Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Toeing the Line

Ultra runners are masters of the extreme, pushing themselves to the very edge of their limits and sometimes even beyond. In it there is great satisfaction in accomplishing something that may not have even seemed possible. Emotions bubble to the surface and there is a great sense of pride and fulfillment. But this comes with a price. To achieve your best requires sacrifice: sacrifice of sleep, lazy Saturday mornings, social obligations, family ties, a healthy sex life, and most of all, a sacrifice of one's toenails.

For years, my husband has made fun of my "nasty" feet. But I think he has found one area of ultra-running where he clearly takes the prize in our family. You see, in early September, Mac ran the McKenzie River Trail Run 50k, finishing 39th out of 171 runners, which Mac will proudly tell you is the top quartile of all finishers. And it once again places him in his age group...for women, since the RD of MRTR initially sexed Mac as a female again this year. (His real name is Mackenzie, so you can hardly blame the RD. I mean, it is a girl's name! Forest Park 50k had the same problem. I keep telling Mac to embrace it; it would help his Ultrasignup score a lot!).

Anyway, Mac had a good day on the trail and felt good all day, but there was a price: a big blister under the left toenail. He drained it and went on with life. Until this week, when the thing became a nasty, festering mess and his foot became some Fred-Flintstone-with-elephantiasis swollen mess.
Mac's nasty toe. Compare the size to his other foot.
Sunday he was limping around, complaining about how bad it hurt. "Worse than when I broke my arm," he told me. 

I told him to stay away from me, and yeah, he should probably get some antibiotics.

After two days of antibiotics, the thing was still a big throbbing mess and fluid was actually draining through the skin. Our friend Gloria, the fastest (marathon runner) surgeon in Salem, came to the rescue! (Dr. Nair - if that hurts, you better run faster in Victoria!). She met Mac outside of the Kaiser offices, gave him a prescription for Vicodin, and told Mac to meet her at her house all drugged up at 5:30 pm.

Well because of patient labels, Gloria is not used to writing names on prescriptions, so Mac showed up at Walgreen's with a prescription that didn't have his name on it. The pharmacist was skeptical (because a guy in sweats who is not at work in the middle of the day is obviously a drug addict). So Mac put his toe on the counter to convince her he was not faking. To her credit, she did not vomit. "Well, where were you seen?"

And get this. Mr. Clueless answers, "In the parking lot," before realizing this does not help his case of being mistaken for a drug seeker. But a phone call to Gloria, and Mac got his drugs.

Later that evening, I met Mac at Gloria's. We banished all the kids from the kitchen and turned their dining surface into the operating table. I got to play nurse in the operation. Gloria asked me if I knew how to open items in sterile fashion. Just like a surgeon to think the pathologist is incapable of even the most basic floor skills! Geez, I mean we aren't total losers; we get out of our lab cave every once in a while! (And when we get back, we talk about how scary it was!). Plus, I was like,"Umm, hello? The toe is already infected. How sterile do we need to be? Just save yourself!" But I didn't say that.

Gloria numbed Mac up, ripped out the nail, and all was good. Or so you would think. Just as Mac is getting bandaged up he starts sweating like it is mile 90 of Badwater and his face has the same shade of green as after his first ultra. He throws open the door, puts his head back and is fighting to stay with it. Gloria gets him a cold towel for his head and I get him some water. Gloria is a concerned a caring doctor to her patient. And me? Well, there is a reason I am in pathology - I was laughing at him! Don't get me wrong, I was the concerned wife while the procedure was going on, but this was after it was over! It wasn't the pain, it was a vasovagal response, and yes, I am a terrible person, but I didn't have much sympathy. But this isn't the first time I've seen Mac deal with this: About ten years ago, Mac fainted in periodontist office after a gum graft - only I was the one who had had the procedure, not him. The man is kind, and loving, and a great dad, but let's face it, he's a bit of a wimp.
Still feeling good
Getting numb!
Now that's pretty!
"Be strong, Honey, you can do it!"
Kidding aside (who was kidding?), Gloria was a super-friend, because how many people do you know that would touch that nasty toe? I gave her some new shoes as a barter; she twisted her ankle on the first run in them (they weren't La Sportivas!), so she clearly got a bum deal! Mac says he is feeling much better (but the toe still looks nasty). Let's hope it heals fast because Mac has a race scheduled in ten days.

Thank you, Gloria! You rock!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Little Bunny Foo Foo...

Western States terminated with one of my worst results ever, but perhaps because of that my desire to go back was very strong.  But I didn’t plan to dedicate my entire racing season trying to get back in. Run Rabbit Run fit well with my schedule and it is an early qualifier, so if I got a spot, I wouldn’t have to worry about qualifying for the rest of the year.

The only problem: by July, the 50 mile race was already full. The 100 was still open and offered WS spots, but with the large prize purse, I expected it to be very competitive, and therefore less likely to get the coveted WS ticket. So I e-mailed Fred, The RD, to ask if there were any special considerations for entry for competitive athletes. He responded, “Well, send me your resume and we’ll see.” The next morning I got another e-mail from him, “Are you the Pam Smith on the 100k team? If so, you’re in!”

While many other race directors have been nice to me, this is only the second time that I have asked to get in to a full or otherwise closed race, the other time being Miwok 2011. I am thinking I am going to have to do this more, as I won both of those races. I guess I feel like I have something to prove for being granted the opportunity.

So yes, while I did win, it was NOT an easy race! Joelle Vaught had the course record at an astounding 8:08 and no other woman had broken 9 hours (2nd all time F= 9:04). Based on the course and my fitness, I thought I could do 8:20. I finished 6th overall in 8:40,  39 minutes slower than any other 50 miler I have done.  But I didn’t actually miss my goal time by as bad as it looks at face value. This year to accommodate the 100 mile runners, the 50 mile course was lengthened by 1+ miles with 600’ of gain and loss over very rocky and technical terrain, which added at least ten minutes and probably more like 12(+). Speaking to Fred after the race, I heard people disliked this so much that he is already thinking he will change it back next year!

I started the race at the back of the lead pack in third for the women, telling myself not to pass 2nd place F Silke Koester the whole way up Mt. Werner to make sure I stayed in control at the start. I continued to tail her for several miles over the back side. For a few minutes I contemplated playing a strategic game to guarantee the WS spot.  I knew I was faster, so I wondered about tailing her for a long time and then just passing her in the end to get second and the WS spot. But around mile 11, a guy named Ken jumps out of the bushes behind us, says we are looking good and that Kerrie (Bruxvoort) is less than 5 minutes ahead. Oh, and by the way, could he please pass?

Well, I just found a new train to ride! Yes, I wanted the Western States spot, but I also wanted to race!  So I passed with Ken and told him to take me up to Kerrie. “You’re going to have to do that yourself, I’ve got post-Leadville legs.” But I stayed with him and got to chat for a few miles about Leadville and his training with Anita Ortiz. When we hit a flat gravel road, I didn’t think I picked up the pace, but soon I was dropping him. Same thing through the next 8 miles of rolling grassy trails and roads. I tried to find people to run behind but whenever things leveled out, I’d end up in front. I ended up passing about 6 guys through here and when I rolled into Dumont AS for the first time (22.3 miles), I practically ran into Kerrie as I was on my way in and she was on her way out.

About a half mile down the road, I caught Kerrie and said hi. She gave a lackluster response. I kept moving as the terrain to the Rabbit Ears rock formation and turnaround got steeper and steeper. I counted 8 guys coming down by the time I got to the top. The two volunteers at the top cheered for me and said, “As the first female, I think you are required to kiss the volunteers!” I told him if it means I get to go downhill, then you got it. So with a quick peck on the cheek for both volunteers (how’s that for showing my thanks!), I rounded the cairn and finally got to head back down the 2.7 mile hot road back to Dumont AS.
Rabbit Ears- Mile 25 turnaround was right at the base.
Kerrie hadn’t looked very good when I passed her, so I was surprised to see she was only a couple minutes back at the turnaround. But I made good time back through the rollers. A couple of times, I looked back across the plains and couldn’t see anyone, so I knew I had at least a half mile on Kerrie.

Everything seemed to be going well until getting to Long Lake at mile 37. From there it is uphill back to the top of Mt. Werner. It is not very steep, only 1,200 feet of gain in 6.8 miles, but it was as if my body were screaming, “Whoa, wait a minute! I put up with all this running for 37 miles but if you aren’t going to give me any oxygen, I quit!”

I was huffing and puffing, but it wasn’t asthma at all this time, just fatigue and the cumulative lack of oxygen. Every little ascent felt monumental and I walked WAY too much. I told myself if I got to the top in the lead, NO WAY was I going to lose. One thing I still had confidence in was my leg speed and I knew I’d be good on the gravel road downhill.

I did get to the top in the lead, but OMG! There was Kerrie on the way up not more than a minute after I left the AS! Holy Crap – time to fly! After the rocky section at the top, I averaged right around 7 minute pace for the final 6 miles. Pretty slow, given that it was all downhill, but after 45 miles, I certainly felt like I was flying! The best part was zooming by all the quad-weary 100 milers, who were all very positive when I passed.

I looked back on a couple of long switchbacks and no one was there. I just needed to pass the time and get to the finish. And that’s when "99 Bottles of Beer" popped into my head. Are you kidding me?? But pass the time it did, and by the end of the song, 26 minutes had gone by. Ok, hold it together, just two miles to the finish. The ground flattened a bit, running took more effort, but I didn’t let up and managed to put a few more minutes on Kerrie before finishing.  My 8:40 was the second fastest women’s time on the course, Kerrie’s 8:47 ranked 3rd over all and Silke stayed very steady for a 9:09 and 5th fastest course time – all with the harder course and a hot day. The men’s winner, Cameron Clayton, wasn’t hampered by the heat or course changes either, throwing down a blistering 7:09, to break Geoff Roes course record!

My prize for winning the 50 mile. The winner of the 100 mile got $10,000. Yeah, that seems equitable!
I was proud to race hard and take the win, but it was definitely one of those races where you are completely spent at the end. I had a little sunburn, plenty of chaffing (from my pack and putting ice in my bra), enough dehydration to warrant 82 ounces of fluid in the 90 minutes following the race (including 36 oz of chocolate milk….mmm), some post race GI “distress” and even a little blood in my urine (don’t worry, it cleared fast). And my mom thinks ultra-running probably isn’t good for you – ha! All that just to double my pain and suffering at Western States!

A big shout out goes to all the 100 milers- this is a super tough venue and many are speculating that the course was closer to 110 miles. This course decimated the field, with only 15 of 52 elite finishers! So kudos to all those who attempted the run and bigger kudos to those who finished. As always, thanks to the volunteers. And huge thanks to Fred Abramowitz. This was a massive undertaking, essentially staging three separate ultras over the course of the same weekend. While there were glitches with runners getting off course, this guy truly has his heart in the right place and the runner's interests as his top priority. By the time the award ceremony came around he was already working on a list of improvements. I think RRR has the potential to become THE big fall ultra. I wouldn't let this year's mishaps dissuade you if you are considering running. Just beware, you need to be one tough bunny to tackle this one!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Weekend Adventures

When last we left off, I was going to murder my husband and move into a Unibomber style cabin in the woods to curb my post-event depression. Or something like that.

Fortunately, my funk didn't last long and my hubby is still alive and kicking (...himself for marrying a running addict??). I only had to make it through three (tedious) days at work before I was off for another adventure. This time it was Hood to Coast, a 199 mile (this year 201 - more later) 12 person relay. Our team was the Salty Sistas. Despite our gangsta spelling of the team name, the only thing keeping us from being the pastiest group of white girls you will ever find is our token Asian! But then I was pretty much the only one on the team that seemed to find this amusing. Fortunately, there was plenty else for amusement.

Van 1-Ready to Rock

Sistas in the Hood...Mt. Hood
 Due to re-organization this year, we got a pretty early start time at 1:30 on Friday. The good news was that we had LOTs of slow teams around us to keep us motivated. I passed 102 (to my best count) people on my three legs alone (and was passed once by a guy who completely decimated me while I was doing 6:20's). The bad news is that we really had no idea where we were in comparison to our competition, so really all we could do was go out and run.

I had leg 5/17/29. My first leg was 6.1 miles with a 2.5 mile uphill finish. Total weenie of a hill, especially after being in the Rockies for a week, but it was in the heat of the day and I could feel the leg fatigue. I totally died and was about a minute slower than projected (40:41). And then right as I finished with my legs feeling fried, we learned there was a tire fire at Les Schwab and 1.7 miles was being added to the course, all in leg 17, bringing the distance to 8.82 miles, a whopper by Hood to Coast Standards. But it was super flat (until the detour at least) and the night temps were very pleasant, so I was able to get some good leg turnover and I felt much better (except for when Mr. Speed Demon went past) for a 56:35 (6:25). My last leg was a 650' gain over 3.6 miles followed by 2.5 down. My projected time had me at 6:40 pace, but I was more like 7:10 on the up. I didn't think it was looking good. But the downhill was the perfect spin your wheels and let it rip grade, plus I was anxious to be done, so I hit two sub 5:30 miles and came in under pace! Yeah, that was fun! But I was so glad to be done. It is a fun event, but there was A LOT of traffic at the second van exchange and we only got in with about an hour to spare which didn't allow much time for sleeping. The three legs of running are hard, but the most draining part of this event is the lack of sleep and lack of decent food!
Lisa, Nikol, Evey, Jenni,Kari, Debbie,me, Denise,Mariko, Judy, Terra and Tonya
Time to be silly!

After Tonya finished the final leg for our van we headed to the beach. Soon after checking in to the hotels, showering and getting some food, we found out Run With Paula, our closest competition in the women's sub-masters category, had finished in 24:18 and our last runner had set off to do 5 miles at 23:22. In the bag! However, Minnesota's Babba Yaga threw down with a 22 hour finish, leaving us in second for sub-master's and third fastest women's team time overall.

The following week I was toast! TransRockies followed by Hood to Coast five days later was pretty much the limits of what I can handle. Fortunately, I got to race vicariously through Megan, my seven year old daughter. (Warning: proud Mom bragging ahead). Megan has been participating in the Thursday night Bush Park cross country series every week in August, steadily lowering her mile time to 8:52, but unable to podium except on the 99 degree night with few competitors. The last Thursday in August is trophy night with lots of extra people out and so I had already given Megan the "We run for fun not prizes" speech, when she tells me she'd like to run the 3k instead of the mile. Unlike the mile, with 2 year age groups and ribbons five deep, the 3k only has one kids age group (12 and under) and rewards for the top 3. But Megan rocked it, finishing in 17:55, for second place and a silver medal. I asked her if she walked at all. She proudly shook her head no. "Not even on the two hills?," I asked her. "Well, I was tempted," she admitted. Yes, I am just loving that she got better as the distance got longer!


Then Labor Day weekend we set off for a family adventure: our first ever Smith family back-packing trip! We tackled the uber distance of 2.4 miles to Pamelia Lake on Saturday after first stopping in Detroit Lake for lunch and ice cream. The kids carried all of their own clothes and "loveys" in my emptied out bladder packs. Meanwhile, Mac and I appeared to be carrying enough gear for a two month trip! But heavy gear isn't really an issue for a short distance at a kid's pace.
Ready to go at the trailhead. 2.4 miles to camp!

Nine minutes in, Liam asked how many more minutes till we get there. Ten minutes in he fell on his face. But we told him he got tripped by a trail troll and then he happily ran down the trail from there on out, shooting trail trolls and launching pine cone dynamite into the woods. Plus, we had a secret motivational tool:

Megan "needed" Rusty, but she carried him without
complaint and had the comfiest pillow for the night!
Some "fun guys!"

Is that another trail troll awaiting hikers?

Liam bravely gets wet

We stopped a lot on the way out. Liam liked to touch the fungus. ("Liam, do you know what fungus is?" "Stuff that makes you itchy.") Megan liked to take pictures with her camera -thank goodness for digital! We pointed out how the baby trees like to grow on the fallen and dead trees to get extra nutrients ("And the baby trees can get lots of fiber, too!" pointed out Liam). We needed Mike and Ikes and Lemon Heads twice. But we made it with almost no whining. 
Pamelia Lake
 We spent the afternoon playing in the mud and throwing rocks in the lake and Mac even got in a run (I did mine before we left so I was free to lounge on the beach!)
Six hours of dirt!
The only bad part was that Megan got quite cold at night and woke up several times. but wouldn't you know it, that stubborn wiggly front tooth finally popped out at 3 am!
Guess what Megan wants for Christmas?? 
 Sunday morning we had oatmeal by the fire and then we were ready to head out. One hour and three minutes later we were back at the trail head!! Our first family camping trip was such a success, it was Bolt-worthy!
Doing the Bolt (or possibly the monster mash ;)
The weekend running adventures continue as Mac gets this weekend off parenting duties to run the MacKenzie River 50k and the following weekend I am returning to Colorado for the Run Rabbit Run.
Yes, I guess I can manage to endure my work week as long as we get to have great weekend adventures!