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.


Ronda said...

Nicely said Pam. Sorry to hear about your knee but when we talked at WR I could sense you were tired. Which you have definitely earned with your awesome performances this year. No regrets and some good rest. I suspect you will be one hungry runner come 2011!

crowther said...

Yeah, sorry it was not a good day. Some people can bounce back quickly (physically and mentally) from ultras, but I'm not one of them, and it's OK if you aren't one either (yet). I'm still glad I got to see you at White River even if your race wasn't the greatest!

Olga said...

Welcome to the crowd. Jokes aside, I sure hope you are not feeling guilty or anything like that. I not only felt a relief at Tahoe's drop, I had great fun for the next 2 hrs being there. Certainly first time like this:) We need to really listen to what our bodies tell us. We tend not to. We pay the price, either with injuries, or mental breakdowns. Turtle on, mommy...

Pam said...

Olga, I am a little disappointed that the day didn't go as planned, but the weird thing is that I haven't really been that upset at all. After Capitol Peak last year, I was beating myself up; this time I am like "whatever." The only time I feel guilty is when I try to explain why I dropped, because I can't come up with a great reason for why I didn't just walk it in. And then yesterday my daughter said to me out of the blue, "Mommy, you should have finished Angeles Crest," and that kind of broke my heart.

I won't be toeing the line with half-hearted enthusiasm anytime soon.

SteveQ said...

I learned the hard way that those who run 100s frequently (Monica Scholz has 12 planned in 12 weeks!) don't really ever race them. It'll take a while to recover from Western States; just pick your races carefully.

And, if you skip WS next year (you've got that automatic entry, though), you could nail Angeles Crest.

Pam said...

Steve - I think I will come back to AC sometime, but probably not for a few years (unless I learn to recover faster!). I am planning to do WS next year, I would love to take another shot at Waldo sometime, and there are a couple of other fall races I have my eye on, so AC is a low priority right now.

ShutUpandRun said...

"Setbacks are okay, too, if you use them to learn, to grow, and to come back even better."

'Nuf said.

Cheering for you over here!

Will Cooper said...

you picked one of the hardest ultra's so keep that in mind. Olga's right...we need to listen to our bodies...especially our knees!

Bret said...

Pam, nice to see you at the AS at Waldo. Thanks for helping out.

When it comes to your drop at AC I would say its like what 61 year old Nancy said to me at Waldo around mile 40 when I was complaining about how hard this was. She said "Bret, it's supposed to be hard!" You have had great success in the time you have been doing Ultras. I think as we reach these long distances we don't think we will have bad days. The body is amazing but we are still pushing it to its limits. And sometimes it doesn't want to go there.
You will do great things again when you are ready.

amy said...

Sorry to hear about your knee. It's interesting how different people respond to 100s and recovery. Some people seem to bounce right back, while the effects linger with others for months (myself being amongst this group). Here's hoping we both learn how to bounce back quickly (or stop doing the stupid things).

zbsports said...
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Hone said...

Bummer. I was out there on the course that day and was looking forward to meeting you. I heard you were not feeling it and dropped.

There are always more races. Hope you recover well.