Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Deja Vu at Western States

Western States 2010: Though my first WS, I thought I could get 8th, but struggled mightily the last 20 miles. I ran up to Robie in 10th place with 11th closing fast. I ran my last mile in total paranoia, checking my back about every three seconds. I managed to hold off 11th place by just four minutes! I ended up F10 and third in the Montrail Cup.

Western States 2011: The field was stacked but I was in much better shape this year, so again, I was thinking I could get 8th. But I had a few low patches early, rallied in the middle and then struggled mightily the last 20 miles. I ran up to Robie in 10th place with 11th closing fast. I ran my last mile in total paranoia, checking my back about every three seconds. I managed to hold off 11th place, by, yep, 4 minutes! I ended up F10 and third in the Montrail Cup.

The biggest difference was that I was 56 minutes faster than last year, just to end up in the same place! And of course, there were many differences in the details of the day, but still there were so many similarities between this year and last that there was definitely a sense of deja vu when it was all said and done.
Last year I ran 21:36, but my goal going into WS this year was sub-20, which I not only thought would be totally doable but also necessary for a Top 10 given the depth of the field. My last 20 miles last year were terrible, and I knew I could gain a lot of time there. I ran 9:24 from Foresthill to the river when the average for the top 15 women was around 8:30. So I was figuring I could improve almost an hour just over the last 38 miles alone and then hopefully pick up another 36 minutes or so in the first 62 miles.

The day started well with the climb up to Escarpment. I was in a huge group in the middle of the pack and feeling good. After summiting, the snow got crazy! The "trail" traversed large icy fields with very little grip; there were slushy areas with very unstable footing; and there were places with large sun cups, making for very uneven footing. I was slow through here as I have very little experience running in the snow, but despite my lack of speed, I actually thought the snow section was quite fun. It was beautiful and it was something I don't usually get to do. The only downside to this was the trail markings. To be sure there were ample flags, but marking dirty, yellowish snow with yellow ribbons was not such a good idea! Fortunately, I was with four or five guys and we worked together to spot flags and stay on course.

Right before the second aid station at mile 15, my shoe came untied and I decided to stop for a dual pit stop/shoe tie. Don't try to do these two things at the same time, as it landed me on my butt in the snowy pine needles! I had dutifully left one of my bottles on the trail to mark where I left the course and as I came into the AS to get my bottles filled, I realized I was only carrying one. Doh! Fortunately, only a couple hundred meters of backtracking to get the necessary equipment, but it was a bit odd running against traffic and getting lots of funny looks for swimming upstream!

Last year I ran down the road to the Poppy Trailhead harder than I think I should have, so this year I just ran smooth and easy. I was 13th female, but I wasn't having any problems. It was a little discouraging, though, to come into Duncan Canyon at mile 23.8 only to be told I was already 30 minutes behind the women's leader!

Right after Duncan Canyon my energy really started to lag. I think it was the altitude that was getting to me. Climbing just seemed to wear me out and I felt really flat. At Mosquito Ridge, I was 9 minutes behind my projected split and the lead women were coming through Miller's Defeat, 3.4 miles ahead of me. I felt sluggish on the dirt road and came into Miller's Defeat feeling a little sick. My legs felt better over the next section, but my stomach got worse. I was surprised to catch up with Lewis Taylor who was also struggling with stomach issues and we commiserated a bit.

After last chance, a volunteer pointed us on to "the best five miles of the Western States Trail" but the beauty didn't perk me up. I tried to puke, but couldn't - I am just not a puker - and yet my stomach felt like I was going to let fly with every step. It got so bad, that at one point I was trying to figure how slow I could go and still get a sub-24 finish! Despite the negative attitude, I had my wits about me and realized that I was really deficient with my salt intake. Three S-caps later, things turned quickly for the better and I was running with new life.

Deadwood Canyon went well for me and I came into Devil's Thumb in good spirits. I shook hands and introduced myself to the Devil (Scott Dunlap) and joked about running into Hell. I walked a little too much on the way out enjoying my rainbow popsicle. Unfortunately, this year's popsicle stick joke was way worse than last year's ("What did A and B love about the beach? C-gulls. LAME!). But I felt great on the way down to El Dorado and knew it was a huge improvement over last year, when knee pain kept me from running well downhill.

But the uphill out of El Dorado didn't feel right. I was breathing too hard and I couldn't run anything. Not much of the climb is runnable (for me) but I remember running small little bursts last year and I couldn't seem to manage that this year. My breath just kept getting caught in my chest and I was choking up with deep inhalation. Unfortunately, all my asthma meds were in Foresthill. But the wonderful volunteers and awesome medical staff were there for me at Michigan Bluff and they quickly located an inhaler and got me going.

On the way to Bath Road I maybe should have run a tad more of the uphill, but overall I was feeling much better. Mac met me at Bath road and had lots of updates on the men's and women's leaders as well as the few women just ahead of me. I had a great time in Foresthill and really focused on enjoying the moment. I often get tunnel vision when I am racing and ignore what is going on around me at an aid station. In fact, so many people have told me I look "very focused" when I run that I now cringe when I hear that. I know that is just a polite way of saying I need to pull my head out and have a little more fun! So I was waving at the crowds and even giving high fives. I was still 13th woman, but hearing all the cheering made me feel like I rock star and I really absorbed all the energy. I felt good, but at 11:45, I knew sub-20 was going to require the last 38 miles to be good ones.

The rock star energy seemed to be working, plus I had picked up my pacer, a rock star in her own right, Denise Bourassa fresh off her 4th place finish at SD100 in her first attempt at the distance. My quads were golden and we cruised! We passed Helen Cospolich pretty soon after leaving Foresthill. Unfortunately, I also passed Craig Thornley in this section and I was sad to see the day wasn't going his way. I ran well down to the river and my asthma seemed to be in control. My biggest issue was forcing myself to eat. Nothing sounded good but Denise stayed on me and I knew I needed to get anything I could down. I hiked to Green Gate taking little mouse bites out of a quarter quesadilla and drinking an orange soda.

I was hoping to make it to ALT before needing my light but I was about three miles short. The onset of the dark also coincided with the onset of my massive downhill slide. My asthma was back and I was breathing hard but pushing with what I could. However, at ALT I found out Becky Wheeler (11th place) was 28 minutes ahead of me (12th) with 15 miles to go and I knew I was in no shape to catch her.

I did have the good fortune to meet David Larson from Newport, OR right after ALT and found that he set the perfect pace and we ran much of the way to Brown's Bar together, albeit quite slowly. My quads still felt really good given what they had been through, but I just wasn't getting enough air to let them run. Downhills went well for me, but even the slightest uphill got me panting like an overheated dog. We did pass Anita Ortiz on the way to Brown's Bar and she did not look well at all. But passing her meant nothing to me, as I was still 11th (so I thought) and I had no chance of catching Becky in my state.

The section to Highway 49 crossing was really hard for me, easily my worst section for the day, particularly because the uphill was torture for me. I was breathing so hard that I was freaking Denise (a nurse) out. She even called ahead to the AS to tell Mac to have my inhaler ready. But really I wasn't concerned. I knew I was going to beat last year's time. Plus, I was resigned and at peace with being 11th place, so I knew I could just relax and enjoy the last seven miles with Mac as best as possible.

That all changed when I got to the Aid Station.

"Joelle dropped. You're in tenth place." Mac reported to me.

My response was actually, "Oh crap, now I have to race!"

I thought my major issue was asthma, but the nurse got all concerned that I hadn't peed in three and a half hours (even though my weight was perfect), so in addition to getting meds and food, I had to go squeeze out a few drops of urine to make her happy before I left.

Down to No-Hands was pretty uneventful, except I knew I was slow. And then there is that mild climb after the bridge before the real grunt up to Robie. That is where Angela Shartel passed me last year because I really couldn't run it. Well, I was in no shape to run it this year either, but Mac had his phone on him and when he got the update that Helen was gaining on me and only nine minutes behind at Hwy 49, he became Miwok Slave Driver Mac again! He tells me we are going to do intervals: one minute run, 30 seconds walk, but I couldn't stick to the schedule. It shouldn't be so hard to run for a minute, but there it was, I couldn't do it. And then when I couldn't make 30 seconds of running, Mac starts explaining the math to me: "Helen gained a minute a mile on you over the last section. A nine minute lead with seven miles to go is too close." And then I tried to run again and that is when I lost it.

"Mac, I can't do this schedule. You have to back off! I know I have to run but I can't and you are not helping!" I know that was the fatigue and exasperation talking but still I feel bad about that because I think Mac was a bit stung and he became pretty quiet after that. "I just didn't want you to lose F10 on my watch," he told me, and I appreciate that, even if I didn't at the time.

Coming up to Robie we had lights behind us. "Oh, F*CK!"

"Do you want me to go see who it is?" Mac asks.

"Yes, might as well. There is nothing I can do about it now."

Mac drops back and soon I catch snippets of friendly chat, so I know I am safe for the moment. But my paranoia escalates at Robie Point and I am just certain Helen is coming. Mac finally tells me not to look back any more, my job is just to concentrate on going forward. And there is nothing I want to run, but I do, as hard as I can which was ridiculously slow, but still faster than walking. And oddly, the white bridge seemed to come sooner than I expected and at that point I was pretty sure I'd be ok, because I could run downhill so much better than uphill.

And I just ran, and panted, but I remembered to wave at the people on the street and even smile. And then I was on the track, but I still didn't feel safe, and I was running. The pace felt so fast to me, but it was pathetically slow, and still it was enough to make me feel sick and I was seeing stars and I remember thinking, "OMG, it'll be so embarrassing if I pass out here and I can't make it to the finish." But with only five meters left I knew I would make it and that I could slow down. I practically walked across the finish and still I had my hands on my knees immediately. The video is hard for me to watch I look so bad (and if you listen you can hear me begging for an inhaler), but it also embodies my struggle and the toll of 100 miles.

The announcer quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson right after telling the crowd that I was F10 for the second year in a row: "Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen, philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do." But he was wrong, even with my struggles I was 56 minutes faster than last year. Neither was my day consistent nor the pursuit foolish. And I assure you, my soul (and every other part of me) worked hard for this one! However, I missed my goal by a long shot and I know I didn't really deserve my F10 based on the day I had as I didn't really out run any body to move up, I just benefitted from two people having even worse days than I had. But such is the nature of 100 milers, sometimes just hanging in there and moving forward is enough to get by.

So F10 once again. I was disappointed in my day, but not discouraged. In some ways it gave me confidence: I know I have a sub-20 in me and maybe even a 19:30. And I have my spot for 2012 to give it another shot!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Good News!

Wednesday I got an exciting e-mail:

Congratulations are in order! This message is to notify you of your selection to the 2011 U.S. 100Km Team. The IAU 100km World Championships event will be held in Winschoten, the Netherlands on September 10, 2011. We will gather more information about each of you in the near future and then submit a formal press release to USATF for publication."

I am not sure if "we will gather more information...and then submit a formal press release" is code for "please don't talk about this until we've gotten the word out on our own time," but I saw Facebook and Twitter posts in regards to the team announcement, so if USATF wants to be the disseminators of information, they either need to say that more directly in their e-mail or they need to get their act together to put out a timely press release!

I was pretty certain I would be on the team, but still I was giddy the rest of the day after reading this. I am so excited to be part of this team. Actually, I am quite star-struck and awed - this team is amazing!

These are the ladies representing the US this year in Holland:

-Meghan Arbogast, 50: Meghan was the 50 mile trail, 100k road and 100k trail national champion last year, plus she was second at Western States. She's won the US National 100k master's championship at least a couple times, and oh yeah, she's qualified for the Olympic marathon trials FOUR times!

-Annette Bednosky, 44: Annette has won more ultras than I have started! She is the reigning 100 mile national champion and she's got a Western States cougar decorating her mantle.

- Devon Crosby-Helms, 29: Devon's a speedy ninja with 50 mile and 100k national championship titles. She's won Vermont 100 and has the phenomenal women's course record at JFK.

- Kami Semick, 44: Kami was the 2009 100km WORLD CHAMPION as well as the winner of the 50k world trophy. She's got several national championship titles as well as wins at Waldo, AR50, the North Face Endurance Challenge, Vermont 100, and Miwok (actually a whole bunch of wins there). She's fresh off an impressive third place at Comrades marathon, the largest ultra in the world, and she's headed to the Olympic marathon trials this January.

- Carolyn Smith, 45: I don't know as much about Carolyn, partly because of geography and partly because she doesn't race as frequently, but from what I gather she is pretty bad ass. She's got 100k and 24 hour national championship titles to her credit, a marathon PR of 2:45, and a Badwater finish. She was 7th in the world last year at the 100k World Championship. And because of her, I am not even the only Dr. Smith on the team!

- Last (and certainly least) is me. I don't have any 100 mile victories or national championship titles to my credit. My marathon PR embarrasses me (tentative plans to change that this fall). All I have is a pretty fast 100k time (7:53), but fortunately that is enough to get on the team! Thank goodness I won Miwok last month or I seriously wouldn't have any big name win to put here.

The women's qualifying standard is 8:40 for 100k, but all of the women on this team either have broken 8:00 or have gotten pretty darn close. The third woman on Great Britain's gold medal winning team last year ran 8:15. Just saying. ;)

The men's team is equally stacked with the guys putting up some smokin' fast qualifiers.

Men's Team:
  1. Joseph Binder 2011 Ruth Anderson 100K 7:00:19
  2. Andy Henshaw 2011 Mad City 100Km 1st 6:47:34 (AUTO)
  3. Chikara Omine 2010 IAU 100Km WC 9th 6:58:09 (AUTO)
  4. David Riddle 2011 Mad City 100Km 6:59:59
  5. Michael Wardian 2010 IAU 100Km WC 3rd 6:49:18 (AUTO)
  6. Matt Woods 2010 IAU 100Km WC 6:58:36
The thought of this overwhelms me- being part of a team, getting to know such amazing people, traveling to a new country to run, representing the US. I feel so honored and excited.

I just have to get through this little hundred mile race next weekend first. ;)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Epic Weekend

Once again had the pleasure of joining fellow Oregonians in search of sun for an awesome first weekend of June. Our group consisted of Meghan Arbogast, John Price, Rob Cain, Erin Keller, Cheri Redwine, and me.

We arrived in Zion on Friday around lunch and quickly set to the task of getting in some very serious heat training:
The next day, we set off for real adventure. The plan was to run the 48 miles across Zion on the West and East Rim trails, with a one mile detour to the Kolob arch.
Ready for Adventure!

The trail started with a nice easy decline to get us warmed up. After a few miles, Meghan and I need to make a pit stop. The guys moved on ahead, to give us our privacy, or so I thought. With business done, Meghan and I set off to catch the guys, but we got to the turn off to the arch and we still hadn't seen them. We couldn't believe they wouldn't wait for us at a trail junction, but figured we catch them on the out and back.

So Meghan and I follow a rocky trail for about a half mile until it just ends. And there is even a sign that says, "It is not recommended to go beyond this point." So Meghan and I head back to the creek and start boulder hopping up to the arch, still without the guys. It takes us FOREVER, but we make it another half mile. At that point the stream bed was practically impassable. Nothing made sense: Where were the guys, where was the trail and where was the arch??
"Is this the trail??"
Finally, we decided to turn around. When we are close to the junction, we pass a couple of girls who tell us the guys are looking for us, but they are about 15 minutes ahead. What?? We press on back to the main trail and down to La Verkin Creek. There we meet back up with Erin and Cheri (who were doing the first 38 miles at an easier pace) and they tell us all about seeing the Kolob Arch. We tell them we never saw it, but they wonder how because there was even a sign that marked the end of the trail!! All you had to do was look up when you got there!

Turns out the guys had stepped off trail too (and did leave a water bottle marker, but we can't see a huge stone arch, so how do you expect us to notice a small water bottle??). They went to the arch and turned around while Meghan and I went past the arch and were bush whacking through no-man's land! Aargh! Fortunately, the guys had more wits than us, so John came backwards and Rob went to the next trail junction to wait. And shortly after we were reunited.
The beautiful Kolob arch...that we did not see!

Hop Valley was beautiful, but a long slog through a lot of sand with few trail markers, so it was very slow going.
Hop Valley

Super observant chicks over Hop Valley

There is a big climb out of Hop Valley and then a lot more uphill after that. I think we all kind of had the impression that we start at the top and have a nice gentle descent to the main valley floor, but there was actually 9,000' of climbing before we got to the bottom! (11,000' loss)
"I thought this trail was all down hill!"

I ran out of water about 20 miles in and pretty much every one else did a few miles after that, so it was a welome relief when we finally got to the first spring (26 miles; 6.5 hours!). We spent over 20 minutes refilling, drinking, eating and just lounging in the sun.
Refill time!

The next three hours were a mixed bag: ups, downs, forests, fields, mud, sand, pavement (yes, pavement!) and rocks. On the top of a rock hill, I missed another trail sign, made a wrong turn and found myself staring off a cliff for a few heart fluttering seconds. WTH? As a pathologist, my job is to look at things and observe, but I sure don't see things very well! The run ended with a big climb on tired legs and then 3 or so miles of steep descent, the last 2.1 miles with paved switchbacks ("Walters Wiggles") before the main canyon floor.

The original plan was to continue on to do the ten miles of the East Rim trail with it's big 2,100' climb in the first few miles, but I was a little worried about time and I was pretty beat. The altitude affected me more than I thought it would. I thought Meghan would cajole me into doing the rest with her, but she seemed like she was ready to call it a day as well. 42 miles in 9:30 - not exactly my intended Western States pace but a good training run, nonetheless. The only bad part is that today I learned that the fastest known time for women to do the entire trans-Zion route is 13 hours, meaning Meghan and I only had to do the last ten miles in three and a half hours to beat it. We could have walked faster than that - oops! Oh well, I think Meghan and I both got what we came for out of the run. If any women want to claim an FKT, this would be a super easy one to get.

After not enough beauty sleep, it was up and at 'em again. We drove up to Bryce and Meghan and I got dropped off at Ponderosa Canyon to run back to Bryce point. The guys opted for a shorter version and Erin and Cheri did some easy running on the rim.
Ready to rock - Day 2
My legs felt really good, but the extra 2,000 feet of altitude really did me in. After about ten miles, I was pooped! I just felt like I never caught my breath, even on the downhill. And on the uphills, I was dragging. Not so good, because I had to catch a plane that night so I couldn't spend all day in the canyon! I did get a little adrenaline boost from a big rattle snake in the trail, but not enough to propel me to the top of the canyon with a spring in my step!
Many gorgeous photo ops (or chances to try and catch my breath!)

At Bryce point, I got on the shuttle to my car and then high-tailed it to Vegas. Woo-hoo for 80 mph speed limits in Utah, because I made great time! Good thing too, because I was still in all my sweaty run gear when I dropped off the rental car. I did change into clean clothes, which basically just hid all the dirt underneath, and I tried to wash my face and hair as best as I could, but the rental car public bathroom is not the ideal place for post run clean up. I feel sorry for the guy next to me on the plane!

I got in to Portland at midnight, home around 1:30, and then definitely a shower before getting in bed. My whole rush home was because I couldn't get Monday off work, but let me tell you that was not a pretty day! But it was all worth it.

Next adventure: Western States!