Wednesday, July 29, 2015

At Long Last - requited love and pain at the Hardrock 100 - 2015

Sometimes driving now, I turn my radio off, and it feels like I am still in the San Juan mountains.

Little Molas Lake environs

One of my favorite feelings during hundred mile races is to get to the 70-80-90 mile mark and realize that “Geez, I’ve been going for X hours, here it is MILE 90 and I AM STILL RUNNING!” There isn’t anything like that feeling. Even though it (without doubt) hurts and aches, and all manner of things may have happened in the race so far, I can still run. That is wonderful. It even makes me look forward to the aches and pains that precede that capable feeling. 

The Hardrock Hundred is a race beyond comparison, without equal, and whatever other superlatives you can think of - that’s HRH. Since I first saw pictures of the course in 2008, I knew I had to get there. Nothing could dissuade me – not the stories of puking, getting lost, 47 hour finishes, lightning, endless climbing – all those risks were peanuts beside the awesome mountain vistas and trails. It took five years of qualifying races and lottery entries, pacing, crewing and volunteering at Hardrock to get my place at the starting line. I was so excited the last week before the race that I would forget to eat.
Hardrock Sister, Susan

Husband/Crew Chief /HRH veteran keeping me calm and happy

Some look at their goal races as a test, a final exam, even – but I’ve always considered races to be the party at the end of all the training and planning.  And there was lots of planning for Hardrock. I lined up five pacers + a crew chief, had a prerace meeting, plotted maps, estimated times, made hotel reservations, took vacation for 2 weeks to go up early and acclimate.  

HRH ram logo on my toes!
Race morning came – party time – but first there was a test: I couldn’t find my sunglasses. Panicking and practically in tears, I was failing at keeping my cool 30 minutes before the start. Not for the last time, Ken (husband and crew chief) came to the rescue and lent me his. At check-in, friends and crew wished me luck while I couldn’t believe I was going to get to be on the Hardrock course. Too much excitement, exhilaration, elation made me leak more than a bit from my eyes. Let us on the course already!

 And then we were.
Sherrie stood with this sign race morning cheering me on! 

A mile through town in the misty cloudy morning, then onto the trails. With an easy pace, in the cool crisp air, the course opened up to me. We were to climb over 33,000 feet: one 14’er, 7 passes around 13,000 feet and ~4 more above 12,000 feet in our 100 mile circuit of the San Juans, so the course wasted no time in getting us up the first one – Dives-Little Giant. To every side, around every corner, in front of and behind me the vistas waited to be admired. After ascending for a few miles, Silverton was cloaked, hidden under clouds and mist lit snow-white by the sun with a backdrop of ochre shaded mountains. A line of runners wound up the trail through a snow patch on the mountain’s shoulder becoming smaller and smaller until they seemed to cross into the sunlight. 

Remembering that I wasn’t simply out for a long run, I repeated my first goal out loud: Get to Grouse in good shape. I ate, drank, and kept my pace easy, but I couldn’t keep my smile in check. I guessed if I sprained a cheek muscle before Grouse, I’d still be ok.

 We dropped in to Cunningham Aid Station (mile 9.3) and half my crew cheered me across the river. Already the second or third crossing. Barry, Vicki and Fred snapped a few pictures (me guzzling a V8 and chowing down on some pb&j – quality ultra beauty poses). I felt great and told them so, and then waved goodbye on my way out.

near the top of Cunningham

In training, the climb out of Cunningham Gulch seemed steep and nasty, guaranteed to have me gasping and heaving for air on every step. Today though, I planted my poles and hiked up with purpose, easily and steadily. I reached the top of the second climb (Green Mountain) behind a friend and Hardrock veteran Tyler, who is known for being a “closer” – someone who speeds up on the last 40 miles of this course. I hung with Tyler a little, talking about the course to come until he paused to get something out of his pack. We dipped down into a basin with clouds building to our south before traversing and climbing up Buffalo Boy ridge just as slantwise sleet and rain borne by cold biting wind pelted us. No lightning, though, so I dug out my rain jacket and gloves and kept moving. At the top of the descent, a poor volunteer decked head to toe in waterproof gear and layers stood near a “snow wall” with a notch in it – apparently the way down. At the notch, she said, “don’t use your poles, other runners have broken theirs.” A ten foot vertical drop on the other side ended in a snow drift! I sat in the notch, and dropped down, whooped and stumbled a bit, then kept moving, relishing being out of the wind for the moment. 

Down to Maggie Gulch Aid station (mile 15.4, 5 hours in) and the other half of my crew is volunteering here. I’m so excited to see them it’s hard not to skip coming into the aid station.

I have little to relate except how great life is, but I hear that Josh saved a runner choking on watermelon by giving him the Heimlich! Now that’s an aid station volunteer giving excellent service!

Climbing out of Maggie, I still couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be out on the Hardrock course. My ankle ligament, partially torn 6 weeks ago was uncomplaining, and everything else felt great too. After crossing the Continental Divide trail in a field of yellow flowers, the trail turns to a sweeping downhill.  Wildflowers in blue and yellow, pink and white bobbed their heads at my passing and splashing. For most of this section, the trail couldn’t be distinguished from a muddy stream running through a wide open high altitude meadow. I tried for awhile to pick the best footing, running on the edges, but eventually I tired of the tip-toeing. Since my shoes were already wet, it wasn’t a point of saving them from the mud and water. Pole Creek Aid Station (mile 19.7) – remote, remarkably well provisioned but also cool, friendly, and relaxed – served me a cup of broth and some fruit before I followed another runner I’d been leapfrogging (Mike) out of the aid station. More mud, then more and more, until we reached a river. (Which of course we crossed. And then crossed again.) The trail wound through more willows, still wet everywhere. 

One step changed my race. A running footplant into ankle deep mud, and I yanked my foot out. I felt immediate pain in my injured ankle ligament. Crap. I scaled back the running and thought about my first goal - how to get to Grouse in good shape, not too likely anymore.  I’d have to go slower, and minimize heel striking with my right foot which aggravated the ligament. I was really hoping that any ligament pain would wait until the last half, but at least I had a plan. 

With an achy ligament, I ran past gorgeous Cataract Lake in the rain, and began the long forested descent before Sherman. The river tumbled noisily down next to me, the switchbacks bringing us close then turning us away over and over again. Trying to protect my right ankle, I was landing and breaking with my left leg. Rocky at first, with some big steps, the trail eventually turned to rooty steps. Down and down, I could feel my left leg getting tired. I backed off the pace some more, walked, used my poles, stopped and stretched. Normally loving downhills, I wished I was at the end of this beautiful pine needle carpeted somewhat steep descent. Nothing for it but to keep moving down, I planned out my Sherman Aid station stop – no crew here, so I had to be self-sufficient. Put some “Sore No More” on my right ankle. Change my socks. Eat. Sunscreen. Keep moving. I knew I was close when hikers started appearing headed up the trail, and soon I popped out of the woods to a shelter, picnic tables, and the best bathroom in ultra running. I stuck to my plan, ate a delicious chicken –bean-avocado-salsa-cheese burrito and some cherry cobbler, and headed out. My right ankle was achy but not too painful to run, my left leg/quad/ITB area was decidedly tired and put out by all the extra work it was doing. Maybe, I thought, this isn’t the race I hoped to have, but I could still finish and still enjoy the course. I would have to be careful to keep these issues from getting worse, and I wasn’t looking forward to telling Ken and my crew that I hadn’t exactly been able to deliver on that first goal. But. I was still moving.

Before the climb up Handies, the 14er, the Burrows Park Aid station supplied me with some ice which went conveniently in my calf sleeve on my ankle. Much better. I was hitting Handies late afternoon – perhaps a perfect time to take a kite and a key to the top to replicate Franklin’s experiment, but otherwise not recommended. A storm rolled over three others and myself hiking just above treeline, but luckily without an electrical component. Other than my aches, which didn’t bother me uphill, I still felt good, was eating and drinking – at least that part of the plan was working. The final short rocky switchbacks to the peak became a methodical trudge, just focusing on another step while feeling the altitude. What a relief to step onto the broad top and be able to first stride across, then run! 

Atop a 14,000 ft high mountain, the world seems separated in two parts like oil and water. There’s Sky. And there’s Mountains. These two elements make up the entire world, and we are but a small part that witnesses the two. 

While another runner sat on the peak and took in the view, I knew I was far behind my planned pace. My crew was waiting for me, and I was the bearer of not-so-good news. As I started down, I realized the news was worse than I thought – running downhill was now more than uncomfortable. I thought my ITB was about to go out on me. Thankfully though, after the steepest section, I loosened up a bit and could jog down. I could feel dusk descending, and frankly it was doing a better job of it than I. I made it down to Grouse Gulch in the falling twilight. Not for the last time, my crew had solutions for my problems. Ken, without knowing about my issues, had asked Jean Herbert to come in case my ankle needed some help. I headed out of Grouse much better than I had gone in. My goal now was distilled and straightforward: Keep moving – I must get to Telluride (mile 72.8) still able to move as I am now.  Do that, and I will be able to finish.

Heading out of Grouse Gulch

 Vicki, my pacer and I admired the string of pinpricks of light of runners climbing in the dark ahead of us as we climbed up to Engineer's Pass. Normally I don't talk much, but we kept up a good conversation most of the time. At the top of the climb, we stopped to admire the stars peaking through the clouds. A slight rain and slippery ground at the top of the descent made both of us skid uncontrolled on some parts. Many runners got it much worse - at the Engineers pass AS nearly everyone had skids of brown mud on their tights. Farther down, the exposed shelf trail high over the rushing bear creek didn't bother Vicki and we steadily made our way down running on shale that sounded like broken plates, We could hear runners above and below us tinkling in the dark. Finally, the lights of Ouray (mile 56.6) came into view. I gave Vicki a list of things I wanted to remember to do: ditch my (dead) GPS watch, get rid of trash, new gloves, etc. It seemed to take forever to get through town, those 5 blocks are KILLER, I'm telling you. At the aid station, I was so happy to see everyone I forgot that things hurt that weren’t supposed to. They pushed food in my hands (a second warm steak tortilla, how did they do that?), clothes over my head, water in my pack, and before I finished the steak tortilla they gave me, we’re ready to go. I was moving ok, still on track for goal 2- get to Telluride.

Richard is in charge of me as we head up Camp Bird Road over Virginius pass to Telluride, an iconic Hardrock section. The 6 mile gravel road approach is monotonous in the dark, but then the course turns to confront the mountain range just at daybreak. A missing tooth-like gap in the rim was the goal of our ascent. Morning sun lit the three snow-covered near-vertical pitches we have to climb. I looked over my shoulder to see Richard staring back across Yankee Boy Basin at the mountain range behind us in the morning light with the largest smile I’ve ever seen. “Dig!Dig! Come on, Push!” Volunteers from Kroger’s Kanteen, an Aid Station secured by bolts into the rock in that gap yell and encourage until we reach the top. They wear rock climbing helmets and gear for good reason up here. A short break for a hot pierogi and I’m ready to start the steep downhill to Telluride. I took slow, steady cautious steps. Suddenly I was bent over, gasping in pain. It felt like someone was ripping out the muscles/tendons in my thigh at the top of my knee. Richard stayed calm, helped me stand. He asked, but I couldn't explain what had happened. I tried another step and the same ripping, searing pain. Locking my knee, I took a few steps before the pain comes again. I pulled up my calf sleeve to cover the area as a brace, I used my poles. I tried walking backwards and sideways. Each option was met with such pain. I thought about crawling. 

That’s it. I can’t even look at Richard. What can I do? I can’t even walk. 

We decided ibuprofen might help – we had to get down to Telluride somehow. We told a passing runner we know to let Ken know I’m hurt but will move down slowly, and am otherwise ok. If I locked my knee out, I could make a few steps at a time. At a snow field crossing, I stopped and filled the calf sleeve turned knee brace with snow. I was going to have to give up. I knew it. I probably wouldn’t even make the cut off at Telluride. There was no way I could make it, not running, not even walking. 

Tyler, the veteran closer, shouted a greeting as he headed towards us stopped at the trail side. At first he gave me grief for getting passed by him, but then he saw my face. Tyler happens to be a doctor. After palpating the area, he told me exactly what I needed to hear. “You have not caused any permanent damage. Keep icing, 20 min on, 20 off. Get down to Telluride and give it a rest.”

“You can do this. You’re tough. You have time. Don’t run another step. You can walk it in from here.”

“Don’t Quit. You can do this.”

He held my gaze fiercely for a long moment. I took his word. The pain seized my quad a few more times on those first dozen steps. Slowly, the ice/ibuprofen combo dulled the pain. We walked down, slowly at first, then a little faster on the flat sections. Richard filled a bag with snow to take with us for refills. Although he’d been on the move since 2 am, Richard calculated in his head how much time I needed if I walked the last 28 miles at 2 miles an hour 50% of the way, 1 mile an hour 15% of the way, and 1.5 miles an hour 35% of the way. He said I could do it. I was walking. I believed him. At first I felt like I had no choice but to believe him, but as we got closer to Telluride, that choice felt like the only thing I ever wanted.

Into Telluride, I blurted, “I have to walk the rest of the way in.” My crew already knew, of course – Tyler and all the other runners that passed us had been through and told them. Not for the last time, they had what I needed. Ken found someone to tape my knee. My gear, which took up 2/3 of the Aid Station space, was set up.

There were 3 chairs set up in front of this and at least 2 more bags. 

See the tape, quad sleeve, and calf sleeve? I am stylin'. Even got comments from the hikers on the # of patterns I was wearing.

I changed, grabbed more ibuprofen for the way, and headed out with Albert, Richard's Magic Ice Bag and some grilled cheese in my hands to eat. I could walk, so dang it I was going to hike up as fast as I could since descending would not be fun. I told Albert that I wanted to get to Chapman AS, 9.3 miles away in 5 hours. I had to finish. 

The section out of Telluride is unmatched in beauty. Following alongside a river broken by so many waterfalls, the trail winds through wildflowers and trees, across bridges, switchbacking up through pussy-willows and moss until you reach the wide hidden basin that contains the river’s headwaters. I learned later that the winner Killian Jornet got lost here among the snow fields.

Even getting lost didn't stop him from setting a course record.

He didn’t have Albert. Albert would dash ahead to find the next cairn, go up over hills for better views, giving me encouragement and direction to the pass. On the other side, we slid down a snowfield (hee hee!) to a traverse and made it down the rock slide descent. I was moving unbearably slowly. I’d pictured being able to run down this tumbled rock path tired but happy. I’d counted on that. But I could only walk. And hope. I felt like I didn’t even have time to look at my watch. As we got within sight of the Aid Station, I asked what time it was. We had made it in 4:57. I could do this. It was do-able. 

Another quick stop – I didn’t want to spend more time sitting in aid stations than I had to – my crew telling me to do things (eat this, drink all of this, take this salt tab) and I followed directions until they let Barry and I out on the course. Time to climb. Up through a pine forest until openings in the trees gave us a view of the golden rocks of Oscar’s pass. It looked incredibly imposing and far away, but I had just gone down that with Albert.  Soon we crossed the tumbled rocks and grassy mounds to the base of the loose scree leading straight up 100 yards to the top of Grant Swamp Pass. I thought surely it would be snowy and easier to climb, but the snow ended abruptly near the base. Rather than struggle with the straight up approach, we opted for the switchbacks to the right side. Both paths dealt with loose gravelly rocks sliding out from underfoot, with larger rocks threatening to slide down behind you or on you.  With Barry leading the way, we made it to the top and the late afternoon view of little island lake. Though we maintained the ice routine with Richard’s Magic Snow Bag, the descent was still painfully slow. A brief spot of rain, and then a full rainbow just below little island lake, everything green and glowing in the late afternoon light. As it leveled some I walked as fast as I could, envisioning Olympic race walkers and promising myself I wouldn’t ever chuckle at the strange gait again. I knew this section well, and knew that it had possibly the last good chance for fast walking – Kamm’s traverse, a ~1.5 mile slight consistent downhill on easy trail. I focused on faster and faster and faster walking, wishing every moment I could run. Finally, the last full aid station came into view. 

Josh was lined up to pace me, but it was Ken dressed in running clothes at the Aid Station! I didn't know it, but it was exactly what I wanted. 

The last climb was in front of me. It was now the second evening of my race, but it all melded together for me like taffy. It could have been one day, or it could have been four; it didn’t matter, I just needed to keep moving forward. I felt energetic and ready to take on this last climb, make it mine, and then-
The finish. 

Ken and I chatted a little, memories of the first time I’d paced him on this section. Him losing a shoe briefly to the mud, the rain and cold. We passed a few people – I had passed these same runners on the last uphill section, and they’d caught me on the downhill. One of these runners was the one I saw sit down on the top of Handies more than 24 hours ago. Motoring up, I felt fantastic, fast, smooth. My headlight was crazy bright. Every so often I’d see something fantastical out of the corner of my eye at the edge of the light – an ewok under a tree, a line of clowns sitting at the edge of the path, a pinwheel – if I looked directly, though, the tree or stump would resolve itself in the full light.

Near the top, it started to get cold and windy. In the open above treeline heading cross country, mists or clouds blew through us. Finding the markers, reflective though they were, became difficult. Again, Ken came to the rescue, and knew what to do. We paused, getting our gear on and waiting for a group of 4 runners and pacers to help with the search. We’d find a marker, then fan out to find the next and shouting out to the group, “This way, I got one!”   Over and over again, until we were at the top of the ridgeline, the wind was really blowing now, streamers of fog reflecting our lights back at us. We fanned out, but there was no marker to find. We regrouped at the last marker. I sat and started to put on tights, the cold damp setting in, fingers numb, teeth chattering, feet wet and getting colder. I wondered how I was going to get warm. Even if, even when, we found the next marker, we were starting to head downhill. I couldn’t use speed to warm up.  Everyone else would run down. I had no more layers to put on. A shout came, but my tights comically were only partway on. I struggled, too many things to take care of. Finally moving, but cold and so slowly. One of the other pacers turned back to make sure we were finding the markers again.  Ken seemed far far ahead. Part of me knew he had to keep drawing me forward, down where the wind would still and an aid station awaited. Finally, the wind stilled. Finally, the cloud cleared. Finally, there was a trail beneath our feet. And finally, we got to the last, the very last aid station, Putnam Basin. I ate a little without much enthusiasm, drank some Mountain Dew. We headed out again, now with warm hands and bellies. The last 5.8 miles would take hours, I knew. Downhill across rocks and roots I began to take a few more chances and increased my walking speed. I wanted to finish, already. Where it was level, I pushed until I was double poling because my legs were moving too fast. Two miles an hour seemed very fast in the dark after 40+ hours of moving. 

 Is that shouting, maybe cheering? A party? This noise could be heard sometimes. Then, it became constant whooping and rhythmic banging. Were people at the Mineral Creek river crossing? Not people, just one person, one guy, cheering us on with a light trained on the rope to help us cross the swift water.

Crossing Mineral Creek in a spotlight

Like a tour guide, he led us, “this way, this way, great job” to the road. I was only two miles from the finish now. I ran this short path three times in the weeks leading up to the race. All that prep, but I could never have imagined the feeling of being here now. There was no dogged running the last uphill, or tired wooden jogging of the final streets in town.
There was no time goal to strive for.
There was walking. 

I would never have believed the joy and satisfaction. Not of working hard, or running hard, but of resolving hard. I kissed the rock.

There were so many things I wanted from this race. In the end, I could hold on to none of those things; I let them go without prejudice. It was everything just to finish.

All my thanks to my crew and pacers: Ken, Josh, Vicki, Albert, Richard, and Barry.

Wasatch Front 100 2014

Fred advised keeping your heart rate at 60% on the first climb.
Phil said to run both road sections between Lamb's and Brighton.
Use a headlamp at the start.
Use poles.
Nobody should use poles at the start.
It'll be hot.
It'll be cold.

Whatever anyone tells you, what you get on the day of your goal 100 mi race is the unexpected.

An echo of that feeling of facing my first 100 at Leadville nibbled at my heart for this, the Wasatch Front 100. The unknown. A hard test. A chance to see if I can. Pictures from someone's adventure years ago showed mountains, running on them, across them, and being surrounded by them. It was a good hook, though it took 6 or so years for me to enter the lottery. Which I did on the day I didn't get in to Hardrock 2014. I think I said, "Wahoooo!" when I won the Wasatch 2014 lottery, but in my head I was thinking, "Finally!!  I win a race lottery!"

 Intentions were good, and early training went great. I did long runs. I did hill workouts. On race day, though, all I could think was that my volume was much lower than for any other 100, and I was a little too well tapered.

Andrea convinced me early on that we should go for a "sub-30 hour" buckle. That sounded like a great challenge! absolutely! and then I do my  planning and research... most years, only 10 women get an under 30 hour buckle. Some years, a lot fewer.

That's a challenge.

Methodically, I looked up other runners splits who finished between 28:40 and 30 hours in 2013. With that I had data from twenty runners, and good estimates for the split times I'd need to be under 30.

But was I an under 30 candidate? I pulled out my 2013 Run Rabbit Run 100 splits and the elevation chart. I mapped my pace from that race to Wasatch over similar terrain taking into account early miles and end of the race miles. Answer: I would finish in 30 hours and 50 minutes.

Yikes....well....  yikes.

On Race Day Eve, the antsy feeling buzzed in the background of my thoughts. I couldn't help reaching out to Ken for a hand, an arm, something to hold. I wanted quiet and calm, but couldn't stand the silence. Puttering around in the hotel room while Ken picked up my Crew (the fabulous DreadPirate, Chris, Mark, and Miki) I managed to lay out clothes and food for the 2:10 am wake up, I painted my toenails and packed my suitcase. I made a few notes for my crew, though I didn't think they'd need them. They trooped into the room with a stern, "We only have 10 minutes, then you have to sleep." A few details, pointing out my crew bags, handing them my notes, and they were gone waving and smiling out the door. I wouldn't see them again until my race was 1/3 done (nearly 10 hours in), assuming I could hit those splits. Many things could happen between now and then....

I felt good at the start. Nervous - how long would I be out here today (and tomorrow)? 30 hours? 36? We ran in a line across the base of the foothills, sometimes dipping into a canyon before coming out again to the lights of sleeping Salt Lake. Sometimes on easy trail like this, I hear Sean Martin telling us the Navajo belief at the Canyon de Chelley 55K, that mother earth will carry your feet, and father sky will fill your lungs, and you are connected, are the connection between the two.

I didn't bother passing people, I knew we'd be headed uphill soon. No use spending that energy here.
The climb starts easy enough, through trees and scrub, switchbacking up. The climb stays easy, too - too easy. hm. There's no room to pass with scrubby brush lining the trail and a line of 50 people directly in front of me. After an eternity, or maybe 2 hours, the line came to a stream crossing and everyone stopped to fill up except for me, Andrea, and the antsy guy behind me. Thank goodness.

Just in time for Chinscraper - a steeper section that you have to scramble up.  :)

The trail traversing form the top over to the road is a little brushy and rocky, but I can finally stretch my legs. I run it, thinking I'm probably pretty far off my splits already. I get to Grobben's Corner, where Sir Grobben himself fills my little 10 oz pink water bottle. My pack is still half full. He looks at me with a gleam in his eye, "Are ya sure you want me to fill this all the way up?"
"Well, I don't know, can you spare that much water?"
"It's gonna get pretty heavy..."

I'm smiling until I glance at my watch, and my smile falls off my face with a thud. I'm about 42 minutes off my pace which means even being a steady second half runner probably won't save me. I lost my race to the sub thirty buckle in the first 3 hours of Wasatch.

Well, bugger. I'm not giving up yet. That's going to mean a little bit of work right now. I run, pushing just a little but trying to think relaxing thoughts. Four miles plus to Francis Aid Station.... no, no, no - relaxing thoughts.....admire the view (Wowza up there! I'm telling you!).

The detached part of me starts making notes - interesting, at Leadville when you were trying for sub 25 and went too fast down sugarloaf, hurting your quads, you gave up much sooner than this...

Great, now I have an armchair psychologist in my head.

I'm in and out of Francis quickly, because I have to be. Sunscreen, food bag, empty trash, fill water, GO.

I'm moving pretty well, I don't feel stressed, but I'm doing more work than usual. I think. Ok, you can move a little faster. Push a little up this hill. Holy cow a lot of people are passing me. Geez my legs feel heavy. Ok, ignore that, look at the view! ... I'm in the trees. But they're pretty trees! Really! Wow, I just do not seem to be making any progress. Head down, now. Breathe, good posture, use your butt muscles.

ok this isn't working! I am just slowing down!

wait, when was the last time I ate something? hm. I still have 3 of 4 bars, and all my gels.... and I'm nearly 5 hours in.

dumb. So a salt tab. A gel - its the fastest to absorb. Water. oh, hey I was thirsty.  (eye roll from the direction of the armchair). I backed off a little. More people streamed past me, but the job in front of me was not the trail anymore, or my watch, but the food in my pack. In twenty minutes, I ate a bar, and I started feeling a little better. That tiredness though seemed to hang on. I pointedly ignored it. I drank and drank. Between Sessions Lift off Aid Station and Swallow Rocks Aid Station there's a beautiful traverse and ridge line trail. I caught on to the back of 4 runners, two I had met at the race start - Wendy and Matt - and I decided it was time to start working again. I stayed with them all the way until 1/2 mile from Swallow rocks. I had found my groove again, and I passed the train as it slowed a bit, and cruised through Swallow rocks - which was the first AS to have any kind of protein - turkey sandwich (thank goodness! I was craving that.). I headed out looking forward to seeing my crew at Big Mountain. I was clueless as to how far I had to go - something between 4 and 8 miles. This bugged me. I always know how far it is. So many parts of this race were just way outside the norm for me. I knew my job, though - get there well hydrated, well fed, and ready for more. And in decent time too - I was still behind the curve from the mornings goofs, from what I could tell. I hadn't made up any time.

Into the Aid Station and my crew has food and ice. A cupcake (yum). I eat as much as I can, trying to get some protein, but there isn't much at this Aid Station. I drink 1/2 of an ensure. (blech) Then they tell me I'm doing great, to which I say, "No, I'm 40 minutes behind!" I was here at 3:13 and I wanted to be out of Big Mountain Aid Station at 2:45 pm. Ken says that I'm ahead of my split though. I don't know what that means. Well, either way, there's more Wasatch to be had. And I was still behind overall and really uncertain about where I could possibly catch up.

The last 25 miles of wasatch has been known as the hardest 25 miles in ultrarunning. To cap off an already tough 100 mile run - full of mountains, big elevation gains and losses, tough technical trail of every kind, the course dragged runners down "the dive" and "the plunge" - wickedly steep loose rocky trails, and then through the knothole of "Irv's Torture Chamber."  For 2014, the course had been re-routed. These challenges were a part of the race no more. The last 15 miles were now reported to be smoother, faster - 20 to maybe 40 min faster than the 2013 course. Now that I was hunting time, maybe this change seemed like a good thing. I didn't want to need the help, but without any real choice in the matter, I'd take it without complaining.

DreadPirate and I left Big Mountain AS, headed up a rocky slope. She asked me what the trail had been like so far. "It's beautiful: rough, rocky, techy, and every time you leave an Aid Station, the trail goes up. Like this!"After topping out though, it was pretty runnable. We chatted a bit more. "Ken says you're a closer." she says, into a deepening break in the conversation. Could she feel me worrying about time? Could she see my shoulders tightening? Ok, I can do this. Ken thinks I can, DP thinks I can. I know I can.

Lets go.

The trail turned down slightly, and I ran and let the momentum carry me and lift my legs. Straighten up, I don't run bent over. (thanks Kathleen & No Limits Fitness). On the next slight up hill, DP catches up and reminds me to eat. (Right.)   And she points out the incredible colors - the maples are turning on the next ridge over - beautiful. We're moving right along. I pull ahead a bit on the downhill sections, and DP takes pictures and catches me on the uphill parts. The trail gets rockier. It takes longer for DP to catch me - she doesn't like rocky trails. I'm beyond caring about rocks.  Catching a few people fires me up and I let myself work a bit more. And the trail gets rockier, and steeper. I don't hear DP behind me anymore. If I can get to the aid station, I'll get water and ice and everything, and she'll come in right then and we can go. I held on to this thought, and tailed a couple of runners down a steep scrabbly pitch. I worried. She's not going to like that descent. Looking back, the trail was empty.

It was getting a bit hot. Coming into the aid station, I looked over my shoulder before filling my water. I grabbed some chips, and watched the trail as I ate. Should I wait? I couldn't decide what to do. I grabbed more chips, but I didn't really want them. Ok, settle down. She wouldn't want you to wait, there's an Aid Station here if she needs help. Keep your head screwed on. I told the Aid station people that my pacer was a little behind me, but that I was going to continue.

I followed the two track under the power lines out of the aid station, and the heat built. Rolling again, but now the trail is rolling up. In a straight line disappearing into the folds of the mountain. Hot. Totally exposed and no relief in sight

..... some days when times aren't so tight...
when the day goes down on water town.....

Ok, it's really hot, I'm singing Bruce Hornsby and the Range. Aw crap, I forgot to get ice. No wonder.

DP would tell me to drink something, so I do. and eat. Keeping my effort controlled, I really try not to look up, not to get caught in that head game of trying to figure out how far I go on this trail. When I finally make the turn I'm so excited for it - cool through forests! Amazingly wonderful! After a short uphill, the trail descends and winds - great running, in the shade, soft trail. I feel good, and can't wait for the aid station.

There's a slight uphill getting into Lamb's Canyon. My crew is at a fenceline cheering and they lead me to a seat with food piled around it. "DP's still out there.."

"we know, it's okay. we'll take care of it. How do you feel?"

"You know? I'm fine. How...?"

"Eat something."

I shove a quantity of food in my mouth that I am astonished by. There's a croissant, there's some sports drink, there's a cake type thing, and a waffle dipped in chocolate.. Holy cow. Ken gets me a ham sandwich - I'm still craving protein and salt. And apparently my stomach is having a ball out here, because I can eat like a horse.

I need resolution, though - "so you guys will wait for DP?

Thank you crew for putting up with a rather dense and stubborn version of me.

They force a little more food on me, I throw on a long sleeve shirt and grab a jacket, ditch the cap/sunglasses, grab a beanie and gloves. Ken tells me my time - I've caught up. Really? Really. Mark leads me out. I'm ready.

We hike the road with another runner (after a little route finding - no markers near the interstate?) who outpaces me after a bit. I thought I might run this road, but now that I have caught up to my goal times I'm happy to hike and let my food settle. On the smooth trail, we go up and up. people seem to be passing me non-stop. I pass one or two, and then 4 come by me. In the dark now, we chat but it can't distract me from the fact that I am falling through the field. Ugh. Milcreek A.S. comes finally. They have grilled cheese sandwiches which Mark falls in love with. I get some lube on my feet - I finally remember that the balls of my feet are hurting when I can do some thing about it. After too long a stop - I start getting cold - we head out again. I'm looking forward to Desolation Lake - it just sounds cool. A screech owl calls eerie in the stillness as we come up to Dog Lake. It's hard to keep the momentum now, the steady uphill is grinding. When we get to Desolation Lake AS, I walk right through - I feel like I am moving so slowly.  Best not even to stop. I don't need anything. Mark stops to fill up. When he catches up to me suddenly I realize I never checked out. With a short laugh, Mark turns around and runs back down the trail. We get to the ridge a little later - I remember the race reports saying this next little bit was runnable, and not to stay up here because it can be cold. Let's go then! I'm anxious to start moving faster again - anything uphill seems like a struggle. We mix running and hiking on the rolling ridge, enjoying the lights of Park city on one side, and Salt Lake City far off on the other side. Scott's peak AS is brightly lit. I grabbed a little something and ask Mark to catch up to me - I'm kind of enjoying this little game of "catch-me."
Soon, we start heading down. The trial isn't to techy, and then we hit a road. I'm excited to get to brighton, and to Ken. Have I maintained my time? I have no idea. So many people passed me on that climb. Dang it.

The ski lodge is an incredible bustle. Filled with people, I can't tell runners pacers or crew. DP takes my to brush my teeth after pizza and other food items. Then, Ken and I are out.

The trail leads us up through large rocks, whitish in our headlamps. I can't see any markers. "Do you see any markers?" Ken says, "we're on the right trail."

"But do you see markers?"

"we just past one."

This sounds suspiciously like pacer double speak to me - when your runner is asking you pointless questions and you will say anything to get them to... well... shut up.

In the end, though, he was right, and we were on the right trail. A couple runners passed us going up. Man was I tired of being passed. The trail turns down finally, and I thought I'd really be able to run this part - it was described like smooth bike trail. That person, whoever they are, they are on crack. Erosion has turned that trail into a steep v, so either your feet are at an angle on the sloped sides, or you're crossing your steps to plant your foot in the bottom on scrabbly rock. ARGH! I'm having to tip toe down this, Ken is right behind me, obviously not having any issues with the stupid trail, and all of a sudden I have totally lost my cool. Expectations will do that to you.

I let out a yell, and then accept what I can do and keep moving. Into the aid station, and I treat a blister on my toe, put on another layer, and attempt to eat the hot things Ken has brought me. I'm so lucky to have him with me.

We don't stay too long, as I am not sure what kind of trail the new section will really be - who knows how long it will take me? I'm cutting it pretty close.

As dawn seeps into my consciousness, we're on a jeep road descending steadily. I see the second to last AS, and cannot wait to get there. They don't have any protein, but are pretty friendly anyway. I force myself to run as much as I can. Even uphills, I try to run. I'm working hard, Ken encourages me, telling me I'm making my race, this is the time and place. Head down, things are uncomfortable, but I'm still running.

There's a final turn onto single track for a short 1 to 1.5 miles, but holy cow it feels like forever. The last aid station I can hear through the trees, but we turn away from it and I could just about throw a tantrum. I want it to be HERE right NOW.
(deep breaths.)

Through the aid station, and the morning is getting hot. The gravel road we're on now rolls a bit and reflects the light and heat. My head throbs a bit. My stomach turns a bit. I look at my watch and know that I'll make it under 30 hours with at least 30 min to spare. I only have 5 miles to go. I'll make that goal. A woman passes me, moving like I wish I was moving.

I could trot along this easy undulating road and I'd be fine. And people would pass me. And I'd be slower, I'd have given in again to that cautious mouse on my shoulder. Who cared if I got sick in the last 5 miles? So what if my stomach goes now? Why not?

"Bugger" I said. And sped up. I drank more and wet myself down a little to help cool off. I picked up my head. I tried to lift my knees. It actually felt BETTER for crying out loud. Better to move like I meant it.

To the pavement, and a last little rise pushed me to gasping. I held on though to the finish, so happy to see 29:05 above my head.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Training Day, Ironman style

On Aug. 1st, my thoughts were as follows: Wasatch Front 100 mile endurance race is in 5 weeks. I really want to do well there, run hard, have fun.

Ironman Boulder is in 2 days.

I have ridden my bike 8 times in the last 3 months. (I snapped the bolt holding my headset in place, and it took a LOOOONG time for the shop to get the parts.) I have a new saddle on there that I have used twice. It seems fine. My swim training has been darned consistent thanks to DreadPirate Rackham, who coaxed me out of bed at 5 am twice a week to join her in the pool. Run training? Pretty good – a few strained muscles interrupted things, but mostly all better now. Strength training has been great, I feel very… capable.

Self, your goal for IM Boulder is to treat it like a long training day. This way, recovery will be quick, you will be able to run again 3 days post-IM, and focus on the Wasatch 100 training.  

Ok, so long training day – cool. Nothing to worry about. And it means that old adage doesn’t really apply, you know, the one about “Never try something new on race day.” Which is good, because my wetsuit is new. I haven’t ridden my race wheels/cassette in a long long time, so they are basically new to my legs. I’m trying some new nutrition – EFS gel. I’m wearing a new tri top. And new running shoes (6 miles on them, a style I hadn’t tried before). Oh, and since I forgot my bike shoes at home, I’ll be wearing new bike shoes that I purchased 2 hours before bike check-in closed. (not stressful AT ALL.)

Bah, I can survive, even if it all goes wrong. Right? It’ll be FIIIIINE.

I get to transition on race morning with all my ironfriends, and wouldn’t you know it, I have a flat. In the rear tire, of course, which means I have to get my hands greasy. A woman next to me says helpfully, “there are bike mechanics right over there, they’ll fix it for you!” So I take my wheel over to them. And wait in line. And wait, and wait and wait…. And finally give up, run back to my bike, change the tube myself, and take them back to the mechanics to get inflated and find the leak in the first tube so I can patch it (I don't have a second spare). It’s dawn, and the announcer is chivvying us out of transition and I’m still fussing with my tire. DP comes over and helps, a guy comes over and helps – he notices my gear shifters need adjusting, and he does it. DP and I make it to the port-a-potty line. The announcer is kindly reminding everyone to get the heck out of transition. We don’t have our wetsuits on. Other athletes are in the water starting to swim already. *sigh* didn’t this 'panic at the start' happen at IM St. George? Did we learn nothing from past experience? ok, guess not.

A volunteer helps us with our wetsuit donning, which is like contortionist weight resistance training. We’re lubed up, but even so I’m huffing and puffing by the time I get my suit on. Glad I don’t have a HR monitor on, I don’t want to see my heartrate above 170 before I even start the race. DP and I make our way into the parade of wetsuited athletes trailing into the water and start with the 1:30-1:45 pace group. Finally. Now I can relax. Or swim. Whatever.  

Beautiful Boulder Reservoir
 (Actually, the swim was great. Sure, people swam over my legs, and elbowed me, and cut me off. But it was easy to sight the buoys on course, and the water was clear and only a little warm, not 78 degrees as they had warned us about.) About 2/3 of the way through the swim, I remembered to pull more with my arms, and then, hey, just like that I was done with the swim. And only about 30 minutes worth of wetsuit burn on my neck. (ow. Stupid new equipment.)

Mark Mackenzie and I were talking about the last tri we had done – we both figured it was 4 years ago. Still, I remembered mostly how to get through transition, and ended up on my bike. About 5 miles later, I remembered to start my watch. Ooops.

I hadn’t really studied the bike course. I knew that it rolled, and had ~4500 elevation gain. But, listen, when you’re kinda minimal on training, there’s little point to strategizing over the course. My strategy had to be this: Start the bike easy. Don’t work hard. Eat, drink and keep it easy all the way around. For 7+ hours. EASY.
View to the SW of boulder reservoir - mountains!

So people flew past me on the first 20-30 miles of the course. I ate like a pig… and got a little uncomfortable…. Turns out the EFS wasn’t a good match for me. Or maybe it just wasn’t a good addition to a belly that already had 1.5 bananas, 1.5 cliff bars, a protein bar and perform in it. Plus water. Can you say, BLOAT?  Anyway, another bit of evidence that the new stuff prohibition really makes some sense. Boo. Then I really started enjoying the course – great mountains to one side, nice undulating hills which meant you could get moving on the downhills without working hard. (sticking to my plan, see?) Less perform, less EFS and more water limited the stomach discomfort and I rolled on. Ok, my feet were getting numb, but I can live with numb. These new Pearl Izumi shoes have an awesome closure system, very fast.
Pretty Boulder area scenery

Biking gets monotonous for me – stay aero, stay aero, spin, spin, drink, eat. The rolling course at least made me change gears. Eventually I always feel like my legs could be disconnected from the rest of me and they’d keep going in some kind of perpetual motion magic trick. And about mile 60 I was ready to disconnect my feet at least. The numbness had (unfortunately) subsided and now the outside of each foot felt deeply bruised, and slightly hamburgerish. I started pulling up on my pedals and NOT pushing down which helped with the pain – but not so much with the speed. Ok, maybe I don’t need any more proof on the “no new equipment rule,” ok? I accept that I do not exist outside this rule, and beg to be spared any further demonstrations of its veracity.  Ow. Stupid new equipment. 

I still have 3 + hours to go. On the bike.

It got hot, and I doused my arm sleeves to keep cool. My seat started to hurt around mile 80 – 2 hours left… Must be time to think about something else. Hey, that’s Arne! A little conversation, and it was downhill into Boulder. Whew. Very very very glad to hand my bike to a happy volunteer. Less happy to attempt to run in transition in these bike shoes. Ow. But this too did pass, and after a little dithering over what to bring with me running (more EFS? –don’t think so. Bars? Gel? –nope, I guess I’ll live off the course…. Except for that salted caramel GU. THAT I’ll take) I exited transition after being frosted with sunscreen as if I were a 3-layer cake.

It was hot. The organizers thoughtfully put the run course on the Boulder Creek path (with 3 out and back sections) so we could see families tubing down the river, lovers dabbling their toes in the lovely cold water, kids swinging on the rope swing and screeching as they splashed into the pool of refreshing, chilly water only to climb out and do it again. How considerate. Lucky for me, I am a woman. Why, you ask? Well, see, this tri top I’m wearing has a shelf bra. This is important because it is the perfect carrying spot for about ½ ton of ice. I ran the “flux capacitor” boulder run course with an ice vest on. It was pretty fantastic.

 The run course was on concrete – not my favorite running surface. But my road shoes were well cushioned, and I had no issues left over from the cursed bike shoes. The few miles of each lap that were not shaded tested the limits of how much ice could be stuck in a shelf bra before falling out, but I didn’t mind too much. Mark and I passed on the first out an back, and then I past him a few miles later as he diverted to take a break on a cool piece of lawn. Greg was spectating at miles 6.5, 7.5, and 9 to cheer me on. Brian called out and we encouraged each other - I'd see him several more times on the out and backs. I saw DP just as she started the run, and finally a few miles before the end I saw Miki. It is so motivating to see friends on the course! My stomach was still unhappy, though I maintained a fairly steady diet of potato chips, a cookie here and there, and a gel or two. Until… Mr. Bacon Man. I saw him around mile 5.5. Standing on the side of the trail, holding out a strip of bacon in a paper towel. I did a double take as I passed him. Hmm. Bacon? My stomach got more and more unsettled. I wanted some real food, something with protein and fat and carbs… that seems to help anchor my stomach, but there was no protein at the Aid Stations.  Visions of bacon danced in my head. It couldn’t do much to hurt me – maybe I’d join the runners at the edges of the trail that were decorating the lawn. Or maybe it’d be good. So at mile 18, I held out my hand in supplication and received an offering of bacon. An entire strip. It tasted…good. Salty. As I happily chewed and chewed, I realized that I could not imagine wanting to swallow this bacon. This was weird, but no, I did not want to feel bacon sliding down my throat.

What to do? The saltiness was just about gone, and I still had ¾ strip in my hand.

Finally, I opted to take a big swig of water and down it all together. …Success! And thusly I was able to finish the bacon and be happy. Ok, mostly happy, I still had 4 miles to go. I was still running, and passing people, so that was something. It was cooling off a bit.  And 4 miles… that’s not far… hey, I could finish in daylight if I hurry just a bit! The last 2 miles flew by. I threw away the water bottle I’d carried on the marathon, and entered the finishing straight. Ironman(tm) does finish lines well. The spectators cheered, and banged on partitions, and I jumped across the line.
I never looked at my watch once.

By the numbers:
Swim: 1:24:05
T1: 10:02
Bike: 6:37:30
T2: 8:46
Run: 4:35:53
Total: 12:56:16
Top 26% overall, top 17% of women, top 21% of 35-39 Age group.
But mostly, I had fun with my friends, and had fun on a really cool new IM course.
The green is me - "Bonsai" and "Lickety-split Lime"

The swim time was about what I expected. That bike time was totally unexpectedly fast for me - even with those shoes! and the run, considering the heat and stomach distress, is great. Post race I feel really good, too. So! On to Wasatch Front 100 training! 3 more weeks of training, then taper, then race. I mean it.