Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Unbroken In Bandera

For Christmas, Mac got me the Unbreakable DVD. It was an awesome gift and very thoughtful, but I was kind of nonplussed at the time. I mean, how exciting could the movie be when I already knew how it ended and what would I do with the movie after I watched it once? But the movie was great and we both agreed we'd love to watch it again, especially right before Western States. Little did I know I'd be watching the movie again four days later and then replaying scenes in my head to keep me motivated during the Bandera 100k.

I had the pleasure of once again traveling down to Texas with an awesome crew of Oregonians including Meghan Arbogast, Craig Thornley and his wife Laurie, their good friend Hannah, Joe Uhan and his girlfriend Brittany, and Yassine Diboun, plus we were joined at our lovely accommodations in the Kingfisher Ranch by Mr. iRunfar himself, Bryon Powell. Shortly after arriving, Joe had Unbreakable in the DVD player for another screening.
Oregonians travel to Texas...and bring their belt buckles!
The race got off to a fast start - crazy fast! I was out of the first Aid Station at 49:30 and I was in 5th place for ladies. For perspective, I don't think any woman has ever gotten to the first aid station under 50 minutes in the race (except possibly Liza last year??) and this year there were five! Knowing my splits from the past years, the tireless grind of the course, and the forecast of 70 degree highs, I knew right then there'd be some carnage on the day, but I sure as heck didn't think it'd be me just two miles later!

I climbed the early steep stuff pretty well, but after Nachos I couldn't get moving up those gradual inclines. Normally, I really excel at the "cruiser" grade stuff: gentle uphill, flats and gentle downs. A lot of people don't like that stuff because they think it is boring, doesn't have enough variability or just isn't hard core enough, but I love getting into autopilot and just cruising. That's when I can get into that zen of running where there seems to be both a million thoughts and nothing at all in your mind at the same time. But it just wasn't happening for me, I couldn't get into the right rhythm or a place where my body could just run on instinct. I got into to Chapas at mile 11, and immediately told Meghan not to bother giving me any splits for the other women, it wasn't going to be that kind of day for me. "But you are only three minutes behind," she responded, but I still left the Aid Station feeling like my competitive day was done.

The middle section takes a serpentine route around and through some big grass meadows. Even I will admit it is kind of a boring section, yet I always run it well, again just getting into autopilot. But I struggled and the extra half mile added here only made matters worse. I came into Crossroads 1 nearly in tears. Meghan asked what was going on and my first response was my pelvis hurt. I have been dealing with an abdominal strain and pain in my lower abs and groin area since the marathon, and I had some discomfort. But the truth was, the discomfort was pretty minimal and was better than any long run I have done since the marathon. So then I said my quads, but that wasn't quite right either... How do you explain to your crew that someone has voodoo doll of you with the legs of your effigy stuck in bubble gum? So finally I told her, "Mostly, I think it is my head." And at that point I knew I was going on, because really I had no good excuse not to.

"Just do whatever you can and enjoy the day," Meghan said to me as I set off on a weak trot for a loop over the three sisters, shoving Jelly bellies, Ibuprofen, 2 S-caps and a caffeinated gel into my system in quick succession. I got to the first gully and just walked down it. Whatever.

But soon I had the clarity I needed (and I swear this is actually what came to me): "If Hal Koerner can put his testicles in a zip-lock and hike around Mount Blanc, I can finish this damn race!" So thank you Hal Koerner and thank you Glad sandwich bags; I owe you one!

At the base of the first climb, I leaned into it and started hike up, hands on quads style. "Just like Killian!" I thought to myself. When I passed the photographer, I thought of all the shots of Killian's butt in the movie and chuckled about my own butt, which Craig had told me "really is huge" the day prior.  I continued to channel my inner Spanish super star all the way to the top, still not moving very fast but resolved to just enjoy the day. When I got to the top, I started to run, but this time my legs didn't feel so bad, not great, but not so "flat" or awkward anymore. And I remembered Geoff Roes coming back from the dead at Western States, not that I was expecting to set any course records, but figured I could have a second life in me, too.

I got back to the aid station (Crossroads 2) at 22 miles with a smile on my face, ready to run. I didn't have the miraculous turn around like Geoff, but I felt okay and stayed fairly consistent for the rest of the race. It helped that I nailed my nutrition/electrolytes all day (even early on when I felt bad - I actually ate more trying to "perk" up). I passed Kara Henry around mile 24 (she later dropped) and at the 50k turn around Bryon informed me that Darcy was dropping, and just like that, I was in third place.

I never really could find my "autopilot mode" but I substituted with good co-pilots instead. I caught up with Steve my second time in the grassy section and he led me every step of the way. And I ran most of the last nine miles with Neal, a 21 year old local speedster in his first 100k. Both Steve and Neal seemed to pick up the pace and run a bit better with me behind them, and I know I got a mantal boost running with them, so I think we helped each other. Mostly, I was just trying to survive and stay positive, so I was shocked when I came into Crossroads 1 again, just 4 minutes behind Liza! And though she is much more skilled than me on the rocky terrain, I got back to Crossroads still just 4 minutes back! At Last Chance, Olga excitedly told me I was only two minutes back.

I hiked the next section as hard as I could and got a boost from seeing Meghan out on her run who informed me of the men's results and of Joe's third place finish to grab the coveted Western States entry. But when I didn't see Liza on the ridge, I knew it was over. I was giving it my best at that point, but Liza dances over rocks and I stumble like a drunk elephant! Near the finish, I turned to look for Neal, thinking it'd be nice to finish together after all his help, but he was nowhere to be seen and I was ready to be done!
photo: Bryon Powell
10:04, 3rd female and just edged out of the top ten for 11th overall. It was 18 minutes slower than last year, but with the extra mile and the bad start, I really felt pretty good about the day's performance. Liza gained 6 minutes in the last 5 miles (sheesh! do you have to rub it in like that, Liza? ;) to break 10 hours (9:56) and Cassie Scallon proved JFK was no fluke with her incredible 9:40 to take home the title of 100k National Champion (and even better, a thousand bucks!).

I am not sure why I had such a bad start or why it turned around. I am wondering if it has to do with my complete lack of hill training over the last four months and pushing the first section pretty hard. Maybe I just over taxed myself early but I had enough fitness to recover after a few slow miles?? Or maybe, somebody just got bored playing with my voodoo doll! Either way it was a really great lesson for me to never give up. Pushing myself to the extreme has never been hard when things are going my way, but I now see that I really lose my motivation and mental toughness when things aren't going my way. Ultimately, I think that is what did me in at Angeles Crest in 2010. But Saturday, I think I slew that demon - hopefully, once and for all. Not every run is perfect, but it is good to know that inspiration can be found in a bad day...even if you have to put the family jewels in a baggie and walk it to the finish!

Thank you, Joe P for another great year at Bandera and a day full of great lessons and personal growth. There are a lot of other thanks to go around, as I feel like I relied on the help, inspiration and comaraderie of other people more than I ever have in an ultra, with special thanks to Meghan for being my crew and helping me out of a low point.


Olga said...

Yeah, man, Liza did out some serious time into that rock-dancing. It was wonderful to see your smiling face, I am glad I missed out on grumpy Pam from first AS! I remember finding out myself how races can possibly turn around, and I am thrilled you had that experience - and that Hal's nuts example helped along the way. Way to challenge your inner balls! When you finished you looked pretty fresh though, so I think all that walking around at the beginning saved your born endurance. May be you should try starting the race walking...or not:) Great job, Pam!

Chris said...

Great report Pam. I always enjoy your self analysis! So are you crewing for Meghan next year at Bandera?:-)

RTP said...

Congrats on your 3rd place at Bandera. Race day morning I was frustrated not to find and current account of the actual race on the official Bandera 100k endurance ultra trail race page, But then Mac called and told me to go to irunfar. On a different note I was wondering if you ever took Aleve (naproxen) instead of ibuprofen? Aleve is longer lasting, but more importantly - for me I think it works better way better. Since you must have a couple of my genes, it might work well for you. (I certainly did NOT bestow the OCD and sheer competitive will power genes on you though). In any event I take great pride in you and all of your accomplishments. Love, Dad