Sunday, June 28, 2009

Western States Weekend

There are few bigger races on an ultra-runner's calendar than the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. Although I've never run it myself, I do live conveniently close to the race course, and thus have found myself volunteering and spectating on several occasions. This year, given the very competitive field in both the men's and women's races, I was particularly interested to see how the race would play out.

On Friday, I made my way to Squaw to help check-in pacers. I was fortunate to be working with Sophie Lewis-Robinson at "Pacer Central." Sophie is not only friendly and nice, but also much more experienced than I in the ways of Western States. She seemed to have the answers to most people's questions, and it wasn't long before her answers became my answers. (Thanks Sophie!) It was a beautiful and fun day where we greeted many friends with excitement, met new people, congratulated World 100K champions, and just generally gawked at the abundance of fast runners wandering about.

Saturday, I made my way to Michigan Bluff in time to see the front runners come through, and parked myself there for the remainder of the day.

It was hot--about 89 F when I arrived at 1:30. I knew it was still heating up, and I assume it hit close to 100 by the time we reached the heat of the day. There were people everywhere, mostly crews waiting anxiously for their runner, but also countless volunteers working the aid stations, communications, statistics, and medical tents. I was searching out some shade when I spotted Joe Palubeski, and pulled up a patch of grass behind him and his crew.

To be honest, I was really pulling for Bev to win this one, so I was anxious to hear how she was doing. I got the low-down from Joe, and I thought things sounded promising for her so far.

I socialized with many amazing runners, some of whom (like Meghan!) I met for the first time (in real life, anyway).
Here are some photos from the day, with a bit of narration on my activities and observations.

Jasper, looking strong in 3rd place.

Leigh Schmitt

Bryon Powell tweets away. Between Bryon and Matt Hart, Twitter was better at times than the official wewbcast, which had a lot of problems through the morning.

The aid station volunteers wait patiently for more runners to arrive.

Tsuyoshi Kaburagi

Gary Robbins

Erik Skaden

Anita Ortiz looked totally solid coming through. She only spent two minutes in the aid station.

Chikara Omine

AJW, surrounded by a gaggle of young, eager helpers

Mark Lantz

Bev Anderson-Abs

Bev walks out with her crew.

Tracy Moore

Krissy Moehl, headed out with her crew

Graham Cooper

Jed Tukman

Simon Mtuy

Nikki, headed to her crew station. She had the most efficient crew I'd ever seen. She was having trouble with her feet, and she had one crew member on each foot--pulling off socks, shoes, retaping, new socks and shoes--Boom! Amazing to watch.

Kevin Swisher

Meghan Arbogast

Caren Spore

Olga cheks in on Sean Meissner

Brian Morrison and Kim Gimenez

Beth Vitalis

Peter, Troy and Carol check runners into Michigan Bluff. I went over to chat with Peter, and soon realized this was the place to be. The numbers were radioed in, and we could look up who was coming just before they arrived. It was a blast to cheer for everyone by name!

Connie Gardner

Donald Buraglio weighs in

Scott Dunlap tells Peter tales of puking and passing out.

Lori Lebel

Kathy D'Onofrio-Wood

The crowd at Michigan Bluff waits for the runners to arrive.

If I had known everything on this plaque, I would have done much better on Craig Thornley's quiz.

Overall, it was an exciting day. When runners come in to Michigan Bluff, they are hot, tired and exhausted from the canyons. Most people looked pretty beaten down, and it was a pleasure every time that I could bring a smile to someone's face by cheering them on.

I stopped briefly at Foresthill on my way home, and was gratified to see some of the same faces, still toughing it out.

Congratulations runners. You are all quite an inspiration.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Auburn Trails 50K

I’ll begin this report with the obligatory apology regarding the lack of pictures. I’d left my camera at a friend’s, and didn’t discover until race morning that my husband’s camera apparently doesn’t fit into the pocket on my water bottle. So, once again, no pictures. Sorry. (Personally, I think reports with no pictures are often kind of boring, so if you choose to stop reading here, I won’t blame you. Go ahead.)

As part of my training plan for the TRT 50M in July, I chose two races in June: the Auburn Trails 50K, and the Burton Creek Trail Marathon. Both of these races were to be included as part of high-mileage training weeks. However, by the time Thursday rolled around last week, I realized that I had only run 18 miles (and wouldn’t have time for much more on Friday). How did this happen? I demanded of my self. I have no clue! came the exasperated response. Even I, a notoriously lazy and low-mileage ultrarunner, wouldn’t really call 50-55 for the week “high mileage.” (Although it would only take another 10-15 miles for the moniker to fit, in my world.)

I decided my best plan to make up for my slothful efforts would be to run hard at Auburn Trails. I was essentially well-rested, and mentally ready to push myself at something. It was a good time for a race.

I arrived at Auburn’s Overlook Park on a cool and cloudy Saturday morning with about 70 other runners. Everyone seems to be complaining about the lack of heat-training this spring, but I have been perfectly happy with the unseasonably cool temps. I don’t need heat-training for TRT!

I hesitated at my car, indecisive over my attire for the day. The forecast had said chance of rain, but it didn’t really look like it would do much more than drizzle, and it felt quite warm compared to Truckee. I briefly contemplated running in just my shorts and sports bra, but finally opted for the addition of a short-sleeved shirt. These decisions should not be made lightly you know! There were multiple reasons for my “shirt-on” choice, but, sadly, this was the most prominent:

When I see a woman toeing the line, clad in little more than shorts and a sports bra, she looks fast and I assume she will be the winner. I didn’t want anyone making those kinds of assumptions about me. Who needs that pressure!

Okay, I know this is probably just a stereotype that I have, but I swear it’s true! Let’s look at the evidence from my racing schedule so far this year:

AR 50—Well, I wasn’t near the start when the gun went off, but according to photos, all the top women were decked out in singlets covered in sponsor logos. Okay, score one against my theory.

Billy Dutton—Um, it was too cold to go sleeveless!

Diablo Marathon—Prudence: Sports bra, 1st place. Score one for my theory!

Escape From Prison Hill Half—The top two women (Elizabeth Lyles and Shannon Rahlves) both wore sports bras. Can this count as two more points for my theory?

Rock N’ River Marathon—Elizabeth Lyles: Sports bra, 1st place.

So anyway, I guess you can see where I get this idea that shirtless chicks run fast.

Gathering at the start, I saw a few familiar faces. I spotted Joe Palubeski, and scanned the crowd for the rest of Sunsweet’s “Team Red Bluff,” but they were conspicuously absent. In fact, I noticed that the vast majority of the runners were men. Where were all the women?

I positioned myself slightly back from the front line, and was soon joined by Peter Lubbers. He hadn’t been feeling well all week, and consequently he was holding back enough that I got to run the first few miles with him.

The course headed downhill for the first four and a half miles to No Hands Bridge. After crossing the bridge, we did two laps on the Olmstead Loop, beginning with a steep hill known as “K2.”

By the first hill climb, Peter had moved ahead, and I found myself running with a runner from Davis named Mark. We passed the time sharing training and racing tales until we hit Norm and Helen Klein’s aid station, about half way through the loop.

I was feeling relaxed and enjoying the weather. The wildflowers seemed abundant for this late in the year, and I wondered if that was due to the cool, wet conditions we had been experiencing.

The tallest grasses had already turned to dry wheat, but there was a new growth of green underneath. They whispered softly under the wind’s caress, rolling waves across a golden, green sea. I was running alone now, and filled with the peaceful escape of time on the trail.

At the Cool aid station, I was told that I was in second place for the women. As I headed back toward No Hands, I wondered how far ahead first place was. Approaching the aid station, there is a very short out-and-back section. I was disappointed that I didn’t see the first place woman on this section. I figured that meant she was at least five minutes ahead of me, and possibly quite a bit more.

The day was warming up a bit (although temps would top out at about 71) and I decided to leave my shirt at No Hands. At the aid station, I sucked down about my 8th GU of the day. For some reason, I ate way more Gu’s than usual for a 50K, and little else.

Hiking up K2 for the second time, I realized I needed to let go of the idea of catching first place. She could be miles ahead for all I knew.

After the hill, I was bounding pleasantly down the trail, when I remembered my pledge to run this race hard. Was I running hard? I asked myself. I only had about 13 miles to go, I figured. If this was a road marathon with only 13 miles to go, how hard would I be running? Certainly harder than this! I picked up the pace.

Somehow, making the analogy to a road marathon changed my perspective on the race. The course had a few hills, but most of it was pretty fast and runnable. It was here that I realized this axiom: Most 50K’s are more akin to a marathon than to an ultra. The flip side of this idea is that some marathons (like, um, Diablo!) have more in common with most ultras than with other marathons.

Anyway, the point is, with 13 miles to go, I finally started running at race pace.

At the next aid station, Norm asked if I wanted a tattoo. Having no clue what he was talking about, I said, “Sure.” He proceeded to whip out a sharpie and write his name on my thigh. As I stood there and laughed, he added to the artwork with hearts and arrows and such. The best part was Helen standing there rolling her eyes at him.

“Oh God,” she chided. “He thinks he’s such a big shot!”

I know Norm has a bit of a reputation as a grump, but he cracks me up. He has also done me some kindnesses over the years, and I think he’s great, in spite of the fact that he never remembers my name.

He sent me off with instructions not to bathe for a week. (I promise, Norm. I haven’t washed it off!)

I was running hard now, and both my heart rate and breathing had increased noticeably. The downhills were smooth, and I felt awesome.

After a short while, I approached a pair of runners ahead of me. I was shocked when I realized that it was Peter and the first woman, who turned out to be Lainie Callahan-Mattoon. I had totally given up on catching her, and now suddenly here she was.

I gave a few friendly words and ran right on by them. I felt a little rude not slowing to chat, but I had a great pace going and I didn’t want to break my momentum. As I headed down the trail, Peter called out behind me, “Watch out for Lainie! She has the afterburners!”

I contemplated the fact that I was now leading the women’s race, and I felt kind of nervous about it. It’s not unusual for me to compete for a top five spot in a race, but when was the last time I had worked for first place? I’d won the Burton Creek 20 miler last year, but I’d led the entire thing from start to finish and never once saw any of my competition. This was way more nerve-racking.

I tried to focus on just holding the same, steady pace, but the entire time I was wondering if Lainie would catch me. As I ran into the Cool aid station, I could hear people cheering for her behind me, so I knew she was still close.

I didn’t waste any time at the aid station, and as I ran out, I looked back and still couldn’t see her on her way in.

It was mostly downhill to No Hands, which isn’t really my strength in running. I figured if I could hold her off until I crossed the river, I could probably hammer the last 4.5 uphill to the Overlook and hold my ground.

I moved through the aid station with a mission, and I think the volunteers could see it in my eyes. As soon as I approached, they jumped up and moved fast to get me out of there quickly. They did a great job!

As I ran up the hill on the other side of No Hands, I glanced back at the deserted trail behind me. For some reason, I was surprised to be still in the lead.

I had recalled this section of trail to be fairly steep, but as it turned out, it was quite a runnable uphill. I stayed focused, and enjoyed the feeling of really pushing myself.

Near the top, I passed Roger Laesure, and he called out to my retreating form, “Oh, you’re killing me, Pippi Longstocking!” I had to laugh. Do the pigtails keep me from looking like a serious runner or something?

As I crossed the line, the ever-smiling Jeff Barbier was there to cheer me on and congratulate me! Hooray, I had support! Hmm, it felt just like AR 50, finishing in this same park.

Robert Matthis immediately handed me a certificate for a pair of Innov-8 shoes, and I was stoked. RD’s take note here—please give useful prizes like this instead of plaques! It doesn’t even have to be as fancy as a pair of shoes, (although that is pretty darn cool). It should just be useful, you know, like socks, or insulated coffee mugs, or whatever!

I had a wedding reception to attend in the evening, but I still had enough time for a little socializing. I sat around in the sun with Joe, Peter, Roger, Greg Bomhoff, and a few of the other men and enjoyed Linda’s freshly grilled hamburger and a Coke. Such a nice way to end the day.

I was a little disappointed with my finishing time of 5:44, until I found out that the course was nearly 3 miles longer than 50K. Last year’s course started from the fire station in Cool, and ran about three and a half loops on the same stretch of trail. This year, we started at the overlook, ran down to No Hands, and then did only two loops before running back up to the overlook. I didn’t ask Robert why he changed the course, but I suspect it had something to do with the novelty of getting to run across historic No Hands Bridge twice, plus the scenic aspects of that stretch of the Western States trail. It also made for a cool race logo. I have to say, I think I like this course better, in spite of the extra miles (or perhaps because of them).

I felt tired, and it was a good feeling. I was happy with my day.

I’m pretty sure I can attribute my win to one of two things (or perhaps the combination of both). It was either A.) running with no shirt for the second half of the race (score another point for my theory!) or B.) Norm Klein’s tattoo. We’ll never know which one was the deciding factor, but sometimes Norm works an aid station at TRT, and I definitely plan on asking him for a tattoo on race day.

Thanks to Robert, Linda and their team of volunteers for another professional event!

To make up for my lack of photos, here is some footage from the wedding reception later that evening. It was a cowboy themed party, thus the mechanical bull. If you can’t tell in the video, I was having a hell of a good time.