Monday, November 28, 2011

Africa: Excitement and Anxiety

          Unfortunately, I don’t have a whole lot to say about my preparations for Africa.  Why?  Because I don’t think I have been preparing nearly enough!  And I’m probably worrying about finances and technicalities a bit too much.  This trip is about adventure, helping others, and learning after all!
          To go back a bit towards the beginning, I began getting this idea of traveling to Africa in my head in late spring, after I realized that moving to another state may not be part of my current path.  However, I still had the yearning for a philanthropic and worldly experience.  (Side note:  I was worried when Sandi went on her summer excursion that other people would feel they need to do the “exact” same thing, which would not be true.  But, if you read Sandi’s blog, she explains things well how everyone is on their own adventure.  Basically, I believe everyone should have some experience where they are out of their comfort zone, challenged, or have some unique learning experience…but everyone learns in their own ways, is on their own path, and has their own purpose.  It is not about searching for yourself (you are constantly in the state of “I am”…how you act at any moment is you!), but to make yourself grow to be better). Anyway…why Africa?  Because it’s crazy, extreme, beautiful, and I’ve always wanted to go on a mission’s trip.  Plus, I really do believe that this will further me on my path to help kids in the US learn about compassion and live their dreams.
I knew paying for the trip would be difficult… especially after graduating from college.  Admittedly though I have been blessed in several ways, plus I did not go on a Senior Trip or waste hundreds of dollars on alcohol… but I had one deal breaker: Burning River 100.  In an Ohio Sports & Fitness article with Sandi, it stated my race goal (which Steve told me was a bit of a bold move…but I really didn’t care):  I wanted to place in BR, and use all that I won towards my down payment  and program fees for Africa.  With all that I have been blessed with, I was able to place 2nd female.  I was going to Africa! 
I signed up with Cross Cultural Solutions shortly after I got my check in the mail, choosing Jan 7th as my departure date, partially because it was after Xmas and the end of my job at United Way (right before BR I also got the great news I got a temp job at the United Way of Greater Cleveland), and partially…okay a big part…because I’d miss much of the crappy Ohio winter weather.  
If I can, I'd also like to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Why? Because it’s there.  But if I don't get to do it, that's okay too.  I don't think it's going anywhere soon.
So in the past few months, what have I been doing to get ready? 
Well, I ordered plane tickets, my passport, VISA, and paid for the majority of my trip. I’ve briefly gone over my hand book and researched on the web.  Still, all I know is Swahili is “Habari” or “Hello”.  I should not wear shorts or tank tops in the village.  I need to wear a skirt that covers my knees at my volunteer sight.  Stopping to talk to someone is more important than making it on time to a meeting.  Like I said before, I’ve also worried too much.  I know I can afford the trip anyway, I’ve just always been extremely frugal when spending money, especially on me…except this isn’t simply on me!  It’s to volunteer, to learn, to help educate others! I need to remember that.  (Plus, I have no idea what I am getting myself into with if I get the chance to climb Kili…I don’t what it is going to be like, what gear I need, everything to pack.  But I have time, I have friends, I can learn what I need to!)
And, I’ll have 2-3 weeks after I finish at UW to research and prepare…so it’s time for me to “chill” and simply be excited for my adventure!  Everything will work out J
I also want to send out a HUGE thanks to everyone who has supported me and donated money for this trip.  I am extremely grateful. Asante!
Happy Adventures!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ice Ice Baby: Staying Cool for 100 miles 88˚ + Humidity

Ice Ice Baby: Staying Cool for 100 miles 88˚ + Humidity
Burning River 100 July 30-31 2011

In the few ultra blogs I have written, I have noticed that it’s very hard to determine where to start.  Do you start at with the horn/gun/RD’s shout?  The day before and pre-race prep?  The excruciating taper period? The beginning of the training season? It’s difficult because, in truth, you do not train for ultras in months, really even years.  An ultra is something you train for much of your life.  100 mile training does not begin with a training plan.  It starts with the obstacles you’ve face in life, the obstacles that made you fall, dust yourself off and keep going.  An ultra is about mental strength.  In order to just put your name on the registration list, you already have to have a certain toughness about you. 

But, I am going to save you from all that.  I am simply going to answer the 2 questions everyone asks before a race “How do you feel you training went?” and “Are you ready?” The answer to question one is “Ehhh, could’ve been better.”  I felt my training was a little off…too many long runs that left me struggling to recover, and not enough runs with some speed. But, to answer question 2, I always answered “Yes, I’m ready”.  I said yes, partially for mental purposes, but mainly because I knew I was.  I was ready to run.  I wasn’t sure how I was going to place, but I knew I could do the distance.  I had come to the conclusion that if, with all the wonderful people there and beautiful BT trails, I did not enjoy myself, it was my fault.  That would be my failure.  (Still, I wanted to be in the mix with the top females.  There were 2 women I decided that I “would not hate” losing too, that being Connie Gardner and Star Blackford.  They both have the experience and mental toughness I can look up too.  However, I realized there were many women in the field that were very strong runners.)

Anyway, here’s a quick description of pre-race Friday.  I woke up, slowly ran about a mile on the path behind my house, and spent most of the day relaxing and eating. I also made a quick trip to Marcs to pick up some extra food and drinks, though I think I bought more for my crew (aka Steve).  Me and Steve went to packet pick-up, chatted with a few friends, and I made sure to grab a white choc. Macademian nut cookie.  After that he dropped me off at the house and he went to pick up his son Joey.  As  I was making myself pizza on Naan bread, I heard the door open and in walk Joey.  The first thing he said was “My dad said I couldn’t talk to you as much today, is that true!?!?!”  I laughed and told him it was okay…although it did take much longer to make my pizza after that.  The 3 of us then ate dinner, and sat around watching Jersey Shore.  I grabbed another snack of pretzels and PB and went to up to bed around 8.  As I was laying in bed reading, I finally got the call I had been waiting for all day.  Me and Sandi chatted on the phone for about 20 minutes, apologizing again that she couldn’t be there (I totally understood!) and giving me my last minute encouragement.  Then, it was lights out!

The alarm went off at 3:30.  I quickly got ready…a bit too quickly because I did not put enough Vaseline on…and make a breakfast of coffee, oatmeal with honey, cocoa powder, and chia seed, plus half a banana, and we were out the door!  The temps were quite nice then…comfortable for running…so I knew it was going to be a “bit” warm out later on.

The drive was about 40 minutes.  We heard  and sang the chorus to “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice on the way.

This is the part I’m still quite salty about.  We get to Squire’s Castle, and after lacing up, I dutifully walk to the long bathroom line, and Steve and Joey go to check me in.  Tom Jennings, the Oil Creek RD, ended up right behind me, so we chatted a bit while patiently awaiting our turns.  By the time I get out of the stink hole, there was only a few minutes until 5 o’clock.  I wanted to find Steve, so I grabbed my headlamp from the car, which I did not plan on running with, to help me find him.  And he is nowhere to be found!  I even went to the registration tent, which I figured made the most sense.  But nope…now I don’t have my sister or my boyfriend to give me a hug before the race!  Luckily, I found Star as I picked a spot to start, and I got my hug J.  And then, without much ado, the crowd took our first step into our 100 mile journey. 

I was not exactly looking forward to the next 9.5 miles, as it was all on road.  Plus, I suffer from what I like to call “Chronic Hamstring Tightness on Roads”.  After a few miles on roads, my hamstrings/butt ALWAYS, always tightens up and throws my stride off.  (It got me after about 5-6 miles.)  I ended up running much of the first 11 miles with a guy named Jim from NY.  As young as he was, he was quite the seasoned ultra runner, just having done another 100 miler a few weeks before.   I believe it was when I was talking about my sister (as always) he said “Oh, you one of those twins”, which made me chuckle as I asked him what he meant.  I found out he had actually met many of my fellow Animal Camp teammates at McNaughton 200 in May.  Mainly, he reinstated what everyone knows; that Josh and John are crazy, but great people.

I also briefly talked to Donna Utakis who I had met at Oil Creek last year.  I hadn’t seen her since, and I wanted to thank her for what she had done for me.  I don’t feel like re-telling the story here, but if you want to know you can go back and read my OC blog from last October.
I just told her how appreciative I was (added that I still don’t think it was exactly right) and kept running.  The first 15 miles were over as quickly as the darkness turned into daylight.

Here is where I caught up to my friend Michelle Bichsel, another one of the Mohican runners.  Back in May we ran 50’s for Yo’ Momma, and stayed close for nearly the entire 50 miles.  We were about to do it again!  It was great to have such good company for so many miles.  Once in awhile we’d lose each other, like when I stopped to stretch my tight glutes/hamstrings, or when she stayed at aid stations a bit longer than me.  We arrived at mile 33, Station Road Bridge, together just after 10:30.  I was surprised.  I really thought I had blew my time on the towpath as I was continually forced to stop and stretch every few minutes.  So, at this point, I was a bit frustrated, though that was almost completely swept aside as I saw my mom, sister, dad, uncle, and cousin standing on the bridge waiting for me along  with Steve and Joey.  I just felt so loved at that point.  My dad had never been to one of mine or Sandi’s ultras before, and my mom and sister really just don’t get the whole ultra thing (which I can see why and accept now).  I talked to them as long as I could, in-between the time I yelled at Steve to go get my Tiger balm and the time I rubber it all over underneath my butt ( I felt a little bad they had to see that).  My mom also pinned an angel pin to my sports bra, telling me to run with angel’s wings, and I knew my aunt and uncle (both passed from cancer) were with me.  Plus, I was just thrilled that my mom was so supportive!  (The only negative there was that then pin dug into my skin, but I was too scared to take it off)  My runner friend, Lloyd Thomas was also there and kindly took the time to check on me and remind that there was a most likely vacant bathroom down the road.  Another great tip!

The section from Station Road Bridge to Ottawa Point was painful.  It still wasn’t my favorite type of trail (bridle), and I wasn’t feeling all too great.  But I slowly trudged on, letting a few people pass, but passing another woman. (I also couldn’t believe when another woman flew by me.  After about 2-3 miles she turned off the course and I was like “what, you’re not racing!?!?”She laughed and said no. I thought she had looked a bit too fresh. ) I remembered what another runner friend, Paul Romanic, told me a few months back. He had told me to take the first part of the section easy, because it was a bit hilly despite the gravel trail, and it’d be more run-able later on.  Note taken, and appreciated.  I figured if worse came to worse, I’d tell Steve to put on his running shoes and pace me at the end.  For the time being, I kept on thinking how blessed I was to have such great family and friends, to have the ability to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and the beautiful nature I was surround by.  So I kept smiling despite how I was feeling physically.  And then, I snapped. In a good way.  I entered the section of trail I knew and loved.  I was back on the Buckeye Trail, and on single track.  I had waited almost 39 miles for this.  I was home.

Ice Ice Baby: Staying Cool for 100 miles 88˚ + Humidity
Burning River 100 July 30-31 2011 (Part 2)

I arrived at Ottawa Point Aid Station with a smile on my face.  It got even bigger when I saw my mom and sister still there standing next to Steve and Joey, waiting to cheer me on.  I quickly changed water bottles with Steve, swallowed my hourly dose of S Caps and an IB Profen (probably a mistake) .  Before a departed into the woods I again shouted my love to my crew and exclaimed “I love the Buckeye Trail!” 

I was feeling good.  Really good.  Almost too good.  At one point, I almost let out a “woohoo!” because I was so happy and excited to be running under the cover of a beautiful canopy of trees.  From here on out, I was never passed again (except for one guy who made a very stupid move I’ll tell you about in 40 miles).  I passed a few guys and the next female, a very good runner who recently won the Copper Canyon 50, Crystal Basich.  I kept running and I kept smiling, eventually catching up to Michelle once again, and  we stuck together for the next few miles.

Snowville was another quick aid station.  I quickly squeezed a sponge of cold water over my head, got my bottle filled, and grabbed some food to go.  I knew I had better run the small section across the road and flat section on the trail before getting the food down.  Why?  Because I had the Stairway to Heaven to climb, and it would be a slow going, and a much better time to eat.  I believe the gentleman running behind let out a bit of a gasp when he saw the stairs.  Michelle and I trudged up, but saving enough energy so we could run right from the top.

I began getting even more excited here.  One, because I had run this section so many times, and two, Boston Store was just over 5 miles away.  I knew the aid station would be packed with onlookers and friends.  Steve would be there with my recovery drink, my friend and adventure race partner Roseanne would be volunteering, and one of my  SERC friends Frank Duchossois was heading the Aid Station.  However, I did have quite a ways to go… over 5 miles where I needed to conserve my Hammer drink (I did not and ran out after 4 mi.) and pay attention to tree roots

(I did not).   I believe it was shortly after Michelle and I crossed over Columbia Rd. that I took a nice dive onto my left hip (which had been previously bothering me) and leaving quite a nice battle wound.  Michelle graciously lent out a hand to pull me up, and we kept running.
Soon enough, we were at the Piano Keys, a very nasty section of steep stairs with and extra little hill on top.  But we urged are legs up, knowing our reward was soon to come.  It is what I like to call the “roller coaster” section.  It’s a nice downhill section with some big curves, where you can just let you’re your legs go and cruise down to Boston Road. Dare I call this section “fun”?  Maybe.

As  Michelle and I crossed over Riverview road to the aid station, I saw BT 50k winner Kam Shun Lee and flashed the VR “peace sign” with my hand for a picture, and then Roseanne waiting on the bridge.  My ever-faithful crew (and boyfriend) Steve was waiting for me to switch bottles, down me with some water and send me on my way, but briefly got to see Mrs. Pope, Frank, and a cheerful crowd (another little dose of appreciative energy).  Before Steve pushed me on my way down the dreadful towpath, I made sure to give him the instruction that I wanted a Sundae Pop-Tart my next time throughJ.

I knew the course changed here, I just didn’t realize how much.  I figured I only had a half mile on the dreadful towpath until I turned right towards Stanford Hostel.  When I got there, I glumly looked at the arrows pointing me straight.  More towpath.  I glanced back making sure I wasn’t off course, but Michelle was coming up behind me so I just trusted the plastic arrows on sticks.  It wasn’t for another mile that we turned on to the Valley Bridle, Michelle having caught up.  She had to take a quick bathroom break (taking one at aid stations often wastes time) and kept going on ahead.  This is where we finally departed, just over 50 miles.  (Halfway done!)

I again wash happy to be on trails, but I had to take extra caution to follow the trail markings. Before I knew it, I popped onto a nice big blacktop hill.  I swear, the tar on it was melting!  To  make things even better, there is a house on this section with a wooden fence.  The wooden fence has a decorative display of bloody, gruesome head masks (like one of Jason) on the posts.  Thank goodness it was daylight.  After another few miles on trail, I was back at Boston Store…for about 30 seconds.

 I believe this is where I first stuffed ice cubes into my sports bra.  I had never done this before, but seen it done when I was volunteering at BT50k.  I must say, it was a great idea! 

With my Sundae pop-tart in hand, I ran another short section of towpath before hopping back on to the BT towards Pine Lane (another favorite section).  I focused on that, trying very hard not to focus on the road section after that.  I was pretty much able to cruise along.

Then something very strange happened.  I got to the top of the very big hill (at the time, I was very thankful we only had to go down), maybe .5 miles away from the Aid Station.  Here, I saw Connie Gardner.  We both said “Hi!” and continued on.  I was very confused.  First of all, why in the world was she going up that dang hill? And, what place was I in!?!?!  Omg, I was the next woman behind Connie!  I wasn’t sure if another woman was in front of her or not.  At the bottom of the hill I asked a guy what was going on, and was informed the course was changed.  Oooo…

I stopped a minute or two longer than I would have like at the Aid Station, but I need to get food and more ice cubes, plus drink as much as I could there with the long road section up ahead and only one water bottle to get me through. 

Back out on the trail, now at the bottom of probably now the largest uphill of the course, I saw the next 3 women.  Michelle, Crystal, and Christine.  All right there, maybe 20 minutes behind me (depending how long they took at P.L.).  Still, I felt confident….except for the thought “Where the hell is Star!?!?”  I knew she had to be making her move, about to pass us all with a quick smile and hello.

With this thought I entered the road.  If I didn’t express this clearly enough before, I hate the road.  It sucks.  But, I saw two guys in the distance in front of me, and I put targets on their back,

I ran the flat areas, walking the top, steeper parts of the rolling hills (If you hadn’t just run 60 miles, you probably wouldn’t know they were hills.  I was watching the guy in front of me and where he walked, and running just a bit more than him.  Right after we turned on the Bike and Hike, I passed him.  This is where 2 miracles happened.   One being I actually ran this entire (road) section and the other that the sun stayed behind the clouds the entire time.  I’ve heard stories about how the sun beats down and sucks the energy out of people in those 2 miles…I could not believe how lucky I was.

Still, I was happy when we hopped back on the trail towards Happy Days (O, Happy Day, O Happy Day… yes, this song was playing in my head).

Running towards the Aid Station, I heard people remark about how I was still smiling.  Of course I was, I was at Happy Days! And the road section was over, I had run the whole thing, so I was stoked.  I quickly stopped, told my mini miracle to Steve, and said hi to Brian Perusek.  I also believe this is where Steve mentioned Connie to me.  I think I simply replied I didn’t care where she was, I was running my race.  With cookies in hand, I was off again on the long stretch towards Pine Hollow.

It actually wasn’t too bad.  I even to a quick second take in the beautiful landscape seen from the Overlook at the Ledges.  I still didn’t exactly enjoy the cross country trails (I always feel like they take forever) but I just focused on the fact how gorgeous it was outside with the light coming through the trees and across the field.  Then I got to the Sound of Music Hill.  This hill always hurts, and it was not exception after 70 miles.  Plus, as soon as you get to the top, you go down a steep downhill before going back up a big hill to the aid station.  This took quite a bit out of me, but once in view of Steve I ran towards him, still smiling.  My friend and photographer Greg Murray was also there, taking pictures.  I really didn’t feel like eating at this point, but grabbed a cup of blueberries and took off downhill towards another hilly loop, Salt Run.                                                                                                                                                                                                                

It was after these 3.3 miles that I started to wear out.  Back at the aid station, I saw Christine take off downhill for her turn around the loop, and Star was about to do the same. I exclaimed to Steve “Star really sped up!” I had a marathon left to go, and I was tired, but would could I do bet keep smiling and keep moving forward?

As I headed out, Steve pulled out a postcard Sandi had written to me from Mesa Verde.  I had really started to miss her in the last few miles, as she always been my main, and sometimes only, support.  He reminded me that Sandi, despite being hundreds of miles away in Colorado, was right there with me.

When I got back on the trail towards Wetmore, I caught up (and passed) a poor guy with purple hair who did not seem to be doing too well.  He asked me if I had run BR before and I said no, and he told me he had but last time it wasn’t so damn hot!  I honestly didn’t think it was that bad, I had run in worse.  I told him it was getting nice out (evening was setting in) and all he said was “yea, if you like it hot.”  He tried to hang on but the hill proved to be too much for him, and I was back on my own towards the Covered Bridge.  I don’t remember much from this section, besides I was tired and wanted caffeine, the unmanned water station I was very happy to see, and how mad I was there were no goat behind the fence like there usually are. 

And then I was at the Covered Bridge.  As I ran through the parking lot a man asked me if I had seen a guy with purple hair. All I could reply was “Ehh, he didn’t look so good” and the man said “O, great”. I had to laugh.  I then exchanged “hi’s” with Darris, Star’s husband.  “How far back was she?”

I went through the Covered Bridge and Steve was right there to meet me.  I was about to say “I need caffeine!” but already out was a 5 hour energy.  Perfect timing, once again.  I took some oranges, the only thing I could really get down, and started the dreaded Perkins Loop.  The funny thing is, I actually like Perkins Loop.  I think it’s kind of fun.   The first 3 miles are up and down, and then you’re rewarded with almost 2 miles of gradual downhill.  Most importantly, I started the loop at almost exactly when I wanted to.  I still had 30 minutes of daylight to get through the toughest section.  This would give me a huge advantage over anyone else behind me.  Anyway, as I slowed to a hike up the long, steep hill, I was passed!  (He got to the Aid Station first, just took more time than I did).  This guy decided to run up the hill! What was he thinking!?!? I had no problem letting him go, I figured he’d pay for it later.   I got through the majority of the loop without turning out my headlamp, not turning it on until I was already on the decent, just as planned.

As I was returning to the Covered Bridge, there was Star.  We almost walked past each other, then in union, suddenly stopped, turned around, and hugged one another.  It was if we knew exactly what the other was going through, and so badly wanted the other to do well.  I have rarely been so in sync with my twin.  (However, we have declared Star an Honorary Nypaver twin)

Steve then came to my aid, got me what I needed, and sent me down the road (blah).  I started walking, before I heard him yell “Use the road!”  Damn it, now I had to run...but I knew there was a hill coming up I would have to walk.  Here I met another Jim.  Jim was walking.  I was a bit lonely.  I asked him to run with me, which he did for about 2 minutes, but he really wasn’t feeling it.  We saw a headlight behind us, so he told me I better get going (later I found out it was the guy who passed me running up Perkins...he didn’t pass again).  I turned my headlamp off (besides for safety if I saw a car coming down the road) so runners behind me wouldn’t see, and ran the stretch of road towards O’Neil Woods.  With a mile and a half more of trail, I reached the aid station.  All I wanted was caffeine, and they had an Espresso Hammer Gel, my favorite, although it didn’t taste as good as usual.  I kept on, not really knowing who was behind me. 

I remember thinking how much it sucked not having pacer (in physical body there next to me, although I was pretending Sandi was there).  It wasn’t because I was scared, or that I could use the push to run harder (I couldn’t have), I just missed the company.

After the trail and a short piece of road, it was time to hop on the towpath.  A very long stretch of towpath.  I hate the towpath.  Especially this section, as it goes right past Waste Management, which smells absolutely awful.  However, maybe because of my numb senses or because I smelled so bad myself, it wasn’t too bad that night.  Now I just had to make it to Merriman Aid Station. “One foot in front of the other.  “C’mon Ray.  Just keep plodding along.  Be thankful for your bodies’ ability.  It is a beautiful night.”  I thought of whatever I could to keep myself moving.

I also played “The Alphabet Game”, food version, just as Star had lead me and Steve through it a month back at the Firecracker 40 group run.  I was disappointed how quickly I got through it (skipping over U…and friend did inform that there are foods the start “U”, I just  don’t remember them now to tell you what they are).

Merriman wasn’t more than a quick pause.  I was told Connie wasn’t too far (I had no idea what that meant…but really it meant too far to catch her unless she got hit by a car), and I believe I told Steve I was tired.  Without even knowing it, I moved into 9th place, passing the great ultra-runner Skinny Beast.  That day was not his day, he had walked for many previous miles, and he knew too well the dreadful section that was about to come.

I had 3 more miles of towpath until the last aid station, Memorial Parkway.  I ran as fast I could…which was slight faster than the “ultra-runner shuffle”.   Those 3 miles took forever.

Nearing Memorial, I played a short stint of the counting game.  Count to run 111, okay maybe another count of 32, then walk for 11 seconds.   When I saw the volunteers and Steve I made myself run, as I knew they expected me too.

At this point, I was nothing more than exhausted.  I wanted to be done.  Just thinking about the next 4 miles was tiring.

Just past the aid station is a brick road.  An uphill brick road.  Because this section is un-safe (contrary to the opinion of Steve Hawthore (see the Firecracker 40 blog)), I was escorted by police car up the hill.  I was very grateful, and felt sorry I was moving so slowly.  Steve Godale was at the middle of the hill and yelled to me “you’re going to have to run part of this if you want to catch Connie in case she blows up!”  Now, I appreciate the encouragement but really, Connie blow up with 4 miles to go!?  And run uphill!?! I believe I made it running up to the next safety cone, 10 feet away.

I hiked up as best I could, once again remember the Firecracker 40 with Star and Steve and getting lost in this “lovely” neighborhood.  As I neared the turn towards the park and last trail section, the cop pulled off and I did my best to wave my hand to thank him.

I stepped on to the dirt and closely followed to arrows.  I only had a few more miles left to the finish, but my body had nothing left.

For the first time, I walked part of the flat section…playing the counting game for a much more extended amount of time.  I will not say that my mental strength weakened here.  Honestly, I don’t think it did.  I had simply given the race my all, my body was doing its best. 

Grabbing on to the railing, I pulled myself up the final steep set of stairs.  Then it was another small section of gravel trail, past the gorge, and onto the final section on road. 

To my annoyance, I heard yelling coming from the street.  It was of course Steve, there to cheer me on, but now I was feeling more obligated to run…I did the best I could.

He cheered me on even more as I neared.  I got to the street and turned left.  “OMG, when did this ginormous hill get here!?!”  I had no intention of running it…except Steve and other on-lookers where there.  Crap, now I had to run it, even if it killed me (it nearly did).  The whole way to the finish I had to urge myself to run.  The last 15 miles I had been waiting for a surge of energy that never came. 

When I was about 100 yards away, Steve called Sandi and put her on speaker phone.  I could barely talk, running was taking everything, but I was happy to hear her voice.

I was nearly there.  Just a few more strides.  And there was my mom, step-dad, Lake Erie friends (twins and SMAD Co-Presidents) Jennifer and Jessica Kenny, and Shaun! 

I crossed in 19:36.  I barely remember it.  I guess RD Joe Jurcyzk hand me my buckle, but I didn’t remember (I asked Steve about it the next day and he said I immediately handed it to him).  I went to the first set of outstretched arms I could find, desperately wanting a hug, which ended up being Shaun.  I believe I then went to Steve and my mom.  We walked over to the steps, and that was it.  I was done.  My body was done.  And I smelled worse than the Waste Management Plant.

We called Sandi and I got to talk to my other half.  She was proud of me, I missed her, but she had helped me through.

The problem was I wanted to use the rest room.  My mom said she’d walk me there, Steve wanted to get me up and to the car, and I knew I could do either of these things.  I felt dizzy, and told them about 10 times that no matter what to not take to the hospital (my dad would kill me when he got the bill).  But they got me up, and, just like I had told them I would, I blacked out.  (Just like I had after OC).

I awoke in their arms, hearing my mom’s voice, and told them to just lay me on the ground.
Concrete never felt so good. 

From there I could talk.  Shaun brought me water and cookies, and I forced them down.  I apologized again and again for the odor my body was emitting, and thanked everyone for being there. 

Steve kept trying to get my smelly, mess of a body up and in to the car.  This was not on my agenda.  For one, I was happy on the ground, and two, I was going to wait for Star. 

She crossed the finish, 3rd woman, hugged her husband, and laid what was left of herself down next to me.  The rest of both of us was out on the course. 

In much too short of time, Star got up, which meant there was no more getting around being put into Rocky, our Land Rover.  Rocky is much too high to get into after running 100 miles.  At least Joe allowed Steve to drive Rocky to me, and my stepdad and Steve hoisted me up and in. 

I gave my love and thanks again to my loved ones before we closed the door and I curled up in the back seat.  The drive was way too short home (which I previously had felt would be a bonus).  Now Steve wanted to get me in the house and showered.  Why could he just leave me there!?!?

This is where I had to let go of all my dignity.  My body was useless.  I had to rely on Steve.

He carried me upstairs, and started the bath.  He stipped off my caked on compression socks and laid me in the warm water.  He washed my hair.  I told him “I think this makes you a keeper”.  He tried to wash my toes, but I yelled at him, as they were blistered and bruised.
He wrapped me in a towel and laid me in bed. 

It would have been so nice to sleep…but I was in too much pain, and my stomach was lurching.
I made it back to the bathroom as quickly as I could.  From there on, I stayed on the bathroom floor the rest of the night.  Steve got me a blanket and some ginger ale.  I knew he was exhausted too, crewing is a very tiring, and selfless, job. 

I laid in pain on the floor for a few hours, never knowing what time it was.  When I felt like it was getting close to leave to make it back to the finish to watch the last runners come in, I drew another bath and pulled on my sweats.  Steve carried me to Rocky, and now in bright Sunshine, we were back at the Finish.

I felt silly, as Steve piggy-backed me towards the crowd. I was quite upset everyone else seemed to be walking fairly well on their own. I hate not doing things on my own, but it would’ve taken me much longer than the time the cross walk gave me to cross the road.  We found Michelle and Star, and we ate what we could as we watched the clock near 30 hrs and cheered are last friends in. 

We all had just finished a great adventure.

It was a few days before my stomach settled (which sucked, you’re supposed to EAT, EAT, EAT, afterwards!), but we finally made it too Friendly’s for my Reese’s Pieces  Sundae, a childhood favorite.

A week later, I also started my job at United Way.  The timing could not have been more perfect.  I took the summer off, ran a decent race, and started work at one of the best and largest non-profits.  While the job is only temporary, I’m perfectly fine with that.  Why? One, I want to transition to a more hand on job after, working in youth development. Two, I can keep the promise I made to myself months earlier: If I placed at BR, I would use the award money as a down payment on a missions trip to Africa.  I plan to leave in January. 

Once again, I am truly blessed.

Will I race Burning River again? Probably, but I’m not sure when.  I told Steve I’d be happy to crew for him next year.
What will my next race be?  I’m not sure.   Running OC100 again would not be in my body’s best interest, plus I want to repay Steve for all his dedication to me during BR.  I owe much of my performance to him.  Plus, I want to make my body a bit stronger before I race another 100.  I really don’t feel like passing out after every finish.  I think it might be nice to get my speed back up and run a few 50k and 50s for the next year and see what time I can get. 

But anyway, who cares?  I love running and trails.  I love my family and friends more.  My life is a constant adventure.  And I’m still smiling J

Believe.Love. Run.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Defining Athleticism: Western States 100 (6/25-6/26 2011)


                Western States 100 is one of the, if not THE, most prestigious ultra race out there.  The route actually came forth from a horse route in 1955, to prove horses could cover 100 miles in a single day, with the route traveling from Squaw Valley to Auburn, CA (later became the Tevis Cup).  In 1974, Gordy Ainsleigh decided to prove a human could cover 100 miles in a day…which he did in 23 hours and 42 minutes. From there came the Western States 100 trail race. 

(On a side note, I’m am wondering why the race is called Western StateS, when it only goes through one State?)

Anyway, this is basically the Boston Marathon of ultra runners.  (Though when I was running it, I was thinking “it’s just another 100 mile run”)

I remember thinking a few years back that this is a race I wanted to run.  The landscape is that of huge climbs through mountains, lots of tree coverage, and beautiful scenery.  Quite ideal, I’d say.  When Sandi got the opportunity to go, I was a tad bit jealous (hard not to be…everyone else has to go through  the lottery and cross their fingers, year after year!), but that quickly faded into happiness…she deserved it, and she thrives off this kind of stuff.  Plus, I asked me to pace her, which is truly an honor!  I am also extremely thankful to Steve, because without him, I’m not sure if I would’ve been able to make the trip.  However, he too really wanted to come out to help crew and support Sandi and Shaun (and pace Shaun for 38).

Friday, me and Steve picked up Shaun’s brother Ryan from the airport in Reno so Sandi and Shaun could take their time and the pre-race meeting.  Here, I really have to give a huge thanks to Ryan.  He is not a runner.  He thinks all of us ultra runners are crazy (which may be true).  And he never complained.  He stayed up all night crewing for us, driving around CA to get aid station to aid station, then waiting for our butts to get there.  He must have been exhausted.  Also, today (6/27) is his birthday, so Happy Birthday Ryan!
That evening, we all met at La Pie (or something like that) in Truckee, a very cute little old town, to carb up on pasta (it wasn’t bad…but nothing special).  After that, we all went back to our hotels to rest up for the following day.  (Truckee is only about 15-20 minutes from the race start, and much cheaper than staying right by the start, and also is a nice place to walk around).  I was mostly worried about Sandi, who started yawning at dinner and barely had any real rest during the 2 weeks where she had been working 14-16 hour days for Teach for America.

Race Day:
Me and Steve drove to the start in Squaw Valley…it was really neat as the Olympics were once held there, and we drove past the Olympic torch.  We got there around 4:15, and it was chilly!  Once inside I called Sandi…she and Shaun were of course still on their way, so I wanted around inside…I have not gotten called Sandi so many times since I was in grade school!  I was asked “are you ready?”, “where’s Shaun?”, and had to explain that I was Sandi’s twin…and for the day, I was perfectly fine with simply being “Sandi’s twin”.   After a few minutes, Sandi and Shaun appeared and picked up their registration and bibs (they got lost going to the meeting on Friday and missed check-in).

As everyone was waiting around I got to meet quite a few cool people (some of them simply because they thought I was Sandi).  There were fellow Animal Camp members: Joe Kulak (finished in 19:44), Dan Rosenberg (finished in 24:56), and Tim Ellis who was crewing.  He helped keep me sane later on!  Then there was my friend Jose, who I had never met in person, just through Facebook, always sharing his enthusiasm and encouragement.  He was just as nice as I had expected! Then there was Jimmy Dean, who I only briefly knew from Oil Creek last year.  He was there crewing/pacing a friend.  He has so much positive energy to share with everyone, it’s no wonder why he so popular (besides being a great runner) and everyone likes him. Hopefully he will be back at OC this year!  I also got to meet Killian. He commented on my huaraches* that I got from my friend Laurie Colon, who was nice enough to get them for me when went to run the Copper Canyon 50 in Mexico.  He was very nice, and a bit shy.  He was actually just sitting around by himself, just waiting for the race to start.  It was nice to see such an amazing athlete so humble.  Me and Sandi should have placed bets with our boyfriends, as he was our pick to win…which he did.

(* I know the Tarahumara run in huaraches…but I do not recommend this.  They grew up with these shoes…we did not.  Also, I do not recommend wearing them to walk around in, unless you have done so comfortably before.)

Finally it was time to start, so I gave Sandi a hug and wished her and Shaun the best.  Me and Steve then walked part way up the first hill/mountain to see the runners as they ran/hiked pass once the gun went off.  Then, we shuffled back to our car and then back to our hotel to grab a few more hours of sleep.  Normally, this doesn’t happen…we have to drive to the next aid station.  But, because of the course changes, there was no crew access until mile 55!  That sucked, but then again I think the extra sleep was quite helpful. Plus, W.S has a live tracking system to follow your runner…which is a great idea unless this chip screws up or they miss checking off your runner at the aid station…which they mess up twice on for Sandi (I was a bit stressed during those times).

A little after 10 am, we were off to drive to Michigan’s Bluff!  We got there early enough to see Killian and the top runners go past…some stone faced…others smiling.  Really, it was the women who were smiling…most of them still looked fresh!  As we were waiting around, we snacked on sandwiches we had picked up at the deli (they put mustard and mayonnaise on mine, which I did not order and DO NOT like!, so mine was greatly reduced).  I also made friends with a little dog, who was wandering around…he was not a huge fan of bread or onions, but enjoyed Swiss cheese).  Shaun came in looking well, but wasn’t eating the solids he needed to.  We sent him off with encouragement that this would be the last really tough section (I simply know this from what I’ve been told, but 62-100 weren’t exactly easy) and that Steve would be waiting for him at 62.  Little did we know the he would soon get lost for over an hour! That has to be a so tough mentally to recover from that.  After that, Steve and Ryan left to meet Shaun at Foresthill, and I was left to wait for Sandi, so I laid down for awhile in the grass. Insert anxiety here.  They messed up Sandi’s chip time again!!!!  I was getting texts that Sandi had already past, and Tim (TAC) came up to me as well, so I checked the communication tents.  At first, they said “yes, 28 (Sandi’s #) had passed…how could I miss my sister!?!?  Then, we found a mistake in the chart online…it said she had done the last section in 4:02 min…quite impossible unless you’re a bird.  Mrs. Pope then called me and my nerves settled a bit, except for the fact that I knew Sandi should have come through by now, and I expected something was wrong.  Tim then started talking to me for a while, which helped get my mind off things and got me updated on TAC members.  Then, I was finally talked in to buying lemonade from little girls who continually walked among us asking if we would like a glass…I had to give them credit, they were working hard and I admired them for not being afraid to go up to complete stranger to ask.  (It was pretty smart to, to set up amongst a ton of crew member on hot, sunny afternoon). 

It was a little after 5 when I hear “28 is coming down the hill to Michigan Bluff” and I excited jumped up to see my sister running down the hill.  However, when she looked me in the eye I knew something was wrong.  I met her just after the food tents, and she was nearly in tears.  Her TFA training had taken its toll, and she was exhausted.  She explained to me that she had never felt good since the beginning, and was just plain tired.  Have stomach issues didn’t help either.  A doctor came to talk to her, and a few very nice people were trying to give words of encouragement…which was very nice of them, I was just annoyed for Sandi because they were talking to her like she was a newbie…I wanted to yell “she’s won two 100!”  I sent Sandi off for the next 6 miles with some not so helpful words of encouragement, and told her she needed to pass the 2 old guys (had to be blunt here) in front of her.

I then to the bus back up the hill to my car, and drove the rental back up the weaving hill to the main road, which was terrifying, but I made it.  At Foresthill, I picked up my pacer bib and found my friend Star to wait for Sandi to come it.  We chatted for a bit and she updated me on how our friends were doing, before she tried to take a nap to prepare for her pacing duties.  I was about to do the same, when I see Sandi coming down the trail, much faster than I had expected.  So up me and Star got to walk down the road with her.  We started running again when we got to the trail at a slow but steady pace, but Sandi’s stomach was really bothering her.  After 3 more miles we made it to the next aid station, but things were going downhill (figuratively speaking, as the course was not).  And from there on, mile 65-80, we walked. 

For parts of it we chatted, mostly me talking about random things, mainly just because I felt like talking.  Once in awhile I asked her if we could run intervals or how she was feeling, which got little more than a grunt, so I stopped doing that one.  Then we just went on in silence.  I know a lot of runners just like to talk, be me and Sandi can comfortable just run in silence, and I knew she was dealing with the demons in her.  She had to do that herself, and I couldn’t help her.  One or two times me and Sandi paused at a clearing to see river and mountains across and gasped “amazing”.  Darkness set in, and mosquitoes decided to have a snack on my back.  Sandi’s headlamp and the handheld I just bought quickly dimmed and we were left with my bright headlamp, which did not help the headache I was already beginning to acquire.  We just kept walking on, and got passed by quite a few people.  I’m going to be honest…that was weird.  I had never experienced that before when running with Sandi, and it just didn’t feel right.  When we were walking, a gentleman passed us, whom we soon re-passed as we hike up the hil—even at her worst, Sandi still knows how to climb a hill. I felt weird walking in silence, so I asked him how he was doing.  I was slightly offended when I got no reply back.  As we got further ahead, Sandi told me he was from another country…whoops.  I took a mental note of that for future races.

  Finally, we climbed up another large hill to Rucky Chucky Aid Station 1, and Sandi was about to take off her trail shoes.  She sat in a chair, took in some real food and ibuprofen, and attempted to rationalize dropping with me and some of the aid station volunteers.  She explained she had been having ankle problems in the same spot that had forced her to put the end of Run Across Ohio on hold.  It was bruised, but the medic said she would be able to walk on it and be able to make it to the race finish, just not too sit for fear of tightening up.  Sandi told us that she didn’t want to over-injure herself so she could be up and running within a short time period.  I told her I understood, but with TFA, she didn’t have much time to train anyway, plus, she had been walking well for the past 15 miles.  Mainly, I didn’t want her to use this as an excuse.  I knew she could do it…plus, this was Western States.  While I’m sure she will be back again, this is the type of race where you just have to keep pushing.  She needed this mental battle.  I’m 100% this will make her stronger.  I told her we had to cross the river anyway, so we took a raft across the river (normally, you wade across this section, but with all the snow the water was too high).  We had a nice gentleman name Carson row us quickly to the other side.  We took some more aid, I popped a few ibuprofens   for my headaches, and we climbed the jeep trail another 1.9 miles (or something like that) to the aid station at mile 80.  Finally, they had a port-a- potty!  (Normally, the side of the trail is just fine, but that doesn’t work so well on a jeep trail when many other people are nearby.)

After we walked pass the tent, Sandi declared “I’m going to try to run”.  She didn’t know how long it was going to last, but hell, she was going to try. 

From there, we ran.  We ran from mile 80, on flat sections, downhill, and uphill. We ran for 20 miles.

Now, being a pacer, walking for 15 miles, and listening to her talk about her ankle injury, I had put it into my mind that we would be walking all night and most of the morning to the finish.  I had to quickly readjust my mindset.  The real food she had consumed (lots of soup, and goodies at the aid station) gave her a burst of energy, and she wanted to ride out what the ibuprofen gave her.  My headache actually vanished too, although I did end up carrying my headlamp like a flashlight the rest of the way. Anyway, my legs loosened up, and I began to enjoy the run (only worrying here and there that she was going to drop me…that girl can run technical downhills!).

What I witnessed here, and had the honor of doing so firsthand, was one of the most amazing feats of athleticism and overcoming adversity I have ever witnessed.  We didn’t just do the ultra runner’s shuffle…we were moving at a good pace.  Most of you have seen Sandi’s tattoo that reads “Silently Strong”.  This could be a little confusing to some, but if you saw her run, you would understand it completely.  She ran so smoothly, so silently, with quiet determination on her face.  She had beat the demons in her head, telling her she was tired, she was hurt, to stop.  At mile 81, Sandi glanced at her watch, and she decided to break 24 hours.

We were way behind the times for a predicted 24 hour finish, but that didn’t matter.  We blew past people who had easily passed up hours before, amazed at this girl running uphill with ease.  It felt right. There was one place where we running a long side a ledge where I remember thinking “Don’t fall, don’t fall, don’t fall.”  After a few miles that turned in to “Please God, just let me get her to the next aid station.”  I fell shortly after that.  We arrived at Highway 49 Aid Station (mile 93.5) at 3:26 and were met my Steve and Ryan.  Sandi simply asked Steve “how run-able is this section?” before we again took off.  I glanced at a sign the read the check-point times for 24 hours, which read: 3:10.  We were behind by 16 minutes.  I didn’t tell Sandi, she knew it would be close, and I knew she could make it, we just couldn’t stop.

Of course, there was some more climbing involved on a rocky section, but we covered it briskly and ran the moment we could.  We reached No Hands Bridge, where there was a huge movie screen (but I had no time to look.  We went right through, but Sandi had to take a gel to hold her over the next 3 miles.  There was a short towpath section where we passed a few more people.  Then another climb. I fell, again.  Sandi slowed down and I yelled at her to go (what was she thinking!?) .  She began to reply but I quickly got up and caught her.  (I didn’t not want her to drop me like she did at Mohican…I wanted to see her finish!)  A few people tried to hand on to us, knowing we were out to beat the cut-off.  We urged them on, but Sandi’s pace was too much for them.  There was one woman in particular who I knew was hurting bad.  We saw her right before the last aid station at 98.9 (I don’t get it either).  Her pacer was amazing.  She was giving her so much encouragement, pushing her runner “I know this hurts, but believe me, it will be worth it!”   We told them we would see them before the clock hit 24*. 

I figured at that last aid station when we hit the road it would be flat. HA!  We powered up that stupid, long hill.  Seriously, we flew up that thing.  We were told simply to follow the orange footsteps up the road to the finish at the track.  The footprints we not very visible in the dark, and the road was not straight.  Luckily, a few of the other runners we ran past guided us through.  A few people walking back to their cars shouted us encouragement, a bit shocked by our speed.  Seriously…we may as well have been doing a tempo workout.

Then we saw it.  There was the entrance to the track. Sandi was going to make the 24 cut-off…with time to spare.  Before I left her to finish the 300 meters on the track by herself, I told her “I’m more proud of you than if you won this race.”  I am.  She had never before entered a race in that position before, so exhausted and sick, or over-came so much self-doubt. 

With that, I ran across the field to meet her once she crossed the finish.  Shaun, Steve, and Ryan were there too.  I was crying, overwhelmed with joy of what she had accomplished (and tired…she made me work!).  Poor Shaun was standing there too (he did awesome as well, coming in at 20:29), with his arms out ready to hug her, but and 23:52:30, she crossed the finish line, and at 23:52:31, we was giving me a hug.  I will forever remember that moment.  (Shaun got his hug right after).

(*The woman we saw struggling at 98.5 finished at 23:59:44)