Thursday, July 16, 2015

Coming Back From the Dead

Well, Blog Fans, it has been quite a while since I posted here. The Lake Sonoma 50M passed without even a 140 character race update on Twitter let alone a full on blog post. I could tell you I've been busy - travel, work, garden season and two kids in multiple activities - and it would be true, but that wouldn't be the real story. For the truth is, I am sick of writing race reports about crappy races or races where I feel like I didn't live up to my potential. For a while I could come up with good reasons - I was tired from WS and/or AC, I took too much time off, I didn't do speed workouts, I didn't get enough trail training - but finally the excuses ran out and I had to face the depressing reality that it has been almost a year since I really felt like I rocked a race (June 1, 2014 - Beacon Rock 25k).

Lake Sonoma started off just fine. I didn't feel great on the road but nothing really worrisome and I was right about where I expected to be in  the ladies' race. But the constant up and downs on the trail just tuckered me out so fast and by mile 12 (yes, 12!) my legs felt like they were at the end of a 100. But my mental state was worse - over the next two miles I traveled through a deep, dark pit of mental despair: "I am not even any good any more. I am such a fraud to be here as an elite. I don't even think I want to be an elite; why do I want to kill myself in every single race? I am a total has been. And why the fuck are women doing a trail race with full eye make-up on?!? It's a trail race, not a fucking fashion show! Ugh - I am such a loser; I can't even put mascara on for work. I do not belong here: I am not elite and I didn't even match my shirt to my shorts."

(Dear Mascara-wearing racers - I am sorry for this. I was not being rational at the time. You should wear whatever you feel comfortable in at races and I know it has no effect on me. But can you please explain what is the rational of being fully made up on race day? Is this kind of like the running skirt - a way to preserve a bit of femininity in a dirty, sweaty sport? And what brand do you use that stays so firmly put through 50 miles??!)
Orange socks, pink shorts, blue shirt, tattered hat and a terry cloth wrist band under my Garmin...seriously, no amount of mascara can help that! (photo: Gary Wang)
Anyway, I suffered through to the finish, thanks largely in part to Jimmy Dean Freeman who stopped to walk a mile with me and let me blubber on his shoulder while getting me to commit to finishing. But just because I got to the finish didn't mean I was in better spirits. Frankly, I couldn't come up with one good reason why I should get up a couple days later and go for a run. So I didn't - for FOUR WHOLE WEEKS! - right at the key time for Western States training! But it didn't matter, my body felt off, my mind felt off and I needed the time off. Besides, I had already decided that I would NOT be doing Western States this year so the training didn't matter.

Well, good thing my pacer Dennis knows me well and didn't believe me when I tried to fire him!
Jimmy Dean gives me a pep talk and makes me promise I'll finish.
photo: Chihping Fu
I started back to running two weeks before the Western States training camp on Memorial Day weekend and had about 75 miles on my legs before taking on 72 miles in three days! I ran all three days with Mac at a very conservative pace and had a great time. I was sore and tired but in a good way, not a run down way. I remembered how much I love the trails and the people and just getting out there and knew I wanted to be part of the Western States race this year even if I was not at my best. I figured I still had a good shot at 22 hours and even if I missed that I couldn't get much worse than the 29 hour finish in 2012 (which I consider a positive experience). Yes, it is awesome to win or do well, and winning Western States was probably the most exciting thing in my running career, but honestly, I just want to enjoy running and the experience of moving through the land under my power, and finally, I was feeling that way again. It was so nice to be in a "happy place" while running that I knew I would be fine letting go of aspirations to battle at the front.
Enjoying Western States training camp with Mac and Dennis, my  fabulous crew and pacer.
Photo: Joe McCladdie
And so I ran Western States. And I had a great time. No, my race wasn't great. But it wasn't even my lack of fitness that did me in. I started very conservatively and was only 4 minutes faster to Duncan Canyon than what I reported to my crew as "worst case scenario (4:40)". I felt amazing climbing to Robinson, and on the sun exposed switch backs I even said aloud, "I fucking love this climb!". Out of Robinson I had the honor of running with Nikki Kimball for five or so miles. And by Dusty Corners, I was catching people and had moved into the top ten for the ladies. Things were going great, the legs felt good and I was having fun. And then my stomach gave out.
"The hills are alive with the sound of music..." The wildflowers were amazing this year!
(Ph: Bob Hearn)
Being more laid back about this year's race meant I didn't have a regimented fueling plan. I have a plan that works, but sometimes it feels like some kind of torture trying to get down powdered drinks and sticky gels and that didn't seem to fit with the "fun" goal. Unfortunately, eating whatever I wanted at aid stations also did not lead to fun. A few too many Oreos, PayDay segments and a greedy two Popsicles at Devil's Thumb had my stomach in knots by the time I was climbing to Michigan Bluff. I arrived there only to start heaving at Mac's feet and I wasn't able to get much down. Nikki, Sally McRae, Joelle and I all grouped for the run down Volcano Canyon and I had a great time with them and enjoyed our soak in the river until Nikki announced, "All right, it's time to get going." I was able to get a little food in running with them and felt strong on the climb to Bath Road, but a little extra effort there once again found me dry heaving at my crew's feet at Foresthill and not taking much in. From there on out I couldn't get much in and my energy levels dropped similar to the trail dropping to the river. I got down a few cantaloupe chunks and two pieces of black licorice which lead to the most Goth looking puke ever on the climb to Green Gate. Unfortunately, puking was not the "control-alt-delete" reset my stomach needed and I still couldn't take much in. I ended up walking most of the way to Hwy 49.
Feeling like shit, but still joking around (ph:Bob Hearn)
But I was still in good spirits and the only point which was a bit disheartening was the stretch when 4 ladies passed me in about 5 minutes. I didn't have my heart set on top 10 this year but still it sucked to go from 9th to 13th in a matter of minutes! I took several minutes at Hwy 49 and got in about 8 ounces of orange soda. Once it kicked in, I was able to run again and had a decent (though not exactly fast) push to the finish: 22:46 - my slowest sub-24 by a long shot (70 minutes slower than my rookie year!) but still light years better than 29 hours! In the end I was very glad to have gone and I am proud to have my 6th Western States finish. There were challenges but I never felt defeated, which makes me think my head is back in the right place.

In the weeks after the race, I got more and more pissed about the race, especially why I - an anal retentive over planner - decided to "wing it" on the food and why I didn't do more to try to correct it at Foresthill and especially why I didn't even try to stay with any of the ladies that passed at mile 87. But I think being pissed is a good sign, too: it makes me think I am hungry again and ready to push myself to do better. 

I've run a couple times in the last week and I feel great. Right now that is the most important thing for me as I think I may still need some time to fall back in love with all of the grueling aspects of this sport. But I am very excited for some trail adventures this summer (Trinity Alps backpacking and Leadville pacing!). Plus, 100k Worlds are only two months away (!) and being part of Team USA always gets me fired up. Hopefully those adventures get the running stoke factor back to high in the next few months! 
Pre-race veteran's panel. This was a lot of fun and I like to think I gave some good advice, but I still have plenty to learn myself! (ph: Mark Tanaka)


Olga said...

It's a great feeling to have - "turning around". Slowly or suddenly, it's one we live for. Happy for yours.

Rob said...

It's great to read up on your races for the year. It's even better to read you are finally feeling great again. I am excited for you to run for the joy - my fondest running memories are around the local trails here in Minnesota when I decided to start running again a few years back. To get that feeling back is amazing. Good for you Pam!

Sarah Lavender Smith said...

I love your funny and pissed-off voice -- your running skirt and mascara rant, your Goth-looking barf -- and for the record, you seem a lot more interesting and real than many other "elites" (god I hate that term). Please keep blogging!

Anonymous said...

Maybe I first heard of you because of your winning but I follow your blog because of the great writing.

Trailmomma said...

This honest purge of a blog has to feel good no? Again, I love that you tell things like they are and don't paint through rose colored glasses. I met you on the climb up Michigan Bluff on Memorial Day Training weekend and enjoyed your honesty about life and running even then. Even those of us who are not racing after elite titles and wins go through those "ugh, I hate this" moments in a race or on a run. I take it as our body and nature's way of grounding us.
As for the mascara/makeup, I do agree. I barely have time to get breakfast in let alone paint a face before a race. The skirts however, I have a mix of shorts and skirts (prefer shorts but sometimes lack of laundry dictates the wardrobe) and I have found, for those of us who chafe ... the skirt DOES help with that ... but I prefer shorts in the end. ;) As for a brand, RYP is based in Auburn - their skirts are the skirts of choice if you are going to try one. :)

John P said...

F'ing funny Pam! I think sometimes longevity in ultrarunning requires dropping a few
f bombs and not taking oneself too seriously. I have no doubt you'll pass through this
little valley and find your fast mojo again. Perhaps we appreciate success more when it's
born from struggle. Cheers!

Unknown said...

Hi Pam, we don't know each other but I just wanted to tell you how much you inspire and amaze me and my women's trail running group with everything you do. My 1st 100 was 2013 WS100 when you won and made it look easy!! Remember how all the top 4 that year were the most experienced, 100k team ladies--you, Nikki, Meghan, and Amy I think?! It gave us hope that experience can trump mascara and fancy race kits sometimes. Which was one of the main things that kept me coming back to run ultras! Maybe I'm just being sentimental because I just had another bad race I don't want to talk about. But we love you because you're REAL!! Please keep running and writing so the rest of us real women have someone to look up to. You seriously are the best. And you're a mom! And a doctor?! Wow. Thanks again for writing this! --Kristina

Pam said...

Thank you everyone for the comments. For the record, I didn't bag on trail skirts, just mascara, but wondered if trail skirts and mascara are both ways for ladies to stay in touch with the feminine side while being outdoorsy.

Kristina- I know who you are as you are one of my La Sportiva teammates! Thanks for the kind words.

Anonymous said...

This post is excellent! I am a fellow doctor/ultrarunner/mom having a kick-back running season, probably from trying to do it all!
This is hilarious, but the new trend among women is glue on eyelashes. They actually glue them on to your real eyelashes and it makes it look like you are wearing eye makeup/mascara. They are actually quite fun and obviously never smear...

Anonymous said...


Quinn! said...

Thank you for writing! I'm so happy to post this on MountainRunning.Com. You and your writing is inspirational to so many people getting into trail running and looking to run Ultras. Looking forward to seeing you race in Worlds!

Anonymous said...

As others have noted, your honesty about how you feel--the realness-- is just so refreshing somehow. I listened to the WS panel and loved what you said about seeing the things you were able to see when you ran 29 hours. How you did not have that opportunity to see the river from no hands when you ran faster. So much of the race descriptions of that course related to running it fast and I always wanted to hear what it might be like running it slower.

Anyway, glad things are turning around and continued fun running to you!! Love your blog.

Sarah Evans said...

Hi Pam - I run an online magazine called Salem Is ( and I'm interested in talking with you for a story, if you're willing. Could you email me? Sarah Evans,

Jennie said...

What a breath of fresh air!!!! Your writing is brilliant, sad I couldn't find a newer post hopefully you're ok and not thinking of stopping? x

sulli said...

Useful article, thank you for sharing the article!!!

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