Monday, September 15, 2014

Summer of Grand Slamming....and DONE!

It's hard to believe that it is done...I am done.  On Sept 6th I successfully completed the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning a mere 10 weeks after I began this amazing adventure. 

Pre race pic with Nan!
My last race report or rather sad story, was truly my lowest point of the Slam.  Yes, I wondered when, where, and how it would feel to hit this low point and I am ecstatic to report that Vermont was it.  Not that I felt that I could go much lower never, ever know.  There are never any guarantees in this sport we call Ultrarunning.  Having said that, put away your tissue, there will be no tears shed in reading the rest of my Slam story!

So yes, Vermont left me battered and bruised.  So, what did I do?  I got down to business, damned if I was going to go through all of "that" in Vermont and not do everything I could to get myself to the Leadville start in a much improved state. I had 4 weeks after all, the longest break between 100's.  And so it began, massage therapy, physical therapy, acupuncture.  I admit, I was a "bit" freaked out, I was feeling it (strained soleus) ALL THE TIME!  I told myself it was because I was constantly traumatizing the tissue trying to make it better, which was very true but I believed it would help and so I kept with it. (I truly don't know how Ken put up with me during this time....I was completely consumed with this calf thing, thank you baby, you are the best!). I also accepted that I might not be at 100% by LeadvilleLeadville is a very runnable course, lots of packed dirt roads as well as pavement with 3 significant climbs (repeated 2x's).  To tilt the scale in my favor I decided that I needed the added support of trekking poles, courtesy of Roch Horton of Black Diamond as well as fellow Patagonia runner.  I also decided to give my calf issue a name...early on I called it a I was calling him Nigel.  Kill em with kindness right, if you can't beat um make friends with them, or something like that...

Keep er rolling!

Thank you for being
there Ken!
With my crew in tow I made it to the starting line, race start 4am August 22nd.  My race strategy would be to go out slow and easy.   Nigel was taped and compressed (couple of Advil for good measure) and we were off.  I saw my crew at May Queen mi 13 and was happy to report that all was good.  Couple scary moments of feeling Nigel as I navigated around the lake in the dark (not to mention going off course, seriously the same spot as last year!)  Big thanks to the runner who realized we were no longer running around the lake!
I began ticking off the miles, not fast but steady.  Each time I saw my crew they would assess me feed me and send me on my way.  Couple of low points with the heat but heck, I new I could do this.

Feeling the love! Photo c/o Tera Dube
Thank you
Gary and Lynn'O for stopping by!

I made it up and over Hope Pass, 12,600 ft with the help of my poles.  I picked up my pacer Johnny'O at the 50 mi turn around and more of the same.  The second time over Hope Pass was a bit of a struggle, not enough O2!  But, unlike last year, I got to the top, had a drink and headed back down the other side with Johnny'O pushing me all the while and with each step I was breathing just a bit easier.

Top of Hope Pass with Johnny'O, Mi 55 Photo c/o Caleb Wilson

And more calories!
Yup that's a hot dog :)
Mile 60 I picked up my second pacer, changed my socks, and yes actually had a couple of bites of a hot dog (same girl that eats Happy Meals!), thanks Nan your the best! Pacer Amy kept me going, taking over where Johnny left off.  Again we were steady to slow and Nigel must have grown bored with me as he appeared to be gone!!!  Last hand off was from Amy to Ken.

There would be no repeat of last year, we stopped assessed our need for clothing, dressed to meet that need and after a bit of time by the fire, we were off.  Somewhere during the course of the race it became clear to me that this race would be one in which I would walk away, healthy and intact.  I was not counting runners or looking at my time.  I started the day not knowing if Nigel would be spending it with me or not and when it became apparent that he was not, I had only enough energy to finish the race.  And so I finished the race, with Ken by my side and the sun was rising.

And done....
Nigel was gone....and I was healthy. 

South Sister Summit pre Wasatch

I had 3 weeks before the final race and I was actually starting to believe that I could race it.  I can't say how excited I was at the idea....I gave myself a week off, and the following weekend found myself hiking Tumalo Mount followed by a Mount Bachelor summit.  I went for a few runs during that week and the weekend prior to Wasatch hiked the South Sister.  To date this was the most activity I had between races if you don't count therapy.  Not that I didn't throw in some PT and MT for good measure :) Life was good!

Woohoo go time (wakey time Johnny'O)! Photo c/o Nan
With me at Wasatch would be Ken as my crew as well as 1 of my 2 pacers BUT we also had the company of fellow Bendites Darla and Chris Askew (Dar was racing, Chris was Pacer/Crew)  as well as Johnny'O and Nan from Boise
(part of my Western States and Leadville Pacer/Crew, Johnny was racing Nan was crew)!  This was going to be a blast!  The last race of the Slam and I would get to spend it with an amazing group of friends.
Rocho of SLC would be my other pacer and aside from the crazy detailed advice (thank you Roch!) he gave for the course, he had a great question for me "what's your goal?"....and so I asked him to send me splits for a sub 24 hour Wasatch run.  In his words, "CHEETAH! sub 24 and a possible win..." With this request Rocho sent splits from his Cheetah year 2007! The course had been altered this year and was reported to be 30-40 minutes faster in the last 17 miles.
5 am start and I can hear the voice of Rocho urging me to get near the front in attempts to be on pace once we began the first 4000 ft climb up to Francis Peak @ 9100 ft.  I joined in step with Jenny Capel (who I would spend the ENTIRE day racing with) and we made the climb up to Chinscraper Summit, where I'm told I am 7th female.  This time I am interested in my place as well as my time...what the heck who the hell was in front of me.  We did not walk the climb, I actually thought we moved up the mountain rather well.  Time to check myself, we were only at mile 13, plenty of race left to move up in ranking.  More important was to watch my splits and stay on, not too fast as to leave it all out on the trail in the early miles.  As I ran into and out of aid stations I was on pace give or take 5-10 ahead and I was having a great time!  The Wasatch Front is an amazing mountain range, at any point I would look up from the trail to some seriously spectacular views.
Just one more bite, thanks Chris!

I would pick Ken up at mile 39 which was also the first point in which I would see him.  Only issue at this point was that I discovered a new my knee and it would pretty much scream at me on the super steep descents...of which there were a few.  Odd. 
Let's do this! Photo c/o Catherine Horton
Mile 39 and Ken, he crewed me along side Chris and Nan and then he took off with me.  Turns out I was 5th (with Jenny in front of me) at this point.  He ran me to Lamb's aid mile 52 keeping me on pace, I was a lil whiny through the heat of the day but he got me there pretty much on pace and intact.  Next up was Rocho, we left the aid station walking, he wanted me topped off with hydration and calories for the following 17 mi trek to Scott's Tower @ almost 10,000 ft. Once we started moving we fell into a rhythm, hiking with spurts of Rocho calling out, "chop chop" as he patted his leg, meaning it was time to trot.  As we ran, he led the way calling out when it was time for me to take some Honey Stinger chews, "if you can take 1, you can take 2".  As we  ran into and out of aid stations he pushed the calories, first it was 1/2 a grilled cheese and next it was a cup of broth.  Roch new the climbs and when to push the calories to get the most out of them.  Ugh, but because he did it with authority, I let him push me and I took the calories....WHAT! Seriously, Ken is a figure of authority as well as my partner but yet...yes the odd dynamic of husband and wife, pacer and racer...
In route to the Brighton aid station I finally got to see a moose, it was around Dog Lake and fortunately already off  the trail, thank you Jenny!  With Rocho knowing where to look I also got to see and touch the famous carving of the "Boxing Bear", as assured by Rocho to give me strength! Excellent! It was much needed as we powered down the hill to mile 74.63 aid station for the hand off to Ken, still on pace for a sub 24 hour (thank you for your great pacing Roch).  I was warned to stay out of the Brighton Lodge Aid Station...too warm and inviting.  It was 10:15PM and I could see the draw.  I instead climbed into Rocho's van where his wife Catherine, Nan and Ken helped me into warmer clothing.  Roch was off in search of more calories for me to consume.  I then did as I was told and walked into the Lodge was weighed in and said "269 out" and walked back out....yup, it was warm and cozy and FULL of runners!

Don't think about it, just eat it! Photo c/o CH
Time for some layers! Photo c/o CH
Next 3 miles would be straight up Catherine's Pass but before that a bowl of soup (eaten outside of the Brighton Lodge aid station)....Ken would be with me to the finish (as well as Jenny :) and other than Catherine's pass we would have Grunt's Pass, a few other short climbs but essentially a fairly runnable section to the finish....or so we thought.  Holy heck these runnable sections greeted us with ton's of loose rocky descents as well as new cut trails, perhaps we were the 1st?? :) But I was good with it all, my legs felt great (knee issue disappeared shortly after it appeared) I had taken care of them on the early descents and had $$ in the bank for these late mile hard descents. AND I was still on a sub 24 hour pace.  Jenny passed me around mi 95 the final time placing me in 4th, a local runner was in 1st, and Darla was 2nd.  My goal for a sub 24 hour was well within my grasp but a podium finish would elude me.
And just like that (well not really), with Ken's urging me to push a bit more, we were done, 23:37:31 a Crimson Cheetah finish and I was officially a Grand Slammer!

Best pacing crew ever! Photo c/o CH
"Crimson Cheetah's" Photo c/o Chris Askew

1986 was the first year of the Grand Slam and in total it has been completed by 302 runners, 43 of them female. Of the 43 females I now hold the 4th fastest F combined time, the fastest F masters time, and the second fastest F Slammer time on the Wasatch course.  Not so bad considering I came up with an injury before the 2nd race of the Slam.  Ultrarunning is about setting goals and continuously re-evaluating and adjusting those goals and at times "knowing when to hold them, and knowing when to fold them".  I feel so very fortunate to be a part of this beautiful thing we call Ultrarunning.
Grand Slammer 2014! Photo c/o Chris Askew

I can't thank the people in my life enough for their amazing and unwavering energy and support!  Thank you to my sponsors for taking care of me out on the trails in all of those oh so important ways!....Ken, words can't do justice for how much it means to have you as my partner, my crew, my pacer, my support.