Sunday, August 29, 2010

Angeles Crest

I was compelled to sign up for Angeles Crest after a "DNF" in my first 50 mile attempt at Capitol Peak in 2009 (not an official DNF, since I finished the 55k, but still a DNF in my mind). I am not sure if that makes it fitting or ironic that Angeles Crest ended with a DNF.

My day did not get off to an auspicious start. Putting my first contact in at 3:30 am resulted in searing pain, like the surface of my eye was being burned off. After getting the contact out and letting it tear for 40 minutes, I was able to put in a brand new pair without any problem. Turns out the contact solution I borrowed from my mother-in-law was a 3% hydrogen peroxide contact disinfectant - the surface of my eye was being burned off!

But everything at the start of the race seemed to be going well. I felt the altitude a bit when we got up to 8,000 feet, but I was making a conscious effort to run as slow as possible. The most notable thing in the early miles was the wind. It was howling, and not just gusts! A constant blast assaulted the runners anytime we were on the ridge or the south facing trails, making for an unexpectedly cold first few miles.

I stayed consistent and very conservative early on, third female, near four other guys who became familiar as we jockeyed back and forth. I hiked everything up and over Mt. Baden-Powell (9,400) and then started back down. Near the base, there were lots of hikers and they started telling me, "First Woman" even though I hadn't passed anybody. I was actually thinking that meant the first two ladies must have been so far ahead, that hikers starting from the parking lot wouldn't have seen them, but when I got to the aid station, there were a lot of worried people wondering where the other two ladies were. Flagging on the course was a bit sparse, but I thought it was adequate with two flags at every intersection. One of the ladies off course was a local who had trained specifically in this area of the course, which was made it more perplexing that she had detoured, but things happen, and there I was - first female!

I ran well to the next aid station, but the following section did me in. It was one of those sections that would look completely mundane on paper, but totally sucked in reality. There was 1.5 miles on the very sun exposed Highway 2, with a grade that doesn't justify walking but still sucks the life out of you. Then .5 miles on boring campground roads, a short and beautiful downhill mile to Cooper Creek, and then another very hot grind up to mile 37. By the time I got there I was bonking hard and I could feel my legs tightening up. I was ready to be done. Eight and a half hours to go 37 miles (and that was 19th place overall!)!! But they fed me and pushed me out.

The next mile, I was still in "Bonk Phase" and I really lost it on the trail by myself. My left knee was starting to hurt and I was miserable. Finally, the calories started to kick in and I could tell my spirits were turning around, but my knee wasn't. This was an easy downhill section, but the downhill was really hurting my knee and I walked nearly everything. I knew I wasn't bonking anymore and was thinking rationally, and I still felt like I did not want to finish the race in this state.

When I got to Three Points, Mac and his new aid station friend Jimmy, were not listening to my pleas. They got a medic to work on my knee, but it didn't seem to get better. They told me to leave, "just see if it gets better." But it didn't. In fact, it was worse as I got started, probably from sitting around so long. The next four miles were pretty easy terrain, but I must have run less than 1% of it. Droves of people passed me by, and when I got to the uphill, I still wasn't doing any better. In fact, only nine people on the day had a slower split from Three Points to Mt. Hillyer. I got to Mt. Hillyer and had them cut my bracelet. My race was done.

My knee was a big problem, but the truth of the matter is that my knee was only a symptom of a much bigger issue. I have been on a downslide since Western States, but I thought I could push through White River and Angeles Crest.

If I include my taper for WS, my last 12 weeks of training looks like this:
6/7- 45 miles (easy, one speed workout)
6/14-30 miles (easy, one speed workout)
6/20- 6 miles + Western States
6/27- 0 miles
7/5 - 17 miles
7/12- 50 miles
7/19- 56 miles
7/26- 4 miles + White River
8/2- 10 miles
8/9- 14 miles
8/16-25 miles
8/23-5 miles (AC100)

That is NOT a training plan for running 100 miles. Actually, that is not a training plan at all. It is more of an embarrassment than anything!

My left knee started bothering me after White River (but I can't blame it for my race, it didn't hurt till after), which is why the subsequent weeks have such low mileage. The lack of training and disappointing performance at White River slashed my confidence and I wasn't in a good headspace going into this race. Mac says I psyched myself out weeks before arriving in Wrightwood, and he is right.

In retrospect, I shouldn't have been on the starting line for either White River or Angeles Crest. A 50 mile race, and certainly 100 miles, are not things you can fake. Physically and mentally I was not ready to race and so I shouldn't have. The physical part was a big issue, but the mental aspect was the bigger problem. Even though I could still walk reasonably well, my heart and my head weren't in it to walk and suffer and worry about injury for another 18 hours.

When they cut my bracelet, all I felt was relief. I was so glad to be done; I wasn't upset at all. In fact, I don't think I had a bit of remorse until my five year old daughter looked up at me with big adoring eyes and asked, "Mommy! Why did you drop?"

Because Mommy isn't Superwoman. Sometimes she makes mistakes and bad decisions. Because sometimes the body is weak and the mind is weaker. Because even when I wanted to do it for you, it seemed too hard. Because you can't always be at your best; sometimes there are setbacks. But setbacks are okay, too, if you use them to learn, to grow, and to come back even better.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Breathing Easy At Where's Waldo

Where's Waldo Ski Run with a view to Waldo Lake

Last year, Where's Waldo 100k was a disaster for me. This year it was one big party. While I would have liked to get my redemption on the course, it'll have to wait till next year, as the race conflicted with Angeles Crest this year. Instead, our family camped out at Charlton Lake and worked the Aid Station there (mile 32) on race day.
Early Morning at Charlton Lake

We camped right on the lake and woke to serene beauty. The quiet was especially appreciated since the campers next door were partying late into the night. The silence was quickly broken by my two kids who provided a little early morning payback noise for our hung-over noisy neighbors!

Not long after daybreak, we were setting up our surf station for the runners. Tim Olson came flying through just after 9:30. He dropped his bottles, grabbed two new ones from his wife, and was out of there in a flash, leaving all of us standing around idle with our jaws hanging open. But soon enough, we had a steady stream of runners looking for food and a fluid refill.
Surf's up at Charlton Lake!

The family cheers on the runners

Liam with very fashionable and eclectic accessories: A Cowbell, a Lei, and a Machine Gun

Our aid station had a cutoff at 1 pm, so we had time to clean up and get to the finish line. But why would the kids want to watch tired, dirty runners stumble across a line of chalk when there was a huge gondola sprouting from the finish line??
So we went for a ride up the mountain, hiked around, and rode back down. After enjoying the BBQ, we rode up for a second time, because who can get enough gondola? Ok, well maybe Mac and I had our fills, but the kids thought the second ride was just as exciting as the first.

The Charlton Lake Crew all camped out by the lake again Saturday night along with Corvallis Waldo finisher, Mikio, who was moving around remarkably well. We enjoyed a big bonfire but nothing to rival the debauchery of our fellow campers, who were at it again late into the night (and early morning!).

The next morning Mac got in a nice three hour run on the trails (with a Twins summit!) before we packed it up.
Yeah, that face is filthy. Don't judge; we are camping!

On the way home, stopped at the Willamette Fish Hatchery, which was the coolest fish hatchery ever, and I am qualified to say this because I have been to a lot of fish hatcheries for some unexplainable reason!
The breeder sturgeon and trout
Free food! Fish food, that is.

A round of "educational fish golf" to wrap up the weekend

It was a great race weekend with none of the pre-race jitters!

Full results here.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Being Realistic at White River

This weekend the 50 mile National Trail Championships were held at White River in the shadows of Mt. Rainier. There are only two climbs on this course, but they are 11 miles and 8 miles long, each followed by jarring downhill sections of similar length. After the 3.7 mile gentle start to the first aid station, the only other flat section is the final 6.2 miles on the rolling Skookum Flats trail, which comes at a time when you are too tired to really appreciate it. This made for an incredibly challenging course, but the beauty was stunning. There were great views of Mt. Rainier looming above, dense coniferous forests, and nearly 20 different kinds of wildflowers in bloom, all on a perfect 75 degree sunny day.

White River has been on my radar all year, but I didn't sign up until the last minute. I have been feeling so blah and tired since Western States, that it just didn't seem like a good idea to run another major race so soon. But somehow over the course of two weeks, my mind transformed this bad idea into a good idea and so I signed up. I knew I wouldn't be at my best, but I knew the course would be beautiful, I thought it might bolster my waning motivation, and I knew it would probably be the only major run between Western States and Angeles Crest. But in the days leading up to the race, I was still kind of dreading my decision - 50 miles is a LONG way to run when you are already tired! In fact, I was really looking forward to the trip more than the actual race, as I was carpooling up with Amy Sproston and Yassine Diboun, two awesome runners I was excited to get to know better.

Before the day started I told a few people that I would like to be around 8:30 on this course, but 9 hours was probably more realistic in my current state. Reality slapped me in the face as I finished in 9:00:47!

I had a few estimated splits in my head for 8:30 pace, but from the get go, I wasn't hitting them. Nothing ever went terribly wrong on the day, in fact, a lot went really well: my food and fluid intake was really good, I stayed pretty consistent, I only took six S!-caps (heat training kicking in!) and I moved up as the day went on. In fact, I started in 55th/7thF and moved up to 35th/5thF by the finish.

There was only one minor disaster and it didn't cost me too much time: With about three miles to go, I caught a toe on the very technical Skookum trail and I came down flat on my chest, knocking the wind out of me completely. Isn't a reflex to put your hands in front of you when you fall?? Was I really so tired that I couldn't even move my arms into a position to protect myself? Well, hey, at least I didn't break a nail. I came up moaning with every breath and had to walk for a bit (at least enough to add 48 seconds to my time, I am sure ;) ). As an added bonus, a mountain biker saw the whole thing and made a point of telling me how bad the fall looked. What a helpful guy!

Even with the fall, there still wasn't one thing or one section that went particularly wrong. I was just running about 3 minutes per section slower than I had hoped and those minutes add up after 50 miles!

Though my time wasn't as good as I would have liked, I still am really glad I went. It was easily the most beautiful course I have been on. I had a great time catching up with old friends and making new ones, and after two years of ultra-running I finally crossed paths with my college classmate, Greg Crowther. But what helped me the most was talking to people about recovering from a 100 miler. It was nice to hear that it was normal to still be tired and flat five weeks after putting yourself through the ringer! Even Meghan and Anton admitted that they had a hard time recovering after their first 100 and that the recovery has gotten faster with experience. Sometimes you know those things deep down, but still need the reassurance anyway.

Top 10 women (photo courtesy of the random guy I forced to take pictures of me)

Williams '95ers bring home hardware (even better, Greg got cash for his sub-7 hour third place finish). Go Ephs!

My awesome carpool: Amy (2nd), Yassine (5th) and me (5th)