Monday, September 8, 2014

The Road to Recovery is 48 Miles Long

I haven't really made it a secret that I have had a hard time recovering from AC. I was very patient the first three weeks (mostly). But at week 4 when I stopped a 10 min mile park jog smack in the middle of the park because it felt like torture, the frustration started to mount. And I admit I had a few doom and gloom thoughts about hormone imbalances, adrenal fatigue and never being able to run again. But when I was being rational, I was pretty sure it was just my legs, and specifically my quads, that were the problem - they were just healing slowly. Needing to know for sure, I did a workout on a hand bike (or upper body ergometer to get technical). No doubt I am a T-rex and very weak in the arms, but I was able to get in a good workout with a high heart rate and not feel like I was going to die afterwards. Unfortunately, before I got this all figured out I had to make a really tough decision.

Earlier this year I was invited to run at Les Templiers in France. Holy Cow - talk about mind blowing: someone was going to pay for *me* to go run around in France!! I was flabbergasted and overwhelmed by the invitation. What a dream come true! But the race organizers gave me an ultimatum while I was still struggling to run. I asked if I could delay my decision and even offered to pay any differences in airfare, but they needed a firm answer because they wanted to be able to replace me if I couldn't come. Even though this was an incredible opportunity, I felt like if they were paying my way, I had an obligation to uphold my end of the bargain and that was to race to the best of my ability and to contribute to the competitiveness of the race. I was optimistic that things would turn around quickly for me, but I wasn't training at all and essentially not even running, I didn't feel like I could accept the trip in good conscience. So unfortunately, running in France will have to wait for another year. I was bummed to withdraw but it did provide a sense of relief and caused me to stress out a lot less about the way my legs were feeling.

Scratching Les Templiers opened up my schedule for other adventures and after the hand bike trial, I felt like I was free to run easy, so why not go run 48 miles??

This past weekend a friend of mine organized a run around the Three Sisters volcanoes to celebrate her birthday. The loop is somewhere around 45 miles (Garmin miles, at least) with a couple extra miles tacked on to access the loop from a trailhead. I was actually really nervous for the distance, but I was promised an easy pace and I didn't want to miss out. Plus it was for my friend's birthday, so how could I say no?! Ironically, she got sick and ended up bailing, but I still had the good company of Ken, Dennis, and Cary.

The loop only has about 6,000' of gain (plus a couple hundred more from the trailhead), but there are a lot of sandy and gravel sections, plus lots of volcanic rock and the entire thing is between 5200 and 7020 feet (that's high for us flatlanders!), so not entirely easy either. But we were only out for adventure and good times, not fast paces. It is amazing run and I am glad I can check another one of Oregon's iconic trails off of my list.
Sunrise near Pole Creek and the old burn area
The boys are ready to run

Dennis gives us a geography lesson
Lots of beautiful springs

Our lunch site

You know I am excited when I start taking selfies!
Admittedly, this run wasn't great for my popliteal tendinitis, but for the first time in weeks I remembered why I love running. The run was great for my spirit and if I am not enjoying running then my spirit probably needs healing more than anything. Who needs France to have a great running adventure??

Monday, September 1, 2014

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Well, Sports fans, today is not your day, because this post has nothing to do with running, but instead focuses on my other hobby: gardening! Yep, no mountain vistas, race reports, or running advice in this one. But this month, not one, but TWO people actually told me they like my gardening pictures on Facebook and since I have been doing a lot more gardening that running this month (I still don't seem to have a single quadricep muscle fiber that is functioning properly!), it seemed like the time was 'ripe' to write a blog about plants!

Mac and I both grew up in the suburbs of L.A. but we both have Iowa farm blood in our heritage and I guess that came out when we were looking for houses. We ended up buying a home on 3.8 acres nine miles from downtown Salem, OR. The house was "top of the line" for 1979 standards, but it hadn't had anything done to it for 25 years and it was a real blast to the past (think orange linoleum, fuzzy and foil wall paper, and mint green toilets!) and needed A LOT of work. Not to mention the yard was totally overgrown. Mac wanted to run away screaming, but I had a vision. That wasn't enough to convince Mac, but the view was.
Kitchen and deck view
In the first year (2005) we tackled the house. Oh my god was there a lot of wall paper stripping that year! But by the following summer we had a deer fence and we started tilling up parts of the upper pasture.
We have a garden...sort of
We had chickens in Portland, but when we moved to the country, we got more!
 Eventually, the ginormous junipers were removed and we did some landscaping.

The pond and steps actually came with the house, we just put in a retaining wall for more grass and added plants.

And the garden got a massive expansion and some raised beds. 

The garden 2012. The cows are on our property but they are not our cows. We just let the neighbor use the pasture. Our beef is truly local!

Which brings us to this year. The garden is a now vegetable breeding monster! I definitely have a love/hate relationship with my garden. I love to see it and I love being out there, but the To Do List often gets overwhelming and ultra training doesn't leave a lot of spare energy. Mac scolds me to have a smaller garden every year so I don't get stressed about it, but it is like telling me 100 milers are too long and I should stick with marathons and 50k's! I mean, look at me; I was gardening before I could even walk! 
11 months old. My Dad was obviously a little excessive in his gardening, too.

Our Garden 2014
Cabbages, kale, tomatoes, peppers eggplants, and two pear trees and amazing (finally!) asparagus
The vine trellis is a monster! That's a rogue squash growing at the front of the cabbage and tomato bed in the bottom right. I have a soft spot for the gourds and squashes- something about the big smooth round fruit starting from just a little seed- so I let a lot of the volunteers live. For some reason, the volunteers always do better than the planted squash. This one has over 20 spaghetti squash on it. I have been giving them to everyone I know! The corn is just above the squash.

The jungle! The corn is all on the right. The sunflower forest and the planed squashes are on the left. These are all volunteer sunflowers! The trellises had a huge climbing rose on them, but it literally stretched the entire 20 feet of the walkway and involved all three arches. It was collapsing them and making it hard to walk down the aisle. I tried to whack it back the last couple of years, but this year it finally came out. There are a couple of new roses planted and then some beans just to fill in.

The bean teepee. Liam asked for a bean teepee this spring. I ignored him because I thought a bean teepee sounded lame. But he kept asking me and my ignoring him didn't make him stop, so he got his bean teepee. His verdict, "It's not very good. It's kind of small." In other words, it's lame. But I have plans for a bean cabin next year!

 The chicken coop. Seriously, this is the most manly thing Mac has ever done. Nine chickens currently call this home.
Some of the girls
"Cukes and Zukes" - I think this one is self-explanatory. My zukes are always out of control. My cukes kind of suck this year. Not sure why, but we aren't hurting for produce! That is a pathetic rose garden behind that. My plan is to raise it up next year and put them in some good soil. Even with amendment, the roses do not do well in our clay soil. Along the fence there are 17 blueberries and 4 grapes (with room for at least two more - the grapes are new this year). The upper left has a bed of strawberries but they also need to be replanted got ripped out this weekend (it is "Labor" Day!) and the strawberries are now thinned and replanted. See what I mean about an overwhelming To Do list. (Notice how there is a wheelbarrow, a pot, a trashcan lid, a stool, etc. in practically every picture - pretty much everything is a work in progress!).

One thing I did get around to this year was further elevating some of the raised beds and fixing up the soil. Ok, mostly Mac did the work, but I supervised! (thanks, Sweetie!) Of course, every gardener knows you are supposed to plant in compost for the best results, but composting is insanely frustrating. Mine pretty much looks like a pile of grass and leaves no matter how long I leave it. But I have had good results with what I call "in situ composting". Just put all the partially composted grass and leaves where you want them to be and cover with some good dirt. You have to plant seeds (not starts) for a season or two, but then you have a bed full of super awesome dirt.
Bed with pathetic compost and the start of the cover dirt layer. That's another rogue spaghetti squash in the upper right!

I just got my winter planting in this bed (and one other) last week. And, yes, I totally planted that broccoli just because it looks so weird! Some of the seeds are already coming up, so hopefully we'll be eating home grown veggies late into the fall.

My garden easily has as many failures as it does successes. Some are out of my control - like the past super cold winter killing the artichokes. Some are mysteries, like the dearth of cucumbers this year. Some like the roses, I know why, but I lack the energy to fix. And sometimes I am just plain stupid! Actually, gardening is kind of like ultra-running in regards to problems! This year's brainfart was my annual flower bed. Why would anyone plant the cosmos in front?? When you are actually looking at the front of this bed (instead of from the side like this photo) you can't even see the nasturtiums and calendulas. I have been growing these plants for at least a decade, so it's not like I didn't know. Even my seven year old son could've told you which of those seeds would get the tallest and which the shortest! But the beauty is that it all starts over next year!

And then just because I don't have enough to do, I have an herb garden behind the garage. All of the woody herbs died (or looked sickly) after our cold winter, so it's got a lot of holes this year. New rosemary, lavender and sage should cover all the bare spots by next year. Besides, even Martha says you should replace your woody herbs every 4-5 years!

The garden is definitely a labor of love. In fact, Liam has said to me,"You love your plants more than your kids!" 

"Yes," I explained to him, "that's because the plants never whine and they only need to be fed once a month." ;)

So I am pretty sure no one will ever ask about my garden again! This past month I have kind of felt like Kyle Skaggs: like I have given up running for farming! But I am way too addicted to running to give it up for good!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

How To Recover

Recovery is hard. Runners are used to being active and following very tight training regimens. This is especially true for the very prevalent OCD types amongst us (yes, this includes me!): we don't know what to do when we don't have a schedule to follow or we try to unwind. Not to mention we are inundated by a bunch of social media posts that seem to imply recovery is not necessary. You know the ones that are like, "Yesterday I ran 100 miles in Vermont and since I don't know when I'll be on the East coast again, today I decided to run across the entire state of New Hampshire." Seriously, if you need some time to recharge after a big race, you should just unfollow Mike Wardian and Max King now, plus anybody you know doing the Grand Slam; they will only make you feel like a loser.

So what should you do if you don't have have super-human powers of muscle regeneration?

- Don't Run. I am of the belief that the best thing you can do to recover from run related stress is NOT run. I know that not everyone agrees with this and many people like to get out for a "shake out" run the day after a big event. But no matter how slow you go, running is a high impact activity and your muscles and tendons have to absorb forces greater than your body weight with every step. This is exposing your body to more of the exact same stresses that it underwent on race day. When you are fatigued, it is time to give your body a break from these stresses and that means a break from running. I think a good guideline is one day off running for every ten miles raced. This number can be adjusted based on how hard you worked, how much training you had going in to an event, your past experiences, and your overall perception of how tired you are.

-Stay Active. Just because you aren't running, doesn't mean you should sit around doing nothing those first couple of days. Low impact activities can help loosen up muscles and help get the blood circulating to speed recovery. Getting out for an easy walk or hike, riding the spin bike or swimming are all good choices. Remember to keep the effort easy and don't go do some crazy long marathon session!

-Eat Like a Horse. Recovery involves rebuilding muscle. It is very hard to do this if you are in a calorie deficit. And if you just ran a hundred miles you could easily be in a 50,000 calorie deficit! I find that I am typically down 3-5 pounds after a 100 miler. The day after the race my GI tract is usually still a bit wonky and eating doesn't sound all that wonderful. During this time I try to focus on getting rehydrated. Since drinking is often easier, I'll often get a lot of my post race nutrition from liquid calories, like soda, chocolate milk or milk shakes. This is a time for me when all of my normal good eating habits go out the window and I eat whatever I want. I ate two bowls of ice cream and a bunch of left over Peppermint Patties for my first meal after AC. But I am not alone; I have it on good authority that Liza Howard was eating donuts and Captain Crunch after Leadville! Once my stomach comes back, I pretty much eat anything and everything until I get back to my pre-race weight. I do not try to use a big race effort as a weight loss strategy as I think this impedes recovery for the reasons I mentioned. Indeed, many experts think insufficient calorie intake is a component leading to overtraining syndrome. When your body undergoes demanding physical exertion it requires a lot of calories both for fuel and for repair.

- Rest the Mind. Running an ultra is extremely mental and requires a lot of race day focus. Likewise, a huge amount of discipline is required during training. After a big effort your brain can use a rest, too! Don't make any hard and fast training schedules for a couple weeks to let your mind feel a little less structured. This is another reason I let my guard down a bit when it comes to nutrition; its nice to have a couple weeks where you don't have to think about every little thing and you don't have to fight against eating a slice of cheesecake (or two!).

-Get Lots of Sleep. Yeah, right! A lot of time we put the vacation in front of a big ultra and when the run is over we have to get right back to things like work and daily schedules which don't allow for lots of extra sleep. But sleep is an important part of recovery. Growth Hormone promotes muscle building and repair and these levels go up when we sleep. Sleep reduces stress and limits calorie expenditure so all of your body' efforts can go toward recovery when you are sleeping. I normally get up at 4:30 to do my training before work, but after a big effort, I'll do my light activity in the evenings so I can catch some more z's before work.

- Identify injury. Some soreness after a big event is expected, but if you have lingering pain after more than a couple days or the pain is not symmetric, you may have some kind of injury. Now is a good time to address those items and do some rehab work as needed.

- Ease Back In. Once you feel like you are ready to run, ease back in to training. One strategy that I like is to reverse your taper mileage but without the speed work. Work back up to your standard weekly mileage before bringing the speed work back. If getting back to training leaves you feeling more fatigued than usual, don't be afraid to take a day off or substitute in some hiking or cross training. Don't freak out about losing fitness - the goal during this time is to recover so you can start training hard again for your next event.

- Be realistic. If you have put in a really hard effort like 100 miles, it could easily take you five weeks to really start feeling good again. When it comes to recovery, I find my running abilities come back in this order: endurance (ie. long run), speed, and then hill strength. First I try to get back to my normal long run mileage (without too many hills or with hiking the hills), then I add back speed work, and then finally the hills come back. I have been surprised in the past when I can hit all my target times on the track, but then feel like I have no legs on a hill, even when not trying to run that fast. Now I just know that strength takes a lot longer to return.

- Don't compare. Marathoners run two big races a year and that is considered a full schedule, but it is common for ultra-runners to do 10-12 events a year. And then there a big name guys like Max and Mike Wardian who race twice a weekend! Like I said above, if you start reading all the social media posts you might start feeling like everyone but you recovers quickly. Everyone recovers at a different rate depending on their training, the level of effort on race day, and other individual factors. Additionally, women may need longer to recover than men because of lower testosterone levels. And Growth Hormone secretion decreases 2-3 fold from age 30 to age 40, which mean the repair signals to your body are decreasing. As an added "bonus", inflammatory mediators and catabolic hormones (those that break tissue down) increase as you age, so it is true that older runners need more recovery time.

As for me, I am having a hard time with recovery after AC. I feel like I am exactly where I would want to be one week out from a big event. Unfortunately, it is three weeks out! I am trying to take my own advice above, but it is hard to be patient! But Angeles Crest was off the chart effort for me: I told one person on an effort scale of 1 to 10, I was at 11.5! That came just 5 weeks after another very high effort at Western States. Not to mention I hit the big four - oh in less than a month! So logically it makes sense, but I still don't like feeling so tired! I took ten days off and then got back to running with a 3K cross country race. Don't worry, I didn't race! Instead I ran with Liam and he cranked out a 19:55 finish. I was surprisingly tired after that, but worse, I finally had to admit that I had a bit of injury going on with some pretty bad soreness behind both knees, but especially the left. I got a massage (and nearly cried when she worked on my calf) and did a little bit of icing and rolling (I hate both, so my efforts were kind of weak). This past week I hiked, ran a couple times (up to 5 miles - woohoo!) and did another 5k with the family. This time it was the Sweet Treats 5k with EIGHT dessert stations on course. Liam missed his 5K PR by two minutes, but considering he ate 2 scoops of gelato, 2 cookies, 2 mini crepes, a mini apple pie, and two cups of chocolate mousse, I think he had a pretty successful run! Which was rewarded with a popsicle at the finish! I skipped a couple of the stations, but even still I am quite sure we ate more calories than we burned! It was an awesome fund raiser that didn't require me dumping a bucket of ice water over my head! I took yesterday off and then got TWELVE hours of sleep last night! I feel so good today. This week is focused on getting back to daily running and the usual routine, but no speed! (maybe next week).

Recovery Hike at Silver Falls with the family
Sweet Treats 5k. And that is chocolate mousse near Liam's eyebrow, in case you were wondering!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Puzzles And The Missing Piece

This weekend there was a major attack on the kids' rooms. It started with just a cleaning out of the old clothes, getting ready for the new school year, but it soon expanded to all aspects of their rooms. On Sunday when Liam told me he was bored I quickly directed him to some old puzzles that I had just pulled from Megan's closet. "Here, go do these," I instructed.

"Mo-oom," he whined,"can't I go watch TV?"

"Do a puzzle first," I said, handing him the easiest puzzle in the stack: Jumbo Dinosaur Puzzle, 48 pieces, age 3+. I was pretty sure my bright seven and a half year old could handle it.

He took it to the table, got out the pieces and just stared at it. "Mom, I can't do it. It's too hard."

"Liam, you didn't even try."

"Mom! Yes, I did! I can't do it. Can I have screen time now?"

"Liam, you can't have screen time till you finish the puzzle." Oh, yeah, I was drawing the line in the sand.

There was a temper tantrum, wailing, and something about the meanest Mom in the world. The storm seemed to blow over when I sent the kids outside for some good old fashioned fun.
Buck naked kids in a cow trough with squirt guns. That's what 'good old fashioned fun' means to everyone, right??
But Liam was persistent when he got back in. "Nowww, can I have screen time?"

"No! You haven't finished the puzzle!" The pieces went flying across the room, the bench got tipped over, there was more screaming, and lots and LOTS of tears.
I am the Worst. Mom. Ever!

After dinner, Megan offered to help Liam with the puzzle. "Megan," I whispered to her, "make him do most of it." She was a willing accomplice.

As the puzzle came together, Liam looked at me and said, "Mom, puzzles are like fishing when you try to find the right piece. I like it. Puzzles are fun."

WHAT??!!?? Oh, I could punch that kid! "So should we give it to Goodwill now that you finished it?"

"No, keep it. I like it." Arrgh!

But we did decide in the 100 piece arena that the Tinkerbell puzzle was ready to go and we would just keep the two fuzzy baby penguins. Monday eight big bags of old stuff left our house: 2 for clothing recycling (too worn for anyone else to use) and six bags to Goodwill. (Or "Suckwill" as my son calls it, "because it sucks when you get rid of things we like.")

On Tuesday, when we were playing in the living room, Mac found a puzzle piece. I was devastated. "Oh No! That goes to the Tinkerbell puzzle!" Surprisingly, Mac shared my angst, "Oh, man, it sucks when you do a puzzle and one piece is missing."

I put the piece in my car. Today after work, I stopped by Suckwill, er, Goodwill and I scoured the puzzle shelf. No Tinkerbell. I cornered an employee and asked her where the puzzle might be; she didn't seem concerned. Maybe when you spend your days surrounded by the cast off junk of others, you come to expect a few missing puzzle pieces. But ultimately, she agreed to take the piece and go look in the back. I waited a bit but she didn't return in a timely fashion.  I finally left feeling a little forlorn that somewhere Tinkerbell was out there with a missing piece.
It's been ten days since Angeles Crest and ten days since I have run a single step. I used to be very conservative when it came to training again after races. I took a lot of time off. But that rest period has gotten smaller and smaller during the last couple of years. And the training load has increased. I guess that caught up to me this year sometime around mid-June. The emphasis on rest and the minimal training between WS and AC proved to be successful and I am once again focusing on the importance of recovery. And so I went back to my old guideline: One day off for every ten miles of racing. And today, day ten, was the first day that I felt a little bit like the Tinkerbell puzzle, like a piece of me was missing. I'll be keeping things easy the rest of the month, especially because I think I have a little popliteal tendinitis (I am telling you, those downhills at AC are brutal, especially if you aren't trained for them!), but I am excited to piece some physical activity back into my routine.
Finding my missing piece

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Rejoice at AC100

I am a doctor, a scientist, and a Meyers-Briggs INTJ; I make decisions based on logic, facts and research. I am certainly not the type of person to be looking at tea leaves for life's answers. However, mid way between Western States and Angeles Crest, my Stash tea bag contained a message that somehow resonated with me: "Intuition is your best friend." Two things became clear immediately:
1) I need better friends; and
2) I need to rest, because that's the only thing that felt right. I was tired going into Western States, tired running Western States, and even more tired after it was over. It is pretty obvious to me that I went in on cooked legs. I don't think it was entirely due to the high training load, rather I don't think I accounted for the stresses of all the kids' activities and the diminished sleep I had this year as opposed to last and it eventually caught up to me to the point that even a long taper wasn't enough recovery for race day. But I knew I was fit - I just had to trust that the fitness would still be there if I let the legs recover.

And so I rested. In the five intervening weeks I ran 85 miles. Yeah, total! Add in three yoga sessions and sauna time to keep up the heat training, and that was it. Of course, I am not good at truly resting. Our family spent 9 days in Yellowstone, the Tetons and Craters of the Moon with 3-5 miles of kid paced hiking most days (but no running!) and I put in lots of time in my garden. July is when there is tons of stuff to start harvesting and there are always plenty of weeds to pull and other projects to do. But running was kept to a minimum and the more I didn't run the better I felt. It seemed a little weird going into a hundred miler having done only one run over ten miles in the preceding five weeks, but I was trusting my new best friend, Intuition. Although, I didn't actually trust it enough to have full confidence for a great day at Angeles Crest. I sent a warning text to my pacer, super-star Meghan Arbogast, a few days prior, letting her know that I planned to finish no matter what and there was a possibility that could mean 30 hours. It was important to me to finish because I DNF'd my first attempt at AC in 2010, and this was another one where I felt like I needed redemption.

But the rest did seem to be the ticket, and I felt significantly better in the opening miles than I did at WS. Still, a bad race rocks the confidence and there are always the doubts, the doubts that whatever happened last time will be back to take you down again. I just kept telling myself "You're fine!" as more of a stubborn inner-bravado than inspirational message. But to make sure I was fine, I made sure to take things very easy in the opening section, hiking the majority of the Acorn Trail, Mt. Baden-Powell and Mt. Williamson. Despite the easy pace I nearly caught Tommy Neilson on the Baden Powell climb (and then he buried me on the downhill) and I was right on Angela Shartel's course record splits from the previous year. My tea bag the day before the race said, "Let things come to you," and that was my plan. Oh, Stash Tea, you are so wise! Who needs a coach when I can get all the ultra-running advice I need from twelve cent tea bags?? When Mac asked how I was feeling at the first few aid stations, I only had one answer: "I'm fine."

Mile 9- Inspiration Point
Mile 25 Islip Saddle - I feel fine enough to smile! (photots: Sally McRae)

In 2010, I hated the section between Eagle's Roost and Cloudburst (mile 29.9 - 38) with the dreaded Cooper Canyon. It starts with a 2M detour along traffic ridden Hwy 2 to keep runners out of the endangered yellow legged frog habitat. It is somewhat uphill, right as the day is heating up and the tarmac just bakes. There is a nice little section down to the bottom of the canyon and then 4-5 miles of relentless should-be-runnable-but-soul-sucking uphill with no air movement at all in the canyon. But this year I was ready to battle and was soaked to the bone before I left Eagle's Roost with ice in my hat and bandana and three bottles of fluid. I caught and passed three guys in this section, including Tommy. At this point, the legs really did seem fine!
Heading to Cloudburst (ph: Pam Everett)

Cloudburst (38M) lived up to it's name and dark grey clouds filled the sky and the wind began to gust. I was still getting wet from time to time and I used lots of ice in my bottles, but I didn't use any more ice in my hat, bandana, or clothes for the rest of the race. Quite a surprise given the weather forecast of 98 degrees and cloudless skies for the day! By this point, the rest of the women's field was over 45 minutes back and it seemed like the real race would be against the ghost of Angela and her CR pace, which I was now under by about ten minutes.

The whipping wind on my wet clothes almost made me a little chilly on the next downhill, but the weather wasn't the only thing out of the ordinary. About a mile and a half later, there was a man in jeans and a leather jacket spread eagle across the trail. Another well dressed man was directing me to go around him carefully. As I tip-toed around, I noticed dozens of pieces of shattered plastic, all pieces of a destroyed motorcycle. At first I had actually thought this was some sort of rescue simulation (the sprawled guy looked remarkably clean and he even lifted his head to look at me). But Hwy 2 is known for fast driving motorcycles on the curvy mountain road and this guy had obviously missed a turn and hurled over a small cliff. The well dressed guy told me Search and Rescue was already on their way, so I just continued on. However, serious kudos has to be given to David Villalobos, who left Cloudburst only 5 minutes before me. He was the first to come across this guy and without a second thought, he scrambled up the embankment to flag down crew and get help. That embankment was so steep he didn't feel comfortable going back down it, so he back tracked up the highway to rejoin the trail and continue on with his race while one of his crew (the well dressed guy) went down to help. When I asked him about it afterwards, David just shrugged and said, "It was good to let you get ahead because then I could stop worrying about when you were going to pass me."  David not only played hero, but went on to finish 7th overall with an impressive time of 21:59. Unfortunately, I heard the victim did not have the same good ending as David. Several later runners were stopped for a couple minutes while the guy was evacuated including 24:00:20 finisher, Billy Yang. Kudos to Billy, too - that guy deserves a sub-24 buckle!

Motorcycles may have been wrecked, but I was still chugging along. The sun popped out again climbing Mt. Hillyer, but I was moving so well, I finally told myself, I wasn't just doing fine; I was doing great! At Mt. Hillyer (Mile 49) I was so thirsty. I downed as much icy cold water as I could and some ginger ale, too. Oh so, good! Well for about two minutes, that is. 100 meters out of the aid station it all came back up and I was violently watering the lush purple poodle bushes in this area! Umm, maybe I am not great, but I am still fine! 

In 2010, I dropped at Mt. Hillyer and last year I paced a friend from mile 52 to the finish, so there were only three miles of this course that I had never seen before, and just guess where the only unmarked turn on the whole course was. Fortunately, there was a sign at the junction pointing to the Silver Moccasin Trail and I was pretty sure we stayed on that for a while. I passed a group of Asian women out for a hike, but when I asked them if they had seen runners, they just did a lot of nodding and smiling, clearly not understanding what I was asking. So it was actually a relief when Jorge Pacheco passed me a few minutes later, but the unmarked turn, getting passed and not eating left me a little grumpy coming into Chilao.

Mac ran with me for the next short section, and I guess I was still a little grumpy, because I kept getting annoyed everytime he would tell me to eat something. He is the perfect crew, because he is always trying to take care of me, but I really didn't want to be taken care of out on the trail. Our running group has a joke about how one's running is inversely related to how one's relationship is going, and I guess that applies to the short term, too, because I had a great split through here and picked up a few more minutes on the CR.

Meghan was ready to go at Short cut Saddle, down, down, down the five miles of dirt road. I was starting to feel the stiffness of 60 miles, but there were a few 7:30 miles in there! Halfway up the other side a cat-like animal darted into the brush in front of us, it's long tail swishing twice before completely disappearing.

"Whoa! Did you see that bobcat?" Meghan asked.
"Did you see that long tail? That wasn't a bobcat!" I answered back. Though the size was not very impressive, we agreed it must've been a juvenile cougar (Google corroborates no other long tailed wild cats in So. Cal). How cool is that, we saw a cougar!!

I still felt great all the way to the base of Chantry, passing an ailing Jorge back. But that 0.6 mile paved road to the top just sucked all the life out of me. I got to Chantry at 7:46pm, 28 minutes ahead of CR pace, but I felt completely spent and a bit overwhelmed by what lay ahead. But I was touched to see Mac's sister and uncle out there to cheer me on. Mac did what he does best, and once again took care of me and I ate quite a bit, including stealing Meghan's soup from right out of her hands. And then Mac gave the best pep talk ever: "Just decide how much pain your willing to endure for the course record and then go do it. You've got this. I know you can do it."

And with that we set off on the long climb to Mt. Wilson. At this point I let Meghan run ahead, and told her to make me run everything she thought I should. After the race I joked she was a slave driver, because she worked me so hard!! But it is everything I could've hoped for and exactly what I wanted and needed. She knew what the goal was and as a top competitive athlete herself, she knew not to let up on me, even when I was gasping, grunting, and moaning in pain. We talked little, and I just followed her lead, even it if just meant a few steps of running here and there. And I don't think she told me to eat even once!

The first two miles out of Chantry are quite gentle and we ran almost all of it, eking out the last bit of daylight, before turning on to the steep 4 miles to the top. Ugh! my legs were toast for this steep stuff and I knew I was struggling. But I was still moving! And then something even more unusual than motorcycle accidents and cougar sightings: it started to rain in August in Southern California! There was something refreshing about the rain.

On the final climb to Sam Merrill, I was dying. It all seemed so gentle, so runnable and yet I had to walk pretty much every step. And the aid station taunts you with its flickering lights that are visible for almost a mile before you actually get there. Again, I was so, so thirsty, but icy water just found me with my head in the garbage sack brining it all back up. The volunteers tried to offer everything (except soda- why is there no soda at this AS??) but I was ready to be done. 11 miles to go, but I had lost a few minutes to Angela.

The technical downhill section hurt, but then Meghan really put the hammer down on the downhill dirt and paved road. My quads were screaming, but I wasn't about to say anything. Frankly, I didn't have the energy to talk! I just did my best to try to stay with her. They were cheering loudly at the last aid station, but we weren't stopping. Meghan basically had the task of trying to squeeze water from a rock at this point as my energy was so low. My Garmin had died with 7 miles to go, so I was relying on her to keep us on pace and to keep track of distance.

"How much do we have left?" I whined.
"3.3 miles," she answered.
We ran in silence for what seemed like a long time.
"How much farther now?"
"2.9 miles," Meghan replied.
"Are you shitting me??!" How could we have only gone 0.4 miles! My toes hurt, my feet hurt, my hamstrings hurt and my quads and calves were just wrecked. Please just let this end! I started grunting and panting to "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" - anything to take my mind off of how slowly the distance was ticking down.

The last half mile is on the road. There is a small grade that even road marathoners wouldn't call a hill, but I needed a walk break! Finally, the park was in sight and we ran to the finish- 21:04:18, a 17 minute course record.

At some point in the night, Split Master AJW tweeted that I should be able to do Chantry to the finish (26 M) in 6 hours and break 21:00. But looking at the splits of the top runners this year, I think that was way too aggressive for the time I was running. Here are the top 7 runners finish times and final splits:
1. Ruperto Romero (19:28) - 5:33
2. Michele Graglia (20:25) - 6:02
3. Dominic Grossman (20:41) - 6:32
4. RandyVander Tuig (20:49) - 6:15
5. Christophe Sigel (20:55) - 6:14
6. Pam Smith (21:04) - 6:15
7. David Villalobos (21:59) - 6:40

So while it would've been sweet to break 21:00, I really don't think a sub-6 split was feasible for me and I know I absolutely had nothing more to give on that last section. I will point out that Angela ran the last 26 in 6:04. I can offer two explanations for why her final time was faster than mine.
1) Angela Shartel is a badass! Though she lost the CR, I think she deserves a huge amount of recognition for her CR last year. She basically re-wrote the women's standard for this course and shifted the focus from low- 22 to low-21 for what top women can do on this course. And she finished so strong. Not to mention she is a total class act, cheering for me on course and being one of the first to congratulate me at the finish.
2) I was really fricking tired! I did my best to recover after WS, but there was no denying a little bit of lingering fatigue from running 100 miles five weeks ago. Additionally, this type of terrain takes a lot more out of me because I don't have anything like this to train on. The biggest "mountain" I train on is McCulloch Peak at 2,100' and 1,500' of climb and those are gentle buffed out Oregon trails, not steep rocky stuff. My calves and quads were shot! So I think the women's CR could get lowered below 21:00 in the next couple of years, but I feel like I gave it my all and am very happy with my 21:04.

Rejoice for the chance to sit! Angela is not only a class act, but she is super brave. Do you see how dirty and sweaty my legs are and she is touching them without even flinching! (ph: Carl Siechert)
At the finish, several family members came out to see me (I grew up in So. Cal and still have family there), but I wasn't much for socializing. I just wanted a chair and please, somebody bring me some ice water. Uh oh, I should've known better on that! All I wanted to do was sit, but I finally agreed to have my picture taken by Larry Gassan. He said he would do another one with my crew, if I wanted, but I was too tired to keep standing. I made my way over to a park bench, where I promptly hurled. Then I laid on the bench like a homeless person (only stinkier!) for the next 20 minutes or so while Meghan chowed a hamburger and Mac chatted with family.

At the award ceremony the next day, I got a special belt buckle for breaking the course record, with a scripted word in 14k gold at the top.
"See, it says 'Record'", I showed Mac.
"Umm, No. It says 'Rejoice'", he laughed at me.
"They all say 'Rejoice'", Katie DeSplinter pointed out, "Yours just says it in gold."

Rejoice?!?? Who wants a belt buckle that says 'Rejoice'??!?, I thought at first. But then I realized maybe that is the perfect thing for the belt buckle to say. Because in running this race I had plenty of things to rejoice: a great day in the mountains, a win, a course record, the support of friends and family,  redemption for a DNF, the preciousness of getting out and living when a motorcycle accident reminds you how fragile life is, a cougar sighting, and even my intuition being right. Thank you, Angeles Crest, for all of those things. For that I rejoice.

Rejoicing with RD's Ken Hamada and Hal Winton (ph: Pam E.)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Western States 2014: One Great Big Fake Orgasm

For the past ten days I have been digesting. Digesting everything in this year's Western States experience. Oh, and also digesting just about everything in our pantry - man have I been hungry!!

I don't expect a whole lot of sympathy for a 19:10 4th place finish at Western States, but after running an 18:37 in a lot higher temps, I think it is fair to say my race didn't go as I had hoped. I openly stated that my goal was 18:11. It may have been aggressive to aim for a time that would be the 5th fastest women's time on the course, but I am not one to set "soft" goals or say things like "I just want to finish" when everyone knows that is a load of crap. I am not afraid to set goals that I may not attain, yet, at the same time, I really felt I had that time in me. Last year's run felt very conservative both in the beginning and at the end and the cooler temps should've made a big difference. And I was fitter, stronger, and leaner for this year's race.

But things were off from the get go. Last year, I felt like I floated up to the escarpment. This year, it seemed like I was working too hard from the beginning. My legs just didn't have the usual ready-to-go feeling after coming off a big taper. In the high country, I had the pleasure of running with Kaci and Larissa, but I wasn't comfortable. That's big trouble to be uncomfortable less than ten miles in to a 100 mile run! I knew I had to run my own race and backed off a bit to let Kaci and Larissa get ahead, but when I got to Duncan Canyon (mile 24) in 4:12, I was not a happy camper! Even when I took 29 hours to finish WS, I got there in 4:09. Last year, I was there in 4:09 and I felt like I was out for a walk in the park.

"I am running 20 hour pace!" I whined to my crew. Fortunately, Dennis is Mr. Optimism and he was like, "three minutes, big deal, you can make that up, sunshine, rainbows, flying pink ponies." Fortunately, my head was SO on task and I ticked off everything I needed at the aid station- chug a soda, new bottles, hand held with ice, sunscreen, sunglasses, Vaseline, Chapstick and a few sponges of water on the neck- and I was out of there pronto.

I love, love, love Duncan Canyon, the climb to Robinson Flat and Little Bald Mountain. Along with Volcano Canyon, this is my favorite part of the course. I had a strong split here last year, and ran the exact same time this year and was still only three minutes off last year's time. My legs still felt weak on the climbing, but I seemed to be chugging along ok. Hmmm, maybe this wasn't too bad after all. Again, I felt calmer than ever at the AS and got everything taken care of according to game plan. I chugged up Little Bald Mountain, but then my legs were just hurting on the downhills and the flat roads were pathetic. My gait was stiff, my legs were sore, and still I was breathing so dang hard even on the downhills. Tropical John Medinger was about a half mile out of Dusty Corners, but I was so embarrassed by how I was running that I don't even think I looked at him. And when I saw my crew, the tears just started.
Robinson Flat - looking better than I feel (ph: Ally Speirs)
But even through the tears I never really gave in to the pity party and I never had any thoughts except how to fix this. "I need a soda, two Endurolytes and a Naproxen." I don't take a lot of salt tablets (zero at WS last year) and I know NSAID's are risky, but I also know that I needed to do something. And it seemed to work; by the time I hit the Pucker Point trail I was feeling much better. During a better stretch, I cruised up on Emily Harrison. She said her legs hurt and she was just done. I told her my legs felt like shit from mile 16 to 38 but I was doing better now and her situation could turn, too. But while I was feeling good, I decided to mosey!

At Last Chance I got a nice "car wash" from the awesome volunteers before heading off to the canyons. Craig Thornley was there and again, I was ashamed that I wasn't running up to expectations. But I seemed to be doing ok on the downhills and decided to push through the canyons. I know I still wanted to make up time. Crossing the North fork of the American River was awesome! I am not sure I want Swinging Bridge repaired after that! I felt refreshed and ready for the climb. Even on my best days, the climb to Devil's Thumb is a hike. I seemed to be moving ok, but again, I just felt so tired and I was breathing so hard. Joe Uhan was at the top offering sage advice and race updates. It was good to see a friendly face, because I needed all the perking up I could get.

Last chance "car wash" with a very excited Craig Thornley. ;) (ph. Allen Lucas)
Again, the downhill to Deadwood felt good and I pushed a bit harder. 18:11 was out the window, but maybe I could sneak under last year's time?? On the way down, I passed Kaci and she looked terrible! I tried to offer her salt, gels, even an asthma inhaler but she just kept telling me to go. I am so impressed with her for sticking with it and finishing a strong 6th place!
Me at Michigan Bluff: "My uphill legs are shit!"
Ken (Denise Bourassa's awesome S/O): No problem, there's only downhill left.
Me: I think my downhill legs are shit, too!
The hike to Michigan Bluff sucked. My legs felt so weak and they were starting to ache again. On the logging roads after Michigan Bluff, I walked more than twice as much as what I walked last year, but I still managed to catch up with Natalie Mauclair when we hit the downhill. I didn't think she looked very good, but she was right behind me when I took a dip in Volcano Canyon. And despite running nearly every step out of the canyon and every step of Bath Road, she came into Forest Hill right behind me and left before me.
Kisses from the kids at Forest Hill (ph:April Smith)
I stayed right behind her for the next three miles, but it was too much. I had to let her go. My chugger pace was all I could do if I wanted to make it to the finish. By the river, we were 50 minutes up on Nikki and Kaci and I knew I wouldn't be giving chase for a podium spot. It looked like my F4 was petty well sealed up. I still feel like I gave my best effort, but my legs just weren't there and by this point even the downhills were painful. The miles actually went by fairly quickly, but I was losing all kinds of time. A slow, painful shuffle was all I could muster. I was sure my quads were shot. And yet, at the finish I had a burst of energy. I actually had the fastest women's time from Robie to the finish, so somewhere, deep down, the legs had some spark.
Leaving Green Gate. I dropped my pacer! Ok, he is just at the AS still. (ph. Rob Goyen)
Finishing was bittersweet. It was great to have my family there and to run around the track again with Megan, but it wasn't what I had hoped for. The funny thing is, I was totally prepared to not win. I know less than half of the WS winners ever repeat and the repeat stats are even worse on the women's side. I feel completely honored and still amazed that I even won once, and I know there is a very short list of people with their names on the Robie Cup. But I wasn't prepared to not run at my best. That was a very hard pill to swallow. In fact it has taken me almost the entirety of the past nine days. I spent the first week pissed and really angry at myself. The only explanation I could come up with was that I went in tired. I felt like a rock star all through Beacon Rock, but the week after that race I was sore and the taper never brought back the pep. Did I blow my WS chasing a CR at a silly 25k?? Three weeks out seemed like plenty of time to recover, but based on how things went, I guess racing on tired legs was just too much. The thought made me so angry at myself. And then my CPK came back at a measly 3,900. My quads weren't shot; was I really just being a big wimp?? Arrgh!

It's blurry, but if you look carefully, both feet are off the ground in my finishing "kick". ;) (ph. Rob Goyen)
But I am slowly letting it go and looking at the positive. I told my pacer Dennis that this year, I wanted to leave everything out on the course, no taking it easy the last 20 miles. I had pain in my chest the last 20 miles and I kept on running. I was pretty sure it was heart burn, but I was working so hard, a little piece of me actually wondered if I was having a heart attack! No heart attack, but after the race, I puked a stomach full of partially digested blood twice. It wasn't the time I wanted, but I am certain I gave everything I had on that particular day. Heck, the effort felt like a 100 mile tempo run! I am also pretty impressed that I ran that fast given how bad I felt all day and just how off my climbing was, which is normally my strong suit. I think I ran the downs to the canyons better than last year, and that makes me feel good. I think the game plan and strategy from last year is what kept me going as well as I did. And my head was rock solid and in the game the whole time. It wasn't the run I wanted, but at the same time, I don't feel like last year was a "fluke"; I feel like I know how I need to run this race. Despite being an hour off my goal time, I am actually more confident that I have that time in me somewhere. I only hope I can find it in the future.

One mile into the race, I saw Gary Gellin just up ahead of me. We had done a bit of trash talking before the race and I thought I would say hi. He greeted me back and added, "Are you practicing your fake orgasm or something? You are breathing way too hard this early in the race!" I backed off a bit because he was right; I was working hard from mile one of the race. At the time I thought his comment was just a funny joke, but now it seems like a metaphor for the whole race: I went through all the right motions, I was hot, sweaty and breathing hard, but in the end I didn't get what I was looking for and I left completely unsatisfied.

I told at least three dozen people that I was going to take next year off from Western States, "no matter what." It turns out I was prepared to lose, but not to have a bad race and I am not ready to go out on a bad note. I'll be back at WS next year for another shot, wearing my F4 proudly. And after that, I'll take a year off Western States, no matter what...maybe. ;)

Thank you, Mac and Dennis for being my super team. Thanks Mom and Dad for watching the kids and coming out to the race with them (BTW we'll be visiting the last week of June again next year). And thank you to La Sportiva, Ultimate Direction and Injinji for you support.