Monday, November 9, 2015

Javelina Jundred: round 2!

4 months ago, I didn't believe I would be at this year's Javelina Hundred.  I have to start this race report by rewinding to right after the Keys 100:  I was so disappointed in my race there I couldn’t let it go.  I just couldn’t make peace with it.  I tried and tried.  I knew the very day after the race that I wanted redemption and was already thinking about how and when I could make things right.  It was that time in the first few days after the Keys that I contacted Dave Krupski.  Dave is a successful ultrarunning coach with quite an impressive resume of his own including multiple Keys 100 finishes, a Javelina Jundred finish, and two Badwater finishes under his belt.  Dave was actually recommended to me during my Keys 100 training by Chris Roman, who I had emailed to ask advice about the course…..but at the time, I was reluctant to hire a coach as I had done alright on my own so far and cost was an issue.  I regret not seeking "professional help" at that time, my Keys 100 ended up being a disaster.  

Anyway, in those days after the disappointment at the Keys 100, I decided that I needed some coaching if I really wanted to start getting better results.  I was tired of winging 100’s.  So just about a week out from the Keys 100, I contacted Dave and we decided to start my training as soon as my knee would allow (if you haven’t read my Keys 100 report, I suffered a weird, out of the blue knee injury around mile 65 which forced me to walk the entire last 35 miles of the race).  The knee healing process took forever; I remember trying to do little test runs throughout May and June, and every time it hurt.  Dave had suggested we aim for the Keys 100 as a goal as I had done it before, and living in Albuquerque I’d have perfect conditions to train for it throughout the summer.  He thought I had plenty of time to get the knee healed and train well for it.  I was doubtful at first- when I was just starting to run again (after over a month off) in July, it seemed impossible to think I'd be healed and ready to run 100 miles by late October.   It just didn’t seem possible...but what did I know?  I figured it would at least be fun to train for and I'd just relax and see what happened.  

I really enjoyed my training for Javelina.  I love running through the summer and in the heat, and the more long runs my training includes, the happier I am.  Dave managed to get me running more consistently than I ever had for a 100.  I think I had about 5 weeks over 70 miles, and usually I’d only hit that twice before a race.  Also, he kept me doing tempo runs throughout my training, which felt awesome.  I had never believed I could handle any speed along with lots of long distance, but it turns out I can to some extent (I still need work on my speed).

By the time my taper rolled around, I was starting to feel pretty damn good about Javelina…..and then I got sick…..just 10 days out from the race.  Haven’t been sick in almost 3 years, so of course it would happen right then...and of course it would be a chest cold.  I was so bummed, but I thought I may be able to kick it quickly if I acted fast.  I have never been so proactive with vitamin C, Zinc, Echinacea, tons and tons of sleep, fluids, and NO running.  I knew I'd have to at least get the cold mostly zapped before Javelina in order to even be able to attempt it safely.  I didn't have much time.  I tried so hard to make it go away before the race.  Not running was driving me crazy- I knew all the big work had been done, but still- not running at all during a taper makes it 10 times worse than normal (and my tapers are usually AWFUL to begin with).  As it turned out, I was still sick heading into JJ100, but I hoped I was well enough to manage during the race.  

My super impressive crew a.k.a. the "dream team"
I could not have had a more impressive crew lined up for the the race- I was super lucky to have Ayesha Sundram, Terry Casey, and Kathleen Stabler all on board to crew/pace me.  They are each accomplished runners and athletes: Ayesha crushed a 50-miler last summer, Terry is a pro triathlete who has competed in Kona, and Kathleen is a personal trainer and ultra runner who owns her own gym- no shortage of talent there!

We drove out to Fountain Hills Friday.  We left early and got there just after noon, set up our tent, and went to packet pickup, then got Chipotle for dinner, got a few things for everyone to eat during the long race day and night, then headed back to Javelina Jeadquarters.  We were in bed by 8:30.  I never sleep great the night before a big race like that, but I did get maybe 4-5 hours in.  I like camping at the race site because you don’t have to worry about shuttles, etc….just wake up practically at the start.    
All set up at Javelina Jeadquarters!

So there I was…..race morning.  Feeling like this was going to be an impossible feat.  Why do I still get that feeling?  I’ve done 3 hundreds before and I’ve always finished- shouldn’t that give me the confidence to know that I can do this?  Maybe it should, but it never does.  Each one of these badboys feels equally impossible going in, and I'm beginning to wonder if that doubt will ever leave me.  We started at 6am sharp.  I was somewhere in the middle of the pack and it took a few minutes to actually cross the start line.  It felt like a marathon start instead of a 100.  It’s crazy how much bigger the race has gotten even since I did it for the first time just 2 years ago.  My first mile was a 14-something minute mile- yikes!  I wanted to start slow, but maybe not THAT slow.  I tried to stay patient knowing everyone would thin out, and eventually, we all did. I was able to start running more normally.
The beginning of a long journey

I knew pretty early on this one wasn’t going to come easily.  Not to say a 100 is ever easy, but I could just tell by the way I felt and the thoughts I was having so early on (example: what mile am I on?  Shit- only 5?) that this was going to be a huge battle just to finish and an even bigger battle to maintain my goal of getting closer to 20 hours.  I tried to tell myself I might feel better after the first loop.  Maybe I just needed more time than normal to warm up since I had run so little due to being sick.  I thought eventually everything would “wake up” and my body would remember that I really am a runner.  I kept waiting for that to happen…….and waiting………and waiting. 

I’m not going to lie, I had dark thoughts near the very beginning of the race.  Was today going to be my first DNF?  What if it was?  Would that be so horrible?  Who (besides me) would give a crap?  I tried to push those bad thoughts out of my head and just keep moving forward.  I still hoped I would eventually snap out of it.  My cold was turning out to be a problem.  I would have coughing attacks, but I couldn’t cough anything up.  It was impossible to take a nice full breath in- I had to take small, shallow breaths to avoid triggering the tickle in my chest and going into a fit of uncontrollable coughing.  Definitely not an ideal way to breathe while running.  My abs already felt tired from coughing so much…….and the icing on the cake was that this race fell on the worst days of the month it could have for me (without going into too much detail there).  

I got through the first loop, and as I had discussed with my crew before the race, I flew through Javelina Jeadquarters- they just refilled my bottles and I was off again.  I wanted to minimize as much as possible the time I spent at aid stations.  I saw this as free time- it doesn’t cost any extra work- just mindfulness that you don’t want to waste time when you come through the aid stations.  Get what you need and move on out!  I did  need help figuring out which way to exit Javelina Jeadquarters , so someone from my crew showed me the way out each time.  I know that sounds silly, but I always get flipped around coming through Jeadquarters. I had to be pointed in the right direction the first time I did the race, too.  
On loop 1...couldn't even manage a real smile.  Photo credit: Ron Ceton

Loop 2 didn’t go much better.  When I did Javelina 2 years ago, I remember feeling awesome on loop 2.  Not today.  It was more of the same: coughing, trying to stop thinking about DNF’ing, and keeping up the relentless forward motion.  As I was finishing up the second loop, I felt more beat up than I should have.  I felt like I had run 50 miles instead of 30.  That is a deeply scary way to feel when you’ve got 70 miles to go.  I had managed to stay on pace for my 20 hour time goal so far, but I just didn't like the fact that it was taking so much effort to do it.
Getting help from my crew

When I came in to Jeadquarters, I told my crew I wanted to switch to my hydration pack from the handheld bottles I had carried for the first 30 miles, so they quickly swapped it out, sunscreened me up, and back out I went.  It felt like it was starting to warm up.  I remembered checking the weather before the race and seeing predicted highs of 80 degrees, but based on what I was feeling, I was guessing it was going to get warmer than that.  I started putting ice in my hat and down my sports bra at the aid stations.  It was getting hot, but that’s what I like.  I started to notice myself passing lots of folks, and although it wasn’t as severe as it got in 2013, there were plenty of people struggling.  I finally started to feel better (still not awesome, but the best I had felt all day).  I had a good song going on my iPod that was helping me pull out of the funk.  Usually when I come across a song that pulls me out of a nasty funk or keeps me in a really good place, I’ll listen to it over and over until it stops working for me.  I try to keep my self in the exact state of mind as I replay it and let the miles melt away.  I know, weird stuff…..but it works for me.  Loops 3 and 4 were made possible by Alabama Shakes Hold On (yes, LOOPS 3 and 4……as in, I listened to that song hundreds of times, for around 6 hours straight).  Not only did it have a good groove, but the lyrics seemed just perfect for the struggle I was going through.

Loops 3 and 4 were the best I felt all day.  They were also the warmest.  I passed a bunch of people, enjoyed the feeling of running in warmth with the sun shining bright, had kept cough drops in my mouth almost the whole time which seriously helped reduce the cough attacks, and I FINALLY felt a sense of making a real dent in the 100 miles.  40-60 miles is getting through the middle- halfway there!
Ayesha helping me after loop 4

I knew the night would be a struggle though- I’m not a good night runner.  I always slow down, and any warm, fuzzy feelings I may have experienced in the warm sun come to a screeching halt when night rolls in.  I decided to just approach it with the best attitude possible, and I had warned my pacers that this was one of my areas of weakness.  I traded my hat and iPod for a headlamp, gloves, and arm warmers, and Terry and I set off for loop 5.   Terry saved my skin with her assortment of doTERRA essential oils and couch drops- I was putting oil below my nose to try to open up my airway and sucking on these amazing cough drops she gave me- the only problem was that she only had a few left.  I wish I had more- they were amazing.   When we started off for loop 5, I had jut one left, and I lost the “breathe” oil she had let me keep in my pack while running which had helped me all day.  She still had ginger oil though, which proved immensely useful when some nausea started to creep in.  I rubbed some ginger oil below my nose and the nausea never came back. 
Terry and I heading out for loop 5- just before sunset

I was still on track for 20ish hours, so although I was starting to slow down, we kept the pace as brisk as possible.  I was starting to walk more, and Terry did her best to keep me true to my plan going into the race.  My coach Dave had suggested thinking in small, manageable chunks at times when I was feeling rough: maybe trying to run for a mile, or to the next aid station, etc.  Terry tried to motivate me to run small sections when I’d start to want to walk.  This worked pretty well and we finished our loop a little behind my goal pace, but still not far off.  I knew it would be really hard to make up time at this point, but hoped I could just hold on and at least give my best effort. 

So Kathleen and I started off for loop 6.  I felt like shit, but my attitude was on point.  I knew I was doing a lot better than I had been at that stage two years ago, so unless something really bad happened, I figured I’d be on track for a PR at least.  I was still aiming for as close to 20 hours as possible, but I think I knew at that point it wasn’t possible short of a miracle.   Like Terry, Kathleen tried her best to keep me running whenever possible, and when we did walk, we walked as fast as possible.  When we reached Jackass Junction (for the last time since I was on loop 6), it was surreal!  The party going on there was……let’s just say quite a party…..we moved through as fast as possible, just as I had tried to do at every aid station stop during the day.  It definitely feels wrong to practically ignore such an impressive aid station party, but I had to move on.  Stopping is dangerous.  Sitting is even more dangerous.  I’ve heard people say that the chairs grow Velcro when you sit in them, so I don’t generally sit during 100’s unless I really have to (to mess with shoes, etc). 

Anyway, what 100 miler wouldn’t be complete without some random pain flaring up near the end?  Just after Jackass Junction, my knee (not the knee I hurt at the Keys 100) started hurting on the inside- that same exact location as the other knee had.  While this upset me, I honestly felt relieved it happened around mile 82 instead of 65.  I was almost done- I figured I could manage the pain for the last miles.  The good thing about this pain was that (unlike the time in the Keys) it hurt the same whether I ran or walked.  It was a good motivator to keep running: get it over with faster.  I remember feeling like absolute crap during this stage.  All the little dips and washed out areas on the course were so jarring to the body at this stage, while in the beginning of the race the entire course feels smooth and completely runnable.  I can tell you from experience: each loop it gets progressively harder- every time.  The rocks get bigger and the hills get steeper- it’ll beat you up pretty good. 

As we made out way to Jeadquarters at mile 92 I felt awful.  All I wanted was for it to end- but luckily I knew I could do it- there’s no way I’d consider DNF’ing at mile 92…..unless I was literally dying.  So back out Kathleen and I went, up that horrible rocky hill one more time.  It was pretty much all power hiking on the uphill stuff.  We kept it as fast as possible.  My knee was screaming for me to stop.  I was hoping to run the last 4 miles (the cutoff which takes you off the Pemberton and on to Tonto Trail).  When we finally reached that trail (which we were both convinced had been moved further out somehow), I rejoiced.  It really felt like the homestretch.  I mustered every ounce of strength I had to try to run those final miles (or at least what I call the old guy shuffle).  My garmin died just as it hit 100 miles and the time was 20:58.  Not only did 20 hours fly out the window, but now the chance of a sub 21 hour finish also waved bye bye as I remembered this course being about 101.7 miles long.  I knew it was at least 101 miles.    

I don’t know why I wasn’t more upset about not achieving my time goal.  Sure, I was disappointed- I still don’t know why I can’t hang on better during the late miles, especially despite very adequate training this time around.  I guess I did manage to hang on for longer than I did the first time.

One thing I’m damn proud of is the fight I put up during this race.  It wasn’t my day.  I had some crappy obstacles to deal with.  I had thought of quitting several times from the very beginning.  But I kept moving forward, kept my goal in mind, and can honestly say I gave it my all- everything I had that day.  I wish I had more to give, but I didn’t.  Often I’m left with feelings of disappointment because I don’t lay it all out on the line, I hold back and I’m left to wonder what could have been.  That didn’t happen here: I know I gave it everything.  I still hope to run a sub 20-hour 100 someday, and I hope next time I won’t be sick or injured, or get injured during the race…..and maybe I’ll break through to where I want to be.....but maybe I won’t.  All I know is I get to walk away from this one with a 1.5 hour PR, which isn’t too shabby.  Sometimes it's not about a certain goal or number you have in your head that you think you'll be happy with.  Sometimes it's about showing up with some obstacles in your way and figuring out how to give it your best, dig even deeper than you normally would, and overcome those obstacles- I can tell you there's quite a lot of satisfaction in that, too.  I ended up 7th female (out of 135 who started and 85 who finished), and 40th overall (out of 459 starters and 281 finishers).  My time was 21:26:39, and I got another sub-24 hour buckle. 

I’m extremely grateful to Ayesha, Terry, and Kathleen: I could not have done this without such an awesome crew.  Their support and encouragement was invaluable and essential to my success.  I know I would not have finished without them, and they made the race fun- we had a blast and made some fun memories that I will cherish forever.

I owe a huge thank you to my coach, Dave.  Although I didn’t get to run my dream race, I definitely noticed improvements all summer long in my running, and I think the 1.5 hours I was able to shave off my previous JJ100 is in large part due to the solid training I received from him.  Plus, a second attempt at Javelina was his brilliant idea…..I would not have had the guts to try it after a summer plagued with injury.

Finally, I’d like to give some love to a few companies that were essential parts of my success: Tailwind Nutrition- thanks for fueling my 100- I’m still a believer!  Since my first JJ100 was before I discovered Tailwind, I can accurately say I noticed a night and day difference in the way I felt from a nutritional standpoint between 2013 and this race.  I was able to keep drinking Tailwind all the way through the end, and my stomach didn’t turn even once.  INKnBURN- thank you for making such comfortable, fun looking clothes.  I was completely comfortable from start to finish in my outfit and I got tons of compliments, which helped lift me up when I was feeling down.  Thanks to injinji socks and Trailtoes lube, I managed to do the entire Javelina Jundred without even having to stop and change my socks……and I finished without ONE SINGLE blister.
A bit blurry, but a finishing photo!

I’m sure I’ll be back to Javelina someday.  Hopefully soon.  It’s an ultra that holds a special place in my heart…not only because it was my first 100, but there truly is something extra special about it that I just can’t explain.  As always, Jamil Coury and the Aravaipa Running crew did a top-notch job.  I could not have asked for a more fun, well-run event.  I’ll be back, JJ100.......I'm kind of tempted to try to get the 5-time finisher jacket!   
I liked the irony in the gravestone inscription (sick....get it?)


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Keys 100

Keys 100 Race Report

It has now been a week since the Keys 100, and my emotions are still mixed.  I thought things would come into perspective in the days following the race, but I continue to look back with quite a few regrets and "what ifs".  I guess that's the way it goes sometimes.  Regardless, it is time to write things down before the memories start to fade away..........

My training leading up to this 100 had gone well.  Once again, I was not able to hit any real high mileage weeks; during my peak volume weeks, I had a nagging pain in my hamstring and started to feel a bit flat so I made the decision to cut back and go into an early taper rather than log more miles and risk injury or over training.  I really think I would do better if I could get my mileage up into the 80's at least and maintain that for 3-4 weeks before a 100-miler.  Maybe someday.  I went into both Javelina and Pine to Palm on the low end of weekly mileage and survived, so I figured I'd be okay here too. 

 It was a challenge training for the Keys 100 while living in New Mexico.  When I did the Keys 50 in 2009, I lived in Miami and could run in hot, humid weather all the time.  In New Mexico, it doesn't really get hot until June and humidity is really never an issue, so I had to find other ways to acclimatize to the heat.  Early on after signing up for the Keys 100, I e-mailed the race director Bob Becker.  He's a super nice guy and he gave me some suggestions, as well as the contacts of two people (Chris Roman and Bryce Carlson) who had done it in the past and done well.  I e-mailed them and got great ideas about spending time in the sauna, doing hot yoga, and overdressing on runs as ways to help acclimatize to the heat.  I did a fair amount of this, but was fairly inconsistent.  The past few months were just so busy: I was finishing up my BSN, working, helping co-direct the Cedro Peak Ultramarathon, and trying to train for the 100.  The things I slacked on were strength training and the heat training sessions.  That being said, I generally don't mind hot conditions as much as most people- in fact, I like racing in the heat.  I figured my game plan for the race would be aggressive heat management techniques (ice, etc) to keep cool.   

I managed to get an awesome crew for this race: Sherrie Bieniek and Tom Koch, both good running friends from Miami.  Unfortunately, Adam couldn't get off work for this one.  We figured a crew of 2 would be okay due to the nature of the course; it follows US-1 south from Key Largo to Key West- you can't really get lost.  There are frequent stops along the way, so from a crewing standpoint it's fairly straightforward.  
Sherrie, Tom, and I the night before the race in Key Largo

On race morning, we arrived around 5:45.  The 100 mile individual race started at 6:15, with waves going off every 5 minutes.  This event also features a six person 100 mile relay, 50 mile run (from Marathon to Key West) and new this year a 50k (from Big Pine Key to Key West).  All of the events are point-to point.  I felt good at the start- nervous as hell, but good.

The early miles were uneventful.  I started slow (probably not slow enough) and did my 1 minute walk breaks every mile right from the beginning.  This was a tip I got from Bryce Carlson.  I had always been reluctant to take walk breaks on flat surfaces, but I learned that they give you just enough rest to maintain a more consistent pace for longer than if you don't take walk breaks.  

My plan for exchange points with my crew went like this:  I wanted to spend minimal time not moving forward, so I had a double supply of everything so we could just swap and I could get moving.  I had 4 bottles; Id give them my 2 empties and they'd give me the 2 full ones (a bottle of plain water and a bottle of water with 2-2.5 scoops of Tailwind).  In addition to this, every time I'd see them, they'd have a ziplock bag with ice ready that I would pop in my hat, as well as stockings filled with ice that Id tie around my neck.   
The Lawrence of Arabia hat and stocking around my neck loaded with ice
I was kind of proud my of my cooling system; it was doing it's job to keep me cool enough, and my crew and I had a nice routine going at the exchange points.  I was getting my hydration and nutrition, my ice, and moving along.  Things were running smoothly........except for one very big thing- a ticking time bomb was about to go off.
Sherrie and I at an exchange point

The ice was melting very fast through my stocking around my neck, it would be completely melted within 3 miles of having it filled.  I was meeting my crew every 3-5 miles to get refills.  It wasn't long before my shoes were soaked.  I knew this could be a problem.  I know about the things that lead to blisters- the heat, friction, and moisture that can be game-enders if they get bad enough.  I had done my homework, though.  I have used the injinji socks successfully in both previous 100's and they have always served to stop blisters in-between my toes, so I had those on and I had 4 extra pairs to change into during the race.  I had lubed up my feet with tons of Trailtoes anti-friction creme, and for this race I took the extra steps of spraying my feet before the race with Newskin (a protective, supposedly waterproof barrier) before applying the lube, AND I put Tom's BlisterShield powder in my shoes just as an extra measure.  I was worried about my feet going into the race.  I knew heat and humidity can lead to problems.  I had an entire bag in the crew car dedicated to feet.  I had everything in it: KT tape, scissors, tons of lube, needles, alcohol, skin adhesive, neosporin, the extra socks, powder......TONS of things to address blisters.  It's amazing how well-prepared and unprepared you can be at the same time.

damage control on macerated, blistered feet
Around mile 40, I felt like I had a major blister in-between my big and second toe on the right foot.  My shoes were sloshing as I ran from all the water in them.  I told my crew I needed to take a look at my feet.  So around mile 45 (somewhere in Hell's Tunnel- a nasty, super hot stretch in marathon where there just isn't much breeze), we stopped.  I sat on the cooler and took out my "feet" bag.  I pulled off my shoes and socks.  My feet were macerated and sure enough, there were already multiple large blisters.  The one I was feeling in-between my toes was filled with blood.  The Newskin I had applied was rolling off in little chunks all over my feet.  It hadn't worked at all.  I used some wet towels to try to rub all of it off, and I tried to clean my feet as good as I could.  I planned on popping and taping the blisters.  The problem was, NOTHING was drying!!!  I couldn't get my feet dry enough to get any tape to stick.  I tried a few times, and used alcohol then the skin adhesive too.  The tape was barely sticking- I knew it would just roll off in my shoes and that would be even worse than having none at all. Great.  That was my plan- that's what I've read you're supposed to do to fix your feet, and it was not working.  Time was ticking away, I probably spent 10 minutes stopped here messing with my feet.  All I could do was pop the blisters, re-lube and put clean socks on.  Not ideal, but that's really all I could do.  Another fail in my plan was that I only had one type of socks.  I had 4 extra pairs of injinji's, but no traditional socks.  I've gotten to where I don't like normal socks- I always use the injinji's but I felt like they were causing the mess in-between my toes instead of preventing it.  Fortunately, Sherrie had a few pairs of normal socks and she offered those.  So I lubed the crap out of my feet and put her socks on.  Because I didn't have any extra pairs of shoes, I put the wet, sloshy ones right back on.  Yet another fail.  I'd heard people recommend extra pairs of shoes for 100 milers, but I didn't think it was necessary: I have ran in wet shoes before and been fine (especially back in my triathlon days) as long as my feet were lubed, and I've never needed a shoe change in my previous two 100's.  However, at this moment, I was realizing why extra shoes would have been smart.  It would have been well worth the extra money spent to have maybe 3-4 pair of shoes for this race.  Lesson learned.  

I knew the water from the stocking I was putting around my neck was the biggest contributor to the wet feet and shoes.  I tried to do a 4 or 5 mile stretch without it, but it was just too hot for me and at the next stop I told them I needed ice.  We decided to put it in a ziplock bag instead and I'd shove it down my sports bra.  It didn't cool as well as the stocking, but I just couldn't afford to keep letting my feet get that wet.  It worked well enough.   

The issues with my feet had me pretty upset because apart from that I was feeling great.  I felt like my nutrition was on point, and I was running well.  I think I was second or third female, then fell back to 5th after the blister stop.  In the miles after that, though, my feet felt better and I was able to gradually move back up to 2nd, and briefly into 1st (or so I was told).  I wasn't trying to pass anyone- I know from previous experience with 100 miles that things can change rapidly and multiple times in such a long distance.  I was just running my own race and trying to pace myself.  This was probably the highpoint of the run for me (around mile 50-55).  I felt a bit of relief that my feet were okay for the time being, and I was feeling good and doing well enough to be passing some folks.  

Tom and I getting ready to hit Seven Mile Bridge (with a photo bomber)!
I wish that feeling could have lasted, at least for awhile longer.  Tom wanted to run the Seven Mile Bridge section with me because he had never done it, so we ran together while Sherrie drove ahead to meet us after the bridge.  At the start, I felt so much better with the breeze at my back and just being out of Marathon.  I feel like Marathon is always really hot and steamy.  I did go through some waves of feeling a little bad during Seven Mile Bridge, but nothing unusual for being 60 miles into a run.  60 is rough because you're more than halfway but you've still got 40 miles to go, and you already feel pretty tired so it sounds daunting.  This a point when I usually find it best not to think about  the numbers and just run.  

On the bridge, I could feel new blisters popping up, and I told Tom I'd have to stop and take a peek at my feet again when we got off the bridge.  This time, when I looked, there were even more blisters.  I popped them again and added more lube to my feet.  This time I didn't change socks because I didn't want to go back to the injinji's and Sherrie only had one more pair of normal socks I could use.  I thought I had built up tons of lube in these socks and it would be best to keep them on longer.  I thought I should save the possible other pair for later- I still had a long way to go.  
Reduced to a walk near Bahia Honda

After I finished with this foot stop, I started running again.  Yes, I was frustrated by my feet but I remember thinking I could deal with it.  If I had to stop every 10 or so miles and do some damage control on my feet, that would be okay.  I'd live.  And then, fairly suddenly, around mile 65, the medial side of my right knee began hurting.  It wasn't super sudden (nothing popped or anything), but it came on pretty fast.  It was VERY uncomfortable to run at this point, but I felt like it was a level of pain I could tolerate..........and then, it got worse.  I was forced to walk.  I was so upset.  I had felt so good (apart from the feet), it made little sense that something I've NEVER had a problem with before could come on this fast and reduce me to a walk.  And even walking hurt.  Ugh.  I wondered if the mess going on with my feet had caused to to subconsciously alter my stride, because I just could not figure out where this knee pain was coming from.  If my hamstring or glue had flared up, I would not have been the least bit surprised, but this was just such an odd thing to be hurting on me.  

At first, I just hoped it was a transient thing that would go away- some pains do come and go- so I walked, waiting for the pain to leave, but it did not go away.  The next time I saw Sherrie and Tom, I told them I was worried about this.  I decided to take some aspirin, which I had packed instead of ibuprofen because I had decided I wasn't going to take any ibuprofen during this race.  In the past, you could say I was somewhat of an ibuprofen abuser, and I've learned a lot since then about the danger it poses to kidneys, as well as the fact that it can mask pain, allowing you to push and do real damage.  I'm not sure if aspirin is much better, but I felt like it was a better thing to take than ibuprofen, and I didn't want my race to be ruined at mile 65.  So I took 4- 81 mg aspirin with a PocketFuel nut butter (so the aspirin wouldn't gnaw a hole in my stomach) since I had been running solely on Tailwind all day.  I asked Sherrie and Tom if they could run to a CVS or store and get a generic knee brace.  I thought it couldn't hurt to try, maybe it was something that could be relieved by a little stabilization.  So on I walked as they drove ahead to try to find a brace for me.  The sun was getting low in the sky, and I was on Bahia Honda- one of my favorite places in the Keys.  I was just so sad that I wasn't able to enjoy it more.  It was also finally starting to cool down.  Earlier in the day, I had thought about how nice it would feel when the sun went down and I got to run through the cooler night.  Funny how that works sometimes.   

It was sometime neat 7:30 when they got back to me.  They stopped and showed me what they bought: 2 different kinds of knee braces, some ace wrap, and a tube of bio freeze.  I tried the braces, but unfortunately they did nothing to help the pain.  So we smeared bio freeze on my knee, and put a bag of ice on it secured by the ace wrap.  At this point, they must have talked and decided they were going to have one of them with me at all times from this point on, maybe in light of the fact that I was upset.  Before the race, I had told them I wasn't picky about how much pacing I had.  I felt safe running alone in the Keys, and they could just come and go as they pleased as far as pacing.  Sherrie and I put on our lights and reflectors and started walking.  I was beginning to believe this pain was going to be with me for the duration of the race.  My dreams of a 20-21 hour race were slipping away.  I was trying to stay positive, though.  I remember thinking that I could still realistically be in the 22-23 hour range (and even PR if I could beat my 22:56 at Javelina) if I could just power walk the rest of it.  Every step hurt walking, but the pain was tolerable.  Every once in awhile I'd try to run on it and quickly realize it wasn't possible.  For awhile, the walking was going pretty well.  I was able to do 15ish minute miles.  By now, people were starting to pass me.  I knew this would happen, but it was just so demoralizing.  I couldn't help but want to run again.  I had been doing so well and it was heartbreaking seeing it all slip away.  The ice/wrap on my knee was not helping, so eventually I pulled it off. 

Tom and Sherrie took turns walking with me through the night.  A lot of this is a blur.  The pain continued to intensify in my knee, and my power walking was being reduced to 20-21 minute miles.  Just plain walking.  The sad thing is, the effort was 100%.  I can honestly say this was ALL I could do.  I've had so many races where I've taken it easy or held back, and I'm left wondering if I could have pushed harder.  This wasn't one of those times.  I was using every bit of strength (both physically AND mentally) to just keep putting one foot in front of the other, over and over again.  The pain wasn't wavering, it didn't come and go- EVERY step hurt.  It was constant.  In addition to my knee, my feet were now immensely painful, and I had some blisters on the bottoms of my feet.  I popped them at some point, but new ones would form and the pain would start back up again.  I kept feeling like I was getting lots of rocks in my shoes, and when I'd stop to empty them out, a tiny grain of sand would fall out.  I was like the Princess and the Pea.  Each time it was like an act of God getting my shoe back on, too.  In addition, the slant of the road (which was not huge) was bothering me.  Since we were on the shoulder facing traffic, we had to be on the slanted part- it was more level on the road, but there was still pretty significant traffic, so it almost wasn't worth trying to walk on the road for just a few minutes before a car would come, forcing us back onto the slanted part.  The night went on and on, it seemed to last forever.  I was grateful for Sherrie and Tom's company.  I wasn't delirious or anything, but it just made it a lot less lonely having good conversation and lots of positive encouragement from them.    

Near the end.  Couldn't even force a smile at this point.
I'm not sure whether being stubborn is a good or bad thing.  If I wasn't so stubborn, I would have DNF'd around mile 65-70, realizing that my knee wasn't getting any better, my feet were trashed, and I was not going to end up wit a time I'd be happy with.  But I AM stubborn, so I crept along, walking (and eventually trudging) for 35 miles straight, even when I realized finishing in 24 hours may not happen.  I've still never had a DNF.  If I show up to a race, I'll lay everything on the line to finish it, whether that's a good thing or not.  Eventually, I did finish at 6:18 am, 24 hours and 3 minutes after I began my journey.  I had fallen to 6th female, 26th overall, which I know is still very's just hard not to think about what could have been, especially because apart from my feet/knee, I felt really good.  I never had any stomach issues thanks to Tailwind Nutrition, and I didn't feel tired or like I was wiped out from the heat.  

showing off my puffy hands.  They didn't even look like they were mine.  Also some nasty heat rash on my thighs-yikes

I am so grateful for Sherrie and Tom: they not only did an excellent job crewing for me, but they watched over me during the night hours when things had derailed.  They tried to help me fix my feet and knee, and Tom took tons of cool pictures throughout the race.  Most importantly, they lifted me up with encouragement during the night when I wasn't sure I could even finish.  I simply could not have done this without them.  I hope they won't mind being my crew next time- that's right, I'm a liar!!  They both got to hear me complain about how awful road 100's are and how from now I'll be sticking to the trails........but I need to come back someday and do this one again and try to have the race I had hoped for this time.  I need to do better with foot care, and I've been thinking it might be time to get a coach so I can actually train right for these instead of my usual improvisational and directionless "training". 

Though I can't say I'm really proud of how I did at this race, I can't say I'm not proud of the fact that I finished despite the many factors persuading me not to.  Looking back, I do have mixed emotions about it, but at least I don't have the regret of quitting.  I have a feeling that's worse to deal with than the regret of wishing my performance could have been a bit better.  Someday, I'll be back- wiser and that much stronger.  As much as I suffered, the Keys 100 is a top-notch event.  Bob Becker does an excellent job of making this a fun, well-organized, and truly unique event.  The Keys are one of my favorite places, and this race is one of may favorites too.
Finished and holding my buckle

There were 144 people who started the Keys 100, 46 females.
There were 47 DNF's
I finished 6th female, 26th overall.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015


As some of you know, I was recently selected to be a brand ambassador for the clothing company INKnBURN.  I'm so honored and excited to represent a company that I have so much love for, so I wanted to write a little blog post about it.  This is a different type of blog for me.  So far, my posts have just been race reports.  The reason I started writing those was to help me remember as the memories fade away with time, but from now on I'll be including other things such as product reviews too.

Anyway, I have never been very excited about running clothes.  Such a shame considering I spend so much time running!  I'd usually wear old race shirts and whatever shorts I could find that were reasonably comfortable to train and race in......lets just say I have a history of not looking super fashionable when I run (not to say there's anything wrong with that) but then I discovered INKnBURN!!!

For those of you who aren't already familiar with INKnBURN, its an awesome brand of running/fitness clothes unlike anything else out there.  You may have seen it at  races and wondered what it was and where people were getting it......I know I did.  I remember seeing it out on various race courses and admiring the beautiful artwork and unique designs.  I was always reluctant to spend too much on running clothes, so I didn't buy anything at for a long time.  Eventually, I cracked and bought a few items on sale this past Fall and I was INSTANTLY hooked.  Each piece looked even more vibrant than in the photos on the website, and I could tell they were well-made and high-quality.  My husband and I went out to dinner that night and I wore my new INKnBURN denim pants and 100 tech tee- couldn't even wait for my next run to put them on.  It was clear from the beginning that I was going to be an INKnBURN addict.......yikes!
My first of many purchases

I love INKnBURN for so many reasons: first, the artwork is out of this world.  They create beautiful pieces which are all works of art; they truly stand out from the rest of the running apparel out there.  They choose subject matter that has meaning too, it's not just random stuff.  Take the 100 mile shirt in my picture above, for example.  100 has a lot of significance to an ultra runner who has done a 100-mile race.  The new Run or Die collection (see tank pictured below) has the words "Run of Die" hidden in the face of the skull and is described as being all about intensity, endurance, and power.  I just ordered mine but haven't gotten it in the mail yet.....I think this is going to be perfect for the Phoenix Marathon in a few weeks!
New Women's Run or Die tank

I also love that INKnBURN makes their clothing in their California warehouse- it's 100% USA made!  Sadly, not very many running clothes are made in America anymore.  I feel good supporting a company that still makes things here.  They make everything with long distance runners in mind.  Their stitching is superb, resulting in flat seams that prevent chafing or rubbing.  They also don't put itchy tags in the back of the neck. I can speak from experience doing long runs in their clothing that they do NOT chafe.  

running in the Albuquerque foothills

Every time I wear INKnBURN I get compliments.  I always have people touching my denim pants in disbelief that they're not jeans, asking what brand I'm wearing, and saying how cool my clothes look. It's nice.  I end up wearing INKnBURN every chance I get too, because it looks good for more than just running and yoga.  I wore my wonderland holiday sweater and denim pants at Christmas and no one believed I was in the same clothes I run in. 

I look forward to many days of long, epic training runs and 100 mile races in INKnBURN as well as many meals out and family gatherings!  I'm glad I discovered INKnBURN and I am grateful to serve as an ambassador 
for this wonderful brand.  

Wearing INKnBURN flutter tee at the Tucson 13.1- a PR!!!!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Pine to Palm 100

Pine to Palm 100

It’s hard to believe almost a year has gone by since my last race report for the Javelina Jundred.  I had planned on writing reports after each big race I did this year, but let’s just say working full time, being in school, and training for a 100 miler didn’t leave me too much free time.  I do have to lead up to the actual Pine to Palm race report by saying a few things about the months leading up to it:

In early June, I got injured.  It was a deep pain in my left quad, and it hurt with every step I took while running, and sometimes even when walking.  It just wouldn’t go away.  I managed to do the North Fork 50 miler in late June but was unable to run for weeks after that.  I was so bummed out……I had started off the year so well and slowly built my mileage and a little speed too, and now in the months where I was supposed to be doing my big build for Pine to Palm I wasn’t even able to run.  I was fortunate to see our awesome local sports massage therapist Laura Bresson who helped me tremendously in getting the injury to a much more manageable level where I could sometimes run.  Basically, over the summer, I’d be able to have a big week or two, then I’d have to take a week or so almost completely off to let the leg simmer down, then I’d have another week or two of big miles, then a week or two off, and so on.  NOT the way I wanted to go into this 100.  I wanted to be consistently hitting 80-mile weeks in the month or two leading up to it, but what I ended up doing was only getting in two 70-mile weeks- Yikes!  My average weekly mileage was probably in the high 50’s –low 60’s, and that was only for a few months. 

Most of the summer, I was convinced I would not make it to the starting line of Pine to Palm.  Let’s get real- the idea of running 100 miles is just plain scary, I don’t care if it’s downhill with a tailwind to your back the whole way!  The idea of doing 100 miles through the mountains with over 20,000 feet of elevation gain and just about as much loss had me absolutely petrified ever since I signed up for the damn thing, and early on in my Pine to Palm training I combated that fear with lots of quality training and as much climbing as I could do.  I was under this gross misconception that if I did tons of climbing, it would somehow get easier- ha!  Running in the mountains isn’t my strength.  Every time I go to a mountain trail race, I feel pretty insecure, like all the other people there can cruise up the climbs while I huff and puff and struggle.  I do a little better on the downhill sections, but I still do not feel like I’m a good mountain runner.  I feel comfy and at home on flatter, hot courses. 
Map of the point-to-point course

That being said, I signed up for a 100 in the mountains to challenge myself and to help overcome that fear.  That’s what this whole ultrarunning thing is about anyway, right?  “Wow, I can’t believe I just ran a marathon, maybe I can run 50 miles?”  “I can’t believe I just did 50 miles, maybe I can do a 100?”  “Holy crap!  I ran 100 miles…….maybe I can do another one that’s even harder?” “Maybe someday I can do Hardrock, maybe Badwater?”  I keep pushing the distance further and trying to up the level of challenge- that’s what I LOVE about this sport!!  I’ve been able to do things I never would have dreamed possible ten years ago! 
The elevation profile, as displayed on the back of the race shirt

So a month out from Pine to Palm, when my injury was still there nagging and I was beyond freaked out about not having trained enough, I went ahead and finally booked the plane tickets and reserved the hotel.  I remember having thoughts ranging from “I think it’s going to be okay.  You’ve done 100 miles before, just take it easy, you can even walk lots of it if you need to.  All you have to do is survive” to “what the hell are you thinking- you can’t do 100 miles on the training you’ve been doing!  You’re going to fly all the way to Oregon, bring your family, and spend lots of money just to DNF?!  Don’t do it”! 

Race morning, I awoke at 4:15 am- wait?!  4:15- that’s when I wanted to LEAVE!  What happened?  I set both my phone alarm and the alarm clock in the hotel, and somehow managed a double fail!  I woke Adam up, telling him we had overslept and that my parents were probably already standing out in the hallway ready to go.  I told them I needed 5 minutes and got dressed.  I figured I could take care of the time-consuming processes of putting on my shoes (and lubing my feet) and braiding my hair in the car.  Ok- not the end of the world- I could have overslept more and been in serious trouble but as it was I was just cutting it close, not late.

 I was a little nervous to be in a situation where I was having to do stuff in the car on the way because the previous day, when my crew and I were trying to drive to all the points they’d meet me on the course, I got very carsick (I think from being on curvy roads and trying to read driving instructions I had printed out as we drove)and felt pretty crappy Friday afternoon and into Friday evening.  I couldn’t shake it.  Again, not an ideal situation to be in right before trying to run 100 FREAKING MILES. 

Waking up at 3:30 would have given me time to eat and drink that oh so important cup of coffee that gets things moving on race morning (marathoners and ultrarunners know what I’m taking about here).  I’d just have to hope things got moving on their own and that I’d have time to find a bathroom near the race start.  I ate a cliff bar and drank coconut water on the ride to the start, and took care of my feet, hair, and putting my hat and headlamp on, and putting some food in my hydration pack.  Whew!  Oh- and we almost hit a deer on the way.  It was maybe 2 feet away when my dad had to slam on the brakes.

Unbelievably, we made it to the race start with about 20 minutes to spare, which I was grateful for but I also knew I’d be in a crunch to get my race bib # (which we had to do race morning), and try to find a bathroom.  The race started on a fairly skinny paved road with no big parking lot, so there were cars lined up on the sides of the road and tons of runners walking around.  I tried to walk quickly up the hill to the start, while my crew found a place to park and made their way to the start too.  When I finally got my number pinned on my shorts, it was less than 10 minutes to the start……….and I needed the bathroom……….and there wasn’t one close enough to use in time.  Gulp.  No big deal, right?  I’m an ultrarunner, surely I’ve pooped in the woods at some point?  Nope.  Never.  I’ve fought cramps that reduced me to a bent-over walk, quit long runs early- you name it, I’ve made every effort to never have to do that on a run.  Sure, I’ve peed but that’s SO different- There’s no toilet paper requirement!!!  Nothing gets left behind for anyone to see!  What do you do- dig a hole and bury it?  Leave it there?  Is it considered biodegradable?  I just didn’t know, but I didn’t have time to think about it.  Fortunately, it was still dark.  I went into the bushes near the race start and took care of business.  I did feel better afterward.  I walked back over to the start area and BOOM- the race started!  Wow, I had cut it close- not even time for a group picture with my crew before the race.  Oh well.  At least I made it.  Despite all odds, here I was at the start of the 2014 Pine to Palm 100.  Here goes nothing.  

I remember the first climb feeling pretty damn good compared to what I was expecting.  When I had studied the elevation profile leading up to the race, I had come to the realization that the first climb alone was about like going up the Sandias, albeit at a lower altitude.  My plan was pretty simple: walk the ups, run the flat and downhill stuff if possible.  I was able to hike at a pretty decent pace, and I think the lower altitude was making a difference.  The weird thing is, I still felt like my head was in a fog after being sick the day before, I just could not shake it.  I felt like I was at 80%, which isn’t horrible.  It’s just that I’d like to be 100% at the start of a 100 miler, knowing as the day and night wears on, I’ll gradually feel worse.  The first 8-10 miles of the race was the only point where I had weird, negative feelings about DNF’ing.  I was worried I wouldn’t be able to pull out of my funk, and the constant climbing and descending would chew me up and spit me out.  Maybe I wasn’t ready for the “big leagues” yet?  It was not good to be thinking this way so early in such a long race.  I usually have a good ability to crank through some pretty shitty times when I run with a decent attitude.  That’s one of my better skills.  I am not the best or most talented of runners, but I can withstand a lot of suffering for a very long time.  Yet here I was, a whopping few miles into a 100, already breaking down in my head. 

I decided that my attitude needed to change if I was going to be able to do this.  I tried to think of some good mantras to keep myself in check.  I’m not usually a mantra person, but I felt like I needed some kind of help getting in a good place mentally.  One quote I’ve heard before is “When the mind breaks, the body will follow”.  This was what I decided to tell myself to keep my mind in a good place so my body could do what I was trying to get it to do.  I totally believe in this, by the way.  Last year, at Javelina my mind broke……and yep, the body followed.  Maybe today if I could keep my head in a good place, my legs would continue to carry me forward.  I wanted to keep myself from thinking of the big picture: instead of “I’m running 100 miles today” or “I’ve run 40, but I still have 60 to go”, I’d think “I’m just here in this moment, putting one foot in front of the other- am I still able to keep doing that for a while longer?  Yes.  Ok then, I’ll keep going”.  Another mantra that worked it’s way into my head is “Run when you can, walk when you must, crawl if you have to, but never, EVER give up”.  That’s my usual way of thinking- I am the type who would be willing to scrape my way to a finish line if I had to just because finishing something I start is important to me.  Knock on wood; I’ve still never had a DNF.  I’ve DNS’d plenty, but if I do show up, I’m giving everything I have, even if it isn’t pretty.

Once we reached the top of the climb around mile 10-11 and started going back downhill, I started to finally feel better.  I felt my tight hamstrings loosen up, I lost the foggy, dizzy head I’d had all morning and I felt NORMAL!  Yay!!!  One thing that was strange about this race was that due to the forest fires nearby, there was lots of smoke in the air and everything looked orange.  It sure was pretty, I felt like I was in a sepia-toned movie the whole time.  It also made it feel like it was perpetually 4 or 5 pm, making it feel late even in the morning, which was strange.  I tried to take it easy running down this long downhill section, knowing it would not benefit me to blast downhill and trash my legs early on.  I even took walk breaks, which felt silly. 

I was so happy to finally see my crew at Seattle Bar (about mile 28).  At that moment I had a moment of realization, like “ok, I’m doing an ultramarathon today.  This is really happening now, and I can do this”.  Adam took my bottles and refilled them, while my parents had my other goodies in the drop bag spread out for me to easily pick what I needed.  I at some watermelon they had bought the day before from a local fruit stand and cut up, and it tasted delicious.  I felt like I had a great nutrition plan for this race: tailwind in the bottles all day, pocket fuel naturals nut butter blends and java energy shots (for caffeine), and fruit.  That’s pretty much it.  I didn’t want to have any gut bombs and as I learned last year at Javelina, it only takes one poor food choice (in that case, pumpkin pie) to derail you completely and then you have to spend hours trying to get back to where you feel like you can keep anything down without puking it up.  No good.  I wasn’t going to let that happen this time, and I had stuck to tailwind and pocket fuel during my training runs without any GI issues, so I stuck to it for this race.  I’m not sure how long I spent at that aid station- maybe 5 minutes?  I try to get what I need and not spend excessive time at aid stations when I can.   

Getting ice from a volunteer

With my parents at Seattle Bar

I’d heard bad things about the climb up to Stein Butte: mainly that it’s steep, exposed, and hot.  It wasn’t so bad at the beginning; I was hiking next to a nice lady from Ashland.  We talked for a while but eventually got separated.  I was very surprised to encounter a rattlesnake on the trail during this climb.  As I came across him, he rattled and slithered off the trail so I felt lucky; he didn’t want any trouble, and neither did I.  I couldn’t help thinking of Jenn Thompson, a badass ultrarunner I know who is currently recovering from a rattlesnake bite that has put her out of running for about a month now- yikes!  After that, I made an effort to pay more attention to my surroundings- it is a race with lots of human traffic on the trails, but we were still in the mountains.  

This section did get pretty steep at points, there were some climbs that made me wonder what the f*&@# I was going to feel like at mile 80 if they had thrown this stuff in around mile 30.  There were times I was fighting to keep moving upward.  I wanted to “slow down” so it wouldn’t be so awful, but the only slower speed than I was going was a complete stop, so I inched forward and upward, trying my best to keep my breathing under control. 

Run when you can, walk when you have to, crawl if you must, but never, EVER give up.

It never got super hot- I think because the sun was covered in a haze from the smoke, but I was going through my water faster than I wanted to.  The views from some of these exposed sections were impressive, even in the smoke.  I wonder what it would have looked like on a clear day.  I’d see mountains, mountains, and more mountains- beautiful ripples of slightly different shades of blue-who knows how many miles they went on?!  It literally looked like there was a sea of mountains surrounding me- it was so beautiful!  On the downhill section coming into Squaw Lakes, I talked to another local runner for awhile- he was also a triathlete who bounced back and forth from running and triathlon.  Those steep downhill miles hurt, but it was nice to chat with someone for awhile- it made the time pass a bit quicker.   
My mom getting ready to give me my headlamp

Adam helping me refill my pack at Squaw Lake
When I reached my crew at Squaw Lakes (mile 42), I felt a little rough.  I can remember telling them that the climb and even the descent after it were tough and I was feeling it.  Once again, they were super positive and encouraging.  They got me all refilled and I did my loop around Squaw Lake, which was gorgeous!!  There was a kayaker padding in the clear, blue water and I thought about how good it would feel to dive in.  I passed by my crew and aid station again (mile 44 or 45), got my headlamp and went on my way.  Fortunately there was a bit of gentle downhill, which always helps me turn my attitude around and recover from a tough stretch of uphill. 
Heading out of Squaw Lake

From that aid station to Hanley gap at mile 50-52, it was feeling late in the day and I didn’t see too many people.  It was a long, mostly uphill grind- nothing like the stuff around mile 30, but a long, gradual climb.  As it got late in the afternoon, I took off my iPod shuffle for good.  I don’t feel comfortable listening to music in the mountains in the dark.  The most memorable part of this stretch was around mile 48: the sun was really low, everything looked golden all around me.  I had been waking through tall trees in the shade and at this point I came to an opening with lots of tall grass.  This was another spot with some incredible views of mountains all around.  I was wishing I had brought my phone with me so I could get some pictures of this: it was indescribably beautiful.  Unfortunately, that section didn’t last long and I was back in the trees and the sky continued to darken.

As the sun was close to setting, I reached Hanley Gap- mile 50.  Halfway.  I started to think about that and stopped myself right away.  At Javelina (my first and only 100 so far), I let reaching the 50-mile mark trip me up- everything beyond that was uncharted territory and I was only HALFWAY there!  And the half I had left was going to be IN THE DARK!  I decided not to think about that this time.  50 is just a number, just like 30 or 14- no big deal if I don’t let it become one.

When the mind breaks, the body will follow.

I didn’t see my crew at this aid station, they continued on from Squaw Lakes to Dutchman Peak (mile 65) where I would pick up my dad as a pacer.  The aid station here at Hanley Gap had a very lively, party-like atmosphere, which was giving weary runners a much-needed boost.  At mile 50, we had to do an out-and-back up to the summit at Squaw Peak and collect a flag at the top, then bring it back down to the aid station and continue onward.  I chatted with a guy on the way up this hill who was really struggling with nausea at this point, and I gave him some ginger which I had been eating for the past few hours, not because I was nauseous, but to keep it that way……and I really, really like ginger.  This guy must have received some help from some other runners in the miles before the aid station, because a few of them coming back down the hill with their flags in hand were checking up on him and asking if he was feeling better.  The support from the other runners during this race was superb- I met quite a few friendly folks and saw lots of kindness and encouragement among other runners- that’s one of the things I tend to notice more in ultramarathons than any other running or triathlon events I’ve experienced- there’s this attitude like we are all in this mess together and we are going to help each other get through rough patches if we can.  We are not competing against each other- we are rooting for one another- hoping everyone makes it to the finish line. God knows we have all had to work hard and make sacrifices just to be there in the first place.
At Squaw Peak, flag in hand.  Halfway there!

When I got to the top of Squaw Peak, I was treated to the best view yet- the sun was about to set, there were deep orange and pink hues in the sky and the silhouettes of the never-ending mountains below were deep shades of blue.  That view was epic!  I couldn’t resist stopping for a minute or two to take it all in.  I talked a bit with the photographer who was taking pictures at the top, grabbed my flag, and headed back down.  When I got back to the aid station, I stopped and changed everything but my shorts, grabbed arm warmers, gloves, and a new hat.   I also got a portable charger from my drop bag so I could charge my garmin and not have it die during the middle of the night.  Normally I would rather not waste time changing clothes during a run- I don’t care how dingy they get, but I didn’t want to get cold at the higher elevations at night because I was still wearing wet, sweaty clothes.    

The climb up to Dutchman Peak was another long grind.  By this time, it was completely dark.  During this stretch, I felt the first hint of nausea.  Oh-oh!  Not again, not like at JJ100- I decided to take a super proactive approach and get it in check before it got me.  I ate several gin gins, took in a bit more tailwind as I felt like I may low sodium-wise, stopped eating solid foods- though the Pocket Fuel was calling- took a few tums, and pulled an alcohol swab from my pocket, opened it, and held it to my nose as I walked.  The week before the race, my friend Aimee (who was doing Run Rabbit Run that same weekend as her first 100) told me her coach had said the alcohol swab to the nose trick could help with nausea.  Why not attack it from every angle and hope something works, right?  So I walked, trying to keep a good outlook and know that if I did puke, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.  People puke all the time in ultras and just keep on going- heck, I was even seeing a few splatters of vomit on the road as I walked along.  It’s going to be ok.

When the mind breaks, the body will follow.

The stretches of an ultra at night are weird.  Time passes more slowly.  There are no more epic views, people are more spread out along the course and appear as little dots of light you occasionally see somewhere up ahead or behind. All you can see is what is illuminated by your headlamp, which, in this case, were just occasional puddles of vomit on the road and tiny, black scorpions every once in a while.  That’s pretty much it.  The good news was that the nausea was now under control, but I was getting sleepy, very sleeeeepy.  I had a Pocket Fuel java shot in my pack but I was nervous to take it and mess up my stomach again, but I couldn’t even keep my eyes open, so I used it.  Luckily, it did not mess up my stomach one tiny bit and I felt a second wind coming on. 

I went through the aid station at mile 60 feeling okay, and continued onward.  During this section I was near a guy who was struggling again.  I asked him if he was the guy I had talked to earlier, but he wasn’t.  Maybe it was the place I was in mentally at this point, but for some reason the stuff he was complaining about was getting me down, and I felt like if I stayed near him I’d crumble myself.  I told him to go ahead because I wanted to slow down, but he told me talking to someone was helping him get through this rough spot.  Ugh.  I felt guilty, so I stayed near him for awhile, and eventually he felt so good he took off running…….whew. 

Coming up to the aid station at Dutchman Peak (mile 65) was like finding an oasis in the middle of the desert.  I was feeling fatigued from the long climb, but when I got close I could hear loud, upbeat music being blasted from a huge speaker.  This music was so loud I remember thinking that I really must have been in the middle of nowhere if they could get away with music that loud in the middle of the night.  When I reached the top, I immediately saw my Dad, which was a huge relief.  There’s something about that moment when you get your first pacer, you feel like you finally have reinforcements in a battle you’ve been fighting alone all day.  I told him I wanted to at least look at my feet and make sure they were in good shape, so we went over to a circle of camping chairs set up around a heat lamp- it reminded me of a campfire- and I took off my Hokas and socks to reveal NO blisters!  Woo hoo!  I did feel like there could be one under one of my toenails, so I poked under the nail with a pin, but nothing came out.  False alarm.  I had put a new pair of injinji socks and lube in my drop bag, so I cleaned my feet, re-lubed them, and put my socks and shoes back on.  While I was doing this, a volunteer brought me some warm vegetable broth, which I drank as I worked on my shoe change. 

Sitting across from me on one of the other chairs and also working on her feet was a girl I had seen on the course throughout the day, first around mile 20 when I noticed she had her leg taped up with silver duct tape.  We had talked for a while then, and she asked me if I had any ibuprofen, which I gave her.  Later, going up the climb to Stein Butte, she cruised past me pretty fast looking 100% better, then I saw her again at the aid station at mile 60 looking like she wasn’t feeling as well again, and now she was sitting across from me, leg re-taped, and appearing to have some blisters or other foot problems going on.  I didn’t see her again after that, but it’s funny how many times you can see another runner during a 100 and how everyone has their own ups and downs.  I was impressed to see her battling that injury though- still persevering 65 miles into the race. 

When I finished messing with my shoes, my dad and I took off.  He told me he had to hike a few miles up that hill to the top of Dutchman, as cars weren’t allowed up at the top.  I felt bad- he was expecting to do 9 miles with me and he had to add a few uphill miles to that before we even started.  We ran back down to the car where Adam and my mom were, talked with them for a few minutes, and continued on.  Now I remember thinking that once I got to this point on the course, there was a lot of downhill.  As my dad and I ran (and walked), we both agreed that it felt like there was quite a bit of uphill.  In my pocket I had been carrying a little mini version of the elevation profile I had laminated, and I kept taking it out and making sure I wasn’t crazy.  It did look like we were in for 9 miles of gradual downhill with some tiny climbs, but that’s not how it felt.  Oh well.  To add to that, when there were downhill or flat sections, the trail seemed to be pretty narrow and rocky, with lots of big drop-offs.  We looked off the side of the trail and agreed on how bad it would be to fall down there; you’d just roll and roll……….really far down.  We both decided to take it slow.  I’d rather take a little extra time than try to run faster and end up falling or rolling an ankle.  My dad did take 2 spills- one was a roll onto his back and the other was a face plant!  He got right back up both times and kept going.  The trails were dry and dusty so after those falls he looked like a chimneysweeper!  There was another guy who was running alone who joined us for a lot of this section.  He didn’t say much, but it was nice to be running/walking in a group of three.  My dad and I were both paranoid about getting off course, so we were very diligent about looking for the ribbons and reflectors along the trails.  I felt proud that I was still able to think about looking for course markers- I wasn’t so fuzzy in the head yet that I was zoning out. 

As we reached mile 74 we worried that we were off course- we had seen some cars, which we thought meant we were coming up on the aid station, but then we ran for another mile or two and did not see it.  I knew we had been seeing course markers, so we couldn’t be off, but I still did not completely trust that we weren’t.  Running at night is so disorienting, sometimes I can’t even tell if I’m going uphill or down, which direction I’m moving, and a simple thing like staying on a well-marked trail with other people on it gets utterly confusing.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity on a possible wrong trail, we saw the welcoming lights of the Long John Saddle aid station!  This was a landmark- this was the last time I’d see my crew.  From here, Adam and I would run 25-26 miles to the finish.  We took a few pictures- one of me and my dust-covered dad (my Mom and I got a good laugh from that one) and one of Adam and I before setting off.  And because no 100-miler would be complete without at least one nutritional blunder, I ate some chunks of boiled potato, which I dipped in waaaaaaay too much salt.  It left a severely bitter aftertaste in my mouth that just wouldn’t go away.  My stomach started to turn and the nausea came back.
My dad and I after he finished pacing me at mile 75 (ish).  Covered in dust!

Adam and started off, and I tried to shake the nausea.  I figured since the idea of salt was now making me cringe and the aftertaste in my mouth was so intense, I should work on drinking plain water for a while, which I did.  Adam kept asking me if I wanted to run, but I was telling him I had to walk.  We walked the uphills, and tried to run the flat and downhill sections.  In the hydration pack I had given Adam to use, I had stashed a toothbrush and toothpaste, so I brushed my teeth as we walked.  This is one idea I got after Javelina Jundred, because there I learned that breathing through your mouth for 22+ hours and eating race food leaves one nasty mouth!! 

As we went along, I knew we had one big, nasty climb left up to Wagner Butte.  When Adam and I started off from Long John Saddle, my mom told me she was hearing from other runners and crews that this climb was pretty nasty.  I wasn’t looking forward to it.  I felt like I had done all the climbing I wanted to do and longed for some runnable downhill stuff.  As Adam and I went along, I tried not to think about it too much.  When we got to the aid station at mile 80, I had to go to the bathroom again- yikes!  Never in my trail running life, and now twice within 24 hours! 

The 5-mile climb from this aid station up to Wagner Butte was the lowest point I had in this race.  It was still dark, I was tired, even more tired of going uphill, and I still had 20ish miles to go.  On and on we went, upward slowly.  I tried to keep my mind in a good place.

Can you still put one foot in front of the other and repeat?  Yes.  Ok.  Keep doing that. 

If I was going through a rough patch on this climb, then the scramble over large boulders to get to the summit of Wagner Butte to grab my flag was absolute rock bottom.  As Adam and I neared the summit, people who were coming down were jokingly telling us we needed a rope to get to the top.  I thought “surely they’re kidding- maybe its just a rocky trail, and because we are all so tired people are exaggerating”.  However, when we reached the large boulders, I understood why they made those comments.  Adam waited for me at the start of the boulders and I scrambled to the top.  Actually, I crawled…………..and uttered a long string of profanities, as my legs shook and I used my hands to try to pull myself up.  I thought about how dangerous and completely stupid it was to put that at mile 85 of a 100.  Why?  The only reason I could think of was for a cruel joke.  When I finally clawed my way to the top, I saw the damn flags and went over to get one.  There were a few guys sitting on the top admiring the view of the smoky sunrise.  I should have stopped to take it in too, but instead I told them I didn’t care how pretty it was, grabbed my flag, and started back down.  My legs buckling as I tried to climb down those stupid rocks.  Going down was even sketchier than going up.  Once again, I was saying a few nasty words under my breath.  When I got down and saw Adam, and I started crying.  He reassured me everything was ok, gave me a hug, started running, and told me to follow him, so I did.

Run when you can, walk when you must, crawl if you have to, but never, EVER give up!
The beautiful smoky sunrise I missed on account of my piss poor attitude while summiting Wagner Peak (Adam took this picture)

Now we really were starting to go downhill.  At first, it was hard to run after walking so much, but my legs slowly started to wake up, and we were running.  The sun was coming up and we didn’t need headlamps anymore.  It felt like a new day.

As we ran, everything hurt.  My quads felt spastic, and the downhill was so steep I could feel my toes jamming into the front of my shoes.  We saw a girl ahead of us on the trail, and Adam said, “let’s pass her” to which I replied, “No, lets not.  Let’s wait and maybe pass her later on, closer to the finish line”.  He didn’t listen, and we kept running fast downhill, eventually overtaking her.  To be clear, the term “fast” has a special meaning late in a 100-miler.  You can be doing 10-12 minute miles and feel like you’re FLYING, and compared to lots of other folks, you are.  So we were “flying” down this hill, starting to pass a few other people, and I was feeling reenergized. 

Adam kept encouraging me, and he told me I had moved up a few places, from 8th female to 6th.  I told him there was no way I was in 6th- how could I be in 6th with a projected finish time of 29-30 hours?!  It didn’t make sense.  He asked me why I thought I was going to finish in 30 hours as we were on track for 27 and change.   I told him he was crazy and then thought a little about it.  Slowly I came to realize I had been doing fuzzy math the WHOLE time and based my finishing time off an 8am start, but in fact we had started at 6!!!  I was 2 hours ahead of where I thought I was!  I got super excited after that and tried to run even “faster”. 

When we came into the aid station at mile 90, I told Adam I wanted to be in and out pretty quickly.  I dumped my headlamp, arm warmers, and gloves, refilled my water, and took off.  This part was fun because Adam had regained reception on his cell phone, so he started updating friends and family on our progress.  He was getting messages back from people who were following and reading them to me.  It really got me pumped up! 
Nearing the finish and feeling reenergized!

It was weird turning off the dirt road and onto pavement for the final stretch.  I was running past houses and seeing random people out for their morning runs, and others walking along with cups of coffee.  It was like any normal Sunday morning, except that I had been running for just over 27 hours on an epic journey through the Siskiyou Mountains to get there.  The finish line at Lithia Park was one of the sweetest sights I’ve ever seen- a feeling only someone who has run 100 miles truly understands.  I saw my family there at the finish, cheering for me and couldn’t help but smile and put my hands in the air as I crossed through the finish line in 27 hours, 10 minutes, and 9 seconds. 
Finally there!!!!!!!!!!!

The medical guy walked up to me to ask me a few questions and make sure I was safe to turn loose, and however fuzzy I felt, I guess my answers were good enough.  I asked him if I could step on the scale just to see where I ended up, because the only time I got weighed was at mile 28 when I was down 2 lbs.  My total weight loss over the whole race was only 3.5 lbs!  At JJ100, I didn’t weigh myself at any point, but I looked like a skeleton by the end and knew I had blown my hydration and nutrition completely. This time, I was able to take that failure and make it a success.  I really feel like I nailed my nutrition this time, and I credit a lot of that success to the Tailwind and Pocket Fuel Naturals I relied on as steady sources of fuel during the entire race.  The tailwind helped me stay hydrated, clear-headed, and cramp-free, and the Pocket Fuel gave me delicious, vegan sources of protein and healthy fats.  They tasted delicious until the very end too; they didn’t repulse me even at mile 90.  I was also thrilled to have ZERO blisters after I took off my shoes!  Not even a tiny one!  I took care of my feet, and I’m still a believer in the Hoka Stinson Trail shoe- that’s two 100-milers they’ve gotten me through now.
An impressive dirt tan

The Pine to Palm 100 was an excellent race and Hal Koerner and his team did a phenomenal job putting it together and making sure we all had a great time.  The course was, as advertised, very well marked and extremely beautiful.  The aid stations were well stocked with super friendly volunteers from start to finish.  The race schwag was pretty awesome too: I got a shiny new buckle and beautiful necklace that I’ve been wearing with pride, a North Face basecamp bag, and another bumper sticker to add to my car!  I would love to come back someday to give this race another go and maybe even better my time.  Plus, Ashland is one of the coolest places I’ve been- tons of small breweries, local wineries, good food, and friendly people.  Can’t say enough good things about it.  
The buckle and necklace!  

Most importantly, I COULD NOT HAVE done this without my crew and pacers: Mike Warren (dad), Pat Warren (Mom), and Adam Churchill (hubby).  Seriously, without them I would have failed miserably.  This is another thing someone who has run a 100 miler understands: the invaluable role of a good crew to success.  As stressful as it got at times, I think they had fun too and we definitely made memories and have stories to tell! 
my phenomenal crew and I after WE DID IT!!!!!

I’m not sure what my next adventure will be or when it will be……………..but there will be another one!