Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Race Recap: The Whataburger Challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Awards Ceremony

Monday, August 22, 2016

Habanero Hundred Highlights

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

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

Amazing race direction, volunteers, and spectators

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

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

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

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

Gator-itas and ice

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

Foot care

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

PC: Myke Hermsmeyer

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

Quality time with a quality person

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

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

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

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

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

Best joke

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

Post-race hangout

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

Waiting for our meals at Whataburger.
Recovery . . .

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

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

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

Julbo (I wore the Venturi shades)

Trail Toes (lube)

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

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

Bearded Brothers (Coconut Mango bars!)

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Mental Toughness: Some Questions

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

Mental Toughness in Daily Training

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 24, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 18, 2016

Muleshoe Bend Recap in Verse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 25, 2016

A Short Memory

A while back, my Airrosti doc, Nick, said something that gave me pause.  It was during a conversation that went something like this:

Nick: That was pretty stupid to go for a second run when you didn't feel great on your first run of the day.

Julie: Yeah, well, I've learned my lesson now.

Nick: Hmm.  You seem to have a pretty short memory for lessons.

Ever since that conversation, I keep thinking about what lessons about ultrarunning I've learned over the years, that I maybe need reminding about.  Since March 2013, when I ran my first ultra, I've run 40 ultras, with no DNFs.  A few of those races went really poorly, some went pretty good, and a few went great.

You'd think in that time I would have gained enough experience to not make stupid mistakes anymore.  Maybe if I spend a little time reflecting, it will help me avoid making the same mistakes in the future.  So here goes:

What lessons have I learned from running 40 ultramarathons in 3 years? (in no particular order)

1. Eat often -- trickle in the calories.  If you're really feeling low, start eating 1 gel every 20 minutes.
2. Drink to thirst.  Drink something with electrolytes, or eat something salty when you crave it.
3. Carry just as much as you need.  Ditch unnecessary items; run lighter if possible.
4. Pack an extra headlamp just in case.
5. Start conservatively.
6. As you approach an aid station, think through what you'll do there.  Come up with an easy mnemonic device to remember it (e.g., Water, Ice, Sunscreen - WIS), and then do just that.  Don't waste time at aid stations.
7. Wear two thin layers of socks to prevent blisters.
8. Preventatively tape and lube any likely chafing areas.
9. Get lots of sleep.
10. Take your resting heart rate every morning before getting out of bed.  If it's unusually high, consider taking a rest day.
11. Don't overdo it with new ideas (e.g., Yeah, running barefoot sounds great!  I'm going to go run 6 miles barefoot, even though I never usually run barefoot! -- actually happened, 1 week before a race)
12. Take time to reflect on your goals for your race, and how you feel, before the race.  (I use a journal.)
13. Music is a great energizer when you're racing through the middle of the night -- but only keep 1 earbud in, for safety.
14. During hot races, put ice everywhere.
15. More isn't always more. (Okay, still working on learning this one.)
16. Strength training and core work is great.
17. Caffeine pills are super helpful during long races.
18. Foam roll every day.
19. Massages can be really helpful, if you go to the right person.
20. Don't eat guacamole right before a hot night race.
21. You can carry a to-go cup of food in your sports bra for on-the-run nutrition.
22. You usually don't need to change shoes in an ultra, even in a 100.
23. Ultras are amazing and wonderful, and we're so blessed to be able to do them, but really, it's a pretty silly activity, running around in circles in the woods. So smile!
24. Being injured is terrible, but there are always ways to cross-train, and everyone's been there.  You'll get through it, too.  Look to positively-minded injury-role-models, like Emilie Forsberg, for inspiration.
25. Keep your car keys in your drop bag . . . or in a zippered pocket.
26. If things aren't going your way (even if it's just that someone is using you as a pace rabbit and it's annoying), just try to find the good in it, and trust that it will work out for the best in the end.
27. Driving home from a race, pull over and take a nap if you get sleepy.
28. In ultras, the race doesn't begin until the half-way point, at the earliest.
29. If you relax and just have fun, you'll be able to run longer and race harder at the end.
30. Don't drink two cups of black tea before a race.
31. At least 80% of your running should be "easy."  20% should be "hard" -- and races count for this.
32. Maffetone training helps with ensuring your easy runs are easy.
33. When you're running a multi-loop race, you need to be  your own sports psychologist in order to not go bat-sh!t crazy.
34. Plan ahead to find a church near the race, with a Mass time that works before or after the race so you don't miss church.
35. Don't eat gas station pizza, ice cream, and chicken salad sandwich all at once after a 100-mile race, no matter how hungry you think you are.  (Eat the pizza and ice cream; skip the sandwich.)
36. Rotate your running shoes.
37. Keep sunscreen in your drop bag, and keep reapplying.
38. For a 100k or 100-miler, put a Wisp in your hydration pack so you can brush your teeth in the middle of the night.  You'll feel like a new person.
39. Keep a cheat-sheet of the aid stations in your pocket, in a ziploc bag, so you always know how far to the next aid station.
40. You are capable of so much more than you'll ever know.

Great, now if I could just remember to do all those things.

Monday, June 6, 2016

North Fork 50 Mile Race

The Trail Sisters recently posted an article about the value of race reports.  I agree with them that the value lies both in sharing potentially helpful information about racing, as well as in providing a means of self-reflection for the race report author.  Writing a race recap helps me process what went well, what I could have done better, and how I feel about my performance.  It might sound silly, but I really don't immediately know how I feel about a race.  For instance, right now, three weeks after Cruel Jewel, I'm still not sure whether I should feel happy, disappointed, proud, etc. about that race.  So here's my brief attempt to capture the highlights of last weekend's race in Pine, Colorado and do some of that mental processing.

Me and Don, at packet pick-up on Friday

The Course

The race begins with a nearly 1,000-foot climb.  From there, it's a lot of up and down, taking the 50-milers to a high of about 8,400 feet at the turnaround.  50-milers start with the 50k-ers and don't separate until around mile 16, at which time we did an 18-mile section before rejoining the 50k course.  The trails were occasionally single-track mountain bike trails, sometimes double-track, and sometimes jeep road.  There were some rocks and roots to watch for, and a few trees blocking the path, but mostly the surface was sandy and gravelly, so not technical.  Some areas were through pine forests, with little to no underbrush, alongside cold, babbling streams.  Other sections took us through burned-out areas, where you could see all the way to snow-capped peaks in the distance.  It was just a gorgeous course.

Positive Self-Talk

I've been watching the TV show Boundless, which follows a group of endurance athletes as they test their mettle at races around the globe.  I've been impressed by Rory Bosio's use of positive self-talk to get her through low points in races and turn things around.  I tried to focus on that during the race. For example, I've been having some Achilles issues, so during the race, when it was hurting badly, I said to myself, "Well, at least it's still attached."  That, plus four ibuprofin, really helped the situation.

Uphill Battles

I took the first big climb very conservatively, because I was worried about how the altitude would affect me; I've never done a race that went over 3,000 feet above sea level before, much less 8,000 feet.  But after that, I quickly realized that a strategy of hiking every uphill was not going to cut it in this race; I'd be walking half the time.  So I began a strategy of counting my steps.  I told myself I'd count 120 steps of running up the hill, and then I could walk for 60 steps before starting to run again.  I followed this general strategy throughout the race, although oftentimes I would keep running past the 120-step mark, because I'd feel good enough to go a few more steps, or because I had already made it to the top.

Elevation (Non)Issues

I don't know how much the elevation affected me during this race.  It's true that I was a bit more breathless and felt like I had a higher heart rate, especially on inclines, than I normally would.  However, there are other factors that could have contributed to this, including the heat, the fact that I just ran Cruel Jewel 100 three weeks ago and might not be fully recovered, and the fact that I've been running really inconsistently for the past month or so, due to some SI joint issues, tapering, and recovery time.  I didn't have any headache or stomach issues, and I had a pretty decent race time, so all in all I'd say my fears about the altitude were unfounded.  This makes me eager to try a higher-elevation race sometime soon.

Aid Stations

The aid stations had ample gels, in as many flavors as you'd like, as long as you only like 3 flavors.  I made use of those, as well as plenty of cut-up Paydays, Chips Ahoy cookies, Coke, water, and a purple drink that Edward later told me was Gu Brew.  Whenever I came to an aid station, I'd just ask them to fill one bottle with water and one with purple drank.  [Don't do drugs, kids.]  One time when I came into an aid station, I was a little foggy, so my request came out like this: "One purple and one [Think, brain. White? Clear? Oh, yeah --] water, please."  


Race day was picture-perfect: warm (70s), dry,with  sunny skies.  During our entire trip, Edward and I commented on how it felt hotter than the temperature would lead us to believe.  Maybe it's due to the elevation.  Anyway, it felt really warm during the race.  I was carrying two 12-oz bottles in my vest, as well as an empty bladder, "just in case."  The only time I needed more than what was in my bottles was during the stretch from mile 22 to mile 27, which I ran with Edward.  I realized I was getting low on fluids, so I started rationing.  Then I ran out, with about a mile and a half left to the aid station.  When I got there, I noticed they didn't have any cups out with soda -- they had cold, full cans set out.  I think my eyes got really wide with excitement as I greedily grabbed a cold Coke.  I chugged an entire can and then ran out of the aid station.  Miraculously, it didn't cause any stomach issues.  It was the best Coke I've had in my life.  I felt much better after that, and bonus: it made me stop and pee, at which point Edward caught up to me.  Hey Coca-Cola execs: How about this for a new slogan?  "Coke: Reuniting running buddies through diuretic properties since 1892."  Okay, it needs finessing, but that's why they have a marketing department.  

Unnecessary Signs

Between miles 22-27 and miles 27-32, the trail winds near a gun range.  It sounded like people were firing canons or Howitzers.  Signs read, "Gun range nearby.  Stay on trail."  No need to tell me twice!  It was during this stretch, on the way to the mile-32 aid station, that I lost Edward to the lure of a cold stream.  

Mountain Bikes

Being that it was a gorgeous weekend -- it sounded like it was the best weather they've had yet this year -- there were tons of mountain bikers out on the trails.  They were very considerate and even encouraging to the runners.  They were also a good source of entertainment.  Here was the best mountain biker conversation I overheard:

Dad to kid, during a descent: "Look where you want to go!"
Kid to dad: "I'm looking.  I don't like my options!"

High Point
Coming towards the mile 38 aid station, I was running well and passed 3 ladies and a guy or two in quick succession.  I sped through the aid station and enjoyed a stretch of about 3 miles of downhill running.  That felt great.  Then the trail flattened out, and the last mile seemed to take forever.  I kept expecting the aid station around every bend, but no dice.  The thing that kept pulling me along was Light-Blue Shirt Guy (LBSG), who I could see half a mile ahead of me.  When I pulled into the 42-mile aid station, he was there, getting ragged on by his friends, the volunteers, who had been at a bottle of whisky all day.  They were encouraging me to drop him "like a bad habit," and telling him to "Stop f---ing around with your vest and go already."  LBSG didn't seem too amused.

Low Point
Those aid station workers told me what I already knew from studying the course info online: the next stretch, miles 42-46, included a 3-mile climb.  I dreaded it, and headed out prepared to powerhike most of it.  Maybe due to that expectation, I felt very low in energy, and let myself hike a lot, chatting it up with LBSG until I did eventually drop him.  This was the only stretch where, looking back on the race, I feel like I didn't push myself as hard as I could have and should have.  I could have gained time here and maybe gotten 4th place instead of 5th.  (4th beat me by about 5 minutes).  I kept taking gels every 20 minutes, as is now my habit when I'm feeling low in energy, and also sucking on Gu Brew, but to no avail.  Fortunately, the aid station came more quickly than I thought it would -- I'm not sure that it was really 4 miles, or that the climb was actually 3 miles long.  But I'm not complaining! 

Home Stretch

Man, was I happy to see that last aid station!  Only 4 miles to the finish, and it was almost entirely downhill.  I left with a male runner -- we never exchanged names -- and we chatted about races for a bit.  He had done UTMB last year, and sat next to Zach Miller on the plane ride home.  The funny thing is, all he registered at the time was Zach's mustache and head-to-toe Nike gear; he didn't realize who it was -- the winner of CCC -- until he later watched Billy Yang's film of the race.  

After a while, the jeep road gave way to singletrack, and it was harder to hear one another and continue conversing.  From that point on, we silently pushed one another, not letting ourselves back off until the finish.  I'm so glad we were together; if not for him being there, I would almost certainly have let up and not pushed myself that hard.


The last 1/2 mile of the race is along a pretty lake.  I had pushed past my running buddy and was trying to kick all-out to the finish.  I was pretty gassed, and not thinking clearly.  So when I passed a sign that read "No swimming," I wondered for a fraction of a second: Do they have alligators here?  Wait, where am I?  It honestly took me a second to remember I was in Colorado, and no, they don't have alligators here.


I finished in 10:48, one minute faster than I ran Mesquite Canyon 50 and Monument Valley 50 earlier this spring.  That makes me feel good, knowing that this was at a higher elevation than both the others, with substantially more climbing than Monument Valley.  

Instead of medals, which I never keep, we got unique finisher bowls, which the artist signed on the bottom.  I also got a nice pint glass etched with 2nd place in the 30-39 age group.

The After Party

Hanging out after the race was so fun.  Don (who killed the 50k, as I expected), Helena, Edward, and I enjoyed playing around with Hudson, drinking free Avery beers (okay, I nursed mine and then tossed it), and eating free food.  The race organizers prepare food and drinks for everyone in attendance -- not just the runners.  It was great, and it stayed light out until well after 8:00, when my college buddy Caroline came to pick me up and spend the rest of the weekend with her.  It was sad to say goodbye to Don and Helena; I really enjoyed staying with them and Edward at the "Hauk Family B&B."  (I haven't decided on my Yelp rating yet.  On the positive side, Don makes a mean breakfast burrito.  On the negative side, the room service is terrible.)

I don't have to do much processing to come to the conclusion that this was a great race experience and that I'd recommend it to anyone.  I am already looking forward to the next time I can visit Colorado and explore another race there!  

Post-race selfie: The whole crew