08/7/11

Wild Idaho 50 Mile Endurance Race – Man, What a RIDE!

 

It was with much excitement and terror that I showed up to race the Wild Idaho 50 Mile Endurance Ultra Marathon in Crouch, Idaho this past weekend. I was really thrilled to race in the mountains so near to the little cabin my parents had kept for many years as I was growing up. It felt like coming home again since I have so many treasured memories of spending happy summer and fall days in this part of my beautiful state.

I was even more excited to share this experience with some of the closest friends I have in the running world. To say my pals are the most caring, loving, fun group of people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing is truly an understatement. I adore my friends and getting to share this epic journey on the trail with so many of those I care about made me all the more eager to do the race. My cousin, Ben, was race director (and did a fantastic job!). Many of my friends volunteered to serve at aid stations, came to cheer or crew and others were running the race alongside me.  I  also like to say for every successful ultra runner, there is usually a very supportive spouse back in the shadows doing many thankless jobs like providing encouragement, crew support on the course, pep talks when the going gets tough and big hugs when necessary.  My husband, Wayne was also there in full support of me, crewing me along the course, taking photos,  driving on narrow, dirty, difficult-to-drive roads just to provide me with my longed for ice cold sodas and sea-salted potatoes along the way during this race and for that I’m truly grateful!

The first runner on the course this year was my good friend, Jon K.  He was running the 100 mile race solo one full day before any of the other runners even started since he had a funeral to attend and needed to get his race done sooner.  When my husband and I arrived to set up camp, Jon had already completed 71 miles of his unsupported ultra race.  He was bathing in the river.  When he came out, I gave him a big hug and told him how proud I was of him and he hugged me so tight he lifted me right off my feet! I was in awe that in the 90 degree heat and after that very long journey in the mountains that he had any energy at all, but he looked really strong.  Before long, he headed back onto the course to finish what he started.  I heard a cheer in the middle of the night as we slept in our tent when he in fact, DID complete that solo race! What an accomplishment!

The 100 mile racers started their journey at 6 pm after a beautiful performance by Ben (the race director) and three of his Army National Guardsmen and women performed the National Anthem. It was really touching seeing all the racers and their support crews and the volunteers, with their hands on their hearts, looking solemn and wistful as the lovely notes floated through the forest all around us in the mountain air. It was a sentimental moment.  And, then they were off!! The 100 milers attacking the inaugural, spirit-crushing course with 31,000 feet of elevation gain and loss! It would be one of the most difficult journeys in the ultra marathoning world, in the 92 degree heat of the day.

After setting up camp not too far from the gentle rippling of the nearby springs and under the protective and delightfully scented pines and socializing with several of my friends (and making some new ones), it was time to try and get some sleep before the race.  That didn’t last very long! I’m a night owl as it is and the night before a race my adrenaline is really pumping.  I happened to overhear my friends Ryan and Michelle arrive at the check-in and decided to go chat them up.  I wanted to encourage Michelle who was taking on the epic battle of the 50k with 10,000 of elevation gain and loss as her first ultra marathon.  The three of us talked for a little bit, then decided to take a little walk under the stars in search of some of our other close pals in a campsite down the road. After a few minutes, we found Emily, John, Amy and Craig and their children huddled around a cozy campfire. We made ourselves at home and before long there was plenty of laughter and story-telling. It was a pleasurable way to relax and unwind before the race — spending time with dear friends.

About midnight, Ryan, Michelle and I said our goodnights and headed back to our own beds for some sleep.  As soon as my head hit the pillow and I’d snuggled up to my husband to get cozy, I fell into a deep, restful sleep.

At about 5 am our alarm clock rang. I was already hearing the happy, nervous chatter of the other runners outside our tent and couldn’t wait to get dressed and join them! It wasn’t long before Ben was playing the National Anthem on his tuba and the race countdown began – 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 — and we were OFF!  I loved having the 50k racers and the 50 milers beginning together. It made the field seem nice and full and meant there were plenty of people to chat with in the morning light.  My good friend, Ryan showed up at my side and offered some encouragement to the rest of us as he wished us well on our journey. I appreciated that!

The first 7 miles of this race are uphill. The truth be told, I don’t think I experienced ANY flat sections on the entire course – it’s just a series of steep ups and steep downs it seems. I settled into a relaxed pace early on and chatted with the nearby runners. As is common in ultra running, right away people were getting into the rhythm of power hiking the steepest sections of the ups, jogging the flats and running the downs. It was like a pleasant, but challenging ride on a roller coaster!

I loved watching the sun rise over the thick forest of pines.  The morning air was chilly and delicious – tickling my bare arms and legs exposed in my pink tank top and short compression shorts. I felt great – ready to tackle this enormous challenge before me with gusto! I kept an eye on my heart rate, making sure to not go out too fast. I felt I was right on track by mile 5 or so.

I was having a ball right from the start. My legs felt strong, my stomach felt calm, my mind was at ease but very focused on the task at hand and everything seemed to be coming together in perfect harmony for my race. I was running faster than I expected to be – making good use of my arm swing on the power hiking, which increased my uphill pace and relaxing and letting the legs fly on the downhills.  I glanced down at my watch and saw that I was comfortably running 7:00 – 8:30 min pace for several of the downhill miles. I was having a great time passing the faster runners as they did their out and back, high-fiving all of us as they went.  There was such a positive, supportive vibe in the group – everyone cheering for everyone else’s success! Some of the most encouraging comments I heard out there were “You’re really tearing it up! Keep it up!”,  “You’re looking so strong!” “Way to go” and the like. Each kind word only served to increase my confidence and help my pace to stay strong.

Somewhere around here, as I descended a steep downhill, I saw my husband and my friend, Ryan taking pictures and cheering.  Ryan called me a “rock star” and my husband told me I was the 1st female and about 6th place overall in the race! No way! I had no idea since the 50k racers were also on a similar course and I wasn’t sure which ones were 50 milers and which were doing the 50k. I felt like someone had just told me I’d been crowned QUEEN OF THE WHOLE FREAKING WORLD! I don’t think I’ve ever smiled that big. I just kept plugging along, enjoying my good race and feeling really strong.

Around mile 21, my IT band started to hurt. I’d noticed it bothering me last week and had hoped it wouldn’t be a problem, but there it was, starting to speak to me. I let up on the pace and took a walk break.  My heart was overflowing with pure, simple joy. All around me were the most beautiful, grand trees.  Butterflies were gracefully floating about, doing a lovely little ballet, it seemed. The sky was baby blue and I just felt my heart overflow with delight at the beauty all around me. The song, “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus came to mind, so I just took a deep breath and started belting it out, loud and clear. It felt right. I felt so alive and so happy!

My good friend, Emily passed me about here and I smacked her on the bottom and said, “Way to go, first place girl!”  She laughed.   After a bit, I decided to try and run again and see how the IT band would respond.  It was hard not to limp, but I managed another couple of miles to the Boiling Springs checkpoint at mile 23 in the race and at that point had pulled ahead about 1/3 a mile and couldn’t believe what an awesome race I was having — back in 1st place at 5 hours and 22 minutes into the race.  I felt like a million bucks (other than the sore IT band) and really thought “This might be MY day – the day I blow the doors off this race and surprise myself!”

But, it was not to be — at least — not like that. As Emily and I left the aid station together, happily talking, I started to notice the pain in my right knee getting worse. It felt like sharp jabs of a knife every time I’d try to run a step.  I went into power-hike mode, pumping my arms and keeping my back straight.  But, as I increased the pace, the pain in my knee would increase, so I had to back off and let Emily go. She was looking so strong and I was so happy for her!

The second section of the course should be named “Death by Extreme Climbing in the Unrelenting Heat of the Day”.   It got hot. It got really, really steep, really, really fast and soon I was panting and leaning on my knees just to catch my breath before taking another series of short steps and repeating the whole process. It was HARD! The dirt underfoot can only be described as fine and powdery – making it easy to lose your footing and find yourself sliding back downhill at times. There were rocks and roots and fallen branches and trees. It was a challenge – but we were surrounded by deep, lush, green forest and wildflowers and tall grasses. It was quite a juxtaposition of extremes – extreme pain and challenge and extreme loveliness and beauty!

I bumped into my friend, Mark about here. He was running in the 50k and was heading back towards camp and the start/finish area.  He didn’t look well. He told me he’d been vomiting and feeling miserable and was pretty sure he was experiencing the pain of kidney stones. I felt terrible for him, but encouraged him to go ahead and DNF (ultra marathon speak for Did Not Finish) so he could lay down and rest instead of continuing to race when he was experiencing a pretty serious medical problem. I’ve heard other runners change the acronym of DNF to = Did Nothing Fatal. I think that applied here. It was a good decision.

From the Boiling Springs campground until the next aid station, there are 7, long, steep miles.  I would describe them as the hardest 7 miles I’ve ever hiked in my entire life! I started to struggle with nausea in the heat of the day here. It would be 4 hours of steep hiking, slip-sliding on the powdery dirt, grabbing at times with my bare hands just to keep moving upwards and forwards, before I’d have another sip of my beloved cold soda — the drink in ultras that seems to give me Super Powers – since there were no aid stations other than a water jug refill spot for that entire section.  I saw several runners struggling here just like me — flopping on the sides of the trail, moaning, talking about upset stomachs and needing some calories — but we’d all have to wait until we reached the next aid station, which was still quite a ways away, given the uber slow, turtle pace I was managing in this section. The horseflies were the biggest irritation, though! They were huge and pesky and it was painful when they’d bite – and bite they did – over and over and over! It was using up a lot of energy just to keep swiping them away only to have them dive bomb again.

I met a couple of really fun runners here – Dana and Ryan.  I teased Dana “I’m crawling in the dirt here. Come on! You can do it! Pass me so you can be second place female!” She’d giggle and then sometimes pass and I’d say “Wow, you totally sprinted that one!” which was pretty silly since we were both barely moving — feeling lethargic and sick, worn down and tired.  It really was a total contrast to how I’d felt bolting into Boiling Springs at 23 miles.   The going was so slow through here, that mile 30 and 31 were 47 and  53 minutes! I was a mess. I felt like puking. I wanted to lay down. I had no energy and I was feeling dizzy in the heat.  Every time we’d reach what appeared to be a summit, we’d groan since the aid station was still not in sight.

Somewhere in here, I was  a bit ahead of the next runner and needed to take my 3,258th pee break of the day.  I squatted down, pulled down my shorts and proceeded to go.  Almost instantly, the next runner caught up to me (a GIRL, thankfully), but I was so embarrassed that I instinctively yelled out, “OH my gosh! I’m so sorry you have to see this” and covered my face with my hands (somehow believing she could NOT identify me later in a line-up when asked, “Ok, Miss, so which one of these ultra runners crudely mooned you out there on the course today?”  Clearly, I was covering the WRONG body part with my reaction.) haha

It felt like we were climbing slowly, yearning for the aid station forever.    When I finally did look straight up and saw my husband’s orange t-shirt, I yelled, “I’m DYING! I need cold soda! PLEASE!”  He yelled back, “That’s almost impossible! I’m not at the aid station – it’s 1/3 a mile away from here. Just come up and get it.”  I started to cry. He realized how badly I was struggling and I could see him start to jog away – I hoped on a quest to find me the desired tonic to my ails – that precious soda!

As I finally reached the spot where he’d been, no one was in sight. I heard a bubbling brook (the FIRST and only water encounter we’d have on the course all day long) and I went in search of a way to reach it.  I had to go off course about 20 steps, but finally I was at the water’s edge, kneeling and scooping my hands into the shallow, sparkling water and bringing it towards my parched lips.  I’d gotten so very thirsty through this section, I’d noticed my tongue actually sticking dryly to the roof of my mouth. It was a relief to have some ice, cold wetness on my tongue and lips again even for a moment. I also splashed water on my arms and shins – hoping the water would keep me cool for a little bit as I went looking for my husband and the aid station.

I stood at the intersection of mountain paths and wondered which way to go. As I’d come up the path a sign had said, “Aid Station” with an arrow. It seemed to point straight ahead. Then another couple of signs pointed towards a path that headed up to “East Mountain” aid station.  I wasn’t entirely sure which path my husband had gone down.  I felt a little disoriented, very drained and incredibly unhappy.  I found a tree, slumped down under it and started to sob. Where just a few hours earlier, I had felt like a strong, focused, fast runner, I was now reduced to a shell of my former self – needy, self-pitying, thirsty, hungry and bone-tired. I thought of the book, “The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” and thought that title summed up my little mood quite nicely.

After some tears had spilled and I’d wiped my eyes, I looked around. It really was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen in my life — wide open expanses of sky and mountains and the forest tops of hundreds of thousands of gorgeous trees surrounded me. And here I was miserable, hot, uncomfortable, my feet, back and legs aching and not really enjoying it the way I should.  I stood back up, dusted myself off and said, “The Pity Party is officially cancelled. Let’s do this!”  I stood and waited for my husband to arrive from one of the paths.  Within a few minutes, he finally did – sweat just pouring off his face, and panting and puffing.  My husband doesn’t really work out much, so he had gone to an extreme effort for me in the heat to run down to the car and get the soda and bring it back.  I hugged him and said, “Thank you!”   I cracked open the Orange Crush and started to gulp it down, feeling the sweetness pour over my dry throat, bringing relief and calories again.  I was still really nauseous, though.  Once I go a long stretch without nutrition in the heat, that tends to happen to me and it’s never an easy fix to get me feeling 100% again.

I slowly followed my husband down the path towards the aid station at Skunk Creek Summit. I saw tables with food like chips, gummy bears, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and de-fizzed soda.  Nothing looked very appealing honestly. I just wasn’t feeling well.  My husband reminded me that I needed to eat something to keep my energy up. I finally settled on a banana and headed for a cot to lay down.  I took my shoes off, shaking out the loose sand and powdery dirt and tried to close my eyes to see if I could get the nausea to abate.  Instead, my stomach decided to revolt on me and I sat straight up and told my husband, “Help me find a private bush or tree FAST! I feel sick!” I quickly put the shoes back on and, after gathering some of our stash of T.P. from the car, we scooted out of the sights of the volunteers and runners at the aid station and found a private spot where I could take care of business.  I started to laugh looking up at my husband, standing guard there over me and said, “Isn’t this the most romantic thing we’ve ever done?!” He laughed too. Crewing for an ultra spouse is definitely not glamorous work!

When my stomach had been dealt with and I was cleaned up and back near the car, I told my husband that I needed to just rest for a bit.  I needed my body to recover from the trauma of the last 4 bad hours so I could go on to run the other 21 miles still ahead of me. (The race is actually 52.6 miles – not 50.)  I was making a strategic decision – the type I’ve learned to make in these situations.  This particular race did not have any cut offs along the way like most ultras and for that I truly want to thank Ben the race director! This gave me the freedom to take care of my body without the pressure of being pulled from the course at a very strict time cut off.  Most 50 mile races have cut offs of 15 or 16 hours, with cut-offs along the way (like Big Horn which had a 10 hour cutoff at 50k into the race.) This one had the same cut off for the 50k, 50 milers and 100 milers — Sunday morning at 10 am — which meant we 50 milers had a very luxurious 28 hours to get it done.  So, I took advantage of that cushy cut off and laid down in the car, my head propped up on my husband’s jacket, while I nibbled Teddy Grahams and sipped Mountain Dew, waiting for my stomach to settle back down to normal.   My Garmin shows that mile 32, where this aid station was located took a full hour and 43 minutes – the climb was slow, I waited at the top for my husband for several minutes, I checked in, got food, used Nature’s Porta Potty and got a little time laying down.  When I left that aid station, I felt a second wind again. My stomach was settled, calories were in my blood stream again and I was ready to rock and roll.   The only problem? My IT band was a mess! Every time I tried to run a step, the sharp pain would cause me to limp instead. I was reduced to a walker the rest of the race.

I walked to the intersection again and read the sign that said “East Lookout Mountain.” I had to smile.  My best friend in the whole world was volunteering at THAT aid station! I knew that climbing the next 6 miles up, up, up, that steep trail would lead me to arms that would encircle me and remind me that I was loved and looked after. I’d get to see Bertha! Around here, I decided I was in need of some trekking poles.  Being quite far from the local REI, I decided to shop in the Forest Store, which always has great prices on poles — FREE! I located a couple long sticks and started using them to help me climb up the mountains and keep from sliding and slipping in the rocks and loose dirt.   I found a rhythm. I wasn’t feeling perfect, but I was moving forward again.

About two miles up the trail, I heard voices behind me. I turned and saw two hundred mile runners hiking my way. I clapped and cheered for them.  When they approached, the tallest one said to me, “You. Run with me.”  These men were over 70 miles into their 100 mile journey.  They had a far-away look in their eyes, like they’d been to a war zone. They told me they were in second and third place in the 100 mile race! I was so inspired to get a chance to run with these great men who were helping to lead the toughest race out there that day!  I tried to chat and keep their minds off their pain, their exhaustion. I hope it helped. We stayed together for about a mile, when I went ahead a bit to go to the bathroom. I came back and took a couple of GU Chomps and then joined them back on the trail.  Within about a minute, I realized the GU Chomps were a bad idea. I’m not familiar with them and they sent my stomach into a downward tailspin once again. Oh nooooooo… I wanted to puke. I felt awful.  I let the 100 milers go on ahead and I sat on a log and leaned my head into my hands, trying to take some breaths and get my stomach to calm down. After a couple minutes, I picked up my walking sticks and started slowly hiking uphill again – moving slow but steady.

It felt like I was just walking in place, with how slow the progress was. It was starting to get a little darker as the sun was setting and I was starting to feel myself shiver in the cold in my tank top.  I didn’t have my jacket or my head lamp with me. They were waiting back down at the bottom (6 miles from the summit) with my husband. I kept hiking, finding myself alone most of the time on the trail. I couldn’t wait to see Bertha, but it felt like I’d never get there. I longed for my friend – knowing she would lift my spirits with her positive, bubbly energy and encouragement.

About a half mile from the summit, I started to hear cheering. I craned my head up and saw a cute Hispanic gal jumping up and down yelling, “CHRISTIE!!! CHRISTIE!!!! I’M SO PROUD OF YOU!” Instantly, I got emotional.  My friend!!!! Then I saw a second cute Hispanic gal jumping up and down next to the first also yelling, “YOU’RE DOING GREAT! WOO HOO!!!! CHRISTIE!!!”   I started to cry, realizing that not only would I get a hug from my best friend, Bertha, but also her twin sister, Lupe! I have known both girls since we were all six years old and they are like family to me!  I picked up my pace, eager to get to my friends, but the happy tears just kept on flowing!  Seeing my friends was to my tired and weary soul an oasis in the desert. I knew they would refresh me.

Within seconds of hitting the summit, I was clobbered by both of their enthusiastic hugs! I loved it and hugged them both back fiercely! The three of us couldn’t stop laughing and crying! Lupe said, “I tricked you, huh? You didn’t know I’d be here, did you?”  We all got a good giggle out of that. Very quickly, they ushered me over to their little “Heaven on a mountaintop” aid station.  The views from this spot were honestly the most spectacular of any I saw the entire rest of the day.  It was the highest point of the entire course and you could see for miles — Cascade Lake, the mountains, the forests of lush green trees in every direction.  It was breathtaking!  Bertha’s husband, Joel rushed over and embraced me in a nice bear hug and asked me what I needed. “Soup,” I said. He immediately went off to get me some. Bertha’s son, Marcus started prancing around, chatting and telling me the funny tricks he’d been playing on his Mom, Aunt, Dad and Uncle — pretending to sprint into the aid station saying, “I’m a runner. I need gummy bears” or “chocolate” or “a sandwich.” haha! The whole group was smiling. They told me how they’d enjoyed looking after the runner’s, meeting their needs and tending to them until they were ready to go face the course again.  I was so inspired by their giving hearts, their kindness, their warmth and their good humor. As I sat, wrapped in a blanket they’d provided, sipping the delicious soup Joel had prepared for me, I was surrounded by love. These people are like my family and I was soaking in all the caring, joy, laughter and attention.  I could feel my body renewing itself again. I was coming back to life with the love and care of my devoted friends.  Lupe noticed I didn’t have a jacket so she took off the one she was wearing – gave me the only thing she had to keep warm and insisted I take it. I almost cried happy tears again. Then she rushed into the camper and came out with her headlamp and told me I could also borrow that.  That quickly, I was ready to race again — having all my needs — both in body and spirit — filled to the brim with the kindness of my friends. The sisters and Marcus walked with me as I headed back down the mountain.  We joked around, giggled and it felt like any other stroll. I almost forgot I was in the midst of a 52 mile race! It was just what I needed. I walked away from them just as the sun was setting, ready to take on the next leg of my journey.

Soon, I was alone on the course again.  I stood on the mountain, looking out at Cascade Lake far below, framed in a pink and purple sunset – the mountains in the background a slate shade of blue. I breathed. I smiled. I took it all in and felt honored to be at that exact place in time, enjoying the show that Mother Nature was putting on for me and me alone it seemed.

I started hiking. I turned the headlamp on and within a few minutes, darkness had closed in all around me.  I felt warm in Lupe’s jacket and the head lamp provided the perfect beam of light to keep me safely moving forward.  I saw a little light in the distance and a few minutes later a 100 miler was crossing paths with me. We chatted. I encouraged him and gave him a hug and told him my friends at the top were stoking up a nice, toasty fire for him to warm himself around and I mentioned that they were even making grilled cheese for any runner who wanted one (I certainly had begged for one after my soup and they were delicious!)   We parted ways with shared smiles.  Soon, I was alone again in the pitch black darkness.  Every rock or odd-shaped tree seemed ghastly and ghoulish in the shadows of my light. I started to hear sounds in the forest and quickly my mind went back to the sign that read, “Bear Country” back at camp.  Gulp!  Was there a bear right nearby? Would it eat me? I certainly couldn’t outrun it with my limping, slow gait!

A few minutes later, I spotted another runner’s headlamp light bobbing towards me. I assumed it was another 100 mile runner, since Bertha had told me that I was the last 50 miler to check in at her aid station.  I walked on as the light grew closer.  As the figure approached, I squinted to see who I was about to pass by.  The figure moved in very fast and quickly was face to face with me. I gasped, then realized it was one of my closet friends– Ryan!! He wasn’t even participating in the race! He was there to cheer on his wife in the 50k.  I was so excited to see him all the way up on this mountain – nearly 12 miles from camp! He said, “You wouldn’t believe how FAST I ran up that steep section to get to you! I was like a midget with my hair on fire determined to bring you a headlamp and a coat!” I was so touched! My husband and my friend had collaborated and decided to try and save me from being stranded in the cold and dark! I couldn’t believe he was really there! He told me “I’m here to help you. I’ll stay until you’re through.” I told him about my injury and how slow I was going.  He said, “It’s fine. We’ll just have fun, take our time and we’ll get you to that finish line.” I felt really grateful to know I wouldn’t have to be alone for the rest of the journey.

We fell into a happy rhythm of easy conversation while carefully walking back down the mountain.He caught me up on the gossip back at camp (how did everyone’s race go who was ahead of me? I want details!!!). We turned off our lamps and stared up at the night sky.  There was a bold, bright half moon and the sky was literally twinkling way up on that mountain top with all of the stars. We looked for constellations, but that didn’t take long since neither of us know very many by  heart.

When a snake crossed our path, Ryan squealed like a little girl and went to hide behind me. I said, “So you’re my Knight in Shining Green Shoes, huh? Don’t worry, Scaredy Cat! I’ll protect you from the big bad, snake!”  haha  When we heard more frightening howls in the depths of the forest, I hid behind him and said, “Ok! You’re turn! You protect me now!” We giggled a lot, knowing neither of us had any mad skills when it came to crazed, hungry wild animals. Ryan would clearly win the sprint to get away from any such creatures, and the poor, injured runner would become a tasty meal, for sure!

Since Ryan had been my “pacer” in my private 50 mile race about a month ago, it really did feel like deja vu. It seemed a good sign of my success to have him back at my side as I traveled yet another journey to that fifty mile destination. Any fears I’d had while being alone in the mountains at night, faded instantly with a friend by my side. It’s amazing how the company of another person can make something that was a little frightening become something to be enjoyed!  Somewhere in here, Ryan mentioned his “Mad Man Diaries!” Ryan likes to blog, too and he sometimes includes these funny videos he makes during his races as he loses his mind to the ultra marathons. He pulled out his camera, set it to “video” and we both took off our headlamps and turned them to the spooky red color, cupping them under our chins to give our faces a sinister appearance.  We cackled evil laughs into the lens and Ryan chronicled some of what we were going through on our night run through the mountains of the Wild Idaho race.  It was hilarious!

The chatter of my friend eased my misery. I was getting two huge blisters on the bottoms of my feet. They were threatening to burst at any moment! They hurt so much! My sprained ankle felt swollen again after being on my feet for so many hours.  My IT band was screeching out in pain every time I’d try to pick up the hiking pace. I was fatigued. I wanted to lay down.  Finally, I did.  I just took off my Nathan pack, plopped down to the powdery, dusty trail and just flopped back like it was my bed.  “Goodnight, Ryan,” I said. You can tell my husband to come find me right at this spot in the morning.  I was kidding around, but it did feel awfully nice to take a little stretch break right on the dirt.  It must have looked comfy to Ryan, too, because soon he flopped down on another section of trail and looked suspiciously like he was about to snore too.  I was thinking how weird we both must look laying down on a trail, high up in the mountains in the middle of the night — but we’d only look weird to those who’ve never ran ultra marathons.  To other racers, we probably would have seemed perfectly sane — just taking care of a physical need (exhaustion) in any way we could.

We both got up, brushed ourselves off and hiked on. Probably the funniest story I remember from our whole evening  of random chat was when Ryan said, “My sister in law saw me looking quite serious the other day.  I was deep in thought. She said to me, “Ryan, what’s on your mind. You seem pretty serious. And without missing a beat, I looked her in the eye and said, “I was just wondering if Locks of Love would accept my beard if I grew it out really, really long.  I wonder what type of person would wear a man’s beard as their hair, though?”  That story had me rolling!!!!!  With a friend who’s that goofy and silly, the hours honestly flew by, even though we were out there, slowly hiking for a very long time.

We finally arrived back at the aid station my husband was waiting at. He was so relieved to see I hadn’t been eaten by a bear and that Ryan had brought me safely back to him to check in, too. We ate a little food, got some water and then headed back to the trail for the final 8 miles of the race.  It was very late. Midnight, maybe? The aid station workers (a bunch of college kids mostly) were playing beer pong and had some music going. They seemed to have a very different night planned than what I had for the remainder of my evening.

Not long after we were on our descent on the final trail, Ryan showed me what huckleberry plants look like. I honestly had no idea before! He picked me some and let me try them. They were really yummy and a nice little treat to perk up my weary body.  The moths started to attack somewhere in here, too. They’d buzz around our headlamps, sometimes aiming straight for our eyeballs, noses or faces! Spit, spit, spit, UGH! That was my usual reaction.  The trail was also so dusty, that our headlamps sometimes showed a dusty haze all around our line of vision from the dust being stirred up by our very own feet. I remember Ryan and I going “stick shopping” together (I totally hooked him up with the sale rack) and somewhere in there one of my long braids actually got stuck on a tree and I had to yell ahead at Ryan to come back and untangle me. I’d probably still be stuck there if he hadn’t.

As the middle of the night wore on, it started to get chillier. We were both starting to feel cold, but kept plodding along towards our goal — the finish line! Finally, when I’d started to think someone had moved the finish line —- we were almost there.   Ryan said, “Come on now! This is your chance! I said, “Ryan, I am limping. I’m not sure I can even run.”  He said, “Try!” It was fun, we picked up my slothenly pace just a hair – quick limp, quick limp, quick limp.  It must have been pretty funny to see.  As we rounded the bend and could see the finish line, I was stunned to see so many of our dear friends, our spouses — all up at nearly 5 am, wrapped in blankets, wearing pjs and beanies, clapping, hooting and screaming, “Way to go” for me!  I ran as well as I could to the finish line and someone took a picture.   My cousin Ben, the race director then threw his arms around me and gave me the tightest hug and said, “I’m SO glad you’re ok!” I thought that was really touching that he’d been concerned about me up there alone in the dark, fighting an injury. It meant a lot! He handed me my finisher’s prize — a small Louisville Slugger Baseball Bat engraved with the name of the race!!!! I was SO excited to get that — proof that I did indeed finish a 50 mile race on trails in the mountains!! I DID IT! It took forever – 22 hours and 45 minutes!  I’d hit mile 23 at 5:22, so it took me nearly 17 hours to complete the second half of the difficult course once my injury flared! Holy smokes! I never would have dreamed I’d be that slow — but slow or not — I did it! Ryan teased me and said, “I guess you just wanted to get your money’s worth on this one, huh?” haha I couldn’t be prouder of myself for refusing to give up or DNF even when I was struggling out there. I’m proud that I have learned to overcome my difficulties and stay mentally strong when the going gets tough.

And, honestly — I felt so cared for during this entire race by so many good friends — Amber, Bertha, Lupe, Joel, Chele – at aid stations , Lupe loaning me her jacket and head lamp when I needed them, my husband for crewing for me all along the way and Ryan for having the heart of a saint to give up his restful night and come run in an injured friend in the forest for several hours. To each and every one of you — thank you from the bottom of my heart! You are all truly the wind beneath my wings! 🙂 I am a lucky gal!

You know, I was feeling a little disappointed that I hadn’t been able to get in much speedwork with my focus on getting the 50 mile race finish checked off my “must accomplish” list — but check this out!!!! My best miles at the ultra over the weekend were: Mile 8 – 7:49 pace. Mile 9 – 8:09 pace. Mile 18 – 7:03 pace. Look at that! I was MULTI-TASKING! 😀

05/11/11

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.

03/14/11

1st Date With The New Shoes

March has been a really unhealthy month at my house. All five of the children caught the flu in the first week. I caught a bad cold the same week. I’m still not entirely over the sniffles.  On Friday, my husband and I went to the shoe store to exchange the Nikes that didn’t work out.  While there, our oldest daughter called to tell us the six year old had thrown up. I paid for all three pairs I was trying on, so I could get home faster and figure out the shoe problem later.  Luckily, we live less than two miles from the closest shoe store, so we were home quickly.  Our poor little girl had thrown up all over the couch, then the wooden floors and finally the kitchen as she made her path towards the bathroom.  We were really impressed with how calmly our oldest daughter had dealt with the situation, though and soothed her sister until we were back home.  We thanked her, paid her a bonus for the tough situation and started to clean up the house and our daughter.

About two hours later, all hell broke loose.  One after another, three of the other children started vomiting.  I don’t think more than one of them made it into the bathroom, either. Our walls, our carpets, the bedding, the mattresses — everything was getting hit! And, it was the kind of stomach bug that keeps coming back to bite.  I’d be upstairs helping to clean up one child and I’d hear another downstairs start to throw up too. Wayne and I were grateful to have each other since we were severely outnumbered with very ill children, messes to clean up and laundry to do.

We managed very well to juggle it all — even through the middle of the night until things went wrong. Wayne started to feel nauseous, clammy and woozy. He tried to fight it, but it wasn’t long before he, too, joined the children with the retching and vomiting.  And, I tried to stay healthy. Really I did! Running from child to child and to Wayne when he’d start up started to get to me.  I’d placed a kitchen towel around my face with one of those chip clips at the back in an effort to not breathe in all the germs too much as I cleaned up, but the kids couldn’t help but breathe right into my face while saying, “Mommeeeeeeeee… . I’m sooo siiiiiiccckkk. Give me a kisss. Hold me Mommy. Make it better.” Of course I held them. Of course I kissed them and held their hands or pulled their hair back while they were sick and then cleaned it all up afterwards.  And, of course — I ended up getting sick too.

That’s when things really went downhill. The nonstop nausea, the dizziness, the clammy skin. The overwhelming exhaustion.  I’d fight the nausea, but it would always win. Wayne and I took turns running to the bathroom, until finally the inevitable happened and he came running in while I was already taking my turn face-down in the porcelain throne and so he did the next best thing — he ripped open the shower curtain to my beloved soaking tub and blahhhhhhhhh all over inside it.  Ugh!

Our poor little children.  We laid as still as stones, moaning in the bed after being sick and could hear them downstairs, flopped on the couches with blankets watching cartoons getting sick again. 🙁  It tore me up. I could not move without vomiting. I’d been up all night long helping each of them over and and over and here it had finally hit me.  I managed to slowly get myself downstairs and cleaned up one more time while letting them know that Mommy and Daddy were now sick too and couldn’t come as fast.  They were so sweet and understanding.  We all kind of had to look after ourselves for a bit during the early-morning hours on Saturday as we each slowly got through the worst of it.

Saturday was a blur.  Everyone slept fitfully, tummies still aching from a long night’s work. Nausea was still strong. Everyone was weary and weak.  Except the three year old. My bouncy, funny, curly blond haired ball of energy had managed to avoid the sickness and was all smiles and energy while the rest of us looked on with envy and awe.  I managed to pull myself out of bed and down the stairs to get her some breakfast.  No one else even wanted to think about food. I brought water to everyone even though they could only tolerate it in tiny sips. Mostly, we all just slept and felt miserable.

Sunday was a turning point. I felt almost normal when I woke up, though I still did not have an appetite. It was good timing. I did several loads of laundry and dishes, swept, made beds and made broth and Gatorade for everyone. I felt well enough to go to the store and buy ice cream and saltines and cheerios — simple foods I thought might feel good to everyone by day’s end.  I was right. The kids perked up when I served them each a small serving of ice cream.  Only one laid his head on the table and just could not handle eating yet. The others were staring to get their sparkle back and I felt good “mothering” them back to health.

This morning, Wayne called in sick to work. It was the right thing to do. He’s still the sickest in the group.  I think he’ll be well enough to head to work tomorrow, though I think it will be a day or two until he feels all the way back to normal. I can hear the kids chatting good-naturedly over morning cartoons.  I just got back from a run. Things are starting to feel normal again.

I did lose some weight. That four pounds I was complaining about last week is totally gone! I guess I just had to lose my lunch over and over and not eat at all for a couple days to achieve that. I think I’ll stick with healthier eating and exercise to lose the weight next time, thank you very much!  Wayne lost even more. He’s down about seven pounds.

So.. the new shoes.  Saucony Grid Cohesion 4 in pink and silver.

Today I took them for a spin. My first impression was that they were really, really cushy — the same kind of running-in-the-clouds comfort that my Asics Cumulus 10’s had given to me for seven pairs!  They also have a nice, roomy toe box, nice ventilation mesh and they don’t rub me wrong or poke me anywhere. They’re also really pretty! I’ve been secretly wishing for a pink pair of running shoes for the last 2 1/2 years but comfort always beats fashion, so I’ve been running in red/white and silver shoes instead even though they match none of my running clothes.

Now, the downside:  I bought this pair in a size 9.  I wear a size 8 in shoes and had worn a size 8 1/2 normally in the Cumulus 10’s.  I did end up buying the last 2 pairs of Cumulus in a size 9 since I was desperate to find that style and willing to make that compromise. It was a little too roomy feeling at first, but I wore thicker socks, tightened the laces and was able to run in them fine. In fact, I just completed the Orcas Island 50k while wearing that last pair of size 9’s.  But, today, in the Saucony’s in size 9, I started to wonder if I’d chosen wrong. The heel cup felt too slippy. I’d stop, tighten the laces and run a bit. Nope. Still too loose. I threaded the laces up the last eyelet on either side to give it a snugger fit and that worked – sort of. It stopped the heel slippage, but left the laces so short I couldn’t double knot and the laces came undone pretty quickly (a problem I never had with the Cumulus’ nice, lengthy strings.)  Eventually I tied it even tighter so the strings wouldn’t come undone but then my toes were starting to go numb from how tight the laces were. Hmm…

So, the jury’s still out. I bought two pairs – one for the treadmill and one for the road, so I think I’ll return the unworn pair and exchange them for a size 8 1/2 and see how that goes.  I might just have to wear thicker socks with the size 9’s.  The only other downfall I noted was not enough arch support for my rather high arches.  They are technically in between medium and high, but I can tell when a shoe doesn’t offer enough of it.  This, too, may be a problem of having bought the wrong size (or having lost about 5 lbs in the last few days since I first bought them when I thought they were perfect.) That would be just my luck to lose weight in my feet when I really needed to lose it in my gut!

The weather outside was insanely gorgeous!  Birds chirping in the trees overhead,  beautiful blue skies dotted with fluffy clouds as far as the eye could see and most importantly – SUNSHINE!!!!! Yes, it’s true — there was sunshine out today for my run! Yahooo!!!!!!

I jogged by a couple of old men wearing their winter jackets and gloves.  They looked at me suspiciously and I looked back at them suspiciously. “Why oh why are you dressed like THAT?”, I could tell they thought of me and I thought of them.  I was wearing my short Under Armor shorts and a tank and felt that perhaps my ankle socks were a bit too much sock for such a lovely day as this.  The temperature was 45 with 14 mph winds – but I swear to you – with that bold, bright sun out – it felt like being in Hawaii! Not that I’ve ever been to Hawaii – but how I imagine it would feel — you know — perfect. 🙂

Stats: 2.35 miles. 10:13 ave pace. 24:04 total time. 167 ave heart rate (a bit high for this pace. I’m still dehydrated and recovering from this bug. I’m sure it will take a few days to see my HR back to normal on runs.)