Sunday, December 13, 2015

Full circle

Last February and March, the knee pain I struggled with seemed like such a terrible blow, making for very painful runs and then keeping me from running entirely for a month.  I went through the usual injured runner's stages of grief, and it sucked.  Blah blah blah.

But now, as 2015 comes to a close, I can see that that knee injury, although seemingly entirely a bad thing at the time, was in hindsight a blessing -- as so often turns out to be the case.  The reason I see it as a blessing now, is because it led me to my excellent Airrosti doc, Nick, who led me to an excellent gym, where I have been going consistently for about 10 months now.  That has helped me be a stronger, more efficient runner, and it shows: in 2015 I was able to PR at the 60k, 50M, and 100M distances, and won 3 more races than I did in 2014.  Again, none of this is my doing -- it's only by the grace of God that one thing led to another, and things have turned out so well.

So here I am in December of 2015, struggling with the same knee pain as I did at the beginning of the year.  And you could say, Hmm, maybe doing 14 races a year isn't the best for your body?  And like a jerk, I'd say:

Anyway, my reflection on the course of this year gives me hope that this iteration of injury, as well, will turn out to have a beautiful silver lining.  Time will tell.  

Monday, October 26, 2015

Cactus Rose Memories 2015

The Cactus Rose 100 this year was crazy, with Hurricane Patricia bringing chilly weather (compared to the mid-80s we've been acclimated to), wind gusts, and rain that alternated between downpour and drizzle all day and night.  Add that to the usual challenges of Cactus: tough climbs and descents, razor-like sotol plants, and rocks, rocks, and more rocks, and you get the outcome of 24 finishers out of the original 67 who signed up for the 100-mile distance.  Here are some random memories from the race.
The evening before the race.  Glad it wasn't raining yet!

Fun moments:
  • Running most of the first 3 loops with Matt Zmolek, and gradually realizing that he and I have memorized the same lines from The Simpsons, Tommy Boy, and Monty Python
  • Seeing my mom and dad at the Equestrian aid stations.  How lucky am I! 
    Me and my mom the day before the race
  • Exchanging Laffy-Taffy-style jokes with Matt.  Also, watching Matt re-enact the galloping scene from Monty Python with two rocks.  (Way too much energy for loop 2!)
  • Losing a bet to Zmolek and having to carry a rock up Ice Cream Hill on loop 2.
  • Coming in from loop 2 with Matt, pretending like we were fighting it out to "break the tape," as if it were the end of the race, instead of only halfway through. 

    Me and Zmolek, end of loop 2
  • Seeing Stefan and Rob as we came into Equestrian towards the end of the second loop, anticipating that I'd get to run with Stefan soon, and feeling thankful for a friend like Rob, who'd drive out to Bandera just to support us.
  • Hearing Stefan's stories about growing up in South Africa, and picturing a miniature version of Stefan sitting in the teacher's lap, reading a story to the class.
    About to start loop 3 with Stefan
  • Running loop 4 with my dad -- and actually having the ability to run on the fourth loop, for the first time in 3 years of doing this race.

Dropping off my supplies at Nachos aid station on Friday with my dad.
  • Finishing!  
    Glad to be done!  With Chris, race director extraordinaire.
Hard moments:
  • The first five minutes after every time I peed.  Chafing! Owwwwie!
Best quotes:
  • I need to keep these shoes clean.  I want to wear them to the mall tomorrow.  --Stefan, before starting our loop together.
  • What's the difference between an oral thermometer and a rectal thermometer? --Zmolek  (wait for it)
  • The taste.  --Edward
  • Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit amphetamines.  --me 
  • Ca-caww!  Ca-caww!  -- Stefan
  • Aah!  My @$$ cheeks!  --Anonymous
    Post-race.  Celebrating Edward's finish!

Lingering reminders of the race:
  • How hard it is to walk up and down the 3 flights of stairs to my apartment.
  • Pretty epic sotol scratches.  Why did I not wear compression sleeves this year to protect my legs?  
    2 post-race priorities: 1) elevating my legs; 2) staring at my phone

    my Neosporin-coated sotol-scratched legs

Friday, October 16, 2015

Notes to my crew

What instructions do you give your crew before a big race?  Here are the notes I'm giving my crew -- my wonderful parents -- for next weekend's race.


Things you could say to me when you see me at an aid station:
Geez, you look like sh!#.
Do you have any trash to get rid of?
Got your calories and water?
Need vasoline?
(If it’s going to be dark soon: Got your headlamp?)
(If it’s getting light out: Leave your headlamp.)
Get the hell out of here.

If I’m sleepy – give me caffeine/food.
If I’m grumpy – make me eat food. 
If I’m low energy – make me eat food.
If I'm thirsty -- make me drink.


I hope this covers all my bases.  Is there anything else I should add?

On a side note, did you know they make cookie dough-flavored Pop Tarts?  I wonder if I could run 100 miles entirely fueled by Pop Tarts.  Do you think they sponsor trail runners?  So many questions.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

10 Reasons the Cactus Rose 100 will be better this year . . .

So according to my countdown app, we are 33 days, 9 hours, 4 minutes until the Cactus 100.  I'm mostly excited, but that excitement is mixed with nervousness, anxiety, and a little fear.  To soothe my troubled nerves, I'd like to compose a list of reasons why Cactus will be better this year:

1. It can't be worse than last year.  (Right?)

2. Stefan will be pacing me on the 3rd loop.  Need I say more?  He is amazing, and it will be fun, and I might request a mini-dance party in the woods at some point.  I also know that he is weirdly entertained by profanity, so prepare to be amused, Stefan!

3. My dad is going to pace me on my 4th loop.  I already know how awesome this will be, because he did the 5th loop of Rocky with me in January.  If this time is anything like that loop, I can expect a fun, memorable experience replete with fart jokes on demand.

4. My mom will be hanging out at Rockhopper Central.  That means mom hugs twice per loop!

5. I know from previous experience that anyplace on the trail is a good place to take a nap.

6. I've made friends with the sotol, and they've agreed not to scratch me at all.

7. I've been doing strength training at the gym three times a week, so hopefully I will hold up better and recover faster.

8. New mantra: Eeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat!  Eat mooooooooooorrrre!

9. Third time (running Cactus) is a charm?

10. I've been watching a lot of Bear Grylls lately, and I feel like I've picked up enough survival tips to survive in the wilds of Hill Country State Natural Area, in case I get lost.  His tips are very practical, so I should be good, as long as the situation calls for killing a snake, skinning it, peeing in the snake skin, and drinking my own urine.

Admittedly, some of these reasons are better than others.  At any rate, come the night of October 25th, I'll be eating donuts and drinking beer.  So if worse comes to worse, Future Julie, just remember: This too shall pass.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Habanero 100

The sign-up
On Friday, at the gym, I proclaimed that it was about 2 months until my next 100 miler – Cactus Rose.  Then I went and ran the powerlines.  I cut that run short because I was overheated and tired.  Maybe it was because I was disappointed in myself for cutting so many of my runs short this week; maybe it was temporary insanity due to stress levels from work and school; whatever the reason, around 6pm I started wondering if instead of volunteering at the Habanero 100 the next day, I could run it instead.  I texted one of the RDs, Rachel, and asked if she happened to be overflowing with volunteers.  She checked and responded around 9pm, saying that I could go ahead and run.  I registered online about a minute later. 

At about 4am, I woke up from a racing-related bad dream, and I laid awake for a while thinking, “What on earth was I thinking?!  This is insane! Who decides to run a 100-miler the night before?” 

Honestly, this feeling stuck with me for the next two days.  I worried the entire race that I was being extremely cocky thinking I could just walk into this without properly training, tapering, or even thinking out a race plan.  In my experience, cockiness is rarely rewarded.  I worried that it would be Cactus 2014 all over again, with me blowing up and having to take naps in the middle of the trail, telling other runners to please go around me.  Regardless of what Karl Meltzer says, 100 miles is a long way.  On the other hand, it also seemed like a chance to do something epic.  And in the words of fellow Rockhopper Tom Bowling, spoken right before he ran a beer mile in his dress clothes, “YOLO.” 

Loops 1-10
It’s always fun running new trails.  Buescher State Park has some great trails, with a lot of diversity – parts are rocky, parts are sandy, and parts are covered in pine needles.  I settled into a pace that I figured would get me through the loop in about 90 minutes.  (The race consisted of 14 loops, 7.2 miles each.) Fortunately, my left leg (the good leg!) started hurting around mile 3, so that occasionally distracted me from my terrible chafing pain, which is nice.

Let’s talk about the chafing for a moment.  Holy crap.  Jazzy took this photo of me sometime in the middle of the race.  That was the better side – my left side was even worse.  Not to mention the chafing under my sports bra and in my shorts!  I have never run shirtless before, but at various points during the race I briefly considered taking it all off and running naked through the woods; I figured that might be morally unacceptable to folks, however.  Probably only Jenn Shelton could get away with that.

Apparently everyone and their mother was breaking out in heat rash.  I had it all over my thighs.  It didn’t bother me, it just looked strange.  What did bother me a little were the horseflies.  At one point I had two horseflies alternately landing on my legs as I ran, and I yelled out “STOP BITING ME, DAMMIT!” just as two runners approached over the hill.  I smiled and said, “Nice job, runners!” like a non-crazy person would do.  I don’t know if they bought it.

Other interesting things from the first 10 loops were that I saw an armadillo, and I almost stepped on a broad-banded copperhead snake at 10pm. 

During various trips through the start/finish between laps, RD Rob gave me reports: you’re 3rd overall and 1st female; you’re 2nd overall and 1st female, behind Matt Zmolek; Matt’s lying down; you’re 1st overall; you’re 1 of only 2 still in the race; the other guy’s not likely to make the time cutoff; you’re our only hope.  Better and better news, but I was feeling worse and worse.

Loop 11
The course is a lollipop, so I ran into Matt when he was completing his 10th loop, and I was starting my 11th.  I was excited to meet him, because I know he’s friends with Lorenzo, who is also an awesome guy.  Matt and I chatted/commiserated for a bit.  He had flown through the first 100k and really suffered from the heat.  He told me he was going to drop after that loop; that he was doing the math in his head and it wasn’t worth walking the next 9 hours just to finish.  Before we went our separate ways, I told him, honestly, that our conversation had been the most pleasant experience of the last 10 hours.

At this point, I was still jogging the downhills and most of the flats, and walking the hills okay.  But I was really slowing down, and that idea that I still had 9 more hours of this started messing with my head.  After this loop, I still have 3 more loops??  Now that it was the middle of the night, there were very few runners out on the course, and I guess the darkness, loneliness, and exhaustion starts getting to you.  When I finally made it to the aid station, I just wanted to sit down and cry.  But that’s not really my style, so instead I jokingly said to the volunteers, “Hey guys, I’m kind of at my breaking point here.  Got any good pep talks?”  I guess I was desperate for some earth-shattering words of wisdom that would suddenly energize and motivate me.  I don’t really know what I was expecting.  What I got was a very nice, perfectly wonderful, “Keep up the good work.”  I was crushed.   I picked up a cup of ramen noodles and did a 1,000 yard stare into the darkness as I thought, “How on earth am I going to keep going?”

Loop 13 (What happened during loop 12?  Your guess is as good as mine.  It’s a blur.)
The theme of the last two loops was heat exhaustion.  The race started at noon Saturday, so we were in the heat of the day, and then it was infinity percent humidity all night, and by the time it started really warming up again Sunday, I was feeling incredibly dizzy.  I had to keep leaning against trees.  I would sit for a few seconds on a bridge or stump, because it felt amazing to sit, but I had to stop doing that because standing up again made me so lightheaded.  I was walking so slowly during loops 13 and 14, but my heart felt like it was racing.  (I had ditched my heart rate monitor after the first loop, so I don’t have the data.)  At this point, I knew I would be the only finisher, but only if I finished.  Up until the last .2 miles I had a real concern that I was going to collapse on the course and not be able to finish.

Between loop 13 and 14
This part gets its own section, because I was probably at the start/finish aid station for 15 or 20 minutes.  I usually like to speed through aid stations, but this race was an exception.  As soon as I came in I asked Rob if I could cool down before I went back out.  He, Rachel, and all the volunteers were so kind and attentive – probably especially so since I was one of only 2 hundred-milers still in the race by that point (the others had dropped out or been pulled for medical).  Rob gave me his bandana and hat and the volunteers put ice on my back and neck.  They brought me Pedialyte and more gels.  They had only had a couple gel flavors for most of the race, and I had eaten about 60 gels by that point – mostly tropical and hazelnut, so I told them I’d give one of my kidneys for an apple cinnamon gel.  And Rob found a couple!  It’s the small things in life.

We sat around talking and joking for a bit.  Then I suddenly realized I hadn’t weighed in after my loop (weigh ins were mandatory after each loop).  They looked at me funny and said, yes you did.  I laughed and said, “That’s not a good sign . . .”  Then they sent me off, saying I had 5 hours to walk the last loop and make the cutoff.

Loop 14
This was the first 100 I’ve done without a pacer.  Still, I probably talked just as much during the last loops as I would have if someone were with me.  I was a little loopy. . . . I definitely shouted things like, “This mile never ends!” “This is more than half a f---ing mile!” “I hate this f---ing mile!”  “Just let it end!”  etc.  I also made statements like, “Way to be a tree, tree!  Nice job lying there, stick!  And don’t think I’m forgetting about you, cactus!  Excellent work!”  Translation: I was temporarily insane from being tired and hot and hurting.

During the second half of the last loop, I noticed I had become very quiet.  I was really focused on each step, Gordy Ainsleigh style – “I don’t know if I can do 3 more miles, but I can take one more step. And one more.”  I came close to crying multiple times, but I told myself firmly, No crying until the finish!  And then I didn’t cry at the finish.  I was just too tired and relieved and bewildered.  Out of it and overwhelmed.

Running down that hill to the start/finish was fun every single time.  All 14 times.

Thanks for an epic weekend, Rob and Rachel, all the runners, all the volunteers, and all the spectators. 

Philippians 4:13: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Short Story from Pedernales Falls 60k

I could (should) be doing homework or preparing for my presentations for work tomorrow, but I have to share about the adventure I had early this morning.

About 29 miles into the Pedernales Falls 60k, my headlamp flashed three times, warning me that it was low on battery.  I realized at that point that I had my Petzel Nao set on the brightest setting, which is only good for 4 hours, instead of the dimmer setting, which lasts 8 hours.  I switched to the dimmer setting immediately, but wondered how long the light would hold out.  With the moon behind clouds and the dense tree cover around me, I knew that once my light was gone, I would have to slow down significantly in order not to lose the trail or hurt myself stumbling over the loose rocks and uneven terrain.

Although this negative situation was caused entirely by my own stupidity: a) using the wrong setting, b) accidentally leaving my fully charged spare battery still plugged into the wall in my apartment, c) not carrying my spare headlamp from my glove compartment, d) all of the above, it actually turned into a positive; from mile 29 on, I pushed myself to run much faster than I would have otherwise, in order that I could get as close to the finish line as possible before everything went black.  Of course I was praying fervently during this time that it would hold out, while feeling a peace that God would help me out somehow, even though I little deserved it.

As my light got dimmer and dimmer, it became challenging to hop over the technical terrain, and I took a fall, cutting my hand pretty good.  But I was able to make it to 1.5 miles from the finish line before my light blinked off.  I had run about 2 seconds in darkness, when I turned a corner and saw a guy (with a radiantly bright headlamp) standing in the middle of the trail, displaying a good amount of surprise at the ninja runner approaching him.  After convincing him I wasn't a hallucination, I told him my light had just died, and he immediately began running alongside me, lighting the way for both of us.  As it turns out, he'd been standing there trying to make himself puke, as he'd been fighting nausea most of the race.  I thanked him profusely for helping me out, and he thanked me for motivating him to run rather than puke and walk it in.  (He also said he felt like he had to either run me in, or give up his man card.  Whatever the motivation, I appreciated it!)  He asked how long my light had been out, and couldn't believe the incredible timing -- that it had lasted just until I got to him.  All I could say was, "God is good!"

Friday, May 29, 2015

Paging Dr. Maffetone

So I'm on day #10 of iron pills to fix my iron deficiency anemia.  I think I'm feeling better every day.  Whereas last week I was having to stop every mile and walk to try to catch my breath, and earlier this week my friend Steph practically had to drag me through a 5-mile run, today's and yesterday's runs have felt much more manageable.  I'm trying to be smart and build back my speed slowly (I use the term "speed" loosely), by using the Maffetone method, which is basically running slowly enough to keep your heart rate below the answer to this math problem: 180 - (your age).  For me, that's 148, and with the South Texas heat and humidity of late May, in combination with my present conditioning, that means 10:15 per mile today.  Towards the end of my runs, I'm having to really pull pack as my heart rate creeps into the 150s.  I'm practically walking.  But I just have to trust that what I've heard about the Maffetone method rings true: that over time, my pace will get faster and faster at the same heart rate.  In the meantime, it's kind of a lonely road using this method, as its such an individualized pacing strategy that it's hard to run with anyone else.

Fortunately, I'm getting my exercise-social kick from workouts at the gym -- Explosive Sports Performance, which I heartily recommend -- and from yoga.  Tonight is "Friday Night Live" at Southtown Yoga, with live music.  I'm predicting there will be a sitar involved.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Horseshoe 50k Random Race Thoughts

The Horseshoe 50k was yesterday, and it was so fun!  As RD Rob Goyen promised, about half the course was underwater, and the other half was a shoe-sucking, slippery mess of mud.  As I passed one runner, I commented on how much fun this was to run through, and she said it would be fun if the course were dry.  I thought, "You're totally missing the point!  That's why this is so fun!  It's an adventure!"

Random thoughts from the five loops of the race:

Loop 1: At the first water on the trail, a few people in front of me were stopping and trying to walk around the water, like they didn't want to get their feet wet.  My reaction:

Loop 2: The second loop seemed more slippery than the first., I think because all of us were churning up the trail.  While trying to go up one particularly slippery hill, I couldn't gain any traction, and just slid right down the way I came, like Goofy in that old skiing cartoon.

Loop 3:  "After this loop, and the next loop, there's only one loop left!"

Barney: Hey Homer, I'm worried about the beer supply.  After this case, and the other case, there's only one case left! [pretending to be the other people in the room] Yeah, yeah! Uh, Barney's right. Yeah, let's drink some more beer. Yeah! Hey, what about some beer? Yeah, Barney's right.

Loop 4: I saw a baby armadillo on the trail!  It was so cute!  I didn't have my phone to take a picture, but it looked like this:

Loop 5: By the final loop, I had devised a system of "cleaning" off the top of my water bottle with the bottom of my chin each time I wanted to drink out of it.  Running through the muddy water (that stank suspiciously of horse poop) resulted in the top of my water bottle continuously getting dirty, and I thought it would be best to try to avoid consuming standing water, even if it didn't really contain horse poop.  No square inch of my clothing or skin was clean, so the bottom of my chin seemed like the best bet.

I really needed this experience -- just having fun out on the trails, ignoring my pace, enjoying the adventure.  My runs lately have been pretty crappy, and I'm waiting for the results of a blood draw to see if it's anemia or what that's leaving me short of breath and lightheaded whenever I stand up, climb the stairs to my apartment, try to run down the block, etc.  I've been thinking maybe I'm just really out of shape, and maybe that's true, too -- I recently took 4 weeks off running to try to heal a knee injury -- but whatever it is, I'm so happy and thankful for a fun experience yesterday, that was challenging because of the terrain, not because I can't run fast.  And I'm so grateful to Rob and Rachel Goyen for putting on such a wonderful, well-planned event.  I can't wait for the next Trail Racing Over Texas event I can attend!

Post-race muddiness

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Monument Valley 50M

Thursday, March 12-Friday, March 13

My friends Asma and Matt and I flew into Phoenix Thursday morning and then drove up to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  After spending Thursday afternoon sliding down and slogging back up a couple miles of the Bright Angel trail on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and doing the same Friday morning on the South Kaibab trail,we traveled north and east to the Arizona/Utah border for the Monument Valley 50 mile race.
Sign at the Bright Angel trail
Trying not to slip into the canyon
Friday, March 13 -- Packet Pick-up and Trail Briefing

At packet pickup, RD Matt Gunn gave a brief description of the course and then introduced the first of 3 Navajo who would speak with us.  As they talked, we got to enjoy the beauty of the monuments in silhouette as the sun set.  Tanya and Jason had joked that they only attended the race briefing in order to find out the starting time of the race; I was mostly hoping to learn the distance between aid stations.  After the final speaker, a young lady soon to compete in the Miss Indian World 2015 pageant, I realized I wasn't going to find out what I wanted.  The RD didn't say anything more, and the runners looked at each other as we realized the briefing had abruptly ended and that was it.  Another runner turned to me and asked, "What time does the race start?"  I told him 7am, and we verified that we had the right time, as the Navajo Nation observes Daylight Savings Time, so our watches had to be changed from Arizona time.

All joking aside, I really did like the casual, relaxed tone set by the RD, his respect and gratitude for the Navajo people who allowed us to run on their land, and his emphasis that running here is not about a race so much as "an intrinsic way to absorb the landscape."
Matt Gunn's trail briefing
Saturday, March 14 -- 50 Mile Race
Disclaimer: I have a really bad memory, and I'm just recording the miles between aid stations as I recall them, so I might be off a bit.

Miles 0-3.5 (To Sentinel Mesa A/S)
After a Navajo blessing, facing east toward the rising sun, we headed out in the darkness, north toward Sentinel Mesa.  After the sun rose, I was so astounded by the beauty of the monuments to my right that I stopped to take the first of many pictures.  Most of the course is off limits to non-Navajos, so it was such a privilege and blessing to get to see the views we ran through.  This stretch included a sand dune that was really fun to run down.  I was surprised at how many runners went without gaiters, despite the RD's recommendation to wear them.  After coming off that first sand dune, I saw some folks dumping large quantities of reddish sand from their shoes.  It would be frustrating to deal with that all day.

The first picture I took during the race
Miles 3.5-9.5 (To Brigham's Tomb A/S)
These first stretches of the course were singletrack trail, and the terrain was sand that ranged from firmer to looser, but was runnable.  The way to Brigham's Tomb led us past Stagecoach Butte, which was very scenic.  It already started to feel warm by this time, and I'd taken off my light jacket and arm warmers.  To get to the aid station itself, we passed some horses and a cute dog owned by the Navajo who live here.

Miles 9.5-15 (To East Mitten A/S)
In my mind, I keep conflating the Brigham's Tomb stretch with the East Mitten stretch, but I believe this was the part that featured some winding singletrack between boulders.  The RD was at the East Mitten A/S, and he made a comment like, "Is it heating up out there already?" as I poured water over my head.  It actually didn't get too hot, temperature-wise -- I don't think it even got over 70, but I guess I'm really not acclimated to heat after this chilly winter, because out in that sun with no shade to speak of, I felt the need to pour cool water on myself at every aid station I hit, except the first 2 and the last one, when the sun was getting low in the sky again.

The feeling that I was in a John Wayne movie intensified whenever I'd see Navajo guides on horses (look closely).
Miles 15-22 (To Hogan A/S, 1st time)
This was probably my least favorite section of the course, although it was still absolutely picturesque and a blessing to run through.  It was just less fun to run through a wash than to run on singletrack.  One benefit was that occasionally some standing water would be in the creekbed, and every time I'd dip my buff into it to cool my neck.  The final part of this section, leading to the aid station, involved running up an unpaved road with frequent passing tour vehicles, each of which kicked up a wall of sand and dust that made me very thankful for my sunglasses and buff.  The hogan, or traditional dwelling, at this aid station is owned by a Navajo family who made mutton stew for the runners.  I didn't check that out, but only hit up my drop bag and grabbed more gels, as well as sunscreen and water.  I gulped down some Tailwind as well, each time I came back to this A/S.

Miles 22-27 (North Window loop, to Hogan A/S, 2nd time)
Matt Gunn said they call this the Marlboro trail, because it looks like scenery from the cigarette ads.  Every step of this loop offered 360 degree panoramic views.  As we passed by Rain God Mesa, I glimpsed a roadrunner, which reminded me of San Antonio.
Most of the area in which we ran is usually off-limits to non-Navajo people.
Miles 27-37 (Arches loop, to Hogan A/S, 3rd time)
This big loop started off on another unpaved road with vehicles kicking up dust in our faces.  I also experienced two dust devil-type situations, which was kind of interesting and fun.  There were a ton of photo-worthy features on this stretch: The Thumb, Totem Pole, a huge sand dune, Big Hogan, Ear of the Wind, and Sun's Eye to name a few.  Some of this was singletrack, but a good part of it was on a wider path, like an old Jeep road, which led us around an area that looked like it may have been part of the uranium mining operations or other activities that once took place on this land.  I could be totally wrong about that, however.

Miles 37-46.5 (Mitchell Mesa out and back, to Hogan A/S, 4th time)
An old mine?  (Top of Mitchell Mesa)
I left for this out and back having no conception of how many miles it was.  There was a whiteboard at each aid station that said how far until the next aid station, but the one at Hogan, being the epicenter of so many different loops for different distances (100M, 50M, 50k, 25k), had way too much info for my tired brain at this point.  So I headed out with a pretty full bladder in my pack and plenty of gels.  I knew this would be a challenging bit, because we had to climb to the top of Mitchell Mesa, which looked like an impossible feat from the ground below.  It was an ascent of about 1,000 feet, coming at around mile 40 of the 50-mile race.  Okay, it's nothing compared to the Georgia Death Race ;), but between the altitude, the heat, and my current lack of fitness, I felt it -- my heart rate during the entire race was higher than Dr. Maffetone would recommend, and especially going up this steep climb.  But the views were breathtaking, and the echo when I yelled at the top beat even the echoes at Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend.  After an equally steep return down the mesa, I did some calculations and realized that I needed to shift to another gear if I was going to finish sub-12 hours, which was my only major time goal for this race.  So I started pushing my pace and ran my fastest few miles back to the hogan.

Miles 46.5-50 (to Finish)
This 3.5-mile run on the "shoulder" of the unpaved road was not super enjoyable.  As the RD had warned us, it had just been graded, so the loose sand and dust continued to find its way into eyes, mouth, nose, etc. every time a car passed (which was frequently).  I could see The View hotel, near the start/finish, from a few miles away, and it never really seemed to look any closer every time I looked up at it.  There was a nice big hill up to the finish, which made the feeling of accomplishment when I came in that much better.  I was happy to see my friends and pick up a finisher's bracelet, handmade by a Navajo artist from leather and horsehair.  I enjoyed my freshly made Navajo taco as a recovery meal.  Then it was back to Goulding's Lodge for a shower, Navajo tea, and good conversation.  I was so tired that I couldn't even make use of the cassette tape/stereo built into the wall of our 3-bedroom unit for a celebratory dance party.  Maybe next time.
Oh, you can't play cassette tapes in the wall of your hotel?  I'm sorry.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

God Speaking

Sunday, February 7, 2015

For a while now, I've been keeping a log of "coincidences" -- in other words, times when I feel like God is speaking to me through the everyday events of life.  Do you ever think about this during your day?  Today's "coincidence" experience was just to outrageous and funny not to share.

This morning I woke up at 8:00, so I decided to find a parish with 9:00 Mass.  I Googled "San Antonio find a parish" and found that Immaculate Heart of Mary, one of the 5 Catholic churches downtown, has a 9:00 Mass in English.  I went to put on my jeans, only to realize that they were in the laundry and the only other pair I own was all wrinkled (and had a hole in the crotch, but I didn't notice that until the afternoon.  Oops).  I put on my nice Notre Dame fleece and nice loafers and hoped that would compensate for my shabby pants.

As I walked toward the church, I felt really awkward about my raggedy appearance said a quick prayer that God would make me feel welcome in this church anyway.  When I reached the open doors, not just one, but three ushers said good morning and shook my hand.  After I had said down, an elderly man named Antonio came over and introduced himself.  He handed me a brown scapular and asked me to say a prayer for him.  Then a female usher came over and asked if I would like to help bring the gifts up to the altar at the appropriate time.  By the time when we stood for the gathering hymn, and I opened my hymnal and saw that we were singing "All are Welcome," I just smiled.  I felt like God was not only asking, "Do you feel welcome yet?" but also, "Like my sense of humor?"  The answer to both questions is yes.  I couldn't help smiling as I sang.  To top off the experience, the gentleman in front of me complimented my ND shirt during the Sign of Peace and told me he and his wife had visited Notre Dame a while back.  A few nice words about my alma mater, my home away from home, where I have so many wonderful memories, does wonders for making me feel good.

So thanks, God, and please keep these "coincidences" coming!  Please help us to recognize when you speak to us in the conversations, events, and circumstances of our everyday lives.  Amen.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

3 Practical Questions Answered at Rocky Raccoon 100

Rocky Raccoon 100 was my first hundred-miler since Cactus Rose 100 last October, when I died a little bit and my soul left my body alone on the trail for awhile.  Okay, that's maybe a little over-dramatic, but I was apprehensive going into another hundred after that awful experience.

Fortunately, my wonderful parents came from Minnesota to visit and support me, and that gave me something to look forward to at the end of each loop.  I was a little scared that they would witness a total meltdown, but I was more excited for them to get to experience the atmosphere of a trail ultra and meet some of my awesome Rockhopper friends.  In the end, their encouragement, hugs, and enthusiasm helped me to a PR of about 3 hours.  In those 22+ hours, I learned the answers to three questions that I think will help me in future hundred-milers:

1. What helps you regain energy during a low spot?
On my last loop, around miles 85 through 88, I was really low on energy.  My dad was pacing me for that loop, which was amazing.  It was his first trail run, and I am so thankful he agreed to brave the dark and the roots to be with me.  In these miles, my power walk became slower and slower; my dad would stop and look back to make sure I was still behind him, because I was moving so slowly.  I just felt like I had nothing in me.  Three things helped me get back on pace: 1) I had half a cup of potato soup at Damnation aid station (around mile 86), which was my first real food of the race; 2) I asked my dad to say the Rosary with me; and 3) I requested that my dad tell me the joke about the guy who ate beans, and he kindly agreed.  Here's the joke, in case you're interested:

On Joe's birthday, he left work a little early, because his wife promised him a special birthday meal at home.  On his way home, he passed a food truck that sold the best bean dishes.  Joe had a weakness for beans; he just loved to eat them, but his wife forbade this, since it caused some gastrointestinal problems in Joe.  "Heck," Joe thought to himself, "It's my birthday, I should treat myself.  I can pop in and out and get home in plenty of time, and my wife will never find out."  So Joe went in and ordered a plate of beans.  He ate every last one with relish, and it was so good that he went ahead and ordered a second plate.  After he finished, he drove home just in time for dinner with his wife.  

When Joe opened his front door, his wife met him at the threshold with a blindfold.  "Hi, Joe!  Happy birthday, honey.  Thanks for coming home early.  I've made a special dinner for you.  But I don't want you to see it quite yet."  She put the blindfold over his eyes, led him to the dining room, and got him seated, when just then, the phone rang.  She hesitated, and then said, "Sorry, I'd better answer it.  Just a second, sweetie, I'll be right back."  As the door closed behind her, Joe let out a sigh of relief, because he'd been feeling an immense sense of pressure in his lower abdomen, which had been building ever since he'd come in the front door, and he didn't think he could hold it much longer.  So as soon as his wife left the room, he let out one enormous fart -- and then a string of medium-sized farts.  That felt so good, to relieve that pressure, but it wasn't the end.  Here came another one -- whew!  That smelled so bad, Joe could have sworn it would cause the paint to start peeling from the walls.  Here came another big one, and then a chain of toots in quick succession.  Joe could vaguely hear the sounds of his wife's conversation coming to a close, so he really let go and gave it all he had, in a desperate attempt to clear all the gas from his bowels before his wife re-entered.  She could never know about his forbidden stop to the food truck.  He waved his hands, trying to fan the smell of rotten eggs from the air.

Seconds later, in came his wife.  He could hear her footsteps coming closer.   She leaned in, removed the blindfold, and there around the table were seated all of their closest friends.  "Surprise, honey!  Happy birthday!"

I don't tell it half as well as my dad, but you get the idea.  By the end of the joke, I was laughing and power-walking with gusto.  I continued drinking some soup at the remaining aid stations, and I was able to run it in at the end.  I think the prayers helped as much as anything.  And just being with my dad made the last loop the total opposite of last year's RR100 experience; it was a time of great joy, rather than lonely suffering.

2. How many gels do I actually take during a hundred-miler?
I've never really been disciplined enough in my gel-taking to track my gel use throughout a hundred.  But I did a pretty good job this time around of sticking to a schedule.  My best estimate is that I took 50 VFuel gels.  (4 hours x 2 per hour the first loop; 4 hours x 3 per hour for the next 3 loops; and probably about 6 during the last loop, at which point I switched over to eating soup from the aid stations.)

3. What's the best cross-training for a hundred-miler?
I really think the power-walking I did on a daily basis in the three weeks between Bandera 100K and Rocky 100 helped me during the race.  I ended up doing a lot of power-walking, starting in loop 3.  Loops 4 and 5 largely consisted of power-walking.  In my training, I clocked sub-13-minute miles walking, and I think that really paid off during the race.  Walking fast versus walking slow can really shave off a lot of time in the long run.  I also think that focusing on walking instead of running between these two races helped my recovery going into Rocky, something that I had vowed to improve from last year's experience.

I suppose one final thing I learned is that a pine cone works okay as toilet paper -- as long as you go in the right direction.  I still prefer rocks, though.