Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Farewell 2013.....Looking Forward to 2014

Early in 2013 I stated here that this year I wanted to train better and see what I could accomplish if I gave it my all.  Well I guess I accomplished that goal because I did focus more on my training and I achieved more than I could have ever thought possible.  Instead of a rundown of my year, I'll just list my top five running accomplishments.  And yes, I feel extremely fortunate to have had a year that included even more than five highlights.

#5 Tie - 5k PR and Oregon Trail Series Age Group win

Okay, I  lied and can't keep it to just 5 highlights.   In September, the week before Mountain Lakes 100, I ran a neighborhood 5k and finished in 23:17.  That's a 7:29 pace in case you don't want to do the math.  Whoa!  I really didn't know I had that in me. I'm the gal who usually plods along at a 9-10 minute pace.  And since I didn't feel like I needed to puke for the last mile I'm pretty sure I could have pushed it more and maybe even finished under 23 minutes.

In September I also found out that I won my age group in the Oregon Trail Series.  Technically I was second,  But fortunately for me the overall winner was in my age group.  Nevertheless I'm proud of my result and I won another cool pint glass to add to my collection.

#4 Waldo 100k

I never would have thought that finishing Waldo would NOT be the number one highlight in a year.  But it still makes the top 5. :)  This was a tough day for me, but I still had a pretty strong race and earned my hat.  And now I want to go back and finish sub 16 hours.

#3 Mt Hood Circumnavigation

This was a spur of the moment adventure.  For my 49th birthday I decided I wanted to complete an epic run.  Yassine suggested this one.  I had my doubts whether it was the right time or place, but I'm so glad I took the plunge.  What a wonderful adventure!  Marc joined in the fun and we spent 15 glorious hours circling the 40+ miles around one of the most beautiful mountains in the country.  This is one birthday I'll never forget.

#2 Javelina Jundred

After the disappointment of Mountain Lakes, I'm so glad I was able to move on and finish my first trail 100 down in Arizona.  Some things that made it extra special were my brother pacing me a lap from miles 62 to 77 and finally getting the "first 100" monkey off our backs with good friend Desiree.

#1  Mt Hood 50 mile

Even in a year where I finished Waldo as well as my first trail hundred, I can honestly say that my third running of the Mt Hood 50 miler was my best running moment.  This was a perfectly executed race.  It's the one I'll judge all future races against.  Plus, finishing sub 10 hours, which I never in my wildest dreams thought I could do in a trail 50, was pretty sweet.  My finish pictures pretty much say it all!  And this being the race I fought so hard to even get to the start the first time, is just the cherry on the top.

Looking forward to 2014, I know that 2013 will be tough to top.  I do have a few big goals in the works and hope I can keep riding the wave and eek out two good years in a row.  Whatever happens, I love this sport and it's participants.  I'm forever grateful to be a part of it. Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 07, 2013

I'm famous! (okay, not really)

When the guys at Animal Athletics asked me to write a short piece about my experiences with them, I didn't hesitate.  I love working with Yassine and Willie!  They put my write-up together into a blog post which you can read here

I'd already been planning a post here about Animal Athletics and may combine that with an end of the year wrap up.  Stay tuned!

Monday, November 04, 2013

Javelina Jundred 2013 Race Report

I was disappointed after Mountain Lakes, but confused about whether I should focus my energy on another 100 mile race or wait until next year.  On the one hand, I really wanted to finish a 100 miler this year.  I'm confident it would have happened at Mountain Lakes so not getting that 100 mile finish there, surrounded by friends and family, was a huge let down.  But on the other hand, it had been a long season and I was tired. I've seen other people miss getting a 100 mile finish and then jump right into another one to fail again.  I wasn't sure I had the mental fortitude to do it.

Javelina on October 26th was a possibility, but as I was visiting my family in the Phoenix area the weekend after Mountain Lakes, I still wasn't sure.  I did a few runs and it felt hot and dry.  What a contrast to the prior weekend.  My parents live in a retirement apartment complex with a central dining hall where most of the residents eat their meals.  As my parents introduced me to their friends and neighbors, they often mentioned I was a runner.  To all these people I was a young person and I heard many stories of the good old days, mostly now a distant memory.  It made me realize I  need to take advantage of every opportunity given to me in life.  I had been fearing another failure , but I now knew I had to seize every moment.  I would come back again in 3 weeks to give it another shot at the Javelina Jundred.

Getting back into training mode for another three weeks was difficult. And then Marc had a medical emergency which resulted in a four day hospital stay. I didn't think I'd be able to make the trip after all. And honestly I was a little relieved. But as he recovered enough for me to leave him I realized I really wanted this second chance for a 100 mile finish in 2013.

This race consists of six 15.3 mile loops and one shorter 9 mile loop. The loops are run washing machine style so you always head back out the way you came. Since I would be without a crew I decided to splurge on a small tent to keep my stuff. The day before the race I went out to drop off some gear and scored a tent not too far from the turnaround. At packet pickup I saw my good friend Desiree who was also down from Portland looking for her first 100 mile finish and Dana, who was crewing and pacing someone else. It was nice seeing friendly, familiar faces since I was missing "Team Sarah" - Rose and Seth who had been with me for my other 100 mile attempts.

Can't run a race without wearing my Animal Athletics shirt! pic by Dana Katz

Before long race morning was finally upon me. Since I had to take the shuttle to the start I got there early and by 4:45 I was all ready to go. I met a few friends (Rick and Renee!) whom I had only known online, which was fun. We socialized and took some pictures and before I knew it the 100 mile journey began.

With Desiree, waiting for the start. Pic by Dana Katz

With Dana, Rick and Rick's wife.  Pic by Brian August

We're off to a blazing start!  Not.  :)  Pic by Aravaipa Running

Loop 1- clockwise
Mile 0 to 15.3
3:09 hrs/mins
12:21 pace

Des and I decided to stick together for the first loop. We'd been warned that the course was very runnable and we'd need to make an effort to keep it slow so we wouldn't burn out. My goal was to keep it to 13:30 pace which didn't exactly happen. But I never felt like we were running too hard. It was nice to have the company and we spent the time chatting away just as if we were on Wildwood in Forest Park.

Not yet 9am and I already have my sleeves rolled down in the warm conditions. Pic by Aravaipa Running

Loop 2 - counter clockwise
Mile 15.3 to 30.6
3:41 hrs/mins
14:26 pace

It was already starting to get warm so I took the time to change into my cooling sleeves, cooling shirt and hat with flaps. The pace slowed down on this lap, but this also takes into account the time spent at Jeadquarters (about 12 minutes) plus extra time at the aid stations on course. I wore my Mountain Hardwear fluid race vest with a 1.5 liter (50 oz) bladder. The first loop I didn't need to fill, but with temperatures rising I now wanted to make sure it was always topped off with water and ice.  The main thing I remember about this loop is that I started out by downing a chocolate coconut water from my cooler and then immediately ate a trail butter wrap.  Ugh.  Too much all at once. What a rookie mistake.  The only good thing is that it forced me to slow up compared to Loop 1.  I walked and slowly ran a lot of the first 4 miles which helped my stomach digest and settle.

Decked out in my full cooling outfit. pic by Aravaipa Running

Loop 3 - clockwise
Mile 30.6 to 45.9
3:45 hrs/mins
14:42 pace 

This was the expected hot loop I'd been dreading. I'd committed to the race only 2-1/2 weeks prior but had managed to get in eight sauna sessions of 20-35 minutes each. I read and re-read Pam's post about how she conquered the heat at Western States. I drew the line at cotton (going with the cooling clothes instead) but took to heart the advice to get and stay as wet as possible. I also bought and used one of those crystal cooling bandanas. It all worked. The ice in my bladder helped keep my core cool, along with the baggie of ice I'd put by my chest in my bra. I dunked my hat in the ice water buckets at the aid stations and used the sponges to soak my sleeves. I put chunks of ice in my sweatband against the inside of my wrist. A few times it even felt too cold and I had to temporarily work the ice around to the outside of my wrist. The crystal bandana never felt as cold as the ice but I'm convinced the constant coolness against my neck that never dried up or melted away made a big difference. When I finished this loop at 4:30, as the air was cooling off, Dana asked how I felt. It wasn't bravado that answered "It didn't feel that hot." Loop 3 was actually one of my better loops and I was able to run a lot more than I expected. My time for Loop 3 was only three minute slower than Loop 2, but I probably spent longer at the aid stations filling up. So that means I actually made better time in the heat than I did in the cooler temps of the morning.  When I found out after I'd finished the race that temperatures had reached 95+ on course I was surprised.

Changed and ready to go out on Loop 4. Pic by Dana Katz

Loop 4 - counter clockwise
Mile 45.9 to 61.2
3:58 hrs/mins 
15:33 pace

With the sun due to set in about an hour I changed out of my cooling shirt and hat and into my 2013 Mt Hood 50 mile shirt and visor for the last of the sun.   I also grabbed my light.  It was only supposed to get down to 60 at night and I had a long sleeve at my midway drop in case it cooled much more than that.  I also took the time to turn on my phone to text my brother who was planning to join me for Loop 5.  As my phone started up I could see alerts from Facebook and Twitter, but couldn't take the time to look at any of them.  However, it was nice to have a bit of tangible evidence that my friends at home were following along and cheering for me.  About 4 miles into the loop I saw Desiree up ahead and was able to catch up to her.  We were just at the point that we needed to turn on our lights. (Side note:  From the tracking it probably looked like we had been running together all this time.  We did run the full first loop together. But Des was ahead of me the whole second loop  Then on the third loop I caught up with a few miles to go and we finished together.  But Des was able to leave more quickly than I did again.  All in all, I think we ran about 30 miles together which was really nice.)  We went on to run the rest of Loop 4 together.   I can't express in words how much it meant to me that we were out on this course together.  We'd put in numerous miles together over the last few years and shared many highs and lows.  Crewing Des at her first 100 mile attempt inspired me to give the distance a try myself. Being able to finish our first 100 on the same course would be extra special.

Loop 5 -  clockwise
Mile 61.5 to 76.5
4:17 hrs/mins
16:47 pace

My brother, Phil, was waiting for me at the timing area as I finished Loop 4.  After a moment at the tent to grab some more fuel we were off.  Phil is a very experienced runner and racer.  He was varsity on a top cross country team in high school, ran for his college and continued on to run marathons and other races in his twenties. (His marathon PR is 2:32 ---- no joke!)  He still races and is involved in his kids' cross country team but hasn't run longer distances in a few years and not a lot on trail.  I warned him we would be moving pretty slowly.  We hadn't really talked about his "job" as pacer, but it didn't matter because he did great!  For the first half of the loop, which covered the more rocky, technical section, he followed my lead and walked when I walked and ran when I ran.  But as we rounded the loop and the trail was more runnable, he encouraged me to run when I otherwise might not have. He distracted me with stories.  It was a great time for both of us.  He provided me with support and encouragement at a critical part of the race, but also got to experience a new kind of race for him.  (And between you and me I think he may have caught the trail ultra bug!).

I had been feeling pretty good physically up to this loop.  (For a time on Loop 3 I had some knee pain but it went away. ) But halfway through I felt a painful hot spot smack dab in the middle of my left foot.  At the midway aid station I stopped to relube and change my sock, hoping that would help.  Also near the end of this loop, my stomach started to feel queasy.  Up until that point I had been fueling consistently on my every 30 minutes and felt pretty good (except for the Loop 2 mistake).  I switched to more liquids such as broth and soda, but ended up coming into Jeadquarters with my stomach still feeling off.

My time goal for this race was to finish the first six full laps in 24 hours or under and then finish the race in 27 hours or under.  With my brother leaving me and not feeling so great, I was sure I wouldn't reach my goals.  I thought I would end up slowing down a lot on Loop 6. But Phil was super encouraging and told me he believed in me --- I could do it!

At the airport with my brother Phil the Monday after the race. We both had flights to catch!

Loop 6 - counter clockwise
Mile 76.5 to 91.8
4:56 hrs/mins
19:20 pace

Back at my tent I decided I needed to check out my hot spot more closely.  Sure enough it was a deep blister under a ball of the foot callus.  I spent a lot of time trying to drain it without success and ended up just putting on a blister pad, hoping that would cushion it and make it less painful to run on.  I'm pretty sure I spent way too much time messing around when I needed to make up some time and get out of there.  I got some broth and headed out.  Within a few miles I saw Des coming towards me as she finished up Loop 5.  I had been wondering about her, but expected her to be ahead of me instead of behind me.  Turns out we had passed her while she was taking a bio break.  Loop 5 had been a tough loop for her so I gave her as much encouragement as I could.  She has been at all my other 100 mile attempts (plus numerous other races)  and we were determined that we were both going to finish this one.  Des is emphatically not a quitter, but so much can happen in a race that's out of your control.  So I was worried.  I knew I could not be truly happy with my finish if Des didn't finish too.

Much to my surprise I moved a lot better on this loop by myself than I thought I would without Phil's company.  I actually ran a lot of the gradual uphills.  My foot was killing me, but eventually both my feet ached. So the blister spot didn't seem so bad. Even if I had been able to relieve the pressure there I'd still have the general foot ache.  It became one of those things I just had to try not to think about. Same with the nausea.  It was always there but I decided to stick to broth, coffee and coke and hard candies.  I knew I could make it the rest of the way on fumes if I had to.  But man these miles were hard.  Much of it is a blur now, but I remember having doubts and wondering why it was so difficult.  I never truly thought I'd quit or wouldn't finish, but at the same time wondered if I really had what it takes.

The night seemed to go on forever.  I never felt super sleepy but I did have a few mild hallucinations.  I recall admiring the Christmas yard decorations, which turned out to be cacti, of course.  And I saw a brilliant shooting star, which wasn't a hallucination. But mostly I just looked at my feet and the trail in front of me, focused now on the finish.

Loop 7 - clockwise
Mile 91.8 to 100.8
2:24 hrs/mins
16:00 pace

Finally, I made it back to Jeadquarters and could now go out on my final, shorter loop.  I had been so inspired by the other runners with their glow stick necklaces, showing that they were on their final loop.  Now it was my turn!  It would get light again soon so I changed into a short sleeve, grabbed my visor and got back out there as soon as I could.  I'm pretty sure I left by 5:55 which meant my brother was right and I had made my goal of finishing the first six loops in 24 hours.   I tried to do the math in my head and thought it might be possible to finish in under 26 hours.   I pushed for this goal but eventually my only care was about finishing.  The sun came out and it felt warm really quickly, much more so than the day before.  About a mile and a half in, who do I see but Des!  I was so happy to see her!  She couldn't stop, but I yelled encouragement to her as she passed.  Seeing her gave me a little happy boost and I pushed on.  However, it seemed like forever to go 5.5 miles to the turnoff to the finish.  I was still running some, but this section was generally uphill and rocky so there was a lot of hiking.  I hadn't fallen or tripped the whole race and I didn't want to now! Finally I reached the turnoff. It was only a gradual 2.5 mile downhill then one mile of rolling/flat to the finish.  I thought I would be running most of the 2.5 miles down, but still had to stop for walk breaks here and there.  I knew I'd finish over 26 hours but I didn't care.  I was going to finish!

Finally I reached the turn to the finish with a mile to go.  Soon more people lined the course and as they cheered for me I started to get very emotional.  I wanted to smile as I crossed the finish line, not cry!  So I tried to smile, but as soon as I was done I bent over and put my head in my hands.  Relief, joy, pain. I had done it.  26:10:57
pic by Aravaipa Running

Pic by Aravaipa Running

Pic by Aravaipa Running

Finishing my first 100 mile trail race felt incredible.  It had been over a year in the making. I enjoyed quite a bit of it, but there were also many moments of pain and wondering why.  Someone wrote somewhere I can't remember right now, that they ran 100's because it was one of the only times in life that required they give all of themselves 100 percent.  That is so true.  You can't fake your way through 100 miles.  I'll add that much of the appeal is also the joy, satisfaction and sense of accomplishment you get after the fact.  I know I'll be feeling this glow for quite a while.  And when it wears off, I'm pretty sure there's another 100 mile race in my future.


Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Am I tough enough?

When I first heard the announcement for the inaugural Mountain Lakes 100, I was super excited.  I knew this was the race for me and would be the venue for my first mountainous 100 mile finish.  All the pieces were there.  It was partly on trails I knew very well.  The Mt Hood 50k had been my first ultra with Marc in 2006.  As a family we have been attending the Mt Hood 50 Mile race every year since then, with either Marc or I running the race.  And Marc agreed to pace me for part of the race so we would run together again.  It felt like it was meant to be.

Fortunately, my stellar crew from my failed attempt at the 2012 Pine to Palm 100, Rose and Seth, were available and eager to help out again.  I had originally planned to stay the night before the race in a motel in Detroit. But when they moved the start to Olallie Lake it made more sense to camp.  Five days before race day the weather looked perfect and I let my motel room go that I had been holding just in case.  But around Wednesday, the forecast started to turn.  First some possibility of rain.  No big deal really and it might even hold off until the race was nearly over.  But as the hours ticked off the forecast got worse and worse, until eventually the forecast revealed that race weekend would be hit with a huge PNW storm, the remnants of a typhoon. 

My friends running the race and I weren't very happy about this turn of events. But what could we do but be as prepared as possible.  I repacked my bags and added in as many cold and rainy weather options as I had, including some items that I normally would consider too heavy for running.  There's no point in not trying, right?

Friday morning, the rain started, lightly at first but you could tell a storm was brewing.   I felt bad that I had only recently cancelled the motel room.  So when Seth and Rose arrived to pick me up I offered to see if we could get a room.  But without hesitation, they insisted on camping.  Race weekend had begun!  We drove to Olallie Lake and fortunately we got a campsite within a 5 minute walk to the start and were able to set up the tents under light rain.  But the wind was already blowing quite a bit.  I picked up my number/packet, had some of the pasta feed, socialized, went back to camp, ate more dinner, back to the start for more socializing...and before long it was 8pm bedtime!  With the rain picking up and the wind howling, I slept surprisingly well on my 3 pads, despite waking up every 2 hours.  I finally woke for the last time at 3:45am and was up....race day.  Today was my frickin' day!

After saying hi to a few more friends, hearing the race briefing and giving/getting a hug with the crew we were off in the rain.  The first 3 miles were on forest service road and I ran the first mile or so with my good friend Desiree, also looking for her first 100 mile finish.  Other friends were around and anticipation of the day ahead was in the air.  By the time we turned on to the single track trail lights were turned off. We were shrouded in cloud so any view was obscured,  But it didn't matter since all eyes were on the trail trying to dodge the ever increasing puddles that soon became rivers in spots.  Supposedly the gale force winds weren't arriving until Saturday night, but someone forgot to tell mother nature and we were hit with strong biting winds as we climbed over an exposed ridge and down to the first aid station.  From there it was all downhill on forest service road to the first crew-accessable aid station at mile 11.5.
photo by Mike Davis
Up to that point my body wasn't too terribly cold, but I was wearing 2 layers, plus a helly hansen shell and on my head a cap, plus beanie, buff and the hood.  However, despite my gloves and water proof (resistant?) over mitts my hands were wet and freezing. I just stood in front of the table and gobbled up candy bars, something I rarely do, at least this early in the race.  Rose and Seth had me change my gloves and put on the Gortex over mitts I was saving for later.  Ahh...with fresh warmers my hands were nice and toasty.  I thought this would be the ticket for the rest of the race.   Unfortunately the mitts weren't waterproof at all (the seams must have leaked) and it didn't take long for my hands to get wet again and the warmers to be ruined.

Photo by Paul Nelson
The course climbed back up to the ridge, this time on single track trail.  I finally reached my first washout that I couldn't navigate and was forced to wade right through in shin deep freezing cold water.  No use trying to dodge puddles now, especially since the trail just got worse and worse.  Fewer puddles and more washouts.  I passed a few people and a few passed me, but I spent long stretches by  myself.  Finally I reached the out and back to Breitenbush AS.  Despite runners coming towards me (and knowing there would be an out and back) I felt very confused and disorientated.  I have an excellent sense of direction and can usually tell where north/south/east and west are.  But not this day. Finally I saw a familiar face, my friend Annie, and she confirmed we were on the out and back and I'd soon reach the AS.   But not before braving that ridge with the wind blowing and the rain hitting me sideways.

Photo by Mike Davis
As I came off the trail and had just yards to go to the aid station, I saw Desiree heading out.  She should have been a lot farther ahead of me and I could see she was shivering.  So I instinctively reached out and wrapped my arms around her.  She said she'd wait for me so we scurried over to the aid station.  They didn't have anything hot and I didn't want to linger too long, so after a quick bio break I grabbed some food and we were off.  Back over the ridge we had to brave the high winds and rain. There was one section that was so exposed that I yelled back to Des, "We'll have to run for it!" as if we already weren't trying to move as quickly as possible.  But slowing or stopping in this particular section seemed like it would be truly dangerous.

Photo by Mike Davis

Finally we were back on the road with only 3 miles of easy running to the Olallie Lake AS.  It seemed so much calmer here that I wondered if I had been dreaming about the ridge.  But my hands were still as cold as ever.  Soon I saw Seth who had walked out to greet me.  He said there was a warm cabin open where I could change.  

Rose was waiting at the aid station and after getting a hot cup of broth she whisked me into the cabin.  It was a surreal setting. The small crowded room contained just a few couches and a table by a burning wood stove. The windows were boarded up and the only light was from headlamps that moved around.  We quickly claimed a couch and I couldn't get my clothes off quickly enough.  Rose handed me an avocado wrap and I ate as I changed.  It took a few minutes to find exactly the right things to wear, but I didn't mind since I was soaking up the wonderful heat.    However people around me were talking about dropping and I knew I needed to get out of there..  Demoralization was in the air, but I felt pretty good and my awesome crew had lifted my spirits.  More than once I told them, "I'm not quitting."   They bundled me up in long pants, a thermal base layer, half zip long sleeve, fleece vest, waterproof shell jacket, cap, beanie, buff and fresh socks, shoes, two layers of mittens and hand warmers.  My pack was stuffed with extra gear, food and lights since I had nearly 30 miles to go and wouldn't see my crew again until after dark.  It had taken me just over 7 hours to cover 26 miles and then I spent at least a half hour getting warm and changing.  Time to get out of there!

Rose walked me to the PCT turn off and away I went.  Surprisingly the weather had lifted a bit. The rain had stopped, the breeze was mild and I was actually treated to a bit of a view.  It felt good to be warm, but as I started to run I discovered I was overheating.  I took off my gloves, pulled off my hats and unzipped my jacket. That was better.  The next water only aid station was only 3 miles up the trail and it didn't take long for me to arrive there.  It was great to see some familiar faces, including Joe L. who was the aid station captain and Jesse B., also running the race.  Jesse should have been way ahead of me, but was waiting for a ride out since he had twisted his ankle miles ahead and turned back.  He offered me some of his supplies he now didn't need, along with his encouragement which I gladly accepted.

Carrying on along the PCT I now had 9 miles until the next aid station at Pinheads. I couldn't remember what the terrain would be like but I had a feeling it was up.  And I was right, but thankfully the gain was pretty gradual and I was able to alternate hiking with running.  The rain came back but it was still pretty gentle.  I had been eating consistently up to this point, never missing one of my 30 minute "time-to-eat" alarms and grazing at the aid stations too.  But now I started to get a little nauseous, partly because I was a bit warm.  It wasn't bad enough that I couldn't still gag down a gel, but I realized I needed to concentrate more on the salty/savory stuff at the aid stations and I regretted not asking my crew for a wrap or two to go or waiting long enough for Rose to grab me a trail butter pouch from the car.

The rain and wind picked up and the view was obsured yet again. Still, there were areas of utter beauty along the trail.  I recall a section where the forest was thick but the undergrowth was minimal.  The tall uniform tree trunks with moss hanging from them were like a beautiful abstract painting.  Scenes like this are one reason why I do this.  But along with moments of serenity, thoughts of doubt started to creep into my mind.  Would I really be able to finish this thing? When I saw my crew at Clackamas Ranger Station would I beg them to let me quit?  I had told many people that I was over first 100 mile race attempts and this would be my last....meaning that I fully intended to finish and subsequent attempts would be my 2nd, 3rd, etc. finish.  But maybe this would be my last whether I finished or not?  Maybe I wasn't cut out for these races?  I wondered then and I still wonder now if I'm mentally tough enough.

Finally, after steadily climbing and then enjoying some gradual downhill I reached Pinheads AS.  I knew that Ben C. would be there and was also happy to see Andrea J. volunteering too.  My friend Aric R. who I had ran with briefly earlier in the race was sitting by the heater.  Ben and Andrea were eager to help, with Ben kindly taking my bladder out of my pack, filling it and returning it without me having to remove my pack.  Andrea served me up a welcomed cup of onion broth.  I asked how long they were volunteering and was surprised to discover they planned to be there all night and into the next day until the sweeps came through.  It was only about 5pm.  They were a calming oasis in the growing storm and I can't thank them enough for their help and support.

I carried on and was glad that Warm Spring AS was next and only 5.5 miles away.  After this I'd be on familiar territory, with the rest of the race either on Mt Hood 50 Mile or Timberline Marathon sections or trail I had just covered.  Aric and I leapfrogged our way down the trail and I was surprised at how quickly we arrived at Warm Springs.  Time for more broth and the best instant mashed potatoes I'd ever eaten, served up by Amy S.  And of course, I was warmed by a classic Jason L. hug.  Another oasis in the storm staffed by dedicated, cheerful volunteers.  I was pretty much done with the sweet stuff for now and knew I'd likely not eat again until the next aid 6 miles away.  So I asked Jason to open a hard candy peppermint for me, hoping it would help sooth my stomach.  It was perfect and a new tool for my arsenal.  I believe the slow flow of sugar as I ran helped convince the central governor that I was getting more fuel than I actually was.

After I left Warm Spring I realized I had forgotten to get my headlamp out as I had planned.  It was around 6:30pm and I knew it would be getting dark soon.  So I stopped to get it out and put it on over my jacket hood.  It was raining harder and the wind had picked up so I was all bundled up again.  With a cap, beanie, buff and hood over my head, locked down by the headlamp strap, I could barely move my head outside of small range of motion. That constriction made me realize how much my body ached, especially my shoulders.  And I was all alone.  I kept imagining lights up ahead but it was always just a reflector strip or my own illusion.  Aric was ahead of me now but I didn't know how far.  Based on Amy's information, I expected the front runners to come towards me any time, but there was no one.  I tried to keep my light off as long as possible, but had to turn it on finally just as I started up the climb to Red Wolf pass.  

The trail had been fairly clear of water from Olallie Lake to Warm Springs. There were puddles, but they were fairly easy to avoid.  As the rain and wind picked up, so did the water on the trail.  The climb up to Red Wolf in the dark was difficult.  The lighting messed with the perspective and it was hard to tell how steep the trail was.  I tried to run a few spots, but quickly tired.  I remembered seeing pictures of Olga hiking at Hardrock with her hands clasped behind her.  I tried this stance and discovered it was the most comfortable and so I hiked this way up most of the hill.  As it started to level out I knew I was close to Red Wolf AS.  I wanted to run, but in the dark it was difficult to run on the now water-filled trail.  I felt like if I fell now I might do a lot of damage to my slow reacting body. So I shuffled along as quickly as I could, eager to get to the next oasis.  

Finally I could see the aid station lights across the clear cut.  Another familiar face, Kamm, was the captain.  She and the other volunteers were focused on getting us warm. I spent a few minutes in front of the heater and then more time with a space blanket around my shoulders while drinking up the hot broth.  Todd, one of the RDs showed up and announced that some trees had fallen on two cars back at Olallie Lake and that they were holding runners at Clackamas Ranger Station, my next stop.  Despite the warmth of the aid station, the darkness, rain and wind had taken their toll on me.  I was seriously cold and didn't think staying put was helping any.  But for the first time I was truly fearful.  I generally like running in the dark but on this night I did not want to go back out.  Yet I wanted to keep moving too.  Hearing Todd's words I had a feeling the race was over.  But I felt like I needed to keep control of my destiny and get to my crew that was only 5.5 miles away.

So without letting myself mull it over too long, I left into the darkness.  Fortunately, I came upon Aric within minutes.  He was going slowly.  I don't remember if we verbalized it or just thought it, but we immediately both knew we needed to stick together.  This section was horrific.  I'd just run it 2 months earlier at the Mt Hood 50 mile race, covering it in less than an hour.  It's mostly downhill so should be fast.  But on this night the wind was howling, the rain pelting and the trail was a river the whole way.  I suppose I could have sloshed through the water for 5 miles.  But that seemed dangerous in the dark, not knowing how deep it would be or whether I'd catch my foot with a rock or stump. And it was icy cold.  So we trudged along the sides, bushwacking through low bushes much of the time.  I was miserable.  It was hard work both physically and mentally. The only thing keeping me sane was knowing Aric was there too. By this time the race was likely cancelled but we didn't know it and we both vowed to quit at Clackamas Ranger Station.  I don't think anything could have made me go back out on that trail and I certainly didn't want to subject my pacers to it.  

I know this section extremely well and tried to find landmarks to assure myself we were actually making progress. But it looked so different in the stormy dark conditions.  Finally we came to the Miller trail cutoff and I knew it was less than a mile to go.  We were so weary of the water soaked trail I suggested when we got to the trail to the campground we cut down to the paved road and get off the trail.  But when we got there the trail seemed so dark and ominous. And maybe it wouldn't be quicker anyway.  We were ready for the path of least resistance not exploration so we carried on.  Finally, we crossed the campground road, navigated the short trail section and up the hill to the main road. I felt like I popped out into a different world.  The rain pounded on the pavement and cars lined the road.  We headed towards the main lights, still not running.  Aric saw a familiar face and stopped at one of the cars.  I carried on to the aid station, not recognizing anyone.  Finally, I heard my name and Rose and Julie R. were suddenly there guiding me to the warmth of the aid station heater.  And then to the U-haul trailer with the drop bags, the only real shelter where I could change.  And then into Seth's warm car and we were out of there. 

And it was all over that quickly.   

I discovered that the race had indeed been cancelled and runners had been held at all the aid stations.  Despite the hardship of those last 5 miles, I'm glad I hadn't been stuck up at an aid station waiting for a ride.  My pacers, Marc and friend Jen A. had gotten word I had left Red Wolf AS and had volunteered to drive back to Olallie Lake in Jen's 4wd truck to collect our tents. What a relief since having to go back there might have finally sent me over the edge.  So we drove straight back to Portland and I was home by around midnight.  High on adrenaline I stayed up until Jen and Marc arrived around 3:30am.  We exchanged stories and with that the wild weekend adventure was over.

The end of the journey for me. photo by Paul Nelson

As I posted on Facebook, usually in the days after a race I'm high on endorphins. But instead I'm high thinking about our awesome running community and the amazing dedication to each other I witnessed this weekend.  It's disappointing that no one got to finish this race. But we certainly all tried.   RDs Todd and Trevor along with Renee handled the unfortunate weather situation with professionalism and committment.  The volunteers could not have been better.  Stealing another quote from someone else...in many races the volunteers make the race....in this one they saved it.  My team, Rose, Seth, Jen and Marc, were amazing.  Knowing they were there to support me kept me going.

During the race I wondered if I'm cut out for hundreds.  I guess I'll have to wait for the next one to find out for sure. 

Video by Paul Nelson

Friday, August 23, 2013

Waldo 100k 2013

My race report for the Waldo 100k starts in the late night hours two days prior when I came down with a sudden urinary tract infection.  I was up all night and got maybe 2 hours of sleep tops. The next day (Thursday) was spent trying to catch up on my sleep between clinic and pharmacy visits and a few hours of work at the office.  Exhaustion kicked in Thursday night and I was able to sleep 9.5 hours.  Friday I felt almost normal, albeit a bit more tired than I had planned to be the day before the race.  Nevertheless, even when I felt the worst, I vowed I wasn't going to let this speed bump ruin my chance to experience Waldo again and earn that hat!

Pre-race this year seemed so different than last.  I greeted many friends and overall felt much more relaxed and confident.  This year I traveled alone so as soon as the pre-race meeting was over I headed to the van to (hopefully) get four hours of sleep.  Thankfully, with my exhaustion I was asleep by 8:30.  But then up again to pee at 10:45. This time it took me longer to fall back asleep, but then a vivid pre-race nightmare about not being able to find my race clothes bag had me wake with a start at 1:13am.  Close enough to wake up time so I was up.

Getting ready in the Willamette Pass Lodge restroom seemed like a luxury. In the wee hours I greeted friends and dealt with a last minute snafu.  My Garmin was being wacky, but fortunately I had brought along my Timex Ironman watch too so it was a quick and easy switch  out.  I didn't care about miles. The only thing I planned to monitor was time of day and  have the watch chime at me to eat every 30  minutes.

Before long it was 3am and we were off climbing away off into the darkness.  I hiked up the mountain with my friend Desiree.  We ended up running most of the way to the first aid station together, along with my fellow Animal Athlete Arron, with whom I ran much of Mt Hood 50 and trained with in the Gorge occasionally.  After Gold Lake AS, Desire was off and I only saw her again a the Mt Fuji out/back. She went on to have the race of a lifetime after coming back from a devastating set-back a month ago.  I'm so happy for her!

Arron and I ran much of the way to the Mt Fuji AS together.  We got separated just before the AS when I had to stop for a bio break.  With my UTI, I decided I needed to be very mindful of stopping whenever I felt the urge.  Unfortunately, as I would discover throughout the day, the OTC medicine I was taking for pain, masked some of the natural signs and ended up really messing with my ability to process fluids.  This may have been the result of the UTI too.  I'm not sure.  But let's just say, my plumbing wasn't functioning normally the whole day.  I tried to work with it the best I could, but in hindsight I think I could have run a better race with all systems functioning normally.  Sorry for the TMI, but this was the reality of my day.

I felt strong on the climb up to Mt Fuji.  I was heartened by the fact that I  had gotten farther this year before it was light enough to turn off my headlamp.  I was eating every 30 minutes as planned, but my stomach felt a little off.  I wasn't worried and attributed this to the early wake up call and the altitude.  Plus I had eaten a lot pre-race so figured my stomach would sort itself soon.  I was right and as I passed through the Mt Fuji AS for the second time, my stomach felt good and I actually was starting to feel hungry and ready to eat.  

It was also at this time that I was supposed to take one of my antibiotics. They hadn't really bothered me yet so I didn't think too much about taking them during the race.  I had just eaten so I downed one with a big swig of water.  Almost immediately, I felt the sweats and my stomach turned. This wasn't just mild tummy trouble but full blown nausea.  I realized I need to slow the pace so I let Arron pass.  I didn't want to puke up the pill but my body felt like it needed a good purge.  I walked and sipped water which was so frustrating since this was a very runnable section.  Worry started to set in since I knew I couldn't carry on for another 45 miles like this. People were passing me right and left and I certainly regretted taking that pill!  My only hope was that it would pass.  Eventually, I dry heaved a bit and then did puke up some water.  Soon I felt like running again but didn't really feel all that great. 

Coming through Pothole Meadow - Steve my trail angel is right behind me - pic by LongRun Pictures

I ran through Pothole Meadows with a few people on my heels.  As I let the man behind me pass he asked how I was doing and I mentioned my tummy troubles.  He offered me a tums which I gladly accepted.  It helped immensely.  We exchanged names and I picked up the pace, following Steve the rest of the way into Mt Ray AS.  Not only did the tums help, but it was really nice to have someone pull me along for awhile and the conversation took my mind off my physical woes.  By the time I reached Mt Ray AS I was feeling pretty good!  And I vowed to skip the antibiotic I was supposed to take in the evening.

Mt Ray AS - pic by Dana Katz
After overcoming that set-back, I ran really well all the way from Mt Ray to the Twins and then on to Lake Charlton.  I passed a lot of people who had passed me and then some.  I just felt really good and pushed the pace.  As I approached Charlton I remembered back to last year and being anxious to get there so I could quit.  This year as I neared, I choked back a little emotional sob.  So relieved to be in a positive state of mind this year and grateful to have the ability and motivation to continue on.

Charlton AS - pic by Dana Katz

Speaking of motivation, during races I often use the mantra - "strong and calm" which has worked really well for me.  This year, Marc gave me a new one:  "Smiles are free."   I have to admit I initially thought it was silly, but it really helped.  Every time I'd get a little down or feel overwhelmed by the challenge I'd tell myself "smiles are free' and I couldn't help but smile (and even giggle at times) and get in a better frame of mind.

It was exciting to run past Charlton into new territory and I really enjoyed the change in scenery to a more arid landscape.  It was getting hotter, but luckily it never got too hot and high clouds often blocked the direct sun.  I was surprised to get to Rd 4290 fairly quickly and it was great to see some friendly, familiar faces.  One of the side effects of the antibiotic was extra sensitivity to sun.   With my already fair complexion I knew I needed to take extra care with the sunscreen so I asked my friend Dana to spray me down.  Dana (an experienced ultrarunner and coach) was there to crew and pace a friend who was behind me, and every time I saw her (at Mt Ray, Charlton and Rd 4290) she was extremely helpful and encouraging.  Thanks Dana!

On the way up to Twins #2 - pic by LongRun Pictures

It was after Rd 4290 on the climb up the back side of the Twins that the already long day started to take its toll.  I began this section around noon having been out on the course 9 hours already.  I'd been leap frogging with Liz and her pacer Caroline who I both know.  Liz commented that her pace chart showed about 2 hours for this 7.5 mile section.  I was really glad to know that, otherwise I may have felt like I was going too slowly.  Everyone says this section is harder than expected.  I asked Liz what sort of finish we were looking at on the current pace and she replied 16ish hours.  Wow.  My primary goal was to get a hat (18 hour finish from the early start), but my secret goal was to break 17 hours. So despite starting to feel a bit rough around the edges I was feeling good about where I was pace-wise.

On the way up to Twins #2 - pic by LongRun Pictures
At my next reminder to eat, it was a challenge to choke down a gel.  I also realized that I wasn't really drinking much (only a bottle between aid stations) and not processing fluids very well.  And I was starting to feel really bloated.  I'd get the urge to pee, but was barely urinating.  Hard to say how much was due to the UTI and how much to just plain running an ultra.  But I know now I probably shouldn't have taken the pre-race medication for UTI pain since it masked a lot of the physical cues to which I should have been paying attention.

On the way up to Twins #2 - pic by LongRun Pictures
The climb up the Twins was long and slow.  I started to think about the really big climb ahead up Maiden Peak.  I was dreading it, but already told myself I'd just have to buck up and do it. There was no way to the finish line without conquering Maiden Peak!  Finally reached the Twins saddle and got to run a mile of sweet downhill to the aid station. And just about two hours on the dot!  I thought back to 2010 when Marc ran this course.  It was here that he spewed all over the place. Thankfully I didn't feel that badly.  I tried to tank up on the things that would go down well - watermelon, popsicle, coke and potatoes - because I knew I wasn't going to be up for choking down any more gels. One of the volunteers offered me a chair. I guess I was hanging out too long. So I said no and was out of there!

On the way up to Twins #2 - pic by LongRun Pictures

On the way up to Twins #2 - pic by LongRun Pictures

After the Twins, it was fun to run back on some of the course I'd covered earlier in the day with some nice runnable downhill and rollers.  I was grateful to still be running 45+ miles into the race.  But man was my belly feeling bloated.  It actually felt tender to the touch.  I'll admit I was mildly worried.  But this far into the race with less than 20  miles to go I figured I could hang on and battle through anything if necessary.  We started to climb and I realized I  hadn't seen anyone or any ribbons for quite awhile.  I was certain I was on the course, but you know how your mind plays with you this far into a race. Fortunately, I soon came upon the Maiden Peak AS, the last before the big climb up Maiden Peak.  They had popsicles too so after more watermelon and coke I took one to go.  No use delaying the inevitable.

On top of Maiden Peak with my bloated belly - pic by Gail Henry

The first quarter to half mile up was deceptively mild.  I probably could have run some of it, but I power hiked eating my popsicle.  No use over exerting myself now.  Soon it got steeper and steeper with no switchbacks.  Everything you've ever heard about Maiden Peak is right!  I tried to see through the trees above to get a read on the summit, but it wasn't visible.  I trudged upwards and despite a very slow pace I kept it pretty steady.  I think I only paused to rest once or twice.  Finally the trail leveled off some and I could tell I was close to the fork and the final quarter mile push to the summit.

On top of Maiden Peak - pic by Gail Henry

The people coming down this last bit of trail told me I was almost there.  Such relief. As I rounded the corner to the final push I saw Bret and Gail!  I knew they were hoping to be there so it wasn't entirely unexpected but still a huge boost!  By the time I time I got to the top of Maiden I was so out of it as you can see in the video shot below, shot by Bret. 

I hardly even looked at the view so I'm very thankful to Bret for this video to see how awesome it truly was up there!  I had only finished maybe a third of my bottle on the climb up Maiden.  The volunteer was right to scold me.  I  hadn't been drinking nearly enough.  It was nice talking with Bret and Gail on the top but I knew I couldn't stay there forever.  I summited at 4:45 but was irrationally worried about making the 9pm cutoff for a hat.  Bret kindly walked with me down to the Leap of Faith and gave me a lot of encouragement and information about the last miles ahead.  I kept hiking down past the worst of the rocks - the last thing I needed was to fall now.  (And as an aside, I did not trip or fall once the whole race---miraculous!)  I stopped for a bio break that wasn't very successful.  The plumbing just wasn't working.  I should have just put my head down and ran.

At Maiden Lakes AS I got the star treatment with a wipe of the face from Kate and a big hug from Laura.  It was 5:20pm and I was still worried about the 9pm cutoff which just goes to show how crummy I was feeling.  Actually, my legs and energy were fine all things considered.  It was the gut that was messing with me.  I ate a piece of watermelon and drank some coke, hoping that would get me the last 7.5 miles to the finish.  Everyone was awesome and reassured me that I could walk it in and still get my hat.  I'm so thankful for their encouragement!

I ran that last section as best I could.  I hiked most inclines and ran, albeit slowly, the flats and downhills.  I stopped again in an attempt to "go" and wasted more time.  Finally decided to just run it in, belly bloated, gut busted feeling and all.  I came to the Rosary Lakes and some campers told me I had 3 miles to go.  That was nice to know but those 3 miles seemed to go on forever.  Finally I reached the buildings and the cutoff to the ski area.  I could see the finish way off in the distance!  I started to hyperventilate so I paused to walk so I could get myself under control.  But as I got closer it started to become real that I was actually going to finish this thing!  So I ran and crossed that finish line with a big smile on my face.  Hearing the announcer call out "Sarah Duncan - Waldo Finisher" was the best feeling! And I was so happy to be done.  Desiree and Yassine were there to greet me and Yassine handed me my coveted Waldo hat!  My finish time was 16:09:29

Arron and I -- showing off our hats!  pic by Yassine Diboun
I realize now that I dodged a huge bullet.  If the UTI had happened a few days earlier or later I would have been either in the throes of acute UTI pain or feeling full on antibiotic side effects.  Completing 62.5 miles on mountainous terrain is hard enough.  I'm  proud of my finish but know that I could have pushed a lot harder in the last third if it hadn't been for that UTI. Without it, I'm pretty sure I could have run sub 16, with a time perhaps closer to 15:30.  While enjoying the post-race barbeque, I told everyone who'd listen that I was so glad I earned my hat because I never wanted to summit Maiden Peak again.  But now I'm not so sure.....