Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Staying in the Bounds of My Training: Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run 2010

photo from Auburn Journal . We are on our way!

 As I write I am on the plane heading home from this adventure. Though this was not a focus race for me, it was fun and hard and joyful and now that “race weekend” is almost over, I am feeling tired and relieved and just a little lost....

Many amazing things happened out there for many people. The men's race was a true dual of fitness and tenacity and passion. A record number of runners finished. Some dropped. What I am writing is just a glimpse of this past Saturday from my own little world.

 This year I enjoyed a few re-race activities. I have learned to steer clear of the much of the drama and hoopla that makes me stressed out. I got to reunion with many Montrail runners during Friday’s photo shoot and generally catch up with great folks! On Friday, the day before the race it drizzled and stayed in the low 60’s. A chilly day…I could hardly imagine dying of the heat in the canyons the next day.

Part of Friday at this race is getting a Medical Check. The volunteer staff weighs everyone, takes BP and pulse and records it on a plastic bracelet worn by runners until after the race. Runners are weighed at various points on the course to monitor for too much weight loss (dehydration) or gain (hypernatremia). I weighed in a 119 including shoes and running clothes, after breakfast. This weight seemed a few pounds light to me-yet I wasn’t about to be whiney and argue my scale at home might not be the accurate one.

The pre-race briefing was long and a bit daunting when the Top 10 finishers from each gender and automatic entrants from the Montrail Ultra Cup were called up front. I was on stage with no less than 20 other strong, accomplished female ultra runners. Add the other girls that are not as well “known”, and there was quite a lot of competition for the Top 10 spots of WS 100 2010! I had my work cut out for me, and I knew it!

I spent Friday evening alone in my little cabin at Tamarack Lodge in Tahoe City, dining on a veggie omelet and English muffin prepared in the kitchenette. I was in bed reading by 9:30pm and slept until the alarms (3) went off at 3am. After taping feet and gathering my things, jumped into my rental Toyota for the 8 mile drive to the start. I drank coffee, ate ½ banana and English muffin with almond butter and apple butter.

 I parked the car, stashed the keys where teammate Matt Hart had agreed to pick it up in order to deliver it to Auburn. After taking care of “personal business”, picked up my race number and chip, got weighed in for the medical study having to do with hydration and salt I’d agreed to participate in, and found Tony and Elinor who unexpectedly would be crewing for me. Tony is George’s uncle and Elinor is his daughter, to me they are great people whom I am proud to call family. Both crewed for me in 2005 and were able to come back and offer their assistance and enthusiasm this year. It was a joy to share this part of my life with family, especially an event as dramatic and high profile as the Western States 100. Thank you Elinor and Tony!

The Race

We started at precisely 5am Pacific Standard Time Whooo-hooooo! I was approximately 100 runners from the front and the front folks jetted, the cluster I was with bounded and those behind me in the pack shuffled their way out of the start area for our 100.2 mile adventure across the snow and roads and canyons of the Western States Trail. I alternated scampering and hiking for the first 4 miles up to the Escarpment. (The final ascent to the ridge was a trudge on snow steps). I re-introduced myself to Amy Palmiero-Winters who would soon become the 1st amputee to finish this course. Amy and I had met a couple of years ago on Long Island when we were both running the LI Greenbelt 50k I also chatted away with Scott Mills and met Suzanna Bon on the way up. It was fun to finally meet Suzanna after cheering so hard for her via blog at this past May’s World 24-Hour Championship!
photo from Auburn Journal
Up, up and slowly up we traveled. Those ahead of us ran. I plodded with those around me. Closing in on the top, a brief look behind me revealed Lake Tahoe at sunrise, the lighting of a glorious day! I just hoped that after 12 hours I would be taking it all in as richly as I was then doing. Dropping over the ridge west was one of my favorite parts of the day-quickly I traded out orange sunlight on my back to long shadows coming over the ridge as we headed down and west. I struggled to pass lots of people for the about a ¼ mile-not that I was trying to beat them, yet I remembered this part of the course as being super fun downhill in snowy mountain glory. These early hours were beyond exquisite in beauty!

It didn’t take long before I found my slippery rhythm on this snowy course. Like in 2005 when there was snow, I spent much time laughing out loud from the pure joy of playing in the snowy mountains! Several around me seemed to be delighted in a similar way and as we chatted we seemed to brag about how many (uneventful) falls on our butts we’d taken! (I only had 2! So far!) The early miles of this day brought forth the experience of joy and freedom and flight that first attracted me to this sport. I was reminded of my privilege to be alive and to experience my senses as richly as I do. If you grew up where it snowed and can remember the first snowfall of the year when you didn’t have to go to school, but instead could go outside and play in the snow and build forts and later come inside to drink hot chocolate and each cheese sandwiches…then you can identify with my first hours of this event!

The Past and the Plan

 I have run WS 100 2x previously. In 2005 it was a focus race for the year, my training and racing were all geared to that event and showed in my results. In 2006 I was gifted with a comp entry, but couldn’t use it as a result of a healing hamstring tear. In 2007, still dealing with hamstring issues I went anyway, and although I wasn’t still injured, I’d yet learned how to run, hike or healthfully compensate for the scarring and change of hamstring mobility. I had a wonderful run, yet went out too hard and “paid for it” during the last 40 miles. In 2008, the race was cancelled and in 2009, wanting something less hilly to complement my road training for World 24, instead ran Vermont 100.

As I have written in previous posts, the daunting expenses of the WS 100 trip and race kept me from seeking entry earlier this year. So actively seek, I did not. Yet, I allowed, if I gained access via automatic entry via an Ultra Cup Race, I’d seriously consider. On May 8, 2010, I earned an entry by my 2nd place finish at Ice Age 50 Mile. At this point, giving myself a week to recover from Ice Age and a week to “taper” for WS 100, my coach, Howard Nippert and I designed a training plan. I would have 5 weeks to gear my training to this course. Since a person can not cram for racing an ultra, I entered with what I hoped was 4 realistic goals. I would to go for:
  • A top 10 finish
  • To place in the Montrail Ultra Cup (top 3 get cash prizes!)
  • To better my time from last time
  • To be smart so I still had legs to run well at least until the River (mile 78)
I am strong and determined, yet I hadn’t put in the mountain miles or time on feet that I’d need for a real race. This would be about running within my training and practicing sensible risk taking. I had an enthusiastic crew and talented and fun pacer –Amy Sproston. Amy also assisted with crewing until she met me in Foresthill. If I could practice patience and humility, my goals would be doable. If I got ego-driven and greedy, I feared I would blow up way too early in the day. This day was about saying “yes” to keeping the dorsal fin dormant.

The Snow

 There was lots of snow for the first 13 miles. Due to the hefty volume of snow on the course this year, miles 9 to mile 23 had to be rerouted. This course change meant almost 10 miles of pure downhill on wide single track and dirt road. This snow route meets the traditional route at Duncan Canyon and is very close to the exact 100.2 advertised miles. I figured that this downhill terrain would make it a faster course than the others, yet if a person went out too fast, they would surely pay for it later. I did not wish to be in this group!
 Back to the Race

 Running with Jill Perry for a few downhill miles was fun! Meeting other runners and chatting was too. I tried to follow my plan of taking in approx 300 calories and 2 water bottles every 1.5 hours. After 2 hours I started taking electrolytes. The first place to met crew was about 30 miles in at Robinson Flat. I was weighed and the scale reported that I gained 5#! I think this was impossible as I had only taken in only a 4.5 20z bottles of fluid from the start, and I had stopped to pee 3x! Anyway, I was instructed to stop drinking and take in more salt. My split to Robinson was 5:23, 78th place overall and somewhere around 10th woman.

 The climb out of Robinson Flat was again quite snowy in sections, until cresting Little Bald Mountain, where I almost stumbled at my first exposure to the magnificent Sierra Nevada range in all its glory just south of where I was standing. I could have sat and stared at that view for hours. Yet not on this day, many miles to go and canyons to explore!

 At this point, I started to get into a rhythm- bobbing along the trail, staying steady, slowing on the ups and loosening up more on the descents. I didn’t even try to run some of the very steep parts which I have run in the past. Both Devil’s Thumb and Michigan Bluff were 95% power hikes for me. Both are steep and feel like endless climbs and I did my best to stay in the moment and not think about just wanting to get to the top. When finally topping out at Michigan Bluff, someone asked, “How was the climb?” I replied, “I loved the climb, yet I really, really love being at the top of it now!”

 I really have nothing remarkable to report about my experience pre-Foresthill. I felt mostly good and was taking no chances. My weight was staying around 121.5. I did pass Tamsin Anstey who was moving slowly, nursing a sore knee and reported she started out too hard. Pam Smith and I passed each other several times on the big climbs-she stronger on the steeps and I on the descents.

 I felt very sad as I came through the aid station (mile 53ish) just before the ascent to Michigan Bluff: There stood Devon Crosby-Helms looking pale and speaking to the aid station medical folks. I could tell things were not good for her and probably hadn’t been for some time. Later I would learn she was dealing with stomach issues and had to drop at Michigan Bluff. I was sad for Devon as I knew from reading her blog and occasional personal interactions with her, that she was very prepared and super excited about this race.

 At Foresthill, Amy joined me; I grabbed a headlamp and wrapped it around my right upper arm. In 2007 it got dark just before the river crossing. It was 4:56pm and I fully expected to make it the 16 miles to the River well before dark-yet one never knows. In 2005, when I was in great mountain shape, I arrived at this spot at 4:18 and arrived at The River crossing at 6:58pm. In 2007, I arrived at Foresthill over an hour later and this segment took 3:20. This year, my legs played fair and the segment took just about 3 hours.

Rucky Chucky River Crossing 2010

 Amy was a joy to spend time with. We talked and sang and told stories of mutual acquaintances. She did a great job reminding me to keep the calories coming in. If I was in stronger form, I think I’d have really been able to benefit from her being able to push me more in those last 20 miles. We crossed the River in a boat, due to the high water levels. It was about 8pm. Later we would learn the winner; Geoff Roes crossed the finish line at 8:07 pm! Wow, that is fast!

 We turned on our headlamps shortly after leaving Green Gate, mile79.8. At this point spirits were high and legs pretty tired. I was an hour behind my 2005 split here, and an hour ahead of my 2007 split here. It was roughly 8:40pm. I started plodding. Amy was fabulously patient. Though I was not crawling, I did quite a lot of transitioning from running to walking and she hung in there too.

 Amy and I spent a good part of miles 62-90 alone. After this we joined forces with Ian Torrence and Todd Walker and Lee Mckinley for bits at a time. Amy and I crossed Hwy 49 at 12:01 am. Later we learned this would be the time female champion, Tracey Garneau crossed the finish line! We still had 6.3 miles left to go!

 Todd, Amy, Ian and others created a nice 6-7 person “train” for a little while with the descent to No Hands Bridge. From here it was a dark amble up to Robie Point which Todd, Amy and I did together. At the top, Todd’s wife met him and they sped off down the hill. I admired how speedy he looked. I was not very fast, yet Amy helped me get going when we caught sound of other runners leaving the trail. I would NOT be passed at this point. Now I had a specific focus and damned the under-trained legs, I would run!

 I was quite quiet as Amy and I ran the last few hundred feet to the finish line with me crossing at 20:43:04, 8th woman and 42 finisher overall. Tony and Elinor were there cheering me on as I was ushered to the medical area for some “study testing”. I felt very tired, yet was pleased with my efforts and ability to stay within my training.

 The 2 hours I spend in the medical tent post race was not fun. I protested as the study staff pushed me into a chair to take blood and do other checking. I really needed to walk for 5-10 minutes before sitting down-this is one thing that helps me cool down and keeps me from being sick after a long effort. I was not permitted to do so. So I passed out! And threw up. Ick. And withdrew from the study. I did take a bag of IV fluid which helped with my pressure. My 1st ever IV at a race end. I didn’t like having to break the streak and will NOT sit down without walking around after a long run like this again!

I don't blame the study staff for what happened, rather it is my own fault for not obtaining enough information. I sincerely thank the medical folks at the finish line for helping me come back to life!

 Amy and I shared an overpriced room at the Super 8 and by the time I arrived there at 4:15 am I had just enough energy to get in the shower and no energy to sit in an ice bath. I did sleep for 3.5 hours before waking up and getting that bath! Though I could have slept much longer, I really like getting back to the track and watching other runners come in and finish up. So tough they all are for having been out for 2 sunrises!
Less than 30 minutes to finish!

Tony, Elinor and I around 11am Sunday morning
 The Awards Ceremony was fun! Neat to see all those fast guys together and meet Tracey Garneau for the first time. The Montrail Ultra Cup was announced with Meghan Arbogast and Glen Redpath taking 1st place. I got 2nd and was very pleased. Complete results here for Western States 100 2010 and here for Montrail UltraCup 2009/2010.

 Top 10 women pause with belt buckles

During the afternoon on Sunday, several people asked if I’d be back next year, or what race is next for me? I don’t know! I can’t even think of it right now! I need a few days to feel normal again. Once the less swelling and many facial pimples go away, I’ll be able to more easily consider doing this again and I know I will, yet mentally for another day or two, I just won’t “go there” unless I must!

There are sooo many things to reflect on: training, racing, expenses, time-away, body stress and self confidence....Recovery is a multi-faceted approach...and does take work, especially the reflection aspect. I expect I'll be feeling less lost after I sleep more than 6 hours in a row and get to see George and Mama Grey!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Western States 100 2010 countdown to start

Montrail East Coasters goofing around at photo shoot today: Me, David Horton and  Jill Perry 

The hours are counting down to the 2010 WS 100 mile. I am very excited. A bit nervous and looking forward to the grand adventure! This afternoon we had a Montrail photo shoot near the start area-it was fun to have so many of us together all at 1x! I wish I could have gotten a photo of the entire gang!
After the photo shoot, we all made our way to the mandatory race briefing. It was chilly! Reaching 60 degrees as a high and drizzling at times...Notice the long sleeves! (I wore 2 jackets, warm hat and pajama pants under my skort!
Patient, chilly runners await the briefing 

Looking west and up towards the snow where we'll be headed to in several hours
The event will have timely webcasts starting at 5am tomorrow...I am #28 and my squinty mugshot follows... http://ws100.ultralive.net/webcast.php

Please send good vibes! This will surely be another adventure!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Black Mountain Monster 12 Hour = quality WS training run

 Photo of Anne Lundblad and I at around hour 10...

Sunday, 6/6, 9am…Part I

As I sit down to write this post, I am surrounded by a pile of grassy running shoes, salt crusted clothes, dirty water bottles, a charging Garmin 305 and an open map. My legs are bright red from a recent 2nd ice bath in less than 8 hours.

After deciding to do WS 100 on June 26th, less than a month ago, I planned this training weekend: 12 hours running  3 mile trail laps at the Black Mountain Monster 12/24, and the next day some 10-15 miles of mountain running in the Black Mountain area.

The purpose of yesterday was to practice hydration, nutrition and pacing (staying in control-and practicing switching from running to power walking/hiking). I would also get a chance to run for an hour in the dark, and this would be a good chance to review my light system.

The event started at 10am, and leaving Jefferson, NC at 5:50am put me in Black Mountain by 8:00, plenty of time to unload my things, tape feet, socialize and get ready. In contrast to this year, though there were a similar number of runners, most runners were solo, rather than teams as was true last year.

 Feelin' good on the feet!

The course too was different, a slightly shorter loop with more little ups and downs on single track, and many hairpin turns. This course design was much fun: wide grass trail, wood chipped trails, greenway pavement, ivy and root laden trails, and running along the edge of fields in mowed grass.  I think the course was a bit slower than last years route due to the turns and little rooty “ups”.
 Fine, mellow trail...
Down hill on the Greenway...

Just before the start, I glimpsed and waved to many wonderful friends and running acquaintances I haven’t’ seen all year: Brian Beduah running the 24-hour, Anne Lundblad, 9 weeks out of back surgery and still looking happy and fit, readying to walk for 12 hours. Former Montrail teammate and Sara Lowell was running, like me, practicing for Western States 100, coming up in 3 weeks.

Drew Shelfer, his wife Michelle and 15 month old daughter were setting out for a grand adventure: All three would do the 12 hour, with Drew pushing the ATV like baby jogger as much as little girl would allow. My back and arms ached with the thought!

Paul Carrasco was there too and he and I were running companions for much of the 1st 3 hours. Paul was there to run at least 40 miles to celebrate turning 40 in a couple of days

To “practice” for WS, I wore the attire I expect to wear in 3 weeks, though I am still not sure if I’ll wear the Mountain Masochist or Sabino Trails. Yesterday I wore the MM as I knew the course would have few rocks. I discovered I will NOT wear the knee high compression hose I have worn since after VT 100 last year. I wound up with crusty salt and a scary looking red heat rash due to the compressive nylon. There is still time to seek an alternative!

My game plan w/calories and fluid was to weigh every 3 hours. I would take 2 electrolyte caps and at least 300 calories every 90 minutes. Since the GU 2O I ordered (this is what will be provided at WS) didn’t come to me in time, I used my favorite Clif Shot cran raspberry drink mix. I alternated between water and drink with additional calories coming from gels, Shot Blocks, almond butter and jelly squares, little cans of V-8 juice. During the hottest hours of the race, I was drinking almost 50 ounces per hour switching to Gatorade when I ran out of my own mix.

The reported high temp for the day was 86 with humidity ranging from 78-100%. Not HOT by WS 100 standards, yet the temps and humidity certainly got my attention!

After 6 hours, my weight was maintaining, and I was feeling good. I had run 13 laps or 39 miles.
Refueling stops were taking longer, fishing ice out of the cooler, pouring drinks, sweaty slippery fingers trying to open gel packs are almost as frustrating as cold ones!

By 9 hours ( 7pm) I was over being really hot and my weight was up 2#. I’d slowed down and happily hiked 2 parts of the course consistently.  I was getting bored. The reason for the boredom is that this was a loop and I’d already met my goal of a solid 50+-mile heat-training run…I was in a not-so-good attitude state. I was sick of sweet stuff and really wanted to eat the pizza they had just brought out. So I did!

 A quiet looking transition area at around 7pm (more tents and stuff out of photo range)

From hour 9-10 I took it easy, backed off the fluids, took more salt, had a slice of pizza. I had hoped that by fueling myself with a slice I wouldn’t have to eat more sweet stuff for the rest of the night. During this hour I walked with Brian and then with Anne, pausing with Anne at the transition area to run and fetch my camera so as to get a photo of us together. I also grabbed another small slice of pizza. Pizza is never a go to food for me and eating it was a risk-yet, this was a training run, so why not?

A little more walking to help the pizza start to settle and at 8:15pmish I was feeling emotionally better from some good conversation with Anne and Brain and the pizza was doing its’ magic. I thought to finish out another 3 loops.

After running 1 lap by flashlight I finished my last loop in 11:28 minutes. In theory, I could have pushed for another, yet practice, not race, was the theme of the day, and truth be told, that was a relief! Total loops: 23, total miles: 69.

I lugged my things up the hill shortly after finishing, not hanging around in my usual social way as I wanted to check into the nearby Super 8 and shower and then get the ice bath out of the way before my anticipated frozen ravioli meal.

I don’t know the results from the race. As I was leaving a nighttime 12 hour was just beginning. Race director, Richard Hamby expected to post the results on Monday.

A fair, fun event. I wish more teams could come out-this event has the potential of a truly run and competitive running festival. I hope us ultra runners aren't scaring teams away!

Part II: Sunday’s “run”

As it turned out, I did not run 10 or 20 miles today. When I arrived at Mt Mitchell State Park for the planned 15ish mile loop on road, horse trail and steep single track it was sideways raining hard with thunder approaching. Visibility was at around 25’. I wussied out and left, knowing the storm could last 25 minutes or three hours. Stopping to look at the map, I figured to try a couple trails in the Curtis Creek area. After locating my target trail and 20 minutes of scrambling over deadfall, knowing this would hardly be a run, and I drove on to Woodlawn Work Station on 221.

I planned to run 1 hour out and 1 hour back heading west on the Mountains to Sea Trail and reassess if I wanted more. After 10 minutes of easy running, my intestines squawked and my carefully attended blisters squawked. Okay. Hiking for 3 hours is valuable too, I thought and adjusted my plans.

The trail felt remote. Though well traveled on Fridays and Saturdays mid summer and in hunting season, the trail was not populated as I broke through several trail covering spider webs. After hiking for a good hour contouring and working my way down to Tom’s Creek I rounded a corner to see a large black bear 30’ ahead of me in the trail. I think we were both startled. I reached for the buckle of my Nathan waist pack and went to twirl and holler when baby bear came behind Mama.
 Self photo after bear sighting..

Now what? I making a raucous appropriate with baby bears-or do I back away? I didn’t have time to ponder as Mama and baby trounced off the trail through the mountain laurel. Although this was indeed not the 1st time I have come across black bear alone on a trail-it is the first time I encountered mama and baby so close. So I got sorta shaken up and turned around and went back to the car. My blistered feet, squeaky intestines, and generally sore body applauded.

Sooo…I didn’t get the full effect of longish miles today after yesterday-yet I think the less time on feet will help my tired body get back at it sooner…and it was nice to be home in time this evening to clean the bathrooms, lay out recycling, wash dishes and unpack and do laundry… I think my blisters will heal enough to give me 10 miles of non-steep running after work tomorrow with the thought of “making up” for today!