Monday, September 28, 2009

Hundred in the Hood

Hundred in the Hood was the obvious and most convenient substitute for AC100, being just a week later and only a couple hours from home. As an added bonus, I was already familiar with about 50 miles of the course from the PCT50.

Packing lightly for the race. ;)
Before getting to the actual report, I have to first give a HUMONGOUS thanks to Dan and his wife Carol, who were there for me to crew and pace, but also for pampering me and taking care of so many of the details. They did all the shopping and meal prep, plus they brought a trailer so I had an awesome bed right at the starting line! And Dan kept me on track (and on trail) for the last 28 miles or so in the dark of the night, not only pacing me to a great finish, but completing his first ultra-marathon distance run as well!

The Report (which is almost as long as the race itself!):
My alarm at 3:45 didn't seem to be early enough; I was so anxious that I was up before it ever went off. I ate and drank, got dressed and headed to the start where there were some words in memory of Dave Terry before we headed off into the dark.

The only other time I have done much trail running in the dark was at Where's Waldo. Like a foreshadowing of everything else that would go wrong that day, I had tons of trouble with my light. I couldn't get it to stay at the angle that I wanted, and every few steps it would be illuminating my crotch instead of the trail ahead. So this time around I rigged my light with duct tape and a spool of thread. Not only did this work great, but I was immensely pleased with my MacGyver-like genius.;)
Just a mullet away from being MacGyver

The first part of the trail is extremely dusty. I did some minor panicking about asthma resurfacing, but I had been taking my heavy-duty inhaler prophylactically for the last seven days and I knew there was nothing else I could do about it at this point, so I just let it go and settled in behind Floren Ansley, who had a very comfortable pace going. I passed Floren after about an hour and then I just stayed smooth up to the turnaround at Frog Lake (14.2 miles), trying to just be slow and steady. I walked a few little uphills and tried to stay very slow on the downhills. I got to Frog Lake in about 20th place, first woman, but Shauna Wilskey was only seconds back and Floren was close, too.

After Frog Lake, the trail goes mostly down back to the start. About half-way between Frog Lake and Hwy 58 (mile 19.2) I got stung on the butt, through my shorts, by some greedy insect trying to get at the empty gel wrappers in my back pocket. Fortunately, I am not allergic so this was just a pain in the ass (haha) and nothing more. The rest of the return trip was pretty uneventful. With her superior downhill speed, Shauna passed me right after Hwy 58, when the trail really starts to descend.

When I got to Horse Camp (mile 28.2), I tried to give Dan my head light, but Olga was telling me I had to keep it on. I assured her I had another one on the course and tried to leave, but she stopped me and made me take my light. I wasn't aware of this rule and was a little peeved at the time. It wasn't even 9:45am yet and I was damn certain I could make it to mile 55 before dark. If I couldn't, I figured I didn't want to be on the course anyway! But I put my light back on and headed out.
Olga guards the PCT to keep light-less runners from passing

Shauna and I see-sawed a lot for the next 12 miles. She has more speed on the flats and the downhills, but I am just a little more tenacious on the climbs.

At Red Wolf Pass (mile 33) I caught up to my good friend Geoff Donovan and his bud Andre, who were both desperately searching for an Aid Station. Instead, there were just two very apologetic HAM radio operators who said the Aid Station crew hadn't shown up yet. They let us have at their case of bottled water, which held us over until Warm Springs (mile 38.5).

After mile 40, the trail heads down for several miles and Shauna put a gap on me that I couldn't close on the next climb. Plus after 40 miles my climbing tenacity had waned significantly and so I think I lost my uphill advantage. But I was still feeling pretty good and having a good time with Geoff and Andre, and even got a little trail time with Mark Tanaka over the next section.

Our merry group of four arrived all together at Pin Heads (44.4) around 12:30 to find Craig Thornley and his crew frantically setting up. They had been told to be there at 1:00 and so were not really expecting us yet, not to mention the ten or so runners who were there ahead of us! Craig Tells us to eat up, because the next aid is ten and a half miles away. (There was supposed to be water only midway at Lemiti, but for some reason they decided not to set that up).

We set off together, but after a few miles I somehow get a bit ahead. One other guy passes me, but mostly I am by myself. Nearing two hours since the last aid, I see a trail junction. The aid station at Olallie Meadows is the only place the course leaves the PCT. We were told this would be excessively marked, but there wasn't a course marking to be found. I even stopped to read the sign ("Judd Lake 1/4 mile") but we were looking for Olallie Lake Trail. I was really suspicious, but figured I must not quite be there yet. Thinking I was close to aid, it didn't bother me that I had just finished off both of my bottles.

I ran for another ten minutes and then started to worry. Even with conservative 5 mph estimates, I should have been there by now. Ten more minutes and I started to feel a little demoralized. I was by myself and without water, plus I was confused: Did I miss the aid station? have I not gotten there yet? Am I going to be disqualified?? (We were warned at the start that the 3/8ths mile out and back to the aid was required and we could not chose to bypass the aid station).

Finally, I decided I had to have missed the Olallie Meadows aid station. Not more than 5 minutes later my suspicions were confirmed when an Aid Station appeared with a sign stuck in the ground reading "Olallie Lake."

"What aid station is this?" I ask. Apparently, their sign was not serving its purpose. ;)
"This is Olallie lake, mile 58.6," one of the guys tells.
I am frantic: "I missed Olallie Meadows! Am I going to be disqualified?"
But they are reassuring me before I can even get the words out. "Don't worry, everyone has missed it so far. You won't be disqualified."
A gorgeous day at Olallie Lake

The trail out of Olallie Meadows Aid Station crosses one other trail before hitting the PCT. Apparently, the trail was excessively marked at this junction; however, being as it was in the wrong place, the trail marking didn't help us one bit with our navigation! Some of the front runners' crews finally figured out there was a problem and got things all fixed up. But it was too little, too late for the first 10 runners.

After eating and drinking for a few minutes to try to catch up, I head off on the last leg before the turn around. This section is the most different from anything else on the course. The trail is very rocky with big uneven boulder steps. It climbs and climbs until it crosses a very exposed, rocky mountain face with just a couple of scraggly trees trying to push the timberline boundary upward. My legs felt pretty good going up, but I was getting some complaints on the rough downhill sections. I got to Breitenbush Lake, mile 65, in 11:17 - two hours and 24 minutes faster than my Where's Waldo 100k time! Just goes to show you how important oxygen is to running!

At the out and back, I saw that Shauna was about 30 minutes ahead of me. When we passed each other it was pretty obvious we both knew I wouldn't be tracking her down, especially with the big net downhill on the way back. Likewise, Floren was at least 42 minutes behind me, and it was kind of a relief to know there wasn't going to be any racing for place. I didn't think I was doing too badly on the way back, but Geoff and Andre made up a seven minute deficit and were right back with me at Olallie Lake aid station, so I guess I really was struggling with that rocky downhill stuff.

The trail to Olallie Meadows (mile 75) was well marked this time, just where I thought it should have been. I struggled to eat some food there - no real GI issues, but nothing sounded good - and then Dan joined me for the last leg. Except for aid stations, we didn't see anybody else on the trail for the next 20 miles and I was super appreciative that I wasn't alone out there in the dark!
Olallie Meadows Aid Station - finally! (BTW - you know you dig my socks!)

We get to the base of the last climb, back up to Red Wolf, just before 17 hours and I start scheming: "Dan, if we can do this three mile climb in an hour, then we have one hour to do the last 4.9 miles to the finish to break 19 hours and finish before mid-night!" I start getting really excited by this prospect. "That'd be really good," I joked, "because I turn into a pumpkin at midnight." I knew the last 4.9 miles (at least that is what the website said) were the perfect runnable downhill grade, and that even after 95 miles, I could do it in a hour.

So we start huffing up the hill, mostly power hiking, but running any little bit possible, even if it is only a few steps. About 45 minutes later we see lights up ahead, and I think we must be approaching the last aid station. I have total focus on the new goal and my game face is on. I tell Dan: "I have enough gel to last to the finish and I can't really eat anyway. Take my water bottle, get it filled. I am going to run through without stopping and you can catch up." So Dan runs up to the lights, but I can see they are moving funny, and then Dan confirms with a yell: "Pam, its runners. We aren't there yet." When I catch up, I see it is Geoff and his pacer. Geoff doesn't exactly look like he is loving this climb, but he still sees the bright side, "Pam, we're going to break 20 hours!" I share the joy for a minute before moving on; I purposely don't tell him that I am now planning to break 19.

Ten minutes later we see the glow sticks heralding the approaching aid station. Dan and I execute our time saving plan and I run in with a little bit of attitude, yelling,"172, in and out!" I slow just enough to confirm the mileage: "4.9 miles to the finish?"

"No, only 4.5." My watch says 17:54. Sub-19 is in the bag!

We run and run and even though it is downhill I can't believe how well or how much we are running. Dan's Garmin says we are doing around 10 minute miles, but I have taken a few 30 second walk breaks, so I am still using 12 minute miles to make estimates in my head. 36 minutes later we see two glow sticks and a huge wave of emotion just hits me. Up until now the glow sticks mean you are close - real close - to the next stop, but this time we see they are just marking the trail after it crosses a road. We go 10 more minutes, 18:45, and we finally see another glow stick. But then that one is just hanging there with no real purpose. On it goes, with a tease of a glow stick every 1 or 2 minutes. WTF??! Where is the finish and why are there so many f*&@ing glow sticks?

I am getting frustrated, even with my most conservative estimates and using 4.9 miles, we should have been there by now. And to make matters worse, I fall twice in the span of about two minutes. "Dan, I am pushing too hard and I am not watching what I am doing because I keep looking for glow sticks. I have to take a break." Fortunately, Dan's thinking is not clouded by exhaustion and he very calmly says,"Keep going for the next few minutes. Don't give up until you pass 19 hours." It was 18:56, four minutes to go. He was right; I could keep pushing for four more minutes. It was one of the moments that stands out the best for me in the race, the point where I was reminded of my goal, and my focus and drive were totally centered.

It'd make for a nice Hollywood ending to say I crossed the line in 18:59, with only three seconds to spare, but that's not what happened. 19 hours came and went and the finish still wasn't in sight. I certainly gave it my all, but at that point, it was time for a new plan. I figured there wasn't much difference between 19:01 and 19:12 and so I decided it was time to just walk it in. Only when we turned 100 yards from the finish did I run again, and even that was more like the waddle of a crippled penguin. 19:07:21 -second female, 8th overall.

I got a few hugs and high fives, and a big squeeze from Olga. It felt great to be done and I was so proud. "Olga, you underestimated me!" was all I could say, as she had predicted a 21 hour finish for me. Certainly, I had underestimated myself as well!

After the the mini celebration was over, I had to get to the burning question: "How far was that last leg? Certainly not 4.5 miles!" No, 6.5 was more like it, straight from the RD's mouth! If I had known I wouldn't have pushed so hard, but then again, I feel pretty good about finding the strength for that effort, sub-19 or not!
A big smile at the finish line!

Despite the kinks, this was a great race and a great experience for my first 100 miler! Thank you Olga and Mike and all of the volunteers!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mission Accomplished

I finished my first 100 miler (or was that 102 miles?) this weekend, the Hundred in the Hood. I exceeded all of my hopes, finishing in 19:07, 2nd female and 8th overall. Full report to follow after I get some sleep...if I can make it up the stairs, that is.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


OMG, OMG, OMG! 33 hours left to plan, pack, and PANIC!

After that, there is just a long, long way to run!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Six Days and Counting

Today should have been the finish of the AC100. Instead, I went for a six mile hilly run. At 8 o'clock in the morning I had a nice semi-circle of sweat soaking through my bra and I was thinking,"Man, it is hot already!" Yesterday would have been a long HOT day out there.

Today I got word that Angeles Crest was rescheduled for August 28th, 2010 and all of this year's entrants are in for next year. I can't say that I love that the race has been moved a month earlier - that should guarantee scorching heat for race day. How about moving the race a month later, huh? Why didn't anybody think of that?!? Personally, I think it is because Western States has had a couple of really hot years lately and the race directors want to make sure AC100 maintains its "Tougher Course" status. But if I was looking for an oven run, I'd sign up for Badwater - no, thank you!

My original goal for AC100 was "26 to 28 hours, but hopefully closer to the former." When I mentioned this to one of the AC100 race directors (hoping he could hook me up with a pacer), he was super polite, but he told me not to be "overly ambitious" or "set myself up for failure." The funny thing is, I thought that was a well-thought out and very conservative time. My formula included walking all 39 miles of uphill (3 mph = 13hrs, to me this was the most ambitious part), and running the rest (25,000' cumulative downhill in 62 miles!) at a mere 5 mph (12.4 hours), plus 30 minutes of stoppage/leeway = 25:50. (for a 28 hour finish the downhill running would be at 4.3 mph and still have a 30 minute "buffer").

So now I am left trying to figure out paces for Hundred in the Hood. The flatter and more runnable course actually scares me a bit more because it feels like it doesn't have the same built- in walk breaks. Hood100 just doesn't seem to lend itself as much to math formulas. And I feel like I have more uncertainty: How often will I need to walk? What running pace can I maintain for 100 miles? How detrimental will it be to not have a dedicated crew (like I would at AC100)? I would very much like to get under the 24 hour mark, but mostly, I feel like I am guessing. So I am planning for 22 hours, but saying "plus or minus two hours" in my mind - not exactly precise! Mostly, if I make it to the finish I'll be psyched.

Six days and counting...

Friday, September 18, 2009

Taper Time in L.A.

AC100 was supposed to start at 5 am tomorrow morning. The forecast for the San Gabriel area on Saturday includes a high of 105! Sure, I was doing some heat training, but that still sounds WAY too hot to be a pleasant run in the mountains. That helps to dissipate my disappointment over the race's cancellation.

Even though the race isn't happening, we have still been in L.A. all week. I am not sure why, but for some reason vacations seem to be detrimental to my running. It should be the opposite; with nothing to do all day but run, it seems like I should have no problem getting my workouts done. But I am a girl of habit: I need schedules and order! So I had a few extra days off for things like my sister-in-laws wedding, Disneyland, and a long day with relatives. All in all, the cut backs probably are keeping in line with tapering, but I am glad I didn't have to do any major workouts this week.

Additionally, I am less inspired to run here because all of the great trails that are just minutes from my in-laws' house are all closed because of the fire (including Chantry Flats (mile 75ish of AC100), Mount Wilson trail, and Bailey Canyon). No use driving either - everything in the nearby towns are all closed, too. There's been a lot of speculation that the fire damage will be severe enough to keep the Angeles Crest Endurance Run from happening next year as well. It is so sad that somebody started the fire on purpose.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Bouncing Back

I had a really tough time bouncing back from Where's Waldo. In fact, I don't think I bounced at all; more like I landed with a big squishy THUD. I was CRAZY sore - more sore than I think I have ever been. Usually, I say running an ultra leaves me less sore than a marathon. Even the PCT50 was a pretty easy recovery. But not Where's Waldo. I am not sure if it was the extra distance, the big climbs and descents, or the funny downhill shuffle-walk I adopted when I was having so much trouble running. Whatever it was, I hurt...badly.

Then my chest was still tight and I was coughing quite a bit. And I was pretty bummed out about my crappy race and new asthma diagnosis. Plus we headed to Iowa right after WW was over. For some reason I always have a harder time running when I am on vacation than when I am working and have a strict schedule. All this equates to a "Toilet Week" last week, where all the days were just flushed away! I had a lot of walking/time on my feet during that week, but my actual running mileage didn't even cross into the double digits!!
Feeling like Hell at the end of WW
(photo by Richard Bolt)

This week, I feel like I finally turned the corner and my sore, dead legs are finally coming around. I did 76 miles this week, which is a high mileage week for me, especially without a race. The mileage included a slow 17 mile trail run on Monday (3:01), a fast road 18 miles on Saturday in the pouring rain (2:22), and a strong follow-up effort Sunday (13 miles with 2x4 miles @ 6:58 pace (4 min rest), treadmill @ 1% incline - I had had enough rain on Saturday!).

Last Monday, I saw my allergy doc and got some new heavy duty inhalers and I haven't had any issues with breathing all week. Friday, I signed up for Hundred in the Hood (Sept. 26), so I have something concrete to focus on and I think that helps my mental state. And my awesome training partners volunteered to help out for the race and it so great to have their support (especially, because I know they think I am crazy!).

It's been slow, but finally, I feel like I am starting to BOUNCE.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Down In Flames

On Monday, my uncle (aka PCT77) sent me this picture taken from downtown Pasadena, the finish of the Angeles Crest 100 mile Endurance Run.

"Can they get it all cleaned up in 19 days?" was my response. My uncle wrote back all the reasons he thought AC100 would have to be canceled. About two hours later, I got word that Angeles Crest was indeed canceled for this year.

While the race had me scared out of my mind, I was also pretty excited for it. I was crushed when I found out the race was canceled. My cousin, who is not a runner (nor a particularly religious guy), had a different take: He thought this was a great example of devine intervention because I just got saved from Hell!

I am now left scrambling, trying to figure out what to do. I am not ready to call it quits for the season - I definitely don't want to end this year with the bitter taste of Where's Waldo still in my mouth. And I am still interested in trying my hand at the 100 mile distance. Hundred in the Hood seems like the most obvious choice (I'll have to resign from my volunteer post!), but I'm also going to look into options for October and November. I need to find something soon to replace my focus!