Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pacific Rim One Day

This is the second year in a row I've done this 24 hour race. It's a whole different beast from a trail ultra and one I have a lot of respect for. It's hard in ways that are just not like any other ultra. There are different logistics to having your "stuff" available on a one mile route and it seems like that would make things easier. And not having really any elevation changes seems like it would be easier. But in many ways, doing 5-10 mile between aid stations with variety in trail in a traditional trail ultra is a lot easier than the one mile loops.

I've been off on my training since last fall. I took November and December essentially off and then took another two week break at the end of February when I developed some plantar fasciitis that started the week before Hagg Lake 50K. I had to drop out of Hagg Lake at the first aid station because it was pretty painful. Luckily the two weeks off seemed to take care of it and I was back to training again but the overall lack of mileage in the last four months was bound to be a problem.

I drove over early in the morning and got a good place for the Ultramobile. There weren't as many people there this year as last year, probably because of the weather, I'd say. I happily ran into my oldest ultra running buddies, Jerry and Glen. We stuck together from the beginning and caught up on our lives over the last 6 months or so. It was a great pleasure getting to run with them again. Sadly, they didn't have plans to stay through the night but I appreciated the time we did get to run together.

Rodney even drove over in the mid afternoon to say high and bring donuts. That was a nice treat and I got to walk a lap with him. He had a lame excuse to go back home and not sit out with me in the rain and dark all night. I guess love does have limits.

A lot of people came and went like last year and only a handful of us did the whole 24 hours. Since the weather was going to be so bad this year I thought it might be possible to actually place pretty well if every one else opted out of continuing because of the weather. Last year I did 84 miles on a lot more training so I doubted I'd do that well this year, but it was still my goal. 50-60 miles would be good otherwise. If not that much then at least the equivalent of my two long runs was a nice fall back. I hoped my PF wouldn't be an issue.

It was a far cry from the 84 miles I did last year since I was in better shape then but I'm happy with my result of 75 miles. The weather was pretty awful off and on with rain showers but luckily no big wind. By 7 am on Sunday the rain started up again harder and eventually transitioned to snow. Who ordered that up?

I took regular breaks this year so I could keep going more efficiently but will admit that my entire time spent hunkered down in the ultramobile probably exceeded last year's total. Thus, the deficit of mileage. I took a one hour break to put my feet up after 32 miles, again at 50 miles. Then slept and rested 90 minutes after 60 miles and then a longer sleep/rest break (2 hours) after 71 miles. I had enough time at the end to get back out in the snow and finish another 4 miles before the clock ran down at 9 am but I probably had enough time to do five. But by that time I had seriously lost my willingness to suffer. I had some significant nausea around mile 56 and that's what encouraged me to take the mile 60 and 71 breaks. I think I just wasn't eating enough and pushing my effort made it worse. Who feels like eating at that hour of the night/early morning?

I will congratulate myself that I was able to get out of the warm UM at all after each break, especially the ones that finished around 2 am and 6:45 am. Rousing myself out into the cold when it was raining again and I was really warm and cozy wasn't easy. Body temperature management while running was an issue - I tended to get too warm running but too cold walking. In the end I didn't walk much at all this year compared to last year since I felt fairly good after each rest break. But I dressed for it just in case so for the running my attire was too much. There are a few small hills on the route that I walked up frequently last time but this time I never felt I needed to.

I was able to get home without problems even though I had to navigate back part of the trip in snow, not a feat I've ever tried in the UM. And my feet seem to have held up fine and I don't notice any problems with PF even though general foot aching is what go me to stop regularly to rest. This is a usual occurrence for me, unfortunately. Putting them up and relaxing more often did wonders. I just wish the effects lasted longer than 5-6 miles. And I wish I had time and place to do that on my 100 milers...but then I'd probably really have problems deciding to keep going and suffer longer.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

End of the Season

Well, it's been a long time since I finished up any race reports for the remainder of the year so now it's only appropriate to do an end of the year summary. Since McDonald Forest 50K I ran the Western State training camp over the Memorial Day weekend where I suffered a fall that required a short period of recuperation.

The first day at the training camp went fine. There was too much snow int he high country to run the usual Robinson Flat to Forest Hill route, so they drove us to a point beyond the river crossing and we ran down to the river, up Cal Street to Forest Hill and then out to Michigan Bluff and then back to Forest Hill. Since I have done these routes several times before and all I needed was some training runs for my races later in the year, I didn't care about the changes. It was actually a lot more interesting to run Cal Street backwards. It started to rain a bit towards the end - I was a bit peeved since I wanted to run in California to get away from the rain the the Pacific Northwest. Go figure.

As usual Karen picked me up at the airport and we did the weekend together. She, however, tanked on the first day and finished at the first pass through Forest Hill after having barfed her way up Cal Street. I found out about it after I got done. She was in fine spirits by then and raring to go the next day.

Day two was the fun run from Forest Hill down to the River and we ran this together. It was a great day. The weather was nice and the trail was in good shape. After we got to the river we even saw some rafters fishing and then shooting the rapids farther downstream. We took our time and shot some video and yelled back and forth to them. By the time they were lined up for the rapids, a number of other runners stopped on the overlooking bluff to watch with and we all cheered them on.

We got back onto the trail and weren't but a quarter mile from the river crossing when I tripped and crashed into a rock strewn horse shit-filled mud puddle. I broke my fall by planting my right knee right onto a sharp rock. I would venture to say that this is the most pain I have ever been in running. Well, falling. I had a circle of people surrounding me in no time but I couldn't speak to tell them I was probably OK, except for the leg amputation that would likely be following later in the day. Damn, that hurt.

Eventually I was given a hand up and I limped over the the concrete spillway to rinse off my horse-shit muddy body and inspect my wounds. Deep gashes in my right knee proved that my spectacular fall and moaning were not in vain. I rinsed and washed off my clothes so I could stand to smell myself before we made the rest of the climb up to the waiting buses. Luckily I was still able to move pretty well despite the swelling I was getting and the blood that was dripping down my leg was good for show.

After we got to the top, RD Greg (who's previous career was as a PA for an ortho clinic) gave me some supplies to scrub out the wound and inspect for whether stitches were in order. In the end we decided that I probably would be OK letting it just heal on its own. He gave me an ice pack and we shot the breeze talking shop about various medical issues while we waited for the bus.

After an evening of dressing changes and ice applications I awoke the next morning to decide if I could run the last 20 mile section on the training runs. Well, I was pretty swollen but my joint seemed unaffected so I decided to ready myself and assume I could do it. The first few miles were mostly downhill and the constant jarring and pulling sensation of the swollen front of my knee was painfully nauseating. By the time I realized I was stupid to even be trying this I was committed because there was no way to get back to Auburn except by trail. I figured I'd have to bail at the first aid station. Karen left me in the dust and I hobbled at the back of the pack.

Eventually the trail flattened out and the flats or climbs didn't feel too bad. After about 5 miles of a warm up I felt I would be able to finish and so I did. My knee looked pretty bad but at least it was holding my up fine, but for the crushed soft tissues I was moving OK. I eventually passed Karen and made my way fairly quickly to the finish. Where...they had already removed the port-potties. I really had to go and there was no where to do my business in the residential environment. Crap. So I found Karen's car and drove myself to a near by fast food restaurant where I grossed out all the patrons who saw me walking in with my hamburger knee. I'm sure a number of them decided they really weren't so hungry after all. I got back to the high school track and Karen was waiting for me wondering where the heck I ran off to...with her car.

The aftermath of all this required me to take a few weeks off running to allow myself to heal up. Then a long planned trip to Europe interfered with my running schedule. Karen, Rodney and I went together and at the beginning we had big plans to get up early every day and run. We did so twice in Amsterdam. Then we ran in another Dutch city, Tillburg. Then I ran in Brugge, Belgium. I got out again for a 10K in Germany through the rolling hills and woods near a friend's house and then did 10K in Dresden. So, for three weeks, that was it: six 10K runs.

Once I got back into my routine in late July I had precious little time to gear up for Waldo in August. I hate that race. I always say I'll never do it again every time I finish and then sign up again the next year. But there's something I love about hating that race. It's a big deal for me. It seems like 62 miles shouldn't be such a big deal these days but at that race it really is. Finishing is always sweet and I keep hoping it will seem easier the next time. It never does. And this year I was particularly worried about doing it on so little hard core training.

I did my usual late July weekend at the race location to help out on trail work and again do precious little running.

I took the early start as usual and decided I'd just have to run smart and be conservative in order to finish. How fast I finished wouldn't be an issue. I just wanted to cross the finish line and not feel like barfing the rest of the evening as I have after several other Waldo finishes. I ended up falling behind my splits fairly early on but I was taking more time at the aid stations to make sure I was managing my nutrition and bodily functions well enough. I used a few minutes each time to rest adequately before moving on. The weather was helpful - it didn't get too hot nor too cold. I never felt really great but I never felt really bad, either. The wheels stayed firmly in proper driving position and I came across the finish line in one piece. I was 45 minutes slower than my PR of last year but I still arrived in time to get my hat. I felt well enough to hang around for a long time afterwards to eat and visit before crawling off to bed in the Ultramobile.

After Waldo I kept up the training consistently and entered my final running event of the year, Autumn Leaves 50 Mile, just south of Portland. I got to camp out in the ultramobile the night before the race and rode my bike the few miles from the camp ground to the race start at the other end of the park. It was surprisingly not that hard to ride back afterwards, especially since the return trip was in the daylight instead of the dark. The race consisted a 6.25 mile loops, mostly an out and back with the last mile looping away and off on trail back to the start.

I ran pretty hard all day and since all but about 10 miles total (the last mile of each loop) was on paved bike route rather than dirt trail my feet got pretty sore. But, pavement being much faster than dirt, I suspect it's not surprising that my time was a PR for me at 9:06. I came in 5th out of 22 women and 30th out of 73 overall. I only fell once (in the dirt in the dark on the first time through the trail section) but it only slowed me down a few seconds. With about a mile to go I passed a woman who had stayed just ahead of me all day. She was at the last aid station complaining that she was feeling bad so I took the opportunity to put the hammer down and leave her in the dust. I beat her by over 2 minutes. Ha. It rained all day before the race and started again the evening after but was mercilessly dry for the entire run. Since there wasn't more than a 3 mile distance between aid stations I never carried anything with me. How wonderful that was! No pack, no hand held bottle. Joy.

Since then I've decided to take a month off of training. I am still running some but not following any particular plan. Most of my mileage is with Rodney while he's walking the dog. Psychologically it's a good break for me and I look forward to feeling like getting back into training in December. I'm in the Western States lottery and after December 10th I'll be able to plan my races for next year. So far I'm likely to do Hagg Lake 50K again and the Pacific Rim 24 hour run. Other than that, I have yet to decide. There are so many opportunities and I look forward to another amazing year. Longevity in the sport is the mirror goal to finishing ultra distance races and I feel like I'm managing that aspect of my training well.

Monday, May 23, 2011

McDonald Forest 50K May 14th 2011

Well, I had a spectacular result to this year's 50K. I don't know where I found it but I dialed into a gear beyond what I'm used to doing and I was hauling ass the whole time and felt really great doing it. I finished 45 minutes faster than last time at this race, and 30 minutes faster then the first time I ran it. I passed almost all the people who usually finish way ahead of me. It was thrilling.

The weather was overcast and cool and I picked just exactly the right clothing for the conditions - not too warm, not too cold. I didn't get a single blister and all my toenails survived. I ate regularly and took salt and drank enough but not too much. I kept pushing the pace but never felt like I couldn't sustain it. I made myself run a lot faster than I usually dare to and it didn't back fire. I climbed all the hills strongly and pounded the downs. I spent less than a minute at each aid station. I can't tell you how many people I passed in the last third of the run - just one after an other. All in all it was a very efficient and successful run. Probably my best executed effort of all time.

There were even 2 women who tried to get past me in the last mile - I hung on behind the first one after she went around me and didn't let her get too far ahead as I heard the second one approach from behind. I'll be damned if I was going to run so hard all day only to get passed in the last mile by two women! (Funny, if I was a guy I don't think I would have cared as much). And we three flew down the hill like crazy, almost out of control. If I had fallen I would have ended up just a smear on the trail. Then there was an evil short, but steep, hill. I powered up behind her, trying not to fade as we crested the top. When we did, she had to stop, hold onto a tree and gasp, so I passed her and sprinted on the last quarter mile to the finish. All the time I was thinking they were right on my butt and just about to pass me again so I didn't let up and ran so hard my lungs were burning and I thought I would puke. What a ride! They finished just 8 and 9 seconds behind me.

The stats:

78th out of 201 overall finishers
7th in my age/gender group (out of 24)
17th female overall (out of 65)

I was starting to despair that I could never be more than a back of the pack runner. It's a nice boost.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Pacific Rim One Day

Well, here's another thing I said I'd never do - run little loops over and over again for 24 hours. Who would want to do such a crazy thing? Sounds pretty insane. (I think I remember a similar internal dialog before running my first marathon, ultra, 100 miler...) Of course, the folks who do timed runs must be the crazier of the crazy because wouldn't it be boring to do the same loop over and over and over? And it would be so easy to run flat loops over and over - where's the challenge in that?

Indeed, this was a unique experience for me and easier in ways I did expect but much harder in ways I didn't. I am humbled. At first I figured that if I was well trained I could get close to 100 miles. Even if I reached the capacity of my current level of training and I got too tired to keep running, I could then just easily switch to walking and keep going to rack up more miles. Maybe this wouldn't quite equate to 100 miles, but I should be able to get close. (Ha! Fool.)

The loop course wasn't nearly as loopy as I thought it would be. I wouldn't call it boring at all. It's a whole different beast though, that's for sure. There's very little variation in stride for the whole 24 hours and that's pretty difficult. I ache all over - legs, feet, arms, shoulders, forearms (?).

You can see the start/lap counting area from just about everywhere on the loop and it didn't look that far. The trail around the lake was very nice and it's a beautiful city park. There were lots of people using the park all day, with lots of dogs and activity. There was always something new to see every time I went around. And you get the chance to interact with your fellow runners more. I didn't ever have to carry things with me because I wasn't ever very far from my pile of things at the start area just as I had anticipated.

Every one made a little station for themselves on the sidewalk next to the lap counting booth. Lots of people had pop up tents and/or canopies in case of rain. I had two big plastic boxes, one for clothing one for food, a chair and a cooler with other foods. A guy who set up next to me had a canopy and he let me keep my stuff under it out of the rain. It actually hardly rained at all - just a few random drops once in a blue moon. It was a remarkably good day, weather-wise. I had expected to contend with lots of rain and I brought lots of changes of clothes, just in case. In the end it didn't materialize and we even got to see that great big moon most of the night.

There were a few small hills on the route that I sometimes walked up as part of some planned walking breaks. For the whole one mile loop I estimate I walked 1-2 minutes at the most. Often, the hills being so small, I'd forget to walk them at all. It didn't seem to waste much energy, especially after dark when I couldn't even see them as hills. I tried not to just walk entire laps but rather walked sections of them when I needed more rest. I was especially driven to not walk loops until I had passed the 50 mile mark. When I had to, I did my "run 25 steps/walk 25 steps" alternating strategy. It kept me warmer than doing long stretches of walking. But, in the end, at least moving slowly (walking) was better than sitting or standing around.

There was a big race-sponsored aid station but I tried to avoid stopping every lap and instead stopped just once an hour all day. Eventually I also saw the wisdom in grabbing a little something every time instead of something big every hour. Both strategies worked well at different times. Having lots of changes of clothes was nice. When I was running I needed far fewer clothes but when I went through spells where I was walking more, I had to bundle up. At one point I went to the UltraMobile (my camper van) to get on some leggings (warmed the place up with the furnace while I was in there) and try on some other shoes. It was nice to not need to strip outdoors (brrrr) or in the bathrooms (semi-icky public toilets at the park). I had to take care of a blister once and changed socks and reapplied foot lube.

Some people showed up to do just certain distances, 50K or 50 miles, etc. and they had no intention of staying over night. Others showed up late to run through the night only. There were probably over 50 people at the start or at various other times but only about a dozen of us who started at 9 am and also ran all night into the next day. Some people left in the evening but then came back in the morning for a few more laps and to see the finishers' totals. There were walkers as well as runners and some old folks including one ancient old bowed-over guy who moved very, very slowly but kept it up for about 12 hours shuffling along. Amazing!

At the beginning I was shocked at how short a mile loop was and it seems like going around it 100 times wouldn't be a big deal. Ha. Fool. 100 miles, plus or minus 20, is always hard. After about 30 miles I started to get really sore and tired in my feet and legs. I slogged through another 20 miles and then had a second wind. As the day turned into night it got cooler and even with the tights I had to put on fleece pants to stay warm. As I had more energy I would have to drop layers again as I got over heated. Then I had to put them back on (or zip up layers) when I ran slower or walked or got low on fuel. As would be expected, the miles started to crawl by instead of fly by. Occasionally I'd have a surge of a second wind then it would dissolve away again.

Once it was dark there were still enough street lights in the park that I didn't really need a head lamp. There were some darkish areas but by then I had the path memorized and it was a nice smooth surface so I didn't want for extra light. I put on my flashing safety vest and it was a huge hit! Every one seemed to love it and I made a great target for the faster runners to gauge their progress. I hope they used me as an incentive to gain on and pass me as they accumulated distance. I was happy to help! Apparently you could see me all the way around the loop from almost any vantage point. If I had a supply of them for sale I'm sure they would have all sold out. I even put on some glow stick bracelets for an enhanced effect. It was festive and added a lot to the fun.

At one point I thought we were in the 20th hour and I was so happy that the time was passing quickly only to confirm on the clock the next time around that it was only the 17th hour. 24 hours has rarely passed so slowly. At one point I asked how far along I was (I generally just checked in every hour or so and didn't keep track much in between) and I misunderstood that I was at 65 miles. Wow! I was making pretty good time so I pushed on harder, calculating that I had a really great shot for the 100 miles. But then I started to think about it and realized it couldn't have been right. By the time I asked again over an hour later I was at 61 miles. Luckily I was anticipating it and it didn't disappoint me at all.

Along the banks of the lake in the middle of the night a bunch of nutria were out feeding. At first they looked like giant rats and they scurried off when I tried to get close once to confirm they weren't actually beavers. I talked to my husband Rodney once on the phone while I walked on a lap and he joked that maybe I should be concerned they night attack me. Nope, I said, I think they're vegetarians so I should be safe.

At one point - 3 am or so - I saw one of the walkers/runners weaving all over the path. She said she was freezing, couldn't get warm and was falling asleep. She just wanted some place to get warm and wondered if anyone would let her sit in their car for a while. Well, you're talking to the right person! I set her up in the heated UltraMobile and she warmed up and slept for a few hours. When I finally went in to rest myself at 6 am she got up and went back out. It was nice to be able to use the thing for someone besides myself.

I had on my running schedule from Coach Jonas a total of 75 miles for the run so I was shooting for at least that. Early on someone asked me what I thought I was shooting for and even though I thought 100 miles was doable I hedged and said I'd be happy with 80. The longer I was out there the more spent I got. I kept trying to encourage myself to just keep going. Just get to 50 miles. Just get to 75 miles. Just get to 80 miles. By then I was done. I couldn't make myself go on any longer - my feet and legs ached like crazy. I will chilled. I was defeated. I was done. My smug thoughts from earlier in the day that if I got too tired to run I could just go ahead and walk....Ha! Fool! It was 6 am and I had to rest for a while. Maybe I'll be able to get up later and do a few more laps. I doubted it. I went to the UltraMobile and laid down for two hours. I dozed off and on but didn't sleep because my legs and feet were so uncomfortable.

Eventually the sun came up and I looked out the window and saw people still making loops and some people who had left in the night were back doing a few more. So, I got up and my feet felt much better, probably because the swelling had gone down. I pulled on my shoes and multiple layers of clothing and started out again. I felt great and put down some 10 minute miles and got overheated so stripped down to just two layers again. I had just under and hour so I got in an easy 4 miles to add to my 80 from the night before. I felt the best in that last hour than I had since the first hour of the run the day before.

I am already plotting how I will execute this run better next year to get a new PR on the course. It was a lot of fun to do this sort of run - more than I expected. Even though I can't say I went very far while running 84 miles I certainly got my money's worth.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Pine to Palm - a birthday bash

With three previous 100 mile achievements to my name, I was eager to sign up for another one this year - to make it two in one calendar year for the first time. What a wonderful surprise to see, many months ago, that a new 100 miler was being contested in OREGON. I knew that the Hundred in the Hood from last year was a one-off race and now I didn't have to look far to find something else in September. And the fact that this race started on my birthday (#48) was another bonus. This bodes well.

Inaugural events...there's always a chance problems will be encountered at new races in their first year. But, bolstered by the reputation of the RD, I signed on almost as soon as I found out about it. Over the intervening months I saw more and more like-minded runners join up until there were over 160 names on the list by race day.

I sat back and waited for the race details, promised to us by mid August. Eventually maps were posted to the race web site. But frustratingly, no further specifics about the course, aid stations, crew instructions, etc. were forthcoming until 9 days before race day. Finally the driving instructions were posted and we were ready to make detailed plans for the run.

I figured the race would be challenging but doable. Yet, the mid course cut off (the only cut off ) at mile 65 was a cause for concern. The fact that the race had a total of 20,000 feet of climbing and 20,000 feet of decent sounded OK. Western States has 18,000 feet of climbing and almost 23,000 feet of decent. My first 100 miler, Headlands Hundred, had 17,000/17,000. I suspected that I'd have as good a chance as any, since my training included Western States and then Where's Waldo in the month preceding P2P. I felt confident I'd be ready. But, then I'd get to talking with my running comrades and we'd start to wonder about that 19 hour cut off...

Being a slower runner I always have to sweat the cut offs in most races. I memorize them and work to stay ahead of them most of the time. Here my mantra became: just get to Dutchman Peak by 1 am.

This time Karen, my sister and professional crew boss, brought along another running friends of her's, Heather. We would be a threesome team to get the job done. In the week leading up to the race I saw the weather forecast go from predicting a 20% chance of rain on race day up to a 90% chance of rain. Oh well. This is Oregon after all and I planned appropriately. It was amazing how much more stuff I needed to bring along, though. It's a far cry from planning for the heat at Western States.

So we eventually found our way to Grants Pass, the nearest city to the race start, and we drove the 20 minute route to the race check-in and briefing. I found the 5:30 pm race briefing time somewhat inconvenient since I didn't want to take my chances on the pasta dinner being served there. We'd needed to either eat really early, before the briefing, or pretty late, after it. We chose before. We arrived in Williams and met up with my running buddy, and fellow almost-birthday celebrator, Russ. He was was taking his third stab at conquering the 100 mile distance and had paced me at my first. We sat together and waited for the briefing and check-in to take place. And waited. And waited. Finally, an hour after promised, the check in process started but crawled very slowly.

Another hour after it was suppose to begin, the briefing itself commenced, just as I was getting to the front of the check-in line. Rather than miss what was being said, I stopped and attended to the briefing. I think some people behind me in line thought I was rude and they went around me to continue their check in, ignoring the RD's presentation about the race.

Apparently Ian Torrance has become the co-RD and he started to give us a briefing of the route and important points for crucial turns. He kept referring to sections of the trail, by name. We hadn't been provided these references in the online information. I had no point of reference to understand what he was talking about. Regardless, I started taking notes about what not to miss but I was confused about most of it and he went through them so fast that eventually I wasn't able to keep up. He kept reassuring us (after warning to be sure not to miss this or that turn) that it would all be very well marked.

Once the briefing ended I finished my check in and got some really nice swag including a nice canvas bag, flip-flop sandals and a great fleece pull over.

Finally back at the hotel we made our final preparations before hitting the hay. I got my feet taped up and smeared with hydropel, in anticipation of a likely very soggy day. I expected to be wet but not too cold until later in the evening if the rain kept up.

In the morning we made our way back to the start but the porta-potty line was way too long to take care of any last minute business (2 port-a-potties for 130+ entrants). Luckily it's not a big deal for me at this point. We leave the start with the usual whoops and head up the road just as a sprinkle of rain starts.

The first 6 miles are on paved road of increasing incline. For the last three I do my 20 steps running alternating with 20 steps walking. We hit the first water-only aid station and I drop off my head lamp - a nice touch of organization so I don't have to carry it with me for 31 miles - I had another one in my appropriate drop bag for later. I knew that we'd be going essentially 17 miles before the first real aid station so I managed to bring along an appropriate amount of nibbles to keep me fueled for the first three hours or so it would take me. I know I have to pay close attention to my fueling and intended to consume about 300 calories an hour. If I get behind I lose my appetite and then it's only a matter of time before I crash.

Immediately we're on single track and we wind our way around the hills with a generally increasing steepness and switchbacks going up and up and up. The rain starts now but it's still warm and it's not falling heavy. The trail is very debris-strewn with branches and bark and rocks and I'm thankful over and over again that we don't have to try and navigate this going downhill.

Less than 11 miles later we hit the first peak, shrouded in fog and a harder drizzle. Then we start our decent down to the aid station at mile 17. The footing is still fairly debris strewn but thankfully not yet too slick with wet and mud but it's getting there in places. Eventually a volunteer is manning a trail detour through the brush to help us avoid a yellow-jacket nest that had already lead to stings for a number of people. The advantages of being in the back of the pack! Shortly we're at the first regular aid station, and as I was to find throughout the race, it was very well run and full of pleasant and helpful people.

I've made it a new rule to myself never to sit down at aid stations. I collect my resupplies and head off to the next 7 mile section that is on undulating dirt road. Generally the route in downhill and I try to cut the tangents to save distance. It's raining off and on and this keeps the dust down. I suspect that on a dryer, more typical race day it would be pretty dusty, exposed and hot section. There's not much traffic now, maybe a half-dozen cars pass me by. I run 20 minutes and walk 2 minutes most of the time as I would on a mostly flat non-technical run. This helps preserve my legs from the monotonous pounding of that sort of terrain.

I make it uneventfully to the next aid station and efficiently back onto the dirt road. This continues to weave up down and around until we get close to the Applegate River aid station where it takes a dive back onto a weird little trail bordered the whole way by a chain link fence on the left. It's steep up and steep down like a roller coaster. Then we spill out into a campground area with signs directing us in a circuitous route to an area labeled as "California." After a few hundred yards we're notified we're back in Oregon again. I think this is a nice touch, since we're so close to the state border - why not say your race covers terrain in two states?

Back onto paved road and to the next aid station where my crew is accessible for the first time. Karen and Heather see me and there's a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday as I run in! Russ is just heading back out and we start the Happy Birthday song for him as well.

YouTube recording of the event.

I get weighed and head off to the car to get together my things for the next section. It's great to have the team there to get me in and out quickly. It's been raining off and on all morning but I'm still doing well with my light shell since it's also not very cold. I also grab my Garmin for the first time in a race. I figure it will help me to keep on track with distances if I get discouraged or, god forbid, lost.

Off I go onto the next section of trail, this time mostly surrounded by red-hued poison oak. I had a surprise gift of poison oak form Western States and so I was careful to avoid contact this time around. The trail was lovely and it snaked upwards and over hills of increasing steepness. I pass a few people for the first time. Someone here was verbally averse to switchbacks towards the top. I found this amusing and fodder for good stories of adventure later on. Besides, I was already almost to the next aid station, just 5 miles from the last. Or was it...Now I know my Garmin can be off a bit and I use it for rough estimates, but at 6.5 miles I finally get into the next aid station, Stein Butte.

They are huddled under the tent and making a valiant effort at putting together some warm food - I eat some almost ready soup and appreciate it. I mention that it seems like more than 5 miles since the last aid station and they confirm "yeah, we've been hearing that a lot." I asked them how everyone seemed to be doing. The soup maker told me people seemed to be coming in discouraged but are leaving in good spirits. No doubt. These guys were very upbeat!

I left them behind and went back out onto the next section of trail, - actually a very old logging road. After a quarter mile down the trail a large tree was blocking the road and I see that this is where the volunteers had to park and then WALK in all their gear for the aid station. Wow. Now that's dedication and effort!

This road was pleasant and I was particularly interested to see every 200 yards or so there was a big pile of bear poop. I noted this along the whole way! We really are out in the wilderness now, despite that we're on a man made "road." I know there's 6 miles to the next AS and I tick them off as the rain continues to pour down pretty heavy.

Soon we're on a very steep downhill section that, in the rain, has turned into a trail runners version of the Luge. I slip-slide my way down and just before the next AS there's my crew waiting for me with hot soup. I make a complete wardrobe change into my capri tights and a new dry set of shirts and a better rain jacket with a hood. Karen reapplies hydropel to my feet and I get dry socks and new shoes. It takes me about 10 minutes here but the effort is well worth it! I feel much better - dry, warm, filled up and ready to get moving. I'm at mile 42 and it's about an hour before dark so I'm still right on track to make the cut off at Dutchman.

I suspect I'm in the very back of the pack and they confirm that I probably am the last runner out there. Already at mile 36?! I know I'm not fast and I know it's not unlikely I'll crawl in at the very end tomorrow, but to be so far in the back already? Wow. I'm reassured that I've completed about the same amount of mileage in about the same amount of time as at Western States. I certainly wasn't that far back in the pack then. This race must be eating runners up and spitting them out at quite a rate.

As I head off on the road for a loop around the lake I feel strong and happy anyway. I hear that Russ is right in front of me, maybe 10 minutes, and I feel like I might be able to catch him before too long! After rounding the lake, (longer than the 2 miles advertised) I accept that the mileages listed on the race info are probably not recently measured and merely "approximate." So far there's an equal mix of sections longer and shorter than advertised.

Karen and Heather wait in the car as I leave the lake and are back onto the dirt road to make sure I'm OK. I mention that my right pinky toe is a little sore since the shoe change. "Is it OK?" my sister asks? I consider it..."Yeah, it's OK." Pause. She replies "Are you just saying that so you don't have to deal with it or is it really not a problem?" You can't lie to your sister, the professional crew chief. I admit it - it's a problem. So I stop and take off the extra sock and replace my shoe. Now I'm fine. She was right, take care of it now so it's not a bigger problem later. Words to run by.

I start back up and they drive off, waving. It's a nice dirt road again and I wander down, down, down. It's only "3 miles" until the next aid station and I expect to see Russ any minute up ahead. I feel really great. But, as expected, the mileage is off and after about 4 miles I still don't see an aid station. Funny, I don't remember any confidence flagging either. Uh, oh. Did I miss something or did someone remove the flags? The mileages aren't trustworthy in my mind...then a car comes towards me and they pull over so I can asks them if there's an aid station up ahead along the road? Nope. " We're headed to the Squaw Lake aid station - did you miss a turn?" Well, obviously I did. DRAT!!!

Now I can see that my time cushion is shrinking. Can I still make it to Dutchman peak by 1 AM? They offer me a ride back to where ever it is I needed to turn off. I consider this but expect it could get me disqualified so I stoically decline and head back, now uphill, the way I came. Inside I'm stating to crumble. How could I be so stupid? This might be my fatal mistake - just when I was starting to get a second wind and feel really great and optimistic. Now I've gained extra mileage (not as big a deal to me) and lost precious time (a really big deal). And I only brought along enough food to last me for 3 miles.

I find the missing turn, off the road on the opposite side of where I was running. It's marked over there but I never even saw it from the other side. Crap. This is another problem with so much road running. I head up this now more rugged road and as it's starting to get dark I finally make it to the next aid station. Instead of 3 miles, I've gone 7. They help me get some nutrition in but I'm already behind. Once this happens I tend to start on a downhill spiral of anorexia. Nothing sounds good, I'm not hungry and I stop eating or have to force myself to eat. The less I eat the weaker and slower I get. But there's nothing I can do about it because I'm way behind and need to get moving if I'm to get to the cut off before 1 AM. I didn't bring extra batteries for my flashlight (I didn't expect to need it before the next aid station) so I use my dimmer head lamp.

As I move along the trail it gets very over grown. I need to use the hand-held to stay on my feet. The trail is so over grown I can't see my footing. Then WHAP! I get slapped in the face by an overhanging branch I didn't see coming because I'm concentrating on my feet. I teeter and almost fall. To the right is a sharp drop off. I try to lean left and catch myself on the uphill side of the incline. And so it goes, over and over, concentrate on feet, branches slap me in the face and I catch myself from falling down the slope. I'm losing heart and won't be catching up to Russ any time soon but I have no choice except to keep pressing on. At least I'm still running!

Finally I see the lights of the next aid station and Handley Gap! Hooray! I get to the table and right away the guy there says to me - "you're not going to make it to the cut off." A guy next to him on a walky-talky says to someone on the other end "you got room for one more?" I realize they expect me to give up and take a ride out. What? Now? There's not an intermediate cut off here. My crew is at Dutchman Peak, I argue. How are they going to figure out where I am if you take me out here? (There's no cell service out here.) Even if I don't get there in time to beat the cut off I'd like to get there and be pulled at that point. I don't want to give up. "Unless you're telling me I'm not allowed to keep going, then I'm going to move on." Reluctantly he agreed that I could go on.

I look over and see my friend Kelly hanging around. I figure he's working the aid station but it turns out he's the sweeper and this is where his job starts - to follow the last runner out. I guess that's me. He points me in the right direction to go the mile (or so) up to the top of Hanley peak where I have to retrieve a flag and bring it back down. I don't want to waste any more time so I trudge off. After the first intersection there's a pile of gravel to the left. And one to the right. There are no course markings (or glow sticks) indicating which way to go. As I stand there perplexed another runner appears, coming back down towards me and points me in the right direction around the gravel pile on my right and I make it the rest of the way to the top, retrieve my flag and get back down to...what used to be the aid station. Crap. I didn't fuel up before I left to the peak and now there's nothing left out for me to eat. If I wasn't already hosed, this cinches it. They do dig up some batteries for me so my flashlight will be useful again.

Off I head with the really lucky happenstance to have Kelly there as an impromptu pacer! If I had bad luck so far, this definitely was a stroke of good luck. I have a great time catching up on what we've each been up to since our trail work days on the Waldo course in July. He also imparts some hopeful news to me. While I was up on the last peak, the RD drove through to check on things. Kelly, now my advocate, told him how I had taken a wrong turn and run some bonus miles but was "still running well." The RD suggested that he might give me an extra hour on the cut off to compensate for my error! By this time I had resigned myself to getting pulled from the race at Dutchman Peak but now there was new hope I could go on.

Buoyed by this news I tried my best to put on a show of strength run/hiking up the dirt road on which we found ourselves. The flashlight wasn't often necessary since the route was wide and non technical. However it was incessantly steep and ever climbing. Occasionally it would dip a bit and be runnable but then go back to uphill. Kelly was pulling down flagging as he went, having no trouble catching up to me between detours. I began to feel the effects of multiple missed opportunities to fuel myself. I didn't realize it at the time, either, but the altitude really compromised my progress as well despite the smooth road surface. My strong hike turned more and more into a slow trudge. I had not consumed anywhere near my 300 calories an hour for several hours.

Poor Kelly, having to walk so slowly in that weather. Ah...the weather. I don't really mention much about it here because I didn't ever consider it much of a factor for me. By this time the wind had picked up, as did the rain. I was warm and cozy in my rain gear and didn't consider the conditions a problem. The lack of food and the altitude were my relevant issues.

Finally we hit the next aid station and lo and behold, there's Karen! Apparently she and Heather drove there by accident thinking it was Dutchman Peak and waited for me for a while. They finally figured out they where one aid station shy of where they needed to be but by then the RD had arrived for a check-in and he informed them I was on my way. He gave Karen permission to start pacing me from there. Heather had driven on ahead to wait for us at Dutchman Peak.

Cool - now I had two pacers, Kelly the sweep and Karen my official pacer. This was great company and I'd like to say that it bolstered my resolve to work hard to make it up the next 5 miles of inclined dirt road to get up to the cut off now by 2 AM. I really wish I could say that. Unfortunately I had completely lost my stomach. Karen offered all manner of available foodstuffs and nothing sounded good. Knowing that my mantra was "300 calories per hour" I choked down some shot blocks, hoping that it would prime me to want more soon. No luck.

A car headed towards us and who did I see leaning out the window to greet me but Russ. WTF? What are you doing in there?! He told me he was done and searching for his crew so they could get the hell out of there. I was sad to see him done before the finish line on attempt number three at the 100 mile distance. Obviously, this course was a lot more to handle than either of us had hoped.

The road got steeper and the air hot thinner and my resolve crumbled. Even at my previous pace, I was unlikely to get to Dutchman Peak in time. At this pace I was clearly out of the running. But, trudge we did, on and on until finally, slowly with my "climbing Mt. Everest" style of step, pause, gasp step, pause, gasp rhythm we emerged at the base are of Dutchman Peak. The AS is "just" up the next steep hill and a few switchbacks more.

My dilemma isn't the only drama playing itself out at this point, however. We bump right into Heather as we intend to head up the last pitch. "I think I'm going to throw up!" she informs us. Me too, I think. Karen's (new) Subaru is parked there but I walk right past it to finish my race at the AS with the little bit of dignity I have left. I make my way to the AS to get my wrist band cut off for an official drop and end to this fiasco, well past the 2 AM enhanced cut off time. Heather informs us that the car isn't parked on the side of the muddy road: it's stuck there and we need to find someone to help us tow it out. I can't process this (I can't really care about it yet) so I continue on. Karen follows behind me shortly with a hope of organizing the needed help from he aid station folk.

We get to the top, I thrust my wrist into someone's face and they cut off my band. That's it. Mile 65 (ish) and I'm done. I would have been willing to regroup and head out again if I was allowed. I've been doing this long enough to know that with a little nutrition and time, even overwhelming fatigue can be overcome. But instead I turn around and head back down to the car. It's raining very heavily and now the wind is howling. The aid station is just barely in one piece and the volunteers are already breaking it down to get the hell out of there. Karen stops to ask for help. Now that I'm not moving I'm getting really cold. Fast.

No Dice.

No one at the AS seems able to help us with the car problem - they have their own problems to deal with - but we find a really nice couple who are parked up by the AS and they agree to let me get into their car while Karen continues to search for help. Eventually she gives up looking for help at the AS and these kind folks drive us down the short but steep road to where our car is stuck.

The real drama of the day is about to unfold. Over the next few hours we experience the best and the worst of being caught in bad weather, in the middle of nowhere with the rear passenger tire hanging over the edge of a muddy, crumbling dirt road. If the car slips any farther it will tumble off the road edge and down the bank onto it's hood, then probably it'll keep rolling a while. Remember, this is a new car? Karen is holding it together pretty well considering the potential outcome.

How this develops would be funny if we weren't exhausted, wet, cold and in the dark. Some other nice people driving by stop to help us try and drive or push the car forward. No go. With our attempts to move it, it gets worse and the back tire is left more precarious. Now someone needs to sit in the driver's seat to keep the car from tipping over. We empty the car of all it's contents, to reduce the weight that is trying to pull it over the edge of the increasingly muddy road.

We continue to search for someone with a rope so we can pull us out. There is NO ROPE any where. There are various AS people around and a tent with ham operators near by and various comers and goers trying to get around our disabled car at this intersection of many dirt roads but no one has a rope. Everyone recommends we leave the car and bring back a tow truck in the morning. Without help soon and someone continually sitting in the drivers seat, we know the car will be completely over the edge and in need of a funeral by morning.

The folks who have given me refuge in their car wait patiently and try to help push and search for rope. Another truck with a nice fellow and his dad offer to pull us out once the rope is found. When all avenues of rope procurement are unsuccessful, the man and his dad offer to drive back into town, get a rope and return (a several hour round trip). Remember, it's nigh on 3 AM by this time. The refuge folks offer to take me with them to their hotel where I can have the spare bed and they will reunite me with my crew in the morning. It still blows my mind that total strangers are so generous to people in need. Especially since we're muddying up the back of their car.

Finally we are saved by the most unlikely of people - a hunter. Unknown to him, runners and crews have invaded the logging roads and as he heads down our road (it's ours now because we're stuck on it and no one can pass) he gets caught in our web. He can't back out up the hill so he can't get home unless he helps us figure out how to find a frigging rope!

Frankly, I don't know how, maybe it fell from the sky, maybe someone tossed it out a window as they drove by but somehow a little thin almost-rope was found. It got doubled, tripled up and threaded through the tow ports on both vehicles and mister bow hunter pulled the Subaru free!!!! HURRAY!!!! We throw everything back into the car wet and in total disarray. We dig out enough space to sit and buckle ourselves in. We're home FREEEEEEEE!!!!!

OR are we? Sure, we're drivable now. But how the hell do we get out of here? The return route is a long trek back so we (a caravan of the saviors and us) forge ahead, reading the crew instructions that should lead us to a quicker escape route. Off we go, onto ever more rugged dirt roads, through (past?) obscure and unmarked turns. Our all-wheel drive is absolutely necessary and the ride is harrowing even so. After about 30 minutes of this we hit an open area of criss-crossing dirt roads. We have the driving instructions. We have a map. We have ourselves located on a GPS. We still can't figure out what the hell to do to get out of there. Did I mention it's after 3 AM now and we're EXHAUSTED? And it's still storming? Luckily we're warm.

We all get out of our vehicles and reconeutre. The saviors decide to press on and hope they are on the right track. Somewhere ahead we've heard there's a bridge out and we're not sure which road it's on. We'd rather not get that far, only to have to turn back again. So, we decide to return the way we came and take the know route, the long way home. The others take their chances and press on. We wish them luck. We all do make it back to civilization eventually.

It's nearly daylight as we get back onto pavement and travel back towards the lights of the nearest town. Karen is nodding off behind the wheel so we pull over into some parking lot and take a need nap, sitting up in our seats. It's been a harrowing experience and a seriously disappointing DNF for me. We did meet up with our saviors again the next day at the awards ceremony and we relived our shared struggle. I can't thank them enough to have sacrificed their own comfort and safety to help us out.

This epitomizes the type of people you're bound to meet at ultra events. Even though my race ended unsuccessfully, and I'd rather not have had "the car incident" (as it's come to be known), it was an experience that reminded me again why I so love these ultra events. We help each other out. Strangers who find you in need will come to your aid most of the time.

To sum up this race, there were some organizational issues I think could have gone better and hopefully will in the upcoming iterations of this event. I believe that the mileages listed are a very rough guide. I was lulled into thinking that with a 32 hour final cut off that this race was a good option for back of the pack runners like me. Whether it's due to mileage discrepancies or the other factors I encountered, I remain dismayed that I was unable to make the mid-point cut off. I've always been concerned about meeting cut offs but this is the first time I've not been successful. It still haunts me.

On the other hand, without all the hardships, the kindness of strangers and friends would not have been revealed.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Where's Waldo?

Chapter One

Waldo Kicks Kate's ass and humiliates her in the process. Score: Waldo 1, Kate 0

Chapter Two

Waldo tries and is nearly successful at kicking Kate's ass. Waldo 1, Kate 1

Chapter Three

All the forces align this weekend to help me find a way to complete this race without feeling like death warmed over. The weather is predicted to reach into the mid 60s and there is a slight chance of rain late in the day/early evening or at least some good amount of chilly wind on the last climb up to Maiden Peak. Dress accordingly.

So I take the early start as usual only this year I have the ULTRAMOBILE to camp out in at the start so I get as much sleep as is possible right near the starting line. This makes the 3 AM start time, if not reasonable, at least not totally unbearable. It's still really early and I didn't sleep that well anyway. Probably from the elevation.

It's dark and cool as we wait for the clock to hit 3 am and them off we go up the hill and into the woods. I feel like I'm working comfortably hard and cruise a wonderful section of trail to the first aid station which I hit in the dark, right on schedule. I peel off to use the toilets right inside the camp ground then make a quick stop at the aid station table for some food. So far I'm subsisting on donuts. They still sound good, especially when mixed with potato chips. Sweet, salt. Yum.

The run up to Fuji seems difficult and I'm huffing and puffing. It's the elevation but I forget this point and wonder if I'm carrying too much of Western States in my legs still. Dawn breaks before I hit the next aid station and I grab a pie on my way through then up to the top of Fuji peak. I get a nice view of the rest of the course, greet the sun then head right back down. I've really grown to love this course because of it's challenges and spectacular scenery from high vantage points.

Between Fuji and Mt. Ray aid stations I run steady and continue to try to run more of the up hill sections, twenty steps at a time alternating with twenty of walking when necessary. I get to the aid station right on time and grab another pie. The aid station volunteers continue to wait on us hand and foot. Very professional and helpful. It really keeps me moving in and out quickly.

Off to the Twins and I just try to keep moving at a regular pace and do as much run:waling as I can rather than just straight hiking. I hit the aid station at about the same time as last year and clear out after just a brief stop knowing that the next section is mainly downhill. It is and I enjoy it.

It's not getting hot and my fatigue level is about the same so I concentrate on keeping the calories going in. After getting to and through Charlton Lake I start on the section of trail that's usually quite warm but not today. Unfortunately I tart to get some side stitches and it slows me down. But by the time I get to Rd 4290 I'm still on my pace and I get through there quickly. This is the theme of my aid station stops for this run. I never sit down and get out fairly fast. The food is starting to look like a chore so I start to take some gels instead of solids. It seems easier.

Part way back to the Twins aid station I remind myself that I need to finish the pie I started and I force myself to do so. My side stitches disappear after a few stops in the woods and I feel not half bad. I keep walk/running the hills and get back into the Twins five minutes ahead of schedule. Then it's off to Maiden Peak aid station. There seems like a lot more downhill running this time than I remember from last year and I'm happy for it. Before I know it I'm at Maiden Peak AS and I load up on food and head up the trail to reach the peak.

Last year it took me 1:35 to get to the top. This year I shaved off 10 minutes and didn't feel like I had spent all my effort getting there. Never-the-less when I saw Kelly the peak monitor at the top all I could do was confirm that I had climbed up far enough and I turned on my heel and headed right back down.

The route from Maiden Peak to the next aid station always seems to take way too long and I thought I might have gone off track for a while. Yet I'm happy to feel like I'm running within my capabilities and despite the route seeming long I get to the last AS 20 minutes faster than last year. I grab some food, pack some gels and head out for the last 7.5 mile stretch feeling no ominous catastrophic symptoms.

I do swear, however, that this next section can't possibly be 7.5 miles. This should take me about 1:30 but even though I'm pushing my pace pretty hard I still take 1:45 to come into the finish line. Regardless, I'll take it and I'm proud to have received my hat!

Contrary to years past this year I am able to walk around and visit and even eat at the BBQ. My friend Karen finishes - with a broken hand. Even though I feel tough sometimes, enduring hardships of the trail, she wins the award. She fell coming down the trail between Maiden Peak and Maiden Lake AS and just ran in the rest of the way without even seriously considering stopping. That would certainly be a reasonable excuse. I guess the drive to get a hat was just too strong.

So, I think I have figured out the perfect training scheme for this race. Warm up by running Western States at the end of June.

Final score Waldo 1 - Kate 2

Monday, July 5, 2010


(near the end - at Mile 93.5, just after 8:00 am on Sunday.)

From the race website:

"The Western States Endurance Run will be conducted along the Western States Trail starting at Squaw Valley, California, and ending in Auburn, California. The Run will begin at 5:00 a.m. on Saturday, June 26, 2010, at the west end of Squaw Valley. Runners must reach the finish line no later than 10:59:59 a.m. on Sunday, June 27, 2010, in order to be eligible for an award."

and further:

"Beginning in Squaw Valley, site of the 1960 Winter Olympic Games, the trail ascends from the valley floor (elevation 6,200 feet) to Emigrant Pass (elevation 8,750 feet), a climb of 2,550 vertical feet in the first 4½ miles. From the pass, following the original trails used by the gold and silver miners of the 1850’s, runners travel west, climbing another 15,540 feet and descending 22,970 feet before reaching Auburn, a small town in the heart of California's historic gold country. Most of the trail passes through remote and rugged territory."


This is my third attempt at a 100 mile trail race. Previously I've managed to finish under 29 hours and hope to do the same here at Western States but knew there would be major challenges for me making any finish at all less than inevitable. The race takes place in the mountains with elevations up to 8700 feet and there is generally a lot of heat during the run. Since I live at sea level we planned to spend about a week prior to the race camping at elevations ranging from 5500 - 6500 feet. We went to Willamette Pass in Oregon, past Crater Lake then on to Lassen National Park before arriving in Squaw Valley on Wednesday before the race. For the heat - sauna training and running overdressed was all I could do to simulate the sweating rates more typical for California in the summer.

I again took with me my trusty crew: Karen, my sister, and Leslie, her running buddy. This combination helped me to finish my first 100 mile race and I knew that their experienced help would be invaluable to me on race day. They helped me organize my drop bags and helped with much of the pre-race logistics. During the race they stayed up with me all night and soldiered through endless hours of waiting not to mention the hiking they did, laden with supplies, to reach me at remote places along the trail. Not being slouchers, I heard later that they also lent themselves out to others for impromptu crewing and technology support (they had the only working i-phone at some spots). Karen would also run with me for a while if I came in after 8:00 pm at the Michigan Bluff aid station.

This time I also enlisted the help of Glenn, aka Mudrunner (or Muddy as we affectionately call him) as my primary pacer. I enticed him to come all the way from Vancouver, B.C. (yes, that's in Canada). I also had my husband Rodney along for the ride and as my post race driver and general support person. He even knew it would be hot as blazes in Auburn and still wanted to come and help me out. As my faithful readers may remember, my first 100 mile run was paced by my now good friend Russ, who this time was producing a radio piece on the event, including some interviews with yours truly. He wasn't able to pace for me this time but participated in some of our pre and post race festivities. During our get together time pre-race we all finally realized we knew each other and introduced ourselves by our online names to made the final connection: Fatozzig, Rustyboy, KateMD, Mudrunner. We had all "known" each other for a long time, we just didn't realize it. Rounding out our happy crowd was Russ' newest running friend and helper, as well as an acquaintance of mine, Gary (no online name he will admit to).
It's 4:30 am and I'm just about dressed and ready to go. Deep breath, others stir in the room and we quietly leave to assemble outside. It's dark but won't be for long. It's a little chilly, but won't be for long. Soon I'm in a sea of people: runners, crews, spectators, all milling around before the beginning of the race. The race clock ticks down the final minutes. I quickly check in and do my number pinning routine (fold it up first so it fits better - race voodoo) then the pre-race weight for the medical research team and I'm back outside trying to find everyone again.

Russ spots me and continues the interview we started last month. "Are you nervous?" he asks. "I wasn't until I got out here." The excitement is palpable and it's a replay of videos of the start of this race I've seen over and over. Only this time I'm in the crowd of runners that will pass under the timing clock and be illuminated by hundreds of camera flashes and enveloped in the whooping and cheering as we count down 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 gunshot!

Positioned in the last third of the pack I'm hopeful this will be my finishing placement as well. Of course, a finish further up in the pack would be great but I'm realistic and hope to just survive this run to make it to the end. After a short jog we're hiking up the lighted ski slopes getting steeper and steeper as we ascend. I feel like I'm keeping up a decent pace, not too fast, not too slow. The week we just spent at elevation has really helped and although it's not like being back at sea level it certainly is doable. The runners all start their early race chatter amongst themselves. Conversations between old friends and introductions with new ones float in the air as the sun starts to rise. WE pass the first aid station and refill water bottles in anticipation of a 10 mile stretch before the next aid station. Then there's Gary up ahead! He hiked up all that way just to say a big "Hi, Howdy" to me as I passed by! See you again in Auburn, buddy!

Huge mounds of snow reveal gushing streams at their bases and as we ascend to the snow fields we have to start hiking over them. Dirt gets tracked onto the snow from the myriad of feet and it gives us a sanded effect to help grip better. This is an advantage to not being a front runner. As we get to the top of the climb we hear the gong player (Chris Thorney) playing along the side of the trail to greet us and the rising sun. I pass by with a thanks and turn to look where we've come. As small line of hikers strings below, beyond is the fog valley in Squaw and beyond that Lake Tahoe and purple mountains stretch off into the distance. I'm further back in the pack now than when I started.

Deep breath and I plunge over the side onto the single track trail on the backside of the mountain. Now it seems real. Now it seems like my personal quest to get to Auburn sometime on Sunday has begun for real.

Not too far along we hit the snow and at first it's runnable. Eventually the snow trail gets more technical and I begin to curse my shoe choice. They seem much more slippery than I had anticipated. Some steep areas send my feet out from under me and I'm unto my butt for what won't be the first time. My goal is to get through this section without injury. My arm sleeves keep me from getting snow rash from the frequent falling. I don't feel steady enough to ski down as I see some people around me doing. Drat! I purposely butt slide down the steeper places. Eventually as we descend we get to the snow melt run off and then the streams, many of which inhabit the trail itself as a stream. Now I'm at home. In the Pacific Northwest we know how to run in the wet. We do it most of the year. I plunge ahead right into the streams and skip around people who try to keep their feet dry.

Then there is mud but I'm used to that as well. What I didn't anticipate was the cold plunges into the water followed by snow running followed by more mud or water. I worry about the potential for frost bite as my feet start to go numb. Luckily time and trail passes and we're below the snow line again and to the second then third aid stations along first a dirt then a paved road. I manage to get through without much fuss and the trail eventually takes a gentle downhill trek towards the French Meadows reservoir. We pass by camp grounds and campers getting up for morning coffee. If anyone needed to there were plenty of pit toilets to stop at right off the dirt road.

The trail next takes a turn back onto single track and it's divine running along the reservoir with a deep blue lake and trees all around. What a beautiful view we're privileged to witness. Then we start to climb into a new area that was affected by fire a few years ago. Trail workers have recently brought in a bush hog and cleared a way through but we have to be careful of the 2-3 inch stubs of stems sticking up just high enough to trip us.

Up over the top and then down the over side and we're at the Duncan Canyon aid station - mile 23.8. A guy in a Bishop's outfit takes my bottle to refill it. He treats me like I'm the Mother Superior; with deference and respect. I grab some snacks and down some fluids and off I go on the climb to Robinson Flat.

The trail rolls up and down and we start crossing more streams. Eventually we reach Duncan Creek and a rope strung across helps us to stay upright in the thigh deep water of mid stream. It's starting to heat up a bit so people are splashing around like elephants and there's still lots of camaraderie and high spirits among them. Then the climbing begins. Then we're back into the snow after getting above 6500 feet. I pick up some snow to hold in my hands to keep them cool. I notice someone behind me does the same thing. The trail flattens out and despite the snow we're able to run again. Then we hear the unmistakable sounds of an aid station ahead at Robinson Flat, mile 29.7.

A volunteer takes my bottle and pack while I get weighed. I'm 5 pounds up. But I already know I was 2 pound heavier this morning compared to the race weigh-in the day before. And I need to use the porta-potty, which I did. Then I found my crew and they got me the rest of my things and sent me off on my way.
I returned my sunglasses since the snow was on shaded slopes and I hadn't really used them to this point. But, shortly after leaving Robinson Flat the snow started again and I was in the bright sun. I squinted and cursed my decision briefly but the snow petered out before too long and the trail continued on its generally downhill meander.

By now I was running alone and I was happy to do so. I'm not asocial but find that running with others alters my pace and generally I run faster than I should and regret it later. I really wanted to run my own race at this point. There were some puffy clouds overhead accumulating in greater numbers so we got to run in the shade some of the time. I had my ice clothing on (bandanna and hat) and my body temp was comfortable even though it was warming up so I was able to keep up a consistent speed and soon enough I was at the next aid station at Miller's Defeat, mile 35.3. Restock the ice clothing and grab some food and drink and off I go.

Even in the training runs I did here I found the sections between Robinson Flat and the climb to Devil's Thumb to be all fairly similar. It's pleasant there but I don't remember much detail about it. I did start to have some blistering on my left foot so when I got to Dusty Corners aid station (mile 38)I spent some time in the chair taping up. I hopped over to a volunteer and got my mud infused sock rinsed out a few times. There was mud caked on the inside right where my toe was bothering me. I should have changed socks at Robinson Flat. Maybe shoes, too.

After the sock change I headed out again and eventually was directed onto the trail that leads to Pucker Point, one of the most picturesque places I've ever seen and I paused briefly to appreciate the view: a steep wooded canyon with a roaring river plunging steeply down it.
The trail was perched right on the edge of a cliff with a shear drop off below. Stunning, if a bit scary...don't fall here. I was still running alone and enjoying myself. Then I got to the downhill section leading to the bottom of the first canyon. I don't mind this section but note that my quads are starting to feel tired on the steep descent. This is seriously too early in the race for my legs to start barking at me.There's not much to do about it at this point, though.

The trail heading down had a sea of black and orange butterflies flitting here and there and accumulating around the few puddles in the trail. As I ran by I'd disturb them and they'd all fly up and surround me with their colorful flapping wings. They'd dance around for a while until I out ran them. Then I'd flush out another flock at the next puddle and they'd run with me for a while, too. It was enchanting.

When I get to the bottom of the canyon and over the bridge, just beyond it there's a small waterfall along the trail and I douse myself in it before I start the climb to the Devil's Thumb aid station. This climb does not intimidate me. I feel I've trained well for climbing and I actually have a way of doing the steep stuff that somewhat rests my legs. During the training runs I managed to get up the hill in 40 minutes. This time I'm at the top in 47. I pass quite a few people here and see more than a few struggling on the way. I'm not over heated at all and I get my ice clothing refilled at this aid station (mile 47.8) before the next drop into the canyon at Eldorado Creek. And hour and 15 minutes later and I'm there refilling my water bottles and ice clothing at the aid station. I'm at mile 52.9 and just over half way done. I snag a Popsicle on my way "out the door."

Likewise I don't find the next climb up to Michigan Bluff climb intimidating. Just take it one step at a time and with 1/4 mile to go a volunteer is there to tell us we're almost to the top and ask if we want mosquito repellent spray. Why certainly! And thank you! What great service. I wish my feet we're feeling as spry as my bugless attitude. Shortly I'm on the short road leading to the Michigan Bluff aid station and enter the party there 40 minutes ahead of my pace chart - mile 55.7.
My weight is down 1/2 pound but still slightly above my pre-race weight.

Time now to submit myself to the fawning by my crew and a foot check and blister care conference. My sister Karen is ready to run with me the next section to Foresthill since we're leaving after 8:00 pm and I'm grateful to have the company. As we run I encourage her to keep up the chatter to distract me from my growing fatigue. I'm still happy to be doing this but the task is far from easy at this point. Luckily this is expected so I don't fret. Likely I will find a second wind later.

As we run darkness starts to fall and we switch on our headlamps. Suddenly a small animal darts between my feet and I leap out of the way with a small shriek. It's mouse sized but had a big bushy tail and it's black. I tell Karen to watch out and then she sees it too and screeches as she leaps out of the wasy. Then I see another and it finally hits me. It's just the shadow of my headlamp against some grassy puff balls along the side of the trail. A mouse illusion. We have a good laugh about the phantom rodents since both of us were fooled. My excuse is that I was getting tired and her's is that she's suggestible.

We make our way to Bath road with a few more "mouse" encounters and start the short hike up to the road towards the big Foresthill aid station. Soon we're nearing the aid station and Karen has to resume crewing. But I do get to pick up my pacer, Glenn, who has finished the race himself and just two years ago paced for a mutual friend. In addition he has run many much harder 100 milers. It was a race report he wrote of his first 100 mile race that introduced me to this type of distance running long before I ever tried it myself. I feel lucky to have such an experienced ultra runner with me and it is destined pay off. I don't think I looked at my pace chart again after Glenn joined me. He was the keeper of time, strategy, spunk and reason.

Before leaving there was more time in the chair for foot repair and sock changes. We were outfitted with glow-lite bracelets and necklaces which added to the festive atmosphere. Rodney was there to wish me luck into the night.

He was going to follow online at the hotel throughout the rest of the night and again in the morning until he walked down to the track to see me finish. He would provide IT support to the crew (call them with my splits w from the online webcast). Now it was time for the long descent to the River - 62 miles down, 38 to go! Take me to the River. Drop me in the water. Except we knew the river crossing this year would take place in inflatable Zodiac rafts piloted by rowers rather than the usual rope crossing because the river was running so high from the late snow melt off. Glenn had done this for his WS race year and noted to me that the wait time was about 30 minutes to get a spot on the boat. Ouch. I know I was still ahead of the 30 hour pace but that could be getting uncomfortably close. But no time to worry about that and off we go, me with my increasing quad soreness but with a fresh pacer in tow to keep me going. Despite the sock change, my feet are really talking back, too.

Somewhere along here I fall. I don't even remember tripping but there I am on the ground, skidded to a halt on my right shoulder. Nothing but scrapes and bruises so up I get and we go on. Later I see the face of my (borrowed) watch is cracked. Sorry Karen

One of my goals for this race was to keep running. Ah, sounds like a given in a running race, doesn't it? But all too often we succumb to the desire to walk "for just a while", even when the trail is flat or downhill or only gently sloping. Even a good hike up a steeper hill will frequently lead to a continued walk after the hill is long gone if the tired runner isn't observant. I lost a lot of time in previous races to this phenomenon. And the funny thing is, running actually feels fine if you just keep doing it. Walking gives the illusion that you're able to rest. It's not usually true. It just takes more time to get where you're going and
that will make you more tired anyway.

So I'm keeping up a "running" pace most of the time and Glenn and I get into a rhythm at the aid stations. He waits on me hand and foot. I look at the food and shun it all. He cajoles me to try to eat something. I turn up my nose. He urges me to try the soup. I do. Soup is good. So soup it is. My pre-race dreams of all the junk food you can eat on race day plays out like the cruel trick of all-you-can-eat ice cream after a tonsillectomy. Sigh. Aid station after aid station it's the same: refuse to eat, force feed, repeat. I keep trying to remember the conclusion of a recent medical study done at the race: finishers of the race tended to eat 300 calories an hour. Non-finishers consumed 150 or less. "I must eat to finish" became an internal mantra.

Having been on this part of the course before I remember the particularly steep up and down sections on the way to the river. As we get closer to the river bottom we can see a glow in the canyon up ahead indicating the lights of the two aid stations on either side of the crossing. I remember the steep "paradoxical run
down to the river" where they put in a steep uphill switchback section that takes us on a U-turn to our previous progress. But it's over sooner than I expect and we're on the last section before the crossing. The moon is full and helps illuminate our path and the temperature is dropping to a comfortable level.

I remember there's a concrete spillway we cross...there it is. And we start passing a few runners and pacers here and there. One couple is within striking distance before we get to the aid station and I turn to Glenn and say "are you thinking what I'm thinking?" "Yes, I am" and we surge a bit to pass them so we can get ahead in line to the boats. A quick weigh-in at the aid station (I'm right on target) and we dash down the steps to the boat launch area. Volunteers support me on the steep stairs and we ask how long the wait is - "loading right now" so we snag 2 seats in the back of the boat and the oarsman hauls us to the other side in less than a minute. I don't even get a full rendition of "Yo-ho, Yo-ho a pirate's life for me!" before we're on the other side. My crew is there again and Glenn brings me more food.

My feet have been increasingly tender over the last 20 miles and I know I need to seek advice from the podiatrist here. So I sit myself down on the examination chair. I drill a hole in my left toenail to relieve the pressure of a blister under that nail while I await a professional opinion about the big blister on my left pinkie toe. The whole toe is essentially one giant circumferential blister. So is another toe on the other foot. The constant wetness has macerated my skin, turning the soles white and soft which makes everything prone to sloughing off. He shakes his head and sighs at the trench foot condition of my hooves. He works to tape the worst toe while I drain the other then he tapes there as well. After he's done I notice a few more that I drain and tape. New socks and back into my shoes. OUCH. Ouch. Each step is a searing pain of "OUCH!" This joins the increasing pain of my quads which accompanies all my downhill steps - it's like the quad soreness a day or two after a really hard training run or race. You know, the kind that makes getting on and off the toilet or walking downstairs an ordeal. Glenn assures me that it will get better once I'm moving again and I know it's true. The blister pain does improve a little but it never really goes away much more. I have to learn to tolerate it.

What else are you going to do? I'm now almost at mile 80 and I don't want to make all my previous effort be for nothing by giving up now, just because it hurts. Pain is temporary. I know I'll have blisters to contend with later but I know it's not doing serious damage. The quads will repair themselves over time as well and I know I'm not injured so there's nothing more to do but suck it up and keep moving the best I can.

So, 30 more minutes are lost to the chair, probably an hour total by now if I count up all the aid station breaks for foot repair. My crew packs up and we get moving up the hill.
I am fed a chocolate donut but stupidly refuse to take one "for the road." We finally climb up to the Green Gate aid station, make a quick soup stop then we're out into the wilderness again with 20.8 miles to go.

I had imagined this next section happening in the dark but, alas, it soon became light and by the time we made it to the next aid station at Auburn Lakes Trail even the bonfire was burning down. More soup, more picking at the food supplies and we take off to Brown's Bar. The short steep (and not so steep) downhill sections continue to take a toll on my feet and legs.

Glenn keeps my spirits up by telling me how I'm progressing and how we're managing to stay on schedule. He estimates our next split and how easily we will be able to make it in under the 30 hour cut off, as well as all the intermediate cut offs. I find this hopeful but I don't feel like I'm moving very fast. I try to pick it up now and again, telling myself over and over that it doesn't hurt any less to run slower. Sometimes I tell myself the corollary: that it doesn't hurt any
more to run faster. But about the only refrain I have in my head is that I've never been so exhausted or in so much pain in my entire life. I'm not lively company. I doubt I have said anything at all in miles and miles.

We get to Brown's Bar aid station (mile 89.9) and it's more soup, fluids and we move along. Glenn calculates my split for the next section right as we're hitting a fairly steep downhill and I tell him "I can't do this." What I mean is, "I have to walk this steep section because my quads are not cooperating and I think I'll fall if I try to run." What he hears is, "I can't finish this race." He immediately tries to reassure me that all will be well and I'm doing fine and when I realize the misunderstanding I assure him I'm not that far gone - yet! I do try to walk backwards downhill to see if it helps but it doesn't really. And I haven't practiced that in training so I forgo this new option for falling. Glenn reminds me that at the end of the race my pain will magically subside and I'll run in like I'm fresh and blister free. That's something to hold on to and incentive to get to the end as soon as possible.

I have generally assumed that I could suck up discomfort in the run no matter what. But a few times I began to feel my legs actually tremble and buckle on me like they wouldn't do what I asked them to do even if I was willing to put up with the pain. That scared me the most but luckily is was intermittent and short lived so all I had to do was suck it up some more. That seemed the better option now after 90 miles.

We started the short climb up to the Hwy 49 aid station, the last point my crew would see us before the end (now mile 93.5). Glenn seemed to remember every nook and cranny of the course and it reinforced my memory of it as well. Sure enough we made it up a hill then down again towards the aid station. The runners before us were being cheered in and there's nothing better than to hear an aid station up ahead well before you see it. What a relief to know you're almost there.

I knew that at the most it could take about 2 hours from here to get to the end of the race. Since we arrived at 8:15 am I figured I'd make it in well before the 11 am final cut off and I was relieved. My crew were all smiles and encouragement. I got my ice bandanna refilled since the temperatures were starting to climb again. I drank a fruit smoothie while Glenn had a peanut butter and bacon sandwich. That sandwich sounds good now but at the time I thought it was disgusting. After a bathroom stop we were gone.

I knew the trail went up for about a half mile then it was the most pleasant rolling trail, all essentially gentle rolling downhill from there to the next and final aid station. And so it went. My feet and legs protested but I tried to ignore them and we moved along as best as I could. The open meadow grasslands were as lovely as I remembered and then we were on the rolling trail under the tress again. Now we're near the river again and as we run up a small rise there's a volunteer to tell us the aid station was just 100 yards away. He commented that we were the only ones he saw still running up that small hill. Great! All this suffering isn't for nothing! At least we look good.

We're in and out of the No Hand Bridge aid station probably the fastest of the whole run. Who wouldn't be at mile 96.8? I know this next section of trail fairly well. I try to do my run:walk combo on the ups and try to run harder on the downs and we pass some people here and there. "What am I saving it for at this point?" I observe and I try to run harder. Eventually we're on the steep single track switchbacks on the final pitch to the road at Robie Point and we find a place to pass a runner and his pacer. Then we pass another and then we see a whole line of them and I decide we will just have to follow the train at this point.

When we get to the top we sneak around the whole lot of them and head up to the gate at Robie Point. Russ is there with Gary and he has his microphone all warmed up and the two of them fall in beside us as we trudge up the paved hill for the final climb. I doubt I remember any but the fuzziest of details of that last 1.3 miles, but Russ recorded it all. I do remember we started running when it got less steep. I did my run:walk intervals when we weren't going downhill. Then we hit the last turn and it's all downhill to the finish. No, really, this time it's true. It isn't just "downhill" - it all
really is downhill. And not too steep.

As Glenn had previously predicted, at this point I was feeling remarkably less pain than before and I commented on that. Then Glenn looked at his watch and noted that I had a few minutes left to break 29 hours. I was incredulous. I figured that milestone was long gone and I was happy to just finish before they turned off the clock! Now I have motivation to really move.

Glenn strategized that he'll grab my fanny pack as soon as I get onto the track and I should haul ass around the track to the finish line unencumbered. I'm saddened that he won't finish with me but I don't have the time or strength to argue.
So I hit the track and start running a good strong pace. I pass a runner and his entourage. I speed up a bit because it miraculously feels good. Then I do start to get a little winded and think about slowing down right as I start the last corner and I hear the announcer say "28 hours 59 minutes and.... Oh crap! I have only seconds to finish under 29 hours?! I though I'd have a few minutes buffer. Oh crap, look at the clock: 35, 36, 37, 38....ahhhh!....a full on sprint as hard as I can....49, 50, 51...I hear the wind in my ears as I sail down the final straightaway towards the finish banner and in my mind the crowd is roaring and I stride out as far as I can and....28:59:56 I cross the finish line with my hands over my head in victory!

What an exhilarating end to a long and painful run. And it was true. My feet didn't hurt much, my legs didn't hurt much, I was laughing and happy. I popped into and out of the examination chair to have my BP taken and then my weight measured for the medical study. Hugs and kisses all around and then a huge sense of accomplishment and relief.

Not long after we went to the hotel to check in and I showered, then decided to soak in the tub where I fell asleep. We all made it back to the track in time for the awards ceremony which was just another opportunity for a nap in a chair.
Karen laid curled up in a ball practically at my feet, Rodney was by my side and even though it was over 100 degrees in the shade, I felt great walking over to collect my buckle and a congratulatory hand shake.

I now have a buckle and some really dirty running clothes that will never be completely clean again. I also have new proof that I can overcome physical adversity if the goal is imprinted in my psyche deep enough. And as I knew all along, my feet and legs are recovering - pain is temporary, but success is forever.

It goes without saying but won't here, that without the help of crew, family, pacers, paparazzi, and volunteers, I wouldn't have the privilege of doing this race and finishing it despite the abuse I subjected my body to. To Karen, Leslie and Glenn: a huge debt of gratitude. To Rodney: my continued appreciation that you put up with all this. To Russ and Gary: I couldn't run as well without adoring fans and the audio chronicle will be priceless to me. And a special THANKS to my friend Roy who took on my professional burdens during some of my training and during this race week so I could get away and participate in my passion of ultra running. Thank you all!!

Many more photos of the weekend can be found here thanks to Leslie, also my personal photographer.