Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Vermont 100; 2nd race of the Grand Slam

2014 Slammers pre Vermont 100
Vermont 100 and officially halfway through the Grand Slam.
Going into the Slam I spoke of experiencing the highest of highs and the lowest of lows (at some point)…I can only hope (please, please, please) that VT100 was my lowest of lows. My first 100 was in 2011 and I figured out then that I am fairly tough.  Having finished VT100 (my 8th ,100 miler) I have decided that not only am I tough, I am stupid tough!!

What has led me to this conclusion??
03:50AM and feeling good!
I finished WS feeling really good. I came away unscathed outside of some left calf tightness of which I felt for approx the last 25 miles of WS. Post WS I took 5 days off. I purchased a weighted vest and went for a hike on the 6th day, and on the 7th day I went for a run. All was well, I felt an initial twinge in my calf at the start of this run and the tightness released. I continued to workout minimally for the following week with plans to sweep part of the PCT 50 course on the Sat prior to VT100 (VT100 was 3 weeks after WS100). On the advice of Ian Sharman I was only planning on sweeping no more than 12 miles, unless I was hiking. While I was feeling good post WS, he cautioned that come mi 20 of VT100 my legs would likely tell a different story. With intentions of sweeping only a short distance to maintain my recovery plan I ended up not sweeping at all. 2 miles into the run out to where we would begin sweeping, on a slight downhill and with my left leg leading, I landed toes pointed, calf flexed and felt a pull/pinch/niggle….call it what you may and just like that, I was done running. I stopped, called out to Ken while rubbing the source of discomfort but it refused to go away. After a few tears, I hobbled back to the race start and began what I would continue to do for the following week; Ice, compression, Advil, and elevation with a couple of massages thrown in for good measure. Recharge (Athletes recovery lounge in Bend, amazing place!) was kind and sent me to Vermont with a laser stimulator to use as needed. As hoped, my calf felt better with each of the 6 passing days until VT100. I opted to not test my calf prior to race day.
Mi 21, happy to see my crew;
Photo c/o Serena Wilcox
With Advil, Spider Tech tape, and compression sleeves in place I had high hopes come the 4am race start… hopes that were VERY short lived. I made it about a quarter of a mile (yup 400ish yards) when my calf “niggle” reared its ugly head with a pinching/pulling sensation. I moved off to the side of the road and began rubbing it, reassuring the passing runners that all was well when in reality I was freaking out. What the hell was I going to do??? Seriously, not even 1 mile!! I continued to rub my leg; taking a few test steps with the same result as I continued to reassure the steady stream of passing runners that all was well. At 4am it was dark, and with my light at my waist, my tears of frustration were easy to hide. Decision time…my options; quit the race and quit the Slam; continue the race and possibly tear my gastroc and then have to quit the race/Slam; or possibly continue the race without further injury to the muscle and make it to the finish line and stay in the Slam. My logic, I came to Vermont with time goals along with the possibility of a podium finish BUT, the reason I came to Vermont was for the Grand Slam and if I could manage to “finish” VT100 and stay in the Slam then that was what I would do. And so I began my shuffle. "One Step at a Time", just as the temporary tattoo provided by the race stated.  The majority of VT100 is on hard dirt packed roads making my shuffle even more doable. With the ENTIRE field of racers in front of me my shuffle allowed me to gradually rejoin the race.
Amazing countryside;
Photo c/o Serena Wilcox 
I finally saw my crew at mile 21, interesting how it’s the familiar faces that strike straight to the heart of your emotions. While it was easy enough to share with complete strangers my calf “niggle” dilemma in a matter of fact manner, it took only one look from my sister in law for the tears to surface. I think at this point I held it together for the most part, telling both her and Serena (crew and pacer for the last 30 miles as well as local resident) that my calf had flared up and that I was going to give it what I had to get to the finish. They plied me with Advil, bio-freeze, some calories and hydration and watched me shuffle away.
At the pre race briefing the 2014 Slam pack gathered. I picked up a cool bandanna created by Brad Bishop, fellow Slammer. For the race I decided to tie it to my hydration pack. The idea was to help identify fellow Slammers on the trail. It worked and what a nice touch. I passed a runner who saw the Bandanna and he shared his story of having registered for the 2014 Slam but was unable to finish WS which effectively took him out for his quest of the Grand Slam. With his DNF at WS he still planned to show up and race the last 3 races, and try again for the Slam next year.

Just a small smile please asked my crew!
Photo c/o S.W.
Another runner heard I was going for the Slam and shared with me his goal of attempting the same one day. And then there were those who knew of the Slam and were in awe that I was attempting it. These are the stories that feed the soul of us runners and unbeknownst to them they helped to keep me going. And going I did. Each time I saw my crew, they took the absolute best care of me they could. They would later share that they truly felt helpless and had no idea of how to help me. I can only hope that I conveyed to them the value of just having them out there. They helped me change socks, drain blisters, ply me with Advil, bio-freeze and give me a hug when I needed one.

Mi 70 and the beginnings
of my right quad bruise :(

Not a natural gait, but happy that
Serena would be joining me!
Serena finally joined me at mi 70 providing me with some much needed distraction. VT100 is a unique race in which runners are at times sharing the roads with horse and riders running the same race. Due to the hazard of the horses, music was not allowed. This meant I was stuck with only my thoughts…how I would have loved some upbeat tunes to fill my head and drown out my thoughts. My body was a wreck, my hip flexors were killing me as well as my groin from the external rotation of my left hip.  This was due to my inability to push off with my left foot, instead I would approach the hills with the side of my foot, protecting my calf.  My right quad was toast, it was doing all the work my left leg refused to do, all the climbing as well as the impact of the downhills....Finally, when I was close to my breaking point and upon my request, Serena and Carrie helped me onto a cot at Bill’s Cabin aid station mi 88, they removed my socks and shoes, elevated my legs and for a brief 5-6 minutes, I rested. They also consulted with Ken back in Oregon, who told them to let me have my 5 minutes and then get me back out there. Yup tough love from afar is what my fella gave me. And so they got me up after my brief rest, I drank some much needed coffee, took a bite of a grilled cheese sandwich and got back at it. The going was slow as I was only hiking at this point, Serena was a saint and yes, finally, I made it to the finish line. Carrie was there waiting and I walked straight into her arms and let the tears flow, finally letting the physical and mental guard that I had been holding in place for so long drop away.
Right quad post race---

And so yes, I am tough…..stupid tough. With my almost 25 hour VT100, I have had to let go of my time goals for the Grand Slam and you know what, that is okay. The Grand Slam is an amazing feat all on its own, if I can recover from my injury and see this thing through to fruition, I will be damn proud of myself.
Feeling very fortunate to have finished Vermont 100, I am happy to say that I will be toeing the start line for the 3rd 100 of the slam, Leadville 100 Aug 16th!
25 hours later I rested....
I can not tell Carrie and Serena how much it meant to have them out there for me.  They made me smile when I had no reason and helped to relieve some of the weight of my internal struggles when I was at my lowest. Thank you.  Thank you to the race volunteers for taking such great care of me as I came through their aid stations and always with a smile on there face.  For Harvey and Shasta, thank you for remembering me from the registration and giving me that great hug before you sent me on my way to get to that finish line.
As always thank you to my sponsors for providing me with the perfect gear, supporting me as I chase after my crazy running dreams! Patagonia; UltrAspire; Julbo; Honeystinger; Blackdiamond. While physical health is not a guarantee come race day, your gear can be.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Grand Slam/ Western States 100-- 1 down 3 To Go!!

Yes this is a blog post....not a photo album but what can I say I like pictures!

Grand Slammers 2015
Timeline for publishing this post was 3 weeks....why? Because Western States 100 is the first race of a series of races referred to as the Grand Slam.  You may have read mention of this in my previous posts.  For those who do not know, the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning consists of officially finishing four of the oldest 100 mile trail races in the U.S. all in the same year.  Might as well call it for what it is...all 4 races actually occur with in 10 weeks!!!
So, added to my excitement of running Western States for the 3rd year in a row is the beginning of an epic adventure.  An adventure that will challenge my mind, body and soul in ways I am unable to even imagine.  Some call me crazy and possibly in need of medication, but for me this is living!
Little WS training!
WS prep consisted of  my now traditional Memorial Day training camp, 3-4 days of quad pounding runs on the WS course while spending time with great running peeps!  The training went as anticipated minus 1 digger,  and I even picked up a new nickname...."Funsize" :) thanks Matt Keyes! 
Photo c/o Joe McCladdie
Additional training included Black Butte repeats, Pilot Butte repeats, Aubrey Butte....I think you get the picture.  This year my focus was quad strength, last year I suffered from quad death and lost what felt like an eternity in time due to this, maybe it was my training or perhaps it was the 106+ temps in the canyons.  Either way, my plan was to eliminate the factor I could control.  Physically, I was looking pretty good for WS, no real injury but rather what had become a chronic piriformus issue (self diagnosed of course) which when irritated extended into my hamstring.  This only prevented me from doing speed work or upbeat tempo workouts (ha, while I know these w/o's would be of heart was not broken).  Additional focus was on my core, hiking, and going into WS healthy and fit, knowing that after WS I would be recovering and maintaining between the rest of the races.
5 am start and what a day!  The women's field was stacked; I placed 8th last year in a time of 21:44 and my PR was goal for today was sub 20 hours and a top 10 finish.
Let's do this!
Best crew!
I started out easy, hiking and jogging the immediate 3.5 mile climb up the Escarpment before settling into a steady pace.  I spent some great running miles with Meghan Arbosgast, she knows how to run this race well and I decided she would be safe to stay with in the high country.  Unfortunately Meg's was having a rough go of it and I moved ahead at about mi 22...although half expected her to re appear using her speedy downhill legs.  I saw "Team D" at mi 30..."Team D" consisted of my hubby, my sis in law and some friends from Boise.  Ken and John would be my pacing team and Carrie and Nan my crew.  "Team D" looked like a professional pit crew, spraying me with sunblock, feeding me my chocolate milk and fruit bowl, replacing garbage with new stingers, an ice bandanna and new bladder for my hydration bag and then sending me off.  Yes, sent off, Ken pretty much kicked me out of my pit row.
Enjoying the day!
Before long I was enjoying the trail with another friend, Adam from MN along with another fellow Slammer also from MN, Jordan.  What fun! Seriously, things were going well and I was feeling good.  I think at this point I was 8th F but it was early.  The aid stations came and went; the volunteers were as amazing as ever, cheering us runners in and then giving each of us individual attention.  It was great to get a hug from RD Craig Thornley at Last Chance AS mi 43.3.  I left the AS with the words of "you know what's coming next don't cha"....that's right Devil's Thumb!  With the fire of last year, the swinging bridge had yet to be constructed and so lucky us, a cable was placed across the water to aid in the crossing.

Photo c/o Facchino Photography
This provided a well needed cooling prior to the climb to the top of the thumb.  As I was making the climb I passed Emily Harrison and while I was hoping to find some of the speedy chicks in front of me it is always tough to do so when they are struggling...we were not even to the half way point.  Emily ended up dropping at mi 55.  I next saw my crew at Michigan Bluff mi 55.  As always this puts a smile on my face and a spring in my step.
Pit Row
Great pace Nan!
More of the great crew support and this time Ken trotted with me a bit as I drank my chocolate milk providing me with some updates.  I would see my team again at mi 62 and so I decided to wait on the flask and I took a few gels for my calories.  Oops, wrong choice.  I should have taken the flask or even more Honey Stinger chews.  As I was needing calories on the climb out of Michigan Bluff I took a gel and it triggered the always dependable gag reflex.  I quickly spit it out but it was too late and within moments I lost all that yummy chocolate milk.  So much for more calories.
Refreshing dip in the river!
Next aid was Bath Road and I was happy to see Nancy waiting to make the short trot into Foresthill with me.  She worried that somehow I would drop her in the 1.4 mile trek, fear not Nan, you were solid! More of the same from my crew at Foresthill as well as Johnny'O joining me for the next 18 miles!  All was going super well, passing Emily had moved me up to 7th F and while for a brief stint I had caught up with Nikki Kimball, the call of nature aka bowels, had me tucking into the bushes while she moved ahead.  I was told both Nikki as well as Kaci Lickteig were 5 to 10 minutes up on me.  The downhill run to the river was uneventful for me which at this point of the race is a super positive thing to be experiencing.  Johnny'O kept me going, reminding me of all those things you start to slip on at this point of the race.  To the river we ran where Ken was waiting on the opposite side.  Meet and greet with my fella and up the road we went.  Feeling pretty good we trotted the majority of the road to Green Gate; almost caught you Nan (she was running in front of us to prep what I would need at the crew spot).  One more weigh in, pit crew attention and Ken and I were off falling into step with Adam Condit and his pacer Joe Uhan, who might I add knows pretty much all the words to every Katie Perry song!  I was running well at this point, Ken was pushing and I was responding.  I was over my 20 hour goal by about 25 minutes and while I was running well, a sub 20 did not look likely....and I was okay with it.  I was having a solid race,  nope no complaints from me.  We came into Browns Bar, the Rogue Valley Runners aid station; love these guys, a lil TLC and they too sent me off. Slower pace than before but still feeling relatively good, I was still tolerating nips off my flask.  Hwy 49, one last visit from my crew and on to No Hands Bridge and up to Robie Point.  We followed the freshly painted foot prints to the white bridge where the rest of my crew joined for the final sprint (jog) to the track.  Nope, no sub 20 hour but I had a solid run.  There are always post race reflections on where you can improve and this race is not different....and lucky me, F7 means I get to come back next year!  But for now I will place my focus on my next race, Vermont 100; July 19th!!
Not sub 20hr but moved up a spot to F7 and had a great day!
Always a huge thank you to my crew and pacing team, you guys rock!

Gear Review:

  • Velocity shorts aka bun hugger.....loved them!
  • Fore Runner tank
  • Patagonia wool socks; performed great in the heat as well as the water.
  • Patagonia EVERlong; the toe box with the soft mesh on top was perfect for all the downhills.
  • UltrAspire Spry; lightweight with a 1L reservoir
  • Julbo Access Zibra lens; excellent for the sun and the shade as well as under a visor!
  • Honey Stinger chews: great for about half of the race before they get too sweet.
  • Black Diamond headlamp/ waist pack: I used the light only at my waist and it was perfect.

Best partner ever!
Thank you to my sponsors who help support me in what it is that I love to do!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Mini Grand Slam Prep Part II....

Let's do this (pic confirms it, I am "lil" d)! Photo c/o Glen Tachiyama

You know those special runs you have where everything feels effortless, feet are light and agile, legs are fresh and fast, stomach is was one of those days, lucky me!
We had a crazy nice day for the Peterson Ridge Rumble 40 mi, blue skies, 32 degrees, sourrounded by local running peeps and a sane start time of 8AM as compared to the 4AM start of the Gorge 100k.   Add this to sleeping in my own bed pre race night and BAM! The combo to a great race!
Blue bird skies! Photo c/o Paul Nelson
We took off and although I was towards the front of the pack, I managed to not see a post in the center of the trail until it was unveiled by the runner in front of me and WHAM, within 400 yards of the start I performed a nice endo/ yard sale!  Runners from the front and back were kind enough to stop and help pick up the pieces including Ken, who was a bit concerned but all was good and we were off again.  I fell into pace with Darla and after some introductions Kristina from MT.  We were holding a pretty good pace 7:30ish.  I was feeling good, the sun was out and the trail was flat.  While I thought perhaps I was going a bit fast I was feeling good and  fI (we) continued on. 
Amazing trail, great company! Photo c/o Paul Nelson
We cruised through the first aid at 7 mi, Dar and I pulled away from Kristina and continued on with a few of the boys, Ken included.  I was happy to have the company as by mile 10 I had already tried to go the wrong direction twice and was called back by the kind hearted runners behind me.

Love running with Dar! Photo c/o Glen Tachiyama
By mile 14 and with a small out and back I was in the thick of it with the runners.  Mixed in with the early start runners and within a few miles runners from the 20 miler and then from almost out of no where the speedy front runners who apparently had gone off course....all inspired me to run faster.   By mile 20, I was on my own.  I made the long climb up to mi 28 aid station, greeted by Rod Bien and Chris Askew (Fellow Bendites) and swapped my hydration pack with a handheld and a flask.  Today, unlike at the Gorge, I stuck with my Honey Stinger chews, eatting a couple every 20 min or so, and drinking Coca Cola at the AS.  Solid combination, no lows and no stomach issues.  The flask I picked up was a mixture of salt, coconut water, Carbo Pro powder and chocolate GU, easy for sipping.... sounds yummy right? :) I did put it in the freezer the night before and it was still chilled and kinda tasty! With 12 miles to go no problem, I had been running steady and feeling good.  Sure my legs were starting to feel tired but nothing unexpected, I had been running hard and they should be tired. 
Feeling the trail....and loving it! Photo c/o Glen Tachiyama
Running on my own at this point I was paying extra attention at any crossing to support my staying on course so when I caught a glimpse of something, and wanting to be sure it was not a ribbon, I looked back, ( bad call) catching my toe on a rock, WHAM on the ground I found my self...fall #2! Crazy, I don't usually fall (I was 0/2 at SOB 50mi and Gorge 100k).  I dusted myself off, spit dirt out of my mouth and with a shake of the head was off.  While in solitude I was enjoying the beauty of the day, the views were amazing, skies were pristine, I was feeling good the lead :)
Just past the point of the pic above....yup fall #3....what the hell! This time I was not quite unscathed, as it was superman style and downhill both shoulder sockets felt impacted and my quads raked across some more spit....maybe 6 miles to go at this point...time to get er done and that I did.  11th overall and 1st female! A most excellent day out on the trails, how lucky am I!

Flying across the finish line :) Photo c/o Animal Athletics
 What a beaut of a day, thank you Sean Meissner for a great race and to the volunteers!  As well as all the runners out there supporting this event for the Sister's High School Cross Country team!
So I will be thinking about this come Slam time (admittedly this was a very SMALL test)....What did I do right during my recovery?
  • 3 days rest post Gorge 100k
  • 2 of the 3 days spent at Recharge; recovery boots, ice/hot rotational soak
  • Easy running with 1 strong 12 mile tempo run on the weekend in between races.
  • And of course hydration, nutrition and rest.
What was dialed for the race:
What I would do the course!

Next up WS 100 the 1st of the Grand Slam races.....
Join me on my journey....See you in June!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Mini Slam; Grand Slam Prep....

Let the good times roll! Photo c/o Paul Nelson
Having NO idea of what might be in store for me this summer with attempting the Grand Slam, I had an opportunity to do my own mini slam as a trial run.  This mini slam would give me an idea on how my body/mind might handle the short turnaround between races.  Gorge Waterfalls 100k, March 30th followed by Peterson Ridge Rumble 40 mi 2 weeks later on April 6th!  The Gorge had about 12,000 feet vert of super technical running while the Rumble has about 5,000 ft of vert and a fairly fast course.
Ken decided to join me on my adventure and signed up for both races.  We stayed at McMenamins Edgefield (awesome place to stay if you have not tried it out!) in Troutdale about 13 miles from the race start.  Finishing off  the race party was Ken's sister and brother in law, Carrie and Roy, who joined us for the weekend to do a little 100k crewing. While Edgefield provides a wide range of fun activities to partake during your stay, with a 4AM race start, Ken and I were in bed by 9:30PM.  Nope no movie, no soaking tub, and definitely no sampling at the whiskey bar, or the martini bar....just one beer from the tap house before bed!  Our hopes (rather stupid I admit, McMenamins is a place to party....not sleep) of a good nights sleep were dashed with the sounds of all the jovial patrons until around midnight when we finally drifted off.  Alarms sounded at 2:15 and while some guests were just making their way to their rooms, Ken was making his way to the lobby for our much needed coffee, in attempts to jump start our brains. 

Cruising into the 50k turn. Photo c/o Paul Nelson
Almost without realizing how we got there, we found ourselves at the race start....this time we were toeing the line, sporting the Rocho special, Black Diamond headlamp at the waist as well as on our heads (killer set up!).....we were not going to miss the race start today and we were definitely not going to be running around without headlamps with 3 hours in the dark!  40+ degrees and drizzling and we were off, not so bad.  We were hopeful that while we knew we were going to get wet, that perhaps the weather Gods would be kinder to us than they were to the 50k runners on Saturday.
Just about to the 50k turn around!
Photo c/o Paul Nelson

The race was an out and back, same course as the 50k runners...only of course we would be running it twice.  We started at Benson Park and began the long 1500ft climb up and over the trail for Wahkeena falls over to Multnomah was pitch black and while you could hear the roar of the water I wondered at times if it was better that I could not see; first because you were going straight up and in the dark you could not tell how far you had to go, second because we were warned of narrowness of the trail and to take caution. At points, should you would not be getting back up!  With that in mind, I trotted along the rocky, muddy terrain with utmost caution.  Ken was with me, which was nice.  I was hoping that we would get to spend some good miles together.  In a 100k it does not typically take long before you are running by yourself and while I knew it was going to be a long day of running I hoped to at least share his company for parts of it.
I emerged into the daylight unscathed and came into an aid station to see the smiling face of Katie Bien, she was out on the course crewing her hubby and fellow Patagonia runner Rod "Bandit" Bien.  I saw Carrie and Roy at the 20 mi aid station.  Carrie was taking care of Ken who came in just in front of me and I put Roy to work refilling my fluid while I ate a gel.  Asked how I was doing .... "getting my ass kicked" was my response.  I was staying on my feet but wow, not easy.  I had not anticipated ALL the rocks and adding the mud and the wet slick moss to the combination, I was feeling completely worked earlier than I hoped.  The course description advertises amazing scenery, passing by multiple falls, and moss covered hillsides, with little elves and everything....all very true and I even tried at times to take in the views but for my own safety I ended spending the majority of the time with my
eyes on the prize...the ground and not falling.

Watch out for that....rock...Photo c/o Glen Tachiyama
With that in mind I was holding out plugging in my music until the turn around....yup that was my carrot.  Just get to the turn around and I would be rewarded with some tunes!  On my way to the 50k point Ken shared one of his gel flasks, I was eating Swedish fish and jelly beans and found that my gut was not happy with the combo and even though the gel flask didn't settle great, it was easier to get the calories in with.  At this point I decided to go with only gel calories as they would give the biggest bang for the buck.  With an out and back I also had the opportunity to see the lead runners.  As the lead runners flew past (Rod appeared to be having a great race, 2nd place, and Yassine was looking good in 4th) I found Ken and I in 12th and 13th place, I was F2 at this point and was able to see that F1 was about 4 minutes up on me. 

One of the amazing falls! Photo c/o Glen Tachiyama
The turn around came and went and as Ken and I were still running within shouting distance of one another I opted for no tunes.  I came into aid station mi 40 and forced down some gel, refilled my pack and was off.  I went a short distance and stopped for a pit stop in the bushes and with a sour gut told Ken to go, I was fine and was going to plug in my tunes.  That would be that last time I would see Ken for the duration of the race....although with the many switch backs he would continue to hoot and holler at me :)

Feeling tired and looking tired
Photo c/o Paul Nelson
Sadly, my music malfunctioned after only about 20 minutes and the remainder of the race was spent we me and my thoughts and not very entertaining thoughts...."damn the rocks", "I remember this muddy section", "hope my knee does not get worse", "I think I will go through the brier bush instead of the mud bog", "common gut take a few more calories", "if this trail gave away I would be okay with that", and the best on yet..."did that switch back sign really announce that I am at 3 of 11 switchbacks to get to the top"!!!

 Next thing I knew I was running (trotting) down the final hill.  It was about 4 in the afternoon and  although I did get a few odd looks from the day hikers, I think the runners in front of me pre warned them and they all graciously stepped out of my way. 
Leaping to the finish line!
Photo c/o Bandit Bien
I finally made it to the finish line 12 hours and 20 minutes later.....2nd Female, 13th overall and with Ken 3 minutes in front of me.
James Varner RD greeted me at the finish along with Ken, Carrie, Roy, Katie and Rod (M2) and all I could do was shake my head and laugh.  What an amazingly tough race!! 
Thank you to Rainshadow Running and RD James Varner for putting on a great race and all the volunteers who took amazing care of us crazy runners coming through the aid stations....and of course Carrie and Roy for spending 12 hours out in the cold with us :) Love you guys!
What worked well:
Roch Horton special Black Diamond lighting system
Patagonia Houdini jacket (great in the early hours and compact enough to fit in the front vest pocket)
Patagonia Cap 1 long sleeve shirt
Patagonia wool socks (wet feet most of the day and no issues)
UltrAspire Spry 1L hydration vest

What did not:
Swedish fish and Jelly beans (should have stayed with honeystinger gels and solid food earlier in the race)
Ipod not set up correctly

Next up Peterson Ridge Rumble .....

Saturday, February 8, 2014

SO50...kicking off 2014

Photo c/o Ken, George and I looking tough

And the 2014 race season has begun; I kicked it off at the Inaugural Sean O’Brien 50 miler in Malibu.  
While my 2014 race calendar may not be filled with monthly races, I aspire to compete in the Grand Slam of racing this year, four 100's in less than 4 months....lots more to come!

I first registered for the Orcas Island 50k (same weekend) and then deciding some Vitamin D would do me good I swapped it for racing in sunny Malibu, one of KeiraHenninger’s races. If you haven't run any of her races I highly recommend it, great courses,aid stations, volunteers and after parties.  Keira is also a fellow Patagonia trail runner.

Great dinner with friends!

With sun in mind, rain greeted Ken and I on Thursday, but that did not stop our adventures. First stop was Ventura where we spent part of the day touring the Patagonia headquarters with George  (Patagonia trail running team manager) as our tour guide (Thanks G!). 
Friday, Ken and I spent the day relaxing and putting in a few shake out miles on the course.  The course reports 11,000ft of vert and as I took in the towering canyon walls all around and the heart stopping drops to the canyon floor of below I could only imagine what Saturday would bring.

My training had been haphazard in building up to this race.  After registering in November I then proceeded to take from December 4th through January 1st completely off from running.  I won’t bore you with my girlie issues J and while I did some cross training IE stationary bike, walking on the treadmill, squats, lunges and the like, there was no running to be had.  Needless to say with my longest run, a 21 mile Smith Rock Badass run courtesy of team mate Jeff Browning, I had a bit of trepidation going into this race.  Ken asked if perhaps I wanted to bump down to the 50k distance but being the who I am, I did not…with the thought that this race would be a strong training run J Ha!
Photo by Donovan Jenkins mi 6.5, warming up on the climb!
 Saturday arrived, temp of 28 degrees and clear skies, so much for the heat of Malibu! Ken and I quickly rethought our dress for the start, adding the Houdini layer for some protection.  We had checked in for the race and had gone back to the car, hoping to connect with George.  I called him the previous night, calling upon him to aid us with a couple of headlamps.  Yup, you got it; we didn’t bring any and guess what time the sun rise is in Malibu…6:40 race start was 0600….no George, and no lamps. Ken and I got out of the car about 6 minutes before the start of the race and for the 1st time (not due to being in a bathroom) we heard the hoots and hollers and flashing lights of a race starting without us!!!  Seriously, we are NOT rookies but between the headlamps and missing the start of the race we were definitely not showing our Ultra running experience!
Photo c/o Greg Lanctot; UltrAspire
Spry 1L, love it!

Photo c/o Greg Lanctot
To the back of the pack we ran and I mean DFL.  Someone even graciously asked to take our drop bag when they saw us looking frantically around for the drop bag location…and finally, we were off.

I quickly found myself tucking in behind a runner with a light and who looked to be doing the same as I, maneuvering efficiently through the runners.  When he saw my predicament he even stopped and turned around to allow me to use his light to cross the creek!  How great is the camaraderie among ultra runners!!

Photo c/o Greg Lanctot; having an amazing day
I finally made it out onto the first long climb on a fire road and was able to move freely among the runners.  As I moved through the runners it gave me great opportunity to meet and greet both friends and new faces.  1st aid station was 6.5 mi and I was told the lead female was 12 minutes up on me J go Cassie!  I was feeling good and it was early.  I was making the climbs nicely and hitting the downhills at a moderate pace.  Before long I was running with Meghan (who had already taken her 1st fall L ) I would pass her on the uphill and she would pass me back on the downhill.  I finally pulled ahead of her at the second aid station, also passing Bree Lambert.  Ahead of me were Luann Parker and Tera Dube.  This next section was a long descent, Luann and Tera pulled ahead with Luann leading the charge down the hill.  I kept my pace around the 7:30’s, again fearful of what would happen if I started pounding the down hill this early on.  We were at about mile 15.

Asked to smile with a mouth full
of banana! Mi 37
Photo c/o Greg Lanctot
I came into aid station #5 at mile 19 and was told I was F5.  This section had a small out and back giving me opportunity to see Luann and Tera heading out as I was coming in.  I fueled up and was off.  This next section was considered the toughest climb on the course and so I began my trot.  Within about 5-10 minutes I found myself passing both Luann and Tera.  In passing Luann she asked "you're already in Western States right?" I responded with, "yes" ,"I'll let you go then", responded Luann.  This race is part of the Montrail Ultra Cup and the first 3 men and women get a ticket to States, if a runner is already in States it rolls to the 4th finisher.  If the volunteer at the aid station was correct, I was 3rd chick at mile 22, which by the way was the furthest I had ran in give or take 3-4 months.  Crazy what thoughts like that do to your brain J  I continued to feel strong and let my legs do the work on the climbs.  Again, as I hit the down hill, I stayed conservative with my pace and while I wanted to look behind me for one of those speedy downhill gals (Megan, Luann or Tera) I refrained and continued to run my own race.  I took in the amazing scenery while listening to some great tunes.  I chatted with a few of the guys I came upon but spent most of this time by myself.  Just the trail and the voices in my head…"are my legs going to hang in there?", "wow we have to climb all the way back up to that ridge?", "how and where is Ken, why hasn’t he passed me, where are the women?", "ugh I don’t think I can eat anymore Swedish fish", and so on goes the voice.

Finally the last aid station, 6.5 miles to go, same 6.5 we started with and so I had sort of seen it once.  I came into the aid and was told F2 was 8 minutes up on me and then was asked, do you know how far back F4 was??? Not sure how I was to know and so I said, “I wish I knew” and was off.  I trotted out of the aid, up the sandstone and down.  I new at this point I could push the down hills and was still running the ups fairly well.  With about 1 mile to go and heading up the last climb of the race, I glanced back and hear and well as saw F4, Tera “hey Denise” she says…..ugh, seriously!!! And so I did what I could only do, I trotted the ups and pushed the downs and…Tera was still close behind me…I hit the last flat section racing with what I had left…racing to the finish line with Tera a mere 18 seconds behind me!!!
Great job ladies F1-F4, see you all at States!
What a day, what a race.  Congrats to Tera for securing that 4th spot and a ticket to states, as well as Cassie and Sally (F1, F2) who also secured States entry.
Big shout out again to Keira Henninger who put together an absolutely amazing race. As always a special thanks to my great sponsors Patagonia and UltrAspire for creating the best gear out there. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

2013 Western States 100 aka, "The Dance"

2013 Western States 100 miler and Montrail Ultra Cup 2012-13 goals accomplished!!!

June 29th Western States 100, what a ride...okay maybe more of a run than a ride.

My crew and I mimicked last years travel plans; leave Bend on Wednesday (after work) stay overnight in Reno (loose a few $$) to arrive in Squaw mid morning on Thursday. Highlight of our stay over in fortune cookie from dinner, "A long term goal is about to be achieved", can't argue with a fortune cookie right?!
This years crew / pacer team consisted of last year crew, grown by my brother in law and fellow Bendite Stephanie Howe.  Yes, that made for 3 crew and 2 pacers and when not pacing, up to 5 crew! Ken did call me a bit of a Diva.  In my defense, my kiddo, Rachel, shared that last year she waited for the "Bitchy Denise" to make an appearance during the race...and she never did :)
With almost 2 full days in Squaw to prep for the Saturday 5AM race start, I had plenty of time to plan with my crew my needs, wants, and anything else I could come up with to ask of them on race day.  While I felt fairly dialed in for food, hydration, and race gear, I was less confident as it related to the main unknown, the heat.  I have raced in warm conditions but I had yet to experience anything in the triple digits and triple digits was the projection for race day.  As crew / pacer for San Diego 100 miler, where there was a 44% finish rate due to extreme temps...I had a healthy respect for what the heat could do to us runners.  Like last year my heat training consisted of a couple of weeks training in the Sauna...that was it.  And so with that I set about my game plan...start out at a moderate pace and try to take advantage of the early morning temps but...not so strong to place myself at a deficit further into the race.  At each aid station my goal was to evaluate my needs and to address them prior to leaving the aid station, "get square" was the advice from fellow Patagonia runner, Jeff Browning, winner of the San Diego 100.  For my hydration I would use my Ultraspire Spry and once it heated up I would also carry a 16oz Ultraspire handheld for dousing my head as needed.  I planned to wear a bandanna around my neck filled with ice to help keep my core temp down and as was recommended I exchanged my red race jersey and black shorts for a white tank and pale green shorts.
Almost go time!
Mixed in with race day planning was the next best part of running any ultra....hanging with all the great runners / friends and experiencing the dynamic energy that surrounds WS's.  If you can picture your last family reunion with all of your favorite family members, you will have a good idea on what getting together for this event is like.  An amazing bunch of people all congregated around an equally amazing event and RD'd by the best of them out there, Craig Thornley aka Lord Balls!

5:00 AM race start, skies were clear and the temps were pleasant.  As planned, I started out at a moderate pace, climbing up the Escarpment and enjoying the company of many familiar faces.  Once up and over,  I spent the next hour + in the company of Ashley Nordell, from Sisters. 
Photo courtesy of Facchino Photography; Beautiful clear skies!
While I was running comfortably I started experiencing what would be one of my lowest points for the race (how lucky to be getting it out of the way so early :)).  While having a room central to Squaw is great for the social aspect of the race, it is not good for sleep.  If you close up the windows it feels like your in an oven and if you open them up, the party outside sounds like it is in your room.  2 nights in Squaw meant 2 nights of no sleep.  At this point in the race, I began to feel complete body fatigue...and I actually felt ill; flushed face, burning eyes, light headed, like I could lie down under a tree, curl into a ball and go to sleep.  I had no idea how I was going to run 90 more miles!!!  And so, I found myself focusing on Ashley in front of me and placing one foot in front of the other, praying what I was experiencing would go away.  Lucky for me, it did and within the next few miles I began to enjoy the trails again!  I ran through to Robinson Flats mi 29.7, feeling re-energized knowing I would see my crew.  This year there would be no wringing out of my mittens or towel drying of my body.  My brother in law, Roy, did get to hear a lil bit of the bitchy Denise, when he sponged me down with water...the water had grown warm as they waited for me and for thanks I grouched, "that's warm!".  He stopped and redeemed himself by handing me my food of choice, cottage cheese (chilled) mixed with a Dole fruit cup :) and Odawalla chocolate protein shake mixed with coconut water.  This proved effective through out the race when I could see my crew.  With some food in my belly, I collected my handheld filled with ice water and what would prove to be my new best iced bandanna and off I went.

Photo courtesy of Long Run Picture Company
My second low point came around mi 34, Millers Defeat....this low can only be understood by other females.  Yes, I started my cycle that AM and this time I found myself distracted from the race by cramps.  I came into Dusty Corners mi 38, asking for what I knew they would not have, Advil (which can lead to kidney problems in ultra events) along with some female product....they did not have either but kindly said they would call ahead to the next aid station.  I arrived at Last Chance mi 43, to be greeted by some wonderful volunteers who had the second part of my request.  I was starting to feel better as Rachel had given me some Advil back at Robinson Flat and it had finally kicked in.
I ran from Last Chance to Devil's thumb exchanged greetings and conversed a bit before moving on past Kerrie Burxvoort, who was struggling with foot issues.  I had been running in the 10th position for females up until then.  At the base of Devil's thumb, I took advantage of the creek and spent a couple of minutes climbing down to it for a full body was well worth it!  On my way from Devil's thumb to El Dorado Creek, I passed Joelle Vaught, the heat was no friend to her and her stomach.
I saw my crew again at Michigan Bluff mi 55.7, and enjoyed getting iced down by warm water this time :)  Ken told me the next female was maybe 15 minutes up on me (Emily Harrison) and she was not looking strong.  I took off, putting on a bit of pretense of feeling better than I actually was.  While I was managing to the heat, like everyone else, it was taking a bit out of me.  I found myself taking the advice from the expert panel of the day prior, run in the shade and do a bit more walking in the sun.  Next aid would Bath Road where I would get to enjoy Rachel's company for the 1.5 miles to Foresthill.  She was a delight, I trotted the majority of the uphill road and Rachel filled me in on how the race was unfolding ahead of me.  I was super excited to hear that Pam Smith was holding the F1 spot and running strong.
Foresthill I picked up the 1st of my 2 pacers, Stephanie Howe, she would take me to the river crossing and Ken would be taking me from the river on home to Placer High School.
I came into the aid station and welcomed the attention from my crew.  Once again my core was cooled and with me feeling/ looking like a drowned rat and Steph looking as fresh as a summer breeze, we were off.  Stephanie was great company, giving me encouragement when I needed it and providing the distraction you need when you have run 65 miles.  Our trip to the river was happily uneventful minus some calf cramping.  I left Foresthill having ran out of salt tabs and forgot to refill my stash...I refilled 5 mi later.  When we got to the river I was happy to climb into it for the crossing and even happier that we got there with a bit of daylight left as my headlamps were at the top of Greengate 2 miles away.  I was also very thankful for the volunteers in the river holding the cable steady as the high point of the river reached my shoulders!!

Photo courtesy of Facchino Photography
Ken greeted us on the other side and the 3 of us made the almost 2 mile uphill trek to Greengate.  As compared to last year I trotted the majority of the hill, I was feeling good and happy to be sharing the last 22 miles with my husband! The hand off was complete, thank you Stephanie, you were a gem!!
We collected our headlamps, I was to wear the Roch Horton, Black Diamond special :) 1 lamp at my waist (The Storm) with a second one on my head (Polar Icon).  300 luminescence of retina searing light!! Perfect combo for the terrain!
Hard to say when but somewhere along our trek to Placer High, my quads left me...I had heard of quad death but had never actually experienced it.  I have on different occasions had painful quads brought on by downhill pounding but this was different.  Way different.  While I was capable of trotting the uphills, the flats and gradual downhills, anything that had a significant drop to it had me shuffling a painfully slow and somewhat frightened shuffle.  I would not be gaining on any of the female runners in front of me at this pace...quite possibly I would be gained upon.  I had been running in 8th place for the last half of the race, I could only hope that I would hold it until the finish.  Ken gave me encouragement as best he could but aside from picking me up and carrying me, I had only one downhill pace, very slow.  Brown's Bar aid brought the Rogue Valley Runners aid station, this year, unlike last, I knew my placement and with the cheers from the enthusiastic volunteers, Ken and I shuffled away.  Highway 49 aid station at mi 93 was the last time I would get to enjoy my crew.  I sipped on some soup and welcomed both with pleasure and pain Roy rubbing down my quads, it was with reluctance that I left.

Photo courtesy of Facchino Photography
The last aid station, No Hands Bridge and 3 miles to the finish....Ken tried to get me to rally as I was passed by Auburn resident Matt Keyes (he got me by 70 sec) and with one last push we were on the track.
Top 10 finish....F8, and an invite back for 2014!

And the win for the Montrail Ultra Cup 2012-2013!!

My thanks go out to my sponsors and to those who have helped me to achieve my goals Patagonia,  Ultraspire, Hypoxico SystemsBlack Diamond, Ian Torrence my coach, and my husband.  Ken, thank you for supporting me through all of my crazy running adventures as well as spending long (seemingly endless) hours with me out on the trails!!

As always, none of us runners would be writing of our accomplishments without the great support of all the volunteers....Thank you!

As I am finishing my blog I sit in my "bubble" at 11,500ft in preparation for my next running adventure...Leadville 100, August 17th!