Wednesday, October 4, 2017

One Last Chance

 “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” ~ Paulo Coelho
This will be short - not something usually said of anything I write - but I have a race to pack and plan for, and I leave tomorrow.

The past few weeks have been crammed to the brim with life: Lots of work, getting the kiddo set for her first ever sleep away multi-day school trip in the mountains, helping my mother who's 2000 miles away sort out buying a new house and moving out of the hotel she's been in since I first moved her at the beginning of July, dealing with a pressing legal issue, etc...Life has been a series of crazy, mind numbing and exhausting busy-ness.

On Monday I woke feeling that perhaps I was just ready to give up. Mentally I was drained dry.

"I really don't have to do this", I kept telling myself.

But this morning I sent my brave daughter off on her first ever sleep away trip. I won't share too much about this since this is her story, not mine, and I respect her privacy - but suffice it to say that she deals with some pretty intense anxiety issues - But recently she has faced some of these in ways that I admire more than I can express. She has surprised me with her courage and determination, even while I worry about the worst. And today I let her go and do her thing. I let her venture out onto her own journey to face her fears and to learn more about herself. And, as she walked off, I knew that I needed to do the same.

I have this little race on Saturday. This will be my last chance to get my WSER Lottery ticket. The pressure is on and I'm feeling the weight all too much. This will be my 3rd ticket, IF I make it. If I don't, then I must start all over. Starting over is something I'm not sure I can face...

This year has been rough for me. I have faced challenges that have crushed me...and I have managed to pull myself back up, time and again, and soldier on. But the fact remains that I am a changed person, both for good and bad, after all these challenges. Doubt seeps in through the cracks, newly formed, in my confidence.  And yet, I have also taken on new adventures that I may not have had I not fallen on my face a few times.

And so, for now I will focus on the positive and do my best. I will think of my daughter and myself, being fierce, because living life demands that.


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Leadville 100: When Believing Just Isn't Enough

“I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” ~ Thomas A. Edison
Sometimes something becomes a thing when you never intended it to become a thing. But then that unintentional thing grabs you and refuses to release its grip. Leadville was never a "dream" race for me, but then it morphed into something bigger than itself. Whether this is a good thing or an unfortunate thing remains to be seen.

Leadville 100: Take Two

It seems that all I ever post about these days are DNFs.  Between the DNFs is the insanity of balancing insufficient training, the obsessive self-employed working demands, parenting a fairly challenging child, dealing with a difficult aging parent, marriage survival, etc.

Somehow I am left with zero wiggle room. The house has gone to shit. The yard is a mess of weeds. I haven't written anything, or at least finished anything, since February (my last DNF). Is it all worth it when you find yourself time and again falling on your face? Right now I don't know the answer to this question - but the compulsion continues, unabated, even when all reason screams: "Stop this fucking shit. It's making you crazy!"

Ever since Black Canyon in February everything training-wise has been done for the sake of Leadville. I made the decision last year that if I got into Leadville this year then I would dedicate most of this year to proper training for that. Last year I went into Leadville woefully undertrained due to the recovery time I needed following Kettle Moraine 100. And so, I started organizing things in January.  My race schedule was pretty nuts this spring, at least for me, and that began in April:

✔️ First I ran the warm Boston Marathon (my 5th) where I managed a 5+ minute BQ (one of my worst cushions) by 2 seconds. I knew that this would be my one chance this year to get a BQ and though I was not marathon fit, I did the best I could do.
✔️ Two and a half weeks later I ran the Collegiate Peaks Trail Race 25 miler.
✔️ Two weeks later I ran the Colfax Marathon.
✔️ Two weeks after that I ran the Kettle Moraine 50k in horrendously muddy and HOT conditions setting a new AG course record.
✔️ Two weeks after that I ran the Leadville Marathon, an already challenging course, this year with 60 mph winds at 13,000 feet to keep everyone honest.
✔️ A couple weeks later I ran Chase The Moon 12hr night race where I stopped after 9 hours and change with about 42 miles (only stopping then because completing another loop in the allotted time was unlikely.)

Balancing training with work and family commitments (and some extra difficult family issues) during the spring and summer meant not having time for anything else. I did all I could do but also knew that I was still not doing enough and that was something I just had to accept. I watched as others trained the way I knew I should be training - Long weekends running in Leadville - high mountain/elevation runs week after week, while I ventured out from home doing what I could do without completely neglecting the rest of my life. As with most things that require 100% effort, giving 99% may not be enough. I reassured myself: Well, I am trained better than I was last year, so maybe there's some hope. I have NO doubt that I can run Leadville. The issue with Leadville is that 30 hours is very hard for that course. Add to that the demanding early cut-offs and this year ~2 added miles, and it becomes that much more challenging.

Every time Ken Chlouber rallies all the runners, chanting: "I commit, I will not quit", all I want to add is: "I won't quit, but I may not make a cutoff!"

But then, contrary to all you've worked for for months, shit happens. Some shit you can deal with. Some shit you attempt to deal with. Some shit turns into more shit. So much can happen during 100 miles. When you take that first step you really have no idea what awaits you.

Beginning 100 miles, on foot, is always a leap of faith.

“It is easy to make plans in this world; even a cat can do it; and when one is out in those remote oceans it is noticeable that a cat's plans and a man's are worth about the same.” ~ Mark Twain

August 18. 2017

Sandra and I leave for Leadville a little before 8 am because I want to get my daughter off to school before I leave (It matters). I need to be at packet pick up no later than 10 am. Leadville is about a two hour drive. Nothing like getting things off to an exciting start. Sandra hates being late. I always believe that I can do more than I can do in a given amount of time. That false belief (lots of empirical evidence against a belief I stubbornly hold on to) and an overly packed life means I am often running late. It's normal for me to be racing somewhere. Everywhere. So, as we make our way through the twisty roads to Leadville, Sandra's fingernails are firmly digging into the dashboard of the van. We're betting that the black pick up truck from Texas speed along with us is heading the same place. And we speed our way to town, passing lines of cars as if on the same team, and both pull up in front of packet pick up at 9:55 am. No problemo. Sandra is not amused.

We then find the cabin and our compatriots: Alex, Jim, and Jim. The freak is starting to settle in, but I try to keep it at bay. We all pile into a car and head off to the pre-race info meeting/pep rally.




photos @sandra wimer

Back to the cabin, finalize dropbags then off to town to grab something to eat and to drop off our dropbags. So, here's possibly the first mistake I make: I NEVER NEVER NEVER eat out the day before a big race. Why I do today is anybody's guess. I order the most innocuous sandwich possible: Grilled veggies and pesto on ciabatta bread.

As we walk back to the car, Sandra mentions that her fitbit just registered 10,000 steps. Shit. I need to get off my feet. I ran a 2 mile shakeout earlier, but all this time on my feet walking around town is not going to help me!
Back at the cabin I try to relax and lounge for the rest of the afternoon only rising to make my usually pre-race dinner though the allure of Jim's most excellent pancakes and homefries is strong.



August 19, 2017

Sleep does not choose to visit me this night. Unfortunately, over the last week my sleep has been poor as well. I rise at 3am feeling groggy and out of it. I hurriedly get dressed, drink coffee, fill my bottles and we are off into the darkness before my mind and body even knows what's happening.


The start area is a bustle of anxious, excited energy. Light floods the night sky. I visit the potties a couple times, give Sandra a hug and make my way to the start. Of course I haven't left myself enough time to back track and go around the fence that I was unaware of, so my day starts with my traditional fence scaling!

After some nervous start line chatter with strangers and compatriots, the National Anthem blasts through this quiet night lit up like New York City, and the gun sounds. We're off.

A couple days earlier I did my due diligence and actually figured out my goal paces and times for each segment of this race. This process was both comforting and overwhelming. Last year at this time seeing a goal of 25 minute miles I would have laughed at myself - I mean who couldn't do a 25 minute mile? Well, last year I got to gobble down some humble-pie and today I know all too well that the things that sound easy may actually be one of the hardest things you can ever do. Others, by the way, do not understand this. Telling someone who has not experienced this course that you can struggle maintaining a 25, 30, even 40 minute pace has them giggling behind their hand.

My trip out to and around Turquoise Lake goes as planned. My goal was to get to May Queen in 2:30 (11:06 pace) and I came in at 2:30:30 (11:09 pace). I gave myself 3 minutes to get in and out of MQ and we pretty much move along as planned. I grab fresh HEED, eat some food, grab my poles and head off for the climb up Sugarloaf. Ok good.

Trying to settle my stomach with Coke. The PB&J is not going down easy.
Problem is, I do not feel good. First, I've been having little crampy zingers in my left hamstring and calf. This is not at all normal for me this early in a race. I try to take in more fuel, as this usually resolves any cramps I do get. But my stomach is feeling off and everything I put into it causes a growing nausea. I have never, over decades running, had stomach issues on a run or during a race. My stomach has always been solid. So, I'm observing what's happening and trying to figure out what to do as this is all new to me. As we climb Sugarloaf I am taking it easy. I remember running parts of this last year, but today every time I try to run my stomach says NO!

I manage to run Powerline much better this year than last, but I am still feeling off. I've gone through all my liquids by the time we hit the road section (still a couple miles from Outward Bound) and the day is heating up fast thanks to a brilliant sunny, cloudless sky. As we round the turn past Fish Hatch I look at my watch and know that I am way off pace.


I come into Outward Bound drained and demoralized and 25 minutes behind my goal. Sandra gets me set with fresh bottles and gels and a mashed potato burrito for the road. I walk out into the meadow wondering what the hell is going on with me. I feel awful. I walk and nibble at the burrito eventually peeling away the tortilla, just trying to get some of the potato down. Eventually I can't take any more and chuck the remains. As we approach the road I muster a little jog and smile for the camera, but I feel like death. Through the coming miles I try to remind myself to smile even when I don't want to. I wish I could say that it helped. Maybe it did.


And so it goes all the way to Halfpipe. I walk, I run a few steps, my stomach revolts and so I must walk again. I look up at Hope and realize that today I may not make it there. I am so frustrated with what's going on. Why? Why today? I want to just give up. Habit pushes me forward.

I get to Halfpipe feeling like I've already missed the cutoff at Twin Lakes (TL). The reality, however, is that I am only a couple minutes off pace for this section. Of course I don't realize this, and I can't even think straight as my stomach cramps with every step as I head out to TL.

Here the wheels really come off and I honestly do not remember most of this next section. I know there is a climb here, but I don't remember it. I also know that this part of the trail has some of the most beautiful sections of the whole course. I have been so looking forward to running through the aspen cathedral. I try to run. I try to appreciate where I am. I try to take it all in. This is so runnable and beautiful. This is why I run trails. And the next second I am bent over, retching.

During this section I puke three times and feel like puking the entire time, so I stop taking my HEED as every sip repulses. I dump my bottles and refill with just water three miles outside of TL at the minimalist Mt. Elbert aid station. I figure that at this point, since I'm almost done having accepted the inevitable, there's really no need for more fuel. I know my day is done. A guy in pretty bad shape falls into a chair, and asks the volunteer how he's doing on time. She replies that he's fine and has another hour and a half to make the TL cutoff. Wait. What? That can't possibly be. I head down to TL drinking only water and my stomach starts settling down ever so slowly, but I can run for the first time in over 10 miles. As I descend toward town I reassess my chances for Hope.

Actually running into Twin Lakes
Sandra quickly comes to me. I tell her what's been going on. I come in with about a 43 minute cushion. Not anything near where I want to be but apparently I didn't lose any more time over that 14 miles than I had over Sugarloaf. It's all a blur to me but since I make the cutoff and my stomach feels marginally better I decide to continue.

Sandra and Jim tend to my feet (I've developed a blister on the side of my right heel), and as I sit trying to regain my composure, sucking down pickle juice, Sandra pulls out an envelop full of notes she has collected from friends. She reads these and I try to keep control of the tears welling up behind my eyes.  We gather the gear I need to take up Hope and I am quickly ushered out with an exit cushion of 30 minutes. I am encouraged by so many at TL. This is one of my fave AS as it really is a giant party and I see so many people I know. As Sandra and I cross out of TL I look up at Hope and say "But I don't want to go up there!!!" laughing at the absurdity of what I'm fixing to do given the state I'm in. Sandra immediately responds "No whining!" I trot off toward the swampy meadow to the encouragement of hoots and claps. I wonder what the hell I am doing.


Things go okay for a bit. I walk and jog though the meadow, slop through the shin deep jeep trail 'puddles' and hit the river, which is about mid-thigh deep and running strong. The cold water feels good as I glance up to the skies noting the dark, ominous clouds moving toward the pass. I joke to the volunteers, "Hey, can you redirect those somewhere else?"

For this section I'm aiming to maintain a 24-25ish pace and do that for the first 3 miles until my stomach decides to hit the skids again as I try to take in fuel. It seems that things settle down if I don't eat. As soon as I eat my stomach says NO. The nausea returns with a vengeance and makes it hard to drink but my lack of fuel, now going on 20+ miles, is just bad news. You can run with nausea, but you can't run without eating. But every attempt to eat brings more cramping. Along the way I see friends and Runners Roost team members. I get hugs, some walk along with me for a bit, others reassure me that I am still going for it.

I get to Hopeless AS with about 15 minutes to spare, drink some soup with noodles which is tolerable and grab a handful of pretzels. I dump my bottles again and refill with water. As I head up the last 500 feet to the summit I am moving at a glacial pace. Another woman who I've been yo-yoing with since after Halfpipe (and who also has been puking) is a switchback below me. We both take a few steps and stop. Take a few steps and stop. Repeat. This is agonizing for me. Climbing is my strength and I've done this pass a few times over the summer and each time I felt stronger. This trip up is just crushing me.

I crest the pass and this is where the timer is though the cut-off is lower at Hopeless. The fact that I hit this point after the cut-off now means that my crew has no idea which side I'm coming back down. But since I am still in the game I push on toward Winfield.

As I begin the decent my Roost Teammate Sean Wetstine is just cresting inbound, smiling as always and encouraging me to push on. I promise I'm trying but things are not going well. I continue down, and pass friends and teammates going up: Kaitlyn, Gina, Junko, Zack, Eric, Gary...They all encourage me to stay positive. I'm trying guys. I'm really trying...

The poundingly steep, loose downhill and dealing with the congo-lines of inbound runners makes this section slow going. At one point I almost fall nearly hitting my head on a boulder in a talus field as a large group of runners and pacers pass me going up. As I make my way down I thank every pacer who actually yields to me. They are the minority.

Once I hit the end of the major decent and head off for the 3-4 mile traverse of the mountain towards Winfield I find that I am out of pretzels which I have been sucking on the whole way down. My water is also low. I look at my watch and realize that I need to run to make the cutoff but the reality is that I have nothing left in the tank. I'm dizzy and drained and can barely maintain a 25 min pace where I should be doing 13-14. The extra distance this year is the final insult as I pass the cutoff down to the road that we took last year but this year must now do another climb before the final decent into Winfield.

The woman I've been yo-yoing with is now just ahead of me. We are the sad souls who everyone knows is done for. The inbound runners switch from saying "Great job. Keep going." to "Good effort." I pass several friends who are looking rough. I have been where they are and wish them the best but I also know that their chances are slim having just made the cutoff out of Winfield. Still, we all push on. None of us are quitting.

I round a turn and the woman ahead is now standing, looking out over the valley. Her significant other has come out to find her and is hugging her from behind. I stop and say "I'm sorry this day has turned out like this." We exchange some supportive words, and I continue on, giving her her grieving time.

Within a minute I see my husband come up the trail (along with my friend Lynette's son). Seeing him is almost too much. I am both relieved and defeated, and just bury my face in his shoulder and cry. I cry because I'm done. I cry because this has been such a hard day and the effort of it all releases in tears. We walk to Winfield as I tell my story of the day.

And so that's that. I make my way all the way to the aid station as Winfield begins returning to a ghost town. I hand over my wristband and my day is done. Lynette offers me a beer, fittingly called "Road Kill" and I sit shivering under a sleeping bag as we try to find a ride back to Twin Lakes or alternately catch a ride with Lynette, who has no idea where her runner, April, is. There are so many people milling around Winfield with no word of where their people are. Eventually we head to TL assuming that April was sent back after missing the Hope cutoff.

At TL I finally find Sandra and Aubrey (who was set to pace me from TL to MQ). Apparently Sandra has been beside herself, trying to find out where I am for hours. I was not listed on the DNF list but none of the officials could tell her where I was.  The fact that I was in pretty bad shape the last time she saw me was an added concern.

We head back to cabin, my stomach still in a state of revolt. I can eat nothing but some bread. I tell my story again to Katie, who was going to sleep and then pace me from MQ, and to my daughter, Sophia.

My daughter asks, as the night gets darker and colder, "Do you want to be out there?"
"Yes, sweetie. I do want to be out there."

But, once again, I will sleep when I would rather be running.

August 20, 2017

The next morning we head over to the finish for the final hour or so, cheering the last runners in.

It turns out that just 46% of starters finish this year. This race historically has a high DNF rate, but this year is higher than most. That, of course doesn't matter to me, but it's curious nonetheless.

For the second year in a row I am on the wrong side of the finish line. I think I can handle it. I put on a stoic face. I am crushed. But I am there and I so admire (and envy) those crossing that finish line.
“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” ~ Winston Churchill
Epitaph

Since walking into Winfield I have told this story dozens upon dozens of times - to friends, family, acquaintances, random people I see at the gym whose names I do not know, etc. The retelling at first helps, but then you just want it to stop.

At first I think that this one doesn't sting as much, after all, it was all out of my hands.
I am wrong.
It actually stings more.

At first I am okay with it all. I did all I could do. I did not quit though I wanted to so many times. I did nothing to cause my stomach issues - and the cause remaining a mystery. It just wasn't my day and unfortunately this day fell on a really important day for me.

But all that only goes so far and then you begin to wonder: Maybe this is just too hard for me. Others can do this but I just can't. I'm just not good enough.

I have never, in my 35+ years of running, ever, experienced a crisis of confidence this profound.

And so, now Leadville has become a thing for me. It has wormed its way into my being in a way I never could have foreseen. I'm really not sure what I will do about this just yet, but trying to push it away and pretend I'm okay isn't working either. Time will tell where this takes me...
“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” ~ Paulo Coelho

Friday, March 3, 2017

Black Canyon 100k: More and Less Than I Bargained For


“By seeking and blundering we learn.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
As February 18th, 2017, the day of the Black Canyon 100k, rapidly approached, a multitude of challenges began popping up. The first was a lingering cold which first appeared at the beginning of December, just as training was ramping up (since I decided to run this early December), but lingered in my lungs and sinuses nine weeks later. Second, which I wrote about a couple weeks ago (Time's-a-Tickin') came in the form of a nasty fall on the ice at the end of one of my best trail runs this winter. This, two weeks before race day. After trying to run with a busted up tailbone and sacrum, I made the decision to stop running for eight days - until the starters gun went off.  And then the final ominous sign came in the form of an unprecedented storm forecasted to bring over an inch and a half of rain to the already saturated desert and with that a last minute change of course.

The week leading up to the race consisted of a lot of swimming for the sake of my sanity, a multitude of visits to my chiropractor, sinus flushing and sudefed swallowing, and an over the top case of obsessive compulsive weather checking disorder (OCWCD). I installed four different weather apps and checked them desperately for some tiny signs of hope. I hemmed-and-hawed about whether to take the DNS and move on. I vacillated back and forth - weighing the pros and cons of pressing on with plans. The cons were clearly ahead on all counts but the passional ones. Ultimately rationality gave way to desire, and though I knew that the rational thing was to pull out, save the money, heal up completely, I could not let it go. I prepared for the worst and hoped for the best.

We land in Phoenix greeted by blue skies and mild temps. It's almost unimaginable that things will turn so dramatically so fast. I keep hoping as I tap Weather Underground...NOAA...Accuweather...All tell me that my empirically supported hopes are for naught. As the day progresses, the precipitation totals climb and spread across the entire day of the race.

We make the best of the two days of nice weather, freaking perfect weather, hiking and even visiting the zoo (and yes. I did walk too much!)


And then the alarm buzzes me awake at 5a.m.  I hear the rain coming down in the darkness outside. I drink some coffee, eat a bar, dress, gather my dropbags. We drive through dumping rain as we climb the 4000 feet to the start of the race 50 minutes away. Lightening flashes, brightening the still dark morning sky. We get to Mayer High School, I toss my bags on their designated piles sitting out in the rain and head into the gym which is packed with runners and others. I have enough time to pee and get my shoes on and then we are called out into the cold, dark, wetness onto the track for the start.

Keep in mind that I have not run a step in eight days and I actually have no idea how my tailbone/pelvis will feel. My husband takes a quick shot of me and then he and my daughter, still in her PJs, head for refuge in the car.


I wish Clare Gallagher (who's there to earn a Golden Ticket into Western States) good luck, and she wishes me good luck as I laugh nervously...and then there's the countdown and we're off. A lap around the track and then off through town on the muddy dirt roads.

Miracle of miracles, my tailbone/pelvis feels totally fine and I have not forgotten how to run, which given what I am about to face, is very good thing.

A couple miles in we leave the roads for the 'trail' which consists of a path through what appears to be a cow field.

The mud is as deep as I've ever seen, swallowing our shoes while adding what feels like, 15 pounds to each step. We slip and slide, side to side, looking for the best way through it. There is no "best way". This lasts for the first 7+ miles until we hit the Antelope Mesa aid station. The rain pours down on us but I find a few seconds of reprieve in the porto potty. From here, we head onto single track trail.


Thus far, I've 'met' two women (hard to know who you're talking to when you are covered from head to toe): Lynette and Mindy. During races like this, we develop these weird friendships and connections with total strangers. Sometimes they last well beyond the race. You learn a lot about people you are in close proximity to during ultras. You talk and get through tough parts together. It is one of the things I love about ultras.

This next section is the fastest part of the course going out since it's mostly sand, and though it's saturated and puddly, it's more runnable than the sticky, slippery, ankle deep mud.


We reach the mile 21.5, the Hidden Treasure Mine aid station where our first drop bags are. It's such a cluster because there's no place that's dry. Everyone's trying to change and restock inside the too small tent and smaller covered overhang. I do my best to change out of my sodden shirt, placing my drenched Houdini jacket back on saving the jacket packed away for the nighttime return trip. Everything is mud and water. As I peruse the AS goodies I start coughing a hard, painful cough. It's almost embarrassing, it sounds so awful. I'm afraid one of the medics patching up a woman's leg is going to question me - so I try to keep it on the down-low. I've had a cough, off and on, for a while, but it never felt like this and the tightness in my chest is worrying. As I leave the AS I take it very slow, trying to see if it will loosen up. After a mile or so, I feel okay, but still a little concerned.

And so we slog on. At this point I'm running with a group of guys. The trail has returned to mud and rocks. One guy is ahead of me and a bunch are close behind. I hate running in front of people because it messes with my ability to adjust to terrain. I mention, "Let me know if you want to get by" to the the footsteps behind me. "Nope. You're fine". But it never feels fine. At each uphill I catch up to the guy in front and then each downhill he pounds down, gaining ground...repeat...repeat...repeat. He asks several times if I want to go by, "Nope. You'll leave me in the dust on the downhill." The problem is that my funky knee/shin has started bothering me - the same pain I had at Kettle 100 and at Des Plaines 50 last year. At Kettle it hit around mile 45. At Des Plains it hit around 25. Now I am feeling it at 16. The constant ups and downs help, but I'm worried. This damn thing NEVER bothers me in training. It didn't bother me at Leadville. It's so unpredictable and no one can figure it out. This makes trail negotiation a little tricky than I'd like.

At this point I have seen many bloodied runners. Each bloody knee and muddy torso serves as a cautionary tale. By mile 20 I've had only one adrenaline rushing toe catch. Somewhere in mile 24 I go down, rolling a bit off the trail and down a slope, hitting my knee, thigh, cheekbone and the bone above my eye. I sit for a moment assessing the damage and cursing my stupidity as other runners trot by asking if I'm okay. I don't know if I'm okay. My cheek is throbbing and there blood running down my leg. Thankfully the next AS is just about a half mile away. As I jog on, I first think, "Oh screw this. I'm just done." But by the time I get to the Gloriana Mine AS I am determined to run the effing race. The medics see me coming and immediately take me into their tent. They clean me up, check for concussion signs and say I'm good to go, and that they don't want to see me again. There are drop bags here so I change my socks and shoes for the first time which almost feels luxurious.

From here it's 7+ miles to the turn around. The bummer about this alternate course is that it's a net drop of almost 4000 feet for the first 50k and the same gain for the second 50k (though some claim it is actually 6000 each way). As I leave the AS Mindy catches back up to me. I'm walking, trying to shake the stiffness out of me damaged body parts, and let her pass. I slowly start running again. I turn a corner, and see another woman I've been yo-yo-ing with sitting by the trail. I can see a deep gash in her hand and leg. I ask if I can help, but she says no. She hit her head hard and knows she is done and will go back to the aid station a half mile back. Once I get moving again I realize that my fall seems to have made my knee/shin thing go away. Bodies are so very weird.

And so we move on. The skies actually lighten up for about 2 hours giving a false hope that the worst is over.

I get to the turn around after a long long decent and turn to head back home. It's always a lift to make that turn, no longer moving farther away from where you want to go. Mindy and I have been yo-yo-ing some (she is better on the downhills and I'm feeling better on the ups) since mile 24. It's nice to have a friendly face around. As we make our way up the long climb I see few runners. About 3 miles into the climb I pass another woman in a red plastic poncho. I never get her name, but she will figure into the story from here on, and later...

I get back to Gloriana Mine (mile 37.7) grab my handheld Nathan light, a beanie, a couple gels, some cookies, PB&Js and head out. I see Mindy meeting up with her crew. All Smiles and cheer. I head out alone and for this whole stretch, between Gloriana Mine and Bumble Bee (42.2) I see no one. The low dark clouds move back in and in a blink the rain is pounding down again. It is torrential now and the wind starts picking up a bit. The last mile before hitting Bumble Bee is a challenge of what looks to be sandstone (or conglomerate) slabs of rock and rivers of water. The wind now is piercing. And as I jog into Bumble Bee I am feeling the first signs of hypothermia.

I get to the AS and find the tent chock-full of runners trying to warm themselves enough to get to the next AS. It's 7.5 miles to our next drop bags, but now it's dark and cold and drenching. My waterproof jacket is at that AS but I'm not sure I can make it to there. I'm talking with a woman who is equally concerned. Mindy comes into the tent followed by her crew with a bag of supplies. She has a plastic poncho and I jokingly ask, "I don't suppose you have another one of those?" She doesn't, but offers me a "Disney' heat sheet. I jump at it like a starving, desperate person grasping for something...anything. As I listen to the rain pounding down on the tent, I take my hydration vest off, wrap myself in the heat sheet and place the vest on top of that. I then wish all my compatriots well, and head out into the cold darkening skies.

I am still fine running if I can run, and I do run once I find the trail. Those 7+ miles seem to take an eternity as the darkness gets darker and the rain pours down harder. Three guys pass me and I stick with them for several miles. It's a party of two runners and a pacer and one runner isn't looking great, but they're soldering on.

We get to Hidden Treasure Mine (48.9 miles) and I grab my sodden dropbag. If Only I had a fresh, warm shirt, but the only shirt I have is the drenched one I left here at 12.5 miles. I grab my headlamp, change jackets, adding my waterproof Brooks jacket over my wet tech shirt, I change socks and shoes, now switching from Altra Superiors to PIs, suck down a lot of hot broth, burning my tongue but I don't honestly care. I'm talking to a woman named Betty who offers me another heat sheet. I almost don't take it, thinking I'm good - I have one. But I'm not at all good, and have the good sense to accept her generosity. As I sit there trying to get my shit together, I look at at row of runners, 6 or 7 of them, sitting behind the AS table. Their eyes are blank. They aren't there anymore. I look at them, probably too long, and I don't want to be them but I know I'm very close.

I set out for the last AS, 5+ miles away feeling okay but not great. I almost can't find the trail (this happens on several occasions and many runners did go off course). My donated Disney heat sheet has now been made into a skirt as my featherweight shorts are proving to be a liability. A little while later Mindy and her pacer are behind me. We talk for a bit. I thank her for saving my bacon with the heat sheet, and we run on. I don't want to hold them up and I also don't want to lose them but I ask if they want to pass, but they're okay and we run together for a while. At some point I let them pass and stick with them. Mindy is wearing a sparkly skirt which is easy to follow in the dark. She was smart enough to add pants under her skirt back at Bumble Bee. I lose contact with them for a while but as the wind increases, I catch back up to them.

At this point my watch has died, so I'm not sure how far we have to go to Antelope Mesa (mile 54.1), but we've been moving for what seems like hours. The wind picks up ferociously, like a train screaming through sodden desert. The rain is coming down sideways and I'm trying to figure out if it's turned to snow (which was predicted). My heat sheet skirt wraps around and clings to my legs making it impossible to run. I have no choice but to hold it up with both hands making running awkwardly and exposing my legs to the frigid winds. I attempt to open the extra heat sheet to wrap around my upper body just to see if I can calm my chattering teeth and recoup some body heat which seems to be gone for good.

At this point we've become a congo line of bedraggled runners, trudging our way toward the AS somewhere out in the darkness. We look like refugees fleeing some unknown, but horrendous, fate...

I finally see the glowing light of the tent off in the distance. I try to keep moving as fast as possible just to generate heat, but it's nearly impossible in these conditions. As I enter the tent, jam packed with runners and volunteers, I head for the double propane heater in a futile attempt to warm myself as the winds buffet the tent walls. I can not stop shaking. I ask for soup but my hands shake too violently for me to get it to my mouth. I try to settle my mind and get my bearings. It's about 9:20 pm. I have plenty of time to make the 12:00am WSER 17 hour cut off IF I can get moving now. But I'm in no shape to head out yet.

I know that the last 7 miles begins along an exposed ridge-line with very deep mud for the first 3-4 miles. Between the wind, the cold, the rain, the mud, and my foggy head I know that this could take a good chunk of time. The thought of being out there alone, in the condition I find myself now, strikes me as foolhardy.

Mindy's crew is getting her set to head back out. I want to stick with them, but I know I can't leave in this condition. One of her friends comes into the tent with two arm-fulls of coats - Big, fat, warm coats. I look at them longingly and think: "This is not the race to try to do alone. Not today." Mindy and her pacer head off into the cold darkness, but I stay behind huddled around the heater...

At this point there are 5 five of us considering our options. One woman, the woman in the red, plastic poncho who I've passed and who has passed me several dozen times over the last 20 or so miles, is in slightly better shape than me, but decides that she won't go on because she is confident that the sub-17 is out of reach given the trail conditions and her condition. She disappears with her sister for the car ride to the finish. I try to hold onto hope. I try to warm myself so that I can get going - I need to go now - but it's just not happening fast enough. My running body is not the problem right now - I can still run - but can I run in these conditions? And if I can't, what will happen to me out there?

This leaves myself and three other guys:
One is a local runner who has run this race several times.
Another is from Canada who has traveled a long way with high hopes.
The third is a 62 year-old from Oklahoma. He says: "This is probably my last chance for a WS lottery ticket. I ran Western States years ago. I wanted it to be my last 100." We try to cheer him up with stories of many runners older than him running WS. "Some can do it. I can't."

At some point I can see that I am running out of time. I weigh the risks of going for the finish for the sake of the finish. At that time, given how I feel, I decide that the risks are too great. Additionally I can't see keeping my family waiting until 3 am, if necessary. The volunteer asks if I am dropping. I nod, but say nothing, returning my gaze to the glowing heater.

We then wait another hour before someone can get out to bring us in...I am still hit with bouts of uncontrollable shaking.

As we drive back, I'm in the front seat. The heat is blasting. The driver asks:
"Are you number 225?"
"Yes. Why?"
"I was just talking to your husband."
"Really? I'm surprised he's there already."

As I walk into the bustling gym, Peter and Sophia spot me, wrapped in two heat sheets and covered in mud. They are all smiles and my daughter runs up and hugs me hard. They think I've finished. As I deliver the bad news, my husband tells me that they received an update from Ultrasignup hours ago that I had finished, 9th woman in 11:48. When they arrived they couldn't find me. The race had no idea where I was (though I was very careful to check into every aid station). No one knew where I was. My daughter was beside herself, upset that she would never see me again. They heard that many had gone off course and that there were exposed parts of the trail.

My daughter doesn't care that I DNFed. She just wants me.

I find my bag and see that there is a message from one of the race people asking me to call and another message from my husband asking where I am. I see a ton of messages congratulating me on an amazing race. I see Facebook threads where people are calling me: "badass", "amazing", "inspiring"...etc. Ugggggg. This is NOT helping.

As we drive the 50 miles back to the hotel my cough has returned with a vengeance - Deep, raspy and painful. It's midnight but I take a hot shower and get into bed, but I don't sleep.

In the dark I think about all the things I could have done...all the things I should have done:

1) I should have had better clothing options. I was under-prepared for this. I tend to run warm and have plenty of experience running in the cold and the wet - but nothing had prepared me for what happened after the sun went down.

2) I should have asked the other woman who dropped if she wanted to try to go together. Though she had crew, she also had no pacer. We were both scared to go out there alone. Together we might have made it.

3) Always ask for what you might need at an AS. They may just have what you need. After dropping, while waiting for the the ride back, a runner came in and asked if they had trash-bags. Sure enough they had an ample supply. For some time I had been eyeing the black Heftys full of trash, tempted to ask if I could empty one and use it. After sitting in the tent for an hour, seeing this trash-bag, draped over a runner heading out to finish, I just wanted to slap myself. I wanted to say, "Wait. I don't want to drop. I want to go.", but it was too late.

4) Try not to get sucked into what others are dealing with. It is very hard to make clear choices when everyone around you is in the same place. I should have already decided, before the race began, if just getting the finish mattered. At that time it didn't. It does now.

And all through the night, these thoughts drifted through my mind. I leave with nothing. Nothing but cuts, bruises, pounded muscles, aching lungs, and absolutely zero to show for it.


I cried a lot for the next couple days. I desperately looked for a race to redeem myself, but the options are few given that most are already full. I came to the uncomfortable realization that now all my eggs are in the Leadville basket - something that both terrifies me and motivates me. I really wish that things had gone differently, but I know I did my best at the time. Unfortunately my best was not good enough.

And since there is nothing I can do about that now I have only one reasonable option: Learn (again) from my mistakes and try to use these lessons to do better in the future. There's always something positive to take away from an experience.

“Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.” ~ John Dewey


(Photo credits: Many of the race shots were taken by MindyPrzeor)

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Tme's-a-Tickin'

“The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss - an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. - is sure to be noticed.” ~ Soren Kierkegaard

This is one of my favorite Kierkegaard quotes, one I've used here before, and yet there are periods in my life when I lose myself slowly, quietly, insidiously, unnoticed by all but that self inside myself. That self knew it all along. She knew that all was not well in there. No one else may have noticed, or cared. But that little self did and her little voice echoed through the emptiness inside. There were glimmers of hope at times, flashes and sparks that just fizzled out and died from lack of oxygen.

In the process it looks like I a took a bit of a writing hiatus since, ummm, August of last year. I'm not sure why exactly. Life got very very busy: between work, and training, and parenting, and dealing with an elderly parent who lives too far away and needs a lot of help (but professes complete independence), and traveling for races (FWP), and politics, and more politics...and just life. I was exhausted. Worn down. Soul weary. I think that being in a profession that aims to help people can be a double-edged sword: Helping can feed the spirit.  But, there is often the feeling of giving everything to everyone. But if you don't nurture something in yourself, eventually your spirit becomes threadbare. About the time I started heeding the warnings of that little self inside myself, my blog disappeared from the interwebs. Suddenly I cared. I was sad, though I felt I had noting to write. Nothing left to give. Nothing important or interesting to say. I had nothing to offer the world. 

And then last week I had the most wonderful, magical run. It was the best run I had had in months. As I weaved my way up Mt. Sanitas, I ran higher into the low clouds. It was bitter cold and damp, droplets of moisture filled the air. In conditions like this, the moisture stays liquid because it has no time to freeze as it falls to the ground. That is, until it settles on tall grasses, boulders, pine trees - and then it freezes in an instant, encasing the world in shimmering, glowing silver-white faerie crystals. It felt as though I was flying through a magical faerie world. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. No one else was out. All was icy still and quiet. I stood atop the summit, usually crowded with hikers and runners and kids and dogs, completely alone, in the clouds. I could see nothing below but whiteness going on forever...

And I flew down that trail, a trail I love to really let loose on. And on this day, for the first time in a very long time, my body let me fly. As I approached the road going up Sunshine Canyon, I was sad that it had to end. I wanted this run to go on and on...

But, now I had to get down the bad stuff. The trail along Sunshine is shaded and icy. I ran up it fine, but down is a different deal. On most sections you can stay on the trail (No social trails, thank you!) but still skirt the bad ice. The amount of iciness really didn't warrant bringing traction...or so I told myself.

About a mile from the car, I approached a section in the trees cut into the slope, no way around it, going down and around a tight bend. I stopped and walked, carefully, but not nervous and stiff. In a split second both feet shot out from under me and I crashed to the ice. Frozen and in pain, I know I howled and cursed. A lot. I hadn't seen anyone for over an hour, so who the hell would hear anyway. I lay there, looking through the trees to the flat white sky above. Breathe in, breathe out. Many seconds pass. I get myself upright and walk gingerly on. A woman and her large shepherd approach, I'm not moving well but at least I'm up. She has no idea what just happened. We pass. She says, as I guard my injured body from her dog's approach "He's friendly." She could have blown on me and I would have gone down in a heap of tears...but I somehow I got back to the car... 



“Unfortunately, the clock is ticking, the hours are going by. The past increases, the future recedes. Possibilities decreasing, regrets mounting.” ~ Haruki Murakami

I haven't had a running injury, a real running injury, from - you know - running, in a long time (Yes. I was knocking on wood as I typed that), but after a week of letting things settle down it is now clear that I have wrecked my tailbone. I was in denial, mostly, with moments of tears, panic, anger, self-loathing/recriminations, etc. for the past week - But reality is now telling me that this will not pass peacefully into that dark night, like so many other crashes I've taken. I have the Black Canyon 100k in a week. Due to my schedule this is my best shot at getting my third ticket for Western States Endurance Run, which seems to be dictating a lot of my plans at this point - for what I know not. And, worse, I actually planned to take my family along for the fun. So, not only will I be crushed if I can't run, but my daughter may be crushed even more.


Today, Shirley Plaatjes, my massage therapist, suggested I pray.  It may only be running, but it matters. I will do my own variety of praying. Time's-a-tickin' and I do not have time to play with. I will do everything in my power to do what I set out to do.


“The strongest of all warriors are these two — Time and Patience.” ~ Leo Tolstoy

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Leadville Trail 100: Death By a Thousand Cuts

The Leadville Trail 100, the "Race Across the Sky", did not go as I hoped it would. After decades of running and racing, I left Leadville with my first DNF instead of a shiny, new belt buckle.

But what did I really hope for?

Going into this I pragmatically made the decision that this one was for my ongoing education. I had so many points against me leading up to this that, intellectually, I knew the odds were against me, and I was okay with that. I was okay with that intellectually. Emotionally, I'm devastated and whatever my rational mind is trying to do, to convince me that it's okay, it feels awful. And it can't be undone.

Going into this I knew my training was nowhere near what it needed to be. Doing two hundreds in a span of two and a half months was uncharted territory for me, and recovering from Kettle-Moraine 100 took more time thanks to the issues I had that left me with a very painful compensation back injury. I did what I could do, but I knew it wasn't nearly enough. That said, I usually go into these things on training most would think woefully inadequate and make it through thanks to my fairly stubborn mind.

But where was my mind?

Leading up to the race life seemed to be plotting against me. The walls seemed to be closing in from all directions. I hadn't slept well in weeks, worrying about things I either could not control or didn't know how to address. Why the hell did it all have to hit at once? Running is simple. Life is not. I wanted to just run, but life just kept kicking me in the teeth. That's how it felt.  On Wednesday night, sleep deprived and stressed concerning so many things that are out of my control, I broke down, sobbing to my husband: "I just can't do this. I just can't even think straight." I could not even fathom doing what I really wanted to do.

Somehow I gathered myself together and made my way to Leadville, still feeling disconcertingly out of it, but somehow going through the motions. Friday afternoon, one concern was lifted as I received the message that my mother's biopsy came back negative (she will be cancer free for five years in December and this little blip caused considerable concern), and my daughter had a good day at school. And with those two bits of news, I actually was able to sleep some that night. Too little, too late, but it's something.

3 a.m. Saturday morning.

Gabrielle and I prepare for the day and night to come, bleary eyed and nervously quiet.

Abbie and Gabi's husband, Jim, walk with us through the dark, cold morning, greeted by the bright lights and bustle of the starting area.


It's hard to say what I'm feeling. Actually all I'm feeling at this moment is the need to pee. One nice thing about LONG runs is that you know that you really don't have to waste mental energy worrying about whether you will need to stop to pee along the way. You will. So no need getting uptight about it at the start. I find Mitch, wish him good luck. Lots of nervous energy fills the air as the bright lights push away the darkness. We are in a bubble of light and promise. What will this day bring?


And like that we are off. 4 a.m. and the road is lined with people cheering. Music is blaring as we are ushered off into the unknown.

The first section is crowded as we head off the road out of town and turn north. At times we are brought to a standstill thanks to wet trails - which I find very frustrating becasue why the hell is everyone stopping?? It feels like a stupid traffic jam for no reason. When we hit the Turquoise Lake trail I feel good but face continued challenges getting past people. The farther out, the more spread-out things get and Gabi and I, by luck, are running together. I know this part of the trail fairly well. Just don't fall.

I get to May Queen, mile 13.5, in 2:39, which is both where I want to be and ahead of when I told Abbie I would be there. Here I make the first of many mistakes: Because the aid stations and crews are separated, I am not sure if Abbie will be here yet. So I grab my dropbag (which I have in case my crew misses me) and prep my bottle with HEED. The fuss and bother takes several minutes. As I leave the aid station I see Abbie on the other side of the fence holding two fresh bottles of HEED. Dammit.

I head out and up Sugarloaf, the second highest point of the race, feeling good, alternating running and fast walking. I notice that I am passing some of the same people I've passed already. Gotta get faster at the aid stations, tell myself. I will repeat this over and over throughout the day. I summit and start heading down the steep descent. My left knee immediately complains with sharp jabs of pain, but thankfully that passes. I'm still nervous about it though, and take the downhill very easy, which is hard to do given the angle of things and the loose, sandy trail.


I come into Outward Bound (mile 24.5) with a 34 minute cushion, but again screw up the aid station-crew separation. I find my crew, but I run right past the porta potties which are now way behind me. I tend to some hot-spots on my feet and head for Half Pipe. I'll pee when I find a place. I don't have time to go back. As I leave Outward Bound behind, I find I am passing the same people yet again. Damn. What is my freaking problem?


I make my way to Half Pipe, then the Mount Elbert aid station. The volunteer asks if I can make it the 3 downhill miles to Twin Lakes on one bottle since they have to truck water in. Since I'm out of HEED I need to take a gel, and that requires water, but I'm also feeling uncomfortable asking for what I need because now I'm feeling that that might be a bit selfish. I take one bottle (17 oz) but don't take the gel so that I can conserve the water. This is my first serious fueling mistake.


I make it into Twin Lakes (39.5 miles) at 1:21 pm, now 39 mins ahead of the cut-off.


Okay. That's good. I, again, run past the porta potties, and spend too much time at the aid station. I eat some PB&Js, chips, get two fresh bottles of HEED and grab a couple gels, my jacket and trekking poles and head off toward Hope. I'm behind a guy at the water crossing who says something to the volunteer and hands him his phone. The volunteer crosses to the far bank and starts taking pictures of the guy crossing who then stops, holding on to the rope, and kneels down into the rushing water. At this point I'm right behind him, standing thigh deep in the water and I can't get past.
"Ummm. may I please pass?" I push by as he stays kneeling and neither say a word to me.


For the first 4 miles out and up Hope Pass I am keeping a solid pace around 24 mins per mile (ahead of the 27 min pace necessary for that leg) trying to keep my heart-rate steady. The climb, from the course low point in Twin Lakes at 9200 feet to the course high point at 12,600 at Hope Pass is long and very hard. About a mile before the aid station I am low on fuel and my pace slows precipitously. Looking back on this now, I know I set myself up for this back before Twin Lakes. My poor fueling choices are starting to catch up with me.

I get to the Hopeless Aid Station 500 feet below the summit and refill my water and take a gel. I grab a cookie (should have grabbed several) and head up the last steep switchbacks. I cross the Hope Pass mat at 4:07. The cut-off is 4:15. Shit. My cushion is gone. I start trotting downhill to Winfield trying to make up time. My legs still feel good, but the combo of a 22% grade, loose rocks, and runners coming the other way make this almost impossible.

Losing time is so much easier than making up time.

I get into Winfield, now starving, with 10 minutes to get back out. In the tizzy of getting out, I neglect to grab the things I need. Abbie refills my water but we don't grab the gels from my drop bag. I leave the aid station with 2 gels and two hydroflasks of water. Importantly, Abbie carpooled out to the aid station, something we did not plan for before, and so I don't have some of the things, like my hat and a charged watch, I need from my bin of goodies. As we make our way back up to Hope, the arduous climb plus my fuel deficit hits hard. With a couple miles to go I am out of fuel, running low on water and feeling hypoglycemic - slightly dizzy and out of sorts. The sun begins to sink lower in the sky and the bitter wind chills me to the core. I throw on my jacket, but my glacial pace and my low blood sugar threaten to leave me hypothermic as I shiver my way up the hill. Several steps. Stop. Several steps, stop. Repeat. Every step I take takes everything I have. I want to just go, to suck it up and push, but I have nothing left. Nothing. I know what I need but there's nothing I can do. I have to get to Hopeless and eat. All the way up we see other runners coming undone. Some puking, Some despondent. A pacer runs past us to get help for his runner below who isn't moving...

I get to the summit of Hope at 8:24 pm. I don't know this because my watch has long ago died. I assume it's about 10 pm based on the darkness. I don't even ask. What's the point of asking. The cut-off at Twin Lakes is 9:45 (though they let people though until 9:50 I learn later). Twin Lakes Inbound is the final really tough cut-off. After that the required pace eases up. Had I been able to go at my normal pace from here I would have made the cut-off, but I had no choice - I had to stop and eat and give it time to hit my system. I spend 20 minutes at the Hopeless aid station. It is hopeless indeed.

As I sit at Hopeless, sucking down broth and noodles, shivering in the cutting wind, I know that I am giving up my last hope of making it. The decision, though, is out of my hands.

After the soup settles in I feel better and we make our way down. Now there's no hurry since it's already a done deal. Abbie chats as we pick our way down the rock strewn trail trying not to trip. It's a tedious, seemingly interminable five miles. I can't say much. I've never been in this place before. It's not a good place to be. I reassure myself that I did all I could do. I didn't quit and I still wouldn't quit if I had that choice. But I don't. I can no longer control this. The final insult, of course, is that my body, my muscles and tendons, feel better at this point than any of my previous 100s.

The water crossing in the freezing meadow is the final insult and I laugh maniacally telling Abbie that she'll never forget this. We make our way into a now quiet and fairly dark Twin Lakes. People appear from the dark clapping, "Good job runners".

Good job?? Good job? This is not a fucking good job. This is a DNF. I'm done. Done. I see my crew and hang my head. I feel awful. I feel I've let everyone down. But they are so gracious. So supportive. We joke and I try to shake the whole thing off. I don't want to feel anything right now. Alex drives us back to town and I savor the heat blowing on my sticky, cold skin. Ah. Creature comforts.

Eventually I fall asleep, around 4 am. When I go to sleep I am okay with the day and the effort I made. I never gave up. Or did I? When I wake later that morning, that has all evaporated and I am left with sadness, regret, second guessing. I quietly pack up my stuff, trying not to wake Jim, and head to the finish to check on my dropbags and Gabi's progress.

As runners come in to cheers and tears, I know I need to leave. I want to support the other runners, but I also want to just run away. I walk around the finish area with the noticeably stiff-legged walk of someone who obviously ran but didn't succeed. I'm ashamed. I feel like a fake. I suck. I suck. I suck, plays over and over in my head. Why don't I have what it takes? I feel like I'm walking around a town full of awesomeness with a scarlet letter embossed on my forehead: Loser. All these other runners with medals around their necks - they can do what I cannot. Why did I even think I could do this? So, yeah. I sink into a pit of self-loathing despair.

The next day at home, I start combing through the details to determine how I came so undone. Nothing big happened at any one time, but many tiny cuts over time lead to too much loss. Comparing my progress with some of those who made it to the finish, I see that I did many things right, and my progress was actually well within the range of success, but my mistakes were fatal. Three mistakes, I believe, did me in:

1) Aid station management: I took too long and had a hard time adjusting to the set-up that Leadville had.

2) Fueling: I let things slide on the fueling when I shouldn't have. The deficit started early and by the end it was too late to catch up. The rush at Winfield was the final nail in my coffin. Because I was already behind on fueling at this point I HAD to eat here, and I didn't.

3) Poor crew management: If I were to do this again I would give my crew very specific instructions. They did a great job, but again, little things got me. I should have had them collect food for me and had Abbie carry stuff. At Leadville muling is allowed but I carried all my own gear and fluids. I have a hard time asking people to do these things, but it may have made all the difference. Not having a watch going out of Winfield took away MY ability to make my own clear judgements. I need to know what I need and I need to clearly communicate that to my crew. I was very very sloppy on this.

Because of the strict and tough early cut-off at Leadville, there's not much margin for error. Had I gotten through Twin Lakes the cut-off become more manageable, and I knew this. I knew I needed to get through that one and then just keep pushing and I'd be good. But I didn't make that last really hard one.

While I know that the journey matters as much as the goal, I feel I cheated myself out of the whole journey. I wanted that journey. This was the first 100 that my husband and daughter would be at the finish for and I so wanted that moment with them. So many friends sent words of support and confidence. I feel I let them all down.


“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” ~T.S. Eliot
After Kettle-Moraine 100, I made up T-shirts for my crew with this quote. I don't know if I've found the limit in the big sense. I guess I found my limit on that day. I know I will pick myself up and learn from my mistakes. But the truth is that right now I am mourning a loss. Yes, I know that everyone occasionally DNFs but that doesn't mean we have to be happy or satisfied about it. This is my first and it brings with it feelings I have not felt before. Yes, I've had disappointing races, but this is different. It will take time to sort it out. For now I need to allow myself to feel the feelings.


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Kettle Moraine 100 #2: A Tough(er) Row to Hoe

"Courage is the commitment to begin without any guarantee of success." ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The 2016 Kettle Moraine 100 miler marks my 30th marathon/ultra since the fall of 2009 when I began racing again after about a 16ish year hiatus.

When I was 30 I ran my first marathon, the Maine Marathon, in pouring rain and temps in the high 30s - on little training and just the desire to 'do one'. At the time I fancied myself a serious rock climber and marathon training just didn't fit in well with climbing hard and working full-time. Fast forward to 2009 - now 45 years old, still a serious rock climber but coming off a long running injury that could have spelled the end of my running days - I signed up for my second marathon, the Boulder Backroads Marathon. My training was still utter crap, I didn't believe in fueling on runs or in races (didn't need that crap in the 'old days') and on the cloudless, windy, 87+ degree day, along the shadeless dirt roads north of Boulder, I received a serious slap down. The last seven miles were a cramped death-march as sirens screamed through the air from all directions.

My second marathon sucked, and I swore to the heavens that it would be my last.

Of course it wasn't. But, thus far, it is without a doubt my 'worst' marathon experience, partially because it was harder than all the others - but WHY was it harder? I have since run marathons in far worse conditions, under much more challenging circumstances, and they have never sucked as much as #2. So why was my second so bad? Well, I have a theory on this and I've seen it many times over with a second: The second time is not a first. As such it brings with it 'baggage': Different and more challenging expectations. A first is special. It's 'big'. You don't know what you can do. You don't know what to expect. Can you even do this thing? If a first goes even moderately well then you are over the moon psyched because you explored uncharted territory and you did not die - or fail. How can you fail when you complete a first? However, a second is not so pure and innocent.
 “And once you are awake, you shall remain awake eternally. ” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
The nice thing about running is that there are always new challenges to pursue: Last year I ran my first 100 miler. Perhaps I rushed into this having only run one 50k and one 50 miler prior, but I'm no spring chicken. The sand is quickly flowing through my hourglass, so I went for it. It was hard. Harder than I could have imagined, but I got it done. My goals were modest. My eyes were wide with wonder as I embarked on a new adventure, and the post-race euphoria (pre-post-race-depression) lasted a little longer than normal.

Now: 100 miler #2, same race (because I had some unfinished business to settle with THIS race), but a vastly different experience: This was, to paraphrase John Stuart Mill, a higher quality 'pleasure' but one that was and continues to be a much more difficult 'pleasure' to obtain. 

I can say without a doubt that my second 100 was harder, and continues to be harder, on all counts than the first. At this point in my 'ultralife' there is little comfort in the knowledge that you have done 'it' before. In fact, ignorance is a bit of a blessing at times. Being able to actually see, in my minds eye, what I would be facing during the race in the days leading up to the race was not particularly comforting even though I had survived. Last year I had my imagination. Last year I had the excitement of a new, unknown adventure about to reveal itself. Last year I had the encouragement of others: An overwhelming, energizing outpouring of encouragement and support one gets when you try something for the first time and the people who you care about actually care, and wonder if you can do it - and with that unknown hanging in the air, the support is tremendous. The second time is so, so, Ho-Hum...anti-climatic...same-old-same-old. I mean, you did it once. You'll do it again. Let's all move on to something interesting. But for the person doing the doing, it can be a strangely quiet, very personal, and sometimes lonely path. As you are freaking out, all those around you are waving off the anxiety as silliness.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

And so the day arrives. I drive off, waving to my daughter and husband. I have a rib out of place, which happens one day ago, and a knee problem that has plagued me since November thanks to a non-running 'accident'.  Continual treatment has helped, but whether my knee can hold up for 100 miles is still an very big unknown weighing heavily on my mind and heart.

I actually sleep some the night before and the morning dawns warmer than I'd like, but everything goes smoothly.


Contemplating the chip :)

And so I stand at the start line with so many unknowns and too many knowns - feeling like the Sword Of Damocles menacingly hangs over my head. But once the gun goes off, it's down to the task at hand and all the lingering worries dissipate into the thick morning dew...

I am careful to go out much easier this year than last and to avoid thundering down the very steep downhills. Somewhere along the first stretch to Bluff I start talking with a woman from California. She's slightly behind me, so I don't even get a good look at her. All I really see is a flash of pink. The course is slightly different this year due to trail changes that would have made the 100 a 102 miles instead of it's usual 100.6 miles, so we get to Bluff much sooner then I expect but then turn off in the direction that the second 38 miles goes, up toward Confusion Point. Now, I'm pretty dang sure that we went straight out of Bluff last year so for about a mile or so I'm wondering if everyone took a wrong turn and I'm a damn fool for following - but just in the nick of time a sign points us down a different trail. The stretch between Bluff and Emma Carlin is narrow and moderately technical and trying to get around conga-line bottle necks without being a jerk takes patience. Again the California runner, whose name I learn is Keather, and I strike up a conversation as we weave through the forest. At about 12 miles, I'm already feeling some fatigue in my left quad, the leg with the compromised knee. The leg I've probably been favoring (and weakening) since November. My right leg feel great.

Just run.

We hear the hoots and hollers from Emma Carlin waft though the trees and I feel a spring in my step and a smile on my face. This is somewhere around mile 14 and the first chance I get to see Sandra.

Keather and me coming into Emma Carlin (outbound)
I'm in and out of Emma Carlin pretty fast - pee, replace my HEED filled hydropacks, stuff some potatoes into a baggie, grab a Hammer gel, hug Sandra and I'm off. One of my goals this year is to avoid dillying and dallying at aid stations. Sandra is timing these this time to keep things honest.

The skies at this point are staying pretty cloudy, moist, and thick, but as we head off into the open, rolling meadow for 9+ miles that is a Godsend.

I'm ticking along, running, eating, running, eating, etc, and a couple young dudes come up next to me. One strikes up a chirpy conversation immediately. We're all feeling pretty good at this point and ticking through the miles at a reasonable clip.

As we talk and run, the young man just behind me says, "I've met you before. I've run with you before."
I hear his voice and say "At Des Plaines. You and your friend"
"Yes. You wrote a race review. I read that"
"I did. And you were in it. You were getting ready for your first Hundred"
We talk about that race, about his hundred, about our goals today, and then he says, "Thank you so much for the advice about the 100. I just want to thank you."

At this point an unmanned aid station (Antique Lane) appears like an oasis, and they stop to refill bottles. I still have one full bottle so I keep going, wishing them well and assuring them that they will see me shortly. At about mile 23 the chirpy chap catches up with me. "I like the pace you're going." we settle in and chat a bit longer. We hit Hwy 67, and the skies are getting ominously dark. I head for Hwy ZZ, only a few miles away, but the trail is empty. I pass one young, healthy looking dude puking by the side of the trail about a 1/4 mile from the aid station  and then I do not see another person for a couple miles. This makes me nervous since I have a habit of getting effing lost, and I really do not know where I am. And now it's chucking down rain. Thunder rumbles through the dark forest. But then civilization reappears, with signs and arrows and...an aid station. Hwy ZZ. Where I find Sandra, and now Jennifer with her amazingly resilient kids, in the rain.

I stop quickly, meet Ann who's volunteering and running the 38 mile 'Fun Run" that night, AND who has promised to pass along a baggie full of peanut-butter/chocolate espresso bean balls, and then I head off to Scuppernong.

30+ miles
Last year at this time I remember being completely trashed. This year I'm only moderately trashed. Good sign, maybe.

Scuppernong is a bustle of activity as the 50k waves are just starting. I'm in a bit of a rush, first because I don't want to dilly-dally and second, because I want to get out before the 50k masses are released.
Simultaneous sock and bottle change
As I head back out, the 50kers are just about to take off. I go but they quickly pass me, all full of energy and cheers. I must say that while I LOVE this race, this element is fairly annoying because the 50kers don't know who's already run 50k(!!!) when they come up behind you (since the only indication of which race you're running is your number). Since I'm not as nimble on my feet, at this point, the spry folks, and their eagerness to move at this, is a bit much through the single track section back up to Hwy ZZ. My dexterity is not equal to theirs.

My only goal through this section is not to get lost. Last year I cost myself big time due to missing a turn which this year is well marked. Success.

It's also here that my knee begins making some noise.

Back through ZZ, then Hwy 67, then back to the meadow, which is now in full, baking, humid sun. And it's about 2-3 pm. The second trip through the meadow is ugly. I can see the moisture steaming off the ground, rising into the air. It is also here that I learn a big big lesson! At Scuppernong I slathered my quads with Aspercreme to relax my quads. Unfortunately I used the 'cayenne' version. After all, it was damp and rainy then and the forecast was for more damp and rainy. But, in the baking sun of the meadow, with zero shade and temps quickly rising through the 80s, my legs are on FIRE. I mean, they are burning up! It feels like my skin is melting off my thighs. I curse my stupidity over and over again (lesson learned). The only thing that get me through the afternoon heat is the coolers full of ice at the unmanned aid stations. I load my running bra with ice as men look on longingly - Probably the first time they wished they had breasts!

This section is also where weird stuff starts happening on my left side: The meadow, while not at all technical, is very consistently uneven. Because we run through cut grass (which is not that short) footing and judging your footing is hard. The constant adjustments can really take a toll on your pelvis (both trips add up to 18 + miles of this stuff). So, about 5 miles from Emma Carlin, my knee pain starts spreading up my leg to my hip and a weird nervy way. I try to run and within 5-10 steps my leg feels like it will give out on me. My hip joint feels like it needs to be popped, but there's not much I can do. The next few miles are torture as I realize that this run is not going to happen today if this situation continues. I need to get to Emma Carlin tape and change shoes and see if that helps. I'm feeling pretty pessimistic at this point.

Coming into Emma Carlin (inbound) and the wheels are coming off!
I tell Sandra what's going on, tape, try to pop my hip which isn't happening, and change socks and shoes. If the run to Bluff isn't better (mile 55) then I will have to end this at the 100k.

Thankfully the nerve stuff is better. My knee still hurts, especially on the downhills, but I no longer feel like my leg will give out on me. I'm still not sure what's going on with my knee, and in fact it feels like it's below my knee not 'in' my knee. It also doesn't seem to be getting worse (another deal killer), but it makes running hard and painful. I'm so frustrated now because the rest of me feels good. Mentally I'm in a way better place than last year. I just want to run without this bloody pain.

I come into Bluff and Sandra is there with a worried expression. I add some tape which just keeps pealing off thanks to sweat and humidity, grab my headlamp and head for the steep rollers into Nordic: the start/finish/100k mark. What will it be for me today?

Some things I note along the way: It's not as dark as last year. This section last year I had Abbie pacing me. Now I'm alone and I'm okay with that. I get to the 100k which is a party scene. The thought of stopping isn't even there. Jeni has now joined Sandra. My team is here, and I feel that I need to keep going - they came here to run with me! I don't want to let them down.

100k - 38 miles to go
Sock change, more tape, calf sleeves, soup, lots of soup, PB&Js...and Sandra and I are off into the darkness.

As we come through the Tamarack at 68ish miles, I realize that I've just passed a woman in pink in the dark. In the light of the aid station I realize it's Keather. We all leave together and keep each other in a somewhat punchy-happy mood. Keather is having a hard time dealing with bad bad blisters on the bottom of her feet. I'm having a hard hard time with my knee pain. Sandra is upbeat as always. We start doing the math on making the cut-off (always depressing talk at this point!) and realize we have about 12 hours to do 50k. Keather and I console ourselves that we could probably do that crawling. But sh*t this is painful.

We hit Bluff again, and stuff our faces. Keather sees the last of some small powered donuts. I'm not a donuts person, but those are good right now! Sandra and I leave as Keather is talking to her crew. At some point we are all back together, though the next sections out to hwy 12 and then out to Rice Lake have some of the more technical stuff. I almost fall several times since I'm basically operating with one good side. Any misstep makes it difficult to correct. We make it to Hwy 12 where Jeni takes over pacing.
Coming into hwy 12 (outbound)
Good points: I'm here much earlier than last year and my feet have only minor blisters. Last year I was dealing with HUGE blisters at this point. Shoe change, sock change, eat...and we're off. At this point it takes about a mile to work out the pain before I can even speed walk. This is the part of the run when it become increasingly depressing to still be heading AWAY from the finish. The Rice Lake turnaround is a huge emotional boost because after that you are heading inbound and no more outbound. As we leave Rice lake, I see Keather going into the aid station.

Last year the only hallucinations I experienced were seeing people standing along the side of the trail. People who were not actually there. This year I see things flying around my feet. They look like moths or small butterflies. I ask Jeni, "Are there moths flying around our feet?" She just says "Noooo." but I keep seeing them flitting about in my peripheral vision. It then occurs to me that this seems a lot like the faeries my daughter describes seeing. I decide that these are indeed faeries that she has sent me to help me move on.

Hwy 12 (Inbound)
We hit Hwy 12 and the sun is up, but I'm still ahead of last year. It's about 14 miles to go, but these are 14 of the toughest ever. I am already dreading the last 7 miles of steep rollers after Bluff as every bit of downhill takes its toll on my leg/knee. Mentally I hold it together and feel rather chipper...I joke with Jeni as we climb the long hill back up to confusion point - "Don't you folks in Wisconsin understand the concept of switchbacks?" The thing I've noticed this time around is that the trails generally go straight up a hill with no turns to even out the grade. This also causes rough footing since erosion is an issues with this approach to trail building (Note: The groups in this area are working to improve these trails and mitigate these issues). I can run up switchbacks 'til the cows come home, but at some point, these steep trails just get to you. Those who come from 'tougher' terrain for an 'easy' run learn fast that this ain't it.

Bluff (inbound). Mile 93+
Until I get through Bluff, inbound for the final time, facing those last, slow, painful 7+ miles that feel like an eternity. My mental state has gone, in an instant, from chipper to grim, cranky determination. For this last section you are allowed to have the rest of your crew join you to the finish, so Jeni and Sandra usher me home. But I am in no mood to talk. In fact hearing anything but my own grim thoughts is irritating. No one can really help me at this point. I can't be distracted any longer. I don't want to be distracted any longer.

Leaving Bluff and heading home
To any normal person, this is what the morning looked like. This is the calm before the hilly storm. From time to time I do look up and see, but for most of the, once we hit the hills, I could only look down and move forward. I am quiet. My watch dies about 4 miles from the end. I don't want to ask...I don't ask. Jeni and Sandra have been quietly 'discussing' distance left - Sandra's watch says one things. Jeni, who runs these trails often, maintains that the markers on the trees are reliable. There is some disagreement which I irritable shit the hell down. Yes. I'm having a rough time of it. Thank god they are good friends and understand! A trail runner trots by, just out for his Sunday morning run, sharing encouragement.  He says: "I've run this trail 100s of times. You are less than a mile from the finish." I try to push harder, but here are the last two big downhills, and now the pain in my leg makes me feel nauseous and dizzy by the time I get to the bottom of the hills. The trail weaves through the trees so I can't see the finish, though I can now hear something in the distance. We turn, then turn again, and again. Finally there is the last turn and I see where the trail leaves the trees though I still can't see the finish: I know it's there.

As I hit the opening exiting the trees and see the finish I hear the cheers and cowbells. There are many more people around this year than last. I put my head down and try to run with Sandra and Jeni by my side.


Eye on the finish
And I am done. 28:24:45. One hour and 48 minutes faster than last year.

Out of 253 runners registered, 133 finished within the 30 hour cut-off. My aim going into this (my 'B' goal) this year was between 24 and 28 hours. My 'A' goal was sub 24 and my 'C' goal was to finish and just get my WSER qualifier. But, by the 100k mark I adjusted my 'B' goal due to the issues I was having to sub-29. So, I guess I got that.

Timo puts his arm around me and congratulates me. Jason hands me my second copper kettle. I sit down for the first time in forever, and Sandra hands me a beer. It may only be half past 10 in the morning, but I eagerly accept it. 

Sitting. Ah, sitting


Best Crew in the world!
We hang out and cheer the rest in until the clock says 30:00 chatting with other runners and their support crews. Sharing beers and stories of our trials and tribulations. I'm in no hurry to have this part end...

But it does end. We make our way back to Illinois. I am in much better shape in some ways this year: Minimal blisters, slight foot/ankle swelling but not as bad as last time, and I'm feeling okay - except for my leg/knee and now my mid-back which is no doubt something resulting from compensation.

Sandra and I go kayaking the next day - yeah, stupid, but I am feeling good and want to do something fun. My logic goes like this: Well, I don't need to use my legs. But, as we battle fierce winds I am working my back hard. The next day as I travel back to Colorado, I feel an odd, crampy pain in my back. Perhaps kayaking was unwise!

I get home and life returns to normal. And it's like nothing really happened at all. Yes, I get some 'congrats' but I also get some snarky, cutting comments thanks to social media concerning my 'performance' and for some reason these eat at me. Of course those who like to put others down usually have NO experience with the things they feel qualified to comment on. But after running a hard and painful 100 miles, one is not emotionally stable. I usually don't let these few, mean-spirited things get to me, but I am weary. I am starting the question my achievement, or lack there of. And my post-race depression hits in a day, rather than the usual week. Add to that the fact that I now have an injured back, something I've never had before and which I did not feel at all during the run, and I sink into a very dark place. I am in constant, unrelenting pain, people I don't even know are being mean to me (yes, this seems to overshadow all the nice things people say), and I can't freaking run. 
“I won't tell you that the world matters nothing, or the world's voice, or the voice of society. They matter a good deal. They matter far too much. But there are moments when one has to choose between living one's own life, fully, entirely, completely—or dragging out some false, shallow, degrading existence that the world in its hypocrisy demands. You have that moment now. Choose!” ~Oscar Wilde

SO, I 'go away' for a bit. Turning off and tuning out others. And slowly I emerge from the murk. I'm still not there, but I'm getting there. 

In eightish weeks I am 'supposed' to run my 3rd 100 - Leadville. I now have not run for two and a half weeks. It will, no doubt be a bit longer though I am on the mend. Everything feels great, except my stupid back.  After days of fretting about this I am letting it go. I have no control over this right now. If I am able to start Leadville than I will, but I will stop if I need to. I have never DNFed, and right now I am feeling like I might need to get the DNF thing out of my system. Perhaps I should have stopped at the 100k at Kettle and called it good. But I weighed the pros and cons: 
Pros: Things aren't getting worse, damage is already done, I want my WSER qualifier
Cons: Might not be able to run.finish Leadville.
I fully accept my choices here. 

Onward...
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?'
'That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,' said the Cat.
'I don't much care where -' said Alice.
'Then it doesn't matter which way you go,' said the Cat.
'- so long as I get SOMEWHERE,' Alice added as an explanation.
'Oh, you're sure to do that,' said the Cat, 'if you only walk long enough.” ~Lewis Carroll, Alice In Wonderland


One Last Chance

  “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” ~ Paulo Coelho This will be short - not somethi...