Pushing Boundaries: Cactus Rose 100

Cactus Rose 100 caught me, hook, line and sinker last fall.  I was training for Brazos and the idea of this race shook me to my core.  I was unable to get it out of my mind: running the rugged Hill Country trails at Hill Country State Natural Area in Bandera; unsupported, no less.  This race was a representation of the type of ultra runner that I hoped I could become.  The timing wasn’t right, so I had to be patient.  (You can all stop laughing now.)  Through a series of events that no one really wants to read about, I registered for Cactus Rose 100 roughly eight weeks ago, as a part of my prep for Ouray 50, 2019.  My sole focus from now until July 2019 is preparing myself to go back and finish that beast.  This race was to be the first pit stop toward that goal.  I committed to myself not to think about my performance.  I committed to myself not to cloud my mind with where I might place.  I refrained from discussing the race on social media and only discussed with a handful of my closest running buddies. I needed to be able to just show up and run, unencumbered with all the mental baggage that I typically tend to pack for these types of events.

A couple of weeks before the race, the Texas Hill Country was slammed with flooding.  So much so, that the race couldn’t be held at the normal location and was moved to Camp Eagle, about two hours West.  I was oddly excited about the change, because I knew that it meant a more difficult race.  A more difficult race meant more growth opportunity.  Again, I reminded myself that my goal was not to have my best race ever or place high in the field.  My goal was to get stronger for Ouray.

I was fully prepared to run this race solo, without a crew or pacer.  I knew it would be even more difficult without people there to help me.  What it means when I say this race was unsupported is there would be no volunteers and the “aid stations” were merely water containers, coolers of ice and a spiral notebook on which to log the time you passed through.  BUT, my Possum’s Revenge buddy, Tommy, VOLUNTEERED to crew and pace.  I’m not sure what I did to be the recipient of such generosity, but I was grateful before the race even began.

img_0703
Pre-race.  Not really nervous.  OK maybe just a little.

Loop 1 – Easy, but not too easy. 

Race morning, the minutes ticked off the clock and before I could blink, we were off!  I started at the back to avoid my usual mistake of starting out too fast.  I lingered at the end of the conga line until I felt sufficiently warmed up, became bored and decided to pass enough people that I could run my comfortable pace.

The race was 4 loops of 25 miles, but each loop was divided into basically 3 sections.  A “Yellow” section at the beginning, then “Loop A” and “Loop B”.  The end of Yellow section and beginning/end of A/B loop shared an aid station appropriately named “Crossroads”.  Tommy was planning to meet me there between A/B loops, then I would see him again at start/finish.  The loops shared another aid station, “Windmill”, but it was more difficult to get to, so I would be on my own until I could make it back around each loop.

Loop 1 mantra was “easy but not too easy”.  I was running comfortably, but didn’t feel 100%.  Sometimes it just takes me a while to get completely warmed up and the humidity didn’t help.  However, I was incredibly grateful for the cloud cover and hoped that the inevitable clearing would happen later, rather than sooner.

This course was difficult, don’t get me wrong.  But in the midst of it and even looking back, it really doesn’t seem that bad.  Something changed when I was in Ouray that I didn’t even realize until this race.  I may have only gone halfway on that course, but my brain doesn’t process things now the way it did before.  I tackled this course one climb, one descent, one section, one loop at a time.  I don’t look at a climbs in the same way I did before.  To quote Scott Jurek, “sometimes you just do things!”  Whatever was ahead, I just had to work through.  The rocks were my biggest enemy.  As if rocks in the Hill Country weren’t bad enough, the floods had washed many more out onto the trail.  And just when I found myself in a less rocky, more runnable section, the trail would be over taken by mud, which presented its own challenges in this race.

img_0723
🙂 pc: Tracy Almazan
img_0721
Just some of the rocks.  pc: Tracy Almazan

Tommy poured so much effort into creating a pace chart, and I felt bad that I hadn’t done much more than skim it…my brain couldn’t handle it at the time.  Yeah…looked great, but I went in with the intention to run on feel.  By some miracle, I came in pretty much on target for the first loop.  However, the skies had long since cleared and the heat was rising.

Loop 2 – Keeping the inner vamp at bay

I joke, often, that I am a vampire.  I self-destruct in the sun and running at night is my favorite.  What additional proof does one need??

The heat quickly got to me on the second loop.  However, I was still right on target with my fueling and I continued to take in food on my schedule.  I made it through the yellow section and was relieved to see Tommy there.  I shared with him that I was hot and trying to manage my effort.   I kept on pushing, but the next section through mile 38 would be mostly exposed.  The saving grace that got me through the hot, afternoon sun was a cool, sporadic, breeze.  I finally made it back to Crossroads and Tommy was ready and waiting to address the heat issues.  I felt completely reset when I left the aid station at mile 38, plus I had a nice, smooth, albeit muddy, run under tree cover.  The relief was short-lived as I found myself under the beating sun once again.  When I got to the Windmill aid station, Loop B side, I began to realize that I was slightly behind on hydration.  I wasn’t about to let my race derail over hydration, so I became hyper focused on taking in water more regularly.  Luckily, I was able to turn that situation around.  Not long after, I noticed the sun was beginning to drop in the sky and I knew that relief would soon come in the form of darkness.  When I finally made it back to the start/finish area, I was running strong and feeling like a million bucks.  Running the remainder of that loop in the dark felt just amazing.  I remember Tommy telling me that I fell a bit behind pace overall, but I can’t recall how much, or if he even said.  The best thing about being done with loop 2 wasn’t that I was halfway done.  It meant that I could pick up my pacer!

Loop 3 – Chasing rabbits, I mean Tommy

After restocking, taking in a bit of solid food and making sure we both had all the gear we needed for a night loop, Tommy and I were off.  Have I mentioned how excited I was to have someone with me?!? I was running pretty well at that point, even though the bottoms of my feet had started to bother me.  (I would later realize that it was due to the friction from my feet kicking rocks and doing somersaults in my shoe running over all the dang rocks.)  I figured that I just had some debris in my shoe, so we stopped at Crossroads and I changed socks.  Welllllll…..I had effectively knocked one toe nail loose.  Another was on its way and my big toe was just beat up.  We won’t even discuss the bottoms of my feet.  I taped the toe that had the wonky nail, changed socks, put my shoes back on and we were on our way to Loop A.    The rocky sections (read: basically the entire course) were increasingly painful and more difficult for me to navigate.  Honestly, I felt like knives were being stabbed into the bottom of my foot with each step.  But I had to keep up with Tommy, so I kept trudging along and tried not to whimper too often.  The toughest part of the course, as far as I was concerned, was this creek bed that we had to run on – for a really, long ass time.  Getting across the initial body of water required stepping on stones carefully placed in a line.  I promptly slipped into the creek….with both feet.  The water was NOT good for the feet AT ALL.  The remainder of the creek bed was basically one big pile of rocks to traverse (meaning, murder for my feet) and was littered with false exits that we had to take to circumvent something impassable.  I felt trapped and as if I would never get out EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.  And I could tell Tommy loved it, the way he was LITERALLY skipping up ahead.  The fact that he liked it completely pissed me off!  Funny, how you’re basically reduced to acting like a toddler during these events.

img_0722
The EVIL creek! pc: Tracy Almazan

Loop 4 – Last loop – YEEHAW!

We finally made our way back around to the start/finish area and checked off mile 75….Tommy wouldn’t tell me how much behind schedule we were, but I could tell it was A LOT.  I think it really stressed him out.  I couldn’t figure out why he was so obsessed with keeping to my 30 hour goal. I have to pause to admit one of my shortcomings:  before the race I had hoped that I could get close to 30 hours.  But I never really believed that I could go sub-30 and when the course was changed, my mind kind of tossed that goal out the window, as I knew the course would be more difficult.  Tommy was clearly focused on us making up time, but my brain was just in grind-it-out mode.  I did feel badly about putting us behind schedule.  Here Tommy was, pouring everything he had into getting us to the finish line and I was making us late.

Schedule aside, the real issue at hand was what we could do extend the life of my feet.  I wasn’t going to be making up any time if my foot condition didn’t improve.  My shoes and socks were soaked from my slip into the creek.  I planned to change my socks, but if I put them back into my wet Speedgoats, how would that help?  I brought my Torrents, but had worn them a total of 15 miles.  In the end, Tommy and I both felt that a dry shoe was more important and I changed into the Torrents.  Sometimes you have to gamble a little with these matters.

My feet did indeed feel much better!!  But at some point during the yellow loop, I was overcome with fatigue – exhaustion, really.  I tried to run, but didn’t run as much as I wanted and Tommy would end up far ahead having to wait on me.  I kept wondering what was taking so long to finish this little loop??  Once, when we slowed for me to take in some fuel, I asked Tommy if I should take a NoDoz.  He thought best for us to make it to the aid so I could have some Coke.  He changed his mind when I saw him walk into an aid station that wasn’t there. LOL!!!  The NoDoz didn’t work as well as I had hoped, but the sunrise breathed new life into me.  As soon as Tommy realized this, we went to work.  He started running and I was simply trying to keep up with him. Apparently we ran some ridiculous paces downhill and with some pretty decent clips up lower grade hills, even at mile 85 and after.  My legs felt great with just a hint of fatigue.  My damn feet, though…..  The pain was returning as my feet got wetter with sweat.  I had to focus on being grateful that I got 10+ good miles in before things went South again, and I truly was grateful for that.

The sun was now rising higher in the sky with every passing moment and Sunday’s weather didn’t give the benefit of early cloud cover.  Heat would increasingly be an issue, but we kept trudging forward.  We worked our way to Windmill (Loop B, I believe).  Tommy put ice in my bladder and into a baggie that we stuffed in the front pocket of my vest.  We headed out again for the last segment of the race.   I was SO READY to be DONE.  The foot pain increased with each and every step.  The heat was draining my energy and I began to feel extreme fatigue.  It seemed as if I was always kicking a rocks and the sad thing was that I never even saw them.  I felt more defeated each time I kicked a rock or tripped.  I ran when I could but I know it was super slow.  Eventually, around mile 95, I tripped and fell down.  The fall wasn’t bad at all, but I was so tired.  I told Tommy that I was done.  I was just so tired that all I could think about was closing my eyes and taking a nap right there in the middle of the trail.  Tommy didn’t accept that and made me get up.  I didn’t intend to stay there – I just wanted to stay there.  Once I was on my feet again, I slowly began getting another wind and we started running again as much as I could handle.  At that point, I seriously thought that I had given everything that I had.  Yet somehow, I mustered the strength to run a bit more…and the thing is that I wanted to run.  That is the exact thing that I have been trying to achieve since I started running ultras.  Coming in dead last wouldn’t have mattered – this breakthrough was THE THING!

We made our way through the last section of trail, which seemed to pass much more quickly than any loop prior.  We were so close I could taste it.  All I could think about was the finish, my chair and a beer.

We decided to carry our aid station bags down from Crossroads, because neither of us had the energy to walk back up there to retrieve them after the race.  Tommy told me to go ahead and he would be right behind me after he set our stuff down.  Honestly, I wish I would have waited.  What does one minute matter over 30 hours?  But instead, I ran on ahead and crossed the finish line threshold without the guy that got me there.

When I finished, Chris McWatters walked up with my buckle and something else in his hand.  It was one of the Rose trophies for the podium finishers.  I looked at him, puzzled.  I was told that I placed 2nd female.  I was in complete shock and DID NOT believe it!  Then I turned to Tommy and said – DID YOU KNOW ABOUT THIS??  He simply nodded his head and grinned.  I had not considered, even for a second, that I would be in a position to place.  During the race, I squashed immediately any questions regarding my place within the field.  I couldn’t allow myself to entertain any of those thoughts.

img_0692
We make a pretty good team. 🙂

Counting blessings

I’ve spent this entire week trying to process this whole experience.

This is the first time I have ever walked away from a race feeling like I truly “raced” it.

This is the first time I walked away being able to say that I left everything out on the course.

This is the first time I walked away being able to say that I hit my breaking point AND I found a way to dig deeper to continue.

I hope that I can unlock that awesomeness going forward.  I’m not sure I can do it on my own, just yet.  But now I know it’s in there and that completely changes everything.

But for now, I’m satisfied.  I’m getting closer to the runner that I want to be.

Now, for the sappy stuff

I can’t close without thanking a few people.

First, to my husband, Bobby:  I couldn’t do this crazy endurance thing without your support. Thank you for only giving me only the crazy looks and not saying what I know you’re thinking in your head when I tell you the next thing I want to do.

To my coach, Greg:  Thank you for taking me on as on of your athletes.  In six short months, you have completely changed my running for the better.  You’ve made me stronger, in more ways than one.  And thank you for the calm reassurance and tolerance during my mini-freak out moments that inevitably come each and every training cycle.

To the bestest buddy ever, Tommy: I could go on for days, but I won’t. I don’t even know how to say thank you.  But, thank you.  Thank you for believing in me enough to push me to the edge and not giving me an inch once I got there.  You can never know how much that means to me.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Exiting the Stuggle Bus

I’ve spent the better part of 2018 struggling.  I haven’t been able to muster lasting motivation.  My energy level has been low, at best.  The Spring was a mixed bag of training, between breaking an arm and running Boston with a long run of 15 miles under my belt.  When I regained consistency in training, I didn’t feel that my fitness was improving AT ALL. In fact, I have often felt that I was loosing ground with my fitness.  Even thinking about the simplest tasks caused me great mental fatigue.  The hope that I felt from my initial workouts after Ouray recovery quickly faded.  And over the last few weeks, I have felt increasingly weak, mentally and physically.  So much so, that I have seriously questioned whether I should continue endurance training and racing.  Seriously.

I haven’t blogged all year.  I did manage to throw a post about Ouray together, but that was the first post since Brazos Bend 100 in December.  I have had intentions of writing many posts, but when I finally found the time, the task of writing was simply overwhelming.

It’s hard admitting there is a problem.  I try not to engage in negative self talk.  Plus, I don’t EVER want to sound like a whiner.  That’s the double-edged sword of social media, right?? It really isn’t that I am trying to hide the negatives in my life.  I just don’t want to be a complainer.  And, at the time, I couldn’t mentally handle the discussion. that would ensue.  (At one point, I became so overwhelmed with responding to notifications from simple posts that I considered shutting down all social media.)

Sometimes the journey to enlightenment takes a few detours

A new day is dawning since I received some much needed information yesterday.  But first, I’ll discuss the road I’ve been travelling this year.

I made excuses for living (yes, LIVING) on the Struggle Bus.  Initially, I was coming off of Brazos Bend 100 and I was understandably fatigued.  Training for and running my first 100 miler in December took its toll.  Instead of taking 2 full weeks off, as originally planned, I convinced my coach to let me get back to running just over a week after the race.  So, in January, when I was still feeling tired and unmotivated, I chalked it up to returning to training too quickly and assumed that I would work myself out of my funk.

Except the funk just kept getting funkier.  By the end of January, I had accepted that it was due not only to the fatigue caused by the 100 miler, but also to post-race blues.  And I’m sure that I did have some post race blues.  How could I not?  I had a STELLAR 2017, which started with qualifying for Boston, then running my first 50k and progressing to 100 miles.  I mean, you have to come off the mountain top sometime, right?  I felt like what I was feeling was totally normal, so I allowed myself to embrace the funk, knowing that I needed to work through emotions in order to move forward.

Add to the mix having a player on a national-level volleyball team and all the practices, extra practices and weekend tournaments that come along with that, plus trying to work full time — I had some great excuses as to why I felt like crap.  Winter seemed cold and rainy (to me, at least), which didn’t improve my mood at all.  I missed the sun.  It was always cloudy.  I was SURE that when the time changed, I would be able to improve my mood because of the increasing daylight.

So all this time, I was supposed to be training for Boston but my heart wasn’t in it.  I wasn’t completing my workouts as with the consistency that I once did.  I tried not to skip completely, but sometimes, with volleyball, it happened.  And sometimes, I cut workouts short.  I tried to tell myself that I was just upset that I wasn’t training for trails.  I tried to force myself to embrace the training cycle because running Boston is such an honor, but all to no avail.

During Spring Break, I decided some trail running was in order to help with the mood.  My trail brother and I went to explore a new trail and I fell and broke my arm.  It actually worked to increase my motivation in the short term, because being so close to not being able to run caused me to be thankful for the runs that I was able to get. (Thankfully, my orthopaedic gave me a soft cast and the green light to continue running.)

Boston came and went and I survived.  The rain and cold didn’t affect me (Luckily!) and I am so glad that I was able to embrace the experience, because it was absolutely wonderful.  Just a month later, I ran a 50 miler and managed to finish it.  It wasn’t pretty, but I did it, enjoyed it, and was kind-of OK with the result given the amount of training I had under me.

Finally, I found myself on summer vacation.  Volleyball was still in full swing getting ready for Nationals, but at least I had time to get my workouts in and take a nap in the afternoon.  Still, I felt that my fitness wasn’t coming along at all.  Running was harder than it should have been and seemed to get harder with every workout.  But, I was in the build phase of training and it was supposed to be hard.  Ouray 50 was next on my schedule at the end of July.  I knew that I couldn’t build the type of fitness needed to finish with the amount of time I had to train, so getting halfway before being pulled for time cut off was a win in my book.

I came back after Ouray recovery feeling reasonably good – the short break was needed.  But I slowly started questioning my fitness again with each consecutive workout.  I had long been wondering if I had developed Exercise Induced Asthma.  I sometimes felt like I was wheezing during workouts, but that was usually related to a high allergy day and the wheezing wasn’t consistent by any means.  Believe it or not, I am pretty in-tune with my body, even though I don’t always listen right away.  I knew, in my core (subconsciously, anyway), that I was having problems oxygenating my blood (the asthma theory kind-of fit).  I couldn’t complete even my short workouts without feeling out of breath and completely exhausted.  I was seriously contemplating giving up ultra running.  I felt like I wasn’t cut out for it and I knew that it shouldn’t be that hard.  Racing added even more stress.  Well intentioned people would wish me luck, telling me how great I would do.  But deep down, I knew I knew I knew my performance in workouts and, as a result, knew I couldn’t do that “well”.  I knew my struggles and those well wishes only served to cause more internal turmoil.

Light bulb moments

About 3 weeks ago, I saw an article tweeted that discussed low iron levels in endurance athletes.  Immediately, I knew without a doubt that this applied to me.  I had considered Inside Tracker blood tests many times, but never felt that I could justify spending the money on it.  Well, this time, I spent the money and it was well worth every penny.

Knowledge is power

I received my results yesterday and, <drum roll>, I am low in Ferritin, which is related to Iron and how well my body can oxygenate my blood.  I am SO LOW that if I was one point lower, I would be critically low.  One nice perk about Inside Tracker is that there are food and supplement suggestions for you to use to normalize your markers.  Having those resources at my fingertips gives me a great amount of comfort and confidence in the process ahead.

I cannot begin to explain the wave of feelings I experienced when I read my results.  Obviously, I am concerned about my Ferritin levels being so low, but this knowledge is a HUGE weight lifted.  I still feel physically exhausted.  It will take me a hot minute to build these levels back up.  But I finally feel hopeful and hopeful is not a word that I would have used to describe my mood of late.

Silencing that voice that has been telling me that I’m not good enough and not cut out for this sport is one of the best things that I’ve been able to do with this new information.  Yes, I run trails and ultras because I love trails and ultras.  But when you come off a year like I had last year, crushing goal after goal to the next year, barely managing to jump hurdle after hurdle…that takes a huge mental toll and causes you to question yourself.

I can finally, honestly say that I am SO looking forward to the rest of 2018 and beyond.  I think I’ll celebrate by registering for Ouray 50, 2019!

Ouray 50 – My First Mountain Race and My First DNF

It’s been a long hiatus, but I’m going to throw my hat back into the blogging ring with a report of my attempt at the 50 mile run at Ouray 100 and 50 Mile Endurance Runs.

I went into this race as strong as was possible.  I chose this race while my hands were tied with broken arm/Boston training, plus I already had a 50 miler planned one month after Boston.  I know I give my coach a really big headache with the way I schedule races.  Being prepared for a 50 miler a month after marathon training seemed really doable when I registered for it.  Preparing for the most ridiculously hard mountain race (my first mountain race, mind you), which was a mere TWO MONTHS after running a 50 miler in Texas  also seemed very doable at the time. Apparently I have some sort of dissociation complex, in which I can’t process the negatives associated with the way I pick races.  Once the 50 miler in Texas was done, I started training for climbing. Reality set in and I quickly realized that I had gotten myself in wayyyyyy over my head.

I contacted the RD of Ouray well before Boston to see if he would accept my finish at Brazos Bend 100 as my qualifier for this race – he basically said that if I was brave enough to register, that I was welcome!  I still waited for quite some time to register because the family couldn’t come with and I was anxious about driving alone. In the end that was wasted energy because Kolbe volunteered to come with me!  We had a great time travelling (I did, at least) and I appreciated her coming along for the ride.

Highlight of the drive to Ouray was stopping in Silverton to find THE Hardrock!

I was as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof during the drive up to Ouray.  I told Kolbe that I felt I was driving myself to my own execution.  I had a pretty good understanding of what I would be facing and also understood that there was no way to replicate those climbs in my area of Texas.  I realized that a finish was likely out of my reach – I just wanted to race in the San Juans and see what I could accomplish.

We arrived in Ouray on Thursday afternoon and went immediately to pick up my bib.  Suddenly, a wave of calm rushed over me (even though I had been given “lucky” bib #13).  It’s hard to feel nervous when you stand in that valley and see the majesty of those mountains ALL around you.

Friday, Kolbe and I “attempted” a hike on the Ouray Perimeter Trail, but we ended up on a closed section where I had to literally use my hands not to slide down the side of the mountain.  I finally admitted that we had somehow gone off the maintained trail, we backtracked and found the location where we missed the turn to stay on the actual trail.  I chose to see this as my one wrong turn while in Ouray,  rather than to see it as a foreboding of difficulties ahead.  We had planned this hike around Ouray to include visiting Box Canyon, but after taking the wrong trail, decided to drive there instead.

Kolbe is much better at posing for pics. And I realized I didn’t take any pics at Box Canyon – just videos

Our breath was taken away by the visit to Box Canyon, where we witnessed a waterfall within the mountain.  I was also able to walk through the tunnel and down the stairs that would take me out of Ouray on the first section of the 50 miler.  We were planning to rent a Jeep and explore some of the Jeep roads that would take me to the trails during the race, but it rained all afternoon and neither of us felt like driving around in the rain.  I used this time to re-organize all my gear and get things race ready.  The rains finally moved out for good (for Friday, anyway) and after dinner we soaked in the Hot Springs.  My legs enjoyed that and it set me up for a really good sleep.

Saturday morning, I was up early as usual even though the race didn’t start until noon.  I was surprisingly calm – I was just ready to get out there and experience all the race had to throw at me.  We went for breakfast at a coffee shop we had found the day before and enjoyed coffee and bagels and more coffee.  When we got back to the hotel, the antsy started setting in.  I couldn’t stay busy enough.  It was impossible to sit still, but I really didn’t have anything to do. We decided to head to Fellin Park around 10 and just hung around, chatting with others, until it was time for the race to begin. North Texas had a good showing – there were 3 guys from Dallas Dirt Runners there, as well as myself.  We had set up our own little Facebook group to compare training and share info.  I registered for this race thinking that I would be going alone, but it was so nice to be able to share with others from my area.  I also met a guy at my motel from Ft Worth that ran the 100 and we met yet another Texan while waiting on the race to start.  While we were waiting for those final moments to tick away, Mother Nature reminded us who was boss with a quick rain and hail storm.  I had <seriously> joked that I would not be happy unless I was hailed upon during the race, so check that box off the list.  I was also able to use the little stash of duct tape that I had in my pack to secure my SPOT tracker, so I was pretty pumped about that as well. It clearly doesn’t take much to make me happy.

Before we knew it, RD was counting down and off we went.  We hit the Perimeter Trail, up the stairs, through the tunnel, then onto the Jeep roads that would eventually take us to the Weehawken aid station.  That first little section was mostly on Jeep roads, but still clocked 1300′ in ascent and Mother Nature unloaded on us with pouring rain.  The next section up Weehawken Pack Trail to the Alpine Mine Overlook was up the side of a mountain on beautiful single track.  Mother Nature still had quite a bit in store for us and we were rained and hailed on again.  I laughed like a 5 year old – I had so much fun!!!  And while the hail stung a bit, it was so small that it didn’t cause an issue.  I didn’t even bother getting my jacket out.  I did attempt to record with my phone, but my hands were wet so I aborted that attempt quickly.  The DDR boys were a bit ahead of me, but I was still happy with my climbing at this point.  I reached the overlook just as they were about to head back down.  Bryan was kind enough to snap a couple of photos of me and we all began the descent together.  The sun was shining now and it was actually a little warm (I secretly wished for another downpour – I would later get my wish).  We didn’t want to blow our quads on the first descent, so we made our way down quickly, but didn’t bomb down the mountain.  The trails were also wet and slippery in places and I actually slid off the trail once.  We made it back to Weehawken AS, quickly refilled water, ate and moved onto the next section.  One of the volunteers told us the next section was a “burly” climb.  I appreciated the honesty.  We had clocked about 2360′ of vertical ascent in this section and were up to a rough total of 3,680.

Coming out of the tunnel to cross the bridge at Box Canyon.

 

Can’t. Punch. The. Bib.
Ended up with a hanging chad.
Complete elation at this point

To get to the next section, we had to go back down the Jeep road that had brought us to Weehawken (DOWN!!!), then we would take a right onto another Jeep road that was somehow more steep than the one we were on.  After what seemed like an eternity, I finally made it to the trail head.  It was raining….again and hailing…again.  Honestly, the weather didn’t bother me.  I kind of liked it.  It kept me cool (still hadn’t put a jacket on).  This section was…..tough.  We left Weehawken 25 min ahead off the cutoff, which meant I had about 3 hours and 30 minutes to get out to Crystal Lake and back to Fellin Park.  Only 7.1 miles.  As soon as I started climbing, I knew I would be cutting it close.  The trail was roughly 2.2 miles to Hayden Pass with 3600′ gain.  Which sounds totally doable, right?  I was moving so slow.  The climb was relentless – there was never really a break in going UP.  Even the switch backs – take a turn and you’re still going UP.  I am sure altitude played a role in my energy level, but the main contributor was that I just wasn’t fueling.  I had my poles out and it was a real hassle to get the gel out, get the baggie for trash out and manage the poles while I was doing all this.  Plus, so much of this was on the side of the mountain.  I waited (foolishly) to fuel until I made it to a section that wasn’t as exposed.  By this time I was behind on fueling yet I continued to take only one gel at a time.  I kept thinking that I had to be nearing Hayden Pass.  One of the 100 mile runners came down and I asked her if I was getting close.  I love truthful people.  She said, “No.  Sorry.  You’re going to keep going up. Then down just a bit.  Then up some more.”  I felt like I would never get to the pass!  When I did, I knew I was falling behind on time, but part of this journey was about the experience.  I took a minute to soak in the beauty of the view and snap a pic.  Then I was on my way again.  After the pass, there was a relatively flat section that cut across the mountain – my best guess is that it was about a mile long.  It was above the tree line so the views were amazing.  I knew that I just needed to get across to start my descent into Crystal Lake, but at this point I was getting dangerously close to the cutoffs.  I finally made it across and started the descent.  I was moving as quickly as possible, but also cautiously because the trails were still a bit wet.  I passed several runners making their way back up and they all felt I had time to make the cutoff.  I wasn’t convinced, but I had to give it my all.  I met the DDR boys and Bryan told me to “run like the Devil was chasing me.”  I continued as quickly as possible, but was slowed due to a more technical section. DAMN.  I made it to the bottom, but the aid station was near the parking area for Crystal Lake – I ran as fast as my legs would take me, but I knew I had missed the cutoff…by FIVE MINUTES.  When I came into the AS, the volunteers asked what I needed.  I said, “I missed the cutoff.”  They told me the cutoffs were “soft” and that I looked really good, so they would let me continue.  I got tears in my eyes and nearly started crying.  I DID NOT want my race to end at Crystal Lake.  I knew that, realistically, getting back to Fellin before the cutoff would take everything I had – and then some – but for some reason, my mind felt that getting halfway before a drop would make it more palette-able.  Bryan’s wife, Shellene, was a God-send.  She had waited there for me and refilled my bladder while I was digging out a long sleeve shirt, stuffing more gels in my pockets and eating.  I was in and out of that aid station in less than 5 minutes.  I couldn’t have done it without Shellene!!

Hayden Pass
The beauty that was the run across Hayden Mountain

Now I had the pleasure of climbing BACK up to Hayden Pass.  As I made my way past the trail head, Mother Nature opened up the skies again and dumped more pouring rain and hail down on me.  I went just a little way before I decided to get out my jacket.  I had just put on this dry long sleeve shirt and I knew that the mile across the top of the mountain would be cold.  It was windy up there and the sun was starting to set – wet clothes wouldn’t make that any easier.  Onward and upward I went, maybe just a tad faster than my ascent from the other side of the mountain, but not much.  Luckily, the way back was a shorter ascent with only 2,600′ gain.  I made it to the top, crept across the mountain and was elated to finally be back at the pass and ready to go DOWN.  The elation was short-lived, though, as I soon discovered that the trail was now a muddy slip-n-slide after the day of rain – in many places the trail served as the avenue for the rain water runoff.  I’m not the best at sliding down slopes (without skis, anyway), so this section was painfully slow.  The glimmer of hope that I had of making it to Fellin before the cutoff was quickly snuffed out.  My lack of fueling was also beginning to catch up to me in a bad way.  I knew that I needed to eat, but, but, but…..

This last section was the darkest part of the race, for me.  I felt pretty defeated.  I was exhausted.  I could tell that mentally I was starting to drift.  I just wanted to get back to Fellin Park.  The great thing about mountain races is that no one is coming to save you.  You can’t take any shortcuts down.  I had to see it through.  I reminded myself to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  As slow as it was, I just had to keep moving.  I also had to pee ALL THE TIME, like I did during the night at Brazos.  Still haven’t figured out if this is how my body reacts to the cold, or if I was low on sodium.  I stopped to take an Oral IV, but had to pee AGAIN not long after.  At one point, I thought I was off course.  The trail looked different in the dark and I think the runoff made it look different as well.  I was able to use the Gaia app that I had downloaded and could see that I was still on course. (I continued on and found a flag just steps later.)  It was at this point that I also realized that I was still a very long way from Fellin.  I decided to try to text Kolbe – weird thing is that I had better service on the side of the mountain than in Ouray!  It was around 10pm and I told Kolbe I hoped to be there by 11, but clearly would miss the 10:10 cutoff.

As luck would have it, I was much closer to the trail head than I realized.  I was so excited to be back on the Jeep roads.  I ran as quickly as I could, but those little roads seemed to go on forever!  After what seemed like an eternity, I was back on Camp Bird Road, which would take me to the Ouray Perimeter Trail and then back to the streets of Ouray to Fellin Park.  That last stretch of road to Fellin Park seemed never ending.  Then I missed the turn to go over the bridge to get back to Fellin.  Luckily, some people were out walking and asked where I was going.  They told me I had overshot the turn by about 1/4 mile.  (GREAT)  One of the ladies in the party ran me back to the turn (God bless her!).  She told me that she had attempted the 100 for the 4th year in a row and DNF’d for the 4th year in a row.

Getting back to Fellin was a mixed bag of emotions.  I knew I was too late to continue but I was glad that the suffering was finally ending.  If I had been given the opportunity to go back out, I’m quite certain I would have declined.  That bothered me initially, but some time and perspective has allowed me to decide to use that as fuel for next time.  In the end, I climbed around 9,900′ – not nearly as much as I had hoped but much more than my legs have ever handled at one time!

I was so muddy. Kolbe was bringing stuff in from the car. I didn’t know what to do or where to sit…..so I sat on the toilet. LOL!!

In the end, I’m pretty happy with it.  I was able to get halfway through this beast with 2 months of dedicated training (not bad for a flatlander from Texas!), so clearly the training that I did paid off.  I was so worried about my quads, but they felt so strong even though they dealt with more descent ever before.  My mental game was decent.  The only thing that really got to me was the climbs.  I felt defeated and was angry that those climbs were so slow.  I realize now that some of this was altitude but a very large part was TERRIBLE fueling.  Terrible fueling isn’t new for me – it has been an ongoing problem for me in races and training.

Special shout out to my coach, Greg, for encouraging me to take on this challenge and getting me as ready as humanly possible!!!

There will be a next time – I’m already planning to go back!!  But for 2019, I’m going to train more than 2 months and see how far I can go!

 

My Journey to Brazos: BB100 Race Recap

This past weekend, I ran my first 100-mile race (and NOT my last : )  I apologize for the lengthy post, but 100 miles is a really long way! 😉

My chosen word of 2017 was Conquer, and my intentions in choosing that word were to conquer myself, not so much other things.  I wanted to conquer self-doubt, fear of failure, lack of confidence in myself, etc.  I knew that in order to do this, I had to be OK with failure and I had to put myself into situations where success wasn’t guaranteed.  I needed to embrace the possibility of failure and be able to accept it and move on if it happened.  This was a SLOW process.  All the races I did through mid-year – my first 50k at Cowtown, my first Ironman 70.3 at Galveston, my first 50k trail race at Wildflower (Trail Racing Over Texas race) and Afton Trail Run 50k; I fretted over how I would perform.  Every time, I did just fine, but still, I doubted myself.

Sometime in early Fall, I came across a Gordy Ainsleigh quote one day that completely changed my way of thinking; “When you’re afraid of failure, you’re more likely to do it.”  My fear of failure was actually making failure more likely.  I had to work on that.

Before my first 50 miler in October, I fretted and fretted over how I would perform.  I nearly made myself sick.  I had a feeling that I could come in under 12 hours, but the cutoff was tight so I also had a good chance at a DNF.  Except I didn’t DNF.  I actually ran a really good race and came in just under 12 hours, PLUS I ran this race without really tapering and I felt that my legs had another 10-15 miles in them when I finished.  This, combined with the mental work I had been doing was a turning point for me.

But training nearly killed me

The mileage in training really started picking up in August.  By mid-October, I was counting the weeks to taper.  I wasn’t sure that I could meet all the demands of my training schedule, a full-time job, mom/chauffeur AND wash all the clothes (I had to let getting the clothes folded go).

Some weeks I didn’t get all my miles in, but I rarely just skipped runs.  My training was consistent and I was dedicated.  I spent a good amount of time working on my mental strength because I knew that the mental test in those late miles would be harder than the physical one.

My last big weekend came and I had 70 miles on the schedule.  I was to run 15 on Friday, 25 on Saturday and 30 on Sunday.  I was so tired at work that Friday that I was on the verge of tears all day long.  I’ve never felt so exhausted in my life.  I ended up not running the 15 at all and instead I decompressed at home.  I ran the majority of the other miles that weekend, and I forced myself to not feel guilty about it.  I had given everything I had to training and that handful of miles wasn’t going to make or break anything.  Guilt couldn’t change the fact that I hadn’t run every single mile on the schedule.

I was off the next week (which was the week of Thanksgiving) and I did NOTHING.  I was so exhausted that I wondered if I would ever have any energy again, much less by race day.  I had a million things to do that had fallen by the wayside during training, but I still did nothing.  I needed the rest.  And slowly, day-by-day, I started feeling that spunk again.

No taper crazies?

Generally speaking, I either lose my mind during taper or I do something really, really stupid.  I did none of that this time.

I didn’t fret.  I didn’t go crazy on Ultrasignup.  I didn’t break any toes.  I DID NOT FRET!!  I was so calm the entire time. (That is, until I suddenly got nauseous about an hour before the race!)

I was in a really good place, mentally.  I felt confident, but not cocky.  I trusted in my training.  I trusted myself.  Something really amazing happened, though.  I was willing to take a big risk and face a DNF in order to see where my breaking point was.  I wanted to take a risk and abandon the safe route.  It was freeing.

My race plan was aggressive.  Too aggressive.  I knew this going in.  People say “start really slow”, but slow is relative to each individual runner.  I didn’t know what my “slow” for a 100 mile race was.  I didn’t know how long my legs would hold out, regardless of the pace.  The farthest they had ever gone was 50 miles…..once.  This entire year had been about doing the not-sure thing and I was finally in a mindset that embraced it.

I’m going to add another running miracle here.  And guys – you can skip over this paragraph.  I was supposed to start my period on Dec 9.  DECEMBER 9.  RACE DAY.  I was fully prepared to deal with it.  I mean – like Scott Jurek said, “Sometimes you just do things!” But it’s OBVIOUSLY an inconvenience and one doesn’t always feel their best during that time.  In any case, I started NINE days early.  I felt like the gods of running were smiling down upon me.  One less thing to worry about on race day.

It’s GO-Time!

I was literally foaming at the mouth the week before Brazos.  I was ready to get out there and tear up the course, or let the course tear me up.

The start temps were in the low 30s, but the sky was clear and the weather during the day was to be clear and warming to around 60.

img_8027
My Team ❤

The plan was to run 20-hour pace (I know, I know!!) for the first 50 then just see how long my legs could keep up.  Brent and Tim were coming along for the ride as long as it worked for all of us.  We started off and tried to settle into pace.  The miles went by quickly as we talked and laughed and cut up.  One little hiccup in the first loop was that we followed the lead pack.  There were signs where the course usually had a turn-around, but sometimes runners can’t follow directions well and we all turned and went down another path.  I found out later that we had made a wrong turn!  This trek was in a SWAMP and I was already entertaining thoughts of dread for the coming loops.  Thankfully, the next time I came around, it was clear that I should turn around (happy dance!) and I didn’t have to navigate the swamp again.

I came in just a bit ahead of Brent & Tim at the end of loop 1, took care of business quickly and decided to head out again on my own. Loop 1 was right at 3 1/2 hours, which was a little behind where I wanted to be, but the extra mile put us a little over.  Sherpa Carmen and her sidekick, Brad,  were right there, waiting to get me whatever I needed.  I went with PB&J on this loop but told her next time I wanted oatmeal.  I’m not sure what it is about oatmeal, but I LOVE it on long runs!  I was saving the Coke/caffeine until after mile 70, so I didn’t have any of that.

Loop 2 was uneventful except that I KNOW I ran it too fast.  I wanted to make up some of that time (stupid…ego) and ended up with 3:21 on that lap and that was including the 5 min or so that I spent in camp before heading out! Carmen had the oatmeal waiting, but boy, was it hot!!  I tried to shove it in as quickly as I could, but it took a few minutes.  I think I ended up spending around 10 minutes in camp that time.  Time really bleeds away from you in these events, if you aren’t careful.

Loop 3 was more of the same.  I was in a rhythm but toward the end started feeling a little tightness in my right IT.  WEIRD.  That never happens.  I started trouble shooting and wondered if it was the Hokas.  Plus, I started to feel a hot spot on the inside of my ankle, which is a place that I’ve never gotten a blister.  I knew I was developing one blister in a spot that I sometimes get them, so I decided to stop and change socks and shoes at the end of the loop.  Loop 3 took me around 3:50, which was a little slower but I was pretty happy with it.  This put me at 50 miles at 10:50 total time.

When I came in off Loop 3, Kolbe was there!!!  Kolbe came down just to pace me on my last loop.  I was so glad to see her!  She jumped right in to help Carmen and Brad.  Kolbe started taking my shoes and socks off (GOD BLESS HER) while Carmen got my kit for me.  I drained those blisters, grossed Kolbe out but she still tried to put my socks on for me.  I wear Injinji’s though and she would have had to been a Houdini to get them on!  After trying to shovel more hot oatmeal in my mouth, I put on a long sleeve shirt, my beanie and my headlamp and left after about 20 min in camp.  It was longer than I wanted to spend, but the blisters needed to be drained.

In no time, I had hit my stride again.  The sun had set and the air was growing cooler with each passing moment.  I knew that I was slowing a little but I still felt really, really good.  I know a lot of people get mental in the dark alone, but I actually enjoyed it.  I don’t have any problem at all being by myself and that was definitely a strength of mine.  I spent a lot of time on this loop just cruising.  I felt so good but I knew that the time was coming that I wouldn’t feel good  Maybe I should have slowed down?  Not slowing down was probably stupid, but still part of the learning process and in my mind this race was one long experiment.  I made it through the mind f*** part of the course – have I mentioned that part of the course??  Arggggggggggg it got me mentally every time.  Toward the end of each loop, there was an aid station, a one mile stretch of road.  The road FINALLY turned left, except you were left with another TWO MILE stretch of road until the next aid station,  But that aid station was a dead-end.  So you had to turn around, run TWO miles back to the turn then ANOTHER mile back to the other aid station.  Mental suicide.  But the wonderful thing is that once you got back to that aid station, it was a 2 mile cruise to the start/finish.  I was starting to get tired by the time that I got to this part of the course.  The temps were also dropping, making my quads stiffen up (I was still wearing only shorts).  I debated on stopping to put on my gear, but decided it would be faster at camp where I had people who could actually move their limbs well to help me out.  LOL  That loop came in at 4:07, but that included the 20 minutes spent on my feet in between loops.  All in all, very encouraging, considering I was at mile 67 and my legs had never gone past 50 miles.

Carmen and Kolbe helped me get my cool weather gear on while Brad got me some food.  Or maybe this is the loop Kolbe got me ramen noodles and mashed potatoes?  I can’t remember.  I DO remember sitting there, ready to go back out and saying, “I want a nap.” Carmen, without hesitation, told me to get my ass up out of that chair and get back out there.  So I stood up and got my ass back out there. I’m a rule follower and I take directions very well.

Loop 5 was tough.  TOUGH.  I was starting to hurt.  I was very tired.  I didn’t want to run.  It hurt to run. This is the loop that the battle started.  NEVER did I think about quitting.  I had decided before the race that quitting wasn’t an option.  If you convince yourself of things before the race, you will stick to them during the race.  I had joked, but not really, that Rob would have to drag my cold, dead carcass off the trail before I would DNF.  I seriously had no intentions of dropping.  I am thankful that I didn’t encounter any situations that were serious enough to cause me to consider that option, because I fully realize that things happen out there that are completely out of our control.

Loop 5 was basically a back and forth between my mind and my will.  My mind wanted the pain to stop and running was causing pain.  My will wanted me to finish.  I had a constant dialog – the longer you walk, the colder you will get and the longer you are going to be out here.  The more you run, the warmer you will be and the sooner you will get there.  RUN, DAMNIT!!  Then I would run and it would hurt and my mind would convince me to walk.  I also knew that Carmen and Kolbe would be worried and I hated that it was taking me so long.  This is when I thought about all the people who were supporting me and started naming each person that I could remember.  That distracted me from the pain of running long enough to get a little bit of running done.  OH!!!  I haven’t mentioned that I had to stop to pee basically every 20-30 minutes on this loop.  I have never had to pee so often and so much in my entire life!!  There’s no telling how much time I spent squatting in the woods.  I finally rolled into camp with a whopping 5:10.

I don’t think we took much time between loop 5 and 6.  Pretty sure I ate oatmeal, or maybe not??  Heck if I know.  I am 99.9% sure that I did drink Coke.  My body ached all over and the LAST thing I wanted to do was go back out on that loop.  But THANK GOD I had Kolbe coming with me.  I was so glad to have her, but….have I said that I didn’t want to run??  We started out walking and probably walked a mile.  I knew we were wasting time.  It bothered me that we were wasting time.  I may have said – we need to start running in a bit.  Kolbe was talking and telling me about her day.  Listening to her definitely took my mind off all the troubles at hand. After we tried running and I would wimp out and want to walk, Kolbe knew it was time to take charge.  She told me that we were going to start running .  We would run 1/2 mile then walk a couple of minutes.  I wondered why I hadn’t thought of that.  It was such a simple solution to this problem.  We did this for a while and I finally got into a rhythm and actually didn’t feel half bad.  We came across the first aid station and I drank some coffee.  After the coffee kicked in, I was starting to feel REALLY good (relatively speaking).  Kolbe told me that since I was handling this run/walk so well, we would increase our run distance.  I was in a groove and ready so I told her to run a mile.  We did, and we finished the rest of the loop in this way.

It’s hard to explain how hard it was to run on loop 5 yet I found the strength to run on loop 6.  I think the fact that Kolbe was telling me what to do was the key.  My mind had no control over Kolbe, so my mind couldn’t tell her to stop.  I had no choice but to run because the choice of whether or not to run had been taken away from me.  All I did was watch her feet and run.  Yes, it still hurt, but my mind processed all this in a different way.  It’s very difficult to put into words.  Of course, I still had to pee every 5 steps on this loop as well.  At one point, Kolbe actually told me that I needed to pee in my pants next time…..and my bladder may have gotten the message because I think that was the last time that I had to go!

I made it through Mind F***, I mean Sawmill, one more time (with Kolbe’s help) and I knew I was home free.  I could TASTE the finish line.  I was so ready to be DONE.  Kolbe knows me so well.  We would come upon some runners and she would whisper to me, “you’re about to take these people down!”  It was just enough to keep me going and I was surprised and happy that I still had that competitive spirit that wanted to overtake them.  When there were no people to pass, she told me that even though loop 5 may have won – I was CONQUERing loop 6 and finishing strong.  I can’t even remember everything she said, but every word struck a chord with me and gave me the strength to take another step.

Kolbe radioed Carmen to tell her we were about a mile out from the finish and I got tears in my eyes.  I knew I would finish.  Such a surreal feeling.  I had dreamed of this and worked for this for so long that it seemed it might never come to fruition.  But here I was, about to become a 100-mile finisher!  It’s a strange paradox – feeling so amazing that about what you’re about to accomplish while trying to hold back tears because everything hurts so badly.  But I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything!

I wanted Kolbe to lead me right up to the finish.  She had quite literally drug me through this last loop.  I wasn’t sure that I could run that finish line chute alone.  I didn’t want her to be out of my sight for a second.  She told me that this was my moment and that she would see me after I crossed….and she was right there.  I started crying – crying by my standards, at least.  I was handed my buckle and received hugs from Carmen, Kolbe, Ashley and Brad.  Others may have been there, but everything was such a blur that I can’t even remember.  Kolbe drug me through that loop in 4:54, which was 15 minutes faster than the previous loop.  At the end of a 100 miler, I’ll gladly take a negative split loop!  My total time was 24:51.  Not the time I wanted, but my intentions were to see what I could do and I definitely didn’t play it safe in those early miles.  A nice bonus was an 8th overall female finish – I was hoping to finish in top 10, so I was able to check that off my list 🙂

img_7999
I’ve never felt such a rush of emotions at a finish
img_8003
A race is just a race, but a pacer is a friend for life.
img_8004
Carmen is the best crew chief around!! And I swear I’m happy – just really tired!

My good friend, Tim Radkey described it best when he said that the feeling you have at the finish is like you are completely and totally emptied, yet completely and totally full at the same time.  There was definitely a feeling of having been cleansed by this experience.

I gave Kolbe a goodbye hug – she had to travel back to her parent’s house to grab her pets – then Carmen got me set up in a chair with a sleeping bag and a nice warm heater beside me.  She and Brad started breaking down camp and I quickly fell asleep for a much-needed nap.img_8010

My takeaways

  • Nutrition and hydration were on point.  I had no stomach issues whatsoever.  I know the cool weather helped with this, but I’m really proud of how I managed my nutrition.
  • Yes, my starting pace was too fast but I don’t think I was THAT far off.
  • My legs held up much better and much longer than I expected.
  • Having a good crew makes ALL the difference.  Carmen anticipated what I would need and had things ready for me before I ever asked.
  • The right pacer can save your race.  Kolbe was PERFECT.
  • I need to make better friends with pain.  Now that I know the pain doesn’t get any worse, I will be more prepared to push through it next time.
  • I need to become more efficient during my stops between loops.
  • I really wanted that sub-22 buckle, but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to maintain that pace.  Seeing the sun rise, then set, then rise again is an experience that I’ll cherish and I am really thankful that this race gave that to me.

All in all, I’m VERY happy with this race.  I did what I set out to do.  I found my limits, I conquered the course and, most importantly, I conquered many of my inner demons.

Kolbe wrote about her experience as a pacer.  If you want to read about it, click here!

One more thing…..I HIGHLY recommend Brazos Bend to any runner!  The race distances range from 13.1-100 miles, so there is something for nearly everyone.  This race is the Trail Party of the year and doesn’t disappoint!

This journey to be continued in 2018…..

 

 

It’s Race Week!!

Here I am, FINALLY just 4 days away from my first 100 mile attempt and so much is going through my mind.  The strangest thing is what isn’t going through my mind.

Generally speaking, I LOSE MY MIND every time I taper.  It is a common affliction and many in my sport like to call it the “Taper Crazies”.  I am usually consumed with anxiety, restless energy, doubts and fears.  More times than not, I do something really, really stupid.  Like going for my first open water swim, slipping on the boat ramp and breaking my toe.  Or I go crazy on Ultra Sign Up and register for races that are harder than the one I’m about to run.

But this taper…. The taper before the BIGGEST race of my life to date, and I have yet to experience any anxiety, doubt, restless energy, or fear.  I keep trying to assess why I am so calm, because there HAS to be something wrong, right? Or maybe not.

I am confident.  I worked my ass off in training.  No, I didn’t run every mile that was scheduled, but I was consistent.  And during all that training, I never went out and “just” ran.  Knowing I gave it my all has helped me trust my training.

I am mentally tough.  I fought many mental battles during training and spent countless hours outside of training getting my mind right.  I read everything I could get my hands on and listened to countless podcasts to gain insight into tackling this distance.

I am prepared.  I have packed everything (times 3 – no kidding) that I can think of that I might remotely need.  (Well, I’ve decided not to take the kitchen sink.)

I know that nothing is guaranteed.  NOTHING IS GUARANTEED.  I may not finish and I am OK with that.  My goal this year was to push myself and get to that place that I had to fight with every fiber of my being to continue.  If I get to that place and I am unable to finish, I will still have accomplished what I set out to do.

Pain isn’t optional – it’s guaranteed.  Whether or not I suffer is completely and totally up to me.

This distance is ridiculously far.  I understand the challenges that I’ll be facing, but I’ll also be in the same boat as veterans toeing the start line.  No one can predict what hardships will be visited upon them during the course of 100 miles.  Part of the challenge; part of the lure of this distance is that uncertanty.

My race plan is aggressive.  Probably too aggressive for my first 100, but, honestly, how does one really know what “too aggressive” is on their first attempt??  Many have suggested that I should just “race just to finish”, but I’m not a race just to finish kind of gal. In most of my races this year, I had a feeling going in what I would run.  And every race, I was within minutes of my guess.  After this happened a couple times, I began to trust my instincts more and more.  I feel in all my being that this is the right race plan for me.  I know that it won’t go completely according to plan.  Hell, it may not go AT ALL according to plan!  But if/when it all falls apart, I’ll use my strengths, which is assessing my situation and coming up with possible solutions.

This race is going to be epic.  It will be an epic success or an epic failure.  But if I fail to finish, I will be FAR from a failure.  If I fail to finish, I will have hopefully found that place, that line that I’ve not been able to find, let alone cross.  If that line is revealed to me, I suspect I’ll have learned much more about myself than I would have coasting easily and cautiously to the finish line, if I had just raced to finish.  Either way, I believe that I will prove to myself something that I’ve known (but not acknowledged) for a very long time – 100 miles is going to prove to be my favorite distance.

Finding Myself in my Journey to 100

Welp, folks, I am 29 DAYS away from my first 100 mile attempt.  I’ve been feeling a bit sentimental lately and thought that this milestone provided a great opportunity to recap my training journey thus far.

My word of focus for 2017 was CONQUER.  And I do feel like I have CONQUERED this year.  My transition into trail and ultra running has been the most fulfilling and rewarding running experience to date and I think I am finally conquering some of those mental demons.

When I signed up for Brazos Bend 100, I was a completely different person than the one penning this post.  As much confidence as I have gained over the past couple of years, I was still very insecure in many ways and felt as though I had a lot to prove to myself (and others, sadly).  Committing to races and distances that scared me to death was actually the BEST thing I could have chosen to do.

Admittedly, I haven’t documented this journey very well at all.  In fact, I suspect that some of the transformation is directly related to me not sharing every detail and every run.  As the fatigue from my increasing mileage began to take over every muscle in my body, so did the weariness of posting on social media.  Suddenly, sharing details of every training run seemed a little silly and a lot overwhelming to me.  But I began to cherish my training more than ever before.  I’ve given this a lot of thought – probably too much – and I think that not posting as much about my training has been the catalyst to my training becoming more authentic.

My Transformation

I have *literally* undergone a transformation.  I am unsure if it is visible to the rest of the world, but I when I compare how I felt about myself in March versus how I feel about myself now – it is as if I went from caterpillar to butterfly.  Here are some ways in which I have changed for the better:

  • Confidence.  I can’t even begin to describe the confidence I’ve gained.  I don’t think it is a cocky confidence, either.  But one that stems from putting my body through A LOT more than I ever imagined it could do and yet my body responded amazingly well.
  • Enjoy the process.  I have always enjoyed training.  I’ve never been one of those people that train in order to race.  I’m the opposite.  I race in order to train.  I wanted to attempt a 100 to push myself to the limits, but also because I just like running long.  Running back-to-back runs AND being fortunate enough to be healthy the entire time has been a blessing that I’ll always treasure.
  • Consistency is key – not perfection.  Anyone that knows me knows that I am a perfectionist – to a point.  Being a wife, mother (volleyball mom!!!) and working a full time job required me to face my perfection demons.  There were a couple of weeks that I ran 20 miles less than scheduled.  Even though I didn’t get all my miles in, I️ was always consistent.  And you know what??  I may have struggled mentally within that week, but I haven’t carried forward any guilt from missed miles.
  • Trust my instincts and follow my heart.  If I had followed a traditional path, I would not have registered for Brazos Bend this year.  I would have raced 50 milers and maybe started dabbling at the 100k distance, getting some experience under my belt before jumping to 100 miles.  But I knew that I could do it.  I knew that I wouldn’t be satisfied if I took the safe route.  I was more than willing to fall flat on my face for the chance to try.  And, boy, am I glad I trusted my instincts!!  More and more, I am making decisions based on feel rather than on intellect.  While this may not work in every arena, it has certainly worked in my running world.
  • *Failure* is acceptable.  Although I haven’t *failed* yet, I fully expected to DNF at Rawhide 50 miler.  I was mentally prepared to accept DNF, if it came to that.  My self-esteem isn’t no longer tied to a medal or finish time or place or buckle.  Not finishing a race isn’t the worst thing that could ever happen to me.  And if I find myself facing a DNF, I’ll move on.  The reason I do this is because I enjoy trails and ultras.  I enjoy the community.  I enjoy pushing myself and I do actually hope I find my limit one day and have to fight with every fiber of my being to continue.

Hopefully, I’ll be writing about my beautiful, shiny, buckle in 29 short days.  But if I fall short of the finish, I know that I’ve already won.  I won the day that I committed to this journey.  The rewards of this transformation far outweigh the shininess of a single belt buckle.

Rawhide 50 Race Recap

Last yeimg_7361ar, I ran Ragnar Hill Country and fell IN LOVE with the trails at Flat Rock Ranch.  I wasn’t an experienced trail runner, at all, and I wasn’t nearly as strong of a runner as I am now.  The trails left my body a little battered and my ego severely bruised.  At the time, I was still building strength after a psoas injury and I had been forced to ask my teammates to pick up my last miles so that I could recoup and focus on qualifying for Boston at the Houston Marathon.  It was absolutely the right call but runners like to feel strong and invincible and I felt anything except strong and invincible.

I’m not really sure when I decided that I would run a 50 miler in 2017, but I had already signed up for Brazos Bend 50 by January 11.  One day, I happened across Rawhide 50 miler and was immediately intrigued because it was at Flat Rock Ranch.  A chance for redemption AND my first 50 miler??  It was too much temptation to resist.  But…the cutoff was tight.  The race was small.  I remembered how my legs felt after 23 miles on those trails and I would be doubling that.  I genuinely didn’t know if I could do it.

I revisited my word of the year (suggested to my by my Soul Sister Jenn), which was “CONQUER”.  I though about what Jenn had said to me when she suggested that word:  “You need to conquer self-doubt, second guessing and feeling inadequate.”  Part of being able to conquer those things was to put myself in situations where I wasn’t guaranteed success and being OK with myself if I didn’t “succeed”.  So I decided to go for it.  I would attempt something that I really didn’t believe I could do (and at that time, I really did not believe that I could do it).

The storm before the race

Shouldn’t that say, “the calm before the storm”?  No.  No, it shouldn’t.

The last couple of races, I haven’t fretted at all.  I packed the day I left, hoped I didn’t forget anything and rolled up to the start line without a care in the world.  This race wasn’t like that at all.

A couple of weeks before Rawhide, I started to fret.  I hadn’t been having the best long runs and my confidence was a little cracked.  I started worrying about the weather.  The realization hit me that I was about to run 50 MILES on some fairly tough terrain with a very tight cutoff.  Panic set in as I started realizing that I might not finish.

And then, allergies happened.  Even though I am on allergy shots and take allergy medicine, I always find myself in a battle during peak Ragweed season.  Monday night, I didn’t sleep much.  I felt achy and I had the post-nasal drainage which made my throat sore.  I had to work really hard not to panic (and I still did, kind-of).  I changed allergy meds, got my next shot as soon as I was able and started using the neti pot again.  All this helped but I still wasn’t sleeping well.  I didn’t feel like myself.  All I could think about was how hard running 50 miles would be if I started out feeling well.  I wasn’t sure I could do it if I started out feeling like crap.

Renegade sisters head South

Carmen and Jen reunited again!!! Carmen and I left around noon on Friday.  We were going to drive down to the ranch, grab our packets, eat and head to our Airbnb.  We took the scenic route, meaning we avoided I-35, and had a wonderful drive.  I miss getting to see Carmen and love our adventures together.img_7360

I still felt terrible.  I was exhausted.  But I tried to act like all was well.

We made it to the ranch and got checked in then set up our canopy and unloaded the stuff that we could (which was a huge weight lifted for race morning).  I don’t think either one of us could believe that in less than 12 hours we would be out on the course!img_7359

We decided on pizza and headed to the restaurant.  I felt like I walked into a twilight zone.  We didn’t quite fit in.  There were ashtrays on every table.  People were at the bar, hanging all over each other and acting a fool.  LOL.  We sat at a table without anyone acknowledging us for about 5 minutes, so I started looking for other options.  There was another pizza place, so off we went!  It was so cute and just our style and I’m so glad we made the decision to switch.

After eating, we made our way to our Airbnb, which was a little apartment over a garage.  It was so cute and cozy.  We turned the AC on high, crawled under the covers and the next thing I knew, my alarm was going off.  I SLEPT SO WELL!!!  I felt like a new woman and was so relieved that I could start the race feeling halfway human.  I might have a chance!!  We had our breakfast and got ready and were off to the ranch!

The journey begins

Loop 1 

The challenge of a long distance race is not to go out too fast.  I struggle in this department.  It is difficult to hold back in the beginning when you feel so fresh.  Plus, since the race started at 5 AM, the cover of darkness and cool air caused me to feel even better.  I settled in to a comfortable pace right behind another woman.  In the dark, I was more concerned with keeping my light and eyes on the trail in front of me than I was concerned with checking my pace.  I stayed right with her until after we passed through the first aid station.  When my watch signaled the next mile marker, which was around 7, I realized that I was WAY ahead of even my best case race scenario.  When we hit the next hill, I stopped to hike to slow myself down and let her go on her way.  I was more interested in not blowing up my race than I was in keeping up with her.
At this point, I knew that I was sitting in 3rd.  At the race start, I had counted the females – there were only 6 – and I knew that 2 of them were behind me from the beginning.  Plus, we had passed another female at the aid station so I was confident that I was sitting in 3rd.  I slowed some but still ran faster than I should have. I justified this by telling myself the more miles I could cover before the head of the day, the better off I would be.  The last forecast I had seen predicted sunny skies with a high of 85 – I expected a struggle.img_7362

I rolled off the first loop, feeling good in 2:28, which was, um, about 20 minutes faster than 11 hour pace.  Going in, I was hoping to get better than 12 and, in my opinion, getting 11:00 would have been nothing  short of a miracle.  Carmen was ready and waiting.  She helped me refill my bladder and confirmed to me that I was 3rd female.  I was feeling good, it was still cool and I didn’t want to waste any time at camp.  (Another one of my goals for the race.)  I ran back out, only to realize that I hadn’t grabbed any gels for the loop, so back I went to grab my fuel.

Loop 2 – Struggle bus loop

It didn’t take me long on loop 2 to start feeling fatigue.  Thankfully, there was cloud cover, but the humidity was so thick that it reminded me of the 97% humidity at Houston Marathon.  I felt like I was sucking air through a straw.  This loop was also much more technical and rocky than loop 1 and that slowed me down some, but I still kept a decent pace in the runnable sections. Midway through the loop, I encountered huge, flat boulder-size rocks that were slick from the humidity.  I stopped to text Carmen and Tim to let them know that I was slowing down because of that.  I really struggled from miles 18-when I came in at mile 25.  I was getting a little achy – I had been a little achy from the allergy mess the past few days – and I realized that my calories were low.  I decided that I would take some time when I came off the loop to force some calories down and recoup before tackling the second half of the race.

I suffered A LOT of paranoia on this lap.  I knew I was 3rd female going into the lap, but I had no idea how close 4th place was.  Even though I only ran into a couple of runners on this loop, I kept hearing what I thought was a woman’s voice in the distance so I naturally thought it was #4 and that she was gaining on me.  (Later I realized that the “voices” I heard were either the 10k’ers or goats, or maybe a mixture of both.) The volunteers at the Loop 2 aid station were ROCKSTARS!  They cheered me on when I rolled into camp and told me that I was 3rd female (without me even asking).  I only stopped for a moment before rolling on.

As the loop went on, I felt more and more fatigue and achiness, but I was determined to keep moving as fast as my legs would allow.  I stopped to text Tim to ask him to make me some oatmeal, if he arrived at camp in time.  I knew it would be close and was kicking myself for being so far ahead of schedule early on.  Thinking about the possibility of eating oatmeal was the carrot that got me through the end of that loop.  My mouth was watering thinking about oatmeal those last 3 miles.  I finally rolled into camp at 10:25 (Tim was hoping to arrive by 10:30) and Tim wasn’t there. I grabbed some pretzels from the aid station and a peanut butter and jelly wrap from the cooler, sat down and started force feeding myself.  Man, all that stuff tasted horrible and the last thing I wanted to do was to eat but I knew that I had to get some calories down.  I also made the decision to take Ibuprofen for the aches.  I never take it and I have it available in my pack for emergencies.  It’s a once-per-race Hail Mary and I had already been weighing the pros and cons to taking now or at mile 38.  I ran to the restroom and as I came out, Tim was walking by!  We went back to camp and he got to work refilling my bladder while I started grabbing my fuel for the loop.

I used all my will power to get myself moving and out for the next loop – I had already spent a good 15 minutes in camp and needed to get back out.  I just wasn’t feeling it.  I was disappointed due to having these issues so early in the race, but I knew that I had to deal with whatever the day threw at me.  So I forced myself to get up and back out I went.

Loop 3 – Riding the wave

Early on in loop 3, I changed my fueling strategy.  I was using Vfuel gels without any stomach issues, but wasn’t able to sustain my energy levels.  I knew that I needed to try to maintain 250-300 calories per hour, or 60-90 grams of carbohydrate.  Luckily, I had remembered my Mas Korima corn cookies and thrown some in my pack for this loop.  I started taking a gel at :00 and :30 and two cookies at :15 and :45.  This got me to my target of 300 calories/hour and 61 grams of carbs, so I was right on the money.  It didn’t take long for me to feel like I was on top of the world.  I could not believe the energy that I had.  It was AMAZING!  The miles started clicking away and I kept feeling better and better.

I wasn’t far from the mid-loop aid station when I got a text from Tim.  I decided to check and see what it said – I had asked him to find out where F4 was, because I was REALLY paranoid about whether or not she had passed me during all that time I spent in camp after the second loop.  I was not prepared for what I read.  Tim told me that Carmen had fallen close to the end of the 10k and was almost certain that she broken her ankle and was going to go to the hospital – that news hit me like a ton of bricks.  Dumb me – I assumed that she would to drive my car (why ambulance transport never occurred to me, I’ll never know).  I told Tim to GO WITH HER and he responded that he had already tried and she wouldn’t let him.  She was making him stay to be there for me. When I made it to the aid station, I mentioned it.  I had to tell someone – and there was no one on the course with whom I could chat it up.  They had heard all about it over the radios.  I was so sad for Carmen. After a couple sips of Coke, I moved out of aid quickly.  This is when I had a complete and total meltdown.  Physically, I still felt fine and was maintaining my energy but emotionally I was crumbling.  I cried for a few minutes over Carmen and then decided that I had to pull up my big girl panties and run the rest of the race for her.

I had already passed one guy who was struggling early on in the loop and I passed another one after the aid station.  I figured they would get their resurgence at some point, but I wanted to put as much distance between us as I could until that happened.  I fully expected that I would hit another low spot in the later miles.

As I came off the loop at mile 38, I still felt incredibly amazing.  Tim had made me some oatmeal, which I ate as quickly as possible.  It tasted so good.  In less than 5 minutes, I was heading out for my last loop, almost literally skipping.  I felt so fresh and was ready to tackle the end of the race.  I made a terrible mistake in rushing through, though, which would come back to bite me in the rear.img_7346

Last loop – I CAN DO THIS

Dang.  Back on the slower, harder loop. I was cursing the RD just a little bit.  Why couldn’t we have run the course in the opposite order so I didn’t have to fight for my last 12 miles?? LOL  Amazing the things that go through your brain when you are out there ALL ALONE.  Just so you know – I didn’t see one runner on the final lap.

I was *maybe* a mile out of camp when I realized something – I HAD FORGOTTEN TO GRAB MORE COOKIES.  Geez, Jen.  What the hell??  I had plenty of gels, though, so I knew I could make it through.  I decided to try doing a gel every 20 minutes to see how that went. It was OK, but I just didn’t have the same energy level as I did on the previous loop.

I remember making it to mile 40.  While I realized that there was a lot of race left, I also knew that I was getting so close!!  Right before I got to the aid station at mile 43, I was passed by some mountain bikers (they let the bikes back on the course in the early afternoon.)  Seeing as how I was STILL paranoid about F4 and those guys that I had passed, when they passed, I asked if they had seen any other runners back.  They had, but said they were “WAY back there.” YESSSSSS!!!!!

I rolled into the aid station and stayed just a couple of minutes.  Dude asked if I wanted to refill my pack, but when I felt of it, it felt like I was still half-full so I declined and headed back out.  I pretty much hiked the next 1.5  miles – the horrible, rocky, huge boulder rocks section.  I knew it was slowing me down but I also knew that my quads were tired an any misstep could spell disaster.  So I hiked as fast as I could, but it was still slow going.

The day had been mostly cloudy, but in the afternoon the air really started heating up.  (I can’t even tell you how many times I said prayers of thanksgiving for the cloud cover.  The clouds really did save my race.)  I think it was around mile 46 that I ran out of water.  Apparently we didn’t get all the air out of the bladder, so back at the aid station when I was checking the level of my pack it was apparently mostly air.  I knew that there was a water stop near the end of the loop and I was reasonably certain that it was at mile 48.5. I was hoping against all hope that I was wrong and the water stop was actually earlier than that.  I hiked the ups just because I was so low on energy at this point.  I kept forcing myself to run because running would get me there faster than hiking.  At about mile 48, the RD comes running up behind me with flags in her hand.  She remarked about how good I looked and what a great pace I was keeping up.  I asked her if she was sweeping.  LOL!!  She was just out grabbing the flags from the 10k course, THANK GOODNESS.  I told her about the water situation and she said that we were only 1/2 mile away!!! I was so thirsty.

We made it to the water stop.  I nearly cried because I was so happy.  She helped me refill my pack then I was on my way.  That last bit seemed to take FOREVER.  I had no energy.  In fact, I probably should have taken a gel since I now had water (I had been unable to fuel while I was out of water).  I just didn’t see the point with 1.5 miles left.

The monkey is off my back

The closer to the finish I got, the more excited I became.  I was about to cross the finish line of a race that, 6 months ago, I honestly didn’t believe I could finish.  I received my medal and headed to sit down a few minutes.  As soon as I did, my emotions took over and I shed a couple of tears.

The RD brought me a beer and asked if I had checked the results.  Sure enough, I ended up 3rd female!!  She brought my finishers trophy – over which I am having to fight my husband!

Just so you don’t think I’m *that* amazing – I was 8th out of 11 finishers and 3rd out of 4 female finishers.  There were six DNFs – only 17 started the race.  I knew it was going to be a small race when I signed up, but I didn’t care.  The course was the lure and I conquered the course – regardless of my finish or how many competitors there were – that is the most important thing!img_7340

Checking off my race goals

I pretty much met all my goals at this race.  I wanted to finish and was hoping to finish under 12 hours (I finished in 11:56 :).  I wanted to improve my efficiency in aid stations and not get caught in a time trap.  While there is still work to do, I am very happy with how I handled them.  I wanted to know my position, and honestly I wanted to finish top 3.  Knowing my position was more important that top 3.  I am pleased that I was able to keep up with it the entire race.  The beauty of racing such a small race was getting to practice this.

Areas to improve

Aid stations are an art:  I successfully sped up my aid station stops this time, but at the expense of forgetting things when I rushed through.  I’ll be working on not acting like I’m in an emergency situation.  It’s a 100 mile race.  I can take a breath and actually look at my checklist and I’ll still be OK.

Low spots were calorie related:  Some people may argue that the fatigue I felt late in the race was just that – race fatigue – but I still think it was somewhat related to not having those cookies.  At Brazos Bend, I will have an emergency stash of gels and cookies in my pack.  I’ll also have each loop’s fuel in one baggie so I can grab it and not risk leaving anything behind.

Race Reflections

I’ve been much more emotional coming off this race than any other race I’ve done.  I never, ever expected it to go as well as it did.  I know a lot of that is due to the hard work I put in leading up to the race, but I also made good decisions on race day.  I feel like evaluating my situation and coming up with good solutions during the race is one of my strengths.

Something that has overwhelmed me – once again – is the number of well wishes and congratulations received from so many of my friends.  I can’t even begin to count the number of texts, Facebook and Twitter well wishes that were sent my way.  I was absolutely blown away!! I am so blessed to have so many people who care about my crazy adventures out on the trails!

I have to give a couple of special shout-outs to my extra special friends, though.  First, to my Homie for Life, Tim.  Tim lives in San Antonio and gave up his Saturday to come out and see me run through the start finish line 3 times.  I am so thankful he was there, not just for me, but especially for Carmen after she broke her ankle on the trail.  Hearing the stories later about how he stayed with her in camp and helped her call and make arrangements with her family made me feel so much better about not being there with her when it happened.  Tim is one of the most generous and genuinely kind people I have ever known.  I am not sure how I won the lottery by earning his friendship, but I WON THE LOTTERY!

Second, regarding Carmen, one of my bestest friends.  I can’t begin to put into words how much Carmen means to me.  She has been one of my biggest cheerleaders and having her with me makes this crazy ride that much more fun.  The tables have turned and for the past year, I’ve been able to practice my cheerleading skills for her, as well, since she started her own running journey.  I am so freaking proud of her for taking on the challenge of Rawhide 10k, because I know how much courage it took.  And I am even more freaking proud of how she acted like the break was no big deal while the rest of us acted like crazy people (even if I was out on the trail – I was acting like a crazy person).  Then you add in the selflessness of her not letting Tim accompany her to the hospital because she wanted him to stay there with me – it STILL brings tears to my eyes.  Carmen is the REAL MVP.  Her bravery is much more of an accomplishment than me finishing a race.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.  But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.  ~Robert Frost

See you at Brazos Bend 100!