How Bad Can It Be?

so, how bad can it be?

Those are my famous last words.
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Completing a 50miler is definitely a big accomplishment.  What they don’t tell you about are the raw unbridled tears at 3:30am on the bathroom floor, sobbing into a towel to keep from waking others, as you start to absorb the magnitude of the day you just had and what it took to cross the finish line.
IMG_4818As much as I’d love to curse Gary Robbins for designing a soul-crushing course at the Squamish 50 miler – in actual fact, I cursed him all day – the day unfolded the way it did.
The months leading up to race day were focused more on adventures with friends than regimented training plans.  I crested peaks, found and strengthened friendships, laughed immensely and rejuvenated my soul in the trails.  I filled a void that was missing and it healed something I didn’t realize was broken.
IMG_5250I toed the line a little less prepared, throwing a bit of caution to the wind, but in the company of good friends.  I ran a bit of the first 6mi with Jamie, who was running his first 50miler, but he soon peeled off and I was on my own.  I went through the first aid station at 6mi on target and handed my headlamp to Tav and Teppo (our house guest from Finland).  Onward to do the steady climb into the Alice Lake for Aid Station 2 at 12 miles, where I saw lots of familiar faces.  A little bit of chatting, a little bit of doddling, and then I got shooed out by Elaine – I prewarned her that I like hanging out at aid stations a bit too much.
I saw Tav quickly on the trail just leaving Aid Station 2 – we exchanged a quick peck and off I went to go through some rolling trails to meet up with my #RunRobson crew at Aid Station 3.  I rolled into the aid station and there was my crew running it like a well-oiled machine .. and playing Cheerleader, as I requested!  Kat filled me up and then I was off to do a 6mi loop til I hit their aid station again.  Just before I hit the aid station, things started to feel off.  My sciatic was starting to act up and things started to hurt from my lower back through my hips and down my legs. This isn’t necessarily new but it wasn’t encouraging only 3ish hours in.  As I continued through the 6mi loop, it started to get worse and my stomach didn’t feel quite right – well, not quite my stomach, but the connection between my stomach and my throat.  I’ve never had nausea on a run so I just continued to fuel the way I normally did and pressed on.
received_10155958921355564About 400m from the aid station, I caught my toe on a rock and superman’d myself into the service road and my left calf cramped immediately. It subsided and I looked down to assess the damage. My knee, which took the brunt of the fall, was covered in dust and dirt covered flaps resembling overly ignored dust bunnies, but those weren’t dust bunnies. Those were the remnants of my skin.  Ew. I wiped myself off a bit and headed into the aid station.  Kat met me again and made sure i was filled up and even wiped the dirt off my chin – something else I didn’t realize I hit.
IMG_5255I left Aid Station 3 for a 7mi jaunt up Galactic trail and down to Word of Mouth (Aid Station 4). I quickly messaged Tav and Elaine letting them know of my fall and sent them a nice little selfie of my bloody knee.  I needed a bit of comic relief plus I wanted to give them an update. The Galactic climb goes on for several miles and things started to get worse for me.  At points, I had to pull off to the side to collect myself.  The nausea in my throat was getting worse and I needed to just pause.  I remember Linda telling me to always eat if you felt nauseas so I kept trying to eat.  I chased every bite with a ginger candy.  After another 20 minutes and not feeling any better, I messaged Tav and Elaine again asking them for Advil and some Glory lemon ginger juice.  I thought the source of my issue was the pain from my sciatic.  It was a long and slow climb with many pauses but I finally made it to the top of Galactic and I made my descent to the Word of Mouth Aid Station and saw Kelly (btw, she makes the BEST gear bags).  It was the first time I verbalized how awful I was feeling.  Kelly was awesome – she’s had similar issues before so she gave me a bit of advice, a lot of sympathy, and encouragement to get to the next aid station.  It wasn’t far away – 3 miles.  I just wanted to get to Quest to see my crew and try to sort out what was wrong.
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So much nausea and so little fuel, but I dragged my body into Quest. I lacked my usual perk and it showed. I was a bit disoriented on what I needed – asking for things, then saying I didn’t need anything.  I swapped watches with Tav as mine were on its last legs, and I reluctantly left the aid station.  The nausea had to stop.  This has never happened before.  How much longer could it last?  Well, I was about to find out.  I left Quest about 8.5 hours into my run and I knew my goal was out the window.  I was in tentative survival mode.
The road out of Quest was a long uphill that took me up Climb trail.  As I continued up the relentless hill, my body started tingling, my hands started shaking, and I felt extremely light-headed.  I was worried.  The nausea hadn’t calmed down and I felt like I was going to pass out.  At one point, I messaged Tav that I wasn’t feeling well and even gave him my location in case something happened to me, but he just messaged back words of encouragement and that he was at the Farther Side Aid Station – #7.  I still needed to get to Aid Station 6 at Garibaldi Road first.  I was hitting a low point.  I had no way out.  So I continued to climb.  And pause.  And climb.  And pause.  Until I reached the top and I started to make my way down to the Aid Station.  At one point, the trail led to a platform with a steep ramp down and I had to stop.  The volunteer joked around and said I had to go down it but I told him that I was feeling faint and that I had to turn around, go back down and around.  I continued on not feeling any better, fighting back tears, fighting back feelings of despair and helplessness, and fighting the pangs of hunger… just fighting.  I was near panicking.  Somehow I calmed myself down somewhat and got into Aid Station 6.  The nausea still didn’t subside.  I could only take small mouthfuls of food at a time, and when I mean small, it would be about a teaspoon of food, chased with ginger candy, and a few sips of liquid.  Nothing else.  Nothing.
I stayed at the aid station for a while, contemplating my options – wondering if it was really safe for me to continue.  Tav and the rest of them were going to be at the next aid station which was 5 miles away.  I didn’t feel right so I sat down.  I never sit down at a race.  I always say once I sit, I won’t want to get up, but I just needed to think.  There was a medical staff beside me treating someone else.  I wanted to ask him to check me out.  To see if it was safe.  But I couldn’t find my voice.  I sat for a little while longer.  I fought back tears again.  Eventually, I got up from the chair, took a deep breath, and forged onward.  It was 5 miles.  I wasn’t confident I would make it but I suppose I would try.  About a mile in, a volunteer was at the entrance of a trail and directed me in.  I had to take another moment to collect myself.  It took 2 offers from the volunteer for his chair before I took it.  A few deep breaths and a few internal struggles, and I slowly got up and started on the rolling hills to make my way to the Farther Side Aid Station.
I made it to the service road that led to the aid station and saw Greg (best RMT EVER).  As soon as I saw him, I started walking.  We approached a bigger downhill and I let myself go.  Thankfully, despite all the nausea, I was still able to run downhill.  As soon as I hit the flat, I walked.  I had nothing in me.  No fuel.  No lift.  No life.
Tav and Teppo met me at the bottom of the hill that led to the aid station and all 4 of us walked up the hill where Kat and Leica were waiting.  I sat again as Greg checked out my legs.  I had some ginger ale.  I had some watermelon.  And my pack was refilled.  I didn’t want to leave.  I so wanted to stop, but again, I lost my voice.  As depleted as I was, I couldn’t bring myself to quit.  By then, it was too close.  I knew, from what Elaine had told me, what was ahead.  I had another climb.  I knew it was going to be awful.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat.  I knew the nausea would not go away.  Slowly and reluctantly, I left the aid station.  I had 7 miles left and what I did know is that I would be able to finish – even if I had to walk the whole thing.
IMG_5258Every climb required herculean strength.  Each step required a long pause.  At times, I would find bouts of energy on downhill or slightly flat runnable sections, but it would disappear as soon as I hit any sort of incline and be replaced by large waves of nausea and rapid short breaths.  There were a few false summits, and eventually I reached the large rock where a volunteer announced that I was finally at the top.  I just needed to make my way back down a few kms and then it was another few to the finish.  Just to be clear though – it was not all downhill on the way back down.  But, I did eventually reach the bottom and I was at the Bluffs. A few kms isn’t much, but it takes a long time to get there when my body isn’t fueling off anything.  It was somewhat runnable so I ran what I could.  I ran into John (he and I leap-frogged through the day) who was having a rough go so I offered him my ginger candies, my Tums, and some other ginger candies.  Apparently, I felt as though he needed them more than I did and that I was close enough to the end to give them away.  As soon as I left him, I regretted not keeping one ginger candy for myself.  Every encounter with a volunteer made the finish line seem closer but yet so far away.
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Finally, I made it to the final stretch down the road the finish line.  Tav was waiting and I gave him a fly-by kiss, which was more like a kick in the face (sorry babe – bad aim on my part) and as I approached the grassy patch towards the finish line, I was greeted by the most amazing receiving line of my #RunRobson crew.  I ran across the finish line and into Gary’s arms.  I was overwhelmed with familiar faces and hugs but lacked all energy for any sort of expressive emotion.

It was over.  Finally over.  Official time was 14:49.  I battled through 11ish hours of nausea.  About 1,000 calories consumed.  I felt like a shadow of my true self.  But it was finally over.
That day took something out of me that I’ll never get back.  It took a bit of my heart and soul and beat me into submission.
I know it’ll take some time before I can truly feel as though I gained strength from this experience – or I may never feel that.  As I’m writing this, I’m already fighting back tears at how this 50miler broke me.
Again, I will say this over and over again – there is no one to blame.  I had a really really bad day.  It wasn’t Gary’s fault.  It wasn’t the course.  My body decided to punish me and make me suffer beyond anything else I’d ever experienced and at some point, I will have to make peace with that.
What I do have is an immense amount of gratitude to my community, my crew, and everyone who cheered me on from near and afar – those who had more confidence and faith in me than I had in myself.  I am truly and deeply humbled.
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The Hills Are Alive!

Pirate's Cove Photo Credit Glenn Tachiyama
Pirate’s Cove
Photo Credit Glenn Tachiyama

Did it really happen?  Some days I forget that I even did the 100k.  But if I think about the events of the day, I question how I could forget the way everything came together so perfectly.  Maybe it’s because it felt like it was too perfect…


The alarm offensively rang at 2:30am and, one by one, we got up to get ready for a long day – myself, Tav, and Greg.  By 4:15am, we were ready to roll out the door with everything in check.  After an extremely windy drive, which eventually gave Greg motion sickness, we arrived at the Stinson Beach Community Centre – the hub for this year’s Miwok 100k.  Race bib acquired and pinned.  Now, to find my partner in crime / training partner, Linda, to make up the Power of Linda^2.  With 15 minutes to race start, I spotted her and I was calmed.  For over a week, I was a huge bag of nerves..

Am i ready?  Did I train enough?  What if my sciatic rears its ugly head?  What if I can’t do it?  Am I in over my head?
The pep talks I got all week helped: Hoz offered good advice about the course, Tav was amazing in keeping me focused on the execution of the day, and Linda, who was there for so many of my long runs, gave me the confidence in my fitness that the finish line was more than attainable.  But even still, it was difficult not to let my mind race about all the negative potential possibilities.
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Linda^2 Power at the Start

So there we were, at the start, headlamps lit and ready to take on the next 100km.  I don’t remember if there was a gun, but a quick send off from the boys, and Linda and I were on our way.  The race started at 5am so the sun hadn’t risen yet, which meant it would just be a hike/trot until the single track line of over 400 runners started to spread out.  It was, in fact, a blessing in disguise.  There was no ‘going out too hard’.   The opposite, actually, and it gave Linda and I a chance to spend about an hour chatting, almost forgetting that there were runners around us.  I’m sure they were all entertained by our banter – at least that’s what we told ourselves.  I don’t know how to describe that first hour or so, but it really was something else.  Tav had described the scenery to me before that it was very ‘Sound of Music’esque’ — The Hills Are Alive!

Photo credit Glenn Tachiyama
Photo credit Glenn Tachiyama

There was a calming melodical tone to everyone’s footsteps and relaxed demeanour.  The time went by quick and the gap between Linda and I started growing.  I could feel my old road runner instincts wanting to kick in and dart forward to pass, but I had many voices in my head to hold back.  I did pull ahead, but bit by bit.  I was crossing a small road section as one trail ended to another trailhead, when I caught sight of the sunrise.  I took my camera out and snapped a quick photo.  The photo doesn’t do it justice, but it was beautiful and so worth it.

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Running at Sunrise
Unfortunately, the ‘Sound of Music’ hills didn’t last forever, and I went right through Aid Station 1 (Bolinas Ridge – 6.3miles).  I knew I wouldn’t see my crew until Aid Station 2 (Randall Trail – 12.9miles) so I set my sights on that.  The trails between AS1 and AS2 were rolling and I found myself able to run more than I needed to walk.  My strategy for the day was to be conservative on the hills.  They weren’t my strength so I was better off hiking the uphills and using the downhills to my advantage, as that was where I excelled.  What I didn’t account for was the long downhill into AS2, but it was glorious.  I flew right into AS2 to meet Tav and Greg at almost a 14 hour finish time pace.  They grabbed my pack to fill it up as I went into the portapotty line up for a quick tinkle.  Little did I know that the line up would be longer than anticipated – almost 10 minutes.  As I was waiting in line, I hear.. “Honey…”.  I look over and Tav has pulled a near full bladder out of my pack.  Ooops… I guess I wasn’t that thirsty.
As I got ready to leave AS2, the boys told me that it would be close to 4 hours before I would see them – this was key information for me.  We did a quick check for fuel and I was on my way back to AS1 (doubled as AS3).  What goes down must go up, so that glorious downhill into AS2 became a grunt of hike.  About 5 minutes of climbing, I see Linda flying down and we hollered our hello’s.  For those that don’t know Linda, well, you should.  She has a smile and an energy about her that perks anyone up.
Again, I go right through AS3 (19.5miles) and on to AS4 (Cardiac – 26.5miles).  I tried to stay on top of my fluids and my fueling to avoid getting the evil eye again when I was renewed with my crew at AS5 (Muir Beach – 31.5miles).  During this time, my crew would grow by 1 as the boys met up with Soroush, a good friend who lived in the Bay area.  From Cardiac to Muir Beach, it was mostly downhill and it was fabulous.  There was also a small road section so I was able to maintain a fairly good pace.  In fact, with the downhill and road section, I surprised the boys by meeting them en route – them in the car, and me on foot.  They sped ahead to the aid station to get there before I reached it.  Apparently, it was close.  Mentally, I was still feeling good.
Stretching it Out
Stretching it Out

Physically, my legs were a little fatigued but my back and hamstrings were starting to act up – a symptom of my sciatic issue.  I kept this in the back of my mind to ensure I didn’t do anything to aggravate it anymore.  You might, however, say that running ANOTHER 50km would be aggravating it.. you might.

The boys filled up my pack, loaded me up on my fuel and I was on my way.  I was still in good spirits and I was still having fun.  From here, it would be about an hour before I would see them again at the next Aid Station (Tennessee Valley – 36.5miles).  I can’t recall much about the trail, but I did spend some time hiking a big hill and chatting with someone from DC – an investment banker actually.  Unfortunately, he misread the instructions and thought his drop bag was being moved forward from each drop area and he didn’t have any of his gear until he reached the next AS, where he was planning on pulling out.  As soon as the trail started to go downhill, “we” decided to try running.  “We”, however, soon turned into just me.  I was feeling strong on the downhills and seemed to fly by a handful of runners, with some commenting that I seem to always pass them on the downhill.
I came into Tennessee Valley (AS6) a little more fatigued, a little more sore, but in ok spirits.  I had a little niggling pain in my soleus area and Greg checked it out.  There was really nothing to do except a little bit of extra compression with his magic hands.  I asked the boys how long til I saw them again as I knew they weren’t allowed at the next aid station (Bridge View/Rodeo Valley – 41.5 miles), but I was coming right back to Tennessee Valley (doubling as AS8 – 48.9miles).  Now, doing simple math, you would be able to deduce that the difference would be 12.3miles, but the day was long and charts can be confusing.  I heard 7.8miles and I would be back.  There was a sign at the aid station saying that it was 5 miles to AS7 so in my head, it would be a short 2.8miles back to my boys.  Then I would have a pacer to the end.
Spectacular Views
Spectacular Views

The trail from AS6 to AS7 was tough.  It was a climb.  A big climb.  And it was DAMN windy.  So windy that I was blown sideways into the railing.  But the view.  Amazing.  Clear view of the Golden Gate Bridge.  I came into AS7 feeling a bit battered, tired, and was looking forward to a mere 2.8 miles til I saw my boys again.  And then I saw the sign.  7.3 miles to the next aid station.  My heart dropped.  This can’t be right.  But it was.  I took a minute to absorb what I was reading and struggled to think of what I needed to do, as it would be closer to 1.5 hours until I saw them again.  I took my pack off and refilled it.  I wasn’t thinking clearly, but I remember telling the volunteer that I should eat.  She agreed, but nothing on the table was appealing.  I may have grabbed something but I can’t remember.  I just wanted to go.. but I also wanted to stop.  I left the aid station and it was a good downhill to the bottom of the mountain, but that only meant one thing.  We had to climb back up to the top and then over to get back to the boys.  I started hiking and I was joined by a few of the guys that I had apparently been passing on the downhills.  We chatted a bit – they were all so nice.  Slowly, they pulled away from me, except for a guy (whose name I later found out to be Sascha) from Florida.  We climbed to the top together and then it was downhill to the boys at Tennessee Valley.

Choking back tears coming into Tennessee Valley
Choking back tears coming into Tennessee Valley

Greg met me along the downhill and tried to gauge how I felt.  “Garbage” was my response and I started to choke back tears.  I came into the aid station, gave them my pack, and went to the loo.  I came out and as soon as I saw Tav, the tears starting rolling.  All I could say was, “I don’t feel good.”  And I couldn’t stop crying.  Tav pulled me back together, somewhat, and tried to send me on my way.  Before I would leave, I swapped watches as mine died and I went to the aid station to grab something to eat.  The volunteer was so lovely and told me that my outfit was her favourite of the day.  I thanked her as more tears rolled down my face.

Tav wiped my face and looked me in the eyes.  All I had to do was do 5 miles with Soroush and then he would take me to the finish.  Just 5 miles.  I can do 5 miles.  So the 3 of them started to walk me out of the aid station.  After about half a km, Greg and Tav left and it was Soroush and I.  We started to climb and it was like someone flipped a switch.   Everything was fine.  I felt really bad for Soroush – he was so great to come out and he was excited to pace me, and here I was, a tearful mess.  But, everything was fine now.  I had my crew.
Soroush and I on our way
Soroush and I on our way

So Soroush and I went through the rolling 5 miles which had more downhill than uphill.  At one point, we bumped into Glenn Tachiyama – my favourite photographer with the most uplifting smile.  He had situated himself at Pirate’s Cove (~51miles?) and we continued on our way.  We flew down the hill into Muir Beach (AS9 – 53.7miles) and I was greeted by Tav and Greg.  I swapped pacers – Soroush for Tav, or as Soroush was saying, Stud Muffin 2 for Stud Muffin 1 – and we were on our way.  And everything was good – it felt like home.

Of course, I whined a little more and Tav had to invoke the “tough love” strategy to get me to the next aid station – a 1300 ft climb to Cardiac (58.7miles). As I said, uphill is not my strength so the poor guy had to listen to me hyperventilate and stroll uphill as best I could.  He knew, though, that all he needed to do was get me to the top and I would be golden for the 3mile downhill to the finish.  We got into Cardiac, I did a quick pit stop to the portapotty, and we were on our way.
Coming into the finish
Coming into the finish

I was tired and sore and had been on my feet longer than I had ever been before, but I’m pretty sure I was flying on those downhills. We passed a number of people and all I could hear was Tav telling me that I was doing SO good, that he was SO proud of me, and to NOT look at my watch. He pushed me to keep going and as we came down the last set of stairs, we were joined by Greg and Soroush.  We turned right onto the road and there was the fire hall – the community centre where the finish was next to it.

Finish!
Finish!
As I started to make the last turn, Tav was yelling at me to get under 14:05 as I could see the clock reading 14:04 and 30 something seconds.  I dug deep and managed to actually pick it up until I crossed the finish line.
Tia, the Race Director, congratulated me and put the medal around my neck.  I turned and saw Greg and Tav.  Greg gave me a hug.  Soroush was behind him filming (see the video at the bottom of this post).  And then I turned to Tav and fell into him.  I was so overwhelmed .. physically and emotionally.  I did it.  I really did it.  I don’t know how it happened, but somehow, I managed to cross that finish line.
And then I couldn’t move.  After sitting for a bit, I slowly made my way to the washrooms to change.  I must have been in there for 30 minutes as I was moving at the rate of snail snot.  I was also choking back tears.  Finally, I came out and was looking for Linda.  I soon found her and we had our big teary hug.
BEST Crew Ever.
BEST Crew Ever.

It’s been almost 2 weeks and I’m still absorbing the whole experience.  I get glimpses and flashes of pieces of the day, but I’m having a hard time stringing it together into one full day – into the fact that I did a full 100km ultra.  What keeps going through my head is that I had a pretty damn perfect day, with the absolute best crew, best training partner, best support from back home and my community.  I am truly a lucky girl – I don’t know how I got to be this way but I am ever so thankful.  It’s probably why thinking of the full experience still makes me cry.  damnit.


And, if all the support wasn’t enough, here’s a fantastic video that Soroush made of my day.

Another Day, Another 50k

…or something like that. With the recent uprise of participants in trail races and ultramarathons, it’s easy to get swept up in the chatter and commit to a 50k without actually knowing what you’re in for. Yes, it’s ONLY 8km longer than a marathon, but it’s leaps and bounds more than that.  You’ll know once you’ve done one.

My goals had changed about 2 months ago from doing a 100km or a 50miler this Fall, to landing at running another 50km trail run. Due to circumstances beyond my control (such as getting pneumonia in June) and scheduled commitments (Wanderlust and SeaWheeze), I had to step back and think about what was the smarter choice. And sometimes smarter means doing less.

This 50k (or, actually just over 53k) would be different though.  I’ll be solo for this one.  Of course, with any race, your race is yours alone to run – there’s no tag team like a relay, no one’s going to piggy back you, and no one’s going to pretend to be you and run it for you.   Usually.  Originally, I picked this race because a friend was doing it and long races are always better with company, for training and for racing.   It was also in the right time frame.  Unfortunately, like many unplanned things in life, what was planned was not what happened.   Life happens and you have to learn to adapt.   So, I set out to make the 4 hour drive down to Cle Elum, WA solo on Friday, run the race on Saturday, and then make the trek back right after the race – with multiple stops to stretch my legs.

Luckily, my friend Hozumi and his four-legged furry companion, Miles, were able to join me last minute.  Whew!

So, late afternoon on Friday, we packed up our gear and headed across the border.   Based on the emails that I was receiving from the race, we were told to be prepared for all types of weather.   And, even on the drive down, we experienced everything from sun to torrential downpour.   This was going to make for an interesting race day.   But another day, another 50k, right?  Not so much.

We arrived that morning and it was chilly, but not raining.   About 20 minutes before the race, I decided to do a quick shirt change – from a single t-shirt, to a double-t-shirt.  They had said that the ridge at the top could be quite windy and cold so better safe than sorry, and I was already cold at the start.

The clock was ticking and it was time to go line up at the start.  In the true fashion of ultramarathons, the race director told us to imagine a line where the start was and line up there.  🙂  10 second countdown, quick bye to Hozumi and Miles, and off I went.  The course profile showed 17 miles of climbing to START, followed by 12 miles of downhill, then half mile uphill, and half mile downhill to the finish.   I was definitely looking forward to the downhill, but most certainly not the uphill.

50kfusionprofile

So, a few days before the race, I checked online and did the regular pre-race analysis – check the course profile and map out how long it would take me to get to each aid station.  Ultrasignup, the registration system, targeted my finish time to be 7:29.  I’m not crazy fast but I didn’t think it was going to take me that long.  So I started to make predictions, with a finish time of 6:30 hours thinking that it was a fairly conservative time.  My predictions were:

  • Aid Station 1 (9.5mi) – 2:05
  • Aid Station 2 (14.5mi) – 3:10
  • Aid Station 3 (21mi) – 4:20
  • Aid Station 4 (25mi) – 5:10
  • Finish (33mi) – 6:30

The climbing was relentless.  Not just ‘relentless’, but ‘RELENTLESS’.   By the time I arrived at the first aid station, slightly ahead of schedule (1:58 vs 2:05), I was in a lot of pain.  I had to shake my head when the volunteer told me I was the 5th woman overall so far.  You gotta be kidding me.  Do you have any idea how many illnesses or injuries I thought I could fake to stop the madness of this uphill climb??

My right hamstring has been an issue for the last 2 years, and for the last week, my left one was starting to feel not quite right.  The climbing in the race started at mile 1, but it really started at mile 2.  The running quickly turned to hiking, and because of the early onset of increasing pain in my hamstrings, it quickly turned into an uphill shuffle walk.   To be honest, I was in so much pain, I wasn’t sure if I would make it to the finish line.  But, it was a bit too soon to call it a day.  I grabbed a quarter of a peanut butter & jelly sandwich and continued the hike uphill.  And then I saw a friendly face – Hozumi & Miles – just a little outside of the first aid station.  I called out to him as I passed saying that it would take me 7 hours, and he responded with 5.5 hours.  A little comic relief is always nice.

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Uphill, anyone?

The climbing continued, varying from slightly runnable to steep steep steep – so steep, in fact, that I felt like gravity was going to roll me backwards.  It was definitely wearing on me mentally and physically.   Looking at my watch, I knew I was close to Aid Station 2, but not close enough.  I looked up at one point and saw a ridge and saw the aid station, but then I realized where I was, and it was still a good amount of climbing to go.   And the pain in my lower back and hamstrings were only getting worse.

One by one, people were passing me and I had nothing in me to retaliate.  Each time I tried to lift my leg to take a bigger step, it would cause so much pain that I would nearly be winded.  So baby steps it was.  I didn’t stay long at Aid Station 2 as it was on a ridge and, as the race director said, those areas were quite windy and cold.  Aid Station 2 was at 14.5 miles and I knew the high point was at 17 miles.  I only needed to climb 2.5 more miles before I could get some reprieve and make the downhill trek.

The view from 'almost' the top.
The view from ‘almost’ the top.

Finally, I was at half way (according to my watch) and it was 3:54 into the race.  Was it going to be an 8 hour day?  Should I just pull out?  I just didn’t know if I had it in me to be out for that long.

But then things changed.  The downhill started and I could just let go and enjoy it.  I was passing a lot of the people that passed me on the way up.  Some even commented on how much time I had made up on the downhill and stepped aside for me to pass.  There were a few motorbikes on the trail that we had to move aside for, which made for not so pleasant fumes, but there were few interruptions.  My spirits were starting to lift.. until I stumbled on a rock.  As I stumbled, my calf decided to cramp and I had to stand on the trail for a few moments to let it subside.  Whew.  That was odd – I had never cramped in a race before.  Well, shake it off and continue.  I passed through Aid Station 3 barely stopping as it was a water only station at about 4:35.  I still had 10-12 miles to go.  I knew that would take me over 2 hours.  It was definitely going to be a long day.

CleElumGlenn Tachiyama, an awesome photographer who’s often at ultras and has a talent for capturing the best moments, was coming up.  There was a creek crossing at about 22 miles and everyone knew he would be there.  When I arrived at the creek, I saw Glenn on the other side.  I stopped at the entrance to the creek and thought, “What the hell.   Just go for it.”  And THAT was pretty damn fun.  Amongst all the suffering, it was nice to just get back to being a kid and to play in water.

Things started to go sideways for me after that point.  Hozumi told me that the back half would be a bit undulating, but it was a net downhill.  This meant that overall it was going downhill, but there would be small sections of uphill.  I had good momentum for a while, but then suddenly every time I hit an uphill and tried to run, my calves would cramp.  When my left calf cramped, my left shin would cramp.  When my right calf cramped, it would cause my right foot/arch to cramp.  Ugh.  So, time to adapt.  For the next 2ish hours, every time I hit an uphill, I would have to walk.  I would then rely on the downhills to make up more time.

A sight for sore eyes (and body!)
A sight for sore eyes (and body!)

I knew I had one more aid station, where Hozumi and Miles would be, and I was really looking forward to seeing them.  They walked up the trail from the aid station and waited for me.  As soon as I saw them, I felt better.  I stopped and chatted with Hoz and told him I was cramping like a bastard, pardon my French.  He asked me about my nutrition and if I was taking enough salt.  I could tell that based on my answers, it wasn’t sufficient.  He told me that the aid station station was a minute ahead and to take some salt tabs.  So I trudged on to the aid station and did as I was told.  Salt tabs, a couple of potato chips, 2 small cups of Coke, and a water refill for my pack.  I hadn’t run out of water but knew that it was dangerously low.  I left the aid station stocked up, with 6-8 miles to go til the finish.  It was just over 5.5 hours into the race and I knew it would take more than an hour to get to the finish.  Maybe it really was going to be a 7 hour day.  Dear God.

By now, even the downhills were getting tough.  I had leapfrogged with a bunch of people for the last hour or so.  I even chatted with a runner who recognized me from the Gorge Waterfalls race.  “You’re the girl that fell, right?”  Yup, that’s me.

We were back and forth for a little bit and then I pulled ahead.  I then caught up to a young guy wearing a BMO Vancouver Marathon shirt, who I had also leapfrogged with earlier.  When I got to the next uphill, I had to walk again as the cramping episodes were still happening.   He came up behind me and I offered to let him pass.  Instead, he asked if he could walk with me.  Of course!  But I did let him know that I didn’t care where I placed and if he was gunning for a particular time, I was more than happy to let him go ahead.  He said it was his first one and he was happy to just run with me and I was definitely happy for the company.  We bantered back and forth and it was really nice to finally chat with someone and take my mind off of how I was really feeling.  I knew there was a big’ish hill about 2 miles from the finish, but it ended with a nice downhill.  So we joked at every little uphill section as to whether this was the hill or not.  Finally, it really was the hill and we were on the last downhill section.  This section was on a service road with my least favourite terrain – large sharp rocks that didn’t offer very good footing.  I was bouncing left and right trying to find some flow, when my shoe suddenly caught on a large stick on the ground and threw me forward down the trail.  In mid flight, my right calf decided to cramp badly again while the other end of the stick impaled me in the chest.  Awesome.  I was lying on the trail face down on a downhill slope and trying to un-cramp my very tired calf.  My poor running companion stood there unsure of what to do.  It took every ounce of my strength to roll over, stretch my foot, and then spin myself around so that I could get myself into an upright position.  Damnit, James Varner!  Why do I fall at every one of your races I run?

Home stretch - bib slightly torn off from the fall!
Home stretch – bib slightly torn off from the fall!

The best was when my running buddy said, “Wow, you were like completely horizontal.”  Oh, so comical and tragic.  I pulled myself together and  we continued down the trail.  Not too long after, I saw Hozumi and Miles again.  As I passed him, I yelled to him that I fell.  I can’t remember what he said as I was just focused on getting to the finish line.  And then I could hear it.  I could taste it.  Down a little steep hill and over a bridge, and there it was.  Amazing.  6:51:07.  35th overall and 7th woman in.

Another day, another 50k, and just a little souvenir to show for it.
Another day, another 50k, and just a little souvenir to show for it.

This was the least prepared I’ve ever been for an ultra – not enough volume training, not enough hill training, and poor nutrition.

Each ultramarathon offers something different.  And each ultramarathon can teach you valuable lessons.  It was my slowest and toughest 50k, but at the end of the day, I had a few good takeaways on what I needed to do for the next one.   Yes, there will be a next one.

The ultramarathon community, as I’ve described it to many friends, is like walking into somebody’s home.  Not house, but home.  Each aid station is like an invitation to someone’s kitchen to sample some of the goodies they’ve personally prepared for you.  Each volunteer’s face is like a warm hug.  Each cheer helps to propel you one step further.  For this, I am so fortunate and ever so grateful.

The long lonely road

Four ultramarathons and close to 2000 miles of training – after all that, some assume that each one gets easier than the next and training somehow gets easier.  That’s a myth.  To get to the start (and eventually the finish), you still need to put in those miles.  And each training block leading up to a race is still a test. Athletes constantly test themselves and see if they can train more efficiently and perhaps improve on the areas that they feel are the weakest. And sometimes, the thing that needs improving most is your mind.

I’ll be the first to tell you that my mind has not always been in “the game”.  I’ve struggled to get through weeks of running – yes, I said weeks. Getting mentally prepared to walk out the door and go for that long run, especially in the winter when the weather is not necessarily ideal, is not an easy thing. And even during runs, for whatever reason you’re struggling, it can be the most challenging thing to convince yourself to push through it. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. In that regard, we are no different.

After running many races, I feel the only thing I’ve mastered at this point is my mindset going into the race and getting myself to the finish line. With 4 ultramarathons completed, I’ve definitely not mastered the training. Or, rather, I’ve not mastered the mindset of training.

I still get excited about the prospect of ultramarathons, whether it be the challenge of conquering new distances or exploring new places. When I signed up for Way Too Cool 50k, although I wasn’t sure whether I was quite ready to want to train again, I was excited about the possibility of running a race that had a great reputation for being very well organized and had a beautiful and fast course – elements which made it very popular and attracted some darn, speedy people. All reasons why registration was a lottery.

I had a few other friends who were interested in running this race, but the main reason why I was motivated to run was because one friend wanted a training partner. This was paramount. For my last race – my first 50 miler – I had friends who would jump in and run with me for parts of my long runs, but there was no one person who I was sharing the whole experience with and someone who kept me accountable and motivated. So, to have that agreement going in was a game changer.

Sadly, a couple of months before the race, she had to cancel. She was devastated, and my heart sank. My training suffered; without needing to go back to my training log, I know it was evident, with some training runs cut short or even missed. More importantly, my head was no longer in the game.

The only thing that kept my spirits high was the trip as a whole. Way Too Cool is located in northern California and we (Hozumi, who was racing, and Greg, who was supporting/spectating)  had planned to spend an extra couple of days in San Francisco. Now, some may say that SAD (Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder) is a farce, but it’s not. Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, we are all affected by the weather. Look at how the mood of Vancouver changes when the weather changes – from Raincouver to Suncouver. You’ll all of a sudden see people smiling with heads held high even when the temperature is nipping at our noses and fingertips, which is a far cry from the glazed reflection of defeat in our averting eyes when the clouds roll through and rain envelops the city.

IMG_4808

The Way Too Cool 50k was located about 2 hours north of San Francisco in a great little town called Cool, CA. With a high of 16-18 degrees Celcius, I couldn’t complain. I was happier, more energetic, and slept better.

The morning of the race, the sun was shining and, as with most events, everyone was in good spirits.

IMG_6781

Even finding tears in both of my shoes en route didn’t dampen my mood.  We arrived at the race about 45 minutes early, unbeknownst to us that the line up to park would have us rushing to the start line with only 15 minutes to race start. To add insult to injury, I needed to to park myself at the back of a long bathroom lineup. Stress levels were not good. With 5 minutes to go, Hozumi came by and wished me luck as he took his position at the start. I, however, was still patiently but not so patiently waiting in the line to the loo. Finally! In and out as quick as I could, I rushed out of the port-a-potty and ran to the start with less than 30 seconds to start. In fact, they were mere seconds from doing the 10-second countdown. At this point, I was positioned right near the back. Now, I’m not expecting to win the race – far from it – but I knew I wasn’t in the right spot. And then the gun goes off! So, what do I do? Run a little hard to fight for a spot further up along the chain.  The course was quite runnable, especially in the first 8 miles.  It was a large expansive meadow with single track trails and a few creek crossings.  Some took the extra minute to cross the creeks, while others splashed through them to get a bit ahead.

lw1-sideways
(c) 2013 Meeth Photography

With seemingly less training in my legs, I projected a time close to 6 hours – hopefully under.  My pace for the first 8 miles, which loops back to the Start/Finish area had me finishing just over 5 hours.  Big mistake.  And boy, did I feel it.  After the initial 8 miles, there was a good downhill section, which most people know I love.  So, throwing caution to the wind, I barreled down earning myself a handful more spots.  Note the photo of me sideways on the trail – this would be due to a lack of control running downhill.  SO FUN.

My legs were starting to fatigue and the hamstring which had been giving me problems for almost 2 years started acting up and I hadn’t hit halfway yet.  By the time I was halfway in, I checked my watch and I was at 2:29 – uh oh.  And this was when the wheels starting falling off.  This was also when most of the downhill was over and it was time to start climbing back up to the Finish, including a ridiculous hill called Goat Hill, meaning it’s a hill that’s meant for 4 legged animals naturally inclined for climbing ridiculous hills.  FYI, I am NOT a goat nor am I feeling like a goat at just over a marathon distance in.

Up until this point, there was really no chatter on the trails, which added another element of difficulty to this race.  There is a lot of self talk that happens on runs, but the tone of that self talk declines rapidly the longer the run.  The best cure for that is to distract yourself by some great chatter with others who are also suffering.   Sadly, I didn’t get to enjoy this aspect and was stuck in my head, until I heard a voice that broke through it all at about 28 miles in.  My first reaction was one of relief and rejuvenation because I was feeling very much beyond my abilities.  But then the voice got clearer and clearer.  And it wasn’t good.  Unfortunately, this woman who was also in the race who was just behind me was told by someone on the course that the next aid station was 300 yards away.  When I first heard it and looked down at my watch, I knew it was off.  And by quite a bit.  I quickly told her that I think it was more like a mile .. at least.  This didn’t go over well.  We passed another person on the course, either a volunteer or spectator, and she confirmed this.  I all of a sudden heard a broken record of negativity behind me of how she had been wronged.  Don’t get me wrong – it was wrong and I can empathize with how she was feeling, but I also couldn’t be around it.  I had to get away or she’d weigh me down mentally.

I knew the next aid station would be coming up soon, and from there, the finish was very close.  When I first looked at the course map, I questioned having an aid station less than 2 miles from the finish.  At this point, it was a Godsend.  I got to the aid station first, saw her come in and heard her start her rant.  She started the final 1.4 mile uphill trek to the finish just a bit before me, but I passed her within the first 5 minutes.  There really was no running to be had on this section, as it was very rocky ascent so it was more hiking and scrambling.

All smiles to the finish line!
All smiles to the finish line!

A very enthusiastic volunteer just a bit ahead was announcing that we were a mile to go and I was ecstatic.  Energy is contagious and this volunteer was giving it away like it was nobody’s business.  Thank you – I’ll take what you got!  But then, the woman behind me started her rant and I had to get away as quick as I could.  And at this point, there was really no speed until I got to the top of the rocky ascent and was back on a single track packed dirt slightly uphill trail that led to the finish line.  Now, THAT was a glorious sight.  I had left every single ounce of my being out there and my hamstrings felt as though they were going to snap.

I hate to end to race report with a negative tone and everyone has good and bad days, and clearly, this woman was having a bad day.  So, I’ll end off thanking her for giving me that extra little push to get me to the finish line with all smiles.

IMG_2168Hozumi, of course, did amazing.  He finished 13th overall with a time of 3:56, which only shows how strong of a field he was up against.   After I managed to hobble my way around the finish area, we got to have a quick sit on some hay bales before heading back to the hotel for a quick turnaround to our trip to San Francisco!

The shoes, in case you were wondering, never came back from California.  🙂

McKenzie River Trail Run

McKenzie River Trail Run. 50 miles. Actually 51 miles. Just over 80km. That’s crazy talk. Who does that? It’s hard to believe that less than 72 hours ago, I did it. I don’t know where I got it in my head to do a 50 miler. I think the thought of it sounded good but the reality of it never really sank in until it was really too late. My Year of the 50/50 was going to happen.

Doubts of whether I would make the 12 hour cut off entered my mind for several weeks and it wasn’t the typical taper mindset of doubting your training. I actually hadn’t trained enough for a number of reasons. I had probably trained more mileage-wise for the 50k’s that I had done, aside from the two 6+ hour runs. But, time was running out so I had to focus on everything else, like planning the trip!

  • I watched the weather forecast like a hawk and it showed hot weather in and around race day, but postings on the Facebook group said that the heat shouldn’t be a problem since the trail was mostly covered.
  • I created a spreadsheet of different paces from 11 min/mile (9:21 finish time) to 14 min/mile (11:54 finish time), at 30 sec/mile intervals so my crew could keep track of my progress, or lack thereof.
  • I printed off all maps and information provided by the race. One really great thing about this race is that the aid stations are plentiful and spaced well.

Anthony and Tavis made the best support crew a gal could ask for. We set out on Thursday evening – 1 gal, 2 guys, and 2 dogs – and made our way to Olympia, roughly 4 hours away from Vancouver. The first night’s sleep was fairly disrupted with unsettled pooches but we managed to make our way to our cabin in Blue Water, Oregon the next day in time for a good dinner and a few last minute instructions and preparations for the big day. Given that I’d spectated and supported on ultras before, I knew the risks of spectator bonk so I had prepped a number of things to mitigate it as much as possible, with as much home baking and food as I could make.

2:45am – Alarm goes off.
4:30am – Head out the door the start line.
5:00am – Race starts. Headlamps and handlights are on!

The first hour was a conga line, due to the course being mainly single track. You run/walk in the dark with light only coming from your headlamp/handlight or from the person directly ahead of you or behind you. At only 2 miles in, I rolled my ankle – not awful but not great. It took me a while before my foot felt normal and I could plant my foot without pain. Also, because of the dry weather and the congestion of people, there were sections where the dust kicked up so much, we were almost blinded by it. We hit the first aid station at 6 miles and I didn’t need anything except a washroom – apparently, I hydrated a bit too well in the morning – but I was quickly told there was no washroom available so I proceeded to the next one. Somehow, because I didn’t need to stop at AS1, I ended up at the FRONT of the pack – bad move. One person was quick on my tail and I offered to let him pass but he declined saying that I was going at a great pace – another bad move. We chatted a bit and I found out that he wanted to finish in under 10 hours – uh oh. He took a bit of a tumble at one point but recovered and when we hit an open spot, I let him and 2 others pass me. Whew! Less pressure. Lesson here though is not to less yourself get too comfortable because at about 7 miles in, I stumbled and hit the ground. No face plant but a smashed knee nonetheless. Not too long after that I get to AS2 (9.3miles) where the guys were waiting for me. I dropped my headlamp, handlight, and arm warmers with them but kept the gloves as they saved me on my earlier fall. I then looked around for a washroom but to no avail. I decided to continue on and see if I could just wait until the next AS. A couple of miles in, I caved and ducked behind a bush. It wasn’t worth thinking about needing to pee for the next hour. MAN, was it a relief! I felt revived! So, off I went. I don’t know how many near falls I had but it wasn’t great. The trail, however, was beautiful and breathtaking, and very runnable, which proved to be both a  good and bad thing – good that you can run forever, but bad because you end up running forever without hills to give you walk breaks. For you diehard road runners out there, walking is perfectly acceptable .. and welcomed, especially when you’ve got 50 miles of terrain to cover! 🙂

Along this stretch, there was a section about 2-3kms where lava rock (or some type of porous sharp rock) was interspersed amongst the trail. Running this section was extremely difficult with the risk of turning ankles so it was safer to walk when you could. Unfortunately, this was also tough on the feet to walk on.

AS3 and AS4 were a bit of blur – I started off running with a European gentleman for a few minutes and I couldn’t quite understand what he was asking me. He kept asking if I’ve been the end or if I was the end – was he asking me if I was last? Before I had a chance to check, he took off. Was I really last??? My breathing also got very laboured and what shouldn’t be that difficult became extremely taxing. I remember seeing the first 50km runners coming the other way at about 3:50 into the run (the course was shared with the 50km route).   There were a number of things I found about the route:

  • At times, I got lost in natural beauty of the trail, with the sun peeking through the trees and the weather turning a bit warmer.
  • It was also those times I would stumble over a rock or root and have a near fall.
  • At one point, I was thinking that it must be close to noon because of the warmth.  Then I checked my watch and realized it was about 9:30am.
  • The course, albeit gorgeous, was lacking in markings and more than once, I found myself stopped, unsure which way to go.  Luckily, I picked the right way or someone came by to save me before I made the wrong decision.

I passed through AS4 and the guys filled up my pack with water and replenished my fuel. I ate a few potatoes that I made from home – home made and training tested! Gels and chews are great but my stomach needed something other than sugar, especially for that length of time.

I continued the trek to AS5, marking the halfway point and the highest point of the race. This section, albeit the toughest for me mentally, was visually stunning. We ran through a lava field that overlooked Clear Lake. The lava wasn’t so fun to run on but it was spectacular. When I finally hit AS5, I was so happy. They took my pack to refill more water. And then they told me to run down the trail for a short out-and-back to the halfway point while they filled my water. I thought they were joking. They were not. Cruel and unusual punishment!  Thankfully, it was only 100 yards and the volunteers on the course and at the aid stations always breathed new life into me with their encouragement and enthusiasm so back I came and there was my pack waiting for me. Pack slapped back on and back along the trail I went.  At least I knew it was all downhill from here, kind of.  To be honest, my energy was rapidly waning. At the halfway point, I started to drink the pop they had and the water, plus ate some watermelon, and a few of my potatoes. I just needed something to help me continue and didn’t know how the rest of the day would go especially since I was only halfway. But I had to. I knew my pace was getting slower, although the guys never let on that it was. I just needed to get to the next AS, where I knew Tav was waiting for me – my pacer for the last 20 miles.

I was going back and forth with one runner – he was pulling ahead on the uphills and I was closing the gap on the downhills. Then I looked at his footwear. He was wearing leather sandals, like the ones they talked about in Born to Run. Crazy! Realizing that there was going to be more downhill than up, he let me pass. Within 5 minutes, someone was on my heels! So I picked it up. I was wondering why that last runner let me pass when he was just going to run up right behind me. We chatted a bit and he said not to rush because he wasn’t in the race and that he would pass when he found a good spot. So I eased up a bit but we were on MY terrain – my favourite type of trail .. single track, a bit rocky, a bit rooty, and ALLLLL downhill. I managed to forget all about the pain in my feet. When he finally passed me, it turned out he was a different person altogether. But using that energy, I flew into AS6 (31.1 miles). I grabbed more food, another pop, cup of water and reloaded my pockets with fuel.  Oh, and my pacer.

So, the last 20 miles. It was killer. My feet felt like someone smashed them with a sledgehammer after standing all day at a tradeshow. Walking hurt so much, but running was tiring me out. Tav was literally a godsend – I could not have finished in the time I did without him. He pushed me to dig a bit deeper when I didn’t want to. He encouraged me when I had the energy. He was comic relief. He was company. What I realized was that no one really talked to me during the race, which was odd as ultrarunners tend to be chatty. So, rather than have the distraction of people on the course, I was stuck in my head and my aching body for the first 31 miles. To have someone there, especially someone familiar, made a world of difference. It became a game to not let certain people pass, to do a “silent pass” which is essentially creeping up on people and blowing pass them, chicking the guys which is basically when a girl passes a guy .. and then I had to make sure I didn’t get dick’d which was my term when a dude passed me! I kept asking him how much longer to the next aid station – there was only 3 left: 14.4 miles to go, 9.3 miles to go, and 6 miles to go. It seemed we had a routine: I would get a good rhythm of running and then lose steam and then we’d walk, and then I’d whine about my feet being broken. Every aid station was like a vision from heaven. The volunteers were cheery and nice – and they were so kind to tell me how fresh I looked and they couldn’t believe I was doing 50 miles because of how good I looked. Let me tell you .. it’s WAAAAAAY better than a sign in a marathon that says “You’re almost there” or “Looking good”. In person flattery gets you EVERYWHERE.

When we hit the last aid station at 6 miles to go, Tav said it’s just another 70 minutes to go. I said “Impossible!” Just over 11 min/mile was like telling me to run a 5 min/mile. So he said to just do what I could. Again, I kept asking him how much further and that’s when he stopped telling me. He would only tell me what the clock time was. Damnit. I started to wonder if I could do it in under 11 hours. It was 2:44 apparently when I got into the last aid station. That means, I really had to finish 6 miles in 76 minutes – a bit less because that doesn’t include the time I spent IN the aid station. So I started running .. and running .. and running – as much as I could and taking deep breaths. I took some walk breaks but I tried to keep them short. I didn’t want to say out loud that I was going to try for under 11 hours because I didn’t want to fail and it would be very close. Somewhere along the way, Tav fell a bit behind because he rolled his ankle but he kept telling me to go ahead. We finally hit a clearing where we had to cross a road and some volunteers were there to offer water. I saw two volunteers that were on the trail earlier and asked them how much further and they said a mile and a half.

Woooohoooo!! Tav was right there and I asked him what time it was. It took him a few minutes – technical difficulties – and then he said it was 3:34. That’s 26 minutes to finish 1.5 miles. I can do that. I CAN do that. I found myself bargaining with myself in my head, saying that I could slow down and still finish in 10:58 but then I felt it wasn’t enough. So I continued on. Over and over, I would hear Tav yelling at me saying that I was doing awesome and to keep going so I kept going. I looked through the trees and convinced myself that I could see a parking lot, a car, the finish line, and then quickly realize it was just the river. Again. Then I hit a hill and stopped to walk. I looked up and there were people. Flagging. And I yelled up, “Is this it? It better be it!” So I dug deep and ran up the hill and it was it. I was done. Anthony was waiting for me with two VERY excited puppies. And I was thrilled. My official time: 10:47:23, 36th overall, 6th woman. There were initially 94 registrants and roughly 29 women.

The race was great, the volunteers were amazing, the course was beautiful, and i am forever indebted to my support crew.

A World with No What-If’s

there’s something strangely exciting and scary when you’re 5 days out from reaching your big goal.  I know it’s something that everyone has experienced before in their lives – when you toe the line of your first race, when you decide to quit your job and change careers, when you decide to not go to university and travel instead.  it can be something big or small but it’s the same symptoms – butterflies in your stomach, motivation overcomes fear and bubbles into excitement.  And then .. when you’ve finally bitten the bullet – good or bad, you’re always glad you did it.  Imagine a world with no what-if’s.

if you’re going to fall, fall forward

To say that the Gorge Waterfalls 50k was an epic run is the understatement of the year, for me personally. I had started off the year with a few goals in mind – 50k and 50miles – my year of the 50/50. I completed my first 50k last year and it was tough but I was happy to reach and exceed my goal. I know some people say 50k is only 8k more than a marathon, but until you’ve done one, I might suggest you bite your tongue. My recovery from last year’s 50k took almost 6 weeks – more than double what I had hoped and expected. This year, it was going to be different. And it was. Little did I realize that “different” has many interpretations.

Our original party of 6 dwindled down to a party of 3 – with work schedules, injuries, and just plain life picking people off one by one. Jeremy and I were still running and Mandy was our superstar support crew.

Friday night after work, we set off across the border to start our trip to Portland. Our plan was to drive as far as we reasonably could and then find a place to rest for the night. This took us to Centralia – only 1.5 hours away from Portland. Perfect.

Saturday morning, we make our way to Portland, do a round of tax-free shopping and call it a night after a carb loading dinner. 10pm, we were all in bed with our alarm clocks set for 5am.

IMG_6058Sunday morning, temperature was perfect hovering around 10 degrees with a bit of cloud and everything goes according to plan – we make good time on our drive to Benson State Park, the start of the race, arriving 10 mins shy of our planned 7am arrival. Check in was to be 7am-745am, but at 10 minutes to 8, we finally heard that the Race Director got a flat tire while he was out on the course and was waiting to get back with all of our race packages. Finally, at 840am, the race begins!

Within 3 minutes, the whole pack almost goes off course missing the first turn across the lake and onto the trail but we quickly recovered. Whew! That first part of the trail was a bit dodgy with two narrow dirt paths amongst a grassy area, where every person was vying for a good spot before we started our trek up the mountain. The elevation map showed 1600ft of climbing over 2 miles right off the bat, after our mile flat start, then descending for 2 miles straight into the first aid station. I now know very clearly that I need more than a couple of miles to warm up before I start climbing a mountain. In hindsight, I’m fairly certain that I went out a bit too quick and then climbed a little more aggressively than I should have. The elevation was challenging and parts of the trail were fairly technical, with some sections muddy, packed with snow, and filled with rock shards from the wash from the waterfalls. The advantage of this course was that it was a straight out-and-back so you knew what you were in for on the way back, for better or for worse. Coming down the backside of that first climb (around 6 miles), I rolled my ankle pretty badly and heard a pop. I’m no stranger to rolling ankles but I’ve only heard that pop once before and I know the results are not pretty. I  also know that it’s going to be painful for a bit but it will subside and I can run through it. So, I stopped to let the initial wash of pain pass through and gingerly made my way down the rest of the hill to the first aid station. With a grimace across my face, I passed through and started another climb.

IMG_6067-polaroidIMG_6065In less than a kilometer from that aid station, it happened. I tripped on a rock, smashed my right knee into a rock, bashed my right hand into the ground and my face collided into the trail. It all happened in slow motion but yet so quickly. I just laid there on the ground for a bit to try and assess what exactly had happened. I slowly sat up, spitting dirt and pulling twigs out of my mouth. My left glove was torn. My right hand stung. My right knee was throbbing. My lip was bleeding. My ego was bruised. People were asking how I was doing as they passed me by. Finally, two people stopped to make sure I was ok. My initial reaction was to keep waving them by, not because I didn’t need the help, but more because I was truly embarrassed. With their genuine concern and encouragement, I accepted their help and they waited until I could stand before they agreed to leave me and continue with their run. My upper lip was bleeding and my knee was bleeding. I tried to wipe off what I could and moved off to the side to try and think clearly. This was a pivotal moment for me. I definitely thought about turning it in and walking back down the trail to the aid station and calling it a day. But something in me just kept thinking, “you didn’t come down here to run 7 miles!” And you’re right. I didn’t. I figured I would just see if I could make it to the next aid station and see.

The initial steps were difficult – I felt like a newborn calf with unsteady legs. After a little while, I started to get a bit more comfortable and started making my way forward. I don’t know what I did right but I eventually started running with a guy named John from North Vancouver doing his first 50k. We ran together for the next couple of hours and it was exactly what I needed to get my head out of that bad space. We chatted about everything, kept an even pace, and reminded each other to drink and fuel. It felt like a weekend trail run with a friend, which was absolutely perfect. I found that smile again and apparently, it was plastered on my face for the rest of the race. At 11-12 miles, we ran on a paved section and got to see some of the leaders come back (wow!). On that stretch, I saw Jeremy making his trek back and he yelled something about it being “totally worth it.” No idea and he was gone before I could even say, “what?”. John and I pushed forward, pausing at the next aid station to fuel up with potatoes and potato chips and he helped me clean off my face from the dried blood. We then continued to the turnaround point to the last waterfall – Elowah Falls. So, the turnaround point. Capital W-O-W. We ran past a number of waterfalls and even ran BEHIND a waterfall (Ponytail falls!), which was stellar, but this was phenomenal. It was so breathtaking that we stopped and took a couple of pictures. Heck, we’re not going to win so what’s an extra minute or so? So worth it. So, now we’re on the trek home – home being almost 3 hours away but at least we knew what the course was going to be like for the rest of the way. I think around 19-20 miles I started to feel stronger and I pushed forward, knowing that I would see John at the finish line.

Wahkeena Falls(c) 2012 Glenn Tachiyama
Wahkeena Falls
(c) 2012 Glenn Tachiyama

One by one, I started picking off people, and I felt stronger and stronger and surprised myself that I was catching and passing people on the climb, which never happens! I passed the woman who had stopped for me earlier along the way and thanked her again for stopping for me. When we hit the top and started descending, things were starting to fall apart. My energy was waning, my watch had died, and my knee was throbbing with every down hill step. Normally, I revel in downhill trail running and found it mentally difficult to accept that I couldn’t just let go and enjoy this section. Remember that nice woman who stopped for me and I passed earlier? Well, she whipped right past me and took that hill like nobody’s business. Damnit. That should be me. So I go chase her down, gritting my teeth, keeping my mind alert and eyes glued to the trail. I didn’t catch her though on that downhill, but as soon as the trail started climbing again, there she was. I caught up to her and started walking a bit with her – thanked her again for stopping for me earlier and wished her a good run. And there I was .. on the last couple of miles towards the finish line.

Those were the longest, hardest couple of miles I’ve run in a long, long time. The trail by the lake seemed to go on forever. I kept thinking that there had to be a bend just up ahead that crossed the lake and took me the finish line but then I’d blink and see a runner wwaaaaaayy ahead on the same trail. On the same side. Not crossing the lake. Oh, wait. Oh, I think .. yup, I think he is .. YES, he’s turning! Happy dance in my head! And before you know it, I’m crossing the lake, and see the flagging toward the finish line. I smile as I make my closer and closer and finally step over the finish line, right to the smiling faces of Jeremy and Mandy. Ahhh…

IMG_6066Summerland-20120326-00144So remember those last 5 and 1/2 hours I ran? I did RUN them .. but now, I can no longer walk. Well, I can walk but I’m walking like Tim Conway from the Carol Burnett show – actually, maybe a bit slower. If you’re not familiar with Tim Conway, check out this skit.

The human body amazes me. Crash and burn on the trail, push through it, complete just over 5 1/2 hours of running, and then as soon as I stop, all the “abused” parts swell up and everything comes to a halt. But I am done and absolutely thrilled. I’m certainly looking forward to putting my feet up (with some ice) and watching my knee and my ankle return to its normal size. 🙂

So, in the future, my one piece of advice would be .. if you’re going to fall, fall forward.