Thursday, February 2, 2017

May have dropped the ball on my blog but not my racing :)

Contrary to what my blog might indicate....I have been racing.
I actually raced a 100 miler between Black Canyon and Run Rabbit Run 100.  No, not Western States.  I understand where you would make that assumption....if you follow my blog....I mean after all I registered for and raced Black Canyon 100k for just that purpose...and was even fortunate to earn a ticket to "The Dance"aka Western States.

Rather, I was offered an opportunity through the Ultra Trail World Tour to race one of their future races; 100 Miles of Istria in Croatia (170K).   This race was April 8th, giving me 11 weeks for a bit of recovery and then prep for Western States.  Or so I thought.  I had a good race in Croatia.  Finished F3 in just over 25 hours and had an amazing time.  As I gain more 100 mile experience and have more races to compare...I would highly recommend this race if you are looking for an international experience.  Add to this a race of which I traveled solo, no crew, no familiar faces for support, I was extremely comfortable navigating this foreign country.  Take a look at the attached video from this years race for a great peek into 100 Miles of Istria.
Achille flare up during Istria
may have created a change in gait
and psoas issue??
While the experience was super positive I unfortunately came away from the race with psoas tendonitis aka deep groin pain.  With continued thoughts of racing Western States,  I bought a new road bike, enlisted in the help of chiropractic, massage, acupuncture, injections (x-ray and MRI to confirm what my issue was) all to no avail.  I would not be racing Western States, 2 weeks prior to the race I withdrew.  I stopped all therapies and my cycling.  Time to let rest do it's thing....and guess what... it worked.
If your wondering what the "Tent"
looks like! Jaz likes it too.
And so began my training for Run Rabbit Run.  After all I was already registered, just a matter of seeing if my groin would tolerate the training.  I increased my mileage slowly and while I could feel my groin off and on it never lasted long.  4 weeks prior to Run Rabbit I threw a race on my calendar as a training run.  Standhope 60k in Ketchum Idaho with 11,000 vertical feet at elevation.  I felt great. My psoas was still there but not painfully so and it would go away most importantly.  The rest of my training consisted of hiking with my 17lb weighted vest as well as "sleeping" in my Hypoxico tent.
And then it was time.
Pre race calories with my crew :)
Carrie traveled with me as crew.  I registered as a need to worry about who might be pacing pacers allowed.  But, having raced in Croatia (no pacers allowed) where I went with no crew, this was something I now had experience with.
The start of the race was a climb up Mt Warner about a 4k climb in 4.4 miles to 10,800 ft elevation. With the field consisting of only Hares... we did not spread out.  The Tortoses started at 7 that same day.   We all formed a lovely chain and climbed the Mnt, I did have thoughts that perhaps we were going just a tad to fast but...what the heck, I was with great company!
1st Climb of the race.
My starting gear was a handheld and a waist pack.  I had originally planned to start with the Spry 1L vest but during the course of my morning nap, changed my mind.  I went cool with the rest of my gear as we had bluebird skies seeing us off for the noon start..  Velocity bun huggers, singlet, trucker had, Julbo Access shades and arm sleeves (tossed as soon as I saw Carrie).  I packed my waist belt with GU and Honey Stingers and put Nuun and Carbo Pro in my handheld.  Hoka Speed Instinct were the shoes I opted for.
I saw Carrie 5 times during the course of the race and had 2 drop bags of which I would visit twice.
First at mile 21.  Leading up to this aid,  a runner from Canada fell into step with me.  We shared miles and swapped stories leading into the Olympian aid station.   Per Adam, he was sticking with me as in his experience women pace themselves better then men :)
At Olympian, Carrie provided me with coconut water, Fritos, a croissant sandwich, refilled my water bottle and I grabbed a few more GU gels and raced away.  I was feeling my psoas and little random quad pain but all was well.  Although I may have raced away without my handheld...oops, short out and back and I was off!
Coming out of AS 21mi  I passed Anita Ortez.  While she and I had been leap frogging, I had not seen any of the other females.
Mile 29.4 would be the next aid and Carrie.  I passed some runners and was passed by some.  But for the most part ran solo through this section and having a blast.  I was singing to my tunes, taking in the sights and thinking of all those out there supporting me during this race.  May have been having too much fun as I kinda forgot to pay attention and caught a toe while taking in the harm, just dirty.  Time to pay attention.
At the next AS I was feeling my quad, my psoas, my achilles...weird.  I got to Carrie, ate a few Advil, more coconut water and Frittos, a small headlamp and was off.  Some runners stay away from Advil and while I would not recommend it throughout a 100 mile race, I will take it if I feel the need.  It was 545pm and I was anticipating seeing Carrie at mile 41 at approx 8pm.  Meaning I would need a headlight but not my full on set up quite yet.
Tons of great support at this race.

This section had some nice runnable trails with a shorter climb.  Here I connected with a few runners off and on.  No women, at this point I was around F5-6.  As predicted I hit AS 41.6 Olympian again at 815.  It was amazing to watch the full moon crest the horizon as I descended into the aid station to Carrie.  When the sun sets and the moon rises and vise versa are special times during the course of a 100 miler.  Here we swapped my single headlamp for my Black Diamond head/ waist set up added my Houdini windbreaker, mittens, long sleeve merino and a head buff.  I was still warm but knew the temps would be dropping soon.  And while this combo worked well I was super happy to have some hand warmers offered up to me at Summit AS mi 57.8 by the eventual 4th place Master Becky.  The temps had dropped and I added to my layers a hat, my Houdini pants, and another mid layer....I had hopes of a sub 24 hour finish and while I had been on track I started dropping off pace the second half of the race.  I saw Carrie along with Bill (who was crewing his wife Ronda) a couple more times with mi 74 being the last I would see of her until the finish.
The night time sections I struggled with a bit, with needing to take a few breaks either on rocks or leaning against a tree as I found myself no longer shuffling but rather moving in a drunken stagger weaving my way up the climbs.   I think fatigue with the cold temps in combination, sapped my energy stores.  Thankfully dawn brought with it renewed energy as well as some female company. One came from behind and one from in front.  This was a good motivator and brought my mind back to the race at hand.  I picked it up and was able to pull away from both runners.  Unfortunately my Garmin lasted only about 17 hours and I did not bring a back up so with no time and no distance to have a point of reference I truly felt like time had stopped.  With 3 aid stations prior to the finish it felt like an eternity between each aid.  At this point our race started co mingling with the 50 mile runners.
And then finally I was at the last 6 mi stretch of downhill...what a bugger of a finish! 24:52 no, not sub 24 but a finish I was certainly happy with.  F5, 2nd Master...
Finish line with my bestie!

As always the learnings:
I have more mid weight layers that one should own...pack layers in all drop bags.
With COLD temp races go with  more rather than less, even if you don't "think" you need it.
I should have brought a pack that was a bit larger which would have afforded me more room to pack more gear.
The essentials!
Istria take away--always pack your race essentials in your carry on, just in case you don't reconnect with your luggage.

Carrie! Thank you, thank you, thank you! Love you lady!
Super well organized race.  Great aid stations as well as marking and support along the way.
Lots of positive energy going into the race kept me supper balanced even when I was struggling.
Tailwind...I ended up consuming only Tailwind calories for the last 15-20  miles and used it throughout the race.  I was impressed with how well it worked for me.
Patagonia-Houdini pants, H20 jacket,
Julbo Access sunglasses
Ultraspire Spry 1L; lo waistbelt; handheld
Picky bars prior to the race

Next up...Wrap up of 2016 and the 1st race of 2017!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Black Canyon 100k..chasing The Golden Ticket!

When in Arizona p/c me!
The starting line is always filled with friends!
Photo credit Keely Henninger
HURT 100 was in the books and I came away feeling pretty good.
It was entertaining to watch the expression on the faces of people who would congratulate me on my HURT100 win and ask, "what's next?".  My sheepish response being, "Black Canyon 100k", 4 weeks later oh and reason being, chasing a "Golden Ticket"...."If you never try, you will never know", reads the sign in the front entry of my home.
What did my training look like during the next 4 week period? I waited a week before going for a 6 mi treadmill run. Almost immediately I felt pain around the outside of my ankle but because I could tolerate it, I did.  Yeah, I know.... Monday morning I consulted one of the sports trauma docs at work and received a "peroneal tendonitis" diagnosis.  Imagine that, an overuse injury!!  Prescription, rest.  And so with that I took two days off, and on the third day trialed a 4 mi treadmill run.  Nope, apparently I needed more time off.  The next three days I rested and tried again on the fourth day (maybe a little stubborn).  All was well.  I ran 13 miles at Smith Rock, no discomfort, and my legs felt nice and strong. Although, I was a bit sad the following day that my quads were more sore than I thought they should/ would be.  With Black Canyon 4 weeks out from HURT, 2 weeks of which were already gone, my plan was to be as recovered and as ready as I could be.  My only focus for the remaining week of training would be leg turnover.  I had the strength and endurance from HURT but was lacking the turnover.  So, I hit the track a couple of times and at Smith I concentrated on running steady and strong.
Just like that it was time to taper for Black Canyon 100k.  Why a 100k, 4 weeks after HURT?  I mentioned the "Golden Ticket"... 2015 I was not fortunate to place top 10 at Western States 100 and I did not get in through the lottery.  That left racing in with one of the Golden Ticket races of which Black Canyon was. As a Golden Ticket race, the top 2, male and female finisher would earn a Western States entry.
Photo credit Scotty Mills
This pic is for you Ken!
As it would turn out, and for my very first time at this distance, I would be traveling solo for this race.  No crew, no pacers.  Now, maybe this is something many other runners are used to....but not this chica.  Of all my Ultrasignup races at the 100k or 100mi distance I have always had crew/ pacer support.  I call my team my little pit crew.  Yes, Ken calls me a diva :)  I call it, being loved! Because I generally have this support, I was looking forward to taking this one solo.  I currently have on my 2016 race calendar, 100 Miles of Istria, in Croatia and Run Rabbit Run 100, both of which I will not have a pacer and potentially no crew.  Good time to familiarize myself with how to do it solo.
As it turned out, I connected with friend and fellow Bend runner Amy Sproston the night prior to the race.  Sharing some great pre race hang time until we toed the line.  Gotta love racing with good friends!
Prepping for my race,  I planned 2 drop bags, 1 at mile 24 and 1 at mi 51.  In the 1st bag I placed GU calories, a can of coconut water, and frittos. The 2nd drop bag was more GU calories, coconut water, frittos, s-caps, a waist pack, a handheld and for worst case scenario a waist lamp.  My goal time was 10-11 hours which would have me finishing in the daylight. never know.
With a 7am start on a completely exposed course and expected high of 85 degrees I started the race with what I would end up finishing the race wearing.  Patagonia race kit, trucker cap, Julbo shades, cooling buff at my neck, and a 1liter hydration pack.
Photo credit Howie Stern; no trees to be seen mi 19!
At the end of the day I would say that I had a great race.  I started out nice and strong, and felt great for the most of the race.  The first 20-30 miles I settled in, holding pace with a group of guys who were great company and helped the miles fly by.  While our group spread out a bit in the middle part of the race, I continued to trade spots with a couple of them.  Amy took the lead from the start and other than on a 1mi long out and back at the 50k mark, I would not see her for the rest of the race.  Early on I passed a couple of gals, and then was passed by Amanda Basham, who ended up behind me on the out and back (I heard she went off course).  While I was concerned about her behind me, she ended up dropping from the race.
Photo credit Howie Stern; mi 38
My main mistake on my solo quest, was with my drop bag at mi 21.  I guzzled the coconut water but then forgot to take my extra GU/ Honeystinger calories from the bag.  While the aid stations had fruit, chips, PB&J, and sweets, they did not have GU or other gel calories.  I paid for this after about mi 40 when I ran out of the calories that I started with.  While GU can be at times hard to eat, it is crazy effective in bang for your buck than the actual food at the aid stations.  With the heat, and the amount of salt I was consuming to keep my leg cramps at bay my gut had no tolerance for solid food.  This would be my low point for the race, mi 42ish to 51 where my next drop bag was.  Here I did get more gel calories, only 2 packs. Not sure what I was thinking....I was able to take one but after that my gut was finished.  Thank you to the nice ATV folks who stopped to check on me as I was loosing my guts on the side of the road.  It's at about this time 92 miles left) that I was so very thankful that I was only running 62 miles and not 100 :)
Last few miles to the finish line, I felt confident there would be no one to challenge my second place finish.  My body was tired, and my feet (still recovering from HURT) were toast.  I was ever so happy and greatful to cross the finish line with my body intact and with a Golden Ticket!!
Happy to cross the line....with a Golden Ticket!
Thank you to Aravaipa for putting on this great event.  The race was incredibly well organized and the aid stations and course markings were top notch!!
There is a reason I am an ambassador for the gear I run in/ race in.  Patagonia, Julbo, Ultraspire, Picky Bars...The gear I wear day in and day out.  Seriously, take a look at my pics, it is the products I love to use and recommend to friends and family.  If my mom were with me here today annnnd if she had the vision of running a trail race, this is the gear I would set her up with!
As always love, hugs and cheers!

Solo quest learning... as I look to 100 Miles of Istria on April 15th...Take advantage of your drop bags, no harm no foul to have one every opportunity the race supports.  Could be a game changer!

In the words of Spro, "finish lines are better with friends"!
In the words of Chris Askew, "we did Willy Wonka proud"!! #goldenticketX2!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

HURT 2016...Redemption

Thanksgiving run!
Thanksgiving day brings a snowy 12 mi run with my spouse, running repeats on Grizzly Mnt. We return home and while I go for a second run to log more miles, Ken cooks dinner.
It's a friends going away party; Mary M thru hiking the triple crown  this calendar year, never done by a female!   As soon as the hugs are exchanged I leave to squeeze in another 10 miles.
Christmas Day and as we make the trek from Bend to Eugene to spend time with family, I'm dropped off 17 miles short of our get my run in.
Selfie, Merry Christmas!
It's 4:30 and I'm off for my 10 mi, 90 minute slog through the snow, followed by a 10+ hour work day with a repeat of the same 10 miles back home.  Ken has cooked me dinner, of which I eat and fall into bed exhausted (typical M-F).
If you are training for a January 100 mile race, these stories I am certain, sound familiar.  These are not complaints but rather what you do to get the miles in.
HURT 2015 was my first 100 mile DNF.  That year I was physically ready to race, but I was not mentally ready.  I took a fall early on and mentally I embraced that fall and used it as a handicap for not finishing rather than as a crutch to finish.
Time and energy was spent, sacrifices were made and...I did not finish.
After 2015's DNF, I knew before I left Hawaii that I would be back.  Added to this was being contacted by the RD, asking if a photo of me from 2015's race could be used on their Ultrasignup web page....
I was determined from the get go that HURT 2016 would be different.
My 6am send off crew! photo c/o Cory Smith!

HURT 2016 once completed would be my 13th 100 miler.   With a DNF as motivation, Ken, family and friends as crew and pacers, how could I fail.  And so I took that attitude and my physical and mental toughness on a 30 + hour trek in the jungles of Hawaii and I came away with the win.  Hell ya!!  But seriously, unless  I had a bone protruding from my body,  I knew I would be finishing this race.  It was a serious added bonus winning it!!
So you know how I finished but how did my race go...
At the pre race briefing we were handed two cards and asked to write down two motivational/ inspirational notes.  I did not write mine down because they were at the forefront of my mind.
My amazing older brother(and yes, 5 sisters)
who has lived with ALS for the past 19 years
1.) Run for those who can't 2.) Redemption run.  Not even for a moment was there a thought of not finishing.  I also committed to myself and my crew that there would be a smile on my face entering and exiting all the aid stations.
I knew about the heat/ humidity, and like last year, started the race with only a UltrAspire Isomeric Race handheld and Quantum 2.0 waist pack stuffed with my calories. I swapped to the Spry hydration pack after about 25 miles.  I stuck with GU and Honeystinger while running and had my crew supplied with coconut water, fritos, fruit cups, applesauce and turkey sandwiches at the aid stations.  This proved to be a great combination for me.  I never had a low point with my calories and for the first time found myself holding down the GU calories all the way through to the end of the race.
Picnic time mi 95 in front of the Bien Bench (which was in the sun :)),
If you can take 1 GU why not take 2!
Photo c/o Ronda Sundermeier.
 Final calorie stop mi 95 in front of the Bien bench, here my pacer Ronda told me, "1 GU was easy enough you might as well take 2", and so I did.  Did I mention the coconut water....for the last 3 years I have taken to drinking coconut water at aid stations with crew access.  I may have gone overboard at HURT.  My crew had to stop and buy more as I drank 9 cans.
More coconut water? :)
This was in additional to the 4 fresh coconuts I had from Michael Arnstein (2015 HURT winner).  He was at a junction on the course serving up fresh coconut's all night long!
Photo c/o Ronda S. Thank you for the coconut Michael!
This is a crazy technical course with slick roots, rocks, mud and so I started the race wearing the Nike Wildhorse. I also brought the HokaOne Speedgoat.  I decided to start with the firmer Nike and move to the softer Hoka later in the race.  While this did prove to be a good plan, shoe change at mi 60, a better plan would have been to race the entire race in the Hoka's.  The softer, tackier tread of the Hoka was a better shoe for the terrain.  The Wildhorse's tread is made of a hard material making it slip on the rocks and roots.
I mentioned the humidity, and for the first time EVER I did get a little backside chaffing, perhaps this is proof that I do have a backside :)
As always, the aid stations at HURT go above and beyond with a wide variety of food to entice runners and amazing volunteers who clearly love doing what they do.  I was super spoiled with my crew of 4-6 off and on.  If there is a course in which crew is not needed, this would be the one.  As was pointed out by my crew, I lost time having them at every aid station and while it was great having them there it was not necessary.
Bend goes M1 and F1! 
HURT family photo c/o Angus To; crew Carrie, Roy and B-Fine  Pacer/Crew Ken, Bill, and Ronda, you all were amazing!!
HURT is a looped course with out and backs taking the guess work out of where you stand in the race.  I enjoyed for the first time in a 100 mile event taking the lead from the start and maintaining and growing that lead through the course of the race.  I got to see fellow Bend runner
Jeff Browning move up into the lead for the men and take the win. As well as Yassine return from last years DNF with a 3rd place finish. What a great day, what a great race!
Thank you to Stan and Cheryl for the Kukui nuts donated for my cause.  Huge shout out to John, Jeff, Stan and PJ for putting on such an incredibly organized and yes, even fun event.
To my crew / pacers, you guys were awesome!
Patagonia, UltrAspire, Julbo, Picky just keeps getting better, thank you for your never ending support and love!
No better time than the present....Next up February 13th Black Canyon 100k...Chasing the Golden Ticket.
Stay tuned!

The kiss! Photo c/0 Angus To
And the finishers ring c/o Angus To

Benefit of racing in Hawaii,,,you got it, beach time! 2017 who's in??


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Ultra-Trail Du Mont Blanc: Why 103 miles...because 100 miles won't get you around the mountain!

Time and time again I am reminded as to why I am drawn to trail running and ultra trail racing.

Courmayeur pre-view
 Photo c/o Topher Gaylord
UTMB-- Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc.  This race has been on my radar for a few years and because of the fan fare that follows this race it landed on my wish list of races to run.
What is the UTMB?  It is a 103 mile race that takes place in the Alps across France, Italy and Switzerland.  It boasts 30,000+ feet of climbing and it takes you ALL the way around Mont Blanc. The race accepts through lottery more that 2300 entrants and they are given 46.5 hours to complete the race.  Couple of added twists this race has that I had not experienced before...runners are not allowed pacers during the later stages of the race. The race is in open country, in mountainous terrain with weather conditions that can change very fast.  Due to this each runner has a list of required gear that is to be carried for the entire race (about 8-10 lbs worth). Lastly, and just because they can, the race starts at 6PM!
Feast at Maison Vieille, thanks Toph! 

I had a rough go of it at Western States this year.  Stomach issues during the heat of the day, stomach virus the week previous and a candle that I was burning from both ends had me wanting to call it a day at Michigan Bluff.  But, my steadfast crew along with the help of Jimmy Dean Freeman got me out of a chair and back on the course.   My sub 20 hour goal was back burner-ed and the finish line became my new goal.  I made it to that sometimes elusive line and not long after WS I began looking forward to UTMB.  I took the two following weeks off and with 5 weeks to hone my training I can say that I was truly excited for UTMB.  Excited and terrified that is.  I had yet to run a race with 30+K of climbing and I was unsure on what to do to prep for this.  So, for the next 5 weeks I slept in an altitude tent, trained with a 15lb weighted vest, used poles, carried my pack full of fluid and gear of which I had no need for and I repeatedly climbed buttes and mountains around Bend.  Training complete.
Chamonix, France at the Patagonia Chalet and home for the next 2 weeks!
We arrived in Chamonix, France (race start and finish) 2 weeks prior to the race with plans to preview some of the 10 notable climbs around Mont Blanc.  And while we did eventually preview 5 of the climbs, lack of luggage for the first 3 days delayed our running.  Seriously, I brought a carry on one would think that I would know to pack essential items in it...lesson learned!
Pre-race tour
Col du Bonhomme
We still got in some pretty amazing runs, opening my eyes and my heart to the TMB...I was and am in love with this amazing countryside.
Mountain music...cow bells!
Once in Chamonix my prep for UTMB did not stop.  While physically I was ready, the hay was metaphorically in the barn, my mental prep had just begun.  The power of positive thinking and attitude can create happiness and success.  I believe this, so began my prep.  I committed to myself, my husband and my friends that on race day I would only be expressing positive thoughts. Nope, no complaining, no whining no bitching to my crew or those around me.  To help secure this I would be dedicating the first climb of the race to my mother and the last climb to my brother.  The first taken from my world way to soon and the second who has been living in the shell of his former body and suffering from ALS (Lou Gehrig's).  They would be with me on all the steep climbs leading to majestic mountain tops as well as the rocky descents leading to the picturesque villages brimming with spectators and volunteers.  I was ready.
1st day--Flash-Sport Photo
I made my way to the start, fortunate to be in the elite corral at the front of the 2500+ runners.  It was 5:30PM, I had just topped my belly off with a Picky Bar adding to the pasta I had eaten at 2:30.  It was 80ish degrees and the forecast was looking excellent for the next few days.  I settled in with a group of familiar peeps from the US to wait for the start and then we were off.  Crazy good energy from the thousands of spectators lining the streets sent us on our way.  I was kinda waiting for the tidal wave of runners to overtake me and was happy when it did not happen.  We were running perhaps faster than one should for a 103 mile race in the alps but over the 10k distance of open road it allowed everyone to settle into place. And so it began.  As we spread out I found myself high fiving children and adults along the route, smiles exchanged with shouts of, "Aller Denise!!" filling the air.  Sharing the trail with a US runner, Jamil Curry and while tapping hands with some youngsters I said to him, it's like they are refilling my energy stores with each high five, the smaller the hand the bigger the boost!
My fella rocked the TDS...
because it's not always about me :)

The 1st climb of the race I had not previewed but I knew what to do.  I took my poles out of my pack and with thoughts of my mom I began to climb.  While not familiar with the 1st descent, the words of Topher rang in my head, warning of length of this descent (2nd longest of the race) and to take it easy...loads of racing ahead.  At about mi 18 and just before the 2nd climb I would see Ken, this was the first crew spot, it was about 10pm.  I stopped long enough to change my socks and eat a few calories.
The technical terrain had me regret starting the day in my thin Patagonia wool socks and while I had hoped to change into the thicker pair, sadly I had not pack them in my bag of goodies.  And so I changed into what was available with Ken making plans to go back to the Chalet to retrieve the thicker pair for later, should I need them. (Fellow crew we had meet at Gorge Waterfalls 100k this year offered her socks, small world!)
With a kiss I was off, leaving that aid station in company with the friendly bearded face of another US runner, Sean Meissner. The 2nd climb was up the Col du Bonhomme, I had seen this climb and was looking forward to passing familiar points (even in the dark).   As promised I saw Topher at the start of the climb, he joined step with me, offering up supportive words and advice from his treasure trove of experience.  Topher was hugely instrumental in UTMB becoming the race that it is today.
1st night, love the bonfires!
FlashSport Photo

Night time pasta feed!
Photo c/o Ken S.
Did I mention an almost full moon??? Dropping down into Les Chapieux the moon was full in the sky. Running along a road leading up to the 3rd and 4th climbs I found myself shutting off my headlamp and running by the light of the moon.  Moments like these are truly lifepoints!  Up the next two climbs I went.  The air was getting chilly, made more so by the howling winds.  As  I climbed, squinting my eyes from the wind, I started to feel tired.  I thought for a moment, perhaps, just perhaps I would need a nap once over this climb.  I credit the thought of a nap to Ken, who had raced the TDS on Wednesday and who during a very low point in the race for him...took a nap.  Lucky for me, once over the climb, thoughts of napping were gone from my mind.   Instead I was energized by the familiarity of Lac Combal (toured this section with Topher) along with the following climb that would take me up and over Arete du Mont-Favre and down into Courmayeur where I would see Ken again.  Mile 47.  As I made my way up the climb, the skyline began to brighten with the rising sun.  I had made it safely through the night intact both physically and mentally.
2nd Day; Flash-Sport Photo
Courmayeur found me with a bowl of pasta and some coconut water, yum.  I was getting hungry and my gut was solid.  My race fueling was working well.  I had started out with Honey Stingers and only just started swapping to GU, taking advantage of coke, soup and sweet bread at the aid stations.  Cheese, salami and chocolate were also offered but I could not bring myself to sampling any.  Another kiss and away I went excited for the daylight and the trails ahead, so far so good.
Flash-Sport Photo
This next section took me by surprise.  I had previewed it but due to the weather, I did not get to experience the beauty of it.  By far my favorite section, Courmayeur up over Refuge Bertone and across to Arnuza.  The breathtaking scenery made me forget all else. I had the permagrin of someone who was punchy drunk by the views, adding fatigue to the equation and I was feeling pretty dang happy, if a bit goofy!
Climbing up and over Grand col Ferret on my way to La Fouly I could see the familiar bouncing ponytail of a friend up ahead and had hopes of sharing the trail with her.  Sadly La Fouly would be the stopping point for her and she would become one of the 600+ runners who would not make it to the finish line.
2nd Day; Photo c/o Davide Verthuy

On I went, into Champex-Lac mi 75.  Along the way I found myself holding pace with a French runner, Emir.  I don't know French and his English was just as limited yet, we held company and enjoyed shared smiles brought on by our attempts to communicate.  At times he would hold up, preferring to wait for me rather than running on alone.  We separated after Champex-Lac crew/aid station as I needed blister attention before I could push on.  The hot spot had reared it's head and so off to the medical tent I went, getting what looked and felt like a cast placed on my big toe, post drainage.  At this point it was clear that I would be running back into the night again.  My fueling continued to be working well.  Outside of smelling like someone who had run 75 miles in the same cloths, sweating periodically off and on throughout the course of the day, the night, the following day, going into the night again...I was doing okay.  Mentally my race strategy was working well, not once had I expressed negative thoughts and for the first time in ALL of my 100 miles races (this being my 12th) negative thoughts were oddly absent.
Blister care and applesauce! Photo c/o Ken S
I left that aid station and a short time later was joined in company with a runner from Canada, Matt...finally, someone to chat with!! Onto climb #8 we went.  Ken would be at the Trient aid station mi 86.   Not spending much time in the aid station, I left Trient with once again my headlamp in place, not quite needing it but knowing I would be flipping it on soon.  Ken had shared that I was 13th or 14th female (I had hopes of breaking the top 10 for women) he said that the female runners in front of me were looking tired and slowing up and to keep pushing but I too was also feeling symptoms of fatigue.
While I was not experiencing negative thoughts, I was getting emotional.  Taking a spill on a soft part of the trail and finding myself in tears, no injury, just tears.  Thoughts of my mom had me crying as well as thoughts of my brother.  I had been up for 32+ hours, racing for 24 of those hours and I still had a good 7 hours ahead of me.  This does a number on any runner and I was no exception.  I found myself grateful to have my Canadian friend holding pace with me.  This was his first UTMB and while he had thoughts of sub 30 hours, he was ultimately looking for a finish.  And so, as my climbing became slower and my descending even slower, I was in good company.  We chatted and joked making our way up Catogne the 9th climb.  He agreed that this climb should be named the stair master climb, we even saw an Ibex, and the moon was full!  I passed a couple of female runners on the climbs up only to be re-passed on the descents.  I saw Ken one last time at mi 92 in Vallorcine, he told me to be strong, one last climb to go...he shared that he had been keeping my brother up to date on my race and that he was sending his love.  What more did I need.
Final miles in great company, thanks Matt! Flash-Sport photo
I traded spots a couple more times with Jen the speedy downhill runner from Australia (she offered to wait up and run in with me, amazing!!) and Nicole Studer what felt like an eternity later, Matthew and I finally dropped into Chamonix, touring our way through the streets of town before making it to that incredibly special sight...the finish line.

31:39:39; 14th Female; 146th overall. While my goal time/ place was not achieved,  I achieved so much more. Thank you to all my sponsors who support me in my passion for trail running.  I am so very fortunate and appreciative that I have the ability to be an ambassador for this amazing sport.

What went well:
  • Pre-race--Pasta, Picky Bars
  • During--GU's, Honey Stingers, CarboPro, soup, coke, applesauce.  I started with the Honey Stingers until they became too sweet then changed to Chocolate GU, tolerated this until mi 95 where I may have vomited.
  • Black Diamond Z Poles-- did I mention that I LOVE my poles, huge value add for me in using them.  Many of the climbs lead you up and then down super technical terrain.
  • Black Diamond Headlamp/ waist pack 
  • Ultraspire Zygos pack--fit everything perfectly, easy in/out access for my poles (20sec to store)
  • Julbo Access sunglasses with the Zebra lens
  • Patagonia Cap 1 sleeveless tank/ skirt during the day, adding rm warmers with mittens at night.
  • Nike Wildhorse shoes--felt good the entire time (socks were the issue).
  • Pre-view of some of the course!! As my first race with 30K of climbing, it set my mind at ease to see some of it.
What I would do different:
  • Thicker Patagonia wool socks.  I went with the thinner pair because of the heat.  Should have remembered I use the thick socks at Western States.
  • More technical downhill training.  My climbing was strong but lost loads of time in my slow descents.
  • Not sure what to do with the evening start to better prepare for to suggestions.
  • Move to the Alps to train :)


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The North Face Endurance Challenge Costa Rica

TNF Endurance Challenge Costa Rica, truly a great experience! Photo c/o Juan Mata

No, not the outcome I would have liked to have seen with my first international race but it is the races like this one that reminds me of how much of what I do is about being an ambassador of ultra running and not just about running a specific time or even the finish line.
Traveling home from Lake Sonoma 50 miler I received a message from the promoter of The North Face Endurance Challenge Costa Rica.  The message started with an apology for the informality of contacting me via Facebook and went on with an offer for me to travel to Costa Rica to run his race.  I read it twice completely taken by surprise with the offer.  I consider myself a good runner.  I am fortunate with my running ability and typically race toward the front of the pack, with this along with my love for the sport I have gained the sponsorship listed on my blog page.  Yet, this was the first time I had been invited to an international race.  What an honor, what a privileged!  I immediately moved a couple of things on my calendar and responded with a thank you and Yes!
But first a race I had already scheduled and three weeks prior to Costa Rica, Quicksilver 100k.  My training had been solid and I anticipated on having a good race.  QS had 13,000+ vert ft, and was mostly on very runnable packed dirt roads.  I was racing with some speedy ladies and was having a pretty good race up through around mile 40.  At about that point my body started to feel beat up with all the hard packed surfaces (I was racing in the Adidas Adios).  About mi 45 my guts revolted, first experience with ischemic bowel causing me to stop multiple times with abdominal cramping and bloody diarrhea....ugh!  At one point I thought about the cougar sightings as I ducked into the bushes to take care of business.  11 hours 8 minutes later I finished the race, F5 with F2-5 all within 15 minutes apart.  Not my best race but not a terrible race either.  Perhaps if I return to QS I will run with shoes with a bit more cushion!
QS100k; Photo c/o Greg Lanctot
With 3 weeks until TNF CR, I recovered a bit, ran a bit and tapered a bit.  As I began my travels to CR I was feeling ready for the 80k I had signed up for.
"Pura Vida", translates to Pure Life.  This is a saying used in Costa Rica as a greeting or a farewell or really anytime.  How beautiful is that.
I landed in CR Thursday afternoon and lucky me, Jorge Maravilla, his girlfriend Ashley and baby "King Joaquin" were on the same shuttle taking us to the race headquarters. Not sure what to expect I was completely wowed by our accommodations as well as the generous hospitality of our host and hostess, Federico and his wife Ligia.  We were staying at the Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin.  This hotel had about 12 different adventures you could explore right outside your door.  Our hosts, knowing how busy they would be with the race (TNF Endurance Costa Rica is the largest race in Central America) arranged for an activity planner.  She would help set us up with any of the adventures we wanted to go on and take care of any of our needs while we were there.
First time for everything!! Photo c/o Jorge M.
 Amazing first class service and accommodations!
Sooo serious :)
Our race would start at 0530.  Not bad and considering the heat and the humidity we would be experiencing it was good that it was an early start.  The course touted 7k of climbing and so the challenge for the day would be the weather.  While I had never raced with the kind of heat as well as the humidity we would be seeing I was feeling confident that I would be able to manage it. I have raced hot races and I have raced humid races...and did relatively well with both.
The race started, no need for headlamps as it was already getting light.  I wore my Spry hydration vest with a 1L bladder and a collapse-able bottle in my front pocket for later in the race when I would maybe need additional fluids.  A high-five with Jorge and we were off.  I ran a steady pace for the first 5 miles, although my legs felt like lead and my head was throbbing...not a good sign.  Within a few more miles I started to feel better and was able to enjoy my surrounding a bit more.  The terrain was said to be technical and fast.  An interesting combination that was oddly true.  Roots, rocks, and slick surfaces at times and at other times fast dirt roads.  Technical and fast defined :)
This would be the fast part...Photo c/o Juan Mata
Within 40ish minutes I found myself soaked, the kind of soaking you would get if you were to take a shower...with all your running cloths on.  I wondered about the possibility of chaffing, you see, I have NEVER chaffed before and it was now a serious thought.  I had taken the lead at the start and as I came into the second aid station at mi 10 I found myself being passed by two women.  I took my time refilling my water, filling the collapse-able front bottle and was off.  It was hot and humid, just as we were told it would be and somehow I was already not managing with it. Along one of the roads we were running on there was a truck with a young man standing beside his small red cooler.  I saw him hand something to a runner in front of me and I thought to myself that he must be with that runner, crewing for him.  Only after I saw the runner raise his arms above his head and squeeze water over himself did I get it.  I trotted back to the truck and was rewarded with a chilled baggie of water (Spanish not needed)!  Which I poured over my head, did not drink :)
Fortunate to race with this great group of ambassadors!
Federico and Ligia, Pura Vida!
I came into mi 20 and sat for a bit, using ice to help cool off.  After some time I put some ice in my bra as well as my hydration and reluctantly left the shaded cover. The next aid station was 7 miles away.  At this point we climbed to the top of the canyons. This area had been burned, the landscape was black and the running surface was hard pack white stone.  Eerie and yet beautiful.  As I climbed up the canyon I could feel the moisture evaporating from my cloths, my skin. Within a short time I went from soaking wet to bone dry.  As I trotted and walked I could feel my body temperature rise.  I used my front bottle to pour water over my head.  My head was throbbing and my heart was racing.  THIS was not a good sign.  At about mi 25 I stopped and tried to get my heart rate down.  I laid down in the shade of a burnt out tree.  A couple of runners came by and while they looked concerned our language barrier prevented us from communicating.  With me making fan like motions to indicate the heat I got from them that the aid station was near.  I got up and started walking again.  I would trot a couple of steps but would immediately feel ill.  The aid station turned out to be 2 miles away and it felt like it took an eternity to get to it.  Once there I sat in the shade and began to ice myself down.  I was scared with how my body was behaving (traitor).  My head was killing me and I was burning up.  With broken communication with the aid station volunteers I called it.  I had been invited to Costa Rica to run a race and here I was DNF'ing.  Was I disappointed in myself for not finishing...YES but I also knew something bad would have happened if I had continued on.
I was fortunate that there was crew for a runner who spoke English and was able to get me back to the finish.  This is the part of the ultra running community that is the same regardless of what country you are in.  The unwavering support for the fellow runner.
No, not the race I had anticipated running.  Upon seeing Federico post race, I apologized for not finishing his race, but Federico was more concerned about my health then having me finish his race. He had invited me to CR as an ambassador of the sport and while my ability to race is valued being a true ambassador of the sport is even more valuable.  He complimented me on being that ambassador, it's not about the race it is about the person.
Federico had said the Tico (Costa Ricans) were friendly and handsome people.  This could not be more true as evidenced by he and Ligia as well as the many other people I was fortunate to meet. Thank you for inviting me to your amazing race.  I would absolutely recommend Endurance Challenge Costa Rica to anyone looking for an international race, it is incredibly well organized and supported and it is in a beautiful country with beautiful people.

Post race beach time in Tamarindo!
As always, big shout out to my sponsors, Patagonia, Ultraspire, Julbo, and Picky Bars, thank you for providing me with the best of the best!

Pura Vida!