Sunday, August 23, 2009

Choking Under Pressure - Literally!

Because of strong finishes at Peterson Ridge, MacDonald Forest, and especially the PCT50, I knew just about ANY finish time at Where's Waldo would cement the Oregon Trail Series victory for me. But winning the Oregon Trail Series is like being the biggest kid at the children's table. I was kind of hoping to have a good race and show that I was ready to move up to the adult table.

I started the race conservatively, walking almost all of the first climb and all of the steeper stuff on the way up Fuji. By the time I got to the first climb up twins, I was feeling pretty good and the grade wasn't too bad so I was able to run pretty much all of it. I caught up to Shauna Wilskey at the Twins Aid Station, but she put a little distance on me during the downhill.

I left the Charlton Lake Aid Station (mile 32.0, with more than half the race climbing already done) at 5:50, ten minutes ahead of what I had been hoping for. In my mind I budgeted 3:36 (including AS stops) to go the 17.4 miles to the base of Maiden Peak, 1 hour to climb Maiden, and around 90 minutes for the 9.4 downhill miles to the finish. I thought those were all reasonable, and so I figured if I held it together, I could sneak in right under 12:00. Of course, 100k is 25% longer than anything else I have ever run, so I decided I would consider anything under 12:15 a good effort. HA! I finally crossed the line in 13:41; I would have been ecstatic to have a 12:15!

Everything blew up about a mile before Road4920 Aid Station (Mile 37.2), around 6:30 in the race. Running through the sunny, exposed section, a feeling of complete exhaustion came over me. My heart rate went up; my breathing became more labored. I thought maybe I had pushed Twins too hard since I ran almost the whole thing, though it didn't seem like I was pushing too hard at the time. Or maybe the sun made me hot? I sponged down at the AS and put ice in my hat and started the run up the back side of Twins. The back side was just as runnable as the front, only this time I was walking all of the ups. I just felt so TIRED, like the effort was tremendous. I had a sense of I-don't-want-to-run beyond anything I have ever felt before.

At the Twins Aid Station I got lots of individual attention from a volunteer. We decided maybe I needed more electrolytes, since I hadn't taken any in over an hour, and my fingers were a bit puffy. I also thought maybe my normal fueling wasn't enough since this course was more physically demanding. Yes, we were definitely grabbing at straws, but I was just looking for something to perk me up! So I chowed a cup of salty Ramen, a pancake, some M&M's, 2 S-caps! and took a frozen juice bar for the road. It is all downhill leaving the Twins AS, but I walked while eating my juice bar, because I still just didn't feel like I had the energy to run, even downhill. Finally, my bar is gone and I have no excuses so I do my best at running. Soon the trail heads up to the base of Maiden Peak - all very runnable grade - but I use the uphill as an excuse to walk again.

I am actually relieved to have to climb Maiden Peak, because even when I was feeling good I knew I'd be walking almost this whole thing, so I didn't feel guilty to be walking it at that point. But, man, was I walking slow! And the effort feels like it is killing me. I actually stop to rest THREE times on the way up! The first rule of Ultra-running is: Always keep moving. What kind of runner just stands on the side of the trail?? But my heart rate was through the roof! I thought I was going to have a heart attack. And I just couldn't seem to catch my breath even though I was panting like crazy. I must have gotten passed by about five people going up this thing, and even though they commented about the steep climb, they were all motoring right up. I decided I must be one of those people who are very sensitive to altitude and I was having altitude sickness. It was supposed to be a one hour climb; it took me 1:19:45.

On the way down, I couldn't run at first, but that was because the trail was so rocky. Once I got to the dirt, though, I still couldn't run. Even though gravity should have been doing most of the work, my heart was still racing and my breathing was so hard. Well, I was still at altitude, I reasoned, so I must still be feeling the effects.

At the last Aid Station, I literally collapsed onto the table. Everyone there was great and so positive. They sponged me down, put icy spray on my legs, dug trash out of all my pockets, told me horrendous lies about looking good, and even poured me a frappuccino, but it did nothing to help my physical or mental state. I had 7.5 miles to go, nearly all downhill - which should have made for some very nice running even at the end of a 100k, but I couldn't get anything going. And I was so miserable and drained, I was suppressing tears the whole way. I would try to run, and make it about 50 seconds before I'd get so tired that I would start to feel unwell. And then I'd walk for about 5 minutes, before trying to run another 50 seconds. My goal was always to count to 100 (one one thousand...) while running. In that whole seven and a half miles, I never once made it to 100. Even when I was walking in and I could see the finish line, I was worried about how far out I could start picking it up in order to cross the finish line running and not have to stop before I actually got to the line.

After I finish, I still was just numb with exhaustion and a sense of malaise. And I was still breathing so hard. I changed my clothes and went to lay down in my car. I just didn't feel good at all. I stayed in the car for about 20 minutes, but my breathing was actually getting worse. I started coughing and then I developed audible wheezing - so at that point I reported to the medical tent.

Monica, one of the ski patrol medical team, got me all settled in and listened to my lungs. Her verdict: "They sound horrible!" My resting heart rate was still 100 (normally low 50's) an hour after finishing the race! If it was that high just laying in my car, you can image how high it was going up Maiden! And my pulse-ox (the percentage of your blood that is oxygenated) was down to 92% (normally 99%). 7% drop may not sound like much, but people usually need supplemental oxygen when it gets around 90%. 92% would definitely make me feel severely short of breath. Plus who knows if it was even lower while running.

"You're having a bad asthma attack," Monica tells me.
"But I don't have asthma," I argue. She wants to know if I have had anything like this before. Well, oh yeah, one of the bad things about my PCT race was that I developed a hacking cough, like an asthmatic would have (see "the bad#3). But that was after the race, it didn't affect my run. In retrospect, I spend the day after most ultras breathing pretty heavy, but I always thought that was because my body was tired and I needed extra oxygen to recover. (This post makes me think my reasoning isn't always so good, I mean, extra oxygen, altitude sickness, electrolyte imbalance??).

So just when I was starting to feel so great after solving the Claritin mystery, my running takes another medical hit.

I was a wreck when I got home, once again suppressing tears, babbling on about having such a horrible race; about feeling completely miserable and hating running for about 7 hours that day; about having a new chronic disease and who knows what that means; about being completely freaked out now about Angeles Crest because if I have an asthma attack there I know I am done; by how disappointed I was to not be a part of the race at the top (4th place was probably out of reach, but 5th place was 12:00 and 6th was 12:05. Even with a good day, there is still a good chance those two would have been ahead of me, but I like to think I would have at least been in the mix).

Leaving Waldo with my disappointing 9th place medal weighing heavily in my pocket (9th place ribbon color = black, so appropriate!), I was in such a foul mood, thinking I would never go back to that horrible race. But today my hysteria has abated some, and I can appreciate the race and the beauty of the course a bit more. Rather than running away, redemption seems a better option. Where's Waldo?? Well, next time I find him, I am planning to kick his ass, just like he kicked mine!

Until then, I'll still be sitting at the children's table.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Is Trespassing OK For The Sake OF A Good Run

Okay, the obvious answer is NO, and I know that. But aren't there shades of trespassing, and maybe some aren't so bad?

For example, the city of Salem owns a dirt road that parallels the railroad track and one of the busiest streets in town. The road goes just under a mile and a half from downtown to Minto Brown Park, which is by far the best place in Salem to run. The first time I ran with the Governor's Cup group, I just blindly followed the guys onto this road and was delighted. This is pretty much part of the standard Saturday route. We aren't the only ones using it, as we usually see several other groups of runners on that stretch each weekend.

But if you were to pause for a minute as you run around the car barrier, you'd notice a posted sign: No Trespassing. I guess all the runners choose not to notice. The word around town is "The city doesn't care," which I take to mean "People don't ever get busted for being here." But really, what harm are we doing?? This is municipal property and we are citizens. We aren't tromping through somebody's private holdings. And we are otherwise a very law abiding group: we don't cause trouble, we don't litter, we don't even impact the flora and fauna!

With the attitude of "I am not hurting anything" I have added other trespasses to my running repertoire. One is another city dirt road, which is only about 200 yards long, by the city water station. Likely the No Trespassing edict is there to keep people away from the water supply, but I am not there to contaminate any water. That little stretch is the only way to get from the east side of Croissan Mountain to the west, which is good for making a long loop.

Another place I regularly go is a little trail, maybe only 3/8ths of a mile, that travels down a steep hill and also leads to Minto Brown. This doesn't exactly say No Trespassing, in fact, it used to be a public trail, but now a sign a both ends says "Trail Closed. Trecherous conditions." At the bottom there is a little part of the trail that has eroded and so is quite narrow, but I think it is a little bit over-dramatic to call it "trecherous." I have certainly never feared for my safety while running here.

And then there is the City View Cemetery. The cemetery is open to the public starting at 6am (summer) or 7am (winter), even on holidays. But sometimes (especially in the winter) our pre-dawn Tuesday/Thursday group gets there before the automobile gate is officially open. Of course, we stay on the roads. And so far, we haven't gotten any complaints from the residents. ;)

And what about private roads?? I've been wondering if those are okay to run on. If there are multiple houses on the road, how private is it really? Wouldn't it be ok to run on them?

As I said, I respect an individual's property. My trespasses seem so justifiable. I am just a harrier looking for a good run within the city; I am not a hooligan or a I got busted on private property!

We live in a housing devolpment on the top of a hill. The south side of the hill is almost all forest. My neighbor owns many acres (25? 30? more?- not really sure) and has said we can walk on it. More than 100 acres is owned by a guy a couple of blocks away, who was the selling agent for our house, and who we know fairly well. Last weekend I got bold and jumped a gate into the forest. Right there - a quarter mile from my house! - was one of the best places to run in this city. The forest opens onto a poorly tended Christmas tree farm, with a road around the perimeter. The scenery is nice, it is very isolated, and there are fantastic views to the valley below (sadly it's just over a mile, but that is a lot of trail for Salem). That run was so nice, I went for a repeat today. Only this time I ran into a guy about my age in a truck. So I put on a cute smile, innocent look and dumbly say,"Hi. Is this your property?"

It was (well, actually his dad's, the real estate agent). I apologize, say I was looking for my neighbor's property because I had permission to be there. Well, he knows my neighbors and then we get to chatting for like 15 minutes because we have all these small world connections (because, duh, this is Salem) and everything ends fine and he says go ahead and run here today.

I plan to contact his dad and get official permission before heading out there again. And if he really says no, I won't do any more trespassing. Well, except for all the other places I need to trespass for good runs. ;)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Casualties of the PCT

The toenail casualty count was much higher than expected after the PCT50: 5 toes now sport gruesome empty beds (first two each foot, plus right 4th). I was thinking it was only going to be three. Longer race, bigger price, I guess. I am a bit disappointed because it is the first time I have lost toenails since getting a half size bigger shoe and wearing Drymax socks last December and I was kind of getting used to having ten toenails for once. I am in two weddings in the next month (with open toe shoes) and it is not going to be pretty! The girls' day pedicure appointment with my sister-in-law should be interesting, though.

On the bright side, my chances of losing toenails at Where's Waldo this weekend just went down fifty percent!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Why I Am Not A Dog Person

I don't really like dogs, but I spend most of my time pretending I do. It's a Dog World out there and people who don't like dogs are viewed as strange, unloving or uptight, so I try to fake it, mostly in a way that requires me to have as little contact with dogs as possible. I am not really afraid of dogs, they just seem big and hairy and smelly and messy and way too much work. Frankly, I just don't see the point.

And then there are days like today, when dogs become more than just a nuisance but a major pain in the neck.

Last week when my parents came to visit, my mom brought a map of Salem. The map seemed to have a lot of errors; namely, the map had country roads where I am pretty sure none exist. It was like the map tried to anticipate future roads, but many of them never came to fruition - like the housing development down the street that got denied, but still made it on to the map. So when the map showed a little country road by our house (which I assumed was a dead end) going through to the main road, I was skeptical. But I figured it didn't hurt to check it out.

The road did dead end at a very nice house with two HUGE yellow labs sitting on the grass. They looked friendly enough, but I made an about face as soon as I spied them. Well, they come tearing after me and start jumping all over me. I drop my water bottle and one of them grabs it and runs off. I keep walking slowly down the road and the other dog falls along beside me, no longer "attacking" me with his "friendly" nature. So I walk back up to the house and the first dog is having a great time with my water bottle. I get the attention of the owner in the living room, who gets the bottle back and assures me the dogs are "very friendly." Fantastic, Buddy, but they still scared the crap out of me and ruined my water bottle.

Nice try Friendly Dogs, but you failed to win me over.