Sunday, March 5, 2017

Riverbank 24 - My Most Successful "Training Run" Race

Well, here we are in March and I am finally getting around to putting something up on this site! So obviously, “Blog more frequently” wasn’t exactly on my list of New Year’s resolutions. However, I did write a couple articles for iRunFar, which I hope you check out, if you haven’t already. Here are the links:

Apples to Apples, Not Oranges (Follow up: Aravaipa gave Gina the extra money and Gina donated it to Girls on the Run. I decided to donate the (much smaller!) article payment to the Salem chapter of GOTR as well. Everybody wins!!!)


Anyway, if you did get a chance to check out the first article, you’ll know I was pretty burnt out after Spartathlon and 100km World's last fall, and with good reason: it was 215 miles of racing with two trans-Atlantic flights and 4 nine hour time zone adjustments in 8 weeks! (Not to mention getting back to work the day after coming home each time!). So instead of running all through December and starting 2017 in good shape, I ended up taking 5 weeks off and starting 2017 completely out of shape.


But January 2 was the day to turn over a new leaf! (Never the 1st - too cliche! And too hung over! (more from staying up late than actual alcohol these days)). Just to make sure I felt especially bad about my fitness, I did run the half marathon on January 7 that I had already signed up for. I proceeded to run a 1:32, which was a personal worst (PW) by 4 minutes! *sigh* But the good part of being out of shape is that you can only get better and the gains come quickly! And so just four weeks later, I had a strong race at the hilly Zena Road run (15k) and managed first place with a decent time to surprise myself (and a few of my running friends!).


Despite seeing good gains, being in top ultra shape takes time and seven weeks was not enough to get there. My original intent for the Riverbank 24 hour run on February 25th was to be in great shape and go all out, but I just didn’t have enough miles on the legs for that. I knew I was not in shape to better my current 24 hour Worlds qualifying mark of 143.6 miles from last May nor was I in shape to PR at 100M, and I couldn’t come up with a good reason to dig myself into a big hole physically to put up a non-PR performance, so I decided I would truly run this as a training run.


Now, I have done many ultras as stepping stone races to get in shape for more important races later on, but I pretty much run those super hard too. Even if I am not tapered or have not trained specifically, when I pin on a bib I go into *race mode*. Basically, I suck at running races at non-race effort. And yes, that 1:34 half means I was running with everything I had to get that PW! But I was holding myself to 100 miles for this one, which I knew would not be a competitive total and since it was a 24 hr race, it really didn’t matter how fast I got there: Hence, a training run race!


And I am happy to say, I kicked ass at this goal! :)


I ran at a good steady pace through 50M (split - 6:53; still much slower than my road 100 km pace), took a short break then jogged to 100km (9:09, also a road PW for the distance). Then I took advantage of catered dinner - I never get my money’s worth from the food at these long ultras, but this was the day! - and walked/ate till I hit 300 laps (12:06). I knew I could easily finish up the ~25 miles I had remaining in the early morning hours so I headed to my car for a NAP! Napping in an ultra - oh yeah, I was definitely killing it in the non-competitive department! And not just a little nap either - I was in my car for just over FIVE hours and I managed to sleep a good portion of that time. I woke up feeling surprisingly good for having 75 miles on my legs already.
Clicking off early miles with Gina Slaby right in step. I am not usually one to "push" product, even from sponsors, but I LOVED the new Injinji compression socks.
Getting back to the track at 3:00am let me check up on the rest of the competitors and a lot had changed in 5 hours. Early race leaders Gina Slaby and Chikara Omine had both suffered after the 100 mile mark. Gina was valiantly walking to the time limit while Chikara did some napping of his own before coming back to the track in the daylight. Rich Riopel and Courtney Dauwalter had steadily ticked off the laps to take over the top spots. Courtney would go on to finish with a new American Record of 155 miles and first overall, while Rich would put in 151M for the #4 spot on the 24 hour qualifying list. A few others were going strong, like Yvonne Naughton who ended up earning a spot for the Irish 24 hour team, but many others were struggling or going through lows. I took the time to run or walk laps with several of the competitors as well as RD Jon Olsen and a couple of the “spectators”, knowing that I had plenty of time to cross the 100 mile threshold.


Besides getting to 100M, my only other objective became eating as many cookies as possible. I didn’t actually mean for this to be an objective but I just got so hungry that I was alternating Oreos and Mother’s oatmeal cookies almost every mile! Pretty sure I ate near 20 cookies for breakfast! I got to 100 miles right around 23 hours clock time and ~17:30 on my feet. And then I took my chair and more cookies trackside to cheer everyone on for the last hour.


Anyway, I had a great weekend in California despite not “killing it” in the race. A big thanks  and congrats to Jon Olsen for putting on such a high quality race for people trying to qualify for the US 24 hour team. Also, a big thank to Richard P who volunteered to crew for me the first half of the day and who was on top of everything, even when I forgot all the nutrition I had packed at my parents’ house two hours away. (Who does that?!? Apparently me! OMG - what an idiot! Good thing it wasn’t my ‘A’ race!).
Only idiots are doing emergency shopping at 7 am on race day! On the bright side, all this stuff worked great. So glad Raley's carried Honey Stingers!
I am currently sitting with the #5 qualifier and top 6 get selected. Right now, it is just a sit and wait game for a month when the team gets announced, with two major qualifiers between now and then. Pouring over the entrants’ lists, my chances look good, but nothing is a guarantee and I’ll be a little nervous waiting the final results of those races. This women’s US team is going to be incredible and I hope to be a part of it. For perspective, only 12 or 13 North American women have broken 140 miles in 24 hours and we now have 6 of them lined up to be on the team. The team world record is 441 miles or 147 miles average for 3 ladies and the top US qualifiers have bests of 155, 151, and 148 miles and I also hope to go 150+. And the women’s individual record is 158 miles with Courtney and the winner of the European Championships both coming within a few miles of this. So world records could be falling in Ireland this July and I hope to be there! Fingers crossed!
100 miles is still 100 miles!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Muscle Memory, Old Ladies and Team USA: 100km World Championships

“Muscle memory,” Traci told me a day before the race in response to some of my pre-race anxiety. “Once you get going your body will do fine running at that pace.” I hoped she was right as I really had done very little training specific to 100km pace. Late withdrawals by Sarah Bard and Camille Herron meant the US Team was down to three ladies - the minimum needed for a team score - so the pressure was on to deliver. My less than ideal training and the uncertainty of asthma had me concerned.

“Muscle memory,” I repeated to myself in the first dark miles along the beach. My plan was to be conservative at the beginning, knowing there was no room for error (and also, because that is always my plan). While I was definitely in the back half, I was already in the low 7:40s for the first three miles. “Slow your roll,” I thought, but still I drifted down into the 7:30s and the pace felt comfortable. Maybe the muscle memory was kicking in after all.
Team USA
Training
I spent the first half of this year training for the Dawn to Dusk to Dawn 24 hour race and 100 mile attempt and all summer training for Spartathlon, which was only 8 weeks prior. While I did keep some speed work in the schedule for those two events, there was basically nothing at 100 km pace (7:30-7:40) as that is much slower than the speed work and much, much faster than all the long slow runs for D3 and Spartathlon.  My average mileage for the 8 weeks after Spartathlon was around 50 mpw, with only two runs over 20 miles (21 and 22). But I wasn’t worried about endurance. My focus was on speed, mobility and strength and I felt I did a good job doing a lot of extras beyond just the miles in the running log. I was a regular at yoga (1-2x/week) and I was killing it with the strength training (in terms of attendance, not actual pounds lifted!). In fact, I even competed in a 5 workout CrossFit competition during that time, placing 37th out of 274 ladies in the scaled female masters category (aka “handicapped old ladies”). I felt like I did the best I could with the short time frame (with recovery and taper, it was really only 4 weeks), but it was far from my ideal build up.

The Team
Besides myself, the other two US ladies were Meghan Arbogast and Traci Falbo, two of the best and most consistent ultra-runners in the country - a very good thing when the team doesn’t have any “insurance” for bad days. What I particularly loved about our team is that we were all masters athletes with an average team age of 47.5 years! While I made a couple “old lady” jokes on social media, the truth is, I was pretty excited about this fact. I love that we are defying age not with silicone and botox, but by representing our country on the world stage!
Old ladies ready to rock! (Wait!-who are you calling old?!?)
The Course
The course was a 10k “loop” repeated ten times. The loop started in front of our hotel, ran 1km through town and then turned onto a beachside promenade with a surface composed entirely of 2 inch tiles. Right before the 4k mark, the course turned off the beach and took a very convoluted route through mostly residential streets with several out and backs. The course looked pancake flat on paper but the out and backs had a very slight incline (1% or less) on the way out and the same slight decline on the way back. While it doesn’t seem like much, it was perceptible on the run and more so as the day went on, making the out and backs even more of a pain. I really liked running by the beach with it’s fairly straight course, nice scenery and lots of people out for strolls. The out and backs got a bit tedious but I did enjoy being able to watch the race ahead of me unfold not to mention being able to keep tabs on the runners behind.
The course map - switchbacks on a road course!
The Weather
We started in the dark at 7 am with temps in the low 50s. The temperature gradually warmed for the first four hours and then we were hit with rain for an hour or so. The rain itself was not bothersome, but several lake-like puddles formed and persisted the rest of the day and in some places the tiles were a bit slick. The dip off of the boardwalk required 3-4 steps through ankle deep water.

The Race
187 runners from 37 countries lined up for the World Championships. The headline for the men’s race was the presence of the South African team - on paper a team that should’ve decimated everyone else. Indeed, two of their runners were out quick and their final three were just behind with only Jonas Buud and Hideaki Yamauchi hanging close. The first South African lapped by me at just 36k (46k for him). I know the guys are going to lap me at this race, but, holy cow - I was barely a third of the way in! I was going to have to watch out for being triple lapped at that pace!

But mile after mile, I stayed consistent while the South Africans faded a bit and I am happy to say that none of them managed to even double loop me, though men’s champion Hideaki Yamauchi of Japan lapped me for the second time with less than 100m to go on my lap 8. That meant I got to see him finish and I could pretend the crowds were cheering for me! Of course, I hated him for being done while I still had twelve and a half miles to go. And at that point, I was feeling the pain - the stiffness and the twinges in the legs with every step that let me know I was going to be dealing with some very sore legs when this was all over. But my bigger problem at that point was a very urgent need for a bathroom stop and the nearest port-a-johns were three miles away! Those were my slowest and most uncomfortable miles of the day as there was absolutely no discreet place to duck off the course. But with business finally attended to, I was ready to get those last 15k done!
Smooth handoffs with no slowing down!
I had been closing on Meghan, who had been leading for Team USA all day, for a couple laps but the gap once again opened after my pit stop. Still I had her ahead to focus on and her presence helped keep me moving. As I hit the 10k aid station for the final time, our Team doctor Lion told me Meghan was “exactly 47 seconds ahead” so I put in a little surge hoping to catch her so I could have someone to run with for a bit as I hadn’t really been with anyone all day. I finally caught her on the boardwalk and got to run a few minutes with her. Even that small amount was enough to lift my spirits and I could tell we would both finish strong. But I had just a step more in me at that point and Meghan encouraged me to go ahead since time matters (scoring is based on aggregate team time, not places like X-C). From that point on, it was just counting down the kilometers and being thankful that this was the last time I had to pass every little landmark on the course. 

I ended up finishing 12th place in 7:56:48 for my 5th sub-8 100km. While I was a bit off of my 7:43 PR, I feel like I ran a smart and well paced race and it went as well as I could have hoped for given the circumstances coming into the race. Meghan finished right behind me in 13th for a huge 55-59 age group world record and Traci posted a 17 minute PR and stayed really tough all day to finish a strong 16th. The solid efforts by all three runners put us on the podium for a bronze medal! Additionally, this event was the World Masters 100km Championship, and I was second master overall for silver in my age group and Meghan and Traci were both “golden oldies” taking home top honors in their categories. The men’s team also finished third overall and Patrick Reagan had a remarkable last lap to pick up an individual bronze medal. The men’s team was composed entirely of youngsters so no masters medals for them! (Getting old does have some advantages!). All in all, it was a great day for the US Teams. The South African men's team did end up winning, but only by 5 minutes over Japan and Japan took home top individual honors with only one South African on the podium.
Ladies podium: Gold-Japan, Silver - Croatia, Bronze- USA!!!
Bringing home the hardware!
Besides a great day on the course for the team, I had more fun with the team this year than any other year, in part because the team was small and most of us traveled without crew and in part due to some spunky characters on the guys team. Sunday night after the race, we had a great time celebrating with the Finnish team and a few Norwegians at a wine bar into the wee hours of the night (hey, when you are old like me, 1:00 am counts as wee hours!). On Monday, Traci, Zach Bitter and I traveled Alicante for a little touring and a nice meal with Patrick and his support crew to wrap up the time in Spain.

I qualified for the team this year essentially “by accident” as it was a split in my 100 mile attempt at D3 and I wasn’t planning on going. Fortunately, Meghan made a convincing plea and I decided to go. Meghan is so wise! I am so glad to be there so that we could have a full team and the time in Spain was a great experience. Team USA needs more ladies and USATF just approved more funds to support the ultra World Championships, which will hopefully cover the majority of the costs in the future. Worlds are now going to an every other year cycle, so there is plenty of time to get ready for the 2018 event (location TBD) - if you are a speedy lady, please consider trying to qualify for the team.
Pre-race site seeing: Roman theater in Cartagena
Cartegena city hall and plaza 
Santa Barbara Castle in Alicante

The knights of the Santa Barbara Castle
Alicante Gothic Basilica
More beach front tiles in Alicante
A big thanks goes out to my husband Mac, who not only supports me but also watched our kids while I was gone AND spent Thanksgiving with my sister and her kids! - Heaps of husband super bonus points to him! Thanks to all the wonderful members of Team USA for making this such a great event and especially Timo, Lin ,and Lion for their leadership. Running for Team USA was especially great this year and I am even more excited now to be donning the national kit again next year for the 24 hour World Championships.
Recovery food in Spain means huge chocolate pastries!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

This I Believe

The week after Spartathlon was crazy. Monday night we attended the Spartathlon gala awards ceremony - dinner didn't even start till 9 pm after they had called up every finished to the stage for their award. Mac and I left early, though 11:00 is not my definition of early! We had a 3 am wake-up call to catch our flight and then ten hours of flying home, only to arrive 40 minutes after take off, due to the timezone differences. I was not recovered from the long day of the jet lag, but it was back to work for me bright and early Wednesday morning. Friday morning I was up again at 1:30 to catch a flight to Team Red White and Blue Trail Camp in Texas to serve as a mentor. Unfortunately, that schedule was just too much after a big race like Spartathlon and by Friday night, my voice was raspy and I wasn't feeling too hot. By Saturday, my voice was gone and I was dragging - I was sick. I did my best to rally at the camp - it is such a great event and such an easy way to give just a little back to our Veteran's - but really I felt like I just didn't engage like I have in the years past. And because of my voice and coughing, I didn't get to participate in "This I Believe", a time when other well known trail runners and mentors got to share stories from running that were motivational, inspirational or just funny. And so for this Veteran's Day weekend and a post election week where we need to remember what brings us together as people not what divides us, I thought I'd share what I had intended to say:

This I Believe


In the world of Ultrarunning, The Western States Endurance Run is one of the biggest stages there is, bringing together a Who’s who of top distance athletes for a contest of 100 miles through rugged mountains and canyons. At my first go at the race in 2010, I managed to eke out a 10th place finish for a coveted “Top 10” and a spot in the next year’s race. In my sophomore attempt, I ran a faster time, but once again finished tenth. It got me a spot in the 2012 race, but it left me feeling like I could do better and so I trained even harder for 2012.

All spring I ran higher mileage, I did hill workouts and strengthened my quads. I placed 5th at the 100km World Championships in a huge PR and felt like all the training was paying off and I was in great shape going into Western States, with a good shot at being in the top 5.  But race day threw a curveball at the runners, who had all diligently prepared for the traditional scorching hot conditions of the race. Instead of blistering heat, there was rain, wind, hail, snow and freezing wind and I did not have the proper attire. My hands froze, I couldn’t open food packs, I became hypothermic and my legs just wouldn’t function. By mile 40, I had borrowed clothes from several people and the weather abated, but I was still cold. I was drinking cups of broth at every aid station to fight the chill, but I wasn’t used to all that sodium and the extra electrolytes caused massive water retention to the point that I was more than 7% above my starting weight and the medical team refused to let me go on until my weight came down. I was forced to sit at a chilly aid station for two and a half hours before finally being released. By that time, I was stiff and my goal times had all passed hours ago. Plus the medical team was still worried about my weight and electrolytes and so the best I could do was slowly walk the final 15 miles to the finish, but I did finish. Most people are elated at the finish line of Western States; you see people who are just overcome with so many positive emotions, but I was crushed. My goal had been top five and I finished in the bottom five, ahead of only three other women. I felt like I had failed and that all my hard work had been for nothing. I was so disappointed and upset that the race didn’t turn out the way I had planned.

But in the days that followed, I received hundreds of messages and emails from people supporting me and telling me how proud they were of what I had done. They told me they were impressed by my determination and inspired by my perseverance. I now think of the Western States race in 2012 as one of the most positive experiences in my life because it reminded me of how many people are out there supporting me no matter what and that the time on a clock is irrelevant in the big picture.


This I Believe: People don’t love you for your accomplishments and the awards you have won, they love you for who you are and the values you embrace. People love you for your strength of character, not your strength of resume. While I encourage everyone to have big goals, keep in mind the goal itself does not define you or your worth, and that the hard work, dedication and connections to others that you make in pursuit of your goals are more important the the goal itself.

The mentors of Camp RWB at Camp Eagle

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Spartathlon 2016: My Greek Odyssey

It's been a long time since I have blogged, but if I am going to revive it, it may as well be for something big, and Spartathlon was epic!

The truth is, Spartathlon was never a "dream" race for me, more like a "eh, that might be interesting some day" kind of race. But my friend Bob Hearn ran it last year and was enamored with it and my running partner Dennis was also quite interested in it and spent time talking about how cool it would be to do.  So when the application period opened in January and Bob told me I had till May before I had to commit any money, I thought I would throw my name in the hat. Well, that was a very slippery slope! Sending in an application meant spending time on the website and learning a bit more about the race, so that by the time the lottery results came out, there was no way I was turning down my spot. (I met the auto-qualification standards by being at least 20% faster than the regular qualification standard of 24 hrs for a 100M run, so it wasn't exactly a shock that I got in, but I was still super excited to see the "Congratulations, you have been accepted to Spartathlon" email!). Well, on to Greece!

For those who don't know, Spartathlon is a 153.4 mile race from Athens to Sparta, recreating the journey Pheidippedes made in 490 BC during the battle of Marathon to ask the Spartans to send troops to help defend Athens from the Persians. Herodotus stated he left in the morning and arrived by evening the next day. And no, he didn't die when he got there! (that Marathon myth comes from a play written 500 years later, where the author took "artistic liberty" to make his play more dramatic). In 1982, Jon Fodden, a British RAF wing commander and lover of Greek history, set out to see if the feat was possible along with 4 other men. Three of the men covered the distance and the following year, the official race began. While the race takes place primarily on roads, one of the gnarliest features of the race is climbing the 4,000' Mt. Parthenion on rocky trail with 20% grade at mile 99. The race also covers two other hilly passes for a total elevation gain of more than 10,000 feet - paltry by trail standards, but when you are running more than 50% farther than a hundred miler, you feel that gain A LOT more!

Besides being steeped in history, Spartathlon is a smoking deal when it comes to racing. For 520 Euro  (about $580) you get 5 nights of hotel (plus a sixth night running!), all your meals, race entry, a nice luncheon with the mayor of Sparta, and a very nice Gala awards dinner with unlimited drinks included, plus some race schwag as well (finisher medal, trophy, 2 shirts, Greek food stuff, a race poster, free race pics and a race DVD). Crew can pay slightly less for the same room and board option. Mac and I kept a watch on airfare for quite a while and managed to get flights to Greece for $850 each. I'm not going to call it a cheap trip, but probably not terribly far off from what an East coaster would pay for themselves and crew going to Western States and definitely cheaper than Badwater! For us, traveling half way around the world is a big deal, so we decided to make the most of it and added an extra week to get the full Greek experience (cheap hotels are around 55-70 Euros/night). And in retrospect, getting there a bit earlier was good for getting over the jet lag.

After a lovely red eye flight on my birthday, we arrived at our AirBnB apartment in the Plaka (old town) of Athens. We spent three days in Athens, a day on the island of Hydra, and a day at the Oracle of Delphi. After an amazing week of touring, it was time to get into race mode!
The old Roman agora
 Athens, from the Acropolis
The original Olympic stadium
 The theater at the Acropolis
 The Caryatid columns
Hadrian's Gate
 Isle of Hydra

Delphi

Delphi
Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, picking Bob Hearn's brain on the race!

RACE DAY:
Bob and I ready to race
Team USA at the start
Starting at the base of the Acropolis was amazing with the marble all lit up in the still dark morning. Despite the fast paced "Euro style" ultra start, I stayed true to my plan, which put me in a whopping 99th place (out of 370) by mile 10. Sharing the streets with Athens traffic wasn't too fun, except it was cool how many people cheered and honked as the race progressed. I actually found myself a bit bored starting so easy and not having much scenery to distract me, so instead I occupied my mind with the names on runners' bibs, amused by things like Kevin Whyte dressed all in GREEN and coming up with song lyrics to fit the names: Luca ("My name is Luka"), Olaf ("let it go, let it go") and Chou Chan ("Ching Chong, it means I love you"). I hit the marathon mark in Megara perfectly, right between 25 and 26 hour splits at 3:46.

 Unfortunately, I did a terrible job holding the same conservative pace in the next 24 miles. I think several things conspired to get me a bit antsy and cause an uptick in pace: I was feeling good and warmed up after the slow start (yes, it takes me a marathon to warm up - ha!); it was joyous to run alongside the turquoise water with its cool breezes; bumping into Bob Hearn just before the marathon and having him tell me that our Garmins were reading long; getting greedy and wanting to be closer to 25 hour splits than 26; and finding out SIX women were ahead of me, when I had my sights set on a podium finish. I came through mile 50 at 7:14, going 12 minutes faster than my "best case scenario" splits for the 24 mile section. While I don't think the pace was taxing on my musculoskeletal system, I do think it started to tip my stomach for the worse. And with 100+ miles yet to go, you do not want your stomach out of line!


A scolding from Mac and the heat of the day helped me to rein it in and the next 40 miles passed in a blur of fruit and olive fields, views of the distant mountains, the long rays of the setting sun and the first bits of darkness with a million stars and just my little headlamp in the countryside. I moved well through this section, passing all but a dozen people, but it was getting harder and harder to take things in. Two pudding cups at mile 85 helped me on the climb to the base of the mountain and another pudding cup had me feeling good for the steep and rugged trail climb that starts at mile 99. As far as I can tell, I had the second fastest split of the entire race up the mountain trail- you can take the girl off the trail, but you can't take the trail out of this girl! I summited at mile 100.5 just below 16:20, still 20 minutes ahead of my "best case scenario."


 Miles and miles (and miles!) of Beautiful Greek countryside

And that is right about the time I was ready to be done!

I am sure a lot of it has to do with fuel intake. A couple 100 calorie pudding packs can only get you so far and by that time my stomach was just done. My legs were just one big ache going downhill and a huge blister on my left big toe popped mere steps over the summit, adding to the agony of the descent. I pretty much limped my way into Nestani at mile 106. Medical at Nestani had some magic fairy blister tape that was amazing. Seriously! - it went on like clear tape but absorbed water and formed a cushioning gel. If anyone knows what product this is, please let me know! But even with the toe taped and feeling much better,  I was in a super low. I couldn't take anything in, but also the mental load becomes so big at that point: you still have almost FIFTY MILES to go. Everything combined seemed like a crushing burden, an impossible feat and I was reduced to a slow miserable walk with a lot of self pity. Alone in the dark and cold with no idea where I really was and fixating on the ache in my legs, legs that would have to keep moving for another 13 hours at the pace I was going, I was seriously struggling... I spent more mental energy fantasizing about how to get a ride or a short cut to the finish than I should admit, but I just wanted it to be over. 20 hours of running seemed good enough! Yet, I knew I would never quit (or get a ride to the finish!). But somehow that was the opposite of comforting, like I was stuck in this Hell and I had no choice but to continue the torture.

In the late night, the fog settled in the valleys and the still damp air coupled with my sluggish pace left me chilled to the bone. I came into mile 115 shivering uncontrollably. I changed into every article of clothing I had, including my post race sweats. I got a thorough massage which helped with the muscle aches, but I was still shaking like a seizure victim and completely unable to drink any soup as I was spilling it all over me as my convulsing hand tried to bring it to my lips. When I left, I had no choice but to run (shuffle!) to warm up, which actually worked well, minus the two puke breaks! And then we hit the last long climb and I was back to suffering and walking.

Actually, at 4:30 in the morning it was more like stumbling. I have never had the "sleepies" before in a race, but it hit me big time in this one, likely the cold, lack of food and accumulated mileage taking its toll. Instead of blinking, I would take seconds long "eye rests" and I remember focusing on the white line of the shoulder trying to keep myself from weaving off my course. When I complained to Mac, he told me "No resting. Suck it up for another two and half hours and you'll be fine when the sun comes up!" That's some tough love! But stopping for a coffee helped and being able to sip juice again perked me up bit, too, so that when the sun did come up, I was indeed feeling much better...right until Mac told me, "the third place girl made up  huge amount of time and is only 17 minutes behind you!"

NOOOOO!!!! I din't want to have to "race" at the that point! 
"Well, then she is going to pass me," I told him. 
"Hold her off as long possible," Mac fired back. FUCK!!!

But I started to run. And it was terrible and not terrible at the same time. It didn't feel good, but it was doable. By the next crew stop, I learned I had clawed back another five minutes on the gap.  Well, just keep moving. And so I did, cutting across the highway multiple times trying to "run the tangent", eating up ground, and counting down the kilometers to Sparta. When the wheels come off, you have to somehow change the tires!

And then I was on the last turn, escorted by boys on bikes and kids that ran alongside. The sidewalk cafes were packed with people cheering as I deftly bounded up the stairs to kiss the feet of King Leonidas (the statue), all pain having left my body at that point. I MADE IT!!! Suddenly, the lows seemed so worth it and I was overcome with emotion. For 30+ miles I hated this race and everything to do with it, but at the end I had an amazing sense of accomplishment and I remember thinking specifically, "There are no limits!" 153.4 miles scared the shit out of me going in to this race, but afterwards all the longer stuff made sense - things like Joe Fejes running six straight days, the guys doing 3,100 miles in New York, Karl Meltzer on the AT, Pete Kostelnick running across the US (not that I want to do any of those things!). In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda tells a frustrated Luke Skywalker that there is no difference between levitating a stone and raising his space ship from the muck, that the difference is only in your mind. Spartathlon was my Yoda and it taught me that if you have the strength to get through the lowest of lows, you can DO anything! 
 Spartathlon was my Yoda! :)


In the end, I finished Spartathlon in 27:13, second female and 13th overall. That was definitely overshadowed by Katy Nagy's remarkable 25:25 win, but still the 6th fastest female time ever, 3rd fastest female "rookie"time and 2nd best women's masters time. While lovers of gnarly trail will balk at descriptions like "the world's most grueling race" for a road run with only 10,300 feet of gain, it was by far the toughest and most grueling thing I have done and it challenged me more than I even expected. Only after running it can I see why it has chewed up some of the best ultra runners in the world and why it has such a low finish rate (historically less than 50%). While running the race, I wanted nothing more than to finish and be done with it forever, but this is a race with a steep learning curve and I know I can do better.  And taking on a big challenge with the goal of achieving my best always gets me fired up, so don't be surprised if you see me on the starting line for this one more time! 
It's not super high mountains, but it is still super tough!

A big thanks goes out to the race organization for putting together this epic race and to the volunteers who staff 75(!) aid stations for hours on end. Also thanks to my mother-in-law for watching the kiddos and making the trip possible. But the biggest thanks goes to Mac, my super crew once again, who said this was also his hardest assignment to date and who slept a lot harder than I did when the race was over! Don't tell him I want to go back!
Podium!- The Sparta awards: starting at 8:30pm the day the race finished was a test of endurance in itself!
Athens awards gala
The post race Gala with Bob and race director Kostis
Spartathlete!

Monday, May 23, 2016

91% of the Perfect Race

People will tell you life is like an ultra - plenty of highs as lows as you make your journey. When it came to running, 2013 was the highest of highs, with wins at American River and Western States and a speedy 100 miler at Desert Solstice. But it was more than just wins and good race results, I felt great and the running all seemed to come so easy. But by Western States 2014 I was on a downward slide. I managed pretty good runs at WS, Angeles Crest and 100km Worlds, but everything felt a lot harder and they were all off my expectations. By 2015, things on the running front were hitting rock bottom. I limped though Lake Sonoma and Western States with sub-par finishes all while feeling terrible. I was dropped by Liza Howard at Leadville just a couple miles into my pacing gig and I gave up my US 100km spot because I didn't feel like I could represent my country well. And all the while, every medical test said I was perfectly normal and fit as a fiddle. 

Finally, finally I got diagnosed with asthma and things started looking up. I was getting treated and feeling so much better. I won 5 mile race, a half marathon, a 50k and a 6 hour. Things seemed to be going so well. Right up until I lined up for Gorge Waterfalls. Holy big bag of crap! I felt bad the whole week leading up to the race, but race day I just felt awful! I was hating every step starting about mile three. By mile 22, I called it a day. There was nothing that was so bad that I couldn't have finished if I had wanted, but I am not new to this rodeo and I knew just another finish wouldn't mean much to me. I quit but I didn't give a second thought to the DNF - I had bigger fish to fry. But first, I had to feel better again. During this time I was on some pretty heavy duty asthma medications - albuterol, steroid inhalers, oral anti-inflammatories and even a brief course of prednisone. I hate the meds - they make me feel like I am defective and weak. Taking them means I have to face that something with me isn't right and I don't like that. I'm an ultra-runner, I eat more veggies in a day than most people do in a week, and all my addictions revolve around exercise - I should be invincible!! But I wasn't; my lungs were failing me.  The good news is that the meds seem to work. It also seems that alder pollen is a huge allergic trigger for me and by the end of April their season was dying down. Everything seemed to be coming together as I headed off to Philadelphia for the Dawn to Dusk to Dawn  (D3) 24 hour race. But after everything I had gone through, my goal seemed a bit outlandish.

Ever since running 14:11 for 100 miles at Desert Solstice in 2013, I've wanted another shot, a shot to see how close I could come to Ann Trason's 13:47 World Record if that was my primary focus. I trained my butt off and did multiple long runs on the track, trying to pace exactly as I would need, but still, how can you tell how 30 miles will translate into 100?? And just to make sure I was in full panic mode, the RD let me know that the 100 mile mark had not been recertified after the track was resurfaced last year, so I'd have to run 267 meters extra to get an official time. 100 miles may not be that far, but 267 extra meters is really, really far. 

Race day was warm even at the start and I had ice in my bra and hat by 8 am. Still, I felt really good and I was right on pace. My quads started getting sore around mile 40, but lap after lap I was hitting the paces and it didn't seem to be a big deal. By mid afternoon the clouds rolled in, but so did the wind. And then it started to pour! I was fortunate to have Josh Finger and John Cash on the track with me and both of them were doing a few stretches at a similar pace so every now and then I'd get a bit of company and even a wind shield. I can't thank those two enough for letting me hang behind them for a mile or two at a time. I came through 100km in 8:24:51 (not 8:18 as reported) - perfect 8:08 pace. Everything was right on plan.


The pacing plan  :)


Cruising right along
Pacing with Josh in the wind


Checking the 100km split

Lap after lap, I was nailing it. My super crew was sticking right to the plan I had given them and if I needed anything else, I'd tell them on one lap and pick it up the next. I never broke stride. The bad news is that I didn't feel that I could predict what I would need more than nine hours in to the race so I only had a plan for that long. Let's just say the crew did NOT like that - lesson learned! But still I was cruising, passing through 12 hours with more than 88 miles, trailing only Ann Trason's marks for 12 hours. 355 laps perfectly paced at 8:08 and I was 7 minutes up on the 100M world record. 


Sticking to the plan ("1" = done)


Closing on 12 hours

My quads were burning now, but I knew I'd be sore after; it's a long way on a hard track, of course they were burning! But from a fatigue standpoint, I was golden. I didn't feel taxed at all. I knew I had a 100 more minutes in me, piece of cake! Going into this race, I thought my chances were exceedingly slim, but if you had asked me at 12 hours, I would've bet the house; I was so SURE I had it! But I didn't have 100 minutes left in me; I had 26 more minutes and then my quads shut down completely. It wasn't cramps, it wasn't bonking, it wasn't me feeling too tired, and it certainly wasn't my mind calling it quits. My quads were just dead and they had gone into full on rigor mortis. I took a gel, a salt tab, caffeine, 2 ibuprofen, a quad massage - nothing would revive the hunks of burning flesh on my legs. My cushion was so great, I only needed to hit 9 minute pace for the remaining 8.8 miles, but instead I pushed with everything I had only to achieve a disappointing 11+ minute pace. After 91.2 miles my perfect race went up in flames.

The crew version of what happened

But don't let my Gorge Waterfalls DNF fool you: I am not a quitter when I have my mind set on something. And one thing I said I knew I could do no matter how the 100 mile attempt went was stay on the track for 24 hours. I hobbled to 100 miles in 14:08ish and got my official 100M (100.16 M) time at 14:09:43. I then took a short break to change out of garments still wet from the rain and into warmer clothes and I set off with my iPod ready to walk the next ten hours and see the race to the conclusion. My legs didn't seem to work, but I was in good spirits and was doing well on fuel after a couple of puddings. I should apologize to my fellow competitors for singing so loudly when I most certainly do not have a good singing voice! Afterwards, someone asked me if I was singing gospel music, which I most certainly was not (teeny-bopper pop rock all the way!) so maybe I owe God an apology too for my bad singing! But as I walked, I realized the master's 200km American Record (20:20) was a done deal even if I didn't run at all. But what if I tried to run?? I was stiff and sore and couldn't do anything faster than a 10:30 pace, but I could run a tiny bit. And then I fell in with Connie Gardner, the Queen of tough, and was able to keep going. It hurt and it was hard but I could keep that 10:30-11:00 pace going. It was so far from those 8:08 miles I was cranking off earlier, yet it was so much more effort to move my nearly lifeless legs and somewhere along the line, I lost my stomach. But I was still moving better than I expected. Forget the master's record, let's get the overall record! My Frankenstein legs got me to the mark in 18:48:28, more than 30 minutes better than the current American best of 19:19:05.  I promised my husband I would get this record in 2013 and then didn't so I felt like I had redeemed myself.


I just need a tiny rest!! I was up three minutes later!

That was officially the end of all running. I took a brief rest in a chair to regroup, but three and a half minutes later, I was up and ready to finish even though I knew I'd be walking every step for the next five hours. Bob Hearn was still chugging away, pushing toward his own 200km record (50+ age group) and I told him he would catch me if he kept it up. "That's my plan!" he told me in a very matter-of-fact tone (he has a different version of the story, but that is what I heard at the time). My brain had a brief flash of competitiveness, but my legs wouldn't have any of it - it was very certain at that point that walking was the best I had! By dawn I had covered 143.6 miles, and while I could not best Ann Trason's 100M time, it was a small point of pride that I eclipsed her best 24 hour mark.

*****
Earlier this year a friend of mine confided to me that the Fuji Mountain Race is her dream race. As a Japanese American, the race not only represents a physical challenge but it has significant cultural meaning. The race course is challenging: nearly 10,000 feet of climbing in 13 miles and my friend is not a trail runner. But she is a tough and tenacious woman with a sub 3:00 marathon to her credit. "You should do it," I told her. 
"More than 50% of the runners don't make it in the time limit," she countered.
"You can do it," I told her. "I know you can." I meant it but she still had doubts.
"What if I fail?" she wondered.
"So what? So what if you do fail?"
"Oh, I'd be so embarrassed!" She told me.
*****

I had a BIG goal going into D3 and I knew it was a long shot. I didn't hit that goal, but I am not embarrassed one bit. How will you ever know what you can do if you don't set the bar high?? There are plenty of things I will second guess: Should I have done longer runs on the track? Would my quads be stronger if I hadn't stopped lifting? Could I have made it if the weather were better? Should I have aimed for 2:03's instead of 2:02'? But I do not doubt for one minute that I gave everything I had on that track. And for that, there are no regrets. I am not giving up on this dream. I may be old and have a defective set of lungs, but I am not ready to wave the white flag just yet!

While I didn't hit my main goal, there were plenty of things I did accomplish:
8:24 100km split - qualifying for US 100km team
88.23M in 12 hours - Age group world record and third best female 12 hour mark ever
14:09:43 100M time(officially) - New US track 100M American Record and 100M Age group WR, 4th fastest female 100M time ever
18:48:29 200km - New American Record 
143.6M in 24 hours - 8th best North American 24 hour run and qualified for US 24 hr team (Team USA liaison Howard Nippert says he thinks it is the first time someone qualified for both teams in one race)

All in all it was a pretty successful failure! ;) But the best part might be the sense of optimism I got from the race, the idea that I can not only find joy in running, but maybe, just maybe I can be good at it again, too. That being said, I do not know how optimistic I am for Bighorn in four weeks! Woowee - it took me a week just to walk again! And with essentially no trail training on my legs, it's going to be an adventure! But that's what ultra running and life are all about!
 So happy to be sitting down!
 Girls rule, boys drool! The ladies go 1,2,3 overall!