Getting the Runs on a Run With the TP Fairy

It’s been a long time since I pooped outdoors. You’d think with all the trail time I get that wouldn’t be the case, but the honest to goodness truth is it still sort of terrifies me.  Peeing is another story. I can do that just fine without self-consciousness behind a bush. But, #2 is well….. a whole other level of “hard core” that I still haven’t attained as a trail runner.

In my first attempt at the ultra distance in January of 2010 at an unofficial local event, I came face-to-face with my fear of using nature’s restroom. I ran for 7 hours in the snow and ice and wind that day, fighting the need to be sick to my stomach amongst the very sparsely covered sagebrush bushes of the Boise foothills. I was practically running cross-legged and cramping horribly when I finally asked to DNF so I could go home and use a real bathroom at mile 23.33.  I was ashamed of myself for not just bucking it up and doing what needed to be done out there.

I trained hard the next few months and signed up for my first “official” 50k – the Weiser River one.  I thought I’d overcome my stomach issues and during training had improved so much that three 26.2 + within 4 weeks had me getting stronger and faster. I KNEW that race would go well. That seemed to be the case until mile 11, when everything went south – literally. Cramps, diarrhea, nausea – the worst.  Thankfully, that route is very remote and it has tons of real trees and bushes to hide behind. I went from feeling strong and ready at the start, to struggling just to keep a strong walk pace as my stomach kept revolting on me. It was humbling when I finally crossed the finish line — in last place.  But, I finished! Never again would I let an upset stomach conquer me or cause me to quit!

When I looked back over the two events, trying to realize what I’d done wrong to cause the stomach issues, I found a common link — Gatorade. I used to fill my Camelbak with it and drink it throughout a run.  The longer the run – the bigger the problem.  I hadn’t even attempted GU or anything else at that point for fuel. I relied entirely on Gatorade.

When I showed up in February of 2011 at the starting line of my next 50K – a really, mountainous, challenging one with 8,000 of elevation gain on Orcas Island, WA, my fuel belt was carrying only water, pretzels and lemon lime sublime GU (one of the few flavors that does not contain caffeine, which seems to upset my stomach.)  I finished that race feeling strong and in control and without any incidents of stomach distress – after 9 hours and 40 minutes!  It seemed I’d found a winning match for trail racing fuel!

I’ve continued to do my trail training with GU and water with a little bit of “real” food thrown in as well like trail mix with lots of dried fruit and nuts, Skittles and boiled potatoes rolled in sea salt. All have been fine on my stomach and have helped me to stay strong for many hours.

On a recent trail run with my friend, Button, she shared the details of our friend, Sam’s 100 mile race – including what he fueled with when he started getting fatigued. A new product, called Gatorade Prime 01 had helped give him the boost he needed.  While I was shopping last week, I happened to see this product on the shelf at the store and thought, “Hmm.. I wonder if that would be something I would benefit from in my upcoming 50 miler trail race?”, so I bought some.  Since the product is a “pre-fuel” I downed the entire packet before I headed out for my foothills run last night, thinking to myself, “Those b vitamins will probably really help!”

I wasn’t feeling quite myself from the start of the run.  It was nearly 6:30 pm when we finally arrived at the Boise foothills.  The lower hills were covered in yellow and purple wildflowers and there were many local cyclists and runners and many of their canine running buddies out enjoying the evening.  I was wearing my new Nathan hydration vest – a Mother’s Day from my husband and was thrilled to finally have a front pocket for my camera and another for my fuel, both of which were much easier to get to in comparison to when I ran with my Camelbak, which only had one pocket on the back! I took a few pictures after we made it up the first hard climb and could look out over the city. It was a lovely evening!

We ran the flats and downhills and hiked the uphills in ultra fashion.  We leaped off the trail to let the cyclists, who seemed to be zooming along nicely, pass us.  I noticed every dog we came across, had their tongues hanging out, with a happy, contented look on their faces, as they were finishing up their workouts with their owners, while we were just beginning ours.

We climbed and we climbed and we climbed – aiming for every uphill we encountered, since we are both training for tough ultras with lots of mountainous uphills. It was somewhere around mile 7.5 — the half point and the highest peak we’d managed, that things started to go wrong.  It was starting to get dark. I could see the city lights starting to twinkle below. I could see the BSU stadium (GO BRONCOS), St Luke’s Children’s hospital flashing helicopter signal lights and the sun setting on the horizon.

We were nearly to the tree line on the ridge.  My stomach started rumbling and complaining. I asked Button to head on back down the trail a bit and to give me a few minutes on my own.  I looked around. Being that high up in the foothills has it’s benefits. There were actually a few bushes with leaves – a rarity when running in the lower foothills.  I looked all around, making sure I was alone, far from any eyeballs.  I tried to do what I needed to do.  It was getting cold and windy. I was wearing a tank and shorts. I was feeling nervous.  Nothing happened. I started running again down the hill, thinking it had all been in my head.  Rumble. Grumble. Churn. Nope. Not just in my head.  I tried again. This happened again five more times. I’d start to run, get sick and have to find a bush.  The bushes got smaller the more steps I went until I was back into sagebrush-land.  No nice, big leaves (which I’m still praying were not poison ivy or something like that!), and I had no toilet paper in my pack. Dang! How did I forget to pack that?!

Once I got back down to Button, she realized she had some T.P. in  her pack for just these kinds of emergencies.  She graciously handed me her little zip lock baggie of the soft, Charmin and headed around the corner so I could clean up better.  I instantly thought, “She’s not just my friend. She’s also the Toilet Paper Fairy! Bless her!!!”  There was a mud puddle right in the path and I stopped to wash my hands the best that I could.   The freezing wind made me regret that move almost instantly since I’d also forgot to pack gloves. Doh! But, my  hands felt a little cleaner, at least.

It was slow-going coming down since my stomach kept cramping up and I was light-headed without any fuel in me.  My very patient running partner jogged, then waited, jogged, then waited for me.  We’d both put on our headlamps by this point, so we were two little bobbing lights in the dark, heading down the mountains. I fought with the bugs and moths that came to check out my headlamp.

It was nearly midnight when we finally reached the vehicle and finished up our run.  It had been 5 hours since we left it. It felt good to head home – to our families, our warm houses and most importantly – our own bathrooms!!!!!

Note to self: Gatorade still is a problem. Do not buy any more for trail runs!

Stats: 15.13 miles. 5:02:16 total time –  (4:12:11 moving pace).  3,392 foot elevation gain. 19:58 – average pace – 16:40 moving pace. Best pace: 6:42. Average heart rate: 156. Max: 201. Max elevation – 5,559.  Felt: Sick and fatigued.

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