Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Western States 2014: One Great Big Fake Orgasm

For the past ten days I have been digesting. Digesting everything in this year's Western States experience. Oh, and also digesting just about everything in our pantry - man have I been hungry!!

I don't expect a whole lot of sympathy for a 19:10 4th place finish at Western States, but after running an 18:37 in a lot higher temps, I think it is fair to say my race didn't go as I had hoped. I openly stated that my goal was 18:11. It may have been aggressive to aim for a time that would be the 5th fastest women's time on the course, but I am not one to set "soft" goals or say things like "I just want to finish" when everyone knows that is a load of crap. I am not afraid to set goals that I may not attain, yet, at the same time, I really felt I had that time in me. Last year's run felt very conservative both in the beginning and at the end and the cooler temps should've made a big difference. And I was fitter, stronger, and leaner for this year's race.

But things were off from the get go. Last year, I felt like I floated up to the escarpment. This year, it seemed like I was working too hard from the beginning. My legs just didn't have the usual ready-to-go feeling after coming off a big taper. In the high country, I had the pleasure of running with Kaci and Larissa, but I wasn't comfortable. That's big trouble to be uncomfortable less than ten miles in to a 100 mile run! I knew I had to run my own race and backed off a bit to let Kaci and Larissa get ahead, but when I got to Duncan Canyon (mile 24) in 4:12, I was not a happy camper! Even when I took 29 hours to finish WS, I got there in 4:09. Last year, I was there in 4:09 and I felt like I was out for a walk in the park.

"I am running 20 hour pace!" I whined to my crew. Fortunately, Dennis is Mr. Optimism and he was like, "three minutes, big deal, you can make that up, sunshine, rainbows, flying pink ponies." Fortunately, my head was SO on task and I ticked off everything I needed at the aid station- chug a soda, new bottles, hand held with ice, sunscreen, sunglasses, Vaseline, Chapstick and a few sponges of water on the neck- and I was out of there pronto.

I love, love, love Duncan Canyon, the climb to Robinson Flat and Little Bald Mountain. Along with Volcano Canyon, this is my favorite part of the course. I had a strong split here last year, and ran the exact same time this year and was still only three minutes off last year's time. My legs still felt weak on the climbing, but I seemed to be chugging along ok. Hmmm, maybe this wasn't too bad after all. Again, I felt calmer than ever at the AS and got everything taken care of according to game plan. I chugged up Little Bald Mountain, but then my legs were just hurting on the downhills and the flat roads were pathetic. My gait was stiff, my legs were sore, and still I was breathing so dang hard even on the downhills. Tropical John Medinger was about a half mile out of Dusty Corners, but I was so embarrassed by how I was running that I don't even think I looked at him. And when I saw my crew, the tears just started.
Robinson Flat - looking better than I feel (ph: Ally Speirs)
But even through the tears I never really gave in to the pity party and I never had any thoughts except how to fix this. "I need a soda, two Endurolytes and a Naproxen." I don't take a lot of salt tablets (zero at WS last year) and I know NSAID's are risky, but I also know that I needed to do something. And it seemed to work; by the time I hit the Pucker Point trail I was feeling much better. During a better stretch, I cruised up on Emily Harrison. She said her legs hurt and she was just done. I told her my legs felt like shit from mile 16 to 38 but I was doing better now and her situation could turn, too. But while I was feeling good, I decided to mosey!

At Last Chance I got a nice "car wash" from the awesome volunteers before heading off to the canyons. Craig Thornley was there and again, I was ashamed that I wasn't running up to expectations. But I seemed to be doing ok on the downhills and decided to push through the canyons. I know I still wanted to make up time. Crossing the North fork of the American River was awesome! I am not sure I want Swinging Bridge repaired after that! I felt refreshed and ready for the climb. Even on my best days, the climb to Devil's Thumb is a hike. I seemed to be moving ok, but again, I just felt so tired and I was breathing so hard. Joe Uhan was at the top offering sage advice and race updates. It was good to see a friendly face, because I needed all the perking up I could get.

Last chance "car wash" with a very excited Craig Thornley. ;) (ph. Allen Lucas)
Again, the downhill to Deadwood felt good and I pushed a bit harder. 18:11 was out the window, but maybe I could sneak under last year's time?? On the way down, I passed Kaci and she looked terrible! I tried to offer her salt, gels, even an asthma inhaler but she just kept telling me to go. I am so impressed with her for sticking with it and finishing a strong 6th place!
Me at Michigan Bluff: "My uphill legs are shit!"
Ken (Denise Bourassa's awesome S/O): No problem, there's only downhill left.
Me: I think my downhill legs are shit, too!
The hike to Michigan Bluff sucked. My legs felt so weak and they were starting to ache again. On the logging roads after Michigan Bluff, I walked more than twice as much as what I walked last year, but I still managed to catch up with Natalie Mauclair when we hit the downhill. I didn't think she looked very good, but she was right behind me when I took a dip in Volcano Canyon. And despite running nearly every step out of the canyon and every step of Bath Road, she came into Forest Hill right behind me and left before me.
Kisses from the kids at Forest Hill (ph:April Smith)
I stayed right behind her for the next three miles, but it was too much. I had to let her go. My chugger pace was all I could do if I wanted to make it to the finish. By the river, we were 50 minutes up on Nikki and Kaci and I knew I wouldn't be giving chase for a podium spot. It looked like my F4 was petty well sealed up. I still feel like I gave my best effort, but my legs just weren't there and by this point even the downhills were painful. The miles actually went by fairly quickly, but I was losing all kinds of time. A slow, painful shuffle was all I could muster. I was sure my quads were shot. And yet, at the finish I had a burst of energy. I actually had the fastest women's time from Robie to the finish, so somewhere, deep down, the legs had some spark.
Leaving Green Gate. I dropped my pacer! Ok, he is just at the AS still. (ph. Rob Goyen)
Finishing was bittersweet. It was great to have my family there and to run around the track again with Megan, but it wasn't what I had hoped for. The funny thing is, I was totally prepared to not win. I know less than half of the WS winners ever repeat and the repeat stats are even worse on the women's side. I feel completely honored and still amazed that I even won once, and I know there is a very short list of people with their names on the Robie Cup. But I wasn't prepared to not run at my best. That was a very hard pill to swallow. In fact it has taken me almost the entirety of the past nine days. I spent the first week pissed and really angry at myself. The only explanation I could come up with was that I went in tired. I felt like a rock star all through Beacon Rock, but the week after that race I was sore and the taper never brought back the pep. Did I blow my WS chasing a CR at a silly 25k?? Three weeks out seemed like plenty of time to recover, but based on how things went, I guess racing on tired legs was just too much. The thought made me so angry at myself. And then my CPK came back at a measly 3,900. My quads weren't shot; was I really just being a big wimp?? Arrgh!

It's blurry, but if you look carefully, both feet are off the ground in my finishing "kick". ;) (ph. Rob Goyen)
But I am slowly letting it go and looking at the positive. I told my pacer Dennis that this year, I wanted to leave everything out on the course, no taking it easy the last 20 miles. I had pain in my chest the last 20 miles and I kept on running. I was pretty sure it was heart burn, but I was working so hard, a little piece of me actually wondered if I was having a heart attack! No heart attack, but after the race, I puked a stomach full of partially digested blood twice. It wasn't the time I wanted, but I am certain I gave everything I had on that particular day. Heck, the effort felt like a 100 mile tempo run! I am also pretty impressed that I ran that fast given how bad I felt all day and just how off my climbing was, which is normally my strong suit. I think I ran the downs to the canyons better than last year, and that makes me feel good. I think the game plan and strategy from last year is what kept me going as well as I did. And my head was rock solid and in the game the whole time. It wasn't the run I wanted, but at the same time, I don't feel like last year was a "fluke"; I feel like I know how I need to run this race. Despite being an hour off my goal time, I am actually more confident that I have that time in me somewhere. I only hope I can find it in the future.

One mile into the race, I saw Gary Gellin just up ahead of me. We had done a bit of trash talking before the race and I thought I would say hi. He greeted me back and added, "Are you practicing your fake orgasm or something? You are breathing way too hard this early in the race!" I backed off a bit because he was right; I was working hard from mile one of the race. At the time I thought his comment was just a funny joke, but now it seems like a metaphor for the whole race: I went through all the right motions, I was hot, sweaty and breathing hard, but in the end I didn't get what I was looking for and I left completely unsatisfied.

I told at least three dozen people that I was going to take next year off from Western States, "no matter what." It turns out I was prepared to lose, but not to have a bad race and I am not ready to go out on a bad note. I'll be back at WS next year for another shot, wearing my F4 proudly. And after that, I'll take a year off Western States, no matter what...maybe. ;)

Thank you, Mac and Dennis for being my super team. Thanks Mom and Dad for watching the kids and coming out to the race with them (BTW we'll be visiting the last week of June again next year). And thank you to La Sportiva, Ultimate Direction and Injinji for you support.