Redemption at the 2018 Leadville 100 (a lengthy race report)

 

Leadville Trail 100 founders Ken and Merilee

Leadville Trail 100 founders Ken and Merilee

I’ve learned the hard way that no matter how experienced you are or how perfectly your training has played out, no 100 mile finish is guaranteed. While “Speedgoat” Karl Meltzer claims that “100 miles isn’t that far”, a lot can and will happen over the course a 100 mile run. Completing a 100 race is about patience, planning, and constant problem solving. But until you are out there running, you never know what will happen. This year at the Leadville 100 I had trained well, planned thoroughly, and with my crew and pacers addressed each minor challenge that arose but it wasn’t until I started climbing the “boulevard” at mile 95 that I felt 100% confident I would finish.

This is my lengthy race report. I had an amazing amount of clarity for the entirety of the race.  Many of the details seem superfluous but are ones I want to always remember. 

My 2018 Leadville 100 was all about redemption. After earning a DNF in 2017 by missing the cutoff at Outward Bound, I wasn’t sure I still had the physical or mental capacity to stay focused and make the tight cutoffs. I knew I needed help so I hired a coach and followed her training plan almost obsessively.

My coach, Lori Bulwith is not an elite coach but definitely a badass athlete who is an an ultra runner and a  triple ironman finisher.  As an experienced endurance athlete and a fitness trainer, Lori incorporated heart rate workouts that kept me balanced and healthy while ensuring that I didn’t overtrain and get to the start line exhausted. Having her in my corner gave me renewed confidence.

While the heart rate based training took away a lot of the relaxed spontaneity that I love about trail running, it helped me develop a new mental focus. Having to think about my running kept me fully present. It also revealed that even after over 20 years of running, I had no sense of what kind of effort my body was truly producing.

To be very honest, I was intimidated by 90% of my workouts. It wasn’t the distance that scared me, it was the intensity that made me nervous. Whether it was 5 miles or 50, each one was a small triumph and strengthened my resolve.

I won’t write about my specific training but here are some pictures of the highlights.

So flash forward to race day.

I’d slept well, which meant I at least got 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep. I felt calm and centered as I  lined up at the start. I stood next to Val Zajac, a friend and grand slammer  My eyes teared up as the national anthem played. I felt like this was my first 100 miler and wanted to soak it all in. When the shotgun blast sounded, I breathed a huge sigh of relief as my legs did their thing.

Val and I chatted as we ran down the road. I hadn’t run with her all summer and was happily catching up on news. I was careful to check my heart rate frequently so I wouldn’t run too hard during these downhill miles. Val commented that she felt terrible (this was already her 3rd 100 miler since June) so we slowed down a little.

Around Turquoise Lake I was thrilled that I’d found my own little bubble. There was a group about 200 yards in front of me and nobody directly behind me so I could clearly see the trail ahead and didn’t feel pressured to push the pace faster than I liked. I “whooped” for Kurt who was taking photos near the boat ramp, but didn’t get a response. Somewhere along this stretch I lost Val but I knew she’d catch up once we hit smoother ground. I savored these miles and the beauty of the sun rising over the lake.

Emerging from the May Queen aid station felt like encountering of those “soccer parent tunnels” that went on and on and on. It had a surreal feel after the solitude of the lake. While the crowd was overwhelming, the cheering was energizing.

The short stretch of trail up to Hagerman Pass Road is one of my favorite sections and it passed too quickly. I noticed my heart rate had settled down as I ran most of the lower section of road. I enjoyed being on the dirt road because it gave me a chance to relax and chat with other runners. I met runners from Chicago, Littleton, Iowa, Minnesota, and Boulder. With the sun fully up we could see darker clouds moving in. The wind started gusting around us. The forecast had said we’d get rain and I hoped it would hold off at least until we were off the high point.

For the first time in all the years I’ve run the race, as I ran this section I paid attention to some of the details of the trail. I wanted to have specific landmarks to keep me motivated during the night. This year I wanted to stay more focused during the night so I wouldn’t resemble a zombie or sleepwalker.

Outward Bound was also a zoo but the spectators were corralled behind fences. Since I had so many tasks: fill my water, use the port-a-potties, pull out my jacket and plastic gloves, get some snacks, drop my trash, get vaseline; I felt very disorganized and must have looked confused.  I’d wander back and forth through the aid station with no real sense of direction. I did accomplish all my jobs and headed out to the gopher field and the imminent rainstorm. Not surprisingly, with her speedy legs, Val passed me. She had found her groove. She said she had wanted to drop out before May Queen but was feeling much better now. I ran with her for a little bit but needed to drop back.

Rain started falling and I put on my jacket and rubber gloves. I was being extra careful and didn’t want to chance getting soaked and cold. The rain made this normally hot stretch runnable. I could tell all the long flat runs and track workouts Lori had incorporated into my training were paying off. Not only was I running the flats, I was enjoying them.

My favorite memory of this section was meeting a Leadman who told me that Iowa has 7 times as many hogs as people. He was proud that ALL the bacon from the Bourbon and Bacon Festival in Denver was from Iowa. Ironically he was vegetarian. For some reason learning these bits of trivia made me gleeful all the way to Twin Lakes. (Maybe there was something other than water in the water . . . ) I felt a sense of  camaraderie with the runners around me like we were all pooling our energy to get to Twin Lakes.

coming into Twin Lakes 1

Twin Lakes 1 Photo credit Leslie Jones Cortright

Twin Lakes was a HUGE party complete with tents and cowbells. I was overwhelmed! With an uncharacteristic laser focus I was able to fill my pack, restock food, eat a variety of foods (including my tailwind spiked with coffee), and even think ahead about what I would need once I returned. I loved seeing Terri, Leigh, Abby and Lisa. The huge hug from Abby was like an energy boost. As I headed away from my crew I was pleasantly surprised to hear them calling out Val’s name! I was stoked she and I could climb up Hope Pass together.

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Obviously we were having fun crossing the river. I don’t remember why I was laughing but this picture shows the way I felt 90% of the race.

Next up was the first climb up Hope Pass. I have an odd relationship with this mountain. I LOVE going uphill and think Hope is beautiful but it seems to always undo my confidence. While some would argue it’s because it is 40 miles into the race, I think it is because my expectations don’t match my actual experience. I expect this to be the best part of the race and when it is not, my mind turns against me. Also, because I consider climbing to be my strength, I have a tendency to compete with other runners in a way I don’t on any other part of the course.

To counteract this mental mismatch, I’d intentionally prepared myself for two LONG, difficult climbs by telling myself how hard it would be. I also reminded myself that the goal was to maintain equal efforts out and back. Strangely this twisted way of thinking worked. I was moving steadily and staying alert to the leaders zooming by on the trail. It was exciting to see Rob Krar bouncing down the trail.

I will admit I had one moment when I was envious of a runner who passed me like I was standing still. Less than 10 minutes later when I saw him sharing his lunch with the trees, I realized sticking to my plan and not worrying about my pace had its benefits.

Hope Pass 1

LOVE this Hope Pass crew photo credit Jenn Coker

Thank you Jenn Coker for the HUGE smile and photo at the top of Hope Pass.

Descending down the back side was fun especially seeing all the friendly faces heading back up. I tried to draw energy from the other runners in order to avoid thinking about the rolling section of trail that separated Hope from Winfield. Often this was one of the mentally toughest stretches  for me. While I maintained an average pace, I made the BIG mistake of not drinking enough.  When I finally reached the aspen grove that marked the descent into Winfield I felt a sense of relief.

Kurt met me in Winfield. He filled my empty water bladder, gave me food, and his upbeat energy shifted my mood immediately. I was able to run most of miles to the base of  the climb (something I’ve never been able to do). I didn’t eat quite enough but with his encouragement kept snacking. Kurt definitely looked the part of the mule, carrying both our fully loaded packs, one on his front and one on his back.

The climb was steady and Kurt chatted constantly with everyone. I think I might have uttered a total of 10 words during this stretch but I was saving all my energy (and responses) for the downhill. The beauty of having an experienced pacer is that Kurt totally understood my silence and didn’t take it  personally. He knew I was putting all my effort into climbing. Based on my energy level I knew I had paced myself well to this point and would be able to run down into Twin Lakes. That was a comforting thought.

Around mile 53 between Winfield and Hope Pass 2

Around mile 53 between Winfield and Hope Pass 2 photo credit Kurt Hardester

As hard as this section felt, looking back, it was one of my favorite parts of the race. I soaked up Kurt’s encouraging words, his funny banter, the beautiful scenery, and being in a place I love. Once we reached the prayer flags at the top of Hope Pass, I kissed Kurt and started the descent. Our roles shifted as his body protested and caused dry heaving. (A common reaction I was used to whenever we climbed up high). The runners ahead of us were trying to block out the awful sounds and Kurt reassured them that this was normal for him. It was a funny moment and once the heaving stopped, we both laughed.

The run down was wonderful! I could finally chat and I responded to all his conversation from the uphill section to prove I was listening. (Inside joke with Kurt – He had asked, “With Leadville over, what will we do next Saturday? In my head I had the perfect response and couldn’t wait until we were running downhill to tell him.) We made it to the river before dusk. YAY! Once we were across I sent Kurt ahead to alert the crew and Lisa, my next pacer.

In Twin Lakes I always feel like the most ADHD/spastic person trying to do 10 things at once. This year was no exception. I got my bra on backwards (but luckily Leigh helped fix that). She was like a patient mom dressing a 2-year old. I had my shorts on backwards (which I did not discover until Outward Bound). After I ate and got my lights I even tried to leave with my shoes untied. At least they were on the right feet. (I do recall an “R rated conversation” between Lisa, Raquel, and Kurt that even now makes me giggle. Another fun little memory from a race full of goofy moments).

As Lisa and I climbed out of Twin Lakes, I could tell my climbing legs were fatigued but vowed to run more of the downhills and flats to make up for any loss of time. I hadn’t seen Lisa in a few weeks so I was excited to have hours and hours to catch up with her. Lisa is the kindest friend you could ever have and I appreciated that even though she’d suffered through pacing me at previous 100s (with a mix of happy and miserable experiences) she was willing to take on the hardest section of this run.

I loved how she cheered for every runner who passed us (and there were A LOT) and her voice was like a spot of sunshine during the night. When we reached the Mount Elbert water stop it was great seeing our friend Sean Cook. I think Sean and the aid station workers thought I was wacky when I whipped out a toothbrush and started brushing my teeth. I’d forgotten to do this earlier and was hopeful that having clean teeth would allow me to regain my appetite. Sadly it didn’t work. Even though I wasn’t eating much, Lisa consistently kept encouraging me to try any kind of food.

The funniest part of our run was when she offered me a chewable antacid. While I sensed eating one was a bad idea, I thought I should at least try to see if it helped. settle my stomach.  I chewed, and chewed, and chewed, trying to will myself to swallow but my body refused and it ended up as squirrel food on the side of the trail. While I couldn’t laugh at it in that moment, I did find it comical. Later we repeated this same process with neon blue caffeine gum. I did sort of worry that hurling unnaturally colored food on the side of the trail might be considered littering and I might be disqualified. (I might have to check the runner’s manual.)

Every year I become more and more convinced the Half Moon aid station is only a mirage. No matter which way you approach it or if it is day or night, it seems to suddenly appear out of nowhere.

Outward Bound Aid station with Neil Smith

Outward Bound Aid station with Neil Smith photo credit Lisa Mansfield

I’m amazed how happy we look at this point in the race. Look! I’m holding soup because I was trying to be an obedient runner. As we walked out of Half Moon, the rain started. We put on pants and jackets and hoped it would subside before we got soaked. I felt proud of myself for not only layering my jackets but especially for asking my crew for my heavy coat for this section. Having the rain seemed good because it forced  me to just put my head down and run in order to stay warm and get to Outward Bound as fast as possible. I was staying warm but I think poor Lisa was turning into a popsicle.

We reached Outward Bound and planned to go inside so Lisa could change into a dry shirt and I could try to eat. I sat in the back of the aid station watching dazed and frozen runners come in to sit by the heater. I could feel my body start to shiver and the hint of fatigue tugging at my eyes … so I stood up and told Lisa we had to go. She agreed. We waved at my friend Andrew who was serving hot soup to the frozen runners and followed the string of headlights toward power line.

Once we started the grind up power line, I shifted all my energy into climbing. Head down, arms pumping, legs screaming… I wasn’t fast but I was moving up. Lisa kept offering me snacks and tailwind but I wasn’t taking much. She was quiet but kept encouraging runners and meeting people. I loved it.  Finally, since I was stumbling around so much she tried a new tack, caffeine pills. Since I figured I had to do something, I agreed.

As we continued to climb, I felt the sleepwalker’s fog lift a little. Lisa had rescued me AGAIN! Once I was walking and thinking clearly, I worried that I didn’t hear the music and horns in the distance from the informal, psychedelic aid station at the top of the climb. Luckily we rounded a corner and there were blow up alien dolls and 100s of glow sticks lining the trail.

Yes there are aliens on Hope Pass

Yes there are aliens on Hope Pass Photo credit Dan Spale

Lisa had the great idea of  turning off her light to get the full effect of the glow sticks. I appreciate how she always takes in the whole experience and reminds me to enjoy these simple moments, even if I’m not feeling fabulous. She even noticed when Scott Jurek went by with his runner. She called out his name and he turned to talk to us. She complimented his kindness and patience earlier with all his fans and he graciously accepted her praise. I wish I’d had the exchange on video.

As we trotted down the road I started to realize the night was ending soon and I had a good chance of finishing. I still wasn’t 100% confident but knew I could relax a little. I loved taking on the technical section into May Queen even though I had started to notice an ache in my left arch. Wanting to be proactive, I asked Lisa for a tylenol once we reached the road.

As soon as we emerged onto the road two things registered: #1 It was dark still! #2 I could hear Kurt’s voice. Both were reasons to celebrate! I wasn’t sure Kurt would be here but it was a bonus getting to see him with Abby. They had gotten up early to meet us and that meant a lot. They also gave me updates on our friends Don and Raquel who had both finished under 25 hours to earn their big buckles.

Lisa searched for the tylenol but sadly she couldn’t find one. She apologized but I knew with only 13 miles left my foot would have to fall off before I’d stop.

Saying good bye to Lisa was a little sad because she’d pulled me through but I knew she was happy to go get warmed up and get some sleep. She’d more than earned it.

At May Queen my next pacer was my friend and coach Lori. She had never been to the race so I was excited to have her join me for the final miles. She must have thought we were crazy as my crew desperately searched for my sunglasses. In her nonchalant way, Lori asked, “Kurt, those don’t happen to be Laurie’s sunglasses on your head?” We all laughed. As we headed onto the trail, Kurt encouraged me to run as much as I could. While I thought I had plenty of time to make it to the finish, for some reason this comment planted a seed of doubt and made me worry about if I was moving too slowly.

Lori chatted animatedly about the race and kept me entertained. She had fantastic stories about her work, her niece, and her triple ironman race. Since the trail wasn’t steep I could participate in the conversation rather than just listen. She convinced me to drink some tailwind and when it didn’t make me gag, I agreed to keep sipping it. There was a light fog over the lake that shimmered in the sunlight.

At least a mile out from the boat ramp I could hear Kurt whooping and hollering. Except for my first and 2nd time running the race, I’d never had my crew come to the boat ramp so this was a special treat. We also ran into our friend Milan who was running around the lake and greeting the tired runners. Most of the people we saw along this stretch congratulated us, telling us we had it made. (Honestly though, in my head I still wasn’t sure if this was true).

When we got to the sandy beach sections, the nagging pain in my foot turned into piercing pain. I’d suddenly cry out and Lori would stop short. She offered me ibuprofen but even with the end so near, I refused since I suspected it would make me even more nauseous. Lori looked concerned but I assured her it was not a big deal. I was going to finish and the pain wasn’t that bad. I would just have to be careful about not pushing off too hard or stepping down on a rock the wrong way.

Even though we didn’t have far to go and I knew instinctively I was going to finish, I kept obsessively asking Lori about the time, pace and mileage. I was doing calculations in my head to be sure we wouldn’t come in after 30:00. She was patient with me and gave me details and reassured me that we were fine. I was grateful for her calm way of keeping me focused.

As we ran on the dirt road, Val and her pacer Raquel came up from behind. I was SO happy to see them. I knew Val had been about 45 minutes behind me earlier but she had gotten a second wind and was looking really strong! I wanted to run with her but her turnover on the flat section was much faster than mine.

It wasn’t until we started climbing the boulevard that I was 100% convinced I would finish. My legs kicked into gear and we climbed the steepest section with gusto. I watched the runners around me and tried to keep pace or pass them just to keep myself occupied and moving steadily. When we reached a spot where we could see the high school, I couldn’t hold back my tears. I was smiling ear to ear with tears running down my cheeks.

Heading to the finish with Lori photo credit Kurt Hardester

 

 

Kurt and Abby were at the road and came up to meet us and join us for the final mile. As we looked up ahead, there was Val. We congratulated each other and kept pushing toward the finish. Having her next to me made me cry even more because we had started side-by-side, crossed the river together, and now would finish together. We finished in 29:23.

Leadville 2018 finishing with Val photo credit Kurt Hardester

The whole crew! So much love and inspiration in this group. photo credit Kurt Hardester

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I could not have made it without this guy, my husband, and second coach, Kurt.

Could not have made it without this guy!

Could not have made it without this guy! photo credit Lisa Mansfield

 

My dad, the man who got me started in running and gave me the grit to do ultras. At 81 he still plays softball and drove up just to see me finish. He’s my hero.

My hero, my dad

My hero, my dad photo credit Lisa Mansfield

 

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A Fresh Start – Training like a Beginner

It’s a new training season and time to shake things up. Every year it feels like a new start but for me, this year is different. Here’s how and why.

Back in October I wrote about my DNFs at the Bighorn 100 and Leadville 100s . As an experienced ultra runner, I thought I understood what I had done wrong and how to fix my mistakes. I was seeing part of the picture, but not the big picture. I needed more time to step back, start training again, and really think about how I’ve been training and approaching races for the past 5 years.

That is the key phrase … I needed more time. As I’ve been training this winter I realized that I’ve been stuck in a rut. I’ve been lucky to have been able to train for, and finish so many races in the past 20 years but now I need a change. My poor performances in 2017 were not due to: ____________(fill in the blank:  a lack of training, bad weather, poor planning, dumb mistakes….) but are an accumulation of slow miles and stagnancy. DUH! So this year I’m training like I’m a beginner.

So what am I doing? I’m thinking like a newbie who has never run an ultra before and that means making big changes. Here are the steps I’m taking.

1.I bought a heart rate monitor.

When I first started running I used my Polar monitor religiously on every run. Once I started running trails and ultras, my heart rate seemed less important so I ditched it.

Now I realize I’m not a good judge about how hard I’m running and true recovery. I’ve gotten used to running tired and often underestimate how much recovery I need.

Using heart rate numbers, I can check my recovery and be sure I am pushing myself a little harder during workouts.  I’m using my heart rate to be sure I’m rested and to check that I’m not just slogging on every run.

2. I hired a coach.

Having an expert look at my training and give me advice about how to train takes away the guesswork. While I’ve been able to design my own training and finish races for years, I’ve gotten lazy. What worked in my 20s, 30s was okay but is not cutting it any more.

Choosing a coach who fits my personality and goals is vital so I opted for someone I know and trust. Many people want a big name professional but that’s just not my style. I went with my boot camp coach who had already been designing boot camp workouts specifically for me. She also has experience as an ultra runner and is a triple iron woman. (If you don’t know about double or triple ironman races, read about them here.)Her business is Peak Power Fitness.

3. I’m having my blood work analyzed.

Nutrition has always been a huge downfall. Starting in my teen years and into my 40s I have struggled with food issues and fluctuations in my weight. While now I have a healthier relationship with food, I know my diet is far from ideal, especially when I’m training. I tend to eat much healthier when I’m training but know I consume too much sugar and too little water. This is something I am committed to changing with small steps.

I researched a few different companies that do blood testing and wanted a basic analysis. While I can get my blood work done through my insurance, I found that the tests covered by my annual exam were minimal and not focused on my specific challenges as an endurance athlete. I did some research and chose to work with Blueprint for Athletes because of the simplicity and cost. Another program that offered some amazing nutritional coaching was through Inside Tracker.

4. I’m reading as much as I can about brain training.

I love to read and have a stack of motivational books by and about athletes. I’m rereading the books I have (The Ultra Mindset by Travis Macy, Find a Way by Diana Nyad, How Bad Do You Want it by Matt Fitzgerald… just to name a few) and picking up a few new reads.

While I’ve heard and read most of the studies before, having a fresh look at motivation and training is helping me reset my mindset for upcoming runs and races. Having a new perspective gives each idea and tip new weight.

So here’s to my fresh start. Kind of exciting to feel like a newbie.

Looking back, moving forward

Moab Marathon – November 2016 Photo by Raquel Harper

Training in Boulder with friends

Snowshoeing with friends above Eldora

Salida Run Through Time Marathon – March 2017

Trip to Tanzania, Africa

Hard Rock volunteering, crewing and playing in the San Juans

Never Summer 100K – July 2017

Don and Grace’s Wedding on Hope Pass – August 2017

Another birthday and what a good time to reflect on the year. Rather than write up all my races I thought I’d put together a photo post of my year. Looking forward to the rest of the year and 2018.

Bighorn 100 – June 2017

Leadville 100
Photo by Lisa Mansfield

 

 

Grief

Before I knew Grief
I believed it was inanimate
like a step-by-step geometry proof
to be worked through to a tidy solution.
Then She
swept into my life
and I realized
Her complexity
varied but never tidy.
For some
She is a blanket
both smothering and sheltering.
For some
She is a cloud
constantly shrouding and fogging
For me
She’s the winter wasps
carefully concealed
unexpectedly popping out
I swat carefully
not expelling Her
but longing to prevent Her sting on another.
For She
has become my companion.
A silent shadow trailing behind,
neither dragging me down or lifting me up
but reminding me which way to face toward sun.

Dreaded DNFs

It’s been over a year since I’ve posted, and in that time I’ve run a lot and learned even more. After finishing the SilverHeels 100 miler in August 2016, I spent the fall pacing at the Leadville 100, Bear 100 and Run Rabbit Run 100. Pacing turned out to be the highlight of the season. I was privileged to run beautiful race courses with my friends and help them reach their 100 mile finish lines.

In November I had surgery and expected to spend the winter recovering but was fortunate to be back running within weeks and training and racing by December. In retrospect this quick recovery may have been a curse rather than a blessing. Instead of spending the winter resting and recovering I dove into hard training and racing.

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My 2017 season included a lot of races for me. Thinking I needed a different challenge in 2017 I signed up for the Bighorn 100 and the Leadville Trail 100. 

With Bighorn looming in early June I started training as soon as I could in December with long, hard runs and ran the Nighthawks Snowshoe series and also the Sourdough Snowshoe 11. 4 mile race as winter training. If you like low-key races with great prize drawings, I highly recommend these races. They are small, community oriented events.

My other races included the Run Through Time Marathon,  Quad Rock 50, and the Never Summer 100k, put on by the Fort Collins Gnar Runners. I loved all these races with their challenging courses, stunning views, and high-quality aid stations. Hopefully (before I forget all the details) I’ll find time to do write-ups about these races.

With all these races and additional training runs, I thought I was thoroughly prepared for both my 100 milers. I was wrong.

The Bighorn 100 turned out to be my first disappointing DNF. While I knew the course would be challenging with its long, steep climbs, I had not adequately prepared for the mud and rain that made both the climbs and descents difficult.

At the 50 mile aid station, I was way behind pace and hypothermic. Thankfully, due to the hard work of my crew and the aid station workers, I was able to continue running. My pacer, Terri had even anticipated that I would need her company and started pacing me ahead of schedule.

Even with my 90 minute rewarming stop, I was ahead of the cutoffs but didn’t anticipate 18 miles of downhill taking me over 3 hours. While I made the next cutoff (by a few minutes), I was unable to make up enough time and missed the cutoff at 82.5 miles. It was my first DNF at any race. I can’t explain how disappointed I was, especially since my legs and stomach felt great. I guess sliding downhill for 3 hours doesn’t tax the body much.

I did learn these 3 things: always know ALL the aid stations cutoffs, take the time to stop and get extra clothing, and there is a BIG difference between dropping out of a race and missing a cutoff even if the results are the same. Even though I DNF’ed, I hadn’t given up at 50 miles and that made a big difference for me. While I’d made mistakes, I hadn’t quit.

IMG_1850From this DNF I went into the Never Summer 100k more aware and prepared for the cutoffs. I was determined to finish no matter how I felt. Luckily the conditions for Never Summer were ideal. It had rained the entire night before the race but race morning dawned clear and dry.

After the mud disaster at Bighorn I made a rookie mistake of running the first half of the 100k aggressively. This gave me a big buffer but also made me very nauseous due to the difficult climbs and the heat. I thoroughly enjoyed the race (even the turtle-like final 15 miles) and finished well ahead of the cutoffs, but had a very, very slow second half. (Gnar Runners Never Summer race wrap-up).IMG_2108Finishing this difficult 100k gave me more confidence for the Leadville 100. Unfortunately, confidence wasn’t quite enough for me to get the job done in Leadville.

Many people think that once you have finished a race over 10 times, it is a “gimme” whenever you tow the line. This is definitely not the case for me with Leadville or any ultra. As I discovered at Bighorn, even the best training and preparations can fail when weather comes into play. Bighorn had the lowest finish rate ever (in both the 50 and 100 miler) due to the rain and mud. It proved that no race is a “gimme”. (Bighorn 2017 results race).

I won’t write up all the details of my 2017 Leadville race here. Eventually I hope to record my memories of the 2017 run because I did enjoy everything except the DNF part because the weather was ideal; many of my friends were running, pacing or crewing; and after several years of trudging through the 100 miles, I really savored each mile of the 75 I completed.

IMG_2312If the lottery gods smile on me I will go back to Leadville in 2018 to fix my mistakes and earn a 12th belt buckle. I’ve learned that while getting older can provide valuable race experience, it also can mean slower speeds. Because of this, I know my 2018 training will include more speed work, road/flat running to improve my turnover, and analysis of my overall and race nutrition. I also know I need to mentally prep myself and my pacers for pushing harder later in the race if cutoffs are a concern.

I also know this winter will include more recovery time and “play time” on the trails so I’ll start the 2018 season refreshed.

Want to know how to avoid racking up DNFs and burnout? I recommend assessing every race to look at what’s working and what’s not. I’ve learned the hard way that every season and race is a chance to reset and learn and I need to pay attention, even when things are going well. My goal is for 2018 to be season of fun finishes and no more DNFs.

 

 

 

What can YOU do with $5?

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October 1st I got a real letter. Not junk mail or political advertising, but a real piece of mail from a real person named Laurie. And even though I don’t know Laurie, this made my day.

Let me explain. Laurie Shiers sent me a letter with a $5 bill to celebrate her 45th birthday. In the letter she explained that she is “giving $5 to 45 different Lauries who are also near their 45th birthdays.” She has asked each of us to help make a change in our communities.

So here’s what I did with my $5. On Saturday I headed to an open space trail to run and also volunteer patrol. As a patroller I count and greet visitors, ask folks to please leash their dogs and pick up trash (usually dog poop bags).

As I was running and counting I saw 11 dogs and finished my run with 5 poop bags. In my head I was thinking, if each of those dog owners left his/her poop bag on the trail, it sure would leave an ugly mess. So I decided when I returned to my car, I’d give my $5 to the next visitor I saw depositing his/her dog poop in the trash.

It didn’t take long. As soon as I got to my car, a woman with a HUGE great dane dropped her bag into the trash. I ran over and thanked her and handed her the $5. At first she was reluctant to accept the money but when I explained Laurie’s project she changed her mind and she let me take a picture of her beautiful dog, Targa.

It was a great feeling and I am grateful Laurie chose me as part of her birthday celebration! And to continue the celebration through October I’m going to get a bunch of $1 bills and each time I patrol this month will give dollars to responsible dog owners and a token of my gratitude for them keeping our trails beautiful. I hope they goodwill gesture will make even a small difference.

If you want to read more stories of the other Laurie’s from this project, check out brainchildcoaching.com (Laurie Shier’s blog). Maybe you’ll be inspired to take on a similar project. Targa the Great Dane

Silverheels 100 – 2016

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Kurt headed up Hoosier Ridge. My favorite part of the course!

One of the most common questions I get about ultrarunning is “Why do you run 100 milers?” Normally I don’t put much thought into this question but for Silverheels I thought about it a lot. Training for this race has been incredibly fun with runs and hikes almost daily in the mountains on some of my favorite trails with friends and even included a wedding hike up Mount Elbert. In most cases I pick a 100 miler to run for fun (yes I know that sounds wacky) but in this case my reasons for running didn’t become clear until well into the race.

Running the race made me feel a strong sense of kinship for all the people involved. I know Sherpa John puts his heart into his races and this one was no different. He designed a challenging course, went above and beyond to build and repair trail and lined up some outstanding volunteers who cared for me at every aid station. These people were a mix friends I’d met out on the trails or through running groups and also complete strangers who gave up their weekend to come be trail angels for the runners.

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Pre-race meeting at the church with Dave, Anaka, Terri and Christie

In addition to the volunteers, I was also surrounded by a super crew. I’d like to take credit for this crew but many of these people were recruited by my husband Kurt to crew us both. They included his parents, Nancy and Ken, his daughter Jenice and and good friends Andrea and Armando Risi and Matt Rutledge. Also jumping in to help were my pacers Lisa Mansfield and Brett Overby. They were all the super crew because they met me each time at the aid stations with cheers and enthusiastic smiles, dry

Amazing volunteers and runners - Stuart, Craig, Armando, Andrea, Christoph and his wife, Carolyn, me, Jennifer and Kurt

Amazing volunteers and runners – Stuart, Craig, Armando, Andrea, Christoph and his wife, Carolyn, me, Jennifer and Kurt

 

All these people, our ultra family seemed to be the reason I ran this race. Being in the presence of such kindness and generosity made me feels such a sense of gratitude and well-being. It was not what I expected to come away with from the race but it made every step worthwhile. And to each person who supported me (and Kurt), I owe you a huge debt. Thank you!

So now onto the nuts and bolts of the race itself. This write up is pretty long and mostly for me to record my memories of the race. Here’s the short version in 20 word or less. The weather was perfect, the course high and rocky and I finished in 33:10 (10th overall and 1st woman).

As far as pre-race prep, I had done all mine a week or two in advance, packing my drop bags and clothes WAY ahead of time as a way of keeping busy during the taper week. Since Kurt and I had marked most of the course in 2015 I hadn’t studied the maps or mileage. I had planned to carry the directions and map but wanted the course to be somewhat fresh and new on race day.

For those of you with time to kill, here’s the LONG version.

Learning from my lack of mental prep for the 2016 Leadville Race I’d also spent a lot of time on mental strategy. During my taper week I’d gotten a purple bracelet as a reminder of my mom (from the CJD foundation) and had written my 3 mantras on it. Thinking we’d have some adverse weather I envisioned myself as a buffalo running straight into the storm to get through it faster.  As a reminder to take in the beauty of the mountains I also wrote “yutori”, a Japanese word describing a sense of spaciousness in time and space. As a reminder of what had brought me to this race, my third mantra was “agape” which means the highest form of love.

Although I didn’t feel nervous I’m pretty sure I didn’t

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Jenice, Ken and Nancy – family and supercrew

sleep all night and I spent all night listening to Kurt snoring away. I knew this would have an effect on me through the night hours of the run.

Getting to the start felt a little rushed but I got one good picture of Ken, Nancy and Jenice before we headed out into the dark. The first miles on the road felt relaxed running next to Kurt and settling into a comfortable pace. I felt happy to running near Kurt and our friends Christoph, Jonathan and Richard. They kept

me from missing an early turn that while would not have caused me to get lost, would have cut off some important miles.

As the sun finally started to rise we were approaching the first aid station at High Park where Sean Cook and Brandt Ketterer happily greeted us with cheers, snacks and water. These guys had camped overnight so they could be ready for us at sunrise. With the forecast for rain most of the day I was thrilled to see low clouds and the sun’s brilliance lighting up Mount Bross.

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Sunrise over Mount Bross

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Kurt approaching the Silverheels Mine

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Jonathan Pope near Silverheels Mine

This first out and back trip over to the Silverheels mine was our first chance to see all the runners. It was energizing to see most of the leaders (although Andrew Skurka, the eventual winner was already so far ahead we didn’t even see him at this point) and friends Anaka, Emily, Dave and Jennifer who were also close behind.
Running back to the aid station Kurt was frustrated because his feet were already hurting. Strangely my feet hurt a lot too but I tried to tell Kurt it would pass and that he’d feel better once he loosened up. I could tell he was struggling and my encouragement wasn’t really helping.

The next miles seemed to fly by. I had the chance to run with Christoph Sholtes and Bogie Dumitrescu and the conversation kept me distracted. The clouds were keeping us cool and the predicted rain never materialized which was quite a relief.

Not really having studied the course I was just trucking along from aid station to aid station. I was hydrating well but from the start didn’t have any appetite. I was conscious of the need to eat so I would eat a few potato chips or a little bacon. At every aid station my spirits soared as I saw friends crewing and volunteering. I was especially happy to arrive at Tarryall (mile 37ish), the main hub of the race.

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Leaving Tarrryall (mile 37ish) with Bogie

One of the best sights was as I was leaving the Trout Creek aid station and saw Kurt being heartily greeted by Don, Grace, Mindy and Kevin as he approached. Periodically Kurt would catch up to me. His highs and lows were pretty extreme but every minute we could run together made me hopeful we’d both finish and probably close together.

Most of the rest I’ll just show in photos. What the photos don’t show are how much fun I had with my two pacers Brett Overby and Lisa Mansfield. These two made the race so memorable and entertaining.

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Kurt leaving Tarryall

Unfortunately I didn’t get photos or video of the night section leaving Trout Creek again. Brett Overby was pacing me and while the music, festive lights, fire pits, great food and warmth of Trout Creek were tempting, Brett and I kept trucking. Soon after leaving the hospitality of Don, Grace and Kevin, Brett and I both started to fall asleep. Climbing “jungle hill” must have taken us twice as long since we were sleep walking, staggering and hallucinating. Our hallucinations were not quite as scary as Christoph’s though, and at one point Christoph stopped and walked back on the trail to meet us because he was certain he had seen a bear ahead. Luckily Brett was coherent enough to recognize that the “bear’s eyes” were really course markers and we breathed a sigh of relief that we wouldn’t have to share our bacon. Once the sun started rising both of us seemed to rally and perk up.

Lisa’s section was much more lively and my goal was to make sure Lisa’s pacing experience was MUCH better than when she had paced me in 2015 at Leadville. I wanted to make sure I was coherent and at least somewhat cheery. (Lisa will have to let me know how I did).

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Brett was already resting his eyes before I arrived. (with volunteer Jennifer Forker)

After our “walking nap”, Brett and I arrive much later than expected at the Poor Man’s aid station. I was ecstatic to see Lisa and to have survived the night. For me, there is something very satisfying about getting through a night in an ultra with no headlight malfunctions. (It is one of my quirks to carry 3-4 headlamps just to be safe).

Sadly I received the news that Kurt had dropped out at 70 miles. Andrea and Armando didn’t give me details but I was shocked because the last time I had seen Kurt he had looked cheerful and I also know how determined he was to finish. I got really teary eyed thinking about how hard Kurt had fought not only to get to the start line but throughout the entire day. I was grateful Lisa’s energy would help keep me from dwelling on my worries.

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Coming into Tarry all #2

The time with Lisa flew quickly! She had stories to share, upbeat music and the perfect mix of encouraging me to eat and drink. Lisa took pictures and savored all the scenery. The highlight of my time with her was arriving at the Silverheels mine and stopping in the sunshine to change our clothes. I rarely sit down in races but loved sitting by the mine soaking up the warmth and knowing we’d be finishing soon.

Coming down from the mine we didn’t see a lot of people but we did cross paths with the second place female. While she was probably a few miles behind us, both Lisa and I decided we wouldn’t take any chances of her catching us. Lisa encouraged me to run. And I did…

I ran past the aid station even while Lisa stopped to get some bacon, ginger ale and crackers and chat with Sean and Brandt. I kept running down the road, trying not to look behind me. While I knew we had a good lead, I was still nervous about the chance of being caught.

As we got closer and closer to the finish line Lisa and I were catching and passing a few runners and seeing more spectators. (Thank you Lori and Jessica for coming out to cheer us on!) She was texting Kurt about our progress and I was using his energy to pull me toward the finish. I couldn’t wait to see him.

The final few miles felt just like the Boulevard at Leadville and all my joy seemed to drain into the hard, hard, hard, HARD dirt road. It was almost as if my mind let its guard down and all the negative thoughts about the HARD road flooded in. I was SO grateful Lisa kept her positive attitude and that we had just a few miles to go.

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Kurt with AS captain Stuart Cohen at Poor Man’s

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At Tarryall #3 with the pit crew. Brett Overby, Jennifer Forker, Matthew Rutledge, Andrea Risi

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Christoph at Hoosier Ridge

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Johnathan Pope, Sean Cook, Christoph Scholtes and Brandt Ketterer at High Park #1. Not sure what Jonathan ate but it MUST have been Good!

When we finally could see the finish area we were laughing and joking again and ready to see all our friends. I was most looking forward to seeing Kurt and was confused when I couldn’t find him. Finally someone told me he had gone to Frisco to get an IV for dehydration and while I felt sad not see him, I was relieved he was okay.

Overall it was a hard race for everyone and I was grateful to be one of the 19th finishers. Lisa was even more of a saint to drive me and Ken back to the hotel to shower nap and refuel with the burger she had gotten.

Here are some pictures from my phone, Lisa, Andrea, Terri, Don and Grace and Jenice. Sorry they aren’t quite in order.

Christoph getting his buckle from Race Director Sherpa John for his 1st 100 miler

Christoph getting his buckle from Race Director Sherpa John for his 1st 100 miler

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Craig Woodward and Brett Overby waiting to pace

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Heading out to Alma (around mile 60) from Tarryall

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The BEST crew ever. Matt and Lisa helping me with my socks. Brett with coffee and noodles, Jenice with coconut rice. (not that I ate any of it).

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Mindy helping Kurt at Trout Creek

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Coming into Trout Creek

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Lisa is ALL smiles! coming down from the mine

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Trout creek oasis complete with lights, music, food and 2 FIRE pits. Thank you Don, Grace, Kevin and Mindy!

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Darn, he’s too small to ride to the finish

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I made it!

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Kurt with Armando Risi

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Craig Woodward, Brett Overby, Matt Rutledge, Matt Barnes, Mindy Hamilton, Andrea and Armando Risi

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Hey, look! I’m eating Sheila Huss’s pumpkin pie at Poor Man’s

 

What it is like to be an Estranged Parent

I have an incredible 17-year old daughter who is creative, bright, artistic, AND wants nothing to do with me. I say that without exaggeration because she refuses to see me and has not spoken to me in over a year. I won’t go into the details of how we came to this dark place but for me it is just that, very dismal.

Most people do not know my story because I try very hard to hide my grief. I’m telling it now, not to gain sympathy but to help people understand and because I suspect there are other parents out there who feel this deep sense of loss and aloneness.

In a “normal” parenting situation you get to go to soccer games, school plays, concerts, award ceremonies, graduations… Estranged parents are still parents caught in a kind of limbo. Do you go to the school presentation even though it may be awkward and cause some drama? Do you keep sending notes, cards, texts and letters knowing you won’t receive a response? How do you delivery your birthday or Christmas gifts? Do you keep reaching out and making yourself vulnerable?

The dilemmas you deal with are not clear cut and weigh heavily on you because you already carry so much guilt about your lost relationship and your role in it. Every decision, no matter how well thought out seems wrong.

What many people don’t realize is the hidden grief that emerges every day from the most ordinary situations. Commercials, advertisements, parties, conversations, celebrations… bring up feelings of guilt, regret and deep sadness.

One of the biggest questions that has emerged for me: How do I define myself and the path for the rest of my life?

While this sounds dramatic, when you envision your future (with or without kids by choice) you have a certain amount of control about the direction you will take. If you have children you plan for braces, first cars, college… If you don’t have children you plan travels, adventures, retirement… When you are caught between, it is hard to plan at all.

All of these challenges are ones I am learning to navigate, not gracefully, but so far I’m surviving. Every day there are moments to celebrate and three promises I stick to when it comes to my relationship with my daughter.

1. I won’t become bitter or resentful of my friends who have loving, fruitful relationships with their children.

While it can be painful, I don’t want to stop hearing the warm stories of the triumphs of my friends’ children. At first this was very hard for me and I found myself distancing myself from my family and friends with children but this seemed even worse. With a change in my attitude I’ve learned to feel joy from the success stories my friends share about their children. I won’t say my record in this area is impeccable but the positive energy from them, far outweighs me having a pity party.

2. I won’t give up trying to tell my daughter that I love her and will always be here for her.

This is also a challenge because there certainly are days where I want to step away but I know taking this “easier” route is not the best solution for anyone. If she wants me in her life, I want to be readily available. I apologize frequently and try not to hound her but want her to know I will always love her. I reach out to her regularly and view this temporary communication as one way to keep it from being too painful for me.

3. I won’t give up hope.

This promise is the hardest for me. When my bleak moments and days set in I find myself being terribly pessimistic. I build walls, protect myself and pretend I am not hopeful but I dig down and preserve that glimmer of hope.

Thank you for reading this and please share it with other parents, whether they are estranged or not. Having insight into a broken parent/child relationship I hope will help build empathy and a sense of gratefulness in parents who may not know how lucky they are.

I also hope one person, whether in the role of parent or child, will take the steps to reconnect. While not all relationships can or should be salvaged, there are many cases where misunderstandings and hurts can be healed by time and hard work.

If you are co-parenting with another, I encourage you to help your child maintain a relationship with the other parent. I’m a believer that in most situations children need both their parents in different capacities throughout their lives.

If you are a child who has cut off communications with a parent, I hope you will consider taking a chance on fixing the relationship. No parent is perfect and every parent makes mistakes.

If you want more information here are some articles and resources.

Huffington Post Article: Children Who Break Your Heart

Parents of Estranged Children Support Site

Next Avenue Article: Why Some Grown Kids Cut Off Their Parents

What to do in 2016? An Ultrarunner’s dilemma

flowchartWith 2016 here and the way races fill in mere hours (or require lotteries) planning a race schedule requires knowledge of statistics, probability or a heck of a lot of luck. So as an ultrarunner how do you plan a race schedule?

  1. Start in October so you can lay out your lottery options. (If you are reading this now, you have the option of waiting until next October or just accepting that you’re a procrastinator).
  2. Learn how to draw those funny flow charts. This is a simple example. You might need something more complex depending on how many lotteries you are entering. (If you are really into the process you could mount a HUGE chart on your living room wall just to have it available all year. Not my idea but I saw a Final 4 Bracket mounted like that once.)
  3. Get a second or third job to pay for lottery fees. You can worry about race and travel fees once you get into a race or two.
  4. Gather ALL your lucky charms together and carry them with you on every run. If you don’t have any lucky charms, go get some.
  5. Don’t choose a race you have run before. With so many great race options, WHO in their right mind would do a race more than once? (Nobody I know).
  6. Send off your entries and wait with your fingers and toes crossed.

OR…

Take the alternative route and find smaller races with no lotteries and avoid the stress of the 6 steps above. This route allows you these advantages:

  1. You can pick races you will really like based on terrain, weather, location and your specific training.
  2. You can save all those lottery fees.
  3. You don’t have to learn how to make those silly charts.
  4. You won’t get gray hair hoping to get into THAT race or staring at your computer for hours trying to get a coveted spot the moment registration opens.

Whatever you decide… GOOD LUCK! And may the odds be ever in your favor. Happy 2016! IMG_7928

 

Race Report – Mogollon Monster 106 (or 107) miler

Here is how Mogollon Monster 100 race directors Jay Danek, Jeremy and Noah Dougherty describe the race on their website “This is a VERY technical course in many areas…In fact, I’ll go so far as to say this is THE MOST technical 100 miler out there…That coupled with the additional mileage to a traditional 100 mile race, the terrain, moWarning signderate elevation, and intense Arizona sun, this race will certainly take its toll on each runner…To be very clear, this is an extremely hard, remote, rugged, and difficult 100 plus mile ultramarathon.” Reading that description, I know it’s like those funny signs you see at trailhead that you think are intended for other hikers or runners. Nope, this applies to ALL the runners, experienced, new, young, old, crazy…

For those of you with ADHD (like me) here’s the short version of my race report. Believe the RDs.DSC07201 This is a ROCKY, technical, long, scenic, ROCKY race and one I highly recommend if you like rocks (I have a big collection of them, usually in my shoes), hills and a challenge. The Mogollon Monster is a well-organized and executed race with outstanding volunteers, support, course markings and bling. And if you go: do your homework, prepare for a range of weather and trail possibilities and enjoy whatever Jeremy, Jay, Noah and Mother Nature throw at you. It all makes for a tougher run and a better story.

So if you want the LONG LONG version (kind of like the race) of MY particular race (because it is all about me). Here it is.

It is the ‘before’ that is the hardest part. Once on the start line the job is simple. Simply to run. …All I could do is run the best race… -with my heart and soul, as well as my head and legs.  -Lizzy Hawker

Running 100 miles is never simple but Lizzy Hawker sums up my Mogollon run perfectly. The hardest part was getting to the start. The race wasn’t easy but I ran my best and loved every (well almost every) one of the 2,081 minutes I was out there.

Although I’ve done a number of ultras, signing up for Mogollon was a decision I agonized over for over a year. I wanted a Hard Rock qualifier but in 2014 was not willing to give up doing my 10th Leadville 100. Deep down I was afraid of a harder, longer, different race. But after spending the summer climbing 14ers and exploring new mountain runs, pacing Rocky Mountain Slammer Sheila Huss (yes I’m dropping names) at Bighorn 100 and Hard Rock and reading Travis Macy’s book The Ultra Mindset I knew I needed to step out of my comfort zone.

Even though Mogollon is just 5 weeks after Leadville, I signed up, booked my plane ticket, found a cozy guesthouse in Pine on AirBnB and then focused on finishing Leadville before tackling the details of “the Monster”. Although I finished Leadville, it definitely showed that I was in need of a new race. Even with my best season of training I finished close to the cutoff and didn’t feel my heart was in the race.

DSC07230So what did I do in the weeks before Mogollon? I got a recovery IV (hours after finishing Leadville, which I highly recommend). I constantly asked Abby McQueeney Penamonte a million recovery questions. I hiked. I ran. I did some heat training. I slept as much as I could. And of course I obsessed over details of flying and packing poles, drop bags, airline/guest house/rental car, directions, weather. Luckily my friend Carol put me in touch with Nadine Haluszczak (eventual 2015 Mogollon Monster female champion and course record holder) who was willing to answer my questions and ease my mind. Carol and Nadine also worked very hard to set me up with a pacer for 35 miles of the run through the night. 

Friday afternoon we landed in 102 degree Phoenix and picked up our rental Prius (for some reason this was not the crew car I envisioned for Kurt) . The road to Pine had saguaro cacti, elk grazing and bugling and our pre-race dinner stop: Sonic burger and fries. Not my usual well-planned pre-race 100 meal. After picking up my bib # and admiring the shiny finisher’s buckle we headed to our guesthouse just 3 minutes away. It was the ideal place to stay and our host, Susan greeted us with ice cold water and homemade pumpkin bread. I rechecked my clothes, shoes and drop bags and was in bed by 8PM.

DSC07121On race morning I ate a light breakfast of coffee and gluten-free almond french toast. At the start Nadine introduced herself. Nice to have a familiar face on the course (even though she’d be miles ahead of me). I spied Kirk Apt (legendary Hard Rock finisher) and another InkNBurn ambassador who stood out in his unique “muscle” shirt. After Jeremy (I think it was Jeremy) gave some race directions (follow DSC07123the yellow tape not the red, don’t get lost in the 6-foot tall grass, be nice to hikers and volunteers…) he played the National Anthem which brought tears to my eyes. We were all ready to run!

Start to Pine Cabin- This section of trail had gentle climbs and with lots of trees and smooth red dirt. We settled in and everybody seemed chatty and happy. Even the first climb up to the rim with its switchbacks was pleasant. I was enjoying the climb and soaking in the cool. I made sure to start snacking (on Fuel 100 Electro-Bites) as I climbed. I reminded myself to drink a lot and take in food about every hour. Carol was at the aid station which made me happy.

Pine cabin to Dickenson Flat – Heading out from Dickenson Flat I finally felt relaxed. The trail was not as gnarly as I imagined. The weather felt warm but there was a cool breeze and shade. I focused on the positives, remembering to stay present. On the road I made friends with Steven from Dallas, TX. Chatting made these road miles fly by and I enjoyed hearing about my buddy’s training and races. Based on his training he predicted his finish time to be 28:07. (Steven did finish in 35:43)

Dickenson Flat to Geromimo – This section of trail did get sandy and steep but luckily it was a downhill. Picking my waDSC07124y through the rocks I smiled for the race photographers. It was also encouraging to see runners here & there. I followed Jennifer from Boulder who was moving well down the hills and like me, stopped at a few springs to soak clothing (or my HPRS buff) to keep cooler. I was managing my water and snacking on Fuel 100, salt tabs and occasional licorice candy. I noticed I was getting scratches from blackberry bushes and yucca and both my skirt and shirt had snagged but I considered them “battle wounds” from the day. I fondly thought  of my friend Abby and knew she’d be proud or my scars. I also knew when I returned to this section on Sunday at mile 87, Kurt would love the blackberries. These happy thoughts made me smile.

Geronimo to Washington Park – At Geronimo the kind volunteers put ice in my pack and I munched more potato chips. This next section was pretty hot and exposed but I was careful to pay attention to my heart rate and walk in places to keep it low. I thought of Travis Macy’s book, The Ultra Mindset about how I could write my own story in my mind and did so here. Although it was hot, my mindset was positive, recalling how I’d heat trained and was prepared for the warmth. It worked.

Lots of lizards skittered around but thankfully no rattlesnakes. A few folks ahead of me ran out of water and were drinking directly from the trickles of streams. I find my Dallas friend who is chatting with a runner whose black cat tattoo reminds me of Black Cat fireworks (Yep, the heat was already making wild connections in my brain). The black cat runner says he’s suffering from the heat. We walked/ran into AS together. All the runners with Garmins said this was at mile 30 (course map says 28.4) my Strava had stopped working. I was thrilled to see Kurt and was feeling good so I filled my pack with ice and water, got soaked down with ice water, dumped my phone and some of my food from my pack and ate some chips. Kurt warned me about the upcoming climb being gradual to the top but then rocky and steep like Mt. Morrison. I was excited for this climb.

Wash Park to Houston Brothers – On the gradual part of the climb I saw a group of older hikers stopped in the shade. They cheered and were so encouraging! When I reached the steep section (45% grade, NO joke) I was grateful I’d climbed Mount Morrison near home. It had prepared me to keep my footing on loose rocks and choose a line and climb with reckless abandon. I chose the rocky ascent rather than the smoother higher trail because the rocks afforded more grip.DSC07134 I loved the work of climbing. When I reached the top I was greeted by the kind ham radio operators who did race tracking. The next section to aid was mainly road, gradual uphill, normally something I dreaded but after the rocky climb I smiled and settled into a trot.

Houston Brothers to Pinchot Cabin- At Houston Brothers Carol helped me by filling my pack with ice (I’d been drinking well) and her sunny energy was contagious. This part of the run, the cabin loops were perfect for running. There were times I wanted to walk, to take it easier but I kept repeating a mantra I had come up with earlier “WWAD?” (What would Abby do?) I’d come up with this because my friend Abby, one of the toughest trail runners I know (who had won the Women’s Grand Slam in 2013)Towering pines and DSC07135hundreds of ferns lined the single-track trail. Before I realized it I was climbing up to Pinchot Cabin aid station.

Pinchot Cabin to Washington Park – This section also passed quickly. The sun was starting to set and I was anxious to get back to Washington Park to see Kurt and pick up my pacer, Josh, a local runner who had graciously volunteered to pace me 35  miles through the night. Gingerly picking my way down the powerline trail again was more challenging in the dark and I felt relieved to make it down without slipping on the sandy rock. I arrived at Washington Park energized for the most difficult part of the race.

Washington Park to Hell’s Gate – When I arrived at Washington Park my main goal was to be sure I had good lights and LOTS of caffeine for the night ahead. Kurt helped me change my shoes, fill my pack and check for lights, a jacket and snacks. Josh was patiently waiting while I tried to do 5 things at once, exhibiting signs of extreme ADHD. I finally got everything done and we headed out and up the trail. This section had me the most scared of the entire race and I knew if we conquered this climb back up to the rim I’d be more confident about finishing the race. Having Josh with me made the night an adventure. Even hearing the bull elk obviously close to the trail didn’t startle me.

The grass was indeed as tall as described and in many places we tripped over hidden rocks, huge trail steps or even the edge of the trail. Josh was patient about finding the markers and the search kept me very alert. Even the times where we seemed to have lost the trail, I did not ever feel concerned or discouraged. We reached the appropriately named Hell’s Gate with a sigh of relief to be through what we thought would be the worst part of the grass.

DSC07138Hell’s Gate to Buck Springs – The vertical climb up to the rim was interesting. Josh commented that he didn’t think we really were on a trail. We joked that the RDs had just sent someone out with some reflective tape and had them mark a random way up through the grass up to the top of the canyon. The one disconcerting thing was that even in the dark I could tell there was a drop off if we stepped off the “trail” and Josh slipped sideways several times, making me a little nervous.

At the rim we were greeted by orange flashing lights and a nice, flat trail leading to the road and 3.3 miles to Buck Springs.

Buck Springs to Pinchot Cabin – Running through the night was disorienting but even felt even more after the brain drain of searching for trail markers. I was alert but noticed I was having mild hallucinations. Every so often I’d spy a dragon, a lady in old-style dress complete with a bonnet, a flying donkey and even an upside-down dump truck. I was kind of enjoying the distraction that continued through the rest of the race. Josh and I moved steadily through this section passing a few other runners. At Pinchot Cabin the fire was inviting but after eating some grilled cheese we ran out into the warm night. Not having a watch I wasn’t sure what time it was but started to wonder about cutoffs and didn’t want to waste time.

Pinchot Cabin to Houston Brothers-  Since I had run this section during the day I had a sense of what to expect and this was encouraging. We ran a long flat section that paralleled a fence and then the trail steadilDSC07142y rolled gradually up. With the prospect of daylight and getting back to Kurt I was picking up my pace a little (very little). Climbing felt really good and as the sun rose and we climbed up to Houston Brothers I noticed I’d left Josh behind. Worried he was bonking I offered him some food but he wanted to wait for the aid station. Calculating the distance I had left, I told him my plan to refill my pack and keep trotting down the road while he ate. He seemed relieved to sit at the aid station to eat some solid food.

Houston Brothers to Washington Park – On my own I trotted down the road playing a “game” I always did with my pacers. I wanted to get as far ahead before Josh caught me. It didn’t take him long but it kept me moving with purpose. After the smooth road we turned to run down the powerline trail for the third time. I sent Josh ahead to let Kurt know we were coming and to tell him I only needed a tank top and a bandaid.

Washington Park to Geronimo – With a huge sDSC07154mile I ran into Washington Park and found Kurt. Although I knew I had sand and pebbles in my shoes I didn’t want to risk taking them off and then having my feet swell before the final 20 miles. We tried to put a bandaDSC07172id on a small blister on my heel but my calves were covered in SO much dirt that even KT tape wouldn’t stick. Kurt exchanged keys with Josh and we left him sitting contentedly on a cooler behind us. I rang the bell signaling my final time through Washington Park and started off for the final 20 miles!

With 20 miles left and Kurt beside me I started to relax which sounds good but was actually bad, very BAD. For the first time all day I lost my focus and my spirits started to dip along with my pace. I wDSC07178as still hallucinating and spied Bigfoot in the shape of a stump, a lounge chair with beer in the cup holders and a little girl lying under a bush. Every time I’d ask Kurt if he saw these things he’d ask if I needed caffeine to get rid of the visions but I was kind of enjoying them. Kurt picked some blackberries along the way and they tasted sweet but still didn’t get me moving any faster.

Kurt encouraged me to run and I’d try for a few steps and then stop. Not wanting to walk the next 20 miles to the finish, in my head I kept an ongoing dialogue about how well I was doing, how I could run and kept asking myself, “WWAD?”. It worked a little but this 10 mile stretch took me almost 5 hours! Even though we were at mile 97, we had 10 miles to go and neither Kurt nor I wanted to spend 5 more hours out on the trail. Something needed to change!

Geronimo to the Finish – When we arrived at the aid DSC07189station the workers were saints. They poured water on my head, fed me pumpkin pie and filled my arm sleeve with ICE! Ice became my super power. With my ice I was invincible and was going to power to the finish. Kurt and I thanked the volunteers and left for the 2 mile approach to the last KILLER hill. Savoring my ice and thinking of every icy thing I would enjoy once I finished (ice cold limeade, an cold shower, ice cream, popsicles..) I focused on steady climbing and once in awhile even left Kurt behind if he stopped to take pictures. When we reached the top, I let out a cheer!

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From here the volunteers had promised no more hills. They were true to their word. They didn’t mention that many of those downhill miles were on the rockiest trail I’d ever seen. Kurt and I laughed and said, “This is NOT a trail, it’s a rock garden.” We reached the Pine Trailhead where the race had started and entered a silver culvert. Walking through this made me feel dizzy! It felt like I was walking through a fun house barrel. Emerging from the culvert onto the highway I was thrilled to be back on the road. (Hard to believe I would ever be excited to run on a paved road!)

As exhausted as I was, I remembered to savor the finDSC07190al stretch to the finish. I had made it in 33:41!  I got my buckle, hat and then sat down and ate a hamburger. It felt good to sit down to empty all the sand out of my shoes!

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I can’t say enough great things about this race! Thank you to Jeremy Doughtery, Jay Danek, Noah Doughtery and all the dedicated volunteers for staging such a quality event. It was apparent they thought through every detail and went out of their way to be sure runners had every chance for a positive experience. I also want to thank Kurt Hardester for helping me get to the start and finish line, Carol Tichio for making sure I got a pacer and helping me out on the course, Nadine Haluszczak for giving me course descriptions and helping with pacer ideas and Josh Motter for driving from Phoenix to pace a complete stranger and be sure I didn’t get lost in the dark! I also have to thank all those folks in FRUR in Colorado for supporting me from afar. Having the energy of all my Colorado runner friends kept me focused and upbeat throughout the entire race. photo12039341_10204045556173746_2884472362579884707_n