated that on the orange leg, you have to go through two gates.  I was so thankful to that lady, who reminded me of Lise Plantier, that I kept thinking I should message Lise after the race and thank her for saving me on that loop.  And then I had to keep telling myself, "That wasn't Lise!"

Just beyond those gates was my favorite part of the course.  During the daylight (so during loops 1 and 2), the views to my left were breathtaking.  I've never run in such a scenic place before.  We ran through so many different landscapes: bamboo stands, jungle, ridges with ocean views, huge tropical pine trees...  The tropical bird sounds were fun, too.

I did loop 1 in about 6:10, I think, which wasn't a good sign in terms of making the 36-hour cutoff.  (There are 5 loops.)  Each loop has three big climbs of about 1,600 feet apiece, which equals an elevation gain of about 24,500 feet total.  On each climb, I lost my will to live a little bit, and then as soon as it leveled out for a bit, I quickly regained my appreciation for the beauty around me and truly enjoyed being in the race.

Loop 2
I slowed a bit in loop 2, but I felt pretty steady.  I felt like I was eating enough.  The aid stations were the best stocked I've ever seen, and the most convenient and hygienic.  All the food was labeled with fancy placards, and most items were packaged in single-serving ziploc bags, so you didn't have to worry about insects or unwashed hands touching your food before you could.

Each time I saw Nikki Kimball on the course, I was amazed by her positive attitude.  I've seen the documentary about her, and I've read so much about her, I felt a little starstruck.  She was never in first place, but she was always cheerful and chatting with those around her, and she said "Good job!" to me each time we crossed paths.

It was so wonderful seeing Joe and Edward (and then Jessica too) at each aid station.  That was definitely motivating to me whenever I was feeling tired.  By the time I saw them at the end of loop 2, the sun had set.  At Nu'uanu aid station before the last leg of loop 2, Joe reminded me that he'd be able to pace me on loop 3.  (Pacers can start at mile 60 or at 5pm Saturday, whichever comes first.)  Joe would take the first 2 legs of loop 3, and Edward would take the 3rd leg of loop 3 and all of loop 4 (assuming I'd make it that far).

Loop 3
It was great starting loop 3 with Joe.  There's a 1,200 foot climb right from the start, and we were in the dark, but I was still moving okay.  At some point during that first leg, though, I started really slowing down.  I thought I was taking in enough nutrition and hydration, but I think I really started slacking in both, and got behind.  I started feeling exhausted and light-headed.  The only thing that cheered me up and energized me a bit was hugging Joe, so I did that a lot.  Joe estimates I hugged him about "a dozen or so times" in the 15 miles he paced me.  A couple times when I felt really dizzy for a second, it would be along the side of a cliff, which was really scary.  I sat down for a couple seconds each time this happened.

After two legs with Joe, Edward took over pacing.  Edward had some good jokes, which were helpful.  My favorite: "What's brown and smells like red paint?"  Answer: brown paint.  Unfortunately, by the time I picked up Edward, my energy levels and well-being had sunk even lower.  He had to negotiate with me to get me to eat any food.  He'd hand me something and tell me to eat it, and I'd walk with it in my hand for 5-10 minutes until he forced me to take a few bites.  At some point, I started moaning.  Then I started talking to myself, saying "Okay, okay, okay, okay," and "Go, go, go, go," over and over.  Poor Edward commented that he should make a soundtrack of the race, and that he'd never let me live this down.  I asked Edward whether I had to start worrying about cutoff times, and he told me to just keep going and not worry about it; Joe would do the math for us.

Even if I wasn't physically feeling well, I always thought I'd be able to keep a positive attitude; to keep smiling, and find joy despite the suffering.  I'm probably most disappointed in myself about the huge pity party I threw during loop 3.  I kept saying "Good job" to fellow runners, and I think I was still polite to my pacers and crew, but I was miserable and whiny.  I definitely didn't achieve my goal of smiling throughout the race.  I hope I can learn from this and practice finding joy in the future, regardless of circumstances.

Loop 4
When I finally made it back to the start/finish (Nature Center), I handed Joe my pack and asked him to refill my bottles while I went to the bathroom.  As I said this, I could tell from the look on his face that there might not be a point.  I asked him, "Wait -- is there a point?"  He said, "Just go to the bathroom.  We'll talk about it later." 

As I sat there peeing, I already knew what he'd say.  And I was remarkably okay with it.  I guess the suffering out there had taken a toll.  And I really couldn't imagine how I'd be able to get through 40 more miles of the HURT course.  That's not to say that I wasn't terribly disappointed in myself, though.  I really had thought I'd be able to finish.  My goals for the race had always been to finish, and finish smiling.  When I came out of the bathroom and Joe told me that loop 3 had taken me 9 and a half hours, and that I'd have to do the next two loops in 6 and a half hours each (even quicker than I'd done loop 2, when I was feeling good), I knew it was over.  He said as much, but said that I could still finish the Fun Run distance.  So I got ready to go out.  Edward made me take a 12 minute rest, lying down on a cot, before I continued.  He thought it would reset my mind.  I didn't sleep at all, I was just gone mentally and exhausted physically.  But I laid down like he insisted, and then I got up, changed my shoes, and took off for a final leg with Edward.

On that leg, I was in a much better place.  I had eaten a bunch at the Nature Center, and rested a bit, and was wearing fresh shoes.  And I no longer had the despair of wondering how on earth I'd be able to get through so many more loops, so many more climbs, so many more miles.  The "finish" -- the end of my race, and my suffering -- was now within reach.  7.5 miles, 1 huge climb, lots of tricky roots and rocks, and then it would all be over.  It was kind of sad each time we crossed paths with other runners, whose 100-mile finish was still possible, and I kind of felt like a fraud when they would tell me "Good job."  But when we got to Manoa Falls for the last time, I stopped to take a last look, and admire the beauty of it.  And Joe was there to meet us, and we all three ran from the falls down to the Paradise Park aid station, where I told the captain I was dropping.  As befits their pirate theme, they had me walk the plank since I dropped there. 

So I didn't achieve my goals of finishing smiling, but at least I finished "my race" -- the 100k -- smiling.  And hopefully I've learned things that will help me be a better runner and human being in the future.

Post-race banquet
There's a really nice banquet held at the Mid-Pacific Country Club the Monday night after the race.  It really feels like HURT is one big family -- ohana -- and it was nice feeling like all three of us are part of that family now.  Attending the banquet increased my desire to come back and try again in the future.  At the banquet, they had printed lists of 100 mile finishers and 100k finishers.  Of 126 starters, 42% finished the 100 mile race.  33% didn't even make it to the 100k distance.  As the race motto states, "We wouldn't want it to be easy."  And this wasn't even a muddy year!