Friday, November 9, 2018

Holly and I made Our History!

Pinhoti 100 took place on November 3 - 4, 2018.  It's a point-to-point 100 mile endurance run on mostly single track trail from Heflin to Sylacauga, AL.  In it's 11th year, Pinhoti is one of the classics in the Southeast.  It was my first 100 in 3 years last year - the race started well, but went downhill and ended in an all-too-familiar death march to the finish.  I am always grateful for a race finish, no matter how painful, but was wondering if running 100 miles was worth it. 50k and 50mi races hurt, but not nearly as much.  It seemed like a great deal to ask of friends and family for support training and racing.  Fortunately, I had some time to think and didn't log into Ultrasignup right away to rule anything in or out.

Fast forward a few months and my friend Holly mentions that she signed up for Pinhoti 100.  I offered to pace her - she suggested running together, but I wasn't convinced.  While following Western States 100 online in June, I realized I still wanted to try to get in and would need another qualifier (woohoo, 2 tickets - so you're saying there's a chance?!).  A quick look at the calendar and Pinhoti was looking more appealing.  Although the race was full, they've instituted a waitlist (thank you, Todd!) which moves quickly and in not much time at all, I went from #21 to being on the entrants list.  With that, I was committed to running 100 miles with Holly.

Depending on one's perspective, 100 miles is either a really long way or not that far, according to Karl Meltzer.  Regardless, so much can, and does, happen over that distance.  More than one person suggested running together was not a good idea - what would we do when one person felt bad? What if we needed to run different paces?  I can honestly say, I didn't doubt for a second that Holly and I would run the whole way and finish together.  I know running with someone can go badly - but I knew it wouldn't with us.  This would be our third race together and I had run other races with friends that were so much more enjoyable than running alone.  Don't get me wrong - I love solo training miles, but the company and energy running together during a race is special.

Race prep - labeling and filling drop bags

Delicious sweet potato pie thanks to Kyle

Holly and I have different work schedules, different family commitments, different weekend plans, different training schedules.  It proves there is no one "right way" to train for ultras.  Anyone can run an ultra if they're determined and committed.  We drew inspiration from an article written by Joe Uhan on the 3Cs for peak performance - our mantra was "Composure, Confidence, Compete."  This would be key at many times throughout the race.  In addition, we wanted to run sub-24.  We would be thrilled with 23:59 - not an easy task, but we believed it was possible with a little help from our crew.  Ultrarunning is a team sport.  We relied on our stellar and experienced crew of Richard and Marie, who also crewed me last year. Marie volunteered before I could ask her - Holly and I were incredibly grateful for her experience, encouragement and willingness to follow us through Talladega Forest. I don't think a better crew team exists!
The always lovely Marie.  Photo:  Richard

Composure:  this was important before the race even started with a few delays getting out of Atlanta and of course, traffic.  But eventually we made it to packet pickup, ate at Mellow Mushroom as tradition dictates, re-packed and enjoyed a restful night of sleep before a 7am start time.  It was chilly, but as soon as the gun went off, we warmed up.  Unless you're in the top 10, there is no way to avoid the conga line that is the start of Pinhoti.  There's a mad dash 100 yards through the parking lot to the single track.  We stopped.  And walked.  And stopped.  And walked.  And shuffled.  It's not how fast you run the first mile but how slow you run the last mile.  4 miles in we were still pretty tightly packed AND I was having issues with my contact lenses.  It was a bit challenging to remain composed seeing double and feeling slightly claustrophobic.  Holly ran around a couple of groups of people - I followed and overheard someone saying "I wouldn't be running uphill right now," which I hoped wouldn't come back to haunt us.  Finally, we found some space, caught our breath and settled into at a comfortable rhythm 5 or 6 miles in.  We continued running with our good friend Alex and the miles flew by easily.  We saw our crew for the first time at Aid Station #2 about 13 miles in (Richard even had an egg mcmuffin for us!) and again at AS #3 around mile 18 before a long break between crew access points.
Pizza anyone?

Crew shenanigans

We kept running composed towards Bald Rock / Cheaha State Park.  On paper it's a long climb, but with Holly's company, we felt fine.  Karl was even along the course cheering runners on - I resisted stopping to ask him to sign my shoes.
So much energy! I love the feeling of running off the boardwalk and seeing so many friends at Cheaha State Park.  Photo: Richard.
Our friend Lauren and 2nd pace female!

Confidence:  Holly and I (aka "the Ollies") arrived at AS#7 Bald Rock / Cheaha State Park (mile 41) with huge smiles feeling fantastic.  Our other goal was to be the happiest runners into each AS - so far we were meeting that goal!  So many friends and spectators cheered, gave us hugs and high 5s as we ran off the boardwalk towards our patiently waiting crew.  I was trying not to dwell on time - my goal was to be out of this AS by 4:00pm to stay on track for our 23:59 time goal.  We grabbed food, drinks, lights and were out by 3:50pm.  We left confidently towards Silent Trail, carefully getting down "blue hell" before the trail turned runnable again.
"So let me tell you how it's going to go down..."

We focused on being confident in our ability to get this done together.  Throughout the day and through the night, we took turns being the "line leader" - Holly was so strong!  I tethered myself to her and vice versa.  Silent Trail is one of my favorite sections of the course - beautiful stream with rocks and waterfalls.  So happy to run this section in daylight!  Once the sun set, it got dark quickly.  It seemed like it took forever, but eventually we heard loud music and arrived at the party aid station, aka AS #10 Adams Gap.
Holly and I running into her namesake gap.
I may have increased the pace a bit when I realized I'd get to see Richard for the last time before the finish.  I'd been checking my watch - Adams is at mile 55, a good place to consider the halfway point of the race timewise.  We got there in 12:30-ish, predicting a 25 hour finish time.  Still a fantastic time - but not sub-24.  Marie, Richard, Keith (aka the Grinch) and other friends got us clothing changes and packed up for the next sections to Porter's Gap.
I love these two! Photo: Richard

It felt like we cruised up the gravel road and we both continued to feel great.  My confidence was briefly shaken by a dimming headlight and the realization that all of my backup plans failed (something to improve next time!) - but all was saved when we arrived at AS #13 Porter's Gap at mile 68 and Marie lent me her headlamp.  It may have been a blessing in disguise - I was so worried I had needlessly lost us time that we pushed it on the climb up to the Pinnacle AS (my other favorite section of this race).  Yes, there are lots of switchbacks, but we just focused on running - Holly was determined!  I think we ran nearly 75% of that climb!!  Amazing feeling.  At the false summit at AS #14, we grabbed some warm food and continued out of there quickly.  And reflected that the top 2 or 3 guys were already done.  Our legs didn't feel like they had 75 miles in them but I didn't know how long that would last.  In my previous 100s, this is the time when the wheels start to fall off (and fall off badly) - I did my best to remain confident we would keep moving forward strongly.  We were also both feeling awake through the tedious sections - I was thrilled not to have to fight sleep monsters like I usually do (the Starbucks doubleshots worked!).

Compete:  On the course map, AS #16 Bull's Gap (the second to last AS) is approximately 15 miles from the finish.  If that was accurate, I thought we needed 3hrs 30min to reach the finish line.  Approaching the AS, Holly and I thought we had a slim chance and decided to make this a quick stop - changing shoes and brushing our teeth were "wants" not "needs."  We got the minimum we needed and ran out as quickly as we could with 3hrs 10min to reach the finish in under 24 hours, with mostly gravel roads to the finish.  I've only ever seen Bull's Gap at or after sunrise - seeing it in the dark was a new experience.  We slowly but steadily passed a few runners - everyone was encouraging but it was getting harder to start running between uphill walk breaks. 

We reached AS #17 Watershed at 5:35am and they told us we had 7.5 miles to go - Holly and I decided our new goal was to finish by 24:30 and not get passed.  Based on the previous section, we didn't think we could cover 7.5mi in an hour and 25 minutes.  We were a little bummed, but still focused and determined.  The route from here meanders a bit through fields, past loud dogs, and then spits runners out on asphalt to the finish.  We turned and saw a sign that read "2 miles to go."  Holly looked at her watch, which read 6:37am, looked at me and said "let's do this!" I have no idea how, but we started running hard or it felt that way (could we run 2-ish miles in 23min with 98mi in our legs?!).  We ran as hard as we could and didn't walk a step - we knew about the false stadiums before reaching the final one.  When we saw the bright stadium lights, we were thrilled - but still not sure about the race clock.  Running around the track, Holly saw the clock first - we picked it up, I shed a few tears in disbelief and happiness and we crossed the line in 23:59.  Our goal.  Sub-24.  To top it off, Holly and I had tied for 3rd female / 1st master's.  Our friend Evan finished 2nd male and our friend Lauren was 2nd female.  Not a bad day for GUTS runners. :-)

Reflecting back...:  I am SO PROUD of Holly and I for running 100 miles together.  It was about as flawless of a race as I can imagine - very few minor lows that didn't last long, no stomach issues, no blisters so large they could be named. Holly never complained - not once.  I know 100 milers are not always fun and every mile of even a good 100 miler is not fun - but I never expected it to go this well.  We ran consistently from start to finish.  There is absolutely no doubt that I could not have done that without Holly.  Richard, Marie, Keith and dozens of other volunteers made this the best 100 mile experience yet.
Holly doesn't even look tired!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life." ---Prince

It's been nearly a week since Prince left this Earth for his next journey.  This quote keeps popping up in articles reflecting on his life - and is appropriate for the last few weeks leading up to the Badwater Salton Sea race that my friend Lisa and I signed up for back in January.

Flashback to a few years ago when Lisa first heard about Badwater (135 miles on foot through Death Valley in August) - she knew she had to do that race.  I had the complete opposite reaction - never (and I do not want to find out what crow tastes like!).  In November, Lisa put the bug in my ear about the Salton Sea race in May - "only" 81 miles from Salton Sea, 234ft below sea level, to the top of Palomar Mountain at 5500ft above sea level.  This race had many aspects I typically avoid - mainly, a focus on marketing and branding, road running, and "being extreme."  Running 81 miles is extreme (and stupid!) enough - why does it need to be more extreme?  But what I loved about the race was the team format - teams of 2 or 3 run together (not a relay) for the whole race and both have to finish for each to get an "official" finish.  What sold me on the race was the opportunity to run with Lisa and help her achieve her goal of getting into Badwater.  So...what's a few road miles, mild dehydration, sand storms, and sunburn amongst friends?  The Dixie Chicks were in!

We signed up in January and put together training schedules - in 4 months, we only had 2 weekends we could run together.  Not a problem - Lisa started out by completing a tough 50 miler on the beach at Destin and the following week we both ran the Dirty Spokes Thrill in the Hills race at Fort Yargo (half-marathon for Lisa and full-marathon for me).  It was "only" a marathon and not super-fast, but it was one of the best executed races I've ever run - I had a runner's high most of the race.  whee!  It was also the longest race I'd run in well-over a year.  In 2015 I did not start a single ultra and only ran 2 trail races and a road marathon.  I struggled - was I still an ultrarunner if I didn't run ultras?  Many of us in this crazy sport have dealt with this - I just hoped I'd come out the other side happy and healthy.

I ran the following 2 weekends at Mt Mitchell in NC (shortened to a marathon from the 40 mile challenge due to weather) and the Old Pueblo 50 miler in AZ.  Moderation is hard! :-)  Surprisingly, my body and mind did OK - I think I missed playing with friends on trails and the challenge of racing.  The primary goal is always to run smart and therefore not die.  Mission accomplished!
John, Cash and I before 50-ish fun miles near Soniora, AZ.  John was an excellent host!  Despite our bundled up appearance, it got quick warm during the race - my best opportunity for heat training...
Lisa overcame quite a few challenges just to get to the start of Badwater Cape Fear later in March - it was a race that proves just how deep one can dig to finish.  Totally in awe of her strength and determination.  I also got to run with friends Blind Pig.  I love this race!!  For some it was their first 100 miler. I love seeing people cross the line after doing what once seemed completely impossible and improbable - run (or move continually forward for) 100 miles.
My friend Lisa (different Lisa!) before the start of Blind Pig 100.  So happy to share some miles with her and see her cross the finish line of her first 100 miler.  We've come along way from crit racing! :-)

Finally - we were looking forward to running together.  We had put together a nice route that would take us from the Hiker's Hostel to Turner's corner, up Neels, across the AT to Woody Gap and back down hill to the hostel.  Seemed like a great run to prepare us for Salton Sea.  We encountered a couple of challenges - first, it was cold and windy.  We expect wind in CA but temps to be 40 - 50 degrees warmer than they were that day!  Second, Lisa was dealing with her dad's recent cancer diagnosis.  It was not the news she was expecting during her parents' visit.  We chatted about life, our families and her friends who would be crewing us - and will still have plenty to talk about during Salton Sea.

Lisa (Salton Sea teammate) and I at my namesake trail.  Spectacular day to be outside - thankful to be running a race with someone whom I get along with so well...wondering what hallucinations we'll have at night... ;-)

I had the privilege of meeting Lisa's parents that following Wednesday - a last minute cancellation meant I was able to rearrange my schedule and a party of 25 at Ted's Montana Grill meant that Bob and Janice were still waiting on their food when I arrived.  Sometimes it's easy to say that things happen for a reason.  I will always remember that evening.  Lisa is vegetarian, but didn't hesitate to make sure her dad enjoyed a good steak dinner.  He asked Lisa and I about the upcoming race and why in the world I wanted to work in Uganda.  I explained I like challenges and diversity and I love my work - he listened intently and replied "follow your heart."

So that's what Lisa and I are doing - running this race with our hearts.  My heart is also with Lisa and her family and her heart will be with her dad as we click off the miles.  I'm not sure who wants Lisa to finish this race more, her or her dad.  He is her biggest fan!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Skyrunner Finale - Flagstaff

Flagstaff was amazing as always, running there was as incredible (and fun!) as I anticipated, climbing straight up and down a ski slope is really, really hard.  And really, really slow (for me). Hiking the Grand Canyon turned out to be the best good-bad-idea (poor decisions make great stories, right?) and recovery hike.

The memory of The Rut 50k was still fresh, but 3 weeks after that race, I was headed to Flagstaff, AZ for the last race in the Skyrunner series.  I wasn't sure if I had recovered physically (or mentally) from the most challenging race I'd ever done.  But I love Flagstaff and was really looking forward to finally getting to race in Flagstaff and run an Aravaipa race.  I've been incredibly fortunate to visit Flag a couple of times on the way to hike in the Grand Canyon - it's one of my favorite towns.
Obligatory Route 66 picture

Coffee and a seed bar from Macy's - I could get used to starting mornings like this!
My friend Hoa's Restaurant.  Delicious, homemade Vietnamese food!

It was so nice to hang out with other GUTS runners who traveled to the race.  I got to introduce them to my favorite pizza restaurant.  Is there a better pre-race (or anytime?) meal than wood-fired pizza and gelato?  I don't think so.

Sunrise was early - and gorgeous.  Such a beautiful way to start a long day on the trail.  One of my favorite views all day was looking down at Flagstaff on the first climb.  Spectacular!

Once again, we had absolutely perfect weather - not a cloud in the sky and reasonable temps.  I didn't miss the humidity!  The race was an inverse of the rut - the challenging climbs were at the beginning and end, but the middle was completely runnable.

I enjoyed the trails so much I was in denial that the last 7 or 8 miles would all be uphill, including the final 5k which consisted of a nearly 2000ft climb and subsequent descent.  I ran much of the race solo, often feeling like I was lost.  A couple of times, I sort of hoped I was off-course so it would be OK to stop early...

But I stayed on course, with a couple of minor explorations and began the long climb to the base of the ski lift.

Here's a great video of the last 7 miles.  The finish line was at the base of the ski slift, but that was also the start of the final 5k.  I just wanted to grind out the final climb (at least it wasn't to the top of the mountain!) and be done - I had no idea what was in store though.  It was great to see Alicia sprinting down the hill for third as I began to climb.  
We have powerline climbs in the SE - the West has chairlift climbs.
Ouch.  I could see tiny people up ahead and I was taking baby steps.  I didn't want to stop because I didn't think I could start again. 

Quick break - almost to the top.  Amazing view!
sooooooo steep!
Then I started hallucinating voices - who was so close to me and why were they able to carry on normal conversations?!  It took me awhile to figure out it was the people riding the chairlifts above me.  And then I was furious that they were laughing - couldn't they see us down below suffering?!  I had no oxygen or energy to yell - it seems quite funny now. :-)
Chairlift - good to know that's an option for next year. ;-)
 The 2000ft climb ended above 11,000ft - and it took an hour. 
The top!  Time to run / slide down to the finish.
On the descent, I had flashbacks to the Rut - it was nearly as steep and rocky and definitely had plenty of opportunities to sprain an ankle or break a leg.  I still need to work on my mountain goat legs as the descent took me 30 minutes - not exactly speedy.  I was thrilled to finish in 9:31 - faster than the Rut and a long time for a "typical" 55k, but Skyrunner ultras are anything but typical.

SE runners did well!  Alicia ran an excellent race for 3rd and earned 2nd overall in the Skyrunner series, beating many other well-known elites.  Congrats!
Local rock star Alicia on the podium.  Way to represent GUTS!!
And Amanda finished 10th, coming from the flatlands of Chicago.  GUTS runners made up 3 of the top 10 female finishers - nice work!!

Race amnesia didn't take as long to set in afterwards.  I would love to come back to this race and participate in the Skyrunner series again.  I'm still searching for a balance between racing and exploring on my own.  The Skyrunner races were wonderful opportunities to run on new trails, be humbled, feel alive, travel and meet awesome people. 

Because poor decisions make better stories...the next morning, Angela and I got up at o'dark thirty and drove to the Grand Canyon to hike to the river. We saw many elk or deer along the way who also thought it was a good idea.  The sun was up by the time we started hiking down Bright Angel.  This was my fourth time at the big ditch - it never gets old or ceases to inspire awe.  The weather was absolutely perfect.  Angela and I only met a few times at Across the Years in AZ through mutual friends - along with perfect weather, she was the perfect hiking companion.  I learned alot about long distance backpacking and hitch hiking - there are so many other non-running adventures to have!  The wheels are turning...

the best part of the day was walking back up.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Toeing the line with Killian, Sage, Ricky, Ellie, Emilie, Cassie and Anna...

...Or why Michael S hates me. ;-)

Run the Rut 50k, Big Sky, MT; September 13
Lone Peak
I signed up for this race back in February for two reasons - 1) it was in the US Sky Runner series and 2) it was close to ND so a good reason to visit family.  Fast forward the week before the race when I realized it was the series finale for the World Sky Runner series and many of the royalty of the ultrarunning community would be there, including two of my favorites, Killian and Ellie.  The coolness of this opportunity cannot be overstated.
Mike Foote, RD, giving the pre-race talk.  Loved the camo drop bag!

Friday was packet pickup - no Killian or Ellie sightings.  Pre-race meeting was relaxed - Mike Foote filled us in on the details for the next morning.  I set everything out, stayed fairly calm and enjoyed having my parents there for such a big event.

Before the race, I realized I was seriously under-trained for this caliber of an event.  I lacked the necessary fitness or specific training (i.e. mountain repeats) to be competitive with anyone but myself so would need to depend on intelligent race execution in order to survive to the finish.  Intelligent race execution for me would mean staying aerobic (keeping my HR low), taking in lots of calories, staying hydrated, and not falling off the side of a mountain. 

The elk horn went off at 6am and 150 headlamps started snaking up the first, gradual climb.  Within 30 seconds, my HR was too high so I started walking, but also tripping on rocks.  I blamed the altitude - Big Sky was at ~7500 feet.  Within 2 minutes, I was solidly the last person in the first wave.  I didn't mind too much - the solitude allowed me to concentrate on running (hiking) my own race.  Five minutes later, the second wave started and while still on the first 2 mile climb, I started getting passed by the fast second wave runners.  The climb, subsequent rocky descent and single track around the lake to the first AS at mile 7.5 were all very runnable.  I came into the first AS 5min under my predicted time so felt good about that.  The next section to AS2 at mile 12 went smoothly too - was still being passed continually by wave 2 and 3 runners.  I met Blaire, a runner from Missoula, one of the few people I would flip-flop with for the rest of the race.  I just never fell into a groove of running a similar pace with other runners - definitely missed my GUTS friends!  Over 75% of the runners were from MT - it almost sounded like they felt sorry for me when I said I was from GA. :-)  Hope we get some more East Coast representation next year!  Yetis?!?

I hadn't paid too much attention to the route details - sometimes ignorance is bliss.  I knew from the elevation profile, the big climbs would come between miles 10 and 20, we'd have some scree sections and rocky ridge sections, and there would be some ropes and plenty of medical personnel on hand at the more technical sections.  How hard could it be?  hahahahahahahahaha....

I am still struggling with how to describe the middle part of the race.  "Insane" comes to mind.  Killian Jornet, in his iRunFar interview, didn't think it was too technical, not like you could fall off to your death or serious injury.  I would beg to differ, but I did not grow up in the Alps or Pyrenees, gliding up and down rocky climbs, running on nothing buy 8 oz of water and a handful of berries.  :) The East Coast has plenty of routes with significant elevation gain and technical trails, but nothing compares to what we ran.  No amount of double-Coosa loops could have prepared me the Rut.

Oh the scree fields...  I've climbed up and down rocks but rocks that remain still.  These rocks moved and were on slopes at a really, really, really steep angle.  I used my hands often and focused on my footing, placing one foot at a time, not thinking about speed.  I only stopped to look around a couple of times - sadly, I missed many of the amazing views.  I'm not afraid of heights, but it didn't take more than a glance to get dizzy looking how far up we had climbed and how much was left to climb.  A few times I started to freeze, but told myself I could get scared after I was done with the race.  There was no place to go except to keep climbing up.  More than once, I heard someone yell "rock!" to warn of a dislodged rock on its way down.  Of course I looked up (hmmm...I'm not that bright!).  And once we were up, we went down a different ridge, but with the same loose rocks at a very, very, very steep angle.  How I didn't sprain both my ankles or break a leg, I have no idea.  Sally thankfully lent me hiking poles - having one helped provide balance and some security.  On the steepest dirt section we were warned it would be slippery - I slid down on my butt, almost taking another runner out.  It was difficult for me to figure out the fastest, safest way down!  One of the blessings of the day was the absolute perfect weather.  The skies were sunny, no rain or snow, and only an occasional light breeze.  There was a Plan B course, if necessary - I can't imagine doing the course we did in anything other than perfect weather.

After the first rocky descent, we had a few miles to collect my nerves and run some gravel roads up to the Tram Dock AS.  My parents had taken a chair lift so they could see me as I ran past to AS3.  Willy would have loved this section - it was an out and back ~1.5mi section on a really steep hill.  At this point, I was way off my predicted time - and figured that Killian had just finished and I was barely halfway done.  The volunteers here and at all AS were top-notch!  They knew what runners needed, said encouraging words and took excellent care of us before sending us on our way.  I ran back down, saw my parents again, before the next long climb up to Lone Peak.

Lone Peak had been looming in the distance since we arrived at Big Sky the day before.  I could see it and the sharp ridges, but could not comprehend that we were about to climb to the very top at 11,000 ft.  Maybe there was a more sheltered route I couldn't see and it wasn't that bad?  Nope.  It was another nerve-wracking climb up large, unsteady rocks.  Early in the climb, 2 guys were playing guitar and singing - that helped to lighten the mood!

A few spots had ropes, but often I had to climb with my hands.  Towards the top, I could take 2 or 3 steps, stop and breathe a few times, take a few more steps, breathe, and continue slowly and steadily up.  There was no passing, just a long conga line. 

See that peak at the very top?  Yeah, that's where we were going...
The few times I looked up, the top seemed so far away and the climbing wasn't going to get any easier.  The cowbells and cheers along the way were hugely motivational and much appreciated!  Finally, I was at the top and greeted with one of the best stocked AS I've ever seen - including bacon!

Yes, bacon at 11,000 ft - and it was delicious.  I took a few seconds to recollect and calm my nerves.

Little did I know, the descent would be just as nerve-wracking and not any faster than the climb.  The rocks were loose, sharp and the really, really, really steep slope went on for 2 miles.  There was almost no respite.  Even when there was a break in the rocks, the dirt was slippery - I went down sideways and that was sort of effective.  It was controlled, or not-so-controlled, falling.

Finally, the last 8 or 10 miles was runnable, although many people were running much more than I was. :-)  My legs were a bit shaky at first, but it felt so good to finally be on solid ground.  I think the mental fatigue was as much, if not more, than the muscle fatigue - I have never had to concentrate for so long during any event.  Even the ACT and GRE didn't last that long or require as much focus!  The sounds from the finish line could be heard a few miles from the finish - motivating, but also tough knowing the finish was further than it sounded.  Finally, the black arches were in sight and I could stop - my time was 10:16.  For reference, that is slower than every 40 and 50 miler that I've done and 2.5 hours slower than DRT50k (which has 10,000+ ft of climbing) and 5 hours slower than Killian's time.

My parents had been there for over 4 hours - they took their job cheering for each and every finisher very seriously!  They both had blisters from ringing cowbells. :-)  My mom came up to gave me a hug and I warned her that wouldn't be a good idea as I probably smelled pretty bad.  She didn't care and gave me a hug anyways - and then said "yes honey, you do."  Thanks for the honesty, mom. :-)

Obligatory antler photo.

I was pretty out of it for a few hours - more so than nearly every other race I've run.  But I did rally to return for the awards.  So cool to see Killian, Ellie and the other elites just hanging around.
Sage, Killian (!!!!!) and Manuel.

Cassie, Emilie and Anna.
My parents asked if I would run this race again - at the time I said once was enough.  I was initially disappointed with my time, but 200+ people (of about 450 starters) didn't finish, so I am fortunate I survived.  But the more I think about this...I realize it was a unique event and opportunity to run a true mountain ultra.  I was completely out of my comfort zone most of the race - it was a humbling and rewarding experience.  More than once along the course, it seemed like a lawyer would have said "no, this is too dangerous."  The Montana Mikes put on one of the best organized races I've ever run - kudos!  It was worth every cent.

It's taken longer than I thought, but 3 weeks out and race amnesia has set in.  This one may be on my calendar for next year...

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Finishing is winning

Blind Pig 100, Croft State Park, Spartanburg, SC

Finishing is winning.  Thanks for that nugget of wisdom, thumbs-up-Kate. :-)

This is not a race report with split times, race strategy, details about calorie consumption or gear choice.  It's about people and the wonderful, if not dysfunctional, extended family in this sport.

The race was a 1 mile out-and-back followed by 11 9 mile loops on (mostly) single track - I planned to borrow Holly's approach of dedicating each lap to someone.  This strategy would take on a new meaning when I learned about the tragic events in New Orleans the day before the race - AP, a beloved member of the running community, and his brother-in-law were riding their bikes when they were hit by a car.  His brother-in-law, Frank, did not survive and AP remains hospitalized (and continues to improve!).  Hearing about bike accidents never gets easier - I pray each time it's the last one.

Lap 1 - AP and his family and friends. 
Lap 2 - thumbs-up-Kate and Alex, who finished their first 100 milers last week at Umstead and the future first-time 100 mile finishers at Blind Pig.
Lap 3 - AP and his family and friends.
Lap 4 - my friend Andrea who is off in Guinea, working on the Ebola outbreak.
Lap 5 - AP and his family and friends.
Lap 6 - Pete, Michael, Jim, Jen, Timmy and others who are recovering from injuries and will certainly be back stronger!  Kelley finished the race and is the perfect example of this.
Lap 7 - AP and his family and friends.
Lap 8 - Holly and Harley - they are about to embark on the ultimate ultra by becoming parents and raising an awesome daughter.  Phillip and Rhonda too!
Lap 9 - AP and his family and friends.
Lap 10 - Brandi, Andy and my other friends who juggle graduate school, jobs and running.
Lap 11 - AP and his family and friends.

Each lap I had time to send thoughts and prayers out towards my friends.  I hope they felt a little warmth and kindness and a hug from the universe.  I also got to spend many miles of each lap running with old friends and new ones - this was a different experience from previous races and prior to the race, I did not appreciate the mental or emotional boost I would get from this.

I had the pleasure of sharing laps 1 - 3 with Brad and our new best friend from Louisiana.  Jimmy works at sea for 30 days at a time - no one was happier to be on trails than he was after a looong month on a boat, confined to a treadmill.  He had great stories and is an honorary Yeti runner.  Deano and I ran lap 5 together - he is much faster than I am so this was a treat, as was chatting with his awesome wife Lisa between laps.  Thanks for the avocado soup!!  I shared a few miles with Sully, the genius behind the route.  Andy arrived later in the day and said he'd pace me at night.  Just because it was better than being at home alone.  And maybe he was procrastinating some school work too?!  I shared laps 9 - 11 with Andy and our new best friend Brian from Columbia (city not the country), who was running his first 100 miler.  Andy was in heaven - ebola AND helicopter stories.  His constant chatter kept us entertained and moving forward.  We talked alot about how we got into running and why we run - for many of us, we have small families or families that are spread out.  Dysfunctional though we may be at times, the ultra and trailrunning community is an extended family who I love dearly and appreciate more and more all the time.  Andy said it much more eloquently than that, even at 4am.

There are a million ways to procrastinate school work (and I've tried most of them) that don't involve staying up all night, running 100k, losing toenails, straining a hamstring, eating fig newtons and listening to stories about poo in exotic places - but this is just what Andy does.  And I and many others love him for that!  He paced Holly in December and ran with other runners at Blind Pig, helping as many people as he could - I truly felt honored and fortunate to share his company for hours.  It's a bond that he, Brian and I will always share.  I look forward to returning the favor someday soon!  THANK YOU ANDY!!!

Other thoughts on this race...
* I wish I had a picture of the pig!  A stuffed pig was placed on the course and runners would pick it up and run with it before putting it in a new place.  It's small details like this that make a race unique and special!  Seeing a random stuffed pig in the middle of the woods at 2am is sure to put a smile on anyone's face.

* The runners were so incredibly encouraging of each other - there was a short section where runners going in and out would pass each other.  The woman who won always had a high five and "good job!" to share.  Another runner had a huge crew of supporters (go team LaLa!) with great fluorescent green Blind Pig shirts - they rang the cowbell for every runner.  They also paced numerous runners and volunteered.  Ray was awesome for just being Ray - and for having run 100 miles at Umstead the weekend before.  Viktor was a local legend who earned his very first buckle - he cleans up the trail as he runs, by kicking up sticks (wouldn't believe it if I hadn't witnessed it numerous times!) and by collecting trash.  He crossed the finish with a bag full of beer cans - definitely more beer cans than gu wrappers on the trail.  Thanks Viktor!  There were numerous other achievements - first 100 mile, fastest 100 miler, distance PR.  Each person had the opportunity to push themselves and find out what they were capable of.

* A special thanks goes out to the RD, Angela.  No one slept less than Angela that weekend - she was up early, stayed up all night for each of the finishers, personally handed out each buckle, thanked everyone and took pictures.  She was sincere, thoughtful, took care of little details, made sure we had a smorgasbord of food - the list goes on.  For example, there were a few water crossings - she placed sand bags so we could easily cross and keep our feet dry.  She knew 100 miles was tough enough - she didn't want runners to deal with wet feet too.  She was 100% committed to helping everyone finish and achieve their goals. THANK YOU ANGELA!!! 

I haven't had post-race blues yet and I don't think I will - every time I think of this race, I smile and get a warm-fuzzy feeling thinking about all the wonderful people I'm blessed to have in my life.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Oak Mountain 50k, Alabama; March 22

I started writing this race report in my head a few weeks before the race - I really wanted to start it with "I finally won a race!" If I visualized winning, it could happen. I've placed second the last 2 years and first seemed within reach. I'm usually much less ambitious - my top priorities are always racing smart (staying well fueled and hydrated, not getting lost, not falling, not dying) which means I should finish and might be fast, but I can only control my race and there's a entire field of faster women doing the same. Still, it seemed possible...

Oak Mountain is my favorite 50k - very low key, great well-stocked aid stations, beautiful views, fun & challenging trails, incredible volunteers, runnable sections, technical sections and a waterfall.  To start, someone yells "hey everyone, we're going to start soon.  If you think you're going to drop, let me know now.  Ok, go!"  The finish is a white, chalked line at a pavilion with grilled food, frozen fruit salad, and brownies.  Most people hang out eating, drinking, chatting, and cheering all the finishers on.  It's a great community!!

After the RD yelled "go," a guy took off like it was a track meet, not a 50k - most of us took the paved loop easy just chatting.  Seemed to work for him though as he killed it and won.  The climbing on the yellow trail begins right away.  This year, in addition to my usual race priorities, I had 2 plans I thought would help:  1) wear a trucker hat (worked for the woman who won Mount Mitchell Challenge, granted she's also placed in the top 10 at Western States, but hey, couldn't hurt) and 2) stay with local legend and my running idol on the early climbs and hopefully as long as possible.  I figured even if I went harder than I thought I should, I didn't want to lose time early.  That plan worked perfectly at first - except that 4 other women seemed to have the same plan.  So 5 of us were within seconds of each other for 4 or 5 miles.  We took turns leap frogging each other and then finally I was in the lead.  For maybe 30 seconds.  Then I got passed on an uphill by a woman and I couldn't match her pace.  By the next turn, she was out of sight.  Huh.  Well, it's a long race, alot can happen in the next 27 miles or so.

The next section is the blue trail - very runnable along a ridge and leads to the waterfall.  I love this section of the course!  I got to run with my friend Kerry - he was taking a bit of a risk as I was the one who lead us off course at Pine Mountain a few months earlier.  We were running well.  And then I got passed by another woman and couldn't match her pace.  By the time we reached the rocky decent to the waterfall, I started to take a wrong turn.  And got passed again.  As much as I wanted to win, it was more important to enjoy the day and keep running smart.  I caught up to the woman who had just passed me - she is ridiculously fast, but was doing her first race after a long time off.  She's super-nice and talented, and it was great to see her back on the trails - I wished I could have kept up with her!  She could set a CR at Oak Mountain, but unfortunately, took a wrong turn later in the day and DNFd.  I hated that for her, but she still had a great time and was happy to be running again.

Love Peavine Falls and the AS there - a few more miles was halfway...and then my brand new shoes with fewer than 20 miles on them started to fall apart.  Argh!!  Stopped to fix them, which let me catch my breath - and the local legend caught up to me as well so we got to run more together.  Time seemed to slow, but I remembered that I would see Holly at the next AS!  I did my best to pick up the pace and was happy to see her around 20 miles.  The encouraging words and ice were awesome!  I actually love the next section - it's a long jeep road climb that's tough either on a bike or running / walking.  By this time, temps were near 70 and it was sunny.  The climb has multiple water crossings - I stopped to splash in each one to keep myself cool.  I think it helped!!

Made it to Peavine falls AS for the second time - it's almost all downhill from there.  One of the volunteers was keeping track of runners and pace - his kind words gave me a boost as I left.  Only single digits left from here!  The last section of the race is the infamous "blood rock" trail from mountain biking.  I can't decide whether this trail is more fun to ride or run!  Closer to the finish, is a series of switch backs - super-fun for riding, but I was ready to be done at this point (partly because it was 70 and partly because the course is actually closer to 33 miles).  And then I saw the girl who passed me back at mile 5 - I felt bad pushing to catch her with only 2 miles left.  Finally, last switch back, then the bridge and white chalk line.  Done!  Just in time as it was getting HOT.

Old school finish - manual timing and finishers and times are recorded on a wipe board.  I was a few minutes slower than last year, but finished second again.  I felt like I ran well, no low spots and pushed it some, but I still have alot to learn about racing.  How do get faster?  Can I get faster?  Definitely, the strongest and smartest woman won the race - congrats to her!!  I'll keep running and visualizing have a good race - I might finish first one of these days, but as long as I cross the finish line with a smile and enjoy playing in the woods, I'll be happy.