Wednesday, June 29, 2011

After Shock...I Mean After Thoughts!

So WSER has literally come and gone and not to sound corny, but the journey has changed me.   I know that I avoid a lot in life and last November I committed to trying to break out of my safe shell and explore.  Putting myself in the mix for WS was a constructive risk that involved anxiety, exposure, sacrifice, communication, pain and work.  For me the distance of the race wasn't the largest challenge and a lot of effort went into preparing for all the aspects that come hand in hand with the race such as travel, interaction and self confidence.

As I began to prepare all the pieces began to fall into place, although some took more work than others.  At times some pieces looked like they would fit, but even with force they were not going to come together in a effective way, thus some restructuring was needed.  It all required patience and time, although I think that all my experiences have helped change my perspective and mentality for life.  By no means do I even think that I am close to being done "working" on myself, but perhaps the direction that WSER helped me go in is one that is worth further pursuing.  During both the race and some of my training I had moments of great joy and clarity.  It was like I was seeing the world in color rather than black and white, which is typical for me.  With these highs there also conversely came low times where I did a lot of time exploring internally while doing my best to enjoy God's creations.

All and all it is very difficult to explain, but I hope to continue to explore what the world has to offer and what I have to offer the world.

Some of my favorite meaningful moments from Western States:
-"You inspire me."

-"I just want you to know that I love you and I am very proud of you." 

-"Remember, the race is just one day, anything can happen.  It's the journey that's more important."

-"You've worked hard and I hope you accomplish and even exceed your goals-whatever they may be."

-"You've done all of the work. Don't let your mind beat you. Channel it into confidence!"

-"I will be thinking of you and sending positive vibes your way! GO GIRL GO...!!!!"

-"You have done the work now this is the icing on the cake, that of course is a vegan/gluten free cake."

-"Run like you are hungry and headed to Whole Foods."

-"I believe you in and know that you will make Vermont proud."

-"One step at a time you will get there, just remember to run in the right direction."

Going through hydration issues along with my banged up right leg and nasty feet made me feel more human.  I struggled more because of these set backs, I had to dig deeper inside and in the process I gained more respect for a lot of things. I guess that if it were a walk in the park I wouldn't have learn as much and my report would more look like this:
 "I went, I ran, I finished. -The End"

But in all honesty and humor set aside I am so thankful for having so much support from family and friends to complete strangers and volunteers.  For those who were there I am glad that we got to share race day together and for those who were not in CA with me you were always in my mind and helped keep me going when things weren't going my way.  

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.  

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Western States - The Days Leading Up

I honestly find myself sitting here as a different person, yet I cannot find the words to convey my experience.  I will attempt to recap the past week in a methodical fashion that will perhaps provide some insight to you and myself to what has really happened.  I must though remember that this journey did begin much longer than a week ago.

Wednesday June 22nd
Everything was in order for George and I to fly out to Sacramento for Western States 100 on Saturday.  All and all the travel goes smoothly despite my fear of flying and my hesitation to leave my "home base".  We land in Sacramento and immediately head to the baggage carousel to meet my mother and I quickly noticed that I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.  You see on the flight out we were forced to check everything and as the bags popped onto the belt, my fear became a realization that our bags were not going to appear at this point and time.  Customer service was pleasant, but couldn’t confirm or deny that our bags even made it onto the first flight out of Burlington.  As we “patiently” killed time at REI and Whole Foods I mill over what I will do if my bag doesn’t arrive.  At one point my mother says, “ok, maybe you should be alone.” and I know that I am on the edge of losing it.  After about 30-45 minutes of holding on airline information line we discover are bags have been scanned and are in transit to Sacramento.  A huge calm comes over me. 

After acquiring our baggage we head to Squaw Village and check in. As expected we are surround by snow and it is a blue bird day.  

I had planned on doing a short run once arriving at the village, but due to the baggage incident we were hours behind.  Instead I opt for some dinner and an early bedtime. 

Thursday June 23rd
Finally a chance to meet up with my coach Bryon Powell and do an easy shake out run with him since I haven’t seen him for years.  We do an easy 4 mile run and chat the entire time.  It is such a great feeling to be in his company since he has been guiding me for the past two years for my goal races. 

Once finished running I find Geo and we grab water and head up Squaw for some playtime in the mountains.  As we walked up the road I found myself thinking, “Wow, this is a solid climb, am I really ready for this?”  I can actually feel my heart beating in my chest which is a rare occurrence so the effects of altitude weigh on my mind.  

I took my time and hiked it as Geo showed off some of his speedy running skills.  Once we hit snow I did some sort stints of running so to check out the traction (let me tell you though that snow conditions are very different at 11:00 AM than they are at 5:00 AM).  We both did our fair share of playing in the snow and both were amazed at the snow pack.  

George was finding "treasures" all over the place, everything from lip balm to a light up ring.  About half way up the mountain he even found a shovel blade that he carried further up and then stashed so we could attempt to ride down the mountain on it later on.  

After reaching the flag raising ceremony at the top of the tram we snapped some photos and then headed back down.  After about a mile we found the shovel that Geo had stashed and attempted to have some "safe fun".  When that plan went south we switched over to a run, but I am sure others got a laugh as we played in the snow on a rusty shovel blade (the simple things that amuse the two of us).  

Friday June 24th
Early in the morning I take the opportunity to run with Nate Sanel and his crew/pacer Jeff.  We run up the road for about 10-15 minutes or so and then turn back.  My systems are feeling a little better, but I am still not feeling like I do on the East Coast.  Once back at the bottom we decide to hop into line for our medical check in.  I find myself behind Nate and in front of Salomon teammate Anita Ortiz whom I had never met in person before.  We do our introductions and get to know each other.  It then becomes my turn for medical so they take my weight, blood pressure and pulse.  My pulse was 58 and is typically around 37 at home.  The lady informs me that this is very normal for elevation and not to worry.  I even find a little time for humor as Nate steps on the scale and I push on the back end as he watches the numbers climb.  It was worth a good giggle.  All runners leave the check in with a bright yellow bracelet that has your name, age, and medical information although it reminds me of my drinking days. 

After killing a bit of time and watching Bravo’s “Flipping Out” I head to meet with Adam and Gui from Salomon for coffee.  As we order and then sit, many others such as Krissy Moehl, who I admire on so many levels, join us.  Sipping my decaf Americano I realize that I have 15 minutes before my incomplete drop bags need to be handed in.  Meredith, my pacer and nutritionist and I head to my room to sort out my two drop bags and then deliver them right at 1:00 and then head back to my room for a crew briefing.  After everyone is on the same page about how things ideally will go on race day it is time for more television before the pre race meeting. 

The meeting is out on the village green and has little shade.  I find myself roasting in the sun and very distracted by all the runners, crews, pacers and photographers.  I actually hear little to none of the information but do find myself in front of the crowd as they call up the Montrail slot winners and top ten returns from last year.  As I stand in front of the crowd with a stream of extremely talented female runners I know that the field goes much deeper than this. 

At the conclusion of the meeting I find myself within feet of Kilian Jornet.  Not knowing exactly what to say I ask Bryon Powell to introduce me.  He does and then we begin chatting as people start snapping photos.  It feels so surreal to be speaking to Kilian, he is such an inspiration to me because of his respect for the mountains and the elements.  I am not sure if he doesn't understand the concept of boundaries or just chooses to push them, but either way he is an amazing athlete and human being. I also had the opportunity to meet Bob from DryMax who is so committed to make the best product he possibly can right here in the United States.  
Even though meeting athletes, sponsors and others is a blessing, my focus then moves to dinner, organizing and bed.  I lay everything out for the morning, eat dinner and then go to bed.  It is very early on the West Coast, but I intentionally stayed on East Coast time so 3:30 AM wouldn’t seem so early. 

Saturday June 25th (Game Day) – Pre Race
I wake up about ten minutes before my alarm goes off and feel rather calm.  I get dressed; start my breakfast and then Geo gets up.  After I eat we head down to pick up my number and timing chip and then go back to the room.  Once I am dressed we head outside to meet our East Coast friends Chris and Angela who are in the area for a wedding.  We all joke about how we have to travel across the country in order to see each other.  
Seeing familiar faces helps keep me calm and not over anxious.  I seem to be focusing on chatting with familiar faces that I haven't seen in a while rather than dwelling on what lay ahead in the next 100 miles.  The clock at the start line ticks down and it is time to start to focus on the task at hand. I make my way towards the front of the pack and feel content about 3-4 rows back from the male contenders.  I grab the hose on my pack and go to take a sip, but nothing comes out.  I suck again and for my efforts get a few drips.  I panic and have Geo give it a go and he has the same result.  At this point there isn't much I can do expect hope that it is a clog that resolves itself because the countdown has begun and I will not swap packs until I see my crew at mile 55!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Reflecting Back

No pictures, no frills just reflecting back...

As I look back and review my blog post from October titled "East Coast Will Go West Coast," where I wrote about my decision and commitment to toeing the line at Western States, these lines pop out at me:

Commitment ignites action and means not only doing things when you feel like it.  It is a willful choice and acceptance that it will not be easy all the time.  It requires persistence with a purpose.  There is no justifying excuses and you do it because you have chosen the endeavor.

When I think my journey thus far the first thing that I realize is that I have been training for Western States now for over seven months.  There were times when I thought the race was never going to come, although now the countdown is happening faster than I could ever fathomed.  I can honestly say I never missed a training session due to inclement weather, lack of motivation or poor planning.  Rather when I did miss a day it was after serious thought about the repercussions of running while very sick or injured.  I say this because the difficult part for me was not the actual physical or mental demands, but rather the sacrifices that were made along the way. Simply stated, keeping life in balance was my ultimate struggle and referring back again to my post in October I wrote: 

I am commiting to seeing this journey through in a healthy way so to maintain balance within me and my life.

Before signing up I had many discussions with my husband, friends and family as I knew that ultimately this endeavor would take support and understanding.   Managing my workouts was one thing but the difficult task became finding the time and energy to devote to other areas of my life.  I began getting up earlier, shuffling my schedule and then reshuffling as I tried to create more time.  Despite this effort  it became clear that I had to be selfish, I needed to streamline my life.  It pained me to do so and it is hard to outright say it, but it is honest.  I have spent many miles, sauna and bikram sessions, airplane rides, and trips to the physical therapist thinking about those closest to me.  I missed family dinners, time with George, laughs with friends and walks with my dogs. Early on I quickly realized that dwelling on the missed moments wouldn't help the situation so I focused on remembering fond memories of those closest to me.  What has amazed me most is my husbands understanding and support.  Day in and day out he has helped insure that I do what I need to in order to prepare and has been diligent in helping make sure I take care of myself. 

As I write this there are less than 12 days left until Western States.  Each day I continue my commitment to this race and look forward to not only the event, but also the time afterwards that I get to spend with those who I have missed.

Who knows what awaits me, but I commit to finding out.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Western States Training Camp

Day 1 (30.6 miles/actual 33.56 miles)- Due to a deep snow pack the planned route was changed to avoid the high country.  We were told that we would find the alternate course just as challenging as the canyons, but safer. After checking in and getting a briefing from the race director Greg about the new route we all loaded onto school buses for a short trip to the top of Driver's Flat Road.  From here we would down hill for several miles and then would proceeded to run the course from the river crossing to Foresthill (Cal Street) in reverse.  Once checking in at Foresthill we would continue to run in reverse out to Michigan Bluff and then turn around run back to Foresthill.

I started the day with Meghan Arbogast, Craig Thornley and Dan Olmstead and ran to the first aid station with Craig.  These seasoned veterans had already put in a week of training on the course and had run 50 miles the previous day.  After I grabbed a gu we parted ways and I found myself running with Riva Johnson, a fellow New Englander. We chatted for several miles and then I found myself alone.  I had hoped not to find myself in this situation with the warning of cougars, snakes and bears.

Time on the trail alone gave me time to think and be inside my head.  Also for some strange reason I thought that I smelled McDonald's french fries (to my surprise when I mentioned it to Nate Sanel that night he said he had smelt the same thing on course). The long climbs were just what I needed and just a bit over ten miles in I was treated to the one in the photo on the left.  As I plugged away at a steady pace up it I passed a few gentlemen.  On my way past, one commented "wooo there little lady, there's still a lot to come!"  I pleasantly smiled and said "yes thanks, I know. I'm just running comfortably and enjoying the day."  Within a few strides it was clear I had a new shadow, this man did not want me to be in front.  We exchanged some conversation and ran for a few miles together.  Eventually we even crossed paths with one of my pacers whom I hadn't met in person yet, which was a pleasant opportunity to put a name and face together and exchange hugs.   As I approached Cal Street I was alone and found my way to Foresthill Elementary School

As I left the aid station the volunteer's informed me that they thought I turned down Bath Road.  Despite not seeing any markers I turned down the hill and opened up my stride.  About 1/2 mile down the hill I spotted a ribbon and then nothing.  I kept running downhill, down, down, down until the end of the road.  With no ribbons and no other runners I headed back uphill and then eventually spotted "my shadow".  He got me back on course after my bonus mileage.  Again we stuck together until we made our way up a long climb towards Michigan Bluff (in the reverse direction of the actual course) and I ran away from my shadow.  I came to the top of the single track, made my way onto a dirt road that then split.  The intersection was unmarked and I took my chances and headed left.  After about a mile plus of downhill I decided that I should turn around and try the other direction.  Finally back on course I made my way to the turn around at Michigan Bluff where my shadow was refueling.  Now that I knew the course I could more comfortably run alone and see the course in the right direction.  Once I arrived back at Foresthill I was even treated to a massage which was just icing on the cake.

Day 2- (19 miles) - Day two meant running the section from Foresthill to the Rucky Chucky in the correct direction.  Instead of crossing the river like we would do on race day the training course had us ending with a three mile climb to White Oak Flat.

Not wanting to run alone again I decided to latch onto the train that the four front male runners had formed.  Within a mile the guy in front of me, Dave started chatting.  We exchanged good conversation and he offered to let me pass.  I was tempted to pass all of them since I could comfortably run the downhill at a faster pace than they were going.  Half kidding and half curious I asked Dave his thoughts about me passing everyone.  That is, if I passed them all would they then chase? Knowing that I would feel the need to continue to push the pace for the entire mileage if I did that I decided to stay put.  The group stayed in formation till the first major double track climb and then three out of the four guys went into a walk.  I passed two of them and joined the front two runners Chris and Dave.  I kept picking on Dave as I threatened to take pictures of him walking and then send them to his coach (who I will not name).  After a couple miles I let Chris and Dave go and went back to running with Dave and Skip.  They were both great company and strong runners. 

After finally reaching the aid station before the three mile climb I ate some fruit and worked on pulling out my ipod as Dave and Skip headed up the hill.  The grade varied throughout the climb, but it was all runnable.  After about two miles of soft clay road I took a right hand turn onto some single track.  Within a few minutes I passed the race director and then shortly after a guy came flying by me.  Once we I arrived at the final aid station the guy who passed me told me that the RD had told him not to get chicked. 

Once showered and full of food and Starbucks Nate Sanel and I hiked to the bottom of the highest bridge in CA (730 feet).  As we admired the bridge and snapped photos I got to see a California King snake (sweet, I am afraid of garden snakes!)  After taking pictures we started back up the switch backs and suddenly Nate and I both heard a "whoooossh" and then a "thud".  The "thud" hit a few feet from me and the "thud" was caused by a large rock that someone had dropped or thrown from above.  A very close call for both of us and it certainly dampened my spirits. 

Day 3- (22 miles) - The finish!  After riding school buses for approximately 45 minutes up steep, narrow, twisty roads we were dropped off about 2 miles above the Greengate aid station.  Once on the WS course we made our way back to the track at Placer H.S.

Today was a very special day for me as I got to run with Meghan Arbogast.  I was connected with Meghan a while back by a mutual friend.  I was honored and humbled to have the opportunity to ride stride for stride with her we got to know each other better and she explained the course we were seeing.  She is such a strong runner and better yet a strong female.  Her energy and outlook are contagious and I can't wait to see what race day holds for her. 

Above Meghan and I are standing (yes standing) on "No Hands Bridge," which is a few miles from the finish.  After refueling at an aid station on the other side we were off and running again. It was great to see the final miles of the course, especially once the trail ends and the pavement begins since there is a climb up before heading towards the track. 
With just 24 days until "go time" I am trying to stay calm and focused.  My number one goal is to finish while running my race.  The work has been done and now I need to be smart and work on all the details.  All and all the trip was nectar!