Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A New Found Respect ~ St George Marathon Report

I run long distances ~ 50k, 50 mile, 100 mile events.  So when I got talked into doing signed up for the St George Marathon last winter, it seemed like a good idea.  Not a long race, I could run it and enjoy myself and the scenery and the companionship of 7,000 other runners.

The weeks leading up to the race were those directly after the Wasatch 100, where I ran 67 miles and had to quit because of stomach problems.  My legs felt good after Wasatch:  hardly even an ache. I was tired from being up for 30 hours and on the trail, but other than that my legs were in really good shape.  I didn't do any specific training for St George.

I should have prepared myself better for the crowds.  I'm used to running events with 200-300 people maximum.  Wow, going to the expo (which was difficult to find information for on the mobile website) was initially hard to find, and then overwhelming with the amount of [slow-moving] people. I just wanted to get in and out and it seemed that there were several hundred people preventing me from accomplishing that goal.  After what seemed like an eternity (10 minutes) I got my race packet and got out of the expo, after saying a quick hello to Golden Harper at the Altra booth.

I was nearly to my car when I looked in my race packet and realized there was no shirt in it.  Great.  I had to go back because the woman who checked me in hadn't told me to go to the end of the check-in area and pick up a shirt.  Talk about a madhouse, and I had to go in again.  I was nearly in tears, my anxiety of crowds rising.  My chest was tight and I tried as best as I could to talk myself out of having a panic attack.

I got my shirt, went out a side door, and walked across the parking lot to my car.  I tried calling my friend Ann, who was on her way down but got delayed by having to take her daughter to the Moran Eye Center for possible detached retina after an incident with a soccer ball (talk about stress!) and her phone went to voice mail.  I really needed to "phone a friend" to get myself settled down.  I called Andrea.  Five minutes on the phone with Andrea (she was in St George for the marathon as well) and she got me settled down.  Whew.  I went back to the hotel to have some snacks and rest.

Ann made it to St George late, and she, Jamie (Ann's husband) and I hatched a plan to meet up in the morning to get to the start line.  We met a little before 5am at my hotel and drove to the buses.  Ann got checked in (she missed the expo the night before) in the rec center where there was no line (note to self for next year... skip the expo and check in at the rec center on race day to avoid panic attacks).

After a long wait in a line to board the buses, we rode for about a half hour north of town.  I sat next to a really nice woman from California who had run several marathons (a dozen or so) and we laughed about how far we were driving, just to run back into town.

Ann, Jamie, and I had our warm clothing on, and we stood next to the bon-fires at the start to keep warm.  I really wasn't nervous at all, now that race day was here.  My stomach felt fine, I felt well-rested, and I was just a little apprehensive about where we would line up amongst all the people in that crowd.  I really wanted to run 3:45 (for a Boston Qualifier or BQ) but realized that without any speed work in the last month, that probably wouldn't be likely.  4 hours would be great.  Any thing under 4:30 would definitely be acceptable for my first road marathon.

It was pretty funny in the minutes leading up to the start:  Ann and I found several of our ultra-running friends.  Somehow like manages to find like, even in the midst of 7,000 people:  Celeste, Brian & Kari, Ken (a Wasatch 100 finisher).  We knew Turd'l was there somewhere too.  And Andrea.  We sung the national anthem and then we were off!

The first 3 or 4 miles was steep downhill.  I felt really great.  I looked at my watch and saw 7:45 pace, 8:25 pace... I was doing great.  Man, if the whole thing had been like that, I definitely would have gotten my BQ.  At about mile 5, my feet started to hurt a bit, and I wiggled my toes several times to relieve the pressure from the road.  This surface was going to beat my feet up, I was certain about that.  I stopped at most of the aid stations (about every 2 miles) to walk and get a drink for about 50 yards, but other than that I ran the whole thing.  It was intense.  Running under 10 minute miles, consistently for several hours was not something my body was used to doing.  I was used to running, hiking, fast walking... lots of different paces when you are out on the trail.  I did try to remember to look up and around at the scenery every once in a while and what I did see was beautiful.

At about mile 8, my left hip started to tighten up.  My hip flexors were not happy with the fast pace.  I saw my pace slipping... 8:45, 9:15, 9:25... but I was ok with it.  The Veyo hill, which is about 3 miles long (uphill) loomed in front of me.  Oh, yeah, that was going to hurt.  People were walking up it.  Spectators from the small town were lined up cheering for us on the side of the road.  I was determined to run the whole thing, and despite my slow uphill pace of 10-11 min-mi, I did run that whole damn hill.  I got to the top, hoping for a nice downhill for a rest, but realized that the course really just kind of "drifted" downhill, without much noticeable reprieve from the effort I had just put in.

My hip was really starting to bug me.  I realized at the aid stations, they not only had drinks, fruit, and gels, but they also had people with rubber gloves on willing to lube runners up with vaseline and Ben Gay.  Seriously?  Every two miles?  I couldn't believe my eyes.  I went up to one guy and asked for some muscle rub (in my hand) to rub on my hip flexors.  And guess what?  It helped!  Hey, these marathoners might know something!

That was at about mile 13, and I looked at my watch at the split and I was at 2 hours.  I could do this. Halfway there, and right on pace for 4 hours.  I realized my BQ was probably gone, but stayed hopeful.  I stayed mentally strong and told myself I would not walk.  I pressed on, averaging about a 9:35 min-mile pace each time I looked down at my watch.

At about mile 17 I heard clomping feet behind me.  A group of runners that sounded like a herd of buffalo.  Then I saw it:  the 4 hour pace balloons.  And there it went... swiftly past me... and was gone.  I would not finish under 4 hours.  Just around that time, Jim McGregor (another ultra-runner) passed me and said I was doing great.  All I thought was, he's a good 25 or so years older than me and passed me like I was standing still!  He's the one doing great! (He ended up beating me by 7 seconds!)

A little while later, a smaller group, with a perky 50-something woman holding another bunch of balloons.  4:15.  And there she went.  But I kept her in my sights for several more miles.

We crested another hill and with a sweeping right-hand turn, I knew we were on our way to the home-stretch and the finish line in town.  The red-rock canyon was beautiful.  It was starting to get warm, but not too warm as to diminish my pace.  At the stop-light at the north end of town I heard a voice and saw a friendly face:  my friend Carrie said, "Hey Missy!!!  Do you need ice?"  But I was 3 miles from the finish.  "No, I'm fine.  Almost done!  Thanks, though."  I know I did not look happy.  I wasn't really happy... my feet were hurting, my hip was hurting, and my legs wanted to stop.  But I pushed on.

Another woman said, "Misters are just around the corner!"  Huh?  Misters?  What was she talking about? AAaahhh... cool water misters, set up on the side of the road spraying cold water on us as we passed.  Soooo good and refreshing.  Two and a half miles to go... two miles... I started saying it out loud.  We were snaking our way through town and the streets were lined with cheering spectators.  What a sight.  I almost cried!  A girl yelled out my name (our names were printed on our race numbers we wore), "Yeah, Missy!  You've got this!"

And a couple:  a really tall guy and a woman about my age, I kept passing them as they walked and then they would pass me again.  Less than a mile to go.  I would not let them beat me!  I don't know why I chose them, but they helped to get me to that finish.  Fast!  A quarter mile to go... the crowds were getting thick now, and cheering.  I saw the finish arch down the street.  I was almost there!  I kicked it in:  7:25 min-mile pace.  My hip wanted to lock up.  My feet were killing me.  My leg almost collapsed under me.  4:19!  I did it, I did it!  I beat Oprah!

Haha, I walked through another set of water misters.  Someone put a medal around my neck.  I didn't stop for the finish line close-up photo.  I was done.  I wanted to lie down in the cool grass.  I wanted... I don't know what I wanted.  I wanted to take it all in.  I had done my first road marathon, after thousands of miles in the mountains and hundreds of miles of trail ultra events, and this was one of the proudest moments I had ever experienced while running.

I found a patch of grass and someone handed me an ice cream cone to nosh on.  It was heaven.

After getting my drop bag and not finding Jamie and Ann, I decided to head back to where we had parked the car.  They were not there, but just as I was laying down in the grass to wait for them, they came along.   I had just taken my shoes off to look at the damage.  I couldn't believe my eyes.  Huge blood blisters on the balls of both of my feet.

We got back to the hotel, and I took a shower and rested on the bed.  I ate snacks and watched TV and waited for dinner.  Dinner at the Cracker Barrel with Ann's family (her dad and brother had run the marathon as well) was so fun.  What a lucky girl I am to get invited to this event with such a sweet family.

I drove back to SLC the next morning and picked up the dogs from the kennel in Bountiful.  My legs were indescribably sore the next two days at work.  Probably more sore than after a 50k or 50 mile, and maybe even just as sore as after 100 miles.  It was actually kind of funny, and I laughed about it.  I'm not sure if and when my next road marathon will be.  I guess there is nothing like your first.  I'm going to savor this finish for a very long time.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Kryptonite ~ Wasatch 100 Report

My friends think of me as some sort of Supergirl because of all the miles that I run.  Funny I don't feel that way.  I came into this year's Wasatch 100 feeling pretty darn good, though.  After dealing with some niggly pains in my legs and feet, I had visited my massage therapist 3 times within an 8-day span and felt (for the most part) better.  You never know how you are going to feel on race day after 10 days of rest and massage.  I was hoping that I would feel good.

The pre-race nausea (from nerves) that usually gets me down, was pretty mild this year.  I was excited about the race, but not overly excited.  I was anticipating being done with that first climb up to Thurston Peak, and it went well.  I ate well, I got into a nice steady pace, and didn't let the pace of others influence me.  I just stayed relaxed and got into a groove.  Before I knew it, I was passing Francis Peak weather station and cruising down the road to my friends at mile 19:  Francis Shed aid station.

Debbie snagged me as soon as I got there, and got me some fruit, filled my water.  Joel got my drop bag for me (I remember the first time I ran this race, back in 2002 and my drop bag was "lost" ~ nowhere to be found.  I had no food for the next 20 miles, other that that given to me by kind strangers and supplied by aid stations).  I got in and out of there in about 5 minutes, feeling really good and with a smile on my face.  My friends are great.

Along the way, I came upon this guy sitting in a lazy-boy recliner on the side of the dirt road on the ridge.  What the heck?  Who was this guy?  I thought he was crazy.  Then he held up a sign that said in large, black letters:  "Missy B".  Are you kidding me?  He knows who I am?  I got closer and realized it was a local runner, Matt Van Horn, who was sitting out injured and unable to race.  Wow.  MVH and I have had some differences of opinion along the way, but with this he went up about 10 notches in my book.  I told him he totally made my day and gave him a hug.  I meant it too.

Along the beautiful Wasatch Ridge I continued, taking in views of both the North Salt Lake Valley on the right and the Morgan Valley on the left.  Gorgeous.  Perfect running weather with blue skies, big puffy clouds, and about 70 degree temperatures.

I cruised through Arthur's Fork with a really nice group of guys, Terry Foust (a local) one of them.  Up to Bountiful B aid station which never seems like too much of a climb to me, although it seems like a difficult climb for many.  I ate some snacks at the 25-mile aid station and continued up the road to the Session Mountains.  Running along with a woman named Joy, we were about a third of a mile out of the aid station.  She looked down and realized she had forgotten a water bottle at the aid.  We had a short discussion and she decided to go back to get it.  I felt bad for her.

Along the dirt road on the ridge for a couple of miles and then in the distance I found my gaze settle upon a bright blue tent:  Sessions Aid Station, approx. 30 miles.  They had popsicles!  So delicious.  I refilled my water, was given a grape popsicle by my friend Larry Adams (another runner) and sat down to dump the rocks out of my shoes.  Then off I went, on my favorite section of the course!  The trail winds through large fir trees and one sneaks glimpses of a most spectacular peak:  Grandview Mountain.  This section of the course for about 3 miles, is my absolute favorite as I told everyone who was around me.

Before I knew it, I was coming down from Grandview switchbacks, into the Brink.  Tim Seminoff was having a great race and was right along there with me.  I had been chasing him for about 4 miles, just out of reach, and now as we pulled into Swallow Rocks aid station, we were side by side.  He left the aid station before me, but I soon caught him again and passed him.  I took a swig from my water bottle and though, "UGH!  What was that?!?"  It tasted like a swimming pool.  I decided to use it as water to dump over my head and neck instead, because of the funny taste.  But then, as we got closer to Big Mountain Aid Station, I ran out of water from my hydration pack (that was from Sessions Aid Station) and decided to drink all of the water that tasted funny.  I also had to pee, but decided if I went into Big Mountain with a full bladder and lots of water in my stomach, I would weigh in a little heavy and not risk having to delay continuing with the race.

Tim passed me again as we were coming down the switchbacks into mile 39 and weighed in just ahead of me.  Candy was there to greet him, and she gave me a smile and a hug too.  I love seeing Candy at races.  She always makes me so happy.

I was also happy to see my crew:  Ann, Jamie, and Rowan, who gave me hugs and held my hands through the aid station to find a spot to sit down.  Rowan (7 years old) plopped down in the chair that should have been mine and refused to move.  I almost sat right on top of him.  I ate most of a bacon cheeseburger that they had brought me.  My friend Liz helped wash my feet and legs.  I got into new socks and my feet and legs felt really good.  My stomach, however, just didn't feel quite right.  I got out of Big Mountain fairly quickly (I think my quickest exchange there, ever at 15 minutes) and I put my head down for the long climb to Alexander Springs at mile 46.

Along the way, I just didn't feel quite right.  It's hard to put my finger on just how I felt at this point.  My legs were not tired, and my feet felt great.  But along the way to Alexander, I really just felt like I wanted to lie down and go to sleep.  It was only 5pm (12 hours into the race) and I couldn't understand why I felt so weird.  I kept going.  No sense in lying down on Bald Mountain with the horney toads, although the view of Little Dell Reservoir sure was beautiful in the distance.

I stumbled through the rocks of the section that I like to call "Baby-doll head hill" (but there are like 3 of those hills) and got to Alexander Springs Aid Station.  My friend Matt from Colorado was there.  He was just leaving the aid station, but decided to stay with me for a few minutes.  We talked about how awful we felt and how awful that section was.  We were both glad it was behind us.  I ate a ham sandwich, hoping it would make me feel better.  I drank two cups of coke.  I did perk up a bit, and after 5 or 10 minutes, decided to push on.

The trail follows the gas-pipeline at this point.  Through tall, itchy grass and is kind-of that "bitch grade" that if you are tired or a bit unmotivated, it's hard to get your run on.  I walked it.  Tears welled up in my eyes.  I called Ann on my phone.

"What's the matter?"

"I just don't feel good.  I got so tired on that section.  It was so hard and I just wanted to lie down and go to sleep.  I should have drunk that coke you tried to give me at Big Mountain.  I drank two cups at Alexander and I'm eating a ham sandwich.  I don't think I'll be at Lambs (mile 52) until 9:30pm."

"It's ok.  Just do what you can do.  You are doing great!  I'll see you in a little while."

"Ok.  Thanks.  See you."

I got to Lambs Aid Station right on target at 9pm.  We changed my clothes to my night time gear, cleaned up my feet, popped some small blisters, packed up my food, and got me out the door.  Quickest exchange at Lambs ever in about 20 minutes.  I said hi to Matt as I was leaving the tent.  I couldn't tell at that point that he was having a really rough time and would end up dropping there.

We walked up the road and I drank coffee and really started to perk up a bit, now with my best friend.  She told me stories up the road and I told her stories about how great my day had been going so far, until the low point at Alexander.  But I was past that now.  It was all good.

I stopped at the Forest Service bathroom to try and go poop, as my stomach still didn't feel right.  I couldn't go.  Some other girls were chatting with Ann right outside the door and, let's face it, it's hard to poop under pressure.  I decided not to waste any more time and get going.

I rallied up the Lambs Canyon trail until about a quarter mile from the top.  I couldn't believe how fast I was going.  I was passing people and feeling great.  Then, just before the top, I decided to eat a gel and really get some energy for the push to the top.  And it hit me:  ugh, it was like a knife through my stomach.  Cramping, searing pain.  I slowed down to try and relax and breathe through it.  It hurt. We got to the top and I took a Zofran (nausea medication) to try and settle my stomach down.  We didn't spend more than a couple minutes on top of the pass before we started back down again.

A woman was up there marking the trail, and as I put my puffy coat on, she asked, "Are you cold?"  [No shit, lady, it's 10 pm, I've been awake and moving for 15 hours, we're at 9,500ft elevation, and yeah, I'm fucking cold.] "Have you done this before?  How was the weather for you during the day?" The questions were unrelenting.  I didn't answer.  I didn't feel good.  SHUT UP and leave me alone.  Ann gave me a Jolly Rancher to suck on.  It helped a little.  Finally, nearing the end of the Lambs Canyon trail where it comes out at Elbow Fork, I dropped one or two F-bombs, and the lady decided she had hassled me enough and passed us.  Thank God, she was gone.

I stopped again at the Forest Service bathroom at Elbow Fork, but nothing happened.  So frustrated.  But it was like a fairy snowstorm in there with all of the bits of toilet paper that the mice had nibbled on.  I was starting to get tired if I though that was beautiful...

Ann and I walked up the road at about 2 miles per hour.  Every half mile I would stop, put my hands on my knees, and try not to gag.  I stumbled and walked with my eyes closed.  I almost fell asleep several times walking up that road.  I sat down.  I drank a 5 hour energy.  I forced some food down my throat.  About 15 minutes later, it was like the devil was in my stomach and I threw up.  I had to get it out.  Then I woke up.  I was still moving slowly, but at least I was awake.  It felt like someone was stabbing me in the gut.  Why?  Why did my legs feel so good and my stomach so, so bad?  I almost started to cry.

We got to Millcreek around midnight, I think, and I just wanted to lie down.  I found a cot and laid down next to another guy (a pacer) who was also having stomach issues, along with his runner.  Some people were talking really loudly over our heads and I told them to shut up.  I couldn't sleep, but it felt ok to lie down.  An aid station worker came over and asked Ann 20 questions about how I was doing.  She said, "She's Ok."  Dude, seriously, I've been here 2 minutes can I just sleep for a few?  But then my hips started to cramp up.  For the love of all things holy, I couldn't catch a break...

Ann gave me some broth.  I drank some green tea (I think) and a ginger chew, and Ann said, "It's time to go."  I agreed.  Wallowing in self pity in the aid station isn't going to help the situation.  I grabbed my sticks and we started up the trail.  The stomach pain got worse. The burning was worse.  I took a sip of water:  worse.  I walked up that trail to Dog Lake for almost 3 miles.  How long had it been?  5 hours now, and my stomach was getting worse.  I thought of the backcountry section from Dog Lake to Desolation to Scott's Pass.  No way.  No way did I want to exert enough energy to completely shut my stomach down and then risk injury to the rest of my body because of dehydration.  No way.  We sat down on the second to last switch back before Dog Lake.

"What do you think?"

"I don't know.  It just hurts so bad.  I can't even put water in my stomach.  It burns.  I'm so pissed.  My legs feel great.  My feet feel great.  I don't know."

"Let's just sit here for a few and think things out... "

"Ok." (crying)

We sat there and talked out the possibility of my stomach feeling better (50:50).  I was moving about 2 mph.  At that rate, I would get to Brighton, mile 75, at 8am (12 miles away).  8am was the latest I estimated that I could leave Brighton and still make an official time of 36 hours for the race.  It seemed impossible.  What are the chances that I would feel worse?  Pretty good chances for that.  Was it worth it?  It's just running.  It's supposed to be fun.

We turned back down the trail.  We saw Mike P, and he gave me a hug and some consolation.  It was good to see him facing his demons and succeeding.  I was happy for him.  We saw Catra.  Her stomach was hurting too, since about the same time mine was (at mile 59, Lambs Canyon/Elbow Fork) and she would end up dropping out of the race at mile 75.

We were able to get a cell signal on the way down to text Jamie to have him come and pick us up in Millcreek Canyon.  I felt like a failure.  It's just running, but how can "just running" mean so much?  How can going 67 miles feel like a failure?

Sometimes there are just things that are unpredictable.  I thought to myself the entire day leading up to that point about how good I felt.  How happy I was.  How good my legs and feet felt.  I was eating,  drinking, and running with friends.  It was beautiful.  I had also thought to myself, "Anything can change in the blink of an eye.  Enjoy it now.  There will be some lows.  Be ready for them."  I was ready.  But this one, I just couldn't get past.

Someone said to me after the race that maybe I just didn't want it enough.  I don't think so.  I wanted it, but something out there didn't want it for me.  Something wanted me to learn from this.  What I learned:  it's never a given.  This race is hard.  100s are hard.  And they are unpredictable.  You can do everything in your power to make everything go right and sometimes, there's something going on that you just can't control.

What else did I learn?  My friends are the best.  They stand by me even when I believe that I am failing and tell me that I have succeeded.  I want to believe them, and maybe that will come with time.

I've had a great summer.  Even though my batting average at Wasatch is .200, I have to look back at the other events that I did this summer and be proud of myself and pleased with the results:  Running a stellar early-season Zion 50k and finishing in my goal time.  Sweeping the course at Pocatello 100k, running with Fred and a kid who would finish his first ultra with less that 10 minutes to spare before the cut-off.  Running with my sister in law at her first half-marathon and watching the smile on her face (grimace).  Actually, I think the smile came afterwards when dozens of people admired our medals, which we wore around our necks the entire day as we toured Yellowstone National Park.  Completing Bighorn 100 and taking nearly an hour off of my time from last year.  Running a strong El Vaquero 50k in Afton, Wyoming for the 10th anniversary of the race and hanging out with friends.  Watching my friend's husband finish near dead-last with a smile on his face and a will to come back and redeem himself next year.

How could I be negative about all of that?  I can't, really, although it still hurts to know that Wasatch 100 was my kryptonite once again this year.  Maybe someday, I'll finish the race again.  For now, I will look forward to Bighorn 100 next year, and some other events that I have planned as well...

Now, where's my super-hero cape?  All my supporters are really giving me something to live up to.  Hopefully through all of this I can continue to inspire.  Happy Trails.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Niggles and a Siren Song

It's getting to be that time of year when the Niggles hit.  You know them:  those little aches and pains that show up a couple of weeks before a big event; after a long summer of running.  You try to talk yourself out of them, and sometimes you can.  Sometimes, though, they linger.  Sometimes, even, they get worse.

After El Vaquero Loco 50k on August 9th, I rested for 3 days.  Three days of virtually no running, just a few slow, 1-2 mile dog walks.  A long summer of running and a good, strong event called for a few days of rest.  Then, I hit the trails hard.  I did a 10-miler, followed by an 8-miler, followed by a tough 16-miler, followed by an even tougher 19-mile run.  Consecutive days with no rest on tight legs.  No foam roller, no massage-work, nothing.

The Niggle hit at about mile 13 of the 16-mile day.  I iced it down and took some Ibuprofen that night.  I stayed motivated for the 19-mile day the next morning (early) when my alarm went off at 5:30.  I made it most of the way through the 19-mile run, but started having problems about 15-miles in.  I had to walk most of the last 4 miles.  It was frustrating, especially because I know the rest of me is really strong.  I'm powering up the hills and chatting along the way, something I rarely do.  But I hit the downhill and the Niggle gets stronger and stronger until it forced me to walk.

So I pulled out my Ace and booked an appointment with my massage therapist.  I swear, he has magical powers.  I had iced and used balms, and done some massage work myself at home, also nearly brought myself to tears on the foam roller.  Then my therapist got his hands on me.  WOWEEE as my grandparents used to say.  No pain, no gain?  You betcha.

I did a short interval run the next morning.  The Niggle was still there, but he was a waif of his former self.  I did a 5-mile hike-run today with the dogs.  Niggle?  Be gone.  I barely felt it.  I'm hoping for some good miles on Sunday (in two days) after another tester-run of 5-6 miles tomorrow afternoon.

And what about the Siren Song, you might ask?  Do you remember the tale from the Voyage of Ulysses (Odysseus)?  The Siren sisters with their sweet song, lure Ulysses to their island and he has to shake himself away; force himself away from them to continue on with his journey.  I think it was one of the most difficult things he must have had to overcome.  Worse than Medussa.  Worse than the Cyclops.  Worse than escaping the clutches of Scylla and Charybdis.  What could this force be, you ask?  My IKEA bed.  Oh, it is so snuggly soft and comfy.  I sink into it every night and force myself away from it every morning.  I have never slept so well.  And with all this running, I require more and more sleep: 8 hours seems to be not enough these days, and 9 hours seems better.  10 hours is heaven.  (I know, I know... you people who have kids are able to function on 5-6 hours per night.  I really don't understand how you do it.  I would totally be a grumpy zombie.)

One more thing (speaking of grumpy zombies):  I won't be giving up caffeine before the race, either.  I'm down to 2-3 cups per day (if you count a cup as 10-12 ounces).  And that's where my caffeine intake is going to stay.  Motivating to get out of bed in the morning is hard enough without the promise of half-caff to greet you.  *Snore*

Two weeks to go until the big dance ~  100 miles in the Wasatch Range.

And remember:  if you are feeling the Niggles or hearing the Siren Song, it always helps to gain some motivation by going out for a run with two sweet dogs or a really good friend.  Pull some energy from them, and feel them pull you along the trail.  It's ok ~ they don't mind.  Because you will then gain energy and give it right on back to them.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

El Vaquero Loco 50k #BRE

It was my third time going up to Afton, Wyoming to the El Vaquero 50k event.  And I didn't regret it, not one bit.

Many of the Happy Utah Mountain Runners (HUMRs) showed up to the event this year.  We had a base camp set up on Thursday before the race (thanks to Lane Farka) at the Cottonwood campground... many other potential campers I'm sure were thinking, "Sheesh... how much space do these people need?"  Well, with easily 30 people in our group... a fair amount.

I got up to Cottonwood camp, the start/finish for the race, about 1pm on Friday.  I hung out with Lane and ate some lunch, set up my tent, then ventured over to the neighbor who turned out to be Joe from Pocatello, whom I helped with some blister issues at the 100k back in June at the 40 mile aid station, and Jodi from Salt Lake.  It was a great, relaxing afternoon.

I typically get pretty worked up before events:  anxiety, low appetite, I get really quiet because on the inside my thoughts are racing and my heart is pounding.  It was great to be around such a nice, positive, energetic group of people prior to the race.  And I ate well at the pot-luck dinner that we had at camp.

It rained all night.  I had a few drips through my tent, but ended up sleeping fairly well.  Got down to the start line at 5:55 am to check in (start time 6am) and Ty Draney, the race director, said, "I didn't want to have to cuss you! [for showing up late... ]" Sorry Ty!  I said some morning hellos and looked down at my wrist to start my GPS watch and dang!  I had left it in the tent.  Seems I would be running this race "by feel".

As it turned out, I didn't feel great for the first 12 or so miles of the course.  You see, I'm not a morning person.  I think it must have taken me nearly the full 4 hours to get to the half-way (turn around) point to actually wake up.  I did run with my friend Ann for a lot of the first part of the course, until she ditched me a couple miles out from the aid station at the turn around.  Lane was captain at that aid station at mile 15 and told me, in a nutshell, that I looked like hell.  Thanks, buddy. Ann was there, too, and gave me some words of encouragement.  I knew in my heart that I would have a good second half of the race, but it didn't hurt to hear confirmation from her, as well.  (She ended up dropping out because of a nagging injury sustained in a race two weeks prior.)

Lane fed me and got me to drink some fluids.  I took about 10 minutes to sit at the picnic table at the aid station and then decided it was time to start moseying up the road.  I continued to eat a little bit as I moseyed next to the rushing Swift Creek river.

About a mile up the road, I got back on the single track trail and hit my stride.  Seems all I needed was a bit of calories and a kick in the butt.  I must have passed 20 people on the 8 mile climb out of Swift Creek.  Dee, from Syracuse, Utah, heard me striding towards her to overtake her, and was amazed by my speed.  Seems I really am a second-half runner at this race (I feel like I've alway raced well in the second half of this event:  in the previous two times as well).

I got to the horse packers' aid station and grabbed a few chips and some "magic elixir" (Mtn Dew, mixed with water and nuun electrolyte tablet) and passed Corey, one of the HUMRs.  I made it up to Corral Creek lakes and passed Jim, another HUMR.  I got to the high school cross country kids at the next aid station and took some more magic elixir.  Somewhere in that stretch, I passed Forrest, who said, "I thought you were already ahead of me!"  Nope... just pacing myself...  I passed Kember and her husband, and she took some photos of me (thanks Kember!).  I got to the top of the climb above Corral Creek and knew that I only had three and a half miles to go:  all downhill.

I spied 3 blue shirts ahead of me:  three of the HUMR boys:  BJ, Aric, and Ryan.  What?!?  I had actually caught them?  I was having a good second half.  I blew past them and despite my diabolical laugh, I tried to be supportive and give them some words of encouragement, "Only 3 miles to go!  Pound out the downhill, let's go!"

I must have run that last 3 miles in about 30 minutes.  I was smelling the barn (and the cheeseburgers) and it smelled good.  I got to the last creek crossing and let out a sigh of relief!  Through the campground, tossed my pack on the ground, sprinted the last quarter mile to the end:  cheers from the crowd.... Aaaahhhh!!!!  Finished.  Hugs all around.  Smiles.  A great race.

As I hung out with my friend Ann at the finish line, we told stories, laughed and cheered other finishers across the line.  We ate cheeseburgers.  We drank beers and huckleberry sodas.

Time ticked on and on:  9 hours, 10 hours, 11 hours... and Ann's husband still was out on the course.  It was his first 50k.  Where was he?  Was he ok?  We decided to move up the road, start packing up camp, and wait for him to emerge from the woods.  Thank goodness when he finally came, he had a smile on his face.  "That was a hard race!"  Yes, yes it was.  And beautiful, too.  We went for margaritas and Mexican food in town after the race.  If you haven't been to Agave in Afton, Wyoming, I highly recommend it.  The margarita pictured is the medium size.  Yes, there is one even larger than that on the menu.  They do not do things small in Wyoming.

Thanks, Afton.  In the words of the HUMRs:  Best Race Ever #BRE.

Photos by:  myself, Ann Hilton, Kember Pollington, and Kolby Tyler

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Bighorn 2014 race report ~ Roll With It

I woke up at 7am and started getting dressed for the Bighorn 100.  The race start is at 11am, so I had plenty of time to drive from Sheridan to Dayton for the pre-race meeting at 9am in the park.  Looking through my clothes, I almost could not believe my eyes:  I had forgotten to pack a jog bra.  Whaaaa???  How could this be?  Don't freak out.  DON'T freak out.  Everything will be fine.

I texted my crew, Ann, who was on her way with some friends who had stayed in Riverton, Wyoming (3 hours away) for the night.  She had an extra jog bra.  Don't freak out.  Roll with it.  Everything will be fine.

I drove past the Walmart and was half tempted to go in and buy a jog bra.  But my aversion for big box stores kept me away.  I stopped at the Albertson's and got a bag of ice for the cooler.  I ate a few bites of breakfast (almond butter on whole wheat bread).  I was on my way.

It's always nice to see so many friendly faces at an ultra.  Especially one as big as Bighorn.  The event itself is not big, but the terrain is huge.  The thought of it can be somewhat daunting, so I try not to think about it too much.  Seeing friends and knowing that they are there to take on the terrain themselves, or seeing friends who are crew and are going to be out on the course supporting the runners is a huge comfort.

I ran into Missy Gosney at the start and she gave me a jog bra.  My mind was somewhat set at ease.  My crew had not arrived yet, but would be here shortly.

Lining up at the start-line area (4 miles up the Tongue River dirt road), I tried not to think about nerves and tried just to eat a few more bites of food before things got going.  Then Ann, my crew, showed up.  Thank goodness.  She would take my car to the aid station at mile 13 and meet me.  Everything was fine.  Just roll with it.

The first climb (nearly the entire 13 miles to the aid station and 5,000ft of gain) was relatively uneventful.  I ran with Quintin who snapped some pics of me passing a line of guys who were a foot to a foot and a half taller than me.  It was fun.  The views were beautiful.  So beautiful, that I stubbed my toe (hard) and threw my lower back, my SI joint, out of whack.  Mile 10 and already "injured".  Walk it off.  Just roll with it.

I met up with Ann (so happy to see her) at mile 13 and prepared for the long downhill to Footbridge at mile 30.  The weather was perfect:  70 degrees, sunshine and a few drifting clouds.  Everyone continued to be all smiles.  Quintin snapped a few more pictures of me in the trees on the descent.  It was like we were out for a long training run, if you didn't think about the part where you continued through the night into the next day.

I met up with my old friend Billy at Footbridge, mile 30.  He "owed me a crew" from Wasatch last year, and he really helped me out.  Helped me sort through my gear and what I did or didn't need.  We made some good decisions on gear and I didn't get over loaded with weight.  I ate well, drank some soup, and was on my way.  I was a little bit ahead of schedule from last year, and Billy told me to slow down a little.  Don't burn out.  I felt good, and was not pushing, so I resolved to just run comfortably up the Little Bighorn River canyon.

The run up the canyon was good and smooth.  I ran nice and relaxed.  My stomach had been just a little bit "off" all day, but I didn't think too much about it.  I always have a sensitive stomach at these types of races.  I had looked in my pack for an anti-nausea pill earlier in the day, and found an empty pill wrapper.  So instead of having two doses of medication, I only had one.  I had decided to save it, as my nausea was not "that bad".  And then, I saw a flash of light ~

No, not an epiphany.  Nor a hallucination.  Lightening.  Followed by a long, low rumble.  Another flash.  And then another.  Rumble.... as I got to Elk Camp aid station (mile 44.5), it had started to rain.  And ironically, as I joked with the aid station captain, I had left my rain jacket at mile 13 at Dry Fork Ridge because, "I didn't need it... "  Oh, the irony.  I asked him for a garbage bag, and he whipped out his pocket knife and made a few nifty slashes for arm holes and a head hole.  I was now sporting a garbage bag dress.

I have never run in a garbage bag before.  In fact, I have always felt a little sorry for the people who do run in garbage bags.  Poor dears can't even afford a rain jacket.  But can I tell you what?  That garbage bag rocked the weather.  I was warm, I was dry, and my psyche was still intact.  Had I continued on in the rain without it, I'm sure the soul-sucking mud field of the next 4-5 miles would have beaten me.  I maneuvered around a downed tree and ran into Missy G (who had loaned me the jog bra) and we both yelled out, "Missy!" and laughed.  She was on her way down from the turn around, and I was almost there.

I got to Jaws at mile 48 and saw Ann.  I resolved not to cry.  I tried not to think about the fact that I would have to turn around and hit that mud field again.  She sat me down and fed me.  We changed out of my wet down vest and into my warmer, dry down jacket.  I put the garbage bag on again (with a smile) and ate some good food (cheese quesadilla, soup which was way too salty, fruit, bacon) and got me out of the tent to continue on.  Galen was there and took some great
 pictures.  I look miserable in one of them, but really I think he just caught me between smiles.

About a hundred yards out of the aid station, my stomach turned.  "Oh no, " I thought.  Here it comes.  I tried to keep it down, I really did.  But I had eaten just a bit too much.  I hurled into the sagebrush.  I managed to keep about half of what I had eaten down. I faced the mud field with determination.

The sun would soon be up and I knew that my stomach always got better once it turned to daylight again.  I ran into Billy pacing and Emily going down the canyon and we crossed paths several times.  Running in the wee hours of the morning is always tough for me.  My body really wants me to lay down after the long night and just have a rest.  When I felt my eyes flutter and want to close, I knew I was close to Footbridge again and I really wanted to make it there before the 50 mile racers overtook me.  I took a 5-hour energy out of my pack instead of lying down and started to sip on it.  Billy looked at me and said, "Ultra runner's cocktail of choice!" and we laughed.

I made it to Footbridge (mile 66) and an aid station volunteer immediately asked me if I had crew, to which I replied that I did not.  She said she would help me (I just love the volunteers at this race).  She got me a bucket of water and a washcloth for my feet.  I got all of the mud off of them, and assessed the damage:  not too bad.  Just a few small blisters.  I washed and let them air dry before putting on clean socks.  The volunteer got me food, and I ate.  I switched back to my lighter pack, got rid of my warm clothes, put my mud-caked shoes back on, and was on my way.

As I hiked up the steep incline out of Footbridge, I couldn't help but remark that the 50 mile runners had not caught me yet.  I was about 2 miles up the hill before they had.  I was moving well, but my nausea was still ever-present, so somewhere in there I took my one nausea pill.  It helped a little bit.  I made it to Bear Camp and got a few bites of food and a refill on water.  The volunteers here greeted me by name as one of the volunteers is the cousin-in-law of a friend from Salt Lake.  I felt comforted and welcome.

I continued up the trail through the woods through fields of arnica flowers.  It was beautiful.  And then another surprise:  Ann had run down from Dry Fork Ridge (about 10 miles) to meet me and bring me back up the hill.  I was elated.  I thought I would meet her at the next aid station at Cow Camp (mile 76), and here she was several miles early.  We chatted for quite a while until all of a sudden I felt really yucky and asked her if we could just have some quiet-time.  I started going to a dark place again, as I had near the mud-fields the night before.  Why was I doing this?  This was dumb!  Who would do this to themselves?  Was it all really worth it?


And then we heard voices behind us.  Who the f*ck talks going up this hill?  A-hole.  Just move it along and go past me.  I don't really care.  And then I heard the voice, "Hi Ann.  How's it going?"  It was my former running partner from the year before.  The guy who ditched me because I "wasn't fast enough".  The guy who said he needed to train by himself because he needed to prepare for his own 100.  The guy who had then down-graded to the 50 and not even started the 100!  I could not believe my ears.  Was he really so bitter that he could not even say hello?  Could not even acknowledge that I was out here doing the 100 that he could not start?  Ann said hello to him, and as he passed, I said, "Hello, [name withheld]".  "Oh, hey," he replied.  "What's going on... "  "Oh, just running 100," I said.  Wow, the nerve of that guy.  Can't even be civil.  Rise above... rise above...
But in truth, I was infuriated.  What a small creature he was that he couldn't even say hello, yet said hello to my friend.  And do you know what that infuriation did?  It brought me right back out of my dark place and into the light.  I knew at that moment that I would finish.

The rest of the climb up to Dry Fork Ridge at mile 82 was very hard.  At one point I sat down in the creek to soothe my chaffed butt (haha, literally and figuratively!).  I got up to the aid station and they had pizza!  Delicious.  I changed into non-muddy super high-cushion shoes and busted out.  I would rock the next section of the course, and that is exactly what I did.

After two more aid stations that I pretty much just blew through, I saw my best-buddy Ann's face once again.  She had caught a ride on the river road and hiked up the river trail to meet me once more and bring me the 7 miles back to the finish line at the park in Dayton.

I ran that road like nobody's business.  I threw down 13 min-miles and passed people.  After what happened last year (tendonitis in my feet and I could barely muster walking the road to the finish) I was determined to have a strong finish.

And I did.  I sprinted into the park at 7 min-mi pace to the cheers of my friends and onlookers.  "Go Missy!"  I heard through the rushing of blood through my ears.  I did it...  I did it... I did it.  Fist raised across the finish line.  Nearly an hour faster than last year.  A smile on my face.

Bighorn 100.  I hate love you.

Until next year.


(photo credits:  Ann Hilton, Galen Garrison, Quintin Barney, Jeff Stowell)

























































Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Sting or Bee Stung

Some of you know that my favorite (absolute favorite!) energy food for trail running is Honey Stinger products.  It was a long, painful road of puking and nausea during races that finally brought me to try Honey Stinger gels and chews.  You see, years ago (we're talking the late 1990s when I started running ultra-distance trail races) I used to eat GU and Cliff-shot products because to be honest, that's all that was really available at the time.  I had friends who swore by them.  I tried them, and in shorter races (50k) they worked fine for me, but after that point (50 mile and 100-mile distance) my stomach was an absolute wreck.  Put that together with the fact that our choices of electrolyte drinks were Powerade and Gatorade and it made for a very difficult situation.

Over the years, I figured out that my stomach just does not tolerate maltodextrin, which is the main sugar source in many energy products.  When I take it in, my stomach immediately cramps.  After hours of ingestion, my stomach is bloated and will not let food pass to digest it.  I begin vomiting.  It's a painful way to end a race.  There's enough pain in ultra-distance running without puking your guts up while you are out there.

Honey Stinger products are either made with pure honey, or organic tapioca sugar.  When I eat them, my stomach says, "More, please!" which is an excellent way to stay fueled during a race, compared to the alternative that I experienced in the past with maltodextrin products:  "NO MORE ~ blurrrp!"

Last week, I put in an online order to Honey Stinger to stock up on some organic gels and chews before a couple of races that I have coming up.  I didn't need any gels right away, so I let the box sit in my kitchen for the week, and hadn't opened it until today.  Much to my pleasant surprise, the kind folks at Honey Stinger had added a jar of pure, organic wildflower honey to my order as a gift!  Gosh, I love this company.  My tummy is happy, my body and brain function during races, and now a sweet treat.  Every year at the Outdoor Retailers' Show in Salt Lake City I make a point to stop by to say hello and rave about how much I love their products.

I put in another order today, because you can never have enough Honey Stinger.  And they just came out with two more flavors:  Strawberry-Kiwi and Chocolate (both caffeinated).  Hopefully they will come before my big race next week.

And with that, I give you a very interesting story on the history of Honey Stinger, told to me by my friend Leon Lutz (of Pennsylvania)...  enjoy!  And remember:  Sting or Bee Stung!  Packet in, Packet out!  Happy trails!

"I'm going to take a few hundred keystrokes to share a story that has long fascinated me.  Back in the early '00s, I [Leon] worked for a bank (of all dog forsaken employers) and created legal documents (of all dog forsaken things) for corporate loans (of all... well, you get it).  When you create such binding documents, you need to research the full legal name of the borrowing entity from its current legal name all the way back to its genesis.  One of our "regulars" was Dutch Gold Honey, a born-and-bread Lancaster, PA-based company.  Turns out that way back in the '40s, successful businessman Ralph Gamber, after seeking medical attention for some health issues, was told by his doctor to get a hobby before he dropped dead from the stress of work.  Perhaps begrudgingly, Ralph got himself a nice relaxing hobby in the form of a beehive, but... being a driven individual, he ended up a few years later with hundreds (perhaps thousands) of hives and an ahead-of-its-time concept for a healthy alternative to candy bars.  His EN-R-G bar didn't put a dent in the (by then) 1950s candy bar business but his thriving hives did lead to the establishment of Dutch Gold Honey, today the largest family-owned honey producer in the United States.  They were the ones who first put honey in the bear-shaped bottles if that helps put their impact into perspective.
AND, LEON, WTF does this have to do with... ?
I'm getting there.  Ralph had a son, Bill.  Just as driven as his father, Bill took over for Ralph years later as the head of Dutch Gold and (I believe) he still sits on the board.  Bill had a son of his own, Bill Jr., who moved west before I had a chance to meet him.  The kid stayed busy running, climbing, riding mountain bikes, hiking, camping, etc.  'Cept entrepreneurism was in his blood and he was driven in his own right and from that eventually came Big Agnes, the cool little (though less little all the time) company that builds some of the sweetest tents, sleeping pads, and sleeping bags on the planet.  Junior also had a honey heritage and plucked grandpa's original business name from the history books to reestablish EN-R-G Foods and Honey Stinger as we know it today.  Through my job, I've since become friends with Bill, Jr. and we swap stories now and then about life back here in the Keystone state and our peculiar strain of 6 degrees (not even) of separation.
It's a small, beautiful world and sometimes the departing and then reconnecting paths that we walk are incredibly intriguing."

You can read more of Leon Lutz's ramblings stories on his blog:  http://thisbeesknees.blogspot.com


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Run Swiftly Through the Low Points ~




We all mourn losses.  Give your life enough years, and you will mourn many too, if you haven't already.  I'm not very old by any means, but I feel that I've had more than my fair share of loss.  I try to tell myself that loss makes me stronger.  It makes me appreciate the good times even more.  It's good to feel low because it makes the highs feel even higher.

A couple of weeks ago was Mother's Day, and as I wrote before, I took it even harder this year than most years.  Not really sure why, as my life has been going really well lately.  Maybe that's the time when [God, the universe, etc.] decides to knock you down a notch.  That's what I feel like happened to me.  I found myself on the Wednesday after Mother's Day still crying about my mom.  Not sobbing uncontrollably, mind you.  Just getting a bit teary-eyed a couple of times a day, and missing her.  I started wondering what my problem was.  It's times like this that I turn to my friends for support.  I have some great friends.  My girlfriends are the best, and take me out running and to coffee, even when they have other plans for the day they seem to fit me in and take care of me.  This type of friendship is even more appreciated because I don't have a mom to turn to.

I also had just been on a great trip to California with my running partner of the last year.  We had an amazing long-weekend running the trails of Mill Valley and eating good food.  We attended a wedding reception in Napa.  It was a great weekend with lots and lots of miles.

After getting back from the California trip soon afterwards was Mother's Day, and soon after my running partner seemed to not really want to run with me anymore.  I invited him on a couple of runs and he said no (he said yes to one, but seemed out of sorts and not very interested to run with me).  He set up runs with other people and didn't invite me along.  I took it personally.  Despite being a physically strong person, I am emotionally pretty sensitive.  He was running with other people and I was running by myself, so I started running with other people too.  But I wanted to run with him.  I couldn't figure out what was going on.

I had a few 20-milers stacked up on my training plan, and I figured it would be easier to motivate and get through them if I had friends along.  I invited a handful of friends, my running partner of the last year being one of them.  A day later, I got a curt reply, something to the effect that he would be running similar mileage, but that I was too slow of a runner for him to go out with... huh?  I took offense.  I admit it.  I reacted defensively and emotionally.  How could I not?  I was missing my mom and I just wanted to go run with my friend.  Here he was being what I felt was insensitive and selfish.

Needless to say, the conversation turned brutal.  The more I reacted to his insensitivities, the more harsh he got.  I can only explain this as him trying to assert some "tough love", which I was not in any place to accept.  I was too hurt, and the more the conversation escalated, the more hurt I became.  He would "text bomb" me, saying that, "This is how it is.  No negotiations.  You are not allowed to comment, as I will not respond to your texts if you reply."  What?!?  I am still trying to understand this flip in his attitude.  A supportive friend and running partner over the last year has suddenly, inexplicable dumped me.  Some of the things he said to me were downright cruel and not worth repeating.

It hurts.  It's sad.  All I can say is, whatever he might be going through to display this type of behavior to a friend, I feel sorry for him.  It's unacceptable as far as I'm concerned.  You don't treat friends like that.  I asked for a little bit of support and explanation and I got, "I'm too busy for you and I'm not willing to listen to your sob story."  Wow.

I've received a lot of support through this from other friends which is very comforting.  It will take some time for this sting to stop burning.  I absolutely hate it when friendships fall apart.  I want to believe that there is a bigger reason for this.  I want to know if I could have done anything differently and supported him more, but I'm resigned to the fact that he is angry and I may never know.