Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Beauty and Fear at the Hardrock 100 (A Pacer's Report)

People think running 100 miles is hard. 

Well, yes. It is.

Imagine, then, during your 100 mile journey enduring multiple lightning storms at the top of 13,000 foot passes, constant rain, dangerous river crossings, steep, icy passes requiring fixed ropes, nearly 34,000 feet of elevation gain and loss, tricky route-finding, and an average elevation of over 11,000 feet.

That is the adventure faced by runners in the Hardrock 100.

The town of Silverton, where the race starts and finishes, sits nestled at 9,305 feet in the heart of the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. A remnant of early mining industries, it seems a wonder to me that roads and towns even exist in such rugged terrain. Peaks still carrying their white winter coats jut up everywhere, questioning our right to be there. Will they let us travel through, and explore their vastness? The desire to throw myself into such rugged beauty is overwhelming, and the fear makes my heart pound.

Betsy, her seven-year-old daughter Lizzie, and I made the two day drive out from Truckee in Betsy’s white Tacoma, “Betty White” – a group of tough chicks, headed for some tough mountains. We picked up Betsy’s step-dad, Dave, in Salt Lake City, and the crew was assembled. Betsy was ready to run her 11th Hardrock with Dave and Lizzie crewing, while I was stoked to be pacing her from mile 40 to mile 70.

The Crew: Dave, Jay, Lizzie, Betsy, Me

Pre-race activities at the Kendall Mt. ski area were filled with the usual excitement and jitters that precede a 100 mile race. Still in the afterglow from my own 100 miler, I felt relieved not to be racing myself. This was my first time in these mountains. I knew the course was a beast, and I felt nervous enough just going out there for 30 miles.

The pre-race briefing did little to calm my nerves. Talk of heavy snow still on the course and steep, icy passes made me wonder just what I was getting into. I’m no stranger to such terrain, but I generally cover it with an ice axe in hand. Warnings about staying off high ridges during lightening storms made me think twice about the wisdom of carrying such tools. I was seriously considering carrying my tent stakes as self-arrest tools, and to my dismay, several race veterans said that wasn’t a bad idea.

Oh my God. Thank God I am not running this race! These people are crazy! I mean, this is a whole new level of crazy. I am so never going to run this race!

I figured Betsy would reassure me after the meeting that it was always like this. No big deal. Unfortunately she seemed to be a bit freaked-out as well, and we ran off to the sports store in search of YakTracks. (All they had were Stable-icers, which suck in anything except complete ice, but we bought them anyway, just in case.)

I confess to feeling rather foolish about being so nervous when I was only running 30 miles. I worried that Betsy would have to take care of me instead of the other way around. I also worried that my obvious fears were not inspiring the appropriate level of confidence in my runner. When, while socializing with other runners, I suddenly realized Darcy Africa was reassuring me about the course conditions, I knew it was time to shut up, quit acting like such a wimp, and pretend I could do this thing.

We were on our way to dinner the night before the race when Lizzie, who had been sporting one adorable sundress after another on the entire trip, denied the offer of a coat with a shake of her head and the simple truth, “I’m from Truckee!”

I threw my head back in laughter! How many times had I scoffed at someone and thrown out those exact words? Translation: “I’m not worried, I’m tough.”

Usually though, this phrase has a way of coming back to bite me in the ass. For example, someone at work (in Reno) warns me about a patch of ice on the walkway. I respond with a wave of the hand and an “I’m from Truckee.” Then I promptly slip on the ice, barely saving myself from certain broken bones.

Yeah. So I try not to be so arrogant anymore, and I was already sure the phrase “I’m from Silverton” would carry a lot more weight. But I still love that Lizzie doesn’t need a jacket in the chilly mountain air because she is from Truckee.

After 130 men and 15 women set off on their trek through the mountains, Dave, Lizzie, and I grabbed breakfast and headed to the first aid station at mile 8.4 to crew. After 15 minutes, my neck hurt from gawking up at the steep terrain. Waterfalls poured off sheer, green hill sides, fed by the plentiful snowpack above. Crowds of supporters cheered their friends and family members. As runners made their way through the aid station, I finally felt the first pangs of sorrow at not racing.

God this is awesome! I love ultras. I need to get another race on the calendar. Not this one though. This is way too much for me. These people are crazy. But they’re still completely awesome!

Betsy makes her way down into Grouse Gulch.

Late in the day, I stood at the Grouse Gulch aid Station, about mile 40, still making gear selections while I waited for Betsy to arrive. From here I would join her for 30 miles, running up over Engineer’s Pass, down into Ouray, up over Virginius Pass, and down into Telluride. I scanned the sky and decided to bring my windbreaker instead of a full-on rain jacket since it didn’t look like it was going to rain.

A weather forecaster, I am not.

I ended up wearing tights and short sleeves with arm warmers. In my pack I brought my Icebreaker wool top, windbreaker, warm hat, and gloves. I didn’t bust out the Icebreaker until the top of Virginius, but otherwise, I was wearing all of that for most of the 13 hours of pacing.

Betsy arrived looking strong, but feeling a bit worked from her ascent of 14,048 foot Handies Peak. Together, we began the long grind to the top of Engineer’s Pass.

Tangible reminders of the miners to whom the race is a salute.

As we steadily gained altitude, I noticed dark clouds moving in. I refrained from comment, as Betsy seemed pretty focused, and I knew we would simply have to deal with whatever weather Mother Nature decided to throw our way.

As the day faded to night, I looked up and down the mountain and saw us in the middle of a cheerful string of headlamps– runners and pacers paired up, making their way toward the mountain pass.

A bank of fog swooped in to surround us, cutting the visibility to near zero. Our headlamps barely penetrated the thick cloud. There was nothing to do but keep climbing.

Soon thunder and lightning commenced their frightening dance on nearby peaks. The worse things got, the less we spoke, and stress filled the air like the surrounding electricity. I counted the seconds between flashes and booms. 12 seconds. 7 seconds. 4 seconds. By the time I got to two seconds, I quit counting. The clouds let loose and soaked us through.

It suddenly occurred to me that we weren’t really in a fog bank. We were near the top of a 13,000 foot pass in the belly of a thunder cloud. And we just kept climbing.

At the top, Betsy knew we needed to look for a turn off to the right. It’s a good thing she knew, because I’m not sure I would have realized we had to take a dive off the fire road, cross country, down the side of the mountain. Betsy took the lead as we wiped the rain from our eyes, and sloshed down an expanse of alpine tundra that was a soggy as we were.

And then I learned about Hardrock.

The fog lifted and the thunder and lightning abated, though sadly not the rain. The course was marked with metal stakes with reflective tags, and it now became a game of going marker-to-marker down the mountain. In the same way that mountaineers follow wands to navigate safely back down a mountain, we ran to a marker, and immediately had to sight for the next one in order to know where to go. This constant stress of navigation is one of the many challenges of this course, and I took the lead to give Betsy a break.

Where’s the next marker? Okay, found it. Now where’s the next one?

And on it went, just like that.

The Engineer’s aid station is a small affair where the volunteers hike in and bring supplies via horses. They had a roaring fire going, but it still didn’t feel too enticing to stand around when it was raining so hard. Betsy is a master at not wasting time in aid stations. She refilled her hydration pack, I grabbed a PBJ square, and we were outta there. Back to following the markers.

The downhill continued, and the next big challenge was a series of creek crossings. First we had to cross Bear Creek. It was deep and swift, but fortunately the surrounding terrain wasn’t steep, so it didn’t look like it would sweep you away to an icy death if you fell. Betsy crossed with her trekking poles and then handed them back across to me. The water was about knee deep, splashing to mid-thigh, but the force of the current made me grateful for the stability of the trekking poles. Without them, the creeks may have thwarted Betsy’s race.

We crossed Bear Creek one more time, and then proceeded to parallel it down into a steep gorge. The markers finally led us onto a trail which was cut into the side wall of the gorge, and took us across several drainage creeks that led down into Bear Creek. With all the rain, these little creeks were raging, and they provided some of the biggest challenges yet.

“I’m not crossing that!” Betsy declared adamantly as we approached one such drainage. We had already successfully navigated four creek crossings, albeit with a certain amount of terror. This one was on a steeper slope, so it was moving faster, but I knew if we’d crossed the others, we could do this one too.

“I’ll cross it first,” I tried to reassure her. “I’ll see where the footing is good, then come back and help you across.”

I was less than excited about crossing it three times, but I felt pretty confident we could cross it, and I knew it was my job to help get my runner safely across.

“You don’t know what’s down there.” She waved her hand toward the creek cascading over the side of the gorge toward Bear Creek. “I Do!”

It was dark, but it was easy to see that the consequences of a fall could be deadly.  I crossed carefully, against Betsy’s objections, and was pleased to discover the water wasn’t as deep as it first appeared. When I turned around to go back, two runners had come up behind us and were already helping Betsy across. I didn’t have to go back. Sweet!

As we continued down what felt like a never ending descent (the longest on the entire Hardrock course, it turns out), the trail became more technical and I could feel my quads crying out in protest. Perhaps I wasn’t as recovered from Western States as I thought. I focused on careful steps, determined not to hurt myself.

This race is insane. I can’t believe people do this for a hundred miles. I can’t believe I’m only going 30 and it’s still this hard. I have to remember to never sign up for this race!

We dropped lower and lower toward the town of Ouray on the Bear Creek trail, and finally the rain stopped. Now the trail was a sheer drop to our left, above what I began to think of as the Raging River of Death. Numerous people had warned me not to fall on this section, and I continued my focus on careful steps.

The rocks underfoot were flat pieces of shale, and they clanked with every step.

“It’s like being at a Greek Wedding,” a runner coming up behind me declared. I waited in confusion for the explanation. “We just keep breaking plates!”

I laughed out loud. This runner didn’t even have a pacer, but he had a great attitude. I think that might be more important than a great pacer.

My feet were beginning to thaw out since we hadn’t crossed a creek for at least 30 minutes. We both hoped we were approaching Ouray, but the Raging River of Death still roared below. I rounded a corner in the trail when a huge gust of wind caught me and knocked me off balance. Don’t fall here! I steadied myself with a wide-eyed sigh. Thunder, lightning, rain, swollen creeks. What else would be thrown at us in this God-forsaken race?

And just like that, it started to rain again.

Eventually we saw the cluster of lights that, like a beacon of hope, signaled the town of Ouray. In the aid station Betsy actually took a few minutes to sit down while Dave refilled her pack. This was confirmation of what I already knew but what Betsy wouldn’t admit – that she wasn’t feeling so hot.

I had been bonking myself in the last several miles of downhill, but with the tricky footing, course navigation, and creek crossings with which to contend, a silly thing like eating had slipped my mind. I made up for it at the aid station, with a large bowl of mac & cheese, a V-8, and a smattering of goodies for desert.

The long hike up from Ouray felt good to me after so much downhill. Betsy was in better spirits, and clearly feeling stronger.

One of the things we had talked about on the drive out to Colorado was Betsy’s plan to run this race in honor of her friend Allison, who had died that spring in a back country skiing accident. Alison was an accomplished outdoor athlete (climber, skier, ultrarunner, etc.) who was dearly loved in the Tahoe community and known for wearing glitter, sparkles, and feathers into the back country. One way Betsy planned to keep Allison’s spirit with her at Hardrock was by wearing glitter and adorning other runners and volunteers as well.

Thus we sparkled our way into the Governor’s aid station and their offer of soup was met with Betsy’s query, “You want some glitter?”

This became my measure of how she was feeling. When she dabbed glitter onto the faces of volunteers and explained about Allison, I knew her mental state was good. We laughed at the various reactions of the startled, and sometimes confused, volunteers, and we added more glitter to our own sweaty faces. I think sharing the spirit of someone like Allison – someone so strong and vibrant – can only help you in an intense race like Hardrock. It helps you maintain a positive perspective and recall just why you’re out there – to live fully by connecting to the beauty of this world and by pushing ourselves to see just what we can do. Although I barely knew Allison, I definitely felt her spirit out there cheering us on through our tough, beautiful, and glittery run through the mountains.

After we left Governor’s, it was time to approach Virginius Pass. With all of the challenges on the stretch from Engineer’s to Ouray, I had forgotten that this was supposed to be the hardest part of my 30 mile pacing stretch. I had forgotten that thoughts of this pass interfered with my sleep the night before. Suddenly, here it was before us.

“Look for markers up to the left,” Betsy instructed. “We go straight up this snow slope.”
I could see headlamps moving way up the pass, telling me that we would be leaving the dirt behind for quite some time. I tried to shine my headlamp up the slope in search of markers, but something was wrong. My headlamp was clearly dying.


“What?” Betsy asked.

“Oh … I just kicked a rock. I’m fine.” I didn’t think it was such a great idea for me to tell my runner I might need to rely on her light.

God, I’m the worst pacer ever!

Finally we saw the markers leading us up the snow. At the base of the climb, two runners in front of us stopped to put on their micro spikes. I saw that one of them had an ice axe. Envy swelled in my chest.

 Why don’t I have one of those? What happens if I fall? Can I self-arrest with this trekking pole? God I wish I had my YakTrax!

The snow was softer than expected – firm, but with a thin soft layer on top. This meant that A) We would get some traction, but also that B)Our Stable-icers would be worthless. I glanced down the steep slope to see what the consequences of a fall might be and wished I hadn’t. There would be no more looking down allowed!

I started up behind Betsy and slowly we made our way up the slope. As things got steeper and I started getting nervous, I took some time to kick each step a little more firmly into the snow. Running shoes aren’t the best footwear for kicking steps, and each time I slipped a tiny bit I felt a shot of adrenaline spurring me on. When I heard a small whimper escape my throat, I knew I was getting scared.

I started berating myself.

You’re the pacer. You’re supposed to be supportive, not scared! You’ve done things like this plenty of times before. Mountain girl-Up! For crying out loud, YOU’RE FROM TRUCKEE!

And then I took a breath and remembered how to handle myself when I’m scared in the back country. I pause, even if it’s just for a moment, and appreciate the surrounding beauty. There is something about those fear-filled moments that makes the world around you come alive. Your senses sharpen, and it’s like nothing else exists but you and that beauty, right then. It’s one of the most powerful parts of pushing your limits in the wilderness. You’re scared, yes, but you’ve never appreciated life more than you do at that moment.

And when I did look up from my own feet in the snow, I almost cried. The sky was just barely light with the first hint of dawn – that time of day where things are a dark, gray-blue with just a suggestion of pink, but you can still see the stars.  A vast landscape of rugged mountains stretched before me in a soft, gray outline, their snowy shoulders aglow. I knew there was no place else I’d rather be.

I continued my ascent with a smile. The fear was still there, but it was calm and focused. It made me strong rather than weak.

I have no idea how long we spent on the snowy trek up Virginius. I remember climbing it with two other runners behind who kept thanking me for setting a mellow pace. Their lighthearted humor kept me relaxed as we crossed snow bridges over icy creeks, and came to the final, steepest  pitch which was adorned with a fixed rope.

That last part was actually fun; I’m comfortable when I’ve got a rope from above. I paused several times to look behind me at the landscape as the approaching sun slowly unveiled its beauty. Upon reaching the summit at Kroger’s Canteen, Roch Horton and his boys promptly sat us down, wrapped sleeping bags around our shoulders, and handed us hot soup.

“You want some glitter?” was the inquiry to the crowd at large, and Betsy proceeded to add a little sparkle to the Canteen.

I love this race! This is so freaking awesome! I love where we are right now. Look at how beautiful this is. Love it!

The long descent to Telluride, however,  was something less than loveable. My quads screamed even louder than before, and I had to stay focused in order to keep the pace.

Oh thank God I get to stop in Telluride! My legs are dead. I can’t even imagine how these people run 100 miles through this – I can barely handle 30! I could never do it. Never!

We had a brief conversation wherein Betsy tried to suggest that she should just stop in Telluride, and I pretended like she wasn’t serious. I knew she wasn’t feeling well. I knew her splits were way off all of her previous races at Hardrock. I also knew she was going to finish, even if she didn’t want to at that particular moment. She voiced the thought a few more times, and I simply reviewed what gear she could probably drop at the next aid station and reminded her to get some solid food there before leaving.

For myself, however, I was honestly grateful to be finished running. I changed my clothes and crawled into the back of the truck to sleep while Betsy picked up her next pacer, Jay, and headed off to face another day on the trails. That is one tough woman.

She finished in what she summed up as her “personal worst,” but she still had a smile on her face when she did it.

After the awards breakfast I was honored to hang out with the Hardrockers, who, although I didn’t know most of them before, are at least as wonderful as ultrarunners everywhere.

A number of memorable conversations took place outside the tent by the finishline that morning. Including Betsy’s progressive statements of: “This is my last Hardrock.”; “I’m probably not coming back.”; and “I think I’ll take a year off.”

The same attitude was summed up well by Roch: “I’m like an alcoholic – I tried to quit Hardrock, but I just need one more!”

And ultimately it’s all said best by Betsy’s explanation of her race to Jared: “It’s just so intense every moment. I was falling asleep, then we were heading up Grant’s Swamp and suddenly there was lightning and thunder all around. The rain soaked us, the hail stung our faces, and the thunder was so loud we couldn’t talk, and I was like – Okay! I’m awake now! And it’s just so crazy, but then you look down and see this amazing wildflower and think, God, that is so beautiful! It just forces you to appreciate every single tiny moment.”

And it is a beautiful race. Crazy, crazy beautiful.

The trip home was a bit of an ultra itself, pushing from the San Juans back to Truckee in a single day. Of course there was much conversation of a return to Hardrock. I feel the pull of this race, even though everything about it scares me to death. If running 100 miles is about exploring our limits, then Hardrock is about crossing those limits and finding out just who we are on the other side. I can’t say I’m quite ready to run it myself, but it does stir up my emotions in a way I can’t explain.

I’m so inspired by Betsy, and all the runners. I still have trouble wrapping my brain around the feat of finishing Hardrock. A race like this ignites extraordinary fear. And that’s exactly why it’s so tempting.

Truckee Girls!

Friday, July 08, 2011

Recovery, Sprinting, and the Hardrock 100

It’s a testament to being on vacation that two weeks have passed since Western States, and it feels like it was only yesterday. Mentally, that is.

Physically I feel great. I had some concerns for a while there about my right quad, and finally went to see my massage therapist four days after the race. I warned her she probably wouldn’t be able to use much pressure, and that’s saying something coming from me. I usually let her go unrestrained with the deep tissue work. And then she proved me wrong by using more pressure that I imagined possible, causing howls of protest to escape my usually silent lips. Apparently her yardstick for too much pressure was if I “jumped off the table.” Seriously, she said that.

Okay, watch while I jump off and run screaming, naked, out the front door.

Truthfully though, she was a miracle worker. The next day it felt 90% better. Two days after that, 100%.

Then, 4th of July weekend came with its ritual marathon of barbecues. I decided the quad was healed enough to enter the Firecracker Mile, which takes place in downtown Truckee just before the parade. If I’d remembered how much it hurts to sprint a mile, I might have decided I needed more recovery. Somehow though, when you’ve just run 100 miles, running only one sounds like fun.

I managed a 5:24 and 3rd woman, while Chris took the win in 4:25. Afterwards, we caught up with Amber, Dave and Turi, who had come over after their Kings Beach run, to complete the TLD+Gretchen gathering.
Parade watching!

The rest of my local Truckee roustabouts showed up to watch the parade while we happily let kids spray us from the floats with super soakers. It was a hot one! The bike ride home required the traditional stop to swim in Donner Lake, and the rest of the day was spent with the traditional feasting, consuming of blackberry pineapple mojitos, and firework viewing from the end of the street.

And already I am off on my next adventure. I sit in Silverton, Colorado, shortly after the start of the Hardrock 100, where I’ll be pacing my friend Betsy for 30 miles. When we first started the drive across Nevada, Utah and Colorado to get here, I kept thinking about the phrase, “The more you know, the more you realize how little you know.”

I didn’t have time to do much homework on the race; I only knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. On the drive out, I tried to pick Betsy’s brain, and I really hope I didn’t get too wide-eyed at some of her course descriptions. Betsy’s done this race 10 times, so I’m super lucky to be hanging with a veteran. My biggest goal at this point is not to be a liability to my runner.

After yesterday’s pre-race briefing, that goal is even more prominent in my brain, my eyes even wider. Talk of steep, icy terrain over Virginius Pass had me running to the sports store in search of YakTrax. I can’t believe I left mine at home! After all the questions about snow at Western States, and the knowledge that no traction devices were allowed, it never occurred to me that other events would actually encourage them. Well thank God!

I still feel like I’m about to head off mountaineering in the dark, but at least I know this: It will be an adventure! Again, number one goal – don’t be a liability! After that, I’ll try to take care of my runner.

We already hit our first crew checkpoint this morning, Cunningham Gulch at mile 8.4. Standing at the bottom of the gulch next to the river, wrapped in my down jacket, I stared up at the steep mountain walls. I had to tilt my head all the way back to watch runners negotiate cliff-side switchbacks alongside a stunning waterfall. I live in a beautiful mountain town, but the scenery here is truly mind-blowing.

After runners descended into the gulch, they crossed the icy river into the aid station. Betsy was exactly on pace and didn’t waste any time, getting what she needed and moving on.

Afternoon thunderstorms are predicted to move in just as the front half of the race manages Handies Peak, the high point of the race at over 14,000 feet. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for all of them through that.

I’ll be joining Betsy at mile 42 (Grouse Gulch) sometime after 5:00, when we’ll head off into the night for 30 miles. I’m really excited to be pacing, and equally relieved not to be running 100 miles myself!

You can follow the progress of Betsy and all the runners on the Hardrock Live Webcast.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Western States 100 Race Report - 2011

A race of 100 miles contains as many variable factors as it does miles. There’s your training – mileage, quality, nutrition. There are the race day conditions – snow, heat, course markings, stream crossings, mud. On race day, you have elements like the pace you set, efficiency through aid stations, nutrition, your crew, your pacer, navigating in the dark, and potential for nausea, blisters, or injury. You might have the perfect race, and then get stalled by a grouchy bear in the last mile. You just never know.

And that is the beauty of the distance.

You stand on the start line completely prepared, hundreds of training miles on your legs, feeling strong. But a little question mark hangs over each and every head on that start line. Anything can happen.

It’s that element of the unknown that lures me back to this distance. In my first two 100 mile races, it was utterly apparent to me that I did not have a clue what I was doing. 100 miles was a complete mystery to me. It’s unlike any other race I’ve ever run.

My first Western States then, was the object of endless amounts of rumination. I’d been waiting a long time for this one.

5:00 A.M. at Squaw Valley couldn’t come soon enough. In contrast to other races, I didn’t bother trying to quell my nerves. Being nervous sort of seemed like part of the fun, and with Jamie to share the excitement, it was. This was the big day we’d been training for. Why deny any of the experience?

Excited to be starting at last!

I’ve never seen so many people at the start of an ultra. Well, it’s Western States, after all, and it was more or less as I’d imagined: excited runners, a noisy crowd, a countdown from ten, shotgun blast, and 400 pairs of feet began their journey to Auburn. Pretty awesome.

I hadn’t gotten too worked up about the fact that we’d be running through a lot of snow. It was a situation over which I had no control. And as it turned out, it wasn’t so bad. We hit the snow a couple of miles up the hill, and ran on it for about 12 miles. The cool temperatures kept things firm, and we easily stayed on top.

The snow-running did take a lot of focus, and about an hour into the race I had to remind myself to stop running so I could eat something. I was determined not to make early mistakes that would cost me greatly later in the race.

Unfortunately, mistakes cannot always be avoided. Shortly before the Talbot aid station, when we were almost out of the snow, I twisted my ankle.

I knew it wasn’t good, but I couldn’t yet tell how bad it would be. I limped along until I could ice it in the next creek, popped two Tylenol, and just kept running. What else was there to do?

Once we left the snow behind, a sense of relaxation set it, and the dirt roads were certainly easier on my ankle. It felt good to run with my normal stride.

The Poppy Trail

French Meadows Reservoir

The climb to Duncan

At the Duncan aid station runners were welcomed by a wild 80’s party. Somehow the vibrant energy translated into me stuffing my face with more food than I’ve ever eaten at an aid station. I saw friends Clare and Scott, who told me I looked awesome. If you’re ever wondering, that is always the correct thing to say to a runner!

Most of the reroute was pleasant running. The temperatures were still cool, the birds were singing, and the legs felt good. I’d love to come back to this race and run the normal course one day, but I have no complaints about the reroute. I was simply having too much fun to worry about what I might be missing.

Climbing Mosquito Ridge (photo by John Medinger)

It seemed that everyone I ran with was either from the Midwest (Minnesota, Kansas) or back East (New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Virginia), and we were all first-timers at the race.

“All the veterans must be up ahead of us,” I remarked to Arliegh from Minnesota.

“Either that, or they’re all behind us because they know better than to go out too fast,” he replied.

“Ooh. Good point.” I laughed though. I felt comfortable with the pace and was pretty sure I hadn’t gone out too fast.

When I hit the Pucker Point trail, I was finally in familiar territory. It was also at this point that I found myself suddenly alone for the first time during the race. It made me a bit nervous at first. Where had everyone gone? I knew these trails though, so when I finally relaxed about my solitude, I found my pace quickening a bit. My legs knew what was coming up and they were as excited about getting there as I was.

Flowers on the Pucker Point trail

View from Pucker Point

Leaving Last Chance, I was actually stoked to be entering the canyons. Jamie and I trained here nearly every weekend both last spring and this. They’re not easy, but I love the canyons.

Deadwood and El Dorado canyons are both comprised of steep descents, a river crossing via a bridge, and a steep climb. I played leapfrog through here with Matt Keyes who was kicking my butt on the descents, but coming back to me on every climb.

Welcome to the canyons!

Flowers in the canyons.

Aid at the bottom of El Dorado Canyon

Paul met me at Michigan Bluff, and it I couldn’t believe it had already been 56 miles. It really hadn’t seemed like a long day without crew. It also hadn’t gotten very hot. The predicted high of 86 in Auburn felt like maybe 80 in the canyons. My non-heat-trained body was ecstatic about this. I still wore my ice bandanna and put a cup of ice in the front of my sports bra at every aid station, but I wasn’t feeling the heat at all.

Super excited to run into my friend Kim from Truckee working the aid station at MB. (photo by Jim Frink)

After Volcano Canyon, which hardly counts as a canyon in comparison to the other two, I hit the Bath Road aid station and picked up my pacer, Donald. Hooray! Now I had company! We did the run-walk up Bath Rd. to Foresthill and traded notes on our day so far.

At Foresthill my weight was 135 – 3 pounds up from my start weight, and exactly what it would be at every station all day and night. Paul and Donald gave me the walking aid station treatment as I headed down the road. I felt no need to stop for anything. They kept me focused on moving forward and being efficient.

My rock-star crew keeps me moving through Foresthill. (photo by Jack Meyer) 

My stomach felt great, and it took food well all day. I already had a solid cushion on 24-hour pace (according to the signs at the aid stations which told runners 24 and 30 hour pace times), and heading downhill towards the river, I began to think about what it would take to run sub-23. Although I’m sure my pace was modest, I felt great and it seemed like my legs flew. I knew the territory between miles 60 and 100 held the possibility of that dark, scary pain that has accompanied my previous 100 milers, but I could just feel that things weren’t going to turn out that way this time. I just felt too good.

Heading out of Foresthill towards the river.

My official race photographer. (He took all the uncredited photos in the 2nd half of this report.)

Running along the river at dusk with a good friend is one of my best memories from the race. It’s such a beautiful time of day and such pleasant running. We didn’t see too many other runners, and it was easy to forget it wasn’t just another training run on the Cal Loop. As the canyon grasped at the last shred of daylight, the frogs, crickets and birds all joined in a chorus of “goodnight.”

Dusk along the river - Awesome!

Rucky Chucky - I'm stoked about everything right now!

For the second year in a row (last year I was a pacer) we crossed the middle fork on rafts. That was such an efficient operation – it couldn’t have gone smoother. Still, whenever it is that I come back to run the regular route through the high country, I’d like the opportunity to do the traditional river ford as well. I bet that water feels great on the legs!

I did my first, and only, shoe/sock change at Green Gate because I’d finally noticed some dirt from the stream crossings rubbing the ball of my foot. The injinjis had held up well all day, but clean socks and a dry pair of Mindbenders felt like a dream. I also noticed I was under 23 hour pace already, and vaguely wondered if I had enough miles left in the race to push for sub-22. I couldn’t even believe I was contemplating such a thing, but it didn’t seem unreasonable. I was dizzy with glee.

ALT aid station arrived in a flash. I’d planned to drink a 5-Hour Energy shot there. Suddenly it didn’t seem totally necessary, being so early in the night, but I was determined not to fall asleep on the trail like I had last year at TRT.

“5 hour energy?” Donald laughed at me. “I think you only need a 3 hour energy. We’re almost there!”

“Well, yeah.” I chugged the shot. “This will have to do though. What mile are we at, anyway?”


“What?” I shrieked. In reality, I had known this, but I hadn’t been thinking ’15 miles left.’ It sounded like nothing. “We better start running!” I admonished. I’m pretty sure Donald was still laughing at me.

Between ALT and Browns I experienced a bit of a roller coaster. I knew this section of trail well, and knew I should get some fast miles out of it. At first I felt great, passing two women, and feeling faster with each successive pass. I was on fire! Nothing could stop me!

Then, just like that, I felt like crap.

It was that familiar, late-in-a-100-miler, blech feeling. I knew Browns Bar was supposed to be a wild aid station with music and lights and partying volunteers, so I let the idea of it lure me two more miles until I could finally hear the music.

The lights and music pulled me into Browns Bar at last!

Upon arrival, I ate a bit and took a few moments to enjoy myself. Being there was exactly the mental boost I needed. Someone was filming, and I sang at least three off-key verses of American Pie for the camera. I don’t know what that video was for, but I sincerely hope it got burned. Or at least that I will never have to endure watching it.

"Would you like a slice of American Pie with that GU?"

I did run off into the night feeling much improved, doing my best to recall more verses to the song, and giving Donald my best version of it. I’m sure it was lovely.

Unfortunately my general sense of feeling stronger coincided with what was to be my big challenge for the remainder of the race. A muscle in my right quad that had been irritated all day finally flared up and screamed NO MORE! I tend to think it was related to the ankle twist at mile 14 since it was in the same leg and I’ve never had any issues in that area before. Regardless, I was brought to a screaming, painful halt on even the slightest of downhills. The descent from Browns was not fun.

Quarry road presented some runnable trail for me, and as I was trying to explain the pain to Donald, he was voicing his opinion that I should aim for sub-22. I didn’t want to tell him that I’d already been thinking about that goal since Green Gate, and that I had also subsequently taken it off the table with the advent of this quad pain. He encouraged me to stay positive, and not to give up on going for it, which is exactly what a good pacer should do. Because you know what? It’s 100 miles. And you just never know.

Unfortunately, I continued my painful shuffle for the last ten miles. It wasn’t so much the fact of seeing a faster time slip away that bothered me; it was the inability to “go for it.” I was having so much fun actually being able to push for evolving goal times late in a 100. I wanted to keep doing it! Feeling great everywhere but that one muscle was frustrating, and dealing with that frustration was the hardest part of those final miles.

Tearing through the streets of Auburn with my partner in crime. (photo by Jack Meyer)

It wasn’t until we left Robie and began to run through the streets of Auburn that I finally forgot about the frustration and remembered to enjoy every single second. This was it – a moment I’d been visualizing for nearly a year. The race had gone almost better that I could have hoped for, and I had every reason to be thrilled and proud. Donald kept reminding me of this, and for that I am quite thankful.

That final lap around the track went by in a flash. Those are the moments you want to last forever.

No caption required. (photo by Jack Meyer)

Right at this moment, life couldn't be better.

My awesome finish line support crew!

There was one more thing to be done before my race was truly over: see Jamie finish. I didn’t have long to wait, as she was right behind me with a sub-23 finish of her own.

Of all the people to whom I owe thanks for this day (and there are many), Jamie stands at the top of the list. After sharing so many miles on this very trail, we have become more than just training partners. She has become a very dear friend. I couldn’t have asked for anything more than to finish our races together, 13th and 14th women, and to receive our silver buckles together the following day.

It’s hard to believe Western States is over. It’s a race I’ve been looking forward to not just all season, but for years – what feels like my whole life. I’m so lucky to have had the support of so many people in completing this, and couldn’t be happier about how my race turned out. It’s a honor to participate in such a prestigious and historic event with so many talented runners and with so much dedicated support. Huge thanks to everyone who was involved in this race, and also to all the friends, family and even people I barely know who sent me good luck and congratulatory wishes. Your support speaks volumes about this community, and it means a great deal to me.

I don’t have any other races on the calendar at the moment, but I’m sure I’ll find some. Meanwhile I’m looking forward to a summer of running adventures through the mountains!