Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Run Strong, Be Brave, Breathe!

Belief, remember that word, hold it tight even when it tries to escape over and over.  I have been told I am capable, I have been told that I am a strong runner, yet I have a hard time allowing myself to believe people.  My perception is the opposite, although if other people believe in me could I?  I knew that this year I wanted to toe the line at Western States with more faith in myself, because self doubt makes each element of that race seem ten times harder.

The days leading up to the race I tried to stay calm and balanced.  I did my best not to compare myself to others as we all shared moments at Starbucks, passed each other on shake out runs or stepped on scales next to one another.  I am what I am and ready or not the race was here.  I knew I could go into the race and show what I was capable of or I could be self defeating and run half heartedly.  My strategy for the race was to run my race, stay positive and have fun.  Simple as that.

WSER 2012 Start Line-Photo By: Emma Garrard/Salomon
As the masses emerged at the start line, I looked around and was surrounded by what I would deem greatness.   A highly competitive men’s and women’s field, volunteers, spectators, crews, pacers, family and friends all embracing the unexpected elements and what may lie ahead.  I felt so nervous, but then again if I didn't something would probably be wrong.

Escarpment- Photo By: Bob MacGillivray
As the countdown to the gun began I hugged the female runners around me and wished them luck, a safe time on course and then we were off.  I quickly fell into stride and knew there was no reason to extend myself on the first 3.5-mile climb out of Squaw.  I kept my pace comfortable and eventually settled into a little group of comprised of Rory Bosio, Paul Terranova, Josh Katzman and a few others.  By the time we were mid way up the wind was strong and I tried to seek some refuge by tucking behind the men.  With the strong and gusty wind there was no reason to run the steeper sections.  Rather it seemed we would all put our heads down, lean into the wind and try not to lose our hats and visors.   After passing the top of the tram I glanced at my watch to note 37:00 minutes and was cresting the top of Escarpment around 50 minutes and it was here that I was treated to my first cheers and smiles from Bob MacGillivray from Drymax Socks who was hunkered down with other photographers.   

Duncan Canyon Photo By: Glen Tachiyama
At this point Lizzy Hawker and Joelle Vaught were a long ways out of site and mind.  Ellie and Rory were making quick work of the downhill single track and self doubt was gaining on me.  I imagined that any moment a huge pack of females who were smiling and barely working were going to go flying by me and I would never see them again.  I refocused on the moment, on my race plan and tried to regain that belief that I could do this.   I knew I needed to settle into my race and not get wrapped up in chasing or worrying about who was lurking behind since we were merely a few miles into the day.  The field was now sorting out and spreading further over the miles.  Paul and I were together again and then were eventually joined by one of my international Salomon teammates David Kadunc from Slovenia along with a few others.  The males were gentlemanly and let me lead the way as we made our way to Red Star Ridge.  The pace I chose was whatever kept me warm enough to not become hypothermic, but slow enough to not overextend so early in the race.  At this point I was soaked to the bone and struggled to perform any function that required the usage of my hands.  Even though the conditions were not what Western States participants experience on race day I felt a sense of comfort, Nikki Kimball and I joked a lot about how it was just like we were in Vermont running on Mount Mansfield or Camels Hump.  A little rain, some hail, gusty wind, slick rocks, border line hypothermic, yeah just like at home.  During these early sections Nikki and I would be together and then separated due to each others strengths and weaknesses.  As we approached downhills she would just mention that she would see me in a while on the next climb and it was nice that we both continued to run our own races while valuing the time we did have together.

DUNCAN CANYON TO DEVILS THUMB (Mile 23.8 to Mile 47.8)
I quickly realized as I came into the Duncan Aid Station how alive the crew stations were going to be.  Last year we didn't see our crews until Michigan Bluff because of snow and this year despite the cold temps and unpredictable sky the crews and fans were loud and extremely supportive.  I almost blew by my mother who had another Salmon S-Lab pack to swap out with me.  She tried to convince me to take another layer, but at that point I felt like it would just add another layer of wetness and weight.  Now my focus became getting through the next 6 miles to Robinson Flats were my husband George would be waiting to crew for me.  David and I were still together and started to share some conversation.  After I took a spill on a loose corner he helped pick me up while mentioning that if I had Salomon shoes on I wouldn't have that problem.  I giggled and shared with him that I was a member of the US Salmon team and that I had the Salomon Crossmax on.  My left leg was now sore after landing on it. My thoughts started flashing back to last year when I fell on the snow and then struggled the rest of the race.  I ran gingerly for a few minutes trying to fight back the doubt signals my freshly cut and bruised left leg were sending me.  
Heading into Dusty Corners Photo By: Glen Tachiyama
Just after exiting the Milers Defeat Aid station I fell into a mud pit and banged my right knee.  My entire right side from socks up to my elbow was caked in mud.  Both my gloves were completely soaked in mud and every time I scratched my nose or face I would leave a streak of dirt.  I now felt like Pigpen.  A few miles after the Millers Defeat aid station we came across Mike Wardian, who I pulled up next to and said "I don't believe we have ever met" as he glanced at me.  I then said "Please don't get me wrong I know exactly who you are, I just don't think we have met before." It was amazing to share some miles with this runner, father and husband.  We also caught and ran with Joelle Vaught for a while and then once I passed her I was running in 4th position with Nikki looming close behind.  At Dusty Corners the running pack shown above was dissolved as David and I pulled away.  We continued to stay together sharing conversation about everything from significant others to Salomon products.

David and I crossed the swinging bridge and ran the first short section of Devils Thumb before settling into a hike.  Here I worked on keeping a solid pace with getting some calories and fluid in me.  I kept looking down the switchbacks to see if I could catch a glimpse of Nikki, but no sign at this point.  The temperature on the hike up was much more pleasant this year than last and as we approached the top I saw Rory just 2 switchbacks in front of us.  Once at the aid station I had the volunteers refill my pack while Rory was having a blister worked on.

Now with a bedazzled Rory with me I could breathe and let go of some worry.  Last year I had come across her on approximately around the same time.  Rory and I were both happy to see each other and had 2-3 males tag on behind us.  As we made our way past Deadwood Cemetery we soon came across JB who was filming.  After commending him for his movie Unbreakable I told him I had a brilliant idea, that being he should do a film on the ladies of Western States.  As he continued with us Rory stole the show with jokes, songs and even some trail porn.  It was very apparent that our conversational topics were probably much more different than those being had between Geoff, Anton, Kilian and Hal. The gentlemen who were running behind us were certainly entertained for countless miles. JB stuck with us for a long time his showing his impressive ability to run, film and converse all at the same time.

Glen & Geo and Cowboy Paul Photo Shoot? Photo By: Bret Rivers
Soon after we parted ways with JB were joined by Nikki as we floated down the trail with what we were telling everyone was girl power.  It was such an honor to run so many miles with both Nikki and Rory, both are unique, strong females who bring a lot to the sport.  I believe it was Nikki who at one point said it felt like we were all out for a long training run together, we were all just so relaxed around each other trying to enjoy the shared moments despite the fact that we were "racing". These are the moments that I cherish, the ones that we are all out there enjoying ourselves, each others company and the amazing course that we were blessed with.  Also at this random moment I want to give a shout out to all the film crews and photographers who braved the bad weather and the clear skies throughout the day.  It is great to see them all out there, to say hello and then see their pieces of work online.  Truly inspiring to me and I am grateful.

We all came blazing into Michigan Bluff together and stomped on the timing mat while it made a horrendous sound, maybe we overloaded it with our demand that three timing chips be recognized at the same moment.  I weighed in just a half of pound heavier than my start weight and then grabbed a fresh pack from George and got major smiles and pats on the back from teammate Glen Redpath.  Glen filled me in on the race and told me today I was racing for third.  That was exciting, yet scary for me.  Look at who I was racing, these ladies are studs!  Rory and I left the aid station together knowing that Nikki would catch up on the downhill.  We ran the downs and flats and then hiked the exposed dirt road up to the left hand turn that would send us in the right direction towards Volcano Creek and then Bath Road. Once on the downhill single track Nikki was again in our group as we took turns leading and setting the pace. We continued to hike the steeper uphills while chatting away.  Once at Volcano Creek I took one step into the water and my foot slipped.  Down and in I went.  My right hamstring went into convulsion and I had a major moment of panic.  Really, this how my race was going to end?  Rory help me right myself while she put a positive spin on the fact that at least now I was clean.  After a few minutes it was back to normal and before I knew it we were almost to the bottom of Bath Road.

Mom & I Heading Into Foresthill- Photo By: Serena Wilcox
As we arrived to the bottom of the road there were loads of cheers from Nikki's fan club and Rory's as well, but were was my Mommy? We all headed up the road together and once near the top I found my mom who then ran me into Foresthill.  I would imagine we would like a huge pack because of the amount of people that were joining us for that section into FH, it felt like a moving party.

Mer & I Leaving Foresthill- Photo By: ?
After weighing in precisely at my pre-race weight I was given the thumbs up to continue on.  I ran through the rest of the elongated aid station to join my pacer Meredith Terranova and to grab a new hydration pack from George.  Within moments Mer and I were in sync and hitting our stride.  Now with pacer by my side and a fresh pack on my back we were off and headed down towards the river.  Just 16 miles to get there and this is one of my favorite sections because of all the downhill switchback sections. The temperature stayed very comfortable and I still felt fueled and rather fresh considering how many miles I had already run.  The long stretch of the cheering crowd keep my pace honest as we worked our way off the main road back onto the trail.  I knew that Rory and Nikki had both stopped to attend to details with their crews, therefore spending a little bit longer at Foresthill.  Thus, for the moment the trail was extremely quiet with just the footfall from Mer and I.

Knowing what strong downhillers both ladies are I had zero doubt in my mind that they would soon be upon us.  Despite this I still wanted to continue to focus on myself, knowing that there were still many miles left in the race.  For moments between Peachstone and Fords Bar and then Fords Bar and the river we would hear conversation behind us, but the ladies and their pacers never caught us.  Thinking that we would be crossing the river on foot Mer and I devised a plan because I am a huge sissy when it comes to cold water.  As we approached the crossing all I could smell was BBQ and that made me run faster, not because I wanted some but because I needed to get past the smell as soon as possible.  Just before reaching the waters edge a volunteer stopped us and said "life jackets" and I couldn't figure out why.  Then we realized we were getting a boat ride across.
Myself, Rory & Pacers Photo By: Glen Tachiyama

With Rory up by the aid station we gave the go ahead for the rower to wait for her.  Once all in the boat we were shoved off and quickly rowed to the adjacent side.  After getting out of the boat my husband George greeted me with a big smile and cheers.  Now for the fun part, the lovely climb up to Green Gate.  With pacers, crew and friends Rory and I started to walk up to Green Gate.  We both worked on refueling and telling stories to those who had missed magical moments on the trail with us.  I was grateful that the sun wasn't beating down on us on this section like last year.  The temperature was comfortable now that the skies had cleared and the sun was out.  About 2/3 of the way up the climb my mother joined us and after a few minutes I mentioned that I would be grabbing my pack and not handhelds from them at Green Gate.  She gave me an oh crap look and took off running.  Meredith also ran up the hill without me to refill her pack and grab glasses and lights for the dark, which was yet to come.  After cresting at the top I realized that my crew had a handheld for me, but no pack.  They were frantically trying to transfer all the liquid to the pack that I had just had on along with all my gu, shot blocks, etc.  I stood there and watched as Rory looked at me.  I insisted that she go and she and her pacer took off downhill.  Between 2-3 minutes later Mer and I were off again.  There is no lying I was bummed, but I couldn't let this break me.  I knew in my mind I wouldn't see Rory again, that was just too much to make up on her.  I had to accept it and continue on, I had to fend off negative thoughts about my ability to stay strong.  I had to believe that I could continue to stay in front of Nikki and whomever else lurk close behind.  My crew and pacers had worked to hard for me to have a mental break down at this point.

GREEN GATE TO HIGHWAY 49 (Mile 79.8 to Mile 93.5)
With a fresh pack, a stashed headlamp and fuel we were off and running again.  I knew we would have to run the downhills strong so to not let Nikki make up too much time on me.  I kept hoping we would catch a glimpse or Rory in front of us, but it never happened.  Instead what happened was I heard Nikki and her pacer a few switch backs behind us.  Mer and I ceased our conversation so to be stealth and I started to grind the uphill climbs.  I put my head down and got after it until I felt comfortable enough that we had put some more distance between us.  
At the Auburn Lakes Trail aid station I was told that Rory was no longer running with Lizzy, but that she had passed her.  I was so excited for Rory, yes I will admit I have a girl crush and yes gentlemen she is single!  Again I weighed in right on my start weight and headed back to the trail without hesitation.  I believe it was just shy of Browns Bar (mile 89.9) that I had to turn my headlamp on.  The darkness slowed my pace a bit as my eyes were not stellar at this point, although I was pleased I had made it so far in the daylight.  Of course fairly far out from Browns Bar we could hear the aid station rocking. It is overwhelmingly loud for me with its blaring music and festivities so I gave my number, ran past the station and then pulled into the woods to pee while Mer grabbed some soda.  Somewhere between Browns Bar and Highway 49 I saw lights in front of us and was shocked to learn it was Lizzy and her pacer.  I wished her well and told her to stick with it as we made quick work at pulling away from them.  Shortly after I gave Mer an air high five as I was now in third.  Quickly after my exhilarating high my mind brought me back to reality as disbelief that had been hiding in the darkness came creeping back to me.  

HIGHWAY 49 TO THE TRACK! (Mile 93.5 to Finish)
After crossing the highway I knew that I still had the energy to power my way to the finish.  Last year I had been passed on the downhill to No Hands Bridge by Rory and this year I was determined to hold my position.  I wanted to run strong yet knew that I still had a few uphills to go.  Everything that seemed like Mount Everest after No Hands last year seemed like a frost heave this year.  I reminded myself just to stay focused and upright as a fall this late in the game could cost me several positions.  Mer continued to stay on me about hydration, salt and calories as we were going to do this right all the way to the finish line.  I gladly obeyed all her instructions as at this point my mental capabilities were far gone.  I knew exactly where we were yet need reminders of what was to come and how many more miles.  

This year when Mer and I reached Robie Point George and my mother were there to run us in.  I still had a lot in my legs so we powered up the pavement hill and then ran into the stadium after stopping once at an intersection wondering which way do we go, left or right?" Finally a car pointed us the correct direction by yelling "Go Left!"  My mom and Mer joined me on the track and Geo headed over to the finish line.  
As I rounded the final corner and made my way to the finish line there were cheers, applause and adoring fans grabbing for me.  Okay it was Glen and Rory, but I couldn't pass them by, not a chance. At this moment my aches and pains no longer existed, I felt weightless, but yes I still felt sticky and dirty.  By the way my ability to put captions on photos has ceased, silly Blogger, but credit is due because the shot above was taken by Emma Garrard from Salomon and the one below by Bob from Drymax.
I honestly had no idea how long I had been on course, until I caught a glimpse of the finish clock. Today I wasn't racing the clock, I wasn't really racing other competitors, but rather I was racing my race.  Today I was racing my doubt and fear to the finish line, and on this day I won.  This is something that dawned on me at the finish line when my coach Bryon Powell of irunfar.com hugged me.  Not only had others believed, not only had he believed, but most importantly I believed.  I learned that doubts are overwhelming and can they can be sneaky things.  They can linger and creep into your subconscious as they wear at you and tug hard enough to slow your pace, but standing up to them rather than running away helps defeat their strength.  

I cannot thank my family enough for dealing with me day after day.  They have continously supported my running and helped keep me in balance.   My husband George has been by my side constantly on my good days and bad days.  He has time after time picked me up when I have fallen, both mentally and physically.  My success is largely due to his faith in me because he always helps me see more clearly even on days were everything looks bleak.  My friends and training partners also play a pivotal role in my life, you guys are amazing.  Each steep I took was inspired by knowing you all were rooting for me.  I can never say enough kind words about my coach who has stuck with me. Bryon has been monumental in my growth and development, and has helped me in ways I could have never fathomed.  My crew of Geo, Nan-Nan and Jeff were amazing and helped keep me running on schedule and fueled, heck anyone who can tolerate my obsessive planning deserves a belt buckle.  And to my sponsors, Salomon, Drymax, Julbo and Eating and Living Healthy I couldn't do what I do day in and day out without your wonderful products and companies backing me.  My last shout out goes to Champlain Valley Cross Fit, thanks for showing me how important total body fitness is and to Green Mtn Rehab for keeping my body moving in the right direction.  Together "WE" finished Western States and for that I cannot give enough thanks.  


  1. great run Aliza! well done all day out there, enjoy the accomplishment and recover well

  2. You deserve all the props as you have invested a tremendous amount of dedication to the sport of ultra running! You have set some amazing goals and are achieving them with calculated training and planning. You are inspiring so many of us to follow in your dedication. Thank you for showing all of us that if you truly believe in yourself, "Dreams do come True!". Congratulations and thank you Aliza for being such a great friend and an even better role model for all of us... BTW you should do more interviews as the irunfar video was AWESOME!!

  3. Great report on the race and especially about the feelings and people involved with you at all levels. It is exciting to have a Vermont woman do so well in such a great USA Ultra race! Congratulations on a great achievement!!

  4. Aliza, I hope you accept your amazing-ness! Your humbleness is one of your keys to success, and being able to channel your thoughts into running "your race" showed a lot of patience and maturity as an athlete. A bad ass athlete!

    So excited to see you again next year!

    1. Thanks Meg,

      You have certainly taught me a lot and I have looked up to your determination and commitment to training. You are a rock star and I cannot wait to track you online as you venture to Europe. I will miss you at VT 100 this year!

      Hope you are recovering well :)

  5. Awesome race and great recap. Really inspiring. I want to run a 100 miler now!

  6. I'm always impressed by the camaraderie and sportsmanship in ultras running world. You really captured that spirit in your report. Keep being true to yourself Aliza. New England is SO proud of you!

  7. grazie. in 2 days I ll remember this. www.ultratrail.it Namaste

    1. Let me know how your race went, looks like an amazing one! Best of luck and safe travels.

  8. SO happy for you, Aliza! Such a great race in a stacked field. Love the finish line photo of you slapping hands, it just captures so much. Enjoy some recovery and reflection.

  9. Congrats! I can't believe the fast times this year - or how energetic you look after 18 hours.

  10. Congratulations, Aliza! Way to represent the East Coast!

  11. Congrats on an amazing race Aliza! Was really looking forward to reading your report. You should be so proud of what you accomplished. All the best in your recovery.

  12. Great job running and writing. Inspiration to both.

  13. Aliza, This was an incredible account of a really well-earned run and accomplishment. Thanks for sharing this! Great job.

  14. You are so inspiring. I struggled with self doubt and confidence it's good to know that I'm not alone! Amazing run. I know during my last race I passed a guy I knew was faster (he was having a super tough day) and just panicked like OMG I shouldn't be ahead of him when is he coming to get me. What's wrong am I too fast? So I get those same thoughts nice to know such an incredible runner has similar thoughts! Great writing, enjoy recovery!

    1. Self doubt can be so difficult to overcome, yet I have learned that it is worth the hard work to feel a glimpse of confidence. My battle has just started, but I hope that I am strong enough to continue it. I look forward to hearing about your first 100!

  15. "I was racing my race."

    Love this part of your post. Thanks for sharing, looking to reading more from your blog.


  16. Hi Aliza!

    I have just now found your report on WS100. It was really awesome race. I am happy to run with you because I had a really great time. This year unfortunately I am not able to come to US, but it would be nice to run WS100 third time in a role.

    I see that you are still very active and that you have done some awesome runs. So, just keep up with good work. :)

    Be well and hope to hear from you.

    from Slovenia



  17. Those are the elements that everybody needs when they run. Specially enjoy the race. It is something that you are doing to enjoy and people forget that.

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