Tuesday, December 09, 2014

California International Marathon 2014

Nothing takes the sting out of being a double lottery loser like having a race to focus on the next day. It was all part of the plan! Seven of us sat together at the Placer High School auditorium for the Western States lottery on Saturday, and seven of us walked out into the rainy morning disappointed but alarmingly philosophical.

“Next year!” declared Chaz, who did not get picked for the fifth year in a row.

I laughed and shook my head. I mean, what else can you say, really. Four of our seven had also been entered in, and shut out of, the Hardrock lottery that same morning.

“On to CIM!” implored Molly.

And that was that.

I had been enticed to enter into the CaliforniaInternational Marathon by friends while running 173 miles on the Tahoe Rim Trail this summer. A flat road marathon is essentially the opposite of four days romping 173 miles on mountain trails, and I was excited that people other than me found both to be appealing.

The training had also provided some structure to what you might call a fairly fluid time in my life. My goal was to better my PR (3:11:44at Eugene in 2013) and hopefully sneak under 3:10. I don’t run a lot of road marathons, but I do love doing them occasionally to see where I am with my fitness. I couldn’t really see spending the money on CIM, as well as taking the time to train, if I wasn’t going for a PR.

By the time race day rolled around, I knew I had some holes in my training which made me uncertain about my prospects, but I had felt similarly before Eugene. I didn’t feel overwhelmingly confident, but I’d had a few really strong workouts, and I thought running 3:10 was at least a possibility.

Ready to head to the start with Jamie

Thus I found myself on a perfect Sunday morning in Folsom, lining up with the 3:10 pace group, along with friends Chaz and Chris who had similar goals. All three of us expressed doubts, but smiled in excitement at the possibility of the day. I had already seen Helen at the gear truck, and Jamie and Molly who were leading the 3:35 and 3:45 pace groups respectively. Curt gave us a quick hello before moving up to start with the fast guys. Regardless of speed or goals, it was already worlds more fun than my previous CIM experiences because of all the friends. Also, the lack of rain and wind helped.

Sunrise over the start

At the start with Helen

Chris and Chaz ready to go!

Running a 3:10 marathon meant holding a 7:15 average pace per mile. I told myself that if it felt too hard, I would slow down by mile three. At mile two, I already knew it was too fast.

I ran with Chris and Chaz, and soon we came up behind Jenelle.

“Hey, what are you doing up here?” I demanded. “I thought you were only planning on running 3:30!”

“Well,” she breathed, “I plan on running fast now and then blowing up.”

“Oh good!” I cheered. “Then you can pace me through the first 20 miles.”

Mile three came and went and I was still admonishing myself to slow down.

“By my own rules of pacing,” I told Chris, “I am definitely working too hard right now.”

Part of the problem was that I was running with friends. It’s so hard to slow down when it means letting your running partners go. Finally I bid them farewell as I ran off toward a bank of port-a-potties. I used my need to pee as a way to force myself to let them go. Upon reemerging 15 seconds later, I toned it down to about a 7:20 pace.

And then, running by myself, the day went by in a blur of images: watch still says 7:18 average; funny sign says “Smile if you’re not wearing underwear!” and I had to smile; there’s Carrie!; watch says 7:20 now, good; there’s Jen!; there’s J.P. and Avian!; funny sign says “Great Job, Random Person!”

This might be my favorite running photo ever. Clearly taken in the early miles before the pain set in. Perhaps I thought I was the princess in a parade?? Proof that I was having fun! (Photo by Avian Borden)

Around mile 16 I knew it was time to pick up the pace if I wanted to hit 3:10. I will admit, I did not feel great, but I didn’t yet know what would happen. I didn’t feel horrible, and ten miles isn’t all that far to an ultra runner. I choked down my second GU of the race and started working on inching that average pace back down toward 7:15.

I kept scanning the horizon for any sign of Chris or Chaz, and after a few miles I thought I spotted them – Chaz in the highly recognizable gold of the DPMR shirt, and Chris wearing a red shirt and UD running vest. For the next mile or so, I focused on closing the gap.
By the time I came up behind Chris at about mile 18, Chaz had put some space between them.

Chris and I exchanged words of encouragement, and when he asked me how I felt, I shrugged and said, “Like this is going to get real ugly in about two more miles.”

Either I am about to throw up, or I am trying to yell something really witty to Carrie. (Photo by Carrie Hyatt)

I couldn’t deny it at that point, but I could still try to hang on for as long as possible. Chris seemed to be feeling similarly, and he didn’t make an attempt to go with me as I turned my focus toward catching Chaz.

Even though he appeared to be right in front of me, it took me forever to catch him. Miles. Days. I don’t even know. Finally, I was close enough to say hello.

Unfortunately, I think the push to catch Chaz was my last hurrah. He asked how Chris was, and I said I’d just passed him. Then I remembered that it had been days since I had seen Chris. I was completely delirious, all sense of time and judgment gone.

It appeared that I had passed Chaz, but in reality I knew he was right behind me. I kept waiting for him to pull ahead because, seriously, if he was going slower than I was, then he was in a world of hurt. C’mon, Chaz! He finally went by me somewhere around mile 22. Sweet, maybe one of us could still pull off a 3:10!

I would say mile 22 is probably where it all fell apart, although I had seen the writing on the walls back when I told Chris it would get ugly. I’ve been too chicken to look at the splits from my Garmin, but I can tell you that my average pace started to plummet with about four miles to go. God I felt awful. So awful.

And the hard part about trying to run a PR and falling short is that “second fastest marathon ever” doesn’t really feel like enough incentive to keep going. Like, once I saw that I would miss my PR, I pretty much just wanted to walk it in. Because, dear lord, did I mention it hurt? Ugh.

When I heard a fan cheer for the 3:15 pace group, I wanted to cry. Instead, I swore aloud. I was going backwards. They passed me like a thunderous train, on their way to marathon glory. The only reason I could come up with not to walk now was that it would just make the pain last longer. Even my pathetic jog would at least get me to the finish line sooner than walking would.

My friend Tim told me later that he had passed me somewhere around here but refrained from saying hi since we were both clearly dying - confirmation that my inner pain and horror were evident to all. Eric Toschi cheered for me from the sidelines around mile 24, and although I tried to smile my thanks, I feel certain it was more of a grimace that said Oh God, two more miles, no, I can’t do it, kill me now, please!!

You know it’s bad when you look down at your watch to see how far you have to go and realize you haven’t even gone a tenth of a mile since the last time you looked.

Finally, the finish line was there. I was done. Curt and Chaz were waiting with congratulations, and I was never so happy. Woo Hoo! Finished!

I hurt. Like, a lot. But it was so fun to have friends at the finish. (And the leg spasms only lasted about 10 minutes – nothing compared to after Way Too Cool last year!)

After a couple minutes, Chris crossed the line and we all celebrated together. Somehow, the pain of the final 30 minutes of racing, seemed a fleeting memory. I was so happy to be at the finish line, I really didn’t mind being five minutes shy of my PR and seven minutes short of my 3:10 goal. Rena Lantz, whom I ran into later, told me that she basically ran the time she deserved, which I thought was a great way of putting it. I would have loved to run 3:10, but in truth, I deserved 3:17.

Somehow I missed all of my other friends finishes, even though I am sure I was standing right there when Helen crossed in sub-4. Perhaps I was still delirious.

After the race, Tyler had a bunch of us back to her place for beer and pizza. Except for our two pace group leaders, we had all come up short of our goals, but you would never have known it to hear the chatter at Tyler’s house. Everyone was in good spirits (I suppose the Lagunitas didn’t hurt.), and we talked excitedly of adventure running destinations for next year.

One thing that marathons have in common with ultras – it’s pretty easy to forget all the pain once you’re done running! I can’t say I plan on signing up for CIM next year, but I might just follow the crowd again and see what my friends are doing. It’s a plan that certainly worked for me this year.

Congrats to all the finishers, and a huge shout out out to everyone who shared training miles with me - both on the road and online. The support of friends was definitely the highlight of the weekend.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Western States, Hardrock, CIM, Oh My!

It’s Saturday morning, 8:30 AM, and the Placer High School auditorium is packed with skinny people chatting excitedly to each other. On stage, a handful of people sporting silver belt buckles double check their laptops, paperwork, and the functionality of the PA system. It’s probably the best non-running running event of the year: Western States lottery day!

I’m crammed in the seats with friends, iPhone in hand, keeping a close eye on the Twitter feed of @Hardrock100, where they’re updating the results of their own lottery. Occasionally I flip over to check on iRunFar's coverage of the TNF 50 where Rob Krar and Magda Boulet are already churning up the mud out front. Jamie is sitting next to me, constantly clutching my arm, the suspense of the whole day causing her to bounce constantly in her seat.

Both Jamie and I are in both lotteries. Certainly, the chances of either of us getting chosen for either race are slim. But who cares? The electric air of possibility fills the room. We’re not out of the running yet!

I know this scene will be pretty accurate for the first part of our morning (well, except for who's in the lead at TNF, but that's my prediction), but how the lottery results will play out is obviously unknown. (According to this guy, I have a 29% chance of getting into Hardrock! Information on the Hardrock site says 25.6%. Regardless, either is better than the 9% chance I have of getting into States.) I know that some of my friends will get chosen in each lottery (maybe some in both!), and that I will be pretty darn excited for them. I also know that I will not be disappointed to walk away empty handed myself. I certainly go into the endeavor hopeful because that’s part of the fun, but with the odds so slim, I like to keep my actual expectations realistic. I’ve already made my plans for what I’d like to run should I get into neither Western States nor Hardrock, and I’m aware that’s the most likely scenario.

The only thing I really want to avoid is any of the whiners. I don't mean the people who feel disappointed - that's fair enough. I mean the people who are always bitter and pissy because they didn’t get chosen. I think (hope!) most people are over this by now and have accepted the reality of the situation. But there’s always someone! Someone who thinks the rules are unfair and aren’t afraid to let you know. I want to slap these people and tell them to get a grip, but what I really want to do is simply not talk to them at all. Take it somewhere else if you’re going to bitch and moan. Lottery day is for fun!


I also have a great distraction from the probability that I won't win a lottery on Saturday – Sunday I will be joining many friends at the California International Marathon!

I’ve run CIM twice before, and neither was an amazing experience. The first time, in 2001, I drove from Truckee through a horrendous blizzard, ran injured through hurricane-force wind and rain to my slowest road marathon time ever, and spent five hours driving home through an even worse blizzard. Thank God I had Charlie to run the race with and Andrew to drive the car. At least we have good stories to share with each other!

The second time was in 2009. I remember I was freezing during the race, and I had to drive home through another blizzard, this time by myself. The most memorable part of the weekend was that I had my first experience peeing in a water bottle in my own car. Fun! Right? At a dead stop on I-80 for over an hour with the snow gathering fast and thick around us, and of course I had to pee desperately. Thank god I had a wide-mouth Nalgene rolling around in my backseat, and the snow covered windows provided plenty of privacy. Still, the awkwardness of trying to squat with my marathon-tired legs and the steering wheel in the way made me certain I would pee all over my car seat. I didn’t! Thus, I considered the weekend a reasonable success.

Home safe after CIM 2009. Praying for a non-snowy drive this year!

I truly hope that the third time’s the charm for this race. So far, Sunday looks like the only non-rainy day in the forecast, so I am keeping my fingers crossed. As usual, I’ve had some really strong individual workouts, but not a lot of consistency in my training. I know I’m in pretty good shape, but it’s hard to tell if my goal of running a PR is realistic. I ran 3:11:42 at Eugene in 2013, with a pretty significant negative split, and I recall it feeling almost easy. (Memory is funny that way, isn’t it? Kind of like how after I finished Hardrock in 2012, I said I would never run it again!) I don’t know if I’m in quite the same shape I was in at Eugene, but I’m setting my sights on 3:10 anyway. I guess we’ll see what happens!

The fun part about CIM this year is that I know so many people running the race. This is a big change from my last two experiences there. I feel happy and reassured that regardless of how fast or slow I run, I know I will have fun with my friends.

In fact, that thought sums up the entire weekend nicely. Things may or may not go as each of us hope, but whatever happens, we will all be there to support each other and share time together (and maybe even a few beers, too).

Looking forward to the weekend and to seeing you all out there! Good luck, everyone, and have fun!

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Runner's Thanksgiving Holiday Survival Guide

Author's note: The following article was originally published Nov. 21 in the Sierra Sun.

Fall colors on the PCT at Donner Pass

Another Thanksgiving, and your Aunt Marge’s house is already filled with the smell of turkey and pie and the sounds of squealing children, boisterous relatives, and football games on TV. By 3:00 you’ve had your first glass of wine and an unknown number of Triscuits with some weird cream cheese spread.  You’re hiding in the kitchen trying to avoid a cousin who wants to do nothing but talk politics when Grandma corners you to inquire why you still don’t have kids and don’t you think you’re getting a bit old and tick-tock. When you finally sit down with a mountainous plate of potatoes, turkey, stuffing, and green bean casserole to accompany a third glass of wine, you realize you’re already exhausted and not even very hungry. At the end of the evening you’re painfully full, incapable of any more polite chit chat, and profoundly intoxicated. You beg your husband to drive and roll out the door, falling asleep on the ride home.

How are you ever going to make it through the holidays?

While I do hope that description doesn’t capture your Thanksgiving exactly, there is very likely at least one element of truth in there for most of us. I love the holidays, but all the excessive eating and drinking makes me feel fat and grumpy. For athletes, it can be an especially challenging time, what with trying to maintain training during a busy schedule while simultaneously avoiding too many See’s chocolates. So, here is some advice for getting through Thanksgiving, and the holidays beyond, with your sanity and your training schedule, if not fully intact, at least not completely obliterated.

When it comes to squeezing maximum workouts into a minimum of time, I suggest modifying your run instead of skipping it. If you nip out for an easy three miles Thanksgiving morning instead of bailing on your workout because you’re too busy, you will be in a better mood to socialize and carry less guilt when you can’t resist that second piece of pie. The same holds true for Friday’s workout. You don’t have to do anything high quality, but nothing cures a hangover like sweating it out on a run. (Not that I would know.) Save high quality workouts for Saturday and Sunday.

If at all possible, try not to overeat. I mean, do as I say, not as I do. If I’m not sprawled on the sofa in pain at the end of Thanksgiving with the top button on my pants undone, I consider it a major accomplishment. But if you have even a modicum of self-control, you can probably avoid this situation. Just remember that you don’t have to taste everything on the table. It all pretty much tastes the same as last year, right? Try to skip a few items, and keep your mountain of potatoes to a mole hill. Also, save room for dessert. I mean, you’re going to eat it regardless, but you’ll be happier if there’s room.

You can also be the instigator for a little more physical activity. Try gathering family and friends for a friendly game of flag football instead of watching sports on TV. More time spent running around on the grass means less time drinking beer! If you suck at football like I do, you may want to push for capture the flag or ultimate Frisbee. I’ve found that those games often favor distance runners in the second half. Most people seem to get really tired, and that’s when good endurance can make up for poor sprinting and crappy hand-eye coordination.

Even if you’re not training for anything specific, it is truly helpful to maintain something of an exercise routine through the holidays. You’ll stay a bit fitter, feel less guilty, and be in a better mood. Plus, a long run is a great way to avoid everything when obligations just become too much.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Savvy Trail Traveler

Author's Note: Because I don't seem to be writing a whole lot of other things at the moment, I've decided to republish some articles here from my Sierra Sun column. The following article was published in the Sun on November 7th, and republished in the November 13-19 edition of the Lake Tahoe Action.

The Savvy Trail Traveler

The last several weeks have offered up some incredible trail running conditions here in the Truckee-Tahoe region. Few crowds mean you will often get even popular trails all to yourself. (Hello, Judah Loop!) Cooler temperatures mean you can run farther without the need to carry water. And, fluctuating weather systems mean you are equally likely to be dazzled by late fall colors as by ice-covered trees and fresh snow. While I would deem these conditions to be perfect, it is also a great time of year to review some safety principles for being out on the trails.

Know where you’re going. This doesn’t mean you should only follow routes that you have travelled before. If you’re headed down an unknown trail, you simply need to do your research. Find out the mileage and what type of terrain you’ll be travelling. Be sure to carry a map! Check the conditions as much as possible before you head out, including the weather forecast. Some trails are in perfect shape this time of year, while others are already buried under snow. Although often times travel over snowy terrain is still possible (and even enjoyable!), it is typically slower, and can present navigational challenges. An area that you know like the back of your hand in summer can be completely foreign territory under a mere 4 inches of snow. Social media is a very effective way to learn about current conditions on local trails. One final tip about your route: Be sure to let someone at home know your plans. This is extremely important in the event that you get lost or need help.

Bring a friend. Depending on where you’re headed, the conditions, and the forecast, sometimes running with a friend can provide an important safety benefit. If you plan to run farther than usual on unknown terrain, having one or more friends can be helpful in the event that something goes wrong, like an injury. Moving over challenging terrain is often made more fun with good company, as well.

Bring the right gear. First and foremost, this means dressing appropriately for the weather. It feels very much like tights, jacket, hat, and gloves weather already! Even on those days that start out balmy, it’s a good idea to bring one or more extra layers if you’re going to be out for more than an hour or so. Some other items to consider, depending on your distance – water bottle, snacks, phone, GPS, and a map. A note about music – I personally am not a fan of music on the trail for a few reasons, not the least of which is that your safety is compromised when you can’t hear what’s going on around you. If you can’t live without your iPod, please follow the “one ear-bud only” rule!

Know and follow the local regulations. Some areas, like Desolation Wilderness, require you to register at the trailhead and carry a permit before entering. No matter where you run, you need to practice Leave No Trace principles. That’s more of an ethical tip than a safety tip, but important nonetheless. Plus, avoiding practices that attract wildlife will certainly help everyone’s safety in the long run!

Whether you’re headed to the Emigrant Trail, or still trying to squeeze those last days out of an already snowy high country, keeping safety in mind will ensure that everyone’s wilderness experience is as fun as possible!

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Summer Summary

It's raining in Truckee!! Hallelujah. (Okay, it was raining when I started this post. That was last weekend. But the sentiment is the same.)

I'm not just grateful for rain because of this insidious drought, but also because of that nasty King Fire. The smoke in Tahoe has been stifling the last two weeks, and folks down the hill have had to evacuate. 

Fall feels a bit in the air, and with that happy fact, I am reminded to make my usual summer wrap-up post. I may be a complete bloggging slacker, but at least I have my traditions.

Unfortunately, the short summary for this summer goes like this:

It was completely shitty.

An accurate and succinct summary, if a bit lacking on details. But truthfully, I'm tired of giving the details. 

Last weekend, my husband and I visited with some friends we hadn't seen in four or five months. I came straight out and told the wife in the couple that I was tired of updating people on the upsetting events of my life, so could we just skip the "What's been happening in your life?" question? 

She replied, "Let's just talk about trail running!"

Now that is a good friend.

So for this post, I'm going to skip all the shitty parts. I can't ignore them, but I guess I don't have to relive them here. Instead, I thought I would take this opportunity to focus on all the awesome parts of this summer.

Because you know what? Even among all the challenges - the feelings of betrayal, the injustices, the immense grief - there were still some pretty awesome things that happened this summer. Reminding myself of these things is one good way of dealing with the challenges - keeping perspective, and realizing that even a shit sandwich doesn't taste as bad when you're sitting by a mountain lake with a cocktail in hand. (Okay, I'm sorry, I will stop swearing now. Terribly embarrassing, my crassness.)

So. Awesome parts of this summer, in chronological order:

Hangin' at Western States

For the first time in several years, I was neither volunteer, runner, nor pacer. I thoroughly enjoyed geeking out as a fan.

Gary Gellin nears the top of the Escarpment.

And the finish line especially. Always a social, and very emotional place to spend time.

The Trent girls await the leader at Placer High.

See what I mean about emotions? (Pictured: Rob Krar)

More emotions! Yay! (Pictured: Max King)

Fourth of July!

The fourth is always awesome in Truckee, and this year was no different. Good friends, perfect weather, parades, swimming, barbecues, bike rides, tubing down the river. Fun!

The Dream Team at the Truckee Parade.

Family Visits

Fishing day with the boys!

Game time: "I am a Pig." "I am a Camel." (Not the most flattering pic, but certainly the funniest!)


Due to the fact that I spent most of June and the first part of July injured, I dropped down from the 50M distance I'd signed up for and ran the 50K (actually 55K) at TRT for the first time since 2003. Oh wow! I think I like the 50K. No Diamond Peak climb, and it's over so fast! Plus, I won. Total bonus.

And I will tell you that staying up all night to volunteer at the Tunnel Creek AS is much easier with only 55K on your legs vs. 50M. Just as much fun though!

Pre-race with the RD

TRT 173

It seems like a lot of my adventures involve the Tahoe Rim Trail, but this one was truly unique. Five runners, four days, and 173 miles of jaw-dropping scenery. 

I don't want to say too much about this one, since I SWEAR I AM GOING TO WRITE A REAL POST ABOUT IT. I promise. I am.

But the summary is that it kind of turned out to be the gem of the summer. Two of our really big challenges were already upon me and my husband, and a third was just hitting the fan when this adventure began. I didn't know if I should even be out there on the trail for so many reasons, but it turned out to be the best decision I could have made.

I am massively grateful for the friends who put in all of the work to plan this adventure and who turned out to be amazing people with whom to share the trail!

173 Miles that looked something like this

Triumphant at the end of our journey: Me, Chris, Tyler, Curt, and Joe. (And Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.)

A New Kitchen

This is another one that I am not going to give all the details on because I really want to do a full post with before and after pictures. There was quite a process, and it looks amazing, but of course, it's still not done. (Started in April, why would we be done by October?) As soon as the back splash and trim are in, there will be lots of pictures! Pinky swear.

Here's Andrew on concrete day. This doesn't show you anything about our kitchen, does it? But just wait until you see the killer concrete counter tops he made me!!

Other Adventures

Of course there were plenty of beautiful trail miles shared with friends, (several times getting caught out in hail and lightning), and other "daily" adventures. In completely non-chronological order:

Hoover Wilderness and Yosemite with Jamie:


Happy in the mountains

Alpine lake in the Hoover Wilderness

Running near home:

Castle Peak, Donner Summit

Desolation Wilderness with Betsy

Aloha Lake/Desolation Wilderness with Jamie and Caren

Jason's wedding with the college track crew (no running involved).

I know this was mostly a post in pictures. I don't have a lot of words these days. Honestly though, I'm hoping to find some. I miss writing.

Last summer, my sister declared it to be The Summer of Joy. We did so many wonderful things with family, knowing that with my mom's ALS diagnosis, it would be the last summer with her in good health. It truly was wonderful - three full months of family time up and down the coast.

This one was declared The Summer of Sadness. Aptly named, and thankfully in the rearview mirror.

My sister has already declared next summer to be The Summer of Healing. I'm assuming that means more family trips, and I'm all for that! In fact, I'm pretty much ready for summer right now.

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Lap Around the Lake: 173 Miles on the Tahoe Rim Trail

It's hard to believe that I've lived in Truckee for 14 years as a runner, and I've still only been on about 70% of the Tahoe Rim Trail. What on Earth have I been doing?

Well, that's all about to change.

On Wednesday, I'll be starting a circumnavigation of the lake, running the entire Tahoe Rim Trail, with a small group of intrepid ultrarunners. Unlike so many people I know, we will NOT be doing this all in one push. (There's crazy, and then there's idiotic, right?)

Our relatively civilized schedule will still be quite a challenge for me. An injury after San Diego 100 left me with zero miles for 2 1/2 weeks, and with about 40 miles total for the following 2 1/2 weeks. The only thing giving me confidence now is the absence of injury, and a decent showing at last week's TRT 55K. That 33 miles left me mighty sore, which is worrisome, but feeling that I have enough fitness left to get around the lake in four days.

Considering how in doubt this adventure was for me three weeks ago, I am immensely excited to be setting out on the trail.

Here's our itinerary:

Day 1: (52 miles) Echo Summit to Tahoe City - This one's going to be a doozie. Both beautiful and challenging. Thank God we're doing it on fresh legs.

Day 2: (40.2 miles) Tahoe City to Tahoe Meadows - Easier terrain to start, which will be helpful for sore legs. Summit the high point of the trail, Relay Peak, near the end of the day.

Day 3: (41.6 miles) Tahoe Meadows to Kingsbury - Much of this trail covers the beautiful course of the TRT Endurance Runs. Excellent views, a decent amount of runnable terrain.

Day 4: (38.5 miles) Kingsbury to Echo Summit - This is the section I haven't run before. Hopefully I am not too exhausted to enjoy it!

As one of my running companions, Chris, said, we'll be enjoying hotels and IPA's each night. Honestly, I anticipate being too tired to enjoy much at night but the shower and a decent night's sleep, but I have no complaints about that.

I am so grateful for my friends who did all of the planning (Honestly, I just saw a random Facebook post, and jumped onboard their trip.), and for their friends and family who are doing the crewing. This is sure to be an ass-kicking adventure, and those are just the kind I like.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

San Diego 100

With Sister/CrewMaster, at Lake Cuyamaca

Contrary to popular ultrarunner sentiment, I have to inform you that 100 miles really is that far. Which leads me to wonder, as so many people do, why I want to run it.

I generally have pat answers for this inevitable question: It keeps me sane, It’s my form of relaxation, It gives me focus, It allows me to eat more ice cream. 

These answers, however, while true enough, only answer the question of why I run ultras. Fifty miles, 50K, 100K – all of these, I will grant you, are actually not that far. Sure, they’re not easy. They require training. But once you’ve done them, going back is not especially scary.

One hundred miles? That will always be scary.

This is exactly what I was thinking at mile 91 of the San Diego 100, as I grunted my way up a technical climb. (Another thought was – Seriously, who routes a course over a brutal mountain at mile 91? Masochists! All of these people!) With a handful of hundred milers under my belt, I would have thought they would get easier. But they just never do.

Something else presenting a particular challenge for me was the time of year of this race. Advice to school teachers: Don’t choose a 100 miler that falls during the last week of school. Not only does the school year get increasingly crazy-busy as it nears its end, but I also picked up a last minute gig as head track coach this spring. Coaching track takes a massive amount of time! I had no idea.

So, training? Yeah, May was not my best month. There simply wasn’t time. My only saving grace was that I had jumped into the Bishop 100K three weeks prior to San Diego, and it had functioned as an excellent training run. I would have to rely on that, and the fact that March and April had been acceptably decent months for training.

Friday morning, the day before the race, I headed off to work in a sundress and heels for eighth-grade graduation. Did I mention this was a poor weekend for a 100 miler? My last student had barely finished giving her speech when I was out the door. Sorry, kids, no congratulatory hugs. My flight leaves in 45 minutes!

This was where my crew/pacer team already started earning their status as rock stars. My sister Laura was making the drive down from Pasadena with all of our gear. Oh yes, we would be camping, lakefront, at the start/finish line. An excellent choice if you’re not trying to jump on a plane with just a carry-on, or if you have a generous sister with tons of camping gear. Jamie, who was flying down from Sacramento, also had many extra race day needs tucked into her checked bags. So, luckily, the three gels that I could squeeze into my liquids bag in my carry-on didn’t have to last me the full 100 miles.

Laura and Jamie, rock star crew extraordinaire, at our camp.

Laura picked us up from the airport in San Diego, and we made our way east to Lake Cuyamaca in plenty of time to set up camp before the pre-race briefing. Most pre-race briefings are also a little party – an excuse for everyone to gather and socialize before heading off down the dusty trail. This one was no different, and it was especially fun to have so many friends present. There was a solid contingent from Reno, plus a few friends from the other side of the hill.

Jenny and Mariam

The Dream Team

With JT at check-in

I was chatting up my dear friend John Trent, busily explaining how my training had been less than what I’d hoped for, so my goals were correspondingly conservative.

“I’m hoping for sub-24,” he confided.

“Really?” My eyes widened.

I didn’t doubt John’s goal was possible. It’s just that, in addition to a lack of training, I’d done a lack of homework. I had really thought the course was too hard for such times. John and I have shared plenty of race miles though, and our finishing times tend not to be far apart. He definitely got me thinking a bit.

Laura, Jamie, and I slept well that night in our outdoor retreat. I woke up well before my 4:30 alarm though, and took the opportunity to head out to a point jutting into the lake directly before our tent door. I shared a calm, sunrise breakfast with the bats flitting about the lake surface – hard boiled eggs for me, mosquitoes for them. I contemplated the task before me, knowing I was a bit undertrained, but also knowing that fact would compel me to start conservatively. This could only work to my advantage, and I felt confident that I would finish.

Well, okay. Sort of confident.

A perfect breakfast spot!

I gathered at the start with my friend Abby and 260 or so others, said hi to Jenny and a few more friends, and soon we were off. I found myself getting a little teary-eyed, and I was surprised. A hundred miles is still epic, no matter how many times you’ve done it, and I hadn’t run this far in a long time. Plus, I think maybe I always cry at the start of 100 milers. Yes, that sounds about right.

Ready to start!

Things started with a fairly mellow climb. There was some walking, but mostly running. I made a few miles with Abby and a few other folks. I got to briefly chat with Erika Lindland before we both had to jump off trail in opposite directions for a pee break. I came back on trail about a hundred yards or so behind Erika and Abby. As much as I really wanted the company of both of these awesome women, I also knew I needed to be careful about trying to stay with them. If I could let them go a little, I would be better able to focus on the pace that was right for me instead of potentially running too fast. As much as I hated to do it, I knew it was the smart choice, and I watched them slowly pull ahead.

Next, we climbed up and over Stonewall Mountain. An auspicious name for a mountain, no? Yeah, no. I knew this was the very mountain we would go back over at mile 90, so I paid attention to the terrain. It’s funny how terrain appears so much different when your legs are completely trashed. At this point, I was thinking it wasn’t so bad. Ha!

Heading to Chambers.

The mile 12 aid station at Chambers has a short out and back, and I saw both Abby and Erika on my way in. They were still close, but not close enough to pull me along too fast.

The terrain at this point was open and grassy, with plenty of stickers for your socks, oh joy. It was beautiful though, and quite mellow running. The sun climbed higher into the sky, but it wasn’t yet hot out. I felt great, and reminded myself constantly to keep it mellow.

I ran alone, playing a bit of leapfrog with a couple of men, but mostly seeing few people. This state would hold steady all day until I picked up Jamie at mile 56, and it suited me just fine.

I was cruising along the PCT now, very runnable terrain. My water consumption increased with the heat of the day, and it appeared I would finally drink more than one bottle full. They had Tailwind at the aid stations, which was awesome, and I had a bottle of that and a bottle of water with me. Mostly though, I had been drinking from the Tailwind bottle.

Suddenly I saw Abby ahead. She must have been struggling a little bit because I caught and passed her almost before I knew it. I actually started passing a number of people through this section. I worried about my pace. My watch said I was too fast, but honestly my body said this pace was just fine. I could still see Erika a few minutes ahead as we neared the Sunrise aid station at mile 23.

Sunrise was the first stop for my crew, and they were amazing. Jamie simply handed me a cold V8 without even asking, and I chugged it happily. After eating and refilling my bottles, I put on my arm coolers, tossed a little ice in my sports bra, and I was out of there like a flash.

Still on the PCT, I looked around, trying to see if the terrain looked at all familiar from my 1996 through-hike. Not really, but then, that was practically a lifetime ago. Plus, I was going the opposite direction.

The day was really heating up, (I heard later that it reached 90F.), and I picked up my ice bandanna at Pioneer Mail (mile 30). My crew, again, was totally dialed with getting me out of there quickly – spraying me with sunscreen, handing me food and drink, etc. I soaked my shirt and my arm coolers and loaded my sports bra and bandanna with ice. By the time I left, I was a walking ice bath and feeling lovely. Was it hot out? I wouldn't know. Felt fine to me!

Aid Station Magic

I managed to maintain my pace with the same effort level while others, it seemed, were slowing down. The entire course so far had been completely exposed – no shade whatsoever – and this would continue to be the case for most of the day. I was glad I’d chosen my Big Truck hat which has a generous brim. (Plus, it got me a few "Go Truckee!" cheers from people I didn't even know!)

I continued to slowly but steadily pass people as I cruised along, still on the PCT. I was loving this race, managing the heat, and still feeling good. When I got to Penny Pines, I couldn’t believe it had already been nearly 35 miles. I thought about my last 100 miler, Hardrock, and being 35 miles into that race at the top of Virginus Pass. That had taken me about 12 hours. By contrast, this had taken me less than 7. The miles seemed to be flying! It was kind of making me nervous, actually.

Happy runner!

At Todd’s Cabin, around mile 40, I continued my routine of icing and soaking. A volunteer squeezed ice water from a sponge onto me while I squealed and another volunteer teased him about having too much fun. I just laughed. You didn’t know that ultrarunning was just one big wet t-shirt contest, did you?

Somewhere before the Meadows aid station at mile 51, I saw Scott Mills, the race director, coming towards me.

“So, um …” he started gravely.

Oh no, the race has been cancelled. Something happened. There’s a huge fire. An attack bear. A freak snow storm.

“We had to reroute the course a little bit because of some vandalism with the course markings, but it’s all been reflagged, and you’ll see where to go.”

Oh, thank God! The race is still on!

“That’s terrible!” I sympathized. Not to mention it’s a horribly stressful thing for a Race Director to have to deal with.  I would see Scott again about six hours later, telling us about another section of vandalized trail. Apparently some mountain bikers were having a field day trying to mess with us. Honestly, what are people even thinking when they do something like that? I just don’t get it.

Pine trees! At last, some meager shade.

Jamie joined me for pacing duties at mile 56. I couldn’t believe how fast the day had gone by! Next, we would head down eight miles of technical trail into Noble Canyon. Apparently this was a scorching section last year. Luckily, it came later in the race this year, and we were heading down at dusk. I had already stopped icing and getting wet, knowing that I would need to dry off before the temperature dropped. Even though it was still warm, I was advised by other crews at the aid station that it would get cold fast. I tucked my arm warmers into the back of my sports bra, knowing I could pick up more layers when I would see Laura again at mile 72.

Last shot with sister in the daylight.

My crew is all prepped for my arrival.

The scenery through this section was awesome. The canyon was tight for stretches, with narrow walls following a creek and treating us to hidden glens lush with ferns – little oases in the desert. When it opened up, we were graced with beautiful sunset vistas. I constantly reminded myself to enjoy this beauty because I’ll tell you, that downhill hurt! My legs were finally starting to feel the miles, and I had to take this trail at a slower pace than I would have liked. By the time we reached the aid station at mile 64, food was starting to sound like a pretty terrible idea.

I had been an excellent eater all day, eating some solid food at every aid station, plus a lot of Tailwind. I’d taken only one gel up to this point, but it seemed like now I would need to make the switch to more easily digestible calories. I managed a couple spoonfuls of guacamole at the aid station and made sure my pockets were full of gels for the climb back up. I also had a small bite of espresso brownie just because they were homemade and an inspired choice for a mile 64 aid station at the bottom of a long climb.

We began the eight mile climb back up, and I will say that I was happy not to be going downhill anymore. The fading light of day bathed the hillsides in a soft, golden glow, and it was still plenty warm, making this quite an enjoyable section of trail.

We arrived back at Pioneer Mail (mile 72) at about 10:00 for what was to be my final crew stop. I still wasn’t wearing my arm warmers and decided against picking up additional layers. I was actually feeling hot, and if it got cold later, I had a drop bag at Chambers (mile 87). As it turned out, I finally got rid of my arm warmers at Chambers because I had never even put them on.

I sent Laura off to get some sleep until my finish. Although there were other crew accessible aid stations down the trail, I knew I didn’t really need anything that I couldn’t get from the aid stations, and I wanted my sister to get some sleep. She had done an amazing job during the day, and came through big time by bringing all the gear and driving us around. (She would also continue amazing crew duties later by being the primary person to pack up our camp sight and load the car while I languished in exhaustion during the morning heat. Sometimes being a mom never ends!)

“So, you might have to look for me at the finish earlier than I had thought,” began my parting words to her. I had told my crew to be prepared for a 10:00 AM finish, which would have been 28 hours.

“You’ll probably finish before 6:00, right?”

Yeah, this may have been her first time crewing an ultra, but she’s no dummy.

“That’s what I’m hoping for at this point.” I finally allowed myself to say it out loud. I knew I was slowing down, but I thought I still had a solid shot at sub-24. All day I’d been thinking how insane that was.

Maybe I’m running too fast? How is this possible? I’m just not in that kind of shape!

But now? It was clearly possible.

I set off into the night with Jamie for some long stretches of nothing but starlight. It had been awesome seeing Jamie and Laura at so many aid stations during the day; I’ve never run such a crew-friendly race before! Not only was it a mental boost, but they really helped things happen more quickly, like getting me ice and presenting food that I might want.

Nighttime in a 100 miler though is so different. For one, I had Jamie to keep me company, so the mental boost of seeing crew was less necessary. Everything is quieter – the runners are spread out, so you don’t see many people out there, and because the pace is slower and I didn’t feel much like eating, getting through the aid stations was pretty relaxing. I just topped off a little Tailwind, put Gu in my pockets, drank some ginger ale, and tried to eat at least a bit of something. (One of these late aid stations had red finger Jello – brilliant!! I ate three squares after surviving the previous nine miles on ginger ale alone.)

I did my best not to slow down too much, and for much of the night Jamie ran in front and set the pace. This isn’t the way we usually do things. Typically we have the runner lead and the pacer follow, because it’s just so dang hard for the pacer to know how fast to run. For us, we primarily just have a pacer for company anyway, not to push us to a faster time. I found, however, that following her was really working for me, and I felt like I was running more than I otherwise would have. She had to constantly look back to see when I slowed or started to walk and adjust her pace accordingly, so I’m sure it wasn’t easy for her. The challenge in this scenario is for the pacer not to get too far ahead.

We watched the desert moon rise and set, gloried in the wide open, star-filled sky, and even enjoyed the wild howls of distant coyotes. There had been much talk of the dangers of this course, rattlesnakes being the one that had me most concerned. (I had a good laugh over the fact that I was more afraid of snakes than of mountain lions, but yes. It’s true.) While we didn’t see any rattlesnakes, (or any bees, which were apparently another hazard), we did have plenty of scorpion encounters. Was there ever a creepier little creature than a scorpion? Eewww!

We spotted our first one when Jamie almost peed right on it. Don’t worry; it escaped, as did she. Several more skittered across the trail as we ran. The biggest one almost chased Jamie right over a cliff. Seriously, that sucker was huge, and it was coming for her. I thought she was going to jump over the side for a second there.

Further disaster was averted when a skunk (with raised tail, no less!) waddled off into the bushes without spraying us near the Chambers aid station.

What do you think is scarier, a skunk or scorpion?

I had mentioned multiple times to Jamie how I was so sure all day that John was going to pass me at mile 75. It’s not that I wanted to beat him, not at all. In fact, I would have liked very much to see him and share some miles on the trail with him. It’s just that I was sure he was running a smarter race than I was, and I didn’t want to end this thing regretting my early pace. John was my measuring stick for wise racing.

As we neared the Chambers aid station (mile 88), I announced triumphantly, “I would just like to point out that John Trent has not yet passed me!”

We both knew this was just a joke, as Jamie is a huge fan of John’s as well, but it gave us the appropriate laugh. As it turned out, there was a long out-and-back section to the Chambers aid station. When I didn’t see John on my way back out, I was a little disappointed. I wondered where he was and how his race was going. Apparently, he was busy having a great race, if just a bit short of his sub-24 goal, running with his awesome daughters Annie and Katie. I have to thank him though for giving me the notion that sub-24 was possible on this course.

And then there we were, at mile 90-something, going over that damn Stonewall again. What can I say about this part except that it was brutal. It hurt. It was slow. I saw sub-24 slip away before my very eyes. I landed at the final aid station feeling defeated and flopped down in a chair for the first time in 94 miles. Ginger ale was all I could get down. (I really could have used some red Jello squares!)

“So,” one of the volunteers instructed, “you guys are good for sub-24, but you can’t hang around here.”

“No,” I argued, my voice deflated, “I don’t have sub-24 in me anymore.”

“Yes!” he countered. “You’ve got plenty of time; you just have to go do it!”

He did the math out loud that I was too brain dead to do, and he convinced me. He described the next section of trail, how it was so much friendlier than Stonewall, and he made me believe. I owe that guy even more thanks than I owe John.

It’s a good thing I really believed, too, because I was hurting. A lot of this course was very runnable, including this last 6 miles, but even the easiest terrain is hard to run with 94 miles on your legs. I’m sure it was a snail’s pace, but I was quite focused on pushing myself. I never truly thought sub-24 was in the bag until we made that last road crossing with 1.4 miles to go. Then, I finally breathed a sigh of relief.

The finish line was extremely quiet, but my sister was there to cheer us in, and that was all that mattered.

Scott Mills, too, was there, and he loaded me down with prizes and swag, including a plaque for being female Masters Champion. (“It’s a mountain lion!” he insisted. Not a cougar. Okay.It's beautiful either way.)

I finished in 23:33:30, 3rd female, and 20th overall.

“A lot of ‘3s,’” my sister noted.


"Oh no, Gretchen, you're not a cougar. You're a lion!"

I was immediately ushered to Ultralive TV to be interviewed. Sheesh, it was like celebrity status. You can see my interview here.

We found our way to a glorious coin-op shower at the campground, and then I tried for a nap in the tent. My legs hurt way too much to sleep, in spite of my exhaustion, and by 8:00 I gave it up and headed to the pancake breakfast at the finish line.

Firefighters served up eggs, sausage and pancakes, and I finally eased my leg pain with two Tylenol and a beer. If you think a beer at 8:00 in the morning is bad, you should know that Jamie had her first one before 6:00 AM. That girl is my hero.

Probably my favorite part of an ultra is sitting at the finish with that immense sense of accomplishment, stuffing my face with greasy food, and cheering more runners across the line. I was relieved to be done myself, and so excited for the other runners that I kept crying every time another one crossed the line. The finish line of a 100 miler is a pretty emotional place.

“Do all race directors wait at the finish for every runner to cross?” my sister asked, seeing Scott there still greeting each finisher with a medal and belt buckle.

“No,” Jamie said, “just the good ones.”

We all agreed that there had to be a fair amount of satisfaction in seeing the runners finish your race, and I know Scott worked so hard to make this happen. He overcame a lot of adversity to make this an incredible experience for us.

For myself, I still have a hard time believing how well things turned out. Everyone I talked to before the race probably thinks I’m the world’s biggest sandbagger, but it truly did not seem reasonable to think I would run nearly this fast. It was also a perfect weekend logistically, with help from two amazing women. It was a beautiful venue for camping and running squeezed into an insanely-busy-but-wonderful time of year. Could it have been more perfect? Probably not.

I owe massive thanks to everyone who made such a great weekend happen – to Scott and all the volunteers (especially the guy at Paso Picacho who convinced me I could still make sub-24), to my dear friend Jamie and sister Laura for taking such good care of me, and to the many friends who made the trip to San Diego for their own racing and crewing. Without this community, running 100 miles would not be nearly as awesome.

I’m still not 100% sure why I run 100 milers, although the community is certainly a part of it. I know it has something to do with reminding myself that I am alive and awake. I suppose if I had an exact answer for why, the experience might not seem so enticing.

Kickin' back at the coast, post-race.

Best team ever!