Tuesday, June 25, 2019

TGNY 100




It is…  12:30 in the morning or so, and I am on the boardwalk at Coney Island.  The lights of the rides are behind me and there is music and life everywhere.  Drunken revelers, people speaking all languages, pounding surf to my left, a woman in a bikini drinking a cocktail and yelling excitedly into her phone to my right.  I have travelled here by foot, 84 or so miles from Times Square, where I started almost 20 hours earlier at 5am just as dawn was breaking.  I am in another world and I am tired, a little bit sore, and a little bit disoriented.  I am…. Perfectly happy.  I am as happy as it is possible to be.  I am sweaty and sticky and my clothing and gear has been rubbing various parts of my body until they sting like a mother, and I don’t want to be anyplace else in the world right now.
I am so very, very grateful for this moment.
Some races are linear – they have a beginning, a middle, and an end.  This one to me is a series of vignettes:  images, experiences, moments, feelings, sensations. 



….
Arriving at Times Square for the race start at 4:15am.  I have worked and lived in this city:  I am not naive.  Yet… after living in the country for 20 years and in respectable northern Virginia for 2, perhaps I have become so.  The lights…  the enormous flashing billboards straight out of Bladerunner, turning night into day…  the woman wearing only mesh and a thong so her full breasts are completely visible… the food trucks on every corner, the fact that it is 4am and unlike me pretty much everyone here has been up all night; garbage piled in alleys, the smell competing with the smell of smoky hot pretzels, hot dogs, steam from the subway, weed.  Perhaps most astoundingly, mixed in among the natives and the tourists and the exhibitionists there is a tiny tribe of ultra runners, all of whom, it seemed, know at least several others here – gathering together in our little band of hydration vests and Hokas, sharing McDonald’s receipts so we can sneak in and use the bathroom one last time before this thing starts.
The 45 minutes before the race start is a blur.  So many, so many friends here.  Different than most races where I only know one or 2 people.  The group photo is a reunion and the start of a grand adventure.  This part goes way, way, too fast.  The pre-race anxiety is more focused on making sure that I say hello to everyone I know is going to be there rather than worrying about the race.  For I already know I am not racing but rather embarking upon a grand adventure.  There is no time goal at all and that is… glorious.
Meeting Kellie, with whom I committed to run, so neither of us would get lost.  Her last name is Maurer… mine is Mower.  They have the same German origin.  I tell her husband Erik that I think we are likely related. 


---
We gather together for the pre-race photo, and line up at the start. Kellie and I start running with Larry Huffman – a recently training partner who now is part of my Sunday Great Falls joy runs.  Larry has run this before so I know that not only does he run at a pace that is perfect for me, but (more importantly) he knows where we are going.   He is also… a great guy.  We commit to sticking with Larry.


….
Slow easy taking off through the streets of NYC, the sun is coming up, and people are starting their day.  Because it is Saturday, there is less hustle and bustle than there would be on a weekday.  It is strange, running on uneven concrete, and our first street crossing is an interesting revelation of the forced breaks that will be built into the race.  There is more to see than I can possibly take in, and sooner than I would have imagined, we are in Central Park.  And then… a few miles later, we are out of it, and the adventure really starts, because we start to go through parts of the city I have never walked before.


There is a huge cathedral on our left – I think it is St. Johns.  We go up, up up… I had no idea, how hilly this could be.  We reach the top of one hill and the sun is a glowing orange ball coming up over water.  Several of us stop at a monument to take pictures of this glorious sunrise and I know that I am already in love with this race.  At 122nd street we head west and down toward the water…  turn right, run under an overpass.  This part of the city is gritty and real… fast food stores, construction, ethnic food vendors.  We turn north, get closer to the water.  It is more park like… less like a city.  There is a bike path and restrooms… this is more like running on the W&OD in the morning.

---
Phil McCarthy, the race director, has marked the course with small yellow arrows.  They can be easy to miss if you are not careful.  Somehow in one of the parks, near the Cloisters, we get lost for the first time.  We follow what we think are arrows to a lovely overlook – but the arrows lead nowhere after that.  We find our way back down to the course but have picked up at least an extra mile. 
We cross the first of what will be many bridges and are in the Bronx… soon enough at the gates of Van Cortlandt Park.  Although I grew up in the suburbs of New York I have never been here and it is a revelation. We run on a shaded soft dirt trail that is less populated than the trails of Great Falls Park in Virginia.  It is impossible to believe we are in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world.  Larry is in his element on these trails and starts picking up his step.  I am delighted, like a small child, just at the notion that I am on a wooded trail in the middle of New York City.


….
Out of the park and the sun is beating down strong now.  Some runners have complained about the heat but to me the sun is glorious because the day itself is only about 80, with a cool breeze and almost no humidity compared to DC.  I can feel the sun sizzling my skin as we emerge from the park and we enter a part of the Bronx that is probably more what people think of when they think of running through New York.  We are running on a bridge with another road over us, chain link barrier to our side, an occasional small dead animal on the ground next to litter people have tossed from their cars, an occasional beer can, and cars driving by, fast fast to our left.  This is not pretty and it is not nice… but it is absolutely real. 
I love this bridge.  I love this day.
….
Hitting the low 20 mile mark at this point… we cross into Pelham Bay Park for a scenic out and back with a photo opportunity at the beach…  We stop and wash up at the old bathhouses and I am delighted by this early Saturday morning at the beach.  Because although we have been running for hours, it still only mid morning and the beachgoers are few and far between.  Some older Italian men give us wondering glances as they gossip on a bench, one spraying himself with cold water.  The water spray makes me thirsty and for a moment I feel hot.
We get lost again and add a little bit more mileage to our total.  Turn around… find the right path.


….
There is a blur of city miles and at some point we are at Randall’s Island.  This is memorable because of the entrance with the smooth path underneath and arches overhead.  There are ball fields on the island and it feels parklike.  And we are out of the park and…


….
we are climbing a ramp and cross what was formerly the Triboro bridge (now the Robert F Kennedy)… on foot. 
We stop at the highest part of the bridge to take pictures and take it all in. 



….
We go down, down down the bridge and all of a sudden we are in Queens, where we will spend the next 40 miles.  Kellie, by this point, is not feeling so great.  Her stomach is acting up mightily.  I feel guilty for feeling so wonderful. 
We run essentially through LaGuardia airport – the car rental shops to our right, planes taking off low, over our heads. 
….
In the high 40’s, Kellie starts talking about our going on without her.  She asks us to promise we will let her go when we hit 100K – she has a friend who will join her.  This does not feel good and we don’t want to do it and at first we say no.
We are at 51 miles now and Kellie is insisting.   She feels she is slowing us down, and assures us she can get to 100K and will have company.  We reluctantly say goodbye and head on now a duo instead of a trio.  The rhythm changes.  We miss Kellie’s company, but are hoping we made the right call because she is feeling so crappy that we know she doesn’t want to run right now as much as we are running.  It’s hard feeling pressure to run with someone who is, at the moment, feeling better or faster than you are.  I’ve been there many times and almost always I will choose to run alone at my own pace rather than stay and be forced to a pace that is out of my comfort zone.  We hope we are truly honoring what Kellie wants.  And… regardless… the decision is made.
….
Flushing Meadows Corona Park…  a mass of humanity just out to enjoy the beautiful day…  picnickers, rollerbladers, families and couples… the smell of roasting meats, barbeques – I eye the tables as I’d eye an aid station except this food is not for me…  We stop in front of the Fountain of the Planets to take a picture and we run like children through the spray, cooling our sun baked skin.  We run past the fountain down a straightaway, soccer games to our left and a sea of people on the right, shadows of leaves, a cooling breeze.  I see an ice cream vendor and strongly consider a fruit pop.  I pass, and moments later we pick up Jim Treece who isn’t having the race he hoped for and is now focused on just recovering from his bad spell and enjoying the journey.  He chose the fruit pop.  I am jealous.  We run together on and off to 100K.


-----
100K is magical.  They had advertised eggplant sandwiches which I have been looking forward to for 30 miles.  Paul Kentor is there and takes great car of me.  I leave the aid station a little overly full, but the mile required for digestion is well worth it for the well of energy I now have.
A half mile out of the aid station I see a Carvel and decide I need dessert on top of the eggplant sandwich.  I have a choco-vanilla soft serve cone.  Larry has a slushie.  He says “This will either be the best or the worst thing I’ve done all day”.  The cone is delicious but I find myself wishing I had chosen the lighter cooler slushie.  Larry generously offers me a few sips.
It turns out that the slushie is not the best thing that Larry has done all day.  While my cone is (to Larry’s amazement) sitting just fine, his slushie is not so much.  I am very impressed by Larry’s ability to systematically lose bits of the slushie here and there out of his unhappy gut and not slow down his running pace by even a hair. 
….
It is… sometime between 9 and 10.  Probably closer to 9 because it has only just gotten dark.  We arrive at the beach.  This makes me profoundly happy.  It is actually our second beach arrival today and there is a big sign, “Rockawy Beach – B94th” greeting us as we head to toward the shore.  We turn right and run along a largely dark asphalt walkway – it is wide, with a railing separating the walkway and the beach proper.  I can hear surf far away.  There are benches here and there, and some (but not many) people walking along.  A ways down the walkway we hear and see several helicopters overhead – they are flying low over the water, green tail lights flashing.  There are at least 3 of them.  They are there, buzzing back and forth, for most of our time on the walkway.  We reach the end of that section and run down into a Queens neighborhood.  A man is walking a dog and he comments on the copters.  “That ain’t good… that usually means someone’s in the water. “  Sure enough, as we travel a few more blocks through the neighborhood we see a cluster of emergency vehicles at the end of one street.  At the same time that we are sobered by the sight of accidental death so nearby, it hits home that this is just one more part of this experience – which is really just us, moving at a running, jogging, and walking pace, through a day in the life of NYC. 







….
Coney Island.  I am as happy as it is possible to be.  A band is playing open air at a bar and I start to dance.  I see the lights of the Cyclone…  a Nathan’s hot dog stand.  I love (love love) the feel of the boardwalk under my feet, the surf to my left, the night life to my right. 



….
We are in Queens for about 40 miles.  That’s a lot.
….
Brooklyn.  I lived here once.  I was young, and very, very different.  I was a drinker and a smoker then.  I was not even a little bit athletic and I was so very not who I am today.  But… it was the start of my love affair with this tremendous city, and the beginning of my growing up and learning to love the person I was.  I had once lived on Dean Street, and gone out with a guy (he was a jerk) who lived on Atlantic Avenue.  He had (generously) offered me one drawer of his dresser after we had gone out for a while to keep my stuff in.  (Did I mention he was a jerk?).  The bar where he went to see the girl he was really in love with while he dated me for convenience was also further down on Atlantic Avenue.  But I digress.  Which is sometimes what you do when you run down the streets of your past. 
Other ghosts… when I lived on Dean street (which was the wrong side of Court street, back then, when there WAS a wrong side of Court street – it looks more gentrified now…), I lived in a second story apartment where, one summer night with soft breezes blowing, I heard a man scream, and then heard a really (really) loud pop.  When I went out to see what had happened, there was a crowd around a body and more blood than I could imagine coming from what had been this man’s neck. 
Ghosts.
…..
In Brooklyn we are running a block and walking a block.  It is working well and keeping us steady.  Soon we reach the 95th street aid station.  Francis Kwok is there, and Adrienne.  The smell of the barn is oh so strong, as is the lure of the Brooklyn Bridge, towering over us – a monument to the city’s past.  It is… indescribable…  crossing this bridge on foot back into the city where only single digit miles remain.  It is almost morning and the view of the city brings tears to my eyes.


….
Manhattan again.  The sun is rising and we are back on the sidewalks and heading to Times Square.  I want to be at the finish and at the same time I want this never to end.  Larry gets it in his head there there is a possibility we can bring it in under 24 hours (we cannot), and starts running miles in the 9’s.  To my amazement I keep up.  Until Jim and I convince him that there is no possibility of a sub 24 and we are killing ourselves for nothing.  Still… I kept up.  First time I’ve ever done miles in the 9’s after I’ve already hit 100.  (Did I mention we got lost?)
…..
I see BJ as we close in to the finish and wave madly.  Larry, Jim and I step ceremoniously at the same time onto the finish line marked in chalk.  I love that we are able to do this.


Tuesday, April 30, 2019

C & O Canal 100 - There's Music on the Trail


Not since Candlelight 12 hour have I felt this kind of joy in a race.

C&O Canal 100 – April 27, 1019.  My goal for this race was 1) the female win, and 2) a sub 20 hour 100 mile finish.  The former is all about who shows up…  the latter – well, that is all about the training.  My previous best trail 100 time was a 21:42 at Tunnel Hill (where I also went in with a sub 20 goal), and my best track 100 mile split was 21:08 at D3 in 2017.  So, in reality, anything lower than 21:08 would be a PR.  Still, there’s something lyrical about “sub 20”…

I was first introduced to C&O 2 years ago, pacing my friend Aubrey Blanda.  I had met Aubrey at about 9pm and paced her overnight.  The trail was dark, beautiful and haunting.  We had met Peter Wai, running his first hundred, with whom I became Facebook friends, and I went back last year to pace Peter.  My second time at C&O made me want to run it even more, so this year I came back to race.

Speed has never been my forte.  I got into ultra running because it is the first time I’ve ever had any relative “success” as a moderately slow runner.  I’ve never qualified for Boston, and the only time I’ve ever won a 5K my friend snorted and said “how big was the 5 K”?  It was a reasonable question.  I’m not fast.  But…  having qualified for Spartathlon which has aggressive cut-offs, I’ve started working more on speed.  Probably the best thing for my speed lately is my 1-3 runs per week with my fast friend Katie. 

It was due to the recent speed work and some monster weekly mileage that I thought I might have a shot at the win.  And… possibly… a sub-20.  Maybe.

Aubrey had booked a cabin for her family, Pete’s family, and BJ and I.  We all arrived shortly after 5 on Friday, checked in, and headed to the pre-race dinner.  Dinner was great and I was pleased that I didn’t overdo it (which has been known to happen).  We all spent a bit of time after dinner getting our gear ready, and were all in bed by 9.  

The 3 Musketeers - Pete, Aubrey and I
It is a testament to both my recent mileage and some of the huge mile races I’ve been running (recently a few 3 days and a 6 over New Years) that I was going into this 100 with just mild pleasant anticipation of a nice, not too long day – rather than the big post race jitters I’ve previously gotten.  My thought was… “it’s just 100”.  It was predicted to be windy but nice otherwise – not too warm, not too cold.

Sleep was light and restless – probably because I had to pee for about half the night, but didn’t want to climb down from my bunk and walk outside to do it.  We saw the benefits of staying on site on race morning when we didn’t have to get up until almost 6 for a 7am race.  Breakfast was provided by Aubrey - real NJ bagels.  Yum!!

As I geared up, I decided last minute to put my headphones in my pack rather than in my ears.  Though I usually run with music, I didn’t want my battery to run out due to data streaming, and I wanted to talk to other runners.  I was a little concerned about the 25mph predicted winds, but after the first little grassy loop before we got on the trail, I knew I wouldn’t need my windbreaker and I tossed it to BJ as I ran through Camp Manidoken and down through the cabins toward the single track.




Me, BJ and Laurie Matecki




Pre race




Me and Dave Blanchard


One of the daunting features of this race is the single track leading from Camp Manidoken down to the C&O.  It is a short stretch – probably no more than .3 of a mile, but it is utterly un-runnable.  Steep steps lead down through the woods, and there is a little path where you have to step over branches and cross a stream before heading along another little trail patch, over the road, up and down a gully and then on to the towpath.  The towpath itself, though, is eminently runnable.

My first miles are smooth, easy, and in the tens.  This makes me happy as up until recently, my slow easy has been 11 and change. The weather is in the 50’s, the breeze is crisp and cool.  I can tell pretty early that this is going to be a good run.  And then… the trail begins to sing to me.

Early morning, there is just the sound of footfalls and the rushing breeze.  Some runner chatter if I pass them or they pass me.  A few miles down, there is the lazy flow of the canal, water sparkling like diamonds through the trees, almost finished with the early leafing out of spring in Maryland.  A few miles more, and then a crescendo…  I’d reached the rapids, and the sound is powerful…  rushing, roaring, mid spring, electric. 

The trail dips under the bridge to Harper’s ferry, where a train is clattering overhead.  I run under the bridge as the train rushed by above me.  It is deafening and rumbling and I feel intensely alive.  I pass by a section of algae covered water where loads of turtles are lounging and mating on logs.


Action shot - courtesy of Laurie Matecki
The song changed genres to a soothing acoustic…  background music to the musings of my soul.  There is, so far, nothing that isn’t perfect about this run.  Footfalls, smooth and steady.  Pace faster than my wildest imagining.  Sun on my face, breeze whipping around me, this is where I am home.  The first stop back up to Camp Manidoken at 40 miles is a super quick pitstop – that mile including the brutal up, stop, and back down is only 16 minutes and change.  I am thrilled.

I hit 50 at 8 hours 41 minutes… a PR by almost a half hour.  I am astounded and humbly grateful.  At this point I’m on track for a 20 hour race if I can keep the second half at 13 minute miles… which seems more than doable.  For another mile or two.  When the sound of my unhappy stomach starts to add some troubling minor tones to the music.  It is OK when I trot, but any time I slow down to a walk or hit an aid station, I am woozy and nauseous. I am thirsty but anything I take in makes me want to retch.   They offer me warm flat ginger ale and I have to spit it out and move on.  I feel badly – they all want to help.  One aid station volunteer says with concern “what is your food plan for the next 25 miles?”  “Nothing.”  I replied.  “My plan is to eat nothing”.  He does not like that plan so much.

I feel better moving again, and make it to the next aid station where once again I stop, feel sick, and this time have to sit down.  I text BJ “nauseous”.  He replies “what need?”  “Selzer.”  My love goes out and gets me my bubbly water – the only thing that sounds remotely appealing in my woozy overheatedness.

At the 70 mile Camp Manidoken stop, the climb is near unbearable.  I have to stop multiple times – I feel faint and nauseous and exhausted.  I trudge up to the hill shouting out my number, saying “Liquid… I need liquid”.  This stop is not speedy.  I need gear…  I change my shoes.  I am sick and they apply a cool cloth to my inner elbows, wrists and forehead.  I need to get back out there if I’m going to do this thing.  I head down the hill, feeling discouraged.

But… there are only 30 miles to go, and I’ve found a run walk pattern that keeps me moving and keeps me from retching.  The shoe change eases the pressure of my only hot spot, and the seltzer is helping.  At mile 80 BJ makes the treacherous trek down the dark single track to bring me more seltzer.  He walks with me for a few minutes and I am calmed by his presence.  At my new slower pace, with my stomach churning on the decline, the trail once again starts to sing – this time a Nocturne.

I have travelled this trail in the dark twice now – once with Aubrey and once with Peter and Carter.  I have come to love the haunting solitude, the occasional CSX train whistle, the rushing of the rapids, and sometimes just my lonely footfalls in the dark.  On those trips I saw the sunrise and it was magical.  I will not see that sunrise today.  Even with the sub-20 out of reach, I know I will finish in the dark.

The last 10 miles come blissfully easy.  I probably could have pushed my pace beyond the safe run walk ratio with which I had become comfortable, but I don’t want to risk getting sick again and, at this point, have adjusted my goal to a sub 21.  It would, no matter what, be a PR.

This time, the 3rd loop, I know all the landmarks.  The blinking light of the cone to head back up to Manidoken no longer seems to take forever – I know exactly where it’s going to be.  I don’t risk a single running step on the single track.  I am almost home and I don’t want to mess with that.  This last climb up the stairs is stronger by far than my last.  I don’t run up the hill, but still, I am strong.  My love is waiting for me at the top of the hill, where I walk in my PR at 20 hours 31 minutes.  Female leader, and trail PR by 71 minutes. 
There are some races that just inspire joy, and this is one.  It is one I knew, last year, that I wanted to race - and I made the right choice.  The scenery is stunning; the trail is pleasant and flat.  The race directors are organized, nice and accommodating, and I can't say enough good things about the volunteers.  This is truly a special race, and you can bet I'll be coming back.



Thursday, January 10, 2019

6 Days in Glendale




Introduction

I blame Doyle.

At my last 72 hour event at 3 Days at the Fair in May, Doyle was there doing the 6 day.  On more than one occasion, as we were in chatting distance with each other, he’d growl at me “why the hell are you doing a 72?  It doesn’t count for anything.  Ya gotta do the 6 day.”

What he means is that, for whatever reason, a 72 hour event is not recognized by any record keeping body.  Recognized timed events include the 24 hour, the 48 hour, and then it jumps to 6 day.  Which means that no matter how hard I worked to get that 230 at my last 72, it’s not going to show up anywhere that I can use to compare that performance against anyone else’s.  I had 2 choices…. Drop down to 48, or up to 6 day.

48 was already a known quantity.  I’d done that at ARFTA already, and would be doing it again plus 1 hour over Labor Day.  144 hours, on the other hand…

Experience had shown that, so far, the longer the race, the more competitive I’m able to be.  This is essentially because I’m slow… but I can go for a long, long, time.  And at a certain point, my slow becomes fast.  Comparatively.  So…  144 hours it was going to be.  Just weeks after a great 72 at 3DATF, I pushed the button on my first 6 day race.  And, due to the opening of Joe Fejes’ 6 Day Dome redux about a week afterwards, pushed the button on a second 6 day as well.

6 days.

W

T

F.

I mean… who would even CONCEIVE of a race like that? 

Really, it was fucked.

Really fucked.

It is hard to come up with enough adjectives about what a truly ridiculous idea this was.

Yet…

I was signed up to do it.

Twice.

For the next couple of months I set about studiously ignoring what I was in for, except for ramping up my training to 110-130 mile weeks. 

One month prior
One month prior, this thing was starting to be uncomfortably real.  For my last training push, I signed up for a 100 mile race one weekend, followed by a 24 hour the week after, figuring it would give me good experience running on really tired legs.  It did… the 24 hour was marked by some intense knee pain (later discovered to be bursitis), but a win and a Virginia state record to boot…  and was far enough prior to the race to allow full recovery and to have provided some good training.

Things abruptly changed about 4 weeks prior to the race when BJ learned he might need emergency surgery to deal with leg pain he’d been experiencing since Vol State.  All of a sudden, the future focus suddenly shifted and blurred…  no way was I going to head to Arizona for a week if BJ was having (or just recovering from) major surgery.  But we weren’t going to know until an exploratory procedure on 12/17.  All of a sudden, my world was swimming with several uncertainties.  And despite large focus and concern about BJ’s medical situation, I can’t deny that there was a huge amount of relief at the idea of possibly not having to run this race which was really starting to become more terrifying than anything I’d ever embarked upon.

12/17…  procedure day, and to our enormous relief, the procedure was successful and meant that BJ wouldn’t need surgery.  He was also cleared to travel to Arizona with me which meant there was zero reason I couldn’t proceed with the race.  Hooray!  (Damn!!)  Really the only way to deal with the situation was to go back to what I’d been doing for the previous months, which was to studiously ignore my upcoming ordeal.

One week prior
Studiously ignoring…

3 days prior
Figured some packing was in order.  Packed for last year’s weather.  Loads of singlets and shorts for hot days, plus warm clothes for cool nights in the 30’s.  Some rain gear, hand warmers, RunGoo, accessories.  4 pairs of shoes.

Travel & Arrival
Headed out on the day after Christmas for 12/28 race start.  Travel uneventful… BJ picked me up at the airport, and once I arrived, I saw that the weather forecast was distinctly different than what I’d packed for.  Instead of daytime highs in the 70’s, they were in the low 50’s.  Shopping would be in order, as I had zero clothing packed for mid-temp daytimes.  Checked into a snazzy Hampton Inn in Glendale and settled in for what was to be my last long uninterrupted sleep for, well, a very long time.

Due to the time change, we actually woke up pretty early.  Enjoyed the hotel waffle maker, and headed out to Walmart where I spent a completely enjoyable hour and a half dawdling in the workout section to buy jazzy new weather appropriate clothing, including the skull top I ended up wearing post race.  I started to go into the “Walmart Daze” where there were too many choices… BJ had to prod me to get me out of there. 

Walmart trip was followed by RV pickup – about which, we were a little bit terrified.  At 3DATF I had used a company that picked up and delivered, but hadn’t been able to find one here so one of the big challenges of the day was getting the monster vehicle back.  I agreed to drive it with BJ following closely (and nervously) behind.  The biggest issue, it turned out, was trying to change lanes using just side mirrors, as the rear view mirror was completely useless.  I have to admit I was pretty freakin’ proud of myself for learning that new skill.

Home away from Home

Got back to the hotel and met up with Crew Chief Sue Scholl…  she was going to be directing the show for the next 6 days.  Headed out to eat… it was mid-day and the dread was growing.  I was getting quieter and quieter.  Focused on trying not to make disastrous food choices.

Post lunch we brought our home away from home to the ATY grounds, to get headquarters all set up.  Unpacked and organized clothing by type; unpacked food, and pulled out the clothes I was planning to wear at race start to bring back to hotel.

Dread continued to mount.

Back to the hotel, and out to dinner.  The race was looming like the headlight of an oncoming train.  This didn’t feel good at all.  Did manage to not make bad food choices.  Yay me.  This is new.

Somehow, sleep came.

And it was race morning.

Still… studiously ignoring. 

Focused rather on the quality and even brown edges of my Hampton Inn waffle… on not overeating pre-race.  Race outfit on.  Drove to Camelback.

Go time.

Day 1

Mike Melton gave his usual pre-race, focusing on never (ever, ever) walking backward on the course for ANY reason whatsoever.  I just stood there feeling sick.  And it was time to start moving.

Finally.

Dear god.

I was going to be doing this for 6 days.

What was I thinking?

Mentally, I felt like day 1 would, in some ways, be the biggest hurdle.  Our mileage goal plan called for 90 miles on day 1 followed by up to 4 hours of down time.  The miles, thank goodness, were pretty smooth and in the mid-11 range except for the one mile I ran that day with Jake Brown.  That was a 10:41 and was definitely too fast.  Though nice talking to Jake, had to let him go.

I don’t have many other memories of day 1 besides just generally feeling good that things were feeling smooth.  I spent a good portion of the day in 5th place among the women… Annabel, Van Phan, Liz Bauer, and another runner whose name I need to look up were all out fast than me.  This is pretty typical early in the race and I was comfortable with that.

I hit my 90 miles with almost 6 hours left in the first 24 hour period, which left me plenty of time to rest.  I didn’t sleep that well – never do on day 1, but probably got a solid 2 hours, with maybe another hour and a half off my feet.  Decided to get back out on the course about 7:50 on what felt like the beginning of “day 2” but in reality was the last hour of my first 24 hour day.  Thus it was that I finished the first 24 hours with 94 miles in the books rather than the planned 90.  Nice to have a little time banked that had also included some solid rest.

Day 2

Pretty much a blank at this point.  I was still running fine…  again exceeded mileage goal of the day, by going to bed at 5 or so, sleeping for 2+ hours, and getting back out at 7:45. 


Barefoot Jake


Laps with Melinda
Amy & Scott

Day 3

The memorable portion of day 3 was time spent with Brian Khepri.  After a huge 24 hour PR for him on Day 1, he’d had a bonky day 2 –only did 12 miles.  He almost was going to skip day 3 but decided to come back out and just walk in a few.  I’d met him at last year’s 72 hour – every time I passed him he said “there’s the buzz saw… buzz buzz buzz”, and I was happy to see him again this year.  He started trotting along beside me and discovered a whole new world in the concept of “run/walk”.  My pace worked really well for him, so he stayed with me for hours.  Brian does these races to save lions in Africa and every time he earns a buckle he sends it to one of the tribal chiefs who is involved in the actual saving.  It’s pretty awesome.  Brian and I became great buds that day, sharing stories and miles.  Ending mileage on day 3 had me hitting my mileage goal for the day and still banking 1 mile.

Running with Brian








Day 4
Day 4 was a thing unto itself.  First, it was the entry into the whole new world of 6 day – the step up from 72 to 144.  Mentally that was huge.  Second, it was supposed to rain.  Initially it was forecasted to be between 2 and 6pm.  Instead it started at 10am, and instead of stopping at 4 as predicted, went on until 8pm.  The problem with the rain was 2-fold.  First, on every morning of a 6 day, there is a huge mental lift of seeing the sun after 15 hours of darkness.  With the rain and gloom, we never really had that lift.  Secondly, much of the course was dirt – the rain turned it into a bit of a muddy mess.  The good part about this was that it reduced the dust, and the dust had been accumulating in everyone’s lungs resulting in an awful deep hacking cough.  However, the mud was slippery and also got caked on shoes and clothing, and all in all was just a dismal mess.  Also, it never really got warm that day – the high was probably in the mid-40’s, so we were all struggling not just to stay as dry as possible, but to stay warm as well.  Definitely a mental drain.

A couple of cool things happened on this day.  (I think it was this day).  Brian’s wife was going to the store and asked for orders.  I asked for choc and yogurt covered pretzels, but she also brought me back, at Brian’s request, a surprise box of Twinkies.  This…  was amazing.  I adore Twinkies.

Needing a pick-me-up, I also told BJ to go to CVS and get me some wash-out pink hair dye.  Although not enthused, he bowed to my whim and on the next lap he was standing there with a spray on can of pink hair dye, which I took 4 minutes to apply in the bathroom.  Alas…  due to the rain, I ended up keeping my head covered for most of the day, but it was still fun to run around a couple of laps with my new pink hair before I had to cover it up.  I’m pretty convinced it made me faster.
Newly dyed hair


And… one of the best things BJ did for me that day… was to gather up all my wet dirty things and go find a laundromat that was open on New Year’s Eve.  I can’t even begin to describe the mental boost of knowing that I’d soon have a bunch of clean dry clothes.

All this time, Sue Scholl was steady as a rock, continuing to feed me encouragement, pace tips, and information to get me to my daily target.  I can’t say enough good things about how she kept me on target for the race.

One of the moments that very much defined the “feral” state you start to go into as you are relying on your body to tell you what you need was the pizza lap.  I had passed by the food tent and, ravenous, had grabbed 2 pieces of fresh pizza they had brought in.  A few hundred yards past the aid station, to my great dismay I dropped the pizza face down into the mud.  Without hestitation I picked it up and kept eating it.  No freakin’ way was I waiting another lap for my pizza.  It was a little gritty, but not too bad.

Late on day 4, mentally things started to improve a bit.  First, the rain finally stopped in the early evening.  Secondly, as it was New Years Eve, we started seeing fireworks in the distance.  This was nice distracting eye candy and took my mind off the task at hand.  Finally, at ATY, there is a celebration at midnight on New Years Eve – everyone gathers and has champagne by the timing tent.  This celebration is followed by a “nearly naked beer mile” in which a few intrepid runners strip down to skivvies and run as fast as they can for one lap, drinking, I believe, a full beer at 4 different points around the course.  As a non-drinker, I don’t participate, but both years have very much enjoyed watching these festivities.  I have to say, this year there wasn’t as much vomiting as last year.  The outfits were good and it was funny to see these nearly naked folks flying by as we plodded on.

The final memorable thing about night time of day 4 was the wind.  After the rain stopped, the wind picked up and at times blew something like 15-20 mph.  It was brutal.  It is possible I’m mixing this up with night 5, but either way, towards the end, there was one windy-assed night and it sucked. 

Day 5

Day 5 was marked by complete exhaustion.  Remarkably, my body was feeling good in terms of being able to run and run evenly.  I’d heard about the “training effect” of a long race in that as the race goes on, in the later days your body actually gets “trained” from the early days of the race, and can feel somewhat better.  This part was remarkable.

If only I weren’t so.  Freakin’.  Exhausted.

Sleep.  Just a little bit more sleep.  Please dear god.  I just want to lie down and be unconscious for, oh, a day.  Maybe 2 days.

Generally each day I would take a 20 minute “power nap” sometime late afternoon.  These were much easier to get up from than “long sleeps” in that feet didn’t turn into hamburger in the 20 minutes, and generally had the effect of shaving off almost a minute per mile on a deteriorating pace.  Fighting exhaustion like I was moving through deep water, I went in earlier than usual for my power nap.  I entered the RV, sat down, and just started sobbing and couldn’t stop.  Finally I pulled myself together and took my 20 minutes.  Woke up and told BJ I needed another 10.  Got up and…

Oh dear god.

It didn’t work.

No energy boost.

No decreased pace.

Nothing but grogginess and continued exhaustion.

I almost cried. Again.

Next lap I grabbed Sue and told her we were revising goal.  GONE was any hint of 460 (which was never really my goal anyway).  GONE was the age group record goal of 450.  Maybe…  maybe keep course record goal of 439 in view.  But at this point….  Just figure out a way to get me some sleep and then get past 400.

Sue nodded and said she could definitely do that – and probably get me well beyond 400.


Me & Sue


I saw BJ and told him we were revising goal.  He said “you mean strategy, right?  Same goal, different strategy”?  I almost screamed back at him – NO – GOAL!  I’M REVISING GOAL!!!”. 
That was a bad lap.

Somehow after the first couple of groggy laps, I still managed to feel better and we got me in for a lengthy nap when I had about 14 miles left to go to hit goal for the day.  The good news is, I was able to get back out and get those miles in, so by taking the nap earlier, I got rested enough to get back out there for real. 

This had evolved into a new strategy:  Instead of getting in total goal miles for the day and follow with one “big” sleep, have more frequent sleeps with less miles in between.

And….  It was now….

Day 6

What an enormous relief to wake up to the dawn of day 6.  Despite the miles that were left…  this was it.  24 hours to go.  Really, just 1 24 hour race.  I could do that.  And… it was sunny.  And pleasant.  (and the last day).  It was day 6.  Glory be.  How did that happen?  I had run 368 laps.  Time for the last push.  And whatever happened…  there was only one more day.

Day 6 was pretty much just a joy.  I knew I could get through one more day of this.  Somewhere late in the day, feeling a little bit of ability to relax on pace for a lap, I recorded my FB video, communicating for pretty much the first time with the outside world.

Night 6 was the coldest night so far.    At this point in my total overall body depletion, I figured what I needed most was to stay warm.  So instead of just layers followed by a windbreaker, I actually donned my winter parka.  Crew had to regularly warm up hand warmers and have them at the ready.  And, even with all that plus my warm hat, I still needed BJ to grab the fleece blanket from the bed to wrap around me as an extra layer as the night wore on.  It was so cold.

So.  Freakin'.  Cold.

But…

Despite the cold… that last night was special.

I spent a few memorable laps with Dave Johnston from Alaska.  Dave is a superstar who has previously racked up 550 miles on this course.  He wasn’t going as hard this time, so my laps with him were fun and relaxed.  We talked about the things we missed, and what we wanted to do when we were done.

Being on this course was somewhat like being a hamster on a wheel – you are going around and around and just not going anywhere.  There was a CVS that was all lit up a couple hundred yards away across the highway.  I said I just wanted to get off this freakin’ course and go that CVS.  I didn’t care what I bought… I just wanted to be somewhere… else.  Anywhere else.  There were all of these other paths at Camelback that were blocked off.  I wanted to go on one of them.

Dave wanted a salad.  The food at the aid stations was great but it was pretty much all carbs, fats and proteins.  Not so many veggies. 

Yeah… a salad sounded kick ass.

A hot tub.

A warm fluffy bed.  Which, when you woke up in it, you didn’t have to put your hamburger feet back on the floor – you could just roll over and go back to sleep.

A shower.  Of course.

Clean clothes.

I said I was going to dye my hair again, and buzz it all short.  (I haven’t yet… but the buzz will come this weekend).

TV.

All luxuries.

Somewhere in the middle of the night, I broke the women’s course record with 439 miles.  This had been “B” goal and was a big milestone.  I felt comfortable at that point going down for a “long” (2 hour) rest, with only 12 miles left to go for A goal.  Which… was in sight.

The last couple of hours… the sun was rising.  The course was beautiful on that last day.  Still cold – we were waiting for the rising sun to provide some heat – but the beauty was stunning.  And the relief that this was almost done…  almost impossible to describe.
The lap before I was going to hit goal, I ran into Marie Boyd and Annabel Hepworth – both from Australia.  Annabel had the 2018 top female time as well as one of the more impressive times ever for a a woman at a 6 day with 460 miles.   This hadn’t been her best race – she was struggling with shin pain – but still put in a solid, solid race.  The three of us stopped and spent a couple of minutes taking selfies.  What a relief to have the gift of a few minutes.  Scott Thompson rolled by and we pulled him into the pics as well.  He and I had raced it to the end in last year’s race.


Sunrise Day 6




Me and 2 Aussies - Marie Boyd & Annabel Hepworth
Me and Scott Thompson


I met up with Dave Johnston at the beginning of Goal A lap which would get me to 451 miles.  He and I had agreed to run in together since we were on the same lap and we thought it would be fun to tie.  We had enough time on the clock to get in 2 more laps after that, so we ran the last 40 minutes together, crossing the finish line with about 3 minutes left on the clock.  Although we stepped over the mat together, he actually had a few thousandths of a second on me, so is officially the second place finisher while I came in third.  Most of the racers had already finished, and they and their crew were all at the finish line cheering us on when we finished.  I sobbed.  And then stayed to cheer in the rest of the runners coming in during that last 3 minutes.
Coming in to finish with Dave
Amy, Jubilee Paige and Melinda



Me and my guy...  race end

Melinda Yelverton and I post race

Amy & my brother Brian post race



Dennene Huntley and I post race

Getting my award
With Byamba - OA and Male winner




Appendix - or, Some Other Things to know about 6 Day races

On... getting out of bed


A note on getting out of bed after a “long” (1.5 – 2 hour) sleep.  Every time I went down to sleep, my feet felt pretty much fine.  And when I woke up, I was rested… but my feet felt like raw hamburger.  Getting out of bed and standing up was a whole new kind of hurt.  It was unimaginable to think I’d be able to run on these slabs of burning pain.  I would hobble to the RV table, pull on my shoes and groan.  Also, the bed was warm.  The outside… was not.  So I’d be pulling on all my cold weather gear, preparing to go out into what, at this point, felt brutally cold, with feet that felt like they wouldn’t support me for 10 feet much less for hundreds more miles.  All that keeps you moving at that point is the knowledge that the foot pain is relatively temporary.

You get out there and start to trudge.  Pick up the pace to a decent walk, and then try a few tentative running steps.  Maybe… 10.  Good goddamn.  Go back to a walk for a hundred feet.  Try some quick running steps again.  Maybe 20 this time.  Somewhat…. Better.  Repeat.  Better still.  You find, in amazement, that the lap ends up being something not too horrible – like an 18.  Holy crow.  The next lap is better, and by lap 3 after sleep, you almost have your groove back.  Un.  Fucking.  Believable.




What I ate
So...  Ultras are an interesting and weird study in your body knowing exactly what it wants at any point in time.  The aid station contstantly stocks staples like cookies (choc chip, oreos, ginger snaps), pringles, M&M's (peanut & plain), crystallized ginger, potato chunks with salt to dip them in, pickle chunks on toothpicks.  For drinks there is soda, coffee, water, sports drinks.  These are supplemented by hot meals every 6 hours along with generally some sort of "treat" in the middle.  (Treats included veggie sushi, tacos from Del Taco, quesadilla, soup....).  

Ginger is great for unsettled stomachs.  Crystallized ginger offers the benefit of the stomach aid plus calories in the form of the sugar and ginger.  At one point in time, what sounded good to me was a toothpick with a potato, pickle, and crystallized ginger all in one bite.  Another goodie was the time I ripped up my chicken salad sandwich into my cup of steaming hot string beans and poured hot sauce all over it.  A memorable food save was a lap where I was nauseous and slowing down and feeling just not "right" - a little confused and bonky.  Came into the RV and just started inhaling Pringles.  Turned out I needed the salt - the next lap was easily a minute per mile faster, mood up, and on target.  And of course, we can't neglect the impact of some good sweets - picture below shows me, aka "Cake Bandit" happily chowing down some delicious birthday cake (loads of buttercream frosting) that was located at a plush RV on RV Alley.

And, of course, there was the mud coated pizza.  

Which is to say... we have no standards at all, after a certain point.



Amy the Cake Bandit


Special moments

During a 6 day race, there are a few moments that stand out as special.  I had the privilege of being on the lap with Tonya Evans where she hit her 100 miles.  She had never gone beyond a marathon.  It was amazing.

Being with Brian Khepri as he realized he was not only going to hit his 300 mile goal, after giving it up early on, but exceed it.

Hearing the crowd cheer for Don Winkley as he broke Ted Corbitt's "over 80" record for the 144...

Sunrise on day 6
-           

On... the people


First of course is my husband of just over a month, my best friend and the person who believes in me more than I believe in myself... BJ (Benjamin) Timoner.   

My crew chief Sue Scholl kept me on target, calm, focused, informed and motivated.

Marie Boyd - Aussie and fellow knitter.  Andrew Boyd, with whom a shared a lap.

Annabel Hepworth.  6 Day Aussie rock star - funny and cheerful and a complete and utter Beastie.

Brian Khepri - who became my brother.

Dennene Huntley from Canada - killed her 72 at 235

Dave Johnston - another Beastie from Alaska.  Funny, down to earth, but deadly on the course when he wants to be.

Charlotte Vasarhelyi - Candadian beastie runner whose 6 day PR tops mine.  She ran a bit with Brian and I and killed it in the 72 hour.

Pablo Espinosa - ANOTHER Canadian Beastie - kicked my ass at 3DATF 72 hour, maker of Go-Juice.  He and his crew helped keep me motivated and hydrated.

Mike Melton and Bill Schultz in the timing tent - always upbeat, encouraging, and fun.

Melinda Yelverton - with whom I shared laps last year, and some laps this year - who not only ran but volunteered in the foot tent for multiple 8 hour shifts.

"Barefoot" Jake Brown - shared one fast lap and saw his cheerful self multiple times throughout the race.

All of the amazing volunteers in the aid tent.

Impossible to capture everyone...