Saturday, August 5, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 24, 2017

He Said: Joe's account of Bighorn 100

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 23, 2017

She Said: Bighorn 100 Race Report

Time for a quick selfie before the race
Although Joe and I ran/walked/plodded every step of the Bighorn 100 together, we chose to write separate race reports.  I think it will be interesting to compare them and see the differences in what we choose to focus on.  I'm basing my recap on a set of four goals I wrote in my journal and shared with Joe the evening before the race.  Here goes:

Goal #1: Run the whole race together and finish together.  
Grade: A+.  Although there was a time I didn't think we'd make the time cutoff, as we wallowed in the mud overnight, and although Joe half-joked about wanting to drop around mile 60, we managed to stick it out and finish hand-in-hand.

Example: [Joe, jealously pointing to runners being carted away on ATVs after they'd dropped:] "Look at that guy.  He doesn't have to move a muscle!"

Finally approaching the finish line, more than 33 hours after starting
Out of 437 starters, only 175 finished, the conditions were so bad.  For me, it wasn't only the mud, which caused me to fall maybe twenty times and also ripped my shoe off my foot at one point; it was also the constant feeling of being cold and wet that challenged my desire to carry on.  The rain lasted hours and hours, and the temperature at the turnaround, at 9,000ft elevation, was probably around 40 degrees.  If I hadn't changed my outfit from head-to-toe at the 48-mile turnaround, my misery in being cold and wet might have threatened my finish.  One thing that kept me going was thinking that we committed to running the race together, and I couldn't ditch Joe, leaving him to continue alone.  The race seemed like a metaphor for marriage, and if our marriage gets difficult, I wouldn't just give up on it, would I?  I'm so glad we kept going, when so many others gave up.

 Me, slogging through the mud for 50 miles: "I feel like Milhouse.  'So this is my life.'"

Goal #2: Have fun making new memories with Joe, enjoying the scenery, another adventure, and many laughs.
Grade: A.  We certainly made new memories, and we did enjoy the scenery.  I especially appreciated the beautiful purple and yellow wildflowers blanketing the hills and meadows.  It was more of an adventure than we bargained for, with the rain, mud, and cold, but despite the conditions, we joked and laughed a lot.

Easier to enjoy the scenery here, at the start of the race, before the mud-fest
Example: [Joe, running past moose droppings:] "That poop looked like those little chocolate Easter eggs.  What kind of animal do you suppose poops like that?"
[Julie:] "Like Cadbury eggs?"
[Joe:] "No, those little foil-wrapped ones."
[Julie thinks to herself] Cadbury eggs are wrapped in foil.
[Julie:] "It's probably the Easter bunny."
[Joe:] "He poops in the shape of chocolate Easter eggs? But how do you tell the poop from the candy?"
[Julie:] "When it's out of season."

Goal #3: Maintain a positive attitude and perspective.  
Grade: B+.  I'd say we had positive attitudes for about 88 miles -- which is pretty good, considering the conditions, on top of the general difficulty of the course.  I have to admit, however, that we had terrible attitudes the last 12 miles or so.  All of a sudden it got hot, it was totally exposed, and the singletrack never seemed to end.  Then, when we got to the road, that never seemed to end.  

Example: [Julie:] "F--- this singletrack s--t!  Get us out of this f---ing National Forest! I just want to be on the road!  Let us out!"

Example: [Joe:] "F--- me in the goat-ass."  (If you don't get this reference, you really need to listen to this.  Caution: NSFW.)

Long before this, during the mud slog, Joe had started giving me updates on how well we were doing compared to 20-minute miles.  That became the goal; we joked about "Slamming down some sub-20s" when we were really feeling good.  It was so helpful to know that as long as we continued hitting that mark, we would make the cutoff, with time to spare.  That pace is a bit depressing, though, because when you have 12 miles to go, that means 4 more hours.  3 miles to go is another entire hour.  

I had pretty much stopped eating with 12 miles left, thinking there wasn't that much remaining.  That left me lightheaded and exhausted by the time we got to the road, and I felt like I was having a panic attack -- I was breathing rapidly and out of control, and dry-crying (probably too dehydrated for tears).  Even with only 2 miles to go, I was secretly worried I'd collapse before the finish, which terrified me -- imagine suffering through 98 miles and not being able to finish!  Both Joe and I had swollen hands and fingers and were worried about hyponatremia, and I had reacted to that by not drinking even though I was thirsty (mistake!).  Both Joe and I were hurting and beyond ready to be done at this point.

Goal #4: Help each other out there.
Grade: A+.  All I can say is that running this race with Joe was like having a pacer for all one hundred miles.  He helped me in countless ways.  To name a few: 1) when I ran out of nutrition between aid stations (oops!), he gave me gels, and even took the tops off for me.  (Aww!)  2) He helped me get my shoe out of the mud and back on my foot.  3) He always stayed behind me and let me determine the pace.  4)  He kept track of the time for us -- he told me how much cushion we had before the cutoff, and how close we were to 20-minute mile pace.  (This was reassuring for the most part, and motivating in parts where we were slower due to the muddy, steep climbs.)  5) He'd give me encouragement, like "You're moving really good, Jules."  6) He'd remind me to eat.  7) He made me laugh, and we kept each other entertained.

Speaking of entertainment, here's a partial list of songs we had stuck in our heads during the race.  (We were kind enough to make sure any song in our head got stuck in the other's head, as well.)
1. Glory Days, Bruce Springsteen (Really, this one has been stuck in our heads since the Franklin Mountains 50k last September.)
2. Ironic, Alanis Morrisette 
3. Hungry Like the Wolf, Duran Duran (Why is it "the" wolf, and not "a" wolf?  Which specific wolf is he talking about?)
4. Pachelbel Canon (Why?)
5. Highway to Hell, AC/DC

Toward the end of the race, Joe was questioning why anyone would do a hundred-miler.  But of course, now he's excited again for running Cactus 100 in October.  As Chris Russell commented, it's important to have a short-term memory in this sport.  I'm so glad I was there for his first 100-mile finish, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do when he runs one like a race, rather than running with me.
Happy and relieved to be finished -- and to have accomplished it together.
Bighorn was a tough experience, but it was another chance to grow as individuals and as a couple.  We continue to put ourselves in situations where we see all sides of one another, and where we are challenged to our perceived limits, and we keep coming out the other side stronger and better for it.  It's such a blessing to have this sport where we can have these kinds of experiences and make these memories together.  We're already looking forward to our next trail adventure.

Thanks to Nathan for my hydration pack, bladder, and headlamps.  Thank you to Victory Sportdesign for the gear bags (Bear II and Bear III) that kept my stuff organized and dry, allowing me to change socks, shirts, shoes, hats, capris -- pretty much everything. Thanks also to Rob Van Houten, who hiked with us up to the Dry Fork aid station and gave us great moral support, and all the volunteers -- many of which were out in the cold rain all day Friday, all night, and all day Saturday.  They were amazing!  Also thanks to Edward Sousa for sharing his packing list and race strategy, and giving us a ride back to our cabin after the race, when we didn't feel up to walking three more blocks.  And always, thanks to Rob and Rachel Goyen for letting me be part of the Team TROT family.  It's such a blessing and a pleasure to be in the TROT community.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Taco Cabana Challenge Recap (with photos)

This Rockhopper endurance eating competition promised an inter-city competition featuring two legends from Austin.  Ominous clouds on the horizon and thick humidity in the air set the stage as 9 hungry, na├»ve competitors toed the line for this 9.3-mile, 3-restaurant, 4000+ calorie showdown. 

At restaurant #1, tension mounted as the competitors were served their massive burritos, which weighed just over a pound each, along with chips and guacamole.  At 8:33am the gun went off and the gorging began.  The literal storm outside would eventually skirt San Antonio harmlessly, but the storm within the digestive systems of the foolhardy competitors was just beginning as each eater finished up meal #1.

“Sweet” Chris Russell, accompanied by his 2 lovely pacers, was the first out the door.  He was followed by Mike “The Ringer” Ruhlin from Austin, then Julie “Habanero Kid” Koepke.  The rest of the competitors would soon follow, and the field started making its way along the 6-mile route to the next restaurant.  Joe “Schmo” and Steffen “Two F’s” Andersland joined up and took the lead all the way to Taco Cabana #2.  Meanwhile, Sweet Chris, his pacers, and Erin “The Tornado” Good were already diverted to a port-a-potty along the route.  Refried beans will do that.  “Maffatone” Tom Bowling, in a complete departure from his normal, steady heart rate strategy, was setting 5k PRs and lighting Leon Creek on fire on this first leg – would this risky move pay off, or backfire?  Along the way, competitors were also cheered on by pacer Jess Winnett, Kristen Malloy, Tony Maldonado (riding his bike along LC) and Michele Genereux, who decided (probably against her better judgement) to witness Tom’s performance first-hand this time.

Russell enjoying the company of his two pacers
Andersland and Schmal were the first to order at the second restaurant.  Trail-running legend Steven “Eatsum” Moore from Austin was not far behind, despite taking the longest to make his way through the 1-pound beef burrito.  Bowling came in next, having just bagged a 5k PR according to his watch.  Then Koepke and Ruhlin ran in with Jess, followed shortly thereafter by Good.  Eric “Game-Time Decision” Lamkin – who waited until the last minute to decide to participate, as well as to decide on which menu to order from (meat vs. vegetarian) – also arrived at the second restaurant around this time.  Russell wasted no time in finding a comfortable patio spot in which to create a small kiddie pool of sweat.  The two leaders quickly lost their spots as Ruhlin, well-known in Austin’s endurance eating circles, made the second 1-pound burrito disappear faster than the Rockets in the NBA playoffs.

Russell's kiddie pool
With Ruhlin already making his way down the last 3.3 mile stretch of Bandera Rd, the others had their work cut out.  Schmal, Bowling, and Koepke (who put away her second burrito incredibly fast), all left together in the chase pack.  Unfortunately, Taco Cabana #2 would also have a few casualties.  Lamkin, Moore and Good would not even order food at the third restaurant.  When Good arrived at the last restaurant, she announced that she DQ’d “somewhere along Bandera Road,” having unleashed a bean-and-cheese tornado of puke.

Ruhlin and Schmal arrived 1-2 at the last restaurant and ordered, but Schmal could already taste defeat.  While Ruhlin attacked the last burrito (another 1-pound brick of steak, rice and beans), Schmal could only nibble at it, bit by bit.  Bowling, the only TC competitor to have successfully finished the Whataburger Challenge last year, was next into the restaurant.  Koepke, Andersland and Russell would follow.  However, Ruhlin was just too strong.  At the 2:26 mark, he gulped the last of his peach margarita and raised his fists in victory.  He would be the only competitor to finish all 4000 calories; the rest would have to be weighed on the food scale.  Schmal somewhat redeemed a poor performance at the Whataburger Challenge last year, getting through almost all of the last burrito – only 3.3 oz. remained uneaten from the 17 oz. behemoth, earning him second place.

Schmal experiencing a new feeling: There's food in front of me, and I don't want to eat it.
Bowling, pretty happy about his peach margarita
The agony of defeat. How bad do I want it? Maybe not that badly.
The most dramatic moment of the competition was about to occur.  Everyone had weighed their remaining food contents by 11:32am, 1 minute before the cutoff, and it appeared that Russell had a narrow edge over Steffen for 3rd place, with 10.1 ounces remaining versus 10.2 for Andersland.  But Russell was still chewing on a huge mouthful of food as the seconds ticked toward 11:33 (the 3-hour mark).  Once time was officially called, Russell had to spit the remaining un-swallowed tex-mex into the wrapper to be re-weighed.  The new weight was 10.9 ounces, pushing Russell to 4th place, and forcing everyone to recoil in disgust.

The awards ceremony began promptly following the competition.  The coveted DFL award, a toilet-shaped air freshener, went to Good, although all competitors would probably benefit from such a prize.  Ruhlin graciously accepted his new Squatty Potty © for 1st place overall.  Schmal and Koepke awarded 1st place male and 1st place female to themselves – plastic shovels to hopefully aid in shoveling food into their mouths a little faster next time.  Andersland scored the final prize of the morning – a “grow your own chili plant” in honor of defeating his spicy competition on the way to a 2nd place male finish.

Ruhlin with his major award
 Another successful Rockhopper eat and run competition is in the books.  Mark your calendars now for our 2nd annual Whataburger Challenge, to be held Labor Day 2017.  We also hope to continue this new tradition of a spring eating challenge, which will feature new restaurants each year.

-Schmal and Koepke, RDs

Taco Cabana Challenge Results
Mike “The Ringer” Ruhlin 2:26
Joe “Schmo” Schmal 3.3 ounces remaining
Steffen “Two Fs” Andersland 10.2 ounces
“Sweet” Chris Russell 10.9 ounces
“Maffetone” Tom Bowling 12.49 ounces
Julie “Habanero Kid” Koepke 16.2 ounces
Steven “Eatsum” Moore DNF after TC #2
Eric “Game-Time Decision” Lamkin DNF after TC #2

Erin “The Tornado” Good DNF after TC #2 with 8-ounce puking penalty

Sunday, May 7, 2017

One month on AIP, then ran a 50k. Here's what happened. (Wow, I should write clickbait headlines!)

I ran Trail Racing Over Texas' Wildflower 50k yesterday.  It seemed like a good experiment, because the race took place after exactly once month of being on the AIP diet.  Here's my experience of what went well and what didn't -- you know, for science.

The good

  • Maybe because my body hadn't been exposed to added sugar for a month, I felt especially energized by chews and gels.  I didn't follow a strict nutrition regimen during the race; I think I consumed around 600 calories of chews and gels, plus several bottle-fulls of Coke from aid stations.  According to Strava (this phrase is generally accepted to be the equivalent to saying, "indisputable fact"), the run burned 4,000 calories.  I can't say that means I'm "fat-adapted," where I'm burning fat versus protein, and I don't know what might have happened in a longer ultra, but this was a good enough experience to convince me to continue avoiding added sugar in my daily diet.
  • It felt so good to have energy throughout the race, and to be able to push myself each loop, rather than deteriorating with every mile, like I did in my last couple races.  I kept fairly even splits -- 1:07, 1:06, 1:08, 1:10, 1:06, and moved up through the field from 6th female after the first loop, to 1st female, 14th overall by the end.  Ah, the feeling of not being over-raced.  I might actually try to avoid over-racing in the future to preserve that good feeling.  Well, at least I'll try to try.

The bad
  • Maybe because my body hadn't been exposed to added sugar for a month, it freaked the f- out when I consumed all that sugar.  My GI system was like, "Holy hell, Julie; wtf?!"  
  • After giving my all to win that race, I came back to San Antonio only to have my butt handed to me in Connect 4 by a wily 9-year-old.  It was kind of like that scene in Scrubs:

We aren't competitive at all.

Monday, April 24, 2017

AIP Update: 2 Weeks In

I'm on day 17 of the AIP diet.  Here's an update on how it's going, in case you're thinking of trying it yourself, or maybe are just a weird diet-voyeur.  (No judgment here!)  I'll do it report card-style, because Lisa Simpson is my spirit animal.

Fidelity to the diet: A-

  • I have been eating solely meat, veggies, and fruit.  However, I have made mistakes with spices and peppers, like when I used cumin. (I realized last week that cumin comes from seeds).  I have also willingly eaten bell peppers and little bits of tomatoes, which are also on the "No" list, when they've been served in my food.
  • Whenever Joe and I have eaten out, we've either gone to bbq places or steakhouses, figuring we have the best shot there of finding food I can eat.  (What a sacrifice!  We even had to suffer through a meal at a Brazilian steakhouse last week.  It's been rough.)
  • Speaking of BBQ, I have cheated and eaten BBQ sauce.  That's probably the most added sugar I've had in over two weeks.
  • I've patiently picked every shred of cheese out of store-bought salads, and I've thrown away every crouton and egg slice that's come my way.
  • I've carried baked sweet potatoes and fruit in my hydration pack during long runs, instead of Honeystinger waffles or Gu Chews.
  • I've been in several all-day meetings where they served lunch, and I've either 1) brought my own lunch, aka dried beef, baked sweet potato, and fruit, or 2) scavenged the catering table for deli meat and iceberg lettuce while my co-workers enjoyed sandwiches and dessert.
  • I have ignored the persistent food cravings saying, "Just one Coke Zero won't hurt you.  Doesn't ice cream sound great right now?  That Pop-Tart would really help fuel your run on the Powerlines."*
*Note: Since starting this diet and cutting out all added sugar, I've had weirdly specific sugar cravings.  After taking a shower, I thought my towel smelled like a donut.  During a run, I thought I smelled Diet Dr. Pepper.  At this moment, I'd really like to eat a brown Tootsie Pop.

Calorie management for running performance: B
  • My first couple runs while on the diet, I felt pretty lethargic.  They've improved since then, maybe because I've started eating sweet potatoes, which have 27g of carbohydrates per cup.  
  • This past weekend, I did two moderately long runs: a 3.5-hour run and a 2.5-hour run, both at Bandera.  The first one was a night run, after dinner.  I ate one apple during the run, and felt good the entire time.  The second was a morning run, after a breakfast of vegetables and fruit, and I didn't consume anything during the run.  I bonked hard enough that I couldn't think clearly toward the end, which resulted in this conversation:
          Joe (quoting The Simpsons): "Now, let's all celebrate with a cool glass of turnip juice."
          Me: Have you ever had a tune -- tunip -- tune-up?  What's that word again?
          Joe: Um . . . 

Enthusiasm for continuing on AIP: B
  • After the month-long experiment is over, I would like to continue avoiding grains and dairy and only eating whole foods -- for the most part.  I do miss going to Sammy's for an omelet with Joe on Sunday mornings, and I miss trying out different restaurants (usually carb-heavy ones) during our once-a-week lunch together.  So right now I'm thinking those two meals a week could be the exceptions to the rule.  I definitely will let myself eat nuts, spices, and peppers again without restraint once this experiment is complete.
  • One AIP website I was reading said something like, "Everyone makes mistakes on the AIP diet.  It's nothing to worry about.  But you do need to start over from scratch when this happens."  Joe and I have had fun joking about that: "Don't worry about the report you messed up.  Everyone makes mistakes.  But you're fired; go clean out your desk."  As far as this diet goes, I am happy to acknowledge that I've made mistakes, and happy to try to do better going forward, but there's no way I'm starting again from day one.
Another note: Strength and conditioning coach extraordinaire Phil reminded me that AIP is about eliminating all causes of inflammation from the body.  Thus, he told me, doing 20 miles of hill repeats is not AIP.  That kind of thing causes stress and inflammation.  So the fact that I'm still running, in combination with the mistakes and exceptions I've made in the diet, means I'm not a perfect model of the auto-immune protocol.  And I'm okay with that.  Overall midterm grade: B.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Experiment of one: AIP

On Saturday, I started the autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet.  So far, my progress has followed the usual steps: 1) start diet, 2) post food pic on Insta, 3) talk about diet with friends.  The next step is clearly: 4) blog about diet.

Seriously, though, a couple friends have asked me to blog about the diet occasionally over the next month, because they're interested to hear about someone's -- particularly, an ultrarunner's -- experience.  I figured that's a good idea, in case it could be useful to someone else.  Of course, there's the caveat that we are each an experiment of one; what works for me might not necessarily work for you, and vice versa.  Here's my story so far:

My reasons for starting AIP
For a year or two, I lived a fairly no-grain, no-added-sugar lifestyle.  I was happy eating the same foods (scrambled eggs, smoothies, carrots and hummus) day in and day out, for multiple meals a day.  Then Joe and I started dating, and things became more complicated -- in a good way.  I wasn't going to serve him a smoothie for dinner when he came over to my place, and I surely wasn't going to turn down whatever he served me at his.  And if we took the girls out for ice cream and everyone else was getting one, it would feel antisocial to refuse . . . It was fun, yet from there it was a shockingly quick spiral into eating 1,500 calorie meals at Carl's Jr. on a quasi-regular basis.

Sometime in the midst of this, my doctor went over some lab results with me, and informed me that one marker, associated with adrenal levels, was outside of the normal range, and he recommended that I try AIP.  Naturally, I blew him off.  I'd heard of the protocol from my strength and conditioning coach, who does it occasionally for a month at a time, and it sounded awful.  No grain, no dairy, no hummus?  No thanks.

However, ever since the Lone Star 100 in February, I have felt like I'm eating junk all the time.  I gained about 5 pounds, and I was unhappy with myself.  Some of my runs have felt terrible, and sometimes it's hard even climbing the stairs up to my apartment.  It's difficult to pinpoint the causes of those last two things: I know I've been racing ultras too frequently; I've suffered from iron-deficiency anemia in the past; I donate blood regularly.  All of those things could be factors in my fatigue.  But I feel like I'm doing what I can about the iron, taking a supplement every day.  So hitting the "reset" button on my diet seemed like the next step in getting healthier and hopefully feeling better.  Of course, I could have chosen a diet that involved moderation, but that's actually harder for me than a strict elimination protocol; for better or worse, I'm kind of an "all or nothing" person.  So for the next month, I'm all in.

Learning curve
Going to H-E-B the night before I started the protocol, I wasn't sure what to get.  Fortunately, I had these little cheat sheets to guide me:

I ended up getting lots of vegetables, some frozen grilled chicken strips, avocados, and fruit.  It's been interesting trying new combinations of foods.  I've found I hate plain avocado, but I really like it combined with cilantro, cumin, and salt, served on cucumber slices.  I have a bland enough palate that chicken and broccoli tastes fine.  And I've just realized that coconut milk isn't prohibited, so I'm thinking about reverting back to my old smoothie ways.

1 avocado, 2 tbs cilantro, 1 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp salt
I have had a couple accidental cheat moments already -- eating guacamole that had some ground-up bell pepper in it (oops), using seasoning that had paprika and sugar (oops) -- but those seem like small errors in the big picture.  I'm really trying to be faithful to the protocol, so that it can give me useful information about what foods make me feel better, and which might have a detrimental effect.

Observations so far
Today is only day 4 of the protocol.  Here are some observations I've made over the last few days, with the caveat that I'm not necessarily suggesting causation.

  • My runs haven't been stellar.  They've been slow, and even tiny bumps feel like huge hills.  I've had to stop and walk a couple times.  (Though to be fair, it's as muggy as a steam room here lately, and that could be part of it, too.)
  • I've lost 2 pounds.
  • It takes a lot of cabbage and grilled chicken to make me feel full.
  • I am perfectly happy (so far) eating whole foods and avoiding junk.
  • It is so helpful to have an extremely supportive significant other when making a change like this!
  • I should use a cutting board, instead of my hand.  (Had to Google "How do you know if you need stitches?" earlier today.)  
So that's my story so far.  I'll report back with an update in a couple weeks.  In the meantime, if you have any good AIP recipe ideas, send them my way!

Friday, March 31, 2017

New habits

One of my colleagues at UT-Austin, Dr. Pratik Mhatre, recently published a blog post on Maximizing Mental Agility.  He included a bit about habits, which is a topic I've been thinking about recently.  I'd like to start healthier habits in my eating, exercise, and use of time.

As Pratik notes, "Two things primarily create a habit:

  • Repetition i.e. you just have to do something over and over again to get it to stick.
  • Consistent Mapping i.e. deliberately thinking about your actions on how you want things to be."
I think it's most useful to focus on doing one thing really well, versus doing a bunch of things poorly, so even though I've jotted down about ten new habits I'd like to start, I want to restrain myself and only try to institute one at a time, and give it enough time and repetition to make it actually stick.

In terms of ultrarunning races, I already have several habits -- some good (e.g., reflecting and writing in my journal about how I'm feeling about an upcoming race), and some bad (e.g., not addressing issues such as chafing right away, before they become bigger problems).  One new habit I'd like to start is going back to my lists of what went well/what didn't from a previous race, to make sure I'm learning from my mistakes and not repeating them over and over again in subsequent races.  With a race coming up tomorrow, this seems like a perfect opportunity to begin establishing this habit.

I'll be running the Hell's Hills 50M tomorrow, and I'm not excited about it at all.  I've been having knee pain that's brought my 6-mile training run attempts to a screeching halt lately.  I suffered through a 50M race a couple weeks ago that I should never have entered, as I was drained and over-raced.  But I've committed to this race, and I want to bring points to my team, so I'm going to start and do my best.  At the very least, I can make the race useful by practicing my new good habit.  

So what did I learn from my previous race that I can bring to tomorrow's race?  1) Grasslands was a sandier course than I expected.  I really benefited from wearing gaiters.  The Austin area got a lot of rain earlier this week, and the RD's email said there will be stream crossings.  That could mean mud in my shoes, so I'll pack and wear gaiters tomorrow, too.  2) Perseverance pays off.  At Grasslands, I was moving terribly slow, but I kept moving, and ended up with a 3rd-place finish.  I know that when I start walking, my knee feels fine, so I can definitely finish tomorrow's race, even if it means walking.  I just need to remember, Relentless Forward Progress, and not give up.  3) The 2Toms Sport Shield wipes I used worked great, so I'll be sure to pack some in my vest and use them before and during the race.

"We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit."  -- Will Durant

Ironically, in practicing this new good habit, I've also fed a bad habit, which is reading my work emails and then going off through a rabbit hole . . . Okay, back to work!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Tinajas 100k Highlights

Last weekend, Joe and I got to experience the inaugural Tinajas 100k/50k at Colorado Bend State Park.  That park is the home of one of the Capt'n Karl's summer night races, which are my all-time faves.  The great part about Tinajas is that the 31-mile loops cover many areas of the park we never get to see during the Capt'n Karl's races, and in the daylight, which is key to really enjoying the scenery. ;)
Gorman Falls
Since I can't think of any really good stories from the race, this won't be a super-riveting blog post.  But part of the reason it didn't produce great stories is that everything went pretty smoothly and I never really had any low points.  Whatever made it go so smoothly, I want to bottle up and do again in future ultras.  What follows is my attempt to document what went well, in the hopes it can be replicated.

Lowering Perceived Effort

I wasn't in top-notch shape for this race, but several things helped lower my perceived effort, which helped keep me going pretty consistently:
  • Enjoying the beauty of nature; we had multiple stream crossings, and gorgeous overlooks.
  • Seeing friends on the out-and-backs.
  • Asking myself, "How bad do you want it?" whenever my effort was slacking.
  • Looking forward to seeing Joe at mile 31, 99% certain that he'd won the 50k, based on intel from Jacob Babich at one of the aid stations.
  • Listening to Edward's Simpsons-packed iPod Shuffle: the gift that keeps on giving!  I started listening to episodes mid-way through the first loop, and continued listening and laughing for at least four straight hours.  I'm sure I confused many fellow runners by my seemingly random laughter.  Tom Bowling heard me laugh and asked me if I was sneezing.  Most other runners who heard me probably just thought I was nuts.  The value of those episodes continued even after I stopped listening; when Joe paced me the last 7.5 miles, I recounted many of the funniest lines I'd heard and we got another round of entertainment from them.
  • Listening to music when I just couldn't take any more Simpsons.
  • Seeing Joe at the Gorman Falls aid station, around mile 44, and hearing that he was planning to run with me for the last 7.5 miles.  That really helped me break the rest of the race into manageable chunks, thinking I only had to go to Conference Center 1 and Conference Center 2 without him, and then on to Cedar Chopper, where he'd be waiting for me.  
  • Running with Joe, getting to hear about his race and the conversations he'd had with folks afterward, and laughing over classic Simpsons episodes.
"Look, Daddy!  Todd is stupid, and I'm with him.  Now Mommy's stupid!"

Tinajas, like Cactus Rose (another of my favorite races), is pretty much self-supported, meaning the aid stations have water, but no calories of any kind.  What I brought worked really well for me.  I never bonked, even though I didn't follow my usual method of keeping an eye on my watch and forcing myself to eat 100 calories every 20 minutes or so.  I just kept in mind what Jim Walmsley says, "Eat or get eaten," and tried to stuff something in my face as often as I could.

I prepared a gallon-size ziploc bag for the Gorman Falls and Conference Center 2 aid stations (so I wouldn't have to drive around picking up drop bags after the race), and had 2 sandwich-sized baggies within those.  I packed enough calories for 3 hours from the start/finish to Gorman Falls, enough for 2 hours from Gorman Falls to Conference Center 2, and enough for 2.5 hours from Conference Center 2 to the finish.  Here's what I packed:
  • Little Debbie Nutty Buddy bars
  • Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie cookies
  • a Twix bar
  • 2 Snickers bars
  • about 6 gels (I still can't stomach the thought of too many, after consuming about 80 during the Lone Star 100 a few weeks ago.)
  • a peanut butter/banana sandwich
  • a couple packs of Gu Chews
  • a pack of Honey Stinger chews
  • a box of "Hey Joe" caffeinated chocolate 

We had light rain and temps in the 50s for pretty much the entire race.  Here's what I wore:
  • Nathan Hydration Vapor Howe pack
  • Ultimate Direction women's Ultra jacket
  • arm sleeves from Cruel Jewel (I did not enjoy that race, but at least the arm sleeves are helpful!)
  • Hoka Challenger ATR (the OG model; I've had these a couple years).  With the rocky nature of the course, I wanted plenty of cushion.
  • 2 pairs of socks: injinjis and Feetures (both very thin).  I had wet feet for 14 hours, but never changed socks and never got any blisters.
  • Smartwool sports bra.  I'm not sure it matters what kind of sports bra I use; if my life were made into a movie, it could be called There Will be Chafing.
  • Garmin 910xt; I love that it lasts for an entire 100k.
  • Trail Toes tape (with tincture of benzoin underneath) -- part of my morning pre-race routine.
  • Victory Sportdesign hat -- my fave.
  • Victory Sportdesign Bear II gear bag at the start/finish
  • Lise Plantier also gave me a couple lubricant wipes from Pam Kirby and the Austin Trail Running Company.  Those were really helpful; I need to stock up on them!
The race was so enjoyable that on the drive home, I signed up for the Crazy Desert 100k this Saturday.  Recovering from a 100-miler in 3 weeks is one thing, but recovering from a 100k in one week?  It'll be an interesting experiment.  I'll report back on the results.  One key difference: instead of 50 degrees and raining, it looks like it'll be 86 degrees.  Guess I won't be needing those arm sleeves . . .
Joe and I with our beautiful rocks

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Lone Star 100 Race Recap


This past weekend, I was fortunate to experience the inaugural Lone Star 100 mile race, put on by Rob and Rachel Goyen of Trail Racing Over Texas.  I had been hoping to run it, but had wanted to wait until after HURT before signing up.  Since I DNF'd HURT but was uninjured, I was eager to register.  In fact, I was so eager that I registered for Lone Star the day after HURT, while on a hike with Edward and Joe.  Edward had been training like a rockstar for Lone Star, and was really excited to race it.  Joe had told me that if I decided to do it, he'd be happy to drive us to El Paso and crew and pace me.  Yep, I'm a lucky girl.

Here are my race highlights.

Pre-Race Meal 
L&J's cafe by the cemetary. Boom. During the race, Edward told me that eating so much Mexican food had caused him some GI troubles, but I say, only a poor craftsman blames his shoddy tools. Amirite?

Loop One: Patience
Race start: 5am
Joe, Edward, and I had raced the Franklin Mountains 50k on pretty much the same trails as this race, and that had taken me about 8.5 hours, so I had an idea about how brutal this course was going to be.  With that in mind, I started off super conservatively.  Joe, Edward, Dustin, and I had placed bets on what we thought the finishing rate was going to be, and my guess had been 37%.  (The actual figure turned out to be less than 30%, and that includes runners who took longer than the stated cutoff time of 36 hours.)

By the second aid station, I was in second-to-last place.  I had to swallow my pride as people asked me if I was feeling okay.  They all thought something was wrong, but as I told Myke Hermsmeyer on my way up North Franklin Mtn, I was placing my money on "slow and steady," with the feeling that finishing within the cutoff time would be a win -- and might even be a literal win.  I felt that most of the people ahead of me would end up dropping out.  Thank goodness I was proven right.  But I had to be really patient for that to happen -- about 34 hours and 15 minutes of patience.

Somewhere on loop 1
At each aid station accessible by car, and also at Mundy's Gap, the "highest aid station in Texas," Joe was there to help me out and cheer me on.  He made four trips up to Mundy's over the course of the race, which involved climbing up a long scree field to the top of a mountain ridge.  (While there, he helped out runners and volunteers alike.  He even made a special trip down to get more oranges when the aid station ran out, and climbed back up the mountain with a backpack full of oranges.  He also brought Whataburger for the volunteers who were up there for 48 hours straight.  What a guy!)

Loop Two: Into the Night
Back at the start/finish, ending loop one and about to begin loop two, I changed my shorts, bra, and shoes in the port-o-potty.  I wanted to avoid the terrible chafing I suffered through at HURT.  Fortunately, El Paso is a lot less humid than Honolulu.  But I still had some issues (I must have incredibly sensitive skin), and I wanted to nip the problem in the bud.  Joe helped me add some more Trail Toes tape on my back where the skin was starting to chafe.  Changing from Altra Superiors into Hokas made my feet feel amazing for the first part of loop two.

I saved a treat for myself during loop two: the night before the race, Edward gave me the most amazing gift.  It was an iPod shuffle loaded with audio from Simpsons episodes.  That kept me entertained a long time during the late afternoon, evening, and nighttime on Saturday.  This was the opening scene of the first episode I listened to during the race.  "Are we there yet?" "No."  How appropriate.

Another highlight of loop two was the beautiful moon.  It was full, or almost full, and a brilliant reddish color, with reddish clouds around it.  I risked tripping and falling several times because I couldn't keep my eyes off it.

Loop Three: TGFJ
My 3rd summit of North Franklin Mtn
I picked up Joe for loop three around 2am.  I had worked so hard to be vigilant with my nutrition and hydration throughout the race, in the hopes that I could present myself to Joe in good condition when it was time for him to pace me.  I was still smarting from my DNF at HURT, and from how pitifully I behaved when Joe and Edward paced me there.  After a lot of reflection on what went wrong there, I zoomed in on the fact that I got way off my nutrition.  I'd be just starting a 1,500-foot climb and realize it was time to eat, but I didn't want to stop my ascent, so I'd put it off, thinking, "I'll wait til I get to the top of this climb, and then I'll eat."  After enough situations like that, I think I just got deep into a hole of calorie deficiency, and once that happens, the will to eat anything is entirely zapped, and I just dig myself deeper and deeper.

To prevent this during Lone Star, I made myself eat something every 20 minutes or so.  (This is way more tiring than you can imagine, if you've never tried it.)  Sometimes it would just be some crackers or chips, though, which maybe wasn't as many calories as I needed.  I guess it says something that post-race, I couldn't remember much about the first part of loop three. Yesterday, reflecting back on the race, I asked Joe, "When we started loop three, was I moving okay?  Or was I already struggling?"  He reminded me that right after we started loop three, I insisted that I had to sit down on the bench on the ridgeline for a couple minutes.  "Oh, yeah.  I remember that now."

My lowest point, Joe and I agree, was the stretch called Shaeffer's Shuffle.  That was a much worse climb going the other direction, during loop two, but during loop three, I just lacked any energy at all.  I was so slow-moving.  And I had to sit down on a rock and rest once or twice.  But I had told Joe to tell me every 20 minutes to take a gel (my watch had died before the end of loop two), and that's what we did.  For thirteen hours straight, Joe followed a strict regimen of telling me to take a gel every 20 minutes, and I followed a strict regimen of emitting a moan, taking another gel, and holding my stomach as it immediately cramped.  After a while, even taking a sip of water made my poor stomach cramp.  But I decided that, horrible as the stomach pains were, it was worth it to get my energy back.

Going up North Franklin summit the third time, Joe and I enjoyed watching for the 1st place male and then watching for Edward, who we knew was closing in on 1st place.  We knew he had it in him to win the race.  He looked so strong and focused when we saw him, it was awesome.  We were also excited to see Myke Hermsmeyer, the best race photographer in the world, climbing the mountain again to take photos of our last summit.  As soon as we reached the top, getting my final summit bracelet and leaving a note for Rob, a cold front seemed to move in.  The temps dropped and the winds picked up significantly.  We ran back down to Mundy's aid station, and that's when I started feeling good again.

Leaving a note for Rob . . . NSFW
The stretch from Mundy's to East aid station was my best in that loop, according to Joe.  Then from East to West aid stations, we were propelled along by a tailwind.  The stretch from West aid station to Pavilion was challenging, to say the least.  The winds were now cross-winds and headwinds, and gaining in strength by the minute.  That stretch seemed to last forever.  The only thing that made it enjoyable in the least was Joe's encouraging words.  Every once in a while, he'd say something like, "You're moving really great here," and I'd believe it.

When we finally climbed up to the Pavilion aid station, I knew we only had 1.5 or so miles left to get to the finish line, so I didn't stop, but went right up towards the ridgeline that would take us home.  Immediately, though, I was struck by the incredible force of the winds.  I got knocked down and banged my knee.  I couldn't stand up, the wind was so strong.  I really couldn't see how I'd be able to get myself to the finish line along this ridge.  After crouching on the rocks for a minute, I shouted to Joe over the wind, "It's not going to let up, is it?"  "No."  No, it was sustained and was just going to keep getting worse.  We had to keep going.

For the first part of the ridgeline, we were shuffling in a bent-over state (which was agony on our lower backs).  Then, after a while, we couldn't even get by doing that, because the winds were so strong that we were getting blown over.  So we started moving like crabs, crawling on our butts.  A good strategy for not getting blown off the mountain and dying, but unfortunate that our hands kept landing on cacti, and that my butt is covered in bruises from the rocks.  It is also just about the slowest possible way to ambulate.

Joe took a video of the last part of the descent, when we were lower down, and so didn't feel like we were about to die.  He wishes he could've taken a video along the ridge, when the winds were at their strongest and craziest, but we were both too focused on survival for that to happen.

That final adventure with the wind made the finish even sweeter.  I was so happy to be alive and done, to have survived the race; that meant so much more to me than winning.  When I hugged Joe, my legs kind of gave way, and I got a little teary, and it sure wasn't because of my place on the podium or my finishing time.  It was that he and I got to share an incredible adventure, one that at times seemed impossible to accomplish, and now we get to share those memories forever.  We talked about it afterward, and we both feel that way: we didn't appreciate the situation at the time, but looking back on it, we're glad we got to experience it.  I guess that could be a metaphor for a lot of situations in life.
Survival mode
The finish line was fun for a few minutes: high-fiving Edward, whose incredible hard work in training, brilliant planning and strategizing, and smart and strong race earned him a well-deserved 1st place overall finish; getting a hug from Rob and Rachel; getting photos taken by Myke; getting wrapped up in a blanket by Rob.  But the winds were not dying down, and we were all chilly, so Joe and I hightailed it to the car as soon as possible.  And took this selfie.  I love it, because it's us in our natural state: dirty, exhausted, exhilarated.

Until the next adventure . . .

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Ka'au Crater Hike

Of the eight or so amazing hikes we did on our recent trip to Oahu, Joe and I agreed that the Ka'au Crater trail was by far the best -- in fact, we both think it's the best hike we've ever done.
Start/finish of the trail, and location of marriage proposal
The sign at the start of the trail seemed a little sketchy, and the first steps of the trail involved a rope, which foreshadowed the adventure to come.  According to Joe's All Trails app, the trail is 4.5 miles.  It turned out to be more like 6 miles -- 6 very slow miles.  Our fastest mile took about 29 minutes, and we had one mile that took us more than an hour.  The total elevation gain was 2,300 feet.

The beginning stretch was fairly flat and took us through what looked like a prehistoric forest, with huge trees and beautiful vines hanging down.  It was rooty and muddy, and we followed along the singletrack beside some old pipes.  (This was an opportunity to continually quote The Simpsons: "What the hell is this, some kind of tube?")  We passed by a group of twenty-somethings who were talking about their hostel and their trips to Africa and other exotic places.  Then all of a sudden, we found ourselves following a stream, and it was pretty clear we'd lost the trail.  We decided to keep going along the stream, because that was the general direction we wanted, and then we came to a pool beneath a small waterfall.  We didn't want to backtrack, so we swam through the pool and climbed up the waterfall.

[Joe's note after reading this post: "You should tell them how I made you go in first and test how deep it was.  Say something like, "Heroically, Joe had me go in first to test the water level."  Okay, Joe, done!]

Anyway, after we climbed up from that waterfall, we soon came to an awesome waterfall we could go sit behind.  That's where the twentysomethings caught up to us, and we took a picture for them.

After we left the kids behind, we pressed on, and never lost the trail again, and we were virtually all alone on the trail.  That was the first in a series of three big waterfalls we passed.  We climbed along the side of the second one, and we got to climb straight up the third one.  (Video here.)  We were thankful for the ropes that had been placed in all the tricky spots by an older guy who called himself Uncle Joe, who Joe had met at the HURT 100 race the previous weekend.

After the waterfalls, we climbed up to the rim of the volcano crater.  It was surreal to pop out of the jungle and see the flat plain of the crater below us.  On the near side of the crater, we were in the clouds, and it was windy and drizzling.  At one point, it seemed like it was raining upwards at us.  Climbing around the crater involved a lot of rope-assisted climbing until the halfway point, and then a lot of butt-sliding down steep, muddy ridges.  (Videos here and here.)  The trail made a lollipop shape around the crater, and once we got about halfway around, the clouds started clearing, and we could see the beautiful views of the mountains, the city of Honolulu, and the Pacific Ocean.  We kept marveling at how anyone could have installed the powerlines we saw at the top.

Butt-sliding down the ridge, in the clouds

Every once in awhile, we'd joke about our "blistering pace" ("Wow, that last mile was sub-sixty minutes!") and marvel about how incredible this hike was, and how we might never in our lives find anything to top this adventure.

We had no idea the hike would take as long as it did, so while I had enough water, I had only brought the one energy bar that we split at the second big waterfall.  We hadn't had lunch, although we had some excellent shave ice in between our morning hike (Koko Crater) and this hike.  I was starving, and before we started our descent from the ridges around the crater, I asked Joe if we could split the granola bar he'd brought.  He generously gave me the whole thing, which I was super grateful for.  Then we headed back down into the jungle-like, rooty singletrack, which rejoined the trail we'd started on.  Joe says it was around this point, with less than an hour left in the hike, that he decided to scrap his plan to propose later that night and propose when we got back to the trailhead instead.  We were enjoying the most adventurous, beautiful, strenuous hike we'd ever been on, and we were stinky and filthy with mud from head to toe.  He said this was more true to "us" than a fancy hotel dinner would be (although we did enjoy a fancy hotel dinner later that night to celebrate).

When we were almost at the trailhead, I delayed us a little bit by attempting to wash a layer of mud off in the stream.  It didn't work so well, and right before we got back to the trailhead, Joe looked back and commented, "Now it just looks like you have diarrhea running down your legs."  I responded, "Yeah . . . looks like" and we both laughed.  If I had realized that Joe was about to propose in two minutes, I would have joked with him about making the least romantic comment possible in what would typically be the most romantic situation.

Another funny thing was that Joe reached the trailhead a couple seconds before me, since he was ahead of me on the trail at that point.  I didn't know what he was planning, so I called ahead, "Can you take a picture of that sign at the top?  The one that says it's an unmaintained trail or whatever?"  Joe obligingly turned on his camera and tried to take a picture.  He just got his GoPro right before the Hawaii trip, and he's still working on mastering it, so he accidentally took a video of the sign, and you can hear him ordering, "GoPro Camera mode" in a frustrated attempt to use the voice command.  I asked him to save that video forever.  It's pretty funny.

Finally he was able to take the picture I requested, and then before I could walk away toward where we'd parked the car, he gave me a side-hug and said, "So I was going to do this later at the fancy hotel, but I decided this is more 'us.'"  Then he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him.  Since he hadn't planned the proposal this way, he didn't have the ring, and we joked that that level of preparation was also appropriate for us.

Another detail that's fitting for our personalities is that instead of buying a ring, we're using a ring I already had, because we'd rather spend our money on experiencing more adventures together than on something that, like as not, I'd probably lose anyways.  Later that afternoon, he showed me what he got instead of a ring: he started a savings account for us labeled "Julie and Joe's Australia Vacation."  He put the money he would've spent on a ring in that account, and he set up an automatic transfer to keep adding money from each paycheck.  We're hoping to have enough to go sometime in 2018.  Australia has always been my dream trip, and I still can't believe that it's actually going to happen.

I don't know if we'll ever be able to top the adventure we had at Ka'au Crater, but it'll be fun to spend a lifetime trying.  We're also looking forward to coming back and doing this trail again next year and more times in years to come, because it will hold an extra special place in our hearts as the site of our engagement.

Back at the Air bnb right after the hike and proposal