Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Darkness and Light - 6 Days at 3 Days at the Fair

 

Relative success is a dangerous thing.  It gives you a taste of what you are capable of, and a thirst for success.

As a runner, I’ve found my niche in multi-day running.  I didn’t start experiencing any regular podium placements until I started going 48 hours and beyond.  It turns out, as a slow runner, you can still have success at races as long as they are races that rely on tools beyond just raw speed.  I've discovered I have an energizer bunny gear that just keeps going… and going… and going…

Usually, anyway.

Thus, the reason why I sign up for these events that are so very hard on the body, and so very enlightening for the soul.

48 and 72 hour races… they are brutal enough.  But 6 day is a whole different beast.  It is, when you think about it, almost a week of constant running.  That is a long time.  Life in the outside world happens and you are running.  There is world news being made, babies being born, people dying.  And you are running.  

It’s kind of crazy. 

At my first 6 Day race, I was chatting with Dave Johnston somewhere around Day 5 and we were talking about what we were going to do in the “after” times.  I said “see that CVS?  Over there?  Across the street?  I’m going to go there.  I’m going to get off this effing course and go the that CVS.  Because I can.  And… see that path?  I’m going to walk on that path."  

Craziness.  For a week, you are a hamster on a wheel.

Why would anybody do this thing?

Turns out we all have different motivations.  For some, it is purely about the record.  If there is not an opportunity to set a record, there is no reason to race.  For others, it is all about the friendships.  Just a couple of days set aside to do some easy running.  For others of us, it is somewhere in between. 

Me?  I’ve come to like pretty trophies.  I’m always thrilled to get a trophy – particularly one as beautiful as those handed out at the Fair.  Records?  Those are pretty swell too.  I managed to get myself an age-group world record at the first 6 Day I did (although I am well aware that there were other faster runs that exceed my mark and just didn’t have the right paperwork to make them a record).  So – my name is out there. Appropriately, or no.

So – this race.  It was to be my 2nd 6 day race.  My first one at Across the Years 2018/2019 went astoundingly well.  I exceeded my stretch goal, broke the women’s course record, and got myself the age group world record (again technicalities, but…).  453 miles, or you could call it 452 and change after the course got audited and adjusted.  In any case, a well-executed race.   

It stood to reason that if I had done this at my first 6-Day, there was room for improvement.  Yes?

I set my sights high.  500 miles.  Pretty round number.  Planned splits?  100 on day 1 followed by 5 80’s.  So that was my A+++ goal.  “A” goal was the Women’s Road record which (also due to technicalities) stands at 475 miles.  475 is only 22 more than I had logged at ATY, so that actually seemed pretty reasonable.  “B” goal…  to at least exceed my past performance of 453.  “C” goal… 400 miles.

It turns out I needed a “D” goal.

Fortunately, I had one.  My “D” goal, after my course walk-off at my 48 hour at ATY last year, was “Stay on the fucking course”.

I’m pleased to say, (and hope I’m not giving too much away) that I met my D goal.

Generally I am not good at taper but because of all the really big miles I’d been putting in all summer, I actually rested quite a bit coming into the race.  My legs felt bouncy and energetic during my baby runs all that last week and I was raring to go.

Given that I knew exactly what I was in for (or so I thought) in terms of the mental difficulty of a 6 day race, I actually slept pretty well the night before.  I was honored to have had Dave Oakley of Ohio volunteer as crew, and we both stayed in our posh new RV the night before the race, getting everything organized. 

Race morning was warm and muggy, and the day only got warmer and muggier.  There were less than 20 of us on the starting line at 9am.  Rick did the countdown and we started off at an easy jog.

I could immediately see the benefits of the extra rest in the fast miles that were coming surprisingly easily.  Normally my “slow easy” is somewhere closer to an 11 minute mile but I was throwing down consistent 10:20-10:30’s without any effort.  This got me to 50 in 9 hours 11 minutes, and got me a 100 mile PR at 20 hours 20 minutes. Although my planned Day 1 split was 100, I had always had it in my head that if I COULD go 105, I would.  Turns out I logged 108 (although about 20 seconds of that was in day 2 so my official day 1 total was 107).  That gave me a little cushion to play with in terms of days 2-6 where I hoped to log an average of 80 each day. 






One of the treats of day 2 was the arrival of my cousin Rebecca, who was going to be on Team Amy from Day 2 to 3.  Rebecca is not only my cousin, but perhaps my closest friend.  We have shared incredible ups and downs all of our lives and had always been there for each other.  She had never seen me in my ultra world with my ultra people and I was so happy and grateful that she was coming to be part of the fun

Day 2 the weather changed from hot and muggy, requiring constant ice bandana changes, to muggy and rainy in the late afternoon.  It was still warm, but not so warm that the ice bandana was needed, and I was still, at that point, running in a jog bra. Later in the evening a shirt went on, and then it REALLY started to rain.  It went from a steady drizzle to a deluge and the course started to empty.  Through quite a bit of the night, there were probably no more than 3 of us on course.  Dave and Rebecca were critical to my emotional and physical well being.  Despite the downpour, Dave was out there, under the tent, as I ran lap after lap.  The real kicker came when the temperature plunged at least 10 degrees and very suddenly I was too cold to go much further.  I decided to come in and get warm and dry and then go out and get the rest of day 2 miles after a nap.  That plan worked and I ended day 2 with a total of 187 miles. 

Although I didn't know it yet, the Lean was starting



Day 3, the weather dawned beautiful.  Crisp, clear, cool, dry.  You really couldn’t get any better.  I was running pretty consistent 13-15’s which should easily get me my day’s 80 in 20 moving hours, allowing a bit of off-course nap time. 

I think it was about halfway through Day 3 that I saw my shadow, and noticed my right shoulder was significantly lower than my left.    “Am I leaning?” I asked a fellow runner in horror.

“Yes.  You have been for a while.”

Oh dear.  This was not a good thing.  I’ve seen it, but never experienced it firsthand.  For anyone not familiar with “The Lean”, essentially the runner mysteriously just starts leaning precipitously in one direction or the other.  Sometimes it is forward or backward rather than sideways.  It looks, frankly, ridiculous.  But worse, although at first you don’t even know you are doing it, eventually if it continues it significantly affects your ability to move forward comfortably.  For me, this ended up resulting in a running form that required me to shove my right hand into my right hip and literally try to counterbalance the right lean with a leftward push.  Any time I removed my hand, I went almost a foot further over and started to tip.

It was awful.  And worse, it was painful.  Not in an acute way, but in a mile after mile after mile weary way – each step adding to the pain and fatigue and sucking the joy from the run.  I think by the end of Day 3 I was pretty confident that any hopes of 500 were long gone, and that 475 was a long shot.  I only got in about 62 miles – my lowest day so far. There was no way to come back from that.  I think this is when I had my first good cry.

The morning of Day 4 was rough.  I managed about a mile an hour for the first few hours after 9am.  I had been in touch with Trishul Cherns who was coming to the grounds to support Camille Herron and he generously offered to do some body work to see if he could get me moving again. 

After my time with Trishul,  I was finally able to string together some consistent laps.  He assured me that my race wasn’t over, and that I just needed to keep walking.  My goal for the day was to end up with a total of 50 miles for day 4.  Unfortunately somewhere around 10:30-11pm I was just so fatigued I couldn’t keep going.  

It was supposed to start raining at 3am and go through 7, so I had really hoped to stay on the course during the rest of the dry time prior to 3.  Given the discomfort of the cold rain the previous day, I had no confidence I’d be able to get out there and just walk slowly in cold rain, so I pretty much wrote off 3am to 7.  It felt like by coming in at 10:30pm, I was pretty much giving up the rest of the night.  So be it.  I needed some rest.  I made a Facebook post at that point pretty much putting it out there that I was resting and we’d see what happened.

I didn’t set an alarm, because I figured I’d just sleep until morning.  Magically, I woke up around 3:30.  I could hear a steady rain, but when I got out of bed I realized I felt less sore and stiff than I had in a while.  I realized if I got out there and got going, I could get in up to another 15 before 9am.  I pulled on lots of clothing including a garbage bag vest for waterproof warmth, because as long as I could move, I figured my worst enemy was the cold rain.  I got out there and started to move.

And I could.

That was possibly one of the more joyful moments in the race – to feel myself be able to move comfortably again, one of very few people out there in the rain, contemplating why I do these things.  Realizing that true enlightenment comes when you are stripped raw and humbled.  You start to see into the inner depths of your soul and figure out what you are made of. 

I wasn’t unhappy with what I saw.

Those moments in night 4 were the epitome of why I do these multi-days.  Enlightenment and Transcendence.  At this point in the race, I had lost hope of all of my real mileage goals.  I was one of the pack – slower, at this point, really, than most of the pack.  Each of us was out here discovering different aspects of ourselves.  I had a few revelations:  It is OK… to run less.  It is OK to have running not be the sole focus of my existence.  I am made up of so much more than running and my other addictions.  I bake bread.  I knit.  I write poetry.  I am the mother to a beautiful, smart, courageous daughter.  I am the daughter of 2 role models who taught me that I can do anything I put my mind to it.  There is peace to be found in running forever, but there is also peace to be found in stillness, and sometimes it is OK to be still.

More… I am a woman with friends.  And everyone, EVERYONE out here on this course is my friend.  What a gift, to be able to spend happy miles, sad miles, painful miles, rainy nighttime miles, scorching daytime miles, with these people.  Had I still been able to pursue a monster goal, I would not have these laps with my friends. What a privilege to have them in my life. 

No matter what I end up getting in this race, I will always have this night.

Those 15 miles were as close to perfect as they come.  I ended Day 4 with 40 miles rather than the 25 I’d been resigned to when I'd come in at 10:30 the previous night.

It was now Day 5. Day 5 was pretty exciting for a number of reasons.  First, the 48 hour folks were starting.  I had several friends in the field including Bob Hearn, Marisa Lizak, as well as Camille Herron who was aiming for the world record.  The weather was  beautiful – sunny, clear, cool, dry, and I had just had a positive start to the day, as well as the most sleep I’d had all week.  I was pretty on top of the world.

Day 5 was just glorious.  I was happy.  I was moving.  Not running, but moving, and moving steadily.  I enjoyed the other runners, I was thrilled that I’d made it to day 5, and I was pretty confident that I had a shot at my “C” goal of 400.  In order to do that, I had to do 56 on Day 5 and 55 on Day 6.  I pulled out a few tools in my arsenal.  I’d been running quiet for days – somehow just didn’t want the noise in my head, but by Day 5 I was ready to rock.  The songs I was listening to had a hard, edgy, driving beat.  I started with Boss’s “I Don’t Give a Fuck” and cranked it to full volume.  The raging bravado of the song fit perfectly with my mood and the beat allowed me to increase the cadence of my walk, swing my left arm, and let anger at my situation  and determination drive me forward.  Step STEP step  STEP idontgiveafuckIdontgiveafuckidontgiveafuckidontgiveafuck…motherFUCKER…idontgiveafucknotasinglesolitaryfuckidontgiveafuckidontgiveafuck…motherFUCKER step STEP step STEP step STEP step STEP.  18 minute mile.  BAM.  I then turned up my new Facebook collaborative playlist really really loud and ran to Skinny Puppy, Ministry,  9 Inch Nails, Eminem, and The Beastie Boys, among others. Those were some good miles.

I also ventured into the podcast world, which I had never really done before.  (4 podcasts – one about Jack the Ripper, one about unsolved crimes, one interview with Dolly Parton where they played a game called “Dolly or Dali” where the participants had to guess as to whether the quote was from Dolly Parton or the Dali Llama, and one interview with Elan Musk.  Who sounded, pardon me, kind of douchy).

Moving Joyfully




 The only challenge with using my phone much out there was that any time I took my right hand away from my hip  (remember, I was holding myself up), I started to tip over to the right.  So, in order to do anything that required typing on my phone, I had to stop entirely. Still, I finished Day 5 at 345 miles, with only 55 to go to make it to 400.  I took my 90 minute nap, and ventured into Day 6.

Which… did not feel so great.  Early on, buoyed by my great day 5, I tested out a few running steps.  When I say a few, I mean a few.  Very short, very easy jogging steps – just enough to turn those 20:35 minute miles into 18:50’s.  Which is actually huge, but not a lot of running.

Whether it was trying to throw in any run at all again or just the accumulated fatigue of holding my back up, Day 6 was just a constant pain cave.  I was not in a happy place – I was just putting one painful foot in front of the other.  I felt like I was moving through deep water all day – groggy, miserable, slow, and in pain.  I wanted to enjoy other’s company but I was walking too slowly to even hang with other walkers for any length of time.  The highlight of daytime in Day 6 was watching Bob Hearn and Marisa’s steady beautiful running.  And the knowledge that however it turned out, it would be over soon.

The only way I could move was
to force my right arm into my right hip.
Stop doing this, and I tipped right over.
My arm got very tired.


The thing about timed races is… you are always doing math.  As in… if I want to get 55 miles in X hours, and I am going X speed I have to move for X hours and can nap for X time.  If the miles get faster, you get more nap buffer.  If they get slower….  (which happens with bathroom stops, aid station stops, shoe changes, or just slowing down due to pain)…. you get less true rest.

Oh, and did I mention the blisters?  Well, somewhere mid-race I had to have Dave perform surgery on 2 pairs of shoes to cut out the toe-box as, despite my best efforts, I was getting under-toenail blisters.  So my piggies were bared to the world for the last 3 days.  With lancing to drain fluid, and application of Run-Goo, the toe blisters were completely controlled.  It turns out it is phenomenally comfortable to run in shoes with the toe boxes cut out, so that is in my arsenal for the future.  Alas, it doesn’t help with those half-dollar sized blisters on the pad of your foot nor with the quarter sized heel blisters.  Those I just lanced and Run-Goo’d, which pretty much took care of the situation.

Anyway, back to Day 6.  I tried.  I really did.  The miles ticked by, painfully, slowly, and evening approached.  Time was now my enemy – it amazingly was moving too fast. (This doesn't usually happen in a multi-day, lol).  As much as I knew I needed to stay out there on the course, I was also feeling like without more decent sleep I just couldn’t make any miles quicker than 23 minutes or so.  It was a balancing game between whether it was better to get really slow miles, or nap more often to allow short bursts where I could have faster less painful miles.  With 26 miles to go, I decided that a nap was necessary.  I figured I could throw down 3 20 minute power naps between 26 miles and the end – so nap, go around 9-10, nap again, do the same, and finish.  Except… getting up from that 20 minute nap with the 26 to go felt so very, very bad.  I was slow, I was groggy, and what’s more, my right ankle was starting to get really, really angry. It was swollen and hurt to flex, and every step was painful.

It was purely a coincidence that I was wearing
my shirt from the Crooked Road race.  The Jester 
said I should take a sharpie and write "With a 
Crooked Back" underneath!



OK.  What was in my arsenal?  Caffeine.    I didn’t want to drink it because my stomach was sloshy, gurgly and in general unhappy.  Which also made it hard to breath – it felt like nothing was moving, and that plus the lean just limited any room for breath in my rib cage.

I took a NoDoz and kept moving.

Hurting.  A lot.  Dave saying "Just one more lap".



It was the right call for that moment and got me another 7 miles to 381 – 19 short of my goal.  It was approximately 1 am or so.  My ankle at this point was screaming – I was limping and it was hard to bend my right foot upward.  It felt like a soft tissue injury or tendonitis and I knew without any doubt or any remorse that I needed to give up the 400 goal and take care of my body.   I came in to rest, hoping that with a few hours of rest I could at least possibly get to 390.  I slept until perhaps 4 – plenty of time, on paper, to get in another 9 -15 miles.  I gingerly stepped on to the RV floor.  Ow.  That ankle didn’t feel good at all.  I walked a lap.  Ow.  Not good.  I walked another lap.  Worse.  Ankle screaming.

Done. 

All I was going to do at this point, trying to get in any more miles, was hurt myself.  There was no getting to 400… there was  no getting to 390. 

OK then.  Back to bed.  I had 383. 

I slept the sleep of the dead for another couple of hours and woke up at sunrise, feeling both vaguely worried about my ankle as well as remarkably content.  I had a Facebook conversation with Scotty, who was also injured, suggesting maybe we could do a hobble lap.  I taped up my ankle and with the tape and wearing sandals instead of shoes, I could, it seems, walk a very slow not horribly painful 30 minute mile.  This was the time in a multi-day race when everyone who was sleeping starts moving again – it is often a joyful time.  People have made it through the darkness and are almost at the end.  I see Scotty and we walk and cry together.  I love Scotty.  So damn much. 

Walking and Crying with Scotty


I love all of these people. 

John Beck, Linda, Fran, Al, Ke’mani,  Fred (who had to leave early due to a family tragedy), Kootz (son), Jim and Joan, Helen, Dave L, the McNulty's, Shamus, Mark.  I’m sure I’m missing folks and I’m sorry. The Fair… it’s special.  

I actually was able to get in 2 more laps after I was done.  I finished with 385 miles - enough for first place female, and 2nd overall.  115 miles shy of my A+++ goal.  But hey... I nailed my "D" goal.

It was a good week.

Receiving my award from RD Rick McNulty

3 years of beautiful 1st place trophies hand crafted
by Dave Lettieri - 72 hr, 48 hr, 144 hr





-----------------------

Postscript:

So this has so far focused on my perspective as a racer but what I also want to talk about is my crew.  Because in this area, I was blessed beyond all measure.  Some months ago, Dave Oakley reached out to me about my next 6 day race and asked if I had crew.  I sad “no – are you offering”?

“Yes”.

I knew Dave was going to be great… I just didn’t realize how special he was.  

What can I say about Dave?  He was my biggest cheerleader, he kept me focus and on pace.  He got me everything I needed when I needed it.  He worked with me on goal revision and on strategy as my race started to deteriorate.  He butchered my shoes.  He got me, without exception, every last thing I needed with regard to food, hydration, clothing, information, when I needed it.  Above all, he let me run my own race, set my own goals, and work with me on achieving them.  He was my rock.

Thank you Dave.  I am humbled and awed by your support.

My cousin Rebecca as well.  She is the first family member to actually see me at a multi-day event.  She joined the crew on days 2 and 3 – I’m grateful she got to see me when I was still moving well.  She got me fresh laundry after the rain soaked outfits I’d planned for the next few days and when I had almost no dry socks left.

People.  They amaze you.  

Postcript 2 (or - things you may or may not give a shit about)

Food:

Nutrition is always a crap shoot in ultras.  I've always had trouble with hot races - particularly if I'm going fast, in that it is hard to find anything I can comfortable keep down without feeling nauseated. This race went amazingly well in that regard.  I went slow enough that I never truly got nauseated, and was able to regularly take in calories without taking in so many that it was counterproductive.  Day 1 (hot fast day) calories were largely liquid.  A protein shake; a milkshake; soup.  Day 2 - dry cereal and whole milk appealed a lot.  I tried a bacon egg and cheese sandwich from the aid station, but the bread just felt dry and sticky in my dehydrated mouth, so I scraped the egg, cheese and bacon off of the bread and just ate that.  Every morning after that, I ordered a "bacon egg and cheese in a cup, no bread" from the aid station.  It was a gooey, salty cup of energy filled yum.

I drank a lot of whole milk - sometimes with instant coffee and sugar mixed in for a boost.  I drank orange juice.  Didn't eat a ton of the super sweet ultra food like poptarts - food this time consisted of more "real" food.  Jen McNulty's homemade chicken soup was amazing, as were the quesadillas and burgers.  My sister in law had sent me off with a batch of chocolate chip cookies, and my mom sent me with carrot cake.  They were gone by the end of the race.  (The carrot cake was a great vehicle for the whole milk - calories AND hydration).

Foot Care:

I had more issues with blisters than usual this race - possible because of the early humidity, heat and deluge rain.  I didn't AVOID blisters, but I managed them.  Got one the size of a second toe on day 2 which I lanced and RunGood.  By day 3 I had Dave butcher my shoes to cut out the toe boxes and only ran in them for the rest of the race.  Switched often between butchered Hokas and butchered Altras.

Sleep:

I got more sleep than in my last 6 day, but some of this was just because of the need to lie flat because of the lean.  I think I could have gotten by with less had I been moving more comfortably.  I still don't feel like i have this area remotely nailed.  I am usually really good with either 20 or 90 minute "power" naps, but my last 20 minute power nap (definition:  you hit the pillow and are IMMEDIATELY asleep for 20 mins) left me groggier than I started.  Still more learning here - although I think every race is unique in the conditions that are handed to you.

Clothing:

I got this right.  I was never truly uncomfortably cold - had enough layers even when walking slowly.  This included hats, mittens, hand warmers, tights, buff, multiple layers.  During the warmth of the day I generally stripped down to a jog bra.  Ice bandanas kept me cool enough to keep moving on Days 1 and 2, which were much warmer than the rest of the week.  Run skirts were comfortable and at night I could just pull on tights over them.  Rain jacket was key.  Garbage bag vest layer really helped during cold rain.

Garmin:

Amazingly, I kept it charged for the entire race by having Dave keep my portable battery charged, and just carrying that and hooking to my watch as needed.

I think that's it - but if anyone has any other logistical questions, let me know and I will answer.

Peace.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

A Tale of 2 Races


A Tale of 2 Races – the Race That Wasn't, and the Race that Was



I went into Across the Years 48 hours with a big goal in my head.  Which could, in retrospect, have been the problem.  The problem with big goals is that they can get in the way of why I do this crazy sport in the first place.

Of course, another problem was (sorry Camille)…  Camille.  Which is to say, when the world 100 mile record holder jumps into a race that you expect to podium in, perhaps even set an age group record in, it messes with your head.  Or at least it messed with mine.  Benjamin says it’s good for me to have competition and its true.  But it kind of felt like an elephant racing a gazelle and all I could picture was Camille lapping me… and lapping me… and lapping me... on her way to the world record.

OK.  So – 2 issues.  Big goals, and Camille.  (Sorry Camille).

The thing is – I was as prepared as I’ve ever been going into a race.  My training and performance had been rock solid – and I was getting faster.  Just a month earlier I had only been one minute off of my marathon PR, which had been set 5 years previously before I started running ultras.  I hadn’t done anything CLOSE to that marathon in the past 5 years. 

Of course – I’d also had about the most stressful year excepting the year of the Great Divorce of 2017 in that I'd lost my job unexpectedly in August, conducted a nationwide job hunt, and moved across the country to Seattle.  Small stuff. 

Anyway – I thought I was in pretty good shape. 

BJ had driven since he was going to New Mexico after the race, and also wanted to hang out and watch the 6 and 10 day racers, and I flew in.  Shopping had already been done, so really I just needed a good night’s sleep and to set up the morning of the race – which we did.

So – here is another thing about day 1.  It had rained for days, and the course was sloppy.  Because of my work schedule, I had no ability to adjust my race start day.  I didn’t learn until 5 minutes prior to race start that Camille would be starting her race the next day, due to the wet course.  I was a little bummed about this – if I was going to be running in a race against Camille Herron, I kind of wanted to be running on the same days.  




I went out at what felt like a moderately easy to sustain pace, but which in retrospect was likely too fast.  I hit 50 miles in 9 hours, which put me in excellent shape to achieve my goal.  For the entire 50, my feet never felt great.  My Achilles was bothering me no matter which shoes I switched to.  Also, my gut was in bad shape.  I was nauseated and couldn’t eat much.  This has been happening with regularity and I still don’t have any answers, because without food, I can’t get the energy I need to hit my goals.  Also, shortly after I hit 50, the sun went down and the temperature plummeted.  I did another couple of laps and got to about 54 miles, and as I was approaching the aid station after coming through the timing tent, I had the strongest feeling I’ve ever had of just wanting… to stop.  The Med Tent was right there… my Achilles was screaming, my gut was clenched, and I felt a little dizzy.  The though occurred to me that I could just wander into that tent, and ask to lie down because I was dizzy.  Then, it wouldn’t be my fault.  It would be… a “medical issue”.  That always looks better on Facebook.

It was compelling.

I ran past the Med tent.  And slowed.  And turned around.

In the end, it wasn’t the Med tent where I sought relief.  Wanting at least honesty in this thing, I wandered back into the warming tent, and I sat. 

And sat.

And sat.

Minutes ticked by.  I figured I’d better text BJ and let him know I was… sitting. 

He, of course, told me to get moving

“No.”

“You’ve still got this thing.  You have plenty of time.”

“No.”

I sat some more.  I looked at my watch.  15 minutes.  Now 30.  I was sitting here watching my goals swirl down the toilet.

BJ texted again.  “Just come to me.”  (He was on the other side of the course).

I tried.  I headed out of the tent and jogged a little.  Good God Damn it was cold.  My shirt was wet, I was slow, and after 100 feet or so, shivering uncontrollably, I hobbled back to the warming tent.  That shit just wasn’t happening.

I was, however, finally able to eat.  Which I did.

I texted Bob Hearn.  He asked me if I had any goals left.  I replied “Well, I really want to see the Grand Canyon”.  

At some point Jubilee came in and I told her I thought I was done.  She threw this idea into my head.  She asked if I had a hundred mile buckle from ATY.  Although I had a 200 and 400 mile buckle, I did not, in fact, have a 100 mile buckle.  She suggested I take a break, regroup, get dry and warm, and come back when the sun was up and get my hundred.

That sounded good.  It sounded like something I could do.  I was profoundly grateful.

With that, I headed back out on to the course and started moving again.

I was moving amazingly well.  The food an 90 minute break had given me spring in my step that I thought I’d completely lost.  Running again, it felt like maybe I could do this thing. 

For about 11 miles.  When I lost it again, just out of the blue.  I rounded the bend, saw BJ’s car, and got in.  For whatever reason, I just didn’t want to be doing this race.  At all.  I knew what was ahead of me and I just wanted no part of it.

“What the hell are you doing”?

“I want to get off this course.  Take me to a restaurant and a hotel”.

“No.”

We sat.  And sat.  And sat.  Another hour went by and BJ realized I wasn’t going back out there.  We headed to a Mexican restaurant and loaded up on food.  I posted to Facebook about my situation, and we went back to the course.  I slept for 3 hours in the tent, headed out, and got up around 3:45am to finish my hundred miles and get off the damn course.

And that’s just what I did.

The next morning wasn’t pretty. BJ was upset; I was stunned and confused.  I just didn’t know for the life of me what had just happened.  I’d never had a problem in a multi-day race and out of the blue I DNF’d.  I just completely lost my mojo.  


For what it's worth, Camille didn't have a great race either, running into hamstring issues after a blazing fast 100K.  I've no doubt that one of these days she will be the world record holder at the 48 - but this wasn't that day. I did get to hang out with her after the race and enjoyed getting to know her better.


The best part of ATY 48 - hanging out with friends afterward.  Adam, Eliza and Camille

My friend Melinda


We chilled for that whole day – got in some rest, and visited with the runners still on the course.  The next morning I got on a plane back to Seattle.  Flying back, I realized it was the first time I’d come home from a multi-day without a trophy.  It didn’t feel good.  Worse, I needed to figure out just what had happened in my head.  I realized I needed another race and needed it fast.  And it occurred to me that ATY had a special race it didn’t usually have – a hundred miler, the following weekend.  Damn.  I could come back and get some redemption on the same course!  I was signed up before I arrived back in Seattle.

Although this is a tale of 2 races, it isn’t a tale about the next week’s hundred mile race.  Which I came back, and won in 21 hours 11 minutes – my second best 100 mile time ever.  It was definitely some consolation for my epic fail the week prior – but it wasn’t a multi-day.  So, I still didn’t know how I’d handle my next race over 24 hours.
ATY 100 miler - ran with joy


Enter Jackpot.  This was a Las Vegas race in February with a 48 hour option.  My buddies Jill and Jess were signed up, and it sounded appealing – and pretty easy to get to without burning any vacation time.  I signed up.

In the 3 weekends leading up to the race, I did 2 marathons and a 50K as my long training runs.  All went well.  Ironically, the last Sunday before Jackpot I ran the Rock and Roll Marathon in New Orleans with my friend Deb – my first flight heading out of New Orleans was late and I missed my connection in Vegas.  So, a week before I was going to be in Vegas racing, I was there by accident.  I did some exploring and bought some chocolate, and figured out where I’d stay the following week.

I did a one week taper going into the race – only ran 5 milers Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.  Smooth travels Thursday night, and headed out to race start Friday morning.

My entire goal for this race was to just stay on the course until the end of the race.  I went in without time goals feeling as if the time goal had really sabotaged my last race.  I intended, to the extent possible, to enjoy myself and just take it easy. 

The weather promised to be stunning.  Sunny and 67 during the day on Friday, low 40’s at night, then sunny and 70 on Saturday with a slightly warmer Saturday night than Friday night.  Race start was fun – I got my picture taken with showgirls, Elvis and a pink Cadillac.  I said hello to Connie Gardner, Pam Smith, Emily Collins, Marisa Lizak and Pamela Chapman Markle who were all doing the 100 mile championship.  I set up my own stuff under a pavilion right next to Jill Hudson.  2 minutes after the 100 mile fasties took off, we started our race.


I started out up front and just ran at an easy pace.  Loop 1 is always just getting to know the course.  Which, I discovered, was extremely varied.  It was a 2.5 mile course in a park – not exactly a loop, but more an out and back where the back came back on a lower path than the out.  Within the first mile, there was a gradual perhaps .5 mile uphill followed by a fast down.  The course included sections that were dirt and crushed gravel, that were sidewalk, pavement, grass, and the final .3 of a mile was a short rocky and uneven trail.  I actually enjoyed the variety quite a bit. 

The first 50 miles of this race were very different than the first 50 at ATY.  First of all, I intentionally took it slower.  It was my theory that by going slower at the start, I’d have more in reserve for the end.  I also hoped to minimize the nausea which has seemed to become an inevitable part of my racing by not going out as hard.  My entire body felt better on this run – my feet were in good shape, I had no nagging aches or pains, and I felt the pace was maintainable.  The one issue I was a bit concerned about was occasional bouts of sharp stabbing gut pain.  This was particularly worrisome because the 2.5 mile course only had porto potties in one spot, so if my gut decided to rebel suddenly on the outer loop, I was kind of sunk.

Turned out…  I was kind of sunk.  8 or so miles in, the gut emergency hit.  The next 1.25 miles to the porto was an exquisite kind of torture.  At the porto potties my gut went crazy.  I spent some quality time in the little blue telephone booth, left, and immediately trotted back in.  Trot being the operative word.  Medications were in order. 

I always travel with Pepto Bismol, and that was my go to.  It was amazingly revolting – and I ended up with a little ring of pink chalkiness around my mouth – but it did the trick.  The pain and the trots both subsided relatively quickly.  Alas, not so much the nausea.  As I continued on the course I realized I was at the point of needing nutrition but my stomach felt just locked up and nothing sounded good.  I started losing a bit of energy and just focused on getting calories how I could.  Which pretty much was the occasional ginger ale with ice, and 4 orange slices during the first 24 hours.  I texted BJ and told him this wasn’t going to be a PR race – which was fine by me because it wasn’t the goal.  But, nausea aside, I was enjoying being out there and had no intention or wish to leave the course.  I just wanted to be able to eat at some point.

The night passed and it was lovely.  It got cold and we all bundled up.  I was thrilled to see Marisa finish strong in the 15 hour and change mark.  I realized that I was on track for a PR 100 – however, my energy stores were low and I thought I’d be better served by a short lie down than by chasing a 100 mile PR.  I went down for 20 minutes, and a couple of hours later decided I needed more, so took 90 more minutes off course sleeping.  This is more than I normally do in a 48, but it was what my body seemed to need.  My general mantra is to not lie down if I’m not going to actually sleep – but I did sleep both times.  I think it was a good call, because getting up from the second nap I had fresh energy.  I was able to get my pace back down into the 12’s and 13’s for a while.  
Stunning Sunrises


As it almost invariably does, dawn brought fresh energy and hope, as well as the knowledge that I was about halfway into this thing.  Despite the dawn, though, I was battling a calorie deficit and was starting to feel a little bit woozy.  Perhaps around mid-morning I saw Connie Gardner, returned to the course showered and pretty after hitting an age group mark in the hundred.  She adopted me for a bit, asking what I needed.  For the life of me, all I wanted in the world was a vanilla milkshake.  I needed calories and still nothing seemed palatable.  Passing Connie she asked how I was doing and I told her I didn’t feel right.  “Not right how?”, she asked?



“I don’t know.  Not right.  I just don’t feel good.”

She helped me put my feet up and asked what I had eaten.

“4 orange slices and some ginger ale…”

Well.  Clearly that spelled it out.  Connie and Susan Hui scouted around looking for food that my stomach would accept.  We finally found a little chocolate pop-tarty thing filled with peanut butter.  It tasted dry as hell and I had a hard time washing it down, but my stomach thought it was OK.  What’s more, it brought me critically needed energy.  I got back out on the course with renewed purpose.

The high point of the morning was seeing Marisa Lizak at the awards ceremony.  She had followed through on our brief verbal exchange in the middle of the night and… brought me my milkshake!  She ran it over and I gave her a big hug of congratulations and extraordinary gratitude.  It was the best milkshake of my life.

Now that I had a good 700 cool frosty calories of sweetness in me, the game was on again. I was moving smoothly and steadily and the day just ticked by.  I was thrilled that despite the fact that the weather had been forecasted to be warmer than the previous day, the cloud cover made the sun seem less intense.  The day was pure pleasant – at least as pleasant as day 2 in a 48 can be.  Sooner than I would have expected, night came again.  I didn’t have to bundle up for a while because night 2 was warmer than night 1 had been.  Eventually I got cold enough to need tights and a fleece, so threw those on.  The best thing (besides the milkshake) about day 2 was that my stomach had loosened up and I could finally eat without feeling nauseated or having anything hurt.  My favorite aid station food was cheesecake bites, and also a little cup of Chef Boyardee ravioli.  Salty squishy digestible yumminess.  I did discover a bit of a foot problem though.  As I was running, I started feeling a burning localized pain in my left foot.  Taking off my socks and shoes I realized the dryness of the course had sucked all of the moisture out of my feel and left them painfully dry and cracking.  I had foolishly forgotten the Run Goo so took this time to slather it on and start healing my poor feet.


I had moved into first place overall sometime late in the daylight on day 2.  Behind me in the female field were my new Seattle buddies Jess Mullen and Jill Hudson.  Jess was moving astoundingly well considering she was only 5 weeks out from a stunning 10 day debut at ATY and Jill was on her way to a resounding 48 hour PR at 48, also only 5 weeks out from a 6 day.  I was also truly enjoying all of the other runners on the course.  Perhaps more than any race I’ve been to so far, with the possible exception of ATY, I had many friends on the course, who always perked me up.  Tammie Massie, who generously lent me an extra headlamp when my batteries died; Rachel Entrekin, who was well on her way to killing the 24.  Fast Eddie, looking for an 80-84 age group record; Bill Dickey – encouraging word every lap.  Kim Sergeant, Kit, Shirley and Mark – Tracy Thomas during the first part of her hundred.  I’m sure I’m missing folks but all helped move me along. 

Night 2 was just steady movement through the night.  I was confident in my ability to get through the night.  My ups were getting bonky – I had a pretty steady run walk going on, but I needed to shake up some of the run spots because what had worked yesterday was not working today, and was spiking my heart rate into the 150’s.  The night moved along – I had more ravioli.  I had texted BJ with my goal of 180 – he told me, if I could, to shoot for 300K which was 187.  That seemed doable and I set my sights on that.  2 hours before the end I knew I was not only going to hit 300K, but would see 190.  I was happy with that.

I spent my last lap on the course will Jill – which seemed fitting as 2 out of my last 3 long training runs were with her in Seattle races.  She is one of my new very favorite people.  And, even more wonderful, right before we hit the finish line, Jess Mullen jogged up behind us, so the 3 Seattle babes finished together in a sweep – first, second and third place women.  It… was amazing.


This race gave me everything I was looking for.  My only goal in the race was to stay the course –which I did with relative joy.  I found my multi-day again.  By moving away from a big mileage goal, I was able to get out there and enjoy the people, the course and the experience – and still do pretty well mileage wise.  There will be other races for big numbers.  This was not that.  This was Elvis and showgirls, a Pink Cadillac and cheesecake bites.  Las Vegas dry sunshine, hills, rocks, beautiful sunrises and sunsets and lots and lots of ducks.  A rolling fall on the rocky part of the trail, watching the 100 miler fasties hit their records; running into the finish with friends.  This race was why I do this thing.

A Tale of Two Races.  The one that wasn’t, and the one that was.  I think I needed the first to get to the second.  In any case, it happened and I can never take it away.

But I’ve found my multi-day again.

Thank goodness.


Seattle Badassery








Thursday, October 24, 2019

Running with the Gods - Spartathlon 2019


Spartathlon - this way...


It was a race I had never even really considered.  

I came out of my 6 day race last New Years a changed runner.  The race had been physically grueling, but even more challenging was the mental recovery.  For weeks – perhaps months afterwards, I felt conflicted about my relationship with running.  I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go with it, and it seemed in some way meaningless.  I was signed up for 6 Days at the Dome, but mentally I knew I wasn’t ready to go back and take on another 6 day that soon after ATY.  I sent out a plea on Facebook asking for races that might ignite passion.  I wanted shorter; I wanted different; I wanted new and exciting and something that was not in a loop (although I love those).  I wanted a journey.

Bob Hearn suggested Spartathlon.  He used a gentle touch… just put in the application, he said.  Even if you get accepted, you don’t need to make a decision until May.

Hmmm.  Why not.

I was at work one day and saw a text on my phone from Bill Schultz.  He was congratulating me on making the team.

Whaaaaa????


I jumped online and saw Emily Collins’ Facebook post with the team pick.  Oh.  My.  God.  I was on the US Spartathlon team.  If I wanted it.

I wanted it.

I completed the paperwork; I put my money down…  and then, I began to get worried.

I am not fast.  The early cutoffs, I knew, were brutal.  Despite the fact that it has a 36 hour cutoff for the full 153 miles, the 50 mile cutoff was at a mere 9 hours 30 minutes.  My 50 mile PR at that point was a 9:10, and I’d only done that once.  And from what I’d heard, some of the early cutoffs were even worse.

There was every chance I would not be able to finish the race… not because I couldn’t do 153 in 36 hours, but because I might not be able to do 50 in 9:30.

A plan was in order.


Training


I lined up a coach.  Shannon McGinn graciously agreed to coach me toward my goals for this event.  I started keeping a training log, which she reviewed and critiqued each week.  She urged me to build in more hills, and to work in some speed training, both of which I did.  Hills I enjoy and tackle joyfully but speed is another thing.  Fortunately I had started regularly running with my friend Katie on Mondays and Tuesdays.  Katie is fast.  On Katie days, I’d usually run about 5 or 6 miles starting at 3:30 am and meet her at 4:45 – she’d join me for 10 miles and I’d do the last 3 on my own.  These days became my tempo runs, and Katie’s slow runs.  Win win.

In addition to the regular running, I decided to throw in a 12 hour race over the summer and try to get as close as I could to 70 miles.  My usual strategy is to never run uncomfortably, but I knew to meet those cutoffs I’d need to be uncomfortable, so the plan was to run as hard as I could sustain for 12 hours.  Katie came to Ethan Allen with me and I managed to hit 67.9924 (WTF? hoping for 68) miles.  It was good enough for the win, but even better, met my goals of a hard long run.  I started feeling more confident.

Also starting mid-July, (after a year of BJ urging me to do so), I started run commuting.  This gave me the benefit of both being able to get in a few more miles, a bit more sleep, and some good downhill practice on the last 2 miles every day into DC.  

The final pivotal workout was a run with Larry Huffman.  In preparation for his Cascade Crest race we went over to Maryland Heights trail to get in some vert.  Each loop was about 3.8 miles - 1.9 up up up with 1200 feet of climb, then down down down over terrifying rocks and roots.  Our plan was 5 loops to get in about 18 miles with 6K of climb.  On loop 3 I went down, and shortly after, rolled my ankle.  There was a golf ball sized lump on the outside of the ankle later that evening, but I was thrilled to find on my run the next day that the ankle didn’t bother me at all.  My quads, on the other hand…. Clearly got what they needed. It took a few days to reap the rewards, but reap them I did.


The World Crashes in


Everything was feeling like positive forward momentum until I went to work one day 4 weeks before the race and to my gut wrenching surprise came home without a job.  It was as if my entire world had crumbled.  The air was sucked out of the room as I learned of this, and I felt a ringing in my ears.  It seemed impossible that just when I felt as on top of the world as I ever had with my running, something like this could happen.  At that moment I didn’t see how I could possibly do the race.  Suddenly the only priority in my life was to become employed as quickly and as gainfully as possible.  

Once again I became quickly confused about my running.  Because the job loss had come as I continued to build up the running, the two became connected in my head and it was almost impossible to feel positive about running.  On the other hand… it is what I do.  A new routine quickly developed.  Get up early, head out for 20-22, and come home and apply for jobs.  All day.  Generally until bedtime.  Get up and do it again the next day.  And the next. 

After 2 weeks of this existence, the payoff started to come in the form of interview requests, and I started being able to breathe again.  I made the decision to continue the race despite the poor timing, and just work the job search in and around the trip. 

Headed to Greece


Sooner that I could have possibly believed, it was just a week before the race and I actually needed to plan and pack.  It had been a big decision point whether to get the vacation part done before or after the race.  I had ultimately decided to do it before, mostly because it would use up 1-2 less vacation days.  Which turned out to be a moot point, but that’s how it was that we left for Greece a full week before the race was to start.

We spent 2 days exploring Athens, another 2 hanging out on one of the islands, and then headed back to Glyfada to check in to the race hotel.  Seeing all the other runners arrive and heading over to registration, for the first time the reality that I was going to do this thing really started to hit.  I adopted my usual tactic, which was to ignore that fact for as long as possible.


Checking Out the Acropolis


BJ and the Ruins

Aegina Island was famous for pistachios

Top of Mount Lycobettus




Bob Hearn had graciously agreed to crew me, as he had just done the Dome several weeks earlier and knew he wouldn’t be running this year.  I was thrilled beyond belief to have his expertise and love of the course as a guiding force.  Interestingly I didn’t know Bob well at all prior to the race.  I had only just met him in person at D3 when I went as a fan, and then BJ and I helped to crewed him at the Dome.  I certainly got to know him a bit at the Dome, but those 2 events were the only times I’d seen him.  


Bob arrived around 10 on Wednesday night.  We talked for about an hour, then met for breakfast and a short run the next day.  Bob, BJ and I went sightseeing to Poseidon’s Temple for the day on Thursday, which allowed me to ignore the impending race for a few more hours.  And then it was pre-race meeting time and dinner, and there was no ignoring anything.  


A trip to Poseidon's Temple



Bob brought down the list of cut-off times along with “slow times” and “fast times” for me to follow.  There was an aid station every 2 miles, and each one of those stations was a potential cut-off point.  I gulped as I looked at the “slow” arrival time versus the cutoff.  As an example, the first aid station was at 2.4 miles.  Bob gave me a “fast” time of 20 minutes to arrive there, a “slow” time of 26 minutes, and the cut-off itself was 30 minutes.  Considering I often will start the first few miles of a long run or race in the 11’s, I realized I’d be arriving somewhere between slow and cutoff.  Each and every cut-off point was terrifyingly close to my normal “slow easy” pace.  Ok then.  I had to run faster than that.  For 50 miles.

Game on.

Race Day

I slept amazingly well, and we headed down to our 5am breakfast.  It was relatively light – which was good.  I’ve been known to eat too heavily before a race which can lead to some early discomfort.  We drove over to the race start and started milling around at the base of the lit-up Acropolis waiting for race start.  The amount of energy was incredible, and it was special to see all the different teams sporting their country’s uniforms. 


Bob urged me to get as far to the front as possible, noting that cutoff times were based on gun time and not chip time – I could potentially lose a few precious minutes fighting the crowd.  I got myself as far up to the front as possible.  And….  It was go time.  There was a 3-2-1 countdown and off we went down the cobblestone path.


The first mile, I was thrilled to learn, was all downhill alongside the Acropolis. Despite the fact that usually my first mile is always 10:30-11 or so, this one was in the 9’s.  As was mile 2.  As was mile 3.  Hmmmm.  This was not like me.  It also seemed like taper had worked – my 5 mile days for the past week plus an abundance of hydration gave me comfortable speed I didn’t usually have.  



I hit the first aid station well before the cutoff and kept going.  Shortly after the Acropolis we headed into a much more industrial station.  There were lots of early morning commuters out, and we ran for a ways along a busy road filled with cars, trucks, some unattractive landscape and quite a few fumes.  I don’t have a good sense of how long this terrain lasted.  We got to the second aid station and again I was still in the 9’s and still easily within the cutoff.  It might have been shortly after that that I found myself running with Nadia from Belgium.  Nadia had run the race before and had timed out shortly after the mountain.  Her goal this time was to finish.  


We ran together comfortably for miles and miles.  It turned out Nadia spoke 7 different languages.  A German joined us for a bit and she spoke to him in German.  Alex from Mexico was with us on a beautiful section overlooking the water and she chatted easily with him Spanish.  I just ran, grateful to have the company.


I was actually pretty happy with the weather so far.  Everyone had talked about the brutal heat, but it still felt like it was only in the low 80’s, not too humid and there was a breeze.  After the sticky swamp that was DC running in the summer, it was pleasant.  


The marathon point was the first place where I’d be able to hook up with my crew.  I was really looking forward to seeing BJ and Bob although at this point I didn’t need too much aid.  I flew into the aid station and it took a minute for Bob and BJ to see me.  Bob did not look happy.  “You are 17 minutes ahead of the fast time!” he chastised.  


“Yeah – I know – but it’s OK – I ran comfortably” I said perkily.  He remained worried and urged me to take more walk breaks (I hadn’t actually taken any) in order to slow down a bit.  I sucked down a cold soda, and Bob and BJ cooled me down just for a second with the ice in a bowl they’d gotten, and I headed off.  I’d lost Nadia in the aid station, but I thought that might not be a bad thing…  It was possible she had been pulling me a bit, and without her next to me I was in less danger of going too fast.


Out of Athens the views improved...
The next 24 miles continued to go well.  By mile 47 or so it was started to get really hot.  I started to build in little walk breaks and jog a bit slower since I was well ahead of 9:30 cutoff at 50 miles.  My primary race goal – the one thing I thought I had to do here – was to get to the 50 mile point and beat the cutoff.  I always figured if I could do that, I’d have it made.  I could take it a bit easier for the rest of the race and just run my “Amy” running and get it done.  

But it was, as I said, getting hot.

Coming into Corinth was like joining a big party.  It was only the 2nd time I was able to see my crew (I’d be able to see them much more frequently after this), and at this point I was in need of nutrition and cooling.  Bob and BJ were there waiting for me with my liquid nutrition – they had been unable to find protein drinks, but had found plain Kefir.  This certainly seemed to go down more easily than any of the pretty dry food at the aid stations.  I was starting to feel nauseous so definitely planned to go a bit more easily after 50.  




Those first few post-50 miles were great.  I felt euphoric – I had passed the worst of the cut-offs – they all got easier from here on in, and I was still feeling good.  For about 5 miles.  At which point I started feeling decidedly not good.  Nausea was coming in waves and sapping my energy. 2 miles from the 58 mile aid station where I could meet Bob and BJ again, I did the entire mile at a walk.  I texted BJ to let him know I was going to need something for nausea, and more chocolate milk and seltzer to get some calories.  In just a few miles I had gone from feeling on top of the world to feeling like I might drop.  It didn’t feel as if I could muster the energy to keep going.


That next aid station was pivotal.  I sat for 10 minutes while Bob and BJ attended to cooling me down, helping with nausea and getting some fuel into me.  I got something for my stomach, drank some seltzer and chocolate milk, and bathed my head, arms, neck and wrists in ice.  I headed out already feeling much better, and within about 20 minutes I had found my happy place again.  I trotted on in complete contentment.  It was getting cooler and I felt considerably recovered and ready to tackle this thing again.


Gearing up for night time


I have to say I don’t remember a whole lot from the 100K mark to the 99 mile mark.  There was one section Bob told me about saying it was a really long dirt road climb – probably steep enough that walking would be idea.  Then I’d have a good down for quite a while – until I got to the base of the mountain.  The dirt road was indeed a bit of a climb.  I saw some folks trying to run it, but I was content to largely power hike it knowing there was a down on the other side.  That dirt road climb seemed to go on and on, but eventually I got to the top and started running down.  The view on the way down was great.  First of all, the down seemed to go on forever.  Second of all, way off in the distance was a string of lights – which I figured was my destination.  Which indeed was the case.


It was dark and there were sparking lights and I was feeling good.  Dark can be a magical running time for me.  During my normal life, most of my running is in the early morning dark.  I draw strength from the dark coolness, and the lights in the distance added a sense of allure and magic. 


I knew from Bob that somewhere around mile 94 I would start climbing – there was going to be about 2000 feet of climb over 5 miles, and then I would be at mountain base.  He suggested I walk the section up to the mountain, which I did.  By and large most of the field was power hiking this section, but there were a few beefy women who passed me and I was wondering whether I’d be better off running.  Maybe next time.


Even with the slow ascent, eventually I reached mountain base, where BJ and Bob were waiting to send me off.  It would be 7 miles before I saw them again – and I didn’t quite realize what a long 7 miles it would be.  Bob walked me up to the start of the real climb.  I looked up and saw a string of red lights which appeared to go straight up, and I swore like a sailor. Over 1000 feet of gain in a mile… but what made it even more challenging was the terrain.  It reminded me of the “Roller Coaster” section of the Appalachian trail.  Rocky and uneven, lots of loose gravel.  The trail itself was perhaps 5 feet wide, and on the right there was a ribbon strung between poles demarcating the edge of the trail.  It was certainly not a ribbon that would prevent anyone from falling off the edge, and I took care to stay as close to the inside as possible.  I wouldn’t describe the edge of the trail as a cliff per se – but it was steep enough that serious damage could be done by falling, and I took care not to do that. 
The Mountain



My legs were pretty tired at this point, and the footing, for me, as a road racer, was challenging.  I took the climb as conservatively as I could – which is to say, at a snail’s pace.  That first mountain mile took me 40 minutes.  As predicted, it got colder as I approached the top, and was downright chilly at the summit.  Fortunately I had put on warm gear at the base so I wasn’t overly cold.  I took about a 5 minute rest at the top – the volunteers wrapped me in something warm and I just sat for a few minutes until I was mentally ready to head down.  And down I went.

I had been led to expect that I wouldn’t be able to run the down, and that was absolutely true.  Although the trail seemed wider on the way down, the surface was covered with scree – loose rocks that just skittered all over the place when you landed funny on them.  I carefully picked my way down, looking for good footing – but every once in a while just skidding several feet forward.  I did not like this at all.  I heard some male voices behind me – they were laughing and having a good time.  I wasn’t sure if they were racers or hikers but what I WAS sure about was that they were laughing at my overly cautious descent.  Then, to my left, I saw a nimble runner just bounding like a jackrabbit over this killer terrain.  Lightfooted and swift, he was making this mountain his own.  I was pretty sure it was Andrew Snope – one of the Americans and a skilled and fleet trail runner.  I was envious of his magical descent as I arduously ground my way downward.


Eventually I reached terra firma again – which is to say, paved road.  I wasn’t sure how much run my unhappy quads had left in them, but I had lost enough time on the mountain that I had to try.  I broke into an easy trot and was thrilled that it felt just fine.  I had a few miles to go before I’d see Bob and BJ again but now that the mountain was behind me, I pretty much felt I was up to anything.  The 3 road miles passed quickly enough and I finally got to see my crew.  I had taken so long on the mountain that BJ was really worried.  Bob, on the other hand, knew the terrain I was facing and was pretty calm.  Going into the mountain I had been about 90 minutes ahead of cutoffs – coming out, I’d lost 20 minutes of that gain.  However, I had a bit of down in front of me and took full advantage of it.  Bob was amazed, after two aid stations, when I made up almost all of that 20 minutes.


After the mountain, there was a pretty long stretch of gentle winding and rolling country roads.  Bob had told me he hated that section because it was always super dark and not as well marked and he just zoned out and got lost a few times.  However, it was getting light as I approached that section, as I was much slower than Bob, and in the misty dawn, I adored that section.  Although the day was supposed to get hot, the morning was cool and foggy.  The country roads and the little towns reminded me amazingly of Cooperstown, New York where I had discovered long distance running.  That was one of my favorite sections of the entire course.  I was feeling good and strong and all my previous nausea had dissipated.  I was able to start eating more at the aid stations, and even though there were 35 or so miles to go, I was smelling the barn.


Sometime around 11am the sun suddenly and ferociously came out.  It went from cool and pleasant to blazing hot in a heartbeat.  More of the aid stations seemed to have ice available than on day 1, which was a relief.  I started trying to estimate my finish time based on miles to go.  


My Happy Place


Day 2 early afternoon was just steady hot progress.  Not much to comment on.  I recall a bit of up, and switchbacks.  Had to stop at least once to find some bushes for a potty stop. (Did I mention there were zero porto potties?  Or if there was one or two, they were very well hidden).  I recall going up a hot sunny hill and seeing blackberries growing on the side of the road.  I picked some and ate them and forged on.  Sometime with about 30 miles to go, Bob told me “this is where your race starts…  you are a multi-day runner.  This is where you get stronger.  Run steady on the flats and kill it on the downs.”  


So that is what I did.  Dug deep, pulled out some giddy-up, and got going. And started passing folks.  


It was hot.  Really hot.  I added a bit of mileage on to my run by crossing the road every time there was an opportunity for shade.  Doused myself with water at every aid station.  Ran on.  The next time I saw Bob, he said “you were 20 minutes faster than we expected you! “  


I said “I’m doing what you told me to do…”


Mid to late afternoon I reached the magic aid station.  Once again BJ and Bob were there.  Bob said “just go to the top of this hill, cross over the timing mat, and then it is all downhill.  For the next 13 miles. “  


Down.  13 miles of down.  


Bliss. 


Off to my right there were craggy Alp-like mountains that reminded me of a scene from the Sound of Music.  There were gentler mountains in front.  The road wound down switch backing through little picturesque towns.  I got one more opportunity to see Bob and BJ about 6 miles from the end.  I was starting to feel nauseous again and I told them I was probably going to take it slow.  Bob said “you have a sub 34 in you, but not if you don’t run.”  Sub 34.  I liked the sound of that.  I picked up a trot and headed out to the last 6.
I saw Emily Collins about 3 miles before the end.  It was wonderful to see a friendly face. 
Coming in with Bob
She looked as hot as I felt.  We exchanged hellos and I forged on.   Down into Sparta now, and it was getting more congested.  I was running on sidewalks, over a bridge.  I knew I had about 2 km to go.  I was still throwing in some walk breaks because I wanted to make it to the finish strong and I was pretty sapped from the heat.  A more crowded street.  People cheering.  Arrows pointing to the right.  Very crowded now and I see Jean Louis Vidal who gives me a big hug.  Bob is running towards me – I am almost there.  I am so very very happy to see him.  I run on with Bob toward BJ and the finish line.  There is the station.  There is the timing mat.  I cross it… I am done.


I am done.  All that is left is to kiss the statue, drink of the chalice and receive my crown of laurels.



Crossing the Bridge into Sparta



Getting Crowned

Epilogue

17 Americans started the race.  8 of us finished.  I was thrilled to finish 3rd American, in 33 hours, 56 minutes.  


Hanging with Emily Collins post race

This race...  it is special.  I had expected that if I reached 50 and made the cut-offs, the rest would be smooth sailing.  Instead, this was, perhaps, the hardest race of my life.  I worked hard for a much higher percentage of time than I usually do for this distance.  But the rewards... ah, the rewards.  This race is living in my heart.  The whisper of ancient ruins in the dark... the thrill of climbing mountains, of running where the Gods once played, of being part of a race that includes participants from all over the world.  The friendships, the constant sense of discovery, the climactic and theatrical finish- there is no other race like this.  I will be back.

I have so many people to thank for their contributions to this effort.  My husband BJ who inspires me to bigger goals than I ever think I'm capable of.  My running hero, Bob Hearn, who graciously lent me his wisdom, expertise, experience and incredible knowledge of running.  My running partners Katie and Larry.  My coach, Shannon.  My family, who support me in this crazy pursuit even as they scratch their heads in puzzlement.  I could not have done it without all of you.


Post Race with my crew

Mayor's Luncheon

Bob and "The Beast" - Andras Low, 21X finisher

Big Bad Bob

Me and my running hero - Bob Hearn