Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Trying to DNS at Western States

Ready to Run (and run and run and...)

To most runners, DNS is the abbreviation for 'Did Not Start.' But as I settled into to the climb up to Escarpment and all the anxiety, jitters, and hype melted away, I realized I would be fine and that things would go my way; all I had to do was Do Nothing Stupid. And so that became my mantra for the day. Unfortunately, I can't say I was completely successful on that attempt, but overall I feel pretty good about my first go at Western States.

At 5 am the masses took off from the start, ascending the slopes leading out of Squaw Valley, rising in elevation as the sun rose to greet the new day. Tiers of icy steps carved into the persistent deep snow assisted the runners in the final climb to the top. At the very summit, Chris Thornley was melodically banging his gong in the early morning light. He was offering passing runners a chance to strike the gong, but most declined, opting not to break stride. I thought to myself, "This is Western States, and I am going to bang the gong!" but the stick wasn't offered as I passed by and so I seamlessly shifted onto the downhill single track.
Summiting Escarpment, not banging the gong (photo by Olga V.)

The next section was a lot of fun, though as one person put it, it was immediately obvious who had no snow running experience. Yeah, that would be me! I was fumbling all over the place slipping and sliding. I fell four times in this short section! Mostly it was just my downhill foot slipping out from under me on sections where the trail went straight across a slope, but once both feet went sliding down the hill, dropping me squarely on my butt. But the snow was light and slushy so there was no damage. It was early and I was in good spirits, so I just found my ineptitude comical.

Though there was a lot of snow, there had also been a lot of melt in the last couple of weeks and in some areas, the trail was more like a stream with ankle deep run off flowing over it. Other parts were a boggy mess from all the water. Well, I may not be able to do snow, but this Oregon girl can handle some mud! So overall, I moved through this section well.

Nine miles in, the route diverted from the original course onto this year's snow route for the next 13 miles. This started with 5 miles of rutted jeep road with a few snow patches and mud puddles thrown in. Then came a 2 mile paved section of gradual downhill. This was a fast section and very easy to get moving. Several people estimate that this substitution made the course about 20 minutes faster than the normal years. I had the pleasure of running most of this with Jill Perry. We were talking and laughing and the pace seemed pretty relaxed.

The way I typically pace ultras is by judging my effort level as I run. This is similar to heart rate monitoring (I think), but I just use my own sense of effort, mostly based on my breathing rate and depth. However, I think this was a mistake in Western States, particularly in this section, since WS is notorious for "blown quads." I also know from American River that my quads aren't toughened for road running these days. So in retrospect, I should have been monitoring and buffering against quad pounding and not just judging by my effort level.

Finally, the road came out on the Poppy Trail, which was a sweet waterside single track with very gentle rolling. To get back to the regular route, the course made a mile climb up this clear cut scar on a brushy hill-side. This was not a trail, but an artificial route that was recently created to link the two courses. And by recently, I am talking within the last week or so! This was stubby little plants and stumps cut within an inch or two of the ground and lots of loose brush all around. About half way up, I caught a toe and went down HARD, but when I looked at my leg there was barely even a mark and nothing seemed out of place. That made five falls in 22 miles!

I got up to Duncan Canyon and was energized by all the cheering, everyone was so supportive. A volunteer wiped a bunch of dirt off my leg and commented that it looked like my fall was "mostly dirt, little damage," and when I looked down there were just two teensy little scratches on my leg. And with that I was off.

The river at Duncan Canyon was freezing. Halfway across the knee deep river, I was pretty sure I was going to have to have my legs amputated from frost bite! Tamsin Antsey and I leaped frogged up to Robinson Flat and then left there together agreeing that we should run together for a while, which was nice because I not only had company, but this was my favorite section of the course.

By Last Chance I had pulled ahead of Tamsin, but Annette Bednosky was into the AS right behind me. She pulled away when the downhill became steep, but I was able to catch up with her again on the power hike to Devil's Thumb.

At Devil's Thumb, my weight was still nearly identical to the start. The day was really starting to heat up. I doused myself, got ice in my cap and left with a popsicle. Annette was right with me as I was walking with my popsicle and even enjoying the popsicle stick humor (Why did the mother clam scold her children? Because they were being shellfish!). But she again left me in the dust on the downhill to El Dorado Creek. I tried to run as best as I could but all of the sudden I was getting sharp stabbing pains in the side of my knee. This slowed me even more than my usual slow descent.

Hiking up to Michigan Bluff, I really started to feel the heat of the day not to mention the accumulating fatigue. About a third of the way up I came across Devon Crosby-Helms and I expressed my surprise at seeing her. Unfortunately, she had been having a rough day and was planning to drop at Michigan Bluff. Though I was feeling better than Devon, I could tell I was wilting a bit in this section, too, and when I came into Michigan Bluff I was at a pretty low point.

My weight again was right on, but food was quickly losing its appeal. I hadn't been planning to sit, but my feet had been soaking wet for the last eight hours and I had a hot spot on my heel that I knew needed some attention. While I was sitting the PT came over and started asking about my knee (I had mentioned it hurt when I first came in) and then she went to work taping it to lessen the symptoms of runner's knee. She also tried to show me some maneuvers I could do on my own on the trail, but I couldn't concentrate.

While I was sitting there, Mac gave me a hand held full of ice and Starbucks frappuccino, and I downed it as it was the most delicious thing I have ever had! But then it was time to leave, and I was full of dread: 45 miles left to go and I was SO tired.
Me, at Michigan Bluff, feeling crummy, but looking sexy in my Sultan of the Sahara hat. Mac convinced me to wear it: "Anita Ortiz and Meghan wear than kind of hat." Thank heavens he didn't tell me that Anita and Meghan ran in chicken suits or that's what I'd be wearing in this photo! My knee is taped, but those crutches aren't mine! (photo by Olga)

Olga had an awesome pep talk for me: "You're fine. You are supposed to feel like shit at Michigan Bluff!" Fantastic, I guess everything was just peachy keen, then!

Sean could also sense I was dragging. As I left he says,"Do you know Bowhunter Cam from Eugene?" Kind of, I tell him. I don't really know him, but I have heard about our local ultra runner who is also a prize winning bow-hunter (and all around bad-ass). So Sean yells, "that's him right in front of you. You get up there and run with him!"

So I run up to him and say,"Bowhunter Cam? Hi, I am Pam from Salem." He is "Bowhunter Cam" and I am just "Pam from Salem"?? How lame is that? Anyway, we run down to Volcano Creek together and I am really just struggling, but I recognize it as the same drained and over heated feeling that I had at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. And then it hits me that I didn't take any ice or dunk my hat at the last two aid stations. STUPID! But it is not too long before we get to the creek. Cam starts to splash water on his arms and legs and I full on jump in! I sit down, lay back, and am completely submerged except for the little circle of my face, and I lay there until I start to get goosebumps. I come out completely refreshed, plus I think maybe the caffeine is starting to kick in. Anyway, I am ready to move on the way up Volcano Canyon!

My second pacer, Anne, met me at Bath Road with her husband and I made my way to Forest Hill in good spirits and feeling pretty good. I had another handheld full of frappuccino and I made sure to get really wet (hence my video at Forest Hill in the previous post). I took off with my first pacer Mo and had a great first hour with her. After that my stomach started to get queasy and I wasn't able to eat much at Peachstone or Ford's Bar. Mo was encouraging me to drink soda to get some energy in and I probably got in a bottle and a half or so. But my stomach just keep getting worse. I took two salt tabs and another about 30 minutes later, but nothing was changing. Then a nurse at one of the aid stations thought I had probably taken too much salt, so in addition to not doing well with food, I got all confused about electrolytes.

This year racers crossed the American River in boats due to the high water level. I thought this meant I would get to rest a bit, but our rower got us across in about ten seconds flat! Then it was a slog up to Green Gate. And by that time I was feeling pretty sick. I couldn't take any food, but I drank another bottle of frappuccino.

Pretty much every part of me was ready to be done at this point. I was tired, my tank was completely empty, I was queasy and solid food made me dry heave, and I had the classic "blown quads" of Western States, despite training to avoid this. Also, my left knee started bothering me. By the finish, my left knee was about 50% bigger than my right and it was all bruised up - maybe not such a harmless little fall earlier after all!

Updates on the course were really spotty and Mac had NO reception on his iPhone to get information, so I didn't really know exactly where the competition was. I knew I had been in 9th since the canyons, but we weren't sure what the lead over 10th was. My crew thought it was a decent lead because they had hung out at Forest Hill for about 15 minutes after I left and didn't see any other women. I like to finish strong and come from behind, but that wasn't going to happen. Unfortunately, I knew I was in survival mode and just trying to hang on for dear life.

I tried to run as much as I could, but sadly that was very little. Poor Anne didn't even get a workout pacing me. Mostly I was just powerhiking. When I got to Hwy 49, I was in bad shape. Mac said my breathing was out of control. It wasn't asthma, it was just exhaustion. The cooler still had two unopened bottles of frappuccino (we started with four) so I got the impression that the hand held bottles Mac had been giving me before were very watered down with a lot of ice and that I hadn't really had more than two regular bottles. So I downed another bottle because these were the only things I could get down. Well, it turns out Mac was so worried about me that he went to a store in Cool and bought more. What an All-Star! However, I normally lead a decaffeinated life and am very sensitive to caffeine. I often use caffeine in races as a little pick me up, but between the 5 frappuccinos and the 40 or so ounces of soda, I had about three and a half times the amount of caffeine I have ever had on a single day in my entire life! I truly believe that is what caused my stomach to rebel. This was such a stupid mistake because the nausea made it hard to run and it kept me from eating properly and even messed with my electrolyte plan.

Right as we were leaving Hwy 49 Angela Shartel comes in. I cuss under my breath at first, but then I notice she looks really dazed and I can't really begrudge her for moving better than me, especially when I am moving so poorly. So right as we leave I tell her, "Hey, you and I are number 9 and 10. Keep it together for just a little bit longer and we'll get those last top spots."

Time to heed my own advice! I could give up one spot, but how many other women were closing in?? So I ran almost everything to No Hands, pushing as much as I could through the meadow and down the hill which probably means we weren't running faster than 13 minute miles, but it felt insanely hard. We got to No Hands and didn't see Angela. We blew through the Aid Station and started the very gentle uphill to Robie, but nothing uphill felt gentle to me and I had nothing more to give. I had to throw in walk breaks and as we went the breaks got longer and more frequent. About a mile in, Angela and her pacer come jogging by. My pacer starts to run. I jog for two steps, but I know it is futile. "Let her go," I say, "I can't do that pace." A half mile more and we get to the steep uphill. This is the only stuff I like at this point because Western States taught me I am not such a bad power hiker. And so over the last 3/4 mile climb we are gaining on Angela.

Mac met us at Robie Point and he is ready to run and chase down Angela. We are still gaining on the power hike section, but as it flattens she is able to run much more and faster than I am. I just can NOT run anything uphill at this point. I know I am in tenth, with no insurance policy anymore. I just have to get to the finish line. When the road flattens, I tell myself there are no excuses, you have to run everything the last half mile, and even though it is a dreadfully slow shuffle, I do. As I run I am constantly checking my back. At one point two lights come behind us and I freak out a bit. "You're both guys, right?" I ask them. One of them jokes in a fake high voice, "No, we are just masculine women." They say the next woman is close, but probably three or four minutes back. "You've got this," they tell me and I knew they were right. I knew I could run it in to the finish. Of course, that didn't stop me from looking over my shoulder another ten times!

I completed 100 grueling miles in 21:36, for the fastest 10th place time ever (by 31 minutes!). Say what you will about a faster course or moderate temps, but I am choosing to believe this shows the strength of the women's field this year. I am honored and inspired that I got to spend the day running with such amazing ladies and I am super excited that I get to do it again next year!
Pacer Anne, "Pam from Salem," and stud crew Mac
Corvallis trail runners: F2(Meghan Arbogast) and F10! Go Oregon!

I am very pleased with my first running at Western States. I know I made some mistakes and I feel like I gave 9th place away (I had a 22 minute lead at the river), but I did accomplish my two main goals for this year: I went under 21:42 and I got a top 10 spot (skin of my teeth, huh?). I did what I set out to do, but I know there is room for improvement, too.
Montrail Ultra Cup winners (r-l): Meghan Arbogast (1st), Annette Bednosky (2nd), me, Jill Perry (4th, not pictured) and Joelle Vaught (5th)

Another great "prize" - the sign on the door from my 5 year old daughter when I got to my parents'.

Lastly, there are lots of thank you's to give out: to my hubby Mac who was an awesome crew and who put up with my WS insanity for the last 6 months; to my pacers for keeping me moving; to my parents for keeping my kids over the weekend without resorting to TV or junk food - I don't even manage that!; to everyone who offered up kind words and gave me encouragement leading up to the race; to all of the amazing volunteers who completely pampered the runners; and to all the competitors for making this all happen and providing so much inspiration.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


I have to sleep before I can write a full race report, but I am pleased that I accomplished my two major goals of gettig a top ten spot (barely!) and breaking 22 hours. I even beat my "private" goal of 21:42.

The day had its ups and downs, but here is what UltraLiveNet choose as the highlight.
See, Hal and Anton weren't the only ones the media was following around. ;)

(update- hopefully that video works now)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Zero: Go!

Race day! You can get updates here.

I am #117. I started dating my husband on January 17th and I am running my 17th ultra, so hopefully that number has lots of good karma behind it!

Next stop: Auburn, CA - Endurance Capitol of the World!

Friday, June 25, 2010

One: Check-In and Final Prep

We got to Squaw Valley today for mandatory runner medical check and race briefing. The day was cool and overcast, and I was freezing. But forecasts are still for the 90's tomorrow despite being in the 70's today.

Many marathons have big pre-race festivities, but all the ultras I have done (including AR50) have been devoid of all fanfare. This was a bit of a mini-circus with all the people, booths, and assembly line the runners had to go through.

At medical check I weighed in at 125! I know I have been running heavy this year, but yikes! I tried to blame it on my running shoes and being hydrated. My pacer Mo was working another runner check so when I went down to say "hi" to her, I casually stepped onto her scale...115. Ok, ten pounds is a big difference, so I had a little internal freak-out and then went to talk to the head doc to try to get her to change my recorded weight since they can pull you for 7% weight loss, but she assured me if I looked fine and not dehydrated they would never pull me, so I am officially running at 125, meaning that after 22 weeks of the hardest training of my life I am now heavier than I have ever been (non-pregnant)! Ha.

Meanwhile, Hal Koerner comes in and there is a guy with a TV camera filming him get weighed in! And one of the ladies at my tables is wondering if she might take a picture with him. What is going on here? Is this an ultra-marathon or the Oscars?? It was a little crazy but the excitement was palpable and it was fun to soak in all that energy.

At race briefing, I met up with Jill Perry and we shared a little about being moms and running ultras. We like to think being a mom makes us mentally tough!
Two Hot Mommas! ;)

Listening intently to all of the race instructions with my "crew."

The race briefing concluded with an introduction of all the people that "raced" their way into Western States. I originally got in through the lottery, but also got a spot at AR50, so I got included...that felt pretty awkward!

Joelle Vaught, Meghan Arbogast, Nikki Kimball, Caren Spore, ?, Tamsin Antsy, Devon Crosby-Helms, Nicola Gildersleeve, Jenny Capel, Connie Gardner, Annette Bednosky, Jill Perry and me. I kind of felt like I was the answer to the Sesame Street song "One of these things is not like the other, one of these things does not belong."

After the race, I went all anal laying everything out, labeling bags for the aid stations, and packing bags for after the race. All that is left to do is sleep...and run 100.2 miles!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Two: Reflect

With only two days to go, the on-line hype for Western States is reaching it's crescendo, with on-line polls, WS odds, and even a Western States fantasy league!

The hype is fun, but I also think it is good to step away from all that and remember the big picture.

In running, I have been so excited with my progress this year and the journey has been great. I had some low moments when maybe I went a little too hard, but mostly I am just so amazed at what the body and the mind can adapt to. For me both are stronger than ever. I hope to do well at WS, but a single day cannot erase a good season or the 1,473 miles I ran in the last 22 weeks to get here. Western States is just the party to celebrate what has already been accomplished this year.

Of course, I am hoping it is a really good party!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Three: Travel

We drove down to my parents today. My husband tried to sabotage all of my heat training by blasting the AC the whole trip. I did keep the seat heater on the whole way! It got in the 90's today and it didn't seem all that bad, of course I wasn't running either.

Today had to be considered a mental warm-up for the race. Eleven hours in a car with a three year old who started asking, "Are we there yet?" thirty-five minutes into the drive is enough to test anyone's patience and mental fortitude!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Four: Sharpen

I love the running term "sharpen." It makes me picture my legs like knives, cutting through the air as they run. This morning I did my last run of any significance: 5 miles with 6 x 1 minute fast to sharpen my knives, er, legs. My legs are now so sharp it hurts to run my hands over them. Oh, wait, I think that just means I need to shave. ;)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Five: Obsess

Sometime soon they are supposed to announce whether we will be using the regular Western States course or a modified snow course. So I checked the website four times just in case they may have posted it there before they send the info to runners in an e-mail. I can't tell you how many times I checked my e-mail.

I have also been keeping a careful eye on the weather, checking not just the forecasts for Auburn but also for Squaw Valley. Did you know the predicted high for Saturday in Auburn has gone up three degrees in the last five days? Yeah, well I did. Not good because I still can't get past 35 minutes in the sauna. Today I bailed at 25. The only bright side is that the forecast is nowhere near 180 degrees, so I am hoping I'll tolerate race conditions better than the hot box.

And most of my conversations seem to be about running 100 miles these days. Maybe that's because I try to slip it into every conversation. My water cooler talk goes something like this:

Innocent co-worker: Doesn't it suck that it is June and it is only 57 degrees?
Me: Yeah, well I am certainly going to be wishing it were 57 this weekend while I am running the 100 mile Western States Endurance Run where it will probably be close to 100 degrees in the canyons.
Innocent co-worker (so completely disinterested and walking away): Yeah, well, I wish we could get some of that heat up here.

Ok, maybe not that obnoxious, but you get the idea.

Last night Mac asked me, "So what percentage of your time do you spend thinking about Western States right now."

"87.9%," I answered immediately.

"Hmmm... I got the impression that it was higher than that," Mac replied.

"Oh, well it is when I am not working and the kids are asleep."

Needless to say, the event is looming large in my mind!!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Six: Shoes

Ultra-runners seem to be obsessed with the make and model of their shoes. In just about every interview I've seen with a top runner, they talk about what shoes they are wearing. On the other hand, I have never seen an interview with a marathon runner, or any other sports athlete, where they talked about their shoes!

When Anton won Miwok this year, he got a bunch of comments on his blog about his shoes! Nobody asked what did he eat, how much salt did he take, did he have a detailed race strategy, etc. It was all about the shoes.

Can you imagine some sports reporter standing courtside with Venus Williams, asking,"Venus, great job on your Wimbleton win. Your fans are dying to know what shoes you were wearing for the match!"??

I understand that ultrarunners are on their feet more than any other athletes and that foot issues can derail a good day. I know that it is important to have good shoes that are comfortable and don't cause blisters, but I am not expecting my shoes to have magic powers that make me run faster. Although it certainly would be cool if I could run like Anton just by wearing the same shoes as Anton!

I have always had a utilitarian attitude toward my shoes. For the first 15 years of my running "carreer" I just bought whatever pair of Nikes that was on sale at the local Big 5. The only injury I ever had was the season I bought a pair of Adidas, so I took that as a sign from the running gods that I should keep wearing Nikes. I know I had a few pair of Air Pegasus shoes, but otherwise, I have no idea what models the shoes were (maybe "Air Cheapos"??).

Then I started running ultras and decided to get "fitted" for some shoes and I was told I over pronate and should wear stability shoes. So I bought the "Air Stabilizers" or whatever Nike's motion control shoe was and I hated them. I think the motion control just felt funny. The next recommendation was the Asics 2140. They work well and I am on my 4th pair, but I suspect I would have been just as happy in cheap Nikes.

For trail shoes, I have been running in the Montrail Streak and will be for Western States. I chose them in an even less scientific manner: I won them. They seem to keep me running well so I am happy. I guess my only complaint is that they don't make me run like Anton. ;)

Have you found the perfect pair of shoes, or are you a fickle consumer like me?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Seven: Size Up The Competition

Ultra running is all about personal accomplishment and pushing your limits, but there is no denying the race aspect of it either. Especially when it comes to Western States, a race that seems to prompt more speculation than the 2006 real estate market.

It's not been a secret that I'd like to finish in the Top 10 and come away with an automatic entry to next year's event, so I can have this much fun all over again! But that is not going to be an easy feat, as the field boasts an all-star cast and will most likely be the most competitive race all year.

On the women's side, I think there will be two separate races going on: a race for the victory and a race to round out the top 10.

I am grouping Nikki Kimball, Tracy Garneau, Meghan Arbogast, Joelle Vaught, and Devon Crosby-Helms up front, with Annette Bednosky as somebody else who could factor in.

After that I think there are 11 women with a solid chance for a Top 10 (I'd like to think I am part of this group) and then five more women who just might pull it off if they really throw down a good one that day. That's 22 women for 10 spots! Top 10 will not be easy to pull off and there are certainly no guarantees! But isn't the challenge part of the fun??

Oh yeah - I heard there might be some guys running at Western States, too. ;)

Also up for grabs is the Montrail Ultra Cup. Annette is way out in front but that is because she has more races than anybody else. Since only four races count and Western States has the most available points, the totals from everyone's three best races are:

Devon Crosby-Helms 159.25
Annette Bednosky 155.83
Pam Smith :) 155.17
Meghan Arbogast 154.70
Jill Perry 129.94

I am so honored to be in the middle of that group of ladies, but I will freely admit I had to run 12 miles more than anyone else to get there (points are proportional to miles run). But there is no option to add extra miles at Western States to let me compete in that talent pool! So I'll put myself finishing in 4th, just outside the money.

The fastest winning women's time this decade is 18:12. Assuming none of the ladies run faster than that, each point will be worth at least 10.92 minutes. That gives Devon a 37+ minute lead over Annette and nearly a 50 minute head start over Meghan. I don't know who'll be first to cross the line in Auburn, but I think Devon can stay within the spread to stay at the top of the scoreboard and win the cup. Jill is an amazing runner, but she is going to need someone to DNF (please not me!) if she is going to move up on the list.

This guessing and speculation is all just fun and games to keep me busy in my extra free time while I taper. ;) I enjoy it because I am over-analytical, but I don't plan to get caught up in it. When the gun goes off, I won't be paying any attention to the race around me (well, ok maybe a little bit...) and just run my race, my way.

Feel free to add your predictions to the mix!

Eight: Nutrition Plan

In ultra-running it seems there are two camps when it comes to race day nutrition: those who prefer to eat "real" food and those who stick to gels, pastes and powders.

I am a real foodie, mostly because I can't do more than about five GU's before I want to gag (even though my stomach is just fine). I don't know how the gelnivores are able to eat that stuff for 20 straight hours! I am pretty much able to eat anything as long as it still tastes good to me. Mostly this ends up being a lot of "junk" food, the same things that are NOT allowed in our pantry and that I try to keep my kids from eating!

The nice thing about the real food camp is that the stuff is cheap. My two favorites: Rice Krispie treats ($12 for 54) and fruit snacks ($10.50 for 80). I can get a year's worth at Costco for about the same amount I'd have to spend on gels for one race! Also, being a real food eater, I know I can pretty much rely on aid stations for food. I love it when an aid station has home baked goodies! The down side is that some of these things (especially fruit) are a little harder to pack and carry on the run than gels. So my stash will be a mix of gels, bloks, and Costco/aid station snacks. I don't pay much attention to the content/sugar type/macro nutrient breakdown in my food. I just concentrate on getting the calories in and figure whatever sounds the best is probably what my body needs at that point.

So my fueling plan boils down to no plan at all! If it ain't broke...

Off to Costco!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Nine: Asthma and Allergy Control

I am an allergy an asthma sufferer. Both have affected my running in the past. Last May, I had Claritin induced muscle weakness which kept me from doing any serious running for about a month before I got it figured out. And then in August, I had my first ever asthma attack and it was a doozy, turning the 100k National Championships at Where's Waldo into my worst race ever. Fortunately, these are things that I think I have under control so they won't be an issue on race day (knock on wood!).

Last August, I started getting allergy shots for grass. I had a little scare in the form of an anaphylaxis attack, so that I am not up to the full dose yet, but it is smack dab in the middle of grass season and I have barely a sniffle! No more head full of yuck and no more allergy meds!

For the asthma, it seems to work pretty well to do a three to five day lead up with the steroid inhaler. Yep, hitting the 'roids right before race day. Shhh! Don't tell anyone! Just kidding, these are NOT anabolic steroids so they won't help me get big and strong. It does help my running, however, if I can breathe properly! I will be carrying my short acting inhaler with me the entire way on race day and I plan to use it if I feel even the slightest tightness in my chest (I did this at Bandera and in the Grand Canyon and never had any problems).

In addition, I have been taking Omega 3 fatty acids, Vitamin C and Vitamin E supplements for the anti-inflammatory properties. Do they help and am I sold? I don't really know, but they don't seem to be hurting any so I will keep taking them at least through race day.

So that should keep me breathing easy...well, at least when I am not hyperventilating thinking about the race!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Countdown Begins!

TEN: Heat

The final count down begins!! My mileage is in half this week and already I feel fat, slow and lazy. I think that means the taper is going well.

My big push is for sauna time right now. I have said to a few people about my ultra-running that I am not great at anything but I don't suck at anything either. Well, I am starting to doubt that statement. I might suck in the heat.

I really melted down in the Grand Canyon when the temps soared. At the time it was a positive experience because I was able to turn it around and snap out of it. But now I am finding I really hate the sauna, too. I sweat like a pig and feel so mentally out of it. I can barely focus on a People magazine while I am in there, and that is a far cry from rocket science! Hopefelly, these suffer-fests are affecting some miraculous adaptations so I don't even notice the heat at WS.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Best Weekend Trip Ever!

Last weekend (June 4-7 ...I took too long finishing this up) was the weekend of The Last Big Run, and I had the extreme privilege to join Meghan Arbogast, Rob Cain and John Price on a Rim to Rim to Rim double crossing of the Grand Canyon, a 47 mile jaunt with 11,000+ feet of climbing with elevations up t0 8400' on a day that topped out at 112 degrees. It was every sort of training you could ever want for Western States with majestic scenery all around.

Most people start from the South Rim, but we had our base camp in a cute little cabin on the North Rim. We hit the trail head just before 5:30 and made our way down the North Kaibab to Phantom Ranch, enjoying pre-dawn cool temps and shade from the canyon walls.

From there it is UP, UP, UP to the South Rim with the last four miles to the top a long steep march. Fortunately, we only got caught behind one mule train for a short while so the day contained only a small section of wading through mule piss. Once you get above Indian Gardens, the tourists hit the trail en masse so there is plenty of entertainment on the climb. Seriously, why would anybody be on the trail in a strapless dress and ballet flats?? Hopefully to make us laugh, because we did. Plenty of other interesting people out for a little hike as well.

The nice thing about going N to S is that we were able to stop for lunch at the half way point on tourist-y South Rim, whereas the North Rim offers nothing more than a parking lot at the trail head. So we had a nice stop for lunch, where I had the best tasting grilled cheese sandwich ever along with some fries and a big rootbeer to wash it down.

When we started back down, I couldn't believe how good I felt. As we started running down the steep trail, I could feel my full belly, but my legs felt great and there was no stiffness at all from sitting around for 45 minutes to eat. Meghan wanted to add a side trip out to Plateau Point to make the run an even 50 miles and I told her for sure I was going because I wanted 50 miles, too. And then, in a matter of minutes, things all went haywire.

We had just passed the three mile house about thirty minutes into our descent and I just started to feel extreme fatigue. The noon day sun was beating down on us and I was just melting. The effort to run went up exponentially, even though everything was still all downhill. We got to Indian Gardens and the thermometer read 112 degrees, which is about 40 degrees warmer than any temps we've seen in Salem this dismal spring.

I knew there was a LONG way to go before we were done for the day, so I ended up bailing on the trip to plateau point, but Meghan was rock solid and set on getting in the extra miles, so we all lazed at Indian Gardens while Meghan alone ventured out to the point. We spent the time at Indian Gardens tending to a guy suffering from heat and offering him all kinds of ultra-type advice on fueling, nutrition and salt as well as giving some of our supplies to help perk him up.

Meghan got back and was ready to keep on rolling. I was OK for a couple of miles and then just started losing it again. Every time Meghan would walk, I would be so thankful. I gave an inward groan every time we had to start running, but I managed to keep up until we got to Phantom Ranch. There I just slumped onto the counter waiting to order my lemonade. I was starting to worry about getting out of the canyon before dark!

We sat for a while and I pounded my ice cold "lemmy" and then chugged a liter of ice water (ah, ice! so much nicer than drinking warm water!). I made myself eat a double bag of M&M's and a bag of pretzels, I took three S-caps and then went and totally submerged myself in the Bright Angel Creek. I came out totally revived and ready to roll!

Meghan later told me: "I didn't want to say anything at the time, but you looked really bad at Phantom Ranch."

We ran most of the seven miles up to Cottonwood camp with two stops to jump in the creek. After Cottonwood is the steepest stuff of the day, almost all hiking to the top. But this is the most gorgeous part of the canyon with huge rock walls towering overhead in a deep red color (much darker than the South side). Plus the temps were starting to fall and the walls provided lots of shade.

We got to the Supai tunnel and ran into a pair of rim to rim hikers, one of whom was suffering badly. We offered what we could but we were anxious to get going. I definitely gained a spring in my step knowing we had only two miles to the top!

With a whoop we arrived at our starting point just under 14 hours after starting and with plenty of daylight to spare!

The next day, I awoke with sore calves but everything else was feeling pretty good. We continued our weekend adventure in Zion, NP with another two and a half hours of running/hiking which included tackling the crazy climb to Angel's Rest - that steep little spine of jagged rock in the picture.

We thought that was the end of our excitement, but a blown tire on the way back to the airport kept us on our toes. We had a mad scramble to make our flight, but everything ended on a happy note.

The whole weekend was amazing with phenomenal scenery as the backdrop for some awesome running!