Monday, November 6, 2017

2017 Mountain Masochist 50 Miler Race Report

Mountain Masochist

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Monroe to Montebello, Virginia


This past Saturday was my fifth Masochist. I went back and forth on whether or not not to register until a friend nearly twisted my arm to get me to sign up. Brenton said it would hurt my Hellgate race in December, I worried not running Masochist would hurt my Hellgate. In the end, for better or worse, I couldn't bear the reality of skipping MMTR if I could run it.

And I tried to talk myself out of it. Really I did. Between a nagging calf injury that just won't quiet down from Iron Mountain and a depressing month of October that included the passing of my grandmother, I was still ready to sit it out come Friday morning the day before. But it just felt like haunts from my childhood returning, where I quit before ever having to try. In an ongoing effort to be a better version of me I didn't want to not try. I wanted quite the opposite, I wanted to go hard.

But training hadn't gone as planned. I didn't think there was even a shot at a PR and I was nervous that I could even pull off a 9:30 on the training I had. So what did I do? I went to my log books from 2012 when I had never run a 50 miler, when I had even less of an idea of what I was doing. I didn't run mega miles or much track work. But I wanted something. I went for it. That was my one and only plan for this year's MMTR, just try.

I didn't run for ten solid days before MMTR, I thought little about the run, I didn't look up who else was running with the exception of a friend sharing the seeds with me, I didn't break down splits, I didn't plan my nutrition, I didn't make a list of reasons I could do it. I had just a few simple thoughts. I have experience, I know I can run Masochist. I want to be someone my children can look up to, I want to do my best whatever that meant. I wanted to test myself mentally and win.

I didn't set out clothes or measure a single bag of tailwind until 10 pm Friday. I didn't let top 10 worry me, but thought if I could pull off 9:30 I could do top ten and get a nice jacket. I scrambled in less than 20 minutes to gather all the gear I would need for a ten hour day. Chelsie told me earlier in the week that I was tough. I like the idea that I could be tough. And as little as I wanted to run 50 miles on Friday when I went to sleep I knew I would run 50 miles the next day.

This is not to suggest I was in a bad place, in many ways it is the opposite. I vowed to not let my head get the better of me. I knew my training wasn't where it has been going into previous MMTR's, I knew that my calf was a threat, I knew that my own self doubt was a bigger threat. I went into the weekend trying to hold on to the idea that I can do hard things in spite of all of that heavy self doubt. I had a good time with good friends on Friday evening at the dinner at Camp Blue Ridge, saying hello to friends from near and far. It is mainly this, I focused on, that brings me back. I love these people.

Saturday I was up at 4:30 am, quickly got dressed and went to eating. I ate four slices of Cinnamon Toast, something I think I only ever eat anymore before MMTR. It begins with eating, I told myself. Todd got the kids up who were all coming out to crew for the first time. They've volunteered before and a few have crewed but never all four. I was looking forward to having them out there, I figured they would help me hold my head together in any low spots at aid stations. Kevin Corell met us here at 5 am and we loaded up and headed to the KOA in Amherst.

We pulled in behind the Wilson's and went to check in and fit in restroom breaks. I wasn't nervous. I wasn't ready to run so long and hard but I wasn't unsure either as confusing as all of that sounds, it makes sense to me. I knew the goal was 9:30 if I could make it. I trusted if there was a way I would find it.

We were off before we were even able to grab a group Blue Ridge Trail Runners photo. I had my Mountain Hardwear vest stocked with an iPod and a few gels and a 20oz. bottle of Berry Tailwind. I had a new Storm headlamp and an old buff. Pretty soon I realized it was too warm for the buff and pulled it off before we had run a mile.

As expected with me, I didn't feel good on Pera Road. Everyone always seems to be racing and even though I am wearing a bib I never seem to have the legs for that first power haul. I tried to settle in and not care but I will admit a time or two I felt a little huffy and perturbed. At the turnoff to the service road I thought I would find more of a 'flow'. But my forehead and new headlamp were struggling to work together and I must have adjusted that headlamp 150 times. It was at least distracting I suppose. Kevin Corell had been running with me from the start but then Steve Higgins showed up. We joked and chatted for a couple of minutes and I asked Steve if he had seen Jeremy Peterson that morning when Jeremy says "I'm right here." It made me smile that he was right there in the dark. I was happy to be running alongside fellow BRTRs. I was happy when the sun started to come up. I was happy when we made the right hand turn to the "loop" that takes you to aid one.

But then I met a rock and turned my foot and pulled something like a tendon in my left foot. It hurt. I met a few more rocks, I didn't remember the loop seeming so technical and rocky. I got a little sour. I felt like I was trying to push but I couldn't find my grove. I was focusing on the foot. Kevin mentioned something about taking ibuprofen. I knew I needed to shake whatever I was carrying off.

Coming into aid one I decided I was going to music early. I just needed the distraction. Kevin mentioned painkillers again and I told him my iPod was going to be my painkiller for the time being. Steve pulled ahead as the road began to climb. Rick Gray passed by with a cheery hello as always. I put my iPod on and stored my headlamp and told myself to get working.

It worked. Immediately. With my music in I knew I wouldn't make for good company, but today wasn't going to work out the way I hoped if I couldn't pull my head into the race. I ran up that road pretty good and in the next couple of miles I passed 7-8 females so I probably wasn't running quite as well as I thought in those first 8 miles.

I was moving pretty good for me and wondering how long it would take to get to Dancing Creek and see Todd and the kids. I couldn't remember what it usually takes but I figured just over two hours. I tried to pick it up a little more. I came into Dancing Creek at 1:55, I thought that was GREAT! I was stoked, my bottle of Tailwind empty, I was proud of me, I had gotten into the race, drank well and arrived before I thought I would. Crossing the creek Sean (my son) handed me a new bottle full of Tailwind and Todd yelled just drop your bottle I'll get it. Todd kept me moving right through the aid station. He was pushing me out and I was like "I feel good, I think I'm doing good?" and he says, "You're ok. You're doing fine. You need to keep moving."

I knew enough that ok and fine were not synonyms for great and amazing. I was a little bummed. I had to keep on moving, my mood was a little like the trail through here with slight up and downs, I took a GU and drank my Tailwind, my bottle was halfway gone by the time I reached Parkway Gate. I went over to the aid station looking for mountain dew, my first time that day when Allen, Blake's dad says, "You need to pick it up if you're going to win this thing." And I responded, "I'm not winning today so it's ok." and there was a little banter back and forth. Not my finest hour. But I really was trying. It was hard to hear suggestions that I wasn't doing better in people's eyes.

In the next mile or so I focused on the fact that I knew things others don't. I knew that I was trying, I knew I came in under trained, I knew expectation gets to me more than it should, I knew that I needed to keep working, that if I kept working it would all work out. I ran up to Robinson Gap well in my mind. I ran way more than I walked. I finished my bottle of Tailwind and took time to really take in the absolutely beautiful fall colors. I personally find Masochist falls at a perfect time of year, parts of that course, if the weather has been favorable, are absolutely stunning.

I got to Robinson Gap in 3 hours, in retrospect that is not my fastest. I filled my bottle with Mandarin Tailwind and drank some Mountain Dew. I left that aid station just behind two girls. They killed the downhill, I tried to stay close but knew that my legs couldn't stand too much a beating and hold up in the second half so I tried to balance between hard and sustainable. That was honestly a little slower than I would like to run in the future.

Rick Gray, Kevin and a female from Alexandria were running along the roads at a fairly quick pace as the road leveled out some and Horton drove up in his white truck, "First loser!" he said to me. I laughed it off with Horton and then told Kevin it was fitting that the first person all day to tell me where I was placement wise would be Horton.

Not long after I came into a primarily BRTR run aid station and Blake told me I was tenth but really tied with a few for tenth. He gave me a PSLC :) and I drank a little mountain dew. I left in a little group, it was Kevin, Rick, the same girl whose name I can't remember, Greg and Marc Griffin a little ways up. I was starting to think about what it would take to get to Long Mountain, the 'half way', in 4:30. I figured I would need to make the reservoir by 3:40.

We were running along and though I was keeping up I knew it was taking more out of me than it should and it didn't feel easy at all. But I was managing. Blake had told us that the Reservoir aid station was further up than usual so I was surprised to see a huge group where that aid station usually is, turns out it was the posse of crews minus the aid station. Todd told me I was looking better than Dancing Creek and that the front girls were falling off. I kind of figured that was him trying to be more motivating.  We swapped bottles and left right at 3:40. But then I was worried that 50 minutes wasn't enough time to make it to Long Mountain the way my legs were feeling.

I was very focused and driven but also a little nervous that I was using too much to make the halfway point in 4:30 and maintain the effort to get 9:30 for the day. I played with the math and figured I could slow down a little after long mountain. I started to play with splits for the rest of the day. I climbed slower than I would have liked and had to walk more often than pleased me. I took another GU, I drank my Tailwind. My legs just felt done.

I did the best that I could and made it to our van where Todd and the kids were on the south side of 60 at 4:31. I felt like I could just fall over, I didn't feel like I had another 24 miles in me. I didn't feel like I had 9:30 in me. I actually held onto the van door as Todd got me more GU and swapped bottles. I had a swig of Mountain Dew and Todd sent us on our way.

We left Long Mountain at 4:32, just up ahead was Shannon and Mike P. I called out to my long lost friend Mike P, he said Anna was killing it. He said he was feeling it. Grindstone being it. I tried to run up some of the uphill as I saw Shannon doing as she pulled further and further ahead. Todd had said I was still 11th. I didn't gain on Shannon, instead I started to fade. My hamstrings and calves were done. I was struggling with each step. I felt like I used too much energy on the first half and had been just about average if not slower than usual. I started thinking about how much time I had left in the day. What do I need to run 10 hours? Eleven hours?

I told Kevin I thought I should have eaten something more substantial at Long Mountain. He said I was doing really well. I feared that I was not. That I was coming unglued. The legs felt shot. I would have loved nothing more than to call it quits. I told Kevin my legs felt like I was at mile 80 of a 100 not halfway through a fifty. I felt done.

But I am not a quitter and I knew I could finish. I started to focus on what I knew. I knew that if my legs felt like this at mile 28 that they would feel even worse at Hellgate at mile 50. I needed to continue to push for Hellgate training. I knew I still wanted to feel I gave everything, no regrets. I wanted to feel that I left everything out on the course, and as much as I wanted to just quit I moved forward. Slow but forward. I wasn't going to quit on my goal of 9:30 figuring that would get me as close to my goal even if I missed it.  At Buck I filled my bottle up with water to top off the Tailwind in my bottle. I ate half a grilled cheese sandwich. It felt heavy on my stomach but I was also thankful for it. Kathleen Cusick passed me shortly after Buck and I asked her where she had been all day. I was still 11th or 12th. I felt like I was working very hard and not getting any closer to top ten. I told myself that didn't matter, just give it your all, that's all that you can do.

My legs felt heavy but I focused on staying together mentally. As much as I thought about being done I also really wanted 9:30 if I could. I broke down what I needed to get to the loop in and then run the loop in. At Wiggins Spring I got a hug from Jeremiah Clark and took 3 ibuprofen on the climb. I walked nearly every step of the climb to the loop. I was just focused on my legs giving me some relief, but instead my left calf was tightening up more and more.

I had wanted to get to the loop in 5:45 to give me 1:25 in the loop but I didn't have the legs, I felt like the sandwich had complimented the Tailwind nicely and figured that I needed more real food at the loop. There was a female ahead of me, I had played leap frog earlier in the race, I tried to push a little harder to catch her and work on my time to the loop that was not going to be 5:45. I started to see cars and people and that picked me up a little, the loop, while itself is a difficult part of the race, makes for about the biggest pick me up of the day in terms of people and aid. I made it to the loop in  about 5:55, I got some welcome hellos and mountain dew. Someone threw me a pierogi and Todd asked me who had passed me because I was still 11th. It was becoming frustrating to hear I was 11th but I just vowed to press on doing the best that I could.

With a pierogi in hand and a new bottle of Tailwind, I headed off into the loop. My legs felt heavy but they had felt heavy for ten miles or more now. The loop is tough, it always weighs me down, I made the decision to run it the absolute best that I could. Still gunning to be out by 7:10 so I could have 2:20 for the last miles to run 9:30. I started off well, that first mile or so is downhill or flat, why haven't I run better here I wondered? But after a mile or so there is more climbing, more technical rocky sections and that's before you turn to the summit to punch your bib at Mount Pleasant.

In the out and back I saw Anna Evans, Tracy Wu and 5 or 6 other females. In that same stretch I saw like 2 men. All day I was just running behind the top ten women and they were all running somewhat close together it seemed in the out and back. On my way back from the summit I felt like there were another ten women in the same stretch. I tried to not let any of that get to me, just push hard. And then my tight left calf started to cramp. I walked some flats and the rain started to fall, a cold rain. I knew it was only going to get harder.

I tried to run the downs in the loop better than I have, I tried to not let the damp, leaf strewn rocks shake my confidence but my legs were heavy and unstable. I kept at doing the best I could. The loop only seems to get harder the further into it you are. But everything must end and finally it did. I got back to the aid station at 7:06! I was thrilled! I had run the loop, to my knowledge the fastest I ever had and made up some time. I was in the aid station only briefly and knew I would have about 2:23 to make 9:30 which finally really felt possible.

I left with Kathleen Cusick and two girls were directly in sight running down the gravel road. I had grabbed three pierogies from Elisa at the aid station and was eating them and trying to stay with Kathleen. Gina Gilbert saw me and cheered, "yay, you're eating!" I had a lot of people tell me as I was leaving that this was my section, that I was going to finish well, that there were girls right ahead of me. Running down the road I told Kevin that I hated racing for a jacket. I want to run and run well, I want to do my best and get a good feeling from the day but I hate racing other girls. But then I couldn't decide if that is really true or I just know how much it takes and it's hard to get into doing it? I still don't really know that answer. I probably don't hate it. But it's hard and Saturday felt harder than usual to get into that top ten.

 I ran hard to keep Kathleen in sight, Kevin fell back and would catch up, I would look back but keep moving, I had the finish line on my mind. The rain fell harder and was colder. I wished I had gloves as my hands tingled and swelled. The rain made the running hard feel a little easier. Thankfully the cramps subsided. I passed a female and then shortly before Salt Log Gap I passed Kathleen.

I ran right through at Salt Log Gap but the hill just after brought me to a walk. I could see another male and female up ahead but my tight and aching calves made climbing miserable. I assumed leaving the loop I was still 11th so when I passed that third girl from the loop I assumed I was 8th, I had to keep working to stay ahead now. At the last aid station at the top of the road I filled up on water. I wanted to eat but I couldn't choose anything I wanted so I just left. I gave myself until 9 hours to hit what would have been the final aid station but wasn't going to be there this year.

At this point my legs were dead, but they had long been dead. I was running on the dream of going big and getting the best I possibly could from the day, despite not wanting to admit it to myself I wanted a jacket, but more so I wanted the top ten finish, I wanted a 9:30 because I fought and earned it even if I didn't train hard enough to 'deserve' it. I ate another GU and climbed the best I could, which felt pretty bad a time or two. Several times I wanted so badly to walk a flat or take a break but I just wouldn't let myself.

My calves were shot and yet I was happy to be running as hard as I felt I could possibly go. It was cold and foggy, it was fun in a sick sort of way. I kept telling myself that it didn't matter where I placed or what time it actually said on the clock but to not let up, drain every ounce I could.

I made it to where the last aid station would normally be at 8:38. I had 52 minutes to cover the last section. I told myself that even allowed for some cramping but to not let up until I cramped again so I pushed even harder. It wasn't fast, it was probably fairly slow, but I pushed until my lungs ached and yet my legs continued to carry me. I was thankful. I remembered Megan Stegemiller passing me through here in 2013 and told myself that it isn't over until the finish line. I thought about the summer and how I had been passed at the end of races, I pushed and pushed harder still.

I was so thankful for the turn from Spy Rock down to the fish hatchery to appear, it not only represents the end approaching but also gets steeper and so gravity helped the push even more. In a long straightaway I saw what I thought was a female way ahead. I knew the chances of catching her with a mile to go were unlikely but I thought it would be nice, I don't know that I have ever tried so hard in the 49th mile of any race before. I never gave a PR a thought, I just wanted to finish.

Crossing 56 I saw that it was indeed a female, just ahead of her yet another female or so it looked. The flat took some umpf from me but I didn't give up chase. I liked the new finish, it weaved along a creek and was somewhat a trail. There were two or three slick looking but otherwise fine bridges. Then there was the white tent, I was nearly done, I was so happy.

And then I saw the clock, it read 9:07, not once in the entire day had I given even one fleeting thought towards a PR. It had felt so hard, I had run eleventh or further back all day until after the loop, that I didn't even consider a PR. It was a good day, good for what turned out to be 7th female, a full six minute PR from last year when I had done much more focused training. I finished less than 45 seconds behind 4th place female. Top ten females finished within a half hour of each other all in under 9:20, that's the fastest MMTR for women that I've ever raced. I hadn't looked going in, didn't know if the race would be 'competitive', just figured isn't it always? I didn't want to know who I was racing against because I wasn't racing against anyone, not really.  But I did want to place as high up as I could and I can tell you it felt like a very hard day.

I am really very thankful for the day. I got more out of it than I ever expected. I knew I wasn't 'training' through but rather racing undertrained, I knew I would have to call on experience and my well of stubbornness and I did. It was the hardest 50 miler day I think I've ever had, which is good because it is also my PR at the distance. It gave me a little more confidence in the "I can do hard things" department.

It was a good time after like it always is, I enjoy the people, I love watching others finish, I love the bent over walking and the sharing of stories. I love a full calorie coke and warm lined crocs. My eye swelled up right after, it's a thing I don't understand and have been struggling with this summer and fall running, I think it's allergies but it only happens when running. But that couldn't even bring me down like it has been, I was on top of my own little cloud. I don't care what others think of my day, I know I ran to the very edge of my current fitness and that feels pretty darn good.

A big thanks to Todd and the kids for crewing me and to all the people who help to build me up and convince me that there's always more, that we could 'get better' because we are 'not dead yet'.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tB4Avdlz3lk

Monday, September 4, 2017

Dusting the cobwebs off and getting back into it.

Iron Mountain 30 miler

Saturday, September 2nd, 2017

Damascus, Virginia

"And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good."-John Steinbeck

The Most Rambling Race Report Ever. It does eventually get to the race. Eventually.

When we last left off here, I was in a downward spiral of uncertainty. Knowing I didn't want to give up ultra running or running in general but just a bit too much of self-doubt and perfectionism going on for survival.

It's been a slow moving process, but a half dozen good self-help books and listening to (read:believing in) the kind words of loved ones got me slowly turned around. We had a busy summer, a good summer, but a busy one. I was in pretty decent shape when the walls came tumbling down in February. By the time I got my shit together I was in less decent shape and moving into peak traveling time. I set a few, somewhat reasonable summer goals and let running be less of a priority and more of just who I am, what I do. Not all of me. Just part of me.

June and July were busy with trips to Home-school conventions, Highland Sky, Western States, the beach, Gettysburg, and Busch Gardens. One weekend in 7 I actually got training in, at the TWOT loop, where we were treated to the best weather so I felt more "fit" then I probably really was.

Finally August arrived. Weekends away ended and I returned to something that resembled routine. The goals I had set-forth at the beginning of summer, to be in good shape for Iron Mountain, had faded. I had long accepted that this particular summer was too busy for hard training and lofty goals. When asked a few weeks ago about goals I said 5:30 was my goal for the 30 miler. I have run the 50 at Iron Mountain 3 times but I've never run 'just' the 30, and I really do believe that further is 'my thing'. I don't have conventional 'speed' when it comes to running. I just feel and believe (and maybe is in part why it seems true?) that I can just keep running. I actually considered switching to the 50 just because going further just seems to suit me. But then I didn't really feel so confident in my ability to do 50 any better than 30 on the summer I had (with weekly mileage that looked as follows: 11, 46, 12, 32, 68, 30, 55, 23). Usually summer is a very consistent time for my running, this summer I felt like I was literally all over the place.

I did get a couple good weeks of running in late July and August. While we were busy on the weekends I made a point to try to stay consistent Monday-Thursday and when the weekends finally settled I got a couple good semi-long runs in which included the Lynchburg Half Marathon which was a good time to test out some fueling changes I am working on and to get in a good 'steady' effort run of nearly two hours. I was feeling better about myself, my life, my choices, my running, my relationships.

In general it has been a good time to be running for me. I have been running less (for me) but trying to enjoy the running more.  I have focused on not taking myself so seriously, not putting so much stock in what a race result suggests about me and trying not to worry so much that others have the wrong idea about me. I was so bound to this theory of myself in which I was only as good as a clock suggested, I was only so good if I felt everyone liked me, I was feeling less and less worthy all of the time and basically becoming less and less of what I wanted to be, which was a bright spot in the lives of the people I love. I was moving further and further away from any successes, further and further away from being the inspiring role model I want to be for my children, and further and further away from what I wanted to bring to trail running when I started up the Blue Ridge Trail Runners.

It hasn't been a sharp turn and now it's all on the up and up, it's been a hard focused effort. It's been fighting the voice in me that says I don't deserve, I am not worthy, it's been holding on to the little pieces of love and devotion I trusted and bridging those together to make a foundation to stand up again on.

I didn't know, or really care, what I was going to run time-wise at Iron Mountain. I knew I wanted to have a 'good day', I wanted to be as bright a spot as I could be to the people I love, I knew I wanted to believe in the training I had done and trust in myself the things I have come to believe, that I can be a smart, hard worker when I choose. I wanted to try and keep in check the things I have learned make me suffer most, namely perfectionism and comparison.

Thursday evening was the first time I had sat down and really thought about 'times' for IM. I put together a simple picture in my mind of the race and took out the 50 mile section. I figured I could run the creeper trail in 8:30-9 minute pace, climb at about a 15 minute pace and then run to Skull's Gap in about 3:06, I usually can pick up the second half so I figured I could run the return in about 2:23 as it was shorter. I had my mind set on a realistic, doable 5:29 with the hopes of picking up time if I felt good.

Friday morning I packed for the race which gets easier and easier all the time. It seemed to go so smoothly I was worried I had forgotten something big. When Todd got off after lunch we headed to Damascus, Virginia with our oldest, Cooper. Cooper loves the trail community every bit as much as we do and never turns down an opportunity to join us even if all we can promise is rain and a small corner of our camper (really just our old Honda with the seats removed).

We saw the Gilberts and Adcocks upon check-in and then headed over to have dinner with a good size group of the BRTRs who had come down. Sam Price had reserved the deck at the Old Mill Inn just over from the start/finish line. It was a serene location and felt like a family reunion. We stretched the whole length of the deck and there was a sign that said "closed for a private party", I don't like to think of us as a private party, I would rather think of us an open invitation party, but it still felt good to see so many join us in Damascus for a run that has stole my heart. It's fitting the two would find each other.

At first I felt ridiculously, oddly, nervous with so many people there. I have never been or seen myself as popular, never had a lot of friends, and even though it was Sam's thing it felt like Cheers, it felt like everyone knew my name, it felt strange and lovely and like I alone somehow would mess the whole thing up. And then I realized how selfish and big that made me seem, that I alone could wreck this thing suggested I was bigger than it. This couldn't be further than what I really believe, and just like that I felt calmer, more settled. I like these people. I just feel like if I could carry them around with me I could be ok anywhere. I think that's what family is all about.

After dinner we headed over to the camp, we had a few small conversations about the race and a few people asked me how I thought I would do. I told them I wouldn't win, but I wanted to run as well as I could and feel good about that. I thought I would run between 5:18-5:29. I drifted a bit around camp and finally went to our camper at about 10:30. I had a little trouble falling asleep but I slept ok considering once I did fall asleep.

Todd woke me up at about 6:30, I had packed everything I needed and a dead iPod I didn't before leaving town but I hadn't really 'readied' anything the night before. I was kind of a hot mess racing to get everything in order. I can be a little bit of an idiot. I managed to get myself together with the help of some delicious, world changing coffee that a Mr. Wade Stout delivered to me (at my selfish request of course). Only once I was ready to go over to the start from our camp did I realize EVERYONE and their son was already over at the start, kindly Kevin had stayed back to accompany me over.

I had all of about 6 minutes at the start area before we were off and running. I had only had about half of my coffee and a Softee Enteman's Powdered Donut for breakfast. Despite those donuts being, well, soft and delicious, I would have liked to have eaten better/smarter/more. Oh well. We were off and running. I started with Wade and Chelsie but then saw Todd just up ahead. I was kind of hoping (erroneously) that if I could stay with him on the Creeper I would maybe (not) hike up the climb after the first aid station with him.

I wanted to keep at or around an 8:30, my first couple were a little slower than that. My stomach wasn't loving me and I just honestly can feel a little blah starting out. The first 4.7ish of Iron Mountain are on the flat and somewhat monotonous Creeper Trail. Usually I don't mind, but Saturday morning they just felt like more work than fun. I did get a few quick hellos in with Dennis Coan, Tim Spaulding, and Robert Drinkwater. I mostly ran right beside or behind Todd, we chatted a bit and he wasn't loving the Creeper either. He told me to calm down about my stomach, it would be fine in a few miles (which proved true) and he saved me from bees at one point mid-way which kind of freaked me out a bit. Horton rode by us a time or two and told me near the end of the Creeper section that I was 7th female, I thought that way good. I stayed in sight of but behind Andy Rollins the whole way. We had sort of bit of backwards trash talking going into the race (that he may not even remember) about who would be slower on the Creeper. I said I would be, he said he would be, maybe it was a really clever way (because it worked) of keeping me behind him on the Creeper, but it was also the first of several 'games' I played all day.

I had made a target of running the Creeper in 45 minutes. It was a little shorter than I thought but I did it in a little over 42. I stayed with Todd through the first aid station there as you're crossing the road and going into and up the first trail climb, but he immediately pulled away. I was hoping my Tuesday hill repeats would help me, and they did, I felt better on hills than I have in a long while, but the man is a master of steep trail ascents. It's as though his legs were made for just that.

Fortunately, despite his pulling away on the climb, I felt pretty good. I felt like my repeats were paying off a little. I thought that the climb went on for a few miles but I really only felt like a mile and some of it was rolling or not very steep. Other than the first half mile or so there was some very runnable sections.

I felt good, I was running fairly smooth and comfortable but not easy. I saw glimpses of people I knew a time or two up ahead and just tried to remain in that range of effort. I was going to pay more attention to time and mile splits but I was feeling mentally pretty good and decided I didn't need the inaccuracies of Garmin to make me feel like less. I  was passed by a few runners and I passed a few runners but then fell in step with Holly Knight. She has such a sweet voice and is always so kind and friendly. We were running through a really lovely, rolling section of trail when we came to the first of the road crossings. I thought maybe that was where the aid station should be but she had run IM 30 last year and knew all too well where we were as she had mistakenly made a wrong turn there on the return trip in last year that cost her time and gave her extra 'bonus' miles.

We ran along until we did come, not much further along, to Tammy's aid station. Iron Mountain 50 2013 and Tammy will always hold a place in my heart. I got a quick hug and a cup of Mountain Dew and was out. There is a little climbing in both directions coming into and out of this aid station. but I really love the solid single track that is the Iron Mountain Trail. It's rocky in a few spots but most of it is just perfect trail running. I caught up with a few 50 milers and Dru Sexton told me that Todd was just up ahead. And just as I caught site of his Hawaiian shirt he was gone.

I suppose that was a little like a game.  I figured he heard Dru and had run off away from me. He tends to do that and I don't tend to mind. It's a way for him to pull me along. I ran from here pretty well, especially on some rocky downs, until I caught up with him. He said he was in the throws of outrunning his current fitness but he felt pretty good overall. About this time we started seeing 30 milers on their return trip. We were commenting on where Josh Gilbert would be when the first female and right behind her, Krista Offield. I wasn't surprised that Krista was right behind or with the leading female as I expected her to be up front and most likely win, but she was in fourth place overall and looking strong!

We still had a ways to go but it was fun to see where everyone was and a lot of this section is on downhill or rolling to even flat terrain. Todd and I made it to Skull's Gap together, I looked down and was delighted to see that I was 21 minutes ahead of schedule!! Running with Todd and not paying attention to a watch had paid off. I came in to the aid station, swapped bottles with Kevin who was crewing and took a few swigs of a Mountain Dew and was off with a half-hug from Cooper.

I left feeling good. They had said I was fifth female and I was feeling happy about being up on my time guesses. But then I was alone as Todd had hung back at the aid station. It was still fun to see the outbound runners and cheer them on, but now I was moving uphill and I didn't feel anywhere near as strong as the inbound runners had looked just a few miles before on this very same section. I walked more than I liked but I was still feeling pretty good overall.  Thankfully much of the climbing in the second half is over after a mile or two and the trail becomes more rolling once again.

Then I started playing leap frog with another runner. He stopped for a cramp then caught up and passed. He stopped to take off his shoe and then caught up and passed. He finally commented to me, just as I was going to joke with him, that he wasn't intentionally playing leap-frog. Fortunately for me, I like games, so it helped to pass the time. We leap-frogged a time or two more before he was done due to quad cramps.

Then I saw Doug up ahead, still climbing well. At this point I was beginning to assess my day. I felt good but not great, I thought I would likely run about 5:20 and thought I could maybe hold my 5th female spot that way. I felt I was fueling well on Tailwind and GU and figured it would be a good if not great day. I was completely contented in that. I wouldn't even turn on my iPod.

Doug and I came into Tammy's aid station at about the same time but I ran through. I had half a bottle left and figured I would be good to go. I saw Laura Duffy up ahead but I didn't really feel like I needed to race. Doug commented about me catching her and I told him that I wasn't sure that I wanted to get into a race.

But then a few things happened. Just as I was succumbing to this day I figured had been planned for me I slipped on some mud. Up until this point I felt pretty good. It was rainy and cool and didn't even seem as humid as the earlier miles had. But that slip in the mud instantly pulled or strained a muscle in my right calf. And it hurt. It hurt bad. It hurt to walk or to run. I started quickly to re-assess the day. Was I going to finish? Could I run 6 miles on this kind of pain? Was I going to half to walk it in I wondered as I pictured myself dragging my painfully limp leg across the last bridge to the finish line. I was sad but then, honestly, kind of angry. Here I had been ok with a good day and now I was in this pain. I took a few ibuprofen and decided that if it hurt to walk and it hurt to run I might as well run until it just became too unbearable to move forward. So I actually picked up the pace with the one focused thought of just getting it done and over with. It was no longer a fun, smooth day, it was now work.

And honestly at this moment, I had some good but hard thoughts. I thought about this same section of trail in 2013 wearing me nearly to the core and yet I overcame. I thought about who I want to think I am. A smart, hard worker. I don't know that it was smart per se to pick it up, but it was hard work and I felt good doing it. I pulled my iPod out and focused on making it to Damascus. I got a little worked up, in a teary but good way about being stubborn and being a fighter.

And quite honestly, it felt good to push through. It felt good to run hard. It felt good to feel like I was racing. It felt good to feel like I was flying down a trail, moving well. It felt good to be me. I caught up with Dennis and he said that third female was just ahead. I said I wasn't sure, and he said "You're the closer" and I thought, I like that name Sophie gave me, I want to be that person. And I asked Dennis is I could pass him and he said "of course" and there was just something so perfect about it that I can't really put into any better words. It just felt like a thing coming back that was gone and you didn't even realize how much you missed it.

I got a little worried about the calf getting worse and taking me down. But more than that fear was the want to try and see if I could maintain the momentum to the finish line. I caught third female and Andy Rollins and I got so excited when the trees began to thin and I knew the town was coming.

On the roads of Damascus I was caught between wanting to push harder and fearing my leg would just give out. But thankfully the legs cooperated through the town and on the short section of Creeper trail back to the finish line. I was pleasantly surprised that the clock said 5:07 running across the field. I was even happier that Cooper ran along the grass with me to the finish. I was done.

It's still in there, all the thoughts of this weekend. And I will likely be mulling them over for some time. I can tell you about the time before and the actual race but those last few miles were something else. I had forgotten what it felt like to really hurt and to really work and to want something. There is  clearly still some work to be done, like I suffer with the worry that it is selfish to want to be good if ultimately I want to be just a bright spot to the trail community. But I am working on that. I know that I want to be a good mother but part of that is having something for me, whether it seems selfish or not. That thing for me, my running, hopefully ultimately makes me better for them. I like to think that this is similar. I want to be the best that I can be for my loved ones, but part of that is realizing the best that I can be for me.

All in all, it was a really good, much needed weekend. So many friends had good days despite a few who didn't have very good days. Running the 30 allowed me more time to socialize with my tribe on Saturday even though it was rainy.I like these people, I like laughing and joking with them, I like playing games with them. I like that they take each other in and accept one another. And I really like that I have friends who bring me coffee :-)

-Alexis

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Desperate for a Deep Breathe: Holiday Lake 2017 Race Report

Holiday Lake 50k++

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Appomattox, Virginia

"And the darkness can come quick, the dangers in the anger and in the holding onto it"
-Alternate Routes

Let's jump right to it. I'm a head case, a basket case, a nut job, call it what you will. I am a dynamic disaster. I am my own worst enemy. I am responsible for my actions and my choices. My race at Holiday Lake was one of my worst thanks to a downward spiral of overwhelmingly negative self talk. That's the gist of it. For the more in depth side of it, keep reading.

Back in December, after Hellgate, I started getting asked what was next. Inspired by Alissa Keith and her performance at Hellgate I wanted to jump into training, give my all, work hard and improve. I chose Holiday Lake and decided that I wouldn't ever break the 4:50 time barrier if I didn't want it and go for it. I set my sights on a 5 minute personal best and told those who asked the plan.

I did a few tempo runs with Todd, Krista, Alissa and Kevin. I did track Tuesday with people who don't seem to mind that the weather is less than my age. I pushed hard a Wednesday evening or two. I didn't put too much emphasis on long runs, I focused on faster turnover and a bit more flat running. I enjoyed myself. I didn't hit more than 45 miles in any week after Hellgate and many were in the 30s but I didn't dwell on that. We got out only a couple of times to the course to run a loop and I didn't let it get to me that I didn't run faster than 2:23 for a loop. I had faster times, I could still hit my goal, or so (I thought) I thought.

Then race week came, and you may be surprised to hear that taper madness didn't come with it. There were pressing matters much more important. Like why do I hold in all of this anger, why am I not always honest about how I feel, why can't we just get along. Todd and I have had a rough year, a roller coaster of highs and lows but the week before Holiday Lake was about rock bottom. Fortunately a good kick in the butt by a few loved ones and we were finally climbing back out together, stronger. But that left little time for Holiday Lake worries.

Friday evening we went out to the pre-race meeting and dinner. Note to self, when you have done this once you have honestly done it enough. I couldn't eat, everything made me antsy, I wasn't good company. However, at one point Frank Gonzales walked over and we were just standing there, facing the rear of the assembled crowd and this happiness and calmness overcame me, but just for a moment.

I didn't prep for the race until 10 pm Friday and I felt like it took four minutes. Being my fifth Holiday Lake and a short (~5 hours) race it just seemed like there wasn't that much to prep. The weather forecast also looked favorably so there was less clothing and gear to worry about. I went to bed before 11 and was cautiously but optimistically awaiting the race.

Saturday morning I woke at 4:15 am, Todd got up and made me coffee and sent me on my way. He was very encouraging. I met Kevin and we rode to the camp in Appomattox together. He knew I was worried about my goal and he tried to reassure me that it didn't matter what I ran, only that I enjoyed it. We got to the camp and said a few hellos. I was nervous enough that I couldn't eat, I ate maybe three bites of oatmeal and about the same portion of a donut. My stomach was rocky.

 I headed over to the bathroom and waited in the long line to be only disappointed when my turn came. Waiting in line I had a chat with Krista about the race, I told her that she was going to do great but she maintained that she was under-trained. I told her that we always see each the other person better than we think when she tried to assure me that my track and tempo runs were going to pay off for me. I reminded her that she was right there with me on tempo Thursday and the previous Wednesday but she just brushed me off.

I was nervous, I had run track and tempo runs, pushed a few Wednesdays, all in the hopes of a few minute personal best. I know who I am (sometimes) I am not "fast". I know that fast is relative, especially at ultras, but Holiday Lake is not my strong suit unless it is covered in snow. I don't have natural speed, I have, if anything, a stubborn streak and endurance. I had a lot of friends saying encouraging things but I had, as it turned out, a lot more self doubt than confidence regardless of what my training log suggests.

For the first time ever I started near the front of the pack, I wanted good trail position, I wanted a good day. I wanted to run with Annie Stanley and found her in the pack but she ducked out of the group just before the race started when she realized she hadn't grabbed her water bottle. Instead I started out with Kevin, Marc and Justin. We were running too hard for me probably but it didn't feel too hard and so I hung. Mile one and two were good. I heard Justin talking about who would win and I wanted to speak up and tell him about a fellow Blue Ridge Trail Runner, Nick Reed, and how he was going to be a contender. Instead I kept quiet, it will be either way and speaking up wouldn't change that I decided.

I was moving along, happy to be running with Kevin and wondering how long I would stay with him when I realized my shoe, my double knotted shoe lace even, had come undone. I stopped just past the bridge as you enter the state park to tie it and Krista ran right by. I don't know why that bummed me out so bad, but her insistence that it was going to be just a run, that she was under trained and would under perform, surprised me to see her right behind me when I felt like I was pushing. But it was a race after all, we had bibs on, I tied my shoe, cursed my inability to tie them from the get go better and got moving again.

I saw Krista, Kevin, Marc and Jeremy just up ahead and worked to catch back up with them. However, on the other side of the state park Krista made a move to pass that big group of guys and I accepted defeat. I backed off, sure that I couldn't keep up the pace that group was keeping and let them pull away. I settled in to a slightly slower pace and watched them pull away.

Headed up to aid one I walked, I berated myself a little but I was torn between pushing harder and not blowing up. I realized that I may have done some harder runs, but short harder runs, I wasn't confident in my ability to push hard for 30+ miles. Todd had told me to believe in myself. I repeated that to myself and kept moving. My headlamp kept slipping so I pulled it off just before the aid stop.

At aid station one Todd was there to give me my sunglasses and hat and take my buff and headlamp. I told him I didn't want either and he insisted that I stick to the plan. In some ways my race had been over since the bridge but he tried to jump-start it. He told me Kevin and Krista were just ahead and told me get going. I left but truly didn't want the hat so I dropped it just a few hundred feet from the aid station.

I settled in behind Marc Griffin and went to my music. We ran steady through the trail section just after aid one but when we crossed the road around mile 6 I got passed by a few females when I slowed up to take GU #1 of the day. I had been 5th at aid one but quickly slipped to 9th in the following few miles. That was a hit that I didn't enjoy taking as I felt like I was already running too hard. I don't like to start out ahead and push and I don't like to be passed, I would rather be chasing. I was in a bad place and slipping when I remembered that Todd said I had to believe. I picked it up and told myself that I could do it and worked hard to pass back two females.

Coming into aid station two I felt like I was working harder than I needed to for a 50k. I wasn't enjoying anything but I told myself to just keep pushing. I would work hard to catch a female runner and then a few minutes later they would pass me back. Leapfrogging back and forth from aid two to aid three. Don Don was there at aid three and offered help and encouragement but I wasn't in any mood to accept either, I was trying to hold the day together and that was already taking it's toll.

Then Annie Stanley passed me and I went into 10th spot. I thought this was OK, I would just hang with Annie, she is a great, steady runner and has done exactly what I wanted to do at Holiday Lake. But then she just flew through the trail section. She came up and was gone in a blink. I focused on the front runners who would soon be approaching. I was wondering when I would start to see them and hoped that Nick would be leading.

Nick didn't disappoint. he appeared out of nowhere, moving like water and looking good with no one in sight behind him. I screamed and cheered and basked in his apparent good day. It was awesome. I was confident in his win at that moment. Then other runners started to appear and pass by me, I offered them all a "Good job" or "Great job". I allowed their presence as distraction as I waited for the turn around.

Near the dam I realized that my legs felt heavy. I hadn't been looking at time, didn't know what time it was or how I was doing. I hoped that I was running well but I feared that I was not. I thought about the very hard start to the week that we had had. "Life stress is body stress," I told myself. But it didn't make me feel better even when I repeated it. I felt like my legs were each twenty pounds heavier than usual. I ate a second GU.

I set my sights on seeing Kevin on the out and back, just after the dam I saw him, he literally stopped and cheered me on for a moment. I kept on running. He's a better person than I am I thought, I didn't stop and move aside and he's in the faster pack. Then I started wondering about what time I would make it to the turn around. I was still slightly optimistic that I had run loop one well.

Then I came in to the turn around and saw the clock. It said 2:22:40 as I approached the aid station table where I had my bottle refilled for the fist time and drank two small cups of Mountain Dew. Alissa, Dennis and Frankie were there and they said "Good job, Alexis." I said something about this not being my kind of race.

I left out of the aid station at 2:24ish. And I was confident in one thing. I wasn't running 2:24 or better on loop two. PR hopes dashed. Feeling rotten that I hadn't been faster, that I could run faster on a training run than I just had. Feeling like my legs were a million pounds each. Feeling done, done. done.

Only I wasn't done. I had 16 miles left to run. And then I had the true race ending thought of the day.

I thought about Todd, his encouraging texts that very morning, the talks about how negative I am and how that is bringing us down. I thought about my race and that I just COULD NOT believe that I was any good and certainly not that I could be better than I have been, and I thought, "You are such a disappointment. Todd is going to be so disappointed that you let this happen." And then there was blackness. Such an overwhelming feeling that it was all true. That I am a disappointment. I thought about what Todd said, that so many people believe in me. That isn't a comfort, it is a weight.  To feel that people believe in you when you know who are really are is hard. I know who I really am, I am not good. I am a first class letdown. That even if I could be good I won't be good because I don't know how to be good, I don't know how to get out of my own way, I don't know how to be positive, or try, or believe. I want to quit before trying because I can't stand the fact that I could try and fail. I would rather fail and wonder if I could have been better.  And then I started to cry. And then my throat started to close up and I realized that my heart was racing even though my pace had slowed to the point that I couldn't catch Jeremy walking right ahead of me. Then I realized that right in the middle of a race I was entering a panic attack.

I started to get even more upset when my throat felt like it was closing and I started saying "take a slow deep breath" over and over. I knew I was not helping anything and was causing my own breakdown. I knew I was responsible for the negativity and I just needed to shake it, but knowing a thing and doing a thing are not interchangeable.

The next two miles are a blur of not being able to breathe, crying, telling people who passed "good job" wondering if I sounded like I was crying and four belittling thoughts on repeat. I was thankful that I was wearing those sunglasses I had tried to refuse at aid one, I hoped that they would cover up the puffy eyes. I couldn't shake the tears. At one point I said "good job" to a fellow runner and I thought "You honestly think that everyone out here is doing a good job but you" it was ugly.

I tried to focus on Buster Douglas like Todd told me to at the end of the week. I tried hard to focus on my "why". But it turns out I didn't have one. I couldn't at that moment come up with any reason why I should run hard. I didn't care. I was trying to calm myself down. But if I am honest, which is what I am going for, I think I wanted to fail.

In fact. I'm almost certain of it. I came into the turn around as tenth female and I kept wanting a female to pass me so it could officially be over, my race. I wasn't going to walk it in, though I did consider even that at one point, but I didn't want to be contending for a top spot. Then a female passed me and I was thankful, it was over. But she was only ahead for a minute. I kept expecting her or another female, Amy Albu, Jennifer Anders, Holly Knight, Chelsie, someone, anyone to pass by.

I came into aid five and Sophie cheered me on, that I was in tenth but I was the closer. Tammy cheered me on. But all their words fell on dark ears, I didn't want to be negative so I just didn't respond. I knew I wasn't chasing anyone down because I didn't want to. There was no desire. There was no why. If it sounds ugly, that is because it was.

Up the hill out of aid five I caught Jeremy Peterson. He said "About time, Alexis. I have never been ahead of you this long in a ultra race. I've been wondering when you were going to catch me when I saw you at the turn around." "I was having a mental breakdown." I replied. He kind of laughed and said that he had a little physical breakdown when his stomach revolted just past the start of loop two. I had noticed him up ahead walking but I hadn't seen him get sick. That was the only talking I did in loop two other than to aid station volunteers and "good job" to passing racers.

I had come down from my panic attack but the day stayed dark. I was out there alone and I would stop crying and try to run for a few minutes and then I would fall apart again. I wanted it to be over but even that wouldn't push me to try. I had a few cramps start up and I berated myself more, I hadn't drank well, I hadn't eaten well. Going up to aid six I walked the hill. I drank water and took a fourth GU. I didn't want to see my friends. I didn't want to see the disappointment in their eyes. I was completely aware of the fact that I was wrecking my own day and I just couldn't shake that, and when I thought about it, it made me so damn sad that I would start crying again and have to calm myself back down.

I have had some bad races. I am a bit of head case. But I don't think I have ever been so self-aware of being a head case and not been able to shake it. I started to work on not having a good day but just getting the day I was having over with. Blake filled my bottle at aid six because I knew I didn't want to stop for anything in four miles at Todd's aid station. Blake asked if I wanted anything but he didn't say anything else.

I left and felt confident that I would run those last eight miles and be done soon enough. Then I thought about Mike and Blake and how they didn't even try to encourage or cheer me on. Like they knew me well enough to know that I was done. It may be strange but it was comforting, to know my friends could read me. They offered up their aid but left the other words alone.

I ran on. I kept expecting some women to pass me. I didn't see any runners. I started to think about coming into Todd's aid station. That he was going to be disappointed in me. That they were all going to try and pick me up. I would just run right through without talking to them. They are great but I just couldn't talk to them. I needed to get the race over and start working on not letting it drag me down any longer than it had already.

I gave time to thinking about why I was racing. I love ultra running. I used to be amazed at what I could do, I could run a mile, then five, then thirty and even a hundred. I used to be proud of my body and what it could do. But I wasn't proud of anything I was doing Saturday. I don't like feeling like there is a target on my back right now, I know that my head and my why are all mixed up. I can't explain why they are, but in many ways they are the same things that have been making me a quitter all my life. I thought about quitting running, about quitting ultra running, quitting racing. But that made me sad too. I truly want to get better. And not so that I can PR or win anything. Truly, at the end of the day, I just really want to like me.

And out there on Saturday, I don't know that I have ever liked me less.

I was nervous about coming into aid seven. I didn't want to cry. I wanted to be done crying for the day. I didn't want to be negative. I didn't want to drag my friends down.

Coming into aid seven Todd was headed backwards on the trail. I turned my music off. "What is going on?" He asked. I am having a bad day I told him. "Why? What's wrong?" I really didn't want to say. I didn't want to speak at all. "What? What is it?" I told him I had a little breakdown a little panic attack after the turn around. "But why?" He was insistent. I really didn't want to say. "I feared you would be disappointed in me" I finally said in the seconds that were passing like hours. "That's ridiculous. You need to get moving. You are going to have to try like hell now to break 5 hours." I didn't say another word. He didn't get it. I wasn't running for 5 hours. I was running to finish.

Don asked if I needed anything, if I wanted to drop my pack. I said no and ran right on through. I got a little emotional as I left their aid station. I didn't want to let him down even about the 5 hour mark. I picked it up a little and thought that he was good for me. He doesn't let me quit. But then I started to cramp worse. I reeled it back in. The race was nearly over. The day was not. I started focusing on making sure that I didn't spill negativity at the finish line or to Todd later. This is nobodies fault but my own. I had to get over that fact in record time or risk bringing more darkness down upon me.

Then I hit a stump and cramped up. I couldn't get the cramp out and I couldn't walk. "This is fitting" I thought. This is perfect for this day. I just couldn't shake the negativity. I finally got the toes to loosen and work the cramp back out. I had about three miles to go. I just needed to finish. From here I would run easy until I cramped then I would walk until the cramp subsided, I watched roots and stumps carefully and emptied my bottle before the state park. I was amazed and honestly a bit angry that no females had caught me. I was running poorly and felt that I didn't deserve to finish top ten.

I was careful over the rooty sections not to cramp and walked all the uphills and a few flat sections due to cramps. I started to cramp every minute or so it felt, didn't matter how slow I ran I just kept cramping up. I admitted I hadn't done a great job of hydrating and was thankful for the temps staying cooler than had been forewarned. I walked the big hill up to the last section of trail near the end and wanted to run that whole short section of trail but I cramped up twice more. I started just chanting finish line is all that matters to myself. Don't cry at the finish line.

I got out on the road and it was almost done and I was thankful. Then my hamstring cramped at just past a half mile to go. I stopped and was massaging it out when I look up to see a runner approaching. It was Rachel Corrigan. She smiled and waved. I laughed a dark laugh inside, perfect I thought. I started to run again and I told myself not to run too hard. I wondered if I would cramp. I wondered what would happen if she caught me, would I push or let her have it?

She didn't catch me. I don't know if she tried but I was thankful that I didn't have to make those last second decisions. I don't know what I would have done. I finished in 5:04, tenth female. I crossed the finish line and Kevin was there and Tammy said something, I am not even sure what she said but I could feel what she said and I hugged her and even though I bit my lip hard to try to hold it in I started to cry. Tammy and Sophie were on it, they said all the right things, not every day is a PR day, not every day is a good day. I was very thankful for them at that moment.

I shed those few tears but then I set about to turning the day around. It was only lunchtime. I still had friends to cheer in, Candy to pass out and friends to spend time with. The race wasn't a success. I have a lot of work to do. I don't have all of the answers. Maybe I never will. But I have some really great people in my life who care about me. I am lucky even if I don't always see it.

I don't want to be sad. I don't want to be negative. I don't want to be a dark shadow over anyone's day. I want to be better.

I haven't shed a tear since Saturday. Usually in the week following a race I am up and down. I have been ok this week. I think I had all the emotions on Saturday during the race that there isn't anything left to feel. I know what happened. Maybe in a longer race I could have come back, but I don't know, I was feeling pretty done from pretty much mile two. I know what running means to me, and I know how much my self loathing is contributing to not just racing but so much of my everyday life. I have had a bad week but I have also had a good week.

I have accepted that I need help. I know that if I can't fix the negative self talk that I will not escape it, that I can only push it down so much before it will erupt. It isn't in the pushing it down that I need to work on. It's in the getting it out. Turning it away from the beginning.

I used to need to race because I wasn't a runner. If anything positive came out of Saturday it was the confidence that I am a runner. I need to work on my 'why' and I need to work on me. But I love running, and I love the people, my people, and I am proud of them and I want to support them, cheer them on, lift them up. I don't want to walk away from anything. I just want to quiet the voice in my head that says that I can't because I am not good enough. All I want is to be good.

-Alexis

Friday, May 20, 2016

Peak Ultra 200 Miler

200 miles. 40,000 feet of elevation gain. The Green Mountains of Vermont.

I can't say with certainty what drew me to the 200 mile distance. The challenge of the unknown perhaps? The prospect of testing myself against something unimaginable? My lifelong quest to find my limits? My boyish propensity for doing everything in the scale of "Epic"? I don't know, but I signed up anyway.

I signed up for the race before I really looked into it much. Which is just as well since information about the course is elusive at best. The race web site tells you that the course is 20 loops of 10 miles, that the course is different each year, that the course tends to be "Moosey."

So I secured at crew, and trained. The crew part was easy, Alexis and Kevin basically said that I wasn't going without them. They love to see me suffer, they're that kind of friends, and the chance to witness suffering of this magnitude was too much to pass up. The training part was uncertain at best. How do you train for a 200 mile race? Run, a lot. I put in more miles than I ever have for any event, which for me isn't saying a lot, but I put in almost two full months of 80 mile weeks. And ran a handful of 50K training runs.

During the taper weeks I exchanged a few emails with the RD and found out that the time cut off for the 200 was going to be different this year. Stricter. I thought that was interesting since no one even finished in 2015, and on top of that the new cut off was a little vague.

The new time cut? The race starts on Thursday morning at 7 am, I had until 7 pm on Saturday, or whenever the last 50 miler runner entered their last loop to begin my final (20th) loop of the course. The 50 miler, which started at 7 am on Saturday, gives it's runners 12 hours to run the first 40 miles of their race, and the 200 mile runners 60 hours to run 190 miles. Confused yet? Basically all I had to do was maintain a pace faster than the 50 mile runners were expected to for four times as long. Simple enough.

Vermont


When we arrived in Vermont on Wednesday night before the race, we couldn't find anyone who knew anything about the event. We found the venue, but it was a ghost town. We asked half of the population of Pittsfield VT, the quiet little mountain town that hosts the race, but neither of them seemed to know what we were talking about either. So we went and set up camp where the emails had instructed us, and hoped for the best.

It was a cold morning when we awoke, 35 degrees and clear skies. We drove down the mountain to check in and all seven of the registered entrants were there and ready to go. It was obvious that I had come from the farthest point south, as I stood there shivering in my three layers, stocking cap, and gloves next to these New Englanders in there short sleeves.


Pete Coleman, the Race Director, checked us in and hung our bib numbers on the wall in the bunk house. He said that it was an intimate event and we would be going by our names not our numbers. The bunk house was the aid station, sleep station, and check in between every loop. Later, he explained, there would be a water-stop at the top of the mountain, but not until the sissy 100 mile runners started on the following day. Evidently by signing up for such a challenge as this, we had stated something about our fortitude, whether accurate or not, that implied that we didn't need any support out there on this measly little ten mile loop.

We lined up, reminiscent of a firing squad, all awkward and somber, and took a few pictures like soldiers preparing to leave for the unknown. Not sure which of us would make it back, but fairly certain that it wouldn't be all of us. Pete told us to relax and have fun, and sent us off into our first loop without ceremony.


The Loop


Armed with the knowledge that the course is different every year, and that the few race reports I had found estimated that the loop contained between 1200' and 1600' of elevation gain, we set out as a group to conquer the first climb. We trotted out of the gravel parking lot and into the woods, and no sooner had the Farm disappeared behind us then the ground rose up in front of us forming one of the steepest hills I've ever traversed as part of a race. (Alexis ran a loop with me later, and her watch said that we gained almost 500 feet of elevation in two-tenths of a mile.)

We hiked with our hands on our knees and joked about how bad this was going to feel at mile 150, but the truth was that it was bad the very first time. The grade fluctuated as we climbed, and the group spread out. By the time we had covered the first mile I had lost sight of half of the field of runners, and I would never see most of them again. Eryk ran ahead of us whenever the trail wasn't intolerably steep. I hiked ever step of the climb, and was able to stay within talking distance of Ryan.

The climb lasted for about three miles, but the last mile was completely bushwhacking. We hiked from streamer to streamer, through waist-high thorns and ankle deep mud. Over fallen trees and through shoe-swallowing bogs. By the end of the weekend we had created a trail where there was none before. (Also in this section there was several sightings of Moose droppings, a novelty to a southerner.)

When we finally stopped climbing the trail dried up and gave way to well worn mountain bike trails. This section, The Labyrinth, was a winding maze of trails that corkscrewed around itself several times, while weaving in and out of dense pockets of old cedars and pines. Ryan pulled away from me here, only to come running straight back at me a quarter mile later running the wrong direction. After that we stuck together until we made it to the Cabin at the Top of the Mountain, wandering off trail just once more and having to backtrack to find our missed turn.

The view from the cabin was incredible. The Green Mountains of Vermont stretched out in every direction for miles and miles. And from here we began our long decent. Four miles of gradual switch-backing downhill, punctuated with the occasional little uphill or mud hole. The farther we ran down the swampier the trail became. One grueling climb broke up the monotony of the everlasting downhill. As smooth and graceful as the downhill was, the uphill was every bit it's opposite. Straight-up steep and rocky, hands-on-knees hiking. And then more downhill.

The decent ended abruptly with a sharp turn and a nose-dive down-hill to the river, the lowest point on the course. To call this slope a trail is being generous with the name, and it was littered with softball sized rocks that shifted under the leaves and slid with you, causing mini-avalanches every couple of steps. Half way down this drop, which was about a quarter mile long, a fallen tree blocked the path. The only way around was under it, so you slid like a base-runner stealing home to get by it, hoping to recover some semblance of balance on the other side, or tumble the rest of the way down to the river.

After a short jaunt along the river bank the course began to climb up gradually back towards the Farm. This section was the toughest later in the race because you would get close enough to hear activity, only to turn in the other direction and run away again. With about a half mile to go I ran into a streamer blocking the trail, a universal sign to not continue on straight, the catch was it wasn't at an intersection. Finally I noticed a streamer to the right of the trail, in the woods. And then another beyond that. And so we bushwhacked up a hill, about 40 yards, to another trail. And then down a quarter mile of stone steps to the start/finish/bunk house.

The Race


At the end of the first loop I had run for 2 hours and 14 minutes. The temperature had climbed from 35 to about 70, and I felt pretty good. There were two guys running ahead of me, Eryk the local, and Ryan from Philadelphia. I knew that I just needed to get in a good rhythm and stay there, and the loops would start ticking away.

By noon it was mid-80's and I was having trouble eating. I hadn't even run an Ultra yet, and I was hurting. I was way behind on food and hydration. At the end of my third loop things got a little tense with me and Kevin. He was trying to force calories down me, what was he thinking? I told him I that I wanted to eat, but I just couldn't. He was not understanding or comforting, what a jerk. I left carrying food and a lot of extra mental baggage. Half-way through my fourth loop I was doubting my chances. My loops were getting slower and slower, my legs were heavy and my stomach was rebelling. Somewhere in this loop I caught Eryk, god only knows how, and he told me that he was worried about the stiff cut-off and that is why he had went out so hard. We agreed that we needed to finish five loops before we lost the sun, and I hiked away from him.

At the end of the fourth loop I just wanted to sit and eat slowly, but Kevin and Alexis weren't having it. The temperature was starting to come down a little, but I worried that it was too late, damage done. I wasn't ready to quit, but I was far from optimistic about my chances. Then they brought out the chocolate milk, I'm not sure who's idea this was, but it didn't work the way they hoped. I drank a big cup of milk and started to hike away. That's when my stomach rebellion went to full on revolution. I vomited, and hiked a few steps and vomited again, and again. I was afraid that I was close enough to camp that they would hear me, so I hiked fast to escape before Alexis could chase me down and make me eat again to replenish what I just lost.

I started to feel better, you know the old vomit reset button, but I also knew that I truly was running on empty now. When I got up to the Cabin at the top of the mountain I sat down and ate a couple hundred calories. and then commenced to covering that down hill fast enough to beat the dark back to the Farm. I didn't make it, somewhere before the river I had to dig my headlamp out, but it didn't matter. I felt better. The temperature was dropping. I could eat again.

I got back to camp and ate a ton. Switched to my big head lamp, and put my music in at Kevin's urging. It was already so cool that sitting around for more than a few minutes caused me to start shivering. I got up and ran. And each loop felt better than the one before it, and by the time the sun came back up I had run 80 miles.

I set a secret goal at this point, to run the first 100 miles in 30 hours (the Course Record for 100 miles is 27 hours!). I figured that if I couldn't do that then I couldn't run the required 190 in 60 hours. So Friday morning, as the 100 milers took to the course and the rain settled in, I focused on those next 20 miles. It was during these morning loops that I was getting reports of the other runners. Several of the 200 mile runners had already quit, the only girl bailing after her very first loop in which she had gotten terribly lost in the Labyrinth. Eryk had spent almost eight hours out on his seventh loop in the night and was sleeping in the bunkhouse. It was just Ryan and Matt and me left if Eryk didn't come back to life.

I hit my goal, but only with a minute or two to spare. Alexis ran my tenth loop with me, and I felt like we moved pretty good. I didn't tell her about my time goal, but having her out there motivated me to push a little harder. The weather settled in with a steady soaking rain for most of the day. I changed socks a number of times, but it was impossible to keep your feet dry. The course which was swampy in places to begin with was a nightmare in the rain. Long stretches of trail turned to bogs or creeks. Rocks seemed to sprout moss instantly with a little moisture. The downhill became treacherous in places forcing me to walk sections that were runnable a few hours earlier.

By the time the light started to fade the rain cleared out, I headed into my second night with a clear head and a goal: 150 miles by sunrise Saturday. My legs felt good, and I had eaten well all day. The soggy trails and feet were a fair enough trade off for the cooler temperatures. But after my first night time loop I was tired, no exhausted.


I guess it showed on my face, because my slave-drivers actually took pity on me and allowed me to sleep while they prepared some food for me. It was so cold, but all I remember is sitting down and someone throwing a blanket over me. The next thing I know the blanket is yanked off and I'm eating hot mashed potatoes and cheese quesadillas. Without a doubt, this was the best meal I have ever had. In my entire life!

Then I'm up and stumbling up the hill. Kevin yelling at me to put my music in. I run better with it. He was right, at least at night. I've always loved night running, but I was in the zone after that nap and meal. I cranked my music up and knocked out two great loops before day break. It was during this second night that the woods started to come alive with things that weren't real. Sleep deprivation is a powerful drug. Snakes and bears and a green sheep, not to mention the crazy mountain people blending into the landscape. I saw a porcupine a few hours before sunrise, but I'm pretty sure he was real because he moved, albeit slowly, across the trail and made a chittering noise at me. None of my other hallucinations made noises.

150 miles done. I was half way though my 16th loop and now the 50 mile runners have started. I kept telling myself that I just had to out pace the slowest of them.

Pete had my buckle out on the table in the bunk house. A carrot on a stick. Every time I checked in at the end of a loop it was right there, pushing me forward. A little pierce of metal, that stood for so much more. I was the last one going, Ryan and Matt had both given up. Eryk never came back from the night before.



160 miles done and I'm moving better than I have any business moving. Still running the downhills, and hiking well up the inclines. Somewhere out on this 17th loop my left ankle started bothering me. But it didn't matter, I had not come this far to back off now. The downhills started to feel worse and worse. Damn it, I thought, I still have legs to run and I'm being done in by a contrary ankle!

I shuffle along and scrounge up a couple of sticks. I remember at this point that Mike Mitchell was going to lend me some trekking poles for this little adventure. Oh well, too late for that now. So I'm crutching along the downhills, anticipating the ups because they don't hurt.

170 miles done, no time to waste. I know I'm slowing down so I grab food to go and keep moving. This loop was a blur. I just remember that Alexis started with me and I asked her to leave at the Cabin on top of the Mountain. It hurt too much to have company.



180 miles done. I had five hours to finish a ten mile loop to be allowed to start my last loop. Every step, up or down or flat hurt. I was leaning heavy on my sticks and I was not optimistic about the outcome. But they would have to make me quit. There was no way I was not going on, even if it meant an unofficial finish.

190 miles done, 59 hours and 5 minutes. I hadn't seen another runner in 30 miles, and my tired mind had convinced me that there was no one else left running. Had all the 50 mile people been fast and finished? Was Pete going to let me start my last loop? Yes, he said, get your ass back out there!

I turn around to stagger to the bunk house to check in and some guy in a chair looks at me, as ragged as I must look and asks: Do you need some balls? I just stare at him and walk into the bunk house fuming. Alexis follows me in and asks whats wrong. Who is that jack ass who asked me if I wanted some balls? I yell. I just ran 190 miles, who does he think he is? Alexis just laughed at me and said: POLES. He was offering you his poles. And she points at my two pathetic tree branches. These are all I need, I mutter and walk out into the dark.

Once more into the breech. The last loop was as relaxed as it could be. There was no more cut-offs. Kevin and Alexis were both with me. I felt like a tour guide, taking them around an historic site that I was intimately familiar with. Step here. Watch out for that rock. It gets a little boggy around this switchback. The ankle hurt worse with every step but I couldn't care any less. I came to Vermont to run 200 miles, and I did it.

Finishing time: 62 hours 57 minutes 32 seconds. First place out of one finisher, seven starters.


I couldn't have done this without the huge amount of help and support, selflessly given by Alexis and Kevin.


(If you look closely you can see the endless stone steps behind them)

I also want to thank my Sponsor, Pearl Izumi for believing in this mediocre distance runner, and helping me believe in myself.


I have more reflections on this adventure, but I will save them for later. You've been forced to listen to my rambling long enough! 

-Todd


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Running With Purpose

This year I picked up a Sponsorship from Pearl Izumi. At first I thought that this was great. Somebody believed in me enough to stand behind me as a runner, and let me represent their product. Pearl makes the only trail shoe that I have ever liked, and I loved the Trail N2. So when I heard that they were looking for Ultra Runners for the team I jumped on it.  I sent them a little info about myself, and surprisingly they said that they wanted me!

And then it all started to stress me out. It began to feel like a lot of pressure. My running, which is not structured or consistent, and generally just good enough for a mid-pack finish, now had some big shoes to fill.  My running, which I do for fun and not for medals, had to stand up in front of expecting Sponsorship Eyes and look like it was serious. What in the world was I thinking.

The first part of the year I was recovering from an injury and a couple of lousy races last fall, and I tried to figure out what I was looking for in my running. I'm not a fast guy, I'm not going to win races for my Sponsor. I'm not really a guy who likes the spotlight, and I hate speaking in public. How was I going to represent my Sponsor. I just like to run.

I just like to run. I like running with other runners. I like running alone. I like hanging out at races. The trail running community is a huge part of why I like to run. But its not the only part. I run for the feeling it gives me. The thrill of flying down a technical trail. The burn of the climb to get to the top of the mountain. The breathtaking views when you finally get up there. The connected feeling you get when you are running alone in the woods.

And it started to make sense to me. I just needed to love running to represent my Sponsor. I just needed to love running to get out of my funk. A couple of bad races is just a couple of bad races. I don't run races to win, and suffering is an integral part of the experience. Without the lows, the highs don't feel as good. Why do we fall? So we can prove to ourselves that we can get back up.

This year I picked up a Sponsorship from Pearl Izumi. They believed in me enough to stand behind me as a runner, and let me represent their product.  So when I heard that they were looking for Ultra Runners for the team I jumped on it.  I sent them a little info about myself, and surprisingly they said that they wanted me!

-Todd

Monday, May 2, 2016

Promise Land 50k 2016 Race Report

I'm struggling. I have spent a great deal of time trying to articulate for myself why that is or exactly what that means, but I can feel it in my mind. It isn't just running, it's other facets of my life, but it's all focused on looking back. Remember when I ran that nearly great race, oh to be in that shape again. Oh remember when _______, just fill in the blanks. My 33rd year has been spent thus far looking only backwards. I didn't realize just what damage that was doing.

I made a plan for Promise Land around Terrapin when I finally remembered that 'running' and 'training' are not synonymous. I followed it loosely for a week or two before dropping the workouts and just focusing on miles. Not getting tons of them but increasing them safely. That was where my focus ended up, mileage increases.

A week out from Promise Land I wasn't overly optimistic (but then, when am I ever, really?). But I am a realist. I figured I had a good chance at 6:13 at Promise Land. I knew this, so why did I race so dumb?

Because I want to be better than I am. And I took the bait that maybe my head was preventing that sub 6 finish at Promise Land that I've longed for these past two long years. Todd told me I would never if I didn't believe it, then no less than 3 people said this was my year for sub 6, and so late on Friday evening I decided I needed to go, give all, go big or go home. The thing between me and my sub 6 was my head. Silence it. This is your day.

Only. It wasn't to be.

I was nervous. I took that as a promising sign. Don't I race better nervous? Looking back I say I do. I put the headphones in at the start line of the Promise Land 50k. I had that "Go Do" attitude. Todd told me not to run anyone else's race.

The race started and I turned my iPod on (mistake #1. Don't go to your iPod until you NEED your iPod) and "Beautiful Day" came on my iPod, I felt amazing. This was going to be a great day! I had never felt better mentally going into a race. Never felt better, bigger. I started up that climb and just fell in to the crowd and the pace, so happy to be there, so warm surrounded by people I like. I love racing, I thought. I love these days.

Anna Evans passed me and I thought, don't let her out of your sight (mistake #2, didn't your intelligent spouse warn you 5 minutes ago not to do this!?). I didn't run what Anna did, I hiked and just kept her in my sights, but I should have known when we got to AS #1 faster than I ever have (35:10) that I had already made mistakes. Instead I held on as Jared Hesse, Joe Alderson and Micah Jackson passed me. I was going big, I wanted the good day!

I ran and hiked better in these next few miles than I ever do, which made me feel good, but I was a little worried that I was giving too much. Wearing my heart rate monitor (for my first time ever in a race) I walked when it hit 160. But instead of just listening to my body I would run as soon as it said 159 or less (mistake #3, listen to your body not just one often confused though important muscle). When Joe and Micah picked it up on the Grassy Road I followed (Mistake #2 revisited). I ran with Joe. I had my music in so I wasn't probably very good company. I think the only words I spoke to him where to scold him for a 7:30 mile in the middle of the grassy road.

At Aid Station 2 I was just barely ahead of Joe, but 2 minutes behind my goal. But I felt pretty good, so I gave a little more in the WOR loop. Up, up , up, I passed several runners and tried to run smooth but hard. Passing over to the parkway my brain was just down on the fact that I wasn't running that "fast" and there was still so much left to run. I played it smart here, didn't kill the downhill miles to Sunset Field, but then I made it there, despite the overall effort, basically where I always make it, around 2:30 hours. The first time I ever ran PL I got here in 2:32, Saturday it was 2:27. That was discouraging.

But I saw familiar faces and Blake had my bag of GU and I knew that I had actually trained for what came next, steep technical descent. I left the aid station not as high as I had been at the start but still feeling good and optimistic. And then I (for me) killed the descent, for about a mile and a half. I passed a few people and felt good! I hiked the ups but ran the downs hard and well. And then my quad cramped. At not even 16 miles in! But I was making good time and I WANTED that good day. I thought of Frank G. He cramps, he keeps on running. I would just keep on running. I slowed a little but kept up best I could, then my calves started to cramp.

Then it started to get the best of me. I was drinking and eating well. It wasn't that. I had let that HR rule me, push me (mistake #4 and #5, try something new on race day and run a heart rate you never trained at and expect to have a good day). I had up until this point tried to hover around 160 bpm, I saw no reason why my body couldn't take that. Except that I had been training in the low to mid 140s and perhaps (though I am no doctor, just a Google user) the extra effort was just a little too much for my cramping prone legs. Just because you have never cramped at mile 15, well, never say never!

So I slowed until I had to stop and stretch. I tried hard to keep it together. I reassessed. I had been running STUPID. I had been running like someone else, not like ME. What is so wrong with ME that I was trying to run from ME? I started to worry about things other than sub 6. I started to worry about going 19 more miles on cramps. How bad would it get? How bad could it get?

Then I saw Kevin up ahead, I recognize him before I see he's struggling. The momentary happiness in seeing him was fleeting as I could see he was hobbling. I knew before I reached him it was his ankle. It looked bad, I'm too honest to have lied and said otherwise. I stopped and offered him help, he told me he was done but I needed to go on, get a sweatshirt he said somehow still bearing that winning smile of his. I'm cramping I complained, he offered salt tabs but I said no, he told me again that I needed to run on. I did so, but hesitantly.

At the aid station I told Jordan Chang and Horton about Kevin and then said I was cramping, Jordan gave me 5 Enduralyte capsules. I took 3 and stored the others for later use and told Horton that I was sad, I had never cramped this early in a race before. He told me I was still doing Ok, 9th place or so. I just gave him a thumbs up. Though I had been racing stupid, I'm not actually stupid, I knew that this was not a good sign. I ran on down the road and I started to really berate the mistakes I had made.  I knew I was taking a risk when I started, that there's a reason that they are called "risks" but I mourned the race that the smarter me would be running. I slowed on the road, I drank, I ate. I did the things I knew I could and that maybe I should. I tried to keep the cramps at bay. I didn't run over 150 (heart rate) again for the next 10 miles. My calves and left quad were so painful from the cramping, running downhill on cramps probably isn't very good for the muscles.

Shannon Howell and some men who I had passed on the steep descent caught back up and passed me, I was embarrassed to be running so poorly. I took out a Larabar and ate some of it. Shannon was super friendly and for a moment I was thankful for the sport and the people it attracts. She told me about her race last year and pulling her quad. Good runners have bad days I recalled looking back. Sometimes good runners have such bad days that they don't get to finish, and yet they still smile.

I tried to smile. But the cramps came back. I took the two salt pills I had stashed from Cornelius Creek. I hiked a lot along the trail to Colon Hollow. I remembered how Horton says this is where the race begins, I sulked a tad that this seemed to be where mine was ending. Amy Albu passed me back (when I was running stupid on the descent I had passed her and Shannon together). I tried to keep her in my sights but the cramps kept slowing or stopping me. She ran on. I tried to keep Allen Whittle in sight, he would pull ahead and I would try to keep him in sight but the calves were so tight I felt like they were in a state of solid cramping. I could tell I had probably done something not nice to my left quad as it hurt more than anything, I tried to remember it could be worse. I drank and ate because those were easy at the easier pace.

This incredible song came on my iPod so I started it over, in the middle of the song not much past 4 hours into the race, my iPod died. It kind of felt like the day was just laughing and pointing fingers at this point.

Then another girl passed me. I hadn't cramped in a few minutes, I hadn't run over 149 heart rate in 10 miles, I figured I would try and keep this girl who I didn't recognize in my sights. I put on my second iPod and without giving it thought started to pull my day back together. I ran with the girl, who was Laura Welch, to the Cornelius Creek aid station. Amy Albu was leaving the aid station as we were coming in. Jordan asked what we needed and I said new legs with a laugh, I drank a big cup of Mountain Dew. I was feeling beaten and there seemed to be so many miles left.

On our way out of the aid station Laura said there are two girls right behind us, it was Elizabeth Minnick and Michelle McLellan. Laura said come on, let's not let them catch us and then she moved like the meant to keep that word. Then I saw Anna Evans headed to the aid station in the out and back. All of those girls got me a little bit back in the game.

I tried to hike hard and run a little but my quad and calves weren't cramping but just so tight and painful from the miles of cramps, but I tried to be thankful that I was still moving. Laura pulled ahead and I expected all the girls behind to catch up. Near the falls Laura took a slight wrong turn, I called out to her but got ahead just because of the turn and her doubling back. Then we caught a male and female near the 'road crossing' just as you have .9 still to climb. As I crossed that road I looked back because I could hear chattering and laughing, Beth and Michelle were running up the steep switchback behind me. I said aloud, "Those girls are running!" to no one in particular. I figured they would pass me but they were also keeping me moving so I was thankful. I made it to Sunset Fields the second time about 5:38. Sub 6 gone, top 10 not looking too promising and 5 girls on my heels. I drank some Mountain Dew and Laura called for me to come on. It may have been a little fun, but my heart was only in the finishing not in the race and I only realized that later. I started telling Laura about Kevin, he's my running partner and he got injured, she said "Right. Right. RIGHT!" I was going the wrong way across the open field. I was lost in my story and not where I should have been, but I was enjoying myself and there's something in that when you've had a bad day.

I stopped to go to the bathroom (I peed 4 times at PL! That's a record for a 50k for me! The only record I have for the day! Sometimes it's the small things...) Laura said 'Catch up, those girls are right behind us!' I managed to take my break and get back on the trail just as Beth and Michelle were passing. They were friendly and looked so fresh. Running the steep rocky descent to Overstreet Falls I knew I had done something to my quad, but I didn't figure slowing down at that point would help the quad so I ran on anyways though by this point it was making the downhill pretty painful.

I caught Laura and we ran to the road together but then she took off, I wasn't running slow but she was gone in a flash. I didn't try to keep her in my sights but it wouldn't have mattered if I had, I don't think I had much more to give. Then Beth caught me again, we ran it in admiring the sub 6 finish and vowing that someday, well maybe, it will be ours. Mike Pflieger was out on the road, it was good to see him and have him run a few steps with me, though he did worry me when he said that he hadn't seen Kevin at the finish( I was worried that Kevin's ankle had been worse and he had left/been taken to the ER, he was however at the finish, Mike just hadn't seen him). Mike stopped running just as we reached the camp entrance and Beth started to kick it, I said "Wait, I'm not trying to beat you, I just want to finish with you!" But I was laughing, I was so thankful that the race was over.

Horton graced us with the titles of "First Losers" which surprised me a little, I wasn't fully aware that Laura and I were in the 10th spot, but it doesn't matter, the mistakes had been long made and a top 10 wouldn't heal those wounds to my ego any faster. During some of those final miles I had been feeling fairly high, that I hadn't "quit" when my mistakes caught up with me, that my risky behavior hadn't cost me more, that I had still given everything I had for the day, that I had shifted from risky to safe and pulled out a 6:19 finish. But there, at the finish, it just came bearing down so hard. That I alone had cost myself a better day.

The worst part was that I wasn't feeling motivated or encouraged by my day, but rather seriously reconsidering ultra running in general and more specifically races I've already registered for.  I tried so hard to put on a happy face but I was just so mad at myself. Ultimately, it really is what I think of myself that weighs the most on me, I learned that Saturday, I had bought in, that I could break 6, and it hurt me, that I had hurt myself, let myself down.

I feel beaten. My left quad is pretty battered and my calves still fairly tight and angry. I complained aloud a lot the rest of the weekend. I failed to train the way I should and then thought I could do something I knew I wasn't trained for (mistake #213). But running stupid trumped sitting the race out completely last year. And running reckless taught me some things that I wouldn't know if I hadn't risked it. And 6:19 isn't really that far off of the 6:13 which is what I thought I could run. So why am I so damn upset?

Because ultimately I have been looking back, back to when I was 'faster' and 'racing better' but also to when I was 'injured' that I've failed to look forward.