Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Three, Two, One, BANG!

Squaw Valley to Poppy (0-20 miles)

Photo By GlenTachiyama
The moment is surreal, I have played this day over and over in my head and now it is happening.  The first few strides I focus on not clipping other people’s heels and then just bask in the moment as the path is lined with crowds cheering and an immense amount of camera flashes.  To my surprise I don’t find myself worried about other female competitors and their whereabouts.  I settle into a comfortable pace that I foresee myself being able to maintain for the entire climb out of Squaw.  I seem to be at peace and then go to take a sip from my pack and I am reminded that this really isn’t an option due to some sort of malfunction (see last post).

I don’t panic, I continue to take the climb one step at a time and enjoy the early morning moments.  After reaching the top of the road by the tram we head higher up on the mountain on some snowy single track.  Now things begin to get interesting.  At first I have some ability to maintain traction and push off, although things quickly change.  I soon find myself on what feels like an inverted skating rink.  I had decided to wear my Salomon Crossmax Guidance shoes which are a great all around shoe for anything from mud to hard packed surfaces, but they don’t offer X-Man like talons that pop out when the conditions warrant it.  As my pace drops significantly I watch each foot step and lean uphill as I try to claw my fingers into the uphill slope while traversing.  A bit of frustration now sets in as I felt so relaxed on the initial climb, but was now getting passed left and right.  Internally I heard Bryon’s voice saying, “Do not waste unnecessary energy on the snow”.  I wanted to stay cautious on the icy traverses knowing that if I fell it would leave a mark. 

Despite this mentality and approach on my next traverse across the skating rink, I mean trail, I found myself in trouble. As I scurried across I reached out for a tree branch to help support myself, although that backfired as I lost my footing.  My feet kicked out as I smacked my right knee and hip on the rock hard surface and slide about 100 yards down the slope.  To be honest, yes I screamed like a girl because I felt like a human luge.  After about 10 minutes of clawing my way back up to the trail I knew my right leg was significantly sore.

I kept my head on my shoulders and found my way back to a pack of runners and without warning about 30 of us found ourselves standing in a snowfield with no markers insight.  We literally all stood and discussed the matter.  After a few minutes a few of us backtracked and found the last marker and then hollered to the others. 
Photo by Bob MacGillivary (DryMax)

I then discovered that I was best off not being with a huge pack and just picking my own lines without the feeling of being rushed.  I played leapfrog with a few male runners and then found myself alone as the icy snow turned into dimple snow and then eventually slippery snow.  I just kept telling myself to get past the first snow portion and then start to do my thing.  I felt a bit of relief when Kami Semick came within my sights as I then new I was back in the game despite being extremely slow on the icy portion of the snow.  I passed Kami and then eventually was passed back by her as she was throwing down sub 7-minute miles on a road section.  I knew that for me it was way too early to play that game. 

As I eased back I found myself in familiar company as I was now with Chad Silker and Skip Crockett whom I had run with during day two at training camp.  Without warning the three of us seemed surprised that we were together, but then realized it made logical sense.  Eventually we made our way into the Talbot aid station where I attempt to fix my hydration pack since I had now gone 15 miles without liquid calories or GU.  I pull the blatter out; untwist the hose and head out with the belief that the all is good in hydration land.  In retrospect I have no clue why I didn’t try the hose before pulling out of the aid station, but it would have been a good idea.   I am now leading Chad and Skip down some beautiful buffed out single track as we head towards the Poppy aid station.  My mouth is dry so I do the logical thing and go to drink, although once again I come up empty.  It crosses my mind to throw a serious hissy fit on the trail especially as we entered an area that was ravished a few years ago by forest fire because we were exposed and the conditions were dry. 

As we headed up a single-track climb towards the aid station I started to disassemble my entire pack.  I unhooked the hose, I pulled out the bladder, I emptied the bladder onto the ground and then once at the aid station I rinsed the entire thing out and then refilled.  I had now gone 20 miles on about 4 sips of water and ½ of GU, talk about not sticking to my nutrition plan.  All I wanted to do was chug water, although I knew this would not be beneficial so I settled on small frequent sips. Before pulling out of the aid station a medical personal comment on my right leg and that he wanted to examine me before allowing me to continue.  Without thought I made a smart Alec comment followed by a smirk and he told me that if I still had that sense of humor I must be ok.  

Poppy to Michigan Bluff (20.0- 55.7 miles)

Photo taken by Glenn Tachiyama
I continued to run with Chad and Skip although eventually our paces dictated that we part ways.   I would eventually come across a male runner now and then but did some running alone between Duncan Canyon and Mosquito Ridge.  I was weighed at Mosquito Ridge and was down 2.4 pounds due to the lack of hydration, I knew I needed to not let my weight drop much more.  Shortly after leaving the station I caught a glimpse of two female North Face runners in front of me.  As I caught them I realized it was Rory Bosie (Female 4) and Helen Cospolich and they were in the company of Craig Thornley.  At first they thought I was Liza Howard, but then I explained that I was Aliza from Vermont and not Texas.  The conversation between Rory and I seemed to flow like melted butter (Earth Balance of course).  

We continued to run together until coming upon Bryon Powell and Nikki Kimball as we headed down to the base of Devil’s Thumb.  Here Nikki took the lead and was doing her thing on the downhill.  Such a pleasure to watch as she effortlessly glided down the switchbacks, while I on the other hand babied my right leg, which was really letting me know its displeasure.   Rory followed behind Nikki and I stayed within contact of Bryon. 

Once we crossed the bridge and starting the climb of Devil’s Thumb Bryon had me go by and Nikki yelled to Bryon that she missed him and I responded with a yell up the switchbacks to Rory that I missed her.  Within a few minutes Nikki was out of sight and I was again with Rory who was telling me that at the top of the climb we could have popsicles at the aid station.  That was enough incentive for me to keep moving forward and I Ieft Rory and then caught Craig again.  As we climbed up I stuck right behind Craig and at one point said “Craig how much further?” as I sounded like a little kid being impatient on their travels.  He responded that it was about another 10 minutes until the top, I had only asked because I was out of fluid.  Just before the aid station it seemed like we were greeted by the paparazzi and then finally a chance to fill my pack and have a popsicle! 

Craig and I left the aid station about the same time and he informed me that he had seen Meghan Arbogast not far ahead.  With this said his pace significantly quickened and I followed behind.  After what felt like miles I asked Craig if he had hallucinated about seeing Meghan because we were moving and I hadn’t yet caught a glimpse.  He assured me that yes he had seen her.  We continued downhill on some nice single track and I continued to look for Meghan I lost track of my feet and quickly found the ground.  I again smacked my right leg and this time my knee took the brunt of the fall.   At one point Craig noted the exact half way point of the course and I glanced at my watch and realized that I had just run the first half in the same split that I had run last summer at Vermont 100.  This did concern me a bit because the WS course is much more difficult.  I knew I didn’t have time to dwell on the spill or my splits, because if I did I would lose contact with Craig.  At one point I stopped for my first pee break of the day and then rejoined Craig.  Finally as the two of us pulled into the El Dorado Creek aid station Meghan was standing there. 

Now Meghan and I were off running together as Craig was getting what he needed at the aid station.  Meghan and I stayed together for a mile or two as we discussed the talented women’s field.  I truly admire Meghan for countless reasons and as I left her I knew that at some point she would be back hot on my heels.  As I took off running I was thinking that I had four more miles until I saw my crew for the first time. I tried to set a good pace for myself and found motivation internally by thinking about those who have helped me get to where I am as a person and a runner.  I also kept thinking that I might be cutting it close to keeping in sight my sub 24 hour goal but I never could get myself to look at my watch to see just exactly how close or far away I actually was.  

It was a pleasant surprise when I pulled into Michigan Bluff and realized that I had lost track of mileage. For some reason I had this feeling that I had been removed from civilization for weeks and just wanted to feel clean and interact with others. 

Michigan Bluff to Foresthill (55.7-62.0 miles)
As I entered the aid station my stepfather Jeff was standing on the corner signaling to me that he had spotted me.  I handed off my pack and jumped on the scale.  My weight was back on track so without hesitation I jumped off the scale and made my way to my crew.  I got my new pack and bandana as we moved down the pavement section together to where I had to check out of the aid station.  It was a quick interaction and I honestly wanted more time to fill them in on what had happened over the past 55 miles. 

I was now alone, but knew this section of course because of training camp.  I knew I had a slow grind on an exposed dirt road before being treated to some sweet downhill single track.  I focused on my nutrition on the climb and worked to find an efficient pace.  I tried to swallow some salt pills, although I couldn’t get them to go down and then stay down.  Knowing that I needed the salt I started chewing on them. As soon as the powder hit my tongue I began the game of trying to sort out what it tasted like.  The best description I could unearth was a combination of very strong ranch Doritos and Comet bleach cleaning powder.  Despite the fun I was having playing name that flavor I was eager to get to the bottom of Bath road where I would see either one of my pacers or Geo.  It was such motivation and a sense of excitement. 

I seem to have lost myself in this section because don’t recall much, the foot fall and miles just seem to happen without much thought or effort.  As I made my way off of the trail and onto the paved road I saw other people’s pacers, but not mine.  A bit confused I knew it wasn’t the end of the world so started up the hill and within a few minutes saw Theresa Ridgway coming towards me.  Theresa was kind enough to turn back up the hill and accompany me up the climb.  In the process a camera crew pulled up along side and started interviewing us or me, I am really unsure because I didn’t have much interest.  Theresa took control and started talking about me; until I think I was finally rude and said to the camera car “please go away”.  Shortly before cresting the top of the hill I found one of my pacers Suzanna Bon who then ran me into Foresthill where I was again weighed before allowed to receive aid from my crew.  I was now just about par for the course weight wise so headed towards my crew and first pacer Meredith. 

Foresthill to Green Gate (62.0-79.8 miles)

With a new pack and a pacer we took off down the road as the cheers flowed from the spectators.  
Photo by Bob MacGillivary (DryMax)

I really had a bad feeling that once we were out of sight my excitement would wear off and I would hit a low.  I filled Meredith in on my depletion early on in the race and let her know that my right leg was a bit out of whack.  We focused on getting fluid, electrolytes and some calories into me.  My true focus here was to not get passed as I made my way to the river.  Somewhere in these miles I caught up to Anita Ortiz, Joelle Vaught and then eventually Nikki Kimball.  Nikki was cooling off at an aid station when I pulled in and then the volunteers struggled to get my hydration bladder open.  As I turned back to help them Nikki and her pacer took off and I never saw them again.  As we pursed Nikki, Meredith kept me posted on what lay ahead as we navigated towards the river crossing.  About a mile from the crossing I stopped to pee as I now felt like fluid was going straight through me.  Finally at the crossing I traded my Salomon hydration pack for a life jacket and sat down in the boat.  

I recall being very impressed with the rowers strength as we glided with purpose across the river.  I traded back the life vest for my pack and headed up the road and shortly we were greeted by Geo, Suzanna, Chris and Angela.  We all chatted and for a few minutes I lost focus of the task at hand but I know that it was a good reprieve on this long, exposed section out from the river up towards Green Gate.  Once at Green Gate my mom and Jeff were ready to hand off a fresh pack to me and it was time to swap pacers.  Suzanna and I took off together and Meredith stayed behind. 

Green Gate to Highway 49 (79.88-93.5)

What happens over these next miles is really unknown as the sun starts to set and the consequences of the early depletion and falls start to toy with me.  I know that I need to continue to eat, hydrate and keep moving forward.  As I do this, my left foot strikes the ground and I feel a sensation that awakens me.  I was unaware that I had blisters on my feet and they were beginning to pop open.  I now find myself running more gingerly and walking the more rocky/technical portions.  All I can think is that I am so close, yet so far away still.  Finally total darkness settles in and I turn my headlamp and my biggest fear is that I will cast my light down the trail and see illuminated eyes staring back my way.  I decide to take my chances and keep my head down and fingers crossed. 

Highway 49 to Placer High School (93.5-100.2)

At Highway 49 my weight checks out ok and I take off with Meredith again.  I decided to switch back to her because inside I knew that the training wheels were not only loose but were off.  Realistically it was going to be a challenge to keep everything together for the remaining miles.  The pain in my feet was getting worse and my right leg was so sore that picking it up to clear rocks and holes was becoming a challenge.  Somewhere between H49 and No Hands Bridge Rory went screaming by me like I was standing still.  That girl was flying and it turns out for good reason…bears! 

Once to No Hands Bridge I know there is still the climb up to Robie Point before I head to the finish.  I run across the bridge and on the flats at a pace that seems like a good clip. For a brief moment I have a flashback to the last time I was on this bridge which was at training camp with Meghan. I know I don't look or feel even close to what I did on that day because I have over 96 miles behind me.  

My heart rate is out of control, I feel like my heart may explode at any moment so I dial it back.   My run soon turns into a walk as the terrain kicks up.  I try to talk but my speech is slurred, I walk and I stumble, I look but I really don’t see.  All signs point to the fact that I am in trouble.  I tell Meredith I am struggling; honestly there is no sense in me telling her because she is very aware.  For a few minutes I internally begin to panic fearing that I am going to pass out on this dark, remote trail.  I cannot breathe, I feel like my chest is full of fluid and I cannot cough it up to clear everything out.  I want to collapse down on the trail but keep moving towards the lights at Robie Point.  I have no idea how long it took me to get to RP, although I am sure it was a painstaking slow pace and once through the aid station Mer and I were joined by Geo. 

George and Mer took off running in front of me and I struggled to keep pace.  I mentioned to them that I was at my max cruising speed.  I had each of them keep looking back for me for headlamps.  Luckily we were all clear as I entered the stadium and onto the track.  I felt like my time on the track was pretty quick, I had no idea how many hours I had been on course just knew I was ready to be done.  I crossed the line, received my finisher’s medal and melted into a white plastic chair, as it felt like my body was shutting down even further.  It wasn't until later on that I realized processed that I had run 18:45:26 and been the 6th female and finished 26th overall.  

Before....                                                                                  After.....
Photo by Bob MacGillivary (DryMax)

Into the medical tent I went to get evaluated since I hadn't been peeing and when I did it was the color of Coke.  After several attempts by the medical staff to get an IV in me as they played a version of what felt like "pin the tail on the donkey" with a needle and my veins we didn't have a winner.  This meant the next best option  was to drink a nasty, but warm solution (thanks to Paul) to help me regain some color and life.

So that is that is some of the "nitty gritty" and up next will be some after thoughts.  


  1. Congratulation, Aliza!!!!!! So happy for you.

    Great nitty gritty, looking forward to the next installment.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your amazing journey Aliza and inspiring us! What an incredible run! I'm so happy for you! Hope to see you soon!

  3. Amazing Aliza! Thank you for sharing this. For someone who is MAYBE thinking of attempting a 100 miler someday, this is so fascinating to read. I appreciate your honesty about the details, both good and bad. To read that someone as talented as you struggled at times shows even more what a tough runner you are. Congratulations again! I hope you have celebrated with your husband and friends! :) Wendy

  4. Congrats again on a great race. Loved the report!

  5. You did a great job with the report and It looks that the first moments of the race are the most intense.