Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Bear that would not be ~

I didn't plan to DNF at the Bear 100.  No one ever does, I think.  But when the weather forecast was looking like it was pointing to signs of an early winter, my thoughts raced back to March at the Buffalo 100, where I dropped at mile 50 because my knee seized up and I couldn't run.  I was able to walk 15 miles to the start/finish aid station back then and get credit for a 50-mile race finish, albeit a slow one.

You'd think I would do well in the cold.  I grew up in Michigan in the 1970s when it seems that we had record blizzards every winter.  But I do remember back in high school and once after college, playing soccer so hard in the cold that my quad muscles were strained so badly that I couldn't lift my foot from the gas to the brake pedal in the car.  In Germany, the second time it happened, I hobbled into my surrogate Oma's house and she reprimanded me for playing so hard, then wrapped my quads in herbal tincture.

Since my knee surgery in 2007, my left knee has always been a bit sensitive to the cold.  It gets achy quickly and feels stiff, making it hard to bend.  I ski tour in insulated ski pants even on the warmest of days.  I would rather sweat out gallons than be cold.  I wear my Patagonia puffy coat everywhere.  I relish the end of summer and the day that I can wear my puffy coat again, inside the house sitting on the couch as well as outside when I am walking the dogs.

The Bear 100 this year would not be what it was last year:  75 degrees and sunny, finding me at my second 100-mile finish.  I'm consoled this year by the fact that I did finish the Bear last year and was able to prove that my Wasatch 100 finish of 2011 was not a fluke.  I finished the Bighorn 100 this year, too, and am so grateful for that painful, well-earned finish.

I won't go into the details of my Bear run this year.  Suffice it to say that I was surrounded by people who love me and care about my welfare.  I am humbled by the fact that people will comfort me when the run brings me to tears.  In that respect, I am very lucky.

My mind turns now to redemption.  Several runs are lining up in the next 3 to 4 weeks and I am holding myself back from registering for any one of them.  Maybe I'll run, and maybe I won't.  For now, I will relish in my past finishes and think of how many good runs I had this year, trying not to let this one bad day over shadow the others.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Wasatch 100 volunteer report ~

Wasatch 100 race start in Layton, Utah ~
A lot of people asked me prior to the race if I was running the Wasatch 100 this weekend.  They asked me on Monday if I had run it, then looked at me and said, “Oh, you’re walking too well to have run 100 miles this weekend, I guess.”  Which is true:  it takes a few days for me to be walking normally again after something like that.

On Friday, I worked at the clinic until about 3:30, then went home quickly to change my clothes, feed the dogs, and eat a sandwich, and I headed up to Lamb’s Canyon aid station to volunteer for the race.  What I took part in was one of the most rewarding experiences I think I will ever be involved with.

Runner steps on scale at Lamb's Canyon ~
I knew over 50 runners who were taking part in the race.  I thought back on how many years I have been involved with this race in one form or another (volunteering, pacing another runner, crewing, running it myself, or just plain spectating) and it has been 15 years.  The race itself has been going on for 33 years, and I know runners who have been racing it for over 20 years:  one person I know got his 29th finish this year.

Local legend Brian Harward
with pacer John Wheelright ~
In volunteering on Friday night, I employed a technique that I had learned from the volunteers at one of the aid stations at the Bighorn 100.  When a runner would come into the aid station, the volunteers quickly took his or her pack off their back, had them weigh in, got the racer’s drop bag from the pile, and sent them on their way.  I kept an eye on runners coming in, to see if they had a crew or not.  Most or many of them did have someone helping them, but some did not.  As I mentioned before, I knew over 50 runners this year, so I ended up helping them (even if they had crew).  Basically, I served as the runner’s personal “gopher”.  I’ll give you an example.

My friend Steve came into the Lamb’s Canyon aid station.  He had been weighed in and had been given his drop bag by several volunteers and was headed for a seat in the corner.  He looked up and saw me, and said, “Hey!  Missy!  How are you?”  (I was thinking, after the extreme, unusual heat and humidity on race day, “How the heck are you?!?”)  He looked good.  As good as you can look after running 53 miles on a bum knee in 90+ heat with 40%+ humidity.

Local legend Roch Horton steps on the scale
with aid station captain Steve Westlund
assessing his condition ~
“I’m not sure where my crew is...” he continued.  I replied, “No worries!  I’m your crew now.  What can I get you?  What do you need?”  Then his crew (Lexie) showed up, and Steve said, “Oh, you can help someone else...”  “No way!  I’m here for you right now,”  I replied.  And Lexie and I proceeded to help Steve wash his feet, change his socks, change his shirt (I talked him into that...), got him food and drink from the buffet, emptied trash from his pack, loaded his pack with new food items, his jacket... I think we got him in and out of there in about 20 minutes, and we got a lot done!  I think I even talked him into taking his Jamba Juice with him (Lexie got it for him and had it ready and waiting.  So good!  I remember getting one of those a time or two from my crew as well, when I was racing) because there was a trash can located a quarter mile up the road at the check-out area.

Ogden Speedgoat Jim Skaggs
(me in background) ~
To give you a little background history, Steve had been my crew two times at Wasatch 100 (the time I dropped out with a knee injury at mile 62 in 2010 and the time I finished in 2011).  He also paced me from Lamb’s Canyon to Millcreek (mile 62) in 2011, the year I told him to stop looking at his watch (he was looking at how fast [slow] we were moving and I grumpily told him, “I’m going as fast as I can!”).  I felt I owed him so much from helping me those years, I couldn’t not pay back a little at this year’s race.

Female runner at Lamb's
stepping on the scale for weigh-in ~
The heat was a huge factor in this year’s race.  As they say, it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity that will get you.  Indeed, we are accustomed to 10% humidity or less in these parts, but the recent rain has caused the humidity to increase dramatically, to between 40 and 50%.  Not as bad as the South, the Midwest, or even the East Coast, but pretty tough still.  The finish rate for this year’s race was about 67% whereas typically it is near 80%.

And in true Wasatch 100 style, the race ended with thunderstorms and pouring down rain.  The finish venue was changed to Soldier Hollow this year from the Homestead in Midway, which afforded a great pavilion and grassy area with big shade trees and I think everyone really enjoyed it.  Drinking beers and visiting with friends at the finish line and watching the last of the racers come in in the driving rain, especially after enduring such awful heat the day before, was inspiring to say the least.

Founder of Altra shoes, Brian Beckstead,
attended to at Lamb's Canyon by family and friends ~
I was humbled by this year’s race.  The number of thank you’s that I heard was innumerable.  After all, they would have helped me if the tables were turned and I was racing.  Watching the perseverance of over 300 people; all of their crews and family members encouraging them on or consoling them if they were having troubles; watching runners helping runners through tough times; watching the smiles along the way certainly made this experience extremely rewarding.  The ultra-running community is very unique to say the least.  And the amount of love that is shared is extraordinary.

I can’t finish this post without shouting out a special thank you to Steve Westlund and his family, who were the core crew of the Lamb’s Canyon aid station.  They coordinated all of the food and supplies, set-up, and clean-up and were physically present at the aid station with smiles on their faces for what I estimate to be 16 hours.  Everything was clean, the food was good, and things were organized.  For this half-German girl, I think those are the basic necessities of life.  Special thanks to John Grobben, John and Joan Moellmer, and Claude Grant who have directed this race since the very beginning:  the fact that you keep coming back every year is a testament to your own perseverance.  This year’s race will not be soon forgotten, and I will assuredly be involved in some way with the event next year.  You can count on that!

(Many thanks also to Mark Kreuzer, who gets photo credit for all of the amazing images in this post.  If you would like to see the full collection, contact him at and he will send you a link.)

Wasatch sunrise, day 2 ~

Local runner and 2nd place female
finisher, Andrea Stevens ~

Local runner Amie Blackham with race director,
John Grobben ~

Boise runner Dennis Ahern takes a sip
of well-earned champagne after finishing
the Grand Slam of Ultra-running (the four oldest
races, all completed in one season) ~

Well said, Carter Williams ~

Local runner Jill Bohney breathes a sigh
of relief at the finish line ~

Local runner Josh Greenwell~

How many finishes is that now, Deanna McLaughlin?

Craig Lloyd gives his mom a hug at the finish line

Me with Steve and his pacer, Mike

Steve Luker and Lexie ~