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!

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?