Monday, November 20, 2017

Reviewing my running goals: 2017

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Team TROT superstars . . . and me!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Tahoe 200: Detailed Race Report, by Segment

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

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

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

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

Tahoe 200: Lessons Learned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tahoe 200 recap: Surprises

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

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

Here were the biggest surprises for me from the race:

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

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

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

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

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

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

around mile 128, enjoying a picnic lunch with Joe

Monday, September 4, 2017

2nd Annual Whataburger Challenge: Race Recap

Second Annual Whataburger Challenge
Labor Day – September 4, 2017
San Antonio, TX
Race Directors’ Race Report

Over the last few months, several email and Facebook invitations went out to several hundred people for the 2nd annual Whataburger Challenge.  In the end, there were 9 participants.  Nine.  Nine people were brave enough to attempt this monstrous task, which came with a high probability of failure and near certainty of suffering and intestinal misery.  Four of the nine participated last year and for some reason decided it was a good idea to come back; however, missing among these were the top 3 from last year.  This year there would be a brand new podium.
Calm before the storm
Mike Ruhlin, of Austin TX, was the clear favorite after dominating the Taco Cabana Challenge in May.  But hopes were high among the local runners that he could be upset.  A couple of race-day surprise entries included “The Sherriff” Porter and his teenage son Joe – the youngest-ever WB Challenge competitor.  On the other end of the spectrum were “Bleeding” Don Flynn and “Wimpy” Rich Mihalik, both in their 60s, the oldest-ever WB Challenge competitors, and as competitors soon learned, forces to be reckoned with.

Around 8am, the Whataburger manager requested a photo-op with the group, the RDs issued a few last-minute instructions, and the gluttony began.  “Sweet” Chris Russell co-opted the strategy of last year’s winner, Brian “Banjo McNaturepants” Ricketts, putting the fries inside the burger to maximize efficiency; this paid off, as Russell was 2nd to leave the first store.  But it was Scott “Rabber’s Delight” Rabb that headed out first, much to the surprise of fellow competitors.  Joe “Schmo” Schmal was right behind Russell, followed by favorite Ruhlin.  Koepke and the others were soon on the road as well.

Schmal caught up to Rabb after about 3 miles, but Rabb had a shortcut up his sleeve and broke off early to gain an advantage.  Unfortunately he didn’t look at a map before doing this and it cost him a few extra tenths of a mile, allowing Schmal to show up 1st in line at WB 2.
Imagine Schmo's frustration, stuck in this line!
Schmal lost his advantage, though, when he found himself stuck in a long line.  To add insult to injury, the kitchen crew mistakenly put cheese on his double-meat burger.  Schmal would go on to pitifully blame the cheese for his undoing later.  Rabb quickly regained his lead and was first to leave again.  Ruhlin plowed through his double very quickly and was soon on Rabb’s heels.  Russell was 4th in the restaurant and politely brought his pools of sweat outside for a picnic with pacer Sheila.  Upon arrival,  “Wimpy” Rich interestingly went straight to his crew vehicle where his loyal wife Jeanie offered support.  He seemed to arrive refreshed and ready to tackle the next 2 patties.  Flynn, the other “Grand Master” runner, also looked surprisingly relaxed and ready to eat.  Impressively, all but 2 runners were able to put away the #2 combo this year, showing the relative strength of this field.  Young Joe Porter and the Habanero Kid were forced to put their uneaten contents in the bag-of-shame to bring to the last restaurant for weigh-in.

Rabb, Schmal and Ruhlin arrived 1-2-3 at the third Whataburger; Ruhlin took a wrong turn on the way, earning some bonus distance over the 8.0 total miles involved in this contest.  But things took a drastic turn at this pivotal restaurant.  Rabb was continually leaving the restaurant, trying to walk off the discomfort and nausea caused by the 2 pounds of grease in his gut.  Schmal could only take tiny kid-sized bites of the man-sized triple-meat burger, only able to get them down by swallowing them like pills with a gulp of water.  Flynn arrived, followed by Russell, who was done – he declared that ordering a #3 would be a waste of money.  But then Porter and Mihalik arrived and ordered their #3.  When Russell saw Porter order, he knew that he had to pull his credit card out to avoid being one-upped by the Sherriff.  To his credit, he was able to eat enough to edge out the Sherriff by a tenth of a pound.

Meanwhile, outside of the store, the Rabb chronicles continued.  A small crowd gathered to see what would happen.  Finally, came the sound heard ‘round the world – Rabb unleashed a firehose of half-digested bread, meat and fries right next to videographer (and 2016 WB Challenge 3rd place finisher) Tom Bowling’s car.  A literal reversal of fortunes for the race frontrunner.

Wait for it . . . 
Back inside, Schmal was giving up, as Ruhlin was finishing his last fry – the Austinite had again captured an eat-and-run title on the mean streets of San Antonio.  He received a custom plaque, carved by Rockhopper and local artist Edward Sousa.  But the contest was not over.  Flynn and Mihalik were slowly but steadily downing that last burger, bit by bit.  As the clock struck 11am, both men had surged ahead of the younger competitors’ totals and were 2nd and 3rd, respectively, after the weigh-in.

Another successful eat-and-run challenge!  Special thanks to film crew Tom Bowling and Alex Collado.

Podium L to R: Don Flynn (2nd), Mike Ruhlin (1st), Rich Mihalik (3rd)
Wooden plaque hand-carved by Edward "The Hair" Sousa

Official Results
Place
Runner
Time / Food remaining
1
Mike “The Ringer” Ruhlin
2:20
2
“Bleeding” Don Flynn
.36 lbs
3
“Wimpy” Rich Mihalik
.51 lbs
4
Joe “Schmo” Schmal
.63 lbs
5
“Sweet” Chris Russell
.90 lbs
6
Chris “The Sherriff” Porter
.99 lbs
7
Scott “Rabber’s Delight” Rabb
{puke @ WB 3}
8
Joe “The Deputy” Porter
.46 lbs @ WB 2
9 (F1)
Julie “Habanero Kid” Koepke
.83 lbs @ WB 2

Official Whataburger Challenge 2017 video, produced by Tom "Wrong Way" Bowling: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWIS5Nkw_QM&t=2s

Joe Schmal and Julie Koepke, RDs

Saturday, August 5, 2017

DNS

As I write this, I'm seriously contemplating DNS’ing (did not start) tonight's 60k race. It's not just that I've been sick all week, for which I just started on antibiotics yesterday. It is that, to an extent, but also that I'm in a mental/emotional funk that leaves me with no desire to do things I once found fun -- like racing, or even running. My runs this week, for instance, have been slogs of four or five miles, involving many glances at my watch and self-talk to the tune of, “Okay, that's half a mile. Just fifteen more minutes and I can turn around.”  That doesn't inspire much confidence in my ability to run an ultra, much less the 200-miler I'm signed up for next month.

The deal is that Joe and I want to get married -- in the Catholic Church. As soon as possible. We want to start our lives together, and celebrate our love with friends and family. But the annulment process, which began last October, has stretched out far beyond the “three months” we were quoted by the archdiocese. We got engaged in January, and thought surely we'd get news of the annulment being granted by spring, and we could plan to get married in the summer. When we got a letter saying the file was moving to the bond defender at the end of February, we counted that as good news. When Joe called at the beginning of May, and was told the file hadn't made any progress -- it was still with the bond defender -- I broke down and cried. That turned out to be the first of many, many cries.  At the beginning of June -- the file was still with the bond defender. “But you should hear by mid-July, if not sooner,” Joe was told. In mid-July, first “I can't find your file,” and then, “I found your file. It's with the bond defender.”  In the last four months, essentially, it has not moved.

Why does this cause me so much grief? Because I'm not willing to get married outside the Catholic Church. If we did, the Church would view Joe as an adulterer. We would not be viewed as married by the Church. We couldn't receive the sacraments, which we both value so much. I would feel like I were turning my back on my family and the faith that kept my beloved relatives going through the decades, despite the deaths of children, the Great Depression, wars, and other heartaches and losses. So the stress of not knowing whether Joe and I can get married -- whether we can share our lives and grow old together with the person who completes us -- as we wait for this piece of paper that tells us, effectively, yes or no -- is overwhelming.

I want to assure you that I'm trying to keep this in perspective. I have a friend, M, whose husband has had a relapse of cancer that is not responding to chemotherapy and whose mother just passed away after battling Alzheimer's. She and I talked recently about how both of us are finding it hard to trust in God's plan for us at this time, despite our desire to do so. My issues are absolutely nothing compared to the issues she and her family are dealing with. And yet, if emotional trauma is defined as anything that occurs to you that exceeds your ability to cope with it, then what I am feeling is decidedly trauma of a sort. For awhile now, it is seemed beyond my ability to cope with, and beyond my ability to let go and trust in God. Though I keep praying and trying, for sure.

In an effort to make ourselves feel better, at the beginning of June, we decided to do a couple things in preparation, so that when the annulment is granted -- as please God it will be -- we have fewer things on our checklist. We went to the jeweler and Joe bought his wedding band; I had my grandmother’s ring resized and polished. And I bought a wedding dress. Now these things are starting to haunt me. How presumptuous of me to buy a wedding dress when I don't even know whether I'll be able to wear it. Every time I think about this beautiful dress now, it makes me cry. Yep, crying right now. *Deep breath.*

That's one of a few things that should be happy, but makes me incredibly sad. Another is our wonderful friends, who promised us they will throw us a couples shower once we have our wedding date set. And my parents, who are so excited to come down to Texas to attend the shower and celebrate with us. It makes me so sad to not be able to celebrate our love with our friends and family. You know, like normal engaged couples would be able to do. Another thing is the girls, Joe's girls. They were so excited when we told them back in January that we were going to get married. Joe's oldest calls me her “almost stepmother.”  It's that “almost” that breaks my heart. Anytime she talks about that, and how I'll be a Schmal, I think about how much I want that to be true, but how it's also possible that that will never happen. That instead of being part of their family, the Church might decide that we can't get married. And what would that mean? I don't know that I could hang around and just be friends with Joe. And watch as he eventually moves on and finds someone else. And this is where I have to stop thinking about the chain of events. It's just too damn sad.

Maybe we'll find out tomorrow that the annulment has been granted. Then maybe it will seem like all this worrying was for naught. That's what I told myself back in March, then April, then May, then June, then July.  Right now, it seems like it's never going to come. Joe checks the mailbox every day. Every day it's empty, or filled with junk mail.

I want to feel the happiness of someone who is engaged to be married, and gets to set a date, celebrate with friends and family, and make plans. Buy a house where we can live together after the wedding. Instead I'm telling my apartment complex I need to extend my lease on a month-to-month basis. And I don't feel like I could lace up my shoes and go for a five mile run right now, much less a 60k. I hate myself for wallowing in my sorrows. But that just makes me even more depressed.

This is to to say that, for the second time this summer, I might DNS a race that I count as one of my favorites.  I don't know that I can do tonight's race because of a number of things -- physical, mental, and emotional.  But I'll just blame the antibiotics.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

He Said: Joe's account of Bighorn 100

My first 100-miler has to have an accompanying race report, pretty sure that's a law of some kind.  I've resisted the urge to read Julie's so far, so that I won't start "remembering" things differently!

I think she signed up for Bighorn a long time ago - I barely remember her forwarding me her registration email and asking me if I wanted to come along.  I don't think she was actually expecting me to sign myself up for the race, but that's what I did.  For some reason...  The most I'd run in one stretch was 66 miles (thanks to a wrong turn on a 100k last year that added 4 bonus miles), but that was a much flatter course.  I didn't fully appreciate or recognize how difficult this was going to be…at all.

I typically under-prepare for races, and this was no exception.  When we checked into the Airbnb in Dayton, WY, there were 2 hours remaining to get any drop bags to the staff in Sheridan.  So that's when I dumped out my stuff and started thinking about what needs to go in a drop bag.  I settled on: an extra jacket, couple of protein bars, batteries, amino acid powder to dump in my bottles (great placebo effect), and some other crap I knew I'd never use.  That night I thought of several things I wish I would've put in there, but it was too late...didn't end up mattering.

The 10am start meant a lot of sitting around; I think everyone was ready to go after the race brief, but there was a 1.5-hour gap.  The race brief itself included the word "treacherous" more frequently than a Scooby Doo episode, and it almost seemed like they were trying to scare people.  Luckily, I never get nervous before long races, and knowing Julie and I were planning to stick together the whole time put me even more at ease.  She has a calming effect in pretty much any situation, and I love when we run together - we share a similar sense of humor, but we also never feel pressure to fill up every second with talk/chatter when we run, which is nice...and who has 33 hours’ worth of discussion topics anyway?  I was looking forward to a nice, relaxing stroll in the mountains to check off my first 100-miler.

Starting near the back of the pack was a new experience.  Once you get to singletrack, you only go as fast as the slowest person, out of the 300 people in front of you.  Of course, logically, I knew there was no rush, and Julie is a pro at letting people race ahead and mowing them down later.  But I still couldn't stand it.  Why are we walking downhill???  It was mile 3 and we were still sometimes just standing there, waiting for the traffic jam to clear.  After maybe 6-8 miles, we were finally determining our own pace.  Julie led the way, and I followed, as is our practice for singletrack.  The first 7 miles have almost a 4k' net increase in elevation - not easy, but we made it up in good shape.

Mile 30 (Sally's footbridge, big aid station) is where my only drop bag was.  There is some nice downhill in the preceding few miles - I think this is probably the only time I had more than 100 meters separation from Julie all day, as I played around a bit ahead on the gravity-assisted sections here…FUN!

From 30 to 48 is a long, gradual uphill.  This is also about where is started pouring rain.  For the next 11 hours.  So much mud.  I had the chance to pace my friend April at Bandera 100k back in January 2015 (anyone who was there will well remember the muddy conditions).  This mud was much more slippery and shoe-sucky than even that day.  At one point, Julie's shoe came completely off, lodged in mud.  At another point, there was a hill where I wasn't even sure we'd ever make it to the top!  Started sliding backwards and had to grab on to some trees to make forward progress.  It reminded me of my pitiful attempt at XC skiing back in December - there was one hill I eventually had to just crawl up on my knees in the snow, or we probably never would've gotten home that day.

Finally, we made it to the turnaround at Jaws (mile 48) sometime after midnight, and it was crazy with activity inside that tent.  Most people that I spoke to after the race that DNF'd, did it right there at Jaws.  So warm inside, volunteers were so helpful, and it was freezing outside thanks in part to the 9k’ elevation and constant rain.  Julie headed to the port-o-potty to change clothes so I just hung out in the tent to admire the chaos.  I saw Rob, who had just shuttled Jake and Edward out of there.  Everyone seemed to be doing ok according to him, and Julie and I were still at least a couple hours ahead of cutoff, joking around the entire time.  Physically, I was totally fine and having the time of my life, despite the conditions.  Now just head back down, this should be the easy part...

Well, the mud was getting ridiculous.  Julie and I stayed mostly upright in the first half, but were starting to spend more and more time on our butts.  As we approached Sally's again, entering the 18th, then 19th, then 20th hours, my attitude started to turn a bit; I think at this point I was still positive outwardly, but a lot quieter.  The mud was not funny anymore.  I also noticed it was doing quite a bit of damage to our pace.  We were starting to put down some 26-27 minute miles, and you need to average right around 3mph (20-minute miles) to finish before the 34-hour cutoff.  Our 2.5-hour pad had shrunk to 45 minutes.  Somewhere around here we crossed one of those “treacherous” bridges and I wondered silently whether anyone had fallen in yet, off the slippery planks.  No more than 10 minutes after that, Larry came passing by and after we greeted each other, he nonchalantly said, “Well, I fell off the bridge back there.” There ya go.
I finally let Julie know I was getting worried about the pace and said we wouldn’t make it unless we started going faster.  Somehow she immediately, almost frantically, increased the pace by ~5 min/mile.  I'd just calculated that we'd be really close to getting cut off at the mile 82.5 aid, and to be honest, I was looking forward to quitting there.  As Julie somehow got us back on pace, which was borderline uncomfortable for me since it was nearly impossible to actually “run” in that mud, I got even more grouchy.  After mile 66, the 2nd time at Sally's aid, I was improving slightly, but knew the worst was yet to come.
Going up to the next aid station was tough – 2k’ climb over 4 miles.  One of those four miles had half the climb (1000’) in it - took us 35 minutes for that one mile.  Fortunately, there was daylight now and you could sometimes make slightly better decisions about where to place your feet to slip around less often.
We had a funny conversation with the volunteers up there, who had to carry all supplies in with horses, about what to do with your dirty post-race clothes (suggestions were to drop them off at the YMCA or to just burn them), and some rather odd requests runners had made of them.  Ultra-runners really are a weird group of people.
The Dry Fork aid station @ mile 82.5 was in sight around mile 80; it was at the top of a long hill.  We kept seeing people that we passed earlier in the race being driven up that hill in ATVs or Mules, and I remember getting extremely jealous of them, just sitting there, not having to use their legs.  I let Julie know how lucky I considered those people to be, but she was just too damn positive about the prospect of finishing this epically difficult race. Finally, the climb (partially accompanied by Rob again!), we were there.  It was a quick stop, then another climb to the high point on that end of the course.  I was pretty sure we’d make it before the final cutoff now, but I had mixed feelings about having to cover another 17 miles.  A 17-mile run on pavement, with fresh legs, could be done in 2 hours or so. But this would take us 6 hours, since neither one of us could really “run” anymore.  We could kinda make it look like we were running, but it was basically a walking pace. Then tendon behind my right knee was also on fire (a week later, and it still hurts a little to straighten out that leg), but I knew it was not the kind of injury you stop for.  When I ran the Palo Duro 50-miler last year, I did have the kind of injury that you stop for during the last 15 miles of the race (although I was winning, so I didn’t stop of course), so I knew the difference; most of us do.  But Palo Duro took maybe 8 hours for the whole race.  We were now at hour 27.
Julie and I were barely speaking at this point, although we were very supportive of the other when needed.  We were both just so miserable.  After the mile 92.5 aid station, we found out we had 2.5 miles of singletrack, then 5 miles of dirt road back to the town of Dayton.  The Singletrack. Took. Forever.  We skipped the aid at mile 95, and with 2 hours and 20 minutes to go before the cutoff, I knew we’d make it.  I’ve never, ever, experienced the kind of expansion of time that occurred over those last 5 miles. Every step hurt so bad.  I had to stop looking at my watch, because it seemed like 10 minutes would go by and we’d move .03 miles or something, so I just quit looking.  I found out later that Julie was having some kind of panic attack or something and was probably worse off than me, but either she kept it to herself or I was so inwardly focused on my own suffering that I didn’t realize it.  Someone on a bike came by to congratulate us with 1.5 miles to go, saying that most of the Bighorn veterans agreed this was the hardest year ever.  I couldn’t even respond to congratulations at that point – the finish still seemed days away!
Somehow, someway, we made it to the town.  We held hands as we turned toward the park, and walked it in from there, crossing together in 33:16.  I rarely have “emotions,” but they sure tried to come out in that last tenth of a mile in the park.  Hopefully there’s no photographic evidence.
As soon as we stopped, and the tendon behind my knee cooled off / tightened up, I could barely use the leg. Edward, who had also just run the 100 miles, was nice enough to drive us back to the cabin (3 blocks away) since there was no way I could make it.  Even Julie had to go get my drop bag from the collection area – I felt pretty pathetic! Once in the cabin, after showering, I had these weird shivering-but-hot spells.  Felt like my neck and above was hot and sweaty while the rest of my body was freezing – I was sure I had some kind of fever and that the rest of our trip (3 days in the Beartooth wilderness near Red Lodge, MT) was ruined.  But the very-experienced Julie said it would be better in the morning, and it was.  With the help of 2.4g of Vitamin I per day, we were able to put in about 35 total miles of hiking in some incredible places from Monday to Wednesday morning.


Now that a week has passed, of course I’ll be running another 100-miler - probably Cactus.  I will only remember the good parts of Bighorn – the partnership with Julie, and triumphing over adversity.  I never stop growing when I’m around Julie – and these aren’t just lessons in running better ultramarathons, although I certainly get a lot of much-needed help there.  I am just a better person in general with her.