Monday, October 27, 2014

Cactus 100

"Don't quit, don''t quit, don't quit."
"Are you talking to me, or to yourself?"

Actually, I hadn't realized I was speaking out loud.  But I covered that up, saying, "Both of us. Let's not quit, Jean. Let's make them force us off the course because we miss the time cutoffs."

This is such a different race story than the one I had planned for myself.  It's only after a good night's sleep that I'm seeing any value in it at all.  Looking back, I have to admit it was quite an adventure, and I figured it's one worth writing up.  Here goes:

The first two loops (miles 0-50) felt great.  It got really warm out there -- a high of 84 and lots of direct sunlight.  I was well on track to meet my time goal, constantly looking at my watch and checking the paces I'd written on my arm.  My stomach felt great, and my feet only hurt in two hot spots.  As I left for the 3rd loop, Jazzy excitedly reported that I was 3rd female.  In reply, Scott Rabb said something that now seems quite prophetic: "There's a lot of race yet. A lot can happen."

The third loop still felt great -- Mike was a wonderful pacer, letting me take the lead and set the pace, reporting how long each mile took, and giving words of encouragement.  Towards the end of the loop I was slowing down a bit, but I was still running.  I was ecstatic at that, because I kept thinking back to last year's Cactus Rose, when I barely ran at all on the 3rd loop.  I kept saying things to Mike like, "Look!  I'm running at mile 70!" "Hey! I'm still running at mile 74!"  We saw Jason, Lise, Anabel, Don, and Edward, all the fast folks, and I felt good about where I was in comparison.

At mile 75, I dropped off Mike at the Lodge.  He had turned his ankle, which has given him problems for almost a year now, so he went off to ice it, and I left the comfort of the aid station for the darkness of loop 4 at 11:45pm.  I started off at a jog - - - and within the first couple miles, I was reduced to a slow walk.  That got slower.  And slower.  One runner who passed me during that stretch told me that he took a two-minute nap at the Lodge and elevated his feet, and now he felt like he had new legs.  So the last couple miles coming into Boyles, I told myself, When you get there, you can take a two-minute nap, and maybe that will be like hitting the "reset" button.  In the meantime, I took in some more calories, because when I saw Liza go by with Chris, she had told me "Eat food!"

Looking back, I wonder if the answer really was just a calorie deficit, or that I pushed myself too hard in the heat, or that it just wasn't my day.  All I know for sure is that lying down at Boyles only continued the downward spiral for me.  When I pulled in, Jean was sitting there with her pacers, having just emptied the contents of her stomach.  I laid down on the grass and promptly started shivering uncontrollably.  My teeth were chattering, I started moaning -- and Jean and I both started laughing at me.  It's strange, but in the midst of the darkness and pain we were both feeling, we laughed a lot during that hour we spent together at Boyles.  It's weird to say that we were "together," though, because I had my eyes closed the entire time, and I was on the floor while she was in a chair.  But I overheard her entire conversation with her pacers, and they overheard my random mumblings and apparently found them pretty funny.  Her pacer Lisa joked that she was going to Tweet some of my best lines.  I think that included comments like, "How can they sell food that tastes like crap?" which I said as I was forcing myself to eat a Stinger waffle.  Jean's comments about her situation were pretty funny, too.  I laughed so hard that I snorted a couple times.  But gradually the tone turned more sober.  Jean's pacers started talking about where their cars were parked.  Jean and I both started realizing there was a decision ahead of us.  I can honestly say that in the year and a half I've been running ultras, it has never once crossed my mind to quit a race.  But now I felt like quitting.  I've never understood how someone could run 80 miles and then quit -- you've come so far!  Why quit with only 20 miles left?  Well, now I get it.  I thought it over and decided that I would try to walk to Equestrian.  I didn't make the decision not to DNF at that point.  I gave myself the option to quit at Equestrian.  What I did decide was that I wouldn't quit yet.

Lisa, Jean's pacer, was kind enough to agree to pace me, since Jean was heading to her other pacer's vehicle.  Lisa and I took off at a slow walk.  She was great, telling me about her job, her family, and commenting on the difficulty of the course.  I don't think I was contributing much to the conversation.  After just 1.7 miles with her, I asked her if we could sit down.  We sat there in the middle of the trail for a minute or two.  And then I told her I needed to lie down for a while.  I told her to just go back to her car and leave me.  I thanked her for coming this far with me, but I didn't see the point in making her sit there while I fell apart.  She reluctantly left, and told me that when I was ready to move, I should consider moving back toward Boyles, because heading to Equestrian was much farther away.

Was this my lowest point in the race?  Telling other runners to please go around me, while I laid in the middle of the trail one and a half miles past Boyles?  Unfortunately, I wouldn't say that it was.  Eventually I got up and resumed my slow shuffle towards Equestrian.  Along the way, Tanya and Jason passed me.  Tanya looked great!  She was running down the hill towards Mount Fuji.  When I got to the bottom of Fuji, I looked up towards the top, realized I couldn't even see Tanya's light anymore, and I laid down again.  Yep, that was my lowest point.

Somehow I got to the top of that hill.  About 100 yards later, there I was curled up in the middle of the trail again.  I proceeded in this fashion until I made it to Equestrian, in what seemed an infinite amount of time since I'd left Boyles.  I told myself, Don't make a decision to quit until daylight.  Stumbling into that aid station, I was desperate for a warm place to lie down, and I was hoping that Jeannie would be around to take care of me.  I was blessed on both counts -- Jeannie gave me blankets and a mat to lie on, and when I continued shivering and shaking, she put me in the back of their car, turned the heat on for me, and let me sleep until daylight.  She said Rich and Doise were going to head out in the same direction, and that they wanted me to go with them.  I was noncommittal, because I wasn't sure I could make it.

A little while later, Liza crawled into the back of the Escalade and gave me some excellent advice. She said, "If you quit, you'll be mad at yourself tomorrow."  I told her that hypothetically, I wanted to finish still, but that I didn't think I could physically make it to Nachos, much less the full 15 miles to the finish line.  She responded, "I'm not going to lie.  It's going to take hours and hours to walk it.  I wish I could take some of those hours for you.  But if you quit now, you're going to regret it."  Wow.  Even typing that makes me tear up a bit.  She was right.

Jeannie and Rich had me drink Pedialyte and sip on Coke, and then I left my blankets and climbed out of the Escalade.  We began walking toward Nachos, Rich in the lead; me in the middle, not able to keep up with Rich; and Doise so kindly walking behind me, I think to make sure that I didn't collapse on the side of the road.  Every so often, we'd stop and rest in the shade of a tree, and Rich would give me two or three nuts, and Doise would force me to take a few swallows of water and Pedialyte.  Thankfully, there were only two big climbs in the last 15 miles -- Ice Cream and Lucky hills.  Still, every step was difficult.  Thank goodness for the trekking poles Rich lent me; they really did help.

Jeannie met us at Nachos, with Rich's famous ice bandanas.  Rich tied one around my neck, as it was really starting to heat up in the sun.  He also put one on top of my head.  They fed me cashews and Coke.  It was great seeing Ed Brown there, on his way to a belt buckle.  He took off back towards the Equestrian Aid station, and we left shortly after him, but with my slow pace, we lost sight of him immediately.  This was a stretch where I had to ask them if I could lie down in the shade for a two-minute nap.  Rich was so kind to stay with me, when he could have finished hours before me.  And Doise was an angel to pace us both, so cheerfully.

At Equestrian, we sat in chairs for a few minutes, eating a little.  Joe Prusaitis, the race director, pulled up on his ATV and asked for a Coke.  He chatted a bit, and I jokingly said, "Do you have one of those nice, shiny Tejas 400 buckles at the finish?"  To which he responded, "Yeah, I do.  And I was all set to hand you a 3rd place trophy at the finish."  I put my hand to my head at that comment.  Joe meant it so kindly, but it just reminded me of all I had lost during this race.  He continued, "All your buddies were at the finish line cheering for you.  That South African was making bird calls; he said they were Julie calls.  It was really pretty cool, actually."  And that, my friends, is the first time I've wanted to cry during an ultra.  Just to imagine how great that would have been, to finish and have my friends cheering for me, to know that I met my goals. . . . and to feel like I disappointed them as well as myself.  Yep, that is a sad feeling.  But don't worry, I didn't cry in front of Joe.

We got up and started walking toward the Lodge -- that last 4.5 or so miles to the finish line.  Towards the start of this stretch, I realized that I was beginning to feel more like myself.  The fogginess in my mind was clearing.  Whereas for the last 15 or so miles (read, 12 hours or so), I had felt like an empty shell, now I felt like a real person -- an exhausted, totally spent person -- but still.  I was able to pick up my walking pace a little -- I still couldn't keep pace with Rich's hike, but at least I wasn't slowing him down quite so much.  As we walked, I began remembering silly things from the previous hours, like when I had told Liza that I was doing 1-minute miles.  Yeah, that was not what I meant to say.  And when I told Tony that I was dying, and he could have my stereo.  :)

Up until this race, I was able to say that I'd never cried at a finish line.  I can't say that any more.  When Joyce handed me my buckles, she and I both cried.  I told her, that last loop took me 16 hours.  She was so kind, telling me that what Rich, Doise, and I did reminded her and Joe why they did these events.  I wish I could say I cried because I was proud of myself for persevering and finishing, but that would be a lie.  All I felt at the finish line was relief that it was finally over, and disappointment about what could have been.  Lise, the female winner, came over and congratulated me for digging so deep, and I embarrassingly started crying again, while I tried to tell her thank you and congratulations.  I cried all the way home, I cried last night trying to tell my parents about the race, and I cried while typing this.  Go buy stock in Kleenex!

In the light of a new morning, with many hours of sleep between me and the race, and many kind words from friends, I can definitely see the value of the decisions not to quit. I say decisions, because it wasn't a one-time decision that I had to make.  It was a decision every step, to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  And it wasn't just my decision; it was the decisions of Rich and Doise to stick with me and help me get there, of Jeannie to selflessly take care of me, of Liza to come sit with me and give me advice, of all the others who gave me words of encouragement.

It sure wasn't the race I wanted to have, but I am thankful for everything I learned.  Most importantly, I learned how very selfless and generous others can be, and what true friendship looks like.  I am so blessed to be part of the Rockhopper family.  And I'm blessed to get to participate in events like this, which push us to our limits and let us dare greatly.

Thanks to Rich, who reminded me of this quote while we tackled the powerlines section of the course:

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." - Theodore Roosevelt

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Top ten things I learned from Liza that helped me to a PR

VO2 max runs are important.  The only way to get faster is to run faster.

It's better to run individual miles fast, even if you need a break between them, than to run continuously at a slower pace.

Run your race at a "comfortably uncomfortable" pace.

Don't be afraid to push harder earlier on in a race.

It's okay to do 1-2 warm up miles before a marathon.  We're ultra-runners, after all!

Do a few 30-second strides the day before a race.

Getting down to "race weight" can be really helpful in shaving time.

Lighten your load.  Run with as little "stuff" as possible. 

Don't over-hydrate.

If we can practice suffering gracefully during a run, when we're choosing to experience pain, we'll be better equipped to face real-life suffering with grace.

(She also taught me that even the busiest of people can find a way to get their training in -- but I'm still working on that.)

And one thing I learned from Edward: wear two pairs of socks.  No blisters!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Reveille Peak Ranch 60k Post: Running in the Rain!

30 minutes before the race:

"I heard there's a 50% chance of rain before midnight."
"Nah, I don't think it will rain."

Notice the pretty blue, sunny sky in these pre-race pictures.
10 minutes before the race -- trying to hold the tent down in the face of torrential rain and gusty winds:

The race:

At least 75% of the race was run in the rain, with thunder booming and lightning flashing.  For about 75% of that time, I was like this:

It was fun running in the rain, splashing through puddles on top of the granite dome, lifting up my face to catch some drops in my mouth, and staying much cooler than I've been in the other Capt'n Karl's races to date.

However, at some point, probably around 1am, I started worrying that a) they were going to call the race for lightning (oh my gosh, please tell me I haven't already run 30+ miles for nothing!), and/or b) we'd all be stuck in Burnet due to flash flooding and closed highways (oh my gosh, I have hours of homework to do on Sunday!  I need to be able to get back home!).  It turns out, my fears were unfounded.  The race continued until the last finisher crossed a little before 7am, and we didn't encounter any flooding on the way home.

My other worry was that my headlamp was going to go out in the final 4 miles of the race. I had given away my spare flashlight to a runner whose light had gone out, and then around 1:45am my headlamp started flashing on and off a few times.  I'm guessing that's a warning that the battery will run out in about an hour -- it's a new headlamp, so I've never experienced this before.  Fortunately, it lasted all the way to the finish line, so again, there was no need to worry.  It was a good reminder to just "trust in God and do your best," which is what I kept repeating to myself in those final few miles.

One funny anecdote from the race is that at the final aid station (the Gate) at the end of the first loop, I asked the volunteers, "Do you guys have any pop?"  They said no, and Ed Brown, who was stopped at the same a/s, said, "Don't you know there's no pop in Texas?  Just Coke." It turns out, they didn't have any Coke either.  When I got to the next a/s, at the Pavilion, I rephrased my question: "Do y'all have any Coke?"  Ed laughed, but everyone else scrambled to get me Coke.  Note to self: Next time, just give in and speak Texan.  

All in all, it was a fun, exciting race to cap off another fun 60k series.  I'm so grateful to all the volunteers, especially folks like Lorenzo; Melanie, Scott, and their kids; Alex; and Jason, who stayed out in the pouring rain all night long to help us out.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Let It Go

"Let It Go" -- not only the name of the song I played on repeat about a dozen times in the final 3 miles of the Colorado Bend 60k, but also an appropriate theme for my race.  In the sense of letting go my time goal, and my hope for even splits.

As I listened to the song, these lines seemed especially relevant to me:
It's funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small

In my loopy mind, navigating the minefield of rocks during the second loop, alternate, relevant lyrics presented themselves to me:
The moon glows white on the minefield tonight
Not a runner to be seen
A second loop of isolation,
And it looks like I'm the queen.
The heat is stifling like this high heart rate inside

Couldn't keep it down, heaven knows I tried!

Other favorite quotations from the race, which also shed some light on the conditions of the race, as well as our mental states:

"This is probably a bad idea, but . . . " -- both me and Edward, before each of us immersed ourselves up to our necks in mystery creek water on the second loop.

"Do you need to take a dump?" -- practical question, though I can't remember being asked that by a gentleman ever before.

"I'm peeing." -- I see a theme here.

"You're one tough cookie." -- best compliment ever, from Edward

(After the race): "Hey guys, guess how much sodium was in that big pickle I just ate?  390 mg . . . oh wait, that's just per serving.  The serving size is . . . 1/9 of a pickle?? Holy crap! What's going to happen to me? Matthew, do you know CPR?"

Pre-race, pre-sweat

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Muleshoe Bend 60k

Warning: This blog post is going to be a major yawn-fest for 99.999999% of humanity.  I just wanted to jot down what happened during the race before my etch-a-sketch-like memory turns itself over and shakes away all the details.

Loop One: 1:56 (These times are my estimates, based on the race clock, because official splits haven't been posted yet.)
Loop one is longer than the rest, because we do an additional out and back at the start.  My calves really hurt for the first few miles, but I'm used to that.  (I don't know what my problem is!)  I know from experience that they loosen up and feel better after a while, so I wasn't too concerned.  During this loop, I entertained myself by saying a Rosary and then listening to music.  I almost made it to the end of the loop before I was finally forced to turn on my headlamp.  I think it was during this loop that I fell the first time. From the very beginning of this race, I used the "squirting my face with ice water from my bottle" technique I mastered during last month's race, to great effect.

Loop Two: 2:00
During this loop, I rolled my right ankle really hard.  I was a bit worried afterward, because it really hurt, but I just kept moving, and it loosened up.  The fact that this loop took me longer than the first, despite being shorter, shows how much I slowed down in the darkness by myself.  It was about 10 degrees cooler than last year's race (I think it was about 92 or so this year), but it was humid.  I didn't worry too much about losing time on this loop, because I knew that when I picked up Edward, my amazing pacer, for the last two loops, he would crack the whip and help me push myself.  He knew my goal was to do under 8 hours, for a better time than last year.

Loop Three: 2:00
Edward was suited up and ready to go when I got into the start/finish aid station.  I got ice in my bottles, grabbed my ziploc baggie with my gels for this loop, and we took off.  It was great having someone to chat with in the dark.  We told each other jokes, played categories, and talked about Cactus Rose 100 strategy.  At one point, I got a little too caught up being "Chatty Cathy," and he reminded me to go faster by making really loud, quick stomping noises behind me.  It worked.  I thought we were doing better than a two hour pace for this loop, but as Edward reminded me, perceived effort this late into a race can be deceiving.  I fell again on this loop, but fortunately landed on soft pine needles, so no harm done.

Loop Four: 1:56
After another quick stop at the start/finish aid station, where I got ice in my bottles and grabbed my last ziploc full of gels, we took off for the final time into the night.  I sung a couple verses of "Waffle Tree," composed by the great Rachel Ballard.  I fell once more -- this time, taking most of the fall on my shoulder and jarring it pretty badly.  I think poor Ed got a bit frustrated with the serpentine, rocky nature of the singletrack when he tweaked his knee a bit.  But he selflessly led me on -- this loop, he ran in front -- really pushing the pace whenever the trail was runnable.

At the first aid station (there are only two in each loop), I suggested that we skip the last aid station, to save some time.  I really wanted to break 8 hours!  So we cruised right on past it.  The final two miles or so (I don't use GPS during races, so I'm estimating), Ed really pushed it, and I gave my everything to stay right behind him.  I was so tired that the only thing that kept me pushing was saying the verse from Isaiah 40:31 over and over in my head: "But those who hope in the Lord will have their strength renewed.  They will rise up on wings like eagles.  They will run and not grow weary."

There's one final turn, to the left, to get back to the start/finish, and Edward sailed right past it.  I shouted, "Left! Left!"  Thank goodness one of us noticed, or we would've spent goodness knows how much longer lost in the woods!  The final stretch to the finish is a downhill, and then a flat, and I sprinted as fast as I could (probably not very fast in reality, but it sure felt hard).  The RD had to take a minute to double check that I was first female for the 60k.  I was so happy to see my results up on the screen.  After getting my medal, my next steps included giving myself a sponge bath in the visitor's center sink and then waiting  until nearly dawn to cheer on our friends who were still out there.

I used my SJ vest, started with one bottle full of ice water and the other full of ice water + Nuun, and just continually refilled them with ice at aid stations.  I started off taking a VFuel gel every 20 minutes, but at the start of the 3rd loop, Edward convinced me to start taking gels only every 30 minutes.  My stomach was hurting a bit, and I was belching a lot.  He was worried the burping indicated I was about to puke, although I assured him I've never puked while running.  After the race, the guys gave me a hard time about taking 19 gels during a race.  That doesn't seem too over the top, does it??  1900 calories . . . 37 miles?

How I feel post-race:
My legs actually feel really good.  My stomach hasn't settled down yet; it veers between ravenous and upset pretty quickly, to the point where I'll go make myself something to eat and then not feel like I can eat it after all.  My lungs are feeling a bit uncomfortable when I take deep breaths.  My right foot hurts from the hard roll taken by my ankle, and my right shoulder hurts from slamming down on it.  But other than that, and a general tiredness, I feel great.  Once again, double-socking it led to a total absence of blisters!  And I didn't even get my usual back-chafing from my sports bra.  Life is good.

Me, losing "best pre-race hair" contest.

Me, winning "best pre-race weird face" contest.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

More miles, more fun

I’ve been reading Kilian Jornet’s memoir, Run or Die, and I was interested by his technique to keep pushing and make the time pass during races.  He weaves fantasies and gets lost in them, imagining things like “I am a fugitive fleeing the police across the mountains, a medieval knight escaping from the army pursuing him; I am chasing bandits who have set fire to my home.” 

I tried out this technique during last night’s Capt’n Karl’s 60K at Pedernales Falls.  Mine turned out to be a little less fanciful than Kilian’s.  Here were my top 5 race fantasies:

1. Imagining that I had finished the race and was handed a cold beer.
I don’t even like beer that much, but during the hot, humid first 18+ mile loop, that sounded really good.

2. Imagining that I was on a water ride.
Throughout the race, I periodically shot blasts of ice water into my face.  For a brief second it would feel like I was on a fun water ride, instead of feeling like I was running at noon on the equator.  (No joke, it was a very effective strategy for cooling myself down.)

3.  Imagining that I was in a Saltines-eating contest.
In one of my trademark goofball moves, I brought only 8 gels per loop, and then some trail mix to fill out the remainder of the calories I’d need.  Towards the end of the first loop, when I ran out of gels, I took a big handful of trail mix and shoved it in my mouth – only to discover that it made my mouth so dry that I couldn’t swallow it.  It took about four minutes and several shots of water to get it all down.

4. Imagining that I didn’t just get a piece of spiderweb in my mouth.
In the end, you can imagine all you want, but the reality is that you have a piece of spiderweb in your mouth.

5.  Imagining texting my mom that I’d gotten 3rd place.
Okay, this maybe this one falls into the category of plan old visualization.  Still, I was happy when I was able to actually send the text.

Joking aside, I think Kilian’s strategy has a lot of potential for my runs.  And let’s face it, it’s a lot easier to add this element of his running philosophy to my own training, as opposed to any other aspect of his running.   
On completely different note, today is the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, and I heard one of my favorite verses at Mass: “I have competed well.  I have run the race.  I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7).  I really feel like every act in our lives can be a chance to cultivate holiness, and for me, running is probably the most spiritual thing I do.  To push myself to my limit, out in the woods, all alone, just because I want to do my best with what God gives me, gives me so much joy.  And for me, an ultra-distance race is a microcosm of life, bringing into sharp relief the knowledge that I’m totally dependent on God for everything.  As my devotional says, “Accept each day just as it comes to you.  Do not waste your time and energy wishing for a different set of circumstances.  Instead, trust Me enough to yield to My design and purposes.”  Geez, is that a devotional or a manual for ultrarunning?  

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim Adventure

It's been a few weeks now since our double crossing of the Grand Canyon.  Since then, I've been on a couple other trips and haven't found the time to write up a report.  I did want to write up some of the trip logistics, if for no other purpose than to aid me in preparing for the next time I run this route, since it was so amazing!

The Run
Our group met around 3:30am on Friday, May 16.  We planned the run for Friday, so that in case the weather didn't cooperate on Friday, we could still do it Saturday before going home on Sunday.  Our friends shuttled us from the Maswik Lodge to the South Rim trail.

We started down the South Rim trail around 4:00am.  I hiked pretty much the whole way down, to save my quads for the rest of the 48-mile trip.  Later on, I was very glad that I did this.  I had no issues other than sore calves the day after.

We crossed the black bridge over the Colorado River and headed to Phantom Ranch.  For fun, we each weighed our packs.  Mine was the heaviest in our group, at 15 pounds.  Our next water stop was at Cottonwood Campground; then the Pump House shortly after.  The trip from there up to Supai Tunnel felt like a long one.  We had to make our way past a ranger who did her best to encourage us to stop on the North Rim.  Fortunately, we managed to resist her.  From Supai Tunnel to the North Rim was quite steep.

We spent a long time resting at the North Rim.  Running back down, through Supai Tunnel, past the Pump House and Cottonwood, was really fun.  We took a detour to Ribbon Falls, which was surreal.  To see a beautiful waterfall, moss-covered rocks, and croaking frogs at the bottom of the Grand Canyon was unexpected.  I continued to feel good running to Phantom Ranch and then to the Bright Angel trail.  I mostly ran separately from my group and waited for them every couple miles.  We crossed the silver bridge over the Colorado and headed up towards the South Rim.

Ribbon Falls
Darkness fell as Chris and I, now separate from the rest of our foursome, headed toward Indian Gardens.  We waited at Indian Gardens for the rest of our group (which was down to two other people by this time), and then we decided to go in pairs the rest of the way.  It seemed incredibly steep, but I followed the old adage of "relentless forward progress" and remained a couple minutes behind Chris until we neared the top.  He waited for me so we could run in the final few yards.  Jeannie was there at the top to meet us and see us back safely to the lodge.

The goal of our trip was to enjoy the experience and successfully complete the run.  We definitely accomplished that.  My goal for next time will be to see how quickly I can do it.  This time around, we spent a lot of time at rest stops or waiting for other people.  That was fun for the first time, but now I'm already excited to go back again.
Me and Chris celebrating our finish

Before our Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim trip, I tried to do some research online to find out what food and gear others had found helpful.  I didn't find much out there in terms of packing lists, so I'll include mine here in case it's helpful to others.  My post-run thoughts are in blue.

In Large Solomon Pack:
  • Bladder
  • 2 x H20 bottles (Since the pumps were turned on, I had more than enough water. I would've been fine with just my bladder and one bottle.)
  • Clif bars -- 5
  • gels -- 5 (I ended up not eating any of my gels -- but I did donate them to a friend who was going through his calories more quickly than anticipated.)
  • chocolate-covered pretzels (These were probably my favorite food during the run, because they were both sweet and salty.)
  • Medjool dates
  • Nuun -- 2 bottles (I used Nuun in my water bottles, but not in my bladder. I think using Nuun and drinking to thirst helped me avoid hyponatremia.)
  • yogurt-covered raisins (These, along with two Clif bars and a couple gels, were the only foods I had left going up the South Rim. They tasted gross in the middle of the night, but I force-fed them to myself anyway.)
  • Bobo bars (These tasted good but were a little dry.)
  • dried mangos
  • trail mix (I wish I had packed more trail mix. It tasted great.)
  • sunscreen (I re-applied frequently, and didn't get burned!)
  • shades
  • trekking poles, tied with bungee to pack (I used these on the way down South Rim, and I think they helped -- just because they provided some stability in the darkness on the rutted, uneven trail. I also used them on the way up North Rim, and they helped there with all the big step-ups.)
  • tylenol, ibuprofin, Tums (I ended up using two Tylenol during the run.)
  • camera and extra batteries

  • Headlamp (new batteries)
  • buff (Once it got hot, I started soaking my buff in creeks and under water pumps every chance I got; I wore it around my neck.)
  • Outdoor Research Sombriolet hat
  • New Balance shorts
  • two pair socks (injinji, Wigwam)
  • sports bra
  • Captn Karl's shirt (cotton/poly blend)
  • hairtie
  • vasoline
  • sunscreen
  • Garmin (charged)
  • light jacket (It turned out to be so warm that I really didn't need to start with a jacket. But I felt good having it just in case. And by the time we finished, it was really cold and windy up on the South Rim, so I was glad to have the jacket while we waited for our friends to finish.)
  • trail Hokas
  • Dirty Girl gaitors
  • fitness gloves, to prevent blisters when using poles

During the run, I don't think there was anything I missed and wished I had brought.  I didn't bring my cell phone, because there are only a few places where you can get reception, anyway.

All in all, the trip was a resounding success.  Praise be to God for good weather, good health, and great friends!

Warning! Don't try to hike to the river and back in one day!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

My first "real" race report!

Usually I have too short of an attention span to write a "real" race report.  I sit down at my computer with the best of intentions, but then I end up writing a top ten list or bullet points instead.  Tonight, since I'm looking to kill time while alternating ice dunking and doing the "legs up the wall" recovery yoga pose, I'll attempt to actually write out what I recall from yesterday's Brazos Bend 50 miler.

After the usual spotty quality of sleep the night before the race, Amanda and I drove to the state park and got there in plenty of time to set up our things on Amanda's tarp.  (She is so smart to think of bringing a tarp, to keep the ants off her things, and so generous to share it!)  I had brought Tailwind pre-mixed into water bottles, but I miscalculated, thinking that I could drop off my drop bags the morning of the race.  Turns out that wasn't the case, so as we teachers say, I had to "adjust and modify."  Not a big deal, as the aid stations were very well stocked.

Amanda and I took one last trip to the bathroom, and by the time we came out, Rob, the RD, was already counting down for the race start.  We hopped into the chute and took off.  It was only dark for about half an hour.  My favorite thing about the course was the width of the path, making it easy to pass and be passed.  The usual "conga line," which is my least favorite part of trail races, was totally nonexistent.

Once the sun rose, I started looking left and right for alligators.  I had joked with people that my goal was to see an alligator, but it was actually the truth.  As a native Minnesotan, alligators are a very exotic concept, and I felt like seeing just one would make my day.  In the first stretch of the course, there were swampy/wet areas on both sides of the trail.  At first, I was just seeing logs that were alligator-shaped, and then I started to notice what I was 81% sure were alligator heads.  But, as my family would say, these sightings were "unconfirmed."  Then, all of a sudden, I saw a huge alligator.  Over the course of the next nine hours, I'm pretty sure I saw a hundred of them.  Big ones, baby ones (so cute!), all of them looking very content as we ran past.

The race consisted of three loops.  The first loop was manageable.  The course was flat and fast, as advertised, and I ran pretty much every step.  I drank the only bottle of Tailwind I would drink that day, and supplemented it with VFuels (some that I brought, and some generously provided by the aid stations).  I finished the Rosary I had begun when I was having trouble getting back to sleep at 3:00am, and said one more, plus the Divine Mercy chaplet.  Then I put in one earbud and listed to music on my Shuffle.  After living in San Antonio for a year and a half, I was astounded by how green everything was in this part of the state.  And I haven't seen that much water since I left Minnesota.  I thought that the area had similar characteristics to parts of Minnesota -- except for the threat of alligators and water moccasins, plus the 84 degree weather in the month of April.

When I hit up the start/finish aid station before beginning loop two, I was surprised to see the RD actually working there, helping runners with whatever they needed.  He was so kind to call me by name, asking what I needed.  I took a cup of soda (people get confused if you call it "pop" here) and a refill in my water bottle.  By this point, I had stopped using the bottle in my SJ vest for water, and I had started asking A/S volunteers to fill it with soda and ice.  It got me some hydration, as well as some calories.  And I tried to take a VFuel every so often.  I always start with the best of intentions, to really monitor my calorie intake and take a sip of this or a shot of that every 15 or 30 minutes or whatever, but I never end up sticking to it for the entire race.  This race was no exception.  But anytime I felt myself lagging, I'd force feed myself until I felt better.  I feel like that's not something I would have done even six months ago (note my Cactus Rose experience as a prime example), so at least I'm learning, if slowly.

During loop two, the heat and humidity really started getting to me.  I took up a new goal of running 10 minutes and then walking for two minutes.  It worked pretty well for me, and gave me a reason to push myself and something to look forward to.  I stopped during this loop to pee -- in an actual bathroom, conveniently located right on the course.  There were actually multiple bathrooms on the course, so I doubt many runners had to use the brush -- which is a very good thing, because there were tons of hikers and tourists all over the place (not to mention the threat of gators and venomous snakes).  Don't get me wrong, there were some stretches where I was by myself, but they were rare.  Usually I could see runners ahead of me, and sometimes runners came past going the opposite direction, because the course had a couple "lollipop" areas.  Although I didn't think I'd like this aspect of the course, since one of the things I love about trail racing is being out in the woods by myself, it was really fun and motivating to see friends out there on the trail.  It also seemed like there was a tour bus stopping to visit the park, because there was a big group of Asian people with cameras; some of them paused in their photography of the wildlife to take photos of the runners as we ran past.  It made me feel like a celebrity, like Kara Goucher or something. 

On this second loop, I started giving myself an ice water "shower" at almost every aid station.  They had buckets filled with ice water and a sponge, and it was heavenly.  I thought of each ice shower as a coupon I could cash in for another 10 minutes of running, because I felt like it gave me a new lease on life.  The downside is that the water would run all the way down into my shoes, and as I squished my way towards the next aid station, I knew I'd pay the price with some good blisters.  

By the third loop, when the sun came out from behind the clouds, I could only muster five minutes of running followed by a minute or two of walking -- except after an aid station ice shower, when I could do ten.  During this last stretch, my old friend, plantar fasciitis, really talked to me, and my IT band started flaring up too.  I imagine that running on flat ground for that distance uses the same muscles constantly, and that's what tires them so much.  I'm thinking technical, hillier courses are more my thing.  I kept doing the math in my head, though, over and over, and I figured I could do under 10 hours and PR if I just kept moving.  The only other time I've run this distance was at Hell's Hills, a much hillier course, so it's really not an apples-to-apples comparison, but I still wanted the PR.  I felt like it would be a confidence-booster six weeks out of being in a boot for six weeks.  

It was great to chat with Rob and the Rockhoppers after I finished, and it was such a blessing to take a real shower at the park before heading back to San Antonio.  Rob put together a great race.  It was really well run, and I'd definitely recommend it to anyone looking to PR -- or anyone who wants to take a selfie with a gator.

I believe that my splits were 3:02; 3:18; 3:22, which impressed me, considering that I felt like I was dying by the third loop.  Now I just have to recover in time for Pandora's Box of Rocks this Saturday!  (Hence the ice bath and legs up the wall.)  

If anyone actually read this blog post, kudos to you, and thanks!  I hope it was worth your while.  In case you don't feel like it was worth your time, and you are wishing you had that 5 minutes of your life back, here's a quick joke to make you feel better: What did the Zen Buddist say to the hotdog vendor? "Make me one with everything." ba-dum-ching!  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The realities of returning to running

This week, my third week back to running, I've had some struggles, but I've also had many great reminders about perspective, and the importance of gratitude and positive thinking.  With that in mind, I've decided to jot down my recent emotions and thoughts as I return to running after six weeks off.

 What I could say:
 But from another perspective:
I feel bad that I'm holding my friends back when we run together now -- I know they could be running faster without me.
I've missed running with my friends!  I'm so happy to be back out on the trails with them.  And I love that I have friends who enjoy my company and want to run with me, even at my leisurely pace.  
I ran a 5k time trial this week, and had to walk twice.
I am motivated to work hard and regain speed and I'm excited to set a better time every week.  
My right calf and ankle have weakened after being immobilized for six weeks.
My core is probably stronger than it's ever been, since that's pretty much all I worked on, exercise-wise, for six weeks. 
I'd like to think that progress would move forward in a straight line, and it's sad to think that I'm not as good a runner now as I was a year ago, or even a few months ago.
I have to maintain hope that with consistent work, I will get back to where I was before the injury, and that I can then move forward to become better than I was a year ago.
It's embarrassing how slow I am!
All the better for appreciating the view -- and avoiding the rocks. 
I wonder how long it will take to get back to where I was before.
On my long run Friday night, there were moments when I felt energetic and light and like I could keep running forever.  I've missed that feeling!
I know I'm going to be humbled by my slow performance at the 50k this weekend.
Three weeks ago, I would've killed to be able to walk without a boot on, let alone run 31 miles.  I'm so blessed to be able to do this!

The optimism of the right-hand column is definitely what I need to keep making progress.  It's helpful to take stock like this every now and then, and remind myself how lucky I am to be able to do what I love -- go out and run on trails with friends.  I can't even express how happy I am to be able to do that again!  I've volunteered for the last three races I've been to -- this weekend I finally get to be back out there, even if I am DFL.  :)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Road to Recovery!


Yesterday I went to my ortho to get another set of X-rays, since it's been six weeks since my injury and about four weeks since the injury was diagnosed as a stress fracture.  Since my foot still hurts, I was expecting bad news -- that I'd have to be in the boot for another few weeks.  However, the doctor shocked me by saying that he had just "called down to radiology" about my earlier MRI and they told him that what he had thought was a crack in my first metatarsal was actually just "a bright spot" caused by "a lot of fat in the bone marrow."  (Did he just call my metatarsal "fat"? How insulting.)  So rather than a stress fracture, the correct diagnosis was edema, osteoarthritis, and tenosynovitis.  

He then told me I don't need to be in the boot anymore!  My reaction:

I have to admit that I've experienced other emotions in the past 36 hours since getting this news.  One is annoyance and regret at the misdiagnosis, since I could have been pursuing other treatment through Airrosti instead of just immobilizing my foot in the boot.  However, wikipedia tells me that treatment of tenosynovitis includes resting the foot, too, so maybe it was a positive thing anyways.  

As soon as I got home, I took off my boot and walked on my foot "normally" for the first time in almost six weeks.  Any time during the last six weeks when I wasn't wearing my boot, I would either hop on my left foot or walk gingerly on the outside of my right foot so as not to cause pain.  It turns out that walking on a foot that's been immobilized for six weeks is hard to do.  I felt like I needed to re-learn how to walk.  In the boot, I didn't need to push off the ground with my foot; I just rolled off the big heel of the boot and my foot didn't bend.  After less than one day of walking around in shoes, my foot and calf muscles were exhausted.

My goal for the end of this weekend is to be able to walk normally, without a noticeable limp or hesitation.  I tried to push myself towards that goal today by doing yoga, stretching my calves, and walking four miles at Hardberger Park.  Walking for an hour was tiring for my foot -- I had to stop a few times, take off my shoe, and gently massage it.  But to be able to go for a walk in shoes is a huge step, and I had a big smile on my face for most of the walk.  

I know the hardest part of my rehab will be not over-doing it and re-injuring myself.  I'm going to follow the guidelines and advice of my PT acquaintance, see Dr. Nick at Airrosti, and gradually re-introduce running. Hopefully Dr. Nick's treatment will be enough to quell the pain, so I won't need the guided injection recommended by the ortho.  My hopes are high now for being able to run at Brazos Bend in April -- although maybe I'll need to switch to the 50K instead of the 50M.  

One last happy dance!

Sunday, March 2, 2014


Ten Random Thoughts of an Injured Runner:

1. Volunteering at races is just as fun as running them.  (But I'd still rather run them.)
2. One of the worst parts of not getting to run is not getting to eat #allthefood.
3. The stages of grief are fluid, not linear.
4. Lessons learned from running can help during the healing process.  For example, Don't worry about the miles (weeks) ahead.  Focus on the present moment.  Trust in God.
5. It's frustrating not to be able to work actively towards healing a bone like we can work actively towards building speed or endurance.
6. You must be your own healthcare advocate. If you're sent home with an ace bandage and ibuprofen, you might still turn out to have a stress fracture.
7. I have a whole new appreciation for soft tissue injuries. As in, I wish I only had a soft tissue injury!
8. You can think to yourself, "I won't be one of those people who does too much too soon and re-injures themselves before they've fully healed" -- but then you'll still do it.
9. Wearing a boot makes packing so much easier.  You only need to pack one shoe -- so much room left over for souvenirs!
10. I believe when I get to start running again . . . which feels like it will be about 20 years from now . . . I will have a new appreciation for the ability to run.  I swear I'll never take it for granted again!  Just give me the chance. :)

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile -- An Honest Look Back

It's been a week since the Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile race, and I think I'm finally ready to reflect back on it. It was a tough race for me, both physically and mentally -- especially mentally.  But I learned some valuable lessons, and I'm taking away a lot from the race.

For one thing, I am so appreciative of all my wonderful trail running friends.  Rich, Jeannie, Fumi, and Jean were so welcoming, inviting me to eat dinner with them in their hotel room the night before the race.  And after dinner, Liza came to the hotel with her baby to massage my calves, which had been sore the week leading up to the race.  It was probably 8pm, and she still had to drive back to Houston that night to get a few hours of sleep before leaving again at 3:00 the next morning.  Everyone has a story about what an incredibly generous and kind person Liza is; I think this one takes the cake.

Rich and Jeannie, as always, packed and organized anything and everything you could possibly want or need during an ultra, making a home away from home for us, right at the start/finish line.  It was great to gather together in their tent before the race, snapping photos and readying our gear.

The first three loops (60 miles) went well.  My legs felt really tired from the beginning, but I was on pace for a 22-hour finish at that point.  I was pretty used to running on tired legs -- since giving my all during the Bandera 100K three weeks prior, I had been feeling tired even during short 5-mile runs.  But my nutrition was working for me; my stomach wasn't upset at all, which is a huge deal.  And I managed not to trip over any roots, although I did stub my toes several times.  Kerri, Elizabeth, Jeannie, Asma, and Ed helped me by finding a safety pin so I could pop a couple nasty blisters on my toes after a loop or two.  That's the first time I've ever done that during a race.

During loop 3, I decided I'd really like to listen to music, so I "took myself out" of the USATF National Championships by removing my back bib and taking out my iPod.  I knew I wasn't going to place anyways, so I didn't care.  The music did help me continue at a good pace and ignore the pain I was starting to feel in my foot.  (By the way, my calves felt fine.  Liza is an excellent massage therapist.)  :)

By the fourth loop, when I picked up my pacer, Emmett, I was worried I was developing a stress fracture in my right foot.  To distract me, he suggested we play a game.  What a great friend!  We played several rounds of "Categories."  The best was when we played the category "people we both know in common."  We named a couple people, and then one of us said "Fumi."  At that point, we heard a voice ahead of us in the darkness say, "Yeah?"  It was Fumi, right in front of us.  What are the odds? :)  Having Emmett with me during that loop was such a blessing.  I'm so grateful to him and his girlfriend, Asma, for driving four hours out to Huntsville, sleeping in their car, and blessing me with their companionship and care.  During that fourth loop, Emmett kept me running a little, and power-walking a lot.

Emmett had been hoping to run the final loop with me, but he had to drop with plantar fasciitis pain.  So I headed out into the darkness alone, after about 18 and a half hours of running, for miles 80-100.  At the aid station, I thought I could do sub-24 still, but as I started off down the trail, I just didn't feel it in me.  I didn't have any energy for running, and not only did my right foot hurt even worse than it did on the previous loop, but my plantar fasciitis was hurting pretty badly in my left foot.  So, thus began a 20-mile death march in the dark, as the temperature dropped and it started to drizzle . . . and then rain.  I abandoned my nutrition plan at this point, and began eating anything hot I could find at aid stations -- quesadillas, a sausage wrapped in a tortilla, ramen noodles.  That's the first time I've ever eaten aid station food during a race.

During the first half of the loop, I occasionally ran into other Rockhoppers running the race, along with their pacers, and I stole some much-needed hugs from them.  In the second half of the loop, though, it was very rare for me to run into anyone.  I went 5 miles on the "Damnation Loop" without seeing a single soul.

Here's my big lesson learned from that last loop: I like to think I have a positive attitude and am generally happy, but under the test of that last 20 miles, coming to the realization that I wasn't going to make my time goal of a sub-24 hour race, I was pretty negative.  Really, I had a rotten attitude.  When I ran into Jason Espalin, around mile 86, my comment was, "Is it just me, or does this race really suck?"  What a terrible attitude!  I wish I would have had the presence of mind to say something like, "Look at us, Jason!  We're doing it!  We're completing the Tejas 300!  What a wonderful thing, that we're healthy and fit enough to take on this accomplishment, and that our friends and families support us in this!"  Okay, that's way too long a conversation to have mid-race, but you get the idea.  I was in a bad place, and I hadn't expected to find myself there.

Volunteering this weekend at the Rocky 50 Mile race, I was able to see many finishers come in.  Every single finisher I saw, including the very last finisher, was so happy at that finish line.  I had been happy at the finish line last weekend, too, but I was also disappointed in myself -- disappointed that I missed my time goal.  After watching the runners this weekend, I am more disappointed in how I let myself focus on the negatives, instead of keeping a positive attitude.  I shouldn't say I was entirely positive -- I cracked a joke to the first guys I saw on that final Damnation Loop, and I tried to give encouraging words to other runners, things like "You're looking strong," etc.  But beneath the words, in reality, I was focused inward, on my own personal pain.

In the future, I want to be more like Michelle, who gives of herself so generously -- whatever she can give. In this case, it was a hug and a shoulder massage when I ran into her and Jason on the fifth loop.  I want to be more like Elizabeth, who was so positive when I ran into her and Larry K during the race.  And like Jean, who is one of the most consistently positive people I've ever known, and who is always thinking of others rather than herself.  And I want to be like Fumi, who shows more determination and perseverance than anyone else I can think of.  I'm so thankful for all these people who I can learn from, to be a better person.

At Mass the day after the race, this verse was in the readings: "Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested" (Heb 2:18).  Aside from the obvious meaning of this verse, that Jesus suffered greatly as a human and so can help us in our sufferings, which is an incredible truth, I also took this as a reminder that the trials I face during these ultra-distance races can make me a better person.  Enduring them can help me be more empathetic, more generous, more positive -- more like the amazing people I run with.  I hope that in the future I will strive to practice these traits in the midst of my own pain during long runs and races.
Rockhoppers before the race.  Every person pictured is amazing! :)

I'll conclude this post with benefits of having to wear a boot, since that's my fate for another 7-10 days (hoping that's it!).

  • It's forcing me to take a little break from running, which I wouldn't otherwise.  I can fully rest and recover from the Tejas 300 and come back re-focused and re-energized.
  • I get encouraging words from strangers. For example, when riding a bike today with my boot on, I got a "You go, girl!"  :)
  • People are more likely to open the door for me, allow me to go first, etc. 
  • It's pushing me toward cross-training and strength training activities, which I wouldn't otherwise partake in.
  • It will help me appreciate being able to run, once I'm able to run again, and remind me not to take that for granted.
  • It's a good excuse to wear a comfy sneaker (on my other foot), instead of a dress shoe.
  • It makes me look taller.